Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Brightening up a grey day

This morning was another wet day and I got pretty soaked doing the school run, despite being dressed in waterproof jacket and wellies. I felt thoroughly fed up but quickly told myself that attitude wasn't going to help me get through the day. One of my kind readers left a comment on a recent post about taking time to focus on something beautiful/positive during the dark and challenging days and it's stuck with me. I decided that was what I would try to do today.

Also in the back of my head was an article a friend had shared yesterday, A counterintuitive idea for worn out parents to feel reinvigorated. I decided to do something a bit different and fun with my daughter as we were stuck inside at home. We made the rainy day picture (above) and she had great fun sticking on the various bits and pieces, enjoying the different textures and especially liking the rice and lentils, which we used as our rain drops. Following on from that, we got coloured pens out and she did some 'drawing' on the big paper we keep on our easel. I usually insist she sticks to crayons or coloured pencils for fear the pen ends up on the wall but I moved the easel into the kitchen, away from any walls and let her loose!

Before I knew it, the morning had flown by and it was time to make lunch. My daughter had enjoyed the activities and I felt like I had given her some quality time and we had both been happily engaged in what we were doing. I did keep checking on the weather to see if we could get out for a walk but the heavy rain continued. We have had some fun walks in the rain lately, with lots of puddle splashing but today it's just been too heavy. I've had an idea for making a paper plate umbrella that we might do after picking up my son from school later this afternoon, keeping with the rainy day theme!

I'm making a hearty, healthy soup for dinner and jacket/baked potatoes, so nice warming, comfort food! This is one of the tips I included in a post for Beating the January Blues - have a read for more ideas to lift your spirits if you too have been feeling a bit gloomy as a result of the miserable weather.

It definitely takes more effort to keep the momentum going on a dull day but once we make that little extra effort, we usually end up being thankful for it and enjoy the day more than we imagined we would.

What do you like to do on a dreary day when you feel like you've lost some of your usual motivation?

Monday, 27 January 2014

Simple shortbread biscuits

It was another rainy weekend in London and so I decided to do some baking with my five year old while his younger sister napped. In the past, he has helped me add and mix ingredients, roll out dough or cut out shapes but this time I decided he was old enough to do it all by himself, with my supervision of course! I picked a very easy recipe from my Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book - shortbread biscuits. There are only three ingredients! Here's what we (mostly he!) did.

  • 175g plain flour (I used a mix of whole wheat and white)
  • 75g light muscovado sugar
  • 100g butter

Preheat oven to 160 degrees C (325F). Grease two baking sheets.

Combine the flour and sugar in a bowl. Roughly chop the butter and rub in to the flour/sugar mixture until a soft dough starts to form.

Once mixture is coming together, knead it into a soft dough, pliable enough to roll out. (I needed to add a tiny bit more butter due to the heavier whole wheat flour I had used).

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4in. / 5mm thick, Cut out shapes, place onto greased baking sheets and prick with a fork. Sprinkle over a little sugar on top and bake for 10-15 mins (depending on size of your biscuits) until golden.

 My son loved the 'rubbing in' and kneading. He has always liked getting his hands messy in play dough, paint, water, slime or any kind of 'messy play' so getting messy while baking was a lot of fun for him!
A perfect treat for a rainy afternoon! Lovely with a cup of tea for mummy and daddy too!

My son felt rather proud of himself for having made the biscuits almost entirely by himself and I am encouraged to find more things he can easily make - and not just sweet treats!

Do you have any favourite recipes that are ideal for little people to make?

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Play date dinners: lessons learned

A while ago I asked, What do you cook for other people's children? as we had moved onto after-school, staying for dinner play dates. We've done quite a few now and they quickly progressed to the child coming without the parent (I pick both up from school and the parent collects after dinner). It has been interesting and I have definitely learnt a few lessons that I thought I would share.

One mother's words have stuck with me and sum it all up really, "don't go to any trouble". I had suggested a meal for when her son was coming over, she thought it sounded lovely but knew her son wouldn't eat it. She told me to go for whatever was easy for me, something like pasta or fish fingers. Her advice kicks off my lessons learned:
  • Don't go to any trouble. I have to remind myself, it's not the same as cooking for an adult who is coming over for dinner!
  • Biscuits, ice-cream/ice lollies are dessert winners. I've had homemade chocolate cake in the house, brownies or other baked yummy things that have been turned down by 5-year olds, who would rather have an ice-lolly/ice-cream (even in the middle of winter) or biscuits, the more chocolatey the better!
  • Always have a back-up meal to hand. Despite checking with a boy's mother who told me her son loved sausage and mash, he refused to eat mine. I wasn't especially prepared for having an 'option b' so quickly made him a sandwich with some carrot and cucumber sticks on the side (I knew he had had a cooked lunch at school so felt less bad about making a sandwich).
  • Check with the parents before buying ingredients / planning for a particular meal. Things I have assumed all children will eat are not liked by some so it's definitely worth asking the parent first. Even then, don't be surprised if they still don't eat it!
  • Expect food waste. It's rare that a visiting child eats every scrap on their plate. I am so used to my two polishing off everything most of the time, in fact, they sometimes finish off what the friend has left on their plate too!
  • Playing is higher priority than eating. Different toys to play with or a game that needs to be finished before they get picked up are strong distractions for the child who is over on the play date. Food just gets in the way and delays things - this partly explains the aforementioned food waste too.
  • Lower your expectations on all counts! I'm learning to do this now and it makes the experience less of a big deal for me. Initially, I was quite disappointed to have food rejected by a child, a little put-out by them rushing my own children to finish their meals before they'd 'finished' and generally not showing much in terms of table manners but now I realise that's just the way it goes. Again, I remind myself, it's not like having an adult over to dinner.
  • The dinner is the least important aspect of the play date. As long as the child eats something, the main purpose of the play date is the coming over to play and that's what really matters, that they have fun! Dinner is kind of incidental....
Do you agree with my lessons learned? Do you have any other nuggets of advice to share along the same lines? Any particularly bad/funny play date dinner stories to share?
photo credit

Friday, 17 January 2014

This week: a rainbow and some random reads

My daughter and I saw a rainbow yesterday. I know for a fact that I haven't seen in a rainbow in my son's entire lifetime (5 years). I am always saying to him when there's sunshine and rain, "perhaps we'll see a rainbow" and we always look around the sky and there has never been one. I was a little disappointed he wasn't there with me yesterday but took a photo to show him when I picked him up from school later that day.

It's all too easy to ignore the beauty of nature around us, especially at times like these when we have been having so many grey rainy days and everyone's a bit fed up with the weather. Yet, there I was, running back home in the sudden shower that had just started, pushing my daughter at top speed in her buggy, shopping bags swinging from the handles when I turned the corner onto our road and stopped in my tracks. The vast expanse of the rainbow stretched across the sky and the colours amidst the otherwise sea of grey were a sight to behold. Suddenly I barely noticed the rain any more and time seemed to almost slow down for a few moments. (My photo does it no justice!).

On a completely unrelated note, I have a few links to share with you that I've enjoyed this week....

In line with my parenting goal for the year ahead, I read two articles of interest this week. One is a brief story of how one mother changed her bad habit of shouting at her children. The other a post from the end of last year offering 12 steps to stop yelling at your kids. This latter post is from the blog The Orange Rhino, a mother of four's blog tracking her progress as she committed to going 365 days without yelling (she is now into the second year), so there's a wealth of useful information and shared experiences to read on her site.

Onto food now and this guide to sugar is a very simple explanation of the various types/forms of sugar and sweeteners. I suppose I already knew it but as this concise list outlines, there are no good sugars out there!

I read The Crazy Kitchen's recipe for 'vegetable burgers' earlier this week and it stuck with me. It is an easy recipe, family-friendly and unlike a lot of veggie burger recipes (based on rice/beans/breadcrumbs), it contains some vegetables! I adapted the recipe, substituting the frozen mixed veg for some fresh veg I had at home (finely diced onion and mushrooms along with some grated courgette and carrot). I used pinto beans instead of baked beans, to avoid the salt and sugar they contain. The burgers turned out well. The consistency was good, they tasted nice and the whole family enjoyed them - a winner!

Let me know in the comments if you have read anything good this week or seen a recipe you plan on trying!

Friday, 10 January 2014

This week: slipping smoothly back into the routine

This was my son's first week back to school after the Christmas holidays and after some time off for the whole family, there's always going to be a bit of adjustment as we all settle back into the daily routine. I knew my son would find this week a little tiring. It always seems to take about a week for him to get used to the schooldays and pacing himself to get through the day. I didn't want his tiredness and the grumpiness that can emerge as a result to affect everyone else's mood so have made a concerted effort to make the week go as smoothly as possible.

To be specific, I focused on the following few things to make the week better for us all:
  • kept my own mood upbeat and positive, even if I was met with a grumpy face or moany request
  • gave plenty of hugs and kisses
  • remembered  to incorporate some positive reinforcement to reward his good behaviour
  • provided a nice variety of packed lunches (I had got a bit slack on this towards the end of last term!)
  • prepared as much as I could the night before for the packed lunches to keep my own mornings less of a mad rush (something else I had been neglecting at the end of last term!)
  • brought him fairly substantial and fun snacks to eat after school on the way home
  • cooked healthy evening meals but sticking to things I knew the children would enjoy eating and therefore reducing the number of potential 'battles'
  • prepared evening meals while my son was at school and my daughter napping so I could spend more quality time with them both after school and again, to help my own sanity!
  • ensured bedtimes were on time to keep my son well rested
  • kept the rest of the week pretty low key for us all
I know what you're thinking, I should do all of this every week!! You're right! It all helped us have a smooth transition back to the daily routine. My son was happy being back at school, he was eating well and we didn't have any difficult behaviour. It was a good week!

How was your first week back to the routine after the holidays? Is there anything you made an effort to do to keep things ticking over nicely or was it naturally an easy switch?
photo credit

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

New year, new parenting goal

I can't believe this is my first post for 2014, so let me start by wishing you all a Happy New Year! It can be hard to motivate ourselves in the midst of a cold, dark winter and nowadays I don't really do new year's resolutions. Yet, with all the talk of them around this time and the whole thought of an untouched year lying ahead, it is hard to resist giving a little thought about what we might like to achieve in the months to come.

I humoured my family by announcing on new year's eve that my new year's resolution was going to be to shout less. Yes, I am ashamed to say that even Mummy Zen loses her feeling of 'zen' sometimes! We all know shouting is not an effective way of dealing with a challenging situation but unfortunately it can come too easily when we are feeling particularly exasperated. We regret it as soon as we do it and it creates an unpleasant atmosphere for everyone.

I also had the idea that I wanted to try to read more this coming year. I've gone from being someone who would fly through books in a weekend to someone who struggles to get through two books a year! Realistically, with young children to take care of, my weekends of devouring a book are long gone for now but I recognise that I can make time in an evening to read a few pages and that's what I would like to do.

Having just finished a book, I had another one in mind that I was going to start reading but then I remembered my goal to shout less and the fact that there was a book on the shelf that may compliment that very aim. So I've started reading, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. I have heard lots of good things about the book and even from just the first few pages I have read so far, I think it will be a helpful read. No doubt I will report back in due course...

We can all improve as parents, no matter how good a job we think we do. It's definitely not easy to break our parenting habits or work on something we know would be better addressed but I think we owe it to our children to do the best we can.

Is there a parenting goal you might consider tackling this year? Is there an aspect of your parenting where you recognise there is room for improvement?
photo credit