Ok so this blog is supposed about things that make me feel good or allow me to spend time with my family. Well gardening doesn’t make me feel good, I’m bad at it and I seem to kill more plants than I grow. That said, if I keep the garden reasonably pruned it let’s me spend more time outside playing with my kids, or even better lets me send them outside to play while I get on with other jobs. I think the best that can be said about gardening from my point of view is that doing it lets me do other rewarding things later on.

Last week I gave the garden it’s first “haircut” of the year. I started by cutting back the hedge on the road side – this makes no difference to family life but I’m really hoping it will stop the people touting for business door to door from continually knocking to ask if I want them to cut the hedge for me. True to form it didn’t go too well, the cordless hedge trimmer died after 15 minutes and I had to do the rest by hand. Now you’re probably sat there thinking just get a plug in one, here’s the problem. We live on a corner plot, the front garden is probably twice the size of the back and is a triangle with the longest side running along the roadside. The previous owners were devoted gardeners and left us with a beautiful hedge and many many shrubs and bushes. While I would love to have a plug in hedge trimmer, the cable would need to be about 60 meters long to reach to the end of the hedge.

After the hedge was done (and the sweeping up which I REALLY REALLY hate) I had a go at the lawns. We have 2 at the front and neither had been touched since last year. I dug up the huge nettle that appeared last year and the little ones that were spreading from it and generally tried to make the garden look less abandoned.

I’m quite pleased with the results. I still need to cut back the hedge on the garden side and trim all the bushes but I can let the kids go out now without feeling too guilty. As always, when I attack the garden it attacks right back. My nails are shredded and my arms are covered in scratches in spite of the gloves. I think this is one of my main dislikes of gardening; the destroying of my hands.

Anyhow that’s my moan about the garden done. Thankfully the back garden is paved and easier to manage. The back corner is the only planted bit that gives me problems. There’s an ornamental grass that grows huge every year, and a Wisteria that looks beautiful when it’s in flower but drops masses of petals, seed pods and leaves every single year. The only other problem I have with the back garden has nothing to do with gardening. It has to do with small people. 3 days ago I came out of the house after doing some jobs to find my son happily throwing sand from the sandpit over the entire garden. When I told him to stop he turned to his sister (who wasn’t anywhere near he sand) and told her very firmly “No more throwing!” We spent the next hour sweeping up 😀

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Posted by on April 23, 2013 in garden, Parenting


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Bread, bread and more bread!

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve become a little bit obsessed with baking my own bread. I think this is partly due to re-runs of the Great British Bake Off and partly because I’m trying to start making things that are better for me – baking cakes is brilliant but doesn’t help with my diet and I seem to have stalled at a size 12 😦

plaited bread

It started badly due to a typo in Nigella Lawson’s How to be a domestic goddess. The recipe stated a tablespoon of salt. A TABLESPOON! Now I haven’t made bread for a while but even so if I’d been using even a 5th of my brain that should have rung alarm bells. Apparently though this is what happens when you have kids, you stop paying attention and accept what’s written at face value. In fact the other day I got in the car to drive to the corner shop (it was raining) and automatically drove halfway to the supermarket before I even realised what I was doing. The bread did actually rise though by rights that much salt should have killed the yeast but was definitely inedible. The next couple of loaves were better – I slightly overcompensated and put almost no salt in before getting it right but ended up with yummy bread in a pretty plaited shape (above). Not perfect but very tasty. Tonight I was in a hurry so didn’t plait the loaf – instead it’s round(ish).


The kids have loved baking bread and the ex-science teacher in me has loved talking about the yeast making bubbles in the bread so it gets bigger. My husband is getting homemade bread for his sandwiches everyday and keeps winding me up that we’ll be living the Good life pretty soon.

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Posted by on April 23, 2013 in Baking, Parenting, Uncategorized


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Little fun fest

Thanks to twitter blogger Tiredmummyoftwo we learned about an exciting festival for children being held in Altrincham near Manchester. The festival ran over two days so a friend and I decided to go on the Friday.

Little fun fest was held at Red house farm and had pretty much every thing small people could want, from fairies and dancing to Harry Potter, Hagrid and broomstick rides.

We were greeted by giants and fairies as we waited to hand over our tickets, before enjoying coffee and cake in the lovely little tea room.


Next we moved on to the open barn where some fairies made a rainbow from magical invisible coloured objects. The children loved handing over invisible creatures and ended up underneath a beautiful rainbow cloth before the next treat of storytime with cBeebies star Alex Winters.


Not just one story though – we had two stories. We went on a bear hunt and found room on the broom with a friendly witch. On the bear hunt the children went exploring round the barn, through all the obstacles before getting to run away from the “bear” (a poor dad with the misfortune to be sat in the middle). Alex was brilliant with the kids, he engaged them from the start while managing to keep their attention throughout.

There was so much to do we didn’t get round everything although we were there from 10 till 4. Things we did do included watching cBeebies’ Mr Bloom on stage and going on the free fairground rides. We played in the sandpit and on the slide before running in and out of the playhouse again and again (the children that is – we sat on the side and drank coffee).

The highlights of my son’s day were when Alex said hello to him and when he got a high five from Mr Bloom while having his photo taken. His smiles when he met his cBeebies heroes were the best parts of my day.


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Egg hunts and easter trees


Easter is a wonderful chance for families to spend time together but I have to admit that I struggle with the massive amounts of chocolate given to children. Although close family don’t give us chocolate eggs we still seem to end up with quite a few. In true hippo-critical fashion that pretty much means more for me. I want my children to enjoy Easter but I won’t give them massive amounts of sugar. We have an egg hunt on Easter morning with a very limited number of small eggs and try do do other things to make it special.

Easter Friday this year was spent making and “Easter tree” a german tradition that I vaguely remember my mum making one year when I was little. For the month up to Easter if I was making anything with eggs for the family I blew out the eggs instead of cracking them, meaning we ended up with about a dozen hollow egg shells (after breakages) to dye. It’s a simple enough process – warm water, vinegar and food colouring. I thought this would be a great thing for the kids to get into and we tried putting stickers and sticky tape on some of the eggs to make patterns. They very much enjoyed making the eggs, although as the water was quite hot the couldn’t join in as much as I originally hoped. We strung our eggs on brightly coloured ribbon and hung them from a “tree” which was really branches cut from one of the many overgrown bushes in our garden. (Our house’s previous owners were very keen gardeners who left us with a lot of lovely bushes and trees. Unfortunately the extent of my gardening involves cutting them all back twice a year).

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I have to admit to being pretty impressed with the results, although the original vase turned out to be too unstable meaning the final result was the picture below.


The tree lasted for a week and a half and according to my three year old one of the eggs cracked and there was a lovely baby bird inside.

The yellow flowers came out in the heat and looked great, every year I cut back this bush and think what a waste it is of beautiful flowers, so it was nice to get some use from them.

To finish off the weekend we went on an egg hunt at Erddig, a National Trust property in north Wales which runs one of the Cadbury Easter trails each year. In previous years we’ve gone to this event and picnicked on the grass in glorious sunshine while children played football around us. This year was a little different due to the late heavy snows. As we drove nearer the world got whiter. By the time we arrived there were banks of snow on the sides of the road. We had a lovely time searching for hidden nests and identifying which bird layed which eggs, but stayed well wrapped up and headed off for coffee and cake paninis at a local Starbucks as soon as we had finished.


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Posted by on April 14, 2013 in holiday, Parenting


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From the Seychelles to Center Parcs in 5 years


Once upon a time we had a fairy tale wedding in a castle and a honeymoon in the Seychelles. Beautiful white sand beaches, cocktails at sunset and glorious sunshine. To be fair there was no internet and my husband would have been happier if the local hospital hadn’t been on the next island but in general it was an amazing holiday. This year was our 5th wedding anniversary so naturally we wanted to do something a bit special, but the addition of two little people means that a 10 hour flight to the middle of nowhere is a lot less appealing and a bit too pricey. Instead we went for the less glamorous but much more practical Center Parcs in Sherwood forest. We’ve been before and knew it would be a child friendly, comfortable holiday with a reasonably short drive that potty training toddlers could cope with.

We agreed that we wouldn’t get each other presents as we were spending a decent amount on the holiday, but I found out the day before we left that my husband had been all romantic and got me something as a surprise. Because I never know what to get him I decided to make a cake, although naturally I’d run out of everything so had to make a mad dash to Sainsbury’s.

Apparently the 5th wedding anniversary is wood so I made a rectangular cake and cut it into a number 5. The morning we left involved packing the car and decorating the cake with the “help” of 2 toddlers. The wood effect icing and the ivy were my idea, the butterflies were my 3year old’s.


Times change and so do holidays but we had a wonderful time as a family. The sub-tropical swimming pool was brilliant, the restaurants had crayons and colouring books for the kids and the wildlife was wonderful for entertaining little ones. At night we sat in front of the fire and just enjoyed relaxing.We had such a good time my son didn’t want to leave. In fact he spent the next week saying he wanted to go back.

I look at the last 5 years and so much has changed. We have two wonderful children, a grown-up house in suburbia and are well on our way to being “middle aged”. It hasn’t always been easy and anyone who has suffered sleep loss from a small baby will understand that it really really really is so much harder than you ever believe it will be. Like most people I always thought parents were exaggerating and that my baby would be different and perfect. But however hard it’s been there are moments when you sit quietly and see how worthwhile it’s all been. I can see the light at the end of the (sleep deprived) tunnel and wouldn’t change it for anything.


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Relaxation = Yoga + Childcare


Any parent with small children knows that finding time to yourself can be a challenge. 4 years ago I could pretty much do whatever I wanted; stay up late, go dancing or go to the gym. I didn’t have to worry about 6:00 am wakeup calls from bouncy toddlers or who’s going to watch the children if I want to have a night out.
Things are very different now; when we had our second child I became a full time mum, keeping our son in nursery for just one day a week. For a year and a half I was always responsible for at least 1 child and even when I could have gone out to the gym – for example in the evenings or if the grandparents baby sat for a few hours – I would struggle to find the energy to go out and would most likely spend the time curled up on the sofa watching bad TV shows.
Recently though things have been getting better. In January we became entitled to government help with our son’s pre-school hours, reducing the cost of his nursery fees and allowing us to send both our children to nursery one day a week. While I wouldn’t feel happy putting my children into nursery full time I was very glad to be able to start sending our daughter for this single day a week. My son was in nursery part-time from 9 months old when I returned to work, however circumstances meant that my daughter had never been cared for by anyone other than myself or a close relative. At 18 months she was very clingy and always needed her Mummy. This is endearing in many ways but it is also restrictive and if it continued would make it much harder for her when she had to begin school. By slowly introducing her to an environment where she is well cared for by non-family members we hope to increase her independence and reassure her that even though Mummy leaves her in the morning it is only until the end of the day. After the first couple of weeks of tears at drop-off and pick-up (from her not me) she now happily runs in to the toddler room to play and jumps for joy when I collect her at night.
Having both children in nursery has meant that I suddenly have a full day to myself with no-one to look after. Of course it’s very easy to fill that time with all the mundane chores I struggle to do during the week, the washing is always there and then there’s the garden and the dusting to do but in the last couple of weeks I’ve started managing to take a bit of time for myself. I’m finally managing to go to the gym for something other than lunch. Once upon a time I used to do a lot of yoga and dance, so I have started going to the Wednesday morning yoga class. You get to stretch and feel all lovely and achy, and you then get to relax for 15 minutes without feeling guilty. After that if I’m not rushing anywhere I sit in the jacuzzi for 10 minutes as well. It may not sound like much but it is making a surprising amount of difference to my quality of life. I feel more relaxed, I feel less guilty about paying for an underused gym membership, and I am noticing a definite improvement in my figure. Because I’m noticing how much better I feel after doing the Wednesday class I’m encouraged to also do the Sunday night class, meaning I feel even better and am getting something close to reasonable use from my gym membership. It’s good to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that as your children get older you do start to get a little bit of your old life back.

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Posted by on March 6, 2013 in Parenting, Uncategorized, yoga


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Sweet treats and bribery


Like all parents I want the best for my kids, I want them to have a healthy diet but I also want them to be able to enjoy treats. I find well timed bribes can work wonders and we are currently attempting potty training with the incentive of a “bedtime cake” for my son if he manages to stay dry for the whole day.

The problem I have with treats is that I am (slightly) fussy about what my children eat. When they’re older I’m sure they’ll point out my double standards to me – I am not a health nut, I eat chocolate and crisps; at the cinema my favourite pick and mix sweets are the neon green apple cables that are packed full of e-numbers and sugar – however, all that aside I don’t give my kids branded chocolate, they never have crisps or icecream in the house and they only get biscuits occasionally – usually when they have friends to play.

My husband would say I’m strict whereas I would say I’m careful. If we are at friend’s party or playgroup and everyone else is having sweets then of course our 2 don’t get left out. I’m not that mum who insists that her children sit on the side while all the others get cake and icecream, but I do see a massive difference in behaviour when my little darlings are up to their eyeballs in sugar. On the way back from a recent birthday party our 3 year old was manic, he kept trying to reach across to his little sister and consequently wasn’t sat safely in his car-seat; cue a massive telling off from daddy and the admission that maybe they do behave a lot worse when they’ve had too much of sugar.

The compromise I’ve settled on is that we make a lot of our own treats. Gingerbread biscuits, cupcakes, brownies etc. If I know exactly what has gone into something I am happier to give it as a treat. I do have a few blind spots – the food colourings and sprinkles I add to the icing for instance, but I hold my hand up about this and am not trying to pretend my cakes are completely additive free. A major advantage of making your own treats is being completely in control of portion size. I can cut my brownies into toddler sized pieces, use mini cutters for biscuits and – as I discovered this week – make teeny tiny cupcakes in petit four baking cases.

I am completely in love with these tiny cakes as they are a way of giving my children something that is recognisably a cake without worrying about splitting it between them or being tempted to have a bit myself. I got to play at icing them prettily and my son got to shake the sprinkles over them which he loved. Both my children enjoy baking and I find it a lovely rewarding way to spend time with them. I find I can cope with mess much better if I end up with something tasty as a result, than if the only outcome is salt dough squashed into the carpet. Fingers crossed they continue to enjoy baking and cooking as they grow up…


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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Baking, Parenting


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Hearts for my valentine


Love it or hate it, last week it was difficult to avoid Valentines day.

Whether you decided to go for broke with dinner, champagne and roses or to ignore it completely because you resent the commercialism, you must have been hard pressed to miss the oceans of roses as you walked through the supermarket doors, and the conveniently placed cards by the tills.

This year my husband and I opted for something in the middle. With 2 children and a 5 year anniversary next month, the days of exclusive restaurants and pre-dinner champagne have gone by the wayside, replaced with a candle lit “dine in meal for 2” and a bottle of Asti.

The key thing for me when we decided to stay at home was that we should still have a romantic evening that felt different to a normal night in. This meant candles, music and something a bit special. The candles and music were easily sorted – heart shaped tealights spotted while doing the weekly shop and the Love Actually CD that was still on the side from last year when we did something similar. The final touch came in the form of home-made cupcakes with heart chocolates, inspired by a random picture on Facebook and the novel Chocolat by Joanne Harris.

The thought of making my own chocolate hearts appealed to me. Reading a book filled with descriptions of tempering and making chocolates somewhere in the french countryside fills you with romantic ideas of creating mountains of delicious truffles in the blink of an eye. Having said that the reality of 1st time chocolates would probably be less successful, so I decided to compromise on cupcakes which I know I can make well, combined with the easiest type of chocolates I had found to make.

Over the last few years I have taught myself – quite successfully, the art of cake decorating; from swirly butter cream cupcakes to Christmas cakes and Thomas the tank engine cakes, I’ve spent a decent amount of time and “fun money” on a hobby that pays dividends at birthdays and special occasions. The cupcakes are easy, combine Nigella Lawson’s fairy cake recipe with Hummingbird Bakery vanilla butter cream and you have calorific cupcakes to die for. The tricky bit was the chocolates which I had never tried before. I opted for Wilton Candy Melts, not real chocolate but a candy available in different colours that can be moulded. A tray of heart shapes and red candy was all I needed to get started and within an hour I had some presentable red hearts to go on top of my cupcakes. Ok so they had a few air bubbles in them and I cracked the mould a bit getting them out but overall I was pretty pleased with the results. With a bit of practice I think I could start regularly adding little moulded candies to my cakes and maybe even have a decent go at making real chocolates in the future.


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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Baking


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