Half-terms are for adults too you know, not just for children. Well perhaps only for adults working in schools. Each half-term, I have a mental list of all the things I'm going to "achieve". I never achieve them all. Where am I going wrong? Maybe in the idea that I have to "get things done", rather than just "do" things. This Whitsun week, spent with the in-laws in a cottage-complex near Frome in Somerset, I unintentionally changed the idea of my "to do list" in favour of a "creative do list". Here's what I did.
I swam every day in the massive pool, improving my front crawl which was a great achievement in itself for me. I also ran every other day, first thing, which set me off in a good mood for the whole day.
My m-i-l and I visited Stourhead House and Gardens. Whilst the house was a touch dry, the gardens were stunning. Taking an hour or so just to walk around idyllic meadows and rhododendron-lined pathways, investigate grottos and Gothic cottages, was good for the soul. Walking around the lake, a different vista appeared at every glance, such were the gardens designed.
The gamesroom provided much fun. Replete with pool table, table football and table tennis, it was soon clear how much Ben had grown up since TableTennisGate last October in Centerparcs. (Our first game, I'm winning, Ben storms off and I go off in a huff too. Maybe we have both matured?) He was not only able to play better, but also to laugh at missed shots in good humour. Great fun. What wasn't such fun was having him tell me how to play pool as he'd been "taught by a pro" (Grandpa) for one lesson!
Tranquility. Whilst it was pleasant to do nothing, without trying to, I seemed to be creatively distracted. Psychologies magazine's Oliver Burkeman says that by fully occupying your mind on something else, you reduce the amount of attention which is otherwise used up by worrying. Hobbies requiring attention can be far more effective, he says, at reducing stress than traditionally relaxing activities. I fear this is true for me, so I've extrapolated that suggestion to include smaller-term projects, not just learning an instrument or a language, such as he recommends.
Do I need to go back to all my "Busy?" posts and update them? This also links in with Happiness by Design, a book by Paul Dolan about finding pleasure and purpose in everyday life. Watch this space!
These days, I love a good yomp around the countryside. A coastal walk is the best, but country walks rock too. The problem is, Ben doesn't love them quite as much as me and Mr Humdrum. I was never a good walker when I was young. How I wish now that I'd done the Ten Tors, but I never saw the beauty in tackling rolling hills. I'd rather have been gothing in my bedroom or, earlier still, playing on the beach. So how to interest Ben?
To be fair to Ben, at the end of a walk, he will usually say he's enjoyed it, but he'll just moan during it. And when you holiday in Cornwall each year, there aren't that many parts of the countryside which better it, so he's not really going to appreciate it as much as I do.
Yesterday we walked around the Devil's Punchbowl. Our new hobby, geocaching, provided a hook. We 'cached beforehand (tick) and gave Ben the choice of where to 'cache on the way home. He just had to endure a walk in the middle, where there were NO caches!
I've discovered he's a stickler for sticking to the map. He hates the possibility of being 'lost' - ie, when we just don't know quite where we are going to end up. (I remember getting lost on the way to meet my parents in Poole for a week's holiday when he was 4. He cried his eyes out when I had to stop to ask someone the way!) So maybe next time, we ought to get him to look on the map beforehand so he can 'help' us find our way. (Although maybe from his ability to find some of the caches, we OUGHT to be getting him to mapread!) Maybe taking our old digital camera to record some of the sights along the way might help.
What did help was us all guessing how many steps we climbed up at the last part of our walk! One hundred and ten! Ben and I lost, Mr Humdrum was the closest at 105.
Where else would you get to take a selfie with a Gruffalo? Year 5 was the last place (apart from 2kool4skool Year 6s) I'd expect children to get excited about seeing this hirsute brown beast. But yes they did, and what a joy it was to see. The Gruffalo was at school to promote our Book Fair, walking up and down the corridor beforehand, funnily enough at the same time one teacher was "at a meeting". I found Gruff, as I call him, in the staff room having refreshments (a mouse smoothie) but he was willing to pose with me.
1, After 43 years of not liking beer, I had my first pint (well a third of) in the Wave Maiden last Friday. Grand Cru (one of the 100 beers to try before you die apparently) with a champagne fizz on the tongue. Lovely. Converted? Not quite, but I'll return.
2. I can shop at any time. Even on a play date. Cal and I bought these unique bags at the Southsea Greenhouse, in Canoe Lake. We haven't been there for ages and we very surprised to see the Greenhouse and Greens Cafe!
3. Ben needs his independence. I jokingly invented a set of badges for Ben to earn over the Easter holidays; here he is earning his Go To The Shop To Buy Icecream And Return With The Correct Change. Nailed it. Badges also earned - Play Spies Out Of Sight On The Common and Walk To Football With R.
4. The power of old friends. I haven't seen the girsl in the first photo since we were 16. A funeral sadly brought us together, and one other not pictured, but good came out of it and we are meeting up in the summer with our kids.
This lot I do see once a year or so. Because I knew these girls before I met Mr Humdrum, whenever I spend time with them, I come away feeiling not only rejuvinated but full of confidence, like I probably was when I was 20. It's hard to explain.
5. How much I loved walking. Not having been a great walker for most of my life (my dad had to carry me up the cliffs when we left the beach, and mum had me in a pushchair for longer than most!), I do like a good ramble. Walking on Dartmoor over Easter reminded me of the power of the landscape. Using Map My Run to calculate calories burned was even better.
6. You can cook spag bol, well bol, in the slow cooker. I haven't got a photo of it unfortunately. The meat does look pinker than usual but it is definitely cooked!
7. And last but by no means least, I have learned I can say no. No thank you, of course. But still no. Thank you for thinking of me and for the opportunites, but I'm happy as I am, thank you. How empowering.
I have magpied this idea from another blogger but can't for the life of me remember which one! I will namecheck when my brain works.
Football again today. After a lazy start (a longer lie in was due after our Youtubing and TOTPing musical eduction last night), I dropped him off, not on the bike for I am bringing two other children home later. I went for a run, but struggled today. I only achieved 2/3 of the run, but hey. At least I did it. Then it was off to discuss options for a new car! It seems that, a test run notwithstanding, I will be getting a new bucket of new bolts very soon! Exciting times.
When I picked up Ben from football, his coach said he'd been fine today. When asked why, Ben said "Because I wanted to be good." I explained that he'd dropped himself in it now, as I know he can be! How many extra marbles shall I give him today? Three? He's currently out on the common playing football with R and S. As if he hasn't done enough today... Off out for dinner tonight. Glynn's treat, to make up for having to work all week.
Last day of the holiday.
MONEY £10 for football (already paid) and £2.50 for a hot dinner. Dinner tbc.
HEALTH AND FITNESS A run, 2/3 of normal route.
TODAY'S HIGHLIGHT It will probably be enjoying a family dinner tonight. Oh and hearing Ben has been good today.
A break from the team training today, as Ben was invited to a party by Charlie Up The Road. He came round to play in the morning, they invented two ball games for the alley, one of which was called Curly Wurly (I forget the other name, probably Kit Kat). Charlie's party was at Bowlplex, Ben should've been an expert as he'd been to Harry's party there a few weeks ago. He was the oldest there (Charlie is a year younger) and because he wasn't winning, he got into a right strop! I moved away from him to have a cup of tea in peace for 10 minutes; either that, or he was at risk of being bowled himself down the alley. When things were going his way, he was, funnily enough, in a much better mood. He did come second in the end, which satisfied him. On the car journey home, he dropped his iced cake and made a mess on the floor the car. Never mind, I'm getting a new one very soon.
MONEY Not included was the £4 parking and present money; £2 for a cup of tea in Bowlplex.
HEALTH AND FITNESS No riding today (after 20 miles in two days). In fact, no exercise today, only exercising control over unhealthy food!
TODAY'S HIGHLIGHT The introduction, and good start, of the Marble Reward System. A jar into which marbles are placed for good behaviour, and which can be exchanged for 10 minutes of screen time. Screen time is reduced to one hour a day (after 9am meaning I can lie in bed for an extra hour!). We did this a few years ago, and I realised with the decline of his behaviour, and a chat with another mum, that we needed to do something. I have heard from two other mums that their kids are playing up at the moment, so I'm clearly not the only one! Phew!
Ben went to football today with his friend from up the road. He opted for a packed lunch today which, at £2.50, isn't too bad especially as he told me ate 5 pieces of pizza and 5 burgers! I cycled again today, and down to Southsea again, but by a different route. At home after football, we did some more Skylanders drawing. When I say drawing, I mean copying out the logos. And when I say we, I mean I drew them and he coloured them in. I'm a good copier, apparently.
MONEY Football £10 and lunch £2.50; lunch £10 for me; face and eye creams £10 (well it could've been £60! Read on)
HEALTH AND FITNESS I cycled over 10 miles again and apparently that's about 700 calories!
TODAY'S HIGHLIGHT Glynn bought me a pamper voucher for Riva 6 which I used today for a massage and facial with a glass of bubbly. It was pure bliss, and very decadent to have bubbles at just gone midday! I nearly bought the £60 set but resisted thinking I'll get something different from Southsea. I then had a leisurely lunch reading my magazine (well why not? It's my only time on my own) in The Garage Bakery (delicious eggy bread with ham and cheese). This is my me time over this week.
What do we usually do in half-terms? Yes of course, play football. It's with SSA, who he plays for, and at £10 a day from 10-3, it's very good value. Add a packed lunch too to save more money. For my money saving effort, but mostly purposeful exercise, we cycled up to Goals and then I rode back into Southsea along the sea front, pausing for a quick gaze at the sea, feeling the heat through my black jeans, before meeting my old friend for lunch in Capers. Time went on, we nattered, I bought lunch, she left to start work. I cycled back the same way to pick Ben up. At home, we spent the rest of the afternoon eating pancakes and drawing Skylanders!
MONEY Total spend today: £10 for football; £16 for lunch for two (using up 3 free drinks on my loyalty card saving approx £4)
HEALTH AND FITNESS I cycled well over 10 miles today, which is unbelievable really, if I hadn't seen it on Map My Run.
TODAY'S HIGHLIGHT Nattering with my friend, whom I hadn't seen for a year.
MONEY Total spend today: £4.75 on Ben's swimming; £1 spectating; £2 cup of tea; parking refunded; £3 half of holiday money for Ben spent on Skylanders cards. Total: £10.75
Planned spend rest of week: 3 x football @ £10/day; possible cinema.
HEALTH AND FITNESS After my normal run yesterday, I walked and ran today to pick up the car.
Planned exercise for rest of week: 2 x runs; Wii Fit; stair walking.
TODAY'S HIGHLIGHT As it was rainy, we decided swimming was the order of the day but with a twist. We let the boys in on their own! They were all very sensible, stayed in 2s or the whole group (of 4). Managed to organise lockers and everything!
In my head, I have this ideal image of us all sitting down together every night for dinner, at a table not adorned by Lego Movie sets in the middle of being built, but with napkins and everything. I bring to the table a scrumptious lamb ragout/paprika chicken/lasagne that I've slaved over that afternoon.
Of course this never happens. Increasing one's hours at work happens. Football clubs and other after-school activities happen. Other Half working late happens. This ideal is ... well an ideal.
I've just about admitted that it ain't every gonna happen, so what am I going to do about it? Simplify the week's menu, so that a couple of times, after we've eaten, I can prep a meal (like one above) to serve the day after. My mum does this. In fact she does most of her cooking the day before! And it works. You know how cottage pies and soups always taste better after they've "settled" for a day?
So while experimenting on these simple "nursery" type meals, we rediscovered bacon and egg sandwiches. Dippy eggs, not just for Sunday breakfasts. Scrambled eggs. Omelettes. Egg fried rice. Jacket potatoes (which I'd avoided for years after they were named the "worst food ever" as they had the highest - or lowest? - GI on their index).
Mr Other Half was pleased too - nothing like a bacon sarnie to keep him happy. And an omelette just about brings him to his knees.
Ben wasn't upset either at the disappearance of these "occasional" big meals. He does occasionally eat a massive meal, but is usually known to eat a normal one and then by the time he's placed his cutlery on the plate, says "Can I have some cereal?" So this type of menu suits him too. He can have a packed lunch style snack after school, eat a nursery tea, then cereal before bed. (And before you ask, we don't need to worry about his weight!)
This week's menu:
Sunday - bacon sarnies for lunch; roast lamb
Monday - birthday meal at Pizza Hut
Tuesday - omelette and bread
Wednesday - jacket potatoes and tuna
Thursday - chicken stew (prepped the night while the potatoes are baking!) (Thursdays are my late and heavy work load day so something in the slow cooker is the best idea.)
Friday - who knows night! Carpet picnic probably.
I'm no stranger to quiche. I have made filo ones aux Hairy Bikers (very nice, bit more fiddly to make) and my mum always brings up a quiche from The Pasty Shop opposite Glynn's mum and dad's house in Saltash (why make them when they taste so nice and are basically home made?).
For Christmas, my in laws bought me the Higgidy Cookbook, you know they make the yummy little pies we buy from Waitrose? I chose to use my in laws as guinea pigs for my first recipe - a mixture between their Quiche Lorraine and Smoked Chicken and Parsley Pesto Quiche.
I had to bake blind, which I hadn't done for years, so I had to buy some baking beans. I didn't put enough beans in the, nor prick my pastry, so I had a few balloons. Also as the sheets of pastry (no I didn't make my own, who do you think I am? My mother?) were too small, instead of rolling out (which I will do next time) I tried to join two pieces together. Not successful but as my mother in law kindly said, it makes it look more authentic.
Here's my version of the recipe:
1 sheet of shortcrust pastry
Bake blind (prick it!) for 20 mins on 180 degrees (fan). (I did this the night before and kept the pastry in the cool oven.)
200g meat (I used leftover gammon)
a few asparagus stems that I'd fried earlier
250ml double cream
3 medium eggs (I was supposed to put 1 egg yolk in it but I forgot - but didn't notice!)
handful of grated cheese
I spooned in the warm asparagus stems (chopped) and cool meat and herbs. Then I whisked the cream and eggs together, seasoned, and poured in the pastry case, scattering the cheese on top.
I baked on a hot baking sheet for 25-30 mins (but I think it was catching after 20 mins). We had most of it hot that night, and small leftover cold slivers for lunch the next day. Delicious! Best one I've ever made.
... said Ben today. Let me explain the context. I was helping Ben with his homework by showing him a few rudimentals of Excel. He then said "I think I might take over Dad's job when I'm older. It's a really cool job" (A year ago, Mr Humdrum and his friend set up an architectural technical firm.) I felt really pleased that he'd said this, and asked Ben to repeat it to his dad when we were in the car a bit later on, going to football.
So he did. When pushed for more information, here were the four reasons why Ben wants to follow in his father's footsteps:
He doesn't get bossed around by anyone.
He can go and have a poo if he's feeling bored with his job.
He can have snacks whenever he likes.
He can play hide-and-seek with the other two there for fun.
And that, ladies and gentleman, is why he thinks it's a really cool job.
One of my aims this week (while I'm Ben-free) is to consolidate my list of recipes. I'm getting fed up with stressing about what to cook. I love cooking, I love shopping for food, these are not my issues. It's when Ben and I get in after activities in the evenings, I don't have time for cooking long and complicated recipes. I'm not averse to cutting corners from time to time (I've started to buy ready made mash from Waitrose -it's only got potatoes, salt and pepper in it!) but obviously I don't want to eat ready meals often.
Which brings me to my first recipe I'm going to share with you. I'm naming it Victorious Chicken Burrito, so named after the fabulous Burrito Boys's delish food at the Victorious Festival here in Portsmouth last weekend. I ate there twice on Saturday and it's reignited my love for Mexican food. I also follow a Slowcooker Facebook group and this recipe is adapted slightly from theirs. If there is any sauce left from dinner tonight, I shall probably freeze it to use another time. In fact, it would be worth making two lots, wouldn't it?
Victorious Chicken Burrito
To make the chicken -
- 4 chicken thighs
- half a can of black beans, drained and rinsed
- a can of ratatouille (need to investigate the salt and sugar here, it was just for convenience)
- half a packet of Taco seasoning (I just found that in the cupboard, you could make your own or use any Mexican seasoning)
- a can of tomatoes
I bunged it all in the slow cooker and cooked for around 6-8 hours on Medium and then let it settle all night, and it's still settling now. I have pulled the chicken apart, that's the photo I've used.
To make the burrito -
- for convenience I'm using a pack of Mexican rice
- salsa (I may just chop some tomatoes up and add coriander etc)
- grated cheese
- natural yogurt
- guacamole (I'm going to make my own tonight, I may post the recipe if successful)
Pack the pulled chicken, alongside rice, salsa, guacamole, cheese and yogurt into a tortilla wrap. Fold and EAT! Photos later.
I've seen this many times online, so I'm not taking any credit (Diary of a Frugal Family, one of my favourite blogs, has it here for example). I got the idea while reading A Mother's Ramblings' post where they got up at 4am and watched the sunrise. The photos were amazing and it's inspired me to put some ideas into a jar. I haven't actually made the jar yet, but I have started a list!
Since receiving his stunt scooter at Christmas, Ben has visited the skate park a few times, mostly at my mum's house in Cornwall, where he has watched shyly until confident he can do the same moves. We have heard from a few people about how good the Southsea Skate Park was so a few weeks ago, we went with E and the JRs.
Then the JR's mum asked if we wanted to go this week as well, for the scooter training. The two boys duly achieved their Level 1 certificates, well done Ben and R! While we were there the first time, we saw a teenager attempt some scary stunt only to fall heavily in a kind of vertical direction. Amazingly he didn't break his neck, or any other part of his body, and walked away. But watching him and the others who all do their stunts properly, it made me realise I might wish to take advantage of the Pay and Go Away system. Is Ben old enough for me to leave him?!
Ben, or Elf as I used to call him, has today gone to his first Cub Camp. He's been away on Beaver and Cub sleepovers, spent weeks away from us with his grandparents and at friends' houses. I remember when he was a toddler and as Grandma and Grandpa drove away from our road, we expected a wave, certainly not tears. He didn't even wave, he just started reading a magazine or something and that was it. Which is good. I am amazed at how many parents say "Oh so and so has never been away from us". I have even thought in the past "Are we bad parents?" No! I work term time and whilst it's lovely to not have to worry about childcare in the holidays, I don't ever get any time on my own. Save for the one week a year when Grandma and Grandpa whisk him away to Devon. Then I get time to spend doing exactly what I want (like falling off a bench or deciding to stop blogging and use my Facebook page, hang on haven't I just done that again?). So this year I'm extremely lucky because I get that Devon week (after Bank Holiday) and the next four days! Friends are about to dump send off their children at camp (Brownies and Cubs) so we have made a couple of plans to meet up! Yes, meeting up. SANS ENFANTS. Maybe going out for a meal? Having a drink without the tiny thought in the back of your mind that you may have to sober up in the next few minutes to deal with an injury or a scrap. Ben's mate J said to his mum "I'm so excited about going to camp. Two days not under your control!" And he thought he was the winner. No J, we are the winners. I'll report back how the evenings out went.
One of my oldest (longest) friend's dad died recently and I travelled down to the homeland to pay my respects to him, and to support my friend. Travelling alone was a bit of a luxury, sans enfant et sans Glynn. I never get to spend time with my parents on my own, so we made the most of it. The funeral went as well as could be expected, but the party afterwards was a true celebration of his life. He would have been so proud of his two sons. The next day, the three of us went to Mount Edgcumbe Park for a long ramble, hoping to find where I lost my dog Kim many, many years ago. In fact my friend and I were discussing it only the day before (he'd been with me). I don't think I did find the actual pathway but we did walk around in an odd figure of 8 shape, finished off by a nice cup of tea in the Orangery. Here Dad and I are racing back from the Folly to up where Mum waited.