Every year I make a Christmas hamper with the boys for Grandparents, it’s something that not only do I love doing, but it really means so much to the recipient because it has been homemade with love. I just don’t think you can beat it.
One of the things that I’ve started including in my hampers over the last few years is photobooks of the kids making the hamper or special photographs of the kids through out the year. I don’t think there is anything better than giving a memory, which let’s be honest is really what a hamper is about – crafts, photos, home made treats, it’s all about the memories and not just for the recipient but for the giver too. We have such fun making the hampers and the kids know that we will start doing bits and bobs around Halloween – making Christmas cake, making flavoured liquors… the prep starts early over here! Below are a few of the pictures I’ve added to my hampers over the last few years.
The other thing I start to look out for in mid October is hamper baskets. You can get them in so many places but the prices start to get hiked up early November time and you can get some wonderful, unique hampers from flea markets, charity shops and other even car boots. I have a bit of a basket fetish at the moment so I could really claim to collect them all year long, but I think it adds such a lovely touch. I also love looking out for uniquely shaped bottles, jars and gift boxes. If you don’t have them knocking about, make them with the kids with a bit of paper mache – going back to the memory giving, it will mean all the more.
Here is a little list of what we’ve put in hampers over the last few years, for everything that we do we take a little picture and add it to a book or make a personalised label with it.
- Clementine and Vanilla Vodka – I wrote about this last year, and I couldn’t not include it in a hamper, especially as it has been requested by virtually everyone!
- Peppermint creams made by the boys
- Handmade chocolates (you can use any number of moulds to give them a fun shape)
- Chocolate truffles – with or without alcohol added. Everyone thinks that these are really difficult to do but they are so easy and taste lovely!
- Christmas flavour vodka. Vodka is always an easy drink to take out flavour and I did try this last year. It wasn’t my bag, but my husband and father in law certainly seemed to appreciate the earthy taste!
- Salt dough tree decorations. So easy to do and great fun for the kids.
- Art work by the kids. Check out my pinterest board for suggestions.
- Limoncello. This is one my mum has made for a time now and it is lovely, so I want to give it a go this year with her recipe!
- Good old fashioned mince pies. The boys love making mince pies even though they aren’t too keen on eating them. I will dig out my recipe as I use a special rośe pastry that just makes them sooo scrummy!
- Christmas cake. Whenever I do this I never make it any later than the end of October/ beginning of November. That way it matures, and once sealed in an air tight container it’s amazing when it’s ready. I also get the boys to help me brush it with either sherry, whisky or (my personal favourite) cherry brandy once a day! I usually add a few cheeses from a local deli to go with the cake. Yum!
- Homemade cherry brandy
- Homemade apple brandy – we did this last year and included a picture of the boys picking the apples in my in-law’s garden. It was so sweet and ideal for adding that sweet touch, giving them that memory every time they take a slug (or a glug…)
- Sloe Gin – there is so much to be said for taking the kids to pick sloes!
- Homemade Lemon curd
- Homemade chutneys. my favourite is a chilli and tomato jam that my mum makes. You can’t really have Christmas without cold cuts, cheese and chilli jam. Oooh!
- Homemade jams. This is something that Reuben helped me with last year, though I had to take most of the lead because of the extremely hot and dangerous sugar solutions. Just be careful if you do make this, but do give it a go.
- Handprint baubles. So simple and easy, this will definitely be on the blog with a step by step tutorial, you really can’t beat it, especially for a very little one.
- Handmade cake pops
- Nut selections with homemade spices
- Homemade fudge
- Homemade Christmas card
- Handmade soaps or other bath smellies
There are literally thousands of things you could include, and it could be done to suit every single person’s needs. I tend to add more handmade trinkets from the boys for family members, but for friends I may make a tree decoration and fill the rest with cakes, sweet treats, boozy treats and generally tasty things for Christmas – not everyone will appreciate my kid’s mugs in a photobook but i know their grandparent’s can’t get enough of it.
What are your thoughts on personalised hampers?
Halloween really is one of my favourite times of the year – I get all excited about the pumpkins and the decorations and the leaves falling everywhere. Warming soup, cosy blankets and roaring fires with a cup of hot chocolate while watching some of the best classic movies – it’s the beginning of the best parts of the year, the party season.
Party seasons, however, cost a bloody fortune and I’ve never made any secret about the fact that, while I love to splash out every so often, I’m not likely to put Edith in a £75 dress for one day or buy the boys something that just isn’t practical for the rest of the year. I love to make the most of Halloween and I find myself dressing the boys (and Edie) in clothes that are a little bit more funky – like Toby’s skeleton leggings, or Edith’s cat’s ears headband – but stuff that I would use again and again. Do they have a box full of fancy dress if they want to dress up? Sure, but let’s talk Halloween fashion without the fancy dress element. Here are my picks.
- Stella McCartney reversible ghost, glow in the dark t-shirt.
- Rockahula kids glitter cat clips
- Smallable x Oeuf ecru dalmatian hoodie
- Waddler wolf suit (also available in beige)
- Bang bang copenhagen swan dress
- Molo magne skull sweater
- Emile et Ida cat tights
Now while the rational side of me argues that we really shouldn’t be spending this kind of moola on kid’s clothes, there is another part of me that argues that, as adults, we work hard for what we have. I love fashion, but rarely get the chance to indulge myself, so I have a tendency to buy a few higher priced items for the kids as well as shopping at H&M or Primarni… after all, why not?
I’ve often had those moment where I reflect on the early months of Edith’s life, remembering a lot of things, from the tiny fingers that held my heart to endless hours spent walking up and down the living room at 12am whilst watching The Walking Dead (fortuitously discovered 4 seasons in.)
This week has been especially trying so far, with a really bad case of man flu on my behalf and a less than happy Edith, who was displeased with my being unwell and further disgruntled that she wasn’t feeling tip top. On top of this I’ve had a few deadlines to match and it’s all been a bit hectic. There have been a fair few times that I have felt close to tears whilst Edith has kicked and screamed in my face, her dad staring at us in disbelief because he’s always been at work and never really privy to the way she behaves when she doesn’t want mama to do anything but sit and feed her.
Last night Adam asked me if it was like this often and I told him the truth – no, this week is especially tough, but throw back to 12 months ago and it was much much worse. Funnily, I remember it being much worse, I remember feeling like I had a cloud over me and that I was paddling in deep water, forever struggling to stay afloat, but what I didn’t realise was the depth of despair I truly felt. The loneliness, the feeling of failure and the disinterest in the majority of the world around me. I look back on life with Edith, a difficult baby by anyone’s standards, and I realise that what I experienced sounds a lot like post natal depression.
I’ve never been diagnosed with PND and I don’t think, in hindsight, that I needed any treatment however I do think that a lot of women walk a line between PND and full blown sign and dance, I’m so happy my face could melt feelings, but there is little discussion of that in-between feeling of just not having your shit together. Some days are glorious and you feel like you have stepped out of an area where strangers should be chanting your name because, god dammit, you had this DOWN. You fed the kids, no one had too much of a melt down, you talked to adults (without sobbing or twitching) and you had a good day. The the next day comes and it isn’t a good day. It’s a day that leaves you wondering how you will face tomorrow, it’s a day that makes you wonder if you made a mistake having another baby and the. Leaves you feeling like a terrible person because you really wish you could take it all back… but not really. Then you read a story about someone whose baby has died and you feel even worse because, yes your baby is insanely tough, but you wouldn’t want anything to happen to them and then panic builds like bile in the back of your throats and it’s all you can do just to breath.
We jest a lot about needing a glass of the good stuff to calm our frayed nerves at the end of the day, but many of us – myself specifically here – refuse to truly acknowledge that some days, we didn’t cope and some days we were over whelmed. In the grand scheme of things these days melt away and we remember the good moments but they act like a shadowy cloud over what was an otherwise happy and challenging period.
To tell you the truth I look back over the last few years and from the time Edith was 4-5 months old to her being 18 months has that cloud, that panicky feeling that if I look back too deeply I think I will discover I struggled far more than my pride would admit.
Last week was world mental health week and I didn’t feel that with all these brilliant bloggers writing about their struggles with genuine mental illness like PND I could really contribute so I kept shtum, but having reassessed, maybe my contribution wouldn’t be purely speculative after all.
If you feel like you are struggling, like those bad days are outweighing the good, don’t let it take you a year and a half to admit it to yourself. Talk to someone and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to see the sunshine.
To say I never saw my future as one involved in blogging is a bit of an understatement.
When I thought of blogging when I was younger, my thoughts would travel to the Zoella types – young, female, pretty and painfully good with hair and make up. My hair is lucky if I unleash it from the mum bun and comb it once a week, never mind figure out how to do a fish-tail braid crown with *just* the right amount of “messy” strands at the from. Make up is something that takes me roughly 3.2 minutes to do in the morning after unlatching the baby from the nipple and often in conjunction with the morning piddle. I’m a multi-tasker but that is probably where you can draw the line with similarities between me and the queen of the vlog-blog.
I talk a lot about stereotyping on the blog and yet I’ve just proved my point that we ALL do it. I never knew there were different strains of blogger – feminist bloggers, technology bloggers, beauty and fashion bloggers, parenting bloggers… there is a niche for everything and everyone (including pets – something I’m considering setting up next year if I can be bothered to kick my arse into gear and actually maintain Yoda’s instagram account…) Blogging is a career now, a damned good one at that – one that helps us work flexibly and in turn brings people who maybe felt alone closer together. No longer is it all about hair or make up my friends. Blogging is as diverse as the world it thrives in.
There are so many ways in which blogging professionally differs from my past life in retail. Some of it (most, let’s be honest, it’s most) is positive; the flexibility to be there as and when the kids want or need me, the opportunities that I’m lucky enough to have, the pride in something that I have created from scratch with minimal input from others, just to name a few. It would be unfair, though, to make out that blogging didn’t have downsides as it sure does, there is an element of instability to blogging – if I’m not on point all of the time, if I’m ill and can’t meet a deadline then I just won’t get paid. There are moments when you will be trolled by lonely people with nothing better to do on twitter and there are moments when you will feel quite lonely yourself. One aspect that rarely get’s talked about, and maybe it’s because blogging is still a relatively new profession in the UK and many people in more established fields have the same issue, but blogging can be a lot of sitting at a desk and typing. I suppose the major difference is that if you have an employer they will be expected to provide you with furniture at work yet a blogger can often be earning a a full time wage, sat on their sofa, hunched over a laptop and instagramming the shit out of flat lays they have set up in their living room. It’s just the way life goes sometimes.
I suppose after years of running up and down the shop floor, climbing ladders in stock rooms and being generally up and about, the sedentary part of blogging is something I find harder to deal with from a health perspective, especially with regards to exercise or snacking. It’s not something that all bloggers struggle with, I follow a few fitness bloggers who are out and about, posting from their phones and just make the old me feel like a couch potato (speaking of couch – couch to 5k bloggers are insanely motivational) but for some of us, having to sit and write whilst knowing there is a kitchen with a beautiful chocolate cake that snuck into your shopping basket just awaiting your next tea break can make it harder to stay on track.
Blogging is something that I would certainly recommend for anyone, whether you just want to indulge a creative angle of your life that you don’t feel is being fulfilled or whether you’re just looking for a place to get those rambling out, I also think there has to be something said for taking it seriously. I can’t tell you how often I get told I’m lucky to get “freebies” or asked if I’m planning on getting a job once Edith goes to school. The truth is, I work hard, really hard and though I’ll be the first to admit that blogging is a profession that is seriously #blessed (instagrammers will see what I did there) there are downsides.
I look forward to a day when my kids are older and freelance work of this style can glean the respect and understanding that it truly deserves.
What is your profession? Do you blog or would you like to?
*Collaboration with Furniture at Work 🙂
I’m what some would call a “planner”. Other, perhaps more accurate people would refer to this trait as “control freak” but we’ll maintain “planner” in Camp Harriet at the moment.
Thanks to these tendancies, and an uncanny ability to over load metaphorical plate, I’ve been grabbing Christmas presents – not for the children, may that begins in the Christmas sales – for the adults in my life. Specifically starting to look around for the difficult ones. My in laws and mum have slipped into “hamper and homemade” category now, perhaps with the odd small bought gift chucked in, but their main gift is made up of homemade soaps, homemade alcohol (always a winner), homemade chocolates and sweet/savoury treats – alongside some rather cute crafts from the children.
That in mind, they really aren’t hard to buy for, but Adam is an awkward Annie. He is all about football memorabilia, football this, football that… but what the devil do you get him once that has all been bought? And spontaneity? Forget it. I searched far and wide, found some rather nifty gifts at www.chums.co.uk (which I nabbed before they sold out) but then felt a bit flat. I started thinking about all the things that Adam does for us, all the things he means to us, especially the children.
It isn’t the first time I’ve had to sit back and really think about my husband and the relationship he has with the kids, it was launched into the fore of my brain several times during our trip to DisneyWorld. I have touched on it a few times before in my posts about DisneyWorld, but it has always been a marker in my relationship with my own father. It wasn’t a simple case of the spoiled child pouting and declaring “he never took me to DisneyWorld”, complete with stamping foot, but rather it has remained the mascot of a damaged relationship, filled with continual broken promises and let downs. I wouldn’t ever let my mum take me to DisneyWorld as a child because, “Daddy is going to take me, he promised” and, like so many of his promises – from DisneyWorld to just showing up for a weekly visit – it never materialised and I’ve held it against him for the majority of my adult life. As a toddler I was very much a stereotypical “Daddy’s girl” and I was somewhat devastated when my parents separated when I was 4 years old. In fact, anyone who knows me will know that I rarely talk about my Dad – one of my dearest friends summed it up by telling me I “sporadically blurt something out about him and then nothing is mentioned for months”.
Relationships are a tough thing to pin down aren’t they? They fluctuate, especially when we are old enough to look at the bigger picture, but even though we know that we can forgive and forget, I think the child like parts of us are retained and we don’t really, truly ever learn to adapt to that adult way of thinking of our parents. As a parent myself, I find it harder to forgive my own father for his failings, in fact, I find it impossible.
I remember watching Adam with Edith at one specific moment during our holiday; it was hella hot – which Adam can’t stomach – and we were in Magic Kingdom, a place Adam has never intended to go. He wasn’t faking his excitement at seeing the Princesses, it was 100% genuine because he was excited to share a special moment with his child – excited to see the wonder on her face, the joy in her eyes. Adam is a “sit by the pool and snooze whilst getting vaguely sunburnt” kind of holiday guy, and here he was on a fast paced holiday to the world’s least relaxing place, paying through the nose for the privilege. For the kids. For me.
The bond between a father and his children is often one that, as a society, we neglect to appreciate. Men are often stereotyped as a somewhat “secondary” parental figure – you only have to listen to the amount of people asking “Is Daddy babysitting?” when dad has the kids and mum is out, and the skew between maternity and paternity laws and expectations. I think as a society we need to appreciate the father’s who, to steal Mother Pukka’s phrase, are parenting the shit out of life and giving their all to their children day after day.
I don’t think there is really any “perfect gift” for the imperfectly perfect dad. Hopefully those socks will convey the message that we adore him and all he does for us.
*In collaboration with chums
Following on from my previous post, I wanted to witter some more about getting outside and the benefits. One thing that has always bugged me is the way that we have become so squeamish as a nation. Everything is anti-bacteria this, anti-bacteria that, I know some people whose children will never be allowed to play in dirt because it’s “unhygienic” and “gross”… but is it?
Ok, let me clarify, mud is gross. It’s full of worms, it gets crusty when it dries and it gets EVERYWHERE, but people, get liberated and get muddy!! It’s FUN. Yeah, fun. Especially when you’re small and you live for those textures, those messy moments that make your mum pull the “oh shit my laundry pile” faces. It’s not just mud either, it’s being out in the garden on your hands and knees in the dewy grass, it’s rubbing your fingers over bark and it’s getting those sensory moments that you really can’t grab in the virtual realm of our pal, Le iPad.
I’ve teamed up with Persil to have a look at their new Wilderness Explorers app, challenging us to get OUT of the house and explore the world around us. To indulge our inner mud monsters and splash in puddles to a degree that would make Peppa proud. The app has tonnes of suggestions of how we can really get back in touch with nature, but not in that pretentious “take your offspring to a mountain spring in the middle of nowhere to embrace their wild side” kind of way, HELL no, that just doesn’t work outside of Instagram. No the Persil app just gives you what I like to call the “mum mate suggestion” – she know how impossible it is to go hiking through mountain territory with a baby and a toddler when you have hardly got the energy to hike to the coffee machine. She knows that the school run gives you time constraints, but weekends really need to be full days or you will simply go insane and start drinking wine from the bottle at 3pm with your “loungewear” – which we all know is code for pjs – on. In the same way that the mum mate would know this, so does Persil. Which is why the app is neatly broken down into categories to help you pick the wilderness activity that says “I don’t have the car and my baby slept for 4.2mins” or “Please get me out of this house before the dirty dishes threaten to envelope us”. Want option one? Pick “on my doorstep” and there will be a whole host of ideas for things the kids can crack on with, without you having to go more than a stroll, and on the flip, for a full day out change the timescale to the appropriate amount of time and select by a river or woodland.
I suppose really you can think of this app as a pro-dirt Pinterest with fewer clicks and a better understanding of what children (and slightly less craft-able parents) really want from a bit of exploration. On top of making the grubby life easily accessible for everyone, Persil have then gone one step further and listed activities under age too. Let’s face it, none of us want to explain how to do 12 year old’s stuff to a 2 year old, geez I barely get half of what 12 year olds are doing so how would Edith?!
Going back to my original point (anyone noticed I’m a bit of a rambler?) getting out is good for you, physically and mentally, it’s also good for your kids, but this will give you that extra edge that you need to feel you aren’t just frolicking around the woods like something out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but with toddlers instead of lovers chasing after you.
I’ve said it once this week, and I’ll say it again: get out, explore, let your kids learn in the great outdoors. Build mud pies in the garden, collect leaves for leaf impressions… just get out, and take your pocket sized mum chum with you.
*In collaboration with Persil
Having just come back from Disney World, money is tight. I’m talking like Yorkshire man in a shop tight – we are back to the old “sorry sweetheart but you’re going to have to wait for Xmas” shpeel, and I think after such extravagance that will be good for the boys.
Obviously now Autumn is in full swing, we’re starting to think about getting out and enjoying the countryside in a different way to all those fun things we did in Summer. I genuinely think that Autumn is one of the best (if not THE best) seasons to get out and about with children – there is such an abundance of things to learn, and I have to admit there really is no better place to visit than the Great British countryside. Having lived in the countryside all of my life, I love to visit the cities but for chilled out weekends with the kids and having lots of fun; the countryside offers plenty (and most of it’s free!).
I’ve talked frequently about the benefits of getting children outside, as some of you may know, Reuben goes to a Forest School, which I’ve also written about. One aspect of getting out and about with your children that I really haven’t discussed is how good it is for YOU. Getting out, especially when you feel the weight of the world is on your shoulders and you are feeling that maternal pressure to succeed, but really don’t believe you are succeeding with anything, is imperative. Not just for the kids, but for you. I can’t tell you how often I go to the corner shop in town with the kids and think “I’ll just get one carton of milk today as it will give me an excuse to walk down tomorrow”, even that small trip makes so much difference. With World Mental Health Day taking place this week, it really got me thinking about how we should be shedding the shame of depression and anxiety – something that rocks it out hand in hand with motherhood in so many women’s experiences – and encouraging people to get out with their kids, without breaking the bank, but allowing them that breathing space.
My family and I are lucky enough to live in the heart of some of Yorkshire’s most gorgeous countryside and it is a fantastic place for my kiddo’s to grow up – though they might not agree so much when they hit the terrible teens and I have to become mum’s taxi! It’s also a blessing for me, because those walks don’t have to involve a trip to the shop, they can involve heading out on a nature trail – where I feel I have achieved something as a mother because I can see that my children have really enjoyed being outdoors and finding the things around them. Of course getting out does nothing for my washing machine – for some reason young children are attracted to gigantic puddles, especially muddy puddles. Don’t ask me why, it’s like a magnet for them (maybe it’s that bastard Peppa pig), but ultimately for the sake of my mental health and their well being too, I will take the devilish laundry pile.
One thing that also rarely gets touched on is the mental wellbeing of older children – not only do children learn better when they are able to explore and indulge their imaginations outside, but they FEEL better mentally. I often worry about Reuben, he is the oldest and often I feel my attention is taken by his demanding younger sister, whilst I expect too much of him – better cooperation, less temper tantrums, understanding beyond his years. Being outside allows him to run, to jump, to splash in puddles, to be a dragon if he wants to be or a transformer. It allows him to be a child without expectations or pressures and I truly believe that allows him to learn better.
If there is anything you do this Autumn, get out of your house. Go blackberry gathering – and make blackberry vodka like I’m doing this weekend (note: this little tipple here and there also helps with the pressures of motherhood, especially if shared with girlfriends, just saying), or collect apples for a baking session that Mary Berry would be proud of. Go on a nature trail, walk to the shop and point out the cars as they go past – counting them or saying their colours. Everything in the great outdoors is a learning experience and through that you may just find the mental breath of fresh air you need.
*In collaboration with Espplay.
When we visited Florida recently, one of the things the kids and Adam were most excited about was visiting Universal Studios. It was definitely something on Adam’s bucket list, after all, he is a huge geek when it comes to Transformers after spending his childhood playing with the toys and has somehow managed to rope the kids into this obsession too. I can’t talk really, as a huge Harry Potter geek, I have been dreaming of visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for years and I’ve been steadily encouraging the boys to get into the magic too by reading them the boys and letting them watch the first three books.
So let’s just say it was high up on everyone’s list of must-sees.
We stayed at Loews Sapphire Falls resort for two nights and from arrival to check out we couldn’t get over how stunning the whole place was. You arrived to luxury, you dined in luxury, you had a few too many Cuba Libre’s in the rum bar in luxury and you dozed off in luxury on a mega comfy bed. Everything about this hotel impressed us.
What we loved:
- The decor – stunning. There really was no other word for it, it was beautiful, clean and achingly stylish.
- The staff – right from check in (with Morgan who was a delight) to check out, the staff were wonderful. On our first night we went downstairs to the rum bar while the kids were under the dutiful care of Maw Maw (my mum) and ordered some of their cocktails and tapas. The wrong tapas was sent out to me by mistake, but as I ordered cerviche and they simply brought the wrong kind I didn’t complain – however when I mentioned to the server that I had been sent the Caribbean and not the Mexican cerviche, but it didn’t matter I had eaten the Caribbean one anyway and it was lovely, she immediately told me to enjoy the dish and brought the original order out with compliments. It was just all so efficient and a credit to the company.
- The rum bar – delicious cocktails, huge TV screens and a relaxed atmosphere. Perfect.
- The rooms – we had a water view and it was spectacular, just so pretty and absolutely a joy to stay in. The beds were plush and cosy, the rooms were filled with beautiful decor and furniture and the shower/bathroom was lovely. When we asked for a crib, it came along with a complimentary pack of baby essentials from body wash to the nappy cream I had forgotten and desperately needed.
- The proximity to the parks – walk out of the hotel in the morning, grab the water shuttle and within 2-3 mins you are on the city walk and being dropped off almost directly outside the park entrance. Magic.
What we didn’t love:
- Less child friendly – it really wasn’t as children aimed as I expected a universal hotel to be. I thought of it more as the type of place that Adam and I would visit if we were going on a couples holiday… but then I felt the parks were aimed at children who were older than mine too. It was in no way “unfriendly” towards children, rather that it seemed to lends itself to kids less than adults.
- The noise – the doors didn’t really do much to block out the noise in the rooms, which surprised me, however I suspect that is because the hotel was VERY new and everything needed to settle a bit.
With those as negatives I’m pretty confident that I could admit I would not only love to stay there again, but when the kids are older and heading into tween territory, it will 100% be the go-to place for us in Florida.
On to the parks. I can’t tell you how much they surpassed our expectations, however I’m not so sure it was all as positive as the hotel.
What we loved:
- Cleanliness – everything, just like all of the Orlando parks, was spotless. Everything was in the right place and super easy to find, not to mention the park decor was beautiful.
- The simulations on the rides were like no other I have ever seen – forget Disney when it comes to simulators, if they are your bag then Universal studios and Island of Adventure was 100% the place for you. It was so realistic, so breath taking and just awesome.
- Harry Potter fans paradise – there was very little that you couldn’t get on dragon alley and the Wizarding world was just out of THIS world and into another filled with magic.
- Food prices were cheaper than disney, by quite a bit.
- It was a mixture – there was something for everyone. Disney is *just* disney and I think for Adam he found it repetitive at times, albeit wonderful and enjoyable. Yes, Disney is for every age but Universal had something for everyone and it was all totally different – from Dr Seuss to Harry Potter to Simpsons to Terminator. Everything.
- The interactive nature of… everything – especially in Harry Potter locations. Toby spent a good 4-5 hours trying out various charms with his interactive wand and he loved it. Nothing like it anywhere else either!
What we didn’t love:
- The staff – whereas the disney staff seemed to take genuine pleasure in helping you out the staff at the parks at Universal Studios forgot their perky pills. They were anything from downright rude (the woman on the kid’s Pterodactyl ride who snapped her answer to us, turned her back and started a conversation with another customer) to bored and disengaged (the man we picked our bags up from at the end of the day didn’t look at us once and smiling could possibly have been physically painful for him). It was such a shock because the staff at the hotel were falling over themselves to help you and I did feel that it let down the day slightly.
- The express passes don’t work on the most popular rides – the express passes were brilliant for us because the kids wanted to ride on various rides and they really don’t like queuing (who does?) however when we came to 4 rides (a very small amount for the parks) almost all the Harry Potter rides and the Pterodactyl ride, we were told “express passes don’t work on these rides as they are our most popular rides”… this literally made no sense to me as surely, logic would suggest the more popular rides would have express pass premiums, but no!
- The height restrictions – Toby was left pretty frustrated after a day at Universal because he was half an inch too small to go on 90% of the rides. Listen up peeps, if your kids are under 42″ and are ride lovers DO NOT go to Universal, save it for another time. We had a particularly sad moment when he couldn’t go on the Jurassic park water ride as it was the only one he’d really been looking forward to. He is 41.6″ tall, but safety is safety after all and though painfully frustrating for us, kudos to the Universal staff for sticking to their guns as some parents did get quite stroppy!
- The majority of rides were simulators or 3D experiences – though out of this world, the 3D simulators accounted for the majority of our ride experiences and roller coasters seemed to be few and far between. It became a little same-y after a while, but in reality they were so good I would do them again given chance!
- The lead up time to rides – I’m an impatient kind of gal, and after the initial 2-5 minutes of safety info, I want to ride that ride and move on but Universal lead up times are very slow. We would be stood in a queue for 15 minutes (Simpsons ride was one of the worst) while they played various gimmicks and stuff. It was tedious at times.
Overall verdict? I’d go again for sure. I wouldn’t recommend trying to do the two parks in one day with small children, in fact I probably wouldn’t recommend doing them with small children at all and if we do go back, it will be when they kids are older and able to do more. I can’t recommend the hotel enough to anyone going to Florida – even if you aren’t heading to the parks, to compare it to Disney, it blew the Caribbean Beach out of the water.
- Invest in an interactive wand at Ollivanders but skip the show, it was seriously dulls ville and the boys were so annoyed by the end.
- We missed most of Island of Adventure because we didn’t have time (though the kids are not Popeye or Seuss fans) so I would recommend taking two days at least to go to the parks.
- Don’t eat at Hogsmede, it wasn’t bad food but it was expensive and quite frankly there were so many hot dog stalls and burger places that would have been just as good, half the price, a good 40 minutes less queuing.
- Do fork out for the express pass, just be aware that those all important rides aren’t available. It’s tough because the kids (and I) wanted to go on the Harry Potter rides but the queues were insane by the time we got to them so we only got to do Gringotts. The express pass did come in handy for the Hippogriff ride though, which we went on 6 times.
- Don’t beeline for your favourite or most anticipated thing! We made this mistake because we did Transformers first and totally regretted it.
- Take your time, you will miss stuff if you don’t. We missed Shrek, though none of us were that fussed, because we moved on to the next park too fast.
- Take lots of spending money because there was so much to buy, especially if you are a fan of one particular brand like Transformers.
- Take an umbrella or ponchos. It rains in florida at random times – don’t get caught.
- Pick up a time sheet for characters – like Disney you can meet various characters and you will be super disappointed (like Adam was with Megatron because we missed him) if you don’t get to see the one you reeeeeeeeally want to see.
- If your kids are Harry Potter fans but the queue for the ride in Hogwarts is too long or they are too short then definitely go on a tour of the castle. So many people have told me they were disappointed because they couldn’t go into the castle without the ride but you CAN! Just tell the member of staff that you want to castle tour instead of ride and they will let you through. Is it worth it? Meh, there are a couple of cute interactive things to walk past but we weren’t overly enthused.
- Grab a butter beer, they were lovely and a very unique part of the experience.
- There is a very small water park in Island of Adventure, like so small you could miss it, but the kids thought it was ace and couldn’t go in as we had no change of clothes or costume, so take one!
- Watch an egg hatch in the Dinosaur centre, stay at the front and you might get chosen to name a dino!
- The refillable cups are NOT worth it if you are not a soda/pop lover.
All in all, a very enjoyable place to visit with older kids and more time, so I would recommend it but next time, we’ll be doing a lot different.
While I am in no way, shape or form a baking queen, I do rather enjoy dabbling in the kitchen – especially with the kids. Or that is, I used to love it. Since becoming a mama of three I feel like I’ve done it less and less, and as the boys have started going to school and preschool more often, I feel like they are less interested in baking with mummy and more playing with their toys. Alas, it is tough to be unwanted and Edith is such a law unto her own that doing anything with her, from baking to crafting, is more than taxing. The kid was given some felt tips and coloured in a block of the sofa last week, I mean, c’mon!
Still, I find myself more and more inclined to banish those “holy shit how much mess have you made” feelings deeeep down and get into the kitchen with Edith. I did it with the boys so I really want to encourage her to join in, plus, it’s something I enjoy doing and I really do feel that teaching kids to bake it a great skill. The Autumn months mean several things to me. One, Great British Bake off has been going on and the abundance of baking stuff is rife which means you can’t help but feel driven to get ya bake on (or fake on if you really are not a dab hand with the ole pastry brush), and two, it’s time to start making Christmas hamper delights that need months to stew/prep like apple brandy, Christmas cake and general tasty goodness.
We have so much left over Halloween “candy” from America that I genuinely have no idea how we will ever make it through without using at least some of it in baking! When we were at Disney World we went to the Mickey’s Not-so-scary-Halloween party and it was epic, but the treat or treating was like nothing us stoically British natives have seen before. Handfuls, nay, goat carrier bag fuels of sweets were just being given out left right and centre. Weren’t happy with one bag full? No worries, you had ten stops to make with unlimited returns. Yeah.
M&M’s were the sponsors of the Halloween event, so it’s only right that they were given a good showing in the spoils, but there really are only so many M&Ms one can nibble on before you begin to wonder how much you can allocate to a new wardrobe out of your monthly wage. So, in order to persuade people to take them off our hands, we’ve baked M&M cookies – Grandma can’t refuse them if the kid’s have baked them right? I measure everything in the American style of cups as it is easiest for the kids to do (and should Reuben grace us with his presence, I get to practice fractions with him) and I also allow the kids to add everything into the mixer, plus crack the eggs in a separate bowl… shell is not a taste sensation any of us like.
Here’s the recipe for our very unimpressive, yet highly delicious cookies. Mary Berry eat your heart out.
- 2 1/4 cups of plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup butter, melted
- 3/4 cup caster sugar
- 3/4 cup soft brown sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups M&Ms Original
- 1 cup of milk chocolate chips
Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 5/375C
Combine your sugars and butter and cream together until a scrumptious fluffy mixture appears. Add one table spoon of flour, followed by one egg and blend. Repeat for the other egg and then mix the rest of the flour, baking powder and salt. Add in the vanilla extract and then gently fold in the M&Ms and chocolate chips (or what is left of them if the kids have been around… or you’ve not applied your self restraint).
Place a heaped teaspoon sized dollop of cookie mixture on a greased (or lined) baking tray and bake for 10-12mins until turning slightly golden on the edges.
Share them. Maybe.
I love these because they are easy and as with all cookies they aren’t too complex for the kids to do almost solo while I supervise. Also, cookies are pretty cheap to cook, I worked out that using value ingredients and a packet of M&Ms we would spend just under a fiver. If you did want to push the boat out and try your hand at something like the marvels that the Great British Bake off present us with, then you can find a nifty cost comparison for each week already done for you by on voucher box’s blog.
Time keeping has never really been a strong suit of mine, unless it comes to the kids and then I make a concerted effort to be on time, forcing myself to leave the house earlier than I would normally think I needed too – meaning I actually arrive just in the nick of time! My husband is the same, Adam’s time keeping is appalling – we’re just those obnoxious friend’s who are late to everything, everyone knows it and somehow lets us off.
I really have no excuse as I have a smart phone permanently fixed to my hands and I have my watch that my mum bought me when I was 21, however Adam has never had a decent watch. He isn’t really a fan of anything around his wrists, especially if it’s big and heavy which most men’s watches are, so finding a watch for him has always been a bit of an impossibility… until now.
Jord wooden watches very kindly offered to send us a watch for Adam to try out and (as he loves to remind me on a frequent basis) I very rarely get offered anything for Adam via the blog – he’s never found himself in need of a new mascara and those pretty dresses are a touch small for him so, alas, he is left out.
I chose to order a zebra wood and dark sandal wood watch for him as a surprise – partly because I loved the colour of the wood, so elegant and chic, but also because of the intricate detailing behind the clock face. Adam is somewhat of a puzzle lover and the ultimate puzzle is a clock. The way is works, the cogs, the way the pieces fit together to tick. Fortunately my wifey intuition was correct and Adam was delighted with his new watch. It’s unlike any watch we’ve ever looked at before, not just because of the styling but also because of the weight. The watch is so light you could almost forget you were wearing it, yet just as sturdy as any metal watch.
I would say that I’m hoping Adam will be more efficient with his time keeping now but we would both know that this would be a long shot, perhaps even an atlantic style leap
Luckily for you (as it’s nearly Christmas an all!) I am offering my readers the opportunity to win a $75 gift e-voucher for JORD watches (both women’s and men’s watches), but in addition to that every entrant in the competition will receive a $20 e-voucher so there is a little something for you all.
You can enter the competition here:
Good luck everyone!
*In collaboration with JORD.
Jet lag has ever really been an issue for me, despite travelling to America a few times as a teen and the Caribbean as a young adult, I’ve always just brushed it off. I mean, nothing a bottle of wine and a day in bed with crap TV can’t solve right?
Unless you’re a parent, then you’re effectively fucked.
Going to America, we didn’t have many problems. The first night that we were there (despite going to be late!) the kids woke up at 3am and flat out refused to go back to sleep, though it wasn’t an issue as none of us were tired anyway! It meant chilling out in the hotel room, having a play in the bath and beating everyone to the park because, well by 8am it was practically mid day anyway. We came home around 1pm, had a 2-3 hour nap and then took the kids out again (despite protests they were too tired!) until around 10pm… job done. Next day we were up early but not dramatically so, and all was well.
That is always the case for going to the states though, and to be fair no one minds a bit of jet lag when they are so excited to be somewhere. Coming home is a very different story. Who is excited to come home and go back to work? Not only that, instead of feeling wide awake and full of beans, you are exhausted and left in a constant cycle of what feels like the world’s earliest wake up followed by a desperation to sleep at around 8pm, but a total inability to sleep until 1/2am even though you are SHATTERED. It sucks, and with kids, it sucks hardest of all because you can’t get em to bed, once you do they are over tired so wake frequently and then waking them up in a morning is like some kind of bizarre puzzle on krypton factor, but with potentially flailing arms and lots of grunting.
I know, I’m not really filling you with the “let’s go to America” vibes, but I assure you, it’s well worth it, it just takes time to recover.
So tips for coping with jet lag?
- Be realistic, don’t come back from a long haul trip and plan to get up and go to work or school the next day. It sounds like a good idea, force yourself back into the routine and into a normal time zone, but it doesn’t work and is likely to make you all feel far worse. It take a week minimum to follow recover.
- Do get up at a normal-ish time though, it used to work when you had no commitments, sure, but it doesn’t with kids. Don’t insist that they get up at 7am, but don’t let the kids sleep too late (maybe use 10am as a cut off), set an alarm for yourself too.
- Use the afternoons! Ok, you’ve got unpacking and washing, but you need to try and tire those kids OUT more than they already are in the hope that they will be tired enough to sleep at a “normal” time, even though their bodies are telling them its only mid afternoon. Try a SHORT trip to the park or soft play.
- Try to keep meals at a normal-ish time too. Body clocks often work around food (well, mine does anyway!) and a full belly can signal rest time.
- I ignore this advice every time, which is probably why I’m pretty much permanently exhausted after every holiday but TRY to avoid caffeine. I know, I know. Problem is it only exacerbates the problem and you then end up worse.
- Try to do some exercise, even if its only going for a walk. Best of all, go for a walk in the sun (if there is any) as this boosts your vitamins and helps to release endorphins too. Winner, winner!
- Last of all, book another holiday, that cheers everyone up – ha!
So those are my tips – just remember west is best, east is a beast. Don’t expect to come back from long haul and feel dandy, you won’t.
Any tips fellow travellers?
I have always loved Disney, and with that the Disney princesses. I grew up wanting to be Ariel (the fish tail eventually put an end to that fantasy) or Belle, no pretty blonde girls though, thanks, I wanted one that reflected my inner spirit.
That’s a really big part in why I LOVE Disney’s new “Dream big, Princess” campaign, it tells us to look beyond the actual princess (the mermaid malarkey was a pretty big stumbling block in my becoming Ariel) and look at their inner characters, their inner strength. So when we went to Disney I have to say I sort of expected to find this “dream big” attitude reflected in the character meet and greets, especially when referencing the kids, but Disney, you guys kinda dropped the ball on that one.
We loved meeting the princesses, no one more than Edith and (somewhat surprisingly, as it is Toby who loves “princess stuff” at home) Reuben. Yet every princess, especially the “older” ones like Aurora and Snow White, was immediately prone to saying “Hello, Princess” to Edith and “Hello valiant knights. Are you here to protect your princess?” Now, don’t get me twisted, I’m all for a bit of princess promotion. I love the “princess thing”, hell, I’m nearly 30 and I would still love to be a princess *ahem, if you should be so kind as to read this and have any connection to Prince Harry, you can let him know I’m awaiting his proposal. No, it wasn’t the referring to my daughter (and actually myself from some staff which was a mixture of awkward and weird) as a princess, but rather the continual reference of her male companions (her brothers and her dad) as her protectors.
If you’ve been with me a while, you’ll know that if there is anyone in this household who requires protection, it is FROM Edith Rose and most certainly not her royal highness herself.
Since being on holiday Edith has learnt to say phrases like “ay-ahh” and “en guarde” whilst wielding one of the swords her brothers were gifted at the Cinderella’s Royal Table (which was brilliant if you discount the rather poor cuisine) despite actually being given a wand herself because, well, she’s a princess and the boys were her knights. Just no, the 1950s are calling and they want their gender stereotyping back. You are better than that Disney!
Oh and while I’m at it, I haven’t got an issue with the boys being taught to “protect” their sister either, in fact we teach them all the time that they should lookout for her, but also that she should look out for them. That she should offer them her protection and caring, should offer them her shoulder to cry on if they need it. It is a two way street and, as siblings, I want them rocking up and down that street like it’s Main Street on parade night, but NOT if it’s going to be all about the male protecting the female.
To me, teaching our male children that females need their protection instills the illusion that they are weak, inferior and in need of a male, which simply isn’t true. With those attitudes indoctrinated from such a young age as three years old, how can we expect our sons to grow up to respect our daughters as equals, how can we ask them to make the leaps in equality that we ourselves refuse to make. Furthermore, how can we expect our daughters to grow up as anything more than expectant, demanding bimbos if we teach them that that is their place, that they are there to look pretty and wait for protection.
So no Disney, my sons are not there to protect my daughter, they are a squad and as such, they are going kick ass as adults, with or without tiaras.
I know I’ve hardly mentioned it at all, in fact, brace yourselves as this may come as a shock BUT… We’re officially on holiday now! As you’re reading this, we’ll be in DisneyWorld, jet lagged and wondering how we managed to survive a 9 hour flight with 3 totally batshit kids.
We’ll be documenting our experiences live across the networks so do join us!
See you on the other side!
You know I love Disney. I love to support independent too but Disney will always be my boo.
Have you heard of Tsum Tsums? Of course you have! Just in case you haven’t they are super weird toys from Japan that come in all different Disney characters. They are utterly charming and have been a firm favourite of Edith’s since she was tiny. The soft toys are just the right size for her little hands to squeeze and pull without getting slapped in the face by dangly legs or arms and she seems to love biting and pulling at them. So when I saw that there are now little collectable vinyl figures, I knew it was only a matter of time before she was bouncing in the trolley and squealing for one like a piglet in a kangaroos body.
The little vinyl Tsum Tsum toys come in a variety of sizes and “kits” – a 3 pack with one tiny, one medium and one large stackable Tsum Tsum, and a 9 pack which is just all levels of exciting.
Admittedly what started off as a fun and cute gift for tiny Edie has become a bit of an obsession for everyone in our house – especially for the boys since the arrival of these vinyl characters. While Toby adores soft toys, these seemed too small for him and never quite piqued his interest, and by contrast to Edie and Tobes, Reuben is ambivalent to soft toys (other than his beloved Harold, DO NOT mess with Harold) oft was totally uninterested in swiping his sister’s Tsum Tsums.
Totally different story with the vinyl characters. Our Tsum Tsum friend’s have been run over by over enthusiastic Thomas the tank engine trains, blasted by transformers and even dunked in the bath, only to be rescued by Finding Dory and her pals. The varied life of a Tsum Tsum ey?
The toys are aimed at ages 6 and above (in fact, it says so on the packet) and while the mini ones are too small to allow Miss Edith to play with them, the large ones are the BEST little toys for her to hold, kiss, chew, bash and throw. We have decided to wrap up the large Tsum Tsums for Edith to take on the plane (remember my post about entertaining children on the plane?). These will keep her entertained, be big enough that she can’t hurt herself or choke on them and, most importantly, didn’t break the bank if she manages to drop one and loses it. Considering the other options were mega rare Disney princess dolls and Maileg mice that require a mortgage on their own, I’m happy to go with vinyl Tsum Tsums.
The rest of them? Well, if the boys haven’t fed them to Yoda before we go they will be sat awaiting our arrival, out of reach and stacked as they should be, on Edith’s bedroom shelf.
As you will all know by now, we’re going to be heading off on holiday in less than a week. It is super exciting, I really can’t wait but I have been feeling a little bit, shall we say concerned, after reading an info graph sent to me by Chill Insurance. It has a tonne of stats that have left me wondering if my job makes me even more vulnerable than most when it comes to the risk of burglars, robbers and thieves during a long absence from home.
According to the info graph, a lot of us make the mistake of checking in at the airport, practically hanging a “check it out guys I’m not in for the next few weeks” sign on the door. I, more than most, have announced numerous times to the various criminally minded types out there, that I am going to be away – I’ve written about it here, here and here… Yet in my job there is no way around that, and the way that social media connects us now means that the majority of people are announcing their absence.
So what to do?
Well, accruing to Chill Insurance, 62% of us are asking our neighbours to keep a lookout but ask yourself, if your neighbour asked you, how safe could you keep their house? Do you work? Make a regular, scheduled and possibly pre-annouced on Facebook appointments or classes? If there is a whole home’s worth of loot, do you really think a burglar extraordinaire won’t suss out when you aren’t about and strike? So are we mistaken in putting our trust exclusively in our neighbours? I reckon so. More to that, how well are we going to do asking a family member to have a key – do you really want Auntie Bess going through your stuff? You need a combination of safety guards.
Having announced to the world that we are in fact going to be half way across the world on Tuesday for our jollies, I’ve decided to ask a friend to keep an eye on the house and given her a key as well as asking our (curtain twitching) next door neighbours in their 80s to keep a watchful eye on the property… but in light of the fact that I don’t think that will *quite* cover the millions I’ve tax dodged and stuffed into my mattress, what else have we opted for?
- A good alarm system. Unfortunately the area I live in was targeted by thieves a few years ago so almost everyone took the initiative to get themselves a touch of extra protection.
- Inform neighbourhood watch in your area.
- We have a car in the driveway – homely right?
- All moveable and valuable possessions are either being placed in safes, at family friend’s house and or are coming with us. Though upsetting the TV isn’t as important to me as my Grandmother’s jewellery so I’ll be leaving it behind (Adam doesn’t share this view… what will he watch sport on?)
Apart from the burglar risk, we have swept the house to make sure that it is safe from accidental damage – all the plug sockets are OFF (this is SUCH a big one, so many people forget) and the windows and doors are locked up tighter than a Yorkshire man’s wallet. Lastly, check your home and contents insurance covers you, if not, get something, just in case.
What are your tips for securing your home while on holiday?
It’s tough being a woman, your automatically entered into what feels like some kind of shit lottery when you have a vagina. Every day there is some way you are judged, some way that you are told you fall short of the requirements, some way in which your male counterparts haven’t even contemplated. It covers so many branches too – religion, attire, work, sexuality… The list goes on.
It’s become so bad, so pathetic that a few weeks ago the newspapers were devoted to several incidents where Muslim women wearing burkinis, a full coverage swimwear item that does NOT cover your face, but covers your hair, on a beach had effectively been made to strip in front of everyone by police. Western world, if ever you wanted to give Muslim people a reason to see you as “the bad guy” to rise up and fight against you, make their daughters, their wives, their mothers suffer this indignity. By becoming so fearful, so hateful and so ignorant that you could force a woman to strip because she was “too covered” we play into the hands of extremists by becoming extremists.
Prior to that, the presidential candidate Donald Trump attacked a Muslim couple whose son had died as a solider, because the mother “didn’t speak” and as he put it “probably wasn’t allowed to”, yet the same man who seeks to tarnish the reputation of Muslims as women haters is openly sexist and believes that women are sexual objects for his gratification. It isn’t just trump either, but rather society. Women in burkinis are too covered, too religious, yet women in thongs are sluts, asking for it. Even down to using our breasts for their intended purpose is scrutinised, shamed and attacked as “attention seeking”, “exposing yourself” – as is choosing to NOT use them.
So tell me, where do we stand? If I cover my body I am prudish at best, indoctrinated and brain washed into being subservient to my male counter parts at worst. If I don’t, and I wear skimpy clothes I am a slut, asking to be raped, goading men who simply can’t help themselves.
On top of this, the punishments for such acts as rape, one of the most heinous crimes I think we all agree, are totally dependant upon the speculative worth of the women raped. Is she wealthy? What colour is her skin? Who committed the crime and did his wealth out weight hers? A perfect example of this is the early release, after three months no less, of Brock Turner who was convicted of three counts of rape and indecent assault. No only was he rich and white, but so much was his worth that his parents wrote letters to excuse their son’s behaviour and plead for the remainder of this life. The victim? Reduced to nothing more than a “bit of skirt” according to the boy’s father.
Where does this end?
As a mother, especially to a daughter, I fear this societal impulse to attack females. I fear the attitudes towards my daughter as she grows and I fear the implications that this will have on my sons and their beliefs. Their reactions to the women around them and in their lives, the way they will feel they have an upper hand and how they view themselves.
Already I’m seeing the creeping of sexism colouring my daughter’s life; she will like princesses, she will like high heels, she will adore pink and while there is nothing wrong with those things, it is not the sum total of what she will enjoy. Reuben, at the sweet age of 5, has started telling me he has to protect his sister – she is a girl, she will need his protection. I don’t think so buddy, she’ll more than likely beat you and Toby up, but then that makes her bossy right?
Being a woman is tough in this world, whether you are a Muslim or a Christian, black or white, disabled or not. Being female automatically puts you in the firing line and we have to change this, not just for ourselves, but for our daughters AND our sons.
We’ve never tried gluten free cereal in our family, never had a need to. No one is gluten intolerant, however it does make me wonder – what would like be like if we were? I mean have you ever stopped to think how much of your daily meals contain gluten?
If you’re not intolerant, I can imagine the answer is no. My best friend Kate is allergic to nuts, yet I frequently forget and offer her food that I haven’t checked, food that I have prepared and I’ve forgotten contains nuts. It’s not that I’m a bad friend (maybe a little?) but I just don’t have to deal with it on a continual basis, so I just don’t think.
When Nestle got in touch to ask me if I would like to write some unique recipes for them, using their new gluten free cereal, I was super honoured. I love to cook and bake, it is a passion that has been passed down from my mother and in truth I really wish its a love that I could indulge more often. So, writing recipes, especially for such a well known brand (and when I’m not a food blogger) was a really huge pleasure… I had to act quickly mind, because the boys descended on the cereals like a pack of rabid dogs, with Reuben offering his seal of approval in the form of smashing through three bowls for breakfast. Which in all honesty is fine by me as Nestlé GoFree™ Rice Pops and Coco Rice are fortified with B-vitamins, folic acid and iron, so they make a much healthier breakfast or snack than the usual sausage rolls or crisps that the boys request.
I was given some inspiration by three rather delicious recipes written by celebrity chef Phil Vickery, which you can find here:
I then went away and thought about our own family, the things that I love and that the kids eat on a frequent basis and I came up with the following, a mixture of desserts, snacks and dinner time treats.
Nestle Gluten free southern fried chicken strips
- 3 cups Nestle Gluten free rice pops
- 2 tsp cracked black pepper
- Pinch salt
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 500ml milk
- 2 large chicken breasts, sliced into long strips
- 1 egg, beaten
Put the rice pops, pepper, salt and cayenne pepper in a food processor and blend until the mix is like very find sand. Set aside.
Place the chicken and milk in a bowl and marinade for 2-3 hours. Take the chicken and milk, place in a saucepan and boil until the chicken is cooked. Once cooked, take the chicken out of the milk, allow to cool slightly then dip into the egg followed by the rice pop mixture. Repeat once, you should have a good coating.
Fry on each side for approximately 2-3 minutes until the costing is golden.
To make this less spicy for kids, use a 1/2 tsp of paprika instead of cayenne.
Nestle Gluten free no bake chocolate peanut butter cheese cake
For the base:
- 4 cups Nestle gluten free chocolate rice pops
- 100g butter, melted
- 1 healed tbsp peanut butter
For the cheesecake:
- 2 X 200g cream cheese packs – supermarket brand is fine
- 560ml double cream
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 packet of mini Reece’s peanut butter cups
- 2/3 cup icing sugar
- 100g dark chocolate
- 1- 2 tbsp cream
- 50g butter.
I used my food processor to crush the rice pops up, you are aiming for lumpy and crunchy not fine powder, so don’t over do it. I then added it to a bowl with the butter and peanut butter. I used a 23cm spring form tin, for quite a wide cake. Push the base into the cake tin and then pop it in the fridge while you with the cheese filling.
Whip up the cream (again, food mixer for me!) then combine the whipped cream, icing sugar, cream cheese, lemon juice and the full packet of peanut butter cups. Add to the base and smooth over and chill for 3 hours at least.
To make the glaze, melt your chocolate then stir in the butter and cream – this will cool the melted chocolate and form a tepid but pourable glaze. Pour over the cheesecake once cool and then refrigerate for another 1-2 hours.
So delicious, and a great dessert for those avoiding gluten!!
Nestle Gluten free chicken and broccoli bake
This was one of my favourite recipes as a child but with a gluten free twist. The original recipe is here, my mum used to make it when I was a child and I always loved it.
Here’s how to do it:
- 3 chicken breasts, sliced into big-ish chunks (all about the technical terms over here!)
- 1 tin of cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup
- 1 heaped tablespoon mayonnaise
- 1teaspoon mild curry powder
- 1/2 head of broccoli
- 2-3 cups of Nestle gluten free rice pops, blitzed in the food processor to make breadcrumb consistency crumb
- 100g grated cheddar.
Preheat the oven to GM7.
Fry the chicken on a mid-high heat to brown, then place in a deep baking dish. In a jug mix the tin of soup, Mayo and curry powder together, and pour over the chicken. Pre cook you broccoli in a bowl of water for 8 minutes (blanched).
Add in the broccoli, stir to mix all up. Mix the cereal and cheese together and top the chicken mix.
Bung in the oven for 40-45 minutes.
Devour with potatoes or rice. Serious NOM-fest!!
Nestle Gluten free “breaded” fish bites
- 3 cups Nestle Gluten free rice pops
- 300g fish, cut into strips or chunks (we use cod but you could use anything chunky – salmon, monk fish etc!)
Pre heat the oven to GM6.
Place the rice pops in a bowl, and use the butt of a rolling pin to smash them down the a crushed consistency. You don’t want them to be *quite* sand blitzed but you also don’t want them to be too crunchy.
Take your fish, roll in the crumbs. You can add an egg to this recipe and do a “double dip” so into the egg, into the crumbs again.
Bake for 20 minutes.
Nestle Gluten free Chocolate after school bites
A variation on the old rice crispy cakes, but slightly less kids baking and more afternoon tea with the girls.
- 4 cups Nestle gluten free chocolate rice pops
- 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder
- 75g butter
- 1-2tbsp golden syrup
- 1 cup Mixed fruits (optional)
Blitz the chocolate rice pops in a food processor until they are a smashed consistency. Don’t over do it or they will end up like sand, you still want a bit of crunch.
Add the butter, golden syrup, cocoa and mixed fruits if using.
Mix together and then push into a baking tray to form a 2 inch layer. Refrigerate for approx 1 hour and then cut into bite sized squares. Ideal for an after school treat!
Hope you try these out – I had a blast writing them!
P.s – Just in case you were wondering, I checked to make sure that all the ingredients I used were gluten free and approved by Coeliac UK (which Nestle GoFree has been). You can grab Nestle GoFree cereals at Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Ocado.
We often get comments about our decision to take the kids to Disney World at such a young age. Usually along the lines of “Oh but they won’t remember it!” Or “but what’s the point, they’re too young”. I have to say it’s something I questioned myself – Edith isn’t quite 2, in fact she’s just passed 18months so she really won’t have much recollection of this holiday, our holiday of a life time, if any at all.
The truth is, there is a time limit of the magic of childhood and I can help that feel it is running out more and more each day for Reuben. Yeah, Disney World is always going to be a magical place and it’s always going to be amazing not matter what your age, but to really, truly believe in the magic I think you have to be little.
DisneyWorld wasn’t the only thing we considered, we shopped around and looked at various options. I pretty much lived in Tots to Travel for the better part of 2 weeks while I was pregnant. We’re talking water park extravaganza style hotels in Europe, the coolest beach destinations in the Caribbean, crusies designed just for kids… The list of options was endless but ultimately it always came back to Disney.
As a child it was a dream of mine to visit DisneyWorld with my dad. After my parents split my mum often promised to take me but I would always reply “No! Daddy is taking me, he’s promised!” And that was that. I didn’t really have a very good relationship with my father after my parent’s divorce, and sadly Disney World was just one more let down. So I never went.
Now as an adult it is still something I dream of, and every day it becomes more so with watching my children grow and fall for the Disney magic more and more. Disney World was never just a holiday to me, it was an unfulfilled childhood dream that is being brought to fruition.
I’ve been thinking about what I would like to bring home from Disney World and Universal studios, what souvenirs I would like to remember these special moments, and there are so many!! Disney souvenirs are slightly outnumbered by Universal and SeaWorld souvenirs, for me Disney holds more of a lure for Christmas present shopping and trying food. Lots of food.
So what do I want to bring home? Please jump in with your suggestions too!
- A Christmas Bauble – cliche, yes. Give a fuck? Not at all. It is a quintessential part of the Disney experience I think, and it’s something I really want to have with us, and pass down to my kids.
- Micky/Minnie ears – come on now, I don’t care if you’re 5 or 500, these are probably going to be my first purchase. Yeah they are.
- Unique toys – a few years ago we bought a Disney wooden train set from EBay that was a Disneyland Paris special. Each resort, each park and each shop apparently has stuff that you simply can’t buy anywhere else in the world. We’re planning on allowing ourselves the indulgence of Christmas shopping… And since its the Halloween period at Disney, we may well have to come back with something for that holiday too!
- Food – unfortunately with customs restrictions, il be limited to what I can bring back, but I will be trying EVERYTHING while I’m there, and then bringing back whatever I can! Yum!
- Pins – I heard about his craze while trawling Pinterest for ideas for what to do in Disney, but I’ve already bought the boys some cheap collectable pins and they can exchange them with “cast members” as they go around the park. It would be sweet to buy a really unusual or unique one for each of them… Or maybe even to swap one!
- Tsum tsums – Edith (total lie, it’s all me) is obsessed with Tsum tsums. They are small enough for her hands and easy for her to snuggle. We’ll be buying her some of the unique ones for sure!
- A mug – I love Disney mugs, who doesn’t? So, in terribly middle aged fashion, this has made my wish list. I want a mug. For coffee. Ha.
- Transformers memorabilia – the boys (including daddy) are obsessed. Totally obsessed. I wanted to see if we could find some unique memorabilia and unique toys for them to bring home.
- Harry Potter loot – this list could drag on forever: all the food, all the drink, a wand, a jumper… So much. So so much.
- Superhero loot! – the boys are huge super hero fans, so I am super excited to get them some awesome gifts for Christmas!
- Unique toys again – if there is only one place to get it, you better get it. For reals.
What else should I add to my list?
Every year we have a food festival in my home town of Malton, usually around May. Malton has carved a reputation for itself as the “food capital of Yorkshire” and to be honest that suits me fine! I love food, I love cooking and I have such a thing for trying new foods and new cuisine. It’s one of the things that I am most looking forward to about DisneyWorld in a few weeks.
Anyway, the last time Malton had a Food Festival, we had a plethora of food stalls and food vans that drove around the country sharing their fares, their diesel generators whirring, calling to me like an ice cream van to the boys. My favourite by far was the Thai food van which was selling a mixture of freshly cooked grub that was oh-so mouth-wateringly good and spice packets to bring home.
One of the things that the Thai van sold that had me coming back for more (we’re talking at least 3 times here) was their chicken satay skewers. I asked for their secret and was told it is all in the marinade!
After a little play, I’ve come up with my very own chicken satay recipe, we’ve recently had it at a friend’s bank holiday BBQ and we’ve been making it all summer – the kids love it too!
Chicken satay skewers for 4:
- 2-3 breasts of chicken
- 1 can of coconut milk
- small piece ginger
- 2 garlic clove
- zest and juice 1 lime
- 1 tsp clear honey
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp mild curry powder
- 3 tbsp smooth peanut butter
Take your chicken, encase it loosely in cling film and beat with a wooden rolling pin or meat beater until it is approximately an inch thick. Slice into long strips and set aside.
Mince the garlic and ginger, then add the lime juice, honey, curry powder, soy sauce and peanut butter and blend. Divide the mixture in half and add your chicken to one portion, cover and leave for at least 6 hours (over night is best I’ve found!).
While the chicken is marinating you can make your dip. Take the remaining peanut butter mix and a can of coconut milk, mix in a saucepan over a medium heat until thick.
Thread your chicken onto skewers. We use wooden skewers, they are super easy to use and if you wet them first they won’t catch fire on the BBQ – less washing up too. Grill or BBQ under cooked through, this really shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes because the chicken is so thin.
Do you have a favourite food festival recipe? Maybe a food van that you adore?
Flexible working hours.
Rarely does a phrase invoke the same reaction as this does in most parents, it’s often enough to send us into a frenzy, fan girling over the proposed hours like a teenage girl at a Bieber concert. Unlike Biebs super exciting concerts, flexible working hours aren’t available by the thousands and your whole procreation potential could depend on them.
I left work to work for myself because I wanted to be there for my kids, no matter what, and the brutal truth is that while working for an employer, the vast majority of people can’t say that they will never miss a sports day, school play or the chance to put their kids to bed. They can’t guarantee that they will be able to pick them up from school or pre-school. If their child is ill or their childcare provider is closed, thousands of parents struggle, despite the parental leave rights available, these just don’t work in practice. It’s not just parents who suffer but parents-to-be too, with issues over sickness, maternity appointments and so much more.
The jobs and companies ARE out there though, they just aren’t advertising their flexible potential which means, as parents, we’re stuck in the job that we have had pre-kids, where the employer doesn’t have any flexible options and we’re too terrified that come mortgage day we won’t have secured a new job that DOES flex for us if we try to change things up.
According to national statistics, we are a new breed of workers now, and out of the 31 million of us in the UK that are working, 1 in 4 of us are part time employees and even fewer wish to be – though those that do wish to be (roughly 86%) are so unlikely to find a job advertised that meets their desires and needs.
How many of us have left work because we can’t guarantee our flexibility? How many skilled professionals, who can’t be replaced by Phil who just graduated and is still a touch wet behind the ears, feel they have been edged out of work because they simply can’t get flexibility? According to TIMEWISE, who are pioneering the way forward in flexible working and flexible hiring, only 8.7% of all jobs in the UK mention what we’re after: flexible working options, despite 57% of the UK’s working population now working flexibly. To break it down, if you are a qualified professional looking for a little bit of spandex style, flex it out working, you will find less than 1 in 10 jobs advertised for you. Less than 1 in 10. That is a statistic that should really only reflect the amount of days I manage to get the kids to be well behaved without the use of iPads flung in their direction.
I posted a picture to Instagram last month asking people to support Mother Pukka’s FLEX appeal, share their stories and ask the companies they work for to look at how other companies are doing it. Being flexible means that we can keep parent’s, specifically mother’s in the workplace more easily and utilise their skills. They have so so many wasted skills! One instagrammer meyouandmagoo told me her friend was suffering with depression after being told by her company that she would not be granted part time hours, despite explaining her childcare needs. On top of this, the company (which hasn’t been named) has put a MALE colleague with her to shadow her and openly pointed out that he can, in fact, commit to full time. Another instagrammer, kitchenwitch29 suffering comments like “the one whose off all the time for being pregnant” despite having been in hospital with HG.
We need to make this stop. Flexibility IS possible in all sectors. Retail is one of the worst sectors for flexible working, yet so many parents are happy to work split shifts around school pick ups and drop offs, unsocial hours for late openings or even shorter shifts over more days but they just aren’t given the chance. The jobs ARE out there, we just need to be given to the chance to see that we aren’t stuck in a rut and get companies to change their outlook AND the way they recruit.
TIMEWISE have recently launched their Hire Me My Way Campaign, which aims to treble the proportion of quality jobs that are advertised with flexible working options by 2020, to one million.
One million jobs that could fit around YOU. Around LIFE. Around PARENTS.
In order to do this, they are asking men and women who want, nay need, flexible working options, who don’t want to be stuck in this continual rut because they dared to use their reproductive organs, to sign up to the campaign. They want to be able to say to employers these people want to work for you, they want you to be flexible for them and in turn they will share their skills, their talents and their experience, with your company. The campaign in NOT a recruitment agency so doesn’t take a percentage of your wage if you do find a flexible job because of it, rather it is like an online directory of awesomeness and flexibility. A place for you to see who wants your skills, and for companies to see what they could have if they actually put the effort into changing the way they recruit and employ people.
Also, like a friendly older friend guiding you through the do’s and don’ts of dating, Hire Me My Way will be there to hold your hand through the job search shlep. Everyone who signs up is automatically emailed a totally FREE guidance pack with mucho friendly advice on how to grab the parenting holy grail that is a part time or flexible job in a skilled sector. And if you are a parent or carer living outside of Greater London, you may also be eligible for FREE career advice sessions.
Don’t be the person that goes to work everyday and hates it, don’t waste your life like that. I’m not suggesting you go to work and live to work, but you should be able to take the skills you have and apply them in a flexible manner. So limber up and get flexible, things will only change if we change them.