Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Feeling Good

I am feeling pretty good right now.

January's credit card bill has been paid off in full without too much of a struggle.

I have set my running targets for next month which focus on building up distance and went for a lovely four mile run with my husband to make sure I wasn't being unrealistic about what I could achieve.

My daughter has been home from boarding school for the weekend and I continue to be amazed at the huge leaps in confidence and maturity that are evident in everything she does. It was an absolute privilege to see her perform two songs at her school's Senior Vocal Concert. It wasn't so much a 'proud mummy moment' as totally in awe of her.

My January resolution to make more pamper time for myself and make use of my collection of gorgeous lotions and potions that have remained unopened for long enough, has been enhanced greatly by my husband finally getting round to fixing the spa feature on my bath. I had a wonderfully relaxing jacuzzi bath yesterday evening which felt so good on post-run muscles.

I have some ideas for small changes for the better I can make over the coming months (my version of New Year's Resolutions for 2014)  and am making plans to enter some running events that will really challenge me. I am definitely feeling very positive about the year ahead.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Phones for Teens

Yesterday, my five year old daughter proudly told me that Harry Morley (names changed to protect the innocent!) put a chocolate love heart in her lunch box. Our babies grow up so fast. Before I know it my little angel will be deeply immersed in the world of boyfriends and demanding the latest mobile phone to manage her social life. Parenting can feel like walking a perilous tightrope, giving your children enough freedom to grow and develop in a rapidly changing (sometimes quite alien) world whilst keeping them safe and protected.

It has made me wonder, what is the right age to give your child a mobile phone? There are plenty of polls and studies that reveal many seven year olds (and some as young as five!) are given mobile phones by their parents 'for safety reasons'. I can appreciate the advantage of your children being contactable but it does seem a bit extreme.

When I do feel that my daughter would benefit from having a phone of her own, probably not until her early teens, I would want to make sure that I chose the right one.

Recently, I was sent a Samsung Galaxy Fame Pay as You Go mobile phone on the Three network to review. It is a lovely little phone - neat and compact, easy start up, all the features I'd expect from a smartphone and some I have yet to fathom! It is, I believe, a phone aimed at a teen market and I can see no reason why it wouldn't be perfect for the job. I was especially impressed by the 5-megapixel camera - a teen essential for the ubiquitous 'selfie'.

The important part for me, as a parent, is the fact that the Pay As You Go option allows some flexibility over the contract option, gives control over cost and all PAYG phones from Three are automatically locked in regards to adult content.

It is not difficult for me to imagine my little Addy as a teen (she is one of those five going on fifteen sort of girls). If I were buying her a phone now, the Samsung Galaxy Fame PAYG would be a great choice. Thankfully, she is only five and I'm happy to say that a piece of cardboard with some numbers drawn on it will currently suffice!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Apple Cake made with Golden Syrup Sugar

For the last few months of 2013, I found myself having to economise in a way that I hadn't had to for many years. One of the changes I made in my weekly shopping basket was to avoid buying any fancy sugar - nothing but the cheapest white granulated. I used it in all my home baking and although the results were perfectly OK, I did miss the subtle flavour enhancing tastes imparted by the slightly more expensive unrefined sugars -  especially in my crumble toppings (I was making a lot of crumbles thanks to a glut of cooking apples from the tree in the garden).
Now that the purse strings have been loosened a little, I definitely think it is worth spending the extra to experiment with the whole range of sugars available. 

I was quite excited to see that Tate and Lyle had brought out a new, British inspired Golden Syrup Sugar - and even more excited to be offered a sample to try. 

As I still have apples in my larder, I decided to make an apple cake from a recipe that I have already adapted several times with good results. It is a lovely, comforting winter pud, great served hot or cold with cream, ice cream or custard. This is the recipe as I made it last night:

Apple Cake

200g SR flour ( I used the Savers budget range from Morrisons)
2tsp ground ginger
100g margarine
100g Golden Syrup Sugar
1 large egg (from my lovely hens)
8tbsp milk
1 cooking apple, peeled, cored and diced.
Extra Golden Syrup Sugar for sprinkling on top

1. Preheat oven to 200ÂșC
2. Mix flour and ginger together ( I didn't bother sieving)
3. Rub in the marg
4. Stir in the Golden Syrup Sugar (taking time to enjoy the smell!)
5. Add egg and milk and beat to a thick smooth batter

6. Stir in diced apple
7. Transfer to tin (I used a non stick 8" round one with removable bottom)
8. Sprinkle top with Golden Syrup Sugar (tricky because it has the consistency of wet sand) 
9. Cook until firm and golden, approx 35 mins

I was pleased with how it came out but as the saying goes - the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

I served it with cream and asked my husband for his verdict. He agreed with me that it was good but I pushed him further to see if he could identify a mystery ingredient. He took another mouthful, contemplated a while then said it tasted a bit like.... Golden Syrup!

10/10 for my husband's tastebuds and a big thumbs up for the new member of the Tate & Lyle family.

For information about the Tate & Lyle range, recipe ideas and more, visit http://www.tasteandsmile.co.uk/

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

New Trainers

In 2011, I bought myself a pair of pink trainers to run my very first 5K Race for Life. 

Since then, I think it would not be unreasonable to say that I have well and truly caught the running bug. Last year, I recorded 95 runs on the Garmin Running Watch that was my 2012 Xmas present. Ninety five runs that equate to 289.49 miles or 57hours 54 min and 19 secs of running. Of course there were other runs where I forgot to put my watch on or the battery ran out or it completely failed to connect to the satellite to find my location. Even without those extra miles, my stats make me proud and happy. I still can't quite believe that I am a regular runner but I am certainly enjoying the very positive impact it is having on my life.

All of those miles, both on and off road and in all sorts of weather conditions, have taken their toll on my trusty pink trainers. They definitely weren't looking very pink any more but more worryingly, the wear on the soles was becoming difficult to ignore.  Reluctantly, I had to admit that it was time to replace them.

I had some Christmas money to spend, thanks to the generosity of my lovely father in law, so I went along to the sports shop to see what I could find. The variety of running shoes available was quite mind boggling. I threw myself at the mercy of a shopfloor assistant who had me running on a treadmill to measure my gait. He didn't tell me anything I didn't already know - I run slightly flat footed and slightly out of central alignment. He recommended shoes that would offer support where I needed it and made me feel that if I didn't buy the £25 corrective insoles as well, I would probably break. I tried on the shoes. I did a little jog around the fixtures and fittings. I didn't like them at all.

I was full of indecision. My body was saying NO but my logic was saying You'll get used to them and they will benefit you ultimately. I thought the best thing was to give myself time - time for my body and logic to argue it out and come back to me with the right choice.

I did a few more runs in my old trainers. These trainers were like old friends - tired old friends admittedly but old friends nontheless. In all the time I had been running in them, I had never suffered an injury or any discomfort other than the usual aches and pains that you would expect. The solution became suddenly clear.

I went back to the sports shop (actually it was a different sports shop because I was a bit embarrassed to go back to the first one). I asked the assistant for the closest thing he had to my current pair. I was impressed that despite the wear and the mud (and the sogginess - we had just completed a rather wet Parkrun) he knew exactly what make and model they were and what features they had once possessed. He supplied me with a mid priced replacement pair that felt instantly familiar (but a whole lot bouncier) to my grateful feet. And they were PINK! The deal was done.

I went out in them last night. I love them.

I still can't quite bring myself to bin the old pair. We have journeyed far together and they have been good to me. I am hoping that this post, as a tribute to my constant companions mile after mile, will be the first step towards letting go!

Monday, 20 January 2014

ChillFactor Ice Cream Maker

There is a little shop in our town that sells Slushies. They are not my idea of a treat at all but my kids love them - the more tongue staining the better! I can understand why the ChillFactor Slushy Maker from Character, which enables you to make your own Slushies at home in seconds,  has been a huge success. Using the same 'Rapid Freeze Technology' a new product has been added to the ChillFactor range - the Ice Cream Maker - with the tag line Freeze, Squeeze, Enjoy!

I may not get excited at the thought of Slushies but I do love ice cream so I was intrigued to try out this new 'cool' gadget when I was sent one to review.

The ChillFactor Ice Cream Maker is designed to look like a larger than life ice cream cone complete with sauce topping in Vanilla Pink or Choc Delight - very cute. It consists of a number of components, some of which are dishwasher safe. The cornet part is made from a soft, flexible material  into which slots a thick inner sleeve that contains the magic 'freeze technology' compound. This needs to be placed in the freezer for 4-6 hours before use.

There is a recipe guide included but it encourages you to experiment with different flavours and quantities to suit your personal taste. It suggests using single cream because double cream gives a very rich result. I only had double cream in my fridge and  I was keen to try out the gadget so I went for it.

Following the instructions, I measured 100mls of cream (without stopping to think how many calories that was!), poured it into the lid of the Ice Cream Maker, added a good couple of dollops of chocolate syrup and gave it a quick mix.  I then tipped this into the cornet part, fresh from the freezer, and attempted to screw on the lid. The box promises 'no mess' but I must be a bit clumsy because my hands became rather sticky which made this a more difficult task than it should have been. I cleaned myself  up, shook to make sure everything was well mixed and then squeeze, squeeze, squeezed. The squeezing is supposed to take a few minutes and be the fun part but it actually made my hands ache (touch of arthritis maybe - I am nearly 50). My husband came and finished the squeezing for me. It does say for a thicker ice cream to squeeze longer but we seemed to have got to the point where it wasn't making any difference any more. Taking the top part of the lid off enables you to get at the sweet treat with the long spoon provided.

The taste was much as you'd expect -  creamy, sweet, very sickly (perhaps single cream would have been a better option). The texture was more like melted ice cream than ice cream - very soft - but it certainly had an icy coldness to it.

It was quite awkward to get the ice cream out. The spoon was a little too flexible to stand up to the cushions of the inner liner that seemed to close in around the contents and deny access. I eventually slopped it out into a bowl but it looked a little pathetic compared with the Cornish Ice Cream that the rest of the family were tucking into for dessert.

The Ice Cream Maker was much easier to wash up than I feared it might be.

Even taking into account the novelty value of making your own ice cream, I actually think there is at least as much fun to be had from the ice cream sold by the litre from your supermarket once you start adding toppings and sprinkles. I do not feel particularly inspired to repeat the Ice Cream Maker experience.

However, I have a daughter who does not like ice cream - never has. She cannot help feeling a little left out when we are all getting excited about some mouthwatering variety of luxury ice cream. I am thinking that this ChillFactor Ice Cream Maker would be perfect for making alternative frozen yoghurt desserts for her on such occasions. Being able to create her own flavour combinations and having all the fun of magically 'squeezing' them into existence may just make her the envy of the rest of us. I can't wait for her to be home from Uni so we can put it to the test.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Sky Dancers

Yesterday, my 3 year old was delighted to receive a Peppa Pig Weebles Wind and Wobble Playhouse . If you read the review, you know that 5 year old Addy did not entirely share the  delight. She thought the parcel contained a Sky Dancer. It didn't. Outcome = Tears!

Today, her luck changed when a Sky Dancer was delivered to our door.

We received the lovely Camille, one of the range of four flying fairy dolls from Character.

I think the look on my daughter's face (in this slightly blurry photo) says it all.

The sky dancer doll slots into a base unit. You then simply pull the launch string and watch your fairy fly up to 3 metres in the air. To get an impressive launch you need a good clean, fast pull. However, even the most pathetic of pulls makes the Sky Dancer twirl beautifully in her base unit and it doesn't take much more energy to get her rising into the air (before crashing gracelessly to the ground).

Addy's pulling skills were leaning more towards the category of 'pathetic' but it didn't stop little brother giggling, clapping and jumping up and down with excitement at the very short flights. Addy was determined to keep practising until she got better... and to her credit, she did get the hang of it.

There are Safety Instructions printed on the Sky Dancer box to avoid injury but they do seem to be mostly common sense.

Addy is still practising her launch technique. She just shouted from the other room "MUM!!!! I GOT IT REALLY HIGH!!!" I'm wondering if I should be worried!


The year is getting off to a really good start.

Over the frantic Christmas period, I had a few ideas about how we could make the available space in our home work better for us - to make life easier. With a tweak here and  a lick of paint there, we are already putting those ideas into action and I am loving the results.

The economic measures that we put in place before Christmas are having an effect. Financially things are feeling much more secure and the possibility of the odd treat and extravagance is not out of the question. It isn't time to go mad but we can certainly relax.

I also discovered Jantastic

Jantastic is a free online running challenge designed to motivate you to achieve your running goals during winter and spring when short days and miserable weather can sabotage your resolve. Goals are set by the individual and runs logged to monitor progress. There is also an option to be part of a team which gives the added incentive of 'not wanting to let the team down'.

I am in a team with my daughters, two of their boyfriends and my husband. I am especially pleased that  one of my daughter team mates is new to running and is using this as the push to get started. I've heard of the expression "The family that plays, together, stays together". I wonder what happens to the family that runs together? (Apart from comparing injuries and sharing new stretches, that is!)

I have already successfully completed my week 1 target and am well on the way to completing week 2. It is just what I needed to get me out running regularly and hopefully beat the Christmas legacy of bloating, lethargy and unwanted extra pounds.

This year, rather than struggling to think of meaningful and achievable resolutions, I decided to make one change per month. The idea for January's change came about when I was lucky enough to receive some absolutely gorgeous lotions and potions for Christmas. I love luxurious skincare products but the pamper time to use them is one of the first things to be sacrificed when life gets busy. I can't even remember the last time life wasn't busy. Consequently, some of the products from gift sets  received last year remain unopened - unused. The January resolution then is: To get those bottles, jars and tubes organised, to throw away the dregs and take pleasure in starting a brand new assortment and (best of all) to make time for those pamper sessions. It is a resolution that I am, thus far, very much enjoying!

PS It is not  too late to Sign up to Jantastic 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Peppa Pig Weebles Wind and Wobble Playhouse

Today we were sent a review item from Character. As always when a mystery parcel is delivered, there was an excited buzz of anticipation. Printed on the box were the words 'Sky Dancers'. My Addy read this and couldn't get the box open quick enough. Unfortunately for her, dreams of owning a flying fairy were shattered when the box actually contained a Peppa Pig Weeble Wind and Wobble Playhouse. The sound of her wails of disappointment were drowned out by little brother's whoops of sheer delight.

I remember  Weebles from when I was a child in the early seventies (although I never owned any) and the distinctive "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down" jingle jumps into my head at the slightest mention of them. I did notice that the tune is different now on the current TV advertising but judging by the fact that my son already sings it, I guess it is just as catchy.

I do love the way that the frankly quite hideously ugly original Weebles have evolved over the years and now feature the instantly recognisable characters from popular children's TV.

As a physicist, my husband would enjoy the principles exploited in the Weeble design and my mathematician daughter could probably produce pages of interesting formulae to describe how it works. Me, I just love to see them wobble!!

Eventually, the lure of the wobbly pig distracted Addy from the distress of the absent Sky Dancer and she dived in to wind the handle to carry Peppa up the wobbly staircase, deposit her on the wobbly floor, slide her down the slide and onto the spinning roundabout. If that wasn't enough, there is also a swinging swing, a muddy puddle and a lofty perch at the very top of the playhouse. It is lovely.

Maybe at nearly six years old, Addy is a little old for this set (recommended age 18m+). It didn't hold her attention for a great deal of time. She went off in search of cake to console herself for being Sky Dancer-less! Dylan took advantage of having the set to himself and is still playing beautifully.

Other Weeble characters are available to purchase separately - Dylan wanted Peppa to have friends!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

So that was Christmas

The decorations are packed away for another year (with the exception of a large snowflake that somehow escaped the de-adornment), the kids are back at school and the post-Xmas house clear up and reorganise is well under way.

It has been the busiest Christmas I can remember. We were blessed with many visitors which was wonderful but exhausting.

Equally exhausting but the exact opposite of wonderful was the drainage emergency that struck us on Christmas eve. When we should have been singing carols under the twinkling lights of the town Xmas tree and returning home full of festive cheer to a glass of mulled wine, we were in fact  trying to deal with a blockage that meant I could not use my kitchen sink or (horrifyingly) my dishwasher. My ever resourceful husband, with the guidance and support of his dad, had an exploratory poke around before building a temporary system of pipes to divert the waste water to a drain that was flowing freely. The greasy, sludgy problem was then dealt with at a more convenient  moment (ie not on Xmas eve in the dark). Once the blockage was finally dislodged and flushed away, I tried to reward my husband with a big hug of gratitude. The hug did not last long. He absolutely stank.

A much more pleasant memory is that of my little Addy's school Xmas performance. It was a modern twist on the traditional nativity and she played the part of an angel. I was concerned that she would not be well enough to take part having already missed a panto trip because of a nasty cough and cold that seemed intent on  hanging around. I also harboured some lingering concerns after the meltdown she had during the previous year's performance. All my concerns disappeared when she stood up on stage and sang beautifully complete with actions.

Dylan also took part in a nativity. After the event he was given a certificate:

This was the most ill deserved certificate ever awarded!  He was quite determined that he did not want to be a shepherd. He refused to even try on the outfit I had lovingly crafted out of old pillow cases. Foolishly, I believed that when he was with his friends and everyone was dressed up, he would be carried along with the moment. Wrong. When all the little shepherds appeared and paraded around the church on their journey to see the Baby Jesus (delightfully played by a real baby) Dylan was not among them. Trailing behind with the grumpiest expression and wearing his JCB coat over the top of his pillowcase, was my boy. My beautiful, annoyingly stubborn boy. I managed to wrestle his coat off him as he passed but he refused to join the other children for their rendition of "While Shepherds watched their Flocks".  Some days later when I was putting him to bed and telling him I loved him, he asked "do you love me even if I wasn't a shepherd?" I told him "especially because you wasn't a shepherd". He sleepily added, "I didn't want to be a shepherd, I wanted to be just Dylan". Just Dylan is Just Perfect for me.

It has been a Christmas on a budget for us this year. On the positive side this has made me think very carefully about what I've spent money on and I have enjoyed the extravagances (such as my bottle of port) all the more for it. It has also meant explaining to Addy that some of the toys she has seen on the telly are expensive and possibly not quite as fantastic as the advertisers would have us believe. A trusting five year old did not want to accept that adverts tell lies!!! and she could not comprehend why I would worry about expense when Santa brings the toys!!! My eldest daughter is in her twenties - two decades of Christmases and I have NEVER had to deal with the idea of me doing all the work buying presents and Santa taking all the credit.  I  think my first born was far too sensible to entertain the nonsense that a fat man in a red coat visits all the children on one evening, climbs down the chimneys and leaves presents. We didn't even have a chimney in our first house! And she would have never allowed her sisters to believe such nonsense either.  I trod very carefully as I tried to offer an explanation that would not destroy Addy's treasured innocence but would also give her a slightly better understanding of my role in the process. I dared suggest that it couldn't be as easy as Santa bringing you everything you wish for otherwise he'd bring me two new sofas to replace my old tired ones. Addy holds her own in an argument. She laughed at me and said Don't be silly mummy, he wouldn't have enough wrapping paper.

Despite some disagreements about what might be a good thing to put on the Christmas list, both little ones had plenty of presents that they thoroughly enjoyed unwrapping and loved every one. My husband may have cracked his tooth on my home made Christmas cake but overall the festive fare did not disappoint. Best of all, good times with family and friends reminded us of what is most important. Santa didn't bring my sofas but he certainly made sure that the spirit of Christmas was there in abundance. 

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