I'm the first to admit that I prefer cooking savoury dishes. Add to that Presley's fear of the food mixer* and you'll understand why we don't do that much baking together.
*I used to make a thick gravy for the boys by whizzing cooked vegetables into stock with my handheld food mixer. Yeah, I know, I said I'd never hide vegetables either, but I said a lot of things before I became a parent. Presley freaks out the second he hears me plug the mixer in. Most days when I tell him what's for tea he replies 'no noisy gravy'. It's okay, I still have pasta sauce that I can hide vegetables in (without making a noise).
Biscuits, on the other hand, require no food mixer. The children can join in with measuring out the ingredients and mixing with wooden spoons or little hands. They can watch their creations cook through the glass in the oven door. Then - the best bit - they can decorate them, with melted chocolate or icing and hundreds and thousands.
The other day we made gingerbread men.
As you can see they haven't quite got the hang of where to put the buttons. Oh and the one with a foot missing was Cash pressing down with the cutter before I was ready!
When they had cooled down we got out the icing tubes and started decorating. This is one of mine. Those icing tubes aren't the easiest things to use.
This is another one of mine, celebrating summer!
It was a family affair. Here is Andy's effort.
Nope, me neither. He was particularly proud of the stockings though.
Here are the finished gingerbread men from all of us.
I think the boys did really well with theirs!
What's that you say? English Mum's having a bake-off? Oh well, I'll have to enter with these fine fellows!
The theme for the Sticky Fingers Gallery this week is nature. If you haven't entered before, this may be the week to start. There is a prize on offer for the best entry. The prize is a Green & Blacks hamper. I was going to say it's not to be sniffed at, but if you won you would sniff it. A LOT.
The themes in recent weeks have been tricky, but I've found this the most difficult theme of all. For a start, nature is a big theme, it covers so much of the world around us.
I took some photographs this week of a squirrel eating a nut on our fence, but they're not great photographs. I took them though a window, using 12x digital zoom. I've got the squirrel in focus, but I wouldn't enter it in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition!
So having failed to find anything new to photograph I looked back through the thousands of photographs on my laptop. When I found one I liked, I copied it into my Gallery folder. I then went through and deleted loads, finally settling on a short list of 78.
This is when I decided I needed a theme. I know Tara likes trees, so I deleted everything that wasn't a tree. Finally, we're getting somewhere! I'll save the sunbathing blackbird for another day. I have my entry.
Seeing these trees made me think of how they clearly reflect the changing seasons.
Sticky sap rises, the dead wood comes alive.
The shade of lush leaves on a sunny day
The rustling of falling leaves, crunching underfoot.
There is one thing I wish my husband and I DIDN'T have in common. We're both D-I-shY.
It would be useful if one of us was handy around the house, or better still keen on DIY.
Having said that, if something needs bodging, Andy's your man.
This, friends, is the underside of my kitchen sink. A fine bodge I'm sure you'll agree.
Even more impressive when you see this,
Yes, my sink is propped up by a bowl, a tin can (Napolina plum tomatoes, no less) and some free newspapers.
This bodge has been in place for two and a half years, since the unfortunate washing up incident. The one where I poured a bowl of dirty water into the sink and the bottom fell off the sink. The one where there was a flood and I cried. That was the day we bought a dishwasher.
As if that wasn't bad enough, the hot tap packed up last year so I am without hot water in the kitchen. It's okay, I can boil a kettle to wash up anything that doesn't go in the dishwasher. And let's face it, most things go in the dishwasher.
Then on Friday the cold tap started to feel unusual, I could tell it was heading the way if the hot tap. I freaked out. I must use that tap millions of times every day.
We Googled for solutions. 177,980 sites offered help with a dripping tap, but none - I REPEAT, NONE - dealt with the tap not producing any water at all. Thanks Google. Thanks for nothing.
We decided to bite the bullet and spend a little money - eek, moths etc. We decided to buy a new sink. We went to B&Q.
They had our sink, exactly the same one. But, as is the way with Sod's Law, it was a returned one, in a battered box. If I'm getting a new sink I want a shiny one, with the plastic still on.
So we picked up everything else that we (and our plumber) would need. We bought new taps, the plumbing bits for under the sink and lightbulbs, a new bedside lamp, more lightbulbs and some lining paper for the boys to paint on. B&Q isn't as bad as Ikea for going in for one thing and coming out with fifty things, but it is still a shop!
In fact we bought everything but the kitchen sink.
Then it dawned on us.
There's nothing wrong with our current sink, it's just everything attached to it that has failed, is failing or has perished. We don't need a new sink. Phew.
Now to find a reputable plumber before the cold tap packs up completely.
Starting in tomorrow's Sun (and continuing until Friday) you can collect tokens for 2 for 1 days out at hundreds of UK attractions. In Wednesday's Sun there will be a pull out section listing participating attractions, along with some bonus vouchers.
Yesterday I made myself two slices of toast. Up popped the toaster. I ignored it, busying myself with being a mother. I waited until the toast was cold. I took it out and cut each slice in half diagonally. On my four triangles of cold toast I spread real butter. The knife scraped along the slices, depositing a thin smear of yellow butter on each one. I stood in the kitchen, while the boys watched Mister Maker (I love him in spite of the gurning), and ate my toast. It was chewy and tasted of butter. It was wonderful.
I can't remember the last time I made my toast like this, but I can remember the first time.
I am eight years old. We're staying at Uncle Dave and Aunty Maggie's house. They're Mum and Dad's friends. They keep moving to different bungalows. Aunty Maggie has a bad back. She tried to lift me out of the bath, but it hurt. She had to go and lay down. I think she cried.
Uncle Dave shakes. His cigar shakes in his hand as he holds it. I can hear the ice cubes clinking in his drink. They don't have children, but they do have a dog. Her name is Mandy and she is a black terrier. She likes to fetch balls if you throw them for her. She is quite slobbery.
Mum says she can't understand why they got cream carpets when they have a dog. The carpets smell new. They are springy under my bare feet. It's mostly boring round Uncle Dave and Aunty Maggie's. They talk to Mum and Dad and we have to sit and listen. I can't get a word in edgeways. Each time I look at Mum, pleading at her with my eyes to let me speak, she holds up her hand. This means grown ups are talking. By the time she asks me what I wanted to say, the conversation has moved on. It's too late. It doesn't matter.
In the morning we sit at the table for breakfast. It is already 10 o'clock, but we're just having breakfast. The table is smoky black glass and the wicker on the chair scratches my legs. Mum and Dad and Uncle Dave and Aunty Maggie are still talking. I drink my orange juice. It has bits in it, I spit them back in the glass. My brother Peter sees me and does the same with his orange juice. We take slice after slice of cold toast and slowly, carefully spread it with the curls of butter in the dish. I feel grown up. This must be how grown ups eat their toast.
Later, I put my hands in Mandy's woolly coat. I wish we could have a puppy. I throw the ball for her and shout 'fetch it, Goldie!'. I realise what I have done. I've called her by the name of the Blue Peter dog. Goldie is Simon Groom's dog and she goes with him to his parent's farm in Dethick. Everyone laughs at me. I can feel my cheeks burning, I am going bright red. They keep laughing. I want to go home and not come back.
There was another prompt asking about the last time you cried. That was just now. I was looking for a photograph of a particular moth caterpillar that my friends and I found in someone's garden one summer. We collected them in our hands and placed them in our gardens. Poor things, they probably starved after we moved them away from their food source. They were quite distinctive, two inches long, fat and green, with red heads and spiked tails. As I searched through the vividly clear photographs I realised that I have a bit of a caterpillar phobia. I clicked away from Flikr with tears in my eyes. I never did find what I was looking for and in the end I wrote about something else.
A year ago, as Presley was approaching his second birthday, I started my preparations for potty training.
I bought potties, toddler toilet seats, toddler steps, a potette travel potty (with liners) and loads of pants. I got that Gina Ford book out of the library and completed her checklist of 'is your child ready?' questions. No was the answer, mostly.
The potties have sat in the lounge all that time, gathering dust. Every now and then the boys have sat on the potties, without nappies, more as a game than anything. The potties are as yet unchristened, but have been filled with all manner of toys.
It was the last toddler group today, so we've had in mind that now would be a good time to start the dreaded potty training. The idea being that we could live outside for a couple of weeks and any accidents would happen in the garden, where we have a hose. Sadly the hosepipe ban coincided with the Heavens opening and it has poured with rain everyday for what seems like forever.
We've been talking to Presley, now nearly three, about going without nappies and using the potty, or the toilet - like Mummy and Daddy. His response has always been 'not today'.
Apart from today.
*inset dramatic sound effect here*
Today Presley asked for his nappy to come off. He asked to do a wee on the toilet.
We turned Andy's office upside down looking for the toddler toilet seat and the toddler step. We dusted then off and placed them in the downstairs loo. We all watched, wide-eyed, as Presley perched on his throne.
We waited, we encouraged. I nearly cried with disbelief and pride. My boy is growing up. Cash said he wanted a go next. What? No! I can't cope with both of you needing the loo at the same time!
I think poor Presley got stage fright. There was no wee, although he did flush the loo twice and giggle hysterically as he got a wet bum. He clambered off and said 'no nappy now'.
I am so not ready for potty training. The pants are still in their packets, so I chickened out and told Presley that pull-ups were pants. He looked nervous so I told him it didn't matter if he did a wee because they were a bit like a nappy. I know, not my finest mummy moment.
He's now having a nap, in his 'pants'.
Someone help me! PLEASE!
My mind isn't functioning, I'm not well, I'm confused. I can't work what to do.
Seriously, what do I do at night? Do I put him in a nappy? Do I put him in pull-ups and leave a potty by his bed? Do I tell him to come and wake me up if he needs the loo in the night? I really don't know.
Argh, I suppose we should take the sides off his cot bed. Do we put a gate on his room or do we let him roam?
All advice gratefully received. What worked for you? HELP!
A little bit of kindness goes a long way. The briefest of kind tweets can lift my entire day. If someone holds a door for me or helps me to lift my pushchair up or down steps I am heartened. If someone returns a lost baby shoe or sock to me I could cry with happiness!
Sadly these examples of simple kindness are few and far between. So often people can be thoughtless, inconsiderate, rude or selfish. Usually in the supermarket, almost always in cars.
I hope I am kind at all times. I'm not saying I'm perfect - far from it - but I do care about my behaviour towards others.
There is a lovely blogger, Susie from New Day New Lesson, who is a kind person. When a friend of mine died earlier this year, Susie emailed me and offered me a friendly ear and a virtual shoulder to cry on. She didn't know me that well, but she cared enough to make the offer. I won't forget a kind action like that.
Susie runs an inspirational Kindness Club on her blog. Each week she gives a kindness assignment. These have ranged from being kind to yourself to visiting the sick and elderly. Each week I have read the prompts and either thought 'yes, I already do that', or 'hmm, I'll give that a go'.
What I haven't done is written a post about it. I've been discussing with Susie why more people aren't writing about their kind actions and linking them up on New Day New Lesson.
I think it's a British trait not to blow your own trumpet. I think this is the reason. We don't shout about our good deeds, perhaps we should.
Last year I helped an elderly lady after she fell and broke her wrist. I won't go into details, but she was in a bad way. I didn't blog about it because I felt uncomfortable using her story on my blog. What struck me though, was out of twenty bystanders I was the only one to help her.
I've met more bloggers in the last two weeks than you can shake a stick at, or shake a packet of low fat snacks at!
Today I took Presely and Cash to a particularly soggy Manchester to meet even more lovely bloggers, courtesy of Warbutons Snacks and Clarion Communications.
We met at the Couture Cafe in Manchester Museum. The organisers had thoughtfully provided crayons for the little ones and pictures to colour in. There was coffee, of course - what do you expect at a coffee morning?! There was also a gorgeous fruit platter and we did sample some of it, but the big draw for my boys were the plates of ChippidyDooDaas and wholegrain SnackaDoodles on every table.
Hats off to my children, they managed to consume their own body weight in snacks. I wasn't far behind them. Seriously, these new crisps - especially the ChippidyDooDaas, made from pitta bread - are delicious.
My boys were well behaved, but it is tricky to chat when you're somewhere new and making sure they're both okay. I didn't even get to speak to some bloggers, for this I apologise.
If we did (or didn't) speak please say hi in the comments and we should try to organise another event in the North West.
Thank you to Warburtons for buying the boys some toys from the Museum and for my bag of goodies.
Oh and ChippidyDooDaa is a brilliant name for a snack!
I think Presley does, although it is not entirely clear. He's recently started talking about an Uncle Dinky.
I read, in 'The Philosophical Baby' by Alison Gopnik, that pre-school children with imaginary friends are normal. She says it's nothing to worry about. So why do I feel uneasy about Uncle Dinky?
For a start he has a silly name. I mean, it sounds like the kind of name a man would give to his penis, as in 'Uncle Dinky's coming out to play'. Sorry, I made myself shudder typing that.
Anyway, back to the real Uncle Dinky, or should I say the imaginary Uncle Dinky.
This is what we know about him/it:
Uncle Dinky has ten eyes, three arms and four legs.
Uncle Dinky wears a black t-shirt with a monkey on it.
Uncle Dinky eats sandwiches, sometimes jam and sometimes marmite.
Uncle Dinky lives in the garage or the door.
Presley giggles coyly whenever Uncle Dinky is mentioned but refuses to draw him. The drawing above is Presley's first attempt at drawing a person and definitely not Uncle Dinky. I love the way the so-called smiley mouth is a straight line.
Perhaps the reason I am worried is Presley's answer to the question 'What does Uncle Dinky say?'.
His answer was 'Bongo bongo bongo bongo bongo bongo bong'.
I haven't set an extra place at the table yet, although I imagine it is only a matter of time.
I thought us Mummy Bloggers were well represented and I loved Nixdminx's phrase 'Don't be a BUM (Blogging Unpaid Mum)'!
Again, huge thanks to all of you who have sent me kind messages about 'My Old Man'. I am still processing the fact that I made two hundred people cry at Cybermummy. It is quite overwhelming. The last ten days have been unusual. On the one hand I have had a massive confidence boost and made loads of friends, old and new. On the other I have quietly marked the anniversary of my brother's death and today is one year since my old cat popped his pussy clogs.
As Ronan Keating once sang 'Life is a rollercoaster you've just got to ride it'.
You may have noticed this shiny new badge in my sidebar.
I can now reveal what I've been up to with some lovely bloggers....
Blogging can at times feel like a selfish pursuit. We blog because we enjoy the act, take pleasure from expressing ourselves or feel that we have something relevant to say. We don’t necessarily assume that people will read, but if they do we are delighted and we blog more, bolstered with the confidence that comes from having a supportive audience.
There are so many stories out there to be told, and whilst many of us use a blog as an outlet, sometimes those stories are best told elsewhere, where we can’t be recognised, and where we can speak without wondering what people will think of us.
As a group of like-minded bloggers, we started thinking about how we could support people who wanted advice, support or even just to vent in an anonymous fashion. We’ve learned that there are occasions where people wanted to talk in confidence but felt unable to do so, convinced that others would somehow recognise them. Our research brought us to a collective of blogs, all sharing the same ideology:
We are Blognonymous! We have decided to open our blogs to you, if you need them.
We have no idea where this may go, there is no strategy, no agenda. All we can guarantee is confidentiality, a sounding board, a blank page for your words and, if necessary an introduction and conclusion with links where others can find further information or support. You can write completely anonymously or semi-anonymously, if you wish. You can have comments on or off, seek assistance or just vent.
We have a range of blogs available, with different readerships and atmospheres. If you’ve got a story to tell and nowhere that you feel able to tell it, feel free to pick one of the following blogs where you feel comfortable and get in touch, or if you are not sure which one you would like to post on, then let us know and we will guide you to the most appropriate.
I remember overhearing a conversation about twenty five years ago. It stuck with me.
Woman One - 'I don't go to John Lewis, it's too expensive'
Woman Two - 'They're never knowingly undersold so they can't be too expensive. John Lewis isn't a market you know'.
Well said, woman Two.
I have always shopped at John Lewis. They are still never knowingly undersold. Their customer service is second to none. They sell (almost) everything. Whenever I need anything, my local John Lewis store or Johnlewis.com is where I go first.
Recently John Lewis invited bloggers to the launch of their Autumn/Winter and Christmas ranges.
I don't normally accept invitations to events as they are usually in London and I would have to ask my husband to take the day off work to look after Presley and Cash (two toddlers and public transport do not mix). When John Lewis invited me, however, I had to say yes. Immediately.
The launch was held at One Marylebone, an impressive listed former church. I knew I'd found the right place when I saw a snow machine outside and Christmas trees in the entrance.
I was welcomed by John Lewis PR and PR agency Cohn & Wolfe. I was given a Flip Mino HD video camera - to keep - and taken on tours of the various departments they had created in the building. Buyers walked and talked us through fashion, home, electronics, toys and gifts. I was in shopping Heaven.
As well as their own range of clothes, John Lewis are featuring up to the minute designers too. I could seriously take up dieting to fit into the stunning Celia Birtwell bird print dresses or the Mint Velvet lingerie. I loved the Barbour jackets with lining from English Eccentrics. I adored the Russian peasant look. In fact, even as a non-fashionista, I loved it all!
I could have moved into the home section. I must have zillion thread-count cotton sheets from now on. The Alegra bedspread caught everyone's eye. For just £60 you can have this on your bed (cushions are extra):
The toys were mostly traditional, a good thing in my book. The toy buyer was interested in what my children like to play with. I particularly liked these for Santa's sacks this year:
Thank you to John Lewis for inviting bloggers to your launch. As you can see from this photograph we enjoyed it, it was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones:
Holidays, you say? I remember those. Holidays were those jolly things we did before we had children!
The photographs I have chosen are from our last holiday, which was also our honeymoon. We went to the South Island of New Zealand and New South Wales and Queensland in Austrralia.
Here are a few highlights:
Wildlife spotting at Oamaru, NZ.
Lake Pukaki with Mount Cook in the distance, NZ.
The Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo, NZ.
Sydney Harbour Bridge, Australia. I used to be able to see this from my office window. *sigh*
Sydney Opera House. My favourite building in the world.
Flying foxes in Sydney Botanical Gardens.
Sunset at Tambourine Mountain, Australia.
Finally a personal highlight, although not a great photograph. We stayed at Tangalooma on Moreton Island in Australia. Form there we took an eco boat tour and saw dolphins, a hammerhead shark and numerous other sea-life. Then something amazing happened, we found a pod of 54 dugongs (like manatees). They are beautiful, gentle, endangered creatures and quite possibly my favourite animal. It was incredible to see them in the wild. That evening we hand-fed wild dolphins that swim up to the beach at Tangalooma. That was pretty cool too.