Saturday, 30 July 2011

Paradise Wildlife Park

Day 6 of the summer holidays and it's the weekend! We decided to take the children to Paradise Wildlife Park near Broxbourne in Hertfordshire. As well as an Animal Park, there are loads of playgrounds dotted about, so it's a great place to go with young children; also, there's a soft play centre with a Starbucks cafe (made my husband very happy), a waterpark, and a Bird of Paradise centre. Your entry ticket gives you access to all these areas, but small charges apply for some rides and attractions. I particularly like the Animal Park because it has walkways over the animal enclosures so you get really good views of the animals.

We arrived as the Park opened, so we had space to browse in peace. There's a funfair and bouncy castles on the way in (free to use), so we took our chance and had a go on them while it was quiet. The animals were having their enclosures cleaned because it was early, so the children got to see a lot of poo and straw! We had a very close encounter with some fruit bats (hubs had missed the sign that read "Warning, free flying bats"), the children are still talking about it now we're home (8 hours later!).

Another good thing about this Park is that you can buy food to feed some of the animals (obviously not the lions, which my daughter wanted to feed!). She did enjoy feeding the rabbits and sheep though (we also fed reindeers and emu, they are SCARY!).

We spent some time in the playground area and soft play centre around 11am, then had a trip on the Woodland Train and turns on Formula Karting (£1 per person for both these attractions). At lunchtime we took our picnic into the waterpark area; we'd come prepared with towels and swimsuits for the children, so after their lunch they had a splash about for an hour. We then headed to the Birds of Paradise area to watch the display, we were amazed when an owl brushed our hair as it flew overhead (demonstrating silent flight). The children loved it!

In the late afternoon we watched the penguins being fed and enjoyed a tractor ride around the park. We also visited the National Speedway Museum, which is a rather random addition to the Park, but the children enjoyed looking at the bikes and trophies.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Summer hols: day 5

We spent this morning at the allotment; it's been warm recently and we've had no rain, so I needed to water. The children explored for an hour and looked for ladybirds. Fortunately, my veg is full of aphids, so we have lots of (fat) ladybirds! We then very excitedly dug up out first lot of potatoes. The children loved delving in the soil when they saw a white potato. We also harvested some kale and a yellow courgette.

We then spent an hour in Letchworth; I'd promised my 3yo she could have some Tangled stickers and the only place we know that sells them is WHSmith. We visited The Green House Friday craft stalls, and bought some veg at the market in town for tonight's dinner.

Home for lunch and a tidy up, then our friends came round for a play and dinner later. I cooked sausages from the local butcher, roast potatoes (allotment-grown), garlicky kale (from the allotment), and ratatouille (made with allotment-grown courgettes). Yum! Although me and my friend stink of garlic now.

A lovely day, and tomorrow promises much sun and warmth, so we're off on a mystery day trip (wooo, where will we go?!)

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Summer hols: day 4

I'm feeling a bit guilty today. The first lovely sunny day of the school holidays and I HAD to stay home and finish some freelance work. So my poor children spent the morning watching films and playing with the Thomas train set. Actually, I think they had a good time, they were certainly making a lot of noise.

We walked to the shop just before lunch, my son had 75p he was desperate to spend on a pack of Moshi Monster cards! I bought them both a Kinder egg and they were suitably chuffed with that. They had a play in the garden with some bubble mixture at lunchtime, it's really great to hear them screaming with delight and chasing each other. They're at very playful and cooperative ages.

They both were tired after lunch so they coloured pictures and played with the Lego while I did some more work. Then 3yo had a party to go to; I let my son play Wii Fit while we were home alone. Watching him "free jogging" was hilarious! He enjoyed himself for sure.

Tomorrow they have some friends coming in the afternoon and staying for dinner, so they'll have company at least. Still not finished that work though... :(

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Summer hols: day 3

Today has been exhausting, proven when my 3yo daughter fell asleep at 5.30pm and wouldn't wake up for her dinner! We had a busy morning of chores, including a trip to the butcher to buy a few bits. 3yo exclaimed "Oooh, the claw!" as the butcher sliced ham (not sure how she can link that to Toy Story but that's the mind of a child for you).

The children had some friends over to play at lunchtime; much fun was had swapping Moshi Monster cards and chasing each other at the park. And destroying my lovely tidy Lego drawers :( Oh well, except for minor tearfulness while playing Wii, a good time was had by all. And I got to play with a baby and chat to my friend :)

My son had his swimming lesson in the afternoon. Usually I'm lazy and just sit in the cafe with 3yo and drink tea, but today I was brave and took them both swimming beforehand. It was actually easier than I anticipated (and cheap!) so I will do it again for sure.

Tomorrow I have to work so the kids will sadly be stuck inside with the choice of computer, films, or playing together, but I hope to fit a few little treats in somewhere.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Summer hols: day 2

Today started out quite bright and cheerful. We were all up early again to take hubs to the station; on the way back home we stopped at the Co-op and bought some sugar to make flapjacks with (and bubble mixture and microwave popcorn, for a rainy day).

After breakfast, we cleaned the kitchen then baked some flapjacks. We made two batches: my mum's recipe and a Lorraine Pascale recipe someone posted on Twitter. The kids helped weigh the ingredients and stir in the oats (lots of mess). 6yo then helped by zesting a lemon for the Lorraine Pascale flapjacks. He did really well, and I think he enjoyed me letting him to do something different. I've never let him use anything sharp in the kitchen before.

Learning to use a grater :)
While these were all baking we went to the park (just across from our house) and had a quick play before the rain started (boo!).

Rain meant I couldn't put off the toy tidying any longer, so I headed upstairs to the kids' bedrooms with bin bags for a big sort out. The kids "helped" by playing with all the old toys I was trying to get rid of! I gave them a pile of jigsaws to do and that kept them amused for long enough to sort the toy storage out. That's me happy for the holidays now I know everything WAS tidy once during the 6 weeks!

Just before lunch I had a bit more freelance work to do, so I gave the kids a choice of a film, TV, or computer time. They decided to play Lego (contrary, but cooperative play is good). This led to an explosion of Lego on my son's bedroom floor, so the afternoon was taken up with tidying that away. We then chilled with some TV before dinner.

Hopefully tomorrow will be sunny because we have friends coming for lunch and we were hoping to have a picnic in the garden.

Lego storage: our solution

I'm always astonished when I see how many people have read and commented on my blog post on Lego storage. It's obviously a big problem! Several people have asked what our solution was, so here it is.

We bought a metal filing cabinet from Ikea (Helmer) and plastic dividers that fit perfectly inside each drawer (Antonius). The result is this:

This combination does a great job, but we now need another unit because my son received about a dozen Lego kits for his birthday last month (which are currently spread all over his bedroom floor).

Flapjacks: a recipe

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of baking with my mum. She used to bake every week, or at least it felt like that as a child. I loved currant buns (fairy cakes for you Southerners), rock cakes, tea loaf, gingercake, chocolate sponge with buttercream filling (*drool*), but my favourite has to be flapjacks. Each batch of these treats varied, from soft chewy middle pieces to crunchy edge bits.

When I worked in London I used to make flapjacks to take to work and they always disappeared very quickly. My Northern compatriots reminisced fondly of "proper flapjacks" (and then we'd inevitably discuss parkin recipes...).

So here's the recipe. I hope you make some and enjoy them as much as I do.


Makes about 15

1) Preheat the oven to 180C (I have a fan oven and I reduce to about 165C), that's gas mark 4 or 350F.
2) Line a shallow baking tray with greaseproof paper and lightly oil it; the tray I use is 8x12x1 inches.
3) Weigh out your ingredients:
  • 120 g butter or margarine
  • 120 g soft brown sugar (I used dark brown but light would be OK)
  • 90 g golden syrup
  • 250 g rolled oats
4) Melt the butter, sugar, and syrup in a large pan over a low heat. Keep stirring and don't let it boil.
5) Once melted, remove from the heat and gradually stir in the oats. I sometimes add another handful of oats if the mix looks too runny.
6) Place the mixture in the baking tray and press down to fill to the edges. I always think about now that I've not make enough mixture, but if you press for long enough it does fill the tray!

7) Bake for 20 min until golden.
8) Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 min.
9) Cut into squares and leave in the tin until cool before turning out.
10) Enjoy (preferably with a cup of tea)!

For those of you watching your diet, I've calculated each piece is about 164 calories (7 g fat, 23 g carbs, 2 g protein).

Monday, 25 July 2011

Summer hols: day 1

The first day of the school holidays is over; we've been lucky with the weather, fine and dry all day except for a few spots at dinner time.

View over the oat fields behind our allotment

We were up early to take hubs to the station; after breakfast, we headed to the supermarket to do the weekly shop. I'd normally do this online but it's something to do together, passes the time, and gives the kids a reason to be interested in their food. 3yo helped weight the veg & fruit (even though we don't need to), 6yo helped to put heavy(ish) items into the trolley. They both chose a few items to buy: 3yo wanted strawberries, raspberries, and babybels; 6yo wanted bananas with stickers on, hula hoops, and tinned short-cut spaghetti.

After shopping I had to do some freelance work, so the kids watched Scooby Doo and did some colouring. They were very good and didn't fight, which makes a change! I then prepared lunch while they worked on their holiday scrapbooks (my plan is to file one thing from every day of the holiday so they can keep a record of what they've done).

Later, we emptied one of the toy cupboards in the dining room and filled it with our new art things (crayons and pencils, pens, paper, & glue). Some old toys went into a charity bag, the rest upstairs to bedrooms for sorting tomorrow. We found some craft books and chose a few things we'd like to make during the holidays. I need to save tins & drink cans!

Going on a bear hunt

We then headed to our allotment for an hour to water the vegetables and weed a bit. The kids took themselves off on a "bear hunt", which kept them entertained on their own for an hour. Back at home and after ice lollies, I set up an obstacle course in the garden, and the kids burned off excess energy for half an hour jumping and crawling through various toys. They then designed their own obstacle courses to go in their scrapbooks, although they both just drew pictures of dinosaurs for some reason!

Garden obstacle course: not a dinosaur in sight

All in all, an excellent day. We had a short walk with hubs in the evening and found some blackberries; we'll have to go back another day with a box.

Diet meal plan: first week of the holidays

The summer holidays are here! I'm so glad to have my kids at home with me. They're both tired and so am I. It will be so lovely to be at home together, chilling out, gardening, baking, being crafty. I might regret the lack of money because I can't freelance as much, but never mind :)

So onto meals for the week. Last week went well. The kids loved the corned beef hash and turkey lasagne (despite initial pulling of faces, and me making the lasagne from turkey bolognaise AND beef enchilada filling by accident!).

This week, with us being on holidays we've got friends coming for lunch (and my husband will be home late on two days). So meals are a hotch-potch of picnicky goods, tinned and frozen delights, and home-cooked originals.

Lunch: Soup or sandwiches
Dinner: Fish and chips

Lunch: Cheesy broccoli pasta
Dinner: Beans on toast

Lunch: Picnic in the garden (friends for lunch)
Dinner: Garlic chicken with homemade potato wedges and salad

Lunch: Chicken nuggets, curly fries, and beans (salad for me!)
Dinner: Toasted sandwich for son, daughter at a party, curry and rice for me and hubs

Lunch: "Proper sausage" (as my son calls them) hot dogs (kids have friends for lunch), sandwiches for the mums
Dinner: Salmon, new potatoes, and veg

Spicy chicken and salad pittas

Daughter at a party. Hope to squeeze a roast dinner in though!

Don't forget to check out other meal plans on Mrs M's blog.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Our mate Geoff, and his Rolli-Polli

Ahhh, "our mate Geoff". He's a lovely bloke, very clever, an inventor, has numerous patents to his name, and is "going to make us all millionaires". Very Del Boy (except he's not dodgy!).

My Twitter followers might remember I mentioned "our mate Geoff" a few weeks ago, when he came round to "make a video" with my husband (which of course led to much ooohs and virtual winking). His latest invention is a fishing gadget called Rolli Polli. If you want to see the finished video (or if you like fishing), you can see it at

Today we were at the CLA Game Fair as guests of Geoff. We had free tickets, which was great since tickets were £24 each for adults! We've been to similar country shows before (Danson Park, Ashwell, and Bedfordshire) so we knew what to expect: dogs, horses, shooting, falconry displays, etc. But we were not prepared for the sheer scale of the event.

The show covered hundreds of acres of the grounds at Blenheim Palace, mile after mile of exhibitors and food stalls. And I've never seen so many people carrying guns or fishing rods, with their dogs in tow. Or so much tweed! We felt like we'd fallen into a sort of microcosm of society we never see. I must confess, I've secretly coveted a pair of Dubarry Galway boots for several years, so seeing so many women wearing them was a bit torturous (although, as my husband pointed out, if everyone wears them they're not that special). Hmmm. I'm also now coveting a tweed mini skirt...

Wearing Dubarry's AND a tweed mini skirt :(

We found Geoff's stand after about an hour of searching. He was very chipper and doing great trade by the looks of things (he fielded lots of enquiries while we were there). It all looked great and we were really proud of him.

Walking round, the kids found a "colouring tent" (run by the Countryside Foundation for Education) so they spent 30 min there colouring in a Wellington boot for a competition. I scored a free tree from the Woodland Trust (they gave me a wild pear since it's the smallest tree they had) and hubs went to watch men chop wood (he has a fondness for axes). We then found some animal displays, owls, otters, alpacas, and ferrets, and very surprisingly, camels!

Tiny owl

 By lunchtime it was getting really hot, so we decided to leave. We had to walk back through the art and craft section though, and we were highly amused at a wooden deer that was for sale. It would look just right in our living room. What do you think?

Hmmm, the colour's not quite right for me

Now to read my free copy of The Field magazine. (First feature: "Dogging in the purple hills" -- yes, seriously). Out of touch?!

Monday, 18 July 2011

Diet meal plan: tins and packets

Monday is here again and I'm thinking about meals for the week. Last week went to plan. I tempted you with talk of cosmic carrots on Tuesday: here's a link to Fennel and Fern featuring my guest post on those.

The end of the school term is fast approaching and I always start to think about having a clear out of cupboards and drawers at this time of year. Toys can wait until term ends though, first up are my kitchen cupboards! This week's plan features ancient dried pasta, tins of vegetables, a bag of croutons from Christmas, and frozen meat and leftovers.

Corned beef hash with baked beans

Turkey lasagne with a green salad

Fish, chips, and peas

Chicken and bacon Caesar salad

Pork chops/sausages, mashed potatoes, and vegetables with gravy

Pancakes for breakfast!
Thai green chicken curry with rice

Roast beef

Check out other meal plans on Mrs M's blog.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

20 questions my kids ask

Every morning I drive my husband to the train station, and I collect him again in the evening. The journey there and back is about 15 mins. My children enjoy the journey and spend the entire time asking me questions. Here's a selection (bear in mind these questions are constant and from 2 children age 6 and 3).

1) What's this song?
2) Is this one of our favourite songs?
3) How old were you in 1984?
4) How old were you in 1996?
5) What about in 1993?
6) What's 100 + 62?
7) What's 1000 + 15?
8) Can I put my Moshi Monster cards in my Match Attax book?
9) How old were you in 1987?
10) Are you really old?
11) What year was it when you were 6?
12) What's this song?
13) Is this one of our favourite songs?
14) How old was daddy in 1987?
15) Is daddy the same age as you?
16) Can I tell you my wish? [I love this one]
17) Are shooting stars real?
18) How far away is nana's house?
19) What song is this one?
20) Do we like this song?

Monday, 11 July 2011

Monday meal plan: quick and easy

Another Monday means another meal plan for the week. Last week went well, the chicken and pea risotto was delicious (my children loved it); the swede and turnip gratin was a bit hit and miss, the turnip was a bit hard so we had to pick it out, but otherwise the recipe was a success.

This week the plan is all about meals that are quick to prepare because we have a lot of evening commitments. I've also put myself back on the diet wagon after a few weekends of excess (I've restocked my freezer with soup!), so when you see SALAD, I'll be eating more of that and less of the starchy potato.

Pork sausages, mashed potatoes, and baked beans

Salmon with soy and sesame noodles and stir-fried cosmic carrots (stay tuned for more on these!)

Gammon steaks, chips, and salad

Marinated chicken breasts (from our local butcher), baked potatoes, and salad

Bacon, lettuce, and tomato crusty rolls

Eating with family, probably salmon

Eating with family, probably roast chicken

Check our Mrs M's blog for more meal plans.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Easy like Saturday mornings

I woke up this morning at 4:45 am. It was sunny but I could see through the window that the streetlights were still on. I lay there, and I thought "No no no no I do not want to do this". Then I got up, found my running gear and got dressed. I was so anxious not to wake anyone I could only find odd socks!

I ate 2 jelly babies with some water and stuffed 4 more in my pocket with my key. I set off, as the church bell struck 5 times. My aim today was to run 10 miles at a pace of about 10 min/mile.

The first 2 miles were fast. I was enjoying the silence and the slight cooling breeze. Then I started to tire because I'd set off too fast, so the next 2 miles were a pain. But, as I descended into Letchworth, the sun shone and people started to appear and I began to feel good.

As I ran past the UK's first roundabout I realised I was halfway through my run. I was starting to feel tired again, so I hunted for my jelly babies. The Runners World half marathon newsletter this week reminded me that I would need to take something for energy after an hour of running (I forgot last week), and jelly babies are ideal. I've not used energy gels or drinks while running; I've heard they can make you need the loo or cause wind, and that's the last thing I want to deal with on a long run. After unsticking 2 sweets from my house key (not my best idea putting them in the same pocket!) I immediately felt better (psychological?) and the next few miles were good.

At about mile 8 I was thinking about getting home and going back to bed, so I sped up! I was really aware of my hair, which I had cut yesterday and is a lot shorter than it was. I could feel it bouncing on my shoulders and it was annoying!

I started to look at my Garmin and calculate my route; did I need to stay on the road or could I cut onto the Greenway? I decided to cut onto the Greenway for a bit of interest (and the hills are a bit easier!). Loads of rabbits were about, so many birds too. I love running through the fields and spotting wildlife.

I realised at mile 9 that I was going to end up running 10.5 miles (slight route calculation fail!) so I decided I might as well run 11 miles. I was feeling OK, my hips were a bit sore but otherwise I wasn't labouring for breath and I had energy to run. I ran the last 2 miles at some speed, and ended by climbing over a fence because the footpath that runs along my estate was closed partway down!

And so I finished my long run in 1 hour and 47 mins (average pace 9:52 min/mile). I tried to sneak into the house but as soon as I walked through the door the kids were shouting for their breakfast! Fortunately, my husband dealt with them and I managed to grab an hour in bed. Hurrah for husbands :)

So, 6 weeks before my half marathon, I'm now able to run 11 miles. I'm confident I can finish the race in 2 hours 15 mins, which was my original aim. My husband thinks I can do it in 2 hours! What do you all think?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

What does £30 of seeds look like?

A bit like this!

I was very fortunate to be chosen as the first winner of's Twitter competition. My prize was £30 of seeds, which I spent 2 hours choosing from their website.

Now our family allotment that is almost cleared and dug, the thought of filling it with vegetables next year is pretty daunting. I thought I had prepared a lot of seedlings and plants to put in, but I've filled barely a third. This selection of seeds will surely help.

I ordered a range of seeds, from vegetables I like to grow, to unusual varieties, to plants my children will love, to sweet peas for the bees! Here's my order in full.

Peas and beans
Asparagus Pea
Runner Bean Enorma
Climbing French Bean Cosse Violette
Broad Bean Aquadulce Claudia
Climbing Bean Borlotto
Mangetout Pea Oregon Sugar Pod
Pea Petite Pois Waverex
I'm particularly looking forward to growing the borlotti beans. I'm eating much healthier foods nowadays, which includes beans. Asparagus Pea I chose for interest. The pods apparently taste like asparagus, so they'll be fun to grow and try.

Carrot Nantes
Carrot Paris Market Atlas
Celeriac Giant Prague
Hamburg Parsley
I can't resist adding carrots to any seed order. Nantes are so easy to grow and versatile, I've overwintered them before. Atlas are a ball variety of carrot, which hopefully will intrigue my children! Hamburg parsley is a root vegetable, a cross between carrot and parsnip; the tops can be used as a herb, similar to parsley. Sounds very versatile!

Spinach Matador
Lettuce All The Year Around
I've never grown spinach but I eat it now so I decided it would be a good vegetable for the allotment. 

Cauliflower Purple Cape
Brussels Sprout Evesham Special
Cabbage Durham Early
Cabbage Mammoth Red Rock
I am STILL a complete failure when it comes to brassicas. These seeds won't produce vegetables until late 2012/early 2013. That gives me plenty of time to plan my anti-pigeon, anti-Cabbage White, anti-slug strategy. Looking forward to purple cauliflowers.

Aubergine Black Beauty
Courgette Black Beauty
Courgette Eight Ball F1 Hybrid
Winter Squash Spaghetti
Winter Squash Acorn Table Queen
I love courgettes! I've chosen a ball variety for my children to get excited about. I'm also going to try some winter squash. Spaghetti squash apparently turns spaghetti-like on cooking, something I am curious to see.

Leek Lyon 2 Prizetaker
Spring Onion White Lisbon
Onion Braunschweigi
I've never grown red onions from seed before, so I'm looking forward to trying these. I usually steal leek seedlings from my mum, so now I have a chance to prove I can grow them from scratch!

Sweetcorn Minipop F1 Hybrid
Sweetcorn Earlibird Supersweet F1 Hybrid
Baby sweetcorn, what's not to like?! Hope they are easier to grow than sweetcorn, which I've only been partly successful with.

For the bees!
Sweet Pea Royal Mix
Sweet Pea Stars And Stripes
Sweet Pea Parfumiere Mix
I love sweet peas, they are the only annual flowers I have ever managed to grow from seed.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Diet meal plan: using homegrown vegetables

Another Monday and I'm thinking about the family's meals for the week. Last week's menu went to plan. I bought local, as intended. However, it was expensive, much more so than doing one big shop at a supermarket. I think shopping at my local butcher may be cheaper for meat, but veg and other items are best bought at a larger store in town.

My dinner at local eatery The Two Brewers was excellent, and after some Twitter persuasion, I made sure I ordered a Cardona and Son pork chop. Highly recommended and well worth a visit for my Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire readers.

This week, I've begun to harvest vegetables from the garden, so meals now will have to incorporate this homegrown produce. It's exciting to grow your own veg but sometimes it can be hard to know how to cook it!

Chicken and pea risotto (peas from the garden, chicken is leftover from the weekend).

Gammon with potato, swede & turnip gratin, & broccoli (potatoes, turnip, and swede harvested on Sunday!)

Salmon, new potatoes, and salad (I was given an enormous iceberg lettuce by an allotment neighbour)

Baked potatoes

Chicken breasts, homemade potato wedges, salad

Two parties, we will eat on the go.

Sandwiches and leftovers and recovery!

Don't forget to check out Mrs M's blog for more Monday meal plans.
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