madhouse march (it’s another GIVEAWAY!!)

I’m the first to admit that this blog is not a very useful one. I don’t teach you how to braid Afro hair, give you numerous recipes for gluten-free vegans, explain some complicated piece of computing, or provide numerous rainy-day activities for hyperactive preschoolers.

If you’re new to the blog and haven’t yet sussed the vibe, it is this: I witter on about something or other for around 800 words and people read it and sometimes comment and then get on with their lives regardless. This blog does not change lives.

But, dear friends, now I want to repay you for your loyalty and commitment to my various rants. This blog is about to change your life. Get ready for it: I am about to share with you my one biggest secret to organising your family’s meals forever. Some of you may remember that way back in the distant past of January 2015, I made a resolution to cook from a different cookbook each month. Hands-down, the best and most practical family cookbook I have ever come across is the one I was lucky enough to cook from throughout March.

Madhouse Cookbook

Madhouse Cookbook, by Jo Pratt, is a pretty apt book for me – the fact that I’m writing up what I did in March when it’s nearly May should be evidence enough that we qualify under the ‘madhouse’ moniker. I have two kids to feed, as well as a husband with an odd working schedule and a lodger with an aversion to lamb, fish and meat-on-the-bone – not to mention sundry others who pop in, sometimes planned and invited, sometimes unplanned, sometimes uninvited, but always welcome. There has to be food on the table by 6pm (or else our kids will flip) and there has to be enough to feed whoever God may bring to our door that day. Jo Pratt’s recipes are flexible, child-friendly, quick, easy and yummy. I’m telling you: buy this book. It will change your life. (Get to know Jesus first though – He will change your life more. But, after that, buy this book.)

What makes this book stand out? First, nearly every recipe is pure gold in terms of flavour. Quite outstanding. From Chinese to Mexican to Italian to Indonesian, Jo Pratt has produced a stellar selection of meals which will give your kids a hugely varied diet without them even realising, whilst the grown-ups enjoy food that is in no way ‘dumbed down’. Second, there are virtually none of those recipes that you might just throw together yourself with no need for guidance. (I always get so disheartened flicking through a recipe book and seeing titles such as ‘tomato and courgette pasta’ or ‘roast chicken with garlic’ – why pay good money for recipes you don’t need?) Those few recipes which do fit this category are briefly summarised in categories, e.g. ‘Very, Very, Very Quick Pasta Dishes’ or ‘Stir Crazy’, a collection of stir-fry sauces.

Third, the book is just so comprehensive. Section one is ‘Monday to Friday survival: the need for speed’ – and it does what it says on the tin. Quick recipes, yummy flavours, great for kids and adults alike. We loved the Very Special Fried Rice, the Chicken, Cheese and Corn Quesa-d-easies and the Mediterranean Baked Chicken and Rice – all great, none of them time-consuming. We regularly use Jo’s Risotto Primavera recipe – sometimes following to the letter, sometimes varying with whatever veg we have to hand, always scrummy. Section two is ‘The Busy Weekend’ – great (but still quick) recipes to improve your weekend, from lazy brunch ideas, to baking-with-kids projects, to relaxed family meals. The Sticky Sausages with Sweet Potatoes and Peppers is a work of genius – 15min prep, then bang in the oven for an hour. Rich Vegetable Lasagne was a winner too. (And did I mention that we found plenty of new vegetarian recipes to suit our half-vegetarian diet?) Section three is ‘Cling on to your social life’ – a selection of slightly smarter recipes for when friends come round. But of course nothing takes ages to make because Jo realises you have Kids Who Are Not Tired to put to bed and All The Chaos to clear away and Unidentifiable Hardened Food to scratch off the dining table – in addition to cooking for your guests. The Beef Rendang and South Indian Chicken Curry were amazing, and the Chocolate and Ginger Brownies were so good I made them three times in one week. (Beach-ready body? Er…)

Add to all this the accurate preparation and cooking times, guidance on how many adults/kids the meal will feed, ingredients lists which don’t require a trip to a specialist deli, and plenty of tips for leftovers or how to vary the meals for fussy eaters – and you’re left with an incredible resource, not only for family life but for anyone who likes to cook. Honestly, if you want decent recipes which don’t take long to prepare, buy this book, whether or not you have kids, a spouse, a lodger, or a dog – and prepare to weep over its sheer ease and yum factor.

But don’t buy the book just yet. Because I think it’s such an invaluable aid to anyone’s cooking repertoire, I’m going to give away a copy to a commenter picked at random this Saturday at 7pm (OK, you know that this means sometime during Sunday or Monday…). This time I’d like you to comment on the most mad thing you’ve ever cooked. I once made a Marmite, sweetcorn and squid sandwich. Fire away.

THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED. CONGRATULATIONS TO CHARLOTTE WHO WAS THE LUCKY WINNER!!

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adoption: it’s not plan b

Although there was a time when I thought it was.

Back in my naive, idealistic youth, before we had kids, adoption was our Plan B. “If we can’t have children, we’ll…” and all that. Truth be told, I was bloody scared that we wouldn’t be able to have children – because then we’d have to face the messy reality of adoption, and I wasn’t sure if I could cope. When we found out we were expecting Mister, I let out a huge inward sigh of relief. Now we could continue ignoring the A word.

Back then, adoption was only a Plan B – something you considered only when all other doors had been slammed in your face. In my naivety – and I’m incredibly ashamed to write this now – I would wonder why childless couples didn’t ‘just adopt’, as if it were akin to popping to the Post Office for a book of stamps. If this is you, please know that I feel so terribly sorry for this attitude, which came from an immature, misinformed position, and not from a desire to be accusatory or hurtful. Infertility is painful enough, without idiots like me putting unrealistic expectations on you. And whilst, for many couples, infertility can be the trigger which gets them thinking about, and eventually excited about, adoption, it is not a given that just because you can’t have children naturally, you will automatically be in a mental, emotional, social and financial position to adopt. And, of course, you may just not want to – and that’s fine. Adoption is a big ask. It is certainly not Plan B.

For us, adoption has become Plan A. And I’m always expecting people to ask us why we’re not planning any more birth children, but they never do. Perhaps they think it’s too personal? Perhaps they’re worried that there’ll be some medical details which will be just a little too gross? Or perhaps they genuinely don’t care? Whatever the reason, I can’t believe people aren’t just a teeny bit curious. The truth is, I’ve been fortunate enough to have fairly easy pregnancies and labours. There have been no conception problems in the past, and no reason to believe there would be in the future. We could withdraw at any point of this adoption process, and, to the best of our knowledge, find ourselves expecting – naturally – within a few months. We are not adopted, nor do we have any adoption in the family. In short, our motivation to adopt is not based on any practical, medical or historical reasons – our motivation has, in fact, come from the sense that God is calling us to expand our family in this way. Adoption was always God’s Plan A for bringing human beings into His heavenly family – and so He calls many people to consider it as a Plan A for their earthly family too. We don’t expect this to be perfectly understandable to those without a faith, but there it is, and we can’t change it.

Let me try to explain how we feel about pursuing adoption. We feel as excited as we did when we were expecting our two birth children. We have no qualms about being able to love all of our children, birth or adopted, equally. We don’t see adoption as ‘parenting someone else’s child’. Although God hasn’t actually closed my womb (to the best of my knowledge), it wouldn’t feel right to try and conceive again. It feels like the most natural thing in the world to have a child by adoption. None of these feelings would be true if God hadn’t intervened to change our hearts and minds on the matter.

Adoption was Plan B. Now it’s Plan A.

(And, listen: for the record, I’m cool with answering your questions. Please don’t feel there’s anything you can’t ask. If you want to tell us we’re mad fools, please do it. We’re going to have to become pretty smart at talking through issues, emotions and identities with our adopted child as they grow up – so we might as well get good at it now.)

holiday hijack

My heart sank as I looked at the list we’d just created. My son’s hopeful, sometimes ambitious suggestions of what he’d like to do during the Easter holidays. My daughter’s enthusiasm for anything her big brother said. And my awareness that there was going to be precious little time to do any of these activities.

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Easter gardens, made by the kids
One of the implications of the exciting news I shared last week is the amount of annual leave my husband has had to take. This year, well over a week of his leave will be spent pursuing adoption, and more leave will be needed should we be successful at panel, as he takes time off for meeting our (at this stage) hypothetical child, as well as the statutory paternity leave. The fact that the four-day adoption training course was scheduled for these Easter holidays has meant that all Desert Dad’s days off have gone on this course, and we haven’t had much time off as a family. And I feel like the holidays – usually a time for me to spend extra-special quality time with the kids – have been rudely hijacked.

But now, looking back over the last fortnight, I’m so incredibly grateful at how the days have panned out. Trying to see things from the kids’ point of view, I really think they’ve had a lovely time, despite us abandoning them at different points to pop off to the training.

For starters, Granny and Grandpa came to look after them for the first couple of days, and their Aunt and Uncle-to-be came for the next couple of days. Our kids don’t get a lot of exclusive time with their extended family, so this was a special treat for everyone. Yes, I’d love to have been around for them, but recognise that me being forced to be elsewhere for a few days was actually a healthy thing for all of us. Everyone had a lovely time, and the kids have been spoilt for attention.

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Then there was the Easter Weekend, which we enjoyed together as a family. On Good Friday we took part in some lovely all-age celebrations at church in the morning, followed by a bunny trail around the market in the afternoon. The rain was persistent – but somehow it didn’t seem to matter. Saturday had no agenda – God knows we needed it – and, despite my lack of thinking this year about how to make Easter meaningful for the kids, this day revealed all sorts of special moments.

We watched The Miracle Maker, made an Easter garden cake, and Missy spontaneously decided to give some of her money away to ‘people who don’t have any money’. Her brother followed suit. They didn’t go to sleep for AGES that night, which was kind of annoying, but also brilliant because it meant they were so excited about Easter!

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Our Easter garden cake…

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…smashing it open…
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…to reveal an empty tomb!
Easter Sunday was great – how could it not be? – and we headed off to the in-laws after church and enjoyed some wonderful family celebrations. On Monday we went to Underwater Street, the most amazing place for young kids, and I thoroughly recommend it.

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Holding himself captive in a giant bubble. As you do.

The concept is so simple (‘get all the things that kids like to do in one room’) that I’m surprised never to have seen it done before.

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Painting a Mini. Why not?
There were craft tables, science experiments, giant bubbles, a climbing wall, sensory areas, water play, role play shops, dressing up, a construction site and a cannon firing plastic balls.

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Mallyan Spout, Goathland
Somehow, quite a few things have been knocked off the ‘Easter holidays’ list. Cinema, soft play, a trip to see some waterfalls (Mister’s special request), playdates with friends.

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Falling Foss, Whitby
There are a few things left but, under the circumstances, methinks we ain’t done badly. Just a little more affirmation that God’s called us to pursue adoption, and has our family well looked-after, even when we can’t be around so much.

What have you been up to this Easter?