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This post has moved! Check it out on my shiny new website here.
This post has moved! Check it out on my shiny new website here.
With my four hooligans all deciding to have a birthday in September – three of them thoughtfully choosing to do this on consecutive days – I confess that this month’s edition of ‘what i’m into’ has been hijacked by cake, balloons and working out which party game suits which age group. Please don’t be surprised if I haven’t got up to much else this month!
I’m still on Captain Corelli – enjoying it very much – but probably won’t finish till October!
At the start of the month, with a busy few weeks looming, I didn’t have the energy to be creative with meals, so I did what any sensible person would have done, and bought enough chicken nuggets, frozen pizza, and ready-made pies to last us through September.
Actually – nope. This is what I should have done. But cooking relaxes me, gives me a chance to breathe and to think, so I didn’t want to give it up altogether. I did the foodie version of stocking the freezer with frozen meals, which was to scour the Good Food website for easy family midweek meals, enjoying the fruits of the GF team’s labours rather than having to be creative myself. Some of the recipes were real winners, like this Three Veg Macaroni Cheese. Who doesn’t love Mac ‘n’ Cheese, eh? This one packs in some hidden veg that kids won’t notice (or at least ours didn’t).
And actually, I took a leaf out of my busy cousin’s book. She’s a few years down the line with her brood, so I rate her wisdom, and she’s married to a church leader, like me, so she understands the crazy pace of vicarage life. They unashamedly eat from the freezer once a week – so we’ve adopted this habit too, and it is so freeing, particularly on evenings where our extra-curricular schedule looks like it needs outsourcing to a logistics team.
And of course I can’t leave this section without mentioning the cakes, of which there were quite a few this month. A cartwheel one for my gymnastics-mad daughter:
Two Stick Men cakes for my boys who adore the story (particularly the BBC’s magical dramatisation):
And a football pinata cake for my footballing son:
Friends, we have reached the stage of football parties, and I’m not quite sure when it will end. I can see us quite happily celebrating Mister’s birthdays in this fashion for a good few years yet.
Oh gosh, it was all stuff like Taylor Swift and JoJo Siwa, ‘DJed’ via YouTube by my eldest for his younger siblings’ parties. But I did get Coldplay’s Parachutes out for the first time in years, and spent a happy evening remembering how good they used to be, and what a perfect album this is – as well as not a small amount of time realising how old it is, and therefore how old that makes me.
Stage and screen
Twin Peaks finished and actually reached some kind of conclusion! Not perhaps exactly as I’d have liked, but as good as you’re going to get from David Lynch – and that made it perfect, really. We then watched a fair amount of Curb Your Enthusiasm. So, so funny – perhaps not for the faint-hearted – but clever and original.
I also got to enjoy all of Missy’s birthday DVDs – Sing (for the second time), Trolls (very surprised by how much I liked this one!) and Moana (in bits). I say I got to enjoy these films – I enjoyed them in the way one enjoys films with small kids, where you see excerpts in between toilet trips, making dinner, answering the phone, fetching snacks, applying plasters, and the like. Eventually, after about 35 viewings, you’ve filled in all the gaps and seen the whole film, piecing the order together in your head to make some kind of logical plot progression. It’s one of those parent hacks no one ever tells you you’ll need – but you master it, and feel quite damn proud of yourself when you do.
This was an interesting one on a couple learning to date again after having kids. And I appreciated this guy’s perspective on why him doing housework is not to ‘help his wife out’.
Stand-out for me this month, though, was Why Tired Mothers stay up so Late – one I can very easily resonate with!
In other news…
Did I mention we had four birthdays and three parties?? Did I????
As always, I’m linking up (just! within hours of the deadline!) with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into series. Why not check them out? And let me know what you’ve been up to this September!
It’s not that I don’t love them all. I do – madly. But there are a lot of them. Maybe they seem more numerous because all of them are so very small – of course lots of people cope admirably with 5+ kids, so why should I be complaining at having merely four to raise? The fact that, laid end-to-end, they would barely reach the length of our living room perhaps gives the feeling that they are more than their sum.
Maybe it also has something to do with both me and the hubster being raised in smaller families. Whilst I have two siblings, the age gap is so great that I was effectively raised as an only child – and hubby has just the one sibling. Nowadays, when he’s asked how it’s all going with our newly-expanded family, this man who, in another life, would have been perfectly happy as a childless batchelor replies dryly, “Yep, it’s going great. I think we’ve both got used to having too many children”.
We were at a party the other week and, at any one time, I only knew where maximum 3 of my kids were. I’m not lying. Because when our sociable, food-loving kids are in an environment where there are lots of people and scones, how is it even possible to keep track?If God had meant families to have more children than parents, then He could at least have designed us with more eyes and arms.
The other day, someone asked me how it was going, and I was explaining that it was generally OK, but pretty non-stop from 7am-11pm. “Oh yeah,” he said, “because I guess in the evenings you have the next day to prepare for.” Honestly? I would love to live in the sort of world where I could afford an evening’s preparation for the next day. I can see it perfectly: there’s me, peacefully ironing school uniform while the last of the evening sun glimmers in through the window and Radio 4 murmurs in the background. Then I’m putting together nutritiously balanced packed-lunches, and making a mental note that we’re running out of quinoa. Finally I’m Pinteresting messy play ideas for toddlers, finding one my boys will love, and gathering together everything needed from my well-stocked and well-ordered craft cupboard. And then, of course, it’s bed by 10, so that I can be well-refreshed for the day. Yep, right. This is a reality that will, sadly, never be mine. Evenings are spent clearing up the day’s detritus. Scraping hardened Weetabix off the dining floor with my fingernails. Emptying the overflowing nappy bin into the washing machine. Retrieving my stilettos from Missy’s bedroom.
Friends are like, “How do you cope?” and I’m all “But no, you don’t get it, I really don’t.” Our house is an excellent advert for contraception. There is Stuff everywhere, including in the toilet. Laundry bins are rarely emptied. (And, when they are, you can bet your last pound that this momentous achievement will be followed by a bed-wetting event. The other time bed-wetting occurs is the night after you’ve changed the bed linen.) Mealtimes feel like a military procedure – in a regiment where your soldiers need to be asked a question 17 times in order to respond: Do you want ketchup or mayo? Ketchup or mayo? KETCHUP OR MAYO OR BOTH???? I assure you, it’s only by the grace of God that we all end up in our own beds under the same roof each night.
Do you want to know how it’s done? Two simple steps which, being the generous soul that I am, I’m going to share with you. Forget your parenting courses, it’s all here:
So, despite my general hatred of hashtags, #toomanychildren is one which is here to stay. The noise, the mess, the anecdotes that we will share over dinner parties when we are old and grey, the memories we’re apparently making, the sleep deficit we’re building up – it’s here to stay.
And, it pains this organisational-freak to say it, but I actually love it.
We’re preparing to adopt. (For more I’ve written on adoption, click here.)
People keep asking me “Are you excited?” or pre-empting with “I bet you’re excited!”. Usually, for a quiet life, I respond with a simple “Yes, I’m excited!”, and that ends an otherwise awkward conversation. Apologies if you’re one of the friends I’ve fobbed off in this way – please understand that it’s only because the answer is so very long and so very complicated that you’d be at risk of missing your flight for next year’s summer holiday if I actually gave you the honest truth.
But I feel you deserve a bit more of an explanation, so I’ll attempt to explain how I’m feeling. Overall, I guess I’m excited – we chose this path, after all, and the arrival of new members of the family is always exciting. But this emotion, for now at least, is clouded by so much else.
I’m busy. Writing emails, taking phone calls, filling in paperwork, answering the same questions over and over again to myriad professionals.
I’m shopping. Planning what we need, what we can borrow, what to ask for. Scanning eBay and Gumtree for second hand bargains. Comparing prices, sizes, colours, efficiency. Reading reviews.
I’m preparing. Laminating family photos, shooting a DVD, sleeping with cot sheets and soft toys, recording our voices onto special toys. All crazy stuff I’d never have imagined would be part of welcoming children into our family.
I’m mothering. Preparing our birth kids, chatting to them, dealing with their emotions, asking questions, picking up on their clues. As well as the usual routine of school runs, clubs and groups, playdates, mealtimes, bedtimes, endless tidying and cleaning.
I’m nesting. Yep, you read that right. These children may not be growing in my tummy, but they’re growing in my heart. I’m painting, assembling, moving, re-housing, washing and arranging. Preparing their bedroom makes my heart skip every time I’m in there.
I’m catching up. By phone and in person. Coffees, lunches, dinners. Trying to make the most of my friends while it’s still easy to make time for them. Knowing that the next bit of life will be chaotic, that it won’t be so easy to get out in an evening, that my child-free daytime hours will reduce to zero.
I’m nervous. Nervous of meeting them for the first time, nervous of being watched by the social workers, nervous of how our birth kids and adopted kids will get on.
I’m clueless. How will we cope with four kids? Will we cope? Will I be able to ask for help when I need it? What will mornings look like? Bedtimes? Can we really protect our adopted kids from over-interested parties?
I’m naive. I know there’s lots that I haven’t thought of. Will I regret not having prepared more? Will it matter? Will we be OK?
And, I’m excited. Overall, I am. I promise. But perhaps, at this moment in time, you are more excited than me. Because you see the bigger picture. You’re not caught up in the detail – you don’t have to be. And, friends, please keep being excited for us, because it is this which sustains me through the long, long to-do list, and reminds me to keep focused on the end goal: the huge blessing of the children God is giving us to love for the rest of our lives.
And yes, I’ll hand it to you – that is exciting.
OK, this blog doesn’t tend to feature ‘newsy’ posts. I prefer to write about issues, thoughts and ideas I’ve been having, rather than over-personalise it, or turn it into some boring online diary. But I’m aware that posts have been a little irregular of late, and the fact is that some quite unusual and exciting things have been happening in Real Life, so here’s a little summary for you if you fancy. If you don’t fancy, feel free to close the window right now (and thanks for the extra blog stats).
I won a prize draw after submitting my review of Skipton’s retiresavvy web portal! The lovely Mumsnet and Skipton Financial Services picked my name out of a hat to win a £250 shopping voucher which, after much deliberating, I chose to spend at a clothes shop which shall remain nameless and which, in all honesty, was probably the wrong choice but, hey, for the next couple of months I will look extremely fashionable.
There was a thing on Twitter about chocolate addicts being needed for some BBC documentary and – well, you would, wouldn’t you? Turns out my chocolate addiction is pretty epic, and I’m now going to feature fairly heavily in the programme. Look out for Trust me, I’m a doctor, BBC2, late July, if you want to pre-empt the next day’s tabloid headlines: “BENEFITS MUM USES YOUR TAXES TO FUND OBSESSIVE CHOCOLATE ADDICTION”. They paid me in chocolate, though, so all good.
Not only Mister’s first ever school disco, but my first ever organising of one. Seemed to go OK. Most of the essential ingredients were there (sugar-heavy tuck shop, enthusiastic DJ, dance competitions) but it turns out that Time Warp is no longer welcome at your average school disco.
And it seems that today’s kids don’t go anywhere without getting their nails done, so we set up a nail bar and tattoo parlour. (Temporary tattoos of course – what do you take me for?) Actually ‘bar’ and ‘parlour’ are stretching it a bit. A few teachers and parents sitting behind a school desk trying to make chit-chat with the kids probably sums it up more accurately.
Two friends of mine independently started writing blogs within 24 hours of each other. And they are both bloody amazing, if you don’t mind me saying. If it was a blog-eat-blog kinda world, I’d be out of business straightaway but, as it happens, they’re very happy to share cyberspace with me. Please go and read them, I promise you won’t regret it. Kate has an incredible family of 7, through birth and adoption, and shares her adoption story with humour and honesty. Jo is an amazing single mum, widowed, sufferer of MS – and has a lot to teach me about strength, resilience, perseverance, and trusting God through the difficult times. Go say hello on their blogs!
Oh yeah – and we went into a room filled with a whole load of scary grown-ups who weren’t actually that scary and they asked us questions and we talked and talked and then they went and said we could adopt a child. 🙂
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, 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!!
One of my goals for 2015 is to read a book a month. I promised to review them all here, so here’s number one. And before you go patting me on the back for being ahead of schedule, this was actually a book I started in the tail-end of 2014. I have another book on the go for January – and, don’t worry, I’ll definitely be behind schedule in finishing it. Reassured that it’s still me? That I haven’t been taken over by a super-efficient ghost-blogger? Great.
The book I read was…
…”The ministry of a messy house” by Amanda Robbie. My wonderful cousin Naomi, general fountain of knowledge when it comes to books, especially Christian ones, sent me a copy after reading my hospitality blogs last year. Well, blow my socks off if it didn’t just put me out of a job. Mrs R has all the hospitality know-all I’d love to have, and has helpfully published it in one easy-to-read paperback.
A bit more about the book
On closer inspection, however, I discovered it wasn’t just a book about hospitality, although that’s a recurrent theme from start to finish, and there are plenty of tips and suggestions and perceptive theological links. This is a book about ‘mess’ in all its forms: relationships, church, kids, food, homes. So, even if you have a spotless home, this book will teach, challenge and inspire. Its starting point is that we’re all ‘messy’, and what we have to offer is flawed and not always high-quality. But when we offer it to God through offering it to others, He does something special with it.
Now that is a very simplistic summary – but if I went into more detail, there’d be no point in buying it, right?
What I most appreciated was…
…the humour and reality of it all. Also the fact that the author is married to a vicar, like me. Her homelife bears so many similarities to ours, that I found this fascinating reading – especially given that they’re a few years ahead of us. It was encouraging to see how things had worked themselves out in their lives, and to be reminded of why we do what we do.
Here’s a proper pic of the book so you know what you’re looking for when you rush over to your favourite online bookseller directly after reading this review:
You’ll enjoy this book if…
…you want something comfortably easy-to-read, radically practical and Biblically truthful. There are pearls of wisdom scattered throughout, and whilst I wouldn’t say that the whole tome was full of outstandingly original thought, I was certainly kept interested from start to finish.
And the giveaway…
I enjoyed this book enough to want to keep it 🙂 But, since I didn’t have to pay for it in the first place, I’m willing to buy another copy for a giveaway! It’s that good. If you’d like to be in with a chance, please leave a comment here, telling me one of your messy secrets! (Oo-er! I’m talking, like, hiding dirty laundry under the bed or something. If you have something bigger to share, please do it in person with a close friend or psychiatrist. Ta.)
The deadline is Saturday 31st January, 7pm – at which point I’ll put all entrants’ names into a suitable receptacle, and pull out one lucky winner.
And, to kick off, my messy secret is that our bedroom is always messy. The other rooms get prioritised, and somehow the bedroom never makes it onto the cleaning rota before the lounge needs doing again…