Family Fun in Autumn

I have already blogged about why, in my humble opinion, Autumn is better than Summer here. Now that Autumn is here, officially beginning tomorrow here in the UK, it’s time to start enjoying it! Tomorrow is also an INSET day at Pip’s school so we are going to spend the day doing fun, autumnal activities. Here’s my plan for the day:

Early morning trip to the park. I haven’t yet decided if this will be the small park close to home, or a long walk to a park slightly further away or a train into the centre of Cardiff for a walk in Bute Park. Small park has the advantage of being able to take Pip’s scooter and an easy journey home if she gets bored. Big park and Bute Park have the advantage of having much more opportunity for finding pine cones, leaves and conkers to take home. In any case, I think a walk in the park is really the perfect way to enjoy this season. All of the beautiful coloured leaves in the trees, falling to be crunched and kicked by an eager little girl (Autumn is Pip’s favourite season too). I also really want to get some good Autumn pictures so that I can update the blog header to be in line with this new season.

Welly

Learning. Last year we focused on just observing the changes that happen in Autumn – the weather turning colder, the leaves changing colour, the days getting shorter. This year I’m planning to look at hibernating animals and migrating birds, how the changing season affects wildlife. I think she’ll be interested in this, animals are very much a favourite subject for Pip. I think I’ll prepare some Autumn themed writing practice for her too. She’s already busily colouring in some Autumn pages from Twinkl as I type this.

Baking. We’re going to make fruity flapjacks from a good and healthy recipe a friend showed me the other day. This will be something nice to have as an afternoon snack but also will be great for packed lunches for the rest of the week.

Craft. When I told her that we’d have a day together next week and asked what she’d like to do, the very first thing she thought of was getting the paints out. I’m hoping that we’ll have some things from the park to use for this but it will at least be Autumn-themed.

Macaroni bird

Last year we made this lovely macaroni Autumn themed painting.

As you can probably tell from my plan, I want tomorrow to be a busy day. Pip is becoming used to very full days at school and always being tired at the end of them. Even more than ever, I have a feeling that she’s going to quickly become bored and frustrated if I don’t provide something for her to do. Also, I don’t want to stop our learning at home just because she’s in school now. I’ve always been of the opinion that a parent has the responsibility to teach their child as much as possible. She’s always enjoyed learning new things and I want to keep encouraging that thirst for knowledge – it’ll make her entire school life so much more enjoyable and productive.

What are your favourite Autumn activities?

On the Job Hunt

I’ve been a stay at home parent for five years. We, that is myself and my Husband, made the decision that I would be at home with our daughter for those early years of her life. I’ve mostly enjoyed them and been glad to so closely watch her grown and learn so much. I know I’m lucky that I’ve been able to do this. Now that she’s in school full time, it’s time for me to get back into working full time. I’m actually pretty excited about this. I might have enjoyed being a stay at home parent but the prospect of returning to a more grown up world and having a stable income is very appealing now. My first step was to update my CV. I’ve not exactly been idle for these years at home. I’ve been studying towards my degree, I’ve done voluntary work and been self employed, which involved a mixture of freelance work and running my own little home business. Thats all valuable stuff on a CV. It means that there’s not some huge gap that I have to explain with ‘Family Commitments’. I really thought that would count for something. One week into my job hunt and it’s not going too badly on the face of it. I’ve been applying for every kind of work on offer. My experience might be mostly office based but I’m not going to limit my search there. I’ve applied in shops, supermarkets and cafés as well. I am not fussy or see myself as too good for any kind of work. I have had one interview so far. The feedback, aside from the ultimate rejection, was fairly positive. I did really well in the group tasks and on the numeracy and accuracy tests. Essentially the issue was that someone else had better experience. While I am so grateful for the feedback (this is one of those times when I’d love to break my anonymity rules and name the company because I’ve genuinely never been through a more pleasant recruitment process) and pleased that the interview wasn’t a disaster, that has to be the most annoying reason for not getting the job I could have been given. I cannot do anything about a lack of experience, except get a job. That’s the vicious circle I now find myself in. But I’ve decided not to let that get me down. As I said, I can’t do much about it that I’m not doing already. So I’ll keep at it. I’ll send CVs off to every company that I might have a chance with, I’ll apply for every job I think I’ve got the skills for and I will try my absolute best to look at the failure from a positive perspective. I guess what I’ve learnt is that I was perhaps a little naive to think that bits and pieces of freelance and voluntary work were going to mean that looking for work would take less than a week. It’s going to take more time and effort. I best get on with it then! Have you returned to work after years at home being a parent? How did you overcome these problems? I’d love any tips you have to offer!

Recipe: Leftover Chicken Stew

This is a great recipe for using up leftover chicken from a Sunday roast dinner. We often have this on a Monday evening. It does take a while to prepare but you could always make the stock on Sunday evening then refrigerate it to use the next day. 

IMG_0305

1. Strip the chicken of all of its meat. Put the carcass in a large saucepan. Get a rolling pin or other heavy kitchen implement and bash it a few times to break up the bones a bit. Add a bay leaf and really any savoury herbs you have around. I usually add thyme or rosemary. Pour over one litre of cold water and put the pan over a high heat. Once it’s boiling, turn the heat down and leave it to simmer for half an hour. 

2. While the chicken stock is simmering, peel and chop a few potatoes (one large for each person) and two carrots. You could use all kinds of other vegetables – peas, green beans, cabbage, celeriac, swede or whatever you like! 

3. Strain the stock through a sieve into a pouring jug. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius. 

4. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pan and add in either a couple of cut up bacon rashers or two whole sausages, whichever you prefer or have around to be used up. If you’re using sausages, wait until they’re just browned, remove them from the pan and cut them into bite-sized pieces. 

5. Once the bacon/sausages are browned, add in the potatoes, carrots and two tablespoons of plain flour. Give it a good mix to coat everything in the flour then add the stock. 

6. Bring to the boil then add the leftover chicken. 

7. Very carefully, transfer everything from the pan into a casserole dish. Cover with a lid or tin foil. Put in the oven for 45mins – 1 hour, until the vegetables are softened. 

8. Serve with a bread roll, lovely for dunking! Eat and enjoy! 

 

 

DIY Roast Dinner

When I first moved in with my boyfriend, who later became Husband, I only know how to cook a handful of very simple dinners. The idea of cooking a proper roast dinner felt very intimidating. When I eventually gave it a try, I relied on pre-made roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings and even then, I found it really difficult to get everything ready and hot all at once. 

Fast forward five years and about a hundred roast dinners and I think I’ve gotten the hang of them now. I’ve realised that what I really could have used all those years ago was a complete ‘How To’, not just a collection of recipes for each component. So here it is! This is a complete schedule and recipe for an entire roast dinner, including the chicken, roast potatoes, yorkshire puddings, mashed potatoes and vegetables. The only thing I still use from a packet is gravy and I always make sure to get the low salt version – it honestly does taste exactly the same, I’ve done blind taste tests on an unknowing Husband. Yes, I know. Packet gravy is lazy. Seriously though, it tastes fine and not in the way that people say packet mashed potatoes tastes ‘fine’ which is obviously doesn’t. If you want to make your own gravy, by all means go and look for a recipe for it and add it into your schedule. 

For the schedule, I’m timing everything based on a chicken weighing about 1.5kg. If you’re chicken weighs more or less, there’s a simple way of working out how long to cook it for. It needs 20 minutes for every 450g, plus an extra 20 minutes. So divide the weight (in grams) by 450, times by 20 then plus 20. You’ll probably get a number with a lot of decimal places, just round up to the nearest minute. 

You want to begin cooking two hours before you want to serve. 

1. 00:00 Make the Yorkshire pudding batter. To make six fairly big Yorkshires, mix 100g plain flour with two eggs using a fork. Once that’s combined, gradually add 250ml milk, stirring constantly to make a smooth batter. Pour this mixture into a pouring jug then cover it and put it in the fridge. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

2. 00:15 Prepare the chicken. Your chicken needs to cook for an hour and 30 minutes and you need to start preheating your oven about ten minutes before that. Preheat to 190 degrees celsius. Get your chicken out of it’s wrapping then give it a thorough wash under the tap, including the inside cavity. Then pat it dry with a piece of kitchen roll. Put it in the roasting tin and then rub a bit of butter (or lower fat butter spread thats suitable for cooking) onto the skin. After that you can whatever herbs you fancy – I often go with thyme as it does go so well with chicken. if you wish to, you can also pop half a lemon in the inner cavity to give the whole chicken a nice citrus taste.  A lot of people add salt but I really try to avoid adding any additional salt to my cooking. I know also that some people put some flour on the skin to make it extra crispy. I don’t but again, it’s personal choice. Put the chicken in the oven once it’s preheated. 

Not a pretty sight now but it'll be yummy later!

Not a pretty sight now but it’ll be yummy later!

3. 00:40 Roast potatoes. I generally make three roast potatoes for each adult, less for children (Pip just has one). Peel and either use small potatoes whole or chop larger ones into smaller pieces. Put them in a pan of boiling water an hour and twenty minutes before you want to serve. Boil for about 15 minutes, then drain off the water and give them a very gentle shake, just to roughen the edges a bit – this helps them get nice and crispy. Add the potatoes to the roasting tin (01:10) and, very, very carefully so as not to burn yourself, tilt the tin a little bit and use a spoon to scoop up the chicken juices and drizzle them over the potatoes. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4. 01:10 Mashed potatoes. I use about one large potato for each person. Peel and slice into fairly small chunks. Put in a pan of boiling water over a high heat. When the water starts to boil again, turn the heat down a bit and leave to gently boil. 

5. 01:15 Vegetables. You can do whatever vegetables you like really. Carrots, broccoli, cabbage, peas and green beans are all favourites for us. You can use fresh or frozen, it makes very little difference to cooking time. Prepare them and then put them in a pan of boiling water. Again, start off on a high heat then turn it down once the water starts boiling again. You can cook your vegetables for a bit less time than me – due to Husband’s preference for very soft vegetables, I do admit that I cook them until they’re losing molecular integrity. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

6. 01:20 Cooking Yorkshire Puddings. Turn the oven temperature up to 210 degrees. Take this opportunity to drizzle chicken juices over the potatoes and chicken again. Take a 6 hole muffin tray and pour a little oil (I use vegetable or sunflower oil) in each hole. Put this is in the oven for the oil to get nice and hot. Take your Yorkshire pudding batter out of the fridge and give it a little stir. At 01:30, take the muffin tray out of the oven and pour some of the batter into each hole, to fill each by about a third. Put the tray back into the oven and then do NOT open it again for at least 20 minutes. 

Pouring in the oil

Pouring in the oil

7. 01:30 – 01:50 Lay the table and get plates ready. 

8. 01:50 Mashed potatoes. Start boiling the kettle for the gravyDrain the water off of the potatoes then add some butter (or low fat butter spread) and milk. I’m not going to be more exact than that because I think everyone likes their mash a little different. If you’re unsure, add a little at a time then mash and add more if you think it’s needed. Mash really well. Lumpy mash is horrible, you don’t want that. I use a ‘serve as you go’ method so I put mashed potato on the plates as soon as I’m finished making it. You could do this differently or even put each of the components into serving dishes and let everyone serve themselves. I usually only do this at Christmas when I make a bigger variety of foods. 

9. 01:55 Serve. Take the roasting tin and muffin tray out of the oven. Serve the Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes. Carve and serve the chicken. Drain all of the water from the vegetables and serve those too. Make the gravy. I would advise adding a little more granules than the instructions suggest but then we like fairly thick gravy. It’s personal choice really. Serve dinner. Enjoy dinner. Then go back to the hell that is now your kitchen. My last piece of advice is to do the washing up straight away, otherwise everything will dry up and be very difficult to clean. 

Yum!

Yum!

I hope this has proved useful. When you have finished eating your delicious meal, do NOT throw away any leftover chicken or it’s carcass. Use it for sandwiches, soups or one of the other thousands of recipes that can use it. I’ll be posting a recipe for leftover chicken stew very soon! 

A Date Day

Pip has now started full time school, I’m on the hunt for a job and both me and Husband have uni courses starting very soon. With all of this going on, we realised a while ago that time together would suddenly be very limited. Evenings will probably be spent doing all of the things I’d usually get done during the day, including studying. So Husband decided to book two days off. One on Pip’s first day and one on her second day. On the first, we wanted to stay fairly close to the school so that we could be there quickly if anything went wrong. I know that really nothing was more likely to go wrong than on any other day that she’s there but we felt more comfortable with that. We went to our favourite cafe for breakfast after we dropped her off then spent the rest of the day at home until pick up time. 

Monday was his second day off and our Date Day. So when I returned from dropping Pip off at school (Husband had a lie in, since it was his day off from work!), we caught a train into Cardiff city centre. He very kindly helped me pick out some smart clothes, since I’m trying to line up interviews at the moment and really have nothing suitable to wear. Then we took some time in our local games shop to actually look at the games and have a proper conversation about which we might like to buy without having to constantly check that Pip wasn’t throwing marbles on the floor, running out of the door or trying to get upstairs. We settled on the Asia Map Pack for Ticket to Ride, which I’ll review once we’ve actually played it! 

Then we went to Ed’s Diner for lunch. I do really love it there. Great American diner food, great 50s music and gorgeous 50s decor. We took our time eating and chatting. 

After lunch, we had a wander around the shops. Not a mad rush to get whatever I need then straight back home. A quiet, leisurely wander. Don’t mistake me, I love spending time with my daughter. I love time spent all together as a family. But having just one day where it’s just me and Husband was really nice. We caught the train back home and then I went to pick up Pip, who’d had another good day at school. 

It was a brilliant date day. I hope we get the chance to do it again. 

First Day

Friday was Pips first day at school. As she was starting a little later than she normally would be, we had a slow and relaxed morning having breakfast and getting ready. When I went in to wake her up, I told that it was time to get ready for school and a massive grin spread across her face. She actually leapt out of bed!

I made her lunch while she had breakfast. In her lunchbox, she had a peanut butter and banana bagel, cut into quarters for easy eating, a box of raisins and some carrot & cucumber sticks.

Husband took a day off so that we could all go together. The walk to school takes about 25 minutes. Its not as short as our walk to nursery used to be, at just 10 minutes, but it does give us a bit of exercise and a wam up for the rest of the day.

There were mixed emotions when it was time to say goodbye at the classroom door. We had big hugs and kisses, before she ran off to play with another little girl. I was really pleased to see her so eager and excited.

At pick up time, parents swarmed around the gates to greet their children. I only just managed to squeeze through to collect Pip. She was all smiles and clearly had a really good day. We had to get back out of the crowd before we could really talk to her about it. She had played shops, run around outside (which was evident from her rather muddy shoes!) and seen a naughty teddy bear – it turned out the teacher had cleverly used a teddy bear puppet to show them what behaviour was acceptable and unacceptable. There was also a parrot puppet that was being used to teach numbers. All in all, it sounded like she had a really fun day and had settled in well. Her lunch box was empty too, which I think is a good sign! 

She spent most of the following weekend asking when she could go back! 

 

Reward Charts

Like any child (and yes, even your little angel), Pip can sometimes be a bit naughty. 

We’ve tried various responses to bad behaviour. Calm reasoning, time outs, losing privileges such as using the iPad and not being allowed any pudding (not often used as we don’t often have puddings anyway) all have some level of success but none of them have proven to consistently work with her. 

So we’re always willing to try out new ideas. We have tried reward charts before. I drew out a grid on paper and every time she did something good, she got a star sticker. If she got ten stars, she got a magazine. But it wasn’t very well structured and, if I’m honest, I often forgot to add stickers. 

Recently I discovered the website Twinkl. I have no idea how I’ve been a parent for nearly five years and didn’t know about this site. It’s full of brilliant printable resources, partly aimed at teachers but also parents. We’ve used it for printing off handwriting guidelines (ground, grass and sky sheets are brilliant), colouring in pages and, of course, reward charts! Some of the resources require you to pay for a Gold or Platinum membership but there’s a lot available for free too. 

This is our current favoured chart, although there are lots of others. I like this one because there’s the option to have a smiley face, a neutral face or a sad face. This means that at times when her behaviour hasn’t been exactly bad but hasn’t been very good either, I’ve got an option between two extremes. I think if she got a sad face in the morning, she wouldn’t be very motivated to get a happy face in the afternoon. Whereas if she gets a neutral face in the morning, an overall smiley face for the day still feels possible. This chart will also be useful when school starts (tomorrow!) as it has a block for school hours. 

In the future, I might look at some of the other charts, like this one, since Pip is quite a fan of dinosaurs. I also might start using the range of certificates for when she does something really brilliant, like achieving new milestones with her maths, reading or writing skills. 

I really love this site and I can see us using it for lots of aspects of Pip’s overall development. Highly recommended to all parents!