Tuesday, 30 September 2014

After School Chefs

Summer is over, school is back.
No more lazy picnics on the beach that last longer than they should.  No more impromptu garden lunches while the kids dig for worms.  The days are shortening, routine is back and life resumes a steady pace once again as we count down until the next set of holidays.

Our home life is especially chaotic at the moment.  Both of us adults work shifts, so there's no straightforward routine when it comes to teatime.  Ours are very much a hurried and usually quite erratic affair.  It's something that really makes me sad - something I have always loved is the idea of sitting around the table at night, catching up with each other's days.

Modern life has a lot to answer for.

The nights that we do manage a well-thought out and properly balanced meal are the ones that keep me happy as a parent - there's something intrinsically maternal about making sure your family has a nicely balanced and nutritious meal that they enjoy.

As we have no real set routine, it's hard to plan.  But we try.

Here are our top tips for keeping to some semblance of a routine at teatime - especially if yours are as hectic as ours can be.

1. Keep it easy

There's nothing worse than coming home later than you planned, with two hungry, grumpy children while also feeling like you are running on empty.  Everything feels much bigger than it actually is when there's nothing left in your tank.  Think simple.  Think whipping out some Birdseye potato waffles and toasting them in the toaster rather than grilling them.  Toast them a couple of times on a medium toasting setting and not only will you have a delicious base for a meal, but you'll also have saved yourself some extra minutes and a bit less time listening to grouchy children. Pair with beans or cheese and microwave some peas at the same time and voilà! One meal, literally in minutes. They're waffley versatile!

2. Plan Ahead

I know, I know.  I hate planning ahead.

Plus, when it comes to food, I find it quite difficult.  I can guarantee that if I really fancied Enchiladas the night before, the next night I'm going to want a big bowl of soup.  You can never really tell what your taste is going to be leaning towards on the night, so why not make it easy on yourself by keeping your freezer stocked with wee bits and pieces that can provide a springboard for a variety of meals?

Fish fingers, peas, frozen vegetables, chips and onion rings all make good stand-by accompaniments for bigger dishes.  A toastie always looks more wholesome when sat beside some fluffy potato chips and there's always the good old fish finger sandwich for a quick savoury meal.

3. Make it Fun Time

Meal times can be very stressful. Try to bear in mind that it might be the only time you spend together as a family mid-week, and that no matter how tired you are, you should try and use it as a bit of a chill-out time too.

Life is tough enough without the added stress.  We always try to go with the flow.  We are all very tired and some of us are starving, some of us are not.  Some of us are dying to get into the bath, some of us just want to relax with a book.  This is down time.

Be a bit silly, make faces out of food, have a laugh with each other.

Life's too short for grumpy faces!


This post is an entry for #Afterschoolchefs Challenge, sponsored by Birds Eye.  Learn more on the Birds Eye Facebook page.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Celebrating Scotland's Heritage: Shopping At Heritage of Scotland

What is 'Scottishness?'

What makes us 'Scottish'?

We are a proud nation, a strong nation, a warm and hospitable nation, a beautiful nation.

Recently, like many, I have been re-investigating my nationality in the quest for identity.

It's not all about Tartan and Haggis.  Hell, it's bugger all to do with that at all.

For too long we have been a stereotype in the world - to many we are giant Tunnocks tea cakes and sporrans for handbags...but it's NOT like that.

Scottishness is innate.  Either you feel it, or you don't.  I don't think it's explainable.

It's not anything you think it might be.  And it's everything that makes any other nationality go, 'What?  Really?'

We have a crazy, self-depricating sense of humour.  The kind where calling your mate 'a bawbag' is a term of high endearment.

We have a way of going the long, hard way around things.  It's never easy and is usually punctuated by biting wind, whiplash rain and mud trails down yer lobby (hallway) carpet.

I love being Scottish.  It's not an easy gig, by any stretch of the imagination.  But it's fun, characterful, and for such a wee nation, well, it's easy to say that everyone knows who we are, usually has a good word to say about us.

Heritage of Scotland ( www.heritageofscotland.com ) have a great online store where you can celebrate your Scottishness, or indeed, help you inject a bit of Scottish goodness in your life.

Shopping on the website is a great experience, supported by some of the best and most attentive online customer service around AND it has it's own loyalty scheme too!

Airgid is the Gaelic word for money and is the currency which was used in Scotland hundreds of years ago. It is the name of the loyalty points and represents the loyalty scheme which Heritage of Scotland uses.

There are airgid to be gained on purchases, when you sign up for newsletters, for giving reviews on the website itself on bought products AND you can use them against any purchase you make online!

As you accrue them, they gather in your own personal account, and are there to utilise whenever you like; so always good for a wee treat for yourself.

Kilts and accessories for men can be found HERE

I was sent some airgid in order to try out some happy website ordering and I had a great time. There's so much to choose from - and it was very time-consuming simply browsing through the vast array of kilts, clothing, gifts, accessories, souvenirs, children's items, home ware and jewellery!

Everything is extremely good quality - definitely not your usual souvenir/gift ware tat - and all purchases are tracked in order to make sure you receive your goodies safely (although at a cost, or free if you just want standard Royal Mail).

So, what did I order?

Well, I tried to sum up Scottishness with my choice.  An impossible task! Plus, it was impossible not to be swayed by Deal of The Day, which changes every single day!  Ahrgh!  I did spend more time than was acceptable really deliberating over quite a few deals of the day!

But I think I definitely rounded up the best qualities.

1. Beauty

Pewter earrings with purple Amethyst

Scotland is well known for it's beautiful scenery - rolling hills and gorgeous flora and fauna punctuate the blue and grey hues of the skies on yet another rainy day.  We may not always have the best weather, but there's always a flash of purple heather or the top of a thistle blowing in the grassy thick to catch your eye.

The jewellery on the Heritage of Scotland website is nothing short of beautiful.  There are some really stunning bracelets, necklaces and earrings.  Now, I am not a huge jewellery fan.  Mainly because I never have anything that costs a lot of money and if I have something that costs a lot of money and I have to take it off and it gets lost, or it has a chance of breaking; well, that's going to upset me a lot! I do however have a thing for stud earrings.  Practical and  pretty?  I'm there.

I love these cute thistle earrings. Made from Pewter, wonderfully detailed and discreetly sparkly, they are the perfect choice for a bit of patriotic day wear.

Pewter Eternal Interlace
As are these gorgeous circular Celtic swirls.  Very small, yet beautifully detailed, they look very nice indeed and are small and pretty; a hint of history too.

2. Myth and Legend

Bogles, kelpies, faeries, ghouls, ghosties and of course, Nessie.

The Loch Ness Monster still gets people talking and Loch Ness itself is a gorgeous place to go if you are ever up visiting.

I love the story of Nessie - the idea that a secret monster lurks in the loch has been a huge draw for tourism and the subject of many an investigation.

Why not celebrate the oddities of the country with some tongue in cheek homeware, like this pottery Nessie?

Purchase Pottery Nessie HERE

I love her - she fits right in with my eccentric collection of bits and I love how she looks like she is just peeping up to say hello.  Very cool!

3. Warmth and Hospitality

We are a hugely welcoming and accepting lot. We love company and any chance to sit down, invite a stranger in and make a new friend is grabbed with both hands.

Scots are well known for their hospitality and warmth - so why not offer your friends and family some homely comforts when they come into your home?

Find a cosy tartan rug for your home HERE
This gorgeous, cosy , tartan rug is perfect for putting in the back of the car for some warming up after a long walk, draping over the back of a chair for covering shivery legs, or comfy-ing up your sofa in anticipation of visitors. It's big enough to use as a throw on the end of a bed, or cuddling up after a wintery wander. Mmm! Braw!

4. Banter!

It's my main joy in life.  I love the banter.  I love nothing better than sitting around with a group of old friends, casually insulting each other in a show of love and complete happiness.  A lot of people don't really get banter, and that's fine, but I think if you live in a cold country, where it's dark, life can be a bit grim and you get flashes of craziness day to day, well, you develop a bit of a dark humour.

Up Yer Kilt!
I love this 'Up Yer Kilt', pin.  Sums it right up.  Means, it but doesn't really mean it.  In a vicious, nice kind of way.  Spot on.

5. Celebrations!

Naeb'dy celebrates like us Scots!

Heritage of Scotland is the perfect shop to purchase all of your wedding gear - from Kilts, to Favours, Quaichs, to Wedding Dresses!  Check out their amazing range of gorgeous bridal wear and tartan accessories. There's sizing charts and advice on Kilt fitting too, so no need to worry about getting it wrong.  And if you do - returns and exchanges are hassle free.

Ah, we were so young and carefree! Ha ha!
My own wedding was a Black Watch Tartan affair, and although I spent very little on the big day (more on that another time!) , the one thing I did purchase was a gorgeous Black Watch, woollen shawl to compliment my dress and also to keep me warm - I got married in January, very chilly! A lovely keepsake too! I still use it now, just around the house to keep cosy and sometimes on trips to the theatre, where I can sit and look both stylish and smug because the theatre can be really cold...brrr! Hee hee!

Check out Heritage of Scotland on Facebook, Twitter, and of course at www.heritageofscotland.com

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

We're Not Going To Sit In Silence, We're Not Going To Live In Fear

It's tomorrow.

Tomorrow is the day where we, the Scottish people, make a long-lasting and definite decision about our futures.

So far, it's all been done in the best possible politeness and always with respect for the other side.  But now that we enter the real decision making time, emotions have become fraught.

My own emotions are no different.  There hasn't been a night this week where I haven't sat down in front of a video of the latest Yes rally

 a talk from Jim Sillars

 or another amazingly motivating speech from Cat Boyd

 and shed a few tears.

We have to do this.

We have to.

I have listened to a lot of people talk, from yes and no.  Yes makes more sense to me - societally. Why?  Yes has been self-funded, the passion has come from 'normal' people on the street and Yes is by the people for the people. If you aren't prepared to listen to your fellow man - what is the point?  These are all highly intelligent, brilliant people who have LIVED and worked on the streets and in the houses that will be affected by what will happen. You can't manage something if you can't relate to it.  And Yes does.

I don't know if I can ever communicate fully the range of emotions that whistle inside of me when I think of what's at stake, but I genuinely feel that if we cannot do this; be it by a small margin or a landslide, then not only has Scotland been robbed of the chance to stand on her own two feet, but her people, her working class people, the ones who struggle and need a voice will be stamped down on and made to be quiet again. And after all that's happened - the huge number who have registered to vote, the conversations that happen in the street, the rallies, the discussions on social media - that would be a massive waste indeed.

I've been quite angry over the last few weeks.  And I have been challenged by No voters about my point of view.  And the anger has grown from there - not because I have been challenged; no, not at all.  But because I have been dismissed. My fears and my whole life experience has been dismissed.  I've been talked to like I haven't read the information.  Like I'm too wee to understand.  Too poor to understand the real financial stuff. Too stupid to have done my own research.

I don't like tarring folk with the same brush - no two people are the same and you can never know someone, nor can you judge them, until you have walked a mile in their shoes.

We've personally had a tough few weeks, for reasons that I won't go into.  Yet again, however, financial stuff has flared it's ugly head.  The realisation that we are one solid wage away from visiting a foodbank is stark. It's so easy for anyone to slip into that position. Anyone at all. Get ill, lose your job, have an accident...the fine balance is tipped.  You never know what might happen.

We also learned this week that we have to reconsider our whole lives yet again, right down to where we live and what we do.

And at the back of that are all of these amazing scenes of hope.  Hope that things can be different for my own bairns.

I cannot wait for tomorrow.

It's time to stop being scared. Hope over fear, life over barely scraping by.

Dear No voters, I do not scrape by due to 'poor life choice' - oh no.  It's because the deck has been stacked against me my whole damned life. It's not for a want of trying.  And I'm not saying that an Independent country will be some kind of panacea where everything will be magically solved.  I am well aware that I might not get the benefit of it.  But if my kids or grandkids do, well that's what I'm happy with.

The problem with folk who are comfy is that it's hard to give up comfort.  I get it. The fact that nearly HALF of our population (according to official polls) is screaming that they are NOT comfy, that they are struggling, that they are fed up with the status quo - surely that's a wake-up call?  That's why a No to me looks selfish.  It's inward-looking. Our people need this. Britain's people need this.

I have a hard week coming work-wise and I'm sure there'll be no sleep on Thursday night.

When I get up tomorrow morning and get my kids ready to head over to the polling station to vote, I will be emotional.

Because once, just this once, this is my own wee say in the world. And I'm saying I've had enough.  Scotland has had enough of being silent and putting up.  Whatever happens on Friday morning - this will never be the case ever again.  We are not a wee nation - we are a very, very big nation with a very big voice.

I can feel change in the air.

We need this.

No fear.

Click here for my post about why I'm voting YES!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Wherever I Lay My Head, That's My Home: House Renting

Maybe we just did life all wrong...

This is my thought for the day as I look through yet another property catalogue, breezing through the pages at more houses we are never going to buy.

Well, maybe we did.

At 23 and 22, we had our kids comparatively young, we both left home young at 17 years old, and funnily enough, the graduate employers who we were told would be battering down our door to offer us graduate placements after completing our humanities degrees, on all-singing, all-dancing graduate schemes seemed to have missed our graduate announcements.

Maybe life did a number on us?

Returning home from visiting a mortgage broker this recently, we had renewed hope in our eyes.

Well, kind of.

We know that the ability to buy our own home isn't completely out-of-the-park unrealistic, it's just that, well, let's just say it's not going to be happen any time soon.

Unless, you know, we win the lottery.  Or we discover that we have a long lost rich relative  who dies suddenly, inexplicably leaving all of their fortune to us.

It was a slightly scary affair.  I'd made the enquiry a week earlier, and before I knew it, a man had phoned me, asked me to look out all of my grown-up paperwork (bank statements, pay slips, National Insurance numbers) and meet for a two hour appointment.

It was all very official.

I still don't feel old enough to be allowed a mortgage.  As someone who, at nearly 30 years old, is still getting I.D'd at the corner shop for beer, I have a hard time feeling like a grown up sometimes.

And little wonder.  Our generation have not been allowed to grow up.

A few of my friends have managed to buy their own homes, but it must be said, a lot of them have had help to do so - parents willing to let them live at home, pay student expenses while at university, gifting that first ever-elusive deposit for a property.  Very few have managed alone.  And a lot of those who have, don't have children.

Thanks to the recession in 2008, the year Thomas was born, and coincidentally, also the year I graduated, jobs became like gold dust.  The kind of jobs that folk with degrees had been doing, kind of disappeared, as graduate schemes disappeared, job positions vanished and suddenly, we weren't only competing with the other saps who graduated at the same time as us, but also a lot of very qualified and very experienced people who had lost their long-term jobs.

The market was fierce.

By the time Dave graduated in 2009, we had one child, one full-time student job and a lot of rent to pay.

Since 2008 our small family has moved house six times - the same age as our oldest son will be in October this year.

I am on my 15th house move in the 30 years that I have been alive.

I am very used to a life of unsettlement - yet something I crave more than anything else, is to be settled in a home I can call my own.

But while I am very used to it - to packing up boxes, to the ins and outs of renting and looking and landlords and letting agents - I have to confess, it is really not something that I am keen for my own children to experience.

However, that seems to be the world that we live in today.  With the average age of home ownership in the UK being 38 years old, the 'home' is no longer someone's castle, but rather an expensive and stressful experience where we are not allowed to decorate or get too comfy.

There are positives and negatives to renting.  There's a positive in that you get to try out lots of different places and areas to live.  If you don't like where you live, then you can move on after a relatively short amount of time, and you don't have the responsibilities that come with home ownership, such as roof repairs, boiler replacement or clearing the gutters.

But man, what I wouldn't give just to be able to plan more than a year ahead at a time.

This year I feel we have reached our limit in terms of house move.  Having moved slightly further away than we would have liked, to a town outside the catchment area for the school which Thomas attends, we stand little chance of Ethan getting into the same school. He goes to a school in a very good area, which is so over-subscribed that they have had to add whole classes to each year group.  It's also the area with the highest rental prices in our city - almost double of what we currently pay for a similar sized property, simply based on the 'quality' of the area.  Not to mention the higher council tax rates.

We will be faced with a dilemma by the end of the year; move closer to the school and try to hash it out in an area where rents are a lot higher than we can realistically afford, or stay where we are and try to build a life, in the hope that if for some reason we can't stay in the house we are in, that we can easily find one of a similar size and price in the vicinity.

It's a tough call.

Of course, another option is to move away completely, to start again in a new area completely, one where we can afford to live and where it won't be such an issue to move if we have to.  Which opens us up to yet more things like area, neighbours, costs, letting agents, landlords, costs of moving, moving schools, upsetting the kids again etc etc...

It's certainly not easy.

But we're in no way alone.

Feeling quite despondent one morning, I typed out a couple of lines on Twitter: 'Do any of you rent your house?  How do you get on?'

The feedback was amazing.

There are so many people out there in letting hell, and it is so very clear to see that things need to be simpler.  From one lady whose brother had accepted a house 8 weeks previously and still had to get a moving date settled, to the lady who had had really awful financial problems with her landlord, it is obvious that renting, although a reality for millions, is not an easy process.

It is indeed not a choice for many; I would say that the vast majority of us simply want to settle in an ideal place, decorate it as we wish and be in control of if and when we move to the next location.  But life is not that simple.

I received some really heartfelt emails from all over the world about rental cultures similar to ours up here in Scotland and the same issues translate across the board; and it seems to be intensified when you have children, especially small children.  There's such a strong sense that all you want for your children is that they should have a 'home' rather than just a house.

One lovely lady wrote of her experience:

'I didn’t mind renting at all. We don’t know where we want to lay our roots down yet, so we felt like this was a good choice for now. However, my feelings changed a lot when my son was born. I started to feel more and more like my house wasn’t really my house. Someone else owned it, and guess what? He could potentially come over anytime he wanted. He’s a professional and nice landlord, but occasionally he would (unknowingly!) come over when the baby was sleeping or I was trying to take a very-necessary-new-mom-nap.

I also didn’t like the idea that any decoration or design I put into the house wouldn’t be here forever. I started to get very, “what’s the point?” about decorating the house. I didn’t like that feeling. I want my son to grow up in a house full of art and beauty! It’s also hard raising a kid in a house when you feel like someone is always watching over you. Our landlord comes by a lot, and reminds us to water the plants, and empty the dehumidifier; it sort of makes me feel like a kid again, and I don’t like that!'

She then went on to say:

'However, the house is our home for now, and it’s the only home my son knows. I have decorated his room, and his toys are scattered throughout. We run around the backyard and take walks around our neighborhood. I have to remember that just because we are renting, it doesn’t mean I can’t love my house (which I do), or make this house a home (I’m trying!). I really did not expect my feelings to change so much when my son was born, but I guess it’s that mama bear instinct kicking in. I want my son to know he’s safe and comfy wherever he is, but I also have to remember that wherever his mom and dad are, is home to him.'

It's something Dave says to me time and time again - usually when I'm fretting over our latest house-move and the impact that it will have on everyone, yet again; 'They won't care where they are, as long as we are there with them. Wherever we are, as long as we are all together - it doesn't matter'

My worries travel with me all the time, and they range from totally crazy, to a bit scary really.  Things like:
  • What if I can't find a house where my lovely new couches (that I just nearly finished paying off!) will fit? (It's so important for me to have my own things)
  • What if we have another child - where will he/she fit?
  • Will Ethan get into the school Tom is at?
  • Will we end up moving somewhere else completely?
  • Will the next place accept our elderly dog?
  • Will we ever have a garden?
  • Should we move out of this town completely?
  • What if we can't afford to run a car any more?
  • What if we get turfed out and have to find somewhere quickly?
  • What about nightmare neighbours?
  • Where the hell is our Xmas tree going to be put up next year? (every time I take the xmas tree down - that tree must think it's on some kind of magical mystery tour. Every time the box opens, it's somewhere new!)
  • What happens if one of us gets ill and can't work?
  • Will the boys always have to share a room?
  • What if we don't get our deposit back?
  • What if we end up with a crazy, horrible landlord?
  • Storage space, storage space, storage space...
Where will we be hanging our stockings next year?

We had a shot at being settled, but we couldn't take it.  The house belonged to Dave's dad and there were far too many complicated issues surrounding it.  Sometimes the whole family thing is too difficult - it caused a lot of tension and a lot of friction.  We were extremely unhappy; the house had some issues, stuff happened and we had to move.  I'd never wanted to move there; I knew about these things before we did, but I was in a bad place when we moved and by default we ended up giving up a house that we absolutely loved. It caused problems between us and the overall stability of our family unit was threatened; it came to the point where we knew what we had to do. We had to get out of there.

The man at the mortgage shop basically told us we had about seven years to wait until we could buy a house.


Seven years, if nothing financial went wrong, and if suddenly our debts disappeared overnight.

He offered us life insurance, to which we shrugged and said we'd think about it, he showed us a list of houses we could buy with a mortgage if we could in any way, shape or form get one now, and it choked me up.

We have no problem paying a shit-ton of money in rent every month, but no broker will take that as a guarantee that a mortgage would be paid.  And so we remain in eternal house-renting-limbo.

Maybe we did life all wrong...

 Well, we probably did.  But that doesn't make it fair.

Tonight I wandered into the kitchen, head in hands, after yet another conversation with a friend about whether we are going to have to move again or not.

'Where are we going to end up?' I sighed.

Dave grabbed me by the shoulders, and in his ever-loving manner, pulled me close and said:

 'Happy.  We'll end up happy.  Don't you worry about that.  Wherever we go, as long as we are together, we'll be happy'

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Win A Signed Copy Of Tutti Frutti by Bompas and Parr!

All the better for smiling with, my dear!
I went to the dentist last year with a horrible pain in my tooth. Now, I've always been extremely lucky with my teeth, only having had ONE filling in my entire life! Not bad, eh?

So, I was a bit gutted when I found myself on the end of the telephone to a sympathetic receptionist who suggested that I pay the extra money for the emergency appointment, while I grimaced through some pretty head-tingling toothache.

I was imagining all sorts; root canals, abcesses, antibiotics and endless sleepless nights until I could complete treatment, which would no doubt take weeks to complete.

'Come straight down, the dentist will see you right away'


I steeled myself while in the waiting room, fearing the worst. My tongue ran back and forth over the tooth in question. I was certain I could feel a hole. And there was definite swelling. Maybe I could even feel the pain right under the tooth...

'Take a seat, Mrs Millar'

I lay back in the chair and opened wide after pointing out the source of my pain.

Two x-rays and a thorough check-up later, the dentist asked me to sit up.

'Well, your teeth are certainly in very good condition - there's nothing wrong at all. No holes, no infection, certainly no sign of anything untoward. Have you been eating anything cold lately?'

Turns out I have sensitive teeth. He explained that nerve pain was sometimes set off by cold or sweet things and that although there were no holes in my teeth, there was erosion of the enamel, meaning that sometimes a nerve caught the brunt of the cold.

All he could do was to recommend that I buy some sensitive teeth toothpaste on the way home and work on the pain with that!

I couldn't believe it - I'd never had pain like that ever. And I never have again - I bought some sensitive teeth toothpaste on the way home and after using it over a few days, the pain subsided completely. To say I was relieved was an understatement, but it was definitely not something I had ever considered before!

From then on I've been a bit funny about eating ice-cream at all. There's nothing like the memory of pain to stop you from enjoying what you once took for granted!

However, I find that by using a sensitive tooth toothpaste,  that I don't have to worry too much - it really does help!

Then I read that it doesn't necessarily have to be ice-cream or cold things that can cause sensitivity - oh no!

 And this is where my latest giveaway comes in!

Contemporary British architectural foodsmiths, Bompas & Parr, have created their most daring dessert yet; the world’s most sensitising ice cream.

Tasked with creating the ultimate challenge for Colgate® Sensitive Pro-Relief™, the culinary explorers created a tooth tingling ice cream invention to put Colgate’s protective powers against tooth sensitivity to the test.

I think it's crazy and am not overly keen to put my poor teeth anywhere near it, but it is rather interesting to see just how many things can set off sensitivity!

Almost half of the UK population (47 per cent) suffer from tooth sensitivity*. Bompas & Parr’s flavoursome invention has packed in some of the most common triggers for sensitive teeth including punchy peppermint, cooling erythritol, raspberry chilli ripple and a szechuan button – a yellow flower bud that delivers the ultimate tingling sensation, which all combined, put the toothpaste to its sternest test yet.

Why not challenge yourself with one of their recipes?

Elderflower and Violet Frozen Fizz

Bompas & Parr say: “Here’s how to create a fizzy, frozen delight; carefully lay a well-shaken fizzy drink down in the freezer,
and rescue it before it freezes solid. Hey presto - your cool, mildly acidic cordial has become a super-chilled sorbet!”
Why not take the challenge, and try this for yourself!

(Serves 2)
80ml Elderflower cordial
8ml Violet syrup
8ml Lemon juice
400ml Soda water
Empty plastic bottles (500ml

Take the Challenge
1. Combine the ingredients, then pour into bottles and seal the caps tightly.
2. Now shake them like a Polaroid, then lay them down in the freezer and leave
for 2 hours maximum, making sure not to agitate them at all. After the given
time, the liquid should be slushy. 3. Remove the bottles extremely carefully and
pour into pre-chilled glasses or dishes. The liquid should freeze as it’s poured
into the glass.

As part of the development of the inventive ice cream, an independent study of 2,000 adults found that one in three (33 per cent) sensitive teeth suffers will eat on just one side of their mouth in order to avoid the pain of sensitive teeth, with nearly seven in ten (68 per cent) admitting that they failed to report the problem to their dentist. Like me!

Of course, this is not the only cool (geddit!?) thing Bompas and Parr have done of late.  Oh no!

Their latest recipe book, Tutti Frutti  is full of all kinds of amazing and colourful ideas to liven up your tastebuds and show off at parties.  

Particular recipes that caught my eye were Carnival Punch, a 'quick and dirty party drink', and Fruit Ice Lollies, which come with an educational intro on the healing properties and importance of the tongue.

The whole book is a mish-mash of colourful and exciting ideas which stimulate creativity in all of us and all of the recipes and ideas (like ballon pinatas for your pets!) alongside some pretty spectacular creative photography, create a sensual and luxurious reading experience.

There's nothing I love more than a cool recipe - something a bit different.

To win a signed copy of Bompas and Parr's Tutti Frutti, see the Rafflecopter below and let us know - what's the craziest, most outlandish recipe you have in your repertoire?  I'd love to hear it!

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Encouraging Your Early Readers

So, your primary schooler is just past the reading basics and has begun to read unaided, albeit with a little bit of help.

Getting a kid to read is much like fishing - you spend a lot of time in those early years casting the hook with loads of big fat, juicy, fun picture-book worms, filling your tackle box with the best possible tools and wading out as deep as you can into the river of imagination, hoping to capture every little swimmer that ebbs forth from your child's mind.

You coerce, you read all of the bedtime stories, you fill their heads with imagination and magic and the life that only reading can give.

But now they have started to learn how to read for themselves - sounding out letters, forming words and making wobbly letters on everything they can get their hands on.  It's a funny time.  A time you have been building up to, but much like teaching a child to bike ride, it's difficult to know when to take those stabilisers off and to let them wobble off into the distance.

Here are ten tips for encouraging and promoting your own little learner.

1.There's no rush

Really, there's not.  Yes, you should be encouraging as much lone reading as you can, but don't be too eager to push them too far yet.  At worst, you stand to alienate an under-confident child at such an early (and it is still very early!) stage and at the best, you stand to lose some very special bonding time over the written word.  Don't be lazy and don't presume that because your child can seemingly read quite well without you that they want to.  Of course they will want to show off and do it some of the time, but remember, they are still learning so much.  Language is very difficult, especially written down, and they can learn so much more just be listening to you shouldering some of the heavy pronunciation, intonation and punctuation.

2. Go Over Old Favourites

We're Going On A Bear Hunt: IT'S A BEAR!!!!

It is a well known fact that children learn via repetition, so use this to your advantage. Part one of anything when learning is to find something that you enjoy, and if your child loves a particular story or book, run with it.  Use voices, read half a page while they read the other half.  They are more likely to garner success with something they really love and the pleasure that this gives them will encourage them to develop their voice and push them into further exploration.

3. Be Silly

Have fun, use voices, challenge them, turn it into a competition.  Above all else, keep it interesting.  Children learn best through play, so maybe use it as more of a game time for them if they seem less interested.  Whatever you do, don't turn reading time into a chore.

4. Any Reading Is Good Reading: You Are Not A Doctor - Do Not Prescribe!

You would not believe the amount of parents I speak to who are so negative about what  their children are reading.  They worry because their son isn't interested in novels, just comic books, or that their daughter doesn't enjoy  the old childhood classics they themselves enjoyed, and instead spen a lot of time reading fluffy Magic Animal stories.

Just STOP!

It DOES NOT MATTER what they are reading, as long as they ARE reading!

It's all very valid for your child, so validate it for them.  Don't turn it into something that they are ashamed to do.

This is where you will lose them.

If your daughter just wants to read comic books all the time , get them a comic book subscription, furnish her interest, take her to comic cons, feed her knowledge and get involved.  If your son loves Magic, Fluffy, Animal stories, get more Fluffy, Magic, Animal stories.  And no, there is no typo here.  Your children do not read with their genitals - do not prescribe to them what they should or should not be reading; the point is THEY ARE READING.  And they will very probably grow out of this reading phase and into a new one, you know, because reading is magic that way - you can read pretty much about anything you want! I myself have gone from Enid Blyton, to Goosebumps, to real-life stories about military life. That's books!

5. Use Your Library

Okay, okay, so I am a bit biased here.  But seriously - you have a free source of unlimited amounts of reading and literature at your disposal - USE IT!

You can 'invest' in easy-readers and learning to read books for your fledgeling reader, but the truth is, after a few weeks they are mastered, read and boring.  These are short stories, here to serve a short, well-meaning purpose and children generally really love them.  But they are short. And the lessons in them are quickly learned.  A lot of main libraries house collections of easy reader books especially for children who are just edging into solo reading and they are fab.  And they are authored by some very popular children's writers.

Francesca Simon, Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Michael Morpurgo and even Dr. Seuss books can all be found in the 'easier to read' section, and publishers are very much cashing in on their popularity amongst youngsters and their parents.

So use your library.  This really is the best place to foster a love of reading - plus it adds the best degree ever into the process, which is...'

6. Choice

Let your child choose.  And not just the material.  Let them choose when is best to read.  So, rather than asking them to read a passage at bedtime, when they are tired after a long day of learning, thus putting them off, maybe ask them to sit on your knee just before tea time, or even for a quick five minutes before heading out for an activity.

Don't get down on their choices either.  One of the best reads for Tom was actually a board book for babies that his brother borrowed from the library called 'Toot'., about babies farting.  It's a really funny wee book, filled with illustrations and funny wee phrases about the baby farting in the bath, in his snow suit etc.  And it was really funny to them both. They got a lot of joy out of it, and we had it out for weeks, based on the fact that when Tom read it to Ethan, they both laughed. A lot.  But if I had said to him, when he chose to read it 'Don't read that, it's for babies', we would have lost that whole experience of him enjoying reading to his brother and them both laughing and bonding over it.  Okay, it wasn't the most challenging, but hey, that also happens to be the same week he read his first chapter book on his own, so who's judging?
Same goes if they want to pick a book about Mongolia, or Ants or Sharks that seem well above their age level.  They chose it, and if they liked it enough to even pick it up, I'll bet your bottom dollar that they'll take something from it.

7. Reading Opportunities Are Everywhere

One of the first times that I realised that Thomas could read, was when we were in the car and he was able to read street sign names to me, completely without me even encouraging him.  It was amazing.  He'd sit in the back of the car and sound out words, letter by letter until he got a semblance of a word.  Which, as it happens, is how he now learns phonics at school.

I jumped on this opportunity as soon as I could.  If he was interested enough to do this on our normal day-to-day car journeys, then maybe he'd enjoy doing it for other street signs too?  I got him to look out for and recognise our home-town on street signs and he started pointing it out whenever he saw it.

I used this trick when we went on day trips to the zoo, or found leaflets about his favourite places.  Reading opportunities are everywhere.  Ethan currently loves picking up leaflets about the local aquarium and amusement arcades, but it's only a matter of time before he not only recognises the pictures and the font associated with these brands, but what the letters in the word actually say too.  That's repetition at it's best and it's a great tool at your disposal.

Tom's particular reading habit came from his video games.  He got a Lego Star Wars game on the PS2 and was keen for cheats to 'buy' characters.  He became adept at learning the complicated sounding names of characters and really good at sounding out otherwise impossible phonics which even adults would struggle with!  It was a gift, because he had such an interest in the Star Wars characters, that he would literally pore over anything that had them in it. We were very lucky like that, but you can adapt this to virtually anything - Disney characters, Skylanders, Dinosaurs.  Children get so obsessed about things - use it to your advantage.

8. Give Them Space

Tom loves reading alone sometimes, and during this time it is important to give him time and peace to do it.  His younger brother has always been a bit of a bugger to get to bed, so while he gets pretty much pandered to in his bottom bunk, I try to make sure Tom gets this time to read alone in the top bunk.  This time is for him, and he loves it.  He chooses the material - be it comic, magazine, Lego Character Encyclopaedia, and he gets to read 'in his head' sometimes sounding out the bigger words.  It is impotant for him to have this time without us breathing down his neck about mispronunciation and allowing him to make and (sometimes) correct his own mistakes.  If he can't play with the language without hindrance, he won't get to work out the nuances for himself, which is very important when it comes to reading in front of others or trying new stuff in class.

9.  Use The Internet

Image owned by Usborne.com

There is a wealth of learning tools on the web which seriously support the work that goes on in schools and on the page.  It is amazing.

They tend to be a lot more rote when it comes to learning, but a lot of it supports the curriculum and definitely helps with understanding the ins and outs of structure in our language.

Alphablocks, Teach Your Monster How To Read and Sesame Street's Elmo Reading App are all tools I have used to help various children over the last year or so, and most importantly, besides being a fab learning tool, they are FUN. And modern.  And the kids really engage with them.  They are incredibly developed and unbelievable addictive.  Use them at will!

10. Chill Out!

All kids learn at their own rate.  Don't push too hard or you will have the opposite effect that you wish to have on the young learner.  Like dogs, children sense nervousness. If you are lacking confidence in your child's ability, the will feel that.  Try to relax and enjoy the ride.  Remember how young they really are.  They might have donned a uniform and be waling and talking, but in the grand scheme of things, they are still just babies. Don't over-egg things or you will lose them at this.

Embrace the good as it happens and don't focus on what your child can't  do.  If you build it, it will come. Eventually. Enjoy the time you have left with your early reader.  All too soon they will grow into opinionated and developed readers with attitude - and that's a whole new wonderful journey on it's own!

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