Monday, 28 October 2013

Managing four under four

Allowing for artistic licence on the heading (my eldest child is actually already four, so technically it's four under five - but that doesn't have the same ring), I felt it only appropriate to share my tips on looking after four very young children, based on my recent experience (our nanny went on holiday for the week and much as I'd like to forbid her from ever leaving our house, apparently employment lawyers wouldn't side with me. Can't imagine why). 

Disclaimer - I am absolutely no expert and have zero training on what's good for children's development and all that jazz. These tips are purely based on ensuring everyone is still alive at the end of the week. 

1. Plan, plan and plan some more. Getting everyone dressed (including myself), fed and out of the door for the morning school run is almost impossible. Pick out everyone's clothes the night before. Make sure the washing has been done so everyone has clothes to wear. Fill in whatever forms the school has sent - ours likes to average about one a day - God knows what they are all for - and put them in the book bag so you don't forget them. Sounds simple - it is - and saves time when one of the four has the inevitable breakdown when you're about to leave the house. 

2. Go out. Admittedly, it sounds like madness but experience has taught me that it's much easier to entertain the children in environments designed for it - I'm talking soft play, parks, anything along those lines. Yes, it's tough to keep an eye on all of them - but once cabin fever sets in at home, there's no going back. As an additional plus, kids that run about climbing all over things equal tired kids. This makes the witching hour (see point 5) much easier to bear. 

3. Accept the house is going to be untidy until all the children are back in bed. It's not easy, but once you've accepted it, it becomes slightly easier to deal with. 

4. Rope in other people to provide diversions. Grandparents are good for this, but random neighbours, friends or distant family will all work. Plus, you'll need the adult conversation. 

5. Beware the witching hour (this is what it's known as in our house. If you need to ask, it's tea, bath and bed time). Actually, the name is misleading because at Martini Towers, this tends to cover 5-7pm. Nothing is going to make this time enjoyable - so go into it with precision planning and prepare for whinging and general dissatisfaction all round. Get through it by knowing that a glass / bottle of wine is waiting to reward you when all your darlings are tucked up in bed. Until the dream feed...

Most of all, try and enjoy at least some of it. Traumatic as it can be, keep in mind that time seems to pass very quickly - before you know it, they'll be teenagers that won't want to deal with you at all. And then you'll look back on these days with fond memories and no pain whatsoever!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Scarily prepared for Halloween

We've gone Halloween-tastic at Martini Towers! 

There is no doubt that having children lends itself to embracing all sorts of things that simply wouldn't be appropriate without them. Cue ridiculous Halloween decorations galore. (Obviously, I have manipulated the image above, but rest assured our house is covered in cobwebs, spiders and even the occasional rat. Beautiful.) The kids, and I, love it. 

Thank you American relatives - even I have to admit that the Yanks have got this 'holiday' nailed in a way we can only dream of. 

And, of course, we had to make something tasty and completely unhealthy:

We all had great fun decorating these biscuits - which are very good (if I say so myself). The recipe was taken from Caroline MiLi Artiss - although we obviously went to town in a very different way in the decorations. But, I'd highly recommend giving this a go during half term - it kept my clan entertained for ages!

You'll need these ingredients to make and decorate around 25 biscuits:
For the biscuits
- 250g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder 
- 2 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
- 100g brown sugar
- 75g cold unsalted butter, cubed
- 4 tbsp golden syrup
- 1 large egg

For the icing
- a few tsps of apricot jam
- 1 packet ready to roll fondant icing
- food colouring and paintbrushes to decorate the biscuits
- tubes of coloured icing (we used black and red!)

And here's how we did it:

- Sieve the flour, baking powder and mixed spice into a bowl
- Stir in the sugar and then rub in the butter to make fine breadcrumbs
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the golden syrup and egg
- Pour the syrup/egg mixture into the dry ingredients and combine until it forms a ball of dough
- Wrap in cling film and chill - we chilled it overnight, but you'll need to leave it for at least an hour so it rolls properly

Once the dough has chilled:
- Preheat the oven to 180 c (or equivalent)
- Roll out the dough, using plain flour on the work surface and rolling pin to stop it from sticking
- Cut out your biscuits in suitably Halloween-y shapes
- Cook in the oven until just golden (about 8-10 minutes) and then leave to cool on a wire rack

For the icing:
- Brush the cooled biscuits with apricot jam, so the fondant icing will stick to the biscuits
- Roll out the fondant icing and use the same cutters to cut out the shapes and then stick the corresponding biscuit shapes
- Now for the fun! Get creative with the food colouring and icing. If you're allowing young children to decorate, prepare for carnage. Our kitchen looked like there had been some kind of explosion - but they had a great time. Perhaps make them wear some old clothes -because they'll be covered in everything. 

Caroline is far more television friendly than I am, so check out her video here to see how it's done. And Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Rainy days aren't just for staying in

Admittedly, I'm the first to dismiss most outdoor activity at the first hint of rain. It's not so bad if you're fully geared up in wellingtons and waterproof jackets, but overall, when it's cold and raining, I like to snuggle up on the sofa with a big cup of tea and several biscuits. I do not make a habit of rushing out to the nearest Royal Garden to wander about looking at plants I can't name (and, if I'm honest, have absolutely no intention of learning). 

I have, however, been missing out. Yesterday, we ventured to Kew Gardens and despite my initial misgivings, it was an absolutely fantastic day out. The changing of the seasons create stunning scenery and the weather probably kept all but the keenest, and the school parties that were clearly already committed  away so we were free to roam almost in isolation. 

I was amazed at the history of the Gardens - it's actually very interesting - and the grounds are absolutely immaculate, which always appeals to my OCD. Not a piece of litter in sight - very pleasing. 

Without doubt, the highlight of the day was the Kew Explorer tour - it's a 40 tour of the Garden on a 'land-train', with commentary to explain everything to you as you go around. Our guide was brilliant - exactly the right mix of informative, friendly and humourous - to be honest, he was better that most of the tat that passes for entertainment on television. I didn't catch his name, but he opened the tour by telling us he used to be a fighter pilot for the RAF. I'd highly recommend searching him out if you have the time. 

The only downside was that a couple of the attractions are now closed - an obvious thing to do out of season, but they might want to consider a reduced, off-peak rate in these down times. Also, the prices for food are quite steep, so if you're planning on staying for lunch, be prepared for the cost. However, I can highly recommend the tomato and basil soup - it was delicious (and I didn't expect that).

Parking was super easy - again, I guess because it's out of season. Be warned the road you turn down to reach the car park looks like a tiny lane - stick with it and you'll get there in the end. 

The ultimate test as to whether it was a good thing to do is if I plan to return again before spring. The answer? Absolutely. And if it's not too far from you, I'd recommend you do the same. 

Friday, 11 October 2013

A new way to shop

This definitely falls into the category of 'need to get out more' - but I had to share: this Shop as you Scan service at Tesco is bloody fantastic. 

Reading the BBC news, it appears that the Weybridge Tescos is quite behind the times - it only arrived a couple of weeks ago - and I used it for the first time this week. Not only does it mean you can pack your bags (who actually uses carrier bags now? It concerns me that it seems to be a news story that supermarkets are set to charge 5p a bag from 2020 or whenever it is - I thought they did that now - but I digress) as you go round, meaning you don't have to unload the trolley and then reload everything, which is enough in itself, but it also has all manner of technology on the scanner, so you can see how much you're spending as you go round. If that wasn't enough, it also tells you when items are on offer (just in case you've missed the huge yellow labels screaming BUY SIX rather than just two). 

I know it's just because it's new, but the staff were super helpful and it saved huge amounts of time at the till. In short, this is a genius service. I'm usually more of a Sainsburys' girl but I honestly think this might convert me - especially for the 'big' shops. Tesco 1, Sainsburys 0. 

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Christmas is a-coming...

I cannot believe how quickly the time is passing - it's already October, which means its only three months until maternity leave is over and it's back to work. Boo. 

It's difficult to be sad about this, though, because I LOVE this time of year. I was reminded of this by a post from Miss Budget Beauty and realised it was okay to post about plans that are well underway for the festive season. Updated make-up for the party season (even if I only get to go to one party - details, people, details) - check. Present shopping - about half way there - check. Menus planned - check. Preparations for chutneys and Christmas cake done? Check. My friends, you should probably start calling me a domestic goddess. (Okay. This is probably a step too far - but you should note that the festive biscuit workshop place is already secured. You've been warned.)

I am seriously looking forward to Halloween this year. The in-laws (who arrive next week) are bringing goodies (as well as some long over due staples) from the US, which simply cannot be beaten for this time of year. Cue pumpkin carving, fancy dress and sweets (or should that be candy?!) galore. I'm also going to attempt some seriously good nail art, courtesy of MissJen Fabulous - see more detail here

Stay tuned for more updates, my (probably dodgy) version of nail art and Christmas celebrations. Oh, and I've read that it's possible to 'decorate' your blog - I must look into that too...