Saturday, 1 October 2016

A Recipe for Disaster


I have rather a love-hate relationship with pizzas. A little like the Marmite conundrum. I love the fact that it can be all things to all people and, really, anything goes. (Not pineapple, though, in my opinion.) It can be as healthy or as indulgent as you like. (I recently came across a rather luxurious recipe which included white truffles.) Most importantly, though, it is a food which most, if not all, children like mainly because of its versatility. I have always made pizzas with the little ones as it is both sensorial and productive at the same time. I adore the extremely proud faces stood in the doorway as I remove them from the oven and the excited:-

“That’s mine…..I made that……all by myself!”

So why the love-hate thing?
I have had a few sticky (pardon the pun) situations with pizza dough. I mentioned its versatility and how much children get out of playing with it. (In fact, I regularly use pizza dough for children to use with as they wish as it has a great elasticity and is fantastic for practicing stretching and pulling.)

Have you seen the expert Italian chefs and how they make bases? Lots of twirling and throwing up in the air. We watched a video demonstrating this quite recently.  I can honestly say the throwing-it-up-in-the-air bit was the highlight.  The first thing the 3 year old did was lob a large piece upwards with all she could muster. So hard was it thrown, in fact, that a large particularly sticky piece caught on the ceiling and then began slowly reaching down determined to comply with gravity. In fact it became a bit of a celebrity.  My own children were treated to a guided tour of my ceiling where we also spotted a cobweb and a couple of spiders thrown in as an added attraction. Before taking the decision to start charging for this new site of not-so-historical interest, I did actually remove it.  This was much to the annoyance of the children one of whom stood beneath it, dish in hand, at several intervals during the course of the day, hoping it would eventually drop. (And you thought this sort of thing only happened on Pancake Day.)

Pizza dough also took centre stage at my last Ofsted inspection when, stifling chuckles, the inspector watched as one of my then 2 year olds began using it for racket ball practice and flung it at all 4 corners of my garden.  She, later, worriedly asked me what I was “now going to do with the dough?”

“I am not making it into pizza, if that’s what you’re thinking,”

I hurriedly replied whilst thinking; I bet Jamie Oliver never has this problem.

It has also caused a local MP to leave my home a little earlier than anticipated when he posed for a photo with 2 of the children and one of them used his trousers as a towel after dusting the dough with flour.

I went shopping earlier and looked at the pizza displays in the local supermarket with their humongous amounts of cheese, meagre doses of vegetables and thin, sickly coloured bases.  These are the pizzas I really don’t like.  I left them well alone and proceeded to the aisle with the bread flour and the yeast wondering what the children would conjure up at my next pizza fest…..and whether I should contact Jamie Oliver to uncover his pizza etiquette.

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Saturday, 10 September 2016

The Bailey House Rules

Despite my threenagers now being twonagers, I still experience, what I will term as, a load of bull from them on a daily basis. Whether its fingers in the sugar, litter in the bedroom or simply refusing to move off the sofa for anything less than a promise of a 100g bar of Cadbury’s best, I do find myself at the end of my tether most days.

Fed up of whingeing, whining, back-chat and tantrums, I have decided to set down my own 10 non-negotiables for surviving in the Bailey household as a teen.

1)   Please be aware that dirty knives should be located in the dish washer, sharpy point down.  This alleviates any need to attend A & E after severe laceration of the fingers.

2)   Daily ablutions should be conducted in a civil fashion with all toothpaste, soap and gel being confined to the sink or bath only and not smeared across all surfaces and windows.

3)   Erect toilet seats will be severely punished.

4)   All soiled linens and clothing items must be confined to the inside of wash baskets and not placed on the top or distributed around the room.

5)   Collections of the following items are banned forthwith: spoons, plates and cups.

6)   Empty milk cartons (or indeed any empty boxes or vessels) must not, under any circumstances, be replaced in the refrigerator.

7)   Any uneaten food items should be placed in recycling and not on bedroom floors, beds or desks as mice food.

8)   The distribution of; perfume, aftershave or body spray should be strictly confined to bedrooms only and not randomly throughout the house. It should be rationed to one squirt per usage so as not to pollute the whole town.

9)   Shower time will be monitored and rationed to five minutes per day and saunas are strictly off-limits thus ensuring that the remainder of the North West inhabitants have at least enough water to wash their face.

10)  At no time will there be a waitress service available.

*  *  *
Please note - No teenagers were harmed during the writing of this blog post (or at any other time.)

What is your top non-negotiable for promoting a harmonious household?

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Monday, 5 September 2016

Snow in Summer

Squirrels in the planters,
 Slugs in the veg,
Blackbirds digging in my pots,
 Cats pouncing from the hedge. 

This sounds like an excerpt from a children’s rhyme and I may make it into one but it most aptly describes my garden on most occasions. I shouldn’t, then, have been shocked to discover what I saw when I crawled out recently from beneath my covers, shuffled downstairs and stood bleary-eyed at my kitchen window. The scene - a mass of white.

 I know what you are thinking – snow, as did I….initially. (It is summer – what else?) As it looked quite patchy I realised it warranted further investigation. To my amazement, as I reached the door I realised that instead of snow, the covering on my lawn was, in fact, feathers. Lots and lots of fluffy, downy white feathers. What on earth had happened? Asking myself this question prompted me to ponder on what the children would think of my ‘blanket of feathers’ outdoors. 

When they arrived, later that morning, I remarked at the sight outside and asked them, firstly, what they thought it could be. As they looked out from the patio doors they could see what the elder one described as “white blobs.”  We had to go out and take a look.  Under close supervision we trooped out with our magnifiers to inspect my garden.

The magnifying glasses revealed the filaments of the feathers, larger versions of which they have happily played with indoors.

“How did they get here I wonder?” I began the conversation.
The eldest child thought the birds must have “left them for us.”
I wasn’t so sure and I couldn’t quite believe that one bird could have so many feathers. 
On retiring indoors we began some research. There are some amazing facts about feathers. (As a childcarer I am constantly learning.) Here are a few ‘Did you know..?’ facts.  Apparently, the number of feathers on a bird varies according to; species, size, sex, age, health, season, and temperature of habitat. Most songbirds have between 1500 and 3000 feathers and  there are 7 different types of feather. I have quite a collection of my own and we looked at the contrasting types. 

All this was very interesting but this didn’t answer my question; what happened to the now, presumably, featherless bird? My own knowledge of my garden is inclined to lead me to believe that it was a fox.  I have seen of them in broad daylight confidently prowling in the bushes and some of the extremely large, slow-moving wood pigeons are easy prey. This brought me to an additional problem; how to discuss the apparent savagery of such a well-loved wild animal?  I say ‘well-loved’ because the children are young and are used to tales of ‘Foxey Loxey’ and the not so unfriendly fox in the ‘Gruffalo.’

I decided to take my lead from the children and see what other explanations they could come up with after talking a little more about birds, feathers and wildlife generally.

“I know some foxes eat birds”,
I offered when the children became quiet.
The reply?
 “I won’t be a fox - don’t want to eat pigeon with fluff on it!”
How fantastically sensible.

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Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Mission Possible?

I have a mission. Shall I really choose to accept it? Well, here it is. It’s nothing trivial; I just want to change the world.  For the better, I should add.  (Erase from your mind any image you may have conjured up of me as a cat-stroking, scar-faced megalomaniac.  Well, not yet anyway.)  So how do I intend to address this ultra-important and massive task?  Well, let me be a tad more specific.

There is the ever-present danger of us all disappearing under our own rubbish and rot.  The world is reportedly getting hotter and the ice caps are slowly melting. Researchers say there is a very small chance that the seas around us could raise by a metre.  That’s quite a lot and we have already seen the devastation that flooding has made around the world.  The UK produces more than 100 million tonnes of rubbish annually, including 15 million tonnes of food. Much of this ends up in landfill.  So what does this continued exercise mean for the future?  My over-active imagination leads me to anticipate a landscape of rugged new mountainous regions where we will all need crampons and ropes to do our weekly shopping run.  This is no good for me.  As much as I love walking, I am, in fact, hideously afraid of heights and get a nosebleed going up my stepladders to clean my downstairs windows.

So how can we stop the rapid growth of rubbish-infused hillocks from appearing? Re-using stuff for one.  Although we can recycle a lot more plastic now, I still find myself with an ever-growing stack of trays of varying pattern and size.  Junk-modelling is still a firm favourite amongst us childcarers.  Many a time I have returned from school pick-ups with a double pram’s worth of cereal, bottle top and cardboard tube funnel creations.  Working with extremely small profit margins forces people like me to reuse lots and buy very little.  In fact, its months since I bought glue, instead making my own from flour and water.  Thanks to a childminding colleague, I now reuse my plastic milk bottles as watering cans after a minor adjustment to the lids. 
In fact choosing to be more environmentally friendly forces us to be more creative.  I recently made my own cosy den for the children using only resources I already had. Luckily, I tend to have things that I can use for a variety of purposes including lots of large pieces of fabric.  Granted, it took three attempts to get to the final, and most successful, version (i.e. one that didn’t collapse on entry) but that made it all the more fun to produce. (I do like a challenge!) It’s really satisfying to make your own stuff; almost as good as growing your own food.  I do like to own things I know are unique to me (and, believe me, there really isn’t anything in existence which resemble the things I make.) 

So the next time you go shopping and are tempted by the cheap buys (and I know what that’s like – I’m a sucker for a bargain) ask yourself if there is an even cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternative. I can guarantee the enhancement of the ‘F’ factor……… Fun!

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Saturday, 27 August 2016

It's All in the Name

 I have had the name ‘Baileys Blog’ for a while now and it was one that was given to me several years ago by a well-meaning editor. Having now seen the plethora of clever, enticing sites out there I thought it was time for a change. But what to choose?

The Merry Blogger. Use of the definite article is powerful. Cheery and upbeat and, in being so, isn’t at all like me. A blog has to ‘say what it is on the tin’, to misquote a now-famous phrase.
Cat Vomit and Conkers.  Humorous without being rip-roaringly funny which is how I see myself. However I think it would basically stop people viewing for fear of what they may see. 
Bath-time with Babycham. Reflects that fact that I am a parent blogger (as it has ‘baby’ in the title) and also that I am in need of a drink and a bit smelly…. so probably not, actually. Loving the alliteration - always good in a title.

More difficult than I thought, this.

Unicorns are Unisex. A great ‘right-on’ name as it refers to, what is usually, a female-laden object as being non-gender specific. Who am I kidding? I hate unicorns (and their unfathomable rainbow excretions.)
The Miserable Cow. Hang on, I could be on to a winner here. This exactly describes me most days. The language is a bit racy, though. Not sure my friends would approve.
Dressing Gowns and Tantrums. A bit risky this at it is a half-rhyme. Not sure I can get away with it. Accurately describes my household in the morning, though, with my reluctant-to-get-dressed teens.
Stop the Pram, I Want to Get Out! Any sentence with an exclamation mark has to be a winner!!!! Unfortunately, my experience with prams is currently on the decline on account of my children being a wee bit too old.
And the Little Dog Laughed. Always good to get a nursery rhyme in at any given opportunity. I don’t have a dog, however, and people may assume I have. Don’t want to be having any of those awkward exchanges about which flea powder is the best to use on a puppy.

This is hard! How do people come up with this stuff?

Fit, Fat and 21. No good.  I would have to change the blog name every birthday.
Mary Berry Fan Club. This could get me a few views. Initially. Followed, almost immediately, by bitter disappointment when people realise I have absolutely no idea how to make my muffins rise.
Wombats and Dingbats. What’s a dingbat?
Singing from the Same Hymn Sheet. Nope.

My brain’s working overtime here….
How about…

Early Middle-aged Woman with Grumpy Teenagers and a Moderately Naughty Cat Blog (?)

Get in!

R is for Hoppit

Sunday, 21 August 2016

You Are Where You Go

Picture the scene.  You inexplicably find yourself, after years of working full-time and travelling, in a house all day in an area you barely know with people around you who are virtual strangers and with an adorable, yet regularly screaming, child you really don’t know what to do with. Sound familiar? This was me 20 years ago. I was not alone. Regrettably I didn’t know this at the time and when hormones are raging strongly and sleep is but a distant memory, your self-esteem can take a real hammering even for a comparatively confident person like myself.

Huggle would have changed all this. If I had been told all that time ago that there was a way of finding out where people just like me go and where I could meet up with them, I would have bitten their hand off.

I thought I was organised. Being the first of my friends and family to give birth in a long time, I knew nothing about looking after an infant. I read books and magazines and prepared myself thoroughly.  What I hadn’t catered for was how I would feel after the birth and what my life would actually be like.  I had already decided that I would be a stay-at-home mother. Great! Getting up when I wanted and sauntering through the day at my own pace - it would be like a holiday. (So na├»ve!) However, years of travelling and using my  home as a veritable crash pad meant that I knew absolutely no-one in my immediate neighbourhood. My nearest family was 50 miles away and all my friends worked full-time.  In short, I didn’t see anyone regularly for the first month I was at home.  I started hanging out in parks to see who else may be in the same position. I felt lonely and isolated.

 Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I am not the only one to have had this experience. One mother recently highlighted what I now know is a typical feeling:-

The hardest thing of all was accepting that my friends and work colleagues were not accessible to me on a daily basis as their lives hadn’t stopped for this big event, only mine had. So on top of all this I now had to make friends all over again, when I was more desperate to have communication with other mums but when I felt least like myself so I am sure I came across as neurotic and desperate!”

Huggle would have changed all that. The social app works by tracking where you go and is deadly accurate.  Even if it doesn’t get it exactly right, you can change it to an alternate location from the list given. I tested this out recently and discovered that it can even detect which platform you are on at the train station - amazing! Going back to the younger me, having the app would have meant that I could have checked which people were visiting the parks (and anywhere else) I was going to in a quick and easy way without any of those awkward fake conversation starters like:-

“Ooh, I have never seen such an adorable baby”

(Not true - your baby is always the most gorgeous.)


How lovely - what’s his name?”

(About your daughter.)

And the unforgettable:-

“Do you come here often?”

Instead, Huggle would have immediately got me to the local meet-ups and drop-ins that took me an age to uncover and wheedle my way into. (You don’t have to be Sherlock Homes to be a first-time mother but it helps.)

Fast-forward 5 years on when I moved into a new area, with 3 children under 5 years of age, and found myself in almost exactly the same position. This time it wasn’t just the parks I was looking longingly for people to relate to (whilst clambering up small trees to rescue children caught on a branch) it was school playgrounds too. Accessing the ‘Places in Common’ part of the app means that you can easily identify parents similar to you. (It uses the premise that people who go to similar places may have stuff in common which is a real step-up from striking up a conversation with someone randomly.)

And now? Accelerate ahead another 15 years and I now find myself desperately trying to find a way of helping my socially anxious teenager transition to university. Please, Huggle, show me the way!  

Sunday, 14 August 2016

I’m in Love With an Inanimate Object

I have a confession to make. I’m in love with in inanimate object and I’m not talking about my partner during the football season. I mean a machine. The object of my latest desire? An upright vacuum cleaner. It wasn’t love at first sight.  I wasn’t even looking for a new sweetheart.  But as soon as I tried it - wham, bam! It hit me straight between the eyes.

I was quite happy with my existing vacuum - also a Dyson. Unfortunately sheer old age and overwork had rendered it incapacitated.  It was sad. The good-looking upright was loyal and compliant and got me out of many a sticky situation - literally; like the multitude of times I dropped flour all over the floor and found pet hair adorning my favourite chair when we didn’t even have a pet. (I never did get to the bottom of that problem.) It always stepped up to the mark and consistently kept my places and spaces free from dust, grime and muck.

We decided to try another brand - surely now, with all the wonders of modern technology, there were other makes out there which were up to the same level as said contraption? So off we went, determined to save a few pennies and get something equally as good. When we got to the store, we stepped up to try several new models. One we wrecked, another defeated us and a third was so heavy I could barely lift it off the extremely low shelf……  And then we saw it, beckoning towards us looking tall, sleek and elegant.  I didn’t need to try it in-store, I just knew it was the one for me. On returning home, I couldn’t wait to rip open the box and indulge myself in its overwhelming delights; the bold colour, the ingenuity of the attachments and the shining cherry on top of the cupcake - the Ball. 

The latest Ball technology was totally new to me and I have to admit to expecting it to be a bit gimmicky. As soon as I plugged it in this myth was dispelled. The Ball is definitely it’s most beautiful feature: It gets into all the nooks and crannies without the need for constantly reaching for an attachment. It  gets under, round, between and through all known obstacles with absolute ease.

It can’t be all good, surely? is something a friend of mine commented when I went all gooey explaining my latest fascination.  Nothing is perfect and if I was to pick on something it would be the weight.  It is definitely heavier than my last model.  Having said that, my glass is always half full rather than half empty, and I see the weight as a positive. Not only does it appear more robust than my last Dyson but it has the added bonus of any vacuuming time being a chance for a home-spun workout for all you gym-haters out there, myself included. I just need to perfect the art of utilising both arms so that I have evenly proportioned biceps.

What is this source of wonderment and desire? It’s boringly called; the Dyson DC40 Multi Floor.  Don’t let this put you off. Keep a look out for offers. (We got £100 off ours, for example.) Good luck and happy swooning!