The Importance of Music

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Music is something which is hugely important in the Mum’s the Word house. Husband and I are both avid listeners of all types of music and it has marked so many important occasions. When we met, one of the things that we realised we had in common was a massively eclectic taste in music which, surprisingly, overlapped in so many places. When we discovered that our favourite song was one and the same, something just clicked and felt completely…right.

I can never get my head around those people who say “I’m not really into music”. There are some songs which seem to speak to my soul on such a deep level that I can’t imagine not being moved by music. I suppose I’m quite an emotional person (in both a good and a bad way!) and on any given day a song can make me smile, cry or change my mood completely. There are some songs which almost reach out and make me sob involuntarily.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last year or so, you can’t help but have noticed that many wonderful musicians have been taken from us, quite unexpectedly in some cases. Lemmy, David Bowie, Prince, Natalie Cole, John Bradbury, Glenn Frey to name just a few. For both Husband and I, the music of these amazing artists has been hugely important to us and although we didn’t know them as people, the loss of them as artists has been quite rough.

When you love an artist, especially ones who’ve been around your whole life, I think you kind of have this image of immortality in your head, thinking somehow that they’ll always be around and that you’ll get the chance one day to see them in concert. We’d both have LOVED to see David Bowie or Price or any of the others (although we were both lucky enough to see Motorhead in concert back in 2006, so that’s a small consolation). I know it’s quite naive to think that these people will be around forever; many were in their late sixties and certainly didn’t live very…clean…lives, but it still feels as though we’ve been robbed.

As a result, Husband and I have made a silent pact with one another to try to get to as many gigs as we can from now on. Last year, we saw Bad Religion, a band we both love, and it was amazing timing as they played in London on our wedding anniversary, so we got to have a night out together seeing a band who’s music means a lot to us. We’ve also got tickets to see Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys in September, which is a real ‘Bucket List’ item for us both as we’ve both loved The Beach Boys since we were tiny (when I was little, I collected vinyl records that I’d buy every Saturday from the second hand record shop at the end of my road and a Best of The Beach Boys was one of my prized possessions!).

We’ve also got tickets to see The Cure when they tour at the end of November, which is another really exciting thing for us – The Cure are one of those bands who we’d both wanted to see for such a long time but they don’t tour hugely often and when they do, the tickets are like hens teeth, so getting hold if tickets for this tour was a bit of a dream come true.

It may sound morbid, effectively ticking our favourite bands off of a list to make sure we see them before any key members die, but I like to think it’s more of a pragmatic nod to the fact that even the biggest stars are only human and we need to make an effort to absorb their art while they’re still around. Live music is such a wonderful experience and having more of those experiences together can only be a good thing.

Are you still reeling from all of the sad losses of this past year? Has it inspired you to watch more live music? Who’s on YOUR gig bucket list? I’d love you to leave me a comment below. Also, if you know of any amazing gigs coming up, do let me know!

Go Green with PG Tips

I don’t know about you, but I love a nice cup of tea, and I’m a big fan of different types of tea too, so when PG Tips asked me to write about their new Green Tea and the enormous monkey floating on the Thames to promote it, I thought “hey, why not?”. They’ve conducted a survey which has shown some surprising results about stress and relaxation, which you can read about after this video:

The survey was conducted with over 2000 people and 7 in ten of them described feeling stressed and overworked, with a distinct lack of ‘me time’ in their day to day life. Although I’m not out there in the workplace, this is something I can really identify with; even during ‘downtime’, there’s usually a kid attached to me or the feeling that I should be doing something more productive than just sitting down and it can leave you feeling pretty frazzled.

Having said that, we’re luckier than some given the fact that we’re surrounded by green space where we are, as the report shows that this can be massively beneficial:

Highlighted among the untapped properties of the colour green are the benefits of proximity to open spaces; numerous studies have reported the impact of so-called ‘eco-therapy’, with numerous studies reporting improved feelings of positivity and wellbeing as a result of spending time outdoors.

But the green paper report reveals it isn’t only the ‘green outdoors’ that has this affect; our primal association with the colour extends to many forms, with workplaces citing improved productivity among workers when the walls are painted green. In fact, even consuming ‘green’ food and drink – from leafy vegetables to green tea – has also been shown to produce feelings of energy and invigoration simply by association.

This fresh perspective on the ‘power of green’ could hold the key to maximizing our ‘me-time’ to boost feelings of positivity and reinvigoration; further insights reveal that even when people do manage a five minute break at work, it’s rarely beneficial – just one in five said they feel refreshed after stopping.

I completely agree with these findings, as I know how much I love the feeling of getting out into the open. Walking the dog in the massive open fields behind our house often gives me the feeling that I can breathe again after a long, stressful day – now I’m thinking that maybe I should be taking my travel mug full of PG Tips Green Tea to really maximise the effect!

What do you think? Does being in the outdoors help you to unwind? Are you a fan of a nice, warm cuppa to aid your relaxation? Leave me a comment below.

Treating Myself with MandM Direct

One thing that I’m not very good at is buying clothes for myself. There are several reasons for this:

  1. I never feel hugely confident that I pick things which suit me or are very flattering. When I was younger I had a fairly distinct sense of style and knew what I liked and what looked good. Since having kids, my shape has changed and I always feel like I’m dressed all wrong.
  2.  I always feel guilty about spending money on myself when I could be spending it on the girls or the home.
  3.  I HATE going into shops and trying things on.

All of these things tend to add up to my wardrobe looking pretty tragic at the best of times and me never feeling like I’ve got anything to wear. So when MandM Direct got in touch and asked if I’d like to pick an outfit for myself, I FORCED myself to choose something for me! Here’s what I chose:

Brave Soul Women’s Shirt in Charcoal – £17.99

Levi’s Womens Classic Rise Demi Curve Slim 5 Pocket Jeans in Glacier Grey – £39.99

Havaianas Womens Top Flip Flops in Pistachio – £12.99

Husband will be immensely proud of me; he’s ALWAYS telling me to buy Levis and other quality brands, instead of supermarket own brand jeans. I know he’s right; you do get what you pay for with these things and it’s better to spend more on good quality items that will last longer than buy cheaply and need to replace it more often.

Havaianas are a bit of an addiction for me and a yearly treat, although I usually wait until my birthday in June and ask someone to buy them for me as a gift – I’ll have to think of something different for my birthday list now…or be REALLY indulgent and get 2 new pairs this year! To be fair, MandM Direct is one of the UK’s leading off price retailers, with up to 75% off big brands 365 days a year, so their prices mean that I CAN treat myself! What’s not to love about guilt-free shopping?!

I love the fact that the items I’ve chosen can be dressed up or down and will good just as good for a casual afternoon lunch or accessorised for an evening occasion and worn with high heels instead of flip flops. Apparently, my skin and hair tones mean that I’m a summer pallette and I should wear soft greys, blues and other colours which tone down the pink tones in my skin. What do you think of my choices? I’d love to hear what you think so leave me a comment below.

Get a £10 Free Bonus with Sky Vegas

Written in collaboration with Sky Vegas.

sky vegas

Sky Vegas is running a really great offer at the moment where you get a free £10 signing on bonus, as well as up to a £1000 deposit bonus the first time you top up your account, depending on how much you add to your account. This means that, if you deposit £10, you’ll end up with £40 worth of playing time – four times as much fun! Follow this link to sign up for yourself: http://goo.gl/xm4VYG (affiliate link)

It’s safe to say that having a little flutter is something that both Husband and I enjoy from time to time, be it a bet on the football or a few spins of the virtual roulette wheel. We’re always super sensible about how we play, setting ourselves a strict limit that we never exceed (usually about ten pounds) and once it’s gone it’s gone. We also have strict rules with ourselves about when we stop – it’s really easy to win a few times, build up a decent pot of winnings…and then bet it all away again! By the same token, we’ve also had days where we’ve won a fair amount – we bought our last fridge freezer with online winnings!

Gambling responsibly can be really fun, as long as you know your limits, which is why doing it with a friend or partner is a great idea. You’re able to keep one another in check and celebrate together if you win big! Why not make a night of it by getting a takeaway or some snacks, making a Spotify playlist for your evening and even making some fun cocktails? It will probably work out a LOT cheaper than a night out and you can even do it in your pyjamas! Are you a fan of online gambling? Do you ever make a night of it? Have you ever won big? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Why I’m Not A “Cool Mum” (And Why I’m Totally Okay With That)

Cool MumBeing a parent really makes you view things in a totally different way. I was talking to some friends the other day about how, when we were kids, we did the whole ‘hanging out in front of the shops to ask an adult to buy us cigarettes’ thing. We were all saying that, now we’re mums, there’s no way in the WORLD that we’d buy cigarettes for a child who was underage and that when we look back, it was terrible of us to have been coercing adults into our naughtiness, but it’s a prime example of how our views have changed with our personal circumstances.

Last week was Sausage’s school disco and it’s kind of a tradition that I always go along and help out, usually on the stall which sells all the novelty neon crap that the kids absolutely lap up. I commented to another mum that there seemed to be a whole lot more make up, perfume, body glitter and skimpy clothing at this disco, which is mental given the fact that the oldest kids there would have been 9. I know they’re in the juniors now, but it seems like they’ve all suddenly taken a massive leap away from childhood and towards the hairy, scary teen years.

It got me to thinking; should I be letting Sausage experiment with these things more to help her to fit in? Obviously, my brain screamed ‘NO’ before the thought even completely formed, and here’s why: I firmly think that allowing her to wear make-up to events would be selfish of me. You see, I’m completely against it, so if I were to loosen the rules, the ONLY reason would be so that she’d think I was a “cool mum”. I’m sure she’d be thrilled if I let her leave the house in make-up, but who would ultimately benefit?

The thing is, for me, parenthood is about being the bad guy sometimes. I’m sure Sausage would think I was the best Mum ever if I suddenly became permissive and let her wear make up, skimpy clothes, forget her homework, generally get away with living the easy life. But as her mother, it’s ON ME (and Husband, obviously) to make sure she does things, no matter how much it might make her resent us or how horrible it feels to be the bad guy. And, I’ll go as far as to say that, sometimes, I really don’t give a toss how much they hate me – homework needs to be done, manners need to be remembered and some rules MUST be followed, no exceptions.

Don’t get the wrong, I’m not talking about being a hard-ass all the time; she’s a really good kid which means she often gets leniency just because we know she’s the sort of kid who won’t take a mile when given an inch. We use our judgement to decide what’s okay and what’s not and I’m sure that, sometimes, our version of okay is different to what other people might consider suitable (for instance, she’s a huge fan of Bob’s Burgers, which is probably not aimed at her age group but we know she’s mature enough to deal with the slightly more grown-up themes in some episodes).

The main thought that I can’t shake is simply that Mums aren’t supposed  to be cool. Sure, there are times when mine and Sausage’s interests overlap but largely, kids are supposed to cringe at their hideously outdated parents. As a person, I’m not trying to appeal to a 7-year-olds sensibilities and I feel like it would be really weird if I did. It’s one thing to enjoy watching Harry Potter together, but it’s quite another when you realise that the parent is actually sadly immature and is trying to avoid being a grown-up!

However, the fact is, as parent, it’s our job to make the tough decisions, to be the ones to guide the girls in right or wrong and to make them do the things they don’t want to do, regardless of how much it might make them hate us, or how ‘uncool’ we seem. So, you see, I’m absolutely FINE with not being a ‘cool’ mum, because that means that I’m being a good Mum. What do you think? Is it possible to be “cool” and consistent? Do you go our of your way to be a cool Mum or would you rather be seen as a stuffy old adult if it means your kids are safe and happy? I’d love to hear what you think, so do leave me a comment below.

“You Look Like a Girl”

boy dressed as princessThe other day, I needed to buy some new pillows so I went to the supermarket and was wandering around the clothing and home wares department having a browse. It was pretty quiet in there as it was only about 9.15am and there were only one or two other shoppers in the whole place. One other customer was a woman, probably in her mid-to-late twenties and her son, who obviously wasn’t quite school age yet, but still looked roughly 4-ish.

The kid was wandering around fairly unchecked and at one point started to try things on from one of those free-standing jewellery and accessory displays that turns – you know the ones, right? Anyway, he became particularly enamoured with a pair of novelty sunglasses which had red, heart-shaped frames. He put them on and after admiring himself in the tiny mirror for a few seconds, turned to his Mum and, with huge amounts of pride and happiness said “Mum! Look at me! I love these glasses!”.

The mother turned to him, narrowed her eyes and with pure vitriol in her voice said “Oh my god, take those off, you look like a girl”.

My initial reaction was one of sadness as I watched the boy, clearly deflated after being rebuffed by the mother from whom he’d so wanted a little bit of praise and affirmation, take off the glasses and put them gently back on the shelf. He looked really sad, and not in that “I wanted something and Mum wouldn’t buy it for me” way that kids do, but in a genuinely confused and upset way.  But the more I’ve thought about it, the madder I’ve felt.

Firstly, what is it about red, heart shaped glasses which is designated as a GIRLS ONLY thing? Even if you do subscribe to the (bloody annoying) notion that colours are somehow gendered, surely red is a pretty neutral colour? And hearts…I mean, do only girls have hearts?! Err, no.

Secondly, even if you do think that red, heart shaped glasses are ‘girly’, SO WHAT if he does look like a girl? How is that somehow a negative thing? Is it really so bad to let a child experiment with what they feel comfortable in and form their own notions of femininity and masculinity? I know loads of guys (Husband included on one or two occasions) who’ve worn pink and absolutely rocked it. They didn’t look like girls, they looked like MEN IN PINK, just like this little boy simply looked like a boy in heart-shaped glasses. There’s a big difference.

Also, I genuinely thought we were getting past the days of negative gender stereotypes? I see little boys on my friends’ Facebook timelines playing with dollies, pushchairs, vaccums, ironing boards; all toys which, even in my lifetime, would have firmly been in the girls toys aisle and equally, I see MANY girls playing with Thomas the Tank Engine – Burrito Baby got her own tool kit and farm vehicles for her 2nd birthday whilst Sausage’s favourite things are Pokemon, Match Attax and her NERF guns. But these are “boys toys”, no? Or, is it possible, that we can just have fun with things we like, regardless. Well, yes, obviously it is.

It makes me so sad to think that little boys are having their joy, their individuality and their creativity squashed by parents with an archaic notion of what it is to be a boy and I really dread to think about the issues that this could cause them as they grow up. As a parent, I strongly believe that, although it’s our job to guide our children in terms of morality, safety and care, it’s also really important to allow them to develop their sense of self.

What do you think? Would you allow your sons to wear red, heart-shaped sunglasses? Or do you think that boys should be boys and girls should be girls and that the old-fashioned line in the sand between the two genders should remain? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Slow Cooker Chorizo Stuffed Chicken with Ratatouille

Stuffed Chicken and Slow Cooker Ratatouille

Things have been a bit hectic in the Mum’s the Word house since Sausage went back to school; first, the girls were poorly (tonsilitis), then I was poorly (gall bladder) and then the car decided to go kaput, leaving us unable to make regular trips to the shops, so we were living on what we had in the cupboards and as a result, my slow cookers have been rather neglected! Yesterday, I decided that I needed to get back into slow cooking again with something completely new, so I tried a recipe that I’ve been seeing on Facebook for a while and thought I’d share it here. I’m struggling with a succinct name for the whole dish, but it basically consists of chicken stuffed with chorizo and cream cheese on a kind of slow-cooked ratatouille concoction! Here’s how we made it:

Stuffed Chicken with Slow Cooker Ratatouille
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Chicken breasts, stuffed with chorizo and cream cheese, slow cooked on a bed of ratatouille.
Author:
Recipe type: Slow Cooker
Cuisine: Mixed
Serves: 4 portions
Ingredients
  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1 tub cream cheese
  • 12 slices of chorizo
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 1 punnet mushrooms
  • 300ml passata
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • New potatoes, to serve
Instructions
  1. Chop your onions, peppers and mushrooms and place in the bottom of your slow cooker
  2. Add the paprika to the passata and pour the passata over the veg mix
  3. Take your chicken breasts and slice ¾ of the way through the breast diagonally
  4. Open the flap in the chicken breast and stuff with 1 tablespoon of cream cheese and 3 slices of chorizo
  5. Close the flap over the stuffing and and place on top of the veg and passata in the slow cooker
  6. Cook on low for 4 hours
  7. Serve with new potatoes or side of your choice (would work well with sweet potato wedges, too!)

The end result was wonderful – the veg and passata were tender and fresh-tasting, while the cheese and chorizo gave the chicken a creamy, smoky quality which went really well with the ratatouille. Sausage wasn’t a huge fan because she hates mushrooms but it was a winner with the rest of us and will definitely be made again. It would go well with a number of different sides too, making it a pretty versatile, easy-to-make dish and I’m also pretty sure it contains several of your 5-a-day. Let us know what you think!

 

Health and Safety Poster Competition

As parents, Husband and I do our best to instil a lot of common sense in the girls, especially when it comes to their perception of danger. Health and safety is so important and being able to rely on ones own sense of what’s right and wrong is hugely important and will set them up for adulthood. According to Accident Advice Helpline thousands of people suffer accidents and ill-health while at work most of which can be avoided. Obviously it’s the responsibility of any employer to ensure the safety of their workers, but this doesn’t always happen.

It’s funny to think about how adults and children perceive danger so differently. Burrito Baby is going through a particularly intrepid phase at the moment. Wait, who am I kidding? This phase has been going on since the moment she was able to move around by herself! I’ll never forget sitting here, typing on my laptop much like I’m doing now, with BB playing on the floor by my feet. One moment she’s there and the next I see her out of the corner of my eye using our clothes airer as a ladder! I joke that BB will turn me grey one day, but I’m not sure it’s that far from reality!

Sausage, on the other hand, is my cautious, sensible child who would never take a risk like that, but I do sometimes wish that she was less worrisome and let herself go a little more. As much as we’re teaching the girls what’s sensible, I also think that kids definitely need to throw themselves around a bit in order to properly BE kids.

On that note, Accident Advice Helpline is organising a competition for kids to get involved in. They are inviting children under the age of 16 to create a poster highlighting anything to do with health and safety and how accidents can be prevented. The website says:

The winner will be awarded a £100 Amazon Voucher and one runner up will receive a £25 Amazon voucher. Enter your poster by posting it on Twitter using the hashtag #aahhealthandsafety or emailing your poster to aahhealthandsafetyposter@gmail.com . All posters must be received by midnight on May 21st 2016 to be in with a chance of winning. And make sure you keep an eye out on our social media channels where we will feature our favorite entries.

Further terms and conditions of the competition can be found here.

Sausage is midway through designing her poster at the moment and won’t let me see what she’s up to until it’s done, but I’ll be sharing her entry with you once it’s all submitted!

How Modern Life Helps Us To Be Better Parents

Me, the lilac shell-suit, circa 1989...Me, the lilac shell-suit, circa 1989…

Growing up in the Eighties and Nineties, there are huge elements of my childhood which would seem unbelievably alien to children of my kids’ generation, for better or for worse. Lots of people focus on the negative sides of modern life and it’s effect on childhood, but I was thinking about some of the ways that modern life actually allows us to be better parents than previous generations, and I thought I’d share some of them with you.

Smoking

If, like I did, you grew up in a family of smokers, there’s a good chance that you were exposed to a LOT of second-hand smoke. I remember sitting at the table in my Nan’s house, surrounded by no less than 5 adults, all puffing away. These days, we have a lot more knowledge about the damage that second hand smoke does, and have brilliant things like a ‘vaping kit‘ which allows grown ups to get their nicotine fix without putting the kids’ health at risk.

Communicating

When I was little, kids were allowed to play out in the street or parks and once you left the house, that was it – the only way you could be contacted is if your Mum came to the park in her pinny and slippers to shout “YOUR DINNER IS READY!” from the gate. Now, we’ve got mobile phones which means we can keep in touch at the touch of a screen and even have apps which allow us to see the exact location of our kids at all times.

Information

Homework is an arduous task for any generation, but the availability of information these days is SO much better. In the 90’s, very few people had home internet so if you needed to know something you either went to the library or looked it up in the (very probably out of date) encyclopedias if your parents had them. Now, parents are able to wow their kids with their ability to help with homework from any internet-enabled device.

Health

Aside from the aforementioned encyclopedias, and perhaps a bit of hand-me-down knowledge from your Nan, anything health related was a matter for a doctor. Now, I’m not saying that internet diagnosis is always a good thing but I see SO many Mums getting their minds put at rest through Facebook groups and online forums and it means that we don’t have to drag out kids to the germ-infested doctors waiting room, only to be told it’s just a viral rash.

Entertainment

In the Nineties, unless you were one of the very privileged few who could afford satellite TV, kids programmes were confined to a couple of hours after school, before Neighbours (or Home and Away, if you were a CITV kid…) and the 6 ‘o clock news came on. Now, we’re able to provide our kids with 24 hour entertainment, if we want to, thanks to the myriad kids channels, Netflix, Amazon Prime and even YouTube, making our generation the official busters of boredom!

Slow Cooking Do’s and Don’t’s

Slow cookingOver the past few months, I’ve become slightly obsessed with slow cooking. It’s really invigorated my interest in doing things in the kitchen and has made me so much more adventurous with the things that I’ll attempt to make. It also saves time AND money; a slow cooker is cheaper to run even over the course of 6 hours than a conventional oven is to run for one hour, and often the cheaper cuts of meat are the ones which lend themselves best to ‘low and slow’.

With all this in mind, I thought I’d give you a few of the do’s and don’t’s that I’ve picked up over the last few months of reading and researching slow cooking recipes and methods so that you can, as they say, learn from my fails!

Slow Cooking Do’s and Don’t’s:

Do: read the manual! Slow cookers often vary from brand to brand and things that you can do with one slow cooker may not apply to another – for instance, some pots will crack if no liquid is added while others will be fine.

Don’t: put it in the fridge. The ceramic part of your pot can crack if put into a cold fridge and a cracked slow cooker is the saddest thing of all!

Don’t: cook meat from frozen. I know there are a LOT of people who say that it’s fine to slow cook from frozen but I’ve also seen lots of compelling evidence which says that, on a scientific level, the slow cooker just doesn’t heat the meat quickly enough and allows bacteria to grow. People will tell you that it’s fine to do it, but for me it’s not worth the risk.

Don’t: Add milk or cream to a recipe until about half an hour before you want to serve. I’ve seen SO many pictures of potentially lovely meals which have been ruined by split or curdled dairy products.

Don’t: Be afraid of cornflour. People have had disasters when adding it as a powder but mix it into a paste before you add it to the pot and it will really help to thicken meals which have ended up too watery.

Do: Think about fat. Lots of people (me included) adopt a ‘chuck it all in’ attitude and hardly ever brown things off, but this can often leave you with a layer of fat on top of the finished meal. Browning things first allows you to drain fat before you add it to the slow cooker if you don’t want your food to be too fatty.

Don’t: Be afraid to try things! Some of the best things I’ve cooked in my slow cooker have some from chucking things in and giving them a go.

Do: Allow your pot to cool before you wash it. Adding water to a ceramic pot which is cooler than its own temperature can also cause cracks.

Don’t: Use a slow cooker to reheat leftovers. Things which have been cooked and then cooled need to be reheated thoroughly, quickly and evenly, and a slow cooker just doesn’t get things up to temperature quick enough.

Do: Make sure you check that the electrical cable isn’t underneath the pot while you cook as this can be a fire hazard.

Don’t: Add too much liquid. Slow cookers aren’t the same as cooking on a hob and all of the moisture that you add at the beginning will effectively stay in the pot because of the lid. Also, most foods tend to contain liquid which will cook out and add to the overall moisture of the dish.

Don’t: Overfill your pot. I once spend 8 hours waiting for a lamb stew to be ready, only to find the meat half cooked and the root veg hard because I’d put too much in for the heat to be able to distribute through the cooker.

Do: Think about layers. Things like potatoes, swede and carrot are dense and will take longer to cook than meat, so add them to the bottom of the pot as they’ll be closer to the heat and will cook for longer.

Do: Try not to lift the lid too often! The inside of your slow cooker is a little hot-house for your dinner and every time you lift the lid, you let some of that heat out!

Do you have any other amazing slow cooking tips? I’d love to hear them.

(Big thanks to my fellow Fun Slow Cooker Saddos for their input!)