“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!)

Easter – Is it Becoming Christmas 2.0?

Easter EggsEaster has been and gone and there’s still an absolute TON of chocolate adorning my sideboard – you know it’s Easter week when even the kids are bored of the sight of chocolate! I’m doing my best not to help  them with finishing it, but I’m fighting a losing battle really…BB can be VERY forceful if she wants to share something (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it). Obviously, we’re totally secular in our family, so Easter is nothing more than an excuse for a nice roast dinner and a lot of chocolate, but I’ve noticed that it’s becoming a huge deal, all of a sudden, like some sort of Christmas 2.0.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about how excessively commercialised Christmas has become in the last few years. Well, it’s ALWAYS been that way in my life time but now more so than ever. Christmas, when I was a kid, was two days of presents and food and that was basically it. Now, it’s Santa visits, craft workshops, advent calendars containing Lego or nail varnish, Christmas Eve boxes, co-ordinating pyjamas for the whole family…the list goes on, and Easter suddenly seems to be following suit.

 I saw so much hype surrounding Easter on Facebook and various groups that I’m in and I was genuinely shocked to see that it’s become such a huge thing. Suddenly, instead of one egg each from parents and any that kind relatives buy, people are doing huge baskets of eggs per child, and that doesn’t include the Easter egg hunts that everyone seems to be doing. I’ve even seen parents forgoing the chocolate altogether and buying TOYS for their kids for Easter.

It seems that you’re doing Easter all wrong if you don’t go to your local farm to see lambs being born, make home-made papier-mache Kinder eggs big enough to store a large toddler and fill it with surprise eggs (because, apparently, that’s THE thing to watch on YouTube now – kids unwrapping Kinder eggs. I know. GROAN) and jump wholeheartedly on the Easter bandwagon. What WAS a £1.50 per kid thing has suddenly become like Christmas 2.0.

I’m completely aware that what other people choose to do with their kids is absolutely none of my business, so feel free to take this whole post with a massive pinch of salt, but I do find the excessive nature of Easter quite negative. When I was a kid, I was happy with the one, maybe two eggs that I got from family and sometimes my Nan and Grandad would send me a fiver instead of an egg because they didn’t want to overload me with chocolate, and that was cool. Two weeks off of school with some chocolate in the middle. Why does it need to be so much more than that? Aren’t we giving our kids a very wrong message?

I won’t go into the religious side of that because, quite frankly, it’s not about that for most people and the actual celebration of Spring and fertility at this time of year FAR pre-dates Christianity. However, it’s becomes such a friggin’ carnival now that it won’t be long before we’re putting up whole houses full of decorations and wrapping presents for the kids to unwrap on Easter morning!

What do you think? Am I being a massive grump or do you find this new ‘Easter on Steroids’ thing totally distasteful? Leave me a comment below.

Make Dress Shopping a Doddle

I may not be the most girly of girls, but I really do love it when it gets to spring and summer so that I can start to wear dresses again. Don’t get me wrong, I wear dresses in autumn and winter too, but that’s always with tights or leggings – there’s nothing quite so nice as being able to get your legs out when the sun is shining!

Having said that, finding dresses which flatter my shape can be a tricky affair – I’m a classic apple shape, which means I carry the bulk of my weight on my chest and tummy, while my arms and legs are slimmer by comparison. Finding dresses to accomodate my bust, hide my tummy and NOT look like I’ve been draped in a tent isn’t the easiest task, which is why I’m pleased to have found Lyst.co.uk

Lyst is a site which remembers the way you shop and curates a personalised shopping experience just for you, suggesting items that you might like, a bit like a helpful friend or sister would! When you sign up, you get taken through a bunch of slides showing items from specific designers and asked if you like it or not and then based on these preferences, serves up a load of suggestions.

One of the things I love about it is the massively wide ranges of budget the site covers – I have to admit that I flinched a little when I saw the first dress it served up for me; no matter how beautiful it is (and, believe me, it is beeeeeeautiful), I’ll probably never spend £1022 on an Alexander McQueen frock. However, scroll down a tiny bit and there’s a bunch of stuff from ASOS, TopShop and Fashion Union which are far more suited to my price range.

The next part, however, is where Lyst really comes into its own. Each item has a button overlaid which gives you the option to “Lyst It” – click this button and you’ll have the option to add the item to any one of your bespoke lists. Wedding planning? Finding a holiday wardrobe? Trying to mix things up, style wise? Add it to a Lyst and you’ll be able to come back to it any time you like and either buy it or bin it. This is brilliant if you’re a window shopper and especially if you like to browse during that annoying week before payday where dress purchases are a thing of pure fantasy!

You can also look at other people’s Lysts, too…click on the image below to see my full Lyst!

Summer Dress Inspiration

Lyst

Head over to Lyst to make your own Lysts and for lots more fashion inspiration!

Getting Ahead with Tutor Hunt

Tutor HuntLiving where we do, the secondary school situation can be pretty competitive. We’re lucky enough to have two amazing girls schools nearby (one of which, my old school in fact, is ranked in the top 60 of the whole country!) and we’re hoping that Sausage will pass her 11+. The exam itself is said to have got a lot harder in recent years and I know that a lot of her peers will start receiving tutoring in the next year or so, to help improve their chances.

Tutor Hunt is a brilliant service which allows you to find a tutor in your area, letting you narrow down the choices to find exactly the right person for you. You can even find an online tutor so that, as with us, living remotely shouldn’t be an issue. It also allows you to narrow down the search by price range, which will allow you to only look at tutors you can afford, making life SO much easier.

The really unique thing about Tutor Hunt is that it’s not actually a tutoring service, it’s simply a matching service, so although there’s a small fee for matching you with a tutor, they won’t charge ongoing commission, which means that your tutor takes home every penny you pay, which ensures a really high standard of tuition (and is also great for motivating teenagers to study, at a later stage)

Tutor Hunts says “Most tuition agencies will select your tutor for you, based on who they think would be suitable. Tutor Hunt doesn’t work this way: we believe the parent, or the student themselves to be the best judge. They will know better than an agency assessor who is the right tutor for them.

Most agencies work by commission, taking a cut of the tutor’s earnings. This has the effect of driving up the tutor’s hourly rate considerably, as the tutor will seek to recoup their lost funds. This effectively passes the cost onto the student; and with ongoing lessons, the cumulative amount can be quite significant. The hourly rates of tutors signed up with Tutor Hunt are less than tutors working for agencies, as they are in complete control of their rates, we do not take any commission from them.”

One thing that we’re seriously considering is teaming up with another family to make tutoring a more affordable prospect for our families. One of my friends has a son who is in the same year of school as Sausage and his parents are also keen for him to attend a grammar school, so getting both kids tutored at the same time would be economical and convenient for all involved.

If you’re looking for a tutor or simply want to know more about the whole tutoring process, head over to the Tutor Hunt website for more details.

How Five Kinds of Massage Chairs Can Help a Mum Stay Healthy

There are days for any mum when you feel what you really need is several hours in a spa and an expert massage. Unless you’re a film star, it’s probably just a dream to have that on tap, but you could partly enjoy it with a massage chair.

Massage Chairs

Massage chairs have been around for some time, and earlier models had drawbacks, but the technology has vastly improved over the past decade or so. They’re popular all over the world — the BBC highlights how big they are in Singapore and other parts of Asia.

Like hands-on massage, a good massage chair can offer an impressive range of health benefits, from stress reduction to quicker healing from pulled muscles. As the Telegraph reported, they were incorporated into Britain’s first supermarket for the elderly.

It’s important to find not only a quality massage chair, but the right kind for your needs. If you’re unsure, back2.co.uk are a massage chair supplier with a range of chairs to choose from.

Five Kinds of Massage Chair

Back2 offers a number of brands and types of massage chair. These include:

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  • The Alpha Techo AT-90 is a basic, affordable massage chair offering a range of effective settings. It’s perfect if what you mainly want is to relax and de-stress, although it offers more advanced benefits. All the family can enjoy a massage from this chair.
  • The Inada FED-500, on the other hand, offers a high-end, comprehensive range of massage features and techniques, including shiatsu and rhythmic acupressure, either pre-programmed or customised.
  • The Human Touch ThermoStretch™ HT-275 combines heat and stretching techniques to offer a head-to-toe massage that can relieve stress, back pain and sore muscles.
  • The BackSaver Zero Gravity Massage Chair incorporates zero-gravity technology which was developed by NASA for their astronauts. The chair can benefit your sleep pattern, spinal health and blood pressure, among other things.
  • The Panasonic EP-MA59 Reclining Massage Chair represents a new generation of chairs, combining relaxation and ergonomic functions with a comprehensive suite of massage techniques, using automatic or voice guide systems. And, like all these chairs, it’s a beautiful piece of furniture that will look great in your home.

Prices range, reflecting the sophistication levels, but a basic massage chair should be within anyone’s reach. More advanced models represent a major investment, but as Janine Huldie points out, “Anyone who’s suffered from debilitating back pain will know that technology allowing you to lead a reasonably normal life is valuable beyond price.”

You and the whole family get to enjoy better health and feel more relaxed and invigorated as you face the stresses of life.

Slow Cooker Mongolian Beef

The beauty of slow cooking is that it’s often cheaper cuts of meat which respond really well to “low and slow”, which means that we can enjoy healthy, protein-rich meals without having to spend a fortune. I’m still using the slow cooker, on average, about 2-3 times a week so as well as saving on the actual meals, the cost of cooking is lower too as it’s much cheaper to run a slow cooker, even for 8 hours, than a conventional cooker.

Today’s experiment is Mongolian Beef; I’ve seen a few different recipes for this around the internet and they all call for brown sugar (a whole cup of it, no less…), which is something that Husband and I are trying to avoid at the moment, so as with the Pulled Pork, I replaced the sugar with erythritol to get the sweetness without adding sugar.

Slow Cooker Mongolian Beef

Here’s how I made it:

Slow Cooker Mongolian Beef
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A slow cooked beef dish with ginger, garlic and carrots.
Author:
Recipe type: Slow Cooker
Cuisine: Asian
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 800g diced beef
  • 2 tablespoons of Olive Oil
  • ¾ cup soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 cup erythritol
  • ¼ cup corn flour
  • 2 grated carrots
  • 3 spring onions, chopped
Instructions
  1. Place the beef into a ziplock bag with the corn flour and shake to completely coat the meat
  2. Place the meat in the slow cooker with the oil, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, chilli flakes, water and sweetener
  3. Cook on low for 6 hours
  4. Add the grated carrots half an hour before serving
  5. Serve with egg noodles or a side of your choice and garnish with the chopped spring onions

This is exactly my kind of slow cooker recipe – aside from a minimal amount of prep, it really is a kind of “chuck it all in and wait” dish, which makes it perfect for busy days. It’s really cold here today so getting through the door after a chilly school run and smelling our beef cooking away was truly dreamy!

I’ve never tried it with the brown sugar instead of the sweetener, so I can’t compare, but I have to say it was absolutely delicious, even without the sugar and I certainly wouldn’t ever bother making it the original way. The meat was incredibly tender after being cooked for so long and the depth of flavour was really impressive for such a simple recipe. The girls and Husband really loved it and overall, it was pretty cheap to make, if you’ve got a few basics in the store cupboard. This will definitely be one that we add to our regular dinners.

Have you tried Mongolian Beef? Let me know what you think!