The Downsides of Living in the Country

Living in the CountrySince we moved to a more rural location, back in September, I’ve been effusive in my praise of living out in the country, and while I’m still absolutely in LOVE with where we live, I thought I’d let you know about some of the minor down-sides, for the sake of balance. I wouldn’t change our location for all the tea in China (unless someone wants to give us a Maldivian island to live on?!) but I thought it might be useful to anyone who’s dreaming of the simpler life to see the realities of rural living before they take the plunge.

Wind

This may seem like a really  odd one, but the wind out here in the country is BONKERS. I’m not taking a little gust every now and then, I’m talking full-on gale force on a regular basis. Because we’re totally exposed with flat, open farmland at the front AND back of the house, the wind is free to blow completely unhindered and we’ve woken up to missing roof tiles, flying wheelie bins and once last week, it was so strong it somehow managed to suck our loft hatch open from the inside!

Roadkill

If you’ve read my previous post about roadkill, you’ll know that this is a particular hotspot for me, but seeing dead things on an almost daily basis (I saw a pheasant which had been run over today, it’s long tail feathers splayed in a darkly comical fashion) really brings you face to face with mortality, which can not only be a drain on your own mental health but can also be tricky to deal with if you’ve got kids.

Isolation

Isolation is both one of the reasons that I adore this house and one of the down sides, all at once. On the one hand, I could not be happier to never hear buses go past, or drunks stumbling past at 1am, or any of the other things that I hated about our last house. On the other, it can be tricky in terms of the fact that I need to use the car to go ANYWHERE practical. There are some gorgeous places to walk around here but they don’t really lead anywhere…shops and schools and civilisation are all a car journey away.

Lack of Services

It’s not just lack of local shops which hinder you out in the country. We’re not on a main gas supply, which means we have to order (and pay for!) our gas in bulk, to be delivered to a tank at the back of the house. Same with internet; the only services we can get offer up to a MAXIMUM of 4MBPS, which is desperately slow, especially for a family who rely so heavily on the internet for work, streaming and everything else. We knew it would be slow before we moved and decided that we were prepared to make the minor sacrifice, but it does get a little frustrating at times!

Cost

Living away from the main drag often means that rents are lower, and that’s certainly the case here, but there are other costs to factor in, such as extra fuel. All in all, I think we’re still probably saving money by living here, but it does mean we’ve (and by “we”, I mean Husband because I am appalling with money) had to be more on-the-ball with money so that we always have fuel for the car, etc.

Saving Money Around the Home

Save money by washing your own car. Despite my unhealthy relationship with almost daily trips to Waitrose, I am a gal who likes to make a saving (and in my defense, my of my Waitrose obsession is thanks to the FREE coffee and newspapers!). I’ve been making a few little changes here and there lately which have helped us to conserve the pennies, which over the course of a year will hopefully turn into pounds, and here’s just a few of them:

Energy Efficient Bulbs

Switching out your regular bulbs for energy-efficient ones (Bulbs2Go offer a great range) can save you a surprising amount of money – according to current research, replacing your bulbs can save you around £100 a year, which is pretty significant!

Only Use What You Need

This may seen like an obvious one but only using what you need of something can really help you to save. For instance, only filling the kettle with the exact amount of water you need means you aren’t spending money to heat water unnecessarily. Equally, I know SO many people who just chuck in a capful of washing gel or softener, when most of the newer concentrated solutions actually need far less for a whole wash. Measure properly and I guarantee it’ll last longer.

Turn Off Radiators

If you have rooms of the house, i.e. a dining room or downstairs loo, which have radiators in them but hardly get used, turn the rads OFF! Paying to heat spaces which are rarely occupied is a false economy and you can always turn them back up for half an hour before dinner so that it’s cosy while you’re in the room.

Get Selling

So many of us have got clutter sitting around, taking up space and hardly being used. Be ruthless and have a really good clear-out of the things you no longer use and work out what’s sellable. Facebook selling groups are an easy, commission-free way of making a buck off of your unwanted goods and you’ll be making money whilst decluttering your living space.

Do It Yourself

Do It Yourself doesn’t just apply to decorating and jobs around the home – take a look at areas where you’re paying someone to do something you’re capable of doing yourself and make a cut back. Buying expensive coffees on your way to work? Buy a travel mug and make your own. Paying someone to valet your car? Get your rubber gloves on and get stuck in! There are many things that you can do yourself rather than paying and if you have the time you can make a huge saving.

Valentine’s Gift Ideas

Lovehoney lickable candleOkay, so I realise I wrote a post last week talking about how most people simply wanted time with their partners for Valentine’s Day, but no-one specifically said that they DIDN’T want an actual gift! With that in mind, I thought I’d give you a few suggestions for the big day:

Something Naughty

We’re all grown-ups here, we can talk about sex toys without blushing, right? Right?! No? Okay, well that’s fine because Lovehoney is the perfect way to buy sex toys and other naughtiness with complete discretion. You can buy online in the privacy of your own home and the packaging is always a plain brown box, saving your blushes! Plus, there are some great Lovehoney voucher codes around to help you get a bargain.

A Promise

Cinema vouchers, in my opinion, are a really nice Valentine’s gift as they’re basically the promise of future date nights. If you’re busy people or parents, getting yourself out of the house for some dedicated alone time might not always be a priority, but if you have some vouchers sitting around it might give you the impetus you need to do something together.

A Recipe

Cooking a meal for someone is really nice, but cooking together can actually be really fun and rewarding. When you write their Valentine’s card, print off either a menu for dinner or the recipes and slip them inside, then have all of the ingredients ready for an evening of culinary togetherness.

Something Personal

Now that Google is a thing, it’s really easy to find map co-ordinates. If you have a special place, for instance the place you met or the place that you got married, you could have the co-ordinates printed on a small canvas. It will look like a jumble of numbers to anyone else, but you and your loved one will know that it represents somewhere very special.

Consideration

Sometimes, it doesn’t take lavish gifts and spa days to make someone feel special, just a few hours of letting them get their own way! Declare your other half to be “King/Queen for a Day” (or President, if you’re a republican!) and allow them to make ALL of the decisions; they get to choose what’s for dinner, what TV you watch, whether they get to sit in their favourite armchair. Little considerations like this can make someone feel very special indeed and it costs basically nothing.

What are you hoping for, for Valentine’s Day?

Slow Cooker Lava Cake

I have to say it: I am becoming a slow-cooker obsessive. Since Husband bought a Crock Potfor me about a month ago, I’ve cooked about a dozen meals in it, getting slightly more adventurous each time. Last night, I tried making dessert in it for the first time and I was so impressed with how easy it was and how well it turned out that I thought I’d share it with you. Behold, the LAVA CAKE!

slow cooker lava cake

What this picture is not showing you is that although it looks like a humble sponge cake, there is actually molten goodness inside (hence lava cake…), like a low-effort chocolate fondant, if you will. But, I cannot stress how easy this is to make.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 package of chocolate sponge mix (we used Betty Crocker as it was all they had in the Co-Op at 4pm on a Saturday) plus the wet ingredients stated on the box (I think it’s eggs, oil and water)

1 package of Angel Delight (we used butterscotch and it worked SO well!) plus 300ml milk

Chocolate chips or chunks (I used a bag of milk and a bag of white chocolate chunks)

  • Grease your slow cooker with a little oil spray or butter
  • Mix up your cake batter and pour it into the slow cooker
  • Mix up your Angel Delight, leave to thicken for 5 minutes and then pour directly on top of your cake batter in the slow cooker
  • Sprinkle you chocolate chips evenly over the top of the mixtures
  • Cook on high for 1.5 to 2 hours
  • Serve with custard or ice cream and try not to make inappropriately lustful noises whilst eating.

It really is as simple as “chuck it all in and wait”, which is my favourite type of dessert. We got 6 massive portions out of ours, or 8 reasonable portions, and although it may not be the best looking dish once it’s served up, I’d be more than happy serving it to guests as it’s so damn tasty! I’m going to experiment with different flavours too; I’m thinking vanilla sponge and strawberry Angel Delight next time!

Have you made this before? What flavours did you use? Leave me a comment below!

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Slow Cooker Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs (recipe)

Just after Christmas, Husband bought me a slow cooker. I’ve been wanting one for absolutely ages, so I was super thrilled, especially as be bought me one which is 6.5l, meaning I can cook large meals and freeze some or feed a lot of people at once. I’ve been perusing various slow cooker groups on Facebook and found lots of recipes that I wanted to try, with slow cooker meatballs being one of the main ones, but a lot of the recipes I found have been American ones with ingredients that aren’t that common here in the UK, so I thought I’d modify the recipes and come up with my own! Bear in mind that this recipe makes 32-33 pretty large meatballs (I managed 5 and I have a HUGE appetite!) so you could easily halve the recipe if you’re cooking for few people or make the full batch and freeze what you don’t use.

Slow Cooker Meatballs

Slow Cooker Mozzarella-Stuffed Meatballs
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
These slow-cooked meatballs are full of flavour and oozy, melted mozzarella!
Author:
Recipe type: Slow Cooker
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 32 meatballs
Ingredients
  • 750g beef mince
  • 300g pork sausage meat
  • 2 balls of mozzarella
  • 2 slices of bread, blended to make breadcrumbs (I used the knobbies from a loaf)
  • 2 eggs
  • salt
  • basil
  • oregano
  • garlic powder
  • pepper
  • 2 jars of your favourite 800g tomato-based pasta sauce (or your own home-made sauce, whichever you have time for)
  • Pasta of your choice to serve
Instructions
  1. Place the mince and sausage meat into a large bowl and start to combine using your hands (you might want to remove your rings at this point!)
  2. Add in the breadcrumbs and eggs and continue to mash it all together with your hands, adding in about a teaspoon of each herb as you go (more or less, depending on your tastes)
  3. Squeeze your mozzarella inside a clean tea towel to remove any excess moisture and chop into cubes around half an inch square
  4. Take a dollop of your well-combined mixture and make a patty about the size of your palm and 1cm deep
  5. Place a square of mozzarella in the middle of the patty and bring the edges in, squashing the meat together to form the ball.
  6. Refrigerate for a couple of hours to help the balls retain their shape
  7. If you want to eat at around 6pm, I'd recommend starting to cook them at 2pm
  8. Place a layer of meatballs in the bottom of your slow cooker and cover in the first jar of sauce.
  9. Add another layer of meatballs and add the next jar of sauce. I dont recommend stirring at this point because you risk damaging the meatballs, but gently using a spoon you can distribute the sauce evenly to make sure everything is covered. There's no need to brown them first.
  10. Cook on LOW for 4 hours
  11. Once you're ready to serve, you may find a layer of fat which has come from the cooking meat and cheese and I just skimmed this off with a spoon before serving.

Without withing to sound SUPER arrogant, these meatballs were AMAZING! Husband declared it the best thing I’ve cooked in the slow cooker to date and the kids absolutely wolfed it down. Husband and I even had a midnight snack of meatball subs made from the leftovers (DON’T JUDGE US!!), and I’d totally recommend that as an alternative serving suggestion to pasta. If you shop around and find good deals, this is a relatively cheap meal given the yield and you can season the meatballs exactly to your tastes, which is handy if you’ve got fussy eaters – Husband has requested jalapenos in his ones next time I make them!

Let me know if you use my recipe to give these a go and how they turn out, I’d love to hear about it and see your pictures.

What Women and Men REALLY Want for Valentine’s Day (and it’s probably not what you think!)

Valentine's DayEvery year, starting around Christmas time (I got my first one on Boxing Day!), I start getting a slew of emails from PR companies about the ‘perfect gift’ for him or her that their client has released for Valentine’s Day. They range in price and quality from tiny trinkets to clusters of diamonds and everything in between, many emblazoned with declarations of forever love. Every year, I wonder if this is really what people want for Valentine’s Day? For me, V-Day is a bit of a Hallmark Holiday (generated to sell cards and flowers without any real substance) and, maybe because I’m lucky enough to have a Husband who can be thoughtful all year round, I don’t put a lot of stock in the whole charade.

I thought I’d take to Facebook and ask others, both men AND women if they’re getting what they REALLY want for Valentine’s Day and the answer was genuinely a surprise. Here are some of the replies:

“All I want is a date night. I know I sound like a prick but quality alone time with my husband is my favourite thing!”

I just want someone to babysit so I can have some time with my husband, I don’t need a present or anything, just his time”

“Hubby and I have been together for 12 years and we have always said that we should show each other love everyday not just one day of the year.  We are fully aware that prices are bumped up for that day too. We used to get each other a card and re use them with a new written message each year until they were full. Now we have children we make cards to each other with their help. We are happy with a take away so no one has to wash up, a bottle of bubbly stuff and a movie. We make sure we are both free that evening to spend together. The kids and I usually make some valentines cakes or cookies or something. (I did get an eternity ring one year though!)”

“Don’t give two hoots about Valentine’s Day but wouldn’t mind a break on Mother’s Day!”

“I’d want a voucher for a day out such as a spa or concert or theatre or even cinema! Maybe some sort of activity like segway/quad bike (don’t mind, I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie!) basically a day evening out just me and the hubby.”

I’m hoping for a trip to cinema with my other half to see Deadpool – so romantic!”

“I’m taking my hubby to see Rihanna for Valentines day; belated as she doesn’t tour till June!”

“I get flowers every year which I love and I cook dinner just for the two of us. We make a bit of an effort to get dressed up. Bottle of wine and then a film.”

“Date night.”

“Married 15 years and don’t really do anything, but if I had to choose I would love a cleaner for the day”

“An afternoon & evening together without the kids! As much as I love them dearly…”

“A day off. Just me and him, no kids or school runs or business to run, just pjs and TV. I might not even talk to him, but merely coexist with him in blissful work/business/child free serenity…A girl can dream…!”

I think the most remarkable thing about all of these comments is that not one person has mentioned flashy jewellery, perfume, flowers, any of the usual things. All they seem to want is time. As a parent, I know how it feels to be “time-poor”, and Husband and I often remark about how we feel like ships passing in the night sometimes, even though we both work from home and probably spend more time than your average couple in the same place. It’s about the QUALITY of time that you spend together, I think.

And as for the men? Well, one requested a night with Rihanna, one replied with an answer that I simply couldn’t publish on a family blog and my own Husband said “nothing really…no fuss”, so I think that adequately illustrates the mars/venus analogy!

What do YOU want for Valentine’s Day?

Pyjamas on the School Run

school runUnless you live in a cave with no internet access, you’ll likely have seen the stories all over the news about one headteacher who came out to slam the school run mums who have been wearing their PJ’s for the morning drop-off. She reportedly sent a text to parents stating “have noticed that there has been an increasing tendency for parents to escort children to and from school while still wearing their pyjamas and, on occasion, even slippers. Could I please ask that when you are escorting your children, you take the time to dress appropriately in daywear that is suitable for the weather conditions?”

It’s one of those topics that pops up every now and again, usually in a Mumsnet community thread, where everyone will air their opinions, but for a headteacher to now comment, the debate seems to have been lifted to a new level.

I have a love/hate relationship with the school run. On the one hand, I hate the stresses of getting both girls ready in time, piling them into the car on cold mornings and eventually having to say goodbye to Sausage for six and a half hours, 5 days a week. Having said that, we also get some really nice time together to chat, listen to music and connect for little while, which is something I love. Now that we live further away from school, we have to leave the house at 8am every day in order to beat the traffic and get a parking space within a decent distance of the school, so our school run is over an hour by the time I get back home in the mornings, meaning we have to get up earlier than ever.

I think I speak for a LOT of stay-at-home Mums when I say that getting ME ready in the mornings is an absolute last priority on the list. When you’ve got children who need to be fed, watered, clothed, hair brushed, bags packed, various bits of homework remembered, drinks bottle filled, and myriad other things, being presentable myself is only just about on the radar. If I were going straight to work or out for some important engagement after the school run, things might be different, but if it’s a toss-up between an extra five minutes in bed or putting on mascara, I know which one I’ll choose.

I also feel that, as long as Sausage is cared for and presented to school on time and in order, what the hell does it matter what I look like? I’m not there for a fashion parade and I certainly don’t care what anyone else is wearing. Headteachers are certainly not paid to judge parents unless it’s a matter of welfare for their pupils. I cannot help but think that the headteacher who spoke out did so on a popularly contentious subject knowing that they’d get their five minutes of fame from it all.

Having said all of that, I do think there’s something a little off about pyjamas in the playground. It doesn’t take much to stick on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, even if you have a shower once you get home. It definitely sends a message to the kids that it’s okay to have low standards – I wouldn’t take Sausage or BB anywhere in their pyjamas but if they were to see me doing it they’d get the impression that it was an okay thing to do.

What do you think? Should teachers keep their opinions to themselves? Are we all just busy mums trying to stay on top of everything? Should we be showing our kids that we value ourselves a little bit more by taking even 5 minutes for ourselves? I’d love to know what you all think so please leave me a comment below.

Pink Clove Plus Size Clothing Review

A little while ago, a company called Pink Clove got in touch and asked if I would like to select an outfit from their New Arrivals range. Given the fact that I recently had to throw a load of clothes away which were either too big or had holes in them, I said yes! They asked me to pick three items and this is what I chose:

Pink Clove

The Pink Clove Plus Kyra Belted Duster Coat, the Pink Clove Plus Alice Shoestring Cami Vest in Grey and the Pink Clove Plus Izzy Utility Ponte Combat Trouser in Black.

All of the items arrived really quickly and were nicely packaged, which I think is really important when you’ve spent money on new clothes as you want them to feel a little bit special. The coat and trousers are actually made of a heavy jersey-type material, which means that they’re soft and comfortable, but because they’re well cut and detailed, they don’t look like loungewear. The vest impressed me, too; the material is quite heavy which means that it hangs really well. As a plus-size woman, it’s a real fine line between finding garments which hide all of my lumps and bumps and not looking like I’ve just draped myself in a one-man tent!

All of the items wash up really nicely – being the classy lady that I am, I wore the vest out to Sunday dinner the first time I wore it and managed to spill a huge splash of gravy down the front. Given the light grey colour, I was convinced that the gravy would stain but it actually came out on the first wash and looked good as new. As much as I like clothes to look nice and be stylish, the practicalities like this are really important too as I need things to be functional as a busy mum of 2.

Something else I liked was that actual cut of the clothes. Often, brands make ‘plus size’ versions of their styles without really taking into account different body shapes. Plus-size bodies aren’t just SIZED differently, they’re often proportioned differently in different areas and it felt like the Pink Clove clothing really took this into account. A lot of my weight is carried on my chest and tummy and the Pink Clove top and jacket seemed to fit really well in these areas.

All in all, I would definitely recommend Pink Clove to my plus-size readers and will definitely go back next time I need to buy some well-fitting, good quality clothing.

Being a Pedant.

I seem to have gained myself something of a reputation. I get tagged in memes on Facebook on an almost weekly basis, usually things along these lines:

grammar nazi

Now, I’d love to tell you that my reputation was totally unfounded and that I am, in fact, super easy going and rarely judgmental, but that simply isn’t the case. I am, by dictionary definition, a pedant:

Pedant

It’s not just spelling and grammar which draws my ire (although a recent post in a Facebook group I’m in which used the abbreviation “4t” in place of the word THOUGHT made me feel particularly cranky), it’s lots of things.

For example, last week Burrito Baby and I went to a baby singing class at our local library with my friend and her son for the first time, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Obviously, we were surrounded by a whole band of your typical ‘crunchy’ mums who dress their kids entirely in shades of brown and allow them out of the house without seeing either a brush or a flannel, but we had fun nonetheless.

The problem came, however, when someone pulled out an animal book and turned to a page bearing an image of a chimpanzee. She asked the kid to identify the animal and when he couldn’t she proclaimed “It’s a MONKEY!”. It took every ounce of strength for me to not rip the book from her hands and say “IT’S NOT A MONKEY, IT’S A FUCKING APE!”, but stop myself I did, not least of all to relieve my friend of the embarrassment of being seen in public with an utter lunatic. That was almost a week ago and it still keeps playing on my mind; I’m also not ashamed to admit that I’ve sporadically been checking with BB to ensure that she knows that a chimpanzee is an ape (yes, she knows the difference!).

What also keeps popping into my head though, is the question of WHY it matters so much to me? That other kid could quite happily navigate its entire life without needing to know that monkeys and apes are different creatures but it really matters to me that BB knows what is right. I think it stems from growing up being told that I was a clever child. When you’re “clever”, there’s a lot of pressure on you to be right and KNOW THINGS because it’s  just expected that you will. I also remember being mocked fairly mercilessly whenever I got something wrong; I was literally NEVER allowed to forget the fact that I mispronounced “Che Guevara” during a game of Trivial Pursuit at the age of about 7 and it was used as something to mock me with until I was almost 30. Even now, if Husband (my most trusted ally) tells me that I’ve got something wrong, the shame burns in me even though he’s never mocked or been derisive. I HATE appearing to be wrong or misinformed and I think this is why I expect others to be the same.

In the grand scheme of things, spelling and grammar may not be super important to someone else, nor might the differences between monkeys and apes or any other spectrum of (probably useless) knowledge that I’ve got squirreled away, but try as I might I just cannot stop caring about it all. Facebook still gives me rage almost every day because of stupid errors on memes and status udates and I still have a reputation of being a total Nazi about it all. As much as I’d love to be the person who’s known for being the funniest or most caring, I think we’ve gone past that point know and I’ll forever be known as that woman who judges people for their apostrophe usage. And, I think I’m okay with that.

Tell me I’m not alone! I can’t be the only person to whom these things matter a little more than they should?! Leave me a comment below (and I PROMISE I won’t be judging your spelling!).

 

Telling a Grown Up

It doesn’t matter what age you are when you finally tell someone that you were abused as a child, the questions are always the same; where, when, how, who…but perhaps the hardest question of all to answer is “why didn’t you tell a grown-up?”. It’s very difficult, as an adult, to look back and try to process the reasoning of a child. Aside from the fact that many survivors of abuse have huge chunks of repressed memories which don’t allow them to answer the questions, even if they wanted to, sometimes the overwhelming pressure which comes from being asked the questions in the first place is enough to render them unable to answer.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about these questions and I’ve come up with a number of reasons:

Fear

When you’re a child and these awful things are happening, there’s fear in all directions. Fear that the ramifications of telling someone about the abuse will be worse than the abuse itself, fear that you’ll upset people, fear that you’ll get into trouble and fear that no-one will believe you. If you keep the abuse hidden until you’re an adult, your thought processes are different but the fear is still there. You also, as an adult, have the added fears of being dragged through the trauma all over again and potentially dragging people with you. I think I kept my childhood abuse hidden because I was scared that no-one would believe me or that I would somehow end up the villain in it all, and sadly I wasn’t wrong to suspect this.

Guilt

When you tell someone about what’s happened to you, one of the overwhelming feelings is guilt. Guilt at having to upset someone by telling them what has happened and having to put them through a horrible experience. Seeing their heartbreak, even though that heartbreak is FOR you, can be unbearable and sometimes it feels easier to internalize it all and not force anyone else to go through the horrible spectrum of emotions that they might have to go through.

Disbelief 

When you’ve been abused by a manipulative older person, you’re often left feeling as though the abuse was somehow your fault or that you’ve somehow encouraged it, or even that you’ve overblown it in your mind and that it’s not worth telling anybody. This is never usually the case but when you’re dealing with something by yourself for a matter of decades it’s really easy to let the disbelief creep in.

 I’m sure there are a million other reasons for not “telling a grown up” or even telling your peers once you’re an adult but these are just a few that spring to mind. If you’re ever in a position where you have to ask someone “WHY”, use one of these answers as your guide, rather than putting it on the person who’s been mistreated.

If you’re an adult who’s dealing with the effects of historical abuse, you can contact The Survivors Trust for support, advice and counselling. If you suspect that someone you know is a survivor of abuse, one of the most important thing you can do is treat them gently. Don’t ask questions which could trigger bad memories and allow them to take the lead. They may not talk to your right away (they simply may not be able to find the words) but if you let them know that you’re a willing pair of ears, they may open up.