Behind the lunch box

I am not someone who makes pack lunches very well.

It’s a simple but true fact. I think a lot about them – what to buy and how to make them. Yet, despite this huge amount of cerebral effort I still buy a jacket potato and beans most days at work.

I’m not sure why I never actually follow through. I can’t lie, part of it is effort but the rest is just a strange aversion to lunchboxes. Picnics I can do – because they are far more inclusive, a much more open door policy. A lunch box is personal.

Luckily Arthur is still at nursery so doesn’t need one yet but I have a growing dread about him starting school and most of it revolves around a lunch box. Well, to be truthful that, and the fact I will have to cook tea each evening.

This is far from a Bento-bashing post – I am in awe of people who put the time and effort into it. They have no more time that me, I am no less able than them and yet I flounder in the face of a lunch box. They have made it a nice thing to do and are much further down the road of acceptance than me.

Sometimes I find myself writing lists in my head of what I would put in my Arthur’s lunchbox. I tie myself in knots around veg portions vs fruit portions. Can I give him ham twice a week? Would he manage pasta salad. Do you make it at night or in the morning? But I never make myself a packed lunch – ever.

I don’t want him to grow up. Maybe my lunchbox phobia is all part of this. What if he can’t open his sandwiches or gets in a muddle and I’m not there. The simple fact may not be that I can’t make lunchboxes – more that lunchboxes are about freedom, exploring, going it alone and finding the world.

I want him to do it with a big happy Bento smile, fuelled with shaped sarnies and fun stuff to eat. I don’t want him to suffer at the hands of my neurosis. I have never been a lunchboxer but I think it’s time to try. I suspect all the greats in life have been lunchbox people, not reliant on shops or someone else but with forethought and foresight and a huge homemade sausage roll on the side.

I am not someone who makes packed lunches but I’m going to give it a shot and when the time comes, send my boy into the world for adventures and the best cheese sandwich I can muster.

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Book review: ‘I want to be a Witch’, by Ian Cunliffe.

As the nights start to slowly draw in and the weather turns from mild to crisp my thoughts turn to Halloween. If I’m honest my thoughts turn to chocolate and Downton Abbey but I do leave a little room for magical musings.
I love Halloween and so does Arthur, a chance to dress up, to feel a little spooked and enjoy stories of witches, wizards and magical worlds. When I was asked by Little Tiger Press, to review ‘I want to be a Witch’ it was a great opportunity to start the countdown to October 31st.

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The book, by Ian Cunliffe, talls the tale of a little girl who wants to be a witch. But she’s not too keen on all things witchy, namely green hair and hideous cauldron concoctions, so she makes up her own witchy rules.She wants the lovely bits, the star-covered hat, the magic wand and, of course, a flying broomstick.  It’s a lovely book, gentle, funny and easy to read. Arthur loves it and so far we’ve had it four days in a row. It’s a joy to read too as the imagery is so good – I love the cats and the bats.

Often he’s so active it’s hard to pin him down for half an hour unless he’s really tired but his love of books means he’s happy to submit if it’s worth reading. The fact he sat through this book twice in a row is praise indeed. It’s brilliant illustrations means we can create our own magic too – deciding what might be in the cauldron and asking who he would turn into a frog – seems it’s me every time!

It has a lovely rythmn with innocence and great charm. At £6.99 it’s a lovely addition to our book shelves.

 

 

Family Fever

Birds Eye’s After School Chefs challenge

Tea time in our house can be a battle ground.

I plan my attack the week before, make sure I have enough ammunition and take to the battlefield fully arms and optimistic that this week there will be clean plates and I will be victorious!

To be fair Arthur is a great eater and eats most things but…and it’s a big but. If he’s tired, in a mood or just feeling mischievous he will refuse to eat, scream for something else or generally make tea time ‘hell hour’.

Lately we’ve been getting slack on tea times, when we eat, how much we eat and letting Arthur rule the roost. I blame warm weather and days out!

So, when I was asked to take part in Birds Eye’s After School Chefs challenge it seemed like a great idea. I could temp Arthur with new stuff and make sure my freezer was always ready for action.

 BEFINISHED1I was so chuffed with what I got for my money. The iconic and rather yummy potato waffles, some lovely salmon fillets with lemon butter, chicken with ham and cheese, and obviously some peas and fish fingers! Plus, more fish fillets, chicken dippers, two kinds of veggie rice and southern fried chicken as well.

I’ve been trying so hard to get tea time back on track with a definite time – rather than some time between lunch and bed! My Birds Eye haul made this so much easier because, on nights I had worked late or we’d been out, I could open the freezer and whip up something yummy in minutes. 

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We loved the chicken filled with creamy cheese and ham – served with potato waffles and peas of course!

Arthur quickly fell in love with potato waffles and after the old school tea of fish fingers, waffles and peas he was pleading for more. So I jumped on this and promised him waffles later in the week if he ate all his teas.

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Can’t beat fishfingers waffles and peas!

It worked a treat and he was rewarded with poached eggs on waffles – he loved it and I had tea time envy!

A few evenings a week we eat as a couple when Arthur is in bed, because it’s not always practical to eat at 4.30pm. I wasn’t sure Birds Eye would have anything to satisfy me and the big boy but I was wrong.

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Late night supper – Birdseye comes up trumps again!

The pollock fillets in chilli and lemongrass were delicious and I served them with the golden mixed veg rice. It cooks in the microwave in four minutes and it’s a really generous portion – what’s not to like! Last night we had salmon fillets, potatoes and frozen peas – I have to mention the peas because they were delicious. I’ve tried loads of brands but the Birds Eye ones were sweet, fresh tasting and definitely worth adding to my shopping list.

My Birds Eye challenge opened my eyes to the products they have to offer while reigniting my childhood love of potato waffles! It also meant I was prepared for all tea time eventualities and gave me a chance to get back on track with timings.

Arthur was powerless in the face of my waffles and I feel like I’ve walked away from this challenge triumphant…and just a little bit in awe of the power of a good fish finger.

* This post is an entry for #Afterschoolchefs Challenge sponsored by Birds Eye. Learn more on the Birds Eye Facebook page.

Shock Doctor’s hinged knee support.

When I was asked to review Shock Doctor’s knee support I knew exactly who would try it out for me. In fact, I had two people in mind.

Arthur’s dad has a dodgy knee after years of skateboarding and now mountain climbing. My lovely dad, on the other hand has just started getting problems and it’s more to do general wear and tear, although he has definite cartridge damage.
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When it arrived it was clear this support meant business. With two straps and dual hinged areas it was the superhero of supports we’ve used previously. It offers lateral and medial support which, in layman’s terms, means it supports all around, not just front or sides.

Jonathan who’s tall and slim found the large size a little big but said the support was in exactly the right place and with the straps didn’t slip like other supports.

The material let’s your skin breathe and, while it’s fairly bulky, it keeps your leg cool. It also has antibacterial properties which reduces nasty odours. After two days of wearing it got a definite thumbs up with ‘ the ache definitely easing and it feels safe’. The sharp pain he’d felt when exercising and climbing also reduced and he said it gave him stability.

On to dad, he wore it for longer and walked to work in it. Again he was really impressed with the hold and said it gave him immediate relief from the ache he suffers. The hinges means it moves well with your body. But at times it did feel a bit bulky for walking to work and wearing daily. To be fair, it is designed as a specific exercise support.

Overall, the Shock Doctor support got a very positive response. It offered great support, superior to others they’ve tried and, while it’s not cheap, roughly £50, both chaps said it gave instant relief and worked with them when they were moving and both will be using it again.

Pleasurewood Hills – great family fun.

If you fancy a fun family day out in East Anglia – you can’t go too wrong with Pleasurewood Hills.

It’s been part of the landscape since I was a little girl and I can still remember holding my breath while I swung high over the rides on the ski lifts. They are still there and so is the sense of fun – but there’s a lot more to enjoy nowadays.

We were lucky enough to head to ‘The Hills’ with some friends for a review last weekend and while the sun wasn’t exactly shining, it was dry and the little people were excited. We turned up on a Saturday morning after an easy drive – it sits between Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft and was easy to find by car.

I know some of my friends have not ventured there yet as they think their children might not be old enough. All I can say is that there is more than enough to keep a pack of active three-year-olds entertained. With boat rides and Moby Dick to start we were in for a great day. Arthur loved the kiddies area and the pirate ship was a huge hit, so much so that he went on three times in a row!  pleasurewood6

We also sampled the flying elephants and Arthur took to the wheel behind the racing car – he was pretty impressive for three and managed to almost steer round the track! I couldn’t resist a go on the horses so hopped on with Arthur at the reigns – to be fair the horses just make me laugh!

 

pleasurewood5I didn’t make the log flume this time but it’s one of my old school favourites and I know I can still recommend it. The log flume sits next door to the newly opened Marbles Madness. This was fantastic and I can confirm you do feel like a marble rolling round the rails! There are sharp lefts and rights and drops which leave you gripping the bar!

There were loads of grass and picnic areas and you really don’t feel pressured to buy lunch. We found a spot and set-up camp while the chidlren went off playing and exploring. The big yellow and red slides were very popular too.

 

For me, no trip is complete without a ride round the site on the train. So all aboard, we got to see all the things we didn’t have time to do and as I looked up I made a mental note to revisit those ski lifts next time.

For me the highlights were the sea lion show and the parrot show. The children all loved watching Claude and George back flip through the water, balance balls and give themselves a round of applause. I loved that they were playing music from Rocky 4 during the intro – can’t beat a crowd-rousing 80s power tune!

The parrot show was surprisingly good too. I’d never been to this before but it was a lovely way to finish our day. Come on – Who doesn’t like a cycling parrot?! Arthur loved it, especially when they flew through the hoops close to his seat.

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We had a lovely day, it caters so well for all ages and we could’ve done loads more if we’d had more time. Parking is plentiful and easy and there are loads of toilets – all important things to think about when you’re bringing small children. It’s been around a long time but Pleasurewood Hills keeps getting better. So if last time you went you too were hanging precariously over the lake in a ski life – get down there again. You’ll love it and the children will http://wp.me/s3Q799-1862 a blast too.

Ravensburger educational flashcards

Last week we were sent some number and letter flashcards from Ravensburger to review.

Arthur is three-and-a-half and just starting to show an interest in letters so I was keen to try these out. My first letter flashcards are lovely quality, sturdy cards using pictures and words to help your child begin recognising letter and making connections between words and objects.

Arthur happily spent about half an hour going through the cards with me. We made up a game where I showed him the image and we had to shout out the word and see who was first. Then I turned it over to show him the word and slowly spelt it out for him.

 I was surprised how long he concentrated for and with 35 cards in a pack there were plenty to choose from.ravenswords

The number flash cards are great as Arthur is only just recognising numbers properly but he is really enjoying counting on his hands so I used this as an chance to explore his counting. We picked a card and together counted it out on his fingers. Again the cards were great quality, easy to use and I liked the simplicity of it. PLus the fact you can tailor it to your own child.

 

We created little games that suited us and it worked. They are educational but they can beravensnumber used in a fun way so Arthur never felt pressurised or like he was having to learn something. The nu,ber ones in particular will also last a long time as you can progress to simple sums when ready.  I will definitely be using them again to help build his confidence with words and numbers.

Parrot lady and the tale of the supermarket patrol man

Since reproducing I have discovered a new talent for invention.

The kind of invention of which Walter Mitty would be proud. It strikes at moments of desperation when Arthur is either picking up something throwing something, or, I’ll be honest, not listening to a bloody word I’ve said.

Remember the policemen on the end of your mum’s phone when you were a kid. The one who threatened to appear at any moment should you choose not to wear socks/eat peas/ stop holding your brother’s ear and trying to hang him up.

Well my ‘policeman’ has become an out of control series of characters. He’s a crazed park warden, he’s Mr Toothpaste. Good god, I even invented a parrot lady’ who patrolled the parrot show we visited today. I’m helpless in the face of it.
I can’t resist the ease with which it stops Arthur in his tracks. I suspect there is some deep seated psychological reason I shouldn’t be doing this and he’ll either end up joining the army at 16 or borstal. Either that or he’ll have ambitions to be ‘ parrot man’ and I’ll have to let him down gently.

But we’re a family. Me, the policeman, park warden, parrot lady, supermarket patrol guard and even the pavement police ( they are different to the usual ones of course). I can’t let them go and I fear my obsessive little family will only grow.
Let’s face it there’s only a finite amount of time I can get away with this – I’m guessing about the same time Santa is revealed for the fraud he is.

So Arthur, I’m sorry if parrot lady scared you but she did stop you running full throttle down some steep stairs and the park warden means you thought twice about throwing those stones.

Yes perhaps I should be using other methods but quite frankly I’m a little attached and who knows, this time next year I might have added a few more characters…there’s a children’s book in there somewhere.

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Free school dinners for all – what a tragic waste of money

Apparently the new legislation to give all reception, year one and two children a free school lunch will save parents around £2.30 a day. That’s not to be sniffed at – I can use it for weekend treats, days out, or, if I was being sensible put it in his savings account.

Of course I won’t – I won’t really notice it because my son, when he goes to school next year won’t need free school dinners. I’m not rich, far from it, but we do ok and because of that we don’t get benefits. So in my view we shouldn’t get free school meals.

Not because of the Daily Mail mentality of not wanting to be seen as scumbag benefit families clogging up our system. I don’t subscribe to that. But because I know there are children and families who really need it. That I live in a society where we all contribute to the greater good – maybe a simplistic view, it maybe idealistic but it’s the essence of the welfare state.

That if I fall down on my luck, the welfare system will give me breathing space and time to sort myself out.

As well as this £2.30 a day it will cost £150m to get schools  ready and make the necessary changes to their kitchens. Dear god, how many lives could be transfromed with that cash. I object to the policy for reasons of common sense. If parents can’t afford new school uniform or the cost of a school trip precludes some children from going then this hair brain, crowd-pleasing scheme that excludes on the basis of age is heart-breakingly misplaced.

I can choose what to give my son for lunch. I can buy a weekly shop without the fear of paying for it, (unless it’s Waitrose and massive!). I am not rich but I am not in need so for god’s sake use the money where it’s needed. Give parents who need it peace of mind and the rest of us the respect to know we’ll feed our children well enough to get through the school day.

The bedroom tax has hit a minority but had huge impacts, today millions of people, including working families use food banks. This needs addressing. Target welfare, don’t blanket bomb it. The concept and, in turn argument of universalism is useless in this case when we’re choosing to ignore pockets of real need.

Let’s not lose track of the true meaning of a welfare state – it is not for universal benefits. It’s simple, use the money for people who need it, whose lives are difficult, miserable and financially unstable. Don’t placate the DM readers by giving middle class benefits when this money could change lives not just save us a few bob during the week.

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