Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Hug From a Stranger


A complete stranger came up to me in the supermarket yesterday and gave me a hug.

I was standing in the baking aisle when two arms stretched around me from behind and hugged me.

At first I thought it was my boy, but when I turned around he was standing beside me looking bemused, whilst another little boy about his age was running off down the aisle.

I thought he had confused me for his mother, and was running away in embarrassment, but moments later I bumped into him again.

'Hello' I said

'Hello' he replied before declaring proudly - 'I am full of love!'

'Full of love?' Well sure that's the very best thing you can be full of', I said in my best Mammy voice.

'Yes' he nodded back knowingly. 

'You're a great boy' 

'And you're a great girl'

His mother then appeared apologising, explaining that he is always going around hugging random strangers. And not everyone understands. I got the impression her son's big heart had fallen on stony ground more than once in the past. 

But who wouldn't want a hug in the local supermarket on an uneventful Tuesday afternoon from a wide-eyed, beautiful little boy?

As for me? I walked home with a huge smile on my face, full of the love he had bestowed upon me. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sometimes I'm just here to contain the chaos - Guest Post

Today I have the pleasure of hosting a guest post from Maud - fabulous writer, friend and all round good-egg.                                                                                                                                                                                                  Maud is a Dubliner who never intended to have American children. She blogs at Awfully Chipper about baseball, muffins, and the ex-pat experience. Her posts are thoughtful and thought-proking. Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, but always beautifully written.



Kate gave me a couple of prompts to choose from, because I like direction. They were "Wild" and "Keeping Up Appearances". I started to write this about keeping up appearances, but I think it's gone wild after all.

------

I had to take the kids with me to do the shopping one day last week, it being the Easter holidays and us having eaten everything in the house. Now, since my number of children is merely two, and they are giant things of 6 and almost-9 years at that, you'd think this would be quite a simple endeavour. And indeed, it's much easier than it used to be; but we should have gone much earlier in the morning all the same. The older they get, the harder it is to bodily force them out of pyjamas and into the car, or bribe them effectively with the idea of a Fun! trip to the supermarket, so here it was practically lunchtime and we were just starting out. They both devoured a bagel on the way round (don't worry; I always pay for any consumed bagels) and spirits were high.

I know from experience that nothing calls attention to rowdy children more than a parent going mental trying to rein them in, and that it's usually the parent, not the children, who ends up looking worse to everyone else. In public, you're actually best off keeping a "ha-ha aren't they adorable" demeanour even if you actually want to throttle them into behaving like automatons. So beyond a few well-placed admonishments and suggestions that they help me find [ginger/red peppers/flour], I tried to ignore them and just be glad everyone was having fun - though by now the the fun was veering worryingly towards hopped-up-on-Twinkies levels. We passed a middle-aged couple on the way down the veg aisle and the man's eyes twinkled as he said with a smile "You know they're just way too cute, don't you?" I told him he could have them, but at least they were happy.

I could tell by the over-hyped happy that we were probably just a few minutes from meltdown. It arrived at the self-checkouts (such hubris even trying that, but the lines for the cashiers were long) when, after Mabel got to press the buttons for three vegetables, I let Dash do the bagels. (We were buying some others, not just weighing the invisible ones.) Sunshine turned to rain in a flash, as it does with my Mabel, and there was shouting and insubordination. Luckily, I suggested she sit in the now empty trolley, and she got in there and hid her face, but continued to yell at us, cruel deniers of button-pushing joy.


We got out, we got into the car, we went home and had lunch. What was my point, exactly? Well, it was to tell the story of our almost-right-up-to-the-end successful trip to the supermarket, but also to illustrate how trying to keep up appearances (having well-behaved kids in the supermarket) tends to backfire, until it doesn't, but you're done for anyway and there's really no graceful exit strategy because children are, to all intents and purposes, wild beings. We are here to civilise them, but it's a long and winding road. They're still a work in progress.

Chaos, personified

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Alternative Wedding Outfits for Boys

star wars inspired wedding
Credit
I do love a good wedding, and so I'm delighted that my little sister and her beau have decided to tie the knot this summer.

Naturally I have spent the past three months online looking for my own dress, but now that I am sorted I've turned my attention to my boys.

As they spend most of their time in tracksuit bottoms and hoodies I'm getting considerable pleasure over the fact that I get to dress them up like Little Lord Fountleroy and there's not a thing that they can do about it. (Apart from completely refusing to wear the outfit and um, that would never happen...)

Instead of going the traditional beige linen \ little navy suit way I've decided to take a bit of an alternative route. I can see my mother's frown appearing already.

These are my top picks so far from the fabulous Melijoe.



Alternative wedding outfits for boys

Alternative wedding outfits for boys by katetakes5 on Polyvore

Baxter, the 6 year old, gets the shirt and braces on the left, and Marley, 8, the t-shirt \ waistcoat combo on the right. Both are one part smart and one part casual. 

Comfortable shoes and soft trousers are a must so that they can do the all important running-slide-on-your-knees-move on the dance floor at the end of the night. 

What more could they ask for?

"Can I take off this jacket now?"

Disclosure: This post is in collaboration with Melijoe.com. All words and opinions are my own

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Do you have one of THOSE kids?



I've spent a lot of time this week wondering whether my kids are normal kids - you know, boisterous, whiny and mostly annoying, with a little pinch of angelic thrown in just to keep you on your toes?

The conclusion that I have come to is that two thirds of them are normal, or would be if it wasn't for the other third.

You see, I have two regular children, and then I have one of those kids. 

I'm not sure exactly when it started, but he was certainly a difficult toddler - ruling the roost by the time he could walk. Much of his early years were spent ordering one or other family member around. 'Get me my drink! Fetch me my pyjamas! And make sure they are the cuddly ones. I like the cuddly ones'.

Before long I caught myself asking him whether he wanted his sandwiches cut into triangles or squares, and how he would like his bath run.

Warm with bubbles?

Ducks or no ducks?

No ducks you say? No problem - let's just scoop them out shall we? No? Not working for you? Oh I see, they touched the water. Yes, of course I get it. Duck butts in your bath. Ok, lets just let the bath out before you burst through the door with rage leaving a cartoon-like hole in the wood.

But life with a Psycho Toddler morphs into a weird normality in no time at all. Psycho enters the rooms totally naked, menacingly swinging a garlic crusher, and nobody even bats an eyelid.

They're too scared to.

Many's the time Psycho Toddler had a meltdown because he 'WANTED THE BLUE BOWL NOT THE WHITE ONE!' Cue 20 minutes of hysterical kicking and screaming.

Stupid Mummy. What was I thinking?

After much soul searching I've realised however that it is not entirely my fault. As I know Lady Gaga herself would agree - I'm pretty sure he was born this way.

But now he is six. And what was cute or at least excusable as a toddler isn't so cute or excusable any more. It seems there's only so long you can get away with being a psycho.

He also has his older brother and sister terrorised. And I don't blame them. He can be pretty terrifying. Like a miniature Hitler with less facial hair and more swagger.

I know that something's got to change, but I'm fearing that we have left it too late. The monster has out grown us.

Naughty steps, removal of privileges, quiet explanations, cross words and every mother's old reliable - the empty threat have all proved unsuccessful so far.

What to do?

But then, just as I'm beginning to despair, he does something beautiful. Puts his chubby hand in mine and squeezes it, tells me how lucky he is to have me as a mummy, or nestles into my neck and tells me that he 'still very loves me' - and all is magically forgiven.

God he's good at this.


This post first appeared on HerFamily.ie

Thursday, April 9, 2015

What Are You Eating?


I've been building up to this post for awhile now. It started with a vague conscientiousness many years ago when I decided to become a vegetarian. I hated the thought of live animals being transported across countries in cramped conditions, of huge factory farms filled with chickens that barely had room to breath, and of dirty pigs being treated as such. 

That crusade lasted 15 years before I slowly felt my body and family needed more than what they were being provided with, and I just didn't have the time (or funnily enough the energy) to delve into what was missing from our diets and where else it could be found. So first the fish returned, then the chicken, then the mince and finally a big fat juicy steak. 

And I have to say I wasn't sorry.

I did continue to buy free range chickens, but for the rest I just couldn't justify the cost, so instead buried my head in the sand in order to justify my choices.

Labelling:

Apart from all that I've always been a food label reader. My parents were ahead of the curve on healthy eating and we would routinely roll our eyes at the latest research they would impart to us.

"Did you know The China Study shows that we can reverse our cholesterol levels on a whole-food, plant based diet?!"

"Fascinating Dad"  

Or what their own parents used to say about certain foodstuffs -

"My father always called white sugar the white death. It'll kill you and your teeth"

*Yawn* 

But anyway, some of it must have sunk in because for as long as I can remember I've been inspecting labels, and have tried to avoid too many E numbers or packets containing ingredients I can't pronounce.

Bad:


Better:



Best:


But sometimes I get lazy and grab the carrot cake without seeing that it is packed with hydrogenated fat, or buy the Pringles for the Saturday night treat, or throw the sugar packed museli bars in the trolley and tell myself they are healthy because they have oats in them. 

Because sometimes it's just easier to kid ourselves.

But do Pringles actually contain any real food at all? And did you know that Nature Valley Granola Bars contain as much sugar as a bowl of fruit loops? And we would never let our kids eat those now would we..?



And then I read this article in the Guardian - Inside the Food Industry. The surprising truth about what you eat. It's a fascinating piece and I urge you to read it for yourself - but here's a very brief summary if you don't have time:

The writer, Joanna Blythman, who goes undercover at an annual food trade show says:

"While exhibitors at most food exhibitions are often keen for you to taste their products, few standholders here had anything instantly edible to offer. Those that did weren’t all that they seemed. CanapĂ©-style cubes of white cheese dusted with herbs and spices sat under a bistro-style blackboard that nonchalantly read “Feta, with Glucono-Delta-Lactone” (a “cyclic ester of gluconic acid” that prolongs shelf life)."


Basically the entire food fair is about using science and technology to create cheaper alternatives to real foodstuffs. 

"Manufacturers who need their tomato sauce to be thick enough not to leak out of its plastic carton – and just a little bit glossy, so that it doesn’t look matt and old after several days in the fridge – were sold the advantages of Microlys®, a “cost-effective” speciality starch that gives “shiny, smooth surface and high viscosity”.

Nice. 

Or how about Butter Buds®,

 "described by its makers as “an enzyme-modified encapsulated butter flavour that has as much as 400 times the flavour intensity of butter” 

Anyone else find this scary?

Now many of us have been label reading for years and have come to know some of the things to avoid and also some of the dirty tricks manufacturers play to trick us into thinking foods are healthier than they actually are. Just because something says 'Natural' doesn't mean it is. 'Low fat' is often packed with sugar. And 'sugar' on a label is often divided up into glucose, fructose, sucrose and probably a host of other 'oses' I know nothing about. 

But things are getting worse. What was entirely new to me was that many of the old identifiably 'bad' ingredients are disappearing. 'Great!' you might think. But unfortunately it's not quite as simple as that. The food industry now knows what we want, and what we want is less additives and more 'real' food and so that is what it is giving us - on the label if not in the actual product.

As Joanna says - 

"Picking up a salami, even the most guarded shopper might relax when they see rosemary extract on the ingredients list – but rosemary extracts are actually “clean-label” substitutes for the old guard of techie-sounding antioxidants (E300-21), such as butylhydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylhydroxytoluene (BHT). Food manufacturers use them to slow down the rate at which foods go rancid, so extending their shelf life."

Gulp.

And that of course is just the tip of the iceberg. Really - go read the article.  

Production:

Last month The Sunday Times published an piece on how our takeaway sandwiches are made. It describes thousands and thousands of ham and cheese, prawn cocktail and egg mayonnaise sandwiches being made by hand (no gloves) and by machine in huge factories before being shipped off to petrol stations, cafes and supermarkets to be eaten by us. Although I'm sure there is nothing particularly bad about the ingredients being used, or how the factories are run - the photos of men and women in hairnets placing limp ham onto a slice of bread that someone earlier down the line had buttered really made my stomach turn.

But then again seeing anything on a massive factory scale is offputting.




Transportation:

And then of course there's the transportation issue.

We are well used to getting our bananas from Brazil and our pineapples from Costa Rica, but did you know that countries all over the world are importing and exporting almost identical quantities of food stuffs:



Madness!

How can this even be a real thing?!

If you want to learn a little bit more watch this:




About 2 minutes in to this video you will hear Zac Goldsmith describe just how wasteful this model is - with English apples being exported all the way to South Africa to be waxed and then transported all the way back to England to be sold. It's hard to believe.

In all honesty this makes me feel a little bit hopeless, but I'm pretty sure if you have a chat to your local greengrocer or butcher they will have a fair idea about what comes from where and hopefully will be promoting some local farms. So we do what we can there I guess - and 'every little helps' as they say...



What to do

Massive factory farming, sandwiches created on conveyor belts, food made in a science lab - it's just not very appealing when you think about it is it? And whilst we can't all grow our own food in our back garden, we can think about how real and local it is when we are making food choices for our family. 

I know from experience it can all be a bit much when faced with the information and the changes we want to make, but I've started thinking about what I can do rather than what I can't. 


So more and more I am choosing 'real' food. Cakes can be made, muesli bars can be created, sandwiches can be thrown together at home, and easy dinners can be cooked from scratch from actual vegetables and 'happy' meat. 

If you want to make some changes but don't know where to start how about this life changing raw brownie from Emily at The Nest - grain, dairy and sugar free it ticks all the wholesome boxes if not the local ones, and proves that healthy treats can be delicious. Tried and test on my hugely fussy 6 year old who absolutely loves them (and obviously doesn't know what's in them).

And there's plenty more where that came from. I've also started a Real Food recipe board on Pinterest if you want to join me for the ride.

So s
orry kids, but it looks like I'm passing you on the family baton. 

*Yawn*



Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Little Sugar Loaf - things to do with kids in wicklow


The one good thing about living in a crappy grey climate like Ireland is that as soon as the sun comes out everyone, everywhere knows that you have to make the most of it.

Pre children this means multiple invites to garden barbecues, girl friends with white thighs walking around in shorts despite the fact that temperatures haven't actually hit double figures yet, afternoons spent in sunny beer gardens, and shiny red noses and shoulders wherever you look.

Post children - good weather simply means 'getting outdoors', because outdoor kids are generally happy kids, and who knew the absolute joy of sitting alone on a scruffy bench in a play park with a take away coffee and the warm sun on your back?

It's the little things.

Now that my kids are slightly older we get to do slightly more adventurous activities, so when the first sunshine of the year appeared the other week I was damn sure we weren't going to miss it.

At 2.30 I whooshed them out of school, into the car and drove up to The Little Sugar Loaf mountain (as opposed to The Big Sugar Loaf, which, you guessed it, is bigger).
The Big Sugar Loaf - as seen from The Little Sugar Loaf

This is such a great walk for little legs. With very minimal effort you get great rewards.






It's a nice gentle climb that the even the six year old took on without a bother, but it's interesting enough to keep them interested. Plus the views on the way up are almost as good as at the top.

Once at the summit you get to celebrate your achievement..



Be amazed when you find some actual fossils...


And then collapse...


Before taking in the stunning views of Bray, Greystones, the surrounding mountains and the twinkling Irish Sea.

Not so tough at the top


And then it's all down hill from there.


We got home just a couple of hours after leaving the school. The kids were refreshed and glowing, while I got to post a nice smug picture to Facebook from the top.


Happy days.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Healthy banana choc-chip muffins



I've been making these muffins for years. They are my go-to, easy baking recipe. The kids love them and they are full of goodness so are a win-win-win in my book.

Perfect for breakfast, after-school snack or lunchbox - just don't be surprised if they all disappear in one sitting.

This is also a lovely recipe to get the kids involved in as there are lots of little jobs for lots of little hands.

Recipe:


Dry ingredients:
150g finely ground wholemeal flour (or just plain flour if preferred)
1 heaped tsp baking powder
.5 tsp bicarbonate \ bread soda
75g chocolate chips \chopped up chocolate (or raisins and seeds to make it ultra healthy)
Pinch of salt


Wet ingredients:
2 large bananas
50ml Glenisk natural yoghurt (or other good quality natural yoghurt)
2 tbsp honey
1 egg



Preheat the oven to 190C.

Sieve the dry ingredients (except the choc-chips) into a large bowl.
In a seperate bowl mash the bananas and mix in the rest of the wet ingredients.
Add the wet mixture and the choc-chips to the dry ingredients
 and gentry stir together.
Divide the mixture between 12 muffin cases placed into muffin trays.
Bake for 15-20 mins and then leave to cool before eating.

Enjoy!

Joining in with Glenisk and Irish Parent Bloggers in honour of being nominated in the IPBAwards.



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