Brownies – summer cocktail party

Tonight was Brownie night, at the great age of (censored) I am a Leader In Training at a local Brownie group. Months ago at a planning session I stupidly suggested we get the girls to put on a little event for their parents to earn their hostess badge, the girls loved the idea of a summer cocktail party and were well up for it. This meant that the first meeting I led on was preparation for the party, where my last minute googling unearthed the WORST paper flower design ever (which coupled with my crack-handedness meant the girls attempts at paper flowers were doomed).

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The first meeting was bad. I got caught up in handing out scissors and pens instead of stepping back and running things. My second ever meeting to lead had no real pressure; just ALL of the parents coming in and judging my organisational skills, how I interacted with their daughters and my own need to put the cock-up behind me. Nice…

Having learned that I need to have things planned much better and I need a fall back communication strategy for the other leaders and helpers in case there isn’t a magical five-ten minutes to explain things to every adult I wrote out a step by step plan and made copies. I had bought all the supplies and loaded the car in advance so this was all gong to go smoothly.

The only problem at the start was a slight niggle on one side of my back. I’m used to neck and shoulder problems but have a good relationship with my lower back until today. A slight twinge on the left started to feel painful as I headed off in the car.

I got in and laden down with the first load of bottles and jugs opened up. Three trips to the car later I had everything and half the girls had arrived, previously I’d tried to do too much so mindful of my increasingly sore back and the need to give them more responsibility I got the girls setting up tables and taking ingredients to each table along with the instructions. We then practiced the songs (with my swaying in My Auntie Monica becoming more restrained with each verse) until all the girls had arrived. We dispensed with the usual greetings and sent the girls in their sixes to their corner to lay the table and start making drinks straight away.

The written instructions were invaluable – every adult knew the ratios for the two drinks (Tornado Twister and Brownie Sunrise) and I gave the instructions to the sixer on my table to let her lead the prep work. With a few gentle reminders to let everyone have a turn at pouring and stirring it worked well, one set of Tornado Twister was made in the jug and while the girls washed the jug I went around with lemon slices for each table – note to self there are around 30 slice in a pot, not quite enough.

the pink sticky stuff of doom (and sugar highs)

the pink sticky stuff of doom (and sugar highs)

The girls started preparing the jug of virgin sunrise (orange and lemonade to have grenadine added in the glass) when the parents arrived. I looked around, every table was at a different stage and one table had bizarrely added the grenadine to the jug and stirred it in – note to self don’t assume young leaders can stop determined brownies from doing their own thing. We asked the girls to greet their guests and bring them to their table and then carry on making drinks. I tried to quickly open the Costco crisps and failed, every leader in the room failed and eventually I fluttered my eyelashes shamelessly at a Dad.

I then tried to remind the girls that the bowls of crisps were for their guests and that a hostess had to look after her guests instead of herself. There were problems, there was one bottle of grenadine to pass around and there was a bit of a queue for it (next time, get in earlier and decant into little bottles or dispense with the evil pink sticky stuff) and one six spilled their flower vase, but overall it was OK. When the girls had finished serving their guests they were told to sit in the middle and one of the other leaders kindly led the girls in singing their three songs and doing the dances for the parents. The older girls had been reluctant to join in with the songs (I’ll admit I felt a little daft singing about a swaying muff) so in future perhaps I should put the older ones into a group to choose a song they are willing to sing.

The girls were then sent back to their sixes to be nice to their guests and drink any unfinished drinks and hoover up the remaining crisps, they all helped tidy up before leaving with their parents while we did a final scrub (oh my poor back).

Went well:

Brownies had selected the drinks;
Extra lemonade and OJ on top of my calculations for extra drinks / people not wanting the mocktails;
Girls learned about putting guests needs first;
Letting sixer lead and ensure everyone had a turn.

Next time:

Divide garnishes in advance (maybe at home);
Get young leaders’ email addresses and share detailed plan ahead of meeting;
More crisps!
Tell all leaders just to half fill the glasses not fill them to the brim!
Engage older girls by letting them choose songs.

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The great green goo experiment

Sometimes as a parent I do bizarre and disgusting things. I have knelt in front of a child with my hands cupped to catch vomit (my hands aren’t big enough but I always forget this in the heat of the moment and kneel as if I’m going to receive some fantastic honour), I have watched my kids eat paint (non-toxic), been weed on and today I made a bath full of green grainy slime and shuddered miserably while the kids slapped it around the bathroom and my arms.

It is Ben’s sixth birthday and being a superbly well organised mother I worked late last night and swung by Toys R Us to get the gifts I’d selected months ago but not found time to stop and buy until the last minute. It’s this kind of organisational ability that explains why my friends and I weren’t asked to help with the year 1 school trip. Feeling the usual working mummy guilt I saw a gaudily coloured Gelli Baff pack on sale for a fiver and decided that I’d chuck it the trolley and give the boys a really special birthday bath time. Hmm…

Ben’s birthday went well. He loved the presents he was given, was treated to toast and marmalade followed by a nectarine for breakfast (I am the kind of Mum who insists he has to eat two weetabix or a bowl of porridge at breakfast club before being allowed a bowl of jam filled shredded wheats or Cheerios). His year was going on a trip to the local safari park which was very exciting for a future zoo-keeper and I gave him a box of fruit pulp sweeties to give out at the end of the school day. To make the day even better he visited his Nanny to see his Aunty and Uncle (down from York) and was then allowed to play a sky lander game on the wii before a tea of his choice.

How could this day get any better for a 6 year old?

Enter Gelli Baff – swamp green.

Being a big believer in not needing instructions I ran a bath, dumped the kids in it and tried to tip green dust in. Now, I’m standing in a bathroom with nail scissors in the cupboard so naturally I tore the plastic bag spilling gritty green stuff over me and the edge of the bath. I dumped the rest in and stirred. Green gravel moved around the bath and the kids looked at me expectantly. A sensible woman would look at the instructions, wait a few minutes for it to set or grab her iPad and google Gelli bath, instead I added a little more water to churn things up and dumped a second sachet in the water. Suddenly the kids were in a very stiff green goo and the tiny ‘gravel’ had swollen to frogspawn size and texture.

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While the kids wriggled and drowned their ducks I surveyed the bathroom. A green goo covered the edge of the bath and had pushed its way into the crack where the bath panel was held by the top of the bath. Nice.

Boys splash a lot in baths, soapy gooey green stuff getting into your mouth isn’t nice and after wiping goo off Ciaran’s face with one towel it was contaminated with the goo and not suitable for wiping his tongue with. Instead he wiped his tongue on my sleeve, several times throughout the bath. I kept hinting about putting the magic ‘turn it to water’ powder in and getting shouted down. The goo retained heat much better than a normal bath. I knelt by the bath and tried the goo, I managed to squidge it into something like a slushy snow ball and threw it at Ben, this led to my arms being fair go. Yucky stuff the temperature and consistency of child vomit kept being poured over my arm.

I called time and dumped both dissolving sachet in the bath, added more water and drained it out without any major dramas. I then had to hose down the frogspawn covered kids and while they dried off I started hosing down the bath, tiles, gap where the panel meets the bath, sink where I’d tried to wash goo off of my hands and rest of the bathroom. If you have normal active kids this stuff really travels.

It was gross, required a post bath shower and decent scrub of the bath but as it met my objectives of:
A. Not turning Ciaran into an immediately itching mess;
B. Being a fun treat

I probably will allow it back in the house for special occasions, but only after the horror of it being put on me is a distant memory.

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Mini crustless quiches

A month into Harcombe and I am 10lb lighter. To celebrate I made some international mini crustless quiches. I’ve been tinkering with crustless quiche for a while and have discovered that the secret is a silicon deep muffin tin. What comes out looks a little muffin-y but is totally delish.

Crustless quiches

Ingredients

Makes 6

1 pack of Scottish smoked salmon flakes
1 welsh leek, sliced
3 eggs
Generous splash of whole milk
Spoonful of Italian marscapone
One slice of French Brie, cut up into small squares.

Fry leeks and then stir in salmon flakes
Beat 3 eggs with milk and marscapone (cream / creme fraiche / whatever dairy goodness you have to add some luxurious healthy fats) – warning marscapone just breaks into little white lumps and looks gross at this stage! Season.
Put leeks and salmon into a deep hole muffin tray (6)
Pour egg mix over and then sprinkle Brie on top.
Bake at 200 degrees for 19 minutes

Vary the ingredients, I made a lovely onion, tomato and goats cheese set last week.

Bon Appetite!

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Celebrating my brave boys with a carb meal

On Fridays we take the boys swimming in Bedford. We go to Bedford as our Flitwick pool is f-f-freezing (I used to finish swimming lessons with Ciaran early when his lips turned blue) and the waiting list to get back to lessons is over a terms wait. The pool we swim at is good in many ways, it’s an ozone pool (no chlorine to upset Ciaran’s eczema) with two teachers to each group of six. The downside is that on Friday afternoons I have to drive like a possessed woman from school into and across Bedford.

Ciaran was unhappy about starting swimming after Christmas but by half term had calmed down (as he is so young they put him in a very small group so he could get almost 1-1 attention) and Ben was coming on well until his teachers took all six tummy bands off in one lesson. Most of the kids in his group were too scared to swim and both teachers were focusing on the scared kids while Ben and his friend swam on their backs with a kickboard, when Ben was almost at the other end he lost his board and started to drown. Neither teacher noticed and the lifeguard was apparently ‘scanning’ the other side of the pool. Eventually he noticed and dived in just before my husband and I arrived downstairs at the pool side terrified.

I knew that Ben needed to get back into the water so I encouraged him to get back in with a tummy band. Unfortunately he missed the last lesson before Easter so yesterday was his first time back in the water for three weeks and over Easter he had been brooding a lot on what happened in the water and getting tearful about swimming.

Yesterday I go the boys changed with no tears and took them poolside, Ciaran saw the water, pulled a face and burst into tears while Ben chatted to his friends. I knew that the longer I stayed the harder it would be for Ciaran so I deposited him in the lap of the assistant manager (who I’d warned earlier about both boys being scared) and headed up to the viewing gallery leaving hubby poolside in case of emergencies). By the time I was upstairs Ciaran was in the water with his teacher and bravely letting go of her to swim next to her, Ben had panicked and was refusing to get in.

After ten minutes of letting him get ready in his own time one of his teachers lifted him into the water (the other teacher was there to help him) and as soon as he got in the water he was fine! My parents were watching and commented that once Ben got going he was quite a fast swimmer for a five year old. Both boys had been very brave and I was so proud of my babies for trying hard.

As both boys had been brave (and this time I hadn’t ran so hard in high heels to save my kids that my feet were bruised) we celebrated in style, a Maccy D for the kids on the way home followed by a kebab for us adults. I normally have the meat and salad without the pitta but decided to have a vegetable kebab as a carb meal (I know that the pitta was white but hey Ho) and treated myself to half a portion of chips. While it was nice I missed the spiced meat and the pitta and chips mad me feel so bloated and uncomfortable that I’ll stick to foregoing the pitta!

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A fun weekend

I spent Friday with a thumping headache and sore throat feeling very sorry for myself. To satisfy Ciaran’s demands I hauled myself over to my parent’s house to walk the puppy with the boys and have lunch with Ninny (sausages sarnies for the kids, salmon salad and crab sticks for adults). Back home I tried to type up notes from the previous evenings Brownie unit planning meeting before deciding to lie down and let the kids pick a movie. Now that Ben can read we get some odd movie choices. We bought a zoo wouldn’t normally be a child’s movie pick but as he recognised the word zoo we had to watch it.

On Saturday hubby headed off to London for a photography course leaving me, the headache and kids at home. After an hour (and sharing my brekfast sausages and tomatoes grudgingly) I was pulling my hair out and told them to get their coats on. I drove to the Xscape in Milton Keynes and hoped that the novelty of a new movie, first ever cinema trip for Ciaran and popcorn would buy me an hour and half of relative peace. I hadn’t banked on the movie (The Croods) being so watchable and found myself laughing as the kids munched their popcorn ( a regular portion split into two bags). I was good and drank water instead of diet coke.

After the movie the boys begged for Maccy D so we headed there where I had more water and a chicken salad. Sadly the salad didn’t come with any cutlery and wasnt anything special so I picked at as much as I could face with my fingers (less than half). We then visited a relative who came to the park with us before getting back home in time for the Ocado man tea (pizza for the kids) and Dr Who before bed.

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While I prepared tea Ben walked in looking very guilty and worried. I steeled myself to hear that the TV was broken and then noticed a tiny white lump in his hand and blood around his mouth. He’d given his loose tooth a wiggle and got a shock when it came away! Once he realised I wasn’t annoyed and that it was normal for it to bleed he was over the moon and excited about he tooth fairy visiting and worked hard to address an envelope to her. Ms Tooth Fairy had to quickly check her purse and was initially worried that she might be stuck with a choice of a quid in coppers or a note! Luckily Ms Tooth Fairy discovered a forgotten £2 coin.

After all the excitement the kids both settled quite well leaving me to have an evening without yelling upstairs to get back in bed!

Today was slightly warmer than yesterday so this morning we drove to Ampthill Park, walked the long circuit round before stopping at the play area and then onto the cafe (where I was very good and had a black tea without any homemade cake). At home I cooked lunch and then the men of the family all fell upon the Easter Eggs for pudding. Once the kids were suitably stuffed and getting fractious I took them into the kitchen to bake biscuits, Ciaran had requested jammy biscuits so we made thumbprints which cooled as we walked around Flitwick to pop to the shops and visit my parents. After the kids had demolished an omelette ( they did a LOT of walking today) I finally let them have a biscuit and judging by their expressions they were delicious.

Jammy thumbprints

125g butter cut into cubes
100g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
40g oats
60g plain flour
125g self raising flour
Jam or marmalade

1. Line two baking sheets and preheat the oven to 180
2. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla extract (I explained to Ben that it was very strong so we could only use a little bit, he poured the half spoon in and then popped the spoon into his mouth, he won’t do that again!)
3. Add egg and beat in
4. Add flour and oats, mix well.
5. Shape into 15 balls. Squash flat with a fork, push thumb in middle (not all the way down) add a tiny but of jam or marmalade to the dent.
6. Cook 12-15 minutes, 15 minutes was a little too long for ours.

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Butternut Squash phobia cured

Butternut squash is not one of my favourite things to cook, I used to roast it in halves and then shred the flesh out with a fork until I made a very silly mistake. Home alone (hubby had a late meeting) a few years ago I was doing a midweek roast chicken and BNS dinner. The squash just wouldn’t cut, eventually I had a brainwave if I turned it to stand up (narrow end up) the knife was already going through the squash at the top by using a hand on each side of the knife I could use the weight of TWO hands instead of one. Inevitably it went wrong and as I pushed down and the knife started going through the squash it suddenly jumped to the side, naturally the pointy side!

Sharp butchers knife point met my left arm. While it didn’t go in far the knife was quite broad. I remembered enough first aid to run to the sink and get the cold water running. For a minute nothing happened and I looked at the cut thinking maybe I’d got off lightly and then the blood started pumping. I ended up tying an old t-shirt over the top of two plasters (worryingly I still cooked the freaking dinner) and all ended well. The only real impact is that I still have a white scar on my arm and have developed an aversion to butternut squash – until tonight.

I made a gorgeous risotto replacing the arborio with pearl barley and using a BNS that Mr Ocado had already peeled and cut for me. The recipe is in the March Good Food mag and I really recommend it. I didn’t use Parmesan (to keep it carb friendly) but I did use the spoonful of marscapone to make it creamy. It was so good that we ate most of it before getting a picture and has cured me of my aversion to butternut squash!

Breakfast: bacon omelette, salad
Lunch: Crustless salmon and watercress quiche and salad
Dinner: Squash and Barley risotto

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Manic Easter Monday

Unfortunately local schools aren’t great around here. They aren’t terrible but far from great. My oldest (Ben) is in Year 1 and his teachers job share (not fab for very young children) and seem total opposites. Blonde teacher told me one evening he was falling further and further behind because of his reading, trouble writing and lack of concentration. “Im very concerned”….”not able to access the curriculum”… This was a bolt from the blue! I said I wanted value-added data for the class (anonymised) and Ben as an individual I also said I wanted him to be assessed for dyslexia.

Next day brunette teacher called me to say it’s nothing to worry about, he’s doing fine etc..

I don’t believe in pushing kids too hard at such a young age but despite their different opinions I didn’t feel he’d learned much in Y1 so my Mum kindly paid for him to have extra tuition at explore learning and as long as Ben enjoys going there I’m happy as he is developing his concentration and writing skills. Only problem is that it’s on the far side of Bedford. So after brekkie I drove Ben to explore learning and pottered around Sainsburys getting stuff for the evening meal, I then picked Ben up and headed to the nearest Beefeater to meet hubby and the little monster.

Lunch over and too cold to walk around the lake we headed home and hubby cooked an amazing dinner of Chicken Mole (recipe on the good food website). It was bloody hot but so moreish. It had a little peanut butter in but I figured it was fairly little and ate it with no rice, just a little sour cream to balance the heat. Our Easter break was over, it had been the coldest Easter I can remember with snow but we’d still had fun (and thank God we hadn’t booked a break away to the coast this year!).

Breakfast: Brie omelette, salad
Lunch: Salmon, corn on the cob, hollandaise sauce, cooked veg
Dinner: spicy chicken mole, soured cream.

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