Monday, December 31, 2012

Wordless Christmas

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Yes, I'm Still Here!

Oh my goodness! I knew it had been a while since I posted, but not that long! December is always a busy month, with lots of carol playing with the band and all the other pre-Christmas stuff, but this year it just ran away with me. It was busy in a good way - despite working full time everything got done without it becoming stressful - but blogging and reading blogs got pushed out by all the extra stuff. For some reason I tend to prioritise keeping up with other people's blogs over writing my own. I finally caught up with my overloaded feed reader yesterday, though I'm afraid I didn't do much in the way of commenting, so now I am back here.

A little late I know, but I'd like to wish everyone a very happy Christmas season (what's left of it!)

Monday, November 19, 2012

This Week: 19th November 2012

The weather ... alternating between dull late autumn weather and bright late autumn weather.

I am wearing ... Black trousers, dark red long sleeved t-shirt, black cardigan, black boots

I am reading ... almost finished To The Island by Meaghan Delahunt on the Kindle. I picked it up as a deal of the day because of the Greek setting and have found it well written and readable, though not the type of book I would normally choose.

I am creating ... socks and sweater. Still.

I am listening ... to Rose snoring. She climbed into my bed ten minutes ago, apparently awake. Not that awake, it seems!

I am watching watched ... Skyfall at the cinema, and Testament of Youth on DVD. This was a dramatisation of Vera Brittain's book about her life during the First World War which made a deep impression on me when I watched it as a teenager in the 70s. Well worth watching again

I am enjoying ... the Oxford English Dictionary word of the year for 2012, "omnishambles", meaning a situation which is so badly managed that every aspect of it is shambolic. Last week my life was an omnishambles, hence the lack of blogging. Nothing major, just a series of family issues (across three generations) and minor mishaps which accumulated into a state of overall chaos. I was delighted to find I could encompass the whole situation in a single word!

Learning notes ... Rose has just started violin lessons at school. She brought a letter home about it a few weeks ago, but by the time she had remembered to collect the letter and give it to me the teacher's list was full. She now has an extra slot so was able to take Rose, who is having a shared lesson with a friend in her class.

On the menu ...
Monday: chicken pie, butternut squash, sprouts, potato
Tuesday: fish and chips
Wednesday: chicken casserole with dumplings
Thursday: toad in the hole, carrots, cabbage
Friday: cod and mushroom bake
Saturday: Marie and I will be out, so leaving the rest of the family to fend for themselves!
Sunday: roast lamb

On the calendar ...
Friday: non-uniform day for Rose
Saturday: going to the Christmas market and fair at Birmingham with Marie
Sunday: taking Helen to see the Twilight movie (no, I'm not a Twilight fan, just a kind mother!)
Rest of the week normal routine I hope!

A picture from last week ... nothing on my iPad from last week, so here is a gratuitous butterfly picture, taken at the zoo in the summer.

Monday, November 05, 2012

The weather ... Chilly but at least it is dry after a miserable, wet day yesterday.

I am wearing ... Green skinny jeans, black long sleeved t-sort, old grey cardigans, soft spotty purple socks.

I am reading ... I'm not making any headway with The Happiness Equation. Time to move on to something else.

I am creating ... A scrapbook for my mother for Christmas. Still knitting the cream Bedford sweater and stripy socks.

I am listening ... To the news on TV.

I am watching ... Downton Abbey series 3 finished last night. At least there is a Christmas special to look forward to.

I am enjoying ... Path. This iPad / iPhone app seems to mix some of the best aspects of Facebook with Instagram. I have no friends using Path (yet?)so I'm playing all alone, using it as a way of keeping a pictorial diary. I think it is meant to be used as a smaller, more private social network than Facebook, ideal for families or small groups of friends, but it can also be used to post to Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites.

On the menu ...
Monday: turkey steaks, potato wedges, mushrooms, green veg
Tuesday: chicken, chips and sweetcorn
Wednesday: sole fillets, sweet potato, green beans
Thursday: pasta with tomato sauce and meatballs
Friday: vegetarian chilli
Saturday: soup
Sunday: roast chicken

On the calendar ...
Wednesday: band practice (assuming the flood outside the village hall where we practice has subsided. Sunday's rehearsal had to be cancelld)
Thursday: medical appointment for Tevye; parent-teacher consultation for Marie
Friday: going to the cinema with Tevye to see Skyfall (not sure yet whether this will be Friday or later in the weekend)
Sunday: playing at two Remembrance Day services with the band. Then going to Helen's boyfriend A's house to celebrate his 18th birthday.

A picture from last week ... Our miniature sized Rose still fits comfortably in an IKEA shopping trolley!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

TUAR Picture Book Challenge: October

So much for posting earlier in October as I promised last month! Here is October's picture book list a day into November:

  • The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle - at Rose's request. She knew this from school but we had never read it at home.

  • A is for Africa by Ifeoma Onyefulu
  • - Rose asked for more of this series, so I obliged.

  • Prita Goes to India by Prodeepta Das
  • - continuing Rose's geographical theme. This is one of a short series which show life in a country through the eyes of a child visiting the country from which her family originated. Rose loved this and asked for more of the same for next month.

  • Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
  • - Rose wanted something else to do with plants to go with The Tiny Seed.

  • Saint Francis by Brian Wildsmith
  • - one of my all time favourite picture books. Rose used to love this but it didn't grab her so much this time round.

  • Ahmed and the Feather Girl by Jane Ray
  • - beautifully illustrated tale of a boy rescued from life with a cruel circus owner by a beautiful feathered girl who hatched from an egg. Unfortunately it was rather lost on Rose as I read it to her when she was in a fury because bedtime had come too early and she wanted to watch something on TV!

  • Adam and Eve and the garden of Eden by Jane Ray
  • - I love her illustrations.

  • M is for Mexico by Flor de Maria Cordero
  • - yes, another from the same series.

  • Katie Morag Delivers the Mail by Mairi Hedderwick
  • - the older girls enjoyed the Katie Morag series about a little girl growing up on a Scottish island but Rose hadn't clicked with them. I noticed that she has a Katie Morag unit coming up at school in the next few weeks so thought I'd introduce her again. Went down better this time!

  • Zoe Sophia's Scrapbook: an Adventure in Venice by ELISA Smalley and Claudia Mauner - I found this cheap ebook on Amazon and it was the first time I'd read a Kindle picture book (on the iPad - it really wouldn't work well on my black and white Kindle!). The ebook experience was fine, but somehow we got distracted in the middle of the book and never came back to it.

  • For next month Rose has requested more of the children of the World Series and books about insects and butterflies.

    Wednesday, October 31, 2012

    31 Days of Healthy Eating - Standbys

    Ten standbys I try to keep in stock so that I can always grab something healthy to eat:

    1. Bananas
    2. Fruit bars (usually Nakd bars)
    3. Seeded or multigrain bread in the freezer
    4. Frozen berries
    5. Nuts (usually brazils or almonds)
    6. Apples
    7. Dark chocolate
    8. Dried apricots or dates
    9. Granola bars
    10. Tomatoes (I can happily eat them as a snack, or grill them and eat them on toast with a dash of black pepper as a light meal)

    Monday, October 29, 2012

    The weather ... back to more of the dull, grey autumn weather after a cold weekend. It was frosty here, but some parts of the country had snow. Thinking of all my American friends who are in the path of hurricane Sandy. One friend just posted on Facebook that they have been warned to expect their power to be out for a week. I can't imagine! I am old enough to remember the power cuts and three day week of the seventies, but have never known a power cut lasting more than a few hours. The girls are so unused to anything more than a momentary one that when our power went out for 30 minutes several days ago they were quite panicky - they couldn't get their heads around the concept of not having electricity at all!

    I am wearing ... Black and cream floral tunic, black cardigan, black skinny jeans, black boots.

    I am reading ... The Happiness Equation. I'm still ploughing on with this, though I can't say the economics of happiness is grabbing me. I may give up.

    I am creating ... Another Bedford jumper, in cream Aran this time. I had to unravel my painstakingly knitted Aran cardigan for last winter due to the weight loss. I intended it to be generously sized, but it had turned into a sack so I decided to unravel it and repurpose the wool into something I could wear. I'm also knitting a pair of cheerful socks for a friend.

    I am listening ... Christmas music which Marie and Rose have latched onto on Spotify. No point in telling them in isn't even November yet.

    I am watching ... Downton Abbey. Only one episode to go.

    I am enjoying ... my birthday presents, in particular a pair of blue suede, wool lined Converses. Toast for feet, and in much demand from the two daughters hose feet are the same size as mine. Also enjoying the mug Marie had made for me to take to work, with the slogan "Keep Calm and Carry On Archiving".

    On the menu ... it is half term and the girls are home from school. That means we are out and about and random numbers of people turn up for meals. No point in menu planning this week. I'll just take things as they come.

    Learning notes ... Rose has asked if we can do experiments. Will have to see what I can come up with. Maybe a vinegar and bicarbonate of soda volcano?

    On the calendar ...
    Monday: going out for a meal with a friend tonight, and Tevye is going to take the girls to a cheap carvery
    Tuesday: Helen is working at the gym in the morning, then going to an induction session for her new job. Marie is planning to sleep over at a friend's.
    Wednesday: band practice. No work for me - I'm taking Wednesday, Thursday and Friday off to spend time with the girls.
    Thursday: doing something with Marie, but I'm not sure what yet. Rose is going to a friends for a tea party.
    Friday: Tevye is also taking the day off. Eating out as a family, using up some Tesco clubcard vouchers.
    Saturday: going to a fund raising murder mystery evening put on to raise funds for a "Second Skin" for a colleague's son who has severe cerebral palsy.

    A picture from last week ... the main course I made for our round-the-world meal last week. Helen was the only person in when our neighbour called with the back of country names for her to pick one. She picked Egypt. Eek! My ideas on Egyptian cuisine amounted to zero. Thanks to Google and we ended up with beef in a rich onion sauce, green beans in tomato sauce, leeks (apparently in Roman times Egypt was known for producing the best leeks - who knew?) and rice. The starter turned out to be Croatian wild mushroom soup, and the dessert was pumpkin pie and blueberry pie. No prizes for guessing that country!

    Sunday, October 28, 2012


    Some short takes for Sunday as I didn't get round to writing any on Friday!

    1. The bright spot in what was otherwise a rather stressful week (dealing with other people's issues - nothing major, just frustrating and time consuming) was that Helen acquired a second part time job. A new retail park is opening at the end of November in the nearest large town and she applied for jobs in a couple of clothes stores. She was offered both and accepted this one. The other was a well known pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap, disposable fashion chain.

    2. Helen and her boyfriend A have been together for a year now. Although we had met and chatted with his parents in passing we decided it would be nice to get to know them better and invited them over for tea. As we talked it became apparent that A's grandmother and my father both came from the same village and were almost certainly related. A bit of digging around on Ancestry and I worked out the Helen and A are fifth cousins. Small world!

    3. When buying hair dye that is called "dark chocolate", do not be seduced by the word chocolate into ignoring the word dark, or you may end up with hair that is more Morticia Addams than the natural brunette you were anticipating. Just saying.

    4. As I think of things that I want to include in these quick takes posts I make a brief note of them as there is no chance of me remembering them otherwise. Unfortunately it is not a foolproof method. One of my recent notes reads "chocolate mousse". Huh? If I ever remember what I was thinking of I'll let you know.

    5. Rose is given a homework project once a term. The whole school gets given the same task which is very broad, allowing them to do pretty much anything they like on a given topic. This term the topic is Amazing Feats. After disentangling "feat" and "feet" and some discussion of what might be considered amazing, Rose proposed a suitable topic ... the inventor of the tooth fairy. Sadly I felt this was not a viable option. She is now dithering between doing something about the Games Makers (the 70,000 volunteers who helped with the London Olympics and Paralympics) or something about amazing women.

    Friday, October 26, 2012

    31 Days of Healthy Eating - Caribbean Stew

    For the last couple of days I have taken a portion of this tasty veggie dish to work to eat for lunch. Based on root vegetables, pineapple and coconut cream give it a Caribbean twist.

    Chop one onion and one red pepper. Sauté in a little oil with some chopped ginger and garlic (I use about a teaspoon of each from Waitrose Cook's Ingredients frozen pre-prepared range of herbs and spices). Peel and cube root veggies - the original recipe calls for one sweet potato, a parsnip and a small swede, but any combination will do. Add to the pan and sauté for another 3 minutes. Add two tablespoons of tomato purée, 4 tablespoons of coconut cream, a pint of pineapple juice and chilli powder to taste. Simmer gently until veggies are tender.

    I tend to vary this by using canned pineapple instead of pineapple juice, adding the juice from the can and some chunks of pineapple, then topping up with water until the sauce is the right consistency (not too thick, but not too liquidy either!). It freezes well, which makes it easy to take left over portions as lunches (there is a microwave in our staff room so I can heat it up).

    Sunday, October 21, 2012

    This Week: 22 October 2012

    The weather ... foggy and damp. Blah.

    I am wearing ... black skinny jeans, black and cream floral tunic, black cardigan, old black socks (one of them developed an irritating hole in the toe mid-morning!), black boots

    I am reading ... The Happiness Equation , but haven't got very far with it.

    I am creating ... a second Bedford sweater, for myself this time. I finished Marie's yesterday. I have a scarily long list of Pre- Christmas knitting to get through, but I also need a cosy winter woolly. I can knit quickly!

    I am listening ... to Fun., Mumford & Sons, and Jllohn Williams movie themes.

    I am watching ... Downtown Abbey, Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor. Who Do You Think You Are and Great British Bake Off finished last week. Apparently a new series of Call the Midwife is starting soon. I gather the first series has recently started in the US. We loved it, though found it slightly alarming that a "historical" drama was set I. The time and place where Tevye was born!

    I am enjoying ... making plans for various social evens and trips out over the next couple of months.

    Learning notes ... Rose's teachers gave her the most glowing school report last week. Not only is she doing very well academically, she is also hard working, polite and caring. Marie had various test results back, with excellent marks in French and maths. The less said about science the better!

    On the menu ...
    Monday: chicken stir fry
    Tuesday: fish and chips
    Wednesday: ready meals from the freezer (crazy busy evening!)
    Thursday: cod with mushrooms and courgettes
    Friday: veggie chilli
    Saturday: round-the-world meal with our neighbours (we are responsible for the main course. Helen picked a country out of the hat for us. I think it was a country that got added after we had drunk a glass or wine too many! Think I can rise to the challenge though)
    Sunday: roast chicken

    On the calendar ...
    Wednesday: Rose has her first ballet exam in he afternoon; band practice in the evening
    Saturday: meal with neighbours
    Sunday: band practice
    - otherwise a quiet week

    A picture from last week ... found on my photostream! A certain small person is very fond of the Fairy Colors iPad app.

    Harry Potter Studio Tour

    I still haven't managed to edit the pictures I took at the Harry Potter studio tour - iPhone 4 combined with fairly low lighting levels means they need s bit of tweaking - but I did play with some on Instagram. I applied the same filter to them all and thought the results were quite atmospheric.

    The great hall, which was built as a permanent set, apart from the roof which is just a studio roof. All the magical ceiling effects were superimposed using a scale model of the roof and carefully synchronised camera angles.

    Harry Potter's dormitory

    Dumbledore's office

    The potions classroom

    Dolores Umbridge's study

    Mrs Weasley's clock at the Burrow. I so need one of these clocks that displays the whereabouts and well-being of all family members. Either that or one of those war time maps which showed the location of army units.

    Diagon Alley

    Ollivander's wand shop

    The scale model of Hogwarts Castle used for flying sequences and other magical stuff. The lighting goes through a full 24 cycle every few minutes so you can see the castle as it would look at all times of the day and night.

    For anyone in the UK I would highly recommend the tour. The detail of the sets is stunning, and it was fascinating to see how the whole thing was put together from initial concept art to the finished films.

    31 Days of Healthy Eating - Sandwiches

    Trying to eat more healthily has encouraged me to be more adventurous in making sandwiches and to try to include at least one portion of fruit (banana, cream cheese and date sandwich, anyone?) or veggies in there.

    So far this is my favourite super-sandwich:

    Slices of mild, creamy goat's cheese, with juicy ripe tomatoes and baby spinach leaves, in multigrain bread. Delicious and nutritious!

    Wednesday, October 17, 2012

    31 Days of Healthy Eating - Lunch

    Oh dear. I'm getting rather hopelessly behind on this 31 days, but I'm just going to do the best I can.

    I usually take my own lunch to work both to make it easier to stick to healthy options and to keep the cost down. We do have a staff restaurant where I can get sandwiches, salad or baked potatoes if taking lunch doesn't happen. They also do full cooked meals, but that is too heavy for me at lunch time.

    My usual lunches are peanut butter, houmous or cheese sandwiches, salads in the summer, or soup in the winter. Occasionally I will take some homemade vegetarian chilli or curry, or buy an Innocent veg pot. For some reason - it wasn't a conscious decision - I seem to stick to vegetarian lunches. We have a microwave in the staff room which means I can heat things up if necessary. My current easy lunch favourite is a carton of New Covent Garden soup (preferably one of their seasonal flavours) - one carton lasts for two days which makes it doubly easy. I always take at least one portion of fruit, and often either cherry tomatoes or a chopped red pepper to add an extra veggie.

    Monday, October 15, 2012

    This Week:

    The weather ... wet again. I am so over all this rain!

    I am wearing ... my comfy snowflake pyjamas.

    I am reading ... A Country in the Moon (see previous post!)

    I am creating ... a supersoft pink lap blanket for Rose. I succumbed to pester power in the wool shop on Saturday. I only went in for a circular sock needle to replace my nice Knitpro one that Tevye sat on and snapped, and came out with three balls of this James C Brett Flutterby in pale pink. It is only polyester but ridiculously soft.

    I am listening ... to Marie getting a shower.

    I am watching ... new series of Outnumbered and Call the Midwife. I also watched a short series (documentary) on the Great War which finished last week.

    I am enjoying ... having a central heating system that works properly. The house had seemed a bit cold all winter - odd, as it hasn't been cold weather, just wet. Then the boiler stopped working and it turned out there was a blockage in the system that must have been causing it to under perform for some time. It is all fixed now and the temperature is back to normal.

    From the learning rooms ... not much to report as last term was half term week.

    On the menu ...
    Monday: I forgot to defrost anything so we ended up with pasta with a couple of jars of tomato and chilli sauce and breaded chicken steaks sliced on top.
    Tuesday: Think I am going to try making pizza with some frozen wholemeal pizza dough I bought to test out. Will have to come up with something else for Tevye who doesn't eat cheese.
    Wednesday: Cod in breadcrumbs, green veggies, chips or potato wedges
    Thursday: Chicken breasts, roasted veggies
    Friday: Maybe vegetarian chilli?
    Saturday: Minestrone soup; omelettes
    Sunday: Roast chicken

    On the calendar ...
    Very little on the calendar this week. Marie had a routine hospital check up today (no issues, back again in one year). I am going on a Girls' Night Out with a friend on Saturday. We are planning on cocktails!

    A picture from last week ...
    My poor attempt at copying a Goldwasser coffee I tried in Gdansk.

    The original looked like this. I have no idea how to get the coffee floating on the Goldwasser instead of all mixed together.

    Sunday, October 14, 2012

    31 Days of Healthy Eating - Nakd Bars

    These are my snack time secret weapon:

    A chocolate hit but also a whole portion of fruit in a bar. The ingredients are dates (40%), cashews (40%), raisins (14%), cocoa (5%) and natural flavouring. They also do a straight Cocoa Delight flavour, but unusually I prefer the chocolate orange version - I'm not usually a fan of orange flavouring, but in this case it gives an added zing.

    These bars also come in various other fruit flavours and I've just discovered from their website that they have new rhubarb and custard and caffe mocha varieties. They also do all sorts of other healthy snacks that I didn't previously know about that can be ordered directly.

    Friday, October 12, 2012

    31 Days of Healthy Eating - Snacks

    Oops! I'm getting behind so this will be a quick catch-up post.

    I usually eat breakfast at 6.30 and don't get lunch until 1, so need a mid-morning snack. If there is cake on offer at work, then I will usually shamelessly eat some of that (modest portion, no second helping!). Fortunately he number of staff in our office seems to be the optimum number for producing cakes regularly enough to be a feature of office life, but at long enough intervals to still be a treat.

    If it is not a cake day then I always take a healthy snack. This will usually be one of:

    - banana
    - fruit bar
    - nuts (brazils, almonds or cashews)
    - houmous with carrot or pepper to dip in it (not so often as this takes forethought!)
    - granola bar

    The key for me is that it has to be something I can easily grab in the morning. I also keep a bag of nuts at work so if I get hungry I have a healthy energy boost to hand rather than being tempted by the chocolate vending machine.

    Tuesday, October 09, 2012

    31 Days of Healthy Eating - Breakfast

    I am a breakfast person and find it easy to believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Without breakfast I simply wouldn't be able to function in the morning (I am most definitely not a morning person!). I know some people - like one of my daughters - find eating breakfast a struggle and need to be up and going for a while before they can face food. Not me!

    I am very spoiled, because Tevye brings me a cup of tea and a bowl of cereal in bed every morning. Being married to an early bird has its advantages! (It also has disadvantages - it can be a struggle to stop our body clocks getting completely out of sync.) As my regular breakfast is cereal I try to get the biggest nutritional punch from it that I can. I switch between a good quality granola, Bircher muesli from Waitrose, and bran flakes, usually with milk but sometimes with vanilla flavoured yoghurt, and always with a portion of fruit added. This is usually a chopped banana, a handful of sultanas, or frozen berries. Simple but filling and with a light mid-morning snack keeps me going until lunchtime.

    31 Days of Healthy Eating - Bread

    These days I try to make sure the bread I eat packs a nutritional punch, so I usually opt for bread with added grains or seeds. My stand by is Vogel's Original Mixed Grain, and I also like their Sunflower and Barley.

    Mix up one of these breads with peanut butter or cheese in a sandwich for lunch and it gives a sustained energy charge that stops the mid afternoon munchies striking. If I do find myself hungry in the afternoon or evening, a piece of mixed grain toast with marmite, cream cheese or honey makes a healthy and energy boosting snack.

    Monday, October 08, 2012

    This Week: 8th October 2012

    The weather ... more of last week's autumnal weather. Cooler, but nothing extreme.

    I am wearing ... black trousers, black floral sweater, black cardigan (need extra layers due to very erratic heating at work), black boots. 

    I am reading ... still not started a new book, but have got as far as downloading some samples for my Kindle. 

    I am creating ... the second sleeve of Marie's sweater, which is turning out to be a quick knit.

    I am listening ... to silence! It doesn't often happen around here. Tevye has left for work and the girls aren't awake yet. 

    I am watching ... Downton Abbey, The Great British Bake Off, Who Do You Think You Are?, X Factor (it seems as though every year I say I'm not going to watch it and end up getting sucked in), Strictly Come Dancing (for the first time)

    I am enjoying ... more scrapbooking, posting here more regularly, the crisper autumn weather.

    Learning notes ... Marie has science and history tests this week. Rose rejected point blank a whole school trip to see a pantomime in December so may be the only child left in school for the day! 

    On the menu ...
    Monday: cauliflower cheese
    Tuesday: chicken, chips and sweetcorn
    Wednesday: turkey steaks, butternut squash wedges, sweet potato
    Thursday: chicken pasta bake
    Friday: seasoned sole fillets, veggies
    Saturday: vegetable soup
    Sunday: roast chicken

    On the calendar ... 
    Monday: Tevye has to stay late at work for a meeting
    Tuesday: ballet for Rose
    Wednesday: band for me (and Rose!), work for Helen
    Thursday: swimming for Rose, photography field trip to London for Helen to see exhibitions at the Barbican and the Museum of London, hoping to take Marie to the gym (we were going regularly but got out of the habit) 
    Saturday: wearing that archivist's hat again and spending the day at a pumpkin and apple festival, band concert in the evening, work for Helen
    Sunday: Helen has the second day (out of four) of her gym coaching course. Thanks to a last minute venue change it requires an 80 mile round trip. 

    A picture from last week ... one of last week's scrapbooking pages.

    Sunday, October 07, 2012

    31 Days of Healthy Eating - Wholegrain

    A lot of diets I see mentioned online these days seem to be low carb or grain free. That sounds much too complicated and restrictive for me, and unless people are gluten intolerant (whole different ball game!) I'm afraid I don't get the point. I'm fortunate in that I don't have any food intolerances, so far as I'm aware, so that isn't a factor for me. It also seems to me to be common sense that a healthy diet should be varied, mixing all the major food groups. Another piece of common sense is that food should not be over processed and that whole foods will be more nutritious than refined ones, so I try to stick to wholegrains - wholemeal bread and pasta, and brown rice.

    Brown rice I found easy as I actively prefer it to white. As a family we don't eat much rice and I'm more likely just to cook it for myself, which means I don't face resistance from other family members who are less enthusiastic about healthy eating. Pasta is another matter. Everyone else grumbles at wholemeal pasta. Sometimes I cook a portion of wholemeal separately for myself, but for something like a pasta bake I generally succumb to mob rule and settle for the refined version. I also have a family of determined white bread eaters, so I buy wholegrain for myself, keep it in the freezer, and defrost slices as needed. I'm afraid forcible conversion of the rest of the family to wholegrains is just not a battle I'm prepared to fight! I'm not obsessive about diet rules and I do eat refined flour (and sugar) in cakes and biscuits (cookies), but as I only eat them as occasional treats rather than as a regular part of my diet I don't see it as a problem.

    Saturday, October 06, 2012

    31 Days of Healthy Eating - Getting 9 A Day

    Back before I started my healthy eating kick my regular fruit and veg intake was typically 3 or 4 a day. I kind of aimed for the UK standard recommendation of 5 a day, but mostly missed. When I saw that The Forever Young Diet recommended 9 a day, my reaction was "no chance"! I decided to aim at 7, thinking that would probably push me up to 5 or 6. After a while it got easier and I changed my target to 9. No, I don't manage it everyday - maybe 50% of the time - but I very rarely eat less than 7, which now seems effortless. This is how I do it.

    Breakfast - a portion of fruit added to cereal. Sometimes a sliced banana, other days a handful of sultanas (golden raisins) or frozen berries.

    Mid-morning - a banana or a fruit bar

    Lunch - various options ...a sandwich with plenty of salad in it (somewhere between one and two portions) or with a handful of cherry tomatoes or a sliced red pepper on the side; a salad (3 or 4 portions); a vegetable based soup (one portion); left overs of something like vegetarian chilli made with lentils, beans, onion, chopped tomatoes and grated courgette (zucchini) (probably worth 3 portions): Innocent veg pots if I find them on special offer. Then I'll add a piece of fruit for dessert. Total fruit and veg count for lunch varies between 2 and 4.

    Afternoon - an apple

    Dinner - I always aim to include 2 vegetables, then more fruit either for dessert or later in the evening, making a total of 3 portions.

    If I stick to this it gives a total of 8 to 10 portions a day. Not every day goes to plan. I may switch out the mid-morning fruit for a handful of nuts or a piece of cake (my office tends to run on cake!), or I may find at dinnertime that the only veggies I have to hand are frozen peas. Today was only a 7 portion day as fruit stocks had run low - sultanas with bran flakes for breakfast, fruit bar mid-morning, salad in a baguette bought from the office canteen for lunch (usually I take my own lunch but today it didn't happen), an apple on the way home from work, butternut squash wedges and sautéed leek with dinner, and a portion of grapes for dessert.

    For me increasing the amount of fruit and veg has made a huge difference to the way I eat. Nine portions in a day leaves a lot less room for bad stuff - I'm simply not hungry enough to want too much of it, and eating plenty of fruit stops me craving sugary snacks. I try to go for variety in both fruit and veg.
    I do probably lean a bit too heavily towards fruit, but I don't think it is a big deal.

    Friday, October 05, 2012

    31 Days of Healthy Eating - Red Wine

    Another luxury recommended for daily consumption as part of the polymeal is red wine. In moderation (and for women that means just a single glass) red wine is not only a pleasure, but a healthy one. Health benefits are supposed to range from lowering cholesterol to improving sleep:

    10 Health Benefits of Red Wine

    It gets better though - white wine is good for you too. Both have antioxidants, from resveratrol in red wine and from tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol in white wine.

    I don't have a glass of wine everyday, but most evenings I settle down with a small glass after Rose is tucked up in bed. I tend only to drink more than one glass if we go out for a meal and I'm not driving, or if we are socialising with friends when I'll have two or three. I like both red and white, but at the moment have a slight preference for red. My white wine of choice tends to be chardonnay; with red wine I'm more eclectic and tend to pick fairly randomly from whatever is on special offer. Often I go for Australian or South African wines. I also like Italian reds.

    Anyone have any favourite wines to recommend?

    Wednesday, October 03, 2012

    31 Days of Healthy Eating - Chocolate

    Chocolate is my foodie weakness. Life without chocolate is not something I would want to contemplate, so realising that chocolate is a healthy option was a happy moment!

    For chocolate to be a health food it needs to be dark chocolate, ideally at least 70% cocoa. Before I started eating healthily I almost always opted for milk chocolate. Although I didn't mind dark chocolate I rarely chose it. Now I eat a couple of squares of dark chocolate pretty much every day, and rarely touch the sweeter stuff. Some days I have a chocolate craving and eat four squares, but mostly I stick to two. As the dark stuff is much richer I find there is less temptation to overeat - more than four would just be too much for me.

    My usual chocolate of choice is Tesco's standard 74% chocolate, which costs 99p a bar and is easy to get as it is sold in our local Tesco Express. Sometimes I splurge on Lindt or Green and Black's, or ring the changes with an 85% cocoa bar. I also just discovered Tesco's finest Swiss- style dark chocolate. Even nicer than the more expensive stuff! I usually like to eat my chocolate after dinner - it seems to reduce evening food cravings.

    Dark chocolate has an amazing number of health benefits. It really is a superfood, with a number of reputable studies showing that it:

    - improves heart health
    - reduces insulin sensitivity (and so reduces theism if developing diabetes
    - aids weight kiss by increasing feelings of fullness and reducing food cravings
    - increases blood flow to the brain
    - contains theobromine - a mild stimulant and cough suppressor
    - packed with antioxidants
    - high in vitamins and minerals.

    You can read more at:

    6 Health Benefits of dark chocolate
    Nine health benefits of chocolate

    Healthy eating doesn't have to mean missing out on treats!

    31 Days of Healthy Eating - Superfoods

    The Forever Young Diet and Lifestyle gives a couple of overlapping lists of what are often called superfoods. First there is the "polymeal" described in 2004 article in the British Medical Journal. Eating the foods listed below daily (the polymeal) was calculated to reduce the risk of heart disease by 76% and to significantly increase life expectancy:

    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Fish
    • Garlic
    • Dark chocolate
    • Almonds
    • A glass of wine

    The conclusion of the article was that "following the Polymeal promises to be an effective, no pharmacological, safe, and tasty means to increase life expectancy and reduce heart disease across the population".

    The second list is of the top twelve antioxidant foods and drinks:

    • Berries
    • Beans
    • Green tea
    • Prunes
    • Greens
    • Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables
    • Red wine
    • Olive oil
    • Dark chocolate
    • Onions and garlic
    • Soy products
    • Nuts

    I don't eat everything on these lists - I'm not a huge fan of prunes, for example - but a lot of these foods feature regularly in my diet. And yes, that includes chocolate and wine!  More about that over the next couple of days...

    Tuesday, October 02, 2012

    31 Days of Healthy Eating - General Rules

    I sat down on Sunday and wrote a list of topics for each of the 31 days with a heading for day 2 of "General Rules". After that I jotted down:
    • cut out / cut down on bad stuff
    • lots of fruit and veg
    • good drinks
    Thinking about it a a bit more I would add a fourth
    • replace the bad stuff with good stuff
    That pretty much distils the basic diet rules I picked up from The Forever Young Diet and Lifestyle. I treated the 14 rules given in the book as guidance rather than absolutes and I haven't followed all of them - one recommends whey protein powder, for example, which I haven't used - and some I have followed flexibly. Looking back a year on, the rules that have had most impact on the way I eat are:
    • eat breakfast every morning, no exceptions
    • consume a variety of natural fresh foods each day
    • eat lean protein at least 3 times daily, including breakfast (not so good at including protein in my breakfast, apart from milk or yoghurt)
    • eat at least 9 servings or handfuls of produce daily
    • do not eat white flour, white rice, potatoes and sweets (I don't stick to this absolutely - I still eat potatoes, but rarely any of the others)
    • avoid processed foods containing high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fats or saturated fats (I mostly did this before anyway, except that I do eat butter and higher fat cheese in modest quantities)
    • drink at least 2 cups of tea daily, preferably green tea
    • drink a moderate amount of alcohol, ideally a glass a day of red wine
    • avoid sugary drinks, fruit juices and diet drinks
    • drink plenty of water
    And there you have it ... healthy eating in a nutshell.

    This Week: 1st October 2012

    The weather ...autumnal. A mix of sun and showers with temperatures in the 50s forecast this week. No more of the atrocious weather that caused floods in some parts of the country last week.

    I am wearing ... black jeans, black and cream striped lambswool tunic sweater (heating at work may be broken!), black boots. 

    I am reading ... still not started a new book.

    I am creating ... just finished the main part of the body of Marie's sweater and started the first sleeve. I'm knitting bottom up so I have to do the sleeves ready to join them in with the yoke.

    I am listening ... To Mumford and Sons, thanks to a Facebook friend mentioning heir new album.

    I am watching ... Downton Abbey, The Great British Bake Off, Who Do You Think You Are?. I am also getting into the political comedy The Thick of It - terrible language but some wicked humour. 

    I am enjoying ... scrapbooking for the first time in years.

    Learning notes ... lots of art. Marie has lots of coursework for her art GCSE and art was Rose's class topic last week. Apparently they did self-portraits, but hers had a splodged eye as a friend accidentally jogged her while she was doing it!

    On the menu ...
    Monday: whatever needs using up from the freezer
    Tuesday: fish fingers and chips
    Wednesday: turkey steaks, sweetcorn and sweet potato
    Thursday: pasta, meatballs, tomato sauce
    Friday: fish or some sort, sauteed leeks, butternut squash wedges
    Saturday: burgers or soup
    Sunday: roast chicken

    On the calendar ... 
    Tuesday: ballet for Rose
    Wednesday: band for me, work for Helen
    Thursday: swimming for Rose, rescheduled orthodontist's appointment for Marie who missed last week's as she wasn't well, work for Helen
    Saturday: I have my archivist's hat on in the morning, setting up and manning a display on sporting history as part of a living history day in our town. Rose has an extra ballet class, Helen is working. 

    A picture from last week ...

    Me, aged about four.

    Sunday, September 30, 2012

    31 Days of Healthy Eating

    Day 2 - General Rules
    Day 3 - Superfoods
    Day 4 - Chocolate

    Inspired by Linds at Rocking Chair Reflections (and wanting to keep up my efforts to post more regularly) I decided that this year I would take part in The Nester's 31 Days and post on a chosen theme for each of the 31 days of October.

    I found it surprisingly easy to pick a theme. While we were on holiday last year I read a book I'd picked up as a free Kindle offer, The Forever Young Diet and Lifestyle by James and Joan O'Keefe - I'm sure someone had recommended it, but can't remember who. I came home determined to eat more healthily. I wouldn't say my diet before that was awful - I have never been a junk food addict or had any major food issues, but I did eat without thinking much about whether what I ate was good or bad, and there probably weren't many days when my fruit and veg count made it beyond three or four. Somehow this particular book managed to motivate me to really change the way I ate. It made me focus on eating good stuff, and by filling up on good stuff I naturally ate less of the bad stuff.

    When I started to improve my eating habits I was overweight and knew that I could do with losing 30lbs or so. The last time I weighed myself before I began eating healthily I weighed 13 stones (182lb - I wonder why the British always think of weight in stones and Americans in pounds?), which was, I think, the heaviest I have ever been. Despite this I never saw changing the way I ate as a "diet" in the weight loss sense - losing weight wasn't why I did it, and it didn't really cross my mind that I would get thinner just by changing what I ate without counting points (I've done Weight Watchers in the past) or consciously cutting down on quantity.

    Losing weight was so far from my mind that it came as a genuine surprise to find that by the New Year every pair of jeans I had was literally falling off me and I was a size smaller all round. By the spring virtually none of the clothes I had been wearing he previous year fitted, and by the summer I had gone down another size. After being a size 16 for more years than I can remember I am now a size 12 (I think UK sizing is two sizes up from them US, so in American terms that would now put me at a size 8). It has been a very expensive year for clothes as I have literally had to replace everything (even underwear!), often more than once. I don't know how much weight I have lost as I have never been particularly hung up about weight and don't even possess a set of scales, but I guess it must be around 20 to 25lbs.

    Once I started thinking about it I realised I have more than enough to say to be able to post about healthy eating for 31 days. I'm planning to talk about the changes I have made, the foods that are my superfoods, how I approach meals and snacks, and various other aspects of eating well. I hope that sharing what healthy eating means for me, both practically and in changing the way I think about food, may help inspire any readers who come along for the ride to eat better themselves, even just by making a few small changes. I also want to record the changes I've made and what has worked well for my own benefit. So here begins 31 DAYS OF HEALTHY EATING.

    Saturday, September 29, 2012

    TUAR Picture Book Challenge

    When we got back from our holiday at the beginning of the month I found myself struggling to find books to read to Rose. She seems to have hit an in-between stage where we have read and re-read lots of the younger chapter books but she isn't ready to move on to the next level. Then I read about the TUAR Picture Book Challenge and Chari and Willa's blog Take Up and Read and bingo! I realised that picture books were the way to go.

    Chari challenged Willa to join her in picking 10 picture books each month to read to their youngest children (who are, I think, 10 and 9 - picture books are not just for tinies!). Then she issued this invitation:
    Willa and I are hoping to do this every month for this school year.......and we cordially invite all of you to join us. We challenge all of you to choose TEN Picture Books a read to the little ones in your life........or the big ones.......or even to yourself. :) In the first week of each month, both of us will post our TEN Picture Book choices on Take Up and Read. Please feel free to grab the Picture Book Challenge button shown at the top of this post to place on your own blog and link back to us.....with your TEN Picture Book choices

    I never got round to posting a list but we did start reading. I asked Rose if she would like books about anything in particular and she wanted animals and countries. Our local library has been closed for a couple of weeks while they replaced the service desk with self-service machines for checking books in and out (end result = chaos if today's library visit was anything to go by), so I dug around on our shelves and did a little Amazon shopping. So here, retrospectively, is our list of 10 picture books for September:

    • The Pear Tree: an Animal Counting Book (Meredith Hooper and Bee Willey) - we loved this one, which takes the 12 Days of Christmas rhyme format and applies to the life of a pear tree and the animals that live in and around it over the 12 months of the year.
    • Slowly, Slowly Said the Sloth (Eric Carle) - love this for the variety of animals and the sloth's wonderful monologue at the end
    • The Story of the Creation (Jane Ray) - gorgeous illustrations with lots of animals!
    • Noah's Ark (Jerry Pinkney)
    • I Love Guinea Pigs (Dick King Smith and Anita Jeram) - one of an excellent series of Read and Wonder books published by Walker Books in the 1990s, good enough that a number of them have republished as "Nature Storybooks"
    • All Pigs Are Beautiful (Dick King Smith) - another of the same series
    • The Doll's House Fairy (Jane Ray) - an old favourite
    • The Mushroom Hunt  (Simon Frazer and Penny Dale) - yet another Read and Wonder book
    • J is for Jamaica (Benjamin Zephaniah) - this is one of a series of World Alphabet books published by Frances Lincoln (one of my favourite picture book publishers). 
    • M is for Maple: a Canadian Alphabet (Mike Ulmer and Melanie Rose Popp) - Rose asked for a book about Canada, but this one rather went over her head
    I have a pile ready for October and will try to post that list rather earlier in the month!

    Wednesday, September 26, 2012

    6th Port: Messina

    By the time we got to Messina we were feeling all shore-tripped out. Tevye and I both went for a stroll round, taking it in turns so that the girls could stay on the trip. There isn't much to see in Messina, which was more or less flattened in the early 20th century by an earthquake and then suffered again from bombing during the 2nd World War. The highlight is the cathedral with its rather spectacular bell tower that "chimes" every day at noon. Tevye went earlier in the day so I was the lucky person who arrived in the square just as the bell started its performance.

    A close up of the lion at the top of the tower.

    This "devotional machine" called La Vara is pulled through the streets of the city on the Feast of the Assumption every August. YouTube has various videos of La Vara in action - the sun with Cherubs round it rotates and Mary (at the top) rises up to heaven. When we were there it was in the square in front of the cathedral, but whether it stays there for the whole year I don't know.

    Also part of the Assumption festival celebrations are these two giants, Mata and Grifone, the legendary founders of the city.

    The bell tower from the other side, showing its astronomical clock. The building to the right is the Duomo (cathedral).

    Also in the square near to the bell tower is the Orion fountain. I'm not sure what this legendary animal was meant to be, but to me it looked like a hippogriff!

    This statue of the Madonna blessing the city and its people towers over the harbour entrance.