Top 10 Tips for Surviving a Wedding with a Toddler

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Weddings are brilliant: lovely people in love, celebrating the marriage of a couple, with food, drinks and lots of fun. Weddings, generally, are brilliant.

Until you have a toddler in tow. Then, weddings are really hard work.

Of course, your toddler might not be like my toddler. When everyone else is at the ceremony, my toddler wants to shout, “Car, mummy! Car!” at the bride. When it’s pouring with rain between the ceremony and the wedding breakfast, he wants to be running around outside. When you need to go in one direction, he’ll throw a tantrum to go the other way. Preferably towards the ducks.

We went to one such wedding last Saturday. It was a very child-friendly wedding, as they go. The couple themselves have a two year old, and they had obviously really thought about keeping the children entertained, especially during the wedding breakfast. So, inspired by that, and by the thoughtful provision of my sisters-in-law, who are much more experienced at things like this than me, I’ve come up with some tips for handling a wedding with a toddler.

1. Arrive a bit early…

This way, you can scope out the lie of the land. You can figure out where the baby-changing is, and secure seats to make a quick exit if necessary.

2. But not too early.

You really don’t want a bored toddler on your hands before the ceremony has even started.

3. Stock up on snacks.

Raisins, crackers, toddler-flapjack, fruit, cheese – whatever will take your child a while to eat and keep them entertained. This is particularly useful for the ceremony, as are…

4. Sticker books and activity packs

While Ben tried to stick the stickers on himself, his older cousins were engrossed by the CBeebies Peter Rabbit comic. It helped that their grandparents were happy to read this to them too.

5. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and anyone else

Enlist their help, certainly. Try to get them seated in strategic places, definitely. Ben was regularly captured by his grandfather after running down the length of the reception venue, as they were seated half-way down.

6. Bring a change of clothes

During the ceremony, the bride and groom’s son wore a gorgeous set of tails to match the groom and his ushers. After the ceremony, he was much happier in his causal, comfy clothes.

7. A range of ‘bigger’ toys, if you can

My sister in law, Suzie, brought a train set, Duplo, and a assemble-your-own truck kit. This kept the smaller children entertained for ages during the meal. My other sister in law brought craft and drawing activities, which did the same for the older children. The bride and groom thoughtfully provided party bags with masks and play doh, which went down very well.

8. Use reins

Ben loves to run around. In a crowded room, this is tricky, especially if there are multiple exits. He could get through gaps that we couldn’t push through without knocking people over, and would be outside before we knew it, and, while it was a fairly safe site, there was still traffic and other dangers. Putting the reins on him meant that he was safe, could wander around happily, and that he was slow enough to allow me to keep up with him in heels.

9. Enjoy it!

Ben loves his cousins, and one of the loveliest things about the day was watching him interact with them. My particular highlight was watching him try to dance like them, particularly when they wanted to break dance. Precious.

10. Get a babysitter (if you can)

We left at 7.45pm and drove home. Ben slept all the way, and all through the night. But we did miss the party, and that’s a bit of a shame. It’s one of those sacrifices you have to make as a parents. I don’t know how many weddings we’ll get invited to in future, but just over a year ago, when we were invited to the evening do of a wedding, Ben’s grandparents babysat. We had a fantastic time. IMG_3932

Easter Holiday Plans

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The Easter break is a lovely one for teachers. 

Firstly, most of the exam prep and controlled assessments or coursework are done for your exam years. Secondly, you feel like you might just make it to the end of the academic year in one piece. Thirdly, we get two weeks!

Right now, at the beginning of those two weeks, there’s a sense that I could actually be productive. It’s been a long and difficult term for me professionally: Ofsted at the end of January, then a series of job applications and interviews. I actually accepted a new job last week, but that won’t start until September. So I do feel a distinct sense of relief.

On top of that, this last week of term has been tricky. Ben has been ill with hand, foot and mouth, which means that he’s been off nursery this week. He’s also been awake a lot each night. I had to stay at home on Monday to look after him. Tim looked after him on Tuesday, and Ben’s grandparents were due to do Wednesday, which was amazing. It sounds awful, but I was counting the minutes that I would miss teaching my Year 11s. No matter how good the cover work you set, it is never the same as you being there. 

Anyway, I left home on Wednesday morning to go to work. At the end of our road, the car gave an almighty bang and started growling, like a really souped-up boy racer car. Except it’s not. It was a very broken car. 

Tim to the rescue again: he quickly handed over the keys to his car and told me to go. He would sort himself out. 

So we’ve staggered to the end of term really. We’re exhausted, and despite the clocks going back last weekend, often ask each other if it’s too early to go to bed. Hopefully we’ve avoided catching Ben’s virus, and he’s mostly better now, so we can look forward to the holiday.

So one of my plans for the holiday is to do very little work! If I can condense it all into two days, I should get enough sorted to get me going at the start of term, and caught up with my marking. That’s the plan, anyway.

Another plan is to do some Spring cleaning – cleaning those areas which don’t really need it every week, but which have built up. 

But mostly, I plan to rest. I want to watch TV while finishing a jumper I’ve been knitting for months. I want to read a book. I want to potter in the garden. I want to take photographs with Tim’s camera, so I can finally learn how to use it. I finally want to make a red velvet cake.

If I don’t write these things down, I won’t do them. So that’s the plan. 

Soup-Up Sunday: White Bean and Chorizo Soup

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I occasionally make soup on a Sunday, and then take it into work throughout the week. It makes me feel wholesome, and ready to face the week ahead. It also saves me the faff of making sandwiches, which I don’t really enjoy doing. Most often, I remember that I have to make sandwiches just before I’m going to bed, and it feels like a real chore. With soup, I can just scoop a portion into my microwaveable soup mug and I’m good to go.

I think white beans (cannellini or butter beans work well) and chorizo are a fairly well established combination. The earthy softness of the beans works well against the smoky spice of the chorizo. I adapted this recipe from a BBC Good Food one; I think it’s fairly forgiving, so feel free to adapt and deviate from this one.

Ingredients

  • 100g chorizo
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp thyme leaves
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 cans tomatoes
  • 2 300g cans beans – I used 1 of butter bean, 1 of cannellini

Method

  1. Slice the chorizo into slices of the thickness of a pound coin. Heat a large saucepan and gently fry the chorizo for 2 minutes, until the oil is released.
  2. Remove the chorizo from the pan and put aside.
  3. Chop the onion, garlic and carrots finely. Add to the pan with the thyme leaves and let saute in the chorizo oil until soft.
  4. Add the paprika and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Stir in the beans and then simmer for a further ten minutes. Season to taste.

 

 

Restaurant Review: Upstairs at the Grill

Last summer, the GCSE Exam question was entitled, “The Best and Worst Meal you have ever eaten.” I mark that particular GCSE Exam paper. Steak, it transpires, is your average 16 year old’s favourite meal. I must have read close to 200 descriptions of the perfectly cooked steak. By the end of the marking time, I was an expert on what a good steak should be like.

So when Tim booked a steak restaurant for our date this weekend, I couldn’t help but wonder, would the steak live up to those descriptions?

He needn’t have worried (I don’t think he was particularly concerned). For the first time since he was born, Ben had a night away. He went to stay with his Auntie Suzie, Uncle Matt and their children, who kept him entertained every moment. We took advantage of a hotel deal and stayed in Chester.

We’ve had a few date nights since Ben was born, but often we’ve rushed to fit everything (meal and dinner) in, and be back at a reasonable hour for our babysitters. With Ben at a sleepover, we were able to stay out late! Both of us were able to have an alcoholic drink! And (best of all) both of us could have a lie-in the following morning! Amazing.

The restaurant Tim chose was Upstairs at the Grill in Chester. From the outside, it looks small and cosy, and that’s fairly true. But it has a real sense of decadence about it, as a good steak house should. We arrived at 9pm, with a reservation for 9.30pm, and went upstairs to the cocktail bar, which should probably be described as intimate. However, the cocktail menu was extensive, and the cocktail waiter was slick and entertaining, as a good cocktail waiter should be. The cocktails we sampled were excellent, and our bar-side stools gave us a good view.

Halfway through our cocktails, we were invited to watch a ‘Steak Presentation.’ For a good five minutes, a waitress held a board with different cuts of beef on it, and went through the different types of steak on offer at the restaurant. She was keen to emphasise the feeding of the cattle – most were grass-fed on the Welsh hills. There was also steak (grain-fed) from Texas and Australia on offer. Perhaps most usefully for me, was her recommendation that the more marbled cuts of steak (e.g. rib-eye) are best cooked medium rather than rare. Since having Ben, and avoiding rare meat during pregnancy, I cannot eat very rare meat without getting ill. So this was excellent news for me, a former rare-steak lover.

According to her recommendation, both Tim and I had the rib-eye steak, with accompaniments of triple-cooked chips, onion rings and sugar snap peas. All was excellent. The steak was beautiful. The wine (the house Merlot) was delicious. The chipotle-spiced bread and bone-marrow flavoured butter was a nice touch.

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Perhaps because we were dining late, Tim and I were seated at a 4-person size table. I don’t think we’ve put on that many pounds over Christmas! However, this made the meal much more comfortable, and I wonder if it would be a bit too cosy with four around a table that size. The waiters were attentive but not overbearing, and the price was reasonable for such a good meal in Chester.

It is a rare day that I turn down dessert, but I really couldn’t have managed dessert after that steak and its accompaniments. So I can’t review the desserts, I’m afraid. However, for the cocktails, wine and steak, I can definitely recommend Upstairs at the Grill.

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All photos in this post were taken by Tim. As you can tell, the restaurant was dark!

 

Pinspired! Green Smoothies

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I may have mentioned my obsession with Pinterest before. I must have spent hours, often in the middle of the night, pinning recipes, quotes, pictures of beautiful homes, tips to make your life simpler… It’s brilliant.

Incidentally, I saw this on Facebook the other day, and loved it. 1522117_10151919373846297_1320135790_n

However, when I first saw Green Smoothies being pinned, I thought, “Yuck, disgusting. Why would anyone add spinach to a smoothie?”

But then, I read about them. I thought about it a bit more. And in my New Years Health Kick, I decided to give them a go.

What do you know? They are delicious. You honestly can’t taste the spinach. There’s possibly a slightly grassy freshness to the smoothie, and yes, it is definitely green, but it tastes just like a normal banana and strawberry (or whatever fruit you choose) smoothie.

Recipe

  • 1 handful baby spinach
  • 50ml fruit juice or milk
  • 1 banana
  • 1 handful blueberries, strawberries, raspberries or mango (or a combination)
  • 1 pot yoghurt (individual serving)
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons oats

Method

  1. Put the spinach and fruit juice or milk into the blender. Whizz until it is completely blended. You want to do this first because getting chunks of spinach leaf in a smoothie is gross.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.

It really doesn’t taste of spinach, and it has loads of vitamins. You kind of feel super healthy from drinking it. Enjoy the glow.

Resolutions for 2014

Well, better late than never, I guess.

1. Consume less caffeine

Since having Ben, and especially since stopping breastfeeding, my caffeine consumption has got a bit ridiculous for me – I feel dependent on it. I think I’m averaging 5-6 cups of tea or coffee each day. I’m not happy with this, and know I want to cut down.

Update: I’ve cut out caffeinated drinks completely where possible. Decaff only for me!

2. Consume less sugar

Ah, sugar, the new evil. It’s definitely addictive, and I am definitely addicted. I’ve always had a sweet tooth, but I know I can’t eat a whole packet of biscuits anymore and get away with it. The sugar highs and sugar lows are too much. The additional pounds are going to creep on. And with the news that diabetes can lead to dementia, I think it’s time to get off this sugar wagon.

I’m not giving it up completely – I do, after all, love baking – but I need to find a way to make it less of a daily thing, more of an occasional treat.

3. Work less

Technically, I work 3 days a week. The current reality is that I’m working 40 hours a week. Most evenings, significant chunks of the weekend. In fact, I’m writing this on a Sunday night where I feel like I’ve spent my whole weekend either doing housework or working. I don’t want to feel like that any other weekend in 2014.

So, I’m going to try two strategies: firstly, to create more resources that are more generic. Lots of my resources are used for one lesson only, and that’s not time-efficient. So I might need to put more time into making one resource that can be used 6 times and less time into making 6 different resources for 6 lessons.

Update: I’ve created a really useful writing Success Criteria activity, and a writing Planning Sheet which I’ve used with 3 different KS3 classes.

The second strategy is a marking code. The idea is that you use symbols to mark statements instead of writing them out. In fact, the students then write them out – and hopefully, pay more attention to them. I’ll be trialling this next week.

I also need to think carefully about when I allow myself to work. If I’m not careful, work can be stretched out to fill the time you have. I need to work out when, during the week, I am willing to dedicate time to work – and not to work outside of those times.

4 Blog more

I love this blog. I spend a lot of time composing blog posts in my head which never make it to the screen. Again, it’s a time and priorities issue – I have a toddler, a demanding job, friends and family, a home to run etc. But I love reading back over the posts and reminding myself of what we did, what I learned, how I’ve changed. I also started it originally as a bit of an aide-memoire for when we have another child, or for when friends ask what we did with Ben. I don’t want that to tail off because he got to 12 months!

Last year, I only managed one blog post a month in October and November. That’s not enough. Ideally, I want to aim for at least 1 a week, but I’m going to set myself the target of 5 a month, and see how we go.

5. Have more adventures

When I think back to my own childhood, I remember wishing we had gone out more as a family. Weekends were so often dominated by commitments at church, and then, as we got older, horse riding and drama classes. We would go for a long walk on Bank Holidays, but, in Britain, we don’t get too many of them.

So I am determined that Ben should have more adventures. I think it’s easy to think, “We’ll just stay at home and have fun,” but that can be boring. Often, it’s more energising to get out and do something. Ideally this would be out of doors, but we do live in Manchester.

I’ve kind of scheduled in Sunday afternoons as ‘Mummy and Ben adventure time,’ because Tim often watches football on a Sunday afternoon, but this resolution is about more than that. It’s about saying yes when we’re invited to do something, even though the logistics may be tricky. It’s about doing things as a family, away from the housework and  routine. It’s about creating memories. It’s about having more fun.

I suppose I should probably put some things in here about saving more money, progressing in my career, learning a new skill and things. But, honestly, I think I put enough pressure on myself. I’ll just concentrate on this.

A review of 2013

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Writing a blog kind of forces you to reflect on things. Hopefully not in a ‘Christmas Letter of our achievements’ kind of way, but more as a record of what you’ve done. My reflection on 2013 is intended to be a positive take, but hopefully without the self-congratulatory tone that you see in many annual round-ups. However, Tim did accuse me of bring a bit full of myself when describing my Boxing Day Dessert. I couldn’t lie, though: it was actually that amazing.

So 2013 has been characterised by:

1. Tiredness

When I asked Tim how 2013 had been for him, he replied, “Great, but tiring.” At the beginning of the year, sleepless nights were par for the course – Ben was still feeding 2 or 3 times a night. So that was definitely tiring. Not being at work, I got up every single time. So yes, the broken nights were definitely tiring. So were the 5am starts, when he finally started sleeping through. We had a few weeks of blissful recovery at the beginning of December, when Ben slept 7pm-7am every night, but that has gone out of the window with Christmas and general disruption to his routine. So 2013 has definitely been tiring.

2. Family Holidays

Despite the constraints of maternity pay, we managed to have 3 holidays this year, 1 abroad in France. We has our first holiday as a family in February in the Lake District, and it was a lovely time to go away – Ben was 6 months old and not crawling, meaning that baby-proofing wasn’t an issue. The cottage where we stayed provided a high chair and cot, and I got a Sainsburys shop delivered when we arrived. We repeated this everywhere else we stayed, and it worked really well. Even though we live in the same house, sleep in the same bed and eat meals together, holidays seem to be when Tim and I make our big decisions and realise how much we just enjoy each others’ company. Easy to forget when you’re juggling childcare, laundry and working. For our other two holidays, we went with either set of our parents. This was a really good chance to all spend some time together (and, of course, we took up the offers of babysitting).

3. My return to work

I went back to work after having 13 months off, and I can honestly say that I really enjoyed going back. Yes, it has been incredibly stressful; yes, I frequently spend every evening and nap time marking or planning; yes, I frequently do 40 hour weeks despite being part-time. That’s teaching. It’s really hard work. But it has been so good to use my brain and my skills. I thought a lot about my work while I was on maternity leave, and have spent a lot of time planning schemes of work. Fortunately, that reflection time hasn’t been wasted, and I think I’m probably teaching some of the best lessons of my life.

4. Serving our church

Over the last year, I’ve found myself involved in more teams in church. From helping out in crèche on a Sunday morning to running a blog with notes for small group Bible Study, God has used me and my time. I’ve met people, I’ve deepened relationships, learned a lot and have developed new skills. It’s been good.

5. Social Media

I’m getting to grips with Twitter, and the blog is nearly a whole year old. I have really enjoyed learning how to do this. Twitter is really good for teaching; I’ve picked up some great ideas and witnessed ( I don’t often take part) some fascinating discussions. You can follow me here. I’ve been on Pinterest a while, and I’m still addicted. You can find my boards here.

6. Getting to grips with our finances

Since June, we’ve been following the principles of CAP Money. This has been really helpful for us managing our finances better. I highly recommend doing a CAP Money course to everyone.

Looking forward to 2014, I am aware of changes I need to make. I want to spend more quality time with friends and family. I want to have more adventures. I need to sort my diet out, as all too often it is characterised by caffeine- and sugar-fixes. I need to find smarter ways of working, both inside and outside the home. I would like to get fit again. I’d like to get more sleep. But that’s for another post.

Happy New Year!