Can you feel the Love tonight?

Let’s just say that yesterday was not a fabulous day,

I woke early with a blocked nose and a sore back, got soaked to the skin on the way to work carrying the biggest joke of a brolly ever sold to an unsuspecting public, had a rough day in work and then got soaked again on the way home.

Arriving home in a less than pleasant mood I was greeted by the sight of my neighbour’s patio umbrella which had blown over the fence and landed on top of my car. Apparently, even with severe weather warnings he hadn’t felt it necessary to fold the thing up and put it away.

By this point, too tired to care, I folded the umbrella, ran my hand over the myriad of scratches on the back of my car and went inside for a cuppa.

On settling myself on the sofa and switching on the TV I was then faced with the sight of my neighbour, caught on CCTV, attempting to sneak along my driveway to retrieve the offending umbrella without even having the common decency to knock my door and apologise.

Of course, I did the same thing every calm, rational, human being in my position would do. I confronted him, pitched a fit and took myself off to bed in a huff.

I woke this morning in no better a mood to be repeatedly told by Toots to “Smile Mommy”. Himself wouldn’t even look at me for fear of turning to stone.

I arrived at work, painfully early and decided to grab a Starbucks (I deserved it) and catch up on some reading.

My first port of call, as usual, was with Domestic Spaz and would you just look what this beautiful woman left for me;

The Learned One had also apparently suffered a bit of a stinking day and been given the gift of Love by
Memoirs of a Mommy.

The rules of sharing the Love are very simple.

MemoirsofaMommy says the rules of this award are: SHARE THE LOVE!!! Share this award with all those blogs out there that you love. All the people who make you smile. All those that make you laugh. All those that make your day. All those that leave uplifting comments on your blog. **All I ask, is that you include a link to this post with the award and ask your recipient to do the same**

Obviously I will oblige.

I would like to share my love with;

Frugal Upstate. The first blog I read and the one which motivated me to stop talking to myself so often.

Welcome to my World Janmary. She’s a Northern Ireland woman like myself except her blog does it far more justice than mine ever could. Also for teaching me the benefits of evasive tactics for, so help me if I get addicted to digiscrapping as well, Himself will have to start making appointments.

Real Live Living. Annie is lovely; she always takes the time out of her busy days and pays a visit to my tiny ickle corner of the blogosphere. She’s funny, intelligent and she has also experienced a “bad day”

And last but by no means least
Pat Veratto’s Frugal Living Blog. I am already implementing a lot of her fantastic and sensible methods of saving money around the house and also for her recent post Don’t Worry Be Happy. Something which we should all take the time to read and to take heed of, even the minted and unfrugal among us.

So there you have it, the Love will go on and I’m in a much better mood. Thanks Spaz I really needed some Love.

And remember, “Smile Mommy” because somebody somewhere loves you and you probably don’t even know they exist…

Oooh, we do like to be beside the seaside....

Well, we do when the sun comes out for a change. It got a teensy bit windy during our trip, but that wasn't the biggest problem.

Mommy, where is the sand...beachs have a thing called SAND...

(Note the very uncool litter. And yes I picked it up)

See mommy. SAND. S.A.N.D... but what's all this other guff.

Oh for crying out loud. I give up. When you find some sand call me, I'll wait here.

Why exactly did we bring the bucket and spade again?

The Big Birthday Plan - Part Three

This is the third and final part of the The Big Birthday Plan.


I’ll be able to rattle up some invitations on the PC and will just use a folded variety rather than have to worry about envelopes. I’ll provide an email and number to RSVP to try and make it easier for mums to let me know. I may mention it ahead of time and ask the mums for a general consensus on whether a morning or afternoon is better for them.

It may be themed fancy dress, along the lines of an outfit made only from what you can find around the house rather than anything bought, but this may require a lot of involvement from mums and I know everyone is very busy these day, alternatively I will provide dress up outfits, as I’ve toots isn’t a girly girl so there are plenty of capes and masks to go around, plus a few animal dress up items so I should be covered for this. Actually, I would love input on this. If I were to invite you to a party and ask you to make a dress up outfit out of aluminium foil and empty egg cartons would you tell me to go and jump. Honestly now, be brutal, I can take it…sniff.

For decoration I already have a few banners without a specific year printed on them and a ton of balloons which my lovely mother insists on buying at every opportunity.

Also another thing I’d love input on. Would any mums out there be offended if you received an invite with a stated a maximum spend included of say…£5. This would be enough to cover a small token gift and maybe a card. She’ll get plenty from family and close friends and I think sometimes mums will turn down the invite of a party because of the expenditure involved in buying a gift. I would rather she didn’t receive seven huge presents from her friends and I think small things, like a single pot of play doh, even homemade, or some colouring books, even a book itself would be a far better idea for a present rather than the latest craze toy, which I will then be lumbered with keeping up on. Pokemon… no thanks.

I may….MAY make a pinata. She loves Spongebob which requires some seriously heavy programme vetting on mommy’s part but I think he’d be pretty easy to knock up.

Famous last words eh.

A proud moment.....well, almost.

So it's Sunday night and it's bath time for *bonzo, aka flossy.

Himself is in the middle of trying to extract flossy from the stupidest dress known to man, silly little summer thing with iddy biddy straps which cross over at the back. She gets caught in this dress like a fish in a net every bloody time she wears it...anyway.

Flossy's busying complaining VERY LOUDLY that her hands are stuck and Himself is still faffing about trying to get the dress off when (for a laugh apparently) he asks if all three of her hands are stuck.

All quiet in the bathroom while Flossy looks at her Dad like he just floated up the Lagan in a bubble.

She manages to wriggle out of the dress and climbs into the bath while the conversation about hands somehow continues.

Flossy: I got my hands back, see (waves hands frantically in front of face).

Himself: Yep, all three hands back again.

Flossy: No Daddy, you're a silly moomoo, see (again with the frantic waving).

Aaaah, Daddy suckins you ganch. Outsmarted by a three year old. You'll not catch her out that easily, she was after all raised by yours truly. All the while victory lap in my head, running with arms outstretched in the air cause my kids rocks..... wait hang on a mo', is she still talking. Right back up a bit.

Flossy: No Daddy, you're a silly moomoo, see....I have four hands. (Yep four, arms no longer above head)

And then she counts them, and somehow, manages to count to four with only two hands.

Right, yes, as I was saying, she is only three and I'm still working on numbers with her.

Of course, there is always the possibility that she was just trying to wind up daddy, the same way he tried with her. Eh, I live in hope.

* I've never actually referred to her as bonzo, but it fit better than flossy, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

The Big Birthday Plan - Part Two

I posted yesterday about planning for Toots' birthday party and this is a continuation of that post.


Primark recently had a sale on all of their bed linen and thinking ahead I grabbed plain white pillowcases. They were reduced to £1 for a pack of two so I nabbed four packs. I think eight kids total for a four year olds party is plenty. I also already have a huge pile of fabric markers and stencils I gathered over the years so these will double as something to occupy the kids for 20 minutes or so, plus I’m covered for the almost obligatory party favour. I’ll pile the markers and stencils in the middle of a large drop cloth I use when toots is painting and let the kids decorate their very own pillowcase.

I’ll inflate the paddling pool and fill it with soft toys and some ballpit balls then hide some small token gifts inside and then let the kids take it in turn two at a time to dive in and find one each. I’ll make a point over the next few month of keeping an eye out for anything suitable, small sticker books or boxes of crayons, I may add in a few specific boy items and girl items, this means if a boy gets some hair clips it should encourage the kids to swap until they’re happy with what they have. I can do this inside or out depending on the weather.

I won’t be including any games which leave anyone feeling left out like musical chairs or pass the parcel, these games are fine for older kids who understand the concept a bit more but I don’t think 4 year olds would “get it.”

We’ll have some music and dancing, before the food to avoid any mishaps. Kids’ with full bellies, jumping around is probably not a good idea.

Weather depending I’ll also be able to borrow a bouncy castle. I have a small one which three, maybe four kids could be on at the same time, but I can imagine this causing some arguments, so I can lay my hands on a slightly bigger one for the day and it has its own little generator which keeps it inflated. This means I won’t need to plan ahead, it inflates in around 15 minutes so if the weather’s good I can throw it up quickly. If not, I can hide it in the garage and just not mention it.

Another idea I’ve had is for a treasure hunt around the house and garden which will eventually lead to the kitchen for the cake towards the end of the party, but I will have to put some more thought into this as it can’t be too difficult or the kids will lose interest. Possibly, using colours, numbers or the alphabet for clues. I don’t know yet.

Little green hair monsters are another way to pass the time indoors on a rainy day. Take one washed egg shell with the top removed, fill with damp paper towel or shredded newspaper, let the kids draw funny faces on them with paint and sprinkle some cress seeds in the top onto the damp paper. These are pretty good because they tend to take them home and forget all about them for a day or two and when they remember it already has a short back and sides, a full week and we’re talking a mop top.

The Big Birthday Plan - Part One

I may be getting a bit ahead of myself with this one as I don’t have toots’ birthday to worry about until next year, but with trying to plan ahead for Christmas and make a lot of the gifts, I know that I’ll end up putting off any planning until the New Year and before I know it April will sneak up on me and that’s when the party will end up costing a fortune.

I’ve been having ideas for a birthday party for a month or so now, but find that sometimes no sooner has a great idea popped into my head than its gone again.

I know, I know…write them down, but I’ve mentioned before about my handbag full of scrappy little bits of paper. My bag tends to be the place where good ideas go to die.

So I’ll add them here, I may add to this post over time if I have any more good ideas or add additional separate posts if I really get into the swing of things.

This will be Toots’ first real birthday party as such. We’ve had a couple of friends over for play dates on her birthday but not a party. This year she turns four and I think she’ll be ready for a full blown party although I’d rather it wasn’t more than two or three hours long max. Kids that age start to burn out after a couple of hours and with it being in April I’ll have to have plenty of indoor backups at the ready. You just can’t guarantee the weather here at any time of the year but April can be especially changeable.

I want to keep the party quite minimal without spending too much money, actually I’d prefer to spend virtually nothing, but we’ll see how that goes.

I’m going to try to separate this up a little to help me spot them again quickly later. I’ll also post over the course of a couple of days as it’s getting quite involved.


I will be making her cake and I’ve been extolling the virtues of a princess cake (not Barbie, we don’t do Barbie in this house…evil freak of nature). Last year she wanted Tom and Jerry and that was time consuming but so worth the look on her face when she finally saw it finished. Here it is part way through.

The photos of the completed cake are buried on the other laptop and I’ll find them eventually, but you get the idea. Toots isn’t what you’d call a girly girl so I’m not sure I’ll get away with a princess cake, plus her bestest friend in the whole wide world is a boy, they are inseparable.

I’ll make ice cream for the party myself as well. The ice cream I usually make at home is fakey banana. Basically, peel and chop bananas into chunks and freeze until solid, then whiz in a food processor with a little milk until it’s the consistency of ice cream, you can add nuts or choc chips. Swirling in a little maple syrup is also very good and I’ll serve this in little plastic bowls I picked up years ago which look like waffle/brandy snap baskets. I just have to stop the kids from trying to eat them.

I’ll also serve some crisps and jelly shapes, preferably sugar free. I will not be the mum who sends the kids home “buzzing” to their mums just in time for bed.

I’ll also make some fruit kabob skewers for a healthier option. I have some plastic skewers about six inches long with a screw on cap at both ends. I picked them up in a car boot sale about a year ago and although I don’t thing this was originally their intended use, they work perfectly and I’ll feel a lot safer with a bunch of kids running around with them when there aren’t any pointy ends.

Then I think a few sandwiches cut with cookie cutters should make enough food, kids sometimes don’t eat a lot when they’re excited and I’ll try not to plan this party over a main meal time.

Planning Ahead - Christmas in July

Photo courtesy of TIO at Flickr

Well, it is officially 21 weeks and 5 days until Christmas.

I love Christmas, really, really love Christmas and start really getting into the spirit every year around the beginning of November.

Sometimes though, Christmas can jump up and bite us on the ass. With the cost of almost everything on the rise, it's very important, this year especially, to really plan ahead.

I had the sense and forethought to start right after last Christmas. I made a list of anything I had seen in the shops which I thought would make good gifts and went back in the sales to get a few things which I really thought my family would like and they have been carefully stashed away for this year.

I like to give as many hand made gifts as possible and we keep our lists pretty short here. We only give gifts to the children in the family, not the adults, but I like to give something, usually baked goods, to the household so that everyone feels included.

In fact I've gotten to the point now that I receive orders from everyone at that time of year.

I try to be quite minimal at Christmas. I don't want my daughter to associate it with a time to spend to money and get into debt, I think that's a very unhealthy way to go through life and I believe it's the main reason my mum doesn't like Christmas.

She was on her own when we were growing up and I think I realised when I was quite young that things were very difficult for her. Christmas was a time for worry, she barely managed from one month to the next and the thought of presents for her own children, never mind anyone else's, along with expense of entertaining any guests who might drop by must have been so stressful for her.

I try now to take the worry out of Christmas for my mum, she doesn't get any enjoyment from cooking so my mum, dad and brother are always invited to my home for Christmas.

And therein lies my downfall.....Entertaining. It's my passion. I love to see everyone happy after a good meal, with bellies full to bursting and contented smiles on their faces. This is the one area at Christmas time I find hardest t cut back on. But I have to try, there really just isn't the money for it in the budget this year.

I've already made a good start on the presents. I have a huge stash of yarn which I need to try to cut down so I've been keeping an eye out for patterns to use this up and also things which will make nice presents.

I have managed to finish three scarfs, two pairs of mittens, a hat with a scarf attached and pockets at the end of the scarf tails. This is my personal favourite, it's for my littlest cousin and she will just have started primary school in September this year. Hopefully this gift means that she gets to be lovely and toasty warm on the way to school but only have to keep track of one item while she's there. This should, in theory, mean that my aunt will have to spend less replacing lost items. I also just finished a pencil case (also for the same cousin), two soft toys, a bunny and a bear, two shrugs and some hair accessories and knitted jewellery for the girly half of the twins.

I have a few more projects still on needles. My mum has asked if I will make wash clothes in various shades of blue to go with her new bathroom and I'll knit a little square basket from plain string to hold them. I have some cotton in a few different shades of blue and I have quite a lot of natural cotton and a lot of dylon dyes picked up on sale, so again I shouldn't have to spend any money on this gift.

Foodwise, I'll start this week, picking up a few extra bits and pieces in the monthly shopping. Anything which will either keep on it's own (dried goods mostly) or anything which will freeze well (in particular butter, I get asked to make a lot of shortbread over Christmas and the butter can get very expensive). I'll try to keep an inventory of the things I buy specifically for Christmas and try to keep them separate from everything else to make sure they don't get used in the meantime. Later in the year I can add more things to the list, red meat can be frozen for longer than white so in November and I can start to buy in a few extra bits and pieces and store in the box freezer. This way I can take advantage of the inevitable meat sale which always occurs a month or so before Christmas and hopefully not buy anything once the prices skyrocket.

At the beginning of the year I also entered into a salary sacrifice package called Employers for Childcare. This has turned out to be a great scheme. Basically you can elect to have anything up to £243 of your monthly salary paid into an online account in the form of childcare vouchers. My childcare provider happily accepts these as they're basically cash. The benefits to me are that tax and National Insurance payable on your salary is now calculated after the voucher amount has been deducted as the vouchers are not means tested. In total this will end up saving me £901 in tax and National Insurance over the course of the year. Toots' creche fees are roughly £600 a month so I worked out that by paying an extra £50 a month to her creche and holding that amount back in the online account, I'll end up with a creche fee of £50 in December. Plus the £50 extra I've been paying each month doesn't even eat up all of the tax and NI saving so I've still felt slightly better off.

I'll be posting about any other ideas I have for making Christmas a little less hard on the wallet, but if anyone has any great stories about what you do, I'd love to hear them (hint, hint).

My Paranoid Fear - Rational or Not?

I have mentioned before that I have a paranoid fear involving toots.

I think everyone has something that scares the wits out of them when it comes to their kids, but the very few people I've told about mine think I'm a lunatic.

I think it's a very real possibility, you hear about things like this all the time.

Basically, Himself has to go away for training to keep up to date in his job every once in the bluest of moons. I am completely convinced, regardless of the fact that it hasn't happened yet, that the very first day of his week away I will fall down the stairs and break my neck or something that will leave me completely incapacitated and unable to call for help.

Because of this I've now got into the habit that the bottom shelf in the Glory Hole and the bottom shelf in the fridge belong to toots, they are her domain. In the fridge the bottom shelf consists solely of yogurts, cheese, juice, bottled water, pepperoni snacks and some similar items.

In the Glory Hole are oat bake bars, cereals, cookies, crisps and the like. I also keep a well stocked fruit bowl on the kitchen table which she can and does easily gain access to.

All this is so that while I am in a crumpled heap on the floor she can feed and sustain herself until daddy gets home in a week.

OK, I'll admit laid out like that it does sound a bit stupid. It may have been far easier to teach her to call the police, or nana, but this is the way my brain functions, so I tend to go with it.

Also, someone calls to my home every single day of the week, if anything like this did happen it would be a matter of hours before someone came along to help, but still I think that, what if... What if everybody was busy for a change and nobody called and she had to wait a whole week.

Anyway, that about sums it up. I have other paranoid moments. I'm very protective of her, she's the only one I have and I can't have anymore so that makes her all the more important.

More important than me.

So kiddo, if you ever read this, mommy didn't teach you to call the police because she thought at the time it was more important for you to look after yourself than get help for mommy.

Fight the Frump - Excrutiating Agony

I have a tiny little confession to make. Almost not worth mentioning really.

If left to my own, slightly lazy, unruly devices I can get a bit of a Frida Kahlo vibe going.

Nobody ever accused Oscar of starting any hot new trends. Now maybe Selma Hayek can rock this look, but there's no way in hell I can.

I've tried plucking with a dozen different state of the art tweezers, but I'm a bit of a klutz with those.

I've had a go with a home wax kit, but the least said about that the better.

I now fight the frump with a professional eyebrow wax. It takes seconds, it's only painful for a few minutes and it's pretty cheap (around £4.00 at my local salon). Ok, I'll admit I have sensitive skin so can end up looking like a Klingon for n hour or so afterwards, but it's totally worth it.

For more ways to fight the frump, go spend a little time with Mrs Fussypants.

Three going on Thirty

My little girl's all grown up. When did that happen?

One little illness like chickenpox and kid thinks she has "life experience".

I managed to bump into the little cabinet in the bathroom the other day while she was in the bath and knocked over a couple of bottles of shampoo. As I bent down to pick them up, my "3 going on 30 year old" pipes up "it's ok mommy, sure it's just a wee accident, leave them there I'll sort it when I'm finished here". Three years old and already she sounds like her mum.

She's been following me around the house for about a week now copying absolutely everything. Whatever mommy's up to is totally cool and she has got to be involved. She runs squealing with the biggest smile on her face when I ask her to help sort dirty laundry. She may possibly have been switched at birth, but I don't mind, No you can't have her back, this kid likes to work. I'm just saying.

I'll have to dig the camcorder out for all of these little moments. That way when she's an angst-ridden teenager, yelling from the top of the stairs that she doesn't love me and can't wait to move out. I'll be able to remind her of a time when she thought I was the bee's knees. When she copied everything I did and mimicked my every utterance. At one time, mommy was god.

Which brings up a question. Am I really a big enough person to fill those shoes? Hmm, not sure about that.

One things for sure....No more swearing quietly under my breath when I knock over shampoo bottles.

WFMW - The Glory Hole

Ladies and Gentle may I introduce to you what is commonly known in Northern Ireland as "The Glory Hole".

Most houses in Northern Ireland have one of these. Basically, it's the little room under the stairs. Usually this little room is where everything is stored and when I first moved into this house mine was no different. It was where my hoover and i ironing board hung out and had little parties safe in the knowledge they would remain completely uninterrupted.

Kidding, obviously I clean....occasionally.

We eventually decided to fit the new kitchen, bearing in mind that the "fully fitted kitchen with a range of high and low level units" advertised, turn out to be two base units, one propped against a wall with a sink on top and the other just standing there right in the middle of the floor with nothing else around it and a four ring gas stove on top. I lived like this for six months. We ate out .... often.

Now I don't know whether you've notice, but "a fully fitted kitchen with a range of high and low level units" is bloody expensive. Possibly why there wasn't one here to begin with.

Then Himself had an epiphany. Proper kitchen cabinets are indeed expensive, on the other hand awful looking laminated white shelves, well now they are dirt cheap.

Hence the Glory Hole got a make over. Here it is in all it's, well, Glory. No don't make fun. I never said it was tidy or organised. I'll get to that one day. But as it is I can find everything I need in one place.

Everything I need all laid out before me and better yet I can close the door and all the clutter and mess goes away.

This is all of my cans, bottles and sauces, oh and the cookie jar is down low, so toots can help herself, as is a great big lunch box full of oaty snack items. I have a paranoid fear, but that's for another day.

This is dried goods, baking bits and all my herbs and spices. That small freaky looking plastic tub with the goop inside is an awesome pan release recipe I pinched from Zaar. Glue couldn't stick to that stuff.

You'll also notice ice cream cones, but no one should have to go through life without ice cream, even if it's just fake banana ice cream.

The great big jar of choccy spread belongs to toots, I swear.

I also keep my microwave, a small CD player for music during bakeathons and an admittedly rather bare wine rack in here.

And last but by no means least a medicine cabinet and a rechargeable torch. The electricity goes off here quite a bit in winter and it's just easier to dig the candles out from the back of the Glory Hole once you have a torch in your hand.

All of this means that I get to have a kitchen that looks like this;

Notice the severe lack of cabinetry in my kitchen. Nope, neither does anybody else.

This has definitely worked for me over the last five years. I saved at least £1000 on cabinets to begin with as I had originally planned to cover the wall beside the table with cabinets, this would have meant no table.

Also having so much space in the Glory Hole means that I' able to buy all of my dried goods and baking supplies in bulk and save even more money.

For more great WFMW tips head over to Shannon at Rocks in my Dryer.

Apologies for the odd layout, something is just not working properly.

Dangerous Duck Ovens

Ok, read this, I don't mind waiting.

*Filing nails*

*Read the paper*

*Where's the child, lifts child out of laundry bask....*

Oh you're back. Did you enjoy your little trip? Did you bring me anything back?

Anyway, I'm starting to think that one day, because I'm not convinced it's happened yet, but one day aliens will land on this iddy biddy planet and the only thing left will be a Health and Safety Executive sitting in an inflatable chair, covered in caution labels, surrounded by bubble wrap.


We will be in stasis until he has successfully covered all the "edges".

Fight the Frump - Hold Your Head High

It's Friday's Fight the Frump with Mrs Fussypants.

It might sound really obvious, but always hold your head up high, walk tall (you can carry a big stick if you want to).

It's all about confidence or at least giving of an air of confidence.

Standing up straight and holding you head high works wonders in lots of ways.

Working down the body, it allows you to look people in the eye and lets your voice carry further. Your eyes will catch more natural light making them seem brighter and more alert. Your under eyes catch more light as well minimising shadows.

Holding you head up minimises or eliminates the double chin altogether, as well as smoothing out any fine lines and wrinkles around your neck and chest.

It lifts the boobs which in turn gives a flatter appearance to your middle (a good bra also helps, underwire is your friend).

It will encourage you to maintain better posture overall, just think no more neck and back pain.

So go on, lift that head, throw your shoulders back and strut your stuff.

Want to join in. Fight the Frump with Fussy.


I've always wanted a pet

Question...If it lives in your house and eats your food then, by definition, is it a pet?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have a mouse, and it seems he here to stay.

We've set the usual traps, loaded up with yummy chocolate. He eats the chocolate and never springs the trap.

Now I'm left with the thought, is it this little guy. Too tiny and delicate to spring the traps. Another question...if it is this little guy do I want him getting caught in a trap. He is rather cute, no?

He'll have to leave the house one way or the other. Those things carry god only knows what and I certainly don't know where he's been.

So it looks like we're going to have to fatten him up if we're to have any hope of catching him in the trap.

On the other hand it could be a huge great thing and he's just lifting the traps up and chowing down on our chocolate before setting the traps back where we left them, but I can't even bring myself to think about that.

Anyone have any funny mouse stories?

WFMW - Airbed 1 - Chickenpox 0

My daughter has chickenpox. Chickenpox are evil and must me gotten rid of.

The biggest problem we've had with chickenpox are that toots just couldn't get comfortable. No matter which way she tried to lie down, she always seemed to be lying on a spot. They seem to have come up on all of her "points", elbows, knees, shoulder blades and the very bottom of her back. She's covered in the damn things but they seem to be at their worst, red and angry looking, in these place.

Thursday and Friday night last week were the most awful nights I've ever experienced in my life and that includes the night I had her (very long story, possibly for another post...maybe). My lovely little daughter could not get one wink of sleep these two nights, which meant neither did I, or the neighbours three doors down for that matter.

She was sore, no wait scratch that, she was in agony and nothing would settle her. She cried until she was sore from crying and couldn't cry any more, then she just curled up in a ball on my knee and asked me to "help her".... and I couldn't.

For the first time in my little daughter's life, mommy couldn't fix it and couldn't make it go away. We tried her bed, my bed, the sofa and just holding her, nothing worked. Pressure was always being put on some of the spots and they were painful. I even resorted to junior nurofen which barely eased it at all.

By Saturday morning we were all exhausted and checked in the morning only to find a fresh batch of spots which would start the whole cycle off again that night.

I staggered out of the house on Saturday morning, eyes out on stalks and looking like something from night of the living dead. I had to find something to let her sleep. I had notions of finding a stationers and buying all the bubble wrap I could get my hands on.

Then I wandered in through the door of a charity shop in my town and some angel, some absolutely beautiful angel and donated an airbed, of the three minute variety, you know the ones.

She went to bed at 8.15pm on Saturday night woke at 10.40 on Sunday morning. Sunday night she slept from 8.45pm to 10.30am. I cannot express how much I love this airbed. It has been an absolute lifesaver.

The spots have crusted over and are slowly starting to fade. The airbed is still in situ. I am under strict instructions that mommy is not to take away "her" bed until all the spots are completely gone. This could take a while.

This has definitely worked for me and will be carefully packed away until the next spotty outbreak, whatever that may be. Bring it on, we're ready this time.

For more ideas on What works for other people visit Shannon at Rocks in my Dryer

Homemade Vanilla Sugar

This is an easy way to get most out of vanilla pods. Depending on where they are bought they can be quite expensive. I've found that the cheapest place to buy these is at the Asian Supermarket, they're normally around £1.50 for three compared to over £1 for one in any normal supermarket.

I love vanilla, can't get enough of the stuff and when given the option always prefer to use pods instead of essence or extract, although I will use these for day to day things.

I use vanilla to flavour pavlova, whipped cream, custards and ice cream.

The first time I use a vanilla pod I will split it open lengthwise and remove the seeds, using these to flavour a liquid, particularly ice cream, I like the little flecks of black studded through the creamy white of the cream. Some people prefer they're vanilla ice cream to be pristine white, I am not one of those people.

I will then store the pod in an airtight container until the next time I need it which will again be to flavour a liquid. I most often use the pod this time to flavour a cooked custard, adding the pod to the milk or cream in the pan and allowing it to infuse while the custard cooks and thickens. Once the pod has done it's work I quickly rinse it under the tap and leave it somewhere warm to dry out a little.

Once the pod has dried out, measure out enough caster (superfine) sugar for around four recipes, normally about 500g in my house. Whatever your favourite recipes are, the things you make most often and preferably a recipe which contains vanilla.

Add vanilla pod to a blender and pulse until finely chopped, once it doesn't seem to be getting any smaller, add the sugar and pulse again for another 30 seconds or so to distribute the vanilla. Store in an airtight container and use in your favourite cake and cookie recipes in place of regular sugar and vanilla. Feel free to use half and half, vanilla sugar and regular sugar for a just a warm hint of flavour. This can also be used to sweeten coffee, fruit and homemade hot chocolate.

Six or more uses from one vanilla pod at the price I pay brings it down to roughly 8p per recipe. I can live with that, especially when I get a beautifully flavoured dessert.

Times are a bit lean at the minute and the first thing sacrificed is usually desserts. Sometimes a little of what you fancy is good for the heart and can make you feel so much less "hard done by" in times of a tightening budget. A great way to use this sugar and one of my favourite recipes, is rice pudding. I'll be posting a recipe for this very soon.


My Garden - She Provides for Me

One of only three lonely little flowers remain in my garden. The vast majority of space has now been taken over by fruit and vegetables. A few on-edible plants remain, not the flowering variety but still lovely to look at.

It's a tiny little garden really, but perfect nonetheless, in my humble opinion. Is it a little bit mad and overgrown? Well yes it is. But I love it that way to be quite honest.

Tucked away behind the tiny little hedge row, that I'm assured one day will grow to about two feet tall, is my deck. I started it just before a bad car accident. I wasn't too badly injured just some minor whiplash but Himself was put out of commission for months. However I was determined to finish the project which involved digging around five ton of soil out of the first level of the garden and replacing it with roughly the same amount of hardcore then bedding in twelve railway sleepers. This was no easy job mind you but I'm very pleased with the outcome. That was six years ago and I've spent many a happy morning hiding relaxing up there with my coffee and a book. Also it isn't obvious from the picture but the first level is four feet off ground level with a flight of steps running up to it, you can just see the handrail from the steps on the far side of the picture...see over there. Yep those are the ones.

I love lavender and use it all over the house, in baths and showers, drawers and in the bottom of the bin, so you'll hopefully understand and excuse the monster of a lavender smack bang in the middle of the picture.

Anyway, with all the rising costs at the minute, I decided to turn over much of my little garden to plants of the edible variety. I already had the two pear and apple trees planted around four years ago and I've been happily reaping the rewards ever since. Unfortunately, due to some particularly bad weather, in particular some very strong winds, a month or so ago, my little pear tree has been left barren for this year. All of the flowers had already been blown to lord only knows where by the time the brown bees arrived in the garden. She's still beautiful though, fruit or no fruit. That's her in the picture above, all big and green and lush.

It would have been a bit difficult to start removing some of the larger plants already in place to make more room for veggies, so I've given containers a go. I have to say it's working very well so far.

Cute aren't they? The top row are one pot of spinach and two pots of red fire lettuce, the middle row are two pots of rocket and one pot of curly cabbage and the bottom row are another two pots of rocket (Himself got a bit carried away) and another pot of curly cabbage. They've gotten a little bigger since this shot was taken three weeks ago.

Spinach, lovely jubbly.

Red Fire Lettuce

Curly Cabbage...Not so curly I know, but we can't be picky.

So I've gotten a bit carried away and Himself has built a trough type affair for me to add more plants to.

I probably could have done a better job and separating the plants because it does look a bit mad, granted.

I managed to squeeze in, peas, carrots, more cabbage (a different variety, the name escapes me at the minute though) and some dwarf beans, which aren't doing great to be honest

I've plans to head to the market this weekend and pick up some onion sets and potatoes. I'll be emptying the two window boxes in the top picture to use for the onion sets and I'll be planting the potatoes straight into a bag of compost. I'm assured by Gardener's World that this works well. I can poke a few small holes in the bottom of the bag for drainage and prop it up on a couple of broken bricks so that water doesn't collect around the bottom of the bag. I'll let you know if this works or not.
I'm quite proud of myself to be honest, I'm usually a bit ignorant when it comes to gardening and tend to have a brown thumb rather than green. The first thing I check for in the garden centre is whether a plant is hardy (translation = Leanne proof). If it isn't it doesn't make it home with me. But these plants are almost idiot proof, I opened a pack of seeds, shook them into a pot of soil, added water and voila.

I'd love to hear of things you've done in an effort to reduce your food bills at home.

Free Yarn

I recently received some free yarn from a friend at work. It came from a sample spool which her poor unfortunate husband had been asked to wind into balls. I received three of these balls. The yarn is a kind of biscuit colour, beige but a bit warmer.

The yarn is roughly DK in weight and of completely unknown length. It's a loosely would cotton and I plan to knit some grocery bags as it feels quite strong, plus I have some handles picked up on sale which will work perfectly. However, I couldn't wait to drop all my other projects wanted to knit a sample using the yarn to get a feel for it and came up with this

I don't like to knit sample squares. I used to and always put them away planning to use them for something but never did, so now I always knit a patterned square just to get a feel for the yarn, rather than to check the tension. I'm a bit of a cowboy knitter, I never check tension.

As you've probably already guessed all of these little patterned squares tend to wind up being used for the same thing. Yep, that's right

Coasters...very original, I know.

The pattern itself is very simple. Basically cast on an odd number of stitches twice the length of one side of the square. For this you may be lucky and have yarn with a ball band stating the number of stitches in an inch. I didn't so I guessed and cast on 51 stitches.

You can selvage the edges for a neater appearance and to do this you just slip the first stitch in each row and purl the last stitch.

The patterns is as follows;

Row 1 sl 1, k23, sl 1, k2tog, psso, k23, p 1. (You have reduced by 2 stitches).

Row 2 (and all even rows) sl 1, knit to last stitch, p 1.

Carry on in pattern decreasing the number of stitches knitted on each side of the decrease by 1.

Continue until 3 stitches remain on needle.

Final Row sl 1, k2tog, psso. Cut off yarn and draw through last stitch and fasten off securely. Weave in all ends.

I added a tassel to each side of this square but in hindsight wouldn't do it again with this yarn, it's quite a stiff yarn and as such the tassels kept working their way loose and had to be sewn in place.

This little square has taken up residence on my desk at work, although I have many more strewn across the house.

I plan to use the rest for grocery bags and will post a pattern for those soon, although if anyone has any better ideas for using this yarn (of unknown length), please let me know.

Vacuum Seal - The Easy Way - WFMW

I don't own a vacuum sealer. I figured I'd never use it enough to justify spending that kind of money on one (the run about £100 here for a basic model with no attachments and the bare minimum of bags).

To begin with I managed to get by, sucking the air out of the bags myself. Lovely, I know, but in a pinch everyone's done it.

Anyway, I decided to have a go at OAMC about five or six months ago to see if it would work for me and my family. It didn't, I am no where near organised enough to remember to take the things out of the freezer to defrost.

Have you ever tried blowing up balloons for a child's birthday party all by your lonesome and after the first few you start to feel a little, well, lets just say, a little drunk, tipsy, rightly, three sheets to the wind. Same goes for sucking the air out of something.

Then the unthinkable happens, there I am bagging up dump chicken and sucking the air out, when I get a mouthful of the stuff, raw chicken juice an all. I know this has happened to other people and even when it is something that has been cooked, if your not expecting it, it is not a pleasant thing to happen.

So, the easy way to vacuum seal (I know, I waffle on sometimes, I'm getting there I promise). When your planning on bagging things for the freezer, fill your sink right up with water. Once the goodies are in the bag, dunk it in the water until the water is just below the zip lock. The pressure of the water forces all of the air up and out of the bags and all you have to do is close the zip. Easy as that, give it a go.

I don't OAMC anymore, but I do once a month prep and this still works for me.

For more great tips, check out WFMW over at Rocks in my Dryer.

Frugal Food Series - Cottage Pie

I like to make cottage pie and serve freshly made. It could be frozen but I would recommend just making and freezing the base. You could then defrost this at a later date to use with some leftover mashed potatoes. I don't freeze it with the potatoes already on top, I never managed to do a good job of freezing potatoes, but if you've managed to figure out a trick to it, by all means feel free (and let me in on the secret while you're at it).
Now so I'm told cottage pie contains minced beef, if it's shepherd's pie you're after then you need minced lamb. You won't find it here though, that stuff costs a fortune at the minute and really who would waste lovely lamb by mincing it.
For old recipes like this I usually consult one of two books, either Mrs Beeton's Everyday Cookery or Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management. You can get some fantastic cheap and tasty recipes from these books although you may need to play with them a little, sometimes substituting ingredients as well. Food didn't globe trot back then as it invariably does today so everything was locally produced and in season. This always makes for the best tasting and cheapest food.
If you ever come across one of these books second hand or on ebay I would recommend picking it up, it's a great read and a real eye-opener, although I haven't yet had any need for her advice on hiring a full household staff.
Cottage Pie
1lb Minced Beef cooked

1 small Onion

1 tbls Oil

1/2 pint gravy

2lb mashed potatoes cooked

milk 2 tbls

Salt and Pepper
Saute onions in oil until soft and lightly browned, add to cooked minced beef in a large bowl, along with gravy and mix well. Season to taste.
Place in a pie dish and cover with mashed potatoes.
Brush the surface of the mash potatoes with a little milk and bake in the oven at 180C (350F) for 30-40 minutes, taste with a meat thermometer or a skewer inserted into the pie for the count of ten and then carefully touched to the lip, carefully.
Serve with a side of vegetable of your choice for a complete meal. This amount will feed six comfortably, you may find it will make enough for two meals.
To use up any leftovers I usually remove the mash (don't be too picky about it, just spoon off some of the potatoes and re-heat separately with a little butter and milk), reheat the minced beef and gravy in a pan, adding finely diced carrot and frozen peas and you have stewed bugs and onions and mashed potatoes.
The name alone pretty much guarantees that kids will eat almost exactly the same meal as last night, without any complaint whatsoever.
For more recipes using ground meat visit Jenn at Frugal Upstate and take some time to look through her Frugal Food Series.

Champ Potatoes - WFMW

This week over at Rocks in my Dryer, WFMW is themed - Recipes using five items or less.

I love champ, it's easy, cheap and absolutely gorgeous, all by itself.


Floury potatoes, enough for your family. I usually use five good sized potatoes, the ones that fill the palm of your hand.

Scallions (spring onions) - one onion for each potato, finely sliced into little rings, green and white. You can get fancy with this if you like by cutting them at an angle.

Butter - don't try to skip this, it ain't champ if it doesn't have butter.

Milk - about half a cup for the amount of potatoes above.

Peel, cube and cook potatoes until tender.

Strain the water away from the potatoes and leave in the pot or in a colander uncovered to allow any remaining water to steam off.

In the meantime, put milk and scallions into a pan and bring to the boil, turn off heat and leave to rest.

Mash the potatoes until smooth and add milk and scallions and beat into the potatoes, add butter and beat again and season to taste.

Serve all by itself, as a side or use leftover cold champ to make fishcakes. This is great with good pork sausages.

The kitchen bar in Belfast used to serve champ in a pile, with a well made in the centre and a raw egg yolk cracked in and covered over with the potatoes. It would be left to sit for a few minutes to allow the heat from the potatoes to just barely cook the egg yolk and then eaten. It was beautiful. They don't do it anymore, it's up to you if you want to try it. You need to be pretty confident about your eggs for this one, although a soft poached egg on top is just as good.

There you go five items or less *ahem ... not counting the seasoning*

Give it a try and let my know how you get on. This recipe works for me and for more recipes which work for other people, take a look at WFMW over with Shannon at Rocks in my Dryer.

Also for more great recipes using potatoes, rice, pasta and bread check out the Frugal Food Series at Frugal Upstate.

frugal Food Series - Ham Chowder

This is an adapted recipe from one taken from recipezaar, published by Ann Arber on 26 March 2001. The only thing I really changed was to sub half green onions instead of all white for colour and a milder taste, but the original was lovely as well.

Recipe #8673
Cook time: 15 minutes.
Prep time: 15 minutes.

1/2 cup scallions (spring onions) finely sliced
1/2 cup white onions finely sliced
2tbls butter.
1 - 1 1/2 cups diced cooked potato (any variety waxy or floury work)
1 1/2 - 2 cups corn, drained.
1 cup cooked crumbled ham
1 can cream of mushroom soup
2 1/2 cups milk (dried and reconstituted is fine)
season to taste

Saute onions in butter until soft, but not colouring.
Add all other ingredients and heat through.
Serve with good bread.

Easy peasy. I know that ham isn't in itself a ground meat, technically, but I also know that you can sometimes get really great bargains on ham and completely fill your freezer with the stuff.

I managed to pick up a huge 3kg ham last month for £8.00 which is very cheap here. I figured it would shrink away to nothing in the oven, but it surprised me and came out almost the same size it went in. I chopped about 1kg roughly and flash froze it to use in things like this and casseroles, it's seen a few pizzas as well. I then shredded, savaged, mauled, finely sliced the rest of the ham, to use in sandwiches. Deli meat is very expensive at the minute and costs around £3.00 for two servings for the same quality of meat (not processed). Himself ate it all month with different dressings and veggies and in pasta salads. I haven't done all the math but it I can safely say it saved me a small fortune. Plus there is still some left.

From more recipes using ground meat, visit Jenn at Frugal Upstate for her Frugal Food Series.