Monday, 25 February 2013

My pregnancy - 20 weeks

We reached an important milestone in my pregnancy this week as we went for our 20-week scan, the anomaly scan.  I'll admit I was wound up like a spring before we went in - I'd barely been able to eat, and felt sick with apprehension.  I was tense and worried that we were going to get bad news.

It wasn't until after the scan was over and we were back in the waiting area that I realised just how uptight I had been - when I burst into tears with relief that the scan had happened and everything was as it should be.  I had no reason to expect otherwise - but then I'd had no reason to expect that something would ever happen to my last baby, and Daisy died the day after she was born.

I hadn't realised that throughout the scan appointment I'd been gripping my husband's hand so tightly that the imprint of my engagement ring was pressed into his fingers - marked red and white from a lack of proper circulation during those twenty minutes or so.  He'd obviously understood my tension and didn't say a word - I don't think I gripped his hand that hard during labour!!

The tears let out the anxiety I'd held in all that morning, but they also came from knowing that we're expecting another little girl.

Another daughter.

Another niece, another grand-daughter.

Another little sister for Lizzie.

I cried with sorrow for the daughter we'd lost, the little girl who'll remain in our memories forever as a 6lb 10oz newborn we'll never see grow up.  And I cried with joy for the little girl I'm growing inside me now, who deserves to have as much anticipation, excitement and preparation for her arrival as her older sister Daisy did.

So here's to the next 18 weeks of planning and expectation until we meet our new arrival - another little lady to welcome into our family.

Best wishes

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Meal planning for the week ahead

For the last couple of weeks I have managed to do all my food shopping in Aldi and I've avoided the big supermarkets altogether.  My freezer was almost empty, so I needed to do a complete re-stock of the meals I like to have ready and frozen - bolognese, chilli, casseroles etc.  I've also been making the most of my slow cooker of late, so that a tasty dinner can be ready on the table very quickly after getting in the door in the evening.

Here's the meal plan for this week:

Sunday: Homemade pizza and salad
Monday: Beef casserole, potatoes and vegetables
Tuesday: Veg chilli and rice
Wednesday: Pork loin steaks with mustard sauce, potatoes and vegetables
Thursday: Omelettes and baked beans
Friday: Spaghetti bolognese and garlic bread

I'll make a bit extra each evening so I have leftovers to take to work for lunch the following day.  On Monday I'll be making enough beef casserole to freeze half so we can have this next week.  The veg chilli is already made and in the freezer from a couple of weeks ago - full of different varieties of beans and very tasty and filling!  On Wednesday we'll have two pork loin steaks between us - I cut a piece off each steak once cooked and this is enough for Lizzie.  I'll make extra boiled potatoes that night so there will be leftovers for the omelettes on Thursday - anything else lying around the fridge by this point will end up in the omelette too, probably a slice or two of ham and some spring onions.  Friday's bolognese is already made up and in the freezer, left over from last week - so that will be a quick dinner to prepare as well.  I'll have the garlic bread ready the night before so that just needs to be popped into the oven when I get home.

I like to put a bit of thought and effort into planning for the week ahead so there's one less thing to think about when I get in the door in the evening - I stick the list up in the kitchen so everyone can see what we're having.  Sometimes my husband will make a start on tea if he makes it in the door before me - it's straightforward for him if everything is ready in the fridge and he knows what the plan is.

Whilst I'm making the dinner I prepare the lunches for the following day and also get anything else ready for the following night's tea, such as peeling potatoes or taking something out of the freezer to defrost.  Being organised like this is my routine now and it makes things so much easier - especially in the mornings when everyone is rushing out of the door!

Do you have any time-saving, meal-planning tips?

Best Wishes

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Half term is over!

Well it's been a fun-packed few days whilst Lizzie and I have been off for half term and we've managed to squeeze loads of things in since finishing up on Tuesday.

We started off with pancakes on Tuesday evening - homemade and gluten-free.  No matter how many different recipes I try, I always come back to my Mum's tried-and-tested recipe for scotch pancakes, which works well as a gluten-free version with the addition of a little baking powder.  Here is Lizzie enjoying hers with lemon juice and caster sugar - no sooner were they out the pan than on her plate, being demolished!  She asked, "Why do we only eat pancakes once a year?! They're so good!" and I didn't have an answer for her!  So we've resolved to make pancakes more often in future.  I personally prefer mine cold spread with butter - maybe that's just me!

Wednesday morning we woke up to a blanket of snow - despite the forecast, I hadn't really expected it and was surprised when I opened my curtains in the morning!  We had an unplanned day outside, wrapped up, playing in the snow.  Lizzie was delighted - she's been waiting all winter for this!

I enjoyed Lizzie's company whilst I carried out all the little errands and visits here and there.  She made everyone in the queue at the bank laugh with her antics through the window - she loves a captive audience!

By today we enjoyed glorious sunshine and managed to take a trip round the park!  Here's the learner driver trying her best to stay upright!  She just can't seem to get the hang of riding a bike but she is a determined young lady and I'm confident that she'll master it soon!

In between there's been plasticine, board games, trampoline, movies to name but a few... and a "spring clean" of Lizzie's playhouse - her idea, not mine!  Like mother, like daughter, indeed!!

Finally thanks so much to all of you who have voted for me in the MAD blog awards.  I really appreciate it - I tend to write about this, that, and everything in between so it's nice to have so much support from strangers who follow me and my Family Life - my blog and the people I get the chance to speak to have given me a lot of comfort, especially over the past few months.  If you haven't voted yet and you would like to, you can do so by completing the nominations form here  Voting closes tomorrow (Monday) at midnight.  I'd love for my blog to make it through to the next round of the competition but there are hundreds of fantastic blogs taking part this year, so even to have been nominated is a fantastic feeling.  Thank you everyone!

Best Wishes

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

So much for spring!

It was bound to happen.  As soon as I mentioned that the arrival of spring was around the corner, we woke up to a blanket of snow.  Fortunately, the timing couldn't have been better, because the schools are off for the rest of the week for the half-term holiday and as such I'm off work too.

After a leisurely start with (yet more) pancakes for breakfast, Lizzie wrapped up and headed out into the garden to play in the snow.  With a bucket and spade, of course.  Well, when you think about it - it does make sense!!

I'm absolutely convinced she planned to throw this snowball at me - then had a re-think at the last minute.  Just as well, as I was still wearing my pyjamas!  Her cheeky smile gives away just what she was plotting.

She built various sculptures, rolled giant snowballs, tried (and failed) to climb onto the trampoline, sat a snowman on the garden bench and basically shifted snow around the garden until her little face was frozen and her wee hands ice cold.

I watched all of this from the comfort and cosiness of the kitchen.  With a cup of tea.  And another pancake.

After coming inside and peeling off all the soaking layers of clothing, I wrapped her up in a duvet and she watched a Barbie movie.  Then after lunch we ventured out together for a walk to the supermarket, trudging our way through the snow and slush.  It may be the last outing for our snow boots this year (fingers crossed!) so we made the most of it.

It's starting to rain now and I suspect (and hope) that the snow will have washed away by tomorrow.  Nevertheless, I am pleased Lizzie had the opportunity to enjoy herself in the snow today.  We've missed out on every other snowy occasion this winter!

Did you have snow today?

Best wishes

Monday, 11 February 2013

My pregnancy - 18 weeks

Once we get to the end of this week, we pass the halfway point in my pregnancy and there will be officially less time to go than the time that has passed.  This milestone means a lot to me in that it signals the end is in sight - and, whilst I don't want to wish my life away, I'll admit that there's nothing I'm looking forward to more than reaching the end of my pregnancy and welcoming a healthy baby into the world.

In terms of forward planning, very little has been done - but this is mainly because there is very little to do.  Shortly after Daisy died my husband and I packed away all of our baby things.  It took a while for us to face going into the baby's room and carrying out the heartbreaking task of packing up everything we had lovingly prepared.  Each item was tenderly folded and tucked away in storage boxes - from blankets and bedding, to nappies, baby toiletries, toys and more.  The patchwork baby quilt I'd made.  The lovely baby gifts from my work colleagues.  The soft, fluffy hooded towels all washed and ready.  The boxes were filled and these are currently stored in the cupboard in my mum's spare room.

We hadn't bought much but we'd had everything we needed.  As all of this is stored away, we'll have everything we need again - although I don't plan to collect the boxes and bring them home until much nearer the time of this baby's arrival.

Last time we didn't buy any clothing except the basics, as we were leaving it until the birth to find out if we had a new son or daughter.  This time, we're planning to find out whether the baby is a boy or a girl and this will allow us to buy a few things in pink or blue in preparation for his or her arrival.  It will also give us a chance to firm up on a name for our baby.

The baby's movements are getting stronger and Lizzie is delighting in these movements just as she did during my last pregnancy.  She kisses my bump every morning and every night, starting each day by asking how the baby is doing.  She has also taken to singing to the baby now she knows that he or she is starting to hear sounds from the outside world.  Although, to what extent the baby is enjoying her renditions of "Gangnam Style" is anyone's guess....

Best Wishes

Friday, 8 February 2013

Tomato and Basil Pasta Sauce

I like to keep little pots of this sauce in the freezer as it can form the basis of a meal in no time at all - from pasta dishes, to pizza, to leftover chicken with rice... there's loads of possibilities.

I made some today using fresh basil I picked up in the supermarket last night.  I love fresh herbs but as they are quite expensive, I don't buy them very often.  This bag had been reduced to 16p so I bought it with this sauce in mind!  Half of the bag went in today's sauce and the remaining leaves went into the freezer for another time.  

There's probably loads of fantastic recipes out there for tomato sauce - I tend to vary mine and throw together whatever I have.  I'm not usually too fussy with measurements either!  On this occasion I softened two onions in a little oil along with some garlic and some green chilli (both of these were in my freezer).  I added half a pack of passata (also from the freezer), a tin of tomatoes, a jarred red pepper and some tomato puree.  I popped in some sliced carrots, a teaspoon of caster sugar, a splash of balsamic vinegar, paprika, seasoning and some dried oregano for good measure.  I brought everything to the boil and simmered for ten minutes or so then left to cool.

After adding the fresh basil, I blitzed the lot using my stick blender (to save on washing up!) then split the sauce into little tubs to go in the freezer.  I left the sauce quite thick; it can be thinned out once I know what it's going to be, for example leaving it thicker works better with pizza.  Smaller, individual portions for pasta for lunch - on it's own, with a little cheese, with some leftover ham/chicken/tuna or whatever - and larger portions for the family, either with pasta, rice or as a homemade pizza topping.

I'll use whatever I have, and sometimes I add in mushrooms and fresh peppers if I have them - but as I'm trying to use up just what I have for now, this is all I had!  And it tasted quite good!

Best Wishes

Thursday, 7 February 2013

A hint of spring!

Lizzie stopped me as we went to school this morning, to point out the blossom starting to appear on the branches of a nearby tree.  Sometimes when you take a step back and take the time to see what's around you, especially through a child's perspective, it's easier to find pleasure in the little things in life.

Despite the forecast for more snow this weekend, I'm starting to see the first hints of spring and I couldn't be happier about that.  Everything seems more hopeful when the days are brighter and longer, when the first tiny splashes of green start appearing everywhere and the grey and miserable months of winter can be put to bed for another year.

I love rediscovering the garden after it has been neglected through the cold months.  I'm so glad I had the foresight to plant spring bulbs last autumn; there's all sorts of shoots appearing from the pots and troughs I planted them in, and I look forward to remembering what I planted - I think I went for daffodils, tulips and crocuses - but I can't be sure.  Each morning when I look out my kitchen window I see the new life appearing in my garden and it reminds me of the promise of things to come.

It will be so nice to have the back door open again to let the children run in and out.  From now until next winter there will be little sets of wellies at my back door, ready to be grabbed at a moment's notice as they dash outside to play, digging up mud pies behind the shed, helping to plant things, raking the grass and in general just enjoying the fresh air and delighting in the things around them.

This year I am going to make even more of an effort to capture these little moments.  Another spring means they are another year older - and we won't have this time again, so I for one am planning to savour and save every precious moment.

Best Wishes

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Finding new blogs to read and follow!

I love reading other people's blogs on all sorts of different subjects.  Real experiences, real people, real ideas - that's what makes blogs (and blogging) so enjoyable.  Last year I voted in the MAD Blog Awards, the Mum and Dad blog awards for parent bloggers.  I got the chance to vote for my favourites and I discovered some other fantastic blogs along the way too.

Today I thought I'd share a small selection of my favourite blogs and direct you to the 2013 MAD Blog Awards nominations so far, so you can find some new blogs to read and follow too if they interest you!

Some of these blogs are well-known and others are new and upcoming blogs - take a look for yourself and you might find they appeal to you too.

Adventures of an Unfit Mother - such an entertaining blog from Emma - always makes me smile!

Frugal Queen - Jane shares her frugal lifestyle on her blog and shows how you can clear debt and pay off your mortgage early.

MammyWoo - I love Lexy's frank and honest posts about life, so beautifully written.

Mortgage Free in Three - Elaine shares her tips and ideas for budgeting and living within your means.

Motherhood or Madness - Lisa tells it like it is about being a mum to two young toddlers.  And she's Scottish, too!

I'm delighted to be taking part in the Awards as a blogger this year as well as a reader!  If you enjoy reading my blog and would like to nominate me in the Awards this year, you can click on the image to the right or on this link to the Voting page.

Do you have favourite blogs that you'd like to share?  Leave me a note in the Comments below - I'm always on the look-out for different blogs to follow!

Best wishes

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Money Saving - Eat Everything!

I posted the other day about saving money on supermarket shopping.  I received a lot of messages and questions on the subject so I thought I'd expand a little further.

I won't get it all into one post - so for today, I'll start with our first tactic for saving money on food shopping - Eat Everything!

Nothing gets wasted in this house.

Anything leftover at the end of a meal is usually deliberate rather than accidental.  For example, if I know we'll be having omelettes for tea the following day, I'll cook extra boiled potatoes with the dinner the night before, then have them ready in the fridge.  Or, I'll make double of something, for example chicken curry, so I can freeze half - a "ready meal" in the freezer for another day.  Sometimes I'll make extra at tea-time and have it again, reheated in the microwave, for the following day's lunch.   I usually get my portions spot-on so there isn't anything left once we've had our dinner - but if there is, it goes in the fridge to be used up along with the next day's meals, or into the freezer for another time.

My freezer is only small but it is always full and anything that will not get used up before it goes off in the fridge, gets frozen.  If there's a pack of ham with a couple of slices still lurking in it and we have no planned use for it, those slices get popped in the freezer and I can then use them another time for pizza topping, omelettes, pasta dishes etc.  Likewise for any vegetables that are starting to go a bit floppy and sad-looking - I either make soup with them (and freeze it) or peel and chop them and freeze in food bags.  I like using fresh herbs if I can pick them up at a reduced price - although invariably I don't need the full pack, so anything left goes in the freezer.  Herbs work well from frozen - I have a little tub in the freezer as we speak, full of rosemary for sprinkling on roast potatoes!

I never have to "clear out" my fridge and chuck away out of date milk, mouldy cheese or past it yoghurt.  If something needs using up, I'll adjust our meal plans accordingly to ensure it does, or alternatively I freeze it for another day.  My fridge is almost empty by the time shopping day comes round again - everything fresh has been used up or frozen.

Obviously if something was off or if I was in any doubt, I wouldn't feed it to my family - but I use best before dates as a guide only, and use common sense with the rest.  I haven't given us food poisoning yet!  That jar of mustard that says "use in 4 weeks after opening"?  The ice cream in the freezer that's to be eaten in three months?!  If it looks alright, smells alright and tastes alright, we eat it.  I'm more careful with Use By dates, but to be fair we don't tend to buy such huge stocks of fresh produce that I have to be concerned about the Use By dates on the fresh things I buy.

Finally, I take advantage of reduced price, yellow-stickered items in the supermarket.  You know the Reduced to Clear section - that's where you'll find me, rummaging for bargains.  I buy it and either cook it or freeze it, and write it into the next week's meal plans.  It's a good way of being able to afford more pricey items that would normally be off the menu.  Also, I tend to pick up bakery products for pennies in my local supermarket at the end of the day.  Baguettes and french sticks are turned into garlic bread, and croissants, pains au chocolat and crumpets freeze well too - making a lovely breakfast treat for my husband and the kids at the weekends.  I wouldn't dream of buying 4 croissants for £1.50 - but 10p I'll stretch to!

I'll come back with more ideas next time!

Best wishes

Monday, 4 February 2013

My pregnancy - 17 weeks

As I'm approaching the halfway point in my pregnancy now, I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on things. When I wrote on my blog that I was expecting another baby, I was really touched by all your kind messages and emails.  It is indeed an emotional rollercoaster and nothing could have prepared me for that fact, no matter how much I anticipated it would be.

I'm very lucky in that the physical aspect of pregnancy hasn't given me any issues.  This is my third baby; my body is well-practised, and knows exactly what to do.  Perhaps too well - my body shape seems to have changed very quickly this time, but then I guess that is to be expected, since only 7 months ago I gave birth to Daisy.  I unpacked all my maternity clothes again and I doubt very much that I'll be re-visiting my size 8 jeans again anytime soon - if ever!

Emotionally, well - that is more complex.  To be honest I had been feeling almost detached from the idea of having another baby; it wasn't that I wasn't happy to be pregnant again - of course I am very happy to be having another baby.  But what lingers in the back of my mind is fear.  The fear that something will go wrong, the worry that something awful will happen, the rising panic that there are so many things that can go wrong, that I was blissfully unaware of the last time I had a baby.  And although I can tell myself that the fear, the worry, the panic is not helpful, an almost self-preservation mode kicks in.

But people don't want to hear about fear and worry - they want to think that you are fine, that you are coping, that you are happy and excited.  So I smile, and keep my worries and fears to myself.

My local Sands group runs a Next Pregnancy Support Group - a group that meets monthly and is run by a Sands befriender and a local midwife, specifically aimed at supporting parents going through a pregnancy after the death of a baby.  I went along to the last meeting and finally I was able to talk to other people who knew, and understood, just what I was feeling.  I almost felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders - sharing my worries and concerns with others feeling the same, made me feel a whole lot better.

And I could talk about Daisy.  I like talking about her; I like sharing the details and memories I have.  Even though some of those memories are acutely painful, they are all I have - and like any proud mum, I like to talk about my children.

I came away from the meeting feeling more positive and optimistic than I had been.  Nobody said "oh, I'm sure everything will be fine this time", not really understanding, or knowing.  They said, "it's perfectly understandable and natural to be anxious after what happened to Daisy.   But you can do this, you can get through your pregnancy, one week at a time, and relax as much as you can - you're not alone in how you're feeling, and it's normal".

So I began to tentatively look ahead.  I promised Lizzie that we'd go shopping for an outfit for the baby, after I have my next scan (and hopefully, find out whether we're expecting a boy or a girl).  Her excitement is catching - I cannot help but be drawn in.

In the last few days I have began to feel my baby's movements; I lie back on my bed with my hand on my tummy and concentrate on feeling my new son or daughter, dancing around, growing and developing and becoming the little person we'll be welcoming into the world in a few months.

And I am beginning to feel excited.

Best wishes

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Saving on Supermarket Shopping

Like many families, we work within a tight budget and we watch what we're spending.  In particular, one area I save lots of money on is food shopping.  I write lists, I plan my shopping trips, I use coupons and I compare prices to ensure my money stretches as far as it can whilst still keeping our meals healthy and nutritious.

I'm always surprised when I come across people nowadays who don't do this!  It's so easy to be tempted at the supermarket to part with more cash than you had originally planned.

Here's what works for us!

I do my shopping weekly every Friday.  I've tried different techniques, for example doing a "big shop" monthly and then top-up visits in between, but we only have a small fridge and freezer so it's difficult to store a lot of items.  I've been shopping weekly now for nearly a year and I find it works best for our family - nothing ever goes to waste, no food is thrown away, and any leftovers are used up in meals the following day or frozen for another time.

Usually on a Thursday I check out what's still lurking in the fridge and hidden in the freezer, and I sit down and plan out the meals for the week ahead.  I use up what we have and then write a shopping list for the ingredients I need to fill the gaps.  Once I have my meal plan for the week, I stick it on the wall in the kitchen and then I know (and the family know) what we're having for dinner every night.  This means that if my husband is home before me, he'll happily make a start on the tea.  I also stick a blank post-it on the meal plan and any shopping items that come up during the week, I make a note of on the post-it for the following Friday.

Before heading off to the shops on the Friday I check in my purse for any coupons that I can make use of.  The free magazines offered at supermarkets usually have lots of vouchers inside them.  Then I take my list and my coupons and head off to whichever supermarket suits me for what I am buying.  Aldi and Tesco are right next to each other and Asda is only five minutes away, so it's no hassle to get round them all if I need to!  While I'm out I'll get petrol if I need it (usually I buy this every two weeks).

This method means that I can keep my weekly supermarket spending to below £30 every week for the entire family.  This is for everything, including all food items, cleaning products and toiletries.

Do you budget and meal plan in your house, too?  I'd love to hear your tips on keeping costs to a minimum.

Best Wishes

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Success! Chocolate Truffle Cake...

After two days of tears and tantrums, I finally managed to come up with a Chocolate Truffle Cake to be proud of.  This cake took a lot out of me - it was the first time I had attempted the recipe and after my failure on Thursday I was determined it wouldn't get the better of me.  Yesterday I took my time, followed the recipe to the letter and here is the finished result!  This was my first time icing a cake with chocolate ganache, so it took a bit of practise with the palette knife - but I got there in the end.

You can buy fancy icing turntables to help you when you're decorating cakes.  I have a "lazy susan" that I use for icing mine (you can see it in the photograph below) - I picked it up second-hand in the charity shop for a couple of pounds and it has been such a fantastic addition to my stash of cake-making equipment.  I found it particularly useful on this occasion as with the ganache, I needed to turn the cake often to get as smooth a finish as possible.

The recipe for this cake came from the Great British Bake Off "Showstoppers" book, which I received from my lovely husband for Christmas.  I replaced the flour with gluten-free flour and added a little baking powder too for good measure.  My first attempt used real butter, but for my second I used Utterly Butterly spread - who knows if this made any difference, but my second attempt certainly worked out better!

I had dowels left over from making my wedding cake back in 2011, so I used those to stack the 6" cake on top of the 8" cake and finished off with a final layer of ganache.

The birthday party is today - I'm sure my Nana will love her birthday cake.  You may remember the parcel cake I made her last year.  Each birthday I like to try something bigger and better!  Goodness knows what I'm going to do next year for her 80th!!

I've certainly had enough of baking for a while after two days in the kitchen stressing over this - so there will be no more cakes for a while!

Best Wishes