MTT Does Hill House, Norfolk

I have a confession to make: I’m not a girly girl. Yes, I love make-up, clothes and all those good things that us lot with vaginas get to do with our hair, but put me in a room of women and I will not know what to do with myself. The screeching, the cattiness, the drama, the girliness of it all… it scares me. I feel much more comfortable in a big room of testosterone watching a rugby match.

I do have some wonderful women friends, don’t get me wrong, but on occasion I find it pretty hard to connect with the fairer sex. I have two very very good girl friends, none of whom live close to me (NYC and Nottingham, grr) but whenever we are together it’s like no time has been apart. I know they are always there whenever I need to vent or a shoulder to cry on and I love them both dearly.

 

 

I suppose I could blame my lack of girlfriends on the fact that I met my husband at the age of 18 and from then on he has been my best friend, so I have never felt the need for much more support outside of him. I’ve never been on a girly holiday, don’t really do girly shopping trips and I’m only in touch with old girlfriends from school on Facebook.

But when I became a mother that changed. There are only so many mothering bits you can confide in your husband about before he starts to feel a bit grossed out and after spending a long time at home with the babies it’s a real relief to let my hair down with some girl time (this includes the brilliant Friday wine time, thanks to Kaisa!). Which is why I am so pleased to have found Jenny at Mothers Meetings.

Jenny is a first-time mum to gorgeous Sonny and once she became a parent she recognised the need for a space where creative and savvy mothers could get together and talk about stuff completely unrelated to kids (woohooh!). She runs amazing days out to Galleries, Museums and Shoreditch House and has just branched out into child-free get togethers for frustrated Mamas. I went to Bliss Spa with Mother’s Meetings a few weeks ago and have recently returned from a weekend break in the beautiful Norfolk countryside.

 

Wine at Hill House, Norfolk

 

The best bit about the whole weekend? There was none of the girly stuff I’m wary of. Well, there was a little bit of shrieking, but only after A LOT of wine had been consumed. And I shrieked along with the best of them. I think this means I am now a bonafide girl.

Our getaway was arranged in partnership with a website that I hadn’t heard of previously: Baby-Friendly Boltholes. BFB is ran by Sian (who is a mother herself) and is a collection of the most lovely holiday properties in the UK and Europe, all of which are completely child-friendly. I think it’s a brilliant idea, so instead of spending loads of effort trying to tailor your holiday to make sure it’s baby friendly, you can just pick one of BFB’s properties and base your holiday around that. And if Hill House Norfolk is anything to go by, their properties will all be absolutely divine.

 

Hill House, Norfolk

 

Hill House is an absolutely wonderful place located in between Norwich and Diss. It’s a beautifully renovated property with loads of great original features: fireplaces, an old staircase and beautiful beams. There are tons of luxury touches, too, like the Bang & Olufson sound system that is wired throughout the house and even in the garden, the great TVs, two Smeg fridges and a fully pimped-out kitchen with some great tools (a huge rack of Global knives) including an Aga. There’s even a games room with Pinball, Air Hockey and an Ice Cream vending machine!

I bagsied the biggest bedroom which I was going to share with Hattie, and got down to the serious business of relaxing.

 

Ladies at Hill House, Norfolk

 

Dinner was served the first night by Bill the fish-and-chip man who brought his van right to our front door. I’ve eaten plenty of fish-and-chips in my time and I have to say that these were some of the best I’ve ever had. They were so delicious and it was fabulous to see our food cooked right in front of our eyes. We then turned the quality B&O sound up to LOUD and had a good old party, the way that only mums know how (this means: wine, wine, off key singing and more wine, basically).

Because we were in the country we lit the log burning stove and there was plenty of gossiping and laughing and then more shrieking when we realised we had no idea how to turn of the smoke alarm. Note to self: just because you live in the countryside does not believe you know how to light a fire properly.

The next morning we all felt horrendous, so much so that I even ate breakfast in the bath (it helped, but I’m convinced that this bath could cure anyone’s ills).

 

The bath at Hill House, Norfolk

 

Jenny had put together some wonderful goodie bags for us all and a dig through them proved helpful: from the Neal’s Yard Beauty Sleep Concentrate which has been on my face every night since, Weleda Skin care whose Lavender Bath Milk I am now in love with to treats from BOYS&GIRLS (see how cute Elfie looks in their top – she’s wearing it today), Nixie clothing and Revlon make-up (classic red lips are now a total winner over here). She also included the first ever copy of Mother’s Meeting Motivation News (see top) and I was delighted to see some of my favourite internet people featured like Charlotte, Thais and Coralie. It was lovely to while away a couple of hours with the Motivation News and a cup of tea. Such a treat.

 

Magazines at Hill House, Norfolk

 

We spent the rest of the day doing a whole lot of nothing, a bit of a rarity when you’re a mother. Hill House provides plenty of magazines for you to relax with, more proof of their attention to detail (Vanity Fair! Notion! Dazed & Confused! Not a hint of Horse & Hound or Country Life) and we dug through their extensive DVD collection before settling on Bridesmaids and flopping down in the TV room – full of sofas and beanbags. Some of the ladies decamped to the local health spa, but me, I took a long shower instead.

That evening we had a Psychic come to visit. What a fun way to spend an evening! I’d never been to one before and I’m not sure that I’m a convert but it was definitely an experience. Whilst we were being told our fortunes the staff at Hill House (yes, there are staff available if you want them, and I wanted to bring them home with me) set up a cocktail bar in the lounge and lit the outdoor pizza oven ready for our evening meal.

 

Disco ball at Hill House, Norfolk

 

The Hill House Pizza Party kind of put mine to shame, but it was a great experience to put together our pizzas ourselves and watch them cook away in the oven. Funnily enough we were all feeling a bit hazy-with-hangover by that point so an early night was had  after a good old natter with the Psychic (she was pretty fascinating) and pudding on the sofas.

 

Pizza oven at Hill House, Norfolk

Outside dining at Hill House, Norfolk

 

As always it felt great to return to the kids the next day but I’d spent my time in Norfolk feeling so relaxed and devoid of responsibility that it was hard to get back into the swing of real life. If you are a mother in or near London I would urge you to take a look at Mother’s Meetings and consider coming along to one: the women I’ve met on these days out are so wonderfully inspiring, kind, funny and friendly. Just the kind of people I’d like to hang out with if I didn’t have a kid, basically. I came home feeling so lucky to have met them all and full of ideas for my next step in life (more on this soon!).

Thank you, Jenny, for getting all these great women together and for curing my fear of girly weekends away. Thank you Sian and Hill House for being wonderful hosts, I will be planning my next holiday with you! And a special thank-you to COOK who provided us with some of the most luxurious ready-made food I’ve ever seen which ensured that us mums didn’t have to lower ourselves to cooking a single meal for the whole weekend. I loved every second.

On Being a Mother of Two, at 4am

Before I had kids I literally had an infinite amount of time. Nothing, but nothing took too long because there was this huge abyss of empty time stretching before be, just waiting to be filled. If I chose to sleep 50% more than strictly needed? Fine… It’s not like I had anything else to do.

That’s the thing I am finding hardest at the moment. My time is not my own anymore. It takes me days and days to complete the simplest of tasks and emails that I would otherwise sat down and cracked ought in an hour of my infinite time get relegated to the bottom of the to-do list, which might mean in a week, a month, I dunno. I don’t reply to people for ages and the only reason I keep on top of my blogging is because I draft my posts in the middle of the night on my phone (like now, at the hugely unsociable hour of 4am).

There’s that saying, live every day like it was your last, or something. I really want to do this more, to make more of each day, but it’s so bloody hard when you’re so tired you feel like you’re wading through treacle. My eyes ache, my head is stuffy, nothing quite makes sense. I went 48 hours without showering last week because I was so tired, it was actually too much of an effort to stand under running water. I’ve spent the last 2 days frantically cleaning the house because if I stand still for longer than a minute I will fall asleep.

I’ve tried coffee and it works for a little bit of tiredness, but if I’m well and truly knackered then it just makes me feel jittery, wired yet weird. But still knackered. I try to sleep when the babies sleep, but then when does all the other stuff get done? Like eating, housework, WORK, emails, paying bills…

I wish I was Michelle Obama. She always seems so put-together, motivated and happy. I bet she never took her daughter to her grannies house in her slippers, or got to 3pm in the afternoon and realised she hadn’t brushed her teeth.

Parenting-wise this week has been the most difficult since Hux’s arrival. Elfie’s been getting up increasingly earlier (3.45am…), Hux can no longer be sent to sleep just by wafting him in the region of a boob and I’m putting more and more pressure on myself to start generating an income again. I love work, I miss work, and I enjoy not having the pressure of tight budgeting. How do I juggle these two little people who have such opposing sleep schedules at the moment?

I keep trying to repeat to myself things like “tomorrow is another day…” and “this too shall pass…”. It doesn’t really help.

When You Cant Get Hold Of An Ambulance

Mr A & Elfie having a love-in at the rugby club

We have a really nice tradition in our village. Every Friday afternoon at about 4 I amble over to Kaisa’s shop and we sit in the sunshine (pah) with Arija who owns the lovely shop next door and we enjoy a glass of wine or two. If we haven’t put the world to rights by 5pm we retire to Kaisa’s house so our kids can play and have tea together. Last weekend it was no different and we supervised the manic playing/tickling/general rowdiness that only five children at tea time can create.

After tea, almost out of nowhere Mr A (Kaisa’s littlest) was crying. As Kaisa started comforting we suddenly realised that his finger had been caught in a closing door hinge and the top of it was hanging by a thread. Gulp. I started calling for an ambulance whilst comforting Miss V, Kaisa’s eldest who was beside herself thinking that Mr A was going to die. Elfie and Kaisa’s middle child were happily none the wiser and didn’t seem to notice the blood that was all over Mr A and Kaisa.

I headed outside to get some quiet as I waited for the ambulance service to answer. Only they didn’t. The first time I called 999 I went through to some sort of answerphone that I couldn’t  make out through the noise (a 24 second long call), so when I was outside I tried again. The same thing happened: I asked for an ambulance and was getting a constant ringing tone with some sort of automated voicemail message every thirty seconds or so. This second call lasted two minutes.

By this point I was getting quite hysterical. Why was nobody answering? I tried calling again and this time screamed at the operator who directs the calls to fire/police/ambulance that she wasn’t to just put me through, that nobody was answering. She stayed on the line while the phone rang and rang and rang again, still going through to this voicemail. I was getting hysterical. When you call an ambulance, you expect someone to answer, right? I was crying, asking the operator why why why? Why was nobody answering? There was a toddler who was bleeding terribly, he needed help, why would nobody help us?

Luckily Kaisa had got through to her husband who arrived home to pick them up and speed them directly to hospital so I hung up. That final call was five minutes long: I’d been on hold to the ambulance service for nearly EIGHT minutes.

Poor Mr A was seen quickly at hospital and then transferred to Stoke Mandeville where their plastics department took care of his poorly finger. But I have been left in shock at the fact you can’t just call an ambulance and get one. It doesn’t apparently work like that. What if I’d been ringing on behalf of someone having a heart attack, or a stroke? That call could have meant life or death.

As I write about here, Elfie suffers with a chronic medical condition that means her body is unable to produce the adrenaline it needs to kick-start its healing process. She takes daily medication to keep things in check if she is ever poorly or suffers a trauma (such as the one Mr A went through) she needs urgent medicine and medical attention. If she doesn’t get this her body goes into shock and within a couple of hours, a coma. I dread to think what would have happened to her with a similar injury if we couldn’t have got hold of an ambulance.

Elfie has an injection that we administer in urgent situations which tides her over until we can get to a hospital, but I’m the only one that has ever given her the injection (it’s a proper syringe and ampoule job as her condition is apparently too rare to warrant an epipen). I always kept in the back of my mind that if anything should happen when she is in an emergent situation and not with me that an ambulance can be swiftly called and a paramedic can administer her medicine. That peace of mind has completely gone.

We’re going to take my Mum and Mother-in-Law to see Elfie’s specialist hospital nurse so that everyone can learn how to administer her drugs but in the meantime I am shocked. I know the NHS is stretched but this happened in a quiet part of the world at 6pm on a Friday evening, hardly Central London at pub kicking out time. I’m appalled that I could simply not get through to someone who, while they may not have been able to despatch an ambulance right that second, still may have been able to give us advice on what the hell to do with poor Mr  A and his injured finger. As it was we were both left frantic and panicking due to this inability to get hold of anyone.

EIGHT minutes. Thank goodness he’s ok.

 

On Breastfeeding Guilt

 

Before I had kids I didn’t realise how much guilt would be involved; guilt and parenting go together like olive oil and balsamic vinegar, like ginger biscuits and a cup of tea, like a glass of wine and my mouth. It’s a given, it’s meant to be.

The guilt is constant, yet not always about the same thing. When Elfie was a baby I felt guilty that I was unable to breastfeed her, then I felt guilty I didn’t do more when it took so long to get her condition diagnosed, I felt guilty that she loved Baby TV more than she probably should and I felt guilty about not reading to her every single day (it didn’t matter, she bloody loves books now).

Hux’s guilt is slightly different and mostly centers around leaving him in his bouncy chair for what I think is too long while I cook, change Elfie’s nappy (she’s not potty trained yet: GUILT) or shower. He doesn’t get half as much attention as Elfie did when she was a baby and it kills me, but he’s getting too heavy and wriggly to strap to me whilst I’m doing the housework. I try and make up for my guilt by taking half an hour out of my day to lie down with him and baby talk, and when I say talk I mean coo and gummy smile.

Today’s guilt is all about breastfeeding. I went away for two nights last week (I left my kids! The guilt!) so daddy was in charge of bottle feeding – something we’d practiced before I went away. I was desperate to return to Hux so he could nurse properly again but I was surprised to hear how contented he had been whilst I was away. Apparently Hux likes the formula, and he guzzled it down like nobody’s business. He slept 50% more and grizzled 50% less. Oh :(

Breastfeeding for me was a challenge at the beginning but I’d thought it had gone swimmingly since then. I was pretty amazed at my weightloss (back to normal weight in 5 weeks and still steadily losing 1lb a week without really trying) but now I’m not thinking this is a good thing. I don’t think my body is producing enough milk, it’s gobbled up most of my fat stores and I don’t know how to produce more. I eat a very healthy and balanced diet, always have, and find it a bit of a challenge to eat when I’m not hungry. I don’t like particularly fatty foods (apart from chips, burgers and the occasional McDonald’s breakfast) and always drink a lot of water. What is there to do?

I’ve kept Hux on a combination of breastmilk (as much as I can make) and formula milk before his morning and afternoon nap and once at night. He’s been sleeping much better than pre-formula Hux was and generally seems happier but I still feel incredibly guilty. We’ve only been breastfeeding for four months, I’m not ready for it to be over! As we’d got this far I didn’t expect to not be able to meet his demand.

Aside from the guilt I’m also really missing cuddles with my boy: let’s face it, this is the last time I’ll be able to hold him so close for 15 minutes five times a day before he becomes a rambunctious toddler with smelly feet.

Internet, what can I do? I’ve tried eating a Snickers a day since I returned from my trip to kick-start my fat stores but it doesn’t seem to be helping yet (tastes good though). I want more milk!

MTT: Really Nice Burgers

One thing I struggle hugely with out here in the middle of nowhere is the lack of a decent burger. I’ve tried EVERYWHERE within a 10 mile radius, and none of them compare to the delights you get in London. Our local pub’s offering is passable, especially since they gave up doing those massive huge chips that were basically roast potatoes and went with slimmer chips. They also get points for a homemade tomato relish though it’s a little too spicy for me. Man, I’m difficult to please.

We do at least have a local GBK 7 miles away which is where I turn to for my burger fix, especially as they now do those awesome shoestring fries, but the best local chips I’ve found are thrice cooked and at The Bell and Bear (I’M A CHIP CONNOISSEUR, OK?!)

 

But I like to have a burger on a whim, and whims are fairly hard to come by when you have two children in nappies. So I’ve learned to make my own delicious burger at home with a healthy accompaniment of vegetable fries. And best of all, you’ll find every ingredient for this in the Co-Op.

These burgers are made extra special thanks to the addition of caramelised onions (see here for a quick recipe) and I buy mature cheddar cheese slices and iceburg lettuce to give them a bit of crunch.

 

I found the idea for these chips on Pinterest a while ago: vegetable sticks coated in a marinade and oven-baked at a high heat. Sainsbury’s sent me some samples from their new specialty ingredients range a couple of weeks ago so I decided to use their Harissa to give the carrots and courgettes a bit of a kick. My parents-in-law spent a while living in Tunisia and we used to bring home jars of Harissa when we visited but I was pleased to find that Sainsbury’s version is more smokey and less spicy (I’m a wimp when it comes to chilli); I added a dessertspoon full of this to an equal portion of olive oil and honey, tossed the veg and baked for about half an hour. Yummy. And healthy!

 

 

MTT: Really Nice Burgers
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 400g minced beef
  • 1 onion, caramelised (optional)
  • Breadcrumbs made with 2 slices of white bread
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 egg
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • Bread rolls
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Ketchup
Instructions
  1. Put all ingredients into a bowl and mix well.
  2. Form mixture into balls and squash into patties.
  3. Heat a frying pan to medium-high and cook for approx 4 minutes either side.
  4. Serve in buns with iceberg lettuce and ketchup.

PS: thanks to Sainsbury’s for kindly sending me samples of their new ingredients… read more about them here!

MTT: A Pizza Party

 

Living in London our weekends were mostly spent eating, drinking or hungover. I dread to think how many days I wasted sleeping away my fuzzy head, but at the time we had no other pressures or worries and the biggest decision to be made was which pub we’d eat lunch in that day. I could take as much time relaxing as needed, as long as my brain was half way engaged on Monday mornings.

These days we like to fill our weekends up. They feel like they last longer for Will if we do, and for me they detract from the occasional monotony of childrearing and housework. But finding activities to suit all four of us is becoming harder and harder and inevitably leads us to the shops, which is not good because a) it’s busy,  b) I end up spending money and c) Elfie doesn’t particularly like it. Our other favourite past time is eating out but again this activity doesn’t exactly thrill the younger members of our family.

 

 

We really haven’t got out much as a family this summer, thanks in part to the crappy weather and the fact I’m rubbish at making decisions about what the hell to do but also because of Will’s hectic weekend schedules, so our time together is always really precious.

I had a bit of a brainwave for the last miserable Bank Holiday Monday: as it was tipping it down outside I put together a pizza party. Food + stuff you can roll out = fun for everyone.

 

 

I really struggle for family activities sometimes, especially on a budget, and get so bored with walking round the park countless times. I’d love to hear of any of your lifesaving child-and-parent entertaining activities.

Back to the Pizza. Elfie did end up eating most of her ham off her pizza before it was cooked, but it’s games like this that have helped her understand that food is made, it goes in the oven and then comes out cooked. Voila!

 

 

This is the simplest activity. All you need is the ingredients for pizza dough/bread (the ready packs of this are great, though I just made mine in my bread maker), a couple of cloves of garlic, a tin of chopped tomatoes, mozzarella and toppings of your choice. Finely chop the garlic and cook in some oil for a couple of minutes before adding the tomatoes. Simmer for about 20 minutes with some dried herbs (I use thyme and oregano).

I like to roll out the pizza dough on Polenta to give it a bit of somethin somethin, and I use polenta to stop the bases sticking to the baking trays. Cover in the tomato sauce then add your toppings. My favourites include:
- Anchovies, capers and red onion
- Ham, pineapple and mushroom
- Garlic mushroom and cheddar
- Anything with a bit of added pesto

You can literally stick anything on top of these pizzas, bake for 30 mins at 190 degrees C and BOOM. Dinner and an afternoon entertainment activity, all in one.