2012: A Review

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Apparently in 2012 I wrote a massive 147 posts (I guess that’s 148 including this one?). I don’t know about you but to me that sounds like quite a lot. Pat on the back for me! I started the year writing most of them on my trusty iMac and have ended up being a converted iPhone blogger with most of my posts being drafted on there last thing at night… that’s where being a mum of two babies gets you. I’m hoping in the New Year to save up for a small laptop (I was considering a ChromeBook but think I might have to hold out for a MacBook Air) so I can work on-the-move. And by that I mean all I want to do is sofa blog.

It could be said that my 2012 has ended on a bit of a low I don’t mind this so much as it means that starting tomorrow, the only way is UP! I wanted to do a re-cap of the most memorable bits of the year: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the Instagrammed…

 

It’s a BOY and I’m totally freaked out – I never really let on how much I wanted a girl, did I? Luckily Hux joined Will and Elfie in ‘the best things that has ever happened to me’ club, despite his meat and two veg.

Elfie thought kissing was hilarious, just look how tiny she is! Gorgeous. Crazy to think she couldn’t walk or talk then and she’s now a fully-fledged rampaging toddler.

I wrote about losing your identity when you become a mother, something I still have a few battles with to this day. I think having number two brought a these feelings back for me.

Some phrases I thought I’d never say. A highlight: “There is no need to blow your nose on the carpet of every single step”.

I interviewed the wonderful Kaisa Larkas, someone I’m now very happy to call a friend. That girl WILL get me fit in 2013…

Some things I wish I knew before I got pregnant.

I posted the recipe that has become the most popular on my blog, Goat’s Cheese and Caramelised Onion Tart.

Get Over It was written in response to an article by Bibi Lynch. She very graciously took my opinion on board and we had an exchange on Twitter after she read my blog post.

Things people think it is OK to say to a pregnant woman (it usually isn’t OK).

This creamy cabbage dish continues to warm my cockles regularly. We even had it on Christmas day.

I closely chronicled my whole pregnancy: Week 20, Week 24, Week 28, Week 31, Week 33, Week 36, Week 38.

I wrote about my Alternative Pregnancy Essentials.

Huxley William Harold arrived!!

I re-discovered what I’d forgotten about the newborn stage.

Yup, I Instagrammed my Birth Story.

It was both Elfie’s and my Dad’s birthday so I made them a Rainbow Cake!

HOLA! We went on our first international trip to Madrid with the babies for my Sister-in-Law’s wedding and had a wonderful time.

I posted my first video.

I wrote a bit about breastfeeding and discussed the guilt of breastfeeding here. It wasn’t as easy as I expected!

This brilliant Kitchen Cheat Sheet went a wee bit viral on Pinterest. I love Pinterest.

This is probably when things started to go a little bit downhill for me, though I didn’t realise it at the time. There were more clues at the start of Autumn.

I had some amazing opportunities to do fun things with the wonderful Mothers Meetings – they even got me a much-needed haircut. Thank you so much, Jenny!

I wrote about my newborn essentials, and then you told me yours.

A few people were enlightened with my winter washing saviour and I hope it changed some laundry routines for the better!

It took a while, but I finally realised I need some help.

I launched my new project, MAMA UK! I have exciting plans for it in 2013 and can’t wait to get started.

Bring on 2013!

A Big Festive Thank-You

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You lovely people. I laughed and cried and smiled with the lovely words I received after my last post. Every comment, tweet, email and text was such a lift; knowing I am not on my own in the way I am feeling meant so much and all your warm wishes were just wonderful. I had no idea so many had been here and it felt good to understand that I’m not alone, far from it actually.

I wrote that post the night before I published it and sat on it all morning before hitting ‘send’. Letting those thoughts out into the world made me feel quite anxious and sick, if anything the last few weeks have taught me that I’m not good at opening up to people about my problems. Especially not ones I perceive as weaknesses, though strangely I’ve never seen depression as a weakness in anyone else before. I nearly didn’t post it but no matter how ashamed I felt I knew I wanted to put it all out there, because if my words could resonate with one other person then it would have been worth it.

I posted the blog then closed down my computer for the afternoon in case I got a negative response but the opposite was true. I received overwhelming feedback and went to bed that evening feeling one hundred times better than I have in weeks.

Your wonderful responses truly made me feel that I have nothing to be ashamed of. I was saddened by how many people said “hey, I’ve been there, but never felt able to speak about it publicly” because I know how sad it is to feel so alone.

You made me feel so good that tea time at 5pm with Elfie was a lovely experience (it can sometimes be fraught with the feeling of ‘get this day over as quickly as possible’) and even bathtime was fun. It’s often something I skip as I can’t face it, promising Elfie a splash in the shower with me in the morning instead which admittedly she loves, but tonight we got the Christmas bath treats out and she had a ball with a mummy who was present, and more importantly, happy.

I appreciate my online friends so very much. Thank-you. I will be replying to each and every comment, text or tweet but give me a couple of days as I pull myself together for the GP (tomorrow, here’s hoping she understands) and decompress from the festive season.

Speaking of which…

The Harolds had a marvellous time! Despite my precarious state of mind it was lovely to spend so much time with my extended family and just relax a little bit. There was lots of food, tons of presents (mostly for Elfie and Hux) and even a bit of SingStar. Children really do create a certain sort of magic during the festive season. Here are our obligatory Christmas photos:

 

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Confessional

Unicorns and rainbows

Disclaimer: this is not motherhood

When I started this blog I wanted to be completely honest. I wanted to connect with other mums, other women out there who perhaps haven’t found pregnancy and motherhood to be the rainbows and unicorns party we are taught to expect, and to maybe make other mums realise they aren’t alone in the way they feel.

That’s why I’m saying this right now: I’m not coping well. With motherhood, with life, with it all.

There have been times before when I’ve found situations difficult, really rough times that have mostly been prompted by external factors. We all have bad days but we dust ourselves off, pick ourselves up and move on with our lives and that’s what I’m used to doing. It’s when you have more bad days than good, when the darkness you feel starts to negatively affect those you love the most that you need to do something about it. I think that’s where I’m at right now.

It has happened very gradually in my case, so gradually I haven’t really noticed it. The not wanting to leave the house, the losing interest in housework, the effort it takes to get out of bed. The exhaustion, the drinking that bit too much and overriding sense of sadness that won’t leave.

The thing that makes me feel the worst is that i cant justify feeling this way. I have a husband who is the best man I’ve ever met, two gorgeous children and a lovely house. We have our money worries but living on one salary, who doesn’t? We have our health, the means to put food on the table and the odd treat and a very supportive family close by. It doesn’t make sense.

Admittedly 2012 has been very emotionally draining in some ways with a hard pregnancy, birth and other family issues, but it hasn’t been anything that other families don’t go through. So why am I finding it so tough?

I am going to see 2013 as the chance to start anew. We are moving to a smaller house on the 11th January (to try and remove some of those money worries) and I have a doctors appointment on the 31st to ask for help. I’m planning on a quiet New Year’s Eve at home with a takeaway and a bottle of Appletiser in preparation for what I hope will be a healthier, more clean-living year ahead. Most importantly, I still have my sense of humour and ability to laugh which has been pretty essential in the last few weeks.

I know I need to be a bit more open with my friends and family and ask for their help too, but that’s the thing I find hardest. It ain’t cool to say you’re struggling and I’ve always found admitting my own weaknesses to be the hardest thing. To the point that it took many evenings of tears and argument to get to the point where i was able to tell Will how I am feeling. And even more tears until I could say the words ‘post-natal depression’ out loud. It still makes me feel very self-indulgent and selfish.

I hope 2013 will be a start to a happier me and a better mum. I know what makes me happy: a lovely warm home, working on projects, happy babies. Achieving good things with work and spending time as a family. It’s time to make these things happen.

Thank-you for listening: writing this down has helped. And if I’ve made at least one other mum nod in agreement then I’ve done my job. We are not alone x

(PS: you can re-create the unicorn/rainbow party with this Rainbow Cake but you must understand that life totally goes back to normal once the massive sugar high has worn off ;)

Being A Grown-Up

Every single day without fail I walk past a mirror, babe in arms, and think: who am I? Who is this person with two children at the age of 27? How did I go from being the person I was before the babies to the person I am now? Where did my old irresponsible life go?

It has all seemed to happen so quickly (real time: three years ago, pretty much to the day). Pregnancy, babies, countryside, houses, baking, moving. What happened to the old me? I don’t miss that time, much, but I do miss the freedom. The times when you could take off without giving anyone else a second thought, though the closest I got to doing this was driving to IKEA spur-of-the-moment when I was 17. Wild, I know.

 

I remember being a teenager, when all that grown-up stuff is merely a glimmer of stress in your future. If I could write a letter to my teenage self, this is what I would say I have to look forward to:

- Buying houses: hopefully in the next year or so our house up north (currently tenented) will sell and we can look at buying a southern palace of our own. Easier said than done; our old house was bought at the height of the market 6 years ago yet a comparable place down here will cost twice as much. Plus we’ve both gone self-employed since. The next two years will be a time of tightening belts, organizing finances and dreaming of the next step.

- Taxes: nothing bores me more than taxes, whether it’s council tax (EXPENSIVE!), car tax or HM Revenue and Customs phone calls, which are legendary painful.

- Cars and all that jazz: I love to drive a nice car and we’ve been in the market for new wheels since our sunroof started leaking last year (fine for summer, damp for winter). I find the MPHs, ABS, MPGs and PAS a bit ARGH but at least it’s easy to compare car insurance these days with one of those online tools.

- Work: having to earn a living is such a drag. Seriously though, remember when you didn’t have to think about where your money came from? I’ve had a job from the age of 15 and remember when I earned £80 a week – it felt like a bloody fortune. I’d be lucky to feed our family for a week on that much now. Not including wine, obviously.

- Disciplining and potty training: I actually think that one thing I’m pretty good at is discipline. Elfie is so very well-behaved and I know I can take her to any situation outside the home and she will do us proud. Potty training, on the other hand…. ugh. Cleaning pee off the floor is pretty soul-destroying and don’t even get me started on how many times I’ve put our sofa covers through the wash.

- Cooking: I loooove to cook, we all know that. But on the days when the kids have been hard work all I want to do is watch trash TV with a glass of wine followed by a bath, cocoa and bed. I don’t want to think about what new and interesting things I can do with beef mince and then scrape half of it out the carpet because we’re still learning how to operate cutlery.

- Other parents: most of them are fine, lovely even. Some of them…

Come on, what have I missed? What else is a total pain in the bum now we’re grown-ups?

I was very kindly sponsored to write this blog post about being a grown-up. Thanks!

MTT: Mama’s Lasagne

I might be cheating a bit here with the title of this dish. This recipe has nothing to do with an Italian Mama, but rather it was the very first recipe my own Mum taught me about 12 years ago. I have memories of her cooking this at special occasions for my brother and I,  for dinner parties with her friends and she even made it for a faux dinner party I once held for my thirteen year old posse (the dress code was black tie, obviously). It was a staple of my childhood and is a recipe have modified and I come back to time and time again now I’m (barely) a grown-up.

I’m not convinced how authentic this version is. For one, I’m pretty sure the Italians don’t use mature cheddar cheese and I’m sure they use the more traditional combo of carrots and celery. But this is a recipe that I’ve honed over my 12 years of cooking it, from the vegetables and herbs I use to the amount of wine and the time I simmer the ragu. The quantity of cheese sauce has slightly increased over time and I now use less tomatoes. The result is a pasta dish that not only tastes sublime but has layers of flavour thanks to the beef stock, sugar (really!), mushrooms, wine and strong cheese. I would defy anyone not to do a bit of an Italian “MMMMMmmmmmm!” and maybe even that kissy finger pinch thing when they’re eating it.

The quantity below serves 4 hungry grown-ups and is great served with a herby salad and even some (homemade) garlic bread. I often double this otherwise I’m disappointed at the lack of leftovers which taste amazing heated up for lunch the next day. This may be a little more involved and time-consuming than most of my other recipes, but it’s bloody worth it.

In my recipe I’ve used Gourmet Garden basil and garlic, which are a great way to save time when you’re cooking without compromising on taste or flavour. Chopping herbs and garlic are one of my least favourite things to do in the kitchen, so I certainly noticed the difference! I’m entering my lasagne recipe in Gourmet Garden‘s blog off/cook off competition.

 

Mama’s Lasagne
 
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I find I get my best results from this recipe when I par-cook my lasagne sheets in boiling water for around three minutes each. I do this in 2 batches of 3 while the ragu sauce is bubbling away and then lay them out flat ready to assemble. Of course you won’t need to do this if you are using fresh pasta sheets .
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 3 teaspoons Gourmet Garden garlic
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 pepper (red or orange) chopped into cubes
  • Half punnet chestnut mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 500g lean minced beef
  • 100ml red wine
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • Half a beef stock cube
  • 3 teaspoons Gourmet Garden basil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 50g Butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 60g Mature Cheddar Cheese
  • 175ml (approx) whole milk
  • 6 lasagne pasta sheets
Instructions
  1. Dice the onion and sweat in a large pan with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the garlic, cooking slowly to ensure it doesn’t burn, about 10 minutes.
  2. Whilst the onion is cooking chop your other veg and add to the pan. Cook for a further 5 minutes.
  3. Add your mince and break up well. Mix in with veg and stir as it cooks.
  4. Once it’s brown all over add the 100ml of red wine and tomato puree and stir well.
  5. Crumble in the half a stock cube and stir again, then add the tin of chopped tomatoes.
  6. Bring the pan to a slight simmer and cook with a lid off, stirring every 5 minutes. Leave to cook for about 40 minutes before moving on to the cheese sauce.
  7. When the ragu is nearing the end of cooking add the sugar and salt and pepper to taste. I usually add a touch more than 4 teaspoons to counteract the acidity of the tomatoes.
  8. Melt your butter in a small saucepan and when it’s slightly bubbling add your flour; stir well and don’t let it burn. Cook for about 30 minutes before adding a splash of milk to cook the pan down.
  9. Add a handful of cheese and stir well to combine, followed by about half the milk. Wait for the cheese to melt then repeat, until you have a sauce about the consistency of cake batter. You might need a little less of the milk- use your judgement – but make sure you have a small sprinkling of cheddar left over for the top of the lasagne.
  10. When this is done it’s time to assemble! If there’s any liquid left on the top of your ragu sauce skim it off and discard.
  11. Place half of the ragu in a large rectangular dish and press down so it’s nice and level.
  12. Add three quarters of the cheese sauce and place three lasagne sheets on top.
  13. Spoon the remaining ragu over the cheese sauce and place the last three sheets on top of this. Add the last of the cheese sauce to the top of the lasagne and sprinkle with cheddar.
  14. Cook in the oven at 180 degrees C for about 45 minutes, or until the top of the lasagne is golden brown and bubbling. Delicious!

 

A Bit About Elfie

Poor Elfie’s had a rough time of it lately. A tummy bug hit on Tuesday (following her telling me she was feeling “sad, mummy” all day Monday) so she spent the whole day on the sofa after being sick in my lap. And now she’s suffering with a cold, meaning she’s one of those kids with a really snotty nose. I have to say, wet sneezes all over my iPad have not been a highlight of the week.

Oh, germy winter, you’re a cruel beast.

She’s a total trooper though and is still doing jigsaws like nobody’s business, demanding her favourite pork products (Ham! Sausages!), scribbling her ‘name’ in all my xmas cards and calling people on my phone without my knowledge. Just with a bit more of an attitude.

I totally melted today when I caught her playing hide and seek with her brother, the baby who at 7 months old is not able to hide or to seek. He was eating avocado in his high chair, she’d cover her eyes and count to three before magically ‘finding’ bubby, in the exact same place as where she left him. An amazing game that entertained her for about fifteen minutes.

 

 

Even with the vomit in my lap, this kid makes life so much sweeter. Look at that face.

This post was brought to you by GoldenBingo.co.uk.