Monday, 31 March 2014

Me & Mine Project {March 2014}

dear beautiful

I'm just going to have to say it; I can't believe that it is the end of March already.  Where on earth is the time flying away to?

This month we have loved:

* Discovering a beach which is closer to us than the ones we have been visiting previously and full of fun places to explore
* Listening to Meg read a bedtime story every night to Eli
* Watching Turbo (we love us some racing snails!)
* Getting a new addition in the form of Brody the Rescue Dog
* The weather finally getting warmer, now we can put our trampoline up!

We had a photo all lined up for this month's project, one of us down at the beach and although it was the better photo I've actually gone with one which was taken just yesterday, on Mother's Day.  I picked it because the weather was simply gorgeous and it's a reminder that I got to spend the day doing one of my all-time favourite things; walking through the countryside with my beautiful family.

We went to explore the Ribble Estuary which is literally around the corner from our home, and although we got held up with some bug hunting, and my Other Half having to rescue our bug catcher from down a rabbit hole (literally...) it was a really lovely day and one which I absolutely loved.


We also had to take a second shot, a silly faces one.  Apparently, the kids will smile perfectly for a photo if they know that you will also take one in which they can pull their silliest face!


I'll let you decide which you think is better!

This project is a monthly link up with some amazing bloggers, head over to Dear Beautiful's blog to see more.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Book Love: The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale


The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale
'He had always been scared of flying. Now, the fear is real. A plane crash. The water is rising over his mouth. In his nostrils. Lungs. As Daniel gasps, he swallows; and punches at his seat-belt. Nancy, the woman he loves, is trapped in her seat. He clambers over her, pushing her face into the headrest.

It is a reflex, visceral action made without rational thought...

But Daniel Kennedy did it. And already we have judged him from the comfort of our own lives.'



This book was in a pile given to me by my mother in law and it was this description on the back which drew me in. Mostly because it was so accurate. I had already decided what kind of book this was going to be simply from reading the blurb, had an image in my mind of who Daniel was before I ever cracked the spine and read the first page.

Although the blurb on the back is slightly misleading (it isn't quite the type of story you imagine it will be) I still thought this was an interesting read, but mostly because the the novel switches between the main protagonist, Daniel, in the present day and his Great Grandfather who was a solider in Passchendaele in 1917 and 1918. The closet historian in me could happily have read just the Great Grandfather's tale as I found it fascinating.

Now, to what I didn't enjoy. Although it seems as though the book has been very well researched, I almost got the impression that Farndale had a lot of different points he wanted to make and he used this book to cram them all in together, even when they didn't work.

There is the historical element, which sits alongside continuous references to Darwinism versus Religion and their roles in society. I'll admit that at these points I tended to glaze over as I neither fully understood what was being referenced nor felt it was relevant to the plot. I guess that might be my own ignorance.

Then there is the continued references to masculinity and what makes, a man, 'a man'. At several points throughout the book we are left with the suggestion that Daniel is not 'a man' (whatever that may mean) and Farndale tries to challenge perception of masculinity by having Daniel's best friend be gay but with the physique of a rugby player and his Grandfather, a soldier, as the type to wear silk underwear and dress as a woman.

Did I mention the Muslim terrorist plot, kidnapping of Daniel's 8 year old diabetic daughter, the colleague who is in love with his long term partner and continually attempts to sabotage Daniel's career and the continued references to guardian angels....? Not failing to take into account the initial plane crash and you might begin to see what I mean.

The plot is just far too busy and what you get are some great concepts which are not fully explored as there simply wasn't the time in the pages we are given.
Farndale could have written several books with the material he has and I think this is the issue. It really lets the whole premise of the book down and I was left feeling like I'd been told half of every story.

That said, it's an interesting concept and I didn't hate it. I just probably wouldn't rush to buy another of Nigel Farndale's books in the future.


Thursday, 27 March 2014

Have A Little Patience...

I have never been the type of person who was known for my patience.  Whether it's stage of life stuff (married at 20, first baby at 21 etc etc) or simply not having the ability to sit in a traffic jam without wanting to pull my own eyelashes out, I was definitely back of the line when it came to handing out the gift of patience.

We have some friends who still delight in reminding me of the time we were flying to Berlin and I unleashed my wrath on the barista in the airport who literally took the rest of my life to make a drink*...leaving him quaking in his boots.  I actually only offered to come behind the bar and assist him with his job as he was clearly having such a difficult time of it...apparently it was something to do with my tone of voice.  Go figure.

*possible exaggeration

I am fully aware of my inability to remain calm when I'm frustrated.  The dictionary defines patience as 'the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.' - I don't say it proudly but I fail on all those accounts.

Of course, there is no better forum for one's patience skills to be tested than when you become a parent.  I have spent the last five years trying to remain calm, to not yell or get frustrated with the kids.  After all, they are just being children aren't they?  But sometimes I am sure that they do it on purpose.  That when children are born they come with a little 'how to' manual and number one is 'how to wind your parents up.'

My parenting kryptonite is repetition.  I'm sure it's not just my children who do this, who feel the need to repeatedly ask the same question over and over, even when, even when, they've had the answer they are looking for.

'Mummy, can I have a biscuit?'

'Yes Eli, just a minute.' *gets up from chair and walks to cupboard*

'Mummy, can I have biscuit?'

'Yes Eli.' *Opens cupboard to find biscuits*

'Mummy, can I have a...'

KABOOM!

That's my head, by the way, exploding in a grisly parental mess all over the kitchen.  It just gets under my skin.

I HEARD YOU AND I ANSWERED YOU SO WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME AGAIN!?!

The logical, detached part of me knows that it is just how children are wired but in that particular moment, oh the eye twitches!


Another bugbear I have is that children just don't have any concept of time.  So when they take their shoes and coat off and lie prostrate in the middle of the lounge pretending to be a stick, minutes after you have just hustled them to the front door and tried to leave, they really are perplexed at why you are so cross with them.  

Recently however, I've really felt the challenge of showing patience to Meg and Eli.  Of not snapping when I've asked them to do something for the tenth time that morning, of not rushing them to finish whatever is taking them an extraordinarily long amount of time to do.  To accept them in this life stage, even though some days I feel as though my eyes are going to burst out of my head.

It's not easy. 

I'm not always succeeding.

But when I watched Meg last week trying to show Eli how to do something and after he'd tried twice, snatching the item out of his hand and doing it for him, in that moment I saw a reflection of myself and I didn't like it.  I am the snatcher, the 'give it here, I can do it ten times quicker than you can' person, the 'hurry up, hurry up, HURRY UP' person.  It's not an attractive quality.

This year Meg will be 5 and Eli will be 3.  I am in a funny predicament because as much as I want them to hurry up in their day to day lives, I also really want them to slow down.  To stop growing up into little people right in front of my eyes.

I want my children to learn patience.  I want my children to learn kindness.  I know that when I am frustrated because something isn't going as quickly as I want it to, that I am not showing my best to my children.  I am not instilling the right attitude in them.  Which is what I aspire to do always.

So, I am going to try.  I hold my hands up and say that I'm not always going to get it right but I really want to learn how to have patience with my children, whatever the situation and whatever they throw at me because if I can't learn it now whilst they are small, then how on earth are we going to weather the turbulent storm that is teenager-dom?!

But how, exactly, does one learn to be patient?  I haven't got this down to an exact science but here are my thoughts:

1. Reflect/Pray
If you are the praying sort, then pray at the moment when you feel yourself getting wound up.  I certainly need to do this more as I know it can alter my mood instantly and turn it away from the things I am annoyed at and on to something much more worthwhile.  If you aren't the praying sort then simply a moment to breathe and reflect.  Wrangle your mind away from the issue which is winding you up (even if it's something as simple as trying to do a puzzle with your little one) and conjure up some thoughts about things you can be positive about instead.

2. Imitate Those Around Me
I've known a handful of people throughout my life who have just been the most patient people going.  It's intriguing, how they manage to be so patient over things which would have had me tearing down the walls.  I wish I could spend a day in their heads so I can see exactly what they are thinking at the time but alas, that's not possible.  Instead I have to just opt for imitation...how would so and so react in this moment etc

3. Take A Timeout
As an introvert,  I need time by myself, to recharge my batteries and deal with the million thoughts bouncing around my brain.  If I don't get that space then I don't approach situations with a clear head.  Basically, I'm already worked up before the day has even begun.  Although sometimes it feels selfish, in order for me to be my best, I need to schedule time in to switch off and just be me, by myself.  Even if there's only time to lock myself in the bathroom for five minutes, if that means I can catch my breath and start again, then it's worth it.

4. Apologise and Start Over
If I've had a particularly short-tempered day I always end it feeling crappy.  I know I should have more patience, be calmer, I know I should be better.  But I've come to realise that beating myself up doesn't actually help me or anyone else.  What I need to do is apologise and start over the next day and try to get it right more often than I get it wrong.  This one is definitely a work in progress for me.  Along with being able to let myself off the hook, I'm also not very good at saying sorry!

Do you struggle with patience?  Have you got any great tips for how to have more patience with children?  I'd love to hear them!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Gallery: Sport

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

When I saw that the theme for this week's The Gallery was 'Sport' I was excited.  

Sport was a massive part of my childhood.  I joined my first two teams, playing netball and rounders, when I was in year 5 and I played right up until I left school at the end of Year 11.  When I started secondary school I added tennis, badminton, hockey and running to the list of sports I played and represented my school in.  

In Year 6, I was lucky enough to play on a rounders team which won best in the county.  I did hold on to my medal for a number of years but misplaced it somewhere along the line which has never stopped irritating me, small issue as it seems it's the kind of thing I would have liked to be able to show Meg and Eli.

One of things I wish I had never done was stop playing sports.  I thoroughly enjoyed the team camaraderie; being good helped too I guess.  I was very lucky in that sport, whatever form it took, seemed to come quite naturally to me.  I know that isn't the case for everyone but I always looked forward to PE lessons.  However, when I went to sixth form college it just fell off my radar as it didn't seem as vital as studying for my law exams (see where that got me!) 

So, imagine my disappointment when I went to look through my old photographs for one of me playing sports and I couldn't find a single one.  Not a single shot.  I almost (almost) called my old school to see whether they kept hold of the team shots they used to display on the wall in the PE department; if they do then there are a number of fetching photographs of me in Year 9 with bright orange hair which I would have just loved to share with you!  Unfortunately I'm not sure that schools even hold onto that sort of thing, maybe one day I'll ask just in case.

So, I've had to cheat and go for a representation of sports that we watch instead.  There is a big divide in our household with my favourite sport being rugby and my Other Half's being football.  Heaven forbid there should be a clash and the rugby and the football are on at the same time...

For my Other Half football is the only sport he could ever contemplate playing and he still plays it now on a weekly basis.  One of the first things he did when we moved to Southport was hunt out the local team.

But I digress.

When it comes to the topic of football there's an even bigger division down one half of our extended family...are you red, or are you blue?  

It was the first question I was ever asked by one of my Other Half's aunts and I was perplexed.  Did it matter?  Well, apparently it did as she made a big deal out of the fact I went for red, when she's a blue.  I'm not actually a particular football fan but since I made my choice of Liverpool over Everton I've never been allowed to forget it!

I shall admit here that the only reason I ever chose Liverpool was because Sporty Spice (my favourite Spice Girl, natch) was a Liverpool fan.  There...I've said it!  Now you may mock me!

When we found out I was pregnant with a boy there was a big to do over what team his first football shirt should represent (honestly, they take it so so seriously) - as I'm not actually that fussed I decided to surprise my Other Half on Eli's first Christmas...


...with matching Everton shirts.

To be honest, whether Eli decides to be an Everton supporter, whether Meg does, whether they both shun football in favour of another type, I hope that sport plays a big part in their childhood.  So many important lessons can be learned in the winning and losing of games, testing yourself physically and keeping fit of course, learning to work as part of a team and also the different skills you have to employ during various sports.

I, for one, have never stopped being proud of my ability to play racket sports with either hand.  I am naturally left-handed but was made to do a lot of things in primary school with my right hand, meaning I'm ambidextrous in some things.  When I started playing racket sports I was too lazy to learn backhand, and instead preferred to just switch the hand I was playing with.  A very important life lesson wouldn't you agree!?


Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The BiB Awards 2014

BRILLIANCE IN BLOGGING 2014

So, it's blogging award season and if you are a regular follower of my blog or my social media accounts then you will have seen me allude to catching a couple of votes in the BiBs.  You may even have noticed the funky little badges I've placed on my sidebar >>>

'BiB' stands for 'Brilliance in Blogging' and whilst I'm not sure I'd call my blog brilliant, I thought I would throw caution to the wind.  I know (roughly) how many wonderful people come back to read my blog time and again and for that reason I am sending out a request...if you regularly visit us here, enjoy sharing in our family adventures, or have had a giggle or two at some of our mishaps then please consider voting for Catch A Single Thought.

When I started my blog almost two years ago, I had no idea of what I was doing.  I wanted to write, to keep a record of what we were getting up to as a family; I only read one other blog on a regular basis so I really hadn't the first clue about what I was getting myself into!

Not only is there a fantastic and supportive blogging community out there but I am still, to this day, stunned by the responses I have had to simply writing about who we are as a family.

There are many fabulous blogs around but I have to admit that I am proud of my little corner.  I often scroll back through old posts and still can't believe I have dedicated so much time to writing this and that so many wonderful people continue to visit and read.

In terms of asking for votes, I will be terribly British about it, cough, shuffle a bit and then say that if even a fraction of the people reading this took the time to place a vote for my little blog then I might actually stand a (small) chance of making it onto a shortlist...you never know, right?!

If I'm swaying you to my side, then there are a couple of categories where I believe we fit:

- Social Media 
- Family
- Writer

If you think we are suitable for any others than would also be amazing.

You can find the nomination form here and it doesn't take long to complete.  You do need to know a bit of information about the blog...

- Copy and paste the URL
- My twitter ID is @jjmcglynn
- You can find my old posts on the right hand side bar, just scroll down to find your favourite

This blog has been an amazing journey for me so far and I am really excited to watch it grow and develop.  I wrote a while ago about how I will never compete with the bigger blogs out there and whilst I still stand by that, and I truly love what I have here, I'm not going to pretend that gaining a few votes of confidence from my lovely readers wouldn't be a nice boost!

Virtual kisses, wine and cake coming round now...


NOMINATE YOUR FAVORITE BLOGS

Let's Bake: Hidden Heart Cake

This was something I attempted in the run up to Valentine's Day but as with all my baking posts, it has taken me a while to get around to writing a blog post about it.  I think I might be improving though as this one has taken a mere month, rather than a whole year!

With Mother's Day just around the corner, this cake is perfect to make to show your appreciation and love for your Mummy!

This is a cake which needs to be made in stages.  First stop, is your basic plain loaf cake.

Ingredients
200g self raising flour
175g butter
175g golden caster sugar
1-2 drops of vanilla extract
3 eggs

Preheat oven to 170C.  Line a 900g loaf tin with greaseproof paper.  Beat the sugar and butter until light and creamy and then add the eggs one at a time, beating until well mixed.  Add the vanilla extract and then gradually mix in the flour until you have a smooth batter.  My guide for knowing when batter is the right consistency is when it drops off the spoon with a gentle shake.

If it's too thick, add milk.  It's it's too runny, add flour.

Pour into the tin and bake for 55mins.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 15-20 minutes before peeling off the greaseproof paper.  Leave to cool fully on a wire rack.


Whilst you are waiting for the plain loaf to cool, make up the mixture for the chocolate loaf cake.  This uses exactly the same recipe as above but replaces 50g of the self raising flour with cocoa powder.

When your plain loaf has cooled, slice it fairly thickly and use a cookie cutter to cut out heart shapes.


Line your loaf tin with greaseproof paper again and pour a small amount of mixture onto the bottom.  I went slightly wrong here as I used too much mixture, you really only need a tiny amount, just to cover the bottom of the tin.

Place your cut out hearts in a tight line down the centre of the tin.


Pour the remaining mixture over the top and bake in the oven for 55 mins.


As above, allow to cool for 15 or so minutes before removing the greaseproof paper and leave to cool on a wire rack.


Enjoy watching the surprise when you cut into your cake and reveal the hidden heart inside!

As you can see from the below picture, because I had too much mixture on the bottom of my tin, the hearts rose too much towards the top and became distorted.  You really do only need a tiny amount of mixture.


Monday, 24 March 2014

Sponsorship for BritMums Live 2014

This year I have seen my blog grow from strength to strength and it still amazes me even now that people come along and read the things I choose to write about!  When I started my blogging journey I had no idea there would be such a fantastic community of writers out there and I am very proud to be able to say I am one of them.

One of my blogging goals this year is to attend BritMums Live 2014 and I would love to receive sponsorship from a company in order to attend. I have put together a short brief below for anyone who be interested in gaining some publicity and sponsoring my attendance.

What is BritMums Live 2014?

BritMums Live is the largest social media conference and blogger event in the UK and takes place in London on Friday 20 June and Saturday 21 June 2014. It was born from BritMums which is the largest UK parent blogger community, made up of almost 5,000 influential bloggers.

The purpose of BritMums Live is to allow bloggers to connect with others from across the UK, to build relationships with brands and most importantly of all, to allow bloggers to build and develop their knowledge of blogging. Some amazing brands were involved last year who were keen to develop relationships with one of the fastest growing communities of bloggers online today - the parent blogger.

What Can I Offer A Sponsor?

In exchange for the sponsorship I would help promote your company at the event in the following ways:

- I will place a badge/advert on my blog for the period of 12 months with a direct link to your website.
- I will write a blog post introducing you as my sponsor for BritMums Live and will include all relevant information about you as a brand.
- I will promote your brand on my blog with reviews and/or competitions for a 12 month period.
- I will mention your brand when tweeting about BritMums Live before, during and after the event.
(Please note I am not able to hand out any samples or marketing materials on the premises of Britmums Live.)

Of course, if you have your own ideas about how we could work together than I am quite happy to discuss these as well.

What Am I Looking For?

I am looking for a family friendly company to sponsor my attendance at BritMums Live.

Ideally I would like my sponsor to cover:- 

- BritMums Ticket £68  (reimbursement as I already have my ticket!)

- Overnight accommodation for 2 nights £120
- Travel costs £80

I would love to build a long term, mutually beneficial relationship with a brand, that goes beyond just the sponsoring of my blog for BritMums Live. If you are a smaller or independent company I would be happy to accept part-sponsorship if you would like to be involved but cannot commit to the full amount.

Is It Worth it?

You might be reading this and wondering whether the financial investment is worth it for you and your company.  I would say absolutely yes!  As well as being advertised over my social media networks which offer a combined following of over 5,000, my blog is very well read and I would be happy to send over recent stats.  Additionally BritMums is attended by influential parent bloggers so if you are a family friendly company then it offers a great way to get your name 'out there'

If you think you could help and this sounds of interest, please contact me at catchasinglethought@gmail.com and we can discuss it further. 

Growing Too Fast: Talking and Training

Over the past few weeks I have been so surprised and proud of Eli.  After a bumpy start to potty training in February half term (Eli point blank refusing to wee until he had a nappy on, which meant he waited 6 hours until I cracked!) I wasn't convinced that he was ready.  I abandoned it after just one day, resolving to try again another time.

Whilst admitting this to my mother in law she said something which proved to be the exact right thing I needed to hear, 'you just need to find his key.'  The following week I purchased some stickers and mini eggs and with the promise of one every time he successfully used the potty, we absolutely flew along.

The experience has been so different to the way it was with Meg.  He's had only a handful of accidents whereas there were two or three weeks of consistent accidents with Meg and he has taken to using the toilet like a pro.  I know it sounds strange to be proud of him for doing what comes naturally but I have just been so impressed with how quickly he has picked it up.  

On top of this, he seems to have really grown up in the last week.  Stringing huge complex sentences together and talking non-stop, whatever he is doing.  I had noticed a couple of weeks ago his new found love of books which naturally I adore.  Meg has always enjoyed sitting and listening to a story but not so with Eli.  If you couldn't get through a book in 30 seconds flat he would be off onto the next thing, not at all interested in the half read page you were stuck on...but just recently there has been request for story after story after story which I'm sure has helped with his language development.


We've also really seen his character coming out.  On Friday we sat and watched him prance and parade around in front of us, carrying out a little comedy routine armed with just his muslin cloth and a beanie hat for about 20 minutes and none of us could stop laughing.  He's certainly going to be giving Meg a run for her money over the next few months.


With his 3rd birthday looming, I can honestly say that he is no longer my baby but now my little boy.  Whilst this makes me a little bit sad (and a lot broody!) I'm really really proud of him.

Although, of course, I do hope that he doesn't stop needing snuggles from his Mummy and his Daddy for a long while yet.  It's what we're here for after all.



Thursday, 20 March 2014

Me & You {March 2014}

dear beautiful

This month we got to do something we hardly ever get the opportunity to do, in fact, almost never get the opportunity to do.

We went away for the weekend.

Without the kids.

We are lucky in that both sets of grandparents are very happy to have Meg and Eli for a sleepover but we usually only ask when we have something important we need to get done.  It's not often that we go away with the only aim being to enjoy ourselves!

We were heading down to Portsmouth for a friend's wedding.  It was the wedding of my Other Half's best friend from school so it was well worth the 7 hours it took us to get there.

We stayed in a sweet B&B just a short walk from the seafront and the owners were such lovely people, really happy to offer us advice on what to see and do.

On the Saturday we donned our Sunday best and got dressed up ready for the wedding.  I don't think we did too badly.


The wedding was in a beautiful venue called The Square Tower.  Very historical and with amazing views of the sea.  The weather was just perfect (cold but gorgeous and bright) which was handy seeing as we spent a lot of the time out on the rooftop enjoying the views.

After a lovely reception and lots of amusing speeches, we saw the evening off with around 3 hours of dancing.  My Other Half needs no excuse to leap around and erm...terrify other people with his 'moves'...it is something which has to be seen to be believed!  Although my feet were killing me (having children who can outrun me means I don't often spend time in heels) and I had my shoes off I also embraced the opportunity.  We looked a bit worse for wear at this point I think.  I can tell because I'm pulling 'that' face...the one I always opt for after a drink or two!


Although the weather wasn't quite as nice the following day we had a leisurely breakfast before walking down the sea front, enjoying the views, visiting Southsea castle and even engaging in one of our favourite pastimes; hunting for bargains in charity shops.

On the way home we stopped in a beautiful little village for some lunch.  It's a shame it was pelting down with rain and we couldn't do any real exploring although I think by this point my Other Half's wallet was groaning so it's probably not such a bad thing.

A lovely weekend, full of fun, laughter, love and a great opportunity to take lots of selfies (who doesn't love a good selfie?!)


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The Gallery: Adventure

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

The theme for this week's The Gallery is 'Adventure' and for me, there aren't many times when I've really had to step outside of myself, throw caution to the wind and just embrace what is happening which, to me, is what makes an adventure erm...adventurous.  

My Go Ape experience was one of them, but the one which really sticks out in my mind, and which I've shared a little bit about before on this blog, is my holiday in Africa.

I think if someone was to offer me now the chance to hop on a quad bike and set off into the African desert I would probably laugh in their faces and then politely decline.  Particularly once they revealed that there was the possibility of running into a pride of lions or a herd of elephants along the way.

At 19 years old though you don't really think about those things, well at 19 I didn't think about those things, just that it would be an amazing opportunity.

It was, it really was, even when I ended up at the back and everyone else went left and I went right...and kept going right thinking that eventually I would meet up with someone before I realised I was probably being incredibly stupid and should just stay where I was.  Luckily my dad had noticed I was missing and came back to find me although I'm not sure the two of us together were any better!

At the time, there were elements of the holiday which never lost their fear factor, such as walking across the holiday park and being faced with a gigantic baboon and having to slowly and cautiously turn away, and then there were elements which will forever continue to amaze me when I think of them, such as:-

- having monkeys swing down onto the table first thing in the morning and snatch my breakfast away (I *may* have screamed)

- going to the market to buy some trinkets and being offered a seat in the middle of this bustling and busy place and having all the vendors bring their wares over, trying to offer me the best deal and negotiating with them and being asked for socks and biros instead of money.

- being told how many cows I would be worth in a marriage contract.  I think it was two or three because I didn't have blonde hair!

- standing on the decking talking to my Other Half on the phone (boyfriend at the time) and suddenly having the waitresses from the restaurant coming out with their brooms, yelling and shouting because, 'oh look there's a crocodile like right there' (I *may* have screamed)

It's one of the holidays which made such an impact on me and I hope that one day we get to take Meg and Eli, so that they too can have a stunning adventure of their own.  It's the kind of trip which could never be replicated for me, it was testing in ways I never thought possible and yet, when I look back, I can't actually believe that it was shy old me who went and did those things. 


When I look at this photo I feel a detached sense of pride because I know that was me but at the same time it feels like a whole different lifetime when that happened.  Probably because I wouldn't have the courage to do it all over again!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Slow Cooker: Hunters Chicken

It's Tuesday which means it's Slow Cooker recipe day!  (I know, you've all been waiting with bated breath.)

This week's offering is Hunters Chicken.

I made my own BBQ sauce for this but I imagine you could easily just buy a ready made sauce from the supermarket.

For the BBQ Sauce
1 onion (chopped)
3 cloves of garlic (crushed)
1 tsp fennel seeds
55g brown sugar
50ml dark soy sauce
300ml tomato ketchup

Fry the onion, garlic, fennel seeds and sugar in some oil.

Add the soy sauce and ketchup and mix well.

Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes.


If you want a smooth sauce then blitz in a food processor or leave it lumpy, entirely up to you.

Ingredients
4 chicken breasts
Streaky smoked bacon
Potatoes
Cheese

Peel and slice potatoes, I'm not precious about thickness so mine came out a variety of sizes.  I don't think it actually matters how thick or thin but bear in mind that if you slice them thickly then it will take longer for them to cook.  Lay out to cover bottom of slow cooker.


Wrap your chicken breasts in the streaky bacon and place them on top of the potatoes.


Pour over the BBQ sauce.  If the sauce doesn't cover the chicken then add water until they are mostly covered (bear in mind that the more water you add, the thinner your sauce will be)

Cook on low for 6 hours.

Serve with whatever veg you like.  I opted for carrots and broccoli and although in this picture it doesn't look like we had very much broccoli it's actually Eli's 'I'm on a green vegetable embargo' plate so I didn't bother giving him a lot.  Honest!

As a final touch, once the chicken is served, grate cheese over the top.  I know that Hunters Chicken is supposed to be quite cheesy but this is a personal preference part.  Go for as much or as little as you like.


Enjoy!


Monday, 17 March 2014

X-Factor Live Tour 2014 - VIP Guests

Recently I was very lucky to be invited to be a VIP guest for the X-Factor Live Tour at the Liverpool Echo Arena courtesy of TalkTalk.  They very kindly offered me four tickets so I invited my mother in law and my two sisters in law to come along as well.


We huddled outside the arena with some of the other VIP guests in the freezing cold before being led down to meet all of the X-Factor finalists who would be performing in the show that evening.  I was quite nervous beforehand, wondering whether it would be awkward to meet them but it was all very relaxed (I guess they've had a while to get used to being nice to total strangers) and they were quite happy to sign autographs and pose for photos.  Luke Friend was even kind enough to give Sam Bailey a HP-style lightning scar on my picture as he was signing it (I'm totally the wrong person to have been on the receiving end of this as it ruined the symmetry of the whole thing!)


I was especially pleased to meet my favourites from the show Rough Copy, so much so I had to have my photo taken with them by myself.  I can confirm that they are just as much fun as they appeared on the show and if I look awkward it's because we are all laughing at my mother in law trying to teach them to say 'chicken' in a scouse accent.


After the meet and greet we hurried off to find something to eat before finding our seats for the main show which were, amazing.  Even the security guard who ripped our tickets commented on how close to the stage we would be.

The show was really enjoyable with the finalists performing some of their favourite songs from the live shows.  There was a fantastic atmosphere in the arena and I got goosebumps quite a few times.




A huge thanks to TalkTalk for the tickets, I know that we all had a really great time and would recommend it for any fans of the show!

Disclaimer: I was offered four tickets to attend the live show as a VIP guest but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

World Book Day: Fancy Dress

At the start of March, my social media timelines were awash with parents all experiencing the same level of dread: what to send their children dressed up as for World Book Day.

Meg's school seemed to have quite strict guidelines; the children couldn't just dress up as any old character, they had to be able to provide the book which contained the person or thing they were dressed as and they had to know the general storyline too.

Unfortunately for Meg, despite her protestations that if she had a Rapunzel story it would most definitely be her favourite bedtime book, we had to think creatively.

We went through her favourite bedtime stories and eventually settled on Spaghetti with the Yeti. Meg would be the Yeti, which seemed easy enough.


On the day itself I was impressed at the range of outfit choices the children (or the parents) had made. I had made an offhand comment to my Other Half about all the girls being princesses and all the boys being pirates (I know, I know, terribly stereotypical of me!) but, as Meg deigned to point out at dinner the following evening, there was actually only one boy dressed as a pirate!

In fact, Fancy Dress Ball recently carried out a survey of around 700 parents to find out which fictional characters were their children’s favourites and the results show a really great mix. Harry Potter was the clear favourite with 12.60% of the votes, and that was definitely true at Meg’s school; I saw 3 or 4 Harry Potters and a Hermione or two as well.

The Gruffalo and Peter Pan came in second and third place with just over 2% of the votes (which shows just how popular HP is!) and interestingly, Noddy is in fourth place. I wouldn’t have thought he was such a common bedtime story choice these days but it’s great to see that a classic character is still holding his own!

I have to eat my words twice over as well, as only one Disney Princess features on the Top 20 list. I would definitely have expected that to have been a more popular choice.

Although I appreciate that for some parents, dressing their children up is a total headache, I think it's a great way of celebrating the stories that we love to read with our children and I, for one, am a massive fan.

There was a little complaint from Meg that nobody seemed to know the story in her class (it's a small village school so we have to forgive them) but to be honest I liked that it was unknown and I hope that because Meg's choice was something new and different that a few children went home and asked their parents if they could read it to them, as it's a firm favourite in our house. It would be amazing to think that we have managed to share a book which is really well loved in this house.

Meg came home with a few new requests herself, which I thought was fantastic. Perhaps unsurprisingly though one of those was Rapunzel...I suspect she's planning ahead and getting her outfit request ready for next year!

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Book Love: March

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Okay, I know, we're already almost halfway through the month of March but with World Book Day and just the general craziness that has been the start of this month, I haven't got around until setting the linky up until now.

Thank you to everyone who linked up in February; I hope that you saw a few more comments on your book reviews?

As usual, the idea of this linky is to share recent reviews (of ANY book) and to give some comment love to other people who have linked up.  Book reviews tend to get skipped over as they aren't for everyone and aren't usually publicised as much but I think it's always nice to know that someone has taken the time to read what you have written, and maybe even gone out and bought the book because of your review.

The linky is open for the remainder of March so if you are a read-a-holic (like me!) then you are welcome to come and link up numerous time, or just the once, whatever suits.

If you know of other bloggers who also write reviews but don't know about this linky please do spread the word; I really want to see it grow this year and the more really is the merrier!

If you want to grab my badge I will send you virtual kisses or cake or wine...it's a simple copy and paste job.

<a href="http://catchasinglethought.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/book-love-fridays.html"target="_blank"><img src="http://i689.photobucket.com/albums/vv256/jmcglynn06/BookLoveBadge_zps0be0c0b8.jpg"border="0"alt="BOOKLOVEBADGE"></a>

Happy reading everyone!

Book Love: The Litigators by John Grisham

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The Litigators by John Grisham
Street Lawyers - Street Rules


I love John Grisham books; adore them even.  I read my first one when I was 12 or 13 and I can remember it vividly.  As a child I devoured books, often scouring my parents books when I ran out of my own.  I asked my mum whether I could read it and she said yes, although warned me that some of it was a bit graphic.  I think I was possibly terrorised by some of the content but the bit that really grabbed me, and continues to thrill me even now, was the intricate plot lines that John Grisham had woven in and amongst the courtroom drama.  Oh what I wouldn't give to be a witness to some of the big litigation trails which take place over there!

When I moved out and didn't have my mum's books to borrow any more I sort of stopped reading John Grisham so when my mother in law passed me her copy of The Litigators I was super excited.  Sad, but true!

Unfortunately, this book just didn't hold any of the passion or the excitement that previous Grisham books have done.  I've even seen a couple of suggestions that perhaps he didn't actually write the book and that would certainly ring true for me.

The protagonist is David Zinc, a Harvard graduate who is working at a prestigious and high-flying law firm.  One day, he decides it is all too much and simply walks away.  He spends the day drinking in a bar before stumbling into the offices of Finley & Figg; a not so prestigious 'boutique' firm who are, in reality, a shambles of an ambulance chasing law firm.

David decides he wants to work with Finley & Figg, despite their less than ethical tactics, and they wind up filing a lawsuit against a huge pharmaceutical who are represented by, you've guessed it, David's old law firm.

The case is a disaster from start to finish but worry not, at the same time as he is trying to help Finley & Figg keep their heads above water, David is also pursuing another lawsuit on the side, one which turns out to be very lucrative indeed.

The book is amusing in parts but not one of Grisham's best writes.  The plot is very predictable, very convenient and not at all the 'thriller' type story that one usually expects when they pick up a Grisham book.  It was an enjoyable read but I was disappointed and don't think it comes anywhere near his other books.  It also makes me a bit wary of reading the other one my mother in law gave to me, The Racketeer, as I wondering whether he has perhaps lost his touch a little bit?

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Exploring Mere Sands Wood Nature Reserve

I love discovering hidden gems to visit and one of our new favourite places is Mere Sands Wood.  It's about 15 minutes away from where we live and is a lovely area of woodland.  There are a number of hides which make it possible to view the wildlife on the lake and if you walk around the edges of the woodland you can view the rolling fields of farmland which is very picturesque.

Mere Sands Wood was the place I managed to capture this Robin shot, which has to be one of my favourite photos and the kids have now spent many an hour or two running around and exploring.  

On Tuesday my Other Half had the day off work so once we had taken Meg to school (unlucky for her), we all headed up to walk the dog and enjoy the beautiful warm weather.


Eli absolutely loves to explore these woods, particularly the various bridges which are dotted around.  Some of them are above water, and some aren't, and he always loves to guess whereabouts we are on the trail.  When we do find a bridge above water he often tries to play pooh sticks although the water isn't generally moving fast enough unfortunately!


Another great thing is that the different hides are numbered on the trail and it's a great excuse for him to practice his number recognition, which he now does very well.

There's a lovely jetty overlooking a larger area of water which is great if you have younger children and want to do some duck spotting.  Unfortunately there weren't too many around during our visit but that didn't stop my Other Half and Eli from enjoying the picturesque view.


There are a number of different trails you can follow; we took the shorter 'blue' trail which lasted around 45 minutes with Eli walking most of the way.  I'm not sure he would last much longer than that without giving up!

It's such a lovely and peaceful place and I can't wait to go back in the warmer months to see how the woodlands and wildlife change.


I am linking this post up with Coombe Mill's country kids linky.  Do check out their lovely blog for more outdoor adventures.