Sunday, 27 May 2012

A visit to my spiritual home

There's a place not far from where I live, somewhere I like to go to when I need some time to think.
Norton Priory walled garden

It's a place that allows you, almost encourages you, to be peaceful. Tranquil even. It's so quiet there, nothing but the sound of buzzing bees and a light breeze passing though the trees.

Yesterday I wanted to think about something that has been weighing quite heavily on my mind. I needed some space to think it over.
 I sat in the beautiful surroundings for a while and thought about it.

On the way out I bumped into a friend. While we were chatting, and without me having mentioned it, he gave me a possible solution to my dilemma.

It seemed like the right place to find a possible answer.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Lorraine Pascale's recipe for chilli con carne

As mentioned previously, I'm a recent convert to Lorraine Pascale's cooking. I've made several recipes from her Home Cooking Made Easy book and they've all been successful, which means I keep going back for more.

I recently tried out her recipe for chilli, a dish that most people seem to have a favourite recipe for, but one that I'd struggled with. Whenever I made chilli it either tasted really bland or like minced beef with a load of chilli powder in it.

Lorraine Pascale's recipe was a revelation. It tastes fantastic, just spicy enough but with a lovely deep flavour to it. I've cooked it a couple of times now and it's become a firm favourite with my daughters.

ingredients for chilli con carne

Oil for cooking
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 tsp soft light brown sugar
1 bay leaf*
1 tsp dried oregano (didn't have any, so I used dried thyme)
1 tsp paprika or cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chilli powder (or to taste, I add two)
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
1 red chilli deseeded and finely chopped (optional)*
500g minced beef
1 small glug of good red wine (optional)*
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
Big glug of Worcestershire sauce
1 x 400g tin of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Salt and ground black pepper

*I didn't add these ingredients because I didn't have them on this occasion, chilli still tasted great though!

Heat the oil in a pan over a medium heat, add the onion and cook for about 10 minutes until it's nice and soft. Add the garlic and cook for one minute, then stir in the sugar, bay leaf, oregano, paprika or cayenne, cumin, chilli powder, red pepper, chilli and minced beef.

Use a wooden spoon to break up any large bits of meat, turn up the heat and keep stirring so it doesn't burn on the bottom of the pan for about 5 minutes. Once the meat has browned add the glug of wine (if using) and boil for 2 minutes to get rid of the strong alcoholic taste.

Now add the tinned tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, kidney beans and a good amount of salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and leave to simmer for an hour or so, stirring from time to time to prevent it sticking to the pan.

Check the mixture after 30 minutes and if most of the liquid has evaporated, add a little water or stock, then stir and leave to simmer and develop all those lovely flavours.

Serve with some white rice or tortilla chips, soured cream, guacamole and salsa. Enjoy!

P.S.  I was recently shopping for ingredients for another of Lorraine's recipes and when I couldn't find one of the items on the list I tweeted Lorraine Pascales to ask her, and she replied while I was still in the shop!  How cool is she?!

(Apparently dry sherry is a good alternative.)

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Why parenting classes are not the answer

Source: Guardian
So, this week the Prime Minister announced the introduction of  parenting classes for all. These classes are a direct result of last summer's riots which were caused - according to the coalition - by bad parenting. In the aftermath of the riots David Cameron blamed the riots on "a complete lack of responsibility, a lack of proper parenting, a lack of proper upbringing, a lack of proper ethics, a lack of proper morals".

In essence, I would say parenting classes are a good idea, but also a sadly misguided one and the reaction of a government that is totally out of touch with the real issues affecting families and young people.

First of all, parenting classes are the latest idea from a Government that has made significant cuts to the long-standing and successful Sure Start scheme. Sure Start was set up to help families in the most deprived areas to get advice and support about parenting, benefits and finding work and has a nationwide network of centres with equipment, resources and trained staff.  However, since the coalition came into power over 120 Sure Start centres have closed due to funding cuts. This doesn't make any sense to me. Instead of spending the millions on the new parenting classes, why not just pump that money into Sure Start and improve their services?

Secondly, this Government has also made cuts to child benefits which will result in many families losing out. This is exactly the same group of people they are asking to attend these parenting classes.

Then, and this is my biggest gripe, the report by Government's 'behaviour tsar' Charlie Taylor following last summer's riots recommended (amongst other things) that there should be more teachers specialising in managing disruptive pupils' behaviour in pupil referral units, and that this government will be fast-tracking newly qualified teachers to work in these units.  In my opinion newly qualified, and therefore inexperienced, teachers are not going to be the best equipped people to deal with the children who are already excluded from mainstream schools, and secondly it's not just the pupils who should be targeted but their parents.

Mr Taylor also recommended that nursery and pre-school workers should be asked to identify young children with behavioural issues and refer them for specialist training on how to deal with their anger or get along with others before starting formal school classes. This idea is so short-sighted it almost beggers belief. Yes, by all means identify these young pre-school children: but it's their parents who should be referred for support, because the child is just a symptom of this parenting malaise.

What this government seems to be completely missing out on is that the parents who really need the parenting classes are not the likes of you and I, the people who genuinely want to be better parents and raise decent children. The parents who actually need the help, who really need to learn the very basics of raising civilised, law-abiding citizens of the future will be (by and large) the parents of these children who are identified, from an early age, of having 'issues' but they're also the ones who will never attend a voluntary parenting class.

Most of us will know this type of parent. They are the parents who can't be bothered getting out of bed in the morning to get their children ready for school and send their children to school in filthy clothes and without any breakfast. The parents who don't actually care what their children get up to outside of the house and allow them to roam the streets unsupervised. The parents who think that teaching their children manners, morals and basic skills such as eating with a knife and fork or tying their own shoelaces is nothing to do with them.

They are the parents who need parenting classes Mr Cameron. Identify those parents and work with them. The rest of us are doing the best we can.

What do you think - are parenting classes a good idea or not?

Monday, 14 May 2012

Win a pair of running shoes!

Nike Zoom Vomero 6
**UPDATE:  the competition has now closed, and the winner of the running shoes is Debbie Davis. Congratulations Debbie, and thank you to everyone who entered.**

Hands up if you're trying to get fit? If you are, you may have decided to take up running or maybe you're already a keen runner. If so you're in luck.

I’ve teamed up with to offer one lucky reader a brand new pair of trainers up to the value of £90!

With a huge selection of running shoes on offer, Sportsshoes have plenty of options to look and feel fabulous.
The lucky winner will choose a pair of running shoes up to the value of £90 which will be sent out directly. Here’s how to enter:

Nike Lady Air Pegasus
Simply leave a comment and tell me who your ideal running partner would be?

Could it be any simpler? For an extra entry, tweet the following "I've just entered @notSupermum's comp to #win a pair of running shoes!"

The competition will be open until 6pm Sunday 20th May, then I'll select a winner based on the answers given. Please leave either an email address or twitter ID to be included. The prize is not just restricted to UK entries either as Sportsshoes are happy to post the prize out to overseas!

This post is sponsored by

Terms & Conditions
1.      Competition is only available to individuals aged 18.
2.      The prize will be sent out within 28 days.
3.      The prize must be redeemed within 6 months.
4.      The prize will be a pair of running shoes selected from up to the value of £90.
5. reserves the right to provide a substitute prize of a similar value should the specified prize become unavailable for reasons beyond its control. Cash or credit alternatives will not be offered.
6.      Sportsshoes reserves the right to amend, suspend or cancel the competition without notice and/or review and revise these terms and conditions at any time without giving prior notice.
7.      The publisher’s decision is final.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Children, bedtime rituals and growing up too fast

Reading a bedtime story has been, for me, one of the great pleasures of having small children.  I used to love those twenty minutes or so when my girls were tucked up in bed, all clean in their pjs and cuddling up to hear a story. We had so many favourites and read and reread many stories over the years, but I have special memories of the Wishing Chair stories and The Magic Faraway Tree which were the last two books I read to both girls before The Teenager decided she was "too old" for that sort of thing. She was probably about 9 or 10 at the time.

Bedtime stories for Tall Daughter continued though and we went on to enjoy many more books, especially the Sophie Stories by Dick King-Smith which she absolutely loved. Tall Daughter is 12 now, she'll be 13 in a few months time, and although we no longer read bedtime stories together we still have a particular bedtime ritual.

Most nights, when I tell her it's time for bed, she will ask me to come and say goodnight.  I wait ten minutes or so until she's ready, then I'll go up to her bedroom where she'll already be tucked up in bed with the bedside light on. Lying together on the bed we'll have a chat about her day, or she'll tell me of her plans for her new bedroom or (and this happens quite a lot) we'll just have a bit of silly time together. It's a lovely few minutes - no more than 5 or 10 - before we say goodnight and I go back downstairs.

Just recently though a friend and my brother have (on a couple of separate occasions) overheard her asking me to say goodnight and have expressed surprise that I still "put her to bed".  I don't, but even if I did why would that be a problem?

She's 12, she's still a child. She'll be a teenager soon enough, and will spend most of her life as an adult so right now I'd like her to be a child for just a little bit longer.

I read a really thought-provoking article recently lamenting these final moments of parenthood. While we celebrate every new first  (tooth, step, word) there isn't any way of knowing when the 'lasts' will be (bedtime story, letter to Father Christmas, game of football on the lawn) until they're gone, and mostly unnoticed.

It might be hard to imagine it now, but sooner than you think you will read your child/ren their last bedtime story before, quite suddenly, you are no longer needed.

I'm probably in the last few months of Tall Daughter wanting our little goodnight routine, and I'm savouring every one of them just in case it's the last.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Leaving your mark on the world

I read today that the writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak has died aged 83.

He's best known for his book Where the Wild Things Are, which since its publication in 1964 has gone on to sell over 19 million copies worldwide. It has quite rightly become a children's classic.

By all accounts Mr Sendak led a full and interesting life, but how wonderful it must be to look back on your life and know that you have left your mark on the world. He has left a legacy that children all over the world will continue to read and enjoy and marvel at, and play Wild Things games about, and dream of.

Maurice Sendak will still be celebrated by children and grown-up children alike for many years to come, and that is something only achieved by very special people.

Goodbye to one of the special people.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Welcome to my pity party

Warning: this is a very maudlin post. Apologies in advance.

This week I had a very timely reminder that being a single parent isn't all it's cracked up to be. Seriously.  If there is anyone out there who thinks being a single parent is a doddle you should have been in my shoes this week because this was the week of The Flu. That's real flu, the sort that completely knocks you sideways and makes you sleep like the dead sort of flu.

On Wednesday I started to feel like I had a cold coming on and took some paracetamol at lunch-time. By 3pm I couldn't stop sneezing and felt hot and shivery at the same time. Thursday morning I felt really unwell, but thought it might be a 24-hour virus and would be out of my system quickly.

Fast forward to Friday morning and I was too weak to even get out of bed. My girls had to walk to school (unheard of!) and even had to walk and feed the dog (also unheard of!). In fact, they have pretty much fended for themselves since Wednesday evening and they've not done a bad job but now we've run out of food, I don't have any cash on me and the earliest supermarket delivery I can arrange is for tomorrow.

Being a single parent is fine for 99% of the time, or at least it is for me. We manage okay, the girls and I, and have found our own ways of getting things done. But as soon as I become ill our well-run lives hit the skids.  I'm lucky that they're now older and can at least get some food out of the freezer and cook a meal for themselves.  But I'd still like to have someone here who can go to the pharmacy for me, do some shopping, or just give me a big bear hug and tell me everything is ok.

This all sounds very selfish, and I know I'm wallowing in self-pity, but I'm allowed to - I'm not well. It's at times like this I realise how isolated I am. I don't even have any friends nearby that I'd be comfortable calling and asking for help. Today I do feel slightly  better (well, I'm blogging so that's got to be an improvement) so hopefully I'll be back to normal in a day or so.

This week I've learned two things about myself.
  1. I'm a loner who gets lonely.
  2. I need to do something to improve my health because I hated being so sick this week.
Okay, end of maudlin rant. As you were.