Thursday 31 March 2011

Top Tips for you/your child starting out in school :)

Thought I'd jot down a few tips for parents whose child will be starting formal school soon!

1) If you are going to expose them to the alphabet, teach them lower case!  I bought my son a magnetic fridge game and he knew all his Capital Letters, but was of no use starting formal education!

2) Get somebody to get contact details for all the other parents of the class, it comes in handy for reminders of non-uniform days and clarification of homework etc.

3) Its a good idea if they can put on and take off their own coats and shoes etc., but don't stress if they can't!  My son couldn't until after day 1 when he saw everyone else doing it themselves!!!!

4) If you want to take your child out of school for a holiday, remember that you are not legally bound to send them for formal education until they are 5, so don't worry before then.  Also, schools are marked down for "unauthorised" absence!  A lot of schools, like ours, do authorise leave, particularly in the first couple of years.

5) Remember, as I have to do now and again, that they all get there!  I feel there is too much emphasis on homework too young.  From 4yo (late born boy) we had 3 books, spellings and maths homework every week!  I often remind his teachers of the things he is good at ;)

I want to be mum to my child not teacher, I want to bring them home, talk to them, give them tea, bath and put them to bed - well I want my OH to do the latter, but you get the gist!  I do not want be arguing over homework and spellings! 

Oh, and never forget (well in my case anyway) ;)

Would love to hear other people's top tips to compile a bigger list :)

Annie x

#30dayblog thanks to @Nikkipilkington

What Do The F Keys on the Keyboard Do?

Was just tweeting about F keys on the keyboard, unaware of what a lot of them do, so did a little searching *who knew* :)

If you press F1 while working in a program, help for that program will usually appear. If you press F1 while at the Windows desktop or when the Windows Explorer is open, a Windows help screen will pop up. If you happen to be working in a program and would like to see the Windows help screen, simply press the Windows key (the key with the Windows logo on the bottom row of keys) on your keyboard and press F1 at the same time.

You can use the F2 key to rename an item when working in Windows. Highlight any folder or file, and press F2. You will then be able to type a new name for the object. After you type the new name, just click outside the name box or press the enter key to make the name change. This works just like right-clicking a file or folder and selecting Rename.

When you are working in Windows, the F3 key will open the Find Files window.

The F4 key has some very useful functionality. You can press F4 to open the Address bar when working in Internet Explorer. This will allow you to type the address of a Web page for quick access.

You can also press the Alt key and the F4 key at the same time to close the open Window that you are currently working on.

The F5 key is the refresh key. You can press F5 when viewing a Web page to make sure that you have the most current version of that Web page. You can also use F5 when in Windows to refresh the screen. This can be a handy shortcut. If perhaps you are viewing the contents of a floppy disk and you insert a new floppy, your screen will still show the contents of the first floppy. Just press F5 to refresh the screen and see the contents of the floppy you just inserted.

This key is often used to move the cursor around the structure of the program. Pressing it will often cycle you from window to window.

The F7 key does not have any functionality in Windows. It may, however be used in some individual programs. To find out if it is available in the program you are using, bring up the program’s help screen and type in the words function key.

The F8 key can be used to access Safe Mode if pressed during the computer’s boot up process. This is a trouble-shooting mode which will start the computer with minimal drivers.

The F9 key does not have any functionality in Windows. It may, however be used in some individual programs. To find out if it is available in the program you are using, bring up the program’s help screen and type in the words function key.

F10 is the key that is used to activate the menu bar in many programs. You can use F10 to highlight the first menu choice, and then use the arrow keys to move around the menus. Pressing the Shift key while pressing F10 will bring up the shortcut menu. This is similar to right-clicking on an object.

Press F11 when you are working in Internet Explorer and the window will open to full screen mode. This will make all the toolbars disappear and can be useful to see more information on the screen. Press F11 when you are in full screen mode will toggle you back to your normal view.

The F12 key does not have any functionality in Windows. It may, however be used in some individual programs. To find out if it is available in the program you are using, bring up the program’s help screen and type in the words function key.

Hope this is helpful :)

Annie x

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Top 10 Twitter Trends 18-25 March :)

The new twitter for iphone shows topics trending, which often elude me, so thought I'd look up on to get an idea of a weeks worth of trending, and their intensity rating.
    4      1)  Rebecca Black - don't google, you will not get that time back!
    2      2)  Full Moon - well it was lovely :)
    1      3)  H1N1 - a worrying virus in Latin America
    1      4)  UK Comic Relief - no explanation required
    1      5)  Knut - a famous Polar Bear who died at a Berlin zoo
    1      6)  Elizabeth Taylor - a legend who died at the age of 79
    1      7)  Libyan Conflict - Operation Odyssey Dawn, US Warships on target in Libya
    1      8)  Soccer/football - interim Fluminense coach, and bad tackle on Stuart Evans
    1      9)  Alexz Johnson - Canadian singer song-writer, no other clue?
    1     10) UFC - Ultimate Fighting Championship 128

So what does that tell us, that a 13yo singer (?) from Orange County is given more credence than a war!  

Slightly worrying me thinks, would love your opinion?

Annie x

Update re Sparklebox product in son's primary school

Further to yesterday's blog, which you can see if you scroll down, this morning I approached the school secretary about the Sparklebox product I had seen in the school.  She thought it had all been removed and went off to take it down immediately!

I am pleased to report that she appeared as angy as I was that it was still up.  The school no longer uses this company.

I hope this has enlightened people as to this company, which is still trading!

Thanks for all your support!

Annie x

Tuesday 29 March 2011

School using resources from Sparklebox, owned by a convicted Paedophile!

As a childminder I was advised about the company Sparklebox a long time ago!  The company provides all sorts of resources for schools, and whilst the quality of the product is good, I have issues with the owner being jailed twice, convicted of downloading pornographic images of children.

I went into our school recently as the little ones needed the toilet, and as I was reading the posters about handwashing, I noticed that they were in fact Sparklebox merchandise!

I am horrified and will be writing to the Headmaster.  As I say I have no issue with the quality of the posters, but do not wish to fund this dispicable man's lifestyle!

I would be interested to hear if you think I am over-reacting!

The following explains more!

Thanks for reading, going off to seethe in a corner somewhere!

Annie x

Slowcooker Cooking - Easy Chicken Jalfrezi

I've previously used cooking sauces for a Jalfrezi but thought I'd give it a go from scratch in the slowcooker last night.  I'd describe it as medium hot and was absolutely gorgeous, so happy to share :)

4 chicken breast or 4/6 chicken thighs, dependent on size, diced
2 tbs plain flour
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
400g passata (tomatoes sieved, can be found near the tinned tomatoes)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chilli powder (I used hot)
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp curry powder (I used hot)
2 green chillies, deseeded and chopped
2 whole red chillies
2 peppers, chopped (I used 1 red and 1 green to make colourful)

Cover the chicken with flour and brown in a non-stick frying pan.
Put all ingredients in the slow cooker and cook on low for 6 hours.

I served with rice, but whatever you fancy :)

Enjoy, and appreciate any feedback!

Annie x

Friday 25 March 2011

PTA Cake Sale, Good Old Fashioned Fairy Cakes

When Jasper was in Reception, I encountered my first Cake Sale for the school, the idea being that mummies made cakes to be sold after school, with proceeds going to the PTA.  Fab idea.
I trawled through my cookbooks and decided I try my hand at millionnaires shortbread.  I bought all the ingredients and spent hours lovingly making said fayre.  I happily handed over the cakes next morning.

After school however I watched in horror as the cakes were sold for around 20p each, and all the kids were fighting over fairy cakes and gingerbread shapes.  I slunk away as mine were still milling around at the end.   Big hmmmmf!

No longer the rooky, with Jasper in Year 2, we have another Cake Sale today, so last night we knocked up some wicked fairy cakes :)

Ingredients:                                                                  Icing (optional)
100g (4oz) softened margarine                                      175g (6oz) icing sugar
100g (4oz) caster sugar                                                2 tbs warm water
2 eggs                                                                         sweets to decorate?
100g (4oz) self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
18 paper cake cases

Preheat oven to 200c/400f/Gas 6.
Place 18 paper cases in a bun tins or on a baking tray.
Put all ingredients in a bowl and beat well until thoroughly blended and smooth.
Half fill each paper case with the mixture.

Bake them in the pre-heated oven for about 18 minutes, until well risen and firm to the touch.
Put them on a wire rack to cool.

We iced ours and topped them with sprinkles, I have a happy Jasper this morning, who of course had to try one after breakfast, just to be sure ;)

The finished article
Go on, whip some up with the kids today, it's Friday after all, they'll love them :)

Enjoy x

Thursday 24 March 2011

claiming technorati code

Need to verify technorati status!



Iphones Don't Bounce! Twitter to the Rescue *again*

Recently I successfully carried out an experiment to see if iphones can bounce.  It appears however they cannot and I gained a very cracked screen!  Of course I didn't really do it on purpose, had taken its cover off, not replaced and on Monday night dropped it onto a tiled floor.

To be fair the phone still worked so I was OK, but not ideal.

As is my way I tweeted my dilemma of a cracked iphone screen, and as is twitter, along came @SimplyFixIt to my rescue.  I was assured that they would be able to fix my screen, and it would be returned to me the next working day!  For a moment I was worried about sending off my iphone, but I put my faith in twitter which has never let me down.  

I sent my phone off on Tuesday afternoon, I was contacted on Wednesday to say that it had been received and repaired, and should be back with me by Thursday.  At 8.10am on Thursday morning the postman delivered my phone, in working order, with a shiny new screen.

I cannot rate this service enough and have not stopped talking about it.   If you have any iphone, ipod, ipad or computer issues that need resolving, I would not hesitate to recommend

Thanks for reading!

Annie x

Monday 21 March 2011

Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami Appeal

We heard via the school that there was going to be an event at a local centre, in order to raise funds for the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami Appeal.   It was held last Saturday between 11am and 3pm.

We went along to support and I couldn't believe the amount of people there, let alone the level of organisation that had gone into it.  

They were demonstrating origami to the children, selling various gifts, toys and books, and also sandwiches at 10p each!  It was amazing how much had gone into it so quickly after the tragedy!  I couldn't help wondering whether we would have been able to stage something so professionally in such a short space of time.

We heard today that in those 4 hours they managed to raise a fantastic £16,500, even though it was straight after Red Nose Day.

Well done to the local Japanese community and St Albans as a City, makes you feel proud :)

Annie x

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Recycling Old Birthday Cards

As a keen recycler it annoyed me that you are unable to recycle old birthday cards and also some wrapping paper.  However, I now make use of at least half of the cards, by turning them into potential postcards.   As an occasional comper they come in very useful, and I'm sure often catch the eye ;)

As you can see this was one of Scarlett's old cards, which is now hopefully winning me a pampering present for Mothers Day (3rd April this year).

The original card, awwwww

Annoyingly wrong way round but you get the gist :)

We are all obviously fans of social media if you are reading this, but why not send a note to someone just to say hi, do we not all like receiving proper personal post!

Would love feedback!

Annie x

Sunday 13 March 2011

Slow Cooker Cooking - Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Rice and Peas

This is a recipe I cook regularly.  I have tried to put together my own "Jerk" seasoning, but a Jamaican friend put me onto Dunnes River, and it works perfectly.   Although I haven't told her I dilute mine with natural yoghurt otherwise its a bit too hot!

Would add that my Sainsburys don't appear to stock it, have found it in Asda and Tesco though!

8 chicken pieces, thighs perfect, I only had thighs and drumsticks but still worked well
3 tbs Jerk Marinade, combined with 3 tbs natural yoghurt, feel free not to dilute if brave!
2 tbs sunflower oil
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
2 large onions chopped
400ml coconut milk
300ml chicken stock
400g tin of beans, kidney beans perfect, I used Cannellini as was out
200g easy-cook long-grain rice
125g frozen peas
salt and pepper

To garnish
sprigs of coriander

Remove the skin from the chicken pieces and slash 2-3 times, then rub/cover with the marinade.
Heat 1 tbs of oil in a large frying pan, add the chicken and fry over a high heat until browned on all sides.  Lift out with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate.
Add the remaining oil and fry the onions and garlic, on a reduced heat, for about 5 mins, until softened.
Pour in the cocunut milk and stock, season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil.

Pour half the mixture into the slow cooker, add half the chicken pieces, all the beans and then the remaining chicken, and top with the onions and coconut mixture.

Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Stir in the rice, replace the lid and cook on high for 45 minutes. 
Add the frozen peas and cook for a further 14 minutes.

Spoon onto plates and serve garnished with the coriander.

With kidney beans the appearance is more striking, but still just as delicious!

The chicken itself will have fallen off the bone, so if you are taking it to the dining table for a dinner party, you may want to remove the bones first.

Hope you enjoy, would  love some feedback!

Annie x

Friday 11 March 2011

Money Saving Apps and Sign Ups

Money may be tight, but I think it is still important to go out for a meal now and then, particularly when you have children and work full time. It's good to talk rather than sit twittering whilst your other half watches the TV - well that's what happens here, occasionally ;)

I have scouted around and been introducted to sites where you can save a lot of money on meals out, so thought I would share them with you. This is one of the first ones I signed up to, they send you weekly updates of offers around the high street, including restaurant chains; Pizza Express, Pizza Hut, Zizzi are regularly featured, amongst others. With this one you sign up to receive emails on offers based around your chosen region.  I have chosen London, and have received some fabulous offers on cosmetic treatments, days out and again top restaurants such as Marco Pierre White's Steak and Alehouse, which sounds fab! This is Martin Lewis's site, where again you can sign up to receive regular money saving ideas across the board, the latest on is ASOS £20 for just £9.  He also has expert financial advise.

Apps for iphone
Two restaurant finder apps I found out about recently are out of this world, and free!!!

toptable - you can enter a region or ask it to use your location to search for deals around you.  It then lists all the restaurants close by and the deals that are on offer.   At the moment there is 25% off food at Chez Mumtaj a St Albans restaurant offering modern French-Asian food, which is fabulous.

OpenTable - similar to above, but also offers ideas of average dining prices before you book.

I hope this helps to save some money, if you know of any other money saving sites or apps, would love to hear about them.


Annie x

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Easy Peasy Pancake Recipe

Today is International Women's Day, Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, and Pancake day!
The tradition of making pancakes came around as it is the last day before lent, so it was a means to use up all the fat, sugar and eggs before traditional fasting.

We make these every year with the kids, so its tried and tested, will be doing more after school today!
So happy Pancake Day to you all.

Makes about 8.  Enjoy :)

100g plain flour
Half pint of milk 250ml
1 egg
Pinch of salt
Lemon, sugar, syrup, or whatever you fancy serving with!

Seive the flour and salt into a bowl, then make a hole in the middle.
Crack the egg and drop into the hole in the flour.
Begin to mix, adding about a quarter of the milk.
Gradually pour in the rest of the milk, if too thick add a little water.

You now have your batter mix.  It might be easier to pour into a jug for easy pouring?

Heat a little butter in the frying pan and spread around.  When very hot, stir and pour in some batter, about 2 tablespoons, dependent on the size of your frying pan, you are looking to get a thin layer across to the edges.

Cook until brown on the bottom, won't take long, and then for the fun bit!!!!!!

Toss/flip the pancake over, trying your best not to hit the ceiling.  (You could of course use other means to turn over, but that's no fun)!

Cook the other side till its also brown - not very long.

Pour onto a plate and serve with whatever you like!

Jaspers fantastic flipping efforts :)


Annie x

Monday 7 March 2011

Genuine Trustworthy Local General Maintenance Company

I don't know about you but there always seems to be little jobs needing to be done around the house, and you don't know who to call.

Apart from the worry that you may be ripped off, I worry about who I am inviting into the house with the children here (yes I'm a worrier), and also have no idea how much I should be paying for jobs.

My in-laws in Harpenden came up with the solution, and introduced me to Simply Jobs.  They are based in Harpenden, but will come out to surrounding areas.

I liked the idea of employing older staff, it somehow sits right with me, possibly because my dad was an electrician and this would probably have kept him busy if he were still around:

"Our staff are mostly aged 50 and above and this is something that we have found that most of our older customers prefer. All our staff are courteous, reliable and highly experienced and are often requested by name by our regular customers."

There is no call out fee and they charge a standard rate per hour - £35 I believe.  They are also happy to come out and quote for free.  Once the job is done you simply sign a time sheet and the company will invoice you a few weeks later.

I have just said goodbye to a plumber who came round to fit some sink and bath taps.  Not only did he fit the taps, he also sorted out why the water took to drain, and cleaned up after himself. 

I would be more than happy to recommend this company, so if you have any electrical, plumbing, gardening, pretty much anything need doing, why not give them a call, and do let me know if this was helpful :)

Thanks for reading.

Annie x

Sunday 6 March 2011

QPR - Going Up, dare we believe.........

The R's are going up, there I said it, if we don't you can blame me and have me struck off.  However, having published this post I have to run up a ladder, turn around 3 times, then slide down fireman style as an anti-jinx process, as directed by @MatwhiteQPR

Dare we believe R's fans....................?

Annie x

Common Medical Condition: Molluscum Contagiosum in Children

My 3yo had what appeared to be little polyts on her body, mainly under 1 of her arms.  They weren't bothering her at all, and whilst I kept meaning to get it checked out, it didn't appear a priority.   A few days later however and they formed into little blisters.

I remembered a little girl at her nursery had chicken pox, but since Scarlett had it so bad when she was younger, didn't think it could be.

As it was nighttime, having spotted it during bathtime,  I couldn't contact the doctors.  I therefore decided to approach my learned friends on twitter, and posted this picture.

Complete with washing in the background - oops!
With the help of some kind RTing, I immediately got some diagnosis in, and confirmed by all the nurses who I am in contact with, that they believed it was Molluscum Contagiosum.  Sounds scary, but having been directed to a page about it, I was soon relieved, as I learnt the following facts:

1. Whilst it is contagious it is only via skin to skin contact.  As most people are immune to the disease its not a problem, and no need to refrain from going to school or swimming etc.

2. There is no real treatment and it will clear itself up within 12-18 months.

3. It is extremely common and not to worry about it.

The next morning I got an immediate appointment and went to see the doctor.   The conversation went something like this:

Me: I believe my daughter has Molluscum Contagiosum
Doctor: yes she does, how did you know that, have you had other children who've had it
Me: No, I was told by my friends on twitter
Doctor: no words, completely vacant look

I felt it necessary to take away her proffered leaflet, I was in and out in about 4 mins.  Hey ho.

Thanks for reading, have your children suffered the same, any tips, how long did they take to heal?

Annie x

Tap Water at McDonalds

We don't visit McDonalds very often, but when we do I try and work out the best value for money.  My son will only drink water, and I used to buy 2 Happy Meals so he could have water and my daughter her juice.   They didn't need all the food however and can quite happily share one happy meal and add to it.   They've even learnt to take turns at getting *the toy*.

Today we were sitting talking about it, and I told my husband it wouldn't occur to me to ask for tap water here, although I do everywhere else.  Being the man he is the challenge was taken up, and without blinking a cup of tap water was given complete with straw!

It came out of the same tap as the fanta does so Jasper did say it smelt a bit funny, but I can confirm it was indeed water.

Dilemma over, happy kids, happy purse :)


Annie x

Slow Cooker Chilli Recipe

I have long been in search of the perfect slow-cooker chilli recipe.  I have tried many, but I like my food fairly spicy and was fed up just adding extra chilli powder.  I have however now adapted a few recipes to come up with my own version, and with the addition of Jalapeno peppers, makes it feel more authentic.

I am using the word Chilli instead of Chilli con carne by the way, as I am reliably informed that the Mexicans find this hilarious as it translates literally as chillies with meat, and they read it as a bowl of chillies covered in meat :)

This recipe is for 4, and costs out at £5.28.   We tend to use half and freeze the other half, which always seems to taste even better!

1 tbsp groundnut (peanut) oil
500g minced beef (I use lean steak mince)
1 large onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
400g/1 large can of chopped tomatoes
1/2 x 200g jar of pickled jalapeno peppers, drained and chopped (I use Mexican Discovery)
1-2 tsp hot chilli powder to taste
1 beef stock cube
2 x 400g beans - only 1 drained!
I tend to make 1 Kidney and experiment with the other, have used Pinto and Cannellini
Salt and freshly ground pepper

To Serve
However you like, grated cheese on top, in tacos, with bread or rice, or corn tortilla chips, play around and enjoy :)

Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the beef and onion and fry until the beef is no longer pink.

Add all the remaining ingredients and bring to the boil.  Tip into the crock pot, cover and cook on High for 2-3 hours or Low for 4-6 hours.

Taste and re-season if necessary.

Would love to hear how you got on with it, get cooking!

Thanks for reading!

Annie x

Tuesday 1 March 2011

St Davids Day Baking :)

A very happy St David's Day to all my Welsh friends, and I hope you forgive us all for joining in your celebrations.

We have already made daffodils and coloured in Welsh Flags - the dragons being a big hit with my son, and we have just made some delicious Welsh cakes.  All the kids got stuck in and the smells around the house are evocative of days spent baking with my Grandmother - happy times.

Here is the recipe I used.  I found they didn't need 3 minutes each side more like 1-2, but adjust according to thickness of cakes and heat!

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus - courtesy of Ray @lliswerryguy on twitter :)


Annie x