Some Back to School Hacks…

So it’s time to get back in our groove and return normality and reality with everyone back to School, Childcare, activities and work. I don’t know how you other Mammies are feeling this morning, but I for one am exhaustipated even thinking about beginning the balancing of all the plates. Even though the girls have been up around 7am most mornings over the summer, suddenly having to have everyone out the door, fully dressed and even partially fed, has been a challenge.

It will take a few weeks to get back into the swing of it, but here are a few things that I do each year which do help, if only a little bit.

  1. Meal plan: I do out a plan for the week of what meals we’ll be eating and then base the shopping list on what I needed for these.  I’ll get back into the habit of making extra dinner for me to have as lunch the next day too.  Planning the week’s meals might seem a bit boring, but it saves a fortune and allows me to plan meals around how much time I have each evening too.  Less waste and an empty fridge by the weekend. (I also chop up/peel etc the food in Mini-Me’s lunch.  Not because I like to spoil, but because she’s a slow eater and it means she’ll eat more in the few minutes they have to eat at lunch time.)

2. All hail the Slowcooker: Unfortunately, with The Him and Jim working 482 hours per week, family dinners are only a weekend thing here, so yes I usually end up cooking twice a day. When I’m off, this is not a problem, but now back at work, where you have to condense your whole day into 2 hours, it becomes one. And so my trusty slowcooker will be returned to regular use.  Also, big pots of curry/chilli etc can last a few days and freezing random portions allows for the evenings where my plan fails! 

3. Get up early: Yeah yeah, cliched I know, but it is so true. I’m an early bird; not because I like getting out of bed. No. I LOVE my bed. But I also love having an uninterrupted shower and a full hot cup of coffee. If I’m not up at least 45 minutes before the girls, morning melts into mayhem. But if I can be up, washed, caffeinated, muck-uped and have the lunches packed BEFORE the noise in the hall begins, things are a whole lot more peaceful. If all I have to do is to focus on getting THEM ready, we can do it with a LOT less stress than if we all fall out of bed at the same time.  

4. Daily Drawers: I introduced this little trick when Mini-Me was in Naionra and it’s working a treat again already. I bought this stack of drawers and labeled the front. Every Sunday, I put clean pants and socks into the drawers. Her PE gear/swimming stuff goes into the day she has PE and her shoes go into the bottom drawer every evening when she takes them off and the uniform hangs beside it. She loves it and it means we don’t have the “Wherethefeckareyourshoesforgodssakewewillbelate” debachle every morning! It’s also great for encouraging them to dress themselves.

5. Clean on a Thursday night: Since I have been working, even before I had the girls, I have always tried to be in the habit of cleaning on a Thursday. I do whatever washing needs done, clean the bathrooms, hoover and mop, and give the kitchen a once over. It means that when we get home on a Friday evening, the house is more pleasant than usual. And while the breakfast dishes and mess from Friday morning might be waiting for us, the house itself is generally clean and so apart from throwing uniforms and work clothes in the machine on Friday night, Mammy can focus on important things when they go to bed on Friday night… like what I’m going to watch and whether I want red or white!

Now, do NOT get me wrong. Mary Poppins I am not, but these are 5 things that are GENERALLY easy to turn into habits. Apart from the odd week, I’ll manage to maintain most of these goals and therefore, most of my sanity!

If you have any other tricks of #parentingwin hacks, please share them in the comments.

Beech Hill Country House – a Review Peace & Tranquility on the Edge of the City

We recently had the pleasure of being invited to spend Easter Weekend at Beech Hill Country House, just outside Derry.

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The beautiful Beech Hill Country House

Nestled in the hillside of Ardmore, Beech Hill is a hidden haven of peace and tranquillity, despite being only a stone’s throw from the main Derry to Belfast road.  It is quite literally on the cusp of the city and only a 20 minute drive from our home.

Recently taken over by Sam Harding, Barry Kemp and Adam Kemp, the new owners of country house have vowed to turn it into Northern Ireland’s best four-star hotel.

The 32-acre estate has a rich history which is beautifully catalogued and shown both inside the hotel and on plaques throughout the forests; it was taken over by US Marines during WWII as a base for soldiers, before being transformed into a hotel in 1989.

What is a grand and stately building, filled with history and character, is being gently moulded into a modern hotel to compete with any of its contemporaries.  The natural beauty of the grounds combined with the quaint decor is indeed stately and classic, and yet the restaurant and bedrooms are modern and fresh.     What is also traditional and classic, is the staff and how they interact with the guest; polite, helpful and professional.

We brought the two girls along for a family switch-off and catch-up weekend!

Check in was easy and friendly.  Our family room brought us on a trek through the many little corridors and rooms, all well signposted and filled with history and photographs.  A lift brought us to the first floor and then a small flight of stairs brought us to the room.  If you had a buggy however, there is plenty space to safely leave it if you don’t want to carry it to the room.

The family room was huge!  A massive double bed, with a single bed and a fold-out bed for the toddler, these beds were incredibly comfortable.  There was a sofa and resting chairs in front of the TV and lots of space for a family of 4. 

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The bathroom, gleamingly clean, had a bath which is so essential when travelling with kiddies.

The forests provided a beautiful playground for the four of us.  We spent over two hours running and playing on the grounds before dinner and another hour on Sunday morning in a completely different part of the forest.

We had booked dinner for 6.30pm.  The restaurant is bright and has gorgeous views over the little lake and gardens.  Again, the staff were incredibly pleasant and efficient.

The food was beautiful.  I had mussels to start; a subtle portion as opposed to the unnecessarily huge bowl that is so often served.  I then had pork belly, which was served with a perfect balance of flavours and again, was a perfect size.  Himself had a meat terrine to start, and then the steak, perfectly cooked and seasoned.  Both were served with potato and veg.   Dessert was sorbet for Him and a cheeseboard (yes, as usual) for me.  It didn’t disappoint.

I was particularly impressed by the kids’ menu and the freshness of the food served to them.  No beige frozen or processed food for the kiddies at Beech Hill.  The chicken tenders were obviously freshly battered in breadcrumbs and the burger would have been acceptable on any adult menu!  The hand-cut chips still had skin and the girls devoured their meals.

I would love to see some crayons and colours for kids next time we visit.  In fairness, we managed over two hours with the girls, with no crayons or books or screens! They were quite happy to sit and chat and eat with us.  Mini-Me loved feeling grown up when her food was served on proper plates, the same as ours.

They were full of stories from the forest and were so suspiciously well behaved that we even ventured into the gorgeous bar for a drink before bed.  Special shout out to Aaron, the lovely barman who really knew his stuff.  He was able to recommend a beer to Himself and proceeded to explain the difference between different types of draft.  When I asked for an Espresso Martini, he asked if I’d like it bitter or sweet and was able to tell me the history of where the instapopular cocktail originated.

My favourite meal as always was breakfast; I get very excited about breakfast!

I love the selection and variety of fruit and cereal and baked treats, but what particularly excites me is when there is a menu and someone brings you a lovely plate of cooked joy!  I am not a fan of having to plate up and serve myself.  Maybe it comes from working as a waitress for many years, but when I am out for any meal, I truly appreciate it being brought to me at the table. This is unusual in hotels nowadays, but a definite tick in my book.

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We had the most relaxed 24 hours.  And to only have to drive a short distance to find such a beautiful escape, means that we will certainly be back.  Beech Hill House is wonderful for a family switch-off.  The TV in the room didn’t get switched on and the girls were so happy exploring the forests and the corridors.

It would also be perfect for a romantic sneakaway or a girly break.  I’m looking forward to visiting again many times and to seeing how the new owners develop and grow this beautiful estate.

 

Mammy and her family were invited to review the hotel.  As always however, Mammy was under no obligation to write anything, maintains her honesty and all views and comments are my own.  

 

I am Staring into the Fridge Mum

Mammy spends much time planning the weekly eating.

Not because Mammy is a super organised Mammy. More because Mammy loves food so much that Mammy likes to know what is for each meal, every day. Mammy is the sort who when she is eating one meal, she’s already planning and thinking about what shall be next.

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The Him first realised this about Mammy when he, as newly acquired Friendboy Him, accompanied Mammy and her bestie, Nickers, on holiday.

You see, whilst Mammy and Nickers sat on the Portugese balcony, munching on watermelon and sweet toast and local sardine paste, the conversation would not be so much about what we would do or where we would go that day, but more along the lines of:

“What do you fancy for lunch?”

“Fish”

“We’ll try that seafood restaurant on the beach so?”

“K”.

“Mmmmmmm shhhhhcallops” drool Mammy and Nickers in unison.

Then, whilst munching on shhhcallops and sipping cold Pinot at said seaside restaurant, the conversation would be primarily about which restaurant we’d eat in that night.

“Do you two just eat your way around Portugal?” asked a bemused Friendboy Him.

“Eh… obviously?” came the reply from both of us.

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And yet he stayed and despite Mammy’s obsession with food and planning all holidays and days out around what food we can eat and where we shall be eating it, and despite Mammy’s love of eating all things weird and wonderful and having to try the strangest thing on the menu, just because, he stayed.

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And so now. Mammy puts lots of effort into the purchasing of good healthy food for her minions. On becoming a mother, Mammy had intended to ensure that they shall eat only nutritious and healthy colourful and varied dishes every evening. Mammy also spends a lot of time staring into the fridge, wondering

1: how there is nothing to eat when I’ve just bought aisle 3 in Aldi-everything and

2: what the chances are of something having prepared and cooked itself while I was at work.

3: Why the hell I bother, because Mammy has also realised a few things.

  1. Children are twats
  2. Children don’t give a shite how much money Mammy spent on food
  3. Children don’t give a shite how much time Mammy spends cooking
  4. Children who “don’t eat chucken”, only mean that they don’t eat fresh chicken. Chicken nuggets, chicken burgers and chicken goujons are perfectly acceptable.
  5. Children who don’t like spuds, only mean that they dont like Mammy’s spuds. Granny’s are perfectly acceptable.
  6. Children are twats.
  7. Regardless of how much effort you put into presenting their food, most of it ends up on the floor anyway.
  8. Children will eat pasta, but only specific shapes… but buy ALL shapes as their favourite shape changes approximately 3 times per week.
  9. Children who don’t eat what Mammy gives them, will HAPPILY eat EVERYTHING that is put in front of them in Afterschool.
  10. Children who “aren’t hungry” will always forget this if sweets or chocolate are presented to them.

In fairness, my children are not too fussy…

As long as it’s from the freezer, is battered and is some variation of the colour beige, they’ll devour it. See? Not fussy at all.

 

And so Mammy can plan and dream all she wants, but really, she’d be better dreaming of that Portugese Balcony and shhhcallops and Sauvignon and sunshine.

Because there’s more chance of that happening, than of these two just eating what’s cooked for them.

Mammy x

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I am So I’ve found my Marbles Mum

Marbles…

Just when I thought I was in danger of losing my last few, Himself whisked me off to the lovely Shandon Hotel & Spa in Dunfanaghy. We didn’t bother with the spa this time, just focused on some R&R… and finally got to try out their new restaurant, Marbles.

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I’ll keep this short and sweet.

It is Fablis.

Located upstairs from the bar, the restaurant is a lovely size. Tastefully decorated in silver and purple hues, it is fresh and comfortable. We gave our room number and were greeted by name. Simple but classy. And little touches like Cole & Mason table accessories and a traditional and classy cutlery setting let us know that this was a cut above before we’d even seen the menu.

The Menu is extensive without being overwhelming. A lovely variety of starters with all allergens and required info available. There is a choice of every meat for main which is something I find becoming rare in good restaurants.

We ordered a bottle of still water and a bottle of wine. Natalia was our server and when I asked for number 18, she instantly replied “The Malbec.” This is the kind of thing that makes Mammy happy. Having worked in restaurants for years, I always appreciate when staff not only do their job well, but show that they take it seriously. Instantly impressed.

We were offered the Shandon’s famous “Guinness Bread” and then served little prawn bites as Chef’s Amuse Bouche while we waited for our starters.

I opted for Pork Belly. Beautifully presented and perfectly cooked. I love the warmed grapes and puree on the plate. All flavours complimented. He had the fishcake and was equally impressed.

Then they served us a little passion fruit sorbet which was gorgeous.

I had the duck for my main course. It was very tasty and served with a little tarte tatin on top. Himself had the slow cooked beef which melted in the mouth. Sides were veg and creamed potatoes and the portions were plenty.

We asked if we could wait a while before ordering dessert and there was no problem at all. Is there anything worse than feeling rushed along in a restaurant? We weren’t at a window seat for our meal, but when one beside us became free, there was no issue in moving to it to enjoy the sunset. The pinks and purples inside suddenly made sense. The sky was the exact same colour and the whole effect was beautiful.

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My dress matched the decor perfectly!

The dessert menu posed a huge problem for me. I love a good cheese board when I’m eating out, and am rarely tempted by a sweet, but this menu was to die for. There is a trio of Creme Brulee which looked amazing. And yet, I always have cheese. Torn. Torn I tell you!

I stuck with the cheese and it was gorgeous. My one (and only) tiny criticism was that I asked for no nuts on the cheese board. (Sometimes walnuts etc are sprinkled on the plate.) The cheese board arrived, looking fab and with all of my favourites on it, but without crackers. The crackers served see, are homemade and have hazelnuts through them, and quite rightly, the chef couldn’t serve them to me.

Now, my intolerence is specific to coconut and almond, so I was able to have some sent out and I simply removed the hazelnuts. But I would suggest that even having some water biscuits or plain crackers on standby would be a clever move which would allow Nutty ones like myself to enjoy the cheese. The cheeseboard however was divine and I ate every bite of it (yes all by myself!). I shall be back for those Brulee!

Himself had the lemon tart, which I have on good authority was lovely. (Him doesn’t share desserts!) We then moved out to the adjoining bar to finish our drinks and relax some more.

The menu is simply priced at €40 per head. I LOVE THIS. Especially if out in a large group. No nit-picking at the splitting of the bill. It was worth every penny and I can’t wait to return.

Mammy gives Marbles a deserved 5 stars.

It books up quite quickly Ladybelles, so if you plan to visit over the summer months, it might do no harm to book in advance.

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(As always, my review is honest and true. We were paying guests in the Shandon and in Marbles and I am under no obligation to post this piece.)

I am Shopping with Him Mum

The weekly shop.

The middle aisle of shite…

When Mammy does the weekly shop, all ingredients and things required to fulfill the meal plan for the family for the week shall be acquired as economically and quickly as possible.

Mammy knows which shop sells what and where the best place to buy kidney beans is.

Mammy can walk into Aldi-Everything and fill the trolley without really having to think too much about it. We’re creatures of habit in our house see, the weekly menu doesn’t change much, and so even if I’m distracted, or in a hurry, or just knackered to the point of Mombie, Mammy automatically reaches for the usual and will always leave quite content that she can feed her minions for the next 5-7 days.

When DADDY goes into Aldi-everything however, while the shopping list will be acquired (mostly…how he misses the eggs everytime, I shall never know…), there is also a 100% chance that we might also acquire some new gadget or item which is completely unnecessary and altogether superfluous. Leaf blowers, power drills, strange shaped batteries, and paint… none of which taste good in a chilli con carne… have all be purchased alongside the nappies and bananas.

When I have the girls with me, I spend my time hissing things like “Put that watermelon down please”, “We don’t need wool and knitting needles” and “Would you come away from the sweets please.”

When we ALL go to do the shopping, which is rare in fairness, it is a fun experience for Mammy.

I get to say things like “Put that ski gear down please.” (We have NEVER been skiing and it is not something that is on the cards for us, like, ever.) “We don’t need a power washer” and “Would you come away from the countertop fridges please. We HAVE a fridge.”

In fairness, I don’t even see the middle aisle usually. I see the peppers and mushrooms and binbags. But for Himself, the joy of a tilecutter across from the breadsticks is utterly intriguing…and baffling.

It’s always fun seeing what he’ll bring home when he does the shopping however. And aren’t I lucky to have a Him who does help out a bit with the boring weekly tasks?

Now, does anyone have a recipe for Paint Stroganoff?