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Posted by Mama Max - - 0 comments

Silent Sunday
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Posted by Mama Max - - 4 comments

Obsessed, much? Who, moi? Maybe just a tad...

I've blogged before about my fabulous Star Wars cookie cutter set from Williams Sonoma, but there's only so many cookies a gal can eat... even if they are the yummy green cookies shaped like Yoda that I blogged about last month!  So I was inspired to try using them for another, more savoury purpose when contemplating what to cook for the boys' dinner.  I had planned to create a Sausage Plait with a sheet of ready roll shortcrust pastry, some pork sausage meat and some sage I had knocking about in the fridge, but decided to try creating Star Wars themed mini hand-pies instead.  Or to a Brit like me, sausage rolls without the roll!

I chose to use the Darth Vader cutter from my selection as it had a nice simple outline.  The cutters from Williams Sonoma are particularly good for this sort of thing as they have a spring-loaded stamp to create an impression in your cut out too, so you can see Darth's iconic features!  I thought these would be particularly cool for Star Wars themed party food as they are small, easily managed finger foods that are lovely served cold as well as hot! However, the nice thing about this idea is that you can use whatever shaped cookie cutter you like, depending on your party theme or kids' preference!  Dinosaurs, hearts, flowers, cars, even Christmas trees or other seasonal shapes!  Your options are only as limited as your imagination and your cookie cutter selection allow!!!

You will need...

  • Shortcrust pastry - either homemade or ready-to-roll.
  • Pork sausage meat.
  • A little beaten egg.
  • Pastry cutters of your choice.
  • Optional: fresh sage or other herbs.

Firstly, preheat the oven to 400'F (200'C).  Then you will need to prepare your filling.  I like to add fresh sage to plain pork sausage. Finely chop the sage and then mix thoroughly into the sausagemeat... as mucky as it sounds, the easiest way to do this is with your hands.

Next, you will need to either unroll your ready-to-roll pastry or use a rolling pin to roll it to approximately 1/8th inch or 3mm thickness.  Using your cookie cutter, cut out an even number of shapes... if you are using the stamping type like me, you only need to create an imprint in half of them!

Grease a baking sheet, or use a silicone liner or baking parchment.  Place half of the cut-outs (the non-imprinted half) onto the sheet making sure they are well spaced.  Then using a pastry brush, carefully cover them in beaten egg, making sure to go all the way to the edges.  You will then need to get a small dollop of your filling and shape it to fit the cut-out with a 1/4 inch (6mm) gap all the way around.  Put it on top of the pastry cut-out on the sheet.  Then egg-wash the underside of one of the imprinted cut-outs and place on top of the sausagemeat.  Gently pinch the edges of the two pastry shapes together, taking care not to change the shape too much or to squash the imprint.  Once all prepared, use the remaining beaten egg to brush over the top layer.  This will help them to go golden brown and to highlight the imprinted features.

Put the baking sheet into the oven and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the sausagemeat is fully cooked through.  These are delicious on their own or can be served with ketchup or mustard to dip them in!  Yummy!

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Posted by Mama Max - - 4 comments

Those of you reading this post who know me well, will probably be scoffing at the incredulity of my holier-than-thou seeming post title!  I hold my hands up and admit that I probably sound like a hypocrite.  I confess that I am naturally a messy bugger who creates swathes of destruction behind herself!  I like to think of it as a sign of a creative mind, but in reality I'm just one of those people for whom keeping the house tidy is a constant battle.  It doesn't help that Him Indoors and the 3 kids are equally disposed to devastation!

To make matters worse, I'm not one of those people who can obliviously ignore the mess and adopt a devil-may-care attitude when visitors stop by.  The thought of other people seeing the chaos we sometimes get into fills me with dread!  Mountains of unfolded laundry, solitary shoes, dirty dishes waiting for someone to empty the dishwasher and reload it, Lego waiting to cripple bare feet, last nights' pyjamas, random hair clips (can't blame that one on the boys!) and half drunk cups of tea can frequently be seen adorning my house at the end of the day!  So Him Indoors and I have to make a concerted effort to keep on top of the chaos and invariably we are several steps behind.

However, we don't give up in the face of adversity!  If you give up on an issue like this, the next thing you know and you're being featured on one of those ghastly reality TV shows.  You know the ones I mean ... where some poor, unfortunate loony has all their dirty, hoarding habits paraded for the consumption of the viewers who can feel slightly better about the mess in their own homes!  The funny thing is, that Him Indoors and I used to struggle with keeping tidy BEFORE having kids.  I find that shameful (and laughable) now!  Since having kids, our hearts and our home are no longer ours!  I swear my 3 kids can demolish a solid 6 hours of housework in a matter of minutes!

So what's the solution.  Short of employing a housekeeper/cleaner/zookeeper on a 24/7 basis, there is no easy solution.  Sorry about that.  However, some of the ideas below might make taming the beast that is the dreaded playroom a little easier.

1.  Toy Storage
Make tidying up easy by having obvious homes for everything and suitable storage containers.  One of the best tips I can suggest is to group similar toys in themed storage boxes or bins.  This enables the children to easily find the toy they want without having to turn out the whole lot of them.  It's also easier to instill good habits/routines.  We have a rule that the kids must pack away the box they're playing with before they get out another!  Getting appropriate storage is key:

  • We have made excellent use of Zipbins for this purpose.  If you are unfamiliar with these, they are essentially playmats that zip together to create a storage box.  Genius, eh?  We have 5 of these boxes and they make tidying up a breeze... you simply sling the toys onto the playmat when tidying up and then zip it all up.  The playmats are very handy for facilitating play.   

Here are some examples of the sorts of Zipbins available:

  • Another invaluable storage solution is open drawer units.  We have some from the Ikea Trofast range.  The plastic drawers are easy to pull out and to see the contents of.  They also come in a variety of sizes.  We've made really good use of the smallest trays to organise all our dressing up accessories and play food... the annoying small bits that get lost in a large toy chest!

 Here are some examples of similar things available online:


      • I could write an entire post simply about storing Lego.  The Big One is utterly Lego obsessed (so much so that I had to make him a Lego Sensei Wu halloween costume!).  We have so much Lego it gets everywhere and has become difficult to find the exact piece you need for whatever model you're building! To keep on top of the chaos, we have confined the Big One's Lego to his bedroom!  We have a set of cheap plastic drawers that we use to sort the Lego by colour.  For less common colours we use small plastic lunchboxes within the drawers.  We also have some great Lego stackable bins that we use to store models that have been built.  A small table with raised edges is also a really good idea to keep the Lego under control.  You can buy specific Lego tables with built in baseboards or playmats.  A fun storage idea is to make your own Lego head containers out of old food pots... see my tutorial.  

       Check out these Lego storage solutions:


        • A hanging rail for dressing up clothes is a great idea, especially if you can find one that's small enough for the kids to reach themselves!  There are specific racks available for dressing up clothes that include a mirror and storage shelves for accessories too.  We use a small wooden rail that is designed for use in a baby's nursery, but a coat rack pole or even wall mounted hooks could be used with equal efficiency. 

         Some examples of solutions you could use are below:

          2.  Visual labels 
          It is hard to expect your children to help with tidying up if they don't have a clue where things are supposed to go!  The specific storage solutions suggested above will definitely help... it is obvious even to a very small child that the dinosaurs belong in the dinosaur zipbin, for example!  Not being able to read, preschool aged kids rely heavily on visual cues, so help them out... labels with pictures as well as the words will help your child identify where toys belong, but will also help foster early literacy skills.  You can either draw simple images or borrow images from the internet and paste into a document you can print out.

          3. Motivate
          In an earlier post I posted a link to an excel spreadsheet template I created to help motivate the Big One with his chores!  This pocket money chores tracker has really helped our materialistic eldest child!  However, motivation doesn't need to be purely fiscal in nature... good old fashioned praise may work for your child!  Or being allowed to choose an activity, earning some screen time, choosing tonight's dinner... kids are invariably easily pleased!

          Making the process of tidying fun is a really good trick.  "Let's see if we can get all the toys picked up before the end of the song!?"  Or make it a game to see who can pick up the most toys (letting your child win this one is probably a good idea!).  A brilliant idea I saw on the Idea Room blog is a game called the Magic item.  You tell your children that you have chosen one item in the room as the magic item!  The person who tidies up this unknown object is the winner and gets the prize (again, a simple reward like getting an extra chapter of their bedtime story can work wonders)!

          4. Routine
          Make tidying up a concrete part of your child's routine.  If they know that the last 10 minutes before bedtime is 'tidy up time' in the same inevitable way that they must brush their teeth before hitting the sack you are less likely to encounter opposition.  In the words of the Borg...  "Resistance is futile"!

          5. Limit the chaos
          A trick I learned from our wonderful childminder back in Berkshire is to rotate the toy boxes.  Don't allow the children access to all the toys at once.  This has a number of benefits.  Firstly, they get excited and enthusiastic to play with toys that they haven't seen for a few weeks.  Secondly, it limits the sheer quantity of toys you can have strewn across the floor at any one time.  We try to enforce the rule that they must tidy up the contents of one box of toys first, before moving onto the next, although in practice it doesn't always work.  So to put some of the toys in temporary storage, while you rotate to a different set will achieve this in a self-limiting way!

          6.  Create Zones
          We don't have a large playroom, it's actually a small dining area off our kitchen that has been repurposed!  However, moving from our modest (normal-sized) house in the UK we are amazed to have a playroom at all!  Regardless, one of the best ways to maximize the space in which your children play (whether it's a playroom, their bedroom or a corner of the family room) is to create obvious zones.  This means that the toys have obvious homes and play can be focused ... this means it's less likely that your kids will take out all the toys in one go!  Even in our playroom we manage to have the following zones:

          • Home corner - the boys play kitchen, dolls & doll bed, and all the play food is grouped together in one corner.  The kids can then play at being grown-ups in their own 'home'.  Our play table is next to this area and this doubles up as a dining table for playing 'families'!  Cute, eh?!

          • Craft area - depending on the age of your children, you may or may not want your craft supplies readily available to little hands!  We have an art easel set up in the playroom and this does have a storage tray in which I could store pens and crayons etc...  I actually choose not to store them here, preferring to keep them out of reach after a few graffiti incidents!

          • Dressing up - this could just be a box with some old clothes in!  But a child friendly wall mirror really makes a focal point to this activity.  My boys love getting dressed up and admiring themselves in the mirror afterwards.  We have a plastic wall mirror with a cheeky crocodile (from Ikea) for this purpose! 
          • Book corner - An area with some cushions, a beanbag or some pint-sized chairs for little bottoms to sit in for quieter activities is a nice idea.  We have a cocoon-style swivel chair (again from Ikea) that doubles as a fun toy as well as providing a space to sit and look at books together.

          On a final note, I want to confess that the photos were actually taken the day our cleaner had been before the kids had been unleashed on the room! Despite my pontificating about the best ways to control the chaos, I live in the real world, with real kids and a really busy life. So my playroom rarely looks this tidy and organised. That is the purpose of a playroom after all... to be played in! We try to implement the strategies above and they do help with limiting the chaos... but I've come to realise that chaos and toys everywhere is a part of being a parent, as frustrating as it is at times. I expect when my kids are grown up, I will look back with nostalgia to the occasions I've thought "To hell with the housework, let's play a game with the kids"!

          So, how do you do it? I'd love to hear your suggestions and ideas so please leave some comment love below!

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