My Family Recipe for Macaroni Cheese

From time to time, I foolishly click on a link or (even more foolishly) buy a book promising ‘quick and easy family meals’, only to find lots of fresh herbs, dozens of pans, and a requirement to focus on cooking and nothing but cooking for anything up to an hour. That is not what I call a family recipe. 
However, I do actually cook meals for my family, usually twice a day, and it rarely turns into a complete fiasco. So, I thought that I would share a real family recipe with you. I’ve chosen macaroni cheese because it is almost always a popular meal in our house.

Maybe this will encourage other parents struggling to prepare meals with children around. Please consider sharing one of your recipes with me in return 😉

  1. Turn on the TV and leave the children in front of it. Be sure to seat them as far from one another as your lounge allows.
  2. Put the kettle on – make sure it’s completely full.
  3. Find some pasta and put it in a saucepan, on the back hob. Do not turn it on yet! You will burn the pasta.
  4. Put butter in the big pan, on the front hob. Turn that hob on.
  5. Check you turned on the correct hob.
  6. Put a tea bag in a mug.
  7. Creep into the lounge as quietly as you can to check on the children. Put them back on seats far away from one another and take the remote away.
  8. When the kettle boils, make your tea first, then pour all the leftover water on top of the pasta. Now you can turn the hob on.
  9. Put frozen hot dogs on top of the pasta. Put the lid half on. Do not put the lid on properly, or the pasta will boil over.
  10. Shake some plain flour (bread flour is fine, if  you ran out of plain, but be careful with self-raising because it tastes funny) into the melted butter and mix it to make a paste.
  11. Add milk slowly to the sauce and stir. (If there is a noise in the lounge, make sure you take the lid off the pasta and the sauce off the hob before going to check, otherwise you will come back to burnt, lumpy sauce and a pasta-water swamp. Do not fool yourself that it will only take a second to sort out that worrying noise.)
  12. Season the sauce with pepper, salt and something else (paprika’s fine, nutmeg’s fine, rosemary’s fine, but don’t mix them all together). 
  13. Add peas and sweet corn to the sauce.
  14. Now is a very good moment to check back in on the children. You might even be able to drink some tea. 😊
  15. Grate some cheese and put a handful in the sauce. If you have to return to the lounge, do not leave the cheese out – someone will creep in and eat it – hide it under a tea towel.
  16. Make sure there’s nothing in the  oven. If there’s something weird in the oven, put it to one side to deal with later. If you get into that now, tea will be late and everyone will be grouchy, especially you.
  17. Turn oven on.
  18. Take the hot dogs out of the pasta and cut them up (it is worth the extra washing-up created by using a knife and a fork, since otherwise you will drop the hotdogs on the floor and the children will complain that there are fewer hotdogs than usual).
  19. Drain the pasta.
  20. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir.
  21. Add the hotdogs to the pasta and stir.
  22. Pour the pasta into the big blue dish, sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top (make sure it’s roughly even, it is worth taking the time now to avoid having that ridiculous argument about who has most cheese on their pasta again).
  23. Put the blue dish in the oven and check that you really did turn the oven on earlier. 
  24. Go back into the lounge – try to remember to take your cup of tea with you. Now is a good time to follow up on that weird thing you found in the oven.
  25. Return to the kitchen and get your cup of tea.
  26. Every ten minutes or so, check the pasta to see if the cheese is crispy yet.
  27. When the cheese is crisp (not before, unless you want the children to ask how long tea will be repeatedly), ask a child to lay the table – try to remember which child you ask.
  28. Take the pasta out of the oven.
  29. Dish out Youngest’s first so it has time to cool down a bit.
  30. Check the table and ask the child to go back and lay it properly. If ask the wrong child to fix the table, that is because you are encouraging a sense of teamwork.
  31. Dish out the rest of the plates and take the plates through.
  32. The meal is cooked. Huzzah!

    Reading – Together and Apart

    I am a desperate reader. 

    Of course, I read for pleasure, and I read for information. I read to make myself think and to find out about other people’s take on the world. But, most of all, I read because I have to.

    I cannot function well unless I have a book or two on the go.

    There’s always a book on the arm of my sofa, which I can pick up at any five minute pause in the day. There are also books by the bath, and books by my bed. I have an e-reader too, which allows me to take loads of books with me on holiday.

    I have loved to read for most of my life and I have loved a great many books. When I look back and think about my life,  I find myself thinking of the books that I was reading.

    When things are tricky, I retreat into the world of books. Pickwick Papers got me through high school dramas. I read Georgette Heyer novels when my husband and I struggled with infertility.

    When we adopted, our boys were not big fans of reading. They said it was ‘boring’ and ‘lazy’. But I continued to read, and I brought the boys into books with me. I read The Tiger who Came to Tea to the boys cuddled on the sofa. I read Dr Suess to them in the library. I read Dinosaur Rumpus to them when they were in the bath. I read We’re going on a Bear Hunt to them when I put them to bed.

    When they screamed and wouldn’t let me near them, I sat nearby and read T.S. Eliot poems until they calmed down (sometimes aloud, usually not). I felt useless.

    My children were struggling with such overwhelming anger and sadness, it was all I could do to keep myself afloat. I had so little to offer them. I hid in poetry, wishing that I knew how to wrap them up and take the pain away.

    When the boys grew older and I couldn’t sit nearby to watch them scream, I sat downstairs, reading Robin Hobb novels and trying to forget how much of a failure I felt.

    I knew that I ought to be helping them with these overwhelming feelings. I didn’t know how to do so.

    I feel a great responsibility to follow through on the promise of adoption. These children I’m raising are infinitely precious to more than just me and my family. I have another mother’s children in my house, and I owe her the very best parent I can be.

    Yet, so many times, I have retreated from the drama around me, picked up a book and read myself out of the room.

    So many times, not knowing what to say, I have picked up a book and read. When the days have been terrifying, I have read Where the Wild Things Are. When I couldn’t tell them how amazing they are, I read Oh, the Places You’ll Go. Wanting them to understand that my love will always be here, I read Zagazoo and The Red Thread. “It’s like this,” I tell them, “this is how I feel about you.”

    In time the boys learned to read for themselves and they began to read their own books. They began to read in bed, as an excuse to stay up later. They began to read during the day, because it got them through their adored Beast  Quest books faster than listening to me reading aloud.
    We buy them books at every opportunity, and take them to the library every week. I have shared my favorites with them (age appropriately​, of course). One of my cherished parenting moments was reading The Prisoner of Zenda to my sons. They have even begun to recommend books to me (they were right,  Cogheart is well worth reading). 

    The boys have fallen in love with reading. They read to while away car journeys (which makes me jealous – I have never been able to read in the car). Curled up on the sofa, they read for hours on end, a glorious mixture of fiction and nonfiction, graphic novels and encyclopedias.

    More than that, though, they read for comfort. When they’re upset, they storm off to their rooms, throw a few toys, toss out a few insults, then they read.

    They read Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings over and over again. They read Percy Jackson and Roman Mysteries. They borrow my husband’s Terry Pratchetts and my Jasper Ffordes. When the world gets too much, and they don’t know how to face it, my children pick up books and read themselves away.

    I feel slightly less of a failure now. I had thought that I was supposed to be comforting my boys, that I needed to fill those empty spaces inside them. And, I still think it would have been good had I been the kind of person who could do that.

    But, I now see that I have done something, after all. I have shown them my coping strategy. It’s not much, but it’s all I’ve got.

    It may be very little, and I worry every day that it can’t possibly be enough, yet I have done as I intended and given my children my all.

    100 days of home ed part 1

    I am taking part in a challenge on twitter to post photos of home ed in our house for 100 days. We’re halfway through! So, here are the first 50 pictures.

    We have quite a structured approach to home education. All my children are working through a set of workbooks and textbooks, but I didn’t think a lot of pictures of workbooks would be very exciting! So, I posted photos of the more interesting stuff we’ve been up to.

    We also do a lot of active stuff. We swim a couple of times a week. Eldest has tennis a few times a week. We go for a weekly walk with friends and play in parks three or four times a week. None of that features in the photos, not because it doesn’t look great, but because I never put pictures of the boys online.

    The photos give a limited window into our home ed lives. But, it’s been a fun project nonetheless.

    To stop me repeating pictures, I thought it would be worth keeping a master list. So, here it is – the most photogenic moments of #100daysofhomeed!

    Day 1: Modelling earthquakes.

    Day 2: Making cupcakes.

    Day 3 – Learning about blood – a few of the things we played with at Science Club.

    Day 4 – Using sweets in bowls to help Eldest with algebra

    Day 5 – Map jigsaw. The names of various cities come out, but their positions aren’t shown on the box, so we needed to use the atlas to complete the puzzle.

    Day 6 – Spontaneous writing from Youngest. He’s the closest to bring unschooled, as he comes up with lots of his own projects and doesn’t seem to need so much encouragement to create things.

    Day 7 – K’nex monsters, made by Youngest and Middly.

    Day 8 – Fold mountains and goats. This was a demo that Eldest did at his Geography Course. All the children enjoyed making the goats.

    Day 9 – Making a ‘CD racer’ – my mum picked up a kit with a variety of craft activities in it, and Middly tried this one.

     Day 10 – Making model neurons and drawing nervous systems onto little polystyrene people. This is a selection of the stuff we did at Science Club.

    Day 11 – Youngest started a weather diary

    Day 12 – We made Steady Hand games. We were trialling these for Science Club, I’d bought copper wire to use but it turned out to have a wax coating and required sanding to make the sides conductive, we tried solder which kept snapping, then I thought of using unfurled paper clips. The toys were small but effective and easy to make. I have ordered more iron wire for use at the club, though. Preparing for the Science Club sessions can be really interesting for the boys, as it’s often more challenging to put an activity together than it is to do it. But, I don’t actually get them to help very often, I don’t want to destroy their enthusiasm for the sessions themselves.

    Day 13 – A game of Cranium. We had a busy day, out with friends for an adopters meet up, then to soft play, none of which produced photos I could share! But, we played a board game at home.

    Day 14 – Making pipe cleaner animals. Middly’s done a few of these. I think he was inspired to pick them back up after the neuron craft we did last week. The children often regain interest in our resources after they’ve seen the enthusiastic responses from their friends at Science Club. That’s yet another benefit to us!

    Day 15 – Eldest had a go at making a push switch in preparation for Science Club. I was pretty pleased with this one because he figured it out by himself.

    Day 16 – Middly made a cardboard castle for his rats to play in. I found it very hard to get a picture, because those rats are fast! He has three, this was my best shot:

    Day 17 – At Science Club, everyone coloured in this grid colouring sheet made by Eldest. It went down well.

    Day 18 – Youngest was doing bees in his Science workbook, and I happened to have a bee cushion kit in my craft box, so he had a mini bee project.

    Day 19 – Youngest wanted to make a board game. He drew a board, typed the instructions on the computer, and designed the pieces using Tinkercad. Then my husband helped him print his characters using our 3d printer. I liked this project so much, I put up two photos!

    Day 20 – It was a real struggle to find a photo today. My in-laws visited and played lotsof games with the boys. We had lunch out and went swimming. It was a fun day, but I didn’t take any pictures without people in! So, I took this when we got home. Youngest does love his floats.

    Day 21 – Youngest played with a new playdough toy at church. 

    Day 22 – Middly and I messed around with LEDs and resistors, trying to decide on what to do at this week’s Science Club.

    Day 23 – Another tricky day to photograph. We swam with friends and went out with family to a soft play place. The big boys found some of their work a bit tricky, so it took up more time than usual. But, we did find a leftover sticker sheet from a previous Science Club and make an apron together. So, I used that picture.

    Day 24 – Drama group. We did a read through of a script I found online here. Then we talked about emphasis and how emphasising a single word can change the meaning of a sentence. The children enjoyed writing sentences on the white board and taking it in turns to read the sentences, emphasising different words and talking about how the meaning changed. Finally, we read through the play script again, choosing to emphasise different words. 

    Day 25 – We made a giant model breadboard, using velcro to hold the giant components in place. I am hoping this will help children understand the circuits we’re building at Science Club.

     Day 26 – We had a tour of a mill with a group of Home Ed friends.

    Day 27 – My husband took the boys out for the day. They had a long walk, visited a museum and a library. He didn’t take pictures of any if this, though. So I took a picture of the library books that the boys took out this week.

    Day 28 – Mug cakes.

    Day 29 – the boys made a cheesecake.

    Day 30 – Middly began a project on tinkercad: making plastic parts to use when playing with playdough.

    Day 31 – Middly finished his tinkercad project, printed the parts and made some playdough to use with them.

    Day 32 – Youngest made masks.

    Day 33 – Eldest used various jugs and cups to practice estimating and measuring.

    Day 34 – Middly drew a face, making curves out of straight lines. Using his book The Stick Man with a Big Bum – Activity Book.

    Day 35 – We made another cake!

    Day 36 – Middly used fuse beads to make a coaster.

    Day 37 – Youngest was doing a dinosaur sticker book, so Eldest fetched his big book of dinosaurs and showed it to Youngest. At moments like these, home education is awesome!

    Day 38 – We investigated LDRs at Science Club.

    Day 39 – After dropping Eldest at tennis, Youngest decided to make his own tennis racket.

    Day 40 – We went on a worm hunt in our garden. We used a pack from Earthworm Watch, which was really well put together. I love taking part in these citizen science projects. I’m also very keen on Zooniverse and Opal to find big science projects that children can take part in.

    Day 41 – The boys played chess. We play a lot of board games together.

    Day 42 – We made a jigsaw together.

    Day 43 – Youngest used lacing letters to make some words.

    Day 44 – Middly helped me make some more model components for our giant model breadboard.

    Day 45 – We made slide switches at Science Club.

    Day 46 – Eldest played Rushhour Junior. Strictly speaking this is Youngest’s toy. But, I think all children can benefit from playing with​ toys for a variety of ages.

    Day 47 – Middly built a walking turtle from a kit.

    Day 48 – We went for a family walk by a river.

    Day 49 – We made hot cross buns.

    Day 50 – The boys made bean bag frogs. 

    Science Club – Pneumatics 2

    Pneumatics

    Arrival Craft: Air colouring sheet. air

    Introduction: Gasses can be compressed more than liquids or solids, but there are still limits. If we try to squash air too much, it will rush away.

    If I blow up a balloon and let go of the end, what will happen?

    The air will rush out of the balloon. The force of the air rushing out will push the balloon away in the opposite direction. This is one of the big rules of energy: every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

    Demonstrate.

    If you inflate a balloon and attach it to a CD, then the air will rush out through the hole, pushing the CD into the air, like a tiny hovercraft. These are easy to make, but there’s a YouTube video on @Bristol’s site, which is very good. https://www.at-bristol.org.uk

    Individual Task: Make CD hovercrafts.

    Break for drink and snack.

    Second Part: If we don’t give the air any way out, then we can use it to push things.

    This is called pneumatics.

    Individual Task: Make pneumatic hoists out of tech card.

    Science Club – Plants

    Plants

    Arrival CraftMake leaf mobiles. leafmobile

    Introduction: Plants are the beginning of all food chains, because they are able to make their own food using the energy from sunlight. This is called photosynthesis.

    We can’t exactly see it happening, but we can come close. In photosynthesis, leaves take carbon dioxide and sunlight and produce glucose and oxygen.

    Individual Task: Children try leaf disc experiment and observe the bubbles that show oxygen is being produced. leafdisc

    Break for drink and snack.

    Second half: Show cress that has grown in light and dark and ask children what plants need to grow.

    Individual Task: Children plant cress on cotton wool to make little cress heads.

    Science Club – Food

    Food

    Arrival Craft: Make origami Protein Channels. I found this fantastic craft online here. There are videos to help you! 

    Introduction: We need to eat a balanced diet, which means we need to eat different types of food.

    We need: Carbohydrates, Proteins, Vitamins and Minerals and Fats.

    Some foods obviously belong to one group or another, but other foods can be in several groups at once.

    I have iodine, which we can use to test for starch; and bieuret solution, which we can use to test for protein.

    We’re going to test some foods to see if they contain starch and / or protein.

    Egg white is a good source of protein, so we’re going to use egg white and water to show the difference between a positive protein test and a negative protein test.

    Individual Task: Test for proteins. (The Biuret reagent contains: Hydrated Copper sulphate, Potassium hydroxide solution, Potassium sodium tartrate) foodtesting

    Children then mash up different foods with water and test them for protein.

    They should also test a sample of only water – as a control.

    Gather Together: Which of the foods contained protein?

    Is that what you expected?

    Break for drink and snack.

    Second part: This is a potato – obviously, it’s going to contain starch. When I add iodine to it, the iodine goes blue, indicating the presence of starch. We’re going to use iodine to see which of these foods contain starch.

    Give out worksheets for children to predict whether foods will contain starch. foodtesting

     

    Science Club – Insects

    Insects

    Arrival Craft: Make insect models with jointed legs. insects

    Introduction: There are lots of different types of insects.

    People discover new ones all the time, and new species are often discovered by amateurs. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21458463)

    You could easily hunt for insects in your own gardens. We’re going to make some pooters to help you safely collect creatures to study.

    Individual Task: Make pooters.

    Practice picking up grains of rice.

    Drinks and snack

    Second Part: How many legs do insects have? (6)

    But, what about a caterpillar? Is a caterpillar an insect?

    Of course, a caterpillar is the pupa stage of a butterfly. Pupa do not all have six legs. It is all adult insects that have six legs.

    The life cycle of an insect isn’t quite the same as the life cycle of a mammal (like us).

    Does anyone know the life cycle of an insect?

    Make insect life cycle plates.

    Insects are a huge part of the animal kingdom and very important for keeping everything going.

    We can see how insects fit into the ecosystem by making a food web.

    We’ll lay out these names of animals and plants (I printed off pictures from Wildlife Watch), and then we’ll use bits of string to connect each animal with what it eats.