> The Beesley Buzz

Shared Parental Leave - Will it work?

I love the idea of Shared Parental Leave (SPL). It is being introduced from this April for babies due on or after 5th April or for babies or children placed for adoption from that date as a way of allowing parents to share leave in a way that suits them best. 

It means that "From April 2015, parents will have greater choice over how they share time off work to care for their child. Shared Parental Leave allows working couples to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay in a way that suits their work and family needs. For example, parents can take time off together or they can tag team, stopping and starting leave and returning to work in between if they wish." You can find out more on mumsnet here or directly on gov.uk here.

If this option had been available to us when J was born, I believe it would have had a huge impact on our lives. I was very keen to return to work but wasn't happy leaving my baby in childcare from such a young age. By using SPL and being able to leave him with Richard for part of the time would have meant that I would have been able to return to work without sacrificing my career.

It would have meant that we could have continued to be a household where both parents were working rather than so suddenly having to cut back and cope on one salary. 

It would have meant that Richard got to have more precious quality time with J and I would have felt happier that he was with his daddy rather than having to settle into childcare at a young age. 

It would have meant better emotional wellbeing for me as I would have my work to focus on to engage my mind and keep my brain active!

However, I think there are some stumbling blocks that could potentially prevent couples like us making full use of the flexibility that SPL offers. I did exclusively breastfeed all of my 3 for quite a long time and whilst I was a lot more relaxed about moving to mixed feeding for convenience when necessary by the time Miss T arrived, I don't think I would have been happy about giving up or cutting back on breastfeeding when J was born. I never managed to successfully express milk so expressing would not have solved the problem. I believe this could be a stumbling block to SPL for some. 

Richard had a different employer at the time of birth when each of our three were born and the power of organisational culture should never be underestimated. As we see in society time and time again, it doesn't matter what the law says, sometimes the unwritten rules of the culture of an organisation can have a far more powerful effect than the law. 

In one of his jobs, I could imagine SPL working well with the employer being flexible and encouraging of such things. But by the time D came along, he was working in an environment which was female dominated and the men there were older and so had grown-up children and it turned out that no-one previously had ever even asked about taking Paternity leave so they had to quickly work out their policy on it was when Richard asked. In his current job, the workload and demands of the job would make it very difficult to take SPL - but the flexibility that SPL offers may mean that there would be a certain time of year where it would work out. 

I can see how in some organisations, even if the employer encourages people taking SPL in their policies and at an organisational level, the reality may be different if it is something that is not fully embraced by teams and managers within an organisation and the unspoken pressure may be such that it makes it more difficult to actually take. 

Ultimately having that greater choice can only be a good thing and hopefully greater flexibility in all shapes and forms will benefit parents and employers in the long run.   


My cheeky monkey: A healthier option for happy hydration with Vita Coco Kids

My cheeky monkey received a very special delivery today...

It was a case of her most favourite drink ever... She recognised it instantly because of the 'cheeky monkey'.
And we had gasps of 'wow'. 'my favourite' as she opened the box and took a look inside...

We became big fans of Vita Coco Kids drinks last summer when we discovered that they were so refreshing on a summer's day and they tasted great too (and not just for kids - I regularly pack one in my packed lunch too). Miss T loves the fun packaging often asking for a 'cheeky monkey' drink or a 'coconut' which we've realised means that she wants a Vita Coco Kids drink rather than an actual coconut.

We've always been careful to encourage the kids to drink water and milk as their main drinks. They are occasionally allowed a fruit juice when eating out or a cup of squash when friends visit. I've previously thought smoothies to be a healthy option too but recently my eyes have been opened to just how much sugar is in various food and drinks.

We watched The Truth about Sugar on TV last week and it made me realise things that I had previously considered to be harmless and totally 'healthy' such as fruit juice, can actually contribute to us having a much higher intake of sugar than we should.

I was left a bit confused about what to do because there are times that you need to pack a drink in kids packed lunches and I want to opt for a healthy option. Both J and D take a packed lunch to school for a couple of days each week and each time we have a hospital visit for Miss T's arthritis I need to take a packed lunch for her as we never know how many hours we'll be spending at the hospital.

Thankfully, I feel a lot happier since seeing the 'Sugar Maze' - a handy chart designed by nutritionist Amanda Hamilton for Vita Coco kids.

It has really helped to reassure me that water and milk are the best options alongside Vita Coco Kids drinks which are another healthier alternative that can be included in packed lunches. I also feel more confident about knowing what drinks are ok as occasional treats such as fruit juice and flavoured milk. And to avoid things like 'fruit juice drinks' which are often deceptively similar to pure fruit juice in terms of packaging but actually contain little real juice and lots of added sugar.

So here it is for you to see too....I hope it helps you navigate the world of happy and healthy hydration for your kids....

There are a couple of really fab tips on there too that we'll be doing like freezing cartons of Vita Coco kids to use as lower sugar 'ice lollies' in summer. We could also make our own homemade smoothies as a healthier option to shop-bought ones.

Vita Coco Kids drinks come is two truly delicious flavours. My favourite is the Mango & Pineapple, whilst Miss T adores the Apple & Blackcurrant flavour. Vita Coco Kids is coconut water from young green coconuts (never from concentrate) and is blended with natural fruit flavourings and water with no added colourings or preservatives.

Vita Coco sent us a sample pack of their Vita Coco kids drinks. All opinions are our own and we have long been fans of the great taste of Vita Coco kids!

Siblings: March 2015

We got tickets for Emmetts Garden in Kent for the Kent Big Weekend and it was the perfect opportunity to get a Siblings pic for March.

I couldn't decide on my favourite pic so have included all 3...

I love this cheeky pic of Miss T sticking her tongue out. Despite everything that is going on with her health right now, I love how she still smiles and giggles and manages to be cheeky!

Notice those smart new boots! I owe a huge thanks to Hoad's Shoes who have just been amazing in helping Miss T find shoes that will work for her at the moment with her swollen left foot and right knee.

They helped find shoes that would fit last month and she was so happy to be able to wear shoes again after two months of not being able to.

But Miss T was still missing out when going on muddy walks or visits to the farm as her feet couldn't fit into her wellies and she can't bend the left foot sufficiently to get them into larger size wellies either.

These boots are waterproof so were the perfect solution as they also open really wide to get her foot in and out of them.

So thank you Hoad's for taking the time and trouble to get this right for Miss T - she can't be your easiest customer with her feet such different sizes from each other and the pain and stiffness she has - and yet you've managed to find a solution - thank you!

She's also loving her new jacket from Muddy Puddles - I'd been looking for a snow jacket for her and seeing the fab review on Emmy's Mummy, I knew it would be the right choice. We were so pleased with the super speedy service and the quality of this jacket.

As this is the very first jacket of her own (she's always had hand-me-downs from her brothers and from friends until now) it was an important decision to get a jacket that is perfect for her and we really are over the moon with it.

 Time to put those boots to the test...

And I love these pics of Miss T and Daddy who she always says is her favourite!

Linking up with Siblings linky:
dear beautiful

Heaven scent polenta cake

This weekend is a special weekend. Solar eclipse, Spring equinox, solar flares....yes all that makes it a special weekend but it is also Iranian New Year which always falls on the first day of Spring. With my Iranian heritage (my late mum was from Iran), I grew up celebrating Iranian New Year each year. It carried the excitement of a second Christmas, with its own traditions, tasty treats and gifts galore but, being in March, it carried with it the promise of better weather rather than a cold and dreary December day. 

Although Iranian cuisine is, in my opinion, one of the best in the world, baking doesn't usually feature heavily in it. So I wanted to take some of that Iranian inspiration and pour it into a cake I've created to celebrate this special weekend. But this is no special occasion cake - once you've tried it, this is a cake you'll want to bake and eat each week! 
Ingredients like saffron, pistachio and cardamom, with their heavenly aromas (if there is a scent in heaven it's bound to be the fragrant smell of cardamom) have led me to name this cake 'heaven scent polenta cake'. It might not be a show stopper of a cake to look at but your kitchen will smell divine and your taste buds will thank you for the treat. 

Although you might think some of these ingredients sound somewhat exotic, you'll be pleased to know that you can get hold of them all at the supermarket. 

Now you might expect a cake like this to be laden with calories (and ordinarily it would). But I've been trying to cut down my calorie intake and so in place of a whopping 180g of sugar, this cake needs a mere 18g of Canderel. 

You can use Canderel in recipes as follows:
In volume terms use 1 tablespoon of Canderel to replace 1 tablespoon of sugar. 
In weight terms divide the sugar quantity by 10 e.g. 100g sugar = 10g of Canderel

So without further ado here's the recipe I've created...

200g ground almonds
100g polenta
Pinch saffron infused in 90ml milk
200g softened unsalted butter
18g Canderel
3 large eggs
1 and a half spoons baking powder
50g pistachios - ground
Ground cardamom (seeds ground from 12-15 cardamom pods)
A few extra pistachios and some edible rose petals to garnish

For the rose water cream:
300ml double cream
2 tsp rose water
2 tsp Candarel 

1. Grease and line a 7 inch springform cake tin.

2. Preheat oven to 160C (fan).

3. Beat butter in a mixer until softened. 

4. Prepare the pistachios by grinding them using the mill attachment of a food processor. 

5. Prepare the ground cardamom by removing the seeds from 12-15 cardamom pods and crushing the seeds with a pestle and mortar. 

6. Prepare the saffron infused milk by crushing a few strands of saffron with a pestle and mortar. Then mix into the milk and gently warm in a pan.

7. Combine dry ingredients (with the exception of the Canderel) in another bowl. So you will have the ground almonds, polenta, ground pistachios, baking powder, and ground cardamom combined.

8. Then alternately add dry ingredients, then an egg, then more dry ingredients until all combined. Pour in the saffron infused milk and mix well. 

9. Finally, having saved the best until last as they say, add in the Canderel and mix. The mixture will look quite thick.

10. Place your tin onto a baking tray, pour in the mixture, and bake for 35-40 minutes in a oven preheated to 160c until cooked through. 

11. To make the rose water cream, whisk the double cream until thickened. Add a tablespoon of rose water and a tablespoon of Canderel and whisk until combined. 

12. Serve slices of your heaven scent polenta cake with the rose water cream and garnished with pistachio slivers and edible dried rose petals. You can also sprinkle with a light dusting of Canderel just as you would with icing sugar.

This is a great cake recipe to try if you're trying to cut down on those calories or reduce the amount of sugar in your diet. We are generally very good at cooking our savoury meals from scratch to avoid that hidden sugar in jars and sauces but we've struggled to reduce sugar content in baking, which is why I decided to invent a cake recipe using Canderel.

You can find loads more baking and cooking inspiration on the Canderel website with a whole section dedicated to recipes. Thank you to Canderel for sending me a jar to use as part of this recipe along with a voucher to buy the other ingredients I needed.


Even 2 year olds can get arthritis

Miss T left foot swollen (shown here on right of photo) - This is miles better with medication than original swelling
In 2014 we had a happy healthy toddler. She loved to draw, cook, run around, play and do all the toddlery things that toddlers do. I blogged about her milestones each month - first steps, first words, her favourite things to eat, funny things she said.

In 2015 we started the year with a little girl with a broken foot (or so we thought). Yes it was a pain. She couldn't be bathed, couldn't go swimming, missed lots of her favourite toddler groups and activities. It was a huge strain on my back given my problems with arthritis. But we all kept our chins up and kept smiling knowing it would all be over in a few weeks. Even Miss T did not once complain about being in plaster even though we could see it wasn't much fun for her having to be stuck in her buggy when out and about and be carried around the house unable to walk. 
Swollen Right knee (shown her in left of photo)
3 months on and we have a little girl whose foot has still not mended. As well as her swollen left foot, she also has a swollen right toe and as of a couple of weeks ago a swollen right knee. 
Swollen Right toe (shown here on left of photo)
She's bravely had numerous X-rays, multiple blood tests, a full body bone scan, an ultrasound scan and an MRI under sedation. 

This week we saw the orthopaedic consultant to hear the MRI results. And finally a diagnosis. They had suspected juvenile arthritis given my history of arthritis, but the results of pretty much everything else weren't matching up with their suspicions. Finally the MRI showed synovial thickening in the right knee and left mid-foot and ankle. 
under sedation for MRI
She's now been discharged from the orthopaedic consultant and we are awaiting her Great Ormond Street appointment with the rheumatology team there. 

So finally a diagnosis.

In many ways a relief that it is nothing worse, but at the same time a feeling of sadness that she is only 2 and she's having to go through this.

Without the strong anti-inflammatories and pain relief medication she is currently unable to walk. So I find myself thankful that the meds are working and enabling her to walk (and even run around sometimes!) but I hate the fact that she is taking stuff so strong that I get third degree questioning each time I pick up her medicine from the pharmacy with them reminding me that it is unlicensed for children and asking what exactly is wrong with her to be taking such strong medication. I hate that she is having to take additional medication to protect her stomach because her meds are so strong. I hate that I have to give her sweets for breakfast to help her take her medicine because it tastes so yucky.

And I know this is just the tip of the iceberg. The treatment options are worse. The side-effects can be horrendous. She's in for a tough few years.

I wrote most of this up a couple of days ago but couldn't bring myself to hit publish. The blog is my happy place, where I escape to, where we store happy memories to look back on.

But then yesterday I heard of another little girl. Like me, it was a year to diagnosis for her. She'd been told it was 'growing pains' and then it turned out to be arthritis. If it's left too late, the damage to the joints will be done. Another reason that I'm glad that at least Miss T has had early diagnosis and early referral to Great Ormond street for treatment.

And I decided that it is about time for parents, doctors, nurses, health visitors, schools, in fact everyone, needs to realise that people can get arthritis at any age. Children can get arthritis. Even 2 year olds can get arthritis. So I hit publish.
A happy photo of Miss T - although arthritis will affect her life, we are determined not to let her life to be defined by it

A few more notes on arthritis:
In Miss T's case, she has had swollen joints, with multiple joints affected and affected joints feeling hot to the touch. but this is not always the case. When my arthritis started at age 10, there was no swelling and nothing visible to see.
Although blood tests can be done to look for inflammatory markers etc. sometimes these blood tests come back negative and still the person can have arthritis.
The incidence of arthritis in children is 1 in 10,000 so a lot of people (including medics) think it is so rare that it is unlikely to be arthritis. PLEASE PLEASE consider whether a child could have arthritis as early diagnosis and early treatment is key to preventing irreparable joint damage.
These are just our experiences of Juvenile Arthritis and this is not medical advice so please consult your doctor if you have any concerns.
Information about Arthritis and JIA (Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis) can be found at Athritis Research UK and for clinicians and medics at http://www.pmmonline.org/

I have switched off comments for this post - I know lots of people wanted to wish Miss T well after my last post about her foot where I switched comments off but I don't want sympathy - I just want people to know that arthritis is not an old people's disease. Thanks for understanding.


Leek and Chestnut Mushroom Stroganoff with Wholegrain Basmati and Wildrice

With some items needing to be used up in my fridge, I was planning to make a stroganoff. Then things looked even better when a parcel of Tilda goodies arrived from their new range. I decided to use the wholegrain basmati and wild rice in my stroganoff to make it even better!
We loved making recipes from Tilda's Mood Food manual recently, but I also love coming up with my own recipes so here's my yummy stroganoff recipe that you can have either with lamb or without for a veggie option. We had some leftover roast lamb so included it in our dish. To make this recipe healthier, you can swap the double cream for yogurt or Creme fraiche. 

Ingredients (we made enough for 4 people)
Tilda wholegrain basmati and wild rice (allow 60g per person)
1 red onion
1 and a half leeks
200g chestnut mushrooms
Double cream (around 200ml)
Groundnut oil
Large handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley
Salt and black pepper
Leftover roast lamb pieces (optional as you could have this dish meat-free)
Green beans

1. Cook the Tilda wholegrain basmati and wild rice according to pack instructions. I actually used my own method to cook the rice by placing the desired amount in a large microwaveable bowl, covering with cold water to a couple of centimetres above the level of the rice and then microwaving on full power for 35 minutes. 

2. Finely slice the red onion and the leeks - I used a food processor to ensure it was all finely chopped. Then gently fry until softened in a little groundnut oil in a frying pan. 

3. Slice the chestnut mushrooms and add to the red onion and leeks. Continue to cook until the mushrooms are softened and start to brown. 

4. Once the rice is cooked transfer it into a large pan with the leek, red onion and mushroom mixture. Add the cooked lamb if desired. Then add the cream, stir through and season with salt and black pepper. 

5. Roughly chop the fresh parsley and add to the dish. Serve with boiled or steamed green beans.

The stroganoff can be made with leftover meat
or without meat for a veggie option

Thanks to Tilda for sending us their new range to try. You can find out more about Tilda rice here