> The Beesley Buzz: June 2020

The Crossy Road King turns 16! Happy 16th Birthday Josh!

Dear Joshua,

You came into our lives 16 years ago on a stormy night at 2.30am. You certainly kept us waiting. 9 days late beyond your due date and after a whopping 72 hours in labour, you eventually shot into the world like a rocket that night. And life has never been quiet since!
From the moment you were born, we couldn't remember life without you. We used to think back to memories of holidays and things we'd done previously and it was like you were there with us in our memories because we just couldn't remember what life without you was like.

You kept us on our toes from the outset. I remember you sleeping well until you were two weeks old. And then everything changed and you didn't sleep well for about 13 or 14 years after that. It is only in the past couple of years that you settle to sleep a lot better. No-one warned me about that!

One of my friends described having a new baby like having a little stranger come and live with you and you have to get to know them over time. So you were our little stranger and you were always on the go. Never stopping. Never sitting still.

Always super intelligent. Little did we know then just how intelligent! As our firstborn we had no idea that it wasn't normal to know ALL the numbers on an advent calendar at just 18 months old. We didn't realise it wasn't normal to be able to add and subtract a string of numbers in your head at just 3 years old.

It was only as part of the assessments around the time of your ASD diagnosis aged around 5 that the doctors told us that your IQ level was beyond that of a 16 year old which was all their scales measured up to. And now you are 16 and you can easily outwit the rest of us put together!

We are so very proud of you Josh. More than you will truly ever know. We know you have had to overcome so many challenges. We know that some days things will be more of a challenge for you than other days and we are not always as patient as we should be. We don't always get it right. Sorry. But please know that we love you immensely and always have and always will.

Since Trinity came along, you've shown what a brilliant big brother you are - caring and kind. Of course, you are big brother to Daniel too but you were just a baby when he was born so it's like he's always been part of your life. These days Daniel appreciates having his big brother to encourage him and help him with running and gaming - the hobbies you share together.

Of course we are proud of what you've achieved at school but also of your extra-curricular activities like your running and your volunteering with Park Run and Boys Brigade and Summer holiday church club. All of which put you out of your comfort zone and yet you still do it and do it so well. 
I suppose at this stage, we should also mention a bit more about your other big love - gaming! And yes we are proud of you being the World Record holder of the Highest score on Crossy Road.

Did we ever think we'd have any kind of world record holder in our family? No. But did we always know that you would be capable of achieving anything you set you mind to? Yes - without a doubt.

When you were a toddler, people used to comment that you used to think of doing things that wouldn't even occur to other children of your age (usually related to climbing somewhere you shouldn't or escaping to somewhere you shouldn't). We fought so hard for you at school to be understood. We sided with you when the teachers just didn't get it. In the end we realised that most the time you were being held back academically because the teachers couldn't keep up with you! I remember you complaining to me that you'd finish your work and that they wouldn't let you move onto the next page of your workbook. That's just insane. No wonder you thrived with homeschooling! And when you went back to school - to schools that understood and knew what you were capable of - well just look how amazing you have been and still are!!!
So your 16th birthday has been a bit strange. We couldn't go out for your usual McDonald's so we made our own at home. And I couldn't home-bake you a cake like we normally do but we managed to make the shop-bought cake themed in a way you liked.

And now you have a whole new chapter ahead of you. A-levels and beyond. And we know you'll smash it Josh. Happy birthday 16 year old!

Reigniting the excitement: Aquabeads Star Beads review #ad #gifted

Just as we reach the point where I feel I've said all that can be said about how wonderful Aquabeads are, something happens that gives me something more to say. In this case, the innovation that is STAR SHAPED BEADS! Aquabeads are colourful little beads that you can arrange into designs, give them a simple spray with water and they fix into position once dry.

Miss T has really enjoyed Aquabeads over the years, from the very first playset she was given by her godmother for her birthday to the many wonderful sets she has been sent to review. There's a link to some of them at the bottom of this post - There really are many many themed Aquabeads sets as well as refill packs available.

We've been in isolation since early March and we've done almost every activity under the sun during that time from baking to gardening to painting to crafts. The one thing that surprised me was that the Aquabeads didn't come out at all. I was beginning to wonder whether the kids had outgrown them.

Then Miss T was sent a Star Beads Studio Starter Set. I had made the assumption that this just meant that it came in a Star Shaped box for storing the Aquabeads in. But I was wrong. It is a selection of the beads themselves that are Star Shaped. Some are translucent and some are opaque and there are plenty of the normal sphere shaped beads in the set too.

The really wonderful thing about each and every Aquabeads set and playset is that the box shows exactly what is included right down to the exact number of each colour and type of bead. The "sets" seem to be the smaller sets containing beads often with a theme or characters and the "playsets" seem to be the larger packs containing a bead palette to sort and store your beads in and the bead tray to make your designs on. In more recent packs there is a flip tray and "receiver" so that your designs can be easily removed from the tray to dry - more on that later!

Some of the playsets including the Star Beads Studio (the bigger of the 3 packs we were send to review) include a bead pen. I used to absolutely swear by the bead pen and always told friends to buy one separately if they didn't already have one. As Miss T has grown older and her manual dexterity and fine motor skills have improved, she found that she didn't use the bead pen much this time.

That didn't stop her getting really excited about it though when she saw it...

"It's a double pen!" she yelled. "When you need a star bead you use one end and when you need normal beads you can use the other end."

She set to work choosing which Aquabeads designs to make using the templates provided as well as looking on the enclosed leaflets for inspiration. As she's grown older, I've noticed her confidence has increased to "freestyle" with Aquabeads to create her own designs using her imagination. In the early days she was always totally reliant on the templates.

For anyone needing even more inspiration and ideas, there are loads of templates that can be downloaded free of charge from the Aquabeads website. So during this time where we are staying home so much more because of COVID-19, Aquabeads really do make the perfect lockdown activity!

And unlike many other arts and crafts activities, they are mess-free. A definite plus point for parents!

For her first Star beads design Miss T chose the dragon template.

 Soon it was ready to spray with water using the water squirter spray bottle.

We've noticed that Aquabeads constantly look for ways to improve their products and remove any niggles or issues. One of the great things about the Flip tray and receiver design is that bead designs can be easily removed from the tray, onto the "receiver" (the green part shown) and left to dry. By turning the design over after 5 minutes, the second side will dry more quickly and your design will soon be completely dry. In the meantime the tray can be dried off and used for more designs so no need to wait around until one design is completely dry before carrying on your creativity!

There's a video to show how to use the flip tray should you need it but it really is straight forward to use - just hold it firmly as you flip to avoid your beads moving out of place.

Miss T was thrilled with her finished dragon. She didn't stop there - she went onto make loads more designs and D was tempted to join in too. We dug out our whole Aquabeads collection and they spent hours engaged in this activity.

They even made grandad a father's day card using Aquabeads:

That is one of the really great things about Aquabeads - they can be used as part of other craft creations like greetings cards, or bookmarks, or even to decorate picture frames or pencil pots!

The next morning the first question Miss T asked me was "mummy can I do more Aquabeads today?"

We were sent the following three products for this review:

The Star Bead Studio which contained the Star Shaped bead palette and lid for storing your Aquabeads, along with the flip tray and receiver, a bead pen, water sprayer, templates and a selection of over 1,000 beads.   

The Star Friends Set which acts as a refill set for the Star Beads Studio with templates to make various animals and plenty of regular beads and star beads. 

The Star Bead pack which contains over 800 of the Star shaped beads in a variety of colours. 

If you are new to Aquabeads then the Deluxe Studio is a good place to start with plenty of beads and all the equipment you need to get started. Note: the Deluxe Studio contains solid and 'jewel' beads but not the Star beads described in this review.

You can find Aquabeads on social media as follows:

They'd love to see your Aquabeads creations shared with them using #AquaLockdownCrafts

Proud to be official Aquabeaders:

Some of our previous Aquabeads reviews:

Star Wars Playset Review

Finding Dory Playset Review

Toy Story Character Set

Despicable Me Minions Playset

Disclosure: As official Aquabeaders, we were sent the Aquabeads Star Beads Studio, Aquabeads Star Friends Set, and the Aquabeads Star Bead refill pack for the purposes of review. All opinions are our own.


Raspberry and Dark Chocolate Muffins

One of the positives to come out of being in isolation at home is having the time to cook and bake more than usual. And the other positive is having the time to blog about the recipes! So my little blog no longer feels as neglected as it has been over the past couple of years because I seem to be posting recipe after recipe to keep a record of bakes that have turned out well.

A few years back, we bought 6 raspberry canes to plant in the garden. I'm not sure what we did wrong but all but one of them died! The following year the one surviving one gave a handful of raspberries but certainly nothing to write home about. We also noticed a couple of new shoots growing where some of the original ones didn't survive. This year we finally started to get lots of raspberries. Mainly from that one cane.

We're going to have to look up when / how to prune it and hope that it does well again next summer.

Raspberries have always felt a bit of a luxury fruit to me as they are usually pricey to buy fresh and so it feels like a sacrifice to use them in baking rather than enjoying them fresh. But here I was with an abundance of raspberries for once and so I decided to make Raspberry and Chocolate muffins.

I turned to the internet to find a suitable recipe and most used white chocolate which I didn't have. But I found one recipe that looked good and so I simply used dark chocolate in place of the white chocolate and they turned out remarkably well! Soft, light, fluffy muffins. This particular recipe only used 1 egg which was another bonus because we've struggled to get hold of eggs at times during lockdown.

The muffins were soon polished off and enjoyed. So today, with another bowlful of fresh raspberries from the garden, I decided to make another batch. But could I find the recipe I had used? No.

I kept coming across recipes which called for more eggs, or to melt butter or to use yogurt or sour cream. I just wanted the nice simple successful recipe that I had used the other day!!!

Eventually I found it! It was the Quick & Easy White Chocolate & Raspberry muffins recipe from Bake, Play, Smile (Obviously I used dark chocolate in place of white because as I already mentioned I didn't have any white chocolate).

So now the link is recorded here on the blog, I hope I won't lose it again!

However, I tweaked the recipe the second time to reduce the sugar and increase the amount of raspberries (really just to use up the amount I had) and they turned out well once again even with the changes to the recipe.

So here is our version of the recipe - for full method please see the original recipe from Bake, Play, Smile.

265g self-raising flour
150g caster sugar
50g light/mild olive oil
1 egg
240ml milk
200g fresh raspberries
85g dark chocolate (chopped into pieces)

The method is basically to combine the dry ingredients (not the chocolate or raspberries), then mix the wet ingredients in a separate bowl. Making a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, pour the wet into the dry and mix briefly. Finally adding the chocolate and raspberries and folding them in gently.

Don't forget to preheat your oven to 180C (fan) before you start and line a 12 hole muffin tray with muffin cases. These took 25 minutes in my oven but may need a little less time or more time depending on your oven.

I was so so pleased with how these turned out! I have no idea how long our raspberry season will go on for or whether we'll have another successful year next year but now I know exactly what to bake whenever I do have a surplus of raspberries.

Edit: I tried making these again once we had some white chocolate and tweaked the recipe as follows: 
265g self-raising flour
130g caster sugar
50g olive oil
1 egg
240ml milk
175g raspberries
100g white chocolate


Pasties - success at last!

I've never had much luck making pasties, to the extent that I even called a previous attempt "Disaster Pasties". We did manage to make a fairly good batch using hot water crust pastry but I thought it was time to attempt making a pasty with normal pastry once again. And this time I was thrilled with how they turned out! In fact, we actually made two batches within a couple of days of each other. Once using a Quorn and veg filling and the second time I made a veggie batch just with vegetables (carrot, courgette and spring onion and cheese), as well as a meat version. Both turned out well.

I'm documenting it here so I can make them again!

For the pastry: (makes 6)
450g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
125g unsalted butter
2 eggs (save some of this to use as egg wash)
125ml cold water

For the filling:
Veggie versions:
- Quorn mince, carrot, spring onion, (or any veggies you wish), and grated cheese
- carrot, courgette, spring onion and cheese

Meat version - mince beef and vegetables.

Plus any seasoning, herbs etc you wish

1. First make the pastry by using a food processor to combine the flour, baking powder, salt and butter until it resembles breadcrumbs.
2. Mix the two eggs together and add to the flour, reserving a little of the egg for the egg wash stage.
3. Add the water and mix (for a very short time) in the mixer to combine to form a pastry dough.
4. Wrap in cling film and leave in the fridge for 1 hour.
5. Then it's time to pre-heat the oven to 180C and prepare the filling. Apparently, you don't need to pre-cook the filling for a pasty but for the meat version I did. I didn't for the veggie versions.
6. When the pastry is chilled, remove from the fridge and divide into 6. Next roll out 6 circles of 20cm in diameter each.
7. Place the filling on each circle, fold the pastry in half to form a D shape and press the edges together with your fingers to seal. Add a small amount of water to the reserved egg and then brush this egg wash over all of the pasties.
8. Place the pasties onto baking paper on a baking tray and bake for 50 minutes.


Upside down peach and cardamom cake

After the little mouthful-sized upside down peach bites turned out so well the other day, I wanted to make a bigger peach cake to get the pretty effect of the peach slices at the bottom (which then ends up on top as it's an upside down cake).

I knew I wanted to include cardamom in it this time as cardamom has to be one of my all time favourite flavours and it tastes amazing in cake!

Here's the recipe...

20g butter, melted
2 ripe peaches
3 eggs
160g self-raising flour
160g baking margarine or softened butter
160g caster sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom
tiny drop of vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 170c and grease and line a cake tin (7 inch springform cake tin)
2. Melt 20g butter with 20g of the caster sugar. Pour it into the cake tin. Slice one of the peaches and arrange in the bottom of the tin in one flat layer.
3. Mix together the eggs, 140g of the sugar, and 160g baking margarine or softened butter and the vanilla extract. Then add in the flour and cardamom.
4. Finally dice the second peach into small pieces and mix in until combined.
5. Pour the cake batter into the cake tin on top of the arranged slices of peach.
6. Bake in the oven for 35 - 40 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

This cake tastes and smells so "summery" with the beautiful fragrance of the peaches and cardamom. The perfect summer bake!


Upside down peach bites

We certainly seem to have caught the baking bug during lockdown. Baking has been a way to keep my mind occupied at times of stress in recent years - so during the weeks when I can't seem to focus on anything else, at least I can get in the kitchen and bake!

These little upside down peach bites were a way of using up some ripe peaches. I was so pleased with how they turned out that I knew I had to keep a record of the recipe:

Ingredients: (makes 5)
1 ripe peach
A sprinkle of muscavado sugar 
30g caster sugar
40g ground almonds
40g gluten-free plain flour
Very small pinch of gluten-free baking powder
15g coconut oil
15g clotted cream
1 egg
Small pinch himalayan salt
Some fresh mint leaves to garnish and a few slices of peach reserved to garnish. 

1. Pre-heat oven to 170C.
2. Finely slice around half of the peach and dice the rest of the peach into small cubes. Reserve a few of the slices to use as a garnish.
3. Sprinkle a small pinch of muscavado sugar into the base of each silicone cake case. 
4. Place the slices of peach at the base of each of the cake cases. You can use either the slices or the cubes - Once baked, I thought the slices looked nicest. 
5. Mix together all of the remaining ingredients until well combined. 
6. Scoop into the cake cases and bake for approximately 12-14 minutes.
7. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. Then turn the cakes out of their cases and garnish with a few mint leaves and some fresh slices of peach if you wish. Tastes great served with cream. 


Moist carrot cake recipe

Upon finding ourselves with a surplus of carrots to use up, we decided to make a carrot cake. More precisely it was Richard and Miss T that did the cooking - I just did the eating. I was so impressed with how moist and delicious it turned out that I knew we had to type up the recipe so that we can hopefully make it again soon.

Most carrot cake recipes finish off with a topping of cream cheese frosting but we had some double-cream which we poured onto it for serving instead.

235ml Olive oil
100g yogurt
4 large eggs
half a tsp vanilla extract
100g caster sugar
125g light muscavado sugar
300g self-raising flour
half tsp cinnamon
half tsp ground ginger
1.5 tsp mixed spice (find a recipe to make your own here)
2 tsp baking powder
75g walnuts (roughly chopped)
100g sultanas
265g grated carrots

1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line a large baking tin suitable for a traybake (we actually had to split the mixture between two tins).
2. Mix the oil, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla in a bowl. We used a freestanding mixer to mix these ingredients.
3. Then place all the dry ingredients into another large bowl and mix together (except for the walnuts, sultanas and grated carrots which go in last).
4. Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and combine. Then add in the carrot, walnuts and sultanas.
5. Pour into the prepared baking tin and bake for between 20-30 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

Can be served with cream cheese frosting or cream. 


3 month isolation milestone

In a couple of days time, on 4th June it is our 3 month isolation milestone having started our own lockdown sooner than most. Despite the easing of restrictions, things remain the same for us.

We remain at home. We've not set foot in a shop since the start of March and have relied on deliveries.

We've avoided going outdoors other than our own garden and occasionally getting fresh air in the evenings when the roads are quieter and it's possible to avoid most people.

It has been a time of paradoxes and contradictions for us in many many ways...

Our house has been the cleanest it has been for a long time, yet is also at its messiest. We've found time to deal with things like limescale on the taps and we continually disinfect door handles. Our no shoes in the house policy is stricter than ever. Yet at the same time the sink is constantly full of washing up, the laundry basket seems to fill more quickly than usual, and there is just so much clutter and things to keep handy for keeping the kids entertained... paint pots, glue, bubbles all kept out rather than packed away. Piles of schoolwork. Lots of boxes and packaging for Miss T's junk modelling projects. Clean AND Messy at the same time.

The days fly by mercifully quickly. I feel busier than ever. And yet we haven't got anything to do in terms of places to go, and schedules and deadlines.

We are finding that we have time for a bedtime story far more often than previously, yet bedtime has shifted later than ever.

The house is full of people with us all at home, and yet there are times that I feel so lonely.

Some days I feel full of hope and joy and gratitude appreciating the opportunity to spend this precious time with my family. Other times, the fear creeps in and I dwell on the awfulness and enormity of what is happening.

This month we've continued our late evening outings when we can - although my back pain has been worse so I've been struggling with pain levels at times. We are fortunate to be just minutes from a countryside lane where we can see fields and foxes and pheasants and sheep. We've even spotted deer recently and bats as the darkness falls. It does get hugely busy there during the daytime, hence waiting until late evening or night before we ever head out.

We've enjoyed baking. Miss T made some yummy cookies and she also made a delicious carrot cake with daddy this month. My sourdough is largely back on hold as we've been managing to get weekly deliveries again so have been able to get enough bread to last each week without having to bake our own at the moment.

Garden play and garden fun. These ribbons are still proving popular!

She even created her own garden festival...

We got some "make your own chocolate London" kits and had fun moulding the chocolate to make Big Ben and a London cab and bus.
As it was a hot day, D's decided to melt rather rapidly...
The hot sunny days have been perfect for water play in the garden...
And for me that's meant being able to enjoy the hot tub. It has to be the best ever impulse buy having picked it up on sale at the supermarket last summer and made such good use of it last summer and this year. I step into the hot tub and it feels like I'm on holiday. For a short while I can forget what is going on in the world and just pretend everything is ok.
I've realised how much it helps ease my backpain too. It was when I didn't use the hot tub for a few days that the back pain worsened.
We are appreciating all the little things like finding wild strawberries growing in the garden. We were also mesmerised by watching a spider catch a ladybird it it's web so fast that we didn't even have time to take a photo. Memories like that will remain in my mind from this strange period of time.
After years of thinking about it, we think we are going to tidy up and revamp the garden a bit over the coming months. Starting small scale with freshening up Miss T's wooden bench with a lick of paint.

I even witnessed something close to a miracle - the three kids working together as a team without any squabbling to hang the washing out. I couldn't believe my eyes! All three of them together can often end in tears. So this was definitely a proud mummy moment for me.

Another proud moment was J beating his own world record score on Crossy Road (again!) and since this photo was taken, he's beaten it yet again with a new high score of 3713. Totally mind blowing! Such dedication to his hobby.
I'd given myself a lockdown hair trim a while ago and this time it was Miss T's turn. I have never dared cut her hair before and we usually only trust our amazing hairdresser Tony to cut her hair but it was a case of needs must as they say. Thankfully she was pleased with the outcome although I have a feeling both of us will need a very good hair cut at the hairdressers once it is totally safe to go there again. The boys won't let me cut their hair at the moment. Ironically, I often cut their hair and they rarely go to the barbers or hairdressers. But for some reason, at the moment when it most needs cutting, they are insisting on growing their hair longer.

I love Miss T's attitude of dressing in her fave dresses regardless of being at home...

And a regular chat with granny on zoom has become part of our new normal.

Our raspberries have just begun to ripen so we are looking for the ripest to pick each day...

And Miss T continues to love making and crafting... She has had so many hours of fun with her "gingerbread" doll made from cardboard and creating outfits for her to wear.

So that's our round-up for another month. At the start of March, I had hoped that by the time we reached June that there would be a significant improvement in the situation. Whilst we've been through lockdown and subsequent easing of lockdown during this time, for us the reality remains that we deemed the risks too high as of 4th March to continue "life as normal" - at that point there was yet to be a single death in the UK. So there's still a long way to go as far as we're concerned. 

We remain hugely thankful to all those whose kindness and selflessness has meant that we have been able to keep our family safe at home. With 2 of the children higher risk, I am hugely grateful each time we manage to get a grocery delivery and each time the post arrives. We are so thankful to so many keyworkers. We've even managed to have several of Miss T's hospital appointments via video call and phone call so we are grateful to the doctors and hospital teams that enabled that to happen.