Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Easter activities for the family

I am, for the first time, taking a risk and asking for fellow mummy bloggers to come over and share their Easter blog posts with us.

Be it crafting, cooking, taking a walk, visiting a particular tourist attraction in the UK; what are the best Easter activities this year to keep the whole family happy?

If you are a blogger and want to join in, simply write your post, link back to this page so that our readers can hop between entries, and click below to add your blog to the list, that I'll host here.

If you are visiting, then I hope you find some useful links appearing in the list below to fill your Easter with family fun!  And while you are waiting?  Try this list of activity songs to keep the children entertained or this recipe for Banana & Chocolate Chip Muffins.

Fingers crossed this works!  Enjoy!

Extreme close up: attempting photography!

I am not a great photographer.  In fact, on the evidence of previous posts, I am a terrible photographer.  But when I saw that Tara at Sticky Fingers' new Gallery theme was Extreme Close Up.  I felt I had to join in with the challenge.

I took a few pictures of the children, but they just look like I forgot to back away before clicking.  My best attempt of the afternoon is here.

Our magnolia is the only flowering plant in our back garden at the moment, because, after four years in this house we've still only got as far as sorting out the patio, lawn, hedge and a few evergreens and perennials to fill up the space.

Actual flowers haven't got much of a look in yet; making our tree particularly special this spring.

For more extreme close ups, head over to The Gallery.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Home Hair Colouring: How to?

In the interests of saving money (all the more for the shoe fund) I have spent the last couple of years dying my hair at home.

Actually my hubby has had the job of slathering on the permanent colour, since I'm not at all convinced I wouldn't get dye all over the bathroom if I tried to do it myself.

I've nearly always dyed my hair, from light blonde to a rich red, and more recently  its natural brunette.  But with greys coming through at the roots so fast I needed to re-colour after 5 weeks, £50 a time at the hair salon was too expensive.

In this time, of home hair colouring; at a more reasonable £6 a time; I have learnt a few key tips I thought I'd share:

1.  Always do a strand test

I know it's boring.  I know it's difficult to arrange to do and wait for the results and only then get cracking with your own colouring.  Particularly as, once you've opened the bottle for the strand test, you have to use the colour within 24 hours usually.

It's also a 'do as I say, not as I do' one, because I never, ever do the strand test. But that's only because my mother's been dying my hair various shades of orange since I was 13 years old*.

Even so, each brand is different, so you should really test each one before you try.  Please don't risk it, especially if you've never coloured your hair before

2. Don't stray too far from your natural shade when home colouring

In general, those with light, pale and freckled skin will suit cooler hair shades; from platinum blonde, through strawberry blondes to light browns.  Darker skin tones will be better able to pull off darker hair.

You need to factor that in when choosing a colour; along with the colour of your eyebrows.  If your hair is substantially darker than your eyebrows it can overpower them.  At the other extreme, very dark eyebrows will stand out a mile (particularly if not well groomed) if teamed with platinum blonde hair.  Unless you have aspirations to colour the eyebrows as well (not a good plan at home by the way) then don't go too far from your natural shades.

3.  Protect your clothes and any furniture

We do this process sat on the sofa in the lounge.  I cover one end of the sofa with an old, dark blue towel, specifically allocated to home colouring duties only.  It's now got some lovely staining on it!

I also change into old clothes that I don't mind getting stained and place another old towel around my shoulders.

I keep meaning to invest in one of those capes that they make you wear at the salon, but just don't seem to get around to it.

4.  Protect your glasses

I wear glasses.  If I start colouring my hair without putting contact lenses in, I suddenly find that I am sat there, with nothing to do, for 40 minutes whilst the colour works it's magic.  Often I want to read, or watch the TV.  But I can't put my glasses on for fear of staining their arms.

The solution?  Take 2 plastic sandwich bags (or nappy bags), and place them over each arm.  Secure with sandwich bag ties.  It's not a handsome look; but you've got purple (it always seems to be purple) gunk all over your head, a towel wrapped around you and your scruffy clothes on.  Good looks are not on the agenda at this point.

5.  Get rid of any staining at the temples quickly

When you've applied the colour (obviously following the instructions on the box to the letter) and have waited the requisite length of time, you will need to rinse it off.  HOWEVER, if you have the colour on your forehead and around your temples you need to pause for a moment for this little task to stop the colour staining your skin in those areas.

I may seem to go off track here, but stay with me.

You know you can use a ball of blu-tack to get other remnants of blu-tack off a wall without scraping?  You simply press the ball against the scrap and it sticks and pulls off the scrap.

Well, hair colour works the same way.  If you get some around the edge of your temples, you can, whilst wearing your plastic gloves (obviously), rub that area of skin gently with the colour that's on your hair.  Give the area a little massage.  Then you can rinse off the colour and the colour should pull any staining off the skin.

It won't necessarily have got it all off, but it will have taken most and loosened the rest.  So when you've finished rinsing the hair and shampooed with a mild shampoo (children's shampoos are good after colouring as they are nice and mild and don't try and strip the colour back out!), you can then rub any remaining staining on the skin with a wet wipe.

Yes, those wet wipes come in handy for all sorts of things.

If you don't get the staining off with the wipe now, you may be stuck with it for a while, so scrub any reluctant bits hard!

I hope that was helpful.  Good luck!  

*She'd like to claim it was red, but my school colleagues would disagree.  And did.  Ruthlessly.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Ultimate Britmums Live Linky

I’m going to BritMums Live
Claire at mummy blog "A Boy with Aspergers" is hosting the ultimate Britmums Live Linky.  This is where she gets to set a batch of questions for us to answer in the interests of a bunch of bloggers getting to know each other better.  Britmums Live is a conference, held in June, for British mummy bloggers.  This year will be my first year attending and I am stupidly excited.

I've been blogging here for nearly 3 years now, but have only recently started networking with other bloggers.  It's an interesting learning curve and it's improving the way I blog (I think?  Please let me know if it's not and why!)

So, in order to not feel quite so 'new girl' like when I get there in June I am joining in the Linky.  Here it goes!

Q1.  What's your blog title/url and how long have you been blogging?

I blog at Yummy Mummy? Really? intentionally about how on earth we can still be yummy whilst also being a mummy, but realistically about a whole host of parenting stuff!  I've been doing it since August 2009.

Q2.  Will Britmums Live be your first blogging conference?

YES.  (quivers in the corner)

Q3.  Did you bag yourself a sponsor?

Nope.  I haven't really developed any kind of brand relationships yet, so I'm paying for it myself.  I'm sacrificing some of the shoe budget!  It must be serious!

Q4.  Are you attending both days?

Yes.  Bring it on.

Q5.  What are you most looking forward to about the conference?

Meeting other bloggers in person, that I have so far only chatted with online.  Oh, and hopefully getting lots of tips to ensure this blog provides a great source of entertainment for it's readers!

Q6.  Are you wearing Branded clothing? (your sponsors brand)

Nope.  I refer you to Q3.

Q7.  What is your planned style for this event?

I was thinking probably smart.  I'm a big fan of tailoring, so maybe trousers and my favourite Ted Baker top.  Now there's a brand I wouldn't mind working with... hint hint!  (Tried to link to the top but it's last season, so no longer on their website... sorry folks!  It'll have to be a surprise.)

Q8.  Are you hoping to be nominated for a Brilliance in Blogging (BiB) Award?

I was, but unfortunately the nominations are now closed, and I wasn't.  If anyone is surprised by this, please feel free to rectify matters by clicking on the Mad Blog Awards nominations link instead over to the right!

Q9.  If so, what category?

See Question 8.  Perhaps Family Fun?  Not sure I quite qualify for Fashion and Beauty!

Q10.  Will you be looking to network with Brands?

It would be nice.  I'd love to work with a couple of beauty product brands, and maybe be able to offer some giveaways and competitions on the blog.

Q11.  What do you hope to walk away with, having gained from the conference?

An improved understanding of how to provide the best blog I can to my readers.

Q12.  Will you be dressing up in the toilet for the Friday night BiBs?

Now here's an area in which I excel.  Short time frame; no space; limited access to working hairdryers.  I can definitely get ready in those circumstances.  I'll have everything I need in my special Mary Poppins bag, including a gorgeous non-crease frock and killer heels.

Yeah right!

Q13.  Are you speaking at the conference, and if so, when, where, and how do you feel about doing so?

Not officially.  I suspect I won't stop talking though.

Q14.  Will you be joining the early morning bloggercise on Saturday?

Let me think about this?  Get out of bed earlier than is necessary on the one night of the year I don't have children walking me up at the crack of dawn?  I don't think so!

Q15.  What speakers are you most looking forward to listening to?

Nickie at I am Typecast.  She's been really helpful and I can't wait to hear what she has to share.

Q16.  What workshops will you be attending on the Friday (day 1)?

No idea.  I still can't decide.  Can I clone myself and attend them all?

Q17.  What workshops being held on the Saturday have grabbed your attention?

See Question 16!

Q18.  Are you booked into a hotel for the Friday night?  If so which one?

I am!

Q19.  Will you be looking for after party drinks?

Who's paying?  I am a Northerner you know!

Q20.  Are you worried about not knowing anyone, or being confident and socialising on the day?

I did a Performing Arts Degree.  What do you think?

Q21.  What are you most likely to be found doing whilst attending Britmums Live?

Drinking coffee and eating biscuits.  There will be some, won't there?


The rules say I now need to tag three more people; so here it goes:

Luci at Mother. Wife. Me. 
Trish at Mums Gone to
Susannah at A Modern Mother  (because although I thought she''d have already have done this.. she hasn't yet!?)

I absolutely understand if you aren't able to take part for whatever reason ladies.  If you can, then you'll need to click here to add your Meme to the main Linky!  Regardless, I will look forward to hopefully meeting you all at the conference!

Friday, 23 March 2012

How do you find time for yourself?

I am honoured this week to be playing host to some great writers.  Not only have I been able to host Caroline Smaile's online ending to 99 Reason's Why, but I am also honoured to be able to bring you a post on "Me Time" from the yummy Joanne Mallon.

Me Time:  An extract from Toddlers: An instruction manual - a guide to surviving the years one to four (written by parents, for parents).  Buy it in paperback, or download for kindle.

“Me Time” is one of those maligned phrases that has come to be derided as much as it is desired. It can feel like yet another obligation to add to your list – a list which is probably already full to bursting with things you don’t have the time or energy to get round to as it is.

So how achievable is it the parent of a toddler to have some time to yourself, to have a life away from your child? Is it worth the bother?

When I was writing my book and asked parents of toddlers this question, they looked at me as if I’d gone a bit squiffy in the head and wondered if I was feeling alright. “Me Time, what’s that?” just about sums it up.

And yet, if you dig a bit deeper, some parents do carve out pockets of time for themselves. Some run or go the gym, some get crafty and make things, others blog, join book groups, get involved in charity work or simply relax with a glass of wine in the bath at night. All of them are just as busy as you, so if some people can do it, it must, by definition, be at least possible. But with more than enough on our plates already, why should we bother?

Look after yourself

I believe that taking care of yourself is part and parcel of taking care of your child. Children, even little babies, are very sensitive to their environment. They’re like a barometer of your life.

So if you’re stressed, worried or rushed off your feet, they will know about it, even if they can’t say it (To be fair, they may be the cause of it). If your relationship is troubled, even if you never argue in front of your child, they will pick up on it.

This is why, when your attention is elsewhere, your child’s behaviour may react against this. They sense that your attention is not with them, so they want it back.

So given that our child’s moods and our own are so intertwined, it makes sense to see taking care of yourself as being part of taking care of your child. You’re not being a better parent if you sit on all your needs, and end up feeling unfulfilled. Happy parents = happy kids. It’s all interlinked.

I’ll just sort out this laundry...

Your child will never thank you if you martyr yourself to them, and make parenthood your only interest. And don’t use lack of childcare as an excuse, because there are always ways around that – apart from paying a babysitter, you could do childcare swaps with another parent. Or you could take up an interest that doesn’t require childcare – anything from reading, playing video games to running your own online business. And if all else fails, there’s always drinking and sex. (not at the same time though, unless you are particularly ambidextrous).

And don’t make housework an excuse either because that one’s never going to go away. There will always be more dust to hoover, but in the scale of things our lives are pretty brief.

I believe that the time we spend away from our children is what helps us be better parents when we are back in the bosom of our families. Even if it’s only a few minutes with the bathroom door locked, you need that breathing space for the sake of your own mental health. You need time when you’re something else other than someone’s mum or dad, and don’t have to think about whose bottom needs wiping.

"Me Time" isn't just time for you - it's time for all of your family.


Joanne is a freelance parenting journalist, a life and career coach and a parent of two.  You can also find Joanne's blog here

The book brings together tried and tested practical, down-to-earth tips from parents who've survived the toddler years.

We'd both love to know your thoughts on "Me Time".  Do you manage to carve out enough time for yourself?  If so, how? 

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Save time toning your bum; with this exercise whilst brushing your teeth!

 I made a hideous mistake this weekend.  I got on the scales.

NNNOOOOO! I hear you cry.  Why, oh why, would I do that?  I honestly don't know.  It was Mother's Day and for a reason know only to my subconscious I stepped foot on those scales for the first time in over a year.

I am 5ft 6 inches tall.  I'm telling you that so you can make a judgement as to how bad, or not, the resulting 'weight' was.

11 stone 8 pounds.  That's apparently 73.48 kg (conversion chart here)

Since having children it seems to be true that if I hover around 11 stone I can fit, comfortably, in size 12 trousers.  At 11 stone 8, most of my wardrobe doesn't fit.  I am wearing jeans that, as I am writing this, I am desperate to take off, as the belt is digging into my tummy.  I know it's not a pretty picture I am painting, but I feel the need to share, in the hope it'll stop me reaching for yet another biscuit.

So I have started making changes.  One of the first is to try and cram exercise into every possible part of the day I can, but without actually spending special extra time exercising.  How?

My first trick is going to be to do the Yummy Mummy? Really? Bum exercise whilst brushing my teeth.

The Yummy Mummy? Really? Bum Exercise

Whilst stood in front of the sink; brushing teeth with one hand; use the other hand to steady yourself against the sink for balance  (ideally don't hold on at all).

Stand with your feet together.  Now take your right foot and place it behind your left at a right angle.  You should have the toes on your right foot (and your right knee) pointing to your right, and the heel pointing to your left.  The middle of your right foot, the arch, should be resting against the heel of your left foot.

Now lift your right foot up off the ground slightly (a couple of millimetres), bending the knee and keep your foot flexed.  You are ready to exercise your right bum cheek.  Lift the right foot behind you, keeping the foot angled from right to left and flexed (not pointed), and keeping the bend in the knee the same.

It won't go very high up, and the height doesn't really matter.  What does matter is that the lifting should be felt in your bum!  Trust me that if you are doing it right you'll feel it.

Return foot to the lowered position, and then keep lifting and lowering.  I do roughly 30 up-downs by the second hand on the clock.  Up for 1 count, down on 2, up on 3.  I do 1 minute on one side, and another minute on the other side.

That's the 2 minutes of teeth brushing done too.

Multi-tasking at it's best.  No time wasted, teeth brushed and bum toned.

Anyone got any others?

Monday, 19 March 2012

99 Reasons Why. A controversial ebook with 11 endings!

#99RW on Twitter

I am honoured to be hosting one of the 11 endings to Caroline Smailes' new ebook, 99 Reasons Why.

It's a book with a difference.  It is only being published as an ebook and it comes with 9 different endings which readers can navigate using multiple choice questions on their Kindle (buy here), or via a spinning story wheel on their iPad or iPhone (buy here).

Another ending will be handwritten by Caroline and auctioned for charity.

But the eleventh ending will only be available on-line.  It will be shared by a selection of bloggers, of which I am very pleased to be one.
And so, without further ado, please find the eleventh ending.  Please note that it contains strong language.

99: the reason why I was only worth ninety-nine quid
It’s been six days since the little girl in the pink coat went missing and me Uncle Phil’s in me bedroom.
We’ve been watching the little girl in the pink coat’s mam on the news. She was appealing to the public for witnesses.
‘Didn’t realise she had a mam,’ I says, looking at me telly.
‘Everyone’s got a mam, pet,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
‘She sold her story to The Sun,’ I says, looking at me telly.
‘Got a few quid,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
I nod.
‘She wanted nowt to do with that bairn before all this,’ me Uncle Phil says, looking at me telly.
‘Do you know where she is?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.
‘Belle?’ me Uncle Phil asks me.
I nod.
‘She’s safe,’ me Uncle Phil says to me. ‘Your mam’s keeping an eye on her.’
‘Can I be her mam?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.
‘No, pet, you’re a filthy whore,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
I nod.
‘Can you make Andy Douglas come back, Uncle Phil?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.
Me Uncle Phil shakes his head.
‘I love him,’ I tell me Uncle Phil.
‘Andy Douglas is your brother, pet. You didn’t seriously think Princess Di was your mam, did you?’ me Uncle Phil asks me.
I nod.
‘You’re a cradle snatcher just like your mam,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
I nod.
‘Your mam miscarried when she found out I’d been banging Betty Douglas. Betty was expecting you,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
I don’t speak.
‘When you was born, your mam went mad and I ended up buying you from Betty Douglas for ninety-nine quid,’ me Uncle Phil says.
‘Ninety-nine quid?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.
‘I paid a hundred but got a quid change for some chips for your mam and dad’s tea,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
‘You bought me?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.
I’m a little bit sick in me mouth.
‘It was the right thing to do,’ me Uncle Phil says to me. ‘I got Betty Douglas pregnant straight away with Andy.’
‘I’m pregnant,’ I says to me Uncle Phil. ‘I’m pregnant with me brother’s baby,’ I says, and then I throws up on me purple carpet.
‘You’re a filthy whore,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
‘What am I going to do?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.
‘You’re going to have the baby,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
‘Have me brother’s baby?’ I asks me Uncle Phil.
‘Then I’m giving it to Betty Douglas to bring up,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
‘You what?’ I says to me Uncle Phil.
‘It’s the right thing to do,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
‘I can’t—’ I says to me Uncle Phil.
‘It’s either that or I’ll make you disappear,’ me Uncle Phil says to me.
I don’t speak.
I’m thinking, they’re all a bunch of nutters.


What's interesting about publishing one of eleven different endings, is how intrigued it made me about the rest of the book and what the journey towards this scene looked like.  To find out, buy it now!

You can find out more about 99 Reasons Why at #99RW on Twitter, or on Caroline Smailes' website here, along with more information on her other projects, news and events. 
I am fortunate enough to be involved in Caroline's other in-progress project; a collection of flash fiction, also for charity, and am very excited about that. Click here to read On the Ledge and for more information.

Friday, 16 March 2012

A Mother's Day Meme

I have never been tagged in a Meme before.  In fact, three months ago that sentance would have made no sense to me at all.  For all those readers out there that don't know, an internet 'meme', according to Wilipedia, is apparently "an idea that is propagated through the World Wide Web."

In this case, the lovely mums at the More Than a Mum blog initiated a meme in celebration of Mother's Day.  I am lucky enough to have been tagged by Mother.Wife.Me to take part.

The idea is to answer a set of questions on motherhood; so here it goes!  I have tried to be completely honest.

Describe motherhood in three words

Difficult.  Rewarding.  Incredible.

Does your experience differ from your mother's?  How?

Yes, definitely.  My mother had me when she was 23 years old, almost 10 years younger than when I had my first child.  I think she probably had more energy as a result.

And she had me in the 70s, when a lot of baby advice was very different.  For example; feeding was strictly four-hourly back then.  These days the advice varies considerably between health professional, with advice flexing depending on the age of the baby, their weight and health.  When initially breastfeeding some say two-hourly is appropriate.  The raft of advice from family, friends, the internet and books supplementing and often conflicting with that of your particular health visitor, makes it a confusing time to raise your first child.  My impression is that it was a lot more straight forward in the 70s.  Sometimes too many cooks spoil the broth.

What's the hardest thing about being a mum?

The responsibility.  It's no longer just about keeping yourself safe from harm.  Now it's about protecting another being.  Not only protecting them, but also bringing them up correctly.  Trying to ensure they grow up to be responsible, curteous, unselfish, polite, happy, energetic and able to look after themselves.

If I think about it too much, the responsibility freaks me out!

What's the best thing?

Seeing their joy.  When they smile at me it's the best feeling in the world.

How has it changed you?

Immeasurably for the better.  I now hold reserves of patience I never envisaged being possible.  I am less selfish, more relaxed, more tired (but in a nice way) and I finally understand what I put my parents through!  You don't know until you have your own children.

What do you hope for your children?

That they will by happy and contended.  I hope we manage to bring them up as well as my parents did me.

What do you fear for them?

I fear that human's aren't learning from our mistakes.  I fear that human's need to constantly use violence to solve problems will have catastrophic consequences.  And I fear that the planet may well be fed up with us sooner than we'd like to think.

More locally; I fear that I won't be able to teach them some lessons.  That I'll have to sit back and watch them learn for themselves, sometimes painfully.  And I hope I can be there for them whenever they need me.

What makes it all worthwhile?

 Their smiles. And their hugs; when they hold me so tight and I don't want them to let go!

And there we go!

And so, I understand I now have to tag five others, who tag five more in turn and so on.  Don't forget to come back to this page and let me know how you've got on!

I tag:

Emma Lee-Potter at A House with no Name
Jo at Slummy Single Mummy
Laura at Chez Mummy
Jules at Mummy Needs Coffee
Mum of all Trades

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Eat your way to healthy hair!

It's often been said that the appearance of your hair has the most impact on your overall look.  You've only got to watch a couple of make-over shows to notice that no amount of make-up will compensate for a poor, unhealthy looking barnet.

So what can you do to maximise your chances of having healthy, glossy hair?

Look to your diet and eat your way to healthy hair.  All you mummies out there will know that the body is very good at getting nutrients to the important places first.  When you are pregnant, and so nauseous you can barely eat, it's easy to worry about the baby getting the nutrients it needs.  But it's likely they are getting plenty - it's just you, your poor body, that is usually second in the pecking order.  Your body is pretty clever at prioritising!

Similarly the nutrients you take in will go first and foremost to the vital organs.  And unfortunately for our appearance, our hair is a long way down the list.  So if your diet is lacking, your hair will certainly be loosing out.  It'll be dry and slow to grow, just like a plant starved of water and food.

If you are eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables - come on, you know the score - then you are giving your hair the best chance to grow at it's maximum speed, and be strong and healthy.

And what if you are doing all that, and still have problems?  Maybe these tips will help.

Dull hair?

If your hair is really dull it is most likely to be caused by chemical processes like bleaching.  The dullness is a result of the cuticle on the hair lifting, instead of lying flat.  However, if you haven't processed your hair, you may have a lack of protein in your diet.  Try gradually increasing the level of protein you eat (lean meat, poultry, fish, seeds, pulses, nuts and dairy products).  Don't do it too fast though.  Hair only grows at around 14mm a month (when supplied with appropriate nutrients) and so any changes due to dietary changes won't be noticeable for a good three months.

Thinning hair?
This can be caused by an iron deficiency.  Iron is found primarily in red meat and green vegetables and you need roughly 14mg per day.

Also, be aware of any supplements you are taking.  If they cumulatively result in a high Vitamin A intake, this can also cause thinning hair and too much Vitamin A is toxic.  Try and achieve the nutrients required through an increase in fruit and vegetable intake rather than via supplements if you can.

Suddenly oily hair?
If you have always had slightly oily hair, then it is genetically determined and you can't do much about it.  But if it suddenly turns oily check your spice intake.  Foods that make you sweat, like hot curries, similarly cause increases in oil levels on your scalp - which sweats too!

Dry hair?
Is your hair normally flyaway and frizzy?  This is often due to an essential fatty acid deficiency.  Eating nuts, seeds and, of course, oily fish, will help.  These foods will also provide the proteins needed to keep the hair glossy. 

I hope those tips help.  But don't forget the all important cut.  A good cut can camouflage a multitude of sins!

For 5 quick beauty tips for busy women click here.
For our quick 'jargon' buster - what ingredients are in my skin care products and what do they do? click here.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

How to use "Lists" on Twitter & how to get organised with Tweetdeck

I have recently discovered the joys of Twitter (click above to follow me on Twitter @ymummyreally) and have been using it to keep up to date with the news, as well as to share the fun things I find on-line.  I absolutely love it, but in the beginning I had misgivings.  Read on to find out why and to learn how to use 'lists' and 'Tweetdeck'.

One of the main frustrations I initially had with Twitter was that, once you start following people or companies and the numbers you are following reach fifty and upwards, you end up with a stream of unconnected 'tweets' that you need to check hourly to keep up to date with and which make no sense intermingled as they are.  It's like trying to listen to a serious news report with someone telling you about their night out in one ear, and someone else trying to sell you their must-have product in the other.

I also struggled to understand hash tags to start with.  But these are just ways to 'tag' something to enable it to be found easily by someone searching for that topic.  Or to enable folk to chat about a subject even with people they aren't necessarily following.  For example, if I tweet about parenting, then I add #parenting to the end of the tweet to make it searchable.

But two things have made Twitter really come into its own for me.  Two things that mean I am now an utter Twitter convert.

I love lists.  And in Twitter 'lists' are my way of keeping control.  So how do you use 'lists' on Twitter?

It is a way of categorising your interests.  So say I follow BBC News.  I add that to my 'news' list.  I also follow Ashley Banjo.  He is added to my 'celebs' list.  And my fellow bloggers go in my 'mummy bloggers' list.

To set up a list, go to your Twitter homepage, then click on "Following" to bring up the list of the people you follow.  You can then select the "Lists" option on the left (under Tweets, Following, Followers and Favourites)  This then gives you the opportunity on the right hand side to create some lists.  It's like creating folders.

Create your lists, calling them names appropriate to you.  You can make your lists private or public, it's up to you.  Then click on "Following" again, to bring up the people you follow.  You can then select the little drop down arrow next to each person, select 'add to list' and choose a list to add them into. 

It took me a fair while to go down my list of folk that I am following, and to pop them all into a list.  But once done, it's just a matter of doing it each time you follow someone new.

Now you can be clever.  If you click on "Lists" again, and select one you are interested in, you get the tweets from only those people within that particular list.  It means you can focus on news, or gossip, or shopping, as you wish.  And, if at anytime you want it all again, go back to your homepage to see your full timeline.

I then discovered the joys of Tweetdeck.  This is a piece of software that you can download to your PC for free.  It shows all your Twitter information as you'd expect, only in a slightly different layout.  It is set up in columns, with your usual time line, and mentions.  But you can then add as many 'columns' as you like.  And the columns can be based on anything.  So I have a column to show one particular 'list', a column to show a particular hashtag subject I am following and I add or remove columns as particular topics or lists interest me.
It means I can have a usual home column as well as my mentions, a hash tag based column and a particular list column.  I don't even need to have my 'mentions' as a column if I don't want to, as a little window pops up each time you are 'mentioned', even if you are working on something else, with Tweetdeck open underneath your open windows; just like having email's pop up as they arrive.

So if you haven't tried Twitter yet, or if you have and are finding it a little cumbersome; get organised with Lists and Tweetdeck!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Baking with children: Banana & Chocolate Chip Muffins: Yummy!

Banana and Chocolate Chip Muffins

I don't usually do cooking per se, but I will have a bash at baking every once in a while, and I thought I'd share this brilliantly quick and easy recipe.  The original recipe is courtesy of the lovely Nigella Lawson and can be found in her book "Nigella Express".

The reason I like it is threefold.  Firstly it uses up those overripe bananas that I forever find myself with at the end of the week.  Too ripe to be eaten as they are, but not so squidgy that I feel I can discard them.  Besides, I don't like waste.

Secondly, because it is a recipe that the girls can help with really easily.  There are plenty of safe jobs for them to do; mashing, stirring, measuring and of course, cleaning the spoon!

Finally, I am not a good cook.  But I can manage this!

Here we go:

You will need the following:

3 very ripe bananas
125 ml vegetable oil
2 eggs
250g plain flour
100g caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
150-200g chocolate morsels (or butterscotch morsels if you prefer)

You need a minimum of three bowls (for bananas, wet and dry ingredients respectively.)  But I use 2 bowls and a measuring jug for ease.

Adults only
1.  Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius / gas mark 6 (or for fan oven's 190 degrees Celsius)

Then get them involved as much, or as little as you like.

Mashed bananas
2. Line a 12-bun muffin tin with muffin papers (an easy job for children)

3.  Mash your bananas in a bowl (your little helpers can do in their own bowl with a fork)

4.  Pour the oil into a measuring jug

5.  Beat in the eggs.  If I'm doing this myself I add them straight into the measuring jug with the oil.  But if the children are helping they get a bowl each, they crack an egg into their own bowl and whisk it for me, then pour their own beaten egg into the jug, and mix it in (taking turns).

Click here to find out how to check if your eggs are stale or not, before you crack them open.  And if you are still unsure, crack them into a separate bowl first to check them, before adding to the oil.
Chocolate ready to mix in

Now for the dry ingredients
6. Put the flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder all together in a large bowl.  (I let the children measure out the bicarbonate of soda and the baking powder (appropriate size spoons each).

And time to mix it all together as follows:-

7.  Pour the oil/egg mixture into the bowl containing the dry ingredients and mix in.  It will be quite dry still - don't worry, it's supposed to be.

8.  Add the mashed banana to the mixture and mix well.  The bananas add the required moisture and create a lovely cake mixture texture.

9.  Mix in the chocolate morsels.  Because they come in 100g packets in our supermarket, we use two packets, after taking some out of one packet as 'chef's treats'!

10.  Divide the mixture equally between the muffin cases.  I use an ice cream scoop and a plastic spatula.  Each one takes roughly 2 scoops full.
Ready for the oven: 20 minutes

11.  Bake for 20 minutes.

Enjoy whilst still warm, for melted chocolate goodness.  Or, if saving until later, microwave for 15 seconds (850w) to recreate the melted goodness after they've cooled.

I hope you and your children enjoy these as much as I do.

How to tell if your egg is stale before cracking it open!

The Egg Freshness Test

We love hard (or soft) boiled eggs in our house.  I hard boil and slice them for salads or sandwiches.  My youngest loves 'dippy egg' with toast soldiers.

But I found it hard to know whether the eggs were fresh enough before I boiled them.  Until I discovered this little tip:

Fill a bowl, or measuring jug with water.
Place the egg carefully in the bowl, on it's side.
Watch carefully.
If the egg tips up onto one end, it is slightly less fresh.  It is good for baking or hard boiling still. The quicker and higher it tilts up the more stale it is.  This is because the air sac inside the egg is very small when it's fresh, but increases in size and eventually very stale eggs would float.

If it sits happily on it's side then you have a lovely egg for lunch.

UTube clip courtesy of

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Three year old left screaming when customer service goes wrong

My youngest ended up screaming after a worker on the trains nearly rammed us with her trolley.

After a hectic two days braving the train journey to Manchester with five children between two mums, being asked for ID (despite my age), playing super mum to ensure the youngest didn't miss any of the fabulous Peppa Pig Live show despite needing the toilet and playing 'avoid the laptop' on the train home to ensure the children weren't exposed to any inappropriate content from fellow travellers; we were on the last stretch.  Home was in sight.  Our station was only ten minutes away.

But of course, the excitement hadn't finished.  Just as I am beginning to think about gathering our 'stuff' together, the food trolley enters the carriage.  My youngest was still sat on my knee, angled outwards to avoid the screen of the laptop of our fellow traveller, and her feet were obviously in the aisle. She then started to get down off my knee (she wanted to go around the table to her sister) just as the lady pulling the trolley entered our carriage.

Trolleys with tardis-like proportions, managing to hold any snack you can imagine.  They are only just slim enough to fit down the corridor between the seats.

The lady responsible for the trolley was pulling it behind her incredibly quickly. 

The lady didn't slow, she didn't appear to be taking any notice of anything other than pulling that trolley down the carriage as fast as possible.  I don't even think she saw my daughter, who isn't quite one metre tall yet, stood in the middle of the aisle in front of her. 

I hoisted my daughter back up onto my knee as fast as I could and swung her legs in under the table.  The lady and her trolley were bearing down on us and my foot was still angled outwards into the aisle.  I had to quickly pull it inwards, not realising that the motion of moving my leg in also raised my knee, squeezing my daughters legs between my knee and the table top.

The lady and the trolley sped past, oblivious.  My daughter on the other hand; my daughter who is a strong, brave girl and who rarely cries even if she's fallen off her bike, opened her mouth wide and howled!

I spent the next five minutes trying to console her.  Just as she calmed down, we were pulling into our stop and my friend and I had to move fast to gather her and the other four children (all five years old or less) together, not forgetting any belongings, to get off the train.

There was no time to find the trolley lady.  No chance to complain.  No chance to say; hey!  Look where you are going!

I went to the station manager's office and tried to raise a complaint there.  Funnily enough it wasn't theirs to deal with.  I received the usual answer "it's not our responsibility.  The catering is subcontracted.  But if you take a leaflet you could write in."

I was livid.  Hiring subcontractors for part of your service does not absolve you of responsibility.  Telling me to 'write in' is not what customer service is all about.

Charging down a busy aisle without giving warning, or watching out for potential obstructions is NOT good customer service.

And of course, I still blamed myself.  Because it's my responsibility to look out for her.

What do you think?  Is it too much to ask for people to look where they are going - particularly when there are young children around?

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