Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Fresh air and lots of fun!

Strawberry fields forever.....

Pick your own strawberries
A five minute drive and we were here.  Why I haven't done this before with my girls I don't know.  I am clearly an idiot.  Because the hour I spent with them, up on the strawberry field 'picking our own' at the local farm this week was the most enjoyable and relaxing hour we've had for a long time.

Not only did we all absolutely love it the fresh air, the views and the freedom; that pink spot in the middle of the photo is my girls by the way; we also came home with 1.5kg of freshly picked gorgeously sweet tasting strawberries for only £4.50, which included the price of the basket that you can bring back and re-use next time.

Try it.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Advice for new mums: What do you really need to take out with you?

As a first time mum I prepared myself to take my baby out for her first walk.  It was May 2006 and summer had started early.  In fact it's the last summer I can remember when it was really, really hot for a prolonged period of time.

I had my travel system set up ready and I was packing a bag.

The intention was to walk around the block.  It would take me, in my post baby, suffering from piles (sorry), slightly sore state, probably about 20-30 minutes to take a slow stroll.  Without baby it would have been 10 minutes.

What did I think I was going to need!?  

The changing bag was pre-packed with 10 nappies, a full pack of wipes, at pack of 100 nappy bags, anti-bacterial hand gel, nappy rash cream, 2 spare baby sleep suits, rattles, a handful of bibs, two cartons of ready made milk, a sterilised bottle, scissors and a bottle of water for me.  Even in my post-baby state, surely I should of realised this was overkill for a short walk.

But what do you really need to pack in that baby bag?  What's essential, and what can you just leave at home?  If it's your first time, you just don't know, so you prepare for everything, terrified you'll need to one thing you forgot and somehow permanently damage your child as a result of your error.

In the first few weeks of a babies life their needs, though seemingly complex and frustrating difficult to decipher, are reasonably few and simple.  They need food and drink which comes handily in one package: milk.  They need winding, as they are rubbish at drinking that milk without sucking most of the air out of the atmosphere at the same time.  They need changing, for obviously reasons; and they need sleep.

Ideally they need all that whilst being comfortable, which means not too hot or too cold.

So; for the benefit of first time mums everywhere, here are the definitive lists for long or short walks whatever the season, along with back-up plans, should you need them and special notes on feeding on the go!

The basic list - the store cupboard of baby packing.

Whenever you leave the house with a small baby in tow you will need the following:

  • Two nappies
  • A pack of 30 baby wipes
  • 5 nappy sacks (you might need them for more than just the nappies)
  • 1 spare baby outfit appropriate to the weather (in case of nappy or milk explosions)
  • Anti-bacterial hand gel for you
  • A bottle of water for you
  • If you are breastfeeding, then a couple of spare breast pads.
  • An appropriate travel system (buggy, pram, sling, baby carrier)
  • A single rattle/toy (optional for newborns)
  • The baby

Packing for a short walk in the summer

In addition to the list above you'll need the following:

  • Shade from the sun for your baby.  When I was growing up, and for my first child, this came in the form of a clip-on umbrella.  Highly annoying devices that older babies can grab, once they can sit up, and permanently move out of position.  Thankfully technology has caught up with this problem and the shade now more commonly comes in the form of a buggy custom made UVA cover, like this Phil & Ted UV Sunny Days Mesh Cover.   
  • Or sunshades like this one. 
  • Whilst you can pick these up for £12, maybe less on ebay, you may wish to save your pennies and use a cotton sheet draped over the pram or buggy top (not on their face, else they won't be able to breathe).  They can be clipped on with bulldog clips or pegs, or simply tie a knot in the corner of the sheet and use ribbon tied around the sheet next to the knot to secure to the buggy.
  • Your own sunhat.  I'm assuming you are wearing suncream or are covered up.  Don't forget about your own welfare too!
  •  There is really no need for bottles or feeding gear if you are taking your walk shortly after a feed has finished.  See 'feeding on the go' below if you really can't bare to go without something.  

A short walk in the winter

Add the following to the basic list:
  • A spare blanket
  • Warm sleep suit/snowsuit, gloves and hat for baby
  • Warm enough clothes for you including gloves, hat and scarf.
  • Rain cover for the travel system/buggy/pram.
  • A mac for you.  Umbrellas for you are NO USE.  You will always need your two hands to steer the buggy.  Whilst one handed buggy pushing is possible for short periods, and more possible with one handled buggies than two handled ones, it's not sustainable - believe me!  So a rain mac it is.  With hood!

A long walk in the summer

You may need to incorporate a feed into a longer walk, which is fine as long as you plan for it.  Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding this simply entails checking that there are appropriate stopping points on your planned route to stop if required; park benches, coffee shops etc.

Add the following to the basic list:
  • 2 muslin squares (either for modesty whist breastfeeding, for clean up, or instead of bibs)
  • An extra 2 breast pads if you are breastfeeding
  • A sterilised bottle, either made up in advance or to make up on the go.  See notes below for options.
  • Milk (ready made or powered)



A long walk in the winter

Everything from the basic list, plus the items on the short walk in the winter list, plus the items on the long walk in the summer list.  Basically everything apart from the sunshade and sunhats!



Notes on feeding on the go


Do you need feeding kit on a short walk?

Even if, in the worst case, baby decides they didn't have enough milk before you set off on your walk, or the walk gets rid of a last bit of wind resulting in them wanting more, you are still only minutes away from home.

If you are breastfeeding and you can't stand the 'feed me' cry, you may be able to walk along whilst feeding them in a sling, or even just in your arms.  You could stop at a convenient point.  But if there really isn't anywhere to feed your baby, then it's just a matter of damage control until you can get back home, and that probably means taking them out of the pram and distracting them whilst you walk, or, simply walking as fast as you can.

Your baby may be loud for a few short minutes, and you may find that difficult if you are a first time mum, but don't worry.  Waiting 10 minutes for some milk will not kill them.  In fact, sooner or later they will learn to wait for things for short periods, especially if they also have a demanding sibling!  They will learn to trust that the milk will be along shortly and will more happily wait for you, but in the meantime, try not to worry if they have to cry for a short time.  You can't always magic up a solution immediately!


Breastfeeding on the go

If you are breastfeeding you have 'logistically' an easier time of it, in that there isn't a long list of things to remember to take with you just to ensure your baby has food.  Of course you do, potentially have slightly different logistical problems.
  1. You, of course, need to be wearing a good weaning bra.   Don't find yourself having to strip off, like I did, realising I was wearing a normal bra and couldn't actually access the all important part!
  2. Invest in a couple of good weaning tops.  Wrap over, tie at the side, tops work well, as do buttoned shirts and blouses, as you can drape them over your other breast and your tummy for much needed modesty.  A muslin square can help with that too, though they do have a tendency to fall off your shoulder at inappropriate moments.
  3. Unfortunately you may still find yourself subject to the glares from disapproving folk.  Please please ignore it.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeding your baby in public.  Be considerate to others by all means, by covering up where possible, but do not feel that you need to hide away.  In the UK any shop owner that asks a breastfeeding mum to leave tends to find themselves subject to a lot of negative press and a trip to court.  If you are in any way unsure you can find lists of breastfeeding friendly establishments on-line for your area.
You may find these posts on Maternity fashion useful: Making do and saving money and The Do's, Don'ts and where to find it.

Bottle feeding on the go

If you are bottle feeding and baby is happy with room temperature milk you could do one of the following:- 
  1. If a feed is likely to be due within the next half hour, then pack a made up bottle of milk, powdered or otherwise.  Make it up before you set off and ensure that you will have used it before the hour is up. 
  2. If you are uncertain when the feed may be due, the easiest plan is to pack a sterilised, but empty, bottle along with a small carton of ready made milk and a small pair of clean scissors to open the milk carton with.  No real need to warm these up when you need them, it's a matter of preference.  I simply opened the carton and poured it into the bottle.  
 If you have a baby that is used to warmed milk you have a few options.
  1. When I had my first you could make up your milk bottles for the coming day and keep them in the fridge.  I'd then take a bottle out in a thermal bottle holder and also take out a small plastic bowl big enough to sit the bottle in, along with a small thermos of boiled water.  I'd then pour the hot water into the bowl and sit the bottle of milk in the hot water to warm it through.  Many cafes and coffee shops will provide hot water and a bowl, so if you know you are going somewhere that does - don't pack them.
  2. These days I am led to understand they they don't encourage you to make them up in advance.  So if this is the case you could take your ready made up unopened carton along with the sterilised bottle and the hot Thermos. Milk into bottle, bottle into hot water, milk nice and warm.  
  3. If you are using the powdered milk, then you'll take a small pot with the correct measure of powdered milk in it along with your empty bottle and your hot thermos.  Add the hot water to the bottle, add the powdered milk, lid on and shake well.  
  4. Alternatively with powdered milk carry the hot water in the bottle already, keeping it warm in the thermal bottle holder, ready to add the powdered milk.  Though if you do this final version don't leave it very long before you use the water.  You need it really warm when you add the powdered milk.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Before and After: Make-up in 5 minutes with Clarins

How to do your make-up in 5 minutes with Clarins.

I am trying to get over my fear of having my photograph taken.  It tends to reveal too many flaws for my liking, so I have photo album after photo album at home, we are up to number 46 now, with very few photographs of me in them.

So I decided to face my fear directly.

This is me before and after my make-up session this morning.

I have realised that the first is possibly the most embarrassing and poor photograph of me ever.  So if I can publish this post I will have faced up to my fears! I am such a wimp.  I get pretty red cheeks and a red nose now in the morning.  I am reliably informed it's because I'm 'getting on a bit'.  Nice.

Here's me less than 5 minutes later having popped on a little bit of Clarins Advanced Extra-Firming Day Lotion (SPF 15) rubbed on as if I was rubbing on suncream - with not much grace or sophistication; some Clarins SKin Illusion Foundation (SPF10), rubbed in with fingers like the moisturiser, there's no messing with brushes in this house; some Clarins Concealer, a quick dab with the brush then rubbed in gently with fingers again; a tiny tiny bit of eye shadow near the top lashes, mostly done with my finger; a quick brush of mascara, literally two upward strokes and a final splash of lip gloss, Clarins lip gloss of course, received from a good friend for Christmas.
It makes a subtle difference, and it took me next to no time at all. It has to be easy, as I'm clueless at this beauty thing really!

Many may say I didn't slap on enough!  But I never want make-up to look like make-up.  I prefer it if no-one can even tell I'm wearing make-up as long as they also think I look surprisingly healthy despite an age increasing approaching 40.
It's all Clarins, and I save up specifically for that, purely because it's the lovely lady at our local Boots Clarins counter that introduced me to make-up for the first time 4 years ago.  I don't trust any other products!

And don't look too closely at the moustache will you!  I'm dealing with that - honest!  Check out my post on my venture into Electrolysis here.

Oh, and I should say, that this is NOT a sponsored post.  I haven't received any freebies or benefits from Clarins whatsoever for writing this post.  I just love the products.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Olympic Meme

I think there's a fairly big event starting this Friday.  I can't be sure, but I'm almost certain I've seen the odd couple of adverts around.  A sporting event I think.  Could be wrong.

I'm not the sporting sort that will be glued to the television for the next two weeks taking in every heat of every event.  Not least because that would appear somewhat ironic.  I will enjoy watching some of it to enjoy the spectacle, to cheer on my country and because I won't have much choice in the matter if lovely husband has any say in the matter.  But I will spend most of the time doing what I usually do, living life, tackling the ironing pile, carving out two minutes to wash my hair and, of course, writing.

I have been tagged by Trouble Doubled to take part in the Olympic Meme.  My answers may or may not be similar to yours.  Either way; enjoy.  

1) If every day tasks were Olympic events what would you get a gold medal in?

Getting two wriggling girls up, dressed, fed, watered, teeth brushed, hair up, uniform on (and clean) to school, on time, with reading book read and dinner money cheque, permission slip for trip, spelling book, homework, show and tell submission, sunhat/raincoat, water bottle and PE kit all in appropriate bags, day after day after day after day.  That definitely deserves a medal.

2)   As a child (or now even) did you excel at a particular sport and if so which one?

Unlike Trouble Doubled I did not excel at sport at school.  I started dance classes at the age of 5 years old and was, and still am, a bit of a wimp when it comes to team sports that involve throwing and catching balls.

In fact I distinctly remember, in a tennis lesson on holiday in my twenties, being taught to actually watch the ball and realising with something of an epiphany, that I'd been closing my eyes at the crucial catch/hit moment for years.  Having children at school throw balls at my face that I couldn't catch didn't endear me to sport of any kind.  Of course, when I'd learnt to catch the ball and got over myself it was far far too late, and no one was going to throw the ball in my direction anyway, making it all fairly dull. 

I chose instead to became a very good daisy chain maker out on the Rounders field.

However, Trampolining was a 'sport' at my secondary school on the basis that you could choose it for PE options in the fifth year, and so I claim that it is indeed Trampolining that I excelled at.  I say excel; what I actually mean is 'didn't suck'.

 3)   Michael Phelps (swimmer) or Michael Johnson (runner) – which sport appeals to you more?

Probably running.  I've never been a strong swimmer and I have an unnatural urge to breathe in whilst under the water, making it difficult to swim properly without trying to drink the pool in the process.  Additionally it was swimming that aggravated a condition I had last year called Bornholms disease (Devils Grip) so I don't associate very well with it as a sport. 

I could run; but not for long.  I suspect 100m would have to be my sport simply because I couldn't keep going much longer than that. 

To get any kind of speed up I'd have to request they placed a double chocolate gateaux at the finish line!

4)   How fast can you get out of bed and ready to go out the door if miss the alarm and sleep in?

Depends if I need to get the girls ready too.  If we've all slept in, then I can do it in about 40 minutes including my shower, their teeth and a minimum fruit-based transportable eat-in-the-car breakfast, maybe less if I've prepped the night before.  In reality I need about 90 minutes from 6.45am until 8.15am, especially for impromptu turns of events.

5)   What fantasy sport would you like to see made into an Olympic event?

How about Smurf Vegetable Harvesting.  I am getting pretty good at that.  Along with catching a fish with a red box, hitting a post with a hammer precisely on cue, and mixing potions.  The IPad has a lot to answer for.

6)   Claim to fame time – Have you ever met an Olympian and who was it?

Errrr..... No.  Closest I've got was buying my car from the same dealership that Jessica Ennis bought hers (apparently)

7)   What event in past Olympics can you remember most vividly?

Is it really bad that I can't particularly remember any?  I remember the names; Seb Coe, Ben Johnson, Flo Jo, Eddie the Eagle....but couldn't tell you what year's they competed, nor exactly where they came.  I blame this on a severe lack of news watching as a child.  I used to go straight from school to dance class, probably 4 times a week, until 9pm, and any other time was taken up doing homework or watching Top of the Pops.  I wasn't particularly interested in it.  (shock horror!)

8) Tuning in at home? Not for me or tickets clamped ready in sweaty palms?

To be honest I'm still not a major fan of athletics or sport in general.  I enjoy it, but I don't stop my life to fit it in.  I'm a little uncomfortable with the cost of the Olympics bearing in mind the financial problems the country, finds itself in, but I'm hoping all the advantages will outweigh the costs.

I'm looking forward to the 100m men's final, purely because that it sporting prowess at it's most basic.  It's the one everyone can attempt from the moment you learn to run.  Who can run the fastest.  Pure and simple.

Other than that I will probably see whatever the rest of my family choose to watch on TV, and if they didn't, I probably wouldn't bother.  And before you all start mentioning patriotism, I'll ask this - did you watch the World Ballroom Championships, or the World Poker Championships?  Or the Ice Hockey? Or the Cricket?  Or the Rugby World Cup?  I support my country, absolutely.  I just have a lot of things to fill my time, and spending 2 weeks in front of the television won't form part of it.

9)   Who do you think most deserves a gold medal (any walk of life not just Olympians)

My husband.  He works so hard and is taken for granted by all his peers and employees and then he comes home and smiles and helps with the washing and the cooking, and reads bedtime stories for the children. 

I love him.  He's my gold medallist.

Feel free to take part in the Olympic discussion by adding your thoughts via the Comments option below, or answering the questions on your blog should you have one.  Since we are so close to the big event I won't tag anyone directly for fear of putting them under too much of a time pressure! 

Monday, 23 July 2012

Will electrolysis stop me being a scummy mummy?

Avoiding being a scummy mummy would, for me, be a full time job.  My scummy confessions include;
  1. Leaving hairs on my toes to grow too long before noticing I am turning into a hobbit and dealing with them with the nail scissors.
  2. Not bothering to brush my hair, but throwing it into a scrunchie for the school run.
  3. Only bothering with actual make-up on an official 'work' day or if I'm going out on a rare night out.
  4. Leaving my roots far far too long before recolouring and thus generally looking a little like Cruella D'Evil.
  5. Leaving the washing up in the hope that a washing up fairy will come and do it.  This is despite having a dishwasher as it appears that most of the children's crockery and cutlery we own is annoyingly NOT dishwasher safe.  (Are you listening, designers?  What were you thinking?!)
But my biggest confession and the one I get most embarrassed by; so I'm not sure how telling you will help, but hey, I've started so I'll finish; is that I have more and more hairs growing out of my chin and upper lip and instead of actually getting them properly waxed off I've just happily been snipping them with scissors for years.

To start with it was, obviously, one rogue hair.  I don't like plucking, so the scissors came out and I thought no more about it.  Over the years they appear to have been slowly breeding and now there is a veritable forest threatening.

Regular readers will know that it's only within the last year that I've started getting my eyebrows shaped having never touched them in any way previously, so you can imagine that I'm fairly clueless about this kind of thing.

Three weeks ago I lay on the beautician's table whilst she was shaping those bushy eyebrows and casually asked the question;

"So, do you think I need to do anything about my upper lip then?"

There wasn't even a pause.  No consideration took place.  There was only a gap tiny enough for her to breathe in in.


So there you go.  It's official.  I have a moustache and beard that is obviously obvious to all who see me.  My first thought was; why have none of my so-called friends mentioned this atrocity that I've been cultivating.  My second was: how do I get rid of it?

"So should I arrange a wax then?" I ask

There was a pause this time.  "I'm not sure that's the best option to be honest" she said "Have you considered electrolysis?"

E-what-ysis I thought to myself.  "Er no.  I don't know too much about it.  Could you remind me please?" I said.  I'm paraphrasing.  I probably really said "Huh? No? What?"

Only 2 weeks later and I've had 2 treatments. It's slightly painful, but no more than waxing and I find it pretty manageable.  I've not had a bad reaction (which is a risk apparently) and the hairs are slowly disappearing.

So what's electrolysis?

First port of call for research is probably the British Institute and Association of Electrolysis (BIAE) who confirm that it's the only medically approved form of permanent hair removal.

In layman's terms the beautician pops a small needle into the hair follicle (you hardly feel that), then heats the hair root (you feel it getting hot - very weird sensation), then teases out the hair. (It comes out really easily).

You need regular treatments to start with to ensure that, when the hair tries to regrow, the electrolysis catches it at the correct stage to permanently halt hair growth.
So everywhere then?

Apparently the hardest part for many woman is resisting the temptation to pluck stray hairs in the meantime.  Luckily my scissor happy approach is fine and won't detrimentally impact on the course of treatment.

I'm having it done weekly to start with; it only takes 10 minutes; which will then go to fortnightly, and eventually stop once all the hairs are killed off.  It's costing £12 per treatment at the moment.

I've worked out that regular indefinite waxing would end up being far more expensive, so I'm happy with the price.

I haven't yet plucked up the courage to actually look at any of the equipment she uses though.  I think if I saw the needle it would put me off.  So I go in there, lie down quick and close my eyes!  I am such a wimp!

Potential electrolysis side effects?

Temporary side effects can include redness, soreness and dryness.  There can also be an increased risk of ingrowing hairs.  But as long as these side effects are treated correctly, so long term damage should occur.

Natural Aloe products can be applied to moisturise the area.

Advice to patients include staying out of direct sun for a few days after treatment, and avoiding make-up or other products on the treated area for a couple of days.  So if you can't live without the foundation for a couple of days you may need to seriously consider how to manage that aspect.

Because the hair is treated one at a time, it's not the best solution for large areas; like the back or arms for example.

Always discuss your needs with an appropriately qualified professional.

You can find your nearest BIAE approved beautician here.

This post is inspired by the Yummy Scummy Mummy Meme started by Sonja at The Ramblings of a former Rock N Roll Mum.  I have Sarah, at Mum of Three World to thank for tagging me.  Sorry it took so long ladies and I hope you don't mind the multi-tasking nature of the post!  After all, multi-tasking is a standard state of being for all mums...

Saturday, 21 July 2012

How to embarrass your husband..

Yesterday a friend and I were sat on the bench along one wall at the gymnasium watching our two 6 year olds in their gymnastics lesson.  We were debating what to do over the weekend.  All experts were predicting that the sun would finally come out.  After weeks and weeks and weeks of rain (I'm not exaggerating even a little bit), we would finally have a warm weekend.

My friend had been debating booking a last minute mini break for her, her hubby and their three girls.  I suggested that, since it was going to be warm, why not stay and home and enjoy the garden; saving a few pennies in the process.  And so it was that, inevitably, then the word "BBQ" was uttered.

"I'd stock up tonight if you are thinking of doing that" I said wisely  (being the wise one that I am). If the sun really does come out tomorrow (ye of little faith) then there'll be a run on burgers and baps."

My university experience tells me that a good portion of my readers won't know what a bap is, since this is one of those items that seems to have a different name depending on which town you are in.  So; I will translate; burger bun, cob, bread cake, butty.... feel free to write in if you know of further alternatives.

"It's a good idea" she said.  To cut out the boring bit of the tale, she popped out to the shop next door and bought baps.  She bought me some too; a pack of 12.  We'd be prepared.

An hour later, as I packed away the gymnastics kit and ringing my hubby to see what time he'd be home (I was planning a Chinese take away) I realised I'd had a complete mummy brain moment.  I'd happily abandoned the pack of 12 baps in their carrier bag in the female changing room of the sports centre.

I had to ring the bewildered receptionist, who had to send a male attendant in there (no females on duty apparently) to retrieve them and to save them at reception for me.  Only I wasn't about to try and get both girls back in the car.  So hubby was called in to save the day.  One phone call later and I'd arranged for him to pick them up.

It was only when he arrived home slightly pink in the face that I discovered how much I'd embarrassed him.  You see, walking up to a female sports centre receptionist at 6.30pm on a Friday night and saying:
"I've come for my wife's baps", could potentially be taken the wrong way...........

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Phonics Screening Test Debate

The first Phonics Screening Test results have been issued.

When the Department of Education announced the introduction of these tests back in December 2011 we had a debate on this blog about the usefulness of the test.  My concern was, and still is, that the results of the test will be used to measure children's ability rather than the purpose for which the tests are intended, which is to measure what 'method' of reading they are using in order to check if the teachers are teaching in the way the Department of Education would prefer them too.

The difficulties in interpreting this test include the following issues:
  1. The teacher may be teaching reading using phonics but a child may be exceptionally good at reading and is reading many words by sight, only to be thrown by the phonics test and score poorly on it.
  2. The teacher may not be using phonics as the main method of teaching, but may be having great success with other methods or a combination of methods.  Their class's phonics test results will be poor, but their class may be brilliant at actually reading.
  3. Many words cannot be decoded using phonics. Our language isn't 'neat' enough.
  4. And my main problem, which is that the Press and Media will use the results of the test to show how well our children are doing or not doing at reading, when actually the test check's method, not success.
The debate was reignited last week, when children came home with slips of paper detailing their results.  This thread on Mumsnet raged for 336 posts, with mums querying when they should worry, what they could do to help if the phonics score was low and asking how the test worked.  Children's author, Micheal Rosen, joined the discussion in his blog post here, and pointed out that phonics alone wouldn't help children read for pleasure.

Our daughter got 37/40. The expected level they are aiming for is 32/40, so I was happy.  But then realised I had no need to be 'happy' per se, as it hadn't tested her reading ability, just what method she primarily used to read.

This goes against my management style.  In the office I prefer to ask staff to produce a piece of work and I leave it up to them to decide what 'method' they will use to do it.  If the work is completed effectively and on time, then the 'method' isn't particularly important to me.

Here the powers-that-be are defining the 'method' that the teachers use.  It's one job where they persistently seem to be afraid to let the teachers just 'teach'.  Each teacher is different.  Each will have success with different methods.  Each child is different and will require a teacher who is adaptable and emphatic to best succeed.

Please can we stop testing whether teachers are 'doing what they are told' and simply let them teach?  The results will speak for themselves.*

*Assuming the SATs and GCSEs are appropriately set and test real knowledge and not just the ability to churn out facts the child doesn't understand of course!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Reader Appreciation Award

Well I never!

When you're feeling down and having a tough week, it's lovely that the blogging world can cheer you up with not one, but two blogging awards.

Having been incredibly excited to receive the Versatile Blogger Award, I have also been presented with the Reader Appreciation Award by Mother Goutte.  I am incredibly touched that people have thought of my blog and considered it worthy.  Many many thanks!

Mother Goutte has a knack of making me look something like Homer Simpson.  Just the names of her meals makes me drool.  Her blog, tales of motherhood and breastfeeding in particular, is in it's infancy, but is beautifully authentic and well worth a moment of two of your time.

This award comes with questions too; so you are all learning loads about me this week!  Including the fact that I'm avoiding other boring chores like cleaning and ironing to write this post.  Oops, but you knew that already!

1. My favourite colour is, after great consideration, green.  It's the colour that was on the walls of a hotel room in Leeds last year when I was feeling under the weather and had gone on a weekend away with the hubby.  Just walking into that room made me feel calm.  I get the same calm feeling sitting on the grass looking at the trees; so green it is.

2.  My favourite animal is Winnie-the-pooh.  Innocent and simple.

3.  My favourite non-alcoholic drink is probably a mixture of fresh orange and grapefruit juice to wake me up.

4.  Facebook or Twitter?  I use them for different things, so it's a tricky one.  Probably Twitter at the moment; though I am having to ration it for fear of it eating up my days.

5.  Give or receive presents? I prefer giving presents if I know they are the right presents and they will love them.  If I have my doubts then I don't enjoy that look that people pull when they open something that is a little disappointing and that 'oohhh, thank you' that they do in an exaggerated tone.  Obviously I similarly prefer getting presents if it's something I am desperate for.

6.  My favourite day of the week at the moment is Wednesday.  It's my day.  I decide what to do in a 5 hour window, on my own, at my pace.  It's not that I don't love days with the children or with my husband, it's just that I get chance to take a breather on Wednesday.

7. Flowers?  I like white roses.  I think they are really pretty; and I love daffodils in the springtime.

8.  My passion is currently writing, but I still get really excited when I manage to get to a good dance class of any description.

And now  (I keep starting sentences with 'and'.  That can't be right can it?) I will pass on the award to some other blogs that I really enjoy reading:

Jules at Jule, Jam & Journalism
Catherine at Low Impact Mama
Laura at Chez Mummy
Trish at Mums Gone To
Nicky at I am Typecast.

And finally (pesky 'and'.  what are you doing there?) I'm off to Twitter to share more blogging love.  If you have any more slightly random questions you'd like me to answer, please feel free to get in touch. (wink)

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Cropped tapered trousers? Really?

I have always been a fan of Trinny and Susannah I particularly like their argument, back in their first What Not To Wear books, that cropped, tapered trousers are a definite no no.

I'm very aware that Trinny and Susannah started sharing, some might say spouting, their fashion advice a good ten years ago now, and those of you in fashion circles will obviously say that their view then shouldn't be used as good fashion advice now.

Before this week I would have disagreed.  There are just some items of clothing that will never ever look flattering on anyone other than a size zero, 6 ft tall, 18 year old, and cropped trousers is just one of them.

The fact that so many size 16, short, middle-aged women insist on wearing them astounds me.  They don't flatter your leg; in fact they make it look even shorter, and make you look even wider. 
 Why do it?

This week I may be stepping down from my soap box and admitting that there may just be instances where the cropped trouser has a lot going for it.

A month ago I bought a pair from Monsoon (surprise surprise).  They are lovely and comfortable and were purchased specifically for my summer holiday.  I had my doubts before trying them on, but they looked OK and I figured I could at last buy a pair of trousers that I didn't have to re-hem.  I'm 5 ft 6, you see.  This is taller than average, but short enough that 'long' trousers drape on the floor without a minimum of a 4 inch heel.  So my trousers are either re-hemmed, or I wear them with the heels. 

This has always caused me a problem at this time of year; particularly this year; when it's raining a lot.  You see I don't like doing the school run in my heels.  Read more about this HERE.   I buy particularly nice heels for work and don't want them ruining.  The thought of trudging through the mud and puddles to the school yard and standing there with my 3 year old stamping all over my feet makes my heart sink.  So I try and wear flats for the school run (all the better for chasing a runaway child down the road in).   Of course my long trousers then end up soaked.  So I have to tuck them into wellies (not flattering), tuck them into pop-socks (even less flattering) or wear a skirt.

But now I have discovered the cropped trouser.  Not just any cropped trouser.  The work cropped trouser.  The cropped trouser that has this week been worn with flats to work.  It's a first I NEVER wear flats to work, but I did and it was fine. Though I won't be doing flats again; I like being tall too much!  

But the slightly less smart, but nevertheless smart enough for work cropped trouser worn with my favourite smart Irregular Choice heels; now that was a genius plan.  I wore flats in the car and on the school run; happily avoided looking daft, and popped on the heels at work.  

No drenched trousers.

They don't make me look nearly as tall as the boot-cut, overly long trousers do.  But they solve the rain problem.
So I apologise Trinny and Susannah, but I may well be buying some more!

*I apologise for the picture quality, but my photographer is only 6 years old! Personally I think she did quite well with a dodgy model.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Meal planning: the big reveal?

I promised a meal planning big reveal didn't I.

My post, about taking the stress out of meal times, has forced me to actually do it.  To actually plan.

Well it's not a whole month, but it is a week's worth and it did inform my shopping list this weekend, which interestingly led to my shopping bill being roughly 30 % cheaper than it has been.

I guess that's one of the advantages of planning.

So here's the plan and the list.  I apologise profusely for the writing quality.  I was unfortunately taught to write in a school that still felt that calligraphy was vital and the use of an italic pen was a necessity.  It means that I naturally want to make my 'o's look like upside down triangles.  Over the years it's evolved into, well, a scribble.  Sorry.

Essentially I have to plan for feed the two girls (Age 6 and 3 respectively).  In the week my hubby and I often don't eat the same meal as we take it in turn to go to the Gym, so if I'm going out, he will sort his own dinner out and vice versa.  It's a funny week this week too as we have a nursery trip on Thursday, so they'll be a picnic lunch required and I'll be home alot earlier than usual for a Thursday.  If I hadn't completed this plan I'd have forgotten that and arrived at Thursday night with no clue what to eat!

We are doing well so far.  The meal's aren't inspiring, but I know what we are having so it's taking the stress out of it all.  Baby steps.

And you know what.  There may just be something in this "forward-planning" lark!

The Hotel Condesa de la Bahia in Alcudia: A review

Back in June we discovered a gem of a hotel in Mayorca for our family holiday.  I drafted a review.  In fact I drafted a series of posts about the hotel, the resort and various towns on the island.  Why didn't I post them?  Because word has got out about this particular hotel and we were struggling to re-book for next year.  But now we have our reservations for next year confirmed and so I can happily get sharing with you, my loyal readers.  Keep the secret though, eh?

It's the first time ever; and I mean EVER; that we have even considered re-booking the same place for a holiday.  No matter how good it's been, we've always considered that there are just too many places to see too waste a holiday returning to one.

The Hotel Condesa de la Bahia in Alcudia, Mayorca, changed our mind.  It is a great hotel for families with young children like mine (Ages 6 and 3 respectively).

From the clean spacious accommodation, to the perfect splash pool and slides.  From all the food you could possibly want, with ice cream included, to a perfect location right on the gorgeous beach.  This is a resort that I highly recommend.

The Pool Area

The pool area was spacious, well designed and with plenty of sunbeds to accommodate guests. The management were running a new system whilst we were there.  Their staff were reviewing the use of the sunbeds through out the day.  If you were absent from your sun bed for more than 2 hours your towels were moved and kept for you to collect.  The system worked well, as there were many people that were previously doing the old "put the towels out at 7.30am and don't come back until 11am" trick.  It's a highly irritating trick for those of us down at the pool with excited children at 9am, looking around at towelled sunbeds and no folk insight.

There were enough sunbeds, as there was never a moment where you couldn't find one empty but for a towel, so the 2 hour rule worked really well.  Amusingly there were often uncollected towels left at 9pm.  We wonder whether those people even realised their towels had been moved!  I find the reservation of sunbeds highly irritating if it's for any longer than a short break for lunch, so I welcomed the new rule.  It worked really well for us.

And frankly; just look at that pool!  Do you see the palm trees behind the pool?  That's the beach that is.  The beach!  Right next to the pool.  It's actual sand (not shingle) and the water is only about 30 centimetres deep for a long way.  It means that the waves are small and perfect for little ones to jump about in.  It also means that the water doesn't come and in out much with the tide, so you can sit right on the very edge of the water and not need to keep moving your towel.  Perfect.


The rooms are perfectly adequate, clean and spacious.  We did have a problem when we booked, as the pictures on the Thomson website were misleading, and we initially thought we were getting a family room that had a separate lounge. It turns out that was a Suite.  But that really wasn't a problem as we were rarely in the room anyway!  Here are my pictures of the room we did have.

The sofa bed actually extends out and converts to a double bed at a consistent height, so the children slept on that, leaving a spare bed (on the right) for us to basically keep my clothes as the storage space isn't great.

I would suggest that you anticipate keeping many of your clothes inside their case, as there isn't enough wardrobe or storage space for a family of four's clothes.  I'd also say that, if the children were older, we would have started to struggle a little for space.  But; as it was, it was perfect for us.

The fridge was great to keep water bottles and snacks cool once you've retired to the room for the night.  You don't need much as you can basically eat and drink whatever you like all day on all inclusive. (see below) 

The bathroom is lovely to look at, but the glass sink wasn't very practical for those with a small family as it is just the right height for them to walk into.  Having said that, our girls managed to avoid an accident as we ensured to keep the door to the bathroom wide open so they weren't squeezing in.

The bath was amazing!  It had jets, and was really comfortable to lie back in, so I enjoyed a lovely spa bath one evening.  The children also loved it, as their bubble bath increased 10 fold!

We also had a balcony, but must admit to only using it to dry clothes.  We were going to sit out in the evening on it, but leaving the door open let the insects in at night (we are a bite-ridden family), so we kept it closed, stayed inside and enjoyed the air-conditioning; and as a result limited any bites to the minimum.  Had we had a sea view room we may have been more inclined to sit out.

All in all, the room was just right.

Land view from our balcony

The Food

Then we come to the food.  We went all inclusive and I wouldn't bother doing anything else.  This management team know what all-inclusive actually means.  Any time of day you can order any drinks or food that you could possible want.  There are official mealtimes for breakfast, lunch and dinner in the main restaurant, but in between those times you can eat in the smaller restaurant overlooking the beach, or if you just fancy a burger and chips (though how you'd need any more food I don't know) you can order at the new burger bar next to the splash pool.

All drinks are included (unless you want some very particular specific brand) and plenty of different fruit juices and slushies are available, as well as everything from wine, to sangria, to Sex on the beach cocktails.

I have more pictures of food than you can imagine, so here's just a little selection.  Fish, beef, chicken, pork, a different paella every day, rice dishes, vegetables and more salad that you can possibly imagine; and that's before I get started on desert.  Safe to say I put weight on!

To conclude....

I cannot recommend this resort enough.

The management team did a grand job coping with a short power cut during our stay.  The restaurant opened later than usual, about half an hour after the power was back up, but the food on offer was no less impressive.  There was a little less choice than usually, but huge trays of sandwiches then also appeared.

In the power cut the corridors were dark around certain corners between the back up lighting, and the staff immediately went through the hotel wedging open internal see through (glass/plastic?) doors with small shower gel bottles so that you didn't walk into them.  These doors were usually open anyway, so you wouldn't have known to look out for them.

They also went to great lengths to apologise for any delay.  As if it was their fault the power was out!

They certainly knew what customer service actually was.  To take the time to actually apologise.  It was the manager stood by the restaurant door apologising.  The manager.  I take my hat off to him.   

A fortnight all inclusive for a family of four at Condesa de la Bahia, booked with Thomson and flying out from East Midlands Airport in June 2013 would cost approx £3,500 (including Thomson's on line discount). Prices during school holidays rise to approx £5,000 in August.  That's if they have any rooms left.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Meal planners. Do you do them?

My attempts at meeting the 'Yummy Mummy' criteria I've set in my head tend to rely on getting the basics right.  You know, like getting enough sleep for instance.  Like smiling a lot as you are so organised and calm you have nothing to frown about.

Unfortunately I'm not the sort of person who can avoid frowning.  In fact my lips, unfortunately, sit at a naturally downturned angle even when I'm doing the screensaver face.  You know the one.  When you are sat staring at the TV or laptop and your face goes into it's screensaver mode; it's default setting.  Just be careful that it's not one with mouth slightly open.  I've found myself watching TV with mouth open before.  It's not a great look.

So; chocolates, beer & banoffee pie for tea!
My frowning would be dramatically reduced if I didn't create things to get stressed about.  Meal times for example.  If I planned out my meals for the week, or even month, knowing who would be in for tea and how much preparation and cooking time I'd have each day.  If I shopped accordingly and followed the plan, then meal times would be stress free occasions where the entire family received a balanced nutritious and tasty meal without fuss.

What do you think actually happens in our house?

Yep.  Unorganised last minute chaos because I don't plan meals.

What does happen is that Hubby goes off at the weekend to do the grocery shopping with the girls leaving me time to get the chores done.  If there are offers on, then great, he buys things with the intention of freezing them thinking we're getting a great deal.  He buys a few bits and pieces for sandwiches (Bread, cucumber, cooked ham - you know the sort of thing).  And we'll probably get a roast, with potatoes and vegetables to go with it.

So that covers maybe three days, realistically.  Because for the rest of the week, though we have cupboards full of tins and packets and a freezer full to bursting, we don't have the fresh food we need to cook with.  So there's me, not even thinking about tea time until I've picked up the girls from school and nursery on my way home from work, arriving home at 4pm and not having a clue what to make for dinner.

Any meat we have is in the freezer and don't even get me started on using a microwave for that!  I don't trust it for defrosting.  Never have. So, as a consequence of this, and the fact that I don't think to take any meat out of the freezer to defrost naturally overnight, then food has a tendency to go to our freezer to die.

What do the girls end up with for tea? Beans on Toast, Sandwiches or Fish fingers, steamed (frozen) vegetables and rice.  It's not inspiring, but I don't worry much on the days they've been to school and nursery as they have hot dinners there, so it's only really a light tea I need to give them.  This is what I tell myself to feel better.  Funnily enough it doesn't work.

It's my husband I feel most sorry for.  He's not exactly getting a lovingly made pie on his return from work at 8pm.  In fact often I've eaten sandwiches with the girls and he is left to fend for himself.  I am such a poor wife when it comes to feeding my man!  And on the basis that I'm home, with the time to cook it, I feel I should be doing so.

Recipe Junkie shared her monthly meal planner on her blog the other day.  I was astounded.  I didn't realise people actually planned meals like that.  It looks fabulous.  There are meals on there I can't even pronounce.

And so she inspired me to have a go.  I am going to set a plan for the next month.  The only tricky thing is; I don't actually know how to cook much!?  Help!  If you have any ideas for quick and easy nutritious meals, feel free to share your recipes. Please!

Stay tuned for the meal planner big reveal next time.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Versatile Blogger Award: Hurrah!

Dabbing my eyes with tissues.  Trying not to choke.  I'm standing here, about to make a speech, in this virtual world, on my virtual stage with my virtual podium, but it's no less scary!

The lovely RecipeJunkie at Recipe Junkie and the attack of the custard creams has awarded me the Versatile Blogger award.

I am proud and honoured to accept.  The rules of this award state that I am now allowed to display this beautiful button on my blog.  I must also, meet the conditions of acceptance, by telling you all 7 things about myself that you don't already know.  This is tricky, as there is, of course, so much to share of my life that is interesting, beyond the chocolate and cake loving.

1.  I was on Emu's Pink Windmill show in the 80s.  Grotbags' makeup was really greasy and sweating off!
2.  I love hard-boiled egg sandwiches.
3.  I can Tap dance.
4.  I make an amazing Pasta Bolognese.
5.  I've seen Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Steps, Kylie Minogue, Genesis, The Manic Street Preachers, Dream Theater, Keane, Status Quo and Shakin' Stevens, among others, live in concert.  Now that's an eclectic taste in music.
6.  I used to run my own contemporary dance company.  Professionally.  And no I didn't make any money out of it, and no it wasn't that sort of dance.  I did absolutely love it though.
7.  Two of my teenage boyfriends (yes two) later announced they were gay.  No it wasn't my fault!

How's that?

The even more tricky part is to nominate other bloggers for the award.  This is difficult because some of the best bloggers out there are now well established bloggers that will have received this before.  But the idea is to share the best of the blogs out there, so that's what I'll do.  If they get it twice, then so be it.

First up, fellow middle-aged (her words) street dancer; Sarah at Mumof3World.  A prolific tweeter and almost daily blogger, she regularly links up to my Out of the mouths of babes Linky with a selection of brilliant posts about the fantastic questions her children ask.  Blogging about life as a mum of 3 who works part-time, she has got into her stride very quickly and I love reading her updates.  From poor old Colin (RIP), to holidays on canal boats; you never know what you're going to get next!

Next, Luci at Mother.Wife.Me. I often follow an interesting sounding link and suddenly find myself on her blog.  She has a lovely tone of voice.  Her Education Round-Up over on the Britmums Blog is a great source of new information about everything education related, from starting school to funding university.

I also want to give a shout out to Mel at Her Melness Speaks.  She will probably have had this before, but if I'm sharing my favourite blogs, then hers has to be there.  Whether she's making me smile, or think, or giggle, or cry, I am never bored.

Angie, at CakesPhotosLife, has boundless energy and seems to get so much done I'm in constant awe.  The cakes she produces are nothing short of 'amazing' looking!  I just wish I could sample some!

I included Attempting The Ordinary mum in the list, until I realised that Recipe Junkie has nominated her already!  Guess that's definite positive feedback!

So, I'm now off to Twitter to share the blogging award around.  Catch up with me there!

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Why Why Why Why Why?

Our 3 year old is in the Why? stage.

Picture credit: thewhyfoundation.org
"Oh look sweetheart", I observe as we leave the house yesterday morning, "it's rained so hard that the puddles are really big."

"Why?" she responded, with that tone that you start to hate.  You know what I mean.  With the inflection at the end and an elongated i sound.

My reaction included a longer than usual blink, a frown and a sigh all rolled into one.

"Oh dear, it's starting to rain fast now.  Let's get inside quickly."


My reaction?  A longer than usual blink, a frown, a sigh and an additional shake of my head for good measure.  These whys are not helping me look yummy at all!

But what why questions would I ask her?

Why are you telling me you're too tired to get your pyjamas on one minute, but are leaping around on your bed, full of beans, the next?
Why do you randomly take off all your clothes and abandon them at different places across the house?  Are you playing hide and seek with them?

Why did you like cheese yesterday, but hate it today?

Why do I have packets of raisins in every handbag, clutch bag, rucksack and holdall in the house?

Why does your hair never look like I've brushed it?

Why does my hair never look like I've brushed it?

Why do I have to remind you that it's pyjamas, brush teeth, brush hair, BEFORE, story and song time, every single night, despite the fact that we've been doing the same routine since you were born?

Why do you decide it's bath time at 8am in the morning just before it's time to leave for school?

Why do I quote Daddy Pig?

Why do I find myself humming Chi-Chi-Wah* at work and having to stop myself sticking out my tongue?

Why do you never respond to my questions the first time, making me repeat myself over and over again?

Why do you never respond to my questions the first time, making me repeat myself....? Oh pants.

Have you got any WHY? questions you'd ask your children?  Please add them to the comments below; I'd love to hear them.

This post is my response to Mummy Central's Why? Meme.  Thanks to Louise at A Strong Coffee for tagging me.  If you'd like to join in, feel free!  Either add your questions by commenting below, or write your own post and link up!

*It's a very amusing and highly infectious song that appears to be a staple of European holiday resort kids discos across France and Spain. Google search results seem to indicate it's a Spanish song, but the version my children learnt in France was the Dutch version.  We then had a German version in Spain.  Confused?  Me too.

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