Saturday, 3 December 2011

Review: Cottage Croquet Set

Before I start, I can almost hear you exclaiming - "Croquet? In December?!" To be honest, it was also my first reaction when I was offered a croquet set by Garden Games for me to review. However, I have always wanted a croquet set and I also figured there could be no harm in finding an excuse to get the kids outside in the garden at this time of year. (I must confess my imagination got a little carried away and I had visions of "ice croquet" on a blanket of crunchy grass. Any excuse for a nice hot toddy afterwards...)

Anyway,  back to the set. The set contains four mallets, four balls, metal hoops, a winning post and a set of rules in a nice sturdy nylon bag:

(as you can see, someone was so keen to get going, she refused to keep out of the picture so you'll have to take my word for it that there are four of each...). The quality of the mallets and balls feels really great, but in a silly way it was the metal hoops that impressed me the most. A lot of croquet sets I have seen in the past have included basic wire rings, but these ones are solid and sturdy and definitely won't end up bent out of shape:

The set retails for £79.99, which may seem like a lot I suppose, but I do think this set would certainly last. This is a good thing, as to be honest the only downside I could see what that I think my children (4 and 6) are still a little young for it, and could probably do with smaller mallets. It is definitely intended for adults or older children, and I can see us getting more use out of it in future when they are a little older.

All I need now is for someone to buy me a house with a large lawn so I can do it justice...

Monday, 28 November 2011

Body Celebration, or The Frankenstein Blogger

Google seems you either love it, hate it or are completely oblivious to it.

I, for one, love it. Maybe it's just the fact that I am one of the few people that don't have a facebook account, but I post fairly regularly on there. In fact, in a lot of ways I use it like an extension of Twitter - down to the fact I was been invited by someone from Twitter, and most of the people in my circles are the weirdoes and reprobates those I talk to on Twitter too.

Anyway, a couple of Twitter friends and I regularly post Man or Woman of the day - a kind of Hot or Not that generally just degenerates into a weird slanging match that most of you probably are frankly best off steering well clear of. After another random celebrity got pulled apart for whatever reason, it led to another of my rambling thoughts about body image.

I've mentioned in the past about various things I don't like about my appearance, but I thought it was time to turn the tables a little and focus on the positives. If anyone were to ask me which bit I did like, I would probably say my waist. Maybe my lips too, but mainly my waist.

In a lot of ways it's not a very exciting body part, but I distinctly remember as a young teenager lying in my bed and tracing the curve of my hip and waist, and feeling decidedly womanly. Later on, I was (un)fortunate to be in my prime when crop-tops were at the height of fashion, and a cinched in waist was a useful thing to show off. Now, after the passage of time and having given birth to two children, the skin may not be as taut as it used to be, but I'm lucky enough to still be able to fit into the same clothes as I could 20 (eek) years ago.

Women's magazines often feature an "ideal" celebrity, with features that apparently all women lust after - Jennifer Aniston's hair, Angelina's lips etc etc, and I wondered whether we could create a whole person out of our favourite body parts...

I'd therefore love to know what your favourite bit of you is. If you're feeling really brave, you could email me a picture (email address is on the "About" page), or post it on your blog and we can even see if we can get a whole person together...

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Size Matters

I came across the image above on the deepest, darkest depths of the internet recently and it finally jolted me into writing a post that has been floating around the corners of my mind for quite some time.  I have somehow never managed to make the jumbled thoughts in my head on this one into a reasoned post as it’s a horribly emotive subject, so I hope I can manage it this time.

Let me make it clear before I start; I am sure the thought behind the original slogan; “Real Women Have Curves” is admirable, in that it is trying to get women to accept their bodies for what they are, not the stick-thing models they see in magazines. And yet, I will admit that every time I see it, it irks me terribly. You see, I have blogged before about how I am not a fan of labels if they can possibly be avoided, and it strikes me that there is a danger with this thought of simply replacing one unrealistic ideal (women have to be thin) with another one that may be shoehorning women into another defined box (women have to have “curves”).

I’ve thought long and hard about what it actually means for a woman to be curvy, and as with most things, if you trawl the internet for long enough you come across so many different definitions as to be pretty meaningless. One messageboard tells me that “when women describe themselves as "curvy", it's the new code word for "fat"” (charming, I think you’ll agree). The general consensus, however, appears to be that it means women have to be small waisted, large-bottomed, and most importantly, large chested.

Now, there is certainly absolutely nothing wrong with being a perfect hourglass shape. The fact of the matter is that not every woman is that shape, however. It may be true that women's chest and dress sizes have increased over the last 50 years, but that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone suddenly looks like Marilyn Monroe. Look at any high street and you will see a vast array of different shapes and sizes.

I suppose you will think I am lucky when I say that I have been naturally slim-ish all my life (yes, I might even have been called "skinny" at one point or another). That doesn't mean I haven't had plenty of hang-ups about my own body. Take the breast size debate, for example. It's not a huge secret to anyone that knows me that God missed adding some padding "up top" when he created me. Every time I get frustrated by lingerie companies that start sizing their sizing at a B-cup, I try and console myself with the fact I can still shop in the “my first bra” section of M&S if I really wanted to. (Hoorah for choice.) Technically I may have curves in that I am blessed with a small waist and large-ish hips, but I certainly don't recognise myself in the descriptions of curvy that I have seen. Id' like to think it doesn't make me any less real, however!

Photoshopping is commonplace in both fashion magazines and glamour shoots, and the rise of plastic surgery means nobody has to look as nature intended if they don't want to. As a mother to two girls, this saddens me greatly. I would like to think that growing up they will be accepted for how they look, whether that is like Twiggy or like Dawn French, and, most importantly, for them to be happy in their bodies. The last thing I would want is for them to feel the need to look like Katie Price because that is somehow what is now expected!

Saying that Real Women have curves is therefore meaningless and dangerous in my opinion– we might as well say real women are green. Can't we just agree that all women are real women, just like all men are real men, and that is all that matters?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

It takes all sorts...

"Between friends, differences in taste or opinion are irritating in direct proportion to their triviality."
W. H. Auden 

The world up is made up by many different people, all with interests, hobbies and even desires that I know will differ vastly from mine. The world would be a very boring place if all anyone ever did was knit, and nobody played music, or acted, or even played with model aircraft! We need people who are interested in quantum physics, even if the phrase itself causes the blankest look on my own face.

I also know that making assumptions about someone is the easiest thing in the world - I've certainly written about that often enough on this blog. Every now and then I have to hold a mirror up to myself and I don't necessarily see thoughts that are particularly charitable. I guess that's also (sadly?) pretty normal human behaviour.

There are some things, however, that to me personally are things that I take for granted that everybody should be interested in. It's therefore a surprise to come across someone who isn't. Take, for example, people who don't read. Now, I know not everyone does well at school. Literacy levels are not where they should be in a lot of cases. A love of books is not something that gets handed down in all families. I am, however, talking about someone who comes from what I would probably term similar social circles to myself, where the normal assumption would be that reading was something that happened in their home.
I once offered someone fitting this description a stack of magazines to get them through the boredom of the first few weeks with a newborn. The response, "I don't read - not even magazines. I prefer to watch tv". Nothing. Nada. We were not talking about the novels of Dostoevsky here either. I had offered things like Heat and OK, real high-brow stuff that really only involved looking at pictures...

The second thing I take for granted is that everyone should have a love of travel. This may sound ironic given a relatively recent post of mine about how I am happy staying at home, but I love travelling and seeing new sights and sounds. It's something I think shows a healthy curiosity about life, and certainly teaches many things you could never learn in a classroom. For someone to therefore recently announce that they really don't even like going on holiday surprised me, and I didn't know what to think. Should I have been jealous of the fact that this person's four walls were obviously so idyllic they didn't want to escape them every now and then? Or should I go with my first instinct to simply consider this person narrow-minded? I'm not expecting everyone to go backpacking around the world at the drop of a hat, but even a week on a beach must be something that is desirable?

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Wait Until Your Father Gets Home...

...seems to be a phrase most of us remember our mothers uttering at one point or another. The dreaded "father as disciplinarian" is something I certainly remember from my own childhood (which is strange considering how much of a pussy cat he is now with his granddaughters...).

Whilst I would not go as far as saying that my husband and I have a good cop-bad cop thing going on when it comes to parenting, it is very true to say that the girls tend to respond to us differently on different occasions. For instance, I am normally better at cajoling them into getting ready for school in the mornings, while their dad has more luck with them at bedtime for some reason. Of course this is all very well and good when you are both around to take on your roles, but it only takes one of you not being around to throw the precarious equilibrium out of kilter.

Take Wednesdays, for instance. Wednesday is the day I officially start early (historically the day I have gone into the office, vs working from home), and him indoors therefore takes the kids to breakfast club. Or rather; it's the day they refuse to get dressed, howl like banshees over brushing their teeth and have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the car...

I like to think we have a more or less similar approach to disciplining our children, which I think is incredibly important. It's still funny, however, funny to see how our daughters still try that age old tactic enjoyed by generations of children, of playing one parent off against the other. Why do they think asking a different parent will get a different answer? At which age will they learn that the standard answer will always be "what did daddy/mummy say?" And at which age will they finally learn that, in general, we do not issue empty threats, but follow through on any threatened punishment...? (I suspect the answer, as with any questions related to children, is; when they reach 21... )

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

There's No Place Like Home

It's no secret that I have been lucky enough to travel a reasonable amount, mainly around Europe, but also (with the exception of South America and Australia) briefly touching the other continents.That's not to say that there aren't a great many places I have yet to visit that are on my "to do" list!

I've also been lucky enough to spend extended periods of time living in other countries in my childhood and early adulthood. I'm therefore no stranger to adapting to different cultures, although to be fair they have been mainly Western European!

Whenever I go anywhere, whether for business or for pleasure, I therefore naturally find myself wondering what it would be like to live in the particular country I am visiting. In my head I've lived in the US, done the expat lifestyle in Dubai, lived the good life in France, and even returned mentally to Germany and Finland. Whilst there have never been concrete opportunities, I am sure if at any point I had really wanted to, I could probably have found a chance to push for one of those locations over the past *cough* years.

I do often wonder what has stopped me from taking the plunge. There was always an excuse or other. I guess the truth is that in a two-career household neither of us felt strongly enough about it in order to warrant the inevitable disruption to the other partner's career it would have entailed. Then there are the little excuses that creep in; Dubai is too hot (true, and very valid), the US seemed too far away at the time, France has too many smokers (although the wine may balance that out), Finland is too cold and dark for half the year, I don't think I could cope with the formality of Germany any more etc etc.

When it all comes down to it, this funny little island we live in suits me. Don't get me wrong, I don't think the UK is perfect - far from it by all means. What I am trying to say is that I guess I have finally realised it is kind of perfect for me - probably more by a process of elimination than anything else.

Of course, now that there are children to throw into the equation, and they now both at school, there are different considerations to bear in mind. There's no doubt I'd love to give my children the same experiences I had, and the ease at which they would now earn a foreign language is almost too good an opportunity to pass up. However, I also remember the stress it caused me in my own childhood - the stress of starting a new school in a whole different country when you already have a grasp of the language is reasonable is bad enough... Whilst I know, deep down, that children are adaptable, maybe I'm just not brave enough to take that chance with my own. Finally, from a purely selfish point of view I have friends and family here. I have a support network - not something to be underestimated as a working parent, after all.

It never stops you wondering though, does it...

Monday, 12 September 2011

Holiday Memories, or How To Not Have Sex on Holiday

September. Holidays over. Back to work, back to school, back to reality with a big bump. Leaves are falling off the trees, the nights are drawing in, and Hallowe'en decorations are jostling for shelf space with Christmas crackers in the supermarkets. (This last point may be a lie, I haven't actually been near a supermarket since coming back from holiday - oh, the delights of online shopping - but let's face it, this year isn't going to be any different from previous years on that front, is it?)

Holidays are funny things though, aren't they? All that pressure on a couple of weeks somewhere different and away from home... if you ask me, they should be up there in the top 10 of most stressful life events. Divorce? Break-up? Death of a close relative? Losing a job? Not half as stressful as spending 10 hours straight in a car with children and their infernal "Are we there yet" questions. Thank heavens for the advent of portable dvd players...

Once you get to your chosen destination, maybe you look forward to some time by yourselves? A little time as a couple? A little time to - dare I mention the "s" word - indulge in the activity that brought about said little darlings in the first place? There is, after all, such a thing as Holiday Horn(TM), which seems to rear it's head (pun intended) when sunny climes result in fewer items of clothing and excess sangria/red wine/babycham loosen inhibitions.

If you will allow me to give a top tip to those looking forward to holiday hanky-panky; do not spend the first few days sleeping in the next room to your mother in law. Now, for some people, being under the same roof as a parent may excite them by reminding them of their teenage fumblings. Let's just say I am not one of them, and no matter how well I may get on with my mother in law, there's something about the thought of her listening through the plasterboard that doesn't really induce lustful feelings.

Never mind, you may tell yourself - this holiday is in several parts, and only the first few days are spent in the company of relatives. Maybe you hope that the prospect of staying in a hotel later in the holiday will reinvigorate things? Think again. Holidaying with children in a hotel rarely lives up to the expectations that you might have had of Egyptian cotton, fluffy robes and room service. Instead you find yourselves in the dreaded "family room" - essentially a normal double, with an additional sofa bed squashed into one end of it. If you are very lucky (thank you, Novotel), this will fold into two separate single beds, thus avoiding the inevitable duvet fights that ensue should two children not used to sharing a bed together find themselves having to do so (thanks for nothing, Disneyland Paris).

Your children will of course have managed to grab forty winks in the car on the journey from wherever you have come, and will be rested and full of beans when you reach said hotel. Not for them therefore the early bedtime you had hoped for and that had you dreaming of the smuggled cans of beer and gin and tonic you had packed with tremendous optimism and foresight. Instead, they will join you in the hotel restaurant, demand televisual rights and generally fidget and be wide awake so much that you are forced to employ the final weapon in your arsenal.

Yes, it's time for the "but it's so late even mummy and daddy are going to bed" argument. This involves you putting on nightwear, brushing your teeth (so much for the sneaky alcoholic drink), getting into bed, extinguishing lights and feigning sleep in the vain hope that for once in their lives your children will follow your example. Of course, the inevitable happens, and you reawaken at midnight, dribbling, thirsty, and slightly disorientated by the fact you were asleep at 9pm...

So it is that after two weeks of sunshine, fun, Mickey overdose and 2000 miles of driving, you return home, tired, sexually frustrated, and in need of another holiday...

Monday, 15 August 2011

So this is August...

...and what have I done?

With apologies to John Lennon, this is one of those "OHMYGODWHEREHASTHETIMEGONE" kind of posts. With less than a week to go before we finally go on our summer holiday (and believe me, it feels like everyone else has been and we've been waiting FOR EVER for it to be our turn), and then straight back into the new school term just after we get back, I am currently experiencing a strange mixture of holiday de-mob happiness and back-to-school madness.

Will we have packed everything for our fortnight in France? Will everything have been washed? Will my children have all their new items of uniform fully labelled before they return to the classroom? Will I remember that I am off on a business trip the week after we get back? Who knows... I like to think I'm doing a halfway reasonable job of remaining organised about it, but there may be an element of denial about the whole thing.

As the Germans say; Augen zu, und durch! (*roughly translated as Eyes closed, and through...)

Happy holidays!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Nostalgia is for Old People

The date stamp on the draft of this post says 8th June, so let's just pretend this post is inspired by recent events and gloss over the fact I've been meaning to write it for nearly two months and failed miserably, can we?

Two unrelated events over the past couple of months have got me thinking about nostalgia. Firstly, our half term holiday to the Peak District brought back a flood of familiar names that I remembered from my childhood. There I was, transported back to the age of 12, sitting in the car outside an antiques shop in Buxton while my parents rummaged around and oohed and aahed over "boring old junk". Or maybe thinking back to freezing in a cave with my friend Alison, laughing as the water dripped onto our heads from the stalactites above. Lyme Park hadn't changed much in over 20 years - unless you counted the state of the art playground that now seems de rigueur for any self-respecting tourist attraction.

Driving home after our holiday, we detoured to try and beat the inevitable South Manchester traffic jams, until there they were - the really familiar names from my childhood. Cheadle. Gatley. We passed my old school - the school where I spent only two years, and yet where, if I close my eyes I can still see the crowds of uniformed pupils meandering down the corridors, or smell the fear of going into the girls' toilets in case the older girls were in there smoking.

The day after we came back, myself and a few girlfriends - all now in our 30s and (shhh) 40s - went to a local 80s night, where Limahl (he of Kajagoogoo fame) and various other artistes transported us back to our youth, along with a crowd of other similarly middle-aged people.

I tried explaining all of this to my daughters, whose blank incomprehension finally made me laugh. The thing is, nostalgia is completely lost on the young. Try telling a six year old that there were only 3 television channels and no tv in the mornings when you were young - or that nobody had mobile phones, and music came on giant black discs. The look of withering pity and incomprehension is enough to make you sob into your snakebite and black...

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go and put my legwarmers on.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

In Need of Perspective

We watched Ratatouille with the kids at the weekend. There’s a scene towards the end, where the big restaurant critic comes to dine at the restaurant. “What can I get you”, asks the waiter. “Perspective” replies the critic.

If only it were so easy to order perspective like that. I could do with some of it myself right now. I find myself strangely down with no apparent reason. I’ve written before about my tendency to internalise. I’ve never been a big “sharer”, preferring to withdraw into my little shell until the mood passes.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that when, or if, something eventually gives, it can come as a complete shock to those around me, who had no idea of the thoughts or feelings that have been welling up over time. Case in point; bursting into tears when my husband came home last night. I couldn't even really tell him what was wrong. The truth is, I don’t even know why I am feeling sorry for myself at the moment – I certainly have nothing at all to complain about. 

I heard a story recently of a friend of a friend of such anguish and heartbreak; involving a severely disabled child, broken homes, domestic abuse that really made me think about perspective, and my seeming lack of it. To paraphrase and garble that famous saying beloved of all parents; I can’t believe I’m stressing about not finding a holiday when there are children starving in Africa.

Today, I’d like a healthy dose of Perspective please. With a side order of Count Your Blessings.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Camping for Beginners

Having just come back from a weekend's camping in Dorset, I thought I would share some helpful tips - more for myself if I ever decide to do it again than for anyone else! (Yes, I'm a total novice when it comes to camping - or at least I was. Now that I have spent 2 nights in a tent, I am of course a pro that can dish out advice to all and sundry):

1) Don't attempt your first camping trip alone. It certainly helps to go with seasoned campers. That way you can steal half their equipment, have them cook all the food, and generally look a bit less clueless about the whole thing as you simply copy what they do.

2) Borrow as much equipment as possible. It certainly helps if you have lovely friends that are willing to lend you a tent!

3) Make sure you have enough alcohol. Without fail, every person I mentioned our camping trip to said pretty much the same thing: Drink Your Way Through It. (This was after they had initially stopped laughing and looked at me with a dubious face, saying: "I didn't really have you down as a camper..."). These were our supplies for the first night:

(Yes, we had to go and buy more on the second day! Oh, and I should probably mention there were only 7 adults...)

4) Avoid the weekend of your 10th wedding anniversary if possible. A weekend in a 5-star hotel with spa facilities is generally more appropriate.

5) Check the state of all equipment before leaving. Do not laugh at the distress of one of your tent mates when their camping chair collapses the week before you go. You are guaranteed that this will happen to you on your first evening.

6) Camping chairs do not tend to stay together very well with cable ties

7) Book good weather. This is crucial. The thought of setting up and dismantling a tent in the rain fills me with horror. Thankfully it's not something I had to experience, as the weather was absolutely glorious!

8) No matter how warm it is in the day, you will still need an arctic sleeping bag. This is the countryside - all those open spaces and clear skies make for cold nights. Brrr....

9) If one of your party brings with them a brand new, still in the box, state of the art Vango Airbeam tent, make sure they do not inflate to more than 3psi, otherwise the tent that impressed everyone so much by inflating in 5 minutes will look a little less impressive when one of the beams pops and the tent deflates in the middle...

10) Most important of all - relax and have a good time. Oh, and try to drown out the cries of "I don't want to go home" from the kids. Otherwise, who knows, you might even have to do it again...and that would never do...

Monday, 13 June 2011

Pyjamas or...errr.... Bananas...?

Several things recently have got me musing over what people do wear in bed...firstly, the lovely Julie over at Kailexness wrote a post asking if there was Sex After Children (yes! hurrah!), and suggested sleeping naked as an easy way to intimacy. Secondly I was catching up with one of my many guilty pleasures in the trash TV stakes, 'Brothers and Sisters'. I won't bore those of you who don't follow the Walker family shenanigans with too much detail, but suffice to say, this particular episode seemed to involve a lot of them getting out of bed for some reason. It was interesting to see how what each character appeared to wear in bed reflected either their personality, or the state of their relationship.

I'll hold my hand up at this point and declare that, while I do possess a silly amount of frilly negligée type things, I am generally a 'comfort over style' kind of girl when it comes to bed wear. For starters, we live in a Victorian house that realistically has quite a way to go in the insulation stakes, and if there is one thing I detest it is Being Cold - in bed or out of it. I'm therefore definitely a cosy bedwear fan - however, even when the temperatures climb drastically, I still prefer to wear a little slip of something. Apart from anything else, I've always been a huge fan of leaving something to the imagination...

I do recognise, however, that it is very much a personal preference, as well as a practical consideration. A colleague of mine generally packs pyjamas only when going on trips, as they have a slight phobia of being caught out in case of a hotel fire alarm. I don't know whether this fear is based on a previous negative experience, or whether it is just sensible precautions, but it does seem a perfectly prudent thing to do. The thought of finding yourself starkers in a hotel car park in the middle of the night does not seem appealing to anyone but the most fervent exhibitionist.

Therefore, as I'm generally nosy, I'm going to open this up with a little poll (and fingers crossed that I have done this correctly!!), so go on, tell me...: 

What do you wear in bed?

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Random Thoughts of the Week - the Half Term Edition

- We recently spent a wonderful week with a large group of old friends in the Peak District, a beautiful part of the country that really inspired me into thinking that we really should explore more of the UK, as there are so many wonderful places that really are worth a visit. Sadly, this assumes time and resources are plentiful (5 hours in a car is not fun, and sadly stingy employers limit those precious days off!), so I fear it will remain an unfulfilled ambition for some time yet!

- The main problem with holidaying in the UK is of course the unpredictability of the weather. Rain protection, especially is pretty fundamental. It helps to bear this in mind before travelling. Leaving youngest daughter's raincoat at nursery is therefore a really, really bad idea...

- There really are places in the UK without any mobile phone coverage. When I say UK, I actually mean "England" - I kind of assume that some of the more remote areas of the Scottish Highlands might not be covered. Being uncontactable for a couple of hours is very rare and quite strange these days!

- In a large party, including 13 children of various ages, the statistical probability of at least one of them being ill are (sadly) pretty good.

- As a collective group, we need to make more effort to teach our children the rules of "Poohsticks". They didn't quite seem to grasp the concept, and assumed it meant hitting bits of deer pooh with sticks...

- "Coming out" to your friends about your blog is weird, but not as painful as anticipated (Hello all!)

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Mystery Blog Swappers Revealed

So, did you guess who was swapping with who?

Cuntychopalops swapped with Curly and Candid
Pants with Names swapped with Phantom Kitty
All About Us and Such Like swapped with Geekymummy
Sandy Calico swapped with Bumbling's Blog

Did you guess?

Thank you so much to all the swappers!!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

So....This Mystery Blog Swap Business...

It seems there were some people foolish brave enough to sign up to my rather flippant idea of doing a secret blog swap.

The way it is (hopefully) going to work is this - below is a list of blogs participating. They'll be posting a guest post by another person (to remain unidentified) on the list over the next couple of days. For anyone not participating that is game, you then have a couple of days to try and see if you can work out who has swapped with who before we reveal whether you were right or not. Special kudos to a) the person who guesses the most swaps correctly, and b) the swappers who are most successful at hiding themselves. If it goes well I might even see if I can rustle up a prize or two...

So, without further ado, the list of participating blogs is (in alphabetical order)

All About Us and Such like 
 Bare Naked Mummy 
 Bumbling's Blog
 Cunty Chopalops' Font Bukkake
 Curly and Candid
 Diary of a Frugal Family 
 Domestique Goddess 
 Mochabeanie Mummy
 Muddling Along Mummy 
 My Mumdom 
 Pants With Names 
 Phantom Kitty
 Sandy Calico 
 The Hairdog Chronicles

Eek, here's hoping it doesn't all go horribly wrong...

Monday, 9 May 2011

On Being the Old New Girl

I may have mentioned a while back that the company I work(ed) for was about to be taken over. For various reasons, this never happened at the end of last year, as originally planned, but instead happened at the beginning of last week.

I therefore now find myself in the rather strange situation of working for a new company without actually having changed jobs. Of course, the first working day of last week was a bank holiday in the UK, so really I have only been employed by NewCo for 4 working days.

In a lot of ways nothing much has changed - I still have the same team reporting to me, I still have the same manager etc. The changes are much more subtle. There's a whole new intranet to find my way around. To say the organisation structure is complicated is an understatement. I need to apply for a new corporate credit card. Expenses are handled different, and there's a fancy new employee discount scheme - all those small, seemingly insignificant things that end up taking up too much time and detracting from the business in hand.

Still, a change is as good as a rest as they say, and I'm looking forward to learning and discovering again.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Mystery Blog Swap

I do sometimes wonder whether thinking out loud on Twitter is the best idea... There I was the other day, nosing in on a conversation between Jay and Nicki about hijacking other people's blogs, when it dawned on me that we haven't really had a "guest post day" in blogland recently (or at least, not that I had seen, which, considering how little time I have spent on blogs recently might not necessarily be representative - for all I know you're all permanently guest posting...)

I'll be honest, I'm a bit ambivalent about guest posting. However, I thought it might be fun to have a guest post day with a bit of a twist. The way guest posts normally work is that two people swap blogs for the day, in the hope of discovering new readers and new blogs. With The Mystery Blog Swap we won't be publishing who has swapped with who when the posts go up, but instead I will publish a list of all those participating here and we'll have a light-hearted game of trying to guess who has swapped with who, with names revealed at a later stage.

To make it fairer, I will limit the number of blogs involved to the first 50 people who pop a comment on this post (assuming that many people are even interested - for all I know I'm the only one who thinks this is a good idea). As a prompt, pick a random day in your life and write about it - it could be a memorable occasion, or just what you have been up to on that day.

I'll leave until midnight Friday (13th May) for anyone to sign up, so that I've got enough time to pair people and contact them to let them know. Posts will then be published by the following Friday (20th), with guessing and unveiling of results taking place by Monday 23rd.

This may make no sense to you whatsoever...or you might think it's a terrible idea, but I'd love it if one or two of you wanted to give it a go!

(And yes, I'll try and work out how to make a badge by next Friday...)

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

On Friendship

Anyone who has been reading my intermittent ramblings for a while will know that one of my favourite subjects is that of work-life balance and the juggling of different roles. After a few years of  practising the holy trinity of wife-mother-employee, I like to think I have at least come to terms with the fact that I am giving each of these roles the best I can without damaging them too much. I am more than happy to have sacrificed role of cleaner and perfect housekeeper along the way!

However, one thing I have recently started to wonder is whether the role of "Friend" has also inadvertently slipped by the wayside without me noticing. I have always been one of these people that does not make friends easily - I have few friends, but most of them are old and very good friends that I have known a long time. They are the kind of friends that, regardless of how seldom we see each other, always make it feel like it was only yesterday. The sort of friends that you can just be comfortable with.

Yet lately I have had a niggling doubt that I'm really doing all I should. In the last couple of months, I have:
- forgotten to send two 40th birthday cards,
- forgotten the birthday of my best friend's 1 year old. The "best friend" I have not seen since before Christmas because a) we both lead busy lives and it is not always possible, but b) mainly because I absentmindedly double-booked the last weekend we were supposed to be getting together...
- had a friend have to text me to arrange a night out despite it technically being "my turn" to arrange (and despite me having thought about it for weeks and still not having done anything about it!)
- still not called or emailed the friend in Germany I have been meaning to contact since Christmas

Finally, add to that my apparent inability to find any kind of words whatsoever when I meet someone going through any kind of hard time; grief or separation, and I do wonder what sort of person I appear to be on the outside...

So, to any friends secretly reading this (yes, Mr Tin, I know you keep passing on the url...grrr...), I'm sorry.


Thursday, 14 April 2011

Random Thoughts Of the Week - The Theme Park Edition

Eldest daughter celebrated her 6th birthday recently (cue much wailing and many cries of "My baaaayyyyybeeeee - where has the time gone"!!?), and instead of a party, we decided to treat her to a couple of days at a theme park - which one is not relevant, but suffice to say a 6ft pig featured at one point. Anyway, as we made our way up and down the various rides, the following observations sprang to mind:

- I know it's difficult to know what to wear in the British climate at the best of times (wet weather gear? winter coats? sunglasses), but you only have to go to a theme park to see the widest variety of different get-ups. From the eminently sensible to what I can only put in the "what were you thinking" box of clothing. I am sure head-to-toe white linen seemed like a great idea for a hot sunny day. It looked stylish and cool...if you were not planning to go on any rides. However, the person in question had obviously not thought through the fact that a log flume and white linen can have some rather revealing consequences...

- I don't really have any strong views either way on tattoos - I think the right one can look quite pretty, and have toyed with having one in the past (the pain! the pain!), but on a sunny day I do really marvel at the number and variety on show. Am I the only person in the country that does not have one?

- From the first two points, it is obvious that the day in question was a freak hot and sunny day. Again, going back to point one - appreciate British climate not best to judge, but seriously - if you it is hot enough to wear a strappy top, surely sun protection is pretty vital? One word: Lobster. Ouch.

- Finally, a top tip for you - from experience! Didn't manage to finish the coffee you bought on the services on the way over? Hot day? Simply leave it in your car, and it will be at exactly the perfect temperature for drinking when you get back after a long day! Just watch you don't burn your lips. Again: ouch.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Random Thoughts of the Week

1) I don't "get" ugly dogs. By that I don't mean the mean, fierc-looking ones - in some way I understand how for some they are status symbols. I don't even mean the ones that are so ugly they are cute (like the pooch in the pic above - officially Britain's ugliest dog, apparently - you just can't help feel sorry for him, can you?). There's a category somewhere in between that just makes me marvel how they even still exist and how they still breed.

2) At the risk of sounding all middle-aged and fuddy-duddy - when did Katie Price become such an apparently ubiquitous role model for young women? I honestly don't know how there is any hair dye, hair spray, foundation or false eyelashes left in the whole of the county if a recent night out is to be believed. (And, yes, I really do sound like my mother). What happened to natural beauty?

3) Isn't it strange how mowing a lawn can make a garden look so much more clean and tidy? It's like giving the whole place a bit of a shave and getting rid of the stubble.

4) This year is the first year that I really seem to have struggled with the change to BST. I have just been so tired all week. Can one measly hour really make that much difference?! Thankfully the children seem to have adapted relatively well - I guess I should thank heaven for small mercies.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The One Word Meme

Both my namesake and bloggy friend Julie over at All About Us, and the lovely  Aly at Plus2Point4 have tagged me in a meme... a meme that for once does not require too much thought on my part (and I think we've established how lazy I am on the blogging front at the moment!!), but is in fact one for anyone that might be reading this...
The idea is you write one word in the comments which you feel describes me! 
In the words of the meme’s creator Michelle from Mummy from the Heart
“This got me thinking about an email I received a few years back, one of those circular things that I normally hate but this one I loved and have never forgotten.  It was about the power of positive affirmations and how knowing what positive things others think of you can boost your own self-esteem.  It talked of an inspirational teacher who got all her children to write one positive word down to describe the other children in the class and then they had to hand them in.  The teacher then collated all the positive words for each child into a special sheet for them and handed it to them to read and keep.  They learnt that their peers saw them in ways they had never imagined and it had an immense effect on them.  The story goes that one of them died and a number of them attended the funeral and it was found that they all still had their lists 20 or so years later as they had been really touched by this loving gesture.  Did this really happen?  Who knows, but I love the sentiment of this story and therefore it does not matter to me if it was real.
Well, what about if us bloggers and virtual friends did something similar?  How marvellous would we all feel to learn these new facets of ourselves that we did not know existed.  Someone may say I am inspirational (another one I have heard about myself a few times recently) and me being me I would say ‘no not me’ but what have I done there?  Rubbished their opinion and that is not right, only they know if I have actually inspired them to do something.  If people are kind enough to give us a compliment we should be gracious enough to accept it…. and why not go one step further and actually go out and ask for it?
Well that is what I want us all to do.  I am creating a meme, called the 1 Word Meme and I would love for every one of us to be able to collate all the positive words left by our real life friends, virtual friends and fellow bloggers so that we each have a sheet of positive affirmations to treasure and boost our self-esteem.”
So, dear readers - would love to hear what you think. One word in the comments that you think sums me up - can't be that difficult, can it?! 
I'd like to pass this one on to:
The sisters over at Paris-Ankara Express (good to see you back!)

#SilentSunday - 27 March 2011

Silent Sunday

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Review: Bart's Ski Gloves

Firstly - hello, and thank you all for sticking around during my dry spell over the past few weeks. I can't promise things are going to get any less dry (wetter somehow doesn't really seem appropriate, does it!?) any time soon, but it's nice to see a few friendly faces when I venture back onto the site at least...

I can hardly believe it is over a year since I started this blog. One of my very first posts was about my trepitation with regards to going skiing again for the first time since having children. Well, last week I put myself through the torture again we spent another week on the slopes.

I have to say out of all the times I have been skiing, this was probably the week I enjoyed the most; in spite of the fact, or  - what is probably more likely - because of the fact that I probably did the least actual skiing of any holiday! When it comes to skiing, it seems for me it is simple: less skiing = more enjoyment. It is of course logical - I don't get as tired, therefore I don't get as frustrated.

Anyway, before we left, I was sent a pair of Bart's Mens ski gloves to review by the lovely people at Chelston Direct. I had even come up with a cunning plan to get over my blogging lethargy - the original idea was that Mr B was going to do a guest post and review them for me. In the end, however, the size I was sent was a men's small, which of course were a perfect fit for me, but much too small for my husband. Seems I was forced into blogging it myself...

Having said this, things turned out quite well, as I only possessed one pair of ski gloves prior to this, and a spare is always handy. My previous pair was a cheap pair picked up when I was still unsure whether I would ever go again, and whilst perfectly adequate, were never quite warm enough on really cold days. I have to say  this was one problem I did not have with these gloves - they definitely kept my hands toasty and dry all week.

If there was one problem with them, however, it was that they were almost a little too short, and I would often find a bit of a gap between the sleeve of my jacket and the end of the glove. Most of the time this was no problem at all. However, I can imagine that for someone who occasionally falls down (not me, of course, you understand*) this would be quite an annoyance, unless snowy wrists were their thing!

All in all though, I spent most of the week using them and was very impressed - only having to resort to my original pair on one day after a particular wet snowball fight!

(*ok, so maybe I did end up on my bum once or my defence, I don't believe any of our party, including some VERY experienced skiers, didn't fall down at least once...)

Disclosure: I was given a pair of Bart's ski gloves in return for this post.

Update January 2013 - seems some of you are still finding this post from nearly two years ago! Since then, I've had two more occasions to wear the gloves, and I have to say I'm still happily using these gloves. They are definitely good for keeping hands dry, although I did find that my fingers did get a little cold on drag lifts etc this year (as we went at a colder time of year). The purchase of new ski jacket with built-in additional sleeve bits, plus the fact I spend less time on the floor has helped with the no-snow-down-the-wrists thing. Not perfect, but definitely a great budget option.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Move Along, Nothing to See Here...

I want to write a post.

I neeeed to write a post.

And yet... and yet... somehow I have nothing I want to write about. I seem to be in a state of limbo that leaves me restless, fidgety and unable to concentrate on anything for more than five minutes at a time. This translates into blog posts of a few sentences at best.

I'm sure it will come again. I just wish it would make it quick.

I need a holiday.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

#SilentSunday - Crying Graffiti

Silent Sunday

(and if someone can tell me why blogger has suddenly decide to rotate my picture round 90 degrees , I would be grateful..argh!)

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Scaredy Cat, Scaredy Cat, part 2


(This is the post I had originally intended to write when I completely digressed and turned the post into one about my own fears and the tales of Gainsborough Old Hall. (Oops, it turned into a post about me, me, me again, didn't it?!))

DD1 (soon to be 6) is scared of the dark. This is immensely ironic as she was one of those babies that could not sleep unless the room was so pitch black that it was impossible to tell which part of the room you were standing in. 
Not only is she afraid of the dark, but this fear appears to be getting worse - it is also starting to apply to a slightly dim light, and it is also starting to manifest itself in the house when the lights are on. No longer is she happy to go to the toilet on her own past a certain time of the day. I practically have to hold her hand at all times. Bedtimes only work as she shares a room with her sister, and with the landing light on and the door "wide open - as wide as it will go". 

I understand more than anyone this irrational fear - I struggled with it for long enough myself as a child. However, I can pinpoint the start of my fears to a specific time and a specific event. DD1's fear seems to have crept up on us with no discernible trigger. 

Am I destined to accompany her everywhere once the lights go out? Will I be spending a fortune on nightlights for every room?

*Must buy DD1 this book, such a lovely story!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Scaredy Cat, Scaredy Cat - part 1

I was a bit of a scaredy cat as a child. Frightened of all sorts of things that now seem completely irrational. My biggest fear for a long time, however, was a general fear of the dark, and ghosts and ghouls (I still can't watch horror films to this day!).

I can distinctly remember what first caused it in me; some friends of my parents lived (and still live) in Lincolnshire. The lady of the house (J) was a blue badge tourist guide for the county, and visiting them was always a fascinating insider's guide to the county's landmarks. One day, we went to visit Gainsborough Old Hall, a medieval English Heritage property with an imposing tower.

On the trip there, J recounted the story of the ghost of Gainsborough Old Hall - the Grey Lady. She was, apparently, the daughter of a local nobleman who had fallen in love with a farm worker and was subsequently locked up in the Hall by her father, where she was apparently driven to suicide. Since then, her ghost has been seen wandering the corridors, and doing that clever ghosty trick of walking through walls. There are also tales of another young lady that has been seen there, and a quick google search reveals an article in the local paper from 2008 that shows the appearance of a mysterious orb .

Suffice to say, being young and easily frightened, by the time we reached the property, I had a severe case of the heebie-jeebies. This was not helped by a sign in the "haunted" corridor recounting the story again in some detail, with a helpful sketch of what the Grey Lady might look like were to encounter her. (Perhaps unsurprisingly; grey and ghost like).

For years afterwards - well into my teens - the story of the Grey Lady stayed with me. More than anything, it was the one thing that convinced me at the time that ghosts were real. More than anything it was the one thing that made me sick with fright if I had to go to the toilet at night.

These days of course, I am way too old and cynical to believe in any of that nonsense. Every now and then, however, I still hesitate in a dimly-lit corridor...

Monday, 14 February 2011

I ♥ Me - The Valentine's Edition

I'm very much a Bah Humbug sort of person when it comes to Valentine's Day. Maybe it's the combination of being an old married cynic for too long, or maybe it's the trauma of splitting up with a boyfriend on Valentine's Day when he chose A Question of Sport over a night with me, who knows. Either way, I'm generally to be found muttering about how I hate the commercial nature of it, and how if you need someone to tell you to be romantic, you're on a downward spiral...

(Case in point - Mr B and I popped into the supermarket on Saturday to pick up some bits and pieces. As we walked past the rows of red roses, he asked: "Want me to buy you some flowers?" My retort: "Nah, I would much rather you bought me some spontaneously" To which he replied: "But that was spontaneous! You can't get more spontaneous than that!!" See what the poor man has to put up with?)

Anyway, I am prepared to make an exception to my anti-Valentine's Day stance for the lovely Notes and her I ♥ Me Linky. Let's face it, I was hardly going to turn down this week's challenge was I - namely some fantasy shopping! Notes has challenged us to do:

"Window shopping on the internet. What would you buy yourself for Valentine’s Day. Spend as much as you like, buy what you want."

Well, she didn't have to tell me twice...

I thought I would start with some "traditional" Valentine's gifts, for despite what I may say, you can't go wrong with flowers and champagne:

Not red roses - too clichéd - but something more individual, a little bit different, and from a good florists!

So, as I am warming up to this idea, we'll stick with the tried and tested - a set of diamond studs. The biggest and best diamonds that money can buy, of course! Much as I would love a pair in real life, I do have too much of a habit of losing earrings to ever realistically warrant buying a pair...

Next, bags and shoes - I've mentioned before my obsession with the Mulberry Alexa. I'm afraid until I get this bag all other bags are ruined for me:

Let's throw in a pair of heels for good measure - something fun, something hideously expensive - just love these metallic snakeskin Gucci beauties:

..and finally, as I do like my homewares, and my home could do with some loving too - some beautiful new lighting so I can see my new purchases!

See, I'm a simple woman really...

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Gallery - 24 Hours

This post is part of The Gallery, hosted by Tara Cain. This week's theme is "24 Hours". 

The following photos represent a very typical weekend for me:*

Click on the badge to go to Tara's blog to see what everyone else has posted!

*this may be a lie


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