Monday, 30 December 2013

Review - Tom Gates: Extra Special Treats (not)

"Never work with children or animals", or so the saying goes. In blogging terms that might also mean "never agree to a review that involves a child giving you his or her opinion". You see, the lovely folks at Scholastic sent me a copy of the latest special hard cover winter edition of "Tom Gates: Extra Special Treats (not) to review.

The book duly arrived, and was swiftly ferreted away by the 8 year old, who emerged at the end of the same day and declared that it was "epic".

"Epic?" I said.
"You'll have to give me a bit more than that - that's a bit of a short review!"
"Well, it's got cool pictures and stuff, and it's funny."

Weeks of wrangling didn't really give me much more, so I had to make do with the official description:

'The sixth in the series by bestselling author Liz Pichon (winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize and current holder of the Blue Peter Book Award), the book is jam-packed with trademark illustrations, hilarious characters and stories - guaranteed to tickle children's funny bones as the evenings draw in!'

Tom Gates: Extra Special Treats (not) is out now, published by Scholastic.

(...and yes, it's "epic".)



Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Only Boring People Are Bored*

I always assumed that the only thing standing between me and a spotless home was a full-time job. It turns out that really, the only thing standing between me and a spotless house is...well...me. 

With the children at school all day, I should have plenty of time to whip the place into serious shape. A household of four people who aren't that great at picking up after themselves is never going to be a recipe for show-home like conditions, but it turns out, I actually don't really care that much. Not enough to spend the two to three hours a day that it would require to get it to that stage, at any rate, because quite frankly, domestic chores bore the hell out of me. 

It makes me wonder how things would have been different if I hadn't gone back to work after having children. Maybe I'd have found some meaningful hobbies to fill my time by now? Maybe I'd have become more active on the coffee morning scene? (Unlikely) Perhaps I'd have got stuck in volunteering with something? Maybe even started my own business from home?

I suppose I'll never know! However, I'm definitely past the stage of unemployment being a nice novelty and a bit of a rest, to finding myself thoroughly bored. 

Bored of not being mentally stimulated.
Bored of every day feeling the same.
Bored of having to watch every penny.
Bored of the housework. Definitely bored of the housework.

I need to get back to work, and fast.

Boredom by Alison on Flickr


(*Did anyone else's parents say that to them? Used to drive me crazy!)

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Things I still can't do at 40

So, "that birthday" has been and gone and I've had a couple of weeks as a fully-fledged 40 year old. I'll forgive you if you missed it, I didn't particularly publicise the actual date due to a (possibly irrational?) fear that all you internet weirdos are going to steal my identity if you have my full date of birth. Plus, the introvert in me cringes at anything that draws too much attention to myself. (Yes, I fully realise the irony in that last statement as I broadcast my thoughts out to all and sundry).

Anyway, I've never been one to subscribe to the significance of birthdays - it's all just another number, after all, and the ageing process is so much more gradual than overnight. Still, it is fun to take stock on such occasions and look back at all the things I have achieved, which, let's face it, is a lot. 40 years is quite a long time after all - you'd hope there were one or two achievements in there!

By contrast, the list of achievements since turning 40 are probably somewhat slimmer...(yep, still jobless).

So here instead is the list of things that have stumped me over the last couple of weeks:

- I still struggle to tell the difference between mumsnet and netmums.
- Applying nail varnish that doesn't look like my kids had a go.
- I really should have learned that I must ALWAYS go back and buy a second pair of my "ideal" jeans when I find them, as they will promptly be discontinued and I'll have to go through the whole tortuous process of trying gazillions of pairs on again.
- While it took me a long time to become a "handbag person", I still don't understand the appeal of satchels for grown women. They'll always be cute school bags to me.
- Will I ever master the art of putting a king-size duvet on a bed by myself?


Thursday, 24 October 2013

Alternatives to Operation Christmas Child

My daughters brought the following leaflet home from school recently that instantly made my heart sink:



On the face of it it's a lovely idea - you pack a shoe box full of small gifts that are sent to a deserving child in a third-world country.

However, there are many reasons not to support Samaritan's Purse who run the programme, not least because their main mission is evangelical, rather than charitable.

In fact, instead of me listing those reasons, I'd urge anyone interested in finding out more to please, please read the following; Reasons Not to Support Operation Christmas Child , which offers a far more eloquent and well-researched list than I could probably muster.

I'll be writing to my children's school with my objections, which obviously come too late for this year, but I hope that they will reconsider their support for future years.  I have also discussed it with my children as best I could, and together we have decided to make a commitment to sponsor a child via PlanUK instead - which I hope will give them a more lasting insight into life in the 3rd world, and instill in them the message that charity is not just about presents and is not just for Christmas.

However, if you do feel strongly about an alternative and can't afford to make a lasting commitment, you can still purchase more of a one-off gift from organisations like Save the Children, who have some great Christmas gifts that can make a real, practical difference without a hidden agenda.





Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Five things I have learnt whilst job hunting

1) No matter how much you brace yourself for it, that first rejection is hard. Especially when it's a job you really, really wanted. Bah.

2) Despite how optimistic and upbeat I feel on a Monday morning, the weekly trip to the job centre is guaranteed to leave me feeling deflated and slightly grubby.

3) When trying to explain the sort of job you are looking for proves difficult when you are explaining it to adults, it is ten time worse trying to explain it to children. In fact, my children have given up trying to work out what I want to do and instead have come up with their own suggestions for me. According to them, I should try to be:
 - a hairdresser; because I'm "good at cutting fringes"
- a chef; because I'm a "great cook".
- a postal delivery person; because I could "get to see inside a post box", and I could finish at 2 to do the school run.

4) There are actually plenty of jobs out there, however, most of them appear to want such specialist experience that I wonder how some of them ever get filled at all. (Kids, my advice to you - learn a programming language.)
Contrary to popular belief, being a "generalist" is actually making it fairly tricky to find the right things to apply for. I'd always assumed that I had quite a few skills that were transferable between roles and between industries. Yet, no matter how hard I try to broaden my horizons, people will try very hard to pigeon-hole me into a very specific niche.

5) As I'm sure any stay at home parent will attest, school hours are really not long enough to get anything sensible done. As job hunting is also permanent job in itself it appears my dreams of doing anything particularly productive outside this activity were probably a tad optimistic...

Onwards and upwards...






Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Is there anything more frightening than make up counters?

As someone who is very-nearly-but-not-quite-thank-you-very-much 40, it strikes me that it's strange how there are still some things that can instill an irrational amount of fear into me. I'm not necessarily talking about those weird phobias that we all have, but more the kind of things that you would think become easier with practice. Silly things like tipping, public speaking and eating spaghetti in public without getting it all down your front.

One thing, however, that still brings me out in a cold sweat is the department store make-up counter. There's just something incredibly intimidating about those immaculate assistants smiling at you from behind a shiny glass stand with their perfect teeth. A smile that's supposed to signal encouragement but more often than not reeks of pity as you hover nervously wanting simultaneously for them to ignore you and take you in hand and sort you out. My experiences over the years have not been mixed, it has to be said. My first ever purchase was a blusher from a Clinique counter that prompted my then-housemate to declare that the makeover was "quite nice apart from the blusher". Plus, each one of them seems to have been obsessed with putting put me in the brightest Barbie pink lipstick they can find.

I've noticed over the last year or two that I've definitely hit a tipping point when it comes to make-up. Once, I used to wear make-up to look older. Going out without it meant I'd get asked for ID ("I'm 35!" I once squealed at the elderly dear in M&S, secretly wondering if they did it on purpose so that people like me would have a story to boast about), answering the door without it meant the double-glazing salesmen would ask if my parents were in (this happened to me at 31. Have I given you enough clues about how wonderfully youthful I once looked?)

Anyway, these days I'm now at the stage where I wear make-up to look younger. I no longer get asked for ID when I venture out without it. Instead, people act concerned and say things like "you look tired, are you ok?"

Then there are the studies and womens' magazines that tell us things like "36 is the optimum face age" or "women at best at 30, start to age at 41". Plus stuff about how wearing the same "look" you've been wearing since you were 20 isn't flattering once you get past 35. Much as you tell yourself you are above that stuff, eventually the insidious messages get to you. So you finally pluck up the courage to approach the women nearly half your age on a random make-up counter.

"Can I 'elp you?" she says. (Winning smile. French accent)
"mumble...mumble..update look...mumble...mumble..." (pick up random highlighter pen hoping it will leap onto my face and instantly cover up my blushes).

Thankfully she takes charge straight away, and sets to work with a random selection of products, all the time oohing and aaahing over my bone structure and my skin colour, and I'm finally starting to relax. We even converse in my rusty French, and I teach her the word "oomph" for "'ow you say in Eenglish, ze peps?"

It's all going swimmingly. Until, that is, she delivers that killer line: "Ah, I zink we 'ave similar skin. I 'ope mine is as good when I get to your age".

I'm sticking to Boots in future.


via Beauty Blitz

Monday, 7 October 2013

8 Reasons Why I Don't Want To Be An Aristocrat

1) Let's face it, the only way you can survive is by inviting paying plebs to traipse around your ancestral pile

Not a bad gaff, though, right?

2) You can never re-decorate and are stuck with the wallpaper and/or taxidermy some great-aunt once chose



3) You have to give your children traditional family names and can't go for something nice and modern like Kai or Beyonce.

4) You have to wear silly costumes on dreary state occasions:



5) Your rooms are ridiculously large and very draughty, and therefore must be terribly difficult to keep warm.

6) You have to pretend to still be into religion.



7) Imagine having to walk from one end of a room to the other to fetch something - let alone just "popping to the loo" down three miles of corridors. I suppose you'd be fit. Unless you had loads of servants.



8) You are unable to hide the fact that one of your ancestors was fond of wearing a onesie:



No, I wouldn't want to be a toff for love nor money....but sometimes...just sometimes... it's nice to pretend...




(an early birthday present - if you want to find out about where we stayed, pop over here soonish...)

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Signing On

(Never let it be said that my posts aren't topical.) 

With the debate about whether the long-term unemployed should be made to work for their benefits in full swing, I took it upon me this week to officially join the ranks of the jobless.

There used to be a certain stigma about "signing on", but (despite the Tories' best efforts?) these days it seems rare not to know anybody who has spent some time out of work. I, for example, have a plethora of ex-colleagues that have been made redundant over the last few years, and who have been through the process of claiming job seeker's allowance cycle.

It would be a lie, however, to say that I skipped to the job centre with a spring in my step and a song in my heart, however. A small part of me is still slightly in denial about the whole "I need to find a new job" situation, and this seemed like a step too far towards the scary reality. 

However, the process was remarkably swift for a public body - certainly faster than getting a doctor's appointment - and relatively painless -again, the staff seemed friendlier than some doctors' receptionists I have come across, and I escaped feeling relieved and unscathed.

I fear, however, that the bright colours of the new claims section may have lulled me into a false sense of security and will give way to the usual smell of dejection and grey public waiting rooms when I have to go back to the inner sanctum next week...


Wednesday, 25 September 2013

It's not Vintage, it's just Old

Twice a year, my children's school collects old clothing for fundraising purposes, so I am currently mentally taking stock of what I may have that is suitable. 

While I love shopping, and I love following the vagaries of fashion, I am not one of these people that buys a huge amount of (throwaway) clothing. I would rather spend a little bit more on something that I truly, truly love and will then wear to death for years, than on something cheap that will maybe get worn once and then be consigned to the back of a wardrobe. When something catches my eye, I become near-obsessive, dreaming about how it would look on me and how I would wear it for weeks on end, until I finally give in and have to make a purchase, or it has sold out. 

(Currently, for example, I am irrationally lusting after the Somerset by Alice Temperley waistcoat at John Lewis, plus this faux snakeskin blouse from M&S:



Both PERFECT for the job I currently DO NOT HAVE, of course. I can't stop thinking about them and how I can justify them "for interview". It can, however, be guaranteed that, if when I do find a new job, I will discard these current obsessions and I will be lusting after jeans and trainers and won't be able to find a single thing that is office-worthy.)

But I digress. 

To recap; I have a lot of old clothes. I am not counting the 1960s skirt inherited from my mother, or the 1940s evening jacket that belonged to a great-aunt. I'm talking about clothes I bought from new with my own money. 

The only thing that's organised around here

A lot of clothes that I have possessed since before having children (quick recap; eldest child now 8 1/2), some clothes that I have had since before I got married (12 years), and even one or two items that I bought as a university student:
Exhibit A
The jumper above (affectionately known as the bumblebee) was a purchase from the Bath branch of Jigsaw in my second year - so around 1994. It set me back the massive sum of £50, which I can still not quite believe, and which probably meant I didn't eat for 3 weeks afterwards.

I have loved this jumper to death, and miraculously it actually still looks as good as new. Considering it is nearly 20 years old, that's pretty darn good value for money, and the 50 quid doesn't actually look like such a foolish outlay. I guess I'm also lucky that I'm still the same size that I pretty much always have been.

However, I fear it may be time for the demise of this old faithful. Last winter was the first year it did not get worn at all, and my new obsession with lots of layers probably means it will be similarly neglected this year. It therefore may well be time for it to meet the blue bin liner in the sky.

To help cheer me up on this solemn occasion, I need you all to tell me (or show me!?) your oldest item of clothing. Do you still love it, or is there another reason why you still keep it? Do you still wear it in earnest or does it only come out for fancy dress?


Monday, 23 September 2013

Day 1

So, this is it. Today is my first day of being unemployed. It's a strange feeling that I can only really liken to a birthday. I know things are different yet they don't really feel it yet. Having worked from home for so long, I don't have the obvious break of no longer going into a physical place of work, and as my workload has been steadily declining to zero since I was first notified it is not like I find myself with nothing to do overnight.

The temptation to see this as a "bit of a break" is great, but what I really need is the momentum and motivation to be productive in both my job search and in those tedious domestic admin tasks that fall by the wayside when you are working.

First step: make a list.


Friday, 6 September 2013

What Do You Buy The Woman Who Has Everything? (An Open Letter to My Husband.)

Dear Husband,

As if the whole whole redundancy thing wasn't enough to provoke the climax of my mid-life crisis, you're of course well aware that I'm going to be 21 40 in the not too distant future.

Now, we all know that 40 is the new black, and therefore there is only one way to reach this important milestone, and that is WITH STYLE.
I've always thought my tastes were simple and fairly well-known to you. It was therefore of some surprise to me when you declared that you weren't really sure what I might like for this important landmark event. Hence, I thought I would do you (and anyone else reading this that may be inclined to splash out on gifts for me or a similarly simple-tasted love one) a favour by giving you a few pointers.

Of course, what I really want for my birthday is probably slightly out of my reach:


Plus, I'll totally understand if you might have reservations with that one for obvious reasons.

Much as I know you'll definitely approve of my second choice of a little topless number, sadly I fear this may be slightly out of the budget this year...
Convertible

Luxury, however, doesn't have to be massively expensive. A bottle of my favourite champagne always goes down a treat:

Louis Roederer

As would a pair of shoes of my own design from Upper Street Shoe:


(I'll be needing new ones for all those interviews I'll soon be having, after all).

When you get to a certain age, however, material possessions become less important than cherished memories. You know how much I love to travel, and there are still plenty of places I have not yet managed to experience:




Perhaps though, if time or money don't allow a trip further afield, how about somewhere more local with a GIN EXPERIENCE?



Or a romantic Bath Spa Twilight package?


Or perhaps you'd prefer London? Maybe with tea at Claridge's?

Source


And maybe lastly, and somewhat seemingly randomly, you can't go wrong with a White Company mint diffuser. Let's face it - home is where the heart is, and it should at least smell nice.

The White Company


I'm always moaning about not being able to find waterproofs that look nice:

seasalt

...and an old woman like me likes to keep warm at all times:


Lakeland heated throw to go with that electric blanket I've already got...
I refuse to ask for a steam cleaner though. Although I think I could probably do with one. We'll gloss over that though, shall we?

See? Easy.

Your 39 year old wife. x


Monday, 2 September 2013

I'm Not In Love

What makes you fall in love? No, not with someone else, but with a place? Is it the food? (or maybe the wine?) Is it the people, the scenery, the activities, the atmosphere? Are there destinations that draw you back again and again? Somewhere that you say "I'd love a place there someday"?

While I can say that there have been places I would would be happy to revisit time and again, I've always been adamantly opposed to the idea of a holiday home somewhere. There are just too many places on this earth that I want to visit without tying myself down to just one, year after year. There is therefore a certain irony to the fact that we're in the somewhat strange situation of having "inherited" (are paying for) someone else's dream holiday apartment just outside Paphos, in Cyprus. It has not been an easy relationship with the apartment up to now, and writing this I am very aware that I still sound bitter, ungrateful and deliberately obtuse on the subject (especially as I can't go into the whys and wherefores of how we came about it.). Still, we've just come back from our first proper two-week summer holiday in the millstone Cyprus, very much with the hope of making the most the hand we had been dealt, and enjoying our own place in the sun. But would we grow to really love it?

Cyprus has a fascinating history, dating back thousands of years, and the area around Paphos is rife with archaeological sights (including a UNESCO World Heritage site), none of which we had a chance to visit this time as it was simply too hot to do anything much other than visit the occasional beach and cool down in the pool! This was a huge disappointment for me, and it's therefore something I've definitely got on my to-do list for the next visit (already booked for next Easter, when temperatures will hopefully be a little more temperate).

I am definitely not a lover of the traditional pool/beach holiday. I'm pale and pasty with sensitive skin that reacts badly to heat and sunscreen. Much as I love reading, the thought of doing nothing all day doesn't vastly appeal, and I did find I missed the variety of a bit of culture. Speedo-spotting at the Water Park just wasn't quite the same really.
Needless to say, however, the children had a whale of a time swimming, diving and digging in the warm waters of both the pools at the apartment complex and the Mediterranean. And as we all know; Happy Children = Happy Parents, so that was a massive consolation..

That's not to say that we didn't get out and about a little bit. The scenery is somewhat dusty and barren in the immediate vicinity of Paphos, but a short drive further north and west to the stunning, relatively undeveloped Akamas peninsula was definitely a highlight.


...and I have to admit that the sunsets generally weren't half bad either:



As for the food and wine - I think it's fair to say these got the thumbs up all round too. Fresh seafood, copious amounts of Greek salad and various lamb and pork dishes kept both adults and kids happy. "More Kleftiko, mummy!"

So while I still may not be completely in love, somehow I think Cyprus and I could eventually become good friends....




Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Longest Week?

(Slightly short, dull, incoherent post, sorry)

One week into the summer holidays, and with typical timing the weather has returned to its usual British unpredictability, somewhat scuppering my detailed plan for plenty of outdoor activities. It appears that I've managed to survive my first taste of the non-working-parent-summer-holiday-lifestyle relatively unscathed, other than it having caused a strong craving for gin on what should by rights be a non-drinking day. It has also only reinforced the idea that I'm too cowardly to do this full-time, and the search for a new job has taken tentative steps.

That is not to say that I have not enjoyed myself and I have loved seeing the way the children respond to being at home with me. We're getting to the stage where we are getting used to spending so much time on top of each other after an initial somewhat frantic pace where it appeared that they wanted as much of me as possible. I've also taken a step back from social media, which I think has helped my relaxation levels greatly, and I'm wondering if my love affair with Twitter may be permanently over.

Thank heavens for libraries and National Trust membership, as well as various free events specially designed for harassed parents, thanks to which the budget appears to be holding up.

Here's to week 2...


Walled garden, Avebury NT


Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Summer Holiday Resolutions

I will not be bored.

I will not spend loads of money.

Easy peasy.

There are many things that fill me with trepidation when I think about impending unemployment. You'll think of the obvious ones of course - the financial aspects, and the stress of finding a new job. Yet what is uppermost in my mind at the moment is the prospect of having to entertain my children over the summer holidays. 

The timing is fortuitous of course - I won't have to worry about arranging or the cost of childcare over the summer. But as a working parent, I've never spent this long with my children (day-in, day-out) since my maternity leave when they were tiny. Up until now there has never been any real difference to my routine in the school holidays, as they have simply spent all day in the holiday club run by their after-school club.

Thankfully, with a bit of research and help from the blogosphere, I feel fully prepared for the inevitable cries of "I'm bored" without spending vast amounts of money. 

I'm going to be checking out Chris's Summer holiday boredom busters, and I'm definitely printing off Jen's bored list!

I also resolve to explore all the free/cheap activities in the local area, and use our National Trust membership to its full potential. Who knows, maybe we'll even manage to cross a few more items off the 50 things to do before you're 11 3/4 list - although quite amazingly, we only have around 7 to do off this list (hooray for camping holidays!) I do fear that horse riding may elude us for a while though...

What could possibly go wrong?







Friday, 28 June 2013

Nothing Will Work Unless I Do*

It's been three weeks since that initial awkward conversation with my boss. Three weeks in which the actual work I have to do has pretty much dried up completely, and I find myself in what I can only describe as a strange state of limbo. There is still the minutest possibility that another internal job may come off, but as time passes and that possibility fades into the distance, I'm coming to terms with the fact that I may soon find myself unemployed.

The timing is actually rather fortuitous, meaning that at least I am unlikely to have to worry about childcare over the summer holidays. Brilliant, right? Finally loads of spare hours in the day to get around to tackling my paper mountain, or licking the house into some kind of acceptable shape. I even have time to blog more regularly. Um. However, despite my previous protestations, I'm more than aware of the fact that the life of a stay at home mum can't be mine on a permanent basis. The past couple of weeks have given me a very brief insight into how it might look. Apart from the odd day of unusual productivity decluttering the kids' toys, I've come to the conclusion that I'd just end up eating too many biscuits and spend too much time doing online shopping. So much for economising.

The need for money and mental stimulation therefore mean there is only one thing for it - I will have to find some kind of gainful employment. I can't deny that the prospect scares the hell out of me. I've worked out that my last "serious" interview was probably around 14 years ago. Realistically, much as I'd love to find something flexible, I fear my only real option would appear to be to go back to a full-time office-based role.

Or maybe it's time for a complete change of direction? Get off the treadmill, escape the rat race and start something of my own? The problem is what? I'm too much of a generalist to specialise in selling any of my services. My childhood dreams included an acting career (I fear I may have missed the boat on that one), writing a novel (not self-disciplined enough, even if I thought I had a talent for it, which I'm not sure I do), or owning a bookshop. And sadly headlines declaring the "end of the bookshop" appear all too common. Plus I don't really fancy working weekends. I fear my other interests of gin, cheese and interior design are already well covered in the marketplace...

The return to a cubicle farm beckons. Unless anyone has next week's lottery numbers?


Have some pretty flowers. Don't they instantly lift your spirits?

(*attributed to Maya Angelou - Nothing Will Work Unless You Do)

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Getting away from it

When life gives you lemons, made lemonade, or so the saying goes. Well, I don't know about lemonade, but I've always found lemons to be a useful little extra in gin and tonic. 

It was a good job, therefore, that we had a camping trip booked for the weekend after my redundancy bombshell. 

Say what you like about camping, but it's certainly a fabulous way to forget about the stresses and strains of everyday life and be a bit more primal...

After all, how could a view like this not lift the spirits?:



...plus eating (and drinking!) too much is one of my favourite pastimes...


...and I defy anyone to not feel warm and cosy by a campfire.



So, sometimes, you just need to remember that a sunset may mean the end of one day, it also means there's a new dawn around the corner.

A view from the magnificent Thistledown Farm


Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Call

I've been waiting for the call for months. The only surprise has been that it has taken this long.

So when the Outlook invitation pops into my inbox, I hardly flinch. The subject line is vague. A "chat". We don't really do "chats". It can only mean one thing.

I dial in at the appropriate time. He's late, apologetic, flustered. I'm calm, collected. I know what's coming before he even has time to clear his throat. He launches into the usual platitudes. "Difficult business conditions...ongoing restructuring". I hear the words and inwardly I laugh. It feels funny being on the receiving end. I've uttered those words myself too many times. I recognise the awkward tone...it's apologetic, polite, but definitely wanting to have the conversation over with. Must follow due process. Must follow the script.

He quotes numbers. I'm still grinning like a Cheshire Cat. "Don't worry", I say, "I totally understand". I do, you see. I'd be doing exactly the same in his position. There hasn't been enough work to go around for a while. I'm still smiling. If I keep smiling I can keep my tone upbeat. So funny.

"Call me if you want to chat about anything", he says, and we say goodbye.

It's only then that I burst into tears.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Are friends really better than dads?


Those of you in the UK have probably seen the new Robinson's ad by now. It shows two young boys spending the day together, playing, having fun, and of course drinking Robinson's squash.

At the end of an action-packed, slightly hazily-filtered day, one of the boys falls asleep and is carried upstairs and tucked in by the other, who, it turns out (SPOILER ALERT) is in fact his dad.

The tagline then says; It's good to be a dad, It's better to be a friend.

The ad has received considerable praise. "Charming and sweet, without being saccharine", "the best feeling from a fruit drink tv as yet". (Quite frankly if you're getting feelings from fruit drink ads maybe you should get out more, but whatever floats your boat). The youtube post has lots of gushing comments and "likes", and of course it's well timed in the run-up to Father's Day.

I'd probably have smiled vaguely and thought no more about it if it hadn't been for those final two sentences.

You see, I disagree.

Is it REALLY better to be a friend than a dad?

While we would probably all agree that a good relationship with your children is something to strive for, it should not be at the expense of decent parenting.

Parents provide guidance and support, yes, but parents also provide discipline and boundaries, which is not necessarily something that a child would expect from a friend.

A child will have a myriad different friends in their life. They will choose these friends themselves (no matter how much we parents may try and steer them towards or away from certain other children!), however, they will only ever have two biological parents. Quite frankly, a lot of the time they may decide they would never have chosen those parents, but really, that's ok. Yes, I'd probably like my children to like me, but it's far more important to me that they respect me, and to feel that I'd done a good job in raising them as decent human beings.

Also, let's face it, these days, fatherhood is even more precious. According to a research summary I found on the Fatherhood Institute website, almost a third of dependent children in the UK live apart from their fathers (2011).

The benefits of both parents being involved in a child's upbringing are pretty well documented from a social, economic point and child welfare point of view. While I'm not saying all relationships should stay together "for the sake if the kids", surely fatherhood is something we should cherish and treasure for its own sake, instead of being relegated to the role of football buddy?

So, Robinson's, yes, it's good to be a friend, but in my opinion it's better to be a dad.

____

(Apologies if this post is a bit messy-having real problems with blogger, so typing this on the mobile app-I'll try and tidy up and add links etc if I can ever get back into the desktop version of blogger)

Monday, 13 May 2013

Stuck In the Middle

Today marks a pretty momentous occasion. After five years of trying to sell her house, my mother-in-law is finally moving from the Midlands to the same town, to be closer to us. In a lot of ways I can't quite believe the day has finally come, and whilst I know this is a good move overall, I can't help but feel a certain amount of trepidation at how this might change things.

My husband is an only child whose parents divorced when he was seven, and he's had little contact with his father, so in many ways my mother-in-law is very independent and self-sufficient. However, I think the whole process of this move, now that it has finally arrived, has brought with it the realisation of how much more dependent on us she will be once she has settled in. I suddenly find myself weighed down by feeling a great deal of responsibility for her happiness. We are the reason she is moving. We are the reason she is leaving the house she has lived in for 35 years. We are dragging her somewhere strange, where the only people she knows are us and my parents. Whether I am being overdramatic or not remains to be seen, I suppose, but it's certainly true that she will need to rely on us a lot more than she has done up until now.

My parents, who made a similar move around five years ago, have each other, and while they too were in a similar position of moving somewhere where they did not know anyone other than us, I can imagine it is a lot less daunting to "start over" in a strange place when you have a partner to do it with.

Despite the fact that all three of them are sprightly and travel the world, this move has also brought home the fact that they are ageing. Given family history, there is a good chance they'll be energetic and dynamic for a good 15 years or so yet, but somehow having all of them close by has made me so much more conscious of the fact that this might not be the case. Coupled with the fact that the first of our close group of friends recently lost a parent, and it seems I've got mortality on the brain. It's stating the bleeding obvious that none of us are getting any younger, but I confess the prospect of having to look after both children AND parents in future is a frightening one.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Review - Walkers Hoops and Crosses

Yes, yes, I know - another review. It seems I'm easily bought with food. As an aside, I got offered weight loss treatment for review a while ago, which I declined as I have a terrible aversion to talk of weight loss. Weight GAIN, however, I can get on board with.

As I have probably stated before, I don't have a sweet tooth. I do, however, have a BIG weakness for savoury. Alongside cheese, I think crisps are probably my biggest weakness. How could I therefore turn down the opportunity to try Walker's new "Hoops and Crosses" snacks?

Bizarrely, I think they are actually aimed at the kids. How dare they.



The Blurb:

The "selling point", if you will, is that these new snacks differ from their existing range in that they are a) baked (and therefore lower in calories than standard crisps - 85 cals in a packet to be precise, although it should be noted that you do only get 18g in a bag, vs 25g for a standard bag of Walker's crisps), and b) 56% wholegrain. According to the people at Walker's 27% of children in the UK do not get any wholegrain at all. Obviously, I'm not a nutritionist, and can't verify that myself, but a quick google search confirms that wholegrain is generally a Good Thing.

The thing about lower calories can often be that other nasties are put in to replace the lovely taste that fat gives us (sugar and salt being the obvious candidates). So, yes, the hoops and crosses are higher in sugar than normal crisps because of the specific flavours used, but I was pleased to see that they aren't noticeably higher in salt.

The Taste:

Hoops and Crosses comes in 3 flavours - Roast Beef, Prawn Cocktail and Salt and Vinegar. Sadly we were sent the roast beef flavour, because I confess that, despite my love of crisps, I personally loathe both roast beef and prawn cocktail flavours, finding them generally too strong and artificial-tasting (interestingly it appears Walkers do not do their "standard" crisps in roast beef flavour any more). However, it seems they went down a treat with the rest of the family, so what do I know!



The overall texture is similar to other baked corn snacks, and while the wholegrain is visible, it did not seem to affect the taste in any way.

The verdict:
I'd buy these - although I'd love to see a few more flavours!
7 sardines out of a full tin of 10 ;-)



Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Review - Lizi's Granola



Much to my children's disgust, I'm a terrible Puritan when it comes to breakfast. If it was up to me, they would eat unsweetened gruel every day. I've never bought "children's" cereals coated in sugar or chocolate, and I'm always very conscious that any cereals I do buy are as unsweetened as possible. As we've never had chocolate spreads or frosted cereals in the house, my children have never really questioned this - and, at the risk of sounding terrible smug, I have to say that their favourite breakfast is either porridge with a bit of dried fruit or just a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Yes, there are health reasons for this, but also from a purely selfish point of view, I essentially buy what I like, and the rest of the family have to lump it. I'm a big believer that children should basically eat the same as adults as early as possible, and I'm very, very lucky that my children are not particularly fussy eaters.

Before you all think my diet resembles that of Gwyneth Paltrow, yes, we do have the odd treat at weekends - and that includes breakfasts, whether it's a fry-up, or a pain au chocolat. The children have always liked to have a bowl of what used to be called "crunchy oat cereal", but these days everybody seems to be calling it granola.

 My reluctance to allow them to have it every day has mainly been down to the sugar content, so when I got an email from the folks at Lizi's Granola telling me about the low sugar and low GI in their granola, I was intrigued.

Lizi's Granola comes in various flavours  - Treacle and Pecan, Pink Apple and Cinnamon, Organic, Belgian Chocolate and Original. We reviewed the Original flavour:


Taste:

The Original cereal contains (amongst other things) oats, coconut, cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hazel nuts, almonds and walnuts. However, I have to say that the nut content is not immediately visible from the bowl above. I assumed this would be a good thing, as DD1 likes some nuts, but does have a tendency to pick out larger lumps. However, she did say that she didn't like the taste as she couldn't pick out those specific nuts she didn't like (so much for not being fussy...)

Personally, I liked the consistency this gave the texture - it didn't seem to have the larger lumps of oats stuck together that you get with other granola. I appreciate this may be a personal preference though.

It definitely tasted less sweet than the previous granola we had tried (which was a Sainsbury's own brand one), which is a no-brainer as it contains half the sugar content:


I found the taste just the right sweetness, however, I think I would end up adding a bit more interest to the flavour overall by adding some other bits of fruit (dried or otherwise) into it, which I fear may be slightly counterproductive!

"Fillupability":

Lizi's sells itself as having a low glycaemic load (as obvious from the prominent GL on the label), which, as far as I can tell is another way of measuring "good carbs". (You can find more about GL on their website) The simple theory being that these carbs release energy slowly , keeping your blood sugar stable and feeling fuller for longer.

I have to say I never really struggle too much with this as I eat a lot of oat-based cereals anyway, but in my unscientific use I definitely didn't feel any mid-morning hunger pangs, so guess it works!


Overall Value for Money:

This 500g bag retails at £3.45, so roughly similar to other "premium" granolas, so if I saw it I'd probably buy it again.

I quite like the fact that you can buy multiple bags online at a discount, both on their own website, and via various online eco stores, as well as amazon. It also retails in supermarkets such as Tesco and Waitrose.


Final Tin rating: 8 sardines out of 10 ;-)










Monday, 15 April 2013

London and the Law of Sod

I don't really do many of the "family day out" sort of posts that others seem to excel in. I'm obviously far too self-obsessed and intent on airing my own internal monologues for that. Plus I'm a bit rubbish at photography, which seems to be a useful sort of thing to be good at when visually documenting these things.
"Anyway", I thought, "this week will be different! This week I'm going to tell you all about our fabulous-yet-bargaintastic day trip to London."

I had it all planned out in my head-from the itinerary to what we were all going to wear, to how much we would enjoy things.

Then came the Law of Sod.

Sod's law dictated that the weather forecast that had looked so promising earlier in the week turned gloomier and gloomier the closer we got to the day. This of course meant urban chic flew put of the window, to be replaced by sensible tourist apparel. For the law of sod dictates that you can look stylish or be dry. Not both. Never both. Still, no matter, enjoyment was still going to be had.

First stop on the itinerary was the "Emirates Air Line", a cable car over the Thames next to the O2. It was fantastically unbusy when we arrived, so we pretty much hopped straight on. Sod's law of course dictated that we didn't have the cabin to ourselves, as had looked possible, but instead had to share it with the "enthusiastic" son of a couple whose male half was obviously "not good with heights", and who was asked by his wife on regular occasions if he was alright.

Sadly visibility wasn't as great as it could have been

Annoying cabin neighbours aside, we all very much enjoyed it, especially the somewhat overblown attempts to make the "flight" experience as real as possible, with talk of flights and boarding passes etc. (from memory, think this is a trick similar to the London Eye experience, obviously only sponsored by a different airline!).

You certainly get a great view of Canary Wharf and the Eastern part of London that I was not familiar with (including a great view of the Olympic Stadium). At a bit over 3 pounds for an adult single with an Oyster or Travelcard, it's also not prohibitively expensive.

View of the O2 towards Canary Wharf from the Emirates Sky Line

Once we had alighted on the opposite river bank, the plan had been to take the DLR to the Museum of Docklands. However, Sod intervened again by ensuring that the particular line we needed was out of action.
With hindsight, what we should then have done was simply take a replacement bus service and carried on as planned. Instead, we decided to detour to the Tower of London.

Sod's law says that at this point the particular tube train we were on had to stop due to a broken down train ahead, so we walked for a while. It turns out that tired children and "soaking up local colour" don't really mix, so we also managed to walk straight past Brick Lane (somewhere I've always been curious about) without realising.

We finally arrived at the Tower, but somewhat shocked at the price of an entrance ticket (£57 for a family ticket?!) we decided to give that one a miss, so I can't tell you what that is like either... What I can tell you is that a trip on a river boat two stops is quicker than you would think, and before too long we found ourselves at the "Clink" prison museum. It was raining quite heavily at this point, so we decided to pop in.
Sod's law says I didn't actually see much of the (admittedly rather gruesome) exhibits, as these proved rather frightening for the 5 year old... (Really? Who'd have thought? Oh well, hindsight...)

Our final mode of transport was the much longed-for double-decker bus...although sod's law says that the windows were so steamed up we couldn't see out of them...

The thing is, despite the odd hiccup and things not quite going as planned, we all still managed to have a great time and want to go back.

I like to call that London's Law.

Sometimes you just have to photograph random tube signs

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Hello, my name's Julie, and I'm a paperphobic.


“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”




We have a clean desk policy at the company where I work. It's a high tech industry where protection of company confidential information is treated extremely seriously. Security come round on a regular basis and check whether paperwork or laptops etc are left out, or any drawers are unlocked, and note the names of offenders, who then have to go undergo the shame of a big sticky note on their desk and a trip to security to collect the property in question. Together with working in an environment where pretty much everything has been as paperless as possible for as long as I can remember, I'm therefore used to a clean and decluttered working environment.

I mention this because you probably would not believe it if you saw my home office. The problem is not work clutter, but personal untidiness. You see, my biggest Achilles heel is:

Paperwork.

I can run a multi-national department of 70-odd people. I can deal with multi-million-dollar issues needing resolution, I can deal with an email influx of tens per hour, but ask me whether to keep or bin an old piece of paper, and I'm completely lost.

I dread it more than anything else. Even thinking about it fills me with dread, and the knock of the postman can bring me out in a cold sweat as I glimpse more potential things needing to be dealt with and filed. I can just about cope with paying bills, but once the immediate urgency of that is completed the responding piece of paper floats around my office mocking me and my general uselessness.

I've tried to combat it with more paper, and more lists. I've printed checklists, I have organisers and I've bought box files. Yet still the paperwork mountain evades me.

This weekend, my husband declared enough was enough. For three hours he sifted through the piles of paper on my office floor - sifting, filing, shredding and even opening unopened statements from 2008. The pile has now gone, and a weight has been lifted, for which I will forever be eternally grateful to him.

Since then I've tried to deal with each piece of mail as it has come in- two days in and it's not looking too bad. I'm taking it a day at a time, but I'm still searching for my 12-step programme...




Thursday, 28 March 2013

Bit of Admin

So, Google reader will soon be no more. For those millions of you that follow using this method, you might like to know that I'm setting up a bloglovin' account. I really have no idea what I'm doing, but apparently I have to paste this into a post: Follow my blog with Bloglovin So I have. x

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The trouble with tipping

There are several things you're supposed to be able to do when you're a grown-up. Tie your own shoelaces, for example. Or maybe rustle up a nice meal. These are things you are either taught by your parents, or can research via books or the internet, or maybe you even learn how to do them through trial and error. 

If there's one thing, however, designed to not make me feel like much of a grown-up, it's the thorny subject of tipping. Certain countries have pretty clear-cut rules about these things - in Finland, for example, tipping is pretty much unheard of, whereas if you visit the USA, you know instinctively that you are guaranteed to run out of dollar bills the minute you walk into the country. We've visited developing countries in the past, where tipping is also widespread - hotel porters, tour guides, drivers - they all get that little supplement to their wages. 

In the UK, however, it's less clear-cut. I tend to round up for taxi drivers. In restaurants, 10-15% seems to be the norm, depending on the service. 

However, am I supposed to tip my window cleaner? I'm guessing the answer is no, as I'm paying him cash anyway.

Do you still give tips to refuse collectors at Christmas? I remember my parents doing so, but to be honest, we now seem to have so many different groups collecting our detritus (recycling, household waste, plastics, green waste) that I'd quickly be flat broke. Plus, I wouldn't be able to identify most of them anyway.

How about the same for the milkman? Yes, we still have one, but I'm normally safely tucked up in bed when he arrives. I could leave a card on the doorstep, but to be honest we've had bottles of milk stolen from our doorstep before, so I'm not taking chances with cash.

Maybe you see your postman regularly? I know I certainly do...however, it never seems to be our regular chap in the run-up to Christmas, and I feel a bit aggrieved at giving a card to the holiday help.

My biggest area of uncertainty, however, is hairdressers and beauticians. Let's face it, a visit to the salon is expensive enough as it is, without adding on an extra couple of quid for the junior who washed your hair, plus the stylist, and - in some cases - maybe a colourist, or even someone who blow-dried it. That's a lot of tips! Do you tip all of them? If yes, the same, or differing amounts? 

Then there's the act of handing over the cash itself. Are you one of those nonchalant people, who will cheerily hand over the correct amount with a "here you go, my good man"? Or perhaps you're more like me and turn bright red and mumble something incoherent as you hand over either a paltry embarrassment of a sum, or a tip so ridiculously large that it represents practically a months' salary.

I'm already starting to think maybe I should cut my own hair next time...


Exchange Money by epsos.de on Flickr

Monday, 18 March 2013

Monday moan.

We watched the film "Gambit" last night. I'm not going to go into a full-on review of the film here, but it was a vaguely amusing (but ultimately pretty forgettable) hour and a half. For brevity alone it gets extra marks - it's nice to find a film these days that isn't an over-inflated 2 and a half hour chore. It was a freebie, so I wasn't too disappointed.

Anyway, the film stars Colin Firth (52), Alan Rickman (67) and Cameron Diaz (40). All well-established actors, no longer in the very first flushes of youth. Why is it, therefore, that Ms Diaz was the only one of the three whose appearance I inwardly commented on, not in a good way, but in a "what has she done to her face" sort of way?

It's no secret that Cameron Diaz had plastic surgery to correct her nose, but a furtive google later and it seems that is not the only work she is rumoured to have had done.

Now, I will acknowledge that it must be bloody hard to be in the public spotlight all the time, judged on your appearance, competing for roles against nubile 20-somethings... but it does depress me how many actresses get into their thirties and forties and start having plastic surgery. The thing is, for every star whose plastic surgery does seem to halt ageing (Demi Moore?), there do seem to be a plethora of stars who just end up looking...well...slightly odd, and I do fear Cameron may well be heading towards a Meg Ryan or Melanie Griffiths.

Now, I don't particularly have a stake in Cameron Diaz's career, but as a mother to daughters it just seems to be another of the many daily reminders of how many double-standards there still are. If Colin Firth and Alan Rickman can be both respected actors and sex symbols at their respective ages, wrinkles and all without going under the knife, why can't Cameron Diaz?






P.S. I love your comments, but sometimes disqus doesn't love mobile devices. If you've got something burning to say, you might have to view the web version of this post. Sorry, and thank you!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

PEGI Family Gaming Ambassador - Challenge 2

(Sponsored Post - view Challenge 1 here: http://www.thesardinetin.com/2012/12/pegi-family-gaming-ambassador-challenge.html)

I'm very, very late with this post.

Not because this challenge was particularly difficult, but mainly because of those mysterious circumstances that dictate that when you need an electronic device of any description, the batteries will run out and you will not have any replacements in the house. (Seriously, why does EVERYTHING need batteries these days? I wish I'd gone into battery production. I'd be making a fortune).

Anyway. The second challenge is all about Collaboration. So Stop, Collaborate, and Listen.

The lovely folks at Ask About Games instructed to spend a couple of 60 minute sessions playing video games together as a family. In order to do this, we were given a copy of Just Dance 4, and a Skylanders Giants starter pack for the Xbox 360.

As I may have mentioned before, we have already owned a Nintendo Wii for a while, so are familiar with the Just Dance franchise. Playing this together was therefore not a new experience for us (although the fact that we managed to rope my husband in was!), and it tends to be something "we girls" do together fairly regularly. Great exercise for me, if nothing else!

It's at this point that I'm supposed to show you a short video clip of us busting our groovy moves to Barry White's My First, My Last, My Everything. Unfortunately, this is where technology conspired against us, the Flip camera refused to record us, and we gave up. Should we ever repeat our perfect score, I'll post the video another time. In the meantime, here's an artist's impression:



What I found slightly more challenging was playing the Skylanders game collaboratively, as this is mainly set up to be a first-person adventure game and we only have one controller. However, in the end, we did manage to both fulfil our challenges and collaborate, by the 7 year old controlling the game while myself and Mr Sardinetin shouted instructions, and the 5 year old swapped playing figures on the portal...

I'm a big believer in not leaving children unsupervised in front of technology for too long, so playing games together is something that we do actually enjoy while satisfying the control freak in me. With the advent of so many "family-friendly" consoles and games, there really is no excuse for not finding something that everyone can participate in either.

Having said this, I am dreading the days when my "Just Dance" crown is seriously challenged - DD2 is showing some serious rhythm...
___
P.S. If you're viewing this on a mobile device, and feel the desperate need to comment, you might have to view the "web version" to do so. Sorry, and thank you!


Thursday, 28 February 2013

In praise of home working...I think.

There's probably been enough said about Marissa Meyer's decision to ban Yahoo employees from working from home...but the subject is one close to my heart and has been niggling away at me ever since I came across it.

Yes, I work from home. Originally a couple of days a week, but for the past year or so on pretty much a full-time basis. This coincided with both a change in role, and the redundancy of a number of former "work coffee buddies". Not one person I work with on a day to day basis is now based in the same country, let alone the same office as me. As long as I have a phone and a computer, it does not matter where I am when I want to talk to someone in Milan or Mumbai. I can relax at home, in comfort, without the stress of the commute, and still have time to do the school run. This way, my employer also squeezes a couple of extra hours out of me a week.

Sounds perfect, right? In many ways it is.

However, if I'm completely honest, it's the lack of familiar and friendly faces in my office any more that is the main thing that keeps me at home. Going into an office and no longer seeing people you know very quickly gets disheartening. Soon you end up going in less and less often, which means less contact with those who are still left, thus creating a vicious circle of "strangerdom".

Now, the thought of going into an office and effectively being a stranger fills me with dread. The thing is, if I look at it objectively, it probably is holding me back. I'm starting to feel more detached from my current employer, but the flexibility afforded by working from home is a big reason why I didn't look for another job a long time ago. Swings and roundabouts.

If I therefore look at Marissa Meyer's edict, I'm torn between being completely outraged that she could take away something that has a lot of benefits to individuals - especially working parents. However, deep down I secretly also understand her reasoning. Seeing colleagues face to face on a daily basis does help you share a special kind of camaraderie that you don't get over the phone, email or instant messaging. Yes, I miss that.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Because that's what we home workers do.

Fuelled by caffeine and conference calls

P.S. If you're reading this on a mobile device, and you'd like to comment, you might need to view the standard web version. Sorry, and thank you...

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