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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...

Friday 22 February 2013

In the words of UB40.

It's funny how there are some songs that you don't think of for -quite literally - years, and then something happens that means you CAN'T GET IT OUT OF YOUR HEAD.

Our kitchen is a fairly standard Victorian single-storey affair stuck on the back of our house, with only a tiny loft space above it. When we moved in, we had the roof re-felted, and the roofers told me at the time that they had found traces of what they thought were rat droppings in the roof space. Anyway, they blocked up the obvious holes, put new felt down and re-laid the tiles.

I hadn't really thought about it too much until I started hearing the scratching. Definite scrabbling. There was no way I could dismiss it as being a bird on the roof, or noises from our next-door neighbours. It was definitely coming from above my head, and the whole "rat thing" came back to me in a flash. So off I went to our friend Google and looked for local pest control phone numbers.

The chap I rang sounded gleeful when I told him my address. "Oh yes, we like it there, come up there a lot"


He and his colleague turned up within the hour and cheerfully poked about in my drains before poking their heads into the tiny loft hatch.

"No smell of death here, John"

That sounded promising.

"But looks like it's mice"

My heart sank.

"Yeah, looks like a family of field mice have moved in for the winter. My advice - don't do anything, and they'll move back out to the fields in the spring. You may or may not get another family moving in, depends".

Helpful. You see, if there's one thing that freaks me out, it's rodents. Mice, rats, hamsters, gerbils - my dislike even goes as far as guinea pigs. Can't stand them. Except now I appear to be sharing my house with a family of the toothy little critters.

To top it off, the wall of my study (where I spend most of my day) joins onto the kitchen loft space, causing massive paranoia about what might happen should they somehow venture up through my floorboards. I find myself making as much noise as possible - having music on, rolling around on my office chair, typing and talking as loudly as I can.

I'm a nervous wreck.

However, thankfully the lads of UB40 have also helped me come up with a cure:

That's better.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Are you an adventurous eater?

Note: vegetarians look away now... ;-)

So it seems that the horsemeat scandal is widening to encompass more countries and a wider selection of food producers. I think most people would agree that it's a shocking state of affairs all round, and everything that can possibly be said about the whole thing has probably already been said.

I have to say, however, that the big issue for me was the pure and simple fraud of it, rather than the any ickiness about it being horsemeat. You see, while I would never in any way condone cruelty to animals, I am not at all sentimental about them either. Guess what? I've eaten horsemeat, and it tasted quite nice.

In fact, when I thought about it, I realised that over the years I've digested quite a lot of what some people would consider "non-standard" meat items:
- snails
- alligator
- ostrich
- kangaroo
- crocodile
- reindeer
- elk
- just about most game you can think of
- goat
- eel
- most raw fish
...and pretty much every seafood/shellfish you can conceivably imagine.

I'm not a huge fan of offal, but I will eat it to be polite, and have probably had my fair share of liver, hearts, kidneys, tripe and tongue in my time. I've therefore always prided myself on how adventurous my palette is and it pains me somewhat when my eldest daughter in particular turns her nose up at perfectly un-adventurous food items!

In many ways, our diets have become more adventurous than in my childhood. My children have eaten a huge number of exotic cuisines from around the world that I wasn't aware of as a child. In a lot of other ways, however, some foods that were quite commonly found on our table when I was a child seem to have fallen out of favour completely - not only various animal "extremeties" (am I the only one who remembers eating giant bovine tongues, oxtail and pigs trotters?), but also meats like rabbit - wonderfully tasty, yet which has seemingly fallen prey to sentimentality about cute bunnies. Previous food scares obviously play a part, but also perhaps a certain "sanitisation" of our food that results in more processing and ironically a move further away from being able to tell what is in it.

It seems you have more chance of being adventurous with food with non-meat items these day. A quick perusal of recent recipes list the following items that I hereby confess to never having tried:

Chia seeds (never even heard of these before)
Quinoa (ditto)
Goji berries

...although perhaps I may be forgiven as most of those are not home-grown traditional UK produce.

Quinoa. (Apparently.)

Perhaps we're on safer ground with these of course, although pesticides and genetic modification also mean that there is never any guarantee that things that we don't expect also end up in non-meat items. Other that growing your own there is no real fail-safe way of knowing what you are consuming.

Anway, all of that is a convoluted way of asking what the weirdest thing is that you've eaten? I'd love to know!

Monday 11 February 2013

Review - Baked By Me Valentine's Cake

I can't remember the countless times (ok, a couple) that I've turned down the opportunity to review chocolate on this blog before. You see chocolate does not tempt me at all, as I don't really have much of a sweet tooth. The "no sweet tooth" rule is well and truly broken, however, when it comes to cake. In fact, I believe the first ever review I did on this blog was for cake. So when the folks at Baker Days contacted me asking if I wanted to review one of their personalised letterbox cakes for Valentine's Day, I had to say yes really, didn't I?

Letterbox cakes are cakes designed to fit through your letterbox, funnily enough - hence ideal for sending someone as a gift. I have to say, however, that we still have an original Victorian door, with what I can only guess is a Victorian-size letterbox, which I think is smaller than a modern one, so we often struggle with stuff not fitting through the letterbox, and our postman had to knock. Not a problem for me as I work from home, but something to bear in mind if you are sending a cake to someone and you don't want them to have to traipse to the post office depot to collect it.

Anyway, the cake arrived in its own little tin, with a personalised card and - nice touch for Valentine's day - a packet of lovehearts. (Yes, kids, I'm definitely eating all of those myself, soz.)

Inside was a foil-packed cake with the design and wording that I had pre-chosen:

It came with a handy little cardboard plate that made it relatively easy to cut:

 ...and eat!

I deliberately chose plain sponge cake as a) it's my favourite, and b) I've often found that it's the most difficult to get right in a non-homemade cake. If you or your recipient don't like sponge, there is also a choice of carrot cake, fruit cake, chocolate cake or even a gluten/wheat-free version.

The verdict:

I confess I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the cake. It was moist and very tasty, and didn't have that slight "hint of synthetic" that can sometimes come with a shop-bought sponge cake. I should confess at this point that I'm personally not a fan of icing, but did not find this overwhelming, and it seemed the right amount for a cake this size. We managed to get four decent portions out of it in total.

The kids of course loved it and now want one for their birthday! Even my husband - usually a terrible cycnic - was impressed, although to be fair his favourite thing about it was the pretty tin... The cakes retail at 14.99, which may seem like a lot for such a small cake, but I do think it would make a nice surprise for someone instead of flowers etc. Just first make sure they have a large letterbox!


Disclosure: I was provided with a free cake for the purposes of this review. All opinions my own.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Can You Teach Children Resilience?

I've got a parenting dilemma, and it's all Robbie Williams' fault.

You see, despite my previous misgivings, I recently signed both daughters up to a "Performing Arts" session on a Saturday morning. I always knew it would be mainly for the benefit of my 5 year old, who is very much into dressing up and performing, but her older sister also often enjoys "putting on a show", so I figured I would try them both with it.

The younger age group has an hour first thing in the morning - split into 20 minutes of singing, 20 minutes of dance, and 20 minutes of drama. For those aged 6+ this goes up to 3 x 1hr = 3 hrs in total. After the first session, both children declared it to be "brilliant" and couldn't wait to go again. Excellent. So I signed them up for the rest of the half-term and bought them each the t-shirt.

After last week's second session, younger daughter was still full of enthusiasm, however, DD1 seemed a little subdued when she came out and didn't say much. To be honest, this isn't unusual for her, so I put it down to a strenuous morning and didn't think much of it.

Until, that is, we heard this song....

...which apparently is one of the songs they had been dancing to. It prompted a very sudden, and very definite, outburst of "I don't want to go any more" from DD1. Trying to get to the bottom of the whys and wherefores didn't really bring me much joy - all she would say initially was that it was "boring" (presumably because they were practising the same songs/dance routines as the previous week?), however, she did later admit that she "missed us".

I don't know why this has riled me as much as it seems to have done. After all, I knew from the outset there was a good chance it would be less her "thing" than her sister's. I suppose I was thrilled to see her initial joy, and yes, there is the fact that I have now paid for a half-term up front based on her declarations that she wanted to carry on!

It's also not the first time this has happened - we had similar tears at the start of Rainbows, then Brownies, school choir, and even school swimming lessons! It seems her initial reaction to something is to give up if she isn't immediately comfortable with it.

I suspect, however, that deep down I am projecting too much of myself onto her. The poor child not only looks like the spitting image of me, but we are both very alike in temperament. We're both introverted, and not particularly good with strangers or new situations.
However, I very much enjoyed performing in my yoof, and did a lot of drama etc - it was one way I was able to build some confidence and pretend to be someone else for a while, and I suppose maybe I was hoping it would be the same for her.

So now I find myself in a dilemma. She is still at the age (not yet 8) where perhaps she has not yet found her niche, and by forcing her to do something that she doesn't want to do I am preventing her from fulfilling her potential. Or, alternatively, she just needs a bit more time to feel comfortable, and once she gets over her initial hump maybe she will enjoy it...in which case a gentle push might be a good thing for her. I guess I'd like her to demonstrate a little bit of staying power - but is that unrealistic at this age?

Answers on a postcard, please....


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