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Thursday 11 December 2014

I'm dreaming of a serene Christmas

I love Christmas, I really do. I'm not one of these people that starts putting up decorations in mid-November, but I do love the build up, the preparation and the twinkly lights.

This year, however, Christmas has me seriously stressed. Stressed in the sense of waking at odd times of the night unable to go back to sleep because my mind is in overdrive. Stressed about the food. Stressed about the presents (or current lack thereof). Stressed about family demands.

It doesn't help that work is about to go through a ridiculously busy period that sees me scheduled to work right up to Christmas Eve (for only the second time in my entire life). Add to that the fact that we have to pack for a ski holiday and for having our hall ceiling replaced as soon as we get back, and my to do list is permanently smouldering around the edges.

I'm partly reassured by conversations with others who are feeling similarly frazzled (is this year really different to others, or is it just a coincidence that I'm not alone in feeling like this?).

Part of the problem of course is that this year contrasts markedly with last year, when I was unemployed and had copious amounts of time to make wreaths, contemplate gifts and prepare food.

Thank goodness, then, for a rare half day off and the (now annual) trip to Bath Christmas market with the lovely Chris. She knows how to do Christmas properly, that's for sure. So, thank you Chris for reminding me that Christmas can also be about slowing down and enjoying what's around you.

Merry Christmas....

Sunday 23 November 2014

A magic carpet ride?

First off-whilst this is technically a review, it's not sponsored in any way. No sir - I voluntarily paid £150 of my very own money to spend an hour on a glorified travelator in an industrial unit somewhere east of Reading.

Let me explain...

You see, we're going skiing again. Soon. Very soon.It's been two years since we last went, and frankly, my husband and I are worried that this is the year the kids outdo us and leave us for dust. Well, powder. We're therefore Doing Something About It.This involves a strenuous and tedious exercise regime to get a vague semblance of ski fitness into those over-40-and-feeling-it legs of ours. Jillian Michaels - we hate and salute you and your 30 Day Shred equally.

Jumping up and down in your living room three times a week is one thing, but it doesn't really help with the real ski practice. Which is why we found ourselves driving down the M4 on a wet Sunday afternoon last week.

They've tried their best to bring the Alpine spirit into a somewhat un-Alpine space:

...but really, we weren't here for the decor. We'd booked an hour's "family time" on the basis it would let all four of us have a go unfettered by other people. Whilst £150 sounds like a lot, on a per person basis it works out roughly the same as a half-hour lesson each. (Have I mentioned skiing ain't cheap yet?).

We arrived about 20 minutes before our session, as instructed, and were pretty much left to our own devices - the kids made the most of the trampoline that was set up in the corner and we mooched about the ski shop. With 5 minutes to go, and no sign of anyone giving us any instruction, we picked out what we thought were the right size ski boots for the kids, and got them to put them on, as well as donning our own. Five minutes after our allocated start time, we had to remind someone that we were waiting, and we were finally given some guidance as to which skis we needed. In the end, the previous people using our "slope" finally vacated it, and we were good to go around 10 minutes later than booked. Not a great start.

Each slope can only take 3 people at a time, so adults and kids had two alternating fifteen minute slots each.

I have to say I found it the most bizarre experience, and it certainly took a lot of getting used to the idea of standing still while the ground did all the moving. The general idea is that you turn side to side, effectively skiing on the spot, but this is easier said than done. Despite all being able to ski more or less parallel, none of us managed to get much beyond a basic snow plough position - even Mr Tin, who has been skiing for 30 years... As our instructor said; "If you can ski on this, you can ski on snow", and I'm certainly hoping that we'll have moved on once we do get on the powdery stuff!

Having said this, we all found it to a worthwhile session, which really helped focus on technique and general fitness. While it is expensive, we are seriously thinking about doing it again before we hit the slopes, as Skiplex are running a special offer on family sessions in December. Whether we will or not remains to be seen, as it is still a LOT of money. Anything that helps with a bit of confidence and technique to get the best out of our actual week's skiing has to be a good thing though.

Friday 7 November 2014

25 years ago today

There are certain events in history that turn out to be those "where were you when" times. They are the events so momentous that you can almost feel the world shifting on its axis.

For example, I always remember my mother telling me she could remember exactly where she was when she heard that JFK had been killed, or when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon.

I was always slightly jealous about this collective memory of the older generation- an instant talking point that bound people of a certain age together.

In my lifetime, those two events of life-changing proportion happened on a sunny September in 2001, and 12 years earlier on a grey November.

I was on a trip back from Finland when the first inklings came. A group of 20 or so teenagers from the town I was living in visiting our twin town in the frozen North. For cost reasons we made the trip from West Germany to northern Finland by train. Leverkusen, Cologne, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Oulu, and back again.

A discarded copy of USA Today at Copenhagen train station while we waited for our connection home - "East Germans flood foreign embassies". Prague and Budapest, that was where they were congregating.

By the time we reached home, momentum was building every day. German TV channels seemed to have turned into rolling news channels when this was a concept previously only known to CNN. My history teacher threw out all mention of a curriculum and wheeled a TV into the classroom. " Das, Kinder, DAS ist Geschichte!"

I confess I had to look up what day of the week that 9th November eventually was. A Thursday, apparently.

Ask my husband, and he'll tell you he was hungover on a sofa in an Israeli Kibbutz when the wall eventually came down. I'm afraid my moment isn't quite as glamorous as it too was a sofa, but just that of my parents, at home in what was still West Germany. Now it's just Germany of course, and the cold war seems to have been replaced by another menace. It's easy to be slightly depressed by mankind's apparent inability to learn from history.

Today, therefore I'm remembering a time when peace seemed possible. Here's to hope.

Herzlichen Glückwunsch, Deutschland.

Monday 11 August 2014

Random holiday rambling, August 2014

Things I have learnt on holiday;

1) Cockroach poo looks remarkably like mouse poo. It's also weirdly crunchy.
2) An upset stomach is still the best bikini diet, but it doesn't help shake off that pale and pasty, 'just arrived' look
3) Either "Jingle Bell Rock" is no longer classed as a Christmas record, or Paphos, 3rd August 2014 sets a new record for inappropriate festive cheer on the radio...
4) No matter what age the children, parenting is spending 99% of your time trying to keep them quiet to avoid annoying other people.
5) In a classic tale of middle class woes, my children do not know how to work a simple pop-up toaster. After all, everyone we know has a Dualit. Oh, the shame.
6) Speaking of shame, I can't help thinking that if you are going to have a large tattoo of what appears to be a bull with giant horns in between and over your breasts, and then sunbathe topless, it looks a bit odd if you suddenly go all shy and start walking around with you hands covering your boobs. No. Not talking about myself, for the avoidance of doubt.

Things that I already knew, but have been reinforced;

7) I'm really, really not built for tanning or sunbathing, and never will be.
8) A "meze" platter always seems like a good idea when contemplating a menu with an empty stomach, but it will only inevitably end in wasted food and the knowledge of what a Christmas turkey must feel like. A bit like the Mediterranean equivalent of a"meal for two " at a Chinese takeaway.

9) Nice as it is to go "offline" for a period of time, it is becoming increasingly difficult to live without internet access, especially when life necessitates the researching of cockroach poo.
10) It's always good to be reminded that swimwear is a great leveller. (See also 6, above)

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Dear Carol...

Dear Carol,

I think my husband may be on to me. Since having my hair cut on Saturday, he has twice remarked on the resemblance of my style to yours – to quote him “Your hair has definitely got that woman from Episodes things going on. You know the one I mean”. This is serious. For all his positive qualities, he is not normally well known for his powers of observation.

The thing is, I am now at a stage where I am ready to take things a step further. I blame the weather. You see, living in a relatively temperate climate, where temperatures do not normally fluctuate too wildly, I have never really had a great need for different seasonal wardrobes. This year, however, our unusually hot summer means I am no longer able to just wear what I wear all year round, and I need to adapt.

I know I’ll never quite manage the perfect six-pack or brilliant white teeth of a single American career gal, but I feel I need to be more aspirational in my business dress. For it’s true, my work wardrobe is looking dated, and I am wishing to import your brand of easy-yet-formal-hot weather-LA-chic to darkest Wiltshire. The whole slightly-harassed-and-sweaty-working-mother look is one, which, quite frankly, I feel I am starting to tire of.

Therefore, while there are certain elements of your lifestyle I have no wish to emulate (recreational drug use has never been my thing, and, nice as he is, I have never felt any desire to sleep with my boss), I find myself more and more frequently asking myself WHAT WOULD CAROL WEAR.

The problem is, I know you’d probably wear this:


And, as we all know, there is NO WAY sensible to me will ever wear a jumpsuit. I'm therefore thankful that you're off my screen for a while. I will miss you though.

But I'll miss your wardrobe more.

Yours infatuatedly,

Tuesday 1 July 2014

Review - Yuu bags

I'm sure sometimes my kids think I'm the world's most backward parent - I don't even pretend to know what's "cool" with kids these days, I've always gone on the philosophy that a) it's probably not aimed at me anyway, b) I'll think it's pointless, and c) the next big thing will be along soon enough anyway.

Yuu bags, however, are cool(*). Apparently. I therefore got parenting brownie points when one popped through my door for us to review.

To be fair, it didn't really pop. These things are pretty bulky, and pretty sturdy.

A Yuu bag, for the uninitiated, is a "desk in a rucksack", which comes with a free fun pack, and is ergonomically designed for young backs. So far, so good. But what did we think of it?

We liked:
- the fact that, considering its bulk, it's actually pretty lightweight
- it fits lots of essentials inside it
- the straps are nicely padded and wide, which makes it relatively comfortable to wear
- the little "desk" seems to work nicely and
- it has lots of little nooks and crannies for keeping treasured possessions safe
- it's great for travel, and the little activity pack kept the kids very amused on a long car journey:

What wasn't so good:

- the zip was slightly tricky for the kids to do up by themselves on occasion
- its bulk is both a pro and a con - great for getting stuff in, but can also get heavy based on how many books they shove inside!
- apparently the pattern (lobsters? ants? we couldn't really decide) was "freaky", but I suspect that may just be a taste thing...

Yuu bags retail at around £43, which seems like a lot to me for a children's backpack. However, after a couple of weeks of use, it still looks as sturdy as ever, which is a good sign for my children, so I do think it will last. I certainly think it will get a decent amount of use for travelling!


(*all claims correct at time of writing only and may be subject to the changing fickleness of 9 year old girls)

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Free CV advice

I'm recruiting at work at the moment- not just for one post, but two. It's amazing how much time it takes up when you're also trying to do a day job, which explains my general lack of online presence. Anyway, after many, many years of firing, it's really, really nice to actually be hiring again, so I'm definitely not complaining.

Having been in the job seeking game myself relatively recently, it's also kind of weird to see the other side of the equation.

When I was made redundant, I was incredibly lucky that my old employer gave me access to the services of an outplacement company, with a very lovely lady called Mary who cajoled me, gave me great advice and, perhaps most importantly, ripped my CV apart and helped me build it back up again to land my current job.

However, not all job seekers are lucky enough to have a Mary looking out for them, and for some that's glaringly obvious.

What started off in my head as a somewhat sarcastic post about the benefits of spell check has therefore morphed into something that I hope might be of help, especially those at the beginning of the greasy career pole. Here, therefore, my tips if you want a head start for a job with me:

1) Spell check is your friend. I know, I know, this wasn't supposed to be a snarky post about poor grammar and punctuation, however,  the squiggly lines in MS Word are there for a reason. Use them.

2) Spell check is your enemy. Yes, I'm contradicting myself. The thing is, while spell check will pick up obvious mistakes, it won't help you with the times you've used the wrong word completely. Do you really mean you have a friendly manor? Were you really a team manger? And if you don't know the difference between effect and affect (and I confess I've had to look it up plenty of times), a dictionary can be handy. Or, yaknow, Google. Another pair of trusted eyes can often be a Godsend with this one.

3) Employment history usually goes backwards. Jumping from present to past to present again is REALLY confusing for somebody reading it.

4) On a similar note, be clear about which tense you are using. Current tense is fine if you're talking about what you're doing at the moment, but sounds odd when you're talking about the student job you had in 1998.

Which leads me on to...

5) It's OK to shorten older stuff if it's not relevant to what you're doing now....


6) it's generally best to keep it short. Whilst there are exceptions, 2 pages is still generally ideal. I've had over 30 applications for one job alone, and if you ramble on, I'm afraid you've lost me at page 3, so frankly pages 4 and 5 are just a waste of ink and paper.


7) that doesn't mean you should use really, really small font squashed ridiculously closely together in order to keep to the two page limit. I'm not as young as I used to be and squinting gives me a headache.

8) Also, swapping fonts halfway through doesn't look interesting and modern, it just looks careless and confused.

9) Write your name at the top of page 1 and make it BIG. It'll ensure I get your name right if you do make it to interview.

Oh, and finally, do try and get my name right if we finally get to meet. Repeatedly calling me Janet when I've already corrected you probably isn't the best way to impress a potential employer.

It's not that hard, really... Good luck!

Saturday 22 March 2014

Two months in (selected) tweets

Right. This work lark ain't particularly conducive to blogging. Who knew? Still, as I do occasionally send out the odd random tweet, I thought I'd use this medium to bring you up to speed. I know, I know, it's cheating, but Mr Tin has been complaining that this is the only medium through which he finds out what I'm up to.

First off, the usual new job jitters:

...then we have the early false sense of security and annoying smugness (pride comes before a fall, they say...):
Yeah. Jinxed it.
Still, it's good to see I've still got my priorities right:
By week 3, I'm starting to definitely feel more at home in the new job:
...and my colleagues' little foibles are as familiar as those of my family:

...whilst I soon find that work not only gets in the way of blogging, but also Twitter itself:
...and there are other annoyances to being back at work:

...such as those "novelty days" at my children's school:

...and the odd commute. "L'Enfer, c'est les autres"(*).

The thing is, I normally like food. A lot. But I guess I wasn't really feeling it. Who knew the humble pancake could cause such strife?

Things then went from bad to worse:

Do I really moan that much? I guess I do...

Yep. Still doing the rubbish mother bit:

...and the rubbish housewife bit.
Not forgetting the rubbish working woman bit:

So, all in all, no real change. Life is busy, and generally good, although reliable hot water would make it even better.


(*roughly translated as "Hell is other people", Jean-Paul Sartre)

Friday 24 January 2014

Things I'm going to miss when back at work

So this is it, the day of reckoning. The last day of officially being unemployed, for yes, I do indeed start a new job on Monday. Having resigned myself to the fact that the recruitment process always takes longer than perhaps would be ideal, I envisaged having another couple of weeks before being in this position. Yet I am going from initial interview to first day in less than two weeks. Whilst this is obviously a Good Thing, it has left me a tad shell-shocked and panicked about getting all those things on my list done that I have been dragging out for the best part of four months...

It will also be the first time that I will be working properly "full time" since before having children, and I am certainly apprehensive about how the whole work-life balance will look. Here, therefore is the list of things I'm going to miss about going back to work...

1) The kids. Despite my regular cries of "IF YOU CARRY ON LIKE THAT I'M SENDING YOU TO YOUR GRANDPARENTS", I am quite fond of the little blighters. The truth is, however, that with both of them being at school and at various hobbies I probably won't see that much less of them anyway, so actually I am less worried about this than perhaps maternal guilt should dictate. But I've never been a fan of guilt of any sort anyway.

2) My burgeoning social life. I've probably made more "playground buddies" in the past four months than in the whole of the almost four years that my eldest has been at school. Whilst I expect I will always float on the peripheries a little bit, it has certainly been nice to not feel like a complete Billy-No-Mates at the school gates for a change. I've even "done coffee" on one or two occasions...

3) Walking. Forced exercise is anathema to me. The thought of the gym fills me with horror, and I've never seen the point in running when walking is perfectly acceptable. I do, however, love walking, and will miss the walks to and from school, and even my weekly walk to the job centre. I really noticed a change in my fitness levels even after not having done it for two weeks over the Christmas holidays.

4) Time for appointments and admin. No longer can I mooch around the local shops on a whim. Groceries will probably have to be ordered online again. Paperwork and tidying will take up evenings. Hair cuts will have to be done on Saturdays. Appointments with doctors/dentists/chiropractors etc will have to be carefully scheduled around working hours.

5) Time for Reading and Relaxation. And Twitter. And painting my nails. And farting about on the Internet...and just generally wasting time by myself.

Mostly however, I am excited. Excited by a new challenge, a chance to learn new things and meet new people. Oh, and excited by the opportunity to go shoe shopping. What does one wear in an office these days?!


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