Juggling all the aspects of my life with some baking, writing and good old fashioned ranting thrown in

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Butlins: The Review

Yesterday we returned from our five day holiday at Butlins, Minehead. About three weeks ago, we upgraded to a silver bungalow so that we would have two bedrooms, a kitchen/dining/living area and a bathroom plus guaranteed ground floor. We also paid for the basic food court dining and pre-booked a few nursery sessions for our daughter.

Upon arrival at roughly 1:30pm, we were checked in quickly and left our luggage at reception as our accommodation would not be ready until 4pm. Although this was something of a nuisance, we were warned in advance that this would be the case and one can see the necessity of cleaning the accommodation after previous guests vacate.

At first, we went to the Skyline Pavilion, where a number of arcade games kept us entertained for a while, although at quite a large price (around £1 per ride). Luckily, we soon discovered Bob the Builder's Yard, an indoor funfair specifically designed for under 5s. Our two-year-old loved it. There were various merry-go-round type rides with all different vehicles - from aeroplanes to ladybirds, a long slide, a mini waltzer and a train ride. The queues were short, the children are allowed unlimited rides and, best of all, it was completely free of charge! We spent most of our time there before heading to our accommodation.

The bungalow was clean and everything appeared as we expected. Unfortunately, the television only received three channels, one being the Butlins information channel. The signal was so poor that we could barely read the information anyway and the other channels could barely be seen at all. We reported it to a cleaner that was around and she assured us that someone would come by to look at it. Later we also discovered that the toaster and heaters were also broken.

Heading to the food court at dinner time, we were happy to see the variety of choices. I had sliced roast pork, carrots, boiled potatoes with herbs and gravy. While I wouldn't say it was the best meal I've eaten, it was certainly of a reasonable standard and about what I expected for the price we paid. My daughter had fish fingers, carrots, peas and gravy, which she enjoyed. My husband wasn't so happy with his choice of a beefburger and chips as the meat was quite dry and there was no cheese on offer to go in the burger. Other than that one meal, we all enjoyed everything else we had in the food court. At breakfast times, we were offered cooked food such as eggs, bacon and sausages and also fruit and cereal. I would definitely recommend the dining plan, especially as it saved me lots of time in preparing food and washing up!

For lunchtimes, we prepared small meals with food from the on-site shop. The prices were very high and I think if we decide to return next year, we'll take more of our own supplies such as tea and sugar and make the trip to one of the supermarkets in Minehead for the rest of our food and other necessities.  The only other restaurant we used during our stay was the Pizza Hut, which offered the same service and quality of food you would expect from any Pizza Hut.

One of the highlights of our stay were two trips to the swimming pool. With ample changing facilities, many slides, a lazy river, wave machine, small pool and shallow areas for smaller children and non-swimmers, it was probably the best pool I have ever been to and we all enjoyed it immensely. It is best to check times though, as we found one morning that we couldn't go straight in as premier guests were offered a separate session.

Another very useful facility was the nursery. Our daughter attended the free session on Tuesday, a late night session on Wednesday evening and two daytime sessions on Thursday. She enjoyed every moment of it and it gave me and my husband some time alone together, something we have gone without since she was born! On Wednesday evening, we had a wander around the arcade games, went for cocktails in Bar Rosso then collected a small pizza from Pizza Hut before picking our daughter up. The nursery staff were brilliant; very welcoming and friendly. I could barely drag my daughter away at the end of her sessions there!

Another problem we had was arranging activities. My husband went along to the leisure hub on Tuesday, hoping to take part in some archery. He was told that he needed to pre-book this activity, something we hadn't been previously told. Although annoyed, he arranged and paid for us both to do archery on Thursday morning, while our daughter would be in nursery. However, when we turned up, our names were not on the instructor's list and we had to produce a receipt to prove that we had paid for it. He included us in the group but we were very much tagged on, always shooting last and feeling as though we were holding others up. It was a fun session, despite being a little soured by the difficulties in arranging it.

After all of the problems we experienced, we did complain and were visited by a manager, who brought us a new toaster, had the heaters fixed and gave us Butlins vouchers to spend on resort as a good-will gesture. We were pleased that the problems were eventually dealt with but it has put us off booking again a little.

We didn't attend many of the shows, simply because they weren't to our tastes. I took my daughter to a Mike the Knight show, a Pingu show and a Puppet Show, which were all entertaining and enjoyable. I also took her to one of the under 5s discos, which she really loved, dancing around with the other children and playing games such as musical statues. The redcoats organising these events were engaging and entertaining.

We are still deciding whether or not to book again with Butlins for our holiday next year. Our daughter had a brilliant time and we did enjoy aspects of it too. For anyone who is planning a holiday there, I have a few pointers:

  • Check if you need to pre-book any of the activities you wish to take part in before you go
  • Pre-book any sessions in the nursery you wish to make use of
  • If you're self-catering, take along some supplies and go to the supermarkets outside of the resort
  • Make good use of the free facilities such as the swimming pool, shows and fairgrounds
  • Carefully plan what you want to do each day so you don't end up rushing from place to place!

Friday, 7 September 2012

The Start of Something

Knowing that my Open University materials were going to be dispatched today, I checked the website this morning, wondering where they were on their long journey to me. I have been worried that they would arrive next week, when I shan't be at home to receive them. So it was with surprise that I discovered they were dispatched a day early and had already gone to and from two different depots.
But I had to go out. Our playgroup's first meeting of the new term was this morning and I knew that my Little Monster would be distraught if she missed it. In truth, I was eager to see my friends again too. So I risked leaving the house.

On arriving home, I felt a sudden panic that there would be a card from the delivery company and that I would have to spend ages on the phone to beg them to redeliver tomorrow. But there was nothing there was I opened the front door. So I waited.

Finally, at about four o'clock, the buzzer sounded and I collected the books I have been excited to see for months. Having new big textbooks full of new information has always excited me, though perhaps not with maths or physics, my least favourite subjects. To be honest, I get a tiny thrill just from opening a package, even though I usually know what packages contain if they arrive for me. Sometimes, usually around Christmas, a package will arrive in my Other Half's name and I'll wonder if it's really for me. It usually is - he prefers to shop online.

Ripping off the wrappings, I immediately checked that the parcel had everything it should: a letter welcoming me to the course, a collection of audio CDs, an assessment guide, a thin text which is the study guide and a thick textbook which is the workbook I have heard much about from past A215 students.

I have already flipped through some of the study guide and read in detail the first week's schedule of work. I have read the Index of the workbook and can barely stop myself from starting on it's activities. This is my third course but I was not nearly so excited to start either of the others. This is exactly what I want to be doing. I want to be a writer.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Finding a nursery school: The search continues

Many months ago, I filled out a preference form for my Little Monster nursery place. We chose a place that is about a twenty minute walk from our current home and which had a good inspection report. The form only allowed for one preference to be noted.
This week, I finally received the letter I have been waiting for: A letter from our local council, telling us whether or not our daughter has been a given a nursery place. It did not contain good news. Due to other applicants living closer to the nursery than we do, she does not have a place. Despite there being nothing else I could have done, I feel guilty that she might now miss out.
And so, the search goes on. The council helpfully sent a list of nurseries with places still available. Two were in the area we're probably moving to. We are now on the waiting list for one, as it is now full, and have applied for a place at the other. The waiting has now started again as we wait to find out if she has a place at this new nursery.

To those who were lucky enough to be given a place at a nursery, I congratulate and envy you. For those of you who are now waiting as well, I sympathise. I recommend calling any potential nurseries as soon as possible as the remaining places seem to be disappearing very quickly.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


With a weekend of organising, catering and playing host at a family gathering behind me, I still find that I have tons to do. The housework has been terribly neglected since my Big Clean last week, we need to find a new place to live after discovering that our landlord wants our flat back and, until yesterday, I had done no writing in a week! 

Now trying to get back on track, there's a load of laundry in the washing machine, I'm viewing a flat tomorrow afternoon and I have just posted another instalment of my short story on my Wordpress blog. Plus I had another story idea yesterday so quickly jotted it down on paper to avoid losing it to my rather poor memory. 

Added to all of this, I am eagerly awaiting a letter to hopefully confirm the Little Monster's place in nursery for next January and the delivery of my Open University materials ahead of beginning A215 Creative Writing at the end of this month. 

I am going to try not to neglect this blog as much as I have been. To that end, I hope to post a rather brilliant film review later today so watch out for it! 

Why is it that everything seems to come at once? 

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Recipes from the Hairy Dieters

It was a bit of a shock when the Hairy Bikers, my favourite television cooks, appeared on the One Show looking much slimmer. They described their new programme, Hairy Dieters: How to Love Food and Lose Weight, and I was immediately interested. 

Having watched a few episodes, I have decided to try out a few of the recipes. Today, we had Toasted crumpets and warm spiced berries with yoghurt and honey and for lunch, a tuna Niçoise wrap. I did change the recipes a tiny bit by using a mix of frozen berries in the breakfast and by leaving out the olives in the wrap, as I don't like them myself. 

I defrosted the frozen overnight in my fridge then, as that didn't quite do the job, cooked them for a little longer than suggested in the recipe. Both myself and my Little Monster (aged two) loved this dish, it was delicious. The ingredients go together very well. The mix of crunchy crumpet, smooth yoghurt, soft fruit and sweet honey is an utter delight. Plus, it's on 257 calories per portion! 

The tuna niçoise wrap was also delectable. Again, the different tastes and textures really complimented each other; crunchy from the beans and spinach, soft eggs and lovely taste of the fish. I was surprised to find how full I felt afterwards too, especially since it only contains 325 calories! 

These two recipes are fantastic examples of healthy yet tasty food. I look forward to trying more from the programme - particularly interested in the healthy pie recipe! 

Here are the recipes if you want to try them too:

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

A short story, a novella or a novelette?

Despite having a novel on the go already, I decided to start writing a short story as well (there will be some shameless self-publicity for this at the end of the post). This is mostly because I have been writing this novel for quite a while and I know it's not going to be finished for a long time yet - I'm only roughly halfway through the first draft! 

But after showing my new work to my Other Half, he suggested that this story could be made much longer than a short story. Knowing that I have not got the time to start a whole new novel, plus that would risk the old one being forgotten, I wondered how long a short story could really be before it becomes something else. So I turned to my old friend, Google. It turns out, a short story is generally anything below 7,500 words. More than that, and it becomes a "novelette", something I had never even heard of before. A novella, which I ignorantly thought was just another, more fancy way of saying short story, is anything above 17,500 words. I had no idea that literary genres were so complicated! 

If you're interested in reading the first part of my short story, it can be found here: http://ameliaappletree.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/short-story/

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Doctor Who Experience: My Review

"A Madman with a box"

Being a family of Doctor Who fans, we were very excited to visit the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay yesterday. Unfortunately, the day began with a problem - there are very limited instructions on how to find the attraction. However, I made a quick call to the helpline, spoke to a very helpful advisor who gave me some useful directions. 

On arrival, we found there was quite a lengthy queue but this is to be expected at such places. Of course, the Little Monster was not too thrilled about it but we managed to keep her quiet and distracted - it helped that clips from the programme were being shown on screens in the foyer area. 

TARDIS set from the Tom Baker years
Eventually, a friendly guide ushered us through the doors and into the interactive portion of the Experience. The Doctor then guided us through an adventure, including a ride in the TARDIS and encounters with a few of his worst enemies. Our own Little Monster was a little scared by the daleks but afterwards said that they were her favourite part of the whole thing! Smoke and lighting effects, 3D video, interactive controls and moving floors all helped to create a very exciting atmosphere and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. 

After the adventure was over, we were led into an exhibition of props and objects from the programme, including various costumes, monsters and even some of the different TARDIS sets. 

The Doctor's Worst Enemy: The Daleks
All in all, we found the Experience to be a brilliant day out and well worth the ticket price, which initially may seem expensive. Definitely must for any Doctor Who fan! 

Friday, 10 August 2012

Sunshine and Smoothies

I was thrilled when the sunshine came back yesterday. As my terrible luck would have it, I had errands to run unfortunately so we didn't get much of a chance to enjoy it. We have a family day out planned for tomorrow but I really wanted to make the most of the sunshine and my matching sunny mood today.

After some consideration, me and my Little Monster headed off to the supermarket, bought loads of fruit then returned home, where we whizzed it up into lovely, summery, fruity smoothies.

This one is a mango smoothie. It was extremely simple to make: 

2 mangoes, peeled and chopped up
300 ml semi-skimmed milk
some ice

Put the mango and milk in the blender and blend until smooth. Put ice into glasses or into a jug then pour over the smoothie mixture. The recipe I read says to put into the fridge to chill but I found leaving it two minutes with the ice in was quite enough really. It makes enough for two adult portions or 4 child portions

Absolutely delicious. Later, I shall be making more for the Other Half - his favourite, banana and honey:

1 banana
300ml semi-skimmed milk
handful of ice 
1-2 tbsp honey 

Put everything in the blender. Its that simple! 

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A new beginning

I have started a new blog. I love my current blog dearly but I realise that its a personal blog about my life and I would like to have a separate blog for my writing. Do not despair, I say with some sarcasm, as I shall try to keep this blog up as well. Besides, where else would I express my pride at every one of my daughter's achievements (today, she managed to sing the chorus to "Rumour has it" by Adele!) and rant about everything that annoys me.

If you wish to take a little look, here is a link to my new writing-focused blog: http://ameliaappletree.wordpress.com/

Monday, 6 August 2012

A new study year approaches

The summer holidays are in full swing and yet I'm already looking ahead to my next Open University course, Creative Writing (A215), which will begin in a little less than eight weeks. With my first two courses, I was reading my set books at this point to prepare myself. But this course has no set books, only the textbooks which will arrive sometime in September. In all likelihood, I won't have time to even read them before the course starts as September is set to be incredibly busy, what with our family holiday, the Little Monster's birthday and a few other social engagements.

There are a few things I can do to prepare. Firstly, I can buy my new stationary. It may sound rather sad but there's something rather wonderful about a brand new, clean notebook, ready and waiting to be filled. I have heard other writers comment on how daunting a blank page can be but, for me, its inspiring. I plan to have a little notebook to carry around with me, so that if a good idea hits me I have something to jot it down before its wiped frustratingly from my memory. I'll also have a nice big notebook, probably hardback, to keep assignments drafts and planning. This leads onto the second thing I can do to prepare for my course: write. Although I regularly use my laptop for writing, especially for writing my novel as it would only need to be typed up later anyway, I never feel a craving to type, only to handwrite. At times, I simply have an impulse to write. Learning some writing exercises has given me something to write about when I don't feel in the mood for writing my novel. Plus, in one case so far, a writing exercise has turned easily into a short story. 

Thirdly, and many argue this is of the utmost importance for a  would-be writer, I can prepare by reading. This part is already going well, given that I have just finished reading The Hunger Games Trilogy (which was brilliant, by the way). Now I am looking for something new to read - recommendations are extremely welcome. I used to read books on holidays but something tells me I'll be a little busy keeping my Little Monster happy! 

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Book Review: The Hunger Games

I promise I will try not to give any spoilers in this post as I know all too well how angering it is to be looking forward to reading a book, only to have it spoilt by something a careless person has written on the internet.

After a day of illness on Monday, yesterday afternoon I decided that I felt well enough to begin reading the new books my Other Half kindly bought me (under condition that he'll be reading them straight after me): The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I have been hearing nothing but good things about these books for a long time and was pleased to finally get stuck in. From the beginning, they did not disappoint. The story had me hooked very quickly and I found it difficult to put down.

Yes, dark visions of the future are fairly common in literature but this certainly felt different to others of the same theme. Much of the imagery was quite original and what was unoriginal probably couldn't have been easily avoided. The main character was someone, though much younger than myself, that I felt I could understand and relate to. She is also an actual strong female figure, something that seems to be lacking in many books. The romance is limited, which is quite a welcome change, and well woven into the rest of the story rather than seeming to be wedged in to catch a wider audience. There is a little teenage angst and emotional confusion but it feels real and not overdone, the kind one might expect a real sixteen year old to go through.

There is some blood and guts, which makes it very unlike many of the books I have read, particularly one with a female protagonist. Again, this is well done and not too much gory detail is added unnecessarily.

The ending of the first book isn't quite a cliff-hanger but I would definitely have been left frustrated had the second book, Catching Fire had not been to hand. All too often with sequels, I am a little bored by the beginning as the writer almost retells the whole of the first book so as to help the reader catch up, though I am unsure of who would read the second of a trilogy first and would therefore need to be caught up. Luckily, Collins doesn't feel the need to do this, instead putting details of the first book in as she goes, which doesn't bore me at all as the story is progressing constantly.

I am now well into the second book and will probably follow up this post once I have finished the third book!

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Getting by with a little help from my friends

I am the kind of person who does not usually ask for help. I much prefer to struggle on alone. Some might say its a good thing to be self-reliant. Others might say I'm stubborn and don't wish to appear vulnerable. I think its a bit of both.

 Yesterday, a little while after waking, I began to feel uncomfortably dizzy. I sat and drank some water, thinking that I was perhaps still a bit tired and maybe dehydrated. But the feeling became worse and worse. I realised that it was vertigo, something I suffered with a few years ago and I have dreaded returning ever since. Apparently often caused by some kind of imbalance in the inner ear, vertigo causes severe dizziness and imbalance.

 My Little Monster behaved beautifully, bringing me a blanket when I felt shivery and constantly reminding me to sip my water, probably something she has copied from how I treat her when she's poorly. But as time went on, and I felt no better, I realised that looking after her was going to be too difficult. The Other Half was stuck at work and could only help by keeping in touch to make sure that I hadn't passed out. My poor little girl was stuck watching TV and playing by herself.

 So I decided, against my usual nature, to ask for help. I texted a friend. She replied and, despite being busy and needing to reorganise her day in order to do so, she came to look after me. She brought her own little girl for my Little Monster to play with. She brought me jelly and a chocolate bar for when I felt better. It was strange to be looked after as its the role I usually fill. Normally when I get ill, I try my very best to ignore it and get on. But this wasn't something I could struggle through with on my own. I remember learning about the "Sick Role" in a previous Open University course. It involves taking on the responsibility of trying to get better, in exchange for certain privileges such as special food (jelly) to eat and being allowed to rest rather than carry out normal tasks such as work or chores. It isn't something I do very well with.

 It just goes to show the importance of having the support of good friends when you really need it. Without my friend, I would have been stuck on the sofa and my little girl would have been lonely and bored all day long.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Pivotal Moments - Telling Someone

I originally wrote this post for the Britmums Blogging Prompt "Pivotal Moments". Unfortunately, I waited too long to upload and the linky is now closed.

Looking back, I think one of the most pivotal moments in my life was my decision to tell someone a long guarded secret about myself. It isn't something I have spoken about on my blog before, but I suffered sexual abuse as a child.

I had been seeing my boyfriend for a little while when we started hitting a problem. We both wanted to sleep together but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Every time we got close, I would stop completely, sometimes bursting into tears. He said we could wait but I was scared it could jeopardize our relationship, which was otherwise great. But it didn't take long for him to work out that something was very wrong. 

I nearly ended the whole thing there and then. But I was otherwise so happy with him that I decided to finally tell someone what had happened to me. I could barely get the words out but I think, to an extent, he knew what I was going to say. He was brilliant; very sympathetic and understanding. I had always thought that if I told a boyfriend what had happened to me, he would run a mile. I admit, it is a lot to deal with and not everyone would able to handle it. 

Our relationship was by no means easy. There were probably more downs than ups for quite a while. But two years later, my boyfriend proposed to me. Now he's my Other Half and we have our Little Monster. I never thought I could have a normal adult relationship, thinking that I would never get over the things that had happened during my childhood. But, for the most part, I have managed to put it behind me. I have never been happier than I am now, although I do still struggle with some PTSD related problems. If I had never told anyone, I probably would never have formed a relationship with anyone, or else I would have forced myself into one and been even more miserable than I already was. I certainly wouldn't have my Little Monster, something completely unimaginable now. I have everything I could have wished for, perhaps minus a mansion and a big bag of cash! Telling someone was the best decision I have ever made and one of the most pivotal moments of my life. 

I urge anyone who has suffered abuse that if you find someone you can trust enough, tell them about it. Its a huge relief and the first step on a path to being much happier. 

Saturday, 28 July 2012

London 2012 has officially begun!

It has been a long time coming but the Olympics are finally here. I'm not actually a big sports enthusiast but I can see the importance of this event; so many countries coming together to compete and celebrate their sporting achievements. Its a beautiful idea. 

The opening ceremony was much talked about and I was looking forward to watching. It certainly did not disappoint. The ideas were creative and astoundingly well executed. A rendition of Jerusalem never fails to get me feeling patriotic and seeing choirs of children around the country singing their own national songs was good too; I felt it gave a sense of inclusion. Watching the set of rural British countryside become industrialised was incredible; fantastic set pieces and use of the space. The medley of British music across the decades, accompanied by some brilliant dancing was fun to watch and I liked the little love story woven in. Little moments of humour were added with the arrival of the Queen and James Bond jumping out of a helicopter and Rowan Atkinson giving a Bean-esque performance during Chariots of Fire. Overall, I think it really represented Britain very well. Our achievements, our music, our history and our culture. Well done Danny Boyle! 

The parade of athletes was interesting to see. Countries that usually are in the news due to conflicts and friction with others were represented by smiling athletes, come to compete and represent their home country. Children carrying copper leaves accompanied them. No explanation for this was given but I suspected it must have something to do with lighting the Olympic flame, given that they seemed to be dressed as ancient Greeks. The idea for the Olympic cauldron was extraordinary when it eventually came together. Flaming copper petals coming together to form a gigantic flame in the centre of the stadium. Utterly beautiful and a brilliant symbol of the games themselves. 

I must admit, towards the end I did start to doze off and I believe I may have missed a few bits. Fortunately, we have it recorded and I'll be watching it later today with the Other Half, who was at a work function last night. I did catch the glorious firework display and performance by Sir Paul McCartney. Hey Jude was the perfect song to end the ceremony. People of all languages can join in with the "Na na na"s at the end, ultimately uniting everyone in the stadium, along with all of us singing along at home too. 

It was a truly amazing show. A big congratulations to everyone involved, from the organisers to the volunteers and performers. You were all amazing! 

Friday, 27 July 2012

They grow up so fast...

Its common for parents to, amongst all of the pride and joy, to feel a little sad as they watch their children grow up. But nowadays, it seems there's a huge issue with children growing up too fast. I remember watching a television programme, I think on Channel 4, about young girls being introduced to mature ideas like sex at a very young age through fashion and the media. I remember making a mental note that this might be something I need to keep an eye on as my own little girl gets older. I don't want her to be introduced to adult ideas of how to look attractive when she should be concentrating on learning and having lots of childish fun. 

While it is an issue that I was concerned about, I didn't expect it to become relevant for us for a good few years yet. So I was rather shocked when a shop assistant in our local supermarket commented to my two year old that she looked "sexy" in her new sunglasses. At first, I was a bit disturbed but just left the shop quickly, thinking that I would talk to my Other Half about this later, to see what he thought about it. As I thought more about it, the more disgusted I was and when I later told the Other Half, he was outraged and immediately called the supermarket (he's much better at making complaints than I am, being more verbose and more able to make a clear argument). I am not going to name and shame them because the supermarket instantly apologised and seem to be taking it seriously. When asked to give a description of the member of staff in question, I also pointed out that the staff in this store are usually polite and appropriately talkative with my daughter. 

This incident will not affect my Little Monster, I am sure. She doesn't seem to remember it at all, or at least hasn't mentioned it. I doubt she has any concept whatsoever what the word "sexy" means. But the fact that a grown up thought it appropriate to use that word in reference to a toddler is disturbing. I do not believe that this woman was a paedophile or seriously meant that she found my daughter sexually appealing. If I had, I probably would have made a formal complaint at the time. From other experiences of hearing this word thrown about, occasionally in reference to someone far too young for it to be appropriate, I honestly don't think some people consider what they're actually saying and what affect it could have on a child. 

Children are extremely impressionable. Now, I'm not saying we should wrap our children in cotton wool. If she asks me where babies come from, I will be fairly honest, probably emphasising the biology of the process. But I do not want her to mature too early. Some of the clothes I see little girls wearing do disgust me. I recall seeing a little girl, perhaps aged about seven, with "In your dreams" written across her t-shirt and wondering why on earth a parent would let their daughter wear that. A girl of that age might perhaps know what sex is through asking questions but should she really have a concept of sexual desire? I think not. Frankly, I would be far more upset if my daughter described herself as "sexy" during her childhood than if she uttered a swear word. Perhaps others will disagree with me. Perhaps others will think me old fashioned, that I am behind the times and need to accept that society is changing. But what exactly is it changing into? The kind of place where a child should be thinking about looking sexy? I sincerely hope not. 

I will end this post on this point. Women have fought to be seen as equals, to be able to work and have careers, to have all the same rights as men. But now females seem to be taught from a very young age that looking attractive is supremely important. Is this not a gigantic step backwards? Why are we not teaching our children that what's on the inside is far more important? Of course I tell my little girl that she looks pretty in a new dress. But I praise her far more when she learns to recognise a new letter or counts from one to ten without my help. Those are the things to be proud of, surely. 

I would welcome the views of others on this subject so please comment with your opinion on this issue.  

Monday, 23 July 2012

Surviving the Summer Holidays with a Toddler

I am thrilled that the sunshine has arrived. Looking out of my window at the blue sky does make me smile. But already, I'm dreading the idea that for the next six weeks, my usual mums group is closed up for the holidays. Its a reminder of how much I rely on that one group to provide me with two hours of adult socialisation while my Little Monster's in the crèche. There aren't many activities for under-5s on at all actually and play centres are due to be packed with older children. So here is my guide to surviving the summer holidays with a toddler...

1. Keep Cool. Tantrums are far more likely to strike when your toddler is getting too hot. My daughter loves an afternoon shower to cool off. She splashes about it in the water and the whole thing becomes a game of me chasing her around the bathtub with the shower hose.

2. Keep a good supply of arty crafty stuff. On a really hot day, leaving the house may not be the best idea with your toddler. Plus, daily trips to the local park can become a little boring for all concerned. If there are days where you have nothing to do, get out some paper and paints/stickers/glue and various scraps of wrapping paper and tissue paper. Baking is another great indoor activity.

3. Make a play-date. All those mums I miss seeing during the holidays do actually exist outside of the group. Now could be the perfect time to turn a playgroup acquaintance into a friend. Invite someone who has a child of a similar age to yours over for lunch. Or arrange a big meet up of all your usual group at the park or even the beach if you're fortunate enough to have one nearby.

4. Don't feel guilty about having the occasional lazy day. At least once a week, we spend the day indoors. We watch DVDs, read books and play games. Its actually really nice to have a day of simply enjoying each other's company. There's no need to arrange activities for every day and if you try to, you'll probably run out of ideas very quickly.

5. Have a picnic. My daughter gets ridiculously excited at the prospect of a picnic. It must be the combination of yummy food, a break from the usual routine and being outdoors. You needn't go far - if you're lucky enough to have a garden then use it. Unfortunately, I live in a first floor flat but the park isn't far away.

6. Keep an eye out for any activities that are on. As I said, there don't seem to be many activities for under-5s on during the summer holidays. So it would be a real shame to miss them! Keep up-to-date using local authority websites or your local paper. If you search the internet, you might find a website giving listings of events in your local area.

7. Remember the sun cream and a hat! I know we hear it time and time again but make sure you have a good supply of sun cream and a few hats for your toddler. I'm the kind of person who looks out the window and rejoices at the gorgeous weather, only to realise that I have no sun cream and my Little Monster's sun hat has completely disappeared. Plus, my daughter has been known to lose her hat on days out so I always try to remember to carry a spare.

Most importantly, have fun! I hope everyone has a great summer!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Another rant against my fellow women

I know we're supposed to be all sisterly and never say a word against a fellow lady. But some women drive me insane with some of the things they do. So here's a list of ridiculous things that other women do. As a disclaimer, I am NOT saying that all women do these things. In fact, most of the women I know do not do these things. Its only the minority but they're making the rest of us look bad. 

1. Wearing extremely skimpy clothing then shrieking "Pervert!" at every man who glances in their direction. Firstly, men are not necessarily horrible creeps if they have a cheeky glance. Obviously, if they're openly staring then that's a different matter. Secondly, if you don't want people looking at it, cover it up! The last time I saw this happen, the girl in question was in public wearing a bra and an unbuttoned waistcoat. Clearly a very classy young lady. 

2. Vehemently claiming that they should be treated entirely equally to men in every way but then complaining when a man doesn't give up a seat on the bus for them/pull out a chair for them/hold a door open for them because they want to be treated like a "lady". You can't actually have it both ways. (Of course, exceptions should be made for pregnant ladies) 

3. Similar to No. 2 really. Women who love to spout on about feminism and doing it all for themselves then the second they need their car fixed or they need help with carrying something, they put on the "helpless little lady" act. I have actually known women who will purposefully burst into tears to dodge anything from bank charges to speeding tickets. All you are doing is reinforcing a negative stereotype and making yourself look really pathetic. 

4. The idea that its more important to spend time with one's friends than one's partner. I have chosen to spend my life with my Other Half. So surely its safe to assume that I quite like spending time with him. Plus, time alone with him could very well equal sex or at least a lovely cuddle on the sofa. Time alone with this type of "friend" will probably equal bitter whinging about how crap men are. Not a difficult choice to make really, is it? 

5. Punishing men by withholding sex. This is just stupid. Surely you are also punishing yourself since you won't get any sex either. Why do some women not wish to admit that they actually enjoy sex? It's really annoying for all concerned. 

6. The absolute worst thing I have ever heard of a woman doing. And yes, I have actually encountered women who do this. Trapping a man in a relationship by getting pregnant without consulting him. Then laughing with their friends about how much of a fool he is. This will not lead to a happy relationship, mark my words. 

The things on my list do nothing but create a negative stereotype. I've heard many a man comment on how manipulative women can be. True, they probably shouldn't make such a sweeping generalisation but you can see where they got the idea from. Also true that men do things wrong. If your partner forgets your birthday or to tell you how pretty you look in your new dress, actually tell him this. Secretly resenting him and coming up with bizarre little punishments will never ever solve any problem. It will only make him think that you've completely lost the plot. 

Monday, 16 July 2012

Meet The Mummy, The Housewife, The Wife, The Best Friend and The Student

My entire blog is based around the theme of juggling the different aspects of my life. I have found that, to manage my life effectively, I actually need to be five different people. Let me introduce you to them.

No. 1 The Mummy

This is the person I become when playing with my Little Monster. I am completely without shame as I dance around my living room, sing "The Wheels on the Bus" in public and pretend to be a fierce monster who will eat up small children. My main goals are entertaining my daughter and generally having lots of very immature fun, while teaching her lots of important things like how to read.

No. 2 The Housewife

This is the person that pops up when its time to make dinner, get the laundry done or get the flat cleaned up after Mummy and The Little Monster have finished making a mess of it. I am sensible, organised and a little irritable. My goals are to have a clean and tidy flat and a healthy yet tasty meal on the table that has been cooked entirely from scratch. Unfortunately, I don't appear as often as I perhaps should.

No. 3 The Wife

This person has actually existed since I was seventeen but back then was called The Girlfriend, only three years ago becoming The Wife. I am flirtatious, confident and get up to things that would cause The Mummy to blush and The Housewife to tut and shake her head in disapproval (though probably just to cover her jealousy). Many people seem to believe that I disappeared long ago when the Little Monster was born but actually I just don't come out as often as I used to. I usually appear after about 9pm and perhaps during nap time, plus the occasional naughty text message conversation with the Other Half during the day. But it's not all about the sex, I'm also the one that likes a cuddle on the sofa in the evening.

No. 4 The Best Friend

I have known the Other Half for a very long time. For a few years, before The Girlfriend came along, we were just friends. The Best Friend is someone I still become for a little while each day, usually more at weekends. Me and the Other Half play computer and board games, watch comedy films and generally have a good laugh. I am also there for the Other Half when he needs to talk about something or asks for advice that doesn't involve the flat or our daughter.

No. 5  The Student

Though I am called The Student, I am also the part that blogs and writes and reads novels. I am academic, imaginative and, it could be said, a bit selfish. Unlike the other four, I am focussed entirely on myself and my own development and goals. Some days, I am around for hours. Sometimes I am bubbling beneath the surface, desperate to come out and spend some time sitting at the laptop or curled up on the sofa with a good book. Sometimes I am suppressed for days at a time, such as if the Little Monster is ill and needs looking after.

During the course of a day, I have to switch between these personalities at a moment's notice. If The Wife is enjoying some very adult time with the Other Half but there's a sudden noise over the baby monitor, The Mummy needs to appear pretty quickly. They can be a little interchangeable. A combination of The Mummy and The Housewife, for example, gives the rather delightful result of doing the hoovering while dancing to the Queen classic, "I want to break free" (You'll only know why this is delightful if you have seen the video. If you haven't watched it, go away and do so immediately, assuming the cave you're living in has sufficient internet for youtube).

I suppose all parents share this need for switching quickly between roles. The Other Half has the daily task of switching from Daddy mode to Work mode, which must be difficult. I think the typical problem for many couples comes when its time to conjure up their sexual alter-egos when they're completely knackered from being Mummy and Daddy all day long. The key to happiness seems to be getting the balance of each role just right. If anyone figures out how to do that, please let me know.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

A Few of my Favourite Things

When I'm having a bad day or just feeling a bit down, there are a few things that will usually cheer me up. 

1. If I'm woken up early or I really don't feel like getting out of bed, a breakfast of dippy egg and toast really cheers me up. It has been my favourite breakfast since I can remember. 

2. Watching some mindless television. Some examples are Friends, Frasier and Everybody Loves Raymond. Simple comedy, yes, but they always make me laugh. 

3. If mindless television fails, a feel-good film will do the trick. The Wedding Singer, 50 First Dates, You've Got Mail, Notting Hill, The Holiday...oh the list could go on. Basically anything funny yet tear-jerking with a happy ending. 

4. A nice big tub of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. As a direct result of Blockbusters having a 2 for 1 deal on  this product, I ballooned to just over 12st at the age of fourteen. These days, I try to limit myself to a third of a tub at a time. This doesn't always work. 

5. Picnics. Of course, this does rely on the weather. Despite the near constant rain recently, I did manage to take the Little Monster for a picnic in the park last week. It was lovely. 

6. Some good music to sing along to. If we're having a boring day, I pop on some lively music and dance around the living room with my Little Monster. I do close the blinds these days, after I caught the lady across the street staring at us...

7. Baking, especially if the result is something warm and comforting, like a banana loaf. 

8. Craft activities. Whether its painting, scrap-booking or sewing, there's something very relaxing about craft. Plus it has the added bonus of a sense of accomplishment at the end. Or a good laugh at how ridiculous the finished result looks. 

9. When my Little Monster runs up and says "I love you" for no reason at all. Always makes me grin. 

10. A cuddle from the Other Half. If I've had a hard day, cuddling up on the sofa under a blanket always makes it better. 

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

My pretty little Lumix

Last night, me and the Other Half went camera shopping. I'm very glad I had done some research and looked at reviews and detailed specifications before actually going to buy it. The staff had very little knowledge about the cameras or their features. It took them about ten minutes to actually find the camera once we had made our selection!

We chose the Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ1, which I already described a bit on my previous post so I shan't bore you with a repeat of the technical specifications. Having only seen pictures beforehand, I was pleased to find it just as sleek and pretty looking in reality. Its a perfect size for my purposes; comfortable to hold yet small enough to fit nicely in my bag or pocket.

I apologise for the terrible quality of this photo. It was taken with my camera phone, which is rubbish. Hopefully it still manages to convey the loveliness of new camera though. But enough of how pretty it is, I should really note how great the pictures it can take are too!

Below is a little test of the picture quality.

Taken by the Samsung Galaxy Ace phone's camera
Taken by the Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ1

I know extremely little about photography so my review of this test will be very basic. I think the differences are pretty obvious. The colours look washed out and really dull on the camera phone picture. Everything's much crisper and more vibrant on the SZ1 picture. I think it could probably do a lot better actually but I haven't found my way around all of the features yet, of which there are many. My last digital camera just had landscape, macro or normal. The SZ1 also has baby mode, through glass mode (for nosey neighbours, one assumes), panoramic mode and many more. I've had a very short test of the HD video capture with really good results. We were keen to get a camera that also took good videos as we like creating videos to send to the Other Half's family, since they live far away. Its a nice way to update them on how we're all doing. Or rather on how the Little Monster is doing! The vast majority of photographs taken in this house are of her. As soon as she spots a camera, she insists on having her photo taken, such a little poser! 

All in all, I'm thrilled with my new camera. Hopefully, it should mean a more exciting blog too! 

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Choosing a compact digital camera for family snaps

As a family, we're quite big fans of photography.

I vaguely remember being given disposable cameras for childhood holidays and really enjoying the whole process of taking the photos then getting them developed and creating a photo album for them. For my eighteenth birthday, I was given my first digital camera. At the time, I was thrilled with it. It was silver and compact and took some lovely photographs. I used it during my first trip with the Other Half, to Paris just after we got engaged. That camera lasted nearly two years but then would often switch off of its own accord. In the end, I reluctantly binned it. 

My next camera was actually a phone; the Song Ericsson Satio with an impressive in-built 12.1 megapixel camera. It took many of the Little Monster's baby photos and the picture quality was surprisingly brilliant for something taken on a mobile phone. But when my phone contract ran out, I decided to upgrade but sacrificed the good camera for other features. As it happens, that phone has turned out to be utter rubbish and I look forward to sending it off to Mazuma the second I can upgrade to something better, possibly an iPhone. I already use my Other Half's old iTouch, why not go the whole hog and get the phone too? Everyone else seems to have one and they all delight in showing how much better it is than my phone. I am Apple green with envy. 

The other half has a big SLR camera that he uses to take mostly creative photographs, often wandering outdoors in the small hours of the morning to catch some shots of the sunrise. The Little Monster even has a camera of her own, a massive thing with big rubbery grips on the side. She's just starting to get the hang of it. The picture quality is fairly poor but for her purposes, its good enough. 

I miss having a camera now. My current phone, the Samsung Galaxy Ace (AKA piece of utter rubbish I mentioned before) has a camera on it but its only 5 megapixel and when I have tried printing photographs taken on it, they look really, really awful. With it being summer (although you wouldn't know it at the moment) and the holiday coming up, it would be nice to have a proper camera to take photographs with. The Other Half can take fantastic photographs with the SLR but its rather bulky and, frankly, I'm always a little nervous of dropping it. Not really suitable to take on a family holiday with a two year old! So, after saving up some money, we're now looking to buy a nice compact digital camera. 

There are a few options. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS35 was the first we looked at. Although not shown in the link, it is available in a lovely purple colour. I know, the colour shouldn't be important but I do like purple. Is it a teensy bit obvious from my blog's design? On the more technical side, it's 16.1 megapixels, has an 8x optical zoom and takes high definition videos. Plus it's small and slim and would easily fit in my pocket or handbag. All very good for taking family snaps. Unfortunately, some of the reviews I have looked at claim that it has a "cheap feel" due to being mostly made of plastic. 

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ1 is the current favourite and probably the one we'll get. Much like the FS35, its 16.1 megapixel and takes HD video but has a far superior 10x optical zoom. Plus, according to reviews, it has a much more sturdy feel to it, though still nice and small for carrying around on family days out. 

There are a couple of others on our short list. The first is the Fujifilm JZ250. Its a bit cheaper than our other choices but, since we've got money put aside specifically for the purpose, this isn't too much of a concern for us. Its 16 megapixel, which I doubt is a noticeable amount compared to the previous two and has an 8x optical zoom, so better than the FS35 but not as good as the SZ1. 

The last one my list is the Samsung ST88. I will admit, this has a lot to do with style. Again, it's purple plus its metal and very sleek looking. There's a nice big LCD screen on the back too. As for the technical stuff, its about the same as the FS35, with 16.1 megapixels and a 5x optical zoom. I doubt we'll actually get this one, it would be shallow to buy a camera merely because its so very very pretty, wouldn't it? 

On Tuesday evening, I will be meeting the Other Half in town after he has finished work so that we can have a little look and feel of the cameras, since one of the major things people have mentioned is the "feel" of the FS35 and the SZ1, the former being a negative and the latter being a positive. Hopefully, this little outing will end with us bringing home our new camera so expect a picture or two of it and hopefully some test pictures taken with it! 

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Guest Post: "The Importance of Having a Village When Dealing with Mesothelioma"

I have never hosted a guest post before but when I heard Heather's story of her fight against cancer, I was honoured to have the opportunity to help her share her story and raise awareness of the rare illness she suffered with: Mesothelioma. I found this post deeply inspiring and I hope my readers do too!

The Importance of Having a Village When Dealing with Mesothelioma

A lot of people say “it takes a village to raise a child,” but I have come to find out how true that saying can be recently. I gave birth to my daughter, Lily, on August 4, 2005, through an emergency C-section. As soon as my daughter was born, I first understood the meaning of a “village” when my and my husband’s family and friends came to see Lily and wish us the best. Everything seemed fine at the time, but I would soon come to rely on my “village” after I found out I had cancer.

A month after I returned to work, I started to feel weak and breathless all the time, but I thought it was due to being a new mom. Many moms feel extremely tired after having a baby. However, I had a strong feeling that my tiredness wasn’t due to taking care of my newborn so I went to the doctor to get tested. I was distressed when I found out about my condition.

The doctor gave me diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma on November 21, 2005, only 3 ½ months after I brought Lily into the world. My condition is a type of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and can be caused by exposure to asbestos. I came to find out that when I was a child, I had been exposed to asbestos. My symptoms were manifesting 30 years later, when I had just become a mother.

When I was diagnosed, I thought about the effect that my condition would have on my baby and husband. I was told I had fifteen months to live if we did nothing. I decided I would do whatever it took to survive. My husband and I flew to Boston so that on February 2nd 2006, I could undergo an extrapleural pneumenectomy from one of the top mesothelioma doctors in the country. During the procedure, the doctor removed my left lung and all of the surrounding tissue, replacing it with Gore-Tex. I spent another 18  days recovering from the surgery in the hospital, and then another 2 months recovering at home before I underwent chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Having a “village” of different people from different times in our lives to provide love, support, and prayers helped my husband and I tremendously.  It was funny how people that I didn’t think would step up did, and some people who I thought we could depend upon weren’t there for my family. My parents, who both worked full time, raised Lily while I was going through cancer treatment in Boston. A “village” of people, including individuals I babysat when I was younger and people from my family’s church helped them to take care of Lily or offered their support and love. I also found a “village” of supporters, especially people who were dealing with the same thing as my family, while I was in Boston.

My parents emailed me pictures of Lily regularly and my husband printed them out on a community printer. I would show the nurses the grainy black and white photos of Lily, who started to eat solid foods and scoot and roll around when I was in the hospital. It took a great effort on my part not to cry, but I just remembered that I was going through treatment for Lily. I knew she was in great hands with my parents, but being away from her was still tough.

What I went through made me realize the importance of embracing life. Although life is never easy, it is important for us to live it as best as we can and embrace the good that comes along with the bad. Having cancer really made me realize that. As one of my favorite quotes says, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”

Pictures of Heather with her daughter, Lily

Heather Von St James is a 43-year-old wife and mother. Upon her diagnosis of mesothelioma, she vowed to be a source of hope for other patients who found themselves with the same diagnosis. Now, over 6 years later, her story has been helping people all over the globe. She continues her advocacy and awareness work by blogging, speaking and sharing her message of hope and healing with others. Check out her story at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Family Holiday!

The last time I went on holiday was in May 2009, now over three years ago, for our honeymoon. We spent two weeks on the south coast of Spain and it was really lovely.

What with the Little Monster coming along, plus moving house three times, including a move of over a hundred miles, there simply hasn't been the time, or the money, for a holiday. But filling in the Little Monster's nursery application for next January gave me the realisation that from that time on, we'll have to face school holiday prices and crowds, not something me or the Other Half are keen on! So, we decided that we will take advantage of having a pre-school child and take a holiday in September.

We had considered Butlins before and it seems like the obvious choice for our situation - small child to entertain, not a huge budget and needing somewhere we can get a reasonably short coach journey to. As fortune would have it, I happened to look at their website the day before their very good offer ended, meaning that we were given a very nice discount on a four night break in mid-September.

I must say, I've never been so excited about a holiday. The honeymoon was brilliant but, with a wedding to prepare for, I wasn't actually thinking about it that much before we went. This time, I have three months to wait and its pretty much all I'm thinking about. It's not something I talk about on my blog very much but I am a little inclined to depression. Recently, I have been feeling a little down so I am very grateful for something positive to focus on.

The most exciting part is the anticipation of my Little Monster's reaction. We haven't told her, it's going to be a birthday surprise treat for her, despite being a little while before her third birthday. I just know she's going to love it. There's so much for her there - art & craft sessions, a funfair, soft play, a huge swimming pool...

Its going to be a bit of a treat for me too. We've gone for a dining package that includes breakfast and dinner and, at most, I'll have to make sandwiches for lunch, though we plan to have most lunches out. No cooking for five whole days!

There's also an on-site nursery so me and the Other Half are hoping for a little time on our own. It's not that we're desperate to get rid of the Little Monster as soon as the opportunity arises. Far from it - this is a family holiday and we'll be spending the majority of the time all together. But we haven't been out without her since she was born and it would be nice to go to the cinema or do something fun like archery or fencing.

At the moment, I'm dealing with the little details, such as trying to find out what activities we want to do and if they need to be pre-booked. The website, unfortunately, is not very forthcoming with this information. I have booked tickets for the coach journeys but I need to contact the coach company for advise on what to do with the Little Monster. If the coach is due to be full, then I will book a seat for her. If not, we'll risk not buying her a ticket and hope there's a spare seat for her, or I'll have over three hours of a potentially travel sick toddler on my lap! Not an attractive prospect. I'm hoping that she'll sleep, as she did on our last little trip to visit family.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going back to organise what activities we can squeeze into our holiday. Ooh I am so smug.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Writing Process

From extensive reading on the subject, everyone seems to have their own method when it comes to writing. Some people plan out every aspect of a novel before even considering an opening line. Others jump straight into their first draft.

Having only written fairly short stories during my teenage years, I hadn't really worked out a method when I first started on my current novel. I settled for writing a synopsis of the plot at first. But as I began to write, I realised that I often forget what colour eyes a character has or old they're supposed to be. So I have now also written character descriptions for all of my main characters. I am hoping that this will limit continuity errors. 

For a few settings, I have been able to find photographs on the internet, immensely helpful when writing physical descriptions and trying to imagine how a place might make a character feel. But, obviously, some places are complete fabrications of my imagination so I have also written notes on physical features of certain settings, such as the main character's home. 

I have made the perhaps silly decision to write in first person, present tense. So often, when I check back through my writing, I find that I have accidentally used past tense instead. Hopefully these little mistakes will become rarer as I write more. 

Every time I open the file to start writing, I read back over what I have already to try and get back into the correct mindset. However, while doing that, I find things that don't sound quite right or that could be improved. I end up doing at least ten minutes of editing before I even start anything new. I have no idea if this is normal. I hope that doing my creative writing course later this year will give me better insight into editing techniques. For now, I shall continue this way. 

I also have the problem of getting a little distracted from writing. For instance, this very post is being written when I had meant to be working on the novel. Email and Twitter are other common distractions when I get even slightly stuck. I have no solution to this. Instead, I give in. It does mean that when I get around to actually writing, my mind is a little clearer. 

I would be interested to hear how other writers overcome these problems or plan out their work. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Lottery Dreams

Me and the Other Half regularly play a little game of planning how we'd spend lottery money, should we ever win. This generally involves looking through property sites to find beautiful, countryside mansions that in reality, we'll probably never be able to live in. Its just a bit of fun. Although, if a large sum of money ever does come our way, we'll be prepared!

The Other Half is completely in love with the idea of purchasing a luxury yacht and taking trips around the Mediterranean for months at a time. Of course, this entirely depends on me being able to cope with my sea sickness on such a journey. 

I have quite modest dreams of a nice house with a big kitchen, space for one or maybe two more children and a gigantic garden where I could grow things and keep chickens. I suppose this is actually quite realistic and may actually happen. That's the nice thing about a realistic dream; it might actually come true. I would like to believe that my novel will be successful and make all of this possible but I doubt it somewhat. My stories used to impress school friends but success with adults who expect a bit more than a slushy story of pure romance with some adolescent angst thrown in is a different thing entirely. One can always hope though.

Our other plan is that the Little Monster, and any potential siblings, would attend the best school possible. This, shockingly from my perspective,  is actually seen as quite a controversial idea. People who were given advantages in their upbringing are often frowned upon, particularly politicians. It is assumed that their lives must have been simple and easy and everything handed to them on a plate. I always think this odd and that I will provide every opportunity I can for my children. I would not say I am a pushy parent or that I expect the Little Monster to be some kind of child genius but why wouldn't I make life as good as I can for her?

I find myself wondering what life would really be like if we became millionaires overnight. Would I be able to keep my present circle of friends or would they shun me as a filthy rich snob? Would I still keep up with this blog? Would I still dance around to T Rex in the living room of my mansion with my Little Monster? Would I become lazy and unambitious? Would I still write?

Most of our problems at the moment are financial. They would completely disappear if we were lottery winners. I would have nothing to whinge about. So I suppose that answers the question of keeping up the blog...

Monday, 18 June 2012

A trip with a toddler

This weekend, we went on a trip to visit the Other Half's family. It involved a three hour coach trip. This is not something we have attempted before and so was approached with a due sense of fear and terror. I hope my experience can provide some help to those planning a long journey with a small child.

We were leaving on Friday morning so I did all packing on Thursday. I didn't put the Little Monster to bed, instead letting her stay up late in the hope that she would be tired the next day. We took a Megabus coach for most of the journey. It was very cheap and, although it was a little cramped, I'd say it was a good deal. 

I had packed a rucksack with various snacks and books to try and keep the Little Monster occupied. After munching down a few biscuits and a small box of raisins, she fell asleep, roughly forty five minutes into the journey. Relief soon turned to boredom as I realised that I had been so concerned with keeping her happy that I hadn't even considered the notion of entertaining myself. In future, I will be including my MP3 player in the bag. About two hours into the journey, she woke up and within minutes, vomited all over her top. We cleaned her up and encouraged her to sip some water. Luckily I had packed a full pack of wet wipes and a change of clothes. She proceeded to throw up twice more but both times she fortunately leaned over a bag and made no mess at all - something I was very pleased and impressed by. 

At the end of the coach trip, we made our way to the train station. By the time we reached the train, the Little Monster was skipping along, perfectly recovered and very cheerful. After half an hour on the train, we arrived and were collected by the Other Half's grandmother. We stayed at his mother's house on Friday night and at his Aunt and Uncle's house on Saturday night, returning home on Sunday. 

I had been concerned that the trip would interfere with the Little Monster's toilet training, which has been very successful recently. I took a few useful products with us to help with this. Firstly, a Potette Plus portable potty/toilet seat. It is compact and easily becomes either a potty, used with liners that are basically plastic bags with absorbent pads in the bottom, or a toilet seat. My Little Monster found it comfortable in either mode and only had one accident during the entire weekend (and that was during a tantrum so I'm not even sure it should count!). On first purchasing this item, I was slightly hesitant about the price but I now believe it to be entirely worth the price if you're going to be travelling quite a bit. I imagine it to be particularly useful to car owners, as it would take up barely any space at all in a car boot and be ready to use on long days out. 

I was slightly concerned about accidents while we were staying in others' houses. So we also used Dry Like Me potty training pads. They fit into ordinary pants, much like a sanitary towel. They were slightly too wide to fit well onto the Little Monster's pants but she found them comfortable. Unfortunately, when she did have an accident, it did not hold all of the liquid and there was a puddle left on the floor. This is consistent with the product description, which is not designed to catch a whole accident. However, it did seem to become saturated very quickly and because my daughter did not tell me what was happening, it did not give time to get her to a toilet. I would say this product minimises mess caused and does allow the child to still wear ordinary pants, which are good points. A good product but not something I would use regularly.  

Another issue was where the Little Monster was going to sleep. I thought her too big to sleep in her travel cot anymore so looked around for alternatives. We decided on a ready bed, which her grandmother kindly bought for her. The design is good, with a built in headboard and side cushions to prevent slipping out during the night and an attached duvet so there's no need to carry extra blankets. It was a little difficult to inflate as the tube of the pump kept coming out. It was too difficult to use a foot to pump for this reason and much of the work had to be done by hand, which was a bit wearing. However, once ready, she found it comfortable and warm and slept very well in it. In the morning, it was quickly and easily deflated. It's compact and comes with a bag so is easily stored or carried around. 

All in all, we had a lovely trip. It was good to see family and now that we've done it once, I plan to take the Little Monster on my own at some point midweek in order to cut down on the coach ticket prices. 

Unfortunately my diet has suffered due to being given yummy food all weekend. I have decided to skip weighing myself this week and give myself until next Monday to lose some more. 

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Wife and Mother and Student and Nurse...sort of

The Other Half is not well. Several weeks ago, his jaw began to ache. We are not registered with a dentist so we have had to learn our way around the local emergency dental service process. He has now had several appointments, antibiotics, anaesthesia, vast amounts of painkillers, one extraction and several temporary fillings. He's due to have another two extractions in a couple of weeks' time.

Due to pain and occasionally having no feeling in his face, food has been a bit of an issue. So I have been keeping a constant stock of bananas, Angel Delight, bread and peanut butter. I try to keep the Little Monster reasonably quiet and well behaved - screaming toddlers seem to increase the pain caused by toothache by a substantial degree. I fetch cups of tea, easy to chew snacks and various medication.

I barely realise I'm doing any of this until the Other Half thanks me for looking after him. Then I realise that I have taken on the role that many wives and mothers take on in times of sickness. The caring role. I believe about a month ago, the Little Monster, the Other Half and myself were all very ill. Some kind of virus that caused severe vomiting. I practically ignored my symptoms and instead looked after the other two. The Other Half's illness came on a few days after ours. Don't mistake me, he brought glasses of water and words of sympathy. He clearly cared. But somehow it isn't the same. Nobody told me I shouldn't spend a day on the sofa. I didn't even consciously decide that I should get on with my normal routine. I just did it.

This must be something to do with becoming a mum. Even when pregnant, housework or any obligation would be entirely forgotten if I felt ill. I have spent days under a duvet on a sofa, watching the entire BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. During my first Open University course, An Introduction to Health and Social Care, I studied the nature of the "sick role". The idea that when ill you take on certain obligations, such as missing going out with friends, and get preferential treatment, such as being brought bowls of jelly (a favourite of the ill), in return. But, for some reason, becoming a mum has caused me to almost entirely forgo the sick role. I'm not even sure why. Perhaps when the Little Monster was a young baby, laying about wouldn't really have been an option. But I'm sure that these days she'd happily accept a day spent watching films, under a blanket on the sofa with Mummy.

I am not a fan of housework. I only don my rubber gloves when its entirely necessary. It's an obligation, something I get on with. More effort is caused by not doing it than by doing it. If I get the laundry done every day then we don't run out of clean clothes. If I get the washing up done every evening, there'll be plates and bowls and cutlery ready for the next morning.

Part of these obligations are looking after my family. I know its an old fashioned point of view but then, anyone who reads this blog knows I'm quite an old fashioned sort of person. A friend recently told me that I seem to have been born in the wrong time. I have been told time and time again that I look like a pre-Raphaelite or that I wouldn't look out of place in a Jane Austen adaptation. I find it very flattering. So while it seems to be quite out of date to do anything unnecessary to care for one's family, especially one's husband, I will always do it. Unless he really annoys me. Then he can get his own tea and jelly.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Diet Update: Day 8

After a full week of dieting, it was time to weigh myself this morning. Full of trepidation, I stepped onto the scales. I hardly wanted to look down, so sure that I probably hadn't even lost the two pounds I was aiming for. But I took a little peek and was surprised to see that I have actually lost seven pounds! A whole half of a stone!

I'm a little stunned, though I'm not sure why. I have been eating well and exercising every day. I am still sticking to a goal of two pounds per week as I don't expect this kind of loss every week. So my hope is that, next week, I will weigh, at most, 10st 5lbs. Of course, it would be nice to lose a little more than that...

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Diet Desperation

It's Day 6 of my diet and I must confess that I think I've gone a little far with it. On Thursday evening, I had a really nasty headache. According to the Tony Ferguson guide, this is to be expected due to the massive change in diet. So I took a painkiller and tried to ignore it.

Yesterday, I cooked sausages, cabbage and broccoli for dinner. As the kitchen began to heat up, the headache returned but I also felt almost nauseous and a quite light headed. The Other Half suggested I have an apple just to boost my energy until dinner was ready. I resisted at first, unwilling to take on any extra calories. But after a few minutes, it became almost impossible to concentrate and so I relented and ate an apple while cooking dinner.

As I was washing up after dinner, it struck me that what had happened was not normal and not healthy. It reminded me of a ridiculous diet during my teens, where I basically starved myself and lost far too much weight. I almost fainted a few times but no matter how much my friends told me that I needed more food, I wouldn't eat more than a piece of fruit or maybe a slice of toast. It became an obsession.

I must not let that happen again. I have realised that my self esteem has actually dropped to about where it was back then. I must keep reminding myself that I want to be healthy and a healthy weight, not just skinny. I need energy to look after my Little Monster, to look after the house and to look after myself. It's all too easy to become fixated on weight loss. I'm glad I had this realisation at this point. After finishing the washing up last night, I had a low fat packet of crisps and didn't even feel guilty afterwards. The diet isn't over but I'm going to calm things down a bit. My health is not really suffering from my weight but it will suffer badly if I don't eat enough.

So on with the diet...but in a healthy manner!

Friday, 8 June 2012

A day indoors

The bad weather that is affecting much of the UK has made it too difficult to leave the house today. The wind is very strong here, I have never seen a tree as large as the one outside my window bending to the extent that it is. I am slightly concerned that it might come down, although I don't think it would fall towards our building. 

So today will be spent indoors. The Little Monster doesn't seem to mind. She's currently watching her Sing and Sign DVD and loudly joining in with the songs. I am still pondering what to do with the day. At first, I considered clearing out the kitchen drawers but that would mean bags of rubbish left about the house until the Other Half arrives home after work. I considered craft activities but we did painting yesterday and the Little Monster was not very enthusiastic. In fact, it ended in a huge tantrum, leaving me rather unwilling to try again so soon. 

Usually I would think this to be the perfect weather for baking but, since I'm on a diet, that's not a very good idea either. I'm rather tempted to have a bit of a lazy day. Nothing actually needs to be done and it would give me an opportunity to work on my writing. I could get out the Little Monster's tent for her to play with. That should keep her happy for at least an hour or two. This sounds like a good plan, at least for this morning. 

It is now day five of my diet and it is still going well. I have stuck to all the rules, despite feeling a little unwell last night with a nasty headache. There was a great temptation to have something salty and savoury and fattening but I resisted and had an apple instead. I made a delicious vegetable omelette for dinner with aubergine, cabbage, tomato and garlic. I took inspiration from a recipe on the Tony Ferguson website but changed some of the ingredients as the Other Half finds the smell of cooking onion and pepper nauseating. I will save cooking the proper version for a lunchtime next week so that the smell has time to dissipate before he arrives home. This morning we were running a little low on bread so I had low fat cereal with skimmed milk for breakfast, rather than my usual plain wholegrain toast topped with tomatoes. I have not decided what to have for breakfast yet. I think perhaps some stir fried vegetables. There is enough bread left for the Little Monster to have cheese and tomato on toast. 

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Diet Update: Day 4

This morning I felt quite well motivated. I had my tomato on wholemeal toast for breakfast and a banana for my mid morning snack. I had been looking forward to finishing the soup I made yesterday but it neither looked nor smelt very nice so had to be disposed of. Now my only option is salad and I really don't fancy it. In a while, hunger may change my mind. For now, I look forward to a couple of apples for my mid afternoon snack and a lovely vegetable omelette for dinner later.

I'm going to do my workout this afternoon. Hopefully completing it will bring back the motivation of this morning. I really hope some progress has been made when I weigh myself next Monday. I am hoping for at least a two pound loss but anything would be good and a bit extra would be great.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Diet Update - Day 3

Three days into my diet and I'm doing reasonably well. On Monday night, the Other Half wanted pizza for dinner. I did not have the willpower to argue. But, rather than my usual thick based, meaty choice, I chose a thin crust with chicken breast and loads of vegetables. So while it wasn't the healthiest dinner, at least I made it as healthy as possible!

I've been sticking to tomatoes on dry wholemeal toast for breakfast and salad for lunch. It's boring and doesn't really fill me up but while I'm munching through all the greenery, I try to keep in mind that it's going to help me shed some weight. I skipped my workout on Monday and Tuesday just because I did not have the time but I was on my feet for a lot of the day so I must have burnt a few calories. I have just done my workout this morning. My Little Monster shouted "You did it Mummy! Well done" when I was finished. It's nice to have my own personal little cheerleader!

I've also been sticking to mid morning and mid afternoon fruit snacks. Last night's dinner was Shepard's Pie made with a tiny amount of potato on top, bulked out with low fat soft cheese rather than milk and butter, and loads of vegetables inside. It tasted lovely and we'll be having it again at the weekend. We might even try a vegetarian substitute for the beef. 

I weighed myself on Monday and was a little shocked. I thought I weighed about ten and a half stone, which isn't exactly good anyway. No, I actually weigh eleven stone. That's an extra half a stone to lose! With the aim of losing two pounds per week, I should reach my goal weight of nine stone in fourteen weeks. Hopefully if I keep working out as well, I should be a bit less wobbly too. 

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Diamond Jubilee Concert

Last night, I watched the Diamond Jubilee Concert, as shown on BBC One. The stage itself was impressive, just in front of Buckingham Palace and on what would usually be a very busy road. Robbie Williams kicked off the show in good style and many brilliant acts followed. Sir Tom Jones' "Delilah", as always, was a crowd pleaser, Dame Shirley Bassey's "Diamonds are forever" was perhaps an obvious choice but still fantastically sung and I couldn't help but sing along to Sir Elton John's "Your Song". I was surprised and a little disappointed that, as Sir Paul McCartney was the final act, "Hey Jude" didn't close the show but perhaps it would have been a little cliché.

The Palace itself was used brilliantly, with a beautiful performance of "Somewhere" on a balcony by Renee Fleming and Alfie Boe then Madness performing from the roof. Throughout the show, images and colours were projected onto the front of the grand building, which really made the most of this setting and created a very special spectacle.

During most of the performances, a sea of Union Flags were waving in the vast crowds. Despite watching it on television, one could still sense the celebratory atmosphere. Unfortunately, one performance could almost be described as disturbing. Grace Jones arrived on stage wearing what the Other Half described as "a plastic swimsuit and a foot high hat that looks like a blood red lettuce leaf". The song itself was unimpressive and, in any case, it was difficult to concentrate on her voice while watching her struggle to keep a hula hoop in motion around her midriff. By the end of her act, she was noticeably grimacing, sweaty and crying with the effort of her performance. The crowd was, for once, entirely still and many of the faces looked bored and confused. I suppose there had to be a low point in the evening.

One of the highlights of the concert was the performance of "Sing" by various artists from different countries of the Commonwealth. I felt great admiration and sympathy for the little girl whose solo began and ended the song. She did a great job under intense pressure and before a crowd of tens of thousands.

The mood was slightly affected by the news that Prince Philip had been taken ill and was unable to attend. I felt sympathy for the Queen as she did not have her husband beside her as she usually would. However, Prince Charles gave a moving, occasionally amusing and very well presented speech in honour of his mother and rallied the crowd to wish his father well. The concert ended with the Queen lighting the National Beacon, one of many being lit around Britain, as well as in Commonwealth countries, as a united tribute to her.

The celebrations for the Diamond Jubilee have been magnificent and rightly so. Sixty years is quite an achievement, especially when every day of those years have been spent in service to our country. The Queen is an amazing lady and, I believe, deserves a great deal of respect and admiration.