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

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.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Yet another diet...

The Other Half arrived home the other day with a Tony Ferguson Diet starter pack. He's determined to lose some weight. I have decided to join in but without replacing my meals with the sachet shakes and soups. The diet involves eating much less carbohydrates and plenty of vegetables, some fruit and a portion of lean protein in the evening, plus two litres of water per day.

For breakfast, I've just had a slice of dry wholemeal toast with tomatoes on top and a glass of water. It was tasty and I feel reasonably full. I'll have a piece of fruit mid morning, salad for lunch and Shepard's Pie for dinner, using a Tony Ferguson recipe. I don't think I'll be able to fit in a proper workout today but I'll be walking to the shops and I've got some stale bread so I'll be taking the Little Monster to feed the ducks down at the river later. I'm aiming for at least sixty minutes of walking.

I really hope the diet works this time. The big difference between this and all the other diets I have attempted is that the Other Half is doing it too. He won't be tempting me by bringing home tasty treats. We can motivate each other. I'm also hoping that the diet will introduce us to some new healthy meals we can all enjoy. Many of the recipes in the Tony Ferguson aren't really suitable for us so I've been coming up with some myself. We need to have a portion of protein and two servings of vegetables for a dinner. My challenge is finding ways to make it tasty while sticking to the diet rules. If I can manage that, we can continue having these meals for our dinners even after we've finished the diet.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Does a good book need sex?

I have been looking around for a good book to read for a while now. I have a study break over the summer and since I heard the advice "If you're not writing, you should be reading", I thought I should to fit in a few books. I'm currently reading Mansfield Park by Jane Austen and I think something more modern would be a nice change afterwards.

So I looked through forums and reviews to find something good. One thing seems to stand out about all of the popular books that other ladies are reading at the moment: everyone is raving about the magnificent sex scenes in them. Never a big fan of this kind of writing anyway, I was under the perhaps naive impression that this sort of thing was hidden under a pillow and never really spoken of. But I suppose I've always seen anything to do with sex as a private matter, something to be discussed only with one's partner, closest friends and perhaps a health professional. Perhaps this is still mostly correct. After all, the only place I've seen women openly talking about this are in online forums, where everyone is more or less anonymous anyway. What is apparent is the appeal of books that contain plenty of very adult romantic scenes. 

Some of my most recent reading was the Twilight Saga. Yes, I know many will immediately picture me as an emo teenager, going weak at the knees over Robert Pattinson. I don't wish to stick on this point for long so to briefly state my own opinion, I own the films and enjoy them but they are vastly overrated and the books are much better, although I generally think that of any film adaptation of a good book. The books were recommended to me by so many people that I eventually decided that I must try them. I liked the fantasy aspect of the story but what really made me like the books was the lack of sex. I have started far too many books that within a few pages have a wedged in sex scene that, I think, adds very little to the story. In the Twilight Saga, there are many romantic scenes and sex is talked about but there are no intimate details and it feels very much relevant to the story.

Having just started writing a novel which will have romantic aspects to it, I'm starting to wonder if anyone's going to bother reading it if I don't include some sex scenes. But should I give up my own principles just to gain a decent readership? Another piece of advice I've heard: "Write what you would read". Well, I just don't read books with explicit sex in them. Call me old fashioned, I probably am, but I think romance and, not just in books, should be about more than that.