Monday, 21 July 2014

Let's Talk Christmas

I KNOW.  OK, I know.  It's July.  The last thing you want is a chorus of Jingle Bells and to start thinking turkey and tinsel.  But don't hate me yet, bear with me. It'll be worth it in the end, I promise.  And in case you were wondering, I haven't been to any of those Christmas in July things that PR companies so kindly wave in front of your nose, in three days time, in central London, with no offers of travel costs, or even consideration for the fact that parents tend to have children.  And I'm not about to tell you what theme your Christmas table should have (Scandi-style is SO last year), or which toys your children will be clamouring for come December.  But it is worth starting to think.



Christmas seems to be getting increasingly competitive - who can give the biggest, best, shiniest, most expensive gifts.  And if that's what floats your boat, go to it, I guess.  But it takes planning, and that's why I'm writing this now.  It's no good having an entire room stuffed with colour co-ordinated presents if you're struggling to pay the electric bill.

The obvious way to prepare for Christmas is to start saving, as early and as much as possible.  But let's be honest.  That's not always possible, or easy for a lot of people, so here's some alternatives.

Savings clubs and hamper clubs - both national ones like Park, and local ones at the corner shop, allow you to save a little each week, without the temptation of having the cash at home or at the end of the debit card, so that come Christmas the presents and food are already paid for.  They have had some bad press, but that was an isolated incident, and as a rule your money is safe, and you can choose how to spend it - either on vouchers or on well priced items as the clubs are able to use their membership numbers to negotiate discounts from suppliers.



Taking on a part time job, or offering to do things like babysitting or ironing for cash to your friends and neighbours can bring in some additional cash - though please bear in mind that this could affect any benefit entitlements - and if you can put this money aside, there will be a nice little nest egg ready and waiting in December.

High street Hire Purchase companies and Coin-Op TV companies may seem affordable, with their low weekly payments and bright shiny adverts, but do you really want to be still paying for this year's Christmas presents in 3 years time?  That's the average length of their loans, so think about it very carefully.  And don't even get me started on payday lenders and doorstep lenders.  I've said before that they are toxic, and I'm fully in agreement with MP Stella Creasy that they are simply legal loan sharks.  So please, for me, steer clear.  If they look like your only option, seek advice first, there is always an alternative.  (I am not going to link to any of these companies. I have some rules around here)



Sometimes, with all the will in the world, credit IS the only solution.  I don't live in cloud cuckoo land (though I think it's not that far away)  Even then though, it takes planning.  Speak to your bank if you're likely to go overdrawn. It's much better to have an overdraft facility set up & not have to use it. An authorised overdraft will have much lower charges (if any), and won't damage your credit rating later on.  Credit Unions are another good way to access a relatively cheap loan, and they work in local communities, putting that investment back into the community for a warm & fuzzy feeling at the same time.

And if you are having money problems, seek advice sooner rather than later.  Citizens AdviceStep ChangePayplan and Christians Against Poverty offer free advice and help dealing with debts.  There are other debt management companies out there which charge for their services, but these organisations are free, and working in the interests of their users.  You aren't the first person to get into a financial mess, and you won't be the last. You won't be judged, and they can do an amazing job if you let them.

So start thinking now, and you can look forward to a great and stress-free Christmas.

I was not asked to write this post. All links are provided free of charge and come from my own knowledge of the agencies and situations involved.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Feeling hot, hot, Hotter!

What a lucky blogger am I. I spent last Tuesday evening in somewhere akin to heaven. Daddy's idea of purgatory. A shoe shop.  Not just any shoe shop though. I was in the Cardiff branch of Hotter Shoes, along with some other very lucky bloggers, making the most of our chance to get to know the brand.

Now, I had heard of Hotter Shoes before, but I'd only ever seen them in a very old fashioned independent shoe shop. The kind of shoe shop that has a wide range of granny slippers, orthopaedic shoes and the kind of footwear that bears more than a passing resemblance to a Cornish Pasty.  I wondered therefore, what they wanted with me. I know I'm cracking on a bit, but really?

Well, it turns out that Hotter are so much more than granny shoes. While the company started out making slippers, they've applied the Comfort Concept to shoes, making fashionable yet practical and Very Very comfortable shoes for everyone, not just the bingo brigade.

Soles that are bonded to the uppers, to make the shoes more durable. Millions of little bubbles in the sole to give flexibility and bounce.  Gore-tex®   linings in their outdoor shoes to keep water out but allow feet to breathe.  A range of different uppers using the same soles, so when you find one that is right for you, there's a whole selection of different looks that will feel just as good.  Design details inside and out. And the majority of shoes made in the UK.  The UK 's biggest shoe manufacturer, at that.  And still a family business, which makes me really happy, to see that sort of commitment to the business and getting it right.

Hotter pride themselves on giving you a great fit, and their in-store staff are trained to help you find your "Hotter Moment", that time when you try on a pair of shoes and they are so perfect and do comfortable you never want to take them off.  As opposed to a "Hotter Flush", which is something people of a certain age suffer from, or what happened when Squeaky asked to use the staff toilet!  That's right, I took Squeaky along with me (occupational hazard when Daddy works shifts), and even she got in on the act trying on shoes.

I was really surprised by the colour ranges, summer is all about ice cream pastels, and some of the shoes looked simply good enough to eat.  All I needed was a cone,  and a drizzle of strawberry sauce!

I selected a beautiful pair of baby pink vintage style shoes, the Valetta, with an RRP of £72.  While not the cheapest pair of shoes I've ever owned, the quality and the fit are superb.  I've got a wedding to go to in a couple of weeks, and a vintage village fete. I think these will be perfect, and they'll look just as good with skinny jeans as a full skirt. And I definitely had my Hotter Moment.

Yes, these really are my feet.

Disclosure: I was invited to attend this event free of charge, and gifted with a pair of shoes of my choice. I was not told what to write and all opinions are my own. Links are provided for convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive payment for their use.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The world's fussiest 4 year old vs foreign food

What happens when you take a very fussy eater on holiday? Aside from a stress related migraine, of course.

Well, as we've just got back from a fortnight in Fuertaventura, I've got a fair idea. Our holiday was on a half board basis, in the hope that there would be sufficient buffet food that Squeaky would eat at tea time, and because I love the entertainment value of the coffee, juice at toast machines in the morning. Honestly, it's like watching a Krypton Factor challenge some days.

Breakfast was the easy part. Nowhere can go far wrong with toast and jam. And lunches were a fairly relaxed affair of cheese sandwiches, crisps, yogurt and ice cream.  Dinner time is where the fun begins.

We've never been to Fuertaventura before, though we gave been to Tenerife. I was surprised how much more Spanish it was than my previous Canaries experience, in terms of the people, the atmosphere, and especially the food.  Our hotel's buffet served up some glorious paella, fiduea, Canary potatoes, fish in mojo sauce, all of which made me very happy indeed.  However, for Squeaky, the children's section held such wonders as burgers (yucky), potato wedges (yucky), chicken nuggets (yucky unless renamed Space Shapes), pasta (only acceptable if white, not tricolour), and chips.

She basically spent the fortnight eating plain pasta, plain rice, chips and ice cream, helped along by a couple of hot dogs out and about.  I'm so frustrated, I'd love to be able to take her to other places, but I'm worried she'll eat even less. What would happen when faced with a plate of Greek salad and moussaka I dread to think.

The biggest success we had was convincing her that spaghetti was in fact pasta, and good fun. Otherwise that day she wouldn't have eaten anything. No dinner, no ice cream.  We've got serious work to do, so wish me luck. For now we're concentrating on school dinner foods ahead of September, but I really need some proper variety so that next year's holiday is a relaxing one, rather than a battle of wits at the dining table.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Keynotes

I'm sitting at the back of the room, at Britmums Live, with a lump in my throat roughly the size of the millennium dome (ok, the O2), holding back the tears because there are people who deserve them more than I. People who know exactly how this reading feels.

And then I think. I have these stories too. I guess we all do. Good, bad, emotional. If we didn't we wouldn't be human, the scars that break us make us.  I wonder whether I should share my stories, I already have to some extent, but I have things that I'm not sure I can share, not sure I can write in a way that would make any sort of sense. And a little worry that should I manage to, and in an alternative universe where I was high enough profile of a blogger to be asked to read it, whether is could share those stories aloud.

Could I? I honestly think not.  So for those who have stood up and laid bare their souls, reduced us to tears, shared their lives with us, I have nothing but respect, admiration, and love.  Thank you all.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Progress

We're on our jollies right now, hence the quiet from me, as I'm relying on free WiFi and large coffees.

However, I had to share this photo because it shows a massive step forwards for Squeaky.  Until now she's demanded to go to mini disco and similar efforts, but when it starts, she's refused to join in and clung to my leg like a limped. This year, though, she's right there, front and centre, joining in and wanting to run the whole thing.

Happy mummy!

Monday, 9 June 2014

The puzzle of tv

I really don't understand my brain sometimes. I've got a fair old collection of movies on dvd. Less than I had a few years ago, when we had a big Music Magpie purge, but still a big pile of films I can't exist without owning, so I can watch them whenever the mood takes me. Mostly from the mid 1980's, but let's not mention that part.

Why is it then, that I never seem to bother watching them on dvd, yet whenever I find one of them on "actual telly", I absolutely, positively HAVE to watch that film right there and then? I might not have even thought about it in months, but if I find one, flicking through the channels to avoid Casualty, everything else has to stop until the end of the credits. And woe betide the channel that cuts the best bit of the credits out. (E4, Ferris Beuller's Day Off, I mean you)

Rarely watched.
I'm sure I can't be the only person who does this. In fact, Squeaky is no better. Despite having a Peppa Pig dvd collection to rival Nick Jr themselves, she never wants to watch the dvds, but will fixate for hours (or days when Nick2 becomes the Peppa channel) in front of episodes on the telly with adverts in between.  It must run in my side of the family, Daddy watches dvds all the time, especially of things last shown in 1972. *sigh*

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Context

I changed my car a couple of weeks ago. I simply couldn't handle a leaky old Clio that grew mushrooms in the footwell (seriously) and needed repairs every other week any longer. And considering how much it cost me to keep going at the start of the year, my bank manager wasn't best pleased either.

So now, rather than an elderly blue Clio, I'm driving around in a much cleaner (for now at least), Citroen in "Shark Grey". I sought a bit of help from the internet in order to name the car, but unfortunately all the sensible, and less sensible, names suggested by my friends have been overruled by Squeaky, who has decided in her infinite wisdom that my car should be named "Mr Grey". And greeted at the top of her voice at every opportunity.
Mr Grey, apparently

I can feel the disapproving looks on the back of my neck from complete strangers, and I haven't even read those blooming books, nor do I plan to. They don't realise that if I'd bought a red car, it'd be Mr Red, a blue car would've been Mr Blue, and a white car would've been filthy.  Instead I have a car named after an S&M fan, and am mortified every time I park outside school.