Wednesday, 18 February 2015


I've lived in Merthyr for coming up on 13 years now. Ten in a village on the outskirts, and the last three within spitting distance of the town centre. But it's only been in the last year or so that I've started to feel like I belong here, to feel at home.

It's a weird thing, belonging.  And I don't mean it in the sense people use in this town, to say being related to someone.  It's something that comes from deep inside.  I felt I belonged almost straight away when I lived in Yorkshire, but it's taken me much longer here.  I'm quite a private person, and that goes against the Valleys (especially the villages) ethos of everybody knowing everybody's business.  I guess maybe if I wasn't shy, I'd've fitted in much faster, because people actually are really welcoming, and knowing every last detail about you is their way of accepting you. But I don't work like that.

That said, Squeaky has helped me. Initially to get out and meet anyone - through ante-natal classes, breastfeeding groups, baby massage, mum & baby groups - PirateGirl's mummy is one of the best friends I could ever ask for, and that's exactly how we met.  Then, as Squeaky got older and went to nursery & I went to work, I got to know more people, in work, through work, and through the nursery (in fact, there's a former Welsh rugby international with a child at Squeaky's former nursery, that was quite a surprise!), both parents, carers and colleagues.  Bizarrely, when I first started in my job, I knew 4 people in the office, directly through taking the young Squeaky to baby groups. My icebreaking introduction was that half the office had seen my boobs and I wasn't even drunk.  But enough said about that.

Fast forward to today.  After 13 years, I've started to discover that I know people.  I go to Zumba twice a week (let's not mention those days when I don't, childcare can be a pain sometimes), and I've recently joined a line dancing class.  Squeaky goes to swimming, gymnastics and dancing lessons.  And of course, there's school and work.

I discovered a little while ago that the receptionist at my dentist goes to my Zumba class.  Then I learned she was the sister of someone I work with. One of the swimming mums (and a former mums & babies mum) goes to line dancing.  My next door neighbour's son works with a former colleague in her new job.  My other neighbour's son is in Squeaky's year at school.  My boss's son was in Squeaky's swimming class last term.  And the list goes on.

It seems that wherever I choose to go, someone knows me, or knows someone who knows me.  In the village, I would have found this suffocating.  But having been here longer now, and living in the kind of street where people keep themselves pretty much to themselves (curtain twitching aside!), it's almost comforting.  I'm beginning to feel that I should know people, that actually, yeah, I do belong here.

I might not speak a word of Welsh aside from cwtch, but I've as much right to be here as the next person. It's not about how long you've been here, but what you've made of your home.  And this IS my home, it's Squeaky's home, and I'm only now starting to realise it and recognise it for what it is.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Stationary stationery

A quick spelling lesson for you first. A car can be stationary, as it has an a in the middle. A pen is stationery, as it has an e in the middle. Easy peasy.  It's the only way I've ever been able to learn this one though.  And if it helps one other person, I've done my duty for the day.

I, like many people, have a bit of stationery love going on.  Nothing beats cracking open a new notebook and christening it with that first sentence, be it a shopping list, some random thoughts, or the first page of what will become the next big novel & make you far richer than JK Rowling. 

Unlike many though, I'm not picky about stationery brands.  If I like a pen, a notebook, whatever, I don't care if it came from the pound shop or that hoity toity stationers filled with Japanese totchkes and prices displayed only in ancient runes.

With this in mind, meet my new notebook.  A new book, filled with blank pages, filled with possibilities.  From the discount store at the top of town, my hardest choice was which colour to choose.  But if purple is the colour of creativity, then I'm hoping it'll do its magic on me.

I love the purple themed prompts, inspiration & quotes, a simple way to break through writer's block, or just break a smile.  After all, who doesn't want to be the old woman in purple?

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Winter morning playtime

They, being the Met Office and the TV weather forecasters, keep promising us snow. The snow seems to have other ideas, and instead we've had plenty of hailstorms, cold, wind and sleet, but nothing you could really, honestly call actual snow. Much to Squeaky's disgust, and my general relief. Her school is on the side of a pretty steep hill, with narrow streets all around, filled with badly parked cars. It's often the first to close if there is snow around, and childcare is an expensive hobby.

All the cold does have its up side.  We can wrap up nice and warm and head to the park. This time of year there's no staff around to try to enforce the petty "No Photography" rules, and hardly any other kids to get in the way either, so Squeaky gets free rein of the whole playground, though it means I have to put in double duty on swing pushing, roundabout spinning, hand holding, and trying to make the giant hamster wheel thing turn.

The park is almost always quiet before ten on a Sunday, most people are sensible enough to still be tucking into their cornflakes, and watching Andrew Marr (or Doc McStuffins, depending who has the TV remote). But it was pushing twelve when we arrived, after a quick shopping trip, and the place was still deserted.  Bliss.  Squeaky is getting more adventurous as she gets older, bigger and stronger, but she is still quite reluctant to have a go if there are much bigger kids around, she does best on her own or with one or two buddies to encourage her.  So a playground to herself gave her plenty of scope to stretch her confidence as well as her arms & legs.

I've never been a big fan of the spiderweb climbing frame. Maybe because we didn't have them in my 1970's West Midlands childhood, I dunno.  But I have to admit, it makes for some good exercise.  But please, indulge my memory and bring back the huge metal slide that burned the back of your legs in the summer, that's what I say.

We weren't completely alone though, an inquisitive little robin came over to see what we were up to, I think he was hoping we had sandwiches.  Sorry mate.

Oh, and then we popped into the castle for a quick visit to the ladies.  Any chance for an impromptu history lesson, and a quick explanation of colloquial English phrases. Pulling the chain makes so much more sense when you've actually seen an old fashioned loo, doesn't it?

Yes, I actually did take a photo of the loo. And you've looked at it.  That says something about us both, really, doesn't it?

We're joining in with Coombe Mill's Country Kids linky. Pop on over.  Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 

Friday, 6 February 2015

Storage Tips For Busy (And Messy) Families

As any busy parent knows, tidy homes and toddlers don’t often play nice together. It’s bad enough during the baby and crawling months, but when toddlers find their feet and learn they can move things from one place to another the tidy troubles really start.

This is when you need to make friends with storage solutions. Because while you might not mind having toys strewn around the living room during the day, after bedtime it’s nice to transform the space into an adult area, preferably without too much fuss.

Storage Furniture and Boxes

Anything that has storage space inside it, from coffee tables to end tables and fashionable chests or trunks, makes the ideal toy storage receptacle. Another handy benefit is that you can keep TV remotes, laptops or tablets safely stowed away from sticky fingers when you’re not using them.

A downside can be the heavy lids, so they’re not totally suitable for little children to use on their own. For storage toddlers can safely use themselves, opt for plastic storage bins with rounded edges and light tops. They’re usually stackable which saves space, and the see through ones make it easy to see what’s inside.

A third idea is to get slightly older children involved in the craft of making their own storage boxes. Shoe boxes, for instance, can house all sorts of small-toy collections, and are easily personalised or decorated in a morning’s painting or cut-and-stick session. Having a hand in creating their own storage boxes might also encourage kids to use them. Well, you can live in hope.

Storage Ideas for the Bedroom

Children’s bedrooms don’t have to resemble a bombsite, although admittedly they seem to like them this way. Parents however, especially the one who does the vacuuming, prefer to keep things up off the floor.

Hooks and shelves are the way to go. You could consider building a toy and book nook in a corner of the bedroom, using fitted shelves to house games, collections, and books. Provide beanbags, or one of those nifty indoorwigwams, and it’s a cosy place for either solitary games or playing with friends.

If you’ve got lots of sports equipment as kids get older, think about swapping traditional bed frames for an ottoman bed with a lift up mattress. That hidden space takes care of a multitude of items that aren’t used every day but need to be within easy reach.

Flexible Off-Site Storage

Having a growing family puts you in a permanent state of transition. Year on year needs change as the youngest members grow, and as their needs change so do parents'.

In the early years, you want everything safe but that might mean getting rid of precious furniture or other items you’d rather keep. As the kids grow and become more responsible and able to recognise danger, it would be nice to bring those items back into the house. You can’t do that if you sold them or gave them away.

It would be a far better idea to pop them into self storage until you want them again. Self storage is a growing phenomena that it seems people are only just discovering for mundane, everyday storage needs.

People overwinter expensive garden machinery in small storage rooms, or keep precious family heirlooms and paper documents in large lockers. So why not put grown-up furniture into store for safe keeping while you’ve got babies and toddlers around the house? There are plenty of reasons, from a safety aspect if you have glass-topped items, or simply because you don’t want something valuable covered in fruit juice or scribbled on. And especially if you don’t want to spend those precious, early years constantly nagging and cleaning up.

Storage in the home is a personal thing, with some preferring shelves, some liking cupboards and others preferring boxes. Whichever you like best, getting it organised so you can find stuff and keep a reasonably tidy home will save your sanity.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. I have received payment for hosting the information contained in this post. 

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Gender balance and education

I was browsing some local seminars recently, trying to better myself or something, and I spotted one regarding gender and primary education, supporting different outcomes for boys and girls and how to better encourage them to reach their early potential While I'm not sure I'll make it to the event itself, it got me thinking.  A dangerous habit, I'm sure you'll agree.

Thinking back to my own school days (in black and white, obviously) I attended two different primary schools, as we moved house when I was 9. Across these two schools, and probably somewhere around 15 primary teachers I encountered, there was only one male teacher.  Both schools had male headmasters, but only 1 actual, teaching children every day type teacher.  Squeaky's school is a little better. The head is male, there is one male teacher in the juniors department, but shock of all shocks, there is a male teaching assistant, who is actually based in Squeaky's class!  I know!  Hold the front page!

Yet when children move from primary to secondary education, there is a sudden and dramatic increase in the number of male teachers.  In my secondary school, the entire art, design & technology, science, geography and music departments were male.  Languages, RE, PE, and English were a mix of male and female teachers, and history, maths and home economics were all female.  And we had a male head teacher and deputy head.  Something of a balance shift there, I think you'd agree.  And looking in the other direction, there were no male staff at Squeaky's nursery at all, and I have seen otherwise educated and well balanced people say they would not send their child to a nursery where there were male staff!

Obviously I'm not saying my school experience was exactly the same as everyone else's.  Aside from anything else, I went to Catholic school, so there was the added bonus of nuns and the occasional priest added in to the mix, but looking at the friends I know in the teaching profession, the gender balance seems to remain in favour of female teachers at primary level, and male at secondary.

I should not be trusted with MS Paint. Fact.
On that basis, I had a quiet word with a friend of mine who works as a lecturer in a university.  She tells me that in her experience the balance is slightly different in Higher Education, where many of the people delivering the lectures are female, but the majority of senior staff are male. So, many students will see more female staff than male, but the reality is there are more male staff, who don't bother themselves with such trivial things as students.  This actually reflected my own university experience, but I had put that down to being in a small college, and studying a touchy-feely female heavy course.

What does this actually tell our children?  That women, and girls, can only learn so much? That their education levels are less important than their brothers? That they have less knowledge to share?  I hope not.  Women are, in family life, pushed into a nurturing role as a result of the whole pregnancy, giving birth type scenario. But why does that have to carry forward into education? Squeaky's teachers are not carrying her in their collective wombs, I did that bit.  They are filling her head with knowledge, ideas and ambition, and women have just as much of that as men.  Squeaky certainly has it in bucket loads, and is a veritable sponge to every piece of information that comes her way.

What am I trying to achieve here? Nothing really, I suppose, aside from venting.  The government are hardly going to sit up & take notice of this little corner of the blogosphere, and I can't change the past. But Squeaky's still quite fixed on the idea that she wants to be a teacher when she grows up, and I'm going to to my best to encourage her to be what she wants to be, and achieve all she can, no matter who or what tries to stand in her way.

What was your experience? Please do tell, I'm intrigued.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Lunchbox Woes

Nope, not a "I've run out of bento inspiration" post. I have neither the patience nor ability to make pretty shaped nonsense out of Squeaky's sandwiches, she will only ignore then in favour of yogurt, babybel and playing in the yard anyway.

Instead, I am bemoaning progress. Back in the day, a lunchbox was a solid plastic affair, with a picture of My Little Pony or Rainbow Brite on the outside, and space for a matching thermos flask. Or at least it was for a fortnight or so, before I lost it again, and it was replaced with a brown Tupperware box that was physically impossible to lose.  My Little Pony has had a makeover in recent years, and so has the lunchbox. Now, they are made from some sort of squishy thermo insulated fabric stuff. Great for keeping things cool (that said, I freeze squeezy yogurts, and fetch one out first thing in the morning & it's just as effective at cooling sandwiches), but gah, they are VILE.

School water bottle left at school. Again.
I'm sorry, but it's physically impossible to get these things clean. There's a permanent whiff of sour yogurt, fermented fruit juice and something that may once have been a Pom-bear.  I can only think of two possible solutions: 1 - a boil wash, or 2 - a flamethrower. At least with hard plastic you could get into the corners, these things have seams for goodness sake, where the ming seems to congregate.

I haven't got a dishwasher (I know, pity me), and there will be a meltdown of epic proportions if I do anything that might risk the Frozen lunchbag's appearance. But short of drawing Elsa on a Tupperware in Sharpie marker, what can I do? I'm going to throw up before the end of term at this rate.

I actually have a couple of really nice (in my opinion), bento-esque lunchboxes, made of solid plastic, easy to clean, and generally far more acceptable to my delicate sensibilities.  However, the lack of Disney branding makes them thoroughly unacceptable in the eyes of Squeaky.  I'm at my wits' end.

There's a whole separate moan about how matching flasks used to come with the solid plastic lunchbox, and were designed to fit in the flask space.  Now flasks, or sports cap bottles more often, are a separate entity, and an additional £5 plus to the coffers of whichever tv channel your child is currently obsessed with.  Not to mention the official school issued water bottle which never seems to come home with madam, and leaks all over her school bag on the very rare occasion I actually see it. (Secret admission here, I replaced it with one I had in a goodie bag from somewhere, and allowed the school one to meet with a tragic car-running-over type accident)

Does anyone still sell the Old Skool style lunchboxes? I'm getting desperate.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Five Whole Years

Five years ago, I was settling into my first (very cold) days at home with a brand new baby. Watching the snow fall through the window and wondering what on earth I was letting myself in for.
Yesterday I was helping my daughter recover from Saturday's On The Day Frozen birthday party spectacular, and trying to interest her in a light snooze after swimming and a soft play lunch.  Today, she's packed off to school as if nothing ever happened.

Five. How on earth has that happened? I've been trusted with the well-being of a small, dependent human being for 5 years, and have managed not to break her.  She's done her best to break me, mind.

The cold never bothered me anyway

We even managed snow, she's convinced that it snows for her birthday, because it's her birthday, every year. Even when experience has showed it only snows about every OTHER year, and despite her best Frozen singalong efforts, there was nowhere near enough to build a snowman, though it did look the part.

The melting Olaf biscuits went down a treat with the hoard of marauding 5 year olds who invaded my living room, and somehow the only casualties were one of my fingernails and a slight spillage of orange squash onto a mat that was down for exactly that reason.

Happy birthday little lovely.