Sunday, 26 October 2014

Ocado home shopping

I've done my shopping online a few times, particularly when I was stuck at home with a broken ankle & couldn't get to the supermarket, much less push a trolley around.  Our choices have been pretty limited though, and as far as I knew only 2 of the big supermarkets, plus the frozen place actually delivered to our area.

Recently I learned that 2 other supermarkets have expanded their delivery areas to cover us, and that means TREATS!  Supermarkets that are a little too far away for me to visit regularly, but stock lovely things I like.  And when Ocado offered to send me a delivery of surprises, well, what do you think?

My first shock was receiving a text telling me when to expect the delivery, and giving the driver's details, the second was that he was bang on time, which has never happened with other deliveries. Chirpy, helpful, offered to put my chilled stuff away for me, very amused by the fact that the whole delivery was full of surprises, and I was so overwhelmed I forgot to take his photo. Bad blogger, no biscuit.  Even so, he stocked me up with loads of exciting veggies, and a whole host of healthy lunchbox treats for Miss Squeaky.  It was actually at the top of my shopping list for the week to restock our lunchbox stash, so couldn't have come at a better time.

The delivery itself really impressed me.  While all deliveries separate cupboard items from chilled and frozen (different areas of the van, see), they were in identified bags, so even if I got sidetracked, I'd be able to tell straight away - and a very useful concept for my next "in person" shopping trip.  The receipt print out also showed everything by date order, so I could see at a glance which items needed to be used up quickest.  I thought that was a great asset, it's happened before that I've ordered things with a plan for a few days hence, and found that the ingredients all needed to be used straight away.  By listing the use-by dates, it meant I knew that the best dated products had been chosen, and that I'd be able to use them while they're at their best.

Yogurts, fruit yoyos, wholewheat cookies, veg crisps and dairy free choco mylk (yes, that's how they spell it) for Squeaky.  Peppers, avocados, samphire, girolle mushrooms, berries and rainbow chard for the grow-ups.  Chard?  Wait a minute, I thought Chard was a place in Somerset! I grew up watching adverts for the now defunct wildlife park "Cricket St Thomas, near Chard", and now you want to tell me it's a vegetable?  You'll be telling me Cheddar is a type of cheese next!

Squeaky has already tucked in to a couple of the snacks with enthusiasm, and can't wait to go back to school to show off a whole new set of choices (which make me very happy due to their fruit content, low sugar levels, and all round Good Mummy lunchbox friendly status)  We don't mention the healthy aspect, due to her general mistrust of anything natural, green, or that has ever been introduced to a vegetable, but we're slowly winning the battle.

The selection of lovely veggies deserved a special meal to show them off to their best.  And I am trying to become a real and proper cook, not just someone who reheats things from the freezer.  So, what did I rustle up?  How does baked cod fillet dusted with Polish breadcrumbs, on a bed of rainbow chard, with girolle mushroom couscous, topped with samphire sound?  Trust me, it tasted even better, and made a refreshing and healthy change from roast chicken.
I made this!
Would I reconsider online shopping? Definitely. Our local supermarkets are becoming a nightmare to park, and to get around, especially with Squeaky in tow.  Would I use Ocado? On this basis, absolutely!  Looking on their website, they have a price promise to beat Tesco, the Essential range looks to be great value for money, and if I can pick up some treats along the way, even better!  I'll never lose my bargain hunting streak and still have to pop in to the actual stores to look for the ooopsies and bent bargains, but for the proper shopping, I think things are going to change.  It'll help the budget as well, if I meal plan in advance, don't you think?

Disclosure: I was gifted with a mystery delivery of Ocado products free of charge for the purposes of this review.  I was not told what to write, and all opinions remain my own. Links are provided for convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive reward for their use.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Underwear, and the contents thereof

Bottoms, bums, arses. Fannies, foofs, vulvas (vulvae?).  Breasts, boobs, knockers and norks.  Knickers, undercrackers and pants.

There.  Now I've got all of that out of my system, it's time for the actual blogging.  I'm sure this is a post that's been said many times, many ways, but much like Nat King Cole, I'm giving you my version.

I've never been one for anatomical terms for body parts.  I've broken my tibia and fibula, but if you ask me, I broke my ankle.  Twice.  And so it begins.  I rarely talk about my breasts or mammaries, but if my underwire is escaping, I'll tell you I'm being stabbed in the boob.  And as I'm quite generously endowed in the nork department, it's a very real possibility.

So, when Squeaky arrived into the world in all her girly glory, I started to wonder.  Obviously with boys there are many words to describe their genitalia, but the vast majority are understood, whoever you mention them to.  Whether it's willy, knob or dick, we all know what you mean.  Willy being the generally accepted term for small boys, just, well, because.  (As a side note, I once worked with a John Thomas.  I still wonder what his parents were thinking)  But for girls?  Which word do you use?

As I said, I've never been one for anatomically correct terminology.  If you are, that's great, but it's just not me.  So, what are our choices?  The word most commonly used in the valleys seems to be "Foof", but, errr, no.  I'd never heard the word til I moved here, and now it's everywhere.  But it sounds too much like fluff, which was a euphemism for fart when I was a child, and fanny farts have their own special word (queef, if you were wondering),  Fanny, as just mentioned in the previous sentence is an obvious suggestion, but as the world is getting ever smaller, and I have many friends on the other side of the Atlantic, I want to avoid the confusion between our (front) fannies and their (back) fannies.  Y'know.



Vulva, foof and fanny are all out then, so what's left?  I couldn't face being all twee and silly with twinkle, flower or something along those lines.  I'd be quite tempted by the Fivepenny Piece's inspiration and Ha'penny (though I really remember it from the Wurzels, but I couldn't find that on youtube), but I'd be the only person to get the joke, and that's probably not good.  And I can't remember what I called it myself as a child.  I do remember learning the correct words in school when I was about 9 or 10 and finding them all hilarious, but being very confused about who had which. Penis is just a nicer word.

Thankfully, Squeaky being Squeaky, she addressed all my concerns before I had chance to make a decision.  She refers to her "little bottom", and I can kind of see the logic.  From her angle it does sort of look like a bottom, and it's certainly littler than her actual "big" bottom.  Problem solved.  While the "it's not a bottom" brigade will probably be every bit as upset with that as they are with "front bottom", that's their problem, not mine, My daughter's body, my daughter's choice of name.  It's one that will not cause confusion, should she have to talk about it, but equally won't raise eyebrows in the playground.

Knickers are the description of choice for undies, thankfully.  Even Daddy wears them according to Squeaky.  We all wear knickers, though some are nicer than others.  Again, I was quite conscious of the international world she'll grow up in, and pants are almost as confusing as fannies.  Our pants are somewhat less acceptable to be on show than those in the US.

As for the rest, her bottom is her bottom or bum.  And sometimes arse, but that's more to describe Daddy's stinky one.  Boobies is her description of choice for breasts, both mine and her own (lack of).  We do windies, though she knows that fart is another name that we choose not to use.  And the longer she goes without learning about boys genitals, the better.

What about your house?  How do you feel about accurate terminology?  When did you introduce the right words?

Friday, 24 October 2014

Village Urban Resorts Cardiff

It doesn't happen very often that Daddy and I get a weekend to ourselves, and actually have something to do with our time.  Squeaky does visit my parents for sleepovers, but normally we've got nothing planned other than a swift pint in the local, and an undisturbed lie in.  However, some times, things just come together, and so it happened that we had the opportunity to visit the Village's Cardiff Urban Resort.  Even better when school announced an inset day to coincide with our trip, so Squeaky got longer with my folks, and we got more time to enjoy the facilities.

Now, I've eaten here a couple of times, but never had the chance to stay overnight before.  It's pretty close to home, but who says an escape has to be a long journey?  A retreat on your doorstep can be a really valuable concept.  And so, the Village.  The part of me that lives close by wonders why the hotel is just off the motorway, and just off the dual carriageway that forms my main route into the city centre. But then the sensible part of me remembers that hotels are located in places that are accessible for people who are travelling to them, and so the location is actually pretty much spot on.  It's a couple of miles out of the centre of Cardiff, which means it's not going to fill up with party-goers running up and down the corridors all night looking for their friends (and I've stayed in enough of those kind of hotels over the years), though it is a popular wedding venue, so it can get quite busy with groups over the weekend.

I love these cushions

We checked in on Friday lunchtime, and found plenty of parking space - always a good sign, and something of a rarity for city hotels, another bonus of being outside the city centre.  The hotel is pretty popular for business conferences and training events too, and they've clearly planned well with the large car park.  Our room was ready for us, even though we were earlier than the advertised check in of 3pm, and I was worryingly excited about the fact that we were staying in the "adults only" Upper Deck - the second (and top) floor of the hotel, with upgraded rooms, sky movies, a Starbucks hospitality tray, and lots of little touches to make this a real treat.  We don't get a night away from Squeaky all that often, so it was great to be just ourselves.  The room appeared newly decorated in a subtle modern style, and had everything you'd expect from a quality hotel - large flat-screen TV, plenty of seating space, hairdryer, an iron & ironing board, even an iPod dock, and a very special little welcome.

What a welcome
We set off from our room to experience the Viva spa, situated in the lower ground floor (I'm sure these floors used to be called basements!).  Due to errr, privacy, child protection, and risk of damage to your eyeballs, there are no pictures of me having a massage or in a swimming costume.  But just to make you jealous, I had a glorious 40 minute Lifesaving Back Treatment, my therapist Jessica was friendly and made the world of difference to my aching shoulders, and I floated out on cloud nine in a waft of Espa scented oils.  Life is good some days.  From the spa it was a couple of steps, wrapped up in my fluffy robe to the Velocity health club.  A gym (but I was really not feeling that energetic), pool, with jacuzzi, sauna and steam room.  I could spend all day in a steam room, given the choice.

That sadly wasn't possible, for the best reason, of course.  Dinner.  Our dinner reservation in the Verve restaurant had me slightly confused because there seems to be some rebranding between Verve and Vinny and Vito's, and I can't quite tell which way it's going.  Anyway, Verve is what our reservation said, so Verve it is.  The menu was kept simple, but with loads of intense and varied flavours.  With at least 4 vegetarian starters and main courses, there was a good choice, and I couldn't wait to get stuck in.  I opted for the caramelised onion & feta tartlet to start with, and couldn't have picked better if I'd been in the kitchen.  (At this point I have to apologise because I really couldn't take photos of Daddy's dinner across the table before he tucked in.)

Caramelised onion and feta tartlet
The buttery pastry of the tart, along with the generous amount of cheese was washed down with a crisp, dry New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, as I eyed up the meals arriving at the tables around me. The steaks definitely appeared to be popular, Daddy opted for the sirloin steak and chips which he declared to be perfect, whilst I pretended to be health conscious and chose a salmon fillet with new potatoes.  I was quite torn before I ordered this as the salsa contains coriander, and I'm really not a fan.  I'm glad I did though, because the coriander was light and didn't overpower the other flavours, giving the salmon a fresh edge and a really attractive presentation.

Salmon fillet with mango, coriander and chilli salsa
After a very relaxed night's sleep, we headed back to the Verve restaurant for breakfast.  I was only disappointed that I couldn't sit within view of the toast machine, because that is by far my favourite thing about buffet breakfasts.  However, the clientèle of the Village seemed to be a touch more competent than most, and there wasn't even a hint of flame coming out of it.  There was, on the other hand, a lovely selection of cooked breakfast, plus cereals, pastries, fruit, yogurts, and mini chocolate muffins which seemed to be going down a storm with the younger guests.  I was worryingly excited to be sat under one of the quirky light fittings I'd spotted the evening before, and took the opportunity for a cheeky photo.  Now I want to redecorate my kitchen.  I need these lights in my life.

Cool lighting
The Village is in a great location for exploring the scenery to the north of Cardiff. As well as being a spit away from Daddy's former employers, and only a mile away from his current work, it sits in the shadow of Castell Coch, a 19th Century Gothic Revival castle built on the ruins of an older castle on side of the mountain, and a regular location for TV filming.  Dr Who, The Worst Witch and Merlin have all filmed there, amongst others.  It rises up like a red fairy tale (Castell Coch is Welsh for Red Castle, you can see why) from the trees, and never fails to take my breath away.  Caerphilly is also only a stone's thrown away, as well as the sights of Cardiff, and the Brecon Beacons slightly further north.  And if you head that way, call in for a cuppa on your way past my house, and I'll tell you all the best places to go for bargains and cake!

Castell Coch
I loved the consistency of the V theme throughout the hotel. something that could be cheesy. but it's so well done with a hint of humour, and carried on through hashtags on their twitter feed as well.  A little bit of fun goes a long way.  We had a great night at Village's Cardiff hotel, and I'd be absolutely over the moon to go back, now I just need to find an excuse!

Disclosure: I was invited to be a guest at the hotel free of charge, and provided with a spa treatment and meal in the restaurant for the purposes of this review. 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 reward for their use.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

School Days

I'm sure it wasn't like this when I was in school. It feels like there's a "day" for everything, and of course, every "day" demands a donation. They're all good and worthy causes, but how many contributions is it reasonable to expect?  That's in addition to the cost of putting together a costume for most events, and the other payments that seem to be inextricably linked to so-called free education.

It was Roald Dahl day last week. (Aside from the fact I could have sworn it was actually a couple of weeks earlier), dress up as a character from a Roald Dahl book, pay £1 to do so, and then pay more to buy chocolate at inflated prices in school.  Because of course, I have so many Roald Dahl costumes just knocking around the house!

Veruca Salt, with her Golden Ticket
Then in a couple of weeks, there's a "monster ball". Pay £1 for a ticket, dress up, oh and can you donate all your old dress up costumes to school so we can rent them out. (Alternatively, why not buy a job lot the first week in November, like I did last year?)  And then the Christmas show, with costumes and tickets to buy. And the Christmas party, with another contribution. And the class trip to see Santa somewhere cold and expensive. Children in Need will be coming up soon, and a million others.  Fruit money at the start of term, photos for this, that and the other...

Where does it all end though?  It's not so bad for a household like ours where both parents are working.  OK it's not easy for anyone these days, but a pound or so, a quick costume grab from the local supermarket doesn't add too much strain to the weekly budget.  But what about those families who aren't so well off?  We live in an area with higher than average unemployment levels, lower than average wages, and a lot of people struggling just to make ends meet from one week to the next.  All these little contributions here and there soon add up.  Children, especially of Squeaky's age, don't understand why they can't take part alongside their friends.

The payments are of course "contributions" according to the letters.  But they don't seem quite so voluntary by the nagging texts that come via the secretary's office to my phone and that of all the other parents, whether we've paid or not.  I spend my working days with families struggling to put food on the table and having to go without basics because their money simply won't stretch that far, so to see them being pushed further still is very hard to watch.

Does your school want to get involved with everything? Should there be a line?  Let me know.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Gender Stereotypes

I'm not a member of the Pink Stinks brigade (just take a look in my wardrobe).  I couldn't be, even if I tried, because Ms Squeaky is a girly girl who loves pink, sparkles, Barbie (much to my horror), princesses, dresses and fairies.  She also loves playing out in the rain with the boy next door, picking up bugs, pulling weeds out of the garden, climbing trees and forgetting to flush the toilet.  She's a pretty well rounded kid, if you ask me.

At the moment, she wants to be a teacher when she grows up.  I'm glad her teacher is a good role model, and one I'm happy for her to choose to emulate, though secretly I'm hoping her dreams don't stop at teaching, right now she could go far further.  That said, her previous ambitions have been to be a princess and a mummy.  Both noble, I'm sure you'll agree, but really quite gender specific.  Why not an astronaut, an explorer, a vet, a bus driver?  PirateGirl wants to be a doctor, inspired in part at least by Doc McStuffins.  A career to be proud of, no matter what's inside your pants.  Doc McStuffins being a show I particularly like for it's challenging of traditional gender roles, without making a big "thing" of it.  People just do what they do.

Much as I'm tempted, I'm not going to break Squeaky's pink phase, or at least not until she's ready to move on to other things.  But can I at least limit its impact?  Do girls have to have special pink versions of everyday items, just because they're girls?  Really?

Really?
I'm sure most people are aware of the Amazon reviews of the pink For Her biros, so after that debacle I had kind of thought that major brands would avoid using the same type of clunky and damaging gender stereotyping.  And then I saw this.  Just For Girls pink sellotape dispenser.  (The tape itself is standard clear stuff, I checked.)  Is sticky tape use now a gender specific task?  Do people lacking a Y chromosome somehow find it harder to join two pieces of paper, or wrap a gift?  Does a pink dispenser work differently to another colour?  Honestly, it made me want to scream.

I want my daughter to celebrate being female, to be proud of it, not to feel that concessions have to be made to compensate for her lack of testicles.  After all, as Beyonce asks, "Who runs the world? Girls"

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Real Effect - Adding a little sparkle to your day

Nothing makes my eyes light up quite as much as the chance to open up one of those magical little boxes, to find something beautiful, shiny, sparkly, and oh so perfect inside.  Trouble is, that's usually just a little bit expensive.  Or a lot expensive if you know what I mean.  That's where The Real Effect come in.  With over 20 years experience, they team sterling silver (my favourite) with cubic zirconia gemstones to make jewellery that looks every bit as stunning as diamonds and precious stones, but at a price to make your pocket smile too!  Even my bank manager would be happy with that.

I hope right now you're reaching for your credit card, scratching your head and wondering to yourself, "What should I buy for my favourite blogger for Christmas?"  Well, look no further, because I've put together a mini wishlist, and I'll be happy to accept these tokens of your appreciation for my time, effort and assaults on the English language.

First up, this gorgeous channel set ring.  My engagement ring is a trilogy ring, and I love the sentiment that the three stones represent the past, the present & the future.  This ring is kind of a triple trilogy with three sets of three stones, which would symbolise me, Daddy and Squeaky, and our past, present & future together.   Sentimental old fool I am some days, I know, but that's just me.  The simplicity of this ring means that I could wear it every day without worrying about catching the stones on something, but it's an unusual style, which would stand out amongst the solitaire crowd at the school gates.  And with purple hair, I'm never going to blend in with them, am I?  £43.70 to make sure I don't fade into a background of peroxide and designer labels (and that's just the kids)

My second choice is this curved sterling silver pendant.  To me, it's a chilli pepper.  It is, isn't it?  Now, don't panic, I'm not going to get all oversharey about the state of my relationship, but I do love a bit of spicy food every now & then, who doesn't?  And one of my friends goes by the nickname Chilli, so it would remind me of her every time I wore it, which would fix a smile on my face as I thought of all sorts of bad behaviour and good times!  No, I'm not telling you what, statute of limitations and all that, I can't be held responsible any more, or at least not without a certain, shiny gift.  £33.50 is a bargain price for an insight into my psyche and misspent youth.

OK. So now you know what to buy me, I want you to think very hard about how you're going to wrap these lovely shinies.  I'd suggest a red gift bag, with the boxes inside, slipped under the Christmas tree around about midnight.  I'll leave a glass of sherry out for Santa, and a carrot for Rudolph, you do your bit and I'll do mine.  Bonus points for humming "Have yourself a merry little Christmas", or leaving me a bacon sarnie & glass of bucks fizz, because no-one else will remember.

For my part, I will make sure my eyes light up like the Blackpool illuminations, and do my best surprised look when you've given me exactly what I asked for!  You love me, don't you?

My eyes. From the top deck of a number 1 bus.

Disclosure: This post is my entry to a competition hosted by Diary of a Jewellery Lover, where I have the chance of winning vouchers to spend on items from The Real Effect. I have not been paid for my post, and there is no guarantee I will receive a prize.  Links are provided for convenience, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive reward for their use. My competition entry is not judged on the number of clicks to the above links.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Curriculum Envy

I posted a link on my personal Facebook page a couple of weeks ago to a news story about the re-emergence of the Manx language, and how there is now a Manx primary school, which contained what I thought to be a very pertinent point. The writer said that all the professionals they had spoken to put the success down to one thing - children were not forced to learn the language, and as a result they were approaching it with enthusiasm and interest, because they *wanted* to learn it.

This got some interesting replies, especially as we live in Wales, where Welsh language is compulsory throughout education. People who had been through the system themselves said they had hated it, people whose children had been through it said if they could do it all again they wouldn't, and others said they felt it was a real gift, but not appreciated at the time.  I can't really give further comment on Welsh as I was brought up in England, and I was good at languages at school so I may well have got on with it OK, we'll never know I guess.



It did get me to thinking though. Do politically motivated curriculums (ok, curricula if you want to be correct about it) do children any favours at all, or are they merely pandering to the preferences of adults?  While I didn't go to school in Wales, I did go to a church school, and as a result, I was forced to study RE throughout school. At GCSE level we had the choice of the GCSE class, or a non-GCSE class, no option for "actually I'm not that interested". This meant that out of the 9 subjects we could take, we had one less option, one less chance to study something that interested us, or that would prove useful in employment and later life. I can tell you plenty about the Synoptic Gospels, but do you want to know it? I didn't, and I'm still not sure I want to now.  Schools in Wales are much the same, by making Welsh compulsory, they are taking away the chance for children to study the things they are good at, and are interested in.  If that's Welsh, great, if not, give them a choice.

I remember watching with envy my friends in other schools, who had the opportunity to choose to study psychology, sociology, media studies, things that interested me and would have proved far more helpful in my university days and later in my career.  Instead I took RE and History which bored me senseless (I still managed to pass, despite my best attempts otherwise).  No teen really knows what they're going to do with the rest of their lives at the age of 13 or 14 choosing their options, but I knew for certain I wasn't going to be a religious historian.


I'm not taking away from schools being particularly good at teaching one subject, or group of subjects, as long as there is choice involved. I'm not in England now, I can't comment on the Academy concept which came along long after I left school, and I know that some schools have always been known for the quality of their X department. I remember one boy in my year was especially good at drama, and his parents moved home to enable him to attend a different secondary school with a great drama department (he went on to a few bit parts in Casualty), but again drama, as with art, music, languages, these subjects are a choice not compulsory, even in these specialist schools.

What do you think? Did your school, or your children's school have compulsory subjects outside of the English, Maths & Science that we all expect? How did you approach it?