Monday, 29 December 2014

Unwelcome guests

It's the time of year for visitors you don't want, isn't it? Great-Aunty Mabel who sits in the armchair smelling of Parma Violets and drinks all your Baileys, that bloke at the work Christmas party who doesn't drink all year, then gets steaming on half a glass of Chianti and starts being randomly rude to people, and germs.  We've had plenty of the latter this year, mores the pity.

We've also got some other unwelcome guests. Most bloggers seem to shy away from writing about this, maintaining their image as perfect, shiny wonderful people, with their pink lining change bags, designer maternity wear and perfectly coiffed hair. However, I am a real parent, with a real child, and so I'm going to come out and say it. We've got nits.  Head lice.  Visitors we really didn't want to welcome over the festive season. Lovely. Are you itching in sympathy yet? Coz I am.

I'll be honest, head lice aren't really a strong point in my parenting armoury. In fact, I asked my mum, and apparently I managed to avoid having them as a child (though I do remember having them in my teens when I worked at an out-of-school club, which I treated through copious applications of cheap hair dye), so I wasn't really sure where to start. A quick browse of the Internet left me more confused than ever, so I opted for my favourite way of dealing with minor health concerns. Went to the pharmacy, and asked for help. Much more effective than calling a doctor, and exactly what the pharmacist is there for. She helped me negotiate the dizzying array of treatments, and also gave me some advice about using tea-tree hair products to try and keep the little crawly buggers away after treating.  Which means I've got a shopping list now of new hair products to try out on a certain Squeaky scalp.

We all know that lice prefer clean hair, and that catching them is more a sign of a perfectly normal childhood than a judgement on the state of your child, home and parenting, but, ewwwww. Have you ever actually looked at a head louse? G to the R to the OSS.  Reminds me of the time our former cat had fleas. I had to fumigate my car for goodness sake! 

So we've bought the stuff, and applied it liberally to the Squeaky scalp. And I've literally gone through her hair with a fine tooth comb. One advantage of my job is that I have access to things like nit combs, so I already had one waiting in readiness.  I'm just hoping we caught them in time before they became too much of an issue. Itchy little buggers they are.  I've gone through my own hair with the self same fine tooth comb (having cleaned it out first, obvs), and am relieved to see that so far I'm only sympathy itching.  It's one blessing that Squeaky's hair is straight and fine, and not the coarse, curly mess that mine is. Makes evicting hitch-hikers so much more complicated when you can't actually get a comb through your hair.

Have you got any tips?  Or do you just want to add an EWWWWWW in sympathy?

Friday, 19 December 2014

Winterized Nails

I love my nail polish. If only I were a bit more patient and less inclined to use my talons as screwdrivers, bottle openers and ice scrapers, I might be a nail blogger. I've certainly got the kind of nail polish collection that's more commonly seen in a mid sized branch of superdrug (not that they stock some of my brands!).  Trouble is, winter plays havoc with my nails. We had a little weekend away recently, and a few days of wholesome outdoors in the cold, a fair bit of swimming, and a slight coming together between my thumbnail and a sofa base have left my usually lovely long nails looking like sad little nubbins.  Breaks, splits, and the less said about the skin on my hands the better.  (I cried when I broke my thumbnail. Actual real tears, in front of 4 year olds, whose idea of tragedy is a weekend without Disney Junior)

Winter is a pretty terrible time to be a fingernail, I reckon.  There's all that cold, icy windscreens and the like.  Then there's central heating, and a tendency to spend too long with hands under the hot air dryers in the ladies.  Gloves, while cosy, aren't best friends with a pretty manicure, and unless you're very fussy, can catch on any tiny rough edge and ooops, there goes another nail.  And the all-important office Christmas party.  Ours was last week, and my nails are still nubbins by my standards.  I was this close to a trip to the local nail bar for a full set of acrylics, until I remembered that there's a good reason why I haven't done that in 5 years, and my nails only look like nubbins to me, to anyone else they're actually OK.  But half the office gave in to the temptation of extensions, gel manicures, and the sort of treatments that look great at the time, but take a whole lot of effort to get back to normal.

There are a few ways to help a poorly looking set of claws through the freezing season. A little bit of love goes a long way, so when Julep, one of my favourite brands (honestly), got in touch, I just had to share some of their advice in the form of an infographic.

I've got to say, cuticle treatments are my number 1 tip. While I wouldn't have bothered until a few years ago, the difference a really good treatment makes is amazing, in terms of look, feel, and the life of your mani.  And aside from all that, they tend to smell incredible. Think almonds, think peppermint, think things that almost make you want to start biting your nails again (or is that just me?)  Don't do it though, nibbled nails are so not a good look.

I'm trying to avoid the typical Christmas nails of metallic red, green and gold this year. Everyone and their dog has found a nail bar who will give them the kind of sparkly mani that was strictly the reserve of the enthusiast a couple of years back, so it's onwards and upwards to new things,  Contrasts and nail art are good. Textures are good (if only because the gel manis haven't got there yet!). Multi-dimensional and duochrome effects are a real soft spot of mine, and I do love a twist on a granny colour.  You know the sort of dusky pink you'd normally associate with crinoline toilet roll covers and winceyette nighties?  Well, I've got to be honest, it looks STUNNING on a good set of nails. Trust me.  Something like Shari or Malala (which I adore as a colour, before I even learned about its inspiration & charitable donation).  Maybe even with a glitter topcoat for the party season. Bling comes in all shapes and sizes these days.

Check out the mani I did a few weeks back  (but please don't look at the awful state of my cuticles, or the horrible work car park background.  I used a deep burgundy base, topped with a mylar flakie topcoat.  These are a complete pain to apply, I have to admit, because the mylar flakes don't lie flat and make the polish gloopy, but they are so pretty to look at.  I think it reminds me of ice particles forming on my nails - Elsa style maybe.  In fact, maybe I should try it on a blue.  Mylar shows up best on strong bold colours, so an icy blue or silver base probably wouldn't work, but maybe something like Amy would, then I could do my real Ice Queen look.

What's your favourite winter mani? And how do you balance stunning nails with the need to keep your hands warm? Have I missed a trick?

Disclosure: I have not received payment for this post. I chose to share the infographic because I found it interesting and thought readers may do too.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Lending a thought to Logbook Loans

It would be great if we could always afford to pay for whatever life throws at us, and if Christmas, birthdays and car repairs were all budgeted for well in advance. But this is reality. The real world isn't always quite so kind, so predictable. And so, there are times when we all have to reach out for a little financial help in the form of a loan.

There's a wealth (see what I did there?) of people queueing up to lend you money to help stretch to meet the unexpected, especially if you believe the all-singing, all-dancing, brightly coloured friendly adverts on the telly. But the telly doesn't tell the whole story. Loans come in all shapes and sizes, and it's important to find the one that fits you, so you have to look at the small print.

The APR is the easy bit, though it doesn't tell the whole story – if you only want to borrow for a relatively short time it's not all that relevant, though it does give you a rough idea of how expensive or cheap a loan may be. You also need to look at any arrangement fees, transfer fees, early repayment fees, and the PPI that's still in the news. All of these can add to the cost of a loan, and aren't always so easy to spot upfront, so it's a good move to check them out before you commit.

Obviously, when we take out a loan, we expect to be able to pay it back. It's kind of the deal. But life can get complicated sometimes, and if circumstances change it can be a whole lot harder than planned, so it's a good idea to look at what might happen if you can't pay the loan back. Some lenders add penalty fees, others sell the debt on to a collector who adds their own fees. Some take you to court and try to get a County Court Judgement (CCJ) to force the payments, or if your loan is secured on your property, a lender could repossess or force a sale on your home.

Securing a better deal

Offering security can be a good way to get a cheaper rate loan – as I said a loan secured on your home is an option, but only if you own your home in the first place. Pawn shops are making a reappearance on our high street, with a new shiny exterior. Or there's the option of a log book loan, where the loan is secured on your car. 

With a logbook loan, you keep the car and drive around as normal, and as long as you make the payments, nothing changes. Aside from a more accessible lending rate, they can be arranged and the money lent within hours of application if you need funds urgently. Also, you know from the start what the risks are: as with any secured loan, your car could be repossessed if you don't keep up the payments.

A responsible lender won't lend you more than you can afford, and will make sure everything is clear to you before entering into an agreement. If you're not sure what the terms mean – ask!

Late or missed repayments of a loan can cause you serious money problems. For help & advice, visit Money Advice Service or Citizens Advice Bureau

This post has been sponsored by Auto Advance, one of the UK’s longest established logbook loans companies. Auto Advance is a member of the Consumer Credit Trade Association (CCTA) and adheres to its code of practice.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Things I don't understand, a list

Benedict Cumberbatch. I asked about this on Facebook, and it seemed to be 50/50 between thinking he's adorable, and thinking his face has melted. I just don't get it, from a UK perspective. Yeah, he has a British accent, but so do I, and it doesn't make me any more or less attractive. And I don't look like I've melted.

Bento. Again, pretty if you're that way inclined, but really, I have a life to get on with, a house to look after and Ice Road Truckers to watch. I have neither the time nor energy to make pretty scenes in Squeaky's lunchbox. I can think of many more productive ways to spend my time, starting with blogging a bit more often.

Elf On The Shelf. We have one of these creatures, but only because I won him a couple of years ago. I forget to move him more nights than not, so he spends days sitting in one random place before I get consumed with guilt and shift him to somewhere in the Christmas tree again.  It's all I can do to move him from the clock to a picture, never mind setting up entire mischievous tableaux on a daily basis. Also he looks a bit evil.

Marshmallow Fluff. What do you actually do with it? It's next to the Marmite and Nutella in my local supermarket, so on that basis, I guess you spread it on toast or sandwiches. But, marshmallow? On toast? Even I have some limits. Not many, I must admit, but marshmallow fluff pushes the boundaries too far.

Cricket. Why?

Decaf Coffee. The whole point of coffee is the caffeine. Without it, you might as well drink hot water.  See also, decaf diet coke, alcohol free lager, etc.

Harry Potter, Star Wars, Spider-Man etc. I have never, and do not plan to start now.

Kids TV channels being on while kids are at school. CBeebies and the baby channels I will tolerate. But those aimed at school age kids? Unless it's the school holidays, NO! Ok there will be some kids off school ill, but that's why we have proper telly. Bore them senseless so they want to go back to school quicker. If they can spend all day watching Barbie/Turtles/Hannah Montana, they're going to string it out as long as possible. Jeremy Kyle exists for a reason.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Are You Covered?

First off, this isn't one of those sponsored posts telling you to get your insurance increased for the festive season, or anything like that. It's not a sponsored post at all, which is rather a shame, because the money would come in kind of handy right now, as you'll see.

Despite being something of a klutz, I've always managed to look after my phones pretty well.  I've never left one on the roof of my car, never dropped it in a pint, and always have a case to protect it as best I can.  Aside from one incident when a very young Squeaky decided to flush my phone down a hotel toilet, the only problems I've ever had with phones have been because the phones themselves have been rubbish (Orange SPV, I still haven't forgiven you).  So I've become quite complacent, and as a result I've not bothered to insure my phone.  I look after it, see.

Or so I thought.  My phone fits fairly well into the pocket of most of my jeans, but there's one pair that you really can't persuade anything bigger than a 2p piece to fit into.  I forgot that, and put my phone there, sort of.  And then there was a split-second where my phone decided to test the forces of gravity in my work's car park.  I know.  Oh dear would be the polite way of saying it.  My beloved phone, home to all my photo editing apps, every phone number I've ever had, zillions of photos of my lunch, and most importantly, Frozen Freefall now had a whole lot of crushed glass in the top corner, some lovely great cracks across the screen, and was kind of misbehaving when I tried to do anything.

Obviously, this is the kind of catastrophe that demands I turn around and leave the office for the relative safety of the local phone shop.  And whimper pathetically at the very understanding staff member, while she tried not to laugh at my total lack of priorities (I was on level 172!).  No insurance, and not close enough to an upgrade means I've got to pay for the phone to be fixed.  Sent away, snatched from my trembling fingers, and sent to someone who knows about these things.  ARGH!!!!  And they won't give it me back until I give them crazy sums of money.  (I am crying here)

Then came the moment where I had to admit to Daddy that I shouldn't be trusted with expensive electronic gadgetry, and had in fact mangled my phone.  His reply?  Have you phoned the insurance?  Errrr, I don't have phone insurance.  No, the household insurance.

I checked the policy, and discovered that yes, my phone is actually covered on my household insurance.  Less an excess, of course, but covered all the same.  Apparently I can take things out of the house, break them, and still have them covered.  Which is not encouragement for me to do so, but a rather pleasant surprise and a bit of a relief.  I wonder how many people are already covered for things like their mobile phones breaking & don't realise it?  Check your policy, it might be a pleasant surprise.

(And if anyone wants to give me a new phone, I'd really appreciate it!)

Monday, 8 December 2014


The Terrible Twos I was expecting. The Twice as Terrible Threes people warned me about. Why did no one mention the Flaming Awful Fours?

I'm positive that there are both reasons and cures for the current bout of uncontrollable meltdowns we seem to be facing, and talking to other mums, we're not facing them alone. Squeaky has only been in full time school less than a term, even though she had a year of part time before that, so she's tired. She's in a class with a handful of children she knows well and a whole lot she doesn't, so that's caused a bit of upheaval. They have more structure to their day in the reception class than they did in nursery, so that transition is hard.  And while she is getting older and more able to express her wishes, she's still very young and unable to control her emotional responses correctly.

Do not be fooled. Meltdown in 20 seconds
This all leads to the kind of meltdown we had the other evening. Tears running down her face, snot bubbles, wailing and kicking on the floor because her friend Boy Next Door wasn't home to play out with her. Highlights included 5 minutes of melodramatic gulping breaths, and the phrase "I have been waiting for this day for weeks." Even though she and Boy Next Door had cooked up this play date of their own accord without telling either mum involved, and they had other plans.  I couldn't even face offering Frozen as an alternative because if I'm asked one more time if I wanna build a snowman, I'm going to scream myself.  And me having a screaming meltdown isn't something anyone really wants to see.

I'm trying to return to the tips I learned in parenting class, rewarding the positives to reinforce positive behaviours get attention, but it's really difficult when positive behaviours mean I can get on with everything else that needs to be done around the house. In fact, I tried some of the techniques on Daddy, but he's less impressed with playing bubbles if he sits at the table and eats his tea, or receiving Pound Shop tat in reward for putting his clothes away nicely.

Not enough reward for Daddy

So what's the answer? Aside from staying calm myself, and trying my best not to laugh (you've got to admit tantrums can look pretty hilarious, but it just makes matters worse), I'm working on reassuring her when there's something behind the meltdown, but when the end of the world has been brought about simply by wearing shoes to leave the house, my patience can only stretch so far.

Every parent I've spoken to on this subject seems to be experiencing the same thing, so it's not just Squeaky, or something I'm doing wrong, but once again I'm left looking for the instruction book that the midwives seem to forget to give me when they handed over my squeaking newborn baby.  Not so newborn any more, but still causing just as much upheaval.  There were no less than 3 babies in our office the other week, with a combined age of less than a year. Oh, so little and squishy, I swear you could hear people getting broody, but honestly not me. There's too many things I don't miss about having a new baby around the place, and chances are They wouldn't give me the instructions then, either.  I wouldn't swap these days for a newborn for the world, but sometimes I just need answers.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Both Sides Now

I didn't realise it until someone pointed it out to me this week, but I'm in a quite unusual position, and so, I figured I should write about it.  I've sat on most sides of the mainstream childcare fence (with the exception of begging family members to be free childcare), more by accident than design, but however these things work, eh?  So as Joni Mitchell may have put it, "I've looked at childcare from both sides, now."

When Squeaky was but a little Squeak, and I first thought about going back to work, I didn't really know much.  I had seen a couple of day nurseries close by our house, and someone told me that the Family Information Service might be able to give me more info.  Sadly most of what they gave me was hopelessly out of date, so I got in touch with the two nearby nurseries and arranged a look around.  One didn't impress me, being all concrete yard adjoining a coach depot, but the other struck me as a pretty positive place, and we signed an enormous amount of paperwork, and Squeaky headed there quite happily for 18 months or so.  They did wonders for her, socially and educationally, and the staff are still friends now.

But.  I really didn't consider childminders.  I actually thought it would be the more expensive option, you know, that kind of close attention, a personal setting, it just struck me as being cheaper than a nanny or au pair (really never going to be an option), but out of my price range.  And the FIS only gave me contact numbers for 3, none of which were particularly convenient for either home or work.  Effectively the decision was made for me.

When Squeaky started at the part time nursery class in school, her teacher told me she could tell the children that had attended a nursery, rather than a childminder, or stayed at home, by the way they were more confident entering into the school environment, being surrounded by a group of other children their own age, and having that sort of structure to their day.  That was fine with me, the social aspect was something that was important to me, as we don't have any family locally, and so otherwise Squeaky would only have limited contact with other children, so it meant she got a chance she wouldn't have had at home.  The downside being my hours didn't fit too well with school hours, and the nursery that we had used weren't able to offer wrap-around childcare.

My salvation came in the form of a charity-based pre-school provision, linked to my employer.  I wouldn't have known about them if it weren't for working where I do, but their hours fitted in with my work, and their prices were considerably cheaper than the nursery's had been.  They didn't work in the school holidays though, so we kept in contact with the old nursery for a bit of help if push came to shove.  We also looked around at the education department's out-of-school provision, and while Squeaky's school didn't offer anything, another nearby did.  This didn't really work out, as they cancelled days where they didn't have enough bookings, which meant we were stuck at short notice, but they did get us out of a sticky spot.

My hours have gone down again at work (occupational hazard of working for a charity), so the summer holidays were reasonably manageable, and fast forward to now, where Squeaky is in reception class all day.  As I'm working less hours than she's in school, and breakfast club means I can be in the office well before 9, most of the time things are good.  Daddy works shifts, so I try to fit long days around when he's available for the afternoon pick up.  Usually this works out great. But last week, I was booked on a full day's training course in Swansea, and Daddy was on a late shift.  Slight technical hitch.  I sat in the office and worried, especially as I had asked to attend this course.  I continued to worry all the way to school, and stood at the gates still worrying.  Then I looked around.  Yes, there are a few mums I know well enough that I could probably ask a favour of, but I'd feel bad about that.  And then it dawned on me.  Standing next to me was a mum to one of Squeaky's classmates, ChilledGirl.  Who just happens to be a childminder, one who comes with recommendations from 2 completely unconnected people I know.  So rather than panicking, I asked her rates and what I would have to do for a one-off session.

I was shocked.  Honestly, breath taken away shocked to find she charged HALF what the nursery charged.  As she was picking up her own daughter at the same time, the pick up didn't cost anything either, and Squeaky's routine was as normal as could be.  We popped up a few days before to fill in the paperwork (there is always paperwork, it's a PITA but it's for everyone's sake), and Squeaky settled in seconds.  We spoke about it in the days leading up, that she was going to play at ChilledGirl's house, and ChilledGirl's mummy would pick her up from school.

She had an absolute ball.  The personal attention meant she had a tea that suited her, she was able to play in a home and family environment, and experience what it's like to be part of a bigger family (ChilledGirl has an older and a younger brother), and have your own chores and responsibilities - which in turn made me realise we can ask more of Squeaky than we currently do.  She didn't even realise that she was in childcare, which makes my guilt that little bit less.  Talking to other mums, the homely environment (as well as the surprising price) were a major motivator, the fact that their child didn't feel they were being placed in childcare settings was a big seller in some cases.

For me now?  Well, I have to be honest.  I'd be happier for her to spend her days in a smaller setting now that she has the socialisation at school. I don't have that same motivation to send her to a group setting when she doesn't need it so much.  Fortunately with lower and flexible hours I'm able to cover most holidays one way or another, but having looked at things from both viable alternatives, I think I'd rather place her with a childminder for those times when I really need childcare.  And as registered childminders can accept childcare voucher payments, I'm better off again, because we are still able to make the most of the tax benefits of the vouchers.  Obviously, if I had the option, I'd take all the school holidays off, and stay at home myself having adventures, but life doesn't always work that way.  I've looked at childcare from both sides, now.

I should also now apologise for having developed a bit of a photo editing app addiction. But, nah.

Monday, 10 November 2014

How young is too young?

While sitting in the cinema eagerly awaiting the Frozen Sing-along, I saw the trailer for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.  And of course, I got to thinking (it's a dangerous habit, I know).  The film is rated 12A, which surprised me, because surely the Turtles are aimed at an audience much younger than 12!  But from what I saw of the trailer I wasn't entirely shocked, as it looked to be quite a violent film.

Fortunately, Squeaky isn't at all interested in watching Turtles, according to her they are "boring and for boys" - which I can't really argue with, and I'm not exactly chomping at the bit to see it either.  However, at least 2 of her boyfriends are Turtles fans, and have been pressing their families to take them to see the film over the half term break.

Small children out of shot, demanding ice cream
Now, I had a little look online to understand exactly what a 12A rating means, as it's been a long time since I had to be all that concerned about film ratings.  According to the BBFC website:

"[The] BBFC considers the content of 12A rated films to be suitable for children aged 12 and over, and we would not recommend taking very young children to see them. Works classified at these categories may upset children under 12 or contain material which many parents will find unsuitable for them."

Vague, but clearly it's leaving the decision making to the parents, rather than making a firm decision themselves.  I'm not quite convinced by that.  OK, some parents will make appropriate decisions about what their child watches, but others clearly do not. I visit families at home on a daily basis and am shocked at what I see very young children watching on music channels and dvds.  Not to mention various high profile cases of young offenders being repeatedly exposed to violent movies and video games.

I'm not saying that watching a 12A would automatically lead to a child becoming a young offender, but surely even with adult accompaniment, there should be some limit to how young children are able to watch films in the cinema.  I actually do consider the content of PG (parental guidance) films before I let Squeaky watch them, and there's no way I'd consider letting her go to a 12A film, even if it was "Barbie, Tinkerbell and Frozen go to the Ice Cream Shop" (which would be pretty much her dream movie, especially if they rode My Little Ponies to get there).

I sort of question what's going on?  A film which clearly targets a young audience, but has content that is unsuitable for them.  Why does it need to?  The television series isn't restricted to after the 9.00 watershed, so why make a film too violent or scary for the characters' fans?  I think I'd rather see a firm minimum age rating - be that 5, 9, whatever, than this wishy-washy 12A nonsense. If it's suitable, it's suitable, if it's not, it's not. Simple as that.

What's your opinion? How old, or young, a child would you take to a 12A film? And what regard do you have for film ratings at home?

(Photo thanks to Michelle Storey, used with permission. Other cinema brands are available.)

Friday, 7 November 2014

MATs and Maths

A full year into school, and half a term into full time Reception class, with a new teacher.  Squeaky's More Able and Talented (MAT) status, as awarded last year in the nursery section, has been confirmed by her new class teacher.  She's in a mixed age group class, with about 8 or 10 Reception children and 20 Year 1 children, as the annual intakes to the school are above the single class sizes allowed, so many of the classes are mixed age groups.

I have to be honest, I was a little bit concerned, as she's a pretty dinky creature, and not the most confident in big groups of children older than herself, but she has absolutely flourished in the more challenging environment.  The Reception children actually follow the same curriculum as their counterparts in the other class, which is solely Reception. However, as there are older children learning other things, she is picking up a lot of what they are doing, and absorbing it like a sponge.  Which leads to some interesting conversations when the Year 1 children were learning about Andy Warhol, and looked him up on the computer.  Squeaky then asked me "When are you going to die, Mummy?  Andy Warhol died on the 22nd"  (Of what, dear child?). How do you answer that one, then?

The literacy programme the school use; Read, Write, Inc, is taught across the school at the same time, and children are grouped by their ability, meaning children are working with different people to those they would normally sit by, and this has meant Squeaky has had to learn to get on with and communicate with older children, something that's out of her comfort zone.  But she's getting on with it, bringing home new reading books every week, in addition to her homework (which she LOVES to do, long may it last!)  She's actually reading the books as well, not just reciting from memory, as I've been challenging her with the words out of order, as they suggest in the back section of the book.  I love to read, so I'm very happy that she's going the same way.

Last year she was placed on the MAT register for her English skills, this year she's been added for English and Maths, a real achievement for someone not yet 5.  But to give you some idea, she beat me downstairs after bathtime the other day, and I honestly found her having put together the sum below.  OK I persuaded her to pose with it, but she did all the work herself. No help, no prompting, just scary 4 year old.  You can tell the photo was a couple of weeks ago, as it's pre-haircut.

I promise I won't turn into the kind of parent that pushes their child to sit their GCSEs at age 6, but I just want to make the most of her desire to learn, and encourage her to learn how to learn, not just sit back and coast because things are easy (I may have been guilty of that myself)

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Princess Batarella

Welcome to this special edition of Celebrities at Home.  Today, we are joining Princess Batarella in her special woodland retreat.  Come with us, and enter the world of the Princess.

Meet Mr Pump.  Mr Pump stands sentry at the entrance to Princess Batarella's magical home, ensuring that only those lucky few invited guests are permitted entry.  Woe betide anyone who tried to make their way past Mr Pump without permission.  Their fate is one that few would wish to behold.

Once past the gates, we meet the Princess herself.  Princess Batarella loves to groom her pony.  This magnificent steed is Princess Batarella's loyal companion, and accompanies her on regular tours of her woodland home, helping to negotiate the rough terrain and carrying all the essentials a Princess may need.

Princess Batarella shares her dwelling with a host of fairy folk.  Whilst shy, some of them will show themselves, given encouragement from the Princess.  The fairies put a lot of work into maintaining their domain, and each has cultivated her own garden to provide all the things a fairy community may need.

And after all that work touring her domain, there is nothing a Princess likes more than to tuck into a freshly toasted marshmallow.  Grown by the fairies, and toasted over a magical flame, of course.

OK, just kidding.  Our pumpkin at home, an excursion to Mountain View Ranch to join in their half term bushcraft festivities (in Hallowe'en costume, naturally), and a sneaky roadsign from Neath.  Just because.

Princess Batarella's tour is linking up with Coombe Mills' Country Kids linky.  Are you?
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

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?

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?

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Dear Spammers

Hello, you crazy spammers with your very loose grip on the English language. Welcome to my little corner of the blogosphere. I'm glad you're so interested in what I have to say, especially those hundreds of you that have taken the time to comment today.

Seriously though. Enough is enough. You aren't even trying to be relevant, and I'm fed up of my email beeping every 30 seconds to tell me you've commented again. You're not going yo get published you know.

So please, listen to Robbie and Bobbie, Squeaky's bee friends, and buzz off. (This is a family blog, I was thinking something much less polite.)

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Cake Angels

Before I start with this review, I need to give a mammoth apology.  This post has been bubbling under forever.  Seriously, I mean like ages.  And just when I didn't think I could feel any more guilty, I used some more of their lovely stuff and realised I still hadn't written a post.  So I am officially a Bad Blogger today, slap my wrist and send me to bed without supper.

Right. Now that's out of they way, let me introduce you to my newest lovely friends, Cake Angels.  They are responsible for a percentage of my ever-increasing waistline, as well as some gorgeous treats, which I'd love to share with you in person - except for the fact that we ate them - so pictures will have to do instead! Many pictures. You know me.

 Well, first off, way back in the mists of time, I received a parcel from the angels, with a load of cake decorating items,  Perfect timing, as it was just before PirateGirl's birthday, and she was having a tea party at home, including decorating their own cakes.

As you can see, this was a major hit - small girls, cake and sprinkles.  All we needed was a unicorn or a special guest appearance from Sophia The First, and they would have actually exploded.  There were marshmallows, many many chocolate sprinkles, a load of royal icing designs, all piled on top of the most delicious vanilla frosting I've ever eaten straight from the tub.  Ooops.  It was leftovers, that doesn't count.

I'm not sure I'd've paid for one of their cupcakes, but they were pretty pleased with themselves.  (please ignore the look on my face, I am not the most photogenic of cooks)

Then came summer. And I still hadn't written this post, when through my door came some more goodies, including the most inspired Ice Cream Cone cupcakes I've ever seen.  I used to work for a bakery, a long long time ago, and they sold ice cream cone cakes, but they were nowhere near as impressive as these.

We took to the garden, see, that's how you can tell it was summer.  And Squeaky got on with the important task of cleaning out the bowl, while keeping a close eye on the kitchen timer.  They really were so easy to make, I was demoted to reading instructions and dealing with hot ovens, while Chef Squeaky took over.

But even having lost my place in the cake-making pecking order of our house couldn't stop me trying to be arty with the finished product.  The packet made six, but we'd slightly already eaten two when I realised it would be a good idea to take some photos.  It was a hot day, ok?

I am a real blogger, see!
And finally, if that wasn't enough cake for you already.  Just to prove it's not all for children, and grown-ups can get the benefit of the Cake Angels' wisdom and sprinkles too, here's the cake I made for our office's Macmillan World's Biggest Coffee Morning.

Cake Angels Chocolate Fudge frosting, and milk and white chocolate hearts, sprinkled on top of a very chocolatey cake, held together with choc fingers.  The purple glitter was edible too, but came from the back of my cupboard and had lost its label.

Cake Angels have a huge range of kits and decorating products to make your baking a little bit of heaven.  Their website also has a load of recipes, so if you need more inspiration, or want to torment yourself if you're on a diet, there's something for everyone.

You can buy Cake Angels online, and I've also seen them in most supermarkets.

Disclosure: I was provided with the above items free of charge for the purposes of writing a 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.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014


It's ok, I'm not going to brag about how many reading books my miniature genius has brought home from school so far in the school year, or reproduce the comments from her teachers in her reading log. Some things are strictly for my own smug self.  I do need to say though, despite our school not using the Biff, Chip and Kipper books, we've got a few at home, and I want to set social services onto that family. Not only do the parents give them ridiculous names, but they couldn't be trusted to manage a morning poo without help, never mind raise a family.

However. Before the summer break, Squeaky's nursery class teacher encouraged us to work on 3 letter CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) words with her, to support her in-school learning. You know, the kind of words that won't get you very far on Countdown, but are pretty useful in day to day life.

Now I love a challenge, and putting together a cheap teaching resource (comes from trying to manage a training section with no training budget), so I got a cheapy spiral bound notebook, and sat down with scissors and coloured pens, and *that* look in my eyes.  Scissors to divide each page into two.  On the left hand section, all the consonants, plus CH, SH & TH.  On the right, various vowel and consonant pairs that can be used with the leading consonants to form popular three or 4 letter words.



Mummy's special pop

Ooops.  And that's only the start. What seemed like such a good idea, and such a cheap resource takes so much of my concentration. I can't exactly let her learn all the possible words in the book, can I? I can see the teacher's face now.  And worse still, Squeaky is starting to try and build her own words, and asks "what does G-O-F spell?", so the day I get asked about S-E-X can't be far off.

Bring on parents' evening, I've got some questions!

Monday, 29 September 2014

Aberdulais Falls #NationalTrust

I start feeling terrifically old when my best idea for a day out with Miss Squeaky is a trip to the local National Trust site, Aberdulais Falls.  But really, should I? Or should I just suck it up and embrace the fact that someone thinks our local heritage is important and interesting enough to be protected, looked after, and shown to the public?  I need to work on those middle-aged & middle-class hobbies a bit more, don't I?  I'm good at charity shops, I own a picnic blanket, but I just can't get into Radio 4.

Well, National Trust it is then.  Off in the car 20 minutes down the road to Aberdulais Falls.  And perfectly for me, a great mix of nature and heritage, and not a stately home in site.  Aberdulais Falls is, as the name suggests, home to a waterfall.  A waterfall in a narrow gorge, that through the generations has provided the power to a tin works, as well as other industries lost to time.

Now, at this point I could bore you with a history lesson, but that's not why you come here. Instead, I shall bore you with photos, and tell you about what we did.

We stared at the waterfall and marvelled at how loud it was, while I tried (and failed) to take artsy photos.

We (OK, I) giggled at the name of a piece of equipment used in the tin works.  Wobbler is funny, right?

We skipped out on the educational DVD showing, in favour of a picnic.  Obviously.

We practised our leaf rubbing skills, and tried to find as many different colour leaves as possible.  And planted acorns to see if they would grow into oak trees.  Probably not, as they were planted in gravel.

And I got up-close and personal with a bee.  Apparently this is one of Robbie the formerly-invisible-bee's best friends.  He, and a couple of friends were making the most of the mint garden outside the old school house tea rooms.  It might be traditional to have tea & a slice of Victoria Sponge at the National Trust tea rooms, but I'm not quite that middle aged just yet.  Next year, maybe.

So, we did something cultured and educational with our weekend, as well as being in the beautiful, healthy outdoors.  What about you?

We're linking our trip up with Coombe Mill's Country Kids linky.  Why not pop along and get inspired?

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall