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.