Sunday, 18 October 2015

Winter can be Hotter than summer!

OK, OK. Bad blogger, no postie.  I know. Slap on the wrist and 200 lines "I Must Update My Blog More Often".  But honestly, I've been being a busy little bunny.  This week more so than most.

I am a lucky lady, I can't deny that. And when Hotter, those amazing shoe people told me that they were holding an event in their Cardiff store, and asked if I would like to come along, the only question in my mind was how quickly I could say "Yes" without looking like a complete Billy-No-Mates.  Especially when they said they were co-hosting the event with Taking Shape, a clothing store I'd never visited, but heard a lot of good things about.  (Theirs is for another post, at least partly because I was having so much fun, I forgot to take any photos & that's a very good reason for a return visit!)

So, braving the rush hour traffic, albeit from the opposite side of the road, I headed into the bustling metropolis that is Cardiff on a Tuesday teatime.  We started off by getting styled and our heads slightly swollen by the lovely ladies of Taking Shape, before we relocated just along Queen Street & into the St David's Centre for the comfort of Hotter.  Comfort in every sense of the word.

Having come straight from work, and a meeting in a school, I was in my professional look which boils down to shiny and too-high wedge heels rather than a battered pair of trainers, so my feet were crying out for a properly comfortable alternative.  This is where Hotter are amazing.  I've never been anywhere where there are so many comfortable shoes.  And not the sort of comfortable that Aunty Mabel would wear - though that is where Hotter started out.  I remember a few years ago, next door to my office was a shoe shop.  An old people's shoe shop.  Orthopaedic shoes, zip up bootee slippers, and a Hotter logo in the window.  That was what I knew about Hotter before visiting them.  They don't hide from the fact they started out making slippers.  But now, they make gorgeous shoes that are as comfortable as slippers.

Forget granny shoes. Forget shoes that look suspiciously like Cornish Pasties. And definitely forget the tartan zip up bootee slippers (though there are a pair under my boss's desk)  Hotter make some STUNNING shoes.  And boots.  Oh yes.  Boots.  I had honestly given up on the idea of finding a pair of knee high boots that would do up on my calves.  And I'm told I've got good legs - I know plenty of people slimmer than me who struggle even more than I do.  But when I walked into Hotter on Tuesday, I think I must have entered some sort of alternate reality.  Not just one pair, but I actually had a choice!  I have actually died and gone to shoe heaven.

The hardest part was deciding.  Beautiful shoes, amazing details, glorious colours.  Or miracle boots. You know me, don't you?  The boots it was.  We won't mention the fact that by Wednesday morning I was all over their website like a rash, ordering one of the many pairs I'd left behind.  And we will try our best not to think about the others, so many others, like seashells left on the beach, waiting for someone else to discover them, take them home and love them.  (Am I taking this too seriously now?)

I won't pretend Hotter shoes are cheap.  But I don't like cheap shoes.  Cheap shoes fall apart quickly, rub your feet, and end up costing a fortune in replacements and plasters.  Quality is where it's at.  So, if your feet need a treat for the festive season, and you want to experience a Hotter Moment for yourself, then give them a go.  I've got a lovely discount code for you... PNDTEN  which will give you ten percent off any full price items on their website, and free delivery*.  What are you waiting for?  Seriously?

*New customers only. Full price items only. Excludes shoe care productss and gift vouchers.

DISCLAIMER: I was invited to attend the above event free of charge and gifted an item of my choice from the current range. I was not required to write this post, and not told what to say.  All content remains 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, nor the use of the above discount code.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Brewer's Fayre, Dennis is there

I'm never one to turn down a meal out, it saves on washing up, and I can get to try things I wouldn't make at home.  So when we were invited along to our local Brewer's Fayre restaurant to have a look at their newly revamped children's play area, Play at Brewer's Fayre, and have a spot of lunch, you know it wasn't going to be a difficult decision.

Castle, of the falling down variety
So, off we popped on Saturday to Caerphilly, usually more notable for cheese, being the birthplace of Tommy Cooper, and having a somewhat falling-down type castle.

Rock on Tommy
But we weren't interested in comedians, cheese or castles, we were all about the restaurant.  We've actually visited this restaurant before, and while the food was fine, the soft play was dated and not the most exciting, so I was interested to see what had changed.  As soon as we arrived, Squeaky spotted someone very special, being very naughty indeed.  Dennis the Menace had also come to have a bite to eat, along with Gnasher.  And they were wreaking havoc in the way that only true menaces can.  Dennis and Gnasher, along with the rest of the Beano gang, are Brewer's Fayre's children's menu stars, and the restaurant have regular special issues of the Beano to keep young people (and adults) occupied while waiting for their dinner.

Dennis, menacing
The unsupervised soft-play area has been fully renewed, with a toddlers area, as well as three levels to climb, run, slide, squeeze, push & balance.  According to Squeaky, the soft play was "Awesome, can I go now please mummy?"  I'm no expert, but all the equipment was clean, and looked brand spanking new (as it should do).  There were giant beanbags to land on at the bottom of the slide, which makes a refreshing change from a ball pool, the contents of which usually end up everywhere but where they were meant to be.  There were plenty of friendly staff on hand to chat with the children, and make sure everyone was playing safely and having a good time, but they were clear that parents were responsible for supervising their own children, no running away to hide in the bar!  A face painter had even come along especially for the launch day, and was busy making the children look stunning. I'm never going to try anything more complicated than an England flag during the rugby world cup, she was that good!

Do you know how difficult it is to take photos in soft play?
One thing that soft play centres do extremely well is build up an appetite in even the fussiest of Squeaks.  So we were very grateful that Brewer's Fayre offered us lunch as well as a play.  I really like the children's menu, it's got a good mix of sensible, child-friendly foods, without relying on chips and beans with everything.  Squeaky being the child she is, she opted for pizza and garlic bread, while I remained true to my Slimpod and settled on the chicken salad.  Both were delicious, but we had to save room for desserts.

Desserts, ah, yes.  We do love a good dessert.  Squeaky didn't have a great deal of choice, because I'd already picked our meals in advance, and know that she tends to have eyes bigger than her belly when it comes to ice-cream sundaes, so instead I picked for her what she called an "ice cream Saturday", or in other words, the Cookie Double Dare - vanilla ice-cream sandwiched between two chocolate chip cookies.

Cookies & face paints
The cookies were perfectly crisp on the outside, yet chewy in the middle, which had the added advantage of helping her very wobbly front tooth on its journey to meet the tooth fairy.  It would have been a little embarrassing if her tooth had come out while we were in the restaurant, so I'm relieved that it waited until we got home to fall out.

We had a great visit to the Caerphilly restaurant, and it's firmly back on my radar as somewhere to call in for a meal, snack, or even just a cheeky coffee when we're out & about, especially if Squeaky can run around like a loon for half an hour or so.  The food was fab, with some great menu choices, and the staff were really friendly and welcoming.  You can tell when people actually mean it, rather than just going through the motions, thinking about payday.  And I'll leave you with something that really made me smile.  Attention to detail, this was the carpet in the soft play zone.  How much fun is this?

Disclosure: I was invited to attend this launch event, and provided with meals and soft drinks for my family free of charge. I was not obliged to write this post. I have not been told what to write and all opinions are my own. Links are provided for convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive payment for their use.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Be Not So Busy

Ok, this is one of those posts that I have to start with a disclaimer.  This post is not written with any person in kind, aside from myself. It is not about you, your friend, or that person we both know, smile at in passing, but don't really like much. It is not. To paraphrase Carly Simon, "you're so vain, you probably think this post is about you." However, to borrow a phrase from a friend of mine's facebook status the other day, if the shoe fits, feel free to wear it.

Reassess, yes that's the word.  I love blogging, I'm endlessly grateful for the opportunities it affords me and my family, to try new things, go to new places and make new friends.  But how much of my life does it swallow up, and what is the real impact on my family?  I'm finding that rather than enjoying experiences, I'm spending more of my time lining up the perfect photo, thinking about how to word things for the blog.  Rather than living in the moment and having fun, it's all about how I can write things up into a blog post. And that's not the point.  I didn't become a parent so that I could blog about it, I started blogging because I became a parent. Parenthood is the primary thing, not blogging.  A blog post takes maybe an hour to write, then you add in the time it takes to take and edit the photos, the thinking time, the time promoting on Facebook and Twitter, and even then I hear from those "in the know" that I'm not doing enough, I should be on G+, Instagram and Periscope (wtf is periscope, anyway?) as well.  I can't do that, I'm busy with my family, and my job.  Blogging is meant to be fun, not an obsession.

Be not so busy being a parent blogger that you forget to be a parent.  That's my new motto. I've had a bit of time off from the blog, you may have noticed. I'm back and refreshed, but with a new attitude. Quality not quantity in terms of posts, quality AND quantity in terms of family life.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Hello Blogosphere

Why, hello there internets. How are you? I'm muddling through. Just taking a bit of a break from it all, but normal service will be resumed just as soon as I figure out what normal is.

In the meantime, why not sit back with a slice of cake & a g&t?

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Mam, can I just have a word?

The phrase guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of every parent outside our school gates of an afternoon.  The immediate thought process goes something like this...

  • What has she done?
  • What has she said?
  • Where has she thrown up?
  • Which part of her is bleeding?
  • What has someone else's child done to her?
Fortunately, this week's bout of terror turned out to be none of the above.  Instead, she was having an attack of end-of-term-itis, coupled with being a touch oversensitive to the needs of a tv character.  We've had a good old chat, and done the whole "no secrets" and "you can tell mummy anything" conversations, as well as giving her a mental list of other people she can talk to if she doesn't want to tell me.  I'm as happy as I can be that there's nothing more serious going on than just being in need of a week's break and the chance to wear a princess outfit every day.

Katie Morag - Who does not need to leave Struay, tears or no tears.
But be honest with me here. Am I the only person who gets that fear go through them when the teacher wants a "quick word".  Even when the teacher is considerably younger than you?  I still feel like I'm going to get detention, told to write out "I must not pull faces in assembly" 100 times, and have a letter sent to my mum.  It's amazing how school never quite leaves you, isn't it?

Monday, 11 May 2015

Time for a change

I've never been a skinny minnie, to put it mildly.  I'm not all that unfit - I can swim a 5k, and do a 3 1/2 hour Zumbathon without actually keeling over, but the only thing I can run is a bath, and while I can swim, me in a swimming costume is not a pretty sight.  So it's time for a change.

I've dieted in the past, who hasn't?  Sometimes I've lost weight, but eventually I fall off the wagon, usually with a fairly hard bump, and it all goes back where it came from.  I've been a member of a gym, but I get bored after a fairly short time, when I realise I can't read on a treadmill, and I don't like looking at myself in the mirrors.  (I don't mind Zumba, I can't see myself in the community centre's breezeblock walls, and everyone is so NICE it doesn't matter that I wobble even when I shouldn't).

So, time for a change of approach.  I've always had a slightly wobbly relationship with food. It's been my comfort, and it's been my downfall.  I craved pepperoni pizza while I was pregnant with Squeaky, and the cravings still haven't gone, despite the fact she's 5!

I was offered the chance to join in a trial with Thinking Slimmer, who are the people behind the Slimpod.  They've given me (and a group of other amazing bloggers) the chance to try out the Slimpod for ourselves, in return for sharing with them how we are getting on.  You know me though, I can't keep that to myself, I'm going to tell you as well.

Truth be told, I have kept it to myself for a little while, I wasn't sure whether you'd really want to know.  But I've been listening to the lovely Trevor, a cognitive hypnotherapist, before I go to sleep (and often while I'm asleep) for the last few weeks, and I'm honestly noticing a difference.  I'm not snacking so much, I'm choosing different foods, healthier foods, and I'm making better choices.  It's slightly strange being part of a group, but being remote from them, kind of the opposite to slimming clubs.  But for me it works.  I've come to the conclusion that you can't change for anyone other than yourself, and that includes competing with others.  I'll never be you, you'll never be me, it's a waste of good energy to try.  But I can be the best me, and I'm using my slimpod to help me be the best me I can.

Want to join me?  Well, don't go away, there's something exciting coming very soon!

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Munching in Munich!

I was going to get all travel-blogger style and give you a full run down of our recent two-day jaunt to Munich, where we got caught in a monumental hailstorm, rode to the top of the Olympic tower, learned to negotiate the German rail system without speaking a word of German, and drank many good cups of coffee, and even more good beers.

But really, this is me.  We were visiting a friend, and only had a couple of days, which is nowhere near enough time to do the city justice.  I want to go back for a week and fill in the gaps that I didn't have chance to explore properly.  With an umbrella to deal with the next hailstorm, obviously, though considering the wind I might well have a Mary Poppins moment & end up flying all the way to Austria.  Being my blog though, I have got some photos to share with you.  You know the sort.



Being artistic at the Olympic Park

Beer. One of many.

If Frozen's Elsa worked in a Beerhall.
I'm slowly trying to improve my photography skills, bit by bit.  It's tough though, when time is limited and you're enjoying reality, to have the opportunity to set up a perfect shot.  This time I didn't have Squeaky dragging my arm down & making me run to the next streetlight, but even so, while I try to take a good shot, I also take many, many mediocre ones and more than a few outright bad ones.  I'll never be David Bailey (or insert other favourite photographer here), because life moves too fast for me.  But I'll have some fun along the way, and if some turn out good, all the better.

Friday, 8 May 2015


It's the time of year where the papers would normally be filled with those horror stories of parents being fined for taking their children out of school for a family trip to, well, anywhere really. This year we've had a slight reprieve due to the double whammy of the election & royal baby, but give it a few days now & we'll see photos of sad parents clutching their fine letters, and people spouting off that "it never did me any harm" (In the interests of full disclosure, I used to go on holiday in school time & have a degree, so yeah, it never did me any harm)

However, in these days of Callio and fixed penalty notices, as well as the obscene cost of childcare, family holidays during the school holidays are becoming a necessity.  The cost of an extra 2 weeks' childcare negates any possible saving of going on holiday in June, at least around here.
I see complaints about the cost of going away in the school holidays everywhere. But honestly, it doesn't have to cost more, all it takes is a little forward planning. The holiday brochures for 2016 have just come out, and that means there are free and cheap child places available.

In Summer...

We've booked our summer 2016 holiday already, and were able to secure a free child space for Squeaky, in August at a hotel with all the children's activities she could desire (basically a chocolate party & mini-disco) without breaking the bank.  To the extent that we've got a whole year before we have to actually pay for the holiday!  One third off the price to go the week earlier when we couldn't get a free child space, and actually £150 cheaper than going before the schools break up, believe it or not.

We're lucky in the respect that we only have one child - there's usually a limit to the number of free child spaces available per booking (a good reason to go on holiday with the grandparents maybe?), and there is definitely a limit to the number of free child spaces available on any given flight.  But even one free space in a family of 4 or 5 presents a significant saving.  And the cost of childcare for 2 or 3 children? Well, if you haven't got family nearby to ease the burden, the summer break can be financially crippling.  Childcare vouchers only go so far, and they rely on your childcare providers being registered - which not all are.  Same goes for Tax Credits, 70% of childcare costs is a help, but not enough.  The last choice is taking time off work - 5 weeks paid holiday per year doesn't meet the 6 weeks summer holidays, never mind the other 7 weeks of school holidays per year, sick days & last-minute inset days, unpaid leave can be the only way.

I'm not saying I agree with the term time holiday rules, but there is an equation to consider - is the (possibly) increased cost of the holiday offset by the other costs if you take time out from the school calendar - after all, school aren't going to take the children off our hands because we went away in June, are they?  Much as Squeaky's teacher may say she'd happily keep her, I'm sure she doesn't really mean it.

What do you think?

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Take a look around

I think most of us are guilty of walking around in something of a dream, I certainly am. But daydreaming our way around the world means we can miss out on some amazing sights.

While I live on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, I find it impossible to capture photos of nature that match what I can actually see.  I think it's something to do with scale, and I'm endlessly admiring of those who can capture nature in its glory. Fortunately for me, the same doesn't apply to urban scenes, where I tend to see things in a tighter focus.

This is the top floor of a Euro-supermarket that's recently opened in town, full of Polish & Turkish products & some lovely cakes & fruit juice.  I have no idea why the upstairs has mock-Tudor beams, because the building is far from that old, but it makes me smile.  I can't even blame it on the previous occupants, because that was a cheap furniture shop with broken windows.

Outside one of the churches in the town centre is this beautiful drinking fountain, commemorating a previous Royal Wedding. What a strange way to mark a wedding.  I can't find anything commemorating more recent Royal Weddings, or even the jubilee, but this fountain remains a happy reminder of days gone by.

What hidden gems are there in your town?

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Election Fever

There's still over a month to go, and I am officially SICK AND TIRED of the election already. I don't wish to see the smug faces of David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband or Nigel Farage, or any of the other suspects on my telly ever again.  I am becoming more despairing by the day as the various levels of racist parties push their propaganda and scaremongering through my door.

Therefore, I am declaring this blog an Election-Free Zone.  Until May I will not entertain any mentions of politics, politicians, voting, schools being used as polling stations & therefore closed, or anything other than fairies, flowers and Frozen.

In fact, I am happily embracing watching children's telly with Squeaky for the next 5 weeks, at least they don't mention the election on Disney.  I'm slightly dreading the next one already, in 5 years time we will firmly be in the grip of CBBC, and if my childhood was anything to go by, they start teaching political stuff in the top end of primary when there's an election to deal with.

In fact, this is as political as I will get.  We had mock elections, linked up with the kids telly of the day when I was in the top end of primary, and again in the top end of secondary school. I don't really remember the first, but for the secondary episode, the school took it very, very seriously. As did a small number of the kind of kids that do at that age. The rest of us were slightly less interested.  A group of the boys in my year took it upon themselves to stand in the name of one of the lesser parties, and launched the kind of election campaigning more commonly seen in the US than the UK, with rallies, entertainment, and full on electioneering.  They won with a landslide majority.  Unfortunately for the school it was a landslide majority for the Monster Raving Loony Party, and as such they refused to return our results to Children's BBC.  I was desperate for our school's proudest moment to appear on Newsround. Instead we had a special assembly reinforcing the seriousness and importance of politics and why we should get properly involved in things rather than treating life as a big joke.

Me? Nah.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Eclipse Watching

...Or "Another way I have managed to annoy Squeaky's school"

It was accidental, honest.  I was browsing one of those Mums' forums yesterday, you know the ones. One is full of recipes, the other full of swearing and people being (or not being) unreasonable.  I'm not even sure which, to tell the truth.  And someone had said something about their precious offspring's school and their demands for specific items with which to view the solar eclipse.

I'll be honest here. Much of the build up to the eclipse has passed me by.  I'd just kind of not noticed.  Unlike the 1999 eclipse, where I owned a pair of Eclipse 99 pants, from one of the High Street fashion stores.  (Sadly, even if I still owned them, there's no chance I'd fit more than a single bum cheek in them now)  But NetMumsNet reminded me, and so I thought I'd give the school secretary a quick call to see if I'd missed a letter. Not unknown.

Not the recommended way to view a solar eclipse

The secretary sounded completely shocked that I'd asked her such a crazy question.  Eclipse? Plans? School? And then promised to find out & send a text message to the parents.  Which arrived as I was standing at the school gate yesterday afternoon, gossiping with other mums about this exact subject. Co-incidence? Conspiracy? Who knows.

Anyway, school, having not made any other plans, preparations, or even having discussed the eclipse with our beloved offspring were watching via the BBC's live stream.  Not a bad thing, as it turns out, even though Squeaky said that they were talking in English, but it was so complicated she didn't understand and it was like they were talking Japanese (her words), so she just watched the pictures.  We'd talked about it last night, so she had some idea about what was happening at least.  More than some of the other children, I don't doubt.

The eclipse, viewed from the safety of my car. Or a pretty pattern.
Me, on the other hand?  Well, after I dropped Squeaky at school, I picked up my trusty colander, and headed for the retail park. Mostly because I needed to pop into the chemists, but also because it has a big car park & I could be fairly sure it would be quiet.  And I set up my Eclipse Viewing Kit on the passenger seat.  Actually a piece of A4 paper, the colander & my phone. See?  Significant and contemporary event blogging!

I'm living in the vain hope that my colander wearing & boredom-related photo editing will attract me my very own Professor Brian Cox.  It probably won't work out, but you can't blame me for trying, can you? Just think about that enthusiasm!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Molloscum Contagiosum

Or... what the heck is that rash?

Squeaky's had eczema since she was a tiny Squeak. I know what it looks like, how it affects her, and where it tends to appear.  So when she developed a bit of a rash on her lower legs last week, I didn't worry too much. It blanched with the glass test, and didn't bother her.  Then some more bumpy spots appeared on the outside of her elbows. So I called the doctor and we popped  to show them what Squeaky has christened "my beetles", because some of them are a little beetley in their appearance.

Fair play to the (very young!) doctor, she didn't pull any icky faces, even though I'd been doing my best to hide my "ewww" for a few days.  She confirmed that the rash on Squeaky's legs was nothing more than eczema, with a little bit of hair follicle bumps (I get the same on the tops of my arms unless I exfoliate like it's going out of fashion, chicken skin I think they call it).  But that the rash on her elbows was something else altogether.  Molluscum Contagiosum to be precise.

I did the "WTF?" face (as opposed to the earlier "Ewww" face), and she turned to her computer, clicked away, and showed me pictures, and gave me a handy printout (the same one that is linked above.  If it's good enough for my GP, then it's good enough for me) explaining all about the "beetles".

Molloscum Contagiosum, it appears, is a viral condition, nothing to do with shellfish, except that it sort of looks like them - or beetles.  It's not something that has outbreaks, it's pretty much a constant in schools & nurseries.  It doesn't cause a big problem, and goes away of its own devices when it's run its course.  Unfortunately. said course is 12-18 months, and there's no real recommended medical treatment, just not scratching.

No-one needs a picture of the offending rash. Everyone needs gin in a tin.
The internet is being as helpful as it ever is when looking for information about any kind of health concern - i.e. a massive pile of  scaremongering, conspiracy theories and assorted nonsense about sudocrem or duct tape  (I can understand that, they're related to warts & verrucae which are successfully treated with duct tape, but really?).  I'm tempted to go to the local health food shop, who tend to recommend cod liver oil & vitamin c for almost everything in my experience, to see if they've got any better ideas.  They might be cheaper than the pharmacy, and you never know, they might also have some ideas for the nits that school are texting us about on a weekly basis.

Oh, yes.  Nits.  They're still a thing in school. In the same week as the Molloscum Contagiosum diagnosis, we've had two text messages about nits, and a factsheet about threadworms.  Am I sending Squeaky to a school, or a medical research lab?  Seriously, there's one a couple of miles away, and I'm beginning to wonder.  Germ vectors, that's what children are.  Tiny, mucky little germ vectors, that make me itch.

Friday, 6 March 2015


Daydreaming is a lovely thing. Not necessarily the "what would I do if I won the lottery" type thoughts, though they do pass a happy few minutes waiting for a latte to cool down from the temperature of molten lava. More the kind of meanderings that end up as ridiculous action songs a la "If I was not in pantomime..." and finish up with someone getting hit over the head with a frying pan or tickled with a feather duster.

Ok, these often strike on a Monday morning, when I realise how much paperwork I need to get through, but it's either that or announcing to the office that today is officially Not Giving A Monkey's Day, and hitting the biscuit tin. But they also strike when there's nothing else doing, while sitting in the waiting room at the dentist, watching today's fifth episode of Sofia The First, that sort of thing.
I'd actually hate to not work, I need to have to do something in order to do anything. I couldn't quit tomorrow & be a full time mum, or a full time blogger, even if the money was there. I would end up doing the school run in my pyjamas, watching endless episodes of Jeremy Kyle, and growing another chin.

Instead, I've taken to wondering what it would be like to be someone else. Or something else! Some days I think I'd quite like to be a cat, lazing in a sunbeam and demanding attention. Or maybe a robin. Robins make everyone smile.

Or maybe I'm just feeling bored and need a new challenge. On that basis, I've started going to line dancing classes, in the hope my daydreams will soon be filled with cowboys in tight jeans. Ahem. I'll be in my bunk.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Holiday Friends

Holiday friendships are something I really miss about childhood. It's much harder to bond with adults when you're thrown together by a strange mix of geography, timing and the whims of the weather gods.

But for children, holiday friendships are magical. They spring from nowhere to firm & fast friends in the time it takes me to take my flip flops off. Holiday friendships transcend age, background, even language, cemented on the international languages of laughter, ice cream and fun. Sometimes even names are just details. What matters is a shared moment of fun, and a glimmer of memory to take home.

Here's to those holiday friends. Cheers, Prost, Yamas, Sláinte, Salud, Iechyd da, Skål, or whatever floats your boat.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Sunshine Escape

February half term is a peculiarly dull concept. Unless you are a snooker fan & want to spend a week in a darkened room in Cardiff, there's not a lot to do. It's cold, it's probably raining, and Christmas was only five minutes ago.  So rather than suffer a soggy week in the house, we jumped on an Easyjet plane to the Costa Del Sol, in search of sunshine and cheap wine.

Honestly taken this February. Why can't the UK look like this?

We were blessed with some glorious weather, just right for collecting shells on the beach for our school homework (make something to do with aquariums on a piece of A4 card).  There's nothing better for recharging your virtual batteries than a few days of sunshine to break the endless grey of home.

Early in the year, Spanish resorts seem to be full of elderly Spanish ladies playing endless card games and rarely moving from*their* seat in the hotel bar.  In fact, I learned recently that the Spanish government actually fund subsidised holidays for all pensioners living in Spain, to be taken in Spain of course, even though who aren't of Spanish origin.  Can you imagine what the Daily Fail would make of that, if we sent all our pensioners on a week's holiday to Torquay? Even more so those who have moved here to steal our jobs, homes, women and benefits?  I can see it now, and it's not pretty.

I even found the perfect way to occupy a 5 year old for more than 2 solid minutes.  Find a patch of grass with a high clover content.  Challenge said 5 year old to find a lucky 4 leaf clover. Sit back and enjoy the peace and quiet while they mutter "three, three, three" and throw leaves around.

Our sunshine break wasn't exactly 5* glamour and luxury, but I wouldn't want it that way.  What it was though, was a perfect way to spend an otherwise chilly half term.  I'll say nothing about the hailstorm we landed in on our return home.  We got to spend our half term outside in the Spanish sunshine, learned a few new Spanish words, and generally de-stressed.  Now it's back to the grindstone.

Linking up with Coombe Mills' Country Kids linky. Our holiday is a little different to theirs, but the escape & revitalisation remain.

 Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 16 February 2015

Stationary stationery

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Winter morning playtime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 6 February 2015

Storage Tips For Busy (And Messy) Families

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

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

Storage Furniture and Boxes

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

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

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

Storage Ideas for the Bedroom

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

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

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

Flexible Off-Site Storage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Gender balance and education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Lunchbox Woes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 19 January 2015

Five Whole Years

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

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

The cold never bothered me anyway

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

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

Happy birthday little lovely.