Monday, 30 August 2010

Parent blogging comes of age: Three go to Bangladesh

As I write this three parent bloggers are in Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world. They are there as guests of the Save the Children charity to see first-hand the work they do and how the smallest intervention can be the difference between life or death for the children of the area.

Josie from Sleep is for the Weak, Eva from Nixdminx and Sian from Mummytips are the three bloggers on the trip. They will be blogging and tweeting throughout their incredible adventure and there will be daily updates on the Twitter Blogladesh daily. You can help by adding your name to the Press for Change petition which will put pressure on the UK Government to make global poverty a priority at the UN Summit in September. Please take the time to do this as it's an easy way to make a huge difference.

As far as I'm concerned this extraordinary trip by the three amazingly talented bloggers is a coming of age for blogging. It's an acknowledgement that parent bloggers can reach a wide audience and not just for advertising products, they can also change the way we view the wider world and potentially influence Government policy. I'm completely in awe of the bloggers on this trip, although I hesitate at saying I'm looking forward to their updates - because I know what they find on their trip won't always be easy to swallow. But then this is not about making us all feel good, it's about giving us the facts no matter how unpalatable.

Please give these bloggers your support, please sign the petition.  We can make that difference.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Film Review: Cemetary Junction

Cemetary Junction is written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, which sounds great on paper - afterall I loved the Offfice and Extras - but after watching the truly awful The Invention of Lying (Gervais' film directorial debut) I wasn't sure what to expect. The synopsis explains the basics:

"70s England is in full swing as three outcast friends find themselves drinking, joking, fighting and chasing girls, while dreaming of escape from their blue-collar hometown of Cemetery Junction. Freddie (Christian Cooke) is a salesman suddenly thrown onto the fast track when he gains the attention of his boss, Mr. Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes). Torn between a prior life of partying with his friends (Tom Hughes and Jack Doolan) and the promise of a brighter future, life gets more complicated when the bosses daughter becomes the focus of Freddie’s affection. Also starring Ricky Gervais and Emily Watson."
I needn't have worried because I really enjoyed this film. I was a teenager in the '70s so it was great to see all the fashions and hear the fantastic soundtrack, but although the props and the scenes are all totally accurate for that era (so much so, I even recognised the identical wallpaper from my own teenage bedroom in one of the scenes) this is a film set in the 70s rather than a film about the 70s. The distinction being that the storyline is more important than the decade it's set in, and the fashions etc. don't distract from that. 

Ricky Gervais plays Freddie's father and while he doesn't get a huge amount of screen time his scenes are amongst the funniest. Even so, I wouldn't describe this as a comedy - I felt it was more of a drama with some humour.  The whole cast is superb especially Anne Reid as the Grandma and Emily Watson as the repressed wife of Freddie's boss (the creepy Ralph Fiennes). The actors playing the three friends - ambitious Freddie, cool but troubled Bruce and the socially inept Snork - were unknowns before making the film but are all very convincing in their roles. Proof of that is in the final scene between Bruce (Tom Hughes) and his dad. No words are spoken but the scene packs a big emotional punch.

All in all, a really enjoyable film. Recommended.

Cemetary Junction is rated 15, and is out on DVD and Blu-ray on August 30th. The trailer below is also rated 15 due to a bit of language, so you might want to watch it when the children aren't around.

This is a sponsored post.  Blu-ray, image and trailer supplied by Sony.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Big Momma Challenge: week 8

Week 8 and all is well.

I've lost a further 1¾lbs which means I've now lost 13¾lbs bringing me tantalisingly close to my first stone in weight!  In total I need to lose 5 stone (70lbs) so that first stone also symbolises 20% of my total target.  I'm pretty pleased with that and, amazingly, I still feel very motivated due to the support that the other BMC bloggers are offering to me and to each other - I'm sure it's the reason I am still going strong. So thank you!

There's been a lot of news coverage this week about the obesity epidemic and how the number of gastric band operations carried out by the NHS has increased ten-fold since 2002. There is no doubt that obesity has become a major health concern in the UK but I wonder if the NHS should be paying for this sort of surgery?  Nobody can quibble with the simple equation that less food + more exercise = weight loss, but for many - myself included - motivation can prove to be the stumbling block. I've tried many, many times to lose weight - and on occasion I have lost quite a bit, but it's always piled back on when the diet has ended. 

And that's the difference (I hope) this time.  This time I'm changing my lifestyle.  Changing my eating habits for the long-term. Thinking more about healthy options and how I feel about myself. This time it feels different.

This week I found a very useful website called Weight Concern which has information on everything to do with maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  It covers a wide range of subjects such as healthy eating, exercise, the health issues related to obesity and managing your weight. There is also an easy BMI calculator (body mass index) which will work out how much weight you might need to lose the be at a healthy weight.  According to the calculator my BMI this week is 33.6 and I am classed as obese.  Not exactly news to me, but I'm going to check it every week from now on. 

The Weight Concern website has some very interesting information exercise, suggesting that to make it work in the long-term you have to think about introducing exercise into your daily routine. Exercise has to become a habit in order to make the long-term difference, and they offer this research as proof:
"A recent US study looked at the effects of a 30-minute walk on a wide range of immune function measures. They analysed blood samples from healthy volunteers after sitting quietly for 30 minutes and after walking briskly for 30 minutes. They found that a 30 minute walk led to positive changes in several immune system components. Whereas sitting for 30 minutes was not associated with any such beneficial changes.
This study adds to the existing bulk of evidence to show that moderate activity (activity that raises the heart rate to between 60-65% of its maximum rate) leads to positive immune changes, by increasing the number of immune-system cells in the blood."
So not only does exercise help with fitness levels but it also changes our body's immune system and the ability to fight off illness. Of course, my recommendation is to get a dog! Walking the dog is a form of exercise that just can't be put off!  Exercise DVDs can remain in the cellophane, bikes can remain in the shed - but dogs need to be walked everyday!

Tessie with her best
 'please take me for a walk' face.
If you would like to join in with the Big Momma Challenge just leave a comment below and add your linky so that the other bloggers can see how you get on during the week - that way you get the extra support that can make the difference.

Good luck - I hope everyone has a fit and healthy week!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Back to School: Tesco's uniform pack

This is a sponsored post.

Getting ready to go back to school can be an expensive do. There are the shoes, socks, shirts, skirts, PE kits, etc. not to mention the 'must have' school bag and a new winter coat. So I was delighted to be contacted by Tesco recently asking if we would like to receive a 'uniform pack' before my girls return to school in September. Yesterday the pack - or should I say big box - arrived and we were very impressed with the contents.

The box contained two skirts, two pairs of trousers, a cardigan and jumper, shirts, polo shirts, notebooks, pens and pencils - plus a £30 money off voucher for Tesco online clothes shop!  Both of my girls were really pleased with the items - the Teenager really liked her skirt which was a relief because so far we haven't found many in her size in the shops.  Tall Daughter loved the wool-blend cardigan so much she wore it for the rest of the evening! 

I was very pleasantly surprised by the clothes, everything looked and felt like they should be much more expensive -  no disrespect to Tescos but I didn't expect the quality to be quite so good.  You can watch a video showing how their school uniforms are tested for quality.

Not only were we lucky enough to get this pack but I've been asked to nominate another blogger to receive a pack too, and I'm nominating Kate at The Five Fs Blog.  I'm sure you'll be as impressed as I am!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

The Big Momma Challenge: week 7

Wow, it's week 7 already! 

I hope everyone has had a good week, although I acknowledge that the summer holidays is a difficult time to make healthy choices all of the time - there are too many temptations in the form of ice-cream, barbecues, picnics, weddings and holidays.  There were a few comments last week about how much easier it will be come September when the children are back at school and we can return to our normal routines.  I agree - but this challenge is about making changes in the long term, so we also have to negotiate those tricky times and figure out how we can include them in our lives without going OTT. 

This week I had a weight loss of ¾lb.  Not great, especially as I managed to lose the same amount last week when I was on holiday, hmmm.  But I know exactly why I only lost that small amount - we had some lovely friends over for lunch on Thursday and they forced me to eat cake. Lots of it. But thankfully there was some carrot cake, so I could include it in my 5-a-day :-)

If I had lost ¾lb but was expecting to lose more then I might be puzzled, but I  know the reason for the small weight loss - I troughed all day Thursday and most of Friday.  So, a small loss in weight but a great time with my friends.  I call that a result.

However ~ I really need to up my game this week.  So far, seven weeks in I've lost a total of 12lb therefore averaging under 2lb per week.  I'd like to be losing between 2-3lbs each week as I still have 58lbs to lose and if I lose it at a rate of 2lbs per week it will take me another 29 weeks to reach my target weight.  If I can lose 3lb per week it will only take me just over 19 weeks, which sounds much better to me.

I mentioned in week 2 that I wouldn't buy any new clothes until I'd had a significant weight loss.  I don't know what significant means, but it will probably be when nothing fits me anymore.  Oh happy day! It's been quite hard sticking to that resolution but I haven't included shoes, accessories and underwear in the clothing ban.  So today I treated myself to some new shoes and some decent underpinnings.  A decent bra can make quite a difference to your silhouette can't it? 

I also had a look at the Betty Jackson: Black clothing range in Debenhams and fell in love with several items, so when I reach that significant weight loss I'm heading straight back to Debenhams and the Betty Jackson section.  This grey cowl dress is very me, but I rarely wear dresses nowadays - don't know why but I'm going to remedy that soon.

My targets for this week are to lose 2-3lbs, increase my amount of exercise and to start a proper skin care routine.  I'm including the skin care routine because for me, this is not only about getting fit but about looking after myself and taking care of my skin is something I always mean to do, but somehow never find the time to do everyday.

Good luck to everyone else following the challenge - and if you're new and fancy joining in, you don't need to ask - just add your link below and let us know what your targets are and how you do during the week.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Living with the enemy

I've been thinking about my Mum a lot recently.  A couple of days ago I saw a news report (based on a Cancer Research report) which showed that more than three-quarters of women diagnosed with breast cancer now survive their disease for at least ten years or more and almost 2 out of 3 women now survive their disease beyond 20 years. This is all fantastic news, and of course detecting the cancer in its early stages means survival rates are even better.

Yesterday when I was out shopping I saw a woman who looked, in profile, just like Mum.  So much so, that I thought for a split second that it was her. In that split second she was out shopping and I had bumped into her.  Of course a split second is all it takes to realise that Mum died three years ago and our shopping trips are over.

The sad thing is that Mum died a premature and - I believe - unnecessary death.

Her original diagnosis of breast cancer had come in October 2005 when she was told the cancer was advanced and she would have to have a mastectomy. It was only at that stage that she told me what was happening. In January 2007  I went with her to see a specialist and she received the news that we'd dreaded. The cancer had spread to her liver and spine. She died just six weeks later, at home, with her family around her.

Last month I found what appeared to be a small breast lump and went to see my GP the next day, who then referred me onto the hospital for a mammogram and appointment with a breast specialist.  As I waited to see the specialist I realised I was sitting outside the same office, in the same chairs, as I had with my Mum before she'd received her devastating news. Happily, my diagnosis was better - it was a harmless cyst that would disappear of its own accord.

It was only after my Mum's death that I discovered she had missed several appointments for breast screening, despite getting reminders and despite a friend's encouragement to attend. Mum was a very private and modest person, and she told her friend that she was 'too embarrassed' to go, but if she had kept those appointments she might still be alive today. If only I had known about the missed appointments, if only her friend had been successful,  if only she had attended.  If only.

By the time the cancer was discovered Mum had three grape-sized cancerous lumps, which would have been picked up earlier at one of those missed appointments.

I miss my lovely Mum every single day, and the fact that she should still be here makes it more difficult to deal with.

This is a very long way of saying please check your own breasts and see your GP if you have any concerns.  And please, please encourage your own Mum, sister, cousin or friend to get any unusual signs or symptoms checked out. 
There is more information on these websites:
Cancer Research UK

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The Big Momma Challenge: Week 6

After a week's holiday I was dreading getting on the scales this morning, especially as I had done no exercise at all and had allowed myself one ice-cream everyday.  Last week's targets were as follows:

1. try and maintain my weight (I doubt a weight-loss is on the cards while I'm on holiday) and
2. try and make healthy choices along with the occasional ice-cream.

So imagine my surprise - and delight - when I found I'd lost ¾lb!  Amazing.

When I thought about it though, despite the lack of exercise and the ice-creams - and okay, the burger and chips (twice), I hadn't eaten between meals and hadn't snacked in the evenings either.  I also usually have wine every night while we're on holiday, but this time I only had wine on two evenings.  So, even though I wasn't eating my usual healthy options, I didn't go OTT either.  It made me realise that I can actually eat without over-indulging even when the normal routine is broken, and can get back on track again quite quickly. And to lose even a small amount is the cherry on the cake for me.

One of things I do everyday is to eat a decent breakfast, and for me it has to be cereal. I really believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I never leave home without eating something. Since I was very small my breakfast 95% of the time is a bowl of cereal. Over the years I've tried all sorts, and I have my favourites - porridge in the colder months when I have time to make it properly, and assorted cereals in the warmer months.

My favourites are the Dorset Cereals and Jordan's Crunchy Oats. When I was planning this post, I emailed both companies to ask for permission to use images of their products and was very happy that not only did they say yes,  but both companies also wanted to offer some samples to the bloggers taking part on the Big Momma Challenge!

If you would like to enjoy a sample from either Dorset Cereals of Jordan Cereals,, please check out their websites and let me know which one you'd like to try.  Sadly, I think they will only be available to Big Momma participants based in the UK (sorry Pamela and VBiC!). 

Don't forget to link to your weekly blog update using the Linky tool below.  It really helps if we can all support one another - I think it's the main reason I'm still going, knowing how everyone else is doing and picking up tips and ideas along the way.  And once again, if anyone else wants to join in please do - the more the merrier! Have a great week!

Friday, 13 August 2010

Sharing the bloggy love

I've been doing a lot of blog reading during our week at the Welsh cottage, and just wanted to share some of my favourite blog posts from this week.

Donkey Trousers - this blog is quite new to me, and Spencer writes about a variety of subjects but always with an interesting angle.  This post about religion really got me thinking;

Sleep is for the Weak - Josie has revealed she is to visit Bangladesh with Save the Children which is just amazing.  I'm so impressed that charities such as this are using the blogosphere in this way, and not just to sell a product.  Please give Josie and her travelling companions Mummytips and Nixdminx your support.

Diary of a Mancunian Mum  A couple of weeks ago Mancunian Mum mentioned she was thinking about getting a dog and I asked her to consider adopting a greyhound from the Retired Greyhound Trust, so I was absolutely chuffed this week to read that she has adopted a greyhound called Jasper!  Fantastic news!

Tales from the Village - I love Rachael's blog, and just look at these gorgeous photos.

And finally, I was pleased to see the return of an old blog friend - The Frugal Cook. Fiona Beckett's blog is one of the first I ever read, and was partly responsible for me starting my own.  So you have Fiona to blame!

What are your favourite posts from this week?

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Spoilt for choice: Rose & Grey

I've mentioned before that I'm a glossy magazine tart.  I love reading magazines - probably because of my short attention span - and whilst we've been on holiday my reading material for the beach has been home interior magazines. I'm always looking for home decorating inspiration, as there's always a project on the go and while we're away from home I'm having a new kitchen installed (my trusty builder is working away and sending me daily updates) as well as revamping the junk spare room back into a guest room. 

Country Homes and Interiors is one of my favourite mags and in this month's issue I noticed an item from Rose & Grey, so later on back at the cottage I looked at their website.  Big Mistake.  I now want everything on the site.  Really, everything is just to my taste, and to make things even better they are a North-west based family business - just down the road from me (although the road is the M56).

Here are just a few examples of their gorgeous products. I make no apologies for using so many photos - I was so spoilt for choice I could have added several more!

I think Tessie would love this bed
This bag is on my Want List

All images courtesy of Rose & Grey

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Monday, 9 August 2010

The perfect holiday

We're on holiday in Wales this week. Or to be more precise we're on the Llyn Peninsula which is a beautiful part of the world.

This is the sixth year running that we've holidayed in this area, and the fifth year staying at the same farm cottage which I found quite by chance on the internet, and which has now become our holiday home-from-home.  The girls love it here, especially as they have made firm friends with the children of the two other families who stay here at the same time.  Each year we ensure that we book for the same week the following year, which means the children - or should I say teenagers - get to spend lots of time together.  We even visit the same beach on sunny days, and the children play beach games together, surf, talk and enjoy their summer. 

Our favourite beach in this area - although there are plenty of beautiful places to choose from - is Porth Oer.  It's popularly known as Whistling Sands, so-called because of the distinctive whistling sound the sand makes underfoot.  It's a cove reached by walking down a very steep path which puts some people off, but it also means that the beach never gets crowded.  Today was a bit breezy - not a problem for us - but just look at how quiet it was on the beach today:

This is where we set down for the day
Notice the lack of clouds
This was at 2pm - not exactly crowded!

As I looked around the beach I heard myself saying "this is perfect". And it was.

The Big Momma Challenge: week 5

This week's update is a bit late due to the fact that I'm on holiday and the wifi connection has been intermittent.  Sorry!

Last week didn't go according to plan.  I spent the first half of the week redecorating the spare room in time for my brother's return next week, and the second half of the week emptying the kitchen in preparation for the builders who arrived on Friday and started knocking the old kitchen out, as well as packing for our holiday.  My brand new kitchen will be installed while we're away, so I'm looking forward (and a bit apprehensive) about seeing it when we get home.

This is a long way of saying that last week's targets remained largely untouched: the bike stayed in the shed, I didn't do any of the exercise DVDs and I also didn't sort out the clothes. However, I did manage to lose 1¾lbs which is okay but not earth-shattering.  I had hoped to lose 3lbs, but probably the lack of focus didn't help.

This week's targets are simple: 1. try and maintain my weight (I doubt a weight-loss is on the cards while I'm on holiday) and 2. try and make healthy choices along with the occasional ice-cream. 

I'm looking forward to hearing how everyone else has fared over the week! 

Next week I'll have some healthy breakfast cereals to giveaway -watch this space.

Friday, 6 August 2010

My granny would be so proud ~ I'm finally an -ologist.

In the 1980s  there was a very popular series of adverts for BT featuring the actress Maureen Lipman.  One of the funniest was this one (bear with me, I'll get to the point in a minute):

So, a couple of days ago I was contacted via Twitter by ToysRus to ask if I would like to be a Toyologist? Like? I'd love to - now I finally have an -ology!

There's now a shiny new badge on the sidebar of my blog, and we've been invited to meet all of the other Toyologists soon at a tea party.  I can't wait to meet the other families and to pick up our first lot of goodies.  I'm curious to know what my girls will be asked to test as they seem to be quite a lot older than the other children.  I even check with ToysRUs that they knew my girls were 10 and 13 and asked if we still qualify, which happily we do.

This is the press release from my spokesperson Geoffrey Giraffe:

Toys R Us selected a number of Digital Mums from across the UK to drive their online social media activity. It’s a new programme called “Toys R Us Toyologists”. We’re a mixture of stay-at-home mums, working mums, full time lawyers and more, but all of us are mums who are active within the blogosphere and social media space.

We are being given toys to try out with our kids, to review, and have been asked to share our experiences, which hopefully you will enjoy reading about!

Geoffrey Giraffe also has his own Facebook page where you will be able to catch up with the latest news from ToysRus. And us Toyologists will be working our fingers to be bone *cough* to bring you the latest toy reviews. Don't worry, we'll be okay.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Turning 50

Yesterday was quite significant. No, not because of a brief and possibly imaginary flirtation with a tree surgeon, but because in exactly four months from then I will turn 50. That's half a century, five decades. Good grief. 

I'm at a loss on how to mark this significant point in my life. I'm not sure about a party as I'm not really a party animal, but I do want to do something.  But what? What do people do when they are 50, apart from putting a down payment on a Saga holiday and start paying into one of those Over-50 funeral plans?  

So far I've got as far as thinking about a weekend away, somewhere I haven't been before but not too expensive.  Probably UK based, and probably taking my daughters with me.  But that's as far as I've got, so you can see how much thought I've put into it even though it's been on my mind since my last birthday.  Is it even worth celebrating? What exactly would I be celebrating?  I suppose the fact that I didn't celebrate either my 18th or 21st birthdays makes me want to do something, and my 40th birthday celebration was dinner with my then loving husband.

I don't feel like I'm almost 50.  Okay, perhaps my body does with its creaking joints and saggy bits, but mentally - up here - I still feel 27.  That was the age when I felt most confident, that I was at my prime and enjoying life.  I had a very good, well paid job - I earned more then all those years ago than I do now - I was single and had a cosy little terraced house that I loved. I travelled a lot with my job and for pleasure, and I was enjoying being single and dating different men. 

Fast forward 23 years and I'm a single parent mum to two fabulous girls who give me a lot of joy, laughter and wrinkles. I still have a comfortable home, both bigger and messier than the last one, I work part-time now and get a lot of job satisfaction out of it as well as some great work colleagues/friends, and guess what? I'm single again.

On balance, I'm much happier now than at 27.  Life has thrown quite a few challenges along the way over the last 23 years, but I feel stronger and more content as a result. Yeah, that's it, I'm content with my lot in life and I'd like to celebrate that. 

So, I'm looking for suggestions on how to do it in style but on a budget.  How do I celebrate such a significant birthday?  I just know you'll have some fantastic ideas!

Monday, 2 August 2010

Did that really just happen?

I'm writing this in a state of confusion.

Earlier this morning, just as I came back from my first power walk of the day (as part of my healthy living, Big Momma challenge) there was a knock at the door.  It was the tree surgeon who I'd previously rang and asked to take a look at some overgrown trees and bushes in the back garden.

He stood on the doorstep in his checked shirt looking for all the world like a farmer.  He had nice, kind eyes I noticed. And suddenly I realised I was in my jogging clothes, feeling very sweaty and unkempt.

In the back garden he took a look 'round and told me what needed doing.  A lot of work in other words.  And a lot of money.  We talked, I haggled, he smiled and stroked his chin.  Then we struck a deal.

He got on with the work straightaway and within the hour the unwanted conifer was no more and the three giant buddleias had also gone.  I made him a cup of coffee and that was when it happened.

He told me his name, which  I thought was quite charming and belonged to a bygone age.  Think Harold, Percy and Alfred and that's the generation of names his belongs to. He chatted about this and that and then asked me about myself.  Was I married? He wasn't. What did I like to drink?  He liked a cold beer. Where did I like to go? 

I could feel myself feeling a little uncomfortable, but wasn't sure why.  He was friendly enough, quite attractive in a ruddy-cheeked sort of way. And then something started to dawn on me...

Was he, no he couldn't be..could he?   Was he....flirting with me?  No, surely not? Why on earth would he?

I could feel myself flushing and getting even hotter and muttering something about the warm weather. 

I rushed inside to sort his payment out, and we said goodbye.  Although he's coming back in a couple of weeks to take two more trees away.  And suddenly I feel nervous and slightly foolish.  This is out of my comfort zone.  And even worse, what if I'm completely wrong? Maybe he talks to everyone like that?  He's the friendly type. And anyway, does it even matter? Nothing's going to come of it.  So why am I so confused?

Seven years on your own does funny things to your mind I've discovered.