Thursday, 27 December 2012

Guest post: Single parent resolutions for 2013

New Year Resolutions are usually based on things we feel guilty about. Smoking, not doing enough exercise, swearing too much – these common offenders regularly appear on our lists. By February, most of us have slipped back into bad habits.

With Christmas nearly upon us, now’s the time to think about the New Year. As a single parent, what would you like to change about your life in 2013?

1. I promise to start saving for Christmas early

This time of year can be a strain when there’s only one income coming into the household. With toys, food and all the festive trimmings to buy, the pressure’s on to create a magical Christmas for the kids without breaking the bank.

However, Christmas doesn’t have to cost the earth. Although January may seem early to start saving for the following winter’s celebrations, you’ll be amazed how much you can squirrel away between now and then. If there’s space in the house for an early visit from Santa, take advantage of the sales and buy decorations and stocking fillers while they’re going cheap.

2. I promise to have more ‘me’ time

It’s hard to get some time to yourself when you’re constantly running round after the kids. The school run means no morning lie-ins and you’re lucky to relax in the bath for five minutes before there’s a little knock on the bathroom door.
Image credit
~ This is a featured guest post by eHarmony ~

It’s important to make some time for yourself. After all, you deserve a little time off. Dedicate an hour or so every week to shut out the world. This could be on your lunch break with an engrossing read or a pamper session with friends while the children are at a sleepover.

3. I promise to give dating a go

This one may not be for everyone. However, if you do want to date again, there’s lots of ways to make it easier. Your time is precious so save yourself from no-hope dates by starting the search online.

Websites like eHarmony are ideal for single parents, as you’ll meet people who will understand your situation. Being matched based on what’s important to you gives that first date a much higher chance of success too. Head to http://www.eharmony.co.uk/ to get started.

4. I promise to get more involved in the community

Being a single parent can be lonely but there’s a whole network of people to befriend in the community. Although a little effort is needed to get out there and take part in local activities, the benefits are well worth it.

For those of you looking to connect with people with the same heritage in your area, Asian or Indian dating sites will put you in touch with like minded individuals. These websites are not just about dating so sign up and meet people you wouldn’t get the chance to normally.

5. I promise to make our house a home

If you've moved house with the kids in tow those little jobs around the house have probably been pushed aside. You’re doing well if all the boxes are unpacked in the first six months. There’s always an excuse not to do DIY but sometimes a room decorated just the way you like it is all that’s needed to make you feel happy.

Image credit
Draw up a list of those niggling household improvements that have been neglected. Aim to cross one off each month. Even the kids can pitch in with a paintbrush or help you make decorations for the bedrooms. By 2014, your house will be the home you’ve always wanted.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Christmas excess, supermarket shopping and foodbanks

A couple of days ago I went to the supermarket to do the big Christmas food shop. The place was heaving (despite it being 10pm) and some people were pushing two overflowing trolleys through the checkouts.

When it came to my turn the bill came to just over £114, which for me is a lot to spend on one shop - but it's Christmas, and we all like to over indulge don't we? I got chatting to the checkout operator who casually said that lots of people were spending between £300-400 on their food shopping for the week and it really struck me as completely mad. I mean, the shops are only closed for one day and just how much food can one family eat on the big day? Even I had spent over £100 for just the three of us, and there will be other bits and pieces bought during the week too.

When it came to unpacking and putting all of the shopping away I realised I needed to make some room because the fridge was already quite full, along with the cupboards. So I got a couple of carrier bags and filled them up with food that was either past its sell by date or had been festering at the bottom of the fridge.  And there was a lot of it. Bread, cold meats, loads of fruit and veg, some cheese.

When I took the bags out to the bin I felt ashamed.

Ashamed, because I was throwing away food that we had wasted when an increasing number of families are having to get theirs from foodbanks this Christmas.

Image from the Trussell Trust website
The recent increase of foodbanks in the this country is nothing short of a travesty and the fact that 16 million people in this country -  this country - not a third world country - live below the poverty line is appalling.
 

Every day people in the UK go hungry for reasons ranging from redundancy to receiving an unexpected bill on a low income. Trussell Trust foodbanks provide a minimum of three days emergency food and support to people experiencing crisis in the UK.
In 2011-12 foodbanks fed 128,687 people nationwide, 100% more than the previous year. Rising costs of food and fuel combined with static income, high unemployment and changes to benefits are causing more and more people to come to foodbanks for help.
 
Please spare a thought for the families who will be using foodbanks this week. You can find a list of your nearest foodbank here, with a list of the type of foods needed.
 
If you can donate something this week please do because, quite frankly, there but for the grace of God go many of us.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

The one where I'm in the same room as Sir Tom Jones and Will.i.am


Yesterday we went to watch the blind auditions for series 2 of The Voice UK which starts on BBC1 again next year.  I'd applied for tickets after hearing on the local news that The Voice would be filmed at MediaCity in Manchester this time and we were lucky enough to be allocated 4 tickets.

So, yesterday we (me, Tall Daughter, the Teenager and the Teenager's Boyfriend)  all went to Manchester to queue in the rain for over an hour to get into the waiting area. Yeah, fun.

Then we waited in the waiting area for another hour.

Then we waited in seating area for another half an hour or so. As you do.

By this time I was starting to get a teeny tiny bit impatient.

Then we were all herded into the bijou studio  - only 400 audience seats which surround the judges' chairs and the stage in a horseshoe shape, so no matter where you sit you're guaranteed a good view of the action. 

Then we waited a bit longer. But at least we were sitting down and it was dry. And we were given a bottle of water and a Kitkat to eat (nice touch BBC).

Eventually, we were entertained by a 'warm-up' called Nate Stuart (I think) who I thought looked like Dale Winton. And then he made a joke about how people thought he looked like Dale Winton. Erm...

Anyhoo....after what seemed like an eternity the show started. Holly Willoughbooby and Reggie Yates came onstage to introduce the judges and the place went wild!

Danny O'Donoghue was first on and let me tell you ladies, he's quite a dish. Do people still say that by the way? Dish? Anyway, quite a looker and Irish too, which is an excellent combination in my books.

Then it was Sir Tom Jones, who is a real superstar. I mean, he's been around for donkey's years and his voice is still amazing. He got a standing ovation. Respect to Sir Tom!

Next it was Tall Daughter's favourite singer - Jessie J  - and I thought TD was actually going to explode with excitement when she saw her.  "OMG....it's her, it's Jessie J......*insert high-pitched scream*"

And finally, my personal favourite the genius that is Will.i.am. I know he's not everybodies cup of tea but I love him. He's quirky, he's funny and he's a bloomin' music genius. Long before he was in the Black Eyed Peas he was writing and producing songs for major artists and wrote one of my favourite ever songs, Ordinary People, for John Legend. Yeah, I'm a big fan. Big whoop for Will.i.am!

If you watched the show last year you'll know the format for the blind auditions. The four judges - or coaches as they call them on The Voice -  sit with their backs to the singers, who come out on stage to complete silence before they start to sing.

The audience were told only to make a noise if we liked what we heard. And if any of the coaches turned around (meaning they wanted to coach the singer) we were to make even more noise. There was a whole lot of shouting and hollering going on in that studio!

I've been sworn to secrecy about the acts, but I can tell you that on the show we watched there were 12 acts. Some good, some just ok, but none of them really that bad.

And there's the difference between The Voice and the X Factor, there's none of the elimination rounds where the audience are encouraged to laugh at vulnerable people. None of that. Just decent singers who are trying to catch a break.

Of the 12 we saw  there was one singer who the audience loved but the judges didn't; an over-confident duo who thought they were ace (they weren't); a singer who was great but had an even better personality when he started chatting; a goth-looking girl singer who came onstage looking all mean and edgy then started to sing a Justin Bieber song (yeah, interesting); and a singer who took 20 minutes (20 minutes!) to decide which coach to go with; and finally an exceptional singer who was the last one to come on stage and nearly took the roof off - the audience LOVED her! She was amazing! And so, it turned out, did all four coaches who all wanted her on their team, and boy are they competitive when it comes to persuading an act to go with them.  It also emerged that she had been famous once before, but more than that I cannot say....

The Voice series 2 starts approx. March 2013.

*sorry, no photos because we weren't allowed to take phones or cameras into the studio*

A chance to win a Kindle Fire HD tablet in time for Christmas



As a festive thank you to their customers and social media followers, SSE is offering everyone the chance to win a brand new Kindle Fire HD tablet!

All you have to do to enter is like the SSE Facebook page and help the Christmas Elves charge their Kindle in the competition App.

I had a go at the game - well, it'd be rude not to! - and it was easy and fun to do. Even I could do it! One little tip from me though, when you get to the second stage of the game and it suggests using the up and down arrow keys you should use them one at a time to direct the torch's beam to the solar panel, and not do what I did (which was to keep pressing them both at the same time). The Elves won't like it if you do that.

I have to warn you though, I was pretty hot at this game and I entered twice....so you have some stiff competition if you want to win. What?!

The competition will end on Tuesday 18 December at 4pm with the winner being informed the very next day. This gives you a chance to win a great gift just in time for Christmas (or, a lovely treat for yourself!).
Better get cracking then to be in with a chance of winning. Good luck!


This post is sponsored by SSE.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Sponsored guest post: How to turn your bedroom into a creative space

Untitled

When you have children, you’ll find that space very quickly becomes a premium in your home. Areas that were once perfectly adequate as work or study spaces now make way for extra bedrooms, play areas or storage. But a creative space remains a vital aspect of any family home, whether it’s for your use or to encourage older children to do their schoolwork in a stimulating, distraction-free environment.

If a separate study room is out of the question – and it often is when sleeping and storage take priority – then turning your bedroom into a creative space is often a good alternative. Your bedroom is usually your last bastion of privacy when you’re a parent, and anyone with teenagers will tell you how protective they are about their rooms, so it makes sense to make this the area of your home where you can focus on getting things done.

In an age of laptops and wireless internet, it’s tempting just to do your work from your bed but this isn’t recommended for a number of reasons. First – it’s generally advisable to create a clear separation between your bed and your work area to promote a healthy night’s sleep. Studies have shown that people who work, surf the internet or watch television right before bed find it difficult to ‘switch off’, which can lead to insomnia or interrupted sleep. Also, if you have a specific place for work or study, you’re less likely to succumb to distractions.

The easiest way to create a study space in your room is to install a work desk. If your bedroom is large enough to accommodate it, consider splitting it into two distinct areas, with books, study tools and anything else you need as far away from your bed as possible. Take the opportunity to do some de-cluttering too – a clean and open space is likely to be far more conducive to a healthy, active mind than a disordered mess.

When it comes to your children, avoid compromising the study space with distractions by keeping games and consoles in a separate room. It’s much easier to monitor and control the amount of time they’re spending playing on their Wii if they have to leave their bedroom to get to it. Give your teenager the opportunity to help to create the study area – feeling a sense of ownership of it can help them to relax and focus on the work.

Whether you’re writing, reading or drawing, good lighting is an essential feature of a creative space. To avoid straining your eyes, install a focus light fixture near your desk. To optimise space it might be better to mount a light fixture rather than using a table lamp. If it’s practical, have your work desk set up near your window too to reduce your reliance on artificial light and make the space feel a little more open. Once you’ve created the perfect work environment you’ll be amazed how your productivity increases!

Visit Silentnight’s website for practical sleep advice from Dr Nerina Ramlakhan.


Monday, 10 December 2012

Personalised Christmas cards from Unicef

Ever since sending my first charity Christmas card many years ago I just can't face buying non-charity cards anymore.  I mean, Christmas is the time for giving so what better way to show that than by sending a card which supports a favourite charity.

Occasionally I struggle to find a charity card that I actually like as some of the design are a bit limited, and I had already been looking for a suitable card when I was asked to try out the Unicef Christmas cards website to select and design our own personalised cards.

There's a good selection of cards and I think there's something to please everyone, but for that extra personal touch there's the My Photo option which allows you to upload a child's drawing or family photo for the front of the card. I didn't have one but I was happy with one of the standard designs.


Unicef christmas cards
Christmas Spice - one of the standard designs at Unicef charity cards

Ordering was very easy and fun to do, and I chose a personalised message and also included our new home address and phone number (just in case anyone missed our house move cards!).  The card quality was excellent and I was very impressed with the whole service, from ordering to delivery.

37% of the of the final price goes to Unicef so it's definitely worthwhile, as they do a tremendous job supporting children both in the UK and abroad. My cards were delivered within two days of ordering online, so it's not too late to order yours.


Disclosure: I received the cards for free for review purposes, but the opinion is my own.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The perfect roast potatoes


I'm not the best cook in the world but I do a very good roast potato, even if I say so myself.  It's come from trial and error over the years and I stick to the same process every time. This is my method:
  • choose either Maris Piper or red Desiree potatoes;
  • peel and cut into large pieces;
  • parboil in salted water until potatoes are soft but not mushy (they should simmer for about 15-20 mins);
  • put enough olive oil in a roasting tin to generously cover the base and put into a hot oven to warm the oil for a couple of minutes (gas mark 7);
  • drain the potatoes, put the lid back on, then shake the potatoes vigorously in the pan for a few seconds (this breaks up the surface slightly which helps them to go crispy);
  • take the heated roasting pan out of the oven and carefully place the potatoes into the hot fat (be careful, the wet potatoes will sizzle in the fat);
  • turn each potato until it has some oil on all sides;
  • put back into the hot oven to cook for about 50-60 mins, turning them occasionally;
  • they are ready when they've turned a golden colour at the edges and are crispy on the outside and fluffy and delicious on the inside.
You can't beat a decent roastie!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Falling out of love with blogging



Compared to a lot of people I live a fairly low-tech life. I don't had an iPhone, an iPad or and iPod. In fact I don't have an i-anything.

I have a BlackBerry, with only application (Twitter).  I use a 5 year old Macbook which I bought second hand. It works, which is all I need, as does my equally old pc although it's quite temperamental and occasionally makes me want to throw it through the window.

But despite all of that I spend an inordinate amount of time online. Too much time in fact.

My problem is that I'm very easily seduced by the internet and even the need to send an email can result in several hours passing by before I'm back in the real world.  There's so much to fill my time - blogging, tweeting, on Facebook, trawling the 'net for interesting reads, online shopping and God knows what else. And when I'm away from the laptop there's always the flickering red light of my 'phone to entice me. But all of these distractions prevent me from acknowledging the gaps they fill in my life.

I live with my two daughters (and my brother when he's home). I work part-time. I rarely go out. And for most of the time I'm content with that, but a disproportionate amount of my time at home is spent online and it's not as if I don't have other things to do. Or things that I should  be doing where it not for my internet habit. I'm guilty of  neglecting certain parts of my life and it feels like the right time to pay them some attention.

Since writing about the big anniversary I have coming up in January,  I've been mulling over some other things too, and mostly about whether to continue blogging. I have really enjoyed blogging over the past 4 and a half years, but just recently I've become less enamoured with it.

A combination of the competitive element of blogging (rankings, awards and so on) as well as the increase in the number of social media elements just to maintain a blogging 'profile' (Facebook, Technorati, twitter, Pagerank, Edgerank, Klout, LinkedIn, Google+, etc..) has taken the fun side out of it all and has left me feeling, well, jaded I suppose.

Added to that, the fact that my anonymity has all but vanished and with it the pleasure I had in writing freely.

All of these things have pretty much convinced me to wind this blog down. I think it's run its course, and I need to take a break, spend more time in the real world, and then (perhaps) start again.

I'll keep this one going until Christmas, but after that who knows.

Friday, 30 November 2012

November's review round-up and a Girls Night In film giveaway!

We've been lucky enough to try out some new products this month and I've done a quick round-up with some recommendations.

Teangi tea tree range

First up, we were sent some products from the Teangi Tea Tree range to try out in August  very recently *cough* and although it's taken me a while to write up the review that doesn't reflect on how much we liked them. Tea tree is naturally antibacterial, a natural antiseptic, anti-fungal and also an insect repellent.

We've been fans of tea tree products for quite a while, and Tall Daughter likes to wash her hair in tea tree shampoo so the Teangi hair products (shampoo and conditioner) were tried out by her - and she gives them both a thumbs up!  The hair products are paraben-free and PH balanced which leaves the hair and scalp healthy and dandruff free; but also deters the dreaded headlice which don't like the smell. That's a win-win! We also liked the witch hazel cream and the tea tree oil and they're now staples of our first-aid box.

Lil-lets teen range

Tall Daughter turned 13 last month and Lil-lets sent her a lovely birthday package to celebrate her becoming a teenager. The package included a really lovely hot-water bottle for relieving those nasty period pains; a box of assorted nail varnishes; a huge chocolate brownie; and a Lil-lets teens starter pack.

It's a helpful little pack containing everything a girl might need to help choose the right products when they start their period, and it also included a little booklet explaining more about periods and body changes. Tall Daughter was pretty impressed and we've also had a look at the website which gives some very sound advice about becoming a teen.

Hotel Chocolat festive box

Next up, luxury chocolate brand Hotel Chocolat asked me if I'd like to review one of their Classic Christmas Collection boxes.  Erm....oh, go on then. Well, someone has to do it so it may as well be me!  The box arrived and looked almost too pretty to open, but I forced myself and found a gorgeous selection inside. I was sent the dark chocolate selection and if I'm honest, I'm not a huge fan of dark chocolate and some of them were quite unusual (which put my daughters off, but that's not such a bad thing, eh?) but if you're looking for a special box of chocs for someone this Christmas these might just do the trick.

Talking of Christmas, if you ever wondered what your choice of Christmas tree says about you try this fun quiz and find out.




And finally, a film review and a chance to win two newly released DVDs suitable for a girly night in. I've got copies of  Friends with Kids and Magic Mike to giveaway.


Friends with Kids is a romantic comedy about Jason and Julie, the last two singles in a group of 6 thirty-something friends.  After observing the effect having children has on their friends, they  there must be a better way and decide to have a child together while still dating other people.

If you liked What to Expect When You're Expecting you'll like this. It's pretty formulaic, but none the worse for it. Despite being able to guess what's going to happen it's still an enjoyable watch, and some of the humour is quite dark. There's a good ensemble cast including four of the main Bridesmaids actors  - Kirsten Wiig, John Hamm, Chris O'Dowd and Maya Rudolph (although I still can't get used to seeing Don Draper smile).  One thing I would say is don't watch the trailer before you watch the film because it will ruin the few surprise elements of the film.

And if that isn't enough, there's also a copy of Magic Mike, starring Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey, to complete the perfect combination for a girls night in. If you fancy winning the DVDs just leave a 'pick me' comment and I'll choose a winner at random next week. Good luck!

***THE DRAW IS NOW CLOSED AND THE WINNER WAS KOFO BAPTIST***

Terms and conditions: 
UK entries only, there is no cash alternative, all entries must be received by 6pm Friday 7th December. If the winner has not made contact within one week I will choose a new winner.


Thursday, 29 November 2012

Guest post: Family Holiday Tips from Jo Whiley


Travelling with the family is a real passion for radio DJ and mum of four Jo Whiley, just as it is for many families across the UK: new research has found that over two-thirds (67%) of the nation will travel up to four times a year with nearly a quarter (23%) taking over five trips.

The research, by American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Card, found that we are also a nation of planners, with one in ten (10%) planning their next trip whilst on their current holiday and nearly a fifth (18%) of us booking this within a month of returning home. 37% also like to spread out their pre-holiday spending, buying toiletries, clothes and other essentials four weeks in advance of a holiday. It’s no wonder we like to do this, with nearly 32% of Brits spending over £100 and one in ten (10%) paying out over £200 ahead of their holiday.

Jo Whiley, ambassador for the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Card says:

“It’s important to me that my children get to experience different cultures and see the world, so we try to travel frequently as a family. I have four children with ages ranging from 4-20 years so when I look for a holiday the key thing is finding something that is right for everyone, so we’re all happy and we stay within budget, as with six of us, the costs can mount up!

“For me, having an American Express Gold Card makes total sense - it gives me the flexibility to create the perfect holiday for the family. I get points from things that I buy every day, like supermarket shopping and petrol and can spend these on the high street and online to help with my pre-holiday shop.  I can also put my points towards flights or hire car upgrades and hotel costs so that we can treat ourselves to a few little luxuries on our trip, whilst keeping within our budget.”

Watch the video below to hear Jo’s top tips to help you travel on your terms and enjoy the ultimate family holiday.




Jo Whiley is the ambassador for the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Card, which gives you and your family the freedom to travel on your terms, with its flexible rewards programme. For more information visit: www.amex.co.uk/gold

This post is sponsored by American Express

Monday, 26 November 2012

Dispatches from the chalkface ~ Nazis, Buddhists and fried eggs.


During a lesson about the Diamond Jubilee, year 5 were learning about the Queen's family. When I asked if the class knew the name of the Queen's eldest son, Billy put his hand up "I know this Miss, it's Charles Dickens."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

An RE lesson (for some reason these lessons seem to produce some of the funniest comments from children), and we are looking at the holy books from different religions. When we were looking at the Qur'an I asked "Who can tell me which religion this belongs to?"
Matt shouts out the answer "It's the holy book of the Nazis."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Me: Does anyone know anything about Buddhists?  Pupil: They sit quietly in a room and masturbate...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Image credit
Another RE lesson: Talking about the three Wise Men and their gifts for Jesus. Me: "What were the gifts the wise men gave to the baby?" James shouts out: "Gold, Myrrh and...erm....a fried egg!"


And just today, talking about the Nativity story. Me: Can anyone remember which town Mary and Joseph had travelled from to go to Bethlehem? I'll give you a clue, it begins with a N.

Joe: Was it Neverland? (At this point I did consider resigning....)

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Guest post: Love and dates for single mums


So your first marriage or serious relationship hasn’t lasted, and you’ve now got a child to look after. That’s not necessarily a reason to stop going out on dates, or looking for that special someone to give love another go with. Here is some advice for single mums looking to get back out there.

Dating for fun

The idea that dating is merely a tool used in an underlying quest to find love is something of a misunderstanding.  Dating can be a fun, social activity which can boost your confidence after a break-up, encourage you start doing the things you once loved again and meet great new people. Don’t feel like you have to hide the fact you’re a mum, either.

As a mother you may be short of time and unable to go out as much, but that doesn’t mean you can’t date. Why not give online dating a go? With dating sites like http://www.eharmony.co.uk/ you can find compatible singles from the comfort of your own home and speak to someone before you meet up with them – it’s the perfect way to ease yourself back into the game.

If the word of dating via the web seems a little daunting, The Telegraph has lots of great advice on everything from how to ensure your profile looks positive to what to do on dates. Remember to be honest with yourself and not to lead anyone on if you do just want some fun!


Looking for love

If you are looking for a long-lasting, loving relationship, that’s fine too (and using dating websites can still help!). The important thing is to really consider what you want from this relationship; what will make you happy? Don’t be ashamed of your past – you have to be completely comfortable with your relationship history to be able to start afresh, and remember there are plenty of other single mums out there who also deserve another go at finding love. You are not alone!

Make it clear from the offset that you have a child who is very important to you and there’s no reason a new relationship can’t blossom around them. Your partner should understand what their role will be in your son or daughter’s life – check out Supernanny’s tips on step-parenting for some advice you could offer your new other half.

Use your experience

Whether you want to try onlinedating in Belfast or you’re searching for a new life partner on the London social scene, you can use your previous experiences to be more aware of what you do and don’t like, learn from what went wrong in previous relationship(s) and use that knowledge to build a better partnership this time around. 


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Outnumbered

Yesterday the Teenager celebrated her 16th birthday, and today Tall Daughter turned 13.

Of course that means that I'm now outnumbered by teenagers in my own home*. Which reminds me of this very funny quote by the late, great Nora Ephron...


*please send wine.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Styled by Electra - Christmas fashion specials

There was a time, not so long ago, when I could confidently buy clothes for my daughters. That time has long gone.

Nowadays they say things like "Mum, you don't know anything about fashion" and to be fair they do have a point. So when I asked Tall Daughter to put together a list of things she'd like for her birthday (next week) and/or Christmas I was slightly flummoxed. On her list she had written 'nice clothes'.

Nice clothes? I'm pretty sure my idea of nice clothes is not the same as hers, so I really didn't know where to start.

Fortunately, help is at hand with a series of fashion tutorials by Electra Formosa of Disney Channel's 'Get the Look' fame. The 3 minute videos show Electra styling the M&S Christmas Kidswear range and showing tweens how to stay on-trend (and helping adults to shop for that age range too!)

They're all available to view on Electra's Youtube channel 'Electra Loves' including this one which is all bows. Tall Daughter also happens to be a big fan of Electra, so I will be watching and taking notes before I go shopping!



Subscribe to Electra Loves at youtube.com/electraloves


Saturday, 10 November 2012

Friday, 9 November 2012

Another Place

One of the advantages of blogging is that we develop a group of online friends and often those online friends become real life friends. This week I met an American blogger who was visiting the UK and came to Liverpool to meet me. Audi, from Fashion for Nerds, is a scientist from San Francisco and under normal circumstances our paths would never have crossed, but thanks to blogging they did, and meeting bloggers from different parts of the world is something that never fails to amaze me.

During her time in the North-west Audi was keen to see the eerie and beautiful art installation by Anthony Gormley.  Another Place consists of 100 life-size cast-iron figures set into the sand and looking out to sea. They're spread across beach covering a couple of miles and since their original installation they have weathered in different ways, adding an extra dimension to the experience.

So yesterday we headed off to Crosby Beach, taking Tessie with us and enjoyed a bracing walk across the seafront.















Monday, 5 November 2012

A quick round-up of scrumptious foods we've been enjoying this month

We've been sent some delicious things to scoff sample this month, so let's get started.


First up, The Handpicked Foodstore have a great selection of gourmet foods to order such as whole salmons, potted shrimps, luxury chocolate and a selection of tipples and they sent us some of their award-winning smoked salmon to taste.  I love smoked salmon and so does Tall Daughter. When the pack arrived we were quick to try it and we both agreed it was the best we'd eaten.

Unfortunately, the next day when I thought I'd have a bit of it for lunch there was only a very small piece left. Look at the size of the pack and then look at the small slice she left for me! I'm considering grounding her for life.

Even so, this is my idea of food heaven: smoked salmon, creamy scrambled eggs and wholemeal soda bread. Bliss!


If you're looking for a hamper for someone special this Christmas the trusty Lakeland website is well worth a gander.  They have a good range of hampers to suit most pockets and tastes, and I've got someone in mind for their Gardeners' Trug hamper.

We enjoyed their St. Kew Teacup Basket which included the most delicious Fabulous Oatie Flips! OMG, they are to die for! And the willow basket makes a very nice plant holder when all the contents are a distant memory...

Lakeland hamper

I very rarely make Yorkshire puddings, and yes I know they're very easy to make blah blah blah, but I just don't. No, instead I take the easy way out and buy them and more often than not it's Aunt Bessie's.

So when Aunt Bessie herself (we're like that) asked me if we'd like to try some of her new dishes we didn't need much persuading to be honest.  It turns out that there's a new range of products in the freezer cabinets now, including gravy, stuffing balls, casseroles, 5 new puddings and best of all according to my daughters, boat shaped yorkshires. Guess what we had for tea last night? (Followed by Aunt Bessie's apple pie and custard.) Just what's needed on a cold November evening.




Disclosure: I received free samples of these items for review purposes, however the words and opinions are my own. 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

The November garden: jewel colours

November seems to be about clearing old leaves, cutting back and pruning and although colour is limited there are still some stunning jewel colours to be found.



I mentioned last month that hebes are amongst my favourite plants, and this one is new. It's called Wild Romance and is a really striking purple.



I'm still a relative newcomer to all this, so I've been watching Gardeners' World and looking in a couple of gardening books for lists of things to do at this time of year. As per Monty Don's advice I've cut back all the crocosmia and put my Cosmos Chocca Mocca into a pot and placed it on an inside window-sill to protect it from the frost.  The lavenders, which were glorious this year, needed a good haircut which I've done while keeping the dome shape they held all summer. I'm not even sure if I should have cut them back even further, but I've taken them back to the wood and I hope that'll do.



Apart from that I've been a bit gung-ho with the secateurs and pruning shears and have cut back some, as yet, unidentified shrubs. I also dug up part of a huge fern which had dominated a border - but as I don't have anything to replace the whole thing I've left part of it in the ground for now.  Ferns are not my favourite plants so I don't imagine it'll still be there next year.

I've still got three packs of tulip bulbs to plant, and more pruning to be done, but I'm going to have to try and identify some of the shrubs before I start hacking them back. I don't want to do more damage than good.

I'm still trying to get the hang of this gardening lark, but I'm enjoying it.


Monday, 29 October 2012

Fancy winning a slap-up meal? Of course you do...

Forgive me but I'm going to use the C-word.

Christmas.

There are only 56 days to go....sorry if that's come as a bit of a shock but there you go.

There's so much to do before then, and it's not too early to start planning. I don't know about you but I've already been Christmas shopping. I get into a total panic if I don't have most of my presents by the end of October so I always start early...I know, you hate me don't you?  But for most people that's only the start of Christmas planning.  There's all the making arrangements for family visits, juggling time with the in-laws, grandparents and friends, buying tickets for pantomines, mince pie baking, decorating the house and and deciding who you're going to invite for Christmas dinner, and that's before even deciding what to cook!

If you're divorced or separated there's also the stress of deciding where the children spend their time, and what to do when they're not with you. And if you're thinking of looking for love over the Christmas period eHarmony is on hand with advice about relationships and dating.

Yep, it's an expensive and sometimes difficult time of year and comes at a time when many families are already tightening their belts and trying to save money.

So how about a delicious slap-up meal without having to worry about the cost? No, I haven't lost my mind - read on...


I'm very pleased to say I've got a fabulous competition prize to giveaway. The lovely people at eHarmony are offering a 3-course, gourmet meal for 8 people in this easy to enter competition.

The prize is The Full Works menu from the fine food mail-order company Forman & Field and delivered to your door in time for Christmas. It includes smoked salmon, a free range bronze turkey, dauphinoise potatoes, Christmas pudding with brandy butter, chocolate truffles and a bottle of sparkling wine. It sounds amazing and I'd love to win it but unfortunately I can't enter!

If you'd like to be scoffing this delicious meal on Christmas day all you have to do is leave a comment and answer this question:

What would be your ultimate Christmas luxury? Christmas in a hotel? A holiday abroad? Or just someone else cooking the dinner? Go on, do tell...

For an extra entry tweet this message: "I'd love to #win a slap-up #Christmas meal via the @eHarmonyUK competition on @notsupermum "

The winner will be chosen after 6pm on Tuesday 6th November 2012.  Good luck!

***This competition has now closed. The winner is Cagsd! Congratulations ***

Terms and conditions.
1.      Competition is only available to individuals aged 18.
2.      The prize will be sent out within 28 days.
3.      UK entries only.
4.      The prize is The Full Works menu from Forman & Field. 
5.      Cash or credit alternatives will not be offered.
6.      The closing date for the competition is 6pm Tuesday 6th November 2012, entries after that date will not be valid.
7.      My decision is final.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Recipe: easy prawn and pea risotto


When both girls are out and it's just me for dinner, this is the sort of meal I like to make. I've never understood why people think risotto is difficult to make, on the contrary I think it's really easy, it just needs a bit of TLC.

First of all, I had a bit of a root around in the kitchen to see what I had in and as I always have risotto rice in it was just a matter of finding something to put in it. A handful of frozen prawns and peas, a bit of butter, oil and stock and it's suddenly a delicious meal. If you don't fancy prawns a few mushrooms are good in a risotto, or some leftover cooked chicken can be put in. Whatever you fancy!

Prawn and pea risotto

150g arborio or carnaroli rice
a few prawns
some peas
small glass of white wine (optional)
butter
small onion or shallot
one clove of garlic
olive oil
vegetable or chicken stock (about 500ml)
salt and pepper
Serves 2 or one very greedy person

Sorry, some of the amounts are a bit vague, but I just throw in what looks right.

Make up the stock with boiling water and keep on a low light in a pan, it should be hot when added to the risotto.

You need a large shallow pan for this. Melt a knob of butter and a splash of olive oil together in the pan then add the finely chopped onion/shallot. After a minute or so add the garlic, but don't let it brown or it'll taste bitter.

Add the rice to the buttery oil and stir it round until all the grains are covered.

If you're using the wine now is the time to add it. Stir it around a bit until the wine has been absorbed into the rice. Next, start adding the stock a ladle at a time. Make sure each ladleful has been absorbed before adding the next one and keep giving it a good stir from time to time, that's important as it releases the starch which gives risotto that creamy texture.

Don't try to rush a risotto, you'll only get the best results if you add the stock a bit at a time and stir it over a low light. If you cook it on a high flame the stock will evaporate and the rice won't be cooked. Just relax...and gently does it...

It'll take about 20-25 minutes before all the stock is absorbed but again, play it by ear (or taste). You may not need to add all the stock, then again it might need it all. Taste when the grains are starting to look fat but the liquid is a bit creamy. The rice should have a bite to it.

About 2-3 minutes before the end, add the prawns and peas. If you like, add another knob of butter and stir into the hot rice for extra creaminess. Add parmesan if you like it. I don't, so I didn't! Season to taste.

That's it! Serve and enjoy.

Monday, 22 October 2012

The one where I try not to offend single parents


A few days ago I received this comment on this blog's Facebook page, in reply to a post I'd shared.

"I am sorry to put it this way, but I have briefly read through some articles here, such as the holiday and up sizing the family car, and I have to say that for a supporter of single parents, the contents are easily viewed by some single parents as inappropriate, because of content. When presenting articles aimed at single parents, you need to exercise a little politics. A large number of lone parents do not have the income, to indulge in such activities described. This can be viewed as hurtful and offensive."

If I'm honest my first reaction was to be quite stung by it, after all I don't court controversy on here and have only had a couple of negative comments over four years (my favourite was the recent "Ur a dik hed" - It made my day).

Then, after I'd had some time to digest it I was slightly annoyed. Annoyed with the idea that I had somehow offended single parents, and also with the inference that I'm a supporter of single parents in name only.

The main theme of this blog is to share my own experiences and offer help by directing single parents to the right place. Yes okay, I'm not storming Downing Street waving a placard but I like to think it might help some single parents in a small way, and indeed I've had emails and messages to back that up.

The comment also implied that some of the topics covered on here - namely our recent holiday and wanting to upsize our smaller car - were inappropriate. Inappropriate.

Why is a one-week holiday in Wales inappropriate for single parents to read? Single parents have holidays too, in fact I happen to know that some single parents even go abroad!

And while we're at it, let's explode some myths about single parents:

  • not all single parents are destitute;
  • many single parents have careers, or at least decent jobs;
  • there are plenty of us who take holidays, have nice homes, drive a car, buy designer brands, eat in restaurants with proper napkins, drink good quality wine and own an iPad;
  • most are not single parents situation by choice, but still try to make the most of a sometimes difficult situation.

The thing is, there's so much negative rubbish written about 'feckless' single parents and how we are the scourge of society that many people believe it and I for one am sick to death of it. Most single parents are decent, hard-working people trying to provide stable, happy homes for their children despite the odds.

There are plenty of obstacles for single parents to overcome and trying to maintain a work/life balance is often top of that list. The absence of a partner can make it more difficult to fit work around home life, and as I mentioned recently it's the lack of affordable childcare and flexible working which pushes many into part-time, low-paid work. That's not an easy one to overcome and I don't denigrate the hardships many single parents face, in fact I'm also on a low income but somehow we manage.

The bottom line is this: it's my blog and I write about our lifestyle which happens to include annual holidays in Wales. If you're a regular reader you'll also know that I've written plenty of times about our highs and lows as a single parent family, and yes it does have its hardships and they're often emotional rather than practical. If, like me, you don't have a support network of friends and relatives helping out with school pick-ups, babysitting, etc it can be frustrating and downright exhausting. But here's the thing:  there are actually *whispers* some advantages too.  

So, this is a long and rambling way of saying that being a single parent isn't all bad, despite what the Daily Mail would have you believe. 

Oh, and guess what?  We're already planning our holiday for next year. 

Sponsored video: Who would you turn to in a crisis?

Who would you turn to in a crisis? A friend? A relative? Or what about a stranger? The fact is that many of us count on the help of strangers in some of the most difficult circumstances.

The first time I saw this ad about the British Red Cross on the telly I thought it was a trailer for a film.

Have you watched it? It's brilliantly done.



But even though the video scared the bejaysus out of me real life can be so much scarier. A crisis usually happens when we least expect it, and it can happen to anyone - and that's when the Red Cross can help.

Now, I don't know about you but I assumed the Red Cross worked mostly overseas. No so. Last year, more than one million people in crisis in the UK were helped by British Red Cross. Their help ranges from offering short term care to vulnerable people in their own homes, to giving essential first-aid training, to giving practical support to the emergency services at the sites of major incidents (floods, house fires, road accidents).

The British Red Cross is a volunteer led organisation, and for more information on the British Red Cross and how to apply for a job or volunteer, have a look at their official website.

You can also like the British Red Cross on Facebook

And you can also find them on Twitter


This is a sponsored post

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Recipe ~ Winter vegetable and barley soup


This is the time of year when I start making soup. There's something about the alchemy of soup-making that really appeals to me - a few humble ingredients can be transformed into something hearty and warming. I had a bowl of barley soup at a cafe this week and it immediately transported me back to my childhood, with my Mum's veg and barley soup and white buttered bread.

Barley has a lovely, unique flavour and I wanted to make a soup using it, so I googled a recipe (and please forgive me but I found this one on the Daily Fail website). I've made a couple of slight changes though, so I'm going to claim it as my own...

On a cold wintry day, after coming home from walking the hound I can't think of anything better than a big, steaming bowl of homemade soup with a chunk of bread, and not only is this soup delicious but it's also really easy to make. I mean, after chopping the veg there are only three steps before you have a pan of scrumptious soup - could it be any easier?

Winter vegetable and barley soup
Serves 4
40g butter
1 leek, washed and sliced
1 stick celery, finely sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced into small pieces
1 parsnip, peeled and diced (also core it if the centre is woody)
1 medium potato, peeled and diced.
2 bay leaves
half tsp dried thyme
50g pearl barley
2pt vegetable or chicken stock
1tsp tomato puree
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and pepper

Method
Heat the butter in a pan and add all the veg. Cook over a gentle heat for 5 minutes until the veg starts to soften.

Stir in the bay leaves, thyme, barley, stock, salt, pepper and tomato puree. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes until the barley is soft.

Remove the bay leaves and stir in the chopped parsley. Season to taste, serve hot and enjoy.


Silent Sunday


Friday, 19 October 2012

The October garden ~ the messy front garden reveals a very nice surprise

The garden is winding down for the winter, and apart from trying to keep it tidy I don't have anything special planned.

I've done a bit of work in the raised front garden, mainly tidying, a bit of planting and the rest of the time standing back with a cup of tea in hand and trying to decide what to do with such an oddly shaped space.

There were a few shrubs around the edge, including a couple of rose bushes, geraniums, a small row of heathers, a large sedum and a massive, untidy heather, plus a couple of other unknown plants. There's also a clematis plonked in the middle section, but nothing else....just lots of and lots of bark chippings. I'm really undecided what to do with it and the only thing I've decided is I'd like some colour. I'm open to suggestions - what would you do with this space?


As I'm still waiting for inspiration to strike I decided to tidy up some of the shrubs and plant some spring bulbs ready for next year. I cut back a messy heather (which you can see at the front on the right) giving it a haircut as well as a severe pruning, and popped a new hebe in the bed next to it. When the hebe grows bigger I'll probably remove the heather altogether. Cutting the heather back so much revealed more of the ugly manhole cover, but I also planted a lemon thyme at the front and a purple vinca minor to the side, hoping they will grow and cover it over a bit more.

Here's the heather after a short back and sides and the newly planted hebe. The spring bulbs went along the front of the rockery area.


 I had a nice surprise when the former owner came 'round to ask if they could take a cutting from one of the bay trees. One of the bay trees? I have bay trees? Yes apparently I do, behind the clematis (on the bamboo support) there are two overgrown bay trees, which they planted years ago and left to go a bit wild. So, now I have an abundance of bay leave folks, so if anyone fancies some for recipes I'm more than happy to post you a handful. Leave a comment and I'll be in touch!.


I planted another flowering hebe in the back garden, in the flower bed under the living room window. Sorry I didn't get a 'before' photo, but you'll have to take my word that this bed was full of something resembling flowering nettles and unidentified straggly plants. I cut back the row of heathers, and also planted some of my favourites for next year - alliums christophii and purple sensation. I can't wait to see those beauties in flower.

You may have noticed my love of hebes too. In my opinion, hebes are such a hardworking and low maintenance shrub that give structure and colour to a bed. I've already planted 3 new hebes in this garden since we moved in, and there'll be more.

Over the next month there's a huge amount of pruning and digging up to be done in the back garden. I know I said I don't have special plans, but I've been thinking about a flower border...