Monday, 27 February 2012

Our favourite children's books for World Book Day


If you have school-age children I'm sure you already know that it's World Book Day on Thursday (1st March). Most schools organise something or other to celebrate the day, and at our school we usually encourage the children to dress up as their favourite book character.

I love children's books and started collecting them long before I had my own children, but when my girls came along it gave me the chance to indulge my love of children's books. My girls are now 15 and 12, but over the years we have found some new favourites and kept some old ones too.

When I was little I loved the Wishing Chair stories, by Enid Blyton, but thought they might be a bit old-fashioned for my girls. I gave them a try anyway, and they absolutely loved them! And each chapter is just long enough for a bedtime story and leaves the reader on a cliffhanger for the next day.

I remember hearing both girls talking about it one day, trying to guess what might happen next.

Of course,  once we'd finished the Wishing Chair stories it was natural to move onto the Magic Faraway Tree. Fabulous, innocent stories. Love them.

Scarlette Beane by Karen Wallace is a magical tale of a little girl who dreams of making the most incredible garden, and finds she has special gifts that help her dream come true.

This was The Teenager's absolute favourite book when she was younger, and never tired of hearing the story and poring over Jon Berkeley's beautiful illustrations. A really lovely book.

Image from Amazon
Tall Daughter's favourite book is probably No Matter What by Debi Gliori, although she's such a book worm that it's difficult to choose just one.

No Matter What manages to be both funny and moving, and is the story of a mother fox explaining her unconditional love to her cub. This is the perfect book for confirming that  no matter what your child does you will always love them, and the illustrations are both fabulous and witty.

When Tall Daughter was about 8 or 9, we started reading The Sophie Stories by the fabulous Dick King-Smith. They're about a small but very determined girl, Sophie, who loves animals and wants to be a farmer when she grows up.  Once again, each chapter is just the right length for a bedtime story, and there are 6 books in the series. We were really sad to finish these books, and that there were only 6 of them.

From about the age of 10 or 11, The Teenager started reading books by Cathy Cassidy.  She read all of the ones available at the time. Tall Daughter is also a fan and is currently reading Marshmallow Skye.

We have shelves of lovely books and enjoy reading them but it's easy to forget how privileged we are.

In Kenya, for example, hundreds of thousands of children never finish primary school, whether because of their own sickness, or because they must tend to a sick relative, or simply because they need to work to survive. Extreme poverty and HIV/Aids are commonplace. Those who do finish primary school often don't have even a single book in their classroom. Unsurprisingly, reading and writing skills are poor, and the children's chances of fulfilling their potential are slim.

Book Aid International works to change all of this.

Of the more than 500,000 books sent to sub-Saharan Africa last year, about 330,000 were for children in schools and libraries. Winnie, one of those Kenyan primary school children who would otherwise not be learning to read or write, goes to the Kisii library in Kibuye. She told Book Aid: “I like reading books because books are the things that motivate us and let us be what we want.”



If you'd like to support World Book Day and be part of this change, there are many ways to get involved and can find more information on Book Aid website.


Of course I've left out lots of books from our favourites list, and my daughters wanted to also mention Guess How Much I Love You, You Choose, most of Jacqueline Wilson's books and the Rainbow Fairy series.


What are your children's favourite books or favourite book characters?

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Happy Sunday


Morning walk with Tessie
Perfect roasties
A bit of Bob Marley
Tall Daughter cleaning the car
Hope you had a good Sunday!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Stepping out of my comfort zone

Image source
Yesterday I did something I haven't done for years.

I went on a date. 

Yes you read that right.  Me, on a date. Bet you never thought you'd read that did you?

The man in question is a man from my past. We hadn't spoken to each other for 8 years, but recently on a complete whim I emailed him to say hello. He replied within ten minutes and since then we've progressed from emailing to talking on the 'phone, and then yesterday we had a lunch date.

It went well. Very well in fact. It was lovely to see him again and we talked for nearly 4 hours before we had to go our separate ways.

And yes, we're already planning to meet up again.

Exciting.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Win custom-made business cards from Moo.com


Last year when I was planning to get some blog business cards to take with me to Cybermummy, I asked for recommendations from my twitter friends, and the unanimous verdict was that I couldn't go far wrong with Moo.

Moo was born from a love of beautiful, high-quality print and design. They pride themselves on their range of business cards and MiniCards, and I can personally vouch for the fact that they make it easy for people to create and upload custom artwork, or choose from a library of designer templates. Their 'Printfinity' option allows you to print a different image on every card in the pack, which is a great way to make your business cards stand out from the crowd.

When I ordered my cards I was really pleased with the quality and service, and since then I've ordered a second set and both times it has been quick and easy to do. Their website is very user-friendly and it doesn't take long to design cards to your own specifications.

So when Moo asked me if I'd like to offer a giveaway of their business cards on my blog, I didn't need any persuading and they have kindly offered 3 sets of 100 business/blog cards to giveaway. If you're planning to go to one of the many blogging conferences this year - Cybher, Britmums Live or Blogcamp - then these cards will prove invaluable for networking.

To have a chance of winning a set, just leave a comment telling me why you want to win. Couldn't be easier! Just make sure you leave an email and/or twitter name to make it easy for me to notify you.

I'll pick three winners after 8pm on Sunday 19th Feburary.

UPDATE: the winners of the Moo cards are @christinemosler @gidders1 and @kairenv - well done ladies, please email or DM me your full name and email address.  Many thanks to everyone who entered.

Terms: UK entries only. Winners must get in touch with me within 7 days or I will choose again. There is no cash alternative.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Recipe ~ Lorraine Pascale's chocolate fridge cake


I was recently given a copy of Lorraine Pascale's Home Cooking Made Easy, and so far I've tried out a couple of recipes and both of them have given fantastic results. She is my new favourite tv chef, and I'll be delving into the recipe book again soon -  but in the meantime let me share this quick and easy-peasy recipe with you. It's not the prettiest looking cake/biscuit you may have seen but, oh my, they taste wonderful! The whole thing takes about 20 minutes to prepare and cook before leaving to cool in the fridge. Couldn't be easier and a nice recipe to make with a child.

Makes 16 small squares
125g of butter
400g good quality milk or plain chocolate, grated or chopped (I used one large bar of Bournville, and a bar of Dairy Milk, which are both conveniently 200g each)
2 dollops of golden syrup
250g digestive biscuits (I thought this was a bit too much, I'll use about 200g next time)
135g bag of Maltesers
You'll need a 20cm (or thereabouts) square brownie tin and baking parchment/greaseproof paper


Line the tin with the baking parchment.
Put the butter in a large pan and melt slowly over a low heat.
Add the chocolate and golden syrup and allow to melt for a couple of minutes, stirring.
Take the pan off the heat and stir in the digestive biscuits and Maltesers until evenly mixed.

Tip the mixture into the brownie tin and flatten down evenly with a spoon or spatula.
Cover and place in the fridge for a couple of hours until it hardens.
When ready to serve, remove from the tin and cut into  about 16 even-sized squares.

They are very rich, but delicious and they won't last long!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Guest post: Being a single mother today ~ Gappy Tales

I've got an absolutely cracking guest post for you today - one of my favourite bloggers, Gappy Tales, has very kindly donated this thought-provoking post about being a single parent.  I remember reading the original post on her blog and agreeing with every single word.

If you haven't read Gappy's blog then you should hot foot it straight offer there (after you've read this of course!). She writes beautifully, you won't be disappointed.

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I am really pleased to have been asked to write a guest post for notSupermum. As fellow single parents and anonymous bloggers, I feel that she and I share a natural affinity. I will confess now though that I have cheated slightly. The post you're about to read is one that I actually wrote and published on my own blog in April 2010, and as such the personal circumstances that it describes are a little out of date. I still stand strongly behind the message though - perhaps now more than ever - so apart from a few revisions and tweaks, this is still my take on what it means to be a single mother today:

In spite of the title of my blog I would always have said that being a single mother specifically was not actually a huge part of my identity. About two years ago however, I was commenting on another blogger's post about how mothering is not generally considered to be real work, and it inspired me to finally write a post about my experience of being a single mother in today's political climate, and how I feel it is different to that of being a married or partnered mother.

What I find is that there tend to be two polarised stereotypes of the single mother. The first - and by far the most popular - is that of a feckless young woman who deliberately "gets herself pregnant" in order to ensure that she is prioritised for a council house, and who then brings her children up to be ASBO ridden hooligans, feeding them entirely on chicken nuggets and coca cola, all courtesy of an over-stretched tax payer. The second is that we are noble martyrs in the face of bleak adversity and cruel stigma, and that we are - and I think I might possibly be quoting the actress Emma Thompson here - "The brave heroines of our society." 

I can't say that either one of those stereotypes sits particularly comfortably with me (although if I really had to pick one I know which one I'd plump for - thanks Emma.) Of course I can only ever speak from my own personal experience, but I don't actually find being a single mother hugely different to being a partnered one in practical terms. It's the social aspect that brings the changes, I have found.

I became a single mother through choice really. It wasn't that I particularly relished the prospect of bringing up three children on my own, but rather that the alternative - which was to stay in a relationship that had become unbearable - was much much worse. I have to say that I have been more than pleasantly surprised in a lot of ways. I really don't find the practical side of mothering any harder now than I did when I was living with a man who worked full time. I was doing the vast majority of the childcare and housework anyway. My partner would often come home and cook the dinner and wash the dishes, but he so bitterly resented having to do what he viewed as women's work, that rather than his contribution being helpful, it would just make me feel incredibly anxious, knowing as I did that the next time we had a row it would be used as ammunition against me. A few extra bits of cooking and washing up seem a very small price to pay for the relaxation and peace of mind that I am now able to enjoy in my own home to be honest.

We were a traditional family in the sense that although we were not married, my partner went out to work and I stayed at home to care for the children. I still stay at home to care for my children most of the time. I do odd bits of temporary paid work at Women's Aid covering peoples sabbaticals and sick leave, but for the most part I am still a stay at home mother whose day to day work has not really changed much at all in the last decade or so. What has changed though, crucially, is that I am no longer living with a man who buys my food and pays my bills and so I am now often reliant on state benefits to pay for those things instead. That is all. I have gone from being David Cameron's wet dream of a traditional 'wife' to being the scourge of his broken Britain. And the only thing that has changed is that I no longer have the financial support of a male partner.

I find this contradiction almost impossible to reconcile. The same people who blame the so called breakdown of society on women choosing to work outside the home rather than dedicate their entire lives to bringing up their children, also seek to label stay at home single mothers who need to claim state assistance to help with the cost of bringing up their children as being worthless scroungers; terrible burdens on society whose children will grow up to be the criminals of tomorrow. Only one thing is clear, and that is that mothers - whatever choices they make - can never win.

The government are at the moment slowly working towards scrapping income support altogether (the age that your youngest child has to be in order for you to qualify is getting lower and lower) with the idea of eventually replacing it entirely with job seekers allowance, which is not as much money, plus requires that you be actively looking for work in order to qualify, and so will serve to force single women with dependent children out into the work-place. It will be interesting to see where the government suggests we all go to find part-time jobs that will pay enough to support our families and that will also fit around school hours. I want to work. I want to give my children something to aspire to and I want them to see me working hard to support them. I've got skills and some experience that I can utilise but I can't find reasonably paid part-time work that takes into account my caring responsibilities. I can't find it because it's not really out there. The only outcome of these radical reforms that are being implemented by stealth will be to simply plunge yet more women and their children into poverty - and this from a government who rode to power on the promise of cutting child poverty in half by 2010.

Never doubt that the success of the traditional nuclear family has often been built on the backs of women's misery. Over the centuries women have been forced to stay with husbands who were violent and abusive, persistently unfaithful, or who treated them like servants simply because they had no choice. Women survived and guaranteed their children's survival by sticking with a man who, whatever else, was prepared to financially support them. These days women no longer have to endure relationships that make them miserable and destroy their self-esteem. If we want to leave we can, indeed the majority of divorces are now initiated by women. If we are lucky we can earn enough money to be able to financially support ourselves and our families on our own - if not we have a benefits system to fall back on while we find our feet. But instead of this being seen as progress and as evidence of how our society has become more free and humane, politicians everywhere are wringing their hands, wailing about a broken Britain, and seeking to gradually remove the safety net of the benefits system for mothers who do not have a male partner to financially support them and who, due to their caring responsibilities and circumstances are unable to pay their own way.

I am neither a feckless scrounger nor a brave heroine. I'm just an ordinary woman trying to raise a reasonably happy family. Without access to single parent benefits I would have had no choice but to remain in a desperately unhappy relationship. Any woman can find herself suddenly in the position of needing the safety net of income support. All this talk of getting lone parents back to work might sound positive on the face of it, but it actually cloaks a hidden and dangerous agenda, which is an attack on all of our freedom.