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

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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.