Saturday, 30 November 2013

Thankful

Thankful

Thanksgiving holiday took place in America this week - always the last Thursday in November if my memory serves - and although it's not something we celebrate in this country, I always like to pause and reflect on the things that I'm thankful for.

There are always some obvious things, but what about the everyday stuff that we so often take for granted? A warm bed, enough food in the cupboards, books and music to keep us entertained, a comfortable home. It's so easy for forget those everyday comforts and focus on the bigger picture, but imagine what life would be like without them.

It's also a good time to turn some of our grumbles into positives - for instance, I've been having a good moan this week about the daily commute to my new job. Instead, I should  be grateful for the chance to start afresh in a new job, with new challenges and the opportunity to build a new future for us as a family.

I'm grateful for my daughters, of course, and how they are blossoming into truly wonderful people. They're growing, maturing and finding their feet and I like what they're becoming. Independent, thoughtful girls who make me very proud. They've had their fair share of upsets and disappointments over the years but they've handled them well and, more importantly, have learned from those experiences.

I'm thankful for my friends. I don't have huge numbers but the ones I have are the amazing. I've relied heavily on my friends this year, and they've been amazingly supportive. I'm very lucky to have them.

What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Men we shouldn't fancy but do ~ Zac Efron

Creative Commons credit
I've taken a bit of a departure from the usual 'men we shouldn't fancy' types to admit that I have a bit of a crush on the rather delicious Zac Efron.

Yep, I know what you're thinking. Totally inappropriate. Way too young. Cradle-snatcher.

I know, I know....but admit it, he's gorgeous isn't he? And in my defence, he's 26 now so it's not exactly indecent. Well, maybe just a little bit...

When my girls were younger they were big fans of the High School Musical films and I always thought he was a good actor. No, seriously I did!

But now he's a bit older and he's making films for an adult audience I couldn't help noticing, erm, how very attractive he is. (My daughters will be cringeing if they read this, sorry girls!)

And I know he's had a bit of a rough time lately, so if he's looking for someone to take him under their wing *cough* I'm offering my services.

Do you have an unsuitable crush? Who do you fancy that may surprise us? I'm all ears...

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Living with teenagers part 3: the perfect punishment and a word from Jack Dee


Here's a very belated third installment of the Living with Teenagers series. There's more great advice here from parents who've been there and survived, including possibly the best punishment for teens ever!


Sonya Cisco blogs at The Ramblings of a formerly Roll'n'Roll Mum and is mum to a teen, a tween and toddler.

Owning a teenager is both brilliant and terrifying. Mine is seventeen, and it is brilliant to be able to have proper grown up conversations with her. Sometimes I even swear in front of her, because she is old enough, but then tell her off if she uses the same word in front of me, cos you know, respect and that. Plus I do love to say 'Do as I say, and not as I do' at every opportunity, because it annoys her. And annoying teenagers is great fun, as is embarrassing them.

I have days where I am so proud of the wonderful person she has become, and days where I wonder how someone so seemingly grown up still has such a messy bedroom or is incapable of making a sandwich. There is a sweet melancholy to these years too, because I know my hands on, under my roof parenting of her is nearing its end. I cannot imagine my house without her, but can't wait to watch her spread her wings and see how far she flies. I cry at university prospectus, both with pride and sorrow.

As for tips. I have only this one- if looking for a punishment threat that actually works- suggest you will put a password on the wifi - nothing strikes fear into a teenagers heart as much as the fear of no internet!


Gailann Houston blogs at MummaG. She's a single mum to two children, a 13 year old daughter and a 2 year old son.

Every child is different and you may have birthed an angel but this is my experience of living with a teen. ‘Teen’ is an infection that lasts 7 years and effects all humans. Living with a teen is not easy, and let me warn you there may be times when you wish your little prince/princess was invisible and on mute. It doesn’t happen overnight but creeps in one scary habit after another.

If like me you have a girl teen you must permanently attach a camera to your arm and be prepared to click at every new outfit or accessory. Whatever you do be expected to listen to every word they say in detail, even if the last question you asked fell on deaf ears, because they were engrossed in a ‘live or die’ what’s app conversation with the people they just spent the last 6 hours in school with. Don’t expect to have any spare change; you are now a walking bank, a chauffeur and a chef for all the friends that will undoubtedly set up home on your sofa.

Remember to converse with your teens even if the only response you get is a grunted alright, because the one time you don’t ask how their day went you will not hear the end of it. One moment your teen will be as needy as a toddler, the next they will want you out of ‘their space.’

You are basically conducting a science experiment where the variables change more times than you can count and you just have to adapt to the current formula. In other words just try not to stress too much when the time comes. Go with the flow and know that your little prince/princess is still in there somewhere!


Libby Hill blogs at Smarttalkers and has some advice for parents of younger children who are dreading the teenage years.

No-one can prepare you for the change from polite, respectful pre-teen to the sulky, argumentative individuals they become. Remember it's normal, all parents will be going through the same, they're probably not admitting it though!

Teenagers all think parents know nothing, it's not personal or reflective of your ability or skills. They all think it's so different nowadays so that you have no idea about their life (they can't imagine you young!)  They are going through  a huge transition  so understanding and patience is essential. Communication is key and don't forget that listening is half of this process.

Don't beat yourself up if you have lost your cool, you are only human tomorrow is another day. Apologise and move on. Separate the behaviour from  the person. You still love them, just dislike some of the behaviour.

Good luck.....it doesn't last forever!

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And finally, a short clip from  Jack Dee's new DVD 'So What'.  I love his humour, and his take on teenagers is just about spot on. I saw the longer version of this, but here's a little taster:

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Big changes ahead!

Creative Commons image

Good grief it's been a BUSY few weeks!

I've hardly had time to update the blog, and I've let things slide a little bit on the social media front too - but I have good reason...

I recently wrote about how I'd made a major decision after months of unhappiness, and the decision was to resign from my job.

I'd been there for 8.5 years, most of it happily, but for the past year or so had felt far less contented. I think it's fair to say that a large part of my recent bout of depression was linked to that and so I decided it was time to leave.

Of course it's a much bigger decision to leave a steady, permanent job when you're over fifty as I am. The job market shrinks quite remarkably once you hit that mid-century as most employers immediately think you're past it, and anyway why would they want to employ someone who's going to retire in a few years time?

But the thing is nowadays people are having to retire at much later ages, and for me that means working until I'm 66 (unless I win the lottery or meet a rich man who wants to look after me) which is another 13 years of work. I inwardly groaned as I wrote that last sentence.

So, I've been busy casting my net far and wide to find a new job....and I landed one! I'm leaving the world of education to work for a fantastic children's charity - a job offer that came completely out of the blue. (I'll write more about how it happened in a later post).

I start on Monday, and I'm feeling nervous and excited all at once. Nervous because it's something new for me and I'm going to be a bit out of my comfort zone initially (okay, quite a lot if I'm honest) and excited for the same reasons - I need to prove to myself that I can do the job even though it's going to be a massive challenge.

I must admit to have already had pangs of nostalgia about working with the children in school and also about the ten minute commute (add another hour on for the new job) but I needed to shake things up a bit and take a risk. It may well come crashing down about my ears, but what the hell - sometimes you have to take a chance to see what's what.

The decision to resign wasn't one I took lightly but I think it has already been worth it. Almost immediately I felt a massive change - I felt happier, like the weight of despair has lifted completely, and I can already sense some of my old confidence coming back. Time will tell of course but in the meantime, wish me luck!

Have you made any risky decisions that paid off? Left a comfortable job for a new one? Or done something else that, on paper, sounds crazy? Do tell...

p.s. Oh, and even though I haven't blogged very much I was very pleased to be contacted by the BBC News Magazine recently to write an open letter to my girls about sexting - click here to see my letter along with a few others.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas advertising


I could be wrong (I am occasionally...) but this is the first year I've noticed Christmas advertising starting the day after Bonfire Night.

I just can't remember it happening last year, or the year before although the advertising has become increasingly invasive over the past few years. But this year, as soon as the last fireworks were out of the sky, we started seeing Christmas ads on TV...and not just one or two, but end-to-end ads telling us how much money we have to spend to have a good time. On the 6th November?! It's just ridiculous.

And before anyone shouts "Bah Humbug!" at me, it's not that I don't like Christmas because I do. I also like John Lewis. A lot. In fact I love their fabulous store in Liverpool so much I often refer to it as my spiritual home and in all honesty I think their Christmas ads are lovely, really festive and usually a great choice of songs (The Smiths' one was the best) but it's only the 13th November for crying out load and I'm already sick to the teeth of watching it. And when I heard someone on TV refer to the John Lewis Christmas ad as being "a bit like the Queen's speech" it made me want to bang my head on the table, and I'm not even a monarchist.

For me, the lead up to big day - which is, after all, only one day - is all about listening to carols, playing my favourite Christmas CDs, decorating the tree (although not too early!), eating warm mince pies with a glass of sherry, watching endless Christmas films, visiting old friends and neighbours, and spending time with the people who are important to us.

And this year we're going to visit the Christmas markets in Manchester for the first time, and I'm hoping to appeal to my daughters' better nature and get them to come to a Christmas Carol concert with me - something they haven't wanted to do for years.

I'm becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the commercial message that Christmas can only be enjoyed if we spend huge amounts of money on each other. In these times of austerity, when foodbanks are becoming increasingly busy, utility bills are reaching outrageous amounts,  and everyone is counting every penny the notion that we have to splash out - and there are plenty of people who use credit cards to fund their Christmas spending - feels wrong.

There's something very jarring about watching the news footage of the devastation in the Phillipines and then a few minutes later being subjected to wall-to-wall Christmas advertising. The contrast in fortunes is obscene.

We're planning to have a good Christmas, but we'll do it without getting into debt. The house will be decorated, we'll all be well-fed, and my girls will get their presents - not a silly amount, but a few that I know they'll like. Like most people I have a strict budget to keep to and we'll stick to it. And somewhere in there we'll even find time to remember what the season is supposed to be about.

I'm sorry John Lewis et al, but this year I'm opting out.

If you're thinking of donating food to a foodbank this Christmas, you can find the nearest one to you here.

You can donate to the Phillipines Typhoon appeal here.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The early Christmas bird catches all the festive worms ~ featured post

Christmas time is creeping closer and you know what that means… time to run those Christmas errands so that when the 25th is upon us you’ll be able to enjoy the festivities!

As parents there are a multitude of tasks and chores that we have to perform before the big day arrives, why leave everything to the last minute? Here is a list of the chores that you can complete before Christmas and why you should finish them before the festivities begin.


Planning Ahead
Deciding what it is exactly that you should do to prepare for Christmas can be a difficult task in itself, but as parents it’s our duty to persevere so that we can enjoy the festivities as much as our children do.


When you’re deciding which tasks to prioritise in order to prepare for Christmas you should ask yourself two questions; what MUST I get done at least 10 days before Christmas and what would I like to get done in the same time?


By asking yourself these questions you can essentially narrow down the chores or tasks that are important to complete early and the tasks that you would like to complete early but don’t have to as they are less of a priority.


Three Simple Tasks

1. Christmas Food
The traditional Christmas dinner is considered to be one of the most important parts of Christmas – this means that you should stock up on your frozen food and dried or packaged goodies before the Christmas rush ensuring that you have everything you need for the big day.


2. Purchasing Presents
It’s undeniable that if your family are not able to make it to your Christmas celebrations, it can be one of the worst scenarios, but we also know of one worse. Not being able to purchase the presents that your children want but believe they need can be one of the most frustrating scenarios for a parent to encounter.
Not only will your child be sorely disappointed due to the fact that they haven’t received the gift that they wanted, as a parent we also tend to blame ourselves for any unhappiness that the child suffers; to prevent this from happening we suggest that you hit the shops as early as you can.


3. Week of Wrapping
One of the most tedious tasks and often the most complex is the wrapping of gifts. Depending upon the amount of gifts that you have purchased and the number of people that you have provided presents for, this process could last you an entire week. It’s because of the extensive amount of time that is spent wrapping that we suggest you complete this task in advance to prevent boredom during the festive period.


There are a number of reasons as to why it’s better for you and for your family if you complete these tasks as early as possible, but there are some reasons that are more important than others. Christmas is a time when the family come together to celebrate not only what they already have, but what they have given each other and the time that they can spend with one another.


If you are not completing these tasks early for yourself so that you can enjoy the celebrations and let your hair down, you should do it for your children. Spend the spare time with your children, play
festive games with them, watch their nativity play or just help them colour in a picture. There is nothing you will regret more in life as a parent than wasting the time that you were given to spend with your children.

By spending this time with your children you can guarantee the best and most enjoyable Christmas with your family, and also your friends.

However, keep in mind that although you are the mother, it is not your job to complete every job possible. Mothers have it hard enough as it is without having to complete 102 tasks too – rope your partner in to your plans as it means that all tasks will be completed twice as fast.


Author: Simon Calvin works at UK Christmas World, so he understands just how busy the festive period can be. When Simon isn’t playing Santa he can be found motivating the rest of the team and making sure his own household is ready for Christmas.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Review: the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3


We were lucky enough to be sent a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 to review this month.

It was our first experience of using a Samsung tablet and we've been mightily impressed. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 is a 7" WiFi tablet with 8GB of memory. The memory can be expanded to 64GB by using the micro SD card and connecting to a compatible computer via a USB port.

It runs on the Google Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) operating system, which might mean something to you but means nothing at all to me.  If that's the sort of thing you like to know, you can see the specifications here but I'm just going to tell you what we thought of it.

Both of my daughters have been using it since it arrived and they've enjoyed using some of the apps. The Teenager has been using the Youtube app to watch music videos and Tall Daughter has been personalising the Flipboard app to follow blogs and read celebrity news. She's also been busy using Learning Hub to download (free) Spanish and French apps to help with her homework.

Pretty much anything you need in a tablet is there, and once connected to WiFi they can browse the internet, play games, listen to music or watch videos to their hearts' content. It's a really handy size, ideal for smaller hands, and I've found it a very useful second tablet to have around the house which means I can use our other one for chatting on twitter more important stuff.

What we like:

It's compact and lightweight and easy to hold. Is it possible to say it's quite good-looking? Because that's how I want to describe it.
The screen appears bright and clear, colours are vivid and it's user friendly. Even I knew how to use it straight out of the box, which is impressive let me tell you.
The camera is high-res and we have used it to take some good quality photos and videos.
It has all the usual apps you would expect from a tablet.
The battery life is good which is vague, I know, but we used it for several hours before needing to recharge it.
The price (£159.99).

In a nutshell: we like it. I think its beauty is the low price (relatively speaking) compared to other tablets which could make it an ideal Christmas present.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 is available at Currys. To see their full range of tablets click here.

Tongue in chic: how to give your bedroom a makeover in five easy steps

I don't know about you, but I didn't know Carpetright sold beds. You neither? Well, here's a featured post with details of their range of metal bed frames.

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With our bedrooms being the one area of the home that is kept as a secret solace to relax in, finding ways to make it chic and downright fashionable are essential.

Here we look at five steps you can take to create a chic bedroom, using a metal bed frame as the main feature.

1. Be Central
Spatial restrictions often dictate where we can place large pieces of furniture, like the bed, but choosing a central position can be really beneficial.

Place your bed centrally in the room to really make a feature of it or frame it between windows, fireplaces and other features in the room. A Carpetright metal bed frame looks stunning as a focal point, especially when it sits centrally along a wall.


Tucson bed frame

2. Choose a Theme
The idea of ‘chic’ covers many different avenues and ideas, so you need to pick a theme before you begin decorating.

If you opt for traditional, then dress your bed with lots of scatter cushions and layered fabrics (you’ll want a combination of thin sheets and drapes and thicker blankets). For a modern style, opt for a simpler combination of duvets and blankets or throws in striking colours and patterns.

3. Keep it Clear
Chic styles are clean and clear so make sure your bedroom isn’t bogged down with clutter. Keep colours light and bright – a combination of white and pale tones works well – and opt for a few choice accessories such as a small bedside table and single tone rug.

Remember to keep this style going through the bed by opting for bed linen that uses one or two complementary colours and keeping cushions and throws simple and elegant.

Rochelle metal bed frame
Rochelle metal bed

4. Be Pretty as a Picture
While modern chic styles revolve around minimalism it is important to remember that accessories add warmth to a room. Keep your trinkets minimal but add photographs or artwork to the walls to introduce character.

Black and white photography can convey this sense of style better than colour but you might also want to experiment with sepia prints. Sketched artwork and water colours also offer a soft and sensuous stylistic element which is perfect. Place artwork above the bed to draw more attention here.

5. Light and Dark
While light colours are a key component of chic room designs, that doesn’t mean there is no room for colour. Use a combination of light and dark to add stunning depth to your room, introducing darker shades through accessories such as bed linen.

Rosette bed frame