Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Frozen Britain

Everybody is talking about the SNOW.

It only seems like five minutes ago that we were in the icy clutches of the last 'Frozen Britain' headline maker.

And here we are again.

The Ice Sculpture that was our pond fountain.

The kids are all longing for more of the white stuff so that the schools will close their doors and declare it a 'Snow Day'.

Some of us may be dreaming of a White Christmas but I just want the water pipes that run through the kitchen roof space to defrost so I can turn the tap on. I am not completely without water but it is a bit of a pain having to go to the sink in the garage every time I need to fill the kettle!

Even without water in my kitchen (and the threat that when the pipes do defrost they could well have burst with the result that water will come cascading down through the ceiling to flood my kitchen) it is still good to be home.

We were in the Lake District when we saw our first flurry of fluffy white snow flakes (which quickly turned into thickly blanketing snowfall). Twenty of our family members were staying in the tastefully converted self catering holiday accommodation of Irton Hall. Some of us were staying in Broughton House which was originally the West Wing of the Hall. The wide staircase, chandeliers and huge stained glass window gave it a very grand and elegant feel. The rest of the party were in the Clock Tower. Both buildings are reputedly haunted.

I didn't spend enough time in the Clock Tower to be a judge of the likelihood of experiencing any paranormal activity but certainly in Broughton House, the blazing log fire, the big comfortable beds and the modern bathroom and kitchen fixture and fittings all leant themselves to a cosy, welcoming environment without a hint of a shiver or a spine tingle. Also, our family do generate quite a lot of noise - any self respecting ghost would know they couldn't possibly compete and would be best advised to lay low until we had vacated!

The reason for our gathering in the Lakes was to celebrate my parents' 55th wedding anniversary. I always worry that with the kids inevitably taking centre stage, my parents' needs and wants are somewhat overlooked or neglected. It was their wedding anniversary, they had actually footed the bill to accommodate us all and take us all out for a meal, yet somehow they seemed to shrink into the background. Mum did a LOT of washing up and dad seemed a bit confused at the celebration meal that he was given beef when he thought he was getting salmon and then was disappointed when...

I was just about to say how my dad would have preferred cheese and biscuits to the sticky toffee pudding that was on our set menu when I heard a sound that sent dread through my heart. It is hard to describe the sound of a frozen pipe suddenly finding itself thawed enough for the pressure of water to explode through the pipe work whose integrity as a system has been compromised by the volume of expanding ice - the sound of gallons of scalding hot water finding its path of least resistance and pouring through cracks in the ceiling and around light fittings. It is hard to describe but you know it when you hear it!

I have spent the last hour frantically mopping the floor, placing buckets to catch some of the downpour, emptying buckets that were filling quicker than I could cope with, trying desperately to work out which way to turn various stopcocks to stem the flow and more recently, fiddling with the fuse box to try and restore at least some of the electrical circuits that blew when the bad combination of wet and electricity occurred in abundance.

I am now at the stage where the gas fire is keeping the living room warm and the TV is back, amusing my two little ones. The computer is restored (hence the finishing of this blog entry) and my husband is going to be on his way home to save me just as soon as he is possibly able. I have no coffee - suddenly realising now how little of an inconvenience it was to have to go to the garage to fill the kettle - but at least the kitchen ceiling hasn't fallen in....yet.

So, anyway, back to my parents and the Lake District and my concerns that it possibly wasn't as much about them as I would have liked it to be.

My parents have both told me what a wonderful time they had and were happy just being surrounded by their family.

My kitchen disaster has reminded me that whatever is going on the only thing that really matters is family. OK, so I have no coffee and the repairs are likely to be costly and inconvenient just before Xmas but I am about to spend some priceless time snuggling up with my babies watching CBeebies, keeping warm, trying not to think about all the washing I was planning on doing today and waiting for my husband to come home and be my hero.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The beat, beat, beat (of my heart)

I recently posted a picture of my husband and I as we are today and as we were nearly 30 years ago.

We were close friends at University but never crossed the line to be more than that. We made a promise that wherever we were in our lives, we would get back in touch in our middle age.

After graduation, we went our separate ways. He used his passion for sailing to find work in the South of France, Greece and the Caribbean. While he was crossing the Atlantic and having adventures, I was a stay at home mum to my gorgeous daughters.

It was just before Christmas in 2004 that I received a message from him through Friends Reunited. He reminded me of our promise and gave me a brief summary of his achievements since last I had seen him (which would have been at my wedding in 1986). His life seemed so glamorous and exciting.

My life was actually at a really low point. My marriage was in a complete mess. I was trying hard to fix it because the thought of losing the home I had worked so hard to build and the security I craved was unbearable... but you can't fix a love that doesn't exist.

It was a completely horrible time. I didn't respond to the message until some months later when I finally started to see the end of marriage not as the end of my life, but the beginning of a new one. I was getting my passion for living back, had even started dating on a fairly casual basis and thought that the one thing I needed more than anything right now was friends - and he had been a good one.

We began to correspond through texts, MSN and the odd phone call. It always brightened up my day to hear from him and he was so supportive. I was thrilled when in July, 2005, he invited me for a weekend in Paris, in honour of a hitchhiking trip we had taken as students. This time we wouldn't be hitchhiking, we would be flying and as I had never flown anywhere on my own before, he arranged to fly from Switzerland where he was living and rented a car to pick me up from my home in Shropshire so we could make the journey together.

I knew he was married and had a couple of kids but it never occured to me that it was strange that he would leave his family for a weekend to give an old friend a much needed adventure.  What he hadn't told me was that at the time he had sent me the initial message, his marriage was in much the same sorry state as mine was and he and his wife separated very shortly after. Although, looking back, he did try to give me the opportunity to ask about his situation, I was probably a little too self obssessed and wasn't that interested in hearing about 'happy families'.

I was full of nervous excitement about the trip and about seeing my lovely friend again after so long. If I was feeling anything else, I wasn't going to admit it even to myself. I heard his car pull up on my drive and I rushed to the front door to greet him. The skinny, bearded boy that I knew was now a clean shaven man. I was quite surprised by the change in his appearance but there was enough that was familiar to make me want to take him in my arms and give him a hug - which I did. As we embraced on my doorstep my heart was beating a little too fast, betraying the depth of feeling that I refused to acknowledge. I had no idea that the man who hugged me back would in a few short hours be my lover and in a few short weeks, ask for my hand in marriage.

When he told me the truth about his separation, I was thrown into confusion. I felt guilty that I had been so pre-occupied with my own messy life that I had failed to be sensitive to his. I wanted to be as supportive to him as he had been to me but thus far I had failed miserably. And then there was this growing awareness that here we were, in romantic Paris, two single, slightly damaged people. The last thing I wanted was to ruin this special friendship by doing something impetuous and desperate that we would both regret.

He had no such confusion. He later told me that when I hugged him on my doorstep, he could feel the beat, beat, beat of my heart, a little too fast, a little too strong. He knew from that moment that we would return from this trip as more than just friends and that we would be together, always.

The rest, as they say, is history. He allowed his beard to grow back and the following summer he moved back to the UK to be with me permanently.

I will be forever grateful to my 'noisy' heart that told him how I was feeling (before I even knew it myself) and gave him the confidence of certainty -  that we were meant to be together.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Fun Begins Here...

Some time ago I saw a competition on the Toys R Us facebook page which asked "Have you got what it takes to be a toyologist?"

I was already familiar with the group of Toyologist who post some fabulous reviews of toys on their blogs and social networking sites.

The children from my first marriage are all grown up young ladies now. Apart from video gaming and the odd family board game, the toy market has not held much interest for me... until recently.

The unexpected addition of two new babies to my family, one in 2008 and one earlier this year, has meant that suddenly I am plunged back into a world of Fisher Price and VTech. The Toyologist reviews have been very useful in terms of making sense of the products available and seeing the all important 'mummy perspective'.

I must admit that I did harbour a bit of a fantasy about being a Toyologist myself. It certainly ranks up there as dream job with Chocolate Taster and Brad Pitt's Masseuse. There was nothing to lose by submitting an entry to the competition so that is what I did.

At school, I loved science and went on to do my University degree in chemistry. I decided to do a video entry for the competition with a 'scientific' feel to it and my 2 year old daughter as the star. I didn't have a little lab coat, sadly, so I dressed her in a white T- shirt and leggings just to give the impression of a scientist, with geeky glasses to finish the look (actually glasses from the cinema when I went to see Saw 3D, with the lenses pushed out). Her little table was a good lab bench and I painted a couple of props to try and create the right atmosphere. I was quite pleased with the scene setting but I had no idea how my daughter would react and if she would co-operate.

Maybe my enthusiasm for the 'game' was contagious because she loved playing her starring role. I just let her get on with it to see what she would do and she obligingly provided me with enough video footage to edit together my finished piece.

If that had been the end of the story I would have been happy because I had a lovely time putting it all together and the video will be one I'm sure we will look back on with great fondness when my little girl is no longer so little. But that wasn't the end of the story.

Today I found out that out of all the entries (and there were loads!) mine was chosen as THE WINNER.

I am now the latest member of the Toyologists group!

It is very exciting and I am chomping at the bit to get started. I am actually going to be without internet for the next few days so it will give me a little time to reflect on what it all means and how I can best fulfil the role, sharing my thoughts and ideas about the toys I will be reviewing.

I feel like I am at the start of a big adventure and one thing is certain ... the fun begins here!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Gallery - Week 36 - Black & White

This week's Gallery prompt is 'Black & White'.

I am old enough to remember when pretty much all photography was black and white - colour being somewhat cost prohibitive. My dad had one of those box cameras that he used to capture some images of our rather uninspired annual family holiday to Butlins in Barry Island. It was all a bit of a pallaver looking down into the view finder which I think I'm right in saying gave you an inverted image. I was not allowed to touch it!

I also remember my very first camera - a Kodak Instamatic complete with click in flash cubes. It was bought for me to take on a School Cruise on the SS Uganda. I have no idea what happened to the pictures or the camera, but I vividly recall over enthusiastically photographing the horizon during a stretch of a few days at sea with no port of call. By now, colour photography was the norm but the cost of film cartridges, flash cubes and processing was such that for me, as a hobby, it was not encouraged. Perhaps my parents felt that my collection of 'seascapes' did not represent value for money!

It wasn't until my days as a University student that I was thoroughly bitten by the photography bug. I had a boyfriend who was a very keen amateur photographer. My relationship with him didn't last but the love of photography that he inspired in me has grown from strength to strength over the years.

I bought myself a Cosina 35mm SLR camera. It was a very big deal to me as penniless student but it was worth every scraped together penny. If I remember rightly, my dad later gave me a cheque to cover the cost of it (perhaps he felt guilty for not showing more appreciation of my seascapes!) My sister was a very willing model for some of the more whacky ideas I had for photographs and we did loads of fun photo shoots. Without the benefit of my own darkroom, I then had to send the film off for processing and wait for the results of our artistic endeavours. It was very frustrating. It was also still quite an expensive hobby so I had to resist the temptation to click away at the shutter. Each shot would be very carefully considered in terms of composition, settings and focus in order to achieve the desired effect with minimal wastage. I did occasionally experiment with black and white film which was now a desirable option rather  than your only choice!

The dawn of the digital age has been a dream come true for me. The ability to view photographs instantly, to be able to take many shots without incurring costs, to crop and edit and manipulate the images... it has freed me to experiment in all sorts of ways. I still have a lot to learn about its capability but absolutely adore my Nikon D60 Digital SLR (a 45th birthday present from my husband).

Becoming a mum means that you are never without a subject that you feel passionately about. I love photographing my kids and recording their journeys through life.

The photograph I am posting for the gallery is one of my daughter taken about a year ago. She is wearing a 'Hundred and One Dalmatians' cardigan which I thought set a black and white mood. I love black and white portraits - there's something about stripping away the colour that makes me feel closer to the essence of the subject. This then, is my scruffy, bright eyed, pensive little black & white girl...

Monday, 22 November 2010


Whilst out driving at the weekend I passed an all too familiar yellow police notice informing motorists that a serious accident had occurred here at such a time on such a day and if anyone had any information etc etc. A little further on, bouquets of flowers were arranged at the roadside and amongst the floral tributes, a child's football shirt. In the brief moment that this scene impacted my vision, a flood of emotion was triggered.

I'm sure there are very few people whose lives have not been touched in some way by a tragedy involving a road traffic accident.

I have a vivid childhood memory of witnessing the aftermath of a woman on a moped having collided with a car. I was with my mum at the time and she later described the unfortunate woman's spilled brain matter as being like minced beef.

On that same stretch of road, on my way to school, I also remember seeing a child who had been hit by a car. It wasn't so much the large portion of glistening bone protruding from the mess that had just that morning been his leg that bothered me as much as his shocked vacant expression and how small he looked lying shaking on the pavement.

Images like these have a habit of sticking in your mind.

My baby sister was hit by a car.

We were walking home, me, my mum and my sister. We had got to the top of the road where our house was. It was a small row of houses with a large field of horses opposite. This memory of the horses places the incident in time for me because by 1974, the horses field was gone, replaced by a housing development to accommodate the growing population of Slough. In 1974, I would have been ten years old and my sister is five years my junior.

I must only have been eight or nine when I ran across to the other side of the road to stroke one of the beautiful horses that I adored as it stretched it's noble head over the gate in an attempt to attract my attention. I didn't anticipate that my little sister would follow me and how could I have known that a car would at that moment be travelling along this normally quiet road.

The car struck my baby sister.

Miraculously, she was not hurt. The driver of the car stopped and offered to take my sister to hospital but my mum refused his offer. I remember hearing the screech of tyres and the bump. I remember trying to work out in my head what I was seeing. I remember the relief that my sister was not dead and I remember the terrible feeling of guilt that replaced it,  knowing it was all my fault, knowing I would be blamed and knowing that the blame was deserved. I ran away.

For such a strong memory, it surprises me that I don't recall what happened after that. I must have returned home at some point - perhaps my mum can enlighten me, although that is doubtful as she rarely ever talks about our family life as we were growing up.

If that car from nearly four decades ago had been travelling faster or if my mum's decision not to have my sister checked out at hospital had proved to be a tragically wrong one, my life would have been very different. If nothing else, there would be no Inside the Wendy House.

It's easy to forget when you dodge across the road in a hurry, or driving along minding your own business or simply walking along the pavement, how close you are to a potentially deadly encounter. Life is so precious and we never really think when we wake up that this could be the day that something might happen to shatter our existence. If we did think like that, we'd never get out of bed. The mother of the owner of that football shirt probably started her day much like any other, little knowing that in a life changing instant, her world would be torn apart.

My baby boy is sitting on my lap as I type this. No one can know what the future holds but I do know that in this moment, right now, I want to hug my son a little bit tighter, let him feel my love a little bit stronger and appreciate every single second.

Underpants gnome?

My husband really has to stop spoiling me.

I went to put some laundry away yesterday and could only imagine that the underpants gnomes had been rifling through my drawers. Gone was the extensive collection of Bridget Jones style knickers I have been wearing through my pregnancy and pretty much up until now, to be replaced by an intriguing, shiny black box. Off came the lid and beautifully folded and presented on layers of tissue paper was a new set of knickers, considerably less capable of keep out the winter chill! There was also a La Senza Gift Card, presumably for me to purchase my own big knickers if I really can't live without them.

I'm not entirely sure that I like such an intrusion into my underwear, but I do like the fact that my husband has noticed how baggy my pants have become since I went down a dress size and I like that he was brave enough to do something about it.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Then and Now

I am cheating slightly for my first 'Flashback Friday' post by editing a post I had already contributed to The Gallery's 'Then and Now' theme - but it did seem rather appropriate. Call it recycling rather than cheating - it sounds much nicer!

This is a photograph my husband and I as we were when we were both students at Bristol University and the re-creation of it nearly thirty years later.

Back when we were students, we made a promise to meet up in our middle age and five years ago, that is exactly what happened. We were both separated from our spouses and in what some might call a whirlwind romance, we fell in love. He relocated from Switzerland where he was living to be with me, we had a daughter together, we got married and now we have our baby son.

He has less hair now and I'm less chubby and have more wrinkles but fundamentally we're not so different from the teenagers we once were.

Friday, 19 November 2010

A lovely cake of a day

Some days just leave you with a smile on your face. Yesterday was one of these days.

The last time I had my hair cut was for my wedding in February this year. I am the sort of customer that makes hairdressers shake their heads and tut. I do not enjoy hairdresser small talk, I do not have any clear ideas about styling, I do not particularly like putting my head in someone else's hands and I feel uncomfortable having to look at my own reflection for so long in the obligatory hairdresser mirrors. You could say I am not a fan of getting my hair done which is a big factor in why I go so long between appointments.

At least now I have met Beth. Beth is lovely. Beth is young and natural. Beth is happy to just get on with the job of cutting without engaging in the whole 'where are you going for your holidays' nonsense. She also seems to have a very good understanding of my hair and what might work for me. Whether this is enough to motivate me to have my hair cut regularly remains to be seen but at least it meant that today's cut and blow dry was a good experience.

Feeling quite buoyant with my new hair style, I popped into Boots to check out the free gift on offer when you spend £22 on their No7 products. I am a big fan of the No7 range and an absolute sucker for the free gifts. I bought Stay Perfect Lipstick and Trio Eyeshadow and to take it above the qualifying spend threshold, Cleanse and Care Eye Make-Up remover. I am now the proud owner of the free gift - a dinky little make up bag containing a variety of goodies. Some of these at least will be ideal for when I go away for a weekend in the Lake District later this month. I am quite stupidly pleased with it all!

Next I popped into The Ivy Suite, a local beauty saloon, and booked myself in for a 'deluxe pedicure'. Now I have to admit that the thought of a stranger going anywhere near my feet in a non medical capacity is quite abhorrent to me but as my husband had already purchased a gift certificate (one of my rewards for losing weight) I feel obliged to go through with it. I'm often spouting the 'you don't know until you try' cliche at my girls so i guess it is time to live by my own philosophy. I might really enjoy it. I certainly enjoyed going in to book the appointment - the salon itself is wonderfully flamboyant in its decor and the beauticians are so meticulously made-up and adorably up beat and enthusiastic. They are like a different species.

The icing on this lovely cake of a day was being taken out for a curry at the new Indian restaurant that has opened in town.

I rarely wear make up on a daily basis but I do enjoy putting it on for special occasions and I was dying to try out my new No7 purchases. I didn't dress up in anything more glamorous than clean jeans and a jumper (the baby managed to poo on the ones I'd been  wearing all day) but I did put on as yet unworn jewellery which made me feel ready for an evening out.

The restaurant was tastefully colour co-ordinated, clean and warm and there were plenty of vegetarian options on the menu. The food was nicely presented and I thoroughly enjoyed everything we ordered. Best of all, getting to spend dedicated time with my attentive husband without the distractions of home and family was long overdue and very much appreciated.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A Year's Supply of Chocolate

I have been concentrating of late on things that make me happy. Yesterday I received a quite unexpected email telling me that I had won a year's supply of chocolate! This made me very happy.

For somebody who is putting in two or three sessions a week at the gym and trying very hard to eat less, a year's supply of chocolate may seem more of a curse than a blessing. However, my current weight loss plan is a long term commitment to a healthier lifestyle rather than the crash diets and self deprivation of my past. There is plenty of room for the occasional indulgence and I am going to thoroughly enjoy spoiling all my chocoholic friends over Christmas.

To win the competition I submitted a photograph of 'me and my bar of Divine Orange and Ginger Chocolate' and, what was in my opinion, a rather overly descriptive poem detailing what I thought of said chocolate bar:

A dark sensuous velvety smooth chocolate feast
As it melts in your mouth, the flavour's unleashed
Tantalisingly tangy citrus sensation
With warm spicy ginger, a taste revelation.
This Divinely deliciously decadent treat
Does not inspire feelings of guilt as I eat
Because farmers receive a fair deal for their bean
And I've worked out on treadmill and rowing machine!

This was a 'submit by email' competition so I have no idea how many other entries there were or what they were like but I was delighted that mine was chosen. Looking back at that poem, it would have scanned much better if the last line had been, "And I've worked out on the running machine". Oh well, that's competitions for you - once you submit, there's no going back for a re-edit!

In case you're wondering, a year's supply of chocolate equates to two 100g bars a week for 52 weeks. I am looking forward to getting my hands on 104 bars of Divine chocolate - and it costs no calories to look and touch!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Pure Bliss

Today, the numbers on my digital scale made me smile. I have reached the next milestone in my weight loss plan which makes me eligible for a surprise gift in the 'keep me motivated' scheme devised by my husband. This particular gift has been taunting me for weeks as I seemed to plateau at a point just on the wrong side of my qualifying target. The gym sessions are obviously working because here I am now in possession of a gorgeous bracelet, some money to buy clothes and within spitting distance of my ideal weight.

The numbers on the scale make me smile but my brain still has a lot of catching up to do before it is in line with where my body is physically.

After my Arbonne bath product testing a couple of nights ago, I walked into my bedroom wrapped in towels to get ready for bed. My husband had unknown to me, lit candles and bought a cute little grey cotton nightie with pink lace trim which he had laid out on the bed for me to find.

My first thought was how sweet and lovely my husband is and how lucky I am to have him in my life. This warm fuzzy feeling was quickly displaced  by the bigger, louder thought barging in - that was how tiny the nightie looked, would I ever squeeze into it and if I did what sort of state would I look? I did not want to witness my husband's disappointment (disgust?) as he compares me bulging out in all the wrong places to his memory of the same item modelled by the insanely skinny mannequin in the shop where he made his purchase. For those few moments before the new lingerie slipped effortlessly over my body and clung to my emerging trimmer figure in a most flattering way, I truly was gripped by a blind panic. I relaxed almost instantly and was grateful for my husband's good judgement in knowing what suits me.

I loved how the nightie made me feel, especially since it was less than 5 months ago that I was hugely pregnant and getting ready to give birth to my baby boy. I wasn't able to fully show my husband the appreciation he deserved because at this point, the two year old must have had a bad dream and woke up desperately in need of reassurance and cuddles that ended up lasting all night.

Lying in bed, feeling sexy in my slinky nightwear  and loved by a man who cared enough to buy it for me and with my beautiful little girl sleeping peacefully in my arms was for me, pure bliss.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Arbonne V Lush

Many years ago, I became involved in a money making scheme based on selling copy cat perfumes. Unlimited earning potential was promised in a business that could fit easily within the time constraints of a busy mum. Too good to be true? Frankly, yes it was. 

Selling the overpriced, mediocre products to friends and family could earn you a small amount of income but the serious earning potential could only be realised by recruiting your own network of sales people. These people are attracted by the idea of life changing wealth which of course will require them to begin their own recruitment plan. 

Pyramid selling schemes in all their guises can generate a huge amount of wealth for a few individuals, but that wealth is acquired by selling dreams to multitudes of people who will invest in the start up costs and product samples, then become disillusioned. For every one operative that makes a reasonable living, you have to ask yourself how many people have tried and failed. I have to question the morality of a system built on countless shattered dreams - not to mention the morality of selling overpriced, mediocre products to your family and friends and perpetuating the cycle of shattered dreams through them.

Since the veil of false hope was lifted from my eyes through my personal experience with the copy cat perfumes, I have seen several of my friends buy into schemes promising life changing earning potential. It is with such enthusiasm that they start out on their journey to an infinitely better future and they genuinely feel they are doing their friends a great service by offering them the chance to be a part of this amazing opportunity. Sadly, I have seen too many start up kits and sample products gathering dust on the shelf of shame and disappointment of the would-be millionaires.

These thoughts were very front of mind yesterday as a friend of mine is just starting out as a 'consultant' for Arbonne UK. She is brimming with enthusiasm, company loyalty, belief in the product and the absolute certainty that she will be driving a fully funded white mercedes within 2 years as part of their reward scheme offered as a motivational incentive. I knew nothing about the company prior to her involvement but the whole thing smelt strongly of just another 'too good to be true' ruthless ploy to profit from people who can ill afford it by dangling an unattainable carrot of success. The company web site was slick but did little to allay my fears for my friend.

I do tend to be a person that gives the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the Swiss scientists had discovered a miracle formula of natural plant extracts that would revolutionise skin care one bathroom at a time. My friend had given me a complementary sachet of Arbonne's Seasource Detox Spa Purifying Sea Soak. This retails at £40 for 8 sachets which, if my times table drilling serves me correctly, is a fiver a sachet. Last night, I tried it out to see if it really was as good as my friend, Arbonne and the Swiss scientists claimed.

I love Lush products. I love visiting the Lush shop and breathing in the intoxicating odours. I love how so many of the products look good enough to eat. I love the quirky names they give to their products and the seasonal specials. I love the packaging. I love the ethical morality of the company. I love the name 'Lush'! I suppose, most importantly, I love using the products. The next time I find myself in Lush (or if anybody wants to know what's on my Christmas list) I want to try the bath melt Ceridwyn's Cauldron. It looks gorgeous and retails for £3.95.

The reason I have digressed to talk about my Lush wishlist is not to drop a massively unsubtle hint to my lovely husband, who is my most loyal reader, but to have a point of comparison for the Arbonne bath product.

The scene was set - lots of lovely hot water and candles. On my friend's recommendation, I only used half the sachet which meant on a price comparison it was doing better than Lush. The smell of it was evocative of a spa and seemed quite authentic compared to the stronger 'in your face' scent of some of the lush products I've used. However, the smell quickly wore off or I got used to it and I didn't notice it any more. As I got into the bath, I had no sense of luxuriating into something special. In fact it was so non-descript I thought I probably ought to add the rest of the sachet, which I did, thereby relinquishing the cost advantage. This time, the smell of it actually caught in my throat making me cough (perhaps that was why the 'half sachet' advice was given) but again, it didn't last long.

It wasn't unpleasant relaxing in my Purifying Sea Soak but neither was it exciting, or invigorating or luxurious or anything really. I told myself that the effect was maybe more understated and the blend of botanical ingredients would be working their detoxifying magic on me right now in a way that would have those Swiss scientists saying "I told you so". 

Arbonne claims that ....

Detoxification supports the body’s natural
ability to cleanse and restore itself. Over time, toxins can build up and overwhelm the body, weakening the immune system and leading to:
• Fatigue
• Stress
• Poor digestion
• Skin disorders or breakouts
• Stiffness, aches and pains
• Weight gain
• Premature aging

How will I know if I have been detoxified? There is no obvious change in my skin and I don't feel any different. I'm sure the Arbonne answer would be that it is long term accummulative effect - keep using the product and supplement it with this product and that product and soon you have a whole armoury in place to defeat the toxic enemy.

In the end it all boils down to personal choice. I wish my friend well in her business venture and will be attending her launch party to show my support but I don't think that any of her arguments will persuade me that the Arbonne experience is one I should be buying into. The pleasure I get on many levels from using my Lush products is good for my mind, body and soul. I don't believe that the Arbonne marketing strategy supports that concept and I certainly don't think that the Swiss scientists could find it in a test tube.

Taylor's Guitar

It was an exciting day at our house yesterday. Taylor's guitar arrived.

As soon as I had closed the door on the delivery man I knew I had to text Taylor with the news that there was now a guitar shaped parcel in our hallway. She responded by dashing home. Luckily she did have a free period at school so education was not compromised! She was not alone. Several of her friends accompanied her to witness the grand unwrapping of the Acoustic Fender resplendent with the flamboyant signature of their much loved pop idol. Taylor's boyfriend was also there and helped by holding the baby while I captured the moment on camera.

Taylor was one happy girl.

Monday, 15 November 2010

A Trip Down Memory Lane

I was reminded of the original arcade game Pong as I wrote a recent blog post. I do believe that there is still a place for such a stripped back version of video gaming but it is amazing how little resemblance it bears to, for example, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood (the game that my daughter Liberty is currently drooling over and putting on her Christmas List).

I suppose I am of an age now where I have lived long enough to have witnessed many changes and developments both significant and trivial, and with maturity am becoming more reflective. I am starting to remind myself of the "when I were a lad..." generation.

Earlier this month, I made the one hour trip from my home to the shopping Metropolis that is The Bullring, Birmingham. The purpose of the trip was not actually to shop but to meet up with an old friend in a way that has become something of an annual tradition. However, with Christmas rapidly approaching, taking advantage of the consumer paradise was an inevitability.

It was in HMV that I had a "when I were a lad...." moment. I was looking for a few items on my mental shopping list - a CD of tango music, the Dexter boxset and the Taylor Swift single (which I wasn't even sure had been released yet). It was a fairly large store - lots of square footage all on one floor. As I looked around trying to plan my purchase attack, I was struck by how everything all looked the same. Albums. singles, video on DVD and Bluray, PS3 games, Wii games, XBox 360....... there were just a few T Shirts, calendars, posters and gaming accessories to break up the sea of silver discs in similarly shaped and sized plastic boxes. Within the individual categories, once I had established which was which, the range of titles available was equally bewildering.

As a teenager, the record shop in the shopping centre was a cool place to be seen in and the hot boy from school worked a Saturday job. I used to actually feel a bit intimidated going in there, preferring to browse the vinyl in Woolworths on the High Street. The best thing about Woolies was the bargain bin where singles that had fallen out of the charts would be sold off for 10p. I bought a lot of dodgy singles for 10p which I still own and still have their original Woolies 10p price sticker.

I love how easy CDs are to use and store but I do miss vinyl. Putting a record on your record deck was such an elaborate ritual. The record would be removed from its outer sleeve which would often be a beautiful work of art, then very carefully taken out of the fragile paper inner sleeve. The twelve inch LPs were tricky to handle and place on your turntable without covering with fingerprints. Trying to locate the stylus in the exact position was a well practised skill, especially if you wanted to select a specific track. One false move and you could easily end up with a scratch that would trap your favourite song in an endlessly repeating loop of audio nonsense. It took me a long time to realise that when I accused my kids of sounding like a broken record during particularly annoying pleading sessions, they had no idea to what it referred. The tiniest bit of muck in one of the grooves would cause your record to jump and God forbid that you should try to move anywhere within the vicinity of your equipment - if you were even slightly heavy footed, the stylus could end up bouncing right across your prized sound recording like skimming a flat pebble on a lake.

Anyway, my point, from which I am digressing, is that albums were 12" Long Playing vinyl recordings and singles which were much more popular purchases then than now, were 7" discs, often supplied in a paper sleeve bearing only the record company logo. Films were in video cassette format and gaming had yet to explode onto the market place. It was infinitely more straight forward!

Would I swap the HMV of the Bullring for this more simplistic model? Categorically NO. Much as I like to reminisce (and sometimes moan!), I find this technological age into which we have been plunged, incredibly exciting. It may take me a little longer to do my Christmas shopping but I think I can factor that into my time plan. And if I feel the need to indulge my nostalgic side, I can always dust off the record collection and enjoy that almost forgotten ritual ...


Saturday, 13 November 2010


A short while ago, I joined the online community of British Mummy Bloggers. In part it was an attempt at self validation - I'm not just a sad housewife who spends too much time at her computer, I'm a British Mummy Blogger!

As I have navigated my way around the site, I have come across many inspiring, funny, heartwarming and informative blog posts from women, who like myself, have parenting as an overwhelmingly high priority in their lives.

I have also found (and enjoyed entering) many Blog Giveaways offering an amazing variety of different prizes. This is my baby boy modelling a Winnie the Pooh Sleepsuit I was lucky enough to win from one of the blogs I discovered, Chez Maximka.

Some of the prizes that are offered in Giveaways are bought with the blogger's own money but more often they are items that have been received from Companies or PR representatives that want to promote a brand or product. I have been surprised by the amount of interest there is from companies looking to sponsor the more popular blogs and offer free products in exchange for reviews.

I do wonder how easy it is to give a completely honest opinion of a product when by virtue of having been given it for free, one might feel a sense of loyalty or of being indebted. I have rarely read an unfavourable review (apart from one for Ben 10 Shaker Maker which basically said it was rubbish!) but they nearly always offer an interesting perspective which makes them eminently readable.

With so much on offer from the commercial sector, there might be a temptation to try and cash in but I honestly believe that financial gain is not the primary motivator of the mummy bloggers. Were it to become so I think that the group would very quickly lose it's heart - and heart is evident in much abundance.

I am proud to be a mummy blogger, and if I were to profit from the odd giveaway from time to time, I certainly wouldn't feel that I had sold out!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Just Dance

I am not a morning person. I desperately need my cup of tea (brought to me daily, almost without fail, by my lovely husband) if I am to stand a chance of facing the world as even remotely human. This morning was no exception. My tea was placed as usual on my bedside cabinet.

I was vaguely aware of my husband giving me a very light peck on the cheek before heading off to work and my 2 year old daughter beside me in bed, but my eyes flatly refused to open.

My husband has decided to extend the morning beverage spoiling routine to include the 2 year old. He now brings her a Spongebob Squarepants mug of juice or milk to have in mummy's bed - just like mummy.  She loves it.

This morning (as a trip to Morrisons is long overdue and we have run completely out of juice) Spongebob was the bearer of ice cold, creamy, full fat milk. As I had yet to open my eyes, I am not entirely sure what happened but somehow, the entire contents of the aforementioned Spongebob mug was flung directly into my face! To say the least, it was shocking. To an outside observer, it probably would have looked very funny - me sitting bolt upright, milk dripping from my eyelashes and hair, trying to mentally compute what  I was experiencing. I had to leap out of bed and whip the bedclothes off to try and stop the puddle of dairy goodness soaking into the mattress and duvet. Only then could I stumble into the bathroom and clean myself up. No doubt I will need a good shower later if I want to avoid smelling of cheese but with the initial clean up complete, I was finally able to have my first sip of morning tea (by now a bit on the tepid side!). The 2 year old was uncharacteristically stunned into silence!!

Not the best start to the day but I have to say my skin does feel lovely and soft. Cleopatra obviously knew what she was doing with those milk baths.


Friday has rolled around again with terrifying speed. That means this evening is Aerobics Class.

Before I joined the gym, I had managed to convince myself that the Wii Fit would provide a proper good workout. Apart from the fact that more often that not I would end up watching some random rubbish on the telly instead of actually setting the Wii up to go, it would never really work because it was too easy to stop mid session to see to the kids / answer the phone / make a cup of coffee etc. At the gym, it is dedicated, uninterrupted torture in an environment entirely conducive to pushing yourself that little bit harder (certainly a lot harder than I would ever do at home). Although I am a supporter of the fact that any exercise is better than no exercise, with the best will in the world, for me, the Wii Fit was only ever a bit of fun.

As 'a bit of fun' the Wii is great.

Back in the seventies, I remember being totally amazed by Pong, It still holds an enormous amount of appeal for me. I love the sound effects, the simplicity, the amount of skill and strategy you can actually employ, the way the ball elongates into a sausage when it is moving at any speed.... Comparing Pong with modern gaming, it is mind blowing how far the techno age has travelled. It has been quite a ride on the wave of change and I hope that as I approach the end of my fifth decade, I won't find myself drowning in the advances. I am relying on the fact that with two young children, I'll be kept up to date and (fingers crossed) taking full advantage of all that is on offer.

After giving birth to my baby boy, my husband bought me Dance on Broadway for the Wii.

I could really do with three times the amount of floor space in my living room and a TV mounted at eye level so I'm not always looking down to copy the dance moves, but this does not stop it being fantastic fun, especially when played with my daughters who really go for it to get a high score. I love the songs, I love the routines (some of which are  really challenging) but most of all I love how much we laugh together as a family perfecting our moves and singing along to the on screen lyrics.

There is a competition over at Diary of a Frugal Family to win Just Dance 2. I have entered thinking that a whole lot of new tunes and funky choreography could be the perfect antidote to our post Christmas Dinner sloth and apathy. Why not enter yourself and if you win, please invite me over for a Just Dance Wii Night - I'll bring the wine!

Thursday, 11 November 2010


November can be such a gloomy depressing month that when we are blessed with a little bit of unexpected sunshine, I want to take advantage of it. A sunny weekend morning could have (and probably should have) been put to good use clearing up the autumn leaves that have fallen in my garden. Lovely as they are forming their patchwork blanket over the lawn, they do damage the grass and the ones that find their way into the pond create a whole load of problems from blocked filters to sludge and worse - to dead fish. However, ignoring any could'ves and should'ves, my husband and I took our two little ones to feed the ducks!

The town in which we live has a very picturesque stretch of the Shropshire Union Canal running through it.

I wrapped the baby up warm in his new fleecy jacket and bundled him into his pushchair. I am quite old fashioned in my choice of perambulation devices. Instead of opting for one of these travel systems that seem to be so popular nowadays, I chose the simplest carry cot on wheels that I could find. I have only recently converted it into the backward facing pushchair option and my baby boy is loving the new view it gives him on the world - and I love to watch him taking it all in. We walked in the direction of the canal whilst my husband cycled with the 2 year.

The two year old is crazy about bike rides with daddy. It is a really special time for both of them. We bought a Weeride Child Bike Seat  which is absolutely fantastic. The positioning of it in front of you (rather than the rear mounted type which I was never very happy about) may mean that you have to pedal with you knees in a slightly ungainly open position, but it is a small sacrifice for having your child nestled between your arms where you can see them and talk to them.

We met at the canal and walked along the tow path until it got too muddy to proceed with wheels. The sun continued to shine, the baby cygnets that the 2 year old had visited regularly on her daddy bike rides had grown almost to the size of their parents and a lovely time was had by all.

Wandering along the tow path did remind me of family holidays in my old life with my first husband. Nowadays, he jets off all over the world, holidaying in exotic locations such as the Maldives, Bora Bora and Brazil with his Portuguese girlfriend, but back when he was with me, a canal boat holiday was as adventurous as it got! I am not don't blaming him for this. Money was tight, I would get incredibly stressed about going anywhere and we didn't really get on well enough to enjoy spending much time together.

Canal boat holidays suited us very well. He spent his time mostly on his own at the steering end of the boat entirely focussed on propelling along the waterway. I liked the challenge of living in a different sort of environment and me and my girls would spend most of our time at the front of the boat playing guitar, singing and making up silly games.

One of our favourite games was spotting the floating branches of trees or other bits of debris which would prompt us to point and shout 'CANALLIGATOR'. Years later and my girls still see canalligators in practically any body of water! I seriously doubt that my ex husband would see canalligators in the crystal clear blue sea of Bora Bora - I also seriously doubt that he would view that as his loss!

An imagination that invents canalligators can be a blessing but also a curse. My imagination takes me on very dark journeys sometimes. Once the thought had gripped me of the pushchair rolling into the canal, it wouldn't let go until I had seen my little boy's shocked expression as the cold water engulfed him, my frantic struggles to pull him out, my little girl's cries of confusion and fear, my bedraggled, shivering, white faced husband finally lifting the limp, blue-lipped body of my precious son from the dirty brown servant of death.

The thoughts are as vivid as they are horrific and they WILL run their course regardless of any interventions I try. Drowning babies is a common theme, as are: husband in car crash, ceiling collapsing, burning, power tool accidents and dropping/falling from a height. It's never me that is hurt, always my loved ones and I am powerless to save them.

If nothing else, my dark unwanted fantasies do make me appreciate the fragility of life and how important it is to value every moment.

Friday, 5 November 2010


Not many people are aware of this because I mostly come across as a cheerful and positive person, but all my life I have battled with the demon that wears the name tag DEPRESSION.

At its mildest, it can manifest as a black fog on the periphery of my vision. At its most severe it is a paralysing, debilitating, all-consuming nightmare.

I could blame the fact that my relationship with my parents as I was growing up was somewhat troubled or the fact that my first marriage was an unhappy one, but I feel that these two things more likely fall under the category of effect rather than cause.

I have never taken any prescribed anti-depressant medication and apart from one complete waste of time counselling session (I never bothered to book a follow up) I have always sought to deal with the problem on my own.

My new husband is very aware of my demon. He doesn't necessarily understand it but he accepts that it is a part of me.  More than any other person in my life, he has been able to lock my demon in chains so that it can't sink its wicked claws into me. However, it frightens me and bewilders him that  a casual throwaway comment can cause those chains to simply melt away.

I will give you an example.

My lovely nephew was visiting. Being a minority meat eater in a mostly vegetarian family, whenever we have these get-togethers we generally tend to go en masse to our local Wetherspoons for a breakfast. He gets his fix of sausage bacon and black pudding and we get to enjoy the rather delicious veggie option. On this particular occasion, the new winter menu had been introduced. One change was that the veggie breakfast was available in a 'large' option which meant an extra sausage and two slices of toast, making it even more of a treat. There were also some new tempting items on the dessert menu. I confessed to my husband that I have been known to go to Wetherpoons just before twelve so as to still qualify for the breakfast menu, then having eaten the breakfast, order a dessert because it felt OK to do so, it now being after 12oclock. This is where the throwaway comment came. He looked me in the eye and said "No wonder you ... ( and I know he meant to say 'are so fat' but he must have realised that this would have been very hurtful so he backtracked and said)... are carrying a few extra pounds".

Simple as that. An evil grin spreads across the demon's face as it  is unleashed.

I don't scream or shout or even try to explain that that wasn't a very kind thing to say - I just sink into a place inside myself. Outwardly, I carry on as usual but everytime my husband talks to me or touches me I sink a little deeper.

I try to tell myself not to be so stupid. I try to focus on all the wonderful things there are in my life and how my husband is such a key part in all that is good. I try to tell myself that this is just my demon and it will lose its power over me.  It doesnt matter what I tell myself. Depression grips and it grips bloody tight.

I don't believe I will ever be completely free of my demon but I am getting better at living with it. I also feel incredibly lucky to have a husband that is not afraid to face up to it. I hate how much it hurts him to see that he has unwittingly hurt me but that is something we both have to deal with together.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Erotic Fiction

My daughter, Liberty, is an aspiring author. Her current work in progress is a teen Sci-Fi novel. Although it is not a genre I would choose, I am thoroughly enjoying reading each chapter as it is written and I am now at a point where I am hungry for the next! She has a lovely writing style and a very clear vision about character, plot and structure. I am absolutely sure that one day her published books will be gracing bookshelves alongside JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer and the likes.

Nearly twenty years ago, I attended adult classes in Creative Writing. As much as I loved being a stay at home mum, I liked that it got me out of the house one evening a week and away from what was an unfulfilling marriage. I chose creative writing only because the class was at a convenient time and location and a preferred option over Conversational French.

The course did present me with something of a challenge. At school I was always more inclined towards science than the arts. I would find solving a maths problem far more enjoyable than writing an essay. Here I was with a bunch of people who all thought they had the next bestseller waiting to burst forth from their eager writing implements, all just wanting to be nudged in a direction they had already decided upon. I came to the class without any expectations and certainly had no idea for a book of any description. I focussed on short stories which I used mostly as a vehicle to flirt with the teacher. It never felt like serious writing, it was playing, having fun.

Encouraged by my teacher, I did submit one of my flirtatious works to a new women's magazine who were looking for erotic fiction. I received a very positive response  from Isabel Kaprowski, the launch editor, who said that she liked my writing style but needed something longer and with more plot line and if I were to submit such a thing she would be very interested.

I don't know what it was that stopped me. Maybe it was because my unhappy marriage eroded what little confidence I had or maybe it was because I never really felt like a 'writer', an impostor in that class of authorial wannabes. Whatever the reason, I never followed up my invitation to submit a longer story despite writing a couple that fit the remit. Had I done so and achieved any sort of success my life could have taken a very different path. If I had chosen Conversational French over Creative Writing in the first instance, I might never have written a word but enjoyed more holidays abroad. Life is so full of crossroads and choices it doesn't really pay to start considering the 'what ifs'.

I didn't do much else in the way of writing after that apart from some academic essays for a Foundation Degree Course in Teaching and Learning that I did a few years ago. The course itself didn't excite me much but I found that I did love the essay writing - the satisfaction of placing the final full stop. The desire to commit words to paper (real or electronic) was in part what lead me to blogging.

I have a niece who this year has started a University course in English Literature. She also like to write. The majority of what she writes seems to fall under the category of FanFiction which my daughters have dabbled in but I find mostly annoying (call me boring but I prefer to see characters handled by their original creators). The FanFic sites on the internet do, however,  provide an audience - a readership - and ultimately the aim for the written word is that it be read (a truth that eluded me when I failed to submit my stories for publication). When I was writing, the release of Windows 98 and the internet explosion was still over half a decade away.

I asked my niece if she had any original works for me to read and she sent me a link to a story that she had entered for a writing competition. I know she has a lot of devoted followers of her Fan fiction who are full of praise for her but I am not the sort of person that gives praise lightly. I look for the good in things but I'm not afraid to give my honest opinion. My niece is ambitious, she has a good command of the language and some lovely ideas but I felt that her story, which dealt with a sexual encounter between two women, suffered a bit from a lack of worldly wisdom and maturity and the ideas were never explored quite enough to give you any real insight into the characters. I am hoping that she takes my criticism as positive and comes back with a new story to blow me away.

It was reading this story that made me think about my own dusty manuscripts, and filled with a sense of affection for my youthful incarnation, decided to dig them out. I was only able to lay my hands on the original erotic story I had sent to the women's magazine along with the response. Yellowed, typewritten paper and rusty staples held a little piece of my personal history and connected me to it.

Owing to the fact that my two year old is a little poorly and consequently unusually demanding, it has taken me practically the whole day to write this blog entry. This does not bode well for any fantasies I might have of resurrecting my fiction writing, erotic or otherwise. But you never know....

Monday, 1 November 2010

Veil Between Worlds

31st October - Hallowe'en - the time of year when the veil between worlds is thinnest. A time for spooky fun!!

With Ivy home from Uni, my sister in law and her family visiting, my sister and her family and my eldest daughter and her other half coming over, we made up quite an impressive Hallowe'en party guest list.

I seemed to spend a lot of time cooking but I love that and inspired by my new Lily Vanilli  'Zombie Ate My Cupcake' recipe book, I created some fun spooky themed cakes.

Everybody entered into the spirit of things dressing up as a whole range of creepy characters from traditional vampires, witches, werewolves, and frankenstein's monster to the more off the wall zombie celebrities, sewn together rag doll and mad doctor.

I had won a lovely Hallowe'en Tutu kit from Summerland which I set my girls the challenge of making for my 2 yr old who was flatly refusing to wear any of the fancy dress items I had for her. The tutu turned out beautifully but still was not enough to entice my little one so I ended up wearing it as a rather glamorous bustle. The colours were gorgeous and were a perfect match for my shoes.

I thoroughly enjoy entertaining - making sure everbody is well fed and there are plenty of activities for anyone who might be interested - but the down side of having a house full it is that it can be hard to keep a proper eye on my two young ones. The baby isn't much of a bother. Being only 4months old he stays where I put him and there are usually plenty of volunteers to hold him. The two year old is a slightly different matter.

I was busy in the kitchen when I heard a commotion and realised that a mishap had befallen my rather adventurous little girl. She had been clambering on the leather chairs in my study, slipped off and landed in a heap on her head. The room is carpeted so the landing was not as bad as it could have been in one of my tiled rooms. When I arrived on the scene she was crying in her big sister's arms. I took this as a good sign - at least she wasn't unconscious. I whisked her away from the gathering crowd, into my well lit kitchen to assess any damage. That was when I saw the blood. She must have just caught the edge of the big oak desk in my study as she fell. The wound to her scalp was probably only a 5mm gash but head wounds really know how to bleed. Her very fair hair  accentuated the crimson liquid flowing from the hole and dripping down her face.

I had visions of a long wait in casualty and a frightened child subjected to examination and treatment by unfamiliar people but we were spared this outcome. The cut was horrible but really quite small. The bleeding slowed down then stopped really quite quickly. The tears were forgotten with the offer of a lollypop. The party atmosphere re-established itself.

Our day continued with pumpkin carving, veggie food, fireworks, marshmallow toasting and much jollity but it was hard for me to look at all the fake blood used in the fancy dress without being reminded of my precious little girl and what could have been a horrible accident.

The veil between my world of fun, laughter and my family safe and happy and a world I don't even want to acknowledge was certainly thin this day.
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