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Last weekend I did something I haven’t done in a very long time. (No sniggering.)

I went to Boots with a disposable camera that Belle took on school camp about a year ago. Two days later and £4.99 poorer we had one of those cardboard wallets containing 24 negatives, 3 half decent pictures and 21 snaps of the sky/blurry thumbs/close up faces that were unrecognisable.

Those were the days weren’t they?

*sighs nostalgically in that ridiculous way that old people do when they are remembering something that was clearly much lower quality than what we have today*

Nowadays of course it’s all phones. How many photos did you take on your phone last month do you reckon? 50? 100 maybe? 200 if you spend a lot of time around cute babies or attractively styled cakes? I had a quick browse and have taken pictures of things I would never have wasted a disposable camera shot on, like jars of biscuit spread and my restuffed teddy in a pair of new dungarees, giving you a glimpse into just how rock and roll my life is right now.* Read more

The morning after the night before

On Sunday night I had a date. My first date in nearly four years. You’d think then that I would have been nervous, but when it came to it, I really wasn’t.

I’m not going to say anything bad about my date – he wasn’t a hairy mole twiddler or anything, just a perfectly nice, ordinary man. What I wanted to talk about instead was how waiting at the pub at 8pm on Sunday, I realised how much I have changed in the last few years, since the last time I tried my hand at dating.

People are always saying that confidence in just an act, that if you are nervous about talking to new people, all you have to do is pretend not to be, and no one will ever know the difference. Well, it seems that over the last few years I’ve had a lot of practice at chatting to strangers – networking at blogging conferences, hosting workshops, delivering training, allowing my brains to be picked numerous times over coffee and cake – and it has paid off. Turns out I am pretty awesome at it.*

Coffee

Now I’m not saying I was a dream date, but I wasn’t scared at all and like to think I contributed to us both enjoying a very pleasant evening, regardless of whether or not there was any romantic spark. I asked questions, maintained eye contact and tried not to be too boastful (apart from during the ten minutes after my one and only glass of wine when it went to my head a little and I somehow dropped my degree prize into the conversation.**)

The date then, although not tummy churning, was a hugely positive experience and left me feeling good about myself not least because I felt we had been able to put each other at ease and enjoy an evening that wasn’t as awkward as a first date can often be. My confidence was further boosted in the morning when at 8am he sent me a text.

“You are quite an inspirational person,” he said. “Your drive and fearlessness of the unknown and willingness to take a chance is pretty amazing.”

I had the biggest smile on my face. Where I might see the choices I have made in my life as a little foolish and flighty, pretend hard enough and people will believe anything.

*And oh so modest.

**You see? Modest.

The one where I go on my first date in nearly four years

It would be fair to say it has been a pretty turbulent few months for me.

A break up, the subsequent move to a new town, new schools – it’s been more, quite frankly, than it appears I am able to cope with. My new therapist calls it ‘needing to build up my internal resources’, which I think essentially means that I am a bit feeble and not very good at stopping crying once I start. The therapy is perhaps another blog post.

Over the last couple of weeks though I have reached the point where I simply have to stop crying, or I will turn into a shrivelled prune of a woman, and so I have been forced to evaluate my life a little, implement some changes and think about moving on.

Part of this plan is the new therapist (plenty of scope here for amusing anecdotes in the future I feel sure) and part of it has been work related. I have come to the conclusion that after five years of self-employment, long hours, relentless tweeting and sponsored holidays, that I need a rest.

‘First world problems!’ you might well yell at the screen. ‘Poor you having to tweet from your free holiday!’ And fair enough, I’m not saying I’m not incredibly privileged and haven’t had some great blog related opportunities over the last few years, but sometimes you do need to switch off for a little while, even if that means you are just at home on your own with an Inspector Morse book.

I’m hoping that a break will give me the chance to really think about how I want to move forward and to appreciate the things I love about work, rather than simply feeling overwhelmed. I want to reconnect too with my blog and make it more personal. Lucky you.

The other thing then is men.

Truth be told, as much as I tout the gin-swilling, independent single mummy status, I actually quite like being in a relationship. I like knowing that someone else is thinking about me and having someone to think about, I like having someone to tell stuff about my day to, I like seeing a news story or funny thing in a shop and thinking ‘Ooh, so and so would like that’ and telling them about it. And damn it, I like someone bringing me a cup of tea in bed. That’s not much to ask is it?

So, tonight I have a date. My first date in nearly four years.

It’s something I am making myself do, regardless of whether or not I feel totally ready, to just get myself back out there, meeting new people. I don’t have to marry anyone or anything, it’s just a drink, and I’m certainly not anticipating anyone bringing me that cup of tea any time soon. If nothing else though it is a reason to tame my neglected eyebrows, which have become distinctly professorial of late.

eyebrows

I know it is going to feel strange and possibly sad, but I can’t just sit and wait for something that is never going to happen, I have to make myself look to the future instead, however unsettling it may feel. And if nothing else, it might give me something hilarious to write about tomorrow.

Wish me luck!

Free loom bands for all!

Alright, not all exactly, but for new Top Cashback members at least. Let me explain…

Belle, like every other child in the UK right now, is obsessed with loom bands. She spent an entire month’s pocket money on a proper kit, with bands arranged by colour into separate compartments, (which did look ace), and she even managed to recoup some of her costs by selling the finished bracelets at a craft fair. She is like a mini Alan Sugar without the beard.

And then I saw this on YoutTube:

*gasp*

And there was me thinking it was just bracelets.

As dedicated loom banders then, (is that a word? Like a Directioner?), it seems only fitting that we were asked to share this special loom band offer.

Claiming your free loom band kit is easy and is also a great way to test out at first hand how Top Cashback works. Click on the image below and the page will look like this. As you can see, the rest is set out for you, all nice and easy. All you have to do is sign up for a new account, buy your loom bands, and then claim the cash back again.  Read more

If food prices had risen with house inflation + my plan to become a homeowner

I have done a brave and possibly over-ambitious thing.

I have added ‘buy a house’ to my list of 40 things to do before I’m 40.

Now I should say here, before you worry I am going to rush out and buy something stupid, Homes Under The Hammer style, that I have three years and 10 months to go before I’m 40, but still; as we speak I have just about zero pounds in savings and no wealthy yet elderly relatives, so I’m going to need a Sensible Plan.

To be honest I had half resigned myself to never being able to afford a house, but surely one of the upsides to living in Taunton has to be the fact that I’m saving money on rent? Add to this the fact that I’m working more than ever – a dual consequence of no longer having Boyfriend to moderate my ‘just say yes’ reflex and also wanting to fill my time with things other than moping – and really there is no reason why owning a house shouldn’t be at least plausible.

It’s not going to be easy though. In fact, it could well be that by the time I have saved up, my savings won’t be enough any more. As the  infographic from Totally Money at the bottom of this post shows, house prices have risen over the years at a pace that’s almost impossible to keep up with.

I do have some ideas, but I’m not sure how effective they are going to be:

  • Stop going to cafes just because I am bored at home and want to work in Starbucks. (Never going to happen.)
  • Stop getting take away just because I can’t be bothered to cook up some crap from the freezer. (See brackets above.)
  • Cancel my cleaner. (Come on now – do you want me to live in filth?)
  • Hire out Belle for babysitting/chimney sweeping etc. (Note to self – is this legal?)
  • Rent out Bee’s rooms to students during term time. (Possible – but potentially embarrassing when I am roaming the house naked in the middle of the night looking for snacks.)

You see? It’s hard. Perhaps I will just have a little muffin and cappuccino while I think about it some more.

Do you have any house buying or saving tips? Read more

My new house, part two, or the one with the chalk paints

As you’re a bit of a nosy lot, and seemed to like the pictures of my new house that I posted recently, I thought I would give you a bit of an update after my weekend decorating shenanigans.

I was a very busy girl this weekend. I put up shelves, (which in my defence are parallel to the ceiling so if they look wonky it’s the ceiling’s fault), built a tall bathroom cabinet, painted reclaimed bar stools and hung about 726 pictures. I literally have a blister on my hand from all the screwing, and it wasn’t even the fun kind.

One project though that I’m particularly proud of is our chalk paint picture frames. Belle has been keen since we moved in for me to hang her pictures up in a collage in her bedroom, but I don’t for a minute think she imagined I would get round to it before Christmas. I have a habit of getting an idea, spending money on all the equipment, and then doing nothing except say ‘I really must do something with that’ every time I walk past the pile of flower pots/paint/old bits of crap I have found in the street.

This time though I took action!

I dragged Belle out on her crutches to a lovely chalk paint shop in Wellington and we stocked up on a few different colours. We then sat out until about 10pm on Saturday in our handy car port, washing, painting and waxing. Seriously, whoever gets to date me next is going to be a lucky, lucky man who will have to work hard to keep up with my fast paced lifestyle.

On Sunday then came the moment of truth – would we be able to create fabulous looking photo collages or would it look like The Chuckle Brothers had attempted an art project sat on a concrete floor in semi-darkness?

I will let you be the judge.

Belle's bedroom chalk paint collage

Photo collage with chalk paint

What crafty projects have you been up to lately?

4 budgeting tips for single parents

I’ve spent a lot of money over the last few months. Partly it has been the classic ‘I’m sad about breaking up so I’m going to buy some pretty wine glasses’ type of spending, but also there has been a fair amount of eating out because I don’t want to cook and trips to the cinema because I want to entertain Belle but also want to sit quietly in the dark for two hours.

Budgeting as a single parent generally is tricky on several levels.

Firstly there is the fact that you only have one income. Dur, obviously that’s tricky. You have to basically spend the same as if you were a two-parent family though, because you have to live in a proper house and have a TV licence and pay bills and what not.

Secondly, and the bit I actually find hardest, is that you end up solely responsible for entertainment. You can’t tag team the amusements so that one of you can have a nice lie down with a book while the other one attempts wholesome craft activities, and it all ends up feeling a bit intense. As a result, I often resort to the aforementioned cinema trips and other outings that dilute the feelings of responsibility a little but that inevitably cost money.

Thirdly, you basically have no time to do anything and the fact there is no one to research car insurance prices for you makes you cry, and then you have to play patience on your phone for a little while to calm down, get distracted and forget to pay the credit card bill. (This last bit could just be me.) Read more

How to create the illusion of control (emotionally and in your cupboards) + win Anthea Turner NEAT storage goodies

I’ve been in my new house now for a couple of weeks and things are looking pretty good. In fact, they looked pretty good after just a few days.

I fear that this initial impressive level of organisation though may all have been an illusion. For starters, I pretended when I moved out of the old house to forget about the attic. I also casually brushed aside the thought of the cupboard under the stairs, so when I went back a week later to do the handover I had to stuff another entire load of crap into the car before I could give the landlord back his keys.

When I then arrived back at the new house then, I had nowhere to put it.

Opps.

I squeezed it in though. No one will ever know. Read more

How long should you wait before you have sex with a new partner?

It’s a good question.

Should kids have their criminal records wiped clean at 18 if the crimes were non-violent?

Hmm, tricky.

What exactly does Mr Tumble keep in his spotty bag?

I dread to think.

It’s questions like these that we are asking every week in my Beamly TV chat room.

Beamly Slummy single mummy room

Read more

Introducing the NISA (That’s the New ISA, not the convenience store)

I have an ISA. I got it a couple of years ago and it made me feel like a proper grown-up lady. I use it to save up money for my tax bill, but as I am not very good at minimising my tax liability, I normally end up hitting my ISA limit before I had saved up enough. This made me feel less grown-up and more like I probably should be managing my finances better, keeping track of expenses and not just putting random receipts into a small box in the shape of a treasure chest.

I won’t be hitting the limits this year though! (Although the treasure chest receipt box is still a thing.)

New ISA

Good news for me in the last budget was that from July 1st 2014 (that’s Tuesday if you can believe it, Christmas decorations at the ready…) the cash ISA limit will no longer be £5,940. Instead the limits on cash ISAs and stocks and shares ISAs are going to be combined, meaning you can invest up to £15,000 per year in total, split however you like between the two.

Even better is that existing ISAs will automatically be converted, great news for me as I haven’t even done things like tell my gas company that I have moved yet. Converting an ISA is just never going to happen.

(Before anyone starts tutting me I have done opening and closing meter readings, just not actually done anything with them yet.)

The changes bring lots of benefits and should mean the whole thing is much simpler. I found it tricky enough remembering the limit of £5,940 – £15,000 is a much nicer number. If however you’re still not entirely clear on what the changes might mean for your savings then Scottish Friendly have put together this short video that sets everything out very clearly.

If you want to find out more about Scottish Friendly you can follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

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