During the last couple of weeks, while I’ve swung between a melancholic questioning of the meaning of life, looking nervously each way before getting out of the car at Tesco incase there are zombies lurking in the trolley park and, at my best, feeling a mild sense of calm as I sit quietly in a chair reading murder mysteries, there is one thing in which I have found solace – the words of Gwyneth Paltrow.

Ha!

Have I buggery.

The woman is an absolute nightmare. Not content with trying to have us all believe that what we definitely need in our bathroom cabinets is some of her psychic vampire repellent protection mist or pubic hair fur oil, (both actual things), now she’s offering up her wisdom when it comes to dealing with coronavirus and social isolation. According to Gwyneth we’re just looking at this whole global pandemic all wrong. Rather than worrying about the potential deaths of millions of the people, the pressure on the NHS, the safety of our loved ones, or generally our own sanity, we should be seeing this time as an opportunity.

Of course! An opportunity! Why didn’t I see that? Perhaps it was hidden behind the mass grief, who knows.

Gwyneth reckons we should be using our time to ‘write a book, learn an instrument or a language or learn to code online, draw or paint.’

Okay, fine, I get that it’s a good thing if you can perhaps distract yourself a little from the myriad unknowns and crippling loneliness, but personally I’m finding that the easiest way to do this right now is by listening to old episodes of Just a Minute at a discreet volume, whilst eating Wotsits and staring out of the window. I’m working up to a jigsaw, but I’m not quite there yet.

This may change of course, I’m sure I’ll adjust to living under lockdown, but right now if I felt like I was expected to casually pick up a French horn for an hour or so every day then it might just to me over the edge.

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The last couple of weeks have been really bloody weird, and they’re only set to get weirder both societally and in my head. Today for instance, I thought about cleaning out the U-bend under my kitchen sink, as it’s been smelly for weeks, (and by weeks I mean years), but then I decided I was going to save it as a treat, so I didn’t use all the activities up all at once.

A treat! Honestly, I worry about myself sometimes.

I am doing other things to keep myself busy at home though, things that actually feel relaxing, like catching up on reading and getting through my backlog of interiors magazines. I do find interiors a really lovely escapism, so when FURCO got in touch this week to see if I fancied writing a piece about modern interiors, I thought it might be a nice distraction. FURCO is an online furniture superstore that’s a one stop shop for everything for the home – beds, sofas, dining, the lot. Have a browse of their full collection at https://www.furco.co.uk/.

For anyone else who fancies escaping from the world for a bit via the medium of coral pink velvet sofas, I thought I’d share some of my interiors related Pinterest boards. In fact ‘organise Pinterest boards’ should probably go on my list of activity ideas, for once I’ve indulged myself in the joy that is the U-bend.

Living coral interiors

Okay, so living coral was the Pantone colour of the year last year, but it’s one of my favourites and I think it’s so beautiful in a home, either on the walls or in the soft furnishings. You’ll notice this board features more than one coral pink squishy velvet sofa. The DREAM sofa.

Vibrant living rooms

My house surprises me sometimes. My walls are all fairly neutral and I’ve done very little painting since I moved in – just the chimney breast in the living room and one wall of my bedroom, which I painted a dark teal. It surprises me because whenever I cut things out of magazines that I like, or make Pinterest boards for living spaces, they are always about colour and patterns and textures. Oh and lots of velvet sofas. I honestly don’t know why I’ve never just bought a velvet sofa.

Conservatory goals

Before coronavirus, back when I had a decent regular income and could picture the future, I thought a lot about a conservatory. My neighbour has one on the back of their house and I’m kind of envious about all the extra space it gives them. I would love to have a room with doors that opened out onto the garden and space to properly go to town on my plant obsession, and that’s what this Pinterest board is all about.

If you could design your dream interior, or pick that one piece of furniture you’ve also wanted in your home, what would it look like? Leave a comment and let me know!

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My mum told me yesterday that she doesn’t think I know how to worry properly.

It was because I’d been telling her that one of my main worries about the coronavirus was zombies. Zombies or perhaps man-eating plants. ‘I don’t care how much toilet paper I have,’ I said, ‘the most stressful thing about going to the supermarket is getting out of the car and expecting to see the undead shuffle out of the trolley park.’

‘I absolutely promise you,’ she said, ‘that there will not be any zombies.’

‘That’s exactly what they say at this point in the books,’ I pointed out, in what felt like a completely reasonable way, ‘but then the virus mutates and suddenly your shrubs are trying to eat you in the night.’

‘I think perhaps that you’re not used to worrying,’ said my mum, ‘and that you’re not sure how to process it. I don’t think it’s really about zombies.’

She might be right.

Whereas my sister, in her own words, has been ‘prepping for this moment her whole life’, emotionally at least, (although they do also always have more than a normal amount of pasta at home), I have not. Anxiety has historically not been my ‘thing’ and I prefer to waft through life unconcerned by external events or health concerns. Over the last year or so though, maybe age, maybe the midlife unravelling, I’d already started to notice odd niggles about things taking root – a needless trip to the optician because my eyes ‘don’t feel right’ here, a cry over the pointlessness of life there. I’ve felt slightly off my game for a while and coronavirus feels like it could be the thing that tips me over the edge.

25 years of reading dystopian fiction has left me with an ingrained fear of things like viruses, over which we appear to have so little control. It feels scary to me because it’s unpredictable, it could be anywhere and because we don’t know how to kill it.

Just like zombies. View Post

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In the past I’ve had a pretty laissez-faire attitude to parenting.

It’s not that I don’t care, (she types carefully, just for the record), it’s more that my priority is for my children to do something that makes them happy and that they enjoy, rather than being one of those parents who forces their kids into ballet and violin lessons at age three and plays Mozart to the them in the womb.

If anything, you could say I have a tendency to be too hands off, and that the lack of discipline in my nature has left them sometimes feeling a bit at sea when it comes to having support with big life choices. Or maybe not, who knows – you’d have to ask them I guess.

You wouldn’t think though that, when it came to educational choices, I’d have a particularly strong opinion, so it’s always felt rather out of character for me that when Bee voiced a desire to do ‘BTEC Babies’ after she finished school, I was more than a little discouraging. (It wasn’t actually called BTEC Babies, we just call it that whenever Bee brings it up as an example of my failings as a parent, and it has kind of stuck.)

T Levels

Post-16 Bee thinking wistfully about what life might have been like if I’d let her do BTEC Babies

I’m ashamed to say that there was definitely an element of snobbery behind me telling her she’d be much better off doing A Levels. I could remember so clearly being that age and the stigma attached to BTECs – they were very much seen at the time, at least by my friends, as something you did if you weren’t clever enough to take the ‘proper’ academic route. I was also concerned that by not doing A Levels she’d be limiting herself in terms of what else she might be able to do. Essentially I didn’t see the value in a vocational qualification.

How wrong I was.

As university fees have soared, and the graduate job market becomes increasingly competitive, school leavers are looking for different routes into work, routes that let them continue their studies at the same time as getting useful, real world experience. While A Levels continue to be a popular choice, apprenticeships have staged an impressive comeback over recent years, with opportunities up to degree level, and attitudes towards technical qualifications generally have definitely shifted. Loads of the parents I speak to nowadays are encouraging their kids to think outside the A Level box and explore different options post-GCSEs.

One of these options is T Levels. View Post

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untold stories slummy single mummy

Today’s anonymous contribution to Untold Stories is, sadly, not an uncommon one. It’s all about that time after a birth of a baby when you’re meant to be living as a happy family and yet somehow it doesn’t always work like that. It’s a massively tough time for even the strongest of relationships and if there are any cracks at all, it’s now that they can begin to show. If you’ve had a similar experience and have come out the other side I would love you to leave an encouraging comment. Or maybe you came out the other side and it didn’t look exactly how you thought it would look? Please do leave a comment and share your story. (Names have been changed.)

….

Anonymous

Hate feels like a strong word but I don’t honestly know how else to describe it. What is it called when you lie in bed next to someone while they sleep and all you can feel towards them is resentment and bitterness?

I haven’t always felt like this about my husband. We met when we were 24 and married five years later. For all that time we were perfectly happy. Okay, so not perfectly, but we were a normal amount of happy. We both had jobs we loved, friends with whom we did all the things that twenty somethings are meant to do – boozy brunches, Sunday lunches, all of that. At weekends we sometimes lay in, sometimes we went away. We had disposable income. We were tired sometimes, but the kind of tiredness that comes from fun nights out and work projects that you feel passionately about. It was the sort of tired that you don’t mind because you know there will be chance to catch up at the weekend. It didn’t seem to matter who put out the bin as long as it happened at some point.

Then when I was 32 we had a baby. I’ve always wanted a family, we both have. We were excited about it. We went to all of the classes, did all the research. We felt ready. It turns out I was really not ready. View Post

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About a month ago I had what might possibly have been the worst cold sore that any human being has ever had.

Okay, that’s a bit of and exaggeration, but it was definitely the worst cold sore that I’ve ever had. I don’t get them that often, and didn’t get any at all until I was in my 30s, but when they strike they go all out, guns blazing.

I do what I can, smearing them liberally with cold sore cream as soon as I feel the tingle, but they laugh in my face. Literally in my face, because that’s what so horrible about cold sores isn’t it? They are RIGHT THERE. You can’t escape from them, or hide them. It’s not like when you were a teenager – you can’t wear a casual white polo neck under your school shirt like you might to hide a dodgy love bite. (Hypothetically.)

Every single time you talk to someone your cold sore wiggles about, drawing attention to itself. Mine take so long to go away too because my tongue obsesses over them, poking and prodding even though I tell it not too. They’re horrible things and anything that could help to get rid of them quicker, or even stop them appearing at all, has got to be worth a try hasn’t it?

That’s why I agreed to write a post about HERPOthermView Post

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different parenting styles

When it comes to parenting, how much are you influenced by your own parents? Maybe you had a happy childhood that you long to replicate with your own family or perhaps, like today’s anonymous contributor, the opposite is true. This anonymous post looks at one parent’s relationship with her own mother and how this is impacted on not only her own parenting style but on her whole life.

By anon.

My childhood was not a happy one. I’m not talking anything major, like abuse or poverty, but when I was growing up and when I look back now as an adult, it wasn’t enjoyable. My memories are not golden. There were no holidays in the sun or opening a bounty of much desired Christmas presents. Instead I remember feeling that I was second best, not a priority, someone who was in the way, an inconvenience.

I left home as soon as I could, and vowed that I would do everything I could to not let my children feel the way I did. They would grow up knowing that they were the most important thing in my life and were loved unconditionally, whatever path they took.

My mum has a hobby which takes up a lot of her time on a daily basis – horses. It’s not just about time at the weekends but a full on, sometimes twice a day hobby. My mum worked part time, not to fit in the school runs, but to spend time with the horses. I would be shipped off to the childminder every day, and inevitably picked up late. Some days it was OK, the childminder had two children of her own that I could play with, but as we grew older, we all grew apart. I felt like a spare part in their home, someone who had to be tolerated for the income I generated. View Post

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I’ve had the full spectrum when it comes to kids and sleep. Bee was sleeping in a cot, 12 hours a night, from six weeks old. Belle, on the other hand, was not. She woke many MANY times a night for years, slept in my bed until she was two and a half and only finally slept through the night when she started school, aged four.

Lack of sleep was a permanent feature of my twenties.

Falling asleep continued to be an issue for her throughout childhood, and I’ve spent many an evening sitting on the floor next to her bed in the dark, Googling things like ‘how to sleep better’ and ‘foods that help you sleep’, desperate to find the one sleep hack that would make the difference.

how to help kids sleep better

Unfortunately, when it comes to how to fall asleep there isn’t normally one miracle cure, especially with kids. While small things like essential oils for sleep and calming sleep music can play a part, sleep is a much bigger picture and you need to think about everything from how much exercise your child is getting during the day to choosing the best mattress and bedding. 

Here are four things to consider when it comes to helping your child sleep better.  View Post

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Question: do you like getting FREE MONEY?

What do you mean no? Hush. You’re just being awkward because you know it’s a leading question. Nobody actually wants to go out of their way to spend more money than they need to do they? If you could get exactly the same product and it cost you £100 or £90 then you’d go for the £90 wouldn’t you?

Right. Thank you.

That’s essentially what cashback is – getting the exact same product you were going to buy anyway, but getting some money back when you buy it.

There are quite a few cashback opportunities around already, from cashback credit cards and offers through your bank account to dedicated websites curating cashback deals. It’s great to have options and you definitely don’t have to restrict yourself. You might use a cashback credit card when you go to the supermarket for instance, but then choose a cashback website like Widilo to look for offers before you shop online.

‘Widilo you say?’

Yep. Widilo is one of the new kids on the UK cashback block. They’ve been a leading cashback destination in France for a while already, and are now coming to the UK offering cashback offers and discounts across thousands of brands.

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Do you remember last week how I expounded on the virtues of frozen herbs and showed you how to cook a cherry and thyme clafoutis?

(I KNOW! Cherry and THYME! Herbs in a dessert. I’m such a renegade. I should probably write a groundbreaking recipe book right now.)

Gluten free cherry clafoutis with thyme

It was because I’d just been to that Darégal cooking workshop and was all of a flutter about how frozen herbs were going to change my life. I’d basically decided, watching the Darégal chef make those amazing mussels in coconut milk, that from now on I was going to be the ultimate domestic goddess, conjuring up flavourful home cooked meals at least twice a day. It was only because I hadn’t had frozen herbs in my life until that point that I cooked so many chicken dippers. But now… now my freezer was full of chopped garlic and coriander and ginger and the world was my oyster.

CHANGE WAS COMING.

Okay, so I have cooked some chicken dippers since then, but Belle honestly does love them. She’s like a toddler really in many ways – give her a plate of chicken dippers, some ketchup and the TV remote and she’s happy.

I don’t think that you need to necessarily choose though between being a culinary herb wizard and eating chicken dippers. I’m a complex woman after all, I have LAYERS. Some days I’m a chicken dippers kind of a gal, other days I’m cooking myself a prawn and coconut curry for lunch just because I can.

And very nice it was too.

easy prawn and coconut curry recipe View Post

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Do you remember a while back when I had that revelation about frozen chopped onions? At the time I called it a ‘landmark in my culinary life’, which was a bold statement, but then judging by the tone of the rest of the post I was perhaps going through a bit of an intense time – there’s a slight manic quality to the way I try to get Belle involved in the risotto – perhaps frozen onions really did feel life changing?

It had come on the back of me discovering all of those unusual frozen foods I never knew existed, so I was probably still a bit hyped from that. One of the foods that made that list was frozen herbs, which is what I want to talk to you about today, so get comfy.

Picture the scene for a moment, if you will. You’re cooking a new recipe and it has a long list of ingredients – garlic, ginger, coriander maybe. You’re feeling unusually enthusiastic about cooking so you embrace it and buy a packet of fresh coriander. Maybe you get carried away and buy one of the more expensive plants, thinking it’s just what you need to inspire you to cook fresh curries every day.

‘This coriander plant is going to change my life,’ you think to yourself, ‘who knows what kind of person I can be with this on my kitchen windowsill! It will be like the frozen onions all over again!’

Fast forward a week and you’re eating chicken dippers and chucking the dead coriander plant in the bin, or scrapping the coriander mush out of the vegetable drawer of the fridge. Ah well. Next time.

Great news for you my culinary friend! You don’t have to be that person any more. You don’t have to skip over the herbs in recipes because of the shame of that moment in the future – you CAN have your coriander and eat it! You just need to buy FROZEN HERBS.

I had this frozen onion style moment of inspiration at a cooking even I went to last week with a French company called Darégal, who are the world experts in culinary herbs. You probably won’t have heard of them, and you don’t need to look out for them in the freezer section as in the UK they provide herbs to restaurants, manufacturers and supermarkets to use in their own meals and products, rather than being their own consumer brand. Go into pretty much any supermarket – Iceland, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda or M&S – and their frozen herbs with have come from Darégal.

They also make frozen garlic, chilli and ginger – all things that I end up either skipping in recipes because I can’t be faffed, or chucking away loads of a week later.

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One of my favourite times of the week is a weekend morning, when Belle is still asleep and I’m alone with the cats, pottering.

Pottering is great isn’t it? I get the Archers omnibus on and I potter about doing all the crappy jobs I’ve been putting off for weeks like recharging the hoover battery and finally dealing with the Christmas tree on the back patio. (This one is currently aspirational.)

This weekend I potted up the avocado stone I’ve FINALLY managed to get to sprout after about eight failed attempts over the course of several years, which was very satisfying, and then to balance it out I threw away two other dead plants. That’s the circle of life for you, right there.

I also like to do a bit of light cooking when I’m pottering – something that I can nibble while I do my jobs. One of my favourite things to make is my ‘whatever’s in the fridge frittatas‘, partly because they’re tasty but also because it’s a useful way to clean out the fridge, which is another one of my favourite pottering pastimes.

This weekend, once the avocado stone was settled in, I thought I’d make some frittatas as a way to use up the cauliflower I’d had in the fridge for ages. I bought it with good intentions but you know, sometimes it’s hard to get around to eating a whole cauliflower, however positive you may feel about it at the time. I had a similar situation going on with a bag of spinach, which I’d bought to stir into a sweet potato curry that never happened, so that went in too.

cauliflower cheese mini frittatas

On reflection, I think they needed something sweeter to balance the flavours a bit better, (I dipped them in BBQ sauce, which wasn’t ideal), so in the recipe I’ve added the option of peas or cherry tomatoes, which I think would lift the frittatas nicely. View Post

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