Advertisement feature in partnership with tlevels.gov.uk

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Maybe you had a clear idea and knew exactly the path to follow, or perhaps you didn’t have much of a clue or felt uninspired by the choices available to you post-16?

Here’s me, still thinking about it. 42 isn’t too old right? There’s still time to decide? (Fingers crossed.)

T Levels

When I was making my choices post GCSE I didn’t really feel like it WAS much of a choice to be honest, you just picked the three A Levels that you thought you might enjoy the most and got on with it – French, German and maths in my case. I didn’t choose my A Levels with a particular career in mind and they didn’t offer me any opportunities to gain any real world experience or practical skills that employers might need, unless I was looking for a job where I had to give a three minute presentation about Francois Mitterrand, which seems unlikely.

At the time though it felt like A Levels were the only option.

Not any more.

Teenagers finishing their GCSEs nowadays have more options than ever before, (something I’m not sure I appreciated when Bee was 16, which I wrote about here), from more and more A Level subjects through to apprenticeships and vocational qualifications. As of this September there’s a brand new kid on campus too – T Levels.

If you have a child currently studying for GCSEs then you’re going to want to know about T Levels, so I’m here to answer some of your questions. View Post

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A friend asked me recently what my favourite thing is to do on my blog and I immediately showed her the pictures of the chocolate teacakes I had made the week before.

You know when you start to talk about something and you just kind of glow, and you know it’s something that makes you happy? I felt like that about the chocolate teacakes.

homemade chocolate teacakes

Although I don’t like the tedium of having to cook actual meals day in day out, I do love baking. I find it completely absorbing, I don’t think about anything else, my mind is focused on the weighing and measuring and pouring and mixing. I find I can get into a lovely, relaxed sort of trance state with baking, where I just waft around the kitchen in a cloud of flour, the world shrunk down to the size of a 9 inch cake tin.

It’s not even about eating it afterwards, (although I do eat a lot of mixture as a go – finger fulls of cake batter or melted chocolate and pinches of sweet biscuit dough), I just love the process.

I particularly enjoy recreating things that I know already, like when I made those homemade party rings, do you remember? Blimey, they turned out so much better than I ever thought they would. Or the homemade jammie dodgers? I was really pleased with those. View Post

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untold stories slummy single mummy

The last few months have been tough on the strongest of us. I’m not normally prone to anxiety, but coronavirus has hit me hard. Imagine dealing with a pandemic on top of a long term anxiety disorder and OCD. Then throw in leaving both of your children at university in a big city and going home to an empty nest. As you can imagine, things have not been easy lately for Jilly Mackenzie. I feel so honoured that she has chosen to share her experiences with us through my Untold Stories segment and that she feels courageous enough to share her name too. Please show Jilly some kindness and support by leaving a comment if you can. You can read more Untold Stories here.

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Today, I did the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I’ve had my share of really hard times, but this has just been the hardest day. Today was the day that I took my girls (20 and 18) to their student accommodation in Glasgow.

This year has definitely been hard on everyone, but two weeks ago, we had a totally unexpected event that just overwhelmed all of us. My eldest has been in a four-and-a-half year relationship with her boyfriend. A young man who we have loved as one of our own. But two weeks ago, after a short holiday with his parents, he ended the relationship via a text message (yes, you read that correctly, a text message). She was utterly blindsided, immediately came out in hives and within two days was on beta blockers and meds for a nasty IBS flare-up.

I watched my normally strong daughter turn into a completely heartbroken wreck.

I have felt so helpless watching her blame herself, sob herself to sleep, grapple with severe physical and emotional pain. There have been times that I’ve had to take myself off for a cry and also times I’ve had to restrain myself from turning up at his home and lecturing him about dumping her a week before they were meant to move back in together.

I have found the situation particularly hard as I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I also battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), bouts of depression and IBS (yes! I get all the fun). The unwelcome arrival of Covid-19 just about broke me – all my coping mechanisms fled from my brain like a crowd of shoppers fleeing from a single cough in a supermarket (I submitted an Untold Story here about my marriage during coronavirus, which will explain a bit more). View Post

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A couple of weeks ago, on what seemed liked a perfectly ordinary Friday, a miracle happened in my kitchen.

I got a cake to rise.

Everyone was surprised, not least me when I tried to take it out of the oven and realised it had risen into the shelf above it. I managed to untangle it though, and took it out without dropping it or it collapsing or anything, so we were all good.

I am notoriously bad at getting large cakes to rise. I don’t know why, I follow all the tips, but they just don’t like me. My Victoria sponges come always come out looking more like giant biscuits and for the girls’ birthdays I’ve been known to make several cakes and stack them all on top of each other, just to try and create a normal looking birthday cake.

This rapsberry and dark chocolate ricotta cake though, I don’t know what it was, but wow, it was the height of an ACTUAL cake. A baking miracle.

raspberry and chocolate ricotta cake recipe

Look at that! Proper chunky.

This cake is slightly different to cakes I’ve made before in that it’s made with a tub of ricotta. Not JUST ricotta obviously, we’re not playing sandcastles, just ricotta as an extra. The ricotta does make for a a very soft, moist sponge, so perhaps this helped with the rising? Who knows. I’ll be making it again, that’s for sure.

The lemon zest is only one lemon but it goes a long way and is the perfect balance to the richness and sweetness of the dark chocolate and raspberries, even if I do say so myself. I like the raspberries and the chocolate being on the top of the cake – I think it makes it look fancy. View Post

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As you will know by now, Belle and I love a mini break. Whether it’s a wet and windy December weekend in a vintage VW camper van on the Cornish coast* or a luxury boutique hotel in the Cotswolds, the theme is normally the same – some nice food, outings in the day that I generally enjoy more than Belle, and then snuggly evenings with a film or a murder mystery.

It’s not a bad format really, especially the outings, where I normally get to sneak in something like a model village or obscure wool museum. I imagine some parents of teenagers don’t manage to have quite as relaxed breaks as we do.

Our recent weekend away at Haven’s Littlesea Holiday Park on the Dorset coast did not disappoint. In fact, our caravan, if you can even call it that, was one of the nicest I’ve ever stayed in, and I have stayed in a LOT of caravans. I actually went as far as to double check the booking to see if it was actually a lodge, but no, definitely a caravan. It was a platinum caravan with a sea view, which is top of the range, but even so, very impressive.

The living and dining area was incredibly spacious, and had a proper three piece suite and dining table and chairs rather than the usual bench seating you get in a caravan. The kitchen was well equipped with a full-sized oven and fridge freezer, microwave, dishwasher and even a washing machine, which I’m not sure I’ve seen in a caravan before. I would have liked a cafetiere, but you can’t have anything I suppose.

Haven Littlesea View Post

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untold stories slummy single mummy

Divorce is down as one of the most stressful life events you can experience, but today’s contributor wants to reassure people that although it can be a heartbreaking and traumatic event, there are positives in divorce, and you will find happiness again. If you’ve been through a divorce I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

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“Getting divorced is absolute agony,” I was once advised by a friend, (who had the audacity to be in the middle of divorcing an actual vicar), “but the alternative is far worse. It’s like living with an gangrenous leg that you know you have to have chopped off: sometimes it feels that it might be easier to die slowly from the inevitable poisoning, but the brave accept that it needs hacking off so you can thrive again.”

Two decades later, I often thought of her advice when I was in the middle of my own, painful hacking off. The first nights when my children were at their father’s house I would have to close their bedroom doors because their flat, empty beds hurt so much. I shut the doors, boxing in that part of my life so I didn’t have to feel their absence. I felt full of doom when I told some of my older friends that my husband and I were separating, and they looked grave and said things like: “But what about your lovely children?” I felt that I was doing something awful, something unforgivable, hurling us all into a dark future.

Since then I’ve seen friends go through the same process. It’s so painful watching them go through their own personal severing, knowing I can’t do much to help other than to listen, to not judge, and to buy wine, fairy lights and other pretty things to adorn their new, fierce tiger-mother lairs.

But it’s not all agony. After everything is put asunder, there are some truly great up-sides to getting divorced: View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Competition Finder

Every so often I take a good look at Instagram and think to myself ‘what is it that I really want to see?’ We can all be guilty of that mindless scrolling, but if we’re going to get hypnotised it might as well be by pictures that fill us with joy right? For me that means colour, pattern, beautiful interiors and houseplants.

I bloody love houseplants. They’re one of the things that I think really makes a house a home, along with pictures and cats, obviously. I love looking at other people’s pictures of houseplants, and even better if they also have cats in them.

If you’re a plant lover and want to fill your Instagram feed with beautiful houseplant accounts then you’ve come to the right place. I’ve picked out seven of my favourite Instagram accounts for houseplant lovers, to help bring some green to your ‘gram.

To celebrate all things botanical, I’ve also teamed up with Competition Finder to bring you the chance to win £50 to spend on houseplants of your very own! Competition Finder is a brilliant one stop shop to help you find all of the latest competitions and giveaways, so if my competition gives you a taste for comping, do go and check out Competition Finder.

In my giveaway, one lucky winner will win £50 to spend on their favourite houseplants from Patch Plants. How cool would that be? New plant babies! As a nation, the recent enforced time at home has only fuelled our love of houseplants – Patch Plants has seen a massive 500% increase in sales over the period of lockdown, especially amongst plants popular on Instagram. ‘Rapunzel, the golden pothos continues to be our most popular houseplant,’ Patch Plants told me, ‘with 31,000 sold so far this year. Susie the Sansevieria and Big Ken the Kentia Palm also feature regularly in our top ten. Our Instagram following tend to opt for more exotic plants like Ray.’

So there you go houseplant fact fans.

For a chance to win £50 to spend on houseplants, you’ll need to read on to the end of the post. First up though, seven Instagram accounts for plant lovers… View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with ARK Skincare

I feel like the world is divided into two different types of people.

The first type – me – buys whatever shampoo is on special offer, slaps on a bit of moisturiser as a ‘skincare routine’ and considers scrapping a bit of dead skin off her feet with her fingernails in the bath a pedicure.

(Sorry.)

And then there’s the second type, (the non-grotty type), who actually takes a bit of care of themselves. The type of person, like Belle, who puts thought into what they put on their skin and loves nothing more than spending an evening giving me a top notch makeover.

ARK night cream

ARK Skincare

IMAGINE MY SURPRISE then, when a year or so ago I discovered a skincare range that I loved so much that I went out of my way to get more of it, even if it wasn’t on a half price offer.

I know! Me! The ‘feet in the bath’ woman!

This amazing ‘skincare range that makes me care about my skin’ is ARK, a vegan-friendly, cruelty free range especially developed to support skin at different stages of its life, with individual ranges for teens and 20s, 30s and 40s and 50+ skin. You can also shop by skin concern if you prefer, so if you struggle particularly with redness, sensitivity, oiliness, or anything like that, there’s a product for you. View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Hive home

When I was in my early teens, maybe younger, I had a vision of myself as an adult. I can remember it so clearly, even now. It was just a few seconds, a snapshot of what I imagined my life would be like.

The vision involved me arriving home from work on a Friday evening and opening the door to my swanky looking flat, where I lived alone. I can picture the key, turning in the lock. I never knew what job I was arriving home from, I never even got as far as going inside, but I do know that I was wearing a pencil skirt and a silk blouse and high heeled shoes. Clearly in my mind that’s what being a grown up woman was all about.

As things turned out the reality of my life is pretty far from the vision – I’ve never lived alone, I work from home, and I particularly dislike silk. (I don’t know what it is, I’m just not keen on the feel of it.)

What has always struck me most about that vision is the symbolism of the transition between work and home. I never really knew where I’d been, or what happened when I opened the door, but there was something about that moment, the emotional switch from work to home.

Spending more time at home over the last few months has been tough at times, and I’ve definitely felt the lack of that transition and that I’ve not been striking the right work/life balance at times. It’s hard when you’re in the house so much isn’t it, to get that clear definition between work and fun?

What if that moment where you turn a key and open the front door could actually create a physical change as well as an emotional one?

To help restore some harmony to my home life I’ve teamed up with Hive, to show you how a few strategically placed smart home devices can go a long way to creating a more relaxed atmosphere at home.

Servicing 1.7 million homes across the country, Hive is one of the nation’s favourite connected home providers. Hive’s family of smart products include the award-winning Hive Active Heating and a range of plugs, sensors, light bulbs, indoor and outdoor cameras and thermostatic radiator valves and services that offer customers the ability to control their homes, save money and reduce their carbon footprint.

Sounds good right?

First up I needed a trigger – something to let my Hive devices know that the WEEKEND IS ABOUT TO START. For this I used a Hive window and door sensor which I attached to the front door. I then came up with a cunning plan to recreate that ‘key in the lock’ moment – I decided that when I finished work for the day or for the weekend, I would leave the house by the back door, take a walk around the block to clear my head of work, and then return via the front door.

Tada! View Post

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Advertisement feature

Not a real panda I hasten to add – a toy version. A really lovely toy panda actually, silky soft and with a very cute face. I’m a bit of a sucker for a cute animal face, as you will have noticed recently if you follow me on Instagram and saw my latest charity shop find. (Those rosy cheeks!)

You can win this panda plus a cute badge and sticker as part of a new fundraising campaign from Sudocrem and premature baby charity Ickle Pickles – Soothing The Smallest.

Ickle Pickles

Every year, 1 in 8 babies are born prematurely or unwell, that’s 100,000 babies every single year. These babies need to spend weeks, sometimes months, in neonatal care units before they are strong enough to leave. 

This summer, Sudocrem and premature baby charity Ickle Pickles are teaming up to raise funds for the vital neonatal equipment premature babies so desperately need. In honour of the partnership a new, limited edition pot of ‘My Ickle Sudocrem’ has been created and will be sold in Boots and Tesco stores across the UK for six weeks from the 26th of August.

Each sale of the ‘ickle pot will mean 50p donated to Ickle Pickles. It’s an historic event for the brand, Sudocrem have never before adapted their classic packaging for a charity campaign such as this. View Post

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When I became a teenage pregnancy statistic aged 16 and then a parent a second time around at 24, (I felt so old and wise!), I had a very clear narrative around what was going to happen with the rest of my life.

I watched as my peers went through their twenties building careers, buying houses, living alone, taking exotic holidays, while I went to parks and took holidays in cheap caravans and worked several part time, poorly paid jobs to fit around childcare. I stayed in a relationship until literally a few weeks before my 30th birthday because I lacked the conviction to leave.

This paints a rather sorry picture but actually I enjoyed myself most of the time. I didn’t have much money but I had lots of friends and plenty of energy and to be honest I’ve never really minded a cheap caravan.

And besides, behind it all I had the narrative that gave it all context.

‘Oh you might be enjoying your twenties’, I would say to my friends, ‘but just think, by the time I’m just 40 years old Bee will be grown up and Belle will be 16 and I’ll basically be able to do what I like! Parenting will be over and I’ll get my independence when I’ll really appreciate it, and have disposable income. You lot will all have young kids and I’ll be on a cruise, sipping a martini!’

It was a powerful image and without even realising it I made it my story. It was simple – I put in the work and I got the ‘rewards’. The rewards being the child free cruise, in perpetuity. (It’s worth noting here that I have never actually been on a cruise and have no idea if I’d even enjoy it. I do like martinis though.) View Post

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This is a paid advertorial with Tesco

Today I’m putting Tesco Clubcard Plus to the test to see just how easy it is to save money on your supermarket shopping. With Tesco Clubcard Plus you can save up to £40* on your in-store grocery shop and 10% on selected Tesco brands, including clothing and homeware. Read on to find out how it works.

 

There were a lot of things I liked about the early days of lockdown.

I liked not having to GO anywhere and then not feeling like you were missing out because you knew that everyone else was just at home making banana bread and watching reruns of Rosemary and Thyme too. (That wasn’t just me right?)

I liked having a break from work without that feeling of ‘oh but I should really be doing x, y and z’. Although I do love the flexibility of being self-employed and wouldn’t swap it, there’s a lot to be said for the paid holiday that comes with a regular job. I got a lovely tan in the first month of lockdown and read more books than I had in the whole year before that.

I also liked not spending money. Some friends have said they actually ended up spending more because of shopping online, but I don’t do so much of that. Most of my spending outside regular bills is going out related – days out, coffees, lunches and dinners in restaurants – and overnight this just stopped. It sucked that my work took such a down turn and that I didn’t qualify for any government support, but once I’d got things like the mortgage payment holiday in place, I found that my drop in spending was enough to mean I could tick over. Hence the tan.

I know that I could just not spend that money, lockdown or not, but it doesn’t really work like that does it? Not for me anyway. It’s a bit like eating and drinking – if the opportunity is there then normally I take it.

Would I like to go out for brunch? Why yes, yes I would.’

Now then, with the country tentatively reopening its doors for brunch fun times, I’ve found a little bit of worry starting to creep in about how my spending is going to increase. I try generally to keep as relaxed an attitude to money as I can muster – you can’t take it with you, it doesn’t buy you love etc etc – but sometimes it will sneak up on me, that feeling of it seeping away, of not being as in control as I might like.

It’s similar to the feeling I get on my sixth Jaffa Cake and it’s not good.

As I don’t want to not go out for brunch – what horror – I’ve had to look for other, easier ways to save money. One of them is Tesco Clubcard Plus.

I already had a regular Tesco Clubcard of course, because I’m a sucker for earning points and feeling like I’m part of a club, (I think it comes from not having many friends at school…), but Tesco Clubcard Plus cranks things up a notch in terms of membership perks. I’m talking actual cash in your pocket, not just a self-laminated certificate. (Definitely never done that.)

How do I set up Tesco Clubcard Plus?

It really couldn’t be easier to start saving money with Tesco Clubcard Plus.

Step one – subscribe to Tesco Clubcard Plus. It costs £7.99 a month but there is no minimum term so you can cancel any time you like. Although honestly, why would you want to voluntary stop saving money every month?

Step two – download the Clubcard app.

Step three – start saving money! Hoorah!

I found the whole process took just a matter of minutes and the app is very intuitive to use. View Post

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