This week was my birthday. I’m writing this as a way of saying thank you to everyone for their lovely cards and messages, and to my mum for a lovely lunch, but also to show of some of my favourite birthday presents, to make you all green with envy.

Belle always makes birthdays special my putting together a ‘hamper’ of goodies. I use the term loosely, as what she actually does is wrap a selection of items that she doesn’t want any more from her bedroom. They say it’s the thought that counts, and this year she went one better, and thought to wrap up things from Bee’s bedroom instead. Unfortunately she didn’t tell Bee first, so I have had to sneak quite a lot of it back, but a birthday really wouldn’t be the same without it.

This year she also hand painted me Jimmy the Jamaican Giraffe, who I’m sure you’ll agree is terribly handsome:

"Toy Giraffe"

Jimmy stands tall and proud

Bee did extremely well this year, and looked very pleased with herself as she presented me with these earrings. “Look!” she cried. “A Owl!” (Emphasis on the ‘A’ in a Phone Shop styley. Watch it if you haven’t seen it.)

"A Owl"

“A owl!” “A owl?” “A owl!”

And if that weren’t enough, definitely-can’t-be-described-as-new-anymore Boyfriend bought me books and jam. Books. And Jam.

"Books and jam"

All I need now is a spoon

It is genuinely without even a hint of sarcasm that I say what more could a girl* want? Picture me if you will, late in the evening, sitting in bed reading, spoon in hand, face smeared with rhubarb and vanilla.

So there you go, a selection of some of my New Best Things. My question for the day is this – what is the best birthday present you’ve ever been given? Was it a small rubber ball found on the floor by one of your children? Or jam perhaps? Let me know…

*OK, OK, woman in her mid-thirties**

**Sobs quietly into fig chutney

 

Follow:

I’ve got something a bit special for you today.

It’s a carnival.

Not of the cancelled St Paul’s kind – this is a carnival, started by Carol at Dance Without Sleeping, celebrating writing about mental health. So grab yourself a cup of tea and a biscuit, and take comfort from these inspiring stories.

Suzie at No Wriggling out of Writing is soon publishing an anthology of poetry and prose on the subject of mental health, called Dandelions & Bad Hair Days, and in this post she talks about how the mummy blogging community has inspired her to share her thoughts and feelings, and how she has found support in the unlikeliest of places.

In this wonderfully honest post, Adele from Circus Queen talks about her worries about how she will juggle motherhood and depression. Marriage seems to have had a positive impact, so will becoming a mother improve her mental health?

ANyone who has ever experienced a panic attack will totally sympathise with Ella at Purple Mum, as she tells the story of her panic attack in the cinema – wonderfully evocative descriptions of a terrifying situation.

Carol at Dance Without Sleeping, the creator of this carnival, is ill for the fifth time this year, and is worried for her physical and mental health. To pull herself back from the edge, Carol is planning a break – a lesson for us all here?

Muddling Along Mummy is wondering if she should ask for help. This is a strangely beautiful post about self harm – at line six I actually got goose pimples…

Coping with a mental health issue of your own is hard enough, but how to you manage when it’s your child that is suffering? Inside the Wendy House worries that her own history of depression and self-harm is to blame, and asks how she can reach out to her beloved daughter.

On the subject of supporting loved ones, Nicola is talking about the highs and lows of living with her husband and his depression. A lack of control, and the helplessness she feels, will resonate with anyone living with someone with depression.

Dark clouds are gathering, and Bloggomy wants to get her thoughts down on virtual paper. Not ashamed of experiencing depression, she finds it hard to manage sometimes, and hopes that writing it down will bring a sense of perspective.

Over at 365 Pearls of Wisdom though, the sunny skies are rolling in. Full of hope for the future, Karen has some ideas for keeping your own mental health in tip-top shape.

Mums the word is struggling with grief, and trying to decide whether or not antidepressants are the answers. What’s the good, she asks, in papering over the cracks?

On a slightly more lighthearted note, Joanne Mallon has lost a tooth, and is worried about the impact of her new ‘gap’ on her self-esteem. How are you meant to stay happy with a gap in your smile?

Actually Mummy is worried about her daughter. “Because I’m rubbish! I’m so bad! I’m a really bad girl!” her daughter shouts. What is a mum to do?

Pret-a-Mummy is talking about sleep. “I felt stressed,” she says, suffering from lack of sleep with her small children “and the slightest problem seemed insurmountable”. Sleep is something we take for granted, but is so important for our mental health.

Hollybobb’s wants to remind us all that depression is not a weakness. Having lived with depression for most of her life, she knows more than most. She shares her thoughts of where to go for support.

Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed for a really wonderful and inspiring collection of posts. If you have a post you’d like to share, do feel free to leave a comment and a link.

Photo credit – Paulaloe

Follow:

I have a confession to make.

When Merci Maman first asked me if I’d like to review one of their personalised charm bracelets, there was a little bit of me that screamed ‘NOOOO!’

It made me feel awful, and like some kind of horrible snob, but I’m not the most sentimental of parents, and sometimes I find the whole ‘wearing symbols of your children’ thing a bit tacky. Is that terrible of me?

I scolded myself suitably though, kept an open mind, and am really glad I did, because my personalised charm bracelet is actually rather lovely. I went for a turquoise braid and sterling silver hearts, and have one for each child, hand-engraved with their names on one side and their date of births on the other, in case I forget, as it was a long time ago now. It arrived very quickly, and it a very sweet presentation box, which I will add to the collection of ‘little boxes I like’ on my desk.

The thing I like best about it though is the engraving – I think the handwriting is really beautiful, and the swirls and loops are so pretty, I couldn’t stop admiring it:

"personalised charm bracelet"

I’ve been told I’m a fairly fickle person, so I’m imagining if I do get bored, down the line, I might take the charms off the braid and wear them as a necklace on a silver chain. The world really is my lobster.

Anyway, enough about me, you want one for yourself now don’t you? Well just maybe I can make all your dreams come true! (Not all of them obviously, just the one about having your very own personalised charm bracelet).

The very lovely Clémence at Merci Maman is offering one lucky reader the chance to win their own bracelet, with one heart for each of your children. You can choose your braid, go for sterling silver or gold plate, and each heart will be hand engraved for you too. I reckon that’s a pretty nice prize. Especially nice if you happen to have six or seven kids.

For this giveaway, I wanted to try out Rafflecopter, but I couldn’t get it to work – something to do with WordPress and Javascript – so I’m doing it the old-fashioned way, with actual words.

If you’d like to enter, just follow the instructions below. You can do as many or as few of the options as you fancy, and each one counts as one ticket in the prize hat.

  • Sign up to my RSS feed – up there, top right…
  • Sign up to the Merci Maman newsletter, in the bottom left-hand corner of their homepage.
  • Like Merci Maman and Slummy single mummy on facebook
  • Follow mummyblogger and Merci Maman Gifts
  • Use the buttons at the bottom to tweet, pin, google+ etc
  • Pop a ten pound note through my door.

Not that last one though. Don’t forget to tell me which ones you have done too, that’s important.

The competition will close on May 4th, and I will notify a winner when I remember to.

Good luck!

Follow:

How’s your body image?

Are you happy with your wobbly bits? At peace with your wonky nose? Or do you cling to the dream that if only you were a few pounds lighter, a little bit taller, that all would be well with the world?

I wish I could say that I didn’t care about body image, that I was totally happy and accepting of my body, but it would be a fib. Like the majority of women, I too hanker after thinner thighs and tighter triceps. Not enough to actually do anything about it of course, but that’s really not the point, as the issue is clearly not a physical one.

The most worrying thing is the increasingly young age at which body image becomes an issue for girls and young women, as I talked about recently. I say recently… I just looked it up and the post I wrote about conversations overheard on a school bus is nearly two years old! Blimey, unnoticed aging clearly an issue for me here.

There has been a trend recently in the media to try and redress the balance, and change the way we feel about our body image, but to be honest I’m a little cynical. Take the Dove Real Beauty campaign for instance. Now perhaps it’s just me, but aren’t all of these women actually rather attractive? Some of them may be larger than traditional models, but none of them are fat, they’re all well proportioned with smooth skin and pretty faces:

"body image"

Not exactly munters are they?

Dove’s latest idea for improving our body image and raising levels of confidence among girls is the Dove Self Esteem Programme, a series of workshops being held in schools throughout the UK, with the aim of reaching a million 11-18 year old girls by the end of 2012. My cynical side says ‘what a great market for them to tap into’ but at the same time I can’t help but think that one million girls feeling even just a little bit better abut themselves has to be a good thing right?

"Body Image"

Again, not exactly munters…

Worryingly, it really is this young that body image starts to become an issue. Dove found that over half of the girls they surveyed thought they were ‘average’, ‘ordinary’, ‘plain’ or ‘unattractive’, and the stats I found when researching my post on pornography are even more shocking:

  • Over half of all women around the world say they first became aware of the need to be physically attractive between 6 and 17 years of age.
  • 66% of teenage girls would consider plastic surgery and 20% would do it right now.
  • Polls suggest that 63% of young women aspire to be glamour models or lap dancers.
  • One in three people believe a woman is responsible for violence committed against her if she is wearing ‘revealing clothing’.

Have you seen the Dove ad about all the little girls giving up their hobbies because of their body image? It’s pretty scary stuff:

Further research by Dove celebrates the fact that over a third of girls cite their mothers as their role models. Great, you might think, it’s good that girls have someone real to emulate, but then you look down the rest of the list, and it’s the usual suspects – Cheryl Cole, Jessie J, Rhinanna… And we all know how I feel about Rhianna as a role model. Where are the political figures? The writers? The scientists? Why are young girls so focussed on role models famous purely on the basis of their looks?

Which leads me to my key question – do campaigns like the Dove Real Beauty campaign, or their self-esteem workshops really do anything to tackle issues around body image, or is it a much deeper rooted problem? Are programmes like these just a drop in the multi-million pound ocean that is the beauty industry, or are Dove trailblazers, leading the way for others?

Answers on the back of an anti-wrinkle cream box please.

You can visit the Dove facebook page for more information on their initiatives to improve body image among young women.

 

Follow:

This evening I have been very busy indeed.

I have created a squirrel.

This is not an ordinary squirrel. This squirrel is a visual representation of my thoughts, of all the words that spill out everyday onto my blog. I am calling him Paulo.

I am very pleased with him.

That is all.

Follow:

This afternoon we made home made Jaffa Cakes.

Madness I know, when you can get the best Jaffa Cakes in the world for less than two pounds in Marks & Spencer, but they looked so tasty on the Baking Mad website, and they had an ‘easy’ rating, and I’d had a couple of G&Ts already…

Not really, it was only about 2pm, I was just feeling brave.

I can’t be bothered with typing out the recipe or anything, you can go and have a look here if you fancy having a go yourself, but first, take a look at how Belle and I got on.

Things started off well. I did the whisking the eggs and sugar over simmering water, Belle managed to beat in the flour for about thirty seconds before she started complaining, and we wrestled the greasy batter into the muffin tin without splattering too much of it on the walls. Contrary to the instructions, we’d made the jelly first, as we thought this made more sense. By the time then that our cakes were cool, the jelly was set, and ready to be cut into 1cm thick rounds.

Hahahaha! How simple that sounds.

Let me ask you this though – have you ever tried to get a 1cm thick jelly out of a tray and cut it into rounds?

I thought not.

Ten minutes later, and each of our sponge bases had a little pile of mushed up jelly on them, ready to be delicately drizzled with dark chocolate.

"home made jaffa cakes"

Things are not going well…

Still, the next part was fool-proof surely? Melt a bit of chocolate, spread it smoothly over a small mound of broken up jelly, what could possibly go wrong?

Some of them went pretty well, as I managed to get to them and smudge the chocolate about a bit with my finger before it set. This one looks like the ones on the website right? It’s nice and glossy too, like a well-groomed puppy.

"home made jaffa cake"

I felt pretty pleased with this one

Others though I didn’t quite get to in time…

"home made jaffa cakes"

This one not so much

I did wonder if we should have been less ambitious and stuck to the recipes for cup cakes, but the way I see it, it all gets mushed up eventually, what with chewing and all that, so if you just shut your eyes and put it in your mouth* it will all be fine.

And it was! Hoorah!

I fancied that the sponge base tasted a little bit of scrambled egg, but no one else seemed to notice that, so basically it was cake, jelly and chocolate. A fairly long-winded way of combining them maybe, but still, it kept Belle busy and I got to lick quite a lot of melted chocolate out of a bowl and not feel too guilty.

Why not have a go at making your own home made Jaffa Cakes and see if you can do a better job than me.

*Bishop, actress etc…

Follow:

I was in town yesterday, walking back to my car after a meeting, when I saw this sign:

"The Unicorns"

I’m sure you can imagine my excitement.

I followed the arrow, imagining a fairytale land waiting for me around the corner. Maybe with fairies, trees made of candy floss and lemonade waterfalls.

But instead I found this:

"Unicorns!

There were no unicorns at all.

Not one.

There was a pigeon, but it didn’t have a horn.

It was very disappointing.

Follow:

And by written, I mean actually written. With a pen, like in the old days.

Working in marketing and social media, much of my life revolves around the virtual world – emails, tweets, status updates – it’s all typey typey typey. This is fine, it’s my job, I understand it is the modern way, but at the same time I do have to acknowledge the fact that I am not quite of the internet generation.

For example, I would sill prefer to peer over my glasses at a copy of the Radio Times than to look on the television because, for some reason, in my hands the remote control turns into something unresponsive, and I take on the look of an elderly person trying to talk into the wrong end of a telephone.

I also like writing. Actual, physical writing. I know that between them my blackberry, laptop and netbook could provide me with all manner of whizzy time management tools, but I prefer to surround myself with physical list-making equipment that I trust not to delete itself. Here is a little corner of my office as evidence:

"picture of my office"

You see? I have everything I need – whiteboards, calendars, notebooks, nice pens, sparkling elderflower wine…

Call me old-fashioned, mock if you will, but as much as the mobile internet devices try to worm their way in, I will always be more excited by a large pack of whiteboard markers. Apple store or Staples? I know where I’d rather be

 

Follow:

I am always fascinated by what my children think of me as a parent. Whenever we watch Wife Swap I make them place me on the line from one freaky parent to another, always wondering which way my mothering scales are tipping.

It can be hard to get the right balance.

Being a single parent makes it especially hard, as you somehow have to blend the two roles into one – good cop and bad cop become one flakey, inconsistent cop, who will let you eat M&Ms for lunch one day, (peanuts = one of your five a day surely?), and then go mad at you the next when you don’t eat your wholemeal bread crusts.

It is probably a sign of some deeper rooted insecurities, reminiscent of the hours I spent as a teenager fantasising about giving the whole school a compulsory questionnaire to find out exactly what percentage of people liked me.

(That sounds far more disturbing now I’ve written it down. Let’s move quickly on.)

This week though I got the chance to see, quite literally, how Belle sees me, as she drew me this:

"Picture of Mummy"

I rather like it. It has a casual seriousness to it, the peering over the glasses, concentrating hard on who knows what. I love the expression she captures, not bad given we were in a cafe and she was sketching in felt tips.

Do you ever wonder about how your children see you? How would you like them to think of you?

Follow:

On Sunday Belle and I went to Clevedon for the afternoon. We went for a rather blustery walk along the Victorian pier, and then sat on the pebble beach to eat our ham sandwiches and look at the boats that were doing circuits just off the coast.

Belle went off for an explore, to look for pebbles shaped vaguely like hearts for me to fill my desk with, and I thought I’d embrace the whole pebble beach situation and make myself a pebble tower. I went for a mix of colours and shapes, carefully stacking each pebble on top of the next, turning them around slowly until they fitted together, creating a flat base to support the next pebble.

Then I lay down on the stones and took a little picture with my phone.

"pebble tower"

I was quite pleased with it, so given that I normally just swipe my blog photos from Flickr, I thought I would share it with you.

That’s all.

Follow:

Welcome to a week in tweets. Last week I tweeted as Bee, the week before I was Belle, and I don’t really fancy going back to being boring old me just yet. Monday: did some work, Tuesday: did a bit more work and ate a hobnob – no one really wants to read that do they?

So this week I thought I’d jazz it up a bit, and tweet as the one person whose life I would most like to lead apart from my own. Nancy Drew.

I’ve always loved the titian haired girl detective, and have a shamefully large collection of Nancy Drew books. I love her independence, her sense of adventure, and the fact that she really prefers to solve mysteries in a matching hat and gloves. It’s like a grown up Famous Five with a greater attention to accessories.

Nancy is always full of great advice, whether you’re looking for crime-busting support or relationship guidance, and so this week I’ve put together seven days of top tips from the girl herself, all genuine lines from Nancy Drew adventures. Enjoy!

Monday – When your chum goes undercover, a nice set of calling cards with her alias makes a nice gift. #bff

Tuesday – Though getting stuck at the top of a Ferris wheel can foil your sleuthing plans, it’s a great excuse to enjoy some quality time with your boyfriend.

Wednesday – You can rile up a villain by pretending to throw a treasure off a cliff. 

Thursday – If someone’s trying to buy a house and it suddenly becomes haunted, it’s probably not a coincidence. #justsaying

Friday – You know he’s the right guy for you when he can dismantle a mad scientist’s powerful transmitter and save the world!

Saturday – Sometimes pretending to go into a trance and reveal secrets from the past can elicit a confession from even the most high-handed types.

Sunday – It’s fun to take five from sleuthing for a little swim and a rousing diving contest. #chillaxing

Now it’s your turn. Write your very own week in tweets, add it my linky, and read the others by clicking here. You can tweet as yourself, one of your children, your favourite literary character, (Nancy Drew is literature, I don’t care what you say), whatever takes your fancy! You can even get a  week in tweets badge to go with it.

Follow:

A few weeks ago I opened the door to someone trying to sell me electricity.

“Can I talk to the person you pays the bills please?” he said.

I was immediately on the defensive. Do I not look like the person who pays the bills? Do I look financially irresponsible? Is it that I’m a woman, and therefore inherently incompetent when it comes to managing money?

I took a breath, realising I was probably being a tad paranoid. At least it was better than a year or so ago when I was asked “Is your mum or dad in?”

“I pay the bills,” I replied, doing my best to look sensible and fiscally wise, “but I’m not interested in changing suppliers. I regularly compare energy prices online thank you.”

“But don’t you want to save money on your gas and electricity?” he asked me, clearly not about to be put off by that old chestnut.

“Yes,” I replied impatiently, “yes I do, which I why I use uSwitch.”

“I think if you give me a minute you’ll find I can save you hundreds of squillions of pounds and make your life more glamorous and arrange for Paul Rudd to be your postman…”

I don’t think he actually said that last bit, but by this point I had tuned out to be honest. I don’t have a problem with sales people in general. It’s a job, I understand that, it has to be done, but why don’t they bloody LISTEN? Yes, try once to persuade me if I give a vague ‘no’ and look easily manipulated, but when I’ve actually given evidence that I’m already getting it cheaper elsewhere, WHAT’S THE POINT?

Give up quick, go to the next door, don’t waste your time on a lost cause like me. Go for elderly women living alone, pretend you’ve just seen a burglar escaping over their back fence, do what you must, just leave me alone.

That’s my advice anyway. Now off you go. That’s right, take your foot out of the door, bye bye…

 

Follow: