Some books you’ll never read? Tasteful bath salts?

Or maybe you’ll get something awesome because you’ve bought it yourself.

A survey by Barclaycard revealed last week that on average we spend a whopping £280 on gifts for ourselves every year. I’m not talking ‘treats’ either, I mean actual presents for ourselves for birthdays and Christmas because we don’t trust other people to buy us something that isn’t awful.

What’s not clear from the survey is if we actually get this money back – are we choosing our pressies and being reimbursed discretely at a later date, or are we simply buying our own presents, full stop?

With me, it’s often the latter.

Being a single parent at Christmas and on birthdays can be a little depressing. You fork out loads of money on the kids, and what do you get in return? Lousy hand-made gifts and cards.* There’s no one in the house apart from you with an actual job, so you get the rather short end of the stick.

A couple of years ago I decided to take matters into my own hands. I was fed up with being the only one of the three of us in bed on Christmas morning not opening a stocking full of gifts. Father Christmas had very kindly left bulging bags of goodies at the foot of Bee and Belle’s beds, so where was mine? I put a note up the chimney, but nothing, nada. Desperate times called for desperate measures.

I went to the cashpoint and took out forty quid. Then I came home and gave it to Bee. “Use this,” I told her, “to make me a Christmas stocking.” She looked a bit taken aback at first, but quickly came round to the idea, because who doesn’t love being given somebody else’s money to spend? “I want lots of things to open, but nothing crap.”

You have to be direct with children I find.

Christmas morning came around and hoorah! Santa had been for me too. It was very exciting and well worth the investment, even if most of the stocking budget seemed to have been blown on a teeny tiny iPod speaker in the shape of a jukebox. (I was more explicit the following year about what I meant by ‘crap’).

What do you reckon? Do you buy your own gifts? Or is it the thought that counts, even if the thought only goes as far as the bath salt aisle of Boots?

*This is a joke Belle. I love you hand-made gifts really. And the cute things you wrap up from your room.

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Bee has decided that she wants to enter the Great British Bake Off. She has downloaded the forms, and it asks questions about your experience of baking lots of different things like cakes, biscuits, pies and tarts.

Now Bee is good at baking, but it would be fair to say that she hasn’t attempted anything too complex up until now. Her ‘Tigger’s Spicy Biscuits’ are always a big hit, but are they Great British Bake Off standard?

So that she has something to talk about on her application, she is trying to cram in as much practice as possible, and so is helping me on my Whitworths baking challenge. Today she is making chewy oat and sultana cookies.

Ingredients

  • 100g butter
  • 100g Whitworths for baking fine caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp runny honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 100g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 160g porridge oats
  • 100g sultanas

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180c/Gas Mark 4 and put on your pinny.

"apron"

Bee is well prepared

Lightly grease two baking sheets. Beat the sugar and butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy.

Add the honey and egg and continue to beat until combined. Add the spices and flour, beat to combine and finally add the oats and sultana.

"Cookie mixture"

The mixture was very tasty at this stage.

Spoon the mixture onto the baking sheets – you should be able to fit eight cookies on each sheet.

"Cookies ready for the oven"

Omanomnom

Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden. When they are cooked, allow to stand before two minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

"Cookies fresh from the oven"

Pretty tasty at this stage too as it happens.

Make a cup of tea, put your feet up, eat three cookies and focus on the goodness of the oats. Wholesome right?

Well done Bee!

For more food recipes & restaurant ideas please have a look at Bingo Wings.

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I have a few things I want to mention this week, and it would be hard to think of three things less similar. I’m going to do my best however to blend them into one seamless post. I’m sure you’ll barely realise I’m talking about more than one subject.

First off, ironing. There seem to be two schools of thought on this one – there are the people who spend Sunday afternoons ironing for hours whilst watching the Eastenders omnibus, and people who go more for the ‘fold it carefully before you put it away’ approach. Which are you?

I am certainly the latter, as was proven in the recent burnt-carpet-ironed-onto-back-of-Boyfriend’s-best-shirt incident. It is doubtful that I will ever be allowed to use an iron again to be honest, which is a bit of a shame, as it means I won’t get to play with our new Morphy Richards Power Steam Elite.

There are loads of things I like about the Morphy Richards Power Steam Elite. It’s really smooth and easy to use, it holds loads of water, and is Very Steamy Indeed. You can even use it to steam curtains while they’re up, if you like that sort of thing. One of the best things though is that it looks really snazzy and makes you feel like you doing a very important chore.

"Morphy Richards Power Steam Elite"On the downside, it does take up a lot of space, and as a complete unit is pretty heavy. Probably not the iron for you if you live in one of those tiny flats with an ironing board that comes out of the wall. (Is that a thing?)

From irons then, to…er…comics!

(Seamless)

It always annoys me that when Belle wants to buy a magazine, she basically has a choice between The Simpsons comic or something in various shades of pink, filled either with popstar gossip or pictures of fluffy bunnies sat in baskets with ribbons round their neck. The range isn’t exactly diverse.

We were really excited then to get sent some copies of The Pheonix, a story comic aimed at kids between 8-11, (although I enjoyed reading it too.) The Pheonix a really lively mix of stories and puzzles, and the illustrations are brilliant. Belle especially liked that there were lots of different types of drawings, rather than just one style of illustrations.

Anything that keeps her away from the TV for a bit gets my vote.

"Pheonix comics"

To keep me away from the TV, (slightly smoother), I’ve been reading the new book from Penguin about the London Underground – ‘Underground – how the tube shaped London‘ – celebrating its vibrant 150 year history.

I say ‘reading’ but to be honest I have been mainly looking at the pictures so far. You can’t blame me though, as it’s full of loads of really amazing photographs of the Underground over the years, plus lots of beautiful vintage posters.

Images © TFL from the London Transport Museum collection

"vintage train poster"

My top Underground fact so far though – can you guess what was built in a spare lift shaft at Holloway Road in 1906?

No?

A spiral escalator! Funnily enough, it apparently never made it into public service. The mind boggles…

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Can you guess what I was doing yesterday morning? OK, the title gives it away a bit I guess…

I was in London, learning to tango and samba with Total Greek Yogurt. (Not actually dance with yogurt you understand, that would be difficult. Especially if it were not in a tub but just loose.)

We were taught by the very lovely Dee Thresher and Jesus Reyes Ortiz and I had a really brilliant time, not least because after two hours of dancing, (for dancing read ‘tripping over own feet’), we were treated to a delicious yogurt inspired lunch, and we all know that lunch is one of my Best Things.

I thought I’d share some of the photos from the day with you, and if I have inspired you to get up on your feet, Total have some video dance lessons you can copy too.

Our wonderful teachers looking hot

We put our best tango faces on

It’s hard to look elegant when you are concentrating so hard on your feet

We look on admiringly

And smile ladies!

Delicious yogurty lunch

Muffins. Nuff said.

As well as nursing slightly stiff shoulders today, I am also recovering from being told that there are apparently ONE THOUSAND recipes on the Total website! Who’d have thought there was so much you could do with yogurt??

Photos courtesy of Satureyes

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Today is the first ever International Day of the Girl.

As part of International Day of the Girl Plan UK want to raise awareness of the issues girls around the world face, such as early forced marriage. Girls sometimes as young as five are forced into marriage. Five years old. Can you even begin to imagine?

Plan UK’s campaign will support four million girls to get the education, skills and support they need to move themselves from poverty to opportunity.

This International Day of the Girl, support these young girls by signing Plan UK’s petition now.

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There are lots of things I like about our new house. I like that I can sit in the living room and look out into the garden.* I like having a garage and a driveway of sorts and not having to drive around the block for ages looking for a space to park. I even quite like having a bedroom back on the same floor as Bee and Belle and being able to hear them moving about.

One thing I’m not so sure about though is the carpets. They are cream. (Cream!) Throughout the entire house, including the bathrooms.

I’m not exactly well-coordinated at the best of times, (think me crying, unable to park a van), and will quite often just walk into door frames, but in the old house, this was OK, as we mainly had floorboards. Floorboards are much easier to wipe down when you uncontrollably slosh tea on them. Here though, nowhere is safe. I already dropped tomato on the carpet today from my mouth. My cream carpets don’t stand a chance.

The worst bit though is shoes. How do you train two unruly children to take their shoes off at the door?

"muddy boots"

Belle at Beautiful Days. I fear she will just walk into the house one day like this.

I have a few ideas:

Distraction – It only takes a few seconds for them to remember, so to avoid them getting to the middle of the hall and going ‘Oh yeah!’, I need to dangle something like a malteser from the ceiling, just out of reach. In the time it takes them to figure out how to get it, (stood safely on the mat the whole time), they will have remembered about the shoes.

Positive reinforcement – This, so I’m led to believe, is the most effective approach to parenting. Whenever they take off their shoes at the door they get a little treat like a chocolate button, a pat on the head or the chance to stroke a kitten.

Negative reinforcement – I hire someone to stand by the door, and every time they forget to take off their shoes they get punched (in a gentle, child-friendly way), in the side of the head.

Desperate times and all that.

*I make it sounds like I occasionally glance up and admire the view. What actually happens is that I find myself staring out at nothing in particular for minutes at a time. I’m tired though. I’m sure the staring will improve.

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When you think of the beauty brand Dove, what does it mean to you?

If the answer is ‘nothing at all’, this post is probably not going to fascinate you to be honest. You might have more of a laugh reading this one about me getting a smear test instead. If you’re intrigued though, read on.

Dove are currently running an exhibition, exclusively for Dove facebook fans, to encourage women to showcase what the beauty brand means to them.  All you have to do is come up with a creative design that incorporates the iconic bird image and that has emotional resonance for you – from a place that inspires you, to a person who makes you feel beautiful.

"Dove bird logo"

The Dove Bird in full flight

I do use Dove products, and have ever since I was a teenager. When I think of Dove I think of something very simple and pure, and I guess it’s this purity that Dove are trying to capture. Dove’s message after all is that beauty isn’t about complicated beauty regimes and treatments, or difficult diets and layers of make-up, beauty is really about something simple – you.

Here’s a little video that tells you a bit more about the exhibition:

 

The personalised designs can be a photograph, drawing or graphic incorporating the Dove bird – the more creative the better.  Once digitally submitted, the designs will be showcased for fans to enjoy and ‘like’, with the most likes of each week being celebrated on the Facebook wall. The first 100 entries will receive a unique set of 10 printed postcards featuring their bespoke design to share with friends, so why not visit the Dove facebook page now and get creative?

“The Dove By You Exhibition is a chance for our loyal fans to celebrate their creativity with one another.  Real Women have always been at the heart of everything we do, and this new Facebook activity gives them a platform to show just what Dove means to them.” says Ali Fisher, Dove Marketing Manager. “For many of us, the Dove bird has been a symbol in our lives for as long as we can remember. It’s a symbol synonymous with what Dove cherishes most, the celebration of Real Women and Real Beauty.”

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This month, as I was just reminded on twitter, not that I’d forgotten or anything, I am hosting a Mental Health Carnival.

The Mental Health Carnival is a monthly round-up of mental health related blog posts, started by Carol from Dance Without Sleeping and hosted by a different blogger every month.

On April 27th I will be publishing a selection of the best posts from across the blogosphere, which makes it sound terribly exclusive, as though I will be reading EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD and then choosing my favourites, but actually it’s not like that at all. If you have written, or plan on writing, a relevant post before April 25th and would like to see it featured, all you have to do is email me the link, and I will include it.

You see, not that exclusive after all is it?

Even if you’ve never written about mental health before, this could be your chance. Perhaps you have a personal story you’d like to tell, thoughts you’d like to share, random words you want to jot down on a scrap of paper and scan, it’s up to you.

Just drop me a line before April 25th* and leave the rest to me.

Thanks!

*This is my birthday by the way. Just saying.

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Happy Easter everyone!

I hope you’re having a lovely day, and that getting up in the middle of the night the hide the eggs you’d forgotten to hide last night wasn’t too much of a wrench.

As you sit relaxed on your sofa, Lindt smeared across your face, why not check out these slightly less tasty treats, courtesy of Pets Lady.*

These are a few of my favourites:

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I’ve started playing this game with Belle, as we walk to school, where we imagine and describe our perfect days. It began one morning as a distraction from one of her ‘tummy aches’ – the kind that come on mysteriously at about 8am on weekday mornings. Sometimes, like this morning, I am given a theme – ‘your perfect day at Centreparcs Mummy’ – other mornings my imagination is allowed to run wild.

The trouble is, I’m not sure my imagination IS actually very wild at all. Theme or no theme, I find the game quite tricky. I can’t decide whether I am terribly dull, or just very easy to please – I am the type of person who derives hours of fun from alphabetising my books, or from shredding old credit card bills.

Most of my imaginary perfect days start with me waking up to sunshine, often with some kind of warm, tropical breeze blowing gently through some open patio doors. This morning, I included waking up to find Colin Firth next to me in bed. Belle looked slightly shocked. “I hope you’re wearing something!” she said.

“Oh yes”, I reassured her, “I’ll have my best pyjamas on.”

“And what about Colin?”

“Of course, he’ll definitely have pyjamas on too. He’s really only there to bring me coffee and smoked salmon bagels.”

Belle looked relieved.

Belle’s perfect days are fairly predictable, and revolve mainly around watching a bit of TV and having pizza for tea, but I find mine harder to imagine. Maybe it’s because the whole of my adult life has been spent as a parent, but the littlest things for me are often the ones I enjoy most. Coffee and the papers in bed, nice things to eat, or just half an hour on my own in the sunshine. It honestly is the simple things in live that give me pleasure.

So I need some inspiration – what would be your perfect day? Is it something terribly glamorous and exciting, or is it something as simple as going to the toilet without interruptions from an insistent toddler? Being a parent definitely makes you appreciate the little joys…

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Hooray! At last, my childlike excitement over the arrival of the post everyday has finally been rewarded. This week I had my first parcel as part of the Secret Post Club.

The brainchild of Heather at Notes From Lapland, the Secret Post Club appeals to the natural child in all of us – that part of us that feels a spark of eager anticipation at the sound of the postman stuffing the usual pile of bills and catalogues through the letter box. The post rarely contains anything inspiring, but the joy is in the not knowing – one day it just might be that letter that changes your life.

Anyway, the parcel I got this week didn’t quite change my life, but it certainly put a smile on my face for the day. My gift came from Clair at  Kids Craft and Chaos. I must confess I’d not come across Clair’s blog before, but it is definitely worth a read – a lovely mix of crafts, books and general parental musings.

My parcel is beautifully wrapped, and I almost don’t want to open it. I unwrap the first layer and find another parcel, plus some cute hairclips for Belle and Bee.

Bickering is temporarily halted while the new treats are shared out and photographs are posed for. Apologies to Belle for the rather strange angle – I was trying to get a good view of the clips but instead ended up making her look like she has a giant forehead. Oopps.

Very stylish I’m sure you’ll agree! So that’s the kids taken care of, now I get to open a prezzie – very exciting. I want to savour the moment, and I hold it for a while first, imagining what it might be and enjoying having a gift to open. When I do let myself peel off the tape, (I really want to save the cute owl wrapping paper), I’m definitely not disappointed. It is a beautiful notebook, the pages edged in silver. Now anyone who knows me will be smiling at this point, as they will appreciate what a perfect prezzie this is for me. I LOVE notebooks, they are one of my very favourite things. I love buying them, writing in them, putting them in little piles – it is basically any excuse for a new notebook for me.

So I want to say a HUGE thank you to Clair for taking the time and trouble to send me such a lovely gift – it really made my day. Now roll on April…

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In the name of research for Cuddledry’s month of blogging, I have been busy this morning reading a selection of mummy and daddy blogs, and came across a post from Ellen at In A Bun Dance, an outpouring of confessions, secret habits and thoughts. The list struck a chord with me, as I could empathise with so many of them, and it reassured me that I am not the only person who avoids the phone and sometimes hides from my children.

Inspired as I was, I have decided to come up with my own list, in the hope that everyone will then tell me how completely normal I am after all. So here goes with some things that not many people will know about me:

I am a little bit afraid of pineapples. It’s the little spine marks that get left behind when you slice off the outside. The first time I cut up a pineapple I screamed out loud.

I am very easily distracted and get bored very quickly. Even though my Gran always used to tell me only boring people got bored. I spend quite a lot of my time wishing something exciting would happen.

I hate housework. No big secret there maybe. I have been known to hide dirty dishes in cupboards when I’ve got guests.

I only like drinking out of particular shaped cups. When I order a latte in Costa I have to ask for a different mug.

I never put in exact amounts of petrol. I don’t understand why people try so hard to get to whole pound amounts. I look away from the pump, sing a little song to myself, and when the song ends I finish pumping.

One of my children’s favourite treats is ‘garage tea’ – when you are out somewhere and stop at a garage and buy Dairylea Dunkers, Capri Suns and Pepperami and eat it in the car.

I just ate some ‘Hotel Chocolat Christmas Collection’ for my lunch.

Please tell me this is all fine.

Photo credit – mrjoro

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