Firstly – Happy Easter! I hope you’ve all had a lovely weekend and have eaten suitably horrendous quantities of mini-eggs. I know I have.

Before I began my weekend of gorging, I was tagged by the fabulous Linda Jones of You’ve Got Your Hands Full, asking me to tell you seven previously undisclosed things about myself. If you haven’t come across Linda before, where have you been? I have yet to meet Linda in person, but I am already in awe of her. Everywhere I go in the virtual world, Linda seems to be there already. She is amazing!

Anyway, I have been thinking about this all weekend and to be honest I’ve been struggling. I think I’m pretty open most of the time and I’ve been having a hard time coming up with things that I won’t have told someone already. Obviously I can’t mention the bank heist, and David made me promise to keep my three way romp with him and Samantha under wraps in the run up to the election. Ergh, I have made myself feel rather queasy even joking about that one. Quick, change the subject.

So I’m wracking my brains here for seven things that you don’t know about me, but that will make me seem intruguing and glamourous. I’m hoping if I just type and don’t think about it, something will spill out onto the screen.

So here goes:

  1. OK, here’s one I’m quite pleased with. In 2008 I made a New Year’s Resolution to read 100 books in a year. I was fed up with having piles of half-read books lying around the house, and needed some motivation to finish them. I managed 104, which I think is pretty good going for a year. Um…ok…now I am stuck. I just asked Bee for ideas and she couldn’t think of anything. Does this mean I am just very honest, or just very dull??
  2. “Have you ever been in prison?” asks Bee. No, I’ve never even been arrested. “Lame,” she says.
  3. “Do you play a musical instrument?” asks the young boy on my sofa who is draped over Bee. Actually, yes, this could count as one. At school I played the guitar and the cello. I had an accordion for a while too. Not terribly glamourous though.
  4. I have never been married or owned a house. (Commitment issues)
  5. I’ve had sex at the top of Glastonbury Tor. (Exhibitionist)
  6. I have a giant poster of Zac Efron on my study wall. It was a Christmas present from Bee, I didn’t actively seek it out and buy it myself. He is 22 though, so it’s fine.
  7. I have a naked picture of myself on my bedroom wall. That was a Christmas present too actually. I’m nearly 32 though – is that still fine?

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A friend asked me this week what my dream job would be, if children weren’t a consideration.

I found that pretty hard to answer, as I can’t remember a time when children haven’t been a consideration, and I’ve no idea what that would feel like. I already had one by the time I was 17, so I never experienced the luxury of being able to legally drink and drive (not together of course) without a child in tow.

If I didn’t have children, what would I do? Would I make the most of my freedom, skipping happily from the theatre to the gym, filling my days with fulfilling work and wholesome voluntary activities? Or would I be swaying from one cocktail bar to the next, an inappropriately young man on each arm?

Probably neither. If I didn’t have children I imagine I would spend quite a lot of my time loafing about at home on my own, watching re-runs of Sex and the City and imagining everyone else was out doing something terribly sophisticated, like having drinks and chatting about literature with Stephen Fry. Which is how I pass many an evening already really.

So what about as a child, before parenthood was even conceivable – what did I imagine my adult life would be like then? I gave the question some serious thought. I actually have a very poor long-term memory. Goodness knows what happened to me as a child, but whatever it was has been successfully blocked out. Most of my childhood memories come via my sister, who even at four years younger than me seems to have a much clearer picture.

I do have an image in my head that has stuck with me though, from a time when I must have been imagining life as a grown up. It is a really only a flash, and is basically me dressed in a lovely suit and high heels, letting myself into an elegant, tidy and sparsely furnished flat. That’s it, but the sense I get from it is that I am just getting home from a long day in some kind of stressful but rewarding office based job, and am looking forward to kicking off my heels and relaxing with a nice hot bath.

All in all, not very helpful in terms of career planning. The opportunity to wear a nice pencil skirt and a good pair of shoes is clearly important though, which makes me question my current work at home status. Much of my time is spent in trousers with elasticated waists and I barely leave the house, let alone let myself back in with a sense of exhausted satisfaction.

Obviously I like writing, which is lucky, given my line of work, but I do miss the social interaction. Half the fun of work for me is striking up some kind of inappropriate relationship with a colleague, and skiving off to look at facebook or send personal emails doesn’t give the same sense of wicked pleasure when you work for yourself.

In the back of my head I nurture a dream of being offered my own column in the Guardian weekend magazine, one I’m sure is shared by one or two others, but I have learnt in the last year that work to me is about more than just the job you do. It is about the company you work for, the people you work with and the person you become once you get into that pencil skirt.

As much as I love the flexibility that working from home gives me, I miss the banter, the camaraderie, and the reason to get dressed in the morning. So maybe I’ll stick with my journalistic dreams, but I need them to involve an office. An office with lots of other interesting people in it. And maybe an on site cocktail bar and a view over Manhattan.

Hang on, my secretary has a call waiting. It’s Stephen – he has a new book he’d like to discuss over lunch. Sorry – must dash…

Photo credits: Markusram and Alpha de Centaure

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Like most women, I am a sucker for lotions and potions, so when a lovely lady from AVEENO® offered me some samples of their skincare range to try out I leapt at the chance. Free potions delivered to your door in an exciting parcel – what’s not to love?

I am cynical enough not to fall for most of the anti-aging propoganda that typifies the beauty market. I don’t believe for a minute that the latest pore-defining-pro-retinal-q10-derma-peptide face cream will transform my face into that of a 19-year-old swedish model, but I do love the idea that one little bottle or jar of cream has the potential to have some kind of life changing, age defying effect. I love the sense of promise and hope that you are effectively buying.

AVEENO® though aren’t claiming to turn back time, they are simply offering a range of natural and effective moisturisers, designed especially for women with dry skin. Now I do love a good moisturiser, especially at this time of the year when cold winds and central heating have combined to give me skin the texture of sandpaper.

I consider it a personal quest to find the moisturiser that will make my skin silky smooth and leave me smelling like I’ve been bathing in exotic perfumes in the middle of an orchard, overhung with boughs of ripe fruits, honeysuckle and jasmine. Not too much to ask I’m sure you’ll agree.

So with unrealistically high expectations I begin to smother myself daily with AVEENO®’s Moisturising Creamy Oil. It does sound promising doesn’t it? And actually it’s pretty good. It isn’t sticky, and it does leave my skin feeling soft. I particularly like the smell – it smells like I’m smearing myself in melted chocolate orange, which has to be a good thing.

I wish I could say the same about the hand cream scent wise, because it really is a great hand cream. I have a bit of trouble with hand cream normally, as I seem to have developed a habit of putting it on just before I am about to do something with my hands, like make a sandwich. AVEENO®’s hand cream does just what it promises though and absorbs quickly, leaving my hands able to butter bread and manhandle the cheese without getting it too sticky.

The down side is that the ‘unscented’ hand cream smells a bit like an old people’s home – that sort of sterile, overcooked veg, soiled trousers smell. It’s only very faint, and I do have a ridiculously perceptive sense of smell, but it is a bit of a shame. That said, I liked it despite the vague aroma of octogenarians, and would probably buy it again.

You may also want to check out the AVEENO® Discoverer programme, where you can sign up to a special website to become an AVEENO® Discoverer, recommend products to friends and relatives, as well as receive news and samples.

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WARNING: This post in very uncool. If you are likely to be offended by the pleading of an angst ridden blogger, please look away now.

The world of mummy and daddy blogging has been buzzing this week following the launch of the new MAD blogging awards, aimed at celebrating the best UK parent blogs. There are several different categories and in most cases the winners are chosen by the public vote – the more nominations therefore the better.

Now there have been some people claiming that they don’t mind whether or not they get nominated, that perhaps having awards at all flies in the face of the ‘spirit of blogging’, but I must admit I’m not convinced . Maybe it isn’t the cool thing to admit, but I do care. I care if people like my blog. I’ve only been blogging a few months, but already I feel part of an amazing community, and other people’s opinions matter to me. Every positive comment I get makes me smile, I obsessively check my stats, and I am hugely grateful for every person that reads my outpourings.

There. I said it.

Maybe there are people who genuinely don’t care if one or one hundred people read their posts, but if I didn’t care I would just scribble my thoughts in a notebook and hide them under my mattress, like I do with my more private ramblings. (Note to Bee – don’t actually go and look under my mattress, it is a metaphorical mattress). I blog because I want other people to read what I have to say. I want to make people laugh, I want to strike a chord, touch a nerve, make people think. I want people to LIKE ME damn it.

So, with my fragile ego in mind, if you enjoy my blog then please nominate me! It will make me happy.  Thank you.

*picks self up off knees and looks sheepish*

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It starts innocently enough. A thought pops into my head as a clean my teeth. “Oooh, I must make those dental check up appointments!”

This thought occurs to me every time I brush my teeth, but unfortunately my dental hygiene regime does not coincide with the dentist’s opening hours, so we are now two months behind. So this morning I decide to act on my thoughts, and set myself a reminder on my Blackberry. And so it begins…

I open the calendar and see all the other things that need doing tomorrow. I feel my pulse quicken ever so slightly. I hastily exit the calendar, and see I have had one text messages and 27 emails overnight. How has this happened? My pulse quickens a fraction more and I feel a funny tingling in my shoulders. I stretch them back, trying to nip the panic in the bud, but it spreads up the back of my neck and I feel my brain start to buzz.

I read the text message, but before I can reply my overactive brain has switched to the emails. Most of them aren’t important. I don’t think so anyway, but maybe I should check just in case, just in case today is the day I miss something crucial.

Lots of them are work related. It’s Sunday, but I know if I don’t look at them now it just means more to do on Monday, so I really should read and reply to some of them. My shoulders are creeping up towards my ears now. I’m replying to emails, when really I should be relaxing and reading the paper I bought yesterday. Why can’t I even manage to read a paper on the right day?

I wish I’d never cleaned my teeth. Maybe if I had just stayed in bed with the duvet up over my head I could have kept my mind blissfully blank.

The emails begin a torrent of other intrusive thoughts. I feel like a tower of glasses where you pour champagne in at the top and before you know it you have a waterfall of disconnected plans and tasks and Jobs That Must Be Done. And of course you never end up doing any of them, because you don’t know where to start, and if you tug too hard on the wrong bit the whole lot will come crashing down. And then where will you be? Just sat in a soggy pile of broken thoughts, dreams and to do lists.

I am standing in the middle of my bedroom, Blackberry in hand, eyes darting, fingers twitching. I begin to reply to the text message, but am distracted by the dirty clothes all over the floor. I must get some washing on, or we won’t have clean school uniforms tomorrow. Oh God, I should go to Sainsbury’s today too, or Belle will end up with one of the eccentric lunches I make when I have forgotten to buy real food – left over naan bread, some old ritz crackers, a pot of past-their-best raisins as a nod to her five a day.

I put on some washing, but standing in the kitchen I see dishes that need doing and a floor that needs sweeping. There are crumbs everywhere. I feel hungry. Maybe I should make breakfast. Where even are my children? I really must find them, unplug them, and spend some quality time with them. As soon as I’ve washed up. I stand at the sink and look out into the garden at pots of dead plants. I really should clear that up. But first I must write a blog post. And I must start researching the features I have waiting for me. If I don’t go on twitter I’m bound to miss out on something.

The red light flashes on my phone. I think I’ll just go back to bed.

Photo credit: Still Thinking

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Yesterday afternoon was one of those lovely afternoons where you get engrossed in an activity and look up to find it has got dark.

Belle was at her Dad’s, and Bee came home from school to find me having a little lie down in bed, as you do, in preparation for having to stay up past 10pm later that evening. She came and sat in bed with me and decided she wanted to get herself some moo cards and stickers. If you haven’t come across these before you should really have a look – they are mini business cards you can personalise with up to 100 of your own photos on the back, so every card has a unique design.

Anyway, I digress.

I had recently uploaded all the old photos from our wind up, clockwork computer, onto an external hard drive, so we wouldn’t have to wait three days for every new picture to load, whilst listening to the tower whirr and grind like an old fashioned windmill. Blimey, am I really talking about hard drives? Gosh, this is a terribly dull post. Basically, the point is that we ended up spending a lovely two and a half hours looking through all our old photos and gasping over how tanned and plump and glossy we all looked. Look at these chubby cheeks:

I love this one too at the donkey sanctuary. Belle has such a serious expression on her face, as though she is presenting a Open University programme on donkeys:

Now last year, as part of a competition with my pregnant sister whereby I had to weigh less than she did at nine months pregnant (she is very thin, honest), I lost about 20lbs. At the time I was thrilled, but looking back I’m not so sure it has done me any favours. I certainly don’t generally feel happier because of it. Looking back I can’t help but feel that actually I looked pretty good with a bit of extra weight. Sort of fuller and rounder, and younger too. I don’t know. Like this one of me and Bee at a festival in summer 2008. Look at that cleavage!

I look at the three of us now, and I worry that we have lost our shine. We all look a bit pasty and tired. Our skin doesn’t glow like it did. I know it’s winter, and I’m sure we’ll all look much better in a few months time, but I do wonder if we should more often look back through at pictures of ourselves and pay more attention to our exteriors, as a way of looking at our interiors. It was obvious from the photos over the years when we were going through happy periods, like here:

You can also see when times were perhaps tougher. Yet it is so easy to ignore these obvious outward signs, albeit unintentionally. I’m not saying we’re having an awful time or anything, but I think it would be fair to say the last six to twelve months have been hard work, with lots of changes, and that this is starting to show.

So my plan for the next six months is to feed us up, get us out in the sunshine and shake off the cobwebs. By the end of the summer I want us all to have shiny coats, waggy tails and wet noses. Hoorah! Now where did I put that Dairy Milk…

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Personally, I try to watch as little kids TV as possible. For me, the likes of CBBC is basically free childcare – why would I stick the kids in front of a cartoon, thus freeing up valuable time for messing around on the internet working, only then to sit and watch it with them?? It just doesn’t make sense.

Some of my friends though see a dual purpose for kids TV, namely the selection of attractive young presenters and the double entendres. OK, so sometimes this makes it worthwhile, but sometimes it is a bit much. There were far to many anal probe gags for my liking in Planet 51 for instance.

What I’ve never quite understood though is crushes on cartoons, Jessica Rabbit style. I know a lot of people secretly quite fancy a roll in the mud with Daddy Pig – like this mummy at Notes from Inside My Head – but I confess I’ve always felt slightly weird fantasising about a cartoon pig. Call me narrow-minded, old-fashioned, what you will – it just seems wrong.

So when the lovely people at Peppa Pig offered me a copy of the new DVD to watch, I thought the time had come to educate myself, and see if I could be charmed by Daddy Pig’s rugged good looks and assertive manner.

So what did the family make of ‘Peppa Pig – the Fire Engine and Other Stories’? Well, we loved it! Even my mum enjoyed it, but then she does have rather a fondness for kids TV. I actually bought her a Peppa Pig annual for Christmas, but that’s another story. Bee was a little disturbed by the idea of a pet ladybird that barked, but then she is 14 and rather pedantic. “Ladybirds just wouldn’t bark!” she protested. I tried to point out that as a rule pigs don’t talk and put out BBQ fires, but she wasn’t convinced.

I have to confess I didn’t feel any chemistry for Daddy Pig, although I did notice that Mummy Pig quite often comes over all coy and giggly in his presence, and generally looks quite pleased with herself, so he must be doing something right. Aside from that though, it was great fun. Forget blogging and wasting time on twitter, I think I might start watching kids TV in the daytime…

Peppa Pig – The Fire Engine and Other Stories is out on 29 March

Photo credit: Sarah and Mike ..probably

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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…

Photo credit Robert Otani

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This post is a shameless boast. Not a boast on my behalf you understand. This is a boast on behalf of my step-sister, Rebecca Cobb, who is a little bit too shy to blow her own trumpet.

Rebecca lives in Falmouth, where she works partly in a lovely shop in the town centre, and the rest of the time as an illustrator. Rebecca has recently illustrated a book, written by Helen Dunmore:

Isn’t it gorgeous? She is really very talented :-)

The story of how the work came about is lovely too. The shop Rebecca works in is opposite a bookshop, and she had some of her pictures up in the window for sale. The owner of the bookshop happened to notice them one day, and popped into the shop to ask who had painted them.

It turned out that he was a friend of Helen Dunmore, knew she was writing the book, and thought Rebecca’s style would really suit it. How cool is that? Just goes to show you never know where your next piece of work is going to come from!

The story is set is Falmouth, but I’m not going to tell you what happens, you’ll have to buy the book for that – it is out on 1 April, and is available to pre-order from Amazon.

So now if you’re ever looking for an illustrator, you know where to go!

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I don’t have anything clever or funny to say today. (Don’t stop reading though).

I just wanted to say a genuine, heart-felt ‘Happy Mothers Day’ to all the wonderful mummies who read my blog, and to those that don’t (seriously – what’s wrong with it?). We spend everyday reflecting on ourselves as mothers, questioning our parenting, wondering if we are doing a good enough job… Well today is the day to say ‘actually, I do a pretty damn good job. Maybe sometimes I’m not as patient as I’d like, maybe sometimes we eat chicken nuggets, but I do my best, and that is good enough.’

So please give yourself a big pat on the back for doing your best at what is surely the most challenging job in the whole wide world. Go on… actually do it… no really, I’m watching, I’ll know if you don’t. How will I know? Mummies just DO.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx

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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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When you think of internet addicts – what do you think? Probably teenagers on msn for hours on end, talking in words that don’t make sense. Or maybe men in their twenties and thirties, absorbed in the world of online warfare, with wives and children who know the backs of their head more intimately than their faces?

Last week, parents of a three month old baby in South Korea were arrested, after letting their daughter starve to death while they were online raising a virtual child in the role-playing game Prius Online. They didn’t even play at home – they spent hours at a time in internet cafes, only returning home occasionally to give the baby the odd bottle of milk. No wonder The Times were asking yesterday if there is such a thing as internet addiction.

This is an extreme case of course, but I do wonder if there aren’t actually thousands, if not millions, of internet users who although not addicted, find cyberspace overtaking their lives in a way that can often feel difficult to manage. With so much knowledge to explore, so many ways to connect with people, the internet can feel overwhelming. And once you start getting involved in online communities, you can feel a pressure, if only internally, to carry on. It’s a bit like buying regular lottery numbers – you can’t risk not playing once you have your ‘lucky numbers’. Once you establish yourself in a forum or social network it can be hard to leave, for fear of what ‘exciting’ news or discussion might be happening without you knowing about it.

Of course I’m not saying I neglect my children in preference of raising online babies, but I do feel a pressure to somehow be involved, to be available, and if I am not online regularly I often feel guilty, or wonder if I am in someway missing out. Perhaps it is because my work revolves heavily around email, or maybe it is my flighty nature, always wondering if something more exciting might be happening somewhere else or if that next email might be a new offer of work or interesting party invitation. (Disappointingly they never are party invitations, so if you have any kind of celebration coming up, please do bear me in mind.)

As parents, we are very aware of making sure our children use the internet safely, but do we always take the same care of ourselves? With more studies showing a link between excessive internet use and depression, we are right to be concerned, but that concern needs to include the whole family. We mustn’t fall into the classic parent trap – the one where you spend twenty minutes packing wholesome lunchboxes, leaving yourself only time to scoff a piece of bread in the car for your breakfast.

I do always switch my Blackberry off at night, so as not to be kept half awake with dreams of that teasing, flashing red light, but I’m not sure this alone counts as Healthy Internet Use.

I’d be really interested to know how other people feel about their use of the internet. Are you forever flicking between forums, or do you avoid social networking sites as much as possible? Maybe you set yourself a time limit? Let me know…

Photo credit: andyi

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