Friday, 28 November 2014

Xmas has arrived in November

Early Xmas present from me. I am keen cyclist too
This year I was feeling more upbeat so I decided to treat my daughter to a festive build-up to Xmas. I got everything out of the garage in mid November and we did our trees, one for me and one for Michela.

We also went through toys and decorations and donated big bags of stuff to the charity shop. We needed to make space for the big Xmas tree! As a special treat, the advent Santa was filled with jellies and chocolates to be started mid month and to finish on 25 November. It will now restart from 1st December.

Then we went out for the Christmas Switch-On celebrations, which were in mid November here in Cambridge. So here are our decorations so far... we still have some tinsel decorations and the lights to hang, plus a wreath to make using our garden's greenery.

Mantelpiece - Christmas decorations

Detail of fireplace mantel decoration

My Christmas tree in the dining room

Advent calendar - refillable (sorry it's blurry)

Decorations above my old telly

Michela's room

Cute bear with Polly
 Pocket Xmas scene

Window sill Christmas decorations

Michela's tree

Saturday, 15 November 2014

My daughter's first three words

Just had a little chat with my daughter, now 7, about her first words. Hers were in chronological order:

Dada (dadada, because it's easier syllable for babies apparently and I encouraged her to use it instead of daddy)

Booboo (as in breast, she was breastfed)

Mama (mamama, which I have encouraged her to use instead of mummy)

What are your child's first words?

Monday, 27 October 2014

Born in the wrong century - so to speak & a gorgeous vicar!

J. Howard Miller's poster from 1943 - Wikipedia
Since summer transitioned to autumn I have been waking up earlier, which doesn't make sense as at 4 or 5am it's pretty dark. I have this issue in summertime, when at 4am it is incredibly light and the birds are chirping away in the back garden.

Why now? Perhaps it is because I am juggling too many balls. I am not SAD - I was down in the dumps last year as autumn/winter are not my favourite seasons. I feel contented with my daily life. When stressed or depressed I also wake up early, my brain kicks into action and I cannot go back to sleep as I think about potential problems to be addressed, chores, etc. Not exactly fluffy, happy thoughts. 

But not this year! This autumn I am fighting negative thinking with positive thinking, if there is a cloud I quickly grab a silver lining. For instance, Yes, it would have been better to schedule those two appointments in town closer together but... POSITIVE THOUGHT... the big gap was not a waste of time as I managed to visit the library and borrow that book I was meaning to read in the weekend. So I saved a library trip, freeing more time for other activities.

There is so much I am trying to do: work part-time in an office, work at home as consultant, spend time with my daughter, do creative writing workshops (I went to a drama one yesterday), see friends, go to public lectures (the Festival of Ideas is on now), grab some time for training (I am doing a MOOC and have other courses lined up), update my blogs (five of my own and one for community project), read that book I borrowed, look after house and garden and last (always comes last since I became a mother) look after myself. And it might not be all as I have a list on my desk with a few little chores that need doing this week. This week... the half-term week. It is going to be a squeeze! My partner is taking three days off, which leaves two days to do it all and with my daughter in tow.

But no negative thoughts, please, "We can do it!" So to put a positive spin to my hectic life, let's say I am trying to be a Renaissance person. This is not a popular character to be in this specialised age, but lo and behold, there is an article online that explains how to be one!

Challenge 1: "Building your physical prowess". Right, I have this covered. I was lucky enough to win a month's membership to local sports centre. I did various classes and swam. Problem is that I can't sustain it at that pace. Yes, I want to continue but not right now I have to negotiate childcare with my partner to attend evening classes or find a daytime one I can do, which is tricky with my ever-changing schedule. But let's be positive and wait after the half term.

Challenge 2: "Developing your creativity""Understanding art". Yesterday I went to a drama workshop and had to perform at the end, in front of an audience. I also go to a writers' group now and then. I like to go to museums and art galleries, stress-free outings I can share with my daughter, no problem here.

Challenge 3: "Honing your intellectual skills". Easy peasy, I do this all the time because I get a kick out of learning. My various projects  involve learning about new processes and subjects. And I am going to teach next year! Also I read a lot. But let's keep this in check, there is nothing more irritating than a know-it-all.

Challenge 4: "Balancing your life" Ouch. My happy balloon burst there. My life-work balance needs some serious TLC. Still, it's not an epic fail, yes we can do it!

Challenge 5: "Developing your character and temperament". This includes "Be brave" and "Be thoughtful and generous". I think these two are OK. I can manage to make myself do things I don't want to do and find charity work satisfying. There is also "Be courteous", I do believe manners cost nothing and try hard not to be upset by morons. When I was living in London I kept getting this comment: Cheer up, it might never happen, but not now. Either people in Cambridge are more polite or I stopped looking grim. And last but not least, "Be a leader". How? "A real Renaissance person is a person who helps others and cares for their neighbors". Bingo, I joined a local exchange skills scheme recently and I hope it works out as it will make every-day life more interesting and fulfilling. 

I leave you with this last bit of advice/tip: " If anyone ever insults you about it or is ever hostile to you about being a Renaissance person, do not take it personally. They are jealous."

And here is a bonus gift, a screenshot of my current fave period drama actor. Who knew vicars can be this gorgeous? 

Screenshot from Grantchester, ITV drama

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Winter wellness for the whole family

Photo: Stephanie Lepoint

Today I am not feeling my best, I am coughing, feeling light headed and my stomach is not happy - paracetamol works well but always has that annoying side effect. It's a cold, grey day and luckily I can work from home. It could be worse, I could have that nasty flu that drains your brain while your body aches all over.  

I am a strong believer that prevention is better than cure, so as soon as the autumn started I did a stocktake of my medicine cabinet and bought a few items to see me through the winter. Here is my honest review of them all, including products that were sent to me by health and wellbeing PRs. New products are launched every season and I am always keen to try new things. Plus it is very convenient to be able to try before you buy.

What I bought

Nature's Answers Bio-Flavonoids & Rose Hip, around £12
I bought this a long while ago so it only has a few spoonfuls left. I originally collected rose hips and wanted to make my own syrup but the process put me off. I don't think I will buy this again as it tastes awful. I try to swallow it quickly but it lingers in the mouth. I am not sure if it does me any good and it is not cheap for 120ml. Maybe I should give the syrup a go so I can make it as sweet as I like. This is suitable not for children, the homemade syrup would be OK.

Ortis Vitality Ginseng, around £17
I bought this when I was feeling drained and needed a pick-me-me-up. This works very well and is reasonably priced for 250ml. The taste is fine, I would recommend this if you are feeling down and have not much appetite. This is not suitable for young children.

D Lux Vitamin D 3000, around £8
This was recommended to me by a SAD friend, who called it liquid sunshine. Pleasantly minty, it is a wonder for dark moods on grey days, whatever the season. Don't be greedy, though, stick to the dosage. It can last quite a while. It is not suitable for young children.

Fisherman's Friend, around 70p per packet
This is not a medicine or health product, it is an amazingly long-lasting lozenge. It kills my cough and even helps with throat pain. I bought a retail-size box of these from ebay. I don't care if the brand is not cool, I can't live without them. I have a sensitive throat that needs soothing whatever the season.

Forever Aloe Vera Bits & Peaches, around £22
This is the children version as I didn't fancy the taste of the adult one. I do enjoy aloe vera soft drinks but even this peach version is not to my liking. I took the adult dosage and had some unfortunate tummy effects then read about it online and found out it is used as laxative and as a slimming aid. I cut down the amount I take to child's dosage and it works fine. I won't be buying it again as I can't stomach the taste of it, even mixed to orange juice.

What I was sent by PRs

Dettol Anti-bacterial Cleansing Surface Wipes, £2 for 36
Wipes? You might ask. I am a fan of baby wipes for cleaning almost anything, such a pity I discovered their power only after having a child. These Dettol wipes, though, have a stronger germ-killing power. So whether you have a young baby of weaning age or a school-child with mucky lunchbox, they come in handy. The only thing I'd say to manufacturer, make them a bit smaller and a bit cheaper! That said, I managed to use them to clean the burned grease and food spills off my cooker - Mr Muscle, eat your heart out!

Proven Fit for School Probiotics with A-Z Multivitamins, around £13 for 30 chewable tablets
There is a tempting claim on the box: shown to reduce absenteeism from school by 30%, which could be very popular with working parents! The tablets taste nice and my daughter likes them. Suitable from 4 years of age, they are not cheap compared to standard multivitamins, but if they work! So far so good.

Proven Probiotics Adult Probiotic Plus Total Immune & Energy Support, around £11
This box contains 14 sachets of "delicious effervescent drink containing real orange". To me it tastes like an adult multi-vitamin drink, a tiny bit bitter, so not as nice as the children's tablets! I have a sweet tooth, sorry... Apparently you can take it directly into your mouth like a sherbet, which was nice and tingly! Not bad value for money since it is also an energy drink for those drained days.

Quest Vitamins' Forte 4000 Vitamin D, around £12 for 60 chewable tablets
With sun doing a disappearing act during the winter, your body could do with a vitamin D boost as only 10% comes from food we eat. This is particularly important for adults over 65, pregnant women and children. Vitamin D also helps fight SAD (seasonal affective disorder). As I mentioned above, Vitamin D is liquid sunshine and it does work!

I also got a few other items to try out from a very generous PR person, a real healthy treat! This 'health hamper' included Carnation socks in my child's size in a lovely pink shade; BrightStart Vitamin D3 Drops + DHA for children and SwimSeal drops, which deal with ear pain in little swimmers. 

My family is well set for winter indeed!

Friday, 3 October 2014

Friday fun: what type of biscuit are you?

Last week I went to Camjelly and after toiling on a boring job for an hour or so, I quit and started working on this fun personality quiz.

Whatever your occupation, please have a go - it will only take you two minutes.

Hope you enjoy it - this is great with a cup of tea or coffee!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Are you a blog addict?

When I started blogging in 2005, I wanted some online writing experience and being able to write about topics I was interested in. I was working as a journalist but had to edit/write what others wanted me to edit/write...

So my first blog, called London Cheapskate was born. It is now called Cambridge Ecothrifter and it is still live. This blog is about creative recycling - indoors and outdoors and includes crafts, cooking, gardening....

Then came this blog, when my daughter was tiny and I was writing parenting/nutrition articles. This blog became my outlet to write about what I really cared about, rather than what I was commissioned to write. By then I was already transitioning from journalism to copywriting and digital marketing.

The following year (2010), I started Beautiful Creative Things, a visual blog about things I made and found.

In 2011 I started the 1930s House, which is about renovating a 1930s property and restoring its beautiful but terribly overgrown garden. The house was previously owned by a botanist, so the garden is really special.

In 2012 How to SEO sprang up from my fingers! Aside copywriting I was doing digital strategy and I wanted to have my say on optimisation/optimization and how to write for the web - think content marketing.

As I got more childcare, I started to work away from home and this meant my blogs got neglected. I felt really guilty but didn't want to pull the plug on any of them. Which is great as I have found some enthusiasm and space in my hectic life and would really like to look after them a bit more. They are part of me, representing different interests and I have missed them! I won't blog every week but will try not to have huge gaps. Ironically it has not made any difference to this blog as I have over 3000 readers a month. It was 1000 at one point and when I next checked I was shocked to see the number up to over 2000 as I had not updated it for months. I see today I had over 3000 views last month. Thank you for holding on, I promise to look after this blog now!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Toyota travelogue - August 2014

First of all, let me tell you that I don't receive any money from Toyota, not any other travel-related business (I wish!). Our family car is 11 years old in October and the reason I mention the brand is because it has never broken down. The boot is a bit small but it has coped with a baby, a toddler and now a school-aged child.

Here are the stops we made this year (for past years' itineraries, please click here. To recap for new readers: nearly every year we drive from England to Italy through France. We started when Michela was one year old and we have learned a lot about travelling with a young child and have a stress-free experience. If you are interested in my tips/experiences, click here for a list of travel blog posts, scroll to the bottom of the post for the full list - plenty of tips on how to keep a young child entertained - we get very little "Are we there yet?" hassle due to a number of strategies. And no, we don't use chocolate as a bribe.

This year we departed from Cambridge and crossed the channel with Eurotunnel. If you book early and an unpopular slot, you get a good price. We have never tried the ferry with our car and we are not likely to do that as it takes too long. We love Eurotunnel [no sponsorship here, just genuine customer satisfaction].

First stop: St Quentin

The town hall with dismantled pop-up beach - we were too late!

Frog legs

Second stop: Bourbonne-les-Bains

Walking up to the castle

Beautiful pool, freezing-cold water. France had a freak summer this year!
 Motorway pause: Aire de Jugy

We stop every year - free playground up to the age of 12
 Third stop: Vienne
Couldn't resist - a local dog breaks the poop law

Town hall
 Lunchtime stop: view from Mont Cenis

Italy! We spent 8 days in my native village in Piedmont. More pictures in post about our previous journey. Click here.
My maternal grandad (RIP) built this house

Michela enjoys the annual funfair
First stop on way back: Macon

Lamartine Museum

The view at night - lovely riverbank

Second stop on way back: Epernay

The town hall

Champagne! I recommend taking a tour of Mercier's caves.
This vineyard is next to the their Champagne House, in
 the middle of town!

Third stop on way back: Calais

Lovely beach with ferries in the background

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Winter wellness and a penguin!

Topiary penguin at Wolfson College, Cambridge

As autumn advances, I am thinking of taking supplements, vitamins, etc to raise my immunity this winter. I am also considering those for my seven-year-old girl. So look out for a blog post about this topic. 

I am testing various things at the moment and need to see the benefits (or lack of) before I blog about them. The article will be a mixture of product reviews (samples) and products I purchased as a paying customer.

Watch this space!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Long time, no see...

I haven't been posting for a long time and yet many people still visit this blog (nearly 3000 last month). I am also getting offers to test products, mostly for babies and toddlers. So if you are a PR and want me to test a product, my daughter is 7 now and I don't have any babies to test buggies or other infant products.

If you are a reader, fellow blogger or just casual visitor, I have been busy doing commercial writing for websites and enjoying all Cambridge has to offer. The picture above (not really flattering for me, but hey, I am no spring chicken) was taken in King's Parade just before we were granted entrance to Senate House to a great spot to watch the Tour de France blitz through Cambridge city centre.

I have also been going through a sort of middle-life crisis. For years I have been championing homeworking but in the past year or so I have been enjoying working in an office again (albeit as a temp/contractor). I am not happy working from home any more, now my daughter is in school and at an afterschool club, I can work elsewhere if I wish. Still job hunting is very competitive in Cambridge so I still take on freelance writing and editing work.

If you read this and like me are wondering what to do next, please leave a comment and share your insights, woes, good story or bad story. I would really love to hear other people's views (male and female).

To the next time. 

Monday, 25 November 2013

Product review: MIchela meets Furby Boom

Furby Boom has climbed to the top spots of Xmas wishlists everywhere, including the Dream Toys list from the Toy Retailers Association. So we were both very excited to be offered the opportunity to review it!

This new, updated Furby has many more responses programmed in and more movement (ears, eyelids, mouth and animated pupils). Plus he (ours is a boy) can interact with a free app you can download onto a smartphone (Apple-only devices, android and Blackberry apps are not available at the time of blogging). There is even an egg hatching challenge - we haven't managed that but Michela has already named all the eggs on the enclosed poster.

Grooming time!

Although we couldn't get the app, Michela has been having lots of fun out of manual interaction. She enjoys feeding him, tickling him, turning him upside down and hugging him. Furby started speaking with a squeaky voice, then morphed into a bigger voice but still retaining childish playfulness, making 'rude' farty noises, snoring loudly, demanding food... 

The next change (growth?) brought Furby back to a childish voice (a different one, with a slightly naughty personality), which was a relief for both of us as we enjoyed the squeaky tone much more than the 'grown-up' one. 

Then the batteries ran out (4 x AA batteries are needed) and after changing them, Furby reverted back to its original personality. Still, we had the Furby for nearly one week and he is still going strong. Michela considers it as a pet and I'm allowed to touch it now and then. 

One thing I need to mention is that there is no switch off button - you need to make the Furby go to sleep, which Michela struggles to do, so it's now my job! I quite enjoy doing it.

We are both very happy with our stripey Furby, the only downsides are the fact you need a screwdriver to change the batteries and that the app is not available yet - the latter issue has generated quite a discussion online, 

Suitable from age 6+, the RRP for Furby Boom is 59.99, but you can save £10 if you buy it from Argos. More 2013 dream toys at Argos... 

UPDATE - September 2014: Furby has been dusted off and is my daughter's best friend since we found and decided to download the app. She has been busy grooming it, feeding it and hatching eggs all day. Tablet is down on battery and recharging.