30 March 2015

Never the Twain Shall Meet.

The boys behaved extraordinarily well the other morning.  And that evening.  They were positively angelic.

That's both of them.  On the same day.  So, I'm wondering whether it will happen again in my lifetime, obviously.

'But what brought this on?'  I hear you ask.  Yes, I do.  I can see you're aghast, thinking 'How does she do it?'

We all know when you have two (or more) children that one will be playing up when the other isn't and they will take in turns, like they've made a secret plan to shred your nerves.  The one who listens in the morning will have done his stint and revert to ignoring you later in the day, while the sibling who refused to get dressed couldn't be sweeter within a few hours.  He'll sit saintly drawing, do as he's asked the first time you suggest something and want the light turned out after just the one book.  *Faints.*  

No. Never the twain shall meet.  Normally.  And there isn't any secret answer - only that they both wanted to watch a particular film.

But, silly me, lulled into a stupid false sense of security, I did something really rather rash and booked a trip to France.

It was supposed to be easy - nipping over from Newhaven (near us) to Dieppe -  a small port that I've already visited a couple of times, but the children have never been.  It's only tiny and it would be easy to show them around.  Simples, I thought.  A cinch.  What fun!

But it didn't work out like that.

I took the advice we'd been given at a Travel Blogging session at the Britmums Live conference, which was to decide where we want to go, then ring the right people and ask if there are any preferential press rates.  As long as we're prepared to write about our trips, which bloggers will usually do naturally and for free, it can be possible to get a discount of some kind.

They didn't have that particualr route available, but could offer me Dover to Dunkirk instead.  What the hell? I figured.  Let's go for it.   Dover's just along the coast.  Never been to either place.  What fun still!

Only now, here I am, printting off maps for places I don't know, visiting my lovely friend Tania en route, whose place we've never been to before either, booking a Hotel in Dover and another in France, both requiring more directions and maps and even driving on the right hand side of the road in one case, of course.  Not that I've ever minded driving on the other side before, but it's always been in a car designed to do that, not in my very own trusty Ford with the steering wheel in the opposite position to where it should be.

I have a feeling I'd much rather keep banging my left hand on the driver's door and just copy the person in front than be doing what we're all booked up to do. (Don't we all do that when we hire a car abroad - keep going to change gear where we're used to our gearstick being?!).

My fretting was further fed then by this pretty awesome post by PINKODDY - where she outlines in explicit detail the documents and things we need to know to drive legally in France.  But we're now sorted, thanks to her and I realised that my winging it as a single parent just stepped up a serious notch or two.

The only things now are to get the students all stocked up with food before we go away and try not to panic about whether the boys will behave!

Hope you all have a wonderful Easter.

Anya XX

Intelligent Investing with Nutmeg.

When I worked as a Broker in my previous life in the City, our days would be full of jargon and it took time to get to grips with it, but, in the end, everything comes down to lending and borrowing and how much risk is involved.

The corporations with whom we dealt would be graded according to how likely - or unlikely - they were to default on a loan.  Top name British Banks, were easy to lend to, but they didn't need to pay as much interest for their borrowing as smaller ones from Latin American countries did.  Less risk = less interest - and this works both ways - whether you are depositing or borrowing.

But why do Banks want to borrow money, you might ask and what does this have to do with any of us?  

Financial organizations take all the deposits of their zillions of customers - people like you and me - and club them together to make great big fat ones, that they then do lots of exciting and interesting things with, including lending on to other private customers or business, making a huge profit in between what they charge and what they pay out.

You only have to look at the rate of interest you earn in normal savings account and compare it with the the rate you would be charged if you'd like to borrow the same amount from the same organization and you'll see the difference.

Investing any funds we might have with a Bank gives us relatively little risk compared with putting our money into stocks and shares or bonds and commodities, but it, thereby gives us relatively little return.  And most of us wouldn't know where to start with any of the other exciting and interesting, options that the Banks use anyhow.

But I recently heard of a company called nutmeg.com that is bringing intelligent investing to individuals, taking the City stuff and bringing it down to earth, giving us the benefits of their expertise and making people what is called a portfolio - a collection of investments - where they take all our little deposits, make them into great big fat ones and spread them into better paying ventures than a plain old savings account. Obviously, there are risks involved, but with that, the chances of a better return are higher.  

You might find your funds in oil, gold or commerical property - things you'd never have the knowledge or confidence to go for yourself and, because they like to keep things transparent, you're able to look up on line exactly what's happening with your cash this month!

But the best bit?   They only charge a one off annual fee of 0.3-1% for managing it all, so you always know where you are.

This brilliant little video explains it all - completely jargon free - and you can find out more here too.   They'll deal with your desposits, your ISAs and your pensions for a start.  Happy intelligent investing!

Disclosure - This is a collaborative post but all words are my own obvs.

16 March 2015

The Big 5 Life Lessons.

The other day my eldest son and I were grocery shopping when he picked up a packet of well known biscuits cakes, perused the back for a good while then popped it back on the shelf.

'You won't believe what's in them, Mum!' he cried, proceeding to reel off some of the more decipherable details.  And we decided to opt for a (decent) bar of chocolate instead.

This was one of my most proud parenting moments ever, because, without a fuss or any coercion he had taken an intelligent decision about what, or, more importantly, what not to eat and I felt it would stand him in good stead for the rest of his life.

So when my friend Michelle from Mummy From The Heart tagged me in a meme she has begun - the Big 5 Life Lessons we want to teach our children, this would be one of them - and here are my others too.

1)  Read the Ingredients.  From when our children are very young - even before they can speak - it's good to start brainwashing!  When they were tiny and pointed to sweets in a supermarket, I would shake my head and say they were full of sugar and chemicals and suggest a mango or some berries instead.  Years later, we still have the same conversation, but now they know to read the labels on the back and don't argue.  They have some, of course - party bags are always jammed with them and they often get given packets of sweets, so they haven't gone without, but I always encourage (decent) chocolate or fruit.  And don't get me started on ready meals - suffice to say that the more is done to a food, the less nutritional value it has and this will be in my kids DNA long before they leave home.  

2)  Believe in Yourself.  Oh how I wish I'd been brought up to have more faith in myself, what I'm feeling and thinking and being drawn to do.  It would have saved an awful lot of heartache and people pleasing.  Although we have to give and take, to have a core belief in who we are and who we want to be can be crucial to our own happiness.  Being true to yourself is one of the hardest things to do in life, but it's where the magic happens.

3)  Go with the Flow.  This isn't an easy one for the children.  When a plan falls through they can be devastated, but I like to open their hearts and minds to the idea that perhaps it's for a good reason and something better is going to happen.  When one of their friends fell ill recently and couldn't meet up as we'd arranged, we ended up dropping by someone else's with newspapers we had been collecting for their few week old puppies and having lots of cuddles and a long play with all six of the little darlings.  This was incredibly special and never would have occurred in our original schedule for the day.  It proved my point spectacularly and I suspect it might yet have some mileage when faced with inevitable disappointments in the future!

4)  Keep Learning.  There's an old adage that we learn something new every day and never has anything been more true.  The lightning speed of technology and how quickly things change is something to behold.  It's not always easy to keep up, but no-one wants to be left behind.  I studied Chemistry and Nutrition in my thirties, Journalism plus parenting manuals in my forties and Digital / Social Media is where it's at for my fifties!  I haven't ruled out taking a degree yet, because it's never too late to learn.  It keeps life interesting and our desires change as we get older, so don't be ashamed - go for it!  Travel, too, provides massive scope for opening one's mind.

5)  Pick Someone Out of Your League.  When it comes to picking a life partner, I say go for a good person and you do the choosing.  No-one is actually out of your league - but aim for someone you consider just might be and surprise yourself.  You deserve the very best.

So they're my #Big5 Life Lessons.  I've been thinking about Mich's, plus everything else she said even just introducing them (!) and am looking forward to reading everyone else's.  Anyone can join in but I am tagging the lovely Izzie from The World According to Izzie, because her twin daughters are now grown up and she's bound to have some top tips by now,  my amazingly clever friend Tania from Larger Family, because she now has 13 children and must be able to teach us a thing or two and another of my favourite bloggers lately - Nikki from Stressy Mummy.

Plus Paul, Andrea and Donna want to add theirs to the mix!

What would you add?

Big5Meme at Mummy from the Heart

27 February 2015

Who's The Worst Driver You Know?

I was recently asked to write an article about the worst driver I know, but didn't want to offend that particular person and risk ruining our relationship!  Plus, I was mindful of people we know who have experienced hurt as a result of some bad driving and didn't want to make light of it.

The angles discussed reminded me of a survey yonks ago - that much searching has not yet found - which resulted in a majority of the people asked claiming they'd rather be told they had no sense of humour than to be told their driving is bad.

It's obviously a really touchy subject!

The point of the post was to talk about the More Than Telematics Insurance.  This is when a small black box is attached to your car to monitor things such as your speed and your braking to build up a picture of your driving style. This information is then reflected in your insurance premiums and savings of hundreds of pounds can be made.

It is especially aimed at young drivers but, with any luck, it will also be helpfully vital, because I once attended one of those Speed Awareness courses (*blushes*) where they opened with the shocking statistic that speed is the biggest killer of young people worldwide.  (More info in this report HERE).

That kind of figure never leaves you and much searching has not yet found the notes I made that day either, which is a shame because it was enormously interesting.  They also advised, for example, that your laptop or handbag can kill you in a crash should they (or any other large object) fly off the passenger seat and hit you at speed and even a mobile phone can cause a nasty injury.  This is something else I've always remembered so, to this day, all our stuff goes on the floor of the car.

There were lots of people there like me, who took our tests around 30 years ago and many things have changed on the roads since then, including the cars.  It was a very worthwhile cause and it's a better investment of resources - education and re-education - than fiscal fines.  We all came out humbled and I am definitely more cautious now.

So it's not only young drivers who could benefit from being assessed in this way.  It's easy to get into bad habits.  According to them, the average time checking for traffic at a junction before pulling out is under four seconds.  Four seconds!  Which is downright dangerous obviously.  Especially for motorcyclists who won't always get glimpsed in a glance. (You'll find yourself checking how long you take - or don't - now!).

more than car insurance, telematics box, jeremy vine, dangerous driving,
Jeremy Vine
(Image Daily Mail)
And the lovely Jeremy Vine from Radio 2 (someone who I secretly have a crush on) did a feature on his lunchtime programme a while ago saying he was probably going to have to give up his cycling to work because he honestly feels he's risking his life on the roads regarding the ridiculous amount of unthinking driving he encounters.

What he said was startling:  'Every morning when I leave the house, my wife says farewell in the manner of Japanese women who waved off pilot husbands in World War II.'  

He wrote a brilliant article about that HERE - so he's done the bit about some of the worst drivers we know for me and he also, much more recently, held a discussion on his show about how relationships can disintegrate when people with more nerve than I have actually criticize someone else for lacking ability or awareness behind the wheel.  Like I said - very touchy.  Made me hoot though.

Would you rather be told you had no sense of humour (or anything else) than be told your driving is bad?

Who's the worst driver you know?  We won't tell anyone.  Honest ;)

[Disclosure - this is a commissioned post].

25 February 2015

Everything Different.

the sea, brighton,
One perspective. 
It can be a lonely business being a writer.  I like to take the lap top into town sometimes, purchase a coffee whilst perusing the passers-by and be away from the distraction of domestic drudgery.  It’s much more fun than being at home and the very best way to get things done.

There’s never any shortage of something interesting to see in or near Brighton.  There will be people with green, purple or pink hair.  There will be an array of bright and breezy coloured weird clothing combinations and business persons - suited and booted - will mingle with the sandal-wearing vegans dressed in hemp.  Plus, of course, depending on the venue of the day, there’s always the possibility of working with a sea view.

It struck me recently though, that I sit in the same places, in the same cafes, ordering the same things in them and, lovely as they all are, it felt like time to shake it up a bit.

sea, brighton,
A different perspective.
My first few forays were unnerving.  There wasn’t always WiFi for a start.  Or anywhere to plug anything in when my battery was getting too low.  At least when you’re familiar with a place and they’re familiar with you, these things are a given. (I always ask permission before using anyone else’s power and you can’t always find someone somewhere new!).

Then there’s the parking issue. I HATE paying over the odds for that when the cash could go towards something nice for lunch instead, so that threw me a bit too and it was quite hard to continue my ‘Everything different’ drive. 

Plus, the kids didn’t like it when it came to the week-ends. We’ve been going to alternative parts of the beach – or *gasp* not going at all.  Even just walking in the opposite direction has rattled them and they haven't appreciated my daring little detours when we're driving.  We’re playing more board games, watching less movies (if you don’t count the shedload while the little one was ill in half-term) and generally just jazzing things up.  It seems they needed it equally as as much!

But then, then, oh then, after a few months of this, I found myself back in an old haunt and, for a moment, considered sitting somewhere really out of character and ordering a liquorice tea, in order to, you know, keep the whole new change thing going.  However, I treated myself, instead, to what would have been my usual fayre.  The pleasure took me by surprise - it felt like I’d come home.

For a start, it alleviated any lurking loneliness.  The familiarity of my coffee was a complete comfort and joy.  And I realised why we pick our places and we stick with them until we’re perhaps, too stuck - it’s because we've chosen them over and above the rest for a reason.  They suit us.  We love them.    
We've enjoyed ‘Everything different’ - it certainly has its place.  Getting out of a rut has been good for us all, but it has also brought extra pleasure to what I was already doing and where we were already going.  The children have become more (graciously!) adaptable and the exploring and venturing further afield will continue, spoiled as we are with a wealth of opportunity where we live - between the foot of the Sussex Downs and the coast.  Now that the kids are older, it's time for us all to spread our wings a little further.

Just don’t let me dye my hair.

Have you tried anything new lately?

sea, brighton,
A change of viewpoint. 

16 February 2015

How to Make Pancakes - French Style.

crepes, pancakes, how to make, French pancakes, shrove tuesday, pancake day, mardi gras,
Our French student, Victoire.
I'm not known for my recipes, but the ones I occasionally share by my Foreign Language students are popular because they're original and authentic and this one is no exception.

It is one that my current lovely lady from France has introduced.  Her mum makes their crepes with rum IN the batter.  Taking the view that it would be rude not to insist she showed us as * Shrove Tuesday (or Mardis Gras as they call it) approaches, here are the ingredients -

250g flour (any kind, including gluten free)
3 eggs
pinch salt
1/2 litre milk (whichever is your normal sort, including coconut)
1 large spoon oil
1 large spoon dark rum

Place the flour in a bowl, with a hole in the middle. Crack the eggs into it, add the salt and mix with a wooden spoon.

Pour the milk in a little at a time, keep mixing until it is all liquid, add the oil and then the rum.

Leave the mixture to stand for two hours, occasionally stirring gently.

When it's time to cook the crepes, you can add a little water or a touch more milk to make it less thick if you want to.

Heat a little butter in your pan and add a ladle of mixture. Cook it slowly but well, then flip it over for the same.

[Or - it's common for the French to use an electronic machine called a Crep'Party which stands in the centre of the table.  It makes six at a time, so everyone present does their own, kind of fondue style].

They traditionally serve them with hot butter and sugar - much more delicious than it sounds, Nutella or caramel, jam or just sugar.  Victoire's favourite is banana, melted chocolate and cream.  They don't seem to do savoury ones, which is normally my preference, but having tried hers and added some extra rum for good measure, I can't complain!    

They would work perfectly with coconut milk too.

We made a pile of ten and kept them warm with foil. They don't stick to each other because of the oil in the mixture and there wasn't really any need for butter for frying because of it either.

Et voila!  The kids declared they could eat them for ever.

'Shrove' emanates from the word 'Shrive' meaning to confess and 'Mardis Gras' is French for 'Fat Tuesday,' referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting and penitential season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday

Bon Appetit!

(And in case you missed them here's a couple of other goodies -

How to Make a Perfect Carbonara Sauce. 

How not to make Fajtas but how to drink Tequila. ).

29 January 2015

Watch Out, There's Man Flu About!

man flu, #manflu, michael mcintyre,
Source - Pinterest.

So it turns out that Man Flu is a real thing.  According to a recent study in America, it seems that the hormone oestrogen plays an important role in strengthening our immune systems.  Darn it.  

We all know that men don’t possess the level of oestrogen that women do, but this is where they fall down when it comes to their ability to fight cold and flu viruses. Their lack of it actually makes their immune systems weaker, which in turn means they not only contract viruses more easily than the fairer sex, but feel the effects more seriously.  

I am so glad I am not married anymore.  Because aside from finding toe nail clippings on the sitting room floor, nursing a man who is justified in feeling sorry for himself and could quote this kind of thing at me might make me divorce him anyhow.  

Unfortunately, he would be backed up by the (informal) Twitter study of #ManFlu on the link, which, instead of it being limited to the wusses down south as I expected it to be (speaking as someone who lives right down there) it's being claimed as a genuine illness all over the country!

I asked some friends of mine what drove or drives them mad about their partners aside from nursing him when he's far more ill than we'd ever be:-

The lovely Becky from Lakes Single Mum relishes the joy of no-one snoring next to her in bed, my gorgeous friend Sarah despairs from having her husband leave wet towels on the bathroom floor and the beautiful Actually Helen, who is also still married says she wouldn't need to see her osteopath so often if she weren't constantly picking up socks and pants from the floor!

The very generous Joy seems to be fighting a neverending losing battle with the toothpaste tube and dreams of waking up every morning knowing that it has only been squeezed from its end, plus the marvellous Mari, who's living proof of hope triumphing over experience as she's on her second time round, sometimes thinks she might prefer not to have to pass every idea she has by someone else and lusts to live happily ever after 'in her land of make believe!'

As tempting as it is to pick up on that last statement and link it to men and Man Flu I shall resist, seeing as it's now a solid and proven thing as it can get, but I really can't restrain myself from mentioning that, due to their lesser levels of oestrogen, they never go through a full blown labour, do they? ;)

This clip here of Michael McIntyre relaying a conversation with his wife about why his washing is next to the laundry bin and his dirty plates are next to the dishwasher is something we can all identify with and should be shown to any remaining husbands sharpish - well those who aren't dying from #ManFlu.  It is absolutely terrific.

Disclosure - this is a commissioned post but all words are my own obvs.
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