Sunday, 30 June 2013

Little Us Dolls Giveaway

I have been given the opportunity to host a giveaway for a new range of dolls called "Little Us", in their words:
 Little Us is a brand new range of enchanting dolls, each one with her own unique personality.  Which one is most like your daughter?– maybe it will be Chloe who likes everything pink, or Amelia who loves animals and reading, or perhaps it will be Ruby who’s just a little bit cheeky, or finally Mille, the tomboy of the group! Read the Little Us stories and follow their adventures on their Facebook page www.facebook.com/LittleUsdolls. Dolls are available to purchase from Amazon RRP £9.99.
left to right: Chloe, Amelia, Ruby and Mille

If you would like to read a review about the dolls you can find one here on Rock 'n' Roller Baby's blog

To have a chance to win please enter via the Rafflecopter widget below.



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Silent Sunday 30th June 2013

Sunlight shining through the branches of an oak tree


Saturday, 29 June 2013

My Reflection of Britmums Live 2013

It's now been a week since I came back from Britmums Live. In case you haven't heard it's a 2 day conference for bloggers who are parents with sessions ranging from improving your use of social media, to the “New” Feminism, to working with brands. With 500 blogger and brand delegates there have already been a deluge of blog posts written, but here is mine.

Blogging means different things to different people.  In the accountancy session Georgina talked about whether blogging is your hobby or trade ie you are trying to make money from it.  For me blogging is a hobby.  I love receiving products for review, going to events as a guest and being the first to know about developments in brands I love, but I don't make money from it. I like having the freedom to write what I want and it not to matter if anyone reads my posts (that lots of people do is lovely though).

Britmums Live: talks, people, food, booze and the Brilliance in Blogging Awards (I "borrowed" the award from the lovely Ben of http://lifeasawidower.com/ )  

A lot of the sessions were aimed at ultimately increasing the size of you audience.  There was a lot of talk about having a clear brand, but the more important message for me was staying true to yourself. Yes having a narrow niche blog will make you more memorable and stand out from the hundreds of thousands of blogs out there, but I don't fit in a narrow niche. I write about what is happening in my life, what I enjoy, what I don't and what I am passionate about. I don't have a single style.  I am happy to be a “mummy blogger” as before my daughter was born I didn't have a lot to blog about, but not everything I write about is linked to being a mum. It's all about me really.

My two favourite sessions were the Legal and Accountancy session and a Photography one.  I think these worked well as they were given by experts who had clearly thought through what they wanted to say and what would be most useful to their audience. Several panel sessions I attended were a bit all over the place and were mainly Q & A's.  Yes it's hard to arrange a panel session with people you don't know, but the question and answer format means that people aren't thinking through what is most useful to the widest possible audience. Next year I will try and avoid these type of sessions.

In the Legal & Accountancy session I didn't find the legal session particularly helpful as it seems everything apart from when you are paid to write a post falls in a grey area. If you are given a product to review you are probably not at risk in a way you would be otherwise, but I wouldn't say anything misleading or with malice anyway. I would hate to persuade someone to buy something that wasn't right for them so I think I am safe on that front.  Kingsley Napley also spoke about libel and copyright which sounded interesting, but as they started so promptly I missed much of this nipping to the loo.

The second half of the session was really interesting. Georgina is a mum and a self employed accountant whose “mission is to help women in business”. You can find her at www.starfishaccounting.co.uk and www.twitter.com/StarfishAcc.  The talk covered income to declare which includes: selling advertising space, Google Adwords, cash payments for writing reviews and payments in kind (products, service, vouchers, discounts). If you receive any of these things you should consider if you need to register as self employed and submit a tax return once a year. 

What you can and can't claim as expenses is complicated and I will save that for experts, but interestingly childcare and entertainment (including taking someone to lunch) aren't tax deductable. Tips around disclaiming capital allowance if not paying any tax was helpful as was how much you can claim for working from home (£4 a week or use of cost which often ends up more).

The Photography session was by the glamourous and funny Julia Boggio (www.boggiostudios.com and www.twitter.com/juliaboggio) who covered 8 tips of good blog photography including: Lighting, Getting off the P mode (but not to full manual outside of a studio), Composition, Styling & Props, Posing, SEO, Post Production and how to take Good Selfies (chin out and down).  Her session was informative and pitched at a level where everyone should have been able to take something away. I took 3 pages of notes.

The other session that gave me new ideas was by Richard Gray of www.iphoggy.com and www.twitter.com/rugfoot who spoke about a number of iPhone photo editing apps. Both Julia and Richard reminded people that you can take great shots on your camera phone and a good picture can be made more exciting in post production, but a bad picture is best deleted.
Just some of the Brilliant Brands at Britmums Live
(Panasonic, Warner Bros, Vitamix, Fox's, Asda Wine, Acer, The Saucy Fish company and Coca Cola)
Having said earlier that I don't intend to develop a narrow brand for my blog I have decided that I do want to include more photography. I have always loved it and unlike the film cameras I had when I was younger with digital I can snap and play until either my daughter or husband throws a tantrum.

I love so many things that it makes my life rich and interesting, hopefully it will have the same effect on my blog.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Yes I'm still Breastfeeding

Are you still breastfeeding?
It's a comment I get asked fairly frequently. I don't think it's people being critical but rather people not understanding why after 21 months I might still breastfeed my child.

Mork
Most days M asks for “mork” when she wakes up in the morning and at some point in the hour between her coming home from nursery and going to bed. At weekends, when I am with her more, or when she is unwell she wants to nurse more often. At times this is annoying, other times it is lovely.

So it's just for comfort then?
When people ask this I wonder if they mean hers or mine. Yes it is comforting for us both, but most of the benefits to newborns or milk continue as long as you nurse, and some increase. I am convinced that she and I have been ill less often and less seriously because of our breastfeeding relationship. At 6am in the morning I suspect her reason is hunger and mine is so I can lean back with my eyes closed for a little longer while M has some milk.

When are you going to stop?
My daughter will often ask for “mork”, but if it is getting close to bed time and she hasn't had any I will offer her some. She gets super excited. Why would I stop giving her something that costs me nothing, is good for her and is something she enjoys?

There are some occasions when it annoys me eg when she comes over takes 2 sips runs off, runs back and repeats. There are times when I say “no” like when she was pulling my dress down when we were at the vets in the consulting room. She throws a tantrum. She is very good at throwing tantrums and regularly throws them throughout the day. To force her to wean would involve a lot of tantrums. Why would I put her or I through that?

For every one time I have been fed up with breastfeeding there have been another 3 when I have been grateful that I still am including when she has been injured and nursing her stopped the tears (and in the case of a badly cut tongue the blood too).

If breastfeeding is no longer right for you then stop, but please don't stop because of the influence of people who think you should only breastfeed a child under 6 months.

Are you still going to breastfeed her when she's at school?
Children who are allowed to self wean from the breast do so at different ages. My daughter isn't yet 2. She wont start school for another 3 years. Since she was born she has grown from a dependent tiny ball who needed my help for everything to an independent, confident child who tries to do everything herself. Who knows what she will be like in another 2 years. Basically they are implying that my daughter will never wean, this is rubbish.

Breastfeeding is the one thing that I can be truly proud of as a mum.

I let my daughter watch too much TV.
I don't always give her healthy food.
Sometimes I can't be bothered to play with her.
I'm rubbish at brushing her teeth and cutting her nails

But for nearly 6 months I exclusively nourished my baby with my milk.
For a further 15 months I have supported and comforted her through breastfeeding.

One day M will no longer want mummy milk. It may happen quickly, it may happen slowly (there are times already when she says “no” to it). I'm in no rush. I know it will be hard on me and I probably wont be ready, but it wont be hard on her, because it will be her choice. And that's my choice.

Toddler breastfeeding with visible blister from Hand, Foot and mouth disease on her hand
Poorly girly with Hand, Foot & Mouth being comforted by Breastfeeding


Thank you for reading my 3rd and final post for the Keep Britain Breastfeeding scavenger hunt. Today's topic was “Breastfeeding Beyond a Year” and the final day tomorrow is “Dispelling Breastfeeding Myths”. A list of all the blog posts is available on the main blog as well as details of all the prizes www.keepbritainbreastfeeding.co.uk The competition is open until Friday 5th July so you have plenty of time to collect the 50 points required for the main prize.
Lots of blogs are taking part and here are just a few of them:

Life, Love and Living with Boys
A Baby on Board
In the Play Room
Red Rose Mummy
Pea Musings

As part of the National Breastfeeding Week and the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt lots of companies are offering special offers:

Lactivist are offering 10% off everything on www.lactivist.co.uk until 30th June 2013 with the code "KBB13". They have brilliant slogans on clothing, cups, badges etc

Boobiemilk (the lovely host of the scavenger hunt) are offering 15% off at www.boobiemilk.co.uk with "BF2013"
You can find a range of nursing bra's, tops and other products.

Breastvest are offering a different coupon code each day follow them on twitter (@breastvest) to find out today's code. These handy vests are designed to be worn underneath clothes and provide tummy protection and easy boob access when you lift your top up

You can get 20% off the Cantaloop nursing bra with the code "ukbfw20" until 10th July 2013 here

20% off the BabaSling until 30th June 2013 with the code "BOOBIEMILK" here
15% off reuseable nursing pads in pretty colours from http://www.ecorainbow.co.uk/ with the code "BREAST"

15% off crochet items from Rayne Beau Boos, order through their facebook page with code "BREASTFEEDING" Personally I like the hat with built in beard.

Finally (and with no mention of breasts) you can get a fab display shelf for books for £10.80 instead of £13 by buying through this page Big Book Little Book Cardboard Box

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Working Mum's Breastfeeding Checklist


It wasn’t something I expected when I went on maternity leave, but on my return to work I was still breastfeeding. My one year old daughter would have short feeds throughout the day. I must admit that I was looking forward to swapping my changing bag for a handbag, comfortable shoes and easy access tops for heels and a shift dress.  As I arrived at work on my first day back with a huge rucksack I was reminded that my life was no longer the same, and for now the handbag would have to stay in the cupboard.

So what were my essentials?
  • One pair of heels (I wear trainers for the trek to nursery, then the station, then the office: a couple of miles each way).
  • A double electric breast pump to maximise the pumping time I had(I used the Ameda Lactaline)
  • A cool bag,with icepack and milk storage containers (I didn’t feel comfortable leaving expressed milk in the work fridge and after one burst milk storage bag I bought proper kit: the Medela cooler bag)
  • My trusty breastfeeding cover (sitting topless in the office, even in a locked room made me uncomfortable)
  • Spare breast pads (I’ve long had nightmares about looking down at my top in a meeting and seeing leakage)
  • A spare top (just in case)
  • A muslin (to cover up my trousers/ skirt in case of spillage)
  • A large plastic food bag (with sterilised pump parts on the way to work, and used parts on the way home)
  • Baby wipes (the many uses of baby wipes deserves its own blog post)
  • Packed lunch (pumping and nursery fees leave no time or money to go out for lunch)

Other useful tips

I found I struggled with the downtime of just sitting and pumping as I’m so used to rushing about, but obviously relaxing and thinking of your child is the best way to encourage milk production.  At first I tried to use this time to meditate, but it didn’t work for me so I found a way to pump handsfree so I could tweet etc. Several of my nursing bras would hold the pump in place without my hands.

Companies don’t have to allow you time to pump, but most will if asked. Speak to your manager and HR (ideally before you go back) to find out if they have any policies, precedents or views. I just told my manager what I was going to be doing, but not everyone will have this option. I was later advised by HR that I could take time out to pump outside of my lunch break, but most days I just don’t have time.

Think about where is suitable to pump. Don’t let anyone suggest you can pump in the toilet, unless you would feel comfortable making and eating your lunch in there. If your company isn't used to pumping ladies it might make it easier if you suggest the place and time that works for you.  I used our first aid room as it is clean, has a power supply, running water and mostly importantly: a lock.

When it's time to stop

After a month I struggled to find the time in the day to pump so I stopped. I am happy that I provided my daughter milk at nursery during the difficult transition.  If she was younger then I would have continued for longer, but after I forgot milk one day it didn’t make any difference to how much she nursed when I was with her and my supply is ok.

And to be honest I’m really enjoying having some me time again.

Ameda Lactaline electric double breast pump and high heels on a wooden floor

If you are want to pump at work you'll know when the time is right for you to stop. It will depend on many things including: the age of your child, the hours you work and how accommodating your work is.

This is my second post for the Keep Britain Breast Feeding Scavenger Hunt as part of National Breastfeeding Week.  If you haven't already please check out some of the other inspirational blog posts and companies supporting the scavenger hunt.  You could win £1000 of breastfeeding goodies, but most important is getting the message out the breastfeeding is normal, that it is better than formula and that it is a realistic option for most mums. No one should make an important decision such as whether to breastfeed or not without being properly informed, and if someone wants to breastfeeding, but is facing challenges they should have access to the information and support they need.

Some of the great blogs involved in the scavenger hunt:
My Thoughts on Things
Let's Walk Together For a While
Life with the Pink Princesses
Twinkle Mummy
Mama Geek

One of the many prizes donated to the grand prize is a nursing bra from my favourite range: Hotmilk. You can see their underwear here. Nursing bras can be sexy!
 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Race for Life

Cancer is shit.  I'm sorry, but it is.  I don't normally swear on my blog, but sometimes it's called for. If you haven't personally known someone who has had cancer then you are very lucky, although someone you know probably has.  Cancer is never far away.

The good news is that what was once a death sentence is now survivable. This is due to research leading to better ways to detect and treat cancer.  More people are beating cancer than ever before (Cancer survival rates have doubled in the last 40 years) This is great, but there is more to do. There are still people that lose their Mothers, their Fathers, their children, their friends, but we can all help:
  • Check your breasts regularly for lumps (or check your partner's breasts for lumps)
  • Don't put off your smear test, unless you are pregnant
  • Check your testicles for lumps (or check your partner's)
  • If you notice unexpected blood when you go to the loo see a doctor
  • Keep an eye on any moles for changes in appearance
GO TO THE DOCTOR IF YOU NOTICE ANYTHING STRANGE
More information on early signs of cancer available here:

Two of my close friends have had cancer.

Iain I knew for many years through student fundraising and as a charity rep for Meningitis Research Foundation. He developed a brain tumour and was successfully treated for it. After surviving cancer I got to know him better. Five years ago I went on holiday to Portugal with him and a group of friends we had a fantastic time.

The following year the same group went away again, but I couldn't make it. They noticed Iain behaving a bit strangely (more strange than normal) like trying to park the car sideways (instead of parallel to) the pavement. In Spring 2010 Iain died after getting a more aggressive form of brain cancer. It sucks that Iain died, but without the advances in treatment I wouldn't have got to go away with Iain and get to know him so much better. He got more time, and so did we.

Alison is a friend from work. Several years ago Alison was diagnosed with throat cancer. She had the lump removed, and treatment and successfully beat it. She is still cancer free

I am a bit in denial about cancer.  Part of me still thinks that it equals the end. Writing about Iain and Alison made me realise just how much in denial I am.  They were both good friends, but I knew very little of the details of their illness and their treatment, and what I did know I have pushed out my mind. I was always happy to see them, but I didn't ask them about Cancer. Was that for their benefit or mine?

To help give more people the chance to beat Cancer I am running Race for Life next week. If you have a couple of spare pounds please consider supporting me:
http://www.raceforlifesponsorme.org/EssexKate

The lovely Iain and I in April 2007

Monday, 24 June 2013

Free Baby Food


Tongue in cheek advert for breastfeeding with a baby breastfeeding in the background

Today is the second day of The British National Breastfeeding Week and to celebrate I am taking part in the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt.  The theme today is "Top Breastfeeding Tips You Should Know" and one of the ideas was to name/ review your favourite products, so I thought I would do an advert for the only products you really need: boobs and breast milk.

Keep Britain Breastfeeding 2013 Scavenger Hunt Logo

To take part in the scavenger hunt you need to subscribe Breastfeeding in England blog and go to the other blogs and websites taking part in the Scavenger hunt. Each blog will post between 1 and 7 posts this week.  Each blog post will have a rafflecopter widget where you can enter and earn points, if you get over 50 points (quite easy to do) you will be entered into a prize drawer to win £1000 worth of products for breastfeeding and babies. A number of posts will have additional competitions you can enter, like this one.

Lactivist is giving one of you opportunity to win a Keep Britain Breastfeeding T-shirt if you enter the competition below. Lactivist is a brilliant website with products (such as t-shirts, bags and badges) promoting breastfeeding and gentle parenting in an amusing way. Check out their website for great and funny products and their blog for loads of great breastfeeding advice.

I love mummy milk logo by lactivistBaby wearing Mummy Milk Rocks t-shirt

Please check out some of the other blogs taking part in the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt:


Please come back to my blog later this week for more posts.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, 21 June 2013

I dream of Glastonbury

Next week the Glastonbury festival returns, but sadly I wont be there. I have been to Glastonbury twice and I loved it (in 2007 and 2008). No other festivals has hit me with an overwhelming sense of peace and contentment (well as soon as my tent is pitched anyway). It wasn't even a drug or drink infused haze, it's a general calming affect the festival has on me.
Many of the best music experiences I have had in my life have been at Glastonbury festival, but it's not just about the music. For me it's not about going to see bands you know, it's about discovering new music and relaxing. Even so the groups I've seen include The Killers, Shirley Bassey, The Who, Crowded House, Artic Monkeys, Florence and the Machine, Neil Diamond, Spiritualized, Alabama 3, Kaiser Chiefs, Manic Street Preachers, Dirty Pretty Things and a whole host I can't remember by name.
Glastonbury festival silly hats
Rain, Mud, Music and Silly Hats





Some of my best Glastonbury memories:
  • Listening to The Magic Numbers sing "Love me like You" in the rain in front of the Pyramid Stage and the clouds suddenly parted letting the sun shine through.
  • After listening to Elbow at the other Stage and walking back to our tent people were still singing their final song (One Day Like This) as they walked away across the site. This was just before Elbow got really big so many of the audience had never heard them before.
  • Lying on the floor in the dark of an acoustic tent listening to an unknown (to me) singer.
  • Dancing in one of the surreal night clubs in Avalon at 4am.
  • The cute Kiwi's who I seemed to bump into where ever I went (that was awful, honest).
  • Dancing in a crowded sweaty dance tent to Mark Ronson
  • Being on the edge of a very crowded tent listening to The Proclaimers. Half inside with the crowd and half dancing under the star light.
  • Walking back to my tent when it was light.
  • The annoying people in the tent next door who kept singing the "moonpig.com" jingle. 
  • Taking half an hour to walk a few hundred metres due to the crowds and the deep mud that just seemed to swallow your wellies
  • The dancing in ponchos
  • The food: cheese pancakes, roast potato with gravy, fish & chips, burgers, halloumi wraps, pizza, nachos, giant Yorkshire puddings, fajitas ...
  • Brothers Cider 
  • Drinking beer out of paper cups at Glastonbury feels right, at home it's not the same.
  • Sitting on the hill next to the stone circle just watching the temporary city, with the buzz and the laughter.
  • Walking around in crazy hats (what were we thinking?)
  • Seeing the horsemen and fire eaters and tightrope walkers
  • The "hippy" areas (green future, healing field, and craft field) which I suspect I would now feel more at home in than ever
Glastonbury festival pictures
Memories of Glastonbury
Yes there are bad bits: the toilets, not washing for a week (although everyone is in it together so the smell is less noticeable), the endless rain, the cold. I've also heard reports of nasty goings on and crimes, but the vast majority don't experience these.

Oh to be young and carefree and at Glastonbury.



All photos stolen (and mostly taken by) Mummy Is A Gadget Geek

ps Yes I know I have written my website address wrong on the collages, but I have deleted the pictures now so it would take forever to redo. I also don't have a clue why the formatting of text has gone weird on this post, but short of editing it all in html I don't know how to resolve it.  Sorry folks

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Totally unprepared and last minute but I'm going to britmums live too


For those that don't know Britmums Live is a brilliant 2 day social media conference that will be taking place tomorrow and Saturday. This is a meme started here to help people to get to know each other beforehand. The conference starts in 15 hours so I have left it a little late, but not as late as working out what I am going to wear...

Name: Kate 
BlogThe Secret Life of Kate (unsurprisingly the blog this post is on)
Twitter ID@EssexKate
Height: 5ft 5ish (copying Mari there)
Hair: currently a bit below shoulder length, blondish, with far too many split ends 
Eyes: hazel (not brown that would be boring)
Is this your first blogging conference? Yes and hopefully it will be more interesting than most of the IT ones I attend
Are you attending both days? Yep
What are you most looking forward to at BritMums Live 2013?
Not being at work, socialising, having a drink, not being covered in snot, not having people trying to get my boobs out, meeting people, having a laugh and hearing new ideas
What are you wearing?
That entirely depends on what I can find that is clean tomorrow morning, but huge thanks to Helen of http://www.cocomamastyle.com/ for her brilliant fashion advice.
What do you hope to gain from BritMums Live 2013?
Some new ideas and new friends
Tell us one thing about you that not everyone knows
So that'll be something either really really personal or something before I started this blog... I share too much so I'm not sure what to say. umm... ok...
I was brought up by my Dad so I get really annoyed with advertising just focused on Mums (Britmums welcomes Dads too so they are ok though ;-) )

Face masked crazy lady
Me! Or am I meant to put up a recognisable one?

Me, and the best of me

Watering everything: Kids Grow Wild

My daughter loves being outside. Snow, wind, rain, sun, she wants to be outside. Fortunately for us, her lazy parents we have a small garden that is safe for her to run around in. When the opportunity came up for us to get involved with the Kids Grow Wild gardening challenge post by moneysupermarket.com I thought it was a great way to get M to be entertained in the garden: with a bit of  gardening.

(This post is an entry for Britmums #KidsGrowWild Challenge sponsored by Moneysupermarket.com)



toddler gardening and planting seeds
Planting seeds
We were sent a brilliant gardening kit from Little Pals including a bag, little fork, little spade, a gorgeous green metal watering can, little gloves (although too big for a nearly 2 year old) and some Suttons Seeds: sunflower and pansies. M had a great time preparing the flower bed and pots, sewing the seeds, but most of all she loves watering. She waters everything in the garden (including herself) until overflowing.  This is useful when it is dry, less useful when it is raining.
toddler watering plants
Water, water, everywhere
Excitingly after a couple of weeks the seeds now have their second set of leaves coming, still a while until we'll see flowers though. I am enjoying checking the changes every few days and my daughter enjoys watering them and trying to dig them up. It's not really the best partnership, but we'll see how it grows.
Early growth of seeds
First signs of life, getting bigger (and slug damage), second set of leaves
Small Print: this post is a competition entry and we were sent the gardening kit for free.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Father's Day and a trip to the Forest

Yesterday was Father's day. We did very little in the morning as it was my husband's turn to get up late, but in the afternoon as it had stopped raining we went for a walk in High Beech, Epping Forest. M loved running around, trying to climb trees and adored my ice cream.  I love some of the pictures below of her and her daddy.

High Beech is great because there is plenty of parking, toilets, places to get a drink (or ice cream). Alternatively there is the Kings Oak pub if you want somewhere warm and dry or a pub garden with a play area. It's rough going if you have a pushchair and there can be a lot of mud, but there is also much to explore.


High Beech Epping Forest and a toddler

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Rainy Day Baking

When you have children and it's a rainy weekend you have two options: go out in the rain or stay at home and find entertainment. Today we chose to stay in.

One of our cats is at the vets recovering from an operation to unblock his bladder and the weather is pretty miserable so I decided I needed some chocolate brownies to cheer me up and I let M bake some for me. Much as I would love a Fun pod I can't afford one, but I have discovered M can use our fold up steps to reach to help me cook.

Baking Dairy Free Chocolate Brownies with a Toddler

Dairy Free Chocolate Brownie Recipe

1/2 cup oil
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup cocoa powder (I use Green & Blacks)
1/2 cup plain flour
(I have the Joseph Joseph Nest of stacking bowls which has measuring spoons included which makes it easier to do recipes by volume than weight)

1) Preheat oven to 200c (fan oven)
2) In a large bowl stir together the oil and sugar, vanilla and eggs
3) In a separate bowl mix the baking powder, cocoa powder and flour
4) Fold the dry ingredients into the larger bowl until mixed.
5) Pour into a small tin (I used a deep round cake tin as I don't have a small square one, it shouldn't need greasing)
6) Cook for about 20 mins
7) Leave to cool, remove from tin, eat.



Thursday, 13 June 2013

I admit it, I might not be coping all that well

I'm at rock bottom. Or at least I hope it's my rock bottom because if I fall any further I will have to be taken away to a secure facility to prevent harm to myself.
I'm so stressed that even when little things go wrong I can feel the rage rise inside me and I struggle to keep it inside.
I'm so depressed that I just want to hide in bed and I'm constantly on the verge of tears.
I keep eating for comfort, but food isn't satisfying me and just makes me feel sick.
My life is spiralling out of control and I don't know how to cope or bring it back into control.
I've been here before. I know it will pass. I'm just not sure how to survive until it does doing only minimal harm to my reputation, my career and my marriage.

The main trigger for me is control. I need to have a plan, or at least a survival strategy. Currently I am so busy that I can't get to the point where I can even begin to sort things out.

My main problem is what is happening at work. I am being given more and more to do and being excluded from things that I think I should be involved in, but I have been given so much I have to do that there is no point even raising it.
Bluebells in Wanstead Park
Lost in the woods with no clear path ahead

At work it's one of those turning points: some will fail and never be seen again and those that survive will be rewarded.

I am struggling to fight to maintain my position and any chance of advancement seems impossible.

Due to 3 changes in management I have struggled to regain my position after maternity leave. Now there are new challenges and new opportunities but they aren't being offered in a way that seem to offer me a chance of success, just a way to highlight my inevitable failure.

If I ask for help now, or they realise how badly I am coping it will be seen as a sign of weakness. Inability to cope is not what you look for in Department Heads. A female breaking down crying in meetings is not one that gets respect from her (majority male) senior colleagues. It is better to be seen as incapable due to lack of skill (at least I can get there someday) than incapable due to being an emotional wreck. They would always be waiting for the next breakdown.

Even if i can fool people I am coping I look a mess. I have so many spots, creased clothes, split ends, dark roots. Today my daughter is going to nursery in trousers that are too small and a pyjama top.

I need a plan. I need support. Ultimately these can only come from inside me. My husband tries to offer support, but by telling me to give up things. Things that I can't give up. Why should others suffer because I'm a failure?

I feel alone. I feel isolated. I feel like the world is spinning so fast around me that I will never catch up, but if I jump off for a while to try and catch my breath the journey back will be even harder than if I can try and cling on.

I don't know what to do.

It's depressing talking to a depressed person so I've come to the only place that I control. Where people are free to judge and free to ignore, but where I maintain control. The only place I have ANY control right now. My blog. So thanks for reading.

I'll get through it. I hope.

Monday, 10 June 2013

How much for a pint of milk? (Open Farm Sunday)

On Sunday we went to Lee Valley Park Farms in Waltham Abbey, Essex, to join in Open Farm Sunday. We have been to this farm several times (and one day I will publish my draft post about how much we enjoy the animals, playground and soft play), but on Sunday we spent most of our time at Holyfield Hall Farm which is just a short tractor ride away from the main attractions.

If you visit in the afternoon on any day you can hop on the tractor (or walk) down to the working farm and see the calfs or the cows being milked. As part of the Open Farm Sunday event there were also special events including face painting, making corn dolls and the opportunity to sit in a real tractor. We also got shown around by Chris the (very lovely) farmer.

Normally when you visit there is lots of information presented in a way that is fun to read & learn, but my toddler doesn't stay still long enough so it was lovely to learn more about the dairy and arable farm and farming from someone who knows it so well.
Enjoying Open Farm Sunday at Lee Valley Farm
Enjoying the farm
We had a fun day, but I also learnt a few things that surprised me and it got me thinking about farming in Britain.

The amount farmers are paid for milk means it is pretty tough to make a farm profitable. The pressure on farmers to reduce costs means they have to make compromises. While the UK has very good welfare rules if farms were paid more they would be able to improve the living conditions of their animals. The amount farmers are paid is ultimately down to how much consumers are prepared to pay.

If we lose British farms the cost of milk is likely to jump.  Milk is difficult and expensive to transport long distances in it's liquid state and farms abroad are often paid more for their products without needing to export it.  How sustainable is it to keep paying the prices we do?

Here are some other things I learnt at the farm:

  • There is a lot of science in farming. The cows have chips so when they are milked the machine knows which one has produced how much milk. If they produce more milk than expected they are given more feed to give them the extra energy they need.
  • Cows can produce around 30 litres of milk a day when in their high yield stage.
  • While I knew (or at least hoped) welfare of British cows was ok it is reassuring to hear how a farmer believes it is important to have happy well cared for cows. 
  • Cows have passports which travel with them. This means that any British cow can be tracked back to point of origin.
  • The horse meat scandal shocked people but it seems that the only reason it was discovered was due to foreign DNA. Where supermarkets buy a large amount of foreign meat they can't trace the origin so there is a risk the meat will be poor quality, even if it is the animal that they believe. 
  • At Holyfield Park Farm the high yielding cows normally stay inside as they need higher levels of nutrition that grass alone can't provide, but they are comfy eg where they lie is cushioned and they have recently put rubber flooring around the milking area because the concrete makes their feet sore.
  • Cows are seriously big: about as tall as me and a lot longer. Easy to forget if you only see them at a distance in a field or on a plate.
  • "Lucky" female cows go round in a cycle of pregnancy, birth, high yield milk, low yield milk then up to 6 weeks 'holiday' before getting chased by a bull (or artificial insemination) and the process begins again.
  • One of the reasons the cost of own brand milk in supermarkets is kept low is because they form part of the "shopping basket" used to compare prices between stores. Branded milk such as Cravendale costs more, but the farmers get more money per litre.
  • Most milk sold in the UK is British because milk is hard to transport, however dairy products such as cheese & butter often aren't British. Support British farmers and buy British.



Thank you to Asda for inviting me to attend this event and for providing our lovely picnic lunch.

Disclaimer: we received free entry to the farm and a voucher from Asda to spend on a picnic lunch, however I am under no obligation to blog about the event. I have annual membership to Lee Valley farm anyway and regularly visit with my daughter.

The Next Open Farm Sunday is 8th June 2014, put the date in your diary.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Walking around with a fortune

A lot of companies run competitions to encourage bloggers to write a post advertising them in return for a chance to win something.  This is one of them, but it particularly interested me for 2 reasons: the topic is "What's in your handbag?" and the prize is a Mulberry Bayswater shoulder handbag, wallet and phone case handbag.

The contents of a person's bag is very personal, it says a lot about the owner: are they neat, messy, organised, glamorous, practical... the insights it can provide are endless. Before I started emptying my bag for a picture I wasn't sure what would be in there, but here it is.

A combination of work, mother, woman and mess.

Contents and cost
Work iPad (loaned and insured by my company)
A couple of random work business cards (free)
Work notes (free)
A pen (free)
A couple of Moleskine notepads (£5)
Post it notes (property of my company, so free?)
Work pass with a lanyard from Yorkshire Sculpture Park (£3?)
Around a dollar in coins from when I went to San Francisco in February (£1)
A nappy (12p)
Baby wipes (£1)
Goodies Apple & Orange soft Oaty bar (50p)
Emergency dummies: Avent Silicone Soother (£5)
Car key (£200 ish)
House key (£7 plus cost of a lock change, £100ish)
Limited edition 2012 Jubilee Oyster card (£3, registered so money would be moved to new card)
Pink Tangle Teezer (£10)
Cath Kidston Umbrella (£22)
Miu Miu wallet (£200 ish) contain about £20 and a lot of cards
BareMinerals READY SPF20 foundation (£25)
A couple of Twinnings tea bags (free samples)
Ear plugs- 2 packs?!? (£1)
Paracetamol (20p)
Migraleve (£5)
Clean tissues (50p)
Dirty tissues (really don't need to be replaced)
Wax crayons (free from a restaurant with a kids meal)
Lip balm (£2)
I love mummy mirror- a birthday present (c£10)
Jing Jang creme (i don't think it's on sale anymore)
ear phones (£20)
Sweet wrappers (now in the rubbish)
Chewing gum (50p)
and the handbag: Pied A Terre (£250ish)
Plus my iPhone5 (£529) but that rarely leaves my hand long enough to make it into my handbag

Total cost £1420 plus work iPad and case

The average cost of a handbag and it's contents is over £850 according to an Insurance expect at MoneySupermarket. That cost is before you take into account the hassle of replacing everything and ordering new cards. A number of items couldn't be replaced including pictures taken on my phone since last back up.

Insurance is one of the things I am really careful about and we have a good home insurance policy which has a high level of cover. The cover includes my handbag and contents when out of the house (as long as I don't do something stupid like leave it in my car), but I hope I don't have to go through this process.

Do you know what's in your bag? And are you covered if you need to replace it?

If you would like to enter the MoneySupermarket.com competition and blog about the contents of your handbag full details are available here

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Is volunteering worth it?

I have a 20 month old daughter, I work full time and I also volunteer as Chair of the local branch of a national charity. My life is exhausting and as it's Volunteers' Week I thought I should write about whether spending so much of my time volunteering is worth it.

I have voluntarily handed over a share of my time to support charities since I was little. As a child I helped out occasionally in a charity shop and at University (and beyond) I was very involved with the student fundraising group RAG through which I helped raise awareness of charities as well as hundreds of thousands of pounds. I also taught in schools about drugs awareness and harm minimisation.

Through volunteering I have made many friends and it has helped me develop new skills. When I left university and was applying for jobs my degree ticked a box, but the interview questions were all answered with experiences from volunteering.

Becoming the coordinator (Chair) of a branch of a charity was an accident. I volunteered for another role, but when I went along to the first meeting I discovered the old Chair was stepping down (without a replacement) and we needed a new Treasurer too. I decided it would be more beneficial to the branch to have a Chair.

Over the next few months it slowly unravelled what a mess the branch was in:
Our accounts were over a year behind and there were no records or receipts.
We had very few volunteers and all but two of those remaining wanted to step down.
There were several unresolved complaints about our last event.
The regional and national support network of the charity was pretty unresponsive due to vacancies.

Since getting involved I have focused our resources on the activities that make the biggest difference to local parents (the charity supports people during pregnancy and the early years). I have managed to bring in a number of new volunteers, but lost them again because I haven't spent enough time with them to get them properly established. Most of our volunteers are parents with small children and competing pressures often mean the charity is forgotten.
To Do List on Moleskine
Exhausting
3 weeks ago was our annual meeting. It was advertised and open to everyone. 2 people attended (one of which was me). I made the painful decision that if we didn't get more support urgently I would step down, effectively meaning the branch would close.

I wrote an email and sent it to around 1500 members, ex members and class attendees. I said we urgently needed more volunteers or the branch would close. Fortunately I had about 20 replies which I am now working through and trying to convert into active volunteers.

Among the replies there was one from a husband saying that his wife had tried to get involved with a group, but they were too cliquey and maybe if we were nicer people we wouldn't be struggling for volunteers. After all the hours I have been putting in recently this email made me cry, angry and wonder why I was bothering. After an early night I have been able to refocus on the other emails which contain positive comments like those below:

  • "It would be terrible if we lost our local branch"
  • "I am saddened to hear the local branch is considering closing. The (charity) was the most enormous help to me when I had my daughter 2 years ago."
  • "I attended a ... group when I had my 2 year old and many of us are still friends plus I have just been away with one couple and their little girl."
  • "It would be a terrible shame if (the branch) were to close. My contacts with the branch last summer came at a critical time for me having just had my daughter. I remember clearly the first ... meet and it's in no small part down to these early meetings that I have so many local mummy friends now and am still breast feeding 11 months on."
  • "Having had my first son in May 2012, meeting new mums through a ... Group was such a great support, especially in the early days! Whilst you've said this service won't be affected it would be so sad if other groups and sales ceased to exist due to a lack of volunteers."
These are the comments I now focus on when I want to go to bed or spend an evening relaxing in front of the TV. The services I am helping to provide are making a difference.

I would love to say the branch is now hugely successful. It isn't, but I'm hopeful we will get there.

5 ways my life is better due to volunteering

  • Most of my close friends were made through volunteering
  • Volunteering helped me get on the job ladder and climb it faster
  • Volunteering while on maternity leave helped keep my brain active and eased the transition back into work.
  • Volunteering can remind you how lucky you really are and appreciate your life more.
  • Knowing that I have made a real difference to just one person's life is amazing. The more I volunteer the more people I help and the more rewarding it is.


So is volunteering worth it?

Yes, most of the time. It can be a challenge, but it's fun and rewarding too.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Migraines and Me

I live in fear of losing my life to migraines. Maybe that's a bit over dramatic, I don't expect to be killed by them, but I do worry that once again they are going to take away my quality of life.

There was a time not so long ago when I couldn't plan to go out in the evening, that I worried about booking meetings at work because I knew there was a high chance I would have to call in sick, and when I spent much of my time in a dark room lying very still just waiting for the throbbing, nausea and agony to stop.

On a good day I wouldn't be bed dependent, on a a good day I would just have a bad headache.

Migraines are common, with around 1 in 4 women in the UK experiencing them. People who don't have experience of them might think they are a bad headache, but an intense throbbing head pain is only one small (painful) part of a migraine. After a year or so of experiencing migraines I got to know them very well: before it arrived I would often crave sweet sugary things (more than normal) and become intensely irritated with people around me who were only doing mildly stupid things (pre-headache stage). Next I would often feel sick or get a visual disturbance where everything started going a bit fuzzy and I would bump into things (the aura stage).

If I didn't manage to fight off the migraine through a change of activity, food or drugs the headache would arrive. With a bad one, even with drugs, I would have no choice but to go to bed to wait it out (resolution stage). I tried fighting it, not giving in: it would just result in me being physically sick. Even after the pain went I would feel it's shadow and need more time to get back to normal (the recovery stage).

I tried a long list of ways to try and reduce the number of migraines: eliminating certain foods (useless), avoiding common triggers (have you tried avoiding stress?), exercising more (hard with a migraine), taking painkillers or triptans (both treatments not preventative) and a preventative drug: pizotifen (made me extremely tired, gain loads of weight, but a minor reduction in intensity of migraines). None of these worked significantly.
I have lost too many days of my life in bed in a dark room
Migraines are thought to be cause by Serotonin and affected by hormones, but given how many people suffer from them there is still no real understanding of them. Different people appear to have different triggers which is further complicated by the behaviours in the pre-headache and aura stages eg craving sweet things. I discovered that I have multiple triggers of which a number have to combine at anyone time eg if I'm tired, miss a meal, and then have the sun glaring in my eyes I will get a migraine, but any single trigger doesn't affect me.

Around a year after I started experiencing migraines, and at desperation point after having tried everything, I had my contraceptive implant removed. The doctor said that there was no way it causing my migraines. Almost immediately the migraines reduced in intensity. I realised that although I had originally had an implant 4 years before I had it changed shortly before the migraines started. Why it took me so long to work out this link I don't know.

Without the implant the migraines became more manageable, but I would still have to take strong drugs several times a month. Not ideal when you want to start a family. I didn't want to have to be taking powerful painkillers in pregnancy so after reading an article in a magazine I tried one last thing: acupuncture.

I was sceptical (to say the least) how sticking needles in random parts of my body would have any affect on headaches. My acupuncturist warned me from the beginning that it would probably take a number of treatments and regular 'top ups' to treat my migraines and headaches, but I started responding immediately  After just a few treatments I felt confident that I would be able to manage a pregnancy without drugs.

Acupuncture can also be used to help people struggling to conceive and my acupuncturist put needles in some points to make by body more balanced and likely to conceive (yeah, yeah I was unconvinced about that too). I became pregnant the first time we tried.

I continued to have acupuncture throughout my pregnancy including at the end to naturally encourage my body to move towards labour as I didn't want to be artificially induced. I went a few times after M was born, but I stopped going as I struggled to find the time.

About 14 months postpartum (thanks to breastfeeding) my menstrual cycle returned and headaches and  migraines with it. I now have a number of headaches each month and one or two migraines.  They are still fairly minor with only one or two each month requiring bed rest in a dark room, but I am worried about if they will get worse. I don't want to lose my life again.

How can I be a good mother if I can't be with my daughter?

How can I be a good wife if I am hiding in a dark room?

I am going back to see my acupuncturist this week. My fingers are crossed that she will work her magic.

For more information about Migraines see these pages from the NHS 
There is no statutory regulation of acupuncture in the UK, but there are a number of bodies they can register with including The British Acupuncture Council
My acupuncturist based in Harlow, Essex