Friday, 26 December 2014

New Year. Old Me.

Christmas is great.
 I am off work and able  to spend  time  with those I love at home, or  out with friends and family. No one bats an eye if you have mince pies with chocolate chaser for breakfast or a glass of wine at 2 pm,and  then another one :-)  

It is a time of excess, but also of simple pleasures. It is  fun to stay in your PJ's  and watch old  movies and build Lego castles, it's something we don't do enough of. We spend our time "doing stuff" and  not just "being". There is something else though about this  time of year, the excess, the expense, the calories the claustrophobia of staying in while  the wind and rain batter the windows  that makes me crave  the new year. The new life in the spring, the longer, brighter days, the promise of bright evenings, sunshine, the future.

The new year often encourages us to de-clutter, start a diet, take up a hobby, vocation or sport, or  to give up one of our  many vices. I have been  there too many times to mention. Tried to give up  this that or  the other or to go from sloth to athlete in weeks with limited (no) success and in the long run,  ending up feeling worse than before you started.

Clearing out is  something I do enjoy, but as a naturally lazy lion I need to be in the "zone". This morning I tackled some of  the girl's old toys, all those McDonalds plastic toys, all the bits of  things  that don't seem to belong  to anything. tens of plastic hair bobbles, ripped books, broken pencils,baby books and puzzles that are no longer a challenge. It felt so good  to pack them into  the back of  the car to get  them out of  the house.

My resolution  this year is  to carry on being a bit more me. Sure I could lose weight, I could be fitter, I could watch less TV and be more disciplined etc etc. At the turn of  this new year I am happier  with myself  than I have been for some time. I like  me a bit better than last new year. I am easier  to be around and I'm not  broke, so don't need fixing. If I decide  to try the Couch-to-5K challenge I'll let you know!

Happy New Year all- are you planning  to change anything  this year?

Friday, 12 December 2014

Getting Stuff Done

Crochet tree chain.

I like to  think of myself as the creative type. While I don't  have any discernible talents  in any particular field I  do enjoy a dabble in craft projects, and writing.  The upside of all this creativity (for me) is I can ignore housework, chores, shopping cooking, ironing and the like for days on end as I am creative, I am busy being, coming up with ideas, dabbling and very importantly buying new supplies.

The downside ( for those who live with and love me) is I am messy, don't much like housework or cooking and like to bring supplies and "stuff" into our home. I don't  throw out anything  that may come in handy at a later date. my Pinterest addiction has resulted in our cupboards being filled with Kilner Jars and coconut oil , Shea butter and glitter glue, all very useful.

this is what happens to my unfinished projects, #catbed

 I love  to start a new project, I am like a child in a field of butterflies I can't focus on just one at a time, the colours!

A friend of mine had her first book published recently. in honour of this amazing achievement I thought I would make her a gift. She has always worn very striking spectacles so I thought I would make her a cross stitch glasses case. I got very excited about it and came up with a design personal to her. She is Dutch, and a nun, and loves Northern Ireland so I incorporated Dutch/ Irish symbols to make it very personal.On the back I stitched lots of colourful glasses. This was the easy part, the fun , colourful creative part. The difficult part was doing the border, the sewing up and lining. I'm ashamed to say it took me almost a year to complete and send off to her. She was very happy with it, and I was proud of the end result. This process made me realise that to get the most out of any project, to get the full joy of the creative process it is important TO GET STUFF FINISHED.


The finished article

My current thrill is crochet. I have been attending a class and  my teacher gave us a simple pattern for crochet Christmas trees.This is the ideal project for a creative butterfly fancier like me, simple, quick and you can make them in any colour/ yarn you desire. I have learned to do a ripple stitch and a couple of pretty edges too- but for  now I need to perfect my trees!!

If you fancy trying out  the trees here is the simple pattern:

NOTE: TR-CL= 4 x treble into the same stitch

Ch 4, sl st into 1st chin to make loop
Row 1- ch2, tr 3 into ring, ch4, 1 tr-cl, ch4, 1tr-cl,ch4. Slstinto top of 1st 2ch.
Row 2-sl -st into chain space, ch 2, 3tr, ch6, tr-cl into same ch space *ch3 tr-cl in next ch sp, ch 5, tr-cl in same space * repeat from * in the next ch sp. Ch 3, sl st into first 2ch.
Row 3- sl-st into ch space. Ch2, tr-cl into ch sp,ch1,5tr into same space,skip 2st, dc( double crochet)between stitches (from prev row), 6tr into next ch sp, sk 2 st, dc between stitches, 5tr in next ch sp,ch 1 5tr. Sk2 st, dc between st, 4tr in next ch sp **.
Sk 2st , dc between st, 5tr ch1 5tr in next ch sp. Sk 2st, dc between stitches, 6tr in next ch sp, sk 2st, dc between stitches, sl st into top of turning ch. Fasten off.

for base of tree

Rejoin wool to the first of the 4tr (mkd **), ch1,dc in same place, dc in each of next 3st, turn.
Ch1, 1dc in same place, dc ineach of next 3st, turn.
repeat row twice more, fasten off.
Simples x

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Getting My Goat

There are things  that totally get my goat, serious proper things like racism, sexism , homophobia, stupidity and rudeness, but I have a loooonnnggg list of things that on a daily basis, in a lesser but totally irritating way get my goat.

1. Drivers who do not use their indicators, you know who you are .

2. Drivers  who use two parking spaces ( see photo)

3. Spending time with friends who keep their phone on the table/in their hand the whole night.

4. Cyclists, particularly  those who do not feel the need to use lights/high-viz. Adult cyclists on the pavement.

5.Walking in dog-poo

6. Ordering a cappuccino and expecting a lovely strong hot coffee with a lush layer of froth, but instead getting a lukewarm bucket of lightly coffee'd milk with 3 feet of freezing foam on top.

7. Sounds daft, but scones/ tray bakes that are HUGE. Very off putting. Or  those pre-wrapped dry nasty mass produced efforts.


9. Drivers who slow down 50 m away from a junction.

10. People who don't hold doors open for others, or who don't  thank you for doing so. People  who don't say  thank you.

11. Carnations, nasty cheap horrors.

12. Sniffers. BLOW IT!

13. Drivers who refuse to go up the inside of a bus or lorry. Shouldn't be on the road.

14. People who swear, not  to make a point , but as punctuation.

15. The Daily Mail.

16. Adults who cant use grammer spellings or puntuation becauz there to lazy too use the corract wordz.

17. Adults thinking farting is funny. It isn't.

18. Dirty/ smelly folk. NO EXCUSE.

Well now I have all that off my chest I shall go and be perfect in my perfect life ! 

Don't forget to comment and tell me what gets your goat.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

I am Dinosaur Hear Me Roar!

I hate new things. I don't like fashion, new music and faddy restaurants. I don't download  music and I haven't  bought a new CD in years. My brother-in-law mocked me last Sunday because of  the ancient content on my ipod. It's full of classics, in case you are interested.

My sister and her DOH love  to go to concerts. they go and see every new band that comes to Belfast, and plenty of the old ones too. I do not. Concerts are a particular kind of hell for me.

I don't like standing
I don't like crowds
I don't like my drinks in a plastic glass
I loathe strangers getting too close
The worst of all these though is  the person who watches an entire concert through the lens of  their phone or tablet. I mean who is going to watch that blurry, tinny concert  when they go home?

I don't like stadiums, too many people
Too far from  the action and the loos
Why go to a huge stadium and pay top dollar to see someone, put up with a load of irritating people and  then watch the whole thing on a screen??
Concerts, and comedians should be watched in smaller more intimate spaces, like The Waterfront, The Ulster Hall or the Opera House.
They should be seated.
You should be able to have a drink at your seat and ALL recording equipment should be banned.

For me though I think I will stick to ingesting new music in small bites via Radio 2 and save my concert viewing to Glastonbury on TV

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

What's in a Name?

As an exercise  in my creative writing class recently our tutor gave us two names and asked us  to write a short piece  about "Si and Margaret"attempting  to outline  their characters. As you would expect with several different personalities in the group everyone  had a different take on who Si and Margaret were. It got me thinking about names, and naming  things in general.
A name is a very important thing  for most of us, the moniker we have been saddled with will tell people about us before we even meet. A Vivienne, or a Lilith will conjure up a different picture in your  mind  than say a Susan or an Edith.

I always hated my name "Tracey Smyth"- two of the most common names ever put together, like John Green or Alan Jones. As I have got older and now  know no other Traceys I don't mind it so much. There was a time in my  teens when I  adopted my middle name Elizabeth, and my mother's maiden name of Harrison. I wasn't pretentious at all of course so a little double-barreling wasn't out of the question. I would sign my letters to my parents from school "Beth Harrison-Smyth", my parents  to their credit either didn't notice or realised I would soon get over it.

Double-barrelled surnames used to be the choice of the nobility. Those women who married down who wished their higher social status to be maintained while also raising the status of their new husbands would become double barrelled rather than adopt a name they saw as of lower status. Some names work well together, think Palmer-Tompkinson, or Lane -Fox. In recent times though every Big Brother wannabe and promotions girl is an O'Hare-McKechnie or Robertson-Watson, ghastly ugly mouthfuls. My own ( probably outdated) opinion is, if you want  to get hitched, adopt one or other name and stick with it.

New double barreled Aisleyne Horgan-Wallce
Old double barreled Martha Lane Fox OBE

Now I am in danger of sounding like a Daily Mail reader, but double barrels, if not centuries old make my flesh creep. Made up christian names however, send me to the fair. I'm all for celebrities calling their children Apple, Sage or Memphis if it floats their boat. After all if you are the child of a prominent actor or rock star you are expected to stand out from the crowd, and at least these are names, not of children , but of  something. You could decide to go all Shakespeare on us  and make up your own ; like Kelby or Shanice or anything with a hyphenated Lee on the end ( Sammi, Bobbi etc) or, you use a real name but spell it creatively Daryn. Lynzi, Traycee but  those, especially if combined with a naff double barrel will not show off your uniqueness, or coolness, or upward mobility, sadly  they will just make you stand out as a pretentious wannabe.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Professional Parenting

Parenting is  tough. Anyone  who has a child will know  that. You're damned  if  you do, and damned if you don't. A good  friend  of  mine  recently attended a positive parenting course at her church. We have been chatting about  it over  the last few weeks  and it  sounds as if  they have  given  the parents  some great information, as well as some food  for  thought.

Children  are like sponges, that's   why they learn so quickly. They can pick up their  own , plus  foreign languages, vocabulary colours, shapes, numbers,  letters, weather, feelings, all well before  they are  ready for school. What we always  forget  as parents is they are picking up all the subtle signals  we are sending  them. They can read our  mood through our body language and  facial expressions. Some  studies  say we communicate 55% of  our  views, mood  and feelings  non-verbally. Children are emotionally sensitive so it makes  sense  they can read  these signals better  than many adults.

If  you  think about  this logically it  makes  sense  that if we are tense, angry or upset  that our children may well feel unsure or upset. Even if we smile  and  try to reassure  them verbally they may not accept  this as true. 

Being an example of a happy , healthy caring person is  to me , the best way to develop happy, healthy caring children. We cannot expect our children to develop tolerance if we are intolerant, to be caring if we are brusque and uncaring, to be friendly if we are pathologically shy or anti-social. We may well be mortified if our  child is  the one who swears or bites at nursery, but if mummy swears at another driver on the school run , or daddy slams  doors and mutters obscenities under his  breath when he is annoyed about  something  what do you expect? Do as I say, not as I do does not work. Our children are too intelligent  for  that.

I have overheard  parents tell their children not to be so F***ing cheeky, or to shut up, and  then  the very same parents  seeing red  when these words and phrases are  repeated back to  them.

I had  my own parenting thrown back in  my face  this week by my 4 year old. We were in  the car turning left into a road  and  there was a van parked very close  to  the corner making visibility almost impossible. I loudly called  the van stupid and may well have uttered  a few expletives also. Nancy piped up, and carried  on till we were home, "It's  not nice  to call anyone stupid mummy". I tried  to reason with her and say I was talking about the van, and  not a real person , so it was OK. She was having none of it. A few hours later I was going out of  the house, Nancy asked me where I was going, and when I said I was just popping out for something she said , complete with wagging finger " and you need to go and say you are sorry  to that van!"

Friday, 3 October 2014

To Moan or Not to Moan

I am a complainer. I don't  think of  myself as a whinger, my DOH may disagree with that, but  I do believe in complaining. There are so many businesses, services  and products  out  there that  get  things  wrong  and go out of business because  no one complains. Complaining saves jobs! How  many times  have  you been to a new cafe and experienced cold coffee, the  wrong order or poor service  and instead of speaking  up, we don't want  to make a fuss, we just go elsewhere. This happens over and over and before  they know  it  the business is struggling  to stay afloat but  no one  has ever said  anything negative.

I complain about  dirty loos,lack of information and signage, goods sold that are unfit for purpose  and most commonly plain old bad service. I have  to say  that most companies appreciate  my comments and often I have had my complaint resolved and also received a voucher or some other compensation. This for  me is a bonus, and  not the reason I complain (honest).

There are some unscrupulous companies who will take advantage of people  who do not know  their rights. DD1 bought a play-suit from online fashion retailer BOO HOO, when it came it was totally misshapen  and wouldn't have fitted anyone  with 4 limbs and a head, she  returned  it  to them- at her own expense and was informed  she  was liable for a "restocking fee" which was around 25% of  the value. Well, Lily had spent her own money on  this piece of garbage and I went  into protective mummy mode. I emailed  their complaints department. the response I got was unsatisfactory, so on  the advice of  my excellent niece  Carina I took my complaint  to Facebook. interestingly  they acted immediately and refunded Lily's money in full. Unfortunately  for them I felt  they were a bit unapologetic and their clothing is not of sufficient quality so we won't choose  to shop with  them again.

This  is me, all serene  and lovely giving positive feedback- and never ever using bad words or abuse . :-)

I ordered a "click and collect" item from toy behemoth Smyths Toys this week . All went smoothly until I went  into  the store to collect the item. The email I had  from Smyths  clearly stated that if  the price of  my item had changed since I ordered it  they would automatically charge  the lower price. Imagine  my delight  when I noticed  the doll on  the shelf was £7 less than  it had been online.

I gave an assistant my code and he went  off to get my doll. As he approached me I noticed  he was removing  the price sticker  from  the box. I asked him how much I was going  to be charged, he stated  the higher price. When I explained  what my email had  said , he told  me that as I had bought  the item online I was to pay  the online  price. I showed him my email. Then he said  that those items had been priced wrongly and  that I still had to pay the higher price. I tried to debate  this with him , but he was hostile and uninterested. So I explained  to him I was unhappy with  this and would be in touch with  the click and collect service directly. 

I walked back across the store to take a photo of  the dolls with  the cheaper  price tickets on  them, he followed me and started peeling all the labels off as I was trying  to get a photo.

Those are his  fingers in  the top left!! 

When I got  home I emailed Smyths straight away and explained what had happened. they emailed within 24 hours  and I had a call from  the very apologetic and pleasant manager of  the store last night. She was not  happy  with her staff member, and is sending out  a gift voucher to me.

Now, what's  not  to like about  that scenario? I am happy  that I have been taken seriously, that I am right  and  that  the company recognises it is at fault and is taking steps to fix things.

Now in-case  you think  that I am just a perpetual moaner, I do also take time  to contact companies  with positive feedback when it is warranted. I have emailed Transport monopoly holders Translink this week with effusive and glowing praise for one  of  the conductors on the Dublin-Belfast train last Saturday. Needless to say I haven't heard from them- I feel a Facebook challenge coming !

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Unemployment? Freedom!

I was made redundant  this week, from a job I enjoyed and one I  think I was pretty good at. The redundancies are a result of government cutbacks  and were unavoidable  for  my company. When the cuts were announced it was a shock to me and my DOH but after some discussion we decided  that it wouldn't  be  the worst  thing in the world for  me to take some time out to focus on our family. So I volunteered.

I am very fortunate  that my DOH has a good job with a reasonable salary, and he is indulgent  of me and my projects. He may well hope  to come home from work from now on to a gleamingly clean home, dinner bubbling on  the stove, the children scrubbed and shiny and running to greet  their beloved papa.

I will of course have my hair coiffed, my nails painted and be in fishnet stockings and heels  as I tend  to my little darlings and the home baked pies. When my beloved comes in I will plant a fragrant kiss on his cheek and offer him a drink as I listen attentively  to the events of his day.... Not.

I will be doing the lion's share of  the housework ( which I hate) the cooking ( which I hate), the shopping ( which I hate  but love  to have control over) and  the childcare ( which I find exhausting, stressful, and boring a lot of  the time). This is the down side of  life at home.

 On  the upside I get  to have breakfast with my girls every morning and dinner with  the family every night. I get  to take  the little ones  to nursery and playgroup, and  pick them up. I get  to hear about  their day and  get  to know  the the other parents  and the teachers. I get to meet a friend for coffee when I can squeeze it in. if  I get one little one  to sleep in  the afternoon  when  the other is at nursery I get to watch "The Real Housewives of ....." wherever or do some craft/writing or ironing  for my little business Ironing Lady to the Stars, or just have  some peace.

For me it is  not an easy transition  from working woman  to full time mummy/housewife, but  it is something  I have chosen  to embrace. It is my job now. with  the help of The Flylady for cleaning routines  and tips, and Pinterest for recipe and home decor  and craft ideas I hope  to have  a home  that my family  love  coming  home  to . I hope  to not go insane  with frustration  and boredom and I hope  to not spend  the entire household budget  on  things I like or I might be in trouble !

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Struggling with Self Expression

I like  to think of  myself as a creative  person. I like  to read and  to write  and I enjoy crafts. I have never been a follower of fashion, but have tried  to wear clothes that I liked , and  that I felt suited me. I am struggling right now though with my middle daughter's desire for self expression.

My youngest likes to wear wellies with almost anything , and sunglasses indoors even on dark days, but  that's  cute in a Boden Catalogue sort of way. It's colourful and expressive and most importantly, reflects well on me as a lovely liberal and cool mum.

Nancy however is a different kettle of  fish. At 4 she is very confident and sometimes downright willful She has expressed her opinions (loudly) since she started talking and likes to choose her own selection of  clothes in  the morning. This  can be problem free - or at least minimal if we chose a dress, what could  go wrong? The problems arise if we go for separates. One day last week she went  to nursery in a pink and purple ethnic printed skirt ( think Monsoon Kids) with a neon pink t-shirt with flamingos on it, and a pair of orange and pink spotty tights, top  this look off with sparkly light up baseball boots  and you will see what I am up against!

The hair is another battle, she has fine wispy hair  that only looks good  when freshly brushed or tied up. One  the pink explosion day in question she wanted to do her own hair and came up with a lovely side ponytail effort, but only using half of her hair  so it looked more like a comb-over  than a "do".

Nancy and her little sister Florence are embarking on their school careers  this month at playgroup and reception year, so I suppose I should be glad of  their self expression as the creativity will be knocked out of  them soon enough when  they get swallowed up by grey and navy school uniforms. I haven't  broken  the news to Nancy yet  that when she get's into "Rainbows" she will be wearing a red track suit, nice.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Depressing thought of Depression

The very sad news we woke to yesterday that Actor and Comedian Robin Williams had taken his own life was a stark reminder to me to keep myself well.  It’s a common misconception that people who have depression need to “pull them together” or “have nothing to be depressed about”. Looking from the outside in to Robin Williams’s life you could always assume he had nothing to be depressed about. He was incredibly successful, greatly loved and admired and a father to 3 children  and a loved husband, all things worth living for. 

I have a lot to live for too. When depression crept up on me last year and landed on me like a ton of bricks it was a shock. I should have seen it coming creeping like a thief. I had been depressed before, but this time was different, it was shocking and stark and I had absolutely nothing to be depressed about. That was the cruellest thing of all. My kids love me, my partner loves me, my friends  and family are loving and supportive, I am employed, well fed  and educated, and yet that disease made me feel like shit on a shoe and very nearly  took me away from those who love me the most.

I am one of the lucky ones, I got help in time. These are some of the things I need to do to stay healthy.

1 get out of bed every morning
2 eat healthy
3 sleep when tired (quite a lot)
4 walk in the fresh air as much as possible
5 talk, to my partner, my therapist, my friends, my family. Let people know how I feel, no one can help if they don’t know.
6 write my blog/ Facebook. It gives me focus
7 indulge in hobbies/do stuff that I enjoy as much as I can
8 enjoy me time.

Sounds easy doesn't it?  It wasn’t, and isn’t for millions of sufferers. I hope Robin Williams’s death hasn't been in vain.

If you or anyone you know needs to speak to someone in confidence Lifeline are fantastic as are The Samaritans

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Fun Frozen Party for Nancy

I am not  big  into kids parties, I think  when kids are small they are  more  for  the parents than the kids and  all  that beige food  and sugar overload is not  great for  the dieter in  the family (i.e. me !).Having  said  all  that we haven't had  any parties  for our two wee ones since  their first so as Nancy turned a big 4 last weekend  we  thought it was time  to give  her a fun party.

Nancy and  her little sister Florence  are crazy into the Disney Movie Frozen and their  big sister Lily was buying Nancy an Elza costume  it seemed like  the perfect idea for  a theme.

Disney's Frozen is a huge hit, the highest grossing  Disney film of  all time. You  would  think  that being  the case all the merchandising  would  be ten a penny, yes? No! No cups, plates, napkins  balloons table covers or anything  available  to buy in all of  my usual haunts. I didn't  venture into  the Disney store and  only had  a week to get everything so didn't want  to risk Amazon or online party stores, so we improvised.

I am a HUGE fan of Pinterest and always find inspiration for all my creative projects so naturally I turned  to it  first of all . I found  some great ideas from various  pinners like here and some  great free printables here.

DOH and  I spent  last friday night making snowflakes  from blue wrapping  paper. I wanted  them for  my table display and was  thrilled at how  well they turned out. I still have  them out  in  the dining  room  and  when I put  them away I may keep  them for Christmas as they gave just  the right level of blue frostiness.

Blue food items are really hard  to come by here in the UK but I bought an excellent  blue food colouring and blue "candy melts" in Lakeland . So was able  to blue ice coconut cupcakes and dip marshmallows in blue candy  and white sprinkles. We had lots of Olaf bits  and pieces in the form of marshmallows  and twiglets, matchmakers and chocolate raisins. His  orange  nose proved troublesome. I thought I was brilliant  when I found  some orange tic-tacs- until I opened  them and discovered  they were white- in a bloomin orange  box!

I tried  to get a blue juice to serve, but  couldn't get one  that wasn't  very fizzy or caffeinated and  as most of  the kids attending were under 5 that wasn't  suitable, so I had  a brain wave. I bought lightly flavored water and added blue  food colouring. I served  the juice in glass bottles in an ice bucket and it looked fabulous.

I got  another great idea  from Pinterest to display the balloons by hanging  them upside  down from the ceiling. I  thought  they looked fantastic. 

All the  kids had  a great time  and dad and I enjoyed  the afternoon too. one  of Nancy's friend's parents   said  she had had  the best day ever, what more could  you ask for ?

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Making a House a Home

I was walking  about my local area this afternoon posting flyers  through letter boxes for  my new at home ironing service. I'm trying  to put a little money away for luxuries like holidays  and haircuts- I'm serious, we spend a clean fortune on childcare, and  the cost of  everything has gone up up up, and my pay rise  this year is  below inflation so is effectively a pay cut. I like ironing  and had a pretty successful little cottage industry  when I was a single mum with just DD1, so why not? It's  something I can do in front  of  the TV, or  when the girls  are here playing, I just need a few good customers.

That's  not  where I was going  with today's blog though. What struck me while I was walking apart from how lucky I am to live in  the best area in our city was how fantastic people  are at making  their homes individual and welcoming. The weather is beautiful today and all the flowers in bloom would  make  anywhere look good, but East Belfast is lovely, tree lined avenues, every road holding 4 or 5 different types of  house, Victorian villas,  white walled cottages , grand  4 storey terraces and sleek modern palaces.

I was very naughty and  took a few snaps  of  some of  the lovely details people had added to  their little castles.

Aren't they lovely? I love  the oil tank in particular! I was very fortunate I didn't  get caught!

If  you know  anyone  who hates ironing in East Belfast or Holywood send them my way!

Friday, 27 June 2014

Inexplicable Male Habits and how I Don't Get Them.

After my gushing  praise of my DOH in my last blog I  thought it was about  time I set  the record straight. Living with a man is  an eye opener in many ways, and there are  things that my man does  that I just don't get. I bet many women will have  experienced some or  most of these oddities.

1. He switches things  off at the wall


 Not everything, not every day. that would  be too simple, I could  keep up  with that. We have an extension cord beside  the sofa in our living  room. We keep a phone  charger and  the lead for our laptop plugged into it, sometimes it's  being used sometimes not. Occasionally, with no comment or warning I find  it is switched off. Usually I discover it  when I have left my phone to charge   while I go for a shower only to find 40 mins later my phone  almost dead and I need to take  a charger  to work.

2. My brakes are fine, our  driveway is flat and  yet he feels the need to leave  my car in gear in the driveway    " in case  the breaks fail". On  the odd occasion I drive  his car, I know  to check, but I forget if  he has driven my car last evening and I jump in  to get to work and switch on before checking LURCH!

3. I, like many women, leave stuff on  the bottom step of  the stairs as in " Please take this loo roll/shower gel/ toothpaste up  with you next time  you go up". He , like my teen daughter steps over it, like 4 times before I eventually lift it  and take it up.

4. He has not  one, not two but 4 shower gels on  the go at once.

 I usually finish one  before moving  on to  the next, mind  you I do currently have 3 shampoos on  the go- but that's different, my hair  has special needs.

5. If a light bulb goes he replaces it with one  from a light that isn't often used, fine, until you go to use that light.

6. He doesn't "deal" with stuff at the appropriate time ( as I see it). He cleans  the bar-b-que before he uses it rather than after  the last time. So, last Sunday  the barby came out for  the first time  this year and  had to have the grease cleaned off from sometime last summer- yuk. Right  now it is on  the deck, greasy and  also wet and  the tools are still in  the kitchen waiting  to be put away with it.
Hi gym stuff from Friday morning sits in  the bag until Sunday night when he needs to restock for Monday morning. I have tried to encourage  him to restock on Friday night and put  the darn thing into his car so I don't  have to dodge smelly gym stuff every time I go up and  down stairs, what with all those bathroom supplies it's busy on our stairs.

7. He resets  the heat to suit his manly warmth. I'm not a cold sufferer , but I do like  the house  to be warm enough that you don't  have to wear a sleeping bag, and we have little kids who streak, it  needs to be comfortable.

8. In our  house my DOH has the pleasure of emptying  the bins. He usually waits until, they are over flowing  and then has  a good old grunt and swear when the cheap crappy bags  I have bought split all over  the kitchen floor.

9. If  he washes any clothes, he puts all colours in at  the same time saying " they'll be fine at 40 degrees". The HORROR! I am a laundry control freak and HATE colours  and whites, I just had a shudder down my spine.

10.All plastic bags are turned into odd knotted things and left about  the place, crisp bags, sandwich bags, carrier bags.

11. He plays games on his tablets  rather than reading books. Poker, solitaire, online scrabble, football manager, fantasy football etc.

12. He has new clothes , but insists in wearing  the holey, stinky or just plain naff in his wardrobe.

13. He is  super clean but sometimes has to be reminded to change his PJ's

14. He NEVER EVER changes the bed. ( and rarely makes it)

15. When the house  is  so dirty the rats  have moved out he doesn't  notice and wouldn't get  the hoover/mop/duster out  without the age old "would  you like to mop or vacuum" from the woman of  the house.

Now I know I sound like I am having a big moan about my man, but these are only little things, that drive  me nuts. He is so much more tolerant  of  my bad habits than I am of his. For this I am eternally grateful.

Let  me know  if  your man does  any of  these things, I am sure my list isn't exhaustive.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

In Praise of Fathers

Dads get a bad rap a lot of  the time. They are absent, distant, lazy, unhelpful, stingy etc etc. I had a difficult relationship with my dad. Until I was about 7 he was my world but my parents had a bad marriage and we witnessed some horrible scenes between them. They split up and got back together many many times and finally divorced when I was in my teens. It took me a long  time to forgive him for everything we had been put  through and I was an adult before I recognised that he was just a man with problems who married  the wrong woman.

I have no doubt that my parents loved each other, and they both loved us, but  they drove each other crazy. My dad worked his way up from national service commando to a sergeant in the Royal Marines but when he left the service and returned with wife and kids to Belfast in the mid 1960's he found he was qualified for very little. My mum was very active in her church and very clear about her purpose in life. She was driven and ambitious and wanted a perfect family to match her own image of herself. My dad worked in several companies in lots of different roles but found it really difficult  to settle. I think these differences led to fighting and mum left him for  the first time in about 1974.

It's father's day today and I have been thinking about my dad. It's easy  to think about all of  the bad stuff and when my dad died  when I was 21 I mourned not what I had lost but what I'd never really had. I was jealous of  friends who had dads who were around, who looked out  for  them and who didn't have a shadow of fear and mistrust with men. Today I have been remembering some of  the good stuff too.

Dad was a very keen camper and because of  his Marine training was very good at it. In 1976, during  the longest heatwave on record, mum was at a church event New York and Boston. Dad loaded up his old orange Mazda with all our supplies, 4 kids between 6 and 14 and a trailer tent. We drove from Belfast to Southern Cornwall. It took a couple of days and by  the time we got there there was a rust patch up  the side of  the car from my brother's constant puking. We had  to all get out every time  there was a big hill, and walk up, the car couldn't support the tent and  all of us. When we were travelling over Exmoor we spent more time on foot than in the car, but it was hot and sunny, and  there were ponies!
We spent two weeks in Cornwall, playing with new friends and eating beans and sausages outdoors. It was a brilliant holiday. We even saw Noel Edmonds going past the campsite with the Radio 1 Roadshow. When I think about it  now I am proud , my dad was a modern man. He looked after all of us for 2 weeks. He fed us, made sure we were clean, kept us  safe, and  enjoyed being  with us. He drove all that way with 4 kids, at least one throwing up regularly, no doubt fighting and bickering and "when will we be there" every five minutes. he did all of  that alone. I wouldn't fancy taking 4 kids on holiday on my own, would you?

My dad had  his demons, and I don't  condone how he behaved towards our mum, or us as we were growing up, but I have forgiven him. I forgave him before he died and was with him in the night when he passed away. I am thankful to him too. I am grateful that I have his courage, I am afraid of very little and will stand up for those I love without worrying about my safety. His courage gave me the strength to walk out on a bully when I was expecting  my first child, and that experience made me  realise how fortunate I am  now to be in a relationship with a man who is a consistent and loving father and stepfather.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

10 Reasons why Lidl is better than Tesco

Grocery shopping is a bore, but it has to be done. Since I started working part-time I have taken on more of  the shopping responsibilities for our family. We have 3 girls living with us and 1 more who visits regularly so budget is a very important factor , but it is  not  the only consideration, or the only reason I rate Lidl so much higher than the giant of British supermarkets Tesco.

Here are my reasons why:

1. Lidl is never over crowded. It is easy to park and you don't have to compete with a load of yummy mummies and babies, families cruising up and down the aisles having a day out at the supermarket. You also don't have to compete with those huge crate things that clutter up Tesco's aisles day and night.

2. Less "special" offers- there are very few/none of those annoying 3 for two or BOGOF offers that Tesco rely on to get you to part with your hard earned cash. As a result you buy what you need and don't have cupboards groaning with extra perishable food you don't want or need.

3. Hidden Gems- Lidl stock a range of luxury foods at a fraction of  the price of  other supermarkets, King prawns, crab meat, duck breasts, pate, and they have just added these coffee capsules to their range. I haven't  tried them yet, but I will, they work out approx half the price of Nespresso. Their ground coffee is pretty good, and their smoked ham is better than any I have tasted elsewhere.

4. Plants and Flowers- they routinely stock quality cut flowers like stock, peonies and and roses that open when you bring them home and don't stay in a weird frozen state like Tesco's do until they prematurely die.
I am the world's worst gardener, but have two shrubs alive and well on my deck that I bought about 7 years ago and have survived 2 house moves.

5. Excellent quality produce- I am sick of buying fruit in Tesco that either doesn't ripen at all or ripens at an alarming rate the minute you bring it home. The punnets of pre-selected plums/ peaches /pears are ALWAYS of the poorest quality and taste of nothing- if they are all even edible. The last 5 batches of bananas I bought in Tesco were green on the outside ( and strangely wet) and at least 1/3 black inside. Yuk.
I bought bananas in Lidl yesterday and they were ripe but not bruised and tasted like bananas. Lovely. Lidl also stock mangoes, pineapples and melons, limes all cheaper than Tesco, and so far pretty good.

6.Quick to navigate - Lidl is a lot smaller than Tesco and while it doesn't carry the full range of  choices that larger supermarkets do, it makes it so much faster to get around. I can do the whole store in about 20 minutes. Tesco takes me 1.5/2 hours of hell.

7. No frills-I like the no frills displays, no excess packaging and the lack of choice is almost refreshing. I will deliberate over 30 different types of washing powder, or hand-wash, if there are only 4 my life is  so much simpler. Also I like not having to fill the bin with excess packaging when I unpack the shopping.

8. No distractions- If I shop in Tesco I will almost always buy something I didn't go in there for, some glasses, a nice candle or some PJ's for  the kids. Lidl has less distractions. They have  their specials that change every week.  I can always walk past any clothing on offer, I'm not into power tools or gardening equipment, and if I do get sidelined by a craft set or a few kids books at least they will cost me less than £5.

9. Less ready meals-Lidl don't seem to stock a lot of heat and serve food so it's easier to make healthy choices for meals. Having said  that their Lasagne is one of our family favourites even the kids eat it. It's one of  #1 daughter's favourite dinners.

10. Big brands discounted- Lidl also stock some of my favourite brands, Cadbury, Weetabix, Muller, but at discount prices.

So in conclusion, Lidl is just better. Get over your brand snobbery and give it a chance. Even if you just get some bin bags, catfood and a bottle of very decent Prosecco ( for only £7.50) it's well worth a visit.

Monday, 2 June 2014

To Move or not to Move

Our lives seem to be in a permanent state of upheaval. Living with a teenager and two preschoolers will do that to you. The last few weeks were particularly stressful.

We rent our home, while this is not  the ideal situation for us, it nevertheless is the situation we find ourselves in. Renting has it's upside though, if the washing machine packs in or the roof starts to leak we just call the agent and someone comes to fix it, at no extra expense.

We signed another year's lease in March, but last week the agent contacted us and said that the couple who own our home would like to return to it, and asked us if we would be happy to move. We weighed up the pros and cons and decided that as we would likely be out at the end of our tenancy in February so we decided to start looking. We love this house, in particular the fantastic view from our deck.

It's not clear from this but we can see the shipyard with it's iconic yellow cranes Samson and Goliath and the Titanic Belfast Building, and the George Best Airport. There is also a huge oil rig( centre right), currently under repair. The view is much better in the winter when the trees are bare, and we have a fantastic view of all the firework displays at Halloween.

We began looking in East Belfast, but actually Holywood had a lot more to offer. The first house I fell for was in Cultra, in a leafy lane 5 minutes from the beach and work. unfortunately we were just beaten to the application stage by someone who was ready to move this week.,

In between falling in love again I saw a variety of scruffy or impractical homes, or townhouses that are designed for goodness knows who, living room upstairs, bedrooms downstairs, higgledy-piggledy up and down stairs,dreadful, odd shaped rooms and no storage.

The second house  I fell for was lovely too, ticked a lot of boxes for us, space, storage, convenience and price.
 cute isn't it?

So on Friday our agent called my DOH and told him the landlady had changed her mind and was buying another property! Phew? or No! We were already psyched to move and DD1 and OH had started clearing out. *Sigh*

After some thought we decided to stay put, we love our home and our children are close to school, nursery and family. We decided to start clearing out as if we are moving though and so far have the garage and the attic cleared of rubbish and looking a lot more like a home rather than a storage facility.

Guess what? the agent for house #2 called this morning saying they would like us as tenants *sigh*.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Home Sweet Home

I am a Belfast girl. I was born here and apart from short sabbaticals in Guernsey, London, Yorkshire and Lancashire, and six years at boarding school in Surrey I have always called Belfast home.

In the 1970's and 80's Belfast wasn't  the most fun city in the world to live in . There were bombs, shootings, security gates preventing free movement around the city and even children were searched before going into the city centre. There were armed soldiers in the street and most people stayed close to home , particularly at night. It was a dark time , but  the city has survived, and so have we.

Belfast is now a vibrant, multi-cultural city with enough to offer tourists from all over the world. We have excellent restaurants, bars, night life and plenty of free festivities for  the whole family.

My family visited the Fools Festival in Belfast City Centre yesterday and found a fun relaxed atmosphere. We spent a few hours sitting watching grown men and women act like eejits for our entertainment. It was excellent.

this is my grown man being subjected to an eejit

 We ate at Yardbird, which is a free range chicken rotisserie restaurant in the heart of  the Cathedral Quarter. it was simple food, but absolutely delicious, even our two little madams ate a good lunch. Kids also eat free during the festival.

The whole Cathedral Quarter was bedecked in festive pink in honour of  the Giro D'Italia "big start" in Belfast next weekend.

We will no doubt moan about the traffic jams, the road closures, the legions of Spanish students hovering over one coffee and cluttering up our cafes, but what a great thing to have to complain about. Belfast has come a long way. She is in the Pink at last.