We’re all going on a (late) summer holiday

Beach 4With the girls in school, we have had to take our holidays in the school breaks for the last five years or so, which has become a little bit tiresome.  It isn’t just the expense, although that is a big factor, but also the sheer amount of other people whose kids are always far more badly behaved than our own – or at least that’s how it appears us and to every other parent in the same position!  No chance of sunbathing peacefully by the pool or having a quiet dinner together when what seems like the entire population of children from the UK are either having a water fight around you or ‘hanging out’ with their new friends, chatting excitedly or playing on various phones or handheld consoles. So, what can we do?  We can’t take the girls out of school.  Quite apart from the legal aspect, they are getting to the stage when it matters if they miss lessons and I don’t want them to get behind at this point.   I believe that, in the past, schools could authorise up to ten days of holiday each academic year, but now that the government have decided there will be NO authorised leave except in ‘exceptional’ circumstances, that is no longer an option anyway.  Probably a good thing, however, as, although a few days off school may not have caused a problem, any longer than that then just think of all the algebra and science the girls would have missed that the hubby and I don’t have the skills to help them catch up with!  After much consideration and family debate, we have decided to go on a late sunshine holiday. The autumn half term break has been flagged as our summer holiday this year.  There are usually plenty of sunshine holidays still available around then and they can be much cheaper and should be less busy.  I always say we’ll go somewhere with a bit of culture, but, although I love a good gallery or museum, by the time we get to our destination and relax for a couple of days, we only really manage a day or two that isn’t by the pool or on the beach and the whole family is happy with this.  The girls have iPods and the latest teen romance books, probably with a vampire involved somewhere, hubby has something filled with car chases and Russian spies and I have the trashiest novel I can find.  Stereotypical but true! After a few days by the pool I can actually feel myself relaxing and it really does do me the world of good; soaking up the sun (slathered in high factor lotion of course) really puts a smile on my face. As this is a week instead of our usual two, it may seem a bit short, but we have the option of going away again later in the year. Who knows, we may have a snowy week as well!

The difference between saying it and actually doing it……

I heard a story on the radio today about the changes in attitudes towards household chores and who does them.  It turns out that the majority of men now believe that the chores should be shared equally. However, when they were questioned about how much they actually did, it appears that not much has changed over the past few decades and women are still doing the majority, in spite of working the same hours.

So what is happening? The study seemed to suggest that while men agree in theory that the tasks should be shared, they don’t actually get around to doing them.  Now, I realise that I am generalising here but the figures do come from a proper study, although, in actual fact my hubby does the majority of housework in our home, so it looks like I am the lucky exception!  It seems that it is a lot easier to change attitudes than actions which is consistent with my observations elsewhere; I now firmly believe that spiders are not dangerous but that does not mean I am ready to let one run across my hand.

I am not saying this just to the men out there who aren’t yet pulling their weight in the chores department, but to everyone who states a belief and intention or even simply says “I love you” to their nearest and dearest – put your money where your mouth is and actually prove that you mean what you say.  No need for grand gestures, but, as the cliché states, actions really do speak louder than words!

Helping with homework…..

Our daughters are getting to the age when they have more homework from school, especially around exam times. Obviously, as parents, my other half and I want the girls to do well at school, but we also want them to learn, so should we be helping them with their homework, and, if so, how much?

For our girls it doesn’t matter too much at the moment, as none of the work they are doing at home is actually counting towards a serious qualification, such as GCSEs or A levels, but what happens when it does?  If we help too much now, will they need the same help later and, if we give it, is that cheating?  You can go down the route that all parents help their children with exam coursework as they want them to do well but, is this the case, and, if it is, would you have to assume that it is still unfair?  The hubby and I are hardly geniuses – we are both capable, but A level sciences are beyond my abilities I am sure. It’s a very tricky question!

It is easy to see how the constant debate about coursework versus exams continues to rattle on and there is no perfect solution.  Exams are very stressful and some children cope better than others with this stress, which makes a purely exam based system unbalanced. However, if parents are doing coursework for their children or at least helping them along, then surely the kids with clever parents have an advantage?  I understand, however, that, as part of some GCSEs, controlled assessments and coursework are carried out within school time and with a teacher present, thus reducing the risk of ‘cheating’.  This appears to be a good compromise on the surface but there is no easy answer.

In the meantime, we have decided to help with their understanding of the subjects where we can, but to avoid the temptation to physically complete their work ourselves.  The temptation to see them succeed may be great, but there are more important things in life than exam results and far more satisfaction if they have done the work themselves!

Eating out without the gluten

My eldest has recently decided she is going to follow a gluten free diet.  I’m sure she has her reasons, but they are not a medical requirement and it is surprising how much food has gluten in it; our family meals are positively packed with the stuff.  I can make her meals without gluten at home, as the ingredients are on the packet, and in all honesty if she doesn’t know something has gluten in it then I’m not going to add to the list of things she is currently avoiding.  Eating out is a different matter.  It is a really good job her dietary choice is not a medical necessity, as restaurants really aren’t ready to cater for it.

The menus generally identify vegetarian food, although I expect strict vegetarians would tend to disagree with the definition in many cases; however, gluten free dishes are very rarely if ever shown. The waiting staff do not seem to know what contains gluten, and whether the food can be made with a gluten free option.  Surely this should be a fairly straightforward request and part of the knowledge that the staff should have about their dishes, along with whether they have nuts in them or other products to which customers may be allergic?  Most waiting staff are happy enough to go and ask the chef; whether they know the answer is a different matter!

I have a newfound sympathy for those who have a medical need to avoid certain foods.  Eating out must be a nightmare and, if they have a serious allergy, every choice of dish could be seriously dangerous.  It is about time that menus gave a little more information about the ingredients in the dishes – not necessarily the whole recipe, but a clue to the more important and potentially dangerous components.  Eating out would be so much easier for a lot of people.

Getting organised

I recently had a little bump in the car.  Nothing serious – another driver hit the back of me at a crawl – but it still meant I had to contact my insurance company.  This seems like a straightforward thing to do, but when I went to find the paperwork I realised that my filing system was somewhat lacking.  It is basically a filing drawer with lots of papers stuffed into it, with no order or reason applied.

After searching through all the papers, most of which were expired or obsolete, I finally found the right thing and called the insurance company.  I then decided to get organised.  The first step in this process involved visiting the office supplies shop and ordering sticky labels from http://www.data-label.co.uk/products/self-adhesive-labels.html.  Armed with everything I needed, I spent a satisfying few hours sorting, filing and shredding old documents that I no longer had any use for, ending up with a perfectly ordered and labelled filing drawer after having made important decisions such as whether the car insurance should be filed under ‘car’ or ‘insurance’.

I was very pleased with my work, and rewarded myself with a glass of wine and a sit down before demonstrating my good work to the husband.  He looked vaguely impressed before muttering “It won’t last” and pottering off.  I stared after him indignantly before admitting he was probably right.  I’ve organised many things before, from sock drawer to kitchen cupboards, and the system never seems to last.  I’m always in too much of a hurry to put things away properly.

Oh well, my intentions are good and you never know – this might be the one that sticks.

Exercising by accident

ExcerciseI’ve never been a fan of the gym – there are so many other things I’d rather be doing instead and it just seems like a waste of time to me.  I do, however, understand the importance of keeping fit and moving, especially as I get older, and of setting a good example for the kids, so I try to sneak in exercise wherever I can without feeling that I could be making better use of my time.

One of the easiest ways to do this is whilst I do the chores.  I’m not a big homemaker – the hubby handles most of the housework and claims to enjoy it – but if I do get involved, I make the most of it.  Some loud music on the radio or my iPod that I can dance around crazily to makes sure that I put extra effort into the chores and get the best exercise benefit possible.

School holidays have always been great for my fitness.  Even though I miss the walking to school, I make up for it by getting the kids out in the fresh air whenever possible.  Simply going to the park and playing with a Frisbee or a ball gets us all moving about, and the local pool has great rates so we can all go for a swim, which is well known to be great exercise.  I also think that everyone should know how to swim, just in case.  Exercise doesn’t have to be expensive; just getting outside for a walk can be great fun.  Our local nature reserves offer guided walks that teach you about the wildlife as you enjoy the scenery.

There are plenty of other little things I do to add a bit more movement in every area of life – the classics such as always taking the stairs when you can and getting off the bus a stop early all add up. I try to park at the opposite end of a car park for those few extra steps – as long as it isn’t raining – and my forgetfulness means I usually have to go upstairs a few extra times every day for things I have forgotten.

I’m not saying that the gym is not beneficial.  Exercise is important and, if the gym works for you, go along and enjoy it.  I personally find that there are plenty of cheaper and more time-effective ways to keep myself fit; it just takes a little imagination.

Shopping for school clothes

The time of year is coming around again when we have to start thinking about shopping for school clothes.  Both my daughters wear uniforms and have done so throughout their school years, which would seem to make this task easier, and it does when they are young but that soon changes.

At primary school they had a simple grey and white skirt, or trousers, and shirt or polo shirt and a maroon sweater.  They didn’t care what brand it was, what length the skirt was, or how tight their trousers were; life was simple.  As they got older, however, and started becoming aware of fashion and competing with their peers in what they wore, everything got very complicated.  The secondary school that the eldest is attending does not have a strict uniform, just guidelines.  This can be very hard for parents, as they are under pressure to get the right brands for their kids so that they are not singled out at school and, of course, they require clothing outside school hours as well.

My daughters want to have exactly the right brands and the perfect skirt length, so we have a constant battle about how much I am willing to spend on school clothes that they will grow out of quickly.  I understand the pressure they are under to have the right kit, but why is it always the most expensive kind?  It would make the lives of parents much easier if the school had a set supplier, or better still supplied the uniform to parents at cost so that all the kids were dressed the same.  This would truly follow the purpose of having a uniform, which is to make children equal and give parents a break.

Alternative remedies

We’ve been struck down with a case of the sniffles over the last few weeks.  It has spread through friends and family and left us red nosed and feeling sorry for ourselves.  We all have our own ways of coping with illness and watching how different people deal with it has interested me greatly, as I know we all had pretty much the same thing.

The girls wanted looking after, being fed treats and brought blankets and pillows whilst they lay around on the sofa watching trashy television.  The hubby and the other men we know exhibited various levels of pathetic behaviour depending on how much sympathy they got, and the women on the whole got on with it.

One of my friends is known for being a bit of a white witch.  She is into homeopathic remedies and is often singing the praises of some essential oil or another.  Much to my surprise, I turned to her for help in my hour of need.

I’ve never been one to reach for the natural remedies, I don’t feng shui my bedroom or hang crystals around my navel, but when I was feeling a bit sorry for myself and my friend Katie was looking cheerful and energetic, I decided to give it a try.  No harm could come of it, right?  I started off with a few drops of lavender and camphor oil in a bath – apparently the former would help me to sleep, and the latter would help to clear my stuffy head.  Half an hour later and I felt great; the hot bath and oils seemed to have worked wonders, and I floated off to bed and slept really well.  The next morning I was a convert.  I inhaled eucalyptus for the stuffiness and burnt scented oils in a newly purchased oil burner, convinced that they were working miracles.

A few weeks later and I am feeling a little more rational, but no less converted.  I know that the placebo effect is a big part of these homeopathic remedies; however, in all honesty I don’t care how it works, just that it does.  I have invested in a range of oils to burn depending on my mood, and the smell is lovely and definitely makes me feel better, even if it is all in my head.

The fight against smoking

440px-No_Smoking.svgNow I’m not a regular smoker myself – the odd drag or two after a few drinks is the extent of my habit – and the hubby is about the same.  We wouldn’t smoke in front of the girls and have tried to instil in them the idea that it is much easier not to start smoking than to stop, which is a point backed up by some of our friends who are trying to quit a proper daily habit.

The hubby and I are in a somewhat enviable position of not being hooked on nicotine and, therefore, are able to go weeks without a hit without any ill effects.  Many are not this lucky.  There are lots of ways to get help in quitting smoking these days, from chewing gum – which I am told tastes pretty horrific – to courses of medication and the newest craze, electronic cigarettes.  These clever little gadgets allow you to get all the ‘benefits’ of a nicotine hit without the nasty side effects of inhaling smoke; the vapour is actually just water vapour and creates the illusion of inhaling.

Friends who have tried this method report that the quality of electronic cigarettes varies wildly from brand to brand, but the best really do provide a suitable alternative to smoking the real thing and you can do it inside.  There have been concerns raised, as there are about everything nowadays, about the long-term effects of these gadgets not being known; however, in my opinion the long-term effects of smoking the real thing are well known and this electronic substitute is unlikely to be worse.  There is the added bonus that electronic cigarettes definitely don’t make you look cool, so they are unlikely to become a craze behind the bike sheds at school.

We will continue to reinforce the difficulty of giving up smoking to our girls, with the hope that they never start.  Although the difficulty our friends are having in quitting the demon weed is a great back up for our arguments, I wish them all the best in their efforts to give up for good.

Posh fashions

Fashion Student dreamstime_8053166Don’t let the title of this blog fool you; I’m not going to be telling you about designer clothes.  This is a subject I know nothing about, but I am perfectly capable of passing a few opinions about the fashion choices of others.  I do believe that everyone has the right to look as daft as they want to (even if this is not their original intention), but it is hard to believe that people cannot see some of the simple mistakes that they make.

I’ve called this blog ‘posh fashions’ as it has been inspired by Royal Ascot.  This is really an event that is about horse racing, although more newspaper column inches seem to be given over to the sartorial choices of the crowd.  The Queen and most of the royal family are in attendance, so they are first to come under journalistic scrutiny, closely followed by a series of celebrities who have all wangled the day off from their various presenting/singing/acting engagements to attend a race meeting purely because the Queen is there!

From very bright colours that wouldn’t look out of place on a neon sign to hats that defy description, it would seem that despite the (supposedly) strict dress code, almost anything goes for this event.  It would appear that the aim for some people is to simply stand out from the crowd but they would do better to take a leaf out of the books of those who decided to aim for simple elegance.  Opting for something over the top simply draws attention for all the wrong reasons.

To top it all, they are paying out a lot of money for this and it is money wasted.  My advice is to spend half the money on a simpler, more elegant outfit and give the rest to charity!


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