A Lifestyle & Parenting Blog

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Linda Hobbis & The Potato of Doom

Behold the marvel that is my culinary expertise. Hmm. We are in the middle of the famous 'fussy eating' phase, particularly with Ieuan who, if it isn't i) bread, ii) baked beans or iii) banana, is pretty loathe to try a food beginning with any other letter.

Baked Potato Hedgehog - recipe for kids - motherdistracted.co.uk
Behold the marvel that is my potato hedgehog!
The sweaty panic that overtakes mothers at the thought of their veggie hating offspring appearing on "Freaky Eaters" and then, as an obvious progression, "Embarrassing Bodies" is grim.

I have read numerous parenting books and am inconsistently chopping and changing between those plans which promise the greatest success in the shortest time.

I think this is a strategy which many mothers, whether currently employed or on a childcare sabbatical as I am, think will work. It is the madness of business logic applied to small children. Let's motivate them and reward them. Let's team build and yomp across the moors with home-made blueberry muffins!

I get very confused. Do I reheat discarded meals until they eat them? Do I deny them anything else until they fall like Victorian urchins on the broccoli and carrots? Do I send them to bed hungry? The tendency of small children to deny themselves what we adults would consider one of life's greatest pleasures (food!) in order to assert control never fails to baffle me.

Our kids don't fill up on sweets, chocolates or fizzy drinks. They have the odd biscuit and packets of crisps are shared. Our biggest failing is probably the addition of milkshake powder to milk in order to get them to drink it. We do eat quite a bit of cake, especially Jaffa Cakes and Welsh Cakes but in conservative quantities and only after at least a little of the main meal has been tried.

So in an attempt to up the ante regarding their veg intake, I spent over 40 minutes preparing potato hedgehogs (stop snickering).

My potato is one of the recipes from the inspiring book by Fiona Faulkner - "25 Foods Kids Hate ...and how to get them eating 24" It's Day 1 and as Fiona would say, you can't give up. I'm also reading Kathryn Mewes "The 3 Day Nanny" which has a range of tailored plans for solving childcare dilemmas (sleep, eating, potty training, behaviour) for children up to around 6 years of age. Then there's Jo Frost's "Confident Toddler Care", another well thumbed tome.

I find myself going round in circles and trying various approaches to all of which the children seem immune. The only person who ends up having a tantrum I'm afraid to say is me! I spend the rest of the evening muttering to myself like the first, mad Mrs Rochester and refusing to play whilst the children canter happily about, oblivious to Joan of Arc in the kitchen.

I'm resolving to take the bull by the horns and 'woman up'. I'm determined to instill in my kids a love of food and an appreciation of nutrition. I don't want them to treat sweet foods as a reward or a comfort (bit of a tall order for most of us, that one!).

If there is a plan that you have used or you have a secret 'never fail approach" please leave me a comment! In the meantime, at least this cooking practice should improve my rather rusty skills.

*contains affiliate links

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Celebrity Big Brother - Never Mind Rinsing, Go For The Spin Girls!

Now I always feel like I've let myself down a bit by admitting this, but I love to watch Big Brother and am currently glued to Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 5. Having reached the age when shouting at the TV is de rigeur of an evening (if only to irritate Hubby), I have to say this series in particular has given me full opportunity to wallow in gleeful disapproval (tinged, it must be said with slight shades of hypocricy).

Celebrity Big Brother Eye - should you date a man for his money - motherdistracted.co.uk
Celebrity Big Brother
Step forward one Danica Thrall, star of the dubious documentary "Sexy, Lies & Rinsing Guys". Danica's alleged method of providing for herself is by glamour modelling in exchange for gifts. Her Amazon wishlist shared via a journalist on Twitter [Lord Justice Leveson, hello, are you there?] made fascinating reading (yes I did...).

Danica, and her fellow 'celeb', glamour model Rhian Sugden [she of the alleged Vernon Kay 'oops his finger must have slipped when texting' scandal] make Samantha Brick look positively shy and retiring. Mrs Brick's Magnum Opus "Why do women hate me for being beautiful?" was published in the Daily Mail recently and garnered almost international derision and sniffiness from (mainly) women readers.

The girls flirting with the male contestants and the men's somewhat hilarious teenage angst upon being summarily rejected is, whilst entertaining, a sad commentary on the fragility of the male ego. Let's not mention Jasmine Lennard and her mother.  Seriously.  Let's just not.

It is really not for me to judge these women (which is of course the skill of the reality tv producer). We love to judge whilst conveniently parking our own social mores behind a sofa cushion. And actually, it occurs to me that women are encouraged to judge one another more harshly than men are, though by whom I'm not sure.

This is all amusing until I think about my 4 year old daughter, Caitlin and ponder Society's (and my) conflicted attitudes about whether a woman should trade off her looks. The Media instills in us daily that the prettiest, the cutest, the bustiest are the true role models. Can't carry a tune in a bucket? No problem. Daft enough to film yourself in delicto fragrante whilst forging a TV career? Go ahead. Heck, you can even become a reality star by living in the right county (sadly not the Vale of Glamorgan) and tanning yourself till you look like a Wotsit.

We now have a whole generation of young girls who think that the most important skills are looks and a direct line to Max Clifford. Never mind hard work. Never mind 'working your way up'. To some of these girls a glass ceiling is something installed by Everest. Wannabe WAGs have given way to Wannabe pop stars, models, chefs, opera stars and conductors. Forget a CV. Just stand on a corner with a big placard saying "Endemol I'm here".

As for attracting a beau,  why not chase Spencer Matthews round numerous European tourist traps in "The Batchelor" or appear in the Roman amphitheatre of dating via "Take Me Out"?

Look at the spat between A. A. Gill and Mary Beard recently. He said she was "too ugly for TV". Gill can be tarter than most of the pies he scoffs for a living but this was certainly one jibe too far. Let a woman hold herself up as intelligent (even by action rather than self promotion) and the focus seems to shift immediately to whether she is pretty enough to warrant that appellation. Go figure (literally).

How refreshing it was, during the Olympics (and I'm sure will be again in the Paralympics) to see positive, healthy female role models. Women who know what it is to want something badly but who understand that it takes hard work, dedication and grit to get it. Perhaps glamour models would argue that it is the same for them.  Is it the old Puritan work ethic? Success only comes from hard work? You have to slog your guts out to get anywhere?  Helen Gurley Brown (founder of Cosmo magazine) certainly thought so - "mouseburgering" she called it, but equally, Helen understood the power of 'pretty'.

So what do I tell my daughter?  Darling, if you can, meet a nice man who'll buy you jewellery and a house in Hampstead" or "Go out into the World and make something of yourself, build something, a company, a business, an empire?". Here's my hypocrisy - I feel I ought to say both.

Luckily we've plenty of time to redress the balance in TV land before my daughter comes of age. Sadly, whilst the future may be bright, it's most certainly looking orange.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Saturday Night's Alright For Skyping

In the days B C (before children), Saturday nights were always the highlight of the week. As a couple, we used to frequent numerous country pubs and chic bars. We used to dress ourselves up and leave the house without worrying about whether the cat could operate the TV remote (he could).

Now of course, nights out are few and far between, and more expensive due to occasionally hiring a babysitter -when we have used up our babysitting privileges with family.

Dave TV Channel Logo - motherdistracted.co.uk
Instead we sit like a pair of bookends and indulge in a TV marathon. One that largely has (with apologies to Mr T and those who now know it as a Snickers) no nuts. Unless you watch X Factor that is.

What has happened to the highlight of the TV scheduling week? If it weren't for SYCO (Simon Cowell's production company) and Ant & Dec, what would we be watching?

In the 70's viewing figures topped the multi millions for shows like The Morecambe & Wise Show and The Two Ronnies. Heck in those days the BBC even used to screen Shakespeare plays without any sexing up of the plot, the text or provision of subtitles. A drama premiere was really a premiere. The 'F' word was never heard (now I'm sounding like Mary Whitehouse) and frankly, how refreshing that was. TV still had the power to shock whereas, today, we are largely numb to the dross the schedulers subject us to. Schedulers don't seem to adhere to "The Watershed", probably thinking it's a wine bar somewhere. Usually, the adverts are cleverer and more entertaining than the programmes either side.

Yes we could turn the TV off. But why should we? Let's not get into the TV Licensing debate here - although the phrase 'money for old rope' springs to mind. Instead I bet right across the nation couples are listening to their kids on a baby monitor whilst watching TV and playing on a PC at the same time. I'm always amused when asked in surveys whether I watch programmes on iPlayer or the like. If the programme wasn't worth watching the first time round, I'm not going to waste time watching it on an iPad!

Now the kids are 4 and 3 and we have managed to visit the John Lewis Cafe and Frankie & Benny's without being thrown out, I hope to test the waters by taking the family to local Cardiff & Vale eateries and I will be reporting my experiences in this blog.

In the meantime, I will be multi-tasking as usual and spending time with the other man in this relationship ..... Dave.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Somebody Tell Me Please - How Safe IS My Friday Wine?

It's that day of the week when most of us look forward to a relaxing glass of wine or something stronger post 5 pm.

Personally, I'm a red wine girl and drink very few other alcoholic drinks but lately, I've found the pleasure of my favourite Rioja has been significantly dimmed.

Large glass of Malbec wine - alcohol safety - motherdistracted.co.uk
A glass of my favourite Malbec
I drink approximately one large glass roughly four times a week (some weeks, like holidays, much more) and, thanks to the ramshackle and seemingly arbitrary nature of the reporting surrounding alcohol and its health benefits and dangers, each glass is like a game of Russian Roulette.

I know my consumption is hardly 'rock n' roll' but I would like some health body somewhere to tell me DEFINITIVELY:-

What is the true level of units which can be safely consumed per week [not based on a sample of 20 bearded men in Scandanavia]?

What is the exact relation between alcohol consumption and cancers?

Is white wine really good for the lungs?

Do the anti oxidants in red wine really have anti-ageing properties?

Is a moderate level of red wine consumption really good for preventing i)cardiac problems, ii) stroke problems, iii) shoring up bone density?

Is it true that, post menopause, a glass of red a day is implicated in increased longevity for women (I'm assuming they're less bored)?

You get the picture.  But it is confusing to read the daily swings of the research pendulum in the tabloid press.

More seriously, should we consider a total ban on alcohol consumption (drugs and some prescription drugs included) before operating machinery or getting behind a wheel?

What are the true costs of binge drinking to our hospitals, emergency services and employers in general?

What is the cost of drinking to our children in terms of the quality of their upbringing and education? 

Is any consumption of alcohol safe during pregnancy?  How do we approach teaching our children about the pleasures and perils of drinking?

The costs of our eternal love affair with alcohol are increasing.  We need one body working closely with colleagues in other countries to provide a definitive study with CONCRETE recommendations agreed by medical experts and shared intelligently with us.

Then perhaps there can finally be a sensible approach to the price of alcohol and licensing laws and a strategy for health education which doesn't revolve around frightening us to death.

In the meantime, I'm off to check the corkscrew is in working order and I'll make sure not to click on any alcohol related articles online for the rest of the day.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

The Joy of Comping

OK. A confession.  I love to enter competitionsIf you ask my husband about my hobby, he grimaces and absents himself to skulk in the loft. I love that you can win a vast array of goods and services from companies far and wide. You can have experiences that you'd never normally pay for (or even have the nerve to experience - like paintballing or diving with sharks). You can share your wins to make friends and family happy and, in these recession-bound times, as Tesco would say, "Every Little Helps"!.

Cartoon girl holding winner's trophy - entering competitions - comping - motherdistracted.co.uk
Winning can become addictive!
Comping is not, despite its portrayal by Norris on Corrie, the sad, lonely hobby of the late middle-aged. Through joining comping groups I have made some great friends who I even (gasp!) meet in person from time to time. I have increased my general knowledge and, I like to think, kept my brain at least slightly active and my conversational abilities alive. Much as I love Mr Tumble he is unlikely to ever appear on QI is he? Although now I think of it, Balamory's Archie is regularly on "Have I Got News For You".

20 years' experience of marketing and PR have also given me some insight into the reasons why companies run competitions. They need your data baby! They need names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. They need your feedback on whether goods and services work. They need to know where you buy, when you buy and why. They need to defray the vast cost of advertising into cheaper media (hello Facebook and Twitter). The cost of purchasing the data that informs their future sales and marketing campaigns is not cheap. Campaigns to raise brand awareness cost.

It amuses and irritates me to the same degree that 'compers' are often given such a bad rap when, in reality, we are saving promoters thousands of pounds of marketing spend. Whether these companies have systems in place to do anything useful with the data they've trawled is questionable. What is not in doubt, however, is the fact that we compers are their secret marketing and sales department.

Take, for example, the current Holy Grail of Comping prizes - the iPad., roughly £400 from Amazon at today's prices. Weigh that up against the cost of purchasing thousands of verified names and addresses plus the print cost of promoting a competition against a practically free Facebook or Twitter post and the iPad doesn't seem that generous after all.

Of course its a fabulous prize and we should be happy that companies choose to promote their goods and services in this way. All I'm saying is there should be a healthy degree of respect on both sides.

Carry on Compers!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Loneliness of the Cardiff Plane-Spotter

I love aeroplanes.  And airports.  I love the hustle and bustle. The excitement of all that meeting and greeting.   The atmosphere of expectation; almost a holiday feeling, even if you aren't travelling.

In my youth, Cardiff Wales Airport used to be a bit of a trip out for the 'gang'.  It had a shop, a cafe where you could watch planes, a bar and a lounge upstairs.  It also had a carpet which made you feel slightly travel sick if you stared too hard at it but that is long gone.

Cardiff Wales Airport - motherdistracted.co.uk
Cardiff Wales Airport courtesy of Walesonline.co.uk

You used to be able to watch planes swoop in and out and passengers alighting and descending.  It was an ideal spot for a quiet cuppa on a Sunday afternoon (and a Danish Pastry, if you were feeling really outrageous).

So, not having travelled anywhere much due to having two children roughly 18 months apart, I was looking forward to taking the kids there to watch the planes.

Complete waste of time.

Nothing can be seen due to the redesign of the airport building.  That, coupled with the weird car parking arrangements, means that you are actively discouraged from visiting unless you are travelling.

My husband travels a lot on business.  We have just dropped him off at the airport, having disappointed the kids yet again since it was pointless getting out of the car to plane-spot.  We saw the tail end of one plane in the British Airways maintenance building but that was it.

In an attempt to see planes, I made the mistake of driving down the 'drop off' route and had to pay £1 to get out.  Honestly, if the Airport owners (TBI plc, part of the Spanish Abertis Group) are so desperate to generate revenue, why not make the airport a real 'destination', a place that actually looks like it wants to welcome you to Wales? Why not have a decent retail offering (including catering) for families coming to collect relatives?

You get the feeling that, currently, Cardiff Wales Airport is a bit of a white elephant.  Nobody really wants it (commercially speaking) so nobody really wants to invest in it.  It's hardly an 'international' airport if many destinations are reached via a change of planes at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. I'm sure many people now automatically think of Bristol as their nearest airport.

If you want to see planes, you can park up outside the local flying club in a scruffy car park and watch smaller planes and the big commercial planes from a distance.  You'll have to avoid the litter and the dog poop and stare longingly at the excitement through the wire fence.  Glamorous it is not.

Being a Cardiff plane spotter is a lonely (and expensive) business.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A Dedicated Follower of Fashion Magazines?

Now I love to read glossy magazines. From the tender age of 10 onwards I have devoured august publications such as Diana and Jackie, then Look Now, Woman, Woman's Own and of course Cosmopolitan. 

Cosmopolitan magazine - motherdistracted.co.uk
Cosmopolitan Magazine - part of my teenage years
I remember the first ever edition of Company magazine with its radical glossy paper and in those days, the freebies were things like sachets of shampoo (remember Silvikrin Lemon & Lime?  You could have cleaned a car engine with it).

But these days I have a couple of gripes (you'll get to know that this is a standard response to most things with me).

Firstly the ludicrousness of the fashion spreads.

One magazine this week has what appears to be a tribe of badly painted clowns cavorting in clothes only Timmy Mallett would think chic. Prints are in and the wackier the better.  Dots is the other big trend apparently. How the full stop has been reinvented to be this year's 'le dernier cri' I'm not sure.

My question is:  who on earth wears this stuff?

When out and about I very often look to see how many women are modelling new trends, high fashion looks, fantasmagorical accessories (none under £1500) and I must need my eyes testing because I find not a one. They're all in sensible, weatherproof clothing - a sprinkling of Superdry, an iota of Jack Wills but the rest of us appear to be welded into our casual wear.

The fashion trends are a nightmare of course for the 40+ age group. Unless you have the sass of Helen Mirren, adopting these trends unsupervised can make you look like you ran naked through a jumble sale covered in glue.

My other gripe:  the infantilisation of editorial tone.

Do you remember New Woman magazine? I used to love it until a new editorial team came in and decided its audience were apparently pre-pubescent school girls with too much pocket money and a dad with a trust fund. They duly went south.

I find the breathlessness of the 'OMG',  'totes amaze', 'all emosh' or, on last nights Celebrity Big Brother 'having a discush' language deeply irritating.

Are we so Twitter-bound (egg bound if you haven't bothered to add a photo) that we can now only speak in sentences of 140 characters?  Worse, even THINK in sentences of 140 characters?

I find it incredible that Print Media must surely be aware that the popularity of Social Media has numbered their remaining days.  How many people read a newspaper or a printed magazine cover to cover?

The UK also has a reportedly growing population of older people. Government sources say that one-in-six of the UK population is currently aged 65 and over, by 2050 one in-four will be. The biggest future market for print sales is unlikely to be  pre-pubescent girls and their Hello Kitty purses.

My solace in all this is Woman & Home Magazine and even (including to my surprise) Saga Magazine.  It's so refreshing to read informed, 'mature' features and articles. I also like Red (despite it's rather top heavy balance between advertising and copy) and Good Housekeeping.

My plea is simply this: please, please talk to us in the language of mature women.  Otherwise the dots I'm seeing before my eyes are not a fashion statement but a sign of raised blood pressure.

Let's Keep It (School) Uniform

Do you think it's important to wear school uniform?

Ieuan in school uniform - the importance of wearing school uniform
Ieuan in his school uniform
Having just spent an arm and a leg on two sets of school uniform and school shoes, I was recently talking to a mum who said that she started the term off with her boys wearing school uniform but as the term progressed towards the holidays, she allowed them to go in a mix of uniform and casual wear.  

She couldn't, she said, see the point in making them wear something they didn't want to.

I think that if a school requests that a uniform be worn, it is actually in the interest of pupils, parents and teachers that it be worn.

Why?  Uniform is a great leveller.  It removes status symbols and creates an equality, at least in appearance. 

It is valuable in teaching kids that fitting in and adhering to rules and regulations will be a part of their life from now on.

Grating as it is to have to buy clothing which looks like it was made for some utilitarian army with precious little interest in colour, fit or durability, in general kids look smarter and, as psychologists tell us, that should help performance.

Nobody can deny that buying school uniform can add up to a significant outlay, but these days you can buy supermarket basics which do the job and a reasonable cost.

I had to wear a uniform from junior school (the 1970's) till the end of comprehensive schooling in 1982.  

I had a uniform for Brownies (which Club, I'm afraid I hated) and a uniform for ballet (hair HAD to be in a netted bun).  

Then for most of my working life so far, I've arguably had a 'corporate uniform' - suit, blouse, heels, lipstick, bag. I still struggle with my 'mummy' uniform - but that subject probably requires a separate post!

When you think about it, there aren't that many areas of life where there isn't some dress code or other, either prescribed or implied.

And anyway, if you don't have some degree of conformity, you've not got much to rebel against when you hit your teens, have you?

Are you for, or against school uniform?

Monday, 20 August 2012

Coping With First Play Date Nerves

Honestly, I swear the prospect of entertaining someone else's child in your own home is as nerve racking as any first date.  Yes, I have play date nerves.

Ieuan ready for his play date - play date nerves
Ieuan's ready for his playdate
Aside from ensuring that all traces of bleach, Cillit Bang and any other toxic substances have been eradicated from your post code district, there's the issue of dangerous plants in the garden and, worse, dangerous siblings who are not quite old enough to join in but who are unlikely to play on their own either.

Let's not mention the general state of house-keeping (I'd fail an interview as kitchen maid at Downton Abbey), weeds on the drive and the general 'Addams Family' aura of our house. 

It's enough to make any mother need a sip of her 'special juice' as soon as the sun reaches its height.

What do you feed them (let's hide the fact my two are allergic to veg).  Should you give them 'stuff with additives' (that knocks out whole swathes of supermarket goods) or cook from fresh (argh).  Is the serving of oven chips the new class divide?

Then there's the fact that most of the remaining toys are more suited to babies, we have no complete jigsaws, whole crayons or pencils with lead and most dressing up clothes are for Halloween (big event in this house).

Am I supposed to answer the door resembling Sienna Miller when my natural look is closer to Dot Cotton?

You're always conscious of the fact that the friendships your kids make now could last a lifetime and, by default, so could your relationship with their parents.  That's the thing that makes it ever so slightly stressful!

I'm very aware that it's a parent's responsibility to help their kids build a strong social network. It's the old 'independence v 'fitting in'' debate.  

Life shouldn't be a popularity contest but unless you want to live on a remote Scottish island farming vegetables, you have to learn at least a modicum of social skills.

In my experience, these are exactly the skills that make a difference in later life when applying for jobs, being promoted, managing people and making strong and healthy friendships both in, and out of work.

I'll bet you'll cope with your play date nerves just fine.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

My First Post - why Mother Distracted?

Because I'm 48 and had my children at 43 and 45 respectively.

Linda Hobbis - mother distracted - stay at home mom - motherdistracted.co.uk
Linda Hobbis - A Mother Distracted!
Because I worked for 20 years in Marketing & PR, 13 of which were in Legal Services Marketing.

Because I met a man and got distracted.

Now I'm a stay at home mum and am still distracted.

By the experience of motherhood and the joys of having children.

By the challenges of transitioning from career girl to stay at home mum.

By the vast number of products and services aimed at mums, dads, carers and their families.

Some get it right. Some fail dismally.

This is my take on motherhood (belated), reviews (both products and particularly services aimed at families) and life in general.

Bear with me.  Blogging, like life, is a learning experience.
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