A Lifestyle & Parenting Blog

Monday, 29 December 2014

This year I'm resolving to..... ish......

1.  Eat healthily.  I say healthily, actually I mean back away from the biscuit tin and try to remember the existence of fruit.



It's the biggest party night of the year.



2.  Drink less. Whilst this means I will drink less wine, in practice it will mean I forget to drink sufficient water.  Since Jesus turned water into wine, I reckon I'm about 50% there already.

3.  Exercise more.  Unless my back goes, when I will wander through shopping centres shouting randomly like a drunk tramp as the spasms hit, whilst the husband and kids will speed up and abandon me to lurch wantonly through John Lewis.

4.  Listen to more music.  Quietly.  Too much noise is not good for my tinnitus but I miss belting out power ballads at the top of my lungs and scaring the neighbour's cat. N. B. music does not include the shouty Viking rock my husband loves.  If I want that kind of noise I will just put a saucepan on my head and bang it repeatedly with a ladle.

5.  Not read the Daily Mail Online (or the Daily Kardashian as it has recently become).  Some of the grimness of its reporting is really upsetting, but we all know I'll be trying to guess who sent this week's letter to Bel Mooney and wondering if the You Editorial Team would have the vapours if they saw the state of my interior decor.  That's not a euphemism by the way.  In any case,  the NHS has had far too much of my interior decor this year, to the extent that I have "if lost please return to University Hospital of Wales" embroidered on my knickers.

6.  Not watch the same TV programmes over and over again.  I am qualified to be an estate agent for Midsomer and Sykes is the only dog I would ever consider having as a pet.  The death rate in Midsomer Murders would only be a problem if the Council Tax bandings were unreasonable.  

7.  Not buy the latest celebrity lifestyle tome in which rising at 6 am is de rigeur as is straining your home grown green tea through fine denier stockings and doing yoga to salute the sun.  Nobody has seen the sun in Wales since 1976.  And if I bend down, my physiotherapist has to be called immediately.

8.  Be a better mother.  I am not entirely sure what this entails but I believe it has something to do with being higher on the Julie Andrews scale and lower on the Gruffalo in a dressing gown scale.

Do you have any exciting resolutions this year?  Whatever your resolutions are, I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!
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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Dating: 11 Ways To Tell They're REALLY Into You

You know, I always find it strange when my girlfriends say they don’t know if a man is really interested in them.  And most blokes seem to remain resolutely oblivious to the most obvious of flirtation signals. Prior to my becoming a respectable married woman (cough), I had quite a lengthy flirtation with internet dating. 

Now I know a lot of people are still quite sniffy about meeting a partner this way, seeing online dating as the refuge of the dateless and socially inept, but I found it immense fun and an excellent way of deciding what I wanted in a man. 

Flirting tips-how to flirt-motherdistracted.co.uk
Is your flirting producing results?
A long-time single girlfriend of mine (and I mean years) would love to meet a special someone but won’t try online dating on the grounds that she’d have to have a profile picture.

It’s funny how we’ll happily supply the most ghastly of photos for passports and driving licences but when it’s a question of our attractiveness being judged, nothing less than a photo-shoot with David Bailey will do. She also worries about work colleagues finding her out. Frankly, unless you’re ‘M’ at MI5, I’m not sure this is too much of a problem.

Rather than view my dates as a nerve-wracking experiment, I pretended I was ‘auditioning’ the latest candidate, thus making him the one on trial rather than me.  Possibly a weird mental switch, but try it, it works.

Anyone who works in HR or who interviews as part of their job knows that the first judgement of a candidate is normally made in the first few seconds of meeting and that most of our communication is non-verbal.

Yes, what you say is less important than how you say it and the various signals you give out. I could read body language tomes all day from self-styled ‘sexpert’ Tracey Cox to the grandfather of body language study himself, Desmond Morris.

So, when you are at a party or a date, take a moment to observe your potential partner in action. This is no bad thing because the late Helen Gurley Brown (Editor in Chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine) once said “if you’re doing all the talking, you’re boring somebody”.  Silence is power. 

Here’s what to look for.

Good signs

Prolonged eye contact - particularly if they look into your eyes and then at your mouth.


Proximity - are they sitting close to you or, if not, are they turned towards you? If you are standing in a circle with others, have a quick glance at the floor to see if their feet are pointing towards you.

Preening - I'm sure we all know the classic preening gestures such as toying / flicking hair or licking lips.  Some men will hook their fingers in their belt loops, unconsciously 'pointing' to their groin. Some women will stroke their throat, drawing attention to their breasts.

Mirroring - if you both have a drink, look to see if you both lift your glasses to sip at the same time or if you change your posture, do they change theirs too?

Territory - if you are sitting across a table from each other, try putting your glass or a piece of cutlery down on their 'side' of the table.  If they are comfortable, they'll probably let it stay there.  If not, it's likely to be pushed straight back (whether consciously or, more tellingly, unconsciously).

Conversation - do you both finish each other's sentences?  Are your questions being answered without just a curt yes or no?

Including you in future plans - do they say things like "oh, we must do that at Christmas, or I must take you to see this movie"? Then they see you in their future.  

Introducing you to friends they run into - if you bump into their friends when you're out, watch to see how they react.  If they're keen, they'll be sure to introduce you and use your name.  If they leave you hanging back while they catch up on gossip, that's not a good sign.

Revealing gestures - the inside of the wrist is considered to be an erogenous zone - watch to see if there are lots of palms up / wrist revealed gestures.  Revealing the wrist whilst smoking is a classic flirtation gesture and you could probably write a book about Hollywood's use of smoking as flirtation.

Now such a thing would be not quite Disney and I suspect that trying the same femme fatale routine with an e-cig probably won't have the same effect.  It's probably far sexier these days not to smoke unless you're happy to keep leaving the table to stand outside with other lonely souls and light up in the rain whilst your date eyes up other prospective partners in the restaurant.

Ending the date by planning another  - if they're keen they'll indicate when they'll next be in touch and they'll be specific about it.  They'll want to get a date in your diary as soon as possible.  If, on the other hand they say "it's been great, I'll catch you sometime next week", I wouldn't waste too much time waiting for their text or call.

The Kiss - I don't really have to explain this one but bear in mind that should the evening end on a hot and heavy note, there's still no guarantee you'll get another date.  There are some who are capable of monumental double standards when it comes to sex on a first date.

Bad Signs

Lack of eye contact - that thing where you're dancing and you just know he's checking out other women over your shoulder.


Constantly checking a mobile - be honeset.  If they are checking their email or updating their Facebook status, chances are they aren't that keen!

Pomposity - they sit with both hands behind their head maximizing their physical size and space. This is the gesture of arrogance and superiority.  Him Tarzan, you probably one of many Janes. Either way, you're not considered an equal.

Closed answers - yes / no answers that leave conversation in the air and stunted silences.

Not asking about you - this is a pretty obviously clue!

Talking about the Ex - no, no and once again, no!

Not attempting to prolong the date - if you finish the last mouthful of your dessert and they ask for the bill rather than coffee, not good.  Some women think men should pay on the first date.  I'm more pragmatic.  I think it's OK to split the bill, particularly if you earn more than he does.  But if he starts to quibble and wants to split the bill to the penny, I'd probably run.

Let’s be honest.  If your date is not making every effort to know when they will see you again, then in the words of that famous dating bible inspired by “Sex & The City”, he’s just not that into you.

You may remember the book “The Rules” which was popular about ten years ago which contained rather militant advice such as “if he phones after Wednesday asking for a date on Saturday tell him no”. You were supposed to be a creature of mystery, alluring and just that little bit hard to get. When you get to a certain age, all that game playing is very wearing, decidedly not sexy and, generally, a complete waste of time.

Many women say they just ‘know’ when they’ve met the ‘one’ so if the one you’re with is Mr or Miss Right Now rather than Mr or Miss Right, keep auditioning!
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Saturday, 20 December 2014

10 Things You'll Probably Forget To Buy This Christmas


I was going to title this piece "The Mother Distracted Guide to Humbug-ery" and then I thought "best not". 

Anyway, here's my helpful list of things you might want to add to your Christmas shopping list on the basis that I like to be fully prepared for all possible emergencies, medical, psychological and social.  


Keep Calm It's Almost Christmas Postscard
Image credit: www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

Most of these items are unremittingly dull.  But nowhere near as dull as trying to find a corner shop open on Christmas day whilst the husband is left to cremate the turkey and the kids dismantle any item costing more than a tenner which needs batteries..... which leads me to....

1.  Batteries.  Best to buy in bulk over the internet if you're organised.  If not, best join the queue in Argos for a pack big enough to power a space shuttle and spend 20 minutes watch the blinking TV screen as your order number takes an age to appear on the glamorous metal racking at the back of the stressed out line of assistants.

2.  Indigestion remedy.  Christmas is the only time of year when we are unnaturally possessed to consume our own body weight in dried fruit.  It ain't pretty.

3.  Plasters.  Fabric.  Waterproof.  The sort that are so strong that pain is involved in removing them. All other plasters float off as soon as they get wet, particularly any featuring Winnie The Pooh / Hello Kitty etc.

4. Wire cutters or very strong scissors.  Even Dynamo would struggle to get out of some of the packaging toys come in these days.  You'll need the fabric plasters to wrap round your fingers after it has taken you an entire festive episode of  Midsomer Murders to free Barbie and her range of microscopic accessories.

5. Tweezers.  After Caitlin's "bead up the nose" incident, I'm taking no chances.  Plus I can't remember the last time I actually scrutinized my eyebrows. And since we've got rid of the carpet and hubby has painted the floors, the risk of splinters in the foot (and even more annoyingly, shredded hosiery) is high. Less micro-pedi and more micro-shreddy.

6.  Bin bags. Just remember that the ratio of packaging to gift for most of the stuff we buy these days is 85% packaging and 15% gift. However, failure to recycle correctly in this here shire may result in heavy tut-tutting from the neighbours and possibly a short prison sentence.

7.  Fuel for the car.  No really.  If you're off to see Aunty Vi in the back of Abercwmtwch, you just know that there won't be a garage open this side of the Severn Bridge on Christmas day. Although come to think of it, that might actually be a good thing. You really don't need a pasty and a copy of What Car magazine either.

8. Enough cream.  Without fail if I buy a small amount, everyone wants some and if I buy it in pints, everyone wants custard.  I'm sure it's deliberate. 

9. A gravy boat.  What has happened to the nation's fleet of gravy boats?  Are we all using Pyrex jugs or those strange jugs in the shape of a cow?  

10. An emergency present.  Tricky.  I find boxes of Matchmakers or Ferrero Rocher chocolates kept for this purpose usually vanish. You'll just have to be strong or invest in a prettily wrapped gift card from somewhere like Marks & Spencer. 

I'm sure you have your own list.  Let me know.  I bet there's loads of things I've forgotten!
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Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Teenspeak Online - Can You Crack The Code? Yep PIR!

A recent report by CNN, covered in the Daily Mail Online lists 28 internet acronyms used by youngsters to shield their online activity from their parents' beady eyes.

The list was compiled by Kelly Wallace with the help of Internet safety expert Katie Greer and contains details of slang such as "420" for marijuana, "POS" for parent over shoulder and the worrying "L(MIRL)" - let's meet in real life.


Ieuan playing with iPad
Ieuan plays with carefully supervised games apps!
Happily my kids are not yet of an age to have social media profiles but my nieces and nephews are and I figure that, as parents, we should all make sure we are aware of the dangers facing our children both now and in the future.

Common sense suggests that it is best to have a family PC in a room where internet activity can be monitored, but, as we all know, real life isn't like that. We are already explaining to our daughter (7) that it is very easy for people to disguise who they really are online. She enjoys looking at her cousins' Facebook pages but under close supervision.


I really recommend that you take a moment to read the Daily Mail's article which also advises on talking to teens about online safety and here's hoping you don't come across any of this list.


1. IWSN - I want sex now

2. GNOC - Get naked on camera
3. NIFOC - Naked in front of computer
4. PIR - Parent in room
5 CU46 - See you for sex
6. 53X - Sex
7. 9 - Parent watching
8. 99 - Parent gone
9. 1174 - Party meeting place
10. THOT - That hoe over there
11. CID - Acid (the drug)
12. Broken - Hungover from alcohol
13. 420 - Marijuana
14. POS - Parent over shoulder
15. SUGARPIC - Suggestive or erotic photo
16. KOTL - Kiss on the lips
17. (L)MIRL - Let's meet in real life
18. PRON - Porn
19. TDTM - Talk dirty to me
20. 8 - Oral sex
21. CD9 - Parents around/Code 9
22. IPN - I'm posting naked
23. LH6 - Let's have sex
24. WTTP - Want to trade pictures?
25. DOC - Drug of choice
26. TWD - Texting while driving
27. GYPO - Get your pants off
28. KPC- Keeping parents clueless

Not comfortable reading, is it!


Here's the link again:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2874340/The-28-internet-acronyms-parent-know.html
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Sunday, 7 December 2014

Hangover Cures - I Will Survive!

Now at the risk of sounding like Great Aunt Augusta who firmly believed that the decline of the Roman Empire began when someone had a second small Sherry, and lest you may have accidentally purchased a wine which could fuel a tractor, I include below some helpful advice to avoid the feeling of imminent death.


Source: intrigue.ie

Incidentally that wise Roman, Pliny The Elder recommended deep frying a canary and chomping it down whole. Pliny The Elder was a Roman author, naturalist and philosopher who was also a naval and an army commander.  The fact that he was "The Elder" might mean he was on to something. Or on something.

Either way......here's my mullings

Avoid Mulled Wine

That's it really.  It may taste nice but it's the stuff of the devil.


Crisps & Coke (The Walkers of Shame)

Ask around and you'll find there is a secret club of people who firmly believe that the number one cure for a hangover is a combination of salt & vinegar crisps and coke.  The husband says full fat coke but I've heard recommendations for the diet variety too.

Recent research in China though suggests the best drink for helping with your hangover is Sprite which topped a list of 57 drinks, from water through to fizzy pop.

The Full English (or Welsh) Breakfast

None of your airy fairy egg white omelette nonsense - sausages, bacon, fried egg, beans, fried bread, black pudding and tea as strong as you can take it.


Hair of the Dog

I've never been strong enough for this one but if you have a Bloody Mary at least the tomato juice and celery should go some way to repair the damage whilst the vodka will give at least some temporary relief.


Fruit Juice

The fructose (fruit sugar) in the juice should perk you up. It's the boost of glucose, apparently, that helps your body process the alcohol.


Pickles

Apparently drinking pickle juice is a common hangover remedy in Poland. No.  Just no.


Water & Paracetemol

The best way to flush out the alcohol and help your beleaguered liver, but make sure you stick to the recommended dose of your pain reliever of choice.


Sleep

Let's be honest, when you're a parent, the option to go back to bed is usually non-existent but if you can manage an extra hour, go for it.


Exercise

A good walk can often perk you up - all that fresh air.  Just 20 minutes can help. Or you can pretend you're going for a walk and have a nap in the car.


Bear in mind that having a hangover will also involve some United Nations level negotiations with your other half viz "oh I see, when I went out for the rugby I was only allowed to sleep in till noon but YOU CHECKED OUT FOR A WHOLE DAY". Can't think where I heard that recently. Cough. The only way around this is pleading and offering marital privileges. (I should stick a time limit on them though, like they do on Tesco Clubcard Vouchers - "oopsie, that one expired at the end of November love").

Anyway, just be thankful you don't live in Mongolia where their hangover cure of choice is pickled sheep's eyeballs with tomato juice.  The best hangover cure is, well, not to drink in the first place. As the great English Restoration poet John Dryden (1631 - 1700) put it "penance, fasts and abstinence, to punish bodies for the soul's offense". Think I'd rather have a night out with Pliny The Elder.

So cheers everybody!  I'll be raising a glass to you all. And if you do know of any miracle cures, be sure to comment!
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Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Review: Ozeri Savore Electric Pepper Grinder

Here's a nifty little stocking filler for the aspiring foodie or gadget lover. 

The Ozeri Savore Electric Pepper Grinder is a push-down button operated grinder which instantly grinds and releases seasonings. 

It has a see through container so you can see at a glance whether it needs refilling and it seasons well with a front to side ceramic grinding mechanism which means that you never need to invert the gadget. 

Powered by six AAA batteries, it's durable ceramic motor copes with peppercorns, salt and spices. It has a soft textured non-slip grip with, Ozeri say, finger-print resisting coating.




The Ozeri Savore Electric Pepper Grinder

Being somewhat ham-fisted when it comes to assembling gadgets, I found the Savore Grinder easy to put together.  


The grinder has three parts


Slot the three pieces together and hey presto. 

The front switch also has three settings allowing you to select different coarsenesses of pepper. 

I am also pleased to report that it does not leave an annoying circle of pepper whenever you leave it on a table.

A small detail I know but when you've brandished a dishcloth for the umpteenth time only to find the seasoning equivalent of a crop circle on the table it does get a bit irritating. 

Or is that just me?  

Anyhoo....

Now you may well be asking why not stick with an ordinary 'twist' salt or pepper grinder. 

We found this easy enough for the kids to use without creating a pepper dust storm and it would also be great for those with limited mobility in their wrists or the elderly - although changing the batteries might require some assistance.


Ieuan, randomly face-painted as 'Evil Rudolph' testing his unique pepper and pear combo


Caitlin, sensible like her mother (ahem)

The Ozeri Savore Electric Pepper Grinder is available from Amazon.co.uk and retails around the £11 mark. We haven't stopped using ours and the old twist to grind model is languishing in the cupboard.

*A Savore Pepper Grinder was received for the purposes of this review.
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Sunday, 30 November 2014

Silent Sunday - 30/11/2014



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Monday, 24 November 2014

Stay Safe This Christmas Party Season

My daughter is only 9 years old, but already she can make that sound - "harrumph" - which implies she hasn't the faintest intention of listening to me; a situation that I fully envisage will continue when she hits her teens.

Christmas revellers the worse for wear - stay safe this party season - motherdistracted.co.uk
Christmas Revellers The Worse For Wear - Mirror.co.uk
Since this is now the season when Daily Mail journalists polish their camera lenses and lurk around the many pubs in St. Mary Street in Cardiff (or any other busy city centre) on Fridays and Saturdays hoping to catch party goers in less than dignified positions (i.e. spark out on the floor, face down in the gutter, etc), I found myself wondering what advice I'd give Caitlin in the years to come on how to stay safe on a night out.

I suspect that very few of us have personal safety at the top of our agenda for a good night out. Most of us are more concerned about whether our dress looks good and we can actually walk in those heels.  But safety IS an issue, particularly at this time of year.

According to the Home Office, more than 300,000 women in England and Wales are sexually assaulted and 60,000 raped each year - a truly staggering statistic.  This means that in the month of December an average of 25,000 women will be sexually assaulted and 5,000 women raped, without allowing for any seasonal fluctuations in statistics due to the party season.

So, below are some tips it would do all of us, male and female, well to read and inwardly digest before stepping into that taxi.

Before You Go
  • Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged.
  • Carry a personal alarm with you - men as well as women - as statistics show that men actually stand a higher chance of being attacked in the street.
  • Keep some money separate from your purse or wallet.  A friend of mine shoves a £20 note down her bra!
  • If you're using public transport, find out the times of the buses / trains so you're not waiting about too long at the bus stop / station and know what time you have to leave so as not to miss the last one home altogether.
  • Make sure you have the taxi firm's number in your phone.
  • Let someone know where you are going and roughly what time you plan to be home.
  • Don't get too tipsy before you leave.  It's tempting to have a few glasses before you go to get you in the party mood (and to avoid the hefty prices some clubs charge for drinks), but you're likely to end up drunker than you might otherwise have been much quicker.
And, on the subject of drinking ...

Festive Tipples
  • Don't drink on an empty stomach - the levels of alcohol in your blood will rise quicker, which means you'll be drunk quicker.  Try to at least have a high protein snack - some cubes of cheese and some crackers, or even a bowl of cereal will be better than nothing.
  • Try to control your drinking - set yourself an upper limit and stick to it.
  • Avoid drinking in rounds - it puts you under pressure to both drink and spend more. The Government advises 3-4 units of alcohol a day for men (equivalent to a pint and a half of 4% beer) and 2-3 units a day for women (equivalent to a 175ml glass of wine). And there's always someone who manages to avoid paying for a round, isn't there?!
  • Watch your, and your friends' drinks - take turns to watch each other's drinks when you go to the toilet or outside for a cigarette.  One of my girlfriends drinks bottled beers and advises keeping your thumb in the top of the bottle when you're not drinking.
At The Club / Party Venue
  • Stick with people you know - and try to go home with them.
  • Don't get drawn into problem situations or arguments  - just walk away.  
  • If you still don't feel safe then call the police.
Getting Home Safely
  • Book a taxi before you go out - and make sure the taxi firm's number is on your phone. I'd have the number of two or three firms to be on the safe side. And if possible get them to identify both the model and registration number of the car which will be collecting you. The taxi firm I prefer to use here in Cardiff, Premier Cabs, will send a text to your phone with this information when your taxi arrives.
  • Make sure you have enough money for your journey - and use a reputable firm who won't take the mickey by grossly inflating the fare.  Another of my girlfriends was recently asked to pay £75 to go from the centre of Cardiff to an address on the outskirts - a journey which should have cost £15 - £20.  She had not been drinking on that particular evening and was able to tell the driver where to go! But it is obvious that there are unscrupulous drivers out there who see tipsy revellers as fair game for a financial fleecing.
  • DO NOT TAKE AN UNLICENSED MINICAB! Only licensed taxis are allowed to pull up at the kerb.  You have no idea who you might be getting into a car with.
  • Use your gut feeling - if the driver starts to ask you inappropriate questions or if it's clear you are being driven the long way round or along a route you do not recognise, ask to be dropped off at the next available bus stop / shop / anywhere open and full of people.  Better to wait for another taxi than to put yourself at risk.
  • Sit near the driver on a bus and in an occupied carriage on a train.
  • If you HAVE to walk home, try not to do so alone - and use well lit, busy streets and main roads wherever possible.
  • Take a pair of roll-up flat shoes with you - companies such as Rollasole and Tipsy Feet make roll up ballet flats which you can take in your bag so you can walk home comfortably without having to teeter in heels.  It's much easier to run in flat shoes too.
A lot of this is common sense, but it is human nature to assume that "it will never happen to me". 

Avoid using the body language of a "victim" too.  Stand tall, walk swiftly and with purpose.  Look like you know where you are going. It is illegal to carry weapons of course but I like to carry my house keys in my hand. 

There are also numerous apps now which allow you to use your mobile as a torch but, since mobile phone theft is so prevalent it would be better to keep your phone to hand but concealed.  

Do NOT stop in the middle of an empty street to take a mobile phone call or answer a text.

With these tips in mind, you can enjoy your night out without compromising your safety.  Then all you'll have to worry about will be the photos of you dancing on tables appearing on Facebook the next morning.
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Monday, 17 November 2014

Coffee With Currys At Waterloo Tea, Cardiff

When I received an invitation from the lovely folks at Joeblogsnetwork.com to spend several hours with Curry's PC World and Nespresso talking about, playing with and tasting quality coffee made from one of those clever little Nespresso machines I've added to my Christmas list, I accepted with alacrity.

The event, with a certain degree of irony, was held at Waterloo Tea in Cardiff's Wyndham Arcade but being a caffeine fiend this was in no way off-putting.

Cardiff's Quaint, Christmassy Wyndham Arcade

Waterloo Tea
After a delicious lunch featuring flavoursome salads, canapes and wonderful chocolate 'bites', our first challenge was to become baristas for the day and create a latte lovingly adorned with a heart.

It is not as easy as it looks and the coffee making equipment is more sophisticated than I had expected.

The water pressure must be just so as must the size of the ground coffee grains - the latter affecting the taste of the espresso if the grains are too big or too small.

My fellow bloggers and I had been divided into four groups undertaking each activity in turn.

My group and I surveyed the hissing piece of equipment in front of us with something approaching terror. Needless to say, our tutor produced a latte with a perfect heart.

Coffee love
I'm afraid I managed to produce what can best be described as a blob or possibly a runner bean, neither being required in someone's latte anytime soon.

Our next activity was cupping.

No, not the weirdness espoused by Gwyneth Paltrow but a lesson in the art of coffee tasting.

Using one of the natty little Nespresso wizards a range of coffees was placed before us and we were asked to taste each one by slurping some off a spoon.

Noisy slurping is apparently required, if somewhat unladylike.

We were surprised by how much coffee is packed into each of the little coffee pods and also at the variety of flavours available.

There are 22 varieties of coffee to choose from.

The coffees are ranked according to intensity and flavour so Livanto, a blend of Central and South American Arabicas is a medium roast with an intensity of 6, whilst aromatic Volluto has sweet biscuit and light fruity notes and an intensity of 4.

There is a flavour and intensity to match every taste and moment of the day.

Cupping in action
Things were now getting serious and it was time to learn how to combine coffee with alcohol.

I have to say I have been doing this reasonably successfully for years just not in cocktail format.

We learned how to make an Orange Coffee Martini which so entranced me I completely forgot the name of the second - although I do recall it featured espresso and Baileys which is enough information to work with in my book.

We were also shown how to make coffee 'mocktails' but again, I'm afraid my attention wandered back to the martini at this point.

Coffee Cocktail Time
A Raspberry Coffee Mocktail - Sadly Not One Of Your 5-A-Day
Lastly we were given a demonstration of a range of Nespresso machines ranging from a basic model, retailing around the £70 mark such as the Krups Nespresso Inissia to a more sophisticated version such as the Nespresso Lattissima & Espresso Machine at around the £179 mark which also has a milk frother and jug.

Be gentle with me ladies!

We learned that when you buy a Nespresso machine you automatically become a member of the Nespresso Club.

The Club offers numerous privileges including personalised contacts with Nespresso and its coffee specialists.

You can order your coffee fix online, by phone or fax, day or night to the delivery address of your choice or to one of the Nespresso Boutiques.

And, should your Nespresso machine need repairing during its guarantee period, Nespresso will collect it and provide you with a loan machine, subject to availability.

Repairs out of warranty are carried out at a flat fee.

I was impressed by the ease of use (pop a pod in, press a button and hey presto!) but the team at #CoffeeWithCurrys really showed us that there is more to these little machines than just a quick coffee break.

For those who are interested in gourmet coffee and expanding their knowledge of what I think Blackadder once referred to as 'that naughty bean', this is an excellent and cost effective way of doing so.

Yes, the cost per cup using the pods may be slightly higher than a jar of instant and a spoon but in terms of taste, the coffees I sampled were certainly excellent quality.

A Nespresso machine is now definitely at the top of my Christmas list.

More information about #CoffeeWithCurrys is available HERE.
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Monday, 10 November 2014

Review: A Star Is Quorn

Being a regular reader of the Daily Mail online, I have the opportunity to enjoy a positive cornucopia of health related scare stories which demonise a food group (or, more usually alcohol) one week and then sing its praises the next.  

Like most of us, I have what can best be described as a rather 'pick 'n' mix' approach to health and nutrition. 


That said though, there are some simple common-sense ideas which even the Daily Mail would struggle to turn into five paragraphs of hysteria and a picture of a journalist writing from a Boden-covered semi in Primrose Hill.  

One of these rules is to eat less meat on the basis that it is better for us, better for our animal friends and ultimately better for the planet.

Whilst, here at Downton Shabby, we have not quite managed to adopt "meat free Monday", I have flirted with vegetarian cookbooks and when we were given the opportunity to try out some Quorn, it seemed like the ideal time to test Mo Farah's rocket fuel.



 Quorn Mince

Quorn is meat free and made with mycoprotein.  


It is also low in fat and a source of fibre.  

We need protein to maintain normal bones and muscle mass and consuming less saturated fat helps to maintain normal blood cholesterol levels.  

Quorn is now the leading meat free substitute in the UK and Ireland and, since its launch in 1985, is now sold in over 16 countries.  

We tried the mince which is cooked from frozen in either 12 minutes on the hob or 9 minutes in a microwave - extremely quick and easy.

There is a range of products made from Quorn and the website contains a number of easy to follow recipes.  


Whether you fancy burgers, sausages, chicken pieces, a hearty chilli, shepherd's pie or spaghetti bolognese, there is a recipe for every taste - these being also available on a free ios app for your mobile.




Just some of the products in the Quorn meat-free range 

We tried Quorn spaghetti bolognese using the recipe on the website and despite my rather limited lack of cooking skills, I found the recipe simplicity itself.  


The true test, of course, would be to serve my meat free dish to the rest of the family to see if they would notice.




Quorn, straight from the freezer

The Quorn itself does not have a strong taste but is easy to cook with and so it is easy to add flavour using herbs and even a dash of red wine.





A tasty meat-free spaghetti bolognese


So easy, even I can make it

Both the kids and the husband cleared their plates expressing surprise at how tasty it was.  I have to say that I noticed very little difference between a meat and a non meat bolognese.








No complaints here!

We are now looking forward to trying the sausages and burgers and plan to make Meat Free Monday a regular event in the Hobbis Household.    

I will certainly be keeping a bag or two of Quorn mince available for those days when a speedy nutritious tea is needed.  

A 350g bag of frozen Quorn mince retails at around the £3 mark making it a comparable price to minced beef.

Further information is available at www.quorn.co.uk.


*Vouchers were received for the purchase of the products featured in this review.
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Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Shared Parental Leave Comes Into Force 1st December 2014


From 1st December 2014, Shared Parental Leave will come into force.  It will enable mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to choose how to share time off work after their child is born or placed for adoption. For example, the mother or adopter could share some leave with a partner, returning to work for a while and then resuming leave in the final months of the year.



Caitlin in 2008


The idea is to give greater flexibility in how to share childcare in the first year following birth or adoption.  Basically there will now be one pot of leave available to both parents which they can allocate between them. And, of course, it means that fathers will be able to play a greater role in caring for their children in the first year.

Shared Parental Leave does not replace Maternity and Paternity leave but is a separate option available to those parents who meet the qualifying criteria.  This means that a mother would need to end her maternity leave early and opt for Shared Parental Leave instead of Maternity Leave. She would then need to decide how to share her Shared Parental Leave and Pay entitlement with her partner. Maternity Leave is currently 52 weeks of which 39 weeks accrue either statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance. Paid Paternity Leave of two weeks will still be available but it proposed that Shared Parental Leave will eventually replace Additional Paternity Leave.

Qualifying criteria are explained in detail on the ACAS website but will apply for parents where a baby is due to be born on or after 5th April 2015 or for children placed for adoption on or after that date.  Employers can start to receive notices of intention to take Shared Parental Leave from January 2015, provided that the qualifying criteria are met - for example you must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks at the end of the 15th week before the week in which the child is due.

If you think this arrangement may work for you and your partner, now is the time to start researching the new regulations to see if you will be eligible.

For information is available at www.acas.org.uk

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Sunday, 2 November 2014

Silent Sunday - 02/11/2014


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Sunday, 26 October 2014

Silent Sunday - 26/10/2014



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Monday, 20 October 2014

Mince Pies In My Eyes - Shame About My Thighs!

It is with a certain amount of embarrassment that I have to report I am now a stone heavier than I was on my wedding day in 2011.  Most of it has crept on this year largely due, I think, to the stress of numerous hospital appointments of the gynaecological variety and the shock of turning 50.  


Mince Pies!  bbcgoodfood.com
I had been adhering well to the Rosemary Conley low fat regime but had slipped back into the heinous sin of adding butter to bread and, worse, developing a passion of Tarte au Citron at Cafe Rouge. So far, so self-obsessed I agree. But isn't it difficult to rein your appetite back in once you have set it loose?

And aren't you sometimes suspicious that the things you do to stay slim are not that healthy for you? I swear a large part of my appetite control was due to diet coke (2 cans a day) even though studies indicate that drinking aspartame laden drinks actually increases your appetite.  Drinking a substance that contains what is basically formaldehyde (aspartame) is surely never wise but aspartame is everywhere and, shockingly, OK'd by the US Food and Drug Administration (the FDA). My other appetite suppressant is a snack of four marshmallows instead of biscuits with my morning coffee. These are low fat and surprisingly filling.  The trick, of course, is restricting yourself to only four!

A slim-line us on our wedding day in 2011

This time of year is a nightmare for trying to curb your appetite. It is goodwill to man and good-swill at the same time. The supermarket magazines are groaning with comfy, cosy, autumnal recipes - beef and ale pie, pulled pork, apple crumbles, and then there is the sugar onslaught that is now Halloween where any mum worth her salt is creating witches and vampires out of sponge fingers and a packet of Maltesers.

The main ingredients of a celebration are family, friends, food and drink (and generally not in that order).  I'm sure at some level many of us believe that food = love.  An equation which is making the Food and Clothing industries very happy.  The growth of plus size clothing catalogues is interesting as, if you go by the TV advertising, these now outnumber those from companies offering the more 'traditional' sizing.  As a side note, many shoe manufacturers do not seem to have cottoned on to the fact that our feet are getting bigger too. Karen Millen, for example does not stock shoes over a UK size 7.

There is a subtle hint in all of this advertising that we should embrace our weight - and I wholeheartedly agree that we should love ourselves no matter what we weigh - but is ignoring weight gain on the basis that we only need to buy the next dress size up a wise approach?

As we approach mince pie season (and I could eat them every day), the hubby and I are having six weeks of sensible eating (hubby's main weakness is crisps) so that we can treat ourselves over the festive period - without looking like a pair of chocolate snowmen at the end of it.

How are you approaching the season of endless food?  Do you diet in preparation for it?  What are your diet tips.  I'd love to know.
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Sunday, 19 October 2014

Silent Sunday - 19/10/2014



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Sunday, 28 September 2014

Silent Sunday - 28/09/2014




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Monday, 22 September 2014

Monday Morning Lemsip

It is Monday morning in the Hobbis household and I have the kind of head cold that renders you grumpy and out of sorts with the world.  It is the sort of cold that makes you want to retire to your bed with a Mary Berry recipe book,  a milky coffee and a packet of digestives.  My eyes sting, my ears hurt and their usual buzzing has been amplified to an even higher pitched "wheeeeee".




I should have been taking the advice of my many natural health books and making batches of chicken soup, dosing myself with echinacea and drinking honey, lemon and cinnamon but, as usual, whilst I have been mentally flirting with these ideas, the reality is a fresh box of tissues and some Lemsip capsules swigged down with lukewarm tea. I always think it is baffling that whilst we are even now planning to create cities in space, nobody has managed to eradicate the common cold.

Plus now that the kids have settled back into their routine, I'm noticing that, aside from housework, I don't really have a routine.  Certainly nothing mentally challenging is looming on the horizon. The garden is wearing its autumn jacket and there are leaves to be swept. I have a pile of novels to read (I still haven't got around to reading Hilary Mantel's Bring Up The Bodies) and more recipe books to peruse than the cookery section of Waterstones.

I could tidy up my wardrobe, although it mainly comprises leggings and the odd frock for going out to dinner with the hubby. Or, I could attack the nightmare that is 'toy corner' in our lounge and weed out all the broken and outgrown toys.  Previous attempts to do this though have resulted in Caitlin and Ieuan going through charity bags when my back is turned and replacing anything which could be passed on with cries of "but muuuum we still play with it" - when I know full well said toy hasn't seen the light of day for at least three months.

I haven't even got the energy to start planning for Christmas (well, it is nearly October!) or, my other favourite, Halloween. Every year I revisit Martha Stewart's Halloween guide and plan six foot witches and cats cut out of balsa wood and painted black (by the hubby obviously), ignoring that fact that we've nowhere to put them and since our garden is walled around its entire perimeter, nobody apart from us will see them anyway.

I need something to get me out of this slump.  But what?
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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

I'm Buzzing - My Tinnitus is Back!

It's back. The incessant buzzing in my ears. My Tinnitus is back. Who knows what triggered it. The usual suspects could be caffeine, red wine, chocolate, aspartame or sudden loud noises. The hairs in my cochlea could be bent. It could be too much ibruprofen. The buzzing has reduced slightly today after a good night's sleep (thank you amitryptyline) but in the name of silence how come so little can be done for a complaint which affects thousands in the UK?

Source:  www.idailymail.co.uk

That is the number one question asked in the Facebook tinnitus forums - and the question that has no answer.  There are trials being conducted - nebulous trials involving implanting iPod like devices in the sufferer's body.  There are drug trials - apparently anti-epilepsy drugs have shown positive results in preventing tinnitus in mice.  Great for the mice but useless for the rest of us.  Is that the choice? Listen to the endless cacophony in your ears or wander round like a zombie, zoned out on medication?

It is very difficult too, to describe to someone what it's like and thus sympathy tends to be short lived and advice focuses on the "well you'll just have to live with it and pull yourself together".  I am pretty sure my tinnitus developed as a result of listening to music too loudly on the Sony Walkman (in the days of cassette tapes) and I worry about people today who play their ipod tunes so loudly that the bass or treble can be heard by everyone else in the railway carriage or the length of the bus.  Then there are those who, as we walk to school in the morning, play music in their car so loudly it sounds like someone is beating the side of their car with a mallet or worse, those who take in-car telephone calls at a volume which ensures their entire conversation can be heard miles away.  "She did what???" - speak up love, there's someone in the Outer Hebrides who didn't quite catch that.

I am going to have to bite the bullet and start wearing my hearing aids.  I'm told it will replace the buzzing with sound at the frequency my ears are missing and so I'll gradually notice it less and less. Reports on whether hearing aids are effective in masking tinnitus are equally mixed on the forums but I will give it a go.  I did try them a few weeks back at a children's party.  This was obviously completely the wrong occasion to try them out and the sound volume was so loud, they were swiftly removed and hidden in my handbag.  

I have heard good reports about Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) which uses cognitive behavioural techniques to change the way you think about your tinnitus.  I am not sure that it is available in Cardiff or the Vale though.  

In the meantime, I'm trying to take my mind off it and if you're suffering with it today too, you have my heartfelt sympathy.  
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Sunday, 7 September 2014

Silent Sunday - 07/09/2014



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Thursday, 4 September 2014

A Year of Beauty & Health? I Wish!

It is 4 pm and the Husband has taken the kids to their swimming lesson. I am sat in blissful silence, save the now permanent sound of house renovation taking place in our street and the monotonous drone of an outsize lawn-mower chugging across the postage stamp of a lawn in one of the houses backing on to our garden.





The day is unseasonably warm with the kind of heat that leaves you drowsy and heavy-limbed. I briefly tidy up the house and, in a fit of domestic fervour, whip up a blackberry and apple cake in tribute to what promises to be a golden autumn.

As I wait for the cake to bake, I ponder all manner of things, particularly my various ailments, the latest of which is a strange tension headache which grips me either side of my skull at odd moments. I worry, given the presence of epilepsy and numerous brain tumours on my mother's side of the family, that I am potentiallly a goner. Then there are the back exercises I am supposed to do to strengthen my lower back. And the hearing aids I am supposed to wear to help my tinnitus.  The week after next I have one visit to Llandough Hospital and another to the Heath Hospital scheduled. Let's put it this way, I am no stranger to the gynaecology department.

So it is with no small irony that I recall a book I once read many years ago by Beverly and Vidal Sassoon entitled "A Year of Beauty & Health".  It was written in 1975 and since that time I have had approximately a year of beauty and health!  Actually the one piece of advice I can remember is that, when shampooing your hair, you only need a dollop of shampoo the size of a 10p piece.

This was before celebrity hairdressers realised that, in order to sell your product, you had to encourage hair washing on a daily basis, together with conditioner, mask, conditioning spray, straightening balm, hairspray and a small payday loan with which to purchase said items.

This is probably why I have a cupboard full of shampoo and conditioner remnants - the latest include Brazilian Macademia Oil shampoo and Elvive's Fixology, neither of which have given me hair like the late Farrah Fawcett.  I truly don't understand how the Hair & Beauty Industry survives because it takes me an age to finish anything - from shampoo to cleanser and lipstick. I suspect that the houses of the United Kingdom are stuffed with half used beauty products whilst we all dance to the tune of the Pied Piper that is Beauty Industry marketing and walk zombie like towards Boots and Superdrug in a state of fervent anticipation.This is also probably why the annual beauty awards tend to go to the same products ad nauseum. Liz Earle, YSL Touche Eclat, Clinique Chubby Sticks, you know the ones.

I wish I could remember what I've done with the Sassoon tome. Given the state of the old bod, there are probably things more important I should have been doing than rationing my shampoo usage.  Like drinking 8 glasses of water a day.  And exercising.

That's never going to be as exciting as a trip to Boots though, is it?
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