Saturday, December 13, 2014

Due Dates, Death, Dying and lots of other $#!t

I know, this is not going to be a Blissful post, but...

Well, I have been reading lots recently about how we all make our online world seem better that our real world, which makes other people feel shit about their own life when they compare it to everyone's social profile and that could be leading to depression - especially amongst young people. I don't know if there's any research to back that up, and I can't be arsed to investigate that right now, but anyway - here's a post that means I won't make your life feel crap compared to mine.

I also want to get it out - this blog is for me after all, it's cathartic. I'm going to put it all in one post and then move on. I decided I would write it yesterday, as yesterday is when I should have sat down to write my Christmas letter. Seeing as I couldn't think of anything positive to say, I decided not to do a Christmas letter this year. Hopefully I will be able to do a new address card with a happier letter in a few months time.

So here goes.

Due date 

Yesterday would have been my due date - had I not miscarried at the end of May. Not really much more to say here. I'm doing OK on that really, I think I have accepted it. I have given up on my old eggs now so I will always have only one biological child. Adoption and fostering are still very much on the cards so this doesn't mean I will only ever be the Mum of one. I have seriously considered donor eggs and embryos too. I don't think I have any attachment to the need to be biologically /genetically related to my second child. I don't really feel the need to go through another pregnancy or birth either, but I would like BB to have a sibling and I do feel that there is room in our family for at least one more. Despite getting over the loss, I think the due dates for both of the babies I miscarried will always be in my mind as the dates come around each year. A time for reflection on what might have been and to acknowledge those little ones that I never had the chance to meet.


There has been much in the conversation about my own death. BB became aware of death in the summer, when everyone was talking about PP's mum who died. "What means died?" became a big question for him (I intend to blog about this in its own right some time). I have done all that I can to answer the questions sensitively and honestly. We have been to graveyards, I have bought books, we have brought the concept of impermanence into our daily lives. For a while he was saying "I wish you won't die" to me several times a day. Now it's down to a few times a week. I wish I won't die too. In fact, one of the things that has made me decide not to try and carry another child myself is the fact that I wish I won't die too. I am a bit old for that kind of thing, and not exactly the fittest person on this planet. I really don't want to depart this world prematurely and leave BB without a Mummy.

I have mentioned before that I have had problems with severe pain in my arms. The worst ever experience I had of this was just after my first miscarriage when I ended up having the paramedics come out to me. It had happened before and it has happened since. At the time of the severe episode it was put down to a trapped nerve. It never made sense though - the physio was a waste of time, he really didn't listen to what I had to say, and although his dodgy questionnaire that I had to complete would have made him look great, I always believed that the healing that occurred was happening despite his intervention, and not because of it. I still get episodes of chronic pain. Finally a few months ago my doctor decided that I really should see a neurologist. This I did a few weeks ago. He thinks I have brachial neuritis. This makes far more sense. Nearly everything he said rang true, whereas the trapped nerve/physio thing never did seem right. This theory accounts for episodes I experienced years ago in Alice Springs when the secretary form my work had to come and collect me from home and take me to hospital because I couldn't drive. It accounts for why I still have reduced sensation in my left hand. It accounts for why it occasionally occurs on my right side too. The more I read about it, the more I think his diagnosis is spot on.

What we don't know yet is what has caused it. There are several possibilities. Motorcycle accidents are one of the most common causes, and I did have one of those in Thailand in 1999 where I was hit by a truck. But, I think the effects would have been more immediate if that were the cause.

The presence of an auto-immune disease is another possible cause. This is the one that the neurologist believes is the cause in my case - it is known as idiopathic brachial neuritis, and essentially my immune system is attaching the myelin sheath of my nerves. This fits with the fact that altering my diet to a Paleo diet helped massively. It also fits with what I have learned since, which is that on the occasions when I decide to make bread using almond flour I still suffer - maybe even more than with wheat. I have read up a lot about the Auto Immune Protocol and I would say that avoiding many of the foods that are on AIP diet list seems to help - though I have never done it this strictly. I also asked the neurologist of he thought that moderation the diet could help and he almost laughed when he said no. I don't always believe what medically trained people say though - sometimes people that know about health are more helpful than those that have learned about medicine! So for now I am going with this theory. And once Christmas is over I am going to try and be better at this Paleo thing - without a doubt it has helped me when I have managed to stick to it.

Another possible cause is a brain tumour. Obviously this is not good news. However, the fact that I have had the symptoms on and off to varying degrees for nearly ten years makes me think this can not be the case. If it was brain tumour I probably wouldn't still be writing about it, would I?

Multiple Sclerosis is another possibility. Again not really an option I want to dwell on right now.

So, the next step is to have some MRI scans on both my brain and spinal cord to rule out cancer and MS - the date for that is 14th January. And it seems that auto immune disease is quite a good option here, and despite the neurologists opinion, I do believe I can help myself with diet if this is found to be the cause, so I am hopeful. Roll on January though.

DD has also been continuously bringing up the topic of my death. He wants me to change my will to make him BB's guardian when I die. I was considering it until recently. In fact I had planned to do it. But the fact that this actually could be a reality sooner rather than later has made me made me think seriously about it. What do I want for BB when I die? If I were to die tomorrow I would want his life to change as little as it possibly can. That means that my parents continue to be a big part of his life and that he still sees them regularly, and my sisters too. Also that he carries on doing the same things, going to nursery, swimming, seeing his friends. DD is also important of course - he sees him regularly, visiting every couple of weeks, and PP sees him occasionally too, maybe 3 or 4 times a year. I would want it all to stay the same, so that the loss of me would have minimal impact.

My youngest sister is currently recorded as the guardian in the event of my death, and having seen her and BB together recently I realised that this is still the right choice for now - he would easily adapt to her as a mother figure. She is the only person, other than me, that he asks for to dress him and bathe him. She is the only person, other than me, that he has said "I love you" to. If I am to die and she is to take my place, that will be the least possible change for BB. She is also a play therapist, so this would be great in helping BB to deal with the loss of his mother. It is in my will that my sister would maintain the contact with DD so that part of his life would not change either. Therefore my sister as guardian is still the best choice and I have decided not to change my will at this point in time. DD is not impressed!


My Nana is dying. She is 99. She has had a great life, most of it in good health. She lived in her own home until a few weeks ago. We moved her into a nursing home on my birthday at the beginning of November. Her dying is a humbling experience. It also very much by the book. This info about the journey towards death is remarkably accurate, as are many more things I have read. Just two weeks ago today she ate a meal, and gained the energy for her last journey into the physical realm. She wanted to go outside, and to take BB to see Santa (all in the grounds of her residential home). It was the first and last meal she has had in a while. They had a great time.

Now she seems to know her time has come. She is sleeping more and more. We still visit every day. Today she said very little, other than making some very quiet "choo choo" noises to BB, who is a lover of trains. It is beautiful that she can still play with him even at this time. He is lovely with her too - giving her kisses and stoking her knees. He always seems to know what is appropriate. He took the "Shopping Game" on the day that she ate and had a few hours of energy. Then jigsaws to be quiet. He made her a star, as we have talked about people coming from the stars and going back to the stars, He won't sing Twinkle Twinkle little star to her though "not today!!!" - he sings Jingle Bells instead. Perhaps he is saving Twinkle Twinkle for a more appropriate time.

It's hard to know how long she has. The doctor says days or weeks, but definitely not months. A few days ago when she could talk she said that she hopes she doesn't lay here for long, that she doesn't want to spoil our Christmas, and that she hopes she's gone before Father Christmas comes. The next day though she said "We will never forget this Christmas will we?", and "Are we having chicken for lunch?"

She has cancer. Ovarian cancer which has spread to her liver, kidneys and lungs. The mass is so big now that we have had to cut her underwear. She could have a biopsy and treatment but she says no. She has wondered for a while why she has not died yet. All her friends and family have. She is now very thin, wasting away, saying little and sleeping for most of the day. I think days not weeks, but I could be wrong.

I think she has now dealt with all the things she needs to. She has thanked the people in her life that have helped her and been her friends. She is comfortable. That's all we can hope for. But it's hard to witness.

The other $#!t

Firstly lets do work. I have been working for PP for over 2 years. I am on call pretty much 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and earn about £140 a month (before expenses - less than half that after), solving whatever problems have occurred. I do invoicing, record keeping, VAT returns, research etc etc, whatever he wants, whenever he wants. I really felt passionately about his business, I feel I worked harder on it than him. I identified areas where there were losses being made and suggested ways to make improvements. All were ignored. I have done much of the work without charging, the rest of it at a just breaking even price. I get items through US customs at 2 am, solve problems, track expenses, and throughout October got up at 3 am almost every day to get all the necessary work done on time when he changed accounting systems. I completely exhausted myself, and in all honesty the fact that the last few months have been so hard to deal with is probably related to the fact that I existed on 4 - 5 hours sleep a night for the whole month to get this job done. I was impressed with my achievements, but sadly the boss was not. Instead he wanted me to go and talk to him about how i could be more efficient!!!! I couldn't believe it.  I was the only fucking efficient thing in his whole damn business - but he didn't listen to any thing I said as to him it seems I am just a brain dead book keeper, a woman, a mother, and stupid. So I quit! To be nice I said I would carry on to the end of the year so that this years finances are done. I will continue into Jan too, just to finish off this years accounts, because I like things to be done properly and I recognise that he can not afford to pay someone else to waste time working it all out, but then I am done. I am counting the days.

In a way I am in a bit of a muddle having quit. I need to do 16 hours a week as a self employed person to continue to get my tax credits. However, this is averaged over a year, so I am confident that I have done enough already this financial year to see me through to April 5th. I have other lines of business too (BabyCalm & ToddlerCalm and writing). Hopefully I can build on those between now and April so that my hours are up ready for 2015. Both of those businesses are more profitable too, so I should earn more for my time overall. I am also keeping my eye out for other opportunities, and a couple of things are already in the pipeline so I think it will all work out for the best.

A few days after I got the email about the meeting on improving my efficiency I was supposed to go and visit DD and PP. In fact, that meeting was supposed to take place during my recreational visit. I had already decided that I had better not drive - I was so very exhausted from the lack of sleep and from all the emotions involved with helping my mum, arguing with my dad (see later) and moving my nan to a home, so we were going to go by train. In the interests of not telling PP to go and Fuck himself, I decided it best to cancel the visit entirely. Maintaining a good relationship with DD and PP is a priority for me. I did explain in my resignation, which I thought I worded quite nicely, that I thought it best to stop working together before it ruined our relationship.

In hindsight, I think the relationship with DD and PP was already in dire straits though. This was one of the things I was unsure about blogging about  -  it is kind of airing my dirty laundry online... but one of the reasons I blogged about this whole process was to help other women who might be considering using a known donor. I would be doing those readers making this decision a disservice if I wasn't honest about the issues that I am facing as a consequence of having used a known donor. At the end of September DD informed me that they had seen a lawyer together and that he had advised them that the law had changed since our agreement. He said that DD now had lots more rights, for example he could report me as a child smuggler if I took BB overseas without his permission, and that it would be in both our best interests if DD went on the birth certificate and started paying maintenance. Of course I looked this up to see what the changes were exactly and how they could affect me, and wether following this advice was indeed the best thing to do for BB and I. Despite consulting google, several online forums with women that had used sperm donors and legal forums,  I found that there was no change in the law at all. Either they were making it up just to scare me or the lawyer was covering his arse for getting it wrong when he advised them in the first place. The thing that was made clear though was that DD was no longer in agreement with our agreement. Also, whereas in the past it has felt very much like we were all a family and in this together, it is now very much DD and PP as a united front against me. DD even admitted this - apparently having a ring on your finger changes things (read in patronising tone)! I feel very alone and scared. Whilst I will happily say out loud that he is good at being Dad and I am pleased that BB has him in his life, I honestly think my advice to anyone considering using a known donor would now be that it would be much easier to go it alone. 

We can even go back before this. If you remember I was going to have IVF at a clinic. DD and PP had said no to any further attempts at TTC and I decided that it wasn't over for me. In consideration of DD, I decided to go to the clinic where DD had previously donated (less accessible for me and far more expense than a local clinic, but I wanted to keep the options open for them) just in case they changed their mind. DD did change his mind. I spent a few thousand pounds on tests and was all ready to go for IVF using his previous donations when he changed his mind - on the grounds that he could not go to court for the second child if we went through a clinic. That's why we decided to try again at home. I don't really know why I agreed to that looking back - it just wasted another year, and resulted in another miscarriage - but I want so much to be Mum to another child, for BB to have a sibling, and it would have been nice if they were full siblings, and DD is a good Dad...

Anyway, now he is very cross at me.  Apparently he thinks that being around me is like walking on eggshells. I tried to comprehend that but I can't see anything I have done that could make him feel like that, other than saying that I am sticking to our original agreement and being scared shitless as to what he is up to - why would they be having conversations like that with a lawyer? 

Then there is Christmas. Back in September DD sent me an email of the dates he was planning to be at my house, and these included Christmas. I actually think it would be nice for BB to have Christmas with his Dad, and whilst I was surprised that he wanted to be here I was happy to accommodate it. I hadn't mentioned it to my folks though, who we usually spend Christmas with. I guess I thought we could juggle it somehow, and still visit them for part of the day at least. Anyway - DD apparently told  my dad he would be at their house for Xmas. I was unaware of this whole conversation, but basically no one tells my Dad anything - not even me. Meanwhile my Mum was having a bit of a panic, my Nana is dying of cancer, who knows what xmas will be like, it might even be spent in a residential home, at best it would be veiled by the impending death. PP and DD usually have a much better time than that. Would they really want to be at my parents house? How could my parents accommodate them and ensure they have a good day, and be with Nana? PP spent a 'last Christmas' with his mum (who died of cancer) just 2 years ago. Did he really want to witness that again? 

Then DD suggested himself that perhaps this wasn't the best year for it. My parents were relieved and said yes, go and have a nice Christmas elsewhere. However, despite it being his idea not to come, DD is now having a big sook that he is not welcome and is blaming me. Apparently he is never coming to a family event with my family ever again because he is not wanted!  I couldn't even engage in the conversation, I have no energy left for it right now and there's no point until he gets the idea that it's not all about him! 


My relationship with my Dad has also been in dire straits - whilst all this was going on... My Dad has a heart issue and his tablets weren't working. He was stressing out. Meanwhile my Nana was still attempting to live at home but calling my mum out every day as she couldn't cope but didn't want "help".  My dad was moaning at my mum every time she went to help my Nan (her Mum)... and my poor Mum... she was just being pulled from pillar to post. I tried to help where I could, and stepped in to help find a nursing home for my Nan when it seemed necessary (this was in the middle of the month where I was working all hours for PP). There was a time when my dad hung up on me on the phone and then started saying things about me to my mum which were not true, but he hadn't actually hung up properly so I heard it all. I was really angry and made that clear - I thought he would never speak to me again... but he did! And he has new pills now so feels much better. And now he is better he is being really supportive to my mum too so thats good. And both my sisters have been home too.

Oh, and my house is on the market - apparently that is one of the most stressful things in life. Only because you have to keep your house clean and tidy and ready for visitors at all times whilst all this shit is going on! In comparison to everything else selling your house is a breeze!

It is going to get better. I am pleased that I stopped dyeing my hair and redirected the money to join the gym - without 3 yoga classes a week I am not sure where I would be mentally, but I can bet to would be in a worse space than it is now. I am doing OK really, despite it all.

So sorry for this unblissful post - but now its all out of my head I can move on. 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Making money management more manageable

How much time do you spend/waste/lose managing your personal finances? 

For me it seems to be becoming a ridiculous amount of time. I think I do quite a good job of it, balancing different accounts, paying all the bills on time, keeping track of the direct debits that are going out, coming up, saving for the big annual ones, like car and home insurance. My mum taught me to keep a record of what I spend and what I spend it on, and I still do that now, using a computer though rather than the little red cash book I started with. I have a fairly accurate picture of where all our money goes and I do use that info to try and make adjustments where I can.

One reason that money management got so much more complex and time consuming is due to all the different bank accounts you seem to need these days. The current account, the savings account, the ISA, the high(er) interest savings account, the credit card, the store cards, the regular savings account, the "mums allowance" account (in which I pay a little each week so that I can afford things like clothes and gym membership for myself without feeling guilty for taking from the family budget).  Then there's the business account, the paypal account, BB's savings account... On top of that, you just seem to get it sorted, and you find that the high interest account you just moved all your savings into is reverting to 0.1% at the end of the month! Grrr!

I am always juggling money, paying things into different accounts to cover the bills, to try and save, to maximise the little interest we can get. I pay everything the cheapest way that I can - a year upfront if its cheaper, by monthly direct debit when that's the most efficient option. I always pay off my credit card in full to avoid paying interest. I have alarms set on my phone to remind me on the first day of the month that I need to transfer money into the savings account (or else the interest rate goes down). Without a doubt I do it well, but whereas I used to enjoy it, now I resent all the time that it takes. I have better things to be doing with my life. 

Recently I was asked to take a look at the Santander 1|2|3 account. Apparently Santander recently ran a survey which found that 26 percent of households don't read their bills properly, and over a million households don't even open their bills at all. Obviously I am at the opposite extreme to that, but I decided I would take a look into it anyway. 

In summary, the account pays both cashback on your household bills and very competitive interest rates (3% if your balance is over £3000).  They have even created a simple calculator to help you see how much you could save. I entered in all my household bills and it comes up with a figure of £231 annually for me. 

I did a bit of research online to see what others were saying about this account. Martin Lewis compares it to the ISA and mumsnetters seem to be finding it quite good too. 

To my surprise, I found myself opening yet another account! 

But... the interest rate here is better than I am getting on any of my savings accounts, so if I move my savings, my income and my direct debits to here it can all be done in one place - that is by far the biggest attraction for me, getting cash back on your bills is just an added bonus. I will be keeping the mums allowance account of course, and my old current account will become a place where I pay myself a budgeted amount each week for other expenses like entertainment food and fuel so I can be sure I don't overspend. 

Then I can close all the other accounts, saving time and money - that has to be a good thing. Hopefully it will work out as good as it first seems. I'll be sure to let you know if it doesn't.

Disclaimer: This is a featured post with Santander. The story is however 100% true, I did really just open a new account as a result of these investigations and I do actually think it will save me time and money - and I promise to come back and tell you if that's not the case!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Bully and the Shrimp - Book Review

The Bully and the Shrimp was sent to us as part of the Parragon Book Buddies Scheme. BB is always excited when a new book arrives and we set about reading it straight away. I got a bit nervous part way through. I wasn't sure I liked this book - I should have read it first before I started reading it with him. I skipped some bits and we finished quickly and did something else.

The Bully and the Shrimp - Book cover showing the two main characters, Bully and Shrimp
The Bully and the Shrimp

He wasn't fooled though. He knew I hadn't read it properly. He wanted to look at it some more. So I sat down with it and quickly went through. The thing that had bothered me was that it was about someone being nasty to another child. I wasn't sure I wanted to introduce my child to that sort of nastiness. But in the end I decided that perhaps it wasn't so bad. BB was probably attracted to it because there is a boy at nursery who hits the other kids - maybe I should read it with him for this reason. Also the main character in the book is called Noah, and BB has a best friend called Noah.

As you might expect it is a good news story. The little "Shrimp" who is bullied is sad at first, but then he works through it, makes some friends and stands up to the bully and they all live happily ever after. Its a nice idea, and although it has been developed with teachers, in my experience it is rarely this simple - if only it was!

The best thing about the book though is that it is great for parents to be able to read this with their child and open up the conversations about bullying - that in itself gives the book value. There are one or two strategies in the book that may be useful too, and it may be nice to give a bullied child hope, or a friend of a bullied child some ideas on how they can stand by their friend.

Other than that I think it misses the mark a bit. Its not a brilliant tale, and its not all that helpful at dealing with bullying (which I think was it's intention) but it's OK, and might be worth adding to your books shelf just to base those conversations around if the need arises.

Disclaimer: This book was received free of charge for the purpose of this review as part of the Parragon Book Buddies Program. All opinions are our own.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Spot A Lot Animal Escape - Book Review

We are loving the latest book that we have received as part of the Parragon Book Buddies Scheme. Spot A Lot Animal Escape is a brand new picture book by Steve Smallman and Nicola Slater. It is a story in which the animals have escapers from the zoo and the reader has to find them on the following pages of the book.

It offers many things on many levels. First, there is the animal that has escaped. Each double page spread has a different animal to find.

Also, on each page there is a tortoise that you need to find,

and then other animals to look for too.

It includes number, 1 giraffe, 2 elephants, 3 gazelles and so on. It contains some simple rhymes, and nice descriptive language -"4 gibbons, long and slim, swinging by the jungle gym".

It has also introduced some new vocabulary, such as the "soaring dog" who has jumped on the trampoline.

There are so many things to look for that the book can keep you entertained for ages, and you can look at it again and again and notice new things in the images each time.

This is an excellent book to look at together. Its too stimulating for a night time book, but a great one to share during the day - we have read it at breakfast several times now.

Spot A Lot is so new that it's not even available for sale yet - but it is coming very soon to both The Book Depository and Amazon and will make an excellent stocking filler.

 Disclaimer: This book was received free of charge for the purpose of this review as part of the Parragon Book Buddies Program. All opinions are our own.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Paris je t'aime - Stationery review

Cover of Paris je t'aime journal from Life Canvas

We returned from our holiday in Paris to find a parcel waiting for us. Inside, two items from the Paris je t'aime stationery range for us to review.

I love this. The journal has a hard cover and each of its 160 pages inside has a design on - there are 10 different page designs in total, and they repeat throughout the book.

One of the page designs inside the book

Another page design

This is the kind of book that I want to keep for a special occasion. I want to use it for something that we will keep, not just a notebook. The beauty of it makes me want to do my best handwriting inside it too. I think I am going to use to document our trips to Paris, we go there quite frequently as PP is French. BB is learning French too, informally of course. I imaging we will go many more times, and at some pint BB is likely to go with his Daddy and PP and not me (I am so not ready for that yet!). Anyway - I am thinking that I can put some notes and photos from the trips that we have done so far, and then add to it as we do more. This will hopefully be a lovely memory book for BB to keep long into the future.

I also received a little booklet of post it notes. These are also divine, there are 11 designs in two different sizes, each with a little image of its own. I have hidden these from BB - he loves to take my little post it tabs from my desk.

Sticky notes

Presented in a beautiful little fold out book

2 sizes - 11 designs - 275 sticky notes
You can see more (and enjoy a little Parisienne music) in the video below

As you can probably tell - I would definitely recommend these products. They make a lovely gift, or a little bit of stationery self indulgence for yourself.

Disclaimer: These products were received free of charge for the purpose of this review as part of the Parragon Book Buddies Program. All opinions are our own.

Gold Stars Work Books - Review

The Alphabet Wall Chart that comes with the book

At Britmums Live, back in June, I was approached to review one of the Gold Stars books. These have especially designed to deal with the "summer learning loss", or in other words, the fact that children forget some of the stuff they learnt at school during the summer holidays, which concerns some teachers. It doesn't really concern me, and my son hadn't started school yet, and the title "Gold Stars" put me off considerably as it makes me think of a system of rewards and punishments, which regular readers will know I am quite opposed to (see Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn if you want to know why).

Having worked with Parragon for a while now, I know that they appreciate honesty when it comes to reviews. Just to be sure though, I spoke with the person giving them out, letting her know that this might not be the right sort of product for us. Still, I was assured that real, honest reviews by a range of people with differing views and backgrounds was what they were looking for. At first we were given a book entitled "Starting to Add", but as BB was not even three yet and was only just starting to recognise numbers in their written form, I felt that was a bit ambitious, so we swapped it for Starting to Write

When I got home I looked at the book. I decided I needed to ignore the Gold Star Reward for finishing a page (we could use the stars for something creative instead) and look at what the book did have to offer us. Many parents like to give their kids a gold star too, and if you are one of those, you can of course use them as they were intended.

Firstly there is a lovely wall chart in the front. I really like this. It has both upper case and lower case letters on which is a great addition to our resources. We have a Tidy Books book shelf which has all the lower case letters, and a full set of capital letters that go in the bath, but this is our first item that presents both the upper and lower case together. It also has some excellent images for each letter - by that I mean they are things that make sense to BB, that he knows. This is now on the side of a kitchen cupboard, at BB height.

The challenge we were set was to do one page of this 30 page book for each day of the school holidays. I guess that could be a nice idea for some learners - for others it will be the last thing they want to do in their holidays. Our book however is still untouched, not because I was rebelling against school, but because its actually beyond what BB is capable of right now. It states that it is designed for pre-schoolers, and I guess towards the end of preschool it would probably be fine.  BB doesn't yet have the pen control to perform the tasks or copy the words that are in the book - or any reason to see why you would want to do this. If I tried to work on the book with him, which I did consider, solely for the purpose of this review, I think he would just draw freely on it. I really don't think he would get the idea that he is supposed to be copying words and patterns. Maybe later though - I'll keep it on the shelf for when he does fancy something like this.

Just to give you a bit more idea of what you might find inside, here are a few images.

The First Page - drawing on the dotted lines and then copying it below. 

Instructions and notes for parents are included at the bottom of the page

A page toward the back - Tracing and then copying a small word and knowing that names start with capital letters

Without a doubt there are lots of tasks in these books which resemble tasks commonly performed in early years classrooms.  They could be a great way for parents to work with their children at any time of the year, and may help children to remember some of the stuff they learned in school. They are reasonably priced, and can be purchased from Amazon, and in Sainsbury's, WH Smith, Morrison's and more places nationwide.

Disclaimer: This book was received free of charge for the purpose of this review as part of the Parragon Book Buddies Program. All opinions are our own.

Away with my Aeroplane - Book Review

We are a long way behind with our book reviews that we write as part of the Parragon Book Buddies Scheme, this one sent to use before the summer holidays. We have read it a few times now, but we are only just getting around to writing the review.

Away with my Aeroplane is by the same author and illustrator team The Fish with the Deep Sea Smile, which we really loved. I can imagine that if BB was as crazy about planes as he is about trains, this would probably be one that we read over and over, but we didn't fall in love with this one so much as we did the last. The images are nice and the text rhymes which is something BB enjoys right now.

The part of the story which he engaged with most was how small the people back on the ground looked from high up in the plane. BB recently had this experience when we went up to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  He has recently expressed an interest in learning about planes too, so this book may well come to the fore in coming weeks.

Disclaimer: This book was received free of charge for the purpose of this review as part of the Parragon Book Buddies Program. All opinions are our own.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Tallest Sunflower Competition

A while back BB and I were asked if we were interested in entering a tallest sunflower competition. We both enjoy playing with dirt and growing things, so we said yes.

At the beginning of May a package arrived containing garden tools, five pots and five seeds.

Sadly we didn't get off to a great start, as four of the five pots were cracked. Still, we found some similar ones in the shed, and a few days later we were given the go ahead to plant our seeds. We then placed them on a sunny windowsill with some tomato seeds we planted a few days earlier.

Then our second misfortune. Only one germinated, and to be fair, it didn't really look very healthy either, but it clung on and we nurtured it as best we could, watering it and turning it around on the windowsill every day until it was ready to plant outside. We planted it out early one morning at the beginning of June, and BB watered it well

This is how our sorry sunflower looks today. Not as tall as BB yet, so I'd estimate it's about 90 cm, and propped up with a stick. I'm guessing we may not be the winners of this competition!

Monday, July 7, 2014

“Can I Help?” — Getting Kids to Help In the Kitchen

Image by Rachel Tayse, used under Creative Commons licence.

Cooking with kids might spell disaster with a capital ‘D’, but, actually, it’s a fun and rewarding experience that teaches kids life skills and raises their awareness about healthy eating. In the fast food- and convenience meal-culture of today, many children grow up without having learned to cook even the most simple of dishes, or with no idea where their food comes from. Getting the kids to take part in meal preparation connects them to the food supply and sets them on the path to healthy eating and self-sufficiency later on in life. Oh and it can also lighten your workload in the kitchen slightly, which is always good!

Some recipes and aspects of cooking obviously aren't suited for small children, such as chopping vegetables and preparing elaborate dishes, but most everyday food has some element children can participate in. Take soup; when making a soup, parents can do all the chopping while the kids can gather the diced and sliced vegetables and heat them up in the soup pot or slow cooker. They can also tear up greens for a salad, and may even enjoy coming to the grocery or market to pick out ingredients. 

If cakes and biscuits are on the agenda, the kids can help to put the measured ingredients into the bowl (maybe they can even measure them out?), stir the batter, grease pans and shape things like cookies. There’s something about the ticking of the timer and the whirring of the oven that makes kids enjoy simply watching the baking process. Let them take light items such as baking trays without the oven — but supervise them while they’re doing it, and most importantly, make sure that they’re wearing oven gloves.

Slow cooker meals are good to make with kids because they allow both parties to take it easy. Prepare the ingredients and start the slow cooker at bedtime, and make it a game to guess what sort of food will be there the next day. Recipes like jams and jellies that require constant stirring provide an excellent way for kids to take part in preparation.

Whether it's a tray of chocolate chip cookies or a stew, there are many ways to involve children in cooking. Getting kids involved in age-appropriate ways teaches them valuable life skills and helps them appreciate all the hard work that goes into making meals. Children are naturally curious and most kids are happy to help in the kitchen. It makes them feel important and useful. As a bonus, many children are more likely to eat their veggies if they had a part in preparing them. No more stressful mealtimes!

For more ideas on how to involve young children in the kitchen see 10 Jobs a two year old can do in the kitchen

This is a collaborative post written by a guest author, exclusively for A Blissful Life

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Fish with The Deep Sea Smile - Book Review

The Fish with the Deep Sea Smile has to be one of our favourites from the Parragon Book Buddies Scheme so far. The illustrations are awesome - we love the colours and the style. The text is also one of the best we have had. Simple words which rhyme and repeat, ideal for a young child learning to read. They also flow well, giving the book a certain rhythm that makes it a pleasure to read and listen to.

In summary, it is a tale of a a small family who are fishing. They are looking for a particular fish - the one with the deep sea smile. They fish and they fish, and they catch lots of fish. Fish with all sorts of different features, but not the one with the deep sea smile. They don't give up though, they carry on fishing, and finally they catch their fish. He smiles his deep sea smile and the hook comes free...

A lovely tale. I would definitely recommend this one.

Disclaimer: This book was received free of charge for the purpose of this review as part of the Parragon Book Buddies Program. All opinions are our own.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Affordable Gifts for Father's Day

I don't know about you but I always have a really hard time thinking of something to get my Dad for Father's Day. He's reached that stage in life where he gets anything he wants whenever he wants it. He's careful with what he eats and drinks, so chocolate or wine are not that greatly appreciated. He doesn't read, other than magazines and books associated with his work.

That leaves pretty much only one thing. Male grooming products. These are hard too though - smell is a bit of a personal taste too. I am too poor to afford expensive aftershaves and even I did choose one he's likely to prefer another.

Luckily, Dove have an inexpensive range of mens toiletries that I really like. Unlike many mainstream deodorants and shower gels that are over applied by teenage boys, these ones have quite a subtle fragrance. Clean, but also masculine and nice. I ended up choosing the Men + Care Daily Care Duo, which contains a shower gel and antiperspirant.

BB doesn't really understand the concept of Mother's Day and Father's Day yet - when we made a card for my Mum for Mother's day he insisted that it had to be for my Day too. Fathers day was no exception, so we ended up giving her some Radox Stress Relief (well she does look after my dad!) bubble bath for Father's Day too!

Disclaimer - these products were received free of charge for the purpose of this review, but I was not paid to write this and all thoughts and opinions are mine

Monday, June 2, 2014

Anthony and The Ants - Book Review

BB is in one of those phases where we are reading two books every night. The same two books. One for each booby (his invention not mine)!

Although I do share his love of his two current favourites, I was pleased when a new book, Anthony and the Ants arrived last week and captured his imagination.

Anthony Anteater likes to eat. But so do the hungry ants that have a habit of carrying away his food! Poor Anthony is at his wits' end, until he has the clever idea of taking his breakfast somewhere those pesky ants cannot follow... This leads to a surprising end, where Anthony is about to become a bear's dinner when the ants carry him away!

We both love the words and the pictures in this book and have read it several times already. The only downside is that it has a page right at the end about sharing, which I think is unnecessary and a bit preachy. Children can get a great message from the story ending with Anthony being saved by the ants he was trying to escape from - the last page seems a bit contrived, as though it was added as an afterthought to make the book have a clearer moral message, just in case you're not smart enough to get it.

Anthony and the ants book review

We love the book though and would definitely recommend it. You can order Anthony and the Ants online from Amazon.

Disclaimer: This book was received free of charge for the purpose of this review as part of the Parragon Book Buddies Program. All opinions are our own.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Time for a little update

I am still pregnant - coming up for 9 weeks. I miscarried at 9 1/2 weeks last time, so it is a nervous time for me,  but I have hope that it won't happen this time.

I am mostly feeling OK - just tired. I haven't gained any weight yet which is a relief - I put on 6 kilos before my first booking appointment with BB. Though I still haven't lost that 6 kilos! I think being Paleo and pregnant is awesome. I have so much more energy than I did with BB, less nausea too. And because I am not filling myself up with bread and pasta and the like I am eating lots more highly nutritious foods instead. It's not dissimilar to the GD diet really. I am not 100% perfect. I fall off the Paleo wagon frequently, usually when out. Bread is the major sin - I always feel worse after I have eaten it, but I still do it sometimes - I like it and its an easy option.

I have had some really tired days (usually the days after I have eaten bread!), but I have been going to  bed at the same time as BB so that's helping me keep on top of that. I feel nauseous most of the time and am suffering from heartburn and indigestion. My nausea usually occurs in the evenings though, so going to bed at 7 means I sleep trough the worst of it which is great.

I haven't told BB about the baby yet. I am waiting until after the scan (30th May) and any further tests required before I tell him. I say further tests because I am going to have them. With BB I didn't. It would have made no difference to me if I had a child with special needs that time. I would have happily accepted what I was given. However, this time is different. Firstly I am older, there is a big decline in egg health between 38 and 42, and secondly its not about me anymore is it? Its about BB now. I am a single mum who will have no other support whatsoever - I need to be sure I don't take on more than I can manage.

BB did say he would like a "brother friend" the other day. I asked if a "sister friend" would be ok, and at first he said no, then when I mentioned some of his best girl friends, he decided that sister friend would be fine too. I'm not sure which he will get. I keep thinking of the baby as a girl, but my rational brain tells me a boy is more likely (DD is one of 5 boys!). Nausea in the evening is apparently a girl sign though. I don't really have any preferences. A girl would be nice for me terms of giving me the complete parenting experience, but a another boy would be great too. We have lots of lovely boy clothes that need to see a bit more wear, though if it is a girl I can cull even more stuff before we move! I will find out - I still don't get how some people manage to wait on that info until the birth. Its still a surprise, whenever you find out, you can just be more prepared if you know at 20 weeks. I think it will be nice for BB to know too - it might be easier for him to connect to "brother" or "sister" than "baby".

I have been clearing out and getting ready to move. I know it is a long way off if this pregnancy does go to term - not moving for over a year if that is the case, but I think the time is now for culling stuff, as once I get into the third trimester and then when I actually have an infant to care for, it won't be so easy to do. I went through all my teaching resources this week and have binned most of them. It was actually a very satisfying experience to get rid of all of that. I am selling things on ebay and amazon, giving stuff away on Facebook, and taking a bag a week to the charity shop.

The garden is also done, chicken coop gone and lawn laid, so that the house is more ready for renting out or to sell. Ideally I would like to get an investment mortgage on it and rent it out - keeping a little house in the UK would be ideal. It all depends on what happens with the exchange rate though, I could only afford to mortgage for about 60% of the value, which currently means I can't afford a house in Australia. I have hope for the exchange rate though, its currently heading in the right direction - we just have to wait and see what its like in a year.

Where we are moving to is still a little up in the air. I am fairly certain I have it down to two places - Alice or Albany. Two incredibly different places. Alice I LOVE. It feels like home, I know lots of people, have professional contacts and think I could get some interesting work, there is a great little Steiner School that I would be so happy for my kids to attend, the parenting situation of a donor parent or gay parent wouldn't be abnormal,  I love the dry sunny weather and I think it would be a great place to spend your primary years... BUT most of my best friends have left, it might seem like I am hankering after a past life, the property prices are really high and at best we would be in a small until with little or no garden. Keeping my house here really wouldn't be an option. It's also a long way from anywhere and flying out is expensive when there's three of you, everything tends to be more expensive too - most food and other goods travel a long way to get to there, so that adds to the price, the Steiner school also requires the payment of fees... so on the whole its a very expensive option. Add in to that the fact that I think I would want to leave when BB hits his high school years and it seems like a better idea to find somewhere new now. But I do love the Alice and am not quite ready to let go of her yet.

Albany I visited several times when I lived in WA. It's a nice size, with all you need, great beaches, stunning rock formations, nice hinterland, a climate that allows you to enjoy the outdoors all year round, fresh local produce and great nature play opportunities for kids. It's easy to go from there to other places, both big and small - Perth is just 4 hours away and the southwest corner would be great for little trips out and family camping holidays. WA is also the place where I fell in love with Australia and decided to stay. Exchange rate permitting, I could afford to get us a little 3 bed detached house with some garden. I also have a long standing best friend there which is one of the most attractive features, she has a little girl BB's age, and a baby girl.  Her partner is very willing to be a male role model for BB and he would be a great one too. Having them close by would be like having family. I know several other people in the state, though not many in the town itself. BUT... its not as sunny, the schools are big (but free) and WA as a state is isolated - I have lots of friends on the other side of the country. BB's Australian family are over the other side too... so we would actually be closer to them if we went to the centre.

I have written all the pros and cons of each place on paper, and Albany is the clear winner logically, but Alice still holds my heart. So we will see.

Other news since I was last here - BB has his first bike. My Dad bought it for him. Its a little balance bike. He can go quite quickly already, but hasn't managed a glide yet... he'll get there though. I have decided to treat our current weather summer. Its about 14ºC but hey. It's dry quite a bit of the time and sometimes the sun even shines. We are getting outdoors at every opportunity. A few weeks ago we started a park hunt - which is that we try to find a new childrens' park wherever we go. We found this little toddler obstacle course the other day on the way home from the train station, tucked in some trees behind a major road - who would have thought.

On the whole life is good - much better now that summer is here and I know I have a way out of England. Its a nice place to visit, but as a place to live, Australia wins hands down.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Happy Easter

Here's the Easter card BB made at nursery

The staff were surprised at his choice of colours. Apparently there were lots of 'pretty' colours to choose from. He was determined though. "Chickens are not pink or blue" he told them. "They are brown, and sometime white"

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Twist in the Tale

Just when I had it all sorted and we were moving to Albany in September/October this year, something has happened to introduce an interesting and exciting new twist to the tale.

I haven't blogged about TTC for while. Quite frankly I was over it. The last two cycles I didn't even ovulate according to the fertility monitor. I had pretty much given up on the idea, was accepting my old age of 42 was not conducive to pregnancy, and getting on planning a future for BB and I as a solo mum and a solo son.

A few things happened which were interesting. I sat having lunch with a friend and a new lady that we met at swimming lessons. I was asked if I wanted a second child and told the tale. I also mentioned my plans to have BB out of the country before he is due to start full time school next September , and said jokingly, "so, if he's getting a sibling, I need to get pregnant today!"

It turns out I did!

I really had no hope but of course we had to try anyway - you never know, right? And if we didn't keep trying there would always be the 'what if' in the back of my mind... But I thought it was hopeless. According to monitor I didn't ovulate. I then proceeded to do all the things you shouldn't do when pregnant, like take BB to feed the lambs, drink alcohol on Mother's Day, and eat half of a wedge of soft cheese the day after that.

I was looking at houses in Albany with lovely big gardens for BB to run around in and in my mind I saw him with a sibling to play with. I felt sad, because in Australia you can't adopt as a single person, so I knew there was pretty much no way that would happen.

Then, looking back, there were a couple of other signs. I was drinking soda and lime, a pregnancy favourite, and found myself buying salty crackers in the supermarket - something I haven't bought for ages since giving up wheat, but another pregnancy favourite. Then when I was bathing BB I noticed I was extra spotty, and decided to test. I thought I could see a faint line but couldn't be sure, so the next day I went and bought a digital test, and found my self in the public loos at the shopping centre, peeing on a stick. And it was positive.

I know. It's early days. Very early days. Lots could go wrong. I may be lucky and carry the baby to term, but I am equally aware that I may not. It does feel different to the pregnancy that I lost though so I am hopeful. Hopefully I will get an early scan this time too. You are never really sure until you have that little one in your arms though are you.

Meantime, I am carrying on with planning to move. My first instinct was that I need to move sooner, so that we can be settled and sorted before the baby comes along. Moving with one child would be easier than with two, and I am really ready to get out of here.  That's not really feasible though as DD and PP are getting married in August and I can't really take BB away before the big day. But to go after that would put me at about 25 weeks...  I don't want to begin an overseas move at that stage!

So the other option is to wait until after the birth. Then I will wait a few more months too. My nan turns a hundred in July 2015, and BB will have a birthday a couple of days before. This coincides with the UK summer holidays and so DD has agreed that he would fly over to Oz with us in the holidays and help us move.

Mean time I am working towards both eventualities. We are leaving no matter what, and either way, my time to get organised for that is now. The garden is almost complete, chicken fence gone, plants moved and all ready for the turf to be laid on Monday. I have shredded 9 years worth of tax records and have a large pile of student records to go as soon as the recycling bin is emptied. We have taken two huge loads to the charity shop already and have lots of things listed on e-bay. I plan to get one load of stuff out of the loft and sort through it every time DD visits. I had a big blitz in my wardrobe yesterday and BB's is next. Culling is great. I hate stuff. It completely owns you doesn't it. Moving halfway across the world a few times is great for helping you get rid of things - but then you always get more. I hope to get better at getting less!

I am excited. I really feel like I might possibly have another child by Christmas.  I would love the opportunity to do it all again as a more confident me. I also feel really good to be making steps towards moving. It's not all positive though. I shared the news with my parents yesterday and they just said "oh". No further questions. I even told them it would make me stay here a bit longer, and that they could have an extra grand child for Christmas, but still nothing... ah well. I guess they think I am too old. Or that I can't manage two on my own. Luckily I disagree!

My work is getting in control. It's depressing in that I have been working really hard for the last year and having just done my books for tax and my net income for a years work, the profit is small, and after childcare is negative by -£160.96!   My major concern about staying here is that my savings are still going down at quite a rate. There's not much left at all. In the last few days I have locked away enough for our airfares and a bit extra for moving costs and we just have to try and live on less for the next year. We do get 15 hours of free childcare from the age of three here so that will help.

Getting the working hours down a bit has also made me happier as on some days I have been the mum I want to be. Yesterday we had a great time sorting though things in the morning, and then going to the shops (the pet shop, the reptile shop and the second hand toy shop being BB's favourite places to browse at the moment). Then we made some Easter nest cakes and did some painting, inspired by indigenous dot paintings. It was a fun day!

PS - if you are someone who knows me in real life, please don't share my news just yet... thanks

Monday, April 7, 2014

FarFaria - Children’s Books for the iPad

BB and I were recently offered the chance to review FarFaria. An iPad app with more than 600 Children's stories already, and they add 5 new ones each week.

Of course we said yes!

The stories are organised in to different categories which are represented on a map. You just click on "See the World" to view.

They are:
  • Animal Kingdom
  • Adventure Island
  • Bed Time Bluffs
  • Good Land
  • Loony Lagoon
  • Pre-School Playground
  • Sing Along City
  • Genius Jungle
  • Classics Grove
  • Fairy Tale Falls and 
  • Mt Make Believe

All of which are fairly self explanatory. Once you get in to your land, you can search further, by A-Z, by reading level, or select the most popular stories, or the newest stories.

There is the option of having the story read to you or of reading it yourself. The reader has an American accent and though he is slightly robotic sounding, he speaks clearly and is easily understood. We have read most of the ones we have looked at together so far ourselves though. I prefer this way of reading with my child, but of course there are always times when it could be handy for him to use it by himself!

Created for children ages 2-9, FarFaria’s engaging story-discovery experience encourages children to stumble into new stories they’ll love forever. There are stories that you have heard of and stories that you will have never seem before The books also have their reading level (I think in school year) on the front of each book which is handy for when the child starts reading for them selves.

There are several fact books too - we have enjoyed "Amphibians" "Spiders" and "Animals of Australia" so far. I like that you link this in with different learning themes you may have going at home, (BB has recently become interested in snakes and we have been to the reptile shop a few times, so the snake book was really enjoyed, even though it is really a bit too advanced for BB's understanding (we mostly just looked at the pictures!). They also have stories suitable for different times of year, and different life events.

You can also save stories into your favourites and these can then be read offline, which makes it an excellent app for when you are travelling or on holiday - no need to cart lots of books with you. There is also no advertising, which pleases me greatly! 

I have to say we haven't loved everything we have read, but I think that's just individual taste. With over 600 stories from we haven't had any problems finding lots of things we love and I'm sure you wouldn't either.

You too can try FarFaria for Free: Download FarFaria and read one story every day for free with no obligation to pay.

For access to unlimited stories and offline reading, subscribe for just $3.99 a month and cancel anytime.

You can also win a three month subscription by entering a Rafflecopter giveaway here.