Five years in Cardiff

Five years ago, we moved from London to Cardiff. It’s probably been the best five years of my entire life.

Back in 2011, we lived in an area not far from where the riots had recently happened. It’s not easy being out in a place and constantly wondering if the person you’ve just passed in the street was looting a few nights before. We’d been talking about moving away for a long while but it had always felt like fantasy, like when you plan which mansion you’ll buy when you win the lottery rollover (Everyone does that, right?). But with London (or at least the bit of London we lived in) feeling more and more like somewhere we didn’t really want to raise our child, we started looking elsewhere.

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View across Cardiff Bay, 2011

Cardiff was a pretty obvious choice. We’d been there on a day trip a year earlier and instantly loved it. It’s a capital city – a good place to find jobs with plenty of cultural stuff to enjoy – but at the same time it’s a quieter, more laid back and friendly place than where we were. Plus it’s where Doctor Who is filmed and for a family of geeks, that’s a massive tick in the pros column.

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At the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay, 2012

Husband went on a little reconnaissance mission. The poor guy spent two days looking at what were mostly pretty grim flats, attending job interviews and spending the night in hotel room with a broom closet sized bathroom and a TV smaller than his iPad. He had the pressure of actually picking where we lived without me ever laying eyes on it. When we actually moved, I arrived a few hours ahead of him (he finished packing up at the old flat, while me and Pip went ahead) and he texted me, all anxious about what I thought, given that this was the first time I’d set foot in the place. I think my reply was ‘I f*cking love you’. He’d chosen brilliantly.

I loved that flat. It was the first place that really felt like our home, rather than somewhere we’d had to settle for out of necessity. It was just near Cardiff Bay, still one of my favourite places to visit, plus near plenty of shops including a huge 24 hour supermarket. The best thing about it was it’s second bedroom. Pip finally had a room of her own, which we were all extremely happy about.

We stayed there for a year, then our landlord quite suddenly decided that they were going to sell the flat and gave us just over a month to move out. This time I chose the flat and Husband was the one that didn’t get to see it until after we moved in. I won’t go into much detail about that place but suffice to say, we’ve since made an agreement that he gets to choose all subsequent places we live in. It was bloody awful.

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Victoria Park, 2013

Since 2014, we’ve been living in my favourite place that I’ve ever lived in. Plenty of space, brilliant location and a lovely landlady. I don’t see us leaving here for quite some time yet, which is quite something for a family that’s moved five times in eight years.

I love Cardiff. I love the Bay, a beautiful place to have a walk, take some pictures and perhaps have an ice cream. I love the city centre, full of shops, two museums and a castle, plus a massive library and loads of lovely places to eat.  I love that if you say Good Morning to someone in the street, most of the time they’ll say it back rather than look at you like you’ve just casually uttered a racial slur (seriously, I wouldn’t even make eye contact with strangers in London). I love how comfortable I feel here.

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Castell Coch, 2016

Starting fresh in Cardiff has made me a such a different person. I might still be shy but I’m way more confident than I used to be. I’ve faced up to the fact that I have PTSD and depression and had treatment and now I feel so much better. I’m not cured but it’s incurable so being able to deal with it is the best I can do and I think I’m doing it (most of the time).

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Me, 2011

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Me, 2016

So thanks Cardiff. I can’t wait to see what the next five years have in store!

 

Chrome for Kids

These days, learning to use a computer is as essential as learning to read.

I know, many will consider a controversial thing to say but I really believe it. Students (of all ages) need to use computers in almost any subject and most future careers require at least some computer use.

With our daughter turning seven this year, we decided to buy her a laptop. She’s had use of a second hand iPad for a long while but we wanted her to get used to a keyboard, which she mostly avoids on the iPad. We also wanted her to to have experience of different operating systems, since at home we only use Mac.

We decided on getting a chromebook for the following reasons:

  • She’s quite familiar with the operating system since she uses it at school already.
  • They come pre-loaded with anti-virus software so you don’t need to worry about it yourself.
  • You can set up parental controls – very important if she’s going online.
  • Lightweight. We wanted something she could easily carry around for herself and could be taken out of the house.

There are loads of options available. We picked the Lenovo N22-20 Chromebook. It’s very lightweight and even has a handle – very convenient for a seven year old to carry it around with limited risk of it being dropped. It’s got a decent battery life – up to 14 hours according to the Lenovo website and I will say that we’ve found it doesn’t need to be charged very often, though I haven’t actually timed it. It’s also has a rotating camera on it, which is a nice feature and great fun for kids.

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Sadly, I do have a rather large complaint to make of the Chrome OS. The parental controls are rubbish. I know that sounds blunt and harsh and usually I’m the kind of blogger to try and play up the positives of products but seriously, it’s rubbish.

In order to set up parental controls, you need to set up an account as the parent and then a ‘Supervised Account’ for the child. This is already a bit annoying. But nothing compared to the fact that you can’t access apps from the supervised account. Seriously. My daughter can’t access applications from her own user account on her own laptop.

Also, the internet parental controls are seriously lacking. I’ve gone through the tutorials, I’ve checked advice from Google and various people on online forums but essentially what I’ve got is a situation where she can look at whatever the hell she wants and all I can do is check up on it later. What on earth is the point of that?! Please Google, sort this out. ASAP.

However, she does love it. Luckily there are plenty of websites with great content and stuff for her, like the CBBC and CBeebies websites. Plus, she can access Google Docs, since that’s website based, so she can practice her typing. This week, during half term, we’re going to look at Scratch, the website based application for teaching children to code.

So my overall impression is that Chromebooks are useful, lightweight and simple machines for people who just want to use the internet, email and the odd application. As something for a child as their own computer, it’s a bit disappointing but, might still be the best reasonably priced option available.

Catch up: An Ending and a Beginning

So it’s been a pretty busy time around here.

Pip turned seven a few weeks ago. We had a family event for the actual day; just a little tea party with some visiting relatives. Then the following weekend, she had a few friends over for another tea party. This was an opportunity (excuse might be a more accurate term) for me to design personalised placemats and invitations and little thank you notes to go into the party bags. I hadn’t quite anticipated just how much noise a few six & seven year old girls could make but still, a good time was had by all.

Then last weekend, I attended my graduation ceremony at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay. It was brilliant. I will admit to being slightly nervous that I might trip and fall straight into the orchestra pit in front of the stage but I actually managed to avoid this, which really felt like as much of an achievement as attaining a degree. The robes were a little awkward but overall, made me feel a bit like a student at Hogwarts rather than the Open University. Anyone who knows me will know how happy that made me. Husband was graduating at the same time and looked extremely dignified in his robes, which didn’t keep slipping off like mine did. I’m not the kind of person to feel very proud of myself about anything but I genuinely felt rather smug for nearly a whole day. After six years of hard work, I think I was entitled to that.

Just before my graduation, I got a tweet, totally out of the blue, about a rather exciting opportunity. Long story short, I’m now the local editor for the Bubele newsletter for Cardiff. It’s fortnightly and I promise it’ll be packed with fun stuff for families in the Cardiff area. My first newsletter will be emailed out on 2nd November so do sign up! Bubele is also an app with lots of listings for family fun throughout the UK – I recommend downloading it and signing up for whichever newsletter covers your area. I certainly like having activities lined up, equally for the school holidays and for those long weeks of monotonous routine in between so I really feel like this is a useful tool for any parent.

I’m feeling uncharacteristically positive about all of the above. My little girl is getting ever bigger and brighter and more brilliantly unique. I’ve achieved something I never thought I’d be able to. I’ve got a new opportunity for writing more. Everything’s just bloody marvellous!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back Into Routine

The summer holidays are over.

We’re all back at work and school.

We had such a brilliant six weeks. We spent lots of time outdoors in the sunshine. We went to the National Museum in Cardiff. We had a day at Bristol Zoo. We had family come to visit. We spent a few days in London, including a day at Chessington World of Adventures – somewhere neither me nor Pip had ever been before!

 

Pip also completed the Summer Reading Challenge for the second year in a row. She’s already excited about being presented with her medal at school.

Today is her first day of Year 2. I was a little sad dropping her off this morning. I’ve (mostly) loved our summer together. She seemed very excited about getting back to school, which was good to see.

I’ve been a bit naughty over the last couple of weeks. After losing one and a half stone in June and July, I let things slide a bit while we had guests and then while we were in London. I haven’t been exercising much and I’ve eaten all kinds of unhealthy foods. I’m terrified of what the scales will say when I next step on them! I’ve decided to give myself a week to get back on track before I do. I’m throwing myself straight back into diet mode this week, although I’m working nearly every day so fitting exercise in around that plus school runs plus housework and everything else will be difficult. I might try some HIIT workouts, as I know they can be pretty quick but still effective. Wish me luck!

This is the first September in many years that I haven’t had a new university course to start. I’m feeling a little unproductive. So I’ve decided to try and get into a good writing routine. I must try and finish a whole story, rather than flitting between them and never getting any results. Of course, this is yet another thing to fit in amongst everything else but I must try!

How was your summer? Are you glad to be getting back into a routine or are you missing the holidays already?

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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In the last weeks of my university studies, one of the things I looked forward to most was being able to read purely for pleasure. So once my last course was over, I went searching through the Apple iBook store for something new. As it was a recommended title as well as a fantasy novel (one of my favourite genres), I went with Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

This book is inspired by folk and fairy tales and really has that feel to it. The scary bits (and there are a few) really feel like something out of a childhood nightmare. Novak has tapped into some primal fears and conjures up some truly horrifying images.

The protagonist is a young woman. She’s clumsy, always untidy, a bit moody and doesn’t think very much of herself. But she’s also brave and strong and she grows throughout the novel, becoming more aware of herself and her abilities as the story goes on. A brilliantly realistic heroine.

I like the realism in the characters. So often the characters in fantasy fall into stereotypes: the dashing hero, the pretty princess, the bad guy who’s nothing but bad through and through. This book doesn’t do that. The characters are flawed. Some are entirely unlikeable, even if they’re actually good guys! There is a touch of romance but it’s not a main theme. I’d say friendship and loyalty are more key here.

My favourite part of this book is the magic. It’s elegant yet natural. There’s real beauty to it (even when it’s being used for evil) and Novik’s descriptions paint a good picture of how it works and looks.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy, quest stories. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and I personally rate it pretty highly.

 

 

It’s all good…

The title of this post might seem odd to a lot of people. There’s a lot of anxiety in Britain right now after the EU referendum and with the political parties picking new leaders. I was getting pretty stressed over this stuff so I’m writing this post to focus on the good things that are happening in my life right now…

After six years of study, I have finally been awarded my degree! 

It’s not something I really thought I’d manage, after dropping out of sixth form and having to support myself living alone at a fairly young age. But with lots of encouragement and support from my Husband (thank you!) and some very useful funding, I’ve done it! I really feel proud of myself, which is quite a rare thing for me. I feel like I’ve overcome the difficulties I had from my tricky childhood and I guess this is a real sign of how far I’ve come.

 

I had a night out with my Husband! 

This may sounds very mundane but fellow parents will know how rare this is. Even if we hire a babysitter, we can’t really relax. But this time, my lovely brother-in-law came to visit and looked after Pip while we went out. We had such a great time and it really reminded me of how we were before becoming parents. Of course I was suffering a bit the next day but it was worth it!

 

I’m actually managing to successfully diet! 

I have started diets too many times to count and they never go very well or last very long. But with my weight hitting an all time high, I’ve been really determined to do something about it. I’m now in my fifth week and I’ve lost just over a stone, just through eating healthily and exercising, mainly videos from Blogilates , a site full of free pilates and cardio videos, plus lots of healthy recipes and other tips. I’m starting to feel and see the difference in my body. I feel so much healthier and stronger than I did five weeks ago.

 

My work life is improving! 

Firstly, I’ve been moved departments at work. This wasn’t exactly my choice but it’s meant I have more working hours and therefore a bit more of a wage, which is always nice. Plus, being trained at something new is always good. I’m also looking for full time work and I’ve had a couple of interviews recently which I’m really hopeful will lead somewhere good.

 

It’s nearly the summer holidays! 

I’m lucky enough to have some time off with Pip and even a little bit with Husband too. I’m busy planning tons of fun stuff to do. It’s going to be an awesome six weeks!

 

So there! Plenty of great things are happening right now. I think it’s really important to remember that when things get tough.

What good things are happening in your life right now?

Going healthy for a very good cause

I have started dieting again. Yes, I’ve done this over and over again and it I always lose a bit then give up.

This time, I have a better reason. It’s not about fitting into a little dress or getting to a certain weight. It’s about my daughter.

Just over a week ago, my daughter offered me a piece of chocolate and I refused (I had already decided to lose some weight). I explained that I was trying to be healthier because I weighed too much. She looked outraged and insisted that I looked ‘perfect’. At first I thought she was just being sweet but as we spoke more, it became clear that she believed it. She really thought that I’m what a healthy adult looks like. I realised that I have been setting her a terrible example. I make sure she eats plenty of fruit and veggies and refuse too many unhealthy snacks. I’ve taught her about what foods are healthy and unhealthy. But then I sit there munching through crisps, chocolate, pizza, sugary drinks and endless amounts of other crap with very little good in between. I’ve basically sent her the message that she needs to be healthy now but as soon as she’s an adult, being like me is normal and fine. I’m not going to shy away from this – I felt awful.

So, that was the kick up the backside that I’ve needed for a while now. I bought some bathroom scales and weighed myself. That was something of a shock, let me tell you. I knew I was overweight but I didn’t realise how far I’d let myself go. I was obese. I weighed just about 14st and at 5ft 7, that is not good. That gave me my second wake up call. I was going to lead myself into all kinds of health problems if I didn’t change now.

For the last week and a bit, I’ve been much healthier. I’m not on a crazy diet, I’m just making healthy choices. I’ve lost half a stone so far. That’s a lot for one week but I know that’s just because it’s the first week – it’s bound to slow down. I’m aiming for 2lb per week, the healthy amount to lose according to health professionals. More than just shedding weight, I’m already feeling a bit stronger and more energetic. I’m doing a mixture of brisk walking, jogging and pilates.

I’m also joining in with Pip’s tennis lessons on Saturdays and I hope that’s something we can carry on together. She loves running too so I think we might try having a run in the park together. We’ve also been trying out new healthy recipes and snacks. I really want to show her what being healthy as an adult looks like.

I have no aspirations of being skinny or super toned, I just want to be within the healthy weight range and reasonably fit. Rather than my usual rush to get there as soon as possible, I’m taking it a bit slower and giving myself a full year to get there.

I’m really hoping I can maintain it this time around. With the motivation of knowing I’m doing this for my little girl as well as myself, I’m feeling positive.

Wish me luck!