Another Day, Another Year

So another year has begun. Goodbye 2016, hello 2017.

Don’t panic, this isn’t yet another internet rant about how terrible 2016 was and how, somehow, 2017 will be so much better.

Actually 2016 wasn’t bad for me personally. Yes, terrible things happened globally and I did feel sad about them but some pretty great stuff happened to me. I graduated from university. I got some ongoing paid writing work. I stopped taking anti-depressant medication. My workplace allowed me to dye my hair pink (and indeed a whole range of other colours that I’ve got my eye on).

In fact, I feel a little unsure about 2017. I’m heading into a year where I don’t have any guaranteed opportunities for achievement. There’s nothing big on the horizon. That’s a little daunting, especially when everyone else is so determined that their 2017 is going to be so bloody brilliant. I feel like I too should be super positive and excited at the new opportunities apparently afforded by a new year beginning.

Instead, if I’m honest, I’m feeling a bit down today. Christmas is over. The tree is coming down tomorrow. We’ll all be back in our usual work and school routine on Tuesday. My daughter is pretty excited about that. She’ll get to see her friends and tell them all about her new bike and all the other cool stuff she got. Meanwhile I’m trying to summon up the motivation to fit some exercise and writing into the cold, empty months that the start of any year inevitably bring.

So yeah. Perhaps not quite the upbeat, fresh start post of New Year optimism people will expect or even want. But there it is.

I genuinely do hope you all have a good 2017 though. Cheers for reading my bleak thoughts. I promise to make the next post a little perkier.

 

Tis the Season!

Christmas has officially arrived in our house. The tree is up, the presents are wrapped up underneath. We’re quite a bit more than halfway through our various advent calendars.

It’s the last day of school term today and, while I am working a few days between now and Christmas, I feel like Christmas really begins when Pip starts school holidays. I’ve had Christmas tunes on all day. I should probably apologise to my neighbours for attempting to sing along!

The tree has one new ornament this year, just as it does every year. We chose this one together – we’re all big Marvel fans and I really like the detailing on it.

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The first ornament we bought, just after Husband and I visited Paris in 2008

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Celebrating Pip’s first Christmas

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For our first Christmas in Wales, after moving to Cardiff in 2011

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For Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary in 2013

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Seemed very fitting for a family of Starbucks fans

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This year’s ornament, celebrating our surpreme geekiness

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My best wishes to you all for a happy & fun Christmas and New Year!

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

A Royal Birthday Weekend

This weekend, we’ve been celebrating the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. I am a big fan of this admirable lady, who has worked hard for our country throughout her entire life and continues to do so, even into an age where nobody would blame her for taking it easy.

Up went the Union flag bunting, out came our Alice in Wonderland tea set and me and Pip did some baking.

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We made cheese scones, filled with either ham and soft cheese or apple & pear chutney, and a fruit tea loaf, which came out a little stodgier than I’d like but it was still nice.

I also picked up a Clarence the Corgi cake from Morrisons. Essentially it’s a chocolate swiss roll with icing decorations but the idea is great and it was rather tasty too!

We really enjoyed watching the Trooping of the Colour on TV. Pip loved the horses and was amazed by the Red Arrows flying over. I think it’s nice to see the Royal Family altogether, to remember that they are a family and a close one too.

Pip also went to her second tennis lesson this weekend, as part of the Tennis for Kids campaign, being run by LTA. I’ll probably write more about this in a separate post. In the meantime, it’s well worth searching a for a course in your area in case there are places available – it’s always good to learn something new, especially something fun and active for the summer!