My Top 5 Family Tabletop Games

It’s been ages since I posted a games review and since we’ve been having such wet weather (It’s August, for goodness sake!), I thought I’d share with you some of our favourite tabletop games to play as a family. These are perfect for rainy days and for everyone to enjoy – not just the kids!

No.1 Rampage 

This game is a really noisy and kind of messy one but so much fun! You each play a monster trying to destroy a city, knocking down buildings and eating Meeple (that’s tabletop speak for little model people).

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No. 2 Dream Home

A great one for anyone who loved building houses in the Sims. Basically the idea is that each of you builds a house, using room cards and various little extras like paintings to go on the wall or a birdhouse to put in the garden. Be prepared to get weirdly competitive about roof patterns! (That makes it sound dull but it’s honestly good family fun)

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No. 3 Sushi Go

This is a quick & cute one. It’s only 15 minutes long (roughly) so good for filling a little bit of time. It’s a card game rather than board game so there’s not much setup either. Basically you collect different kinds of sushi to collect points. Plus, the sushi is really cute!

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No. 4 Mice & Mystics

This is for a family that is ready for a longer, more involved games. It’s a story driven RPG game, where you all play people that have been magically transformed into mice, who have to fight rats and millipedes. I love this game. It takes over an hour to play though, so I advise planning a break halfway through. It is cooperative so you get to work as a team and there are no squabbles over who wins!

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No. 5 Machi Koro

I think this is my favourite out of the five. It’s certainly the one we play most. What I really love about it is that it’s a strategy game (with a bit chance as well, obviously) that Penny has a good chance of winning, without us helping or purposefully doing badly ourselves (which we actually never do in our house, but I’ll probably talk more about that another time!). The aim is to build up a city with it’s own economy. You win basically by making the most money out of various resources and assets (it is a bit more complex than that but I won’t go into too much detail here).

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Here’s my vlog of these games so you see a little more detail of each game:

By the way, if you haven’t already, please subscribe to my YouTube channel. I’m uploading more regularly now. Thanks to everyone who has been watching!

I hope I’ve inspired you to maybe put aside your old copy of Monopoly and try out a new tabletop game!

What are your favourite family games?

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10 Ways to Combat Depression

If you’re regular reader of this blog or if you know me in real life, you might already know that I suffer with PTSD, with symptoms of depression and anxiety.

I first realised I had depression when I was about 21. I was diagnosed with PTSD a little while after that then took anti depressants for two years and had some counselling. These things helped me reach the point of accepting exactly what I’m dealing with, that it’s not my fault or some kind of weakness and that I will probably have to cope with it for the rest of my life.

Actually learning how to cope with it has taken me years and it’s by no means something I’ve perfected. I still have bad days, weeks and months and I know I probably always will. But at least I’ve worked out some things that help (and some things that make it much worse!). I’d like to share these things with you. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, do try them out. However, I’m totally aware that mental illness is different from person to person so I cannot make any kind of guarantee that any of this will work for anyone other than myself. I’m also not a medical professional and I have no training or qualifications in this field. I’ve just done a lot of research and have my personal experience to go on.

If you use any other techniques, please share them. I’m always open to any ideas that could help me or anyone else coping with depression or anxiety.

So here’s my list of ten ways to combat depression:

  1. Healthy eating. Notice, I did not say dieting. My struggle with weight loss is really tangled up in my mental illness but dieting, for me, isn’t the answer. When I diet, I do it obsessively and not healthily. Instead, I’ve learnt that making healthy choices and making sure I’m eating lots of fresh, nutritious foods really helps me. Feeling guilty and shameful about treating myself to an ice cream or a pizza does not help me and I doubt it’ll help you either.
  2. Exercise. This does not have to involve going to the gym or taking part in any activities that you really hate (unless literally expending energy is something you hate, I suppose). Exercise could be walking, jogging, running, swimming, yoga, pilates, cardio, group classes, gym, cycling….really the list is endless. Just find something active that you can do that makes you feel good. Personally, I love long walks outdoors, somewhere peaceful and full of nature. I also enjoy cardio & pilates but only in the privacy of my own home!
  3. Get outdoors. As I said, long walks outdoors can make me happy. But just being outdoors, preferably somewhere natural, makes me feel so much better. It could be in the woods, by the seaside or a lake, or even in my local park. Just being out of your house can make you feel better, although I’m all too aware of how challenging doing that can feel some days.
  4. Read a book. This one feels very personal to me but from what I’ve read, it’s true of a lot of people. It probably feels personal because it’s a personal experience. I love to read generally anyway but if I’m having a bad day, there are a few books I can dip into for an hour or so and feel so much calmer and even a bit happier. Harry Potter is top of that list for me. If you’re stuck on what to read and you’re suffering from depression or anxiety, try reading ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ by Matt Haig. Reading that book helped to pull me out of a really bad depressive phase and I know it’s done the same for many others. In fact, the other two books I’ve read by Matt Haig (‘How to Stop Time’ and ‘The Humans’) both really helped my mood. Watching films can have a similar effect, I find, though not as consistently. Oh and ignore book snobs. If a book makes you feel good, read it, whatever some critic said.
  5. Treat yourself. This does not have to involve spending money. Given that for many people, money is something they’re often anxious about (myself included), it’s good to have a few ideas of things you can do that feel like a treat but are actually low cost or free. Having a bath, could be one example, or taking a walk (when you’ve been super busy with work or being a parent or whatever else, taking a walk on your own somewhere peaceful can feel like such a treat).
  6. Spend time with friends and/or family. I know that sometimes socialising can feel so draining and so anxiety-inducing but if you feel like you can face it then do. It doesn’t have to be meeting new people or being in a crowd or going somewhere loud. It could be a coffee with an old friend or relative. It could be sharing a special dinner with your partner or playing a game with your children.
  7. Spend time alone. Yes, I know this appears to contradict no. 6 but this isn’t a list of things to do all at once. Sometimes I really need to be with other people but sometimes I really need to be on my own. Just some peace and quiet without any expectations or obligations.
  8. Writing. Okay, so writing is something I love. But I’m not saying everyone needs to take up blogging or writing fiction. Writing in a diary could be really helpful, especially when you’re trying to work out triggers. It could just be a space to express your totally honest thoughts and feelings without worrying about the judgement of anyone else. I occasionally write letters to people I feel angry with. They’re never sent, obviously, but it genuinely makes me feel better.
  9. Practice calming techniques. This could be yoga, Tai Chi, breathing exercises, meditation. There are loads to try and I recommend giving a few a go. That way, when you’re having a bad day or feel really panicked, you’ll have a few ideas of ways you can quickly calm down, even temporarily.
  10. Take care of yourself. This is something important that I forget quite a lot: I am worth taking care of. And so are you. You are worth having a shower and putting on fresh clothes. You are worth eating proper meals. You are worth having some time to yourself for what you want to do. Yes, sometimes other things have to take priority, like work and childcare. Yes, some days just getting out of bed feels like such a challenge. But you’ll feel better if you’re clean and healthy. You’re not doing it for anyone else’s benefit, you’re doing it for yourself.

 

So there’s my list. Do comment with any of these that work for you or share other things that work for you!

If you’re having a bad day or week or month, I hope tomorrow is a better day for you. Even if it’s just a tiny bit better.

Thanks for reading.

 

My Thoughts on ‘No More Boys and Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free?’

As mother to a girl, I’ve always been concerned about her facing certain challenges in life due to her gender. I feel like my concerns are justified when she’s told by her male friends that she can’t play football with them or when even a teacher said that because she’s creative, she could have a career designing handbags. Now, I see nothing wrong with a career in fashion design but I couldn’t imagine the same suggestion being made of a boy who shows creativity. Why should any child be pigeon-holed due to their gender?

I first heard about the BBC Two programme ‘No More Girls and Boys: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free?’ when a clip from the programme popped up on my Facebook feed. The video showed babies being dressed as the opposite gender (i.e boys in dresses) and then placed in a room of toys with a volunteer adult instructed to play with them. The adults clearly segregated the toys based on the gender they believed the child to have, even when the child showed a preference for something else. It sparked my curiosity so I decided to sit down and watch this programme last night.

I will immediately say that I think the title of this programme has been poorly chosen. Okay, it is a series and maybe the first episode didn’t cover this, but thus far there has been no mention of questioning gender identity but rather questioning and challenging stereotypes around the different genders. From looking at the social media response, I think people saw the title and made a snap judgement. I’m well aware that the title might well have been purposefully chosen to generate a heated debate before it was even broadcast. Anyway, onto my thoughts on the actual programme.

The presenter Dr Javid Abdelmoneim carried out this experiment on a class of Year 3 (age 7-8) children at a UK primary school. Basically the idea was to eliminate anything in their environment that negatively promoted a difference between boys and girls. This included the segregation of the girl’s and boy’s coats to separate cupboards to the classroom bookshelves being clearly organised by gender to the teacher’s use of gendered endearments. By the way, I think the teacher was enthusiastic, seemed to genuinely care about the children and when criticised, he was quite determined to make changes to help his pupils.

What struck me as really sad and quite shocking was how the children spoke about gender. I imagined, perhaps naively, that amongst children there would be more equality and less stereotyping. But boys and girls alike described men as ‘better’ and ‘more important’ than women. One boy believed that men must be more intelligent than women because the President is a man. Now, if he means the President of the United States, that seems almost laughable right now, but I digress.

Other differences shown by tests carried out were a lack of empathy and ability to communicate about emotion in boys and a tendency for girls to underestimate their own abilities. I immediately thought of my own daughter, whose end of term report told me that she believes herself to be far worse at maths and writing than she really is.

Even I have always assumed there are certain differences between men and women. Women are generally more empathetic and better in touch with their emotions, while men are better at spacial awareness. I’ve taken these things for granted because scientific studies of adults confirmed them. But the Professor of Cognitive Neuroimaging in the programme said that at if you looked at children’s brains, the differences between girls and boys was barely there at all. She concluded from her own research that differences in adults were the result of training. Men are better at spacial awareness because boys are given more opportunity to train their brains in this skill. I’m not going to listen to one scientist and decide they must be right but I’ve read other studies on the malleability of the brain and how training does alter it’s structure so it does make some sense to me. If we gave girls an equal opportunity to train themselves in spacial awareness, would this particular difference still exist?

The children in the programme were asked specifically about which jobs they considered to be for men or women. It wasn’t really surprising to hear that women should be hairdressers, teachers and nurses, while men should be police officers, fire fighters and soldiers. They were introduced to people in professions not traditionally linked to their gender: a male make up artist, a female mechanic, a male dancer and a female magician. I thought this was a great step towards showing the children that jobs do not need to be segregated by gender. By the end of that session, at least one boy said that he realised that these were ‘everyone jobs’, not just for men or for women. After being quite disheartened at the original comments made, it was great to see this change happening, especially with such ease. It only took a few changes, a few challenges to achieve this.

Being a former literature student, I was especially interested when the discussion turned to books. According to an American study, only 31% of children’s books have a central female character. Although, this was the only statistic given and I did wonder how this was measured. For example, the main character in Harry Potter is obviously a boy but the series is full of strong female characters. It is true that many books are obviously gendered and characters are often stereotypes – boys who are aggressive and badly behaved and girls who are passive and obsessed with their looks. To challenge this, books were introduced to the children in the study that showed strong female characters as heroes.

The final part of the programme challenged the idea that men are physically stronger than women. It was proven to the children, through a fun fairground game, that there’s not really any difference between girls’ and boys’ strength at their age. However, if you took an average man and an average woman, I believe the man would be physically stronger, due to differences in biology that occur during puberty. Surely the message that we need to get across is firstly that a woman can be strong – through training in the same way as a man would – and also that physical strength is not the most important attribute a person can possess. We don’t live in a society where physical strength plays much of a role anymore. There are indeed jobs that require it but I don’t think that’s the majority at all. Even in the jobs that do require it, women are capable of reaching the standards needed, such as to be police officers or to join the army.

Overall, I found the programme interesting and enlightening. I’ve always tried to raise my daughter in such a way that she feels capable of achieving her goals if she works hard at them. She enjoys a huge range of activities and interests, some probably stereotypically feminine but equally many that really aren’t. The most important thing, as far as I’m concerned, is that she made the choice.

Surely that’s the most important thing: to make sure children’s choices aren’t limited, as much as is practical. I hope teachers, parents and other children’s caregivers question how they treat girls and boys and make these positive changes to make treatment more equal.

Did you watch the programme? What were your thoughts?

 

 

Family Day Out: The Doctor Who Experience, Cardiff Bay

Last weekend, we visited the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay. Being a geeky family of Whovians, this was not our first visit. It was our third. Plus it’s actually the second time we’ve been as part of my birthday celebrations.

We’re really lucky that it doesn’t take us very long at all to get the train to Cardiff Bay (trains from Cardiff Queen Street to the Bay run every 12 minutes and the journey is just 4 minutes!).

We were also lucky that the weather on Saturday was almost perfect: not too hot but a bit sunny and no rain at all! Even without a trip to the Doctor Who Experience, the Bay is one of my favourite places to visit in Cardiff.

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Having always booked tickets in advance, I’d advise doing the same to anyone planning to visit. It means no queuing to buy tickets and no chance of being told they’re fully booked (I don’t know if this regularly happens but wouldn’t want to risk it personally). You can book online then simply print off the tickets or have them sent to you and bring them along.

There is a short queue on the way into the experience but there’s plenty to look at in the foyer area – from character costumes to ancient Gallifreyan artefacts to a massive LEGO dalek!

The actual experience involves going on an adventure, guided by a member of staff and the Doctor himself! Even as an adult, this was really enjoyable and Penny and the other children there loved it, especially the interactive bits. I won’t say anymore as I wouldn’t want to spoil it. I would warn that the first time we went, Penny was about two and did get a bit scared so you might want to consider that when thinking about taking very small children. The experience has changed a few times, usually when there’s been a regeneration, so it’s been different each time we’ve gone.

After the adventure, you get the chance to look around a huge collection Doctor Who exhibit with costumes, props and monsters from the oldest classic episodes right up to the latest series. I really like that this allows you to see the evolution of some monsters like the daleks and cybermen.

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After the exhibit there is a gift shop. With birthday money to spend, I did treat myself to a couple of t shirts and a pin for my notice board.

 

My husband also bought a couple of framed prints which look brilliant in our living room.

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There is a good range in the gift shop, from lower priced souvenirs to some really amazing collectables.

Sadly, the Doctor Who Experience is closing this September, which was one of the reasons we wanted one last trip. If you’re a Whovian, or have any mini Whovians, I really recommend a visit if you can make it, it’s such a fun day out.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

Summer Holidays 2017: Weeks 1 & 2

The last two weeks are not exactly how I pictured our summer holidays. I had visions of Penny and I spending long days outdoors, walking in parks and along seafronts and through woods. I had researched a whole catalogue of new picnic recipes to try.

So imagine my dismay when the forecast predicted clouds and rain just about every day.

Our holidays began as soon as Penny left school. We headed to Starbucks for our traditional end of term celebration. It was raining. Never mind, I thought, six weeks of school-free fun are ahead of us.

At the beginning of our first full week of holidays, Husband’s Mum and Nan arrived for a three day visit. We went to Cardiff Bay with them (a rare day of proper sunshine!) and took the Aquabus tour around the Bay, Penarth and the Barrage. Here’s a video I made of it:

We all went out for dinner together that evening. For their last day in Cardiff, we went for a shopping day in the city centre. It made for a good start to our holidays, even if the weather was mostly a bit grim.

Penny and I went to our local library in that first week too. Penny always takes part in the Summer Reading Challenge. This year the theme is Animal Agents and the reward for each book read is a set of clues to work out the mystery in the library. To complete the challenge, a child needs to read 6 books over the course of the summer holidays. As an overall reward, they’re presented with a medal at school when the new term begins. It’s a great scheme and I highly recommend it as a way to get the kids reading some new books over the holidays.

Last week, I was ill for several days. I’m rarely physically unwell, at least not more than a minor cold. This wasn’t serious but I ached all over and felt generally crap. By Thursday, Penny was clearly getting fed up with being indoors, however much I tried to occupy her with baking and crafts and DisneyLife. So we went back to the library as it’s close by. Just being out in the fresh air seemed to cheer her up and getting some new books and a set of stickers as reward for the ones she’d already read helped a great deal too.

On Friday, I was feeling quite a bit better and we had a bit of sunshine (along with the clouds and rain that never seem far away at the moment) so we went to Penarth for a walk along the beach and an ice cream on the pier. It did rain on us a bit but we both needed a proper day out. I felt just about entirely recovered by the weekend.

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Penarth Pier

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Penarth seafront, looking towards the Devon coastline

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Writing our names in the Sand

We had a bit of a lazy day at home on Saturday then I had to work on Sunday. Penny had a lovely day at home with Husband, playing board games.

I’m hoping for better weather and no more sickness for the next four weeks!

How’s your summer holiday going? Has the poor weather affected your plans?

20 Years of Harry Potter: My Thoughts

20 years ago today, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released.

I didn’t read it straight away. A friend recommended it about a year later, just after Chamber of Secrets had been released. I say recommended but actually she just would not stop talking about it. She seemed obsessed! I read both Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets over that summer holiday.

And I was hooked.

These books were an escape. In a sense, all books are an escape, especially fantasy books.  But this was actually a story of an escape. Harry was living this rather miserable childhood of neglect and loneliness that I could relate to. I wasn’t shut in a cupboard, of course. But I felt trapped, certainly. I’d always felt the odd one out (in fact, I still do most of the time). But Harry escaped. He discovered a whole other life was available to him.

Now, obviously I never expected a giant to knock down my door and tell me I’m a wizard. But I suppose it gave me hope. Hope about a potential life after the miserable years spent at my childhood home.

From Prisoner of Azkaban onwards, I read each one pretty much as soon as it came out. I never went and queued at midnight to get my hands on a copy as soon as possible (now I wish I had!) but I always managed to get them pretty quick and then be engrossed for days, even weeks as they got a bit longer.

The later books provided more than just an escape for me. They were probably the first books I read about that darkness in humanity: intolerance and prejudice. The fear and subsequent hatred of anything unlike ourselves. They can certainly teach a few things about friendship, loyalty and love.

The last book was released about 10 years ago. I was 17. I had left home and was sleeping on a friend’s sofa. I’d left those miserable years of childhood behind but at the time, I was feeling like adulthood wasn’t really shaping up to be much better (don’t worry, it got much better!). A new Harry Potter book was just what I needed! It provided that escape again (even if it did have me weeping on a few occasions).

My copies of books 1-6 were left at home when I ran away. Even the copy of The Deathly Hallows that I bought after I left was lost somewhere during the years of moving from place to place. In bouts of depression, I often found myself wishing to read them again.

Last Christmas, my husband bought me the full set of books. I read all of them in about four months. They made me remember the good bits of my childhood. Sitting in a rare hour of peace and solitude and happily reading my favourite stories. The funny bits still make me laugh and the sad bits still make me cry. I expect they always will. I’ll certainly be reading them again at some point.

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The Harry Potter series also got me interested in fantasy as a genre. It got me interested in writing stories myself. J.K Rowling’s personal story is pretty inspiring itself, especially to me now, being 27 and still not having written a complete novel! But also because she found herself in a difficult situation and pulled herself out of it through writing.

It isn’t just me she inspired with her books either. I’ve heard countless accounts of people who’d had tough childhoods (much tougher than mine), people who’d lost parents or really lost anyone and found that these books helped them.

So from myself and everyone else who found hope and joy in the story of The Boy Who Lived, thank you Joanne Rowling. You have my eternal gratitude.

Struggling with weight loss

Like many women, I first started struggling with my weight as a teenager. I seemed to go from being a bit chubby to being very much overweight in no time at all. Unfortunately, with no real idea of what to do about it, I crash dieted. I lost weight very quickly and felt happy about it (or at least I thought so at the time). People commented on it, asking what my secret was and laughing when I said I just didn’t eat much.

About a year down the line, I looked in the mirror one day and it was like an illusion had broken. I wasn’t dangerously skinny – a size 8 – but it looked ridiculous. I have a naturally curvy figure so my hips kind of jutted out and I had a tiny waist but a large bust that just didn’t match at all. I snapped out of it and started eating more. I went up to a size 10 and looked so much healthier. I stayed at that weight for a couple of years, thinking my troubles with weight were far behind me.

Then when I got pregnant at 19, I inevitably gained weight. I didn’t really think about it. Gaining weight during pregnancy is just the norm and somehow I assumed it would just come off again once I had the baby. It did not.

If anything I gained even more since having my daughter. I think it was a mixture of a few things. In my teen years, any stress killed my appetite but now, stress makes me comfort eat. Struggling with depression only made it worse. When my daughter was a baby, I stayed at home most of the time, dragging myself to playgroups so that she could make friends. Then we moved to Cardiff and I became a bit more confident, less anxious and made a few friends myself. Then I realised that I’d put on quite a bit of weight. I was 14 stone, about 4 stone heavier than my ideal weight. I actually tried a crash diet again, thinking it had worked so well previously (remember, I wasn’t mentally healthy at this point). It didn’t work. I didn’t have the willpower to stop myself eating constantly.

Once I started dealing with my mental health, dealing with my physical health became easier.

Now I know I’ve gotten into a habit of yo-yo dieting. I’ll manage four weeks of a really strict diet and lose maybe half a stone, then I’ll have a bad day or week and fall back on my bad eating habits. I need to change that. I’m back on a diet. But instead of trying to stick to 1200 calories per day, I’m going for 1600 calories per day. The weight loss will be slower but it’ll be easier to stick to. I can allow myself a few treats and not feel like I’ve failed.

I’m also meal prepping more. Yesterday I made a 4 portions of black bean chilli, some roasted chickpeas (never tried these before but they are So Good), boiled some eggs as snacks and bagged up lots of fruit, veggies, nuts and dried fruit so that I’ve got healthy snacks on hand. Hopefully this means it’ll be easier to avoid unhealthy foods.

For a while I tried exercising for an hour every day. But with family and work as well, it just isn’t something I can do. I started feeling like a failure when I didn’t manage it. I also forgot that I can count the walking I do as exercise. I walk my daughter to school each day – that’s about 2 hours altogether. Plus, I’m always on my feet at work. I’m not an inactive person, really. So I’ve cut down my exercise goal to half an hour, at least four times a week and added in some yoga, which really helps with depression and stress. I’m trying to take more long walks. Like if I have a day off, I’ll drop my daughter at school then go walking for hours in the park or to somewhere interesting, like Cardiff Bay or Castell Coch.

I’m starting to learn that I need to focus more on being healthy than on being thinner. Yes, I should lose weight. But the way I’ve going about it makes my depression and anxiety worse. I’ll have a pizza takeaway then feel terrible for days afterwards, like I’ve failed completely. Instead, I need to realise that if I eat healthily most of the time, the occasional takeaway or slice of cake isn’t going to hurt me.

Most importantly, I need to keep in mind that healthy eating (as opposed to either crash dieting or overeating) makes me feel happier. Bad depression days are more likely to occur when I’ve been strictly dieting or after I’ve binged. It’s all about balance!

My goals used to be to be a size 10 again. Now my goal is to feel good.

Wish me luck with it!