Monday, 24 October 2016

That time I was an unemployed single mother...

Lone parent. I prefer the term lone parent.

I had left my full time job at a grim start-up office in Manchester. They had promised me a different salary and were paying me less than agreed. They liked to ask me to make tea and cash cheques at the bank, using my car, my petrol. They liked to call me in the office and ask me which of the women should be sacked for being lazy. They liked to play games, call people names.

Well, I didn't like to work for them.

So I resigned.

In my naivety I walked out, took my car and drove home. To my home, mortgaged by myself (so proud - look what I had made for myself and my little girl!) Emily, aged 4 - cheeky, funny, clever. Home to a small furry hamster called Lulu, a small two-up-two-down terraced with high ceilings and an awkward rickety staircase. Not much. But everything at the same time.

I picked Emily up from nursery early that day. As she skipped down the path, her blonde hair streaming behind her, care-free,  I explained that I would be home for a few days now so I could take her to nursery and back without rushing. I felt free. I felt like I deserved some time off with my little girl. That sounds stupid now, I know you don't "earn" time off work - but working 60+ hours a week to keep a roof over your head, put food on the table - a successful SINGLE MOTHER. It's tough to keep it all up. I was also doing my undergraduate degree in History via the Open University, trying to improve - always looking for the next thing, always forward thinking.

So for a minute there, I was actually glad I was out of work.

After a week, my house was spotless. I had rested, I had spent some real quality time with my girl. I could breathe. It was just what I needed - a break from the hamster wheel.

Looking back now that was all I needed - I had been pushed to the edge.

OK. I sat at my laptop, coffee in hand. Job applications. School Administrator, School Office Manager, Research Administration, Personal Assistant. I aimed to apply for three jobs a day.

I heard nothing back.

I had some money in the bank that I had saved. It would last us a month. We would be OK.

A month passed. No work.

Then there was no money. I made an appointment at the Job Centre. I thought that I would receive Jobseekers and that would tide me over. With Jobseekers we could buy food and essentials. The mortgage - well, I had no idea about that one. Council tax? Gas? Electric? How would I get money to put on those little pre-pay cards I used? I was starting to panic.

I was at the Job Centre for over an hour. Filling out forms, Emily squirming on my knee desperate to get home after nursery.  The woman behind the counter was shocked when I explained the reason why I left my job. I realised I had made a mistake as she explained just how many people were applying for just one job that was advertised. I knew I would face an uphill struggle and I suddenly felt very silly for not sticking with my old job until I found another.

Once the forms were filled in, I asked her what now - when would I be paid?

What she said did not make any sense to me. I wouldn't be paid. They wouldn't help me with any housing costs and I didn't qualify for Jobseekers. The reasons were explained but all I heard was "nothing." I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach.

The next few days I was in a haze. I had no money. I would wake up just before I had to take Emily to nursery, drag a brush through my hair and plod on. No motivation. A clean house did nothing for me - I was alone with no money and no hope. I had nothing and I had no idea what to do. Most of all I felt stupid, silly and young. So very young. I lay on the couch for days in tears, waiting for a job interview, for that email to ping, the phone to ring.

I called my mortgage company, who were only too happy to tell me that they would give me three months' payment holiday. This meant that I didn't have to pay my mortgage for three months, which was music to my ears, but the catch was they would take an extra £40 per month every month after that for the duration of the mortgage term. What choice did I have?

I called my bank and asked for an overdraft. They were only too happy to give me an overdraft so that myself and my daughter could eat. They would charge me extra every month for the privilege.

I called the council about the council tax. This was the final straw and when they said I had to pay, I cried on the phone. I sobbed to the lady who said I would have to pay as they had sent me a red letter. They sent me a form. I had to fill in each of my outgoings. Everything was accounted for and essential. Gas, electric, food, etc. One item stood out like a sore thumb.

Tuition Fees - Open University - £90 per month.

The letter I received from the council two weeks later explained that I had £90 spare each month for non-essentials so I had to use that money to pay them.

I grew angry. It felt like the whole world was against me - how on earth was I meant to support myself and my child, and improve myself when they were putting me down and putting me down. I was frightened I would lose my house, scared for my baby girl. I felt inadequate, down-trodden. Doing my coursework at night I would wonder why I bothered. I applied for ALL JOBS. Cleaner, Bar Maid, Receptionist, Apprentice....

I was out of work four months in total. As soon as I started my employment at the University of Manchester I felt whole again. I got up and walked with a spring in my step. I paid off what I owed and I vowed never to get out of work ever again. Never to let the bastards grind me down.

And I got my degree. First class, too. Fancy that.


Saturday, 22 October 2016

Review: Baby Annabell Bedroom

Our girls absolutely love playing with dolls. They adore creative play and like to play happy families all the time. That's why we were very excited to get the opportunity to review the Baby Annabell Bedroom by Zapf Creation. We love Baby Annabell and are always looking out for new products that we can maybe use as Christmas or birthday treats for the girls.

The bedroom is a lovely playset that has three main areas. There is a little cosy bed for Baby Annabell to sleep in complete with mobile, a little dress-up area with a mirror and an adorable wardrobe to hang baby's clothes and store her shoes. There is also a little storage area for Baby Annabell's accessories.

Both Alice and Rosie absolutely love this play-set. They will literally sit and play for quite a while, taking turns being the parent and passing each other the baby bottle or clothes to dress their baby with. The great thing about the house is that you can pop any doll in there - we often find three or four fashion dolls tucked up in there safe! I don't mind as long as the girls are happy.

Rosie playing with the Annabell Bedroom

Encouraging creative play is something that we are keen on. We often play fun and imaginative games with the girls and this is toy that really facilitates that. I will often talk to the girls about when they were babies and how both myself and Warren looked after them just as they take care of their dolls in their little Annabell Bedroom.

We love this toy. It would make a great Christmas present for any child who likes to play "house." It is recommended for children aged 3 and above. Alice is 5 and Rosie is 3 so it is absolutely perfect for them.

Baby Annabell's Bedroom is priced from £64.99 and is available at all good toy stores.

If you would like to keep up to date with all things Baby Annabell, including sale items or new products do check out their website:

You can also follow them on Twitter or catch them on Facebook

Disclosure: We were sent this product free of charge for the purpose of this review. All words and views are our own.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Disney on Ice Presents Frozen - Liverpool

We are so excited to be invited to see Disney on Ice this year in Liverpool. We love looking for new and exciting ways to treat the kids, and spending time together is always great. If you chuck in Disney and especially Frozen then we are on to a winner right away.  Our girls love dressing up as characters from Frozen - in fact, they love Disney dress-up full stop.

Rosie as Elsa
We were set a fun quiz all about Frozen so I sat down with the girls and asked them some of the questions. Their answers were funny - we have seen the film at least around a million times. (!)

1) In Which Kingdom Do Anna and Elsa live?


The real Elsa in Disney on Ice!

2) Who helps the young Anna when she gets hit by Elsa's powers?


Olaf singing In Summer

(After some coaxing by her Dad, she said "the trolls")

3) What is Kristoff's profession?

He's a snow man. He collects ice.

4) How many salad plates do Anna and Elsa own?


8 thousand

5) Anna and Hans finishes each other's?


We can't wait for Disney on Ice. I have told the kids that we are going and they keep asking when it is, of course they can hardly contain their excitement.

For a full list of tour dates click here for more information.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Review: Project Mc2 Doll with Experiment - Bryden's Speaker

We were very excited to be given the opportunity to review this new Project Mc2 doll. These dolls are based on the original characters in the Netflix original series. The girls absolutely love dolls and I knew that it would be a hit with them. What I really loved about the concept was that the doll is made to encourage girls to get into science. Anything that might inspire my girls to get involved in science or to look outside of the box is always going to be of interest to me.

The doll we were sent arrived in very fancy packaging. The doll is clearly a very trendy and happy doll, but intelligent also. The package includes a panda speaker that can be activated by using apple slices as a battery. The citric acid in the apple actually makes the speaker work.

Now my younger children are aged 5 and 3, so it would be quite difficult to get them to understand this concept. However, the eldest child was happy to take over the science experiment and help the younger girls. She did make it work and we were very happy with the outcome.

The younger girls were content that this doll was a "fashion" doll with lots of accessories and trendy clothes. I know this can seem quite shallow - but my girls enjoy stripping dolls off and dressing them in new clothes or shoes. It's all about creative play and this encourages them to get involved with dressing the doll but at the same time making them aware that it is not just about looks and fashion - this doll is showing us that "smart is the new cool."

I think that this doll would be best suited to a child a bit older than my girls. It is great for teaching them about rounded individuals and interests. One thing about the doll is that it is very thin. I know that some mums and dads are quite concerned about this. Maybe in the future the dolls could be made in different shapes and sizes, after all there is no one size fits all approach.

Rosie is pictured about with the doll. She particularly loves her thick curly hair, her clothes and the fact that she is "poseable." (Rosie watches a lot of Youtube video toy reviews so she has all of the terminology in her vocabulary!)

The dolls are available from all good toy shops and prices start from around £18.

Disclosure: I was sent this product free of charge for the purpose of this review. All words and views are my own.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

On Being Driven

Lately I have been thinking about being driven and what it means to be truly chasing something. As you know, I don't really stop. I spoke to one of my friends at a blogging conference last week and we chatted about how it was actually quite boring to listen to how busy other people are. "Oooh I'm doing x y z and I've got three kids, and a job, and a blog and I'm a volunteer..." bla bla bla. It does become boring, because we choose to be busy and we all have a certain amount of choice over how much we cram into our lives.

It got me thinking - why am I so driven and what exactly am I being driven for? Or to? From???

The path I have chosen is so complex. I have studied for literally years now. I'm in the second year of a part time Masters in history and I'm writing an application to do a PhD. I've obviously balanced working life and a family too, and yes, I know that it is boring for me to bang on about it. Generally I don't, I just get on with it. Sometimes I stop myself and think "hang on - what is it - why am I doing this?" I don't have a normal life. I don't have lots of friends, I don't read trashy magazines, I don't even really watch television. When I say in bios that I am "a bit weird," then I mean it, and I do alienate people, and I myself am alienated. So why? Why would I do this to myself?  I did come to some conclusions.

I think I am running away. Like literally running away from the past. I feel like I am always trying to shake off this single mother thing, to the point where I want to get as far away as possible from what it is I was. This is ridiculous. There is nothing wrong with being a lone parent at all, but this is where the drive came from initially - to provide for my child. Since I have been married this has changed - I'm no longer financially motivated, it is all about educating myself and pushing myself to the limit, intellectually. What I am trying to do is literally the impossible. For someone like me. The person who I was, or thought I was.

I feel like all of these doors are in front of me since I did my degree, and they are not necessarily wide open and calling to me, but I'm just running through them and saying, in a bad Mancunian accent "Hiyorr it's me - accept me, let me in, this is what I want."

I often feel like I am not good enough and I struggle to express what it is I want to do. Now and again, I explain what I am doing and there are flashes of "YES I GET IT" - in my head, like I know that this is where I am going and it's the right path. Other times I feel like I stumbled into the wrong room, tripped over and fell flat on my face.

But this is just all in my head. It's not about me, and that's what keeps me going. I am truly passionate about what I am studying, and it means the world to me. I want to give everything over to this project that I want to do. I feel like the time is right for me, and throwing myself into a PhD is throwing myself into work, into possible tears, isolation - throwing myself to scrutiny. I think to my mind it is the most difficult thing, for me, for someone of my background - to throw themselves to. To completely give themselves over to. Is it gender? Class? What is it that makes me so driven to actually do this? I suspect it is a combination of a lot of the points I have already mentioned. I am absolutely determined, and frightened that this time next year I actually will not be a student any more - it will all be taken away from me - for whatever reason - lack of funding, time, energy.

Or maybe these are just the fears of a young working class single mum from years ago, frightened to step out, scared of having ideas above her station. And this grown and driven woman needs to grab her and give her a shake - "You can do whatever you put your mind to. So knock on those doors and you do it."

Num Noms Wacky Bakers

At home we love cooking and eating together as a family. We all are so busy individually and one of my house rules is that we all sit and eat together for our evening meal, or tea as we call it in our house! No tablets, no phones, no distractions!

We were excited to be asked to write a post about baking with the Num Noms. Num Noms are collectible little scented characters - we love them and in fact I would go as far as to say that Rosie especially s a little bit obsessed with them. She likes to pick them up and serve them to me as a meal, or just trap them in a small space and watch them motor around endlessly.

For our bakers challenge we decided that we would make a pizza at home from scratch. If you follow this blog you will know that our girls are a little bit obsessed with pizza - if we ever go to a food festival or anything like that we tend to pick them pizza as a treat - we know that they love it and will eat it all. So when I explained to the girls that we could actually bake our own pizza base and create our own toppings they were very excited.

Rosie got stuck in with rolling out the dough
Alice was all in for putting the sauce on and sprinkling cheese afterwards

Rosie opted for a plain cheese pizza and Alice got stuck in with cheese, ham and salami on hers. The eldest (who obviously did not want to be pictured for teen mood swings reasons) rolled out a huge thin base and put on tomato base, tuna, sweetcorn, onion and cheese. She then promptly took it up to bed refusing to tidy anything up.

The end product!
I must say, I hadn't made pizza bases for a while and they turned out great. (Obviously this was more to do with the kids involvement than mine!) 

We loved baking together and we think the end product was fab - not a scrap left in the house!

Disclosure: We were sent some Num Noms as a gift and enjoyed baking our pizza as part of this project.

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