Friday, 27 March 2015

reading these blogs: 2015 edit

Things change fast in the blogosphere. The blogs that are available, and the ones that catch my fancy come and go, so I thought it was about time I updated this post from last year, to tell you about five of my favourite blogs taken from my Bloglovin' feed now.

What are your favourites? 

First up (just because it came up first in my Bloglovin' feed) is the Authonomy Blog from Harper Collins. I love The Quotidian pieces which offer quotes from writers, mainly on writing. They're inspirational, and just long enough to set the mind racing, without having to do someting about it straight away.  This quote from Neil Gaiman was there just the other day:


"All writers have this vague hope that the elves will come in the night and finish any stories."
- Neil Gaiman

Talking of Neil Gaiman, I am obsessed with him at the moment. I am delighted that he and Amanda Palmer are expecting a baby, and wonder what it must feel like to be such an incredible 'it' couple. Neil is articulate, beautiful, has an awesome voice, and the boy can write. His blog is a good read, and you'll find it here.

I'm a recent recruit to Elisa Blaha Cripe's blog, enJoy it. Elise is a crafty type, living in California, where she has a business selling homemade stuff. I find her style fun, approachable, and totally inspiring. She has lots of advice on how to achieve your goals, and she is brimful of ideas. There is plenty of output, so not needing to know all of it is fine. Which is an odd thing to say, but honestly check her out.


Chantelle Elem's blog, Fat Mum Slim is firmly ensconced in my top five. I still love doing the Photo a Day challenge, although I realise I'm never going to be as good as some of my friends (Sheila - your photos are amazing), and that's a shame. 

Fat Mum Slim is also my go-to for blogging, photography, and social media advice. It's an awesome blog, and Chantelle comes across as a pretty awesome woman.

I am completely obsessed with George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire Series, and HBOs Game of Thrones. I love fantasy, and I love history, so the blog History behind Game of Thrones is just fabulous for me. It has well written pieces from lots of good contributors, and it keeps 'em coming, always up to the minute, which is pretty impressive for a history blog. At the moment there's quite a lot about Richard III, as he is being reinterred this week. Richard III is one of my favourite English Kings (I don't think he did it), and he has inspired one of my favourite characters in the book I'm writing (he probably did do it, but I'm hoping he'll get away with it).

So that's five. I hope you found something you liked from this. I'd love to know what your favourite blogs are?

Thursday, 26 March 2015

overcoming a challenge: young marriage failure, onwards and upwards

This week on the gratitutude challenge I'm talking about a challenge I've overcome, and I've got a doozy of a challenge to talk about.

I got married at 18, and divorced at 20. The failure of that marriage was not totally unexpected, but what it felt like was.

My Mum called it a 'starter marriage', we brought it forward because of visa issues, so it might not have happened at all apart from that, but don't let that give you the impression that this marriage was not a valid marriage. We didn't have any kids together, and lots of people say that that's a blessing. I'm not convinced it is. I'm glad I didn't have kids when I was 18, because I didn't want to have kids then, and it would no doubt have been difficult, negotiating shared parenting, but having been married is a big deal with, or without kids.

When I got married at 18 I was in love, and believed I would stay that way. I planned to make a life with my husband. I said to my Mum that if it didn't work out we could always divorce, but I didn't believe that that would happen.

My parents divorced when I was 9. They shared parenting of us, and kept good communication between themselves. It wasn't a nice experience for anyone, but I felt secure. It never occurred to me that one or both of them might have stopped loving the other. It still seems like a strange idea.

When I was 18 I thought that my parents divorce had wised me up to what marriage might really be like. My husband and I had both been unfaithful while we were engaged, and we'd got through it. I thought we could get through anything. I thought that love could last.

Until he said "I don't love you any more."

Then everything went into freefall.

He left his job, and left our home. He moved in with another woman and she got pregnant. A good friend died, and we drank at her funeral. I went on benefits and spent a lot of time drinking, and considering jumping off cliffs. I self-harmed both physically and emotionally. I wanted to prove that I could be alright on his island, that I didn't have to leave unless I chose to. 
Perhaps a daily cliff top walk wasn't such a good idea.

I don't know who I was kidding.

Anyway, I discovered, as I was free falling, that I grabbed on to some good things. One of those was a good man. He gave me a cushion of a secure family, and good friends. He helped me get a job, and bugged me to stop smoking. He drove me to that job so I didn't lose it. Naturally I, being profoundly grateful, fell madly in love with him, and he was very good about that too, letting me down gently. He helped me to get the courage to leave the island and move on with my life. When I left, I left him behind. I worked hard and saved my money until I could afford to go to university, and once there I studied hard and did well.

In my second year at University a new student joined the society I ran. She was from the island, and she told people what had been said about me over there. I felt beaten, my drinking and bad behaviour returned, but my friends took my hand and led me on. I am profoundly grateful to everyone who helped me through those experiences.

I can't say I'm grateful for the experience. Having your heart broken is not pleasant. Given the choice I wouldn't do it again.

However, nobody died. 

I'm glad I'm married to my husband now, and not the first one. I'm glad I waited until I was 30 before I had children. I'm glad I got to learn that all things will pass, and I also got lots of good life experience to put in books.

What challenges have you overcome? And what did you learn on the way?

Monday, 23 March 2015

thinking about political issues.

This is my current MP, she's a left wing Labour party
person, and she's really rather good.
I find it difficult to work out exactly what the politicians are on about in the long run up to the forthcoming Westminster election. A lot of it seems to boil down to 'blah blah blah blah blah, the other guys did it.'

Most of the time, if a politician is asked a straightforward question, they seem to tell the interviewer that what the public really wants to know is something different. Something about what the other lot did wrong.

Everything is couched in assumptions, which breed themselves, and which can sometimes come to be accepted by most of the parties. Assumptions like:

  • immigration is a bad thing, and no-one likes it.
  • being a stay at home mum is terrible for the economy and the individual.
I don't agree with these assumptions. But I wouldn't like to keep my disagreeableness just to that.

So, I've worked out what my main concerns are in the run up to the next election, and I've attempted to find out what the parties thoughts are on those matters.  I would like to stress that this is very simplistic. On immigration, for instance, there are lots of tiny shades of difference between the different parties (apart from the Green Party). You can find out more about them if you like.  Let's start there.

Immigration

I'm sure that immigration looks like a bigger issue in some parts of the country than in others. We are all descended from people who moved to this island at some point. Personally I'd love to go and be an immigrant at some point. If we look at the population statistics, we see that there is always some churn of population. Generally the numbers leaving are about the same as the numbers coming in. Sometimes (like now) a few more come in, and sometimes more leave. The current situation is not statistically significant, so is really more about what certain politicians want us to think about people. It seems very 'them and us' to me, and it worries me. It particularly worries me that almost all political parties seem to have accepted that the British public is worried about immigration, and plan to curtail it in some way or another (most of which are fairly pointless tinkering).

Only the Green party wishes to reduce immigration controls and give asylum seekers greater legal rights.

Check these out for more information:
  • Red Pepper on immigration myths - this is a left wing publication, but the stats are good, and this is a well informed take on it. I certainly trust this more than Mr Farage.
  • The BBC Manifesto watch - outlines key points from the parties manifestos on issues which matter to the public. 
Austerity

So, apparently Milton Keynes was not named after John Maynard Keynes! However, Keynesian economics was. I'm a fan of Keynesian economics, and agree with Keynes' theory that the boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity. 

However, the political parties are generally in agreement that austerity must go on. Austerity was introduced by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition in 2010, and has since been rolled out to 2018. Labour, the Lib Dems, UKIP, and the Tories all intend to keep it that way.

The SNP wants to take forward an alternative to austerity, and the Greens plan to end it, as a 'failed experiment'.

This is worth a read:
  • Stimulus vs austerity - article in The Economist which explains the Keynesian viewpoint better than I could, and discusses both sides.
Trident

The four nuclear submarines, currently kept not far from Glasgow, are coming to the end of their life. It's a chance to make a big change, if we want to. So what do the political parties aim to do with Trident?

The Tories plan to replace all four.

The Liberal Democrats and the Labour party intend to replace some of the warheads.

UKIP isn't sure yet whether they would keep all four, or have less.

The SNP and the Green party would scrap Trident.

Benefits

Recent years have seen families queueing up for food from food banks, while the poor are increasingly penalised for daring to be poor. What does the future hold?

The Tories have no plans to increase benefits for working age people, and indeed will lower the benefits cap and force young unemployed people to do unpaid community work.

Labour plans to do some tinkering around the edges, including removing the bedroom tax and improving paternity leave. The Lib Dems and SNP would do similar tinkering. See this article for more information. UKIP would stop immigrants getting benefits (although I'm not clear how, given they mainly don't get benefits, and those they do get they're entitled to as human rights), stop people getting child benefit for more than two children, increase carers allowance, and JSA for those who have made NI contributions, so mixed messages there.

The Green party is aiming for a Citizen's Income (currently set at £72 a week), which would be universal, it would also scrap the welfare cap and the bedroom tax and ban zero hours contracts.

The NHS

All the parties plan to support the NHS with more funding. You'll find more information here.

The Lib Dems are particularly focused on improving mental health support. The Greens on health promotion. Labour, UKIP, and the Greens are all opposed to more privatisation of the NHS. UKIP and the SNP are both keen to reduce the number of NHS managers.

I should  say that Westminster is responsible for running the NHS in England, and only impacts on the Scottish NHS so far as funding is concerned under the current Barnet formula. So I'm not going into much detail on the NHS.

Similarly, I am not going into education at all as Westminster has nothing to do with the Scottish education system (apart from boosting our University numbers).


What issues are on your mind in the run up to the general election? And what parties are you liking the look of?

Friday, 20 March 2015

good

One of my favourite games to play on the computer is The Sims. I've got Sims 4 installed on my PC, although I think I prefer Sims 3 so far, that might just be a matter of time though.


Personality traits, Sims 2 style.
Picture taken from here for
illustrative purposes.
Anyway, in Sims 3 and 4, you choose your sims character traits (if you create your sims) individually. It was not always thus. In Sims 2 you used a Likert scale (that's a multi-point scale from one extreme to the other,in case I'm speaking gibberish) to make your character more or less outgoing, tidy, nice, etc.

I've always be rather taken with this way of seeing personality traits, although I do like the way that in Sims 3 and 4 you have traits of Good and Evil too.

Why am I rabbiting on about Sims character traits? Because this week for the gratitude challenge I'm talking about my favourite personality trait. My favourite trait is not one that I myself have in buckets. I'm working on it, but it doesn't come naturally. I really admire people to whom it comes naturally (or who manage to give the impression it does).

I'm talking about goodness. Not saccharine sweet obedience, not being morally upstanding, but having the generosity of spirit that makes a person genuinely good.

Good people don't bitch, and they don't whine. They are considerate, and thoughtful, and they quietly point out the good in other people. 

I am lucky enough to have some of these people in my life. It is really lucky, because you know you can trust these people, and that they will help you out when you need it. Of course, it doesn't mean they're wee minions, doing others bidding all the time. They have their own wants and needs, but because of all the good stuff they give out, they get it back in spades.
I am the angel Gabriel, whoosh. Photo by my Dad.

And if you're like me, and goodness doesn't come naturally, well, we can fake it until we make it.




Thursday, 12 March 2015

inspired by Fat Mum Slim

For this week's installment of the gratitude challenge I get to talk about someone who inspires me.

My friend Sheila, of the blog, Life with 4 Bairns introduced me to Fat Mum Slim's Photo a Day Challenge in 2012. I loved taking part in the challenge, because it made me stop just taking the same old pictures of my kids, and thinking about things a bit more, being more creative, and actually capturing the glory of the everyday, not just birthdays and outings. She's even inspired me to buy more kit... not very good kit yet, but it may happen. I wrote about what I get out of Photo a Day here.

Fat Mum Slim is Chantelle Elem, a social media savvy Australian Mum who blogs about blogging, photography, cakes (lots of yummy cakes) and other recipes, and being a Mum. Her website is fresh and clean, and easy to navigate, and I just think she's awesome.

Photo a Day helps you to do a little, often, which has a big impact on how good stuff is. My photos aren't as good as top photographers like the awesome Rob Marrison, but they're better than they used to be. 

I decided that I should be writing a little bit every day too. So Fat Mum Slim inspired me to start my own blog, and also to start writing the fabled book (I'm on the second draft, I promise, it's just taking ages). She's also inspired me to make my blog as good as it can be (for me), and is my go-to for tips and advice.

When I'm stuck on what to do, I sometimes use the photo-a-day prompts to write little haikus. They are rubbish and I won't share them, but they get the creativity flowing.

I've never made one of her recipes though, they look too good, especially the Tim Tam Tart (UK types - you'll need Penguin biscuits for this).

So, this being gratitudinal and all, I thought I would say thank you to Chantelle, for being a complete, gorgeous, bright and breezy, beautifully graphic-designed, marvel, who has inspired me lots.

Thank you.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

kissing the mirror: body confidence and its impact on health

The other day I wrote a post on things that I like about myself. The first things that came to mind were to do with my physical appearance, and that bugs me, because I don't want that to be the most important thing about me.

I learned young that to comment favourably on something to do with a woman's appearance is a good way to start conversations and make friends. It is the social lubrication that we use as women. That and comparing children. But it can also be weird and awkward.

I am losing weight at the moment, so don't mind people commenting that I'm thinner (although I can't see it myself), but all the time that I have been fat (which is a lot of time), I've had people congratulate me on losing weight, even when I'm blatantly not. I mainly just smile and nod, because they are clearly trying to be nice, but there is a part of me that thinks 'you can't think of anything nice to say about my appearance, so you're pretending you're supportive of me improving it'. 

Of course, some people don't try to be nice. They make it very clear what they think of your appearance. This happened more when I was young, of course, because of the way some young people police each other. But as I became painfully aware of what some others thought of my appearance, I also feared that those opinions were more widespread than I knew.

I stopped taking part in PE classes at age 12. Although I was proud of being well behaved at school, I could not bring myself to get changed in front of others, or to run about in front of others. The teachers didn't seem to notice. My report for PE that year read 'Cara tries hard'. I was relieved to have got away with it, and my worry was allowed to grow.

I know now, logically, that my red face, or wobbling body only matter to ignorant people who feel they have the right to control me.

They do not.

But.

I still see all the fat shaming pictures on Facebook - the people of Walmart pictures where some poor person hasn't managed to conceal their fat, and so they're held up to public ridicule.

Eating in an awkward position, on a hot day, after playing frisbee.
I am not happy.
I still don't want anyone to see me run. I don't want to swim with friends. I am not keen on being seen eating. I don't like to do anything strenuous, because I am afraid of the comments. Afraid of the judgement. And it doesn't matter how hot it gets. I am never getting my arms out.

Obviously, I know this is not healthy. It's not that I don't want to do anything about it. But the thought of it makes me want to hide in a cupboard. There is always a reason why I can't do it right now.

I have a friend who is a personal trainer, but she does exercise outside, which is just terrifying. I've got Dance Central for the X Box, but I hardly ever do it, because my family, especially my very-fit husband, laugh at how red I get, and it is just humiliating.

I'm not sure how to move forward. Losing weight is making me feel more content to be active, and I'm hoping to do more gentle exercise when it stops being so bloomin' cold. We'll see.

Meanwhile I was glad to hear Meaghan Ramsey's TED talk the other day, on why thinking your ugly is bad for you. It turns out I'm not the only eejit limiting life because of concern about what we look like. Check it out.


Meaghan stresses the importance of complementing people for what they do, but I would add to that the importance of accepting complements. People complement what I do lots, and I tend to dismiss it. From now on, I'll try to own it more.

And if I get red faced and wobble. Well, so I do. I want to be here for my future grandchildren, so I'm going to have to find a way to get more active, and start liking myself more.

Maybe I should start with kissing the mirror.

Has your (lack of) body confidence impacted on what you do? Please share. Maybe we could inspire one another.


making clementine cake: a yummy orange loaf cake recipe

I made this cake the other day, to congratulate my daughter on being moved up a set at school. She'd worked really hard and deserved a treat.

Because the set she's moved into is called the oranges she got an orange themed cake. I used this recipe as my starting point, but modified it. 

I hope you like it.

Clementine cake

Ingredients

140g unsalted butter (softened)
200g self raising flour
1.5tsp baking powder
250g golden caster sugar
3 large eggs
100ml milk
2 clementines - finely grate the zest, and put the juice towards the...
3tbsp orange juice
Mini orange segment sugared jelly sweets

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Butter and line a loaf tin.

2. Put the butter, flour, baking powder, 200g of the caster sugar, eggs, clementine zest and milk into a bowl and beat until light and fluffy.

3. Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin, and level, before baking in the oven for about 40 minutes. 

4. While it's baking, combine the orange juice with the remaining 50g caster sugar in a small pan. Heat it gently, and stir until dissolved.

5. Once the cake is golden brown and cooked through (check it with a wooden skewer), remove from the oven and poke all over with small holes from the skewer.

6. Spoon the sugary juice over the cake, and decorate as you will with the jelly sweets. Leave the cake to cool down a bit in the tin, and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

7. Cut into slices to eat. You might want a cake fork. Or not. I would recommend a cup of tea to go with it.

And that is all there is to it. It's not just easy, it's yummy too.