Monday, 30 December 2013

having babies later

My Mum was 27 when she had me, which is the average age for new mother's now, although back in the 1970s they tended to be slightly younger (according to the Office of National Statistics - and they do know about this stuff). With her advising hat on, she told me that she thought 27 was too young, and I should have fun and enjoy life before I settled down and had a family.  My plan was to wait until I was 30.

When I turned 28, my Mum started asking me when I was planning on having children, and talking about women nowadays delaying their families.  Sigh.  

I know that there's lots of talk about selfish women choosing career over family these days, but I'm just not sure it's true, or at least it's not the phenomenon that it's supposed to be.  After all, again, according to the Office of National Statistics, the age of first time mother's in the 1970s was the youngest it had been for a while.  In 1944, it was 29.  There are lots of things that affect it.  In the 1940s I suspect it was hard to find a man.  Now it's still hard to find a man who wants to have a family, and there are other factors at work too.

I didn't have my first child at 30, because, despite a lot of trying (I was very trying), I didn't find a man to have children with in time.  However, I was only a bit late.  My first child was born when I was 31.  Some people are not so lucky in their search for Prince Charming.  

Some people do put work first.  Of course they do.  Having children is absolutely awful for a woman's career, so if you want to make something of it, you're best to wait until you're established, or indeed, not have any at all.

This matters more in some places than in others.  If you're in London, for example, and want to stay there, then you're going to be spending a lot on housing - you might not get the option to have children until later.

Men's fertility declines with age.  Their sperm becomes less and less fit for making little people as they get older.  And yet, it still seems to be women who get all the flak for 'leaving it too late'.

Robert Winston, our favourite moustachioed TV scientist, was on Woman's Hour over a year ago (here's the podcast), discussing IVF for older women with a panel. All that stuff about how your body is better at parenting if it's younger (although not too young), and you shouldn't leave it too late, etc.  But then Robert said:
"[Women coming to have IVF later in life] is going to continue to happen ... because, in our increasingly mature society ... - mature in terms of how we develop our relationships - people are leaving valuable relationships 'til later and later ... and I think it's an important cause for stability."
He went on to suggest that we should improve services to increase fertility in later life.

This to me was a revelation! Totally thinking outside the box (ahem).  Moving away from all the trashing of older mother's, which really comes down to victim blaming when you think about it.  What a positive way to look at things!  Of course, it does raise questions, but let's look at those instead of criticising people eh?  Looking at improving services to increase fertility in later life may prove fruitless, but it's got to be worth looking at, as it may be easier than changing all of society.  We have to recognise that we're all living longer than we used to, so what would be the harm in having children at say, 50?

Have you had children?  Did you start your family later than you might have done?  What slowed you down?  What do you think might be the problems for parents in their late 40s and early 50s having children (if they did manage to improve fertilisation technology)?

Other posts you might like:

Sunday, 29 December 2013

reviewing 2013

I've read a few posts like this in recent days, and it is hard to write them without them seeming like one of those awful round Robin letters wherein Farquhar's achievements in being put up a level in swimming class are pored over in detail. The year dissected, month by month, to discuss holidays and head lice and all the ridiculous inanities which are nowadays dealt with exceedingly well by Facebook.

Thank you Facebook.  This year I have received zero round Robins.  Did you get any?  Any gems?

So, how to avoid sounding like a round Robin?

My plan is to sum up the big changes for my family and I this year. I hope it works.  I'll throw in some photos as well, just to Robin it up a bit.

This year has been a big year for us. We moved to seaside town, which has been great because we've gained more grown ups. Kenny's parents are close by and help us out lots. It's been great for all of us to have them more involved in our lives. Seaside town is also a lovely place to live with lots to do nearby. I'm still getting the hang of it, and there's still lots we haven't done, but that just leaves more to look forward to.

Seaside town is, sadly, further away from my family, and we've not seen as much of them as I'd like this year.  Hopefully we'll rectify that next year.

The children had to change school and make new friends, and they've done it brilliantly.  They're doing great at school, go to lots of after school clubs, and they've made some lovely friends, but it was really hard work, and it's going to take a while before we totally feel like this is home.

The big girl gave the cat his Christmas present.
He was mildly interested.
After years of not thinking we would be staying anywhere for very long, we have finally moved somewhere we felt we could stay, so we were finally able to get a cat.  Katsuma is a huge ginger cushion of a cat, and we wouldn't be without him.

And of course for me 2013 has been about writing.  I started this blog, I joined a local writer's group, and I got a lot of work done on the book that's been an idea for a while.  I'm hoping to make some changes to the blog in the next year, and to do more writing generally.

And what about 2014?  I'm hoping for more of the same - more settling into Seaside Town, more time with friends, and with our family, a holiday we need to use our passports for, with my family, and doing stuff to improve this blog and get my writing off out into the world.  Wish me luck!  And any suggestions?

What about you?  What's 2013 been like for you?  And what are you hoping for in 2014?

Other posts you might like:

Friday, 27 December 2013


People say that fear holds us back.  Fear is what limits us, keeps us cowering in the darkness.  It is fear that leads to hate, especially hate of the other.  It is fear that we will be outed as the frauds we are that leads us to push down others, lest they prove to be better than us.

And yet, bravery is impossible without fear.  Bravery is feeling fear and doing it anyway.  If a knight in a story is fearless when he faces the dragon, it is not because he is brave.  It is because he is stupid.  Or possibly, off his head.

What are you afraid of?

I really don't like spiders, and I can't do heights.  If for some hideous reason I was in the jungle, in a suspended box full of spiders trying to find stars, it would definitely have more to do with stupidity than bravery, and I would be scared silly.  I don't think we would be eating that night.

This is a picture of me taken by my husband.  We went up Grey Mare's Tail near Moffat,
Scotland.  This was as high as we got.  I'm doing the inane smiley face and saying 'arghhhhhh!'
I could not even stand up at this point and we had to go back down, having not reached the
top because I was far too chicken.

But the things that are deeper than that are the important things.  We all fear our loved ones being hurt, or worse.  We fear for those we know who live alone, or are ill.  

Mostly these fears just bubble along, but sometimes they come to the fore.  I have had a few friends die now.  Either suicides, or just out of a clear blue sky, with aneurysms, or car crashes.  It's not nice.  It's not fair.  It makes you think that we should be worried about everyone.

This is a great book.  You can buy it
on Amazon here
But you can't live your life like that.  You've got to keep on keeping on, and hoping you're going to be lucky.  After all you've been lucky so far.  And as for fear.  Well fear is downright sensible so long as you don't let it run your life.  You've got to put a sensible hat on and have a chat with your fear.  

Are heights really that bad?  Yes, they are.  When I'm high up, I can't get the idea out of my head that I'm going to jump.  So, maybe I could do it with a rope or something.  Don't suggest I bungee jump because it's not happening.

And spiders.  I'm really trying to not be bothered by spiders, and I'm not doing badly.  In fact I don't mind them much at all now, until they move.  Then it's Argh!  Spider!  Out You Go (well, more of a die die die really).

What are you afraid of?  And is it just plain daft?

Other posts you might like:

Tuesday, 24 December 2013


Every year, during the holidays we go to see a film at the cinema.  I love going to the cinema, so we go at other times of the year too, but it feels really special going with the family at Christmas.

This year there's just us, so we went to see Frozen - the new Disney Princess movie out across the land.

Rapunzel threatens Flynn Rider in Tangled
Merida.  All this, and Scottish too.
I must admit, I was a bit nervous about going to see this.  Disney do not have a good track record as far as I am concerned, with their princesses, who are generally emaciated and pathetic.  Although, I had heard some good things, and, Disney's Princesses have been getting better in recent years.  In particular, Rapunzel and Merida were pretty awesome.  Although why their films weren't named for them I do not know.

I had read what Reel Girl had written in her blog about Frozen, both before and after she'd seen it.  She had lots of concerns too, but really enjoyed the film.  So shall we have a look at the issues?  Just so you know, I'm going to do this in the light of the movie, but the issues themselves were raised by Reel Girl before she saw the movie.  You can see her post here.

Frozen is loosely based on The Snow Queen.  But why change it so that the heroine no longer rescues the male lead?  In the story of The Snow Queen, Gerda rescues her boy-next-door childhood sweetheart, Kai, from the evil Snow Queen.  This at first glance seems like a pretty empowering story, but actually when you look at it it's just re-hashing the old tropes of women being virgins, mothers, and whores, and hell having no fury like a woman scorned.  Yes, Gerda does take on a fabulous quest to save Kai, but does he really need saving?  Despite Gerda being loving and good, Kai has chosen to go off with the Snow Queen.  It can only be because she has bewitched him (not because she's sexy and powerful at all), and good Gerda can bring him back to his senses.  It's a story, but it's mistress-blaming, and I don't find it particularly empowering.  It's also sexist.  Kai is merely a puppet of the Snow Queen, requiring rescue.  I am happy that Frozen has moved away from this story, giving the character of the Snow Queen a much more interesting character, and allowing the battle to be about much more than a boy's heart.

The Frozen sisters.  See how Elsa's taller?
That's because she's older.  That's why
I'm taller than my younger brother, oh, wait
a minute, that's nonsense!
Frozen has been criticised because it, like a lot of Disney films is not named after the female lead.  Apparently this happens a lot when a woman is the lead, but male leads usually get in the title.  This may seem like a petty issue, but I think it's a big deal.  I think Tangled should have been called Rapunzel, but as for Frozen.  Frozen is not The Snow Queen.  So perhaps call it Anna and the Queen?  I like Frozen better.

As in Tangled, a male co-star has been created to go with our heroine.  Kristoff helps Anna, but she helps him too.  He is a rather marvellous narrative device, subverting norms and challenging sexist stereotypes.  The two comedic side-kicks are also male, and they don't need to be, but Disney still doesn't seem to have realised that women can be funny.

It's a shame that most of the promotional pics
seem to portray Elsa as evil, or calculating.
The two main women in Frozen are both incredibly beautiful, in a Disney kind of way, and very similar - the main difference being their hair colour.  But they are sisters, so you might expect them to be similar.  They look like they'll make good dolls, but it is a shame that Disney can't yet make princesses that aren't emaciated.  The lead animator of Frozen, Lino diSalvo, said it was very difficult to have two female heroes because they have to be pretty, and yet show lots of emotions, and you don't want them to end up looking the same.  I think that Anna and Elsa did end up looking the same a lot in this film, but they didn't have to.  They are sisters, but they didn't both have to have the same shape.  They didn't both have to be so very pretty, or perhaps for Disney they did.  I imagine there are constraints, because of the merchandising that is planned, which goes into the issue of the dolls our children are playing with.  Merida and Rapunzel are better than some of the more risque dolls out there, but why are they all so very very thin?  I'm not saying we should have fat dolls, but a little bigger wouldn't hurt would it?  Sindy seemed to do ok, before she was turned into a Barbie clone.

I thought this was a really good film, and all the family liked it.  Apart from Kenny, who was driven mad by all the singing.  There are monsters, and fighting, dances, wild chases, romance, and I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that the day is saved, in a really rather wonderful way.  Check it out.  This film also shows strong women, who can manage, who can overcome the odds, and who do it with help from their friends.  This film would pass the Bechdel test with flying colours.  Here's the trailer:

Have you seen Frozen yet?  What did you think?  No spoilers please.

Other posts you might like:

Monday, 23 December 2013

remembering my first time drunk

I thought it would be pretty straightforward to think back to my first time drunk.  I was pretty sure I remembered it, but do you know what, I'm a bit befuddled.  I guess it's only fitting!

Teenage me.  Thanks to my brother for the pic.
I know the date.  It was the 14th October, 1989.  However, I had it in my head that it had happened at the same party where I had my first kiss, but that can't be right.  It can't be right because I remember coming home from that party the following morning, with makeup smeared over my face, my tights torn, and my bed firmly embedded in my mind as my destination.  On that, my first walk of shame, I bumped into my Granny and Grandad outside the bakers.  "You're up early!" they said cheerily.  Indeed.

So that cannot have been my first time drunk, because that involved sitting with my new friends on the stony bank by the river which we liked to call a beach, passing around a cheap bottle of bianco, and playing a ridiculous game involving telling secrets and doing dares.

We smelled the bianco first.  Urgh.  Then we drank it.  I remember bonding with my new friends, sharing our worries, and our wants, and then gazing adoringly at the older man I had become obsessed with.  I don't remember how I got home, but the following day I missed the party of the girl who had been my best friend up to that point, while I was busy throwing up in a bowl and nursing my head.  I don't remember my other new friends being in the same state as me, but as you will have gathered, I don't remember much!

I remember saying "I'm sorry" a lot, and feeling like I'd let everyone down.  My mother, who'd been at a pink party, was still dressed from head to toe in pink, and was mainly laughing at the state I was in.

And the last time I was drunk?  It's been a long time since I've got myself into a state like that - it's not worth it when you've got children to wake you up at 6am - but the last time I went red in the face and couldn't speak properly was at a friend's house on Saturday, after just one glass of mulled wine.  I blame the heat - it sends the alcohol straight to your brain!

I've not drunk bianco again.  Nor will I drink 20/20 (remember that?) or Thunderbird.  

What about you?  When was your first time drunk?  And what won't you drink any more?

This is a #myfirst blogpost inspired by Kerri Sackville.  You'll find her post, and links to lots of other blog posts on the same topic here.

Other posts of mine you might like are:

Friday, 20 December 2013

praising Nicola Sturgeon (updated 2015)

Did you hear Nicola Sturgeon on Radio 4's Woman's Hour the other day?  She was brilliant.  If you didn't hear it, you can catch it here.

Nicola Sturgeon at the SNP conference.  Pic from BBC, here
Woman's Hour compiled a Power List of the 100 most powerful women in the UK in 2013.  Nicola was on the list (which is topped by The Queen) at number 20.

A lot of women on the power list have been interviewed on Woman's Hour over the year and almost invariably when they're asked how they felt about being on the list they say that although they're hugely flattered, they don't really feel powerful.  Really what they have is influence.  

I am so tired of powerful women refusing to acknowledge their power. I mean I do get it - it's not womanly to be powerful, but that's the problem right there! Refusing to acknowledge hard won power is boring, unnecessary and involves hiding lights under bushels.  I really wish they would stop it.  

These are the women who have managed to get ahead, What sort of message does it send out if the women who are powerful don't want to be seen that way? I want them to own it, and to acknowledge it as a perfectly acceptable thing for a woman to do...

Well, we had none of that nonsense from Nicola Sturgeon.  She was happy to be powerful, and she enjoys her work.  She would like to be First Minister, but wouldn't want Alex Salmond to leave the job.  She talked about the Labour party having positive discrimination to get women into politics, and how she liked this policy and was dissapointed that the SNP hadn't followed suit.  She hopes that we'll eventually get more than 50% women politicians, to reflect the 52% of women in the population.

Well Nicola, if you're reading this, I would love for Alex Salmond to leave his job and for you to become First Minister.

When I worked for the Scottish Government, I did Antisocial Behaviour Research.  Nicola was the Deputy Leader of the SNP and was basically the leader in Scotland at the time, while Labour were in charge and Alex Salmond was an MP in London.

Nicola Sturgeon kept me in a job back then because any bill that went through on Antisocial Behaviour would have an amendment pushed through by Nicola saying that the policy should be evaluated with proper research.  Thanks Nicola.

The end result was policy based evidence, rather than evidence based policy, but at least something was done to find out if it worked, rather than just charging ahead (whether ASB policies worked or not is another matter).

When the elections were coming up in 2007 I had a brief moment of hoping that the SNP would win and Nicola would be First Minister, and then I realised that if they won, Alex Salmond would return to Scotland to be First Minister.  Way to commit Alex - to let Nicola do all the groundwork and then come in once the battle is won.  

Nicola is supporting Scottish Independence, and she's consistently demonstrated her commitment to Scotland and the Scottish people.  I personally think she's fabulous, and really hope she does get to be First Minister one day.

*update 2015*

After all those women argued that they were influential, rather than powerful, BBC Woman's Hour have this year compiled a new list, of the most influential women. You'll find it here

Since I last wrote about Nicola Sturgeon, the Yes side lost the independence referendum, leading to Alex Salmond's resignation, and Nicola Sturgeon was a shoe in for the lead spot. She has led the SNP to incredible results in the last UK election, and is currently focused both at home on Scotland (where she is First Minister - yay), and in Europe, campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU. She is a very people-focused politician, and we have seen massive increases in women politicians in Scotland. Something which I suspect is down to her hard work.

Woman's Hour this year placed her at no. 1 on their list of influencers. A place she undoubtedly deserves.

Who's your favourite current politician?  

Other posts you might like:

Thursday, 19 December 2013

starting a book group, in 10 easy steps

A book group is a good excuse for a regular meetup with friends.  It can be all about the book if you like, but it can also be an opportunity for wine and nibbles, and a bit of a giggle.  Oh, and the book too.

Some of the lovely ladies from my previous book
group in rainy town.  With wine :-)
Poor loves, I made them read Game of Thrones!
Of course, book groups are not for everybody.  If you're looking for a regular meetup with friends, to share an interest, you could set up a crafting group (although wine and nibbles don't work so well at that).  I've also got friends who go to the cinema on a regular basis.

Personally, I like a read, and I love to go to the cinema, so my idea would be a book/film club - maybe a book a month and a film night from time to time too.

So how to start a book group?

  1. First of all ask your friends if there is already a book group that anyone's in.  Or head down to your local library and see if there is a book group already running which you could join.  Most libraries have them.  If there's one you can get to then check it out.  You'll meet new people and immediately have something to talk about.
  2. If your library book group isn't for you, then ask around to see who else might be interested in a new one.  I found it easiest to ask people in seaside town with a group message on Facebook.  Everyone could quickly see who else might be involved, and it provided a pretty collaborative forum.  Also, anyone who wasn't interested could simply leave the conversation.
  3.  When you know you've got some people interested (I would recommend a minimum of 6 and a maximum of 13, considering that some people are likely to not make each meeting, but go with what feels right to you) you're ready to start thinking about books.  You can choose your own books and buy them or get them out of the library as you wish, but it's always a good idea to check out what the library has for book groups.  Either have a look on the library's website, or have a chat with a senior librarian to see if there is a list of books for bookgroups.  These are generally books which there are at least 12 copies of.  They tend to be more easy-reading books, and very little fantasy, so it's best to use the list as a starting off point.
  4. You can have a book group where one person chooses the books (a few library based ones do this - or there may be a theme you're wanting to cover), but what I did was get a copy of the list and circulate it to book group members, asking them to each choose a couple of books they'd like.  This means everyone gets something they like eventually.  
  5. You then need to decide how often you'll meet, and when!  Again, Facebook Messenger is good for this.  I would suggest monthly, and of an evening, but do what's right for you.
  6. Now you need to pop to the library with your membership numbers (they might want names too), the meeting dates, and a list of books you'd like.  Remember to mix up the suggestions from members so you don't get two books in a row from one person.  The librarians will try to get your first book, but if it's already out they'll go down the list to get one.  We got our first choice first time, but it's a matter of luck.
  7. Let your members know when they can either pick the books up from the library, or get them from you, depending on the library's system.
  8. Read the book.
  9. Have a look on the internet to see what other people have said about the book, and indeed, what might be a good idea to talk about at book group (although it should be more a social occasion than a seminar).
  10. Keep going.
And that's it!  Easy, and hopefully fun.

Our first book is The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama.  It looks good, and it's much shorter than my usual book so I've no excuse to not read it in time for the January meeting!

Are you in a book group?  What's been your favourite book to read, and why?

Other posts you might like:

finding the sparkle

Recently, I wrote a post on how to find my sparkle, because I seemed to have lost it.

I got so much feedback from that post, and I wanted to thank everyone for that.  People gave me ideas for things that might help, and reminded me of happy times I'd overlooked.

Altar to a Dead Cat.  Pic by David Tomlinson
Well, I did take some time away with just my lovely husband, and it was really very nice.  We had lots of fun together, which was so good.  We also visited the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Glasgow, where I was captivated by the Altar to a Dead Cat (1962) by Niki de Saint Phalle.  In it she explores the, at times dark, story of her life to that point.  I love the simplicity of the idea, and the performance of it.  She set up the Altar, with spray cans of paint attached to it, and then shot it, to spread the paint.  I really want to do that!

I also set about being the change I wanted to see in my life.  I love singing, but this is not the time of year to be joining a choir, so I'll leave that until the new year, but I also love reading, and I've organised a book group, to make me read books I wouldn't otherwise (which isn't going to help with the massive pile I've got waiting to be read).  It is surprisingly easy to form a book group, and I'll be writing a how-to guide on it shortly.

Just some of my fabulous friends from rainy town
When I was reminded of happy times I'd overlooked I felt guilty.  I wanted to edit the post, but actually, although those times had been happy, I wasn't wrong when I'd said that the last time I'd felt like myself was four years ago.  It was.  Since then I've gained weight, and lost confidence.  I don't feel strong, capable, and resilient.  But that doesn't mean I haven't had happy times.  I really have.  In particular I made lots of good friends while we were living in rainy town.  Friends who are still friends, and friends who inspire me.  I had lots of happy times in rainy town, but I didn't feel quite myself.  To be honest, I still don't, but writing that post, and getting all the feedback I got gave me the impetus to do something about it.  I'm enjoying being the change, and I feel positive that I will get back to me.

A lot of people suggested that being a full time Mum might not be good for the soul.  They are right about that, although for me, I'm glad I've done it, it is good to have something that is yours, to help avoid being taken for granted, and to break you out of the same-old same-old.  I'm writing now, which is great, but I don't think I'll feel like it's valid until I actually get published.  I've got 45,000 words of the book done, so I'll keep on going with that.  I'll not be ready to hand any of it over for a while yet though!

I think that from time to time the black dog comes into most of our lives, making it hard to remember good things, and indeed to feel joy at all.  I saw this video from WHO last night.  If depression has touched your life at all, you might find it helpful.

Thanks again, for all the positivity, and all the great ideas.  I'm getting back to me, one sparkle at a time!

Other posts you might like:

    Wednesday, 18 December 2013

    Crimson and White

    I've just, last night, finished reading The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber.  I'm hoping this means I'll be able to sleep more as it was hard to put down in places!

    It was recommended to me by a beautiful and interesting woman I met in a park in Leeds. While our respective children played happily we chatted about the joys of photography and writing.

    I told her about a character in a story I'm writing who seems inclined to be a murderous whore, and she told me to read this book.

    I'm glad she did, because it's a good story, which leaves you wanting more and sympathising with all the flawed characters. The writing is also lovely, especially in the beginning of the book, which is nothing short of fantastic (although Patrick Rothfuss keeps the prize for best first line ever).

    Apparently this was adapted for TV. Did you see it? Have you read it? If you have read it, could you please answer a question for me? Why did Sugar choose to enter the household? Surely she would know that a man who loses his mistress gains a vacancy?  I'm talking fictional characters here, no slur meant on any real men. Other than those with mistresses, happy to slur away there.

    I'm loath to give away too much really, because it's a great book and I wouldn't want to spoil it for you.  But I think I'm safe to say that it's set in Victorian London, and that it uses a narrative device I don't recall coming across before, but I really like.  It's almost, nearly, probably, in the second person.  Which is really hard to do, and Faber hasn't quite actually done it - rather it's in the third person, but not omnipotent.  I hope you have a clue what I'm talking about.  Basically the story teller is a mind reading invisible monkey which jumps from one character's back to another.  It can only read the mind of the character it's on, and can only pass on through contact.  Most of the time anyway.

    The story-teller speaks directly to the reader too, which I really like, and which helps to make it feel more Victorian.

    Still of Romola Garai as Sugar from the BBC's
    We follow the story of Sugar, a prostitute, her client, a wealthy, and pompous businessman, William Rackham, and his interesting family.  It has a madwoman in the attic (which I must like - there are two books on my favourites list with madwomen in the attic).

    Apparently it's quite a long book (I must confess I read it on my Kindle and hadn't realised!), at 830+ pages, but don't let that worry you, it's a very easy read.  If anything it's too short for my liking.  When I finished it I was desperate to know what happened next!  But then I do also like the fact that we don't know everything (although it's not very Victorian).

    There's a good review of the book over at The Cat that Walks by Herself, although it does contain spoilers.

    If you've read it, or watched the series, let me know what you thought.  If you fancy reading it or watching it, you can buy the book or the DVD from Amazon here.  

    The next book  I'm going to be reading is The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama.  Have you read it?  Any good?

    Other posts you might like:

    Tuesday, 17 December 2013

    singing Christmassy songs

    We've only got 8 days to go!!! And in our house today we're working up to a Christmassy fever pitch.  The big girl had a Christmas party last night, and has another one today, and the little girl will be performing in her first school Christmas show this afternoon.

    We've been listening to Christmas songs in the car, and in the house, and learning the songs the little girl needs to learn for her show, and I am loving it.

    I absolutely adore singing.  Just as filling a space with your body helps you feel more confident (see yesterday's post on faking it until you make it), singing helps fill your body with sound, and project it out.  Singing in a choir feels to me a lot like the chakra meditations I used to do, wherein you would get energy flowing through your body and mixing with all the other people's.

    This year I've not managed to join a choir in time for carols, but I did last year, and it was glorious.  We got to sing, loudly, in a church, filling up all that space with our JOY to the world.  I don't get to sing in a church much, due to thinking that Christianity is a load of nonsense, but I do love a carol.

    I thought that today, to help you feel as Christmassy as I do, I would share my top six Christmas songs.  I'd love to know what your favourite Christmas songs are too?

    When I was in the choir last year our HARDEST song was The Three Kings by Peter Cornelius.  It is incredibly difficult to sing, but fantastic.  Any singers out there who've mastered this one?

    I love singing along with Greg Lake's I Believe in Father Christmas in the car.  Although I've got to be careful because it makes me cry (everything makes me cry!).  What's your favourite Christmas song in the car?  Please don't say Driving Home for Christmas!

    I sing this song ALL THE TIME!  My little girl is with me as I write, and when I said I was doing a post on Christmas songs, this is the one she started singing.  This is, of course Mary's Boy Child by the fantabulous Boney M.  Thank you!

    My apologies, this is a terrible 'video' (being a bad still picture), but it is Maddy Prior, whose voice I love, singing one of my favourite Christmassy songs.  I love the way it is clearly mixing Christianity with pre-existing religion, which is what Christmas is all about.

    Obviously, I have to have the Yorkshire carol.  Beautifully interpreted through the medium of sweets...

    And finally, to wish you a merry Christmas (and demand some figgy pudding)...

    Merry Christmas!  What are your favourite songs?

    Monday, 16 December 2013

    faking it until we're making it

    Lacking confidence is a problem for everybody from time to time, but it's recognised as being one of the key things that hold women back in the workplace.

    Similarly underqualified men and women (I'm making a sweeping statement here, but you will hopefully understand that I mean average men and average women who were involved in studies that looked at this stuff) will look at the same job and think I can learn how to do that and I don't know how to do that yet, respectively.  So the man puts himself forward, and the woman waits.

    This is me! This is the only picture of me in anything
    approaching a super hero stance.
    Must try harder!
    Sheryl Sandberg pointed out that it is women, more than men, who suffer from imposter syndrome - they feel like they don't belong in the job they are in, and, any minute now HR are going to come along and confirm that there's been a huge mistake, and would they mind leaving the building?

    Everyone suffers from imposter syndrome sometimes, the way to deal with it is to fake it until you make it.  

    Have you ever watched really little kids play football?  They are pretty hopeless, but they really mean it.  Their skills at ball control take a fairly long time, and a lot of practice to develop, but they are incredibly good at the social stuff pretty quickly.  If a goal is scored in an Under 5s football game (which is generally down to serious amounts of luck, and the goalie flinching out of the way in time), the scoring team will do circuits of the field, pulling their shirts over their heads.  The team who have let the goal in will fall to their knees in despair.  They may be rubbish at football, but they're awesome at the social side.  They're faking it, until they make it.

    It doesn't take long for most people to learn the social stuff, but to be able to fake it well, you need confidence.  Scientists know that too much cortisol (that would be the stress hormone folks) diminishes confidence, as does too little testosterone.  The testosterone thing would suggest that men might be more confident naturally, but all people need, use, and produce testosterone.  Women too.

    When I was at University our lecturer, Fiona, had us boost our confidence daily by saying "I can do well, I will do well, and today I'm going to show the lot of them!"  A mantra is a good thing to do to boost your confidence, and I'm sure Fiona would be happy for you to use that one if you want, however, Amy Cuddy has discovered a rather fabulous thing that you can do to help fool your body into being more confident, and all you need is a little bit of privacy (a toilet cubicle will do) and two minutes.  Here's her TED talk.  It's worth watching.  However, if you don't have time to watch it right now, and you're just looking for a quick fix, I'll tell you a bit of the secret...

    ...standing like a superhero for two minutes boosts your testosterone, and reduces your cortisol.  It makes you more confident.  It might be the thing you should do in the toilet before you go in for your appraisal, or before you ask for a pay rise.  Or even before you ask you children to tidy their rooms.

    Have you ever felt like you were faking it?  Have you got any top tips for faking it until you make it?

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    Thursday, 12 December 2013

    reviewing Hotel Chocolat

    A few days ago, an email popped into my inbox asking if I would like to review some chocolate?

    Let's see, would I like to be sent free chocolate, on the grounds that I'd then have to write about it?  Yes.  Yes please.  Send it to me!

    And so it came to pass that the good people at Hotel Chocolat sent me their Goody Bag, and it arrived today!

    Now I have a confession to make.  I was of the opinion that although I do love chocolate (I really do), I wouldn't really be bothered to buy expensive chocolate.  Because how different can it be?

    Well, I take it back.

    The chocolate itself in the goody bag was darker than your average, hard to break, but when it did it gave a satisfying snap, and the way it melts in your mouth is just lovely.

    The children really liked it (they preferred the wreath to the chocolate santas).  They loved that it was darker than they usually get, and really liked the snappy texture.

    My husband said that he liked it, he especially liked the recipe for the treacle tarts (with molasses, giving a slightly bitter taste a little reminiscent of salted caramel), although he wasn't keen on the 'mouthfeel'.  He said 'mouthfeel', not me, I'm still not convinced that texture isn't sufficient.  Anyway, he is a skinny man, so as far as I'm concerned his judgement on food is iffy.  Personally I loved the texture.

    The best thing was that after you had eaten a chocolate, your mouth didn't feel sticky, and the taste didn't remain - you knew it was delicious, but you didn't have the urge to eat the rest of the packet straight away.  This is chocolate I wouldn't mind spending a lot on, because I would hide it away, and savour a bit at a time.

    My husband reckoned the chocolate would be good with red wine.  I can now confirm that he was right.  

    What you get in this goody bag is:

    • three chocolate Santas, 
    • a mini wreath, which was very nice, and definitely the children's favourite.  They also do a big version (pictured).
    • six treacle tarts, which are absolutely to die for - described above
    • six Christmas mess's - I didn't think I'd like these - they're a bit pink and white, but do you know what?  They are fruity, and oh-so-creamy.  My father in law agreed that they were surprisingly good, and if you like fruity things they'd be perfect for you.  
    For all of the chocolates in the goody bag, there is so much attention to detail - the texture, the combinations of flavours.  These chocolates are sublime, and luxurious.  They'll be in my Mum's hamper next year.

    Now I've told you how good the chocolates are, I can tell you something about Hotel Chocolat themselves.  Hotel Chocolat grow their own cocoa on their cocoa plantation, the Rabot Estate in Saint Lucia.  They are very concerned about ethical farming, and paying a fair rate for the cocoa, and they've done a lot of work to improve things for the farmers to make sure we get the best cocoa.

    The Hotel is in Saint Lucia, but there is also a restaurant in London (Rabot 1745).  The rest of us can buy the chocolate on mail order.  Here's the website.  They even have a tasting club you can join.

    Thank you Hotel Chocolat, for the gorgeous chocs you sent me.  I would heartily recommend them.

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    Wednesday, 11 December 2013

    sharing ten of my favourite books (which happen to be by women)

    Blatantly stealing an idea from my friend Steve, over at Shores of Night (who stole the idea from Juliet McKenna), this post is talking about some of my favourite books, but not just any books, some of my favourites, which happen to be written by women.  Why books by women?  Why not?  I think that the really big hits are more often written by men, so why not share the word about women authors?

    Having decided to do something about having lost my sparkle a bit lately, I've been busy setting up a book group today, and it's all coming together nicely.  I'm excited, and I'm thinking about books, and about how I'm adding a whole lot more books to my list of things to read by starting a new book group.  I'll have to start going to bed earlier!

    My Dad has a LOT of books, but I've always tried to be ruthless, and minimal.  So I've only got a couple of bookshelves, a Kindle, and a library habit.  Oops.

    So here are ten of my favourites (in no particular order, although maybe in the order I discovered them).  There are so many awesome authors not on this list.  Apologies ladies:

    1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

    Pic from Amazon here
    Jane Eyre!  What an awesome story.  The mousy governess done good... although, the mad woman in the attic would rather put me off a man, and the whole blind thing.  Please!  I have a sneaking suspicion she should have said yes to St John, but anyway, it's a great story, following the life of Jane who's easy to empathise with, especially if you're young when you read this.

    I have always taken the words of the scary teacher Mr Brocklehurst to heart - "we are not to conform to nature".  I know he was trying to make the girls more drab, but I'm turning it on it's head.  You're right Mr Brocklehurst, pass the hair dye please.

    2. The Changeover by Margaret Mahy

    Pic from Amazon here
    A book for teens.  

    You know when you're just getting to that age where you want something a bit sexy, but not too sexy.  This is your book.

    Laura Chant, our heroine, must save her brother from the evil of the villain, Carmody Braque, but to do so she needs the help of the sexy, and ever-so-odd Sorenson Carlisle.

    Yes please!

    3. Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor

    Pic from Amazon here
    Have you read it?  I'm a little embarrassed to include it, but it's sooooo good!

    Dubbed the original bodice ripper, there's romance a-plenty, plus plenty of steamy scenes and a fair dose of Moll Flanders.

    Sexy, silly, and super.  I loved the love story in this book, and when something terrible happens I had my first experience of crying so hard I couldn't read the book!

    4. Wraeththu by Storm Constantine

    Pic from Amazon here
    Thank goodness they've put the trilogy into one book, so I didn't have to choose one!

    I love the Wraeththu books, and indeed the whole Wraeththu concept.  It's a beautifully wrought apocalypse, annihilating nearly all women, and yet requiring balance.  Lots of stuff about gender, sexuality, and the Goth scene in the late 80s are all combined with a beautifully wrought story, and characters so damaged, conflicted, beautiful, and strange that you fall in love with them, wishing them the best, and hoping for their downfall at the same time.

    I'm not a huge fan of Pellaz, but Calanthe, oh Calanthe, how I have loved you.  And Cobweb too.  I wanted to be Cobweb, and have Cobweb's incredibly strength, although no-one ever was good enough for Cobweb.

    5. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

    Pic from Amazon here
    I've read lots of books by Margaret Atwood, but none have impressed me quite as much as this beauty, which I came across while studying Women's Studies at University.

    This is a fantastic tale of a possible future, which as far as I can see is still a possible future, where fertility is a valuable commodity, and there are a whole heap of inequalities to deal with.

    If you don't fancy the book the film is also very good, but both are unsettling.  The trailer is here.

    6. Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

    Pic from Amazon here
    Another book I read during my Women's Studies degree. And a classic of both Feminist fiction and speculative science fiction.  This book is a great story which explores alternative possiblities for living, which is what I really love about science fiction and fantasy.  Even if you don't agree with her vision of the potential future, it does raise lots of questions.

    7. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gillman

    Pic from Amazon here
    Is it bad form to have two books in the list with mad women in the attic?

    The rest cure was and is a horrible way to treat women, and no way to get anyone well.  The fact that it's still used, especially for young women with eating disorders, deserves further investigation.  This book is a marvellous study of the rest cure driving a woman stark staring mad.  It's a quick read, and you can get it FREE on your Kindle!

    I love CPG's writing, and was close to putting Herland on the list, but there's enough feminist speculative fiction I think.

    8. The Gate to Women's Country by Sherri S Tepper

    Pic from Amazon here
    Erm, OK, so I just said there was enough feminist speculative fiction... can I get away with calling this feminist science fiction?

    Tepper is a prolific author, and I haven't read a book of hers I didn't like, but this was my first, and probably her best known.

    Again, it explores different ways of living, and gender roles.  Has anyone made a film of it yet?

    9. A Cavern of Black Ice by JV Jones 

    Pic from Amazon here
    This is the first book in the Sword of Shadows series.  It is a lot more sword and sorcery than I would normally enjoy, and I do find it distinctly patchy (I really don't like magic stuff for the most part), however, the characters are fabulously wrought, and I need to know what is happening in the clanholds, so I will keep with it.

    Raina, of Clan Blackhail is an awesome woman, and if I were dropped into the clans I would beg her to join her clan.

    "We are Clan Blackhail, the first of all clans. We do not hide and we do not cower. And we will have our revenge."

    10. The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

    Pic from Amazon here
    I've only discovered Philippa Gregory recently, but I love the way she brings history to life with her stories of historical women.  With The White Queen, about Elizabeth Woodville (in case you managed not to watch the awesome TV series), she has an incredible subject to write about (as with The Lady of the Rivers too).  This book helps us understand how the cousins war actually worked.  It's incredibly well researched, and so you're getting educated while you read, and it totally enouraged me to find out more about the era too.

    Thanks Philippa. 

    In fact many many thanks to all the women who have put together a great story which transported me to a different place, and made me believe in fabulous characters who have leapt off the page and become inspirations.  Thank you for feeding my thoughts.  These are all great stories by great authors as far as I'm concerned, but who are some of your favourite women authors?  Who should I read next?

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