Staying Safe on the Internet with BT and Unicef

When I was little, things were very different to how they are now that I have children. The Internet was unheard of until I reached senior school and phones were something that sat on a dedicated table in the hallway and could only be used after 6pm. Bullying was obviously a thing, but it seems now that the Internet and mobile communication has made the scope for bullying SO much wider. Before, bullies would wait for you in corridors at school, whereas now they can reach you even in the privacy of your own bedroom through the ‘net.

BT has linked up with Unicef to create The Right Click, a series of workshops for parents and kids around internet safety, which not only looks at cyber-bullying, but also at helping kids to find safe, appropriate content and use the internet in a way that is both empowering and secure. Watch this video for more:

Pete Oliver, commercial and marketing director, BT Consumer, said: “The internet is a powerful tool, especially for children. The time children are spending online is continuing to grow, particularly with children aged 8-111. This can be daunting for parents that aren’t necessarily digital savvy and most parents (94 per cent) have worries about their children online. However, with the right knowledge, communication and parental controls in place, we can all ensure that the internet can be a safe place.”

Catherine Cottrell, Unicef UK Deputy Executive Director, said: “We’re working with schools across the country to create safe and inspiring places to learn, where children are respected and their rights are protected. The Right Click: Internet Safety Matters workshops empower children to become confident and responsible digital citizens, enabling them to enjoy the enormous benefits that the internet has to offer, with the help of parents and teachers.”

I think workshops like this are SO vital – Husband and I are both pretty tech-savvy but I know SO many adults who have more or less resigned themselves to the fact that their kids are more adept at using technology than they are which creates almost a power vacuum around the subject of internet usage. The kids know more about it all but are almost expected to self moderate because the adults don’t know WHAT the kids need to be protected against! Keeping knowledge fresh is the only way to increase safety, which is why I commend BT and Unicef for creating this programme.

Head to the BT Internet Safety Matters page to test your family on how much they know about the internet.

Take Christmas Cards to a New Level with Fotor

Part of making Christmas manageable for me is learning where to make an effort and where to dial things back. I adore crafting and cooking with the girls so make an extra effort with this, but tend to do a lot of online shopping to keep my “beating my way through crowds” time to a minimum to preserve my sanity as much as anything!

One thing that I do love to do is make personalised Christmas cards. Last year, we took the girls to have some professional photos done and then sent the prints to be made into cards, which looked great but weren’t cheap. This year, I’m making the cards myself using Fotor, the hoto editing and collage software. As well as offering an app for mobiles, there’s a desktop site AND offline software that can be used to edit photos, add overlays and effects, make collages and just generally tweak things until they look exactly the way you want them. Here’s a Christmas photo collage I made using random pictures from the internet:

Fotor Christmas Card

I literally knocked this image up in two minutes using the collage maker and an art overlay to give the image texture and I think this would actually make a really sweet Christmas card – now imagine if it were personalised using photos of your own kids and decorations! The images are saved at a high resolution and printing them off at home is super simple.

Fotor even offers its own photo card creator, allowing you to do everything I’ve done above, add text to the photo, and then making it into a savable, printable card that you can print off in whatever format you like – amazing!

It would be so easy to just go and buy a packet of cards from the supermarket, but this is one thing that I really enjoy putting effort into at this time of year and the results are always so much better, and more memorable, than generic cards. It gives family and friends a yearly picture of the girls (and Chuck!) and I’m really looking forward to being able to look back in many years time and seeing the changes in my kids on a yearly basis.

Do you ever make your own greetings cards? Would you use Fotor to make your life easier? Have you been put off of doing it in the past but are now considering it because you’ve learned about Fotor? Do leave me a comment below as I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Beauty Fads I’m Not On Board With

I’ve been thinking lately that I need to start making a bit more effort with my appearance. My day-to-day look is very low-maintenance, usually because I’m just in and out of the car taking Sausage to school, doing the shopping and all of the other things that the average 30-something Mum of two does on a daily basis. I chuck a bit of make-up on but that’s about it, but lately I’ve been noticing that beauty has gone to a whole new level and suddenly we’re all obsessed with eyebrows and strobing! There are, however, several beauty trends that I WILL NOT get on-board with and I thought I’d share a few of them here:

Waist Training

waist-training-kardashians

When I first saw this, I genuinely thought it was a joke. For those of you not in the know, waist training involves wearing increasingly tight corsets in order to “train” your waist to be smaller, and is championed by the Kardashians, amongst others. The fact is, it’s absolute bollocks and simply doesn’t train anything, but it probably does have a terrible impact on your internal organs and ability to, you know, breathe or efficiently digest food.

Anal Bleaching

white starfish

I know, I’m a little shocked even at myself for mentioning anal bleaching, but it’s one of those things which has inexplicably gone from ‘weird, niche thing for porn stars’ to ‘thing that supposedly normal people are doing’. Never in my life have I seen a bumhole that I thought needed a coating of Domestos, but apparently it’s all the rage. Find out more with this anal bleaching guide

Pointy Nails

pointed nails

Let me say right here, I actually LOVE the look of a pointy manicure (not the scary, mega-long ones though!) and I’m insanely jealous of anyone who rocks this look, but I just cannot cope with long nails, no matter how hard I try. I’ve tried having regular fake nails, not even pointy ones and I find it impossible to type, use my phone, put tights on, wipe my arse and just about anything else that requires me to be tactile, and adding a point on the end would basically render me useless.

Are there any beauty trends that you find absolutely crazy? Or are you a huge fan of pointy nails and whitened bottoms? I’d love to hear your opinion on this so do leave me a comment below.

Black Friday Madness

I love a bargain as much as the next person. Probably more-so than some as I’ll never buy things without looking for a voucher code first (Dominos pizza, I’m looking at you!) but I have to say, the whole Black Friday thing leaves me cold. I went into town today to pick something up from Waterstones and walked through Debenhams to get there, and it was genuinely the busiest I’ve EVER seen it. I don’t know if it’s because I’m ill at the moment or what, but being in such a busy shop made me feel a bit panicky.

The thing is, I’ve not actually seen a single bargain online OR in shops which represents anything even close to a decent saving. People are going crazy for items that they probably don’t even need at prices which aren’t even that good. It’s just not British!

I did a cursory Google of “Black Friday crimes” and found stories dating back years of shoppers punching each other for the last discounted TV and even several stories of people pulling GUNS on other shoppers to get the best bargains. I found a report that showed that, since 2006 7 people have been killed doing Black Friday shopping and a further 98 have been injured.

According to Wikipedia “During Black Friday 2010, a Madison, Wisconsin woman was arrested outside of a Toys ‘R’ Us store after cutting in line, and threatening to shoot other shoppers who tried to object. A Toys for Tots volunteer in Georgia was stabbed by a shoplifter. An Indianapolis woman was arrested after causing a disturbance by arguing with other Wal-Mart shoppers. She had been asked to leave the store, but refused. A man was arrested at a Florida Wal-Mart on drug and weapons charges after other shoppers waiting in line for the store to open noticed that he was carrying a handgun and reported the matter to police. He was discovered to also be carrying two knives and a pepper spray grenade. A man in Buffalo, New York, was trampled when doors opened at a Target store and unruly shoppers rushed in, in an episode reminiscent of the deadly 2008 Wal-Mart stampede.”

I mean…it’s surely not just me who thinks that’s insane, surely? It’s capitalism at it’s ugliest.

I will admit to not being a hugely covetous person. I was massively frivolous with money when I was younger and it’s taken a long time for me to go the other way and show a bit of frugality, but I don’t really crave the newest cars or clothes which is probably why I don’t feel the desperate need to go out and spend a load of money on one day of the year. Maybe if the bargains were better I’d be a bit more inclined to get involved, but nothing really seems THAT cheap to me.

What do you think? Are you banging down the doors of your local department stores to get a few quid off or are you like me and a little bemused by it all? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Awesome Things To Do In Cambodia With Kids

At first glance, Cambodia might not seem like the most obvious holiday destination for families with kids. Once you delve deeper, it becomes apparent that there is a whole host of cool activities for both adults and children. The tourism scene is at an all-time high at the moment, so it’s become a lot safer to travel there. From temples to trains, there are so many opportunities to inspire your child’s (and your own) sense of adventure, here are just a few ideas.

5837015193_f60a8d474a_zPhoto source: Dennis Jarvis

Temples

Cambodia’s temples, such as world famous Angkor Wat at Siem Reap, are beautiful and mysterious constructions that will awaken a child’s imagination. Visitors are encouraged to be respectful of the monuments but also to get hands on – many temples allow children to climb and scramble, and play hide and seek.

Floating Villages

For those who don’t suffer with seasickness, take a boat tour around a traditional floating village that line all of Cambodia’s waterways. See how native Cambodians lead their lives and experience the sights and smells and the water markets. Children will love to spot the differences in their own way of life with the lives of the natives.

16596034478_b00035083a_zPhoto source: Basile Morin

Dolphin Watching

Cambodia is rich in wildlife, both on land and in the water. It isn’t every day that kids get to see real life dolphins in the wild. A cruise along the River Mekong through the jungles is a sure-fire way to get them excited. Click here for more information on the Meekong River cruise.

Landmine Museum

For older children, a day trip to the Landmine Museum at Siem Reap is an immersive and interesting way to learn about the history of the people of Cambodia and their struggles. It tells the stories of locals who had to clear landmines after the conflict, and the people who cared for the injured. A very educational day out.

Elephant Rides

What child wouldn’t love a ride on the back of an elephant? Once they’ve had a go, they’ll definitely want another. These experiences are available all over the country, and most hotels will be happy to book them for you.

14452474445_97e9d9f102Photo Source: Shankar S

Bamboo Train

Near Battambang is a disused French railway that people now use as a sort of train system to move personal belongings, and for locals to ferry tourists around. Platforms made out of bamboo are loaded with goods and people, and a small motorbike engine is used to power it along the tracks. It makes for a very exhilarating experience for anyone who is brave enough to give it a go.

Street Markets

The street markets of Cambodia are bustling hubs of the cities. There is so much to entertain here, from skewered fried spiders to crazy fruit and vegetables. The markets at Phnom Penh are particularly famous for the huge range of things to see and eat.

Just remember, it gets really hot in Cambodia, so a hotel with a pool and shade is recommended so that you can retire in the midday sun and cool off.

Why I’m Doing My Best to be UN-Christmassy

un-christmassy grumpy catThe eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that today’s date marks exactly a month until Christmas Eve, which means that the whole world will be going Christmas-mad, and every shop, TV advert and event will be geared up to all things festive. Despite the fact that Thanksgiving isn’t even over yet, Christmas seems to be everywhere we go, and I’m not going to lie, it drives me a little bit mad. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, especially now we’ve got the girls and it’s all about them, but starting this early just destroys the magic for me.

I’ve seen several people on Facebook, both in random groups and on my friends list, who’ve got their tree up already, and some who’ve even had a Christmas dinner already, which is absolutely fine for them, but not for me. For me, Christmas is really special, a time to spend with family and friends and indulge in all of the excesses of the season…ONCE a year. Christmas is big and exciting and a happy time, but doing it more than once would just dilute it completely.

For the last few years in a row, I’ve managed to shoot my festive load WAY too early – I start to get excited at the beginning of November, planning presents and decorations and all of the other bits that go with it, and by the time 25th December arrives, I’m spent – both mentally AND financially. I seem to have a finite amount of Festive cheer and if I let it all go too early I have none left for the big day. Christmas Day is genuinely one of my favourite days of the year but there’s nothing as disappointing as polishing off your Christmas dinner and thinking “Oh. I don’t actually feel that Christmassy…”

The thing is, Christmas is a one, maybe two, day celebration, or at a push three days if you include Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Most of us spend the equivalent of a month’s wages getting ready for it, and if we start the the beginning of November and don’t take our trees down until after New Year, that basically means that Christmas lasts TWO MONTHS. Put into perspective, that’s 1/6 of the year – there is literally NO other holiday that we would allow to take over our lives for that bloody long!

I know I probably sound like Scrooge but I don’t dislike Christmas altogether – I just wish people would hold their horses. I’ve seen several houses which already have elaborate lighting displays outside and it’s just making me cross. It won’t even be the slightest bit special by the time Christmas arrives, and I think I’d probably throw my Christmas tree on the bonfire if I had to cope with tinsel droppage and fallen baubles for two whole months! What people do in their own living rooms is entirely up to them and I’d never dictate to them what they should and shouldn’t be doing, but it’s just not for me.

What do you think? Am I a miser or are you right here in NON-Christmas Land with me? I’d love to hear what you think,

Boost Your Post-Baby Confidence

Boost Your Post-Baby ConfidenceI don’t know about you, but I am definitely not one of those women who wears pregnancy well. I carry HUGE bumps despite having small babies, suffer with problems with my hips and the closest I come to a ‘glow’ is wiping the sweat from my brow after a particularly nasty bout of morning sickness. By the time baby comes along, most of us feel well and truly battered and it’s basically the law that “normal” women feel a bit lost and frumpy in their post-baby body. I thought I’d take a look at ways to help you to give your confidence a little boost so that you feel more human and ward off those baby blues.

Get Some Exercise

I know. I know. Suggesting exercise when you’ve either squeezed or had a human cut out of your body is probably going to make you hate me, but everyone knows that exercise boosts happy hormone levels, so it’s pretty much guaranteed to make you feel better. I’m not suggesting you start training for a marathon a couple of weeks post-partum (unless you want to!) but trying a mum and baby exercise class or just going for a walk can really boost your morale and help you lose the excess baby weight.

Get a Hair Transplant

Okay, this one might sound a little bit bonkers but LOTS of women lose hair during pregnancy and for some people, it simply never grows back. Hair transplant cost doesn’t have to be astronomical and if replacing your lost hair gives you your confidence back, it’s priceless.

Make Time for Friends

Sometimes, being a new mum can feel incredibly isolating and months can fly by in a baby-haze before you realise how lonely you are. Making time to see your friends can be incredibly theraputic and just getting the chance to have a chinwag with someone over the age of ten can give you more of a boost than almost anything else.

Take Care of Yourself

When Sausage was born, I became obsessed with painting my nails. I bought dozens of different colours and my nails always looked great. There was something really soothing about taking ten minutes for myself while she was napping to make sure just one part of me looked good, even when the rest of me was unwashed and plastered in baby sick! It doesn’t have to be nails – shape your brows, do your make-up, whatever it is to perk you up, tale some time to do it.

Remember You’re Part of a Couple

I think it’s incredibly common for new parents to get so completely caught up in parenting that they forget that they’re also someone’s partner. If you don’t want to have someone else look after the baby, plan a mini-date for when baby naps and have an adult conversation with your other half. We went to Wagamama last week and there was a young couple with a tiny baby in a carseat, fast asleep on the table the whole time they were eating, but at least they were spending time with one another.

Making Some Extra Cash Before Christmas

ChristmasI think we can all agree that with the exception of perhaps foreign holidays and those unexpected expenses that can pop up throughout the year, Christmas is probably the most expensive time of year for most of us. From buying presents and food, new trees and decorations, not to mention all of the various school discos and Christmas sales which end up costing a fortune, the need for cash seems never ending! Unless you’re a sensible soul who’s saved all year and has your Christmas fund full to the brim, there’s a good chance that an extra few quid would come in really handy, so I thought I’d take a look at a few ways that you could raise a bit more moolah for your celebrations.

1. Sell Your Old Stuff

Selling things on Facebook selling groups can be really lucrative at this time of year because everyone is looking for a bargain. Have a really good clearout and be ruthless about all of the things you really don’t need or use anymore and you could make yourself a packet. If you’re a totally newbie at selling on Facebook, here’s a guide I wrote last here which might really help.

2. Lotto Betting

Lotto betting is a great concept which allows you to enter foreign lotteries, like the massive Powerball draw that happens in The States. By entering through LottoLand, you effectively bet on the outcome of the lottery rather than buying an actual ticket which gives you the flexibility to enter any draw you like, and the stakes are pretty high – even the second tier prize for betting on the Powerball could net you around £34,000! Obviously it’s not a sure-thing, but it’s still good fun if you go into it without expecting fortunes!

3. Seasonal Work

Loads of companies hire extra staff at this time of year to help with the demand of Christmas shoppers, and lots of the jobs will be evening or night work like replenishing shelves, which would fit around your kids and help you earn a bit extra for Christmas. Seasonal jobs also sometimes lead on to other job opportunities, so if you’re looking for something ongoing, getting your foot in the door now could be a real help.

4. Online Surveys

I know a lot of people who do online surveys and save all of their earnings as vouchers for sites like Amazon, which then allows them to do most of their Christmas shopping using just their earnings from doing so. Many of us are online for a large portion of the day and some sites even have mobile apps, so whenever you have down-time, you could be earning.

5. Delivery Driving

With more and more people shopping online, there are lots of courier companies out there who are always looking for more drivers to cover areas, as well as restaurants who deliver takeaway food. If you’re a driver and own your own car, you could easily pick up delivery work which is usually completely flexible and allows you to pretty much be your own boss.

6. Sell Your Gold

It’s SO common for people to have jewellery laying around that they literally never wear, and if there’s no sentimental value attached to it, it’s probably worth more to you if you cash your gold to somewhere like Post My Gold. With Post My Gold, sellers needn’t worry that their old rings will be melted to scrap, as if they’re suitable for resale, they’ll receive even more money!

Have you got any smart ideas for how to earn money before Christmas? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

The Great Childcare Debate

childcareSomething which is on a lot of people’s minds at the moment is the issue of childcare, after the Government introduced free funding for 2 year olds from underprivileged families to receive 15 hours of nursery a week. The idea was to get parents back into work without having the expense of nursery hanging over them, but it’s a scheme which has been a bit of a sticking point for a lot of families. Until the age of three, working parents are expected to pay the full price for childcare and the prevailing attitude is that it seems unfair that familes who don’t appear to need free childcare are more entitled to it.

Let’s look at the brass tacks of it:

At the moment, Husband and I both work from home, which works for us and means we don’t need childcare. Now, let’s assume that I wanted to go back to work, full time, as a copywriter which is what I currently do from home. Let’s completely ignore Husband’s salary and assume that this is still going on things like rent and our bills, as it does at the moment.

The average salary for a copywriter is £23,047 per year before tax and National Insurance, so my take-home pay would be approximately £18,840, or £1570 per month. I’d probably have to travel to London to find this kind of work so I’d have to factor in £355.60 per month in season ticket fares. The nursery attached to Sausage’s school charges £4.50 per hour, plus £1.75 for a hot lunch, which would make my monthly nursery fees (assuming I’d need to drop her off at 7.30 am to get the train and not collect her again until 6.30pm) £1110.42. Of course, this also doesn’t factor in needing before and after school care for Sausage.

In travel fees and nursery fees alone, my monthly expenses JUST FOR GOING TO WORK would be £1466.02, leaving me approximately £103 which, as far as I’m concerned would make it absolutely POINTLESS going back to work.

I know that there are flexi options, sometimes family can help with childcare, or companies which allow a homeworking element during the week, but these figures are the exact reason that so many people are up in arms about the government’s scheme. Being a copywriter isn’t the loftiest career in the whole world but it sure as hell pays more than retail work or other minimum wage jobs, which means that even people with hopes of getting a mid-level job will struggle.

Obviously, this is all part of a MUCH bigger problem. The cost of living is too damn high in the UK, whilst wages are depressingly low. Family-friendly working is more-or-less non-existent and women are usually expected to bear the burden of this. I know that there’s a prevailing attitude that women SHOULD be the ones to bear the burden because they’re the ones who CHOOSE to have the babies (obviously the men have zero say in this and we’re all just sperm-harvesting lunatics…*sarcasm*) but this is a hugely outdated notion and many men also feel penalised because of their inability to contribute towards the childcare duties.

I don’t begrudge families who are on a low income the opportunity to have free childcare, I really don’t, but I also don’t think it’s a solution. It’s a really romantic notion, hoping to help people back into work, but let me ask you this: 1. how are they supposed to afford that childcare once the funding runs out and they’re on a low wage and 2. WHERE ARE ALL OF THESE JOBS THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO BE FILLING?!

I think we can all agree that the Government has well and truly got its head up its arse on this issue and that more help needs to be given to ALL parents who want to go back to work, not least of all because we’ve probably got a massive pool if untapped talent in this country, desperate to get back into the workplace but unable to afford it. It’s all very well for the hate-mongers in the right wing press to be content with demonising benefit claimants but the Government has basically created this viscous loop of never being able to AFFORD to come off of benefits, for so many people, who are essentially tied to living in permanent poverty.

I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this. Are you a Mum who’d love to go back to work but simply cannot afford to? Would you have a career if the childcare was cheaper or more affordable? Are you in receipt of two-year-old funding but still unable to find a job? Please leave me a comment below.

5 Tips to Minimise Christmas Stress

Stress-Free ChristmasNow that it’s November and Bonfire Night is over, people’s thoughts are firmly turning to the next big holiday: CHRISTMAS! If you’re anything like me, the run up to Christmas is a combination of shopping, planning, getting in the mood (but not too early!) and generally trying to facilitate the whole family’s enjoyment of the big day. One thing which is really important for me is finding the balance between readiness and stress-management – getting to the big day with high blood pressure and the need to sleep for a week is not good for your own enjoyment, so I thought I’d share some tips for minimising your Christmas stress.

Plan Ahead

I appreciate that telling you to plan ahead in November is a little bit like locking the stable door after the reindeer have bolted, but do yourself a favour for NEXT year and do some forward planning! Buy decorations in the January sales when they’re dirt cheap and put them away, start a savings account and put a little in each week and do as much as you can throughout the year so it isn’t a mad rush this time next year.

Take a Break

Taking yourself off to spa might seem a little lavish when you’ve got a lot of expense coming up, but treating yourself to a detoxing winter spa day at The Moroccan Spa Urban Retreat in Harrods is the PERFECT way to relax your mind and body, leaving you feeling tip-top for all the Christmas parties you’ll be going to and is the perfect way to reward yourself for all the hard work you put into making Christmas special for your family. You could even ask for vouchers for Christmas so you can do the same thing next year!

Lower Your Expectations

There seems to be this pressure on everyone to have EVERY Christmas experience possible and between the Santa visits, the pantos, the Christmas Eve boxes as well as hundreds of pounds worth of gifts, the matching jumpers and festive pyjamas..it’s exhausting both mentally AND financially. Choose just a couple of things to do…there’s always next year if you want to try something new but cramming it all into one festive season will just drive you crackers!

Set Limits

It’s basically the law for kids to hand you a Christmas list as long as your arm and although it would be nice to buy them every single gift, it’s just not always possible. Set yourself a limit on how much you’re going to spend on food, presents, decorations and extras and DO NOT GO ABOVE THOSE LIMITS. That way, instead of stressing about how you’re going to afford one last stocking filler you can tell yourself “Nope, it’s just not in the budget”.

Have Fun!

So often, us grown ups spend so much time making Christmas magical for the kids that we simply forget to have fun. Take some time for yourself, have a sherry, blast some WHAM! and let your hair down. Kids love presents, sure, but they also love relaxed, fun-loving parents who know how to have a good time as a family. Christmas won’t be fun for anyone if Mum or Dad are a sobbing wreck in the corner, wondering if 150 miles is too far to drive for that last Hatchimal in a random toy shop!