House Proud and, erm, PROUD!

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If you were to ask me to describe myself in a few words there are lots of different ones I would choose. But more often than not ‘HOUSE PROUD’ would most definitely come into it.

When I was a child I was a nightmare. I remember my mum asking me to tidy my room once and I came up with the most innovative idea of just pushing everything that was on my floor (toys, books, clothes) to the sides of my room against the wall. Tidy, not so much, despite the fact you could see actual floor. At least mum didn’t think so anyway.

I can pinpoint my development into a house proud person quite exactly. It happened at Uni, right after my mum and dad did an IKEA run to pick up all the bits and pieces I’d need for living on my own. I remember sitting in my teeny tiny room feeling so proud that it was all just so, the fairy lights, the artfully crafted pinboard, the cushions on the bed, the photos on my shelves. That room was a thing of beauty.

I’ve remained House Proud ever since. Like clockwork; once a month I wash all the rugs in the house, pull out the sofa, clean the windows. Once a week I hoover top to bottom, dust the whole house, wash all the sheets, clean the bathroom, polish the mirrors. I get a sense of accomplishment from deep cleaning my kitchen (apart from the oven, WORST JOB IN THE WORLD) and Pledging all my wooden surfaces. I regularly take to the house with a bin bag in the name of de-cluttering and find it physically impossible to relax unless my remote controls are in the right place on their shelf.

Yep, I’m one of THOSE people.

So I was happy to take The House Proud Survey from CarpetRight, there to help you find out if you’re a prim and proper pad perfectionist or if you ‘treat this house like a hotel’.

If you really need to ask, my result was that I am of course THE PERFECTIONIST: I couldn’t be more house proud if I tried, I maintain all aspects of my home on a regular basis.

That sounds about right ;)

You can take the survey here – and let me know your result! One lucky entrant of the survey will also win a £250 voucher for Virgin Experiences.

Good luck!

thank you to Carpetright for supporting MTT!

How To Have It All

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For the longest time I believed that ‘having it all’ revolved around ‘what the outside world thinks you have’. I thought it meant how big your house was, how new your car was, what your husband did, how well behaved your kids were, what clothes you wore.

And it wasn’t until I found myself at actual rock-bottom, as a single parent with no reliable income and zero husbands, that I realised how wrong I was. Having it all is absolutely nothing to do with what you have and is absolutely everything to do with who you are.

Here’s the thing as I see it: we have an insane amount of outside influences in our lives. Blogs, media, friends, co-workers. And it’s so easy to look at all these influences attaining society’s idea of success and think, well, this is what it means to be have it all, isn’t it? And so we strive for these things that we see as measures of success and happiness with little or no knowledge of whether or not it’s going to make us happy.

We go from thinking we have to have THE CAREER (check) to THE KIDS (check) to THE HOUSE (check) to THE CAR AND THE CLOTHES AND THE HANDBAGS AND THE RESTAURANTS… and it’s exhausting. Keeping up with the Joneses becomes a full-time job and actually, who says that having all that stuff will really make you happy?

I used to be one of those people. I was so desperate for the world to see that I was living out someone else’s idea of perfection that I totally lost my way. I didn’t understand how I wasn’t happy when, to an outsider looking in, I had everything you could ever want. The big house (cripplingly expensive), the lovely children (ok, they really are lovely), the car, the opportunity to be a stay at home mum, the nights in fancy restaurants, the nice handbags. For a while I really did have it all, except I didn’t.

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Where I went wrong is that I didn’t understand that my version of ‘having it all’ might be different to the media’s, to what is generally accepted as being a life that you strive for. Even though I woke up on Monday morning with a whole week of nothing but being a mum ahead of me – a situation so many women dream of – I was drowning. There was nothing more daunting to me than working out how on earth I could fill five days with toddler groups, coffees, nap times and educational play (still not sure what this entails). As much as I wanted to be I just couldn’t make myself one of those (incredible, admirable) women who was a happy full-time mum.

To them I say: wow. Being a full-time mum, it really is the hardest job in the world.

It wasn’t until now that I realised the meaning of ‘having it all’. Yet there’s never been a time in my life when so many outsiders looking in have said to me, hey Alice, I don’t know how you do it.

But you know how I do it? I do it because this is my having it all. It turns out that my version of having it all is getting up in the morning and spending a couple of hours with my children (we had chocolate pancakes this morning!) before taking them to places I know they will be educated, well-looked after and loved. My having it all is spending 9 hours a day running a team, working my business mind, accomplishing professional goals. My having it all is earning good money so I can build my little family a really great life and maybe get my hair or nails done once in a while and feeling happy that I’ve worked to deserve it. My having it all is coming home after a busy day to cuddles with my two little people on the sofa and eating the weekend’s leftovers for supper, knowing I’ve given my all to the day.

I don’t have a husband to support me, a huge big house or a no-pressure open-ended maternity leave. But THAT’S OK, because all those things didn’t make me happy, anyway. Looking back I can say that now, though life has never been so challenging, I really do have it all. And it is such a relief to have finally discovered what that means.

 

 

A Catch-Up Mind Dump. You’re Welcome.

The thing about sharing your life a couple of times a week through your computer is that if something happens and you’re unable to do it for a while it just becomes harder and harder to get back on to it. Your list of ‘things I want to tell that bunch of virtual strangers’ becomes almost insurmountable as you try to prioritise exactly which recent life event you want to broadcast first. Cos I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with baited breath for the next update… ;)

You can blame my radio silence on EE for thoroughly ballsing up the transfer of my broadband service to them (four and a half weeks I’ve been without my lifeline, FOUR AND A HALF WEEKS), my new job for being amazing but for making me so tired I have no words left in my head come 7pm and the children for being children and demanding things like food and attention from me, the little life suckers.

Shall we do a quick life update so I can pick up where I left off? Yes, let’s.

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So the work is great, and even though I’m doing five days a week I’m no more tired/stressed/mental than when I was working four. I don’t miss the commute into London but still get to go in to the big city a couple of times a week so it’s all-round perfect, really. The environment of the ad agency is just wonderful – full of creative and inspirational people – and I genuinely look forward to going to work every day. I get to drop the kids off at school and there’s nothing like knowing I’m only down the road from them. Oh, and FREE BREAKFAST. I basically have it all. Along with a new addiction to coffee.

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Elfie is loving school, loving it. Every day (usually when I’m tottering up the driveway to her classroom clutching book bags and water bottles 5 mins late as per) I feel thankful for choosing such a wonderful place for her to learn. She’s becoming a very opinionated assertive little thing (definite future CEO) and I’d say Reception Year is doing a great job of bringing out the best in her.

Hux is Hux and is adorable. He’s a little monkey, obsessed with his Woody toy and any time he has an item of new clothing (“MUMMY BUY NEW JUMPER FROM THE SHOP!! NEW DINOSAUR PANTS!!” repeat ad infinitum). In a nutshell they are the perfect children, the odd tantrum in Waitrose excluded (thanks Hux, that was well embarrassing).

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It’s most definitely not summer anymore. I’m pretty crushed about that. I’ve been putting the colder weather to good use though and have been to IKEA twice. And I bought a Christmas present!! In October!!

I was dating someone and then I wasn’t. Joined Tinder for 24 hours for the self-esteem boost and got thoroughly depressed at the state of people on Tinder. Swore off relationships for a while to focus on work and writing but as you may have noticed I haven’t been writing, so make of that what you will… ;) I tell you what though, whoever said that the best things happen when you aren’t looking for them was absolutely right.

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This winter I really want to get more done, you know? Better myself a little – do things I’m proud of. Cook more, read more, drink less, work hard, save up, enjoy my friends, laugh a lot. 2012 was tough, 2013 was better, 2014 has been a vast improvement and I’m SO. EXCITED for what’s in store; everyone in my house is happy and we all have so much to look forward to. I’ve been feeling like I should do something to mark it, like get a tattoo, but because I’m terrified of tattoos I’ll probably just buy a new pair of shoes and write about it. LIVING THE DREAM.

Let’s not leave it so long next time, eh? I have so much I want to write about – becoming a feminist (yeah, I think that happened…), getting back into the workplace as a mum, these great new mugs I bought, my new utility cupboard, solo parenting 2 years in, my new role models (Sheryl Sandberg! Bryony Gordon! Lena Dunham! Girl Power!). Oh what did I say? Yeah, living the dream.

Stoptober/October

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It’s October!

I literally have no idea that happened, I’m certain three minutes ago it was May and I was making sandwiches and Pimms to celebrate Hux’s second birthday. But October it is, and with the Autumn season (SUMMER COME BACK!) arrives an important message:

If you’re a smoker, why not think about quitting? 

When the smoking ban first came in all those years ago it was pretty cool. Can you remember a time when smoking was allowed in bars? In clubs? IN CINEMAS? I can, and it’s so nice to get home after a night out (I do go out. Sometimes) and not need to wash my clothes and hair immediately. It makes me happy to think how many people will have given up smoking because of the ban (including lots of lovely friends of mine) and I’m excited that Stoptober might encourage more people to do the same.

It can give you cancer, it makes you smell, it stains your teeth, blah blah blah. We all know this. So I’m going to turn it over to an expert, Boots Pharmacist Angela Chalmers, to give some advice on how you can cut the habit once and for all. And if you’re serious about this do take a look at the Boots website where they have some absolutely brilliant advice:

Tip 1: Quit your own way

When you begin your smoke free journey, it is important that you know your smoking habits and chose a time to quit that is right for you. Many people find that starting their quit journey on a Wednesday is easier than starting on a Monday. Luckily the first day of Stoptober fell on a Wednesday this year!

If quitting on the first day of Stoptober is not right for you, then choose a time or day in the first week that best suits your lifestyle. If you tend to be a social smoker, then choose a time to quit that doesn’t clash with a social gathering – for example quitting a day before your best friend’s big birthday or a close family celebration might not be the best time for you! Remember that Boots pharmacists are available to provide advice and support at any time and stage of your smoke free journey.

Tip 2: Know your smoking triggers

Breaking a smoking habit is difficult as it’s often a part of your daily routine and something you may tend to do without even thinking about it. However, more often than not there are factors that can trigger these habits or make you want to smoke. For some people it goes hand in hand with a night out, for others it may be part of their morning coffee routine. It is important to know what your triggers are so you can put a strong plan of action in place to help you avoid them while you are on your smoke free journey.

Replacing your triggers with a different healthy habit can also help. For example, if you usually smoke after meals then maybe think about replacing that cigarette with a brisk walk to the end of your road or drinking a glass of water. Many people worry about weight gain as they often confuse their cravings for hunger and increase their food and snack intake. If you’re worried about weight gain talk to a stop smoking advisor who can give you tips on eating right and exercising so that weight gain is minimal.

Things that could help:
• Drink an extra glass of water after meals to keep you feeling full
• Snack on as many fruits and veggies as you want – something crunchy like baby carrots or an apple, can sometimes be very satisfying
• Keep your hands busy with something besides food!

Tip 3: Swap smoking for a new hobby

It is normal to get a little irritable when you quit smoking. Why not distract yourself by taking up a new hobby such as learning a new language, trying a new recipe or playing sport? By keeping yourself busy you are more likely to reach your smoke free goal as well as learning something new. Or you could simply get round to doing something you’ve been meaning to do for a while – clearing out your wardrobe, putting up a new shelf, even cleaning the windows?! Creating a list of all the things you want to do and then ticking something off that list (even the smallest thing) can you give you a great sense of achievement!

It’s also important to think positively (it’s easier said than done, we know!). However, rather than seeing quitting smoking as giving up something you love, taking up a new hobby or activity can help you to associate it with a new fresh start and a much more positive way of thinking that will help you to stay motivated.

Tip 4: Don’t give up giving up

Many smokers try on more than one occasion to give up cigarettes. If you have a smoking relapse, try not to be disheartened. Instead, examine what caused you to smoke again, so that you can look out for the signs and find a way to overcome this on your next attempt. Remember that giving up smoking is not easy and celebrate each day that you remain smoke free. Sometimes a visual tracker can help. Why not buy a wall planner or calendar on which you can cross off each smoke free day so you can see how well you are doing and increase your confidence in yourself?

Tip 5: Reward yourself

Don’t be too hard on yourself! Giving up smoking is a huge challenge and each day that you stay smoke free is an achievement – something many people strive to achieve. In fact, 61% of smokers say quitting smoking is one of their lifetime’s ambitions so make sure your celebrate, perhaps by setting yourself small targets and treating yourself when you reach them.

Remember – one of the best benefits of stopping smoking (aside of course from the health improvements) is all of the money you will save! Use this to reward yourself with a treat or something fun. This could be a pampering new make-over to show of how great you look now that you are smoke free, a new wardrobe or even a weekend trip away.

Will you be giving up this October? I hope so! There’s a Twitter Party taking place on 16th October between 12-1pm to encourage you all :) Stay tuned for more details!

Thank you very much to Boots/Stoptober for sponsoring More Than Toast

Betta Bedtimes and Roald Dahl

When I was a child, Roald Dahl was one of my favourite authors. From The BFG (I used to dream about giants outside  my bedroom window) to The Twits and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory there was something so magical about his books. I’ve read each and every one time and time again and I can’t wait until Elfie and Hux are old enough to love them as much as I do.

One of my overlying memories of my childhood is reading these wonderful books under the duvet with my little torch. Like most children I had a strictly enforced bedtime but I’d make every effort to read hours into the night, I loved reading that much. One thing I love to see in my children is their love of books, and every night Elfie lies in bed after I’ve gone downstairs and ‘reads’ her books to Hux until he falls asleep (she can’t read so it is of course super cute).

I’m lucky in that my children are both pretty great sleepers and I’m sure their nightly wind-down with me reading to them is a big factor in this. Elfie is an early riser (goodness knows where she gets that from) but barring illness they both sleep through, and have done for a while. The first thing I did as a parent of two was teach them how to nap at the same time (mama needs a nap too, am I right?) and their happiness to be in their beds is something I am pretty proud of. But it wasn’t – and sometimes still isn’t – easy!

This Saturday between 8-9pm I’ll be participating in a Twitter party with Betta Living, hosted by my lovely friend Fritha over at Tigerlilly Quinn, all about bedtimes and bedtime stories. It’s Roald Dahl’s birthday tomorrow and we’ll be using this opportunity to honour the wonderful author himself and celebrate other authors and children’s stories. Please do join us by searching the hashtag #bettabedtimes and two twitter users will win £50 to spend on Betta Living’s Roald Dahl collection: take a look below to see how gorgeous it is.

See you there!

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This post was written in partnership with Betta Living

New School Year Guilt

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When you’re a mother, the default mode seems to be GUILT. I thought this was just me until I started talking to my mum friends and realised this guilt phenomenon is universal. From what I can tell, save a few books by G Ford or your parenting practitioner of choice, we’re all pretty clueless when it comes to this parenting journey. Which means you’re always second guessing your choices, wondering if you make the best decisions when it comes to your children.

For example, in the last 48 hours I have felt guilty over the following things (and more, but I only have around 800 words here): giving rice cakes to the kids for a snack instead of blueberries, making Elfie go to nursery for the day when she was clinging onto my leg crying, sending her to bed early because she was mean to Hux (and tired), not giving them a bath because we were all too knackered for the nightly splish splash, not fastening Hux’s nighttime nappy properly meaning it leaked in bed and he was sad, leaving the school uniform purchase til August and therefore not being able to find navy P.E. shorts…

It doesn’t end. I feel guilty because I work too much, but when I’m not working I don’t think it’s enough. I feel guilty because Elfie got to the age of almost-four before going to nursery yet Hux is there at two. I feel guilty that I enjoy my work but I’m doing it at the expense of missing the final throes of his babyhood (when I’m home I sniff his head A LOT).

I’m digressing here, because my current mode of guilt is all about school. Elfie starts school tomorrow and I literally haven’t spent any time feeling sad about it. My Facebook timeline is full of mums waxing lyrical about the beginning of the school year but to be honest I’m feeling… well, I’m not sure how I’m feeling.

I know that Elfie doesn’t like nursery; they make her try fruit every day and she likes only blueberries, bananas and strawberries which is uber stressful on the orange and apple days. Yet she’s hugely excited about the prospect of big school and can’t wait to get there, so I guess I’m excited about that. I’m stressed about the aforementioned school uniform (buy it in JULY, people, JULY!), the last bits of which I’m picking up tonight, 12 hours before she starts. I’m proud of how cute she looks in her school uniform and I’m kind of relieved that I won’t be paying £60 a day for her to be in childcare any more.

I’m also starting a new job on the day she starts school, so much of my mind is on that. I’m saying goodbye to my four day weeks at the lovely London IKEA office and starting my first full-time permanent job since 2010 at a big London agency’s satellite base in Milton Keynes. I’m very excited about so much of it – running a team, using my knowledge, managing accounts, working for a big name in the industry – but mostly I’m excited that it’s precisely a seven minute commute in the car. No more leaving work at 5.30 and getting home at 8pm! No more delayed trains! No more feeling so tired that I dribble on a stranger’s shoulder during the morning commute! I’m going to miss my colleagues so much though. And the MeatMission burgers.

But then I realise I’m thinking too much about my new job instead of the start of school and I’m slapped with the working mum guilt again. I read a Nora Ephron quote this morning and it made me feel dreadful:

“I have a theory that children remember two things — when you weren’t there and when they threw up”

It was posted by a working mum on a blog… hashtag solidarity, hey sister?

Luckily I was there when Hux threw up last week (all over the car, thanks buddy) but I can’t believe their childhood memories will be made up of time I wasn’t there. Instead I believe they’ll grow up proud of their mum who worked as hard as she could to build a future for them. The holidays we took, the precious evenings reading books on the sofa.

And the burgers, they’ll definitely remember the burgers.