BritMums Live 2014: The Emotional Aftermath

10449147_1431191563820666_523169491_nBlogger dining: with Katie, Becky and Charlotte. Photo by Becky.

Every time Monday morning comes around I want to kick myself. I swear I could be a kick-arse lifestyle blogger if only I had the wherewithal to take my camera out on my funtime weekend jaunts, or even record half of it on my iPhone. But I always forget to record the day for prosperity – through living in the moment (my musings on mindfulness to come in a couple of weeks, prepare yourselves) or through focussing too much on craft beers and prosecco.

So you’ll just have to use my lovingly written words to imagine your own version of my weekend, which I promise you was as kick-arse as it sounds.

If you’re living under a rock, or you know, you’re not a blogger, you might not have realised that this weekend was BritMums Live 2014. The biggest blogging conference in the UK, this weekend London played host to 700 of the country’s finest parent bloggers and boy, were we all excited to see each other.

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Morgana and Jenny… the angels of the north

There’s something about the relationships we form online in this community we’ve created that’s difficult to explain to the outside world. Unless you’re a part of it is really difficult to describe the bonds, the emotions, the lives we share with one another. It’s such a powerful thing and it’s never more palpable than at the times you get all those bloggers in a room with each other.

I’ve never been to a blogging conference without it being a thoroughly emotional experience for me and this year was no different. It started with Karin, who I’ve watched go on a difficult journey these past couple of years, and being able to give her a hug just got me in the gut (or the tear ducts) and that was when the weeping began. Then there was the fact I was able to sit next to Charlotte at dinner, hold her hands and truly speak honestly and candidly about the last couple of years to someone who had lived it with me. That was so very special.

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Baby Charlotte

Then there was the love, support and friendship from those I hadn’t seen in a little while: Steph and Bryony as always, lovely Katie, Fritha, my northern soulsisters Morgana and Jenny who are total sunshines, Alison, new friends like Becky, Lizzie and Emma, and ones I wish I’d seen more of: Chloe, Sarah, Alice and Alice, Emma (I did get a gorgeous cuddle with baby Charlotte though! And got to give her back when she cried ;), Vicki and many more…

These people are some of the most important in my life and I hold very dear to my heart the fact I would never have met them if it wasn’t for my blog. Thank-you, wonderful ladies, for inspiring me every day and for your friendship, acceptance and love. I am lucky to have you all in my life!

Emo bit over.

I didn’t over-stretch myself this year by making mad plans to go to all the sessions and events. I know I’d have a tough week at work, so I booked a couple of meetings with some fantastic ladies to talk all things IKEA (holla B, Emma and Fritha), confirmed my attendance at a dinner that evening, sat back and waited for the fun to happen. And happen it did! From a lunch at the Hoxton to drinks at All Bar One and a wonderful dinner at Pizza East… it was a great evening with some great women.

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Look! Lizzie took a photo of me that I don’t hate!

Saturday was much the same in that I was totally laid-back about the day. I sacked off the sessions in favour of socialising with my favourite ladies, and you know what? I had a ball. I probably could have done with learning a bit (can’t we all do with learning sometimes?) but this weekend it was all about the sisterhood.

I trotted off early to get ready for my friend Caoimhe’s BBQ (remember her?). In the most grown-up step ever taken she has just bought her first (BEAUTIFUL) apartment and I was very excited to help Christen her balcony. Though it was more a terrace than a balcony, an amazing space that you’d never expect to find in central London. We had a fun-filled evening toasting her mortgage over chicken wings and organic burgers.

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Sunday was the perfect tonic to a busy weekend: a walk down to Spitalfields (the quest for the perfect leather jacket continues and there are some contenders in All Saints), a burger, a nap and a lazy afternoon at the park. And a reunion with my babies! Perfection.

It’s ironic that I’ve never had less time on my hands than I do right now but I feel I have so much to say. I feel like I’ve learned so much about life in these last six months and spending the weekend talking about anything and everything made me realise that. For the first time I am enjoying taking life by the balls and sharing it with this fabulous group of people… it’s going to be quite the ride, ladies.

PS: Cybermummy 2011 (glad to see I was sneaking off to All Bar One even then), Britmums Live 2012, Britmums Live 2013.

On Sometimes Not Liking Your Children (But Obviously Still Loving The Crap Out Of Them)

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After the week I’ve had (and it’s only Wednesday! Give me strength) I have to put this out there: sometimes when we’re having a really tough week, though I love them ‘to the moon and back’, I struggle to like my children.

I love them more than any amount I can put into words and this is a feeling that only mothers know: I would go to the ends of the earth to ensure their happiness, I’d walk over hot coals to make sure they were safe, I would (and do) sit in a hot stinking soft play for hours to keep them happy. But there is the odd occasion I struggle with how I feel at the consequences of their actions and behaviour.

Let me explain. I am experiencing the effects of three nights of sub-four hour sleeps. The first night Hux wouldn’t settle and wanted to be in bed with his mummy, which sounds lovely (and it really is gorgeous to cuddle up to that little munchbag) but when it’s 3am and you haven’t been to sleep yet thanks to the feet tap dancing up and down your back you start to yearn for your own space again.

Elfie has woken up three mornings in a row at 5.45am. FIVE FORTY FIVE. The first thing she does is pad into my room to wake me up and I immediately tell her it’s far too early to get up and that she needs to go back to her own bed. She usually reacts to this news with a high pitched whine and stomp back to her bedroom which then of course wakes her brother up. Who promptly removes his pyjamas and nappy, natch.

This morning I thought I’d invite her into my bed to see if she’d go back to sleep after a cuddle. She thanked me by wee’ing on my clean sheets (“oh, don’t worry mummy, it was just an accident”). All this after a night of unrest thanks to a bad dream about soft play: “I’m sad because they won’t let me in the door *sob sob*”. I therefore spent the early portion of the morning muttering under my breath as I shoved sheets in the washing machine.

Of course, the result of these massively early mornings are that, come 3pm, Elfie’s absolutely knackered. Hux still has a nap (long may this continue) but she doesn’t anymore so she’s taken to falling asleep on the floor doing a jigsaw, or on the sofa. I wake her up as soon as possible because I don’t want her getting into a routine of napping and then she is a horror for the rest of the afternoon. Her tantrums are few and far between but she likes to whine, and whine she does. And if she’s not whining she’s bursting into unreasonable tears because Hux looked at her or because I won’t let her have a snack 10 minutes before dinner time. The negotiations at this time are intricate and plentiful.

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While all this is happening I’m struggling on myself; if there’s one thing I’m bad at it’s coping on a small amount of sleep. Maybe for one day, yes, but not for three days on the trot. My cold and sore throat just won’t shift, I assume because I’m unable to get any sort of decent rest in, my skin is in a bad shape and I am craving carbs. Not sleeping as much as your body needs really buggers you up and I am feeling it keenly right now.

I’ve never had this much work on – and don’t get me wrong I’m loving it – but I wish I felt a bit more switched on to cope with it all. I swear my brain is working about 40% below capacity and eating cupcakes is not helping. Tiredness makes everything that bit harder; the house is messier, the washing basket is full, there’s no patience with slow movers in the supermarket and my patience is ridiculously tested. I find the arguments like “mummy, Hux isn’t doing the space rocket pancake race properly with my dollies” really hard to referee which leads to yet more wailing (from the kids AND me, turns out) and when an unnamed three year old coloured in my carpet yesterday (“oh don’t worry mummy, it was only an accident”) I had to take myself to the naughty step for a five minute time out. With wine.

These times, they are so testing. I usually have such a high tolerance for strops, arguments, work woes and sniffles but the added tiredness means I’m so much closer to cracking point. And yes, because this is a direct result of my children and their behaviour, I find myself not liking them very much at the moment.

If it makes you feel any better, this feeling leads to me not liking myself that much very much either! I don’t want to blame anything on my children, to bring every single bad feeling in my life back to the fact I’m a single mum now, but god I miss having someone to hand the children over to at 6pm so I can go and sit in a hot bath and stew until sanity returns and I am a happy mummy once more. Self-pity doesn’t help anyone, but at times like this I allow myself to feel that yeah, life is unfair right now. I didn’t ask to do this on my own and would never have chosen to, and having to be everything to everyone is bloody hard. Impossible, at times.

But this morning one of my friends remarked what a happy and well-behaved little boy Hux was. “That’s all you, you know” she said, and you know what? I burst with pride when I heard this because it’s true. When Elfie singlehandedly wrote her own name on Monday? I almost spontaneously combusted. The hours of drawing dots for her to practice her writing were all so worth it.

These two perfect little people are a reflection of a life of love and happiness that I give them and that makes me prouder than anything. There will be weeks when their behaviour and sleep habits drive me to distraction but we’ll get over them. We’ll emerge out the other end a stronger little threesome because of them and we’ll grow up to be so proud of each other. We might be tired, grumpy and have short tempers, but our house is full of love and that never changes, no matter how many sleepless nights we have.

Now, if I can just work out how to stop all the ‘accidents’…

Writing My Oscar’s Acceptance Speech

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Because you all know there’ll be as many selfies at The MADs (Mum and Dad Blogging Awards) than the Oscars.

On Sunday night I was pootling around on the internet – erm, I mean working hard – when I saw a tweet saying the finalists for the MAD Awards were out. I clicked over to have a look and see if any of my favourite bloggers had been included in the line-up.

I wasn’t really truly expecting to see myself there, though if I had made the cut I thought it would be in the ‘Best Blog Writer’ category (hi ego, nice to meet you), but I didn’t feel disappointed not to see my blog on the list.

Until. UNTIL!

I scrolled further down the page and realised I’d only gone and made the final 5 in the ‘Most Entertaining’ category!

I have been gobsmacked, I mean, totally gobsmacked, ever since I found out. Writing is my passion, it’s what I love to do, but to receive validation that people are finding my writing entertaining has just been the biggest pat on the back. Blogging can be a bit of a lonely game – your quarterly performance review is only ever carried out with yourself and let me tell you, I’m pretty hard on myself sometimes. So to have my readers and peers say they enjoy my writing, possibly as much as I enjoy it, is the best compliment I could ever have hoped for.

I’m wiping the tears away right now, Gwyneth Paltrow style.

But what happens next? It’s not just a one way street to the Oscars from here. I need to ask for your votes once more in picking me as the winner out of the five finalists in the ‘Most Entertaining’, so please hop on over here and select ‘More Than Toast’ (that’s me obvs) on the final drop-down menu. You can vote in as many or as few categories as you like, so don’t worry about leaving blank spaces. And if you drop me a line to let me know you’ve voted I’ll be sure to remember you in my Oscars speech. In between snotty sobs.

If your voting finger needs a bit more of a workout then I’d be delighted to receive your support in the BritMums Brilliant In Blogging Awards, too! By way of a thank-you please have this picture of puppies. Dressed in babygros. Hanging from a washing line. Don’t ever try to tell me I don’t know what my readers want…

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I feel like I should be saying ‘Mwah, darlings’ a lot more now. Don’t worry mum, I won’t let my new-found fame go to my head.

 

 

Get Your #melfie on!

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If you look through the photo album on your phone, what do you see? If your album is like mine it will go a little something like: kids kids kids kids kids FOOD kids kids a funny word FOOD kids kids kids. In short, there are a lot of photographs of my children but none of me, and if I wasn’t lurking around them most of the time saying something motherly like “MUMMY SAYS YOU MUST PUT YOUR SHOES ON” you wouldn’t know they were my kids by looking at the photos. I’m no-where to be seen!

It kind of makes me sad that I’m so out of the frame when it comes to pictures of the kids, but it is what it is. I’m the one who spends most of the time with them, and during the day when we’re going about our business I do take photos of them but I’m not thinking about asking people to snap pictures of us together. 1) I’m too busy making sure they are safe and not torturing each other, and 2) when I pose for a photo I tend to look like this:

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Cheeeeese!

But I’m putting my foot down. I want to have more photos of me with my lovely two, I want to look back in twenty years and remember that I was actually spending time with them because – ooh, look – there’s a picture of the three of us!

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Enter the #MELFIE! Together with my new friends at Lifecake (the brilliant online photo sharing service for families) I am bringing back the mother-and-child-selfie, or the #melfie if you want to be snappy about it. Just in time for Mother’s Day on the 30th March we want to put mums back in the frame by encouraging you all to snap as many pictures as you can with your kids and post them to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with the hashtag #melfie, tagging @lifecake. I’ve already started #melfie-ing all over the shop and I’m loving it; I’ve got some really cute pictures of the kids and I together plus because I knew I’d be photographing myself I’ve been making an effort with my make-up. Win/win!!

HOW TO WIN

As a bonus, Lifecake will be checking out all the #melfies that will be happening in between now and Mother’s Day and the best one, as judged by lovely Katie of Mummy Daddy and Me Makes Three, will win a subscription to Lifecake and a photobook, worth £60 in total in addition to the eternal fame of being #melfie number one ;) Don’t forget to tag Lifecake in your Tweets, Facebook posts and Instagrams so they can see them!

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I can’t wait to see your #melfies! If you need a few tips on smartphone photography take a look at this: How To Be A Brilliant iPhone Photographer. Ts and Cs for the competition can be found here and you can give Lifecake a little look over here.

My Winter Beauty Favourites

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I’m probably not going to endear myself to anyone by telling you this, but ever since I have switched to Paleo my skin has been insane. Insane in a good way. I had one zit the whole of last month and it was one of those hormonal ones that arrives in THAT WEEK and disappears as soon as the tampons get put back in the cupboard. Which I guess proves to me what those skincare geniuses have been saying all along: great skin comes from the inside and my inside apparently does not care for refined carbohydrates.

The upshot of this has meant that I haven’t felt such a need to slather myself in lotions and potions every morning and evening and have somewhat relaxed my skincare regime. I’m still loving my Clinique cleansing balm, am using a gentle toner and moisturiser but am no longer scouring the internet for miracle cures for my dull and tired skin. Cos it’s not so dull and tired anymore, wahey!

I’m still not in the place I want to be, which is to go out regularly without make-up; I don’t think I’ll be here until I stop drinking red wine in the evenings and my children sleep in after 6am. But I’m not finding such a need to slap on the heavy foundation and concealer which feels kind of liberating. Well done, paleo, well done.

Radical Skincare Age Defying Exfoliator Pads – £45
I’ve long been a fan of chemical exfoliants, ever since I heard the guru that is Caroline Hirons waxing lyrical about their benefits and like most women in their twenties who read Caroline’s blog I immediately began using Alpha-H’s liquid gold a couple of times a week and loved it. So when the people at Radical Skincare asked me to give their Age-Defying Exfoliating pads a go I thought it would make a good comparison. These are brilliant – as good as Alpha-H, if not better. Using these 2-3 times a week (they recommend every night but my skin is pretty sensitive) I definitely notice my pores are smaller, my skin feels less congested and is much smoother and brighter. The pack includes 60 pads so although it may feel pricey it will last a long time.

L’Oreal Code Lumiere BB Cream - £7.95
I chucked this in my trolley at Tesco’s on a whim a couple of months ago and I’m so glad I did! It’s a really light yet hydrating cream that I tend to use day-to-day. I’m still very much into Clinique’s CC cream but that is now reserved for nights out or special occasions. The L’Oreal BB cream slides on really easily so it’s perfect to apply in the morning when I’m rushing to get out the door for the school run and then I literally don’t think about make-up for the rest of the day. The last time my mum saw me when I was wearing this she said my skin looked ‘glowing’ and this product really does work to illuminate my face.

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Giordani Gold Jewel Lipstick in Mauve Dream -£9.95
It’s very nearly fashion week and to try and re-live some of the fashion-y fun I used to have when I was living in London and surviving on cocktails I popped along to the Zalando press day. Honestly I’d kind of forgotten how boring the whole fashion thing is – look at clothes that won’t be in the shops for ages, look at people who are dressed way cooler than you, swig free champagne. What a drag. This dress (French Connection) MUST be mine this summer though, I’m totally in love. In my Zalando goodie bag was this Giordani Gold Jewel lipstick in Mauve Dream and I’m totally in love. I don’t often wear lipstick, let alone dark colours, but this is gorgeous. It’ll look great with my new dress in the summer ;)

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Fenjal Classic Luxury Creme Bath Oil – £12.49
Since we moved house (but before the poo/bath incident) I’ve really enjoyed relaxing with some oils, a couple of candles and a magazine in a big tub of hot water. Fenjal’s bath oil is my favourite product to use because it’s something my mum always used to use for her bathtime so the scent takes me right back. It’s relaxing, moisturising and always feels like a treat.

Oqibo Intense Moisture Defence – £35.75
Oqibo wasn’t I brand I had heard of before I was contacted by their Customer Relations team just after Christmas; let me start this by telling you that everyone who works for Oqibo is incredibly friendly, knowledgeable and, well, just happy, and that always gives you a positive view on an organization. So I began my experience with their Intense Moisture Defence feeling pretty uplifted and that is how I have remained. This product has slotted in beautifully with my new low-maintenance skincare routine as it’s a creme that can be used morning and evening and does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a very hydrating moisturiser which works wonders with skin like mine that requires a bit of extra TLC, especially in the winter. The creme is a gorgeous texture that sinks in easily but what really sets it apart for me is the scent; so many moisturisers turn me right off with the way they smell but I absolutely adore this.

Neal’s Yard Bee Lovely Head To Toe Gift Set – £22.50
As part of Intellicig’s New Year New Start campaign they sent me a set of Neal’s Yard pampering gifts and some aromatherapy scents so I could spend an evening relaxing. I’m a pretty devout non-smoker and have friends who’ve kicked the nasty habit using Intellicig’s electronic cigarettes so I’m quite a fan of theirs (is it me or do they look pretty cool and space-age anyway?!), and even more so now! I think I gained a lot this New Year by focussing on all the good things in my life rather than moaning about what I want to change and this is going to continue into 2014… making myself happy by taking time out to pamper myself, have massages and get to the gym is an important part of that. I adore Neal’s Yard and in particular their Bee Lovely hand cream so this gift set was perfect for me; it lives in my kitchen to give my poor winter ravaged knuckles a bit of TLC.

Korres Jasmine Shower Gel – £8
I might be reaching a bit here lest I feel guilty for spending such a fortune on shower gel, but I swear this gorgeous product means my day begins with a bang rather than a bleurgh. I blame Waitrose for stocking such lovely beauty products and I also blame my kids who like to spend our shopping trips shrieking over cake, mini eggs and bananas. By the time I get round to the beauty aisle an 8 quid shower gel is one of the only things standing between me and complete craziness. If you’re in the market for an expensive shower gel you should make this one it.

Kiehl’s Creme De Corps – from £8.50
Best body moisturiser ever. End of.

Resolution Schmesolution

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I love New Year’s Resolutions, always have done. There’s something about the excuse to change yourself for the better, clean slates etc, that I just love. Don’t get me wrong, self-improvement is A-OK at any time of the year but NYE is the one time you can legitimately stand up and say, “look at me, world, I am going to make myself a better person”.

Because up until this year I always thought improvement was necessary, I always strived towards the unattainable. I never felt good enough in so many aspects of my life; never felt like I was a good enough housewife, I was never good enough at my job, I wasn’t good enough at being a mum. Always working towards being a person I thought I ought to be, yet never quite getting there despite making hundreds of New Years resolutions, new starts each and every year.

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It’s taken a difficult 2013 to realise that I don’t need to do that any more. I finally, finally, feel happy with who I am. I may not load the dishwasher immediately after lunch, I may take a bit longer to answer my work emails than I should, I may snap at my children when we’re all overtired and they are whining about something or other.

I am imperfect, but I go to bed every night knowing that I have tried my best to make the most of that day. I know that as long as I have done my best in work, at home and with the kids then I am winning. Striving to be the absolute best at everything is a losing game because nobody has enough hours in the day to be all those things; the women you see who are these perfect wives, businesswomen, mothers, they don’t exist. They are either stretching the truth or have plenty of help in their lives of perfection. My life may not be so shiny and perfect but my children are happy and healthy, they have a lovely home, I’m supporting them and right now, doing my best is enough. Girl power!

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So instead of thinking of all the ways I want to change myself next year I’m going to focus on what I’ve achieved in this one. Because no matter how horrendous 2013 has been I feel like I’m entering 2014 a much nicer, happier, more hard-working and content person. And that’s something to celebrate.

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2013: The Good Bits

I coped with my husband moving out and 50 miles away to London which was horrible and heartbreaking and something I thought I’d never be able to handle; I picked myself up and made sure I carried on as normal for my children even though I felt like I was dying inside at various points.

I learned how to do all the ‘man’ jobs in my house: mowing the lawn, doing the bins, sorting out things under the bonnet in my car, DIY, fixing the washing machine (with some help from Google and my Dad I saved myself about £130).

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I gave my kitchen table and chairs an Annie Sloan makeover and transformed a bed frame and some lamps with the help of some spray paint. I still don’t have the crafty gene but enjoyed my little projects immensely.

I travelled on my own to New York to visit my best friend for a week of letting my hair down; the first time I’d flown solo. The independence I felt during that trip was something I hadn’t experienced in years.

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I made new friends and had some wonderful times with old ones. I realised the importance of having amazing inspiring women in my life and really appreciated my female pals for being so awesome. You know who you are, ladies – thank you for supporting me in such a loving, non-judgemental advice-giving way. Nights in, nights out, skype, tweets, texts, emails… you rock.

I was the best mum I could be to my two little people. We had lots of adventures together: a cruise, Center Parcs, playdates, soft play, shopping, lunches out, games in. They have both flourished this year and are turning out to be two wonderful, intelligent and thoughtful children. I love being their mum.

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I took the steps to change my name. Something that still feels odd but was important to me in the journey to re-claim my identity.

I completely changed my eating habits, giving up refined carbs, drinking green juices for breakfast and focussing on clean eating. I joined the gym and really enjoy going a couple of times a week, and through these changes I’ve lost a stone and a half, said goodbye to my stubborn tummy podge and become much fitter and healthier. I’ve really enjoyed following the Paleo diet and will continue it next year.

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I moved house on my own to a new town and a place where the children and I can make new happy memories.

I worked really really hard at growing my business; I was on Woman’s Hour with Jane Garvey and wrote a short piece that appeared in Women’s Fitness magazine. Although I didn’t work as much on my book as I would have wanted I’m still plugging away at it and that’s a definite work focus for 2014. I feel so lucky that I’ve been able to do this, having a job you love is so important and I’m so privileged to be able to work around my children.

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I tried dating with varying degrees of success, and despite meeting someone very lovely came to the decision that I just don’t have time to have a full-on relationship at the moment. Having been with a man from the age of 18 to 27 I realised it was important I spend time on my own and get to know myself as a single person. I do love the company of men and am not going to say no to offers of dinner but I’m not actively pursuing the idea of a boyfriend right now.

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I threw my kids a brilliant Christmas and made sure they wanted for nothing over the festive period. Including a 6 foot tree that I wedged in my car, put up at home and decorated with them. It was awesome.

I made sure that my children saw me as a hard-working, ambitious and loving person. I am their role model and I want them to know how much happiness can be found in hard work and healthy living. Does that make me sound like a bit of a hippy?

 

As imperfect as I am, think I’ve accomplished enough in 2013 to warrant not worrying about setting myself unreachable targets. I want to continue to work as hard as I can at being the best person I can be, and if I try my best, well, then I’m happy. How about we all just celebrate who we are for a while rather than stress ourselves out with who we want to be?

I can’t say a final goodbye to 2013 without giving a big thank-you to everyone who visits my blog. It has become such a huge part of my life, my third baby, and I so enjoy sharing my stories and musings with you. I wouldn’t be half as sane without all the advice, reassurance and love I get from my readers. You uplift me. Group hug?