Thursday, 30 January 2014

Do our children really need longer school hours?

Paul Kirby's recent proposal to increase schooling to 45 hours a week, 46 weeks of the year, has got me dusting off my soapbox and clearing my throat. I apologise that this argument is not especially well structured. It actually started off as a comment in response to an online news article about it, but it got so long I thought I'd better post it here instead.

If you haven't heard it in the news, the full details of his proposal are here.

Longer school hours won't equal a better education, as other countries aptly demonstrate. This is effectively proposing that schools become creches so parents can go back to work. It's certainly not in the best interest of the child, especially younger children who need more time to relax, sleep, and enjoy other activities than this proposal would give. 9-6pm is longer than many adults spend in their workplace each day. Any party with this as their manifesto would certainly not be getting my vote.

I had to read this quote twice because it is so dismissive of children and families. "The average working day would give most parents the chance to do a full time job, in between dropping off and picking up their kids." So we drop them off and pick them up and in between we go to some mythical well paying job that's just crying out for a woman to fill, feed them a quick dinner and put them to bed (my youngest is in bed between 7-8pm). Where does family life fall into this? Only in the proposed holiday time? There's also the bit about longer days preparing children for the world of work. Children don't need to be prepared for the world of work because, in case it's escaped your attention, they're CHILDREN. Besides, I know school leavers who would give their right teeth for the chance of a full time job where they can put their education to good use but the jobs simply aren't there!

You can find information to support anything by saying that "studies in America have shown". The UK starts its children at school a year earlier than most other European nations - two years in the case of Sweden and Finland - yet fall behind when children in objective studies such as Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) where Finland has been found to have the best school system, excelling in key subjects such as maths and science. These figures are mentioned in Kirby's article and dismissed, yet I can't see why they are any less credible evidence than his examination of the US.

Kirby states that "The perfect 2015 Election promise needs to tick the following boxes:"

Address the cost of living crisis, especially that faced by hard working, but low income families
As a hard working, low income family I can testify that this does not address  the cost of living crisis because wages are stagnant yet the cost of living is rising.

Capture the imagination of women voters, especially those aged 30-45.
That's me! It's captured my imagination alright. I now imagine you sitting in some office in an affluent area of the country, completely isolated from the people you propose this will appeal to

Show that the political party is on the side of ordinary families against vested interests
I'd class ours as ordinary, yet this policy undermines family interests. I chose to have children because I actually wanted to spend some time with them, not have them forced to stay out of the house for more than 9 hours a day, then be exhausted on the weekend.

Reverse the view that the next generation will not have it as good as their parents
I am not sure how this will create jobs to enable the current generation of school leavers to be able to afford to dream of owning their own home or having a decent pension

Produce a trump card that shows we know how to win the global economic race
This doesn't even make sense. It's like it was put in for a bit of padding.

Prove that politicians can do big things that matter in the real world, and quickly
Making fast, significant changes is only good if the changes are beneficial. 

He finishes his manifesto by suggesting we tell if it's a good idea by pretending that it had already been in place for 20 years and the proposal was to change it to the way it currently is. What? That's ridiculous. It hasn't been that way for good reason: the idea is absurd.

The party who will get my vote in 2015 will be the one who shows a credible commitment to improving the standards of education for all children and increasing the employment opportunities for parents so that  there are a) jobs there and b) salaries which reflect the increase in the cost of living so that childcare for those who need it is more affordable.

I made the decision to work fewer hours and take a lower salary so I can be there for my children, to nurture, parent and support them as they grow. That is the role of a parent, not a teacher. It is not in their best interests, or the interests of my family, for them to be in school from 9am-6pm. After school and wrap around care already exists in most primary schools for working parents and it is subsidised by tax credits and the councils. Putting my kids in school for 9 hours a day is of no benefit to them or to me.

What do you think? Am I missing something in my interpretation? Would you vote for this policy? Let me know!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Is Going Commando Ever A Good Idea?

Miranda Kerr in Pucci and Liz Hurley in "that" Versace dress which made her a household name

This post is inspired by this pic of Miranda Kerr in a slashed Pucci gown at the 2014 InStyle Warner Bros party that followed the Golden Globes. I am not a fan. I think Kerr is drop-dead gorgeous with a killer body that I have no doubt is a combination of exceptional genes and hard work, but this dress just made me shudder. I suspect it was, at least in part, a two-fingers up gesture to her ex. Orlando Bloom not only got to appear on the ACTUAL Golden Globes red carpet rather than merely a sponsored after-party, but also had the honour of presenting an award, yet who got the most headlines? Yep, Kerr in her blatantly underwear free dress.

I lost a bit of respect for her, to be honest, and yes, I am sure she's crying into her organic green smoothie while reading this. She's gorgeous, she's fit, she doesn't need a slashed fashion equivalent of a neon sign saying "I AM SEXY" - it's obvious that she already is. I asked myself: is going commando ever a good idea? Why don't you be the judge.

Kate Winslet in Stella McCartney in 2011

Kate Hudson in Versace in 2012. I don't actually mind this one.
Heidi Klum at the 2007 Victoria's Secret Show afterparty. She wore more on the runway earlier that night, and that's saying something!

GP in 2013 admitted her dress was a "disaster". She was scrounging for a razor moments before hitting the red carpet. Classy.

... and the eye-watering iCandy dress worn by Draya Michele and Erica Mena who clearly have a close relationship with intimate waxing

What do you think? Have I been a little harsh? Is less really more in this instance, or is there such a thing as too much information?

ETA: Someone's kindly pointed out that I was remiss in not including Jaimie Alexander's attire at the Thor 2 premiere. The sexiness of the dress is overshadowed by the grossness of a stick on flesh coloured modesty patch... ick!

Not a good angle: The dress was the most explicit when Jaimie stood to the side

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Meal Planning Monday 27 January 2014

Well, here we are at the start of another week and it's fair to say I'm not feeling inspired. I'm envious reading other people's blogs where they mention that their children eat everything they cook as if it wasn't something extraordinary. My fussy kids are doing my head at meal times in at the moment and it's either because a) I'm making a bit of a stand, or b) they are being taken over by Satan. Or both.

This week is:
Sunday - fish fingers and yellow rice for husband and youngest. Packet pasta and sauce with grated cheese, which I burned. No point jazzing it up. That's what we ate. 
Monday - Sweet and Sour Pork with peppers and rice
Tuesday - Meatloaf, potatoes, veg, gravy
Wednesday - Cheesy ham and veg pie
Thursday - Roast chicken with veg, gravy, stuffing and Yorkshire puddings (I am not a purist - Yorkshire puddings are good with any roast dinner
Friday - chicken and spinach curry
Saturday - Fridge frittata

I am baking
Chocolate and caramel brownies
ANZAC biscuit traybake
... that should last the week but if it doesn't then I'll bake a chocolate cake as well. 

Remember to check out Mrs M's linky for more Meal Planning Monday inspiration. I will be reading with interest this week in the hope of getting my meal planning mojo back!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Meal Planning Monday - 20 January 2014

Howdy hungry peeps. How has your week been? Though I did manage to meal plan last week I didn't quite manage to get my post up, so I am getting in early this week and doing it on Sunday. Go me and my sporadic organisation skills.

I've started a new job which involves me being out of the house all day (the biscuit tin is going into decline with loneliness) so I have to be super organised if I am to survive without my family turning feral because I am late with dinner. To that end I have not only meal planned but prepped and cooked almost an entire week of dinners.

We're eating:
Savoury Crepes with chicken, spinach and bacon
Toad in the Hole
Roast Chicken
Pancetta & Spinach Frittata
Chicken & Butternut Risotto
Pizza & Garlic Bread 
... and either left overs or beans on toast type meal. 
What are your favourite freezer or batch cooking meals? Please share them with me in the comments because I am going to need them!

Thursday, 16 January 2014

National Trust 50 Things for 2014

50 things
The National Trust 50 Things to Do Before You're 11 & 3/4 list is the perfect place for parents who want to do more with their kids but are feeling uninspired. With so many options there's always something to suit your mood/age/weather/budget/location. We made the most of the free activities on offer at Tredegar House (a NT property in Newport) in the 2013 summer holidays. Well, the kids made the most of the activities and I made the most of the cafe and a peaceful hour or two.

Check out the website for the ability to register your child. You can keep track of all the activities you've done online and unlock games and other goodies as a reward, or download and print off a list to tick them off as you go. My 11 year old has completed virtually all of them, however my 6 year old has only ticked off about a quarter so there is plenty there to keep him busy. Plan a holiday or a day out around and activity or just do the ones close to home.

As well as providing the list, the National Trust have YouTube videos to help get you started. They're virtually all free and simple and will encourage children to explore their actual surroundings rather than merely their Minecraft ones.

Here are some of my pics:
22. Explore inside a tree 
4. Build a den 

28. Climb a huge hill - you can't even see the summit from here!

14. Dam a stream

1. Climb a tree

...maybe not

23. Visit a farm
15. Play in the snow
I've never had a problem letting my boys get stuck in, no matter how dirty they may get, but I have spoken with some parents over the years who have been reluctant to give their children the same freedom. If you're worried about their clothing or the washing I've found waterproof trousers to be invaluable. They're all over eBay and if you don't by the fleecy ones then they can be worn all year round.

Monday, 13 January 2014

The Best and Worst Dresses of the 2014 Golden Globes

Yay! It's that time of year again. I love an award ceremony to brighten up a gloomy winter evening. More specifically, I love an award ceremony red carpet because, let's face it, it's all about the dresses. I don't give a toss who won what and what they said, I don't care about the guys (Richard Armitage excepted), I just what to check out the gowns and pass judgement.

The ones I liked...
Cate Blanchett in Armani Prive - business in the front, party in the back, just like a mullet
Reese Witherspoon in Calvin Klein. I've seen pics where this aqua dress looked almost Tiffany blue. It's gorgeous

Julie Bowen (no, me neither) in Carolina Herrera

Uma Thurman in Versace. She has a killer bod but doesn't always make the most of it

Kaley Cuoco in Rani Zakhem Couture - she could have got away with this as a wedding dress
... and the ones I didn't
Emma Thompson in Lanvin - really ageing and not especially flattering. She's got nice boobs but this high neckline does nothing for them and the drab skirt is aging
Hayden Panettiere in Tom Ford - I hate everything about this: the neckline, the slit that ends above the knee, the slicked back hair. 

Berenice Bejo in Giambattista Valli - the colour is gorgeous on her but the sheer bit, ruffles and lapels turns it into a hot mess

Giuliana Rancic in Lorena Sarbu- this looks dated and not in a trendy vintage kind of way. Yuck bodice and weird waistline.

Anna Gunn in Donna Karan Atelier - the colour is really boring and washes her out

... and the ones that have me on the fence

Lupita Nyong'o in Ralph Lauren - the colour is sensational but I am not loving the cape

Lena Dunham in Zac Posen - would be great if it fit in the bust. It squishes her bust and looks like it's cutting into her arm pits.

Drew Barrymore in Monique Lhullier - it's a pretty dress but looks more suitable for a wedding than the Golden Globes 

There were other dresses I liked but these were the ones that stood out for me. What dresses did you like and not like? What did you think about Emma Watson's Dior dress & trousers combo.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Meal Planning Monday - 6 January 2014

I'm back on the MPM #mealplanningmonday wagon after what I believe may have been three solid weeks of eating my own body weight in tins of chocolate. We all do it every year so why don't they dispense with the 1kg tins and sell them in vats of 50kg to save on the shopping? Imagine diving into a vat of Celebrations, Roses, Quality Street and Heroes...

Anyway... back to the meal plan.

Roast Beef, cauliflower cheese, stuffing balls, cabbage (that's tonight - I can't wait!)
Beef fajitas with Mexican rice 
Sour Cream Chicken
Chicken fried quinoa (or rice, if I forgot to buy quinoa)
Pancetta, broccoli, chicken & ranch pizza

We're out for dinner one night as well because DH is turning 40 and I am celebrating by not cooking. 

Remember to check out Mrs M's linky for more Meal Planning Monday posts. 

What are you cooking this week? Leave me a comment or link to a recipe, and if you like this post please share it with the buttons below. Thanks!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

5 Amazing Free Apps to Get You (ok, me) Organised in 2014

Yay! It's January. Time for resolutions to be better, thinner, richer, nicer or whatever -er takes your fancy. My 2013 resolutions have all been ticked off and it's time to look at what I want to achieve in 2014, namely being organised.

I'm traditionally a pen-and-paper type of gal but I'm trying to move into the realms of using my phone for more than texts and Instagram so I've been testing Android apps to help keep myself and my family organised. These are my favourites so far. Click on the picture to be taken to the Play Store

1. Schedule Planner - Free

I downloaded this one because the blurb said "productivity comes from structure - and that’s exactly what Schedule Planner gives you". As well as being fairly simple to use once it's set up, it also has pie charts showing of how much of my planned work I've completed.

2. Color Note - Free
I've actually being using Color Note for ages and I love it. Its perfect for jotting down ideas or writing a list of errands I have to do without using and losing bits of paper.

3. Cozi Family Calendar - Free

I haven't had this one my phone for long but I like that I can share a calendar with my husband. It means that he can't deny my having told him something (though I'm sure he'll try). It takes a bit of time to set up but after that it's just a matter of inputting info as it comes up.

4. my Food Grocery Plan - Free
This is something I'm looking forward to getting my teeth stuck into (bad pun intentional). I do love a meal plan but I find sometimes that when I'm out and wondering about what to have for dinner that my mind goes blank and I end up buying something to take home. I can sync this between my phone and tablet to update it easily at home and while I'm out.

If you think this list will help someone with their 2014 goals please share it. What are your favourite organisational apps? Have I missed something obvious that will revolutionise my life?

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

January Photo a Day on Instagram

Is anyone else doing this? #fmsphotoaday

How Long Does It Take To Make £2 Million Disappear?

This is not the chirpiest of New Year's Day posts and for that I apologise in advance, but I am livid (and on my soapbox) about the combined amount of money spent on fireworks seeing in the New Year.

I have not yet been able to find the cost of the London 2013 New Year's Eve firework display but suspect that, since it included peach snow and scratch and sniff bands (WTF!) that it cost more than the £276,000 of the previous year. That's more than a quarter of a million pounds burned in ten minutes. Factoring in the cost of things like extra policing the City of London will have spent around £2 million on the celebrations. Multiply that by the number of cities around the world who put on massive firework displays and that's a staggering amount of money gone up in smoke.

Now, I'm not saying that fireworks aren't nice. I love a bit of a bonfire night display but, having seen the Sydney NYE fireworks from a superb vantage spot on Sydney Harbour my lingering memory is the smell of sulphur and the irritating dust.

My challenge for governments for New Year's Eve 2014 is to put their fireworks budget into something which will make a real difference, a gesture their residents can feel proud of. For example, The Trussell Trust spend around £28 for a foodbox which will feed a family for three days. The money spent on London's fireworks alone could pay for nearly 10,000 such parcels. To me making it better in a significant way for thousands of people, rather than merely proving a few hours entertainment, is a far more worth way of commemorating the start of a new year. Am I alone in my belief?

So, the answer to how long does it take to make £2 million disappear is up to you, City of London, and your fellow governments. Will you make it pretty, or will you make a difference?