Does beauty matter?

It seems we live in a society obsessed with beauty – the market is flooded with ‘beauty products’ and every woman, no matter how secure, holds just a little internal doubt if she isn’t the perfect 10, or has a couple of grey hairs or ‘laughter lines’ (AKA ‘crow’s feet’). But does it matter?

I know it used to matter a lot more to me. I used to believe that someone who was born beautiful was born with one huge advantage in life because having a pretty face would open doors without the need for a brain or a talent.

I still think that, to some extent, there is a psychology behind this. The more attractive you are (in the widely accepted social definition of what is ‘attractive’), the more other people will be open to having you around, whether that means giving you a shot at a highly sought ‘media’ job, or allowing you to pick and choose from a wider gene pool of potential partners.

But I know that the key element within beauty – which goes hand in hand with knowing that you have a physical advantage – is the confidence that brings.

I’ve known people (women) who would not be classed as ‘pretty’ who have done incredibly well for themselves through sheer force of self-confidence and self belief, and equally I know very pretty girls who are terribly insecure and full of self-doubt. So this obviously isn’t true in all cases and confidence certainly isn’t exclusively held by the beautiful ones.

Reading back through this it also occurs to me that we are almost exclusively talking about women – men go through life being judged and rewarded on a totally different set of criteria.

The unfortunate side effect of our society’s obsession with how we look is apparent when you look at someone like Katie Price or, just lately, Tulisa Contostavlos – people who were so unsure of their own natural beauty (or unsure of their ability to maintain standing in the media circus) that they opted for surgeries that have added nothing that was either necessary or successful, in fact Tulisa looks downright odd in my opinion – like a completely different person and in no way any more attractive than she was before.

Recently I happened across a mention of a woman who is known as ‘The Living Barbie’ doll and, after seeing a picture which I’d assumed was some sort of manga cartoon and then finding out that this was a real person, I did a bit more searching out of sheer car crash mentality. Here is the picture:

Human barbie doll

She denies having surgery other than a boob job but her waist is so thin that one interviewer described it as ‘a sock of skin wrapped around her spinal column’. She also wears ‘doll effect’ contact lenses which lend a plasticky or alien air to her being. There are plenty of articles out there musing on what this woman says about society, or what she thinks society wants or needs to see – mostly that she has attempted to adapt herself to fit into a hyper-sexualised, cartoonised male fantasy, that in reality isn’t what men want to see in the flesh at all. Massive eyes and bizarrely adjusted proportions on a woman actually seem more alien than attractive to the average man apparently.

There is also the fact that she seems miserable. Just Google ‘human barbie doll’ go to images and look through the page – barely a smile even hinted at – but come on, even Barbie smiles!

I’m kind of glad that I don’t have daughters to help navigate through those murky teenage years when they are at their most impressionable. My mum always drummed it into me and my sister that we were perfectly fine as we were but I never really agreed and always wanted to dye my hair blonde or improve on my disaster of a chin! I think my mum implied that, as we were a little physical reflection of her and my dad, it would be a bit insulting to them to want to improve on that!

I think my sister is doing a grand job helping my (14 and 15 year old) nieces to discover and focus on their passions rather than their looks – at least that is how it appears from being around them. I think that’s great and that’s how it should be but I think back to Kirstie Allsop’s recent controversial statement on the subject of mothering girls to focus on marriage and babies ahead of career goals and it makes me wonder whether she would then concentrate on making sure her daughters always look right, pretty enough, to catch a man, setting them up for a life of preening and narcissm…

So does beauty matter? Of course it matters when you think of it in terms of beauty in nature, and the pursuit of beauty in art and literature – but lets not allow society to mould the next generation into confused, dysmorphic young people who can’t see the wood for the trees.

Linking up with Sara over at Mum Turned Mom who’s prompt this week was the word ‘beauty’.



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L is for…Lunch #alphabetphoto

L is for...Lunch

I love the way they are so coordinated in this shot! Eating one of their favourite lunches – cheesy pasta with tuna and sweetcorn. They’ve been playing in the garden hence EJ’s bib & nappy combo!

Linking up to the Alphabet Photography Project over at Podcast Dove.

 photo 4d06e438-4e6a-4f3b-88b2-0c1093350397_zps361ad0e9.jpg

Wicked Wednesday #2 – cheeky boy!

Wicked Wednesday 2

With this lovely weather we’ve been making the most of our lovely back garden. We’ve just bought a new trampoline (which they’re both loving except when JJ decides to jump so hard that EJ ends up screaming his head off!) and we’ve got a decent size rectangular paddling pool with a Little Tikes slide placed right into it for a home lido effect 😉 The hubster keeps leaving them out with the hose on to re-fill the pool and EJ is obsessed with it! Trying to approach him or walk past is like running the gauntlet! I have ended up completely soaked on more than one occasion! Just look at his cheeky little face here! He know’s he’s a cheeky monkey 🙂 Can’t work up the energy to be too annoyed with him though…

Linking up to Wicked Wednesdays over at the lovely Brummymummyof2 blog.



Cake pop tutorial (what not to do!)

Clown cake pops pre smudging

Anyone who has been reading my blog lately will know that I’ve been up to my eyeballs in party preparations – possibly to the detriment of all other rational thought, and a big element of my ‘home-made’ circus theme was to be my clown cake pops. I’d never made these before, or even tasted one in real life. In fact the closest I’d ever come to a real one was probably behind the glass counter at Starbucks.

Looking at Pinterest had given me the idea though – they are clearly something a bit different and unique for a beautifully crafted party theme – a bit of a show stopper if you will.

I watched a tutorial on You Tube and realised that you don’t actually need an electric Lakeland pop cake maker or even moulds to create them. However, in the process of of actually making a large batch (23) – despite having had a mini ‘test run’ earlier in the week – I came to the realisation that there is no substitute for trial and error (definitely error!).

So this is my tutorial, and these are my mistakes, so you don’t make them too! The actual process of making cake pops is quite easy.

  1. Bake a cake. I baked a two layer Betty Crocker Devil’s Food Cake (other box cake mixes are available 😉 ) – too easy – just add oil, eggs and water, stick in oven and wait for burning smell to alert you that they’re done.
  2. Wait for cake to cool down
  3. Crumble cake into a large bowl. Cake should already be fairly moist, so only add a small amount of ‘frosting’ – (I used Betty Crocker vanilla buttercream-style). I used 1 dessertspoon full.
  4. Mix together crumbs and frosting using your hands. It should come together into one big dough ball.
  5. Make the mixture into ball shapes. You should be able to judge the size – I began making them too big but a quick attempt at inserting the stick proved to me that it was far too top-heavy!
  6. I’m not sure if this makes a huge difference because I never tried to do it any other way, but melt some of your chocolate (I used white chocolate and melted it in the microwave) and dip your sticks (I used 6″ sticks because I think anything shorter is not workable) before inserting into cake balls.
  7. At this point I made my big mistake. The best thing to do is now put your cake pops into the freezer (or chill in the fridge until you want to decorate and then put in the freezer) for 20 mins to half an hour. Given the fact that I was doing this in a heatwave in late July I should have guessed, but when I dunked my first batch into melted white chocolate they were almost impossible to decorate. I was adding mini-smarties for clown’s nose and hair and they were slipping off, and the chocolate just would not dry and harden so that I could draw on the eyes, mouth and eyebrows. It took some time in the fridge for this to work! If you freeze first, the chocolate begins to set straight away, to the point where you actually have to work quite quickly if you’re sticking anything on!
  8. At this point my ambition got the better of me. I had set myself the task of adding clown hats made from the bottoms of ice cream cornets (if anyone’s got any suggestion for how to use 23 ice cream cornets with no bottoms, now’s the time!) and then painting on a little face using gel food colouring (the squeezy tube type). Unfortunately in making such a big batch several of the hats broke off, but worse, the gel food dye – particularly the black one which I used for the eyes – would not set, no matter what I did – fridge, freezer, hours of chilling – and in the end, the vast majority were smudged to the point of looking like something from one of those scary clown nightmares. Sigh.

un-iced cake pops

Cake pop operation

Smudgy cake pops

Lesson learnt. Now I know my limitations I will definitely make cake pops again – just no gel food dye next time! They would have been so much easier just sprinkled with hundreds and thousands or rolled in popping candy, etc.

Having said that, a lot of very kind party guests said they were impressive and everyone seemed to enjoy eating them (particularly the birthday boy who is quite partial to chocolate cake for breakfast 😉 ).

Tasty Tuesdays on

The Big (Top) Party!

After flinging together a 2nd birthday party for JJ three years ago, with nothing but a hired hall, bouncy castle and some Disney cars themed plates, cups and decorations, I decided this year to attempt to pull off something a little bit more special for EJ’s 2nd. I wanted a theme – something that could be tweaked and customised – and settled on the circus theme because I think it is fun and colourful.

In hindsight, I think I got a little bit too caught up in this, and the idea of making it perfect – picture perfect too. In the event there was so much going on, and so many elements to bring together that I pretty much forgot, or just didn’t have time to get my camera out, and I really didn’t have time to line up every little element to make it into the perfect photo-shoot.

Silly little things were forgotten, like string for the balloons – so my dad ended up using an entire cannister of helium blowing up about 20 little balloons all of which then sat on the ceiling for the following three hours!

I had booked the hall for an hour in advance of the party thinking that would be enough time to set everything up with just my mum and dad to help (the hubster stayed home with EJ while he napped). By the time the party guests began arriving we were still running around like headless chickens (well I was!) with hardly any food out, still not quite sure how we were going to present it all and the cake and banana muffins still to be iced! (I’d made the icing in advance but didn’t feel confident about transporting ready iced cakes (melty buttercream frosting) for fear of a disastrous mess! In the event my mum did the icing for me and it wasn’t quite what I’d envisioned (I’d also forgotten the Smarties!) but still looked and tasted good.

Birthday cake with bunting

I think my worst fear at that point was that my little ‘fun’ elements – the home-made lion ball toss game:

Lion ball toss

and EJ’s new circus tent:

circus tent

were completely swallowed up in the big hall and without music, planned games, pass the parcel or any real focus like a bouncy castle or entertainer, it felt a little empty and lacking to begin with. Even my ten year old step daughter came and asked ‘is this it?’ – which wasn’t great! Fortunately the cavalry came in late – a few more guests and my sister, brother in law and lovely nieces. The kids began to warm up and run around, and I remembered that I’d bought a party parachute!

The nieces came into their own, rallying the kids around (bear in mind that despite this being EJ’s 2nd Birthday, the majority of the children were older – only two other two year olds and everyone else either three, four or five). They knew lots of parachute games – I wouldn’t have had a clue! – and the kids loved it (particularly the one where you get ‘wound up’ in the middle before everyone pulls back to ‘pop’ you out!

parachute games!

There was a little funny game of pin the nose on the clown too, the first little girl getting it almost exactly right before admitting that she could see despite the blindfold!

Then it was tea time and I seemed to have got it right with variety and amounts of food (I think!). I took the controversial step of not bothering with sandwiches  – does anyone ever eat sandwiches at a party? – and opted instead for cold pizza (I’d cooked four in advance), a variety of crisps, sausage rolls, cheese and onion rolls, cocktail sausages, cherry tomatoes, grapes, strawberries and some home made completely ‘free from’ banana oat muffins (ironically no one at the party suffered from any allergies or intolerances but they still got, at least partially, eaten!).

By the end of the day I felt relieved and happy that I was sending people away with a smile on their faces (and a stuffed party bag with the clown pop of their nightmares!*)

I’ve learned some hard lessons though. Firstly, this isn’t about me, this is about the kids. Secondly, I’m no photographer and I can’t see how you could possibly act as official photographer and host a party too – maybe it would be different if your party was at home and you had all the time in the world to set things up, then take the pictures before your children even got a look in! And my party planning leaves a lot to be desired.

With JJ’s birthday a mere five weeks away, I now have the task of improving upon what I’ve learned – there will still be some home made bits, but everything will centre around the much-requested ‘bouncy castle with a slide’! There will still be cake pops (albeit far less ambitiously decorated), and there may just be individual lunch boxes for all instead of the full spread. The cake pop decoration and laying out of food were by far the most time consuming and stressful elements.

How about you? Do you have any lessons learnt from planning your kid’s party or any tips to share (heaven knows I could use some!)…

*see this post for a full explanation!


The Alphabet Photography Project: Selfie

top hat

Had to be done really! I have just come out the other side of organising and crafting and baking and decorating for my two year old’s circus themed birthday party. At some point I decided it would be a good idea to dress up as a ‘Ringmaster’ and so I bought this little sparkly top hat head band. There was also a nice red peplum jacket with gold stud epaulettes!! This, it has to be said, confused some of the guests who feared that they had somehow missed the fact that it was a fancy dress party. It wasn’t a fancy dress party!

Any hoo, I like this picture because it reminds me that black and white photography can be very forgiving! As long as you get the light right (in this case, bright sunlight coming in from my left hand side) all your blemishes and wrinkles are bleached out – what’s not to like? 😉 I like the way the light is reflected in my eyes too – I describe myself as having hazel eyes but the beauty of hazel only really comes out when the sunlight picks up the highlights. I like the way black and white really captures this shading and depth so well.

Here’s another circus theme pic – the lion ball toss that I designed and made out of an old cardboard box. Also looks quite nice in black and white and reminds me of old cartoons from my youth!

B&W lion ball toss

Linking up to the Black and White Photography Project over at Podcast the Doves.

Word of the week…Birthday!

This week has seen the introduction of one of these:

New trampoline

As I might have mentioned before, there is something highly entertaining about a toddler on a trampoline! This is essentially a joint present for the boys who’s birthdays effectively bookend the summer holidays in late July and early September. I was slightly concerned that it might be a bit of an eyesore but actually, our garden is big enough to accommodate it without making it feel like the main feature and the green highlights on it blend nicely in with the leafy surroundings. I predict many happy summer days of bouncing in the foreseeable future!

I have become slightly obsessed with the preparation for EJ’s circus-themed birthday party this coming Sunday – I learnt my lesson from the mistakes I made with JJ, who’s first big party was all a bit of a last minute mad dash (we were baking a box cake an hour before the party started!!). I have tried to think of everything and assume nothing this year and I’ve even hand made a party game and some fun accessories, but I wanted to up the ante even more by turning my hand to something a little bit unique and special – some homemade clown cake pops!

On Tuesday I decided that it would be a very good idea to knock up a small ‘test batch’. I’ve never done anything like this before but it’s amazing how much inspiration is out there (on Pinterest) and how much guidance ‘You Tube’ etc.

Clown cake pops

I know these babies are not perfect (the one on the left looks very much like my father in law – minus the clown accessories!) but I’m still pretty impressed with my efforts and it was really very enjoyable to do. Now I’m starting to get a bit scared about the real thing – this was just a small batch of five but I’ve tasked myself with creating twenty for the actual party and there are a few stages of chilling and freezing involved! Not sure we have the space :-/

Yesterday was EJ’s actual birthday – I am now the proud owner of a two-year old! He was with our child minder during the day but in the afternoon we gave him his presents and a little Smarties cake to mark the occasion. I haven’t yet considered actual birthdays the cause for a day off work simply because I don’t think the children really get it yet at this age (JJ’s third and fourth birthdays fell on a Friday and a Saturday when I wasn’t working). I guess once school starts JJ will have to get used to having birthdays there for a few years (I never had to experience that as I’m an August baby!).

This time next week we are off Devon with my family which is exciting, and then the following Friday is my birthday. I had planned to arrange something fun way ahead of time this year and even invited friends to go and see the comedian Lee Mack with me on the day, right after New Year’s, before discovering that all the tickets were sold out by the second week of January! 😦 Now I have reverted to having nothing planned for myself at all (except a five hour drive back from Devon!). Sigh. Ah well, I have big plans for 2016!!

Happy Weekend WOTWers!


The Reading Residence

It’s a man’s world…

a woman's place

I know I’ve been absent from The Prompt for a few weeks. Somehow inspiration has failed me. But I saw this week’s prompt – the saying above – and I wanted to think about it because I think it is an interesting and controversial one.

Before I had children I didn’t think too much about this. The hubster and I both had full time jobs. I never really pursued my ambitions to be a writer but I know I could have done and stood on an equal footing with a man in that profession. I knew that some professions were very male-dominated and that women found it hard to be taken seriously in certain roles. In some cases I think it is true that there is a glass ceiling for women, but at the same time, the large and well known organisation I work for now is currently headed by a woman and also has a professional association dedicated to women (which doesn’t stop male colleagues joking about the unfairness of this kind of ‘positive discrimination’ or ‘affirmative action’).

The thing about having children is that it gives you a whole new perspective on where you stand in the pecking order. As women, we are automatically granted up to a year’s maternity leave (in the UK – not all of it paid), and then we are given the opportunity to work flexibly in order to accommodate childcare needs (although having said that, the legislation in the UK has just recently changed to allow everyone and anyone the right to request flexible working). I think the mind-set is that women fulfil the ‘caring’ role and so therefore it is almost the unspoken norm for the woman to either give up work completely or work part-time.

I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of what it’s like to look after little children day in day out – sometimes it can be a thankless task – but it can also be seen as a ‘privilege’. If a man doesn’t like his job he can see that as a reason to feel some envy for this flexibility women seem to be granted almost automatically, but if he loves his job then he’s laughing.

But it’s not the workplace where the idea of a ‘man’s world’ really resonates for me. It’s the home. Whilst I appreciate that I could be making a sweeping generalisation here, I hear from female friends and colleagues (all mothers) time and time again that essentially, there is no real ‘equality’ in their relationship when it comes to organising and running the home, ensuring childcare needs are met and everyone is fed and watered and happy. And we’re talking about all different working arrangements – be it stay at home mums, full-timers, part time workers or situations where men have some time alone with the children each week whilst the mother works. It is nearly always the mother who is ‘on call’ 24-7.

In this respect, nothing seems to change from one generation to the next. It is easy for ‘equality’ to be a political issue in the workplace, not so much in the home. A mere suggestion of this kind of thinking is enough for some men to shout ‘feminist’ as if it is some kind of filthy dirty word which leaves a bad taste in their mouths.

I’m sure from a man’s perspective there are many negatives to the shared juggle of family life too. They have the burden (in many cases) of being the breadwinner. Up to now they have not been granted the courtesy of asking for flexible working. Often they earn the highest salary and so therefore they are automatically expected to be the breadwinner.

I know from personal experience with my husband and his ex, that men are given very short shrift by the courts when it comes to father’s rights. But equally, without a sense of moral responsibility and a good work ethic, a man is capable of walking away and abandoning a woman and child far more easily than a mother could ever do the reverse (or would want to).

Men seem to somehow maintain a good proportion of their freedom when they start a family. They are still able to pursue both their careers and their out of work pursuits whilst women are left at home, literally “‘er indoors”. OK, sometimes we are granted time off for good behaviour, but it’s the exception, not the rule.

So yes, in my mind it is still very much ‘a man’s world’ and I can’t see that changing any time soon…



EJ is two!!!

gorgeous EJ

My baby is two today!! I can hardly believe that this day has come – it doesn’t seem like five minutes since I was taking this photo of JJ on the morning of his second birthday:

JJ's funny second birthday

EJ is such a little character, he can be very stubborn – he certainly knows his mind! He also still confounds me on a regular basis by becoming increasingly hysterical about something he can’t communicate (his language skills are somewhat lacking…).

He is such a loving little boy though – so much more cuddly than his brother used to be, going in for major hugs and clinging to me like my own little koala when I pick him up to bring him down for breakfast in the mornings.

He loves his food and will try lots of different, new foods – again, much more so than his brother. But he also knows what he likes and is addicted to Actimels (or Benecols at my Mum and Dad’s!) and will help himself to lollies and Frubes from the freezer whenever the whim takes him.

His fine and gross motor skills are way ahead of his language – he has clambered up ropes and netting that I wouldn’t expect someone his age to do and he’s doing some good mark making too (note to self, must let him do more mark making!!).

Little climber

EJ masterpiece

I fear that he hasn’t been given the same opportunities as his brother for certain activities – singing and stories and toddler groups… Hopefully that will change a bit come September when JJ starts at Big School…

For the time being we will keep enjoying seeing him playing so beautifully with his big brother, entertaining us with his love of the new trampoline and filling the air with the adorable sound of his joyous laughter (we’ll just gloss over the blood curdling screaming 🙂 ).

Happy Birthday my beautiful boy!

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