How NCS Can Help 16 and 17 year olds Better Themselves
 So here’s the thing, I’m mum to 2 teenagers age 13 and 17,  and when you scroll through the back pages of Mum in a Nutshell, it’s soon become apparent that I’ve navigated the teenage years on a wing and a prayer rather than cruise happily. It’s a little like raising a giant, hairy toddler which pays you back with grunts of appreciation rather than those big, sloppy I love you’s which toddlers give out so freely. And those grunts are sometimes a little hard to gauge whether you’re getting it right or not. I’m 5 years in and still not sure if I’m getting it right or not.
Then there’s that other thing, the whole single mum thing, fretting about her boys not having a regular and accessible role model to guide her precious cargo in the right direction. I dearly hope I’m painting a positive work ethic to my kiddos but with social media being the key influencer in their lives, there are moments when I worry over how they’re being prepared for the big wide world.
So you can kinda see how I’m all for the government-backed National Citizen Service programme which aims to
help build a more cohesive, mobile and engaged society. By bringing together young people from different backgrounds for a unique shared experience, NCS helps them to become better individuals, and in turn better citizens. 
I’m relatively new to this but after spending some time on their website  I can really see how this would have a really positive effect on my teenagers. 
It’s is open to 16 and 17 year-olds across England and Northern Ireland running as a two to four-week programme, which takes place in school holidays. Activities include outdoor team-building exercises, a residential for participants to learn ‘life skills’, a community-based social action project and an end of programme celebration event.
 
Their key message is that at a time of huge political uncertainty, where division is more evident than togetherness, NCS is a powerful tool to ensure the next generation see more in their similarities than differences. I live in a small village in Devon, btw, where division is much more small scale and there’s less opportunity for my boys to experience it first hand. I’m won over by the ethos of togetherness alone as a preparation for the day my boys head off to university. 
7 in 10 16 & 17 years olds who completed the NCS (national citizens service) are more confident about getting a job
 
In a nutshell, the programme:
  •  Puts young people through a series of challenging activities to take them out of their comfort zones and develop their strength of character
  •  Provides a progressive journey that hands over more responsibility to young people as the programme progresses and develops leadership skills necessary to succeed in the workplace
  •  Enables young people to connect with their communities through social action. 
  • Almost 400,000 young people have taken part
  • More than seven million hours of community action have been completed
  • For every £1 spent, NCS’  2016 summer programme delivered between £1.15 and £2.42 of benefits back to society
The whole experience, including food, accommodation and travel costs is only £50 (bursaries are available on a case by case basis and support is also provided for young people with additional needs.)
7 in 10 16 & 17 years olds who completed the NCS (national citizens service) are more confident about getting a job
 
My only stumbling block would be getting my teens to sign up, peer pressure is huge for them and I can guarantee it’ll take a lot of persuading to get them to do this alone but that’s where a rite of passage for all collective message in your community would work amazingly, safety in numbers and all that.
I’ll be having a chat with my 17 year old this week and suggesting he puts the feelers out to his friends and I’d love for you to help me spread the word. If you have a year 11 child there’s still time to sign up for this once in a lifetime experience this summer where they’ll have fun while building their confidence, making new friends and learning life skills that can’t be taught in a classroom.
Just register your interest and signing up for further information, no matter what your commitments or summer holiday plans this year, as NCS will endeavour to get them a spot on a programme at a time that suits.
I’m already looking ahead a couple of years for my younger teen.
Disclaimer 
This is a collaborative post with NCS
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My Pick Of Home Decor Trends for 2018

There’s a double edge to the reasons behind me writing this post, I needed a brain dump to defrag all the home decor trends ideas I’ve got floating round in my head, and I’m looking for your advice on what to do with my dining room. It’s all stemmed out of getting bored with looking at the same feature wall which has faithfully welcomed me into my home for the last 3 years. Yet with limited decorating time available, I’m pretty much limited to only changing the bare minimum, so the neutral grey decor which runs throughout the whole of my open plan living space will be staying & I’m just changing that one, wow look at me, wall.

But oh, what to do? I’ve spent way too many hours perusing Pinterest and Googling “please help me decide on a colour scheme which will do my Instagram account proud” and this is what I’ve come up with so far….

Moody is the new grey

Think muted navy, emerald and violet. This would go perfectly with my grey walls, warming up the very bland feel to my house and who doesn’t love a bit of cosy? My only concern is that my dining room sits in the middle of my house, and even with a big bay window at the front and bright kitchen at the back, it’s always dark. I’m worried those moody navy, emeralds and violets will zap even more light creating a cave effect lulling me into a permanent hibernation. But…….with violet being announced the Pantone colour of the year, I’d be bang on trend! So that could be a swaying factor.

Embrace The Tropical

I’m guessing this trend is a follow on from last years Greenery Pantone colour of the year. There’s no denying that bold, leafy prints are everywhere and should I choose to go bold and dark, the contrasting tropical oranges and greens against a navy backdrop will have the wow factor. After last year’s summer breaks to Florida and Sardinia, I’m pretty settled on the idea of a UK staycation (don’t hold me to that, I’m pretty indecisive on matters of the holiday type) so introducing a tropical theme could be just the tonic, on the other hand it could remind me of what I’d be missing out on and get my on that plane pronto!)

I’ve found a great collection of tropical accessories at Sainsurys Online

Getting the lighting right….

So let’s say, for argument’s sake, that I decide on a moody navy or violet feature wall, add accessories in a bold tropical print, then this would allow me to bring in some of the lush copper which I’ve been hankering after. I feared it would look too out of place in my greys and whites, but now I’ve built up a little more of a vision of how my dining room could look, there is definitely a place for some copper pendant lights to hang over my dining table, this would really help to create the cosy feel of the room. I think that’s settled my internal argument on what to do.

All that’s needed now is a big dose of home decorating bravery and I’ll get that paint brush out.

Wish me luck!

Image credit – Lights.co.uk

 

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What I Wish I’d Been Told About Divorce

I’ve been divorced now for nearly 8 weeks and aside from getting used to my new name, (after much consideration I’ve gone back to Miss Williams as I just couldn’t get my head around using the Mrs title when by law I was no longer married) I’ve also had time to reflect on what it actually feels like to get divorced. Now bear in mind that mine had been pretty easy compared to some of the stories I’ve heard, but none the less, it was still a process I went through.

Looking back over the year it took, from the day I sat in the solicitor’s office and told her why I wanted a divorce, to the day I received my Decree Absolute, I’ve now realised just how much of a monumental journey it was. There’s no denying that divorce is going to stir emotions, no matter how happy you are about your new life ahead, there will be days when you feel like a failure.

Nothing like inviting 100 people to a party, accepting all their presents, spending silly money on a dress you’ll wear once and then saying.

“Oh by the way, we made a mistake. Sorry we wasted your time, but hope you had a good day.”

It all feels a little false now looking back like everyone was pretending; playing a game where we all get dressed up. I said those vows for life, we’d made a family and that was that. Only it wasn’t, and I’ve now spent the same amount of money rectifying that mistake. When I see couples celebrating 50 years marriage, I can’t help feeling a little sadness in the reality that it’s very doubtful I’ll ever reach that milestone, divorce has made me see marriage very differently and If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, its that divorces can cost more than weddings.

And another thing, don’t expect your solicitor to be your confidant, friend or counsellor. They’re there to do a job, it’s a business arrangement and at times it felt more like they were making things more complicated just to eek out a bit more money from me. I learnt quickly to try to keep things simple just to get the job done as quickly and cheaply as possible. While they are the professionals, I wasn’t convinced they had my best interests at heart. Emotions just don’t come into it.

Now that’s the bad stuff out the way, let’s crack on to the surprises…. in all honesty, it was never as bad or as complicated as I imagined.

Now my divorce is completeI've looked back over the last 18 months and there were a few things I wish someone had told me at the beginning which would've taken away the worry

The kids will be alright

My children seemed to take the transition very well. I never talked about what was happening, kept everything age appropriate and checked in regularly to see if things were ok. I had amazing advice from other parents who’d been through a divorce and followed their advice. My boys proved that they were much more resilient than I’d given them credit for, swapping houses every other weekend became the norm very quickly.

You get a new lease of life!

And that’s a biggie. That’s something I NEVER anticipated. The 1st few months were spent doing things just for me, something I’d never done before. I booked haircuts in my child-free days, I recycled most of my clothes and started again. I joined the gym and embraced a much healthier lifestyle. Not having someone else to think about at meal times meant I could cook what I liked, the boys tried new foods and joined me on the healthy bandwagon.

We ended up changing our whole daytime routine, totally relaxing the rules.

Days out were no longer confined to getting home at 5 pm to cook dinner, evening baths moved to morning showers and weekends were relaxed and impulsive. My breakthrough moment came the morning after a night out, as my foggy, hungover head cleared and I processed the fun from the night before.  I realised the biggest change in me so far, aside from the confidence and optimism that I could do anything I set my mind to, I realised I’d started doing something I hadn’t done in a very long time; I danced.

A good night out for me now consisted of well and truly letting my hair down and strutting some questionable mum moves on the dancefloor while laughing and singing. I was finally just me, I can’t tell you why I’d never felt comfortable dancing before, but now the rhythm swept me up in a way where I just didn’t care who was watching or what they were thinking.

 I danced like no one was watching,

apart from Hayley. Hayley was watching – my partner in crime, the lady to my right, doing equally dodgy moves.  And were we bovvered? Nah.

Now my divorce is completeI've looked back over the last 18 months and there were a few things I wish someone had told me at the beginning which would've taken away the worry

You’ll gain friends and get used to being on your own

(see above ) I was amazed at the people who rallied around me in the early days, people became incredibly selfless and supportive for which I am eternally grateful. You do find you gravitate a little towards other singletons or divorcees as you have something in common, and while I may have lost a husband, I gained a few more fabulous friends.

I’m not going to lie, the thought of being on my own at first terrified me. It was 20 years since I’d been on my own and not even sure you can count it that as I was living at home, so technically, I’d NEVER been on my own.  I can count on one hand the evenings I spent in my house without my ex.

I struggled the most when after my children left to go stay with their dad, that first hour was a killer, but I had a strategy in place and pretty soon I started to enjoy the moments it was just me to think about. Then, when my boys come home I refreshed and revitalised ready for the next round of solo parenting.

And the evenings when I do have company I love it, but also appreciate the nights in on my own; sitting in bed with a glass of wine and a movie. I was told these days would come and scoffed at the thought of ever being comfortable on my own, but they do. And when the time comes to share my home with another consenting adult, I have no doubt in my mind that the process will be equally strange to get used to; requiring a new carefully thought out strategy, compiled after intense telephone calls, What’s App messages and wine-fuelled debates with the same friends who guided me through the early months of being single.

Now my divorce is completeI've looked back over the last 18 months and there were a few things I wish someone had told me at the beginning which would've taken away the worry

Finances will not be as scary as you anticipated

I simply couldn’t see how I’d cope financially with only one wage coming in, the maths just didn’t add up. My home was mortgaged, I worked and loved my job so going on benefits was never an option and yet I didn’t want to put my children in full-time childcare, or for my older kids to be coming home to an empty house every night if I worked full time.

But is financial help for single parents;  tax credits and other benefits (such as single adult occupancy council tax) which you’re entitled to, I was lucky that I could work from home & juggle my job around my family. Being on my own every night also meant I could work in the evening or on the weekends I was childfree.

The negative is I’m limited to the events I can attend in the evening as my childcare is pretty much just my mum but I still managed to retrain and study as well as work for the first 9 months. The sheer determination to be able to provide for my boys as well as keep a roof over our heads being the driving factor.

I sat down and went through all my incomings and outgoings, working out where I could make cuts. It’s also a lot bloody easier to keep track of your finances when you’re the only one spending. Websites like https://www.gingerbread.org.uk were invaluable.

And one final word about divorce …

Please don’t for one minute think that I’m trying to sugar coat divorce, it sucks, end of. I’ve not shared this with you to champion the end of rocky patches in marriage, I still stand by my belief that relationships require work, they go through good times and bad.

You will know when those bad times become unpatchable though, and that 2 happy homes are better than one sad. If that’s you, I’m sorry you’ve reached that point and would like to think this gives you a little hope that things aren’t as bad as you think they will be.

Here’s my divorce journey if you’d like to read more;

  1. Status update. There’s something you should probably know.
  2. How To Exit A Marriage Gracefully
  3. You’re wondering how I’m feeling about my divorce?
  4. The one where I told you I was no longer married
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Garden Ideas for encouraging imaginative  play

I’ve got my sensible parent hat on today so thought I’d revisit one of the very topics which lead me into blogging in the first place; child development. While I may have hung up my hat in that industry coming up 4 years ago, it still crops up in conversations and remains the baseline from which I parent my kids. Albeit with much looser reins these days. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from raising teenagers it’s that there’s a lot more trust in them making the right choices and less rule setting, but I still have a 3-year-old to help teach independence and educate on the healthier side of life.

Take the turn in seasons, for example, longer warmer days means less excuses to hibernate. And while I still yearn for duvet days, watching movies and trying to stay in my pj’s for as long as possible, the reality is I have a little boy who needs exercise as much as the dog. He goes stir crazy if kept inside for too long so while we get the odd late start to the day, we’re always up and dressed by midday at the latest and off out whatever the weather. On days when I’m overloaded with housework and work-work, my mum comes to the rescue. Either way, he’s never had a day when we’ve stayed in unless ill.

So back to that child development thing I mentioned; well all this thought of being outside more has got me thinking about how I can vamp up my small front garden. My boys will be 4 in a couple of months so the toddler slider and builder tray of sand just don’t cut it anymore. At his age, he’s very much about imaginative play and role play. So I’m going to have to bite the bullet and go for a mud kitchen. It actually pains me to say that, but a quick scour of Pinterest I’m sure it’s the way forward (and a lot cheaper than a garden full of brightly coloured plastic)

trying to find some ideas to encourage imaginative play in the garden

So, let’s say, for argument’s sake, I’ve acquired some pallets and created a corner in the garden where said mud kitchen will go, now it’s let’s think about what I’ll need to make it a go-to place while I sit nearby and crack on with some work. (I’m thinking ahead now to the 6 weeks summer holiday where I try and juggle work with mum stuff.)

I’m on a water meter so ideally, some sort of rain collecting system would be ace, nothing too big but large enough to allow him to access water when needed. And then there’s the mud, obs, I quite like the idea of these old tyres which I can fill with mud, leaving him to dig and scoop to his hearts content and to finish it off, some small water play tables for mixing said mud and also, where he can wash his hands quickly before coming in the house. I’m not completely insane and I quite like my grey and white decor WITHOUT a 3-year-old height brown hand splatter pattern

In an ideal world, I’d have another little corner where I can create a little den. Think tree house minus the tree. This is the point at which I stopped searching Pinterest for outdoor play ideas and my imagination ran wild.

No harm in having a vision and I consider this parenting without guilt; My boy can play, get fresh air, work on all those senses and physical development skills while I get to work and do boring housework, meal prep stuff.

And who knows, I may even dive in and join him!

Disclaimer
This is a collaborative post

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Macaroni Cheese with Pancetta And Tomatoes

Being a vegetarian, mac n cheese is often the go-to on the menu when lunching out so I’m fairly confident I can pass judgement when it comes to deciding what makes a decent macaroni cheese.

And while, yes, you can just stick with a standard cheese sauce and pasta job, it can also be a great way to sneak some vegetables into a family meal – try adding a tin of sweetcorn, or just a really tasty meal which can be prepared ahead. This version, however, is a much fancier version which will satisfy anyone who likes having meat with every meal.

Don’t feel that you have to buy breadcrumbs buy the way, just whizz up some end bread crusts in a food processor. I usually make myself a small vegetarian version by leaving out the pancetta or substituting with Quorn bacon piece. I just bake in a small separate dish.

Serve on its own, with salad, garlic bread or corn on the cob. Either way, it’s one meal which I know is going to get the thumbs up from my ravenous teenagers.

this luxury macaroni cheese is a much fancier twist on a family favourite,

Ingredients

  • 250g/9oz macaroni
  • 40g/1½oz butter
  • 40g/1½ plain flour
  • 600ml/1pint 1½fl oz milk
  • 250g/9oz grated cheddar
  • 1/2 bunch spring onions
  • 130g pancetta
  • a packet of mozzarella cheese cut into slices
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp chives
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 6 sliced cherry tomatoes – sliced
  • 2 handfuls of breadcrumbs
  • salt & pepper to season

this luxury macaroni cheese is a much fancier twist on a family favourite,

Method

  1. boil a pan of water and add the macaroni according to packet instructions
  2. dry fry the pancetta in a saucepan
  3. remove and set aside
  4. using the same pan, melt the butter then add the chopped spring onions and cook until soft
  5. add the flour and mustard powder stirring until it’s all combined
  6. slowly start adding the milk stirring between each addition to avoid any lumps,
  7. add the basil and grated cheddar
  8. bring the sauce to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until the sauce has thickened
  9. strain the cooked macaroni then combine with the sauce and pancetta
  10. transfer to an ovenproof dish, layer the sliced mozzarella top with breadcrumbs
  11. finish with the sliced tomatoes and a sprinkle of chives
  12. bake in a preheated oven at 180′ for 25 minutes.

this luxury macaroni cheese is a much fancier twist on a family favourite,

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