Shared Parental Leave??

Shared parental leave had not really hit my radar (after 4 kids, I’m definitely not planning on adding to the brood again!) but when Mumsnet asked people to blog about it, I thought I should probably do a bit of research with my ’employer’ hat on if nothing else!

Mumsnet were asked by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to find out what Mumsnet Bloggers think about this new policy for parents.

The team there say “From April 2015, parents will have greater choice over how they share time off work to care for their child. Shared Parental Leave allows working couples to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay in a way that suits their work and family needs. For example, parents can take time off together or they can tag team, stopping and starting leave and returning to work in between if they wish. You can check your eligibility and how much pay you can get here. ”

Now when I had my oldest 2 children I worked in the finance department of a multinational PLC. I loved my job – and ‘back in those days’ maternity leave tended to be 6 months. I kept my hand in with the odd conference call / visit during my maternity leave (in fact the only time ever I was successful with a breast pump was in the office after I popped out of a meeting as my boobs were about to explode! Obviously nothing was sterilised and I was tipping the milk away – and so that’s why I got loads!!) and went back after 6 months each time – and was totally ready for it!

By the time I had children 3 and 4, I worked in our family business which made things very different! I was answering emails whilst in labour and working very soon afterwards (obviously it was 2 weeks if HMRC are reading this………) Other friends were having a full year off – but my life was one big juggle – so I didn’t get to do the whole ‘maternity leave’ thing at all. The babies often came into the office with me (we had a travel cot set up!) and attended meetings with the bank manager, quality auditor and vat man.

On my desk at a few days old
On my desk at a few days old

My husband has always worked for the family business – and so has been really flexible – which is great when you phone him in tears with a screaming baby in the middle of the day and he can pop home, but not so great when he has to go and sign some contracts in the lobby of the hospital when you’re giving birth! He is a massively hands on Dad – but has said himself that he would find it really hard to be at home all the time taking on full childcare responsibilities. I think a lot of that is the multi-tasking thing! It’s totally gender stereotypical – but I am often doing 27 things at once, not to mention all the things I just know and are in my head – but he has to do things one at a time, and if it’s not written on the list for him to do, then it can be missed. I have been known to write ‘change nappy even if it’s just wee not poo’ and ‘give them a drink during the day not just at mealtimes’ on the crib sheets when I was going out somewhere!!

Before I had kids, I used to see people ‘swanning about on maternity leave’ and think what an easy life they had – until it was me with the baby 24/7 and I realised that going to work would be the easy option. The husband totally sees that too (he used to ‘have a meeting’ and go and have a kip in his car!!)

Who knows, if our circumstances had been different – then maybe shared parental leave would have been utilised – and I guess that is what it comes down to, giving both parents choices to suit their own situations.

Now, as an employer this could affect me much more. We run a construction company – and whilst I’m proud to say we have a couple of female painters in additional to the female office staff – it is still a very male dominated environment. All of the guys who’ve had babies have taken their 2 weeks paternity leave – which I am pleased to see – but I am not sure how many would opt for the shared parental leave. In most cases they are the higher wage earner, and they just couldn’t afford to take the pay cut and still support their families. I also suspect, albeit wrongly, they’d be in for some stick from their workmates on site if they were going to be ‘stay at home Dads’.

I now feel like I know what we need to offer to all of our staff, male and female alike – and I have to say that in a small business like ours, the operational difficulties of losing members of staff for chunks of time could be problematic – but obviously we would work around that.
Although I’m not sure we can allow all of the staff to bring all of their kids into the office like we do sometimes………

Office kids

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Boys – The Photo Gallery Week 223

Boys are outnumbered 2:1 in this house (in fact it’s 4:2 but I am a maths geek and can’t bear not to divide down to the lowest common denominator!) I have to say I think this is standing the boy in good stead for the future – he’s already a hit with the girls at school, and I’m sure it’s because he knows how to deal with the female of the species! I also fear we could be in for a whole world of hurt when he’s a bit older as he is totally his father’s son!! A friend has already said he’s accepted that our boy will probably break both of his daughters’ hearts at some point…..

Here are my boys on New Year’s Eve – one has drunk more champagne than the other…….

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I also love this one of them climbing Snowdon last summer.  I’ve also realised they’re always standing the same way round – like Ant and Dec?! 

Snowdon

So these are my boys – go and see others over at The Gallery on the Sticky Fingers Blog…

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

Stalking Olivia Pope – aka a few days in Washington DC

I have been lucky enough to do 3 US cities in the last 6 months! Back in October the husband and I went to New York for a few days and then I had a girls’ weekend in Chicago in December. So I went for a hat trick with Washington DC last week!

Washington preparations
Washington preparations

We had a fab time in New York and we try to get away for a few days every 6 months or so just as ‘us’ and without the kids in tow. For us, midweek works best, as the children have all of their normal routines and so don’t really have time to miss us! Our fabulous nanny stays – and the kids love it that she’s having ‘sleepovers’ – and we know they’re in safe hands. So we were deciding where to cash the airmiles in for this trip – and we both LOVE the TV show Scandal (if you haven’t watched it – then you can get the previous series box sets on catch up TV!) which is set in and around Washington DC – so that is where we decided to visit!

My major problem throughout the trip was remembering that it was the Obamas that live in The White House and not Fitz and Mellie!!

So here are my highlights – and compare / contrast with other places in the States.

Scandal spotting

It is a well known fact that customs officers / border guards DO NOT HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOUR – but of course that didn’t stop the husband telling the official that was checking our passports and ESTAs that we were hoping to spot Olivia Pope (the leading lady of Scandal!) But thankfully we weren’t deported before we’d even collected our bags!!

A lot of the action in Scandal takes place on benches outside the White House. After much walking about we couldn’t find the exact locations – and suspect it’s in the bit that is fenced off unless you’re important – but we re-enacted as best as we could…

Pretending to be some kind of spy.....
Pretending to be some kind of spy…..

We also took advantage of the fact that the US are 5 weeks ahead of us in the UK in terms of viewing – and watched those episodes on our computer in our hotel room whilst sampling the mini bar – living the dream for parents of small children – uninterrupted TV with a plentiful supply of booze and snacks!

The White House

This is possibly the most iconic building in the United States – and so is obviously a must see (and a must selfie!)

White House selfie
White House selfie

We were both surprised how small it is (relative to ‘Buckingham Palace’ or such like) – although the husband’s comment that it looked like ‘a big house in Barnt Green’ was perhaps under-selling it a bit.  Having said that the husband is renowned for being disappointed by landmarks.  He was concerned the Sydney Opera House looked dirty, and the Burj Al Arab looked dated!!

I was surprised how close you can get in terms of being able to see in.  If Fitz and Mellie Barack and Michelle were having a glass of wine on their balcony – you could TOTALLY see them from the street – weird!

The rear of the White House
The rear of the White House
Look - you can see onto the balcony!!
Look – you can see onto the balcony!!

We weren’t organised / special enough to get a tour (Charles and Camilla were there instead – and we were asked a number of times by barmen / taxi drivers if we knew them!!) but the nearby Visitor Centre was very informative and actually quite emotional.

History

OK – so the US is not renowned for it’s history (which is why when we go to Stratford Upon Avon, just down the road, it’s crawling with Americans!) but if you want American History then DC is a great place to go.

Looking down Pennsylvania Avenue
Looking down Pennsylvania Avenue

The different monuments and memorials – The Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial amongst others, were all really moving and it was interesting to see them at day and then amazingly lit up at night (something you also see in Scandal!!)

The Washington Monument
The Washington Monument

We did a bus tour (in fact we did 2, as the one we’d pre booked was rubbish – so we did a Big Bus one instead #toptip) and this made sure that we saw lots – and also got lots of information about the city.

Going out to the Arlington National Cemetery was incredibly moving – the acres and acres of graves take your breath away.

A very moving sight
A very moving sight

The tomb of the unknown soldier was particularly poignant – especially with the Pentagon viewed in the background.

The tomb of the unknown soldier
The tomb of the unknown soldier

The husbands OCD was impressed by the precision of the matching white headstones that go on for miles and miles (but he did struggle with the more higgledy piggledy ones).

Higgledy piggledy graves
Higgledy piggledy graves

I also hadn’t realised that despite remarrying, Jackie Kennedy Onassis was buried beside JFK.

The Kennedy graves
The Kennedy graves
Looking back towards DC from Arlington
Looking back towards DC from Arlington

Museums

There are A LOT of museums in DC – and you could probably spend a week and not see all of them (and we had shopping to do, bars to drink in and Scandals  to watch!)  Having taken recommendations from friends before, we went to the National Air and Space Museum, the Museum of America History and the International Spy Museum – all of which were really interesting.

Girl power plane
Girl power plane

I am only ‘slightly’ disappointed that we didn’t go to the National Museum of Natural History where Olivia’s Dad works as a cover for his B6-13 activities……..

Georgetown

This area has a really different feel to a usual big city.  The shops are great (the hotel recommended a toy shop which was brilliant) and it feels very ‘trendy’!  The waterfront area looks up and coming – but there was a lot of building work going on – and we had our worst meal of the whole trip at a restaurant there that had been recommended as ‘the place to eat’ by a taxi driver!  Lots of the houses have had famous residents historically and the architecture is really interesting.

The waterfront at Georgetown overlooking the river
The waterfront at Georgetown overlooking the river

Living like a local

One of the husband’s friends from when he was growing up moved to the States 20+ years ago – and they haven’t seen each other since.  He now works and lives near Washington.  We met him at his office and then he took us to meet his lovely wife and son at their house (complete with British bar in the basement!) and we went out for dinner with them.  It was lovely to see the ‘real’ side of the city and it’s surroundings and how the locals live – and not just do ‘touristy’ stuff.

The Stegg and Flower English bar!!
The Stegg and Flower English pub!!

Walking

I had a Fitbit for my birthday, a few days before we went away, and it was worn AT ALL TIMES.  We walked a lot – particularly the day we went to Arlington National Cemetery – that day we managed over 22,000 steps.  And up and down the stairs at the Lincoln Memorial – boom to the ‘floors climbed’ stat.

The steps!
The steps!

The husband did get a bit annoyed that I insisted on walking everywhere just to get my steps up (kind of the point of the Fitbit that he bought me!) and by the time we flew home his feet were covered in blisters and his legs and back were aching ridiculously – whoops.

It was also interesting to see how undisturbed my sleep is in a hotel and even on a plane, compared to at home with the pesky kids!!

Overall we loved Washington DC.  It doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of New York or Chicago – but I felt safer there (possibly the men everywhere with ‘Secret Service’ on their vests helped with that – although clearly they aren’t very secret!!) and it was great to be able to see the sky.  We will definitely be back – and just maybe we’ll bump into Olivia Pope and Associates ……

Putting your back into it!

A few weeks ago I skimmed over the fact that pilates had sorted my bad back out – but thought I should probably elucidate!

I have suffered with a dodgy lower back for pretty much all of my adult life. It’s flared up at random times – sometimes with something specific (pregnancy) but at other times seemingly random (getting out of bed!). I relied on seeing a chiropractor as and when it flared up but thought I’d just have to live with it as both of my parents had suffered periodically with bad backs so I assumed it was just the way I was built.

When I was moaning about it on Facebook one time (I do like to overshare!) a fellow local Mum suggested I should try pilates with her.

Now, I had (misplaced!) ideas about what pilates involved. To me it was what ladies did at David Lloyd (other gym chains too I’m sure!) who didn’t want to get too sweaty or mess their hair up. You know, the same ladies who swim breaststroke with their heads out of the water so they can chat as they dawdle up and down the pool?! I thought if you didn’t get ridiculously hot and sweaty you couldn’t possibly be working hard! I also thought it was just done on a mat in a big studio – and was nervous of looking like a tit in front of all of these lithe, toned yummy mummies (perhaps I should have realised that they must do something to look like that and so maybe it did work?!)

Anyway – I agreed to have a 1 to 1 session with Steff at the studio that she works from.

When I arrived I thought I’d stepped into Christian Grey’s red room (or what I imagined it be like having never read the 50 shades books!) The equipment looked ‘interesting’!!!

Pilates - Cadillac 2

Steff talked through my back issues – and then we did lots of little things for her to look at my posture, flexibility, strength etc.  I have to say that the first time I did come away feeling like I hadn’t done much – but thought I’d try a proper session the next time – and I was soon hooked!

Because I was rubbish at lying down (cue rude comments!) we did a lot of work initially on the Core Align so I could be upright.

Pilates - Core Align

It really made me think about how I hold myself and how I walk (who knew your bum was supposed to assist in walking – my legs were doing all of the work – which could explain why my bum is so wobbly?!)  It really was back to basics with all of my core and pelvic stability (especially after 4 kids, and 4 natural births of enormous children!)

We progressed onto other equipment soon (although these aren’t me – they are photos of the Balanced Body equipment that we use!)

Pilates - reformer Pilates - ladder barrel Pilates - Cadillac

I’ve also realised that pilates is about my whole body – not just my dodgy lower back.  Sometimes my feet / neck / upper back aren’t feeling great and we’ll address those in a session rather than just the ‘normal’ work.

My husband has also got involved – and we even ended up buying a cadillac (the bottom of the pictures above) for at home.  Although he does admit to a penchant for the ‘fluffy bunnies’ that your feet have to go into – and might be being a bit more ’50 shades’ about the whole thing than me!!!!

I’ve also become aware of the equipment being used by other people – the Beckhams have a cadillac, I’ve seen pictures of Andy Murray on one – and have read in magazines about ‘slebs going to their ‘reformer pilates class’!!

Pilates really has totally changed my back issues, posture, the way I walk – and the understanding I have of how my body works and fits together.  I hide this well under excess upholstery – but it has helped no end.

Now we’ve got the underlying issues sorted we are getting more hardcore – and maybe I will end up suspended upside down one day!

Life begins at ……… 41

I posted a few weeks ago about how I wanted to address my fitness and associated weight – and this was a bit of a theme for my birthday this week – along with other fabulous presents – chocolates / candles / flowers / jewellery / perfume / clothes / vouchers / smellies / GIN & TONIC LIPBALM!

Birthday 3

I had asked for some specific things to assist my mission:

Birthday 1

The Fitbit and sports bra were at my request – but I also got some body analysing scales (frightening!)

So not only will the Fitbit record my exercise and steps – it will also record my sleep. I see this as a useful tool in the ‘I was up so much with the kids last night’ discussions we often have! Perhaps all new parents should be issued with a pair of Fitbits to ensure there is evidence to back this up the next morning #newmarketingangle

Birthday 2

I’d read about Ella of Deliciously fame in Red magazine and thought the book looked great – then a friend made some of the fudge for me and it was AMAZING – so this was also on my birthday list.  It’s basically plant-based, gluten and dairy free cooking – but not dull, bland, ‘diet’ food – this is real, tasty food that is also good for your body.  Win / win!

What a lucky girl I am.  All of this has really got me motivated again.

I set up the Fitbit and scales last night – whilst drinking champagne and eating chocolate – now that’s ironic Alanis!!

So onwards we go – 2,000 steps just doing my normal morning routine with the kids before 9am #boom

Mothers – The Photo Gallery Week 221

Today is my 41st birthday (a whole year since this) – so whilst the theme of the gallery this week is ‘Mothers’ – it’s also pretty pertinent, as without mine – I wouldn’t be celebrating today!

I love this photo of Mum taken *a few* years ago (and clearly not by me!). It also highlights how important it is to keep photos.  Nowadays we can take a quick snap with our phone whilst out and about – but back in the 50s it would have been much more of an ‘event’ – but so lovely that Mum still has lots of photos of her youth.  I save mine onto the computer and then weekly to an external hard drive – just to ensure I don’t ‘lose’ them.

EPSON MFP image

So this is a post to say ‘Thank you Mother’ for having me 41 years ago (she was in labour from 9 ’til 5 – perhaps I should have been called Dolly?!) and for everything you’ve done since and still do for me now.  She was round after school yesterday performing hair cuts for our youngest girls!

This is my entry for this week’s #thegallery over on The Sticky Fingers blog – do go and see how others have interpreted the theme of ‘Mothers’.

Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

Wicked Wednesdays – 11 March 2015

I nearly headed this up as 11 March 1970 something – as it’s my birthday today!!

But this is not a birthday related Wicked Wednesday – it’s a snot related one. Honestly – I don’t know who she would get the idea off to stick a tissue up her nose to stem the flow………

Snotty tissue

This is my entry for this week’s Wicked Wednesdays over on BrummyMummyof2’s blog – do pop across and see what rubbish pictures others have posted!!

brummymummyof2

Life began a year ago?!

This time last year I was about to be 40. I have had friends who have not looked forward to the big four-oh at all – but I fully embraced it (in fact I’ve milked it for the entire year) and the highlight was a party for lots of family and friends at the fabulous Chateau Impney hotel.

Libby's 40th-1910

I ummed and ahhed about inviting the kids along – but our family is HUGE – and sometimes it is really nice to celebrate with fellow grown ups – so it was adults only!

With my sisters and our parents
With my sisters and our parents

There was a massive cross section of people there – from my parents siblings in their 70s down to my 18 year old cousin – and pretty much every age in between!

With my sisters and cousins
With my sisters and cousins

There was obviously food and drink:

Stunning cupcakes
Stunning cupcakes
Hazel and Alpesh enjoying the food and fizz!
Hazel and Alpesh enjoying the food and fizz!

And we had a disco and a photobooth which were both great fun – and the fabulous Sharon took loads of photos as keepsakes.

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Friends and family flew in from Germany, France, Northern Ireland and even Chicago – which made it super special.

A selection of 'Pink Ladies'
A selection of ‘Pink Ladies’
Sam and Dan
Sam and Dan

I was ‘slightly’ nervous of my husband’s speech (so deliberately did mine afterwards so that I could apologise if needs be!) but I need not have worried – he was wonderful and didn’t offend anyone (although I look slightly incredulous on the photo below?)!!

Speeches

There was some fabulous dancing – the dancefloor was full all night – ‘Never Forget‘ with my sisters being a highlight.

Libby's 40th-2461

Sadly the re-enactment of the lift from Dirty Dancing that the husband and I did wasn’t captured on camera, as it was a sight to behold (and amazingly my boobs stayed in my dress!)

Talking of my dress – the girls at Timeless Couture made me a fabulous couture dress. I’d gone to see them not expecting to be able to have a strapless gown given my ‘ample bosom’ – but they also made me an AMAZING corset which held everything firmly in place!! On top of the gown I had a fabulous sparkly waistcoat which I loved. I’d planned the evening to be Downton Abbey meets Reflex – and I think we achieved it just in my outfit!

Libby's 40th-2003

It was a BRILLIANT night – and I am a little bit disappointed that I’m not having a party for my 41st in a few days.

LOTS has happened in the last year – very sadly one of my friends passed away suddenly a few weeks later, there have been serious illnesses to friends and their children, a couple of relationship breakdowns – and lots of other trials and tribulations. It makes you realise you need to ‘carpe diem’, celebrate what is important to you and tell the relevant people that you love them, as you never know what the future holds.

Thank you to everyone for making it such a wonderful occasion.  I love you all.

Same again in 9 years? xx

Book Review: The Doll’s House by M J Arlidge

I have loved the previous 2 books by M J Arlidge about DI Helen Grace – so was pleased when this popped up on my Kindle (I’d pre-ordered it when I read the previous book ‘Pop Goes The Weasel‘ last year).

The Doll's House

Here is what the Amazon blurb says:

“A young woman wakes up in a cold, dark cellar, with no idea how she got there or who her kidnapper is. So begins her terrible nightmare.
Nearby, the body of another young woman is discovered buried on a remote beach. But the dead girl was never reported missing – her estranged family having received regular texts from her over the years. Someone has been keeping her alive from beyond the grave.
For Detective Inspector Helen Grace it’s chilling evidence that she’s searching for a monster who is not just twisted but also clever and resourceful – a predator who’s killed before.
And as Helen struggles to understand the killer’s motivation, she begins to realize that she’s in a desperate race against time . . .”

You would not need to have read ‘Eeny Meeny’ or ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ (although I would highly recommend that you do!) before you read this – it would stand alone – but I very much enjoyed revisiting DI Helen Grace and some of the other characters. It definitely builds on the prior books so there would be ‘spoilers’ if you tried to read them retrospectively.

I’ve actually got to like Helen more with each book – I guess as we get to know her better and understand her more.

It’s a twisting and turning thriller as usual – and again set in Southampton (my stomping ground for Uni – which I think I must remember with rose tinted glasses, as the area I lived in again is described as rough!!) The stories interlink both in terms of historic crime, current crime and the personal lives of the protagonists both police and villains. Lots is interlinked and only concludes right at the end – but I was pleased the loose ends were all tied up.

I didn’t feel this was quite as gory as the previous books – but maybe I’m just becoming immune to it, as I’m a fairly recent convert to thrillers!

This – along with the other books in the series – would make great TV dramas (unsurprisingly given Mr Arlidge is also a script writer – I was slightly over-excited to spot his writing credit in the last series of Silent Witness on BBC1!)

I was pleased to see that this is no longer a trilogy and I have pre-ordered book number 4 for later this year!

Book Review: Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson

I was lent this in a proper, old fashioned book format by a friend – and a number of friends had really enjoyed it. On Facebook it had a bit of a ‘marmite’ response from people – either loved or disappointed (when I posted a photo of it – with my non-alcoholic beer – whilst chaperoning some ten pin bowling 11 year old girls!!)

Beer and book

It’s not a new book (first published in 2011) and has been made into a film (starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman no less – thankfully I had started reading before I knew this, so had already imagined the characters in my head -and they definitely weren’t Colin and Nic!).

This is the Amazon blurb about it:

“Memories define us.
So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep?
Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love – all forgotten overnight.
And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story.
Welcome to Christine’s life.”

Initially I was really interested in Christine’s life – waking up each morning having forgotten the last 20+ years.  Imagine how horrific it would be to wake up each morning and look in the mirror and see your Mum looking back!?!  Christine then starts to keep a journal so that she can remember things she’s discovered about her past and isn’t starting from a blank page (boom!) each day.

The middle section of the book is supposed to be this journal – and I found this section dull and repetitive and it REALLLLY DRAGGGGGED.  Now I guess that is kind of the point – as it’s exactly what Christine was having to do by re-reading about her life each day – but I didn’t enjoy this bit at all (but I am really impatient!)

The final section picked up again – and was ‘edge of the seat’ exciting (so I read late into the night to finish it!)  I really enjoyed how it all concluded.

So I guess it wasn’t ‘marmite’ for me.  I neither loved it nor loathed it – I just kind of liked it.  Not sure that will ever make the strapline on a book cover….

Having said that – I have downloaded ‘Second Life‘ which is the new book from SJ Watson published a couple of weeks ago (and only £1.88 on Amazon at the moment!).  Partly because I found out that SJ is from the Midlands and we have to support our own!  Oh – and I was surprised Mr Watson is a bloke – I guess because he wrote so well about being a woman.  But then if people write well about murder you wouldn’t expect them to be trained killers………..