NSG is back!

Parenting

Wow! It’s good to be back! Same place, new logo (Do you like it?). How has everyone been since December 2019? Only 2 and a bit years since my last post…!

The NSG family has been through a lot. We have lost beloved members of our family, we have adjusted to new routines and jobs, we have all had Covid at the same time, we got through remote schooling and lockdowns, working from home…

We have to be proud of that. We got through it all and we’re still here and smiling.

Why did I stop writing my blog back in 2019? It was a number of things. I went into a full-time job around November 2019 which took up a lot of my time, energy and brain power, leaving no real quality time to write. I also received a comment about my blog posts – that they were ‘a bit much’. I’m still not really sure what that meant, but it made me doubt myself to the point where I just didn’t think my writing was any good and no-one would really want to read it. I forgot, in that moment, just how much I enjoy writing and how it can be so therapeutic, which was the main purpose of this blog in the first place. I just thought ‘I’m not good enough to do this, so I won’t’.

Why am I back now? I have been wanting to find the space and time to pick up where I left off with the blog for ages now, and I think I have finally found it. I have about 8 draft posts which are mostly irrelevant now, all written when I had a moment of inspiration. Some are unfinished, but others were not posted simply because I was afraid of them being ‘a bit much’, so they remain in my drafts folder to this day. I am now making this hobby a priority and getting back into the joy of writing, researching things to write about, and sharing some words which might help others (even if it’s just to entertain!), as well as picking up on my Spanish through Duolingo, working full time managing a brilliant office and raising my two sons!

So, watch this space, share, follow, like and, most importantly, enjoy!

It’s good to be back :),

NSG xxx

Who, or What the Heck, is Not So Goldilocks?

Parenting

So, I’m sure you have begun to see me popping up on your social media feeds. I really hope so, as I have been working hard to infiltrate all platforms and not getting paid for it!

But, what am I all about? Who am I? What am I? What exactly can I bring to the world to make it a better place? Well, I don’t quite know about that, but I can answer some simple questions…

What makes you happy?

Strawberry Pop Tarts, when the boys give each other a hug, chocolate, hugs from my fella (Can you see a pattern forming here??), laughing, getting lost in a good book, creating new stories with my sons, making people laugh.

What are your vices?

Erm, Strawberry Pop Tarts… and anything sweet, really. I could eat massive bowls of cereal for each meal every day forever, with not enough room in the bowl for the milk. And then, for snacks, Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut. A whole bar. One of the big ones… or maybe more than one…

Where have you lived?

I am currently living in South West London, which I love, but I have lived in Southampton, Winchester, and have had a year-long home in Lilongwe, the capital city of the beautiful country of Malawi, which my sons and I stayed in on-and-off for a total of 6 months last year. I also call Swaziland and Johannesburg in South Africa my homes. We have family in both countries and it really feels like home when we go to visit them.

When did you start writing?

I have always loved writing and creating stories, and I think I was quite good at it at school. My only issue was self-confidence. When I left secondary school, I wanted to be a journalist and went into sixth-form with this in mind as my career goal. But I didn’t do well in my A-levels, and it knocked my confidence completely out of the park. I put it to the back of my mind. I got into working life and just didn’t have time to write! I did always, and still do, love to communicate via writing rather than verbally in person or on the phone – Thank goodess for the introduction of emails! I have recently decided it’s time to start the writing up again and have come up with a few ideas for novels. For the time being, I will be developing these ideas between work, kids, life, family, chores… and you can watch this space! I will be continuing with the blog, though, as it is really great to have a place to write whenever I feel the inspiration!

Why ‘Not So Goldilocks’?

I came up with the name after I found out that Bear MiniMum had been used already! It really comes from having three bears (my partner and two sons) and not very golden locks!

Anything else?

If you have any other questions for me, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me via email at notsogoldilocksblog@gmail.com.

NSG xxx

‘Start Writing Fiction’ Course Review

Parenting, Writing

I have recently completed a fantastic online course that I just had to recommend and share with you all. The course can be found here and it runs a few times per year online. I would highly recommend it for anyone who wants to start writing fiction (Clever name for the course, right?!).

The course runs for 8 weeks, but you can do as much or as little as you want at a time. The free option only gives you limited access to the course material, but there is a chance to upgrade for £42, which includes a certificate upon completion of the course. There are different mediums involved in the course and, by far my favourite element of the course, there are a couple of opportunities to have people critique your work. I found this really useful, if a little nerve-wracking at first. But everyone on the course was in the same boat, so it felt like equals/colleagues giving feedback on the work you’ve produced. It wasn’t like writing an essay at university and handing it in to the professor who knows everything about that subject. We were all in it together, and there were a lot of us! Some of us chose the same times to study, so I found that I crossed paths with the same people every so often. That was nice. I also got to give feedback on their work, which gave me a different perspective on writing and taught me to see other texts from a writer’s, and editor’s, viewpoint.

There are some great tasks throughout the course as well as videos and audio footage of established authors talking about how they work and offering helpful tips. You will learn about different aspects of writing but the course is mainly focused on character development. This is something I’ve never really started with when thinking of writing a story. I always begin with a plot (of sorts!) and the rest falls into place around that. This course taught me how to prioritise characters and then the plot can work around them. It was also really useful to hear successful authors talking about their processes, including Alex Garland and Louis De Bernieres.

I came out of the course feeling more confident, with the resources to help me formulate any kind of story by myself. There are documents you can save, including a prompt cloud which contains all sorts of random words to alleviate those writer’s blocks and give you some inspiration. Plus, you can download transcripts of the audio files by the published authors. I was so impressed with the content of this free course and I didn’t feel it was worth spending the money for the unlimited access and certificate, but that was just my choice!

Please, if you have any interest in starting to write your own stories, sign up at FutureLearn and, if there are other interests you’d rather pursue, then there may be other courses for you there, too!

Happy Learning!

NSG xxx

Thank You!

Life, Parenting

Happy Hot Day, everyone. I hope you’re all keeping cool somehow. If not, wait until tomorrow when the temp will drop by about 10 degrees!

I had a nice start to the day today – I woke up this morning to notifications from WordPress telling me that my blog had been visited more often than usual for a Tuesday morning. I had loads of views at around 7am. I have spent ALL day trying to work out why – Was it something I tagged in a post that is currently trending? Nope. Did someone famous signppost their Twitter followers to my blog? Nope.

Then I had a brainwave about an hour ago.

I regularly receive the Nappy Valley Net weekly e-newsletter, which is aimed for parents in the SW London area. A couple of weeks ago they posted an article/discussion about something that was written about my grandparents in the press (They live locally, too. Upstairs, in fact). The article said that my grandfather was sad to have to sell their Wandsworth home. This wasn’t true, and the words that were actually spoken were taken way out of context. I’m sure it went along the lines of ‘We probably should downsize, but we can’t bear to leave this house’. The discussion on Nappy Valley Net garnered a lot of lovely comments from local parents who have enjoyed their Great Canal Journeys programme and showed real compassion for their situation. I felt that I had to set the record straight about them – That they are not reluctantly selling their home at all. So, about a week or so ago, I posted a comment on the discussion.

Early this morning I received the new Nappy Valley Net e-newsletter which contained an update on that story mentioning me and my comment! And, because I posted as Not So Goldilocks, I guess some of the other parents who were browsing through the newsletter at the crack of dawn, like myself, wanted to see who I was (now that they knew where I lived!).

And that was it! My ‘Eureka’ moment.

So, thank you so much to Nappy Valley Net and all of its followers – Not only for the welcome traffic, but for the beautiful and supportive messages you have posted about my grandparents. I will pass them all on.

NSG xxx

 

Talking Honestly about Death

Life, Parenting

I have just listened to the wonderful second episode of Clemmie Telford’s Honestly podcast (I also highly recommend the first episode with the brilliant Father and Mother of Daughters, Simon and Clemmie Hooper). Clemmie’s Honestly podcast is about speaking honestly about those subjects which are often taboo or brushed under the carpet; subjects which can be tough to talk about or difficult to bring up, maybe a bit embarrassing to talk about in front of friends or family. But, they do need to be talked about.

This episode deals with that subject that we all avoid – Death. I know I avoid it, as the sheer knowledge that I will die one day frightens me so much that I can’t bear to even think about it. It has scared me from a young age. I recall driving home from my grandfather’s house one dark, rainy evening with my mum, dad and brother. I must have been about 6 or 7 years old. I started crying for no apparent reason. When my parents asked me what was wrong, I said ‘I don’t want you to die’. It really, really upset me to think this would happen one day and there would be no way I could stop it. The thought of living without them traumatised me.

As we get older and our families grow, we tend to change the way we feel about death. I guess, as it becomes more inevitable, we learn to accept it and face it head-on. But, becoming a mother makes the whole thing so much harder. Now we have to think about our children losing a parent as well as us losing our relatives. I don’t think I have ever really talked about this with anyone before because I am blocking it out of my mind completely as a way to avoid having to deal with such a huge fear of mine. My biggest fear. And I don’t know why I fear it. Why do I feel scared of dying? As the man in the song ‘Great Gig In The Sky‘ by Pink Floyd says, ‘Why should I be frightened of dying? There’s no reason for it, you’ve got to go sometime’. And I have lost some amazing people in my life. My grandmother died in 2002. We were close. She was strong. I thought, if she can do it, then it must be OK. And it happens so often, almost as much as people being born. The world daily death rate is 151,600 people, according to http://www.ecology.com. That’s per day!

I think the fear is the unknown. Not many people can tell us what it’s like to die. People die for a moment before being brought back to life, which is incredible, and that’s the closest we will get to being able to understand what happens. In Clemmie Telford’s podcast, Louise Winters and Anna Lyons talk openly and honestly about their jobs as an alternative funeral director and end-of-life doula respectively. Both deal with death and grief every day. Listening to their take on it all, and the way it should be discussed, was really refreshing. So much so that I had to write this blog post immediately in order to share with you, and signpost, some of the things they said. Anna Lyons’ post on Clemmie Telford’s blog, Mother Of All Lists, was mentioned in the podcast episode, so I went and had a look. It is an honest guide to death and all the things surrounding it. Here is the list for you all to read (and I feel it is important that you do): What Death Has Taught Me. I won’t spoil it for you, as it is really an amazing read, but I was surprised to hear, on the podcast and in the article, that you can have a funeral anywhere, you can be buried in your back garden and, most unexpectedly, you can remain at home after you die, not in a mortuary, as long as you’re kept cool and the cat isn’t allowed in the room (Apparently they begin to eat dead bodies after the heart stops – Ewww. Although, this won’t stop me from loving cats).

Listening to the Honestly podcast has made me think about mortality, grief and life’s fragility. These would normally be grave subjects to think about on a Wednesday morning, but today I am thinking about them in a different, new and refreshing light. It doesn’t have to be taboo or forbidden to discuss it, and I totally agree with Anna about talking openly and honestly about death with our children. I have thought about it many times, when the subject arises, but I realise that they’re not stupid and shouldn’t be shielded away from the subject of death. It will only increase a fear in them. My eldest is really obsessed with The Lion King at the moment, and he refers to the death of Mufasa as him ‘getting stuck’. So now, any time there is a perilous or sad part of a film, he asks if someone is going to get stuck. *LION KING SPOILER ALERT* We tell him that Mufasa died because Scar pushed him, and he blamed it on Simba. He understands now that Mufasa died. These things do happen, so why lie about them? I think having children has made me begin to feel differently about death – When I talk about it with them, I don’t want to scare them like it scares me. I want them to feel comfortable with the inevitability. It is inevitable and it doesn’t need to be scary. My boys will find their own way to deal with these things – the death of relatives and their own mortality – and we will be there to support them through the tough times and to try and explain things to them truthfully when they ask questions. As they say in the podcast, understanding what happens in death allows us to feel more comfortable with it. It helps us to imagine, as best we can, what it might be like and that gives us a better personal connection with our inevitable end.

I have to, finally, give a special mention to Louise Winters’ beautiful answer to Clemmie Telford’s question, ‘Death is…’

‘The full stop at the end of a life sentence’.

As ever, thanks for reading,

NSG xxx

Cover Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

Our Time In Malawi

Travel

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Last Tuesday marked an important and sad day for our family – The end of an era. It was our last day in Malawi. Well, my partner’s… Me and the boys left in December! My partner has been working there since January last year and, because he was based there, he rented a lovely family house for us in Lilongwe. It had three good-sized bedrooms, not much furniture, and the main bedroom had an ensuite bathroom. We also had staff living quarters in a separate building across the lawn. In these quarters lived a lovely young family – A couple in their mid-twenties, and their now-two-year old daughter, who was completely adorable. Our boys loved this family very much, and they always worked above and beyond for us. The husband worked on night security for the house, where he sat in a small brick outhouse, on a crate, all night, with his baton and his whistle in case of a break-in. We also had the added security of an electric fence, which we turned off in the daytime for the poor birds! The husband also worked in the day, helping with errands to the local market or assisting the gardener with some bigger jobs in the rather large garden. He should have been sleeping, but we realised that he doesn’t really like to sleep that much.

He came to the house not long after my partner moved in, looking for any work that might be available. He had been knocking on gates all around the city, until he came to ours. My partner felt a good vibe from him and took him on to help with the garden and the house, to set it up for our arrival (I travelled alone with the boys, see Flying With Little People). Along with the hiring of the husband, we also hired his wife as our cleaner/housekeeper. It took a while for me to get used to this set-up, but we ended up getting into a really nice routine with the housekeeping. Soon, the staff also helped us look after the boys, which they loved. The family were so energetic, fun and caring – We had no problems leaving them in charge of the boys.

I learned a lot during my time in Lilongwe. I tried my hand (or tongue??) at Chichewa, one of the main official languages of Malawi. Here are some useful words for you all, just in case (and you should) you decide to visit someday:

  • Zikomo – Thank you (I said this so many times, I think the boys learned it more from me than any Malawians!)
  • Chonde – Please
  • Pepani – Sorry (This is particularly useful when you’re in a supermarket with two unruly boys)
  • Moni – Hello
  • Tiwonana – Goodbye
  • Muli bwanji? – How are you?
  • Ee – Yes
  • Ayi – No (I said this a lot to our staff’s daughter when she mounted our youngest!)

My partner could probably tell you more useful phrases. Not only has he been there for longer, he is also really good at picking up languages.

I wrote a list while I was there. It contained the things I loved and the things I didn’t love so much (I won’t say hate, as I only reserve that word for Donald Trump – yuck). Here it is:

LOVE

  • Perforated cling film (GENIUS… and also available in South Africa).
  • The sunsets (The most breathtaking I’ve ever seen).
  • Automatic cars – I gained a love and respect for them in Malawi!
  • Driving on the same side of the road (and car).
  • The animal cars in Gateway Mall (They were available all day for kids for a small price. They would ride up and down the mall, supervised, on these electric cars dressed as various stuffed animals!).
  • The people – This is a big one. They were warm, welcoming, kind and hard-working. Definitely a people to look up to.
  • The music (Live or otherwise).
  • Our resident birds and lizards in the garden (We had one gecko who lived in the walls of our house. During one bath time, I saw him peeping at me through a gap near the taps!).
  • Lake Malawi – I will come back to this later. Oh. My. God. It’s so beautiful.
  • The diversity and acceptance of all people.
  • Feeling really safe.
  • The kabazas – These are bicycle taxis. Sometimes, you would see a man pedalling so hard up hills with rather large people sitting on the back of his bike. Other times, mothers would be carrying their babies and have another young child with them, all on one small seat. They use bikes for lots of things, especially carrying heavy loads, like charcoal, goats, planks of wood. It’s amazing to watch!
  • The price of the wine (Awesome).
  • Savanna Dry cider (A perfect drink for those days when wine was that little bit too heavy).
  • The climate.
  • Our wonderful house and garden (I have many, many happy memories of that place, and we will never forget it).
  • The size of the cake slices (ie. Ginormous).
  • The many colours in our garden – The varieties of flowers and plants, the birds, the lizards…
  • The chocolate mousse dessert from Shoprite (Massive yum).
  • Jacaranda trees when they blossom – The colour is intensely beautiful.

NOT SO LOVE

  • Evening electricity outages – We would have outages every day, for around 4 hours at a time, and the times would be on a loop (eg. morning one day, afternoon the next, evening the next, then repeat). The daytime outages weren’t such a bother, but the evening ones were really annoying. No light, no electric hob to make dinner on… It was an inconvenience for sure!
  • The cheese – Not only was it SO expensive to buy cheese (They don’t really do dairy over there), it was that awful rubbery stuff.
  • Ants – Oh god, the ants. I once sprayed some ant spray into a hole in our lounge wall, and thousands of ants started spilling into the room. It was like something from a horror film.
  • Mosquitoes and the risk of malaria – This was a major problem. My partner contracted it while we were out there together, as did one of our staff (who was born and bred in Malawi and still at huge risk despite being exposed to mosquitoes for all of her life). The boys took some tablets daily, but I risked it without taking any. I was VERY lucky not to get it, considering there was clearly an infected mosquito in the house somewhere!
  • The price of food and drink – Wine was cheap, but everything else was so pricey. All of the goods for the supermarkets needed to be imported from places like South Africa, but Malawi produces their own meat, fruit and vegetables, which were all of amazing quality.
  • The quality of the clothes and toys – Honestly, there was so much tat.
  • Airtel – The mobile network in Malawi. My GOD did they like to piss off their customers! Not only was the mobile data really expensive, it was a mission to get a SIM card in your name if you’re not resident in Malawi, and they were either closed or packed with waiting customers… There were a few teeny moments when you could go in, speak to someone and be out within half an hour, but they were few and far between.
  • Mobile data roaming charges – It’s lucky that my network told me about the charges before I arrived, as it was extortionate! £5.00 per MB. Yep, you read that right – per MB, not GB.
  • Malawians on the road – I generalise because I originally wrote ‘drivers’ on my list then subsequently added ‘cyclists’ and ‘pedestrians’. Honestly, there are no rules, it’s scary. More so because you end up joining them (but more safely, I may add). If you’re going too slow, or a relatively medium and safe speed, someone will overtake you regardless of whether something is coming in the other direction (They will just have to move). People take so many risks, but because it happens all the time, it’s ignored and accepted. As long as you are really, REALLY observant, you should just about avoid the accidents…!
  • Unreliable internet coverage.
  • Salt and sugar in every food item you buy from the supermarkets.
  • The poverty and divide in society – There were areas of Lilongwe which were like areas of Beverly Hills. Then, just around the corner, were poorer townships.
  • No beans at KFC – This is a first-world problem in the third world.
  • The dust from the ground – Because of the lack or rain during our time there (They do have a rainy season, however), there was so much dust coming up from the ground. The winds were strong where we were, as we were on a hill, so we were constantly shielding our faces from the dust!
  • Poundstretcher – This was a shop in our local mall which imported goods from the UK. Great, right? Home from home and all that. Well, they kept the UK prices on the items, so you could see how much they had upped the prices. And it was a LOT. For example, a pack of baby wipes was 2,000MWK (around £2.00) but only 79p on the pack!
  • Prayer calls in the night – We had a lot of mosques in the area, and they would call to prayer around every four hours. They didn’t bother us at all in the day, but the night-time ones were so loud, especially if there was a strong wind carrying the sound. It would set off all of the stray dogs in the neighbourhood – They would howl, bark, screech… Ugh.
  • Driving at night – See above, but WAY worse, especially when they don’t have cars that work very well. Some cars had no headlights, some were on high beam at ALL times… It was exhausting!
  • UHT milk – Remember I said they didn’t really do dairy in southern Africa, well this is why you can only really buy UHT milk from the supermarkets. And it’s not as nice as fresh cow’s milk.

That’s about it! Perhaps it all sounds like I was being really unrealistic and snobbish, but these were the (relatively small) things that made me miss home sometimes. I really loved our time in Malawi, especially at….

LAKE MALAWI

Oh god. This is my new favourite place. I could have sat in that lake for weeks and wrinkled up like a prune and not given one single f**k. It was paradise. Well, for me anyway! The water was warm and fresh, not salty like the ocean. It was clear, shallow (for a distance) and you could see out for miles, but it had waves, which made it fun for the boys. There was sand and light shingle on the ‘beach’ which was soft and comfortable to sit on. I’m not a huge fan of the beach – Sand irritates me, and the sea is always too salty and unpredictable. The lake provided me with the joys of being next to, and in, the water without all of the mess and faff of the seaside. We will, one day, have a house on the lake, I hope. It will fulfil my dream of living next to freshwater. I mean, look at it…

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So, Malawi, thank you for being the definitive ‘warm heart of Africa’ and for giving us an amazing experience, or seventy!

As for the rest of you, please consider Malawi as a future holiday destination. It really is an amazing place to see. So many beautiful vistas, people and flora. Please contact me for more information if you’re planning to visit.

NSG xxx

Book Review: The Mummy Lessons by Helen Wallen

Parenting

IMG_0412

Firstly, I want to say that I only found out yesterday that The Mummy Lessons is the second book in what is hopefully a whole series, following the motherhood experiences of three childhood friends, Emily, Liz and Molly. I am clearly very late to this party! But, like many parties, it’s better to be late than not turn up at all. And, even without knowing the hosts, I still had an awesome time and ended the evening feeling like I knew them well. Plus, it left me wanting to go out and get that first book…

OK, that’s enough of the party metaphors.

It’s true that all three ladies in the book are completely different people, all doing the motherhood thing differently, but you can’t help but sympathise with them all in some way. As a mother, I have probably felt the same way as all of them at some stage in my own experience, and I think other mothers (and fathers) will find this, too. This is how Helen Wallen draws us in to the story – She makes us fully empathise with the characters. I am not going to spoil the story in any way, as that would be just mean (and make my partner, who is a writer of stories, very angry with me!), but it felt like I was reading the diaries, Whatsapp chats and blog posts (and witty poetry!) of my dearest mummy friends – Content that I’d heard, felt and seen before, but this was portrayed by other people… so WE ARE NOT ALONE then!

This is one of the main things that I loved about this book – Its familiarity. It made it a real joy to read. Even at the end of a day (or sixteen) where I have felt so tired and fed up, this book brightened me up and made me laugh out loud before bedtime. Helen’s language and her ease at telling her characters’ stories made it easy to follow and kept me entertained throughout, even when things weren’t going too well in the story (Again, no spoilers).

The book also reinforces the importance of mummy friends, and I think every mum will read this book and feel ever-more grateful for their village. I know I did. I don’t think any of the characters could have gone through these stages of motherhood without each other, and I genuinely feel this way about my own mummy group. Just reading the Whatsapp conversations about babies that won’t sleep, and getting messages at 4.30am and actually responding to them… I remember it all so well!

What sets this apart from other books of its kind is that it is completely fictional (It seems that most others seem to be either autobiographical or an advice book rather than a story), but there is still a hint of ‘hmmmm’ about whether Helen Wallen has used some of her own experiences to create the stories of her characters. I can imagine that most of the parents out there could split their crazy experiences across three separate and totally different characters and still manage to make the stories feel so real.

I genuinely enjoyed reading this book, and was sad when I’d finished it (Although I got a little taster of Helen’s first book, Baby Boom, at the end – Nice touch!). It made me feel warm and cosy, but also sad and empathetic at times. This crazy journey we’re on as parents can only be fully enjoyed with laughter, jokes, not-so-candid conversations about baby weaning and a few swear words, and Helen Wallen has brought that into print for us all to enjoy, and for really not that much money! If that’s not a tonic, I don’t know what is…

NSG xxx

Where else can you follow Helen Wallen aka Just A Normal Mummy other than physically stalking her and her family?

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  • Links to the books on Amazon can be found in their titles, above. The Mummy Lessons is available on Kindle for only 99p for a limited time only – Get your copy asap!