Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Character development via Twitter

As an author I understand the importance of social media, and am fairly confident with the weird and wonderful world of Twitter now. Recently I've started a second Twitter account based on a character from the book I'm currently writing (who MAY be loosely based on a certain Mr. Mandache).

The experience has been fun, and at times a little surreal... For example, @RomanianScot , my Twitter alias, received tweets from two Scots living in Romania. I was delighted to virtually meet likeminded people with joint interests in Scotland and Romania, however, when I found one of them typing in Romanian, assuming I really was a Romanian Scot, it was definitely a bit weird. I wondered how to react? Keep up the pretense by replying in Romanian and hoping my poor grammar and spelling would not give away my secret, whilst sneakily making use of Google translate? Or be honest and possibly chase them away because they would think I was a bit strange, using a kind of personal false advertising? Mulling it over, I decided to message them the truth, that I was in fact a Twitter user with a split personality...not literally of course! Stranger still, the other Scot I had befriended turned out to be a relative of mine; it is no coincidence that my profile here says I am "living proof that truth is stranger than fiction".

Deciding to be a bit more transparent with my second account, I described @RomanianScot as a "character in forthcoming book by @carolynmandache" I really don't know if my followers realise it is actually me writing, or this mysterious person I have created. I guess it doesn't really matter, I just hope they continue to interact with me/him....even I'm confused.

Since opening the new account, I had to attend an internet safety workshop with my kids. Of course it was all very useful and warned my kids of the very real dangers of being online. Imagine my concern, when they kept emphasizing the fact that "not everyone is who they say they are on the internet". My kids know about @RomanianScot, and the reasons for starting it, but I couldn't help but worry that one of them would pipe up with "Oh, my mummy pretends to be someone else on Twitter!" Thankfully they didn't, and I would have been able to explain, but I'm still glad I wasn't put in that position.

So why did I start the account? Well, I'm writing a novel, stepping away from my previous writing for kids and moving into adult fiction. I've previously blogged about being married to a Romanian who I met on holiday in Spain. I've heard stories about his childhood and been to Romania many times. I find the history fascinating and have been enjoying researching for the book. Romania gets very bad deal in terms of press coverage; nearly all is negative and I hope that my book will provide a more balanced perspective of the country.  I describe @RomanianScot as a "Scotified Romanian, improving my native country's image one tweet at a time", and that's my main aim, to work in conjunction with the book. Tweeting via that account has also allowed me to "think" like my character, and that is a bonus during the writing process.  Have any of you explored starting a parallel Twitter account? Have you found it to be useful?

Should you be interested in historical fiction, holiday romances, or other cultures, I invite you to follow me on Twitter; the real me, the fake one, or even both!  I look forward to your tweets, and as always, comments welcomed here.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Tween troubles

Mandache clan
An important, and quite scary development has happened in the Mandache household this month. We now have 3 tweens at home (2 ten year olds and an 11 year old). Thankfully, I still have little A. at home to balance out all the moodiness. I've been remembering the Cbeebies show "The Tweenies" for some reason. I wonder why they called it that, when the characters were all pre-schoolers? I can make a few comparisons between the colourful characters in that show and my own clan at home :) L1. would be Bella, the bossy one who can be a bit of a know-it-all, L2. would be Fizz, the girly one always playing with her hair, A1. would be Milo, the winder-upper, and A2. would be Jake, the youngest one who gets frustrated if he can't keep up with the older ones. I know they like to think they are no longer little kids, but they can often argue like toddlers the way their Tweenie twins do! Of course I will never tell them my comparisons which make me smile, they would be mortified...

My tweens have long outgrown Cbeebies, in fact even A. no longer watches it. I have to say "The Tweenies" and some of the other Cbeebies shows they used to know and love, would be far preferable to their new TV preferences. I would go so far as to say I hate Spongebob and his stupid crabby patties. The only saving grace is being able to deliberately mispronounce the name, much to the annoyance of his young fans. Try it, there are numerous wrong combinations (Bobsponge Pants Square, Pants Square Bob Sponge...) and it winds them up no end! Another one to avoid is Uncle Grandpa, which after about 30 seconds has me leaving the room. Thankfully there are some shows we can enjoy as a family, "Britain's Got Talent" must be the Saturday night saviour for many a UK family... a welcome escape from yet another Lego Ninjago episode.

I admit to finding the moodiness (for incredibly stupid reasons) quite soul destroying, and it will only get worse. My best way of handling it is to try to ignore the moods as much as possible, if I think it's for really trivial things, I send them to their rooms until they cheer up. I found their moods ended up sending me into the depths of gloom too, so I no longer allow that to happen. Have you found your tweens to be moody? How do you handle their ups and downs? I watched the video of the mum who lip synced her 4 year old having a temper tantrum to try and make her see the funny side and not take things so seriously. I wonder if this would work for moody tweens too?....


I'm clinging on to being able to choose clothes for them all, but I know my days as their fashion adviser are numbered. I am also having to buy clothes for teenagers as they are all so tall. It's disappointing that age appropriate clothes are not so readily available to my kids. Surely there's a business idea there somewhere...

I'm also amazed by the vanity about their appearance. My son is extremely fussy about his hair, and I'm told quite a few boys nearly miss the bus after school swimming due to their gel habits!The girls are pestering me to let them get their ears pierced, but are making do with stick-on glittery fakes for the time being. A. has not yet reached the fussy, vain stage...he'd quite happily wear his favourite crocodile costume very day if I let him.

Yes, I am finding it difficult adjusting to this new stage of their lives. I'm watching their early childhood fade away, the toys they once played with for hours being replaced with electronics and TV. Lego, Monster High and drawing are still popular, so I haven't completely lost the battle to limit the screen time, and I'm determined not to. We're going on holiday soon, escaping the miserable Scottish weather of recent. I asked them to choose 4 songs each for playing in the car when we get there...we'll now be driving around enjoying "Pink Fluffy Unicorns", "The Duck Song", and the obligatory "Frozen" songs...maybe I've still got a few more years of innocent childhood yet.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Little helpers

I have been overjoyed by a recent development in the Mandache household....I now have an assistant toilet roll changer! Maybe it doesn't sound like such a big deal, but having spent years being singularly responsible for such a simple, yet vital task, it really is fantastic to have a helper in the form of my youngest son. However, upon praising my little assistant last night for changing the loo roll WITHOUT BEING ASKED, I was taken aback by his older brother's reaction. Acting pretty girly, he teased "oh Alex, you can be a maid when you're older." It's not the first time big brother has implied that chores around the house are for females, and I'm more determined than ever to change his attitudes. Maybe at some point you, like I, have received the emergency toilet roll text request from your spouse. My wish is to put an end to that madness for future generations....teach them to get off their butts (literally),and get it themselves!

Of course it is a lot easier said than done to train children to help out around the house. I've blogged before about being guardian to my two nieces, as well as mum to my two boys. I get a wonderful insight into gender politics, and don't always like what I see. My son, the non-toilet roll changer, frequently asks his girl cousins to do chores for him (especially if he thinks I'm not within earshot). The girls, both very fond of A., will almost always cater to his laziness by doing what he'd asked. I'm trying to stop this behaviour, make them realise they all have responsibilities. I found a good article on the Aha parenting website, giving reasons why it is so hard to get children involved with chores, and tips on how to encourage them. I have had limited success with reward charts, a lot of the tips found in the article make sense, the key is perseverance which can be hard when it often feels "easier to do it ourselves":


However, it's better to resolve these tensions over household chores now, than face the frustrations of lazy disrespectful teens later on.I read with amusement and a certain amount of sympathy about the North Carolina mum who went on strike to potest her daughters' lack of respect and appreciation for her. The link can be found here:


One way I am considering making my kids keen to clean is by treating them to some mop slippers. Surely a Friday night kitchen disco which just happens to clean the floor at the same time cannot be a bad thing? Look, they even come in blue!

I'm also keen to teach all of them to cook. Maybe once a week they could take it in turns to decide what the meal should be (encouraging a healthy choice), and then helping them to prepare it. All of them enjoy baking, maybe it's time to move on to the next level. I found a great blog post by a dad with his reasons why boys should learn to cook. My husband does very little around the house (possibly adding to my son's attitude that chores are for women), but he does enjoy cooking. The post has inspired me to try this new weekly cooking night. The link can be found here:

I've explained how having girls in the house has caused my elder son to have quite a bad attitude towards chores, which will not help him in later life. However, all the kids like playing with Zelfs (basically toys that are the reincarnation of trolls which were a trend when I was growing up). All four of them enjoy styling and grooming their Zelf's hair, usually a more feminine hobby, and I'm pleased to see them doing that. Maybe my sons won't grow up to be particularly helpful around the house, but at least if I have any grand- daughters they will not suffer the indignity of being styled with the aid of a hoover, which seems to be the preferred technique of modern dads. I do like this funny video of one dad's efforts ;):

What are your thoughts on kids helping around the house? Any tips to share? Success stories or disasters, I'd love to hear about them.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Out of my depth?

Swimming....so relaxing, peaceful, almost therapeutic. That is, unless the person swimming is your child and you are there as loyal spectator. I am very proud that my son has reached level 9 of his swimming lessons, enjoy watching him become stronger and more confident in the water. I don't however, enjoy being on the spectators balcony at 8 o'clock on a Sunday morning!

At first I had thought the class was 8 in the evening, it didn't even cross my mind that my beloved Sunday morning lie-ins would soon be a distant memory. (I use the term "lie in" very loosely, as anyone with young children knows, 8am is probably as good as it gets)However, the letter confirming my son's place clearly said AM not PM. We are not in April yet, so clearly it wasn't some cruel joke that I would now be up and dressed even EARLIER than the daily school run.

This weekend was our first attempt at making it to the pool so early. Luckily my sister slept over the night before, so I didn't have to drag the other 3 with me, but even getting one out the door on a schedule is traumatizing. Breakfast wolfed down, I yelled the all too familiar "hurry up! Have you got your swimming stuff ready?" Of course he hadn't, cartoons being the distraction to blame. I rummaged through every drawer, purse, pocket in the house looking for a precious £1 for the locker. Every other possible coin was at my diposal, even foreign ones or 10p's that had gone out of circulation years ago. Raiding the kids pocket money we were finally ready to go, we drove along the deserted roads, my son asking where everyone was. "Still in their beds", I replied with more than a hint of jealousy in my voice.

"Where will we park?" I joked, in a fake panic over where to park in the ghost town city centre car park. My 9 year old raised his eyebrows at me in a reaction that was far too teenagey for my liking.

"You've got 4 minutes to get ready" I announced, feeling like my son was entering some kind of mission impossible contest instead of swimming lessons.

We hurried to the sport centre doors, the shutters were opened just enough to let us in. I chucked A's clothes in the locker and could finally relax, I had just one thing on my mind...coffee, strong coffee. Dragging myself back upstairs I pushed open the cafe door. To my horror, the shutters were down, no cafe employee in sight. Looking at the opening hours, there would be no caffeinated beveredges available until 9, by which time A. would be finished his lesson

I fumed on the balcony, hoping the aroma from the coffee flasks brought by more savvy parents would help revive me. Even the gym overlooking the swimming pool was shut. My plan to persuade my husband to take over swimming duty involved using him being able to work out at the same time as our son, as an incentive. I fully intend to keep this disappointing discovery to myself, the kids have been sworn to secrecy. Next week I shall watch daddy dress in his sports gear, pack his Lucozade, fasten whatever calorie counting gadget he has to his being, and not say a word about my discovery.

As 9 o'clock approached, the children for the next lessons filtered down to the pool. Their smug parents looked extremely well rested in comparison to us early birders. Carrying one of the many caffeinated hot drinks now readily available to them, they sauntered out to the balcony, ready to make use of the pre-warmed seats that would soon be vacated. Some were in sports gear, caffeining up before they hit the gym, which was now also fully operational.

There is only one saving grace for the misery of early morning swim lessons...that one, quick little wave my son gave me as he swam towards me made it all worthwhile. I find myself even encouraging him to join the swim club. The thought of early morning training brings me out in a cold sweat, but I want him to be fit and healthy and keep going with a sport he clearly has a talent for. Yes, should my son decide swim club is for him, I'll be there, matchsticks in eyes, and one very large extra strong home made coffee in hand.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Chocoholics unite!

I heard recently to my dismay, that the world will soon be facing a chocolate shortage. As  a self-confessed chocoholic I decided to do some research...

I found a video on Time.com which was useful in explaining why cocoa farmers are struggling to keep up with demand. Ghana and the Ivory Coast produce around 70% of the world's cocoa. Drought and a fungal disease which has killed off 30-40% of the cocoa trees have dramatically reduced the crops, and ebola has meant migrant workers have not been allowed to cross borders and help harvest the cocoa beans. The video can be found here:


I also came across an interesting, and very thought provoking article describing cocoa farmers from the Ivory Coast tasting chocolate for the first time. I watched the video in disbelief that these hard working farmers had never actually tasted chocolate, or seemed to really know up until that point, what actually happened to the cocoa beans that provide their (very low) income. I have to say that having watched it, I feel quite ashamed of how chocolate is taken so much for granted in other parts of the world, when it is clearly such a luxury to the people responsible for us being able to enjoy it. I am making an early New Years resolution to only buy Fair Trade chocolate from now on, and my kids will be enjoying more ethical confectionary this Christmas. Please watch the video here:


Time's website explained the serious environmental factors which are causing problems for chocolate production, but I also found an article from The Guardian explaining how "posh" chocolate, and the modern trend of using chocolate in unexpected recipes has added to over consumption. Chocolate with up to 70% cocoa is becoming increasingly popular (although personally I don't know why, I'm not a fan). The article also highlights the menu options available at ChocoChicken in LA; would you be tempted by chocolate fried chicken served with chocolate ketchup and white choc fried potatoes? I can't say I would!
The article also features a "chocolate-lovers code of conduct" with suggestions how we can all help ensure chocolate never becomes a thing of the past...unthinkable!


Think how many broken hearts have started to heal with a little chocolate, or what a nice romantic gift for Valentines day it provides. Somehow, "do you love anyone enough to give them your last Haribo" doesn't have the same ring to it. In case you've no idea what I'm talking about, it was a famous tagline from the Rolo ads. I found this website, you can now buy all sorts of Rolo merchandise, but chocolate was the inspiration for the romantic gesture so many of us remember.


I hope the chocolate shortage can be resolved soon, and I certainly have more gratitude for the hard work involved in producing my favourite treat. What are your thoughts on a chocolate shortage. Any ideas how to improve the situation? I would love to hear the opinions of my fellow chocoholics.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Que sera, sera

In July this year my beloved Gran Susan died at the age of 93. My gran was a huge part of my life, and her passing has been a very painful loss. I both admired and cringed in equal measure at her unfaultering honesty, a woman never afraid to speak her own mind.

Many people offering their condolences pointed out that she'd lived to a good age, had a full life. However, this did not make her death any easier to accept, in some ways it was harder. I had longer to bond with her, and since her health was relatively good and she had such a wicked sense of humour, she almost seemed invincible to both my sister and myself. The funeral was, of course, extremely sad, and as my family and I faced the difficult task of the lineup whilst trying to maintain our composure, Doris Day's "Que sera, sera" played as everyone filtered out of the crematorium. I had suggested that song, as she used to sing it to my sister and I as little girls. The song brought back bittersweet memories, and I have since been thinking that her philosophy on life...whatever will be, will be, seems to have been the case for me this summer, and in many other areas of my life. The song can be found here:


For example, had things turned out as they were meant to this summer, I would not have had the chance to visit my gran one final time at the hospital, nor would I have been able to attend her funeral. Things that at the time seemed to be disasterous, actually turned out to be blessings in disguise. I have written before about being a mum of two boys, and for the past three years, guardian to my two nieces from Romania. The girls were supposed to be holidaying in Romania this year, but unfortunately, the relative who was to care for them, had to back out due to unforeseen circumstances. My husband and I had booked a holiday to Dubai for ourselves and the boys. There was no way to change the booking to accommodate the girls, and the only reason we were going was because of the free child offer, which would not apply to another two kids.  I was in a panic at the thought of losing out on our much needed holiday and my attention became fully focused on arranging alternative child care for the girls while we were away. My sister and her husband agreed to take on the responsibility, and I could finally start looking forward to our trip.

On July 4th, the day before our flight, I was awoken by my husband saying the Victor Meldrew classic, "I don't believe it!" I felt the colour drain from my face and heartrate go through the roof as he told me that A's passport had expired. In a state of disbelief I grabbed the passport from his hand, hoping it was some cruel joke he was playing on me. Sadly, it was not, the passport was useless, out of date by 3 months. Amazingly, we did not get in a huge fight blaming each other, we just had to accept our major holidaying faux pas and make a mental note never to let it happen again. I'm pretty sure we'd overlooked the issue because we were so busy thinking of a solution for where the girls would stay while we were away. I started researching our options, and after speaking to a very sympathetic lady at the passport office, we had to accept that there was no quick fix. An adult can have an emergency passport within 4 hours, but a child passport takes up to a week...nota bene.

After some tears and tantrums (me, not the kids) it was agreed that Florin would travel with my elder son, while I stayed home with A. waiting for the new passport and flying out once we had it. I made endless phone calls to the Passport office hoping for a cancellation to move forward my appointment, and I was successful eventually. The woman at the Passport office could not have been any nicer, and she assured me she would do her very best to get me the passport within the next few days. True to her word, the passport was ready in two days, however, my gran had passed away by then. I am so glad I was able to be at home when it happened, and although it had been a stressful time, everything worked out for the best. I attended the funeral minus the kids, but brought them along for the coffee bit afterwards (I'm sure there must be an official term for it, but you know what I mean). One of the guests tapped A. on the head as they left, I was pretty embarrassed when he said "stop patting my head, I'm not a dog!" The guest looked back over her shoulder, a puzzled look on her face, and then walked on, assuming she must have misheard. A. definitely seems to have inherited a cheeky streak from my gran, and I'll be sure to remind him of it as he grows older.

I mentioned there are other areas in my life where unexpected things have happened in a que sera sera kind of way. I met my husband at the age of 21 on a family holiday I was not keen to go on. I'm glad I was persuaded otherwise, or we would never have met at that Spanish foam party...yes, I did say foam party :) My husband is Romanian, which is also a little strange, since the only charity appeal that I became involved in growing up was for Romanian orphans; I arranged a bring and buy sale with a friend at school to try to help. My project I chose to do for History at high school was on immigration to Britain, a subject now very close to my heart. A series of coincidences yes, but still, it does make me feel that our marriage was meant to be.

Another perfect example of que sera sera in my life is when we decided to become the guardians to our nieces. We have two wonderful boys, but I still longed for a baby girl. My husband was slowly coming round to the idea when we discovered the terrible poverty and neglect being suffered by our nieces in Romania, then aged 6 and 7. Far from an easy decision, we debated what was the best solution, and whether we'd be able to meet the challenges of taking on such a huge responsibilty. Now, 3 years later I can say that we did not underestimate the challenges we would face, but I know without a shadow of a doubt that we did the right thing. I had hoped for a daughter, and the timing was such that at the right stage in my life, I welcomed two girls, who are like daughters to me, into our family.

Whatever will be, will be....

Why not share some of your stories of situations that seemed to be outwith your control but have worked out well. I'd love to read them.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

End of an era...

I've not written a blog in far too long. I've missed my therapeutic spilling of thoughts to complete strangers (mostly) on the internet. Honest explanation? Life got in the way...

Like most parents, I find the leadup to the school holidays (which fill me in equal measure with dread and excitement), pretty hectic. There's sports days, parents evenings, fun days, projects to hand in, not to mention yellow day...it would be hard to find a more difficult colour in which to dress 4 children. I know I'm not alone in the end of term stress. Why do school shoes have such a habit of falling to bits literally weeks before the final day of school? I found the following blog very entertaining by a fellow mum suffering from end of term frustrations:


I also have the dreaded nursery graduation of my youngest to attend. A. is more than ready for school, especially since I am sending him at 5 and a half, rather than 4 and a half, but I already know I will find it very sad that my baby boy is moving on.  Breaking myself in gently, I let him get a more grown up haircut to be like his big brother, who he idolizes. He's very handsome with his new look, but it took me aback how much older it seems to make him look. I'll be in pieces when I see him in his uniform.

I'm worried I will suffer from empty nest syndrome when A. starts school. I've been a stay at home mum for 9 years now, and will find it very strange not to have a young child running round my feet. The end of an era. I'm sure the days will pass quickly once I get used to it, after all 9-3 is not such a long time. Even with them out of the house, four kids and a messy husband will still provide me with plenty to do!

I will be sad to say farewell to that happy stage of my life, but on a positive note, will have more time to do things for myself. I could join a gym, go faithfully for 2 months before giving up, as I'm sure I would. I could join an art class, meet friends for lunch, or even become a stunt driver (since they mistakenly gave me a license to drive ANYTHING...apart from maybe a tank). The possibilities are endless...within a 9-3 timeframe.

This could be me, come August!