Saturday, 31 January 2015

Me & Mine {January}

This month we have loved:-

*Getting back into the rhythm of school and work after a long Christmas break.
*Heading out and discovering new places to have adventures.
*Watching Friends from the very beginning (just the grown ups of course!) having a good old chuckle in the evening.
*Lots of onesie wearing and hot chocolate drinking to really make the most of the cold spell.

I loved joining in with Me & Mine last year and, December aside, we now have a full year of photos with us all in which is so lovely to look back on.  

I am hoping that this year I can continue to improve my photography and get a bit more creative with our photos, and remember to take them before it is the last minute which is something we have been good at this month.

I ended up having to narrow down a large selection rather than trying to make the most of the few we had, although even then the majority featured at least one unsmiling child.  Oh well!

Me and Mine is a family photography project hosted by Dear Beautiful and several other wonderful bloggers.  If you want to see more family portraits or find out how to join in then head over there.

dear beautiful

Friday, 30 January 2015

My January Reads


I've decided to do my book reviews a little differently this year; as I tend to devour several books a month I found it too tricky to keep up with individual reviews so instead I'll briefly outline the books I've read each month, and give them a star rating to make it simple.

So here's what I've been reading in January:

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult - I am a huge fan of Jodi Picoult books so when I spotted this in the library I couldn't wait to get stuck in.  As usual Picoult chooses a tough subject that challenges assumptions and opinions.  It is the story of Peter Houghton, a teenage boy who has been picked on at school since his first day at kindergarten, and the decision he makes to enter his high school and in nineteen minutes kill ten people and wound several more.  Picoult offers the story from various perspectives: we have that of Peter, as well as his parents, Judge Alex Cormier and her daughter Josie (who is pivotal to what took place on the fateful day), the detective dealing with the case as well as Peter's attorney.  If you are familiar with Picoult's work then this won't disappoint.  It is fast paced, and keeps you thinking until the very last page.  
Star rating: **** 

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton - James bought me this book for Christmas and although I wanted to read it there and then, I managed to put if off for a little while longer!  During a summer birthday party at her home in the countryside, 16 year old Laurel Nicolson is daydreaming in her tree house when she is witness to a shocking event which challenges everything she ever thought about her mother, Dorothy.  50 years later, the family gather at her childhood home to celebrate Dorothy's 90th birthday and Laurel realises that it might be her only chance to discover what really happened that day, and why.  This book flicks between the present day and Dorothy's story which takes place in the 1940's and beyond.  Hers is a story of how three perfect strangers could meet and impact upon each other's lives and how one simple decision can throw everything we know up in the air.  
Star rating: ****

The Seafront Team Rooms by Vanessa Greene - This is the story of how three women from very different backgrounds come together when they least expect it and have a real impact on each other's lives.  There is journalist Charlotte who is charged with the job of finding Britain's best tearooms in order to prove she is worthy of being editor, Kat, a single mother who is desperately trying to keep herself afloat and whose only sanctuary is the Seafront Tea Rooms in Scarborough and Seraphine, a young French girl who has taken a job as an au-pair in an attempt to escape something back at home.  Quaint, enjoyable and easy to read.  This was my first of Vanessa Greene's books but I will definitely be hunting out her others.  
Star rating: ***

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - I am actually taking part in Claire's A-Z of Authors (although I am still waiting for my B to arrive at the library!) and this was my first choice.  I have often considered picking it up, especially as I've read Sense and Sensibility and Emma but just never got around to it.  I'm sure you don't need me to tell you the I will just say that I absolutely loved it.  Witty, charming and with the ever amusing sparring between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy, I am a real fan for sure.  
Star rating: *****

Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams by Jenny Colgan - I only discovered the wonderful Jenny Colgan last year and made it my aim to read as many of her books as possible so this was the next instalment.  Rosie Hopkins is working an an auxiliary nurse in London, living with her boyfriend Gerard and generally thinking that life is pretty great.  Then she gets a call from her mother asking her to go to the tiny village of Lipton in Derbyshire to help her elderly Aunt Lilian sort out the sale of her sweet shop.  Rosie immediately pictures life in the countryside as boring and dull but finds she couldn't be more wrong.  Alongside discovering Rosie's exploits in the village and following her gradual realisation that maybe there is more to life than London we also step back in time to the 1940's when Lilian was just a teenager, helping to run her family's sweet shop during WWII and the many brave sacrifices she made.  I adored this book and am not surprised it is an award-winner.  If you like light-hearted, romantic fiction with a few recipes thrown in for good luck then this is a great read. 
Star rating: ****

Have you read any good books this month?  Let me know if you've got any recommendations as I always love to discover new authors.

Linking up with Read With Me and A-Z of Authors.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

5 Ways To Make Your Rented House Feel Like Home

When you live in a rented home it isn't always easy to make it feel like your own, even when you move into an unfurnished property.  This is because you are often subject to the landlord's choice of decor, which can sometimes be a little questionable!

We've always been quite lucky in that the houses we've lived in have been fairly neutral or we've had laid back landlords who haven't been too bothered about what we've wanted to do but I know that this isn't always the case.  Some friends of ours moved into a flat and weren't even allowed to put a picture on the wall without prior written permission!

However, I believe that even if you can't change the wallpaper in a room, or the colour scheme you can still put your own stamp onto a place and make it feel more like the kind of place you'd want to live in.

We have been in our current house for a year and are now ready to start making some changes to make it feel more like our home rather than just a place we happen to be living in and we have started with the lounge.  Although neutral in colour, the wallpaper is like something out of the seventies and the fireplace has lovely, erm, gold and brown colours which are definitely not something I would choose to have.

But that doesn't mean we can't still make the space feel more like ours!  
I've been busy gathering ideas for our lounge which is the first port of call as it's the place we spend the most amount of time.  Rodgers of York have a fantastic selection of furniture, soft furnishings and floor coverings which I could easily incorporate into my new room.  What do you think of my choices?

Products (L-R)

And if you are living in a rented house and want to make your rented house feel like home, here are my top tips:-

1. Furnishings
If you are moving into an unfurnished property then, of course, one of the easiest ways to make a house feel your own is to bring your own items.  You can change the whole feel of a room by simply adding your own furniture into it.  If the house is furnished but bits are looking worn, consider asking the landlord whether you can replace them.  You never know, they may even contribute to the cost if something is no longer suitable for use.  If you are purchasing new items then consider buying neutral colours so that no matter what the decor of your rented house (current or future) you won't clash.  Alternatively, invest in throws to cover things up!

2. Rugs
Rugs are a brilliant way of covering up dingy or worn carpets.  There is an unattractive burn mark where the owner dropped her iron in the middle of our lounge carpet at the moment but by purchasing a large rug we have successfully covered it up, as well as brightening the room up by choosing a rug which suits our preferred colour scheme of duck egg blue.

3. Hang drapes over blinds
In our old house we had an ugly dark brown blind in the bedroom which was just an eyesore.  Using drapes we were able to cover up the blind and change the feel of the room; and we just took the drapes down when we moved.

4. Radiator Covers
If the radiators in your house look old or tatty, then invest in a cover.  These are usually easy to install and remove and can transform a tired looking radiator into an attractive and useful space which could be used for photo frames (ideal if you aren't allowed to hang any pictures on the walls!)

5. Flower Pots and Hanging Baskets
Upgrade the exterior of your property by adding hanging baskets or flower pots.  These can bring colour and vibrancy to an otherwise dull exterior; just make sure you keep them alive!

Have you any tips for how to turn your rented house into a home?

Disclosure: This post was written in connection with Rodgers of York.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Precious Moments...

This September Eli will start at school.  Whilst I am excited for this next stage for him, I am also going to be incredibly sad to lose the special time that we have together right now.

With Meg, I had two years before Eli came along to spend each and every day with her.  I got to learn her little quirks, the way her inquisitive mind works and to see her beautiful personality develop as well as experiencing the more trying parts which come from having a child who is both extremely intelligent and extremely stubborn!  With Eli it was certainly harder to find that one on one time until Meg started school and now he is at preschool our time has been condensed into just two and half days.

He is such a little charmer and comedian.  Mixed in with limitless energy, an inability to sit still for more than two minutes, constant chatter and a certain disregard for the rules is a little boy who is very eager to raise a smile, who is quick with a cuddle and a kiss, who must tell me how much he loves me at least ten times every day and who is always ready with a song.  Where Meg can be shy when the spotlight is on her, Eli has no such qualms and has often been known to reveal details to perfect strangers we'd much rather he didn't!

I adore our time together and I know I will be in pieces come September when I have to send him off to school.  If he is anything like his big sister then he will be more than ready but I'm not sure that I am!

For right now, I am enjoying this amazing age he is at, where every day brings something new and exciting and when I am constantly being challenged to keep up with a little boy who has a boundless amount of energy and imagination.  A truly precious time.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Pregnancy Myths & Things I Wish I'd Known...

I can remember being pregnant like it was yesterday, especially that magical feeling when baby first starts to move and you wonder if you really felt it or whether it was just in your imagination!

Both my pregnancies were quite different.  With Meg it looked like I had a football under my jumper for most of the time, and with Eli...well, see for yourself in the photo below.  It's like my stomach muscles said to everywhere else, 'yeah, we've got this', and just collapsed outwards!  How I even moved let alone picked up a toddling Meg, never ceases to amaze me.

Creating another human being is a truly awesome thing to do but when I was pregnant for the first time there was just so much that I didn't know.  I had a friend who was pregnant at exactly the same time with her first and we were forever comparing notes on how we felt and whether it was normal etc not to mention the varying advice on what we could eat, what we could do, how we should feel from midwives, previous mums, our own mums and perfect strangers and on and on and on...

Here are just some of the gems I heard whilst I was pregnant:-

'It's definitely a boy, I can tell from the shape of your bump'
This one is a cracker and I bet there isn't a single mum out there who hasn't heard this at some point.  I carried all my pregnancy weight at the front both times and have one girl and one boy.  Go figure.

'It's okay, you're eating for two.'
I really wish I'd been able to make this one be true!  Not only are you not supposed to eat for two but I actually couldn't.  Both times in my third trimester I couldn't eat a normal portion of dinner without throwing up.  Glamorous, I know.

'Going for a walk will kickstart labour'
Meg was two days overdue and I tried everything under the book to get labour to start.  All the old classics: curry, pineapple, walking...but nothing worked.  I don't think there is much that can start labour, your body will just be ready when it's ready and there's no point pulling your hair out about it.  I can remember vividly talking to a friend a few years ago and saying that if I ever got pregnant again I wouldn't tell people the due date, just the rough period of time when the baby might arrive to stop all those texts appearing on D-Day asking when the baby is coming.

'You'll get weird cravings.'
This might make me the most boring person to have been pregnant but I didn't get a single weird craving.  Sure, I got cravings for certain things (like when I sent James out at 10pm to get me a tuna subway sandwich) but there was nothing odd about it.  My midwife told me that strange cravings come about when your body needs something, such as iron, and is looking to get it in any way possible, rather than that you've just lost it a little bit.

Of course, every pregnancy is different and that's what makes it such an amazing experience...there really isn't a one size fits all solution.  C&G Baby Club currently have a campaign called, 'Wish I'd Known' which is all about the myths we hear and the things we wish someone had told us before we became pregnant!  If you're interested in offering your opinion, you can fill in the survey here and let them know your own thoughts.

In terms of things I wish I'd known, there are plenty but I wouldn't want to terrify any mums to be out there...I jest, I jest.  Really I wish I had known that pregnancy isn't always glamorous (swollen ankles, lack of movement, vomit...), sometimes it's downright hard and that when it comes to giving birth you really won't care no matter what you think beforehand but that ultimately when you are handed the tiny, fragile human being that your body created realise that it was totally and utterly worth it.

Have you got any myths to add to my list?  I'd love to hear them!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Difference In A Year...

As we were walking around one of our local parks at the weekend I realised that exactly a year ago we had done the same thing, in the same park.  What are the chances of that?!  It isn't a park we particularly frequent often, and we only happened to go there because I had taken Eli earlier in the week and he specifically requested it.

Isn't it funny how things turn out?

Anyway...I remembered that I had taken a photo of the kids standing inside the gate to the sensory garden so we quickly grabbed another one to compare it against.

Isn't it amazing how much change can take place in a year?!

This is the shot taken last January.  Eli is still very much a toddler, not even three years old.  Still napping in the day (often on me), with us only able to understand a handful of words.  Meg was only just reading basic words, beginning to form letters, starting out on her journey through school.

I wish we'd managed to remember which way round they were standing but hey they are both real little people.  Eli will be starting school this year (yikes!) and can already write his name.  He can still be a little hard to understand when he gets excited but more and more each day he comes up with new words and phrases which we didn't know he knew.  Meg is reading Roald Dahl books by herself at bedtime and is doing amazing with her writing.  I think for me, that is the biggest much she has achieved in just one year at school.  Kids and their ability to learn just astounds me on a daily basis.

I'm also quite impressed with how much my photography skills appear to have improved.  Definitely a benefit of blogging!

And, erm...yes.  Eli is still wearing the same hat because my children not really growing is something which never seems to change!

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Crafting with Laura Ashley

Just before Christmas I was invited to a lovely event in Manchester to learn some Christmas crafts with Laura Ashley.

If I'm really honest, crafting is something I always imagine I am good at but when it comes to actually sitting down and getting it done I tend to procrastinate...usually because I know the stress that comes with trying to make something and it not going well!

However, I love Laura Ashley and I was reassured that there were going to be professionals present to guide and assist us so I thought I would give it my best shot.

The venue was absolutely divine. It was held upstairs at Rosylee in Manchester; a gorgeously vintage and quirky tea room cum restaurant. The ideal location for the beautiful crafts we were going to be attempting to make.

When I stepped upstairs, I began to panic a little. There, in front of me was a row of sewing machines. I had never used a sewing machine in my life! I can just about sew by hand but to be put in charge of a machine?! 

I opted to not put my fingers at risk and veered away from the sewing machines for the first task, sticking to something which I thought would be more simple: box making. I found this absolutely is actually incredibly easy to make a box using beautiful paper.

Or so they say...I think I was the only one who managed to go a little bit wrong when it came to creating the bow to sit on the top.

But still...I managed the box easily enough! We had an array of gorgeous Laura Ashley wallpaper to choose from. My box is made with Ironwork Scroll Cranberry for the base and Henley Stripe Pale Cranberry for the lid.  I then used the same paper for the bow as for the base.

With my box out of the way it was time to indulge in some lovely canap├ęs. I seem to always come home with photos of whatever I have been eating these days, so it only makes sense to share it with you.

Those mini beef and horseradish filled Yorkshire pudding = delicious!!

After a quick bite to eat it was time to face my nemesis.  There was no avoiding the sewing machine any longer.

The lovely expert from Ministry of Craft assured us all that it was very simple and actually, for my first attempt I don't think I did too badly a job.

It's just a shame that I was still sitting at my sewing machine when everyone else had left!  Huge thanks has to go to Lisa from Hollybobbs who not only assisted me with my feeble attempts but also sat with me until my festive bag was complete!

So, what did I learn?  Well...I am still completely in love with Laura Ashley and their gorgeous array of fabrics, wallpapers and products but for safety and sanity's sake it is probably best if I allow someone else to do the crafting for me in future!

Monday, 12 January 2015

Getting Out and About...

One of our aims this year as a family is to get outdoors a bit more and explore the area around where we live.  We have our favourite places to go; i.e. the ones which are within walking distance of our house(!) but we haven't really travelled much further afield.  Seeing as we are lucky enough to live in an area which is surrounded by countryside and open spaces, we really want to try and make the most of that this year.

On Saturday James was working and I planned to take the kids to the park in the morning and wear them out.  The weather had other plans however and we were subjected to crazy gale force winds and torrential rain until around lunchtime when it finally cleared.  This meant that by the time James got through the door at 2pm, both Meg and Eli were bouncing off the walls so we grabbed our coats and wellies and headed for the door.

There was a country park I wanted to try out, which wasn't too far away.  As we only had a couple of hours before dusk started to fall, we needed somewhere close by so we could make the most of it.

Yarrow Valley Country Park is 700 acres of woodland and open space set alongside the River Yarrow.  It has everything you would want in a park:

...somewhere to feed the ducks.

...somewhere to play poohsticks.

...and of course, somewhere to play.  I have to say that although we didn't have time to explore the woodlands, by far the best bit of the park is the playground.  It has been created to blend perfectly with its surroundings and is made from mostly natural materials.  

Both Meg and Eli absolutely loved exploring all the nooks and crannies, from the tunnel to the giant rope swing and we didn't manage to leave until it was almost dark as we couldn't drag them away.  

As we had left it until the end of the day to visit, the park was deserted but I imagine it can get quite busy during the warmer months.  We will certainly be heading back to see as it gets the thumbs up from us!

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Siblings {January}

This last month has taught me something very special about my two little siblings.  Being unwell for the majority of the month meant I wasn't on hand to organise games, set up crafts or wade in and sort out disagreements.

Although I have found it difficult, and have battled with the feelings of guilt, I've had to adopt a very hands-off approach which isn't something I am used to.

But despite the fact that there have been little spats and squabbles, I have been pleasantly surprised at how Meg and Eli have just got on and played.  They have created complex little worlds and escaped to them, they have set up their own simple activities, they have shared their new toys with each other without even needing to be asked and most of all, they haven't needed or wanted much parental intervention and that has been amazing to watch.

I never get bored of hearing the sounds of delight as they get stuck into a really great game of their own invention.  It is just such a heart-warming thing.  I just hope it continues now they are back at school and nursery!

This month, I adore my photo.  Despite what I said last month, I failed to choose a photo where both Meg and Eli are facing the camera but this was deliberate (honestly!)

To most people it probably appears fairly unimaginative but to me this shot captures so much about their personalities: you have Meg posing and preening, ever being the proper little girl and Eli creeping up behind her, looking like he's about to cause some mischief.  

Looking back at last year's photo, it's amazing to see how much they have changed as well.  They both just look so small and so young, and now I have a real little girl and boy on my hands!  

Although as you can see, Eli still looks to his big sister to lead the way!

dear beautiful

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Bye-Bye Christmas

I won't pretend I wasn't secretly glad to see the end of 2014.  For those who caught up with my recent youtube video (if not, see here...) you will know that I managed to get every bug under the sun over the festive period.  

Let me tell you, being sick on Christmas Day certainly sucks all the fun out of it.  The only positive I have found is that I didn't manage to over-eat as I didn't actually eat!

Despite the many illnesses I was rocking, the kids had a really lovely Christmas.  On Christmas Eve we visited the South Lakes Animal Wildlife Park where we got to see some baby Jaguars, feed Santa's reindeer and wear the kids out completely which was a great bonus.  Christmas Day it was nice just being the four of us for the day itself before enjoying time with our families.

We are pretty much back to normal now, with work, school and nursery resuming and last weekend we took down all our decorations and put the house back as it was.  I don't know about you, but I always think the house looks so empty once you've removed the festive dressing...spacious, yes, but colder too somehow.

Once we had boxed everything up again, we were left with the simple question of how to dispose of our real Christmas tree.  Despite the drama of trying to find a stand which would hold the tree up (James' idea of a bucket full of sand and stones was a complete disaster) and  the kids obsession with redecorating the tree every afternoon leaving me wondering whether there would be any needles left on the thing come Christmas morning, it actually fared rather well.

The obvious choice would have been to leave it out and hope that the Council picked it up when they did the rounds emptying the garden bins, but we've never been the kind of family who went in for simple.  Instead, we decided to strap our tree to the top of the car and drive 30 minutes or so down to Formby Beach, where the National Trust plant the trees to help stop the sand dunes eroding.

We got some very funny looks when we pulled into Formby car park and couldn't see another tree in sight.  We had almost entered into panic mode with each of us blaming the other for making the whole thing up when we discovered where we needed to leave it.  I'm fairly sure Eli is holding on to the tree rather than helping James here.

Once we'd said goodbye to our tree we headed out onto the beach for a bit of fresh air.  It was so cold and windy that we didn't last longer than 20 minutes; but it was that beautiful sort of fresh air which leaves you rosy-cheeked and looking forward to a good afternoon nap.

We timed our visit perfectly as well and got to see the sun setting over the dunes which has to be one of the most magical sights.

Visiting Formby was one of the first things we did when we moved here in January last year and it was nice to be able to revisit and reflect on the year that we've had and how things have changed.  

Best of all, of course, is that by donating our tree we are helping to preserve the environment which left us all feeling very warm-hearted; even if we had to try and repeatedly persuade Eli that we weren't going to send the tree out to sea along with all his homemade decorations!