Friday, 31 July 2015

Me & Mine {July}

This is just a quick Me & Mine as I shouldn't really be near the laptop.  We are all loving being on holiday and although the weather has been a bit hit and miss and I'm not sure I would advocate setting off on holiday the same day as school finishes, we've had a great time so far and I really wish that we could slow time down so that we didn't seem to be edging so close to the end of our time together here.

As you might expect we have taken many, many photos but here is just one of us altogether, enjoying our family holiday.

dear beautiful

Friday, 24 July 2015

Back to Brantome

I am so excited that in a couple of hours I will be merrily sailing across the Channel on my way to the South of France.  If you follow me at all on social media, or regularly read this blog then you will know I have been harping on forever about this holiday and it's about more than just the sheer joy of knowing I will have nothing more complex to do than lie by the pool and read a book.

We first went to the Dordogne a couple of years ago and it was where I was inspired to start writing my first novel, Secrets of the River.  There was a particular commune (or as I like to think of it, village) called Brantome which ended up being the place the book was set.

I am really excited to be back there and although we aren't staying in Brantome itself this time, we have set aside a day or two to travel over so I can capture and share some of the places which feature in the book and perhaps get some further inspiration for a sequel which I know some people have been asking for.

This is me in 2013, being inspired...

Perhaps I will see it all through different eyes now that SOTR is based there or perhaps it will be just the same.  I really have no clue but I am hoping that it will, for the most part, remain unchanged.

If you've read the book you will get the relevance of a random man fishing in the river and if you haven't then you now have no excuse as to honour the fact that I will be in Brantome within the week, Secrets of the River will be just 99p from today until Tuesday and then will be £1.99 for the duration of the holiday.  I would love to see people downloading and perhaps hopping over to Instagram which is where I will be sharing most of my photos from the trip (I'm not 100% certain about internet access but I am hoping to share photos on here too if you don't have an IG account)

As ever if you do read the book I would appreciate it if you could leave me a review on Amazon and tell your friends and thank you to all those who have supported me so far.  I really appreciate it!

But for now...I'm headed back to Brantome.

This post contains an affiliate link to Amazon.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

How To Beat Writer's Block

Writer's block gets us all at some point, whether we can't find that word we are searching for or just have no inclination to sit down and scribble our thoughts for the day.

I know that my goal for this month was to perfect my synopsis so I could send it out to agents in September...have I done this?  Have I heck!  I am finding it particularly challenging and so I have just put it to one side.  The trouble is that because I know I'm supposed to be writing my synopsis I don't feel like working on my current manuscript either.  

When writer's block sets in there are loads of ways you can try to help beat it.  I recently wrote about how to spend quality time with yourself when you work from home and that can be a really important way of dealing with a dead end; spend some time away from your desk with just yourself and you might find everything begins to flow again.

Of course, there are some other tried and tested ways of boosting your creative thought and getting those writing juices flowing again:-

Get outside
Whether it's just a brisk walk around the block, a jog around the park or a three hour trek through the nearby forest, being outside in the fresh air and not thinking about writing is my favourite way of rejuvenating my brain.  Not only does the physical exercise stop me from panicking about how much I'm not getting done but I also come back with plenty of endorphins whizzing round my system which can help with feelings of positivity and happiness.

Write badly
Another thing I have learned over time is that sometimes just writing something is better than writing nothing.  I certainly discovered this when I was trying to get to the end of writing Secrets of the River and I forced myself to sit each day and come up with 1,000 words.  Often I would read back over them the next day and think 'huh?' with huge sections getting scratched out but other days I would be so inspired that I would write well over the 1,000 words.  If you are working to a deadline, be prepared to write out anything that comes to mind.  You can always come back and refine it later or if things are really bad then there are plenty of professional writing service companies who can tweak things into shape for you.

Write something else
I know this doesn't always work if you are working to a deadline and feeling the pressure but sometimes walking away from your current project and writing something totally different can be a great way to unlocking new thoughts and ideas.  I know when I am drowning in my freelance work and writing that 100th article about London it can be really hard to come up with new and dynamic material.  Stepping away and creating something else, either a poem or a creative piece of writing, is sometimes so helpful in refreshing and regenerating my ideas.

Rejig your working space
It is so important to have a proper working space when you are writing.  Overflowing piles of paper, being surrounded by mess and chaos or trying to work on your knee in a busy coffee shop can all detract from what you are trying to accomplish.  Set some time aside to make yourself a real, practical and comfortable working space.

Stay positive
When you are stressed you tend to freeze up so worrying about your writer's block is the number one way to ensure that it hangs around.  Try not to get stressed out and instead focus on the reasons you started writing in the first place; what was it that you loved?  What are your favourite pieces that you've written?  Perhaps go over some original work and be reminded of what made you start scribbling in the first place.  Once you keep in mind the reason why you love writing it might make the process easier.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Young Living Essential Oils

I feel like I've been writing a lot of reviews on the blog recently, in trying to get everything out of the way before the summer holidays it has all arrived at once but this review is one I have really been excited about writing and sharing with you all.

For the past 6 months or so we have been reviewing a Young Living Essential Oils Premium Starter Kit. I had been interested in essential oils for a while; after I got ill over Christmas I began looking into 'alternative' options and this was something which came up a lot.

Please bear in mind that as you read this review I am not a trained doctor, nurse or medical professional, just one individual giving her own personal experience on how we have found essential oils.

So, a lovely lady I know called Lucy uses Young Living's Essential Oils and she asked whether we would like to review a starter kit. Of course I was curious after reading so much about it online and jumped at the chance. In the spirit of being honest, James was completely dubious about the entire thing and thought that it would mostly be 'in my head'.

The Premium Starter Kit contains everything you need to enter into the world of using essential oils bar one element: a carrier oil. I chose to buy some jojoba oil (from Amazon) initially but after discovering I was allergic to it...only after I'd put it all over my hands...we switched to coconut oil which has worked much better!

The Essential Oils Collection which is included has the following oils:-

*Peace & Calming®

You do get some other oils and products included in the kit as well which you can see if you follow the link but I will stick with these oils for now otherwise this review will get very long!

I have to admit that I felt a little overwhelmed when I received the kit initially; there is so much stuff and so much to read and I really wanted to understand and grasp what the oils could be used took me about a week to read the booklet which was sent (I don't like to do things by halves) but eventually I decided to just start out by using the Dewdrop Diffuser which is included in the kit.

You select the oils you want to use, add about 6-8 drops, turn it on and away you go. There are a number of wonderful Facebook groups in operation where you can see recommendations for combinations which work well together or you can just use trial and error.

Round One
My first thought was to use Peace & Calming® on the kids at bedtime as this is supposed to be great for helping you to wind down...but it actually had the total opposite effect on Eli and he ended up bouncing off the walls. This forced me to reconsider...would the oils actually work? A bit more research later and I began to appreciate that oils have different effects on different people; what works for one may not work for another and so on.

Round Two
With James' words ringing in my ears I decided to try again; this time on myself. I set the diffuser going before bed with some drops of lavender. I sat in the room and read for a while and then nodded off. I felt confident that it had worked but James said he had slept the same as always.

Round Three
Lavender is the bees knees of the oil world. It can be used for so much so when, the following day, James burnt his finger and went to the cupboard I blocked his way. Wouldn't it be a real test of the oils, I reasoned, to try the lavender on his burn? Begrudgingly he agreed and we diligently applied lavender oil for the next few days watching as his burn healed well and disappeared. Now, granted, if he had used a store bought product his burn would probably have healed as well but the point is about using what is a naturally resourced substance and not a factory produced one. A win for the oils!

Round Four
Thieves® is the go-to oil when there are germs about so the next time the kids started sounding snuffly, I mixed some with some coconut oil and applied it to their lower backs as well as diffusing some Thieves® with Frankincense in the dewdrop diffuser. I did this a couple of times a day and whenever I could persuade Eli that I wasn't doing something strange to him (he was most definitely on his Daddy's side throughout). We definitely noticed a difference. What seemed like it would escalate into a full blown virus just dissipated over a couple of days. Another win!

Round Five
I knew oils were becoming accepted into our every day when I had a particular negative day, for one reason and another it had been stressful and anxiety-filled and I told James I was going into the bath to try and unwind. He said he would get it ready for me and when I came up he was flicking through the oils booklet trying to find a good combination to diffuse.

Throughout the above experiences I had also been diffusing oils on a daily basis. I tried all sorts of combinations and really mixed it up to try and find my own personal preferences. I love Joy and Lavender when I am feeling stressed or anxious, Valor when I was working and needed to boost my concentration, Lemon when I was cleaning and wanted to freshen the get the idea.

It is now part of our bedtime routine with Meg and Eli to apply Lavender and coconut oil to the bottoms of their feet (we finally convinced Eli that the oils were okay and he believe the Lavender helps him rest well so he can run fast...!), we are diffusing on a regular basis and try to turn to the oils as an initial go-to. Just this morning I applied Peppermint for a migraine I feel building...

Overall thoughts:-

* I am loving using the oils and I don't think we have even scratched the surface of what the oils can be used for in our home. However, we are slowly trying to learn and understand more as I really believe they have something to offer.

* I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone the difference that oils can make; and am happy to point anyone with a genuine interest in the right direction. I have found that some oils work better for us than others and it has been a case of trying and adjusting to see what works and what doesn't which can be quite time-consuming but I would definitely say it is beginning to pay off.

* It is also worth mentioning the cost element. On the surface, the oils can seem quite expensive, particularly the Starter Kit, but they last. You are using small drops of the oils each time and apart from Lavender we still have the majority of our initial oils left although we have been slow to use them as we wanted to try each one fully.

Have I sparked your interest?  If I have, you can sign up and try out the oils for yourself by following the instructions below.  

* Click here to go to the member sign-up page
* Select Retail Customer or Wholesale Member (wholesale member is the best option as you receive 24% off all purchases. You NEVER have to sell anything. There are no monthly minimums or requirements, you may just purchase the starter kit and enjoy the benefits of wholesale pricing for yourself!)
* Select your country and language
* Fill in your personal information and check the Terms & Conditions
* Select a Starter Kit (optional) - The Premium Starter kit is recommended and the best value saving you £120 compared to buying the products individually at retail price.
* You may now add any additional products to your order OR if you didn't choose the starter kit, add any products you wish to purchase to your cart and checkout.
* All done, get excited for your oils to arrive and welcome to the family !
(If you purchase the Premium Starter Kit you will also be invited to join our private facebook group 'Essential Families' for support and ongoing education AND a Reference Guide App - FREE !)

Additionally, the lovely Lucy (as mentioned above) has offered a 5ml bottle of Stress Away to giveaway so you can try it out for yourself and see.  I use Stress Away a lot and it is an essential oil blend which combines vanilla, lime, ocotea and other calming botanicals.  It is ideal for helping to reduce anxiety or tension.

To enter just visit the Young Living website then leave me a comment below saying which oil or oil blend you think would be most beneficial to you or your family.  The giveaway will end on 31st August and I will randomly select a winner from those who have entered.

If you are interested in learning more then please just drop me an email or sign up to this helpful Facebook class where you can ask all the questions you want. I will be away for a couple of weeks but I will try and get back to you asap!

I know this post has been long but honestly, it is worth the effort.  We are loving the oils and would really recommend them for anyone who wants to bring a more natural element into their daily lives.  I don't even know that I've done them justice but I wanted to give you our honest experience and not just the hard-sell!


The One Where...I Crashed My Dad's BMW

Both James and I learned to drive quite late on, in comparison to our friends at least.  I was just shy of my 22nd birthday and about 8 months pregnant.  Although obviously I can drive, to this day I am convinced that I passed my test because the instructor was more concerned about my knowledge of where the local hospital was rather than my understanding of the car I was driving!

Of course, having only been driving for *cough* 6 years, I don't know whether that means we have more new driver disaster stories than anyone else just because they feel more recent or because we actually cover a lot of miles in the course of the year...

Regardless, the tale about the time I drove my Dad's BMW through the front of our porch was just a teaser...and is actually a rather convoluted story which involves friends, wheelie bins, being 15 and not knowing that my Dad liked to leave his car in gear...or maybe I should say it was a good indication of what was to come!

Other fun car times include:-

* the time I drove my first car home; a beautiful, new shiny red specimen, feeling very pleased with myself when I navigated through our narrow driveway posts and up the slope, hopping out of the car only to watch it roll away again as I'd forgotten to put the handbrake on.

Not my actual car....

* the time when it was snowing and I was trying to park my (new to me) second car and actually drove it straight into a post which was covered up with snow.  At least, that's my defence and I'm sticking to it!

* the time I drove with my fog lights on and couldn't understand why I was continually being flashed by other drivers...

* the time I thought I was driving on a two lane one way street and was merrily driving on the right hand side of the road.  It wasn't a one way street.

Perhaps I shouldn't share so much...I am a good driver, honestly!!

I remember when I was learning to drive and my instructor told me that learning to pass your test and learning to drive are actually two very different things and I never knew what he meant until I was on the road alone.  It can be terrifying and exciting all at once and I'm sure I am not alone in having odd moments of panic when I initially passed over forgetting how to put the car in gear or what button I needed to press etc.

It can seem daunting to firstly pass your theory and practical tests, then to line up getting a suitable new car and sort the insurance which, for young and new drivers can often be high (I think I am beginning to see why...) but the freedom which comes from being independent and self-sufficient is just amazing.  

And I am certainly more of a responsible driver than I was 6 years ago when the majority of these incidents took place.  I promise!  It's one of the reasons though that I think it's important to just get out and about driving as much as you possibly can when you first pass, to imbed the knowledge and give you time to bump the kerb when pulling up or cover two spaces when you think you've just executed a world-class reverse parking manoeuvre whilst you are still young!

Anyone else?

Disclaimer: This is a collaborative post.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Planting a Quick Kitchen Garden this Summer

Planting a kitchen garden is possible in the smallest space. We can't promise you Victorian stately home abundance. But growing your own herbs, cut and come again salad and one or two of the many manageable tomato varieties gives you a fantastic sense of achievement, even if you only run to a couple of containers and a tiny window box.

Patio owners can spread out a bit and include some of the larger perennial herbs in their planting. A little more space also gives you scope to add one or two big, dramatic feature pots as you don't have to move them around too much. And if you have folding exterior doors you can plan your kitchen garden as an 'outdoor room', ideal for summer parties since the British weather certainly can't be relied on to behave like a perfect guest.

But time's getting on for the summer-ready garden and you'll need to move fast.

Think about buying seedlings rather than seeds for vegetables. Look out for local plant sales and open garden days, they're always good for cuttings and hardy herbs. And don't dismiss the idea of buying standards like Rosemary and Lavender in 4L pot sizes. In the right position they can last for years so they're a worthwhile investment.

The miniature kitchen garden rules are: versatile, edible, pretty and easy. In fact we'd probably be inclined to put 'easy' in at number one because we don't think mollycoddling needy plants is something any contented gardener should be doing. Our top six suggestions obey every rule but once you get the hang of things feel free to break them all or add a few more, it's your garden you can do what you like.

Dwarf Cherry Tomatoes
Tomatoes fresh from the garden are brilliant and the right type behave beautifully in containers and small spaces. Two varieties we love are Tom Thumb and Balconi Red. They're both dwarf bush cherry tomatoes, crop really well, look gorgeous and taste fantastic. Remember how much tomato plants like water. Air round the roots is essential so drill a few holes round the base of pots to let them breathe. And dilute your liquid feed more than instructed then use twice as much - little and often is the secret.

Cut and Come-Again Lettuce
Loose leaf lettuce is the best choice for containers. If you're a novice try Red Oak Leaf or Green Oak Leaf (or both). Another plant that loves water, lettuce also loathes wet roots, so terracotta pots work best. Use a mix of peat and compost soil and plant seedlings at least 10cm apart. And for light, colourful summer salads pick leaves from the outside of the plants – they'll look a bit bald for a day or two but they soon grow again. Remember to watch out for slugs, they like lettuce almost as much as we do – set a beer trap, pellets are brutal and as lethal to birds as they are to pests.

Onions are delicious, but the plants are too big and boisterous for neat gardening. The next best thing are Chives. Probably the easiest herb to grow Chives are also the least expensive to buy so you can afford quite a few. The flowers are fuzzy and purple in early summer and the long, grass-like leaves last well into the autumn and taste wonderful in salad or snipped over new potatoes. Plant in little vintage pots for the window ledge or in larger containers where they'll spread out to fill the space.

You have tomatoes? You have to have Basil. This gorgeously aromatic herb smells like summer holidays and you can shred its bright, glossy leaves over anything for instant glamour. It's also the basis of traditional pesto if you feel like cooking. And don't forget to snip off the growing tips regularly before they flower and Basil just keeps on giving. Looks very pretty planted in long containers with Flat Leaf Parsley and Coriander.

'Plant Rosemary by the garden gate and love will always live in your house', so the old saying goes. Whether you believe it or not, no one should be without at least one Rosemary bush. Not only is it an incredibly hardy plant and totally fuss-free, it smells amazing: crush a silvery leaf between your fingers and tell us you aren't instantly reminded of Sunday roast lunch. Rosemary will flourish for years and if you cut it back a little in June and July it grows bushier – only perfect for a mini kitchen garden.

Lemon Balm
This member of the mint family is just as invasive as all its cousins. But, plant it in a container in the kitchen garden and it's magnificent. Lemon balm likes a bit of shade and is vigorous and bushy so you can tuck a container behind other more sun-greedy, smaller herbs and it makes a lush, citrus scented backdrop. Cut the fresh, green leaves in summer, freeze them in ice cubes then pour yourself a G & T, sit back and enjoy the garden – you deserve it.

This is a sponsored post.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Rookie Blue, Graduation and Under the Sea...#LittleLoves

I swear this week has just hurtled by...I think I am maybe entering the early stages of panic as our holiday is less than a week away now and the list of things we still have to do isn't getting any shorter!

Most of the books I bought for my holiday...oops.  It was just too tempting.  Luckily I nabbed a few others whilst I was out shopping today so I shouldn't be left with nothing to read.

Now that Scandal has finished I've been on the lookout for something new and have really gotten into Rookie Blue this week.  So much so that I've already watched most of the first series.  Sky has five of the boxsets I think so I know what I will be occupying my summer with!

This is probably a major cheat but on Tuesday it was Eli's graduation from preschool and he wore the most adorable purple gown.  Seriously, I could have eaten him up.  It was the sweetest event; they did a little performance of some of their favourite songs and then each child was called up and handed a little scroll.  Afterwards there was a BBQ and a children's entertainer who was brilliant.  He did a little dancing competition at the end and out of the 20 or so kids taking part, Meg and Eli both won the prize for best dancers.  Wonder who they get that from...?!

I am still on the James Bay wagon I'm afraid.  I have been loving listening to his album this week at every chance I've got.  

Meg has been studying the topic of 'Under the Sea' at school and has been coming home full of interesting (and not so interesting) facts about stuff that she is learning.  I think Eli has been feeling a little left out so we decided to make an under the sea picture.  We just got a big white piece of paper, and lots of different materials and stuck them all down.  I think my personal favourite was the jellyfish he made as it was all his own idea and design.

And Lastly...
I will be quiet on the blog for the next couple of weeks as we are going away on holiday (I think I might have mentioned something about it...) but I am sure I will have lots to update you with on our return.  

Whilst we are away we will be visiting the village of Brantome which is where Secrets of the River is set.  In honour of this, the book will be reduced to just 99p whilst I'm away and I'll also be sharing photos on Instagram if I can get the signal.  It would mean masses if anybody felt like sharing about this...being self-published it is a constant uphill struggle to get new readers and the only way it works is if lovely folk share and share and share.  

(this is an affiliate link)

And that's it.  Hope everyone has an amazing week.


Become a Bitdefender 2016 Beta Tester

Last year I worked with Bitdefender Antivirus, a company who provide internet security solutions and recently they got in touch with me and shared about their newest campaign; asking bloggers to sign up to become a Bitdefender 2016 Beta Tester.

Every year, Bitdefender overhaul their entire line of products (which are available for Windows, Mac and Android systems) and they are looking to launch their 2016 products shortly.  What they are asking is whether anyone wants to sign up to try their upcoming line.

It's really simple to do, just pop your email address in the box and click to 'join'; you will receive a confirmation email within a few minutes and that's all.  Once you've signed up Bitdefender will be in touch with a view to having you test out their latest products and it looks as though there are some amazing rewards in the pipeline too.

I know that there isn't much information on the landing page but if you take a look around Bitdefender Antivirus you will see that they have won many awards for their antivirus software and that their software works with a number of different systems.  

In terms of peace of mind for parents, as I know a number of you wonderful readers are, there are enhanced parental controls, the capability to restrict web access at certain times, and also a feature which allows you to monitor online activity as well.  This is in addition to other features which include social network protection, fraud warnings, secure browsing and so much more.

I can't think of any better reason to be involved in the development and testing of this product; as a parent I know what I want my children to be seeing or not seeing, and I want to be at the forefront of working with a company who are designing software which will help to keep my children safe in the online world as well as keeping myself and my personal information safe.

If you want to be involved then be sure to sign up.  I am sure that Bitdefender will release more information in the coming weeks and it could be an exciting and interesting opportunity to test out this functional and important antivirus software.

Disclaimer: This is a collaborative post.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

5 Reasons You Know It's Almost The End of Term...

I know even as I write this that there are some families who have already finished for the summer...that the chaos of trying to get uniforms on and breakfasts eaten and homework found each morning already seems like a distant nightmare memory.  

Not for us, my friends.  We still have a whole week of school left before we break up or at least before it breaks me...

I have begun to notice a few patterns emerging around end of term time.  Does anybody else notice these things or is it just me?

1. Your military-tight morning routine has gone to pot
This morning I actually said the words 'would you rather wear a dry dress or would you rather eat?' as I wrestled Meg into her damp school dress and hustled her out of the door so we could go to the local shop and buy milk, and bread and all the other essentials that we seem to have somehow forgotten to buy the last couple of weeks.

Throughout the rest of the year I operate a watertight morning schedule which allows me to get up as late as possible and squeeze every possible second out of the time left before are late for school.  There's no room for visits to the shop, hunting shoes out from under beds or any other minute task that seems to last forever when you are running round the house shrieking like a banshee.  But it has all gone to pot.  

Seriously, don't get me started on the number of times we've rocked up with just one minute to spare before the dreaded black mark for being late.  It's like my psyche has decided that it's time for the holidays only several weeks too early.

2. Everything is missing or lost
Buttons on clothes, stationary, reading books...why does everything decide to jump ship with just a few weeks left?!  Up until this point I have done a fairly decent job of sending my children off each morning with the right equipment and uniform, all in one piece.  Now they look like a bedraggled pair of orphans limping across the playground as they try not to trip over the sole of their shoe which is hanging off as they carry their school bag by it's last surviving strap.  As if you've got time to sew it all back together either, you're too busy being late.

3. Your alcohol budget triples
If I have to hear the words 'where is my pencil?' one more get the idea.

4. You suddenly take an interest in your child's teacher
Nobody wants to be the parent giving the generic bottle of wine on the last day of term do they? (or do they, please, someone tell me!) so you suddenly take an interest in how the teacher dresses, trying to steal glances of the knick-knacks on their desk as you come up with a reason to step inside the classroom at pick-up time, bribing your children to find surreptitious ways to discover the interests their teachers have outside of school time.  And what about the teaching assistants? Do they need a present too...yet another reason for point 3!

And of course in the end it will still just be a box of chocolates and a misspelled card handed over by a sullen child.

5. It's sunny...
We've all been there; appreciating and celebrating that the weather has finally turned gloriously sunny.  But just wait...these last weeks before the end of term, when the sun is shining and you are feeling all bubbly and optimistic about how wonderful the summer holidays are going to be when you can send your children out to play in the garden all day long, the trips to the park and the beach and all the other excellent free options which the nice weather affords...that isn't going to be the reality.  

I can almost guarantee that as you stand there on the last day of term (having remembered that school is finishing an hour earlier than usual of course...) clutching the overflowing bin bag of pictures and crafts and exercise books your child has just unleashed on you, you will look up at the sky and feel the first, fat splodge of rain land on your face.  That's right folks, summer is already over and done.

Now where did I put that ruler...

Discovering Antigua and Barbuda

Antigua and Barbuda are a twin island state in the Eastern Caribbean; each offering their own unique and interesting experience for those who choose to visit.  Alongside glorious sandy stretches of beach and crystal clear waters you will also find history, culture, fine cuisine and music not to mention the friendly islanders who will most certainly make you feel right at home.

Antigua is the bigger of the two islands and is home to the capital, St John's.  It boasts 365 beaches making it the ideal place if you want to chill out and relax and is full of charm and treasures.  Admiral Horatio Nelson certainly knew what he was doing when he made it Britain's Caribbean base.  Evidence of British rule and influence is still evident particularly when it comes to sport and you will often find impromptu games of cricket taking place on the many many beaches.  

Barbuda is more secluded and is the ideal place to go if you want to escape from it all and head somewhere which has been virtually untouched.  This would be the perfect choice if you were looking for a romantic break and wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of every day life.

However both islands are a diving and snorkelling paradise; they are surrounded by coral reefs, shipwrecks and walls and Cades Reef which is situated just off Antigua is a underwater haven.  Cades Reef is located 20 minutes by boat from the southwestern coast of the island and is host to a whole variety of amazing sea life.  Lobsters, barracuda, eagle rays and reef sharks all make appearances here on a regular basis as well as the stunning coral reef.

Another great underwater experience is the wreck of the Andes, a three-masted merchant ship which sank in 1905 and came to rest in less than 30 feet of water in Deep Bay.  There are many companies on the island who will hire out snorkelling and diving equipment, provide some training and even arrange tours out to some of the most popular sights.

If being hundreds of feet under water isn't your thing then don't worry; Antigua and Barbuda still have much to offer visitors and tourists whether you are a family looking to enjoy a break during the school holidays or a couple hunting out the perfect honeymoon destination.

Enjoy the delights of Caribbean cuisine, wander through the museum of Antigua and Barbuda and discover the charming history of the two islands, or take a trip to the moving Betty Hope's Sugar Plantation and delve into what was one of the island's largest industries.

You can get active by hiking and getting up close with the spectacular scenery or try out the various water sports such as sailing, which Antigua is well known for across the world.

Temperatures vary on both the islands, but September and October are ideal times to visit; prices tend to be slightly more competitive as the weather begins to cool down but you can still expect the average temperature to be around 28 degrees.  During September you can expect around 10 hours of sunshine a day too; perfect if you are looking for an exotic holiday.

From sunbathing on the beach to adventurous activities, you will find it all in these two islands with a stunning backdrop to boot.

What more could you ask for when looking for your next holiday?

You can find out more information about the islands and plan out your perfect trip here or see what's going on.

You can also follow the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram or with the hashtag #LoveAntiguaBarbuda if you want to be inspired (or envious) about the amazing islands and all that they offer.

Disclaimer: This post was written in collaboration with the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority..

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Siblings {July}

It's the end of an era...this month marks the last time I will have to do two different school runs, two different pick ups and have two days a week when it's just me and Eli.

I think I have written before about how I worry over whether Meg and Eli will continue to be so nice to one another when they are both in the same school, playing in the same playground and so on.  I really hope so.  Eli looks up to Meg so much, whether it's following her lead when they are playing, listening and believing all the crazy things she tells him or just imitating the way that he sees her behave and act on a day to day basis.

I hope that she takes him under her wing a bit when he first starts school and doesn't lead him on a merry chase too much.  When her friends come round they love to baby him and I'm not sure how much that will continue to fly when he is in the 'big' school.  I am sure he will make friends of his own but it will be interesting to see whether the dynamic in their relationship changes once they can't get away from each other any more; especially after having 6 whole weeks together.

Regardless, in the right now I love that my two babies are so close.  It is often something we pray about at the end of the day; that they will continue to be good friends, continue to strengthen their relationship and learn and understand that no-one will ever be there for them in quite the same way as each other.  Although there are times when they don't seem to get on and just wind each other up no end, when situations change and they have to adapt and readjust, at the end of the day they are still each other's best friend.  In fact, it said it Eli's end of term report that Meg is mentioned 'daily' and he is constantly coming out armed with pictures that he has made for her.

It might seem a little one-sided but this week we went to Eli's preschool graduation ceremony and it was so wonderful to see how proud Meg was of Eli.  She had her arm around him walking around the play area telling everyone he was her little brother, when he was sitting and waiting they were having a little conversation across the entire room and when he had sat back down after receiving his little scroll he gave her the thumbs up.  Talk about heart-melting.

Better yet there was a children's entertainer there and he had all the children up and dancing.  Who should win the prize for best boy and best girl dancer?  Meg and Eli of course.  So that is my two little siblings this month: amazing dancing skills (which they totes get from me haha) and lots and lots of heart-warming pride.

I feel like I should point out that Meg does have other clothes and it is just a random coincidence that she is wearing the same dress in all these photos...oops!

dear beautiful

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

5 Ways to Spend Time Alone When You Work From Home...

It's a bit of a lengthy title but stick with me people!  

As an introvert I really like my time spent alone; don't get me wrong, I enjoy being around other people and be quite sociable when the mood takes me but I really value that precious time when it can just be me, myself and I recharging and relaxing. 

Once upon a time I would have craved being in the house, just me on my lonesome but since I started working from home I find that this just doesn't have the same appeal it once did.  I imagine it is something to do with staring at the same spaces day and day out; it just doesn't have the impact it once did and so I find myself drawn more and more to going out places to spend some quality time with myself.

That said, I am wholeheartedly not the type of person who can sit by myself in a restaurant without feeling conspicuous, I am even a bit fidgety if I am in a coffee shop on my own but there are plenty of ways to make the most of being alone and not in the house:-

1. Go for a walk
This is obviously better if you have a dog to take along with you (if you are anything like me that is!) but I have to say I see lots of people out for bike rides or power-walking on their own these days.  I am quite lucky in that I live near the beach so there are plenty of picturesque places for me to head when I fancy some fresh air.  First thing in the morning the beaches and surrounding areas are pretty much deserted too so we have the run of the place to ourselves.  It can be really relaxing to be outside, even if the weather isn't great and I always find myself so much more energised after a walk.  It's my top tip for beating writer's block as well.

2. Visit the cinema
I have honestly contemplated buying a monthly pass for our local cinema when Eli starts school, I mean it's not like going to the cinema is a particularly sociable activity as you just sit in the dark, in silence for the length of the movie.

3. Pamper yourself
Admittedly one of my more favourite options, taking a trip to a spa or beauty salon for a couple of hours can be total bliss and the ideal way to spend some quiet time.  Why not ask for the gift of an experience day, like a visit to a spa for birthdays/Christmas?  The other great thing is that there are more than just spa days so you could do any number of exciting things on your own from taking flying lessons to learning to cook.

4. Go to a bookstore or the library and read
Sure, you can read at home but it's about getting out and about and not being stuck inside with cabin fever.  You will be surrounded by people without necessarily having to speak to any of them.  Better yet you might pick up some new bargains to bring home with you.  If you live in a big city you probably have an incredibly impressive library where you can curl up in a corner and disappear for hours.  We aren't so lucky in Southport but it's still a potential option!

5. Head to your local sports centre
You could join in with a class, make use of the gym facilities or simply go for a swim.  Lane swimming is my favourite although I'm not very good at it so I like to try and time my visits for when I know it will be quiet and I won't be continually lapped by the OAP who has been swimming daily for the last 65 years...

How do you like to spend time alone?

This is a collaborative post.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Review: Fireman Sam Diecast Vehicle Set

As I am sure I have mentioned numerous times on the blog, Eli is a huge Fireman Sam fan so when we were sent the new diecast vehicle set from Character Option to review he was over the moon (especially as Meg has just recently been sent The Zelfs).

I have always favoured diecast toys over plastic ones; I think they are more durable and hard wearing and less likely to be crunched on by James when he's crossing a room.  This is something which has happened more times than I care to mention!

This particular set contains Venus, Neptune and Jupiter and is aimed at children aged 3+.  The set is so new that it isn't available on the Character Option website yet but I imagine it will be similarly priced to the existing Fireman Sam products which feature there.  I wish I could comment on the cost-effectiveness of the product and I am interested to see what it will eventually be priced at as this can make a real difference when evaluating and reviewing a product.

As you can see from the photos, they are perfectly sized to fit in the palm of a child's hand and Eli has so far had hours of fun playing with them.  He has a number of other toys in the Fireman Sam range which are slightly larger and allow for characters to be put in and out but I don't think he has missed those whilst he has been occupied using these vehicles for various rescue missions across our house.

There are already individual diecast vehicles available for purchase from Character Option; I imagine they are larger than the ones here but don't quote me on that!

Overall thoughts:-

*Well made for hours of fun.
*A good size to be handled by children and taken out and about.

I think Eli definitely gives this product the thumbs up and I would certainly not hesitate to recommend the set for any Fireman Sam fan.

Disclaimer: We were sent the diecast vehicle set for the purpose of this review.  However all thoughts and opinions are our own.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Review: Love Your Zelf

Over the last year or so we've been introduced to some new and interesting toy characters as Meg has gotten older.  Gone as the trusty names we knew and loved, the ones we could rely on and in their place are whole ranges of toys we never knew existed!

One of these collections are The Zelfs.  The Zelfs are special little creatures who live in the garden of Zardenia; they appear when the twilight moon is in the sky and share their special powers with you...if you are lucky!  

Each Zelf has a different skill or power and you get a little bio on the back of each packet.

Made of plastic, they have fully moveable limbs (including tail!) and the head moves as well. They sort of remind me of the trolls I used to collect with the brightly coloured hair, only slightly more attractive and interesting.  They seem to be good quality, and a decent size to be played with and carried around as well.

The only thing I have noted so far is that the hair does shed if pulled around too vigorously and also, if you aren't a fan of small trinkets then you might want to remove the small accessories which come with them - I know I have accidentally hoovered up more than one little piece of something when it has been left out on the floor by a child!

 There is a whole range of Zelf's to collect and they each come with different accessories; the two we were sent to review included a mini brush, some hair elastics and a twirly thing which I was assured by the packet would slide into the Zelfs hair (although the jury is still out on that one as I can't seem to do it!)  Series 5 Zelfs are the newest release and their speciality is that they now have funky printed hair; stripes, spots and streaks all in vibrant colours.

Meg is really into collectibles at the moment and loved the little booklet which came, showing the different Zelfs in the range and also featuring a little picture of Zardenia.  I like that the majority of the Zelfs are within pocket money range meaning they won't take too long to save up for and collect.

You can style the Zelfs and although we couldn't get the hair clip to work Meg had great fun creating hairstyles with the funky sticky-up hair.

Aimed at children aged 5+, the range starts at £1.99 for the mini Zelfs (the ones pictured here are Medium size which retail at around £5.99)

Overall thoughts:-

*A good size, fun to carry around out and about to keep Meg entertained.
* Meg enjoyed styling the hair although it does shed so bear this in mind.
*Well priced.

We were sent two Zelfs for the purpose of this review.  All thoughts and opinions are our own.