Monday, 30 November 2015

Me & Mine {November}

Wow, tomorrow it's December!  I have seen so many photos this weekend of people getting decorations out and putting trees up.  I have tried my best to deny it but as of tomorrow we will officially be in the month of Christmas.  Eek!

This month we have loved:-

*Inviting our friends round for some firework fun in our new house.
*Planning our trip to Norway.
*Making wish lists for Christmas
*A sleepover at Nana and Grandad's (well, the children anyway!)

I majorly dropped the ball on this month's photo and had to take this one last night, whilst the wind howled and the rain lashed down outside making the lighting absolutely rubbish, but I think it's quite indicative of the month we've had.  James has been working a lot and hasn't really been around much at the weekends, and the weather has been so miserable that on the days we have been together there hasn't really been an opportunity to get out and grab a photo of us...unless you particularly wanted to see us rocking the drowned rat look!

It seems like this is a pretty typical November for us as we were in exactly the same position last year as well!  No Christmas tree in sight though, yet.

Here's to a more chilled out December (haha...)

dear beautiful

Friday, 27 November 2015

Snow, Scandal and Slow Living...#LittleLoves

Last week I said I was going to try and slow down, to savour the remaining days in November and I really think I managed to achieve that this week.  I scheduled my work so that I would be able to spend time with Meg and Eli after school and I got some tiny niggly jobs done which I just haven't found the time to do since we moved house.  I even managed to fit in spinning class and getting my hair done but it didn't feel rushed or like too much.  Hurray for the slow lived life I say!  Or at least...sometimes...

I finished Heresy and am onto my next read, Inkheart.  I have had this book on my to read list ever since I saw that it was a film with Brendan Fraser in it (one of my all time favourite actors) but I just never got around to picking it up until I spotted it in a charity shop a few months ago.  I have already spent too long lost in it this week including the 3 hours I spent at the hairdressers yesterday.  Several people stopped to ask me whether it was good because I had my nose in it for so long.  Oops.

Season 4 of Scandal and not much else!  I do love Sky box sets and have been eagerly waiting their release of Season 4.  I could easily sit and watch 3 or 4 episodes in a row if I'm not careful, especially when every single episode seems to end on a cliffhanger.  I have to say though, I am definitely Team Jake!

This evening we are going to the Co-Operative Christmas Party in Manchester so I will be getting dressed up.  Despite the fact that today is the day I still haven't actually decided what I am going to be wearing but I'm sure I'll get round to it eventually...

This is a recording which has done the rounds a few times and I'm sure you've all already heard it but just in case you haven't...we have listened to this a couple of times and it still makes me cry with laughter.

There are no excuses, this week I haven't made anything.  When it comes to cooking I have been super lazy and we've eaten pre-cooked things or take out which is so so bad.  I have got to be on it next week.  I could claim a slight connection and say I made myself sit and write 2,000 more words on my current manuscript but I think that would be cheating!

And Lastly...
Last week I said that James had booked us flights and I have been getting so excited over our upcoming Norway!  We are keeping it a surprise for the kids and they were getting upset this morning because the day we travel is the same day as their school Christmas fair.  I had to tell them that we had something amazing planned instead that day but I couldn't tell them what.  As you can imagine they spent all morning trying to guess what it was.  Eli feels it might be a trip to a mountain and Meg thought we might have got them a servant...slightly different opinions on what constitutes a good surprise there!

Have a great week all.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

My Christmas Wish List

Despite my love of making lists, when it comes to making my own list of what I would like for Christmas, I have been drawing a huge blank.  I have lists of what the kids would like, lists of the festive food which needs to be bought, even lists of bits and pieces we need to decorate the house but I have been struggling to think of things that I would like.

So I decided to spend the morning browsing the internet and coming up with a decent wish list of things that I would quite like Santa to put under the tree this Christmas.  Who knows, maybe James will light upon this post and take some inspiration from it!

Roberts Revival DAB Radio
I have wanted a Roberts Revival DAB Radio for so long but have just never been able to justify the expense.  Maybe if we get a small windfall before Christmas, or if Santa is feeling particularly generous this year, I might finally get one.

Pandora Silver Luminous Leaves Ring
You can never go wrong with jewellery and I love this ring.  It's delicate and Pandora (and what woman doesn't love Pandora?!) I am hit and miss with jewellery but I think this would be perfect for daily wear.

Happy Jackson
Yep, I'd pretty much take anything in the Happy Jackson range.  I love the quirky colours and phrases and these would be perfect for 2016 in my new study in my new house.  The mug in particular makes me smile.

Molton Brown
It's important to take time out for yourself (yes?) and I love Molton Brown products.  They just bring such a luxurious feel to any bath.  I don't even mind when the kids inevitably need the toilet and start banging the door down the minute the tip of my big toe touches the water.

Richard & Judy Book Club
It wouldn't be Christmas if I didn't have at least one book on my Christmas list but this year I'm hoping for the Autumn/Winter list from the Richard & Judy book club.  I enjoy that they always choose a variety and I often end up reading something incredibly enjoyable but which I wouldn't have chosen otherwise.

Lights, Camera, Action
Over the past few years, as my blog has progressed I have taken more interest in photography and this year in particular I have really been craving a way of creating better lighting for some of my pictures.  These lights come highly recommended by a number of bloggers and I think they would be perfect for those grey and miserable days we seem to get so often up here in the North West.

So there you have it...just a few things I am hoping to get under the tree this Christmas *hint hint*

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Review: Beefeater Micklehead Green, Merseyside

We were recently invited along to visit the newly refurbished Beefeater restaurant in Micklehead Green in St Helens, Merseyside.  The restaurant has just had a complete makeover as well as launching a new menu and were keen to show it off.

As a family we enjoy the opportunity to eat out together, although as anyone with young children will know, it can be an interesting experience on occasion!  We chose a Sunday evening to visit, thinking that it might be quieter than lunchtime.  We were right as the restaurant was incredibly quiet, which gave us plenty of opportunity to scope out the new interior.

They have done a good job in our opinion; it looks modern and sleek whilst also being inviting.  It was also really on trend with copper tones and mustard and grey colour scheme.  I actually really liked it all! We were sat in a little booth towards the back (the inside is also a lot bigger than it appears from the outside and seems to go on and on for ages!) which was perfect for us.  It was away from the main thoroughfare and cosy enough that we didn't feel like we were being overlooked by everyone else.

I liked that they have picked a theme with the restaurant interior decor and really gone to town with it.  The kids loved all the little details like the plates with different bovine on them and we had lots of cow related discussions at the table.

One thing we really noted was how good the staff were with the kids.  This always means a lot to us and the kids love it when the adults engage and talk with them.  Meg and Eli were also given a Mr Men activity book and crayons to use which kept them well occupied whilst we waited for our food to arrive.

In terms of the new menu, I noticed that there wasn't masses of choice, especially if you aren't a big meat eater although I realise that heading to a restaurant which is part of a 'Beefeater' chain should sort of give the game away that there is going to be a lot of meat on the menu.  There was a great variety for the kids however and I liked that they could choose which two side dishes they wanted with their main; a very nice touch from a parent of a fussy eater.

James ordered a pulled pork burger and I went for a sirloin steak.  Both were delicious and my steak was cooked to perfection.  The meals came out quickly although it was a quiet time so I can't say how fast the turnaround time would be if you went for a Sunday roast instead.

Something special which Beefeater are currently doing is to offer unlimited chips whilst you are eating.  We had our arms twisted into trying some 'spicy' ones (covered in Paprika) and some plain and having them both refilled during the course of the meal.  Definitely wear your comfy trousers if carbs are your downfall here!

Overall we really enjoyed the experience.  We thought the staff were very friendly and helpful, the kids menu was great, the meal was value for money and the new decor is stylish and well done.  If you live in Merseyside or are visiting the area in the near future we wouldn't hesitate to recommend a meal here.

We were invited to visit the new restaurant and provided with a voucher to cover the cost of our meal.  However all thoughts and opinions are our own.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Spinning, Travel & My Little Evacuee...#LittleLoves

...and another week whizzes by in the blink of an eye.  We are creeping ever closer to Christmas (I actually started my shopping this week) and although I love this festive time of year I do feel like it has just raced past.  

I am challenging myself to slow down next week and take things a little easier; we have been racing from one end to the other this week with barely a minute to sit down and spend some family time together and I want that to not be the case next week.  At least it's something to aim for!

I finished the scandalous read which was 'The Bolter' and have mixed feelings about it.  I can't decide whether I feel sorry for Idina or not...still mulling on that one.  But finishing it meant I picked up the next letter in my Authors A-Z and started a book I've been meaning to read for a while.  Which is always a great feeling.

It's at this time of year that Pentatonix release their Christmas song and I've been eagerly awaiting it.  I will never forget the goosebumps that Carols of the Bells gave me when I first heard it and although their song this year isn't quite as atmospheric I still think it's pretty good and I think we could all do with some joy in the world right now.

I'm trying to feel more confident about wearing my faux fur gilet and took it for a spin this week.  I love it but I feel so conspicuous in it!  

The sound of my own ear drums ringing?!  I went to my first ever spinning class this week (hence why I can't walk today!) and it was really enjoyable but the music was so loud.  I debated whether I'm getting a little too old for a class which involves dimmed lights, club music and neon lights ... the jury is still out on that one!  I did feel great for having gone though and glutton for punishment that I am, already have my bike booked for next week's class.

Eli's class have been learning about WW2 over the last few weeks and today they have to dress up as evacuees.  We sourced Eli's outfit from various places but decided to make him a gas mask box.  It was just a simple affair; a box covered in brown paper with some string attached but I think it was quite effective.  I also have to say that although I am totally biased, he looks adorable in his flat cap.

And Lastly...
Ever since I wrote about Bruges I have been angling for a trip away and James surprised me this week by booking some flights.  I adore travelling but it's not something we have done much of since the kids arrived.  I'm not lying when I say I cannot wait.  I am seriously like a kid at Christmas.  I imagine it's quite annoying but I just love it.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Ideal Home Show at Christmas

Last Thursday we were invited to Event City in Manchester to attend the opening day of the Ideal Home Show at Christmas.  I was obviously incredibly excited as I love this festive time of year and any excuse to buy new decorations and trinkets was okay by me.

Sponsored by GoCompare, there were over 300 exhibitors all showcasing their Christmas related wares.  From Interiors and Home Accessories to Fashion and Beauty, and everything in between there was so much to see.

As well as the exhibitors there were a number of 'features' too such as learning how to decorate your home to Christmas perfection with Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, how to cook the perfect Christmas dinner with Gino D'Acamp and many more.

We arrived amid a flurry of fake snow and after having my photo taken with Santa and his helpful elf (obviously) we made our way inside. 

Less interested in the home renovation section we passed through the sparkly Christmas trees and immediately headed for the interiors and accessories section...which was obviously going to be my favourite part.  There were some amazing vendors, my particular two favourites being Project Rudolph and Grace and Grey.

Both these sellers were right up my street and I was totally taken in by this little fella.  He will be taking pride of place on my tree this year.

After a quick wander, picking up some sneaky Christmas presents for the kids, which were incredibly priced (I picked up a Kinetic Sand kit for Meg for just £5!) we decided to listen to Laurence in the Christmas Theatre showing us all his top decorating skills before heading over to the Smooth Radio Christmas Lounge where we both enjoyed a free back massage.

The Champagne Bar was literally right next to the Christmas Lounge so it seemed rude not to grab a glass and sit back and soak up the sounds and talk about which theme we wanted to go for this year.  James was surprisingly silent at this point...

The life of a blogger is never done...

Then it was lunchtime and we grabbed a table in the Food & Drink section so we could eat from one of the food stalls whilst listening to the delightful sound of Gino D'Acampo dragging 'volunteers' up from the audience to assist with his cooking segment.  I am very glad I wasn't in his line of sight!

After lunch we had another quick wander around and then we had to leave in order to get back to pick the kids up from school.  It was a great day out and as a big fan of all things Christmas related I absolutely loved it.

Whether you want to be inspired or just want to find some great Christmas decorations and gift ideas in one place, this is a fantastic event to go to and although the event in Manchester has now finished for the year, the Ideal Home Show at Christmas is just gearing up for it's main event in London, so there's still time to get your tickets.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Tips for Visiting a French Market

There's something quite special about French markets.  I can't decide whether it's the authentic use of wicker baskets balanced on the front of bicycles, the attack on your senses as you see brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, smell the aroma of freshly baked croissants wafting from tucked away boulangeries whilst hearing the constant chattering and bartering of the French locals or simply just the fact that you are in France and there's just something so romantic and pleasing about that aspect as opposed to battling the cold winds and freezing cold sheets of rain that can make up a visit to a market in Britain.

Whatever the reason whenever we go to France I always have to find out when the local market is taking place and then strong arm everyone into attending with me.

I just love it.

This also means that I have picked up some tricks along the way which can help you when visiting a French market for the first time and I will start by saying that there IS an etiquette.  Going to a market (or le marche) is part of the French way of life and many will choose to head here to pick up their weekly groceries rather than going to the supermarkets.  For that reason there is a sense of etiquette which should be followed and although I have found French people to be genuinely quite tolerant of my bumbling attempts to 'fit' in (and I know they can see us coming a mile off) it still pays to take some time to try and get it right.

Go early
I know that the idea of having to get up early when you are on your holiday might fill you with dread but it has to be better than fighting your way through the crowds which will have descended by mid-morning.  Make like a local and go for the start of the market, typically between 8.30am-9am.  Not only will you get the freshest and best produce, but you can use your buys for a delicious traditional picnic...and you are very unlikely to see hoards of tourists.  You might also find that by lunchtime the market has started to wind down so if you wait until the afternoon to arrive, there might not even be a market to visit.

Patience is everything
I can't count the number of times I have approached a stall only to see a snaking queue of locals waiting their turn.  Although this is a good sign, it also is a sign you'll need patience.  Vendors don't like to hurry, they will often spend time chatting with the person they are serving and this means you can be waiting a long time for your turn.  Likewise people just don't rush around markets in France the way we do in England and you are very likely to end up frustrated if you don't take a deep breath and slow down.  It's almost inevitable that you will get stuck behind the oldest, slowest moving couple on the circuit so try not to get to harried.

Don't touch!
It isn't considered good form to handle the fruit and veg, even to test for freshness.  That said, most Vendors don't mind if you want to bag your own selection, just ask!  Many will speak some English (although I always recommend at least trying out some French) and will be happy to hand over a bag for you to fill yourself.

Learn some phrases
My Spanish is a million times better than my French but that doesn't mean I don't at least try and give it a go.  Yes, they will probably know you are English a mile away but I have never yet met a person from abroad who doesn't appreciate the effort to speak their language.  Key words to keep in mind include 'mûr' (ripe), 'moins' (less) 'plus' (more), 'pour aujourd'hui' (for today...tell the stall holder if you plan to eat today and they will give you a suitable piece of fruit/veg), and 'un petit goût' (a small taste...I've not yet met a French vendor who wasn't happy to let me taste a small piece of what they were selling),  then of course there are the basics such as excuse me, please and thank you which go a long way.

Assert yourself
Sometimes it is obvious that there is a line at a stall and other times it can be a bit of a free for all.  Don't be afraid to assert yourself if needed.  'C'est moi!' exclaimed loudly should ensure that you get your turn.  I have been ousted by enough miniature old French ladies to know that sometimes you just have to go for it.  There's no need to be rude but you will need to be firm.

Bring your own bag
A lot like the new rules in England, you won't find many stalls offering bags so it pays to bring your own.  On our last trip to France James bought me a gorgeous lined basket at Brantome market which not only made a fantastic souvenir but also means that when we went down to the market for the rest of the holiday I blended in, just like the locals.  Always bring your own bag or basket.

And remember, finally to enjoy yourself.  There's nothing like strolling around the French market and taking in the sights and sounds, even if you don't buy anything.  Many markets take place right in the heart of the town which usually means there are plenty of cafes dotted around to stop and enjoy a hot drink when you've had enough of the bartering for one day.  They are also often in beautiful surroundings so don't forget to take a moment just to appreciate where you are, rather than being caught up in the stalls right in front of you.

Travel Monkey