Monday, 31 August 2015

Me & Mine {August}

How, oh how, is it the end of August already?!  I say this with surprise but actually it seems as though the weather has decided to turn autumnal already.  I regularly have to layer it up in order to stand any chance of being suitably dressed when the weather starts to turn.  Is it just up in the North West or is everybody else getting about six different types of weather in one day?

Today is actually our 8th wedding anniversary so I hope that as you read this I am doing something suitably wonderful and romantic...although given the fact that we will have just completed a mammoth drive home from London where we have been over the August bank holiday it's highly unlikely.  We'll probably be curled up on the sofa watching Pitch Perfect.

So to August and the things we have loved this month:-

*Our wonderful French adventures which you can read about here and here.  Nothing beats time away with everyone together and we have come back with a ton of fantastic memories.
*James being home and not at work.  He works such long hours that when he is home it is just fantastic.
*Visiting my parents and seeing old friends.  My mum and dad live where we used to until about 2 years ago and it was lovely to spend time catching up with friends.
*Buying school uniform; although I dislike the thought of going back to school (or starting school full stop in the case of Eli) there is something exciting about buying new shiny school shoes, fabulous pencil cases and squeaky clean shirts that just brings me out in a smile.

Having spent lots of time together over the past month we have actually done pretty well in the family photo stakes.  It definitely shows compared with other times in the year when James is manic with work and we have to scrabble to get time together in and amongst everything else we are doing.  I love it though and I feel so blessed to have had this summer together; roll on next year I say!  Or dare I even mention the C word which is the next time he will have a significant amount of time off.  But I'm wishing the year away now...so onto our photos...

These are two of my favourites from this month.  The first was taken in Pons, which was by far my favourite day trip from our time in France and the second was snapped whilst we were in London.  I wonder if you can guess which famous landmark we were standing in front of?!



See you next month!


dear beautiful

Friday, 28 August 2015

Living Room Redesign

With the day that Eli starts school looming ever closer, I have been taking a look around our home and considering that many of the things which are currently present, taking up space, will no longer be required (pass the box of tissues please...)

Without a doubt we have moved away from ‘baby, toddler and preschool’ and that means the possibility of a lounge which isn’t overflowing with baskets and boxes of brightly coloured toys which annoyingly switch on and scare the living daylights out of you every time you cross the room is a real tangible possibility.

It doesn’t take much prompting for me to decide to redesign a room but this has given me the push I need to start thinking about how we could reclaim some of our living room space and make it more suitable for us, and less for the kids.  They have plenty of space to store their toys in their room and whilst I am not suggesting a complete toy ban, it would be nice to be able to put a decorative candle or two out instead of the dismantled pieces of the latest Lego model.

I absolutely adore the current colour scheme of greys and yellows which seem to be around.  I think if you’ve read my blog before you will no doubt know that grey is my absolute favourite colour but I’ve never yet really managed to incorporate it into any of the rooms in our house.  So this might be a fun challenge.

 Leivars /Homify

These knitted pouffes look fantastic, I’d love something similar to this.

That said, I think there are some key elements you need to bear in mind when designing a living room space and I will try to keep these in mind over the coming months:-

Prestigious Textiles / Homify

Choose your colour scheme carefully
Colours can have such a huge impact on your mood, especially in a room where you are likely to spend a large percentage of your time.  Colours can lift a mood, or bring it down; they can energise or relax and so on.  Choose a soft colours such as blue and white can make your living room a calm, cool space which is ideal for unwinding after a hard day at work.

Alba Najera / Homify

Give your room a focal point
...and one that isn’t the television!  Although many of us parents like to unwind in front of the television of an evening, a great living space should be about so much more than that.  A detailed fireplace, an attractive mirror or some great artwork can all be great focal points for a room as well as being a good talking point for guests as well.

Arrange furniture to be inviting
Similar to the point above, although we can often spend evening sprawled out in front of the television, this isn’t the only purpose for a living room so make sure you don’t have all your chairs angled towards your big screen and away from each other.  Living rooms are natural gathering places for people, so make them work to invite people to sit and engage with one another.

Home Staging Factory / Homify

Get the lighting right
Poor lighting can have such an impact on the way a room is presented, whether it’s too harsh or too soft.  Many a beautifully decorated room has been ruined by a failure to invest in decent lighting.  The majority of people will want to create a relaxed and ambient environment so aim for lighting with layers; lamps and wall lights all have their part to play.

Have you got any top tips on how to create the ideal living space?

Disclosure: This is a collaborative post

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Managing Your Money Over Summer

I don't know about anybody else but I am feeling pretty poor right now.  Days out, new uniform, kids eating me out of house and home...whereas I would usually spend very little month to month on 'extras' this summer has possibly been the worst. 

Perhaps it is because we now have to pay for Eli to get into the majority of attractions whereas last year we didn't, or perhaps the kids have just needed to get 'out' more but whatever the reason, I have certainly realised that we will need to be more prepared next year to survive the summer holidays financially.

So here are my top tips for things I have learned about how to manage money over the summer, and things I will definitely be putting into practice this time next year.  And probably over half terms and the Easter break as well!

1. Plan, plan and then plan some more
I fell foul of this in a major way this summer and just didn't plan ahead.  Last year I had a colour-coded spreadsheet with ideas for free days out, paid days out and other fantastic ways to keep us all occupied.  I didn't stick to it but having the plan in place meant less last minute decisions which often prove to be the most costly.  Knowing in advance the things you might want to do, how much they are going to cost and whether you can afford them or not is always going to be more beneficial for your overall finances then doing things on the fly.  It could even be useful to sit down some months in advance and give your finances the once-over i.e. checking your credit score, where you are at with ongoing bills etc. 


2. Have a budget
We are huge fans of budgets and have one for each month, often several months in advance.  We can be quite cavalier with our spending if we don't take the time to watch and justify where our money has gone and having a budget is a great way to do this.  It's also useful to see how much spare money you have going in and out and what you can afford to put towards big events like holidays and Christmas and so on.

3. Start saving
Whilst I wouldn't say start saving now for next summer, I do think it's never too early, especially if your finances are tight and big expenses need to be carefully factored in.  Again with checking credit scores and working out budgets, you can see exactly how much money you could potentially save towards the things you want to do.  Click here to check your credit score now if this is something which would be of interest to you.

4. Keep your eyes open for bargains
A bit like shopping for Christmas (there's that C word again!), there's nothing wrong with grabbing bargains when you see them.  I noticed an increase in the number of emails from voucher and money saving websites in the run up to the holidays offering discounts on local days out and experiences.  In fact I bought one today!  A bit late to the party but still...perhaps keep your eyes open for discounts and vouchers as the holidays get closer.


5. Don't feel the pressure
I asked Meg and Eli today what the best part of their holiday had been so far...aside from their actual holiday in France they both said spending time with family...in other words, something which was completely free!  I think as parents we can feel the pressure to spend lots of money on fun days out for our children when actually, they aren't necessarily the things which stick in our children's minds.  Next year I will definitely be working on a 'once a week' ratio...as in only once a week will I pay to do something whether that is soft play or a trip to a local farm.  Whilst they are great and do often wear the kids out, so do plenty of free attractions and it's worth making a note of what is happening in your area and taking advantage.

What are your money saving tips?

Disclosure: this is a collaborative post.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Our French Adventures... {Part Two}

In my last post I shared about our journey down to L'Etang Vallier in the Charente-Maritime region of France, and some of the fun we had on the site where our villa was located, especially around the lake and the beach.

Whilst we spent most of the time chilling out and relaxing next to the lake and the pool, we did make a few day trips out to some of the surrounding towns and cities.  Pretty much everywhere we wanted to travel was an hour away from L'Etang Vallier, whether we were heading to Brantome or Saintes and so on.


First up was a day trip to Saint Emilion for a wine tour.  When I was writing Secrets of the River I got all my information on how wine was made from a book so I was really excited to see the process up close for myself.  Saint Emilion is more than just another quaint French village; it is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there is plenty to do besides the wine tours offered although the vineyards do make up a huge part of the town's surroundings.


We opted for the wine train tour otherwise known as 'Train Des Grands Vignobles A Saint-Emilion'  This was a lovely little excursion on a small road train which takes you around the outskirts of Saint Emilion with stunning views over the vineyards and the town itself.  There was pre-recorded commentary in both French and English which provided an insight into the different vineyards and their owners which I found quite intriguing.




This was followed by a stop off at Chateaux Rochebelle; we were taken down into the monolithic caves to see where the wine is stored and 'brewed' before being taken upstairs to the shop to take part in a wine tasting.  I was a little disappointed that we were only given the one type of wine to taste as I think it would have been nice to compare but with the whole tour only costing €9 I can't really complain.



I was really at home amongst the vines.  Obviously.


After we finished the tour we had a little wander around the cobbled streets; Saint Emilion is absolutely beautiful and you could easily spend the entire day just exploring the little alleys and passageways.  Other attractions in the area include King's Tower, the Monolithic Church, the Cardinal Palace and the Market Halls although we didn't have time to explore these.


My wine tour buddies.  We all really enjoyed the tour.





Our other main day trip was to Pons.  We had passed through on our way to Saintes and took a risk in visiting as we weren't really sure what was there.  We were pleasantly surprised.  I got the impression that Pons is often overlooked in favour of nearby Cognac but it was a beautiful French town with some stunning buildings.  



The kids in particular loved the fountain in front of the town hall.  Luckily the weather was perfect for a quick splash.



I absolutely love just wandering almost aimlessly around and seeing what gems you can discover.  I probably come across as incredibly nosy peering into people's gardens but the streets were so quiet and nobody called me out on it!



I don't know whether you could occupy yourself for a whole day in Pons but it was certainly a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours; there was a children's playground for the kids to burn off excess energy and it looked like there were a couple of walks which took you further afield.  And, of course, there is nearby Cognac which looked like an excellent day trip as well.

That is pretty much it for our visit to France although I will be sharing a separate post about our time in Brantome and all that it has inspired for Secrets of the River book two!  I will keep you posted.
My Travel Monkey

Review: Cool Create Frozen Range


Recently we were sent some products from Flair from their new Cool Create Frozen range.  Having reviewed the Frozen Magic Snow Sleeve earlier in the year we were expecting these products to be good quality.

We received three products from the range: the Cool Cardz Design Studio, Fairy Lights and the Fun Tiles Night Light.

Of the three items, the Cool Cardz Design Studio was by far the favourite.  Both Meg and Eli really enjoyed using the stamps, stickers and pen to come up with their own designs before laminating them.




You can laminate your designs very easily, without any need for heat and it was simple for Meg to understand.  Once she had grasped how to do it she was away making cards to give to her friends when she goes back to school.


The box contains all you need to make 15 mini cards and refills are available for purchase once you have run out.  There is also a handy drawer to store your bits and pieces in which I thought was a great addition to the design.  The Frozen set costs £17.99 and the refills are available for around £6.99.  I would have perhaps liked a few more cards for the initial outlay required but the fact that it has kept Meg well occupied throughout the holidays has been priceless, especially as a rainy day activity.


The Fun Tiles Night Light contains everything you need to create your own sparkly light; Frozen light box, 840 self adhesive tiles and jewels and a push button night light.  You just need to add batteries.  The tiles are peel and stick and the activity is fairly self-explanatory although I did have to assist Meg as she found it quite fiddly to stick the tiles, hence the lack of photographs!  It costs £9.99 which I think offers great value for money.  We even bought one of these to give as a gift to one of Meg's friends for a birthday present.



Finally, the last product was the fairy lights.  There are 7 lights, and you are provided with a variety of designs so your child can mix and match the exact pattern that they want.  Each lantern is pre-cut so you simply pop out the design you want, allow your child to decorate them and then fold them into place over the bulb.  Very simple.


These would be perfect for decorating round a mirror or on the headboard of a bed perhaps and would bring a lovely bit of sparkle to the room of any Frozen fan.

We were pleased with the quality of all the items; I would say that the Cool Cardz Design Studio was the biggest hit, but only because it is something that Meg can return to again and again.  But as I mentioned, we were so impressed with the night light that we gave it as a gift to one of Meg's friends, at Meg's request which I think is a great indication of how much she enjoyed it.

Overall I wouldn't hesitate to recommend these products to anyone with a Frozen fan in their household.  There are a number of other products in this range too including a jewellery box and a shaker maker.


Disclosure: We were sent these products for the purpose of this review.  All thoughts and opinions are our own.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Siblings {August}


I have been so proud of Meg and Eli this month.  They coped with long hours spent cocooned in the car, late nights and disrupted routines and lots and lots of last minute changes and unexpected twists and turns which come from being on holiday with 10 other people.

Although they were spoiled with time spent with family and lots of one on one attention from everyone around them, they also spend a lot of time together and as usual used it as an opportunity to get up to mischief.  This was especially apparent in the car when we were often treated to hours of them giggling at one another as they tried to come up with ways to keep amused.

I also think that they have both really grown up this summer.  I can't believe some days that I have a 4 and 6 year old but they've really stopped being my babies now and I couldn't be prouder of the little people they are becoming.  I sort of knew that Eli would shoot up over these 6 weeks and that he would become more ready for school but I don't think I was prepared for such a big change in Meg and how emotional it would make me.


Watching them play together, whether in the lake or on the beach, in the playground or in the car, is always such a joy and this month has been no different.  Even now we are back and there is a little less to entertain them and a bit more time spent together whether they wish it or not, they have continued to get along and come up with some amazing and complicated adventures to have each day.

I am sort of sad that the end of the summer holidays is looming ever closer and it will all soon come to an end.


But for now we will make the most of it!


dear beautiful

Ravensburger Twitter Party


Earlier this week we received a really exciting box of goodies ahead of a very special party we are hosting tomorrow; a Ravensburger Puzzle Party!

We have sent out invitations to some of Meg and Eli's friends, I have been busy baking up a storm in the kitchen and we are really looking forward to sharing the amazing puzzles we have been sent as well as a Shopkins related pass the parcel and some goody bags for our guests to take home as well.


Alongside the puzzle party we will be having, UKMums.TV will be hosting a Twitter Party alongside Ravensburger so you can join in the puzzle fun too.  Just follow @ravensburgerpc and @ukmumstv on Twitter where there will be lots of prizes up for grabs.  The party is between 2-4pm so make sure you come along and join in.

Don't forget to use the hashtag #RavensburgerPuzzles either when joining in.

We will be sharing pictures and moments of our party guests getting stuck into this lots and I'm sure that there will be plenty of opportunity for you to get interactive as well so hope to see you there!



Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Our French Adventures... {Part One}

I can't deny that choosing to use the word 'adventures' in the title for this little series of posts is very apt; from finding out our overnight accommodation was booked on the wrong day at 11pm after driving for 13 hours to James getting lost in the middle of Amiens at midnight whilst trying to park the car in a car park which was supposedly 200m away and having to be rescued by me; our recent trip to France was stuffed full of adventures.  Some more memorable for the right reasons than others!



It all started well; we travelled across the channel by ferry with P&O which was really straightforward.  We did have a slight delay as they were incredibly busy on the day we travelled but once we were aboard the boat it was fine.  Having won the crossing in a competition we also had club lounge access which was amazing.  I'm not great on boats but having the luxury of being in the lounge and not having to hunt for somewhere to sit or worrying about losing the kids in the crowds of people was a real plus point.  James took the kids for a walk to see if he could take them outside (despite the rain) and he said it was quite chaotic.  I would definitely pay the £12 per person surcharge if we were to travel by ferry again.



Not to mention the complimentary champagne and the large windows which offered a panoramic view of the journey.  Both Meg and Eli loved this, especially as we approached Calais and they could see it coming ever closer.



After the ferry we drove for about an hour and a half into Amiens and spent the night in a hotel.  The following morning we had a quick wander, taking in the cathedral and letting the kids burn off some energy before we set off on the longest leg of our journey; approx 7 hours to take us into the South of France.  Some parts were better than others; it's a long way to drive, especially with two children.



All the weariness of the car journey was forgotten within a few moments of arriving though.  We were staying in a lovely villa in an area called L'Etang Vallier which is in the Charente region.  There was a lake with a sandy(ish) beach and a waterfront cafe which was ideal for enjoying first night pizza and wine.


Although the weather wasn't great for the first few days, we tried to make the most of our surroundings with time spent at the beach, visiting a local market in Chalais where Meg got a much craved hair braid and even daring a trip to the pool.  I have it on good authority (because I wasn't daft enough to try it for myself) that the water was 'alright once you got in'.


Personally I don't blame Eli for sticking to the toddler pool which was much shallower and therefore, warmer.




After a couple of days settling in we took our first day trip to meet some friends who were also holidaying nearby.  We chose Saintes, a picturesque city about an hour away from where we were staying.  It's the second largest city in Charente-Maritime and has a lot of historical significance; the whole area is full of Roman buildings and remains and we had lots of fun walking around and exploring them before finding somewhere to eat in the evening.  We also made several stops at coffee shops dotted around, as is the French way!


I even found this gorgeous library; it's hard to believe that it is just an ordinary library.  I would have gladly spent hours sequestered away in here but unfortunately the majority of the books were in French so it wouldn't really have been practical.





After our trip to Saintes we had a number of 'downtime' days when we simply enjoyed the site and our immediate surroundings.  Both Meg and Eli absolutely loved being on the beach every day and watching their confidence in the water grow was amazing.  Eli, who has always struggled through his swimming lessons, was putting his face under the water willingly and even jumping in.  He has definitely come home a different boy.




They both really thrived having so many members of their family around them; it was lovely being away with James' family (there were 12 of us altogether) and it was so enjoyable to be able to spend more time with everyone, I actually cried when it was time to come home but more of that another time, we've got some more adventures to share first so stayed tuned!

Packing my Suitcase