Saturday, 31 October 2015

Me & Mine {October}

Here we go, broken record time, how, how, is it the end of October already?  I seriously feel like I have blinked and the whole of autumn has just passed by in a whirl.  I know that mostly it's because we have been looking forward towards half term and our moving date and we have been busy and preoccupied with planning and packing but still the weeks do just seem to be passing by in a blur.

I think once we have moved I am going to take some time out, slow down and just savour and appreciate the days.  That's my aim anyway!

In fact, today is moving day so I am scheduling this ahead of time as I will be busy directing and unpacking and hopefully successfully and smoothly moving into our new home.

So, for October, we have loved:-

* The autumn weather and days spent out admiring the bright, beautiful colours and the excuse to crunch through falling leaves.
* Planning out new rooms in our new house.
* A weekend away in Birmingham for me and James and a sleepover at the Grandparents for Meg and Eli.
* Picking our own pumpkins.
* The start of the Apprentice.

I was very organised with our photos this week and had thought ahead to the fact that we would be packing manically this last week.  I was right, typically, so it's a good job we sorted it as I have absolutely no idea which box I packed my camera in and I've already had to unpack so many boxes to find kitchen implements and notepads containing vital pieces of information.  Major oops!

But here's to October and autumn and all things orange and cosy and comforting.  My favourite time of the year.

dear beautiful

Thursday, 29 October 2015

What Makes You Feel Like A Million Dollars?

If someone had asked me to write this post 10 or 15 years ago I think my main theme would have been something along the lines of a meal at a luxurious restaurant or a shopping spree buying clothes from all the high end brands.

It's funny how your perceptions of what makes you feel good can change as you get older.  When I was asked to create this post by Slotfruit I did spend a good deal of time considering the question...what does make me feel like a million dollars?

1. A good book
I don't just mean any old book but the kind of book that pulls you into another world and takes you on a journey.  Not every book fits this bill but when I find one I like to try and savour each moment.  To curl up under a blanket with a hot drink (preferably with the rain hammering down outside but obviously even in England we can't always guarantee the weather!) and lose myself in a good book for a few hours.  If I can score a log fire from somewhere too then that just makes the moment even more precious.

2. Giving a gift
My love language is gifts and that means I love to research and give the right presents to people.  If I give a gift you can guarantee that a lot of thought has gone into it and I just love the moment when you see someone's face light up because they know you've really considered what to give them, whether it's your time or a physical item.  It isn't about the gratification though but the knowledge that you have been able to make somebody else feel blessed, or a little bit more special that day.

3. My children's laughter
I don't know about anyone else but for me, there is no greater sound than when I hear my children laughing together.  It is like sweet music to my ears and a truly heart warming sound.  Meg has the best laugh, it's really infectious and when she is truly laughing hard at something you can't help but laugh along with her.  Sometimes Meg and Eli will just break down into fits of giggles and James and I have no idea what is going on but just have to sit back and smile and appreciate the moment.

4. Treating myself
Although my budget might have changed somewhat in the last decade, the feeling of giving myself a little treat still remains the same.  Whether it's buying a new notebook or getting a manicure, taking some time out for me can be a real pick me up, especially when things are busy or stressful. 

Obviously, these are just a few of the things that make me feel special. There are a lot of things that can bring an instant smile to your face, that perk you up when you need them most, but everyone is different and I'm sure there are things that raise your spirits that I might have missed.  I know people who play games like the lottery to try and win some money (and then some who play those games and splash the winnings to make them feel great!) and then there are others who need nothing more than a trashy movie and a comfy duvet. 

What about you?

This is a collaborative post.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Beach Life...

I don't think it's any secret that I love being near to the beach.  It was one of the major plus points for us moving up north..that we were absolutely desperate to be near to the sea and the novelty still remains almost two years on.

Whether I'm walking the dog, looking to wear the kids out or simply need some fresh air to clear my head (and usually my writer's block) I head down to the beach.  We are lucky in that there is a long stretch near to Southport including the National Trust beach of Formby which makes the ideal picturesque place to go.

They might not be the sandiest of beaches, and sometimes the sea is pretty hard to spot but I wouldn't change being this close to the beach for anything.  It has become my go to place without a doubt and I find the sea air so refreshing and uplifting.

Sprinkle, squish between my toes, 
The smell of ocean to my nose. 
I can feel each grain of sand, 
It falls from air into my hand. 
The shells I find along the shore, 
Picked up by birds that fly and soar. 
They sparkle like the ocean's waves, 
And carry sand from all the lakes. 
I walk along the tip of the sea, 
That’s where my feet leave prints to be. 
I walk all the way to the end of the land, 
The land that holds this beautiful sand.
Morgan Swain

Interiors: Get the Perfect Bedroom

For the majority of people, the bedroom should be the perfect place for you to go when you want to unwind after a busy, potentially stressful and non-stop day.  It is my favourite room in the house, and not just because I would spend all day in my bed if I could!

I have always been a terrible sleeper; the slightest noise wakes me up and once I'm awake it can take me a lot longer to drift back off.  Over the years I've developed a number of hacks which have helped such as not watching television in the last hour before I go to bed, having a notebook on my bedside cabinet for anything I think of in the night and making sure my phone is turned away from me so if any alerts flash up then I'm not disturbed.

One thing I'm really keen on this year, especially given that we are shortly to be moving into a new home, is to redo our bedroom so that it becomes less a place for dumping washing we haven't yet gotten around to putting away and more a place where we can both retreat to after our busy days.  Words like 'soothing' 'relaxing' and 'cosy' are my keywords and my inspiration.

We want our bedroom to be a stress-free zone and I've been gathering a couple of ideas on Pinterest and Instagram which I am hoping to put into place over the next few months.  But if getting the perfect bedroom is also on your to do list then read on for my tops tips on how to get the perfect, relaxing bedroom space:-

1. Bedding
I am a bit of a bedding magnet and will often head straight to the bedding section when we go into any homeware store.  I'm not sure what it is but I am drawn to gentle colours, pretty patterns and absolutely any kind of throw.  It has become a bit of an obsession but it took a long time before I knew exactly what kind of bedding worked best.  

When it comes to the ideal bedding you want something which is soft and comfortable, nothing beaded or scratchy, or anything which won't wash well.  In my experience 100% cotton is best as this can survive being washed regularly (which we should all be doing!!) without losing shape or becoming bobbled and worn.  We have tried various materials over the years and this is always a winner for us.  Plus it is super soft when just washed.

The tog of a duvet is a huge and constant debate which takes place in our house, namely because James is always too warm at night and I am always too cold.  At the moment we are living in a old house which is a nightmare to heat so we have a 15 tog but I'm sure when we move to our properly insulated new build house we will need something lighter.  I've even seen duvets where you can half and half togs like this one.  Something I think we definitely need to invest in!

2. Colours
The thing about bedrooms is that they are often the last place we think of to redecorate because we spend most of the time in there with our eyes closed.  However, if your heart sinks every time you go in then you probably need to change the colour scheme and make sure you go for something you love and which will last the test of time.  

If you struggle to fall asleep at night then opt for muted, gentle colours but if you struggle to get up in the morning then go for bright pops of colour which will energise you first thing in the morning.

3. Storage
Although it can be nice to fill your room with trinkets and pretty things, try to keep these to a minimum and ensure that everything has its own place.  Buying good quality bedroom furniture is a worthy investment to make; especially if you opt for something neutral which can remain even if you decide to change your colour scheme in the long run.  If your room is overrun then consider buying additional storage or moving things out of the bedroom and putting them somewhere else in the home.  A clean and tidy room is a must if you struggle to fall asleep.

4. Cleaning
I have a fairly relaxed bedroom cleaning routine which is to change the bedding at least once a fortnight, to vacuum once a week (especially as our bedroom is also the place that I do my hair and make-up...yuck) and to put clothes away once a week or as needed.  Both Meg and Eli and James are terrible at picking up their clothes, preferring to drop them all over the floor wherever they happen to be standing, so I generally whip around once a day and put clothing in the relevant place as well.  We try to encourage the making of beds each day which can do wonders for the look of a room.  If you've implemented the above storage option then you should find keeping your bedroom neat and clean isn't too much of an arduous task.

5. Lighting
Finally, to the last element which can really make a room a relaxing and cosy place to be; lighting.  Get the lighting right and generally everything else will fall into place.  We very rarely put the 'big' overhead light on in our bedroom opting instead for either natural light during the day and low, subtle light from lamps when it gets dark.  Soft lamplight can make a room ambient and inviting as well as not being too strong and overbearing when you are getting ready to go to bed.

I'm looking forward to sharing our new bedroom with you in the next couple of weeks so do keep an eye out on my Instagram feed!

This is a collaborative post.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Autumn Menu Review with Brewers Fayre

It has been my experience since becoming a parent that sometimes days don't go according to plan in the slightest and sometimes they manage to go off seamlessly without a hitch, leaving you with a warm and fuzzy feeling (until they descend into chaos again of course!)

Last week was one of  those really great days.  We spent the morning pottering around sorting out different bits and pieces which needed doing around the house whilst the kids played nicely, then we went out to our local pumpkin patch (which I know I have talked and shared about non-stop on the blog recently!) and we followed our outdoor adventures with a visit to our local Brewers Fayre pub to check out their newly launched Autumn Menu.

The idea behind their new menu is to provide great pub classics at affordable prices (their Daytime Value offer, for example, which runs 12pm-6pm, Monday to Friday, allows guests to enjoy two starters for approximately £2.50, two mains for £10.99 and two desserts for £2.50 - prices vary within restaurants)  The dishes featured on this menu are all perfect for a crisp, cool autumn day so we were keen to try it out.

The kids menu is all Beano themed and Meg and Eli were more than happy with the dishes on offer; Eli opted for Spaghetti Beano-ese and Meg had a burger.  There was a good range of children's options and Eli is a particularly fussy eater so we are always wary of trying somewhere different but he was more than happy with the selection...he even had to stop and think about what he might want to eat which almost never happens.

As for a family meal out...we didn't see much of either child to be honest as our local Brewers Fayre also has a lovely soft play area so they really only returned to the table for food and drink and even then it was under slight duress!  That didn't matter too much as it gave us a chance to chat whilst knowing that Meg and Eli were kept suitably occupied.

When it came to the adults food I opted for one of the new choices on the menu: Ultimate Sausage and Mash.  It was certainly a huge portion and extremely delicious, perfect for the season too.  As with the kids menu there was a great selection of food; although we were excluded from the offer I checked the Daytime Value offer and there was a good selection of dishes available which I thought was great.

And of course we couldn't round off the evening without trying some dessert...I can thoroughly recommend the chocolate fudge cake!

Aside from the food, one thing which really stuck out to us was how attentive the staff were.  The manager popped by a few times to check everything was okay and was really engaging with Meg and Eli, joking with them about eating their dinner or having to do the washing up and just really being quite friendly.  I noted he did this with every single table around us as well, so we weren't just being singled out for the special treatment!

I think little extras like this go a long way to making an experience truly enjoyable; we hadn't actually eaten at this particular pub/restaurant before but it has made us want to go back the next time we are planning a meal out.

We were invited along to visit our local Brewers Fayre and the cost of our meal was included.  However all thoughts and opinions are our own.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Half Term Fun with Learning Resources

I cannot be the only parent who sometimes looks at half term with a little bit of dread.  Don't get me wrong, I love not having to get up and out of the door by 8.30am, the fact that we can stay in our pyjamas all day if we choose and the time I get to spend with Meg and Eli but sometimes I do wonder how I will keep them occupied.

Looking at the weather forecast for the October half term was a heart sinking moment...rain, rain and more rain.  So how to keep them both busy and playing when they are bouncing off the walls come 3pm?!

Thankfully Learning Resources came to my rescue and sent us two board games to try out and I have to say, we are going to really enjoy bringing them out over the next week.  I love Learning Resource products (the last one being one of my absolute favourites) and cannot say enough how well made, well thought out and educational their products and toys are and we have reviewed a number of their products over the last couple of years and never fail to be impressed.

First up was the Sneaky, Snacky, Squirrel Game.  Aimed at children aged 3+, this is a game for 2-4 players.  You take it in turns to spin the spinner, follow the instructions and try to be the first player to fill your log with the coloured acorns.  There are different ways you might gain advantages over another player (such as with the sneaky squirrel) or maybe even lose all your acorns if you spin a cloud.

This is what happens when your sister spins a sneaky squirrel...

Things we liked about this game:-

* It is brilliant for helping with fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination, something we have been working on a lot with Eli recently.
* It's mostly about luck but also about strategy; when a child spins a sneaky squirrel they have to think about which other player they want to take the acorn from and which colour etc
* It's a fast paced game and lots of fun, great if you have children with short attention spans.

Next up was Robot Face Race.  Aimed at children slightly older (4+) , again this is for 2-4 players.  Players take it in turns to shake the robot randomizer (which contains 5 different coloured balls and the option for the them to land in the face, eyes, mouth and nose slots) and then it's a race to find the matching robot face.  The player who find the correct face first places their chosen coloured token onto the face and then play recommences.  

The winner is the person who gets rid of their tokens first but beware, if you guess incorrectly, you have to miss a turn!

I would say the 4+ starting age is a little generous for this game; Eli is only a few months away from being 5 and he struggled to have the attention span to sit and look at the robot faces and try to match the features...perhaps it's his personality as he is a little boy who likes to be constantly on the go and he just didn't have the patience to methodically look at the faces until he found the right one.  Perhaps something to think about if you have a child at the lower end of the recommended age bracket is that they made quickly lose interest if they don't have adult assistance to play. 

Meg certainly had no problems once she got the hang of it and even went on to win the game, much to her delight!

Things we liked about this game:-

* It teaches and reinforces colour recognition skills as there are various elements you have to match.
* It's a good game for children who want something a bit more challenging.
* It's a bit of a challenge for adults which I love!

The Robot Face Race and the Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game are both available from Learning Resources and we wouldn't hesitate to recommend them.

We were sent both games for the purposes of this review.  However all thoughts and opinions are our own.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Wellies, Forts and Dreaming of the Summer...#LittleLoves

I'm beginning to sound like a broken record I am sure but how has another week passed already?  Today is the last day of term so next week we will be enjoying days spent in our PJ's, splashing in the puddles (because it always rains during half term!) and pretending that our house isn't filled with boxes for our impending big move.

Sounds great doesn't it?!  But onto this week...

I am reading 'The Son' by Jo Nesbo at the moment but it's taking me a while.  It's brilliantly written but I find with thrillers that I can only read them if James is in the house otherwise I get a bit too spooked.  Seeing as he's been out most nights this week I haven't had much time to read...maybe I should get over my fears?!

I am definitely going to sound like I'm on repeat here as I've spent most of the week watching Once Upon A Time as I fill boxes and sort through papers.  I am well and truly hooked (get it?!) ... we missed The Apprentice this week so I have got that to look forward to on Catch Up as well.

I finally went out and bought myself some new wellies this week.  I had been hoping for a gorgeous pair from Fat Face but James didn't take the numerous hints so I have popped them on my Christmas list the meantime I needed something I could walk the dog in as I was fed up with wet socks from my existing holey pair.  I only wanted something plain so this black quilted pair from Matalan were the perfect choice.  I don't know how long I will manage to keep them shiny for though!

The greatest news from a dentist who finally listened to me.  I have been battling with my wisdom teeth for about 3 years (in short, there is no space in my mouth but they are coming through anyway) and it had got to the point where the last dentist I saw basically told me to stop wearing my retainer and let my teeth go crooked as it was the only way to stop the constant mouth pain or pay the £200+ fee per tooth to have them taken out privately.  Helpful, no?!  I saw a new dentist yesterday who not only understood that I might not want to have crooked teeth but who actually put a plan in place for how I can follow NHS procedure and have my wisdom teeth taken out.  It might not sound like a big deal but I am completely overjoyed with this result!

I was hoping to share our pumpkin pie recipe with you this week but having packed my pie dish we were unable to make it; it will have to wait a couple of weeks!  I did make a fort out of packing boxes with the kids and we also made a trip to our local pumpkin farm and had lots of autumnal fun.

And Lastly...
We were talking in the playground about summer holidays this week; apparently all the cheap flights have been released this week and now is the best time to grab a bargain holiday for next year; my list of places I would love to go grows longer every year but James and I are pretty much in agreement when it comes to where we'd like to travel.  Apparently, according to a recent survey carried out by that isn't the case for 74% of couples, with women even using reverse psychology to secure the holiday destination they want...can you believe that?!

Anyway...I am off to dream about potential holiday destinations for next year.  If you have some great plans do share them with me!

This is a collaborative post.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Family Day Out: Liverpool Museums

Did you know that Liverpool has one of the most impressive collections of free museums and galleries in the whole of Europe?  It also has the second biggest collection in the UK; the first, obviously, being in London.  And it is right on our doorstep!

We are so guilty of always planning to go away somewhere without first considering that there are lots of amazing things just a short drive away from us and perhaps even more so with Liverpool as it is James' home city so he takes its presence for granted.

So recently when we were umming and ahhing over where our next family adventure could be we decided instead to stay closer to home and treat the city as though we were tourists and spend the day exploring the various museums and attractions on offer.  And what a fantastic day it was.

It would be very difficult to visit each of the museums in the city in one day and although we gave it a good go, we did miss out the World Museum as we had been to that previously and the Museum of Liverpool as we simply ran out of time.  Watch this space for a return visit.

We started our day at the Walker Art Gallery as this is on the opposite side of the city to the main hub of museums.  It is near to the World Museum and the Library of Liverpool; which are both worth visiting on their own.

The Walker Art Gallery houses a variety of paintings, including work by European artists such as Rembrandt and Poussin, a large collection of Victorian paintings and pre-Raphaelite work too.

The great thing about the Walker Art Gallery is the Big Art section for under 5's.  Children can draw or create their own work of art, there is a section to sit and read, to dress up, plenty of interactive elements and so on.  It's a really great way to introduce children to art and to begin teaching them a love of the creative.  We were particularly impressed with the interactive elements here (and also how quiet it was for a Saturday morning!)

We followed our trip to Big Art with a quick walk around the rest of the gallery; Meg was definitely more engaged than Eli which I think is an age thing.  She was much more interested in talking about the different styles of paintings and expressing her ideas about things she could do at home which would be similar.  

After the Walker Art Gallery we walked through the centre of Liverpool and down to the Albert Dock which took about 25 minutes give or take a stop or two at Starbucks...

You could easily spend an entire day at the Dock.  I haven't been down to the Dock in almost 10 years and they have done a lot to upgrade and renovate the space which was brilliant.

First we passed one of the tall ships which was docked at the entrance and just crying out to be explored; I think it cost us about £3 for us all to go on and have a little look around...this was something which was much more up Eli's street and he was absolutely fascinated by every little detail, wanting to understand how the ship worked.

From here we walked down to the Merseyside Maritime Museum.  In my opinion this is a great option if you have children, there was absolutely masses to engage them.  Liverpool and Merseyside obviously have a huge seafaring heritage and this museum covers this history.  You can discover interesting facts about smuggling in the Seized! Gallery, walk through the docks as they were way back when and even learn the story of the Titanic.

There were lots of activities for children including learning to write (sound?!) their name in morse code and crafting their own dock.  The staff were brilliant with Meg and Eli and incredibly helpful which we always appreciate.

I liked that there were also interactive elements in the main galleries, so there was something to keep the children occupied whilst parents read and learned; we are both huge fans of museums (geeks) and it's always hard when you have young children to not feel like you are just whirling your way through each exhibition or gallery without actually seeing anything and there was a nice balance at the Maritime Museum.

Situated within the Maritime Museum is the International Slavery Museum which we had a quick look around.  This was way over Meg and Eli's heads but I would quite like to return to have a real in-depth look around.  I think this would be somewhere for older children, or even those who are studying slavery in school; it is certainly a fascinating and sensitive museum which I would have liked some more time to explore.

Also on the Dock is the Tate Liverpool and, as I mentioned above, the Museum of Liverpool which we will have to return to visit.

There are also plenty of stunning views across the Mersey and even a bridge of padlocks...of sorts.

This is a real hub of the city and there are lots of restaurants and cafes, ice cream sellers, a merry go round and more.  We couldn't have asked for better weather for our visit and even though it was late September the sun was shining and it was beautiful day.  Ideal when you are spending lots of time wandering outside.