Friday, 28 April 2017

Birthday Season, Rabbits & Station Eleven... ǀ Little Loves

We have officially survived the first week back at school!  It has been touch and go a little bit, especially with the weather being all kinds of crazy (on one day we seriously had just about every weather type except for snow!) but now it's on to another long weekend.  Let's just hope the sun shines for a little part of it...

This week I have been reading Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel.  It is a book which had been recommended to me a number of times but my goodness.  I LOVE it.  I'm actually only 50 pages or so from the end and I don't want to pick it up because I don't want the book to finish.  It's post-apocalyptic with flashbacks to before a virus wipes out 99% of the world's population and then to the aftermath of it.  We follow a band of musicians and actors known as the Travelling Symphony and I have just adored everything about this book from the setting to the characters to the writing.  Definitely a favourite of this year and I can say that without even knowing how it wraps up!

I watched The Imitation Game this week and really enjoyed it.  I did go and look up the accuracy of the film afterwards (and wasn't surprised to learn there were a number of liberties taken) but I liked the overall premise and I thought that Benedict Cumberbatch did exceptionally well as Alan Turing.  The movie is basically about the man who broke Enigma during the Second World War and that's all I knew going into it so I won't spoil it for anyone else.

I'm not usually one for self-promotion but I made a vlog of our Easter break this week and I'm actually really proud of it.  Plus I'm almost at 1k subscribers on Youtube so I'm just throwing my channel out wide although for me it isn't about the numbers; I love being able to look back and see the things that we have got up to, and to share that with family and friends as well! 

I actually ordered this shirt to wear at Easter but it was coming from overseas and got delayed so it only turned up this week.  I don't know whether I can legitimately get away with wearing rabbits without it being a tongue in cheek nod to the Easter festivities but I'm going to give it a go anyway.

Also I am in love with these sparkly trainers I picked up from Primark.  Rose gold and glitter...what's not to love?!

I know this post is supposed to be about the things that we have loved but the only thing I really heard this week was the sad news that the house we were going to make an offer on has been withdrawn from the market.  And I certainly didn't love that.  So we are back to the drawing board!  I suppose the thing that I 'love' is still that we are making some exciting decisions and hopefully one day soon I'll be able to share that we have found somewhere new to live.

And Lastly...
We are just heading into birthday season here, otherwise known as the time of year when I look a little bit manic with each passing day.  We celebrated James' birthday on Tuesday and then it is Eli's birthday next week, Meg's the following week and mine the week after.  If you've ever wanted to know what too much cake looks like then keep your eyes peeled over on my IG because you'll soon know!!

I'm just kidding...I absolutely love birthdays and I love being able to share and celebrate with family and friends.  Some might have suggested that I love it a little too  much but there's no such thing really is there?!

Have a great week all!

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Robin Hood at Speke Hall ǀ Day Out

Over the Easter holidays we were thrilled to discover that Speke Hall, which is just a short distance from us, was hosting a special outdoor adventure with Robin Hood.  We have visited Speke Hall a couple of times now since we became National Trust members but hadn't yet attended one of their special events.

On arrival, Meg and Eli were encouraged to pick up a free trail and a leaflet which told us what was on throughout the day.  The trail had a map which showed the location of different activities all across the gardens, woodlands and maze plus a walk with Robin Hood himself.

Luckily for us, it was one of the few days over the holiday when the sun deigned to shine which made being outside bearable, although I'm sure the kids would have enjoyed it just as much even if it had been chucking it down!

We headed to the maze first as this is the kids favourite part.  I usually take myself up onto one of the bridges so I can look down and keep an eye out for them.  The activity here required them to find some items which Robin Hood had misplaced.

Then we spotted Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham: it was time for the walk!  We quickly made our way out of the maze and joined in with the fun.  The walk took us around some of the grounds of the house and ended with a rather amusing dance routine which children and adults alike were required to join in with (I opted for simply taking pictures instead!)

After a restorative cup of tea and a cake, we followed the map we had been given and completed the rest of the Robin Hood related activities; most of these had just been added into the existing areas which Speke Hall has including the new Childe of Hale play trail.  One of our favourite things about Speke Hall is the variety of outdoor areas.  You have the maze and a playground but also a woodland playground, the chance to build shelters and play giant musical instruments as well as the opportunity to wander through the woodlands and the formal gardens.

The house was closed on the day of our visit but this didn't matter too much as Meg and Eli were kept more than occupied with the Robin Hood trail and it easily took us the best part of the afternoon to get everything done.

We finished our day off with some face painting which looked amazing.  It was one of those moments when you wished that it would last a little longer than a day as it was just fantastic.

Overall, we really enjoyed the activities at Speke Hall and the fact that it was all included with the entrance price (aside from the face painting).  It certainly makes me want to keep an eye on future upcoming events, especially as we move towards summer and can really make the most of being outdoors again.

This particular event has now finished but they run plenty of exciting and family friendly events throughout the year which you can find out more about here.

For more of our adventures over Easter (including footage from Speke Hall), you can check out our vlog:-

Friday, 21 April 2017

Wizarding School, Freelance Life & Bookish Things... ǀ Little Loves

I know it sounds cliched but I actually can't believe that it is Friday already.  This is the last 'proper' day of our Easter holidays and although I think the kids are ready to be back in the routine of school and I'm ready for some peace and quiet again, I don't really want them to have to go back just yet!

We've had a brilliant week, and here are just some of the things we have loved:-

I am currently reading a book called Ink by Alice Broadway.  I'm only 100 or so pages in and I'm really loving the concept; it's a YA fantasy where all your achievements and transgressions are tattoed onto your skin but so far there has just been a load of grisly writing about how once you have died, your skin is removed and turned into a book...apparently it gets better once you are passed this particular part but I am finding it equally gross and fascinating.

I haven't watched much this week, a couple of episodes of Once Upon A Time here and there but I've mostly been spending my evenings working so I can spend time in the day with the kids.  Boring I know but it's all part of that freelance work-life balance thing.  Apparently.

I'm going to have to gracefully bow out of this category this week as we haven't really 'made' anything.  Unless you count an Easter Egg hunt which played out almost exactly the same as it did last year with the kids sporting wellies and braving the wind and rain to hunt out eggs in our garden.  Maybe one day we will get the bright sunshine everywhere else seems to get over the Easter weekend!

I took the kids to a special event on the East Lancashire Railway this week which was wizard themed and gave them the excuse to put on their Harry Potter robes and wands.  I am going to hopefully write a separate post about it but it was absolutely fantastic and they really enjoyed dressing up and playing the part of young wizard and witch on their way to rescue the sorting hat.

The Moana soundtrack is still being requested here daily; we haven't watched the film once this week but we've had the music on in the background on a fairly constant basis.  I have to admit that the songs are catchy and interesting which makes it acceptable!

And Lastly...
I took the plunge and started my new bookish Instagram community this week.  There haven't been too many people joining in (any tips push them my way...) but I wanted to showcase the ones who had joined in.  These are some of my favourites and I would love it if you hopped over and took a look.  You could even join in!

Have a great week all.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

National Stationery Week

I am truly confident in the fact that I am not the only lover of stationery out there; whether it's writing a letter, admiring a pretty notebook or using a colourful pen...I'll take it all and it's something which I have definitely managed to pass on to Meg and Eli.  Not a day goes by when they don't squirrel themselves away with paper and pen to write a story or draw a picture.

It was for this reason that I was excited to be asked by the creators of National Stationery Week to share with you this upcoming campaign and encourage people to join in with sharing their love of all things stationery based.  

National Stationery Week takes place on 24-30 April and there are all kinds of fun things going on from 7 Days of Stationery, a Stationery Trail, quizzes, the chance to blog about your love of stationery and plenty more besides.  Royal Mail is even getting on board with all post sent that week being franked with the logo and the #writingmatters hashtag.  That sounds like the ideal opportunity to send someone a letter if ever I heard one.

If you  need something to get you started then I recently vlogged a whole bunch of goodies which were sent to me by the team at National Stationery Week...I still haven't managed to find a use for my beautiful new notebooks but they have proudly joined my ever growing collection!

If you've ever felt like you needed to justify your collection of stationery (I'm looking at you James...) then this week is the perfect opportunity to connect with like-minded stationery lovers and have some fun whilst you are at it!
I hope to see you on social media!

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Beach Life and Ordinary Adventures ǀ Family Lifestyle

I am a huge believer in finding joy and adventure in the small, every day moments in life.  I hope that anyone who is a repeat visitor here can attest to that; we try our best to capture and share those seemingly innocuous times in life which can actually represent the very best of experiences.

A few weeks ago we woke to gorgeous sunshine blazing through the curtains and there was really only one thing for it.  We grabbed our towels and our swimming stuff (well, the kids did, they are braver than me!) and headed out to the beach.

We are very lucky that we live less than 30 minutes drive from a number of very good beaches and we opted to go to Ainsdale on this particular occasion reasoning that although we are National Trust members, Formby beach was likely to be crazy busy and we'd be better off closer to home.  It definitely seems as though everyone in the North West had the same idea as us so I'm glad we went for Ainsdale in the end.

It didn't take long before the kids had stripped off and were splashing and shrieking with delight in the water.  The sea was quite far out so we stuck to one of the little inlets which usually appears, although the official line from Meg was that the water wasn't as warm as she was expecting. 

Talk about precious ordinary moments...

...watching the kids dash up and down the beach, wind whipping their hair, sand in just about every conceivable place but total happiness written across their faces.  I really don't know whether it is because we lived in such a landlocked place for such a long time but they still adore coming to the beach and it would be their first choice for a day out every single time.

...digging my toes into the sand and tipping my head back, soaking up those rays (and hoping for a limited appearance of freckles on my skin) and listening to the sounds of happy families up and down the coastline.

...seeing one very grumpy boy (who didn't want the type of ice lolly he got...) being persuaded to come and snuggle with his nana before careering off up the dunes for another sandy adventure.

And then finally...coming back home at the end of the day, windswept and sand-whipped, rosy-cheeked and rosy-skinned, falling into bed at the end of the day completely wiped out but in the best way possible.

To me, those are the best kind of ordinary moments.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Tulips, Beach Days & Long Weekends ǀ Little Loves

Happy Good Friday!!  I am so looking forward to a long weekend with family, friends and lots of yummy treats.  If only the weather would stay nice then we will really be able to make the most of it.

I finished The Shadow of the Wind on Wednesday and really enjoyed it.  It's about a young boy who comes across a book in a library known as the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  He tries to find out more about the author who wrote the book, only to discover that someone has been going around destroying every copy of every book the author ever wrote.  It's set in Spain just after the Civil War and is a kind of mystery/historical fiction novel.  It was beautifully written and although it's a little slow in places I absolutely loved it.

I finally finished Season Two of the Gilmore Girls so I decided to have a break and watch Season 5 of Once Upon A Time.  I always forget how much Hook makes me swoon.  We were also excited by the return of Peter Kay's Car Share this week; I loved the first series so have high hopes for this one!

Can I say, a discovery?  I bought some gorgeous tulips but they were the only ones left in the store and they were already a little droopy when I picked them out.  Someone suggested putting a copper coin in the bottom of the vase and worked!  They are now standing super straight, three days later with no sign of a saggy tulip in sight.  Amazing.

Just about everything in my wardrobe!  On Saturday the weather turned out to be absolutely gorgeous.  It was so hot, and so clear that we absolutely had to spend a day down at the beach and I had a perfect excuse to bring out my new Primarni trousers which turned out to be very comfortable.  But the following day I was out in my winter coat with about ten layers on underneath.  Typical spring weather.

We've been listening to the Moana soundtrack pretty much nonstop this week.  I hadn't seen the film but our local cinema were doing a cheap kids morning so we went along to see it and now we've all got the songs stuck in our head.  Not that I'm complaining as a) the sounds are fab and b) it makes a nice change from it being Trolls, Trolls and some more Trolls.

And Lastly...
I hope that you all have a fantastic Easter.  We have still got one week left off school and I'm hoping to get some work done today so that I can fully enjoy it with the kids.  Whether you are back at school or still on a break, have a wonderful week!

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Finding Time To Read ǀ Books & Reading

Reading is a huge part of my life and has been for as long as I can remember.  My parents have told me that I was always a voracious bookworm and that I pretty much had my nose stuck in a book from the get-go, even making up stories when I had run out of things to read.  One of my earliest memories of reading is of being given my own copy of Little Women at around 8 years old and just absolutely devouring it.  It's still one of my all-time favourites to this day.

That said, my reading habits did change after I had kids; I just don't have as much time to dedicate to reading as I once did.  Probably the best example of this is the fact that prior to having children, each time a new Games of Thrones book was released I would re-read the entire the moment I haven't managed to pick up the latest one!

On average, I read between 6-8 books a month, sometimes less, sometimes more.  Reading is what I do in order to unwind; when I'm feeling stressed out there is nothing better for me than to lose myself in a fictional world so if you are looking to get back into reading, or maybe just to read a little more, then here are my top tips:-

Carry A Book
I carry my current book around with me everywhere.  You would be surprised at how much spare time you get throughout the day whether that is sitting in the car waiting for school to finish or waiting for an appointment.  Sometimes I prefer to scroll through my phone, checking social media or replying to emails but most of the time I will read.  Yep, even in the car wash!

Put Down Your Phone
As I mentioned above, sometimes it is nice to catch up on social media or respond to emails but equally it can be a terrible habit to constantly be picking up your phone!  It is by far the easiest option but if you are trying to get into the routine of reading more than I would highly suggest trying to consciously step away from your phone and reach for a book instead.

Find YOUR Books
In my opinion, people who don't enjoy reading are usually just people who haven't found the right books yet!  Earlier in the year I read a book which I had wanted to read because everyone told me what a great book it was.  I slogged my way through 800+ pages and in the end...I didn't really like it.  So what was the point?!

Don't waste your time on books which don't float your boat, instead try to find books which really capture your interest and make you want to keep on turning those pages.  Sites like Goodreads and Amazon are great for suggesting similar titles to books you have previously read and enjoyed so I nearly always head there first when I'm in the mood for something new.  If you are trying to get back into reading and aren't really sure what you'll like then head to the library and pick up a selection of titles to try out.

Create A Reading Routine
If you are serious about reading more then you might find it beneficial to create a little reading routine for your day.  I use an app called BeFocused during my working days which I have split into sections: 25 minutes of working time followed by a 5 minute break.  After four working sections I get a 15 minute break.  I use the 5 minute slots to whizz around the house and do household chores and the 15 minute break becomes my reading time.  Of course, this particular way works for me because I'm freelance and working from home but you could create a reading schedule which was more suited to your personal circumstances, whether that is challenging yourself to read 50 pages a day or just setting aside 10 minutes without fail to get some reading done.

Read Before Bed
This is probably the time when I get the most reading done and it's something I try to do every single night.  About a year ago I had fallen out of the habit of reading before bed instead choosing to reach for my phone and I noticed it made a HUGE difference to my sleeping...clearly I need to step away from the screens in order to relax before bed and so now I try to give myself between 30 minutes and an hour of reading time each night.  Sometimes I can't manage more than a few pages before I'm drifting off and other times you'll find me still reading come midnight especially when I am so close to the end of a book (which is never really the best idea!) but it's great to have that time to unwind before I sleep.

Do you have any tips on ways to read more?

Monday, 10 April 2017

Finding Joy in the Outdoors ǀ Family Lifestyle

I would never have described myself as the type of person whose mood was affected by the seasons but as I get older I begin to appreciate there is just something about sunnier days which are so uplifting and refreshing.

Last weekend the sun turned up, blazing and beautiful and streaming through our windows from the moment we got up and it made sense to head out and make the most of it.  It wasn't particularly warm, with a cool wind hanging around for most of the day, but that almost didn't matter as the sky was clear and bright blue and the sun was out in force.

We only walked along a stretch which is close to where we live and I deliberately didn't take my big camera, although I couldn't resist taking a few snaps with my phone.  It wasn't a particularly major choice that I made but I knew that I wanted to be present and enjoy the time with James and the kids, and not worry about capturing that Instagram-worthy shot.

Surprisingly, we were some of the only people out which made the entire experience so peaceful and as the kids ran on ahead, James and I were able to talk about some of the big decisions we have to make.  I think it made a real difference to the way that we talked, being outdoors and not feeling cooped up in the house trying to make these potentially life-altering choices.  When we'd had enough we could just break off, take a deep breath and soak up the surroundings.

It almost makes me sound a little bizarre, I get that completely but honestly, it was one of those simple yet perfect afternoons where we had no pressures and no concerns.  We could just be and  I think that is something which has been lacking just recently.  We didn't have to be anywhere or rush home to do anything; we could just enjoy and appreciate the outdoors and the sunshine until we'd had our fill.

Each year I tell myself that I will slow down and simplify things and that just never seems to happen but in some ways it makes moments like these...when I do slow down and simplify things, that little bit more precious.

Friday, 7 April 2017

New Clothes, Easter and That Summer Feeling ǀ Little Loves

It has been a couple of weeks since I last joined in with Little Loves; life got suddenly very stressful and although actually sitting down and writing a post about the things I loved would have probably helped, I just didn't have the brain space!

But I am back this week and hopefully, the last fortnight will have just been a small blip.

This week I finished reading The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff.  Inspired by true events, it is set during the Second World War and is about a famous German circus which hides Jews and helps them to escape being sent off to the camps.  We focus on two women in particular; Noa, a Dutch girl who has ended up in Germany after finding herself pregnant and Astrid, a Jew who is trying to avoid detection by the Nazis.  It wasn't a particularly complicated read but I just connected with the author's writing style and I really enjoyed it.

We have been enjoying the new series of Modern Family just recently along with Season Two of the Gilmore Girls.  I try to binge watch GG when I can but it does seem to be taking me forever.  I also watched the first two episodes of Big Little Lies but I didn't massively enjoy it; I read the book a couple of years ago so I know what is going to happen and I think that has made it lose a little shine for me.

I have been busy making Easter plans this week.  The kids break up today and I seriously cannot wait.  I don't even care if the weather is miserable, just the thought of two weeks with no school and limited responsibility has me dancing around the place.  Hopefully we will get out and about for a few of the days but I am mostly planning on insisting that we spend lots of time chilling in our pyjamas.

I made a little trip into town last week and went shopping for myself.  It wasn't anything fancy and I just went to Primark but I did haul the things I bought.  I'm still not 100% sold on the skirt though...

It's by no means a new song but I have been loving JP Cooper's September Song this week and have constantly had it on repeat.  I think it is so uplifting and it has really been getting me in the mood for summer.

And Lastly...
I'm giving this space over to our impending house move.  I wrote a post just last week about how nervous I am to be making some big decisions but this week I have been feeling more excited than anything about the potential.  We are viewing a house today and I am really hopeful although it's so hard to tell from pictures how things really look!

Thursday, 6 April 2017

March Reads ǀ Books & Reading

I feel as though I only just sat down to update you on what I had been reading in the month of February and now I am here again!  The month of March has definitely flown by and although I can't deny that I have been loving the warmer weather (and the chance to sit out and read in the sunshine) I still can't quite get my head around how quickly this year is passing.

Empire of Storms - Sarah J Maas
This is the fifth book in the Throne of Glass series and one I have been doggedly making my way through over the last few months.  It is a YA fantasy series about a young girl who is heir to a kingdom which has been torn apart by a dictator, with magic being removed and those with magic being hunted and persecuted.  We follow a whole host of different characters and although I really dislike the main protagonist, I actually adore some of the side characters and this is definitely what makes the books worth reading for me.  I can't go into too much detail about this book as (obviously) it's the fifth one but I enjoyed it a little more than I have the previous ones.

A Boy Made of Blocks - Keith Stuart
Oh, how this book ruined me!  I had heard many people talking about this story and how it had been so incredibly moving but it takes a lot for a book to bring me to tears, and this one managed it perfectly.  This is a contemporary and is the story of Alex, who has recently separated from his wife after they have grown apart; the reason being that their son has been diagnosed with autism and they are just finding adjusting and dealing with their son's behaviour to be very difficult.  It is loosely based on the author's own experiences and is about Alex finding out who he is whilst also learning how he can understand who his son is.  It was humorous, accurate and a very moving read.

Moloka'i - Alan Brennert
Another one of my favourite reads this month was Moloka'i, a story about the leprosy settlement on an island just off the coast of Hawai'i.  It is historical fiction and predominantly follows the story of seven year old Rachel who is diagnosed and separated from her family, sent off to live on Moloka'i and we follow her story right through to adulthood.  Based on real events, I thought it was such an interesting read, very similar in feel to The Island by Victoria Hislop, with a really intriguing look at a period in history I previously knew nothing about.  The only downside to me was that it often read more like a non-fiction book with lots of facts about the time thrown in; there wasn't much emotional connection between me and the characters but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Circle - Dave Eggers
This was my first techno-thriller book and one which I definitely enjoyed.  It was sinister and creepy, mostly because it was about something I could see being a part of the not too distant future.  We meet Mae, who has recently taken a job at The Circle; a company which created a piece of software called TruYou.  TruYou is a system which gives users one online identity, and must be properly verified so you can't pretend to be someone else.  The Circle is all about community and transparency with employees being encouraged to come and live 'on campus' and take part in the parties and socials and meetings, whilst sharing about it online of course.  For the vast majority of the book I couldn't put my finger on what felt wrong about the storyline but I just knew that there was something and eventually it does become clearer.  Think all the big social networks all combining together, think being watched at all times, think being encouraged to connect with people online rather than in person, and you've maybe scratched the surface of this story.  It was such a quick read and I really enjoyed it.

As Old As Time - Liz Braswell
I wrote a full blog post review on this retelling of the classic Beauty & The Beast story which you can find here.  In summary it was a quick and easy read although it did have a few problems.

The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
Who doesn't love a classic children's story?  It had been such a long time since I had read this but it was the Motherbookers choice for the month and I'm really pleased; spring was just the absolute perfect time of year to pick it up.  We follow the story of Mary Lennox, a young girl who is sent to live with her uncle in Yorkshire after her parents die whilst out in India.  Mary has never met this uncle before and arrives in a vast manor house and is basically told to keep quiet and out of the way.  It's a gentle coming of age story which has a really understated way of leading the reader through Mary's discoveries which I really appreciated.  Mary has to learn about courage and friendship, and I particularly enjoyed the allegory between the Secret Garden which has been abandoned and forgotten about but with some tending begins to come to life again and Mary and Colin who both change and develop once they meet each other and some of the other characters in the story.  A real gem of a book.

Do let me know what you have been reading this month!

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