Friday, 30 June 2017

Cliffhangers, Raincoats and Dancing... ǀ Little Loves

I have found it so difficult to get back into the swing of things since coming home from Italy; I just don't want to face up to the routine of getting back to normality I think!  I've missed a couple of Little Love updates simply because life has been so chaotic but I think we are back on an even keel now.  Does anyone else find that if they let one thing slip, then everything else goes off-kilter, or is that just me?!

So over the last couple of weeks I have finished Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb and 1984 by George Orwell and I am currently reading Fault Line by Robert Goddard.  Although I really enjoyed both the books I finished I found them pretty hard going and I needed something quick and easy to round off the month.  Robert Goddard is one of my go-to authors when it comes to page-turning thrillers so he was the obvious choice.

I finished Season One of Blindspot this week and OH.MY.GOODNESS - talk about leaving everyone on a cliff-hanger!  Annoyingly, Season Two has disappeared from on demand so I'm going to have to wait until August when the Blu-Ray comes out to find out what happens next!

I'm a bit rubbish at self-promotion (it's something James is constantly telling me to work on) but in this case I'm quite proud of what I made over the last week: in the form of three vlogs about our trips to Italy.  I have fast fallen head over heels for Youtube and vlogs; I love watching them and I love the creativity of making them plus the fact that you have something to look back on and show the kids in the future as well.  So, I'll pop a link to the final one but if you fancied watching any of them that would be amazing.  And if you have ever considered going to Tuscany then I hope the vlogs give you a glimpse of what a stunning part of the world it is.  I can't wait to go back.

This week has been a bit of a funny one for clothes.  It has been warm but very wet and I've had to wear my raincoat far more than I would have liked.  It's been that awful humid weather as well where there's no point straightening my hair because the second I step out of the door it just expands.  In all honestly I'd like the beautiful sunny weather back please.

Some potentially interesting news.  Meg's old dance class are putting together an adult team for a competiton and they have asked for mum's who might be interested.  I used to dance (a long time ago!) and I kind of want to put my name forward but I also think that maybe 30 is just too old to be leaping around a stage.  I don't know...

And Lastly...
I don't really have much to add here apart from to say that this week has just been an overall good week.  We are one step closer to the lovely stretch of summer holidays and although that means one step closer to having to up sticks and move out of our rented house I also can't wait for there to be no school run!  I just hope he sun decides to make an appearance.

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Top Tips For Moving House With Children ǀ Home & Lifestyle

I know I have mentioned it a number of times now but it's something which is very difficult to get away from (unfortunately!) and that is our impending house move.  Our landlady has decided to sell the house and we are having to find somewhere new to live.  We wisely decided that the summer would be a great time as we wouldn't have the pressure of the kids being in school but as it looms ever closer I'm beginning to wonder about the true wisdom of that!

Regardless, we have moved house a number of times since being married and I like to think it's something we are quite practiced at.  It certainly doesn't fill me with the same level of dread that it once did and I think we've managed to get the process quite streamlined these days (although I don't know that that is something to boast about necessarily...)

So off the back of that I thought I'd pass on some tips we have picked up along the way which might help anyone else with an upcoming house move, especially for anyone moving with children:-

1. Get The Kids Excited
Moving house with children can be a really anxious time for everyone so it pays to talk to your kids about the move, the new house and the new area and get them excited about the adventure.  Listen to any concerns they may have and do your best to reassure them.  You obviously won't be changing your mind based on their reactions but it's best to make them feel as though any issues or worries they have are being heard.  If it's possible, take your children to visit the new house and talk through where there rooms will be and what you can do to them...being able to see exactly where they will be sleeping and that it maybe isn't so different from what they have now will help a lot in the transitional period.

2. Pack Early
Nobody wants to live surrounded by boxes, especially when you have children but the reality is that the sooner you start, the less pressure you will feel as your moving day comes closer.  Make a list of things you consider to be 'essential' to your every day living and keep those out but begin to pack and clear out the rest of your belongings as soon as it is practical to do so.  Grab a suitcase for each member of the family and pack into there anything you know you will need throughout the move and in the immediate days afterwards.  This will relieve the pressure of having to unpack boxes the moment you arrive.

3. Pack Well
It can be so tempting to throw things randomly into boxes but if you take the time to pack well and clearly label boxes then it will make your life at the other end so much simpler.  Whether you are hiring a van or using a furniture removal company such as Shiply to do the moving for you, make sure you clearly label each box so you know immediately which room it needs to go into in the new house.  Another top tip is to NEVER use newspaper as it leaves print over everything.  It might be cheap but butchers paper or kraft paper is so much better and you won't have the additional worry of having to wash items before they can be used.

4. Have A Good Clear Out
There is no better time to declutter than when you are moving house and it's something we have learned to be quite ruthless about.  Unless something is of particular sentimental value or is seasonal, if we haven't used it in 6 months or more then it doesn't make the cut.  There's no point carrying items with you that don't get used, don't work or are just waiting for you to fix them up 'one day'.

5. Prioritise Bedrooms
Experience has shown us that a good night's sleep can do wonders for an upheaval such as moving house so getting beds up and bedrooms sorted should be a real priority.  If you are able to get your kids rooms sorted as quickly as possible then this will help them settle that much quicker.  As a minimum try to get everyone's beds made up with clean sheets so that everyone can have a good rest.

6. Stay Calm
Ultimately, moving house can be a stressful experience but if you are edgy or anxious then your kids are going to pick up on this and react to it.  If you know that you are unlikely to be able to remain calm then see if a family member or friend can look after the kids for the day so you can simply concentrate on getting everything moved across.  

Do you have any tips for moving house with children?

*Collaborative post

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Favourite Historical Fiction ǀ Books & Reading

I was asked a number of times over on my 1K Q&A video to recommend my all-time favourite reads and although it seemed like a slight cop-out, I said that it was too tricky to simply pin down one or two books which were my ultimate favourites.

This is mostly because I read so widely and I have books I adore in each different genre which I would want to recommend.  It was for this reason that I was inspired to create a series of posts in which I talk about my favourite books and this week I am starting with one of my go-to genres: historical fiction.

Hopefully some of these books you won't have come across before, although I know I have mentioned a couple here previously.  But I have tried to choose from a variety of time periods and each one holds something special which has made it stand out to me:-

Emperor Series - Conn Iggulden
The first book you see here, The Death of Kings is actually not the first book in Conn Iggulden's 'Emperor' series but I appear to have mislaid the first book and I didn't want to not include it as I think that Iggulden is a real master of historical fiction.  I have read two of his series now, this one which is about Julius Caesar and one about Genghis Khan and both times I have been utterly blown away but the depth of his research, the scope of his story-telling and the way he makes me feel about infamous figures from history.  I would highly recommend reading any of Conn Iggulden's books and I'm excited to read his next series which is focused around the War of the Roses.

Taliesin - Stephen Lawhead
This is the first book in a series which is part fantasy and part historical fiction and, again, Stephen Lawhead is an author I consider to be a total master with words.  His books tend to be very character driven with lots of Gaelic and Celtic influences throughout and his Pendragon cycle is based on the myth of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table with a dash of magic thrown in for good measure.  Each book follows the story from a slightly different perspective with one character at the centre and I just adore them.  I have to add that I think the new covers are stunning and I will be replacing my copies at my earliest opportunity!

The Last Runaway - Tracy Chevalier
Jumping hugely forward in time now to The Last Runaway which is set during the 1850s.  This tells the story of a young girl called Honor Bright who moves from Dorset in England to Ohio in America.  Honor comes from a Quaker family and she moves with her sister when she decides to get married.  The story focuses around Honor coming of age but is set against a backdrop of slavery in America and how Honor becomes caught up with the Underground Railroad.  As a Quaker she is naturally against slavery and becomes entangled when a runaway slave turns up at the farm of her new family.  This was a period in time I hadn't really come across before in terms of fiction and I thought it was really well written and a very moving story.

The Nightingale - Kristin Hannah
Now on to a book which I know I have waxed lyrical about before as it was one of my favourite reads of 2016; The Nightingale.  This is a book set in the Second World War and we predominantly follow two sisters who live in Occupied France.  The two sisters are very different in personality but both choose to resist the occupation in very different ways.  This book was so moving and so beautifully written.  It's high up there as one of my all-time best books.

The Greatest Knight & The Scarlet Lion - Elizabeth Chadwick
This duology was the first Elizabeth Chadwick I ever read and I suppose for that reason it holds a nostalgic place in my heart because I've actually enjoyed every Chadwick book I've picked up.  It begins in the 1160s and follows the story of William Marshal, a young knight who is plucked from obscurity when he saves the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine.  He goes on to become the Earl of Pembroke and eventually the Regent of England and these two books follow his life story; largely based on real events and history.  I thought it was fantastically done and these are often the first books I recommend if asked for historical fiction set during this time period.

Pillars of the Earth - Ken Follett
At first glance the sheer size of this book would put many people off, especially when you learn that there are actually two books in the series but oh my it is worth the effort and honestly, it reads so, so, so quickly.  It is a story set in 12th century England and focuses around the construction of a cathedral.  It sounds quite uninteresting when you read the blurb but if you like strong character development in your books then you will fall head over heels for this story.  There is love, conflict, family drama, ambition and a whole host of characters.  There's a reason this book is considered a masterpiece and I would say if you've ever thought about reading it, then I would highly recommend just jumping straight in.

Do you have any favourite historical fiction books?  I'd love to know!

Don't forget you can purchase any of the books mentioned here using my affiliate links (it won't cost you anything extra and it helps support my book buying habits!!):-

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Happy Reading!

Currently reading:- 1984 by George Orwell

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Learning to Drive with Admiral ǀ Review

Sometimes an opportunity comes along which is just too intriguing to pass up.  When Admiral got in touch to ask whether Meg and Eli would be interested in coming along and trying out the new Firefly; a car designed specifically for children aged 5-10 year old, these cars feature independent suspension, disc brakes, twin electric motors, rack and pinion steering, indicators and headlights.

Admiral Young Drivers have been offering driving lessons to children aged 10-17 years old successfully for a while and wanted to extend these lessons to those under 10, not only because it's great fun and worthwhile to introduce them to the concept of driving but also from a road safety perspective as well.

So one afternoon we headed to the Etihad Stadium in Manchester for Meg and Eli's 20 minute lessons. 

There was a course laid out using plastic cones, which featured a number of different routes, stop and one way signs and even a little roundabout.

The instructors spent a lot of time talking with Meg and Eli about general road safety, how to use a steering wheel properly, the safe ways to approach junctions and roundabouts and how the car actually worked.  Both of them walked away with fantastic knowledge which will only help them the next time; maybe even when Meg is old enough to drive the bigger car!

After 10 minutes putting their newfound skills to the test, parents are then invited along for a drive for the remaining 10 minutes of the lesson.  It was funny watching how different Meg and Eli were when it came to their approaches to driving; Eli treated it like a mini race course whereas Meg was much more diligent, making sure she turned every corner carefully, feeding the steering wheel through her hands.  If anything that makes me feel like these lessons will be good at building confidence as I can almost see Meg being a hesitant learner when she gets to 17, whereas with these lessons she can already have a basic grasp of road safety.  

Lesson prices start at £19.95 for a 20 minute Firefly lesson and there are locations all over the UK.  I don't know whether it is something I would arrange regularly for the kids at this stage but definitely something to think about as they get closer to being ready to start driving lessons.

Research shows that early driving experience can cut road accidents by 40% which is a staggering figure, especially when you consider that 1 in 5 young people crash within 6 months of passing their test.  For that reason alone, this concept is so unique and such a great idea if you want to gradually build up road safety knowledge in your children whilst allowing them to have fun.

Thank you to Admiral for inviting us along for the day.  Both Meg and Eli really enjoyed themselves.

All thoughts and opinions are our own.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Why You Should Learn the Local Lingo When Travelling

Having recently just returned from a trip to Italy, I was surprised at myself when we landed in Pisa and I realised I had forgotten to even look up a few of the basic phrases we might need.  Cue a quick hop onto Google and some screenshots of the most commonly used phrases!

Actually, in the end, we were pretty lucky as our Airbnb host took the time to go through some words we might need and how to pronounce them properly but it's actually the first time we have visited a country without knowing at least some basic words.  It comes back to something which my mum drilled into us at an early age, to at least attempt to speak the local language, even if you make a mess of it and end up speaking English in the end anyway!

It doesn't actually surprise me that this isn't a very common attitude though.  Recent research by Holiday Autos suggests that around 27% of Brits make no effort to learn the local lingo when travelling, assuming that everyone speaks English and of those who do make the effort, on average, they only learn six or so words.  

I find this completely fascinating because to me, there is nothing which makes me feel more on the back foot than the thought that I might not be able to communicate when abroad.  I dislike the assumption that 'everyone' speaks English, as this simply isn't true.  It might be the case if you are going to a resort but if you've ever stayed somewhere remote or off the beaten track then you will quickly discover that simply being able to say 'hello' or 'goodbye' just isn't going to cut it!

So after reading this research, I was pondering over reasons why I think it's a good idea to make some attempt to learn the local lingo when travelling:-

1. It can save you time and stress
Knowing a few key words and phrases before you travel can help you to save time and money.  This can be anything from asking for basic directions to understanding menu options in a local restaurant.  You won't have to worry about whether anyone speaks English wherever you go either meaning you can be more confident, and have a more enjoyable trip from the get-go.

2. It can save you money
Depending on how much of the local language you speak, you can find the best deals at restaurants or with travel arrangements, you can negotiate for a bargain at the market, you could spot if you are being sold a dodgy deal based on the fact that you are a tourist...the list is pretty endless.

3. It can give you independence
This is a real must for anyone who doesn't want to rely on only going to resorts or sticking with tour guides.  If you want the opportunity to blend in with the locals and head off the beaten track then you will need a basic understanding of the local language.  Heading away from the main tourist spots can be a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the culture of a country which is ultimately very rewarding.

4. People will warm to you
I have made enough bumbling attempts to communicate in a foreign language to be able to tell you, hand on heart, that locals almost always warm to someone who attempts to speak their language.  I am confident that they can spot I am British a mile off and 9 times out of 10 will simply reply to me in English but starting out in the local language opens another kind of dialogue and one which often sees people offering recommendations and advice on the best places to go, longer lasting conversations and an all-round sense of having made an effort.

So next time you are planning a trip abroad, consider learning a few key phrases at the same time.  It will only help to make your holiday that much more rewarding.

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Wednesday, 14 June 2017

May Reads ǀ Books & Reading

May is typically our busiest time of the year so I was surprised to find that I had managed to read so much this month.  I had obviously needed to escape a little more than unusual from the every day stuff!

I actually had a pretty good reading month too, enjoying most of what I picked up:-

I've mentioned a few times now about my re-read of the Harry Potter books and this is just a continuation of that.  I just have the final book to go now and I am really enjoying the re-read so far.  There are so many details which just can't be included in the films which I had forgotten all about and it's almost like reading them for the first time in many ways.

Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This was my second Adichie book and I really enjoyed it, if enjoyed can be the right word.  It is about the war in Uganda in the late 60's when Biafra was struggling for independence.  We follow five different characters in various stations of life and how they were affected both in the run up to the war and during the war.  There were parts of this story which were a little over dramatic and soap-opera like for me but it's a period in history that I knew next to nothing about before picking up the book and for that reason alone, I think it was a very important read and one I'm glad I picked up.

Wintersong - S. Jae-Jones
This is a YA fantasy book which I picked up believing it was a re-telling of the much loved Labyrinth story.  I actually discovered after picking it up, that it was originally written as an adult fantasy but was changed and a lot of the more graphic content was cut out which was certainly interesting to know.  This is a very, very loose Labyrinth re-telling and I would say that if you are a big Labyrinth fan that you might want to go in knowing that it only takes its inspiration from the film in the vaguest sense.  

This was probably my least favourite read of the month; it was a little stilted and some of the interactions were very odd, particularly between the Goblin King and our protagonist Liesl which I think stems from the adjustments made to the book as above.  I also thought that the Goblin King was a little bit of a let-down.  I had imagined him as a much darker and mysterious character and he fell flat for me.  Don't get me wrong, I will be picking up the second instalment as I am intrigued enough to see where the story goes and I am hoping the writing will develop into something a little more as the story continues.

Wonder - R.J. Palacio
Then onto what was probably my absolute favourite read of the month: Wonder.  This is a middle-grade story about a young boy called August, who has a severe facial disfigurement.  This facial disfigurement has meant August has been home-schooled up until the book begins when he is about to join a mainstream school.  We read from many different perspectives in the book which I adored and I fell into this book so hard I read it in one sitting.  This is a story about friendship, acceptance, family, forgiveness and ultimately kindness.  I would highly, highly recommend it.

I read quite a few heavy books this month so The Hundred-Year-Old Man made a welcome change.  It was an amusing and enjoyable read literally about a Hundred-Year-Old man who climbs out of the window of the old people's home on his 100th birthday and subsequently gets up to all kinds of high jinks.  We follow the present time and then the man's past where he was supposedly involved in some of the world's biggest political events.  There are some laugh out loud moments, some interesting political observations and although I feel it could have been shorter and was a little long-winded in places, this was very much a 'does what it says on the tin' type of book for me.

Seas of Snow - Kerensa Jennings
I was sent a copy of this book for review
This is a psychological-drama about a young girl called Gracie, who lives in the North East of England with her Mam.  Gracie's life is thrown off course by the arrival of her mum's brother, Joe.  Joe is a psychopath who begins a long torment of Gracie and her mother for many years.  Gracie finds relief through the discovery of poetry and her friendship with their neighbour, Billy.  There are definite trigger warnings in this book for domestic abuse, sexual abuse and child abuse and this is a very dark story.  However, the writing is also incredibly uplifting in places and Gracie's friendship with Billy is very charming. 

Pacing was something of an issue for me, as you flick between past and present and read from a number of different points-of-view.  I also wasn't a huge fan of the ending and I guessed the big 'twist' way before it was revealed but there was definitely something about the book which drew me in and kept me returning again and again.

Don't forget you can purchase any of the books mentioned here using my affiliate links (it won't cost you anything extra and it helps support my book buying habits!!):-

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Happy Reading!

Friday, 9 June 2017

The Italian Edition... ǀ Little Loves

Happy Friday from Italy!!  I can only apologise that this week's Little Loves post is going to be pretty much focused around one thing but we have had a lot to love this week and I am excited to share a snippet with you.  Of course there will be vlogs and blog posts in more detail to come but this is just a little insight.  By the time you read this, I will no doubt be landing back on English soil but it has been good, no, it has been amazing whilst it has lasted and Tuscany truly has a place in my heart now.

I haven't had as much time to read this week as I thought I would as we have really tried to eke out every hour we've had.  I picked the first book in a new trilogy to bring along, Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb; one of my all-time favourite fantasy authors.  With the book being almost 900 pages I had hoped to make a fair indent in it, but I'm only 200 or so pages along!  Robin Hobb is truly the queen of epic fantasy and I have yet to pick up a book by her that I haven't fallen head over heels in love with.

On Sunday we got to watch two amazing people get married at my brother in law's wedding.  It was such a beautiful day in Liverpool and the kids behaved so well.  Meg had to walk down the aisle first (and there were a few tense moments when the music started and she didn't appear!) and then Eli followed with his cousin, holding a sign for their Uncle.  There were a lot of tears, let me tell you!  It was just an all round fantastic day and I am so thrilled to welcome his new bride into our family.

Well, there is really only one option for this and that is that we made the trip to Tuscany.  We came for five days as a combined birthday and anniversary trip and although I have missed the kids like crazy, we've just had a brilliant time.  We sat and tried to think about our favourite moments from the holiday last night and just couldn't pinpoint one thing.  From the food to the people, the sights to the weather, it's just been one of those trips which we will always remember with fondness.

I shared my favourite outfit from the trip over on Instagram last night but it is this playsuit from Oasis.  I love the bright colours and the high neck detail, and it is so light that it was perfect for the 30 degree plus weather we have had.

We didn't get around to making a play list for our trip but we couldn't have come all the way to Italy and not enjoyed a little Il Divo.  We've done a fair amount of driving over the last five days so we've managed to make our way through quite a few of their albums!

And Lastly...
I just cannot put into words how fantastic our trip has been.  There were definitely times when we didn't think we were going to be able to get away and then times of worrying about leaving the kids for so long but I'm really glad we came.  It was so lovely to be able to spend some quality time with each other, and to celebrate 10 years of being married in style.  I'm really looking forward to seeing the kids again and giving them a big squeeze and I'd love to bring them back here one day as there is just so much to see and do, and I think that they would absolutely adore it.

But there...I will stop gushing now enough to wish you all a wonderful weekend!

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Friday, 2 June 2017

Sunsets, Tuscany & Jumpsuits... ǀ Little Loves

Happy Friday everyone!  We are enjoying the first week of our half term break and although the weather has been a little hit and miss, not having to get up and out to school has been a welcome break.  Best of all, we still have one more week to go!

As always, I am joining in with Morgana's Little Loves this week so here are mine:-

I have been reading two books this week; Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.  I got a whole load of new books for my birthday which was amazing and I had a bit of a debate over whether to abandon my current TBR and pick up a new book or stick with it.  In the end I decided that I've wanted to read Cold Mountain for the longest time so I'd stay with my original plan.  CM is beautifully written with a very poetic and lyrical flow that I just fell right into.  I would highly recommend it and I'm intrigued to watch the movie now.

Despite living by the coast for the last 3 and a half years, we've never actually stayed out on the beach until sunset but last Friday we met up with some friends, grabbed some chippy chips and settled ourselves in.  It was absolutely stunning, helped of course by the gorgeous weather and I'm really glad we watched the sun set.

This is tentative at best but we made some progress with a possible house.  I don't want to say too much at this point as a lot is still up in the air but we might actually have somewhere to live by the end of July.  Thank goodness.

That jumpsuit.  We went into Liverpool last night to celebrate my sister-in-law's 21st birthday and it was the perfect excuse to finally wear it.  I didn't manage to get a full shot (there was a lovely mixer of champagne and sangria flowing...) but you hopefully get the idea.

We went a little old school this week and have been enjoying some 'classic' tunes.  This includes such diamonds as Ridin' Solo by Jason Derulo and Umbrella by Rihanna.  It actually boggles my mind that so many of the songs I remember so well are 10 years old or more.  Where did the time go?!

And Lastly...
This time next week I will hopefully be bringing you my Little Loves post from Tuscany.  Please keep your fingers crossed for beautiful sunshine and lots of opportunities to relax!  This is our first break away without the kids and we are going to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary.  Hopefully everything will go smoothly for us.

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