Friday, 28 July 2017

Summer Reads, StartUp and A Good First Week... ǀ Little Loves

As sad as it makes me that we have reached the end of the first week of the summer holidays, I'm also pretty stoked at it means we have also survived!  This week has been a real balancing act of trying to spend time with Meg and Eli, keeping them entertained and getting a shed load of freelance work done.  It's one of those strange scenarios where I'm really glad I've had a lot of work to do and incredibly I will be having my most successful month to date and yet also wishing I didn't have so much to do so I could spend more time with the kids.

Next week will be even stranger as the kids are going to stay with my parents so it will just be little old me rattling around at home during the day!

But onto the other things I have loved this week:-

I am about halfway through When Dimple Met Rishi and really, really enjoying it.  As a YA contemporary romance it had me feeling a little dubious as it isn't the type of thing I would usually read but culturally it is fascinating and the story itself is just so sweet.  I haven't even finished it yet and I suspect it's going to be a book I keep on recommending to people.

We were in the mood for a new box set to binge-watch so this week we began StartUp.  It's taken a little getting used to as it features some big names including Martin Freeman rocking an American accent but all the reviews advised to stick with it and that it would really pick up so we have high hopes.  The basic premise is that you have a whole bunch of characters from different walks of life who are all influenced and shaped by one event: when a banker steals some money.  At least...that's what I've taken from it so far!  I will let you know how it goes as the season develops.

I don't really have anything for this category as we've not been so creative this week.  The kids have had lots of fun making their summer bucket lists but that's about as far as we got.

Some Minnie Ears!  On Thursday we headed into Manchester for a Disney-themed quiz with Paladone and it was a lot of fun.  We didn't win but we didn't cause ourselves any embarrassment either so I was pretty pleased.  It was a great evening with good food, good people and a good atmosphere.

I have been absolutely loving Despacito at the moment, as have the kids and it's our most requested song when we are in the car.  It just has such good summer vibes and is perfect for when the sun is shining.  We haven't had too much of that this week but we've been trying to make the most of that elusive sunshine when it appears.

And Lastly...
I know it's almost like tempting fate to say it but this week has been a really nice balance of everything.  Meg and Eli haven't fallen out too much and have played well allowing me to get my work done which in turn has meant that we've been able to do some nice things, such as going into Liverpool for the day.  I want to say that I hope the rest of the summer holiday is as good as that would be incredible...we will have to see!!

Have a great week all!

*This post contains an affiliate link

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Oyster Skincare Eye Brightening Serum ǀ Review

I know I have said several times before that I'm not your typical 'beauty' blogger.  If I find a product which works then I tend to stick faithfully by the brand and I'm unlikely to try anything new for fear it will upset the delicate balance of my skin.  Unfortunately I'm not getting any younger though and I have begun to notice the appearance of fine lines around my eyes so when I was offered the chance to review the eye brightening serum from Oyster skincare, I'll admit to being intrigued.

At first glance I was impressed with the packaging.  It costs £14.99 for the serum but the packaging gives the illusion of a product which costs much more than that.  Oyster skincare are a new premium skincare brand which aims to blend skin-enhancing actives with essential oils.

The packaging was clear, simple and the box contained clear details about how to apply the product and what the expected results could be.

Oyster skincare claim that this eye serum:-

* Lessens dark circles under the eyes
* Reduces wrinkles and crows feet
* Is light and non-greasy
* Contains only natural ingredients and is paraben and alcohol free.

The serum packaging itself says:-

'A wonderfully unique formulation packed full of actives each with their own special reputations.  Super-smoothing Hyaluronic Acid, wrinkle-reducing Pentapeptides, anti-ageing COQ10, Cafeisilane for puffiness and Niacinamide for dark circles; refreshingly blended with antioxidant Green Tea & Raspberry Extracts and gently soothing Cornflower.  The result is a super-enriched soothing eye gel that will help reduce puffiness, refresh weary eyes, and tone and brighten the skin around them.'

In all honesty that sounded like a whole lot of scientific jibber-jabber which was designed to make the product sound like a wonder gel so I really wanted to test how it stood up to this high claim.  Would it really work?  

You only need to apply the tiniest drop of the serum under your eyes so I get the impression that it will last a fair while; I've been using it for the last couple of weeks so haven't been able to try out exactly how long it will last for but I'll come and update the post when I know!  Its shelf life is around 6 months so I will be intrigued to see how long it lasts compared to that.

One of the things that I really liked about the serum on first use was the smell.  It has been created with an essential oil blend of lavender, grapefruit, and mandarin oils and this definitely comes across.  It doesn't smell chemical in any way but the mandarin definitely comes through.

Initially I didn't notice much of a difference when using the serum; my eyes weren't too bad to begin with so I wasn't expecting a huge turnaround but it seemed to be fairly normal.  However, after a week and a half I was out for a coffee with a friend and she commented that I looked a lot fresher than I had (erm...thanks?!) so perhaps the difference was more noticeable than I had thought.  I think we have the tendency to judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else; after two weeks I think that the dark circles under my eyes are still pretty visible but even James said he thought there was a difference!

The serum is definitely non-greasy and is very easy to apply.  I also have quite sensitive skin and didn't notice any adverse results.  I like that it is paraben-free and alcohol-free and I will continue to use it over the coming weeks and hopefully the dark circles under my eyes will gradually recede.

If you are interested in trying the serum out for yourself then I have a little giveaway which you are welcome to enter:-

Win A Bottle Of Brightening Eye Serum By Oyster #5

*I was sent this product for the purpose of this review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Child-Friendly Ideas For Updating Your Home ǀ Interiors

As you might know if you've read any of my blog posts recently, we are just about to move house and so as you might expect our thoughts have been turning to how we might want to decorate our new home.

With Meg and Eli being that little bit older we don't need to think about child-proofing in quite the same way as we have had to before but given that Eli still has a penchant for writing his name on everything (walls, carpets, furniture...) we do need to consider what we want to put in the house and how we want to style it.

It can be a little overwhelming to begin planning how to have a home which is both stylish and kid-friendly but I don't think that you need to give up your dreams of a nice house just because you suddenly have small terrors cherubs racing through it, though I do think that you will need to make some clever choices.

So whether you are just about to have children or you are looking to give your house a fresh makeover, here are some of my top tips for child-friendly ways to update your home:-

1. Invest in storage
Whether you plan to give in entirely to the brightly coloured plastic toys which come with all models of children or you want to try and keep them to a minimum (very optimistic!) you are going to need to invest in some good storage options.  Over the years I have tried a variety from large, bottomless chests to carefully sorted and arranged boxes.  The latter is a nightmare to keep in order as children just empty things left, right and centre and the former makes it really tricky to find the one teeny tiny toy your child might suddenly demand.  So landing somewhere in between is always great.  I find the IKEA boxes to be a pretty good size and they fit well in most units.

2. Buy the right paint
It's amazing the type of paint you can buy now; wipe-clean paint is SUCH a blessing when you have children who like to draw on walls.  No more worrying about having to repaint whenever your child inhabits the spirit of Picasso, you can just wipe the walls down!

3. Choose a sofa which is easy to clean
When the children were small we had these amazing sofas which were so comfortable and stylish but completely impractical.  Suffice to say that both children (and dog) were sick on the sofas at one point or another and both children (and dog) wiped all kinds of food and sticky substances all over the cushions which we then couldn't effectively clean.  There is a wide choice of sofas available nowadays, many of which are more practical and able to be cleaned properly; perfect for when you have children.  Look for ones which have removable covers and can preferably be popped straight into the washing machine.

4. Pass on the dining room
If you currently have a formal dining space then you might want to think about turning the space over to something else; perhaps a dedicated play room for the kids?  You could always have a dining table in the room if you've nowhere else to sit and eat your evening meal but creating an extra play space for the children can really help with keeping those toys under control (and out of your main living space)

5. Give the characters a miss
Your child might be super into Paw Patrol or Barbie right now but chances are in six months to a year they will have moved onto something else so when it comes to decorating their rooms, stick with something which is timeless and which can be easily updated as they grow and change.  Eli, for instance, went through a Pokemon phase and begged and begged us to let him put Pokemon decals on his wall.  When I went to order them two or three weeks after he first asked he told us he had changed his mind and could he have Ninja Turtles instead.  Suffice to say, he now has neither!

*This is a collaborative post

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Exploring Siena {Holiday in Tuscany Part Three} ǀ Travel

I sat down to write this post, knowing that I was going to share with you how our trip to Siena was my favourite part of our entire holiday in Tuscany when I realised that I'd actually taken hardly any photos.  I want to say that it's because I was simply busy admiring the architecture and soaking up the heritage...which is probably partly true.

But I also did manage to capture a lot of video footage so as well as pointing you towards part one and part two of these holiday posts I'm also going to go ahead and share our Siena vlog which I think captures our day pretty well.

I will, of course also share here how much we enjoyed our time, with just a handful less pictures than I would have liked.

Siena is another city which has strict regulations on driving within the walls so as with San Gimignano which researched places to park at the bottom end of the city and then made our way up inside the city walls.  It was pretty straightforward; we parked at the train station and about a two minute walk away is a little shopping complex which has a network of escalators which take you right up to the top and into Siena itself.  It was a fairly long walk from the city walls into the heart of Siena and the streets are mostly cobbled but everything is well signposted so there's never much doubt of which direction you need to head.

We also found the sweetest pastry shop which gave us some much needed fuel to keep on walking.

As Siena is a 'limited traffic area' you can only drive and park within the walls if you have a special license and you will get fined if you enter without one.  Whilst we were there we saw a tourist being pulled over.

Siena was one of the cities I knew I absolutely wanted to visit whilst we were in Tuscany.  It's probably no surprise that the reason why is book related: I had read Daughter of Siena by Marina Fiorato a while ago and had fallen in love with the city so being given the chance I wasn't going to pass it up.

There is so much to see and do in Siena it was almost a little overwhelming.  We knew that we wanted to see the Il Campo which is the famous square where the famous Palio race is held each year and there is a very helpful tourist office in the Piazza del Duomo where you can purchase tickets to get into some of the main attractions including the cathedral.  There are different grades of ticket depending on what you want to see and the staff are very helpful.

We opted for the cathedral, the Piccolomini library and the Museum of the Opera del Duomo which also comes with a tower climb for a panoramic view.  It was absolutely scorching on the day that we visited so although we didn't do all of the touristy things it was about all we could handle and I'm pleased we saw some of the main sights.

The cathedral is just breathtaking and has been so well preserved that it is just awe-inspiring.

The Piccolomini library is housed within the cathedral and again, it was stunning. 

After we had been to the cathedral we went across to the Museo della Opera and climbed up to look out across the Piazza del Duomo and the cathedral.  Compared with the panoramic climb we had done in San Gimignano this one felt much sturdier and I'm pleased to say I was less of a wimp!

We then headed to Il Campo and enjoyed some gelato whilst soaking up our surroundings.  One thing I really noticed and loved about Siena was the mass of beautiful buildings.  Pretty much every street that we walked down had some gorgeous architecture and I really fell in love.

The only downside was that it was so much busier than either Volterra or San Gimignano had been and we really noticed the difference.  We had thought about going to Florence instead of Siena but I'm glad we didn't in the end as I imagine it would have been even worse.  Pretty much everywhere you looked there were gaggles of tour groups milling around.  Obviously we were tourists as well but it was much more noticeable than in either of the other places we had been.

*this post contains an affiliate link

6 Ideas To Keep The Kids Entertained This Summer ǀ Family Lifestyle

Although I'm always an autumn girl at heart, I do love the summer for the fact that we get to enjoy six weeks out of school.  It isn't always easy but it's a whole lot of fun and we generally manage to find the time to have some brilliant days out.

One thing I have learned over the last few years is that the best experiences aren't always the ones which cost the most money; there are some brilliant ways to keep everyone entertained from the comfort of your own home.  So whether you live far from any major attractions or you simply want to keep costs down, here are six idea of how to keep the kids entertained (at home) this summer:-

1. Build a fort
Grab some spare bed-sheets (or ones in used if you don't have many extras...) and as many blankets as you can find and build yourself a fort.  You could use your dining table if you want the straightforward option or have a go at creating your very own structure.  This is the perfect rainy day option and you can hang out in your fort, eating cheeky snacks or snuggling and reading books.

2. Get creative
I have to admit that this particualrly option isn't my favourite as both Meg and Eli are so messy and it generally ends in chaos but they absolutely adore being crafty.  This covers just about everything from painting and playdoh to sticking and colouring.  I think one of the main points is that you don't need to do this for long and it can be a complex or as easy as you like.

3. Have an outdoor cinema
Okay so this one might take a little bit more planning but how cool would it be to make your very own home outdoor cinema?  You could go and choose a movie earlier in the day (HMV usually have some good deals) and buy some snacks and then grab some blankets and a comfy chair and head outside once the sun begins to set.  I know both Meg and Eli would adore this, and I think I'd like it as well!

4. Play make believe
Although Meg and Eli are a little older now they still love a little make believe.  The best thing is that you can just grab ordinary objects from around the house but use them to turn your adventures truly magical and they can become whatever you want.  You can play this however you like, the kids will just love that you are getting involved.

5. Set up an indoor disco
Draw the curtains, dim the lights, get dressed up and find some fun songs you can dance along to.  Not only is an indoor disco heaps of fun but it's also a great way to burn off any excess energy if you haven't been able to get outside.

6. Dig out the board games
I'm not talking about the modern offerings which pass for board games here but the classics (which thankfully don't involve sticking small fingers up any appendages or talking about poo...) which we played when were younger.  Is it time to introduce your children to the delights of cluedo or monopoly, trivial pursuit or bop it?  You could dedicate an entire afternoon to just playing board games from your childhood.  

Have you got any other ideas to add in here?  I'd love to know.

*This is a collaborative post

Monday, 24 July 2017

5 Ways To Treat Yourself This Summer ǀ Lifestyle

Although many of us look forward to the six week summer break, for those days when we don't have to make sure that uniform is ironed, bags are packed, lunches are made and everyone is out of the door on can also be quite a hectic time.  I know for me, working from home, it becomes a time of constantly trying to balance working with being present for the kids and quite honestly?  Some days I end up just totally frazzled.

Of course I also think there doesn't need to be a reason why you should want to treat yourself when you are a busy mama or parent; we all work so hard that sometimes it's nice to have something to look forward to.

1. Buy a new outfit
I'll admit that my go-to when I'm feeling a little stressed is shopping and nothing makes me feel better than a new outfit.  Whether you want to invest in a new trench coat for the upcoming autumn (nothing beats a bit of preparation!) or a new top to make you feel's the perfect way to give yourself a boost and it doesn't need to cost the earth.

2. Indulge in a bubble bath
Ask your partner or a friend to take the kids for an hour or two, or wait until they are in bed and then draw yourself a lovely, deep, hot bubble bath.  If you can couple a soak in the bath with a glass of wine and a page-turning book then all the better!

3. Have a lazy day
Not every day of the summer holidays needs to be spent dashing out and about trying to keep the kids entertained.  Some days it's okay to just stay in your pyjamas, eat snacky foods and binge-watch some movies.  We love marathoning the Harry Potter films on days like this and I leave my mama guilt at the front door because the kids absolutely love it.

4. Meet a friend for coffee
This might mean compromising and meeting a friend for coffee at the local soft play but there is nothing more uplifting than a good chinwag with a friend.  Whether it's giving each other moral support as the holidays run on or sharing the gossip you've missed since school finished; pencil a date in and meet a friend.

5. Do something nice for someone else
Our mental well-being is just as important as our physical well-being and there is nothing quite like a random act of kindness to leave you feeling good.  It could be as simple as buying a few extra tins on the food shop and dropping them in to your local food bank or donating clothes you no longer need to the charity shop, in fact it doesn't need to be anything too complicated at all.  The small, every day kindnesses we show can make a real difference.

So if you feel like you are running on frazzled nerves this summer why not use this list for inspiration and give yourself a little treat?

*This is a collaborative post

Friday, 21 July 2017

New Schools, Thunderstorms and An Obstacle Course... ǀ Little Loves

Oh happy day, the last day of the school term has finally come around and we are so ready for the summer break in this house!  Frayed nerves, random bursts of tears and more stress than you could shake a stick at...Meg and Eli need some down time for sure and I cannot wait for Monday next week when we can just mooch around and do nothing in particular.  For a little while at least!

But now onto the week we just had and my Little Loves:-

This week I finished reading The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness.  It's been years since I read a Patrick Ness book and this was one I had heard really good things about.  It basically tells the story of the 'rest' of the town when there is a Chosen One out and about doing their thing.  I thought it was a very interesting premise as you never really think about what happens to everyone else when a hero blows up a school or destroys a road in the name of saving mankind.  It was a really quick and diverse read too.

This week was a bit of a tough one as we watched the kids go for a taster session in what will be (hopefully) their new school so I 'watched' them both put on brave faces and go into their new classes even though I knew they were both terrified.  And it made me so proud.  This is not a small thing we are doing and I think that although we have had a few wobbles (and I'm sure more to come) both Meg and Eli have coped really well so far and that is amazing.

Some friends!  Well...people I hope will be friends, anyway.  It was crazy because Eli came out of the taster session saying that he'd sat and played by himself (which is totally heartbreaking) and then the next thing the wonders of social media are at work and James' aunt spotted a message from a mum in the new class trying to find us so that she could invite Eli to play.  Then another message came through inviting Eli to a birthday party this weekend so he could get to know some of his classmates and we could meet some parents in a more relaxed environment.  I mean, sometimes social media SUCKS but sometimes it is just incredible!

The colour blue...and orange, yellow, pink and green!  On Saturday I took part in a 5k obstacle colour rush in Liverpool and it was so much fun but so exhausting.  The obstacles were all inflatable but some were actually really hard to navigate and between scaling up a slippery wall and commando crawling in the mud whilst someone dumped a vat of blue powder on my hair I was totally shattered by the end.  But I'm really proud that I did it, and it was a lot of fun.

The sweet sound of thunder!  Thunderstorms are probably my favourite type of weather and I spent all day on Wednesday checking the forecast to see when one would hit.   Don't get me wrong, I love the sunshine but sometimes when it gets muggy and airless you just know that a good storm will clear everything out.  I just wish I had been able to jump into bed and snuggle up with a good book rather than having to dodge the giant raindrops to do the food shop!

And Lastly...
I'm sure things will be a little more sporadic now we are entering the summer break but I will try to come back and do a weekly round-up.  I've been working like mad this week to get as much freelance stuff done as possible so I don't have to keep shoving screens in the kids faces.  I'm sure that will happen at some point but I plan to start on a high.  Or try to at least!

Have a great week all.

This post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Sunset on the beach... ǀ Family Lifestyle

It's something I know I have said time and again but since we moved to be closer to the coast we have vowed, repeatedly, not to take our surroundings for granted and it is definitely something we try to live by.  At the moment we don't often get free weekends or spare evenings off but when we do, our first thoughts are where we can go locally to enjoy the outdoors or the weather (when it's here...)

Not too long ago we had a run of beautiful weather and it made me so grateful that we live just a short car ride from the beach because it meant we could do something which I have wanted to do for the longest time since we got here: watch the sun set.

We had agreed to meet some friends and head down in the late afternoon, whilst the sun was still gloriously hot.  This was perfect as it meant that Meg and Eli could still enjoy playing on the beach without the cooler evening air spoiling it.

We found ourselves a quiet little pocket near to the sand dunes as that tends to be where the sand is softest.  It isn't the ideal for building sandcastles but it does tend to be more sheltered which helps.  It was incredible actually because the whole time we were on the beach we felt completely isolated but when it came time to head back to the car we realised that the beach was actually really busy, with other people having the same idea as us and bringing picnics and BBQ's into their own little sand dune enclosures.

We then picked up some chippy (because is there anything better than chippy on the beach?) and watched the sun go down.  In hindsight I wish we had brought some blankets because the temperature really did start to drop quickly and we couldn't stay and watch the sun set fully but it was enough to get some gorgeous views of the expansive sand and sea with the sun going down behind them.

It's such a simple thing to do but it has honestly been one of the most content days I've had.  Good friends, good talk, good children, good food...and the views were amazing.  Really what more could you ask for?

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Holiday in Tuscany {Part Two} ǀ Travel

I have to apologise for not getting part two of our holiday in Tuscany posted sooner; life has just gotten a little crazy lately and I didn't manage to sit down and get it written until now.  You can see part one here if you want to catch up.

After our jaunt around Volterra, we headed back to the holiday apartment to get changed before setting out again to explore San Gimignano.  This is something that we definitely wouldn't have been able to do if we had Meg and Eli with us so although I missed them like crazy, it was nice to just go out knowing that it didn't matter what time we got back again!

San Gimignano is probably one of the more famous towns in the area and is known as the 'Town of Fine Towers' thanks to the medieval towers which make up the skyline.  I actually first came across the town after watching Tea with Mussolini so it was fascinating to actually be able to visit.  Although only 14 or so towers remain, at one point there were around 72 of these tower houses which must have really been a sight.

San Gimignano is one of those places which doesn't look like much when you first arrive.  We parked at the bottom of the town and it was quite a walk into the main touristy part and we passed crowds of people along the way.  Although it's a pretty town, the cobbled streets are mainly made up of shops and restaurants, until you hit the Piazza della Duomo.

This Piazza is home to a number of the town's main attractions including the Piazza Comunale and the Torre Grossa (the Great Tower).

When we arrived it, unfortunately, started to rain and we almost called off our plans to climb the Tower and look out across the city but by the time we had scaled the many steps to the top it had actually stopped and we were able to get some stunning views across the town and out to the surrounding countryside.  Although it's definitely not for those who are afraid of heights, being 177 feet high, I would highly recommend paying the €5 or so to climb the Tower.  The views were just amazing.  I won't lie...I was pretty terrified and hung around in the centre closest to the bell but even from there I could see plenty.

It's a fairly easy endeavour if you go at your own pace although there is an awkward climb right at the top when you have to pass through a narrow gap after scaling a 15 rung ladder.  For me, coming down was worse than going up as I had thoughtlessly worn a dress!

After we had climbed the Tower we also wandered into the Musei Civici which features some beautiful artwork and the Palace Courtyard which is home to the tower's original bell.  All of these were included in our entry price for the Tower.

Having had our fill of the main 'touristy' things we decided to just take a wander around the streets and see what we came across, starting with some award-winning gelato from Gelateria Dondoli.  Honestly, the queues out of this tiny shop were HUGE but it was well worth the wait.  Having eaten gelato a number of times throughout our trip this was hands-down the best we had and I'd go back to San Gimignano in a heartbeat just to try some more.  Have a look at our vlog for more of the gelato on offer.

Lucky for us the sun made an appearance right after we made our purchases and we found a beautiful viewing spot again, over the Tuscan countryside where we could sit and eat.  This was probably my favourite part of the day as it was so chilled and relaxed; we knew we were going to eat shortly and could just take our time and soak up the surroundings.  There were lots of tourists about, more so than in Volterra but that didn't matter so much as we just parked ourselves in a spot and stayed there until we were ready to move on.

We had booked a table at a restaurant earlier in the day so we made our way there pretty slowly after that; the idea being that we would eat as the sun set and watch from the terrace.  I didn't manage to get many photos in the restaurant worth sharing but the sun set was as spectacular as we had hoped and really made the whole trip worth it.