Thursday, 20 November 2014

Hampers of happiness

How's your Christmas shopping going so far? Got it all wrapped up or are you yet to start? I love the season of giving but finding great gifts to suit everyone you know and love can be hard.

That's why I love the idea of hampers and have put together my own in the past as way of creating something special for someone special. With a hamper, you can collect together lots of bits and pieces you think they might like into a gift just for them. I've had these made for me by others, including beauty treats and a bundle of summer bits and bobs including popcorn, chocolates and a bottle of Pimms, and I've put together a food basket for my Dad in the past, full of things he likes so he could enjoy them over the festive season.

But what if there was a company who could put together a food hamper to suit someone you know, taking care of it all for you? That would make life a bit easier, wouldn't it?!

That's why I was so excited to be introduced to Darling Bites.

Specialising in 'Great British Treats', this is a fab online company that has a tempting range of hampers and treat boxes offering a fantastic range of food fayre. Prices start from £17 and there is something to tickle every tastebud, from the Sweet Dreams hamper for those with a sweet tooth to a Late Breakfast hamper of brilliant brunchtime delicacies, everyone is catered for and every hamper and box is bursting with award-winning British artisan products.

Sounds great, right? Now you can see why I was so keen to give Darling Bites a go!

The question is, which hamper or box did I choose? Hmm, decisions, decisions.

Chocolate. Brilliant stuff, isn't it? I'm pretty sure that you'll agree with the majority of the population and have a fondness for chocolate treats and being the season and all, I just had to plump for the Darling Bites Perfect Chocolate Indulgence Hamper (RRP: £37.99). 

Filled with care and choc full (sorry) of chocolatey goodness, this hamper is rather special indeed. I love finding and trying new brands or discovering niche or artisan foodie treats, which is why I'm a little bit in love with the whole thinking behind Darling Bites. A selection of nibbles and treats, all different and unique, selected and packaged to bring joy to your, or your friend or family member's face - what could be better?

So, what was in my hamper of chocolate delights? Nine different chocolate treats, that's what! 

Here's a detailed list of all the products included in this hamper - try not to drool too much:

1. Island Bakery Organics Chocolate Limes (150g)
Enticingly different, these organic biscuits are made on the Isle of Mull, right at the edge of Scotland. The unique zestiness of lime merges perfectly with the richness of the chocolate to produce a truly delightful sensation.
2. Lir Bailey's Irish Cream Chocolate Truffle Bar (100g)
Created by the Irish luxury chocolate company Lir, the truffle bar is made from original Bailey’s Irish cream Liquor  and rich milk chocolate.
3. Jaz and Juls Chilli con Choccy Hot Chocolate (60g)
Made by chirpy hot chocolate specialists Jaz and Juls, this hot chocolate consists of 71% cocoa solids with nutmeg, vanilla and chilli, and each pack is serves two full mugs. The chocolate is organically grown by a workers’ co-operative on the Caribbean island of Grenada (even using solar energy to power their equipment!).
4. Artisan Du Chocolate Caffe e Latte Bar (45g)Direct from their atelier in Kent, this gorgeous chocolate bar combines Columbian coffee with locally sourced milk, resulting in a rich, full-bodied chocolate with a wonderful silky texture.
5. Root & Wings Organic Chocolate Coated Orange Biscuits (130g)
These crisp orange biscuits are thickly coated in delicious organic milk chocolate. They not only taste good, the DO good: Root & wings committed to donating 10% of its profits to charities concerning the needs of children
6. Seed and Bean Organic Cornish Sea Salt 70% Dark Chocolate Bar (85g)Made from rare Ecuadorian ‘nacional cocoa’ beans and blended with smoked sea salt harvested from the clearest of Cornwall’s 'Grade A' classified waters. The chocolate is 100% ethically sourced, and tastes 100% heavenly.
7. The Grown Up Chocolate Company Crunchy Praline Wonder Bars (65g)
Developed by luxury chocolate maker James Ecclestone, these twin bars are made of caramelised wafer enticingly packed with sumptuous praline and encased in rich milk chocolate.
8. Willie's Cacao Ginger and Lime (50g)
Crafted in England from beans discovered in Sierra Leone. The chocolate has rich, deep flavours, and is therefore well complemented with the tangy bite of ginger and lime. It is part of a series created by Artisan chocolatier Willie Harcourt-Cooze, inspired by his travels in search of great cocoa beans.
9.Berry Scrumptious Raspberry and Dark Chocolate Fudge (70g)The Handmade gourmet dark chocolate fudge, is topped with a coating made of raspberries are grown in the family farm in Aberdeenshire (on the north east coast of Scotland). It tastes divine, and quite literally - miles away from mass-produced goods.

I found the website easy to navigate and there's a great selection of hampers to choose from. When my chosen hamper arrived, it was well packaged and I was impressed by the presentation and the variety and quality of the contents. Each boxed or wrapped item made my mouth water and it was exciting to take each item out in turn to see what chocolatey goodness would be next.

The Darling Bites Chocolate Indulgence Hamper is a great gift to give someone who's a bit of a choc consoure and there's plenty of other really interesting options for foodies. I think the hampers represent good value, as the brand range is varied and different to what you will find in the supermarket, and for that reason, and the quality of the presentation, I can thoroughly recommend them as brilliant Christmas gift ideas. 

If you order any hamper or box from Darling Bites before 1st January 2015, you can receive free delivery by using the code WINTER2014.

* Note: I was lucky enough to receive my chosen chocolate hamper for the purposes of this review but my opinions are all my own.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The adventures of Eddie

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a play with my DSLR and decided to take some fun photos featuring Eddie. 

Who's Eddie? Well, Eddie is a Little People character from Fisher Price that Ethan has become rather attached to. He has quite a few little people and animal toys from the ELC Happyland range that he loves to play with but Eddie is definitely his favourite. He learnt to say his name a while ago and now, when he comes home from nursery, he will call Eddie's name in the cutest way.

But what does Eddie get up to when Ethan isn't around?

Inspired by the imagination of Toy Story and always looking for fun things to do, I decided to follow Eddie on his adventures around the house. What would he do? Who would he meet?

It's the big kid in me but I got carried away and couldn't help but think of the look on Ethan's face when I showed him the photos I had taken.

Then I had another idea. Why just take some photos when I could make a photo book from them? And why just make a photo book when I could add captions to the photos and turn it into a storybook? A very special storybook all about a special boy and his toy.


We had this printed and it's waiting on top of my wardrobe, out of sight from prying eyes, ready for Christmas morning when Ethan can sit down in his festive jimjams and read all about the enigmatic exploits of Eddie the explorer.

But just for you, you can read this story here. 


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

His own person

When you know that you're having a baby, you wonder what they will be like. Boy or girl. Shy or outgoing. Practical or creative. Who they will look like. How they will be and the person they will one day grow into.

It's all a guessing game until they are born and you get your first glimpse and introduction to this child of yours. Then, over time, you learn more and more about them, and they you, and your bond develops and grows.

And you never stop wondering what they will one day become.

At 18 months, Ethan is now really growing into his own little person. Those first couple of months are tough, tougher than I think many people expect, as a baby can't interact or respond to very much around them and it takes time before they can really see and understand the world. What amazes me is how week by week, Ethan's personality grows and he's becoming his own person. He's understanding more all the time, about what we say or what he sees, and you can really see the cogs in his brain whirling around, trying to make sense of it all.

He's a parrot, learning new words and picking them at random from things he hears us say or by pointing at things around him and looking at us quizzically, waiting for us to respond by telling him what it is he's looking at. Breakfast, trousers and even octopus are all latest efforts in his speech and he's getting increasingly adventurous with his walking, and climbing, trying to reach new things and go new places.

Part of this new independence and understanding is his ever growing wilfulness. He knows what he wants. He knows how to ask for it, one way or another. And he knows how to get it, particularly when mummy is involved as I'm a bit of a soft touch. 

He's learnt the word 'no' recently and uses various intonations depending on how insistent he's being. He's also learnt how to be over dramatic when he doesn't like the response we give about something and he's certainly testing a few boundaries. He's not naughty by any means but he's starting to test things a little to see what's OK and what might get him told off.

I'm not sure what to make of his mini tantrums, whether I should be worried that sometimes he will wave his arms at me and sometimes land a smack on my face. He just lashes out when he gets frustrated and it's usually me who's in the firing line. This all sounds like he's a bad little boy but these instances are few. Still, they worry me all the same and I'm wondering if the terrible two's have arrived a little early...

As he gets older, I feel like I'm turning into more of a spectator, fascinated by his development and the new things he does each day, just observing him changing as he can do more for himself. He's very happy in his own company, entertaining himself, as well as being with other people, children or adults. He's great fun too and really seems to be into role playing with his Happyland figures, as much as he can at this age. And when he reads books, he follows the words with his fingers, even though they're still just meaningless shapes to him.

I always say that the name of this blog will hold true for a long time as I don't think you ever stop learning how to be a mum. Every stage is new and every child is different. Even though they're yours, you don't know who they will become and each experience is something you navigate together. 

I don't know what's next for my 18 month old - I'm not the most naturally 'playful' parent and I still worry that I don't really know what I'm doing, that no one gave me any instructions and should I really be left in charge - but I do know that Ethan will continue to become his own person. I know he'll always need me, but sometimes that need is about space and independence. Doing things for himself, working it out on his own.

Just as children learn how to be who they will be, we learn how to be the parent they need. It's not a case of pass or fail, although sometimes it can feel like that, but rather doing all you can to get an 'A' for effort and hoping that you've done all you can. They're their own person and who that person will be is one of the greatest mysteries and joys of mummyhood that I know.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Santa baby, I've been an awful good girl...

It's almost December. Which means it's almost time to put up the decorations, plan the Christmas dinner and pile up those presents. Being the hyper-organised and impatient type that I am, I've already bought all our Christmas presents so I'm left with time on my hands to browse online and add a few things to my own wishlist.

I usually find it quite hard to think of what I want before my birthday or Christmas - I do genuinely love choosing presents for other people and get carried away with this for the most part - but I have to admit, there's a few things I'm loving the look of right now.

From my favourite stores, Pandora and Cath Kidston, to a few beauty bits and pieces, here's my Christmas wishlist 2014:

And here is my (current) Cath Kidston wishlist. Oh, how I wish I could own this little lot! I always find inspiration in her prints and I like the quirky touch she brings to accessories, dresses and her new jewellery items.

I'm also loving the simplicity but huge appeal of Matalan's range of alphabet scarves to raise money for the Alder Hey Hospital charity. At just £10 for adults and £5 for kids, these scarves are extremely cool and it's no wonder that some letters are already sold out and waiting new stock.

Letter K scarf, Matalan, £10

You can follow my Christmas wishlist on Pinterest - you never know, I might see a few more things that take my fancy, it's good to dream! - and let me know what you're hoping for most in your stocking on December 25th.

Friday, 14 November 2014

What's going on in my world

It's been a little busy of late in my corner of the world and I haven't been blogging as much as usual. It's good to take a break now and then and there's no harm in slowing own a little if needs be when other things get in the way. Some of my latest posts have been really well received, such as my guide to where to find Santa in the Midlands and my latest letter to Ethan now he's 18 months old.

This post is a bit of a mind dump to give you a bit of an update on what I've been doing, what I'm liking and generally what's on my mind at the mo.

What I've been doing and what I'm looking forward to

Work has been particularly busy of late with lots of exciting opportunities which have taken a lot of time and effort but which are now paying off. I've been in my element with a few things and I'm really excited about what's been achieved so it's all been very much worth it.

It has left me short on time when it comes to my other roles, though; mummy, wife, daughter, friends, cleaner.

The latter refers to my ongoing battle to keep the house in order and this weekend, for fear of having a small breakdown, I'm going to tackle our house once and for all. It sometimes builds up to this point where things have just been left to pile up and you just have to say 'enough is enough!' and really get down to sorting things out. I've been quite lax lately so it's time to get back on top of laundry and generally get the house in order.

The main issue at the moment is I have Christmas presents coming out of my ears, or rather my wardrobe, and I need to sort these out and put them somewhere out of the way. I've in fact finished my Christmas shopping, as of a couple of weeks ago, which is great on one hand but a storage nightmare on another!

As it's not long until the Christmas decorations go up, I want to get everything straightened out and put things in their place so it's not just one big mess by the time it's officially ok to deck the halls.

Ah, decking the halls. This is something I can't wait to do. We have a small dilemma - which to many people wouldn't be a dilemma at all - with when to put the decs up.

We're spending the last weekend in November with friends at a cottage for our annual Mock Christmas celebrations. This will be about the 7th Mock Christmas and it's a time when our group regroups and celebrates Christmas early with our own mock Christmas presents, dinner and so on. As we don't get to see each other over the festive season itself we make the time to do something special together beforehand and it's always a lot of fun and a great way to kick things off. Last year, it was Ethan's first Mock Christmas, and the year before it was bump's, so in keeping with our tradition, this year we have another new addition to the group - our dog Watson! It's going to be a fantastic weekend but as I say, it's going to delay our house decorating plans.

I am one of those people who has to put up the tree and decorate ever inch of the house on 1st December. The past two years, this has fallen at a weekend but this year it's on a Monday, when we are at work. I know I could just wait until the 3rd to do this instead, when I have my day at home with Ethan, but I don't want to miss a moment. So, inspired by a friend of mine, I'm thinking of booking a half day holiday on the Monday morning so that I can decorate the house fully whilst Ethan is at nursery. That way, when he comes home, the whole house will have been transformed. Ethan is going to be so much more aware this year and I can't wait to see his face when he sees the tree and all the fairy lights I like to hang here and there. I'm a big kid myself at heart but I love this time of year and want to make things as magical as I can. You can read more about our family traditions, old and new, to see the types of things we're looking forward to enjoying soon.

What I've made

Last year, maternity leave and a baby of six months who napped a few times a day afforded me some time to get crafty in the lead up to Christmas. I love crafting and put my time to good use, making a few special things for the house, and as I haven't had any time to get out my glue gun for a long time, I will be sharing these projects again on my blog next week, using the Memory Box app to create what will hopefully be a series of easy to follow 'how to' guides.

What I'm wearing

Have I mentioned I love this time of year? It's been really mild so far but I've now been able to really start working my autumn/winter wardrobe. For me, it's all about big oversized chunky knit jumpers or jumper dresses, set off with a statement necklace, some boots, a pom-pom hat, snood, handwarmers and a slick of berry lipstick. I find that this time of year is easier to dress for - just think layers, layers, layers - and a few new jumper and blanket cardigan purchases have helped me to keep warm and create a comfortable look with flashes of ruby reds and my favourite colour of the moment, mustard yellow.

What I've been using

My latest YouTube video shared all the latest beauty and skincare bits and pieces I have been using so take a look to see what's been helping my dry skin and what spa treats I've snapped up when I went away with my friends for a mini spa break.

What I'm watching

I'm just about to finish watching The Sopranos, which I have watched from start to finish again after seeing it first a few years ago. I love a good box set and to keep my sanity whilst Ethan watches Winnie the Pooh for what has to be the 456th time, I've had this on my laptop / iPad on low volume just to give me something to enjoy.

I'll then be watching the latest season of Sons of Anarchy - love it! - and also Parks and Recreation for some light relief. I'll also be catching up on X Factor this weekend after missing the past two weeks.

Once 1st December rolls around, it'll all be about Christmas movies and TV episodes!

What I'm loving

I'm a real homebody and with the dark nights and cooler weather, I love nothing more than snuggling up at home with a faux fur blanket, scented candles and a cup of hot chocolate. In particular, I'm loving Glade's festive candles - by far the best in terms of value and scent in my opinion, much more effective than Yankee if you ask me (controversial, I know) - and the new roasted chestnut and macaroon and warm spice scents are just lovely. I've also taken my love of Starbucks to new extremes, after my sneak preview of the new red cup, and have bought their Christmas blend coffee to make at home along with gingerbread syrup so I can do best best barista act.

What have you been up to recently? What are you loving?

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Presents with a personal touch

Is there anything quite as nice or as touching as a gift that's a) just perfect for a particular person, and / or b) something that's unique and handmade?

I don't think so either.

I like to put a lot of thought into the gifts I buy and I really do subscribe to the belief that it's better to give than receive. I love this time of year for many reasons but now more than ever, I will browse online and flick through Christmas magazines and gift guides for present inspiration. I love it when you find something that's 'just right' for someone. And if that someone happens to be me sometimes, then that's great too.

Last year, being on maternity leave, I spent a long time researching new ideas and different places to shop online to get my gifts for friends and family and Not On The High Street was a main source of inspiration for presents and for Christmas decorations.

This year, I've found somewhere else.

I am a frustrated crafter - I love making things but my skillset is limited, my patience more often so and I haven't undertaken a project since last Christmas (I'll be re-sharing some of my Christmas crafting soon) - so I have a deep appreciation and love for all things handmade.

So, I was delighted to discover Izabela Peters. An online shop filled with handmade items which can be personalised to make them even more special, I just love everything about it.

Using quality textiles and fun prints, the specialist team hand-make everything from their boutique workshop in the North West and what's amazing to me is how much things can be personalised and how quickly too.

I chose a bespoke iPad Mini case in a pastel zigzag print so that I'd have something to keep it safe when taking it out and about (which I often do, in my Cath Kidston busy bag, for when I might want something to read or watch or need a distraction for Ethan).

I also chose to have it personalised with my blog name as a way of making it even more personal to me, and seeing as I use my iPad a lot for my blogging.

And oh my, is the finished item something quite special indeed.

I love prints, I love stationary and I love handmade items so this pretty much is the best thing I could have chosen for myself.

The pattern is really nice, with a contrasting coffee polka dot interior, it's well padded so my iPad is sure to be tucked away safely and the finish makes it hard-wearing and easy to wipe clean if needs be.

I just love the personalised element and will proudly carry this around with me - it just looks so different and unique. I like the clash of technology with handmade. Perhaps I could even pass it off as my own handiwork? No? Ah well!

For £29.99, including personalisation, I think this is a great case as it's good quality and being handmade, it's great value. Even more so when the team are really responsive, making a tweak to the design following my feedback and sending this out within a day of my order. This really impressed me and goes to show that it's the smaller, unique businesses that care the most.

It was hard to choose an item and I very nearly chose a stocking for Ethan, a pump bag or some handmade Christmas bunting. Gotta love a bit of bunting! We have bunting all over the house and Christmas is no exception.

Last year I bought a Santa sack, personalised with Ethan's name, but if I had found Izabela Peter's sooner, I would have chosen one of their options as they have such a classic, vintage look about them.

If you're looking for a special gift that you can personalise for a friend or family member, or something for your little one which is just for them, then I'd definitely recommend you take a look as there's lots of inspiration to be had for Christmas or birthdays.

Or you could just be selfish and choose something just for you. I won't judge.

* Thank you to Izabela Peters for sending me my beautiful iPad Mini case. It was made just for me and I was really impressed with the quality of the product, the speed of delivery and just how lovely the team were. You deserve the 'TBM Loves' badge of honour!
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