Friday, 27 May 2016

A change would do you good

Today marks the end of a big chapter of my life, as I leave the team I have worked with for almost 11 years for pastures new.

It's been an amazing, eye-opening, challenging and rewarding time and so many things have happened during this time both professionally and personally, with milestones along the way, it's almost hard to comprehend. There's so many people I have met, things I have learnt and memories to reflect on and there's no doubt that I wouldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't been on this path.

It's given me confidence, knowledge, contacts, appreciation, skills and opportunities and whilst it is genuinely sad to leave my friends, clients and agency behind, I know that the future is bright and exciting.

Sometimes, a change would do you good. Give you a fresh perspective, challenge, opportunity.

I'm not always as open to change as I could be and this is perhaps the biggest change I have ever made - and it was my change to make.

It's scary and exciting in almost equal measure but the kind comments I have had from acquaintances, colleagues, friends and family since making the decision and on my last days have given me the inspiration and confidence to make a change.

So change is always going to happen. And it can be done on your terms and be a positive thing. It's a bit like a domino effect and I'm eager to see where my new path takes me.


Monday, 23 May 2016

Home update #1 - our hallway makeover

I've been teasing our home update plans for a while now. A couple of weeks' ago, we had a week off and we completely made over our lounge and updated our hall too. It's mainly been cosmetic, except from ripping out an old gas fire in the lounge, but the difference has been pretty amazing and we are so pleased with results.

We haven't spent a great deal really and have found some great pieces here and there at really good prices. Being the biggest change we've made to the house, and the biggest project we'll be doing for a while, I want to share our makeover in a few posts. I want to show you around each room and then go into more detail about how we created the look and also some key picks from the different places we shopped at - a mini haul if you like from IKEA and Wilkos in particular and finds from Wayfair, Primark, Next and B&Q too, so you can see where we got everything.

Today, I'm giving you a glimpse around our new hallway.

It's the first thing you see when you come in the house so a hallway should be inviting. Sadly ours has been a bit tired for a while now and whilst it's not a room you tend to spend a lot of time in, I realised it's actually pretty important as everyone is always coming to and from another room via the hall, stairs and landing.

It's a communal space and in our house, quite a narrow one, so I wanted to brighten everything up and use it as somewhere to stamp our personality.

It was a soft, satin yellow before and just looked tired. I'd never use satin paint again and I wanted a more modern feel and a sense of space as soon as we walked in the door.

We chose a palette of soft grey, with black picture frames and bright accessories. I wanted to have a few quirky touches and I was keen to keep the space feeling airy as this side of our house doesn't get sunlight until the end of the day.

We went for the Colours paint range at B&Q, with 'Chantilly' for the wall about the dado rail and 'Fog' for the lower half under the rail. With this divide to the walls, I wanted to create a contrast in colour but not go too dark with the grey.

The overall result was different to how I had planned but was actually for the better. The shades we picked have a slight blue tinge to them - there really are so many shades of grey and I think if it had been a flatter, slate grey it would have turned out very different.

As a note, we bought the one coat version, which you pay a premium for, but wouldn't recommend this. In hubs' words, no paint is one coat and really, the standard paint in this range does a good job so I wouldn't pay more again.

The big change to this space was also going to come in the form of the stairs. Hubs ripped up the old cream, worn carpet a while ago to reveal wooden steps with all different kinds of paint finishes applied to them. I actually like the rough and ready look, so a bit of a sand and a clean up was all that was needed before applying some paint; slate grey for the treads and white for the risers (two coats for the former, three for the latter).

So, may I introduce you to our new hallway... welcome, come on in...

Before the stairs were painted

What do you think? I don't have a really good before photo, but trust me, the space feels bigger, brighter and a sense of calm too. I am so pleased with the results and will share with you more detail on the bits and pieces we picked out for here too soon.


Sunday, 22 May 2016

#MySundayPhoto - minions take on Liverpool

Last weekend, I was celebrating a best friend's first hen do in Liverpool. The sun was shining for us and we spent the day as Natalie, the bride's, minions. Yellow tees, dungarees - the works!

We had a lot of fun exploring the city in minion style and went through quite the transformation in the evening, channeling Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's for cocktails, dinner and dancing.

It was a really fun weekend and the first of four hens between now and the two big weddings we are a part of. Next weekend sees us heading to Benidorm for some more fun and frolics so I'm enjoying a quiet weekend at home now - and looking back at the fun photos from last week's celebrations.


Friday, 20 May 2016

Beauty picks from HEMA

It may not be a brand you've heard of or seen on the high street, but HEMA is a quirky new chain that began in Amsterdam and offers 'original design at surprisingly low prices' - including beauty products.

There's a HEMA store at Grand Central in Birmingham, which is how I first came across them but soon I was window shopping online, admiring their functional and quirky homewares. I really like the mix of practical pieces and fun and they really seem to be tapping into key trends. The price point is great and on the few times I have wandered in for a mooch, I've always found something to catch my eye.

Including their beauty and make up range.

Featuring everything from cleansers and eye creams through to matt chubby sticks and eye palettes, I've discovered a treasure trove of treats.

For the past few weeks, I've been using their eye cream, which I find gentle on my sensitive eyes - plus I love the name, 'Hello Mirror, Guess My Age'. It's tailored for 30+ (yes, I know, I don't look a day over 25...) which I like and for less than a fiver, it's as effective as any other eye cream I have tried.

I've also been using their nude eye shadow palette (£9 for five shades) every day, opting for the lighter, creamy shades by day and adding the rich browns for evening-ready looks. And I love them. Absolutely love them. The packaging is beautiful, the powders have good staying power and pigmentation and they don't flake or dust in the palette, even when slung around in a weekend bag.

I'm also keen on the soft matt lip crayons. I have a pale nude shade which I do like, just think it's a tad off for my skin tone (see pic below), so I'm keen to swatch a few more shades. The crayons have a soft, smooth feel to them and don't feel dry either, and at just £4.75, they're definitely worth a look.

When it comes to my cheeks, I can struggle to find the right shade and consistency. I like the creamyness of cream blushers but they don't tend to have much staying power. I picked up a HEMA cream blush stick (£6) in a bright coral tone (colour 4)  and I do like the pop of colour, but still need to layer up with a powder blush to help it stay.

I love a new beauty find and an affordable one to boot. HEMA is one of those 'never know what you're going to find' places, so excuse me whilst I go and take a closer look at what's new...


Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Win a CBeebies Playtime or Peter Rabbit DVD

Like most toddlers, Ethan is a fan of CBeebies. We don't have it on all that often, and he certainly doesn't just sit there watching show after show and doing nothing else (he can't sit still that long!), but it is a favourite television option in our house.

I grew up with CBBC and I really do like the variety of shows that CBeebies has - and my three year old couldn't agree more.

There's something about CBeebies programmes that make you feel a bit better about having the TV, you know? I often feel that mum guilt over 'oh no, he's watching to much TV!' and when out and about, I almost feel I have to publicly appear apologetic if the iPad comes out to help keep Ethan entertained. Again, it's not a huge habit but most parents will agree that iPads are parenting saviours (it was the only way we got through a long Indian wedding ceremony last year!), despite the fact that there's so much attention around how much screen time little ones have.

Anyways, I digress! My point is that with CBeebies, you know they are trying to balance fun and entertainment with learning and from a really young age, Ethan has been responsive and engaged with a few of the programmes.

Mr Tumble has been a favourite since the beginning, he loves Mike the Knight, wants to be part of Swashbuckle (regularly singing the song to us) and enjoys other shows like Furchester Hotel, because of the bright colours and fun characters. Oh, and Octonauts, Peter Rabbit, Chuggington...

He also seems to be on board with In the Night Garden, but the less said about that...

Just in time for his birthday, Ethan received a CBeebies Playtime DVD from Abbey Home Media and within seconds of the postman dropping it through our letterbox, it was opened and put on our TV. When asked which show he wanted to watch first, he pointed at one then another, and carried on until he had pointed out each of the shows on the cover.

Great, I just chose 'play all' and we had a happy birthday boy in no time!

Here's a rundown of what's on the DVD:

Fans of CBeebies will love this unique collection of some of the very best of children’s television which features TeletubbiesTM, TwirlywoosTM, In The Night GardenTM, Peter RabbitTM, Topsy & TimTM, Mike the KnightTM, The Furchester HotelTM,OctonautsTM , Q Pootle 5TM, Ruff–Ruff, Tweet and DaveTM, ChuggingtonTM, and CloudbabiesTM.

The collection also features the first episode to appear on DVD of the brand new version of Teletubbies, which premiered on CBeebies in 2015.

This special DVD collection CBeebies Playtime is a great way of entertaining young children with its familiar, well-loved characters and diverse range of fun and engaging programming.

The collection features the following episodes:-

Teletubbies – Join Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po as they exploreHome Dome and the magical countryside of Teletubbyland through play.  In New Toy the children in Tummy Tales play a game of pass the parcel and win a surprise toy, while the Dup Dup delivers toys for the Teletubbies to play with. Even Noo-Noo enjoys a new treat!

Twirlywoos - Twirlywoos come from far away, seeking adventure wherever they go. Join Great BigHoo, Toodloo, Chickedy and Chick for their adventures on The Big Red Boat. In Coming and Going, The Twirlywoos watch a man as he runs a bath. They want to leave their hiding place to investigate, but the man keeps coming back! This episode is linked to the going back and forth schema (a schema is the patterns children follow to develop their own ideas).

In The Night Garden - Share in the magical Night Garden world with Igglepiggle, Upsy Daisy, Makka Pakka and friends. In Look At What The Ball Did, the ball bounces all over the garden. It accidentally knocks over Makka Pakka's pile of stones, so Makka Pakka rebuilds it and tries to protect it.

Peter Rabbit - Beatrix Potter’s wonderful stories have charmed and entertained children for generations. Now fans can enjoy the brand new adventures of her timeless children’s classic Peter Rabbit from the new animated series. In The One That Got Away, when Peter and his friends encounter the legendary “Jack Sharp”, a large trout that even Peter's father failed to catch, they try to reel the fish in once and for all. But catching a fish is a lot harder than it looks…

Topsy and Tim - Inspired by the books by Jean and Gareth Adamson, Topsy and Tim, is a live action drama inspired by the small stuff in little people’s lives. In New Pet Topsy and Tim love caring for their new pet rabbit but struggle to agree on his name. When they notice how wiggly his nose is, they know just what to call him!

Mike the Knight - Mike is an energetic, cheeky yet bountiful young knight-in-training, driven by his passion to help others and, along the way, be the best knight he can be. In Hidden Garden Games when Mike, Evie and the Queen have a competition in the Hidden Garden, Mike learns that it's good to let everyone have a turn to play... and it's even better when everyone plays together!

The Furchester Hotel - The Furchester Hotel is an ‘almost’ world-class hotel run by a close-knit family of cheerfully chaotic monsters. The series introduces brand new characters and also welcomes the beloved Elmo and Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. In Furchester on Wheels Funella overhears the tortoise guests say thehotelservice is slow, slow, slow. She is determined to make it fast, fast, fast.

Octonauts - Join Captain Barnacles and crew on their animated underwater adventures. In Mimic Octopus Peso is gathering red algae to cure the sick vegimals but needs the help of a Mimic Octopus to scare off a Moray eel, who uses its striped tentacles to pretend to be a group of poisonous sea snakes.

Q Pootle 5 – Join Pootle and his friends on the planet Okidoki. Pootle and Oopsy travel to a distant special crater, which produces enormous bubbles. They have a great time until a large bubble envelops Pootle’s spaceship and floats off with it. Now Pootle and Oopsy are stranded on the other side of Okidoki unless they can think of a way of getting home…

Ruff- Ruff, Tweet & Dave – Join in the fun with Hatty,Ruff-Ruff,Tweet and Daveas they go on magical adventures. In A Birthday Party Adventure Ruff-Ruff, Tweet and Dave celebrate Hatty's birthday by playing all of his favourite party games. They also find him a surprise birthday gift along the way.

Chuggington - Take to the rails with the Chuggineers. In Koko’s Puppy Training Koko Koko finds a lost puppy and wants to keep it, but she realises a little girl is looking for the puppy and decides that she needs to take him home.

Cloudbabies - Who looks after the sky? The Cloudbabies do! In Rain Rain Rain

the rain has kept the Cloudbabies inside today and Bobo White is bored. Baba Yellow suggests they play a game of 'Favourite Things'

With more than two hours of programmes to enjoy, and priced at just £7.99, it's well worth it and Ethan can enjoy his Cbeebies favourites, even after the goodnight song has ended.

I have a copy of Cbeebies Playtime on DVD to offer a lovely, lucky reader so if you'd like to be in with a chance of winning, simply enter below...

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Also, my lucky little man added another new DVD to his growing collection - the latest Peter Rabbit tale! I've written before about my love of Beatrix Potter when I was young and Ethan already has the old series, but is now the proud owner of Peter Rabbit – The Tale of the Great Breakout too (also RRP £7.99).

There's six stories on the DVD and if the theme tune doesn't get you you're little ones excited, then I don't know what will.

Here's what it's all about:

When Mr. McGregor captures the whole squirrel tribe in his garden, Peter must stage a mass break out to save his friends.  Follow our hero Peter and his friends Benjamin Bunny and Lily Bobtail on their adventures and quest to save the day, overcoming obstacles and outsmarting predators, all the while finding fun and excitement in the most unexpected places. 

With a taste for radishes and a thirst for adventure Peter Rabbit is the lovable and extraordinary friend you longed to hang out with when you were a kid. But when the chips are down and danger lurks, there’s no better friend to have around than Peter and his boundless courage will always see him through. Peter has an infectious enthusiasm for life and is also an irrepressible optimist. He is cool under pressure and his quick-witted mind is as nimble as his super-fast legs.  

What was particularly nice about this was the height chart that comes with it - Ethan couldn't wait to see who he was as tall as!

So, if you have a Peter Rabbit fan in the house, enter my competition below to have the chance of winning the DVD for yourself...

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Friday, 13 May 2016

Life & Loves Lately #6 - Sea Life Centre Birmingham, Geronimo Festival and Ethan turns three

I've been pretty quiet on here these past couple of weeks. Quieter than normal and it's not because I don't have things to share or topics I want to write about, it's just an issue of time.

Isn't that always the case?

The down side of 'having it all', I guess. Career. Family. Friends. House. Interests. Trying to cater to them all, all the time, is pretty tiring at times but all is good and having a brief break from almost daily blog posts has been good.

I feel refreshed and I also feel more relaxed about things than I have in the past. My blog is still here and people are still reading, despite on a couple of posts in a couple of weeks - and I've had the chance to get quite a few things done.

So, what have I been doing?

Well, last week I had off as holiday. We needed a break but had big plans for our home and also Ethan's third birthday and some hen do prep needing attention, so there was no rest for the wicked.

I've got loads to share with you about our home updates but for now, I'll just say that we spent two days working hard to transform our lounge and hallway. We had an old gas fire and stone surround ripped out of our lounge (hurrah!), we repainted both spaces, moved furniture, stripped and painted the stairs and even hung new blinds all around the house too. You can see our inspiration for the lounge here.

We were exhausted but so proud by the end. And it feels like we have really transformed our space. I still can't quite believe how different our home feels having done this - it's the biggest change we've made since we moved in almost 10 years ago and whilst the kitchen and bathroom really need attention (next year, hopefully), we are really pleased with what we've done.

A sneak peak - the big reveal to come soon!

There's always more to do, right? I'm just going to enjoy what we have achieved and not focus on the flooring that really needs attention... It will all come, in time.

On 5th May, Ethan turned three. The weekend before, we went to Yorkshire to stay with friends. It was one of their birthdays too and we had a nice couple of days, catching up as there's two weddings in our group in less than three months time so lots to talk about and organise.

We also went to Geronimo Festival, at Harewood House. I haven't written a full post about this as I probably would have done for two reasons. The event on the day we went (Sunday) received a backlash from those who went along, saying it hadn't been very well organised and how disappointing people found it to be. There was quite a bit on social media throughout the day and since and I felt that enough had perhaps been said. Also, we didn't end of staying very long. The weather wasn't very nice at all and it was so busy, with a huge queue to get in and queues for everything inside.

The main thing was the performers stage was packed and was rather low so you just couldn't see anything - let alone Ethan. It was a huge disappointment as we had told Ethan for weeks that he would be seeing Mr Tumble, along with his other Cbeebies favourites, for his birthday but there was no chance of us getting close.

This is the best photo we managed to get, due to the weather / a grumpy little face!
In fairness to the organisers, the weather really contributed to a lot of issues and to people's moods, and as with a lot of things, I think things snowballed as more and more people took to Twitter to complain. They posted some updates and a statement afterwards about how they were going to solve certain issues, so hopefully the second day and the event next Bank Holiday at Tatton Park go much better for people. I really hope so, because it is such a great event and line up for families.

On Ethan's birthday, we opened presents at home then went out for breakfast at Frankie and Benny's before a spot of shopping and a visit to Sea Life Centre Birmingham.

Sea Life Centre Birmingham - To Become Mum

Ethan loves 'seeing the fishies' and we had a really nice time saying hello to the penguins, sharks and otters - plus Ethan loved the Octonauts 4D screening. The tunnel is closed at the moment as it's being transformed to give a 360 degree ocean experience, so we are very much looking forward to returning in a few weeks to see this new feature.

Sea Life Centre Birmingham - To Become Mum

Ethan is growing up before our eyes and we are just having the best time together. He's so bright and chatty and affectionate too; we couldn't be more proud.

His potty training is moving along (I'll just say that we have had two number two's, and I'll leave it there) and he's learning letters and so much more (read a full update here). He's also been to stay with his Auntie and had a play date with a friend too, so his social calendar is much busier than ours.

I've got a hen do this weekend - the first of four for my two bride friends - so we're off to Liverpool - but that's all I can tell you, in case Nat is reading this right now!

I've got plenty of posts lined up to share soon, so stay tuned for some home reveals, shopping hauls, beauty picks and lots more over the coming days and next couple of weeks.


Saturday, 7 May 2016

Filling ideas for National Sandwich Week

You can't beat a good sandwich if you ask me and there's no doubting that they're a staple for lunchtimes. Soft bread, creamy butter and your favourite filling - what can be better?

Just add a handful of crisps and a mug of tea.

Sometimes though, it can be hard to come up with new filling ideas. We all have our favourite sandwich - for Ethan, it's just butter and marmite - but if you're making lunch to take to work or enjoy sandwiches during the week as a midday staple, it can get a bit same-y.

The Co-op asked me if I wanted to come up with and share some filling ideas for National Sandwich Week (starts this Monday, 8th May), so I popped to our local store to see what I could rustle up...

I have not one but four simple sandwich ideas here that all contain three main fillings - hopefully something to suit everyone and get those tastebuds tingling.

You will need:
- Your sandwich carrier of choice - soft white sliced bread, a crusty cob, New York style bagel or even ciabatta, whichever works for you as this is the key to a successful sandwich

1) Grilled halloumi, sweet peppers and houmous

- Slice a block of halloumi and some sweet peppers. Drizzle the peppers with olive oil and a sprinkle of herbs and place with the cheese underneath the grill for up to 10 minutes, to give them colour.

- Spread houmous onto your bread / bagel / ciabatta then add the halloumi and peppers.

2) Chicken and bacon melt

- Butter two slices of bread then place under the grill for a couple of minutes, both sides.
- Layer up sliced cheese, chicken slices and ready cooked bacon rashers.

- Place under the grill again so the cheese starts to melt.
- Add a squeeze of mayo and American or Dijon mustard, then tuck in.

3) Stilton, bacon and avocado

- Slice your bread or roll - I had this with a sesame seed bagel.
- Thinly slice the stilton - it's a strong flavour, so you don't need to be too generous.
- Top with ready cooked bacon rashers, or grill some bacon yourself if you have it and you're not in a rush.

- Slice half an avocado and place on top of the bacon, put the other half of your bagel back on top and enjoy the mix of flavours.

4) Tuna with a twist

- Tuna sandwiches are always good but to perk them up a bit, take a ready made sandwich filler and add something extra.
- Halved fresh olives give a really nice tang.
- Add diced red onion for bite.
- If you have anything else in the fridge, like cucumber or peppers, chop these up and mix them in too to add more flavour and interest to your typical tuna sandwich.


My top tip for tip top sandwiches is to plan ahead so that you have enough bread / rolls in to give you a few rounds / days' worth to enjoy. I often take some wraps or rolls to work along with enough fillings to make up enough lunches to last a few days and this way, you can be sure you look forward to lunchtime as you have something interesting to eat and you can reduce any wastage and be cost-effective too.

For more National Sandwich Week inspiration, visit Central England Co-operative.

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