Thursday, 26 March 2015

Photos That Make Me Happy



I had Caitlin when I was 43 in 2007 and had, frankly, given up on the idea of motherhood.  She has always been a natural poser.  This is in her old bedroom in our first house in Dinas Powys.



This was at 'Barrybados' in the summer of 2008.  We had just completed a ninja nappy change on the grass behind Mathew.



Ieuan, looking like a naughty Christmas imp.  He appeared just 20 months after Caitlin when I was the scandalous age of 45!



This was taken in 2010 in the play area at Dyffryn Gardens.  Unfortunately Ieuan decided the mulch looked like chocolate and tasted it.  It might be a coincidence but we were at home to "Mr Puke" the very next day.



Caitlin was flower girl at our wedding on 25 September 2011. We had a beautiful civil ceremony and reception at the St. David's Hotel & Spa in Cardiff.


Ieuan, looking like Little Lord Fauntleroy.  Those curls!  Actually he was very well behaved during the ceremony and a good friend took him off for a nap once it had finished.


The Happy Couple. I had managed to lose my baby weight specially for the wedding.  I managed to put on 4 stone with Caitlin - I couldn't stop eating cheese!



I loved my dress - a Maggie Sottero with a puddle train.  It's still hanging in my wardrobe.  I did think about having it made into an evening dress but the thought of cutting the train off is too upsetting!



I love this photo because it captures Caitlin's and Ieuan's mischievousness perfectly.



This is us all sat on the kitchen floor.  Caitlin has traces of the obligatory face painting from a party and Ieuan has the purple dummy it took us an age to prise off him.  My dad says at this time Ieuan used to remind him of Al Capone because he would never actually take the dummy out, just roll it from side to side whilst speaking as if it were a cigar.



Ieuan 'blending in' at someone else's birthday party.  You have to love kids' self confidence. Both Caitlin and Ieuan are happy, 'take charge' types.  Long may it continue.  I wouldn't want them to become shy and retiring like their mother (stop laughing at the back)!


Ah.  The "Potato of Doom".  If Grayson Perry had produced this, nobody would be laughing I tell you. Suffice it to say Gregg and John would probably refuse to let me put the Masterchef apron on even for the first heat!



Late parenthood is a brilliant excuse to relive your childhood.  As you can see, Mat hated every minute.  This was last summer in Cardiff Bay, after pizza, ice cream and two nausea inducing rides on the carousel.  I love that carousel.  It's the only fairground ride you'll get me on with the exception of junior roller coasters and ghost trains  I LOVE ghost trains.



The Hobbis team.  Nothing makes me happier. I sometimes look back on my days in marketing (over 20 years worth!) and wonder if I dreamed the whole thing.  I'm certainly proof that your life can change for the better in the most unexpected and sudden of ways.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

A Rough Guide To The Land Of The 7 Year Old Girl



The Land Of The 7 Year Old Girl is a strange place where all time stops.  There is much drifting and random staring out of the window.  Curtains may be thrown back in the middle of the night to inspect the moon.

In the morning,  the donning of uniform may be halted many times whilst old handbags and giftbags are filled and refilled with shiny objects of disparate value.  These bags are subsequently dotted around the house and hidden in corners and may well contain the property of siblings.  Thus, a doll's head may lurk with a fork, a water pistol, some old beads, a lip balm and a deflated beach ball.

It is practically impossible for the inhabitants of this land to avoid the urge to dress up.  So bad is this compulsion that an old Halloween costume or a princess dress three sizes too small may be modeled at 7 in the morning, when the subject may terrify the living daylights out of parents by appearing silently at the end of the bed whilst resembling an extra in a "Zombie Apocalypse" movie.

Bathroom routines are endlessly redesigned with tooth cleaning requiring the creation of fountains using the cap off the toothpaste and three glasses of water.  There is some apparently mandatory regulation that tooth cleaning must be carried out whilst singing and standing on one foot.

Hair is seldom brushed but perfume may be liberally sprayed.  Plaits, buns and ponytails are demanded and promptly removed 5 minutes later.  Pink is everywhere.  If combine harvesters came in pink there would be one on the lawn.

Their love of certain TV theme tunes must be expressed through the medium of interpretative dance - particularly during the middle of any meal in front of the television.

Knives and forks are frequently laid aside in favour of pulling food apart and creating crumbs. This is particularly noticeable with any type of biscuit or pastry based item.  In contrast,  the inhabitants generally have no problems with ice cream which is vacuumed with impressive rapidity.

Questions are frequent.  In this house the questions are about topics such as space, how many ways you can die, whether nails can be painted (and whether you die if you eat nail varnish),  if it hurts to have a baby and whether we can go to Claire's Accessories,  Handy phrases to note are "but Mum, you just don't understand" and "listen Mum, I'm just a child and you're the adult".

Cuddles are swift and violent.  Hugs are demanded often.  Tears appear at the drop of a hat and vanish just as swiftly.  The beauty of the woman she will become is emerging through the mists of childhood.    The love these inhabitants inspire is by turns humbling and terrifying.  Their confidence is like the wings of a butterfly, opening for the first time in the sunshine.  And I am terrified to crush those wings, despite knowing that 'fitting in' comes at the cost of some of that amazing uniqueness.

The skin of the inhabitants is smooth like a peach.  Untainted by sunburn or bad habits, their faces radiate their feelings through an opalescent, sometimes befreckled glow. You cannot observe one of these creatures without thinking back to how things were when you lived in the Land Of The 7 Year Old Girl.  You remember the thickness and lumiosity of your hair, the dresses you loved,  the shoes you coveted (but were generally against school rules) and your hopes and dreams.

And you hope that their hearts are stronger than yours, their courage is greater than yours and that they carry the flame of innocent youth for as long as they can.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Easy Lock - Protect Yourself, Your Valuables, Your Loved Ones....


The clocks go forward this weekend and I am sure many people are now planning their holidays in far sunnier climes.  For young people abroad in particular, security is a worry for anxious parents left at home, so I was interested to come across a revolutionary new invention, The EasyLock.




The Pink EasyLock with latchplate, stainless steel latch and travel pouch

This lock, the lightest of its kind in the world, will completely secure the majority of inward opening doors (as long as it is an inward opening door with a minimum 2mm visible gap between the door and frame), anywhere on the globe.

The lock provides extra security especially for women travellers whether in their travel accommodation, away with the family on holiday, or wanting further security in their home. It is priced at a reasonable £24.95 and has already found favour with celebrities such as Fearne Cotton, Mel B, Abbey Clancey and Davina McCall.

The lock is as light as plastic, as strong as stainless steel, and can be fitted in seconds. It is small enough to fit in a pocket, and also the only lock of its kind in the world to allow individuals to open the door slightly, to check a caller’s identity, or to take a letter, whilst maintaining total security.

The EasyLock has a fascinating story behind it. It was created by 66 year old entrepreneur, Bob Fitzjohn who says:  “I wanted to create a solution that would keep travellers 100% safe & sound, no matter where they stayed. My thinking in creating the lock developed into wanting to provide complete security to all others that may find themselves in a vulnerable position”

So, how did I get on?  The lock is, indeed, easy to use.  You just open the door and place the stainless steel latch into the lockplate in the door frame.  Close the door fully.

Place the lockplate in the door frame

Place the stainless steel latch into the lockplate in the door frame and press down until firm

Press down the lock until firm and check that the door is secured.

The door can be opened just wide enough to view ID or receive documents

To receive documents or ID, put a slight pressure on the latchplate, pressing towards the door.  Lift the lock and slide back until the door is open, all the while keeping pressure against the door.

To remove the lock, put a slight pressure on the latch plate towards the door, lift the lock, slide back to the end of the latch and open the door whilst taking the lock off.

Full instructions are available on the website at www.the-easylock.com.

I would suggest a few practice runs before you travel with the lock so that you are confident with using it but I can see that it would be extremely useful, not only for travelling, but for added security in student accommodation and even for the elderly (assuming that they have not already taken the precaution of having a door chain fitted).

The lock I was sent for the purposes of this review is a glorious pink with a matching pink pouch but there is a silver alternative with a blue pouch.

The EasyLock is so easy to carry, I will be taking mine to further road test in my hotel when I attend Britmums Live 2015 in June!

Disclosure:  I was sent an EasyLock for the purposes of this review.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Manage Your Stress With Nelson's Arnicare & Flower Power!


The lovely people at Nelson, makers of Spatone (reviewed here) have sent samples of their Arnicare Bath & Massage Balm, Bach Emotional Eating Kit and Bach Rescue Liquid Melts for me to try for you. As you know, I am always interested in anything which helps a busy parent to manage their stress levels better!  I have been reading Susan Balfour's fabulous book "Stress Control:  Stress Busting Strategies For the 21st Century" [review and offer here] and Nelson's products are a perfect complement to this.

Nelsons Arnicare® Arnica Bath & Massage balm is a unique dual purpose relaxing balm which creates a luxurious, lovely fragranced bath to help ease aches. It contains Arnica Montana to soothe and relax you after a tiring day, with Calendula, Evening Primrose and Sweet Almond Oils to hydrate and nourish the skin naturally. The balm has a lovely Lavender and Grapefruit scent to help melt away tension and clarify the mind. I found the milky bath very soothing after a day with the kids and I rely on the occasional hot bath to help my back. (I'm relying on Pilates to help set me straight, exercise-wise).  As a plus, the bath was easy to clean afterwards with no heavy, oily residue. The advice is to use 2 capfuls per bath but I like the fragrance so much I used a good 3 to 4 capfuls. Nelsons Arnicare Arnica Bath & Massage Balm costs £8.49 and is available from Boots.


If you find yourself wandering off the path a bit when it comes to your diet and healthy living resolutions (don't we all, especially with all that Easter chocolate on the horizon!), and you need a helping hand to get you back on track, then try Bach™ Emotional Eating Kit. [£11.99 at Boots]

The kit comprises three flower essences to help with emotional eating (using food to deal with your feelings). You can create your own individual combination and adapt it to suit your changing moods. The essences are alcohol and artificial additive free and suitable for the whole family. Each essence offers a different psychological boost and can be taken as drops on the tongue or in a glass of water. Crab Apple is for acceptance of yourself and your imperfections, Cherry Plum can help you to think and act rationally and Chestnut Bud can help you gain knowledge from your experience.

I have used flower essences before and find them easy to take, comforting and reassuring. You don't have the worry of side effects as you do with many over the counter medications.


If you are having a difficult day and are struggling to find motivation, try some RESCUE® Liquid melts [£8.89 in Boots] to help when your day threatens to get on top of you.

The Bach Rescue Liquid Melts are tiny capsules containing 4 drops of a blend of 5 flower essences designed to offer calmness and to help you regain clarity. You might argue that the act of pausing and taking stock is therapy enough but it is difficult to do when you are 'up to your eyes'. You simply place a melt on your tongue and let it dissolve. 

The drops are combined with grapeseed oil which melt onto the tongue with very little taste. I have previously used Bach Rescue Remedy (the same blend of drops) which comes in a glass bottle but the Melts are easy to carry in your bag and each individual melt is sealed for hygiene. The Melts don't contain alcohol and they are non-drowsy and suitable for all the family. 

I was surprised to find that the famous Rescue formula comes in a number of formulations - even chewing gum! In case you're wondering what the 5 flower essences in the Rescue blend are, they are Rock Rose (for terror and panic), Impatiens (for irritation and impatience), Clematis (for inattentiveness and to counteract faintness), Star of Bethlehem (for shock) and Cherry Plum (for irrational thoughts and lack of self control). 

So there you have it, Nelsons offer a wealth of alternative remedies to help you manage your stress and, better still, they are available at Boots.com on a 3 for 2 offer at the moment [23rd March 2015]. 

Disclosure: I was sent samples of the products listed above for the purposes of this review. The views contained herein, however, are my own.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

SPOILER ALERT: Glossybox March Edition

This is box two of a six month subscription to Glossybox. For those of you not aware of the concept, Glossybox is a monthly beauty subscription box containing 5 hand picked beauty samples wrapped in a signature pink box.  Some of these samples may actually be full size products.





Lift the lid to reveal the cute pink ribbon and tissue paper


March goodies: the box contained 4 full sized products and 2 sample products

This box did not disappoint and I was pleased to see that some thought had been given to the age appropriateness of the box contents.

The box contained:-



- Naobay Moisturizing Peeling (full size - £13.71) an organic peeling milk from Spain which uses particles from the acai tree to remove dull dead skin cells.  It has a lovely citrussy fragrance and although the milk is quite thin, buffs the skin nicely.  Naobay stands for Natural Organic Beauty And You and their products contain no artificial ingredients.


- Lash Princess Volume Mascara (full size - £3.30).  The mascara has a cobra head shaped wand which grabs each lash to create length and 'dramatic volume'.  Essence is Europe's number 1 cosmetic brand (according to Euromonitor International in 2012), strongly disapproves of testing on animals and believes in total transparency when it comes to ingredients which are listed next to the product on the website.



- Dove Advanced Hair Series Youthful Vitality Shampoo & Conditioner (sample sizes of both. Full sizes retail at £5.99 for 250ml). I found the shampoo and conditioner very light compared with my usual shampoo and conditioner (Elvive Fibrology) but, sadly, not conditioning enough for my long hair.  Full marks though for popping in product samples suitable for older subscribers.



- ncLA nail lacquer in "Santa Monica Shore Thing", a neon pastel green (full size £13 for 15ml).  The lacquer is free of toxins and quick dry but I have to say I'm really not sure about the colour.  ncLA, who are a high end beauty brand based in Los Angeles, want to offer a "little bit of Californian love on your fingertips" and pride themselves on their collaborations with niche fashion labels and Glamour Magazine in 2012.



- Carmex Moisture Plus Ultra Hydrating Lip Balm (full size -£4.49 for 2g) - this is a sheer tint in Berry which contains "superfood" ingredients such as Vitamin E, aloe and shea butter.

Cult product it may be but this is the third lip product in two boxes (with the promise of a full size Lord & Berry Crayon Lipstick in the April box) and I wonder if Glossybox are in danger of focusing on lip balms to too great a degree. This lip balm will be staying in its packaging for the time being.

I estimate the value of the box to be at least £35 which, again, is certainly good value given the £10 cost of the box.

Am I happy?  Aside from one or two niggles (I'm not sure Dove is a brand I would have expected to be included, good though it is and I'm not a fan of the nail colour), I'm still content.  Everything arrived in pristine condition and nicely packaged.  I'm looking forward to the April box.

Disclosure:  This is a completely independent review;  The Glossybox subscription is my own purchase.

Glossybox can be contacted at www.glossybox.co.uk, on Twitter at @glossyboxuk and on Facebook as www.facebook.com/GlossyBox.co.uk

Friday, 20 March 2015

20 Things That Make Me Happy.......

#Embrace Happy - Go On - Have A Go!

I am currently trying to "embrace happy" in a bid to focus on all that is wonderful about my life. Those who know me probably think this is akin to putting a paper party hat on grumpy cat but I am not daunted!

Others are writing their lists of happiness and here is mine.  It probably contains a hefty amount of  "odd & weird" but, as the late Queen Mother once said of her wrinkles, "I would hate to have lived so long without anything to show for it".

1.  Words - particularly the clever use of words and those who use them.  Step forward Stephen Fry, Steven Moffat (the writer of BBC's Sherlock") and Richard Curtis ("Blackadder").  How can you resist  "I tweak the nose of fear and put an ice cube down the vest of terror"? (the wonderful Hugh Laurie as Prince George).  


2.  Self help books.  I've read many - from Tony Robbins to the Abraham Hicks books.  I love anything about the Law of Attraction and 'pop' Quantum Physics.  I suspect some of the latter aren't quite accurate and when I interrogate the Husband on the subject, he usually just shakes his head and sighs.

3.  Cookery books. I've decided the amount I cook is inversely proportional to the number of cookery books I have.  I have The Hairy Bikers (complete set),  Lorraine Pascale (signed!),  Marco Pierre White (signed!), Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver, Madhur Jaffrey, Ainsley Harriott and a million books on cooking for kids.


Well, not quite everyone it turns out.....

4.  Martha Stewart.  Now I know Martha might have conceivably been a bit of a naughty girl of late, however, her guide to entertaining is a thing of beauty, not least for the stunning photography.  I also have her guide to Halloween which involves making life sized witches and cats out of balsa wood and putting them in the garden.  It loses a bit of the effect if you don't live in a hugely atmospheric ramshackle American mansion so I normally just add an additional pumpkin.

5.  Cats - particularly their attitude (often very bad, as far as I can see).  My last cat, Samson, was a rescue cat - vastly overweight and terrified of the outdoors.  He would only eat Felix, occasionally deign to try a freshly cooked fish finger and spend most of the day annoying the Husband by trying to sit on his computer keyboard.  He would also join in with conference calls, once howling so loudly during a call to the head office in Canada that a colleague asked where the cat was.  I have no idea whether Samson's contribution to the meeting was minuted.

6. Red Wine - they say that the mystic compound it contains (resveratrol) has anti ageing properties and, in his book on heart health, Christiaan Barnard, the South African surgeon who carried out the first heart transplant in 1967, recommended a glass of red wine a day.  We try to be good in this house by having the statutory two days off (minimum) per week, having been thoroughly terrified by the Health section in the Daily Mail - which leads me to....

7. The Daily Mail  - particularly the Mail Online.  Especially the comments - which often resemble the letters sent to Private Eye, and frequently Viz.  Nobody does outrage like us Brits.  In fact you can tell when the online editorial team are having a slack day because they'll post a piece about parent & toddler car spaces in supermarkets, immigration,  or the property market just to wind everybody up. If it's a really slow day of course, they will just post another picture of Kim Kardashian's bottom. It is de rigeur to always insert the following into any online comment you make - "yes but how much is their house worth?".  Please don't let the side down.

8.  Peanut Butter  - the ultimate comfort food - straight from the spoon or in a sarnie.  The Husband is scandalised that I will butter the bread and then put the peanut butter on.

9.  Halloween - I love Halloween.  The dressing up, the excuse to put fake spiders webs all over the house just to annoy the already existing spiders and their webs, scaring the kids, playing spooky sound effects and eating food which features jelly snakes and chocolate eyeballs.  I love the traditions - I think there's an odd one about peeling an apple so that the skin comes off in one go, throwing it on the floor to see what letter shape it makes and that will be the initial of your future husband. Apparently I should have married someone called Xavier or Zachary.  Whoops.


Mr Bones joins us every Halloween

10.  Christmas - I love that everyone is in a good mood from, roughly, early September onwards.  I don't like shops playing carols then. but as soon as the clocks go back and Bonfire night is out of the way, the twinkly lights start appearing and the December editions of the women's magazines feature groaning mounds of  immaculately photographed food,  it is quite alright in my book to hear "Fairytale of New York" on repeat.  I love the whole Festive Season with the exception of wrapping presents.  I can only wrap square things.  You are unlikely to receive an umbrella or a tennis racquet from me.

11.  Comping - entering competitions is definitely a favourite hobby of mine and I have won a fair bit over the years I have been comping (since 2010).  I have won hotel stays, spa days, an entire kitchen of electrical gadgets, shoes, clothes, perfume, toys - you name it, we've enjoyed it.  Like anything, you need to put the work in to see the rewards, though.  I am always amused when friends give comping a go, enter five competitions and then moan that they 'never win anything'!

12.  John Lewis - I could spend hours in John Lewis, fondling the crockery, plumping the cushions and daydreaming in the espresso bar.  Our local store in Cardiff has a wall of clocks which Ieuan loves to visit and their 3rd floor cafe was one of the first places we were brave enough to take the kids to eat.   The staff all look happy and are really helpful.  It's like entering some sort of parallel retail reality. Which works.

13. Poirot (starring David Suchet) - I adore Agatha Christie.  Her Poirot short stories are almost forensic in their execution - each perfectly formed logic puzzles.  You could argue that her character development is occasionally thin on the ground but her stories are so clever it is very easy to overlook this.  David Suchet will always be the definitive Poirot for me as he brings out the character's OCD tendencies superbly.  In the same way, the late Joan Hickson will always be "Miss Marple" to me as she made the character slightly annoying in the way that some old ladies can be, rather than some of the later, more saccharine portrayals.



14. Art Deco - you can keep minimalism, any sort of "industrial" installation and red brick.  No, give me the white beauty of an Art Deco house (and preferably afternoon tea at Claridges).  If Kirsty and Phil want to find me a nice one in the Vale of Glamorgan, that's fine by me - although the Husband has an irrational fear of the kind of manly jumpers which Phil insists on wearing.

15. Cake Stands - there is nothing like a beautifully ornamental three tier cake stand full of cupcakes and dainty pastries.  And a large pot of good strong tea. Needless to say, these are best served in a nice hotel, lest the Husband starts thinking I've gone a bit "Hyacinth Bouquet".  I fear it may already be too late.

www.vintagedorset.co.uk

16. Reality TV -  leaving aside the fact that it is very difficult to avoid it when switching the TV on, I have to confess a shameful and guilty pleasure in watching programmes like Big Brother and I'm A Celebrity.  My argument that these are clearly "social experiments examining human interaction" really doesn't wash with the Husband who generally sits through them with me whilst wearing the expression of a stunned mullet. Curiously he generally has an almost 100% recall of who was doing what to whom and why.  I never a clue. Largely because I haven't put my hearing aids in.

17.  Candles - I bought a Yankee Candle advent calendar last Christmas and spent a happy December lighting a new candle each day.  There is nothing more romantic than candlelight (although I'm very fond of fairy lights too).  At the end of the day, there's something relaxing about lighting a candle and breathing in the scent you have chosen to remind you of your home.  My parents view this as thinly veiled pyromania.  I call it "creating an atmosphere".



18.  Faux Fur - what's not to love.  Cuddly softness which hasn't hurt an animal and which encourages extra snuggles from the kids. I found a fabulous faux fur jacket at TK Maxx which makes me feel strangely powerful. If you want to channel your inner Joan Collins, a bit of faux fur never hurts.  And lets face it, you'd never argue with Joan, would you?

19.  Fitflops - since I left my marketing job in 2007, my ability to wear heels has vanished, largely because I have lived in either Fitflop sandals or their version of the Ugg boot.  They are supremely comfortable, tone your legs and, best of all, you can run in them.  I say run.  Actually I mean lumber indelicately after the kids whilst bawling "come back here you little pair of menaces".

20.  Family - I love them all dearly; my daughter (who thinks she's a puppy), my son (who think's he's Spiderman) and the rest of our mad family unit who give me endless support and keep me sane (ish). They are all, to quote the great philosopher Peter Andre, slightly "insania". Where would I be without them? Somewhere on a beach in the Maldives with Daniel Craig, that's where.


Don't forget to "embrace happy" today!