A Lifestyle & Parenting Blog

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Handbag & Mini Travel Essentials To Keep You Fresh And Cool At Work

When the temperature rises, it can become really unpleasant if you are commuting or stuck in traffic.  Then there are offices with no air conditioning or just running around after kids in the sunshine.

Looking hot and sweaty makes you look a little less than composed and just feels so darned uncomfortable but there are some handbag essentials that will help.

It can be a real challenge keeping cool in an office environment
Why not carry a zipped pouch which contains a selection of your favourite travel minis?  My absolute general handbag essentials are spare tights, bottled water and a powder compact but here are some other suggestions - some for your handbag and some to throw in your travel bag for an overnight trip or weekend away.

Wet Wipes


Probably everyone's first choice for a quick freshen up - underarms, back of the neck, even feet at a push!

You can choose the slightly more environmentally friendly route by opting to wipes like Naty Eco Wipes which are flushable and contain no nasties.  They're safe for baby too and are £2.65 from Big Green Smile.com.

Mini Dry Shampoo & Brush

Dry shampoo is great for quickly adding volume to lacklustre or greasy hair.  Batiste is an old favourite which seems to have reinvented itself of late.

Batiste from Superdrug - £1.50

Toothbrush, Toothpaste and Mints

 I carry a travel toothbrush, toothpaste and floss, plus some breath mints.

Nothing freshens you up faster than cleaning your teeth I find (although I am ever so slightly obsessed with my teeth)!.


I've recently discovered the Sonic Chic Urban Sonic Powered Toothbrush from Lifes2good (who also make the popular MicroPedi and MicroNail).  It's a small, lightweight brush with a handy hygiene cap that gives 22,000 strokes per minute.


There is a school of thought that says that a sonic toothbrush gives an even better clean than an electric toothbrush and the reviews I have read about this product certainly suggest that it is almost as effective as a Philips Sonicare brush which is pretty impressive for a travel toothbrush.

It comes with a replacement brush head and battery and you can choose from a variety of bright designs. There is even a deluxe version which can be charged by USB and is dual speed with a timer.

With this brush, the head does not rotate but instead it vibrates so you clean gently in the normal way while the brush does most of the work for you.


I've been wondering how to take my electric toothbrush on holiday and now that's one less thing to worry about.  Sonic Chic Urban toothbrushes are available at Boots for £20.

Antibacterial Hand Gel

I like to make sure my hands are clean after using public loos and antibacterial hand gels are great for ensuring your kids hands are kept germ free too.  There are loads on the market but the best ones don't smell too chemically and leave your hands nice and soft.
Body Shop Coconut Hand Cleanse Gel - £2.50

Travel Deodorant

I have used Mitchum deodorant for years because it really does last for 48 hours and I have not found an anti perspirant-deodorant that beats it - exams, presentations, interviews, heatwaves, it copes with the lot. If I'm travelling though I'll take a mini deodorant or body spray just to add a quick blast of freshness.


You can get a great selection of travel minis these days - these are my holiday haul and I found them (with the exception of the toothbrush ) on a 3 for 2 offer at Boots.  These were all bought in store and there seems to be a different, although quite large, selection at Boots.com.

They are:-

  • OGX Coconut Water Shampoo 88.7 ml
  • OGX Coconut Water Conditioner 88.7 ml
  • Dove Deeply Nourishing Moisturing Body Wash 55 ml
  • Simple Kind To Eyes Eye Make-Up Remover
  • Sanctuary Spa Cleanse Moisture Burst Facial Wash
  • Sanctuary Spa Radiance Illuminating Whipped Moisture Creme SPF15

Caitlin helped me choose these and they brought back memories of one of my best ever Christmas presents when I was a youngster - mum gave me a grown up toiletry bag filled with travel minis.  It was either that or Avon Little Peach toiletries!

Here are some other 'keep cool' tips to help you look groomed when the temperature rises at work.

* Choose cool fabrics like cotton that will help absorb sweat
* Try an unpadded bra to minimise heat around your chest
*  If it's really hot, keep your make-up in the fridge to help it last longer (and feel nicer when you apply it)
* Try a primer to help your make-up stay on longer
* If you can, start your journey to work a little earlier to make the most of the coolest part of the day
* Drink plenty of water and keep a bottle on your desk.
* Avoid big meals, although, conversely, eating chilli can have a cooling effect.
* You might find mint tea more refreshing than coffee.
* Don't schedule meetings for the hottest part of the day, particularly if you have to travel across town to get there.

For us mums it's important to remember that little ones (and bigger ones!) should avoid being out in the sun between 12 noon and 3 pm so, however, tempting the park and swings might be, staying in the cool and the shade will keep the kids calmer and more comfortable.

And everyone should be slapping on the sunscreen.

How do you keep cool are work?  Let me know in the comments below.

*pr samples were received for this post
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Saturday, 30 July 2016

10 Ways To Give The Gift Of The Great British Summer With Buyagift.com

In 2016 it seems that we are living in turbulent times and whilst the political climate is so unsettled, I'm sure some of us would prefer to holiday here in the UK.  Despite the fact that UK Staycations have a reputation of being rather pricey, there are bargains to be had and here is a selection of great value days out and short breaks from Buyagift.com.  Needless to say, they all make great gifts too.

Days out in London

1. The ArcelorMittel Orbit

The ArcelorMittal Orbit
London is home to some of the biggest and best tourist attractions in the world but this is something really different and not for the faint-hearted. The ArcelorMittal Orbit was a major icon of the 2012 Olympic Games and is now home to the world’s longest and highest tunnel slide. You can enjoy entry to the upper viewing platform and external balconies where you can take in the awesome 360 degree views of the city before plummeting 178m towards the ground! You will be able to see some of the world’s most iconic sights as you twist and turn 12 times around the structure before a final 50m straight run back down the earth!

NEW The Slide at The ArcelorMittal Orbit for Two, £30

2. The View From The Shard



Only recently built and already an integral part of London’s iconic skyline, The Shard points up to the clouds, reaching an incredible 308m which makes it Western Europe’s tallest building. Designed by Master Architect Renzo Piano, the Shard has redefined London’s skyline and it has become a dynamic symbol of the capital.

You can visit London's highest viewing platform situated at the top on floors 68, 69 and 72.  At almost twice the height of any other viewing platform in the city, you'll get unparalleled 360 degree views for up to 40 miles.

Needless to say for photographers (and selfie-lovers!) this is a fantastic camera-ready opportunity which you can follow with a meal in the Michelin recommended restaurant, Latium.

The View from The Shard with 3 Course Michelin Dining and Bubbles for Two, Was £161.90, Now £111

3. The Houses of Parliament


Why not visit the Houses of Parliament where you can see both the House of Lords and the House of Commons.An audio tour will describe the incredible medieval structure of Westminster Hall, the Queen's Robing Room and the Royal Gallery, featuring leading parliamentary figures such as The Speaker and Black Rod.

Buyagift.com's package also includes a pass entitling your to 24 hours unlimited travel on Thames River Cruises and afternoon tea at the Park Plaza County Hall.

Tour of Houses of Parliament, Afternoon Tea and Thames Cruise for Two, Was £113.90, Now £108

Royal Palaces

4. Blenheim Palace


Blenheim Palace - Always Stunning No Matter What The Weather
Blenheim Palace, just outside Oxford, contains one of Europe's finest collections of antiques, inimitable 18th Century Baroque architecture an 2000 acres of beautiful landscaped grounds. With an ever-changing array of exhibitions at this UNESCO World Heritage site, and home of 12th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, there is plenty to see and enjoy. The birthplace of Churchill, the palace has an interactive experience that guides you through all 300 years of its history, as well as a special gallery paying homage to Churchill himself

Annual Entry to Blenheim Palace with Afternoon Tea for Two, £75 

5. Hampton Court Palace


Hampton Court Palace
The  royal palace of Hampton Court is situated in Richmond upon Thames in Greater London.  Its most famous resident was King Henry VIII.  Redevelopment of the manor, as it then was began in 1515 for Cardinal Wolsey but when he fell out of favour with Henry, the King seized the palace for himself in 1529.

Visitors can take a free audio guide around the stunning palace, wander around at their own pace or even be accompanied by a costumed guide as they explore the many rooms and artefacts including the Tudor Kitchens, the crown of King Henry VIII and more.

The Palace continues to display a large number of works of art from the Royal Collection and, apart from the Palace itself and its gardens, other points of interest for visitors include the celebrated maze, the historic real tennis court and the huge grape vine, the largest in the world as of 2005.

Hampton Court Palace Entry with Afternoon Tea in Fountain Court for Two, £64 

Family Days Out

6. Harry Potter Studio Tour


Harry Potter Studio Tour
Probably top of many parents' day-trip bucket lists (and certainly ours), is the Harry Potter tour where you can discover the magic behind the spellbinding special effects and explore the behind-the-scene secrets of the Harry Potter film series.

You can tread the original stone floor of the iconic Hogwarts Great Hall, encounter animatronic creatures and wander down Diagon Alley. Located at the Studios where all 8 films were produced, the Studio Tour showcases the incredible British talent, imagination and artistry that went into making the impossible a reality on screen.

The Making of Harry Potter with Afternoon Tea (Adult and Child), £108 

7. Ripley's Believe it or Not!


Ripley's Believe it or Not!
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! is one of London’s top attractions and features an astounding collection of over 700 artefacts over six floors. You can explore everything that the museum has to offer from a mirror maze and graffiti wall to a toilet paper wedding gown! Located in the heart of Central London at the infamous Piccadilly Circus, Ripley’s Believe It or Not! guarantees a day packed with interesting facts and some weird but wonderful displays that’ll you'll remember for years to come.

Family Entry to Ripley's Believe it or Not! Was £79.95, Now £68

Sports

8. Family Wimbledon Tennis Tour



Your tour will take you behind the scenes for a tour of the grounds. You will visit court number one and centre court, the site of some of the greatest matches in the history of the sport. Your guide will lead you through the beautiful picnic terraces and up to the water gardens with amazing views of London before heading to the marvellous interactive Wimbledon Tennis Museum. Here you can discover the history of tennis, viewing all the trophies and even meeting the “ghost” of John McEnroe!

Family Wimbledon Tennis Tour, £75 

 9. Tour of Stamford Bridge


Stamford Bridge
This unmissable tour of Stamford Bridge, home of FA Cup Winners and European Champions, Chelsea Football Club is a fun, informative and unforgettable experience, enjoyed by sports fans of all ages from all over the world. The fully guided tour takes you behind-the-scenes of one of the world’s greatest football teams, giving you access to areas normally reserved for players and officials. Chelsea FC pride themselves on having guides who are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the club and they believe it's their passion that makes their tours a truly memorable experience!

2 for 1 Chelsea Adult Tour of Stamford Bridge Special Offer, Was £32, Now 16

10. Explore the UK's National Parks


Exmoor
From lakes to moors, woodlands to mountain peaks, the UK’s National Parks encompass some truly breath-taking scenery and are a pleasure to explore, whether on foot, by car or bicycle or on horseback. Fish in the Lake District, see the wild ponies of Exmoor, explore the quaint villages of Cumbria or whatever takes your fancy, and know you’ve a warm welcome, comfortable room and delicious breakfast to come back to.

Overnight National Parks Escape for Two, £89 National Park Minibreak, Was £189, Now £139.99

Which would be your first choice?  I've already got a couple at the top of my list.  I've put The Husband on notice.  And if it rains, we've got our kagools.

Buyagift.com is the UK’s leading online provider of gifts and experiences, and offers over 4,000 unique and exciting gift ideas for all occasions. For more information, visit www.buyagift.com. Prices and product details correct at time of distribution.

*collaborative post

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Friday, 29 July 2016

Full Throttle Family Fun In Cardiff On 3rd September At Monster Jam®

Monster Jam® is back for its only UK date on the 3rd September at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff and tickets are already on sale.


You can expect full throttle family fun from the creative team at Feld Entertainment Inc. who have put together arena spectaculars such as "Disney on Ice" and, coming soon, "Marvel Universe LIVE!"

Monster Jam is the most action-packed live event on four wheels to hit the UK and will see World class drivers compete in both Monster Jam truck racing and freestyle competitions.

Combining high octane entertainment with the ultimate off-road motorsport competition, you'll be left on the edge of your seat by the jaw dropping displays.


This year's Monster Jam® promises the best truck line-up every assembled and will feature 12 of the World's most famous Monster Jam trucks (including Monster Jam World Finals® champions Grave(Digger® and Max DTM).

The spectacular takes place on specially designed tracks that optimise mobility so that the most recognisable trucks in the World can go head to head in wheelies, donuts, obstacle course racing and freestyle competitions that will push the Monster Jam trucks to their limits.

Monster Jam Truck Facts

The Monster Jam trucks stand at 4 metres tall and 4 metres wide and weigh up to 4,500kg. Their engines burn up to 9.5 litres of methanol per run and deliver about 1,500 horsepower. They can reach speeds of up to 110 kms per hour and can jump as far as 130 feet in length.

Some of the custom-designed trucks have needed more than 40 hours of paint time - a real labour of love.

The truck tyres are 1.7m high by 1.1 wide. Carving just one Monster Jam truck tyre requires over 50 hours of exacting labour and the average Monster Jam truck team will go through 8 tyres in one year.

It takes 1500 man hours to build and remove a track. 300 truckloads of dirt are used to build the track and 113 litres of paint are used to paint the track and obstacles.



A Great Day Out

Monster Jam is also known for its pre-show "Party in the Pits" which gives the crowd unprecedented access to the stars of the show.  We are looking forward to meeting some of the drivers and getting up close to the Monster Jam trucks.

Tickets

You can purchase tickets through www.monsterjam.co.uk or via Ticketmaster on 0844 847 2255. Find out more on the Monster Jam Facebook page.
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Back To School Through The Decades With M&S

Back to school week used to be a magical time when I was growing up. I was born in 1964 so my formative school years were in the 70’s and early 80’s through Harold Wilson’s Labour Government and the Miners’ Strike and Thatcher’s Britain from 1979 onwards. And yes, I can remember the long hot summer of 1976!

Can you tell my mum cut my fringe?  Me circa 1974
In my Primary years, we still had morning milk in bottles with silver foil caps and a tuck shop which sold Wagon Wheels which were the size of your head and Crème Eggs that took more than 3 bites to eat them. Crisps used to cost 2d. Yes I am that old, although I have now recovered from decimalisation. I still prefer my temperatures in Fahrenheit though.

Later, my sister and I attended our local comprehensive, St. Cyres, in Penarth and had to wear a school uniform comprising a pleated skirt, white blouse, black jumper and a black and white school tie. In those days school uniform was stocked in one or two local shops and you had to get in quick or there was nothing left.

Hard at work!
The uniform seemed to be stocked in two sizes – either Harry Potter size or Hagrid Rubeus size and was made in material so warm and heavy you could probably survive a week in an Everest base camp wearing it.

Nope - still can't sight read!
Our school shoes had to have heels no more than 2.5 inches high and if your hair touched your shirt collar, you had to wear it up – including the boys. Our headmistress was an absolute stickler for rules and would carry a tape measure to check your heel height. If you failed the test you were sent home. No ifs, no buts. And you could forget jewellery (other than plain gold studs or hoops) or make-up. I suspect if our headmistress had seen a tattoo she would have had a fit of the vapours.

Mum is still cutting my fringe circa 1981
Then there was the excitement of buying a new pencil case and one of those Helix Mathematical Kits which contained a compass and a protractor. In those days, pencils could be bought actually sharpened – there wasn’t so much concern about health and safety then.

The first week of term would see the giving out of fresh new writing books and text books which we would be instructed to go home and cover in sticky backed plastic (much loved from watching Blue Peter).

Everything was new and as fresh as the crisp autumnal air. We’d wear our new school winter coats even in the Indian Summer, cooking nicely on the school bus.

Now, 30 years on and Caitlin and Ieuan are experiencing both the joy of the long summer holiday and the excitement of returning to start a new school year and ‘back to school’ seems to have become a major event.

If you ask any of the already frazzled parents trying to entertain their brood with activities not involving Pokemon, or an ‘I’ anything, this can only be a good thing.

For a start, high quality school uniform is readily available and comes in sizes to fit every child and you can even still buy Helix Mathematical sets. There are backpacks rather than the old fashioned satchels and more coloured and scented stationery than you can woggle a ruler at.

I think it’s a good thing to encourage kids to be excited about going back to school. It is, after all, where they will spend a sizeable percentage of their time and it makes sense to get them into a mindset of looking forward to learning.


This summer, M&S will be celebrating over a century of helping parents get their kids ready to go back to school so to give Caitlin and Ieuan an idea of what school was like way back then, we took them to the St. Fagans National History Museum just outside Cardiff to see Maestir School which is set up as it was in 1900.

Incidentally the National History Museum at St. Fagans is well worth a visit and features many historic buildings painstakingly resurrected for the public to learn about many aspects of Welsh life through the decades.

Maestir School was a small country school built in 1880 which had just one classroom. It was built from shale-stone taken from the local quarries and had a slate roof using slate from North Wales. The yard at the back was segregated to keep boys and girls apart.

Pupils of all ages – from 5 to 14 – would have been taught in the same classroom and there are desks in a variety of sizes to accommodate them. A far cry from the classroom set up we have today, although I can remember wooden, lidded desks in the early days at comprehensive. I think some of them are still there, together with the graffiti and chewing gum that was stuck underneath to hide it from the teacher.


Caitlin is about to start Year 4 and Ieuan Year 3 and they are both ready for the challenge. Young minds need feeding and near-constant stimulation.


Anything we can do to help create the best learning environment and to get the kids into the right mind-set is well worth the investment in my (text) book.


But you know things haven't changed that much since my sister and I walked to school.  There may be more traffic on the roads and more technology to grapple with but our kids are learning broadly what we did and, hopefully, having just as much fun.

You can share your school memories with M&S on social media using #MySchoolYears.  Bet you didn't have a fringe as good as mine!

*School uniform courtesy of M&S.

Caitlin wears:-

Girls embroidered pinafore in grey - £12 (T761728) 
Girls cotton rich cardigan in navy - £10 (T761339)
Quilted belted coat navy - £27 (T747431J)

Ieuan wears:-

Boys Plus Fit Pleat Front Adjustable Waist Supercrease Trousers in grey - £10 (T764628P)
Outstanding value unisex pure cotton jumper in navy - £7 (T763908) 
Padded parka in black  - £35 (T879299Y)

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New Releases, Free & Bargain Books Link-up 29 July 2016



How are you all this week?  The school summer holidays are well underway and we're already on our second playdate.  The kids are surviving so far, although it's a battle to get them to read rather than play with gadgets and iPads.  But I will persist! Reading is so important for our youngsters, isn't it?

We're off to Devon shortly and I will be spending lots of time writing endless lists (usually featuring copious amounts of medication and plasters) but making sure that I've plenty to read on the beach.

I'm hoping we may at least see the sun for a couple of days.

Hope you're having a great time wherever you are and if your book pile needs topping up, here are the fab books on offer this week.


Sharing the Love of Books
Enjoy our selection of New Releases / Free & Bargain Books this week

Click HERE for this week's awesome selection.

Authors please feel free to add your own books
Readers please free to add your own finds
(any genre except erotica welcome)

This weekly link up is hosted by Beck Valley Books & these awesome book loving blogs...
Monday
 Life as Leels | IrishdaisylovesRomance | Book Babble | All Romance Reader
Tuesday
It's My Side of Life | Celticlady's Reviews | First Time Mommy Adventures | Bound 2 Escape
Wednesday
Beck Valley BooksA Library of Reviews | Cinnamon Hollow Reviews
Thursday
Miki's Hope | Taking Time for Mommy | Nicki's Nook
Friday
Ebook Addicts | I Love Romance | A Bit Bookish | Mother Distracted | Colorimetry
Saturday
Totally Addicted to Reading | 3 Partners in Shopping | Angie's Angle I Create Purty Thangs | Wishful Endings
Sunday
Lynchburg Mama | LibriAmoriMieiAli - The Dragon Slayer | Wondermom WannabeMy Bizzy World |  Deal Sharing Aunt 


For Pre-orders post - PRE-ORDER / genre / title /author
For New Releases post - NEW / genre / title / author
For Free Books post - FREE / genre / title / author / end date 
For Bargain Books post - SALE / price / genre / title / author / end date
(Strictly no Erotica please.  Steamy romance is fine but watch those covers people, incase any underage child is viewing it!)

Click HERE for this week's awesome selection.

And don't forget you can always add some of your own!
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Thursday, 28 July 2016

5 Reasons Why You Should Consider A Custom Made Dress

This summer the stores are awash with a huge number of dresses and there is something for every budget but if you are looking for a really unique dress, why not consider having one made - or, if you are gifted with a sewing machine, making one yourself?



Here are 5 great reasons to create your own dress

1.  Fit

Nothing fits like a custom made dress.  I remember the joy of having my wedding dress fitted to every curve. There is such a variation between dress sizes in the major UK retailers that the perfect size in, say, Wallis, won't be the same in Zara.  I find Wallis clothing cut on the larger side and Zara cut on the smaller!  No such problems with a made-to-measure dress which can be nipped and tucked around the waist or adapted to cope with those areas where we girls carry a little extra sometimes - hips, tum, thighs and bottom.

These days it truly does not matter what size we are but it does matter that our clothes fit.  Kim Kardashian is a brilliant example of this.  

2. Comfort

The other huge benefit of getting your clothes tailored to fit is that they are simply more comfortable to wear. I have tried numerous support garments and most of them have been so uncomfortable I couldn't wait to get rid of them.  Many celebs, of course, rely on their Spanx control pants to hold everything in place and many UK retailers offer their own ranges of shapewear.  Incidentally, I am still looking for a strapless bra that stays up and gives sufficient support so if you have any recommendations, please let me know in the comments!

Credit: Leopold Terence
3. Fabric

When the latest collections hit the shops not only will you find similar styles but also broadly the same fabrics.  Lace and Denim have both been huge this summer and these fabrics have been everywhere.  And it looks like the popularity of lace will continue into AW17.

But what if you love the dress but hate the fabric?  There's no reason why you couldn't have the dress made in the fabric you love, perhaps in something cool and silky, like satin.

4. Uniqueness

Of course one of the major benefits of having a made-to-measure dress is that you can create something truly unique.  There is nothing worse than attending a posh do to find someone is wearing exactly the same dress as you - especially if they look better wearing it!

With a custom made dress you can add your own embellishments, bows, buckles, buttons, jewels, the works.  You can also adapt the length to the one that suits you best.  For example the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate always wears her skirts and dresses just below the knee so that she looks appropriate but not frumpy.

Having a unique dress is a real asset when you attend a prom or graduation ceremony. Or how about when you are the Mother of the Bride.  Of course wedding dresses tend to be unique or at least quite rare since they can be such a high cost purchase but having a civil wedding ceremony or perhaps being an older bride might lead you to source a custom-made dress which better reflects your personality and more mature style.

Credit:  Mitch
5. Cost

You might think have a made-to-measure dress is an expensive luxury but whilst you are unlikely to wear your wedding dress more than once, you may find your custom-made clothing is better value because it fits, is more comfortable and you will enjoy wearing it more.

I have several evening dresses in my wardrobe I haven't reworn, either because they are no longer in fashion or because they were uncomfortable to wear - slipping straps, hems that touch too long, a colour that just doesn't go with anything.  It's so easy to make a rush purchase when that 'do' is a few days away.  I also find it difficult to find the right shoes and outer garment.

Having a custom made dress makes you focus on these points before the cloth is cut and if you calculate the true cost of a garment on how many times you wear it, you'll find that, like me, you have some very expensive pieces already hanging unloved in your wardrobe!

There has been a definite resurgence in the popularity of sewing thanks to programmes like the BBC's "The Great British Sewing Bee" and my Facebook timeline is full of avid knitting and crochet fans.

My mum used to make summer dresses for my sister and I.  Perhaps it's worth giving a bit of home-couture a go!

Do you make your own clothes or have you ever had something special made just for you?  Let me know in the comments below.
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Relationship Dilemmas - What Was I Asked In Week 30?

As you may know, I spend a lot of time responding to the questions I am asked about dating & relationships on Quora.com and I thought I'd share some of my answers with you in case you are going through anything similar.




Obviously I am not an expert but I am a 50-something married mum of two with quite a few years' experience under my belt. I take the view that, sometimes, you need to hear it like you would from your own mother - however tough the truth may be.

Here's just some of the questions I've been asked this week.

Q: How can I be a good boyfriend?

A: Be kind, listen, be supportive. Number one requirement - don’t cheat.

It’s quite simple in theory - less so in practice.

What is important is that you pick a partner who makes YOU happy and who feels the same way about you.

Make sure you have shared interested and talk about things together.

When the initial romantic phase dies down a bit (as it often does), it’s the shared interests and conversation that keep a relationship ticking over.

Roses and chocolates are nice, but someone to make you a cup of tea and fetch you an aspirin when you have a headache is much better.


Q: What do girls want in a boyfriend? I'm insecure because I can't dance and I don't drink.

A: Do you not dance or party because you don’t have the confidence to do these things? 

When you’re young it’s very easy to tell yourself you’ll never fit in or find a girlfriend or boyfriend because you are not madly outgoing or a ‘party person’. 

Actually, you may well be a lot more fun if you find a way to boost your confidence and learn how to relax in social situations. 

Everyone struggles with this at some time or other and it can take years to master being at ease in a crowd. 

And if you are quiet and would rather stay at home with a book, then that is fine. You just need to find someone who feels the same way - and there will be plenty. 

Your challenge is to find when they hang out so you might be better spending time at your local library rather than at the nightclub. 

If you don’t want to drink, there’s absolutely no reason why you have to. If you are of legal drinking age where you are but are scared of being out of control or drunk then that is also understandable but one small drink won’t hurt you (of course you wouldn’t drive) and might help you relax just a little and enjoy yourself. Just don’t go mad and overdo it. 

I read here that you are someone who would really like to go out and have a good time when you muster up the confidence. 

One great technique is called “acting as if” - you simply pretend to be the person you want to be right now. 

Why not pretend you are your favourite celeb. How would they act or behave? You can ‘fake it till you make it’ as they say and I’ll bet nobody would suspect a thing. I bet loads of other people are doing it too. 

Q: Where do I stand with my ex-girlfriend?


My ex-girlfriend and her child live in the UK. She doesn't want to be with me, but talks to me everyday and if we don't, she gets mad. Recently, she went on a date because she got mad at me for something I said. Now she regrets the date & wants to live with me in LA. But I told her it'll take time & now she gives up.

A: How did the relationship end? You say she doesn’t want to be with you. Did she just leave and return to the UK with her child (not yours I’m assuming)? 

How long were you together? If you were together for a lengthy period of time I am assuming you developed a relationship with her child? Might that be the reason why she wants to talk to you everyday? 

What was it you said that got her so mad? It must have been something pretty hurtful if her response was to go out on a date. Were you arguing about the future of your relationship? 

There seems to be a lot of game playing going on between you both without either of you being really honest about where the relationship is going. 

Do you want her or not? 

If you did offer her a home in LA do you think, in all honesty, that she would come? I think the pair of you really need to sort this out - not least because it must be really unsettling for her child. I’d suggest that’s what you should be concentrating on. 

Q: Should I tell my acquaintance that I like her?

I met this lady living in the same building when I was selling my car online. I sold her my car for a big discount because I liked her. She in return bought me a couple of lunch. Should I tell her I like her and want to ask her out?

A: I don’t think you have anything to lose - unless the car you sold her was dodgy of course! 

Seriously, it sounds like she is interested but unless you ask her out you won’t know. Why not keep it casual and just ask if she fancies joining you for a coffee and take it from there.

Q: Do guys who have a better sense of cleanliness make better husbands?

A: If cleanliness is really important to you, it makes sense that you would want a partner who prioritises this in the same way. 


In that sense they may make a ‘better husband’ than someone who slobs around the house in fried chicken stained tracksuit bottoms and never showers. 

But I think to most women, a ‘better husband’ is one who is kind, caring, considerate, supportive and faithful. 

I think many women would rather have a man who occasionally misses a shower than one who showers away all the other women he’s been dallying with. 

Q: Why do they say your man must love you more than you love him?  And how can I make him love me more?

A: This is the stuff of romantic fiction where the man always has to chase the woman until he wins her heart. 

In reality, every relationship is different and there are really no rules nor a way to measure who loves whom more. 

A relationship shouldn’t be hard work where you are constantly calculating the amount of love each has for the other. 

In the same way trying to get someone to ‘love you more’ is a bit of a fruitless task because whilst you can be kind, caring, supportive and faithful, there is never any guarantee that your partner will increase his level of love for you. 

I do think (old fashioned as it is these days) that men prefer to do the chasing and find women who pursue them relentlessly off-putting. 

A better ‘strategy’ if that is what you are looking for is to concentrate on you and what makes you happy. 

If you are confident, happy, having fun and taking life as it comes, you are more likely to keep a man than a woman who is obsessing over checks and balances of love and constantly stressing about whether she is being ‘good enough’ to win that extra bit of love. 

Concentrate on being an individual and then, ironically, you’ll get a better partner. 

Q: Do you think it'll creep him out if I asked him if he wanted to hang out or at least ask for his number?

There's this guy that works at a firework booth and last year my friends and I went to his booth, and he seemed pretty cool and this year we’ll probably go back & i wanted to ask if he wanted to hang out sometime or at least for his number but I don't know if it will creep him out.. Should I take the risk?

A: I get the feeling that you are not very old so my first question is:- is this guy much older than you? 

I’m also assuming that you haven’t seen him for a year. 

It sounds like you have got a crush on him and are enjoying a little romantic fantasy - nothing wrong with that. 

In reality, however, you know absolutely nothing about him - other than that you find him attractive. 

He probably has a girlfriend, partner or even a wife. 

He is probably approached by quite a few girls over the season so unless he makes a concerted effort to get to know you, I would enjoy your fantasy but leave this guy as just that.

Q: Why does my ex-girlfriend lie to me and confuse me about what she wants?

Me and my ex broke up last year. she with someone else but tells me that she single. It was last month She goes to me that she loves me, she miss me, she wants to be with me. Week later she goes I don't know. Today I got txt from her saying ‘I do miss u’ but act like she didn't txt it.

A: This girl clearly doesn’t know what she wants and is keeping you dangling just in case she changes her mind - which is not fair on you.

It sounds as if her new relationship is on the rocks and she wants to keep you in the wings as the fall-back guy. 

Rather than wait around to see if she changes her mind, why don’t you concentrate on YOU. Go out and have fun and date someone new. 

Don’t rush to respond to her texts or get into lengthy conversations about the state of your relationship. You don’t say why you broke up but if she instigated the break-up by going off with someone else, then in your shoes, I’d be looking for someone else. 

If you love her desperately and think she has changed and you want to give your relationship another try, then you need to put this to her and see what she says. But playing text-tag is getting you nowhere. 

My reading of this is that she just wants the reassurance of someone who she thinks would take her back if her current relationship fails. Is that what you want? You do have a say in this you know.

Q: What does it mean if you run out of things to say to your girlfriend?

A: If there is an occasional silence between you where you are both happy to just be together then that is one thing. 

If that silence is awkward and filled with desperate efforts to make conversation then that isn’t quite so good. 

If your relationship is fine in all other aspects, you find each other attractive and you enjoy being together then it’s time to find some shared interests and to make the effort to get to know one another better. 

Relationships take work. They won’t evolve unless you put the effort in - and that means both of you. 

Does your girlfriend try to talk to you? Are you both shy, introverted people? 

If you are realising that you have nothing in common with your girlfriend then it may be time to say goodbye. 

But if you are happy and just want to get to know her better then take the initiative and plan a few dates doing something new which will spark conversation. An arty film? A visit to a gallery or museum? Why not try to cook a dish from a different cuisine at home. 

There are loads of things you can do to create conversation. 

Good luck.


Q: Should I tell this guy to stop being so sweet and nice to me because I have a boyfriend?

I started college and half way through the year I met this guy who I have so much in common with. From the first day I met him I knew that he liked me but I told him that I was in a relationship that made me happy and he backed off. He's very nice and goes out of his way to help me through my troubles. He keeps on doing this stuff for me so one time I decided to test it by being mean to him. He said I want to get you back but I really can't help but be nice to you. I am happy in my other relationship but I still care enough about my friend to let him know that he's wasting his time waiting for me because I can't just leave my boyfriend who hasn't done anything to deserve that. What can I do? When we were talking about relationships he told me he's trying to get over some girl because nothing is going to happen and I'm pretty sure that's me.

A: I think you need to be honest with yourself. You are really enjoying the attention from this other guy. 

Why did you feel the need to be ‘mean’ to him just to test the depth of his affection? Surely he didn’t deserve that. 

If you are really not interested there is nothing for you and he to fix. 

You need to state quite clearly that you are happy in your relationship and that there is no future for you and this guy. 

Then you need to stop hanging out with him for a while to give him a chance to get over you and find someone who does want him. When the dust has settled a bit perhaps you can go back to being friends at some point. 

Incidentally what does your current boyfriend think about this? Is he not as sweet and nice as this other guy? If he isn’t, perhaps you are actually with the wrong man. 

Either way, you are playing with two guys’ feelings and that’s not really fair. You run the risk of both of them getting fed up with it and leaving you alone.

How would you have responded to these questions? 

More dating advice on my problem page.

All materials included in this post are intended for informational purposes only. This post/information is not intended to and should not be used to replace medical or psychiatric advice offered by physicians or other health care providers. The author will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages arising therefrom.
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Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Whizzing Up Something Nutritious For The House of Fraser Smoothie Challenge

The House of Fraser is on a mission to get us all fitter for summer and enjoying the benefits of a healthy smoothie - one you make yourself, not a shop-bought one packed with sugar and other unhealthy things.


They threw down the gauntlet to the Hobbis Household and sent us a Kenwood Smoothie To Go Blender to create a House of Fraser themed smoothie.


Now as you know I am a complete whizz in the kitchen and resisting the urge to do something creative with strawberries and banana, my eye fell on my latest cookery tome "Eat Well For Less" from the BBC TV series of the same name.


How is this relevant you cry?  Well, if you want to get maximum value for your budget in all departments, House of Fraser is a very good place to look.  Their focus has always been on accessible quality for families.

Our Kenwood Smoothie To Go Blender is a real workhorse of a gadget.  It is sturdily built and everything assembles easily with just one click. It can grind spices and quickly create smoothies, soups and sauces with its 350W motor which has 2 blending speeds and a pulse function.

It comes with a 1 litre plastic goblet, a separate mill for spices, herbs, nuts and coffee beans and a smoothie to go goblet ideal for fresh smoothies on the go. The plastic parts are dishwasher safe and the blender comes with a 1 year guarantee.  It currently retails at £39.99.

We chose to make Gregg and Chris's Breakfast Smoothie.


Ingredients

500 ml semi-skimmed milk
2 tbsp mixed frozen fruit (just choose your favourite)
2 tbsp blanched almonds
2 tbsp rolled oats
1 tsp runny honey

Combine ingredients in the blending goblet and whizz until smooth.

Makes enough for 2 smoothies.


The Smoothie To Go Goblet comfortably took the full amount of smoothie and fits nicely in the fridge so you could just prepare the night before and grab it on your way out of the door in the morning.

House of Fraser have a wide range of blenders and kitchen gadgets to choose from but I'm sticking with my Kenwood.  Simple to use, easy to clean and even I can work out how to put it together!

Now to create my stawberry and banana special....


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Tuesday, 26 July 2016

How To Make The Most Of A Rainy Summer's Day With Kids

The British Summer can be wonderfully unpredictable. Whenever you decide to have a family outing in the sunshine, it rains! Every parent knows the value of a backup plan. So that’s what we’ve compiled for you here; fun suggestions for not letting rainy days dampen the family fun.

Dig Out the Board Games

Every family has a hoard of games. They’ve probably been neglected in favour of smartphone apps, but now is the perfect opportunity to dust off the old-school games! Nothing quite brings a family together like a game of Monopoly or Connect 4. A games board championship provides a new twist and can easily occupy the family all afternoon.

Kid friendly Bake-off 

There are lots of cake recipes which do not require kids having to use a hot oven. Rocky road, for example, is delicious yet very easy to make. Bring out your best Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood impressions for the taste test. The losing side has to wash up! Adult supervision will be required for cutting and heating ingredients. Or you could get involved too; boys vs. girls is always an interesting competition.

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Get crafting!

Arts and crafts are the most popular choice for beating boredom on a rainy day. You don’t need a particularly extensive craft box. Just a few essentials that can be re-used for lots of projects. If you do want to update your supplies, Glue Guns Direct is a great place to start for no-sew crafts. Other than that crepe paper, paints and crayons are some crafting staples. Browse the internet for projects that the whole family can do together- it’s not just for kids!

Family Scrapbooking

There’s never usually time to organize family photos. Have a good sort through all of your albums and loose photos. Have everyone pick out their favourite snapshots to be featured in the scrapbook. All you need is a plain notebook, scissors, glue and pens. Get everyone involved in the decorative process. The kids can draw illustrations while the parents add written quotes.

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Make a pillow fort

Watching a movie on the sofa is so overrated! Set up a pillow cave for a cosy home cinema experience. If the rain is particularly persistent, get kids to organize a mini-film festival. Handmade posters and popcorn are essential! You could even encourage children to write a film review after viewing. This will ensure their handwriting and literacy skills are being practiced during the holidays.

Get a head start on gifts 

Got a birthday or special occasion coming up? Check out these low-cost gift ideas. Even if you don’t make anything, planning the family schedule will keep everyone organized for the next few weeks. Pull down the calendar and write down everything you need to do before the kids go back to school. Remember to make time for more family fun too.

Have a jam session

Most homes will have a musical instrument laying around. If not, make your own! Pots and pans can be used as percussion. Rice in a cardboard tube can become an impromptu rain stick. Singing requires no accessories. You could even have a free karaoke session and use instrumental clips of popular songs from YouTube.
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Monday, 25 July 2016

Family Friendly Fun In Amsterdam

There's no denying that Amsterdam is a beautiful city.  It is one of the largest historical city centres in Europe and has over 50 museums.  You may know Amsterdam best for its vibrant nightlife but there is plenty to do on your family holiday.

Here are just a few of the things on our family bucket list.

Museums

Popular with kids is the Tropenmuseum (the Tropical Museum) where the displays (art, photographs, music and film) depict the lives of cultures outside of the West, focusing on the tropics and subtropics.

The Nemo Science Museum
Or there is Amsterdam's science museum, Nemo which is best suited for children over 6 and features interactive science exhibits, experiments & shows in a huge, waterfront, boat-like museum.

Amsterdam is a great destination to introduce your children to culture, both artistic and literary.  You could visit the Van Gogh museum which displays over 200 of his works, including landscapes, still lifes and drawings and letters. These are displayed alongside works from Van Gogh's contemporaries so that visitors get real insights into his life and work.

Vincent Van Gogh - A Self Portrait
And of course perhaps the most famous museum is the Anne Frank House. Perhaps more suited to older children, nevertheless, the story told by Jewish wartime diarist Anne in her diary is one of the most terrible and moving in the 20th century and to see the home in which she was imprisoned brings to life the ordeal she and her family endured.

Anne Frank House
Canals & Boats

Experiencing Amsterdam by boat will give you a different perspective on the city. There are loads of different types of boat tours - there's an Amsterdam Pizza Tour or an Amsterdam Burger Tour or you could take an evening canal cruise.  There's even a children's party cruise on the 'Pancake Boat' where the kids make and decorate their own pancakes.



Bicycles

There are more bikes in Amsterdam than there are people - over 800,000 bicycles! Cycling is a way of life in Amsterdam and the city has a great network of bike paths and cycle routes. Cycling is also a great way to explore the city.

Image credit:  Anna & Michal
You can hire bikes called 'bakfiets’ (cargo bike) which have a wooden compartment in which your kids can sit.

What a cute way of sightseeing!
Foodie Treats

There is a vast choice of restaurants featuring international cuisine and street markets a plenty where you can sample local fare such as Stroopwafels or Poffertjes.

Stroopwafels are chewy syrup waffles first made in the town of Gouda in the Netherlands during the 18th century. They are made from two thin layers of batter with a sticky syrup filling in the middle. In Amsterdam you can find freshly made stroopwafels at Amsterdam street markets like Albert Cuypmarkt and Noordermarkt. Stroopwafels are a great accompaniment to a cup of coffee or tea and come in various sizes. The most popular size fits perfectly as a lid on your coffee which softens the cookie and melts the syrup. Yum!

Poffertjes are small, fluffy pancakes made with yeast and buckwheat flour found at outdoor markets and on many street corners in winter. They are typically served topped with powdered sugar and butter. Usually served on a little paper plate with a tiny fork for smearing the butter, they can be really messy to eat if it's windy as the powder sugar will cover your face and clothing!

Image Credit:  Flickr: Nenyaki
Flowers

We all know about tulips from Amsterdam but it's great to see the street markets awash with a riot of colour. Why not visit the floating flower market or Bloemenmarkt. All the stalls are located on floating barges along the canal, which is how the flowers used to travel from the fields to the city.

Fresh flowers are still brought in daily, but these days come by lorry! You are sure to find your favourite flower here, from the traditional Dutch tulip to the more exotic varieties.  In December you'll also find Christmas trees.

It is also very easy to reach Amsterdam with more than 300 direct flights to Schipol Airport which is 20 minutes from the city centre by train.

As you might expect for a major tourist destination, there is a wide range of accommodation to suit all budgets but be sure to do your research to check what is included in the cost of your stay. For example, with some of the family friendly hotels, bike hire is included in the price.

Have you taken your family to Amsterdam?  What sights would you recommend?  What is your favourite family friendly hotel?
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Sunday, 24 July 2016

Reinventing Family Favourites With Branston Pickles & Sauces

Most of us know the name Branston and the saying "Bring Out The Branston".  The original Branston Pickle was always on our table to liven up ploughman's lunches and sandwiches.  My dad was a particular fan and in fact, his pet name for me was Pickle - which may, or may not be linked.


Branston Pickle was first made by Crosse & Blackwell in 1922 and is named after the small village near Burton in Staffordshire. Over 17 million jars of pickle are sold every year and the range now includes relishes and table sauces.

But did you know that you can use Branston products to liven up a whole range of dishes, including family favourites such as lasagne or beef stew with dumplings?

There is a great selection of Branston products to choose from such as the new Branston Sweet Chilli Pickle, Spicy Tomato Relish, Caramelised Onion Chutney, Orchard Fruit Chutney and Tomato & Red Pepper Relish.

You can use these to jazz up your leftovers - for example, you could use up leftover cheese in a Cheese, Spinach & Caramelised Onion Chutney Quiche or how about some Mediterranean Bubble & Squeak Cakes - a great way to use up leftover potato and veg.

Branston's website has a comprehensive range of recipes to try, including five created by Andy Bates, the star of Food Network’s Street Feasts which are tasty takes on the hot sandwich. Andy, who is known for his modern twists on classic dishes, fuelled by his international travels and passion for street food, has created a recipe to complement each flavour in the Branston Relish range.

How about Cider & Fennel Braised Pulled Pork, Mango Salsa Roll with Branston Sweet & Spicy Brazilian Relish or Mushroom & Grilled Cheese ‘Burger’ Muffin With Branston Caramelised Red Onion Relish?

It's a very long way from the humble Ploughman's!

If you would like to try Branston's recipes for yourself, you'll find them at www.bringoutthebranston.co.uk.

We tried Sticky Pork Chops but substituted the Branston Orchard Chutney for the Branston Sweet Chilli Chutney.

Simply make a marinade with 4 generous tablespoons of Branston.


Coat the chops with the marinade and chill for 30 minutes.


The Marinade at work
Then whack in the oven for half an hour while you prepare some rice with the broccoli and courgette.


The tomatoes are added to the chops about 10 minutes before serving.

The result was pork chops with quite a kick and the added veg are great for the kids.


You're sure to find a way to add some extra taste to your meals with the Branston range.
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