Thursday, 18 July 2013

Blog-crushes

Every so often I stumble upon a new blog (new to me rather than new to the blogosphere) which so hooks me, that I become a little obsessed and stalkerish about it.

The first one that I found, and which opened up the whole world of blogging to me (I know, I'm a little behind the times!) was Cherry Menlove. I found I couldn't get enough of it, and had to read all of Cherry's back posts. I have found her blog inspirational, as unlike many, often US-based, home & interiors style blogs, she doesn't have an unlimited budget. Everything she and her husband does to their home, is done on a tight budget, using what they already have and mixing Ikea basics with junk-shop finds etc. Cherry is also totally self-taught in everything from sewing to cooking, which is pretty amazing considering that she now runs a baking school from her home and has had a book published which includes recipes and craft how-to's. Her photography is beautiful too. How she accomplishes what she does as well as look after her 3 year old twins, I'll never know. I love her writing style, which reminds me a little of Nigella - that cosy way of writing, as if she is sitting next to you having a chat. She is very honest, and seems to hold very little about her life and family back (something which she has been criticised about), which is so very refreshing. I have been inspired by a lot of what Cherry has done to her home, and her love of all things white.




My open kitchen shelves - inspired by Cherry's here!
  I found Cherry a year or two ago, but in the last week have found two more which I know I am going to get totally hooked on! The first one is Young House Love. I have only just to started to delve into their back posts, but what I have seen so far is amazing. The transformations they have made to their homes is truly astounding. And for every project, they photograph it as they go along and include step-by-step instructions. I'm just in awe of what they accomplish whilst having a 3 year old under their feet too! Again, I love their writing style. What makes this blog is different is that it is a husband and wife team, and they take turns in writing the posts. A feature I have just discovered on their blog is "House Crash", where they give a tour around someone else's house, pointing out great style tips. I'm certain I will be getting lots of home makeover inspiration from John and Sherry.

The final blog that I recently discovered (yesterday in fact!) is Kate's Creative Space. A beautiful looking blog, full of fantastic home-made things for her 3 year old son (checkout this homemade hardware store!!) I am hooked already, especially on the posts about their house makeover. They have recently moved to a crumbling old house and are slowly renovating it. The couple of reveals of rooms they have finished are totally amazing, and I can only drool over the pictures and try and aspire to that perfection! It's great that this is a UK-based blog, which means I can take note of paint colours, suppliers etc. This is one of those blogs where you want to hate the person writing it, as they are just a little bit too perfect in every way, but instead I have really warmed to her. She comes across as being very human and down to earth, yet the stuff she makes is phenomenal! I have been pinning her stuff on pinterest like crazy!


So now I have found some new reasons not to do all the things on my to-do list - instead of cracking on with my own house makeover and renovation, I'll be reading about other people's instead!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

A Blissful Child-free Weekend Part II

The weekend before last, I was lucky enough to enjoy another child-free weekend away! What on earth is going on?? Two weekends away from the children in the last 2 months, after 6 years of never having left them hardly??

This time is was to celebrate husband's 40th birthday. His birthday was back in May, but this was the first available booking I could get for the restaurant he has wanted to go to for years. My original plan for his birthday celebration was to take him to Villa Park (he's a life long Aston Villa supporter!) to be wined and dined in their restaurant, have a guided tour and a meet and greet with some old players, before watching Villa v. Sunderland. It was costing a small fortune, but I knew he would absolutely love it (not sure I was looking forward it too much though, as I'm not really into football, and the last time that husband had taken me to see Villa play I'd fallen asleep!!). I kept the whole thing a surprise and was looking forward to seeing his reaction when he found out where we were going. A few weeks before the event though, I got a phone call to tell me that the match had been moved to the Monday night and did I still want the hospitality package. Obviously, I had to cancel and I was totally gutted! What on earth I could I arrange now at short notice that would be anywhere near as good as Villa? After wracking my brains a little, I remembered that Husband has been longing to go to Purnell's Restaurant in Birmingham, ever since he saw Glynn Purnell on the first series of the Great British Menu. As a fellow Brummie, he loved Glynn and the look of his culinary creations. Being a michelin starred restaurant however, it gets booked up way in advance.

And so this is why we had to celebrate Husband's birthday in July instead of May. Our good friends (the one who I went away on my last child-free weekend with) offered to have the boys for us for the weekend, so I booked a nice hotel in Birmingham city centre, close to the Bullring, for a weekend of shopping, eating and drinking.

The hotel I booked was Hotel La Tour. I had originally wanted to stay at Malmaison at The Mailbox, but after reading some recent reviews on Tripadvisor saying that it was looking a bit shabby and could do with a re-furb, I opted for a newer hotel which had excellent reviews. And I was glad I did. Hotel La Tour is a five minute walk from the Bullring and all the shops. It is a lovely new, modern hotel with everything absolutely spotless. We didn't eat at the hotel at all, so can't vouch for the standard of the food, but the cocktails were good! The rooms are lovely, with fancy touch-screen lighting controls and the most fantastic shower. And at only £85 for the room for the night for a 4 star hotel, I will defintely be staying there again.


Cocktails at the hotel

The weather was amazing - the start of the really hot spell we have been having. And we shopped 'til we dropped! The sales had all just started, and we got loads of great bargains. I have to confess that my converse addiction took hold and I succombed to buying 3 - yes 3! - new pairs (you can read about my Converse addiction here). I even managed to talk Husband into buying a pair on the sale - green ones like he originally said he would get. He wore them on Sunday and LOVES them! Result!


Before we had children, I remember shopping trips with Husband as being stressful events often involving bickering and stroppiness (him, not me!), and something that we avoided if possible, unless it was Christmas or something! This time, it was positively blissful! We glided around the shops perusing the sales rails at our leisure - no screaming, fighting kids, no need to carry bags of snacks/drinks/bribery with us, and no need to go into any toy or child-friendly shops! We even skipped lunch in favour of a coffee and more shopping time!


Our booking at Purnell's was at 7pm, and we were really excited about it. I can tell you, we were not disappointed! We opted for the 9-course Purnell's Tour which included courses entitled 'Emotions of cheese and pineapple on sticks "Soixante-dix"' and 'Burnt English custard egg suprise'. That last one was the one he won the dessert course on the Great British Menu with. All of the food was amazing, apart from the amuse bouche, which Husband said tasted like a leek and potato cup-a-soup! We got chatting to one of the waitresses who was a brummie (a lot of the staff were French-sounding), and explained that it was Husband's birthday and he was so pleased be eating there. She promptly returned from the kitchen with a signed menu - Glynn Purnell was actually in the kitchen cooking that night. Husband was chuffed to bits!

Burnt English custard egg surprise



The signed menu

Shortly afterwards, the man himself dashed out of the kitchen over to our table to shake hands with Husband and wish him a happy birthday! Husband was even more chuffed! So much so, that we ordered another bottle of wine! I was starting to lose track of courses by now, after cocktails at the hotel, followed by a vodka martini as an aperitif and then wine, but hey, we could have a lie-in the next morning!


At the end of our fantastic meal, Husband sent a note to the kitchen telling the chef how much we'd enjoyed the food and service, and asked if it would be possible for Glynn to come out and have a picture taken. Despite being flat out in the middle of service, he duly popped out for a photo, which made Husband's day!



Glynn Purnell and Husband

Needless to say, neither of us felt on top form the next morning! The plan had been to do some more shopping and have a leisurely lunch before heading back to collect the boys. After eventually getting some breakfast at Cote Brasserie (for free, after such appalling service and having to repeatedly complain and when the food finally came, send it back as it was burnt!!), and a wander around The Mailbox (a waste of time - most of the retail unit are empty, so don't bother going there), we decided we may as well head for home and watch Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final instead. The boys hadn't missed us at all, as they were having so much fun with their friends, and didn't want to come home!

 Murray's win at Wimbledon really was the most fantastic end to a wonderful weekend.

Me and the old man!









Monday, 1 July 2013

House porn

I have always been slightly addicted to magazines. My whole family are. My habit was started as a small child when my sister and I had a subscription to Twinkle magazine. This later turned into Girl magazine, followed by Just Seventeen, Looks and finally Cosmopolitan - all paid for by good old Dad!


twinkle    girl teen magazine 1988 may 4    Just seventeen December 1988   looks magazine cover 1992 december



My dad himself has several magazine subscriptions on the go - Farmers Weekly, Tractor & Machinery and Autoexpress (can you tell he's a farmer??). 

My magazine habit continues to cost me a small fortune, the title and genre of magazine changing to reflect what is happening in my life. Once I met my future husband, all the Cosmos, Company's, Marie Claire's stopped (I no longer needed to read about how to find my perfect man!), to be replaced by wedding magazines! When we bought our first house, I discovered the world of home decor magazines, and when I got pregnant with our first child, our magazine rack became filled with the likes of Mother and Baby, Prima Baby and Junior magazine!

Since moving house, I have been well and truly sucked back into the world of house porn. Except this time, instead of Living Etc and House Beautiful, I have been seduced by the decidedly more glossy The English Home, Country Homes & Interiors and Period Homes. These magazines have some beautiful period properties featured, and over the last 18 months I have been sucking up all the beautiful pictures to try to get some inspiration for our home.

    The English Home - April 2011 (UK)   

Recently however, I have started to get more and more annoyed and disillusioned with these magazines. I have realised that the homes featured are all owned by people in the "business" ie interior designers, architects, property developers, antiques dealers, interiors shop owners etc, so not "normal" people who have done their house out nicely.

They all also seem to have had unlimited budgets, and vast arrays of antique family heirlooms in the shape of 12-seater dining tables and chairs, grandfather clocks, dressers, dressing tables etc. I queried it with my mum as to why we have no family antiques, and she said that Granny had chucked then all out in the 60s as they were "nasty, old dark wood" or "old-fashioned"! So gone are all the beautiful old oil lamps that Mum remembers from her childhood, the brass bed-steads, scrubbed pine tables, mahogany chests - basically everything that you see filling antiques emporiums these days, with a hefty price-tag attached. Whenever I look around an antique shop with my Mum, practically every item is something she remembers them having at home when she was growing up. All gone!

But apart from the lack of ordinary people in these features, the most annoying thing, and something that I have only just noticed, is the fact that these homes don't look lived in. They look too perfect. The biggest clue, is the fact that there are no televisions! I've been struggling with the layout in our drawing room, and had been looking to my magazines for help. All the rooms shown are perfectly laid out - and here's the important bit - around the fireplace which is the focal point of the room. The problem we have is that we have the focal point of the fireplace but also a bloody great flat screen TV parked in the corner. If I position the furniture neatly around the fireplace like in the magazines, it's impossible to watch telly comfortably. If I position the furniture so that all seating can watch telly, it just looks all wrong. 

Now, I don't believe that all these people featured in the magazines don't own TVs. I've realised that the photos are totally staged for the magazine. In our room we have extension leads trailing across the room, in order to plug in lamps where you actually need them. In the magazines, they have fabulous lamps on beautiful antique tables behind the sofas, but with no evidence of the power cables anywhere! I can only assume the lamps have been popped there for the photo.

I have probably been hugely naive in thinking that these were real people showing off their real homes. I did wonder why there was never any mention of the more practical stuff, like how they heat their 8 bedroom Georgian Manor house when it is -5 outside (we know how hard it is to heat an old house!), and the small fortune it took to re-wire the house. The realisation that the photos are staged for the magazine has really taken the shine off my enjoyment of these magazines, and leaves me sagging a little at the thought of never being able to make our house look as lovely as those.

So are these magazines to home-owners, what the glossy fashion mags are to teenage girls - full of totally false, staged and unrealistic photos, that make the normal folk who read them feel unworthy and lacking?

Or are they purely just house porn - to be read and enjoyed for the beautiful pictures and items shown in them, allowing the reader a little escapism and fantasism, to be then thrown to one side in order to get on with real life and the true realities of living in an old, money-pit of a house!

Friday, 21 June 2013

Procrastination




Some days I really struggle to get anything done. Sometimes it's tiredness after a disturbed night with one of the boys, sometimes it's due to the miserable weather, but other times it's just due to general lethargy.

I am a big list-maker, and cannot get anything done without making a list first. I find it keeps everything straight in my mind, enabling me to prioritise all the mundane tasks that inevitably fill my days (emptying the dishwasher, put washing on, put ironing away, tidy toys/shoes/coats/post, food shopping etc etc).

But some days, even the lists fail me. I look down the list, and just can't bring myself to do anything on it. There will always be one or two things on there that get bumped day after day, as I just don't want to do them, but when the whole list gets bumped, I know I'm having one of those funny lethargic, procrastinating, WILFing days. And I know that we're all guilty of a bit of procrastination.


Procrastination


Much like today really! I feel pretty exhaustipated today (my new favourite word - too tired to give a sh*t!). Hayfever has kicked in majorly this week, and wipes me out. So at least I have sneezy, runny, nose and sore, itchy eyes and general tiredness to blame today!

Although I have ticked a few things off my list today, so it's not as bad as it could be!

A lot of my lack of enthusiasm for getting things done stems down to lack of time. I am constantly watching the clock. Wednesdays and Fridays, G is as nursery in the morning as well as W being at school. So although I have a couple of child-free hours in the morning, the rest of the day is spent clock-watching and dashing off to do pick-ups.

So I look at my list and think "there's not time to do that" and instead just WILF around the house but don't actually get much done. Things like gardening that require a change of clothes and getting dirty, always seem to get left, as I tend to think there's no point getting changed for an hour and then have to put everything away, come in, get washed and changed to go and do school pick-up.

I am a firm believer that you have to be in the right frame of mind to do certain tasks, and if you're not, then there is just no point. I can beleive in this way of thinking, as I know that my mindset will change very soon - my lethargy is generally short-lived. I am not like some people I know (who shall remain nameless!) who seem to be endlessly waiting for the day when they are suddenly galvansied into action to sort their lives out, but in the meantime let the years slide by doing nothing, filling those close to them with endless disappointment.

I have a house-related bucket-list as long as my arm, but I know that one day (in the not too distant future, I hope), I will have managed to tick everything off. When I look back over the last year of what we have achieved in the house and garden, I feel really pleased.

It's just on days like today that I feel the heavy burden of all those tasks and projects that are sitting waiting for me, calling to me to finish them and in most cases, start them!

And don't even get me started on all the craft projects that are waiting for me - some started, but many many still just hopes and dreams in my mind's eye!

Monday, 17 June 2013

A blissful child-free weekend

I haven't written a post for ages - I don't know where the last couple of weeks has gone! I seem to be busy all day yet achieve nothing! The dreaded wilfing has been in charge!

Anyway, I digress. Last weekend, I had a delightful weekend away with my best friend - 2 whole nights and almost 2 full days with no children or husbands! I have to say, it was utter bliss! This was the longest that I have ever been away from my two little darlings. I had a night away in Bath for my sister's 40th birthday do earlier in the year, but it was only 1 night and just over 24hrs, and so I didn't really fully relax and switch off from being "mummy". 2 nights however, definitely allowed me that luxury!

We went to Ludlow for the weekend. It was somewhere that neither my friend or I had ever been to, and as we are both history-lovers and there is a great, historic castle bang slap in the middle of Ludlow (where Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon went to live after they were married), as well as lots of little shops, restaurants, tea rooms etc, we thought it would be ideal for us. My other reason for wanting to visit Ludlow, was to go to the Clearview Stoves showroom. If you ever happen to be n Ludlow, it is well worth a visit, even if you're not interested in stoves! It is in a Georgian mansion - Dinham House, by the walls of the castle, where Napoleon's brother and family lived while in excile. The house is beautifully decorated in historic colours, with locally produced furniture and accessories dressing each room, as well as lots of the Clearview stoves on display and being demonstrated. It's like visiting a National Trust property that happens to have lots of woodburners dotted around! 



The weather was fantastic for our whole weekend - sunny, clear blue sky and 21 degrees both days. We had a little lie-in both mornings, before a lovely cooked breakfast in our hotel, and then a leisurely stroll into town. It was so nice not being tied to any schedule or fixed meal times, and having to only think about ourselves - no need to pack bags of snacks/drinks/wet wipes/coats/jumpers etc etc for the children. No whining or moaning about sore feet/being bored/thirsty/hungry/tired. No tantrums over wanting sweets/toys/snacks/whose turn it is for something. Just pure unadulterated mooching around, browsing the shops, stopping for lunch when we got peckish, stopping for a pimms or three when we got tired!
We came back on Sunday evening feeling truly refreshed. Both my friend and I are SAHMs - I have two boys, and she has two girls and a boy. We both rarely have time away from our children, so we both luxuriated in the freedom of being away from children and housework. We're hoping to make it an annual treat....have to see if the husbands are willing!
  And for once, I think the boys had actually missed me. They are so used to me always being there, that by Sunday afternoon they were starting to get concerned! Maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder...  

Thursday, 30 May 2013

A Visit to The National Space Centre, Leicester

So today was the day that we decided to venture out a bit further from home. W has been doing about space at school, so I thought a visit to the National Space Centre would be good.

It took just over an hour to get there. I dutifully ignored the satnav and followed the brown rocket signs around the ring road, as advised on the website. Satnav was adamant that we should go throught the city centre. I rather wish we had, as it was a lot quicker going home this route! Thankfully the carpark is only a short walk from the entrance to the Space Centre, but you do have to pay £2 to park.


The National Space Centre, Leicester

I would definitely advise booking tickets online in advance. When we got there, we didn't have to queue at all, as we could just go straight to the pre-booked ticket collection desk to get our tickets. Booking online also means that you can choose which showing of the planetarium show you want to see, rather than getting given whatever is left when you get there. It worked perfectly for us, as we had a little look around when we got there before going in for our showing, and then had lunch when we came out, so no hanging around waiting for a late show. It was £13 for an adult and under-5s were free, so both my boys went in for free (W is 5 and a bit, but shhhh don't tell anyone!)

Once in, you needed to keep your tickets handy, as there are lots of interactive exhibits that you can scan your ticket on and it then stored information on your ticket. For example, in the Tranquility Base section, you could untertake lots of different astronaut training activities such as moonwalk practise. At the end, you scanned your ticket and it brought up all the tasks you had completed and then produced a crew card and postcard of your moonwalk that you could have emailed to you to print at home. Great fun!

The ground level had all the usual space stuff - info on being an astronaut, all about the planets, stars, black holes, space exploration etc. There was also an area with people giving talks at various times during the day. For half term, the topic was Women in Science. We listened to a bit about the first woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova, if you're interested), and a bit of the Horrible History of Women in Science. Both were very interesting and well presented, but my two are a little too young and got bored after a few minutes. Throughout the ground level are various dressing-up points aimed at the under-5s, where they can dress up as an astronaut, a star, an alien or a scientist. My two loved it! There were also lots of those things you stand behind and put your face through a hole to have a photo taken, which was also a bit hit with my two!


Pondering Quantum-physics?

My two little astronauts

Upstairs is all about rockets. They have a Thor missile on display, which is very impressive. You can take a glass lift up alongside it to various viewing platforms, to get a better look and learn more about rockets, missiles and the space race. We did this just before we left, and the queue for the lift was not bad at all.


Thor Missile


There is a large self-service cafe serving soup and a large range of sandwiches and baguettes, cakes, crisps etc. I'd brought a packed lunch each for the boys, but got myself a sandwich from the cafe. I was impressed with how much seating they had for the cafe and how clean and well-serviced it was. In fact, the whole centre was very clean and well-staffed. The boys particularly liked the toilets, which were space themed, with automatic washbasins built into the walls which automatically squirted soap, water and hot air!

The planetarium show was called "We Are Aliens" and was all about the possiblity of there being life on other planets. It was a great show, but I would have liked a more traditional planetarium experience of the planets and stars. There was a later showing like that, but the queues were enormous, as it was not bookable in advance.

Considering it is halfterm, I was amazed at how quiet it was. I was expecting the place to be packed and huge queues for all the interactive exhibits, but it wasn't, which was great! I did notice that there were far more little boys there than little girls. I guess space is something that must appeal more to boys than girls!

All in all, a very enjoyable day out. G wants to go back again, and said we can go for my birthday next week. When I said I didn't want to do that for my birthday, he had a huge tantrum! So I have promised we can go back for his birthday next year! There was the usual whining and fighting over whose turn it was to press buttons/have their photo taken/look through a telescope/whose feet were hurting most/whose legs were aching etc* (*delete as appropriate) which always drives me potty, but that seems to be par for the course on days out!






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Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Epic Review

We survived another trip to the cinema. Although, whilst in there, I vowed that G would NOT be going again, and W would not NOT be allowed a drink next time!

W was extremely excited to be going to see Epic in 3D. We have been avoiding watching anything in 3D of late, due to the extra expense and the fact that G spends most of the film with the glasses off (like today!). I think W was actually a little disappointed with the 3D experience today, and spent the first half hour of the film complaining loudly to me that his glasses weren't working as "nothing is popping out of the screen at me"! The novelty of 3D does seem to wear off after a few minutes, as your eyes and brain just adjust to watching it that way, and it ceases to amaze or enthrall you. The adverts you see in the cinema for 3D films are always way more 3D than the film is in reality - things flying out of the screen towards you, and the feeling that you could reach out and touch it! I think that's what W was expecting, and although I found it was lovely to watch in 3D, I can see why he was disappointed.


The film itself felt vaguely familiar. It was a bit of a cross between "The Spiderwick Chronicles" and "Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue". Many, many similarities in plot between the three films! Despite this dejavu, I enjoyed the film (despite the trials and tribulations of having 2 children with me!). But I pretty much enjoy any film at the cinema to be honest - I just love the whole experience, especially the enormous popcorn and fizzy drink!

G was a little underwhelmed by the whole thing though. He took his glasses off after about 10 minutes, and then dropped them twice on the floor - cue lots of rummaging and scrabbling around under the seats looking for them, as despite not wanting to wear them, he still wanted them, and I think the whole cinema knew it too! He also managed to tip his popcorn over twice. Those cinema cleaners certainly had their work cut out for them cleaning our row of seats today! Then there was his usual figeting - up and down in his seat, wanting to sit on my lap, then wanting to sit in his seat, then on his knees etc etc. Thankfully there was no-one sat in front of us, as the seats got a lot of kicking and pulling! G's antics coupled with W's repeated toilet trips (where we all have to go with him), meant I missed some of the crucial plot twists. But as it was certificate U, the plot wasn't so complicated that I couldn't follow it, even for me!

Overall, we enjoyed our morning at the cinema on a cold and rainy day. Not sure we will be getting Epic on DVD, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.






DISCLAIMER: This post is NOT sponsored in any way.