2018: 12 months, 12 challenges | Simply Marcia


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2018: 12 months, 12 challenges

Having made it to mid-January without a drop of alcohol (the longest I’ve gone without a G&T for years – literally), and determined to see Dry January through until the bitter end (16 days and counting …), I’ve decided to create 11 further month-long challenges.

Why? Well a) because having an end in sight is motivation in itself, b) around 4 weeks for a challenge is doable as far as I’m concerned (and before the novelty value wears off) and c) past experience has shown me that grand sweeping, generic resolutions along the lines of ‘I’m going to get fit’ or ‘I’m going to lose weight’ just never, ever work for me.

But, short-term commitments or challenges are good for me. I’m not always very good at trying new things – it’s the scared-of-failure thing I think! So anyway, I’m hoping that one of the outcomes of my challenges is that I learn to enjoy new habits – so most of my monthly challenges are based around nutrition, health, fitness and good mental health practices.

So this is my plan of monthly challenges:

January
I’m already half-way through dry January and to be honest, it’s going ok actually. I’ve had the odd moment where I’ve really fancied a cheeky little G&T but I’m determined to get to 1st Feb without alcohol – I think I might be finally discovering the will power I never thought I had.

February
Sugar free February. Supported by Cancer Research UK, this is another higher-profile monthly challenge. Their site has loads of tips and advice. I’ve also found some great recipes on The Body Coach site as well as individuals on Twitter to follow including London Health Mum for sugar free tips.

March
30 minutes of blogilates every day. Ok, so 30 minutes a day might not sound like much of a commitment but, this will be on top of my 45 minute daily uphill dog walk (and work, children, etc) – so for me, this IS a commitment.

April
3 vegan days per week. I try to have around 3 completely meat free days per week and have vaguely dabbled with vegan meals but want to do it properly a few days a week. A great site for tracking down ready-made vegan meals, snacks etc is My Vegan Supermarket and for vegan recipes and a 30 day Vegan Pledge you can take, to go vegan for 30 days, The Vegan Society will be my go-to.

May
The Body Coach’s 2 week (x 2 workout plan to lose weight and tone up fast! I’m anticipating this one being tough – we’ll see how it goes!

June
No dairy. I’ve more time to research this monthly challenge but found Healthy Magazine is a useful starting point.

July
Meditation and month of calm! In preparation for the kids breaking up from school, I thought this might be apt – I’ve done a bit of research and loads of people swear by the Calm app so I’m going to be downloading this and

August
I’ve always fancied having a go at making some of my own skincare, so with that in mind, James Wong’s book ‘Grow your own drugs‘ in hand and Lucy Bee’s website on stand-by, that’s my plan (though if it doesn’t quite work out I will might treat myself to a VeganKind beauty box).

September
Like January, September is a month of new starts and good habits, so am planning on doing the squat & plank challenge (eeek, do I know what I’m letting myself in for?!)

October
Surf school. I’ve always wanted to learn how to surf properly – or at least have a go! I’ve chosen October as it’s out of season but the sea is still a good temperature. There are some brilliant surf schools here in Cornwall – the one I’m thinking about learning with is Surf’s Up in Polzeath.

November
Walking to running. I remember running as a child ha! But am keen to see if I can still run so will be downloading the 30 minute run plan from Women’s Running to get me motivated and started!

December
Green Christmas. I’m pretty sure that as per all previous years, December will be busy and pressured enough as it is, so no fitness or health challenge here except to have as green a Christmas as possible.

Have you ever set yourself a month long challenge? How did it work out for you? Or maybe you’re feeling inspired to try a challenge or two this year?

Wish me luck! x


Starting an allotment – some tips!

Ok, so I’m not particularly known for being green-fingered or a natural gardener amongst my friends and family – which means I’m definitely not an expert horticulturist. But I do love food! I do love using fresh ingredients and creating new recipes, and I do come from a family of small-holders and grown-your-own’ers. So as far as I’m concerned that’s all the qualification I need!

I had an allotment a few years ago when my children were really little but to be honest, I didn’t really have a clue … I mean, I did actually grow stuff – but more by luck than proper planning – think too many courgettes, very scraggly, teeny-tiny carrots and, amazingly, an annual glut of berries! After a couple of year I sadly had to let it go – basically the combination of other commitments – work, children, logistics – and the fact that the allotment was a good 3 miles from my home at the time didn’t help…

Roll on a good 10 years: a new home in Cornwall, a new freelance working-from-home life and a close-to-home allotment means that 2018 is the year of the allotment for me. And in order to get it a bit more right than last time, I’ve been doing my homework and been plotting and planning and have come up with these ‘starting an allotment’ tips:

Do your research
Have a proper nose around your own allotment and the other allotments. What seems to grow well (obviously this will depend on the time of year)? More importantly, talk to and ask the locals – in my experience, other allotmenters are a friendly, helpful, super-knowledgeable bunch and will be the best source of local soil conditions, what grows well and what doesn’t.

Invest in a couple of allotment handbooks
I still have my allotment books from first time around and they’re still brilliant – full of useful advice and tips – great for complete beginners or more experienced gardeners. My go-to books are:

The Allotment Handbook by Caroline Foley
Grow Your Own Veg by Carol Klein

Both offer easy-to-understand advice on planning, weeding, sowing, planting out, the months/seasons and soil types as well as all you need to now about the likes and dislikes of individual plant families

Find online allotment bloggers to follow
For tips and topical, relevant allotment and growing advice, allotment bloggers are just brilliant – find some that you like. I find Twitter is the best source. I really enjoy the realistic and easy advice (and humour) from Richard Chivers’ Sharpen your Spades and Bohemian Raspberry.

As I have a large allotment plot, as well as growing fruit and vegetables, I also want to give a small patch to wild flower growing. Little Green Space is a wonderful Twitter account to follow for tips on green living and creating green spaces for nature and wildlife.

Get an allotment planner
This is essential for all your scribbles, plotting and planning. I have an A5 notebook. I jot planned as well as random, thoughts, ideas and drawings in it as well as sticking in snippets of advice or ideas I’ve found in the weekend papers or magazines – it’s a proper scrapbook i guess.

Grow what you like to eat
This time around, armed with local knowledge of the well-growing plants here, I’m going to start the allotment by focusing mostly on sowing seeds, planting seedlings and growing produce that we actually eat. I’m not going crazy as I don’t want to feel too overwhelmed – it’ll literally be an organic, rolling process. So for us, that means fruit, veg and herbs including:

– onions, garlic, leeks
– broccoli, kale, peas
– beetroot
– pumpkin, squash
– cucumber, courgette, lettuce
– berries
– rhubarb
– herbs: mint, rosemary, chives, thyme, sage

Although we eat plenty of them, this year I’m avoiding potatoes, most root veg e.g. carrots, and Mediterranean / greenhouse produce such as tomatoes and peppers. Partly because they’ve seemed so labour-intensive in the past, but haven’t grown too well, but also because we eat so much of them and actually, our local farming cooperative sells them at a ridiculously decent price.

Seeds
There are so many places to buy decent seeds or seedlings and plants now. One of my favourites is Dobies. They have loads of choice, a brilliant tips and advice-laden website and their prices are good.

Get equipped
You will need equipment to help you handle your allotment. Essentials include:
– decent gardening gloves
– wellies
– sturdy spade and fork
– hand trowel and hand fork
– trays and pots for seedlings
– rake
– secateurs
– watering can

What allotment tips or advice do you have?

Next time: Preparing an allotment


My 2017 round up – some of what I’ve learnt!

As 2017 draws to a close, I find myself making final Christmassy plans, catching up with family and friends, and pondering a little on what this last year as brought me. So I thought a little round up to remind myself of some of the positive things that have made 2017, for me:

Moving to Cornwall

The biggest decision made this year. My partner and I have five children between us: he has two older boys, I have three younger ones who live with us. Uprooting my three and moving us all 2 1/2 hours drive from Bath to south-east Cornwall might have seemed a little crazy but you know, sometimes, when the opportunity strikes, you have to grab it and just do it. There was a lot of soul-searching, head-scratching, umm-ing and ahh-ing of course – the biggest worry I had was how this move would affect my children. But kids are resilient; there have been tough times of course, but, they’ve started new schools and made new friends. They still see and stay with their dad once a fortnight in Bath so those ties are still strong – and thanks to social media, they now have the best of both worlds with friends both here in Cornwall and back in Bath.

What I’ve learnt: The move has highlighted the fact that I’m a hoarder- I had too much ‘stuff’. Thankfully, the move meant scaling back and giving back to charities. I’ve also learnt that I really, really like to be away from the crazy rat-race. And that this part of Cornwall is not that far from Bath (hooray!). The novelty of doing up a new (but very old) house wears off once the Cornish sun shines and the beach calls – it’s a tough call – beach or DIY? That kids are hard work no matter where you live. And that I really, really, really love living in Cornwall – but equally, being so close to Dartmoor (my spiritual home I think).

Freelancing

I wasn’t sure how the big move would affect my freelance marketing. All my strong, client links and networks were back in Bath and Bristol. This is where most of my freelance work came from until our move. Thankfully, proving true that location is (mostly!) irrelevant when it comes to working as a freelancer I’ve a) managed to keep hold of projects and clients I was working on back in Bath and b) I’ve built up some lovely, new contacts here in Cornwall and have new clients and exciting projects taking me in to 2018.

What I’ve learnt: Communication is key. Whether that’s keeping conversations running with existing clients or networking and meeting new potential ones. And that you can’t rush or force these things – I’m all for natural chemistry! Oh, and sometimes heading to the beach to clear the cobwebs away and work stuff out! Keeping my LinkedIn profile updated and fresh has helped too.

Health

I’m very lucky; I’m not someone who thankfully suffers from illness very often. However, this move has made me recognise that as I get older, I want to become stronger and do what I can to live a happy and healthy life for as long as possible – it must be the sea air! This year I’ve upped my exercise game. Not quite a runner, I would class myself as someone on the cusp of super-fast walking/jogging – is that a thing? Point is, come rain or shine, uphill and down dell, I’ve been out there – my heart rate has been seriously pumping and working hard this year, and as a result I’m more toned and without a shadow of a doubt, so much fitter. I’m also a fan of kayaking – it’s perfect for all the family, it brings you so much closer to nature, it’s great for your core muscles and it’s easy! It’s also been a year of ‘in with the veg’ and ‘out with the meat’. I’m not quite ready to go full vegetarian (pescatarian is more likely!) but we’ve certainly had far more meat-free days than carnivorous ones. If you fancy joining me, Meat Free Mondays have some brilliant advice and recipes.

What I’ve learnt:
I’m really, really not a naturally sporty kind of person and didn’t think I could move as fast as I can – but with support and encouragement (and gentle nagging from other half when all I really want to do is slouch on the sofa with a bar of galaxy and a good box set, rather than head out in the torrential rain and fast walk up that bloody hill again) – I’ve made massive progress . I’ve also discovered a genuine love of lentils and legumes – my meat free substitutes.

Environment

Coming from a family of small holders and grow-your-own’ers, nature and the environment is a massive part of my life. Living in this part of the world, close to both the glorious beaches and breathtaking moors has brought us even closer to nature. Being able to spend so much time this summer literally touring the Cornish coastline, swimming, rock pooling and kayaking has been wonderful. And which is why, watching the recent Blue Planet 2 series has had a massive impact on me. We’re a family of re-users and recycle’ers but had no idea the scale of the plastics pollution of our oceans. It’s such a huge and dreadful problem but there are loads of brilliant initiatives we can all be a part of such as Surfers Against Sewage and One Less Bottle. Also this year we acquired a new allotment which a) I love, b) don’t quite know where to start with, but c) am determined to fill with edible plants for us, a wildlife haven for insects and small creatures and a penned off space for our lovely rescue hens!

What I’ve learnt
Ok, this is blindingly obvious I know, but we really do only have one planet. One environment. If a species becomes extinct, that’s it – game over for that species. It’s surely our duty to look after all creatures and all environments on this amazing planet. More than anything, it’s left me feeling passionate about doing my bit. That means buying locally, massively reducing our plastic consumption in this family, joining petitions and lobby’s, joining in with local beach cleans. That also means looking after and nurturing our small patch of land to help preserve it and the insects and creatures that visit it for future generations.

Food (and more importantly, gin!)

I’ve always loved ‘growing my own’ and having grown up in the era of ‘The Good Life’ and with parents who ran a small holding, it can come as no surprise to learn that food is a genuine source of joy for me. From keeping bees and hens to growing window sill herbs or hours spent on my allotment, I’m still a massive fan of the GYO movement. Life though, has been pretty hectic since our move to Cornwall – so we’ve kid of cheated and our GYO produce has come in the guise of Tamar Valley Grow Local whose philosophy is ‘Grow, Share, Cook’- if you can’t grow your own then buy and support local businesses who do! We like think we’re also doing our bit for local gin distilleries here in Cornwall too! It’s my tipple of choice and thankfully we’re lucky that there are some brilliant independent distilleries here which we’re gradually working our way around …

What I’ve learnt
Beside the fact that gin is my thing (nothing new!), supporting local farmers, small holders and independent producers via local schemes such as Tamar Grow Local is the next best thing to growing your own. It’s also great for the local economy and the environment. My intention next year is to combine a bit of home growing with local produce purchasing … first things first though – I need to get my house (allotment!) in order …


Christmas is coming. And I’m trying not to … PANIC! My tips for a thrifty-ish Christmas!

I love the sparkly season. Christmas is the best. I love it. And so does my 10 year old daughter who’s inherited this love for the festive season and has already decorated her bedroom in a more-is-more fashion. Her stocking is already up, ready-and-waiting. Basically her bedroom has been transformed in to Santa’s Grotto (ho, ho, ho!).

Whilst my natural tendency is to nosedive head first in to all things Christmassy, glittery and mulled-winey, a spot of overspending in October and hence a slight budget issue means I’m having to resist going completely wild in the aisles this Christmas. Bah! humbug! But instead of panicking (and hitting the credit card) I’ve got creative and come up with some (untested and not-yet-tried) ideas for a thrify’ish Christmas:

Christmas Cards – this year, I’m thinking virtual Christmas Cards (Blue Mountain have some cute, free ones) and hand crafted ones (more specifically, hand made by the kids) for grandparents/family. It’s also time to dig out last year’s Christmas cards to transform them in to this year’s gift tags (et voila!).

Budget – not one of my strong points (see above) but a necessary task … Money Saving expert is a great site for tips and common sense advice to help avoid a potential financial nightmare-before-Christmas – this is where my Christmas budgeting plans will start their existence. And having spent some time trawling through the never-ending Christmas wishlists my kids have written, I think a good compromise is possible though when it comes to everyone else, some corners have to be cut this year… So one thing we’ve agreed as an extended family this year, is to run a secret santa! So this year, each family is ony buying for one adult and one child from another family et cetera, et cetera, et cetera (there are literally loads of us). Brilliant! Money and time saving.

Christmas Food – I love getting in the kitchen creating Christmassy goodies (usually just for us) but this year, I’m going a step further thanks to my well-thumbed Nigella’s Christmas book and have already made a start on some fab chutneys and freezer-friendly foody gifts. And when it comes to Christmas food-food, this year it’s an Aldi and Lidl Christmas for us – I think Kevin the Carrot would approve.

Christmas stockings – so in the past the kids’ Christmas stockings have been full of loads of little bits and pieces which, whilst cute, the kids have kind of overlooked and abandoned (especially my boys who are now teens) – time to rethink. I’ve decided to only buy stuff that’s actually useful (or edible!) in their stockings – so it’s in with shin pads and deodorants and out with novelty mini-football games and the like. Considered purchases are the way forward this year. Careful, online browsing and research using comparison websites is my plan. Which brings me on to …

Lists – I’m a bit of a list freak so this bit feels pretty natural. For me, if I’ve written something down in list format it won’t get forgotten. For Christmas, I have lists for food, recipes to try (and ingredients to buy), presents and events to take the kids to (think Santa’s Grotto, Christmas Markets and Lights switch ons (Candutu is a brilliant site for finding Chrsitmassy events near you!).

Recycleables – some of our Chrsitmassy items are perfectly good enough so it’s ‘in with the old’ for us – that means no new Christmas decorations, party dresses (whaaaat!) or jumpers … that kind of thing. The one thing we will be getting is a real tee – there can be no compromise as far as I’m concerned. We’ll be heading to Cedar Croft nurseries in Cornwall for ours!

Happy Christmassy plotting & planning!


Souk it up in Marrakesh

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Yes, the summer hols have just ended, yes, the children are all back at school and yes, autumn is almost upon us (with thoughts turning to Christmas soon arghh!), so plotting your next sunny holiday may not be top of your to-do list but just-in-case I have to fill you in on my recent holiday (with two teen boys and under 10 year old daughter) to beautiful Morocco.

Since the day I started reading Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud, swiftly followed by the film version starring Kate Winslet, Morocco has been on my ‘go to’ list and, nearly 25 (!!) years later, I finally made it and quite frankly, loved it. It’s crazy, chaotic and colourful – why did I wait so blimmin long?!

So, my top tips if travelling to this beautiful land:

1. If you like to unwind at the end of a very busy day spent relaxing by the pool with an ice-cold cocktail you MUST check that the hotel is not a dry one and more importantly, that you’re not travelling during Ramadan. I speak from experience! On the plus side, this does mean there are no annoying pissed people anywhere – oh joy!

2. Alcohol can be hard to track down, though some restaurants in Marrakesh do serve it. You might be better off heading to the CarreFour supermarket in the centre of Marrakesh and buying your own (though check the hours within which you can buy alcohol as these will be different to the normal opening hours).

3. I love a cuppa (think PG Tips), though much as I wish I was, I’m not really a fan of herbal teas but this is what you can expect – lots of mint tea – if you fancy doing-it-yourself then it’s off to CarreFour for teabags!

4. It’s hot, hot, hot – a swimming pool is a must.

5. This is not the place for hot pants and crop tops (thankfully) so a more conservative approach to clothing is the dress code to aim for – think long maxi dresses and floaty wraps/shawls around your shoulders.

6. The mix of languages is so lovely – a real mix of English, French and Arabic – so if like me, you fancy trying to retrieve your GCSE standard French – give it a go 🙂

7. It’s a non-judgemental place – which is really liberating. No-one cares what size you are or what you look like (apart from not flashing the flesh) – there are no billboards bearing half naked bits and bobs. Lovely and refreshing. Image is not everything in Morocco.

8. Brush up on your haggling skills – go on – maybe try a bit of role play before you go! Haggling for everything from taxi fares to goods is kind of expected and the norm so do as the locals do and get assertive.

9. The continent of Africa is closer than you might think so if a bit of culture is what you’re hankering after, but you don’t want to spend hours on a long haul flight, Morocco is for you. It’s around a 3 hour flight from the UK and is in the same time zone!

10. This isn’t really a tip – more another potential reason for you to head to this wonderful place – no mosquitoes. None. At least not when we were there …

11. The food is uh-maz-ing. Delicious tagines, stews, cous-cous, fruits (the melons here are HUGE!) plus, due to the French influence, there are so many yummy pastries, croissants and cakes – I was in food heaven ha!

12. If you dare to check out the sights and smells of the souks (which you absolutely have to by the way), amongst the camels, fire-eaters, monkey trainers and snake charmers you’ll find stall after stall after stall selling a myriad of amazing and beautiful gifts for you, your family and your home. Think delicate tealight holders, woven bags, leathers, Moroccan slippers, pom pom baskets, oils (including the amazing Moroccan hair oil), spices and stunning fine silver and gold jewellery. You’ll be spoilt for choice!

We stayed at the Le Vzior Center & Resort on the outskirts of Marrakesh (20 minutes from the airport) and it was perfect for us – family friends, lots of pools, lots of food and lots of sunshine!


Enjoy your now

I don’t know about you, but it hasn’t passed me by that some of the key buzz words of the moment across social media, January edition magazines and the like, include ‘kindness’, ‘gratefulness’, ‘thankfulness’, ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’. And for me, these words are so important in helping remind me of how lucky I am to be, and have, certain things – I’m thinking health, friends, family, a roof over my head, food on the table, bills paid (just about!).

Without getting all deep and philosophical and all that stuff, January really can be a good time for reflection, taking stock of non-materialistic stuff – our wellbeing – and putting some small steps in place to help remind and make us a bit more aware of how we might be able to achieve a bit of that ‘feel-good factor’ – which is mostly felt by doing good things rather than buying good things (mostly!).

To be honest, when I read all the social media posts that have been streaming out over the last week or so, I can’t help but be reminded of my grandparents’ generation. Life for them was tough – in a different way to the stresses and anxieties of our generation of Insta-perfect-somethings, social media onslaughts and missing-out syndromes we all struggle with – but still tough.

From the ways in which my grandparents spoke about their childhoods, married and working lives, the thing that really jumped out at me was the fact that any tough times or obstacles were overshadowed completely by the joys and happiness that they found (throughout their lives in fact) in simple pleasures. They really didn’t let the shit get them down! Their gratitude and thankfulness at seemingly little things was quite incredible, lovely, humbling and inspiring, and used to stop me in my tracks and make me mentally say to myself that I would (try to) be more like them.

Both my grandmothers were the kindest, gentlest but bonkers and fun and strong women. They didn’t seem to feel the need to gossip, put others down or belittle them – maybe they took note of the saying ‘If you’ve got nothing good to say, say nothing at all’? I suspect, however, that it was more to do with their generation – they didn’t have the ‘stuff’ we have today, their lives weren’t massively complicated and life was more fragile yet they had spirit and attitude and got on with stuff. They genuinely were grateful for what they had. Acknowledging this with a ‘thank you’ was second-nature for them.

Bizarrely, we have to remind ourselves to be thankful. But that’s no bad thing of course. I don’t know if you’ve come across these ‘thankful’ or ‘gratitude’ jars? These are great for kids actually. Any old empty, clean jar will do. The idea behind this simple jar is to jot down good things that happen to you and your family throughout the year. Anyone can grab a scrap of paper and add to the jar. This is a great way to instill gratitude in your children and a way to remember to celebrate the little things. Now imagine New Year’s Eve 2017. Gathering your family. Opening the jar. Pouring out all the little slips of paper, full of memories and sharing them just before midnight. Also a great thing to do when you’re feeling a little down.

So, back to those old fashioned values: be kind, don’t gossip or share in negativity, don’t compare yourself to others, be brave and face the occasional fear, plan fun stuff – have an adventure, be thankful and grateful and search for the joy and happiness in the small, simple, pure things in life 🙂

Most importantly, enjoy your ‘now’!

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New Year, new you?

Not that I’m suggesting there’s anything wrong with the current you, it’s just that 2016 is almost over, the clock is ticking down to the New Year and it’s around about now that we traditionally reflect on what’s been and gone and all our achievements to date, and consider all our goals, hopes and aspirations for the coming year … what awaits you?

It can be easy to roll out those generic New Year resolutions, like: I’ll lose weight, get fit, get a new job, earn more money … but maybe it’s about the small steps we can all take – and setting small but achievable goals which in turn lead to small but brilliant successes, satisfying senses of achievement and the motivation and inspiration to keep going.

Instead of thinking then in generic big-change terms, maybe we ought to think about the smaller steps we can take to achieve some of our bigger goals. So, if for example, your bigger goal is to get fit this year, break this down in to smaller achievable and realistic goals such as joining a yoga class once a week, walking to work once a week and maybe finding out about something completely different to really challenge yourself – rock climbing anyone?!

Now is a great time to find out about new and different things to try and do – you’re never too old to try new stuff. I know it’s a cliché but it’s so true – sometimes you need to step outside your comfort zone – nothing crazy but maybe something a bit different.

This happened to me recently – I was offered a super last-minute opportunity to work as a body-double and extra for two overnight shoots on a film set – something I’ve never done before and was potentially going to turn down but instead, supported my lovely partner, I threw caution to the wind and (in the words of Nike) just did it! And wow, what a fun and brilliant and creative experience. I met some lovely, inspirational people – people I’d never normally work with or meet and they were fab – a breath of fresh air – and it gave me an ‘accidental’ confidence boost – my advice, just do it!

Whatever your ‘thing’ is for this year, some top tips I’m going to try and keep hold of myself to take me through 2017:

• Think positive and smile – make it a habit
• Set achievable and realistic goals
• Get back up if you have a setback (don’t berate yourself, ever if you ‘fall off your wagon’)
• Surround yourself with positive, inspirational people
• Stop occasionally. Breathe and take stock
• Have belief in yourself
• Don’t compare yourself to others
• Recognise the joy and pleasure in small and simple things
• Take care of yourself – that means mental and physical health
• Be kind and grateful
• Say ‘thank you’

I’m sure there are others, but for me, these are the important things to try and remember as we head in to 2017 and all it brings …

Happy New Year all – may it bring you happiness, health, peace and joy 🙂 x

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Christmas-ready?

Whilst this time of year is mostly super lovely and sparkly and full of Christmas cheer (which I love – Christmas starts in our house on 1st Dec), it can also be pretty stressful at times – the list of things your kids need, must make, must wear, must attend for school related stuff goes on and on; finances can be a worry (£64 for just one PS4 game W.T.F!!!) and simply trying to keep on top of everything and being super-organised can be a trial in itself – arghhhh! It’s at this point that ideally, someone would hand me a massive bucket of sand for me to stick my head in, so I can opt out for a bit … Sadly, this has never happened so it’s a case of taking a deep breath in, grabbing a pen and paper and (in my case) writing a BIG to-do list.

With not long now until the BIG DAY, a slight feeling of panic is always lurking close by and a serious amount of ridiculous questions: have I got enough pressies for the kids? what about stocking fillers? have I bought pressies for everyone else? what shall I get for this year’s secret santa (who ever thought this was a great idea?)? what if I run out of wrapping paper? when do I buy the turkey? how do I best cook the turkey (Nigella’s recipe or Jamie?)? where’s the best deal on big tubs of chocolates? how much weight will I put on (do I care? how will I get rid of it in the New Year if (who am I kidding!) – when I do?)? What about prosecco (thank goodness for proseccowatch.com !) … it can be tooooooo much!

Back to the list. For me, this is the best way of getting some kind of control.

Actually, the list becomes a list of lists. For me it’s the only way. I divide my lists in to 3 🙂

1. A list for myself, my partner and all three kids with dates and times: where is everyone, any playdates, parties or meet-ups with friends and family, and what each needs to take, wear or bring. This list is all about the logistics!

2. Then it’s on to the still-outsanding-presents list – what’s still to be bought and for whom (and even which shop – bit too much?). Wrapping paper and similar stuff goes on the list – as does a date for the actual wrapping – if it’s on the list it will get done … eventually.

3. Finally, it’s the food and booze list – what do we still need for the big day? At this point I have to remind myself that basically Christmas Day food is simply the usual roast dinner but on a bigger scale and with prosecco, (too many) chocolates and a yummy pudding thrown in for good measure – it’s about persepctive and all that. Of course there are little treats and yummy extra’s but to be honest, as long as the usual suspects (turkey, crackers …) are on the list, the rest can be grabbed once on a trolley-dash around the supermarket? Winging-it style right?

Once the lists have been completed, I do feel better, for sure – it’s a case of getting on with stuff and getting through those lists and the satisfaction of crossing through those to-do’s! Hooray 🙂

Fianlly, a word of ‘warning’ – if you’re anything like me and have crazy port-induced ideas about home-baking EVERYTHING a la Jamie and Nigella in order to create the perfect Christmas, can I suggest that, yes, enjoy the indulgence of reading and watching all the Christmassy cook books and TV shows but rather than try to recreate new stuff, instead simply stick to only what you already know and can do best – maybe it’s fab roast potatoes or gravy, or amazing mince pies but don’t even think about creating brand new recipes or new cocktail creations on Christmas Eve – keep it simple I say!

By the way, my go-to no-bake but homemade recipe that I make all-of-the-time is Nigella’s rocky roads – everyone loves them and a simple dusting of icing sugar, edible glitter and some carefully placed mini-reindeer (totally kitsch) turns these easy-makes in to Christmas-ready scrummylicious sweet-treats!

Happy pre-Christmas!

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Beauty on a budget (for less than £20!)

This time of year it’s all about the sparkle and all things Christmassy! It’s all about gift and perfect present purchases – which I love. It’s also about the lead up to the office Christmas party, and that means (obvs!) wrapping ourselves up in a new dress and definitely new make-upy bits.

Buying new make-up is such a lovely treat and whilst my budget is (sadly) on the low side, I’m a huge believer that these days, budget make-up is something to be celebrated (as it’s actually, mostly, very good!).

So, my top 5 cheap and cheerful but super effective and not-to-be-scoffed-at make-up finds – totalling £19.95!!! – for the sparkly season are:

Mascara – glossy, full and super-black lashes – Collection Big Fake Curves Mascara Ultra Black WP 17WP £4.99

Lipstick – the perfect red – Maybelline Color Sensational Lipstick 530 Fatal Red £6.99

Brows – for face-framing brows – Rimmel Professional Eyebrow Pencil Black/Brown £2.99

Eyeliner – for Claudia Winkleman inspired panda eyes – Collection Kohl Eyeliner Black 1 £1.99

Blusher – get glowy – Miss Sporty Insta Glow Blusher 006 9G £2.99

With change from a £20 note, you won’t be breaking the bank (hoorah!) but you will be party-ready 🙂 which makes me super-happy! Mwah x

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Surviving: the morning school run

All they have to do, is sit there, listen to the radio and metaphorically put their feet up whilst I drive them to school. Simple, you’d think.

Ohhh. My. God. The morning school run is anything but*. It’s the most dangerous time to be on the road (if you’re not a stressed and harassed school run mum (or dad). It’s fraught with tantrums, fights, forgetting of homework and school PE kit, last minute food tech ingredient requests, and sudden announcements of school trips with special items needed (announced half way to school when there’s NO TURNING BACK). It’s the most anxiety-inducing and stressful car-driving experience there can be. And, (brilliant) it takes place 5 days a week.

In my naivety I always assumed it would get easier as the kids get older. Surely it’s more stressful with little ones? WRONG. With littlies, good old fashioned distraction techniques and sing-alongs can work a treat (hooray!).

Sadly, 14 year olds just aren’t that in to sing-alongs with mum any more or being encouraged to count all the red cars on the road … Nope, the trials and tribulations of the morning school run just gets worse. Two ‘almost teens’ plus one established teen is the perfect formula for morning school run chaos and tears (mine usually – I regularly now rock the mascara-streaming-down-cheeks look). Arguments kick off CONSTANTLY due to really terrible, scary and crazy things when you’re a teen, such as: ‘he looked at me’, ‘she touched my school bag’, ‘he coughed’ … Give me STRENGTH.

A usual 20 minute morning school run will consist of: at least once, pulling the car over and turning off the engine until the kids stop killing each other, realise the time lag and then moan about being late for school (bizarrely mine don’t like being late); asking nicely, then quickly escalating to shouting (swearing) like a wild woman possessed, for them to stop (whatever it is that they’re doing to ‘pass the time’); knowing that my heart has literally stopped – I am having an actual heart attack – whilst uttering the phrase ‘Mummy is now having a heart attack – is this what you WANT!!!’ – I’m lying about ‘uttering’ I meant screaming. It’s at this point that all forms of communication are forbidden – no talking, no looking, no touching, no texting, no hacking in to each other’s Instagram, FB et al … accounts. NOTHING. NIL. And the radio is cranked up super, super loud. By the time we rock up at school drop off number one, I have a demonic look on my face and could literally kill anyone with my ‘death stare’ – please do not cross me at this point. I. HAVE. HAD. ENOUGH.

Over time though, and via much head-banging-on-steering-wheel moments, I’ve managed to get it a bit sussed and now have a proper strategy (and everything) to increase the likelihood of morning school run survival:

1. Inside knowledge – all three school and homework timetables are now in my possession for a sneaky the-night-before check in (boring and tedious but being ahead of the game is vital in the fight against car chaos!). I know (mostly) who needs what and when by.
2. Breakfast – full tummies equals less chance of cranky, grumpy (irritating) teens.
3. Music – turn it up LOUD. So you can’t hear the squabbles. This is also called ‘opting out’.
4. Seating – stick to the same rules every day as to who sits where and who’s turn it is blah, blah blah (boring but essential). If there are two kids on the back seat they must be kept separated at all times. No sitting in the middle seat. EVER. It’s too tempting for scuffles to kick off – you have been warned.
5. Communication – ensure earphones are handed to each child to plug in to which ever device they have. As long as mine are ‘plugged in’ they pretty much don’t communicate with each other in any way – brilliant. And I can listen to anything but the hell that is my kids plus KISS FM 

*Just so we’re clear, the morning school run is in a league of its own when compared to any other driving-with-children experiences including the actually not-so-dreaded after-school run. This is nearly not so bad mainly as I’ve cracked this one: the car becomes a moving cafe. It’s snacks a go-go. Works every time 🙂

Happy school run driving!

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