2018 | Modern Mummy

Monday, 31 December 2018

Veganuary on a Budget

Last year over 168,000 people signed up to take part in Veganuary, a month long challenge to eat an entirely vegan diet. I was one of them and this year, together with Daisy, I plan to do it again. Making the switch to veganism is one of the most effective choices you can make to reduce the suffering of animals, help the planet and improve your health - even by doing it for just one month out of twelve has a massive impact on you and the world around you. 

Since my laparoscopic cholecystectomy back in 2014, I've eaten a dairy free diet, and I've not eaten chicken since the arrival of the Sixties Style Icons last October. Giving up the limited amounts of fish and red meat that I do eat wasn't especially difficult, but I did go about it completely the wrong way, spending a fortune on ready meals and eating out; purely out of laziness. Later in the year I discovered that it needn't be such an expensive lifestyle choice when I signed up for the Happy Pear Happy Heart course and learned about the benefits of whole food plant based eating, rather than going down the easy, vegan junk food route. Not only is it a million times better for you than just being vegan alone; it turns out that a diet made up predominantly of plants, pulses, grains and lentils is ridiculously cheap! In actual fact, my weekly shopping bill HALVED when I ditched all the pre-prepared stuff and started making my meals from scratch!

If any of you are interested in signing up to Veganuary but are worried about the cost of all the fresh produce, then this post is for you. Below I'll be sharing a few top tips for stretching those ingredients, getting inspired and cooking some of the tastiest meals you'll ever have!

Top Tips
(1) Plan your meals.
If you know what you're going to be eating in advance, you can time your meals to make the most out of leftover fresh produce. Always scan your fridge and cupboards before you head out food shopping; I'm terrible for doubling up on ingredients.

(2) Shop cleverly.
Don't be afraid or embarrassed to buy from the reduced section at the supermarket! Lots of fresh produce ends up there because it's best before date is looming - it is all still perfectly edible and even if you can't eat it straight away it can be used in a recipe for freezing, or frozen as it is. Also, if expensive store cupboard ingredients that you eat regularly are on offer then bulk buy!

(3) Batch cook. 
Following a recipe that feeds four? Double it and freeze the extra portions. If you're looking to save money and want to be able to eat inexpensive, nutritious, vegan food when you're low on time, then I can't stress how brilliant batch cooking is. There is literally no difference in price if you're making a dahl for 2 or a dahl for 12; just whack your leftovers into mason jars and bring them out to defrost on days when you know you'll be pushed for time to prepare dinner. 

(4) Freeze.
The freezer is your friend! Not only can you store batch cooked meals in there, you can also freeze fresh produce that you're not able to eat before their 'use by' dates.

You can also read my guide to reducing food waste here to find out more about freezing fresh and batch cooked food, storing your food properly and composting any organic matter that can't be used.

I find most of my vegan food inspiration over on Instagram. Some brilliant accounts to follow are:

Then there is also the official Veganuary account - and I love Happy Cow - which also happens to be a great app that will help you locate vegan friendly eateries nearby, if you do want to eat out!

Excellent budget recipes.
Some of my favourite recipes are the ones that equate to £1.50 or less per meal. Nutritious food needn't be expensive so long as you're happy to put the time in to shop cleverly and prepare your meals yourself. Why not try one of these amazing dishes:

Other quick and easy meals include veggie soups, stir fries and buddha bowls - all are also a great way to use up any veg that's on the turn.

Happy Veganuary everyone!

Sunday, 30 December 2018

The Omlet Fido Studio: A Review

Ever since we got an Eglu Cube for our chickens I have honestly been one of Omlet's biggest fans. Their products are innovative, easy to put together, easy to clean - and stylish too - basically everything you could possibly wish for when it comes to bringing new things into your home for your pets. As a chicken keeper that's previously had a wooden coop I can't begin to tell you how much easier the Eglu has made my life; maintaining a plastic one over the last eighteen months has been a complete dream compared to the hard work that went into keeping my old wooden coop clean (and the red mites at bay!).

Living in an exceptionally small house, it's important to me to be able to make the most out of every bit of space. When we first contemplated getting a dog, I knew a crate would be a necessity - but I had to think long and hard about where it could go, as it would take up really valuable floor space, and possibly need us to lose a piece of furniture altogether.

Thankfully I didn't need to shop around; Omlet was always going to be my first port of call and I was very excited to discover that as well as selling your standard, everyday crates, they also sell the Fido Studio which doubles up as a sideboard and meant I wouldn't have to compromise on the contents of our main living area at all!

The Fido Studio is available in a number of different set ups; two different sizes (24" and 36") and with options such as additional cupboards and accessories. Our set up - which included the crate, a tray and a bed - cost £174.99 (but was very kindly gifted to us) and is also available in white.

I put it together myself and it was super easy. It took me 40 minutes - and that was with numerous interruptions from small children! As was the case with our Eglu, it came with brilliant, easy to read instructions and everything you need included (except for a Philips screwdriver).

It's strong, durable, looks great in your home and makes an incredibly cosy den for your pup! There are two doors which means you can have it running along, or at right angles to a wall, and all accessories are available to buy separately so if you want to upgrade later on, that's totally doable and saves you spending excessive amounts all in one go.

Maggie absolutely loves hers. It has made crate training a dream - she 100% recognises it as her space and if she wants a little time out from the chaos of our house she will quite happily just take herself off there for a snooze. And I love it too; it fits into our living room just perfectly, don't you think?

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Reminiscing about Christmas 1988 with #FireTVxSEGA

Christmas 1988. I can remember it like it was yesterday. I had just one thing on my Christmas list; the brilliant and brand spanking new Sega Mega Drive.

It was a couple of years before I managed to persuade my parents to get me one, but when they did I LOVED it. My brother and sister and I spent months, possibly even years, fighting over the controllers but we all agreed on one thing; Sonic the Hedgehog was THE best game EVER.

To celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the SEGA Genesis, Amazon have launched SEGA Classics; a bundle of the 25 most popular SEGA Mega Drive games including Sonic the Hedgehog (of course!) Golden Axe and Streets of Rage. 15 of them are multiplayer games, so a brilliant way to spend time with the whole family this holiday season whilst reminiscing about your youth! The best bit is you can play them all without having to purchase a game console or switch HDMI outlets. All you need is your fire TV remote, or you can pair a compatible bluetooth controller if you have one. I love the idea of having a bit of a retro gaming session and can't wait to introduce the girls to the video games of my childhood.

SEGA Classics is available on Fire TV for just £11.99. You can buy an Amazon Fire Stick for £39.99 here.

For more info, check out the hashtags #SEGAClassics #SEGAMegaDrive #FireTVStickSEGA and #FireTVxSEGA. Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, 12 December 2018

#AHandmadeChristmas: Brilliant Gifts from #AmazonHandmade

Hands up who's ready for Christmas? Please don't tell me I'm the only person that's only just started buying their Christmas presents? 

This time of year always seems to disappear in a blur of school nativities and festive shindigs. One minute its the end of November, then you blink and it's 12th December - and nothing has been ticked off your To Do List. 

I don't know about you, but the gifts I love to give (and the gifts I love to receive) are special, personalised, handmade ones. Even the simplest idea, once personalised, suddenly becomes all the more magical.

This year, Amazon is working with some truly brilliant artisans to show just how special handmade gifts are! As much as I love and depend on my Amazon Prime membership for buying those last minute presents and essentials, I also love supporting smaller creative businesses when I can - and now you can do both at the same time! You can see some of my favourite Amazon Handmade gift ideas below (or browse their full selection here).

Our Christmas traditions start on Christmas Eve. The Elves pop by (usually while we're leaving food out for Father Christmas's reindeer) and leave a few goodies under the tree to kick start start the festivities. The whole family gets new pyjamas, a Christmassy DVD and some festive nibbles to enjoy while we watch it. It's so lovely spending the evening relaxing together before the chaos of Christmas Day starts! This Personalised Christmas Eve Box by Dust and Things would make a perfect keepsake - something to bring out every year. How special is that!

On Christmas morning, the girls each receive a stocking full of little treats to open in bed (usually mine!) while I acknowledge that it's 5am and slowly wake up properly. I love this Christmas Stocking Gift Bag by Dilly Dally Designs. If you've got a few larger than average stocking fillers it would be perfect to replace a smaller stocking - but it would also be great to leave under the tree, filled with presents for all the family.... imagine the excitement of a lucky dip, and then having to guess who each gift is for!

I always give the girls a couple of books each at Christmas; usually classics that I love too, so that we can all enjoy reading them together. The girls were given personalised books last year and loved them so much. I have no doubt at all that this Personalised Kids Book by My Magic Name Personalised Children's Books would make a little girl or boy very happy this Christmas!

For more festive inspiration, check out the hashtags #ahandmadechristmas, #amazonhandmade, #countdowntochristmas, #madeforyou and #craftychristmas!


Wednesday, 5 December 2018

DAYS OUT // The London Transport Museum

We've been London Transport Museum annual ticket holders for as long as I can remember. You only need to visit once, then you can use your ticket to go back as many times as you like for a whole year! At £17.50 for adults (kids go freeeeee), I think this is a total bargain, and the museum is perfectly located in Covent Garden so you can easily drop in when you have an hour or two to kill with the kids.

The girls have been to the museum dozens of time before, but they never tire of it - and neither do I. They can't visit without collecting ALL the stamps on the stamp trail and running riot on the ground floor for as long as I'll let them. I'm the Upper Deck Cafe's biggest fan - they sell an amazing selection of hot and cold meals, and coffee and cakes (the mince pies are especially delicious).

Last weekend, Ruth from RocknRoller Baby and I met in London for a day out with the kids. We always include a trip to the London Transport Museum whenever we meet up, it's a bit of a tradition. This Christmas they have loads on to keep you and the kids entertained during the holidays. We absolutely loved meeting Santa (he was the most brilliant Santa I have ever seen) and visits to his magical grotto are included in the ticket price. There are also loads of festive crafts to take part in (we made winter bunting!) and story telling and singalongs too.... As if we needed another excuse to drop by.

You can join in with the festive fun until 6th January, but the museum is absolutely worth visiting (over and over again!) any day of the year!

We were gifted entry to the museum along with our amazing Christmas jumpers.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

THEATRE // Stick Man at the Leicester Square Theatre

Every December, we make our way to London for a day of festive fun with the RocknRoller Baby family. This has become a bit of an annual tradition for us; we take the children to a show, head out for some food and admire the Christmas lights. Ruth and I are lucky that our kids enjoy a trip to the theatre as much as we do, and over the years we've been lucky enough to watch a number of different productions all together.

The Gang: 2015 and 2018
Three years ago we went to see Stick Man for the first time and, to this day, it is still one of the best stage productions for kids I've ever seen. Needless to say we were thrilled to be invited back to the Leicester Square Theatre to watch it again last weekend. Even though the girls are nine and six now, Stick Man is still one of their favourite books - and we loved the live show as much as we did when we first saw it in 2015!

You can read my original review here - our views haven't changed at all; we absolutely LOVED this new production by Scamp Theatre and Freckle Productions!

From the simple set, the bright costumes and the brilliant props to the laugh out loud moments and catchy songs, there is no denying that Stick Man has something for everyone. The story may remain the same (and we will never, ever tire of it!) but there were some brilliant nods to the current day, including a song from The Greatest Showman as well as a bit of flossing in one of the dance routines!

If you go and see one show this festive season, make it this one! We can't recommend it highly enough.

Stick Man is on at The Leicester Square Theatre until 6th January 2019 with tickets starting at just £16. The running time is 1 hour, so perfect for even the littlest children. Our tickets were very kindly gifted to us.

Monday, 3 December 2018

THEATRE // The Snowman at the Peacock Theatre, London

Photo Credit: Herbie Knott
On Saturday night, the girls and I made our way up to London to see The Birmingham Repertory Theatre Production of The SnowmanTM. What a way to kick start December!

Raymond Briggs' much loved book is forty years old this year, and this incredible production, directed by Bill Alexander, has been seen by over half a million people during its record-breaking twenty one years at The Peacock Theatre.

We've been to The Peacock before - a couple of years ago we saw My First Ballet: Sleeping Beauty there. It's such a great theatre; spacious, comfortable and very easy to get to (its just a minute's walk away from Holbon tube station, and a little further away from the bright lights of Covent Garden and Leicester Square). This production of The Snowman came very highly recommended by our good pals the RocknRoller Baby family - plus Time Out called it "an essential part of London's Christmas calendar" - so we were super excited to see it for ourselves.

And we weren't disappointed!

What a ballet. The scenery and set changes were very clever, and the lighting was mesmerising. The costumes were colourful (and in some cases hilarious - we especially loved the cool dude banana). The show was just the right combination of beautiful and quirky and traditional and funny and utterly magical. All in all it has something for everyone - girls, boys and grown ups alike - and it really did make the most wonderful Christmas treat.

Photo Credit: Tristram Kenton
The Snowman is on at The Peacock Theatre until 6th January 2019 with tickets starting at just £21. The running time is 1 hour 50 minutes, including a 20 minute interval. Our tickets were very kindly gifted to us.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

TOYS // Introducing tonies®

As I'm sure you'll have gathered by now, the girls and I all absolutely love reading at home. Our bookshelves are overflowing with treasured classics and newer, quirky titles and we are equally fond of fact as we are fiction.

The bedtime routine has always been a pretty special one to me. Even when the girls were tiny babies I'd read to them after they'd had a bath and I'd got them into their pyjamas. Snuggling down, closing your eyes and listening to a story is such a lovely way to relax and unwind at the end of a long day. These days the girls will often read together and it's probably the only time of day they aren't either fighting or ignoring each other so I love it even more!

Now that she's nine, Daisy is quite happy reading to herself in the evenings, although we do still have joint family reading time occasionally. Evie, at six, still likes a bedtime story - and very often one will turn into two and then she'll ask for a third.... I know she'd happily have me keep reading until she fell asleep if she could! 

I was rather intrigued when the girls and I were invited to the London launch of the critically acclaimed children's audio system, tonies®, last weekend. These little audio boxes are magical story tellers and I couldn't wait to try them out. Already a huge hit in Europe, tonies® have finally hit the UK and Ireland - just in time for Christmas! 

Combining an audio player with collectible figurines, tonies® gives story telling a whole new lease of life. The toniebox is super easy to use so it's perfect for kids of all ages, and they are available in several colours so there's one to suit every taste! It's portable and comes with a charging base, and each full charge gives seven hours of playback.

When you buy your toniebox, it comes with a creative tonie that you can add up to 90 minutes of your own audio to via an app. How brilliant is that? I've recorded myself reading the girls some of our favourite made up bedtime stories and have also recorded messages to them from my phone when I've been out and about. Not only does this solve the 'please can I have an eighth story, Mummy' dilemma every evening, it also means you can still say goodnight if you happen to miss bedtime for any reason!

As well as the creative tonies®, you can also buy individual pre-recorded tonies® which play all your favourite classics, like Stick Man and Little Red Riding Hood, as well others that are loaded with songs and lullabies. Plus you can download your own music onto them which is great for older kids.

They work by placing the tonie on top of the box to start the content playing and removing it to stop. Simple as that. They are also magnetic so if the box gets knocked, the story won't be disrupted! The volume is controlled by the 'ears', and you can skip/rewind a track by tapping the side of the box. Genius.

At the event we were whisked away to a Christmas storyland and the children were taught how the tonie boxes work by Little Red Riding Hood and James from The Snowman before getting to try them for themselves. They had heaps of fun - it turns out the figurines are just as fun to play with as they are great for telling stories. There are dozens to choose from and we will definitely be starting a little collection!

The boxes cost £79.95 (available from Amazon) and prices for the tonie characters themselves start at £11.99 - I can't wait to get the girls some for Christmas, they're going to make perfect stocking fillers!

This is not a sponsored post, however the girls were very kindly gifted a tonie box each at the event.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

FOOD // Turtle Bay, Guildford: A Review

Last week, the girls and I were invited to Turtle Bay in Guildford to try out their brand new kids' menu. We headed into town straight after school, hit the shops for a couple of hours and then made our way to the restaurant to collapse in an exhausted heap and enjoy some much needed food and drink.

Despite it's brilliant location in the centre of town, just a short walk from the station and close to car parking facilities, the girls and I have never eaten there, which is bonkers really, especially seeing as we all love Caribbean food!

We booked our table for 6:30pm and arrived to a bustling restaurant, full of a real mixed bunch of people; families, groups of teenagers, businessmen and couples. My initial reaction was "how cool is this!" - a bar / restaurant that caters for everyone!

Of course I also noticed the amazing decor straight away - the restaurant was bright and spacious, the walls covered in street art style portraits and stickers, and decorated with neons, eclectic collections of bric-a-brac and mismatched furniture. It was a refreshing change from the usual family friendly restaurant chains that we go to.

As soon as we were seated, the girls were presented with Turtle Bay kids packs which were brilliant. Not just a page of colouring in - we're talking huge booklets, full of word searches and quizzes and mazes and spot the differences. They lasted the entire meal and we even had to take them home so that the girls could finish them off. The kids' menu also had a snakes and ladders board printed onto the back of it, and counters and a dice were brought out along with the crayons. SUCH a good idea! Why hasn't anyone thought of it before?

Both the kids' and adults' menus were seriously extensive. The dishes were all well described - although that made us struggle to decide what to order as it all sounded incredible, and we were all keen to try something new. There were loads of gluten free and vegan options, and this restaurant is great for those of you who, like me, are dairy free, as most of the dishes are cooked in coconut oil rather than any type of butter.

One thing I especially loved was the fact that the kids menu was two tiered; there were meals for 'little turtles' and meals for 'bigger turtles', which meant that different sized appetites were catered for. At 6 and 9, my girls are kind of in-between kid and adult sized portions, so the dishes on the 'bigger turtles' selection were perfect for them.

So what did we eat, I hear you ask!

The girls had complimentary fresh dips and dippers on arrival as part of the kids menu, plus we ordered sweetcorn fritters and crispy squid to share.

Daisy had the vegan chickpea and callaloo curry, which came with steamed rice and roti flatbread, Evie went for a half rack of BBQ pork ribs and I had the spicy jerk sirloin steak with coconut callaloo and fries. I don't eat meat often but that steak was absolutely incredible. The girls demolished their meals too.

I was too full for pudding (yes you did hear that correctly) but the girls had warm salted caramel fudge brownie with vanilla ice cream and both said it was one of the most incredible desserts they've ever eaten.

All in all it was a really fun dining experience. The menu was exciting - it was SO nice to not be eating pizza or burgers for once - and the staff were all absolutely lovely. You could tell that they genuinely enjoyed working there; they were really chatty (with everyone, not just us) and nothing was too much trouble.

If you're a family that likes spicy Caribbean food like us, then this is absolutely the restaurant for you! Although saying that, I also quite like the idea of making my way back there without the kids to take advantage of their happy hour one day soon (they have over forty different rums on offer!)

DISCLOSURE: This is not a paid collaboration, however we were given a complimentary meal in exchange for this entirely honest review.


Wednesday, 7 November 2018

HEALTH + FITNESS // The Couch to 5k

This morning I did something I never in a million years thought I would do. I completed The Couch to 5k. Nine weeks ago I could barely run for thirty seconds at a time - during my last three sessions I was running for an entire thirty minutes!

So many people have been asking questions about how I found it over on Instagram, so I thought I'd put together a little post over here.

I have to say, this is the longest I've stuck to any kind of exercise regime in years. Sure I take part in the odd exercise class at the gym (mostly for the coffee and cake afterwards) but the last time I ran regularly was 2005 - and my thirteen year old running gear is still going strong!

I figured the easiest way to answer your questions is to list them. So here goes!

What made you sign up?
I entered the ballot to run the London Marathon earlier this year and at the beginning of September I started to panic that I might actually get a place. It would be just my luck to get in first time when I was the least fittest I'd ever been in my entire life! I downloaded and started the Couch to 5k app knowing that I'd be well on my way to running for half an hour by the time the results came out. If I didn't get a place, I'd give it up. Simple as that!

What is the app like?
Really simple to use! And it's free! It has been created by the BBC, has really simple graphics and a choice of 'trainers' to talk you through your runs. I went for Jo Whiley as she is one of my favourite radio DJs, but there are another four to choose from if she doesn't float your boat!

Is the programme really do-able? 
Absolutely. Even for total beginners, like myself. It begins by alternating sixty second runs with ninety seconds of walking, building up to thirty minutes over 27 runs! On my very first run I found myself out of puff around thirty seconds in, but the whole point is to push yourself, so push myself I did.

You're expected to 'run' (/walk) for half an hour, three times a week which is easy so long as you have the motivation to stick to it. From previous attempts at working out, I know how easy it is to come up with an excuse! I work and also solo parent, so there's no chance of me ever getting out first thing in the morning, or once the kids are in bed. This time round I got into the habit of running home after dropping the kids to school, or running back from work. When we visited my parents at the weekend, I'd leave the girls with them for half an hour and nip out.

How did you personally find it?
Two weeks into the programme I really wasn't enjoying it, but with the possibility of the Marathon looming over me I persevered. I said to myself that if I didn't get a spot I'd stop the programme straight away and with that in my mind I kept going! Week three was a massive turning point and all of a sudden I started to think "ok NOW I get why people run!" I felt so good, and knowing I only had to be out for half an hour made it totally bearable, especially when I got it over and done with early on in the day.

Week four was when I actually started to enjoy myself (and I never thought I'd hear myself say that!). At that point in the programme the weeks schedule consisted of two run/walks and one long twenty minute run. I actually looked forward to those longer runs!

Half way through week five I found out that I hadn't got a place in the Marathon, but I changed my mind about giving it all up and decided that I'd carry on regardless. I signed up for a 10k run in Richmond Park for the first week in December to spur me on.

The last few weeks of the programme were all long runs - 25 minutes to start with, increasing to 28 minutes in week 8 and 30 minutes in week 9. I loved them all!

What kit do you need?
Er... I'm probably the wrong person to ask! I've been wearing thirteen year old leggings and trainers, and a super cheap sports bra and vest top from TK Maxx. I did buy myself a small bumbag from Amazon to hold my phone and keys but the zip broke after two runs. I plan to buy another, better quality one, and some long sleeved tops now that it's getting colder. If anyone else has any suggestions for winter running gear, I'd love to hear them!

What now?
Listening to my last podcast today I actually felt a bit emotional. I know it sounds daft but I'm so proud of myself for sticking to the programme completely and not missing a single run. I've now got a month to go until my 10k run, so I'm going to stick to running three times a week and start working on my distance, rather than my time. I've been covering 4.5k in my thirty minute runs, so for the next week I'll be doing 5k, and then increasing that to 6k the following week, trying to better my time with each run in the same week. I'll be up to 8k by the time of the run and hopefully adrenalin will push me through to 10k on the day!

Did you lose any weight during the course of the programme?
I didn't do this with any ambitions of weight loss, although I did want to tone up. It was merely to kick start my marathon training. I did weigh myself at the start though, and I also measured my waist. After 9 weeks, the results are in! I'm 10.5lbs down (although I've also been eating a lot more plant based whole foods than usual) and have lost three inches from my waist!


Tuesday, 30 October 2018

The summer is over – saving for Christmas starts here!

Have you noticed how Christmas shopping seems to start a little bit earlier every year? While it’s tempting to start buying presents and decorations as soon as the shops are full of tinsel (i.e. now!), hold your horses. The sensible thing is to give yourself a break, spending wise, to get over the summer holidays first.

Here are 5 tips and tricks to give your spending habits an autumnal health check so you’re able to digest the your summer expenditures and be in the best possible financial situation come Christmas.

New season, new you 
With the start of the new academic year, September is the new January, don’t you know. New beginnings mean that now is the perfect time to take a long hard look at your lifestyle and make improvements.

Did you overindulge during the summer hols? Now is the time to ditch the drink, go on a diet, start a new health regime and commit to cooking healthier food for your family. None of this should cost you more, on the contrary. Not shopping for alcohol and cutting out restaurant visits, takeaways and ready meals should save you a ton of money.

The same goes for taking advantage of the glorious autumnal weather. Why not walk or cycle instead of taking the car or public transport? It’s fun to be outdoors, as well as healthier and cheaper, a win-win-win situation!

Back to school 
Resist the temptation to kit your little darlings out with new school stuff from top to bottom ready for the first day of term, and instead cast a critical eye over what’s actually needed. Do school shoes and uniform still fit? If so, there’s no need to upgrade just yet.

Many schools have second hand uniform sales that are a great way to save a bit of money on regulation schoolwear, and there’s always the opportunity to get together with other parents and swap uniform items that no longer fit their kids.

If you can be patient and wait for a few weeks past the beginning of term, you may well find ‘back to school’ prices for school bags, stationery and schoolwear dropping in the shops as retailers make space on the shelf for their Christmas goodies.

Finally, have you heard of the School Clothing Grant? It’s part of the Education Act 1980, with money available to families on low incomes to help manage their school costs. Find out more here.

A meaningful Christmas 
However much you may be looking forward to Christmas, the expense of it all can be quite daunting. But isn’t it up to you how you choose to do Christmas? What if you decided to tone down the commercial element and focus on what’s really important – spending time with your loved ones, or giving back to the community?

Why not take a look at how Christmas is celebrated in your family, and have an open and honest conversation about what changes everyone is prepared to make. For instance, if Christmas is essentially for the kids, do you really need to give presents to the other adults in the family? Perhaps the number of gifts could be pared down, or at least in part replaced with other things – home made items or promise vouchers?

There’s no right or wrong way to celebrate Christmas, and you may just find that by doing away with the punitive financial pressures of having to buy presents for everyone, you’re able to enjoy the festive season much more.

Saving for Christmas 
With the festive season approaching fast, the sooner you can set up a dedicated Christmas Fund and put money into it on a regular basis, the more likely you are to avoid the dreaded post-Christmas overdraft.

Start by making a list of everything that needs to be bought for Christmas: presents and wrapping paper, cards and decorations, the tree, food and drink, entertainment and going out etc, work parties and Secret Santa gifts, festive clothing, travel expenses etc and put an affordable budget against it.

Once you know the overall figure you need to get through Christmas without getting into debt, work on putting money aside every week to save up. Whether you open a savings account or literally put the money into a cash box is up to you, as long as the money stays there until you start your Christmas shopping, and don’t use the funds for anything else.

Early Christmas shopping 
While it’s a great idea to save up for Christmas, it’s equally financially responsible behaviour to start looking out for early Christmas bargains to make your budget stretch further. Do your research early online – there’ll be discounts in the run-up to Christmas that you can take advantage of, and don’t forget voucher codes too.

Take a look round the shops. Whatever is discounted in September of October may in fact be the perfect stocking filler or Christmas gift for a member of your family – and at reduced prices too. The same goes for festive food and drinks items. Why not stock up when prices are low? Or multibuy for even greater savings? As long as you purchase only what’s needed for the festive season, anything that makes your budget go further has to be a good thing.

Monday, 24 September 2018

8 Tips For a Stress-Free House Move With Kids

Moving to a new house is hard work. Many say it’s one the most stressful things you’ll ever do. Trying to pack-up and move with kids tangled around your ankles makes it extra challenging!

Small kids are experts at making house-packing take at least five times as long. You’re all ready to start to chucking stuff into a packing box. But, there’s one problem — your toddler has taken up residence inside it (cue tantrum when you try to remove them).

But, there are ways to reduce the stress of moving home. For instance, services like We Buy Any House can take the pressure off by managing all the paperwork and costs.

Here are eight more simple tips to help you and your kids move home (hopefully a little) more calmly and happily.

1. Plan
There’s lots to think about when you’re selling up and moving home. Even more so when you have kids. You need to consider their needs. Create a plan of action beforehand to help you keep on track — moneywise and timewise.

Things to consider: 
Packing always takes longer than you think. Plan for it so you don’t end up panicking at the end with only hours to go before the removal van arrives.
Timescales — create goals and milestones.
Budget - e.g. the cost of packing, hiring a van, cleaning the property
Be prepared — you will always have more things than you think
No time for nostalgia — pack your things, don’t waste time reminiscing otherwise it will take forever. Children especially can get very emotionally attached to their toys. You need to be gentle and patient with them. Think about the best time to pack their belongings in your plan.
Declutter — organise storage or a skip early.
What are the kids going to do? Organise childcare early and make sure everyone involved knows what’s happening, so you’re not caught short.

2. Listen 
Change can be difficult for anyone but especially for kids. Moving house can be an emotional and upsetting time for them.  Even more so if you’re moving to another city or country and leaving friends and family behind.

It’s important you explain what’s happening.  Talk about the move. Ask them how they feel. Give them choices — do you want to pack this or that? Or, what colour do you want to paint your new room?

Try to make it an exciting adventure. Talk about all nice things you are going to do together once you’ve moved. Be positive. And, if you do feel stressed, try to not show it.

3. Involve the Kids 
Small children love being helpful. They usually just really want to be included. So, include them — create little tasks they can do. You can ask them to pick their favourite toys or to help you put things in the recycling box. For older kids, they can set up a stall outside the house and sell unwanted things. Or make it a competition, who can fill the most rubbish bags in an hour. Whilst, for smaller kids there’s bubble wrap — who can resist popping those squishy air blobs?

4. Childcare Support 
When the kids start to complain they’re bored — it’s time to get help. Organise playdates, ask grandparents to take them out or even better, for a sleepover. With young babies you might prefer to ask someone to come over and literally hold them whilst you get on with things.

5. Never Move During Term Time If You Have School Age Kids. 

6. Don’t Abandon the Routine 
This is important, particularly for babies and younger children. For starters, having consistent nap times and bedtimes means you have guaranteed childfree time. For kids who feel unsettled by the change, keeping a familiar routine (both when you pack and move into your new home) will help them feel more secure and adjust to the new space faster.

7. Take Time-Out 
Don’t forget or ignore your own well-being needs. Practice self-care. Take regular breaks each day away from both the packing and kids — go for a walk, read a book, listen to music, have coffee with a friend.

8. Laugh 
There’s no escaping the fact that moving home can be an emotional rollercoaster at times, Seeing the funny side can help diffuse tension and put stress in perspective. And, let’s face it, laughing sometimes is the best remedy.

Amidst the cardboard box chaos and toddler bubble wrap stamping, try to handover as much as you can. These days you can employ professional packers and house movers to do all the work for you. Also, services offered by House Buy Fast can help you manage all the paperwork and contracts — leaving you free to focus on starting a life in your new home.


Friday, 21 September 2018

Foraging with Kids

It's not often that I'll devote an entire blog post to a book review, but it's been a long time since I've come across a book I love as much as I love this one. Foraging with Kids by Adele Nozedar is utterly brilliant, and so beautifully illustrated by Lizzie Harper that it really does deserve a place on every bookshelf across the nation!

The girls and I are definitely outdoorsy types, even when the weather begins to turn in Autumn (in fact I'd go so far as to say ESPECIALLY when the weather begins to turn in Autumn). We love nothing more than pulling on our chunky knits and wellies and getting out in the fresh air - and being sent this book earlier this year has enabled us to do just that, only this time with a new purpose - to forage for plants and to learn all about them.

Foraging with Kids encourages parents, teachers and kids to get out and explore the natural world. It's jam packed full of easy to identify plants that are abundant all over the UK (in city centres as well as out in the sticks), amazing facts, tips for safe foraging and practical uses for everything you might find. There are dozens of recipes, like crab apple chutney and cauliflower fungi cheese (we're desperate to find a cauliflower mushroom so that we can make this one!), lots of natural 'beauty product' suggestions, like making soap from conkers and bath soak from heather (making potions and perfumes from plants in the garden is one of my girls' favourite things to do!) plus there are some medicinal uses for plants, which especially interested me. Did you know that greater plantain, which is absolutely everywhere, is an amazing healer - the leaves are anti-inflammatory and antibacterial so they're great for treating scrapes and stings.

Adele's passion for the outdoors as well as for foraging is perfectly apparent throughout her book - the way she writes is so engaging for both children and adults; once you've started reading, its hard not to get excited about the prospect of your next venture outside.

If you do one thing today, pop into your local bookseller and pick up a copy or order one online; not only will it give you something incredibly fun to do this weekend, it'll provide the kids with entertainment all year round.

Foraging with Kids is available to buy now, published by Watkins/Nourish Books, RRP £12.99. 

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Blush Beauty, Richmond Bridge: A Review

Does anyone else make a 100 mile round trip to go to a beauty salon? No? Just me?

In the early noughties, when I was a young, carefree, single, twenty something, living and working in London, I discovered Blush Beauty on the East Twickenham side of Richmond Bridge. Fourteen years, two children, a wedding and a divorce, and a move fifty miles away later, and I still make my way back to Blush every two months. When I moved out to Haslemere six years ago I tried to find a local beautician but no one measured up to Adele and the girls at Blush - so I gave up looking and have been making a bi-monthly pilgrimage back to Richmond ever since.

What makes the salon and it's staff so special, I hear you ask? And that's a good question. For me it's their friendliness and professionalism, the premises and their location, and also the very reasonable price list. But most of all, it's the fact that the girls know exactly what they're doing and they do it brilliantly. Adele, the owner, is hands down the best waxer I have ever been to.  If you find 'the one' why keep looking for someone else?!

This visit, I wasn't there for a wax, or a manicure, which are my regular treatments. I was there for two that I'd not had done before - and I was very excited about them both.

First up was a set of Lash Perfect Eyelash Extensions. I'd wanted to try eyelash extensions for FOREVER but had always been worried about the upkeep and what they might look like as they started to fall out. The express set was recommended for my first time - a full set of semi-permanent extensions that last around two weeks. Lash Perfect extensions are really versatile and you can go as natural or as glamorous as you want.... As I had Camp Bestival fast approaching and I knew that minimal make up would be on the cards, I opted for length, with extra lashes in the outer eye.

I had quite a few questions about the treatment, which were all answered for me. I was assured that the lashes are perfectly safe (I'd been in a couple of days before for a patch test of the glue) and I could continue to wear my contact lenses no problem. There would be no extreme 'baldness', as each extension is individually glued to onto a single eyelash and you lose the extension when you naturally shed your own lash. I could get the lashes wet (although not within the first 24hrs after their application) and I could still wear eye make up (no need for mascara, of course) but would have remove it very carefully with cotton buds and a non-oil based make up remover if I did.

The process took around 45 minutes and the lashes lasted six days before the first one fell out. All in all it was 12 days before they started looking a little less full, and I started wearing mascara again. Although I'm not sure I could afford the time and the cash to get them on a regular basis (a full set costs around £60-£80 with 2-3 weekly infills costing around £20-30) I'd absolutely get another set as a one off next time I'm heading off on a break. It was pretty liberating not having to worry about putting eye make up on every day!

My second treatment at Blush was a St Tropez spray tan, which I've never had before. It took about 10 minutes to apply, 10 to dry and then lasted a good 10 days before it started to fade. I use the St Tropez gradual tan regularly at home with pretty good results but have always been too scared to use "proper" fake tan after an incident in my early thirties (entirely my own doing) that left me looking as if I'd been tangoed. The tan would not wash off for love or money; I ended up going into hibernation for an entire weekend and showering and scrubbing hourly!

The St Tropez spray tan was amazing - completely natural, scent free and a bargain with prices starting at just £20 per spray. I worked out that it probably takes two full tubes of my gradual tan to reach the same colour over the course of a week and they're £15 a pop, so the amount of time and money the spray tan saves is just brilliant and I can't wait to go back for another one before my next holiday!

Blush very kindly gave me a complimentary spray tan and eyelash extensions in exchange for this review. All words are honest and my own, and I continue to be a regular paying customer.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Houses, Cars + Holidays

The summer holidays are over, the kids are finally back at school and I don’t know about you but I need (1) a holiday to recover from having the girls at home with me for six weeks and (2) a lottery win to help my bank balance recover from feeding / entertaining them for six weeks. Seriously, how many snacks do children need every day?!

I often think about what I'd do if I won big on a lottery bet. It goes without saying that I'd give some money to charity and some to my family, but how would I spend whatever was left on myself and the girls?

The house would be the biggie of course. I love our little cottage so much but it's not without its flaws. The rooms are small and oh what I'd give for a hallway! An upstairs bathroom! A garden that isn't on a hill! Off street parking! My dream house genuinely wouldn't be huge but it would have a spare bedroom or two so that friends can come and stay, a large open plan kitchen with crittal doors opening into the garden and original wooden floorboards throughout. I’d love a bit of land too so that I could generally live the good life. And I’d treat us all to a beautiful upright piano as a housewarming gift.

I wouldn't be excessively flash with my choice of car either. It would be a beautifully restored old VW Beetle for me; I’ve wanted one since I first passed my driving test twenty years ago. I’d also buy a brand spanking new camper van for family surf trips down to the coast.

A holiday would be the very first thing I'd treat us all to. I’d love to do Route 66 and the girls would love to go to Australia to visit their cousins, so I'd pack us all off to travel the world for a couple of months, with no expense spared!

What would you do if you won a large sum of money?


Friday, 10 August 2018

Camp Bestival 2018

Read all about our Camp Bestival 2018 adventures over on The Modern Edit here!

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Champneys Forest Mere: A Gym Membership with a Difference

For the last couple of months, self care has been a seriously hot topic across social media. We all know how important it is to look after ourselves, but how many of us actually do? I'm totally guilty of burning the candle at both ends. I wake early and go to bed late, cramming the hours inbetween full of looking after the kids (and the animals), school runs, work, food shopping, cleaning and tidying. Like most mums (not just single ones like me) I very rarely get any time to myself - and when I do, I'm torn between doing things that I need to do, doing things I feel I ought to do, doing things I want to do and doing absolutely nothing at all. Me time is right at the bottom of my list of priorities; although I'd love nothing more than lying on the sofa watching Netflix some days, there's always something that needs doing.

When I mention the things I feel I ought to do, I'm talking about what I like to call extra curricular housework (the big jobs that aren't done every day, like cleaning out cupboards and moving furniture to hoover) and looking after myself by getting my roots done or going to the gym.

I've always been a member of a gym, although since leaving London and moving to Haslemere I've downgraded and been a member of the local leisure centre instead. It's not glamorous or pretty, and I wouldn't ever dare use the pool or shower there after a workout, but it only cost £45 a month, and they have two classes every morning which I go to regularly. I'm a fan of classes over actual gym workouts, otherwise I find myself sat quite comfortably on an exercise bike peddling at about 3mph whilst watching This Morning rather than working up a sweat and getting those endorphins going.

Up until the end of the last school term I'd got myself into a bit of a routine going twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. Darting in to do a double whammy of classes, and darting out to go home and get showered and crack on with my working day. Perfunctory, and definitely not an enjoyable experience. But exercising is a necessity right? It's not meant to be pleasant.

For some reason or another I started having flashbacks to my gym days, pre-kids. Where my membership was admittedly a lot more, but I actually looked forward to going to the gym. It was an experience. I'd spend hours there; working out, having a sauna, showering, and washing and blow drying my hair. As if that wasn't enough, I'd often even stay and meet friends for dinner afterwards. It  was sociable. It was fun! Of course I couldn't do that now, but I couldn't help but think that surely working out, and looking after yourself in the process, needn't be such a chore.

And that's when I started researching my options out here in the sticks. There weren't many. Just two in fact - one, a well known health centre chain, with excellent childcare facilities, and the other a luxury spa - no kids allowed. The former was a 10 mile car ride away, the latter just 3. The single monthly memberships were similar, but adding the kids to the family friendly one would have almost doubled it. What did I want to take the kids to the gym with me for anyway? If I was going to start a bit of a self-care routine, I decided I'd rather do it on my own.

A couple of days later I found myself signing up to Champneys, Forest Mere and I have to admit... I was excited! But lets be honest, when your gym is a beautiful manor house set in 160 acres of woodlands, with excellent gym and spa facilities and a killer class timetable, you're going to be aren't you. I had my tour, signed on the dotted line and wished I didn't have to wait until the next day to do my first class.

My first visit was bang slap in the middle of the heatwave. I didn't want to overexert myself so I signed up for a morning yoga class before making the most of the outdoor pool and jacuzzi, and spending the afternoon working / dozing off in a hanging chair in front of the lake. If that's not self care I don't know what is! I left five and a half hours  later to do the school run with an empty inbox and feeling a million dollars.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks I did much of the same. I took part in HIIT and spinning classes, hula hooping classes (yes really!), stretching and meditation classes (and more yoga) and my favourite class of them all - ballet fusion. I worked poolside, or in one of the many indoor spaces, and allowed myself a break between the two to unwind and catch some rays.

The outdoor facilities really are incredible at Forest Mere, but the indoor ones are too - and I'm very much looking forward to enjoying them once the weather cools down later in the year! There's a thermal poolside suite, flotation beds and relaxation rooms as well as the sauna and steam room to visit.

I'm already a big fan of the constantly evolving timetable of classes and talks (you can see what's lined up from now until October here). The timetable is open to all members and hotel guests and it has been so wonderful to be able to take part in so many different activities, both indoor and out, working on different areas of my body each time.

Of course Forest Mere is very local to me, which is why a monthly membership is more than worth it, but for those of you that are further afield it's most definitely worth a visit, whether that's just for a spa day or for an overnight stay. We're very lucky to be on the edge of the South Downs here, so the scenery is unrivalled and there are some amazing hikes to go on from the hotel itself. They also have these beautiful, brand new Shepherd's Huts in the grounds, overlooking the lake, which I think would make the cosiest Autumn getaway!

Now that the children are at home for the summer, I'm back to having minimal me time for a few weeks. Although I'm not able to visit the gym as often as I have been, I'm making sure I keep active and that I allow myself a bit of down time too. Once they're back to school in September I'll be in a position to increase the frequency of my workouts again - I'm even contemplating signing up to one of Champneys boot camps! - and I can't wait. You'd never have heard me saying that a couple of months ago!

DISCLOSURE: Champneys gave me one month's complimentary membership in exchange for this review. All thoughts are entirely honest and my own.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Style: Choosing the Perfect Skirt

I love how fashion constantly evolves; when it comes to my clothes, the older I get, the braver I seem to get - and I'm really enjoying being able to try new styles at the moment.

This year has been a particularly interesting one in the style stakes. The heatwave we've been experiencing in the UK has certainly had an impact on what we're wearing. The jeans and trousers have been packed away and the warm weather seems to have encouraged more of us to wear skirts and dresses. Let's face it - they're super comfortable and a great way to stay cool (and get a bit of colour on our pins at the same time).

Firms like fashionworld.co.uk are stocking a huge range of different skirts right now. All you have to do is to choose the right cut for you.

Here are a few tips to help you to do exactly that.

Skirts for triangle/pear-shaped women 
A-line skirts are the perfect option for someone with a pear-shaped figure. They look great teamed with a tailored jacket or top that fits closely. A skirt made from lightweight fabric that hugs the waist but fits loosely the rest of the way down is brilliantly breezy in this weather too.

The right skirt for an apple-shaped woman 
If, like me, you carry most of your weight around your middle and have skinny hips and legs, the chances are you are apple-shaped. For you, a high waistline can work really well especially if you choose a flouncy style skirt. I feel much more comfortable wearing my waistband high.

Skirts for the petite woman​ 
If you are petite go for shorter hemlines. This style of skirt will elongate your legs. The closer fitted ones can look quite chic when paired with a smart blouse and they will enhance your curves too.

A great plus-size skirt 
Wearing a pencil skirt is a perfect way to enhance your curves. Look for one that is made from high-quality closely woven fabrics that will have a smoothing and controlling effect.

A great alternative to skirts 
If you're not a skirt fan, you might want to try out a jumpsuit instead. You can stay lovely and cool if you choose a wide-leg version, or one with three-quarter length legs. Last year, I kind of fell in love with jumpsuits, so much so, that I wrote about my favourite ones. You can read all about them by clicking here.


Wednesday, 18 July 2018

GIRL POWER with Desenio

As is always the case, we currently have a bit of a DIY project going on at home. I say "going on at home" but what I really mean is "going on inside my head". Basically I've been spending an inordinate amount of time on Pinterest daydreaming about turning our garden cabin into a bit of an art studio / office for myself.

I really do plan to do this, but it's going to have to wait until August, when the girls are on holiday with their Dad and I can get stuck in (and I also have a decent amount of time to persuade my Dad and cousin to spend a day in the sticks building things and running electricity down to the end of my garden).

But that hasn't stopped the research, nor has it stopped the spending! I've planned EVERYTHING and have got the cabin pretty much kitted out now, with shelving units, a desk and a new easel ready to be put together. It all just has to stay in boxes and get in my way in the main house until all the work has been done. Most importantly (we all know shopping for the finishing touches is THE BEST part about redecorating any space) I've also got some incredibly important wall art ready to be put up!

I'm collaborating with one of my favourite Scandinavian brands for this post; Desenio are purveyors of the finest, affordable art work (and frames) and their prints adorn pretty much every single wall in my house. They asked if I'd like them to send me some prints for my new office and I took them up on their kind offer, going with a bit of a pink / Girl Power theme.

I plan to paint the whole of the interior of the cabin white, even the floor and the ceiling, so I liked the idea of there being a few pops of colour in there. I also plan to fill it with plants, so green, pink and white are combination I'll be following.

The prints I chose from Desenio (which are currently on display in my living room!) are:

Support Your Local Girl Gang print, 21 x 30cm - £5.95
Gold frame - £8.95

Yes Oui print, 50 x 70cm - £21.95
White frame - £21.95

Good Vibes Only print, 30 x 40cm - £11.95
White frame - £11.95

You can see the other Desenio prints and frames I've got in my house here and here.

If you're keen to buy some prints for your own home, the code “katyearley” gives 25% off posters* between July 17th and 19th. 

*Does not include frames or handpicked-/collaboration posters

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