Monday, 1 March 2021

February's Lockdown Teen Style with Femme Luxe

{This is a paid collaboration with Femme Luxe}

Lockdown - Home School Style

It's been the strangest of years and now we're heading towards the end of (what we hope is) the final lockdown and the girls and I have been reflecting on how being home has been a blessing in so many ways. They've loved being able to dress in comfy and casual clothes for months and I think it will be a big shock to have to get back into tights, ties and blazers for school.

Let me share with you some of the great lounge suits, tracksuits, call them what you will, that they've been wearing this February. They have been gifted to us from Femme Luxe and the girls are really pleased with them.

Above Miss M is wearing Lizzie joggers in hot pink and these retail for £11.99 currently, although as is very often the case with Femme Luxe, you can use their current discount code for 25% off, making them £8.99. So always check on the price or google for discount codes as I've always found one each time I've ordered so far.  Other colours differ in price and are £12.99, £13.99 and £14.99.

These joggers are available in sizes 6 - 16 and I'd say they come up generous in size. They are also a really good length, both of my girls are 5ft 7/8" and they are long enough for them, which is unusual and really pleased them both. 

They have a hidden drawstring inside, cuffed bottoms and really generous pockets, which is always a plus. They feel nice and fleecy on the inside and are a mix of polyester/ cotton. I've found them to wash up well, but you can't tumble dry them, which is a bit of a shame. 

Friday, 26 February 2021

Feeling Thankful in February Lockdown

I'm pleased to report that my mood is much improved since the last time I wrote a reasons to be cheerful post. The announcement on Monday that the UK has a plan for the next few months has really boosted me. I can't wait to be able to see my parents, go to church, travel for a break away and have a meal out. I don't do lots of extravagant or expensive things in life but I do really enjoy the simple things and I can't wait to enjoy them all again. 

That said, I have been still looking for the silver linings in this lockdown and have many blessings to count -

*  As I tided the kitchen this morning I watched a kestrel flying overhead, a pheasant wandering past my window and a then bunny hopping by and I reflected on how much I love living in the countryside.

*  I helped with community meals today at church and it was great to have a chat with a few people. 

*  Our little cat is being very affectionate with me at the moment, I still marvel at the fact that I now like cats. 

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Top Tips for Buying Perfect Age-Appropriate Presents for Children

Tips for buying age appropriate gifts that children will love.

{This is a paid collaborative post with Wicked Uncle}

At one point I'd have said I was brilliant at buying children's gifts but not anymore, I've lost touch. My youngest children are now 13 and if I had to buy for a 2-year-old boy I'd be lost! Thank heavens for Wicked Uncle who have amazing gifts for all ages, both boys and girls. I always know I can head over there and pick up something that will be enjoyed and appreciated.

If, like me, you feel like you don't know what the latest gifting trends are for various ages then read on for my tips to help you buy a present that will be loved by its recipient -

Set your budget

First things first, it is far too easy to end up spending a small fortune, so set yourself a budget. If this is your beloved Nephew or Grandson, you're buying for then you might be happy to splash out £80 to £100, but if it is for a birthday party that your child has been invited to then the budget might be considerably smaller.

What kind of gift do you want to give?

Is it important to you to give a gift that will educate as well as give joy? Or are you a book buff who always want to pass that love to every child you meet? Each of us likes to give different kinds of presents and that is what makes them personal and special. My brother is brilliant at giving the gifts that I'd never buy for my kids, but the ones they really want. He really is the epitome of the Wicked Uncle!

Whereas I like to be more practical and I love a toy that combines learning and fun. It's great if you can find a gift that will grow with the child, some toys are dual function and can be used in one way for a year or two and then changed as the child develops, or something like LEGO or Meccano that can be added to are always a wise investment. 

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Period Pants from ModiBodi - Perfect for Stress-Free Periods

{This is a review post, we received these pants in exchange for an honest review}

ModiBodi offers a range of leak-proof underwear, swimwear, activewear and even maternity wear that keeps you feeling dry and secure, no matter what your issue (period, stress incontinence, sweat and discharge). You may worry that their products will be bulky and uncomfortable but genuinely, I can assure you they are not. The gusset area where any liquid is collected is just 3mm thick and so soft, that they are a joy to wear (or so my daughter tells me). 

They come in five different absorbancies for different flows and to suit your pattern, from moisture-wicking right through to heavy/ overnight. The pants are made from a range of breathable fabrics and fibres, including bamboo, merino wool and microfibre. I've been very impressed with the feel of these pants considering what they are made for. 

Maxi-24hrs Absorbency Pants for Adults and Youths

At Christmas, my teenage twin girls received some ModiBodi pants and have found them perfect for wearing during their periods, so when ModiBodi contacted me to say they had created new Maxi-24hrs absorbency pants for adults and youths in the Modibodi RED range, I happily said yes, we'd like to try them out.

ModiBodi really understands the difficulties that many girls can have with navigating first and early years periods and their proven-to-work technology provides growing bodies with protection from front to back, meaning there are zero fears of leaking through clothing whilst studying, being active and even while sleeping. My girls confirm this is true and have been really pleased with how safe and protected they feel in ModiBodi pants. 

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Planning a Short Break in Hampshire - The Test Valley or South Downs National Park?

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay 

I absolutely love going away for the weekend, or any other time to be truthful; a short break is my idea of heaven. I don't even mind who I'm away with - my husband, mum, daughter or a friend. As long as there is great food to eat, new places to explore and a cheeky Baileys in the bar before bed I'm a happy girl.

When I go away for the weekend I like to head somewhere new but to be honest, I don't particularly like travelling too far, so anywhere within about a 150-mile radius works for me. For some reason, I have been conditioned to believe that you either go to the coast or to a big city like London or Bath for your short break, but in recent times I've been questioning this.

I think the last year and the lockdowns particularly, have taught us all there is so much beauty and unexplored places on our doorsteps and as such, I am keen to explore some new places closer to my home, rather than spending lots of time in a car or on a train. Hampshire isn't a county I have explored much before and having lived in Surrey all my childhood/ teen years and now Sussex for the last seven years I'm not sure why, as it is pretty close-by.

I'm trying not to dwell too much on how much we have missed out on in the last year or so, but instead, focusing on the future and the excitement of new trips away. Last April I was chatting to a PR Manager acting on behalf of two areas of Hampshire - The Test Valley and the Hampshire area of the South Downs National Park and we were planning that I'd take a couple of short breaks to try out what these areas have to offer.

Of course, the trips didn't happen, but I am feeling much more positive that short breaks will be back on the agenda later on this year. As such I've been having a virtual search to see which area might suit me best to go and visit. My Mum and I will have our annual London trip this year and therefore this trip will be for my husband and me.

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Pensions Advice to Help Tackle the Gender Pension Gap

Exploring the gender pension gap and seeking free & impartial advice from Profile Pensions about your future investments.
Image by Alexander Kliem from Pixabay 

 {This post was commissioned by Profile Pensions and Mumsnet}

Did you know that the average person who takes pensions advice will increase their pension wealth by £31k? (1) That is a pretty massive amount, right? If you live frugally that is enough to keep you going at least another couple of years, or maybe you want to splash a good amount of it on a once-in-a-lifetime world cruise or the car of your dreams. Whatever it is that you choose to do with your money, there is no denying that £31K can make a big difference to the average person's life.

The Gender Pension Gap

I think pensions are a funny old thing and certainly not always top of your priorities. As a teenager, I didn't even think about them and then even in my early twenties when I got my first proper job I wasn't worried about paying into a pension. It was only when I started to earn a good amount of money in my mid to late twenties with a company that was going to pay a decent amount into my pension that I realised it was a really sensible idea to start saving for later in life. Before that point, I hadn't realised that the money I paid into my pension was taken before my tax and NI was applied to my wages and therefore it was really working well for me, saving me paying tax.

It's certainly now one of those times where you see the benefit of hindsight as I earned a lot of money in my late twenties and I now really wish I'd been paying in additional contributions to my pension, especially as the company I was working for even matched contributions and what I'd paid in would have been doubled. Never, in my twenties, did I guess that in my forties I'd be self-employed and not even have a current pension scheme!

It appears this is the story of many women; they don't see any urgency to pay into their pension as a younger woman and then have time off to look after their family and end up regretting their lack of financial planning later in life when their pension pot is considerably less than a man's. Research conducted by the Chartered Institute of Insurance (2) found that by the time a woman is 65 to 69 her pension pot will be only about a fifth of the pot of a man in the same age bracket, the woman's being roughly £35,700.

This gender pension gap is a reality and it appears that it not only comes about because of women perhaps working less due to family caring responsibilities but also as "the result of the unequal accrual of pension entitlements over decades. It is mainly the product of women’s lower state pension entitlement, the gender pay gap and lower historic access to workplace pensions" (3) 

Friday, 12 February 2021

Sustainably Surviving 2021: Buying Used Cars!

Image by Dũng Nguyễn from Pixabay 


{This is a collaborative post}

The coronavirus pandemic has affected every country on earth and almost everyone has felt the impact in one way or another, whether that is directly or indirectly. And most of the direct impact has been financial – even for those who have lost loved ones to the virus, money worries have also surfaced in the wake of their bereavement.


A Warning

Some people are taking the pandemic as something of a warning from nature, fed up with humans exploiting the resources of the planet, and sadly, all too often, wasting them! From being an instant gratification population who sees something new and wants it, often discarding last week's 'must-have' items in order to make space for it, we must turn, or so the experts say, into people who are a great deal thriftier with what we have been. Learning to recycle, reuse and repurpose our items instead of continuing the never-ending quest for newer, bigger and better material possessions is essential.


Driving Force

One of the ways that we can each make a dramatic difference to our impact on the environment, and quite coincidentally save money at the same time, is by opting to buy a used car rather than a new one. There are many advantages to getting a used car that are often overlooked in the tempting allure of a shiny new vehicle, but consideration of these advantages is actually worth a moment or two of your time.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Lockdown Exercise Options Recommended by Teenage Girls

Teenage girl shares ideas for exercising options during lockdown in the UK
Miss E is enjoying her resistance bands from Neon Sheep

{This is a review post, we were provided with the items from Neon Sheep for review}

This lockdown seems to be so much harder than the original one last Spring and as such motivation can be lacking to get outside and do all the things we enjoy and most importantly keep us fit and are good for our bodies and minds. 

I'm lucky that my twin girls have been enjoying having the time to focus more on their fitness but it is just such a shame it keeps raining so much at the moment. I asked my girls to share what they (and their teenage friends) have been doing to exercise during this lockdown -

Chloe Ting Workouts on YouTube

Miss E is loving the Chloe Ting workouts, there is a massive variety and they all seem easy to do from home, all you need is an exercise mat. There are workouts to target all areas of your body and challenges that last a few weeks, so the variety is good and will keep you going for some time. Best of all, her content is all free.

Miss E didn't have an exercise mat so she was chuffed when Neon Sheep sent her a grey yoga mat for use when she is exercising. She was also really pleased that it is a good size, as at 5ft 7" tall she wondered if it would be long enough for her. This lightweight mat is currently on sale at £10.

The Body Coach Workouts

Joe Wicks, AKA The Body Coach is another person with a great YouTube channel. My girls were keen for me to emphasise that it is not the PE with Joe Wicks that teens like but his other workouts, especially the 7 days of sweat. Have a look on his chancel and again, you'll see a great variety of workouts. 

Roller skating

Miss E loves to rollerskate and this is great for your core strength and general balance. It's something you can do alone or with friends and you don't need much space outside. Paths, parks or cycle trails are all good places to go skating and if you manage to improve your skills during lockdown, it will be useful for when the roller discos open up again later in the year.


Yoga is not only great for helping with your physical fitness, but it is also a wonderful way to help calm and centre yourself. You can feel the stress leave you and a new sense of mental clarity take over, which is just perfect for this unpredictable and stressful time we find ourselves in.

We have been using Yoga with Adriene on YouTube and again it is free content. She has a great 30-day program on there at the moment, called Breath. Miss E is loving the cute little pink yoga socks from Neon Sheep, they are £3 and have little rubber dots on the bottom to ensure you don't slip. 

She also received these workout leggings and matching bra top. The leggings are available in size XS to L and they retail at £19.99. Miss E is wearing a size medium. They have sweat-wicking and quick-drying properties and Miss E says they have been really comfortable to wear. I can confirm they have also washed well too. The sports bra is available in the same size range and sells for £16.99. I really like the mesh detailing on the back and it gives good support in the bust area. 


Cycling is another great form of exercise during this lockdown as you can do it alone or with members of your family. Or even meeting with one other person for the purpose of exercise outside. Start small if you haven't cycled for a while as you may find you'll ache in odd places the day after and then slowly build up your stamina, distance and route. 

Going for a Run

The Couch to 5K app is really useful for people just starting out on their running journey, as it gives you a safe way to build up how far you'll run and with what intensity. Of course, your teen may already be quite fit and not need an app like that, but always remember to do some stretches and a short warm-up before any exercise.

Footwear is the most important thing when running so make sure it is comfortable, well-fitting and not too heavy on the foot. Then why not grab a running armband to put your phone in and head off to enjoy some music or a podcast as you take in the fresh air. 

Create your own Workout

There are loads of great article out there about creating your own HIIT workout and it is easy to do this as you don't need any equipment. You can even use a site like Interval Timer to plan your time intervals and have an auditory reminder of when it is time to change activities.

Miss M likes to plan circuits with her twin. So she'll get out any exercise equipment they have like a gym ball, weights, kettlebells or resistance bands and then they decide which exercises they'll do in which order and sort times out. This kind of workout is good as you can change it every time and it stays fresh and fun. It is also nice to do it with another member of your family, as you can then have a bit of friendly competition and compete against each other. 

You can see Miss E with a resistance band in the very top photo. This is one of a set we received from Neon Sheep. For £12.00 you receive five different length/ resistance bands, a door anchor, 2 padded foam hand grips and 2 ankle straps, all supplied in an easy to carry nylon bag.

There really are so many ways to keep fit during lockdown, it doesn't have to be boring and even if the rain never lets up you can exercise in your house or even the garage if you want a bit of fresh air but to stay dry. 

Do share with us any different ways you've been keeping fit during lockdown.

Why not pin this post for later?

Teenage girl shares ideas for exercising options during lockdown in the UK

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Reading and Bonding During Lockdown

Image by 2081671 from Pixabay 

{This is a collaborative post}

Lockdown 3.0. We’ve done this before, but it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier. What many parents have found really beneficial to both you and your child is to get into a routine. If you’ve already set one up, or you’re thinking about it now, there is an addition you should definitely consider: story time. 

Reading and Schooling 

Reading is such an easy way to support your child's homeschooling, and provide them with endless hours of entertainment at the same time. The benefits of reading can also be seen throughout your child’s life. The 90% Reading Goal (Lynn Fielding, 1998) states that 77% of children reading at a second to eighth-grade level at the beginning of third-grade will graduate high school. Only 27% of children reading below this level will graduate. 

Fielding concludes that “a mum or dad, sister or brother, who reads twenty minutes a day with a child from birth can first increase their chance of high third-grade reading skills and then of high school graduation. When a child graduates high school, the child’s probable increased lifetime earnings increase by $220,000, or £170,000.” 

Such a significant impact on your child’s future cannot be ignored or understated. Taking just twenty minutes a day to read with your child will improve their literacy skills and future prospects. This will most likely inspire them to read more on their own, but reading together can be a really good time to bond. 

Monday, 8 February 2021

Enjoying Lockdown in Femme Luxe Loungewear

{This is a paid collaboration with Femme Luxe}

As we're all spending so much time at home right now, loungewear is definitely the order of the day. My teenage girls have been spending their days in fluffy pyjamas and tracksuits, so when Femme Luxe got in touch and asked if I'd like to collaborate again, the girls were over the moon. Last year they had some great T-shirts from them and they are wearing and washing really well. 

I have to admit that as a larger lady it's not a site I've ever had a look at, their clothes are definitely for the smaller and more trendy lady. Some items go up to a 16 but many just seem to go up to a size 14 and it is one of my pet peeves when clothing manufacturers call a size 12/14 an XL. You can't possibly call a size woman extra-large, but I'll save my rant for another day as this post is about the clothes the girls have received and they do actually really like those.  

Trendy Loungewear

Friday, 5 February 2021

Stylish and Practical Black Praper Backpack from Gaston Luga: Review

{This is a review post, we received this backpack free of charge}

We've had a Gaston Luga backpack before and know that the Swede's really understand how to make a styish and long-lasting bag, and that's why we were happy to work with them again. When I showed Miss M the website there were many designs that caught her eye but I steered her towards a bag that was practical and big enough for everything she needs for school and could also be used for a weekend away.

The Praper backpack normally retails for £115 but I see they have a Valentines special on at the moment, with 10% off everything until 16th February 2021 and this takes the price down to £104. Then Gaston Luga are also giving away a free Plankan design cardholder with each order and as always, you get free delivery and returns. 

Add to that, I also have a great deal at the moment for my readers and you can get another 15% off (yes you can add it on top of the 10% they have already slashed off), you just need to use the code michelletwinmum15 at the checkout. 

Ordering & Delivery with Gaston Luga 

When I've ordered before I order as an influencer so it is a little different but looking at the ordering on the website it is easy, intuitive and quick. I have found both deliveries to be super-efficient and Gaston Luga use DHL, You might be tempted to think that there would be a time lag as the products are coming from Sweden but this isn't so an I have found DHL to be excellent with communication and I've easily been able to track my delivery and amend my delivery preferences,

You'll see from the photo below that all the Gaston Luga bags come in a stylish and hardwearing black box and inside you have a dustbag to keep your actual bag clean and in good condition when it is being stored. 

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Spa Day at Bannatyne Hastings During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Review of a half spa day at Bannatyne Hastings during December 2020 and the time of the coronavirus pandemic

I've been to the Bannatyne Spa in Hastings a few times now and always really enjoyed myself. It's not the most glossy or exclusive spa I've ever been to and realistically the cafe can be quite hit and miss, but seeing as I only ever go when I can book a good deal, either directly or through a site like Wowcher I'm generally happy.

Here are some of the deals I've bagged in the last couple of years via Wowcher:

  • £29.99 for day spa access and 25-minute treatment
  • £69 for day access for 2 people and 3 mini treatments each
  • £49 for day spa access and 3 treatments
  • £95 for day access for 2 people and 4 mini treatments each
Then the latest trip I took was for a half-day entry to the spa (9am - 1pm although they didn't seem to care what time I was there as the receptionist was trying to book me brunch for 1pm), 2 treatments (45 minutes) and brunch for £59.50 (booked directly and the offer is still available now), which was probably my most expensive trip but the brunch really made it a special treat.

I shared my thoughts on a day spa visit that my husband and I took in January 2019 and this is now an updated review on how a half-day spa went for me in December 2020 between the two lockdowns in the UK. This was my early Christmas present from my parents and I went alone. After doing lots of spa days with friends and my husband I actually think I enjoy the days I go alone the best, as I only have myself to suit and I do love to relax and read.

Bannatyne Hastings

The centre itself feels more like a gym/ sports centre than a traditional spa, so make sure you have the right expectations when you book for here. If you want the kind of experience you'd get at Champneys then I'd say don't bother. On the last two or three visits, the reception staff have seemed pretty new and not very clued up. I've even had a couple of rude ones and certainly, it appears, some like to chat with each other more than help you, but I take it with a pinch of salt as the actual spa and the treatments I've received on every occasion have been exceptional.

Thursday, 28 January 2021

Tips for Planning a Long Weekend in London

Tips for planning a long weekend in London post covid-pandemic. How to ensure you have the best value and most enjoyable stay.

{This is a collaborative post}

January is my bookings month, it is when I make plans for the year ahead. Where will the family go on holiday? Will I treat anyone to a weekend away for a special occasion? Should my hubby and I have a romantic getaway? It's the same every year, the minute Christmas is out of the way I am on my mission; it is as if the next year feels better for having some trips away planned. 

Of course, last year turned out to be a series of disappointments on the going away front. I can't even begin to tell you how many wonderful occasions and trips were cancelled but I am feeling far more optimistic for this year ahead and being able to have some amazing times away from home. 

The one trip I missed the most was my annual mother and daughter trip to London for Mothers Day. My Mum and I have chosen to spend our Mothers Day weekend together for a number of years now, and we've decided that this year has to be bigger, better and longer to make up for missing out on our 2020 break. Realistically we're not going to have our break in March this year as who knows what will be happening with lockdown and tiers but I feel confident to book for a July break to tie in with my Mums birthday too. A double whammy celebration!

Here are my tips for booking a long leisure weekend away in London. I think we are going to have at least 3 or even 4 nights this year -

Book your Travel about 12 weeks in Advance

Once you have your dates set, think about how you'll be getting into London. My Mum and I always use the train, as it means we don't have to think about parking and we can travel from different areas and meet easily at one of the stations. I think one of the 1/3rd off discount rail travel cards are worth it if you'll travel a few times in a year and look to book your tickets about 12 weeks in advance, as you'll often find advance or super-saver return tickets then and can bag a bargain. 

I look forward to my hour train journey as the start of my stay away. A time when I can read a book and shake off the realities of home and work. 

Image Credit: SITU

Book a Serviced Apartment rather than a Hotel

When Mum and I stay away we always want it to be somewhere a little luxurious and not just a functional but boring hotel room. I'd really advocate checking out serviced apartments as somewhere to stay in London. Not only will you have a comfortable bed to lay your head at night but you'll also have a lounge area, well-equipped kitchen, clothes washing facilities, Wi-Fi and so much more. Serviced apartments are a home away from home and depending on the length of your stay they generally have a housekeeping service too. 

I spent a happy hour on the SITU website planning where Mum and I might stay in June and I was really surprised at the great places that came up. I had a budget of £100 per night in my head and didn't really expect to find anything nice, but there was a good selection within that price range and I am booking The Gloucester Road Escape apartment that came up at just £332 for 4 nights stay.  I think that's a great price. 

I've been very pleasantly surprised and I'll be using SITU again to choose an apartment next time my family all go to stay in London as they have a very large range with many multi-bedroom serviced apartments, not just in London but all across the UK and further afield too. Do have a look at SITU Serviced Apartments if you fancy staying in a serviced apartment in London. 

Saturday, 23 January 2021

Surviving Home Schooling and Feeling Thankful #R2BC

Time to sit down and bash out my little dose of positivity. It's been a good couple of weeks, and I've managed to get out a couple of times - nowhere particularly exciting of course but it still counts and it's good for my soul.

I've been feeling really thankful this last week and that is amazing as it is like a drug to me, soothing me, reminding me that things will be OK, and we can all get through this. 

Here is a list of just some of my reasons to be thankful -

  • The girls are getting on with their homeschooling (in the main!) and the most frequent thing I have to do is jivvy them along and threaten consequences if they don't knuckle down and get on with the work.
  • You can tell the school/ teachers are now more confident with teaching remotely as most of their resources are in Google classroom and thus easy to access and the girls are having a few live lessons every day too.
  • My JJ is a treasure, he just gets on with his college work and is really self-motivated. He's such a good lad and is happy to help the girls too if they need it. That sure helps me as I have no idea bout most GCSE maths or science. 
  • Miss E is constantly on Facetime with a girl from school and they seem to be establishing a really lovely and deep friendship during this lockdown. I pray it continues when they return to school. 
  • We had to take the cat to the vets for a check-up as he was bitten last month and he is healing well, this meant Miss E and I got out and we could get a cheeky McDonalds drive-through.
  • We've found out some stuff that has been going on for one of our twins and it is difficult stuff (I won't go into it) but I am so pleased to now know and to be able to offer her support. We've talked more and spent more time together this week, which is very good.

Thursday, 21 January 2021

Practical Tips for Living with Allergies

Sharing some practical tips for living with everyday allergies and highlighting the Klarify allergy home blood test kit
Photo by Brittany Colette on Unsplash

{This is a paid collaboration with Klarify}

With over 44% of British adults now suffering from at least one allergy (1), it is high time that we all had better information, support and help for our allergies. As a child of the 70s and 80s, it was literally a couple of kids in my class who had asthma or suffered from food allergies or that was certainly how it seemed, but now so many of my children's classmates seem to have sensitivities, intolerances and allergies. 

I do think it is good that we have much better information available to us nowadays and that product such as home allergy tests are so widely available. It is armed with good information that we're able to avoid the allergen triggers and help our homes remain a place of rest and respite. 

If you're suffering from the classic allergy symptoms of red, itchy and watery eyes, running or blocked nose, sneezing, wheezing or cough, your first step needs to be identifying the source of your discomfort and this isn't always easy. Many allergies such as pet dander, pollen and house mite dust can produce the same or very similar symptoms and without diagnostic tests, you'll never know quite what to do. This can be very distressing if you have a beloved pet and you are unsure if they are the cause of your discomfort. 

Talk to your GP initially and see if they are able to help, depending on the area and the severity of your symptoms they may offer testing such as skin prick or patch testing. If there is a long wait or they are not forthcoming you may choose to have an allergy blood test that you can perform yourself at home. This is a simple case of using a lancing device to prick your finger and 6 drops of blood need to be collected. Ths blood sample is then sent to the laboratory for analysis and within a few weeks, you'll have the online results that you can discuss with your GP and decide on an appropriate way forward to improve the comfort of your everyday life.

Friday, 15 January 2021

Visiting Herstmonceux Castle and Gardens, East Sussex

Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex is a great example of moated castle & makes a fun day out for all the family

The castle gardens and grounds will re-open 13th February 2021.

We've lived about a ten-minute drive from Herstmonceux castle for over seven years and had never yet visited it. We've been talking about going for quite some time and finally, in early October 2020 my husband and I headed over there and I am so glad we did, as it is lovely. Just as nice as many National Trust sites I've visited before and a good price too.

We paid £7 per adult to visit the gardens and grounds, and it would have been £17.50 for a family of 2 adults and 2 children. Normally you can have a tour of the castle, which is used as a study centre for the Queen's University in Canada, but not at the moment during the pandemic. It didn't matter though as there are 300 acres to explore and in nice weather, you could spend a number of hours here.

An Amazing Slice of History

Herstmonceux castle really is a beautiful example of a moated castle. It started to be built in 1441 to replace the original manor house that stood here. On completion, it was the largest private home in the country. It was lived in as a private dwelling for the next 300 odd years and started to fall into disrepair. It was remodelled in 1776 and then parts of the castle became a ruin, until 1911 when a new owner started a restoration project, which was finally completed in 1932.

Friday, 8 January 2021

Crispy Salt and Pepper Tofu Recipe

Photo by Cassiano Barletta on Unsplash

{This is a collaborative post, this recipe has been provided to me for publishing}

Crispy salt and pepper tofu is an ever-popular Chinese dish that we absolutely love. The contrast between the crispy exterior and super silky interior of perfectly cooked tofu is hard to beat and the subtle, classic flavours of simple salt and pepper is always a winner in our books!

This delicious and easy crispy salt and pepper tofu recipe is an absolute breeze to cook and is on the plate, ready to eat in just 35 minutes (including preparation and cooking time!). 

The crispy outer coating is achieved with a 100% vegan-friendly cornstarch batter that gives an incredible flavour and texture to our favourite ingredient in health-conscious cooking: tofu. We think cornstarch is much nicer than frying tofu with flour and egg (not to mention that without the egg, this recipe is vegan friendly) as it provides a much lighter batter for a firm, crunchy crust that doesn’t overpower the tofu.

We also use white pepper in this recipe, commonly used in Chinese cuisine due to its milder flavour that’s perfect for a delicious yet light crispy salt and pepper tofu dish.

You can garnish your crispy salt and pepper tofu with a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper, some red pepper flakes, and/or a sweet chilli dipping sauce, or eat them fresh out of the frying pan as you prefer.

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Review: Ticket to Ride - Europe Board Game - Great for Teens

Review of Ticket to Ride:Europe board game. Great fun for all the family and especially good for getting your teenagers involved.

I first played the original Ticket to Ride board game about five years ago with some friends and I've been hooked ever since. I'm not quite sure why it took me until the first lockdown last year to actually buy it, but I am so glad I did as myself and the children have played it so many times. I am a bit dismayed that they can all beat me quite so easily but it is still a lovely way to spend time together.

There isn't that much that can bring all the family together for an hour or so, but this is one of them. Ticket to Ride Europe really is a hit with the teens, I suppose it is a game that is a great blend of strategy, fun and luck that only takes an hour or so.

Useful information

Recommended age: 8+ years

Number of payers:  2 - 5

Length of play: 30 - 80 minutes

Time to learn the rules: 10 - 15 minutes and the booklet is super easy to navigate

Time to set up the board: 5 minutes

Cost: You can normally pick the game up for around £30, although I notice it is sold out in many places as I publish this. The RRP is £39.99.

Aim of the Game: 

To score the highest points by collecting and paying the coloured train cards, so you can place your train pieces on the board and complete the routes on your route cards. 

I think having four players is my favourite for this game, as it offers a better level of challenge on which routes we all try to claim and makes the gameplay about an hour long. Basically, the gameplay on the Europe edition is the same as the original North America version but there are also a few added features like completing a tunnel, where you have to be lucky or you'll end up playing more cards than the train pieces you'll lay; taking a ferry, which requires you to have a certain amount of locomotive cards as well as the necessary coloured train cards; or using a station to give you access to a route that is already blocked by another players trains. 

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Dutch Oven Cinnamon Rolls

Photo by Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

 {This is a collaborative post, the recipe had been provided to me for publishing}

Cinnamon rolls are an excellent breakfast alternative to porridge or cereal - everyone loves them, and it's easier than you might think to make them.

This cinnamon roll recipe can easily be prepared in your Dutch oven. If you aren't familiar with a Dutch oven, don't be fooled into thinking it is a massive piece of equipment that you need. You might just know it as an enamelled cast-iron casserole dish. Dutch ovens are fabulous for baking as well as making main courses, as they distribute the heat evenly.

You can make this cinnamon roll recipe at home or even on your next camping trip. You can also make these rolls in advance and chill them overnight for baking the next day if that suits your plans better.

This recipe serves 4-6 people.

Ingredients for the dough

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk, any kind
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons instant active yeast (typically one packet)

Ingredients for the filling

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

Ingredients for the Icing

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Pre-Christmas Reasons to be Cheerful

Having just gone into tier 4 (practically lockdown) this past weekend it seems extra pertinent to write a Reasons to be Cheerful post and to try to focus on the good things going on in my life.

First off, the biggies - my family are all well, my friends are well, we have a lovely home, our heating got fixed and we are warm, we have enough food to eat and we can afford to pay our bills. In this time when people are losing loved ones, jobs and homes, I know we are very lucky to have all of those things still.

Then the next thing I am giving thanks for, is that I know Jesus. My faith makes a massive difference in my life and it is so much richer for it. We are also part of a super community-spirited church and we've had some great zoom church services, a quiz and met some other members online for a chat recently. 

I'll share a few photos from other precious moments in the last couple of weeks -

*  Decorating the tree with Miss E. Going for the mismatched but full of memories look

Friday, 18 December 2020

Tips for enjoying Christmas during a Pandemic

Tips for enjoying christmas 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

I did wonder if I should title this post - tips for surviving Christmas during a pandemic - but no, I figured I should be positive. For the great majority of us, we CAN enjoy Christmas and not just have to survive, endure or get through it this year. 

We're still a week away from Christmas day and there is plenty of time for each of us to check ourselves and start changing our mindset from negative to positive. We know now that the rate of spread in the UK is still high and for many areas (especially London, the South East and Wales) the spread is rising exponentially. So, it is time for every one of us to act responsibly and to have the smallest, safest gathering possible this Christmas. 

It won't be normal - there won't be boozy nights with friends, trips to the panto, ice skating with the kids or frantic sale shopping and now we know that for sure, it is time for us to accept it and make the best of what we have left. I'd like to suggest that we can still have a good time or even a great time and I wanted to share some tips for doing so. 

Take a Positive View

My first suggestion and it applies to everyone is to look on the bright side. I know from personal experience and from being involved with the Reasons to be Cheerful gang for over a decade that looking for the good in a situation makes a difference. When you choose to be grateful and offer thanks for the things that you do have, it changes your mindset and it can easily become a habit. Of course, you have to be willing to put in the effort and I think it is good to write down each day the things you are thankful for. Aim for three a day and when you are struggling just seek one positive thing, even if it is as simple as - you have a home, warm clothes, food to eat. Start with the basics and keep recording what you are grateful for and your list and your heart will grow, I promise you. 

A few years ago I wrote a post titled 'Keeping perspective: It's Just One Day After All!' where I talked about not following the crowd and remembering that Christmas is just a short snippet in time, and I think it is more important than ever this year to remember that. Don't spend money you don't have, mourn the things that are missing or be anxious over whether the turkey will be perfect. Try instead, to be calm, loving and present in the moment.

Oh and on the note of being positive, make a concerted effort to stay away from negative people during this time. You don't need anyone to steal your joy! You really can control your own thoughts and positive affirmations go a long way. I have a typed sheet on my mirror that reminds me of who I am, for me, it is about being a child of God and I focus on His promises but for you it might be more general affirmations like - I am a beautiful woman with a good heart, I am generous, I am loving, I will have a great Christmas day, I treasure time by myself. All the things you want to believe and need to hear, write down and say them aloud to yourself as you start the day.

Ideas to Refresh your Garden for Spring

Photo by Savvas Kalimeris on Unsplash

{This is a collaborative post}

It might be dark and gloomy outside right now, but it won’t be long before the nights start to draw out again and the first signs of Spring arrive.  So, even though you might not be spending much time outside now, it’s worth thinking about giving your garden a refresh ready for spring, you'll want some glorious colour to cheer you up by then.

You might be nodding right now and thinking, yes this is what I should be doing.  If so, here are some ideas to help you along.

Lay a patio or deck

If you don’t have a patio or decked area in your garden, this might be worth considering.  It creates a handy area for socialising, BBQs, and just having a quiet cuppa.  When laying a patio or decking, make sure you’ve planned enough space to accommodate things like seating, plants and your BBQ.

Create a pond or water feature

Water features have a nice calming effect and are always pleasing to look at.  If you have time to create and maintain one, a pond is an excellent feature to have in the garden and you can enjoy the wildlife that a pond attracts too.  But if you’re looking for something easier to manage, then a small water feature can work just as well, and they often add a very pleasant water trickle sound to your garden too.

Friday, 11 December 2020

Building a New Home? Things to Consider Before Starting

Photo by Lex Photography from Pexels

{This is a collaborative post}

Taking the decision to go down the self-build route to achieve the home of your dreams is an important one. Around 8% of all homes built are self-build according to Government statistics. There are several things to consider if you are going to go down this route; the following should help you make the project as smooth running as possible.

Consider your Budget

While your design is important, if you don’t know the expected cost of building a new home, you may be left with an unfinished property or worse, you need to request a loan to finish the property off. This is especially worrisome if your budget goes way above what you can afford. Things to consider in your budget include professional fees for architects, surveys of your proposed site, fees for planning permission as well as the building materials, tradespeople, and any connections you need to make to utilities. Then, of course, there is the cost of decoration and getting the perfect finish for your dream home.

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Reasons to be Cheerful - Advent, Cakes and Walks

It's time to share another cheery update. I find this such a good practise to record all the things that I'm grateful for and I was listening to a podcast this week that reminded me that counting your blessings is one of the antidotes to leading a bitter life. I certainly don't want to go through life bitter, and I know I have a tendency for that, so here is my next gratitude instalment.

1. Beautiful winters days, with amazing skies but not too cold.

2.  Lockdown has finished and we are welcoming guests back to the centre where I live.

3.  I had a great walk with a friend along Bexhill seafront, it was good to chat and enjoy a hot chocolate.

4.  My girls filled an advent calendar  for me and the first day was  a little note saying 'I love you', it's very cute

Saturday, 28 November 2020

Tips for Remaining Confident as a Teenager with Psoriasis

JJ is a 17-year-old boy with chronic psoriasis. Here, he shares his tips for remaining confident as a teenager with psoriasis, & using Epaderm.

I'm really proud of my 17-year-old son, not only because he is super smart and already has his career with GCHQ mapped out in his mind, but because he is living with a long-term chronic skin condition and he does it with such good humour.  You'd be forgiven for looking at that photo above and thinking he is just a pretty normal teenage lad, perhaps a bit geeky or a nerd, but there doesn't look as if there is anything out of the usual, does there?

However, look a bit deeper and you'd see red or scaly white patches covering most his body. Why? Because he has plaque psoriasis

Living with Psoriasis

Until JJ started to develop psoriasis three years ago it wasn't something I knew much about. I had no idea that it is estimated around 2 - 3% of the UK population are suffering with it (according to the UK Psoriasis Association), and it's only in the last year that I've seen just how bad it can get, both on JJ and by joining some online support groups. 

Psoriasis is a particularly difficult skin condition as there is no cure for it, and it presents differently on each person. I'm also learning that what works to helps relieve it at one point may stop working, and there is a massive range of treatments to choose from. It can be quite overwhelming if I am entirely honest.

JJ's psoriasis started off on his back, behind his ears and a patch above his left eye, then over time it has spread and worsened. Whenever I read about psoriasis there is always a description of it flaring up and being worse for a while and then subsiding again. Sadly, this hasn't been the case for JJ, the psoriasis on his body has been progressively getting worse over the last year or so. The plaques on his face do seem to go down with topical steroid creams but we are really trying to limit the use of those.

You can see the from the zoomed-in photos below the reality of how psoriasis can look when you are up close. JJ's daily reality is a scalp that itches and flakes excessively leaving him with 'dandruff' shoulders, red or scaly white patches on his face and his body, constant moisturising to help take away the tightness, itchiness or even pain of his skin, a floor that needs hoovering almost as soon as you've just done it and bedclothes that end up covered in emollient. 

He doesn't have the luxury of most teenage boys, that of choosing if he has a skincare regime, without looking after his skin he'd be uncomfortable all the time.

Friday, 27 November 2020

Dreams for the Future, when I win the Lottery Jackpot

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

{This is a collaborative post}

I have to admit it's been quite some years since I have actually played the lottery, but when it first launched here in the UK, I did play every week and I had a set of numbers that I always used. I won the odd £10 by matching three numbers and I think I even had four numbers once or twice but never more than that sadly. However, just because I don't play doesn't stop me dreaming of what I'd do with a really big win.

I don't think I'm alone there and I know I've played the 'what I'd do if I had a million pounds' game with friends before. I actually really enjoy spending an hour dreaming about what the future might hold if I have a whole load of money in my bank account. So here are the things I'd like to do if I win the lottery jackpot one day in the future.

Help Others

The first thing I know I want to do is help others. I know that sounds a bit cliche but as a Christian, it is important to me to serve and help others where I can. I'm not a saint, so it will need to be a project or business where I enjoy serving and working, rather than just selflessly giving, but it needs to be worthwhile. I've always had this dream that my husband and I would run a Christian conference centre somewhere in the UK, and he is sort of doing that now.

So I think my dream would now be slightly different. Still working with my husband and offering hospitality, but being more local community based. I could see myself investing in and managing a community centre that is really committed to helping its local people. I'd have a pastor and team on board to run the church side of things, but my husband and I could lead the outreach. We'd have a community cafe where locals can come for food, be that paid or gifted, people to chat and pray with them, a food bank, debt and job counselling, activities for the kids and youth and so much more.

I feel excited just thinking about this. Money is often the thing that holds these kinds of projects back and if I had my lottery win, there would be no need for it to feel limited by its resources. My background is in HR and training, so I'd really enjoy doing the practical parts of coaching people to help them get back into employment and leading training courses for parenting, assertiveness, time management. You name it, I want to give it a go!

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Save Money on Your Mobile Phone Bill, with Airtime Rewards, for UK Networks

All you need to know about Airtime Rewards, an easy way to get your mobile bill pad for you, without any hassle or fuss.
Image Credit: Airtime Rewards

About six months ago I received an email from EE introducing me to Airtime Rewards. It's an app you can download, add your credit and debit card details to and it sits in the background and logs your spend with the participating retailers. You then earn rewards for every eligible purchase and those rewards become money that you can use as money-off your mobile bill. I've received £30 off my mobile phone bill in the last few months and considering I only spend £10 a month, that has been three months of free service for me!

I love getting things for free and I'm sure you do too, and Airtime Rewards comes without any hassle or risks so I knew I had to spread the word and let others know about it too. So here is my lowdown -

Which Networks are Eligible?

The easy answer is all the big ones.  Three, EE, O2, Vodafone, giffgaff, Virgin Mobile, Tesco Mobile, ASDA Mobile, Lebara mobile, Lycamobile and Now PAYG. You can also use the reward for money off your pay monthly or pay-as-you-go contract.

How do I use Airtime Rewards?

1.  Download the app for Android or iOS. Complete the registration with your details including your mobile number, network and card details (you can register multiple cards and it takes around 24 hours to activate the card to start earning). Use my referral code Y7A844HB and we both make some money from it (see further down for more information). 

2.  Spend as normal and allow Airtime Rewards to do the work in the background. You can keep track of your spending if you want to and if anything is missed you can fill in the form within the app to log a missing transaction if it hasn't logged after 14 days. I don't bother, I literally sit back and wait for the cash to roll in!

3.   Keep an eye on what rewards you are earning. Then when you hit the minimum threshold for your network so can redeem the reward, or store them up for another day.

It really is super simple and feels like money for nothing. 

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Take The Stress Out Of Finding The Perfect Gifts

Photo by Erica Marsland Huynh on Unsplash

{This is a collaborative post}

No matter what time of year it is, gifts are something that just about everyone can get excited about. Everyone loves giving and receiving presents. The issue that a lot of us end up facing is that it can often be a struggle to figure out what to get for each person. Even if you've known someone your entire life, you feel like you know everything about them, and you love them dearly, finding the perfect present can be tough. You don't just want to give them something they'll never use (or worse, throw away!) But at the same time, you don't want to spend massive amounts of money. Besides, it's not about the cost! The key is to think about who they are and what they might want! But if you're really struggling, here are a few things to consider when trying to find that perfect present.

Make it useful

Is the person you're buying for particularly practical? Do they do a lot of things themselves, whether it's cooking, crafting, or handiwork? Well then think about getting something that will actually be useful to them. If they love to make things themselves then getting them something that they can't use or do anything with could well mean it ends up at the back of a closet.

A gift that someone uses every day is not only going to be far more useful to them but it means that they have the chance to think about you as often as possible. It's the kind of gift that not only makes someone happy, but that also strengthens your connection to one another. Think about what interests they have and try to come up with something that can fit in with that interest, or even make enjoying it easier.