Friday, 13 December 2013

#ShopStyleParty Time!

I love using Shopstyle so when I read that they were running a competition where you had to put together a Christmas or New Year party outfit, I knew that it would be a wonderful way to spend an evening, putting together my dream outfit!

#Shopstyle party time!

I chose this fab silver Moschino Cheap & Chic metallic silver lace dress as my party dress - easy to wear but incredibly stylish - £470 at Harrods.

As it's Christmas, I wanted to inject some colour and it just had to be red!  Cue these cute shoes perfect for dancing the night away - Grazia studded court shoe from Simply Be at just £31.50, bargain!  For the chilly trip to and from my party, I'll need the Dorothy Perkins Red Silouette floral scarf (£12).  I just ADORE the packaging on the Christian Dior Addict Extreme lippy, so that's a must, and I chose Paparazzi as my colour, in the hope that my outfit will bring them out in force!  :)

My statement jewellery comes from All Saints and consists of the Biserka bracelet (£128) and Memphis earrings (£58).  Finally, a stylish clutch Palace bag from Hobbs to keep my lippy and Oyster card safe (whilst I'd love to be whisked to the ball in a coach like Cinderella, I certainly don't want to lose my lovely outfit at the stroke of midnight, so I'll take my chances on the tube!)

Sunday, 8 December 2013

A very APPy Christmas!

Let's face it, life BI (Before Ipads!) used to be so difficult, trying to keep track of what Christmas presents you'd bought for who.  This was especially true for me, as I love to buy my Christmas gifts all year around as I see them, or at least note down the idea ready for when I have some spare cash!  I hate the "last minute" dash in December to get everyone's gifts when the shops are packed and prices seem sky high.

Over the years, I've tried pieces of paper (always getting lost), a pretty notebook (it got left behind too many times or I couldn't find a pen) and my brain (too much like a sieve!).  So when I found the app "Manage Christmas - Christmas Gift List Manager", I knew I had struck gold.  What's more, it's free, my favourite price!

The best thing about this app is that it's so simple.  You set your total budget to spend and the app keeps track of what you've spent in total for everyone.

Then you add people that you want to buy for, with a total budget for each person.

Christmas List by person

As and when you find the perfect present for each person, you can note it down (whether you have bought it or not), where you saw it and what the price is (useful to keep track on when there's a sale to see if it's really gone down in price!)

This app has saved me tearing my hair out AND has saved me money by ensuring that I don't overspend by buying more presents as I'd forgotten what I'd already bought back in April!  To me, it's PRICELESS!


Our Perfect Christmas Day

I guess most people have a large extended family Christmas.  Our family is only small, but does extend to four generations and what is important to me is spending Christmas with all of them, creating memories for all of us.

We'll wake early, prepare Christmas lunch and then take the dogs for their long Christmas Day walk in the morning with our best friends.  It's Mike's birthday on Christmas Day, so we enjoy a glass of something bubbly to celebrate.

Then back to open the presents with William.

The perfect relaxed Christmas lunch with all the trimmings.

Enjoying some games

and giggles

Four generations of Christmas fun!

Merry Christmas!  This is my entry for the Tots100/Argos 12 Days of Christmas competition

Friday, 29 November 2013

The Appliance of Domestic Science

Tots100 got me thinking with their blog post about domestic appliances and how much we rely on them these days.

We were having dinner with some friends recently and got chatting about what we could live without in this increasingly material world.  What would we give up if there was a choice between two things?  I knew straight away that if I had to choose between my washing machine and dishwasher, the dishwasher would definitely stay.  There's a great local launderette (with a cosy coffee shop right next door) hard would that be a few times a week (after all, I managed it in my twenties!), but give up my dishwasher - NO WAY!!!  All those pans, plates and pots cluttering up my kitchen waiting for "someone" (ie, usually me!) to wash and dry them? NO THANK YOU!
I breathe a sigh of relief when they are stacked safely in the machine and I press the button, pure bliss.

Most appliances usually last quite a long time, but they always seem to break down just at the wrong time. That was the case with our oven a couple of years ago.  It was Sunday, I was preparing our traditional family Sunday roast dinner (a 52 week affair in our household) and switched on the oven.  Everything seemed normal, lights came on and whirring noises from the inside, but when I opened the door to put the pork in 20 minutes later, it was still cold!  ARGH!  Husband, who is quite handy with everything (except cooking!), came to assess the situation and declared that the oven heating element was not working.  Disaster for that Sunday roast - it's impossible to cook a fabulous joint of pork with crackling without an oven
....I love my microwave and slow cooker (and indeed, survived with just a microwave to cook on for over a year when we were renovating our house and the "kitchen" moved from room to room as we tried to find somewhere without dust and grime!) but they do not cook a proper Sunday roast!  We had to cut our losses and went to the pub for Sunday lunch that day.

As I said, appliances seem to have a knack of knowing when is the worst time to break down.  Not only was it a Sunday, but our bank balance was woefully low (read negative) and we certainly couldn't afford to replace the cooker (even though it was already a good age).  The aforementioned Handy Husband did some searching online and found PartSelect who had this really helpful guide on what to do when your oven isn't producing any heat. He followed the simple instructions and concluded that he had been right before, that the heater element was indeed kaput!  After reading how easy it was to replace, he decided that it sounded like we could fix the oven ourselves so ordered the part which arrived just a day later.

I was "Chief Tool Passer" and Handy Husband had the element replaced in less than an hour, it really was very simple.  SO simple, in fact, that when exactly the same thing happened eight months later when Handy Husband was away on business, I managed to replace the element on my own (with just the Young One as the Chief Tool Passer!).  It did take me a bit longer, but it wasn't rocket science, you just need to be methodical and always adhere to the safety instructions.  PartSelect produce step-by-step videos which are really helpful if you're a bit nervous.  We now keep a spare oven heating element in a kitchen drawer, we don't want any more Sunday roast disasters!

Following on from our oven success, we had a go at diagnosing a fault on my beloved dishwasher when that broke down, but found that it was a problem in the electronic circuit board which was not repairable (by us or an engineer) and a replacement would cost almost as much as a new dishwasher.  Of course, the dishwasher WAS replaced pronto! ;)

Now, whenever an appliance stops working, we try to fix it ourselves.  We're very keen on recycling and trying to reduce our impact on the planet as much as possible, and this is a great way of making a big difference (to both the planet AND your own bank balance!)

This blog post is my entry into the Tots100/PartSelect "Love Your Appliance" competition

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Travelling My Way - by any mode of transport!

When I heard that were running a promotion where you need to submit your all-time favourite travel photos by various modes of transport, I knew I had to enter as I love travelling!  Luckily for me, the deadline has been extended to the end of October because I've only just come back from an amazing trip to Zambia and South Africa!

I've spent a very enjoyable couple of hours going through my photos and deciding which ones to include in this post, it's been like a whirlwind trip of the world!

Travel by Sea
I love being on and in the water, so this category was really hard for me to whittle down to just a couple of photos!  So much of my travel has been by water, from kayaks through to the huge Queen Mary 2, the last true liner plying the oceans.
Firstly, from my trip to Antarctica, where we had a roller coaster 36 hour sea journey across Drakes Channel to reach this incredible white wilderness. This photo was taken very early one morning and I was struck by the beauty of the near perfect reflections in the water.
Creeping through the icebergs in the Lemair Channel, Antarctica

I love scuba diving and have travelled around the globe to indulge my passion.  I always go "liveaboard" - where you take a small (these days generally very comfortable!) boat and live on there for a week or two - you get to remote pristine dive sites away from all the day trippers.  This shot was taken at dawn one morning in a very remote area of the Red Sea - jumping into inky black waters from the safety of "home" when you know that sharks will be circling below can be daunting but exhilarating!
Leaping into the unknown

Travel by Air
Most people moan about having to get to and from a holiday by air, but to me, it's part of the joy of travelling.  I check in on line and travel with just hand baggage, so there are no huge queues at the airport, and love catching up with films whilst flying.  There's nothing better than peeking out of the window to see what's on the ground below (I've been amazed at the profusion of huge circular fields on my most recent trips, brought about by irrigation - not something we see much in England!).  I once was even lucky enough to see the Northern Lights from a plane.

This year, I visited Alaska and the weather was unseasonably warm and sunny, so I decided to take a float plane trip from Ketchican to the Misty Fiords National Park.  From start to finish, this was amazing, we landed in a remote lake right in the National Park where the silence was deafening!
Float plane on remote lake in Alaska

Flying over Misty Fiords NP

Flying by helicopter is always a real thrill, but especially so when the destination was Mount Cook in New Zealand.  We were able to land on a nearby mountain top and walk around taking in the majesty of it all - thank you air travel!

Travel by train
What a relaxing way to see a country from the comfort of a train carriage.  You know exactly where you'll end up, they are generally fairly fast and reliable, you can get food and drink, what's not to like?

Of course, the Japanese bullet trains are renowned for their reliability and punctuality.  I was amazed to see the efficiency of getting on and off the train - you must stand in a specific box on the platform.  Clean, comfortable and FAST, just a pity that so much of Japan is so urbanised so the views aren't up to much alot of the time.
Preparing to board a bullet train

My favourite country in the world to travel by train is actually my home, Great Britain.  Despite the cuts made to the network in the 1950s, we still have one of the most extensive rail networks in the world, and seeing the glorious British countryside whizz by my seat always brings my joy.
Glorious Great Britain from the train

Travel by Road
I've saved the best till last.  Nothing beats travelling by road, ideally in your own car so that you can stop when you like, take a detour from your planned trip or just put your foot down and enjoy the scenery unfold.

On my latest trip, we drove from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, but chose to go along the more unusual route through the Little Karoo, where the scenery varies from winelands to mountain and valley passes to near desert.  Five hours of pure heaven with glorious spring flowers peppering our route.  I particularly loved the deep blues of the sky against the rugged mountains of the Franschoekk Pass.
At the foot of the Franschoekk Pass

From an earlier trip to the southern hemisphere, this is a reminder to always look in your rear view mirrors, you just never know what beautiful vista will present itself!  This one was taken as we were leaving Mount Cook National Park in New Zealand.

Well, thanks for taking me down memory lane, it's been VERY enjoyable!  These bloggers should also be interested in entering your fab competition - SuperluckyDi (who told me about this promotion), Kylie Martin, Lisa Hughes, Katy Bennett and Kate Holderness.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

My Big GREASE-Y Night In

When I read that Little Stuff and TwoLittleFleas were running a bloggers competition to say how you would spend a special night in, I knew that I had the perfect idea (I've been wanting to do this for AGES!) and had to enter!

My favourite film of all time is Grease with John Travolta and Olivia Newton John.  It brings back so many happy memories of growing up, and is still as popular today as it was when first released - just look at all the young things getting married today and they are bound to have a track or two played at their weddings!

So my perfect night in would be a "Summer Nights" Grease themed evening with all my closest friends.

We would dress in the parts (Sandy, Danny, Kenickie, Rizzo, Frenchy, Sonny, Marty, Eugene, Mrs Murdock.....) with wonderful period 1950s themed costumes and sing along vociferously to each and every song (we all know the words!) that play on the new Harman Kardon surround sound speakers as the DVD plays repeatedly.

Our milkshakes would be blended like "Greased Lightnin' " in this 1950s styled blender

and popcorn freshly cooked in this traditional cooker - "We're Hopelessly Devoted to You"!

We'll lose our voices, we'll have a ball, and there's absolutely no doubt that this evening is "The One That I Want" and there will be "Tears on my Pillow" when it's all over!

Capture the Colour with are running their fantastic Capture the Colour photographic competition for a second year running, so I decided to spend a very pleasant afternoon looking through my travel photos to find my entries!


Diving in the Blue
Scuba diving is one of my favourite activities and SO much easier in tropical waters than in chilly Britain! This photo was taken in Bora Bora, fortunately, these sharks are pretty harmless to humans!

Chiluly Glass in Seattle

On a trip to Seattle, I visited the fascinating Chiluly glass sculpture gardens where I spotted this awesome yellow structure.


Oil pipe controls in Bahrain
When I visited Bahrain a couple of years ago before the problems there, I was struck by the contrasts between the bright red controls of the first oil pipeline in Bahrain against the deep blue skies.  Beautiful.


This magnificent American car is to be found in Miami Beach in the Art Deco area.
Art Deco Green


Peeking out in Panama City
This endearing little chap popped into the doorway was I was walking through the streets of Panama City.

This is my entry to the Capture the Colour blog competition.

These bloggers might also be interested in entering  Di Coke (Super Lucky)Lisa HughesKylie MartinKaty Bennett and Sarah Ridgeway.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Childhood holiday memories

I have very fond memories of wonderful holidays taken at Butlins holiday camps in Bognor and Minehead in the 60s and 70s with my parents.

One of my favourite holiday memories is taking part in the Donkey Derby at Butlins - I remember cantering around bareback and there were sometimes even little jumps to clear - I'm sure Health & Safety would have a fit if it was suggested today, but we had enormous fun, and even managed to win another holiday to Butlins to boot!
Winning the Donkey Derby!

And they're off!

It was heaven for my sister and me with planned activities all day long, plenty of food, funfairs and swimming in pools and the sea. When I was still a baby, I won the Bonny Baby competition with my Mum and we had fun making fancy dress costumes for the parade in the ballroom too.

My dad made THE best sandcastles on the beach, huge towers with tunnels and gulleys that golf balls would run through, all the other kids would look on enviously as we'd play for hours.

Having three girls didn't stop my Dad's love of cricket - he taught us all how to play on the beach and we still enjoy a game to this day!

I've loved looking through my old photos and reminiscing about these childhood memories of our wonderful holidays at Butlins!

Competition is sponsored by Butlins Holiday Parks helping your family make memories

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Postcard from The Big Country

In June 2013 I had an amazing trip to the United States.  Now, those of you who know me well must be surprised to hear me say that as, whilst I LOVE travelling, the US has never been high on my list of destinations to visit, partly because I used to visit a lot for work, partly because I travelled there quite extensively in my 20s, and partly because there seemed to be so many more interesting places in the world to explore.  But the sheer beauty of Montana has renewed my interest in this vast and varied country and I'm sure I will be making more trips there in the near future to discover what else she has to offer.

So, what made this trip so awesome?  Let me give you a visual clue

Postcard from the Big Country

One of my passions since childhood has been riding and having just reached a milestone (ahem!) birthday, I decided it was time to realise some of my lifelong dreams.  One was to become a cowgirl (having been a big fan of Alias Smith and Jones when I was a kid!) and round up cattle in the Wild West, hence my trip to Montana.

I flew directly to Seattle and spent a couple of very enjoyable days there.  The immigration staff were actually welcoming, smiling and efficient which was such a pleasant change from the grumpy attitudes at most US airports that has put me off visiting or even transiting the country.

Seattle is easy to get around both on foot and using public transport, and being right on the ocean, there's great seafood to eat :) .  On my first morning I woke at 4am and took a walk down to Pike's Place Market to watch the stallholders preparing for the day.
Amazing fresh fish

Later in the day, the market became a colourful hive of activity with flower sellers, fish throwers and many craft stalls.  I loved the neon signs in the market directing you to excellent restaurants and bars overlooking the waterfront.

But it was time to move on to the highlight of my trip - staying on a 12,000 acre ranch about 30 miles from a remote town called Red Lodge in Montana.  I flew over Washington State (beautiful from the sky) and into Montana's business hub, Billings.  This was small town America as I remembered it (ie, not so interesting) but I was soon on my way again and thrilled by what I found.  Montana is America's fourth largest state, but has less than one million residents so there is plenty of gorgeous scenery to enjoy!

I was staying in a traditional log cabin that had been built in the 1950s overlooking the pastures and mountains, sheer bliss.  It felt like something out of The Waltons!  I would sit out on this chair at night just gazing at the myriad of stars above and truly understanding why they call this Big Sky country.  

The perfect place to relax day or night
I rode an amazing coloured quarter horse called MJ (as my best mate said, a "proper" cowboy horse!) who loved galloping through the flower-filled meadows as much as I did!  We were a small group of seven from around the world, gathered there because of our love of riding, wildlife and beautiful scenery.  The perfect mix.  One day, we even saw a bear mooching through the woods - she didn't seem to mind us thankfully and we didn't have need of the pistol that our wrangler was carrying! 

MJ and me

We visited the Cody (Buffalo Bill country) rodeo one evening during the week and enjoyed the crazy antics of the riders there! Pretty sure I won't be taking up bronco riding any time soon, but we did have fun practising barrel racing on our last day at the ranch.  
Hold on tight!
I got serious cowboy-boot-envy whilst I was there - I've never been a big fan of them having seen them come in and out of fashion over the years, but my goodness, there are alot to choose from in the shops here - nothing like a bit of retail therapy even when you are in a remote location! 
Retail Therapy, Montana-style

Days out riding and gathering cattle were interspersed with lazy lunches by glacier-fed rivers where the brave would take a dip to cool off (yes, that included me, I can't resist getting in water, whatever holiday I am on!)
Cattle driving
Relaxing at lunch

This picture is the enduring memory from my wonderful trip - just me, my trusty steed and miles of stunning open country without another soul in sight - heaven on earth and my dream come true.

Dream come true

I was very sad to leave the ranch, but as a fab finale (and complete contrast), the Seattle Pride Parade was taking place and it made my last day into a joyous one filled with colour and vibrancy! 

Seattle Pride

This is my entry for the Travel Supermarket Holiday Postcard competition

Thursday, 30 May 2013

What's in my bedroom...

A recent post on blogging edge got me thinking about the room where I sleep.  Your bedroom should be your sanctuary, yes?  Peaceful, cosseting, somewhere you can go to relax, where you can get a great night's sleep and feel rejuvenated the next morning?

Urgent attention needed!

Hmmm - I'm not sure that my bedroom meets those criteria just at the moment.  It's desperately in need of some TLC before it can dispense any to me.  It suffers from damp - not of the rising sort, more the creeping-through-the-walls sort (250 year old house by the sea doesn't exactly help). Bubbling plaster like this does NOT a sanctuary make.  

The delightful built-in wardrobes that we inherited with the house, whilst very practical and capacious, don't exactly scream luxury do they!?

Great (but ugly) storage
  One definite keeper in the makeover will be my late Mum's lovely walnut dressing table - my parents bought it when they got married in the 1940s and it holds lots of happy memories for me.
Hurray! Spring is here!

Spring is finally in the air (hurray) and at last we can throw open the windows to let our bedroom air thoroughly before tackling that plasterwork.  It's time to bite the bullet and completely redecorate our bedroom and make it into that luxurious bolthole that I've always dreamed of.   Now this may be where my problem lies - procrastination and indecision......should I go for a chic "moody dark" hotel style, or perhaps a sexy boudoir?  How about cool contemporary minimalism (although I fear that looks lovely on paper, but falls apart in practice when your husband is known for leaving his clothes lying all over the place!)?  One thing is for sure, I have to inject some colour into the room, plain white walls (which is what we have right now) are just too clinical for a bedroom.  

I read this post by about home staging to get an idea on how to update my room even though I'm not in the processing of selling at the moment.  I now know that the clutter has to go and that everything needs freshening up.
Lighting is SO important in the bedroom.  I have a whole host of requirements;  low lighting for romantic ambience, task lighting for reading in bed (check out my current solution!),

Practical for reading...
a way of reducing the bright light of early summer mornings to help us sleep longer, and enough light to be able to see what I'm wearing in the dark winter mornings so I don't wear mismatching clothes (unfortunately, it has been known!).

I bought this gorgeous throw in the souk in Muscat, Oman and have decided to use it as the starting point for updating our bedroom.  I can pick out a couple of these warm co-ordinating colours as the basis for walls and accessories.
Great place to start for colour scheme

We can't afford to replace the carpet, and anyway, it's a neutral oatmeal colour so shouldn't impact the overall scheme.  Along with blackout blinds (see lighting above), I'd like some opulent curtains to draw in the winter to make the room feel super cosy.  I have a comfy wing chair that I like to curl up in and would love to get recovered using one of the key colours of the throw (I did manage that task once a few years ago at a night class in sewing/upholstery, but pretty sure I couldn't repeat it without the help of the teacher and we've moved 200 miles away since then!).  And those wardrobe cupboard doors have to go, ideally to be replaced by something swish and modern, but in keeping with the walnut dressing table.  A luxurious big headboard (none of those metal ones for me - I like to sit up to read in bed) and high-count bedlinen are must-haves.

Sometimes it's the small touches that can make a big difference - I would love to replace all our mismatched hangers with gorgeous wooden ones and invest in one enormous abstract print to hang on the wall taken from one of my own photographs so it's really personal and unique.

Better crack on now I've got all these ideas!