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30.11.14

Christmas and Minted

On Friday I felt enough was enough and headed into our loft to grab various boxes and bags of Christmas decorations we have collected over the years.
One such bag had old cards in, most of which are last years which I had kept as a reminder of who to send a card to this year. But in amongst those cards, and the many lengths of tinsel, I found some cards from around 4 years ago.
The front of one of the cards was so pretty, and had been personalised with our names, and I couldn't bear to throw it away. So, I've put it in a frame to come out every year.

I was recently introduced to Minted, a design marketplace and community of independent artists and designers located in 48 states and 43 countries. They are illustrators and textile designers, painters and packaging designers, marketers and stay-at-home mums. Some have design degrees, and others are participating in Minted competitions to learn design for the first time.
Although based in the US, Minted offer international delivery, meaning us in the UK don't miss out on any of the beautiful products they sell.

I straight away headed for the art marketplace section and was particular drawn to the foil-stamped art, particularly the Christmas themed pieces.

These pieces are so pretty and perfectly themed to the Christmas Season with the quotes and phrases. I love the idea of getting these special themed prints out at Christmastime each year.
A photowall with odd photos or other quotes replaced with these Christmas phrases, in mismatched frames, would be so beautiful and a perfect nod to the season.




I particularly love the print of the Reindeer names. Can anyone name them all without heading to Google? 



Aside from the Christmas prints there are so many other options, from quotes and phrases, to personalised photo prints, abstract art, prints for children and so much more. 
You can search by style, artist, designer, or type. 
And being a sailing family, this print is top of our wish list.


And need I mention the notebooks?! It is notebook heaven! With the cutest designs, and the option to personalise each piece and create something to suit your needs.


Perfect to find a treat for yourself or your home or as a gift for a loved one or a friend. 
Have you visited the Minted website yet?


This post is in collaboration with Minted.

29.11.14

What Did I Do?

I feel confused a lot.
I question myself.
Things I did as a baby, as a child, as a teenager, as an adult.
Where did I go wrong? Where did I let him down? Did I disappoint him from day one? Or was it later on?
At which point did he decide that I wasn't the daughter he wanted?
At which point did he decide that I'm not worth his time? Not worth fighting for?
Not important enough?

I wonder if there was ever a time that he thought he was letting me down? If he ever felt like he could improve, or if he always felt I was the one in the wrong?
But what did I do wrong? Other than to want an honest father. Other than to want a father who loved me, who wanted to spend time with me. Who cared for me. Who knew things about me.

I used to worship him. And despite knowing things about him, I chose to shut those things away in a box in my mind and not let them influence or change our relationship.

I remember clearly, one day we were sat outside a pub on the South Pier. I can't remember why this conversation came up but he asked me "If me and mum split up who would you go with?"
My instant reply was "You. But you two will never split up, will you?"
And he replied "No".
I would have been around 13 when he asked me that. 12 or 13. At the time I thought nothing of it, but now I can't help but wonder who he was pursuing at the time, whilst his family who adored him and thought everything was perfect and happy sat at home waiting for him, with no idea that one day he would walk away and create such a fight for his teenage and then grown up children to see him and be in his life.

Every day I put that small white pill in my mouth.
As I swallow it it hurts. Not physically. But mentally.
In my head. It hurts.
In my heart. It hurts.
If it wasn't for his actions would depression ever have hit me?

If it wasn't for his actions would I have more patience with my children? And not lose my cool over the smallest thing?
Would I not really be bothered over them not putting a cup in the kitchen, and not see it as them letting me down and thinking I am worthless and not good enough to listen to.

Would I think more of myself? Would I think I was a good person? Worthwhile?
Would I think "hey, I am a good person to know?" or would I still feel like people are foolish to take me into their lives?

Looking back I have major regrets over things that I did to please him. Things I did to be able to see him.
What kind of child takes flowers round to the woman he felt would give him a better life than the family who adored him? What kind of child would thank her ever so much, "thank you, thank you, thank you, for letting me come into your home and allowing me to see my dad."
What kind of child would do this, after getting abuse from this woman for wanting some alone time with her dad?
Crying down the phone to her dad, begging to see him, to hear her in the background telling the girl that she is selfish. Telling the girl that if she wants to see her dad she can go to "their" house. The house he secretly lived in so she could continue to get money from her husband, and whatever to government gave her for now being a "single mum" as well as his wages, meaning us having to sell our lovely family home. Desperately looking for something that would be perfect for this new family of 3.
Life was hard for us. So hard. But for him, it was easy. He didn't care.
He didn't care about the hurt he caused, the mess he caused. The pain he caused.
The pain and hurt that still remains.

What did I do? 
Did I love him too much?
Maybe, just maybe, I was too good for him?

28.11.14

Giveaway | Family Christmas DVD Bundle

If there is one thing sure to get anyone in the mood for Christmas it's a family Christmas film, right?
We are rebels and watch Polar Express all year round, but there are certain films that are kept for November.

The past month we have enjoyed laughing at Will Ferrell in Elf, and I have successfully made the boys such big fans of the film that we constantly quote the funny things he says.
We watch in suspense at Home Along. I can't even begin to think about how many times I have watched this film in my life but I still get that excited and nervous feeling for poor Kevin left at home by himself.
And of course, with a Mickey Mouse obsessed 3 year old we are constantly watching "Once Upon a Christmas" and "Twice Upon a Christmas".


The team at Cash Gen, the high street retailer of new and used DVDs, have given me a bundle of Family Christmas greats to giveaway.
If you fancy winning Elf, Home Alone, Tim Burton's The Night Before Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street then please fill in the Rafflecopter form below.

GOOD LUCK!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

19.11.14

Hotter Shoes For Men | Review

I am one of those shoppers who, if visiting the supermarket for a couple of essential items, will happen to come away with a new nail polish, lipstick or mascara that was definitely not on the shopping list.
My husband is the same, although not with cosmetics obviously. And his item of choosing has now become a long running joke. Approximately every 6-8 weeks he will come home with a new pair of shoes, all excited that they only cost him £8. Despite my eye-rolling and telling him there is a clear reason why they are £8 he is still delighted with his bargain.

After my recent visit and review of Hotter Shoes in Norwich I felt I needed to do something to convince him that he could do much better than those £8 shoes. And believe me this is a big challenge.
After showing him the range of shoes they have for men he was up for the idea of going along to the store to see if there were any that could tempt him away from his cheaper favourites.


Our aim was to find some "rugged" shoes or boots, which are durable and not too clunky. A tough enough sole for wearing outdoors but not too "workman/hiking boot". Something for outdoor adventures, sailing in particular, but also something that could be worn to the pub or on a date night.

He then decided he wanted a boot style, something I've been trying to get him to buy for so long. I think the trends around at the moment when it comes to mens footwear is fantastic. I remember a time when it was just "cool" [is that word still cool or not?] for them to wear trainers pretty much anywhere and everywhere.
My husband isn't a trainers kind of guy.
So the trend of a smart shoe or boot which can be worn with a casual outfit suits him perfectly.

By looking online we had already narrowed down his list of boots to try out to the Focus Boots and the Brett Boots. I think we both preferred the Focus boots looking online, however my husband still wanted to try the Brett boots too, and as soon as his slipped his foot in he had his Hotter moment.
He liked them so much that he didn't even bother trying on any others!

Despite initially liking the lighter brown he instead chose the dark brown grain. He felt this was more versatile, smarter and less likely to show up any kinds of stains or marks.

I didn't want to influence my husbands thoughts on the shoes, or on the brand, and was instead interested to hear what he had to say and what his impressions were.
He said:

You can see and feel that these are quality shoes.
I like the different designs and I'm impressed by the variety and ranges available. It's nice to see colours other than the standard brown and black, both with the plum colours and the different shades of brown available. (This is something that impressed me too. I was really pleased that Hotter have spread the Autumnal colours used in their women's range into the men's range also.)
This is somewhere I would shop again.

Now, being completely honest, he did gasp a little at the price. And I think people do tend to do this nowadays simply because there are shops out there who provide a cheaper alternative.
However, we need to consider the quality of shoes and comparing these to a cheaper version, which are likely to come out on top?
It's a worthwhile investment to spend a little more money on shoes which will not only fit better, and look after your feet, but also last a lot longer.

After leaving the Hotter store we headed to my mother-in-laws for lunch. We told her of my husbands new boots and she in turn told us that her favourite boots which she has had for a couple of years are from Hotter.
So there we go, a family of Hotter fans!

Now....when is the children's range coming out?


My husband was given a pair of boots for the purpose of this review.

12.11.14

10 Things To Do in Autumn


1. Collect pinecones. Last year started a new obsession for me. I love collecting pine cones of different shapes and sizes and using them as decoration around the house. I have a couple of bowls full of them and also save some to decorate at Christmas.

2. Make chocolate apples. Chocolate dipped apples are so easy and fun to make with children. Also, it's an apple therefore one of your five a day right?! Chocolate can be healthy, see.

3. Autumn is Halloween session and the supermarkets are full of pumpkins. Whether you carve them or decorate with glue and glitter, a must on any Autumn "must do" list is to have a homemade decorated pumpkin.

4. Kick leaves. Isn't there some kind of law that as soon as there is a big pile of red, orange and brown leaves you have to run through and kick them and throw them around? No. That should totally be a rule.

5. Watch Hocus Pocus. Following on from number 3, Hocus Pocus is a must in the Autumn right?

6. Buy some new wellies. I love an excuse to buy new shoes or boots. This year my wellies of choice are Wellibobs from Joules (surprise, surprise!). These are so comfortable and perfect for all day wear.

7. Make mulled cyder. If you believe mulled wine should only be for Christmas, and winter, then mulled cider/cyder is a fantastic alternative. In fact, I kind of prefer it to mulled wine.

8. Make the best hot chocolate, add cream, marshmallows and chocolate shavings, and snuggle in the warm.

9. Make S'mores. This seems to be an American craze which is becoming a lot more popular in the UK. Enjoy the great outdoors, and make a fire either in your garden or in a safe outdoor space using firelighters, firewood and kindling from Certainly Wood. Grab a blanket, some mulled cyder, and some loved ones and enjoy the warmth from the fire.

10. Test your heating. With the colder weather creeping up most of us turn our heating on for the first time. So depressing but oh so cosy too.



We were sent a S'mores kit for the purpose of this review.

10.11.14

Constant

Friendships to me have never been high on my list of priorities.
To say I have had a bad experience with all of my friendships would be correct. I have been incredibly unlucky.
In 29 years I have learnt a lot about people, and a lot about myself. But the main thing I've learnt is that people are unpredictable.

The majority of my friendships now are online. Some of these friendships will always just be online, with the odd hello and chat at a blog conference or event, and some are friendships that have crossed over into the real world.
This is one of the best things about blogging for me, and the fact that I have been able to make these friendships and meet people who I maybe wouldn't have met in real life, away from blogging.

I can be too taken in by people. And I think this is something I am constantly learning.
I get too sucked into this persona that is projected via blogs, and Instagram photos. I believe that these people are being completely real and showing themselves, when in reality they are making the most of this perfect life which they can play out online.
They can be the person they always wanted to be. The sweet girl, the girl who always says what is on her mind, the confident one, the one who is always positive, the one who can do no wrong, the one who is everyone's friend.
But it doesn't take long for these persona's to be crushed and, in my opinion, you can only be the character you want to be for a short amount of time, and in the end people will either see through it or you will show your true side.

I've been blogging now for 3 and a half years and I can say that I am in a happy place when it comes to particular friendships. And in particular that these friendships, although working fine online and through other means of communication, also require some actual real life interaction.
Not so much in a "this friendship will not work if we don't see each other", but more of a "I really need to see you properly" kind of way.
Actually sitting face to face, and hearing each others voices. Being around each other. Those tiny awkward silences, the looks you give each other which can not be expressed via an emoji.
Real life interaction to remind you and reassure you of what is real.

There are so many benefits to online friendships. For me, the biggest benefit is that I am able to meet people who I wouldn't have met before. People who live miles away from me. People I wouldn't meet at the childrens centre, or at work.
I love meeting people at blog conferences, but I think these are mostly down to chance. The best thing for me, is someone finding you, or you finding someone else, on social media and choosing to then contact them, choosing to look at their blogs, choosing to almost make that next step to meet up, be it at a blog conference or somewhere away from blogging completely.

For so long I have hoped for a constant friendship. A friendship similar to the ones I envy in others. A friendship where I feel I can be myself, and a friendship where I feel the other person/s are completely themselves.
Everything is out in the open. No judging, and complete honesty is key.
I am a soppy person. I will tell my friends I love them. I miss them. I will tell them how much they mean to me. And a true friend will accept how I am, even if they are not the same. They won't tell me not to say those things, or change the subject, but at the same time they can take the mickey out of me being that way.

I sometimes sit and cry. Yes, I know, is there anything I don't cry about?!
I cry tears of sadness at not being able to see those friends often enough. Tears at the distance between us.
But I also cry tears of happiness. Happiness that I have found true friendship. Happiness that despite the distance, we are closer than I ever could have hoped.

The happiness that is constant.

Adjectives

1. not changing or varying; uniform; regular; invariable.

2. continuing without pause or letup; unceasing.

3. regularly recurrent; continual; persistent:

4. faithful; unswerving in love, devotion, etc.:

5. steadfast; firm in mind or purpose; resolute.

6. Obsolete. certain; confident.


9.11.14

Having Our "Hotter Moment" | Hotter Shoes Review

I don't know many women who don't like shoes, so when my mum and I were invited along to Hotter in Norwich to learn about the brand and the history, as well as looking around at the shoes on offer when the store would be closed we jumped at the chance.
My mum has always struggled with shoes. She has wide feet (why does that feel like such an insult and like I should apologise? Sorry mum) and with a couple of other issues does find it difficult to find shoes that fit properly. In the past she has bought shoes and boots in the hope that they will stretch, but they don't. Bad for her but good for me as I then get them! Win!
So I suppose we both went along wanting to challenge Hotter.
For my mum: Did they have any shoes that would fit her comfortably and suit her needs?
For me: Did they have something suitable for my age group and to suit my style?

My question may seem quite harsh, but my initial impression of Hotter was that it is aimed at an older customer and would primarily cater to those.
I was aware of the store and had walked past a number of times but from the shoes I had seen I was convinced that it wasn't a place for me.
However, before we visited and accepted the invitation I looked online to see what they had to offer and was really surprised at the amount of shoes I was able to put on my "must try on" list.
Knowing we would be limited to time we made sure we looked thoroughly through the website a number of times. And we decided to do our lists and stick to them.

As we arrived at the store at 7pm we were greeted by a happy team who offered us a drink (we accepted the Prosecco, obvs) and gave us an approximate run down to the evening.
As we waited for the other bloggers to arrive we had a chat with the staff, who were all really passionate about the store and about the products, and had a look around the store.

I instantly knew that my original thought of the store being aimed at older women was in fact not the case.
I really liked that shoes were all placed within sections that would appeal to a particular person, or age range. So the boots and shoes I would shop for were all on the left hand side, and shoes for an older customer, or maybe someone who was looking for shoes for work for example, were placed on the right hand side.

I really noticed the fact the Hotter have put a lot of thought and research into their current styles. The colours are all on trend with fashion in other stores and have a real Autumnal feel to them, which will also work well into Winter.
I was really drawn to the knee high boots. In fact if it was an option I would have taken them all home. The styles were all wearable, and comfortable. They could be dressed up smart or worn casual. The heel height on all of the boots was really practical and have enough height if you like a boot with a heel, yet are still perfect for someone who is used to wearing flats and wants to treat themselves to some heels.
What impressed me most was that the detail isn't just thought about when it comes to the outside of the shoes and boots. They all have beautiful lining which mostly consists of, again, on trend fabrics such as tweed and tartan.

I also fell in love with the masculine pieces available for women. This again is such a big look at the moment and is something that is all over the high street and I'm glad that this is also a hot look for Hotter too.

Looking around the rest of the store it is clear that comfort is a bit and important aspect when it comes to Hotter.

We found the presentation put on for us by the PR Manager, Mel, really informative. As my mum quite rightly pointed out, it's refreshing to hear a company who is growing at the moment with so many other businesses shutting down.

1959: Thomas and Harnet Houlgrave set up a slipper making business
1990's: Second generation Stewart Houlgrave takes over the business, making and selling footwear
1996: Launch of mail order
2002: 1st retail store opens in Southport, UK
2004: Launch of website
2011: 25th store opens
2014: 71st store opens

And how did we get on? We both left with a pair of shoes kindly given to us by Hotter (as well as bags of our own purchased shoes). My mum was given a pair of Mist shoes. These perfect when it comes to her wide feet but they are also ideal for her job, in which she stands on her feet for 4 and a half hours. And also for dog walking as they are not only comfortable, but are also waterproof so suitable to be taken out in any weather and in any terrain.
I was in need for some new knee high boots and it was a really tough job to choose which to go for as they all suit my style, the ranges of colours were really appealing, and they were all comfortable.
I decided on the Hampshire boots and went for the taupe colour as I felt this was something that not everyone else would be wearing. I felt it would be different to black or brown and would also go with the majority of my dresses.

I really like that half sizes are available as well as wide fit. And the mens section was equally as fantastic as the womens. The mens brogues in particular were rather amazing, and again focused on Autumnal colours.

I suppose the moral of this story is that looks can be deceiving, and just because somewhere looks like it wouldn't be for you, it doesn't mean this is true.
We will definitely purchase from Hotter again, and suggest you pop in for a look (and a sneaky purchase) too.



We were each given a pair of shoes and an invitation to the Hotter shoes event for the purpose if this review.

8.11.14

Vertbaudet: Early Years Shoe Tidy | Review

Storage has always been a massive issue for us. Well, alongside just having too much stuff....and too many shoes (although really, is it even possible to have too many shoes?!)
It feels like we've gone through all the shoe rack options we can. A cupboard, a shelving unit, a big box, limiting the shoes we have downstairs, and still we struggled. We recently put up 2 floor to (almost) ceiling shelving units which are actually for dvds and cds. These work perfectly for our shoes but we have problems with the boys reaching them sometimes and needed a simple solution for them to come home from school or a day out, take their shoes off and have a home simply for their shoes only.

Along came the Vertbaudet, Early Years Shoe Tidy.
We were sent the 'taupe' colour, but it is also available in beige. The shoe tidy comes with a shelf which has cute footprints which are all white except for one which is yellow. We love this detail and so far the boys haven't fought over whose shoes go in this space but I'm sure the potential is there.

The shoe tidy was pretty easy to put together. The instructions were clear but could have been a little simpler and included text instructions rather than diagrams.
If you wanted to make the unit bigger there is the option to purchase another one and attach it on top.  This isn't something we feel we need to do at the moment but it is something we would consider and would attract us to buying a product like this in the future. At the moment we find it the perfect place to keep my boots and bag on.

Something I worry about with some self-assemble furniture is that it can be flimsy but this shoe tidy is really sturdy. I'm sure it isn't recommended but we have, on occasion, used it as a seat for the boys when they are taking their shoes off, or putting them on. Again, it feels sturdy enough to do this.

The Early Years Shoe Tidy retails at £28, which is probably a little more than I would want to pay due to it only holding 4 pairs of shoes. However, the fact you can purchase others to make it bigger, and the quality of it does make up for the price.


We were sent the Early Years Show Tidy for the purpose of this review.

4.11.14

The Video Effect by Nigel Camp | Book Review

Video is something I have always been interested in. I loved Media Studies when I was completing my GCSE's and A Levels and made a short film during activities week back in 2000 when I was in my first year of high school, a film which was played again to the whole school in 2012 in our last assembly
For my GCSE coursework I put together a film about a charity I worked with, a day care centre for adults with head injuries and brain damage. I loved being a part of this and although it was a team effort, it was my baby and involved 2 passions of mine which was media and the day care centre I volunteered at as much as I could. (Imagine how angry I was when another group completely sabotaged the sound in my film, therefore ruining the message behind it as the audience couldn't hear a word I was saying. Still, I got a B)

Media Studies was my favourite subject at school and even watching films and tv shows now everything I learnt is fresh in my mind. I'm even friends with my Media teacher on Facebook so constantly feel like I should run to him to discuss things I've watched.

Last year I attended my first Britmums Live Conference and one of the sessions I went to was Smartphone Video with Nigel Camp from The Video Effect and Devil Boy Productions. I learnt a lot in this session and came away with a lot of notes and inspiration.
Again at Britmums this year I went to Nigel's session and came away with lots of notes, and again feeling inspired.
For a number of reasons I held off from making videos. I think due to my experiences in high school with video making I lack confidence issues. What if I get it wrong? I want to make something I am proud of, and not something I have just thrown together and "will do for now".
I was sent a copy of Nigel's new book 'The Video Effect' to review.The book states it is to help "market your business with online video".

So, you may be thinking, why is this book good for a blogger?


Our blogs are our businesses, we are our own brand.
If you feel confident enough to do so, then making videos is a fantastic way of showing your audience who you are. Words are fine, of course, as are photos, but the image of you, hearing you speak, puts a much more personal touch to your blog. It's not just text, someone hiding behind a screen. Your reader is able to connect with you as a real person.
Words can often be misread, as can the tone, so video is a wonderful way of breaking down that barrier and introducing you. Especially if you want to talk about something you are specifically passionate about.


The Video Effect talks you through each element of video making. From the start Nigel tells us why it is beneficial to businesses, as well as sharing encouraging and inspirational statistics, and throughout the book we are talked through each stage in detail. The book is full of information which is easy to digest and easy to understand.


I really liked the Do's and Don'ts that Nigel has included throughout the book, as well as lists of Advantages and Disadvantages. These help explain each stage in more detail and make it easier to understand.
The diagrams throughout the book also help to picture what you should be doing in terms of positioning, light, storyboards, and where to add watermarks.
Nigel also focuses on things that we may not even consider. For example, on page 72 he talks about hand gestures, as some that we use in the UK translate as offensive in other countries.
If you are creating a video generally for the UK viewer then this won't be relevant or something you would want to think about. However, if your video is made for a global market this is definitely something to remember. In this case make sure you look at your blog stats and that you are clear on who your audience are.

Page 64 proves why this book is as suitable for bloggers as it is for other businesses as it features a list of examples of how businesses are using video to complement their websites.
By looking at these examples we can see how video reviews would be an advantage to our blogs and our own websites.
For example, DIY tutorials, or recipe tutorials rather than just a photo heavy blog post. Travel seems to be a big part of blogging at the moment and what better way to show somewhere you have visited through video, sharing the atmosphere and a deeper view of what you have experienced?

Nigel also talks about 'Video retention rate advantages'. I found this really interesting as he explains that in a study "subjects retained 10% of what they heard from an oral presentation, 35% from a visual presentation, and 65% from visual and oral combined".
As a blogger, and someone who deals mainly with text and photo I found this really hit home and made me think about how I can use video to my advantage in the future, be it through reviews, places I visit or everyday things that I feel passionate about.


Over the next 6 months I am going to make an effort to get to grips with video. I'll be using this book to help me along and will post updates as I go.

The Video Effect is available on Amazon at £10. Ideal for those who want to use video on a business website, or to go alongside a blog.

3.11.14

October 2014

So, where on earth did October go?!
It's safe to say that October has flown past, and I'll be completely honest with you, I am in major Christmas mode right now.

I spent a lot of October thinking back to the Summer. Autumn has well and truly hit now, although I'm pretty sure we were the last town in the whole of the UK to even see any signs of Autumn.
It's been really lovely to look over the photos I took in the Summer, to look at the calender and to see all the things we planned with a big tick next to them.

October saw the boys have two weekends away. One with my mum, their first overnight stay without me or my husband. We instead went out for drinks and a meal with my in laws which was wonderful....although has put me off drinking for a while. Seriously, does anyone else find that as you get older your body can't cope so well with drinking?
The other weekend the boys spent at my in-laws and I went away to Birmingham and Milton Keynes to go to Blogcamp and to spend some time with a friend.
It was a fab weekend, made even better by the most wonderful, yummy meal at Zizzi at The Mailbox.

The saddest part of October was that we have prepared our boat for her departure from the water. Any day now we will watch her be lifted onto a trailer and driven, on the back of a tractor, and tucked safely into a busy boatshed for the colder seasons.
The past 6 months have gone so fast. We cannot wait to go out on her again next year and have so many ideas on how we can improve her just with a bit of decoration and homely touches.
She definitely was the best decision my husband ever made, other than to marry me of course, and I'm not sure what we would do without her.

So now we're in November and I think it's looking to be a pretty calm month, with not a huge amount of plans other than a few girly meet ups with shopping days and lunch dates here and there.

How was your October?

Living Arrows: October