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When you close your eyes and think about the best bits of Christmas, what do you see?

*closes eyes and smells mulled wine*

It’s probably not the frantic gift buying and wrapping, or the vast amounts of cooking and washing up. Chances are it’s not even the presents. It’s more a feeling isn’t it? The wrapping paper has been squeezed into the recycling, the leftover turkey is in the fridge, and everyone is snuggled up on the sofa. Perhaps there’s a chocolate orange casually placed on your lap, (just in case, because you never know when you might need a chocolate orange), and you’ve just found a film that everyone’s excited to watch.

You take a big happy sigh, a swig of your Baileys, give your kids a squeeze and everything’s good. That’s the kind of feeling that I get when I think of Christmas.

You can’t buy those kind of moments though can you? You can’t give someone the gift of a snuggly evening on the sofa.

Or can you?!

DUM DUM DUM DUM!

(That was me making a dramatic noise.)

You can make a jolly good start at it by getting the family one of these family movie advent calendars from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment:

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There are a lot of things Belle doesn’t like – courgettes, food that’s been near courgettes, balloons, fireworks, other people – but when she likes something, she really likes it. Two things she likes happened on the same day last week when we went for a night away at Solent Hotel and Spa in Fareham, near Southampton.

Solent hotel review

The first was a back massage. You might be surprised that Belle likes a back massage given that being touched or too close to people is one of the issues that comes with her sensory processing disorder, but actually having that kind of firm pressure contact can have a very positive effect on her. She likes tight hugs (from me) and she sleeps every night with a weighted blanket, so I guess it’s a similar sensation.

A back massage where you only have to wander down from your hotel room in what might well be the comfiest robe known to mankind, (she begged me to buy it to take it home), is even better as there’s no need to even go outside. (‘Outside’ is on Belle’s ‘do not like’ list.)

The Solent Hotel and Spa has the classic pool, sauna, steam room, jacuzzi set up, as well as a separate area for treatment rooms, plus a gym. I’ve never really understood people who go on holiday and go to the gym, but each to their own I guess. Everything was very clean and although the hotel seemed busy, I never saw more than about half a dozen people in the pool area at any one time, so you had that lovely relaxed, exclusive feel.

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Did you know that this week – November 11th – 15th – is Anti-Bullying Week? The theme this year is ‘Change Starts With Us’, and the goal is to help parents, teachers and children work together to take collective responsibility to stop bullying.

As a parent though it’s tough to know how best to approach it. I was never seriously bullied at school, but my mum’s answer to anybody picking on me, name calling or things like that, was to tell me to just ignore them. ‘They’re just jealous’, she always said. I suspect that was a lie, but it stood me in good stead.

At the other end of the spectrum you have those parents who say to fight back, that the only way to stop a bully is by giving them a taste of their own medicine, but two wrongs don’t make a right do they? Dealing with a bullying by punching them in the face doesn’t feel like a solid plan to me.

So what should you do if you think your child is being bullied? What can you say to reassure and support them and what practical steps can you take to tackle bullying? Today I’ve got Simon Benn in, the UK’s first Children’s Happiness Coach, to give us some tips – 11 things in fact that you need to know if your child is being bullied. Simon has years of experience working with children across the UK and further afield, helping them and their parents to build resilience and immunity to bullying.

Here’s what Simon has to say…

bully coach

I’ve helped more than 1,600 children understand how to be happy and what I’ve learned is that when it comes to being bullied, how the parent responds is one of the most important factors in the determining the outcome and future happiness of the child.  So, if your child is being bullied, here are 11 things you need to know as a parent.    View Post

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Today I have another post from Jon at The Money Shed, as his money saving and making blogs, like this one about how to make money online, are always popular. If you have any questions, leave a comment and Jon will get back to you.

There’s no doubt that online shopping is KING when it comes buying the products you want. There’s also no question that Amazon is the go to website for many people looking to buy things. With over 90% of UK Shoppers now using Amazon I don’t see things going back to how they used to be anymore!

I still remember in the late 90s when Amazon first appeared and had nothing but books for sale and even those took about 4-5 days to reach you!

Now you can buy anything from TVs and laptops to groceries and spa weekends! And with Amazon Prime available in most UK cities you can get whatever you need the very same day you order it!

But what can you do to help make things cheaper on Amazon for you?  Here are 3 top tips to make sure you are always getting what you want at the lowest price available on there!

Use a Discount Finder

Amazon is a website where you can spend a lot of time searching around and playing with filters to get the biggest discount on the products you want. But what if they could all be done before you head to the site, or better still, automatically!

There are some fantastic tools out there like The Money Shed’s Amazon Discount Finder which will let you choose which item you want and how much discount you are looking to get (the more the better!) and then will take you straight through to Amazon with those discounts already applied!

how to save money on Amazon

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I had a press release land in my inbox last week that I’ve been mulling over for a while now. It was based on a survey of a few thousand people*, asking them whether or not they snoop on their partner via phones or other devices, and if they’ve ever deleted content so that their partner doesn’t see it.

It also asked people whether or not they trusted their partner.

Just that, straight up, do they trust them.

Now you’d hope that this figure would be pretty high – you wouldn’t be in a relationship with someone you didn’t trust would you?

Apparently you would. While 67% of men said they trusted their partners, which honestly felt bad enough to me already, only 28% of women agreed.

TWENTY EIGHT PERCENT!

Really? Do only just over a quarter of us trust our partners?? I can only pray for a skewed sample otherwise I despair of humanity.

Is my partner checking my phone? View Post

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We are in Ireland this week, partly for a gig that Belle went to last night and partly for Halloween. We were over for Halloween last year and discovered that Ireland goes in for Halloween in a big way. When we went over to friends of my sister’s for trick or treating we found an estate positively FESTOONED in spooky garlands, fake cobwebs and garish pumpkin themed decorations.

Inside the house was even more spooky. Rather than an unenthusiastic clump of parents sulking in the corner while the kids went door to door threatening the neighbours and gathering Halloween themed Haribo there was a full on party – every adult seemed to be wearing an intricate, well thought out costume and the whole matter was taken very seriously. One dad was even dressed up as Banksy’s shredded painting.

Fine. I’m okay with that.

What I’m not okay with is the trend for all women’s Halloween costumes to essentially be that of ‘sexy prostitute’.

We had a look around the shops today to try and pick something out for me, as I hadn’t had any space in my suitcase to bring something with me, and honestly I was just blown away by the women’s Halloween costumes. It was hard to remember sometimes that I was in a fancy dress shop and not some kind of low rate backstreet porn shop.

You can’t apparently just be a pirate, you have to be a ‘sexy pirate’ tottering about on deck in high heels, a mini skirt and suspenders, which is hardly practical is it? Fancy dressing up as a mummy? Nope, no full length bandages for you – you can be a ‘sexy mummy’ though if you like, which is probably just a scrap or two of sheet strategically draped so as not to be completely illegal. ‘Sexy school girl’ always feels like the most disturbing, especially for children’s parties.

My absolute favourite in the shop we went in today was this one:

women's halloween costumes

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It’s no secret that I once cut my front lawn with a pair of scissors.

I was maybe 20 years old and living for the first time alone with Bee, who must have been about three. It was around the same time that I had a couple of candles to light the kitchen because I couldn’t afford to replace the strip light when it blew, so a lawnmower wasn’t exactly top of my list of priorities. When I say it like that it sounds rather Dickensian, but honestly I don’t think I minded the lighting. Who doesn’t love a candle for a bit of atmosphere?

The lawn wasn’t massive either – it was just the little patch outside the front of our tiny house – but it had grown to embarrassing lengths, the kind of length that makes you feel bad about yourself every time you come home and have to look at it while you open the front door and run inside as quickly as possible.

As I’ve got older I’ve got much better at doing sensible grown up things like mowing the lawn, but it’s still not one of my most favourite jobs, and if I don’t keep on top of it it can quickly slip back to those ‘get in the front door quick and avoid eye contact with the neighbours’ days.

The last month or so has been like that.

Bosch Rotak 34 lawnmower review

We’ve had all of this random rain, which is always tricky for lawns, and the house is north facing so it’s hard for the grass to dry out properly between showers unless the weather is really warm. Then I had that broken leg to contend with… not really on the leg thing, I’m just making excuses.

It wasn’t horrendous, but it wasn’t not GOOD exactly, especially around the edges, which were distinctly bushy. View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with SockShop

Socks are like peas.

Peas are underrated in the vegetable world, but are incredibly versatile, can jazz up the blandest of dinners and are VERY tasty. Socks are just the same, apart from the tasty bit. Socks just sit there, balled up at the back of your drawer, when they could be making a massive impact on your wardrobe, breathing new life into old outfits.

To make the point, I challenged Belle, who has far more imagination and fashion sense that me, to style a working week’s worth of outfits, based around five different pairs of socks from the bamboo range at SockShop. Bamboo is a brilliant material for socks. It’s super soft, has natural anti-bacterial properties and thermoregulates – helping your feet stay warm even when it’s cold outside. SockShop sells a huge range of bamboo socks, including lots of novelty socks and a rainbow socks collection, where 20% of every sale goes to the LGBT Foundation.

My hope is that Belle’s sock styling will inspire you to take your socks more seriously, and that by the end of this post you’ll be desperate to enter my competition to win £30 to spend at SockShop and bring some new sock sassiness to your own wardrobe.

Let’s take a look at Belle’s looks…

Monday – the sassy ankle sock

It’s Monday, you’re feeling the back to school vibes, but rather than get down in the dumps about it, why not embrace it with a pair of cute ankle socks and shiny black patent shoes? These super sweet pink ankle socks have cushioned soles, so they’re a comfy way to start the week. View Post

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I’ve not been interested in dating at all now for a good six months. It’s actually the most chill I’ve ever felt relationship wise and I’m really enjoying doing my own thing, pottering about and basically not caring much about anything.

I’ve painted a wall in my bedroom a really dark greeny teal colour (there’s a picture on my Facebook page) and rearranged the furniture so that my bed is now in a corner and can only be accessed from one side. If that isn’t a statement of intent then I don’t know what is. I even went to an evening class and learned how to make prints in a dark room. Menopause here I come.

A few days ago though I had a bit of a moment – curiosity more than anything I think – and I redownloaded Tinder, just to see. Obviously the first thing I saw was a man holding a big fish, and then another looking incredibly sad and like dating might tip him over the edge, (two ticks on my Tinder bingo card), and so it served as a welcome reminder of why cats are better than boyfriends.

(I also saw that the man who called me a liar was still there. Not sure why he hasn’t been snapped up.)

I did have a cheeky swipe though, just to check that the evening course hadn’t crushed all of my desirability, and I got a few matches back. Fine. In my experience barely anyone ever actually bothers to message once they known that they could if they wanted to, so I didn’t feel under pressure.

And then this morning I got this lovely message and felt it my duty to reply:

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Advertisement feature in association with Yelloh! Village

Planning a holiday that appeals to a whole family is tough. There’s always some chump who thinks that back to basics camping would be ‘fun’*, the younger kids want ‘things to do’, (gross), and the older ones are just annoyed that they have to been seen with you in public and are already on the verge of breakdown in case there isn’t WiFi.

And you? Probably all you want is to lie in a darkened spa with a glass of wine and the latest issue of Good Housekeeping. (Me.)

How do you choose a family holiday then that ticks everyone’s boxes and is still affordable? I think Yelloh! Village might just be the answer.

Yelloh Village yurts

Yelloh! Village got in touch recently to enlist my help to let more people know who they are and what they do, (I’d never heard of them so don’t feel bad), and after having a good look through their website and reading lots of reviews, (they have an excellent Trustpilot rating), I was sold. I definitely want to take baby Joey on a Yelloh! Village holiday next summer when he’s good and chubby and toddling about.

Yelloh! Village is part of the European ‘glamping’ scene – pre-pitched tents and holiday homes on complexes offering a whole wealth of hotel style facilities like indoor and outdoor pools, spa and wellness and loads of outdoor activities for kids and adults. There’s so much choice, you’ll be hard pressed not to find something to suit. View Post

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Some of the plants mentioned in this post were gifts from Tree2MyDoor

I bloody love houseplants. Some women have shoes, I have houseplants. I just did a little count around the house and I currently have 42, about a third of which I’ve cultivated from cuttings, which I feel rather smug about. I have everything from tiny pilea babies, newly separated from their mummy, to huge Swiss cheese plants, the largest of which is currently sat in my old cat litter tray (litter removed) until I find a pot big enough for it.

My oldest houseplant is a peace lily that I bought when Bee was small and we lived alone for the first time, making it about 23 years old now and I even got an avocado stone to sprout recently in a jar of water after about four years of trying. NEWSFLASH.

My two newest additions were gifts from a lovely company called Tree2MyDoor – a fiddle leaf fig tree and a pineapple plant. And when I say pineapple plant, I mean it has an actual pineapple growing out of the top. (Ornamental not edible.) I’ve never seen one before but it’s AMAZING. Love love love the pineapple plant.

pineapple plant

Tree2MyDoor specialises in outdoor plants really, but has expanded recently to include indoor plants too. Their thing is plants as gifts – rather than sending someone a bouquet of cut flowers for a birthday or special occasion, only to have them die in a couple of weeks, (the flowers not the friend hopefully), send a tree or a rose bush or a houseplant instead and you’re got the gift that keeps on giving AND growing. It’s such a lovely idea and way better for the planet than a huge bunch of plastic wrapped cuts flowers.

While not everyone loves houseplants quite as much as me, (I had a boyfriend once who threatened to throw them out the window if I grew any more spider babies), houseplants are more than just pretty accessories for your next Instagram shot. Houseplants have all kinds of important health benefits, meaning that really it’s your DUTY to buy a houseplant. It’s basically self-care. Best go to Tree2MyDoor right now and tell them I sent you.

In case you’re thinking ‘what is this crazy plant lady blabbering about? How on earth are houseplants good for you?’ then READ ON. View Post

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Kashmiri chilli powder

Welcome to National Curry week! That’s right, this week – October 7th – 13th – is National Curry Week and great timing too given the turn in the weather. This week is the week to get comfy on the sofa with a big bowl of homemade lamb rogan josh and some good autumn TV. (Personal current favourites being the new series of The Apprentice and the first ever series of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK.)

What’s sad though is that despite it feeling sometimes like the UK is becoming one big cafe/restaurant, British curry houses and Indian dining is in decline in the UK. A third of the UK’s estimated 17,000 curry houses could face closure over the next decade, which would be a huge shame. Partly it’s due to changing tastes and demographics, but also the misconception that Indian restaurant food is ‘unhealthy’ or that the foods associated with Indian cuisine, such as lamb curry, are eaten more by older generations.

As you know I’ve been working on a campaign this year called ‘Lamb. Try it, love it‘, encouraging people to eat more lamb, and so I wanted to use National Curry Week as an opportunity to champion the use of lamb in curries. Lamb is brilliant for curries as it carries the spicy flavours really well, but without getting lost. (If you want proof of this then try out my Thai massaman lamb curry – now one of my favourite ever curries.) I also wanted to challenge the stereotype of curry houses being a bit old-fashioned and so I went to Birmingham, possibly the most well-known destination for curry in the UK, for a meal at the multi-award winning Asha’s.

Asha’s is where the cool kids go for curry. They serve amazing food but they also appreciate that nowadays people expect more from a restaurant. (I’m looking at you Millennials.) Asha’s has created a dining experience to reflect that, blending authentic Indian cooking with more contemporary flavours and a sophisticated ambience. Asha’s even has its own cocktail menu, inspired by Indian cuisine, featuring treats such as the Maharaja’s Mistress, made with rose jam, curry leaves infused arrack, spiced rum and champagne, garnished with Turkish delight. View Post

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