In association with Yale

Since the various product reviews I did for Smart Home Week this year I have been ALL OVER the gadgets. I’m all ‘Alexa, turn my bedroom light pink’ and ‘Alexa, turn my heating up to 22 degrees’. You can be cosy and warm without even having to so much as LEAN.

Smart home technology appeals to my inner lazybones and basically makes my life super easy.

The Yale Sync Smart Home Alarm, part of the range of Yale smart living products, ticks both of these boxes. As well as being disinclined to get up off the sofa unless it’s strictly necessary, I’m decidedly forgetful, and often find myself halfway into town wondering whether or not I’ve remembered to lock the front door/close the windows/put on pants etc.

With a Yale Sync Smart Home Alarm you can check up on yourself, via the Smart Home app, and control your home security wherever you are.

Yale Sync Smart Home Alarm review

Before we start getting into all the cool things it does though, let’s see exactly what you get with your Yale Sync Smart Home Alarm kit. Yes, that’s right! I’ve made an unboxing video! I watched a few beforehand and the main thing seems to be to point the camera right at the thing you’re unboxing and to talk in quite a boring voice. This seemed to come naturally to me, so I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before this video goes viral: View Post

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I was in Starbucks this morning, having managed to drop Belle at college for the second lesson of the day at least, (better than nothing), and on the table next to me were two women talking about their daughters and school. It sounded like they were probably just a bit younger than Belle – probably 14 or 15.

‘I just can’t bear to see her so miserable,’ said one. ‘It’s so horrible, because realistically school is meant to be the best years of your life.’

IS IT??

I can totally feel her pain over having a child who doesn’t thrive at school. As soon as I heard them talking I was there, at 8am on a school day morning, trying to gently encourage a sobbing Belle out of bed. I empathised with her on that, but… on her second point, I had to hope that she wasn’t saying that to her daughter – how dispiriting would that be?

Talk to anyone is my family – my sister, my daughters – and I’m pretty sure they’d tell you that school was far from the best time of their life. Even for me, who took a disproportionate amount of pleasure from a good test mark, school was tolerable at best. I did well, but I didn’t have a lot of friends and my absence rate was high. I was bored to a level I’ve hardly ever experienced since, but trapped too. I was, like most teenagers I’m sure, acutely aware of everything I said and did, turning a beetroot red if anyone said anything at all to me that I hadn’t already planned in my head.

I liked aspects of it, but mainly I just found the whole thing excruciatingly embarrassing. No way would I want to do it again.

Outside of school I spent quite a lot of time imagining all the fun things that other people would be doing, the people who had big groups of friends and went to Bridgwater Lido every day of the summer holidays. I made 3D scale models of my bedroom so that I could experiment with rearranging the furniture and went to bed at 9pm while I was sure everyone else stayed up past midnight watching 18 certificate films.

What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that the cool kids, the ones who really did seem to be having the best years of their life, then had only one way to go – downhill. View Post

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In association with Red Letter Days

When you think Red Letter Days gift experiences, what do you think?

I have to admit that until a few weeks ago my first thought would have been package spa breaks and track days. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things – I like a lounge in a sauna and prosecco lunch as much as the next person – but Red Letter Days is about so much more than that, as I found out when Red Letter Days asked me to choose an experience to, well, experience. 

I started off with a browse, which takes a while as there is a LOT to browse. Honestly, I challenge you NOT to find a Christmas gift for just about anyone in your life. I was tempted initially by the London theatre and dinner packages – if you like comedy then I would DEFINITELY recommend this offer for The Play That Goes Wrong – it’s such good fun. Two tickets plus dinner for two for just £109, which is a bit of a bargain.

I liked some of the adrenaline activities too – how cool would it be to take a vintage Tiger Moth over Stonehenge or to undertake a private investigator surveillance mission at London Paddington? (Even though I’m 40 now I still want to believe that one day I will turn into Nancy Drew, the sassy teen detective.)

And then there’s all the food and drink options – I lingered for a long time over the bottomless gin and tonic afternoon tea.

In the end though I opted for a cookery course at River Cottage HQ in Devon. It was well timed for me as I’ve been in a massive cooking rut recently and we’ve been consuming unhealthy amounts of frozen chicken products. I’ve been trying to be more creative, but sometimes you need a bit of a kick up the bum to reignite an interest in something or to make you feel more confident in your own abilities.

Booking the course with my Red Letter Days voucher was easy – there were instructions on the voucher and then contact details for the venue, easy peasy. I packed my selection of Tupperware for leftovers, as advised, and set out for Devon.

I knew the day was going to go well when one of the first things we were told was that there was a bar and that if we wanted any drinks brought to us during the day we just had to ask Steve, and he would sort us out. Needless to say Steve sorted me out with a couple of lovely gin and tonics – the spa day vibe without even needing to hoist myself into a swimming costume.

The one day River Cottage course covers a whole range of cooking techniques, from bread-making to fish filleting, so we started off by getting our dough on the go.

Red Letter Days cookery courses View Post

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In association with The Inner Circle

I’ve been single for about 14 months. Although I enjoy the freedom and the space in the bed, I’d love to have someone to share things with. I’ve dabbled with the ‘swipey’ dating apps, but it gets depressing when you just see the same faces holding the same giant fish…

When The Inner Circle asked me if I wanted to check out their selective dating site I played it cool for about 37 seconds, then shouted ‘Yes please!’

The Inner Circle review

I’ve just started exploring the site, so can’t tell you (yet) that The Inner Circle is THE place to meet the partner of your dreams, but I CAN tell you what makes it different from other dating sites.  View Post

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Bee did a tweet the other day. I mean she does lots of tweets on lots of days, but this one got more likes than I can remember ANYTHING I’ve ever said getting. Not that I’m jealous or anything, it’s sound advice, but then I would hope so because it’s basically been my approach to parenting for 23 years now.

https://twitter.com/teachezbee/status/1051466541827538944

Bee: ‘Mum, I don’t feel very well…’

Me: ‘You’re probably thirsty – have a glass of water!’

Bee: ‘I just had a glass of water though?’

Me: ‘Get some fresh air!’

You get the gist.

As I have clearly done an excellent job of bringing up Bee, to the point where she can get 366 likes on a tweet, (absolutely how you measure parenting success), then I thought I would blatantly rip her off in return by doing my very own list of things that you definitely won’t regret doing.

Taking Bee’s list as a given, here are 11 other things you should do that I promise you won’t regret:

Tidy out a drawer

Do you have a drawer in your house that makes you sigh and feel bad about yourself every time you open it to look for a battery or a Calpol dispenser? Tackle that drawer today and I guarantee you’ll feel better about yourself afterwards. You will probably start casually asking small children if they have a headache, just so you have an excuse to open the drawer and feel smug.

(I’m starting you off with a drawer to keep things manageable as if you go straight in with an under stairs cupboard then you WILL feel deep regret when you are at the point where you’ve taken everything out but haven’t organised it back in again.)

Use sunscreen

Dur.

Eat a piece of fruit

Ergh, who wants an apple when there are party rings in the world? Eat it though, even if you don’t really want it. You can still have a party ring afterwards if you want, that’s just called BALANCE.

homemade party rings

I MADE these. Get me.

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In partnership with On the Beach

A few years ago I was chatting to Bee about something or other, I can’t remember what. I think perhaps I was feeling a bit overworked at the time because I started going into this daydream.

‘Wouldn’t it be lovely,’ I said to Bee, gazing into the distance, ‘to be somewhere really warm right not, where you didn’t have to do anything?’

She looked at me.

‘There would probably be relaxing noises in the background,’ I continued, ‘maybe the noise of the sea? And someone would bring me a cocktail.’

She looked at me again, like I was actually quite stupid.

‘That’s a beach holiday mum,’ she said.

‘A beach holiday?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘it’s what everyone in the world wants. You’ve not just invented it.’

‘Oh,’ I said, disappointed. I imagined I’d just created a personal paradise that no one had thought of before. Since then ‘beach holidays’ has become a bit of a family saying that we use if someone is stating the obvious. Like if Bee is complaining about work, telling me how what she’d really like is a flexible job that’s well paid, but also creative and worthwhile and good for the environment and what not.

‘Dur,’ I’ll say, ‘beach holidays.’

When On the Beach got in touch then, to ask me if I wanted to write something about our family beach holidays, this was the first thing I thought about. THEN I started picturing all of those happy times we’ve spent on the beach together, enjoying the sand and the sea, relaxing in each other’s company.

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In association with wilko

Belle has changed a lot over the years, particularly the last couple, but one of the things that hasn’t changed is her love of Halloween. I don’t know what it is about it, but she loves it. At the beginning of October she changed her phone background to pumpkins and told me to watch out because it was ‘spooky season’.

Ever since she was small Belle has loved dressing up for Halloween and over the years we’ve hosted Halloween parties, bobbed dozens of apples and even made our own trick or treat balloons. Last year Belle and her friends hosted a Halloween party at school for the younger kids and one year she won a Halloween fancy dress competition at a holiday park we were staying at, dressed as a ‘cereal killer’. She’d collected empty cereal boxes for weeks in advance and was VERY proud of herself. (You can see the costume here.)

Safe to say then, Belle has always loved Halloween.

Halloween at wilko

I make the point to give you an idea of how excited Belle was when wilko got in touch to ask us to have some fun trick or treating with their Halloween range.

Halloween is definitely for all ages and seems to be more and more popular with teenagers particularly, probably thanks to all the gruesome TV shows they watch and the opportunity that Halloween presents to legitimately wear ripped fishnets. Belle has even been invited to Halloween parties this year. Who knew teens loved Halloween so much? View Post

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Fancy making your own homemade bourbon biscuits? This recipe is super easy – if I can do it, anyone can.

Although it might be controversial, I’ve always considered myself more of a biscuit than a cake kind of girl. Presented with a slice of red velvet I’d be a bit ‘meh’, but give me a packet of chocolate hobnobs and I’m well away.

One of my very favourite biscuits is the bourbon.

The bourbon has so much going for it – it’s chocolatey, but with that slightly salty edge of an Oreo. It has the crunchy biscuit texture, but a creamy middle, and it’s a sandwich biscuit, so basically two biscuits disguised as one. If you’re prepared to be a bit disgusting, split your bourbon and noisily lick the cream then you can make a bourbon last a long time.

homemade bourbon biscuits

Now you’re probably looking at that picture and thinking ‘hang on a minute, those kind of LOOK like bourbons, but also they don’t? What’s going on?’

Well, I MADE THEM. I know. Get me. View Post

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Last night I tweeted about how I had just washed down a multivitamin with a gin and tonic. I was pretty proud of myself for achieving such balance in my life. Very zen.

Legend of the Lost replied saying that it counted as a lifestyle cocktail.

‘A lifestyle cocktail??,’ I said. ‘Did you just make that up? Please tell me it’s not a real thing. (If it is I’m doing a blog post about it.)’

‘Just made it up,’ he replied, ‘I own it! But you may borrow it. Because you’re my favourite.’

So I am. Right now.

Here are six lifestyle cocktails I came up with that are basically guilt-free because they are just so goddamn good for you.

Cheers!

Vodka and Berocca

This was a suggestion from Nathan Dennis and it seems totally legit to me. No messing about – right to the good stuff. The only trouble is coming up with a name for it. I was trying to think of something that merged the names, Brangelina style, but all I could think of was The Verruca. I’m not sure it will catch on, except in swimming pools.

I’m picturing it a bit like this, but with bits of crumbled Berocca on the rim of the glass?

lifestyle cocktails

Photo by lindsay Cotter on Unsplash

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I’ve only been to visit Edinburgh once, to stay with friends, but I really loved my trip there and I’d definitely want to go back. Edinburgh is supposed to be amazing at Christmas but any kind of trip around that time is usually overshadowed by visiting my sister’s family for actual Christmas, in Dublin. We did talk this year about going somewhere in the UK but decided against it so maybe Edinburgh Christmas 2019 will be a thing. And then Cardiff 2020. Etc etc.

If I WAS planning a cool trip to Edinburgh, I’d definitely fill it with loads of unusual stuff to do. I’ve never really thought of Scotland as being the most hipster of locations but in the capital, there are lots of unusual, cool and Instagrammable things to do. If you’re looking for somewhere lovely to stay while you’re there, why not give serviced apartments a go? Staying in serviced apartments in Edinburgh gives you lots of flexibility, plus everything you need to make you feel right at home after a fun day of exploring the city.

So, as the kids say on YouTube, let’s dive right into it.

fun things to do in Edinburgh View Post

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There comes a point in your life when you start to get excited when you see NEW things happening. A few months ago for example my neighbours opposite me had a new boiler installed, and I spent quite a lot of time at the kitchen window casually making a cup of tea or washing up or just sort of standing.

‘They’re bringing out the old boiler now,’ I’d shout into Belle in the living room.

She would answer me with silence because she is 16 and hasn’t reached the age yet where she cares about anything boring.

I’ve had a similar sense of excitement over the last couple of months every time I have driven through Taunton and seen work progressing on the new Hubbox restaurant. The space that it’s taken over has been empty for a long time, (I knew it as Wimpy, which I think says a lot), and it’s in a pretty prominent location, so it’s lovely to see it coming back to life.

We went along to their launch night a couple of weeks ago and were blown away by the size and the scale of the restaurant. They’ve knocked through into what was also the shop next door to Wimpy, so there’s masses of space downstairs and a first floor too, which has a slightly more casual vibe, with some comfy looking sofas and armchairs that would be ideal for day time coffees and sandwiches.

(My friend Paul did a little tour video on the opening night, in which I wave, so if you want a proper look inside then that’s worth a watch.) View Post

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Belle sat her GCSEs in June this year, and so in September she moved onto college. It was a big move for her. I’m not going to go on about her struggles or anything, but I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me saying that she didn’t exactly find the last few months of school EASY. Basically she didn’t really go, so, yes, not easy. However, she passed all her exams, so onwards and upwards.

Belle starting college has been a bit of a fresh start for me too. Because I’ve been worried about her, and because it’s just the two of us at home, I feel that I’ve become a bit more controlling of things than I would normally be. Controlling is perhaps the wrong word – interfering maybe. I’m always asking her if she’s had things to eat and drink and how she slept and suggesting she go for a walk or read a book or wash some clothes. I nag and nag her not to be late for things, I remind her to do stuff that she should probably just remember for herself.

I’ve started to annoy even me.

With the start of college then, I made the decision to generally BACK OFF, because I know the theory – if she isn’t ever left to take responsibility for herself, she won’t see the consequences of forgetting to eat lunch or do homework or whatever it might be – and yet I’ve stopped putting it into practice. I’ve frustrated myself because encouraging independence has always been something that I thought I was really good at and yet I’ve found myself in this position where I’ve not done either of us any favours, because I’ve not left her to learn things for herself.

I need to do something about it because I really don’t want her to leave home in a couple of years and to be worrying that she will forget to eat.

What I want to know now then, is where do you draw the line with a child who is old enough to do things like leave home, pilot a glider and join a trade union, and yet forgets to clean her teeth, take her clothes out of the washing machine or DRINK FLUIDS?  View Post

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