Advertisement feature in association with Thorner’s Farm Shop

Okay, so not just pies, but that’s the beauty of this giveaway from Thorner’s Farm Shop – if you did want to spend your whole £50 prize on pies then you could. No one’s judging. Their pies are award-winning after all.

The idea behind this competition is that we all need a bit of a pick me up don’t we? Winter is coming, the nights are drawing in, (I’ve banged on so much about dark evenings on Instagram that I’m boring even myself), and really, a pie WOULD HELP. There’s no getting away from it, when the weather turns nasty, a cheeky cheese and leek pie can do wonders.

Jon Thorner's pie competition

(Confession: this is a picture that I pinched from the Thorner’s website because even though they sent me a pie to try, amongst other delicious treats, I got over-excited and ate it before I remembered I was meant to take a picture. Also this is way better than anything I could take, so.)

Although the Thorner’s pies are award-winning and delicious in every way, they are about much more than pies. They are a butcher, so sell all kinds of fresh meats, as well as deli meats. When I was little my mum says that, in a bid to get me to eat, she used to leave little plates of ham and cucumber around the house so I would happen upon them and eat them, so I know a good ham when I eat it.

They sell cheese, quiches, fruit and vegetables, even fresh ready meals, and the beauty of it is that it’s all online, so you get all the wholesomeness of a farm shop without having to get your shoes muddy.

They also make cakes, and although generally I’d consider myself more of a homemade biscuit girl, the toffee apple slice is a think of magic and wonder. Put one of these in your virtual basket and you won’t regret it.

(I also make an exception for this ricotta and raspberry cake but you do have to make that yourself, sorry. Unless you want to pay me to make it and bring it to your house.) View Post

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untold stories slummy single mummy

Today’s anonymous contribution to Untold Stories is a powerful one. It tells the story of one woman, living what seems to be a perfectly normal life, but hiding a secret. Reading it raised so many questions for me about relationships, intimacy and sexuality. Can we really be happy if we are keeping a part of ourselves hidden? Where do you draw the line when it comes to putting other people’s happiness ahead of your own? I’m sure there are a lot more people in situations like this than we realise and I’d love for you to leave a comment if you’d like to tell your own story or simply share your thoughts.

I got married fairly young by today’s standards. I was 24 and had met my future husband 5 years before that. We had a house, a dog and joint bank accounts. The next expected step was marriage and so, when he proposed, I accepted without hesitation.

We’ve now been married for the best part of 15 years. We have three gorgeous kids, a beautiful home and a secure financial situation. We go on holiday a couple of times a year, upgrade our car regularly and are always doing something – days out, evenings with friends. We have a busy, full, happy life.

So where’s the catch? Well, for that I need to go back to the start.

I grew up on a city council estate with parents who worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. They were very conservative for labour voters really and it was a different time back then in the 1990s. Life has, thankfully, changed so much over the years.

By the time I got to my teens I knew my parents expected me to get a boyfriend eventually – they were dreading it. I was a late developer. Had no interest in relationships and instead focused on school. But, by the time I got to 16, all my friends had boyfriends so it seemed really natural for me to have a boyfriend too.

I’d had a hard time at school and hadn’t found it easy to make friends or form real relationships so as soon as a boy showed interest in me, when I was nearly 17, I jumped at it. We went out, I lost my virginity – as I felt it was expected of me – and we were together for a few months.

After that I had a couple more boyfriends and it was all fine. But, I didn’t really know what the fuss was about. We had sex but it wasn’t the mind-blowing experience from the movies. It was more mechanical than anything else – going through the motions until it was finished. Everyone was doing it, but what was so special about it?

Then something changed for me. A new girl started at work and she was different to anyone I had ever met. She was gay and she didn’t mind who knew it. She was loud, proud and full of personality and we became friends easily.

Our friendship was strong from the start. I’d chat to her all day at work and then text her through the evening until I saw her the next day. We’d go for drinks, go to the movies and wander aimlessly around the shops. All the things that friends do.

And then one day we were sitting in the park, drinking Red Square like we did most weekend evenings, and she kissed me. She kissed me and my world span around. I finally knew what people got excited about. I had butterflies in my belly and tingles everywhere else.

After that we formed a tactile, close relationship. We’d kiss and mess about and I felt like the 17 year old I always should have been. I found myself and I liked it.

But, back then I was torn. I found someone that made my heart leap. Their fingers entwined with mine made me so happy and even now, 20 years later, I can remember the smell of their shampoo on their hair.

But, it was never going to be straightforward. View Post

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I’m a sucker for love in all its forms, from Reese Witherspoon and her childhood sweetheart in Sweet Home Alabama to the ‘Be Mine’ on a love heart.

You know what they say though, you have to love yourself before you can really love someone else*, so I decided to create a twist on the classic love heart – the self-love heart. The self-love heart is basically a positive affirmation, but in treat form. Edible Pinterest if you will. I thought the benefits of this could actually be multiple, as it would also serve to specifically counteract any guilt you might feel about eating the treat the first place.

Newsflash guys: life’s too short. Eat the treats.

Love heart biscuits

Anyway, I had no idea how to make real homemade love heart sweets, and I’m not sure I really like them aside from the sentiment, so I decided to make self-love hearts in biscuit form instead, inspired by a set of tiny letter stamps that I found in Taunton’s new Hobbycraft.

To make my self-love heart cookies I also used a baking sheet and some heart shape cutters that I was sent as a gift from Judge. Judge has a really amazing bakeware range, and they sent me a view bits recently to try out because they know I like a little potter about in the kitchen. The quality of everything I’ve used so far is top notch, and it’s not expensive, so do check them out. I’m particularly excited about using my new mini loaf tin soon to make some teeny tiny banana loaves.

As my biscuit base I used the same recipe as for my homemade party rings – it’s a sort of light, soft shortbread texture. Very tasty and easy to make. I already had some ready to roll fondant icing, which I coloured with tiny bits of pink and yellow food colouring, but you can make your own fondant icing very easily – just mix tiny quantities of water with icing sugar until you have a dough like consistency that you can knead and roll, a bit like playdoh.

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Advertisement feature in association with Fine Art America

When I bought a house for the first time three years ago I thought that was it, at last, I’d be able to paint the walls whatever colour I wanted without worrying about what the landlord would say when they realised. Fast forward to last month and I’d managed a teal chimney breast and one feature wall in the bedroom.

I didn’t know what was the matter with me.

In pretty much every rented house I’ve ever lived I’ve completely ignored restrictions on decorating and painted every room in elaborate combinations of pink and yellow, red and gold, teal and chocolate brown. (I just had a trawl back through Facebook to find you a picture of the kitchen where I painted bright pink and yellow on opposite walls, and draped the windows with turquoise sari fabric, but I look too drunk in all of them to be honest. I had some good parties in that kitchen.)

Perhaps it’s just that I don’t like being told that I can’t do or have something, and like to prove otherwise, and the minute I was actually allowed to paint, I wasn’t that bothered anymore?

It’s not a terribly flattering insight – it makes me sound a bit immature and possibly like I have some issues with authority – but it’s probably true.

This month though I got over myself. For ages I’ve been toying with painting the hallway, stairs and landing a lovely coral pink colour, and now I’ve finally done it!

Coral pink wall

I also may have got a bit carried away with the idea and repainted Belle’s bedroom AND painted my spare room a gorgeous dark green colour, basically turning it into a teeny tiny working men’s club. Go and have a look at my Instagram story highlights under ‘workspace’ to see it in all it’s glory.

Back to the hall though. View Post

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If you like a bit of sweet chilli jam, where you don’t particularly taste the chilli but it’s a nice dollop of something extra in your cheese sandwich, then this post may not be for you.

If, however, you buy shop bought sweet chilli jam and think to yourself ‘seriously? What even IS this pathetic excuse for a chilli jam?’ then STRAP IN my heat loving friends, as this homemade hot chilli jam is going to blow your socks off.

Hot chilli jam recipe

It’s pretty simple to make, although you might want to crack a window as the heat does get to the back of your throat a bit in a confined space. My recipe makes two jars, so scale up if you want to make a bigger batch. This homemade chilli jam would make lovely Christmas presents for friends who like a bit of spice in their life, or perhaps an enemy at work that you’d like to see spend some time on the toilet.

(Not literally SEE. No one wants that.)

My homemade hot and spicy chilli jam goes very nicely with a bit of cheese and some crackers, or even as a side to something like steak and chips. If you want to be terribly avant garde, you could even have it with a scone or two and make a savoury cream tea. NOTE: Generally I don’t approve of savoury cream teas as a concept but I’m not going to disown you or anything. View Post

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Hello hello and welcome to my latest competition to win a Mamibot robot vacuum, the giveaway that’s going to take your cleaning into the 21st century! One robot vacuum cleaner equals less work for you and more time for putting your feet up with a gin. Hoorah!

(Probably should actually put your feet up, you don’t want to confuse Mamibot.)

So, before we get on to the exciting business of winning a robot vacuum, let me take you through a quick product tour to show you exactly what you could be winning.

The Mamibot robot vacuum and mop, or ‘Mamibot PreVac670XBR (black) – robot vacuum and mop’ to give it it’s full, catchy name, is the latest in robot vacuum technology. It’s app controlled, has INFRA-GYRO integrated localisation technology, a 2600mAh lithium-ion battery pack and anti-cliff sensors. (Presumably in case you are vacuuming at the beach?)

I will admit here that I’ve had the Mamibot sat in my hallway for a week or so as I was nervous about setting it up, what with finding the TV remote a bit complicated nowadays, but honestly, the set up couldn’t be simpler.

Mamibot comes with an app, which paired the robot vacuum to my phone very simply. Once you’ve connected your device, you get the option to name it.

‘What shall we call Mamibot?’ I asked Belle.

‘Call it Stinky,’ said Belle, who is allegedly 18 years old.

Mamibot review

We then set up the charging dock, which again was very easy. Mamibot, (or Stinky if you want to be on familiar terms), sits quite happily on his little docking station, charging away, and once he’s done the carpets there is also the option via the app to send him back to the dock. If he knows he is low on battery he will make his own way back to recharge too.

This is very cute to watch as the word ‘find’ comes up on the large LED display as Mamibot slowly makes his way home.

(It’s amazing how quickly you can turn inanimate objects into living creatures in your mind if you’re sentimentally inclined and haven’t been out as much as you’d like lately.) View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with QV Skincare

My name is Jo, I’m 42 years old and I don’t like washing my hands.

Who am I kidding? I don’t like washing full stop. I don’t like getting wet just to get dry again – where’s the logic in that? – and I don’t like how it dries out my skin and makes it feel all overly smooth and dry to touch like I’m some kind of wizened old lady living in the woods in a house of sticks.

*shudders*

I’ve always been the same. The stories of my Dad having to carry me up the stairs to the bath while I screamed ‘don’t make me do it!’ have been retold to me many a time and I very much believe them. Remember a while ago when I wrote about the research around the average number of showers and baths people have a week? Let’s just say there is someone out there washing a LOT to balance me out.

I do try not to be a complete baby about it though – hand washing is important and although I don’t like it, I know I have to do it.

The other thing that I find impacts the health of my skin is stress. The last few months have been stressful ones for sure and stress has a way of showing itself in our bodies doesn’t it? One way it does this for me is by giving me dry, itchy skin in odd places, like my shins. Sometimes I wake myself up in the night savagely attacking my own shins, which is a lovely thought isn’t it?

To summarise then…

Frequent hand washing + life stress = dry skin desperate for some extra care.

Imagine my joy then, both for the moisturising relief and the perfect timing, when QV Skincare got in touch to see if I’d like to try out some of their products.

QV Skincare offers a range of cleansers and moisturisers designed to help manage dry skin conditions. Dermatologically tested, the QV range is suitable for all ages and skin types including sensitive skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. The whole range is also free from common irritants such as soap, colour and fragrance which could irritate the skin.

QV Sopa free wash View Post

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Have you ever kept a diary?

I’ve always liked the idea, I’ve just never had the dedication. I’ve written things, on and off, in various notebooks, but not consistently and not for a long time.

The only diary I have is a small, blue Snoopy diary from 1990. I would have been 11 years old at the start of 1990, in my first year of secondary school. I only managed about a month, and the entries are each only a sentence of so long, but I think it gives a valuable insight into who I was as a child and, if I’m honest, who I am now.

January 24th for example – I can still remember the annoyance and injustice I felt when I discovered Vicky hadn’t done any work on that hat. In Vicky’s defence she wasn’t the brightest button in the sewing box and I’d been away the lesson before with some kind of undefined illness, (my attendance record at secondary school was poor, mainly due to my mum quite liking the company I think). I’m guessing she felt a bit overwhelmed by my complicated fruit design. (Vicky not my mum.)

I love the simplicity of my 11 year old mind though. ‘Went to town in the rain so I bought an umbrella.’ OF COURSE! Why would you not buy an umbrella? So obvious, so straightforward. Bish bash bosh, life done for the day.

I think you can get a sense though of why I didn’t have many friends. I was an acquired taste for sure. I don’t remember the French spelling test but if I close my eyes and imagine it I can conjure up a little surge of adrenalin at getting full marks.

For a long time I thought on and off about how cool it would be to go back and do school again, knowing everything I know now, but honestly, I don’t think I would change it. I may not have been popular, but I was authentic. If Instagram had been around in 1990 I could have been the poster girl for living as your true self and that has to be the best foundation for anything doesn’t it? You can only be yourself.

Here’s a little insight then into how my brain works. You’re welcome.

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passionfruit curd recipe

When Belle was a toddler I used to walk her down to Taunton farmers’ market every Thursday in the pushchair. She would get an oat and raisin cookie from the bakery that only used spelt flour and I would always stop at the stall that sold lemon curd. The lemon curd maker – preservatier? curdmonger? – would give me little bits of lemon curd to taste on the end of a thin, wooden stick and honestly, it was a delight.

(I don’t know if you’ve ever been on extended maternity leave with a child who dislikes being more than zero cm away from you? You learn to enjoy the simple pleasures.)

It was because of that little window of happiness every Thursday that I added ‘make my own lemon curd’ to my list of 40 things to do before 40. The taste of it had been so magical all of those years ago that I think I imagined the process to be something complex and mysterious, only to be undertaken after years of curdmongery training. Turns out it’s not though, and homemade lemon curd is actually very quick and easy and barely magical at all, other than the results of course.

Homemade passion fruit curd then? Just as easy. The only thing with passionfruit curd rather than lemon curd is you do have to buy quite a few passionfruit and so it’s not necessarily cheap, but then that’s hardly the point is it? If someone asks what you did with your day, which would you rather say – ‘Oh I made my own passionfruit curd’ or ‘I bought a cheap jar of passionfruit curd.’

Exactly.

I decided on passionfruit curd after something Bee said a few months ago. ‘Have you ever had passionfruit curd?’ she said. ‘It feels like something I would like.’

It did feel like something she would like, so I decided to make her some for her birthday in July, and it went down very well, so here we are, in this blog post. View Post

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Advertisement feature in partnership with tlevels.gov.uk

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Maybe you had a clear idea and knew exactly the path to follow, or perhaps you didn’t have much of a clue or felt uninspired by the choices available to you post-16?

Here’s me, still thinking about it. 42 isn’t too old right? There’s still time to decide? (Fingers crossed.)

T Levels

When I was making my choices post GCSE I didn’t really feel like it WAS much of a choice to be honest, you just picked the three A Levels that you thought you might enjoy the most and got on with it – French, German and maths in my case. I didn’t choose my A Levels with a particular career in mind and they didn’t offer me any opportunities to gain any real world experience or practical skills that employers might need, unless I was looking for a job where I had to give a three minute presentation about Francois Mitterrand, which seems unlikely.

At the time though it felt like A Levels were the only option.

Not any more.

Teenagers finishing their GCSEs nowadays have more options than ever before, (something I’m not sure I appreciated when Bee was 16, which I wrote about here), from more and more A Level subjects through to apprenticeships and vocational qualifications. As of this September there’s a brand new kid on campus too – T Levels.

If you have a child currently studying for GCSEs then you’re going to want to know about T Levels, so I’m here to answer some of your questions. View Post

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A friend asked me recently what my favourite thing is to do on my blog and I immediately showed her the pictures of the chocolate teacakes I had made the week before.

You know when you start to talk about something and you just kind of glow, and you know it’s something that makes you happy? I felt like that about the chocolate teacakes.

homemade chocolate teacakes

Although I don’t like the tedium of having to cook actual meals day in day out, I do love baking. I find it completely absorbing, I don’t think about anything else, my mind is focused on the weighing and measuring and pouring and mixing. I find I can get into a lovely, relaxed sort of trance state with baking, where I just waft around the kitchen in a cloud of flour, the world shrunk down to the size of a 9 inch cake tin.

It’s not even about eating it afterwards, (although I do eat a lot of mixture as a go – finger fulls of cake batter or melted chocolate and pinches of sweet biscuit dough), I just love the process.

I particularly enjoy recreating things that I know already, like when I made those homemade party rings, do you remember? Blimey, they turned out so much better than I ever thought they would. Or the homemade jammie dodgers? I was really pleased with those. View Post

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untold stories slummy single mummy

The last few months have been tough on the strongest of us. I’m not normally prone to anxiety, but coronavirus has hit me hard. Imagine dealing with a pandemic on top of a long term anxiety disorder and OCD. Then throw in leaving both of your children at university in a big city and going home to an empty nest. As you can imagine, things have not been easy lately for Jilly Mackenzie. I feel so honoured that she has chosen to share her experiences with us through my Untold Stories segment and that she feels courageous enough to share her name too. Please show Jilly some kindness and support by leaving a comment if you can. You can read more Untold Stories here.

…..

Today, I did the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I’ve had my share of really hard times, but this has just been the hardest day. Today was the day that I took my girls (20 and 18) to their student accommodation in Glasgow.

This year has definitely been hard on everyone, but two weeks ago, we had a totally unexpected event that just overwhelmed all of us. My eldest has been in a four-and-a-half year relationship with her boyfriend. A young man who we have loved as one of our own. But two weeks ago, after a short holiday with his parents, he ended the relationship via a text message (yes, you read that correctly, a text message). She was utterly blindsided, immediately came out in hives and within two days was on beta blockers and meds for a nasty IBS flare-up.

I watched my normally strong daughter turn into a completely heartbroken wreck.

I have felt so helpless watching her blame herself, sob herself to sleep, grapple with severe physical and emotional pain. There have been times that I’ve had to take myself off for a cry and also times I’ve had to restrain myself from turning up at his home and lecturing him about dumping her a week before they were meant to move back in together.

I have found the situation particularly hard as I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I also battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), bouts of depression and IBS (yes! I get all the fun). The unwelcome arrival of Covid-19 just about broke me – all my coping mechanisms fled from my brain like a crowd of shoppers fleeing from a single cough in a supermarket (I submitted an Untold Story here about my marriage during coronavirus, which will explain a bit more). View Post

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