Advertisement in association with Smart Home Week

Can you believe it’s a whole year since I bombarded you on social media with a load of gadgets as part of Smart Home Week? It feels like only yesterday that I was showing you how I could switch the heating off from the middle of town, or make a thunderstorm with my lightbulbs.

It was a really interesting week to take part in actually as I’m not a natural when it comes to technology and I was curious to see how easy the various gadgets would be to set up and use and whether or not they would really add value to my life. As part of the week I had a go with a Ring video doorbell, a tadosmart heating system, Philips Hue lightbulbs, a Yale Conexis L1 smart door lock, a Yale Smart Home Alarm, the Samsung SmartThings system and Google Home.

I know right? My house was officially smarter than I was.

Smart Home Week

It looks so innocent doesn’t it?

What I discovered though, which is kind of the whole point of Smart Home Week, is that smart home technology doesn’t have to be scary or difficult to use. In fact, most of the technologies I tested were incredibly simple – pretty much you switch them on and they install themselves. Some things, like the smart lock and the heating system, needed a bit of actual, physical installation, but once you’ve done that, you’re good to go.

(I actually really enjoyed installing the tadosmart heating system myself. It involved doing a bit of wiring to take out the old thermostat and put in the new one, but the instructions were VERY clear and I felt a huge sense of achievement at the end.)

I wrote a pretty comprehensive introduction to each of the technologies at the time, so that’s probably a good place to start for an overview, but of course one year is a long time in the world of smart homes, so it’s worth having a quick look at what’s changed. Then I’m going to focus on a few of my favourite products, to tell you a bit more about how we’ve used them over the last year. Also, a quick side, I didn’t get to try a smart alarm clock but they’re worth a look too – check out the best ones here. If you’re thinking about indoor cameras, check out this Nest Cam Indoor Security Camera review. View Post

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Irish stew easy recipe

Is there a word that means the opposite of heritage? Opposite in that it’s about looking forward rather than backwards? Forwardtage maybe? No, that’s terrible.

What I’m looking for is a word to describe the fact that my sister has been living with her Irish husband and my neice and nephew in Ireland for a few years now, and the longer they stay and the more often I visit, the more I feel a connection to Ireland as a place that part of my close family is growing up in. I may have no Irish heritage, but I feel a growing sense of Irish forwardtage.

When the latest theme for my lamb recipe project came through then, and it was all about cultural influences on food, an Irish stew seemed like an obvious choice. I’ve never cooked an Irish stew before, but the ‘Lamb. Try it, Love it’ campaign is all about inspiring you to try new lamb recipes, so this felt perfect. View Post

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It’s a couple of weeks now since Playgroups and Prosecco came out in paperback and whenever I see people I know they want to hear all about it.

‘How’s the book going?’ They ask. ‘How are sales?’

‘I don’t know,’ I tell them, and they look confused, as though I should be getting hourly updates from supermarkets up and down the country.

‘Oh right,’ they say, ‘how do you find out then? Haven’t you asked?’

‘No. I haven’t.’

And that’s that.

To be honest, I don’t think I want to know. But then also I REALLY want to know. Only if I know ONCE then I can’t go back and NOT know, and what if no one likes me? I’d want to not know that. It’s so stressful.

It feels very much like getting a new boyfriend.

For the record, I am BAD at having new boyfriends. I’m an absolute sucker for it mind – the thrill of a new relationship, falling in love, cups of tea in bed, the excitement and newness – and I think I’m a decent girlfriend – thoughtful and fun and kind and what not – but I also find it quite difficult. I’m normally very laid back and relaxed about stuff, definitely not a worrier or an over-thinker, but relationships trigger a vulnerability in me and can feel quite overwhelming.

I swing wildly between desperately wanting to know how someone feels about me EVERY MINUTE, and then ignoring them because who cares, I don’t need them anyway. (I’m a CATCH.) In fact, when I was at the Swindon Spring Festival last week, I met the lovely Laura Mucha, who has written a book about love called Love Factually* and she sent me a copy afterwards so that I could read up about my potentially ‘disorganised attachment style.’

(‘Don’t Google it,’ she told me, which sounded ominous.)

Jo Middleton

‘Haha! No of course I don’t care that it took you 2 hours and 37 minutes to reply to me, even though we were in the middle of a conversation.’

Where was I going with this?

Oh yes.

My point is that while in most aspects of my life I am very secure and confident and generally awesome, love is not always one, and it seems that publishing might be the other.

It’s weird, because I’ve been writing here for 10 years and never particularly been bothered about who reads it, but there is something about the fact of the physical book, being in real life shops, that makes it different. You can’t change it – you can’t go back and edit it once it’s on a shelf – and that can be unsettling, even when you try your best to be super cool and professional.

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Advertisement feature in association with Plusnet and Internet Matters

plusnet internet safety plays

Internet safety can be a really overwhelming topic for parents. It seems as though every week there’s something new we should be looking out for online and it’s becoming ever harder to monitor everything our children come into contact with on the internet without physically looking over their shoulders all the time.

While many apps and content designed for kids can seem safe at first, it feels as though some people online are going to new lengths to get inappropriate content in front of children. It’s easy for kids too to accidentally find themselves Googling inappropriate images, as evidenced recently by my 10 year old nephew, who is not very good at spelling, trying to search for Pokemon.

As they get older though, is it really reasonable to ban them from all social media and video content, especially when they’re coming up to being teenagers and want a little more online freedom? How do we really know what they’re seeing on their phones and tablets if we can’t watch with them every single time? Do you feel confident that your child would highlight unsuitable content to you and know how to correctly report it to stop it from happening again, or do you think they would they be more likely to be drawn in by things they knew they weren’t allowed to be seeing? View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Tesco Jersey Royals

Is there anything more spring-like than a huge bowl of Jersey Royal new potatoes, slathered in butter and fresh mint?

I mean sure, there are lambs and primroses and what not, the smell of grass, cut for the first time after winter, but give me a Jersey Royal, butter dripping down my wrist, and I’m a happy woman.

Jersey Royal new potatoes

I didn’t take much persuading then to get on board with creating a spring recipe using Tesco Jersey Royals. In store now until the end of the season in July, Tesco Jersey Royal new potatoes have a heritage that dates back over 140 years. They’re still produced and harvested using traditional methods like planting the seed potatoes by hand and fertilising using seaweed from Jersey beaches.

‘Delicate and nutty’ it says on the bag, which describes most of my ex-boyfriends, so it’s no wonder I like them. View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Naked Wines

I’m going to subtitle this post ‘how NOT to look like you’d normally pick whatever was on offer at around the £6.99 mark in the supermarket, even though you’re 40 years old and should know better.’

Catchy isn’t it?

The truth is though, that despite having ‘learn more about wine’ on my mental to-do list for about the last 15 years, I haven’t quite gotten around to it. On dates, when faced with the wine list, I find myself smiling at my date coquettishly and saying ‘you choose for me’, as though it’s 1953 and I can’t possibly make a decision on my own, but really it’s just that I have no idea what’s what.

One way around this is to buy your wine online through a company that helps you to choose decent wines and provides you with information about them, so you can drop in impressive sounding key phrases at dinner parties. This option can sometimes feel too pricey though, especially if you don’t drink a lot. Surely there’s a middle ground?

There is.

(You knew I was going to say that didn’t you?)

It’s the Naked Wines ‘Angels’ scheme.

Naked Wines Angels

I was sent 6 bottles of wine to ‘test’ them, (tough job…), but I accidentally drank one bottle before I remembered to take a photo.

The Naked Wines Angels programme is a kind of crowdfunding scheme for wine, designed to benefit you, the buyer, AND the winemakers. It comes from a desire to stop wine producers having margins squeezed endlessly by supermarkets, and to give them the investment they need to produce exclusive, exciting wines. View Post

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This week I went to Swindon.

I know, I’m so glam.

I actually went to speak at the Swindon Spring Festival – my first literary engagement since publication day – and it was very exciting because I had a dressing room with my name on, with lights around the mirror, and I stood on a STAGE and showed off with my book.

It was a lot of fun.

Playgroups and Prosecco Jo Middleton

Image by Fernando Bagué, via Swindon Spring Festival

One of the questions I was asked though, the first question in fact, kind of threw me for a minute.

‘I’m interested to know,’ said Matt, who was hosting the session, ‘why you write?’

Well. That’s a big question isn’t it? View Post

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I’m not honestly sure why I added ‘read a Mills and Boon’ to my list of 50 things to do before 50. I guess because I would consider myself a wide reader, and yet here was a massive chunk of writing that I had completely ignored. I may as well admit that it was pure snobbery – I imagined they’d be bad, and I didn’t want to waste my time with them.

I didn’t want to be that person though, dismissing something without even giving it a try, so I did a bit of research, (i.e. spent three minutes Googling ‘best Mills and Boon writers’), and settled on this second hand Regency Christmas trilogy. (I love Christmas.)

Mills and Boon reviews

As you may have deduced from the title, these are historical romances, which I’m imagining basically means a lot less sex that the modern ones. In one of these stories the hero has to marry the heroine simply because he’s caught touching her leg in a medical, if unorthodox, capacity.

I was okay with this though, as I’m not massively into reading erotic fiction. I think it’s REALLY hard, (pun intended), to make sex sound sexy when you’re describing the nuts (again, intended) and bolts of it. I’d much rather something a bit subtler – sexiness implied – and use my imagination. I do think too that there can be just as much erotic charge in a meaningful exchange of looks as in a throbbing member being thrust vigorously anywhere – in real life as well as in writing.

So there I was, Regency Mills and Boon trilogy in hand, ready to be unimpressed. View Post

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As you may have noticed, but probably haven’t because, let’s face it, you have more important things to think about, I’ve been pretty quiet on the old blog front over the last few weeks.

It’s because last week – Thursday to be precise – was the paperback launch of my novel, Playgroups and Prosecco. For a month or so beforehand I’d been feeling a bit weird, kind of unmotivated and despondent and like I wasn’t really sure what I was doing with my life. I was spending quite a bit of time imagining myself dying alone, surrounded by cats, and was worrying that I didn’t have a LIFE PLAN.

It turns out that this was just pre-book launch stress, because as soon as that was done, suddenly I didn’t care any more that I didn’t have a 5 year plan or an investment portfolio or anything – it was enough again just to have pretty hanging plants in the garden and nice shaped mugs. (I am quite particular about the shape of my mugs, but I take a lot of pleasure in that, so it’s fine.)

You’d have thought really that the book launch anxiety dreams would have given it away, but I am rubbish as REALISING things, even when they seem obvious. I’m like it every month with my period – ‘oh THAT’S why I wanted to kill somebody yesterday’ – and have even been surprised in the past a couple of times by people telling me they loved me, like I was apparently meant to know we were anything but friends.

Anyway, basically I’m kind of slow on the uptake, and I was worried, but then loads of people turned up to the book launch event and Waterstones sold out and had to dismantle the window display to get more copies, and everything was okay again.

Hooray!

So, I just wanted to say thank you really. Thank you to everyone who came along and made me realise that I probably won’t end up actually getting eaten by my cats after my death, and thank you to everyone who has bought Playgroups and Prosecco or posted pictures of it spotted in supermarkets and bookshops, or said nice things on Amazon. Or any things at all actually, because I don’t expect everyone to think it’s amazing, and I appreciate people just taking a chance on it, and the time to share their thoughts.

Thank you to Mandy and Keiran at Waterstones in Taunton for hosting us and making it such an enjoyable occasion, even though we overwhelmed them slightly with the amount of prosecco we were able to get through in such a short amount of time. Thank you to I Heart Wines for the prosecco, thanks to Ebury for publishing me.

Thanks for coming guys!

(That was basically the full extent of my ‘speech’ in case you were worrying that you’d missed some kind of Olivia Colman style extravaganza.)

Here are some photos so that even if you couldn’t make it, you can imagine me mingling, clutching a glass nervously, trying to look glamorous.

And no, no sponsorship deal with McVities, but believe me it’s not for want of trying.

Playgroups and Prosecco Jo Middleton View Post

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I was gifted these products for the purposes of this post

I seem to spend most of my life vacuuming.

Okay, that’s a lie, I spend most of my life thinking about vacuuming – looking at the cat hair collecting on the carpet, the dust building up on the skirting boards, and thinking ‘God I really should do something about that.’ And then I don’t, because I can’t honestly be bothered to wrestle the vacuum cleaner out from under the pile of shoes in the understairs cupboard and anyway, almost as soon as you do it you stroke a cat and POOF, everything is fluffy again.

What I really need is a series of upright and handheld vacuum cleaners that I can leave strategically around the house, ready to suck up the fluff.

Oh HELLO there new range of Beldray electrical cleaning appliances, now available exclusively at Wilko.

Beldray Quick Vac Lite review

(This is the Quick Vac Cordless Lite and is my favourite because you can arrange the nozzles to make it look like a pet.)

I have VERY generously been given a bundle of THREE Beldray products to give away, worth £95 in total, so I’m going to tell you a little bit about each of them and then you’ll have the chance to win the lot. The range is designed to be easy to use and affordable, so have a read and see what you think. View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Black Tower

In case you’re thinking ‘low alcohol wine – what even IS that and also WHY?’ then stay with me for a second.

I like a glass of wine as much as the next 40 year old single parent who sometimes wonders about the practicalities of dying alone in a house full of cats, but I don’t always get the opportunity to have a drink whenever I want. Belle hasn’t learnt to drive yet – roll on August – and because I’m the only grown up, anytime we go anywhere it means I’m in charge of the car.

I’ve also heard that there are people who actually just don’t ENJOY drinking all the time. It seems unlikely, but apparently it’s true.

Seriously though, I am joking (a bit) because the older I get, the less I seem to be able to tolerate alcohol. What I DO like though is the whole ritual of opening a bottle and pouring a glass of something. Chinking glasses with a friend in a sunny garden, feeling your shoulders drop that little bit. All of that is just NICE isn’t it?

Alcohol free wines though, or drinks claiming to be alternatives, are often a bit disappointing. I’ve tried drinks called things like ‘Chardonnay without the hangover’ and they are really NOT. Some alcohol free beers are okay, others taste like week old sandwiches.

I was interested then to give the new Black Tower Deliciously Light range a try.

Black Tower Deliciously Light review View Post

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I have a love hate relationship with Tinder.

A lot of the time I don’t use it at all, because of all the skydive pictures, and then other times I have vulnerable moments like this where I worry briefly that I might die alone, surrounded by cats, and Tinder is my only way out:

https://twitter.com/mummyblogger/status/1114436371454754816

While I’ve never had any truly horrible experiences on Tinder, I’ve also never had any amazing ones. I’ve had a LOT of perfectly pleasant first dates, but very rarely a second one. I was fiendishly seduced by one man who played a game where he pretended to interview me for Desert Island Discs, only to say ‘by the way I should probably tell you I’m not looking for a relationship’,* but most of the time it’s just me swiping left past endless pictures of men who look so sad that you wonder if they have set up a Tinder profile as an alternative to suicide.

I have been doing a bit of swiping lately, to pass the time, and have become increasingly aware of just how similar everyone is in terms of the frankly bizarre pictures they post and the tedious things they say in their profiles. It astounds me that a grown man can decide he wants to impress a woman, and think that a selfie in the mirror of a public toilet, complete with background urinal, is going to be the money shot.

‘When she’s sees this she’s going to be putty in my hands,’ he thinks to himself, content with the fact that you can’t really see his face but CAN see a large toilet cistern.

And the fish! So many fish!

To make the process of finding a match on Tinder slightly less hideous, I have made you a Tinder bingo. It should help to pass the time at least – a distraction from the thought the only men left in the world are permanently sat astride motorbikes, wearing helmets. Why not share it with your single friends, or invite people round for dinner and play competitively? Perhaps do shots every time you complete a row? The toilet selfies might seem more appealing by the time you’ve completed your card.

I would also be interested in particularly on brand screenshots.

Tinder bingo

And yes, I know this is cynical and bitchy and all these men are PEOPLE blah blah blah, but come on guys, make an effort.

Are you a Tinder user? What would you petition to have added to the bingo card? Perhaps you’re a man and are sick of women hiding behind Snapchat filters?

Leave a comment and let me know!

*I mention him because we are still friends and it might make him feel important.

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