Tuesday, 13 March 2018

All About the Base

So, a few weeks ago I embarked on a new quest - the search for a new foundation. A bit like finding the perfect pair of jeans or the right cut t-shirt, identifying the ideal base for your needs is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. To be honest, I wish I didn't care so much about these things or that I had the sort of skin that can get away with a smidgeon of tinted moisturiser and a light dusting of powder. 

However, I do not, and being of a certain age where a youthful glow doesn't come naturally, I was ready to invest a bit of money into finally locating that perfect match foundation. Because much as I love a bargain, I have never found a cheap foundation that does what I want it to do and when you have a make-up bag full of half used bottles of the stuff, the words 'false' and 'economy' spring to mind.

After years of loyalty to Clinique, pretty much everyone's entry-level brand to more premium type cosmetics, I started to think I might be missing a trick and that while my go-to Superbalanced formulation was totally fine, there might be something even better out there to try.

So, I did something I've never done before - I visited a beauty counter. If you're painfully self-conscious as I am, and a child of a certain era where beauty counters conjour up images of Dynasty-esque ladies emerging from a fug of Anais Anais, looking for their next victim to make-over, you'll understand that the thought of entering into dialogue about your beauty needs can be scary. 

However, I'd had enough of my own clumsy attempts at colour matching so I put my concerns to the side and approached what felt like a 'safe' starting point - the Bobbi Brown counter. World-renowned for its natural approach to making up faces, I felt that if anyone could help me find a good colour match, with the added bonus of glow-giving properties, Bobbi Brown would be the one. 

Now, the big disclaimer here is that buying premium beauty is expensive. Things that were £20ish quid when I last looked seem to now hover around the £30 mark, including premium foundations. They key to making sure you get your expensive purchase right is to get a good selection of samples. As it turned out, the Bobbi Brown foundation I was recommended wasn't for me - something about the formulation just didn't sit right on my skin. 

Feeling super confident after a few more visits to some other counters (despite a few up-selly places, I found most pretty fine with asking for a sample rather than making a purchase there and then) I came home with a variety of foundation samples to try out which is totally what you need to do before committing. I'd already done some research via Sali Hughes for some starting points - it's a HUGE market place out there but with just a morning at John Lewis at my disposal I narrowed down my choices to Estee Lauder and its legendary Double Wear foundation, Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation, Charlotte Tilbury and YSL Touche Eclat Foundation. In most cases I was given enough to last for 7 days - a good testing period before making a decision.

Of the above, all were perfectly good; I really liked the Charlotte Tilbury formulation but there was something not quite right with each product (Double Wear was a bit too masky, Giorgio Armani a bit too sheer) - when I'm going to be spending the same cost of my son's entire term's football lessons on a bottle of something for my sole use only, that you could argue isn't a necessity (though I would argue otherwise...) it needs to be really, really good. 

Pretty much after the initial application I was sold on the YSL Touche Eclat foundation - it's light but gives good coverage, glides on really pleasingly, doesn't cake or look dry and seems infused with something that makes your skin a little bit glowier than it might be otherwise. For the young and wrinkle free, I'd imagine it would make you look even more youthful and polished. For me, it feels like this base doesn't sit in any slowly emerging crevices or wrinkles - it's becoming a sad reality to me that as you get older, harsh, full-on make-up just makes you look older still. From my own appraisals, this lovely base doesn't appear to do that, I don't think.

Unfortunately for my bank balance, you can get a bit of a taste for expensive face potions...I'm also combining my new prized foundation with a pop of Delilah Pure Light Liquid Radiance, another recommendation from Ms Hughes, that you can mix in with your foundation for an extra bit of glow - it's meant to blur imperfections (Christ knows I need help with that) and make you look just a little more fresh-faced and rested. I think it works. Re the price point - a little goes a long way...


Monday, 26 February 2018

A Visit to the Sky Garden

I'm the sort of mum who makes her children smuggle freezer bags of popcorn into the cinema. Pick 'n Mix is strictly limited to the lighter weight sweets in the selection and few family restaurant trips are taken without a wad of Clubcard vouchers in my back pocket. 

It's simply a fact of modern life that family days out and experiences can be absurdly expensive and even if we did have the funds to order large-size popcorn buckets all round, I simply couldn't do it. There are some things that I feel just don't justify the price tag.

That's not to say I'm a penny pincher and I'd like to think a generosity of spirit is one of my attributes - I love to give extravagant gifts and treat people to special experiences. But there are just some things I won't part with good cash for: a stay at Center Parcs (I can't think of anything worse, to be honest), cinema popcorn, expensively priced visits up big buildings...

So I was pretty pleased to find a free alternative to The Shard, a place my kids have been keen to visit for some time. Despite my fear of heights I'd quite like to go up The Shard too, but somehow, every time we've been to London, £60 for what amounts to taking in a view (amazing though that view might be) has always seemed one expense too far. As anyone with kids will tell you, day trips to the capital have an incredible propensity to see your finances spiral out of control. 

While there are lots of amazing free things to do - all those brilliant museums, for example - some of the big tourist attractions come with a pretty hefty entrance fee. While we had a great time at the Tower of London a few years back, I did feel a tad miffed that after queueing for some time to see the Crown Jewels the wow factor I'd been expecting was slightly dampened by the fact you're shown them via a travelator - a bit of a 'blink-and-you-miss-it' moment.

If you hear where I'm coming from, you really need to book a visit to the Sky Garden - a brilliant free experience in the heart of the city. Located at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street -  popularly known as the 'Walkie-Talkie' - this striking building offers amazing 360-degree views across London.

It's a good idea to arrive a bit sooner than your time slot as you may need to wait in line for a short while before entering the building to be transported to the top floor and deposited in a light-filled, glass dome with outstanding views both indoors and out to feast your eyes on.

Officially London's highest public garden, the stunning views are complemented with beautiful interior landscaping, using plants and flowers from the Mediterranean and South Africa. This verdant backdrop frames the glass observation decks, offering a really pleasing contrast with the steely urban architecture outside.

Step outside onto the terrace and you're greeted face-on by the glittering structure of the Shard. In another direction you can see Canary Wharf and even the familiar arcs of Wembley Arena in the distance. Helpful graphics show the landmarks to look out for, but it's just fun to take it all in and see what you can spot unaided. 

With two sons that are big on cities and buildings, it was great to see them drinking it all up and shouting to me in excitement when they'd located another familiar building.
There's a cafe and restaurant in the garden; I'd love to make a return visit later in the day as I can't imagine a better setting to watch the sun dip behind the skyline while sipping a cocktail. While it does say on the website that you're limited to an hour's visit, there didn't appear to be anyone checking this on our visit and different rules apply if you're eating at the restaurant.

With a location close to some of London's most interesting sights - Borough Market, Tate Modern and The Monument, for example - you can combine your visit with some other great wallet-friendly options. Lunch at Borough Market is a colourful experience while the Tate Modern is a crowd-pleaser for all ages, even if your kids don't appear to have much interest in modern art. The sheer space of the Turbine Hall will enchant them and there's usually some weird and wonderful installation on show to pique their interest. 

I'm sure that one day I'll feel a bit flush and we'll make that visit to The Shard. But as a free alternative, with a pretty much identical view (just from not quite the same height) Sky Garden gets my vote. 

For more information about Sky Garden, visit the website here.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Win a Radiance Mask with Wild Source Apothecary

This time of year is not kind to those of us not lucky enough to jet off somewhere warm or to sun-dappled ski slopes. Starved of Vitamin D and sunshine on the skin, it's the month I feel at my lowest ebb - fed up, lethargic and seriously craving blue skies. Radiant I most certainly am not. If, like me, you're feeling the pain too, let me introduce you to something that might just help to restore your winter-weary skin: Wild Source Apothecary Radiance Mask.

I've raved about this stuff before so I'm absolutely delighted to be teaming up with the lovely Kate from Wild Source Apothecary to offer you the chance to get your hands on a pot of this wonder stuff yourself.

I've been using the mask since the summer and I love it; in fact, I love everything in this locally-produced, small-batch collection - you can read my previous blog post about what makes Wild Source Apothecary really special here

I love to support independent, local businesses on my blog, so as well teaming up with Wild Source Apothecary for an Instagram giveaway (which you can enter here) I also chatted to the company's founder, Kate Roath, to find out a little bit more about what makes her brand special, the wonder ingredients in her products, her expert beauty recommendations and some more tips for combating winter skin problems...

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. How did you get into botanical, small-batch beauty?

I've always loved skincare and beauty products. But I struggled to find anything to put on my skin that didn't flare up my eczema or bring me out in rashes.  As I got older I started to spend a bit more money on skincare and try a much more natural route (which of course worked.) My mum says if you can't pronounce it and wouldn't eat it you probably shouldn't put it on your skin!

The main ingredient in my favourite facial oil was Rosehip which I googled and realised I could easily press myself. I used to pick them on my way to work and carry them around with me all day in a sandwich bag before taking them home and pressing them with avocado oil. I loved the whole process of blending oils and just wanted to learn more. 

I gave out a few little bottles for Christmas and birthday presents and my friends and family absolutely loved them. That's when I decided to do it for real. I went to school to study aromatherapy and the art of blending oils and shortly after that Wild Source was born.

What makes your products stand out from the crowd?

Our products stand out because they're consciously made but still feel really special. I take a lot of time and effort in making sure all our ingredients are the highest quality, consciously sourced and made with recycled packaging whilst still incorporating a real luxury element to our brand. 

"Rituals not routines" is our motto; we want our customers to feel like they're really indulging in a luxury skincare ritual whilst using an honest product from a brand that is passionate about doing its bit for the planet. 

What advice do you have for coping with dull winter skin?

My go-to is a mask once a week, double cleansing and drinking double the amount of water I usually would. Dehydrated, dull skin is a killer for winter. I use Radiance Mask once a week to help buff away any dead skin cells and renew my complexion. The mixture of clay and botanical extracts really gives your skin a brightness and glow that it was lacking before. 

I also swear by double cleansing, especially in winter. I use Hot Oil Cleanser first to get rid of my make-up and then a really gentle, milky facial wash or facial scrub (we'll be launching one of these in the Spring!)

Tell us a bit more about the special properties of key ingredients in your products

All our ingredients are included for their powerful therapeutic benefits. So I'd say they're all special! The ingredients we use are classed as 'active', resulting in highly concentrated and effective formulas without using any harsh chemicals or toxins on the skin. One of my favourite ingredients has to be Rosehip, though. 

Who do you admire in the natural beauty world and who inspired you to start your own business?

I really admire companies like Fig & Yarrow for being so stripped back and raw yet offering bespoke and beautiful skincare. Glossier are killing it at the moment - their marketing is just SO good; they're cruelty-free which is essential for me and I really like their make-up. I have a few of their products at home and I actually wouldn't be without them now (Cloud paint and Boy Brow, to name my faves.)  

If you were to give one piece of skincare advice that anyone, whatever their skin type, could benefit from, what would it be?

My one piece of advice would be to try a facial oil - oily, acne-prone skin and all. So many women I've spoken to won't touch oils because they're convinced it will enlarge their pores and make them break out in uncontrollable acne. Well, pore size can't be changed- this is genetic and all you can do is shrink the appearance of pores. And secondly oil dissolves oil. 

So no matter what your skin type the right facial oil will seriously elevate your skincare level like never before. The right oil should be light, silky to touch and melt into your skin leaving no greasy residue. Even if you just add a couple of drops to your evening moisturiser you will notice a difference. 

You live and work in Bristol - what do you love most about the city and what are your three top recommendations for things to see or do?

I love Bristol and I'm so proud to be a part of this city. We've been here over 8 years now and I don't think I could live anywhere else now. If you're going to do anything in Bristol eat at Pasta Loco, drink at Bar Buvette and go for a walk at Ashton Court. 

And to take part in the giveaway, here's what to do:

1. Visit my Instagram page at @luisa_m_sanders*
2. Like my competition post and follow both myself and Wild Source Apothecary (they are tagged in the post)
3. Tag a friend in the comments box too!
4. Competition closes at 7pm GMT on Sunday 18th February 2018

Winners will be announced in the comments box on the Instagram post. Good luck! 

*Please note this competition is not affiliated with Instagram. Terms & Conditions: One winner will be picked from all entrants who meet competition criteria; no cash equivalent; competition winners will be announced by Sunday 25th February 2018. Winners will be asked for their email address to arrange delivery of their mask. This competition is only open to UK residents. 

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Bargain Wardrobe Fixes With BlackBetty.com

The first quarter of the year - a period synonymous with boring but essential outgoings - tax returns, post-Christmas credit card bills, new school shoes (again). In short, it's the time when most of us feel our most miserable and most in need of a treat, yet the most lacking in funds to afford anything remotely treat-based.

Yes, there are always the sales (and they seem to run and run these days) but I find the experience of wading through racks of unwanted, sad-looking clothing seriously dispiriting. And I just don't have the time. Which is where BlackBetty.com comes in, an online retail site that I was asked to review a few weeks' back.

Selling seriously wallet-friendly clothing, BlackBetty offers a simple antidote to the new year blues - daily bargains on overstocked inventory from the UK and Europe. Or, in simple terms, 70-90% off normal shop prices. Sounds pretty enticing, no?

A bit like an online version of TK Maxx, the website sells the whole range of ladies clothing, accessories and shoes. It's very much a no-frills user experience but with prices coming in at under a tenner for a blazer and under £2 for a scarf, you're not going to get Net-a-Porter-style online merchandising. 

But for serious bargains, this site is well worth a look. Particularly strong on dresses and shoes, the website takes some digging around to reveal some real beauties; for example when I last browsed the site there were some amazing leather flats on sale for an incredible £9.95, instead of £39.99 - you don't find those kind of bargains even in Primark.

A good selection of work-friendly, classic knitwear is on offer with a gorgeous cable-knit jumper on sale for just £5.95. More fashion-forward pieces feature heavily - this is a retail site that pitches itself very much as a place for all age groups to shop at, so younger fashionistas with pocket money to spend will love some of the quirkier pieces on sale - if I was a few years younger I would be very tempted by this super-cute cat adorned jumper. 

One thing to bear in mind is that the turnover is fast on BlackBetty.com - these are blink-and-you-miss them deals that only run for a finite time. Likewise, popular sizes may sell out quickly. But with prices pitched so low, I guess you can afford to take a chance on sizing if you're not sure. On scanning the website with £20 at my disposal, I was amazed that most things come in at the £6 price point - the equivalent of an artisan sandwich!

So, what did I buy? I was seriously tempted by a super-cute sundress but decided that I really needed my feel-good fix now - waiting till the summer just wasn't going to cut it. First up, I do love a knit with a little touch of quirkiness - I think this grey jumper is just the right side of playful and I love it. It's quite thin material so I'm thinking it will make a great transitional item to pep up my Spring wardrobe.

To the right, a camo-style knit (there's a better picture below) which is just the sort of thing I love, perfect for making my standard uniform of jeans and trainers a little more exciting.

And finally, the item I was most excited about trying - a gorgeous leopard print dress that feels really luxurious and feels expensive - but came in at just £6.95...let me rephrase that: UNDER £7.

While you might have to wait a little while for your order, that's a small inconvenience when prices are this low. Ethically it feels like BlackBetty is doing a good thing in redistributing oversupply in this way rather than letting clothing going to waste. And it's certainly a nicer experience to shop from the comfort of your home rather than battling the crowds in Primark when you're in need of a cheap 'n' cheerful fashion fix.

I was gifted the above items by BlackBetty.com but all thoughts and views are my own and I did not receive payment for this post. 


Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Cost-effective Beauty Fixes

I'm always a little conflicted when writing about beauty. For starters, I'm absolutely no expert on skincare or beauty; I'm still not sure I've found the perfect match foundation, I've never mastered the application of eyeliner and I'm not even that good at putting on lipstick. 

But I enjoy the rituals of administering skincare and makeup; like many mothers, the snatched five minutes I have to apply my slap in the morning is one of the few times in the day I have totally to myself, a precious few moments to sit down and be absorbed in something unrelated to children or school while I gather my energy for the day ahead.

But there's a conflict I still struggle with when showing an interest in beauty - despite being old enough not to care what other people think of me, I always feel a little superfluous and vain in sharing my thoughts on this area. And now I'm getting older, there have been times when I've wondered, is makeup even relevant to me any more? 

It took reading journalist Sali Hughes' wonderful Pretty Honest book to put a refreshing angle on this mindset. In her introduction to the book she writes: 

"I believe looking good to be an important and valid pursuit. All too often, women with an interest in their appearance are assumed to be stupid, shallow or unintelligent. But I see good grooming and feminism as entirely complimentary. 

I believe it's perfectly normal to love lipstick and literature, to be a woman who paints her nails while shouting at Question Time. Anyone who dismisses beauty and make-up as mere frippery, an irrelevance pursued by the vain, frankly knows nothing about women."

In an increasingly ageist society, taking joy in our looks way beyond youth seems to me a great way to give a two-fingered salute to those who think older people - especially women - should fade into the background. I also think that tending to your face and body is good for mental health, and provides an important function to well being, just in the same way as going to the gym does.

However, it can be an expensive process. Now that I regularly need my roots doing (I'm sorry but I'm not going grey anytime soon) that's the best part of £100 a month used up. I don't give a fig about waxing (I do it myself, and usually only in the summer) and I don't have a gym membership but still the costs add up - even basic personal grooming can make a serious dent to the wallet. 

But there are some inexpensive products and services I use that I think make a difference - cheap fixes that make the business of feeling and looking good well within reach of ordinary budgets. These are them...

Body Brush

It's a fact universally agreed on by the beauty community that dry body brushing is a good thing. I do this once a week, after I've been for a run and before I get into the shower. It's a simple and cheap way to bring a noticeable bit of colour to pasty bodies, plus there's something deeply satisfying about feeling like you're unveiling fresh and plump skin as you slough away the dead stuff. 


Did you see The Truth About Looking Good a few weeks back? As well as suggesting there's no need to buy expensive moisturisers, the programme also revealed another useful tip - retinol products really work on fine lines and wrinkles. The visual example given in the programme was pretty convincing and it seems that most experts are united in their view that this is one product that can really help keep you fresh-faced for longer. 

As a recent convert to The Ordinary, I recently bought their retinol product "Granactive Retinoid 2%". While retinol should be used with caution (it can cause irritation and redness and must never be used before sun exposure) I've had no side effects and I would say it's helping to make my lines a little less pronounced - not bad work for £8. Used in conjunction with the Hyaluronic acid in the same range (on clean skin, under moisturiser in the morning) I feel it's making a difference.

Eyebrow shape

I'm blessed with boringly straight, bushy eyebrows. Unable to make even the slighted of arch with my own clumsy attempts at plucking, I've found that that having a proper eyebrow shape at the hands of an expert is quite transformative. Threading is my method of choice - I find it strangely relaxing to sit in a chair while someone grips my eyebrow hairs between two threads and it's a pretty long-lasting way to keep unruly brows like mine looking a little less Dennis Healy. 

However, that desired defined arch had eluded me until I visited the Blink Brow Bar in Harvey Nichols - definitely the best place I've been for an eyebrow shape in Bristol. At £19 a shot, perhaps not the most budget-friendly option out there, but I came away with the best brows I've had in ages - I'm maintaining them relatively well at home with tweezers and hope I have a few more weeks before I'll need expert intervention again.

Root spray

For those without the time or finances to commit to monthly root touch-ups, a coloured spray or powder is a godsend. I'm sure the WOW stuff I've seen in my hairdressers is probably more natural and professional looking than what I'm currently using - Superdrug Colour Fix - but my cheaper option does a good job of allowing me a few extra weeks' leeway before having to reach for the hairdresser's number.


Does the word 'peel' make you think of sidebar of shame photos of raw-faced celebs hiding from the paparazzi after a session down the salon? It used to make me think that way. But having read Sali Hughes raving about the Dr Dennis Gross peel in her Guardian column, I realised I might be missing a trick. If you replace the word 'peel' with 'exfoliator', they don't sound half as scary, but they deliver something essential for older skin in the form of a treatment that brightens skin and makes your other skincare treatments absorb into the skin more effectively. 

These babies are really easy to use; while they can make skin tingle at first which might be a bit alarming for first time users, they leave your skin feeling really refreshed and smooth, as if all the lines have been ironed out. You can buy boxes of 5 for £15 - sounds pricey but you can use them just once a month for a special skin treat. 


Tuesday, 9 January 2018

The Things I have Learnt About Being a Mother

This evening I shall be attending a meeting at my son's secondary school about options. We'll be finding about the new GCSE format, whether he should do ICT or Computer Science or if he's better with dates or better with maps. 

But in between peering at curriculum and trying to decide if he should do triple science or just two, you'll find me scratching my head and trying to work out how the hell I've been doing this parenting gig for FOURTEEN YEARS. There's nothing like helping your child navigate one of life's first big decisions to make you truly feel the weight of responsibility that comes with being a parent. 

Parent: was there ever a term more loaded with significance, emotion and importance? Was there ever an experience that seems - particularly in the early days of looking after children - to last forever yet pass in a heartbeat? One minute you're taking your baby to get weighed, the next - and it really can feel like just a moment has passed - you're sitting in front of your child's head of year discussing their future career path. 

As my eldest turns 14 next week, I've been thinking about what it means to be a parent in the 21st century and the things I've learnt on my own personal journey through parenthood. I know lots of people just starting out on the parenting experience and I see how much has changed since I brought my son into the world, while some things remain the same. 

Parenting will always be a crazy, terrifying, hilarious, heartbreaking, unique experience. It's different for everyone and I truly believe we should all carve out our own paths; but these are some of the things that have characterised my journey so far... 

One challenge replaces another 

In a world overflowing with mummy bloggers, I've often wondered where all the mums of tweens and teenagers hang out, because the parenting challenges don't stop when your kids get to school age. In fact, I would say that the challenging part of parenting only truly begins when they step foot through the school gates. 

Sure, teething, potty training and stopping curious toddlers from killing themselves isn't exactly a bundle of laughs, but for the most part, the challenges you face as a mum to a baby or toddler are practical, not emotional. And believe me, emotional challenges are much more tricky to navigate.

Essentially, there will always be a new challenge to blindside you when you're a parent; it doesn't stop when they can dress themselves and make their own breakfast. When they get to school, all manner of external forces come into play, and these only get more impactful as they get older. Enjoy those years when you're in your own little bubble and can do things your way and to your routine - when school kicks in you'll find so many more external issues to contend with: homework, SATs, competitive parents, secondary school applications, cliques, social media...the list goes on. 

I wished so many phases of my child's development away with the fanciful notion that once we'd got through breastfeeding/teething/potty training etc everything would be easier. But parenting doesn't work that way - embrace the moment and remember: this too shall pass.

You can't be friends with everyone

True of both your offspring and yourself. It's a natural impulse for a parent to want their child to be liked and to have lots of friends, but you certainly can't manufacture friendships. This can be highly inconvenient of course; it's really annoying when you and a parent get on like a house on fire but your respective offspring just do not gel. Friendships simply have to flow naturally. 

I really worried about my son not having many friends when he was younger, particularly as he was in a cliquey class where a big gang of boys dominated and my son wasn't part of the gang. 

I instigated play dates that were never reciprocated, I invited the whole class to birthday parties and tried desperately to strike up friendships with the mums. But the truth of the matter was that my son wasn't really bothered - he was quite happy with his small handful of friends. And I was never going to be part of the school gates clique. I used to believe that all mothers shared some sort of bond but then I realised that lots of mums can be dicks - just because you share an experience of pushing a baby out of your nether regions doesn't mean you'll be natural bedfellows.

I also realised that my son is - quelle surprise - just very like me and his father; better in small groups, more of a one-to-one person, not fussed about being popular. Now he is in his teens I'm really happy that he has this character - I'm hoping his ability to choose friends with integrity and honesty will make him wise to the 'like' and popularity contest culture that permeates social media.

You'll never sleep properly again

Oh, don't worry - you'll get the odd night of good sleep every few years but something changes to your sleep pattern the moment you have children and you never quite go back to sleeping the way you used to - deeply, solidly, uninterrupted - ever again. 

Things obviously progress from those interminable nights when your baby is feeding, teething or unwell. But those unsettled years seem to have a long term impact, even years later. And lie-ins just don't become a thing once the kids get older - there's always somewhere someone's got to be. 

I know this sounds hugely depressing and I'm sure there are some lucky people without a disposition to worry that do rest a lot more easily in their beds at night. But for me personally - someone with a tendency to anxiety - the hours of darkness provide fertile ground for my imagination to run wild. The parenting experience can be filled with worry and I've been kept awake thinking about everything from affording university fees to the possibility of asbestos in the children's bedroom ceiling. 

I can't really offer any practical advice on this one, other than the usual stuff; an early night, digital detox and cup of valerian tea usually paves the way to a better night's kip if I'm feeling sleep deprived.

Boys are weird

I remember reading a book when my boys were little by Steve Biddolph and thinking I was now armed with all the essential knowledge to raise my boys. I guess this is true of any parenting manual, whatever the gender of your child, but there continues to be rarely a day that goes by where some aspect of my sons' behaviour doesn't completely bewilder me. 

There's all the usual stuff, of course (inability to eat anything green, inability to flush a toilet, inability to dress appropriately for weather conditions, etc.) but then there's lots of other stuff that they do that just makes me think, "Why?"

In my experience boys can be equally as fussy about clothing as girls...but just in a weirder way. One son can only wear jeans in a certain denim wash while the other won't wear anything that is remotely baggy. We have argued over the nuances between a slim and standard fit school trouser for hours and my eldest point-blank refuses to wear wellies or walking boots, preferring to struggle across mud-filled fields wearing a pair of too small Converse (and yes, I've definitely uttered those immortal words known to every parent faced with a similar situation: "It's not a bloody fashion show, you know!")

Over the years I've had to explain why my children only eat dry cereal and can't abide the concept of butter in sandwiches. One child recently told me he was scared of cotton wool (to be fair this is a recognised phobia but it's just typical that of of all the phobias available, my child would be phobic of something as commonplace as cotton wool) 

But of course, I adore their individual quirks and weirdness. Because aren't we all a bit weird? Who wants to be normal? It's so easy to want our kids to 'fit in' when they're small and to worry about every small habit we perceive to be different from the norm. 

I remember someone saying to me that 'all boys are on the spectrum' but as I get older I realise that we're all on 'the spectrum' and so we should be as individuals with completely unique genes, life experiences and circumstances. So let them wear that too-small coat if it makes them happy - it's really not worth having an argument over. 

Social media can be distracting...for parents

When I had my first son, there was no Facebook or Instagram. We announced our baby's birth in what was the normal method back then - via text message, email and word of mouth. We may have attached a photo to the email, though I can't really remember. 

And after that we just sort of disappeared and got on with the business of looking after our baby, looking for a new house and - in my husband's case - working to keep us in nappies and M&S ready meals. I look back on that time now with real fondness for what I now see as a more innocent, less competitive time. Without smart phones by our side, we couldn't document every waking moment of our baby's existence or turn to google every time he sneezed or coughed. 

Having worked at Netmums for 7 years, I know there are certainly benefits to being part of a connected world during what can feel a very lonely and isolating time. Parenting networks can be vital in helping women suffering from PND or other emotional difficulties. 

But I do think social media can be a huge distraction from the here and now of raising a family. When I see parent bloggers overshare on platforms like Instagram, I can't help but feel they're missing out on the essence of parenting - being truly present in that little person's life at a specific moment in time. 

Fourteen years on from my son's birth, I now work in social media and know it's not going anywhere anytime soon. But at the risk of sounding a bit patronising and a bit of an old fart, I really would urge you to put down the phone every now and again. Childhoods are blink-and-you-miss-it short so savour the moment without getting the phone out.

Your kids don't think you're cool (when they get older)

Being a parent of a teenager signals the beginning of an existential crisis. You may not feel any older than you did when they were born, but truth be told you are now an 'old parent' - compare yourself with all those newbies at the school gates if you want evidence of this fact. 

While this might give you some gravitas with parents just starting out on the journey, it can be hard facing up to the reality that a world of Bugaboos and Duplo is long in the past and now you must now consider the harsh reality of wondering if you'll need to remortgage to send them to Uni.

You may know the meaning of 'lit' and still wear Stan Smiths, but the truth of the matter is that once your kids reach the age about 12 you are most certainly not cool in their eyes. If I had a pound for every time my choice of clothing has been met with one of the kids saying "you look weird, Mum" then I'd be rich. 

Of course, no one should lose their identity when they become a parent but in my experience, kids of a certain age don't like parents to be too 'fashion forward' - I think my kids would prefer it if I wondered round in bootcut jeans and a fleece.

It can be hard realising that you're no longer cool in your child's eyes. It can be heartbreaking when you realise they don't want a hug anymore, or that being with their friends is more important than being with you. When your opinion isn't sought or heeded because you're suddenly not their go-to 'oracle' anymore.

Which brings me back to the first point - one challenge always replaces another. I can live without being cool in my son's eyes. But the next chapter of my parenting journey - let's call it 'Letting Go" - will perhaps be the hardest challenge yet...


Sunday, 17 December 2017

Best of 2017

Another year nearly done, and I have one last post to share before I head off for my annual digital detox. The end of the year brings out mixed emotions in me; I'm a rather melancholy person so I tend to feel decidedly wistful when looking back over the year's events. 2017 has, for me, been a time of professional highs and personal lows. 

Earlier in the year, a very close friend died of cancer - a first experience for me of terminal illness, hospice care and supporting my friend's partner through an unbearably sad and traumatic process. His untimely death very much underlined to me the need to grab the moment in life and say 'yes' to things more readily. 

Taking on that mindset led to some professional and personal firsts - I went on 6 Music and spoke on a panel at a conference, both things I never would have imagined doing once upon a time. I've done some great things through the blog, too, as well as meeting some other brilliant local bloggers and influencers along the way. 

But more than anything, I've tried to do more of the things I love: travel, days out, reading, walking, going to clubs and listening to live music. My friend was the perfect example of someone who knew how to live life well - he gave himself willingly to new experiences, prioritised the people who mattered and had lots of varied interests. I've tried to follow his mantra to 'just do it' as much as possible this year, and luckily living in Bristol makes enjoying life to the full easy.

So, before I get too melancholy, here are the things I've really enjoyed in Bristol and beyond in 2017...

Best Cup of Coffee
Sometimes it's the little things. And the coffee at Little Victories has made my lunchtime just that little bit happier. Friendly staff, gorgeous decor and a wonderful location in the heart of Wapping Wharf make this my favourite recent addition to Bristol's vibrant cafe scene.

Best Day Out

We returned to lot of old favourite haunts this year (Southerndown, I'm talking about you again) but one of our favourite trips was, rather unexpectedly, to see some locks...I mean the ones you get on canals. Borne of one of those 'where shall we go that's a bit different but not too far away?' moments, we had a wonderful day strolling along Caen Hill Locks. Tranquil and pretty, this free day out beat a lot of the more expensive experiences we had in 2017.

Best Meal Out
Paco Tapas made me beam with happiness in 2017. When the British weather is getting you down, or you just feel a bit blue, this bijou restaurant on a quite corner of the harbourside will lift your spirits, I guarantee it. You feel as if you've been transported to Seville for the evening and the food - though quite pricey - is exceptional. Without doubt the best tapas I've had in the UK. The Sherry Negroni isn't too shabby either. 

Best Cultural Experience

Forget the hipster haters, Hauser + Wirth is a nice place to hang out. Yes, it's a magnet for the cool Bruton set, and yes, it is 100% hipster, but it's located in a pretty spot in Somerset, the gardens are lovely and it has a nice cafe. When we visited there was an exhibition of Elizabeth Frink sculptures, which I'm pleased to say I genuinely enjoyed.

Best Cocktail
Weirdly, I had my best G&T of the year at the Orpheus Cinema - who knew they can pour a better one than many bars and for a fraction of the cost? But for something a little more sexy, I really enjoyed the delicious cocktails and decadent atmosphere at Red Light. 

Best Live Music Event

We enjoyed Joe Goddard at the Thekla and The Cribs at the O2 (though were disappointed by the Downs Festival) but the most life affirming live music event for me this year was the Bristol Sounds series. From the stirring sounds of the Manics, a band I'd been wanting to see for years, to the euphoria of hearing classic dance tracks re-imagined at Hacienda Classical, everything about these events was perfect - the location, capacity and sound quality. I loved every moment. 

Best Pizza
Pizza - like burgers - is ubiquitous in Bristol and equally as divisive. But in my opinion - and I do like to think that with my Italian heritage I know what I'm talking about - Pizza Workshop does it best. I was very happy when they opened a new branch north of the river on Whiteladies Road over the summer.

Best Travel Experience

While Ibiza continued to enchant us, our stand-out trip this year was to Venice. While not new to me, I'd totally forgotten just how mind-boggling Venice is and I enjoyed every moment of our 5-day visit which cost us less than a long weekend to Centre Parcs. Everyone should go to Venice at least once in their lifetime. 

Best Family-Friendly Eating
Having reviewed Thaikhun for the blog back in 2016, I was delighted to find that it lived up to my initial review. I took the kids during a summer holiday trip to Oxford (there's a branch a bit nearer to home in Bath) and it was excellent - efficient, friendly service and great value, authentic Thai cuisine. My kids have quite adventurous palettes but there's plenty for more reserved young diners too. A great place to mix things up if you're a little bored of Pizza Express and Wagamama.

Best Shopping Experience

I'm afraid Bristol's mainstream shopping options continued to disappoint me this year (when will we catch up with cities like Manchester or Birmingham?) but I discovered some lovely little independents in 2017, from the plant-based heaven of Wild Leaf to gorgeous homeware at Mon Pote Home. I was also chuffed when Graham & Green opened a store in Bath. But my most successful, semi-local shopping trip took place at Kilver Court, where we combined a spot of retail therapy with a picnic in the stunning secret garden. I didn't find anything in the clothes shops, but I did come away with an amazing glass fronted cabinet for £50 and could have spent a few quid more in the homeware store.

Best Luxury Experience

Another first for me in 2017 was a visit to a spa hotel. I won't lie; it cost an arm and a leg. But my visit to Ragdale Hall was one of the most incredible, life-enhancing things I've ever done. Rarely do things live up to my expectations but on this occasion, I came back feeling the several hundred quid I'd shelled out was money well spent. For three days, me and my friend cocooned ourselves in a place that felt a million miles away from our everyday lives. Despite warnings about chintzy decor, unfulfilling mealtimes and over-zealous fitness instructors, Ragdale Hall felt a lot more modern and chic than I'd expected. The food was plentiful and delicious. And it's been a heck of a long time since I've felt that relaxed and carefree. It was worth every penny.

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