Thursday, 26 September 2013

A Lunchtime Mooch Around HomeSense

I used to love TK Maxx. I use the past tense because in recent years I think it's gone down hill. What used to be quite a revolutionary, exciting shopping experience has become a bit limp and a bit tired, with any real opportunities to find prestigious brands at bargain prices few and far between. In the past I'd frequently unearth all sorts of gems amid its cluttered rails. Patience and diligence have always been a necessary requirement when shopping at TK Maxx, but the rewards used to be worth it - you'd regularly find some amazing brands in among the chaff if you looked hard enough. Nowadays, though, it seems to rely more on mass market, mid-range clothing and the beauty aisles are much less exciting than they used to be.

One area that TK Maxx still does well, though, is homeware, so on a recent trip to Hengrove I made a stop at the store's dedicated homeware outlet, HomeSense. Located in the Imperial Park development, HomeSense is a great place for a rummage if you're after inexpensive pieces for your home. On a previous visit I picked up some Cath Kidston spotty melamine plates and cowboy themed cups at a fraction of the RRP. This time around my eye was drawn to some of the more 'big ticket' items as I'm on the hunt for a comfy, retro-style armchair for my living room. There's a eclectic mix of styles on offer, from design-led contemporary pieces to the more traditional. I spotted a gorgeous, British-made armchair covered in tartan wool which was £400 - the equivalent in somewhere like John Lewis or Laura Ashley would be more around the £800-mark. 
I can see these in my son's bedroom...
The china and kitchenware selection is also good and I was tempted by some stylish white dinner plates by Denby at £3.99 a pop instead of £11. I've you've a hankering for otherwise prohibitively expensive pieces, say a Le Creuset casserole dish, for example, this is the place to treat yourself and enjoy change from a £50 note. If you want to go cheaper still there are books, candles and other unusual bits and pieces that can help spruce up your home on the cheap. 

Would look very nice in my home office...

The stock varies from week to week, and some weeks will be better than others. It's a good place to visit in the run-up to Christmas, though, as I've found some gorgeous decorations, wreaths and Christmas cards in the store's Christmas department, from hand-blown glass baubles from India to folksy twine wreathes not dissimilar to those by Cox & Cox. 

Iconic Eames design for £50

You'll find an edited homeware selection at both TK Maxx in Broadmead and Cribbs Causeway, but if you'd like to check out the bigger range at HomeSense you'll find it at Imperial Park, Wills Way, BS13 7TJ.

Take a look online here.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Simple Pleasures - Recommended Books for Boys

Mums of boys will know how difficult it can be to engage them in reading. A total bookworm myself I've been surprised by how late my eldest has come to reading. He's 9 now and having discovered the worlds of Alex Rider and Harry Potter has finally started to read for pleasure -  and it's a joy to behold. We all know how important it is to get kids into books from an educational point of view, but in today's frenetic, technology-fuelled world reading fulfils another vitally important function in the lives of our over-supervised, over-timetabled children. The simple joy of escaping into another world offers them a rare opportunity for quiet, solitary down-time, when they can let their imaginations go on a journey and escape from the pressures of school and home life. 

When we were struggling to get our eldest interested in reading we adopted a policy of letting him read whatever took his fancy (within reason of course!)Our experience was that both our boys very much veered towards non-fiction and that comic-book format was often a more attractive proposition than text-heavy books.

Below are some of my recommendations for books for boys - titles that have really fired the imaginations of our two, 'investment' books that have been passed from our eldest to our youngest, to be returned to again and again. They're suitable for both early readers or to share together.

  • An atlas - our two love looking at maps. A good children's atlas seems to really engage them, but you've got to choose something with lots of illustrations and short, snappy text. We gave our eldest the DK Pop-up, Pull-Out Picture Atlas as a starting school present. When he wanted something a little more comprehensive, we moved onto the Kingfisher World Atlas. We also discovered the Lonely Planet series for kids ahead of a trip to Paris. Expressly designed 'not for parents' these irreverent guides are a great way to prepare for a trip abroad and are packed with little-known facts and fascinating stories.
  • Tin Tin- yes, some of the language is a little outdated and some kids might not get on with the format, but if you fancy trying something a bit different, give these colourful, adventure-filled books a go. Staying with cartoon format the Wimpy Kid series has been another winner in our house.
  • Traction Man series - a hugely imaginative, humorous take on the action-hero genre. Short snippets of text are ideal for young readers, plus the detailed illustrations are packed with weird and wonderful characters.
  • A book of poems, particularly anything by Michael Rosen. Mr Rosen gets what makes boys giggle, and his poems are just the right length and a teensy bit rude - my son loves the poem entitled 'Properties of Matter' in his book Michael Rosen's Big Book of Bad Things, which talks about freezing'll make you laugh too.
  • M. Sasek's 'This Is...' series, a wonderfully nostalgic journey around the world's most exciting cities, covering London, New York, Paris and Rome. This series was first published back in the late '50s so some of the text is a little quaint, and some factual info is no longer accurate (this is made clear in the books' appendices) but the vibrant, vintage-style illustrations are just lovely and the text has a lyrical, old-fashioned charm.
  • In the same vein, another great book for non-fiction lovers is Piero Ventura's Book of Cities. Again, it has a retro vibe and pictures packed with minute detail. It looks at the workings of the city - its buildings, transport, houses and green spaces - a subject that has enduring fascination for our two boys.
  • Anything by Shirley Hughes. From the wonderful Alfie series to her recent novel for older children, 'Hero on a Bicycle', set in Italy during WW2, Shirley Hughes' stories capture the essence of childhood. A couple of her lesser-known books that our boys loved include the Trotter Street series and the magical, melancholy story 'Enchantment in the Garden'.

As they get older...

Harry Potter is a given, but as I mentioned previously the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz has been a massive hit in our house. Some of the themes in these novels can be a little adult so I wouldn't recommend them for readers younger than 9/10 years of age. 

We have also had fun dipping into the classics I myself enjoyed as child - books such as Emil and the Detectives, The Silver Sword and Stig of the Dump, for example. You might think these fabulously old-fashioned books might not be appreciated by today's sophisticated children, brought up as they are on a diet of technology and on-demand entertainment, but my son has been surprisingly responsive to their quaint and gentle charm. 

Finding unusual books

The Tate gallery is a treasure trove of unusual reading material. Next time you're in London it's well worth a visit for its fantastic choice of slightly leftfield, artsy books that offer something that bit different from more mainstream book chains. You can buy online, too.

Nearer to home pop your head into the Arnolfini Gallery next time you're down by the Docks. It offers a compact, well-edited selection of children's books and we always find something unexpected on its shelves. We picked up a fantastic architecture for kids book here, which captivated our son with its detailed illustrations and child-friendly explanations of the world's famous landmarks and super structures.

Happy reading!


Saturday, 21 September 2013

Soukitchen - A Favourite Place to Eat in South Bristol

As a home-working freelancer I don't get out much during the working week, aside from ferrying the kids to school and to their various extra-curricular activities. So Fridays - when I work from my husband's office in Southville - provide a much-needed change of scenery and rare opportunity to eat lunch somewhere other than at home, huddled over the laptop. Having sampled most of the cafes and restaurants on Southville's bustling North Street, there's one place we return to again and again - Soukitchen. 

This bijou restaurant directly opposite The Tobacco Factory serves some of the best quality food I've eaten in Bristol, with a menu that straddles North Africa and the Middle East, taking in traditional standards such as falafel and kofta and less widely known dishes using locally sourced ingredients and piquant delicacies discovered and brought back from the owners' frequent trips abroad. 

My particular favourites from the lunchtime menu are the lunch mezze plate and lunch skewers. At £7.50 and £6.95 respectively, these filling dishes offer fantastic value for this quality of cooking. The food is beautiful and interesting to look at, too, with plates studded with saffron-hued rice, glossy olives and harissa, the deep red paste so resonant of the souk. Flavours are expertly balanced and ingredients cooked to perfection.

I've yet to sample the evening menu but the daily dishes chalked up on the back wall always sound mouthwatering, from slow-braised ox cheeks to Tangier-style sardines. With mains hovering around the £12 mark Soukitchen is offering stand-out, inspiring dining at considerably less than you might pay at other restaurants around the city.

If, like me, you have a sweet tooth you have to put dietary concerns aside and try Soukitchen's outstanding Baklava, a deliciously nutty and gooey confection, served with saffron ice-cream and orange blossom syrup. A dessert that can be a bit sickly when handled clumsily, Souk's take on this Middle Eastern delicacy has just the right amount of stickiness and sweetness. 

Soukitchen also provides a lunch-time take-out service and it runs regular events throughout the year where you can sample 5-course tasting menus inspired by vibrant cities such as Istanbul.

This is a great value place offering inventive cooking drawn from the less widely explored corners of the culinary map. Give it a go - you won't be disappointed.

For more information on SouKitchen visit the website here.
Soukitchen: 277 North Street, Bedminster, BS3 1JP, tel. 0117 966 6880


Thursday, 19 September 2013

Unusual Jewellery for Special Occasions

A few months back I celebrated a significant birthday and wanted to mark the occasion with a 'grown up' piece of jewellery.I was looking for something a bit more unusual than the high street offerings and anything I liked in more up-market shops was way beyond my budget. Then I stumbled on a gorgeous range entitled the Greta Collection. It's been created by fashion stylist and editor Laura Fantacci, who I have been following on Twitter for some time. Laura is also the author of the inspiring blog Wearing it Today, a great read if you're looking for wardrobe inspiration and would like to pick up some trade secrets from the fashion world.  

Laura is originally from Florence and when she gave birth to her little girl she asked a Florentine jeweller to help her craft a piece that would mark this significant event. Since that time the collection - named after Laura's daughter - has grown to include initial rings, necklaces and bracelets, crafted from 18kt solid gold and diamonds. 

I decided to buy an initial ring and am hoping to add to my 'L' (which conveniently is also my eldest son's initial) with a 'G' ring (both my youngest child and husband's initial.)As Laura illustrates on her site the rings look particularly lovely in pairs and are a sweet way to keep your children and loved ones close to you as you go about your day. 

Having lived in Florence myself during my 20s I can vouch for its exceptional heritage when it comes to jewellery-making. This beautiful city abounds with centuries-old workshops and tiny ateliers where expert craftspeople create all sorts of beautiful, unique pieces using the highest-quality materials. They may not be as competitively priced as more mass market products, but you can be assured that each piece will have been made with great care and impeccable attention to detail.

The Greta Collection is crafted at one of Florence's most illustrious addresses - the Ponte Vecchio - so if you're looking for an extra special gift, perhaps for a wedding anniversary, special birthday or to mark the arrival of a new baby, do take a look at the collection and read more on Laura's story on her website. None of the pieces tops the £200 mark, which for a made-to-order, hand-crafted piece of jewellery is a very reasonable price point.

For more information about the Greta Collection of rings, bracelets and necklaces, click here.


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Curry made easy

I love curries but when it comes to making them I seem destined to fail. Most of my attempts to recreate the vibrant, spice-filled creations displayed in my cookbooks seem to result in bland concoctions that take ages to prepare but are truly disappointing to eat. The only exception to this scenario is a curry recipe I discovered in Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall's excellent River Cottage Family Cookbook.

Amongst the other easy, well-explained recipes is the answer to your curry conundrums - a simple but delicious Chicken Curry that uses store cupboard spices, tomatoes and chicken to create a cheap, flavour-filled treat that banishes the bland from your curry-making experience. I highly recommend this cookbook for family food inspiration - every recipe I have tried has worked a treat. 

The chicken curry recipe takes minutes to prepare and about an hour to cook. Served with rice and a naan, this dish has just the right amount of heat for younger palettes, but you can adjust the chili accordingly.

And the finished item looks like this...


Get Back to Netball in Bristol

After several years of running and going to the gym I've been looking for something that takes the pain out of keeping fit and is a bit more sociable than miserably pounding the streets on my tod. So I was excited to hear about an initiative that has been set up to get more women back into netball. I wasn't a natural sportsperson during my formative years but netball was one of the few sports I was quite good at while at school. So, armed with a hazy recollection of the rules and a vague idea of positions, I decided to put my name down when a notice went up at my sons' school about a new women's netball group, aimed at people like myself who hadn't played the sport since their teens.

My particular group is part of wider scheme set up by England Netball, running right across the UK and open to all female players over the age of 16. My group is made up mainly of mums looking for a convenient and fun way to enjoy a bit of exercise, some great coaching and a few laughs along the way. It's run by a lovely lady called Sue Anderson who is the Netball Development Community Coach for Bristol, and it takes place at Redland Green School each Tuesday from 9-10 am during term time. 

Since joining the group I've rediscovered the fun of taking part in a team sport - so much more enjoyable than running, a pursuit I doggedly keep up but can't honestly say I gain much personal satisfaction from. The netball sessions, on the other hand, barely feel like exercising, but with a 20-minute exercise warm-up, followed by a non-stop game it certainly works all the main muscle groups. And guess what - I don't pay a penny! Thanks to the generosity of the school who don't charge for using their facilities, my group is currently able to enjoy this weekly session completely gratis.  

The scheme operates across Bristol with sessions taking place at venues including UWE, schools and sports centres. All sessions are 'pay and play' so you don't have to pay up front for a term, and with many sessions costing just £1 (£3 being the maximum cost for a session) this is a truly budget-friendly way to discover a new hobby and keep active. 

If you'd like to find out more, take a look at the Back To Netball section of the England Netball website here. 
Use the Session Finder on the left-hand side to see what's available where you live.

Back to Netball logo copyright England Netball.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Two Quick & Cheap Kitchen Cheats

As the new school term becomes established I've remembered just how time-pressured the usual week in our household can be. In between work, extra-curricular activities and other daily obligations there are some times when cooking a balanced, nutritious meal for the family just doesn't quite happen. I've accepted there will be the odd times when my kids will subsist on foods which can either be bunged in the oven (ie fishfingers and oven chips) or gleaned from a jar (ie pasta and pesto). Add in the eccentricities of my children's culinary tastes (my eldest would happily eat sushi for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while my five year-old only ever really eats with gusto when we are abroad and seafood is on offer, calamari being his absolute favourite) and it can be a frustrating experience trying to provide balanced, varied meal options when time is limited.

But recently I have hit on two real kitchen 'cheats', which are relatively healthy, add some variation to mealtimes and couldn't be easier to prepare. 

I have Nigella to thank for these two discoveries, which can be found in her book 'Kitchen'. Firstly, Spaghetti with Marmite - an improbable combo, I know, but it really does work. Plus the recipe was conceived by legendary Italian cookery writer Anna Del Conte - if the Italians eat it, it must be good! You don't even have to really like Marmite. Bung some spaghetti in to cook then heat about 50g of butter in a pan. When it's nearly melted add in a teaspoon of Marmite, plus one tablespoon of the pasta cooking water till it all emulsifies and goes loose. Add the sauce to the drained spaghetti and mix well. Plate up and serve with plenty of Parmesan. I'm biased because I love Marmite but even if you're not so sure, give it a try just once!

Secondly, an easy accompaninment to meat or fish. Even though I sometimes make my own chips and even the oven variety aren't really that bad for them, I do sometimes feel a bit gulity about chips being the standard potato-based dish in our home. So, for something a bit different try roasted or fried gnoochi. Again, these babies take literally minutes to prepare - you simply throw them into a frying pan with some olive oil and gently fry on both sides for about four minutes. Alternatively bake them in a roasting pan with some oil for about twenty minutes. 

I'm not sure Annabel Karmel would approve but sometimes life really is too short to spend slaving over a hot stove...

Quick tip - I have been trying to find creative ways to get the green stuff into my kids' diets for years now. If this is a familiar scenario for you, here's something that works in our house: I add a good handful of fresh or frozen spinach to pasta and pesto, a really easy way to up the veg content of their supper. I wilt it down in a pan with a knob of butter, then whizz up in a hand-blender and mix in with the pesto. Simple, quick and super cheap.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Bargain-licious Beauty Products

I have been a fan of H&M for as long as I can remember so I was desperate to visit its new sister store & Other Stories when I was last in London. Positioned as the edgier, design-led sibling of H&M, the flagship store on Regent Street is a gorgeous, light-filled space and a pleasure to wander around. The clothes are pitched at higher prices than H&M but they're still affordable, especially if you're looking for something a bit more interesting than what is available in the more ubiquitous high street stores. That said, aside from the shoes and bags - which I loved - the clothing is a bit too fashion-forward for me, so I'm not yet a full convert. However I did come back with a bag full of gorgeous beauty products which I have fallen in love with....

The own-brand beauty range includes body and hand washes, 'souffles', body lotions and hand creams and scrubs in scents that are absolutely divine. Although not usually a fan of over-scented beauty products the natural-smelling perfumes used in these products are truly gorgeous, with a nice consistency that sinks into the skin. Just some of the scents to choose from include fig, rose and lemon, plus my personal favourite: Moroccan Tea. If you've ever been to Morocco you'll find this scent truly evocative - it really does smell like a freshly brewed mint tea, and I am obsessed with it...

Priced at £5 for a body wash, £10 for the souffle and £12 for the mist all the products in the range are very affordable and last for ages. 

You can buy & Other Stories beauty products online here


Friday, 13 September 2013

Weekend at the Hoxton Hotel - Review

As ex-Londonites me and my other half love the capital and we can be in town in just over an hour from Bristol. And now we are no longer living there full time (and dealing with the usual gripes of tube delays and exorbitant living costs) we can enjoy the best bits of what has to be one of the world's most dynamic, constantly evolving cities without the aforementioned hassles. One area that has changed significantly since we lived in London is the East End, an area we had only dipped into for the odd night out in Old Street in the past. So for a recent visit we decided to base ourselves in this area, staying at the Hoxton Hotel on Great Eastern Street. 

This is a fantastic, well-priced hotel in a great location in walking distance of local highlights such as the restaurants and bars of Shoreditch, and the interesting mix of independents, well-known brands, restaurants and gastro pubs of Spitalfields. While clearly positioned as a hip boutique-style hotel, The Hoxton has none of the pretence that similarly positioned London hotels can suffer from, where you can sometimes feel alienated by the relentless pursuit of cool that often results in stiff, unfriendly service and rooms that put style over function and comfort. 

The Hoxton, in comparison, is an ultra-friendly, laid-back place with a nicely buzzing atmosphere and rooms that offer some of the best value to be had in this part of the capital. We paid £99 for a double, standard room, including the Hoxton 'Lite' breakfast, a cute breakfast bag delivered straight to your room and including yogurt, fruit and juice. There are frequent promotions - in the recent summer sale £69 rooms were up for grabs, and if you can book months in advance you'll find really affordable rates. 

We particularly liked the 'hub'-like atmosphere throughout the day, with lots going on but not so much that the place felt chaotic or noisy. There's a well-priced restaurant and bar on site - it serves a mean rose and lychee champagne cocktail - and there is a gorgeous courtyard area where you can enjoy a drink or bite to eat. 

Why else do I recommend the Hoxton? Friendly, efficient staff and a seamless check-in process. This was the first hotel we'd arrived at to find we could check in immediately - I've spent a lot of time in hotel lobbies while the reception staff faff about with reservations and calls to housekeeping; valuable time that could be spent sight-seeing or relaxing!

To find out more about this great hotel, visit the website here

PS - if you're looking to be closer to the West End the Hoxton Hotel is opening a sister branch in Holborn in May 2014 - read more here.


Yoga in North Bristol

I'll share my personal recommendation for yoga classes in Bristol in a moment but firstly I wanted to point you in the direction of details for the city's first FREE yoga trail, taking place on Saturday 14th September. Taking place at different venues around Bristol you can try a range of classes completely free of charge, whatever your level of experience. If you visit all 6 locations on the trail you'll be able to take part in a yoga class at a later date completely free of charge. A variety of yoga styles will be on offer for sampling, including hot yoga at Yogafurie, just off the Gloucester Rd. 

My personal recommendation 

I started practising yoga about three years ago and have never looked back. I had always wanted to give yoga a try but hadn't until that time been able to shrug off the idea that I might struggle with some aspects of the practise - deep breathing, chanting and lotus-style posturing were some of the things I thought I'd be useless at. However, I am also someone with a natural disposition to stress and worry, with a head that is often buzzing with every-day anxieties and fears. This, combined with the demands of parenting, made me overcome my reservations and take the plunge.

I have been lucky to find a fantastic class led by a lovely teacher - Clara Lemon - and have enjoyed significant benefits to my mental and physical health since joining her Thrusday night class, held at the Westbury Park Methodist Church on North View. If you are a yoga virgin be assured this particular class is perfect for beginners and Clara always offers different levels of difficulty for the various postures that you follow during the class. This means you can tune your practice to your own abilities and level of energy. For me, having an hour and a bit to myself each week, where all is quiet and focused, is a small but significant way to bring some calm into my otherwise hectic world.


Thursday, 12 September 2013

A Eurocamp Holiday in Spain

After 2012's wash-out summer we were all desperate for a proper 'fly and flop' beach holiday this year. We needed sun, a good beach and great food. However, when I started my holiday research sometime last spring I was horrified by how steeply inflated the cost of an average holiday had become. After several years of self-catering holidays I was harbouring a vague hope that we might be able to manage at least half-board this year, but many hours spent searching the net and poring over holiday brochures quickly put paid to that idea - anything vaguely nice ran into prices we just couldn't afford. So we opted for our fall-back choice - Eurocamp. 

We have stayed at Eurocamp sites across Europe ever since our children came along and have had a fantastic time at every site we've been too. Like most holidays this year, I was surprised, however, by how much the prices had escalated - this option is nowhere near as cheap as going DIY (eg. taking your own tent/mobile home/caravan and booking direct with the campsite) and we ended up paying over £1200 for 12 nights in a mobile home. On top of that you have to factor in the cost of travel - in our case Ryanair flights from Bristol to Girona - plus all your catering when you arrive. 

That said, in comparison with other options - especially if you are forced to travel in peak season school holidays as we are - Eurocamp is definitely the cheaper alternative. Despite my surprise at the rise in prices I would whole-heartedly recommend Eurocamp if you are looking for a laid-back family holiday. This year we stayed at the Camping Cypsela resort on the Costa Brava and I can't recommend it highly enough. I'll explain why in a moment, but first here are just some of the reasons Eurocamp works for us:
  • It's camping made easy. You can stay under canvas or in a mobile home, and some sites have rather luxurious yurt and safari-style tents. You don't have to wrangle with a tent and there's none of that sitting down to open a bottle of wine only to find you've left the bottle opener at home - the accommodation is well stocked with everything you might need
  • Children have real freedom on site - more so than in a hotel where they might climb the walls a little  and potentially annoy other guests. Sites are usually very safe with very little traffic so while you're showering or cooking dinner they can safely play around your tent or mobile home. They will get to mingle with other children, too - Eurocamp sites are usually packed with families so there will always be a neighbour to play with
  • Most sites have plenty of activities to choose from. We have never taken advantage of the kid's club, but many sites operate some kind of childcare option if you need it, plus there are facilities to suit all age groups, from kids discos and playgrounds to tennis courts and games rooms
The best sites we have stayed at are Camping Valle Gaia in Tuscany and the one we visited in Spain this year. We had an absolutely wonderful time this year at a site that ticked so many boxes: excellent location just a few minutes from a lovely, sandy beach (there was a free, frequent shuttle bus between the resort and the beach) and the beautiful medieval village of Pals, clean surroundings and beautiful landscaping, fantastic facilities - two swimming pools (including a toddler pool for little ones), restaurants and a very stylish bar, for example - plus excellent, helpful on-site staff and thorough security which allowed us to let our children have some independence and fun without constant supervising. 

This particular area of Spain is truly stunning and a world away from the hideous concrete over-development that blights other coastal areas of the country. It's an area of gorgeous coves, historic villages and up-market beach resorts, lined with some of the most esteemed restaurants in the country. Having been to this area before we particularly love the character-filled, former fishing village of Calella de Palafrugell, the lovely little village of Peratalada and the idyllic beach at Tamariu. We also made a visit to Cadaques, a favourite of artists such as Salvador Dali, and the regional capital, Girona, an evocative, riverside city with a beautiful cathedral and a historic Jewish quarter, characterised by tiny narrow streets and crumbling old buildings. 

Here are some photos of our trip to whet your appetite...

A few things to note about Eurocamp:

  • Book either really early or last minute - the prices are usually cheaper
  • Once you have booked once you'll get a loyalty discount of 5% off your next holiday
  • You have to pay extra for bed linen, and you can also book beach towels if you need to keep your luggage weight down (particularly if you're travelling with Ryanair)

Welcome to Bristol Bargainista!

Enjoying a cheap but lovely holiday in Italy

Hello and welcome! 

Yes, yes, I know everyone's blogging these days but I for one have found some of the most sensible, realistic advice and information on blogs and have picked up some great tips along the way. Unlike magazines or other traditional media, the blogging world can be a more honest, interesting and outspoken world. While I love fashion, for example, I've become increasingly tired of reading magazines that push a lifestyle that is way beyond that of the average person in the street, I hate the obvious product placement (and I don't just mean the advertising which seems to fill ever more and more pages, but the obvious pushing of products via celebrity interviews, etc.) and I resent paying somewhere around the £4 mark for content that I've read a million times before. It goes without saying there are good blogs and very, very bad blogs, but as time has gone on I've made several (high quality) blogs my preferred choice of reading - and of course they come completely free of charge!

 A few things I like about blogs:

  • They're often written straight from the heart, by real people living in the real world
  • Unlike magazines or newspapers a blog can tell it like it is - blogs are a great way to get unbiased reviews and experiences of everything from beauty products to restaurants
  • Alongside social media like Twitter, blogs are a great way to find out about the secret, hidden corners of your town or city, and pick up great tips if you're embarking on a trip abroad
After several aborted attempts at blogging I set up Bristol Bargainista in September 2013 as a way of sharing my suggestions for enjoying life in Bristol (and further afield) on a shoestring. A Bristol girl born and bred, I began my working life in London and spent a very happy ten years there before returning to Bristol in 2004 to raise my family.  The move back home coincided with a decision to combine my parenting responsibilities with freelance work in an attempt to enjoy a better work-life balance, and since that time I’ve been happily bringing up my two lovely boys while working as a web producer and copywriter.

Of course, while my quality of life has improved tremendously in this time, my income has taken a battering! I have very little disposable income and as my boys grow up the demands on my bank account seem ever greater. However, I like nice things, I like to eat well and I could not contemplate a life devoid of holidays or weekends away! And so I have learned to squeeze every penny from my humble earnings to enjoy a full and interesting life on a budget. And the good news is it’s not anywhere near as hard as I had imagined – it just takes a little more legwork, research and creativity!

I hope you enjoy reading my blog. While I'll be concentrating mainly on Bristol this blog is by no means limited to those living in Bristol. You'll find ideas and suggestions which I hope will be useful wherever you live, and whether you have kids in tow or not. 

Please do add your own comments and share your own tips too - I look forward to hearing from you!


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