CREATIVE BLOCK – FEAR OF THE BLANK PAGE

I miss Art. I miss giant studios full of light and noise and colour and ideas and creativity and tears and joy and discovery. I miss screen prints, dark rooms, light boxes, sewing machines, charcoals, life drawing, sculpting and sketching.

The day I got my first little set of watercolours, aged 10, I was hooked. Maybe it’s the same feeling some people get from performing, or sports or watching videos of cats, all I knew was it made me happy. I remember looking at the first blank page, a ‘proper’ watercolour sketch book all bumpy and stiff, being scared to make a mark in fear of ruining it. Not knowing where to start I decided a still life would be as good a place as any given that was what a real artist would probably draw.

I didn’t have a silver bowl laden with exotic fruits to hand so I had to make do with the nearest thing….
a potato. Yes, my first subject on the road to becoming the next Francis Bacon was indeed the humble spud. It wasn’t a bad effort if I do say so myself, I showed it off pleased as punch, or poitín if you will. It was hard to read my Mother’s reaction, I’m pretty sure she was smiling with pride rather than amusement. Either way it made her happy too. I don’t remember anything else I drew in that sketchbook but I remember every detail of that spud.

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2018 – THE YEAR AHEAD

Happy New Year!

I’m back from my blogging mega-break (9 weeks!) and so excited for the year ahead. I absolutely love New Year.  I know some people think it corny or depressing after the excitement of December but I find myself getting giddy at the possibilities of a whole new year. Will 2018 finally be the year I make it into the World Series of Poker?? OK maybe the year I finally just learn to play poker but you get the gist.

As soon as Christmas Day is over I’m boxing up baubles and clearing the decks ready to say goodbye to the year gone by and welcome the next with open arms.

New Years Eve is my day. It starts early with a train journey to Brighton armed with coffee, a notebook and a pen. To start, some mooching in The Lanes and a visit to the art gallery then lunch and a glass of bubbles. After weeks of Christmas planning, visiting relatives and the general chaos of school holidays it’s a welcome breath of fresh air. Not to mention a walk along the seafront and a literal breath of fresh air to blow away the cobwebs of 2017. The journey home is spent scribbling my hopes and dreams for the year ahead. By which I mean a giant ‘TO-DO’ list with a few personal goals thrown in here and there. I won’t bore you with the entire lot but here are a few of the things I’m looking forward to in the next 365 days:

Health & Beauty

One thing I won’t be doing is starting another flipping diet! Nope. Wasted enough of my life to that soul-sucking nonsense. I ate my own body weight in Christmas cake, stuffing and stollen over the past few weeks and don’t feel remotely guilty about it. In fact I’m not even done yet so jog on Slim Fast.

My fitness goals come from a desire to challenge myself or try something new. Last year I did a couple of 10k runs (my first ever ‘proper’ races) and really enjoyed it. I’ll admit I’m definitely a fair weather runner though and there is nothing that would get me out pounding the pavements on a cold, dark day. For that reason I want to sign up for another 10k race this year to give me the incentive to dust off my trainers and get training again. Other than that I’d like to learn a bit more about strength training using my own body weight in a bid to tone up before we start peeling off the layers for Summer.

Drink more water. Urgh, I know I say it every year but I rarely drink enough and I know it’s a really good habit to get into – please tell me I’m not alone!! Despite its many benefits I still struggle to force myself to down anywhere near the recommended 6-8 glasses a day.

Wear SPF daily, book dental appointment to finally replace those two fillings (*cries*) and while I’m at it sort my barnet out.

 

Style.

I know what I’m comfortable wearing. I can walk into any clothes shop and easily pick out what’s ‘me’ and what isn’t. I know if a colour works with my pasty Irish skin and dark hair or makes me look like the undead. I’m bored though. My Converse/skinnies/jumper combo is my safe place and I love it but I need to be more adventurous with my choices. Nothing too mid-life crisis-y, I don’t want to to look like the lovechild of Grayson Perry and Lady GaGa. I’ve already made a start with my new Honey & Toast saddlebag, in a much braver colour choice than usual. I love it, but to be honest I’ve never met a leopard print I didn’t like.

Interiors wise I’m planning to ditch one of the sofas asap and replace it with a cosy armchair to free up some space for my children to fill with tat. Before Christmas I painted the master bedroom white and am on the lookout for some new bedding and copper/marble accessories for zhuzhing. Spud fancies a bedroom makeover this year for his 10th birthday which luckily is 9 months away as it will probably take us that long to agree on a wall colour.

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JCB ZONE HAS ARRIVED AT GULLIVER’S LAND!

If you have your very own construction worker in the making then listen up, an entire zone dedicated to JCB has just opened at Gulliver’s Land Milton Keynes and it’s everything your mini-digger could dream of!

Enter through the giant digger arms to a land of construction themed heaven.

Flump got to work straight away in Big Dig Zone while Spud had a blast on Demolition Dodgems and even braved the Crazy Crane with Mummy! This place is perfect for any little digger lover and if that’s not enough you can even spend the night in your very own JCB themed construction cabin. Fear not grown-ups, I had a sneak peak and these are far from your everyday builder’s huts. Everything you need for your stay is provided including tv, microwave and mini fridge. After a busy day on the site you and your little builders can spend the evening relaxing on the veranda overlooking the beautiful lakeside setting.

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BEING A HOBBY BLOGGER

I love my blog. My own little project, born out of a desire to try something new and challenge myself a little.

Writing is never something I’d particularly explored as a creative outlet, despite being drawn to other areas of creativity. While I admire anyone who has a talent for creative writing, I definitely use it more as a therapeutic process. From the very basic act of writing a list on the days when my brain can’t seem to focus on one thing, to keeping a journal over a number of weeks to help process life’s little challenges – the act of writing something down is cathartic.

Writing my first blog post though? Less theraputic, more completely terrifying. Who was I to be putting words out there on the interwebs for all to see? No background in writing, no training or qualifications remotely relevant to putting words down that people might actually enjoy reading!

And what do you write about when you can write about literally anything?? It’s so easy to become overwhelmed in the early days of blogging and self-doubt would ultimately creep in, leading to me agonise over the simplest of things before I got anywhere near ready to press the ‘publish’ button.

I never gave much consideration to my ‘audience’ (I just assumed nobody would ever actually read my posts) and to be honest I still try not to think too much about that. In fact most of my close friends and family still don’t know I blog!

After the first few posts I felt confident enough to tentatively share my efforts via ‘linky parties’. These are a great way to share posts, discover other blogs and build online friendships (some which have grown into real life friendships!) As a newbie those reassuring comments from the blogging community make all the difference. It wasn’t long before I was joining more linky parties than I could keep up with and suddenly the pressure to read-comment-repeat began to become another daily chore on my ‘to-do’ list. I started to feel the pressure to post (and read) regardless of whether I actually wanted to or not. Social media platforms were no longer somewhere to kill a few minutes looking at pretty pictures or discover an interesting article; it was all about self promotion and scheduling to grow my audience. This was not what I’d signed up for.

So why not just stop? I’m in control of my own blog, not vice versa right?

Well, it’s complicated.

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FLORIDA FIRST TIMERS – DISNEY HERE WE COME!

It’s official, we’re off to the happiest place on Earth! Next August twelve of us (yes, twelve!) are Florida bound for a fortnight of fun in the sun. Having worked through the endless flight / accommodation / ticket options we’ve finally managed to get booked up and the countdown is on.

I should probably confess at this point that I have never really been a Disney kinda girl. I’ve definitely seen a few Pixar movies but as far as Bambi, The Lion King and all that – nada. I mean I’ve been around Flump while she’s watched Frozen but that’s usually while I get on with doing stuff or on long car journeys, in which case she has her headphones on so not sure that really counts?!

Luckily my 16 year old niece is a lover of all things Disney and has kindly agreed to supply us with a weekly DVD so we can do our homework in time for the big event. She’s also 100% obsessed with Harry Potter (now at Universal Studios) and I have serious concerns that she may not make it to Florida on account of being the first person to actually explode with excitement.

So far, so good. Aladdin – tick, Little Mermaid – tick and I admit, the new Beauty & the Beast movie is pretty awesome too. Any recommendations then lovely readers?

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*GIVEAWAY – A3 FELLOWES LAMINATOR*

There’s something strangely satisfying about laminating stuff, no? This week we’ve been laminating left right and centre and basically living out my childhood dreams of being Teacher. Here’s a peek into what we’ve been up to…

There are oodles of online printables available for organising everything from your weekly menu to your wedding day. Visit Fellowes.com/ideascentre for some fab free options. Use a dry wipe marker so you can clean and reuse as many times as you like.

 

I also laminated my favourite ‘Daily Blogging Checklist‘, nothing quite as satisfying as being able to tick things off that list right?

Getting Flump to practice her writing isn’t easy at the best of times but it seems the novelty of a wipe-clean sheet makes it slightly more interesting! I also laminated her times tables sheets to keep them in the back of the car for practicing while we’re out and about. Next up – telling the time sheets (wish me luck!)

I found this idea online and thought it was so cute as a present for Grandparents – mini-me bookmarks! Just print a photo of your little one with their hands clasped up in the air, laminate and thread some ribbon through the top – simples. I also made a cute unicorn tail version with some leftover wallpaper. You can find some simple bookmark printables here to get you started.

These wipe clean placemats have been the kids favourite laminating project and actually the most useful. I let them choose some wallpaper samples and cut them to size using this nifty little trimmer. I also found these cool Dinnertime Doodle free printables which the kids will love.

With the start of a new school year comes the bonus of works of art arriving home on a daily basis- yay! Some lovely Mummies cannot bear to part with even the teeniest scrap of paper and store these offerings in a folder, to be filed away for sentimental reasons. I’m not that Mummy, ours get filed away in the recycling bin, sometimes enroute to the front door. However occasionally there are some treasures that even I find hard to ditch – there’s something about those handprint ones that get me every time. A quick trip through the laminator means I can store it away safely to cry over in years to come!

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TRUE TASTE OF MEXICO COMES TO BEDFORD

Tuesday afternoons are rarely something to shout about in our house. School run, fish finger sandwiches and footie training before bedtime are standard. So this week when I was invited to experience the true taste of Mexico at a stunning new restaurant in Bedford I was more than a little excited. Firstly, Mexican food is my absolute favourite so it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Secondly, I’m so used to having to travel miles for a decent Mexican restaurant that I did a little happy dance to hear one was opening just twenty minutes away!

MEXIco is a relatively new kid on the foodie block (Bedford being it’s 3rd branch in a year, after Derby and Maidstone) but if you ever get the chance to visit, I can highly recommend it. Created by Head Chef Johnny Hernandez, the name behind numerous successful US restaurants, the menu brings a taste of authentic Mexican cooking to the UK.

Interior – MEXIco is a real feast for the eyes, bursting with colour from top to toe the vibrant décor and playful design give a relaxed fiesta feel to the venue and had me mentally redesigning my kitchen, living room, garden…

 

 

Artwork – I have to give this a special mention as the focus on authenticity runs right through to the specially imported artwork on display. Shipped directly from contemporary Mexican artists and craftsmen most of the light fittings, sculptures and patterns have been created specifically for MEXIco. (Even the toilets are wallpapered in the newspaper that was used to protect the artwork in transit!)

 

Food – Focusing strongly on freshness and authenticity, Chef Johnny has developed a menu that draws from his many years experience of travelling around Mexico. Talking to him about the dishes it’s obvious how passionate he is about bringing the true taste of Mexico to the UK (trust me, this guy knows his stuff, not many chefs can say they were personally requested to cook for President Obama at the Whitehouse!). All the favourites are on offer, tacos, tostadas and my personal favourite – chicken quesadillas. Just make sure you leave some room, the churros and dulce de leche are too good to miss.

Drinks – In true Mexican style, tequila is at the star of the show at MEXIco. If you’d asked me if I was a tequila fan before now the answer would have been a definite ‘No’ but after sampling (many of) the cocktails prepared and so beautifully presented I have to admit I’m a convert! Oh, and if you’re not planning to eat but fancy a drink or two with friends this place is perfect – a separate bar area means you can just pop in and enjoy a beer or work your way through the cocktail menu, no problem.

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SCHOOL HOLIDAY SURVIVAL PLANNER

Whether you’re counting down the last few weeks of term or dreading the prospect of having your little critters at home for the holidays, a holiday survival planner will prove mega useful when the time comes.

You can find lots of printable templates online, here’s one you might like but there are all sorts of variations so have a looksee for one that suits you best.

If like me you prefer to have a copy on your pc you can find monthly templates here downloadable for Excel and Word.

Hooray, you’re good to go! Here’s how I set about building mine:

Start with the biggies. I already know which dates we have our family holiday booked, when I’m taking the kids to visit family in Ireland and which week their favourite summer club is running so those go into my template, colour-coded to make it look pretty  obvious at a quick glance.

Add in any definites. I always feel for parents who have to arrange a party in the school holidays. If possible I make sure we RSVP ASAP to make their job a little less stressful. Along with these dates, I fill in things like family celebrations or pre-booked day trips/activities.

Book in the necessaries. I’ve learnt the hard way to plan ahead when it comes to anything school uniform/shoe related! You can now pre-book feet measuring in some stores making the whole process a lot less painful for everyone involved. Apart from the paying bit, that’s always going to hurt. If you need to go to a specialist uniform retailer for certain bits and bobs find out their opening hours (some smaller stores can be a bit random!) and see if they do appointments. It probably makes sense to pencil in morning to buy any other bits of uniform (don’t forget the PE kit!) so at least it’s all out of the way. Do this on a separate day to shoes/uniform shop, there’s only so much dullness anyone can tolerate. Arrange dental check-ups and hair appointments if required.

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3 INGREDIENT BISCUITS, YOU’RE WELCOME!

High on any kid’s list of favourite pass-times are making a mess and stuffing their greedy little faces with junk. It goes without saying then that baking, an activity that combines both these things, is always a winner. While I do a lot of baking when I have the kitchen to myself, I rarely have the patience or inclination to allow my two little helpers in on the act ‘just for fun’. This recipe is my secret weapon for those times when I can no longer avoid the joy that is baking with children. It’s simple enough for the kids to get involved, quick, has 3 basic ingredients and best of all uses little equipment so you won’t be left with a mountain of washing up.

If you’ve attempted to bake with kids before you’ll already know that they have zero interest in measuring out the ingredients or lining baking trays. All this stuff is boring. They basically want to get their hands covered in goop and eat the end results as soon as possible even if it means first degree burns to the tongue. Just get everything prepped beforehand (it won’t take long in this instance) and I promise things will be 100% less painful.

Ingredients: 100g softened butter or Stork, 50g caster sugar, 150g self raising flour.

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SHARING IS CARING WITH PREZZO

Like most families our weeks seem to fly by from one to the next, a busy jumble of school runs, work, to-do lists, chores, after-school activities and emergency fish fingers sandwiches. Weekends are just as hectic to be honest, only with a lot more football and laundry involved. Which is why school holidays are such a relief when they do come along, a chance for all of us to take a break from the usual routine and spend some family time having fun. This half term coincided with a bank holiday which meant even Daddy got the chance to kick back for a few days!

After a rare family trip to the cinema we headed to Prezzo with our tummies rumbling (Italian is the ONLY option we can all agree on when eating out). The La Famiglia sharing dish was just what the doctor ordered, no fussing about what who was having what, just a huge bowl of spaghetti bolognaise delivered to our table pronto! There are 4 pasta dishes to choose from so something to suit every family. Dishing out for the family in a restaurant setting is a genius idea – everyone gets to enjoy a family style meal together just how they like it – from the spaghetti monster who always asks for extra pasta to the one who insists on having the sauce on the left, minus the cooking and washing up! Plus no food envy whinging (guilty!) and because everyone is served just the right amount, no wastage – ooh we like that a lot! Along with a couple of garlic flatbreads, we found the portion size perfect for 2 adults and 2 children, leaving just enough room for that all important dessert!

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