Sunday, 29 December 2013

A little bit of Sparkle and Fizz

So there we have it, Christmas is done and dusted for yet another year and it seems all we have to look forward to is another couple of months of dark, cold, wet mornings and endless TV advertisements for half price settees and all inclusive, buy now pay later, family holidays in the sun.

The novelty of the ‘must have’ Christmas gifts (which we trawled our busy town centres and websites in search of) may have already worn off, and the festively designed wrapping, foil ribbon and tape, with which we painstakingly decorated and disguised them, is now ripped to shreds and in the recycle bin. The leftovers of the celebration bird have been sandwiched and curried to the point that we never, ever want to see another slice of turkey again (even the pets are sick of it) and the beautiful Tannenbaum which we adorned with tinsel and fairy lights and gave pride of place in our homes, has now shed the majority of its needles and is looking considerably less majestic than it did a week or two ago.

So, what next?  What reason could we have now to battle with the shopping centre crowds for new outfits we probably won’t ever wear again, why on earth would we feel the need to re-fill our fridges with finger food platters, a selection of a thousand cheeses and a dozen bottles of champagne (the last on that list is only in my dreams!) Well... it’s New Year of course, and what better occasion to bring on the sparkle and fizz!

That said, if you’re anything like me, your current account will be looking a tad unhealthy at the moment, and the old credit card will have been given a bit of a hammering over the past few weeks. So, if there’s going to be any sparkle or fizz for me this New Year, I have to accept it’s not going to be in the form of Dior or Dom Perignon!

‘Label snobs’ look away now... Peacocks, Morrisons, Body Care, and Tesco are just a few of the places I managed to find a few very cheap and cheerful ways to inject a little sparkle and fizz into my New Year. See photos below.

Of course, Bollinger or Bucks Fizz, Prada or 'Primarni', we all know it’s our family and friends that will make our New Year celebrations special... the sparkle and fizz (whatever your budget) are just for fun!

Happy New Year one and all!

For the Sparkle...

Black and gold sparkle peplum top - £12.99 from Peacocks.  Looks great 'dressed-up' with wide-legged satin trousers, leather pencil skirt or disco pants, or  with black skinny jeans for more casual look.  I got this just before Christmas, so it's probably in the sale now for about a fiver!

Gold sparkle peep-toe platform heels from Dorothy Perkins.  Reduced from £35 to £22 in the sale just before Christmas. Surprisingly comfy!

Left to right: Barry M in 'Red Glitter' £3/4, OPI Mini Nail Lacquer (part of Mariah Carey gift set) 4 glitter varnishes for £10.46 from, and Technic in 'Be-dazzled' from Beauty Care (£3 ish).
'Bling' ring, £2.50 from Peacocks.

Barry M Glitter Dust, around £3.50 each - Left to right, No 22 Black Gold and No 15 Gold Iridescent.
I love this stuff, only a tiny amount is needed to add a subtle touch of glitter to your party eyes.

Gold and black leather effect necklace, £4 Primark.

and for the Fizz...

Joe's Cocktails - Premium pre-mixed cocktail 'Blackberry & Pear Vodka Fizz'  also available in 'Raspberry & Rhubarb Vodka Punch' and 'Elderflower & Cucumber Gin Sling' - around £1.90 each or 3 for £4.
M&S Brut Cava - £12.99 for two. Lovely bubbly!

and more Lovely Bubbly... Italia Plaza Centro Prosecco - half price at £6.95, from Tesco.
Even cheaper bubbly... Morrisons Premium Bucks Fizz £3 ish.
With what you save on the booze, you can add a little extra sparkle with these gorgeous indoor fireworks
see below for details.

'Table Fun' Flaming Fountains, pack of 3 £2.50 from Tesco.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Birthdays... the Good the Bad and the Ugly!

Having recently turned yet another year older, and with my husband reaching the big ‘FIVE O ‘ in less than two weeks, I’ve been thinking (possibly over-thinking) about what birthdays mean to me these days.  As the years have gone by, I guess I’ve  looked forward to them less, but actually I don’t really know why?  I read a quote recently which went something like “If you didn’t know how old you are, how old would you be?” and yes, some days the answer to that question may well be “65 plus”, but in all honesty, most of the time it would be a figure considerably younger than I am.  All things considered, I’ve decided that more good than bad comes with age, and it’s just a matter of seeing our birthday tipple glass as half full and not half empty.  So, this is how I’m going to view the passing of the years from now on...

The Good
My birthdays will be a day (or more, if I can manage to drag it out) of pure, unashamed, indulgent ME time.  They will be seen as my special day, a time to sip champagne and eat cake (lots of cake).  My mobile will be non-stop (hopefully) with texts and Facebook notifications from well-wishers; birthday cards of the hand-crafted, cute, sentimental, humorous and pure filthy variety will adorn my mantelpiece and window ledges, and all in celebration of the day that wonderful, unique moi entered the world! If I’m lucky, my birthday celebrations might also include parties, evenings out and, of course, pressies!  See below - a few photos of some of the lovely gifts I received this year, which might also offer a bit of Christmas gift inspiration.

The Bad
Harsh (but true) being forty plus, I am fully aware that  the champagne sipping may well leave me needing the loo in the middle of the night, unable to get out of bed in the morning, and with raging heartburn.  The cake will more than likely leave me feeling bloated, guilty, and will almost certainly lead to tears the next time I get on the scales.  I will also prepare myself for the fact that birthday surprises at this time of life might include a few extra fine lines around my eyes, age spot multiplication, and the odd addition to my growing collection of grey hairs.  I accept that I may also notice an increase in my short term memory loss (although actually, that will possibly be more to do with the excessive champagne sipping, in which case it’s more than worth it!).

 And... the Ugly?!
Well, I reckon, this will only set in if I don’t spend my forty plus birthday celebrations enjoying the ‘good’ and gracefully accepting the ‘bad’.  My plan to avoid any ugliness is to embrace my maturity, and the knowledge and ‘wisdom’ that come with it. In future I’m going to celebrate the fact that yet another birthday means I’ve been lucky enough to have  spent the last year enjoying my family and seeing them grow, have had chance to form new friendships and see existing ones deepen, and have had the benefit of a further twelve months’ life experience (good and bad).  And, with all that under my belt, I can begin to look forward to the adventures and challenges of the year ahead... that is, until my next wonderful birthday!

Okay, that’s enough deep and meaningful thinking from me... time for pressies!

I love this grown-up, sophisticated take on the recent satchel trend, and it’s such a fabulous colour.,acc_1.1/5890143000

Posh Wellies  - I’ve been wanting a pair of these for ages and they’re just the job to ‘style-up’  my winter dog walking.  If they’re good enough for Her Majesty, they’re good enough for me!
‘Lovely’, by Sarah Jessica Parker.  Gorgeous fresh, day time fragrance, and a beautiful bottle that looks so pretty on your dressing table. 
Body Shop scented candle, room & fabric fragrance spray and home fragrance oil, in ‘Aloe & Soft Linen’.  Lovely pressie.
Visit to the Theatre – surprise trip to see “Thriller Live”. If you love Michael Jackson’s music you’ll adore this smash hit West End Show.  I had such a fun-filled evening!
Pretty little Pandora Charm to add to my collection.  I’m hoping to fill my bracelet by the time I turn fifty... running out of time fast!!791224CZ/metal/05,04,11,06/sort-by/pl

I also had some beautiful flowers delivered (always a winner with me) and the fact that my 19 year old music student son, living 200 miles away, even remembered my birthday (let alone sent me flowers), was enough to make my day! Unfortunately, these were well past their best by the time I got round to taking photos for this post :-(  

So, here’s to many more happy returns! J

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Time for a Lovely Cuppa

Don’t know about you, but so many times I say to myself (often in the middle of a Saturday morning’s battle with the laundry basket, or after a stress inducing, trolley raging trip round the supermarket), “right, it’s time for a lovely cuppa!”

At this point, in my mind’s eye, I see myself sinking into an over-sized, unbelievably squishy armchair (the reclining sort with foot rest, of course), I have my reading glasses perched on the end of my nose, and I’m casually flicking through the pages of  ‘Cosmopolitan’ or ‘Ideal Homes’.  My pets are snuggled up on the rug at my feet and I’m feeling totally relaxed, not a care in the world.  My favourite “chill out” tunes are playing softly in the background and I’m alternating nibbles of delightful home-baked lemon drizzle cake with sips of something hot, sweet and comforting from a pretty little vintage teacup and saucer, or a floral Kath Kidston mug (in pastel shades) large enough to take a bath in.

Okay... back to reality!  This is how my “time for a lovely cuppa” turned out last time.  I hurriedly filled up the kettle and, whilst it was boiling, fed the cat and popped another load in the washing machine. I then proceeded to throw down the sink the remains of the “lovely cuppa” I made for myself earlier, but didn’t have time to finish. I swilled the cup out with lukewarm water and threw a way too weak “supermarket own” tea bag (or was it a teaspoon of nasty instant coffee, can’t remember) into said “swilled out” cup.  I then added hot water, a teeny-weeny bit of sugar (not worth bothering with to be honest) and a splash of milk... realised the milk was starting to ‘turn’, and started again!  Finally, I sat down to relax for five minutes to enjoy my hot beverage only to be disturbed by some chap gesturing at me through the window (not in an indecent way I should add!)  I put down my drink and went to the front door. Turns out my gesturing friend was the window cleaner, who had been ringing the (broken) door bell for ten minutes now.  Knowing he’d probably come to collect what must now be well overdue payments from me,  I smiled through gritted teeth and politely asked him how much I owed, to which he replied “you owe for the past four months love, you’re never at home when we call”.  So, after forking out a small fortune for window cleaning services, I return to my now cold, not so lovely cuppa. Sound familiar?

Now more determined than ever that the next time  I decide to have a  “lovely cuppa”, it was indeed going to be just that, I went on a little shopping trip to see what treats I could find.

Cafe Classic

For this delightfully classic, yet special cup of coffee, try Whittard’s San Agustin Columbian, around £4 for 125g.  Choose your favourite coffee at Whittard, and have them grind and package the beans right in front of you, doesn’t get fresher than that. I made this half coffee/half hot semi-skimmed milk, for a Latte style treat.  Marks & Spencer Rocky Road makes an ideal accompaniment at £1.79 for two.  Coffee mug, 50p from local Charity Shop.

Sweet & Spicy Celebration

More of a tea drinker? Try Twinings Chai for a change.
Apparentley, Chai was only drunk by the royalty in India!  If you love the aromatic scent of cinnamon, ginger and cloves (very seasonal), give this one a whirl (£2.50 ish for 50 tea bags).  Lovely with these adorable little treats (which I just could not resist), Mini Gingerbread Men, again from good old M&S, £1.09 for 12... soooo cute!  “Vintage Floral” cup and saucer, £2.50 from Wilkinsons.

Toffee Nut Hot Chocolate

Oh so yummy! This treat is made by stirring four or five teaspoons full of Thornton’s “Dark & Milk Chocolate Flakes” (£2.99 for 200g) into a mug of hot steaming milk.  Add a shot of “Starbucks’ Toffee Nut Flavour Syrup” (£3.95 for 375ml) and a Marks & Spencer’s “Crunchy All Butter Pecan & Maple Cookie” (or two) (£1.99 per 200g pack) on the side, and you’re in heaven!!  Cutesy extra large mug, £1.50 from local Charity Shop.

Other ideal accompaniments...

Extra choccie... Add an M&S Milk Chocolate Stirrer (these were reduced to clear, from £1 to 15p for two) to any of the above hot drinks to make them extra, extra special!

A FREE Mag... My daughter told me about this little freebie, which she picked up from Starbucks the other day (I don’t think that’s classed as shoplifting, is it?)  “Stylist” is apparently aimed essentially at "affluent career women" (up to 40!!). Clearly, I don’t meet either of those criteria, but I enjoyed reading nevertheless (and in any case, who cares, it’s FREE!) Why not take a look...

Flowers and candles... Two of my main loves in life.  So simple, yet neither ever fails to make me feel just a tad bit happier inside.  So, whilst sipping your lovely cuppa, surround yourself with a few pretty flowers and the aroma of a beautiful scented candle, sure to add a little ”je ne sais quoi” to the whole experience. Jo Malone “Pomegranate Noir” Scented Candle, not cheap at around £39, but very, very gorgeous (I actually stole this from my daughter’s bedroom for the purposes of this post, I know... shameful! - I did put it straight back).

I have to say, I’m feeling just a little guilty that I haven't featured fabulous recipes for delicious, indulgent, home-made cakes (I’m not promising, but maybe they will come later). However, the real essence of this post is not to spend time slaving over a hot oven making yummy home-made sweet treats (however wonderfully superior they are to shop bought alternatives), but to enjoy “quick and easy” short-cuts to simple “me time” indulgence, which require minimum effort but deliver maximum rewards!

In conclusion ladies, sometimes we just have to blow the calorie counting, sod the housework, and enjoy a little simplistic indulgence.  Enjoy your “lovely cuppa”, however you choose to take it!

(PS: In light of recent media coverage around blogging, I ought to just clarify, I'm not being paid by M&S, Starbucks, Twinings (or anyone else for that matter), to include their wares  in my posts (more's the pity, I could always do with a little extra income!) ;-)

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Smudge Proof, Budge Proof Eyes

Time for a little "beauty" blogging I think! So, here goes...

As well as grey hairs, fine lines, and a preference (albeit occasional) for comfort over style, it seems my forty plus years have also brought an increase in sensitivity to my eyes.  Yes, many things bring tears to my eyes these days... university tuition fees, the increasing likelihood that the "kids” will not completely leave home until they are at least 35, the realisation that my dear husband will never understand my OCD tendencies, and the acceptance that I’m not ever going to win the lottery!  I also shed a tear at the usual stuff, a trip to the cinema (I was still crying when we arrived home, after seeing Les Mis!), touching TV moments (Educating Yorkshire’s “Mushy”... loved him!), and acts of general human kindness and compassion (you know, like when someone's "kind" and "compassionate" enough to tell you when you’ve left your dress tucked in your knickers after visiting the loo...c'mon, I know that’s not just me!).

Actually, it seems my eyes have a tendency to water in almost all situations, as they also seem to stream in the sun, the wind, the cold...well pretty much all of the time!  Obviously, “wet” eyes are going to result in the very undesirable “panda” look...that is, unless you’ve invested in a formidable trio of eye products such as this...

Step one...Urban Decay Eye-Shadow Primer Potion

Wear this fantastic primer on its own to avoid eyeliner smudging or “transferring” onto your lids or, wear under any eye-shadow of your choice and it will stay in place, guaranteed, until you decide to remove it.  No smudges, no creases, all day, all night! This legendary magic potion comes in “original” (which is my preference) or in three other shades which act as primer and shadow all in one (these are a bit on the “shimmery” side for me and tend to accentuate any fine lines or wrinkles but they look fabulous on my 21 year old daughter’s youthful eyes!) I love this product and at £15 for 11ml (which lasts me well over 6 months, and I use it every day) it’s not cheap, but it’s well worth it!

Step Two... Rimmel Exaggerate Waterproof Eye Definer

This beautifully soft and easy to apply eyeliner comes in “twist up” type packing (no pencil sharpener required).  It also has a small blending sponge at the opposite end, which is really useful for softening the line if you prefer a more natural look. It comes in 3 shades “Noir” (which I use), “Aqua Sparkle” and “Emerald Sparkle”, I haven’t tried the “Sparkle” versions, as I tend to stick to neutral shades on my eyes.

The two eye lining products I used before trying this one, were both Bobbi Brown (gel liner and pencil version), expensive but very, very good.  Does this Rimmel option match up?... 
yes absolutely, and at only £3.99 is a real bargain!

Step three... Max Factor False Lash Effect Waterproof Mascara

And finally... mascara, the finishing touch to any well made-up eye.  However, it can “break” rather than “make” your look if it ends up all down your face the minute your eyes get a bit watery!  I’ve tried loads of waterproof mascaras and, to be fair, most of them do what it says on the tin (even the cheaper versions tend not to run).  However, the difference with this one is that it’s effective not only as a waterproof mascara, but is equally effective at lengthening and thickening your lashes (I find some of the cheaper versions struggle to deliver on all three counts).  I wouldn’t go so far as to say it gives a “false lash effect”, but that’s ok with me as I’m not really a falsies fan anyway, preferring a more natural look (and being way too lazy to be bothered with the fuss of applying them).

I would say, at around £8, this is a pretty reasonably priced product, especially considering its benefits.

One thing with this mascara though, if you’re not already using an eye make-up remover (and I have been known to just remove my eye make-up with a regular cleanser, or a wipe, I know...naughty!), you will need to invest in something specifically for the job to thoroughly remove this mascara, the most formidable waterproof version I’ve tried yet.  I find this, Nivea Daily Essentials Double Effect Eye Make Up Remover, does the trick.

Well ladies, I think I can safely say, you could wear this trio at weddings, christenings, funerals, boozy Christmas parties, and everything in between, with 100% confidence that it most definitely will not smudge or budge... however many tears you shed!

Hope you enjoyed the post! 

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Preparing for Christmas... Many a Woman’s Nightmare!

I know, even the mention of the “C” word, whilst Halloween is still fresh in our minds, and the sound of fireworks begins to fill the air, is a cardinal sin (and believe me I don’t normally like to even think about it myself until at least December the 1st), but seeing Christmas all of a sudden “appear” in the shops has reminded me of a book I read during the summer, “The Woman who Went to Bed for a Year” by the brilliant Sue Townsend.  Now, whilst I did enjoy the book, and could relate to much of the witty social commentary and humour (with which it’s bursting) I did find it got a tad ridiculous towards the end (although some might say this is part of its appeal).  The book is hilarious in parts, but also takes a poignant look at modern family life, and the sometimes unbearable pressures and expectations placed on the modern family woman. Not least, in the lead up to the festive season.

Great book, well worth a read.

So, whether or not this inspires you to go out and buy the book, I did want to share with you a few paragraphs about the annual ordeal that the main character, Eva, endures in order to prepare Christmas for her family.  Eva has gone to bed for a year (as you do) and is handing over the responsibility of preparing for Christmas to her bemused husband, Brian...

“On the evening of 19th December, Brian asked Eva, “What are we doing for Christmas?”
Eva said “I’ll be doing nothing at all.”
Brian looked shocked. “Do you want me to tell you how to do Christmas, Brian?”
“I suppose so.”
Eva advised him, “You may want to take notes.””

And so, Eva begins...

“You’ll find the Christmas Card list in the bureau, together with stamps and unused cards from last year. Write them tonight before you go to bed, and post them tomorrow.  After work tomorrow, drive around garden centres and garage forecourts looking for Christmas trees.  In your mind’s eye you are seeing a perfect tree, lushly green and aromatic, rounded at the bottom and rising in ever-decreasing circles until topped with a single branch.  However, there are no such trees. At 9pm the day before Christmas Eve, just as Homebase is closing, you will panic and push through the doors and snatch the nearest tree. Do not be too disappointed when you end up with a tree a social worker might describe as ‘failing to thrive’.”

Go to local butcher, order a turkey. Watch him laugh in your face. Go to supermarket, try to order a turkey. Leave to the sound of laughter from the poultry department. Buy ten tins of Quality Street for fifty quid. Decide how much to spend on distant or near relations, trawl round shops, ignore present list and make ludicrous impulse buys.  Arrive home, unload presents and immediately suffer buyer’s remorse. Take everything back the next day and buy twenty-seven pairs of red fleece socks with reindeer motif.  Go online, order latest technical must –have gadgets, find that there are none left in the country. Go late-night shopping to buy Christmas outfit for self.

Snatch a few hours sleep before driving to Marks & Spencer to join a queue. Reach tenth position in queue to hear “dressed turkeys gone”. No choice but to buy undressed turkey. Return home and, through fog of anxiety and sleep deprivation, unpack turkey and leave on kitchen table.
Drag stepladder up cellar stairs, untangle fairy lights, drape along picture rails, starting with artistic plan in head, end with fairy lights thrown over any ledge or surface.  Bulbs go. Search for replacements.
Do not throw away horrible papier-mâché bells or similar cack-handed ornaments.  The children made them in infant school.

Go into kitchen and find cat mauling turkey’s head, undressed turkey’s eyes expressing woes of world.
Brian interjected, panicking now, “How can one person possibly deal with all those different components?”
But Eva couldn’t stop.
Cook Christmas dinner, almost collapse after assembling food on table. Drink too much, ask for help washing up, everyone says “later”.  Eat half tin of Quality Street. Prepare supper. Drink self into stupor. Feel sick from Quality Street and vodka, go to bed.”

Any of that sound familiar?  Of course most of us say the same every year “never again”, “next year I’m going to make it simpler (and cheaper)”, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll put every last ounce of effort you have (and every last penny) into making Christmas magical for your family, thoroughly exhausting yourself in the process.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Christmas but surely there’s got to be an easier (less expensive) way?!  So far, I haven’t found one, but if I do, I’ll post it right here.

Happy Christmas planning ladies!

Thursday, 31 October 2013

My Beautiful Bespoke “Fire” Place

“I would LOVE a hole-in-the-wall fire, with a real flame” my husband would hear me whine, whilst flicking through the glossy pages of some “Ideal Homes” type magazine “they’re so cosy looking”!  Well, what can I say... he certainly delivered the goods (you see ladies, if you nag long and hard enough, you get results!).  Did he whisk me off to a designer fire place retailer to choose whichever of the £5,000 and upwards fire surrounds on display I desired?? No, he didn’t, but what he did do was even more special than that.

Using blood, sweat, tears, a fair bit of DIY experience, and a reclaimed railway sleeper from a local disused line, my wonderful hubby set about creating this beautiful focal point for our lounge.

Our chimney is open, so we could have a roaring fire in here if we wanted, but we don’t need it as a source of heat, the radiators work just fine for that, (well that’s when the resident “Heating Police Officer” (aka the husband) allows us to turn up the thermostat instead of putting on an extra jumper).  Nor do I fancy the mess (or smell) that would inevitably come with an open fire.  Instead, I use a church candle to create a natural flame, which I place in a glass vase for added effect. I’ve also tried grouping a few church candles of varying heights in there too, which is really effective but obviously more costly, especially if you’re lighting them every evening (which I do).  Another option we’ve considered to create a “living” flame, is a bio ethanol fire. These fires look really attractive, they come in all shapes and sizes, and are suitable for indoor and outdoor use. However, they do seem to be quite pricey on fuel, so are probably only suitable for occasional use. Think we’ll just stick to the modest church candle for now.

One other unintentional feature of the fireplace is the smell!  Sometimes you get a whiff of the oil which would have spilled from the train’s engine and seeped into the sleeper. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste but we think this brings a certain homeliness and authenticity to the whole thing (yes...we are a bit weird!)

I absolutely love my fireplace, and snuggling up on the settee in the evenings, watching the candle flame flickering away, always gives met that lovely cosy feeling (especially if I have a glass of red in one hand, and a chunk of chocolate in the other!)