Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Fun Secret Santa Ideas - *FREE* PDF

Secret Santa isn't just for the work place, it is also a great way to reduce spending in the family at Christmas. For a few years my extended family have done Secret Santa amongst the adults and this year we have gone one step further and done it for Christmas Day with my parents and siblings too. We realised we were spending a lot of money on gifts that really nobody needed. By doing a Secret Santa we only have to buy one gift at a set price and everyone comes away with a present that they love...hopefully!



Firstly for anyone who doesn't know what Secret Santa is, it is basically a way of gifting where all the participants names are put in a hat and each person draws a name out. They then have to buy a gift just for that person and all the gifts get put into a pile on Christmas Day/At A Party and the buyer is kept a secret. Now the whole secret thing rarely sticks in our family but on the whole we just do it so you only buy for one person. That's the basics.

There are lots of ways you can theme your Secret Santa and I wanted to share a few ideas with you to spice up your gifting this Christmas!

Alphabet Santa - Each gift has to start with the first letter of the persons name! I did this once at work and it was great, although somehow I ended up with some hair drying gloves so not sure my Santa really understood the idea. 



Gifts of Experiences - This could be cinema tickets, vouchers, subscriptions etc. Something that isn't a gift but more something that the person can enjoy doing. Some ideas here are vouchers for favourite restaurants, coffee shops or activities like rock climbing or gym membership.

Food Santa - This can be shop bought or homemade, the idea is you list 3 food items or flavours that you like and your Santa gifts you something to do with those flavours or foods. Simple but great for foodies. We are doing this one with extended family this year. 



Charity Santa - This one is lovely if none of you really need anything. Each person gifts a set amount to the persons chosen charity. It means the recipient gets money donated to a charity they are passionate about and the gifter can not only feel great donating to a good cause but may learn a bit about that charity at the same time. 

To make Secret Santa a bit easier there are sites like Elfster (not an ad) where your friends and family can sign up, put ideas together and it also draws the names for you to make sure all is done fairly. I have also put together a little sheet below you can use to get some more information from your participants. Just click the image to open the PDF for printing! 





Have you ever had a really bad gift? 
Let me know in the comments below, I promise not to tell the gifter! 


Sunday, 6 October 2019

5 Things Not To Do At Blog On

Two weeks ago I went to the brilliant Blog On Toys conference down in Bracknell. This was my second of these great blogging events, with my first being up in Manchester in 2017 and I had the best couple of days. Blogging conferences aren't for everyone...I mean if you don't have a blog yourself then you probably won't understand any of what you are about to read. However if you are interested in hearing 5 Things Not To Do At Blog On then keep on reading! 


First up, when it comes to networking at Blog On I already know a fair few people. I have been blogging for 10 years now so am bound to come across a few bloggers I know. That said if you haven't met any bloggers face to face you should definitely join the attendees Facebook page beforehand. Get chatting in the months leading up to the event. Make a note of people you want to meet and maybe arrange to find them when you arrive to break the ice. Perhaps you can find a "travel fwend" (thumbs up) to buddy up with. 

DON'T get the wrong postcode and drive half way across town to the wrong hotel to meet said "Travel Fwend" though. 

It will leave you extremely flustered, you may end up traumatised from using the toilet in that wrong hotel (eugh don't ask!) and arrive at your destination a frazzled, sweaty mess!

Once you arrive and calm down though it is time to check in and pick up your much coveted #BlogOnGoodyBag which brings me to my next DON'T.

DON'T underestimate the importance of an empty suitcase! 


The goody bags are EPIC and you will not be able to carry them without your trusty Samsonite (other brands are available) Once you have collected them store them safely in your room/car/special place then get on with mingling.

The day is a long one, there are some amazing speakers, sessions and don't even get me started on the brand den! You will have a lot to cram into the day and it can all be a bit overwhelming if you don't have a plan. Next point m'lady....

DON'T just go to sessions because your friends are. 

They might have different skills they want to develop and although you may not know anyone in the session you are interested in I can guarantee you won't feel left out. This is your event, if your goal is to learn everything there is to know about SEO and YouTube then drink up that knowledge. 


If blogging is a hobby for you then why not plan to go to a few sessions that aren't actually blogging related. I attended Karin Joyce's Imperfectly Happy which just uplifted me and inspired me when I really needed it the most. There are often sessions about positive thinking, mental health or even creative workshops that are less business led too.


It is also totally fine to sit out a session and have a chat with friends, explore the brand den or sneak off to your room for a cheeky afternoon nap. I mean we have all wanted to right?!

DON'T forget to enter the giveaways!

Many of the brands on the day will be hosting some fab giveaways that are very simple to enter. Usually just requiring a tweet or share and there are some amazing prizes to be won. This year was Batman's 80th Birthday (he looks good for it right?!) and LEGO were giving away a huge set of Batman LEGO which Ted would have loved! There was also a giant snow globe full of flower petals from the people at Awesome Blossems which had hidden gold petals to find. They also provided the beautiful cake on the day too. 




While we are on the subject of prizes there is a massive raffle each year, there were around 200 prizes from the Toy Awards available and with tickets costing just £1 each it is well worth picking up a few (dozen) tickets. 

DON'T forget your running shoes though! 

As Kate from Counting to Ten discovered your inner Mo Farrah may kick in when the offer of a giant Sylvanian House is on the cards! 


I had a really great time this year and will be getting my ticket for the next event as soon as they go on sale next year. I think my favourite part was meeting up with some of my blogging buddies as they are dotted all over the country. If I can sneak in a little DO for the weekend it is to squirrel away any good bits for Christmas gifts/ your own personal use, make mini goody bags for the kiddos and your other half to cushion the blow when you let them know you are leaving them for another weekend next year. 



Then finally...make the most of the free booze at the after party and let your hair down...but not too much remember the vloggers are everywhere!!!

Merry Christmas!!!

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Happy and Stuff Mix Tapes - Childhood Memories

I have been wanting to start this series on the blog for a while. Music is something that can really change my mood, If I need a pick me up popping on one of my favourite playlists never fails to pick me up. I don't know about you but I rarely listen to any new music, often taking a trip down memory lane to the times where I was happiest can really cheer me up. 

That is why I wanted to share with you some snippets of my life via the medium of music (plays a little flute like Little Britain...who gets that reference?) I have taken all of the songs each week and put them into a Spotify Playlist so that you guys can listen along! 

Those of you reading this first weeks post will have a sneaky preview on there for the next 2 posts which will cover my teenage dirtbag phase and the party years! Can't wait to hear what memories the songs bring back for you all so please do let me know in the comments. 

I will also be sharing some pictures along the way. Starting off with me and my sister meeting Mr Blobby wearing a Rosie and Jim T-shirt and double denim, I mean could we get any more 90's?



Anyway, without further ado I will kick off the memories from my childhood with...

Wet Wet Wet -Love is All Around. This song is a powerful one for me. When I was little my Uncle suddenly passed away. It was a huge shock for the whole family, he was just 21 years old. There are lots of sad memories from that time of my life but when I hear this song I have one amazing memory. Uncle Brett being the cool young Uncle would take his nieces (there were a few of us before the boys were born) for walks along the beach on the south coast where we used to holiday. One of those days he taught us the lyrics to Love is All Around and every time I hear the song I remember walking along that pebble beach with him and my cousins. It is a good memory to have.

Bryan Adams - Everything I Do is one of my Mum's all time favourites, many of the songs on this playlist were on in the background when we were kids. Mum would get up on a Sunday morning, throw open the windows and listen to her favourite music while she did the housework. We would help her with dusting and dance around the room. I hope my children carry memories like that with them too. 

UB40 - Red Red Wine - I have probably mentioned on the blog that my siblings and I have different Dad's and my sister's Dad used to have us to stay once a fortnight when him and Mum got divorced. Anyway his Mum used to listen to UB40 quite a lot when we were kids. I don't have the best memories of her as she was quite strict with me but I do recall listening to this song in her car and the sun was shining. We were on our way to the supermarket and we would get lunch while we were there. I was an odd child and always chose cheese salad. This song reminds me of sunshine and my favourite lunch. 

Another picture for you, me and my sister (we were born 3 years apart so until my little brother was born most pictures are just us two) meeting Rick from Neighbours!




Next song...

Inner Circle - Sweat - Man I love this song, yet when I was a kid I remember someone telling me I shouldn't sing it. Probably my Mum and now I know why. The lyrics are so inappropriate! Still a tune though right? 

Billy Rae Cyrus - Achey Breaky Heart - This song takes me back to being really little. I remember singing it along with the next song Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini on my kids cassette player with microphone. You remember those ones in the 90's that you could carry around, probably from Early Learning Centre or something. I loved singing when I was little and still do, something I am planning to share a bit more on my social media soon (if I am brave enough!)

Kylie Minogue - Locomotion - I realised that I may have the wrong version of this song in the playlist due to how many times it was covered but I think it was the Kylie version that used to play a lot at the clubhouse where we used to go on holiday. I remember prancing around on the dancefloor to this. It is always guaranteed to make me boogie. 

Last picture of us looking super cute, fresh from the bath with our jammies on. Little Mermaid FTW!

Now for the last few songs...

Phil Collins - Can't Hurry Love - Another of Mum's favourites. This was always the one I would ask her to play as it was good to have a jiggle about to. We were all so excited when Disney's Tarzan was released because Phil Collins did the soundtrack. If you haven't seen the film it is one of my favourite from Disney and the songs are beautiful. 

Final one is a fun one, Star Trekkin' by The Firm. Who doesn't remember this song? It was played at every birthday party and disco in the early 90's and alongside The Purple People Eater was a real classic. I think I may have to relearn the dance moves and teach it to the kids! 

Well, that brings me to the end of my Childhood Memories playlist. I have so many more songs that could have made the cut but I want to hear which ones you would add and how old you were when these came out. I forget that readers of different ages may have been either out clubbing during the early 90's or not even born yet! Let me know in the comments. 

If you want to check out the playlist and get all nostalgic you can find it here!




Friday, 6 September 2019

Family fun on the Swanage Railway

I have been meaning to write this post up for a while so apologies if it is a bit out of season (just seen the weather outside) but I thought it would be good to share. 

Dorset has always been one of our favourite areas to visit because of the wide variety of days out available. You are never far from something fun to do with the family and when we stayed at the start of summer we were torn with where to go. One day we were split between going to Farmer Palmers and the Swanage Railway. The price for entry to the farm as a family and for the train ride were around about the same price but after realising we go to the farm a lot at home and have a few on our doorstep we settled on a trip to Swanage on the train!



I remember going on the same trip with my family when I was little and we rode the line when Ted was two so it was nice to go back with Callie now in tow and Ted had no memory of it so was all like new to him too. 

We were staying at Rockley Park so the trip to the train station was about 35-40 minutes along the coast. To drive from the car park at Norden to Swanage only takes 5 or 10 minutes so it always makes me chuckle that the train takes 40 minutes to make the same journey but there really is nothing like travelling on a steam train. 



The parking is £3.50 for the day and train costs £39.00 for a Family Ticket which can be used by 2 adults and 3 children or 1 adult and 4 children. We decided against adopting another child for the day but if you have 3 children it is quite a saving from the £54 for individual tickets. 

There are refreshments available at the station which is really quaint and old fashioned. The smaller children get a My First Train Journey ticket which is a lovely touch and we still have Ted's from his first visit. 



All of the staff and conductors are really friendly and come round to punch your tickets. Dogs are welcomed if well behaved and we made friends with one on our journey home. 

Swanage itself is a traditional seaside town, it is quintessentially British and there are lots of areas to explore. Our kids love the old fashioned toy shops, arcades and ice creams on the sea front. We found the "Old Gaol" and the kids giggled pretending to be "baddies" stuck in jail. We joked about leaving them there then decided we rather liked them and carried on with our holiday!

We treated ourselves to Harry Ramsden's for lunch which was delicious and although we would have preferred to support local businesses we have fond memories of HR chips on the night Joe proposed to me 7 years ago so had to be done. I had pie with chips and gravy and the hand made pie really was yummy. They do take away too but it was closed the day we went. I must admit it was nice not to have to share my chips with the seagulls on the beach for a change.





We had a brilliant day and certainly one to add to the memory bank. I am sure we will come back in the future too and are looking into another train journey on our next break in Norfolk this October


Have you ever been to Swanage? What did you think?




Friday, 30 August 2019

*Review* Home Education for Pre-Schoolers with Early Years Fun Subscription Boxes

Since becoming a stay at home Mum and pulling Callie out of nursery I have began to feel the pressure to educate her and keep up with her increasing need to learn. She is really smart, I don't mean that in a "my kid is a genius" kind of way, like all parents think their kid is "da bomb" right? She is genuinely quite advanced and it is tricky to keep up with her. 

She is already talking at a level a year ahead and is sharp as a button, not much getting past this kid. She keeps me on my toes and made me realise if I have 2 years before she starts school I am going to have to pull out the big guns to keep her from getting bored. 

My eyes lit up when I saw Early Years Fun were looking for people to try out their new subscription boxes. They took the thinking out of it for me and provided us with all the tools we needed for fun and educational activities from home. 



The box comes with everything you need for 8 activities and all cover off a wide range of areas from sensory and reading to craft and creative play. The set we have is the transport box and Callie loves playing with toy cars and spotting all the different vehicles when we are out and about so it was a perfect match.

We really liked that not all the activities were messy meaning we could take some with us when out and about. The vehicle scavenger hunt with little velcro images was a particular favourite as was the sticker sheet. Callie had so much fun creating her race track picture and showed it off proudly to anyone who came to visit. There was also a pack of Geli Baff in our box which we are going to try out this weekend before Ted goes back to school.




As every activity in the box ties in with EYFS curriculum I found it good to be able to see what ones she was able to complete. It made me feel more positive that when she does start pre-school in January she will be able to carry out these sort of activities and understand what is happening.

Since starting to do more hands on things with her she has come on leaps and bounds, her mark making has improved and she is following instructions well. She thrives when she is using her creativity and it makes me happy having one on one time where she is calm (it has been a tough few months!)


As well as the one off boxes like this one, you can sign up to monthly subscription boxes where you will get a new theme each month. I love the look of the seaside and mini beast ones and hope there will be a Christmas one in the pipeline. There are also a wide range of subscriptions so you can do 3 monthly, 6 monthly or annual sign ups as well as the offer of half size boxes which would make great presents! 








Thursday, 1 August 2019

Creature, I name you Anxiety! - Facing your demons and removing their power

I recently I had a wobble. A crisis of confidence. I am not even sure where it came from but I cried. I cried a lot. I was tired because this underlying anxiety I feel most days wiped me out. I was tired from trying so damn hard to be 'normal' but then a good friend reminded me that there is no such thing as normal.

I put a huge amount of pressure on myself to pretend the anxiety doesn't exist because it isn't pretty. I convinced myself that nobody wants to hear about my struggles because it made me feel guilty that it makes them feel awkward.

Guilt is a huge underlying feeling for me because I never want to feel like I am putting someone else out. Like I am making someone else feel bad. Instead I beat myself up and internalise my feelings. I am working on taking that pressure off myself one day at a time and my CBT has really been helping. 

Anxiety, as my CBT therapist so brilliantly put it "likes to bring you down, the more down you are the happier anxiety is" it is its life goal. By acknowledging the anxiety and almost naming it you are calling it out. Remember in Doctor Who (any fans here) where he says "Creature, I name you Carrionite" followed by "I named her. The power of a name. That's old magic" He has called aliens out with their names a few times over the years each time with great results.

Now I am no sonic wielding time traveller but I am never one to ignore a Doctors orders. Call out that dark creature, learn all you can about it and take its power away! Of course, I joke, this is just fiction but can totally be applied in real life. 

The next step for me is to try and fill my life with positivity to outweigh the negatives that anxiety fills my brain with. I am reminding myself every day that my younger self would be immensely proud of the woman I have become. She wanted so hard to have a family of her own, a boy and a girl (luck sent me those treasures) and a caring husband in a beautiful house in the country side. We have that and I am grateful for it every day. 

I am also grateful for the strength I have inside to keep fighting those inner demons and not running away and hiding from them. I am working on a better, happier future for myself and for that I am proud.





Saturday, 27 July 2019

5 Busy Mum Makeup Favourites

I love makeup but rarely write about it because when it comes to beauty products mine need to do the job quickly and with minimal effort. Being a Mum of two young children I am strapped for time when it comes to getting ready in the morning. That means I need products that are easy to apply, cover dark circles and last all day. 


These are my 5 go to makeup items I use most days. They are also relatively cheap so perfect when budget is tight.

1. Concealer - Loreal Infalible

I picked this up after using up the last of my Collection concealer. I need something that is full coverage for my rosacea on my lower cheeks and this works really well. Actually most days I don't use foundation I just pop this on and some bronzer. It is quite a thick consistency but applies really easily and is a doe foot applicator which I prefer to brushes. 

I did notice that the brand call it the Infallible concealer but it says Infaillible on the product. I took to Instagram to see if I could get an answer but they didn't get back to me so who knows!




2. Foundation - Collection Iluminating Touch

I have always been a fan of Collection makeup since it was Collection 2000 back in the day. They were the one of the original low budget brands alongside Miss Sporty before the days of Revolution and MUA. The concealer is fab but while I was trying the Loreal one above I thought I would give the foundation a go and this is my second bottle. 

It is a medium to full coverage but doesn't feel too heavy. It makes me look super healthy too as it adds a dewy glow that is natural. I don't wear a lot of highlighter as lots can be a bit over the top but this achieves that glowy look without the extra product. I use shade Warm Beige which works perfectly with my skin tone. I can't believe it has taken me this long to realise I need to go for neutral undertones as opposed to pink ones. Making that one change has made a huge difference in the colour matching. 

I love the price tag on this too, having previously used the Lasting Perfection which is around the same price they are both great value for money. I prefer this one because the LP one is quite matte and made my face look a bit flat if that makes sense? This is perfect though and I will definitely continue to use it. Just seen it is down to £3.99 on the Superdrug website too!




3. Mascara - Loreal Miss Baby Roll

Mascara is an odd product. I have always found myself getting on better with cheaper brands, I like my lashes to have a proper coating and thickness to them without being clumpy which is hard to find in more expensive brands. They all seemed to be quite runny and although they coated my lashes naturally it wasn't the fullness I get from the likes of Collection and this Loreal one. The brush is really chunky too which is always a must have for me, I can't get on with those rubber ones.




4. Bronzer - Collection Bronze Glow

I have used this bronzer for a long time. Before this one I think I used a more expensive brand that was really similar and thought I would try this. I was converted it was exactly the same for a lot less money. It isn't too orange and I use it as an eyeshadow when I am on holiday to save space in my bag. 




5. Lipstick - Maybelline Color Sensational

This lippy is probably older than you are meant to keep a product for so I probably should get another. This shade Nude Embrace is a lovely warm nude colour and has a lovely creamy texture that lasts all day. It isn't drying at all and as usual the Maybelline packaging is simple but lovely. 




TOP TIP - Buy your makeup when there is an offer on, I know if I buy two items from the same brand there could be an offer in Boots or Superdrug to get something free and many of my lipsticks and nail varnishes have been totally free from these deals! 


Let me know in the comments if you have used any of these products or can recommend new favourites to add to my kit!