Dear nine-year old me...

Friday, 25 November 2016

Remember sitting at your first McDonald's birthday party, surrounded by colour, happy faces, excitement and food that you eat without cutlery!? A happy meal from McDonald's was the ultimate treat. The highlight of many a Christmas shopping trip with my mum. Fast forward a couple of decades and now my children consider a trip to the magical land of the golden arches to be the ultimate treat.

When I received an email inviting me to the Swansea branch of McDonald's, where I had my first ever chicken mcnugget experience, there was no question about it. I was going!

I don't think I've been to the Swansea restaurant since I was little, so just stepping inside the doors was a walk down memory lane. The layout hasn't changed a great deal, but everything else has moved on dramatically. iPads at the tables, self-service kiosks and table service! Nine-year old me would have been in her element. 

I was invited to the store, along with fellow bloggers Alina and Kelly, to see the evolution of McDonald's restaurants; including new digital features for customers, an incredible array of technology in the kitchen and such an impressive and varied menu, as well as the option to personalise your order.

McDonald's franchisee Ron Mounsey hosted the event and was a joy to listen to, as he spoke about his job, the changes he has seen in stores over the years and the exciting plans for the future. We were introduced to the Swansea team and given our uniform for the evening, which my kids think is the coolest thing ever!

First stop was an explanation of the self-service kiosks. I hadn't seen these in a McDonald's restaurant before so this was all new to me. It's such a good idea and would make life much easier for me when taking three children into a restaurant. Plus, they'd enjoy being able to place their own order on the touch screen themselves. You can also easily customise your order yourself, just adding or removing items from your burger or meal on the screen before you complete it.

After a tour of the restaurant, staff facilities and food storage areas, we were let loose in the kitchen. Under close supervision, of course. This is where I was really impressed. The level of organisation and cleanliness was amazing. Not a bun out of place and the whole kitchen ran like clockwork. I was particularly taken with the wall of burger boxes, all colour coordinated and organised perfectly.

The best bit of the evening? Without question, being taught to make my own Big Mac. I have a real soft spot for a Big Mac - it's my guilty pleasure, if I fancy a treat. You just can't beat that burger sauce. So getting to make my own was definitely a highlight for me. Turns out the angle at which you place the cheese does matter and 13g of onion is exactly a pinch!

It was great fun getting to make my own burger. And even more fun getting to eat it afterwards. But the excitement didn't end there. We were lucky enough to be given a sneak peek at a new range of burgers - the McDonald's Signature Collection.

Wow. These burgers were seriously good. The black packaging, with striped paper inside, is very instagram-able and high end, with the products inside to match. The burger itself is delicious and, combined with a brioche-style bun and a choice of three flavours - classic, BBQ and spicy - McDonald's are on to a winner for sure. The range is available now from selected restaurants and, if you get chance to try it, I would highly recommend. 

Nine-year old me thought McDonald's was the coolest place on earth all those years ago. The difference in 2016 is amazing and my mum would have had a tough job getting me out of there! I had a great time learning more about the company and the way it works. If you'd like to find out more, you can do so here.

*This is a sponsored post, but all opinions are my own.

My work from home tips

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Over the last ten years I've been a part-time and full-time working mum, a SAHM and now I work from home. It's fair to say, none of those combinations is easy and there are plenty of pros and cons to both.

When I was going out to work every day and my husband did the school drop-offs and pick ups, I spent a lot of time feeling guilty that I was out of the house so much and cursing my husband for making so much bloody mess when he cooked the kids their tea! Seriously, how does someone manage to use every pan and plate to make pasta pesto!?

Staying home has a whole other set of 'mum-guilt' issues. Not only from a financial perspective but, when I'm working from home, it can be difficult to switch off. I'm making a conscious effort lately to try and stay off my phone and laptop when the kids get home from school, so I can give them my full attention.

So I've had to become more strict about how I use my time when they're at school and nursery. I'm not 100% there yet, but I think following these tips is helping me to find a balance that works for me:

1. Get dressed and hustle. If my husband is taking the kids to school on his way to work, it can be tempting to stay in my PJs a little bit longer and sit on the bed with my laptop. No! It's never a good idea. I get dressed, make the bed, put my face on and tidy the kitchen; even if I don't need to leave the house for hours, it just helps me to start the day on the right foot. 

2. Fresh air. Even if it's only for 20 mins, a bit of fresh air does wonders. When I was working in an office I'd always look forward to my lunchtime walk to grab a sandwich. It clears my head and helps me to be more productive in the afternoon.

3. Snack healthy. Working at home means full access to the kids' stash of leftover halloween sweets. It's a bad idea. I try to stick to healthy options and snack little and often, to avoid those annoying mid-afternoon slumps, where Netflix and a hot chocolate might be too hard a temptation to resist!

4. Lists, lists, lists. If I don't make lists, I'm a nightmare. I forget things, feel overwhelmed and struggle to focus. Writing everything down helps me to structure my time and get stuff done. And who doesn't like ticking things off a to-do list?

5. Create a designated space. Something I think will help me to keep my work and mum-life separate, is having my own office space. I've mentioned it here before and I'm still in the process of planning my perfect home office. I want to make sure I get it right. A space that's calm enough so I feel removed from what is a busy, noisy household; but also helps me to feel inspired, creative and focused. Not much to ask for then!? I've come across a few tips to help me get the most out of my home office space and you can see some in the video below:

I've also been pinning plenty of organisational tips to keep my office area as functional, but still stylish as possible. This pink wall and desk set-up is the home office space of my dreams!

What are your tips for working at home? Do you have an office space and, if so, how do you like to organise it? I'd love to know.

*This post is sponsored but all opinions are my own.

Back to it | How I minimise back pain

Friday, 11 November 2016

There aren't many downsides to having children. Other than not being able to go to the toilet alone and having to share chocolate. But one not so welcome result of having children for me is a slightly dodgy back. Years of bending over cots to lift my little ones and lie them down when they're sleeping, not to mention carrying them out of car seats and swinging them around like monkeys has definitely taken a toll on my lower back.

It's fine as a general rule, but there's definitely a weakness there. It's so common among parents, so I thought I'd share my thoughts on the things that help to minimise back pain for me.

Exercise is, hands down, the best possible thing for my back. If I follow a regular routine of morning yoga, my back feels flexible and strong. It's just difficult to fit it in around busy mum life, so the easiest thing for me is to follow a programme on Youtube in my own home. Yoga with Adrienne is my first stop - her routines are fun, effective, free and not too long so, if I drag myself out of bed 20 mins earlier than usual, I can easily fit one in before the school run. If I fancy something a bit higher intensity, I'll go for a HIIT work out with Lucy Wyndham-Read.

Mums spend so much time hunched over, changing nappies and feeding their babies, it's not hard to see why back pain can become an issue. Even though my children have passed that stage, I'm definitely guilty of poor posture at times. Usually it's because I'm hunched over my laptop working, or lifting my toddler incorrectly. My husband has been nagging me for years to make sure I lift correctly and bend at the knees. He's so right and I wish I'd listened sooner. Yes, it feels a bit weird to squat at the knees to lift your little one, but better that than a pulled lower back any day!

On the subject of hunching over a laptop, last year I did a lot of work sat on the edge of my bed. Mostly because it was the quietest place in the house and meant I could get at least five minutes of uninterrupted time to get things done. It also meant that, without realising it, I was slowly damaging my back, which resulted in months of lower back pain, stiffness and discomfort. I've learnt my lesson. Now I work sat at the kitchen table, which isn't ideal privacy-wise, but at least means my posture is good. I've mentioned on the blog before that I'm looking forward to having a home office space to work. I'm still working on that but, with Christmas looming, I'm hoping to do it as cost-effectively as possible. So I'm currently on the lookout for stylish, cheap office chairs and desk accessories. So please comment with any
recommendations, as well as any tips you might have for looking after your back :)

Where did October go?

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

It's November, so we can officially start talking about Christmas! I make Buddy the Elf look unenthusiastic about the festive season and I'm not ashamed, but I'm kind of sad that October has whizzed by me in what feels like a matter of seconds.

My kids are obsessed with Halloween. They talk about it all year round, planning their costumes in June, talking about how good last year's party was and watching Halloween songs on YouTube.

This October has been pretty eventful. We're doing some work on the house. Again. This time to move Meryn and Ayden into a new bedroom. Dan has been working hard to renovate what used to be our old bedroom and has built an amazing house bunk bed for them to share. As well as building more storage (we need it!) and a desk for Meryn. It's still a work in progress, but I'll share photos as soon as the room is finished.

Most importantly, it was Dylan's 10th birthday. Ten whole years old!? I can hardly believe it. He had a great time celebrating with family and friends. We went for pizza and to the cinema on his birthday and then had a party for his friends the following weekend at a local trampoline park.

All this before we even thought about Halloween, which apparently has tuned into some crazy, fortnight long event in our house! Over half term we watched our favourite spooky movies, made pumpkin cake, planned costumes, went to a Halloween party with friends and decorated the house.

Every year we visit a local fruit farm which puts on the most amazing events for Halloween. They have pumpkin carving, broomstick making, a spooky village for the little ones and a terror trail. This year, for the first time, we all (apart from Ayden, who is too small) felt brave enough to take on the terror trail. Bloody hell, was I scared!??

I vlogged the whole thing if you want to see just how petrified I was!

Do you celebrate Halloween? If so, what was your highlight this year?

Pumpkin spice cake recipe

Friday, 21 October 2016

The obsession is real. If it's got pumpkin in it, on it, near it... I'm in!

It doesn't have to be coffee-based pumpkin loveliness either. I'll put that stuff in anything! Pumpkin pancakes, soup, cupcakes, smoothies... but this recipe is by far the simplest and most delicious. If you love pumpkin spice, you'll definitely want to try it. 

It's somewhere between a pumpkin pie and a crumble and absolutely amazing served warm with icecream. But the best thing is that its so easy to make, my daughter can do it all on her own and only needs supervision to put it in the oven. She needs help to eat it though, of course ;)

Just click the link below for the recipe and let me know if you decide to try it.

A space of my own

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Since I started working from home, I've become quite the expert at finding myself little nooks and crannies around the house to hide away for half an hour here and there and get some work done.

However, it's usually only a matter of minutes before I find myself knee deep in an unintentional game of hide and seek with my three-year old. Also, it can be hard going on my back, hunched over the laptop on my bed, rather than sat at a proper desk and chair.

So, the time has come to invest some energy into creating a home office space. 

I've spent the last few weeks browsing the internet and Pinterest for inspiration. I want to keep it as clear and uncluttered as possible (unlike the rest of the house!), with plenty of insta-friendly marble and copper accessories.

I remember visiting a store called BoConcept years ago when I lived in Bournemouth. Since moving back to Wales, I'd forgotten how much I liked it but came across the website when I was browsing for home office inspiration. I had no idea BoConcept sold office and commercial furniture, but I was seriously impressed with the products I found. 

The first thing I noticed was this marble iPhone holder. I need it in my life. It's the first step towards a dream work space that's organised and free from reams of cables.

Lighting makes a huge difference to my mood and a cool desk lamp would be at the top of my wishlist. It doesn't get much better than this copper lamp - I absolutely love it!

Everything about this desk makes me happy. The colour, the legs, the fact you can add integrated bluetooth speakers... amazing. This may be well out of my price range, but a girl can dream.

How would you design your perfect home office space? I can't wait to get started on mine. Until then, you'll find me wedged in the corner behind the bed with my laptop.

September favourites

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

September isn't typically the most eventful of months for me. It's usually a big old blur of trying to get the kids myself back into some form of routine and forgetting to pack PE kits on the right day for the right child. 

This time round though, September has been pretty cool. Some unexpected sunshine and a festival. A proper festival. Mud, Hunter wellies, wristbands and portable toilets! 

Our first family portable loo experience made it firmly onto my list of favourite things this month, along with some other goodies including my current favourite fragrance and a little H&M bargain that stopped me splurging £150 on something I really didn't need.

Check out my monthly faves below and let me know what you've been loving lately.

Goodbye Summer | Our Good Life Experience

Thursday, 22 September 2016

I feel quite emotional saying goodbye to summer this year. Autumn is my favourite season, and I always look forward to the cooler nights snuggled in front of the fire, but the summer months seem to have disappeared so fast.

We made the most of it though. Lots of time outdoors, camping, beach days and last weekend we said our final farewell to summer at our first family festival.

Picture a farm filled with hay bales, pumpkins, rows of bell tents, fairy lights, music, smiling faces, campfires, food, fun. The Good Life Experience was everything I imagined would define 'the good life' and so much more.

We sung, we danced, made bows and arrows from sticks and rope, listened to a male voice choir which gave me chills and tears at the same time. The kids had hay fights with new friends, ate ice cream, stayed up late dancing in a tent, rolled down hills, made flower crowns, laughed, explored and had the time of their lives.

We were so lucky that the sun shone for the whole weekend, which meant we could really make the most of the great outdoors. 

Something about the weekend made me feel very emotional. I guess it reminded me that life as a kid is so different these days. It's easy to let technology take over and that's fine to an extent - I'm realistic about these things - but it also inspired me to make sure they have enough of the good life in their lives. 

By the end of the weekend my children were caked in dirt, straw in their hair, mud under their nails, tummies full, legs tired and heads filled with great memories.

I captured a few of our memories of the weekend in a vlog of our Good Life Experience, if you fancy taking a look [click below].

Autumn style wishlist and ASOS haul

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

It doesn't take much to convince me to go shopping, but the start of a new season is probably the best possible excuse to place a cheeky ASOS order or two.

Every time the weather starts to change I'm convinced that I have absolutely no clothes at all! Usually a few new bits and pieces make me feel better prepared for the new season and give a new lease of life to last year's autumn outfits.

I've got a thing for jackets and have been eyeing up a few already. This faux shearling number from ASOS is amazing. I love the colour and with something like this, it doesn't matter what you chuck on underneath because you instantly look stylish when you layer this on top. 

I've also got my eye on this Topshop version. Black would be a more sensible choice and I like that this one is cut a little longer.

Next in line after jackets is boots. Aah boots. I'm definitely a boots, to sandals, back to boots again kind of girl (with a trainer or two thrown in for lazy days). I'm still mourning the loss of my absolute bargain Primark leopard booties (RIP), so these Boden beauties could be next on the hit list. Just a weeny bit pricier than my £7 Primark pair, but I think they might well be worth the investment. 

What's on your Autumn style wishlist? I may have already placed a little ASOS order... if you're interested, you can check out what I got below.

Disney World vlog part 2 | Hollywood Studios, Epcot and too much ice-cream

Monday, 12 September 2016

It's taken me way longer than I intended to work on this footage, but I've finally got around to uploading the second part of our Disney World adventure.

We spent a rather rainy day exploring Epcot. It all started off well, meeting Baymax being a personal highlight, but had to resort to dashing from country to country around the World Showcase to avoid the downpours; sampling the native beers along the way.

Ayden got up close and personal with a Storm Trooper (and an ice cream) at Hollywood Studios and I acclimatise to the Florida heat. Almost.

I'm so happy I filmed so much of this trip. Being able to look back through the footage is amazing and I hope you enjoy watching the vlogs too. Keep your eyes peeled for part three in a couple of weeks.

Separation anxiety | 48 hours in the head of a back to school mum

Friday, 9 September 2016

Well the last few days have been pretty emotional. I always find back to school quite intense - even though they're driving me nuts by the end of the summer holiday, I always miss having them at home with me - but this year has been extra tough with Ayden starting at pre-school three mornings a week.

He's been a little star. Happily walking into class every morning with a smile on his face. Me on the other hand... on the first day I wanted to spend the morning peering through the window just watching him. Apparently that's not allowed.

We're a couple of days in now and he still seems to be enjoying it. I've tried to keep myself as busy as possible, to ease the mummy separation anxiety. Yesterday I even managed to get out for a bike ride with my husband for an hour. The three hours before I can pick him up are flying by every day and seeing his little face light up when he sees me at the door is wonderful. 

How are you all feeling about the kids going back to school? And do you have a little one starting for the first time this week? I vlogged the first two days of our back to school experience, if you fancy having a look, just click below.

going the distance

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Making time for each other as couple is so difficult. The odd date night here and there is great, but I miss the simpler things. Like going for a walk together, just the two of us. Or spontaneous trips to the cinema.

This morning I convinced Dan to take an hour off work and come for a bike ride with me. Ayden was in pre-school for a few hours and the sun was shining - it was the perfect opportunity. We've never been out cycling just the two of us; usually I'm walking with Ayden and Dan is half a mile in front with Dylan and Meryn on bikes or scooters.

We cycled along the sea front, chatting away, just being a couple for an hour. Not mummy and daddy. I think every couple needs that sometimes.

Sometimes, if we can't get out anywhere together, we bring date night to us and sit in the garden, in the dark, with a fire burning and a bottle of wine. We sit there for hours listening to music and chatting. It makes a nice change from slumping on the sofa watching TV.

This month I joined some of the other Channel Mum vloggers to talk about the things we do to keep our relationships alive and kicking. There are some great tips and its nice to hear from other mums about what works for them. You can watch below, and please share your relationship tips in the comments below. I'd love to hear them :) 

How I organise my mornings | BACK TO SCHOOL

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

I've always felt like September is the perfect time to set new goals and resolutions. Less pressure than the New Year alternative and, to be perfectly honest, I'm desperate for some sort of order and routine after the summer holidays. As much as I love the relaxed summer vibe, you really can't beat a good old list.

It usually takes me a few days to get back on track though, so I'm always on the lookout for ways to make school mornings go as smoothly as possible.

Here are my top tips for organising my mornings. Feel free to share yours below, I'd love to hear them.

Capturing precious shared moments

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Choosing just three precious moments with my children is no easy task. My memory (and camera roll) are stuffed full of little glimpses of our lives together that I never want to forget. Birthday parties, funny things that they say, playing board games on a sunday afternoon, scooting to the beach to collect shells and pebbles. All small things that we do all the time, but so important to me.

Channel Mum and Cadbury Dairy Milk Buttons asked me to share three moments of shared joy with my kids and, after much deliberation, I managed to narrow it down to just three. I also tried out the new Cadbury Memory Lane tool, which you can use to create a personalised video of your family. This is right up my street and I'd definitely recommend you give it a go. Its really simple to use and the kids loved watching the video at the end.

What are your most precious shared moments with your family? I'd love to hear them.

a simple day

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

It's days like this I'm glad I picked up my camera to film. I've wanted to vlog more everyday moments for a while, because I know they're the videos I'll enjoy watching back in years to come. 

So this was a simple sunday. Nothing fancy, no big plans. Just a stroll to the beach in the sunshine with my little family. We spent the afternoon collecting shells, chatting, walking, paddling in rock pools and then went to visit my mum and sat in her garden. 

We ended the day with nachos and ice cream. How perfect is that?

What makes a perfect simple day for you?

School's out | my tips for a stress-free summer holiday

Friday, 22 July 2016

I love having the kids at home with me over summer. No school run. No after-school club rush. No uniform and kit on constant rotation in the washing machine. And it's nice to have their company every day. Even if it's accompanied by the odd sibling battle over the remote and having to lock myself in the garage for a nano-second alone with my own thoughts!

Having said all that, there are a few things I like to stick to over the school holidays which just help to make things a little less... stressful.

What are your school holiday tips? Please share them below, I'd love to know :)

Separation anxiety

Thursday, 7 July 2016

So apparently I'm suffering from separation anxiety. Yep, me. Not my three year old little man who will be starting pre-school in September. Nope. Me.

I'm not sure if it's because he's my littlest. Or that I've loved having him with me every day so much. Probably a combination of both. 

And it marks the start of him growing up... and this is where I fall apart. He's my baby. I still think of him as a toddler. Even though he's way past that. My tiny little baby boy. My shadow.

He seems to be pretty comfortable with the idea of going to pre-school. He's pretty adamant that I can come too though. I think it helps that his big brother and sister are already there and, because of them, there will be lots of familiar faces and friends for him to play with.

But me... how am I going to cope with this!? I suspect the teachers will have to scrape a sobbing, clingy mess off the classroom window on his first day. I'm already preparing myself for the worst.

He'll only be there part time - a few mornings a week - so I need to remind myself that. Also, on the positive side, those few mornings a week will give me time to work, uninterrupted, so when he is at home I can give him my full attention.

Yeah, I need to keep telling myself that.

...I wonder if they need any more classroom assistants....

We're camping | a camping vlog

Monday, 4 July 2016

So we survived our first family camping trip. Eight adults, ten kids, minimal rain and plenty of s'mores made for a weekend of memories we'll always treasure.

It helped that the campsite, Three Cliffs Bay, was so utterly beautiful. I can't believe we live so close to such a stunning beach and haven't visited before. Seeing the kids run around with their friends and spend most of the day outdoors was lovely. It really felt like quality, family time with no interruptions.

We've been back a week and, although I was very happy to be reunited with my mattress and duvet, I'm already excited to go again. Camping enthusiast? Me!? Apparently so. Now where's my spork?

Get them outdoors | Capture the Flag

Friday, 1 July 2016

When the kids are running around outdoors, we're all happy. They might moan when they're tucked up inside clutching their iPads, but the second we set foot out the door they run off with a smile on their face. Even better if they have friends to run around and have adventures with.

We spent last weekend camping at Three Cliffs Bay in the Gower. I don't have the words to explain how utterly beautiful it is, so I'll just leave it to this:

With eight adults and 10 kids, we had the perfect crew for some team games. After multiple cricket, football, swing ball and glow stick light saber battles, we took to the beach for a game of Capture the Flag.

To get to the perfect spot we had to walk stoney paths, cross stepping stones and wade (shallow) rivers. It was so worth the journey. The view was just stunning.

The kids had never played Capture the Flag before, but loved the idea of being able to put grown-ups in prison. They ran around until their legs were exhausted, then skimmed stones and splashed in the river until it was time to walk back to camp for hot dogs and s'mores on the BBQ.

Have you played Capture the Flag before? Here's how our game went down (spoiler: it got pretty competitive, pretty quick 😬)

Ohana means family | our Florida adventure

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Walt Disney World in Florida is my happy place. There's no doubt about it. I have such wonderful memories of holidays there as a child and taking my own family there is just a dream come true.

It didn't disappoint. We spent two weeks exploring all the Disney parks, with a couple of days at Universal Studios.

It's hard to say what my highlights were. Magic Kingdom has my heart; as soon as I step onto Main Street, nothing is going to wipe the smile from my face. The music, the buildings, the characters... I just love the whole thing. I'll never forget the kids' faces spotting all the Star Wars characters at Hollywood Studios, plus the fireworks there were just incredible. 

We spent a lot of time exploring some of the other Walt Disney resort hotels. Some of them are out of this world. We stayed at Port Orleans Riverside, a moderate Disney resort, which was very pretty and has a lovely, relaxed atmosphere; but the luxury resorts are out of this world. One of my favourite evenings was sat on the beach at the Polynesian Resort, eating pizza, watching the kids play on the sand with new friends and the Magic Kingdom fireworks across the water. 

It really was a magical holiday; only problem is, I'd go every year given half a chance (and a lottery win!). So until I come across that winning ticket, I'll relive our amazing holiday through the videos and photographs I took. I'll be the one weeping nostalgically in the corner, wearing Minnie Mouse ears and clutching a Mickey waffle.