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?