Home Is Where My Heart Is

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Last week was the one year anniversary of living in my house. The time has flown by and the occasion of 12 months in this space has left me contemplating the concept of ‘home’ and what it means to me and my little family.

In what I now sometimes refer to as ‘my past life’ I never felt satisfied with home. I didn’t particularly feel at home anywhere I lived –Nottingham, North, East and North-West London, Olney. I always felt I was chasing something, a life that would be perfect if only we lived in a better home. I owned a house, that didn’t help. I lived in a big flat, a studio flat, a garden flat. A small house and a big house, an old one and a new one. It still didn’t feel right but I soon got really REALLY sick of moving.

And then I found myself living alone with Elfie and Hux in a rented house and my mum and dad came up with an idea. They’ve owned a house, a small two bedroom 80’s-built house on an estate in Milton Keynes, for about ten years. They said that if I wanted to I was more than welcome to move in as their tenant. Paying tenant, I add.

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At first I said, ugh, no thanks, who in their right mind would want to live in Milton Keynes?! I thought I’d need more than two bedrooms, more than a small open-plan living space downstairs. More than the town of eternal roundabouts.

But then I realized how good a semi-new start could be. In a new place, in a house with new neighbours, close to my gym and the place I always retreat to when I’m having a bad day: WAITROSE. And so I said yes, I would move into the Milton Keynes house, but probably just for a short while as I was deciding what I wanted to do with my life and where I wanted to live in the long-term.

It wasn’t an easy move. There were tenants here who didn’t want to leave (and I felt extremely guilty for making them) – they had three months notice and then overstayed that by a month more. Then it was time for my dad (DIY extraordinaire) to knock through the lounge and kitchen to make space for my table, paint the house from top to bottom, fit new french doors and kitchen and re-tile the bathroom.

Our new house was a long time coming.

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But for the first time in my life I feel like I am home here.

I love everything about this house, from the small living space that gets a bit crowded on a rainy Sunday afternoon to my walk-in wardrobe and our dodgy 80s artex ceilings. I love my little office nook in the kitchen and the cupboard I hang up my laundry in. I love the fact that we have been so content here, we feel so settled and safe and warm. I even love Milton Keynes with its hundreds of roundabouts (130, apparently), short 30 minute train journey into London and hugely convenient shopping center.

Some people think dogs are excellent judges of character- well, I think my little house is. I get very territorial (but don’t worry, I stop short of weeing over everything like a cat) and if I don’t trust someone I will feel strange about them being in my house. I dunno, call me Mystic Meg or something, but if a man I’m dating visits my house and I feel weird then that’s them done.  One reason I know I like my boyfriend so much is because I feel so happy having him here. I even let him use my new dishwasher so you know it’s serious.

My house is magic.

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This house, it hasn’t been without dramas. For one the garden is huge and if there’s anything I hate more than cleaning the bathroom it is mowing the lawn. BAD LUCK, Alice. There are also plenty of fruit trees that bear bounties, bounties that go moldy if you don’t put them in the green bin quick enough (nope). I really need to sort out the steamed-up mess that is the greenhouse (or, as Elfie calls it, ‘the shed that is glass’) and I’m currently perusing Factory Direct Flooring for a replacement floor since my new steam cleaner cooked the top layer of my designer Karndean vinyl.

Oops.

So that’s me – insanely happy in this little Milton Keynes home that I moved into as a six month stop-gap a whole year ago. It’s going to take a very special house to make me leave.

What makes you feel like you’re home?

Thank-you Factory Direct Flooring for supporting MTT

 

Toyah Wilcox, Bingo And Me

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What did you do last Thursday?

Watch TV? Eat pizza? Read a magazine? Take a bath?

That’s my usual Thursday regimen, too – yeah, I’m wild – but last Thursday was a little bit different. I’d been invited to take part in a Twitter Q&A with the legend that is Toyah Willcox in association with the team behind The Sun’s online bingo show! You can’t get more modern than that when it comes to interviewing a celebrity, can you?

The last Twitter Q&A I did was way back in my Vice Magazine days of 2009, very hungover, with Mariachi El Bronx, a heavy metal band from New York with a Mariachi side project (well, duh, don’t all heavy metal bands?). I had a feeling this one might be slightly different…

I’m a big fan of Toyah. She lives in the Worcestershire town I grew up in and widely regarded as a local legend so I was really excited to chat to her. I’d been invited down to The Sun’s jazzy studios (plied with the promise of wine, even!) and was excited to meet their celebrity crew – Brian Dowling and Rustie Lee – but as many of the best plans are this was scuppered by a baby with a temperature. Baby Hux: killing off my celebrity social life since 2012 ;)

And so we were to do it over the phone… and here it is! Lovely Toyah on the blower to me! We had a grand old chat with questions being asked of her via my Twitter feed (some more sensible than others)…

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So here it is: 13 things you’ve always wanted to know about Toyah Willcox. All in 140 characters or less.

Q: Who are you backing on I’m a Celebrity?
A: I think Melanie Sykes is amazing!

Q: If you could learn another language what would it be?
A: French. Because that allows you to watch lots of European movies. And my second choice is Spanish

Q: Do you brush your teeth before or after breakfast?
A: As soon as I get up! But then also after breakfast, too

Q: What’s your favourite Tube stop?
A: I love Westminster – you can feel the history there

Q: Have you ever owned a Toyotah?
A: No! I tend to drive Peugeot

Q: Have you kept her ‘Most Fanciable Female’ award from Smash Hits? (Kim Wilde was runner-up….)
A: Yes! I keep all my awards in my London home in my office.

Q: Your brilliant album Desire is the only one to never get a cd reissue. Will it ever see the light of day again?
A: I own the rights to desire & am holding it back for the right time…

Q: If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
A: I’ve never been to Bali and have always wanted to go

Q: Do you keep your ketchup and eggs in the fridge or out of the fridge?
A: both in the fridge!

Q: Which 5 people would you invite to a dinner party?
A: Joan of Arc, David Bowie, Florence Nightingale, Ozzy Osbourne, Queen Victoria

Q: The eighties: which outfit would you bring back and why?
A: Thunder in the Mountains – slashed black suede dress: perfect for rocking out on-stage!

Q: Who was your favourite Teletubby?
A: LaaLaa as I am very short – we had that in common. 

Q: What is your favourite way to relax?
A: I love the simplicity of walking, either in the city or countryside

Next week’s celebrity guest on The Sun’s bingo channel is another legend of my childhood, Dave Benson Philips. Join along at the Romance Room tomorrow from 7pm, and remember – Have A Ball!

Huge thank-yous to The Sun Bingo for supporting MTT and introducing me to the legend that is Toyah Willcox ;) 

 

 

 

Be Safe, Be Seen

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As the clocks have now gone back – ugh ugh there aren’t enough words to say how wrong it is waking up in the dark – The Co-operative Funeralcare have launched their national Be Safe, Be Seen campaign. They donate their special yellow high visibility pin-on badges to primary schools all over the country with the aim of helping to keep them safe after sundown.

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They kindly sent some badges over for us and our friends to help kick-off the campaign. As soon as they arrived both Elfie and Hux wanted to put them on (though one of those people was a little more camera shy than the other). Road safety is so important and is something I’ve always drilled into them so it’s a campaign we’re all really happy to support.

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(Please note my son’s amazing pink and green nails, insisted on when he saw me painting mine red)

Here are some really great tips from The Co-operative Funeralcare to discuss with your children this winter and a wonderful video to help them better understand road safety:

  • Looking out for and encouraging your children to be aware of hidden entrances or driveways when crossing pavements.
  • Making sure your children walk on the side of pavements away from the traffic.
  • When crossing the road your child should always choose a safe place and time to cross. It’s always safer to cross at a pedestrian or patrolled crossing.
  • Avoid crossing between parked cars as drivers won’t be able to see children who do this very well.
  • It’s important to stop at the curb, look both ways and listen to traffic before crossing. Pedestrian crossings can still be dangerous if care is not taken.
  • All pedestrians should wait on the pavement until all the traffic from both directions has stopped as this is the safest time to cross. Islands are often provided in the middle of the road, so children should treat each half as a separate crossing.
  • Children should avoid playing near busy roads as they can often forget their surroundings and become unaware of the dangers on the road.

For more information on The Co-operative’s valuable work educating children on road safety, do pop along to their website and have a read.

This is a Netmum’s sponsored review.

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I am a member of the Netmums Blogging Network, a unique community of parent bloggers from around the UK who have been handpicked by the Netmums team to review products and brands on their behalf. I may have been paid expenses and have been supplied with a product sample for this review, but retain all editorial control. All my Netmums Reviews will display the Netmums logo within the post.

Gifts For Me, I Mean Her: The British Edition

I bloody love being British.

I’m very proud of our country and the lovely lives we are able to have here: the NHS, our schooling system, the British companies I work for and with, the epic brilliance that is our capital city of London, the beauty of our countryside. Despite thinking I was always a bit wanderlust-y I can say with certainty that there is nowhere else in the world I’d rather live. Crap weather, imperfect politics and all.

As I get older I find I like to do lots more British things. I’ve just been on a weekend break to the Lake District for example (with my wellies and my wax jacket!), and you could not pay any money to part me from my weekly stroll around my favourite British supermarket (Waitrose) with a cup of English Breakfast and the Times in my trolley. I’m taking Elfie out for her first afternoon tea next weekend and I really enjoy a jolly old moan (I also enjoy saying ‘jolly old…’).

I’m so British you can call me sodding Mary Poppins. Though I don’t have her patience with small people, unfortunately.

So this year I’ve decided to go very patriotic in my approach to Christmas shopping. I’ve decided (weirdly, maybe) that all presents I buy for friends and family will be from British companies. Why? I DON’T KNOW. But here’s my very British rundown of stocking fillers for women (clue: some of you might need a bigger stocking):

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1. My very favourite wax jacket is from my very favourite British countryside company, Joules. But because I can’t afford one of their lovely jackets for everyone (sorry) their bath and body sets are a very acceptable replacements. My favourite is this Blooming Brilliant Weekend Bag at £45, which is not only choc full with treats but is a re-usable tote bag too.

2. If you have any new mothers in your life – STOP! Don’t look any further for a gift for them than the lovely hand-crafted jewellery company Epanoui. I love how everything Hannah produces is specially made by her just down the road from me and I can personally vouch for how gorgeous her pieces are. If I’d just had a baby I’d love nothing more than one of Epanoui’s Heritage Name necklaces (£65). Really stunning.

3. Epanoui again, but this time to their range of linen scarves. Nothing says class like a lovely scarf (really!) and my favourite is the Amelie at £49.

4. If you really really love someone, have a think about splashing out on a Fortnum & Mason’s hamper for them. I bought the Grosvenor (£100) for my parents last Christmas and, despite shedding its straw-like filling all over the carpet, it was very happily received.

5. For something a little different, how about personalised nail varnishes? Enail are a new company who print your own label on your own choice of nail varnish colours (£19.95) before delivering them to the recipient. I love this idea – watch out for a giveaway from them soon.

6. There aren’t many lovelier things than receiving flowers, and with Bloom and Wild‘s subscriptions you can gift someone with a whole year’s worth! Their packages start at £50 for three bunches.

Thanks to Joules for working with MTT!

Everything I Have Learnt About Dating (which isn’t really that much)

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Dating is a bit like shoe shopping.

You don’t always need a new pair of shoes, but you take a little trip round the shops anyway just to see what’s out there. Sometimes you get lured into Office because there’s a gorgeous pair in the window, but after you purchase this gorgeous pair and walk around in them for a while they give you blisters. Or maybe you go to Bicester Outlet Village and buy a pair that, at 80% off, seem too good to be true: which is exactly what they turn out to be as they still cost 100 quid and once you get them home you realise they’re ugly. Or you buy super trendy trainers that nobody will want to wear in a short six months (remember Nike Rifts? Jesus).

Quite often you get bored of the busy shoe shops and decide to browse for your shoes online instead. But then when your shoes arrive at your house they just look completely different to their picture and you have to start that annoying process of returning them.

I really don’t like shoe shopping.

I think this metaphor has gone too far.

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I decided a while ago that I’d had quite enough of shoe shopping dating (I don’t even know which one I’m talking about any more). I’ve done online dating, dated work colleagues, gone out with friends and friends of friends and friends of friends of friends. It has been exhausting, fun, emotional, awful, excruciatingly embarrasing. And because the lessons I’ve learned from my couple of years of perusing the singles market (vom) won’t stretch to a whole book I am using this blog post to impart all the valuable knowledge I’ve learned. YOU’RE WELCOME.

Trust your friends and family’s opinions. Think about it: they know you inside and out and aren’t wrapped up in the OMG EXCITEMENT of a new relationship. There have been a couple of times I didn’t really listen to my friends when they questioned what I was doing dating X or Y… but they were always right in the end.

Don’t worry about what your date thinks of you. If you’re a single mum this fact is probably a much bigger deal to you than it is to them. I worried SO much about this, I really did. But nobody I went on a date with was ever concerned with my two little pieces of baggage – they’d be curious if anything. And if they are funny about it? You’re probably dating the wrong man.

Stop the boozing. All dates I went on prior to September this year involved alcohol in some way, and I have recently discovered that THIS IS NOT A GOOD THING. Getting to know someone over a coffee rather than a glass of wine is a much healthier and more sensible way to start a relationship; you can truly see if your personalities click without Dutch courage to help the conversation along. I’ve cut my drinking by about 50% in the last three months since beginning an (amazing) relationship this way and it has left me feeling approximately 90% better.

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If it doesn’t feel right, it’s wrong. It’s really easy to forget how it feels to be in a good relationship. Especially if you haven’t been in one for a while (or ever). But if you’re doubting either your new relationship, yourself, or the person you are in the relationship with then it probably isn’t right. The best relationships feel natural and shouldn’t make you unhappy or uncomfortable.

People are weird. And sometimes not the good kind of weird.

Don’t compromise yourself for anyoneYou are pretty amazing just the way you are and there is no way someone should make you feel like you need to change. Especially when this someone is supposed to make you feel happy, am I right? If you’re being told you need to be different – thinner, fitter, with different hair, doing a different job, enjoying different hobbies – they are the wrong person for you.

Enjoy spending time alone. When you meet someone new it is really easy to feel like you have to spend ALL your time with them. But my advice would be – don’t. Ease in to it, remember what you want, who you are and what’s important to you. Nothing gives you perspective like a little distance and nothing needs perspective like the early stages of dating.

Listen to what other people say about dating. Because nothing makes you feel better about your woeful tales of dating than other people’s woeful tales of dating. I’d recommend My Potential One True Love for a good read, Thirty Something London for a bloke’s point of view or fellow single mum, lovely Wit Wit Woo.

Hit me with your awful dating stories! I promise it’ll make me feel better..

Cooking With Elfie: Cottage Pie

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Elfie is the epitome of a little darling these days. She’s sweet to adults, kind to her brother and friends, has wonderful manners and the loveliest sense of humour. If someone had asked me when I was pregnant to describe what sort of daughter I wished for I would have described 4 year old Elfie to a tee.

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IMG_2165It’s no secret that we’ve struggled with our relationship in the past – we’re just too similar and end up butting heads sometimes – but since starting school we have become a lot closer. She tests boundaries a lot more, something I actually enjoy as I think it’s important my children discover where the line is and when they can cross it, but she also has learned a lot about respect. R-E-S-P-E-C-T!!

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IMG_2170The upshot of this is that we now get on fabulously, so much so that Elfie’s favourite time of day (and one of mine!) is the ten minutes solo time we get to spend together after Huxley goes to bed at 7. We chat about the day, watch Frozen, do some online shopping and she whispers to me “Mummy, I love you all the way to the moon and back!” It is just AWESOME.

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IMG_2172In certain situations Elfie seems to think the sun shines out of my bum. She told her Grannie that she needed a new car, and not to worry, Mummy would buy her one because she works very hard. And if you ask her what she wants to be when she grows up she will tell you ‘Mummy’s Helper’. As I’m going to wait until she’s at least ten to make her come into work with me and help by getting her to write KPI reports, for now she is ‘Mummy’s Helper’ when I’m cooking. So when OXO invited us to spend some time in the kitchen together recently to test their new Herbs & More range we were delighted to get to it! They sent us a goodie box full of Herbs & More pots as well as aprons for both E and I and a ‘Kitchen Magician’s Wand’ which I haven’t been allowed to touch since.

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IMG_2183OXO Herbs & More pots are perfect for a busy cook like me, adding a hefty punch of flavour into your dishes quickly and easily. Small pots of flavourings and seasonings, you simply add them to your recipes as you go along. They come in five variants: lemon & thyme, roast garlic & parsley, rosemary & red wine, rosemary & thyme and tarragon & chive. For this challenge OXO sent us some recipe cards to utilise our Herbs & More pots and Elfie decided we should give the Cottage Pie a go, so the Rosemary & Thyme pot was for us.

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IMG_2189We had a fantastic time cooking together – I did all chopping and hot duties and Elfie took care of the stirring and measuring. And mess making, obviously. Despite the flour-covered kitchen I think these little moments are so important and we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves – me as the Kitchen Magician and she as the Kitchen Magician’s assistant!

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I did feel a bit sorry for poor old Hux, though. He doesn’t really enjoy cooking and so went rogue on us and spent an hour drawing on himself. He had a ball.

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I’ve included the recipe here as it really was a doddle to follow plus it tasted spectacular. Usually for a dish like this I’d fanny around with seasonings (rosemary from next door’s garden, garlic, red wine, blah blah) but I decided to follow the instructions and let the Herbs & More pots speak for themselves. Because we are rebels we not only added the Rosemary & Thyme pot to the sauce but we also chucked a Roast Garlic & Parsley one into the mash – and I was so glad I did. It was delicious. I’ve already used one of the Rosemary & Red Wine pots in a Shepherd’s Pie (we like pie) and I look forward to using the others in all sorts of dishes.

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And the kids’ verdict on flavour? Hux ate his WHOLE dish of Cottage Pie which literally never happens, and Elfie asked for seconds. I took mine into work and had lots of compliments on the way it made the kitchen smell. JOB DONE.

Cottage Pie
 
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 4

Ingredients
  • 400g lean mince beef
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 sticks celery (we substituted a courgette)
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Rosemary & Thyme Herbs & More
  • 100g grated cheese (I use Gruyere as I’m a posh bugger)

Instructions
  1. Peel your onion, carrots and potatoes and pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Brown the mince in a non-stick pan.
  2. Dice the onion, carrots and celery and add to the pan. Fry for 2 minutes then add the tomato puree and flour and cook for a further minute.
  3. Add the Worcestershire sauce and 400ml of boiling water. Stir and simmer for 20 mins.
  4. Chop the potatoes and boil for 20 mins, then mash with a tbsp of butter and 2 tbsp milk (I use cream as I’m a greedy bugger)
  5. Add the Herbs & More pot into the saucy beef mixture and transfer to an ovenproof dish.
  6. Spread the mash over the mixture and sprinkle your cheese on top.
  7. Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Big thank-yous to Britmums and OXO Herbs & More for collaborating with us on this post. We had a great time!