By some miracle it appears that I have been shortlisted for a BritMums Brilliance in Blogging award… so big huge thank-yous to everybody who nominated me, I am absolutely over the moon to be in the company of such wonderful writers and blogs.
So this is a bit of a begging letter – if you are reading my blog please vote for me! You only need vote once, you can vote for as many or as few categories as you like and you won’t get signed up for any annoying spam. Promise. And you will have my eternal and undying thanks and gratitude.
I’ve been shortlisted in the TASTY! category, nice and easy because it’s the second one you will see. Blogs are listed alphabetically (here’s where I’m regretting not naming mine Aardvark) and I am, of course, More Than Toast. Go here to VOTE FOR ME, and see the rest of the Brilliance in Blogging shortlist here. Voting closes in 3 days time.
Before Elfie came along Will and I didn’t really take much time to enjoy time as a couple. It had been just the two of us for over six years so there seemed no need to make a special effort having ‘us time’. But this time around spending time as a couple before the new arrival gets here has been much more of a priority and we’ve made a big effort to go out to dinner and do things we enjoy together. At the top of this list is sleeping and eating, and with this in mind we headed for Cheltenham’s The Montpellier Chapter hotel this weekend to enjoy a ‘babymoon’.
A babymoon is a new breed of short break to give parents-to-be the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company in those final precious weeks before their new bundle of joy arrives. I say it’s an excellent excuse to eat good food and nap to excess.
Cheltenham is a destination that’s pretty familiar to me as I grew up in the area and have been back a couple of times since I moved away. It’s a beautiful town to visit (with a million and one festivals including Jazz and Literature if you are that way inclined, as well as the famous racecourse) and in particular the Montpellier District where the hotel is located is lovely – lots of independent shops, cafes and bars. Cheltenham is a quick 2 hour hop from Paddington and is a super base to explore the rest of the Cotswolds.
When we arrived at at midday on a drizzly Sunday I was a little bit taken aback at the grandness of the hotel and wished I was wearing something a bit smarter than the Converse I was so proud to have done up myself. The reception and lounge areas were buzzing with guests which I definitely wasn’t expecting for a Sunday and our luggage was whisked away by some very helpful staff. Our room wasn’t going to be ready until 2 so we had a coffee, read the papers and browsed the hotel’s extensive library of books. Will commented on the quality, content and volume of the music which apparently was pretty spot on: being married to someone who works in the music biz means that wherever we go he has an opinion on the background noise (I barely notice it) and apparently here it was nearing perfection. The common areas had Bose speakers dotted throughout and he reckoned there would’ve been a sub-woofer thing concealed somewhere, hence the quality of the sound. Zzzzz… I recognized a couple of Lykke Li songs and that was my contribution to the conversation. We headed out to lunch at The Royal Well Tavern just around the corner (more on this place to follow later).
We returned to the hotel after lunch and were speeded through a very painless paperless check-in system by a lovely receptionist before being given the key to our room, where our luggage was waiting. Here’s what we found:
Our ground floor feature room was bright and airy with an in-room bath (which was HUGE) and brilliant rainforest shower. A little intimate you might think so you’d want to make sure you were on good naked terms with your room-mate (being in a relationship for 9 years takes care of that one) but if not there are privacy screens you can use. The room was spotless and modern with furniture that had been designed specifically for the hotel and there were two huge wardrobes which is where our luggage was stashed. When I stay in hotels I often find that there isn’t a place with a large mirror, power points and decent lighting but there were none of those issues here; a well-lit sink area and desk/vanity space provided ample space for me to put my makeup on and do my hair.
There was also a free minibar in the room (another massive plus from me and thumbs up from Will who enjoyed chugging his gratis beer in the bath later that day) with fresh milk (yay! Down with UHT) and another bonus: a pod coffee machine. These gadgets are brilliant and are a great source of entertainment, needless to say Will was pretty wired on coffee pods by check-out the next day.
One thing I loved about our room at The Montpellier Chapter was the technology. These days I feel a bit put-out to pay £150+ a night for a hotel room and not be able to plug in my own source of music (Hope Street Hotel and your crackly TV/radio service take note) but the facilities for a tech-head like me were perfect here. All room info was housed on the room’s iPod which included live bill information (and it was live… I checked as soon as we’d had dinner), spa and restaurant and room service information. Very impressed. A flap in the desk opened to reveal the media centre where you could plug in a plethora of cables to connect to the room’s soundsystem. After a big snooze I used it to plug in my iPhone to listen to my own music whilst I wallowed in the bath with my minibar treat of Coca-Cola.
Another aspect of the hotel I really like were the cubbies either side of the bed where you could stash the bits you need; I’ve lost so many pairs of earrings via hotel bedside tables and I thought these were a great feature. I am easily pleased, I know.
In-room toiletries were full-size Aromatherapy Associates (great, although because I am a freebie hound I prefer smaller bottles you can continue to sample and take home with you, I’ve discovered some lovely products this way) and a bathrobe and big fluffy towels are provided. On the downside there were no slippers but that’s really nothing to deduct points over. I would have also said that the room can look a bit cold and a padded headboard or little bit of artwork may have been a nice addition but again, this is me being hyper critical. The art in the rest of the hotel is a real feature and worth a special mention; there are over 100 pieces and each room contains an art directory by way of a guide to them all.
We ate dinner that night in the hotel’s restaurant which is led by Consultant Chef Simon Hopkinson (once declared ‘The Best Cook In Britain’) and Head Chef Tom Rains. It was so spectacular that it warrants a post in its own right, and on the night we dined it was pleasing to note a couple with a sleeping baby in a pram by the side of their table. Baby friendliness equals top marks from me.
After a nightcap in the bar which was selected from the extensive cocktail (and mocktail) list we retired to our room to catch up on Homeland and sleep some more. I can pretty much sleep anywhere, Will is the bed connoisseur in our family, and he loved this one. Just the right amount of firmness, a decent mattress topper and Egyptian cotton sheets – perfect.
We woke at 8 the next morning to the welcome knock on the door of a delicious room service breakfast (would give a solid 7/10) and newspaper and then after discussing what to do with our day we decided to make the most of our time off and go back to sleep. It was brilliant.
As we know the area quite well we decided against a mooch round the shops and instead stopped off at Bicester Shopping Village (40 mins drive away) on the way home for lunch and a quick trip to Mulberry. It was a lovely end to a wonderfully relaxing 24 hours away from real life and aside from being very happy to see Elfie again I was pretty gutted it was all over.
Will and I, we are very critical when we eat out or stay away in hotels. Our spare time is precious and we choose to spend our money relaxing in hotels and eating and drinking when we can. The Montpellier Chapter is one of the first locations in a long time that completely exceeded our expectations; the whole experience was flawless and I will genuinely look forward to returning for another break very soon and will be sure to take in the Spa, too. We will also be on the waiting list to try out the next hotel in the group’s portfolio, The Magdalen Chapter in Exeter.
If you are looking for a relaxing weekend or night away in a hotel that values friendly and informal service, stylish surroundings and beautiful food and drink then look no further and book here. Just don’t tell me about it – I’ll be very jealous.
I AM SO TIRED. If you follow me on Twitter you may or may not have noticed me mention that maybe once or twice recently. Or eighty-two times. But it’s very true, this stage of pregnancy is so physically demanding it’s difficult not to fall into bed at every opportunity, or moan about it on the internet whilst on the sofa watching the haircut episode of Balamory for the twentieth time. Luckily Elfie is still napping for around 2 hours a day so as soon as she’s back in bed I am too. Which is good for my tired aching body and mind but bad for work and blogging.
I’ve been back in hospital a couple of times in the last fortnight for monitoring thanks to some palpitations and dizzy spells. I’ve had some tests done that have all come back fine (did you KNOW that when they do an ECG they get a very young male Doctor to put sticky pads all over your boobs? I didn’t) so I will be going back on May 11th for an appointment to have a device fitted to take a 24 hour heart trace. I’m pretty sure everything’s going to be fine but it’s a bit scary to go so breathless all the time. It seems to be mostly triggered by stress, but by stress I mean silly things like being late for a lunch date or a train, not big life stress. I have to say that my local hospital have been wonderful with my stresses and freak outs and the experience has been all-round happy, though if yours isn’t you can always give a clinical negligence solicitor a call!
None of my clothes fit me any more. I am really struggling daily to put together outfits that don’t consist of leggings, a jersey tshirt and a hoodie. I feel sloppy and wish the weather was a bit brighter so I could throw on some summer dresses and flip flops, because when your belly’s this big you can forget doing up your own shoes, hence the resurrection of my Ugg boots. Even my lovely H&M maternity jeans are starting to get a bit tight around the bump band. At last check a fortnight ago I’d put on 1 and a half stone and I’m trying very hard to stay away from the burgers in these final weeks as that’s really when I piled it on last time (nearly 2 stone in 8 weeks!). I’m finding it so much easier to be healthy as I’m at home rather than work – I don’t have 2 breakfasts or the opportunity to eat deep fried stuff for lunch and salads and lighter dinners are feeling a lot nicer to eat at the moment.
Last weekend we were lucky enough to be invited to the wedding of some lovely friends of ours in Liverpool! Elfie stayed at home with my parents so we had two whole days to ourselves. We had lunch as soon as we arrived at our hotel and headed to the wedding for 3pm: it was an absolute blast catching up with old friends who we hadn’t seen for years and making some new ones, too. I wore a non-maternity silk dress from GAP that I’d found a couple of weeks ago in their sale along with my beloved Comptoir des Cotonniers wedges (a risky move, the pain in my feet was bearable til about 11pm though) and danced as much as I could – it would have been wrong not to as the wedding DJ was the one and only Carl Cox. A bit of a stupid move as my Braxton Hicks were INSANE the day after (and have been quite painful for the rest of this week). Even more insane was the fact that someone recognised me from my blog… a very strange feeling. I was so overwhelmed that I forgot to ask (or remember) the lovely lady’s name but I was so pleased to chat to her, so if it’s you please say hello again! She was also pregnant (32 weeks I believe) and looked amazing in a beautiful minidress. I am delighted I have such stylish and lovely readers other than my mum. The day after the wedding we took a stroll round Liverpool for coffee and some lunch before jumping on a train home. Gorgeous.
Baby prep is in full swing at the Harold House. This weekend Will went up to the loft to retrieve our BedNest and various accoutrements (baby bath, swing chair, bounce chair, muslin cloths…) and I bought the essential stack of sanitary pads, toothbrush, arnica and underwear needed for my hospital bag. Which I must pack. I must I must. I also have a huge pile of baby clothes still to wash but the first load still needs a home. Also, newborn vests need locating, as do ‘just in case’ bottles, teats and pump… most likely these bits and bobs will be left until the very last minute/rush home from hospital, as long as baby number 2 has a place to sleep I am done stressing.
Don’t worry – I haven’t secretly given birth over the weekend (though the contractions I’ve been having since I overdid it on the wedding dancefloor on Saturday night have been something else). As we’ve been making plans for this next birth I’ve enjoyed reminiscing about the experience I had with Elfie. An ‘Elective’ Caesarian (though I hate the word ‘Elective’, she was breech so there was nothing elective about it) it was a wonderful experience and I can’t believe this was nearly 2 years ago.
When I first found out I was pregnant and started writing my blog, the ‘Birth Story’ post was the one I was looking forward to writing the most. I imagined it would involve a birthing pool, a bit of hypnobirthing and if I’m honest a good old measure of pain relief. But we know that wasn’t the birth I was to have, so really my birth story began 2 weeks before the 7th July when I found out I would be having a C Section.
I was convinced I wouldn’t go the 2 week stretch without going into labour naturally so spent the majority of that time feeling horrendously paranoid about every twinge and pain. It was nice to have that time to prepare for the baby, and I tried to get ready for baby’s arrival as much as possible by relaxing and cleaning the house.
The night of the 6th July we prepared our bedroom by getting baby’s cot ready; we’re using a BedNest co-sleeper. I didn’t sleep that much and we were up at 6am the next morning, ready to have a baby.
We got to the hospital for 7.30am and were shown our bed at 8.30. It was a 2 person ward but I would have it to myself. We were booked in for the second caesarian of the day and they estimated we’d be going down at around 11am. Time for one last bump photo!
This weather is really messing with my ability to get dressed in the morning. Cold days = fine. Hot days = lovely. Weird non-cold, rainy and changeable days = impossible. Plus it’s getting harder and harder to dress the bump in anything that isn’t lycra and leggings are fast becoming my new best friend. Being pregnant with Elfie was a lot easier as she didn’t come til July and we had a lovely balmy spring, I remember wearing lots of skirts, dresses and flipflops and was SO comfy.
1. Dress – Untold, Leggings – eBay, hoodie - Topshop and TK Maxx flats. 2. Stripey top – Ralph Lauren, Shirt – Primark, Skirt – New Look and Havaianas.
Apparently I can’t get enough stripes, but I think this is mostly because most of my stripy tops are stretchy and comfy and make me look pregnant rather than whale-like. My favourite at the moment is a fine knit one from GAP (sale, as per) and I’ve even mixed it up by buying one with pink stripes.
We’re going to a wedding this weekend and I’ve bought a new (non-maternity) dress, but with my bump growing as quickly as it is (and weirdly moving up and down, I guess as the baby starts to engage and then moves again) I’m really hoping I will be able to squeeze into it still. If not I will be back to the GAP lycra dress of dreams but whatever happens I am adamant I’ll be wearing heels or wedges; funnily enough, both last worn at the last wedding we went to, the day of which baby number 2 was conceived. The shoes of procreation!
One not-so-great thing about moving out to the sticks is the lack of decent places to eat. There are a couple of mediocre places in our little village and some pubs on the outskirts (Emberton’s Bell and Bear needs a special mention here for being brilliant) but if you want a decent feeding you really need to travel. We’re huge fans of The Plough at Bolnhurst on the other side of Bedford which is pretty Shoreditch House-esque but our nearest city, Milton Keynes, only has chain restaurants. These are fine for my and Elfie’s lunchdates but when we want to go out as a family it’s sometimes nicer to go a bit fancy.
This weekend we tried Giraffe for the second time since we moved here. I don’t know if it’s me, but I can’t seem to get on with the place. The first time we spent £60 on a meal that was average at best (I had a burger) so this time I went a bit out there and ordered a quesadilla. It was delicious but I spent the whole time thinking how I could make it tastier and for a whole lot less than £8.95.
I did enjoy them though, so as soon as I started feeling shitty yesterday I decided to make some comfort food in the form of quesadillas. They were very very easy, super satisfying and Elfie enjoyed them too. An all-round hit.
This was Elfie’s mini version – apologies for the quality of the following photo, my camera died on me and I had to resort to the iPhone.
I was going to go all fancy and braise the chicken breasts in some sort of homemade BBQ sauce, but really there is just no point in fannying around with comfort food.
Recipe type: Main
1 Red Onion
1 Red Pepper
Half tin kidney beans
2 Chicken breasts
4 white tortilla wraps
Drizzle the chicken breasts with olive oil and roast for about 12 minutes, or until the juices run clear. Shred into small pieces.
Slice the red onion and chop the red pepper; put in a frying pan with some olive oil and cook on a low heat until softened. Remove from the pan.
Crush the kidney beans with a fork.
Put a little bit of oil in the pan and add one of the tortilla wraps. Layer a drizzle of BBQ sauce, sprinkle of cheddar, the onion and pepper mix, kidney beans and chicken breast on top of the wrap. Place another wrap on top and cook on a low heat until crispy. Flip and cook on the other side.
Chop into quarters and serve with a really easy guacamole (1 x avocado, pinch sea salt and the juice of half a lime mashed together) and sour cream. YUM