A Catch-Up Mind Dump. You’re Welcome.

The thing about sharing your life a couple of times a week through your computer is that if something happens and you’re unable to do it for a while it just becomes harder and harder to get back on to it. Your list of ‘things I want to tell that bunch of virtual strangers’ becomes almost insurmountable as you try to prioritise exactly which recent life event you want to broadcast first. Cos I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with baited breath for the next update… ;)

You can blame my radio silence on EE for thoroughly ballsing up the transfer of my broadband service to them (four and a half weeks I’ve been without my lifeline, FOUR AND A HALF WEEKS), my new job for being amazing but for making me so tired I have no words left in my head come 7pm and the children for being children and demanding things like food and attention from me, the little life suckers.

Shall we do a quick life update so I can pick up where I left off? Yes, let’s.

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So the work is great, and even though I’m doing five days a week I’m no more tired/stressed/mental than when I was working four. I don’t miss the commute into London but still get to go in to the big city a couple of times a week so it’s all-round perfect, really. The environment of the ad agency is just wonderful – full of creative and inspirational people – and I genuinely look forward to going to work every day. I get to drop the kids off at school and there’s nothing like knowing I’m only down the road from them. Oh, and FREE BREAKFAST. I basically have it all. Along with a new addiction to coffee.

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Elfie is loving school, loving it. Every day (usually when I’m tottering up the driveway to her classroom clutching book bags and water bottles 5 mins late as per) I feel thankful for choosing such a wonderful place for her to learn. She’s becoming a very opinionated assertive little thing (definite future CEO) and I’d say Reception Year is doing a great job of bringing out the best in her.

Hux is Hux and is adorable. He’s a little monkey, obsessed with his Woody toy and any time he has an item of new clothing (“MUMMY BUY NEW JUMPER FROM THE SHOP!! NEW DINOSAUR PANTS!!” repeat ad infinitum). In a nutshell they are the perfect children, the odd tantrum in Waitrose excluded (thanks Hux, that was well embarrassing).

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It’s most definitely not summer anymore. I’m pretty crushed about that. I’ve been putting the colder weather to good use though and have been to IKEA twice. And I bought a Christmas present!! In October!!

I was dating someone and then I wasn’t. Joined Tinder for 24 hours for the self-esteem boost and got thoroughly depressed at the state of people on Tinder. Swore off relationships for a while to focus on work and writing but as you may have noticed I haven’t been writing, so make of that what you will… ;) I tell you what though, whoever said that the best things happen when you aren’t looking for them was absolutely right.

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This winter I really want to get more done, you know? Better myself a little – do things I’m proud of. Cook more, read more, drink less, work hard, save up, enjoy my friends, laugh a lot. 2012 was tough, 2013 was better, 2014 has been a vast improvement and I’m SO. EXCITED for what’s in store; everyone in my house is happy and we all have so much to look forward to. I’ve been feeling like I should do something to mark it, like get a tattoo, but because I’m terrified of tattoos I’ll probably just buy a new pair of shoes and write about it. LIVING THE DREAM.

Let’s not leave it so long next time, eh? I have so much I want to write about – becoming a feminist (yeah, I think that happened…), getting back into the workplace as a mum, these great new mugs I bought, my new utility cupboard, solo parenting 2 years in, my new role models (Sheryl Sandberg! Bryony Gordon! Lena Dunham! Girl Power!). Oh what did I say? Yeah, living the dream.

Stoptober/October

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It’s October!

I literally have no idea that happened, I’m certain three minutes ago it was May and I was making sandwiches and Pimms to celebrate Hux’s second birthday. But October it is, and with the Autumn season (SUMMER COME BACK!) arrives an important message:

If you’re a smoker, why not think about quitting? 

When the smoking ban first came in all those years ago it was pretty cool. Can you remember a time when smoking was allowed in bars? In clubs? IN CINEMAS? I can, and it’s so nice to get home after a night out (I do go out. Sometimes) and not need to wash my clothes and hair immediately. It makes me happy to think how many people will have given up smoking because of the ban (including lots of lovely friends of mine) and I’m excited that Stoptober might encourage more people to do the same.

It can give you cancer, it makes you smell, it stains your teeth, blah blah blah. We all know this. So I’m going to turn it over to an expert, Boots Pharmacist Angela Chalmers, to give some advice on how you can cut the habit once and for all. And if you’re serious about this do take a look at the Boots website where they have some absolutely brilliant advice:

Tip 1: Quit your own way

When you begin your smoke free journey, it is important that you know your smoking habits and chose a time to quit that is right for you. Many people find that starting their quit journey on a Wednesday is easier than starting on a Monday. Luckily the first day of Stoptober fell on a Wednesday this year!

If quitting on the first day of Stoptober is not right for you, then choose a time or day in the first week that best suits your lifestyle. If you tend to be a social smoker, then choose a time to quit that doesn’t clash with a social gathering – for example quitting a day before your best friend’s big birthday or a close family celebration might not be the best time for you! Remember that Boots pharmacists are available to provide advice and support at any time and stage of your smoke free journey.

Tip 2: Know your smoking triggers

Breaking a smoking habit is difficult as it’s often a part of your daily routine and something you may tend to do without even thinking about it. However, more often than not there are factors that can trigger these habits or make you want to smoke. For some people it goes hand in hand with a night out, for others it may be part of their morning coffee routine. It is important to know what your triggers are so you can put a strong plan of action in place to help you avoid them while you are on your smoke free journey.

Replacing your triggers with a different healthy habit can also help. For example, if you usually smoke after meals then maybe think about replacing that cigarette with a brisk walk to the end of your road or drinking a glass of water. Many people worry about weight gain as they often confuse their cravings for hunger and increase their food and snack intake. If you’re worried about weight gain talk to a stop smoking advisor who can give you tips on eating right and exercising so that weight gain is minimal.

Things that could help:
• Drink an extra glass of water after meals to keep you feeling full
• Snack on as many fruits and veggies as you want – something crunchy like baby carrots or an apple, can sometimes be very satisfying
• Keep your hands busy with something besides food!

Tip 3: Swap smoking for a new hobby

It is normal to get a little irritable when you quit smoking. Why not distract yourself by taking up a new hobby such as learning a new language, trying a new recipe or playing sport? By keeping yourself busy you are more likely to reach your smoke free goal as well as learning something new. Or you could simply get round to doing something you’ve been meaning to do for a while – clearing out your wardrobe, putting up a new shelf, even cleaning the windows?! Creating a list of all the things you want to do and then ticking something off that list (even the smallest thing) can you give you a great sense of achievement!

It’s also important to think positively (it’s easier said than done, we know!). However, rather than seeing quitting smoking as giving up something you love, taking up a new hobby or activity can help you to associate it with a new fresh start and a much more positive way of thinking that will help you to stay motivated.

Tip 4: Don’t give up giving up

Many smokers try on more than one occasion to give up cigarettes. If you have a smoking relapse, try not to be disheartened. Instead, examine what caused you to smoke again, so that you can look out for the signs and find a way to overcome this on your next attempt. Remember that giving up smoking is not easy and celebrate each day that you remain smoke free. Sometimes a visual tracker can help. Why not buy a wall planner or calendar on which you can cross off each smoke free day so you can see how well you are doing and increase your confidence in yourself?

Tip 5: Reward yourself

Don’t be too hard on yourself! Giving up smoking is a huge challenge and each day that you stay smoke free is an achievement – something many people strive to achieve. In fact, 61% of smokers say quitting smoking is one of their lifetime’s ambitions so make sure your celebrate, perhaps by setting yourself small targets and treating yourself when you reach them.

Remember – one of the best benefits of stopping smoking (aside of course from the health improvements) is all of the money you will save! Use this to reward yourself with a treat or something fun. This could be a pampering new make-over to show of how great you look now that you are smoke free, a new wardrobe or even a weekend trip away.

Will you be giving up this October? I hope so! There’s a Twitter Party taking place on 16th October between 12-1pm to encourage you all :) Stay tuned for more details!

Thank you very much to Boots/Stoptober for sponsoring More Than Toast

Betta Bedtimes and Roald Dahl

When I was a child, Roald Dahl was one of my favourite authors. From The BFG (I used to dream about giants outside  my bedroom window) to The Twits and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory there was something so magical about his books. I’ve read each and every one time and time again and I can’t wait until Elfie and Hux are old enough to love them as much as I do.

One of my overlying memories of my childhood is reading these wonderful books under the duvet with my little torch. Like most children I had a strictly enforced bedtime but I’d make every effort to read hours into the night, I loved reading that much. One thing I love to see in my children is their love of books, and every night Elfie lies in bed after I’ve gone downstairs and ‘reads’ her books to Hux until he falls asleep (she can’t read so it is of course super cute).

I’m lucky in that my children are both pretty great sleepers and I’m sure their nightly wind-down with me reading to them is a big factor in this. Elfie is an early riser (goodness knows where she gets that from) but barring illness they both sleep through, and have done for a while. The first thing I did as a parent of two was teach them how to nap at the same time (mama needs a nap too, am I right?) and their happiness to be in their beds is something I am pretty proud of. But it wasn’t – and sometimes still isn’t – easy!

This Saturday between 8-9pm I’ll be participating in a Twitter party with Betta Living, hosted by my lovely friend Fritha over at Tigerlilly Quinn, all about bedtimes and bedtime stories. It’s Roald Dahl’s birthday tomorrow and we’ll be using this opportunity to honour the wonderful author himself and celebrate other authors and children’s stories. Please do join us by searching the hashtag #bettabedtimes and two twitter users will win £50 to spend on Betta Living’s Roald Dahl collection: take a look below to see how gorgeous it is.

See you there!

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This post was written in partnership with Betta Living

New School Year Guilt

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When you’re a mother, the default mode seems to be GUILT. I thought this was just me until I started talking to my mum friends and realised this guilt phenomenon is universal. From what I can tell, save a few books by G Ford or your parenting practitioner of choice, we’re all pretty clueless when it comes to this parenting journey. Which means you’re always second guessing your choices, wondering if you make the best decisions when it comes to your children.

For example, in the last 48 hours I have felt guilty over the following things (and more, but I only have around 800 words here): giving rice cakes to the kids for a snack instead of blueberries, making Elfie go to nursery for the day when she was clinging onto my leg crying, sending her to bed early because she was mean to Hux (and tired), not giving them a bath because we were all too knackered for the nightly splish splash, not fastening Hux’s nighttime nappy properly meaning it leaked in bed and he was sad, leaving the school uniform purchase til August and therefore not being able to find navy P.E. shorts…

It doesn’t end. I feel guilty because I work too much, but when I’m not working I don’t think it’s enough. I feel guilty because Elfie got to the age of almost-four before going to nursery yet Hux is there at two. I feel guilty that I enjoy my work but I’m doing it at the expense of missing the final throes of his babyhood (when I’m home I sniff his head A LOT).

I’m digressing here, because my current mode of guilt is all about school. Elfie starts school tomorrow and I literally haven’t spent any time feeling sad about it. My Facebook timeline is full of mums waxing lyrical about the beginning of the school year but to be honest I’m feeling… well, I’m not sure how I’m feeling.

I know that Elfie doesn’t like nursery; they make her try fruit every day and she likes only blueberries, bananas and strawberries which is uber stressful on the orange and apple days. Yet she’s hugely excited about the prospect of big school and can’t wait to get there, so I guess I’m excited about that. I’m stressed about the aforementioned school uniform (buy it in JULY, people, JULY!), the last bits of which I’m picking up tonight, 12 hours before she starts. I’m proud of how cute she looks in her school uniform and I’m kind of relieved that I won’t be paying £60 a day for her to be in childcare any more.

I’m also starting a new job on the day she starts school, so much of my mind is on that. I’m saying goodbye to my four day weeks at the lovely London IKEA office and starting my first full-time permanent job since 2010 at a big London agency’s satellite base in Milton Keynes. I’m very excited about so much of it – running a team, using my knowledge, managing accounts, working for a big name in the industry – but mostly I’m excited that it’s precisely a seven minute commute in the car. No more leaving work at 5.30 and getting home at 8pm! No more delayed trains! No more feeling so tired that I dribble on a stranger’s shoulder during the morning commute! I’m going to miss my colleagues so much though. And the MeatMission burgers.

But then I realise I’m thinking too much about my new job instead of the start of school and I’m slapped with the working mum guilt again. I read a Nora Ephron quote this morning and it made me feel dreadful:

“I have a theory that children remember two things — when you weren’t there and when they threw up”

It was posted by a working mum on a blog… hashtag solidarity, hey sister?

Luckily I was there when Hux threw up last week (all over the car, thanks buddy) but I can’t believe their childhood memories will be made up of time I wasn’t there. Instead I believe they’ll grow up proud of their mum who worked as hard as she could to build a future for them. The holidays we took, the precious evenings reading books on the sofa.

And the burgers, they’ll definitely remember the burgers.

Turning your house into a home one room at a time

There’s nothing like little trinkets, cuddly cushions and quirky signs to transform your house into a home. If you’ve just moved house, or feel like certain rooms (*cough cough every room*) need a revamp then it can be hard to know where to start. It’s pricey too!

I’ve always loved those small extras you can’t seem to find everywhere else. Cute designs and personalised knick knacks that really express your individuality. IKEA may have the functionality, but when it comes to the personal touch, there are plenty of ways you can insert yours…

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The Kitchen

For the kitchen, personalised enamelware is a really cute way of revamping without spending loads on fresh new appliances. The selection from Jonny’s Sister come in a range of soft pastel hues, easily suited to all tastes and designs, as well as sizes fit for all worktops. With mugs, tins, bins and pet bowls, you can create a personalised theme running through your kitchen. Why not personalise mugs and plates for the whole family? You never know, it could encourage them to eat up all their veg. I love the idea of personalised trays and pots for growing herbs and small ‘canisters’ for your various tea bags too.

The Bedroom

As well as throws and updating your bedding (the feel of fresh new bed sheets can’t be beaten!), all cosy bedrooms should acquire a truckload of cushions. Various sizes, shapes, colours and textures, an array of cushions is one of the best remedies to banish the blues. Especially now it is getting colder, you need all the help you can get and a mountain of cushions is the way to go. The Love Letter style cushions are the best. You can get them handmade with a fabric of your choice and size of your choice too. They make lovely wedding gifts too.

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The Bathroom

The bathroom is obviously a very clinical place, but it can also get in a right royal mess too. Some nifty storage ideas are key in sorting out your lotions and potions and add personality to this functional room too. Whitewash wicker baskets complete with a pastel inner cloth to suit your existing colour scheme keeps all the bits’n’bobs in one place helping to destress you in the process. Obviously you can’t take these neat wicker baskets in the shower with you. Small plant pots are a unique way to keep your shampoos and conditioners together.

The Hallway

The hallway is the first thing your guests see, and also the first thing you see after a tough day. A messy and unappealing hallway will do nothing to lift your spirits.

Many hallways are slightly dark so the first thing to do is give it a lick of paint. Pastel tones create a light and refreshing atmosphere and a soft cream will give you warmth as the days become shorter. The key to a good hallway is great storage options that keep all the shoes, umbrellas and bags out of the way. If you don’t have the luxuries of an under-the-stairs style cupboard, never fear. An antiques hat stand will solve all of those bag, coat and brolly clutter whilst your bog standard welly holder and shoe rack can be given a coat of varnish and engraved with a heart-warming saying allowing you to “leave your troubles at the door”.

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The Dining Room

Whilst the other three rooms have a specific function, your dining room is primarily for entertainment and your chance to really stamp your sense of style. For starters, think about that table where your guests usually gather for a *gourmet meal. You can decorate using embroidered napkins, elaborate candle holders and beautiful carving boards to serve nibbles from. What about bringing the outdoors in with small enamel buckets filled with freshly picked wild flowers?

And it isn’t just the table. The dining room is the perfect opportunity to spread your creativity to the walls too. Rather than opting for the usual tranquil painting, why not make a statement? Typography is hot this season and the simplest way to revamp your room and make a bold statement. If you have a lot of white space and nothing to fill it, bold wooden lettering creates the perfect modern look. A simple “Let’s Dine” or “Enjoy” would create a cosy atmosphere, making your house feel like a home.

Thank you to Jonny’s Sister for partnering with More Than Toast

MTT Does Paxos

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There are many ways one can start a holiday at an airport. A leisurely stroll round duty free, a cooked breakfast (with a beer… cos once you’re through security it doesn’t count), a nice sit down in an executive lounge.

What you DON’T want is a one and a half hour check-in queue (thanks, Monarch) followed by security discovering TNT (traces of) in your handbag, delaying you further for half an hour, i.e. fifteen minutes before your flight leaves.

For one I’m glad I didn’t book the executive lounge for breakfast as we would have had only 3 seconds to enjoy it as I legged it through the departure lounge 15 minutes before we were due to take off… a walk that was supposed to take 25 minutes (gate number 25 is FAR AWAY at Gatwick South). I made it, nearly vomiting, but I made it.

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And the TNT? They let me off but only after a pretty thorough interview, a full body tap-down and the realisation that I’d cleaned my phone screen at the same time as my work computer and those chemicals were probably the culprit. I got a bit of a telling off (don’t tell jokes to airport security) and was made to throw my phone case away but with a couple of minutes to spare I was on my flight to Preveza, Greece. Thank god.

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When we were looking at a place to go away, man friend wanted somewhere totally relaxing, quiet and beautiful. He was itching to go to Italy but I threw the Greek Islands out there: having spent a few holidays on a tiny island towards the north of Greece I knew how unspoilt they could be. After a bit (A LOT) of research we settled on Paxos, part of Paxi, the smallest group of Ionian islands.

One of the reasons Paxos remains so beautifully quiet and rowdy tourist-free is the effort it takes to get there. We flew out of Gatwick to tiny Preveza, and from there were taken on an hour long bus journey to the port town of Parga. The ferry from Parga to Paxos is another hour, and from there we picked up our jeep and happily followed our landlady for the week up to our villa near the hamlet of Magazia.

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Paxos has three main villages; Gaios (where you’ll find the largest port), Loggos and Lakka. The island is only 8 miles in length so you can drive between them all in minutes on the road system. It’s worth noting that if you use Google Maps to navigate (as I did) the super steep dirt tracks around the island show up the same as the tarmac ones, which definitely made for some interesting journeys.

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Oh, and put a drop pin to situate your villa on your map. It’s easier than you think to get lost on such a small island when you don’t have your villa’s address!

We booked through Ionian and Aegan Island Holidays who were great. By being disorganized and booking only a fortnight before we went we managed to save about £600 on the list price of the villa, and their private transfer from the airport to the island was fantastic with English-speaking reps there every step of the way.

We stayed at Villa Ita which was situated at one of the highest points of the island. It was a lovely two-bedroomed villa with its own private pool and absolutely astounding views. While perfect for two grown ups I will say that it wouldn’t have been suitable for those who find hills or steps a struggle, and probably for children either (sheer drops a go-go). One thing I love about Greece is the rustic charm; our villa had this in spades and was very comfortable, just don’t expect five star luxury.

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 Erimitis

The beaches in Paxos are mostly rocky but the calm sea means they’re perfect for swimming – just watch out for Sea Urchins! We visited a few of them – one of my favourites actually being just off the busy port of Gaios with plenty of people watching to be done. One of the absolute best things about the holiday was that I was able to swim in the sea every day, something I think is so good for the soul. Hashtag Hippy.

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You better believe that I had a pretty big interest in the food on the island. I’m a huge fan of Greek food and happily munched on Melitzanosalata (aubergine dip) and Greek salads each and every lunch time. My favourite restaurant was Vassilis Taverna in Loggos; I loved their Chargrilled Octopus with split pea puree and their Lamb and Orzo dish was to die for. The best views (and fanciest meal) was had at Erimitis which is a must-do for a bit of romance and if you’re looking for an excellent pizza with a beer and table service while you relax on the beach then head to Ben’s Bar. Roxi bar in Loggos is also a prime relaxation spot with a terrace that is perfect for sea and yacht-gazing. Beautiful. We didn’t have a bad meal the whole time we were there and everyone spoke wonderful English and was thoroughly charming.

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I reckon a car is a must-have for getting around Paxos and we had the most brilliant open-top Jeep but a boat is even better: nothing beats flying through the waves like James Bond (ahem) to discover and swim in your own private cove. You can rent boats locally at one of the main villages.

Despite missing the children more than I ever expected Paxos was an absolutely spectacular place to visit and I’d return in a heartbeat. I returned home relaxed, rejuvenated and more than ever determined to have a future adventure living by the sea.

Where have you been this summer?