How To Share Photos Of Your Children: Lifecake At Easter

I don’t know if I’m alone in this but there have been times when I have felt guilt, actual proper guilt, for inundating my friends on Facebook with photos of my darling little cherubs. Because to me, everything they do is delightful. Every drawing they scribble, every face they pull. Every time they fall asleep (in their dinner or in their bed) or master how to correctly eat a piece of toast. To a parent these things are insanely awesome milestones that need to be celebrated and shared with 403 of our closest friends, right?

But there’s only so much our friends can take, and to be honest the more I read about privacy and ownership over our photographs once they’re released into the world wide web the more uneasy I get. I don’t want pictures of my children getting in to the wrong hands, I want to know that I’m the one with control over whose eyes gets to see them. Yes I use photos of them on my blog but no-where near as many as I used to, and the ones I use have been carefully chosen.

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Enter my new favourite people: Lifecake! You may have seen me Tweeting and Facebooking on their behalf and I’ve been delighted to have been a part of their team the last few months. Theirs is a service I feel extremely passionate about: allowing parents to share photographs of their children with only those they invite securely and easily with a couple of clicks of a smartphone or laptop. Your child’s moments are formed into a timeline which becomes their own special record of their journey through life and I can attest to the fact that it’s a total joy to look back on.

Lifecake is perfect for new parents who are struggling under the weight of newly captured images and videos (I’ve got that tshirt) with little time to spend hours sending umpteen updates to family. It’s fully grandparent-tested and approved (sooo simple to use!) and is the perfect solution to keeping up to date with a child’s progress in a private space. You can add as many children as you need, tagging them in each photo, and can use their photos together or separately. It’s a fabulous way for parents to keep up to date with their children when they spend time with childminders but my favourite way of using the service is to snap and store Elfie’s artwork – no more guilt over slyly popping the 87th picture of an octopus in the recycling.

You can also use their simple software to create beautiful photobooks from your timeline!

Lifecake is free to install and add up to around 500 photos. After that point customers can upgrade to VIP account level, which gives them up to 100GB storage space, enough for 50,000 photos, for £2 month. There are IOS and Android apps as well as a handy desktop uploader so you can add photographs from all of your devices.

There’s been loads of exciting things going on at casa del Lifecake recently; to celebrate Mothers Day we encouraged our Instagram and Twitter followers to take a #melfie, or a self-portrait of them with their kids. It was wonderful to see so many mums step outside of their comfort zone and you can see the beautiful winner of the #melfie competition here.

This Easter we’re running a scavenger hunt. Over the next five days we’ll be posting clues over on Instagram and Twitter; if you respond to these with your entries and tag them @lifecake then our favourite 10 will win VIP accounts (which includes 100GB of storage). Plus it’s a great way to make sure you snap the best of your Easter this year. Here’s a heads up for today’s clue:

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Here are my entries, though one is from last year so I’m slightly cheating!

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How much has this child grown in one year??! It’s insane.

In addition, Lifecake have kindly given me a VIP account and photobook to give away to one of my lovely readers. All you have to do is fill out the handy rafflecopter widget below: 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!!

Alternative Things To Do This Easter: The Manchester Duck Race

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The long weekend is nearly upon us! And I don’t know how you feel but I’m pretty darned excited about that fact; I had a very glorious time with my two last weekend but for this one I will be child-free for a whole five days. FIVE DAYS, PEOPLE. I would say that this time is going to give me the perfect opportunity to relax, sleep in, catch up on work and watch the whole of Breaking Bad again but we all know this is never going to happen.

Unfortunately when the children spend any length of time away from me I am so overwhelmed by it all I usually end up going wild with plans: trips to London, meals out with friends, daily gym trips. I wind up hungover, tired and possibly with sore thighs (new trainer at the gym, you know?). I need a weekend away from the kids to get over my weekend away from the kids. I have never been busier but then again what keeps me busy keeps me happy. Try spending an ‘evening off’ on your own without your children and I promise you’ll wind up crying into your Instagram feed, drinking a bottle of wine and watching 500 Days Of Summer/Beyonce videos with possible added Spotify karaoke.

It’s a ball.

Anyway, this weekend I have a feast of adult-only entertainment planned (NOT LIKE THAT), starting with a hen do on Saturday and a Euro minibreak that will include travelling through an actual airport without the following items: babywipes, spare vests, nappies, tranquillisers. It’s going to be so grown-up, so quiet, so very lovely. I’ll obviously miss Elfie and Hux more than I can even describe but despite that I plan on eating all the food, drinking all the wine and soaking in all the culture. I’m no Nun, I can’t steer clear of those bars, OK?

Easter has always been one of my favourite holidays – it’s when the sun first appears and we remember what Pimms tastes like – so I’ve been taking a look at what you might like to get up to closer to home. And if you’re based in northern England (or even if you’re not… take a look at some great hotel options in Manchester from Hotel Direct for those who fancy a weekend away) I’ve found the perfect solution! The Manchester Duck Race.

You may smirk but let me tell you, I spent many a happy weekend in my old town racing ducks.

Proper old-school family fun this will be, including a bouncy castle, giant slide and teacup ride. Each duck entry is just £1 and goes towards the valuable work the charity Brainwave does, improving children’s mobility, communication skills and learning potential through a range of educational and physical therapies. The big race starts at 2pm and anyone can enter the family race with as many or as few ducks as you’d like. The first five ducks across the line win a prize.

So go on, spill all: what are you doing this Easter weekend? Euro tripping or duck racing, I want to know!

Thanks to Hotel Direct for supporting More Than  Toast – see more about my disclosure policy here

 

24 Hours In London: The Cavendish London

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Even though I no longer live in London I would definitely say it is my spiritual home. Something about the place is so energising: the atmosphere, the culture, the food, the tourists, the traffic. I love it all and every time I make the thirty minute train journey into the city I feel excited at the prospect of spending a few hours in my favourite place.

But a few hours never seems to be enough; luckily I have a good few friends who let me crash in their beds when I’m in town on a girl’s night, and you can always get a good value hotel room via Hotel Tonight (I love The Threadneedles) or at The Hoxton. And a couple of weeks ago I added a new hotel to my list of favourite places in London to lay my head: The Cavendish London.

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The Cavendish London is a 4 star boutique hotel in on of the most gorgeous areas of London, St James, just off Piccadilly. I visited on one of the first super sunny days of the year and it was just glorious; the sun was bouncing off the stone buildings, the sky was blue and though it was still pretty chilly there were bare arms and smiley faces every way you turned. I’d just indulged in one of my favourite activities, a hair cut with the ever-amazing Sam at Ena Salon (he knows how to make you feel spoiled, ladies), and strolling through such a beautiful London meant I was walking on air by the time I got to my hotel. You’ll find it easily as I did tucked in on a little side street just behind Fortnum’s: such a fantastic spot for anyone wanting to explore the finer parts of London.

I checked in and made my way up to my room. Just check out the view I was greeted with! I don’t mean the view of myself in the mirror, I’m talking that breathtaking London vista up there. Totally stunning.

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I never know what to do when I find myself in a hotel room. A place where you are ALONE, with a TV, a huge bed for SLEEP, magazines that you can READ. The potential for alone-time fun is incredible. So I did what I always seem to do which is order a Caesar salad and bowl of chips on room service, don my bathrobe and eat my lunch snuggled into the big fluffy hotel pillows. Blissful.

Caesar salad and chips is always my go-to room service choice and this one was top-notch. The chicken was perfectly chargrilled and though I don’t normally go for chunky chips these ones were wonderful. And anchovies, mmm, anchovies.

Bed at The Cavendish London

Desk at The Cavendish, London

Room Service at The Cavendish, LondonNot wanting to be totally lazy and explore the local area (and OK, cos I’d left my contact lens solution at home), I took a wander up Piccadilly to Piccadilly Circus. Up here you’ll find some shops and a LOT of tourists (and also a huge store dedicated to Nespresso? Who knew). I picked up a little bottle of wine from Whole Foods (fave supermarket in the whole world, sorry Waitrose) with plans to enjoy it in the bath later and just took an hour to walk aimlessly. This part of London is so different to what I’m used to, it’s a feast for the senses with its bright lights, smells wafting over from Chinatown and busy streets. It was fun but I was happy to retreat to the sanctuary of my room at The Cavendish London.

Sunrise from The Cavendish, London

There are rarely many things I find more satisfying than a nap in a hotel bed, so nap I did followed by a happy half hour gazing out of my window at the view with my Whole Foods glass of wine in hand. Soul food, that was. Then it was time for dinner after a long soak in a bath. This day… it just gets better and better, right?

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I’d invited my gorgeous friend Caoimhe to dine with me and was so excited to catch up with her. We began our evening with cocktails in the bar and gossip about boys before moving on to the restaurant. IMG_1342The food was one of the things I was most looking forward to at The Cavendish; their in-house restaurant Petrichor has 2 AA rosettes and after checking out their menu online I was really excited to dine there. It’s one floor up in the hotel so you get a really unique birds-eye view of the streets below which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a quiet, luxurious restaurant that would be suited to a romantic date or anniversary dinner. Or a catch up with one of your favourite Irish babes :)

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I plumped for the Scottish Scallop started which came with breaded frogs legs and was every bit as delicious as it looked. The scallops were cooked to perfection and though I’ve only had frogs legs once before these really hit the spot. Delicious.

Caoimhe went for the Trio of Quail: breast, egg and confit leg croquette. Just YUM. 

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Next up were the mains and though I chose well with  my Suffolk Chicken Roulade (the pan-fried lettuce was to die for and I loved the earthy taste of the king oyster mushroom and truffle hollandaise) I have to admit, I had total food envy. Caoimhe’s plate was a work of art; her beef fillet came with smoked potato puree, ox cheek croquette, duck liver pate and a potato ring. WOW.

IMG_1351 IMG_1349Puddings were up next and again these were big old plates of loveliness. My star anise creme brulee was a lovely end to a beautiful meal and Caoimhe’s Chocolate brownie could have been eaten three times over.

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With stuffed bellies we headed off round the corner to Quaglino’s for a little sip of Prosecco and an old-fashioned flirt with some bartenders. We must have done something right because they kept appearing at our table with shots of delicious alcohol: this one below was rhubarb pavlova and coming with a teeny tiny meringue it literally tasted like pudding in a glass. We were impressed. And slightly drunk. See: LEGS. My mother will be horrified.

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When we ran out of gossip I wobbled back round the corner to my bed at The Cavendish, excited about the TEN HOURS sleep I was about to have. There’s always time for a mirror selfie in a lift full of reflections, though…

IMG_5675The next morning I woke up feeling refreshed and energised hungover and starving. Luckily on my return to the hotel I’d had the wherewithal to crazily scribble a room service breakfast order and leave it on my door for morning. So I had a slug of water, took a picture of the London sunrise and waited for my feast to arrive at 8.30.

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Yep, apparently when I’m a bit tiddly I want ALL THE BACON. The breakfast was divine and tasted just as good as it looked, especially when enjoyed in bed with a massive cup of tea and Sunday morning breakfast TV. If you decide to brave leaving your room for breakfast though it’s worth noting you can until 12pm: it winds me up no end when you wake up at 10.15am on a Sunday morning in a hotel and realise you’ve missed breakfast and I wish more hotels were flexible with their times like this.

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A little post-breakkie snooze and I was ready to start the day. I had to be back home for the kids fairly early so after I checked out of my St James’s bolthole I took a little browse through Fortnum and Mason and hopped on the tube home.

All in all, a thoroughly wonderful way to spend 24 hours in the capital. I may not have gone sightseeing, taken in any museums or visited any great monuments… but I returned home feeling like I’d spent a whole day pampering and pleasing no-one but myself and that was worth its weight in gold. The memories of that wonderful alone time will last and last :)

The Cavendish London: I’ll be back!

I was a guest of The Cavendish London – thank you so much for having me! 

 

 

 

 

Last Chance To Melf Yourself

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock these last couple of weeks you may have noticed I’ve been working on a very special little project: THE MELFIE.

The melfie is a movement coined by my friends over at Lifecake and is a way for us all to get mums ‘back in the picture’. We spend most of our time behind the camera, not in front of it, so pictures of us with our children are few and far between. Lifecake and me, we want to CHANGE THAT and give mums some more of the screentime we deserve.

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We’ve seen some fantastic melfies this fortnight on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and there’s still a bit more time to get yours in before Mother’s Day, which is when we’ll choose our favourite with Katie from Mummy Daddy and Me Makes Three to win Lifecake goodies worth £60. I’ve had a great time snapping as many pics of myself with the kids as I can; it’s great to look back and see my face in my photos too.

I even got a melfie in with my own mum!

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Go on – Melf Yourself over the next time in the next 24 hours (don’t forget to tag #melfie and @lifecake) and show me how great you look :)

On Where We Live

IMG_1371 If you’d asked me five years ago to make a list of the places I’d like to live it probably would have gone a bit like this: London, Brighton, Liverpool (I love Liverpool. Brilliant city). Short and to the point. Milton Keynes wouldn’t have been on that list,  in fact when I was a teenager I remember categorically telling my mum I thought it was weird that people wanted to live here. I always saw it as an odd town, it had no discernible centre, no history. Why would someone want to live in a place like that? Fast-forward ten years and here I am. Not only am I actually living in Milton Keynes (though if you’re feeling posh you’re allowed to tell people you live in ‘North Bucks, darling’) but I’m a fully paid-up member of the MK Fan Club. Not that one exists. But I’d definitely be on the committee if it did. IMG_1377 Let me explain. Milton Keynes is a big town made up of lots of new estates, old villages and smaller towns (Wolverton, Bletchley, Stony Stratford). 34 square miles to be exact. It was designated a ‘new town’ in 1967 and we are 45 miles north-west of London. The city centre consists of a shopping mall, entertainment district, complex with indoor ski slope/skydiving and theatre. It takes 30 minutes to get into London on the fast train which is comparable to places like St Albans and Chesham – but way cheaper!IMG_1376 Our lovely little house is on one of the newer estates near the M1, a really quick 5 minute drive from the train station which is useful for travelling into London. We have an absolutely massive park a 10 minute walk down the road which is where we spent a blustery Saturday morning a couple of weekends ago watching my mum run her first ever 5k race. What you can see up there is an aerial wakeboarding set-up on the lake though you’ve got to be pretty mental to be doing that in March (nuff people are mental round here and they always look FREEZING). IMG_1375 See? It’s lovely and green round here. Miles and miles of gorgeous Teletubby land-esque parkland to march the kids round. It’s all really pram and bike friendly; MK has 272kms of ‘redways’ which are designated walking/cycling paths so you don’t have to ride your bike on the busy roads (and all those bloody roundabouts). IMG_1372 The shopping centre here is ace. You’ve got all the high street clothes shops you need (though I mostly spend all my time and money in Gap cos I’m getting OLD) and you can visit all the shops while staying undercover. Perfect for the winter; who has time to be taking their heavy cold weather coats on and off each time they step into a shop? Naaahh. IMG_1378 One thing I love about the area that I live in is its approximation to the places I spend most time. Our house is five minutes from the city centre, three from our health club and five from Waitrose. Plus we’re a short stroll from loads of parks, one of which has a pirate shop which is insanely awesome. Unless you get sea sick, like me. IMG_1387 Speaking of the health club, I bloody love that place. Indoor and outdoor pools, sauna, steamroom, jacuzzi, gym, tennis courts, softplay, BAR. I’ve been 4 times already this week: I definitely get my money’s worth. And it’s 0.4 miles away :D IMG_1405Hux is handsomely modelling Muddy Puddles’ Peak Ski jacket in all these photos which was kindly sent for us to try out. We have the Salopettes too, and though we haven’t had any snow this year they’ve been invaluable to us on our walks in the biting wind. Their products are such great value compared to some others on the market: we’re converts! Check out their blog for some great family fun ideas.  IMG_1401 One thing MK is lacking is more of a food scene. We’re crying out for some decent eateries round this way: most restaurants here are mediocre chains (HI Cafe Rouge, Zizzi etc). We have recently been gifted with a Byron (HOORAH) and Carluccios’ lunch menu is always quite solid but it is a massive pain having to trek into London each time you want a proper feed. byronMKOne of the most important factors in my enjoyment of life here I guess are the friends we’ve made. Elfie’s pre-school (and first school-to-be) is absolutely lovely and through that (and Twitter!) I’ve stumbled upon local friendships that I’m sure are for life. Five years ago I might not have thought twice about living in Milton Keynes but I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else five years from now. Want to join my fan club?

What Matters Most

IMG_1423Do you have a happy place? Somewhere you go when you’re having a crap day, the world is against you and nothing is going right? A place that seems to effortlessly pick you up and make things seem OK again?

One of my happy places is my local John Lewis. I love a pot of tea and cupcake in their Espresso bar overlooking the shopping center, a browse in the beauty hall, wandering the toy department, checking out the 3d TVs. I’ve even started to love the craft corner and ventured into looking at beds the last time I was there. It’s a calming place to be, somewhere I’ve visited since I was a little girl, and I always leave feeling a bit more zen than I did when I arrived.

The John Lewis brand do lots of things well, but one of the reasons I love them so much are their ad campaigns. Remember The Bear and The Hare? And the cutest ever kid giving his family Christmas presents? Loved them.Nobody does the feel-good experience better than John Lewis.

This summer John Lewis Insurance are bringing back their popular TV ad, What Matters Most, and I love that too.

As the advert is all about objects that matter to people they’re asking people to submit an image of a treasured possession or family heirloom, and then in six words describe why it matters to them. This enters them into a competition with a chance to win £500 of John Lewis vouchers.

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I’ve been thinking long and hard about what matters most to me, which object I’d choose. Jewellery, electricals, expensive handbags?

No, I think one of the most important objects in our house is Aunty Marge. Aunty Marge was actually my mum’s great aunt who knitted this doll for me when I was a baby, and for some reason we also named the doll Aunty Marge. The real AM passed away a few years ago now (I think she was 102? She was a strong lady) but she lives on in my battered, one eyed doll. Who of course was given to Elfie when she was a baby :)

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The six words for why Aunty Marge matters to me? Childhood, Family, Daughter, Handmade, Memories, Love.

If you’d like to be part of the campaign, head on over to the What Matters Most website to submit what matters most to you. And tell me about it, too! Any excuse to get sentimental and weepy :)

Thank you again to my favourites John Lewis for partnering with More Than Toast.