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?

I Haven’t Blogged In A While And I Guess This Is Why


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When it comes to single parenting one of the hardest things for me is all the decision making. And not even the big stuff, either: does Elfie need a pre-school logo fleece or coat or both? Should I keep Hux’s hair short or grow it long? When do I convert Hux’s cot into a big boy’s bed? Trivial things, but for me I can find it agonising to make them on my own. Even if it’s just for someone to be next to be in bed to me at 11pm saying: shut the hell up, it doesn’t matter if Hux potty trains in boxers or briefs.

(YES IT DOES!)

In case you’re wondering, Hux still has long hair, his cot is still in one piece and Elfie got the coat. Oh and I got briefs. You can sleep easy now.

I’ve been struggling recently with big decisions, ones about our future. We’ve been bumbling along happily in our little house in Milton Keynes for nearly a year now and I’ve been feeling it’s time to work out what I really want. What I want for the children, for my career and my home. It’s simultaneously completely overwhelming and intensely exciting to have the ability to make these plans single-handedly and I look forward to whatever the next ten years will bring. Once I decide what that is.

Sidenote: if I can’t choose between ‘fresh linen’ and ‘spring breeze’ fabric softener at the supermarket you better believe this decision making is a challenge.

I am a planner. At work, at home… there’s always a list, a plan, a strategy to get me from A to B. I don’t know if I’ve always been this way but I’ve noticed it more intensely ever since I’ve been alone. I want to be a good person and do the right thing by everyone in my life so I guess making a plan gives less room for error and regret. This is a fabulous trait to have at work but is harder in relationships – no man wants to give me their 5 year plan on the second date ;)

And that’s what I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks instead of blogging. Planning. Wondering who I want to be. Where I want to live. What I want to do. Some tough decisions were made (ooh vague) and situations discussed. I have more lines on my forehead than I used to but total satisfaction in my heart that I’m doing the right thing and moving forward with some excellent people. And one thing I learned in my process of soul-searching is that sometimes planning isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; your five year plan needs to have just a little wiggle room otherwise where are the fun surprises?

So I’m moving forward: happy in my work, happy in my relationship, more than happy with my babies (apart from the one who pooed on the carpet this morning… yes, you). This next year is going to bring more challenges and changes (and hopefully more blogging) but I’ve got this under control.

All those things that weren’t supposed to happen? They happened. What happens next is up to you.” – Hank Moody. 

Turning That Frown Upside Down

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This morning I woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

Not literally, you see I seem to stick to the left side (never been a starfisher) but I woke up in a vile mood. Grumpy. It was 6am, I was tired, Hux was shouting about wee wees and all I wanted to do was go back to sleep.

I got up, grabbed milk for the children and heaved myself into the shower. It was cold and I wanted to get back into bed. I tried on four tops, two pairs of trousers and three pairs of shoes before deciding that everything looked rubbish anyway so it didn’t matter what I wore. On Hux’s demand I got the iPad for him and he demanded “Toy Story, no TANGLED, mummy, but I want FROZEN!!! Where’s Toy Story?”.

I huffed that I could only find two pairs of clean pants for Hux because I think his nursery aren’t offering him the potty often enough and he’s going through multiple changes a day (#mumlife) and wondered if I’d get judged for Elfie’s choice of outfit (yellow shorts, red tshirt, knee high school socks – I think we were having a similar wardrobe crisis). We drove to nursery and both children wailed as I left, I could see their fat tears running down their cheeks through the window and it felt dreadful.

Driving to the station I worried about a situation that’s been weighing heavy on my mind. I muttered over the fact my favourite parking attendant wasn’t there so I had to walk across the car park to buy my parking ticket. My tea was too hot, the station too busy. It was going to be a bad day.

But then I sat down on the train and read a Facebook post from my friend Stu.

Stu is one of my oldest friends from High School and we went through a lot of things together – most notably Reading Festival 2002, and our weekend jobs, right Stu?. He lives in Melbourne, Australia and works for The McGuire Programme, a company that helps individuals overcome a stutter to become ‘articulate, well-spoken people’.

Stu’s post said:

I had a call from a recruitment consultant this morning, she wanted to ask me some questions about a guy who came into her work looking for a job.

He’s a grad from The McGuire Programme and has been working on his speech for about a year, so I answered a few of her questions about how I knew him, how he had been progressing over the past 12months and how these traits (commitment, ownership, punctuality, etc) were translatable into a work-environment. After 15 minutes of chatting, she started telling me of her encounter with this Grad:

A couple of weeks ago this young man had walked in to her office unannounced, with a resume looking for work; he’d had a brief chat with her and his stutter/stammer had been noticeable.
About 10minutes after he’d left the office, she was talking about the meeting with another lady in the team when the same guy came back in. “Oh, have you forgotten something..?” she said.
“Actually, I wanted to be honest with you about my speech and by doing that I’m cancelling out any negative feelings I might have about the speaking situation…” he replied.
She told me how inspired she felt at his courage and bravery to come back to the office and explain his work with The McGuire Programme Australia so she immediately decided to bring him back for the full interview process.

Again, he came back and demonstrated his work ethic, determination and commitment to overcome the speaking challenge, despite any fear, anxiety and uncertainty about what the interview process comprised of, which left her with the impression of a great young man, full of character that she would be confident to put forward to her clients for a role.

Not only that, but she actually said “I’m determined to find him a job through our company and I’ve already been ringing around other branches to put his name and resume forward, he’s such a wonderful young man.”

So thank you to Owen Westwood for bringing a big ray of sunshine to my dreary, cold Wednesday morning. You have a fervent supporter at Adecco in Dandenong and she simply can not speak highly enough of you or your commitment to improving yourself.

It really made me think.

Have I really just wasted the first part of my morning feeling sorry for myself because I’m tired/cold/my bulging wardrobe isn’t suitable/the sun was too bright?

The kids cried at nursery but I know full well they’re fine 30 seconds after I leave.

My tea will cool down, I will enjoy my day at work in a job I love.

I felt like a total dick for whinging when there are people out there doing actual inspiring things, overcoming obstacles in their life to be the best version of themselves.

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I knew it made sense when The Universe emailed me this morning to say:

Appreciating what you have little of is easy, Alice.

Appreciating what you have lots and lots of takes a spiritual master.

And you so have lots,
The Universe

I spent five minutes counting my blessings: I have two beautiful children who are being played with and educated at a great nursery while I work in a job I love that allows me to spend time with them. We have food on our plates, a roof over our heads and clothes in our wardrobe. The sun is shining and there’s a man out there who wants to treat me like a Princess and surprise me with flowers after work. Yes, a couple of things are wobbly but I have a life full of courage, motivation, love and excitement.

Isn’t that amazing that I have these things in my life?

Take five minutes to think about your lot: what are you grateful for today?

The Evolution Of Parenthood

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I love to talk with my mum about how motherhood has changed since I was born. For example, after I was born she was able to get used to being a mum for a whole week in a special hospital filled with maternity nurses who would take care of your baby for you – making sure new mums learned all the new skills they needed for child rearing and most importantly got lots of sleep! Can you even imagine being able to do that these days?

Which is why I’m happy to share this infographic with you from Benenden. How many of these facts about the evolution of motherhood did you know? The first modern Caesarean (I’ve had two!) was performed in 1881, I shudder to think of what would have happened to me when Elfie was born had that not been invented (she would have been coming out feet first for a start. Ouch). And can you imagine not being privy to those magical 12 and 20 week 3D ultrasounds, invented in 1987?

But most shockingly their survey results revel that 1 in 5 mothers suffer negativity when breastfeeding in public. I’ve written on this subject before and LOVE to see mothers breastfeed in public: I truly believe that  it’s the most natural thing in the world (breastfeeding Hux was so special) and to think that women have to go through this makes me feel sick. According to the survey the group most likely to disagree are those sixty or over, so let’s hope this school of thought is well on the way out.

Take a look at the evolution of Parenthood:

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Thank-you Benenden for partnering with More Than Toast. 

MTT Does Manchester

My home town at the moment is Milton Keynes. Now, I really love where I live. Its proximity to London balanced with value for money can’t be beaten and the amenities are pretty amazing – the shopping, the indoor skiing, the entertainment district, the health club, the WAITROSE. Boy do I love my Waitrose.

But I’ve always known, in my heart of hearts, that I belong by the sea. There is something so completely special you get from being by the ocean that you don’t get anywhere else. I adore it and I can’t wait until there’s a time in my life where I’m able to spend more time at the coast. But for now the odd summer weekend will have to do, or evening the odd man-made seaside resort!

One of the great things about England is that we’re never more than approximately 70 miles from the sea, wherever we are in the country. MK is a town that can dubiously claim to be about this distance from a coast, with our nearest beach being a muddy one in Kent. I have never ever been.

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My favourite beach is Boscombe in Bournemouth (I was born just down the road! Represent!) but DID YOU KNOW… you can get pretty good beach action a little further north? Let me explain…

Manchester, one of the most exciting cities North of Watford, is actually only about 30 minutes from some of the loveliest beaches you could hope to come across. Extend that drive to two hours and you have even more available to you. Magic, right?! But even better – right now at Heaton Park to the north of the city you can find Come To The Beach – the biggest mobile beach in the North West! Hours in the car not necessary.

Entry is free and you will find deck chairs, buckets and spades and a seaside fun park complete with rides like crazy cards and the fun house. It’s all the fun of the beach with none of the hassle.

I spent a couple of nights in Manchester recently… here’s what I got up to:

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Hotel

I stayed at the Hilton Hotel on Deansgate which had one of the most incredible views of any hotel I’ve ever seen. The room was everything you’d expect from a Hilton – comfortable with all the necessary amenities – but the floor to ceiling windows made it something really special. There’s also the fantastic Cloud 23 cocktail bar which is situated on 23rd floor of the building and was a really super place to enjoy a couple of late night martinis. For more hotel options in the city click on over to Hotel Direct.

Eat

The weekend I was in Manchester the man friend fancied a good old steak so we plumped for Gaucho. Much like its London counterparts the restaurant is housed in a beautiful building on St Mary’s Street and offers a fantastic Argentine-inspired menu of steaks and sides. And wines! (And my choice – a v delicious Dirty Martini!).

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If you’re looking for something a little more casual I have it on excellent authority that Almost Famous is THE place to go: brilliant burgers and booze are found here. And for some restaurant recommendations from those who’ve probably eaten at every single establishment at the city I suggest you speak to Helen or Ellie ;)

Do

I spent some time at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) which was an absolutely wonderful place to spend a day with the family, but aside from the summer fun mentioned above there are many more wonderful ways to spend your time up North! Why not head to the Imperial War Museum North, take a tour of Coronation Street or flex your credit card at the Trafford Center? Whether you’re taking an adults-only trip or bringing the kids along there are plenty of things you can get up to in Manchester.

What are your favourite things to do in Manchester?

This post is in partnership with the folks at Hotel Direct 

The Life And Times Of A Working Mum

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6am: alarm goes off. I swear like a sailor because really this is way too early for any human to be awake. Hi, I am not a morning person, nice to meet you.

6.15am: the latest possible time I can drag myself up out of bed. Get in the shower before the kids stir which usually wakes Elfie up. Make a cup of tea while I’m heating up milk for them (obviously never have time to drink it). Wake Hux up with milk and have a cuddle. Start the daily debate over exactly which dress Elfie will wear. This can take a while and usually involves a drawn-out debate touching on the finer points of how Queen Elsa dresses.

6.45am: get myself dressed while Elfie and Hux either argue (and sneeze) over the iPad or perform an impromptu stage show in their bedroom. I have never been allowed to watch the show; Elfie says it’s not for mummy, it’s for ‘the people’. I have to step over ‘the people’ to get into their room. Get the kids dressed and downstairs because then we have a small hope of grabbing breakfast before we leave. Attempt some make-up, check the kids’ nursery bags have everything they need (sun hats, coats, spare clothes, baby wipes, sun cream, nappies, kitchen sinks…) and my work bag has everything I need (Oyster card, notebook, phone charger, train entertainment, purse).

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7.30am: leave the house for the 15 min drive to nursery. Depending on whether or not we’ve had time for a ‘proper’ breakfast the kids munch on bananas, breadsticks and shreddies. Try not to feel so guilty as at nursery they’ll have toast and fruit at 9.30. Hux never too excited for his mum to leave him with his teachers though I know as soon as I go he enjoys playing with his friends. Elfie slightly more excited but not as much as at term-time which is when she gets to spend an hour or so at Gagi and Papa’s: they give her bacon and egg for breakfast. Bacon and eggs > playing in a sandbox. Fair enough.

8.22am: I board my train to London having had a chat with my favourite car parking money man. Sometimes I buy a cup of tea but I’ve spilt boiling hot liquids on two different commuters in the last three months so… yeah. Depending on how tired I am I either work, sleep, read or watch Mock The Week on my iPad. I enjoy how the LOLing at the comedy disconcerts the other commuters.

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9.10am: pull into London. It’s crazy how you position yourself on the train affects your ongoing journey; I always sit at the front of the train so I can beat the crowd, otherwise you can be stuck on the platform for five minutes. The escalator down to the Northern Line at Euston isn’t working at the moment which is a big fat pain in my arse and adds an extra three minutes onto my precious short journey.

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9.30am: Old Street. Power walk to the office in Shoreditch and catch up on overnight blog posts from the world of interiors. Check Twitter and Facebook feeds (for IKEA, not for me, duh I already did that on the train ;). Make sure there’s great content lined up that day to share on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. I don’t have time to eat breakfast at home so I either have a green juice from POD, porridge from Pret or some Kale and Apple juice from Waitrose. This is me trying to cling on to some sense of healthy diet in the face of a million croissants.

10am: department heads meeting, catching up with what’s going on with the production of the magazine and how the Social Media activity can support it. Earlier on this month I helped Homes Editor Jo co-ordinate a storage makeover and shoot at the home of one of my favourite New York bloggers which was really exciting.

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10.30am: catch up on emails, have a bit of a chat with followers on Twitter. Check on how my targets are looking for the month and compare with my strategy.

1pm: I try not to eat lunch at 11.30 but it’s a challenge. I either walk to either Itsu or Pret and return to eat at my desk while perusing blog posts or meet up with my boyfriend. If it’s a nice day we go to sit in the park and on Fridays we visit Whitecross Street Market – YUM. I like lunch.

2pm: more meetings. I’m working on a couple of really fun projects at the moment – one is monitoring how the rest of the 31 countries in Europe are using our content – so it’s time to catch everyone up on where I’m at with them. Elfie and Hux’s nursery send little videos of what they did that day and they’re with my mum at that point so we have a lovely chat. Apart from that one time I discovered they had Hand, Foot and Mouth disease… that wasn’t so lovely.

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4pm: review how the Social Media posts have been received that day and have a peruse of IKEA’s Pinterest account.

5.20pm: tie up any last-minute emails or issues before hometime. On Wednesdays the kids’ dad comes to put them to bed so I’ll pop for a burger and a glass of wine with a friend or Mr Alice, otherwise it’s straight back to Eustom for the 6.13 train.

7pm: arrive back into Milton Keynes station. It’s a 15 minute drive to pick up the kids from my parents’, then back home for bedtime. Once a week I’ll hang around with them for a chat and a glass of wine while Elfie and Hux run riot in the garden. When we get home it’s milk and stories; they’re never in bed before 8pm but I don’t mind anymore (I used to be a 7pm bedtime Nazi). That time in the evenings with them is so precious.

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8.30pm: decide I’d better have dinner. Shamefully my diet is no-where good as it used to be but I really struggle with the time and energy to cook solid Paleo meals. Consider it a success if I don’t eat a jar of salsa and tortilla chips (oops).

9pm: answer any essential emails, write blog posts. My email account is one thing that has suffered over the past few months and I’m kind of scared to look at it. Put a load of washing in the machine, stick the dishwasher on. I love my box sets and I usually tidy the kitchen or cook a big Spag Bol to the tune of Grey’s Anatomy.

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11.30pm: fall into bed, realising I should have done this an hour earlier. I like to try and read before I go to bed – my gorgeous friend Neva bought me a book subscription for my birthday and I have Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg burning a hole in my nightstand – but I normally fall asleep before I’ve had time to read a page. FAIL.

11.45pm: suddenly remember to set my alarm. I haven’t forgotten this part… yet.