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.

MTT: Easy Lemon Drizzle Cake

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I’m going to blame you lot on Twitter for what happened to me this week.

There I was on my day off, quietly minding my own business when suddenly all I can think about is cake. Cake cake cake cake. And there it is: 80% of my timeline tweeting about the Great British Sodding Bake-Off. You’ve been quietly brainwashing me to MAKE AND EAT THE CAKE .

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So off I trot to my kitchen cupboards to check I have the basics (and this cake really does only require the basics. The basics and a lemon). Luckily I have this idea that if I make a cake in less than ten minutes I can pretend it’s still paleo.

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My logic is faultless; I ate four slices, I’m not one pound heavier and I fully blame Twitter.

This cake might not be pretty but it is bloody quick and very tasty. I use an approximation of Delia’s all-in-one sponge and then slap a lemon/sugar syrup on the top. It’s fluffy, it’s crunchy, it’s sweet, it’s delicious.

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And when you eat four slices you too can blame Twitter.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Easy Lemon Drizzle Cake
 
You could make this more lemon-y by grating the rind of a lemon into the cake mix but as I am lazy I don't bother ;)
Ingredients
  • 4oz flour
  • 4oz caster sugar (plus about 2 tbsp for the drizzle)
  • 4oz room temperature butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste (or essence)
  • Juice of a lemon
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat your oven to 170 degrees C.
  2. Sieve the flour into a bowl (though again, I can rarely be arsed and my cakes are always fine...) and add the caster sugar, butter, eggs, baking powder and vanilla paste.
  3. Mix well with some sort of electric mixer until you have a batter that falls off a spoon easily. Add a little milk (or water) if it's too thick.
  4. Tip into a greased tin and bake for 25-30 mins, until golden on top.
  5. Make your sugar syrup by juicing a lemon and adding enough sugar to create a thick paste that you can pour on top of the cake.
  6. Leave the cake to cool for ten minutes and drizzle with the sugar syrup. i tend to chuck mine on and spread it with the back of a spoon.
  7. Leave to cool further and eat with a lovely cup of tea.

 

 

How Greece Taught Me To Love Being A Mum

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Last week I took a little holiday. Well, kind of a big holiday actually. 1,541 miles to be exact, to Paxos in Greece travelling by train, taxi, plane, bus, boat and jeep. I had looked forward to this holiday for weeks and weeks beforehand, imagining the week of sunshine, beaches, indulgence and adult company. I’d thought about being without the kids – they were having a week with their dad – I knew I’d miss them but having them spend two nights away a fortnight prepares me for the time we’re apart.

The holiday was everything I wanted it to be. Paxos was literally heaven on earth, a tiny island full of little bays with turquoise waters, villages with gorgeous Tavernas churning out Melitzanosalata (I ate it every day), moussaka and Mythos. The beaches were rocky but stunning and I swam in the sea, laid out on the beach and took naps. It was a grown-ups dreamland.

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But I had no idea how much being away from the children for such a long time would hurt. It really was like I was missing something, something huge that I couldn’t quantify or replace. The stacks of sweet children on the island made it worse; I could see Elfie playing with the little girls of her age, painting rocks and collecting shells, or Hux charging into the sea with his usual ignorance of personal safety.

In reality of course it wouldn’t have been that perfect. Hux is probably a year two young for such a holiday (without him being a huge handful at least) and I would have worried about Elfie’s health in such a remote place. But still, but still. It ached.

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I felt guilt for being in such a special place without them – being on the beach, by a pool, looking at fish. Guilt that I was spending my free time away from them doing something so exciting. Guilt that rather than working hard I put my laptop away for a week to concentrate on these things I think they call books. I did a lot of thinking, mental caretaking, situation pondering. I think – as cheesy as this sounds – that by being away for that week I grew into my role as a mum more than I have in a long time.

There was a moment, the day after I returned home, when I was hanging the washing up on the line. I’m trying to get Elflie out of nappies at night and Hux I guess just likes the feeling of air on his bottom so as a result we get through a load of Fairy non-bio. The children were kicking a ball, the sun was on our faces and we had nothing to do but just be together in the garden. This is when a particular thought popped into my head for the very first time in my life, and that was just how much I love being a mother.

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Being a mum has never been something that I’ve disliked. It was moreso a situation that happened to me when I wasn’t really expecting it and therefore it freaked me out. It was something I kind of just got used to and in the meantime I think I missed out on the enjoyment part.

But there it was – hanging out fresh sheets, listening to bickering over a ball and thinking about what to cook that evening. Like a lightening bolt. It felt blissful to just know I was in the right place with those two little people at that time.

So content.

Thank-you, Paxos, for teaching me how to love being a mum. I’ll be back soon and with two little mini-mes. We can’t wait.

I should probably come back at a later date and tell you all about just how wonderful visiting Paxos – the actual island – was. Or the story about how I was 5 minutes away from my flight because traces of explosives were found in my handbag (my new nickname is TNT). Or maybe the one where I got on a train on the last leg of my journey home to Buckinghamshire and ended up in Wigan. Stay tuned…

Shoe Shopping For Kids With Dr. Martens

IMG_1888We love shoes in our house. I love them because, well, I just do. Flats, heels boots… I’ll take ‘em all. Elfie loves shoes as sparkly as she can get; pink monstrosities that I always vowed I’d never buy a daughter of mine until I was won over by the sensibilities of Clarks. Damn you, Clarks. Hux loves shoes, but mostly mine or Elfie’s shoes, his particular favourite being a pair of tartan wellies with bows on.

We’re an interesting bunch when it comes to our footwear.


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So a few weeks ago when Dr. Martens invited us in to their Milton Keynes store we were really excited. Time dedicated to looking for new shoes for my feet loving twosome? Perfect!

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I haven’t been that aware of the DM brand in the last few years. Back at school they were THE shoe to have and when I worked at Vice the cooler, more punky creatives would wear them. I was excited to check out how they’d evolved over the last few years and to see what their kids’ range was like.

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So off we went to the store in Milton Keynes!

The shop itself was lovely. There was no pumping music and overwhelming customer service a la Office, just plush carpets, a vintage sofa and quietly welcoming staff. Speaking of whom, the lady who served us was fantastic with the kids; Elfie is always ever so well behaved but in such an exciting situation Hux has a tendency to be a little more, shall we say, spirited. They took it in their stride and didn’t seem to mind my little terror – and the lollies certainly helped!

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Elfie was overjoyed at the prospect of choosing her own shoes and headed straight for the Mary Janes. We tried on a couple of pairs before she decided on the patent version, and very pleased she is with them too! I love to see her tastes develop as she gets older and am all kinds of chuffed that she gets as excited about shoes as I do ;) These ones are comfy and look great, and will be perfect for when she starts school in September.

Hux was slightly more frenetic when it came to trying on shoes so together we quickly chose a pair of boots. Now, I don’t often go ga-ga over kids shoes (far too sensible for that) but these are just GORGEOUS. They are so incredibly cute and really do turn him into a proper wee man. Happy sigh – I love them.

IMG_1910 IMG_1908 IMG_1906We left Dr. Martens having had a really lovely shopping experience, and treated the well-behaved (well, 50% of them were) babies to a Pizza Express lunch. The least said about that the better; just know that Hux came home with butter in his hair that evening.

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Thank you so much to Dr. Martens in Milton Keynes for treating my two to a new pair of shoes and for showing us a thoroughly wonderful shoe shopping experience! We will definitely be back.

Dr. Martens, 91 Silbury Blvd, Milton Keynes MK9 3AG

For 10% off at the Milton Keynes store just show this blog post to the sales assistant – happy shopping!

 

 

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For 10% off at Dr. Martens Milton Keynes store – show this blog post in-store on a smart phone or print out. Discount is valid until 21/8/14 and cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer or discount. Discount is at the discretion of the store manager.

Elfie Is 4! Again!

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I’d totally forgotten when I wrote about Elfie’s fourth birthday fails a couple of weeks ago that we’d get to do it all over again soon after: her birthday party!

In the whole process of organizing Elfie a 4th birthday party I did one thing incredibly right and one thing incredibly wrong. The right thing was that I agreed it was a great idea to split the birthday party with a friend who is way more capable and organized than I am; her little fella Ralph is 4 at the end of July, is one of Elfie’s BFF’s and was the Joseph to her Mary in the pre-school nativity. Hi, Amy!

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IMG_1966The thing I did wrong was choose to make the cake the morning of the party. WHY, Alice, WHY? I suppose it was too tall to fit into the fridge with all the party food but seriously… that stress was not good. Especially when layer 2 didn’t play ball and decided to jam as two pieces. I fixed it, I don’t think anybody noticed, but still. Stress levels: stratospheric.

Sidenote: if anyone needs to make a chocolate cake it was this one . I found the batter stretched to four of my tins but in general it was pretty straightforward to make. 

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It turned out that, despite us having minimal time together to plan (thank you new job and crazy schedule) the party turned out fabulously. Amy took care of decorations and the games, her mum provided the dance moves for the 4 year olds and I took care of the food, the cake and a kick-ass Spotify Playlist. Which I’m definitely not listening to right now. Honest.

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IMG_1989The village hall looked fabulous, the turnout was great, and we had a wonderful two hours doing everything you’re supposed to do. That is, get sweaty dancing to Katy Perry choons and play musical statues. Amy’s ‘Pin The Lips On The Alien’ was a total hit (I loved it) and I think we had 20 very satisfied (and hyperactive) customers come 3pm.

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As we’d said the kids could come in fancy dress Elfie wanted to be Princess Elsa (obvs – she looked beautiful) and Ralph was a dashing Spiderman.  Hux was ‘boy in jeans and tshirt who was just going to run around like a maniac and spill things anyway’. He carried it well.

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There was a Pimms station for the grownups, because what is a kid’s party without a little bit of booze? Calm down mumsnet, it was post-midday (but we still would have had one if it wasn’t… ;). Amy was given the fantastic Pimms vessel for her recent wedding and you can get it at John Lewis. It was genius.

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IMG_2019And the cake! The sparklers were amazing and the birthday boy and girl did a great job of blowing out the candles together. Party bags were handed out, the mums (and dads and aunties and grandparents) tidied up and sighed in relief that kids only have one birthday a year. I don’t know about Amy but I went home and took a good long nap. And ate a piece of that cake.

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Happy birthday (again) gorgeous girl! What a wonderful way to celebrate the end of your pre-school years with your very best friends. How about next year we just take a couple of them to the cinema?!