Monday, 2 December 2013

Sickness, school work and shopping

Well, apparently being productive doesn't really agree with me. After such a productive day a couple of weeks ago I have been struck down by a dreaded coughing lurgy that prevents me sleeping, eating and even, at points, talking. (I do draw the line at that.)

It would appear that it's finally starting to get better - which is lucky, because our nanny is on holiday this week - but I don't want to tempt fate, so I'm off to bed fairly sharpish. In the meantime though, I have managed to almost complete the Christmas shopping (result) - I just need to get writing the cards now. I don't mind this job if I start early and can spread them out. I do not like this job if I have to do it all in one go in a rush. It's ditto for the present wrapping. 

Any spare energy I've had has had to go one trying to figure out statistics. I've only got two weeks of the course left, and I have begun to understand chi-squared (although I still have no idea why), but I dread to think what is going to happen come exam time. Disaster, no doubt. But, I even managed to squeeze in some Christmas shopping while on campus - they sell cute baby gros that will serve very well for both tiniest Martini and my sister's recent arrival (he's about six weeks older than my youngest. They are getting pretty much exactly the same presents). 

I will be posting quite a bit during December - including pictures of the tree and decs (what's not to love?), recipes to try and beauty reviews. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

A very productive day...

Today has been what I would term a 'good day'. First up, tiniest Martini had his first proper food. For anyone that's ever weaned a child, you'll know that doesn't actually mean real food - Aptamil baby rice, anyone? - but nevertheless, it's a milestone day. 

If you're interested, I'm a strong believer in weaning at 17 weeks - it's worked for the other three, so I see no reason to change that now. And, for the keen eyed among you, yes, I know I'm a day late - it was actually 17 weeks yesterday (and who can believe that?), but given littlun was born at 11.48pm, I'll cut myself some slack. 

Item number two: mincemeat. For something as traditional as mincemeat, there simply is no option but to go Delia. While I doubt that Delia is quaking in her boots, I'm happy with the job so far:

Basically, you whack in all the ingredients (except the brandy - so I'll be keeping my glass back until tomorrow) and then leave it to 'mingle' overnight. Tomorrow, I'll be cooking the heck out of it (I think about three hours). Delicious, homemade mince pies are just moments away - or at least days (rather than weeks). Perfect.

Next up: nails. Mr. M hits the big 4-0 later this month and we're celebrating this Friday. Or commiserating - it depends how you look at it. Either way, given the brood, I need to start getting ready for our night out on Friday now. Hence the nails. I watched this tutorial from MissJenFABULOUS - and then gave it a go:

Good enough! Fingers crossed it doesn't chip - Seche Vite should take care of that. 

And finally, I've made the caramel for the hot chocolates I'm preparing for Mr. M. when he gets home tonight. It really is freezing now, and when I read this recipe from The Londoner I had to try it. I'll let you know how it turns out. 

Maternity leave is looking pretty good right now. I may not go back to work at all - how on earth would I fit it all in? ;-)

Saturday, 16 November 2013

The battle of the ads...

As a self-confessed lover of all things Christmas, it will come as no surprise that I am loving all the major store adverts hitting our screens right now. Yes, critics - we all get that it's a not-so-blatent cynical ploy to encourage us to spend in their stores - but, being completely honest, I want to shop at a place that can pull off a decent advert. (I was always a sucker for that John Lewis Generations advert which follows a woman through our life - enjoy it again here.) 

And, although I'm enjoying them all, I have to say that Sainsbury's has won the battle for me. I am not the sentimental type, but even I am just a little bit touched by the kids being so excited that their father has managed to get home for Christmas. Because, if you can't be a bit emotional at Christmas, when can you be? (Thank you Richard Curtis - I think that's roughly stolen from Love Actually - I'll include a suitable clip below the Sainsbury's ad...)

Happy Christmas xx

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Review: Sachajuan leave-in conditioner

I've been using this leave-in conditioner since it arrived in my Elle Beauty Box from Selfridges (a fantastic purchase, if I may say). I hadn't heard of it either, but the brand is from Sweden - they have a flagship salon in Stockholm apparently. 

Overall, this conditioner is very light - it doesn't weigh my fine hair down, which is a real plus - but extremely moisturising. It also leaves my hair extremely shiny. Unfortunately, my hair is very prone to frizz, and this conditioner doesn't help with that, but to be honest, I wouldn't expect it to. Overall, I notice a big difference when I use this. 

I always think I'm putting quite a bit on, but I've hardly used any of the bottle, so it obviously goes a long way. This certainly isn't a budget option - it's £21 at Selfridges - but it's definitely one of the best conditioners (leave-in or not) that I've ever used. Would I repurchase? Yes. And there's nothing that focuses the mind more than that question (when it comes to shopping anyway). 

Monday, 11 November 2013

Getting into the festive spirit...

As the big retailers roll out their Christmas adverts (the John Lewis one is on as I type - and I love it!), there's no longer any chance of avoiding it - Christmas is well and truly on its way. With daughter number one's birthday behind us, the last remaining barrier is Mr. M's birthday (it's a big one) at the end of the month. Rest assured, I've already planned our trip to buy the tree on Sunday 1 December. (If I had my way, the decorations would be going up the weekend before - but no matter.)

(More on Mr. M's birthday plans later - I don't want to give too much away...)

The Christmas shopping is underway - I'd say about 60% done and I'm planning to make the mincemeat - and maybe the cake, which I've not done before - this week. Hurrah. This week will mainly be about:

Attempting to finish my Christmas shopping I can't really relax until it's done. 
Baking and tasting galore Well, calories don't count in December, right?
A well deserved shopping trip Primark Christmas jumpers are top of the list. I've put a picture of the Rudolf one above, but I've also got my eye on a cheeky snowman one...
Tasting a Starbucks chocolate orange mocha Gingerbread lattes have already been drunk, but I'm always open to new things (well, most of the time)
Music Making sure my Christmas tunes are on my current mp3 player. I simply cannot last any longer without them. The silver bells are ringing!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Managing four under four

Allowing for artistic licence on the heading (my eldest child is actually already four, so technically it's four under five - but that doesn't have the same ring), I felt it only appropriate to share my tips on looking after four very young children, based on my recent experience (our nanny went on holiday for the week and much as I'd like to forbid her from ever leaving our house, apparently employment lawyers wouldn't side with me. Can't imagine why). 

Disclaimer - I am absolutely no expert and have zero training on what's good for children's development and all that jazz. These tips are purely based on ensuring everyone is still alive at the end of the week. 

1. Plan, plan and plan some more. Getting everyone dressed (including myself), fed and out of the door for the morning school run is almost impossible. Pick out everyone's clothes the night before. Make sure the washing has been done so everyone has clothes to wear. Fill in whatever forms the school has sent - ours likes to average about one a day - God knows what they are all for - and put them in the book bag so you don't forget them. Sounds simple - it is - and saves time when one of the four has the inevitable breakdown when you're about to leave the house. 

2. Go out. Admittedly, it sounds like madness but experience has taught me that it's much easier to entertain the children in environments designed for it - I'm talking soft play, parks, anything along those lines. Yes, it's tough to keep an eye on all of them - but once cabin fever sets in at home, there's no going back. As an additional plus, kids that run about climbing all over things equal tired kids. This makes the witching hour (see point 5) much easier to bear. 

3. Accept the house is going to be untidy until all the children are back in bed. It's not easy, but once you've accepted it, it becomes slightly easier to deal with. 

4. Rope in other people to provide diversions. Grandparents are good for this, but random neighbours, friends or distant family will all work. Plus, you'll need the adult conversation. 

5. Beware the witching hour (this is what it's known as in our house. If you need to ask, it's tea, bath and bed time). Actually, the name is misleading because at Martini Towers, this tends to cover 5-7pm. Nothing is going to make this time enjoyable - so go into it with precision planning and prepare for whinging and general dissatisfaction all round. Get through it by knowing that a glass / bottle of wine is waiting to reward you when all your darlings are tucked up in bed. Until the dream feed...

Most of all, try and enjoy at least some of it. Traumatic as it can be, keep in mind that time seems to pass very quickly - before you know it, they'll be teenagers that won't want to deal with you at all. And then you'll look back on these days with fond memories and no pain whatsoever!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Scarily prepared for Halloween

We've gone Halloween-tastic at Martini Towers! 

There is no doubt that having children lends itself to embracing all sorts of things that simply wouldn't be appropriate without them. Cue ridiculous Halloween decorations galore. (Obviously, I have manipulated the image above, but rest assured our house is covered in cobwebs, spiders and even the occasional rat. Beautiful.) The kids, and I, love it. 

Thank you American relatives - even I have to admit that the Yanks have got this 'holiday' nailed in a way we can only dream of. 

And, of course, we had to make something tasty and completely unhealthy:

We all had great fun decorating these biscuits - which are very good (if I say so myself). The recipe was taken from Caroline MiLi Artiss - although we obviously went to town in a very different way in the decorations. But, I'd highly recommend giving this a go during half term - it kept my clan entertained for ages!

You'll need these ingredients to make and decorate around 25 biscuits:
For the biscuits
- 250g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder 
- 2 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
- 100g brown sugar
- 75g cold unsalted butter, cubed
- 4 tbsp golden syrup
- 1 large egg

For the icing
- a few tsps of apricot jam
- 1 packet ready to roll fondant icing
- food colouring and paintbrushes to decorate the biscuits
- tubes of coloured icing (we used black and red!)

And here's how we did it:

- Sieve the flour, baking powder and mixed spice into a bowl
- Stir in the sugar and then rub in the butter to make fine breadcrumbs
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the golden syrup and egg
- Pour the syrup/egg mixture into the dry ingredients and combine until it forms a ball of dough
- Wrap in cling film and chill - we chilled it overnight, but you'll need to leave it for at least an hour so it rolls properly

Once the dough has chilled:
- Preheat the oven to 180 c (or equivalent)
- Roll out the dough, using plain flour on the work surface and rolling pin to stop it from sticking
- Cut out your biscuits in suitably Halloween-y shapes
- Cook in the oven until just golden (about 8-10 minutes) and then leave to cool on a wire rack

For the icing:
- Brush the cooled biscuits with apricot jam, so the fondant icing will stick to the biscuits
- Roll out the fondant icing and use the same cutters to cut out the shapes and then stick the corresponding biscuit shapes
- Now for the fun! Get creative with the food colouring and icing. If you're allowing young children to decorate, prepare for carnage. Our kitchen looked like there had been some kind of explosion - but they had a great time. Perhaps make them wear some old clothes -because they'll be covered in everything. 

Caroline is far more television friendly than I am, so check out her video here to see how it's done. And Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Rainy days aren't just for staying in

Admittedly, I'm the first to dismiss most outdoor activity at the first hint of rain. It's not so bad if you're fully geared up in wellingtons and waterproof jackets, but overall, when it's cold and raining, I like to snuggle up on the sofa with a big cup of tea and several biscuits. I do not make a habit of rushing out to the nearest Royal Garden to wander about looking at plants I can't name (and, if I'm honest, have absolutely no intention of learning). 

I have, however, been missing out. Yesterday, we ventured to Kew Gardens and despite my initial misgivings, it was an absolutely fantastic day out. The changing of the seasons create stunning scenery and the weather probably kept all but the keenest, and the school parties that were clearly already committed  away so we were free to roam almost in isolation. 

I was amazed at the history of the Gardens - it's actually very interesting - and the grounds are absolutely immaculate, which always appeals to my OCD. Not a piece of litter in sight - very pleasing. 

Without doubt, the highlight of the day was the Kew Explorer tour - it's a 40 tour of the Garden on a 'land-train', with commentary to explain everything to you as you go around. Our guide was brilliant - exactly the right mix of informative, friendly and humourous - to be honest, he was better that most of the tat that passes for entertainment on television. I didn't catch his name, but he opened the tour by telling us he used to be a fighter pilot for the RAF. I'd highly recommend searching him out if you have the time. 

The only downside was that a couple of the attractions are now closed - an obvious thing to do out of season, but they might want to consider a reduced, off-peak rate in these down times. Also, the prices for food are quite steep, so if you're planning on staying for lunch, be prepared for the cost. However, I can highly recommend the tomato and basil soup - it was delicious (and I didn't expect that).

Parking was super easy - again, I guess because it's out of season. Be warned the road you turn down to reach the car park looks like a tiny lane - stick with it and you'll get there in the end. 

The ultimate test as to whether it was a good thing to do is if I plan to return again before spring. The answer? Absolutely. And if it's not too far from you, I'd recommend you do the same. 

Friday, 11 October 2013

A new way to shop

This definitely falls into the category of 'need to get out more' - but I had to share: this Shop as you Scan service at Tesco is bloody fantastic. 

Reading the BBC news, it appears that the Weybridge Tescos is quite behind the times - it only arrived a couple of weeks ago - and I used it for the first time this week. Not only does it mean you can pack your bags (who actually uses carrier bags now? It concerns me that it seems to be a news story that supermarkets are set to charge 5p a bag from 2020 or whenever it is - I thought they did that now - but I digress) as you go round, meaning you don't have to unload the trolley and then reload everything, which is enough in itself, but it also has all manner of technology on the scanner, so you can see how much you're spending as you go round. If that wasn't enough, it also tells you when items are on offer (just in case you've missed the huge yellow labels screaming BUY SIX rather than just two). 

I know it's just because it's new, but the staff were super helpful and it saved huge amounts of time at the till. In short, this is a genius service. I'm usually more of a Sainsburys' girl but I honestly think this might convert me - especially for the 'big' shops. Tesco 1, Sainsburys 0. 

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Christmas is a-coming...

I cannot believe how quickly the time is passing - it's already October, which means its only three months until maternity leave is over and it's back to work. Boo. 

It's difficult to be sad about this, though, because I LOVE this time of year. I was reminded of this by a post from Miss Budget Beauty and realised it was okay to post about plans that are well underway for the festive season. Updated make-up for the party season (even if I only get to go to one party - details, people, details) - check. Present shopping - about half way there - check. Menus planned - check. Preparations for chutneys and Christmas cake done? Check. My friends, you should probably start calling me a domestic goddess. (Okay. This is probably a step too far - but you should note that the festive biscuit workshop place is already secured. You've been warned.)

I am seriously looking forward to Halloween this year. The in-laws (who arrive next week) are bringing goodies (as well as some long over due staples) from the US, which simply cannot be beaten for this time of year. Cue pumpkin carving, fancy dress and sweets (or should that be candy?!) galore. I'm also going to attempt some seriously good nail art, courtesy of MissJen Fabulous - see more detail here

Stay tuned for more updates, my (probably dodgy) version of nail art and Christmas celebrations. Oh, and I've read that it's possible to 'decorate' your blog - I must look into that too...

Thursday, 26 September 2013

A good day's shopping

I do love it when a shopping trip comes together. I went out on a bit of a mission today, and literally every single thing I purchased was at a discount price - or, in one case, totally free. Can't argue with that! If you want to see the haul, read on...

First up, some self-indulgent purchases from No. 7. I'm not a huge fan of their make-up usually, but when I get the £5 off skincare/£3 off make-up vouchers they do every so often, I usually do find something to buy. To make things even more of a bargain, these vouchers are still valid with the 'buy one, get one half price' offer currently running on the make-up. So, I got the toner for £3 (instead of £8), the BB Lips in Ballerina for £8.50 (full price) and the Smoky Powder Eyeliner in brown for £4 (instead of £8). Result. I'm especially excited to use the eyeliner. 

Next up - a total freebie courtesy of Martin Lewis (thanks Martin). In short, show the voucher on your phone (or you can print it if you're old school) and they will give you a hand cream absolutely free. I was offered a choice of three - almond, hemp or wild rose - I went for wild rose, because it has an SPF of 15 and my other hand creams don't. Smells lovely too. 

On to H&M - this was a pitstop as I'm planning a longer clothes shopping session in the not too distant future - but UNiDAYS is currently offering 20% off all items at H&M for all students, and I definitely need to make the most of that. So I got this jumper for £12 instead of £15. I can't find it online, but it's basically a sparkly blue jumper - perfect, I think, for the forthcoming season. 

If, like me, you have to buy about eleven billionty presents for childrens' parties in the next few weeks, you won't go far wrong with a trip to The Works. I picked up these three books for £10 (£5 individually) - perfect as presents I think. Certainly my kids love new story books and at least it's not going to lose all the pieces or break too quickly. 

In a less than glamourous end to this haul, I also picked up two packs of nappies for daughter number two in Superdrug (I'm a massive fan of Superdrug right now, as they do a 10% student discount on everything) - two packs on offer for £7, and I had an additional 20% coupon, so I paid a mere £5.40 for 50 nappies. I won't bore you with a picture of those, though. 

With all this bargain hunting, I won't feel guilty about clothes shopping next week, that's for sure!

Friday, 20 September 2013

It's the small things...

Blatantly ripping off Inspired by the great post by Lipstick and Lace (and I don't think she'll mind me mentioning that she, too, was 'inspired' - this time by Mummy Limited) I thought I would join in the fun and list some of the smaller pleasures in life. This is in part because, for the first time in a very long time, I actually have some time to take pleasure in the smaller things - and both of their posts made me pause and remember what's important in life. So, here goes:

Maternity leave, being paid through maternity leave so I don't have to choose between food and another Clarins skincare product (obviously just me - I wouldn't deprive the children...), making lists of all the things that need organising in the house, crossing off items on the list, practicing Halloween cupcake recipes with the children, the children actually liking the cakes (even if they aren't the most discerning audience), the school run.
I've never done the school run before - stay with me. 

Getting my figure back after child number four, wearing my pre-pregnancy skinny jeans and not feeling ridiculous (eat your heart out Kate Middleton), getting out the winter jumpers, not wearing the winter jumpers for just a couple more days, putting the wool blanket on the bed for the first time. 

A really, really good glass of red wine while all four children are asleep (these moments are very precious), an uninterrupted hot bath, shopping now the children are all back at school, an Indian takeaway (or any takeaway for that matter) with Mr. Martini. 

Starting the Christmas shopping, planning the Halloween costumes and decorations, knowing I still have time for both. The 'start of a new term' feeling, the possibilities stretching out before you, the extra hour in bed (hopefully) when the clocks go forward. Being completely comfortable with where I am in life. 

Everyday, I am reminded how lucky I am - I wouldn't change a thing. 

Oh, and Mummy Limited - you're totally right - Radio 4 rocks. And I don't care if that makes me sound old!

Selfridges Elle Beauty Box - first thoughts

My past experiences with beauty boxes haven't been great - much as I love the idea of Glossy Box (and others), I was always left slightly underwhelmed and short-changed, most usually by the tiny sample sizes.

However, I love the idea of the Selfridges boxes - there have been a few now - no subscriptions, no clauses, just a simple transaction. If you like the sound of it, you buy it. Job done.

And this latest installment, in association with Elle magazine, is an absolute winner. It's £30, and for that you get:
- Eve Lom Kiss Mix lip balm
- Ciate Cupcake Queen nail varnish
- Ellis Faas mascara
- Perricone MD Neuropeptide Firming Moisturiser Mini (okay, this is a small sample size, but the full size version is £225. At least I can try before I splash that sort of cash)
- Sachajuan leave-in conditioner
- Jurlique Rosewater balancing mist
- Topshop lipstick in Charmed

(Excuse the lighting in this photo.)

You also get the latest edition of Elle magazine. I wasn't that fussed about the magazine to be honest, but I had a read, given that it was included. Boy, has that magazine changed since I last read it (admittedly, that was a long time ago - just goes to show that you really should give things another chance!).

I haven't ever used any of these products before, so I'm very keen to try them out - especially the Perricone moisturiser, the leave-in conditioner and the Ellis Faas mascara. I've heard great things about them - it will be interesting to see if they live up to the hype.

The limited edition boxes have now sold out online, but you can register your email address here to be alerted when the next box comes out. On past form, there hasn't been a bad box yet!

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Review: Rimmel Scandaleyes Retro Glam Mascara

I've been on the hunt for a new mascara for a while now - my Max Factor False Effect never really lived up to expectations and is too old to be of any use at all - and I decided to try out another high street option, rather than spend precious resources on a luxury item. I'd rather save that for foundation. Or serum. Increasingly, I'm thinking it's far more worth spending out on skincare and saving on certain make-up, but I digress.

It was a toss up between this Rimmel mascara (just how many versions do they do? It seems almost limitless) and Maybelline's Volum Express Colossel. In the end, the Rimmel one was on offer and Boots was also out of the Maybelline one - so decision made. Simples.

I have pretty short, uninspiring eyelashes - I'm always very jealous of people with long luscious lashes - and I'll admit that my expectations that this would create a 'bold, wide-eyed false lash look' were not high. The brush is an 'hour-glass' shape - basically, it has a dip in the middle - designed to 'plump lashes, fanning them up and out for volume'. 

Can a brush really achieve this? Well, yes, is the answer. This mascara really did add volume to my lashes. This mascara probably isn't for everyone, as it could probably add some real punch to those blessed with decent lashes, but for me, it's great. 

Also, after several uses (including one trip out to a theme park - I truly have put this mascara through its paces), I can confirm that it doesn't flake, doesn't end up half way down my face and doesn't disappear to nothing by lunchtime. In short, it doesn't disappoint.  

It's no longer on offer at £4.99, but it is part of the 'buy one, get one half price' deal currently running at Boots. Get yours here

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Health Visitors - good for your health

I'm no stranger to breast feeding or babies (count 'em, I've done four) - so I was shocked, to say the least, when my Health Visitor decided smallest Martini had ankyloglossia - or tongue-tie, to you and me. Surely, I would notice that? He is feeding, latching on fine and gaining weight. 'Not a chance' was my reaction. Unperturbed by my clear dismissal of this diagnosis, the Health Visitor referred me to our local tongue-tie clinic. I wasn't even aware such things existed.

However, no xx community should be without one. The team there were welcoming, reassuring and friendly. They quickly confirmed a minor tongue-tie (clearly, I am no doctor) and quick as a flash, had snipped the offending piece of skin straight off. The change was remarkable. Although I hadn't felt any pain, it is now clear that the latch had not been what it should be. And, in one feed, smallest is clearly much happier. Snaps all round.

It was sad to hear, then, that these clinics are under threat of being closed, due to reduced budgets. Whilst I totally understand that money does need to be saved, I'd have thought it was a bit short sighted to cut a service that clearly provides such long term benefits by enabling mothers to breastfeed successfully. I, for one, think these clinics are fantastic - so I hope they won't be feeling 'the snip' of the budget cutters. Only time will tell. 

Some facts about tongue-tie:

- it can affect feeding, speech and oral hygiene
- it can cause problems kissing (if you ever let your children do that - the jury's out for me!) and eating ice cream
- it often runs in the family
- until 1940, tongue-ties were routinely cut to help feeding. It stopped due to a fear of unnecessary surgery

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Chessington - it's out of this world

As a special treat the day before Eldest Martini starts big school, Team Martini went en masse on a day trip to Chessington World of Adventures. It's not even ten miles from our house - who knew? - and I have to be honest, I wasn't expecting fantastic things (totally based on a fairly blah experience about 15 years ago. Hardly fair, but then, who said I was fair?). I was quite wrong. It was FANTASTIC. 

All three Martini children enjoyed different things at the park - and there were no queues, which was a bonus - so we could go on rides more than once when demanded! The Octonauts theme to the Sealife Centre was a big hit and I was super impressed with the First Aid team - eldest Martini was stung by a wasp, but thanks to the TLC he got from the first aiders it didn't ruin the day. 

We had also considered going to Legoland, but it was actually closed yesterday (it's closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in September) so the decision was made for us. But, after our experience yesterday, I think it was the better option. Here are my top tips to get the most from the day:

1. Plan ahead. Sounds obvious - but there are some really good offers online, some even better than the obvious 2 for 1 coupons that are everywhere. We made the most of the adult/toddler deal - £19 for one adult and one toddler under 5. Also, ticket prices aren't done by age (apart from this adult/toddler deal) - they are done by height - which is good news if your children are shorter - especially because they can still go on a good portion of the rides. 

2. Visit the zoo. The Skytrain ride is good, but you can't beat walking round the zoo. We did that in the afternoon, and it was a great way to entertain the children after the excitement of the rides in the morning. Leave more time for this than you think - I was amazed how fascinated the kids were to watch a lion basically lying down doing absolutely nothing. 

3. Print off the itinerary so you know what's happening when. I made the school boy error of not confirming when Captain Barnacles was going to appear at the Sealife Centre - not something I'd ever do again. Whilst I, bigger Martini, was not that bothered, apparently the smaller Martinis were not in agreement. A person inside a huge costume that bears more than a passing resemblance to a cartoon character is not to be sniffed at. Fortunately, they got to meet Kwazii, so total disaster was averted. Just.

4. Pack snacks. While I can't bring myself to pack a full picnic and lug it around all day, it's not so hard to take some water bottles and some fruit. Prices on the park are high and there are many tempting alternatives that smaller Martinis would have quite happily had - such as doughnuts, chocolate marshmallows and crepes (come to think of it, so would I...).

5. If you're going to be a total sucker like me and actually buy the extortionate photographs at the end of some rides (and in the Sealife Centre - that one was good because we could all get in one photo and pose for it!) - then admit this fact in advance and make the most of the 4 items for £20 option. I didn't and then ended up spending more than this by the end of the day - don't make the same mistake we did. 

Monday, 9 September 2013

Super storage - vacuum bags

I am an absolute sucker for anything storage-related; I'm verging on OCD and having a place for everything is almost a religion. Smallest Martini is now almost 8 weeks old so I'm starting to get some time to myself - cue organising the house. It hasn't really been done since we moved in two years ago - mainly because it would appear that I'm always pregnant and thus too tired to lug heavy, bulky items around. But, no more! What joy.

A well-earned trip to Lakeland (am I the only one that could spend hours in this shop? I do worry about some of the products they sell in there - a stand for a stirring spoon, anyone? - but seriously, I could spend whole days just looking at all the different wares) was in order. I left with multiple vacuum pack bags and also these fantastic vacuum tote bags - which basically have vacuum bags in them but then shrink down into a tote bag that zips up and is stackable. It even has a clear panel so you can see what's inside. Lakeland, you are spoiling us...

I've used vacuum bags before, but they've never quite worked - maybe they were okay once or twice, but then they stop sealing properly. These bags, however, are guaranteed for five years - so even though they were a bit more expensive, I'm hopeful that they will last. If they don't, I'll be complaining. 

Check out the tote bags here and the regular vacuum bags here. Argos also has cheaper options if that's your preference. 

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Post-pregnancy make-up essentials

As promised, I've been meaning to do a post on my post-pregnancy make-up essentials for a while now. My skin changes quite a bit through pregnancy, so my post-natal routine is pretty important in the attempt to get back to normality (whatever that is). 

Two things are absolutely key: products have to be quick and easy to use - multi-purpose products are king - and they have to be long-lasting. Getting the chance to put on make-up is an achievement; the chances of top-up opportunities throughout the day are non-existent.

So, my current routine is as follows:

1. Primer - Essential. I never used to bother with primer, but now I wouldn't be without it. I'm a big fan of Garnier's Purfect Blur - it has a very similar consistency to the more expensive Porefessional by Benefit - it really does make a visible difference and is a great base for make-up. 

2.  Concealer - I'm currently using Touche Veloutee by Terry and although I was very happy with it during my pregnancy, it's not working for me right now. It's very cakey under the eyes - possibly because the skin under my eyes is so dry right now. I'm on the hunt for a replacement so any recommendations welcome.

3. Tinted moisturiser - Mac Studio Moisture Tint - fab, because it has SPF 15. It's light but effective coverage, and has seen me through both pregnancy and post-natal (so far). I might need to change it in the colder months, but so far, so good. 

4. Powder - Rimmel Stay Matte pressed powder in transparent. Works a treat - highly recommended. 

5. Blusher - No. 7's blush tint stick - I really wanted a Nars Multiple, but was on a budget, so compromised with this. It's okay, but not brilliant. Doubles as a lip stain too, but I'm just not that keen on the consistency - and it's staying power isn't the strongest. It will do, but I won't be repurchasing. 

6. Eye liner - Chanel Le Crayon. I love this eyeliner. Stays put, lasts forever and looks great. Not cheap, but if I only put on one bit of make-up, it's eyeliner. A keeper. 

7. Mascara - my search for the ultimate mascara continues. I've been using Max Factor's False Lash Effect mascara. Award-winning it may be, but it doesn't work for me. It flakes and a good amount of it usually ends up on my cheeks. Not attractive. 

8. Eye shadow / brows - years ago, I bought a four-part customisable palette from Bobbi Brown. I haven't yet had to replace the shadows I choose to go in it, but they were great choices if I say so myself. No matter how many other shadows I try, I always end up back at these. You can see that some do need updating (and excuse the one that has been attacked by Martini Mini number 3) - I'll have to see what's still available when I restock. But, if you're a sucker for the ultimate control of what's in your palette, then this is a great option. 

9. Lip balm - mainly because I use what ever's to hand - I have a few randomly about the house / my bag / the car. My current favourite is Palmer's Cocoa Butter - and it's an absolute bargain at less than £2. Winner. 

Friday, 30 August 2013

When in doubt, fake it

In preparation for even thinner hair, I finally gave in and bought a 'hair piece'. I've been considering a variety of extensions for a prolonged period of time, but at the moment, the chances of me finding the time to put in and then style a 10-piece set are non-existent. What better solution, then, than a hair wrap - basically, a scrunchie with a load of synthetic hair whacked on the elastic.

I draw the line at the rat-like looking pieces in Claire's Accessories, but the reviews of the Hot Hair pieces were pretty promising, and with an offer over the Bank Holiday, I guessed there wouldn't be a better time to give one a try. 

The image of the chosen piece at Hot Hair was, I guessed, unlikely to be achieved:

but, I have to admit, when it arrived today, I was pleasantly surprised. It blends well with my own hair and is super simple to style - I put my hair in a basic folded ponytail and then wrap the scrunchie around it and, voila, double the amount of hair. 

The photo below doesn't quite do it justice; it's not as dark as it looks here, and also, I'll admit it looks a bit rat-like in the photo. I promise it looks much better in situ. It will be interesting to see how it holds up after a few wears - I'll post an update once I know. 

Monday, 26 August 2013

Tied up

As the pregnancy hormones continue to disappear, I'm preparing myself for the hair loss that inevitably follows. Imagine my joy (it doesn't take much, I admit) at discovering these little beauties from Sweaty Betty: cable hair toggles.

A bargain at just £4 for five, I wasn't convinced that they'd hold my very fine hair - but they do, and they are brilliant. Coming from Sweaty Betty, they are obviously designed for exercise bunnies, so I can also feel virtuous for entering a gym shop (I didn't say I was actually exercising). 

At the time of checking, they have sold out online so head to your nearest store to grab yours while you can.  

Friday, 23 August 2013

Clinique Repairwear Serum - one week in

I've been using the new Repairwear Serum (launching in September) twice a day for the past week and I can honestly say it is making a difference. My skin definitely looks smoother and my eyes look slightly more rested. If it can work with a four week old baby, then it must be doing something right.

I've mentioned before that I'm a big Genifique fan, and that's not going to change anytime soon, but so far I do think this is a good alternative. The only thing I'd say now is that I need to use more of the Clinique serum per application compared to Genifique, but they seem to have similar results. It will be interesting to see what difference there is in three weeks' time. 

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Why I think it's okay not to want children

I have to admit I'm at a complete loss as to why there is a debate around whether or not women have the 'right' to decide whether or not they want children. It seems fairly straight forward to me: if you want to have children, have them and if you don't, then don't. Obviously, I understand that it's not always this simple, but the debate at the moment isn't considering physical circumstances; it seems to be saying that women should want to have children just because they are women.

I have four children, and I love having them - even if it means I don't get a lot of sleep. But I don't think it makes you less of a woman if you don't want to have children - to be honest, I can understand some people just wouldn't want to do it. I have friends and colleagues who have made the decision not to have children - their reasons are varied. 

For one, it's a lifestyle choice - she likes her life with her husband as it is, and she doesn't want to change it. Her husband is totally on board with that - and good luck to them. Another hasn't met the right guy and honestly believes that children should have a mother and father if at all possible - she doesn't think it's right to have one without a partner and therefore she has decided it would be selfish for her to have a child just because she's nearing an age where she won't be able to for much longer. Again, I think she's being completely honest with herself - and that's totally her choice.

We absolutely should not be making women feel like they've somehow failed if they opt not to have children. Quite the opposite; having children is a massive undertaking and there are enough unfit parents out there, without forcing more people into it just because society tells us it's the appropriate behaviour. 

Taking control of your future, whether that includes children or not, is your right and isn't anyone else's business. Is it possible to live a rich and fulfilled life without children? Quite honestly, I don't know because I have children and can no longer remember life without them, but I'd bet you a pound to a penny that I could find you many child-free women that will tell you it's more than possible; it's a reality. 

Sunday, 18 August 2013

It's all about the serum... for the next two weeks at least

I have to admit that I haven't tried a great range of face serums; I used a sample of Lancome's Advanced Genifique and was instantly hooked. If you're interested, it's light, it is absorbed almost instantly by the skin (I've heard this is evidence that it's more effective, but I have no scientific grounding to back this up) and comes with a dropper so it's easy to get the amount I need without wastage. What's not to love? It's not cheap, but I'm increasingly of the opinion that, if I have to choose, skincare wins over make-up. 

But, when I heard that Clinique was offering a free month's worth of their new Repairwear Laser Focus Serum (worth £40), I decided to give it a try. I picked up the last sample at the Clinique counter in Bentalls - apparently there was quite the stampede after the offer appeared in Martin Lewis' money saving email - and have been using it since Friday.

To be honest, I wasn't overwhelmed by the sales assistant - there wasn't much information shared or advice given on how to use it, other than to use twice a day. She clearly had had enough of people keen to pick up on a freebie. Maybe I just caught her on a bad day. I'll see how it goes when I go back to collect my second sample. 

But, if the claims are accurate, it's worth me overcoming my initial opinion of the sales staff: according to The Telegraph, Clinique promises the serum will improve smoothness by 63 per cent, help to correct visible damage from direct UV exposure and recapture that youthful glow. (They are, of course, assuming that I had a youthful glow. I'm not sure I ever did...) Apparently, the serum has also been shown to deliver a visible reduction in lines and wrinkles and will deliver a smoother, more refined texture in just four weeks. 

So far, I like it. Obviously, it's too soon to make a visible difference, but I'm certainly not reaching for the Genifique just yet. My skin does seem slightly smoother, so I'm hopeful it can live up to at least some of these promises...

If there's any left, you can pick up samples at your local Clinique counter until 22 August. 

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore...

It's just about as far away as you can get from the daily commute. Yesterday morning, all four Martini children, accompanied by our ever diligent nanny and my good self, piled into the car to head to Garsons Farm in Esher for some summer activities. Waiting on a train platform for a South West Trains train to arrive this is not.

We were met in the car park by several other members of Mum's Army, all parking up their impossibly large vehicles and wrestling with state of the art buggies that are as difficult to get upright as trying to figure out how you lift the bonnet of the car - although why you'd ever attempt that is beyond me. 

Multiple calls of 'Henrietta, not that way' and 'Sebastian, stay close to mummy' ring out, accompanied mainly by the sound of children demanding to get to the play area/cafe - delete as appropriate. I'm not quite sure what new world I've entered into, but I definitely don't feel at home. 

However, despite my initial hesitation, I have to admit this was great fun. Cake decorating resulted in significant mess - but ultimately some beautiful cakes (okay, I'm biased - see the one on the left - Middle Martini set herself the challenge of decorating the cake so much it wasn't actually visible any more...) and the enjoyment the kids got from it almost brought tears to my eyes. Don't worry, I haven't gone soft - I said 'almost'.

And the fruit picking - or more accurately, sweetcorn picking - was very enjoyable. The kids had almost free reign to run around the crops attempting to find the ones with 'brown beards' (Garson's description on what to look for, not mine) and they loved it. And, I'll admit it, I had good fun too. Making sweetcorn chutney, amongst other delights, is on the cards later this week. It'll have to be - we have enough sweetcorn to sink a ship. 

I may only be doing this for six months, but maternity leave is looking like it might just suit me - for a while at least. 

Friday, 9 August 2013

Post-pregnancy skincare favourites

Trying to get back on track when you're sleep deprived, time deprived and generally just deprived, means products that are low on maintenance but high on impact are the order of the day. I've reverted to some old favourites and discovered some new products that (hopefully) do the job of at least suggesting I'm in control (even if that's just an act...)

Clarins Flash Balm - where would we be without this miracle wonder? If you don't have at least one tube of this, I'd highly recommend investing - it is sleep in a bottle. 

Eye creams are essential for me - genetically I may be lucky with no stretch marks, but I get terrible dark circles under my eyes, so I'm always on the look out for wonderous creams. As yet, nothing is a total miracle, but the combination of the Body Shop (who knew? I thought this company had gone out of business, but I recently rediscovered it and I'm quite the fan!) Vitamin E Eye Cream during the day and No. 7 Revitalising Eye Balm at night is working pretty well so far. I'd definitely recommend both of these. 

Nivea Rich Nourishing Body Moisturiser - I haven't used this before, but I'm loving it. I'm combining it with Cussons Mum and Me Stretch Mark Cream. I don't have any stretch marks (thanks Mum) but I'm guessing it has general firming properties - and it's seen me through this pregnancy, so I'll give it the benefit of the doubt. Once I stop breast feeding, I'll move on to a firming body cream (the jury's still out on which one). 

Washing my hands a million times a day means a good hand cream is a necessity too. I'm using L'Occitane's Shea Butter hand cream - it smells divine and really moisturises my hands - perfect. I'm also partial to Burts Bees Almond and Milk hand cream - it's really thick and rich, so you don't need much. 

I'm worried that, as per all my other pregnancies, hair loss is going to kick in after a couple more weeks - so I'm religiously using Aussie's 3 Minute Miracle Shine in the hope of protecting what's there at the moment. I also recently discovered This One Replenishing Treatment and I'm using that a couple of times a week. Too soon to say whether it's working, but it's worth a try - and was a bargain at just £6. Stay tuned - I'll keep you posted on progress. 

Monday, 5 August 2013


It took a while - initial contractions unbelievably started on 3 July - but we got there in the end. Finally. Mini Martini - the final installment - decided to arrive on the same day as HRH Prince George - but only just. 

I had spent most of the day watching the news green with envy that Kate Middleton had gone into labour - I was seriously starting to question whether there actually was a baby in there, or in fact, if I had just eaten too many cakes. Quite possible. We'd also just found out that anyone that gave birth on the same day as Kate would be eligible for a very exclusive coin from the Royal Mint. Naturally, I'd set my sights on that. 

Lying in bed, watching the 10 O'Clock News celebrating the birth of a boy, the third in line to the throne, Mr. Martini told me that I'd let the family down by not securing one of these coins. (He was joking, of course, but I was just miserable that it was another day closer to the dreaded induction, that I had already refused but was getting increasing pressure from the midwives to do this.) It was probably that comment that finally spurred me into action. Cue seriously painful contractions. It was half past ten. 

We called the parents (they were on standby to look after the other children). We realised we needed to leave RIGHT NOW - my parents were still a good 15 minutes away. Mr. M. knocked on the neighbours' door and asked them to come in and wait for my parents to arrive. They obliged - I dread to think what I looked like - and Mr. M. drove like a maniac to Kingston hospital. 

I went up to the maternity ward on my own while he parked the car (this story has a familiar ring to it). There was some poor other lady also in labour in the waiting room - I'm afraid that she was still waiting while I got ushered straight through into a room. 

The midwife examined me - only 5 cm dilated apparently. She left the room. Mr. M. joined me - and mentioned that I had 23 minutes to get the coin. The midwife was no where to be seen. Clearly, she didn't think it was serious. She was wrong.

Mr. M. went and found the elusive midwife - after some huffing and puffing (her not me) she came back into the room, and proceeded to sort through some paperwork. She almost missed the delivery of the child. Well done.

All done in 25 minutes. Can't say fairer than that. This will definitely be our last, so I'm making the most of every minute with the absolutely darling newborn. He is absolutely gorgeous. And yes, we'll be getting that coin. Result.