Wednesday, 31 December 2014

New Year Resolutions

2014 was a pretty hectic year, so I don't want to go overboard on the resolutions for 2015 - but, of course, there are a few things I'd like to do differently / start so let's get to it:

1. Scrapbooking. Of course, now I've finished my MSc, I have so much time on my hands I simply don't know what to do with it all... Okay - so I'm still pretty busy, but I haven't been too good at keeping mementos of the kids' early lives - and I'm keen to try Project Life. I'm not going crazy - apparently some people do it every day (?!) - but a monthly 'journal' should be straightforward. I guess we'll see at the end of the year.

2. Eat more healthily. Not diet, you understand - although I'll probably continue with the 5:2. But actually just try not to put so much processed crap into my body. Let's face it; I'm not getting any younger - it's time to start taking care of myself properly. 

3. Pass my motorbike test. Not the theory - that's already done - but the practical bit. I'm not adding buying a motorbike to the list - that can be my task for 2016 - but I am going to get my license next year for sure. 

4. Get back into knitting. I used to do this a lot, but my MSc took over and I haven't made anything for quite a while. I miss it - and if I start now, the kids and I might all have some decent knitwear for next winter!

5. Be more social. Working full time and four kids gives us far too much reason not to get out as much as we should. 2015 will be the year that I actually plan to see my friends - and then do it.

What do you have planned for next year?

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Top 10 beauty products under £10

As 2014 draws to a close, I wanted to highlight some of the best budget buys I've been using during the year. Some are new, some are old and trusted favourites - but all are fantastic value for money. I've by no means captured them all - but these have been my top ten products this year that cost less than £10. Enjoy.

You can't argue with a decent foundation for under a tenner - and that's exactly what Bourjois Healthy Mix is. Yes, it's been around a while - but there's a reason it's still a best seller. Given that Bourjois and Chanel are owned by the same company, perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that it's such good quality - and good value. It's £9.99 - but it compares well with much more expensive foundations. The coverage is good, the range of colours is pretty good and it's staying power is more than good. 

Highly pigmented, and staying power of around 4-6 hours, the Bourjois Rouge Edition Velvet lipstick deserves a mention. Initially launched in six colours, there are now eight to choose from. Initially, it feels quite wet when you first apply it, but it dries to a matte finish. It does still transfer to mugs or glasses - so be careful with that - but overall, a good addition to any make-up bag. £8.99 each. 

Revlon ColorBurst Matte Balm comes in a massive range of colours and there are also gloss versions if that's more your style. They feel like a lip balm - they feature a triple butter complex of shea, mango and coconut butters - and are quite pigmented. The staying power isn't comparable to more expensive versions (at least on my lips) but for £7.99 you can't really moan. 

If you're looking for a decent eye shadow with good pigmentation and staying power, then look no further than Max Factor's Excess Shimmer pots. Don't be put off by the name - yes, they are shimmery, but I wouldn't say it's excessive. The staying power is very good - you'll need a decent eye make-up remover to get this off - and my colour of choice is bronze. It does sell out pretty quickly so can be difficult to get hold of - but when you can find it, it's £7.99. 

To be honest, there are lots of 'drug store' mascaras out there that do a very good job - I definitely wouldn't opt for a high end version, - I'd spend the cash on skincare or foundation first. The new SEVENTEEN Falsifeye HD mascara is well worth a look - it's £6.99 and really does give length and volume. What more could you want?

The Body Shop Body Butters aren't technically under £10 - the normal retail price is £13 - but there's usually an offer that makes them around £6. My personal favourite is the Brazil Nut one, but I've used a few at different times and they're all good. I use them after a bath before going to bed - they are quite heavy and need some time to sink in - but it really hydrates my skin and they smell amazing. 

The whole Neutrogena Visibly Clear range in pink grapefruit is great value for money (and as a sneaky 11th product, I'd also check out the facial wash - £4.49) but the moisturiser smells fantastic and is really light and hydrating. It's £4.99 but currently on offer - so definitely worth picking up when you're out and about. (Not pictured)

Rimmel Stay Matte Pressed Powder - a bargain at just £3.99 - does exactly what the name suggests: it stays matte. Most of the pressed powders at this price point are a bit too 'talcum powder' like for me - but this one has been a staple in my make-up bag this year. (Not pictured)

Love multi-tasking products? Then check out Nivea Daily Essentials 2 in 1 Cleanser and Toner. For oily and combination skins, this little beauty cleanses and tones in one easy step. Just pop on your serum and moisturiser and you're good to go. £3.59 definitely isn't going to break the bank. 

COLAB dry shampoo is wonderous. Created by Ruth Crilly - blogger extraordinaire - it claims to be a breakthrough in dry shampoo couture, and it doesn't disappoint. Perhaps the best thing about this is the total lack of white powder that is so often associated with dry shampoo. It comes in a range of fragrances, each named after different world cities - my personal favourite is London, obviously - but to be honest, they're all pretty good. Snap one up in your local Superdrug - the 200ml size is just £2.32. (Not pictured)

Saturday, 27 December 2014

I'm back!

Happy Christmas! I hope you've had a good one so far. I was worried I wouldn't get to enjoy Christmas at all - I came down with pneumonia in the middle of November and I've only just properly recovered. Fortunately, just in time for the big day!

I didn't really have the chance to get properly prepared for Christmas - and for me, the build up is half the fun. However, I did manage to make the cake you see above - and today I'm going to make some gingerbread - so all is not completely lost. If, like me, you love a Christmas cooking programme, then you may well recognise the cake from Nigella - the recipe is here. Admittedly, it's not the most fat-free option, but then - well, it is Christmas...

We've had a great couple of days - although very hectic - so I'm looking forward to a couple of chill out days before going back to work on Monday. Online sale shopping and trying out all my new presents will be the order of the day :)

Monday, 27 October 2014

HUGE haul - Primark, Topshop and Next

I rarely get time to shop these days, so a couple of hours being let loose yesterday resulted in a serious spending frenzy. I started in Primark - the only way to go in that shop is first thing in the morning, when it's still empty and stocked up on hangers, pyjamas and slippers. I was especially proud of the slippers - cosy toes - but all of the items were pleasingly Christmassy. Last year, I made the huge mistake of not buying the items when I first saw them. I didn't make the same mistake twice. Red tartan and reindeers ruled the shopping basket. Very pleasing indeed.

I also picked up a kilt, a Christmas jumper (obviously - and it plays music. Classy) and a Frozen t-shirt. Eldest daughter is soon to be having a Frozen-themed birthday party, so I thought I'd better join in. I also picked up a few hair turbans - good presents - and another pair of cosy toes for my sister, living in Japan and therefore probably Primark deprived. 

The Christmas candles were also piled high on the shelves, so I choose the winter berry one to try. If nothing else, the tin will look nice when the candle runs out. 

Following my epic session in Primark, I hot footed it to Topshop. My student discount is in the final few weeks, so I need to be making the most of that - the black skirt and the mint tunic are both sparkly and spot on for the forthcoming festive season. 

Finally, I need some boots for all these new clothes I've bought. I really wanted some over the knee boots and these ones from Next are an absolute bargain at under £60. 

Now, all I need is somewhere to go...

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Review: La Roche-Posay Toleriane Dermo-Cleanser

As I get older, my skincare routine is increasingly important to me. I'm not going to lie: I've gone from a very badly behaved 20-something that regularly fell asleep with all full face of make-up to someone that's almost addicted to the double cleanse in the evening. 

I picked up this La Roche-Posay cleanser when we were in France, mainly because I'd forgotten to pack my usual cleanser. I hadn't used anything from La Roche-Posay before and I didn't really know what to expect. 

I tend to use either oils or balms for the first step and then micellar water - so the consistency of this cleanser was somewhat unexpected - it's a very light lotion - almost milky. I wasn't sure how much dirt it was really removing until I went in with the micellar water - there was almost nothing on the pad. 

Massaging the cleanser onto your face is really very therapeutic - it smells very fresh and almost makes your skin 'glow' - it feels radiant when you've finished. I personally use my muslin cloth to remove any residue that's left, but you can just pat it dry - it doesn't need to be rinsed apparently. I'm never too comfortable what that approach - I need to get rid of it to assure myself the dirt has been removed. But whatever works for you. 

I've also subsequently found out this brand is particularly effective for sensitive skins. I don't have sensitive skin - but I absolutely love this cleanser. If you've got any other recommendations from La Roche-Posay, do let me know. 

It's currently on offer at Boots - get it while you can. 

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Review: Tarte lights, camera, flashes statement mascara

I'm always jealous of people that have really long eye lashes. This includes my one year old son, who seems to have been particularly blessed in that department. Although I have flirted with eye lash extensions, that is a lengthy, tedious process that ultimately only looks good for about a week before they start to fall off and generally get itchy. Not a great look.

So, when a mascara promises to ''lengthen, curl and magnify for an intensified look proven to increase lash volume by 752% instantly', it would be rude not to try it. (And, yes, I know that length and volume are not the same thing, but anything has to be better than nothing...)

The brush is surprisingly short and, well, sparse - I was expecting something a bit fuller to produce these 700% better lashes:

Tarte tells me (via the website, not in person) the brush is 'custom-engineered' and 'dual-molded' to boost even the skinniest lashes. I'll be honest, I wasn't that optimistic. But, and it's a big BUT, I was wrong. I'm guessing that because the brush is fairly sparse, it means it doesn't clog up on way too much mascara - thus blissfully avoiding the dreaded clumpy look. We all know what I'm talking about. Two coats and bingo - much longer looking, more volumised lashes. I have no idea if it's 752% more volume, but it's definitely an improvement, and that's enough for me.

Best of all, this lasts all day, doesn't flake and doesn't give me panda eyes in the afternoon. And as an added bonus, the provitamin B5 (a derivative of vitamin B) helps treat and lengthen the lashes. Allegedly.   

This version isn't waterproof, but it does take a decent eye make-up remover to get it off at night. Possibly that's the beeswax - but given that ingredient is supposed to naturally stimulate collagen production, I'm not going to complain. 

If you're in the US - you lucky things - get yours here, but if you're in the UK, you'll have to settle for the 4-1 version - that's next on my list to try. Let me know if you do first. 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Another year older...

My kids were definitely way more excited about my birthday than I was. But, you do have to embrace their enthusiasm - it means nothing to them that I'm crashing beyond the wrong side of 35. And, I have to admit, their enthusiasm was infectious. 

I was very well looked after - and the presents weren't bad either! The in-laws outdid themselves: a KitchenAid? Seriously, I didn't think we'd have one of those for years. And someone else who knows me well gave me the Bake Off cook book. Rest assured the KitchenAid has already been put to good use - and no doubt more on that will follow!

I got a few treats from the fantastic Hamman range at Rituals. And Mr. M outdid himself - flowers, a Longchamp bag and a session with a personal stylist (admittedly I think he's still compensating for the now infamous accidental donation of my entire wardrobe to charity).  

All this, combined with a family dinner and Sunday lunch with friends all made for a very enjoyable time indeed. I'm almost looking forward to next year. Almost. 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Courgetti - taking the 5:2 world by storm

Courgetti - or coodles, as The Londoner calls them - is taking the world by storm. Or, probably more accurately, it's impressing anyone on the 5:2 diet as a tasty alternative to pasta that has very few calories. It's a winner. 

(Admittedly, that might not be the case if you don't like courgette. But then, who doesn't like courgette?)

Today was a fast day, and I had 300 calories to play with for dinner. This ended up not even being close - a mere 205 calories. Now, you can't complain at that. 

To recreate it, you'll need (for one person):

1 courgette (40 cals)
1 small onion (6 cals)
1 slice bacon (65 cals)
1 garlic clove (4 cals)
1 tsp olive oil (40 cals)
1/2 can tinned tomatoes (50 cals)

Start by frying your onion and garlic in the olive oil. When translucent, add the bacon and fry for a couple of minutes to colour.

Add the tinned tomatoes and season. Bring to a simmer.

While the tomato sauce is cooking, prepare your 'courgetti'. For this, simply wash your courgette and then use a julienne peeler or spiralizer to create the ribbons. I use this one for the job. You'll be left with a whole heap of courgetti:

When the tomato sauce is cooked, add the courgette and heat through. Don't be tempted to over cook it - it won't take long, especially if you're like me and like it to have some bite (or be al' dente if it was pasta). 

Absolutely delicious, and a real fast day winner. On a non-fast day, I might add pesto and cheese. Yum. Either way, it's so good it definitely won't be restricted to fast days. Try it!

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Beauty review: Kiehl's Micro-Blur Skin Perfector

I've been a convert to primers ever since I discovered Garnier's Perfect Blur - it basically smooths out the skin and works wonders on those pesky pores. And while in my post-pregnancy state, Garnier's Perfect Blur was working wonders, more recently it's not been reacting so well with my skin. In fact, it tends to form a bit of a film, which is very unattractive.

Enter Kiehl's Micro-Blur Skin Perfector. As you'd expect, Kiehl's bill this product as skin care, rather than make-up, because it includes lipo hydroxy acid, bark and lentil extracts that apparently will refine pores and lines over time. I can't attest to that, but I can tell you that the water-base means it skins into skin without creating a clogged-up feeling.

It also is made with hydrating glycerin and has a smaller content of silicon polymers than many other primers - again, all good. On me, it doesn't look like much on its own - and certainly doesn't have the same impact as Perfect Blur (which makes a massive difference on its own). BUT - and it's a big BUT - the real difference is after you've applied your foundation. It obviously creates some kind of based that significantly improves how the product sits on my skin. It is brilliant - and easily as good, if not better, than Perfect Blur. 

Moveover, it feels much better on the skin - and that can only be a good thing. It costs £23, so more expensive than the Garner one, but it's worth it - and if the long-term skin care claims are correct then all the better. 

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Review: Clarins Radiance-Plus Golden Glow Booster

I'm not usually a fan of self-tan. I always think it looks fake, no matter how hard I try. And, because I've got an olive skin tone anyway, it doesn't really matter too much - I'm not super pale.

However, since I've started using the Obagi skincare system, I've had to use SPF 50 on my face and neck and it's surprising how much lighter my face has become. Obviously, there is some sun coming through in London. (That, or the awful lights in my office are having an unwanted effect.)

I was buying my staple purchase from the Clarins counter at the airport recently (Flash Balm, obviously) and the sales consultant recommended this little wonder. Perhaps what I love most is that it's not really fake tan at all - you simply add a drop or too of the liquid to your regular moisturiser and voila - a 'glowing' face. Not really tanned, just more healthy. 

I actually use it at night, and I use two drops - but I've read reviews where people have been adding six with no adverse effects. Certainly I've not experienced any streaking or scary orange streaks. The dispensing technique is also brilliant - turn it upside down and then press the bottom to release a single drop. No wastage whatsoever. 

This is definitely a favourite product for me - I'd highly recommend it. Buy yours here - even better that it's currently on offer for £16.20. 

Monday, 22 September 2014

Review: Dove Pure Care Dry Oil treatment mask

My hair is very fine and, although there's a lot of it, it can have a tendency to go quite flat and dull without some proper effort. I'm finally through the worst of the post pregnancy hair loss (revolting), so I'm trying to form new habits to properly look after my hair. 

This range (one of three from Dove's Advanced Hair offerings) is specifically designed to sort out flat and dull hair - mainly by nourishing the bejesus out of it. It contains macadamia and pomegranate seed oils to really revitalise dry hair. Dove claims that it leaves you with 5 x silkier hair. 

The mask smells divine -it's the coconut I think - and it has a rich, creamy texture. I use a small scoop (around the size of a 50p piece) and massage it into my hair twice a week. A little goes a long way. It suggests being left on for 3-5 minutes, but I usually leave it for about 20. It rinses out easily and my hair is much more manageable afterwards. It also makes my hair considerably softer. 

Dove also claims that it reduces frizz, but that didn't work for me. That said, my hair is particularly prone to frizz, and not much does work on that front. I actually want to try out the dry oil, based on the success of this product. I'll keep you posted on that.

Overall, especially for the price, I'd recommend giving this product a try if you dry hair. And right now, it's part of the 3 for 2 at Boots - so how could you refuse? 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Review: Obagi Nu-derm

Before we start, a disclaimer: 

1. These products are not available in the UK, because they do not comply with EU standards
2. They will not be for everyone - they have strong chemical components
3. What's written here is purely my opinion and is based on my personal experience. In short, I am not a doctor, have no medical expertise and do not claim to be an expert on the ingredients in these products

Okay, with that out of the way: I've held off this review for quite some time, because I wanted to thoroughly test out these products (see disclaimer above). But, I've been using the system, on and off (see below), for around six months, so I feel that's enough of a test run to comment on results.

There's a very detailed overview of the whole system on the Obagi website, but in short, the system claims to improve sun damaged skin by 'penetrating the skin's surface'. I have some melasma spots on my face, most likely due to a lack of proper protection when I was young and thought I'd be young forever - I was to busy having fun to both with dull old things like SPF for the face. And, while minor, it was increasingly clear that Vitamin E wasn't going to cut it. 

It was actually my sister that suggested I check out Obagi - it's very popular in the US, and although technically you need a prescription to get it, your reliable friend and mine the internet enables you to bypass this technicality pretty quickly. And yes, I realise some people will raise an eyebrow at that. If you do, probably don't read on. 

So, after a quick read, I ordered a whole system (in for a penny, in for a pound). What's less clear, although essential, is a separate purchase of tretinoin cream to make sure the system really does its thing. It's worth noting that the tretinoin is particularly potent and comes in three strengths: 0.1% (the strongest), 0.05% and 0.025%. My sister was using the 0.1% and found that a bit strong, so I opted for the 0.05%, which worked well for me. I'd always err on the side of caution - or, if you're in the US, get a doctor's advice. Alternatively, you can call the stores in the US and they may be able to guide you over the phone. 

It's fairly straight forward. The products are even numbered to help you out - and they tell you whether to be used in the morning, the evening or both. Be warned, it's a pretty in-depth system, although it you're a dedicated skin care routine kind of a gal, then you'll be fine. In the mornings, you cleanse, tone, then use 'Clear', then 'Exfoderm', then moisturise ('Hydrate') and then use the SPF 50. And you'll need this 50 - the system definitely makes your skin more sensitive.

In the evenings, it's pretty much the same, but you replace 'Exfoderm' with 'Blender'. You mix this blender with the tretinoin. It's difficult to find exact guidance on amounts to mix - probably because you should be advised by your doctor - but I have been mixing a small pea-sized amount with a slightly larger pea-sized amount of the blender. In short, it bleaches the skin. 

Now, I warn you, the immediate results are not pretty. Basically, after a couple of days, your skin will feel really dry, tight and - even worse - it starts to peel off like a snake shedding skin. Definitely do not start this just before an important occasion. Make-up can only minimise the damage. 

If this happens, as it did with me, step it back a bit. Ease off the tretinoin and maybe only do the whole system every other day. It's all about getting your skin used to the products. I just had to be sensible. Also, in the early days, I was quite concerned about the amount to use. It's actually not as difficult as it first appears; the lines on the packaging help (if you squeeze a line across the Obagi brand name, an inch covers the 'O-B-A'. Simples. 

Also, I've gotten to know how much to use just by trying different amounts. 

So, the verdict.

This is, hands down, the best skin care regime I've ever used. First, the melasma spots have gone. But, second, my skin is glowing. That's right - glowing. Let me assure you, no one ever said I was glowing during four pregnancies. And I'm not given to exaggerations on these sorts of things. The truth is, I was pretty skeptical, but thought it was worth a try - although it's not cheap, it's not that much more than I've wasted over the years on products that didn't work. 

The peeling is fairly short lived, and my skin is genuinely much better when that all stops. I've read that it lasts for some people for considerably longer - for me, it was around a week.

You're not supposed to do this programme continuously. I think around three months if you do it religiously. I tend to use it 2 to 3 times a week at the moment - and when we were in France, I took a complete break. I know lots of people will be against it - partly because the EU won't accept it (fair enough) and partly because of the ingredients (also fair enough). But if nothing else has been working, and you want to give something else a whirl, I can't recommend this enough. Let me know if you try it!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Nuxe - a French pharmacie staple

Nuxe. A French brand I'd heard much about, but not ever used. As soon as we arrived in France, I made a beeline for the nearest pharmacie (which, by the way, didn't very long, because they are everywhere). 

I wasn't disappointed. The brand means 'nature' and 'luxury' in French - so that gives you a clue about what you're in for.

The product I absolutely wasn't leaving without was the Huile Prodigieuse, a favourite among models across the globe; there's a lot of hype about this little beauty. Apparently, 97.8% of its ingredients are of natural origin and it contains the magic Vitamin E that helps nourish, repair and soften skin. I don't about all of that, but it smells absolutely divine. It can be used on your face, your body and even your hair - and a little goes a long way. I saw a difference in my skin in just a couple of days. In short: it's worth the hype.

The moisturiser was an emergency purchase - the Clarins face cream I'd taken with me did not agree with my skin at all. That's unusual - generally I'm a big Clarins fan - but if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. This Beaute Light, on the other hand, is fantastic. The helpful woman on the counter steered me away from heavier creams, telling me the product I was looking at was for much older women (obviously, after that, I'd have bought anything). This claims to have a light texture that stays matte all day. Check and check again. 

And, well, if you're looking around, there's no harm trying a harmless little lip balm while you're at it, right? (Okay, I have around a million lip balms. But, that does put me in a good position to make comprehensive comparisons.) I'll make it quick: love, love, love. Smells lovely, feels lovely, lasts for a long time. I wish I'd bought more than one. 

I also picked up a hand cream - Caudalie, not Nuxe, but worth a mention. My hands get very dry and I think I'm a bit addicted to hand creams. This one is very indulgent - it's not cheap, but it doesn't leave that awful film that cheaper creams can sometimes leave. And it smells wonderful too. (There's a common theme developing on that front for French products.)

Obviously, these products were cheaper (and, in fact, quite a bit cheaper) in France, but imagine my delight when I discovered that Marks and Spencer are now selling Nuxe - it means you can try before you buy in store. Perfect. And for the dedicated onliners, there's the ever reliable Escentual. Enjoy. 

Saturday, 6 September 2014

J'adore France... and other things I learnt this holiday

Dissertation done (finally!) and after a brief séjour - of basically a day and a half - in Spain, we were on our way to France, for the first family holiday since Eldest Martini was born in 2009. Well, if you do keep getting pregnant and having a child under the age of one, it does hinder your travelling capabilities significantly.

But, with those days well and truly behind us, we set off in the ridiculously large very spacious people carrier, complete with packed roof box, without a backward glance.

It was fantastic. Good food, good wine - what's not to love? We're already planning next year's adventure. Any advice? I hear you ask. But, of course:

1. Just because you're in control, doesn't mean the journey is stress free. 

Especially if you travel with Mr. Martini. Four children under the age of 5? No problem. (Although having Frozen on constant repeat did get tiresome.) Endless requirements for loo stops? The French serve wine at service stations, so bring it on. No, the problems came in the form on Mr. M. being in charge of petrol. In short, his massive miscalculation meant we had a very stressful 30 minutes without a petrol station in sight, and us basically hoping the fumes (we were well past the empty sign on the gauge) would get us through. They did, but this was far more luck than judgement. Needless to say, I was in charge of deciding when to stop for petrol from this point onwards. 

2. Ensure you have WiFi (or, at the very least, an internet connection)
And ideally, get hold of some bluetooth speakers for either your phone or tablet too. The home comforts of spotify, netflix and iPlayer saved us on several occasions. 

3. Sticker books are quite possibly the best invention in the world. Ever.

Nannie Martini had the remarkable foresight to prepare 'activity packs' for the three eldest Mini Martinis - which included pencil cases and a range of colouring books, sticker books and pads. Granny Martini also provided some sticker books. And Aunty Martini (aka my sister) sent a whole load of stickers and other treats from Japan. To be honest, I've never seen concentration from the kids. I doubt we could recreate it at home, however hard we tried. 

4. Day trips are essential

My ideal holiday would be lying by a pool in 40 degree heat, alternating between dozing and reading. I have to face the reality: this is unlikely to happen until all the children have stopped coming on holiday with us. They, apparently, aren't quite so keen to laze about doing nothing all day. So, plan some day trips you can all enjoy. We went to the Aquarium in La Rochelle, which was phenomenal  (look at the size of the tank below) and kept everyone entertained all day. Sun loungers: I will return one day, but not for a while. 

5. Try and get a babysitter for the evening - just to remember what the old days were like
We were lucky - the caretaker was an ex-pat and has three kids of her own (slightly older than ours, but young enough for her to remember!), and she came highly recommended. So, we treated ourselves to a couple of grown-ups only dinners at very French restaurants, and gorged on cheese, steak and wine. Just remember that the children will still be up, bright eyed and bushy tailed at the crack of dawn the next day!

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Restoring my faith in humanity

I admit it: I'm a cynical human being. I generally have no faith in people, especially strangers, at all. But this week I had an experience that served to remind me that actually, there are people out there who are totally decent. And it's heart warming.

Earlier this week, a white-van man reversed into me. At traffic lights. Why he was reversing is beyond me (well, actually, he realised the bridge was closed and decided to try and find an alternative route) but there you go. I was riding my hired learner motorbike (I'm practicing using a geared bike so I can take my test this summer) so this was especially annoying. I was fine - but there was some minor damage to the bike. 

Obviously, the hire place had taken a whacking great deposit and I quickly came to the grim realisation that I was going to lose most of it. The driver did exchange details with me, but he was very reluctant to go through the insurance and, in all honesty, I didn't expect to ever be able to get in touch with him again.

But, and it's a big BUT, not only did he send me a text to make sure I was okay, he then offered to meet me at the garage and pay for the damage directly. Again, I wasn't 100% confident that he'd turn up, but I was surprised nevertheless. 

Earlier today, he turned up at the garage, waited with me while they assessed the damage and then paid for all the damage without question. I was utterly amazed. What a thoroughly decent chap. It's enough to restore my faith in humanity. For a while, at least. 

Summer sale haul

It has been a hectic few months - there's a reason why you do exams when you're younger. But, with only the dissertation to go, I'm in the final stretch of the Masters (and, let me assure you, Mr. M. is very happy about that). 

I have been celebrating the end of exams feeling with a little (oh, okay, a lot) of shopping. You just can't beat the sales at the moment...

Topshop have got it nailed as far as I'm concerned - whooping great discounts - and then a further student sweetener (might as well make the most of it), I picked up these beauties for £10.80:

I'd say they come up on the large side - I'm usually a 5, but got these in a 4 and they are perfect. Get them here

Staying with the shoe theme, I've been lusting after these for a while:

I know they don't scream summer (these are a long-term purchase for later in the year) but, obviously, when I saw them reduced from £95 to £60, the deal was sealed. Excellent delivery service too - a text message tells you to within an hour when your package will arrive at your door. Genius. Get yours here

Who can resist a bit of L.K.Bennett in the sale? Does anyone actually pay full price for anything in L.K.Bennett? I've already eyed up my next sale purchases when I was looking at the new season collection (while paying for my summer sale dress). But I digress. 

You can't beat L.K.Bennett for cut on their dresses - not cheap, even in the sale, but worth every penny. They scream good tailoring. And now, pleasingly, I'm down to a size 10, which is even better. These dresses are so flattering it's ridiculous. This time I opted for the grey Tancy - down from £255 to £150. Get yours here

Tancy Fitted Dress

Oh, and those shoes I'll be watching for in the next sale? See them here. Beautiful. 

Next up, a casual little number from Hobbs. Half price - down to £44. Perfect for the many parties I go to (well, okay, I do go to a lot of parties; they are generally for 5 year olds, and I'm accompanying at least two children. It would probably be worse if I was just hanging out at these parties on my own). Easy for my 11 month old to throw up on, easy for me to throw in the washing machine, it's all good. A bargain

Hmm. Now I look at these purchases, I'm seeing a distinct theme on shades of blue. 

Who doesn't love a bit of Kate Spade? Especially when they do a lovely sale over the 4 July weekend that means bargains galore for beautiful bags? Thought as much. This is winging it's way over the Atlantic as we speak - just in time for the summer months...

cobble hill little minka
It's usually about $400, but I got mine for just under $200. With the very favourable exchange rate, that works out at around £120. Hurrah.

And finally, while not clothes, who can resist some Smythson stationery in the sale? I got these very cute bunting cards and thank you cards at vastly reduced prices - good stationery is never wasted...

The sale is still on, but things do sell out very quickly, so move fast if you want to snap something up!

What have you been buying in the sales?

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

5:2 diet - an update

I haven't posted an update on my dieting / weight loss in a while, but I'm happy to say that the 5:2 diet is working wonders for me. The simple fact is that I'd much prefer to basically not eat a couple of days a week, and then not be so restricted the rest of the time, rather than just give up carbs or something else I really enjoy - but basically, probably carbs. 

After the initial loss, which has been good, I do now have to admit that I'm going to have to reign it in on the other 5 days if I want to achieve the target weight, but it's still preferable to Atkins / Dukan. For me, those diets are sustainable for a short amount of time - my willpower is pretty good - but I'm never going to permanently give up bread. I just love it too much. So, 5:2 is much better for me. The health benefits are a definite bonus.

As of today, I'm 9 stone 2 pounds. My target weight is 8.5. I've lost more than a stone on the 5:2 since, basically, Christmas. Not bad. But I've been at 9st2lbs for about three weeks now. I have to face facts: I'm not going to lose any more weight eating McDonalds (don't judge - we all do it) and croissants on my non-fast days. Oh well. But if I can kick the extra pounds, and I'm careful 80% of the time, then I'll be well on my way. Hurrah. Ideally, I have an event in May that I'd like to be slimmer for - so that's my incentive. Now it's just a case of putting it into practice.

My goal is to be much more disciplined in the week, so we can still have a takeaway on Friday night. On fast days, no more than 500 calories - so that's easy. On the other days, I will stick to salad for lunch (ideally, tuna, lettuce and avocado) and then fish/ chicken and vegetables for dinner. Even if I can stick to that on the other week days, that hopefully will help shift some of the extra pounds. 

If you know of any tip top recipes that are going to help, let me know. I'm always open to new food ideas!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Review: HealGel Eye

Oh. My. God. I think my search for an eye cream that actually helps my dry under-eye skin my be over. 

I won't bore you with the details; in short, the skin under my eyes is the driest ever and to date, nothing has helped. I've tried super expensive, high end creams, and I've tried good old fashioned aloe vera - cheap as chips from Holland and Barrett. Nothing has worked. 

Until now. I read about HealGel in Tatler and discovered, upon further investigation, they also did an eye gel. Given that the gel was designed by a team of British plastic and cosmetic surgeons, with a dermatological biochemist (and, more randomly an actor) thrown in for good measure, you'd expect there to be a fair bit of science backing up the product.

You would be correct. I won't go into all the detail now - if you're interested, read it here - but it is definitely fixing my skin. The gel is cooling, light weight and easily absorbed. A little also goes a long way - one pump does both eyes quite comfortably. I'm using morning and night - but if you only need one hydration hit a day, I'd opt for this in the evening - just to give it maximum time to work without any interference. That said, it's a good primer for my Prep + Prime Vibrancy Eye so you can't really go wrong either way.  

I've been using mine religiously for about three weeks now, and so far the results are great. I'll do a longer term review later this year, but in the meantime, I'm a fan. Get yours here for £32 - although at the time of writing there is a £5 voucher off code if you spend £50 or more and quote MUM at the checkout. 

Monday, 10 March 2014

A make-up lesson at Mac - was it worth it?

I love make-up. I admit it. I don't buy anything like as much as I used to, but I still love to look. And, let's be honest, I still do buy some. Recently, I have discovered a love of 'drug store' (awful term, but we don't really have an equivalent) brands, but you cannot beat a higher-end foundation and concealer - well, that's my opinion, anyway.

Today, I had a make-up session with Jo at the MAC Pro store in Covent Garden. She was brilliant. It was a 90 minute session where she actually taught me how to apply the make-up as well as showing me a wide variety of different options. Because I haven't won the lottery, I couldn't get it all, but I did make a few strategic purchases:

(Okay, it was more than a few.) Going from left to right: Pro Longwear Concealer, Pro Longwear SPF 10 Foundation, Prep + Prime Vibrancy Eye, Eye Shadow in Charcoal Brown and the infamous 217 Blending Brush.  

The foundation is fantastic. It stays put without rubbing off on your clothes or your phone (or other people, if you're getting close) - in fact, it's pretty damn hard to get off at the end of the day. It definitely delivers on the 15 hour promise made by MAC. You're going to need a decent cleanser to get this stuff off without scrubbing your face away. I would say it has a medium coverage, but it's buildable if you're that way inclined - I'm not, which is why it works for me. It's not the cheapest at £25, but it lasts all day, doesn't need touch ups and a little goes a long way. Plus it's got an SPF. What's not to love? Good investment. 

My undereye area is really bad for dark circles and generally needs some serious help in order to make me look awake. (Probably - and this is just a guess - the four children under 5 don't help in that department either.) The Prep + Prime Vibrancy Eye is £22 and claims to be 'a quick fix to reduce puffiness and under-eye shadows whilst simultaneously creating a bright natural radiance to the entire eye area'. What I really like is that you can mix it with your concealer to really reduce cake-ing - it works very well for me. I've been struggling for some time on this, and so far, so good. Definitely worth a try if you have a very dry undereye area. 

The Pro Longwear Concealer is lightweight and I would say is medium to full coverage. The claim, similar to the foundation, is that it lasts up to 15 hours - and it certainly does on me. You're going to need a decent eye make-up remover to get rid of this stuff. It's £15.50 - so more expensive than drug store concealers - but the pump dispenser will mean it stays good for longer - and less waste. 

Being honest, I'm not sure it's worth the extra money on high end eye shadows - I reckon you can get some pretty good dupes from the likes of Maybelline and Bourjois (to name but two). However, this is the eyeshadow that just keeps giving. Eyeshadow? Check. Eyebrow filler? Check. Contouring? Check. 3 products in 1? Even I can do the maths on that. £12.50 split three ways is definitely worth it. If you're flush, though, MAC does have some lovely colours...

Obviously, I couldn't leave without this brush - the 217 is infamous and the fame is well deserved. The quality is obvious and I can confirm that it washes and dries well. I'm a big fan of the Real Techniques brushes, but I'd suggest that no make-up brush collection is complete without this. It's £18. 

If you're near a MAC Pro store and have the time (and the cash) I'd highly recommend a session - no matter what you've seen on YouTube, sometimes you can't substitute some good, old-fashioned one-to-one tuition. 

Monday, 24 February 2014

Hobbledown - the stuff of dreams or a living nightmare?

I should admit, before going any further, that I am not a great lover of huge soft play areas with adjoining areas for adults (we've got wifi, don't you know) in an attempt to pretend the areas suit adults and children alike. Website images of parents serenely sipping a latte and enjoying a healthy snack, while the children all play nicely together on the overgrown 'ark', or whatever monstrosity the soft play is supposed to look like, rarely exist in the real world. Or, if they do, I haven't found one. I live in hope.

Eldest Martini was invited to a party at 'Hobbledown - A Mysterical Adventure' in Epsom this weekend, and because Mr. M. was already to committed to a work event, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to take the rest of the clan for a day out. Little did I know that I was actually expected to stay with, and monitor, Eldest Martini, which somewhat hampered the plans. 

The utter chaos in the Play Barn didn't help either. Absolute mayhem is the understatement of the century. The tables are far too close together for pushchairs - there is an area for them near the entrance, but that's not overly helpful if your seven month old is sleeping in it - and the seats aren't really suitable for smaller kids that have clearly outgrown high chairs. Youngest daughter fell off the bench. Twice. 

Image from Hobbledown website. No parents, serene or otherwise, in this one. 

The food was actually pretty good - both daughters had the lunch boxes and were particularly impressed with the yoghurt straws. Although now they want to know why we don't have them at home. Another fail in the 'Best Mum in the World' stakes. I don't know what the party food was like, but I'm reliably informed the chocolate doughnut went down well. It certainly went all over his t-shirt. I hope he did eat some. 

Once we'd left the Barn, though, things were much better. There are various animals to see and some great play areas, where the kids can dig for treasure. This kept them entertained for hours. Plus, there are some lovely big tables that you can sit at and watch them do their worst. Wellington boots are essential. As is a hoover for the car - if you're anything like us, you'll be taking half a sandpit home with you.

We certainly were lucky with the weather - it was a beautiful day yesterday - and I admit that the outside areas certainly made it for me. I think we'll definitely visit again in the summer. Would I recommend it? Yes. But don't go in thinking the Play Barn is a sanctity of inner calm. The quest for that one continues.  

Tickets for children over 2 cost £8.50; adults are £7.50 (both weekend prices). There are discounts for the forward planners among us. For further information on prices and opening times, click here

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Review: L'Oreal Elvive Fibrology Haircare Range

Ladies - prepare to banish fine hair. Well, maybe not forever, but let me assure you, this range is pretty damn good.

You may already know that I have seriously fine hair, which has not been enhanced with four pregnancies. Far from it. Nothing has really helped in the past, so I was somewhat skeptical when I saw the claims of these products - 60% fuller? It can't be true.

Such a sucker for the marketing, however, and enticed by a 3 for £10 offer from Boots, I decided to give it a whirl. I bought the shampoo, conditioner and thickness booster.

In short, it was so good, I went back and bought the full range - which, as well as the shampoo, conditioner and thickness booster, also features a serum and a thickening masque.

You can feel the products working from the first use. They don't smell particularly bad - obviously not scented in the way a high end product would be, but that, in my humble opinion, is more than acceptable. 

If you're interested in the science bit, it's all down to the molecule filloxane, which basically increases each hair's diameter by penetrating into the fibre, expanding and ultimately thickening the hair. The claim that this increased thickness will last for around 10 washes is probably true - I couldn't testify to it for definite because I only switched up with my other shampoo a couple of times before returning back to fibrology. The claim that your hair will get thicker with each wash is true. 

I have seen some reviewers complain that the thickness booster is only a tiny tube compared to the conditioner - but it does clearly state that you don't need to use the booster every time - a couple of times a week will do it. The products start at £2.99 and the most expensive is £6.99 at Boots. Bargain, even when not on offer. 

I am super impressed with these products. If you suffer with fine or thinning hair, this could be the answer to your prayers. It certainly was to mine.