Friday, 17 April 2015

My Little Dream Box

Well, I did promise. Just yesterday, the next installment of 'My Little Box' arrived on my doorstep - and here, the very next day, is my post.

So, last month, I was pretty damn pleased with the box. (To be clear, it was last month's box - I appreciate I only did the review two days ago.) Could this month beat it? Well, in short, yes.

The theme this month is 'Dream' and that was always going to be a winner with me; I love my sleep. In my opinion, there's just nothing better than an early night. Obviously, this is post children - I used to love lie-ins, but that's not really something that happens anymore, so the only option to get my sleep is to head up to bed nice and early. I love it.

The magazine this month is really just a folded piece of paper with a slightly weird poster when you fold it all the way out. I'm not sure if anyone would put this up - probably there is someone. Not me, though. Still, it does feature an interview with the simply magnificent Caroline Hirons. So all is not lost. (If you don't know who Caroline Hirons is - why not? And 'how rude'. Check her out immediately.)

Beauty products first - and it's a goodie.

Cowshed Wild Cow Invigorating Body Lotion - err, yes please. This is natural ingredients in a bottle and smells fantastic - that will be the combination of lemongrass and ginger. It also packs shea butter - so you'll be all set for the summer. (All two days of them, in England at least.)

My Little Beauty Repairing Mask for Dry Ends - well, who doesn't need to give their hair just a little bit more love and attention? A mask with walnut oil and shea butter, I'm looking forward to giving this a whirl. Rinsing with cold water? Not so much. It's the price we pay. 

Lip Balm Loved By Lou Lesage - basically, a tinted lip balm. This is inspired by Lou Lesage - I've never heard of her, but apparently she's a French actress that looks like a babydoll and a rockstar simultaneously. Must be quite a woman. Either way, this looks pretty decent to me.

My Little Box always features a 'lifestyle' product; this month we got two treats. 

A 'Bonne Etoile' locket - not convinced I'd ever wear this as a necklace, but reckon it may serve as a bracelet if I cut the cord down. It was designed by Delphine Pariente. (I try not to think of Delphine Donkey from Peppa Pig as I say that. I failed.)

And finally, a stamp. Sounds ridiculous, but this is quite cool - it has 12 'messages' (some are very chic and in French) - but basically, they will spruce up any post or notes I make. It's on my desk as we speak.

So, all in all, another winner from MLB. You can sign up for yours here; it's £14.95 per month including p&p. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

My Little Superbox review

Yes, it's late. Sorry about that. But this month (or, in fact last month - but let's not get bogged down in detail), My LittleBox has 'knocked it out of the park' (one for our American friends). This box contains fewer products, but much better ones in my opinion.

Even the kids got a treat this month; those wonder woman stickers lasted about five seconds with the two girls, but they got way more pleasure from them that I would. I'm not sure what you'd do with them if you don't have kids - but maybe I'm just not cool enough? Stick them on your school books maybe? Who knows. I'd recommend giving them to someone with kids. It might look odd if you just randomly give them to a child you don't even loosely know.

In the last couple of boxes, we've had a pretty cheap looking sports bag (not yet been used) and a smart phone case that didn't fit my smart phone (so went in the bin). This month though - drum roll, please - a winner has been found. Hurrah. A Gat Rimon t-shirt - 100% cotton - that says 'I believe I can fly' (thank you R Kelly - ahh, the memories of the 90s). I think it only comes in one size though, so it's not going to be for everyone. I haven't photographed the t-shirt yet (apols) but it's rolled up in that brown roll in the photo above. Picture a grey crew neck t-shirt and you're pretty much there. I'll instagram a photo when I wear it.

Three products this month: Caudalie's Hand and Nail cream (a favourite already), Lait Cristal by Kerastase and Pencil Bluff by My Little Beauty.

I don't need to say much about the hand cream; I love it, I already use it, it's brilliant. It's not full size is about the only complaint I have (which, admittedly, is a bit unfair) - but it's still 30ml, so a good handbag size. Winner.

I'm still in two minds about the My Little Beauty products - they are good quality, but the colours aren't great for me. This little number, though, should be okay in the summer. For me, it will definitely be more of a cheek thing and less of a lip thing - but you can't complain at multi purpose products. I wouldn't buy it, but it's nice enough.

Without doubt, you cannot go wrong with any Kerastase product and I'm looking forward to trying this one. This is a lightweight conditioner that claims to leave hair looking luminous, soft and supple. I'll be the judge of that, but I'll let you know. But I have high hopes.

Also, I'd recommend checking out the postcard that accompanies the products; this month you also get 20% off Caudalie's products on their website and 20% off Kerastase one's on theirs. Definitely worth making the most of. Overall, this is the best box I've had yet - so I'm looking forward to the next one. And I promise the review won't be late next time.

You can sign up for My Little Box subscriptions here; it costs £11 per month, plus £3.95 p&p.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Chocolate granola

The first whiff of sunshine always refocuses the eating habits - the mere threat of having to actually wear short sleeve tops brings more clarity than scales ever could. (As an aside, I have recently discovered the 30 days of Yoga programme with Adriene - and despite not being your usual type of yoga bunny, I am loving it - but let's all get real: a bit of yoga is not going to make you bikini-ready. It's just not.)

I'm a regular of the 5:2 'diet' (it's not really a diet), but my 5 days have been a little bit indulgent of late. And, Easter has made it pretty difficult to pass on the chocolate.

I love chocolate.

This isn't the healthiest granola you're ever going to see, but at least you know what's in it, and it's a cinch to make. Plus, it makes the kitchen smell fantastic. Me, domestic goddess? But of course. Even - and this is a bit win - eldest Martini quite likes this - he feels it's a bit like chocolate porridge. Sort of. The 'chocolate' is a mix of cocoa powder and nutella. Obviously. Nutella truly is the food of the gods.

Coming from the wife of a French Canadian, I (of course) use maple syrup to sweeten the granola. Honey would probably work just as well, but I haven't tried it. Get the lightest (in colour) one you can - the lighter the colour, the better the quality. Oh, and make sure it's actually made from maples - apparently, its completely legal to mix it with all sorts of other things and still call it 'maple'. We got ours (we have quite the stash) the last time we were in Quebec, but this one will be just fine.

Anyway, if you're feeling that you can't quite give up the chocolate just yet, but you're looking in the mirror and thinking 'hmmm. Really should sort that out soon...' then this won't do you any harm. Only warning: you may eat the whole batch in one sitting. Which sort of defeats the point. But, I guess you can always start again tomorrow... Enjoy.

You'll need:

1/4 cup of coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup cocoa powder - the best quality you can get hold of
1/4 cup nutella
3 cups porridge oats (not instant)
1/4 cup shredded or desiccated coconut
1/4 cup of pecans, roughly chopped
1/4 cup of walnuts, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped


- Preheat the oven to 170 (or 160 for fan-assisted). Line a large baking sheet with baking parchment or a silicon mat.

- In a saucepan, melt together the coconut oil, maple syrup, cocoa powder and nutella over a low heat. Keep stirring until it's liquid gold. Try to resist eating with a spoon.

- Mix together all the dry ingredients. Don't be too worried about the amounts - apart from the oats - and if you don't like something, just leave it out and/or replace with something you prefer. Granola is pretty easy really.

- Add the melted ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well. Everything should be well coated - it takes longer than you think, so keep at it.

- Tip the whole mixture onto the prepared baking tray and spread as thinly and evenly as possible. Put onto the middle shelf of the oven.

- Cook for around 30 minutes, stirring a few times to make sure the top doesn't get burnt and the mix underneath is heated through. When you remove from the oven, leave to go cool without stirring - as it cools it will clump together, making for perfect granola!

- Store in an airtight container - it will keep for at least three weeks. Serve with milk, yogurt, berries - or just eat straight from the jar with a spoon. I won't tell if you don't.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Pai Echium & Argan Eye Cream

A Model Recommends is a big fan of Pai Skincare, and the eye cream in particular. My quest for a decent eye cream continues; for some reason my eyes seem to be really sensitive and water almost with the touch of any cream. So, I thought I'd give this one a try.

First, some background on Pai Skincare: it's a British skincare company that produces products particularly with sensitive skin in mind. It's organic - obviously - and the company prides itself on being very clear what ingredients are in the bottle. It's been around since 2007 and all the products are manufactured in West London. I like the philosophy: how does the product stack up?

The echium and argan gentle eye cream  is extremely light and hydrating. The website tells you 'it's rich in rare and incredibly effective forms of Omega 3 & 6 that smooth and soothe the delicate eye area'. Also it helps 'improve the appearance of fine lines, keeping skin soft, plump and beautifully supple' thanks to the linolenic and steridonic acids.

I've been using this for more than a month and can confirm it does smooth and soothe the eye area - it's definitely helped with my dark circles too. The cream isn't scented and a little goes a long way. I use it under the eye and on the orbital bone - and I use it both in the morning and at night.

The only issue I have is the packaging: it's impossible to tell when you're getting low on the cream and suddenly, one day, you just realise you've run out. That's not ideal if you're not the type of person that keeps back-ups.

But, that's the only issue I have. This stuff is a pleasure to use and I'll definitely repurchase. It's £28 and you can buy it online here and here.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Kiehl's Blue Herbal Spot Treatment

Just recently, I've had a few breakouts that are far from ideal. I don't get that many spots, so when I do, I moan constantly. I did actually want to try the Origins Super Spot Remover but I couldn't find it anywhere quickly, so I popped into the Kiehl's at Waterloo station and picked this up instead.

It's a salicylic acid treatment, well known for its blemish treating properties. Prepare for a slight sting when you apply it - personally, I quite like that, as it makes me feel something is really being done. The best thing is that it can be applied over make-up, so you can put it on throughout the day and it does offer relief to those really painful bumps under the skin.

This doesn't produce results overnight; it takes two or three days to fully kick in. For me, that's how long spots tend to last anyway, so its difficult to know how effective this treatment really is. What it definitely does, though, is offer some pain relief, and given that it's a clear gel, it's far more usable during the day than my trusty Germolene.

I'm going to make an online order of the Origins one, so I can do a comparison next time I need it. I'll keep you posted.

Kiehl's Blue Herbal Spot Treatment is £15 and available here.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Recent empties

I've not done an 'empties' post before - and, being honest, I rarely drain product bottles dry of their contents before moving on to the next one. But, in the interests of my bank balance, I've decided to make sure I use things up properly (unless, obviously, they make my face fall off first). So, here's my first round up of products I've used ever last ounce of  - and whether I'd repurchase or not.

Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel - a soap free, foaming gel cleanser. I haven't used a huge number of Dermalogica products, but the ones I have used I've been impressed with. This leaves the skin clean, without drying it out. It's gentle but effective. It doesn't replace my Liz Earle Cleanse and Polish (or Eve Lom, when I'm feeling flush) but it does the job.
Repurchase? Probably in the future. But not right now. 

Chanel Ultra Correction Lift - an anti-wrinkle eye and lip product. As you can tell from the picture, it was a sample. Any good? Of course it was. It's Chanel. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find it  for sale anywhere online, so that's the end of that. Probably for the best - for my wallet at least.
Repurchase? I would if I could. But I can't. 

La Prairie Cellular Swiss Ice Crystal Eye Cream - another sample (obviously. I can't be spending £161 on eye cream. Well, not just now anyway). I absolutely love this range. Before you get ahead of yourselves, I was given some of these products (sample size only) by a good friend who's a regular user of this brand. Lucky her. This eye cream is brilliant - not quite as good as the dry oil - but a close second. 
Repurchase? Absolutely - when I get a pay rise, or win the lottery. Whichever comes first.

Nivea Micellar Water - an absolute bargain at the moment (on offer for just £2 at Boots). Does what it says on the tin - removes make-up basically. You'll need a separate eye make-up remover though - it's not good enough for that. But, at £2, who can complain? Personally, I prefer the Garnier version, which I think is a bit better at tackling the eye make-up and that's usually on offer too. It's around £3. So not much preference really.
Repurchase? Yes, if on offer and the Garnier one isn't.

Boots Essential Cucumber Toner - claims to be refreshing and toning. For me, not so much. Cheap as chips (£1.50) but I'd say it's worth a little bit extra to get something with a bit more bang for your buck. I was sorely tempted to bin this before I got to the end. Be impressed with my self-restraint.
Repurchase? No.

Clarins Super Restorative Serum - I love this stuff. LOVE it. It just works. And I'm afraid you can tell the difference compared to cheaper versions. Plus, if you needed any further convincing, Caroline Hirons (a true genius) says that if you invest money in any part of your skin care routine, it should be your serum. That's all I need to know....
Repurchase? A thousand times yes. 

Nuxe Creme Fraiche de Beaute Light - bought in France whilst on a 'pharmacie' splurge, just to check the French still had it. (They do, by the way.) I used this up, even though it was a bit light for the thick of winter - my skin has been ridiculously dry. This stuff is really light and hydrating - maybe not enough for winter, but I think it would be fantastic in the summer. It doesn't have SPF though, so you need to add that in to your routine. 
Repurchase? Yes, in the summer.  

La Prairie Cellular Swiss Ice Crystal Dry Oil - as per the above. This oil is amazing. It is the stuff of miracles. My skin has never looked so good. It's an oil, but it's not oily. It smells divine. Okay, it definitely should (it costs £213) but still. Every time I used it was absolute bliss. My skin has been suffering serious withdrawal symptoms. Which it will have to overcome for now. Another one to add to the list after that lottery win. 
Repurchase? Yes. If inspiration on numbers for the lottery strikes, do tell. 

Kiehl's Creamy Eye Treatment with Avacado - one of Kiehl's best sellers, and rightly so. This saved my eyes through winter. It's pretty heavy, so I used it as a night eye cream, but it did wonders - my under eye area is very dry, so I need something supercharged to sort that out. 
Repurchase? I'm thinking I'll be making space for this in October. 

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Kiko haul

Kiko Milano is an Italian cosmetics brand that's been around since 1997. The price points of its products are entirely affordable, but cheap make-up this is not. The website claims that it has a range of 'cutting edge make-up' - and having mooched about the store on Regent Street for far longer than I should, I can concur that the range is innovative and just a little bit different. Naturally, you'd expect nothing less from a brand build on 'Made in Italy' values.

I wanted to buy a lot more, but I restrained myself on this first visit. I was very keen on their Palette Clics System - very similar to Bobby Brown's Pan Palette system - although there isn't a mirror - but at a quarter of the price, you can forgive that. Especially right now, because it's all on half price offer - both the palettes and the eye shadows. At those sorts of prices, it would be rude not to.

I bought the Eyes Clics 04 - there are four spaces for the eye shadows of your choice. £2.50. Bargain. I then opted for the following eye shadow shades: 201 Sparkling Silk (white); 233 Pearly Mahogany (pink/purple); 235 Mat Chocolate (brown) and Pearly Fern Green (green - obviously). Each one is currently on offer for £2,80. But don't be alarmed. If these don't float your boat, there are a whopping 88 shades to choose from. These shadows are highly pigmented and apply really easily. Although they definitely won't last the 12 hours they claim, they do last fairly well, especially with a primer underneath.

The shadows pop into the Clics palette easily enough - there's a slight magnetic pull to keep it all in place, but it's not so strong you can't get them out again.

I also picked up a green eyeliner - I recently heard that green eyeliner applied in the waterline help brighten the eye, and I wanted to try it out. It works a treat by the way - definitely give it a try. I opted for the Kajal pencil, specifically designed to go inside the waterline in the colour 112, Green Grass. It cost £4.20.

(Excuse the damaged eye shadow in the top left of the palette by the way - it was like that when I took it out of the box, and I haven't got the energy or inclination to go back and get another one - it was only £2.80.)

I thought that was it for my first go, but on the way to the tills, this little lip balm beauty called out to me.

This balm is both hydrating and has SPF 15 - a winner just before spring arrives. I went for the coconut colour - obviously - but there are a variety of colours. The shea butter and vitamins are extremely moisturising and you can apply without a mirror. Even better, the packaging is brilliant. I really hate lip balms in little pots - you can apply this straight from the bullet without any mess or fuss. It looks a lot more expensive than the £5.90 it costs. I will be picking up a couple more colours shortly.

Overall, this brand is definitely worth checking out - the sheer range is phenomenal. Even the most fussy of people would find something to suit. If you're not lucky enough to live near one of the stores, fear not - the online shop is brilliant. Even better, they are currently offering 20% off everything. Let me know how you get on!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

How to hire a nanny

I was out for dinner with some friends when someone said something incomprehensible: 'there is life beyond good nannies, you know'. Now, I love my friends dearly, but clearly this particular friend has lost the plot. Because, obviously, there is NO life without a good nanny. And that is the absolute truth.

I honestly believe that out of the three of us (me, my husband and our nanny) I am the least important in the equation. We didn't strike it lucky first time; our first hire was an absolute, unmitigated disaster. I can still remember the train journey where Mr. M. and I decided, somewhere around Wimbledon, that we just couldn't bear the thought of the children being with that 'nanny' for another hour, let alone another day, and jumping off the train to about turn and send her (gently - we're not awful people) packing. Because there's nothing worse than leaving the children with forlorn looks on their faces as you close the door goodbye. 

Our current nanny has been with us for almost three years. She is, without doubt, the best thing that happened to us. She's hands on, part of the family and excellent with the children. At the same time, she doesn't overstep the mark and never replaces me as a mum. In short, she's part of the family.

Over the past couple of weeks, no less than three separate friends have been in touch to ask how to find a nanny - and I do vaguely remember the issue of appointing a nanny a whole headache to get your brain around. Who on earth came up with the idea that is was okay to quote salaries in nett (and not gross) figures? So, just because people have been asking, I thought it might be helpful to give you the benefit of my brilliance - or, at least, share how I got lucky:

1. Use an agency. Unless you know the ins and outs of qualifications and training - which I absolutely do not and had no intention of learning - you need someone to do this for you. They charge a fortune - but let's remember that you're trusting the person you employ with the most precious thing in your life, so it's worth getting someone that's properly qualified to do it. They'll also verify the qualifications and check things like criminal records - so it's worth it. Find an agency that is either recommended by someone you know, or has significant support online. You want reputable and responsible. And make sure you check references - be ruthless, because you won't want any doubt in your mind the first day you leave the kids with this newcomer.

2. Use a company to sort out the tax. The genius that suggested that nannies should be paid nett wage only - the onus is completely on you to sort our their tax as well as your own - is hopefully gainfully unemployed by now. How it's possible I don't know, but basically, when you're arranging the salary, you'll be negotiating in nett pay - so you'll need to remember to set aside money each month to pay employer NI and tax. You'll need to pay this on a quarterly basis - but seriously, spend the £200 a year to a company that will figure it all out for you and remind you when to pay. They'll even throw in payslips for your nanny. It's another con - and don't get me started on the fact this all comes out of your nett salary (so you're paying tax twice) - but unless your day job is being an accountant, it's not worth the hassle. Just be thankful you're not schlepping the kids to nursery every morning and think of that as a small cost to pay.

3. Be completely honest with your nanny. Anything can be agreed in advance. If you're also expecting them to clean the house - I wouldn't recommend it, but it's up to you - then you need to be clear about that before they start. Also be honest about the hours you want them to work. There's no point being late every day - that won't make for a happy household. Most nannies are pretty reasonable, but it's your responsibility to set the standards. We, for example, make it clear that washing the children's clothes and changing the children's beds once a week is part of the job. Changing our bed isn't part of the deal - and we keep it that way.

4. Treat them as you'd like to be treated. Agree a 'kitty' amount each week for them to spend on entertaining your children. Don't make them ask you for money - it's awkward for everyone. Also, if you ask them to stay late, or to babysit, pay them properly. Expecting them to be grateful for keeping their job is unlikely to keep them with the family for the love of it. 

5. Remember this is their career. We have an annual budget to pay for training and maintenance of particular qualifications - such as first aid certificates. It's as much for your children's benefit as theirs - and generally, it helps to remind you that you're managing someone's career. 

Of course, there are differences - often, in London, people travelling the world do a spot of nannying to cover the bills - and to give themselves a roof over their heads. For those of us in the suburbs, live in nannies aren't so common (for one thing: living in Esher is hardly the most compelling prospect in the world, compared to Kennington) - and the majority of them are more career minded. Whatever you're looking for, just remember: when you find one that's good, hang on for dear life and do everything you can to keep them. Your children will thank you - and you'll sleep better at night. I promise. 

Monday, 2 March 2015

February favourites

I cannot believe we're at the end of February already. I've been making some fairly serious life changing decisions recently - but more on that another time. Right now, it's time to round up favourites from the month. So, let's get started...

First up: an oldie but a goodie, the old Naked palette from Urban Decay. My favourite of the three versions, this one is the original and best. I love all 12 colours, but I've been particularly defaulting to naked and half baked for my everyday work make-up. This rediscovery has reminded me that I must buy the all-in-one Naked on the Run palette sooner rather than later.

Staying on the make-up theme, I could not have been without my Charlotte Tilbury primer and foundation this month. My skin hasn't been at it's best and this combo works wonders for fooling even me sometimes into thinking it's better than it is. I reviewed them both earlier this month here.

Final make up one for this month: Bourjois Rouge Edition Velvet Lipstick in hot pepper. My transition to the bold lip is complete, which I'm very happy about. I *almost* feel undone without lipstick now - which is a major turnaround for me. These little wonders from Bourjois are outstanding. Highly pigmented, these don't dry the lips and last for ages. And I do mean, properly ages - you can eat and drink your way through dinner, and it's still going strong. Even better, they are currently on offer at Boots - 3 for 2. What are you waiting for?

Skincare wise, as I just mentioned, my skin has been quite the trauma this month. Although Aldi's serum didn't make my face fall off, I'm afraid there's just no substitute for the Clarins Double Serum. Marvellous stuff.

I've also been religiously using the Nuxe Huile Prodigieuse that I bought last year whilst on holiday in France. My skin has been really dehydrated and this oil is like an overnight treatment. If your skin is taking a beating in this up and down weather, I really can't recommend both this and Clarins' serum enough.

I still haven't got round to testing out Bioderma's micellar water, mainly because the Garnier Micellar Cleansing water is so damn good, there's just no reason to try anything else. It leaves my skin feeling squeaky clean, without being drying in any way. It's around £5, but usually on offer at Boots or Superdrug - I'd definitely recommend trying this out if you haven't already.

Because I was a very good girl last year, Father Christmas bought me a Diptique candle and I haven't been disappointed. I got the Baies fragrance and it is absolutely divine. I have used almost every day this month. Yes, £40 for a candle is ridiculous, but as an indulgent present as a treat, you can't go wrong. If you're a mum, I'd be adding this to the list right now...

And finally (not pictured), I've also been loving the BBC's 'Inside the Commons' series that ended last week. It really is a wonder this country functions at all - if you get the chance, it's compelling viewing.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Charlotte Tilbury Wonderglow

I have found my go-to daily primer and foundation combo. Without doubt, I have loved every single product I have tried from Charlotte Tilbury - they just work. 

Although you don't have to use them together, the results when you do are outstanding. The Wonderglow primer features a fluorescent core light diffuser that basically uses the UV light around you to reflect back beautiful looking luminous skin. It really is quite marvellous. You can use it on its own for a hint of 'you, just with slightly better skin' or under the foundation. I'm told you can also use over make-up, but I haven't tried that yet. It's easy to apply and sinks straight in to the skin - I apply just with my fingers. It's worth every penny of the £38.50. 

The Light Wonder foundations comes in ten shades - mine is 2 Fair. The shade match is absolutely spot on and the coverage is good. At the same time, the consistency of the foundation is fairly liquid - no caking here. It's extremely flattering - it provides great looking, dewy skin without screaming 'I'm wearing foundation!'. It's a joy to wear. The claim is that 'it illuminates, smoothes, hydrates, minimises pores and reduces wrinkles'. The claim is well-founded. I apply mine with my Real Techniques stippling brush, but you could just as easily do this with finger tips. Oh, and as an extra benefit, it has SPF 15. Because hopefully, spring is well and truly on the way. Well, a girl can hope. 

Friday, 20 February 2015

Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze & Glow

Hurray! It's Friday. It seems to have taken quite a while to get here this week. 

I got this contour set for Christmas, and I have literally used it everyday since. Charlotte Tilbury's Filmstar Bronze and Glow is one of the jewels in the Tilbury crown. As you'd expect, it's not the cheapest contour set you're ever going to buy - it's £49 - but it is worth every penny, I promise. As always, the packaging is spectacular - even the box it comes in is worth a mention. It folds out, around the palette, as if you're unwrapping a present. And there are handy instructions to remind you what to do (in case you've forgotten, or bought this by mistake and don't actually know what a contour set is for). 

Second up: the palette is great. No brush because, let's just be honest, who really uses the teeny tiny brushes that ever come in these kits anyway? It feels quite sturdy without being overly heavy and has a large mirror for application on the move. 

I'm not going to lie: I am a sucker for embossed make-up. Is it really necessary to identify each powder by telling you what to do with it? No. But it does look lovely. (Also, I can reassure you that after a few uses, the words fade away, so there you go.)

According to Charlotte Tilbury:
  • the bronzer is the perfect universal blend of pearl and pigment to contour features and mimic a sun-kissed complexion
  • the highlighter is built up from a golden base that flatters any skin tone and uses Light Flex Technology to capture light and radiate it out for a luminous complexion

The contour shade goes on well and lasts all day - and it's buildable so if you really want to go for a hardcore contour, you can. It blends out well too, so you don't risk looking rather similar to an oompa loompa (never a good look). 

The highlighter might be a touch shimmery for some, but I find it works very well on my skin tone. I think it's far more subtle than Benefit's High Beam

If you're in the market for a really good contour kit, you won't go wrong with this one. Go on - treat yourself. Well, it is Friday. 

Monday, 16 February 2015

My Little Box - The Frenchie

I received my first Little Box in January and it was good enough to have me pretty excited when this month's edition dropped through the letter box. This month the theme is 'French' - definitely more appealing than the healthy theme in January.

So, let's cut straight to the good stuff. This month features a full size By Terry waterproof khol pencil - mine is black. This baby retails for a mega £23.50 so you're already in credit without anything else in the mix. I'm a bit fan of By Terry make-up; I've not tried the Terrybly Khol Pencil range before, and I'm excited to try it. 

In terms of beauty products, the box also contains a brow product, some blotting paper and a complexion enhancer. 

Super liner brow artist plumper by L'Oreal Paris - this product claims to combine the roles of pencil, powder and brush in one go. It comes in three shades - mine is clear. Although completely understandable, that's not so useful for me - I'd prefer to have a brown one. I've used this a couple of times already - it's okay, but I wouldn't rush out to repurchase. It retails for £5.99.

DHC blotting paper. I'll be honest, I've never seen the need for blotting paper, and I'm not convinced that February is the best month to be embracing these for the first time. These are 100% natural hemp fibres and claim to be more effective than synthetic alternatives when it comes to oil absorption - as per my previous sentence, I'm in no position to judge that statement. The packaging is pretty though and I'll keep these stashed to try out when summer arrives.

My Little Beauty complexion enhancer - My Little Box's own range. This cream, which contains apricot kernel oil (hence the beautiful smell) claims to bring skin back to life. It also contains edelweiss extracts and while these are unlikely to turn you into a singing nun, they do claim to protect your skin. It's definitely lightweight and easily absorbed, but I'm still trying to work out exactly where it fits into my skincare routine. My first attempt has been to use it after moisturiser, but if you have a better idea, do tell!

The box contains two further products: a pot of messages and a smartphone case. The pot of messages is a small, dainty pot with a cork stopper that contains 28 scrolls of paper, each with a different message. Think fortune cookie, but with way more style. I was a bit skeptical of this, but actually, so far I've been enjoying them every morning. I'm not sure I'd pay £6.50 for these for myself, but I'd definitely get these as a gift for someone in the future.

The smartphone case is a bit like the bag in January's box. It's okay, but I most definitely would not pay anything for it - and certainly not the £16 that it's claimed to retail for. It was created with Ines de la Fressange - which the whole box centres around (she's the cover on the accompanying magazine)  - so I get the point, but it's not a main draw for me.

The box also includes a flyer to advertise the company's new app My Little App. It basically sends daily updates with information about sales, beauty tutorials, competitions, discounts and a whole load more - I've downloaded it, but haven't really explored it properly yet. If it's good, I'll do another post on that. 

Overall, a good box - mainly because of the eyeliner - so I'll keep my subscription live for another month and see how it goes. 

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Commuting - the seventh circle of hell

I'm a reasonable person. Well, most of the time. But if there is one thing that's going to induce serious violence within me, it's commuting. Yes, Waterloo & City Line, I'm looking at you. Second only to South West Trains. The closure of London Bridge has provided the final straw. That we choose to pay thousands (yes, really, thousands) of pounds for the privilege of standing throughout an entire 60 minute journey, most usually in closer proximity to total strangers than I often am with my own husband, is entirely incomprehensible. And yet, every weekday, there I am. Ready to do it all over again. 

The French wouldn't put up with this.

What in particular annoys me so much? Let me tell you.

1. Parking.
Before you even get to the lovely train station, I have to battle with the parking. Not find a space - oh, no. They've got that totally nailed. Any opportunity to make an extra few quid. No - it's the method of payment. Via an app. Naturally. 'Simple, quick and easy' they claim. What a load of old rubbish. The app constantly crashes. It remembers the wrong car details. It remembers the wrong car park. It remembers the wrong payment details. In fact, if it remembered anything at all correctly, I'd die of shock. I've paid for whole sessions in completely the wrong place, only to be welcomed back to my car with a ticket. I've argued with so many tickets since Christmas, I'm practically on first name terms with the parking enforcement team in Elmbridge. 

2. Completely oblivious commuters. 
You know the type. They step onto the train as if it's some magical new world they have entered and need to stop and stare in complete awe. The desire to shove these people extremely hard in the back and knock them back into some sense of the real world is almost overwhelming. It's just a train, people. Move along. And do it quickly.

3. Really loud music. 
Yes, your beats headphones are cool. But do you have to play your music so loud I can heard it too? It sounds like a din. And who knows what damage you're doing to your ear drums. And if it's in a 'Quiet carriage' - well, they started it...

4. People who think they are still on the train when, in fact, they are not
When did it become okay to walk along the platform still reading your kindle or your phone? Put your phone away and walk properly, with purpose, like the rest of us. Or, stay on the train and keep reading your book, if it's so good. Just don't randomly walk along like you have all the time in the world, getting in my way. With any luck, some of these people will be so preoccupied, they'll walk straight off the platform and onto the track*. 

5. People who are shocked they need to produce their ticket to get out of the station
What is WRONG with you? Have you never travelled on a train before? Did the queue of people waiting to exit not give it away? What do you think they are doing? Why then, do you not find your ticket before you get to the gate? Tourists, fair enough. You can't be expected to know these things. But commuters who do this everyday? Sort yourselves out. We all have places to get to. 

Usually late, because the commute has been delayed. 

*Please note: I don't really want people to end up hurt, I just want them to focus on where they are going

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Aldi's Lacura Multi Intensive Serum

I'm always on the lookout for a bargain and when my Clarins serum ran out, I decided to try a completely budget alternative. I'm not a fan of the Boots No7 Protect and Perfect Serum (I know, I know - everyone raves about it, but it just doesn't work for me) but when I researching some alternatives, I discovered that Aldi actually has it's own skincare range. Would it make my face fall off? Bring me out in hives? For £3.49, it was worth finding out - I could bin it at the first danger sign. 

I couldn't decide between Aqua-Complete and Renew - so I got both. Aqua-Complete is 'a special amino acid moisturising complex, providing rapid moisture replenishment and improves the skin's moisture binding ability in the long term through the restructuring of the skin's uppermost layers'. It's recommended for younger users; from around 20 to 35 years old. (I'm just out of that bracket, so I figured I should start with this one - I'm not getting any younger.)

It's both light and hydrating. The scent isn't great, but it's not too overpowering and doesn't last long - so I can put up with it. It's moisturising enough that I wouldn't necessarily need to use moisturiser in the morning - unless my skin is particularly dry, which it is at the moment. I think it would be fine in summer though - I'd just use this and then my SPF cream. It is absorbed by the skin easily and quickly. Somewhat unbelievably at this price, it contains hyaluronic acid - which basically helps skin cells retain more than 1000 times their weight in water. As well as being super moisturising, this acid provides increased smoothness. It's a winner. I only wish I'd bothered about things like this when I was 20.

Lacura Aqua-Complete
Renew is aimed at the more experienced lady; from 35 to 50. Aldi claims that: 'the bio peptide Mimox promotes active skin relaxation and helps reduce the appearance of fine lines.' How? Well, it contains Coenzyme Q10 - which helps boost skin repair and regeneration. When you're younger, your body creates this on it's own; after you hit 30, the ability to do this drops, and so any extra help you can get it a bonus. I didn't personally notice a huge difference immediately - I'll have to report back after long-term use. This one smells a bit nicer though - that's probably the macadamia nut oil, which is also quite moisturising too. 

Overall, if you're looking for an absolute bargain I can say with certainty these won't make your face fall off. Give them a try - I'm glad I did! Think of the savings that can be spent elsewhere...

Monday, 9 February 2015

Charlotte Tilbury Revolutionary Youth Boosting Lip System

After my fave review of the amazing Supermodel box (Mr. M. must once again get snaps for such a fantastic Christmas present), it will come as no surprise that I am unable to leave a Charlotte Tilbury counter empty handed. Obviously the answer - if I'm attempting to save my bank balance - is to stay away from said counters. Which, of course, means I was at one earlier this week. 

I really must look into measures to improve my willpower. 

Needless to say, there's a whole new system that was crying out to be tried - just in time for Valentine's Day. Let's dive in, shall we?

This new, 'revolutionary' system features four stages; Lip Love - a scrub to prep the lips, Lip Magic - a moisturising lip balm, lip liner and then a lipstick. 

“When you are talking to someone the two areas they focus on are your eyes and your mouth. That’s why a good lip system is just as important as a good eye cream to make you look 10 years younger. I always apply the same routine to the lips as I do to the face: Prep, Prime, Colour & Kiss! It’s youth-boosting magic for lips.”...Charlotte Tilbury

I really do suffer with dry, chapped lips, so matte lipsticks are generally more difficult for me to wear. Lip Love contains sugar crystals to remove dead cells and boost circulation. I have been using a Lush scrub - but, as you might expect, there's no comparison. Especially given that the Lush scrub is £5.50, whereas Lip Love will set you back £20. 

Charlotte's scrub is almost balm-like - it has jojoba seed oil, olive oil, shea butter, cocoa seed butter and beeswax, so it's extremely moisturising whilst simultaneously scrubbing. For an extra hit, it also contains Vitamin E, which helps to naturally condition and protect the lips. And, it smells delicious too. 

Lip Magic is a fantastic lip balm. It claims to protect and strengthen the lips by creating new cells and reducing water loss - by 34% don't you know. I have no idea if that's true, but my lips are definitely in better condition after a couple of days of using this. The magic ingredient is propolis - a resin created by honeybees to protect the lining of their beehives. Apparently it boosts the immune system too. It also has hyaluronic acid, to help plump out the lips, Vitamin E and argan oil. Blimey - it sounds like it could cure all the world's ills in one simple step. Okay - that's a bit over the top - but it is a great lip balm. 

Lip Cheat is the range of lip liners and although lip liners is not essential, it definitely helps the staying power of the lipstick. Plus, it helps reshape and resize if that's your thing. I already had Pillowtalk; this time I picked up Kiss 'n' Tell. I'm sure you can guess what's coming next. 

And finally, the last step. The lipstick. Charlotte's  lipsticks are absolutely phenomenal - very pigmented, completely buildable and absolutely not drying on the lips at all. They also stay put for at least four hours - which is pretty impressive. They've been hugely popular and I haven't stopped wearing Confession since I got it. But I wanted more - and it had to be Matte Revolution Red Carpet Red. The range of matte lipsticks has been raved about since it was launched - so I decided I had waited long enough. It was worth the wait. 

Standard with anything from Charlotte Tilbury - the packaging is beautiful and everything works together perfectly. Expensive? Eye wateringly so. A lip balm that costs £25 needs to be considered carefully. But, if you suffer with chapped lips like I do, and you still want to wear bold lipsticks (like I do!) then this is a good investment. Plus, if you get it in time for Valentine's Day in store at Fenwicks, you'll also get a free lip pouch - very cute!

All products are available online. Lip Love is £20, Lip Magic is £25, Lip Cheats are £16 and the lipsticks are £23. 

Friday, 6 February 2015

Sticker books: the stuff of genius

Whilst perusing a post on 'from a whisper to a roar' on sticker books I realised: I love sticker books. I really, truly, definitely L-O-V-E them. 

I first discovered the joy of sticker books for toddlers when travelling to the US and literally trying every available activity to distract the children for five minutes on the plane. Sticker books were the hands-down winner throughout. The only problem - if you can call it a problem - is that the kids seem to complete the entire book in ten minutes. However, you'll find this is no problem at all if you travel with a library of sticker books. Which I now do. All. the. time.

Meg raises a good point, though. While I may think that doing a sticker book consists of, well, sticking, my children seem to think the main aim is to stick and then peel off each sticker. If they can find a piece of furniture - or a wall - to stick the sticker to, so much the better. (Sorry, British Airways.)

I find stickers everywhere. In my handbag. In the washing machine. On the walls. Even on my work notebook, which I pulled out in a meeting and then quickly had to retreat for fear of the supplier (I won't embarrass him by mentioning him by name) realising I was not the high-flying corporate wonder woman he obviously thought I was, but in fact I am a mum trying to fit everything in (and, on this particular occasion, failing. But let's ignore that). Personally, if I was putting stickers on my notebook, it would not be Donatello from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It would, in fact, be these babies from Anya Hindmarch. But I digress. 

A random sticker, on a random wall. There's no escape.

Given that the youngest Martini isn't even close to sticker books, I am already resigned to several more years of finding stickers in places they really shouldn't be. But - they love it. And that's all that really matters. 

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Fresh as a daisy

Fresh is one of those brands that I've heard a lot about, but never tried. It's not that easy to get hold of in the UK (and although there is one shop on Marylebone High Street - number 92 to be exact - it's currently closed for renovations, so even more difficult than usual) - so I roped in the help of Martini Sister to hand deliver some goodies for me to try direct from good old NYC. 

In fact, I'd actually only asked her for the Sugar Lip Treatment - you must of heard of that, right? But she went one step further and picked up the Skincare All-Stars gift set, to give me a real chance to check out the brand. Unfortunately, this limited edition set seems to have sold out on Sephora - but you might still get lucky in a store? Worth a shot. 

The brand, which 'mixes ancient beauty rituals with modern technology', basically follows a natural philosophy, with a focus on high-quality, high performing ingredients. Sounds good, smells even better.  

What's in the kit?

Let's be honest - these are the best sellers from their skincare range - and there's a reason for that. Every single of of these are fantastic - I especially love the face cream that is both really hydrating and sinks straight into the skin. It's perfect for this time of year. 

I'm only disappointed that it didn't include Sugar Face Polish - which is supposed to be amazing - but using the performance of these products as a basis, I'll be adding that to my shopping list for my next US trip. Either that, or Martini Sister will have to make another trip home PDQ. 

Monday, 2 February 2015

Spotify - is premium worth it?

Spotify overhauled its almost a year ago in April 2014, and its taken me a good while to properly get to grips with the programme. Initially, I just used the free option, but while we were on holiday I decided to upgrade to the 'premium' version, mainly to avoid the adverts. But, because I had some time on my hands, it also gave me the chance to play around with the new version and I haven't looked back. Spotify is absolutely brilliant.

Let me tell you why.

First, it has a great catalogue of music. To be honest, my tastes are fairly mainstream, and I haven't done a detailed comparison with the likes of Napster and Google Play, but I've never had a problem. No complaints from me on that front.

Second, once you get the hang of it, it's simple and easy to use. Playlists, albums, artists: build your own library however you like. Personally, I love the playlists and have created a lot - some for the kids, some just for me and obviously, some for Christmas. Winner.

Third, the android app is brilliant. With Premium you can download 3,333 tracks to sync with your mobile (or tablet) so you can listen offline. That's right - offline. You can do this for up to three devices - which covers my laptop, my tablet and my mobile. I have a whole wealth of playlists to help get me through my daily commute. One is called Nine Circles of Hell. South West Trains, take note. 

And, finally, fourth, you can follow other people's public playlists. Don't fancy building your own workout list? No problem - just follow someone else's. Have a light 'Stalker' tendency to certain celebrities? Chances are, they've created a public profile sharing their own favourite tracks - yours for the taking. 

There are two main account options: free, which is paid for by adverts and doesn't allow you to download your music, and premium, which costs £9.99 a month and means you can play your music anytime, anywhere. For the average price of an album, you can have pretty much an unlimited music library at home, on the move and at your destination. What more could you want?

Friday, 30 January 2015

January favourites

Can you believe we're at the end of January already? I'm not one of those people that hates this month - although possibly not doing anything silly like 'dry January' helps with that - but it's really flown by. I actually quite like the cold - so long as I'm properly dressed. I know we probably have worse weather to get through (I seem to recall snow in either February or March last year - could be wrong) but I find myself looking forward to spring and summer already. 

So, favourite things of the month? Let's get to it:

This month has been particularly harsh on my skin - the variations in temperature, mixed with commuting on the tube and central heating are definitely taking their toll. (And, yes, I'm not getting any younger, which doesn't help either.) My rediscovery of Liz Earle's Cleanse and Polish has been a lifesaver - and the eucalyptus helps sooth any signs of the seemingly endless cold that has taken residence at Martini Towers.

I've also been using La Prairie's Cellular Swiss Ice Crystal Dry Oil. Not for the faint-hearted (or faint-walleted) - it costs £213 for 30ml - I was lucky enough to get hold of a sample to try out and I've used every drop this month. An award winning product, it claims to fill gaps in the skin's moisture barrier function, preventing water loss and helping retain a youthful, line-free look. Sadly for my wallet, I have to say this product definitely works - you need very little and it sinks straight into the skin so there's no oily residue or that slightly slick feeling you can get with other oils. My skin has been very dehydrated this month, and this oil has worked wonders. If only they sold it in Boots, so I could at least pretend to justify the spend with all the Advantage Card points I'd rack up... oh well. 

My hair has also taken a bit of a beating, and Dove's Pure Care Dry Oil treatment mask has been putting in resilient efforts to bring some life back to it. I first used this back in September last year, but this month I've been using it religiously at least twice a week. It's such a bargain, too, that it reminds me not everything that works has to cost an obscene amount of money (see paragraph above...)

I'm making more of an effort to embrace the bold lip - and I've been using Mac's Russian Red lipstick to do it. This isn't in my comfort zone, but I am slowly getting used to it - and this colour is fantastic. I wouldn't exactly say it's hydrating, but it's not drying either - and on me, it lasts around 4-5 hours before it needs topping up. 

I have also been loving the Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze & Glow. Hands down, this is the best contouring kit I've ever used. Suitable for any skintone, the bronzer can be used to both contour and give that 'sun-kissed' look that's so distant in these winter months. The highlighter gives skin a luminosity without being overly shimmery or glittery, which is difficult to find with a lot of highlighters. If you only buy one CT makeup product, make it this. It's £49, so not cheap, but I've used mine everyday this month and it's barely scratched the surface. It's an investment worth making.  

I've also been using SEVENTEEN Falsifeye HD mascara this month. Increasingly I'm of the opinion that mascara is a product you definitely don't need to spend lots of money on - the high street ones are often as good, if not better, that the luxury ones. I did a full review earlier this month - if you haven't tried it before, now's as good a time as any; it's currently on offer. 

Finally, a non-beauty favourite: Scandal. My latest box-set addiction. If you haven't heard about this, where have you been? It's a US political thriller and it's literally addictive. It's not quite the West Wing, and this time, there are Republicans running the show rather than Democrats, but we have stayed up way too late, promising 'just one more episode'. We watch it on Amazon Prime (which, by the way is genius), but it's available on the US Netflix too. We're half way through season two, and it's currently standing at season four, with no signs of slowing. Phew. So, that's February sorted too.