Monday, 27 March 2017

That time I went to...

Twelve years ago I lived in China, teaching English as a Foreign Language.

And that inspired the start of some serious itchy-feet; I regularly popped across to the US, Europe and Asia over the next seven years, and when I met MrS15S he was just as adventurous.

Niagara Falls, April 2011

Hong Kong, November 2008

New York (a lot)

Tromso, inside the Arctic Circle, Nov 2010.

Then five years ago we had a daughter, and aside from a brief week in Tenerife, have only ever travelled in the UK with our little girl – I have found time for a couple of solo Me Trips, which I completely advocate as the ultimate parent-recharge:

Belize (read my post here), April 2016

Chicago, 2013

I've also indulged in the odd UK mini-break - London/Manchester/Birmingham – according to country music and shopping needs.
I know that travel with babies and/or young children is entirely do-able, but as new parents, adjusting finances and new routines, we just didn’t.    

And then we took a family break to Disneyland Paris last summer.

From the flight I saw the excitement mirrored in the eyes of Mini-Me, I knew she’d caught the travel bug. She can't help it; it’s in her DNA.  

No problems with eating, although we all have a healthy addiction to French breads.  No problems with late night parades and firework displays, thanks to a welcome mid-afternoon nap for all. 

Mini-Me is also much better behaved when we’re out and about, as opposed to trying to coerce her into tidying away toys at home. I'd much rather experience than tidy, too.

So, as I approach my first summer break from the school run (yes!!!) I’m considering a long haul trip with Mini-Me, if only so we don’t spend half the summer mornings on the sofa, and the other half in the rain...sorry, UK summers, but you are a bit wet sometimes.

Ideally, we’ll hit the States – one of my favourite travel destinations (although this will be my first trip since the Obama Administration departed The West Wing; gulp).

But which of the 50 to choose from?  Should it just be the one? 


I love the Amtrak service - comfy seats, huge distances, iconic scenes and usually decent WiFi - and how great would it be to have ocean, desert, mountain and city escapades this August? We travelled by train from Niagara to New York in 2011, which was just as fabulous as we expected, and I regularly use the service when I'm in Chicago to travel for work

This summer I’ll also say hello to 40, and as I’ve been lucky enough to have some amazing life experiences (Great Wall, Niagara Falls, becoming Mum – and not losing myself) I don’t really have a Things to do Before I’m 40 list. 

Well, I wouldn’t mind driving a really fast car somewhere.  Or dying my hair pink.  

Maybe both adventures on the same day?


Hello San Francisco, Canyons, Denver and Chicago? Incidentally, the perfect pre-flight-home city for an airport discount shopping haul, thanks to Fashion Outlets. 

Amtrak's California Zephyr train journey takes around a week, depending on stops and travelling companions, and would probably be drier than a Summer's fortnight in Devon.  

But we're very much in the delightful planning stages, pouring over maps, books, photos and websites, and are open to spontaneity; once we book flights, we'll just book a night or two accommodation and take things from there.  

What US adventures can you recommend with a giddy five year old - and an even giddier almost-40 year old?  Mr S15S will likely be in his element with camera gear.

Oooh, and, as someone who takes three bags just to go to work, I would really appreciate any packing tips that you might have, for a three week multi-destination adventure for three people!

I received no money or products for this post, all thoughts, adventures and opinions are my own. 

Wednesday, 12 October 2016


I almost wanted to name this post Save Plymouth from Itself.  

I've lived, worked and played in Plymouth for the last eight years; it's the only home my four year old has ever known. 

And what a frustrating place Plymouth can be for parents, during the rainy season.

If the weather's great we have the great outdoors to play in.  

But where's the shelter?

The National Marine Aquarium, a couple of soft-play areas, Drake Circus (under daughter's duress) The Life Centre, and some cafes with play areas, such as the fabulous Eva's World and the almighty House of Fraser, who can't even sort out their basic facilities such as bathrooms (HOW hot is their water?) and accessibility - the elevators and escalators are frequently out. And don't get me started on their automated doors at the Royal Parade entrance. 

And then there's the Reel Cinema.

That quirky haven for film-lovers, historians and frustrated parents. The cosy cinema that was so dark and inviting my 18 month old daughter fell asleep on me. The cinema I went along with my Mum and Mother-in-Law to see Jersey Boys, the cinema I go to on date nights with Mr S15S, for the latest Star Trek (his choice) or X-Men (my choice)The cinema where my 2, 3, 4 and soon to be 5 year old enjoys Christmas films and early weekend Kids' Club choices. 

But the cinema won't be around for much longer if developers have their way. 

According to the Plymouth Herald today, there are plans afoot to knock down the Reel cinema, formerly the ABC, formerly a place The Beatles, however briefly, hung out, and possibly Lorenzos - yes, the gorgeous Spanish Tapas Bar and Restaurant, where I've had many an evening, often combined with a Reel visit. It could be last call for the Gala Bingo, too.

What's going on, Plymouth? 

What are you trying to do to us parents? Us hard-working people who are fed up with the lack of family-friendly indoor facilities.

In a time when the city is gearing itself up to celebrate a 400 year monumental piece of history - with a country who prides itself on Lights, Camera, Action - in 2020, and during the current development of an actual History Centre, why is this tiny safe-space being targeted?   

Why can't the Art Deco building be preserved, as a beacon of hope, for all the creativity that this city inspires? 

So I'll be popping along to ask that question, in the Public Consultation, at The Theatre Royal's Pennon Room on Monday 17th October, sometime between 11am - 7pm, to air my views for the record

Would be smashing to hear you'd joined in to #SavePlymouthReel and save Plymouth from itself. 


Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Why the Boots Emporium is the ultimate personalised gift service

My local shopping centre, Drake Circus in Plymouth, celebrated their 10th birthday this weekend, which, was the perfect time to investigate the brand new, year-round, Emporium from Boots, at their Blogger party on Saturday. 

So, what’s an Emporium, you may ask? 

Apart from ahhh-mazing, this unique gifting experience is only available to around 300 Boots’ stores in the UK, and it will be available all year round, so not disappearing as soon as the Friday Star Gift  does.  There are plans to expand the service, too, depending on customer’s feedback and needs.

The shiny new section offers a showcasing, gift-boxing and engraving service for all customers.

It’s the ultimate in high street (or shopping centre) personalised gifting. 

Customers can now have almost any gift engraved (works particularly well on glass fragrance bottles, plastic make-up palettes, metallic lipsticks and some cardboard boxes)

And it will only cost you three shiny gold coins; £3.   

Yes, £3.

Any sized message, or initials, as long as it will fit on the product

One price per engraving, not per character or space-between-character.

There are a range of letter sizes to choose from, in one font, which will then be coloured in using black, silver, gold or white ink, depending upon the item’s lettering.  

Ideal for the person who thinks they have it all. 

We had a tour of the facility from the fabulous Hazel and Alice, and they are more than happy to advise on the technical details with customers – all you have to do is choose what you’d like to buy, and your message.  You can even bring in an item you have previously bought from Boots to be engraved - just show the receipt to the engravers and away you go.
There are some handy examples and images dotted around the Emporium to offer inspiration.

It only takes a few minutes for the machine to etch the letters on your gift – if, like me, you’re a bit of a haul-shopper, you may be chatting with Hazel and Alice for a little while longer.
You could have a cosmetic personalised with your favourite photo and a free engraving on the metallic tag on the back - which will take around 9 days.  

The gift box service offers two colours (pink or grey) in small (£4) medium (£5) and large (£6).  Ribbon is on the way to the Drake Circus branch, either plain or personalised, ranging also from £4 - £6. 

I also had a chat from the lovely Elaine, an independent advisor for Boots’ new Beautiful You service, which launched last month, to support your specific skincare needs.  As she’s not attached to one brand in particular, you'll hear about the most suitable products for your skin, based on a quick skincare analysis.

So, pretty much this year you’ll have to find another excuse not to find the perfect gift for your loved ones!

And I might have to ask Santa for a set of Size15Stylist engraved, hot pink, make up brushes from Real Technique this year. A girl can never have too many brushes....and it’s a perfect hygge opportunity to practice my sewing sklls and have a go at making a cute make-up brush roll!

What messages will you gift to your darlings this year?

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Ten ways to hygge through to Christmas (and beyond)

Have you heard of hygge? I hadn't until recently, and pronunciation varies, dependent on the scandi tongue; I find the easiest to say is 'hue-gah'. 

Maybe, like me, (a massive fan of Autumn and Winter) you've probably practiced this unique aspect of Danish mindfulness and well-being, without ever knowing. Think candles, cosiness and quality time, as the Danes (and the rest of the northern hemisphere) prepare for colder weather and shorter days.

As children, my Sister and I used to love the darker days on the approach to Winter (er, Christmas).  We loved winter-proofing our house: we'd push comical sausage-dog draft excluders to the bottom of the doors, take pleasure in drawing the curtains closed in every room, switch on wall lights and table lights, bring out blankets and cushions to curl up under on the sofa, to watch our favourite films.

As an adult I was lucky enough to live in southern China for a couple of years, but it was too close to the equator, and when the sun went down in about five minutes, every single day of every year ... well, by November I found myself longing for shorter days and the obvious seasonal changes (oh, the giddyness of collecting spinning jennys and conkers on the school walk with Mini Stylist!) . . . 

Hygge, see?  

So, how do I hygge October (and right on through to Easter)? 

1.  Appreciate knitwear. To wear, to cosy under, to wrap around your feet.  If I could hibernate, my cave would be made of wool. And house a lot of cushions.

2.  Dim the lights.  Candles or low-lighting.  Whichever releases your inner twirl.  I decorate my home with Yankee Candles, but use soft-lighting as soon as the curtains close. 

3. Skin rejuvenation. Deep moisturising, deep conditioning, deep sleeping. All my skincare minis are stored in this gorgeous wooden box near my bed; handy, eh? No, hygge. 

4.  Wooden boxes. And baskets, but especially boxes. I've no idea why, but I appreciate a good quality small box to store anything in, but usually stationery, mini beauty goodies and craft supplies. 

5.  Crafting. I love crafting, but really indulge at this time of year.  Amateur at all levels, but fabulously enthusiastic for the simple pleasure I find in fabric, craft magazines, wooden stamps, and oodles of wool. 

6.  Work from home. I'm fortunate that I spend most of my day working from home, so I surround myself with more hygge-inducing goodness that I could, if I was in, say, an office. As my work station is normally my bed, this means cushions, blankets, and lots of coffee.

7.  The right mug.  Some mugs for coffee, some for tea. Only occasionally will a mug will work for either.  Mug-selection is more important than Mr S15S some people realise. I'm at my most settled when I have the right mug in my hand. 

8.  A weekly daytime nap. Okay, I know more people do this than they will acknowledge, so I'm just going to say it. I'm a busy working Mum and I like a weekly daytime nap. I'd rather close my eyes in a room of quiet than listen to more bad news on the radio, or another mind-numbing TV show.  I'd like a daily nap, but that's probably pushing it.  So once a week I draw the curtains, curl under a blanket and lie down at my 'desk'- the bed - for a quick 40 winks. Hygge-heaven. And along the same principles of popping on your own face mask before helping others with theirs. 

9.  Fountain pens.  I love a good quill, the slight scratch and easy flow across a clean notebook page is harmony to my senses.  Maybe they remind me of school, and the safety of childhood. And, I can use them all year round.  And the budget ones are better than higher-end brands; far less ink to erase from your fingers.  And I can buy pink ink! 

10. Walking my daughter to school. Crunching leaves, guessing the age of tree trunks, spotting pine cones and spikey conkers and naming trees, as the seasons merge from late summer to Christmas, the smell of winter on her way. And all the crafting the season brings! 

What's not to love?

 What hygge steps will you take today?