Mama OWL Blog: 2017

Summer Holidays are a SCREAM at Thorpe Park Resort

Monday, 24 July 2017

The Summer stretches out ahead of us and parents nationwide are wondering what to do to keep the kids entertained over the next six weeks. Top of our list? Thorpe Park.
 
 
We were lucky enough to be some of the first to try out the revamped Derren Brown Ghost Train - Rise of the Demon back in March and we were not disappointed... I'm not ashamed to admit that I ran out of there screaming! I won't give it away, but it's not to be missed, it has had a fantastic update to what was already a top attraction.
 
The boys had a fantastic night on their favourite rollercoasters, it was a real SCREAM of an evening (mostly from me on those rollercoasters... I am the scream queen) and one we can't wait to recreate with lots of visits planned for the school holidays. They're looking forward to giving the Thorpe Park Is7and Extremes Challenge a go, just download the app and complete a challenge in each territory across the Island and you could WIN a return ticket!
 
 
In addition, Thorpe Park have a whole host of offers and events over the Summer that are not to be missed including lots of opportunities to win tickets with their Monday Motivation giveaways, discounts on stays at the amazing Thorpe Shark hotel and theme nights, so give them a follow on social media and stay up to date with all of the latest goings on from the island like no other. You can find them on both Twitter and on Facebook.
 
Psst... Keep your eyes peeled for news of the spectacular annual FRIGHT NIGHTS - all will be revealed soon! The island changes after dark... Do you dare?

Num Noms Num Noms - So Delicious! Crazy Creations in the Kitchen

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Having teens and tweens who are constantly hungry and raiding the cupboards looking for food (no matter how recently they have been fed) and a wee one who is backwards & forwards to Gymnastics training and always on the go, I am keen to get the kids in the kitchen and encourage them to be creative with their meals... Hopefully one day they will find something that actually fills them up, though I won't hold my breath.
 
E (7) and I love a good cooking and baking session and the latest Num Noms series has inspired us to come up with our own Crazy Creations, combining our favourite flavours into tasty treats - with their mix and match lunch box packs, kids can dream up all sorts of wacky combos and create sweet, scented recipes using the outer 'Nums' and inner 'Noms' (scented stamps and erasers) - there are 85+ to collect in Series 3 alone! We are all about the snacks in this house, trying to keep hungry tummies satisfied between meals is no mean feat. One of our favourite snacks is rice cakes, because you can use them as a base for a whole range of delicious combinations both sweet and savoury.
 
 
For me - the combo of peanut butter topped with sliced banana & a drizzle of honey is a pre-dinner winner and stops me from reaching for the crisps between meals. E's favourite is chocolate & hazelnut spread, with a sprinkle of marshmallows if she makes it herself! Another tasty topping for rice cakes (and something a bit more virtuous) is mashed avocado layered with slices of tomato, or a light spread of cream cheese with chives and sliced cucumber.
 
 
What are your favourite crazy creations in the kitchen, or snack ideas for hungry kids? I'd love to hear your suggestions! Feel free to share them in a comment.

Something for Everyone at #HotterBath

Monday, 1 May 2017

Rugby season may be over for the Summer but I find myself thinking ahead to the Autumn/Winter when I will once again find myself standing in a muddy field wrapped up while I am out in the elements. Kitting myself out ready to brave the great outdoors means finding a good pair of boots to see me through the season, and while I want something that looks good I also want something that will keep my feet warm and dry, and be comfortable to wear.
 
Hotter Shoes are committed to the 'Comfort Concept', which I got to hear about at their recent event at their Bath store. I was particularly interested to hear about their GORE-TEX® range of shoes, which features the latest product technology for breathable and waterproof footwear. I had a good look at a pair of Orla GTX boots (which are available in four colours), and look both comfy as well as stylish. I learned about the rigorous testing that products must undergo to be allowed to even be labelled with the GORE-TEX brand and have been suitably impressed with just how weatherproof these shoes are whilst still ticking all of the boxes for comfort.
 
 
I had a lovely time at the #HotterBath event and have learned so much about the Hotter brand (which I admit to not knowing anything about previously), and seen for myself how they have something for everyone of all ages - I had a good look at their men's shoes range and will be paying them a visit in the Summer when the boys need new school shoes for September, they are amazing quality and will be both comfortable and supportive for their ever-growing feet!
 
 
There was no way that I was leaving a shoe shop without a little something for myself, and I completely fell in love with the 'Donna' heel in just about every colour but opted for the smart jet black. They are great for either a night out or a day at work with flexi grooved soles and fixed cushion insoles, and the perfect low heel height for someone as tall as me (5'10). I have worn them almost every day since I brought them home and they are an absolute dream, and have a gorgeous vintage look to them too. A big thanks to the Hotter team for teaching me about the company and their commitment to comfort and customer service - I had a wonderful evening and look forward to visiting the store again very soon.
 
 
I received a complimentary pair of Donna heels during the Hotter Bath event for review purposes.
All words and opinions are my own.



How I Keep My Hair Healthy

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Collaborative Post.

My hair is my absolute pride and joy. For someone like me who has had numerous personal battles with weight and health and fitness, my hair has always been the one thing that I love about myself. Most of the time, when it does as it's told (or is straightened into submission). Currently it is waist length and a beautiful rich brunette although last year I dabbled with a dark cherry colour, and a bit of blonde hair and there. I prefer it this colour. Dark. Like my soul. And my sense of humour...
 
 
I've got masses of hair, it's very thick and wavy and while I find myself wanting to try new things I am very wary of how over-styling or recolouring can damage it. I've also decided to keep it long, because I think as I get older it will become harder to manage so I will enjoy having it long while I am able. In my teenage years it was an absolute mess, I cannot even tell you how grateful I am for the invention of hair straighteners so that I can finally have the gorgeous hair I always had that was hidden underneath all of that frizz. It has taken me many years but I finally know how to look after my hair properly and I am reaping the benefits of it now, as it is healthy and manageable.

Hair Styling by Toni Lilley Hairdressing
 
My recommendations for taking care of your hair have to be to find a good shampoo and conditioner that works for you and gives you the results that you want. I have found nothing to support the idea that changing up your hair products improves its condition because it gets used to what you're using - it doesn't. Find one you like and stick to it. I also don't over-wash my hair - which means it can often end up in a messy bun on the top of my head or tied back into a plait, but this way I am not stripping it of its natural oils. I try and coordinate hair washing days with gym days (because sweaty hair is grim) and around any social events otherwise it can end up dry and straw-like.
 
A deep condition every now and again is a good idea, and I use coconut oil on the ends from time to time when I feel like they need a bit of extra TLC. I always use heat protecting spray, and occasionally use serum to tame any flyaway bits during styling.
 
My kids have been lucky enough that both myself and my husband come from families with thick, wavy hair and in particular, no baldness, though there are many new treatments available such as Advanced Tricho Pigmentation Treatment that can help combat such issues. The only real problem that I have is how much I spend on hair cuts for them because it grows at a rate of knots and the boys are all past the age where they qualify for cheap kids cuts (and far too big to try and say otherwise!).
 
Do you have any hair care tips and tricks? I'd love for you to share them in the comments below.

Preparing for Secondary School - Buying Uniform

Friday, 24 March 2017

I can barely believe it but the time has come for my youngest son to move up to secondary school. We have received our offer of our first choice school and now we begin the process of buying his new uniform and all the equipment he will need. There is so much to buy that I find it best to start as soon as you get your offer so that you can spread the cost as it can all add up.
 
Different schools will have all have their own lists of the required uniform and equipment that you should be able to view on their website, but from my experience these are the things that they cannot do without in their first year. There are many options available both in leading supermarkets and on the high street for purchasing school wear, in addition to school wear specialists such as Trutex. You may also only be able to buy certain items from the school's preferred stockist so it's best to check straight away just in case things need to be ordered direct from their supplier.
 

With them spending so much time in their uniform, you'll need to look for things that are not only comfortable, but hardwearing. My boys are much harder on their clothes than my girls have ever been and often come home with muddied knees from diving around on the field with their mates playing games or just from being pushed over into hedges (yes... much fun, many japes... I thoroughly enjoy all of the extra laundry).
 
Sticking with plain black socks makes life easier in the mornings when they're scrabbling around getting dressed, and it also means less time pairing up because they're all the same. I have wasted years of my life pairing up socks from our 'sock orphanage'... Just get plain ones. Trust me. In terms of sports socks, buy some thick plain ones to wear with trainers, as well as some that will be suitable and comfortable to wear with outdoor field sport boots. (Related: buy them a boot bag).
 
Let them choose their backpack. You'll only get it wrong if you try & pick for them. Even when there is nothing wrong with it and it looks almost exactly like the one they've been using for the last year. I'm all about a quiet life these days and currently I'm outnumbered by teenagers, so let me save you the earache - Pick your battles!
 
 
We received complimentary uniform items for review purposes. All words and opinions are our own.

The Best Books for Tween Boys | World Book Day 2017 #DoSomethingBooky

Thursday, 23 February 2017

 
I have mentioned many times before how important I believe it is to instil a love of reading in my children, and I have to admit I have found it much harder to do with the boys than the girls. Finding books that tween boys will enjoy can be tough task but I think we have finally cracked it with H (who is 11) as he has been building up quite a collection of stories he really enjoys, with titles by the amazing and hilarious David Walliams featuring heavily! I asked H to share some of his favourites:
 
  • Horrible Histories Blood-curdling Box of Books (Terry Deary, Peter Hepplewhite)
  • Mr Stink (David Walliams)
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid Collection (Jeff Kinney)
  • Tom Gates Collection (L. Pichon)
  • The World of Norm (Jonathan Meres)
  • Gangsta Granny (David Walliams)
  • Tiger Wars (Steve Backshall)
 
With World Book Day coming up next week (Thursday 2nd March 2017) we have looked to his collection for costume inspiration, and with the help of Party Delights wide selection of fancy dress H has decided to dress up as Walliams' Gangsta Granny. The Burglar Granny costume comprises a dress with Velcro fastening, swag bag, and eye mask and is currently £13.99, with a grey wig available to purchase separately to finish off the look priced at £3.99. How to tell your son is a rugby player - he will always take the opportunity to join in with fancy dress, especially if it's drag. As my friend Alice said, we can only imagine what he's going to be like once he gets to Uni...
 
 
His other top choice was Mr Twit from Roald Dahl's The Twits, but due to his sister's reluctance to dress up as Mrs Twit he opted for Gangsta Granny and I think he pulls the ensemble off very well. I love his sense of humour and how keen he always is to join in the fun and have a laugh, I know I am biased but he really is such a lovely kid.
 
After her refusal to be Mrs Twit, E eventually decided that she would like to be Roald Dahl's Matilda which I thought to be very fitting considering she shares the character's love of reading. Her costume comprises the blue dress, newt, and book prop, and Party Delights also have tights available separately to complete the costume.
 
Will your children #DoSomethingBooky for World Book Day?
 
The children received complimentary costumes for review purposes. All words are our own.


Meal Plan Monday | 200217

Monday, 20 February 2017

 
Meal Plan 200217
Monday 20th
February
Gammon and chips
Tuesday 21st
February
Baked potatoes with salad
Wednesday 22nd
February
H is performing at the school dance festival this evening so it will be a case of whatever we grab after it finishes, it's going to be a late one
Thursday 23rd
February
Sausages and mash
Friday 24th
February
Spaghetti Bolognese
Saturday 25th
February
Chicken fajitas
Sunday 26th
February
No idea, as the Mister and H are off to Twickenham to watch ENG vs ITA which I am not remotely jealous of...
 

Meal Plan Monday | 130217

Monday, 13 February 2017

 
Meal Plan 130217
Monday 13th
February
Burgers and Chips for the Mister and kids
Tuesday 14th
February
Macaroni Cheese with broccoli (no romantic meal for two here on Valentine's Day...)
Wednesday 15th
February
Chicken Salad
Thursday 16th
February
Spaghetti Bolognese and garlic bread
Friday 17th
February
Chicken Curry
Saturday 18th
February
Homemade chilli with baked potatoes
Sunday 19th
February
Roast to welcome J home from skiing in Andorra
 

#FITin30 Update | Am I Fit Yet?

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

 
Fit as in fitness not as in hot, by the way, to clarify...
 
I have been doing my #FITin30 workouts at home as promised, and I have to say - it's good. I am enjoying them. They are doing exactly what they say on the tin. Or booklet. I should also point out that I do go to the gym and use weights as well as using the #FITin30 program so my progress should not really be measured against anyone solely using the at-home exercises, also - I have been doing this for two years. My fitness levels are not equal to someone just starting out who wants to start this program before perhaps progressing to a gym, or joining in with local fitness classes. With that said, #FITin30 is a perfect stand-alone fitness program too.
 
As I said in my introduction to the home workout plan - "The #FITin30 plan comprises 3 sets of exercises and a stretch routine, and you're added to a private Facebook group for support, advice and information with other members who are using the plan", and that is exactly what you get. You can adjust the on/off timings between sets to suit your level of fitness, so I personally would do either 40/20 or 50/10 depending on how energetic I am feeling, but 30/30 is a good place to start off I think.
 
I can honestly say that I am enjoying the plan. I like the simplicity, I like that it is quick (so you an easily squeeze it into a window of free time - no excuses!), and that I can adjust it time-wise to suit my needs with shorter rest periods etc.. I like that I can also challenge myself further by incorporating weights if I feel the desire to. The #FITin30 program is good all-rounder and suitable, in my opinion, for everyone. It's not the same as attending Project 6 Pack because you don't have the group dynamic and it rests solely on you motivating yourself, but the exercises and the idea behind it are the same, and just as good as attending the classes if you are willing to kick your own ass.
 
Nutrition and a good, balanced diet is a huge part of any healthy lifestyle, even more so than the exercise. You can't out-train a bad diet, as they say. You can't work out for half an hour, then go home and stuff your face with junk and wonder why you're not seeing results. You cannot cheat the grind - what you put in, you will get out. You have to be motivated. You have to earn it. You have to want it.
 
Do you want it? Visit Laura's LP Training Body Confidence Coach page and see what the #FITin30 workout program is all about, and what it can do for you.

Meal Plan Monday | 060217

Monday, 6 February 2017

 
Meal Plan 060217
Monday 6th
February
Burgers and Chips for the Mister & kids, squeezed in between the school run and Y2 & Y6 parents evening
Tuesday 7th
February
Macaroni Cheese
Wednesday 8th
February
Chilli with baked potatoes
Thursday 9th
February
J was too poorly on Sunday to celebrate his birthday so we are off out for a family dinner tonight to celebrate his 16th
Friday 10th
February
Chicken Curry with rice
Saturday 11th
February
To be honest, not a bloody clue because I have one kid at a birthday party, one at a Gymnastics competition all afternoon, another off on his school ski trip right at dinner time, the Mister is at football and I am meeting a friend for drinks. McDonalds?
Sunday 12th
February
Roast
 

Creating a Wall Gallery - Printing Your Photos at Home

Friday, 3 February 2017

 
Taking a million photographs, and then never getting them printed... Sound familiar?
 
I'm pretty sure that I am not the only one guilty of it. So many of our family memories are purely digital, all stored online for that 'one day' that I will get them printed and framed and up on the wall, or into albums for future enjoyment. My parents have several of these old brown eighties style albums with pictures of me and my older sisters when we were small - family holidays in the Canary Islands, childhood memories of climbing trees, Christmases with our late Grandparents... I love to sit and look through them, because to be honest these days I struggle to remember what I did last week never mind what I did when I was seven and having these albums to look at brings it all back as if it was yesterday (actually, we'll say 'this morning' because sometimes I also forget what I did yesterday... or where I put my keys... or anything my husband says that is related to work or football, though that is often on purpose).
 
We have recently redecorated our living room and I decided to create a wall gallery in a bid to actually get some of our photos off the computer and up on the wall for us and visitors to our home to enjoy. I purchased some new photo frames in various different designs - including collage style, and single photo - and colours to match our new décor. Getting photos printed can be costly and time-consuming particularly if you order online and then have to wait (and pay) for delivery, and the all-in-one Epson XP-960 printer has turned out to be the perfect solution to finally getting our favourite images off of Facebook and framed to fill those blank spaces on the wall.
 
 
The Epson XP-960 boasts impressive specs with the ability to produce HD-quality prints using Epson’s six-colour Claria Photo HD Ink, for 'superior quality and long-lasting photographs'. It's a nice compact machine too (though heavy, so go careful when taking it out of the box), despite being able to print sizes up to A3, and it's easy and convenient to use with the ability to switch between photo and A4-sized prints with two front-loading paper trays. Printing onto thicker media is also made possible with the rear speciality media feed, as is printing directly onto suitable CDs/DVDs.
 
I installed the software using the CD provided and followed the simple step-by-step instructions to get everything set up ready to use. It's possible to download the software from the website if you don't have a disc drive, as well as an option to download the iPrint app to a range of devices including your smartphone or tablet for wireless printing and scanning. You can print from anywhere in the world simply by emailing documents and photos directly to the printer using Epson Email Print, and if you download the Creative Print app you can access Facebook photos to create custom greeting cards and stationery, and turn photos into colouring book templates.

It can look a little daunting at first, with its interactive LCD touch-screen and motorised control panel & output tray, but it is actually quite easy to navigate as everything is step-by-step and instructions on-screen are all very clear and simple.


We have been lucky enough to have enjoyed some amazing trips in the past few years including New York, Paris, and Australia as well as Corsica and Greece, and I have hundreds of photos that I wanted to print and frame but never got around to it. I bought a three-photo frame for 7x5 sized prints to go on my wall and knew exactly what pictures I was going to choose - one of me and the Mister at Cleland Wildlife Park in Adelaide with a koala, one of all seven of us together standing at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower, and the last one is of me and the Mister standing at the top of the Empire State Building. The quality of these three prints is equal to those in the surrounding frames, all of which I had printed from an online company (though the ones on the right were A's Christmas gift to me & her Dad) and it makes me ridiculously happy to be able to print whatever I need and get them framed & up on the wall straight away.

I love seeing our memories smiling back at us from the frames, snapshots of the kids as babies and toddlers, newborns in car-seats waiting to go home for the first time and small children laughing and playing at the zoo, or on the field playing sports. I have a zillion wall gallery inspiration pins on my 'Ideas for the Home' board on Pinterest - at last my own will soon be complete. I still have more frames to go up, and have interspersed the collage frames with single photos and a nice wooden plaque with a quote, but I am so much closer to getting it finished now I am able to print at home.

 We received a complimentary printer for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are our own.

Cherished Memories - How to Choose a Family Photographer

Thursday, 2 February 2017

sponsored post.
 
This morning brought with it a thick offer letter from a nearby college, addressed to J who will be turning sweet (?!) sixteen at the end of this week. Almost every day on Facebook I am greeted with 'on this day' memories that show me pictures of the children who used to live in my house. The children who used to crawl into my bed in the middle of the night for reassurance after a bad dream or just for a cuddle, the children that I used to push on the swings in the park, and watch scoot full pelt through the narrow part of the river down town screeching with laughter and soaking everyone within six feet of them (sorry, if that happened to be any of you...).
 
I sit at the table now and instead of little hands pulling at my sleeve asking for a biscuit I have these hulking six footers asking what's for dinner at the same time as they are filling their face with a loaf of bread's worth of toast or an entire pizza (I have never known anything like it). Parents of teenagers or young adults will all tell you - the days are long, but the years are short. Before you know it, you will be driving them three hours away & dropping them off at uni, and attending college interviews.
 
I think that my one regret from when the kids were smaller is not having more family photographs taken. I have thousands of snapshots of all of them, from birth to now, but there are painfully few of the seven of us together and as time ticks on and life gets in the way there are even fewer chances of us managing to get some. Choosing the right family photographer is important, take time to find someone who captures real moments - especially those candid ones others might miss - and who really knows their craft, and they will give you memories to cherish for a lifetime.
 
Ask For Referrals
Speak to your friends and family, they will love to recommend their favourite photographer and be able to show you examples of their work.
 
Check Out Portfolios
All professional photographers will have galleries of their previous work and will be more than happy for you to look through. Do you like their style? Does it fit with your family dynamic? Are they the sort of pictures you would like of your own family?
 
Personality
Meet your photographer before your shoot to discuss your needs and what you want from your photos to make sure that you are compatible, but also to make sure that you are happy with their methods and with what they will expect from you - it works both ways!
 
Pricing & Budget
I know so many people who end up being stung by companies enticing them in with "special offers" of supposedly free sessions, and then finding out that the prints cost hundreds of pounds after the company insisting on a 'cinema viewing' of their shoot. Reputable photographers will either have clear prices on their website, or be happy to disclose to customers on request before the shoot.
 
Choose Independent
Exactly for the reason above, always choose an independent photographer over a big studio style company. You will be supporting a small and probably local business (though lots of photographers are willing to travel particularly if shooting on location), you will know what you are paying for beforehand, and you will get a personal service tailored to you and your family. Studios are often bound by time, whereas an independent photographer will have booked their time specifically for you and your circumstances, and won't want to rush you through your session.
 

Meal Plan Monday | 300117

Monday, 30 January 2017

 
Meal Plan 300117
Monday 30th
January
Chicken fajitas with onions and mixed peppers, served with either tortillas or brown rice, and some quesadillas for E
Tuesday 31st
January
Freezer diving tonight, whatever anyone wants as we have four different sports clubs to ferry the kids between tonight
Wednesday 1st
February
Macaroni cheese with steamed veg
Thursday 2nd
February
Spaghetti & Meatballs
Friday 3rd
February
Pork Chops
Saturday 4th
February
Homemade Chilli
Sunday 5th
February
It's J's 16th birthday today, so whatever he chooses
 

Meal Plan Monday | 230117

Monday, 23 January 2017

 
Meal Plan 230117
Monday 23rd
January
Homemade chicken curry with pilau rice and naan bread
Tuesday 24th
January
Burgers & chips for the kids, omelette & salad for me
Wednesday 25th
January
Pasta Bake
Thursday 26th
January
Sausages, mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables
Friday 27th
January
Chicken fajitas with onions and mixed peppers, served with either tortillas or brown rice, and some quesadillas for E
Saturday 28th
January
Deli Pizza
Sunday 29th
January
Roast
 

#MySundayPhoto | First Tooth

Sunday, 22 January 2017

For months on end I have had to listen to E banging on about wobbly teeth and how all her friends have lost teeth, and that she is the last one. I'm fairly certain that she is exaggerating (as six year olds often do) but yesterday evening after a solid day of wiggling, she finally lost her first tooth. Bedtime couldn't come fast enough, and her tooth was placed in a little trinket box next to her bed to await the arrival of the tooth fairy who left her some money, and a certificate to mark the occasion. Gappy is happy!
 

Photalife

Alternative Valentine's Day Movies - 10 of the Best

Friday, 20 January 2017

There are only a few weeks to go until the big Hallmark holiday... But if you're going solo for whatever reason this Valentine's Day or you just fancy a deviation from the predictably saccharine lovefest you get with the average rom-com, I have compiled a list of 10 alternative movies to watch that will make you laugh and possibly cry, for you to sit back and enjoy on your own or with your 'people', or even with your pet.
 
Love isn't all about the guy getting the girl and driving off into the sunset for a happily ever after. Love is the little things in life, the friendships you make, the people who stand by you through the hard times, the ones who are there for no other reason than just to be with you when you have nothing to give them but yourself. So celebrate love this Valentine's Day, but in all its forms. In no particular order, here are:
 
  1. How to Be Single (2016)
  2. Thelma and Louise (1991)
  3. He's Just Not That Into You (2009)
  4. Boys On The Side (1995)
  5. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005)
  6. Waiting To Exhale (1995)
  7. Riding In Cars With Boys (2001)
  8. Now And Then (1995)
  9. Fried Green Tomatoes (1992)
  10. Steel Magnolias (1989)
I won't denigrate these movies by referring to them as 'chick flicks' because they are so much more than that. They are stories about friendship, companionship, what it means to share your life with someone in whatever form that comes in. They show that not everything runs smoothly, and that sometimes things don't work out the way you want or how you thought that they might, but that ultimately if you have someone you trust who loves you and is there for you, that it probably will all be ok in the end.

Our Anniversary Trip to New York - Top 10 Tips for a Holiday to Remember

Thursday, 19 January 2017

I can't believe it has nearly been a whole year since our anniversary trip to New York City. Also, I can't believe I still haven't finished writing my blog posts about it! While you're waiting, we have come up with a list of our top 10 tips to make your visit to NYC one to remember. We had the most amazing time & can't wait to visit again some day.

 
1. Book an Airport Lounge
 
The Mister surprised me with a pre-booked airport lounge for our outward journey which got our anniversary trip off to a great start. It made it that little bit more special, and after check-in we headed to the lounge and enjoyed comfy seats and free Wi-Fi in addition to our complimentary drinks (free Prosecco, anyone?) and snacks, and a small pre-flight meal. There are several lounges to choose from, we used No1 lounges in Heathrow T3 and really enjoyed our experience with them.

2. Book your Transport between the Airport and Hotel in Advance
 
Arriving in a big and bustling place like NYC especially at night-time was a daunting prospect, before we left we booked a shared van transfer from JFK to our hotel (and the return journey) using Attraction Tickets Direct. It is a 24-hour and door-to-door service and their current website price makes it only £68 return for two people, and booking it in advance means it's all paid for and won't eat into your spending money. After walking into arrivals we simply took our ticket to the desk, and the customer service representative called it through for us. After a short wait, our driver arrived and showed us out to the van and took us straight to our hotel. For the return journey, the Mister called and booked our van 24 hours in advance for the time required and we left our luggage in reception while we went out to enjoy our last day in the city.

3. Book Attraction Tickets in Advance and Plan a Loose Itinerary
 
Visiting lots of attractions can work out to be very expensive, it's definitely worth looking into buying your attraction tickets in advance - buying a multi attraction pass is good value as well as a great way to save money when you're sightseeing. We booked a pass for 5 attractions, and chose the places we wanted to visit from the list on the ATD website. You can even pre-book meal tickets (that include a drink, main meal & dessert from a set menu) for places like the Hard Rock Café in Times Square.

4. Use a Hop-On/Hop-Off Tour Bus
 
We didn't want to use the subway, so we booked the New York FreeStyle Pass mentioned above from Attraction Tickets Direct which is currently £125 per person for 5 attractions, and this also included tickets for the All Around Town Hop-On/Hop-Off Bus Tour and the Hop-on/Hop-Off Harbour Cruise on the Hudson. We used the tour bus to get around the city as they stop at or near all the major landmarks.

5. Take a River Cruise
 
The Hop-on/Hop-Off Harbour Cruise has four stops and does a little circuit of the Hudson, passing Ellis Island and The Statue of Liberty as well as giving you amazing views of the skyscrapers in the financial district. It was definitely a highlight for me & next time I would love to get a ferry out to Liberty Island for a closer look at the statue.
 
 
6. Spend a day walking around Central Park
 
It's beautiful and there is so much to see and explore - and it's free! On our last day our bus tickets had expired and we had used up 4 of our 5 attraction tickets, so we spent most of the day walking around Central Park taking photos and looking at all of the sights including the beautiful bridges and sculptures, such as the bronze Alice in Wonderland statue. Take a picnic and make a day of it. We also walked to Grand Central to have a look around and take some photos as it is only a few blocks away from Central Park and an absolutely stunning piece of architecture.

7. Do a View Attraction at Night, and one by Day
 
If you're going to visit a 'view' attraction like Empire State, Top of the Rock or One World Observatory, I would recommend doing one at night and one in the day. We decided to visit Empire during the day time, and the Top of the Rock at night. It was awe-inspiring, and I would do it all again to see those views over the city, it was breath-taking. I definitely plan to visit One World next time.

8. Have Small Bills for Tips
 
You're expected to tip pretty much all of the time, particularly for the guides and drivers if you are hopping on and off the bus and cruise so make sure you keep some smaller bills for tips handy otherwise it could really eat into your budget.
 
9. Plan Areas to Visit to Reduce your Travel Time
 
You don't need to be too rigid with your plans, but having a look at where everything is so you can do a day in one area, then a day in another etc. to save wasting your precious sightseeing time sitting in traffic is a good idea. If you plan well, you can design yourself almost a walking tour as you go from one landmark to another, like getting off of the bus at Battery Park to go and see the Bull before walking along Wall Street and seeing the New York Stock Exchange as you head to the harbour for the cruise, for example. Get yourself a map and find your bearings.

10. Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge
 
Again another free activity, which gives you some lovely views over the river and just has to be done. There are lots of little stalls at the entrance to the bridge, so grab yourself a giant Pretzel and have a leisurely stroll over the bridge and back.
 
 

Can You Really Be #FITIN30? | Home Workout Plan with Online Support

Tuesday, 17 January 2017


You know me - I enjoy a good vomit inducing workout session with the lovely body confidence coach and personal trainer Laura, owner of LP Training. You'd be right to question my sanity, why on Earth would anyone want to exert enough effort to make themselves chuck up? Who does that? Well, me. The aim isn't to throw up by the way, but I know I have worked hard when I'm having to have a walk around and take some deep breaths between sets, lest I see my last meal in reverse. I want to push myself to that limit because working out alone at home doesn't mean you half ass it. You go for it with your full ass, you crack out those reps to the best of your ability. You don't stop because no one is watching you, YOU are watching you. You don't work out for someone else, you do it because it makes you feel good as well as look good (though that won't happen immediately after as my sweaty red face above illustrates).
 
You do it for yourself.
 
So the question is - Can you really get results by following nutrition advice and training at home? Can you lose weight and increase your fitness levels simply by working out 3 times a week and eating well? The answer, of course, is yes. Yes you can.
 
You don't need fancy equipment or a gym membership. You need motivation, and determination. You have to WANT it.  There's no point signing up to anything if you don't stick to it. You can't out train a bad diet, and you can't expect to see results if you're not honest with yourself. Don't make excuses, just do it. Your body can and will respond to a healthy diet and exercise and this is where #FITIN30 can help you.
Regular readers will know that I joined local fitness group Project 6 Pack two years ago and I earned myself a killer bod by working hard and following their expert advice. Laura is one of the personal trainers behind Project 6 Pack and her new home workout plan with online support group is, in my opinion, the next best thing to being at P6P. So many people said to me "Oh I wish there was something like that around here" - well, now there is and better yet, you don't even need to leave the house!
 
I've agreed to trial the #FITIN30 workout plan for 30 days & see how I get on. I'm going to share my thoughts on the exercises, whether or not I see any results at the end (entirely dependent on the degree of effort I put in, too, to make that clear) and if you're unlucky perhaps some time-lapse videos of me sweating profusely and questioning my life choices. The plan comprises 3 sets of exercises and a stretch routine, and you're added to a private Facebook group for support, advice and information with other members who are using the plan. The routines are straightforward and Laura posts videos of herself completing the workouts as well as photos of meals, and motivational messages, as do the other members. It's a warm, supportive group & even though you're working out on your own, you're never alone.
 
Probably the most difficult thing about a lifestyle change is maintenance. Losing weight to be honest has been the easiest part for me. Learning to move out of my comfort zone, to push myself, and to not stuff an entire box of Jaffa Cakes in my face whenever I feel like it has been bloody hard going at times. Sometimes I have fallen off the wagon. Spectacularly. And we probably should just not talk about Christmas. The important thing is to realise that this is a lifestyle and not a diet. You're not being deprived of anything, you are doing your health and your body, and also your mind, a favour. You need to commit to eating well and training as a part of your every day routine, it is a way of life. We all have cheat days or weekends... The trick is picking yourself back up & doing better next time and when you know better, you do better.
 
I have been able to maintain a healthy lifestyle and exercise routine by myself for two years using all of the amazing advice and knowledge that I have learned from Laura, and my time at Project 6 Pack. I know what to eat, what not to eat, and how much effort I have to put in to get the results I want from my fitness routine. From an entirely personal point of view, I genuinely cannot recommend Laura highly enough - she and Amirah taught me not only how to change my diet and my body, but my whole life. As you can see from the comparison pictures, these were taken a few weeks shy of a year apart and I am not only the same size but fitter and stronger, too.
 
Ready to give it a try yourself? Want to know how to get signed up? Laura's #FITIN30 plan is available to all, drop her a message on Facebook and change your life for the better. In addition to #FITIN30, there is also a Vision nutrition plan bolt-on available to help you achieve the best results possible. There is even the opportunity for you to WIN your next phase of #FITIN30 simply by sharing your meals and workouts on social media and using hashtags #LPTraining #BodyConfidenceCoach and #FITIN30.
 
Be sure to check out my #FITIN30 progress on my social media channels, and come back to the blog to see how I get on with the plan. Better yet - join me! Find out more and sign up at www.facebook.com/lptraining.

Meal Plan Monday | 160117

Monday, 16 January 2017


First official meal plan of the new year! We have been meal planning as usual I just haven't had time to blog it and in all honesty, I have been lacking motivation - back to our regularly scheduled programming now, starting with posting our meal plans again. What's on your menu this week?
 
Meal Plan 160117
Monday 16th
January
Chicken fajitas with mixed peppers and red onions, served with brown rice or tortillas
Tuesday 17th
January
Burgers & chips for the kids, sweet potato hash browns with egg for me
Wednesday 18th
January
Homemade chicken curry with pilau rice
Thursday 19th
January
*Brinner
Friday 20th
January
Pizza
Saturday 21st
January
To be decided...
Sunday 22nd
January
Roast
* Breakfast for dinner = Egg, bacon etc
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