Archive for April, 2012

April 27, 2012

Neal’s Yard Remedies: Bee Lovely hand cream review.

I have been using the Neal’s Yard Remedies Bee Lovely hand cream for a few days now and I’m really impressed with it. I have to say, I’m not surprised at all. I’ve been a fan of the company for a long time and love their Melissa and Garden Mint and Bergamot hand creams. In fact, at the moment, my daughter is using the Melissa cream to prevent her little hands from getting dry (lots of hand-washing going on!) and she loves it too.

The Bee Lovely hand cream is being sold to raise funds for three charities involved in supporting the bee population, which as I wrote about the other day, is in serious need of help. It’s a cause that I completely support, but I really wanted the product to be great too and thankfully, it is.

Its a pale cream colour, and is slightly thicker than the other Neal’s Yard Remedies hand cream we have. It has a glorious orange smell, courtesy of the essential oil and, although it’s quite thick, it’s really easily absorbed into your skin so it doesn’t leave a greasy feeling afterwards. It’s got sunflower and brazil nut oils in, to help create the softness, as well as the all-important honey!

I have been using it a couple of times each day and I’ve really loved it. Over the period I’ve been using it, I’ve definitely noticed a softening of my skin and the removal of some drier areas across my knuckles and between my fingers. Although that could be because I’m applying it so often; I’m addicted to the smell…

76% organic, with no parabens, synthetic fragrances or odours, mineral oils or other chemical nasties, this is another winning product from Neal’s Yard Remedies and I really rate it highly. So, I do recommend you either go along to your local branch of Neal’s Yard Remedies (where you can also pick up other Bee Lovely information) or have a look at their online store to buy your own tube of Bee Lovely hand cream.  Either way, please do also sign their pesticide petition and help them to save our bees!

April 25, 2012

Rome: Art, tourism and really seeing what you’re looking at…

Rome is a city overrun with riches. So much so, that it is tempting as a visitor to arrive with a giant list of things to see and tick off a list. To ‘do’ the city. I hate that phrase. ‘Doing’ a place, as though it can be summarised in a few frantic days of dashing around, never to be re-visited. We’re all a bit guilty of it, and I certainly arrived in Rome armed with a list of things I wanted to see in my time there.

However, I also wanted to see and experience the rest of the city. Which meant taking time to slow down and really watch it unfold before me, instead of charging from one ‘must-see’ place to another, without appreciating those little things that make a place really interesting. The wisteria on the honey-coloured houses. The coffee bars where local folk lined up for their espresso, with me alongside, using one of my three sentences of Italian to order my jolt of caffeine. The little gelato stores, with a rainbow of flavour combinations that were open until 1am. These things were as exciting to me as the Renaissance masterpieces, and given that religious art often leaves me cold, sometimes they were more exciting.

See how exhausted I look after the Vatican museum and  St Peter’s Basilica…

With all the new technologies available to us, not only are people tempted into rushing from place to place on their trip, but often, they are looking at everything through the artificial eye of a camera lens. I distinctly remember being in New York in September of 2006 and being on a boat that went out past the Statue of Liberty. Surrounded by other tourists, I sat towards the centre of the boat in my waterproof as we approached the (smaller than I was expecting, but nonetheless iconic) statue. Watching the other people around me, I realised that no-one was really looking at it. Everyone had some kind of camera pointed at it. They all took a few shots (or filmed a piece of video) and then turned away. No-one had really seen the statue with their own eyes!

Are we so used to seeing images of the world that upon being presented with the real thing, it no longer holds any true fascination? I mean, if people are not willing to slow down and really see the thing that they’ve come all this way to see, what is the point in travelling to see it in the first place? Purely to capture an image to share on Facebook? It doesn’t seem like a very happy way to experience things to me.

In Rome, there is a very famous statue, Pietà, by Michelangelo, of Jesus being held by Mary. The original is in St Peter’s Basilica, covered by glass. There is also an authorised copy in the Vatican Museum, which whilst being as beautiful, was made in the Twentieth Century. During my visit, I wandered over to the copy and read the inscription below, as did a few other people. We then realised we were being tutted at, by someone who came up to the sculpture in a huge rush, took a photo and then moved on. Without reading the inscription. During my visit, I noticed the same person doing that same thing all the way through the Museum. Going up to an exhibit, taking a photo and then moving on, without taking any time to really see what they were photographing. Now, it may not matter. The copy of the sculpture is as beautiful as the original, and not behind glass. They say it would take twelve years to get around the Vatican museums if you looked at each exhibit for a minute, and perhaps she was just keen to get around as fast as possible. However, I do wonder how well she will recall the things she photographed; if she even realised she hadn’t photographed the original piece of sculpture; what answers she might give if asked questions about the artworks. Overall, how fond her memories about that particular trip will be.

I took very few photos. Like I said, religious art leaves me a bit cold and the riches of the Vatican City were sometimes a bit overwhelming, even when I put to one side any feelings I might have about the wealth of the Church. I need to really love a painting or artwork before taking a photo of it, rather than merely capturing it to ‘tick a box’ in my travel history. I did take a photo of one painting I really and truly loved in Rome, but that will be the subject of another of my Rome posts…

April 23, 2012

World Book Night

It’s World Book Night! I’ve been looking forward to this day for ages. World Book Night is a joyful celebration of books and reading and Book Givers will be handing out free copies of one of 25 books within their communities. In addition to this, copies will be handed out in places where accessing books is difficult such as care homes, prisons, homeless shelters and hospitals.

Why is reading important? A recent report  Literacy: State of the Nation found that one in six people in the UK struggle with literacy; a quarter of young people do not recognise a link between reading and success in later life; and men and women with poor literacy skills are least likely to be in full-time employment at the age of thirty. I cannot imagine not being able to read or not being confident in my reading abilities. No matter what real life throws at me, a great novel always provides a means of escape and of transportation to other places, worlds and times. Not to mention how useful these skills are at work and in real life, when dealing with grown up things like banking or politics, or even when doing fun things like using the internet for research.

I’ve been chosen as a Book Giver this year, which means I have 24 copies of my favourite novel, ‘I Capture The Castle’ to give away. Because of the statistics above, I decided to give my books out at the local primary school. I handed out most of them this morning. I think that one of the most important gifts you can give a child is the love of reading. I wanted to give books to parents who perhaps don’t read very much or don’t have time to read like they used to. Just reading in front of their kids will make an impression on them and hopefully help to create a culture of reading in the family. I got a really good reception and it was so great to share my love of this particular book with new people. I hope that some of them love it as much as I do.

So, I’ve given out most of my books ( and I’m going to leave one on the bus on the way into town for serendipity to take) and tonight I’m heading out to two events. The first is a quiz hosted by For Books’ Sake at  Cafe 164 in Leeds. Based in Munro House, Cafe 164 is a lovely, relaxed and informal cafe with great coffee and cakes and is rapidly becoming a particular favourite meeting place. I’m taking a couple of copies of my book here to swap and also some of my own books to give away.

Later, I’m going to the Leeds Brewery-run  White Swan pub for ‘Books, Buns and Booze’, which is being hosted by Leeds Book Club. I’m especially looking forward to more cake eating! It’s going to be a lovely, book-swapping event and there will be lots of folk there that I’ve only met on Twitter, so it will be a good chance to meet some more people in real life. I’m genuinely excited by today, both as a bibliophile and cake lover! I just need to remind myself that I am giving books this year. I need to make sure I don’t come home with an equally large stack of reading material to add to the piles of books already filling my house.

If you get the chance to get involved in World Book Night today, then I really recommend it – and if not, there’s always next year!

April 20, 2012

Rome: Moses Fountain Hotel review.

We stayed in a fountain in Rome. Not in the watery bit, obviously, but in the Moses Fountain Hotel. It’s a monument with a fountain in it, built in 1585-1587 (under the guidance of Pope Sixtus the Fifth) as the terminus of the new Felix Aqueduct (Acquedotto Felice)  to lengthen and older III Century Roman aqueduct.

The rooms are built into the top areas, originally the fountain keeper’s workshop and apartment. The aqueduct still works and the noise is a dim, comforting hum in the evening. The main Fountain is divided into three arches, with a sculpture placed in each. In the central space is a sculpture of Moses by Leonardo Sormani and Prospero Antichi, showing to his people the water that miraculously sprang out from the rocks in Sinai desert during the Exodus.

It’s  the first time I’ve ever stayed in a building that other tourists were taking photographs of! Can you see the little balcony on the left? That’s one of the rooms! Ours was on the other side…

Located quite close to Piazza Barberini, and a short walk from the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps, the hotel is in a district that, although busy during the day, especially because of its proximity to several Government buildings, is pretty quiet at night. Perfect for us, as we were after rest as much as sight-seeing. I love waking up in a city when I’m on holiday there, and so the morning sounds of people going about their everyday business in the morning were a great pleasure to me after a long, quiet night of sleep in a gorgeously comfortable king sized bed.

Our room, named the Velvet room, was beautiful. Lots of space, contemporary, comfortable fixtures and fittings, and that giant bed made for equally giant smiles of happiness the minute we set foot into it. Add to that the Etro toiletries, complementary mini-bar, dressing gowns, Nespresso machine and flat screen tv and we were in hotel heaven.

With only six rooms, and no standard concierge or reception desk, the Moses Fountain is a little like staying in the home of a great friend. After you’re initially met and shown around by the lovely staff, you’re given a key to the main door and left to your own devices. I appreciate that this not be the best option for everyone, but for us it was great. We don’t need lots of concierge services anyway and are happy to to let ourselves in and out.  It’s possibly a good point to note that there is no lift, so you need to be happy and fit enough to climb a good few stairs.

Breakfast was served on a tray in our room each morning. We had giant bowls of cafe latte, freshly squeezed juice, a variety of different breads and salads. Each day there was also as a little bag containing various biscuits and crackers to take away with us for elevenses, should we need them!

I loved our stay at Moses Fountain. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a spot of quiet luxury amid a busy city, who doesn’t mind not having some of the ‘traditional’ hotel services and who enjoys having a unique experience when they travel!

April 18, 2012

Neal’s Yard Remedies: Bee Lovely Campaign

It’s universally acknowledged that bees are in trouble. Before you leave, thinking that it’s not really a concern to you, consider this. Approximately one third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees. So, if you’re fortunate enough to have a nourishing and varied diet, then bees are of extreme importance to you. Not to mention that alfalfa, a major crop fed to cattle, is also pollinated by bees. So, even if you’ve never willingly eaten a vegetable (I’m looking at my husband here) then bees are still vitally important.

Why are the bees in trouble? There are various contributory factors and you might have heard of Colony Collapse Disorder, where no one reason seems to be the cause but one of the major reasons they are dying is because of the use of pesticides. It’s been recognised that a group of particularly powerful pesticides, neonicotinoids (neonics), are at the heart of why the bees are disappearing. Using new technology, neonics penetrate the plant and attack the nervous system of insects that feed of them – posing a deadly threat to all pollinators. These pesticides have been banned in other countries already. The French banned neonics in 2000 after concluding through their extensive studies, that even small doses of these pesticides disoriented bees and impaired their foraging ability. Italy, Germany, Slovenia followed suit and banned sales of two varieties of neonics.

DDT is a chemical pesticide that was used widely across Britain, Europe and the US – until it was shown to have chronic effects on the nervous system, liver, kidneys and immune system. It was banned in Britain in 1984. Neonicitinoids are 7,000 times more toxic than DDT. Yet they are still being used.

If we lost the bee population, The British Beekeepers Association estimated that it would take a workforce of 30 million people just in the UK to do the pollination by hand.  This isn’t a joke. In Southern Sechuan, China, the pollination has to be done by hand as, due to overuse of pesticides, the local bee population died out.

Have I persuaded you that this is important yet? I hope so.

So, onto practical action now. What can you do? There are various ways you can get involved, thanks to the Neal’s Yard Remedies Bee Lovely Campaign.
  • You can sign this petition about the use of Neonicitinoids from Neal’s Yard Remedies. 100,000 signatures are needed before it can be taken to Parliament.
  • If you go into your local Neal’s Yard Remedies store, there are wild flower seeds (from Land Life) and a ‘Bee Lovely and Help Save The Bees’ booklet available for you to take away. These lovely resources will help you to make better choices in your own garden and help support your local bee population.
  • You can buy a gorgeous and limited edition Bee Lovely handcream from Neal’s Yard Remedies too – with a blend of organic honey, brazil nut oil and beautiful orange essential oil, not only will a percentage of the cost be donated to the charities below but your hands will thank you too!
  • You can make different choices in your garden, choose pollinating plants and flowers, leave places for bee habitat instead of being super-tidy and garden organically instead of using pesticides.
  • Neal’s Yard Remedies are working with three partner charities:
  • Land Life, who are planning on supporting a number of bee projects and raising awareness
  • Bug Life, who are running projects to support the 250 different pollinating insects threatened with extinction.
  • Pesticide Action Network, who will be creating a bee microsite on their website, which will be a one-stop-shop for anyone searching for information about pesticides and their effects on pollinating insects.
From today, I am starting my own ‘Margot and Barbara Bee Project. Last year I did a day of bee-keeping, and it was superb. This is the next stage!
  • As an inital step, I will be signing the petition above and adding my name to the list of people who think that these pesticides should be banned.
  • I’m going to treat myself to a tube of Bee Lovely hand cream. I’ll share my review with you here too.
  • I am going to turn over a portion of my allotment to flowers that are recognised as being good for bees. Although the bees will benefit, they in turn will pollinate my crops so I will benefit too!
  • I am also going to turn a chunk of my allotment into a wild flower area. By planting native British wildflowers from a reputable source (such as Land Life or Wiggly Wigglers) biodiversity, and therefore bumble bees, can be encouraged. Again, they will also help to pollinate my crops.
  • I’ll be investigating the possibility of joining a local beekeeping group with the long term aim of a hive or two of my own…
  • I’ll be doing a series of Bee Project posts, which will hopefully be useful and informative and perhaps persuade a few of you to join me?
Look out for more blog posts about my Bee Project and I do hope that you will also support the Neal’s Yard Remedies Bee Lovely Campaign. It really is vitally important.
April 16, 2012

Rome: Instagram images

I’ve got a few Rome-based posts lined up but first I thought I’d share some of my photos with you. As I don’t have a big DSLR, I’ve used my trusty iPhone to take a few Instagram pictures. I hope they’ll give you a nice overview of my trip – see how many of the places you recognise!

April 13, 2012

A New Bag: Mary Katrantzou for Longchamp.

I’ve been a fan of Mary Katrantzou for a long time now and so when I heard she was collaborating with Longchamp, another firm favourite company of mine, it felt like a match made in heaven.

I’m a bit feeble when it comes to wearing bold print or pattern in my clothing, as much as I adore to see it, so having a bag with a bold print on seemed like a great way of brightening up my wardrobe without taking that final brave step of really wearing it! Although, having said that, I have got bolder in my clothing choices, which I will tell you about in a blog post another day soon, I promise.

I bought this bag, which is the fourth of my little collection of Longchamp bags. I love my ‘Le pliage‘ range of nylon bags. Many of them fold up so they’re great for travelling and they’re robust enough to use all the time. Over the years, I’ve used them for a variety of things, from city breaks to nappy bags (the glamour…) and they’ve all lasted really well.

Photo from, where I bought my bag from. (Incidentally, the delivery was impressively quick.)

It has a Chinese lantern print on it, which you can see more clearly in the photo below and the handle is long enough to carry over your shoulder. It’s a bit larger than I was expecting (my maths isn’t great and I ordered it online!) so it will have a slightly different use than I originally intended – it’s my carry-on luggage for my Italy trip. As I have the Cambridge Satchel for everyday, this one will be reserved for overnight trips or longer days out.

Although I haven’t exactly replaced my Mulberry bag, I’m really happy with my two new additions. As I mentioned in a previous post, I really need to love the things I buy and surround myself with so it’s taken me a while to make my decisions, but I’m happy that I made the right ones and look forward to creating lots of memories with them…

April 9, 2012

Language Lessons.

By the time you read this, I’ll (hopefully) be on my way to Italy. Where I will attempt to use the three sentences I’ve managed to learn during my not-so-successful experience of self-taught Italian language lessons. I have realised that in order to make lots of progress, I need more structure to my language learning and a proper teacher. It has been fun learning slowly on my own though, and I need to remember that fun is partly the reason for learning.

I had to make fast progress with my Italian the last time I was there. We had a villa and I had to call the housekeeper (who spoke no English) and confirm my arrival time, that I needed the to collect the keys from her, and the location. A difficult situation, considering that I spoke no Italian at all and was armed only with an phrase book. Still, I managed it and it taught me a lesson.

So often I have waited until I thought I was good enough to do something before doing it, so I don’t let anyone down, or worse, make a giant fool of myself. I’ve since realised that I’m never going to be good at anything if I don’t at least try. Purely because I am interested in so many things, I never devote enough time to learning just one thing, in the way that a specialist would put in the hours and hours of study of a single thing in order to be truly exceptional. I will never be a concert pianist! However, waiting until I’m ‘perfect’ is no use at all, it just means I grind to a halt and never experience the things that I truly want to.

So my new attitude is to do things badly, instead of not doing them at all. I’m going to jump in, make a mess and be absolutely rubbish. Really, the worst that can happen (as long as we’re talking sensible things here, not attempting surgery) is that I probably will make a fool of myself. However, the next time I try the same thing, I will make less of a fool of myself, and so on. So, the waiters of Rome are going to be at the mercy of my three sentences, because I plan to unleash them at every opportunity in the hope that after three days of repeating myself, I will be a little less foolish. A little better.

In a similar vein, I wrote my first review as a guest blogger for The Culture Vulture recently. It was a small review piece about the Leeds Young People’s Film Festival, but the minute I pressed send on my email, I wanted to retrieve it so I could re-write the whole thing. It was a good example for me of jumping in and taking a risk. Assuming I get the chance, the next time I write for them, I will be better, but the fact is that my little post was published on a website that I value and respect enormously, So I’ve made progress with something I’ve been trying to pluck up the courage to do for ages and it is such a great feeling.

Next on the list of things to do badly are kayaking and (possibly) singing or even hula hooping…

So, perhaps you could take a risk and have a go at something scary, instead of waiting until you think you’re good enough. You never know, you’re probably already better than you think…

April 7, 2012

CubbyKit: Space Themed Crafts.

We got our first CubbyKit recently, and spent a few days happily working our way through the activities. CubbyKit is a monthly subscription service. You pay to receive a themed box of craft activities each month, delivered to your door in a suitcase cardboard box, addressed to your child and it’s a source of great excitement when it arrives!

This month we got a space themed kit. My five year old daughter Eve has begun to get a little interested in space and is already at the point of asking me questions that I don’t know the answer to. For reference, my two responses are either “Ask daddy” or “What do you think it is?” Failing that, I turn to my Usborne Children’s Book of Astronomy and Space (really, I have no prior knowledge at all) and look it up, before answering with some confidence.

The CubbyKits are grouped into ages, and my daughter received the older age group, although Ben, who is a month off his third birthday, was involved in the whole experience too – in an over-enthusiastic and under-qualified kind of way!

Our first job was to papier mâché the balloons to make models of the Earth, Sun and Moon. Apparently the Moon is a quarter of the size of the Earth. You see, I did not know that. Honestly, I’m a bit hopeless. I think my next OU course might have to be basic Astronomy, if they do such a thing. We left the models to dry for a couple of days hung out over my pan rack in the kitchen, before painting them.

A couple of days later, we had a full day of CubbyKit activities. First was planet painting, which was messy and lots of fun. After we’d painted them, they went back on the pan rack to dry while we built the rocket. This was a nice, less messy activity that they could manage on their own while I tidied up a bit! After we’d done the rocket, we washed our hands and made some space buns – these were inspired by the CubbyKit website, an excellent resource with lots of ideas following the same theme as your CubbyKit. I would have attempted their Half Moon Cake but didn’t have enough of the ingredients, so we made vanilla fairycakes (I have the recipe for those embedded permanently in my brain!) topped with white icing and blue edible ‘space’ glitter.

Lastly, we did the constellation chart. By this time, Ben had wandered off in the direction of his train set, which was ideal, as he couldn’t have managed this trickier activity. Eve found the gel pen a little difficult to manage but she got there in the end and enthusiastically glittered and stickered her chart.

Everything has now made its way into her bedroom, together with some glow-in-the-dark stars. They had such a great time working through the activities and I love doing things with them that are really good fun, yet have educational elements worked into them, especially anything vaguely connected to science, which I don’t think is being taught much in Eve’s Reception class yet.

Initially, I thought £20 a month was quite expensive for the CubbyKit subscription. Then, I sat and thought about it a bit more, and have changed my mind. As you may be aware, craft and I don’t get on terribly well sometimes, and so, with the best will in the world, I’d struggle to make things without some guidance. I’d spend as much money in craft shops trying to piece together something similar and probably do it wrong. With CubbyKit, everything is already there, weighed and measured out. Which means I have everything  I need to do, and there is no wastage. Also, the instructions are really clear which is again really helpful. As a full time working mother, it’s hard to even get to a craft shop so the delivery of the CubbyKit means I don’t even have to do that. Finally, the other thing that is really valuable is the inspiration – so often, I’d like to do something with the kids but struggle to think of an activity. This removes that problem for me and the website with additional activities adds to that. In a nutshell, CubbyKit helps me be the craft-creating mum I have always wanted to be.

The day after making all our space themed crafts, we all went to Eureka, the children’s museum in Halifax. In the gift shop, Eve chose glow-in-the-dark stars to add to her rocket and planets, and a rocket-themed maths board game, instead of her usual fairies/princesses/pink favourites. For me, that’s a real added bonus arising from our CubbyKit experiences.

I’ve decided to keep our CubbyKit subscription and to be honest, I’ll be as excited as the kids when that suitcase box arrives next month…

April 4, 2012

Silver Satchel.

In my hunt for a replacement for my favourite, sadly lost bag, there is no one I have resembled more than Goldilocks.

My requirements for a bag? Not too big, not too small, not too expensive or too cheap looking. I don’t like lots of frills nor a bag that is so obviously from a particular season that it will date quickly. I prefer something with looks verging on the traditional and utilitarian, rather than over-feminine and it must be great to look at and great quality. I also prefer to be able to wear a bag diagonally across my chest to keep my hands free when I’m with the kids to stop them flinging themselves towards whatever danger they can find.

Most importantly, and this might sound a bit odd, but I really need to love the things I own. This isn’t meant to sound as though I’m advocating collecting lots of possessions, because I don’t have a lot of things myself, but if I’m going to spend money on something, it needs to be exactly right. Not just good enough. I want to have things that I can create memories with. Which is why everything I buy takes a lot of deliberating over. I’m certainly not an impulse shopper!

See what I mean about Goldilocks?

Thankfully I recently discovered the Cambridge Satchel Company. Handmade in Britain, and with a range of satchels in several sizes, batchels (with a top handle) music bags and backpacks, all in a rainbow of colours, it’s a company whose website I have spent ages poring over recently. If you order online they can also add embossed initials to personalise your bag even more.

However, I didn’t realise that they were also stocked in my local Harvey Nichols store until I came across them by chance and it felt like fate…

After a lot of deliberating, and one session in store trying to fit all my possessions in to make sure that it was big enough, I have bought my new silver satchel. I genuinely love it. It feels great, looks perfect and smells heavenly; just like new saddles. (note to self: stop smelling bag in public. It’s weird.)

The Cambridge Satchel Company make  this satchel in a lovely array of colours. I decided on the metallic silver because I wanted to inject a bit of boldness into what I wear every day instead of going for a more traditional colour. I love the contrast between the traditional satchel shape and the contemporary silver. Also, silver works really well as a neutral with whatever other colours I’m wearing. Since buying it, I’ve used it every day which is the ultimate test and it’s passed with flying colours!

I will be really happy to create some new happy memories with this bag. Starting with a trip to Rome over Easter…