Friday, 30 March 2018

An Alternative Easter Gift

When it comes to chocolate, I don't discriminate. I love chocolate in every form and every variety - milk, dark, and white. I have been known to even eat that 20p value chocolate you get in the supermarkets. So, inevitably, Easter is a very good time of year for me. Maybe not for my bank balance or waist band but definitely for my stomach. I am a big fan of Easter eggs but having a few of my family members being diagnosed with a range of allergies this year, it has opened my eyes up to the fact that not everyone can gorge on chocolate to the extent that I do (I go true Bruce Bogtrotter style). That's why I wanted to share with you a product that is delicious but can also be eaten by my dairy and gluten free friends.

And that is cake. Yes, hear me out. Bakerdays are a company that make cakes and send them straight to your door - what more could a girl want, right? You just have to have a look through their extensive range of cakes on their website (they really have one for every occasion). Then you select the type of sponge you'd like - be in chocolate, lemon drizzle, dairy free, or gluten free. You can even personalise it.

For my cake, I chose a lovely Easter design chocolate cake and personalised it to say 'Happy Easter from Lauren, Isaac, and Ava' (mostly for the gram, to be fair). My cake arrived very promptly in a lovely little tin with a couple of mini chocolate eggs and it was eaten by the end of the day - mostly by me, oops! The chocolate sponge was delicious and the chocolate icing that attached the ready roll style icing to the cake. I am not a huge fan of icing so that is my only complaint but the cake itself was amazing. They also do cupcakes so don't be surprised if you see a massive cupcake haul coming up soon.

If you're thinking of buying yourself a massive cake to eat by yourself - I mean, you could share but what's the fun in that? - then use this code to get a 15% discount: EMERALDDOVE15.

Have you ever tried a Bakerdays cake?

Thursday, 29 March 2018

What To Buy The Man Who Has Everything

At the start of March, it was my husband's birthday. And my husband is notoriously difficult to buy for. His main interests include football (but not one specific team), business/stock trading, Ugandan music, and personal grooming. There's not much that fit those categories on the high street aside from the exhausted options of beard trimmers, shower gels, and moisturisers. I was desperate to give him something different. Something a bit unusual - and memorable.

I ended up buying him a range of things that I found in Tesco. I bought him honeycomb, whole nut chocolate, a portable phone charger, and a new moisturiser. But then Vanacci got in touch offering to send me one of their products to review and I was excited - maybe this was the long-awaited gift that my husband would cherish. I looked on the website and it was full of necklaces and bracelets for men and women that really looked expensive and well made - but were actually reasonably priced. They had solar themed bracelets but what really caught my attention was the lockstone collection. Basically, some of their bracelets, necklaces, and cufflinks come with lockstone (aka terraforce)attached to it. So, you spray the stone with perfume, let the stone absorb it for 4 minutes, then it slowly diffuses the scent throughout the day.

I can confirm that my husband absolutely loved the gift. It came in a box and looked really sophisticated. I loved the shiny black pearls and the engravement of the company name on a silver bead. Also it holds the scent really nicely.

This is definitely a lovely present for the man in your life. In all honesty, I like this product so much that I may have to steal it back from my husband.

Lockstone One Range Black Pearl Bracelet* - £24.99

Have you tried any products by Vanacci?

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Tips For Teething Stage Survival

It has begun - the dreaded teething stage. My relaxed, peaceful baby has gone and has been replaced by a whiney, drooly, teething monster. Ok, maybe I am exaggerating a little but when she won't settle for her nap and is putting everything she can lay her hands on in her mouth, that's how I feel. The worst part? I can't even see the teeth yet. The health visitor said they are probably just moving about in the gums causing her discomfort. But how long will this last? Will she ever get a tooth and return to the chill kid that I know and love? It has been a month of teeth moving around the gums and I feel like she may be 18 before the tooth makes an appearance. I am despairing. But, in this anguish, I have managed to find some solutions - well, things to stop her howling quite as much anyway - and that is what I am sharing with you today.

Teething Toys
The lovely people at Bespoke Baby London recently sent me out a wooden teething ring for Ava and it is an absolute godsend. It has a ring of little rubber balls that Ava loves to chew on and it is just the right size to fit in her hands. I have tried other teething rings (the type you put in the fridge) but they're all too big for her to hold and she didn't like the bobbly plastic texture of them. So, this toy is the perfect solution. Also it is a great size to pop into your bag when you go out.

Teething Gel
Being a first time mum, I wasn't really aware that teething gel even existed until my mum bought me some for Ava. I kinda smirked at her saying that Ava won't be teething for a long time yet. A couple of weeks later, she started drooling like a trooper and I realised that the teething gel was actually very necessary. For the first two weeks of teething, it was the only thing that would pacify Ava - especially in the night when she woke up screaming. I tried it on my own gums just for fun (I like an exciting life) and it was really tingly and numbing so I can say this is definitely a tried and tested product. In terms of brand, I just get whichever is cheapest.

Putting A Dummy In The Fridge
After Ava out and out refused the cold teething toys, I got a bit inventive. I knew the coldness would be soothing on her gums so I tried putting a dummy in the fridge and she loved it. She took it straight away then had a long nap. It was perfect.

Plastic Bibs
I swear by those bibs that are normal at the front but having a plastic back. I pick them up in Primark and they are amazing. I found that normal bibs just let the milk (or, in this case, baby slime) seep through and then her sleepsuits keep getting soaked. But these bibs hold a lot more liquid so I would highly recommend them. My only tip is if you are someone who likes to hand wash clothes (I know it's the 21st century but we didn't used to have a washing machine) then these aren't that easy to wash. But pop them in the washing machine and there's no issue.

Relaxing The Rules
Let the baby co-sleep with you if they are really unhappy. Give them hugs and let them forgo tummy time if they don't feel like it. Routine is good for babies but sometimes all they want is their mum.

Bespoke Baby London Small Teething Toy - £5*

What are your teething hacks?

Monday, 19 March 2018

7 Things To Do In And Around Exeter

 When it comes to days out, I am a big fan of exploring your local area because there is always so much more to discover than just the H&M in the city centre (although I do love a good rummage around in H&M). There's definitely a strong argument for staying local too: it saves money, you are paying into your own local economy, you can support local small business owners, and you just don't have to travel as far. That's not to say that I don't love travelling but with a little bubba in tow, the less time we are sat in one place (for example, on a train) the better.

Exeter is my local city and I have been going there for shopping trips since I was about 13 years old but there are still new things that I am learning about the city and different restaurants and places that I am yet to experience. Today I want to share with you the gems I have uncovered in the city and surrounding areas so far.

Have lunch on Cathedral Green beside the cathedral
Cathedral Green is such a lovely place to sit down with some friends, order a pesto, tomato, and goats cheese panini, crack open the elderflower cordial, and soak up the historical surroundings. The cathedral was founded in 1050 and completed by 1400. There are lots of old buildings surrounding the cathedral as well and some traditional cobblestones to give you that old-worldy vibe (and to break your ankle if you attempt to wear you heeled boots). I would recommend Tea on the Green for delicious food and outdoors seating (perfect for pretending you are a glamorous Italian woman laughing over her salad on the sunny Continent). Also Cakeadoodledoo is a must-visit location just down the road from the cathedral.

Travel underground through the tunnels
Although I grew up around here (and had many a school trip to the city), I only recently found out that there are underground tunnels beneath Exeter. And they are open to the public! So, I went with my family and the tour was really interesting - apparently people lived in these tunnels during the war! I mean, it is every kid's dream to find that there are secret tunnels under your feet so definitely one for the family. But then my dad kept bumping his head on the roof of the tunnel so maybe for the shorter family members. Also it is only £18 for a family ticket.

Visit the Royal Albert Memorial Museum
As you know, I am basically an old woman. I go on coach trips. I love markets and fetes. And I am a big fan of anything historical. I mean, this blog might as well be sponsored by the National Trust the amount I talk about them. But one other thing that I absolutely adore is a good museum. One with interesting items - especially those that are a bit wacky and out there.

A La Ronde
I write about A La Ronde on this blog all the way back in 2015 and I recently revisited it with my family. It is such an interesting building - definitely would be a hit with the architects that live amongst us - as it is hexagonal and built so the light follows you around the house. It is definitely worth a visit.

Drinks at the quay
The quay in Exeter is somewhere that I don't go very often but I know that many people go there in the summer to sip cocktails overlooking the water. This is definitely something I want to do this summer too. But the quay also offers things like canoeing and bike riding which sounds slightly more exciting to me. In fact, I have been canoeing on the quay before - back when I was in my teens - and we managed not to capsize and I am still proud of that years later.

Hike on Exmoor
I haven't been on Exmoor since the years of primary school enforced hiking but it is somewhere that I want to visit again. Exmoor is a national park - which means it is a protected part of the country - and it is inhabited by the Exmoor ponies which are ponies that are native to this part of the country but are also endangered. It is lovely to see animals free in their natural habitat - and this is a rarity in the UK where most of our animals are either in captivity or are domesticated.

Exmouth is another place to I have written about before. I have been going to Exmouth since I was a teenager and I love it. It has everything a coastal town should - a sandy beach, multiple ice cream parlours and fish and chip shops, and a lovely, quaint town. And a KFC. Gotta love a KFC.

Have you ever been to Devon?

Saturday, 17 March 2018

My Name Isn't Mum

When I was pregnant, one of my biggest worries was losing my identity once I became a mother. Quitting my job, leaving university, and moving away from my uni city made me feel like I was losing a lot of things that I define myself by. I didn't want to just be a mother. Just be a wife. I wanted my identity to be multi-faceted. Not just defined by my relationships.

My whole life, I had defined myself mostly by my academic record. I was that kid who would do extra homework just to get it back with an A on it. I lived for parents' evenings and school reports. I allowed my grades to define me so, when I left uni, I no longer had exam results and the accolades of teachers to boost my self-esteem. I wasn't a student anymore. I wasn't even a cashier anymore.

Now, 4 months post-partum, I don't feel like I have lost my identity at all. Becoming a stay-at-home mum has made me realise how superficial these labels we define ourselves by are. I am a mother. A wife. A blogger. A graduate. I am white, female, and working class. Not one of these things encapsulate exactly who I am because, like everyone, I am so many different things. My worry was that I would be put in the box of stay-at-home mum and that all the other parts of me would die off. I was worried that I wouldn't have time to have hobbies or any interests outside of raising Ava. I didn't want to become unfulfilled and end up resenting my role. But my worries were completely unfounded. Yes, I love being able to be at home 24/7 with Ava. I love how close we are and the fact that I get to watch her change and develop every day. I also love that I can have deep discussions about evolution and the relationship between science and religion with my husband and that the internet provides me with a way to learn about anything that I choose. And I love that I have this space to talk about anything that I want without being censored - I can talk about everything from the impact of social conventions surrounding motherhood to which primer gives me the smoothest base.

And, to any mothers out there feeling unfulfilled or underappreciated, I would say that you just have to grab life by the horns and make time for what interests you. Let your parents watch the kid for the day whilst you go see a play or go to a gallery. Fuel your interests because life is too short to be quietly resentful of how motherhood made you let go of your dreams.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Are You In The Know?

Recently, the lovely people at Sparkle PR got in touch with me asking if I wanted to review some new makeup products. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity as I had never even heard of this brand: Know Cosmetics. So, after a little research, I discovered that they are a cruelty-free makeup brand that focuses on rectifying any makeup problems a person may face - from covering dark circles to plumping lips. I got sent 4 products and, in all honesty, I have a mixed opinion about them.

No Dark Shadows Complexion Enhancer*
I am always on board to try a new concealer. I always use the infamous Collection Lasting Perfection concealer but it is good to change things up every once in a while. I actually really liked this concealer. It was quite pigmented and covered my trouble areas well without being cakey. Also the applicator is really fun as it is a brush and you twist the top and more product appears on the brush.

I would give this product a 8/10

No Bleeding Lips Secret Lip Liner*
I liked the concept of this. It is a lip liner that is invisible so it stops your lipstick from bleeding over but you don't have to worry about colour matching your liner and lipstick or about getting a case of the wobbly hands whilst lining your lips and completely messing up your whole look. I thought this product did the job well but I don't wear much lipstick so I won't be using this very often.

I would give this product 7/10

No Bare Brows Universal 4 in 1 Brow Kit*
I liked this product because it came with everything you need in one small kit. The pigment of the brow pencil was really nice and it was definitely buildable. I would go as far as saying it could be competition for Benefit brow pencils. However, I prefer to use powder to fill my brows so I am not an expert in brow pencils. What I do know is, if I were looking for a brow pencil, I would probably go for this one.

I would give this product 8/10

No Thin Lips Secret Lip Plumper*
This was the product out of all of them that I was the most excited to try. And, unfortunately, the one I was most disappointed by. It says that it is meant to plump your lips and tingle a little but I found it kinda uncomfortable to use. Maybe my lips are overly sensitive but it felt like they were burning. But then it does contain aloe vera which I think I am allergic to.

I would give this product 2/10

You can find Know Cosmetics online or in Sephora if you live in the States.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Why You Should Read To Your Baby Everyday

I have a bit of a problem. My four month old is addicted to watching TV. This morning, my husband was watching a Facebook Live of his favourite Ugandan singer talking about something (to be fair, it could have been anything as my grasp of the language is limited) and Ava kept pulling the phone towards her to watch. I get it, the bright colours, sounds, moving images - it is like baby heaven. But, having done a little research about whether screen time is harmful for babies, I discovered that it is basically 'junk food for growing minds'. She doesn't have to interact with anything. She doesn't have to think or engage. There isn't anything to learn from it. I do admit that I still let her watch it TV sometimes when I need to do something and it is the only way to settle her down but I am really trying to limit it.

In the place of TV, I have decided to introduce Ava to books. It is now my mission to read with Ava everyday. To start with, it wasn't easy. She would cry or push the book away but now she is starting to enjoy it. Coupled with tummy time and sensory play, I feel like this is really helping her development and making her a lot more interactive. She reaches out to the book a lot when we are reading which, I think, shows that her hand-eye coordination is improving and I am hoping that hearing me speak directly to her will help her as she starts trying to get her mouth around sounds and words.

As well as that, I absolutely love having that quiet time together where all devices are off and there are no distractions. I feel like it really helps us to bond and I hope it is something that we can continue with as she gets older. In all honesty, I have struggled with implementing screen-free time. As other stay-at-home mums can probably understand, the reduced amount of human interaction in the your day-to-day life has you reaching for the phone to fill that void. I admit, sometimes I put the TV on so the house doesn't seem so quiet. But getting yourself into a routine of saying you will have an hour of tech-free time every afternoon is a good place to start and it becomes easier once it becomes routine.

I just want to say a big thank you to the lovely people at Walker Books for sending me this book for Ava as well as the Nutbrown Hare rabbit and some milestone cards. Ava absolutely adored the toy and we take it with us every time we leave the house - it is my secret weapon for when she gets fussy.

You can buy a copy of the book here.* And the rattle here.*

What is your child's favourite book? 

Friday, 2 March 2018

Thoughts You Have On A Snow Day

As our country is fully in the snowy grips of the Beast from the East, many of us are trapped in our homes without even the possibility of a pizza delivery for comfort. Sure, building snowmen and having snowball fights is all well and good but it kinda loses its appeal on day three of Arctic-level conditions. The local shop is out of bread. Teens are forced to hang out in supermarket cafes as McDonald's is closed. People are using icicles as battering rams to try to force open the door of Costa in caffeine-deficient desperation. But it didn't start out this way.

Our first thoughts are usually along the lines of 'this country is crazy! 50cm of snow and -11c temperatures? What a load of nonsense'.

But this quickly develops into 'oh, wow, snow! Maybe I'll get the day off work tomorrow' as the first snowflakes start to settle on the ground that evening.

The next morning you wake up to about 2 inches of snow and gleefully call work saying 'there's now way I can make it in. It is way too risky. Black ice and all that' and run out into the snow like a kid. You build giant snowmen (although the snow is starting to go a little slushy and grey in places) and draw inappropriate pictures in the snow on your neighbours' cars. This is literally the best day ever.

Despite your fun, you find yourself tutting at the news and its half hour segment which should be entitled 'we asked 100 random people from different part of the UK about the snow and they all agree it is pretty cold. Some even got stuck in traffic for an hour'. Your response: 'why can't our country handle a little bit of snow? How do Norway and places like that manage?'.

The next morning, you expect more of the same. But, in your heart, you think it has probably melted away. You'll be back at your desk wearing a hot water bottle under your shirt in no time. But, when you wake up, there's more snow. Your immediate thought: 'oh no, we don't have any milk'.

So, you put on about 5 different layers and at least 3 hats and try to trudge through the snow to the supermarket. You find yourself panic buying 5 bottles of milk and enough tins of soup to last at least a year. By the time you get home, you feel like icicles are hanging from your nose and immediately dive into a bath. 'This is too much,' you decide.

That evening, you actually pay attention to the news. 'Please say there won't be anymore snow'. The weatherman smiles sympathetically as he says there will be even more snow tomorrow. Your location is on red alert - risk to human life. You start to panic.

That night you worry. 'What about the homeless people? What about those who have rely on carers? What if carers can't reach them? What can I do to help??'.

The next morning you head out. Knocking on doors, talking to strangers, donating some of your limitless supply of soup. You feel like the community is coming together. You feel proud as you see neighbours digging the driveways of the whole street and checking in on people with babies to see if they need anything. 'I feel proud to live here,' you beam to yourself.

You then spend the rest of the day under several blankets chain drinking tea and thanking the Lord above for the blessing that is Netflix. You eat your weight in cake because 'you need the extra calories to fight the cold'. Even though your heating is on about 30c.

The next day, the snow starts to melt. Sludge fills the streets but some feeling of normalcy returns. At least McDonald's is open now. Everyone returns to their lives but you feel like this time has brought you and your neighbours closer together. And you feel certain that you can face anything now that you have survived the Beast from the East.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Our Breastfeeding Journey May Be Coming To An End

As I write this, I feel kinda sad. And even a little guilty. But, in all honesty, our breastfeeding journey seemed like it was doomed from the start.

When I was pregnant, I vowed that I'd breastfeed for as long as possible. I wanted that special bond with my baby - that quiet time together just being close. I have loved breastfeeding despite all the difficulties. It just feels so special to have her close to me and to know that I am nourishing her with all the goodness she needs. But we have faced many hurdles in this breastfeeding journey and now it is looking like we are nearing the end of the road.

When Ava was born, she weighed 2.49kg which is classed as a low birth weight. We were kept in hospital for 5 extra days as she struggled to latch on. I kept trying but eventually gave in and fed her formula. I tried every feed to get her to latch and eventually we managed. 

Over the next three months, we continued to combination feed her but I tried to breastfeed her as much as possible. I breastfed on buses, in restaurants, and anywhere else I needed to. It hurt - to the point that my nipples actually bled - but I wanted Ava to be breastfed. I kept pushing myself to carry on because I knew breast milk is good for her and I really wanted her to have the best possible start in life no matter what.

But now she is three months and she has such a big appetite. My milk supply is struggling to keep up and, in all honesty, I'm getting lazy. The formula is an easy option and sometimes I wonder if it's worth the fight of getting her to latch on and stay latched on.

I would have loved to have breastfed her until she was on to solid foods but now it is starting to look less and less possible. I wish that wasn't the case - I wish breastfeeding had gone marvellously and we could continue for many more months. But I guess I have to accept that Ava being fed is the priority - be it by breast or by bottle.

(Dislaimer: the formula milk bottles featured in the picture are ones that Isaac accidentally bought, not ones we use as Ava is only four months and still uses 'first milk' formula)
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