Amsterdam Canal District With Kids

I wasn’t 100% sure Amsterdam would be a great destination with a kid but it was cheap and 90 minutes away on a plane, and I’ll try anywhere once.

We landed, as promised, inside 90 minutes flying direct from Edinburgh. The weather was fantastic and this was our view.

Amsterdam Canal

We managed to walk everywhere in Amsterdam, we didn’t require public transport at all. This kept costs down and made it really easy to go anywhere we wanted. The first place we headed, a special request from Erin, was Anne Frank’s house. We arrived and the queue snaked back too far for us to consider standing in it in the mid day heat. I chanced my arm and went to an unmarked side door and asked if there was a better time to return, I explained I had a nine year old who simply couldn’t queue that long in the heat. Well the door attendant ushered me inside and explained I could purchase tickets for a pre-set time later on that day as I had a child. We just had to come back to the same door at the time allocated and we’d get to go straight in. The staff were super friendly and there was no extra charge! Top tip if you are a parent – go to the side door!

While we waited for our allocated time we sat beside the canal and enjoyed a bit of lunch.

Amsterdam with kids

Erin enjoying a refreshing lemonade on a VERY hot day in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam lunch

Goats cheese and walnut roll, Amsterdam style.

We returned to Anne Frank’s house after lunch, and as promised we went straight inside. No photos were allowed inside and I won’t spoil it. It’s quite a solemn experience but Erin really enjoyed the history. There is a charge for this but I seem to remember thinking it was quite reasonable.

Afterwards we visited a small cheese museum which was free.

Amsterdam Cheese

Cheese in a huge variety of flavours and colours.

Amsterdam Cheese Museum

Huge quantities of cheese at the cheese museum. Erin also enjoyed the little penny press, yet another addition to her coin collection!


The perfect canal view with gorgeous flower boxes.

Amsterdam Kids

My view for much of our trip – the back of Erin’s head as she happily snapped away.

Family Time Amsterdam

One of the two of us.

With Erin seeming to be growing up at a rapid pace, family time and trips like this are a top priority for us, and this one was close to perfect.

Amsterdam Ice Cream

You can’t go on holiday and not have ice cream, the shop we found not far from Anne Frank’s house was particularly good. That pink stuff is watermelon sorbet and it was delicious.

Amsterdam Cake Shop

The view at one of the many cake shops in Amsterdam. Macaron fans will be pleased to know that they are also well catered for!

Mercure Hotel Amsterdam

Back at our hotel, the Mercure Canal District . Our room was small but we had everything we needed.

Amsterdam Hotel

Erin had her own little area which as you can see she took full advantage of.

Family Amsterdam

That night we headed out for some food. We ended up in the touristy bit, it was ok if you want to eat quite cheaply, if you are a bit of a foodie you probably need to search a bit further afield to find somewhere that suits (we found somewhere which I’ll link to in my next post).

Family time Amsterdam

Tired but happy, a fantastic first day in Amsterdam.

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Health & Fitness Kick 2015

Yet again we are on a health and fitness kick. It seems like we have tried to do this so many times, this time we are drafting in the tech to help us. Don’t look now, but I think it may be working!

MyFitnessPal App

We’ve all downloaded the MyFitnessPal app. Almost everyone I know is using this at the moment to track their calorie intake and exercise efforts. After inputting some details it will let you know how many calories you can have per day. You fill in your food intake and exercise each day and it advises you on what weight you can expect to be if you keep performing as you did that day. All very interesting and quite motivating. I’m finding the accountability is helping, I don’t like going into the red! As well as that, I am being constantly surprised by where the secret cals are stacking up.

Food with more cals than I thought: muffins, cake, jelly sweets, KFC, baked beans, fizzy drinks – and the worst of all duck!

Food with less cals than I thought: scones, pancakes/crepes, spring rolls, fish and chips, curry.

My new found knowledge has definitely made me think twice about what I eat.

Yoga and walking

EdinburghIn support of the healthier eating I’ve started yoga and walking, plus I quickly figured out you get extra cals allowance in MyFitnessPal if I try and move a bit more. Yoga is at the local climbing centre, good for the mind and body but doesn’t burn a lot of cals. Walking is a better shout at the weekend to increase the cal allowance. I discovered the Ramblers website and these bronze, silver and gold medal routes. We did our first gold medal route yesterday, with Erin in tow it took us two hours but it was good to get out in the fresh air and apparently we did 16,000 steps!

Ozeri Touch Bath Scales

We’ve never owned bathroom scales, I think this may be partly to blame for our past failures. Ozeri Scales In a strange coincidence (which seems to be happening a lot in my life at the moment), we were offered these Ozeri Touch Bathroom Scales to review. These scales are the mother of all scales, not only calculating your weight but your fat, muscle, bone and hydration. If you’re into health and fitness it really is a clever bit of kit. We haven’t been using all the functions yet but as we begin to take more interest in our health and fitness I think the extra functions will be very useful.

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New Lanark

I’ve been meaning to visit New Lanark ever since I learned about Robert Owen in an entrepreneurship class at Uni.

New Lanark World Heritage Site

New Lanark is one of Scotland’s six UNESCO heritage sites and still has a living community. The cotton spinning village was originally founded in 1785 by David Dale.

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Robert Owen married the daughter of David Dale and purchased the mills for £60,000 in 1800, at this point there were three mills. It was ground breaking in that it was one of the first examples of social housing, it also founded the first ever primary school for the children of mill workers. It was what Robert Owen called ‘The Great Experiment’ and was the beginnings of some of the socialist philosophies such as subsidised healthcare and the co-operative movement that we still have today.

There’s lots to see and do at New Lanark. First off it’s set in a really beautiful part of Lanark so it’s a nice place to just go and enjoy a walk and a picnic (weather permitting!). All the buildings are still standing. You can visit the mills, the schools and see inside one of the houses. The co-operative shop is also still there and you can buy sweets and toys there.

New Lanark Waterfalls

There’s a children’s play park, a trail up to the waterfalls and a particularly good gift shop. Erin bought some stationary (standard), and we bought a nice candle and these Harris Tweed coasters.

Harris Tweed Coasters

New Lanark is well worth a visit if you’re planning a day out or are visiting Edinburgh.

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The final leg of our Memphis & Graceland trip was to Nashville.

I was starting to get quite attached to my backpack. I realised during this final leg that I prefer trips over holidays. When I go away I don’t want to relax, I can do that at home. Trips away are all about having adventures for me. Discovering new things and doing stuff. I saw the sign above in an old fashioned country store that we visited. I bought it and it now sits on my Welsh dresser reminding me of the feeling I had during this trip and the importance of having more like it.

We spent a couple of hours wandering around Nashville which is predominantly bars and cowboy boot shops.

I have a thing about searching out a fondue restaurant when I’m away. It always seems like a very holiday-ish thing to do. We found a good one right in the centre of Nashville and had three courses – a cheddar baked potato fondue, chicken bouillon, and then a s’mores fondue. Writing this has reminded me how good that fondue was – must recreate it at home – dark chocolate, marshmallow and crushed graham crackers topped with a splash of something alcoholic to make it flame and toast the marshmallow!

Studio B Nashville

We visited Studio B in Nashville and saw the piano where Elvis played. They turned the lights off in the studio and played a gospel Elvis song. It was amazing to be in a studio where so many artists had recorded including Dolly Parton.


A final image after a long trip home.

It’s almost a year on since we visited New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville. It’s funny how only with time can you really appreciate trips like this. Possessions such as cars and gadgets lose their value and meaning over time, whereas trips seem only to gain value and meaning as time goes on.

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The Real Cost of Getting the Kids Back to School

Guest post by Chris

For the majority of parents, the kids going back to school is a time of mixed feelings. While it’s great to spend so much time with them, it’s always sad seeing them go back to school – or perhaps off for the very first time. It’s great to see them in their uniforms ready for the first few days, but it’s also a time where we start to worry about how much money we have and the real cost of getting the kids back to school.

While there are all kinds of offers and deals in the shops from pretty much the day they break up, it can still be an expensive time of year especially if your children are going off to secondary school for the first time and you have to buy brand new uniforms, stationery, PE kit and so on.

It’s a little bit less expensive sending them to primary school for the first time, clothes are cheaper and they seem to require a lot less.

The bingo comparison website Great British Bingo recently took a look into the real cost of getting the kids back to school, asking people from across the UK just how much they spent on the “essentials” for each child. When I first stumbled across this article when I was looking at how much other parents had spent I was shocked.

Over the years I’ve spent huge sums of money buying new uniform, a new rucksack, shoes, textbooks, stationery, coats and so on. was stunned to see that the majority of the 500 participants who took part in the study paid less than £10 per child!

260 people, which worked out at about 51%, paying less than £10 – where did they go shopping? I was really expecting it to be much higher, certainly closer to the £100 mark, but a further 59 (11.7%) paid between £50 and £75.

I guess one way of looking at things is to see that parents are now looking to invest wisely in their children’s essentials, rather than splashing the cash to make sure that they have the latest things and the “coolest” brands.

It’s good because it evens up the playing field (so to speak) in the sense that all children have what they need and that takes away a lot of the elitism and showing off, to some extent, with some parents clearly more well-off than others which was always an issue when I was growing up especially.

As long as the kids are learning, it doesn’t matter what stationery they’re using or what brand of bag their pencil case comes out of, so while I say I was surprised at how little the majority of people spent (and you can see the full results of the survey on the Great British Bingo website, they wrote a blog around it), it was a pleasant surprise – well done parents!

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Visiting Memphis & Graceland

The temptation to title this post ‘Walking in Memphis’ was strong, but I managed to resist. Just.

Following our journey through Mississippi and our brief stop in Tupelo, we arrived in Memphis.

On our way we stopped where Martin Luther King was assassinated.

Martin Luther King

We had a short visit to the famous Sun Studios where Elvis recorded during his early years.

We spent the whole of the following day at Graceland, the main reason for our trip.

It’s really hard to put into words, if you’re a fan, what happens when you’re there. The house itself is relatively modest, and far more exposed to the main street than you would expect. Nowadays his home would be far more secluded and probably behind 10ft high fences.

Inside it is extravagantly decorated. The TV room was decked out in yellow and black with multiple television sets. The pool room was covered entirely with fabric that wouldn’t look out of place at my nan’s house. He definitely had some unusual tastes, although I expect in the context of the times it made sense.

You have access to all of the house except the upstairs bedrooms which are still used occasionally by Priscilla.

As you wind your way around the house and grounds you listen to commentary on a headset which talks you through Elvis life and what each area was used for. Eventually you move out to an outbuilding which houses the squash court. You are faced with the last place Elvis was alive, playing his piano. Then you move into the squash court and it is floor to ceiling with his awards and disks and costumes. I saw quite a few people breaking down into tears, and they weren’t alone. I too was moved, which was unexpected. I stepped outside to compose myself, beyond the door were the gardens and Elvis gravestone. It was all a bit emotional, so we made our exit to go and dry our eyes and reflect.

Our evening in Memphis was spent at the famous barbecue restaurant Rendezvous and on Beale Street.

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Top Tips To Help With Your Personal Finances

Mastering your finances is always difficult, no matter how old you get. Whether you’re a married couple looking to save for a new home or car, a teenager looking to buy themselves a new laptop or a youngster just looking to buy the latest film that’s just come out on DVD, finding a way to manage your money is a difficult process.

It’s certainly a case of trial and error – and you wouldn’t be alone if you had to say that the methods you’ve tried in the past haven’t worked. Despite your very best efforts sometimes it just goes wrong for one reason or another, and as any adult will tell you, it’s usually down to an unexpected bill that comes out of nowhere to take precedence, ruining all of the hard work you’d done in budgeting over the past few weeks and months.

Parents know this all too well, trying to save up to ensure that we can get the kids the new school shoes they need or that pair of trainers we’ve been promising them if they’re good all month, and just before the weekend when we’re going to go and buy them there’s a problem with the car that needs repairing or the utility bill comes through and it’s higher than previous months… oh well, maybe next month.

There are a few things that you can try, and a few things that might certainly be worth investigating. One of which is the possibility of guarantor loans which are a much safer way of borrowing compared to some of the “alternatives” shall we call them.

Rather than having to find a way to make all of the repayments yourselves which, in many cases, has been impossible and people have had to pay by selling their possessions; guarantor loans work by having two signatures on the agreement.

This second signature, usually a close friend or family member, just needs to be over the age of 18, earning a decent enough salary and with a good credit history and this is essentially an endorsement to the lender that you can be trusted to make the repayments and, if you can’t, then they will do it for you.

In terms of how to budget, it’s a difficult process to get right for you, and there is no sure-fire way to success, but it is possible to learn how to not only save money – but end up in profit month after month too.

One of the best ways is to sit down at the end of a month, just before or even on pay day, so that you know exactly what amount you’re starting the month with in the bank. Make a note of that figure and any other account balances such as savings accounts, loans and credit cards so you have a starting point.

Then it’s time to make a separate note of all of our essential expenses, the money that you simply have to pay out, so rent or mortgage payments, credit card bills, school fees, utility bills and so on. Add all of these up and make a note of the total, and then do another list of non-compulsory payments, like an average amount you’re spending on food shops, fuel for the car and so on.

By combining your two expense lists you have a total amount of outgoings which you can then deduct from your starting point. You will then have another figure and this is what you are left with. You can then divide this by the number of days until your next salary payment and this is the amount you have available to spend on a daily basis, your budget.

If you find that this amount isn’t sustainable, it may be worth either looking at your non-compulsory payments list and taking something off or reducing it, or looking at the guarantor loan option again to ensure that you can meet the essential repayments and still afford to live and have fun. You’re working hard enough to earn that money, it’s always nice to spend it if you can afford to.

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Visiting Elvis Birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi

When the time came to leave New Orleans, I really wasn’t ready. I’ll definitely return at some point for a longer stay, I loved everything about it.

Our escorted tour departed early for Mississippi and Elvis’ birthplace, Tupelo.

Elvis Birthplace

The house still sits on the same spot, but there’s now a visitor centre for ‘pilgrims’ to visit.


Elvis’ childhood home. It was much smaller than I expected, just a couple of rooms.

Elvis House

The bedroom where Elvis was born.

Elvis Birthplace

The kitchen, the only other room in the house.

Elvis kitchen

Elvis’ church where he learned to sing gospel.

Elvis church

Elvis’ parents car.

Elvis Car

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Morph at Edinburgh Festival Fringe

We did it! We found a festival event that we all enjoyed equally!

It’s hard finding a festival show that will please a 33 year old man, a 32 year old woman and a nine year old girl, but we managed to find two. A Morning with Morph was an interview with director and model maker Peter Lord, creator of Morph. During the morning we saw lots of clips that were new for Erin, but which took Alex and I back to our childhoods. Throughout Peter was making a Morph model as he talked, it was fascinating to watch. He made it look very easy and we were about to find out just how difficult it was…

We stayed at the Pleasance Courtyard for a bit of lunch, it was just ok, but still better value than the Foodies Festival which I was going to blog abut but was too disappointed by to bother. The kidzone was a welcome addition though, there were crafts on offer and a little corner shop selling sweets – great if you want to enjoy the festival atmosphere with kids.

Our afternoon show was a Morph Model Making Workshop with model makers from Aardman Animations (creators of Wallace and Gromit). Erin was so excited and sat right down the front. Alex and I sat at the back but as soon as they handed out the plasticine we were transported right back to our eighties childhoods and got really carried away trying to create the best Morph.

Alex accused me of ‘morphing’ (did you know that term was only coined after ‘Morph’ was created) into Monica from friends and becoming overly competitive, but we had a good laugh uploading our efforts to Facebook for some official and impartial judging.

A great interactive day that we all really enjoyed, perfect for kids of Erin’s age and big kids from the eighties or before!

If you’re a fan of Morph, check out the Morph YouTube channel.

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100 Things: New Orleans

After enjoying an evening of jazz on a steamboat we were ready to enjoy our one full day in New Orleans.

New Orleans Hurricane Katrina

Just around the corner from our hotel (a converted cloth factory) was this memorial, the only reminder that I could see of Hurricane Katrina.


We walked back to the French Quarter in search of two local dishes, beignets and gumbo. I don’t seem to have any images of the beignets, those pillowy puffs of goodness obviously didn’t last long enough. The gumbo was pretty good too.


We spent the afternoon shopping and exploring before grabbing a hot dog (how good does that hot dog look!) before going in search of some jazz.


We headed to the very edge of the French Quarter. We were told by a friend to avoid the famous Bourbon Street and I’m glad we did, as you can see what we found was much more authentic.


The Spotted Cat was barely still standing when we arrived. Held up by wooden scaffolding and lurching slightly it looked like somewhere that should be abandoned rather than somewhere supposedly playing some of the best jazz in New Orleans, but inside that’s exactly what we found.


Back outside there was an arts and crafts fair in full swing…


And smut while you wait…yes really!


And the highlight of my evening, this ragtime street band singing Sugar Blues. One of those perfect moments in time.

New Orleans Street Band

Another of my 100 Things completed!

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Ten Things I Love About Working For Myself

I’ve been working for myself for over nine years now. Here are ten things that make it all worthwhile;

1. Clients

I love working with my clients and helping them succeed. Working for myself I have direct contact with my clients daily, something I didn’t have much of way back when I worked as an admin assistant.

2. Flexibility

I love that to a certain extent I can work when the mood takes me. I find the quality of work I produce when I’m in the mood is far better.

3. Health

I have crohns disease and being in control of my own schedule is really important. I truly believe it has changed the course of my illness – I’ve never had to take a day off sick for as long as I can remember!

4. Creativity

There’s a lot more scope for being creative when you work for yourself. If you come up with an idea you think is good you can act upon it, you don’t have to ask someone else’s permission and you aren’t stifled by hierarchy.

5. Work/Life Balance

I have a far better work life balance since I started working for myself. Time for family, time to study, and time for hobbies and travel. Life’s still busy but not all my time is taken up with work.

6. Independence

I enjoy being self-reliant, it’s not for everyone but I seem to thrive on it.

7. Office Politics

What can I say? I hated the office politics and I don’t miss it one bit!

8. No Boss

I’m not great at being told what to do, I’d rather take the risks and work for myself.

9. Less Work-Related Expenses

I didn’t realise how much money I wasted at work until I left. Wedding collections, baby showers, leaving presents, social committees subs, engagements, new houses, charity collections, dress down days, the collections were endless!

All that plus expensive coffees, lunches, business dress, keeping up appearances and nights out, it really adds up.

10. Fulfilment

I just can’t get excited about a monthly pay cheque in the same way as I can about creating my own multiple streams of income.

I’m not a cog in the wheel anymore, I’m the wheel. It doesn’t suit everybody but it certainly suits me!

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Home Improvements for 2015/16

We’ve been living in our house coming up for three years. As a new build there was nothing for us to do and that suited us perfectly. After three years of medium to heavy abuse, some bits are beginning to look a bit tired and in need of attention.

We’ve already decided that travel/holidays is going to take precedent for us over the next few years, but if there’s any money left in the pot then we will work through our home improvements list.

Hall and Landing

So not exactly being the best interior designers or decorators, we decided when we moved in to try painting the stairs as we have wood effect floors throughout our house. Unfortunately we didn’t realise that you had to do a few coats and pop some kind of protective layer on top that. Now, if I’d been working in the beauty industry when I did it, I would have known because it’s the same with nails! Anyway, after three years of stomping, it’s looking shabby without even a hint of chic. It’s time to sort it out. Tartan Carpet I love this carpet by ANTA, but I don’t think I’m in my forever house yet so at over a grand it’s wise I hold off investing in this. I think we will end up with something fairly plain and functional and perhaps I will do some kind of Tweed/Tartan feature on the wall instead.


After three years you’d have thought I would have everything just the way I want it, after all I only had to fill a magnolia space, but no. I have managed to get the solid oak matching (read: grown up) furniture I wanted including my pride and joy – a Welsh dresser. However, there are spaces on the walls where I need to put stuff up, paintings unfinished, and a corner sofa that has seen better days. Apart from the expense of a new suite, the rest is just a case of finding the time to finish it off.


A lick of paint is all that is needed in the kitchen to freshen it up. When we bought our house we had the opportunity to choose our kitchen and I’m really glad I chose a fairly boring shaker style kitchen as it is ageing really well.


The bedrooms just require a few soft furnishings to finish them off.


I keep swithering on my office, one minute I’m leaning towards a classic look with heavy oak furniture, and then I go and visit Amsterdam and a modern minimalist style really appeals to me. I may need to leave this until last to see which style wins out.


The garden *sighs*. It was the bane of my life in our last house, and while the one we have now is fine, it could be so much better. My plan? Save up a few thousand and employ the services of a good local gardener/landscaper and ask him to create me something with a bit of decking that’s easy to maintain and a pleasure to sit in.

So that’s the plan, although with a trip to Florida in the planning stages I’m guessing we will need to take it slowly.

For more inspiration visit Homify

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Taking A Mini Sabbatical

The school summer holidays, along with the time in between Christmas and New Year has always been one of those periods where there is time to recharge my batteries and refocus on my priorities. I’ve always been the type to reflect and make plans, it ensures I stay on the right path. Like a business, it’s important to keep checking that you’re on the right path and whether you need to make adjustments.

We have quite a bit coming up in August. As I write this I’m on a plane to Amsterdam for a few nights with the family. Next week we will finally be attending the Foodies Festival in Edinburgh, we’ve been meaning to get around to this for the last three years! The following weekend we are off on our annual family camping trip with my mum and brother. At the end of the month we are splashing out on an overnight stay to Gleneagles where we will be dining at Andrew Fairlie’s two Michelin star restaurant, it’s on my 100 Things list so I’m pretty excited about it. I also have a day trip to London and dinner at The Ivy and we will also try and enjoy some of the Fringe Festival too.

After what feels like a period almost solely made up of work, a month off is a bit of indulgence that I think is much needed and deserved. I love my work though so I won’t be off completely, my work should fit easily around everything I have planned and will hopefully benefit. I always seem to have my best ideas when I’m away.

I’ve read quite a bit in the past about replacing retirement with mini sabbaticals and extended periods of time where you can just be creative and see where that takes you. One of my goals over the next year is to build up a larger pot of money to allow for months like this, one where taking time out just feels like the right thing to do.

I’ve never been the type to dream about retirement, the idea doesn’t appeal to me at all, mini sabbaticals and extended holidays are far more appealing.

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