10 Ways To Ignore Valentine’s Day

I have been with a partner my whole adult life. The husband and I got together when I was 15, we got engaged when I was 16 (yes, really!) and married when I was 21.

We have never celebrated Valentine’s Day.

Not even a card.

It’s my least favourite celebration of the year and I avoid it as much as I can.

Why? I just think if you’re in love, you don’t need a set day to show that. Being romantic or showing someone you love them should be a spontaneous act. That said, I don’t judge anyone who does enjoy it, live and let live…

Here are my top 10 ways to ignore Valentine’s Day and enjoy yourself, whether you have a partner or not.

1. Have a chocolate, marshmallow or fudge tasting session at home

Ignore Valentine's Day

Most people will be going out to celebrate Valentine’s Day, the key to ignoring Valentine’s Day is to either stay in or go where they are not going! We did a marshmallow tasting recently in the house and had a great time – you could do it with marshmallows, chocolate, fudge, cheese, wine….the options are endless.

2. Read a good book

Most people wish they had more time to read. Set aside the whole evening to read a good book and immerse yourself in another world while everyone else plays happy couples.

3. Do some personal development

Rather than wishing you had someone to share Valentine’s Day with, spend time on yourself. Read a book by Jack Canfield or discover Michael Neill (www.supercoach.com) or Jean Pierre De Villiers (www.jeanpierredevilliers.com)

4. Plan and book your next holiday

Holiday

If you’re feeling down on Valentine’s Day, a good way to ignore it is to get your holiday booked and in the diary. A holiday is far more exciting than an overpriced bunch of roses.

5. Play online games and bingo

For one night of the year it’s fine to waste a whole evening online, but you’ll want to avoid social media as that will be full of mushy messages and pictures of romantic dates. Instead head for your favourite online games or play some no deposit bingo.

6. Make a plan for the rest of the year

Everyone creates their plan for the year in January, but to be honest many people are not in the right frame of mind right after Christmas and New Year. Spend Valentine’s Day creating your plan for 2016.

7. Watch a box set

A box set is a great way to lose yourself. We’ve enjoyed both Making A Murderer and The Jinx recently.

8. Take the kids for ice cream

Valentine's Day
Every town and city has it’s own ice cream parlour that does amazing sundaes. Surprise the kids and take them for an ice cream – I can’t think of a better way to spend Valentine’s Day!

9. Create a new income stream

I love thinking up ways to make money that will take me closer to my goal of financial freedom. However you choose to spend your money, spending a day investing time in a new money making project has got to be a good investment.

10. Start a blog/update your current one

Blogging is a great hobby and can also become an income stream. If you haven’t already started one, get started (my book might help!) or if you have one already how about creating a new series or breathing some new life into it. I recently launched Foodinburgh, an Edinburgh food website and I’m having a lot of fun with it!

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Book Review: The Moneyless Man

The Moneyless Man

After seeing someone talking about it on Facebook I decided to buy The Moneyless Man by Mark Boyle.

Those who always want something more will always live in poverty, regardless of how much they earn. While those who are content with what they have will always feel they have an abundance

The book chronicles a year of Mark’s life in which he decides to live without money. The book itself is full of helpful tips on how to go moneyless, and some tips that quite frankly few of us would enjoy implementing. I enjoyed reading about his experiences, and while I’m not about to go moneyless it has forced me to question whether I need to be spending as much money as I do. Of course the answer is no and I experienced a slight shift in mindset, especially over my perception of buying second hand, making do with what we have and completely using up what we buy. I expect through this shift in mindset we will end up spending less.

Verdict: This book isn’t just for people who want to live without money, it’s a useful reminder that we’re all spending far more than we need to. This book is great if you want to get back to basics and start spending a little less. Couple it with America’s Cheapest Family for more practical ways of saving money day to day.

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Retiring Abroad

We watched The Real Marigold Hotel last night, a reality version of the film where older celebrities move into a haveli in India to see if they fancy retiring there. We actually really enjoyed it, and despite being in our prime (ahem), it instigated a discussion about whether we’d ever consider moving abroad to retire.

Seeing as we’ve already discounted the idea of retiring (I’d be so bored!) any move would be part of a career change or slowing down rather than giving up on paid work entirely.

Many people favour Australia when it comes to moving abroad. The way of life appeals to many, especially living as part of a community like Springfield Lakes’ display village. Springfield Lakes offers residents everything they need on their doorstep; education facilities, leisure and health services. While I can see the merits, it wouldn’t be right for me.

If we were to consider retiring abroad we would likely look to either the USA, Canada, or Scandinavia I think.

We love Boston and I think if the option came up to go and live and work there (with healthcare included!) we’d definitely consider it.

Retiring Abroad

Canada and Scandinavia both appeal too, their lifestyles seem to be quite similar to the type we aim for.

India looks great but I think the culture difference would be too much for us.

I suppose we could always use what savings we have to hop from cruise ship to cruise ship as many do, I can imagine myself doing that!

It’s a long way off but it’s fun to imagine the future and what might be in store for us.

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A Winter Family Break In Prague: Part 2

On our second morning in Prague, the Hilton brought out the big guns and Erin sniffed them out immediately – the Nutella muffins weren’t getting by her!

Hilton Prague

After doing Wenceslas Square on our first day, we decided to go to the other side of Charles Bridge to Malá Strana. This is where our hotel was located when we were on our honeymoon twelve years ago, we were keen to go back and see if much had changed, and also to show Erin.

Winter Family Break In Prague

Family selfie on Charles Bridge

Winter Family Break In Prague

The view from Charles Bridge along the river Vltava.

Malá

View from Charles Bridge to Malá Strana.

Winter Family Break In Prague

Giant bubbles in Malá Strana

Winter Family Break In Prague

Dinner and what looks like a glass of wine, but which is actually just coke!

We had a great time in Prague, and would highly recommend it for a winter family break. The Hilton Prague was also perfect for us with lots of extras which really made our trip.

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A Winter Family Break In Prague

Following our successful trip to Amsterdam we decided another city break would be perfect for the family. We chose Prague as it’s somewhere we’d been before but Erin hadn’t. We also found a GREAT deal on a five star Hilton.

Prague Hilton

The hotel was definitely a highlight of our trip. We hadn’t realised it, but due to needing an extra bed for Erin we had booked an executive room which came with access to an executive lounge and a range of food and alcohol related add ons!

After dropping our stuff we headed out to find ourselves some authentic Czech food. While we were on the edge of the city, we were still just a ten minute walk to the main square so getting around was really easy.

At the Czech restaurant, which was just a few minutes from our hotel, we shared three dishes; honey and chilli ribs in beer, pork schnitzel with potato salad, and fried cheese and chips.

Prague

The ribs.

Prague

The schnitzel.

The Hilton Prague

Erin chilling back at the room.

Winter Break Prague

The following day we headed out for our first full day in Prague.

Winter Break In Prague

To our surprise it was really warm. As you can see, at times it was t-shirt weather, in November!

Winter Break In Prague

Alex found a tram, this one had been turned into a cafe on Wenceslas Square.

Winter Break In Prague

The bluest of skies over Prague.

Winter Break In Prague

The Astronomical Clock on the Old Square in Prague.

Joy Burger Prague

We stopped for lunch at Joy Burger in Prague.

Winter Break In Prague

Erin vs Food!

Winter Break In Prague

The exchange rate has been kind…

Winter Break In Prague

Finally, afternoon tea back at the hotel followed by a swim and sauna, and a flutter in the casino.

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A Staycation at The Dalmahoy, Edinburgh

A staycation, in case you don’t know, is when you choose to holiday or take a short break but stay very close to home. I couldn’t quite figure out why I’d bother until we did it…

Edinburgh Hotel

Our staycation was over the Christmas period and we went to our local Marriott hotel, The Dalmahoy. It has two golf courses, a nature trail, driving range, leisure club and a fining dining restaurant….and it’s FIVE minutes away from our house.

Golf at The Dalmahoy

As the morning of our overnight stay arrived, I surveyed the carnage of Christmas that surrounded me and felt rather thankful to be able to escape it. We all packed our overnight bags which took about five minutes and was no stress whatsoever, a further five minutes and we had arrived. No travelling expense, no ‘when are we going to get there’, no rubbish service station food.

We had already decided that we wanted to use our night away to spend some quality time together so we headed for the James Braid Bar in the leisure club with our new Pointless board game. We had lunch and spent a nice hour together away from all the mess!

The Dalmahoy Edinburgh

After a swim, steam and sauna in the pool we headed back to our large family room to relax. The Dalmahoy has a range of family movies available in the room, perfect for a relaxing afternoon.

Pentland Restaurant

There are two main restaurants at The Dalmahoy; The Pentland Restaurant and Zest. Zest would be your child friendly option, but I really wanted to dine at The Pentland Restaurant as I used to work there (and wanted to see how it had changed), I also knew Erin would enjoy it. The Pentland Restaurant offer a children’s menu with starter and dessert options meaning older kids can enjoy the three course experience alongside their parents. A nice additional touch was the kids ‘cocktail’ menu, Erin enjoyed selecting a cocktail (the Raging Rainbow!) to enjoy with her meal. Full restaurant review to follow on Foodinburgh.

The Dalmahoy for Kids

We all slept well after such a big meal, but there was plenty of space come morning for The Dalmahoy breakfast. This is served buffet style in the Pentland restaurant, it’s well worth arriving early to enjoy one of the window seats and the views over the golf course.

Marriott Hotel Edinburgh

We had a lovely time at The Dalmahoy, and to be honest we felt that not only had we been properly ‘away’ but that it seemed longer than a night. It just goes to show, you don’t need to travel half way around the world to get that refreshed rejuvenated feeling.

More info and booking for The Dalmahoy

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Top Ten Things To Do With Kids In Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a great place to visit with kids. Here are our top ten picks for places to take kids of all ages, whatever the weather and whatever your budget. Always have a back-up plan in case you head outdoors and the weather changes and remember to take your camera or smartphone to capture those precious happy memories which will last a lifetime. The list covers a wide range of places from museums to parks to places to eat and gives an indication of cost and to which age range the attraction will appeal. Have fun in this wonderful city and post comments below to let us know what you enjoyed the most.

Travel tip

An Edinburgh PLUSBUS ticket gives you unlimited bus & tram travel on nearly all Lothian bus and tram services, around the whole urban area of Edinburgh city for just £3 for adults and £1.50 for children. For more details check the website here

National Museum of Scotland

Chambers St, Edinburgh EH1 1JF

Link to website

Link to map

Free entry

Children from around age 4 upwards will love the ‘Natural World’ galleries. Look through the arch at the eastern end of the Grand Gallery, and you’ll see a Tyrannosaurus rex peering through at you. Next to the animal galleries is ‘Earth in Space’ which will appeal to older children as it explores our place in the universe and how our understanding of it has developed.

The museum has free lockers so you can off-load bags or picnic food and if it is a fine day then head to The Meadows, a large park which is a short walk away and a good place to picnic.

Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura and world of illusions

Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH1 2ND

Edinburgh
Link to website
Read our review here

Link to map

Standard admission prices Adult 13.95, children 5-15 9.95, children under 5 free.

The camera, with its roving mirror that projects a 360º cityscape and rooftop views, makes this a great place to orient yourself if you are new to Edinburgh. As well as the camera the attraction has 6 floors of interactive hands on fun for children of all ages including a Magic Gallery, World of Illusions and 3D holograms in the Light Fantastic gallery.

Camera Obscura is very close to Edinburgh Castle, so it’s useful to combine the two visits.

The Edinburgh Dungeon

31 Market Street, EH1 1DF – next to Waverley Station

Link to website

Link to map

Book online to get the online saver price of 11.25 for adults and 9.80 for children.

The Edinburgh Dungeon brings together an amazing cast of theatrical actors, special effects, stages, scenes and rides in a truly unique and exciting walkthrough experience that you see, hear, touch, smell and feel. It’s hilarious fun and it’s sometimes a bit scary. Recommended for ages 8 and above. There are very dark areas and loud noises so don’t take nervous children. All children under 15 must be accompanied by an adult.

At the time of writing there is an offer for a combi ticket to visit the Dungeon and eat at the Hard Rock Café, so check the website for details.

Edinburgh Zoo

Edinburgh Zoo
Link to website here

Link to map

Bus No. 12 from Princes Street runs to the zoo.

Online ticket prices – for other prices check here ticket prices

2 Adult & 2 Children £57.30

2 Adults & 3 Children £69.60

1 Adult & 2 Children £40.95

1 Adult & 3 Children £53.25

A great day out for all the family and children of all ages. Edinburgh Zoo is home to the only giant pandas in the UK. The female is called Tian Tian (which means Sweetie) and the male is Yang Guang (which means Sunshine). If you want to view the Pandas you have to book in advance. Entry to the giant pandas is included with your Zoo admission but is time-ticketed. Each slot is approximately 10 – 15 minutes. Check the website for full details.

Other highlights are Koala Territory which has the only Koalas in the UK, Penguins Rock and Wallaby Outback.

If you plan to eat at the zoo we recommend the Jungle food court where you can choose from a range of burgers, fish and chips and pizza. If you take a picnic the zoo has lovely gardens where you can sit and enjoy your lunch.

Arthur’s Seat

Edinburgh With Kids
Queens Drive, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH8 8HG

Link to website

Link to map here

Experience the amazing view of Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat – Holyrood park’s highest point at 251m above sea level – and the Salisbury Crags, world famous since their association with famous geologist James Hutton in the 1700s, which dominate the Edinburgh skyline.

As this involves a short hike uphill, it is not suitable for small children but older energetic youngsters will enjoy the walk and the view from the top. A great free day out on a fine, clear day.

Take Bus 30 or 33 from Princes Street (opposite side of the road to Waverley station) to the Commonwealth Pool, then walk a minute down Holyrood Park Road to get to the trails.

Princes Street Gardens

Edinburgh with kids

Princes Street, Edinburgh EH2 2HG

Link to website

Link to map here

Princes Street Gardens is in the centre of Edinburgh in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. There is a play area and a Café. It is a lovely place to just enjoy the sunshine and have a picnic away from the bustle of the city centre. Suitable for children of all ages.

Gorgie City Farm

51 Gorgie Road, Edinburgh, EH11 2LA

Link to website

Link to map here

Free entry and open 7 days a week, 9.30 am to 4 pm in winter

A perfect family-friendly day out for young and old. See the animals or even better get involved and get your hands dirty! The farm also has a lovely café where you can enjoy a drink and some cake.

Gambado

Unit 6, Fountain Park, Dundee Street, Edinburgh EH11 1AF

Link to website

Link to map

Open Mon-Thur 9.30am-6.00pm, Fri 9.30am-6:30pm, Sat 9:30am-6:30pm, Sun 9:30am-6:00pm

Great for dull or rainy days when this indoor soft play area really comes into its own. Lots of fun activities from a ball pit to a small climbing wall, great for smaller children who need to let off steam in a safe environment.

Prices are graded by age, 1 year £4.50, Age 2-3 £7.45 and Age 4-12 £8.45 check website for full details

Entry prices include unlimited use of facilities but in busy times sessions may be restricted to 2.5 hours. They do have special offers so check here for those

Gambado is part of the Fountain Park mall, which has a multiplex cinema and tenpin bowling centre that are also great for autumnal and winter days. Restaurants in the mall include a Pizza Hut and a Nando’s.

The Handmade Burger Company

Ocean Terminal, Le3a Second Floor, Edinburgh EH6 6JJ

Link to website

Link to map here

An excellent family-friendly restaurant in the Ocean Terminal complex, so near the waterfront, the Royal Yacht and the Vue cinema. Special junior menu available, which includes a great money-saving deal for under 12’s. A great activity sheet available to keep the children entertained while you wait for your food. Their junior burgers are definitely full of fresh ingredients that your little ones will love.

Find out what else is in the Ocean Terminal shopping centre

MUMS restaurant

4a Forrest Road, EdinburghEH1 2QN

Link to website

Link to map here

Great comfort food and a good simple children’s menu at £3.95. Near the National Museum of Scotland, so easily combined with a visit there as an alternative to the museum café.

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Stop Buying, Start Living

photo1.jpgThere’s one big thing that keeps people from the life they dream of. It’s not confidence or motivation or a great business idea. It’s consumption. Maintaining the lifestyle to which you’ve become accustomed becomes all consuming. It keeps a person (or more likely persons) working at least 40 hours or more per week to ensure they earn enough money to maintain their lifestyle. This would be absolutely fine if they were happy, but they’re not.

The answer to this unhappiness? To buy more of course. The adverts have promised that when we own a particular model of car or a diamond encrusted watch we will have ‘arrived’ and will finally be happy.

The truth? Big companies and the advertising machines behind them will never allow you to be happy. Happiness equals satisfaction and satisfaction means no more purchases.

If you truly want to be happy then take some time out from being a consumer to assess what you really want from your life. You might be surprised to find that you have goals and ambitions and hopes and dreams that have nothing to do with accumulating money and buying stuff. You may discover that to be truly happy you require much less money than you thought and you now have the freedom of choice. You can choose to work forty hours a week or you can choose to go part-time. You may even choose to volunteer or start a microbusiness that allows you to pursue a passion.

When you stop believing that buying leads to happiness and you realise that happiness is a mindset, you can begin to create the life that you desire.

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Do Something For The Future Today

Family

I reconnected this week with a blog I used to read back in 2006 when I first started blogging. You can find it here – The Simple Dollar, the focus is on financial freedom and frugality. I think we can all benefit from grounding ourselves in these financial times which is why I have subscribed again.

Something Trent said in a post hit a chord with me. He said that as well as living in the moment he also tried to do something for the future every day. It’s a great habit.

Every day is a lot. So what about starting with just today.

What ONE thing can you do today that will reap benefits in 1, 3, 5 or more years into the future?

It’s fine living in the moment, but for most of us we have many years ahead of us. Surely it is prudent to invest a little in preparation those years?

Learning a new skill, making time for a relative, setting up a savings account, these are all things you will benefit from in the future. It might be a home improvement project or sorting out your filing system. They seem like small things but you’ll reap the rewards well into the future.

The bit of this I find most difficult is the financial part of how to decide how much to live for today, and how much to prepare for the future. I always aim for balance but one always seems to have more pull than the other at various life stages.

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Edinburgh Royal Mile & Scottish Parliament Walk

Following our successful Buckstone Cafe Walk, we decided to do another to the Royal Mile and Scottish Parliament. It was based loosely on the Edinburgh Tourist Information walk on the Ramblers website.

Royal Mile

We started half way up the Royal Mile. It’s been a while since we’d been up this way but it was so much fun to act like tourists and we even got our Christmas shopping kickstarted.

Edinburgh

Spotted my dream camper van.

Edinburgh

The Balmoral Hotel

St Giles Cathedral

St Giles Cathedral

Edinburgh

A street artist on the Royal Mile. A regular site both during and outwith the festival now.

Edinburgh

The church where Zara Phillips was married.

Holyrood Palace

Near Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament.

Edinburgh

Erin waiting for her hot chocolate at the end of the walk.

Edinburgh

A well deserved coffee after a fabulous morning rediscovering Edinburgh.

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Our Christmas Food Traditions

Waitrose got in touch last month to ask about our Christmas traditions in relation to food, they wanted to know what our favourite recipes were.

I was thinking about it and realised that for eleven months of the year we do a lot of cooking, but when it comes to Christmas our food tends to go very snacky. We like to have lots of picnic teas and try all the party foods that are available at this time of year.

When I was younger I remember my nan would always put on a big buffet at Christmas time and she’d make things like sausage rolls, pasties and vol au vents. This is the sort of cooking that makes me feel Christmassy.

This week Erin and I got in the kitchen to recreate some of our favourite Christmas picnic foods.

Pork and Apple Sausage Rolls

A twist on the classic sausage roll, we used apple and pork sausage meat and served our sausage rolls with apple sauce.

Baking

Just de-skin a pack of sausages (you can add some extra fried onions and herbs to jazz it up) and roll inside a sheet of shortcrust pastry. I prefer shortcrust to puff for this. Then brush with whisked egg or milk and bake until golden.

Pork and apple sausage rolls

Mix it up with some of the more unusual sausages available like sweet chilli.

Corned Beef and Onion Pasties

This is one of my favourite comfort foods and reminds me of my childhood and Wales.

Waitrose

Boil and rice/mash a few potatoes and mix together with a tin of corned beef. Stir in some fried onion and season generously. Cut circles of pastry from a pre-made roll of shortcrust pastry, brush with milk and bake until golden. Perfect for picnic teas, an afternoon snack, and lunch boxes.

Coronation Chicken Vol Au Vents

They may be retro, but my Christmas isn’t complete without a vol au vent. My favourite filling is coronation chicken.

Coronation Chicken Vol Au Vents

Create your sauce by stirring a couple of teaspoons each of turmeric and garam masala with mayonnaise. Add a couple of desert spoons of mango chutney and season to taste. I roast a chicken and shred to make my coronation chicken but chicken breast or fillet works too, I just like the texture of roast chicken. Shred a little lettuce to put in the bottom of your vol au vents, this gives them a bit of crunch, but also creates a barrier between the pastry and mayonnaise, saving you from a soggy bottom! Enjoy with a nice glass of gin and tonic.

As well as creating our own picnic foods well also spotted a few prepared options at Waitrose; Duck Straws with Hoisin Sauce, Spicy Taco Floret Selection, and for the kids Party Hot Dog & Burger Selection.

Thanks to Waitrose, we’ve had a lovely week baking and getting into the mood for Christmas.

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Edinburgh Panto: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs

It’s panto time again! Oh yes it is!

This year’s offering is Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Like many other Edinburgh families, a trip to the annual pantomime has become a much looked forward to fixture in our calendar. This year’s show did not disappoint. High School Musical style song and dance combined with traditional panto fun with gags aplenty ensured that all ages had something to enjoy.

Edinburgh Pantomime

The trio of Grant Stott, Allan Stewart and Andy Gray have become as familiar as Christmas itself. All the favourite jokes were there, from football to politics and ‘local humour’. The seven dwarfs played were also great fun, especially the lead dwarf played by River City’s Paul-James Corrigan.

Edinburgh Pantomime

The plot as usual was often lost but nobody seemed to care. An impressive CGI mirror, giant fluffy animals, and a flying sleigh create additional magic and excitement for the younger members of the audience. While adults will appreciate a rendition of the Bay City Rollers ‘Shang-A-Lang’ sang by Andy and Allan as ‘Super’ Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon.

Loud, garish and chaotic. Just what we expect from our annual pantomime!

Purchase Your Tickets Here

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Edinburgh Walks: Buckstone Cafe

We live just outside Edinburgh, one of the best cities in the world. Not just my opinion, Edinburgh consistently ranks at the top of ‘best places to live’ lists. It’s easy to take your own home for granted so recently we have decided to make like tourists and go exploring our city.

We discovered the Ramblers website which suggests Bronze, Silver and Gold walks around the city (and all areas of the UK). We started off with the Buckstone Cafe Walk, a walk around an area of the city I haven’t spent much time.

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