Sponsored Post: World Baking Day

Today is the day, it’sWorld Baking Day! We have been busy in the kitchen cooking up the World’s Happiest Cake with a recipe courtesy of Stork.

Our cake is a mango, coconut and lime flavoured number – ingredients we all love. This is what we were aiming for…

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We aren’t master bakers but we do enjoy it. As the husband says, you get a lot out of it for the little effort you have to put in and home baking always tastes better than shop bought, no matter how much you spend. Baking has also been found to help decrease stress through the focus and reflection, also the sense of accomplishment and opportunity to share your bake with others.

This is our finished effort here, it has certainly brought us happiness today – we can’t wait to tuck in now! We are taking it with us to share with good friends.

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You can share your cakes on Twitter with @WorldBakingDay and on Instagram here.

Find out more about Stork here.

Sponsored post by Stork

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The Huxley, Edinburgh

A pub that promises to be as inviting for kids as it is to adults? With a promise like that we decided we had to check the The Huxley out. image1

The Huxley’s menu has an American feel offering burgers and hot dogs as well as a solid breakfast menu featuring my own favourite, Eggs Benedict. I will be back to see how it compares to other versions around the city.

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The children’s menu (pictured) features mini versions of the hot dog and Huxley burger. For £7 your little one can also enjoy a drink and dessert.
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While we chose from the menu Erin busied herself with the activity pack.

We both fancied the pork burger complete with scratchings, but we decided we should try a couple of different dishes so Alex opted for the chilli dog. Erin ordered her favourite, hot dog!

The chilli dog was topped with plenty of chilli and cheese and was served with handcut fries, it seemed to go down very well.

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My burger was good, but unfortunately the salted fries, salty scratchings and salty pork left me reaching for my (very tasty) smoothie, and not in a good way. I think nowadays it’s best to leave the salting to diners. It was a shame as the ingredients were really good quality.

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Erin enjoyed her hot dog and it was generous enough for a kid’s meal. The real treat was the ice cream though, vanilla and peanut butter & jam flavours – I immediately regretted not ordering a dessert!

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Overall we really liked the vibe at The Huxley. It felt grown up but still really inviting for kids of Erin’s age (9). We’ll definitely be back and I’ll make sure to ask for my food unsalted next time.

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Sponsored Post: World Baking Day May 17th

It’s World Baking Day on Sunday 17th May and I’ve been challenged by Stork to bake myself happy by making something for a loved one.

Erica & Erin

It didn’t take me long to decide who I would bake for. In fact, I’m going to bake WITH them. Erin and I love cooking together and recently I’ve been really busy with work. Like most working mums I have the mummy guilt when I’m working and can’t spend much time with her, so this is the perfect opportunity for us to get in the kitchen and have some girly time.

We are going to bake what has been dubbed the World’s Happiest Cake – a Coconut, Mango and Lime number.

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The World’s Happiest Cake was created by Stork with a focus on the delicious combination and mood-elevating qualities of the key ingredients.

This is here is what we are aiming for…let the baking commence.

Sponsored by Stork

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First Taste Of New Orleans

After a day touring Alabama we headed south towards New Orleans through some amazing scenery.

New Orleans

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We pit stopped at Arby’s which were as frequent as McDonald’s on our trip, the food was much tastier though.

Arby's

A couple more hours and we were making our way through the narrow streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans. My first impression was that it was completely different to anywhere I’d been in the USA before. What I discovered by the end of our too short stay, was that New Orleans is unlike anywhere I’ve been anywhere, and there’s something special about it.

We stayed in a converted cloth factory which was full of character, I don’t seem to have any photos but it was very authentic.

Jazz Cruise
We’d booked a jazz cruise on a traditional steamboat. The dinner was a bit of a disaster but the music, atmosphere and views more than made up for it.

Cornet

I entered a competition to win this fab cornet, alas no luck this time, probably for the best as there’s no way I could have done it justice. Would have loved to have had a play, I was inspired though and bought my own cornet as soon as I got home.

New Orleans

A great first night in New Orleans.

New Orleans Steamboat Cruise

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Alabama

After a restful night in our first hotel…

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..Mum made her peace with the local police (after ‘the incident‘)

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We boarded our coach and made our way to Alabama. I wasn’t sure what to expect really, this was my first visit to the Deep South, previous trips to America have been to Boston, New York and Florida which as I found out was completely different.

Alabama

The centre of Alabama was more modern than I was expecting, it did feel strangely deserted though.

Alabama

The white government buildings were beautiful though and the state has a lot of history.

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We were going to try and find a sign in each state, but this is as far as we got!

During our tour we saw the church where Martin Luther King preached before he became famous.

Martin Luther King

A short drive away we visited the bus stop where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for boarding white passengers.

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I wasn’t expecting to see this so it was a real surprise and something I’m really glad to have seen.

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We then made our way further south to New Orleans.

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Romeo & Juliet, Festival Theatre

One of the things I love about Edinburgh is the range of activities, arts and culture that can be enjoyed. We saw a ballet production of Rapunzel last year and really enjoyed it. This time we were invited to the Northern Ballet’s interpretation of Romeo & Juliet.

Northern Ballet dancers in Romeo and Juliet

The unusual opening saw film-like credits projected on to the minimalist staging. The staging during the performance remained minimalist, a blank canvas against which the dancers used movement and characterisation to tell the story. At times, it was a little difficult to follow the story unless you knew it very well. The pared back aesthetics created a completely contemporary feel that I expect ballet enthusiasts will have found refreshing.

Northern Ballet dancers in Romeo and Juliet

The whole performance (the first in the UK) is set to Prokofiev’s familiar score, which is played live.

There were a couple of children in the audience but this was most definitely an adult production.

Romeo & Juliet is currently showing at Leeds Grand Theatre. Tickets can be purchased here.

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My Savings Story: Past, Present and Future

The Past

As a child I was always the saver of the family, I always had my only little fund of money to spend on my favourite thing, which at the time was stationery. Due to circumstances Alex and I moved in together when I was 17 and so we didn’t have much chance to save for it, so we had to play catch for a few years after using credit to buy some of the things we needed. It’s not always possible for parents (my mum was a single parent) to put money aside to help their children out through these life events but that’s one thing I’d like to try and do for Erin. I’d like to be able to give her a hand financially if we can, I think it’s so difficult for young people to get themselves established these days.

The Present

During our twenties we set a goal of becoming debt free and eventually creating financial MacBookfreedom, I was inspired after reading Your Money Or Your Life shortly after having my daughter. Our focus has been on clearing a credit card and making plans to pay off both our cars and eventually overpay our mortgage. I have quite a strict budgeting system in operation which means that all our income is allocated into various pots in line with our goals. I keep a household budget spreadsheet to manage this. Alongside this we have also saved for two big trips. We went to Boston and New York for Alex’ 30th and I went to New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville for mine. This year we wanted to buy a PS4 and a MacBook, so some of our disposable income has been allocated to these pots too.

The Future

Route 66I’m really excited about the future, for the first time we have additional income with which we can choose how best to pursue our goals. In the short term we want to go on more holidays and visit new countries, we have set a goal of visiting eight new countries over the next eight years. We would also like to take a longer trip travelling across America for our 40th birthdays. I love our house, but one day I’d like to live in a barn conversion so that might be something we look at too. On top of this I’d like to build a much larger emergency fund.

So that’s our saver story. I love using tools like budget calculators and this savings goal tool from RBS. If you’re considering saving for a big goal, you can also check out Royal Bank of Scotland’s savings accounts.

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The Trip Of A Lifetime… And Being Detained

AdventuresI hate the idea of a trip of a lifetime, because if it’s true then I’ve already had mine. I don’t think it is though because if anything the trip I took last year has broadened my horizons and I plan to take many more like it. I actually bought this sign as we made our way to our last city to remind me… life is too short not to see the places you want to.

IMG_1249The trip I took was to New Orleans, Memphis & Nashville. My mum and I had always said we would visit Graceland and finally we did, tying it into our 50th and 30th birthdays. Preparation began with a couple of rucksacks courtesy of Mountain Warehouse. It was an escorted tour that would see us visit five states and move from hotel to hotel so I decided that a rucksack would be better than a suitcase.
Matching
My mum came to pick me up so that we could travel to the airport together, and that’s when we realised…we had inadvertently chosen matching outfits, from the navy and white striped cardigans right down to the white linen trousers.
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We flew to Heathrow and connected easily to our flight to Atlanta. Mum was carefree (see picture left), unaware of the horror that lay ahead. We disembarked the plane and made our way to security, I briefed Mum on the procedure. We approached the booth together and I placed my fingers on the fingerprint machine, within a minute I had my documents and I was ready to go.

Mum placed her fingers on the machine, nothing. The security officer asked her to do it again, still nothing… She muttered about sweaty fingers and dragged her hands down her linen trousers and once again placed her fingers down. Nothing. The security officer cheerfully told us it would be fine and it was probably just the machine, apparently the one around the corner would be better. He placed her documents into a clear folder and sealed the top, a different security officer led us away and into a glass room. The doors slid closed and LOCKED behind us. The warning signs on the wall told us we were not permitted to call anyone. There was a toilet. I quickly realised that this wasn’t necessarily the ‘short stay’ area.

Mum started panicking that someone had smuggled drugs onto her, panicking a little myself internally I snapped at her to quit her theories which were quickly descending as if we were about to live out our very own Hotel Bangkok nightmare. The minutes slipped away and it occurred to us that our ‘escorted tour’ may depart without us and we’d have to find our own way to New Orleans. Thirty minutes passed, it felt like we had been in there for days. Eventually I decided to ask if I could leave the glass prison to collect our rucksacks which were at this point spinning lonely on the belt. To my surprise he let me leave, but not before he pointed at Mum and said ‘but not her’. I scurried off feeling relieved by my freedom but guilty at leaving mum, detained and not knowing her fate. I returned flushed and a bit sweaty with two large rucksacks, I peered at mum through the glass prison.

Finally after nearly an hour they seemed to just let us go, no explanation, no dreaded ‘squat and cough’ examination. We were free as birds and we ran as fast as we could to meet the rest of our party. We were of course now ‘the late ones’, the ones who had kept the whole group waiting.
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Picture: Mum after her ordeal

The group were not the youngest, the predominant colour was grey. In his enthusiasm to board the coach one gentleman slipped off the curb, I awaited the sound of his fragile bones cracking as he went crashing into the tarmac. Crumpled on the floor, I resisted the urge to tell him not to run as if he were a small child. Another gentleman was sporting a cast, he had slipped at Heathrow apparently. I thought to myself that it could be a long ten days, and quite frankly some of my fellow travellers would be lucky to make it…

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Low Interest Rate Vs Garden Room

We stood in the back garden, I took about ten (of my hobbit sized) paces and said to the husband “about that big?”. We’ve been considering a garden room (not a conservatory, I was corrected by our builder, that’s a different thing – who knew?) since we moved into our new build a couple of years ago. Something big enough to be useful as a second reception room and somewhere to chill out and read. I have visions of myself reading the Sunday papers in there with a nice cup of freshly brewed coffee….I know, I know, but I am about turn 32, I like my chill out time and small pleasures at the weekend. We thought we could even deck the rest of the garden, negate the whole ‘when is he going to cut the grass’ issue which threatens to ruin our Summer weekends…leaving us in a blissful state of harmony. We convinced ourselves the investment would be more than worth it so we got a price…around 16k. Not a bad price for something that would allow us to live in a blissful state of marriage for years to come. He would take the Flymo to the tip, I would perhaps subscribe to a second newspaper…

Clutching our quotation and dreams, we rang our mortgage lender to find out the state of play with our mortgage. Having started on the property ladder early we were pleased to discover that we had more than enough for our garden room BUT, and it was a very big but…we were informed that we were just 2% away from the level of equity where we would become eligible for the really low interest rates. Two tiny percentage points, just a few thousand and we would be there. Not quite the holy grail of paying off a mortgage and becoming debt free, but a big stride towards that. We’d be in a position to start overpaying our mortagage. We did the sums using the mortgage calculator, if we paid X amount we could be mortgage free in X years, and wow if we tightened our belts and paid a bit more we could be there even quicker. We’d still be young enough to start a second mortgage, or travel, or give up work – ok, not quite, but the pressure would be off. It’s what everyone dreams of isn’t it? Debt free, mortgage free… And here we had a plan that could see us get there well before we were 50.

What to do…. If we opted for the garden room we’d set ourselves back several years and we’d have to wait a long while before those interest rates were in our sights again.

So we did the sensible thing. We put our plans for our garden room on ice, and we’ve been working towards those low interest rates. I guess it was a nice idea, but we didn’t want it enough to sacrifice our long term freedom. So that was that, for now at least. It’s surprising how often these life changing decisions start to crop up once you get into your thirties, money is a great thing, IF you can make it work for you rather than having it make you a slave for the rest of your life.

This post is brought to you by Santander

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Skincare for Men by Aveda

Aveda SkincareMen’s grooming has come a long way since I was younger. Back then your choices were limited to a bar of imperial leather or clearasil. Men, as a species are now prepared to embrace the fact that we can look after our skin in a way that doesn’t make us feel a bit, well, girly.

Lots of products are now available focusing on a macho, manly brand ethos. Aveda have come at it from a different angle. Nature. The skincare set I’ve been using is based on natural products including camomile, lavender, peppermint oil and vitamin E. You can really feel the difference when using these products. They make your skin feel clean and revitalised without leaving that chemical residual feel of most other cleansers I’ve used.

The kit is a fully rounded cleansing routine which will work fast and fit into even the busiest lifestyle. The packaging is clean, neutral and has a quality feel to it. All while being biodegradable and eco friendly.

Overall I would say that if you like looking after yourself and are looking for an excellent natural product then I’d highly recommend this kit.

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Is ‘Medium Chill’ The Answer To Happiness?

Ever since I started delving into the world of self development, around the same time I started this blog nine years ago, the topic of happiness has fascinated me.

What makes people happy? Why are some people happier than others? What part does money play in happiness? And the biggest question of all, how can I be happy?

As humans our main purpose is survival, but with most daily risks to our survival now taken care of, this gives way to a new purpose. The pursuit of happiness. If you ask most people what they want it will either be happiness, or something they perceive will bring them happiness, usually money.

I’ve been so busy recently I haven’t had much chance to ponder things let alone blog about them, but today I stumbled across the idea of the ‘medium chill’. It reminded me of some of the books I read a few (nine is a few as you get older) years ago. Medium chill reminded me of The Fulfillment Curve, the idea of ‘enough’.

Medium Chill is the idea that we should all stop striving to own the latest car or the bigger house, although when it comes to size I think TVs are the new way to prove who is the bigger man (or woman)? Medium Chill is about deciding what’s enough and sticking to it, and spending the rest of your time building relationships and enjoying your ‘free’ time. It also suggests we shouldn’t look to further our careers or take the ‘next step’.

This is all instead of the Big Chill which is all about “doing today what others won’t, so you can do tomorrow what others can’t” (this is a quote that has been requoted so many times I don’t know who started it, but a lot of entrepreneurs buy into this idea. In short, you work like a dog until you’re about 40 and then you retire on a beach somewhere. It’s a nice idea but I’ve never met any entrepreneur type that could actually lay on a beach for eight hours a day and suppress the urge to create.

So if the Big Chill is just a fantasy, is Medium Chill the answer? Would we be happy if we all just slowed down a bit and stopped our striving?

I think there are two issues here that need to be addressed.

1. Work makes people unhappy
2. Money makes people happy

Money doesn’t make people happy. Ok, that’s not entirely true. Money does make people happy but not as much as we think. If you’re incredibly poor then a bit more money will obviously improve your lifestyle which may lead to increased happiness. In general though it has been proven that whether good or bad things happen in your life, you eventually swing back to you usual level of happiness. We all end up about the same amount of happy, regardless of what we own. The amount of happy we are comes from how happy we decide to be. Happiness isn’t related to things so much as it is simply a decision. Most of the time you can just ‘decide’ to be happy (some life events will obviously affect this).

Work doesn’t make people unhappy.
The type and amount of work people feel pressured into doing is what makes them unhappy. If your job was to watch TV all day, eventually you would begin to resent it if you had to do it for 10 hours a day straight. If you have a job as a chocolate taster and you had to eat 10 boxes of chocolates a day, it would soon become a chore. You’d be unhappy. To be happy, we need to find work that has variety, that is fulfilling, that allows us the space to do other things if we want to. If you find the right work, something you are passionate about, it doesn’t feel like a chore to do it for long hours.

The key to happiness in my opinion, is simply to refuse to race. The rat race is a race that none of us can win. There will always be someone who has more. Always.

Rather than refusing to strive and going Medium Chill, which I find the idea of a bit boring, I think the answer is to create a new race. A race with yourself. Humans naturally want to develop and achieve. If we focus on being more, rather than having more, that could be really fulfilling? Nobody can be more you than you, but you can be more than you have been. It’s a race we can all win. You don’t have to always rely on stuff for status. When you set personal goals and reach them, people respect you, respect brings status. When you help others achieve, this also brings respect, which brings status. It’s not all about what you own, it’s the effect you can have on people too.

I’ve come to the conclusion that neither the Big Chill or the the Medium Chill is for me. I’m going to continue running in my own race, and I’m going to encourage other people to run alongside me (in their own race). They will cheer me on, and I will cheer them on. And all that matters is that we beat our own times and create a life’s work that we can be proud of.

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Low Flying Planes at Maho Beach, St Maarten

One of the highlights of our Caribbean cruise was our day at Maho Beach. We’d seen the pictures and videos on the internet and we wanted to go and witness it for ourselves.

We enjoyed a few cocktails and a paddle in the sea, and then this happened…

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My 2014 in Pictures

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