Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Happy New Year!


Here is a wall I made for Facebook with the highlights of our Xmas holidays. As you see we dressed up, I finally made a 'real' Pandan chiffon cake (using the extract I bought from a local Chinese shop instead of just vanilla and green dye) and we had sushi as a starter for our Xmas meal (followed by roast lamb and fruit cake).

We visited the in-laws up north for New Year's Eve and I ate too much so I put on weight but lost some already as we are back eating normal meals and I am sure that packing up decorations and hoovering the rooms properly (ie moving furniture rather than skirting) burned some calories too. My motivations to eat less are simple, my stomach has not been too happy and I need to get back into my work trousers!

We are also back on having family dinners at weekends as my daughter comes back from the after-school club famished and can't wait till my partner is back. I admit I don't cook stuff from fresh all the time for her, but I am quite discerning using frozen food, luckily they now sell good-quality fish fingers and chicken bits that have no additives and my daughter likes the baby veg mixtures. She also loves pasta and pesto and we always reserve a portion if a suitable meal is cooked for our dinner (barring a too spicy curry). Usually if she has a freshly cooked meal it is a milder curry or a Chinese-style stir-fry.

A few years back I used to write recipes for madeformums (and photograph results too) and I remember having to make homemade fish fingers. I also shared my own childhood recipes, like the Italian-style rice pudding I linked to. I grew up in Italy and my grandparents had a restaurant, which makes it difficult for me to eat at any Italian restaurant in this country as I start comparing or correcting the wrong spellings in the menu.

Aside the Pandan cake (click here for YouTube video recipe), I also made Paul Hollywood's Lardy Cake and this banana cake to use some overripe bananas, my first ever microwave pudding. I haven't done as much baking (and that includes the fruit cake too!) in months.





Thursday, 11 December 2014

Testing tech with 7-year-old daughter & fun pressies

It's getting close to Xmas and frustration starts to build up when you go down your list and there are people you don't know what to give. They have everything and you can't buy novelty socks, beers from around the world or toiletries again! So among the PR offerings, here are some items I have chosen, and two products my daughter Michela put to the test.


Michela is apptastic + no annoying game sounds for me!
Zip Earphones, £9.99 from The Hut
A festive selfie with the Xmas tree!
Click Stick, £19.99 from The Hut



More gift ideas...




I didn't test this novelty glass, but isn't it clever? Half A Pint, £10 from Topman.













Now, isn't this great for chilling out? The Hoodie Pillow, £25.95 from Genie Gadgets


Saturday, 29 November 2014

10 things only women hitting 40+ will understand


Bring back old tech!


1. You rejoice when a cartoon you grow up with is revamped, but then don’t like the new animations, the new storylines... So you get a video off Freecycle/dust off old tech to show your child your videos and those you find in the only charity shop that still sells them.


Ban those pants!


2. You were secretly looking forward to early menopause to get rid of the monthly curse but then read an article that frightens you. You also worry that because you didn’t do those pelvic exercises after the birth, at least not regularly, you will be soon swapping sanitary protection with incontinence pants.


Tiger, not cougar


3. You can’t just stomach any violence, real or imaginary (aka films, TV, video games), but you are ready to pounce like a bloodthirsty tiger if somebody tries to harm/hurt your child in any way.


Thake That are still cool


4. You tap your foot and shake your hair to the music in Starbucks and feel quite hip. Until you realise the song was a hit many moons ago. Never mind, Take That are cool again!


Dancing queen having day off!


5. You give a Paddington's stare to the hip girl/boy who doesn’t hand you a nightclub flyer. Your life is not over and you still like a boogie thank-you-very-much! You organised all the school's discos for crying out loud.

Anybody for a poker face?


6. You  always feared injections but are considering dermal implants. You can’t believe that’s your face staring at you. You try a different hairstyle and then book a full facial.


Chocolate is not the enemy


7. You choose a low-fat snack but then get ambushed by a chocolate bar twinkling at you at the counter. Life is too short to count calories, dammit!


It's only a bag!



8. You feel compelled to purchase an expensive designer handbag just because you couldn’t afford it when younger and then feel guilty/worried when you read your child’s letter to Santa.


Secret office fantasies


9. You fancy a younger colleague but you’d die of embarrassment if he’d ever found out. You are married/cohabiting/have kids. But nobody can stop you from imagining all sort of things happening in your working hours. And you can give him a hug and friendly kiss at the Xmas party without nobody suspecting anything. You could probably get away giving that bottom a squeeze but you don't want to risk a summon from HR.


Where are those tweezers?


10. You suddenly notice that those two witch's hair growing just under your chin are darker and glossier. And your eyebrows are unruly and that moustache is thicker... You are not as brave as Frida so buy professional-grade tweezing tools.


Pictures from CC search. Credits: Eva Rinaldi from Sydney Australia via Wikimedia Commons, jeff_golden, David Gandy for GQ Japan by Arnaldo Anaya-Lucca, Sérgio (Savaman) Savarese, Saed de los Santos, Andrew Hurley, Dan Vidal, Wikimedia and Wikipedia

Friday, 28 November 2014

Xmas has arrived in November

Early Xmas present from me. I am keen cyclist too
This year I was feeling more upbeat so I decided to treat my daughter to a festive build-up to Xmas. I got everything out of the garage in mid November and we did our trees, one for me and one for Michela.

We also went through toys and decorations and donated big bags of stuff to the charity shop. We needed to make space for the big Xmas tree! As a special treat, the advent Santa was filled with jellies and chocolates to be started mid month and to finish on 25 November. It will now restart from 1st December.

Then we went out for the Christmas Switch-On celebrations, which were in mid November here in Cambridge. So here are our decorations so far... we still have some tinsel decorations and the lights to hang, plus a wreath to make using our garden's greenery.


Mantelpiece - Christmas decorations



Detail of fireplace mantel decoration


My Christmas tree in the dining room

Advent calendar - refillable (sorry it's blurry)


Decorations above my old telly




Michela's room

Cute bear with Polly
 Pocket Xmas scene


Window sill Christmas decorations


Michela's tree

Saturday, 15 November 2014

My daughter's first three words


Just had a little chat with my daughter, now 7, about her first words. Hers were in chronological order:

Dada (dadada, because it's easier syllable for babies apparently and I encouraged her to use it instead of daddy)

Booboo (as in breast, she was breastfed)

Mama (mamama, which I have encouraged her to use instead of mummy)

What are your child's first words?


Monday, 27 October 2014

Born in the wrong century - so to speak & a gorgeous vicar!

J. Howard Miller's poster from 1943 - Wikipedia
Since summer transitioned to autumn I have been waking up earlier, which doesn't make sense as at 4 or 5am it's pretty dark. I have this issue in summertime, when at 4am it is incredibly light and the birds are chirping away in the back garden.

Why now? Perhaps it is because I am juggling too many balls. I am not SAD - I was down in the dumps last year as autumn/winter are not my favourite seasons. I feel contented with my daily life. When stressed or depressed I also wake up early, my brain kicks into action and I cannot go back to sleep as I think about potential problems to be addressed, chores, etc. Not exactly fluffy, happy thoughts. 

But not this year! This autumn I am fighting negative thinking with positive thinking, if there is a cloud I quickly grab a silver lining. For instance, Yes, it would have been better to schedule those two appointments in town closer together but... POSITIVE THOUGHT... the big gap was not a waste of time as I managed to visit the library and borrow that book I was meaning to read in the weekend. So I saved a library trip, freeing more time for other activities.

There is so much I am trying to do: work part-time in an office, work at home as consultant, spend time with my daughter, do creative writing workshops (I went to a drama one yesterday), see friends, go to public lectures (the Festival of Ideas is on now), grab some time for training (I am doing a MOOC and have other courses lined up), update my blogs (five of my own and one for community project), read that book I borrowed, look after house and garden and last (always comes last since I became a mother) look after myself. And it might not be all as I have a list on my desk with a few little chores that need doing this week. This week... the half-term week. It is going to be a squeeze! My partner is taking three days off, which leaves two days to do it all and with my daughter in tow.




But no negative thoughts, please, "We can do it!" So to put a positive spin to my hectic life, let's say I am trying to be a Renaissance person. This is not a popular character to be in this specialised age, but lo and behold, there is an article online that explains how to be one!


Challenge 1: "Building your physical prowess". Right, I have this covered. I was lucky enough to win a month's membership to local sports centre. I did various classes and swam. Problem is that I can't sustain it at that pace. Yes, I want to continue but not right now I have to negotiate childcare with my partner to attend evening classes or find a daytime one I can do, which is tricky with my ever-changing schedule. But let's be positive and wait after the half term.

Challenge 2: "Developing your creativity""Understanding art". Yesterday I went to a drama workshop and had to perform at the end, in front of an audience. I also go to a writers' group now and then. I like to go to museums and art galleries, stress-free outings I can share with my daughter, no problem here.

Challenge 3: "Honing your intellectual skills". Easy peasy, I do this all the time because I get a kick out of learning. My various projects  involve learning about new processes and subjects. And I am going to teach next year! Also I read a lot. But let's keep this in check, there is nothing more irritating than a know-it-all.

Challenge 4: "Balancing your life" Ouch. My happy balloon burst there. My life-work balance needs some serious TLC. Still, it's not an epic fail, yes we can do it!

Challenge 5: "Developing your character and temperament". This includes "Be brave" and "Be thoughtful and generous". I think these two are OK. I can manage to make myself do things I don't want to do and find charity work satisfying. There is also "Be courteous", I do believe manners cost nothing and try hard not to be upset by morons. When I was living in London I kept getting this comment: Cheer up, it might never happen, but not now. Either people in Cambridge are more polite or I stopped looking grim. And last but not least, "Be a leader". How? "A real Renaissance person is a person who helps others and cares for their neighbors". Bingo, I joined a local exchange skills scheme recently and I hope it works out as it will make every-day life more interesting and fulfilling. 

I leave you with this last bit of advice/tip: " If anyone ever insults you about it or is ever hostile to you about being a Renaissance person, do not take it personally. They are jealous."

And here is a bonus gift, a screenshot of my current fave period drama actor. Who knew vicars can be this gorgeous? 

Screenshot from Grantchester, ITV drama

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Winter wellness for the whole family

Photo: Stephanie Lepoint

Today I am not feeling my best, I am coughing, feeling light headed and my stomach is not happy - paracetamol works well but always has that annoying side effect. It's a cold, grey day and luckily I can work from home. It could be worse, I could have that nasty flu that drains your brain while your body aches all over.  

I am a strong believer that prevention is better than cure, so as soon as the autumn started I did a stocktake of my medicine cabinet and bought a few items to see me through the winter. Here is my honest review of them all, including products that were sent to me by health and wellbeing PRs. New products are launched every season and I am always keen to try new things. Plus it is very convenient to be able to try before you buy.


What I bought


Nature's Answers Bio-Flavonoids & Rose Hip, around £12
I bought this a long while ago so it only has a few spoonfuls left. I originally collected rose hips and wanted to make my own syrup but the process put me off. I don't think I will buy this again as it tastes awful. I try to swallow it quickly but it lingers in the mouth. I am not sure if it does me any good and it is not cheap for 120ml. Maybe I should give the syrup a go so I can make it as sweet as I like. This is suitable not for children, the homemade syrup would be OK.


Ortis Vitality Ginseng, around £17
I bought this when I was feeling drained and needed a pick-me-me-up. This works very well and is reasonably priced for 250ml. The taste is fine, I would recommend this if you are feeling down and have not much appetite. This is not suitable for young children.









D Lux Vitamin D 3000, around £8
This was recommended to me by a SAD friend, who called it liquid sunshine. Pleasantly minty, it is a wonder for dark moods on grey days, whatever the season. Don't be greedy, though, stick to the dosage. It can last quite a while. It is not suitable for young children.




Fisherman's Friend, around 70p per packet
This is not a medicine or health product, it is an amazingly long-lasting lozenge. It kills my cough and even helps with throat pain. I bought a retail-size box of these from ebay. I don't care if the brand is not cool, I can't live without them. I have a sensitive throat that needs soothing whatever the season.



Forever Aloe Vera Bits & Peaches, around £22
This is the children version as I didn't fancy the taste of the adult one. I do enjoy aloe vera soft drinks but even this peach version is not to my liking. I took the adult dosage and had some unfortunate tummy effects then read about it online and found out it is used as laxative and as a slimming aid. I cut down the amount I take to child's dosage and it works fine. I won't be buying it again as I can't stomach the taste of it, even mixed to orange juice.



What I was sent by PRs

Dettol Anti-bacterial Cleansing Surface Wipes, £2 for 36
Wipes? You might ask. I am a fan of baby wipes for cleaning almost anything, such a pity I discovered their power only after having a child. These Dettol wipes, though, have a stronger germ-killing power. So whether you have a young baby of weaning age or a school-child with mucky lunchbox, they come in handy. The only thing I'd say to manufacturer, make them a bit smaller and a bit cheaper! That said, I managed to use them to clean the burned grease and food spills off my cooker - Mr Muscle, eat your heart out!



Proven Fit for School Probiotics with A-Z Multivitamins, around £13 for 30 chewable tablets
There is a tempting claim on the box: shown to reduce absenteeism from school by 30%, which could be very popular with working parents! The tablets taste nice and my daughter likes them. Suitable from 4 years of age, they are not cheap compared to standard multivitamins, but if they work! So far so good.



Proven Probiotics Adult Probiotic Plus Total Immune & Energy Support, around £11
This box contains 14 sachets of "delicious effervescent drink containing real orange". To me it tastes like an adult multi-vitamin drink, a tiny bit bitter, so not as nice as the children's tablets! I have a sweet tooth, sorry... Apparently you can take it directly into your mouth like a sherbet, which was nice and tingly! Not bad value for money since it is also an energy drink for those drained days.



Quest Vitamins' Forte 4000 Vitamin D, around £12 for 60 chewable tablets
With sun doing a disappearing act during the winter, your body could do with a vitamin D boost as only 10% comes from food we eat. This is particularly important for adults over 65, pregnant women and children. Vitamin D also helps fight SAD (seasonal affective disorder). As I mentioned above, Vitamin D is liquid sunshine and it does work!



I also got a few other items to try out from a very generous PR person, a real healthy treat! This 'health hamper' included Carnation socks in my child's size in a lovely pink shade; BrightStart Vitamin D3 Drops + DHA for children and SwimSeal drops, which deal with ear pain in little swimmers. 

My family is well set for winter indeed!

Friday, 3 October 2014

Friday fun: what type of biscuit are you?

Last week I went to Camjelly and after toiling on a boring job for an hour or so, I quit and started working on this fun personality quiz.

Whatever your occupation, please have a go - it will only take you two minutes.

Hope you enjoy it - this is great with a cup of tea or coffee!




Monday, 22 September 2014

Are you a blog addict?

When I started blogging in 2005, I wanted some online writing experience and being able to write about topics I was interested in. I was working as a journalist but had to edit/write what others wanted me to edit/write...

So my first blog, called London Cheapskate was born. It is now called Cambridge Ecothrifter and it is still live. This blog is about creative recycling - indoors and outdoors and includes crafts, cooking, gardening....

Then came this blog, when my daughter was tiny and I was writing parenting/nutrition articles. This blog became my outlet to write about what I really cared about, rather than what I was commissioned to write. By then I was already transitioning from journalism to copywriting and digital marketing.

The following year (2010), I started Beautiful Creative Things, a visual blog about things I made and found.

In 2011 I started the 1930s House, which is about renovating a 1930s property and restoring its beautiful but terribly overgrown garden. The house was previously owned by a botanist, so the garden is really special.

In 2012 How to SEO sprang up from my fingers! Aside copywriting I was doing digital strategy and I wanted to have my say on optimisation/optimization and how to write for the web - think content marketing.

As I got more childcare, I started to work away from home and this meant my blogs got neglected. I felt really guilty but didn't want to pull the plug on any of them. Which is great as I have found some enthusiasm and space in my hectic life and would really like to look after them a bit more. They are part of me, representing different interests and I have missed them! I won't blog every week but will try not to have huge gaps. Ironically it has not made any difference to this blog as I have over 3000 readers a month. It was 1000 at one point and when I next checked I was shocked to see the number up to over 2000 as I had not updated it for months. I see today I had over 3000 views last month. Thank you for holding on, I promise to look after this blog now!

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Toyota travelogue - August 2014

First of all, let me tell you that I don't receive any money from Toyota, not any other travel-related business (I wish!). Our family car is 11 years old in October and the reason I mention the brand is because it has never broken down. The boot is a bit small but it has coped with a baby, a toddler and now a school-aged child.

Here are the stops we made this year (for past years' itineraries, please click here. To recap for new readers: nearly every year we drive from England to Italy through France. We started when Michela was one year old and we have learned a lot about travelling with a young child and have a stress-free experience. If you are interested in my tips/experiences, click here for a list of travel blog posts, scroll to the bottom of the post for the full list - plenty of tips on how to keep a young child entertained - we get very little "Are we there yet?" hassle due to a number of strategies. And no, we don't use chocolate as a bribe.

This year we departed from Cambridge and crossed the channel with Eurotunnel. If you book early and an unpopular slot, you get a good price. We have never tried the ferry with our car and we are not likely to do that as it takes too long. We love Eurotunnel [no sponsorship here, just genuine customer satisfaction].

First stop: St Quentin

The town hall with dismantled pop-up beach - we were too late!

Frog legs

Second stop: Bourbonne-les-Bains

Walking up to the castle

Beautiful pool, freezing-cold water. France had a freak summer this year!
 Motorway pause: Aire de Jugy

We stop every year - free playground up to the age of 12
 Third stop: Vienne
Couldn't resist - a local dog breaks the poop law

Town hall
 Lunchtime stop: view from Mont Cenis


Italy! We spent 8 days in my native village in Piedmont. More pictures in post about our previous journey. Click here.
My maternal grandad (RIP) built this house

Michela enjoys the annual funfair
First stop on way back: Macon

Lamartine Museum


The view at night - lovely riverbank

Second stop on way back: Epernay

The town hall


Champagne! I recommend taking a tour of Mercier's caves.
This vineyard is next to the their Champagne House, in
 the middle of town!

Third stop on way back: Calais


Lovely beach with ferries in the background