Thursday, 21 September 2017

My bow-tiful Mickey ears

Believe it or not, I didn't start wearing novelty Mickey ears until my fourth trip to Florida in September 2016. Although I'd vaguely thought about buying the official Disney ears at the parks on our previous trips, I always decided to spend my money on something else at the last minute. I hold Instagram (particularly Sarah's beautiful account) entirely responsible for the change of heart!

After suffering from serious ear envy and seeing lots of amazing designs on Instagram, I bought two pairs of ears from Bel at Closet Geek Site for our September 2016 trip. Bel has a massive array of ears on offer which made it a difficult choice, but I finally decided on Tangled ears and classic Mickey and Minnie ears. I was in love as soon as they hit my doormat and I couldn't wait to wear them to Walt Disney World.

I loved wearing these Mickey ears in the parks as they're so unique and, more importantly, very comfortable! I didn't see anyone else wearing anything remotely similar to the Tangled ears during our holiday, and the Mickey and Minnie fabric turned out to be very unique too. Even Minnie herself was impressed when I met her at Animal Kingdom!

When we started planning our inevitable trip back to Florida in April/May 2017, I started browsing Etsy for more ears and decided to treat myself to a few more. As I was so impressed with the purchases I'd already made, I bought two more pairs from Closet Geek Site. The Pluto and Donald ears were a custom-made order, and the fabric for the Mrs Potts and Chip ears only came in a few days before my holiday so Bel kindly made sure that they arrived in the post just in time!  

As you can see, these themed ears are great for character interactions. For someone like me who's actually slightly apprehensive about meeting characters, they make a great talking point and take away some of that initial awkwardness. Pluto got very excited about my Pluto and Donald ears, as did his accompanying cast members! 

I also discovered a new seller before we went on our latest holiday so I bought a couple of pairs from Luby and Lola. Lola's ears are so pretty and glitzy with dozens of possible colour combinations, and it was really difficult to narrow my choices down to just a couple of pairs. These beautiful baby pink and baby blue ears were perfect for our evenings out as well as for our busy days in the parks - fit for a princess! 

In my world, it's never too early to start planning for your next Disney trip. I've already bought one new pair of Cruella de Vil ears from Closet Geek Site for our holiday to Walt Disney World in May 2018, and will most likely buy a few more in the next few months! 

Where do you buy your Mickey ears? Do you have any recommendations to share with me?

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Celebrating our third wedding anniversary

My regular readers (hello to all three of you) will already know that Neil and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago. I've already blogged separately about a few of our anniversary celebrations, but we managed to fit loads in this year so I thought I'd write a post to summarise what else we got up to.


We were determined to make the most of this anniversary as I was in the middle of my cancer diagnosis nightmare on our second wedding anniversary. I had an urgent MRI scan on the actual day of our anniversary last year so it wasn't going to be too difficult to improve on that! My parents kindly took us out for a meal in the evening as they'd accompanied me to the hospital in the afternoon, but that was definitely the only saving grace.

The weekend before our anniversary, we visited The Making of Harry Potter studio tour in Watford. I'd had a difficult couple of months and Neil had been insanely busy in work, so we both really needed this long-awaited weekend away. We had a great time and I blogged all about the studio tour here. After spending the whole afternoon at the studios, there was a conveniently placed TGI Fridays right next to our hotel so we had a lovely meal and cocktails there on the Saturday night. I think a good old Jack Daniel's burger might be on my 'favourite meal ever' shortlist!

We got back from Watford early Sunday afternoon and spent the rest of the day with Jessie as we'd missed her so much while we were away. We initially didn't have any plans for the bank holiday Monday, then Sophie and Bryan invited us over for a barbecue which fitted in perfectly with our plans for the long weekend. The sun was shining and we spent a relaxing few hours talking, laughing, eating, and drinking wine (and some fruit juice).

Bank holiday Monday came and went all too quickly, but luckily we both had a few more days off work. The day before our anniversary, we went for afternoon tea in one of my favourite places in the world - Pettigrew Tea Rooms. I can't believe it's been over three years since the first time I visited there on my hen weekend... I must have been about 25 times since then! As always, the food and service was amazing and it was the perfect way to continue our anniversary celebrations.

To make the day even better, we managed to get a family selfie after we got home from our afternoon tea! We'd been trying to get Jessie to pose for a photo with us for days and she wouldn't cooperate, so I've decided she must have wanted to give her humans a nice anniversary gift. Or perhaps she was just tired and couldn't be bothered to be stubborn on this occasion...

On the day of our anniversary itself, we exchanged cards and gifts when we woke up. As leather is the symbol for the third wedding anniversary, Neil bought me a pretty leather bracelet from Pandora. This grey bracelet has been on my wishlist for a while so he chose very well, as always.

After going out for an obligatory hot chocolate in the afternoon (well, hot chocolate for me and coffee for him), we took Jessie for her evening walk then got ready for our meal at Etc Penarth. We had a really special evening with exquisitely instagrammable food which I blogged about here. As it was a rare opportunity to get dressed up, I wore my new white dress (sale bargain from New Look!) and my perfectly matching New Look shoes and Kate Spade bag. Colour coordination makes me happy, just in case you didn't know that already.

When we got back home after our meal, we settled down with a drink and watched Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. We're slowly making our way through the films again after visiting the studios... the second one is arguably the weakest film but we couldn't possibly leave it out.

I think you'll agree that this year's anniversary beats last year's, hands down!

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Restaurant Review: Etc

We visited Etc in Penarth for the first time last week to celebrate our third wedding anniversary. We wanted to try somewhere new, unique and highly recommended, and Etc ticked all those boxes!

The restaurant was very quiet when we arrived at 6:30pm and we were seated straight away in a secluded spot next to the window.

Etc is a very small restaurant with a decadent black and gold interior, from the light fittings and the wall hangings down to the menus and candle holders. I'd read in a couple of reviews beforehand that the decor was 'too much', but I thought it was really classy and nicely done. And, crucially, it's very instagrammable! There were a few black and gold balloons dotted around so I assumed they were in preparation for someone's birthday party, but it turns out that they're all part of the restaurant's general theme. 

I'd already studied the innovative menu in great detail beforehand so I knew exactly what I was having to eat. However, it took a little longer to decide on my cocktail as the drinks menu was very extensive! I eventually settled on the Spiced Ginger Mojito, and Neil had a glass of Pinot Grigio. 

Although my starter was listed as a Small Plate on the menu rather than as an actual starter, I knew I absolutely had to order it as soon as I read the description. I chose the Chicken Satay which was mouth-wateringly described as 'peanut butter chicken infused with honey, coriander and chilli served on a bed of egg noodles'. Seriously, who wouldn't choose it with a description like that? 

As you can see, the 'small plate' was a decent portion size for a starter and it was so delicious. I usually struggle with taking meat off skewers (there was an embarrassing incident a few years ago when I accidentally flicked a piece of chicken across a crowded restaurant), but the meat on these skewers was lovely and tender. The egg noodles had a slightly nutty tang too and were just the right texture - not too chewy! 

After consuming this amazing starter, I was very excited about the prospects of the main course. I chose the vegetarian version of the Pineapple Upside Down dish which was made up of pineapple basmati rice with mixed peppers, chilli and coriander served in a pineapple shell.

Imagine my delight (and the speed in which my phone camera appeared) when this beauty arrived on our table! This portion was huge, bearing in mind that the pineapple shell was hollowed out and entirely filled with the tasty rice concoction. There were big chunks of pineapple included throughout and the delicate flavouring of the rice was divine. I'm not usually drawn towards dishes made up entirely of rice, but this one definitely didn't disappoint. 

We were both pretty full after our starters and mains but we decided to force some dessert down too as it was a special occasion (and because, let's face it, we love food). I went for one of my favourite desserts in the world - Vanilla Panna Cotta. This particular panna cotta came served with fresh strawberries and raspberries, and drizzled with a raspberry coulis.

Just like the other two courses, the presentation of the dessert was exquisite and the taste wasn't bad either. Although I've been very spoilt with my previous experiences of panna cotta as I usually order them in Italy, this one measured up very well compared to my authentic Italian desserts! 

This was one of our more expensive meals together at £75. Just to recap, this included two alcoholic drinks, two starters, two main courses and two desserts. It's obviously not somewhere we'd visit every week, but I thought it was perfect for a special occasion and well worth the money for such a lovely experience and amazing and out-of-the-ordinary culinary delights. The staff were friendly and attentive and the atmosphere was perfectly relaxed, just what we needed for our anniversary meal.

Have you ever visited Etc? What did you think? 

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Wizarding weekend in Watford

After visiting the Warner Bros. 'The Making of Harry Potter' Studio Tour last October with a group of friends, I knew I absolutely had to go back there one day. I thought my husband would enjoy the studio tour nearly as much as I did so, for partly selfish reasons, I bought him a ticket as a gift for his birthday in March.

We decided to make a proper weekend of it and booked two nights at a Premier Inn nearby. As it was our third anniversary at the end of August (yesterday, in fact), we thought we'd make it part of our extended anniversary celebrations to make it an extra special weekend.

I'm going to give you a little warning at this point. I'm going to post some spoilers about the tour, so if you're planning a visit at any point and don't want to ruin any of the surprises in store, it's best not to read any further!

It would be impossible for me to blog about every aspect of the studio tour without writing a post the length of a dissertation. And, as much fun as that would be, I unfortunately haven't got the time. So, to solve this problem, I thought I'd just summarise some of my favourite elements and include lots of photos along the way.

The Great Hall 

Walking in to The Great Hall through those famous doors made me want to cry. It really is an awe-inspiring sight. Seeing all the famous costumes such as Harry Potter's robes, Neville's cardigan and Cedric Diggory's Triwizard Tournament outfit brings back so many unforgettable memories from the films, and I'm so glad that this is where the studio tour begins.

The Potions classroom 

I could spend all day staring at this part of the set! The intricate details of the dungeon classroom are astounding, from the tiny labels on each and every potion bottle to the various intriguing instruments on the tables. And who could forget the legendary Professor Snape who takes centre stage?

The Burrow 

I think the films perfectly capture the cosy essence of the Weasley's home, and I love peering at all the different details and costumes inside the well laid out set for the Burrow. I particularly love the Weasley Clock in the corner!

The Forbidden Forest 

This is a brand new area of the tour which wasn't there last time I visited, so I was very excited about seeing this addition. It's a smaller area than I imagined but it's pretty spooky... let's just say you'll definitely come across more than one giant spider.

4 Privet Drive 

4 Privet Drive is home to the Dursleys and is one of the external areas of the studio tour. This time around, we were able to have a sneak peek inside the house itself where we stumbled across a very famous scene in the living room!

Diagon Alley 

The set of Diagon Alley is hugely impressive. It makes me feel as if I'm preparing to go off to Hogwarts myself and need to go shopping for my wand and study books! I'm a proud Ravenclaw, so of course I'm choosing to focus on study books rather than broomsticks or joke products from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. The Diagon Alley area of the tour reminds me of its new(ish) equivalent in Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and it makes me wish I could use some floo powder to transport myself there...

Wizarding Wardrobes 

We were lucky enough to visit the studio tour during a special six-week feature called Wizarding Wardrobes. This meant we had an opportunity to see lots of costumes and make-up effects which I didn't see last time around. Gilderoy Lockhart and Rita Skeeter were two particular favourites!

Hogwarts model 

THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST AMAZING THINGS I'VE EVER SEEN. And yes, the capital letters are completely necessary. The sheer scale, the haunting and mesmerising music, the insane level of detail, the general spellbinding atmosphere... I could stand and stare at it forever.

As we enjoyed the studio tour so much, we're now watching all the films again to point out all the different elements of the set. 'Ooh look, we've been there!'

Have you ever visited 'The Making of Harry Potter' studio tour? What did you think?

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Afternoon tea at Llanerch Vineyard

Did you know that going out for afternoon tea is one of my favourite pastimes? If your answer is 'no', you must be new here!

After visiting Llanerch Vineyard a couple of times for Sunday lunch (read my review here), I decided I really wanted to try their afternoon tea. As my friend Sarah's 30th birthday was rapidly approaching, I had a lightbulb moment and bought her a voucher for traditional afternoon tea at Llanerch Vineyard. Two objectives in one - an excellent birthday present and an opportunity to go for afternoon tea at a new venue!

We booked our afternoon tea for a couple of weeks ago, and our table was in the Cariad bistro which is a beautifully decorated room overlooking the vineyard. We were given a menu to choose our pots of loose leaf tea, but the rest of the afternoon tea was a standard fixed menu. This suited me fine as I'm not very decisive, particularly when it comes to food! I went for the delicious Strawberry and Kiwi tea and was very excited when it came with its own egg-timer to guarantee the perfect brewing time.

After sipping on our teas for a while and catching up on all the latest news, our magnificent three-tiered spectacle arrived...

Obviously there are sandwiches on the bottom tier, but I never tend to photograph those as they're my least favourite part (no offence, sandwiches of the world). The sandwich flavours were cream cheese and cucumber, chicken and tarragon, ham and mustard, and salmon and creme fraiche. They were all lovely, but let's move on to the most exciting parts... I was hugely impressed with the second tier in particular. Scones, Welsh cakes AND banana bread! The scones came with the usual clotted cream and strawberry jam and were among the best I've ever tasted, and the Welsh cakes and banana bread were amazing too. Definitely the best and most unique second tier I've ever had. 

Moving on to the cakes on the top tier... as you can see, there were four little cakes for each person rather than one big slice. The offerings on this particular day were raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake, strawberry macaron, lemon curd meringue tart, and peanut butter and chocolate brownie. They were all exquisite and I could have eaten them all twice over! The raspberry and white chocolate cheesecake was my absolute favourite, closely followed by the strawberry macaron.

The traditional afternoon tea at Llanerch Vineyard is £16.50 per person. I think this is very reasonable considering the quality and quantity of the food, along with the beautiful setting and the excellent service. You can also pay a little more to opt for the sparkling afternoon tea or the Cariad afternoon tea if you fancy a glass of Prosecco or Champagne with your food for a special occasion.

After this excellent afternoon tea experience, I can't wait to go back to Llanerch Vineyard again. Have you ever visited the vineyard for afternoon tea? What did you think?

Thursday, 17 August 2017

My five favourite pampering rituals

I'm not very good at making time to look after myself, and I'm trying really hard to change that.

I often run around saying 'I'm so busy, I haven't got time to do anything!' which means I tend to neglect the simplest of my favourite pampering rituals during a particularly difficult time. However, when I'm scrolling through Instagram on a Tuesday evening and realise that I'm absent-mindedly looking at photos of my friend's auntie's neighbour's daughter's hamster, I often regret not using my time more wisely.

As a result, I'm making a conscious effort to make more time to pamper myself. Self-care definitely enhances my mood, and I need these simple rituals to work their magic even more right now. Best of all, some of them only take five minutes and most of them require minimal effort.

Read on to find out what I'm trying to do more of...

1. Painting my nails 

It's amazing how much better I feel with freshly painted nails. I usually paint my nails around once every week but I'm going to aim to do it at least twice per week from now on. I feel so irritated when my nail varnish is all chipped and I've got a massive collection of nail polishes, so I've got no excuses here! 

2. Having a bath

I very often tell myself that I haven't got time for a bath so I'll have a shower instead, but I'm slowly learning that taking the time to have a bath is so worth it. I throw in a couple of Lush products and take my Kindle with me, and I genuinely try to relax! I might not always succeed, but at least it's healthier than sitting around stewing on my negative thoughts (or stalking strangers on Instagram). 

3. Moisturising and cleansing 

I own loads of lovely moisturising products but I'm very guilty of thinking 'I haven't got time for that tonight' and skipping the moisturising step altogether. However, I feel so much better when I spare five minutes to moisturise after my bath or shower so it's really worth pushing away that pesky 'I haven't got time' thought. I also make sure I cleanse my face every night before going to bed, which I blogged about here

4. Making an effort with my hair and make up

When I wake up feeling particularly down in the dumps, I'll make minimal effort with my hair and make up which then makes me feel even worse. I've learnt that it makes a positive difference to my mood in the long run, even if it's just by a tiny margin, if I take the time to straighten my hair properly and put on a bit more make up. By 'a bit more make up', I mostly mean mascara, blusher and eyebrow pencil... any more than that is approaching night out territory for me!

5. Going to the gym 

This might seem like a strange one if you're not a fan of exercising, but going to the gym honestly works wonders for me. I sometimes get into a vicious cycle of feeling rubbish about my appearance then skipping the gym (and comfort eating) because I feel so rubbish, which then makes me hate my appearance even more. On those days when I'm feeling awful but drag myself to the gym, the payback is so worth it.

I might start playing 'pamper bingo' to see how many of these activities I can fit into one day. 

What are your favourite pampering rituals? Let me know if you have any recommendations for me! 

Thursday, 10 August 2017

When it hasn't been your day, your week, your month or even your year... I'll be there for you!

I had a really lovely weekend catching up with friends and family, which is why I felt this was an appropriate title for this post! Even though I currently feel as if the world has brought me down to my knees (yes, I've chosen to continue with the Friends theme tune references), a good chat makes such a difference.

My weekend started with a visit to Sophie's house for Pimm's, Haribo, crisps, French Fancies and a very long chat. Neil and I often meet with Sophie and her husband as a foursome, but Sophie had the excellent idea of having a girls' night in on this occasion. It was a lovely end to a difficult week, and it's important to note that Sophie makes the best Pimm's cocktail I've ever tasted. Also, why on earth hadn't I tried Strawberries and Cream French Fancies before last weekend?

The next morning, I said goodbye to Neil and Jessie and drove to Portishead to visit Amy, one of my best friends from my university days. This was my first visit to her new flat and I fell in love with it straight away. It's so beautifully organised and colour coordinated, and I particularly loved the colours in the spare bedroom where I had the pleasure of staying!

We drove to Portishead Marina after I arrived and had some lunch, then went for a wander around Clevedon's independent shops before going back to the flat where I was introduced to Stella for the first time (the TV programme, not an actual person called Stella). We then went out to Venga for dinner where we had the most amazing tapas. I chose an amazing sticky chicken dish along with what can only be described as a sausage and chorizo feast, and we shared a dish of patatas bravas. We also shared a hefty portion of Eton Mess for dessert! We spent the whole dinner reminiscing about our university days and sharing some hilarious recollections... that's definitely the most I've laughed for quite some time.

Our meal was on Portishead High Street which was full of beautiful hanging baskets in honour of the 'Portishead in Bloom' campaign. I wish my local high street was that instagrammable! On the Sunday morning, we visited the high street again for brunch in Impero Lounge where I ordered a very tasty breakfast muffin. 

After saying goodbye to Amy at midday, I drove back to Penarth ready for Jessie's first ever puppy training class on Sunday afternoon. I went to the class with her on my own as Neil had been unexpectedly called into work, and I was really proud of the way I handled it. If you'd have told me two years ago that I'd have to take my brand new puppy to a training class with 15 other boisterous puppies, and that I'd have to go on my own, I'd have been petrified! She's already learnt to 'sit', and we're working on 'stay' and 'heel'...

When I got back to the house with a very tired Jessie, my brother and his girlfriend (another Sophie) had arrived ready for a visit. We had a long chat as we hadn't seen either of them for quite some time, then we took Jessie for a walk together before we settled down for fish and chips from the local chippy. Jessie was very excited about having more adoring visitors, and I enjoyed their company too!

I was completely exhausted when I went to bed on Sunday night, but felt really grateful that I'd had so many great catch ups with lovely people.

So even though it definitely hasn't been my day, my week, my month or even my year, I'm really glad I've got plenty of people in my life who are always there for me, even when the rain starts to pour!