Monday, 10 June 2019

My birthday celebrations: the 2019 edition

As you'll have guessed from the title of this post, it was my birthday last week. My birthday was on a Tuesday which is arguably the worst day of the working week, so I booked the Monday and Tuesday off work so that I could celebrate for four days.


Saturday 

We made the most of Saturday's beautiful weather and took Jessie for a long walk to Penarth. Our local Coffee #1 branch has got a dog friendly area, so we stopped there for half an hour to have cheesecake and a hot chocolate (and water for Jessie, of course).





On Saturday evening, we went to Miller & Carter in Cardiff Bay for birthday meal number one. I hadn't had the opportunity to dress up for a while, and I took great pleasure in wearing a pretty new dress and highly uncomfortable shoes. 





Although my meal was nice, the service was terrible. They got every part of Neil's order wrong, even his very simple soft drink. It's sadly put us off going back to that particular restaurant for a while, but it'll make a good anecdote at least! 








Sunday 

On the Sunday, we had a lazy morning before doing some shopping and taking Jessie for a walk. I'd arranged to go to stay with my parents for a couple of days, so I packed a few things and headed west at around 4pm. I stopped off at Sarah's house first and was greeted with a little strawberry and white chocolate cake and candles. She'd also prepared fresh strawberries and a Highlights hot chocolate... she knows me so well.





After eating and talking with Sarah for an hour or so, I drove to my parents' house and caught up with them for a few hours before going to bed. I haven't seen them for a few months so it was lovely to catch up properly and to exchange some funny stories. 



Monday 

On the Monday, I'd arranged a spa day in Machynys Pensinsula Golf Club and Premier Spa with Nicola. We got there early and went to the gym for half an hour, then we had our back, neck and shoulder massages before lunch. We went to the hydro spa after lunch and had the whole place to ourselves. We spent loads of time relaxing in the jacuzzi and also made use of the sauna, aromatherapy room, steam room and heated stone chairs. It was such a relaxing day and it definitely encouraged me to make time for spa days more often.











After I got home from the spa day, I went to the Harvester with my parents for birthday meal number two. The three of us ordered the classic burger and it was SO GOOD. You absolutely can't go wrong with the Harvester in our opinion, and the service was impeccable as always. I had a voucher for a free sundae, so we shared two of their giant monstrosities between the three of us. I'm glad we didn't have one each as I couldn't even manage half of mine!








Tuesday 

On Tuesday, it was finally my birthday. I woke up and opened my cards and presents from my parents, then we went to Costa for a celebratory hot chocolate. The weather was absolutely hideous, but I didn't have any outdoor plans so I didn't particularly mind. 





After having some cake with my parents for lunch, I drove back to Penarth in torrential rain to spend the rest of my birthday with Neil and Jessie. I opened my presents from Neil and all my cards from family and friends, then we took Jessie for a walk as the weather had vastly improved. We then went to Tony's in Penarth town centre for birthday meal number three. It's one of our favourite restaurants, and the food and service was amazing as per usual. 






The presents! 

I know most of you probably clicked on this purely to see my birthday haul, so I had to include a little section on my gifts. I had lots of lovely presents, most of which are photographed below. 

The Minnie Mouse cupcakes were from Nicola and were a very tasty surprise. I had lots of bath and shower products and plenty of Disney themed gifts, along with an amazing phone case from clever Jessie which featured her own face. In addition to the gifts below, I also had a New Look gift card from my parents in law, a Lush gift box from my sister in law and an afternoon tea voucher from Sarah. As always, I'm really grateful to everyone for my gifts and I've already made use of quite a few of them!















After four days of celebrating with lots of my favourite people, it was very hard to get up to go to work on Wednesday. However, I felt as if I'd had a nice long break and it was the best birthday I've had since my 30th birthday three years ago. 

Now that my birthday is over for another year, I'm counting down to Christmas... 198 days to go! 

Monday, 27 May 2019

Restaurant review: Hang Fire Southern Kitchen

We visited Hang Fire Southern Kitchen for the first time on Friday evening. I'd booked it back in March as a birthday present for Neil, so we'd had more than enough time to get excited about it.




I was absolutely STARVING by the time we got to Barry. I had a tiny lunch to make sure I left enough room for copious amounts of meat in the evening, and my appetite was definitely at its peak. 

When we arrived at 6pm, we were shown to our table by the restaurant owner herself. She told us a bit about the history of the restaurant and explained that her partner was downstairs cooking all the food. The interior was completely different to what I expected, in a good way. It felt airy, authentic and relaxing. It was fairly quiet in the restaurant at that point but it soon filled up as the evening went on. 

I'd already looked at the menu about fifty times in the week leading up to our reservation, but I was still debating between a few different things. I eventually decided to go for the 'choose two BBQ meats' option and chose the spare ribs and the Texas sausage. I don't order ribs very often as I don't like eating meat off the bone, but loads of people had raved about the ribs at Hang Fire so I thought I'd regret it if I didn't try them. I also ordered a side of pastrami hash because I wanted to try as many things as possible (and I was starving). 




Yum yum yum! My eyes nearly popped out of their sockets when all this was put down in front of me. The seasoning on the ribs was absolutely delicious and the meat fell effortlessly off the bone. The sausage had the most beautiful smoky flavour, and I loved the accompanying homemade barbecue and mustard sauces. The pastrami hash with the crispy onion bits piled on top was also amazing and I could have eaten it all night. I didn't take many photos because I was so hungry and eager to devour everything straight away, but photos could never do the food justice in any case!  

Neil ordered the brisket and burnt ends with the mac'n'cheese on the side, and he was also really impressed. I left a quarter of a rib and some of my pastrami hash behind because I was so full at the end, and I felt genuinely gutted that I couldn't quite manage it all. I was also disappointed that I didn't have room to sample one of their desserts! 

Our main meals, sides and pints of diet Coke came to £55 in total. I thought this was very reasonable considering the great quality and the massive portion sizes. Everyone who served us was friendly and efficient, and they all clearly loved working in such a unique restaurant. 




Have you ever been to Hang Fire Southern Kitchen? We'll definitely be back! 

Monday, 20 May 2019

Our Walt Disney World traditions

There's still a little while to go until our holiday to Walt Disney World in September, and it's sadly been exactly a year since our 2018 trip.

I like to keep the magic alive between trips so I thought I'd blog about our Walt Disney World traditions. I tried to include lots of traditions that aren't centered around food to provide some variety, but it was obviously impossible to compile a whole list without some edible essentials sneaking in.



Staying in a Disney resort

We've been to Walt Disney World six times and we've always stayed in a Disney resort. So far I've stayed in Coronado Springs, Old Key West, Port Orleans French Quarter and Saratoga Springs (three times). I'm super excited that we're adding the Yacht Club Resort to this list in September!






Going to Disney Springs on our first evening

As soon as we've arrived at our resort and freshened up, we always head to Disney Springs for a wander around the shops, dinner at Earl of Sandwich and a cocktail at Dockside Margaritas. Park tickets are valid for 14 days from first use which means we need to choose whether we want to use them on our first evening or on our last morning before leaving for the airport. We prefer to use them on our last morning, so Disney Springs is the perfect relaxing alternative for our first evening.






Making use of our refillable mugs

We've had a free refillable mug on our last few trips to Walt Disney World as we've been on the Disney Dining Plan, but we still buy them when we're not on the plan. They're really good value for money as you can top them up with soft drinks or hot drinks at your resort as many times as you want. And, as an added bonus, they're beautifully designed like everything else in the Disney bubble.






Mickey waffles for my first (and last) breakfast

We always have a sit-down breakfast in the resort's food court on our first and last morning, and I absolutely have to order the Mickey waffles. Once I've got my three Mickey waffles in front of me, I feel as if my Disney holiday has truly begun!






Space Mountain is always our first ride of the holiday 

We always head to Magic Kingdom on our first day and, without fail, Space Mountain is the first ride we queue for. There are lots of rides I love at the Magic Kingdom, but Space Mountain is my absolute favourite because it's in the dark and IT'S SO MUCH FUN.






Lunch in the Magic Kingdom on our first day

We always book a table service lunch at the Magic Kingdom on our first full day, and we usually choose the Plaza. We did go to Tony's Town Square Restaurant instead a few years ago which was pretty good, but I think the Plaza will always be my favourite restaurant in the Magic Kingdom.






Ice cream at Beaches & Cream, Plaza Ice Cream Parlor and Ghirardelli 

You can buy ice cream in about a hundred different places in Walt Disney World. However, we always gravitate towards three places when we need an ice cream fix - Beaches & Cream at the Beach Club Resort, Plaza Ice Cream Parlor at the Magic Kingdom, and Ghirardelli in Disney Springs.



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Meeting Pluto

Character meets aren't a huge priority for me when we go to Walt Disney World, but I always make sure I meet Pluto. We usually meet him on our second full day when we're in Epcot, and I love seeing his happy little face.






Fitting in as many boat rides as we can 

We always make sure we have a few boat rides during our trip. We try to get the boat from the Magic Kingdom to the Grand Floridian a few times, and we also catch the Friendship boat to Hollywood Studios from Epcot (and/or the other way around). They help us to rest our feet, they provide nicer views than the buses, and they obviously get us to where we want to go.






Beauty and the Beast and Festival of the Lion King shows

As you'd imagine, there are lots of different shows to see when you go to Walt Disney World. We tend to alternate between most of them on our different trips, but I absolutely have to see the Beauty and the Beast show in Hollywood Studios and the Festival of the Lion King show in Animal Kingdom every time we go.






What are your Walt Disney World traditions?

Monday, 13 May 2019

Writer's block

I've really struggled to come up with new content for my blog over the last few weeks. So, ironically, I'm going to write about having nothing to write about.

I don't think anyone (apart from my mother) notices or cares if my blog is a bit quiet for a few weeks, but I do. I've set myself a schedule of publishing a new post every Monday at 5pm, and it irritates me if I have to deviate from that. As I mentioned in a previous post, I plan every aspect of my life with military precision and I'm also a perfectionist, so I hate it when my plans don't come together.

So, in the interest of having some new content to publish at the allocated time, why have I got writer's block at the moment?



No photos

I've got lots of ideas for new posts on my blogging Trello board, but so many of them need new photos to supplement them. New photos require time and good lighting, and I haven't had an abundance of either over the last few weeks. I haven't got a professional camera or fancy lights, and all my photos are taken on my phone. One way around this is to use stock photos, so I've made use of Unsplash a few times when I don't need highly specific photos. It's not something I want to do too regularly so a lack of decent photos can be a big barrier.


Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash



No time

I'm always really busy during the week. By the time I've been to work, been to the gym, walked Jessie and eaten dinner, there's not much of the evening left. This makes it difficult to find time to blog, particularly if I want to write a more reflective piece of content that needs a lot of thought. Consequently I try to use my weekends to blog, but that also becomes impossible if I've got lots of plans or want a screen-free weekend.



No room in my head for new ideas

I've had a lot going on lately which means I've struggled to think of new ideas for my blog. My brain is chock-full of a jumble of various stresses and this isn't ideal for the creative process. I always make sure I use whatever brainpower I've got left to do my job well, so there hasn't been much left by the time I get home.


Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash



No energy

Following on from the last point, I've been feeling completely exhausted and wiped out for weeks. The last thing I've wanted to do is get my laptop out and write after getting home in the evening. I've barely been able to keep my eyes open long enough to watch Neighbours, let alone anything else.



No recent holidays!

Holidays usually provide me with lots of blogging content, but I haven't been away since our trip to Venice in March. We also haven't eaten out anywhere new recently which means I haven't had any opportunities to write new restaurant reviews. We've got some exciting plans for the next couple of months, including a trip back to the Gower with Jessie, so hopefully those plans will provide me with some new content.





Have you got any tips about how to overcome writer's block? Or do you just go with it and start writing again when you feel up to it? Let me know!

Monday, 29 April 2019

A letter to Josie Cox

I read a Guardian article written by Josie Cox last Sunday. The piece focused on why 'commitment-phobic millennials' are choosing to have dogs instead of having babies.

It made me cry, it made me really angry, and it really really hurt. I won't be the only person it had that effect on, and I need to write about why it was so upsetting.

That journalist will probably never read this, but I hope it'll make me feel better if I get it written down and out of my head.



Dear Josie,

I want you to know how damaging your recent article was. I'm yet to figure out if you published it purely to generate clicks or if you genuinely believe what you wrote, but either way it was hugely distressing.

I felt a range of strong emotions when I read your article, but I've decided to focus on five of the most upsetting and frustrating elements for the purposes of this letter.



1. It's not always a choice  

You state that 'whether or not to reproduce is probably the most personal decision you will ever make.' Unfortunately, not everyone will have the privilege to make that decision of their own accord. When you're growing up, you never think that choice will be taken away from you. You assume you'll get to a certain age and decide whether you want children or not, then you'll take the necessary actions or precautions depending on the decision you make.

However, this isn't the case for everyone. I can personally tell you that it feels like a sledgehammer when you realise you no longer have control over that 'personal decision'.

You insensitively published this article just before National Infertility Awareness Week. My own circumstances are quite rare, but 1 in 8 couples are faced with infertility. That's a lot of people who have no choice in the matter. Some people, like me, have definite reasons for their infertility which they have to come to terms with. Other people will never know why it didn't happen for them and will have to keep wondering for the rest of their lives, and others desperately wanted children but never ended up in the right circumstances.

Not everyone has the choice.



2. What gives you the right to act as if you're better than everyone else because you chose to have a baby?

This article is dripping with condescension and self righteousness, and the tone was just as upsetting as the words themselves. Choosing not to have children, losing a child, or not being able to have them in the first place doesn't make someone a bad person. Plenty of people will decide they don't want children for hundreds of different reasons, and that's absolutely fine. So what if people are 'travel-obsessed' or 'career-prioritising'? You don't have the right to criticise other people's priorities. Believe it or not, women (and humans in general) don't exist purely to reproduce.

You talk about 'the lady I'd identified as childless' as if she's mind-numbingly stupid. You describe her as 'doe-eyed' and scoff that she can't possibly take part in your conversations about looking after your newborns because she's only got a 'fur baby'. It probably took that woman a lot of courage to turn up to your gathering because of this very attitude. Why shouldn't she talk about her new puppy? Just because she hasn't got 'the burden of raising a tiny human', that doesn't make her a bad person and it doesn't invalidate her experience.

You describe people who haven't got children as 'commitment-phobic' and 'scared of lifelong responsibility'. You've already stated that it's a personal decision, so what gives you the right to be so condescending? You made your choice, so please let other people make theirs.



3. A pet IS a massive responsibility and an integral part of the family

You imply that it's laughable when people compare having a dog to having a baby. I know people who have both, and they're very ready to admit that some elements of having a dog are comparable to having a child.

My dog relies on me for food, water, exercise, toilet breaks, entertainment and clean bedding, and always will for her whole life. You state that having a child means 'bearing full, unconditional responsibility for a person's basic survival', but that's also exactly what it means to have a dog (or any pet). The sense of responsibility doesn't diminish just because my dog isn't human.

You say that 'canines don't exterminate your social life in the same way as mewling tykes tend to do'. Actually, it could be argued that dogs affect your social life even more and for a much longer period of time. It's more than acceptable to take your baby to most places, but dogs aren't so welcome. When we want to go anywhere with our dog, we have to make sure there are dog-friendly walks, pubs and restaurants nearby. I'm yet to see a sign anywhere that says 'babies and toddlers not welcome'.

I've had my dog since she was 14 weeks old, and we've shaped many elements of her little personality. I'm fully responsible for her 'physical and emotional wellbeing', just as you are for your child's.

You flippantly say 'fine, call it part of the family.' My dog is 100% a part of our family and has been since the moment we brought her home. I sign her name on all the cards I send out, we celebrate her birthday every year, she has Christmas presents like everyone else in the family, and she's a massive part of our lives. So don't tell me that having a dog bears absolutely no comparison to having a child.



4. You've never even had a dog, so how can you possibly comment?

You state in your article that you've 'never had a dog'. So what qualifies you to talk about this subject? How would you know about the guilt I feel when I go out and leave my dog on her own, or the terror I feel when another dog growls at her, or the sheer joy I feel when she bounds towards me with her tail wagging, if you've never experienced any of it?

You clearly have no idea how much comfort a dog can bring, or of the enormity of even owning one in the first place. You say that 'parenthood is all-consuming', but how do you know that having a dog isn't all-consuming if you've never had one?

I'm not pretending to know what it's like to have a child, because I haven't got one. But I do know what it's like to have a dog, and you're way off the mark. You can patronisingly extend your 'bless you, fur mama' comment to me if you like, but how can you possibly comment so strongly on something you know nothing about?



5. I'm well aware that a dog isn't a substitute for a child, but I love my dog with all my heart. Who are you to ridicule that?

Throughout your article, you emphasise that having a dog is nothing like having a baby and that 'nothing can substitute for that'. You ram it home that having a dog can never be a substitute for having a child. Don't you think I know that my dog can never be a complete substitute? I'm well aware that I'll never know what it's like to carry a child and give birth to that child, and that knowledge still hurts every day.

My dog means the world to me and she came into my life during my darkest days. I call her my baby and I treat her like a princess. You ridicule people who buy 'only the finest for the little darlings', but I'm always going to buy the best things possible for my dog to make sure she's healthy and happy, just like you undoubtedly do for your child.

However, I love my dog in her own right and not because I see her as a substitute for what might have been. Although I believe there are similarities between the two and I love my dog like a child, I don't 'pretend that a canine companion is the same thing'. Having a dog will never fully heal that ache in my heart, and articles like this rip open that wound and leave it fully exposed.



I hope this letter has gone some way towards explaining to you why your article was so hurtful. You might have 'had a chuckle about it' when you flippantly said your piece, but I can assure you that it had the opposite effect on me.

Monday, 22 April 2019

My Easter weekend

I've been looking forward to the Easter weekend ever since we got back from Venice last month. Who doesn't love having four days off with no need to use annual leave?

The weather was beautiful for the whole four days which made the long weekend all the more enjoyable. Here's a summary of what we got up to, along with a photo of Jessie looking EXTREMELY excited about the whole thing.






Good Friday 

I've had a busy few weeks and have been feeling pretty exhausted and stressed out for a while, so I promised myself that I'd have a relaxing day on Good Friday. Neil was working so I had the house to myself. I had a lie in, took Jessie for a lovely walk in the sunshine, caught up on Neighbours and read an entire book. I usually use my days off to blitz all the tasks and chores I don't have time to do during the week, but I felt well-rested and much calmer at the end of the day so I definitely needed the break.






Saturday 

Neil was working again on Saturday, so I took Jessie for a walk in the morning then drove to McArthur Glen to meet Nicola for a long awaited catch up. We had lunch in Frankie and Benny's then wandered around the shops for an hour. I popped to Morrisons on my way home to pick up some (more) Easter chocolate, then we had an evening in with Jessie and Netflix.






Easter Sunday 

Neil took Jessie for an early morning walk before it got too hot for her, then we had Easter bunny crumpets for breakfast before going to the cinema to see the live-action Dumbo film. I cried sad tears and happy tears and I absolutely loved it. We stopped in Five Guys for a burger and chips, then we went home to eat some chocolate and to give Jessie her Easter treats. The three of us went for a lovely walk once the weather was a bit cooler, then we watched the first Avengers film on DVD. We're aiming to watch the first three films before we see Endgame in a couple of weeks!










Easter Monday 

We took Jessie for a morning walk then continued to eat all the stereotypical Easter food by having hot cross buns for lunch. We then went to Cardiff Bay to do our food shopping for the week and to wander around Wilko without buying anything (does anyone else do that?). We popped in to Costa for a coffee and a hot chocolate while we were there, then started on all the household chores when we got back. My house to-do list was massive as a result of my relaxing few days, but it was well worth it. Once I'd finished, I sat down to eat some well-deserved chocolate and to write this blog post!







We had a really lovely weekend where we spent lots of quality time with each other and with Jessie, and it felt like a decent break. I'm also very proud of all the Easter food we consumed, but slightly relieved that I'll be going back to the gym in a couple of days. 

Do you want to know something exciting? Only 4 days to go until next weekend! 

Monday, 15 April 2019

A recap of this year's blog posts

I've had a busy few weeks which means I haven't had time to come up with any new content for a little while. So, rather than leaving the blog blank for a week, I thought I'd put together a recap of this year's posts instead.

My blog stats have been quite disappointing for the last few months and I'm not too sure why. Hopefully this summary will remind my readers about posts they might have missed, giving my stats a much-needed boost at the same time!


Christmas and new year 

My first few posts of 2019 were all about Christmas and the new year, as you'd expect. I blogged about our Christmas and new year celebrations and my Christmas sale bargains, as well as my annual 'best of 2018' blog post which summarised all my highlights from last year.





New York 

I went to New York in December which meant some of my blog posts from that holiday spilt over into 2019. I posted a mouth-watering summary of what we ate in New York, and I also blogged about what I wore in New York.





Lifestyle 

I've written one very personal post this year about remembering what makes me 'me'. This post has had three times as many views as my other recent posts! People are nosey and we all love scrolling through a good personal post. I've also blogged about rediscovering my reading mojo, as well as blogging about why I love having a dog last week.





Venice 

Lastly, we went to Venice at the beginning of March and I managed to get three blog posts out of our lovely trip. One was a photographic summary, and I also blogged about what I ate in Venice and what I wore in Venice.





Hopefully there'll be some brand new content on the blog next week. In the meantime, feel free to catch up on any posts you've missed! 

Monday, 8 April 2019

5 reasons why I love having a dog

If you're a regular reader of my blog or a stalker of my social channels, you'll already know that I've got a beautiful corgi called Jessie who I love with all my heart.

Jessie turned 2 last week, so I thought it was the perfect time to blog about why I love having a dog. 





1. There's always someone waiting for you when you get home 

I love it that Jessie is always enthusiastically waiting for me when I get home, without fail. She's usually sitting on the windowsill eagerly awaiting my arrival, then her nose appears by the front door as soon as I open it the tiniest crack. She's always tail-waggingly delighted to see me whether I've been gone for ten hours or ten minutes, and I love knowing that I'll be seeing her beautiful little face after a long day. 






2. You absolutely have to leave the house to go for a walk, even when you don't feel like it 

When Jessie first barreled into our lives, I wasn't in a great place. I was off sick from work and some days I just wanted to hide under my duvet and stay there all day. However, having Jessie meant I had to force myself to get out of the house every day to take her for a walk. It did me the world of good, and I'll be forever grateful to her for pulling me out of that slump. Taking Jessie out for a walk is brilliant exercise, it gives us lots of fresh air, it makes us appreciate our beautiful surroundings and, best of all, it makes her super happy. 






3. She loves me unconditionally whatever I've done, whatever I look like and whatever I feel like 

I know Jessie will always love me even when I look terrible, when I'm grumpy, when I'm ill, when I've said and done silly things, or when I just feel rubbish about myself. She's never judgmental or two faced, and she loves me just the way I am. The phrase 'dogs are a man's (or woman's) best friend' makes perfect sense to me now that I've got a dog of my own, and Jessie is an integral part of our little family. 






4. She makes me smile every single day 

Jessie is unintentionally hilarious, and I'm sure all dog owners would say exactly the same thing about their fluffy companions. The more earnest and serious she tries to be, the more she makes me chuckle. She never fails to make me laugh and smile, whatever mood I'm in, and I'm so grateful to her for bringing so much joy and laughter into our lives. 






5. Unlimited cwtches 

I always said I wanted a cwtchy dog, and Jessie is exactly that. In the evenings after her walk, she loves nothing more than to snuggle up between us on the sofa and nuzzle her nose into my pyjamas. She's the fluffiest and most affectionate dog I've ever met, and she's the perfect size for sofa cwtches. I genuinely can't remember what life was like before she took over our lives (and our furniture). 



There are plenty more reasons why I love Jessie which I could talk about all day, but I thought I'd stick to my top five for this blog post!