Monday, 27 March 2017

Baking with Beasts: Apple Strudel & Niffler Bread Recipes inspired by Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

On Wednesday I was invited to London to get my bake on with the lovely Andrew Smyth of Bake Off fame - Andrew was a finalist in the 2016 series of The Great British Bake Off and for this particular project he'd invited us down to London to have a go at re-creating two of his very own rather magical recipes inspired by the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which is released on DVD today. 
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them DVD release
On arrival I was introduced to the lovely Andrew, and the other bloggers and You Tubers who were taking part. We were very kindly each given our own Newt Scamander wand, and a copy of the DVD to take home with us - the wand was on hand in case we needed a little magical assistance during our time in the kitchen. 

#FantasticBeasts baking with Andrew Smyth

Andrew had created two rather spectacular recipes inspired by the film, which centres around various magical creatures and beasts from the Harry Potter universe: most famous of all the beasts from the movie is The Niffler and clever Andrew taught us how to re-create this little beast in dough form.

Mrs Bishop being photobombed by Andrew Smyth
Wands at the ready!

Mrs Bishop Baking with Beasts
Getting to grips with the recipe cards

Firstly, we made the dough for our cheeky little Niffler breads, as it would need time to rise (about an hour). We teamed up to use the food mixers to knead our dough for us - I got to work with the quite frankly hilarious Joel Watts from UNILAD who it's fair to say had limited baking experience! I like to think I taught him a thing or two! *Wink, wink*

Mrs Bishop and Joel Watts baking together

Next we got stuck into making our apple strudels inspired by a scene from Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. 

Here's the full recipe if you'd like to give it a try...

Apple Strudel Recipe by Andrew Smyth


For the filling:
4 granny smith apples
90g sultanas
1 tsp ground sweet cinnamon
Zest of ½ a lemon
20ml calvados brandy
40g light brown soft sugar
40g caster sugar

For the pastry:
20 sheets shop-bought filo pastry 
70g melted butter

Whipped cream to serve (optional)


1.Preheat the oven to fan 190C.

2.For the filling, carefully peel the apples in a single peel. We’ll use these later to form the apple roses which sit on top of the strudel. Set these peelings to one side in a bowl of cold water. Core and slice the apples into wedges and mix in a bowl with the sultanas, cinnamon, lemon zest, calvados and sugars. Stir to combine and set aside.

3.Open up the filo pastry packs and set the filo sheets in between 2 damp tea towels to keep them from drying out before we use them. Melt the butter in a small bowl.

4.On a large sheet of greaseproof paper, lie down 2 sheets of filo beside each other, with their longest sides slightly overlapping. Use a pastry brush to brush over a thin layer of melted butter, then add 2 more sheets on top of these 2. Repeat this process until you have 5-6 stacked layers of filo.

5.Scoop the filling onto one of the shorter sides of the larger filo rectangle, around 5 cm from the edge. Use the greaseproof paper underneath to roll the filling up inside the filo (like a swiss roll) until the seam is on the underneath of the strudel. Neatly tuck in the ends of the roll and transfer to a lined baking tray.

6.For a filo braid decoration, take one sheet of filo and brush with butter. Roll it tightly up from one corner in the diagonal direction so you get a long thin roll of filo. Do this 3 times to make the 3 strands of a braid. Braid them together then drape over the strudel and tuck the edges underneath, trimming any excess. Repeat this for 2 more braids along the length of the strudel.

7.Roll 4 of the apple peels tightly up to form little rosettes and set 2 of these between each gap in the braids. Brush the entire strudel with melted butter then place in the middle of the oven for 30-40 mins until golden brown.

Making apple peel roses
Making apple peel roses

I really enjoyed making the strudel - thankfully we didn't have to make our own filo pastry (which is notoriously impossible!) so it was a pretty straight-forward assembly job really. The filling smelled absolutely insane - a heady mix of calvados, sweet apples, cinnamon and lemon zest -YUM! 

heavenly apple strudel filling
Heavenly apple strudel filling 

For those who don't know or haven't used filo before - it is a super-delicate paper thin pastry, that contains no butter - so it's vital when using it that a) you work as swiftly as you can because it dries out very quickly, and B) you paint lots of melted butter between each layer that you use, to ensure it flakes nicely, and sticks together/seals where needed.

Mrs Bishop painting butter onto her filo sheets
This is my concentration face!

Once you've layered up your pastry and let you filling sit for a little while so the juices can begin to seep out of the apple and all the flavours can mix together it is just a case of spooning the mixture onto one end of your filo rectangle, and then carefully rolling it up - tucking in the ends as you go. 

Mrs Bishop and Andrew Smyth Baking with Beasts

Andrew Smyth making Apple Strudel

Mrs Bishop's glorious Apple Strudel filling
All ready to be rolled up tightly...

Mrs Bishop's Apple Strudel ready for baking
My glorious apple strudel all ready for the oven...

I was super-chuffed with how my strudel looked once assembled - and my goodness did it smell incredible as it baked in the oven! 

Mrs Bishop's freshly baked Apple Strudel
Golden and glorious! 

Of course, we just HAD to tuck in as soon as it came out of the oven - Andrew very kindly shared his strudel with us so that we could take ours home in tact to share with our families - thanks Andrew! 

It was absolutely delicious - and I *might* have gobbled up another giant slice at home with Liam that evening too! Well, you don't make a beautiful apple strudel every day, do you?

A warm slice of apple strudel and cream

The apple peel roses and filo braid decorations on our strudels were inspired by a scene in the movie where Newt feasts on a similar-looking was actually really nice to have a play with some new-to-me methods of prettying up filo bakes. I'm a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to baking, and if we'd had more time I'd have liked to have mastered the apple peel roses as mine left a lot to be desired! 

Tah dah! My finished strudel in all its glory. 

Once our strudels were out of the oven, it was time to get to work in creating little Nifflers out of our now beautifully proved sweet bread dough. 

Niffler Bread Recipe by Andrew Smyth


150ml semi-skimmed milk
1 ½ tbsp honey
10g melted butter
A little lemon zest
½ tsp dried yeast
260g very strong white bread flour
½ tsp fine salt
1 medium egg (for egg wash)
Vegetable Oil (for greasing)


1. Heat the milk and honey together in a microwave in a small bowl until warm to the touch. Melt the butter in the same way and add these liquid ingredients to a large mixing bowl of a stand mixer along with the finely grated lemon zest and dried yeast.

2. Mix together on a slow speed with the dough hook attachment then gradually add the salt and flour. The dough is meant to be stiff and should easily pull away from the edges of the bowl once the flour has been added. Increase to a medium speed and leave to mix for 5-7 minutes until the dough is springy and passes the “windowpane test”.

3. Tip out onto a lightly oiled surface and form into a ball. Lightly oil the mixing bowl and put the dough back, cover with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place or proving drawer for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

4. Once the first prove is done, tip your dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface and punch it a few times to knock out excess air. Lightly knead a few times then split the dough into 2 equal portions. These will be our 2 Nifflers.

5. For each Niffler: Cut a piece off the dough just smaller than a golf ball that will form the head. Cut off 4 small marble-sized pieces that will be the claws on the hands and feet. Form the remaining dough into an oval around the size of the palm of your hand. Make a cut using kitchen scissors in the middle of the thin side around 5cm long. Spread the 2 legs apart. Squeeze the 4 claw pieces into a flattened small oval and cut 4 gaps at the end of each to form sharp claws. Press these onto the base body at the end of either leg and in hand positions. Roll the head into a ball then flatter one end into a tube to resemble a Niffler’s head. Poke 2 holes for eyes using a long skewer.

6. For each Niffler: On a lined baking tray, set an oiled 1 litre pyrex bowl round side up. Prop the body of the Niffler by the oiled bowl in a sitting position. Set the head alongside as we’ll attach it later on. Cover with lightly oiled cling film for 25 minutes.

7. Brush lightly with some beaten egg and bake for 25-30 minutes until deep brown and it sounds hollow when knocked. Use a cocktail stick to connect the head to the body.

Mrs Bishop's Nifflers ready for baking
My dough Nifflers ready for baking

It was reminiscent of childhood days playing with Play-Doh and Plasticine as we shaped our dough into Niffler-like creations...a little fiddly but very fun indeed. 

After a short second prove, and a light egg wash they baked for around 25-30 minutes and came out golden and well, quite marvellous!  

Mrs Bishop's Niffler Bread
My little Niffler!

These little fellas tasted pretty magnificent - hints of sweet honey, lemon and uber soft in consistency - they reminded me of the iced buns of my childhood. Sliced and slathered with jam was perhaps my favourite way to eat them - they'd have been absolutely brilliant with lemon curd, or even a lemon icing drizzled over the top. 

You could easily adapt this recipe to make more traditional bun or finger bun shapes too - the dough is super versatile. 

Andrew Smyth with his Niffler Breads
Baking with a touch of magic! 

Mrs Bishop, Andrew Smyth and Niffler breads
Andrew and I holding our sweet little Niffler breads!

Three little Niffler breads

Andrew Smyth with his Niffler breads

I had such a fun morning and it was an absolute pleasure to bake with Andrew, he is just as warm, friendly, down-to-earth and approachable as I imagined him to be. 

Naturally, Liam and the kids were chuffed with my big box of bakes on my return. The kids devoured the Niffler breads, including my porky little 9 month old, Connie who was shoving it in my the fistful! Ha!  

Liam and I practically inhaled the apple strudel (we did share it with Liam's Mum & Stepdad too!) enjoying it warm with fresh pouring cream. DIVINE. 

Three Niffler breads with a magic wand

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them arrives on 4K ULTRA HD, 3D, BLU-RAY™, DVD AND VOD ON MARCH 27TH.

Friday, 24 March 2017

What was in our March / Easter Degustabox?

This month's Degustabox delivery was genuinely the best yet! Every single item in the Easter box was something we would genuinely choose to buy/try as a family - so we were pretty excited to get tasting! 

March Easter Degustabox contents

There was a fabulous treat-filled selection (I'd expect nothing less for an Easter box!) and genuinely something for all the grown up food eating people in the house (sorry Connie!). 

March Degustabox Contents:

Heinz [Seriously] Good Sauces Creamy Pepper £1.99 - The finishing touch that will allow you to personalise your meals in the way you want. A range of great tasting sauces, full of flavour and with a creamy and smooth texture that will take your meal to the next level. 

Pipers Crisps Burrow Hill Cider Vinegar & Sea Salt £2.00 - Pipers Crisps make " Crisps as they should taste". They season them with flavours sourced from passionate named producers. Julian Temperley provides Pipers with cider vinegar made from various old English cider apples varieties such as Kingston Black grown in his beautiful orchards at Burrow Hill near Kingsbury Episcopi in Somerset. 

Naturelly £1.19 - Naturelly is a fun and refreshing juicy jelly snack, drink or dessert with 100% Recommended Daily Intake of Vitamin Cand suitable for children aged 12 months+. It comes with no added sugar or sweeteners and only 7g (around 1.5 teaspoons) of naturally occurring fruit sugars. 

Maldon Smoked Sea Salt Flakes £1.50 - Maldon's oak smoked flakes have a pronounced and exciting taste that contain the ideal balance of natural minerals, finishing dishes with a rich and sophisticated flavour. Perfect with fish, bread and vegetables. 

Weetabix On The Go - Vanilla/Blueberry & Blackberry £1.39 x2 - With the same energy, fibre and protein as two Weetabix biscuits and semi-skimmed milk. Our delicious breakfast drinks have been specially created to bring you a great start on days when you just can't stop. Try a proper breakfast. Bottled.

Whitworths CACAO Raw Bar £1.50 - Our new Full Of Super CACAO Raw Bars are crammed with almonds, flakes of coconut, chai seeds, golden flax seeds, quinoa and acai - what's more they're a natural source of THIAMINE (which helps to maintain energy), gluten free, no soy and suitable for vegetarians.

£onepounders Chocolate Eclairs £1.00 - £onepounders are a range of over 65 fabulous confections ranging from chocolates, toffees, boilings, chews, fudge, mints, gums and jellies all priced at £1.

The Jelly Bean Factory 75g Fairtrade Box £1.49 - This box contains 36 Gourmet Flavours of delicious Gourmet Jelly Beans. Each Gourmet Jelly Bean is made using natural flavours, no artificial colours and are gelatine free, gluten free, nut free and Vegetarian Society UK certified. 

Westons Cider Pure Hopped Cider £1.99 - This Hopped Cider is a collaboration between Westons Cider and Purity Brewing and has a Hoppy aroma with a well-balanced smooth taste. 

Westons Cider Caple Rd Dry Cider Blend No.5, 5% £1.99 - Made in small batches. Caple Rd Blend No.5 is a complex, dry cider which is matured for up to 18 months resulting in a crisp and complex cider with a powerful tart finish. 

Rebel Kitchen Chocolate Mylk £1.89 - Our mylks are so easy you could make them yourself. We know time is precious though so instead, we've done it for you. With a few simple ingredients and nothing added, it's what we've left out that counts. Because life's complicated enough and it's time to take a stand. 

Gusto Organic Lemon Energy £1.50 - An energising blend of whole crushed Sicilian lemons, Amazon guarana, Siberian ginseng and wonder herb astragalus delivering a delicious adult soft drink that delivers taste, stimulation and wellbeing. Gusto Lemon Energy is sweetened with agave nectar, apple and grape juice and is available from Ocado and all good food stores. 

You have to agree that is quite the line up! 

March Easter Degustabox contents

It goes without saying that this box has been the most popular one in the Bishop household to date - mainly due to it being crammed full of treats! The Jelly Beans were opened by Bert within minutes of the box arriving, the Chocolate Eclairs are slowly being enjoyed by moi and hubby polished off the WHOLE BAR of Cadbury Dairy Milk Mint Oreo in one sitting - yes, the WHOLE BAR! Luckily for him I HATE mint flavoured chocolate (but that Peanut Butter one is ALL MINE!) Hubby said he ate the whole bar purely to provide a funny anecdote for the blog, he's kind like that! 

I've been meaning to try the smoked Maldon Sea Salt for ages, so I'm thrilled to have a nice big box - I'll be experimenting with it lots in the kitchen from now on. 

I was intrigued to try the Weetabix drinks - they're perfect for me post workout in terms of nutrients and I'm a big fan of Weetabix so I was pretty sure I'd like them. My favourite of the two flavours was the vanilla - the berry one wasn't my cup of tea, but I'm sure some people would love it. 

I'm saving the Rebel Kitchen Chocolate Mylk to go with my Mother's Day breakfast - I'm so excited to try it, who doesn't love chocolate milk after all?

Although I have quite the sweet tooth I'm also rather partial to a bag (or 3) of crisps - especially salt and vinegar I've stashed the Pipers crisps away from the kids for a grown up in front of the telly snack at some point soon. Can't. Wait. 

Hubby and I shared the Whitworths CACAO bar as it very handily comes in two separate pieces - very similar to energy balls, these little bars are totally delicious and very filling. Both hubby and I really liked them and agreed we'd definitely buy these again if we saw them in the supermarket.

Hubby commandeered the two ciders as his own, which is fine with me, as I'm a merlot girl! He loved the Capel Rd No.5 cider but unfortuntely the hoppy cider really wasn't for him - his words "hops and cider do not belong together"  - his waistline wishes he felt the same about Oreos, Mint & Cadbury chocolate! Ha!  

March Easter Degustabox contents

March Easter Degustabox contents

I think I'll give Bert the Naturelly jelly pouch to try as he's a big fan of jellies as a pudding option. I love the fact that it comes in a squeezy pouch, making it very handy and perfect for lunch boxes or Spring/Summer picnics. 

March Easter Degustabox contents

The last thing left for us to try from our March box is the Heinz Creamy Pepper sauce - my favourite dinner of all time is steak, chips and peppercorn sauce, so we're planning indulge in it next week -HOORAY! 

Would you like to give Degustabox a try? If so you can receive a whopping £7.00 off your first box by using code:


at the checkout! 

Enjoy lovely peeps...

Mrs B


For more info on Degustabox follow them on their social media channels:

Friday, 17 March 2017

The One Where I'm in a National Newspaper...


So today (16/03/17)I was featured in The Daily Express on a full page story all about my weight loss. It was both nerve wracking and exciting to be asked to be featured, and I was so nervous this morning when I opened the paper, desperately hoping that Elizabeth Archer, the journalist covering my story, had captured the essence of my health/weight/lifestyle ethos.

Aside from a couple of tiny inaccuracies, Lizzie did a fabulous job, and I was thrilled with what she published. I hope that the article shows that fads, set meal plans, meal replacements, deprivation and starvation will only get you so far in the world of weight loss - sure you'll lose some, but you'll struggle to keep it off if you don't also tackle the deeper issues causing your weight problems.

For me there was a series of problems behind my obesity - namely my hugely unhealthy lifestyle and in order to achieve and maintain a big weight loss I had to address each one and make big changes before progress could be made.

Here's a list of some of the issues I had surrounding food/diet/exercise:

-emotional eating (using food as a reward/comfort, eating when bored, eating when stressed)
-eating when tired or thirsty
-lack of understanding/education about food, calories, macros and exercise/expenditure
-lack of understanding about suitable portion sizes for someone my sex/age/build
-a severe lack of confidence/ability when it came to anything "sporty" which meant I ruled out pretty much all exercise
-lack of culinary inspiration and methods for reducing fat and calories in food without losing out on flavour.

Once I had started to acknowledge and address all of these individual points I started to see changes - the numbers on the scales started decreasing, my clothes were fitting better, I felt fitter and younger...I realised that a series of small changes and addressing my lifestyle as a whole would lead to big changes, and that it did.

A size 20 to a size 12 - and I'm so much happier, more confident, and more in control of all aspects of my life. I feel a balance in both body and mind that I never realised was even possible.

Post second baby I have been concentrating less on the numbers on the scales, and much more about fitness, exercise and how I FEEL. This is liberating after 3 years of weekly weigh ins, but knowing that Connie will be the final addition to our family gives me the freedom of knowing that any positive body changes I work on making now will and should be forever (no more pregnancies to contend with, hooray!) and that there's no rush to ping instantly back to my pre-Connie figure. I cut myself some slack for the first three months after she was born, then began hitting the gym hard around October time. Six months into my new found love of the gym and I'm still going twice, sometimes three times per week. I have a weekly session with my amazing personal trainer Matt King, do a cardio/machines session by myself and sometimes a class too such as Legs, Bums and Tums or Spinning.

And the results? My shape is changing - I'm toning up and seeing definition in places I've never had it before. I'm stronger, both physically and mentally. The gym is making me a more disciplined person, more determined to achieve. My back pain from Degenerative Disc Disease is under control without the need for painkillers (this is amazing!) and my all-round fitness has improved so much. I'm working towards goals such as being able to do a set of pull ups and being able to jump onto a higher plyo box rather than to lose a set amount of pounds.

I'm back in my pre-Connie size 12 wardrobe, which was the main goal for me and although I'm still a bit heavier than just before I fell pregnant with Connie, I'm also aware that I'm building a lot more muscle (which weighs more than fat) and that as I have slowly began to reduce my daily calorie intake again recently (currently at 1400 per day) I have begun to see the last few pounds start to shed. As I said, I'm not obsessing about the numbers, I feel good, I feel strong and that is my priority. I probably weigh in once a month now rather than weekly, and so long as I am slowly headed in the right direction then I'm happy with that.

For me it is all about maintaining a healthy balanced lifestyle in definitely - being a positive role model to my children so they grow up without the food/weight issues I did, and whole-heartedly, honestly and unashamedly embracing my love for food, because throughout all of this that hasn't changed a bit. :-)

Here's the article for those who missed it:

Bye for now

Mrs B


I've linked up with my lovely (& very inspirational) friend Mrs Shilts and the gorge Michelle from Mummy from the Heart as part of their brilliant new linky Slimming Sunday.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Jamberry Nail Wraps *REVIEW*

Throughout my childhood, teens and early twenties I was a dreadful nail biter. It was a horrid habit, I hated the state of my short, stubby and often sore nails - it was a constant cause of embarrassment for me, but was a habit I found really hard to beat.

Something just clicked in my mid-twenties - maybe I was less stressed/nervous and at a happier place in my life, but I suddenly no longer felt the urge to bite them, and soon they started to grow, repair and began to look quite healthy after just a few months of no biting. 

Since then I've always worked hard to take care of my nails, doing lots of home manicures - keeping my cuticles in check, my nails nicely shaped and using Solar Oil (or the equivalent) a few times a week to keep my hands and nails moisturised.  I play around with painting my own nails but I'm not that great at it, and pretty much always smudge it within minutes...especially since having children - I just`don't have the time to wait for them to dry properly anymore!

Then I discovered gel polish manicures - what a revelation! A nail polish that is dry instantly and can't be smudged...perfect! I've tried both Shellac and OPI Gel Colour manicures and I love them, A gel polish manicure is the perfect treat`for a special occasion, but I can't afford to have it done too regularly. 

I was getting so bored with my signature clear polish and then my friend Anwyn introduced me to Jamberry Nail Wraps. In essence, they are stickers that are applied to your nails using heat (a hairdryer) and then the excess is filed off using a standard nail file. They come in hundreds of colours, designs, textures and patterns - and each sheet has enough to do at least your hands and feet once. And the best thing about them - no smudging! The pattern or colour stays perfect no matter what.

Honestly, I was a little skeptical at first - I felt sure they would be immensely fiddly and impossible to put on alone. I wasn't sure how long they'd last and if they'd be a viable alternative to my once in a blue moon gel manicure. But, I ordered some designs that ticked my fancy and gave them a whirl.  

Jamberry Nail Wraps

I chose these four designs:  duck egg/gold fleck, a gold glitter, gold mermaid/fish scale and a gold stripe. (Gold was a running theme for is nice and dressy, goes with everything and everyone loves a bit of bling when it comes to nails, surely?) I also had some complimentary floral, stripe and lace patterned nail wraps to use too - so I got to work having a go at my first Jamberry manicure, and was pleasantly surprised. 

Mrs Bishop's Jamberry nails

T'ah d'ah! My first Jamberry manicure went really well - I combined three nail wraps with some hot pink nail polish on two nails to create this look and I loved it. The nail wraps were quick and easy to use, they applied easily and I found that there was a right-size sticker for each of my nails. 

Mrs Bishop's Jamberry nails

My biggest reservation about using the wraps is that they just wouldn't last and would peel off instantly. But I was pleased that my first attempt lasted almost two weeks - which is considerably longer than if I applied polish at home. 

Mrs Bishop's Jamberry nails

I had lots of comments about my pretty digits and lots of friends pledged to give them a try too once they'd seen them in the flesh and heard how easy I'd found them to apply. 

I've still been treating myself to the odd gel polish manicure - I'm lucky that three of my cousins do it for a living, and so when I pop back to Surrey to visit family I often manage to wangle a free Shellac from one of them (thanks girls!). Shellac definitely lasts longer for me 3-4 weeks rather than 1-2 weeks, but obviously costs considerably more than the nail wraps do. 

I should also add that my hands take a lot of abusing - constant hand washing, nappy changing, washing up bottles every day, crawling about on the floor with babies and toddlers and also lots of cooking/chopping etc ... so I would expect them to last longer on someone that doesn't put their hands and nails through quite so much trauma on a daily basis! Ha ha!

Gold stripe Jamberry Nails

The latest Jamberry nail wraps I've tried are these fab gold stripe ones. Anyone who knows me well will know I'm mildly obsessed (okay, majorly!) with stripes - so when I saw these I had to have them. Again, I found them easy to apply and the fit was good. I was so pleased with how this manicure turned out, and I love that you can see my natural nail behind the gold foil stripe. 

Gold stripe Jamberry Nails

I find the application of the nail wraps quite theraputic - far less frustrating than using nail polish ( & smudging it!) I think on average it takes me around 15 minutes to apply a full set of wraps, and of course there's no waving your hands around like a maniac for fifteen minutes afterwards so that they can dry. 

Gold stripe Jamberry Nails

A perfect Saturday morning - nail wraps and a giant coffee!

When I say that Jamberry Nail Wraps come in hundreds of designs, I mean hundreds! You name it, they've got a wrap for it - from matte to glitter, colour blocking to monochrome patterns, arabesque to polka dot - from bold and fun to chic and stylish - they even do Jamberry Juniors for children's nails! 

One regular sheet includes 18 Jamberry nail wraps and should give you two or three applications, depending on the size and length of your nails. Each sheet costs £15 and you can buy three sheets and get a fourth one FREE! Which gives you over 70 stickers for £45 - when you think that in most salons a single gel manicure or acrylic full set costs anywhere from £25-£40, then you can see that a nail wrap alternative could save you lots of money very quickly. It is certainly worth a try - especially with so many fun designs out there. 

Here's a taster of some of my current favourites which are definitely on my wishlist for once my current stash has run out... 

Jamberry Nail Wrap Favourites

Of course it is also worth noting that your nail wraps will last longer if you used them in conjunction with nail polsih - using a Jamberry for an accent nail(s) looks really cool and is a more understated way to use the bolder patterns. You could use a bling on your ring finger, or use a pattern on every other nail, or just your thumbs etc. It's fun to play around - and if you shop smart and but four sheets that all compliment each other and work well together in varying combinations you'll have so many options you won't know where to start. 

You can order Jamberry Nail Wraps directly from Jamberry UK online or from an independent consultant - I get mine from my friend Anwyn Rowberry.

Disclaimer: I was given my Jamberry Nail Wraps at half price in return for my honest opinion in this post. 

Monday, 6 March 2017

Work-Life Balance

It's been a while since I've had the time to sit down and write a catch-up style blog post...the kids, work and blog projects or collaborations always seem to get in the way and writing from-the-heart on here annoyingly falls to the bottom of the priority list. 

I love this little old blog, and I'm sad that I no longer get the time to invest in it like I used to. The community that I've built surrounding this blog is amazing - and you guys have supported me unwaveringly through all of my huge life changes over the past five years. You've seen me marry, have babies, shed masses of weight, start my own freelance career - and you've been here through all the stresses, strains, worries and blips - all the moments when it has gotten too much to bear. You've celebrated and commiserated with me...and now five years on since I started writing this blog I often feel frustrated that I can't give it everything that I used to. 

Today is one of those days when I have the over-whelming urge to write - to brain dump my thoughts, put them into some sort of order - and press publish. Today I want to connect, to say "Hi! I'm still here!" and talk about life - my crazy, busy, full-on, ridiculous life. And so, instead of feeling guilty that there are a zillion other things I could/should be doing, I'm going to put pen to paper, metaphorically speaking, and reconnect with the reason I started this blog in the first place - to reach out, to connect, to organise my thoughts and to in turn, be accountable for whatever I've committed to paper (screen!).

The topic for today's ramblings.... work/life balance. A phrase that is bandied round a gazillion times a day - something we all talk of, dream of and wonder if it is ever actually do-able? Can you be a parent and still have it all: a happy work life, home life and personal life? Can you be a parent and still cultivate hobbies and interests? Can you maintain friendships, as well as all of the other "must do's" on your to-do list? These are questions I think we all ask ourselves on a daily basis - if like me, you are a mindful and reflective person, then you no doubt already guilt yourself no-end about all of your shortcomings, all of the failures you stack up against yourself. I'm no different - I give myself a ridiculously hard time and have had to learn-as-I-go, develop coping mechanisms, and weather the ups and downs of trying to achieve that (perhaps elusive?) work/life balance.

I know I'm not alone with the need to brain-dump in order to organise my day to day life... since becoming a mum, and more recently becoming self-employed (coming up 2 years ago - how did that happen?) I write endless lists, have a white board monthly calendar in my home-office, a weekly meal-planner pad on my fridge and I am always furiously inputting dates into my iPhone calendar - all in the hope that I'll stay on top of my crazy-busy life. Brain dumping in this way means I have to rely less on my own memory (which isn't as sharp as it used to be) and can maintain at least some level of organisation. 

My need to organise and be ordered is a deep-rooted one, which I think comes from growing up in a busy, disorganised house. When my house and workspace is cluttered then so is my brain: I feel stressed, genuinely upset and tell myself I'm 'failing' when I'm surrounded by things in disarray, it affects my mental health and happiness, and so I've learnt that staying on top of this is vital to a healthy, happy Lucy. 

By nature I am hard on myself - as an eternal over-achiever and a hugely conscientious person, I have found that this can often be my downfall. I try to work really hard on all aspects of my life: as a mum, a freelancer, a housewife, wife, friend...and often go above and beyond for people - albeit for work, friends or family - and in return I find that I expect too much from myself which leaves me sometimes setting unattainable goals and to do lists that aren't realistic. 

Since becoming a freelance Social Media Consultant in May 2015 I have had to develop my organisational skills to crazy levels. I've learnt to split myself up into different Lucys' - the freelancer, the mum, the housewife, the wife, the friend, the blogger, the crafter, the fitness enthusiast...and find set times to be all of those things, as well as to just 'be'. Yes, I feel as if I'm always juggling about a zillion balls, lots of plates spinning all at once, but ultimately it means I get a balance of all the roles I play that are important to me, that I get to cultivate hobbies, write my blog and hopefully be a half-decent mother, wife, friend and freelancer at the same time. 

It is not always plain-sailing, in fact there have been many times that I've felt so over-whelmed by all of my responsibilities that I just want to jack it all in, and run for the hills! But it's at those times that I remind myself why I'm working as a freelancer, and how much better it is in comparison than when I taught full-time. 

I 'officially' work for 13 hours per week for my six current social media clients - some weeks I have extra hours from clients, or one-off jobs to complete, I have my invoicing to do, emails to check and respond to and my blog to write/run on top of those 13 hours. I mostly work from home, with the odd meeting thrown in here and there. On paper my current work life consists of under half the amount of hours I worked when teaching - yet I earn only about 25% less now than I did then. I can work around the school run, and other parental commitments like doctors appointments, school assemblies and ultimately, I choose when to work - fitting the hours I'm committed to around my family life. 

Bert now goes to pre-school for 2.5 days per week, so these days have become my official work-days... on these days I still have Connie in tow, as she doesn't have any form of childcare at the moment, and so I try to work around her naps and downtime. Making the most of any moments when she'll allow me to get on. It isn't easy - and some days I get hardly anything done, and so have to work during the evenings and weekends when Liam is around to help with the kids in order to catch up. It can be frustrating, but it would be so much more frustrating to have to commute each day, working long hours, dropping off my children so that other people could look after them - I'm so lucky to have this option, and not have to go to an office each day - whenever life feels hard and overwhelming I remind myself of all of this. I am my own boss, and that of course comes with its own pressures and stresses, but ultimately it is the best decision I ever made. 

One of the hardest parts of freelancing (aside from chasing invoices!) is getting people to take it 'seriously' as an actual, factual job. I have been patronised, had it called a hobby, and all sorts in-between - in fact, on some occasions it has only been when I've talked income that I've been taken seriously, which isn't cool. It is also hard to set boundaries - to make people understand your work hours, and respect them. 

A better way to explain it is like this: you wouldn't turn up to someone's office unannounced to have a cup of tea and a catch up, would you? If someone worked as a Teacher, or Police Officer would you expect them to be able to drop everything if you turned up to chat? Similarly, you wouldn't drop round to a surgeons house and expect him to perform an operation in his spare time. But that is often how my work is regarded...and it's not anyone's fault - because it is the nature of the job - in theory I can do it at "any" time, and in reality social media never sleeps - there is no 'out of office' for a Twitter account, and my clients' accounts are being interacted with 24/7, there's no school holidays for social media and my work hat is never truly off. The only way I can fully step away from my work is to turn off my phone and shut down my laptop and that rarely happens (I need to do this more!) because of this and in order to keep my shiz together and not have a complete nervous breakdown I have to try to work with some sort of order and regularity. Yes, it's fluid, and subject to change, but on the whole I try to stick to working officially all day on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and then Thursday afternoons. On those days I have learnt to try not to schedule anything other than work stuff. It doesn't always work that beautifully, and of course the nature of freelancing is that it can be unpredictable, but over the last two years I have had to become good at being honest, strong and confident about when I'm 'free' and when I'm working. 

I'm lucky at the moment that Bert is only in pre-school 2.5 days a week, and I've been able to select those days, which for me and the kids has meant creating a weekly schedule that works for us. We have Mondays and Fridays at home all together with no school-run - these are my days to just enjoy being with the kids, make plans with friends, enjoy days out or run errands, Tuesdays and Wednesdays see Bert at pre-school all day and are so my work days, Thursdays we have a slow morning followed by pre-school/work and the weekends are then in theory our own to do things together as a family. Obviously, it doesn't always work that smoothly, but the intention is there. Come September, when Bert start's school full-time (HOW?) I will have to work even harder to address the balance between work/life, and resist the temptation to take on so much extra work that I knock any semblance of balance I currently have off-kilter. 

Something else I really struggle with day to day is that elephant in the room, that we can all see, but try hard not to acknowledge - mum-guilt. Gosh, it's horrible! When Bert was a baby I spent the first 19 months of his life at home with him as my number one priority. My days consisted of taking care of him, housework, loads of long walks with Bert in the buggy, blogging and cooking the evening meal. When I look back on those days now I wonder what on earth I did with myself all day? I realise that those 19 months were an absolute luxury, and I will always look back on them so fondly - life was brilliant and uncomplicated, and Bert was absolutely spoilt with my time and attention. 

Fast forward to now, and it's a whole different ball-game since Connie's arrival. Nineteen months of maternity leave with Bert morphed into just two weeks maternity leave with Connie: I worked continuously through my pregnancy and then worked double-time over the last few weeks before she arrived to ensure all of my clients accounts were scheduled in advance to cover those first newborn weeks. 

Day to day Connie not only has to share me with her big brother, but she also has to put up with my work hours, me going out for client meetings (when my lovely Mother in Law steps in to look after her), and the upheaval of the school run. Life doesn't stand still for the second baby...and I feel immensely guilty so often that it overwhelms me. Then I give myself a good talking to... Connie is a lucky baby, she is so loved and spends 99% of her time with me by her side, she adores her brother and is blessed to have such an awesome sibling and play mate - and as for the work hours, she will always come first - and I will work late into the night on the days that she needs my 100% attention. I couldn't do that if I were in conventional employment. My work allows me to do all the school runs, to cook all of my children's meals, and to be here for them at home if they are poorly: yes there's no sick pay or benefits, there's no pension scheme or work away-days, but there's flexibility which I use to my advantage on a daily basis. 

A perhaps over-looked part of my work-life is that it allows me to be 'me' again, just Lucy. After becoming a mum you can quickly lose your identity and forget that there is even a 'you' in there. As much as I adored my time off work with baby-Bert, at times I felt useless, bored and boring! Since working for myself my mental health has dramatically improved - I feel useful, intelligent, and productive - I get to 'adult' with other adults, and my sense of achievement is great. Obviously, I do it mostly for the income - which has undoubtedly made our day-to-day lives much more comfortable financially, but money really isn't my only motivator when it comes to working for myself.

I've been judged before (often by other mums!) for the amount of "extra-curricular" activity I manage to fit into my life - gym twice a week, date nights, nights out with friends, sewing, crafting, cooking, baking, blog/press trips, my on-going vlog watching habit...

"How DO you do it?"

"Where do you find the time?"

"Don't you feel guilty, getting all that you-time?"

"I've NEVER left my children overnight, like you!" 

(All genuine things that have been said to me!)

And my response? 

I do it by sleeping on average for only 4/5 hours per night! I do it by being uber-organised and by knowing and prioritising what it vital to my happiness. I do it because I have a super-supportive, like-minded, hands-on husband who sickeningly so is the ying to my yang, he steps up and steps in whenever he's at home and he never judges me or makes me feel guilty for any time out of the home I manage to get. I hope he can say the same of me. 

I don't feel guilty - I need all of those things in my life to be happy, they are all vital parts of my me-ness and without them I'd be a useless wife, mother, freelancer and my family understand that. 

You've never left your children over night - why? If you're short of a babysitter then can I look after them for you? You poor things! We all deserve a break. Give yourself one for goodness sake. 

Don't apologise for your occasional selfish behaviour, as parents selfishness is a rarity, you spend 99% of your life post-children thinking of them first and foremost, so allow yourself a bit of slack and attach some realism to your life - happy parent, happy baby and all that! 

I don't want you to think for one second that I feel like I've mastered a balance - I haven't. Some weeks I'm absolutely tearing my hair out - tired, wiped out, frustrated, over worked and overwhelmed! Other weeks are eerily calm... I work steadily through my to-do list, the kids comply and I manage the gym, a date night and a play date to boot! But therein lies my point - it is a balancing act, it is taking the rough with the smooth and most importantly it is embracing life whole-heartedly with a commitment to at least try to have it all. 

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