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After my mammoth reading session in January, I haven’t done so well this month.  I’m blaming half term and now chicken pox for absorbing all my time!

I did manage to complete my B for A-Z authors but should really be much further along than this by now…I need to choose shorter books I think.

Here’s what I’ve read this month:-

A Walk in the Park by Jill Mansell – I do love a good Jill Mansell book.  She is one of my ‘go to’ authors when I want a romantic story to curl up on the sofa with and lose myself for a day or two.  This didn’t disappoint.  Lara Carson vanished from Bath 18 years ago, leaving her family and her boyfriend, Flynn without a word.  Now she’s back in town.  There’s no-one more delighted to see here than her childhood best friend, Evie, who is just about to get married.  Or so she thinks.  This is a lovely story of how life might not always turn out the way you think, but that sometimes, these hiccups can be the best thing to ever happen to us.
Star rating: ***

The Skeleton Cupboard: Stories from a clinical psychologist by Tanya Byron – This is Tanya Byron’s account of her years in training as a clinical psychologist.  She shares incredible stories of some of the patients she met during her placements and how they inspired and taught her so much.  Although all the case studies aren’t actually real (rather based on some of the people she worked with) I thought it was an incredibly moving book.  It reminded me how people are unique and amazing individuals.  Well worth a read although you may find yourself shedding a tear or two.  It is also my ‘B’ for A-Z of authors.  Now for the C!
Star rating: ****

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan – After suffering an unfortunate freak accident in the chocolate factory she works in, Anna Trent finds herself stuck and unmotivated.  A chance meeting with her old French teacher, Claire sees Anna make the decision to move Paris to work with a master chocolatier, Thierry.  Thierry is the former sweetheart of Claire and this book follows Anna and Claire in the present as well as Claire and Thierry when they were courting.  It’s a lovely, heart-warming story about healing old wounds, finding love and, of course, it is filled with delicious recipes as usual in Jenny Colgan’s books.
Star rating: ****

Have you read any good books this month?  Let me know if you’ve got any recommendations.

Linking up with A-Z Authors and Read with Me.
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I am a huge fan of taking shortcuts where possible in the kitchen.  Having two young children, there isn’t always time to do everything ‘properly’ and if you’ve ever seen me make a cake then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about (I go for the ‘dump it all in together and hope for the best’ method of baking)

So if, like me, you are looking for ways you can cut down on the amount of time you spend cooking the evening meal with a child hanging off each leg, then here are my top 5 life hacks for the kitchen:-

1. Cook your bacon in the oven
This is one I only discovered recently after many years of dodging spitting fat as I tried to fry my bacon.  If you have never cooked bacon in the oven then you are missing out.  Not only does it come out deliciously crunchy but it also means you can pop it in the oven and walk away until it is ready, without having to stand around by the hob.  Trust me, your weekend bacon sarnies will never be the same again.

2. Use your microwave
Pre-children, I would only ever use the microwave for heating microwave meals and not much else.  In fact, most of the time it just sat on the kitchen worktop, taking up space and gaining dust.  Now I use the microwave for everything: I steam vegetables, roast garlic, soften sugar, poach eggs, proof dough and so on.

My favourite use is part-cooking vegetables and potatoes if I’m making a stew or a casserole and I need to do it quicker than normal.  This ensures that the contents are soft (James and the kids don’t like their veggies to be crunchy!)  If you don’t have a microwave then you should definitely invest in one.  You can get many great deals, such as these Panasonic microwave ovens.  

3. Use tongs for fruit squeezing
Once upon a time I owned one of those cheap white plastic fruit squeezer things which is supposed to be the best way to get lemon/lime/orange juice and so on.  Either I just didn’t get the knack of doing it correctly or they really are as useless as I think.  I have found a much easier way is to cut my fruit in half and use a pair of tongs to squeeze each half, successfully de-juicing them.

4. Refrigerate onions
If you don’t want to be weeping buckets every time you try and chop an onion then store them in your refrigerator.  I’ve been doing this for a number of years and it works a treat.  No more stopping every few seconds to dab at stinging, running eyes.  I have also heard that putting a slice of bread in your mouth (with some partially sticking out) can also work as the bread absorbs the fumes before they reach your eyes.  Can’t say I’ve tried this out though personally.


5. Soften butter
We’ve all been there when using real butter; holey, decimated bread because the butter is just too hard.  Not ideal.  A great and easy way to soften butter is to use a cheese grater.  The smaller curls of butter will soften much faster than waiting for the whole block to soften.  A pretty neat trick if you’ve got guests coming over too and the curls of butter can look quite artistic too!

Have you got any kitchen life hacks?

Disclosure: This post has been written in collaboration with Panasonic.  However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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We have been more than lucky in the last 6 years when it comes to childhood illnesses.  Aside from the usual snuffles and sniffles, our kids don’t really ‘get’ sick.  I think Meg has vomited once in her whole 6 years and Eli the same.  Which is quite lucky really as I am one of those unfortunate souls who ends up being sick alongside the person being sick, just because they are being sick!

Chicken pox is one of those childhood illnesses which almost every parent expects to have to deal with at some point.  Although I have to admit I was beginning to think my two were immune.  Having both been in nurseries from a young age we’ve had plenty of letters and notices about chicken pox doing the rounds and yet, Meg and Eli never seemed to catch it.

So when Meg woke up with a small rash around her ears I thought nothing of it and sent her off to school as normal.  We’re all a bit cold-filled at the moment and she often has a viral rash which accompanies her runny nose so it didn’t seem to be anything too worrisome.  I wasn’t even that concerned when she said she didn’t feel like going to gymnastics as unusual as that was.  It happens to all of us sometimes.

However, later in the day when she had been home from school for a while she suddenly came running down the stairs exclaiming about something on her neck.  I took a look and suddenly, there were a whole load of spots including one rather large, angry looking one on her shoulder which had clearly been scratched.  Uh oh.

The thing which threw me was how slowly the spots appeared.  I asked around and most people agreed that if it was chicken pox, within a couple of hours she would be covered.  Not Meg.  I don’t know whether she has a super kick-ass immune system or just likes to do things in her own time but the following morning she hardly had any spots at all.

I wondered aloud whether it might be chicken pox which got Meg excited.  Did she have to stay off school?  Would we have a special girlie day, just the two of us?  Could she bring her bed downstairs and lie down on the sofa?

I wanted to be sure though and as the one on her shoulder didn’t look so hot so we took a fun trip down to the GP surgery where we sat in a darkened spare room, before they confirmed that it did look a lot like chicken pox, and that they’d actually seen 3 other children from her school (in her class as it transpires) who also had chicken pox.  Great!  They loaded us up with calamine and paracetamol and sent us home.  The nurse suggested I rub Eli up against Meg whilst I was at it to ‘kill two birds with one stone.’  To be honest, they are always clambering over each other so if he doesn’t turn up spotty in a week or so he’s got to be the wonder-kid.

A quick stop off at the pharmacy for our medicine and to grab some Frozen stickers to cheer up the patient who declared, ‘Mummy, I don’t think I like chicken pops any more.  I want to go home,’ and she was back on the sofa, snuggled up under her duvet and feeling very sorry for herself.


She perked up a while later when offered her stickers and we had a little giggle over playing ‘dot to dot’ applying calamine to all the spots we could see but it didn’t last long before she had retreated into a little bundle again.


This morning she is complaining of feeling unwell so I’m going to keep an eye on her.  I know this is a routine illness which most children get at some point but it’s still not nice when it’s your child is it?  Not to mention the fact that having just survived half term, we are now all stuck indoors for another week or so!  If anyone finds my sanity, please could they send it back?!  

I think lots of cuddles are in order, and maybe some chocolate too!  For Meg, obviously, not me.

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I spotted this little questionnaire/meme on Holly’s blog (one of my favourites) and as I am all for procrastinating and not spending time novel writing I thought I’d give it a go.

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these too and it helps lovely new readers get to know the face behind the blog.  Or something…

Four names that people call me other than Jess:

1) Mummy: often repeatedly, often at loud and ear-splitting pitches.

2) JJ: this is what James calls me.

3) Jessie: I am not a Jessie and yet, people seem to often choose to call me this rather than Jess.  I have often wondered if it’s because I am married to a James (Jesse James, get it?!)

4) Sarah: I get this more than you might think.  Do I look more like a Sarah than a Jessica?


Four jobs that I have had:

1) Tumble Tots lackey

2) Legal Secretary

3) Office Manager

4) Writer

Four movies I have watched more than once:

1) Pitch Perfect: I cannot get enough of this film and am more excited than I should be about Pitch Perfect #2 coming out soon!

2) French Kiss: ‘Fester, fester, fester.  Rot, rot, rot.’

3) Stardust: We have a tradition that we watch this film every year after we have put the Christmas decorations up.  When this comes out I know it’s nearly time for Santa!

4) About A Boy.


Four books I’d recommend:

1) Game of Thrones: just amazing.

2) The Hunger Games trilogy: no explanation needed.  The books far outstrip the films so well worth giving them a go.

3) The Distant Hours by Kate Morton: a beautiful, wonderfully told story which just draws you in.  I think I might have cried when it finished.

4) The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman: a tragic yet beautifully woven story based on real events.

Four places I’ve lived:

1) Huddersfield

2) Wolverhampton

3) Loughborough

4) Southport

I’m feeling the challenge to add an international location to the above list now!


Four places I’ve been:

1) Male, Maldives

2) Sharm-El-Sheikh, Egypt

3) Gulu, Uganda

4) Berlin, Germany


Four places I’d rather be right now:

1) Discovering hidden gems in any European city.

2) Lying on a beach, somewhere hot.

3) Meeting Disney characters at Disneyland with Meg and Eli.

4) Unpacking boxes having moved to New Zealand (imaginary wants count, yes?!)

Four things I don’t eat:

1) Cheese

2) Olives

3) Lamb

4) Anything spicy

Four of my favourite foods:

1) Chocolate cake

2) Pesto chicken

3) Chinese 

4) Chips

Four TV shows I watch:

1) Hart of Dixie

2) Sherlock

3) Modern Family

4) The Musketeers


Four things I am looking forward to this year:

1) Getting my book published.

2) Going on holiday.

3) Spending more time together as a family.

4) James’ job changing meaning he can spend more time at home.

Four things I am always saying:

1) Stop!  Usually aimed at Eli and encompassing a large number of incidents from tearing away from me down the road to climbing and clambering over furniture.

2) Whatevs

3) Super as a prelude to something else i.e. super-cool, super-slow, super-lame….

4) Ask your Daddy…when I don’t want to be the bad guy!

I tag…anyone who fancies sharing their own four things!


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Since becoming a blogger I have had a love affair with cameras.  I am always feeling the challenge of improving on my photography and capturing our family moments in high quality  and so last year we invested in a bridge camera.  Unfortunately, somehow the quality still doesn’t seem to cut it.  If the lighting is right then it takes amazing pictures but if it isn’t, then my iphone actually far outranks the photos I’d be able to take and so I generally find myself using my phone because I’m lazy and it’s always to hand and I know that I’ll manage to get a semi-decent picture regardless of the time of day.

Then I get onto Instagram and see other people’s photos and I end up moaning to James that I need a better camera, he suggests I get out my bridge and learn to use some of the more complex features and so the circle goes round and round.

The trouble is, I’m not very technologically minded and although I have been on a couple of photography courses, my brain just can’t adapt to all the features which come with a quality camera.

When I visited Uganda earlier in the year I borrowed my father in law’s camera.  A high-end point and shoot but one which just took amazing photos.  This has convinced me that with the right equipment, you can capture some fantastic photos without it getting too complicated.

That is where the Panasonic Lumix TZ70 comes in.  


This lightweight camera has been designed to offer top picture quality with its high sensitivity MOS sensor allowing you to capture fantastic photos even in low light.  As a blogger this is such a great feature.  Sometimes, despite all your best planning you simply need to take pictures when the lighting is rubbish and with the Lumix TZ70 you know that you won’t be compromising on the sharpness of your picture.  The camera also has a 30x zoo Leica lens so you can really get up close to your subjects and even lets you record videos in HD.

Another feature I love about this camera is the high speed response; with light speed auto focus and 10fps high speed burst shooting you can capture in-focus images no matter how fast your subject is moving.  Anyone who has tried to photograph children will be able to tell you what a valuable feature this is!

Check out the video below to see more about this camera and all that it has to offer.

I think this would be the ideal choice whether you are an avid traveller looking to capture your adventures, a parent wanting high quality images of family life or simply someone looking for a decent camera which fits in your pocket.

Disclosure: This has been published in collaboration with Panasonic.  All words and opinions are my own.

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