#AlproAM Smoothie Challenge

Alpro Soya milk (usually their almond milk or hazelnut milk) is a staple product in our food shops.  I have it with smoothies or cereal in the mornings and Tom enjoys it in a latté.  We've been buying soya milk as far back as I can remember - when I was calorie counting on MyFitnessPal or even doing a low-carb diet it was always a healthier, lower calorie, lower fat and more nutritious breakfast choice than dairy milk (the milk, not the chocolate, though I have been known to have Dairy Milk for breakfast).

So when Alpro got in contact to ask me if I'd like to join in on their #AlproAM smoothie challenge, it was a no-brainer.  I actually whip up smoothies most mornings as I find them a quick and easy way to get some fruit intake and fill me up for the morning, so I was excited to use their recipes and follow the other bloggers getting in on the smoothie action.

Alpro sent us some amazing kits to help us on our smoothie making journeys, including a set of their yummy milks to get whipping up some creations.  I have been enthusiastically following the hashtag and eyeing up some of the amazing recipes that have been popping up in the blogosphere.  I am particularly excited to try the recipes from these lovely bloggers....

Carole's seven smoothie ideas (love the one with matcha green tea)
Megan's seven recipes (definitely trying avocado, banana and peanut butter!)
Laura's six recipes (blueberry cheesecake and cherry beetroot sound divine!)

I'm only on day two of the seven day smoothie challenge, and my creations so far have been juicing the contents of my fruit bowl with some blueberries and making a very yummy and fruity smoothie, and creating an Eton Mess smoothie which tasted more like a dessert than anything remotely healthy!

My two recipes so far are below.  What are your favourite smoothie recipes?

Smoothie #alproAM
Smoothie #AlproAM Smoothie #AlproAM Smoothie #alproAM

Fruitbowl smoothie {above}
1. Juice three small pears (or two large ones), two apples and a handful of blueberries.
2. Pour the juice into a smoothie maker and add one sliced banana.
3. Add a dollop of agave nectar if you like, or some linseed or wheatgerm.
4. Pour in two cups of Alpro Soya Unsweetened Almond Milk.
5. Whizz and enjoy!

Frozen berries Linseed Eton Mess smoothie Eton Mess smoothie

Eton Mess smoothie {above}

1. Add about half a small carton of frozen berries to your smoothie maker.
2. Add a cup of cookies and cream protein powder (or vanilla protein powder)
3. Add a spoonful of linseed.
4. Add a dollop of agave nectar.
5. Add a tablespoonful of greek yoghurt with honey.
6. Top up with about 300ml of Alpro Soya Unsweetened Almond Milk.
7. Whizz and enjoy!

Both of these recipes make two large glasses of smoothie.

The best thing about making smoothies is that you can pretty much throw what you like into that smoothie maker and it'll taste good (within reason of course).  So feel free to play fast and loose with my recipes and leave out or add in extra ingredients.  The agave nectar helps to add sweetness and the linseed I buy from Aldi and is an easy way to get some Omega 3 into your diet as well as a ton of other health benefits.

Do share your favourite smoothie recipes and tips and don't forget to check out the #AlproAM hashtag on Twitter.

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Hair repair kit

After many years of having blonde highlights to lighten my naturally dark blonde hair, about two years ago I started bleaching my hair platinum blonde all over via the Schwarzkopf Live Colour box dyes.  About a year later I got tired of the constant maintenance (there's nothing like a platinum blonde hair colour to really accentuate when your roots come through) I decided to go back to getting highlights again coupled with a toner at the hairdressers.  For years hairdressers have been telling me how thick and healthy my hair is, with various hairdressers over the last couple of years telling me how surprised they are it's in such great condition considering I straighten it every day and bleach it within an inch of its life.

So I couldn't help being a little surprised when I tried a new hairdresser's about a month ago and the stylist told me a few home truths about my hair.  I told her I'd been growing it for about two years but that it rarely got beyond a certain length.  She told me that the years of daily straightening and bleaching had really damaged my hair and showed me some rather concerning and quite serious split ends that were the root cause (geddit?) of the lack of hair growth.  After chopping the split ends and using a Moroccan Oil treatment she gave me a serious talking to about my haircare in future, prescribing regular haircuts, regular conditioning treatments and hugely minimising how much I straighten and blow-dry my hair.  Despite feeling a little shell-shocked at being told quite how badly damaged my hair was, I was really appreciative of her honesty and vowed to take better care of my hair so that I can grow it in time for the wedding and try and reverse some of the damage that's already been done.

After doing extensive blog reading, chatting on Twitter and reading reviews, I decided to buy a few products to help in my pursuit of healthier hair.  I wanted to get some good quality shampoo and conditioner, pick up the MoroccanOil treatment she recommended, get some heat-protecting products and some bits that would mean I could style it on a day to day basis without the aid of heat.  This was my little haul, mostly from Look Fantastic (I can't resist a website with free delivery), bought after Christmas with some Christmas money.

Hair repair kit
// l'oreal oilixir, £13.25

I've been using all of these products in various routines over the last few weeks and I can definitely notice a difference in the length and quality of my hair.  I've been washing my hair about once a week (it doesn't seem to do anything when I leave it longer between washes) and then blow-drying it and lightly straightening the ends just to tidy them up a bit.  After that I won't straighten my hair again until the next wash.  I'm trying to embrace the fact that my hair is naturally a bit wavy and use dry shampoo and hair oil to add a bit of volume and style in between washes.

I've also been reading blog posts on no-heat hairstyles and other tools you can use to style your hair with minimal damage.  Instead of blow-drying and then straightening the ends every week I also want to try curling my hair and seeing how long that lasts so I've been looking at styling tools that both dry and curl your hair at the same time, or the hair curlers from Herseshons.  I'd quite like to get a pair of curling tongs or a waving wand to vary my hairstyle and accentuate the waves - again, just once a week after washing (I don't want to swap one form of heat for another, I just want a bit of variety).

Overall I'm really hoping that the minimal heat and the new kinder hair products will really make a difference to my hair.  It feels weird not to spend ten minutes in the morning straightening my hair and I do worry that it looks more messy and unkempt but if I want to have long, flowing mermaid hair it's something I'm just going to embrace!

... Oh, and I did have a little chuckle at my photography supervisor this morning! Bodhi loves to be involved in whatever I'm doing!

Bodhi eyeing up hair products

What are your tips and star products for repairing damaged hair and avoiding heat styling?

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{post contains a collaborative link}

Health and fitness update 01

It feels really good to be sitting down to write about my health and fitness journey so far in 2014. I think I'm going to find it really cathartic and supportive to my goals to be writing about it on a regular basis so I hope you won't mind me sharing it here.  For those of you not interested in health and fitness please feel free to skip over.

I have been battling against talking about my weight on here and on Twitter because it just seems so dull.  I don't want to become one of those weight bores who only talks about the numbers on the scales.  I can't think of anything that defines me less than my body mass, which kind of begs the question as to why I want to tell people what mine is, or update them when the number increases.  In all the time I've known Tom, I've never known him stand on the scales in our bedroom or look in the mirror poking, prodding, huffing and criticising.  Why can't I be like the people I know who accept their bodies and don't give a second thoughts to its measurements? But despite all of my best intentions, I can't help feeling disheartened when, after a week that was certainly better than the last, the numbers don't seem to agree.  I can't deny feeling pretty dejected at seeing that the numbers now mirror what I was at the beginning of 2012, before the Jenny Craig diet, before running, before clean eating, before I felt confident enough to post a tummy photo! Aside from the scales, my clothes are feeling tighter and I feel uncomfortable; bloated, slouchy, self-conscious.  It's not the direction I want to head in, or the way I want to feel.

I talked in my previous post on health and fitness post about being more 'mindful' - listening to what my body wants to eat, when it wants to move, being more understanding of the things that make me feel good and doing them more often.  I realised quite soon after I began attempting this, that this alone would not spur me onto my goals and help me become fitter, more active and more healthy and nourished.  Left to its own devices my body craves McDonalds, Dairy Milk, lie-ins and pizza.  It does not push me, bouncing out of bed to the spin bike or the 30 Day Shred DVD. But why should I be surprised? I commented on Twitter this morning that my brain does not seem to be 'on my side'.  It tells me I can't do things, it says mean things about me when I look in the mirror and it tells me to stay in bed in the morning when my alarm goes off for a pre-work run.  The truth is, my brain, or my mind, has gone a bit rogue.  So I can't trust it to push my in the right direction and I have to take control.  I realise that this might all sound a bit odd, and that talking about my mind like it's a separate entity is more likely to get me puzzled looks rather than an inner motivation, but it's made me realise the value of determination and focus.  So my new goal this week is let those negative thoughts pass by, and attend instead to making better habits.  I have been trying that this week; letting the thought of raiding the Christmas chocolates box simply float off into the ether and instead making a fruit-filled smoothie (it is hard but will hopefully get easier). I saw two quotes today that really resonated with me, first, this one...

img credit: seventeenthandirving
... and also this tweet: "Our lives are a reflection of our minds. Busy mind busy life, fearful mind fearful life, brave mind brave life, happy mind happy life."  I definitely have a very busy mind! 

Going back to the goals I referenced in my first post though, I have some successes to share and some that need further work.  I have only been to one yoga class so far, but I'm signed up to start a course in a couple of weeks and I've also been doing a yoga video most mornings, either a couple of Tara Stiles videos, a Yoga for Beginners DVD, or the excellent Yoga for Runners routine that was recommended to me.  I feel really good after doing this and it was amazing for when I was achy post runs last week.

Talking of running, I've had a slow re-introduction to it over the last couple of weeks, with two post-work runs with our work running club (we do 5ks on Tuesdays after work) and a rather ambitious 7.5k last Sunday.

It felt absolutely amazing but I must admit I was sore afterwards, both from my weak ankle and the fact that I've barely run for months so throwing myself into 55 minutes of it at once may have been a bit silly (I do have an ankle support and did a lot of stretching but still).

I haven't done as much dog walking and generally being outside as I would like, though I am blaming that on the weather rather than laziness (it is perhaps a combination of both!) 

The dry January has also not gone so well - I made it through the first two weeks but I decided it felt like unnecessary punishment so I've had the odd social drink here and there (on three occasions this month).  I don't feel like a failure because I couldn't really come up with a reason why I was doing it or how it was helping, so that's one goal I've decided to shelve for now.

How are you getting on if you made any health and fitness resolutions this year? What's helping you with your goals?

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A city break to Kosice, Slovakia

Just before Christmas I decided that I wanted to treat Tom and I to a few days away in January to give us something to look forward to and get us through the post-festive-period depression.  I initially wanted to take us to Iceland to do a Northern Lights tour but as it was intended to be a little bonus Christmas present I thought that £600 (the cheapest I could find for both of us) was pushing the budget too far.  In the end I found a few good deals on Secret Escapes, and after a bit of research, plumped for Kosice in Slovakia.  I'd wanted to visit Slovakia for some time and had heard that it was a relatively cheap place to visit with lots of good food.  The last thing I wanted to do was treat us to a little break where we ended up then having to spend loads of money just to eat and get around (*looks sideways at Copenhagen*) so I thought this sounded like a great deal, especially as the package included a room upgrade, breakfast and a three course meal every night at the hotel and entrance to the hotel spa.  I made a little printout with a photo of the hotel and what was included in the package and put it in Tom's Christmas card which I gave to him last, at my parents' house on Boxing Day.  His face was a picture when he opened it as he thought he didn't have any more presents so it was really nice to see him so excited.

We jetted out on the 15th from London Luton via Wizz Air which was relatively easy and we arrived in Kosice about half five in the evening.  The taxi ride took us through the city and up some dark and winding roads out into the middle of the forest where our hotel was.  It was quite a magical location.  We were given glasses of champagne on arrival and shown to our room, which was wonderful, a huge suite with a window overlooking the forest and curtains that pulled across the windows and over the bed like a canopy.

We went down for our three course meal not long after arriving.  I am a bit of a cheese-aholic and couldn't help but choose their 'fried cheese and chips', which came out like two whole blocks of cheddar encased in breadcrumbs! It was amazing but I must admit I could only finish one (although I saved a bit of room for cheesecake for dessert!)

The next day we went into the city to explore.  I love the excitement of exploring an unknown city; ambling up alleyways not knowing what's at the end, reading maps, following your noses to find a lunch-spot... We made like proper tourists and went into the tourist information for a map and a guide as to what to see.  It's a really interesting city, with industrial style buildings interspersed with beautiful architecture, churches and palaces.

I have always really enjoyed 'interesting' looking buildings - graffiti, peeling paint, interesting posters and advertisements, textures and colours.  I put my photos up on Facebook and someone commented that Kosice looked like a bit of a 'hole' but I promise it's not! There are lots of beautiful buildings and tourist spots, I've just always preferred capturing slightly different things than your typical postcard/chocolate box type shots.

Kosice, Slovakia 

The main street (Hlavá) had lots of beautiful buildings in different colours and shapes and sizes.  The tram lines run down the middle of the street.

Hlavna St Michael Chapel Kosice, Slovakia 

Kosice was named the 2013 European city of culture and a lot of effort has been spent in promoting art and culture in the city, with some interesting murals and art installations.


We visited the 'Kunsthalle', previously an indoor pool but has now been transformed into an exhibition centre.  When we visited there was an exhibition of British art in there on loan from the British Arts Council, which was interesting to look around (with some slightly odd 'modern art' videos that Tom and I couldn't really understand the meaning of!)

KunsthalleKosice, Slovakia  

After lots of exploring it was time for lunch.  After trying a few restaurants that we'd seen in the tourist guide and finding them to be closed (January seemed to be out of season with a lot of restaurants and shops looking closed or empty), we followed our noses to a pizza restaurant up a deserted alleyway.  We then followed them down some stairs and through some doors to a strange restaurant with pumping dance music and CSI on the TVs.  We managed to do enough broken Slovak and gesturing to get an English translated menu and we both ordered pizzas... which, when they arrived were huge.  I think the photos belie quite how huge these pizzas were.  Mine had proscuitto ham, olives, onion, mountains of cheese, cherry tomatoes and blue cheese on it.  I honestly think it's the best thing I've ever eaten.

Pizza Pizza 

I had two glasses of wine and Tom had two beers (tall beers in giant glasses I might add!)  The bill came to €17, about £15.  With full bellies we then did a little more exploring before heading back to the hotel.  This was the view from our hotel window as we had a little post-pizza snooze and read our books.

Hotel Bankov 

We went down to dinner about 7pm, having booked our complimentary massages for 7.45.  After the giant pizza, another two-courses and a glass of wine however we decided to cancel the massages as, after eating more food than I usually eat in two or three days, being pummeled within an inch of my life did not sound appealing.

The next day we went back into the city to visit the things we'd missed the day before.  We went into the cathedral, which was beautiful.

St Elisabeth Cathedral

And I took some more photos of interesting doorways and buildings...

Kosice, Slovakia Kosice, Slovakia 

It was so cold that we decided to make a trip into Aida, a patisserie on the main street, to warm up mid-morning.  I gave Tom a €10 note to get us tea, coffee and pastries and it was €3! I had a delicious green tea and a miscellanous slice of cream, custard and chocolate that was utterly delicious (and probably about 90p!)

Cake at Aida Patisserie Aida patisserie 

We then went to Miklus Prison, a tour of the executioner's house and the prison in Kosice that was in use until the early 20th Century.  We were the only ones in there (even the ticket office was offsite) so exploring the dungeons, torture chambers and executioner's house was a little creepy! 

Old jail tour 

After that we went into a nearby restaurant for lunch.  I had a traditional Slovakian meal - Bryndzové Halusky, which is potato dumplings (a little like gnocchi) in a sheep's cheese sauce with crispy bacon.  It was amazing, but very filling!

After more of an explore we headed back to the airports to get our flights.  I think I returned about a stone heavier after all of the food that we ate but it was very worth it! I would massively recommend a trip to Slovakia for anyone looking for a mini-break, Wizz Air fly there from London Luton from €29.99 so you can get package deals relatively cheaply.  I'm hoping that although we're saving for the wedding that we'll be able to do a bit more travelling this year, we're hoping to be able to book a little USA trip for September so I'm sure I'll be excitedly sharing any developments in that area over the next few days!

Have you been to Slovakia or other countries in Eastern Europe? Where else would you recommend visiting? I've bought a Lonely Planet 'Europe on a Shoestring' book and I can't wait to tick some more countries off the list! 

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Home improvements

Long time readers will know that I have a rather annoying habit that presents itself every time I go away on holiday.  The habit is that I get a renewed sense of enthusiasm for doing things in the house.  As you can imagine, Tom loves being away on holiday and discussing DIY and home improvements.  I kid you not, one night at dinner in Slovakia Tom had his iPad connected to the hotel WiFi as we looked up the prices of shower rails.

Since we moved into our house in March 2010 we have done an enormous amount.  No rooms any longer have traces of textured wallpaper and gone are the various pink or green carpets.  We turned the spare room from a horrid old junk room into a lovely bedroom, turned our bedroom from plain walls into something a bit more coordinated, and we renovated the conservatory, from another junk room into a beach-hut-esque room full of sunshine and nautical details.  And then there is the garden, which doesn't look quite as perfect as the day we unveiled it any longer, but is much better than before.  With the light streaming into the living room and bedrooms on Sunday I must admit I did wander into those rooms feeling proud of what we've created.

My house My house My house My house

I do feel really lucky that we are able to have some rooms in the house finished, and areas where I can sit and relax without looking at all of the things that need doing.  But there are so many little irritations around the house - cupboard handles that come off into your hand, drawer fronts that have been off for over a year and so things tumble out of them, holes in walls, paint on skirting boards and so on.  The kitchen and bathroom really need a complete refit and I've never really felt that it feels like a normal 'home'.  You know when you walk into someone's house and they have the corner sofa, the table lamp, the fireplace, and it all looks like you imagine a living room would, like something from the Next catalogue? I long for one of those functional, homely homes that feel welcoming and finished. Ours just feels like a mish-mash of furniture from my old flat, horrendous attempts at DIY from the previous owners and ingrained dirt from 40 years of various owners and renters.  I'm forever envious of people with new homes that look shiny and gleaming after a quick surface clean, or who have the skills (and the budget) to tackle renovations that give a room a new lease of life.

My first task when I returned from holiday last weekend was to have a bit of a war on clutter.  Much to Tom's annoyance I collected all of the items on various surfaces in the lounge, hallway and kitchen and piled them up on the dining table.  My Saturday project was to either find them a home, bin them or put them to a charity shop.  It took a few hours but it was so worth it, it makes me feel much calmer now walking into a room without various small items, books, DVDs and bits of paper piled up everywhere.

With saving for the wedding we really don't have any money to spend on the kitchen or the bathroom at the moment (we're going to have to save up over two months for that £50 shower rail we need, true story) but I can still dream about what they might eventually look like.  I'd love a 'country bathroom' feel - rustic floorboards, a roll-top bath and old apothecary bottles filled with lotions and potions.  I love this rustic style flooring, the 'chateau' laminate looks like old French fruit crates and would be perfect for bringing a bit of 'country vintage' to a room.  And I'd love an Ikea kitchen!

img credit: housetohome.co.uk
img credit: nenaghal.blogspot.co.uk
I know that most home improvement projects are a marathon rather than a sprint, and that 'Rome wasn't built in a day'. I definitely need to focus on the things we have done rather than the things we haven't, and remember back to the green carpets, bright blue walls and fitted furniture as it was when we moved in.  I do dream of a day when it's all finished though, and people walk through the door and say "Oooh your home is lovely". One day!

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Loose leaf

These photos were taken a few weeks ago and have been sitting in my 'to blog' folder (that's not a real thing, by the way, just a little corner of my mind where un-blogged outfits live) waiting to be posted.  In the past I've mentioned on here that time tends to run away with me amidst a flutter of girthy to-do lists and blog commitments but it's been a funny old start to the year.  Some busyness, yes, but also some nothingness - some early nights, some Netflix time and some pottering and sorting.  It's weird for me to make a conscious effort to say no to the blog, to have nights where I actively turn off the computer and prioritise snuggling under a blanket and catching up on The Bridge or reading in bed.  I haven't lost enthusiasm for my blog, I'm just shedding the ties that made blogging less fun - I've ended a couple of longer term commitments I had with brands that were proving too time-consuming and diluting the quality of the blog and I've been turning down less relevant collaborations and opportunities.  I want blogging to be something I sit down and enjoy with a cup of tea and a calm mind, not another thing in my life that's causing me to look concerningly at my diary and worry that there aren't enough hours in the day.  And I want to make this blog a fun, interesting read and somewhere people come knowing that there will be something worth stopping by for.  It feels exciting to me that I have lots to tell you about the beginning of the year and the things that have been on my mind, in my camera and arriving in the post and I can't wait to sit down and get writing.  Blogging is one my main loves and passions in life and I feel renewed vigour to carry on in that journey, as well as incredibly and indescribably grateful for every single page view, comment, tweet and message that comes my way.  My blog will be four years old this year and I owe an enormous amout to the community of bloggers and readers that have made this possible, as well as the many of you who I now call friends as well as 'people from the interweb'.  You are awesome.

So, back to the dress, and armed with camomile tea, I bring you this little Emily and Fin number that I picked up from Oliver Bonas.  It was reduced to a bargainous £29 in their sale so I couldn't resist but snap it up.  I love how the leaf print makes it feel slightly autumnal but the blue makes it feel summer-y and bright.  I must have been feeling summer-y that day (owing to the sunshine streaming through the window I'd wager) so I paired it with some peep-toes, albeit also with some nude tights to be safe.

Emily and Fin dress Emily and Fin dress
dress: emily and fin sarah dress, oliver bonas, £29 {sold out}
peep toes: schutz {sold out}

I hope you are all having a lovely week so far, I must admit that I am pretty happy that it's Friday tomorrow! This week has really dragged, though it's only just over a week until it's February so I guess it can't be going by that slowly.... (the unbelievably quick passing of time, and other blogger clichés...)

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Ilumi Allergen Free Meals Review

Just before Christmas I was asked if I wanted to start my new year with some rather healthy intentions by trialling a box stuffed full of Ilumi foods as part of their 'Boost Your Energy' diet.  Ilumi offer nut, gluten and milk free foods that claim to be delicious as well as allergen free.  Although I don't have a food allergy or intolerance (that I'm aware of), I was intrigued and excited to try their range of 'ready meals', not to mention, I must admit, slightly attracted to an eating plan where all of the lunches and dinners can be popped in the microwave and prepared in minutes.

Another thing that intrigued me was the other foods included in the plan.  The Boost Your Energy diet even includes gluten-free beers and biscuits so you don't have to compromise your evening beer or mid-afternoon biscuit habit.  Breakfast was their gluten-free porridge and there were also oatcakes thrown in as another healthy snack.  You can of course add your own snacks to the plan like fruit, vegetables, salads or other gluten-free products.

Ilumi Food Boxes Ilumi Food Box

I must admit that my only slight concern was that by providing meals that can be cooked in minutes and don't need to be refrigerated, there would be a compromise on taste.  When I served up my first meal, a chicken cacciatora with white rice, my fears were instantly allayed.

Ilumi Food Boxes

It was delicious, like tender, melt in your mouth chicken, a hint of red wine and garlic, with rice that was wholesome and tasty.  I was so full by the end of it I wondered how this could be considered 'healthy' or 'nourishing' when I felt that intense feeling of satisfaction and fullness I usually only get from a carb-fest involving copious amounts of bread and or chips.

I couldn't fault any of the meals - I loved the aromatic thai red chicken curry, the Tom Kha Gai Soup and the slow-cooked beef casserole...

Ilumi Food Boxes

My lunchtimes have turned into a swarm of colleagues gathered to see what delicious treat I have for lunch today, and it's so easy to pop the soups and other dishes in the microwave and enjoy a filling and yummy meal.  I usually eat salads or sandwiches and have a rumbly tummy by 3pm so it was a lovely feeling to feel full well into the early evening.

Tom had the beers and said they were absolutely lovely and the biscuits were really good too.  There was nothing I had on this plan that felt anything less than a well-prepared, home cooked meal (or tasty snack). Ilumi make everything from scratch in their kitchens so it's no surprise that their convenient ready meals taste as good as anything I could ever cook at home (okay, better!)

You can buy their pouch 'ready meals' individually from as little as £1.50 (my favourite Tom Kha Gai Soup is £1.90) and the Boost Your Energy Plan which comes with enough food for a week (as well as the meal plan) is £40 including delivery.  I think that represents excellent value for money at less than £6 a day, especially when some people spend that on just buying lunch every day.  I'd have no hesitation in recommending their delicious foods and I know I'll be picking some more up myself - even if you don't religiously follow a gluten-free diet they are perfect as cupboard backups or those lazy evenings when you don't fancy cooking!)

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{the food products were sent to me for review but all opinions are my own}

Family and the sea

Somehow, somewhere I have stitched together the sea with the notion of family, so that I now cannot imagine the waves lapping at the shore without hearing the crunch of footsteps behind me - my parents foraging for driftwood, one or two dogs darting around our feet and Tom striding along, gazing out to sea. My parents live a couple of roads back from the seafront so a visit to them almost always involves a stroll on the beach, and our weekend walks by the sea closer to home are always with Tom and Bodhi, my slightly smaller, day-to-day version of a family unit.

In some ways my associations with family are so because the sea feels like home.  I have never lived far from the sea and so the call of circling seagulls and the roar of the tide feel comfortable and reassuring, like a favourite blanket or a memento from your hometown.  Feeling sea air on my face and salt on my tongue feels like walking through my front door, there is calm through familiarity.

So it goes without saying that our visit to my parents' house over Christmas was not without a long stroll along the beach.  Coats were pulled on, dogs were bundled into the car and our eyes, dulled by incessant rain were awakened by the first day of sun in what felt like weeks.

The sun glistened and bounced off the ripple-pressed sand.  Stones, glossy, smooth and wet under our boots.  The patter of dog paws on wet sand, making tiny imprints as they fly along together.

Beach at Hill Head
Tom and Geese

My parents and Tom spent their time searching for beachcombed treasures, hoping that a landslide might have exposed a dinosaur fossil or some other relic from the past.

The beach feels alive with creatures of all sizes who have been tempted out by the promise of sunshine and cornflower blue skies.  Geese glide by, honking at the seagulls gently bobbing on the waves.  Dogs gallop towards other dogs, gasping in the sea air and barking with excitement.

Geese flying
Three dogs

Bodhi and Henry as always, have a whale of a time, gleefully running along the beach.  Henry goes much further out into the water, chasing seagulls.  Bodhi is always waiting for him on his return.  They make tracks through the shallow shoreline, water spraying and splashing behind them in identical arcs.

Henry back to Bodhi
Bodhi and Henry

It warms my heart to spend this time together with some of the people that matter the most.

Bodhi, Henry, Mum, Dad, Tom
Mum and Dad

As the sunshine dips behind clouds and wanes with the onset of the afternoon, long shadows are cast and we looked like giants as we ambled back to two cars that would soon be full of stolen sand and soggy dogs.

Tom's boots

It was a wonderful day and a perfect opportunity to blast the cobwebs away.  I will certainly be making the most of our beautiful surroundings and going for more beach walks over the coming months.  I can't wait for the warmer sunshine and longer days to arrive - a spring/summer punctuated with more family time, more salty-seaside air and a few obligatory ice creams will be perfection indeed.

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