Simple Pleasures – My ManBeeCo Busy Bee Mug

The simple pleasures in life are often underrated. Thick velum paper and the flourish of a fountain pen, birdsong in the garden early in the morning, drinking good coffee out of a perfectly proportioned and well loved mug.

As long as I can remember I’ve had a special mug, handmade and hand painted, it’s been the only mug I’ll happily drink coffee out of at home. There’s something special about drinking out of a hand thrown pottery mug. It’s hard to describe but it definitely falls into the simple pleasures category.

busy bee mug

As a born and bred Mancunian I’ve been a supporter of the Manchester Bee Company since they sold their first mugs three years ago. I think I was one of the first people in Manchester to have a brew in a worker bee mug. Whenever visitors come for a brew they get it in that mug, it’s an ideal opportunity for me to deliver my now famous lecture on the origins of the Manchester Bee.

The “Busy Bee” mug from The Manchester Bee Company (ManBeeCo) is handmade in Scotland by Tea With Jud. It is a natural glazed mug with hand painted bee on one side. Each mug is individually hand crafted, so each one is slightly different and totally unique.

The Busy Bee Mug is both microwave and dishwasher safe, and holds 350mls of a proper brew. 

busy bee mug

This is my new favourite mug and I use it every day. It’s beautiful. It looks small but it’s like the tardis of mugs and is really is a simple pleasure to use it every morning. It’s been in my service now for a few weeks, been in and out of the dishwasher daily and it’s as good as new. 

I’ve coveted this mug for ages so I’m delighted it’s now in my cupboard next to it’s original worker bee cousin. For any Mancunian or bee lover, the Busy Bee Mug is the perfect gift. I know it’s just a mug, but like a fountain pen on velum paper it’s a simple pleasure which makes life just a little bit lovelier. 

busy bee mug

You can find the lovely ManBeeCo products in the Royal Exchange craft shop, the People’s History Museum shop, the Manchester Museum shop, Visit MCR and the Tourist Information Centre in Piccadilly Gardens. The People’s History Museum have a limited stock of the hand made mugs, but they can be ordered online here

Judging the International Cheese Awards – ICA2016

Last year I was honoured to be asked to be a judge at the International Cheese Awards and I was delighted when I was asked back this year for more of the same. Except it’s never the same, because there are literally hundreds of categories and literally thousands of cheeses. 5000 cheeses this year in fact – making the International Cheese Awards at Nantwich the biggest and best cheese show in the world!

IMG_8261

The day began like no other, in the car at 7am speeding towards Nantwich. Arriving at the show ground in good time, I registered as a judge and readied myself for the judges briefing. Once I’d donned my official white coat I joined my fellow judges, Victor Hyman from the Barbakan Deli in Chorlton and Laura Barnes from Dewlay Traditional Cheese Makers in Lancashire. I was in excellent and very knowledgeable company.

We had four categories to judge at ICA2016 –
  • DP76 – Two Halves Standard Blue Stilton. Open to producers who are producing less than 1,000 tonnes annually.
  • DP77 – Two Halves Mature Blue Stilton. Open to producers who are producing less than 1,000 tonnes annually.
  • DP90 – Cheese – Any variety that contains Savoury Additives. Hard Cheese other than Cheddar. Cheese produced in UK only.
  • DP97 – Cheese – Any variety that contains Sweet Additives. Soft Cheese produced outside UK only.

We were efficient in our judging. Tasting and discussing the merits of each of the cheeses, examining their appearance, smell, texture and taste, weighing up the sometimes tiny differences between them. Loving some, liking most, disliking the minority. 

The great thing about judging is having to try new things you might not normally choose to put on your cheese board. It expands your horizons and makes you appreciate a cheese even if that cheese might not be to your normal tastes.

ICA2016

I’m not generally a blue cheese fan, but trying the Stilton and learning more about what to look for and what makes a great Stilton has made me appreciate it a little more, so much so that I added a generous portion to my cheese plate at lunchtime.

Judging the four categories took us around two and a half hours. It’s surprisingly hard work and afterwards I had to sit down with a cuppa to recover myself. By the time I was rejuvenated lunchtime was upon us and it was time for a feast, followed by probably the worlds best cheese board.

At lunch La Guilde Internationale des Fromagers took their chance to induct some new members into their ranks, including Chef James Martin. I managed to film that bit, you can view the clips below on YouTube.

And this one…

After lunch the winners were announced and the Supreme Champion and winner of the Westminster Cup 2016 was Treur Kaas for their aged Jerseyhoeve Schorren. Reserve Supreme Champion and Reserve Champion Overseas was awarded to Elite Imports, whilst Champion UK went to Arla Foods with a Double Gloucester from Taw Valley Creamery.

ICA2016 was an absolutely fantastic day, exhausting yes. Will I want to eat cheese tomorrow? Maybe not, but probably by the day after. It’s a truly unique event and a truly unique experience. I’m proud to be a little part of that.

The International Cheese Awards is a two day event, day one was trade and judging day, day two (27th July 2016) the cheese pavilion doors are thrown open to the public and you can sample some of the 5000 wonderful cheeses there from all over the world. 

ICA2016

You can find out more about the International Cheese Awards 2016 on their website, and you can find out more information  and buy tickets to the Nantwich Show here.

Five Hot Summer Sales Picks

The summer holidays are upon us. Like most people I’m staring into the dark wintery abyss of my wardrobe and wondering what to pack for my summer holidays. It’s time to go shopping for something a bit more summery and a bit less cardigany. I’ve been checking out the Joules sale at lovethesales.com and I’ve picked out my 5 hot summer sales picks for 2016.

Every summer holiday needs a new summer dress. Something you can just as easily throw on over your costume on the beach, or wear of an evening sitting in the hotel bar with a glass of something cold and refreshing. This Sade midi dress from the Joules sale caught my eye. It’s been reduced to just £19.95 and it’s bang on trend with the crochet detail and I do love navy.

joules sale

I love this chic Joules amaris top, it is a loose fitting casual style blouse . This shirt features a rounded collar with frill detail and cuff sleeves. It’s just £24 and could be dressed up or down very easily.joules sale

I live in flip flops over the summer and these are just beautiful. These “Sandy Flip Flops” are just £9.99 and would brighten up any beach wear and look great with jeans too. joules sale

This Joules Lizzie Empire Line Jersey Tunic is just the job for a casual evening out. The panel detailing in this empire line jersey tunic makes it a truly flattering piece that’s great for wearing with bare legs and layering up with tights or skinny jeans once the weather turns chillier. It’s reduced to just £32.95 in the Joules sale – which is a bargain for such a lovely tunic top.

joules sale

My last pick is a new swimming costume. I really like this one the flattering tummy control and adjustable ties give this all-in-one swimsuit a made to measure feel. Very flattering this one-piece wonder perfect for the beach or pool. This is a lovely dark denim colour and it’s a beach bargain at £22.95.

joules sale

There are some really lovely bargains to be had in the Joules sale at lovethesales.com with some items having up to 80% off. Joules is known for it’s bright, colourful eclectic range, and quality clothing, perfect for a summer holiday shop!

= Disclosure: via lovethesales =

Review: Sleepover fun with Snuggle Sac

This week the small boy had his first sleepover. His slightly older cousin came over for the night and the excitement was palpable. In anticipation of the event we were sent a Pirate Snuggle Sac from Ollie and Leila to try out, and boy did we put it through its paces!

The Snuggle Sac is a cozy sleeping bag which is made of fleece with a 100% cotton lining. We chose the pirate one because who doesn’t love pirates. But they come in a wide range of designs including Harry Potter, lions, dogs and fairies etc. They are designed to look a bit like dressing up costumes, so you can pretend to be a pirate whilst you’re curled up for a sleep.

sac5

The Snuggle Sac measures 180cm x 70cm and is the perfect size for my five year old, leaving lots of room for him to grow into over the years. 

What I particularly like about it is there is a pouch for you to slip in a pillow. The pillow doesn’t go walkies in the night, something which used to really annoy me when I was in sleeping bags as a child. There is your standard sleeping bag zip along one side and pirate feet hanging off the bottom. It’s lots of fun.

Snuggle Sac

The Snuggle Sac comes in its own tote bag, which is great for packing it away when it’s not in use. Although it’s been designed to be used both for camping trips and sleepovers and to replace normal bedding, I think we’ll be using it a lot over the summer for our holidays and for sleepovers. We’re off to the Just So Festival in August, so this will be perfect for then.

Snuggle Sac

We unpacked the Snuggle Sac and the boys went bonkers for it. They loved it and couldn’t wait to try it out. At bedtime we took it upstairs and made a bed on the floor for his cousin, tucked a pillow into the pouch, zipped him up and he soon nodded off. Perfect. Well at least the Snuggle Sac was perfect.

Snuggle Sac

Near midnight, after a bout of coughing cousin Joe was sick on himself, his cuddly toy and the Snuggle Sac (see, I told you we put it through its paces!). So his bed was stripped and the Snuggle Sac washed and hung out to dry. I have to say it washed really well and dried pretty quickly on a sunny day.

It was a shame it didn’t make it through the night, but we know it works, is popular and importantly when dealing with small sticky boys, it washes really well. I know my boy will want to sleep in it tonight and for the next few nights, but then we’ll pack it away in its tote bag ready for our holiday.

Snuggle Sac

The Snuggle Sacs cost £45 here and I think they are lovely fun sleeping bag for kids. They also do adult versions (though sadly not in pirate designs) and Snuggle Sacs for smaller children and babies. I think if you’re planning a family camping trip, or you have lots of sleepovers coming up, these are a great sleeping solution. We love ours!

Note: We were sent a Snuggle Sac for review purposes. All images and opinions are our own.

My Sunday Photo 24.7.16

I don’t know what this plant is. We rescued it from the disaster that was our garden when we moved into our house five years ago. I suspect it’s something like a hydrangea (answers on a postcard please). 

When we moved in the garden was a jungle of ivy. You literally had to hack your way through it to get anywhere. It was a “designer” garden which had been left to run wild. Occasionally I’d find an especially lovely plant drowning in the ivy. I’d carefully dig it up, plant it in a pot and put it to one side until the garden had been cleared and we could plant it up properly.

hydrangeaThis is by far my favourite find and I always look forward to it flowering. Even when the flowers fade we’re left with fragile looking papery flower heads. Yjeu mostly last through winter providing some interest until we cut them off in spring. 

I’m still struggling to get my head around everything that’s been going on for me at the moment. I’ve been making a point of going outside each day and looking at some of the nice things in the garden. A bit of fresh air and nature will always do me some good and I’m just trying to be kind to myself.

So what is it? Does anyone have a better idea than me? 

Holidays: Budgeting in Alicante

Warm, welcoming and packed with things to see and do, Alicante is an excellent destination for families. However, like many summer holiday destinations, the expenses can soon rack up. If you’ve already bought your Alicante flights, are willing to have a shorter stay and plan to avoid using taxis, you can stay there for a lot less than you think once you’ve flown out.

Images by Suso Sinmiedo, used under CC license

Taking public transport

As mentioned just now, one of the best ways to save money in the city is to use the public transport, which is superb and can take you outside of the more touristy areas. When you arrive at Alicante’s massive El Altet airport, take the SuBus connection (service C6) to the city centre. It should take around 30 minutes and cost around 2 Euros. If you take a taxi, it will cost about 15 Euros.

After you’ve settled in your hotel, stick with the public transport. The buses are very regular, and for the local tram service, while a little slower, you can buy special tickets that allow for up to 30 trips for a set fee. If you really don’t have a lot of money, walking is a very inexpensive alternative!

Where to eat

Some of the cheapest places to eat are the local bars, and some of the ones run by English expats offer deals like an English breakfast for less than 3 Euros. Head there in the morning for a full breakfast that will set you up until lunchtime.

Traditional Spanish bars serve inexpensive tapas, but if you want cheap food in a hurry, the local markets always have cheap cafes, or sell basics like bread, cheese and olives, so you can make up a quick picnic. The Old Town, which is where many of the locals like to eat, serves a three-course menu del día, which can cost less than 10 Euros and often includes a glass of wine!

What to do

The Castillo de Santa Bárbara is a fortification that dates back to the Moorish times, and is home to caverns and courtyards which are occupied by the city museum, MUSA, and cost nothing to visit.

Alternatively, you can visit the Santa Cruz quarter, an ancient district that dates back to the medieval times and is full of lovely little cottages, gardens. The quarter leads to the much newer Parque de la Ereta, a beautiful park that features fountains and sculptures.

Check out what local events are on, as Alicante has some inexpensive music festivals that take place during the year, such as the aptly-named Low Cost Festival, a music festival, which offers tickets from 40 Euros.

Stas 2012

Image by Nesimo, used under CC license

Alicante is a beautiful place, but that doesn’t mean it should cost you the earth. So, whether you’re staying for three days or three weeks, make sure that after you’ve booked your Alicante flights, you know how to save yourself some money!

Win a pack of themed playing cards

Growing up we played a lot of card games, mostly with my Grandma. We’d get out a pack of slightly dog eared cards and play whist, snap, fish, blackjack, solitaire, rummy. At school we played a series of complex card games during our lunch breaks, I can’t remember the name of the games but it was super fast and I was often the winner. It’s nice that school gave me at least one demonstrable life skill.

My Grandma had some playing cards with pictures on them which she’d brought back from holiday in Spain. The cards featured illustrations of beautiful flamenco dancers striking poses and I loved to look at them. I’m still a bit obsessed with themed playing cards and really love the retro look of them.

Bird Playing Cards have packs of cards to appeal to EVERYONE, young and old, collector and card sharp, player and non-player, and those who just enjoy the imagery on the cards.

They have themed packs as diverse as Leonardo, trains, match boxes, shoes, beer, whisky, battleships, Monet, Australia, cruises, the French Resistance, African America, spies, VCs, tanks… the whole gamut of War and Peace… 

I love the “Come to Britain” pack of cards – 54 classic travel posters, from a golden age of poster art. Designed by such great graphic artists as Tom Purvis and Frank Newbould, they offered a seductive vision of Britain at its best – a land of pageant, of guardsmen and kilted pipers, of thatched cottage and cathedral, of peerless scenery, sandy beaches… and sun.

themed playing cards

Win a pack of themed playing cards

Three lucky winners will each receive a pack of these wonderful cards. To be in with a chance to win a pack of themed playing cards, simply complete the Rafflecopter widget below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms & Conditions:
1. The competition is open to residents of the UK only aged (18) and over.
2. The prize is non-transferable and no cash alternative is offered.
3. To enter, please use the Rafflecopter widget above, complete any mandatory entries and any optional entries you would like.
4. The three winners will be chosen at random from all valid entries.
5.The winners will receive a pack of themed playing cards.
6. The closing date for entries is 11.59pm GMT on 16th August 2016.
7. The winners will be informed by email within 7 days of the closing date.
8. The winners will be asked to provide a full UK postal address with postcode for delivery purposes.
9. The winners name will be available on request
10. Address details will be passed onto an agency to post the prize out to the winner, and is therefore beyond my control. I cannot be held responsible for prizes being lost in the post although I will endeavour to liaise with the agency.
11. Your email address may be passed on to to the promoter for marketing purposes, you may unsubscribe at any time.
12. Entry to this giveaway confirms that participants have read, understood and agree to be bound by these Terms and Conditions.
13. HodgePodgeDays decision is final in all matters relating to this giveaway.

Win a sterling silver necklace from designer Hendrikka Waage

I am delighted to be giving away a Bænastafur – a beautiful sterling silver prayer symbol necklace from the acclaimed Icelandic designer Hendrikka Waage.

Hendrikka Waage, is an internationally renowned jewellery designer, philanthropist, children’s books author, global activist and campaigner for children. Hendrikka has worked and lived across the globe, from Japan, to Russia, India, the US, and the UK, where she lives now, picking up design influences along the way. Elegant, striking, and exquisitely crafted, her jewellery has featured in international fashion magazines such as Vogue, Baazar, Marie Claire, Elle, and many others.

The Bænastafur is a beautiful sterling silver prayer symbol necklace which is currently available on her website www.hendrikkawaage.com for £111. The Prayer symbol is one of the most mysterious and powerful symbols in Norse mythology. The Prayer symbol is similar to the Helm of Awe, it protects its owner but this symbol has an even greater power because the owner will get their wish granted.

Bænastafur details:
-Sterling silver chain and charm
-Rhodium plated
-Length of chain 36´
-Total length ´38
-Icelandic design

Hendrikka WaageYou can find out more about Hendrikka Waage and her stunning jewellery collection on her website and by following her Facebook and Instagram feeds.

Win A beautiful sterling silver prayer symbol necklace from Icelandic designer Hendrikka Waage

To be in with a chance to win a Bænastafur – a beautiful sterling silver prayer symbol necklace from the acclaimed Icelandic designer Hendrikka Waage simply complete the Rafflecopter widget below – good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms & Conditions:
1. The competition is open to residents of the UK only aged (18) and over.
2. The prize is non-transferable and no cash alternative is offered.
3. To enter, please use the Rafflecopter widget above, complete any mandatory entries and any optional entries you would like.
4. The winner will be chosen at random from all valid entries.
5.The winner will receive a beautiful sterling silver prayer symbol necklace from the Icelandic designer Hendrikka Waage..
6. The closing date for entries is 11.59pm GMT on 17th August 2016.
7. The winner will be informed by email within 7 days of the closing date.
8. The winner will be asked to provide a full UK postal address with postcode for delivery purposes.
9. The winners name will be available on request
10. Address details will be passed onto an agency to post the prize out to the winner, and is therefore beyond my control. I cannot be held responsible for prizes being lost in the post although I will endeavour to liaise with the agency.
11. Your email address may be passed on to to the promoter for marketing purposes, you may unsubscribe at any time.
12. Entry to this giveaway confirms that participants have read, understood and agree to be bound by these Terms and Conditions.
13. HodgePodgeDays decision is final in all matters relating to this giveaway.

Grieving: Mending my broken heart

My broken heart just really needs a big cuddle right now and I need to learn how to do that for myself.

It’s been three weeks now since my dad died. I’d been doing pretty well until last week, keeping strong and ploughing on. I’ve been outwardly cheery and strong to the point where you’d think nothing of any consequence had happened in my life. 

The first couple of weeks after someone dies you’re busy. You’ve got stuff to do, people to talk to, arrangements to make. Then it all stops and the world carries on without you.

Last week the world quietly took itself off pause and carried on and I crumbled. I crumbled and touched the edge of the abyss and I scared myself. Last week there was time and space for me to open the door a little bit on my grief. I shone a light inside and saw that my heart was broken. I have an utterly broken heart.

I don’t know how to mend my broken heart. Everyone says that time is a healer. I’ve been quoted three months to get over the shock, one year to get through the first tranche of painful anniversary memories and three years to get over it properly. I’m taking it one day at a time and for the record I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.

I am excellent at compartmentalising things. I put little lumps of feelings, painful experiences, whatever, in boxes in my mind and when I’m feeling strong enough I take one down off the shelf and look inside. Sometimes I have a rummage about and wonder what the fuss was about, sometimes I slam the lid shut for it never to be opened again. 

I think this is a box that will become very well worn over time. I’ll take it down, open it a bit, deal with whatever pain and sorrow I can and then close it and put it back where it come from. I also know the box next to it on the shelf contains a whole load of really wonderful, special memories of my dad too. I’ll try and open that box and share its contents as much as I can too.

I love my dad. He was one of the biggest and brightest stars in my universe. I will always love him and I will always miss him and I’m going to try very hard not to fall into the abyss again. He told one of his friends that I was one of the strongest people he knew and I’m going to try and make that true.

broken heart

The day our fridge freezer died!

When we moved into our house 5 years ago our old fridge freezer moved with us. It had been clunking and clanking in an increasingly worrying way for a little while, but we figured it would limp along for a bit until we had some spare cash to replace it.

In the event it limped along for four more years. For most of those four years I was constantly chipping chunks of ice out of the bottom of the fridge, glancing at it worriedly as it whirred and clanked away to itself in the corner.

It had crossed my mind that I should start saving for a replacement, but cash was in very short supply. I had hoped that the fridge freezer fairy would look kindly upon me and just magic one into my kitchen. No such luck.

In the end I began asking family members for cash and vouchers for my birthday and Christmas so I could “save up” that way. I probably got about half way there before it clunked its last shortly after Christmas. We didn’t want or need anything flash, we just needed something that would keep things cool for us, with enough room to store food for the family each week. 

The fridge died at both the best and worst possible time. Straight after Christmas when there are no pennies in the piggy bank, but at least the sales were on. I sat down and did my research, found one that would be suitable but was more at the budget end of the spectrum. I counted the cash and vouchers I’d saved but still found I was £150 short. 

I quickly did some research on short term loans. We didn’t need to borrow much and I knew if we tightened our belts for a month or so we could pay off the loan quickly. Vivus offered us a pretty good deal, you can borrow £100-£300 from them on a short term basis, as long as you pay it back in time there’s no problem. It was enough to get us over the post-Christmas dead fridge freezer bump.

I’ve always tried to have some money put aside for a rainy day, but sometimes it’s not enough. Our new fridge freezer is doing a sterling job, it’s virtually silent compared to the last one and I hope we’ll have many happy years together. 

fridge freezer

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