Monday, 28 June 2021

A Mid Year Look At My 2021 Goals For The Year

 At the start of 2021, I set myself a few personal goals and a few business goals and like every year, in the Summer, I like to take a look at where I'm at and see if I'm sort of 'on track' to achieve everything I hoped. I definitely didn't set myself as many goals this year as I have in the past just because the last year has been hard for so many of us and who wants all that that extra pressure to achieve loads of stuff? That being said, I do find setting myself little goals really keeps me motivated so I always have a few things in mind. So, here's a mid year look at my 2021 goals for the year. I'd love to know how you're getting on with any goals you set too!

Reach 150 Etsy Sales
I went into 2021 on about 55 sales after opening my shop Bear's Brownies & More in October and I was SO proud of myself for reaching that in just a few months. When I decided to take the plunge and start up my own baking business, I had absolutely no idea how it was going to go. I fully expected I might get a few sales and then it would quickly stop but luckily that didn't happen and that's mainly due to the support I've had from the blogging community. It overwhelms me how kind people can be online who I hardly even know so if that's you and you've contributed in any way, thank you so much! As I didn't know how the shop might go this year, I decided I would aim for reaching 150 sales by the end of the year. I hit that in March! That just makes me so happy and the buzz of getting a sale never goes away. I'm hoping to reach 200 sales now but I might up it at some point if I'm feeling confident! I've definitely noticed sales slowing down a little since lockdown lifted which is understandable, I think so many small businesses are feeling it right now but I'm sure it will pick up again soon.

Reach 1000 Followers on the Bear's Brownies & More Instagram
Another business goal this year is to hit 1000 followers on the Bear's Brownies & More instagram. I'm now on about 730 followers which I'm really pleased with and I'm hopeful I'll reach my goal later in the year. Instagram can be such a pain though so I won't be too disappointed if not, sometimes it seems like you can be doing all the 'right' things and it still won't matter. If you'd like to follow us & see all of our delicious bakes, this is the link to our Insta!

Exercise Regularly
Ahh I can't say this has gone brilliantly so far this year! Last Spring/Summer I got into such a good routine with exercising and eating healthier and I felt brilliant for it when lockdown properly lifted so I really just want to get back to that. I notice a massive difference in my mental health aswell as physical health when I exercise, even if it's just something small so I'm determined to get back into something I enjoy this Summer. To be fair, we did buy a treadmill recently so I have no excuse anymore. Moving house and all of the stress leading upto that this year just got in the way of this goal and I seem to have lost all inspiration for cooking recently but there's still time.

Buy A House
That follows on nicely from my last point, we bought a house! I was very brief about this in my goals post in January as by that point we'd already had an offer accepted and knew we were in the process of buying but I didn't want to jinx anything! I knew buying a house would be stressful but I don't think I quite anticipated just how bad it would be at times. We had SO many delays, we should have been in far earlier than we were but by May we got the keys and I can't quite explain how good it felt to finally step into the house knowing it was ours. I genuinely think this is the happiest we've ever been. Bear absolutely loves it, the living room is my happy place as it's decorated how I always wanted and we have so many exciting plans for it over the next few years. So so proud of us for achieving this.

Read 80 Books
I'm not doing so well with my reading challenge for 2021 I've gotta say. I knew I wasn't likely to read as many books as I have over the last few years due to moving and also because of the shop but I've seriously slacked with it this year. I think I'm about 20 books behind schedule according to goodreads and I can't remember the last time I properly picked up a book and read for a while. I'd still love to read 80 books by the end of the year but if I don't, it really doesn't matter. I want to make sure I'm not just reading for the sake of it and rushing through everything.

So that's a little mid year look at my 2021 goals. Apart from one or two, they're going pretty well I think! I'm really excited to see where I'm at with my business by the end of the year and I also can't wait to keep making this house a home and making little changes in the coming months.

Did you set yourself any goals this year?

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Monday, 7 June 2021

What I Read In April & May

 I've ended up combining April & May's monthly reading roundups as there just wasn't enough to say for April alone, I seriously slacked with reading and for the most part I just couldn't be bothered to pick up a book. There has been a LOT going on recently and to be honest the majority of this year has been quite stressful which has definitely played a part in the lack of reading I've been doing but there was a good reason for it. We moved house! In May we FINALLY got the keys to our new home after first having our offer accepted just before Christmas so it's felt like a lifetime waiting to complete. We had so many delays so week after week I just felt stressed & of course lockdown didn't help but as soon as we got the keys, all of that just went away. I'm hoping I'll get the reading bug back now that stress has gone & Summer is on the way so I just know I'm going to be sat in the garden loads with a book while Bear plays, something I've wanted to do for so long. Anyway, now that's out of the way and hopefully explains a little why things have been a bit all over the place here, let's talk about the books I did manage to read in April and May.

Playing Nice by J.P. Delaney - ⭐⭐⭐
This is the first book I've ever read by J.P. Delaney which is surprising as his books have been recommended so many times! Playing Nice starts when Pete Riley answers his door one morning, not knowing a parent's worst nightmare is about to come true. There stands Miles Lambert, a stranger, who says that Pete's son Theo isn't actually is his son, he is the Lambert's little boy who was switched at birth. Their real son went home with Miles and his wife Lucy. For Pete and Maddie, their life is about to change forever. This was really tense just from the first chapter and I knew that no matter how nice everyone seemed, Pete and Maddie were going to end up with a fight on their hands. I didn't trust Miles from the start but I found all the characters quite complex and like they could be the one hiding something big from everyone else. For the most part I really enjoyed this but towards the end it just lost me a little. The ending was really drawn out and unrealistic.

The Stopover by T.L. Swan - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The first five star book of the month! I know books like Fifty Shades of Grey can divide opinion and I would say this is definitely along those lines so I'll keep try and keep this short and sweet but I clearly really enjoyed it! I'd seen this recommended quite a few times recently on Instagram and I was too intrigued to leave it any longer. This starts out with Emily Foster getting bumped up to first class for her flight to New York, something that never happens to a girl like her and that's where she meets Jameson. Sitting next to one another during the flight, they enjoy drinks and find they actually get on really well. Due to bad weather during the flight, they are rerouted to Boston and have the chance to spend the night together. After the best night, they go their separate ways, thinking that was all it was ever meant to be. A year later, Emily now has a job interview in New York and it turns out it's at Jameson's company. He wants to pick up where they left off but Emily has a boyfriend now. Can they resist? I'm so excited to read more from this author in future now.

The Spark by Jules Wake - ⭐⭐⭐
This is a really tricky one to rate, at times it felt like a five star, especially at the beginning but as the book went on, something changed and to be honest I don't know what. Insightful I know. The Spark is about Jess and Sam. As soon as their eyes lock at a party, there's a spark, genuine love at first sight. The issue is Sam is just out of a relationship and his ex Victoria won't back off making the honeymoon period hell. Is love at first sight enough to make this work? There was an obvious connection between Jess and Sam & I loved both characters despite their flaws & the messy way they get together because it just felt very believable. Life isn't always straightforward. At times though it was very predictable & I wish Sam had been a bit more outspoken as it often felt like Jess had to take the brunt of Victoria's pain which was a little unfair. I think if you're after something lighthearted to read this Spring, this is probably something you'd enjoy.

No One Can Change Your Life Except For You by Laura Whitmore - ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I rarely read non-fiction books but Laura Whitmore's brand new book stood out to me for a few reasons. Not gonna lie the gorgeous cover sucked me in and the title but it also seemed like such a positive, uplifting read and that was something I really needed at the time. In this, Laura talks about how we can become our own heroes and create our own dreams after sharing her struggles and experiences with heartbreak, self-doubt, insecurity and more. There's lots of chat around positive affirmations, self-belief and optimism and how all of those things can benefit our lives if we let them. I'm really into manifestation and speaking positive affirmations and I truly believe it's why some things have worked out how they have over the last 6 months so this was kind of just reinforcing a lot of what I've been trying to do anyway. I loved finding out more about Laura and some of the people she looks upto and I think there was a nice balance throughout of chapters about her life aswell as tips on controlling your perspective, trying to have a more optimistic outlook and positive affirmations to use going forward. It left me really empowered to be honest and I can see myself going back to this again and again for several little snippets.

The Doctor by Nikki Sloane - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Okay I'm going to have to keep my reviews short for the next few because I don't really know what to say other than they're pure smut. Books by Nikki Sloane make Fifty Shades seem tame so that's saying something. The Doctor is the first book in a 3 part series by Nikki and it was definitely my favourite of the three. Cassidy is just home from college for the Summer when she realises her relationship with Preston is going nowhere. After deciding to end things, she realises the connection she has with his father...There's a 20 year age gap but the chemistry is real & can either of them resist? Of course not. I can see why this wouldn't be for everyone but I really enjoyed it. I read it all in about an hour!

The Pool Boy by Nikki Sloane - ⭐⭐⭐
The second in the series by Nikki Sloane and just as risque as The Doctor. Erika has just discovered her husband has been cheating on her for years with his boss and she's decides she's wasted too many years doing what is best for everyone else. She's putting herself first from now on and that means saying yes when she finds herself in a compromising situation with the twenty something pool boy. Whilst I did enjoy this and again found myself reading the whole thing super quickly, I definitely didn't find it quite as intriguing as Nikki's previous book.

The Architect by Nikki Sloane - ⭐⭐
The final book in the series and this was definitely my least favourite. I don't even know how to go about explaining the plot because it's just so crazy. It had moments which I enjoyed and it was nice that characters from previous books turned up at points but overall it was a bit too much for me.

So that's everything I've read over the last two months. I would still love to reach my reading goal of 80 books this year but I'm very behind right now so I have my doubts! I've really missed just sitting and getting properly stuck into a book these last few weeks whilst everything has been a bit mad so I'm looking forward to a bit of calm now.

What books have you read recently?

By the way, after taking much longer than I expected away from my small business to move house, I've finally re-opened the shop today! We still have 7 gorgeous brownies to choose from and we have 15% off all week too so would love it if you felt like treating yourself to a box or spreading the word!

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Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Create Your Own Signature Style With These Accessories

 This article is published in collaboration with Media Buzzer

We all know just how important accessories are when it comes to what we wear. Rather than following trends seen on social media, you can create your very own style, one that suits you down to the ground. Here is a list of must-have accessories if you want to forge your way into the fashion stakes.

Image Source: Pixabay

Range of Bangles
If you shop for silver jewellery online, you get top quality pieces at affordable prices; someone has to pay for the plush retail premises and shopping online is 15-20% cheaper. Bangles can be mixed and that could be one of your trademarks, with superb sterling silver hand-crafted bangles in a range of combinations.

Bags

Your choice of bag says a lot about you and whether a chic laptop case for business, or the backpack for hiking, choose your bags wisely. Have at least 1 designer bag for those formal events and then add to your collection whenever you are in need of a suitable bag. Search online for bag inspiration and you won't be disappointed.

Layered Necklaces

Why not be the girl that always wears an interesting selection on necklaces? Check out the many fashion websites online where you can see many stacked necklaces and chunky silver necklaces for women. There are no hard and fast rules regarding wearing multiple necklaces. It won't take you long to amass a collection of varying length necklaces if you shop for sterling silver jewellery online, and make sure the pieces are hand-crafted and carry the 92.5 stamp.

Image Source: Unsplash

Shoes
You could go sporty and wear some bright Nike or Adidas, wearing neon-coloured shoelaces of odd colours, which is guaranteed to get you noticed. Many women make a strong fashion statement with their footwear and the great thing about online shopping is the variety, which means you can easily find a pair of shoes that turn the eye.

Device Holder
Every woman of today should have their digital device at hand, with a leather smartphone and a sleek iPad case, for those occasions when you need to work. These valuable devices demand good protection. They are also great fashion accessories and with online solutions, you can order suitable device carriers.

Scarves

Image Source: Unsplash

These are ideal when the temperature is still on the low side, plus they can be worn in many ways. You could have a range of printed scarves in various colours and that would quickly become an item that people identified with you. Search online for an amazing selection of fashion scarves and shawls, which are great in the Spring and Autumn.

Once you have a firm idea of the look you are trying to create, spend some time thinking about all of the above. Slowly but surely, you can set your own signature style that will identify with you. Don't be afraid to experiment when doing this and with some feedback from a good friend, you can set your own trends.

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Monday, 5 April 2021

What I Read In March

 Anyone else think the months are flying by?! I can't quite believe we're already in April and it's time to talk about the books I read in March. It genuinely feels like a few days ago when I was talking about books from February. I can't say I'm sad that the days seem to be going by quite quickly at the moment though. I mentioned last month how much I struggled with the latest lockdown and now we're officially out of it (I think?) and better times are coming, it feels like a weight has been lifted. I'm definitely not reading at the speed I was last year just because I've been so busy with Bear's Brownies and More and generally life has been a little stressful so it just hasn't been on my radar but there's still loads of time to reach my goal for the year. In March I managed to read 5 books so here's what I thought of them!collage of book covers

My Sweet Revenge by Jane Fallon - ⭐⭐⭐
It had been quite a while since I'd last read a Jane Fallon book and after becoming really picky with thrillers which is one of my fave genres, I thought I'd go for something completely different and also from an author I always enjoy. My Sweet Revenge follows Paula who wants to make her husband fall back in love with her. She's discovered he's been having an affair so goes on a mission to revamp herself, so when she confronts him, he'll realise what he's lost. While this wasn't my fave book by Jane, it did give me the reading bug back a little. It was such an easy read and I loved how snappy the chapters were, nothing felt like it was dragging and there was a good twist towards the end which I didn't expect! I didn't initially like that she set out to lose weight and change herself for a man but I do think as the book goes on and she gains confidence that it does become more about her finding herself which I liked.

If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane - ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Ahh I really enjoyed this! I've read a few books by Mhairi McFarlane before, my favourite being You Had Me At Hello so I had just been waiting for this to be on offer on Kindle. If I Never Met You is about Laurie and Jamie, who to all of their work colleagues look madly in love. The reality is though that it's all staged. Laurie has just been dumped by Dan, her boyfriend of 18 years who she'll still have to work with & she wants revenge. Jamie is after a promotion and knows how much the bosses admire Laurie. Why not join forces? The rules are set via email, the photos are staged but over time do the feelings become real? I loved the tension between Laurie and Jamie almost instantly and whilst it might have been quite predictable how it would end, I still loved it. I felt Laurie's pain when Dan quickly moves on & she felt like a character I could really root for. I hope there's a short story follow up one day as I'd love to know what happens to Laurie and Jamie next.

The Perfect Nanny by Karen Clarke & Amanda Brittany* - ⭐⭐⭐
The first thriller of March and I really enjoyed it. The Perfect Nanny follows Sophy, a new mother whose struggling with looking after her nine month old, an overbearing mother in law and feeling like she's lost herself since becoming a mother. After bumping into Liv at a mother and baby group who offers her services as a nanny, Sophie is relieved. The thing is Liv has a secret. For years she has been convinced Sophy is responsible for her brother's death many years ago and now she's found her, she's going to make her pay. As Liv starts to work for Sophy though, has she actually got it all wrong? I have read books quite similar to this before so parts of it were quite predictable but overall it did keep me guessing throughout. I liked that we hear from both Sophy and Liv throughout and all of the characters were quite complex so I was never quite sure who to trust. I enjoyed the twists that are revealed towards the end too!

The Catch by T.M. Logan - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
This is the second book I've read by T.M. Logan. I read his previous book The Holiday a while ago and to be honest I wasn't that impressed so I wasn't sure if this would end up being similar. It was SO different though and for that reason so much better and it's become my second 5 star book of the year. I've been so picky with thrillers recently but this was genuinely tense, kept me guessing throughout and had some really interesting characters involved. The Catch is about Ed's quest to figure out who his daughter's fiance Ryan really is. From the moment he meets Ryan, he's suspicious and knows that something is not quite right. Everyone else thinks Ed is just being an overprotective dad so the more he digs into Ryan's past, the more he pushes everyone else away. Has Ed got it all wrong or is Ryan actually dangerous? and who will come out top in the end? This was just everything you want in a psychological thriller. As soon as you think you trust a character, the next minute something happens that completely changes your opinion. The setting of the Peak District was perfect too & I could picture everything so clearly and the writing itself just flowed perfectly. When I read The Holiday, I thought the writing was a bit clunky and I just couldn't comfortably sit and read a lot of it in one go but I could with this. A really brilliant book.

The Shape Of Us by Drew Davies - ⭐⭐
The Shape Of Us is about several different characters all going about their day in London whose lives end up colliding in ways they never expected. Daisy, rushing to work is almost knocked over by a cyclist who then asks for her number. Jojo, a woman in her sixties is desperately trying to win her husband back from his mistress. Adam lies to his housemate every day since losing his job. Dylan has an illness which means he can't leave his home, but it hasn't stopped him falling in love. These four strangers have one thing in common, they're looking for love and totally hopeless at it. But could that all change? This started off really well and I quite quickly became really invested in Daisy's story and her chapters were the ones I always ended up looking forward to. About a quarter of the way in though I felt like the pace really changed and I found it a bit of a slog to get through after that. There are so many characters throughout that it became a bit too complicated trying to keep track of who was who and how they were connected. I'm glad I finally read this as it's been on my list for a while but it didn't blow me away.

A bit of a disappointing end to the month but overall quite a good month for books! My first five star book in a while and a nice variety which kept things interesting. I'd love to know if you've read any of these books or if you have any recommendations?

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Tuesday, 23 March 2021

How To Display Antiques In A Modern Home

 This article is published in collaboration with Media Buzzer
Image Source: Unsplash

Many people assume that displaying antiques in a modern home requires a lot of space and money, but this couldn't be further from the truth. All you need is a little creativity to find ways to display your antiques tastefully, so they fit well in the modern environment within which you live. Below are some tips to help you get started, which can help turn your modern house into a home full of personality, and antiques.

Have A Plan
The first thing that you will need to do is create a plan for how you will display your antique collection. It is worth taking time to plan the display of your antiques, and the more planning you do and creative thinking, the better the result will look. You can get a lot of inspiration online and even by visiting various antique shops, giving you ideas of how you can replicate the look in your home.

Less Is More
Rather than displaying all your antiques in one room with no actual theme, you are better to show them off and create focal points in your room. You can put on display some of the best items in your home and have these on your fireplace, bookshelf or table. You will want to avoid having too much on display which can make your home seem like an antique store, and you will also want to have a theme for each room you are displaying your antiques.

Image Source: Pixabay

Give Each Room A Theme
If you have an eclectic collection of antiques, rather than displaying them all, you will want to give each room in your home a theme and try and stick with it. If you have an office or library, this can be an excellent place to display books and one of those vintage furniture for sale online. If you have kitchen-related antiques, you can consider displaying these in your kitchen. However, as there is a lot of heat and moisture in your kitchen, you will need to be careful about the antiques you have here, and it is the same with your bathroom.

Purchase An Antique Cabinet
You can also consider buying yourself an antique display cabinet which will be the perfect place to showcase your collection in your home. A search of the antique dealers in your local area will show plenty of choices when looking for a suitable cabinet. You will want to ensure that everything you display in your cabinet follows a theme to make it seem in place and at home displaying your antiques. You can select a cabinet that matches the decor of your home, and it can also be a beautiful antique in itself which makes for the ideal place to show off more antiques.

Image Source: Unsplash

With some creativity and careful planning, you can have the modern and the old embraced in your home and display your antique collection with pride. Take your time in planning your display, and do not be afraid to try new things, and with a bit of patience and luck, you can transform the way your home looks and feels. You can proudly display your antiques for everyone to enjoy who visits your house and make it feel like a loving home.

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Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Lockdown Favourites - The BEST waffles, Firefly Lane, Small Businesses & More

 It's been a few weeks but I'm back with another post and today it's all about my lockdown favourites! It's been such a long time since I last shared a favourites post and gone are the days where I would post them every month but there's quite a few things I've been absolutely loving over the last few weeks whilst we've been in lockdown that I wanted to talk to you about!

The BEST waffles
It's really been the little things that have got me through this latest lockdown. Saturday night date nights where we'll cook a really nice meal and watch a film (or The Masked Singer, I was obsessed). Winter walks with Bear. A special breakfast. There's been so little to look forward to that it really made me appreciate the things I probably wouldn't think much of otherwise. Last year we found this amazing cafe on one of our walks with Bear and ever since we have become regulars. I can't wait for the day we can sit inside rather than having to get takeaway but regardless the food is just incredible. Every so often we'll grab breakfast and a hot chocolate and my current fave of theirs is the waffles. Just look at them. I think about them most days.

Small Businesses
I've bought from so many small businesses since I opened Bear's Brownies and More so it felt right I share some of them with you! I think having my own small business means I've really noticed how much I was shopping with bigger companies and it's not that I've stopped completely but for Christmas and any events since, I've been shopping small and I can't see myself stopping. There are SO many amazing small businesses out there and I'd support them all if I could. I know just how much 1 sale can completely turn your day around. Some of my fave small businesses to support recently have been Molly Catherine Designs for the most beautiful bookmarks, cards, prints and notebooks. PercyandBream for homemade dog treats. We bought some for Bear's birthday recently as they can be personalised and he loved them! DragonflyByNicki for face masks, dog bandanas and more. Bear loves his Star Wars bandana that he proudly wore on his birthday walk. SunshineSurprisesUK for brilliant cards for all events. Both George and I have bought from them several times! Fab for fans of musicals, Gavin and Stacey, Schitt's Creek and Bridgerton just to name a few things. SiobhanPrints for musical prints, custom prints, stickers and more. Finally, KilnersKreations has become a go to of mine recently for Bear. They sell an amazing range of dog toys aswell as bows, treat bags and lots more.

Firefly Lane
This is a pretty new addition to Netflix and quite quickly it received so much praise online so of course I was drawn in and had to know what the hype was about. This is based on a book of the same name by Kristin Hannah and it stars Katherine Heigl and Sarah Chalke as Tully and Kate. Tully and Kate first meet when they're teenagers on Firefly Lane and quite quickly they become inseparable. This follows the ups and downs of their friendships and relationships over 30 years. I found this such an easy watch and I just hope they do another series. I loved the characters and I thought Katherine Heigl in particular was brilliant. It's easily a show you could sit and binge-watch all in one go!

Line of Duty
Another show that I've been absolutely loving is Line of Duty. We've watched it all before but in the run up to the new series which starts later this week we've re-watched from Series 2 onwards and it's been such a good distraction from everything that's been going on. I think it's one of the best dramas out there and even though I've seen all of the episodes before, it does feel like with each re-watch you discover things you didn't notice before. The cast are fab and Martin Compston, Vicky McClure and Adrian Dunbar are just amazing as Steve, Kate and Ted. I cannot wait for series 6.

Bear's Birthday
It was Bear's birthday in February and I can't quite believe he's 2 already. Of course he was completely spoilt and I went over the top in every way for him. We took him for a long walk, popped into Pets At Home where he picked a new toy and some treats and he also had presents to unwrap afterwards which he has shown very little interest in since, of course. He's definitely a spoilt pup but I don't care, he gets me through some really tough days and I genuinely don't know what we would do without him. It blows my mind how long ago it feels when we first met him at 3 weeks and now he's this 2 year old dog with the funniest/craziest personality. Just love him so much.

Mowgli Nights
As I mentioned at the start of this post, Saturday nights have become date nights at home and it's really given us something to look forward to each week. Each weekend we'll cook a really nice meal and make a bit more effort and more often than not it's ended up being something from the Mowgli Cookbook by Nisha Katona. I know I've said it so many times but we first visited Mowgli in Oxford last year and ever since I've just become obsessed with all of the food. George got me the recipe book for Christmas and we're working our way through them all. My fave so far is the Angry Chicken Rotis with spicy curry potatoes but the Butter Chicken recipe is out of this world too. I couldn't recommend the book enough if you want to try out some new meals this year. 

Taylor Swift
Finally, I have become a bit of a Taylor Swift fan girl this lockdown. I know I'm so late to the party but I've finally discovered the greatness that is Folklore and Evermore. I just didn't really give either of them a chance when they were first released, I've always loved the older stuff from Taylor but a few months ago I properly listened to all of the songs and wow. I'm pretty sure my Spotify wrapped this year will just be Taylor Swift. My favourites at the moment are the 1, Right Where You Left Me, Champagne Problems and August. I'm also obsessed with Love Story (Taylor's Version). I feel 14 again. What's your fave from Folklore or Evermore?

So that's some of the things that have got me through this latest (& hopefully last) lockdown! You might have noticed that blog posts are very few and far between at the moment and I am hoping to continue posting once a week but I do keep getting that niggling feeling that my time blogging is coming to an end. Opening Bear's Brownies & More has just given me something else to focus on and sometimes blogging can feel like a bit of a chore now which I don't want. I want to love it and only ever post when I want to. So, if there doesn't seem to be much of a schedule around here anymore, that's why! It's been a tough few months for all of us so maybe that's been contributing more than I realised. 

Have you found yourself struggling with blogging recently too? How have you found this lockdown?

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Monday, 1 March 2021

What I Read In February

 February was a really slow reading month for me. In January I read 6 books which I was really happy with as I'm aiming for 80 this year but in February I just couldn't be bothered. I don't know about anybody else but I've been really struggling with this lockdown. Even though I've had days where I've felt really good or weeks where I've had a lot on with Bear's Brownies and More which keeps me busy, the majority of the time I've felt quite low. I've definitely perked up since the last announcement as at least we now have a rough idea of what's hopefully happening over the next few months & I really needed that but some days it just feels never ending. Because of lockdown being so tough, I just wasn't in the mood to pick up a book most days and I didn't want to force it. So, here are my thoughts on the books I did manage to read last month.

The Housewarming by S.E. Lynes - ⭐⭐
I was in the mood for a thriller and saw this was only 99p on Kindle. I was really intrigued by the premise - a year ago Ava left her daughter in her pushchair for 5 minutes. When she came downstairs, Abi was gone and hasn't been seen since. For a year she's been convinced she's to blame but at their neighbours housewarming party, Ava discovers a secret that changes everything. I do think this started off really well and there were several characters who seemed suspicious. It soon became quite obvious though who was to blame and the suspense wasn't really there when it was all revealed towards the end. It was also just pretty sad and didn't really feel like much of a thriller.

How To Be More Paddington by Michael Bond - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I love Paddington so much. The films, books, even his Twitter account fills me with joy! This was a birthday present and I'd been saving it for a day where I knew I really needed it. It's full of little poems, illustrations and words about life, love, family and more and it's just incredibly heartwarming. I read it all in one sitting as a lot of it is illustrations but I know it will be one I keep and go back to over and over again. 

Cilka's Journey by Heather Morris - ⭐⭐⭐
I read The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris in January 2019 and it ended up being one of my favourite books that year. It was a tough read but it stuck with me. I've been meaning to read the sequel Cilka's Journey ever since it was released but I've only just got round to it. It's obviously a heartbreaking topic so I really wanted to give it my full attention and take it all in which is why it took me a while to get through. Whilst I'm glad I finally read this, I can't say it made me feel close to what The Tattooist of Auschwitz did. Books like this are always so hard to review but I just found it didn't quite flow right for me and as someone else put it on goodreads 'you could skip 3 chapters and feel like you haven't missed anything'. A bit disappointing.

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley - ⭐⭐⭐
This was recommend quite a lot by a few book accounts I follow on Instagram recently so when it was on sale on Kindle, I bought it and hoped it would live upto expectations. It reminded me a lot of books like The Lido by Libby Page and on the whole I did enjoy this. This follows a man named Julien who writes a bit about his life in a notepad and names it the authenticity project, leaving it in a cafe for anyone to find. He hopes someone will pick it up and leave their story too and this creates a web of quirky friendships that would never have come about otherwise. I can't say I loved all the characters and Monica was definitely my favourite but it was a nice, heartwarming read.

I'm feeling a bit stuck with what books to read at the moment so if you have any recommendations please let me know! I'd love to know if you've read any of these too?

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Monday, 22 February 2021

My Post Lockdown 2021 Staycation Wishlist

 It wasn't too long ago I shared my general wishlist for city breaks in the UK so I apologise if this sounds really familiar. I'm finding this lockdown tough and one thing that does make me feel a bit brighter is planning for the future and that for me includes going on alllll the holidays post Covid/lockdown or just when we have some normality again. It's hard to put any proper plans in place cos you know everything's changing from one minute to the next and maybe this post is optimistic but I am hopeful that we might at least get from Summer onwards to enjoy this year (though let's hope it's far sooner, I am praying Spring brings better days) so there are so many places I'd love to visit. I can't see us heading abroad any time soon even once we officially can, the thought of it just makes me feel a bit anxious now but what this past year has shown me is how many beautiful places there are in the UK that I'd not appreciated enough before and some even right on our doorstep. collage with yellow background. Oxford Radcliffe Camera, The Shard London, Edinburgh Victoria Street, Whitby Abbey

Oxford
I know I seem to bang on about Oxford all the time at the minute but that's because I just absolutely adored it when we visited last year. It feels like forever ago now and I can't quite believe how 'normal' life seemed back then compared to now even though at the time there was still so much we couldn't do. What I'd give to be at that point again though! I shared a travel guide for Oxford recently so I won't go on too much but I do think this will be the first place we book a city break to once we can. It just felt like such a chilled city and we could really take our time exploring with no need to rush or pack everything in. I'd love to climb to the top of the University Church of St Mary the Virgin next time for views of the city, I want to devour everything at Mowgli again and I just want to have that walking into a hotel feeling again. It's going to feel SO good.

London
I am desperate to get back to London as soon as we can. George and I have visited loads over the past few years and now our main reason for going is to see musicals which is something I'm missing more than ever right now. I often think back to when we saw Les Mis last January for my birthday and I can't believe how long ago that feels. It's crazy how much changed in the space of a few months. We had several shows cancelled last year that I am praying we get to see this year. The Arts has been hit massively by covid and I want to support allllll the shows when they re-open. London is my happy place and it's somewhere that I found a real comfort a few years ago when my anxiety was at its worst and even though now I feel in a much better place, for me there's nowhere like it and the way I feel when I'm there. I think whenever we get to go back and whenever we get to walk back into a theatre again, is going to be very emotional! 

Whitby
The one place I want to head to this Summer is Whitby. We took Bear there for his first holiday in 2019 and we always planned to take him again this year so I really hope that can happen. He LOVES the seaside and it just makes my heart happy when I think of that holiday. I'd wanted a dog for so long and it was the first big trip we did with Bear and everything about it was perfect. You can't beat a few days away in a caravan sometimes can you? We had such a chilled few days walking around Whitby, eating much fish & chips and ice cream and Bear just had the time of his life. Let's just forget about when we let him off the lead on the beach in Scarborough and he bolted and we genuinely nearly lost him 😂

Edinburgh
One thing I look forward to every single year is the Christmas markets and 2020 definitely didn't feel the same without them. Christmas is the best time of the year but understandably there was so much we couldn't do last year which really left me feeling flat and not quite as festive as usual. Who knows where we'll all be by the end of 2021 but it's surely gotta be better than last year hasn't it? If life is back to normal then or as normal as can be then I want to get to as many Christmas markets as possible! Give me all the overpriced food and hot chocolate. We were supposed to go to Edinburgh last December & I'm just hoping we can re-book it at some point for this year. It's looks so incredibly festive and there's so much I want to see. Fingers crossed.

To be honest after the last year there are a ridiculous amount of cities I'd love to visit. Bath has been on my list for ages and it just looks gorgeous so that would be another place to consider. York is also a favourite of ours and not too far away either so it would be nice to at least get a day there at some point. Honestly, I'd be happy with anything more than a walk around the same few places. It's hard to feel positive at the moment and if you're struggling too, know you're not alone. Whilst I have to remind myself of this quite often, we are on our way out of this now and things will get better. How good is it going to feel when all of this is just a distant memory? I can't wait and I know I'll never take anything for granted again.

Where's the first place you'd like to visit this year?

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Tuesday, 9 February 2021

What's New In My Etsy Shop - Bear's Brownies and More!

 Last October I launched my own business, Bear's Brownies and More. I don't know about anyone else but lockdown and 2020 in general made me re-assess everything and I knew that going forward I needed a change. I've always loved baking and over the last few years in particular it's become a real saviour of mine and brownies were the thing I found myself making over and over. After lots of research, practise and trial runs, I decided to start selling my own homemade brownies and it's gone better than I could have ever predicted. collage - creme egg brownies, caramel egg brownies, malteser bunny brownies, mini egg browniesWhilst I'm still such a new business with a lot to learn, I'm beyond proud of myself and everything I've achieved so far and it's not often I feel like that. I've finally found something that works for me and I can't see myself doing anything else now! As I mentioned in my goals for 2021 post last month, I'm aiming for 150 sales this year but I'm already at 95 which is just mental so who knows we might even get more than that? Each week I doubt myself and worry that the sales will stop but so far so good! I don't want to just talk about this all the time on my blog as I know not everyone will be interested but yesterday we launched our new brownies for Easter so I thought now was a good time to share them with you just in case you don't follow me anywhere else and also because I'm really proud of them!

Creme Egg Brownies
First up we had to have Creme Egg brownies in the shop didn't we? I love a Creme Egg & always find myself with a little stash long after Easter as I don't want them to end! These are our classic chocolate brownies with an oozy Creme Egg in the centre. Available in boxes of 4 or 8. We also have a mixed Easter Egg assortment box which includes 4 Creme Egg brownies & 4 Caramel Egg Brownies.Creme Egg brownies

Caramel Egg Brownies
So as I've just said, Caramel Egg Brownies! God, I think I love these as much as Creme Eggs. If you like our salted caramel brownies, these are for you! These are also our classic chocolate brownie with a Caramel Egg centre. Absolute heaven. Available in boxes of 4 or 8 or as I've just mentioned, we have an Easter Egg assortment box which is a fun way to try out both of them!Caramel Egg brownies

Mini Egg Brownies
Who doesn't love Mini Eggs?! Our fudgy chocolate brownies filled with chunks of the brand new Cadbury Mini Eggs bar & topped with Mini Eggs. These just somehow take on the flavour of the mini eggs and the brownie itself has become even more delicious! Available in boxes of 4 or 8. Also available as part of our 2 flavour mixed box.Mini Egg brownies

Malteser Bunny Brownies
Finally, our Malteser brownies are back! These were really popular at Christmas so as soon as I spotted the mini Malteser Bunnies I knew we had to bring them back this Easter. These are fudgy chocolate brownies swirled with Malteser Spread, drizzled with white chocolate and topped with a mini Malteser Bunny. Available in boxes of 4 or 8 or as part of our 2 flavour mixed box.Malteser Bunny browniesAll of our Easter brownies and our Easter Egg assortment box will be available until April so are only here for a limited amount of time. Whilst I'm so excited about all of these, we do still have all of our original flavours too. There's Salted Caramel, After Eight, Bourbon Biscuit, Biscoff, Mint Aero & Milkybar. We have a 2 flavour assortment box which allows you to choose 2 of any of the flavours & you'll receive 4 of each. We even have a biscuit box assortment too which includes our Biscoff Brownies & our Bourbon brownies. 

All of our brownies last at least a week (though usually far longer) and are individually wrapped for freshness. Each flavour is delicious as it is or you could warm them up in the oven or microwave too. 

Thank you SO much to anyone who has ordered or supported us in anyway since we opened last year. It's the best thing I've ever done and I can't wait keep launching more flavours.

What's your favourite Easter chocolate?

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Monday, 1 February 2021

What I Read In January

Books marked * were either sent via Netgalley to review or as a PR sample but all views are my own

 If you've been following my blog for the last few years you'll have seen that each year I like to set myself a reading goal. Usually throughout the year I'll do a few mini updates, usually every few months and I share my thoughts on the books I've been reading. This year I'm aiming for 80 books. I've managed to read over 100 books the last two years but I found towards the end of last year I was getting really picky and I found myself getting disappointed quite a lot, probably just because I was reading so much in one go. I also know when I'm busy I can go ages without picking up a book and I'd love a busy year with Bear's Brownies & More so if that becomes a reality, I just don't think I'd be able to reach 100 again. I know 80 isn't loads less but I still think it could be do-able. Anyway, long story short, I'm changing things up and I'm going to share a 'what I read this month' each month instead. I just think this will mean they'll be less books for you to read about in one go and I can go into a bit more detail about the ones I've really loved. So, here's what I read in January.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling - ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The last book I read in 2020 was Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and I gave it 5 stars so it was a great one to end the year on. I started Chamber of Secrets as soon as the New Year hit and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm not quite sure why it's not five stars like the first book but I can just tell when one is. I'm pretty sure I read the first few Harry Potter books when I was younger but I can't remember reading the last couple so this year, even though I'm sure I'll space them out, I want to get through them all. I adore the films and at the time of reading this, we were re-watching them all again for the millionth time but I'm loving getting a bit more detail from the books.

Haven't They Grown by Sophie Hannah - ⭐⭐
'Twelve years have passed, the children don't look a day older. Why?' That alone on the cover had me desperate to read the book every time I spotted it in a shop so when I saw it was 99p on Kindle, I bought it and got stuck in straight away. Unfortunately there was so much about it I didn't like. The characters were so unlikeable, it all felt so far fetched and some of the dialogue was just a bit strange, everything was so matter of fact at times. This has such a fantastic premise and could have been amazing but I ended up feeling really let down by it.

Never Greener by Ruth Jones - ⭐⭐⭐
I love Ruth Jones. I was so keen to finally read one of her books and actually really intrigued as she's clearly a great writer going on the success of Gavin and Stacey (which is a masterpiece let's be honest). I ended up feeling quite conflicted about this though. Never Greener is about Kate who at 22 had an affair with married man Callum. Years later when they've both moved on and had children, they meet again and find the feelings are just as intense and hard to ignore as before. They're faced with a choice - walk away or find out what might have been. From the beginning I didn't like Kate so it was hard to feel much sympathy for her and all the way through I just wanted Callum to realise what he was risking as I LOVED his wife Belinda. I think it's a brilliantly written book with lots of humour throughout but I'm not sure it's one I'd be recommending to everyone.

The Duke & I by Julia Quinn - ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Did anyone else absolutely love Bridgerton which was released recently on Netflix? We flew through it in a matter of days and I grabbed the book soon afterwards as I loved it so much. Even though I didn't race through this, I found it such an easy read. I just took my time with it and really enjoyed reading a few chapters each evening. Daphne and Simon were just perfection.

Until Next Weekend by Rachel Marks* - ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I absolutely loved Rachel's first book, Saturdays at Noon so I was so excited to read her latest book. Until Next Weekend follows Noah, a 'weekend dad' on a mission to win back his ex-wife Kate. He misses the life they used to have together, he misses spending everyday with his boys and he's decided enough is enough, he's going to change. At first I wasn't sure how I felt about Noah, it seemed like Kate had been well within her rights to make the decision she did but as the book went on, I really grew to like him and every character actually. The story felt very believable and after we find out what Noah went through growing up, it was very easy to feel sympathy for him and hope he would get the ending he wanted. There's no denying Rachel is a fantastic writer, this had some really emotional moments throughout which I didn't expect but there was humour thrown in too and it was the perfect balance. I can't wait to read more from Rachel in future.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman - ⭐⭐⭐
I'm not gonna lie, I didn't love this as much as I hoped I would. Maybe I went into it with too high expectations, I don't know, but it's one of those books that seems to be endlessly spoken about at the minute but I just didn't feel what it seems everyone else is. It took a long time for me to really feel interested in the story unfortunately and the writing wasn't quite flowing for me. Not every book is for you and that's okay so I'm still glad I read it but I'm not sure I'll be reading the sequel.

So that's everything I read in January! I had about 2 weeks where I didn't really pick a book up so I'm glad I still managed to get through 6 before the end of the month.

What did you read in January? Have you read any of these books?

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Monday, 25 January 2021

My Oxford Travel Guide

 I've spoken about our trip to Oxford late last year a few times now on my blog and I've posted quite a few photos over on Instagram but like I've shared travel guides for other places in the UK that I love, I really wanted to do one for Oxford too. I might not know everything about the city but I absolutely adored it when we visited and I think personal travel guides like this can really help you get a feel for a place. George and I visited just as Summer was coming to an end and I miss it a lot, I just keep looking back over the photos and wishing we were there again. But before I ramble on too much, here's my tips on the top places to stay in Oxford, aswell as must see attractions, restaurants to try and lots more.collage with pink background, photos of Oxford

Where to Stay
If you want to splash out on a hotel then I recommend the Malmaison Prison Hotel. This had been on my travel bucket list for years and I was so glad we finally found an opportunity to stay there. I'm fascinated by prisons so to stay in one was just so incredibly cool. Part of the prison has been refurbished and turned into a boutique hotel and the rest has been kept as it was & you can even do a tour! It can be about £100 a night depending on which room you'd like to stay in but they do regularly have offers on so it's well worth checking back. The reason I'd be tempted to stay at the Malmaison again is because of the location. It's slap bang in the middle of Oxford, you're minutes away from Westgate Shopping Centre and not far from attractions like Radcliffe Camera. There are plenty of hotels like Premier Inn, Holiday Inn, Mercure etc. dotted around the city though if you're looking to visit the city on a budget. Another hotel that looks so unique though is Museum Hotel which looks to be in a fab location and has some really cool decor.
Malmaison Prison HotelMalmaison Prison Hotel exterior

What to See

Radcliffe Camera
I had to start with one of the main attractions Oxford is known for. This is a building of Oxford University and it is breathtaking. When we walked round a corner and saw this, I was in awe of it. It is beautiful and the whole area is such a gorgeous place to walk around.

University Church of St Mary the Virgin
Just next to Radcliffe Camera is the University Church of St Mary the Virgin (part of what I loved about Oxford was that so many beautiful buildings like this were so close together so lots could be seen at once). It's free to enter, though they do appreciate any donation you can give, and it is stunning. Given we visited in Summer and life was feeling a bit more 'normal' than it is now, the streets and shops were busy, but this felt like a real moment of calm. I'm not religious but there was something really special about this. Whilst there, you can pay £5 to climb the 127 steps to the top of tower which apparently gives the best views of Oxford. This is something I definitely want to do next time!University Church of St Mary The Virgin

Oxford Castle & Prison
As I briefly mentioned earlier, you can take a tour of Oxford Prison and for £13 per person, I think it's totally worth it. In a small group, led by a costumed guide, you find out the fascinating history of Oxford and its castle & prison. There's a chance to climb the Saxon St George's Tower which is one of the oldest buildings in Oxford, you descend underground into the 900 year old crypt, the only surviving remains of St. George's Chapel, you explore the Prison D-Wing and there's even a chance towards the end to roam around as you wish and take part in some fun activities.Oxford Castle & Prison

Westgate Shopping Centre
I always like a bit of retail therapy when away in a different city and Westgate Shopping Centre may be one of my new favourites. It's set out in such a different way to others I've been to before and there's such a variety. There's a really cool roof terrace which allows for al fresco dining and there are all sorts of different restaurants to suit whatever you fancy. The whole city centre of Oxford is full of shops, cafes and restaurants aswell. Plenty of book shops too which I was thrilled about!

The Covered Market
If you want to be away from the busy streets of Oxford then The Covered Market is the place to go. A little like Borough Market in London, it's full of independent traders selling a range of different things. You'll find cafes, quirky clothes shops, chocolate shops, local bakeries and lots more.The Covered Market, OxfordGenerally Oxford is such a beautiful place and just walking around, you'll find lots of hidden gems. So many areas are picturesque and it's easy to just want to stop and look around all the time!

Food
Mowgli 
I had to mention Mowgli when talking about food in Oxford. Yes, Mowgli can be found in various cities so it's one I'd recommend regardless of location but we'd never been before our trip to Oxford. It's located on the roof terrace of Westgate so the view of the city was beautiful but it's just such an incredible restaurant. The food was some of the best I've ever had. I will never get over the Himalayan Cheese on Toast, wow.Mowgli, Oxford. Tea-steeped chickpeas, rotis, ginger chicken

The Breakfast Club
For a top breakfast to set you up for the day, whilst in Oxford, I couldn't recommend a visit to The Breakfast Club enough. Whether it's pancakes, waffles or a full English you're after, they've got you covered. I'm a sucker for fried bread and hash browns (#health) and both were insane.
Breakfast at The Breakfast Club, Oxford

Vaults & Garden
This is located within the University Church of St Mary the Virgin so is a fab spot to chill after climbing to the top of the tower! With outdoor seating, it's such a gorgeous spot to relax and take in your surroundings. We stopped here for a drink in the Sun and the view of Radcliffe Camera was just lovely.

One thing I really liked about Oxford was that it was full of independent cafes and restaurants who will need our support more than ever once they're allowed to re-open. One place I wish I could recommend is Cafe Loco, the first place we visited in Oxford and we had some of the best cake EVER and the yummiest smoothies but unfortunately due to Covid, they had to close and have announced they won't be re-opening. A few other places I think are worth checking out and on my list for next time are the Art Cafe and Cafe Tarifa but there's plenty on each street to choose from.

Travel
The great thing about Oxford is that it's so accessible by foot. We walked everywhere whilst we were there and everything was quite close-by to one another so a lot can be seen in a matter of hours. Due to where our hotel was located, we ended up seeing a lot of what we wanted to see in the first afternoon. If you choose to stay a little further out of Oxford though, they have 5 park and rides so you could easily park up and leave your car for the duration of your trip and just get the bus into the centre or wherever you wanted to be. View of Oxford from Westgate Shopping Centre Roof Terrace

So, that wraps up my Oxford Travel Guide! I loved writing this and it's only made me want to go back even more. I think it will be the first place we visit for a break when it's allowed again!

Have you ever visited Oxford? Where do you want to travel to when lockdown is over?

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