24 July 2014

Reasons to Love Living in Milton Keynes #11



The IF is a ten day festival of family events, music, comedy, cabaret and food and drink.

I've manged to get to just three events out of hundreds (if you also include the Fringe).


Hurry to Middleton Hall (outside John Lewis) where you'll find this amazing space-age space.

It's a luminarium. Inside you're cocooned; immersed in light, colour and sound.




It's a warm and calming experience. We went as a family and could have stayed for hours. The boys loved it. They had a map each and led us around the 'rooms' where we sat, layed or rolled around.






I also went to Kaffe Matthews: The Lock Shift Songs where you lie on a sonic bed and listen to and feel a journey along the Grand Union Canal from London to Milton Keynes. This was another awesome sensory experience.

A few of my friends from Rock Choir sang on the recording. Again, I could have stayed longer. The bed was extremely comfortable and I really didn't mind sharing with a stranger...



Finally, on Monday, Andy and I went to see Adrian Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds perform a set in the Stables Spiegeltent at Willen Lake.

The Bad Shepherds play punk songs on folk instruments and they are amazing live. While the banter between the songs was amusing, this trio are seriously good musicians. I was blown away by their versions of 'Down in the Tube Station', 'The Sound of the Suburbs' and 'Once in a Lifetime', among others. I had a lump in my throat listening to 'Ace of Spades', as Ade introduced it by saying that it was Rik's favourite song.

The IF runs until 27th July.

Other reasons to love living in Milton Keynes:

MK Dons Football Club
The sausage and cider festival
The Stables at Wavendon
Milton Keynes Museum
The wildlife
The well-planned new city
Furzton Lake
The Concrete Cows
The 'Beach'
The green open spaces



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Review: The Summer Menu at Pizza Express




Andy and I went to a Pizza Express on our first date. When I was asked if we'd like to review the new Pizza Express Summer menu, I jumped at the chance.


The first thing I tried was the Hugo, a cocktail of Prosecco, elderflower, mint and lemon. It was seriously good. You must try it.


Andy and I both ordered the Bruschetta Con Funghi to start. It was good, bready, creamy and very tasty. I would have preferred the red onion not to be raw, and would have liked more mushrooms, but the kick of chilli was spot on.


I had the Pizza Da Morire ("Gorgonzola D.O.P, crispy pancetta, leeks, artichoke, mozzarella, rosemary, chilli oil."). It was perfect. Super-thin base, perfectly cooked and a wonderful balance of flavours.


Andy had the Summer Special, Pizza Pollo Forza ("A fiery pizza; chicken marinated in smoky chilli powder, garlic and dried chilli flakes with chargrilled red & yellow peppers, roquito peppers, mozzarella and tomato, finished with Gran Moravia cheese, parsley and chilli oil"). He also loved his pizza, especially the sweet, fiery roquito peppers. 


The boys had their usual, dough balls and American pizzas. They also enjoyed the children's activity menu and crayons.

Sadly, we were all too full to order dessert. Heartbreaking, I know.

Overall we had a good experience at Pizza Express. It's always a reliable restaurant. We haven't had a bad meal there. The staff are friendly, the place is clean and the food is, well, it's pizza. Who doesn't like pizza?

One little quibble... I was surprised that there was no Summer Special menu on our table. I had to ask for the Hugo. It was not on the regular menu. The waitress said she hadn't heard of it, but she was new. She went to ask and returned with my drink. Happy days.

We went to the Pizza Express in Central Milton Keynes Shopping Centre. Our meal and drinks were free of charge, in exchange for this review.



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17 July 2014

If You Could Give New Parents One Piece of Advice...


...what would it be?



My words of wisdom:

TEACH YOUR CHILDREN TO TIDY UP AFTER THEMSELVES

Seriously.

I don't care what you feed them, or how you feed them.

I don't care what time they go to bed, or whose bed they sleep in.

I don't care if you work inside the home, outside the home, or not at all.

I pass no judgement on your parenting.

BUT...

If I could offer new parents one piece of advice that will make their lives easier, and more pleasant in the long run, it would be to teach their children to tidy up after themselves.

Nobody told me that I should do this. They had plenty to say about birth, breastfeeding and sleeping, plenty to set me up to feel a failure as a new mother, but nothing that would improve my life.

I have failed at parenting. My house is tip. It is full-to-bursting. We can never find anything. The boys seem unable to play properly. Clothes are taken off and thrown on the floor. If I ask them to tidy, toys are kicked under the sofa. I despair.

So, new parents, save yourselves while there's still time.

Teach them to tidy.

I'M BEGGING YOU.

You'll thank me one day.

You're welcome.


Over to you. If you could give new parents once piece of advice, what would it be?




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14 July 2014

Book Review: The Last Day by Emily Organ




I was thrilled to hear that another of my friends had written and published a book. That is genuinely thrilled, not sarcastically thrilled.

I've written two chapters towards my novel, and that's all. Seeing friends get off their backsides - or rather stay on their backsides - and get writing makes me happy and inspires me too.

I met Emily Organ many years ago, through blogging. Her blog posts are always thoughtful, amusing and well-written.  As she is one of my favourite writers, I couldn't wait to read her first novel.

The Last Day is about a man called George. He has known the date of his death (12 September 1985) since he was a boy. As the novel progresses though this day, secrets are revealed.  We learn more about George, and the people in his life, as the plot twists and turns throughout the day.

The characters are all well-rounded and strong.  It took me a while to warm to George, but by the end I really cared what happened to him.

What I particularly loved was the sense of time and place Emily evokes. The 80's cultural references are spot on. Her descriptions of the town setting are strong and you can feel the impact of the environment on the characters.

The pace of the novel is excellent. You're kept guessing right up to the end. I couldn't put it down.

If you like Kate Atkinson's novels, I think you'll like The Last Day.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Last Day. Such a relief to enjoy the book when you know the author...


You can find The Last Day on Emily Organ's author page on Amazon.


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20 June 2014

Running Kit: Must-haves and Nice-to-haves




I recently wrote about how I started running. For those of you who are thinking of taking up running, or who have just started running, here are a few things you need, and a few things you want.

MUST-HAVES

Running Shoes
It is vital that you wear the right shoes when you're running, to avoid injury. Any decent running shop will do a gait analysis and recommend specific shoes for you. This will either be on a treadmill or they will watch you jogging around the shop. If you're not happy on a treadmill, tell them. Try on all the shoes they bring out for you, run around the shop in them. If they don't feel as comfortable as slippers they are the wrong shoes for you.  You will probably need a half size bigger than your normal shoes. Decent running shoes are expensive, but they are worth it. My running shoes are by Saucony. They were £80 and they have been excellent, right from the first step. I ran 16 miles in them this week. I love them.

Socks
Buy proper running socks when you buy your running shoes. Try them on together. Running socks are padded and designed to fit beautifully. The last thing you want is a blister. With my combination of shoes and socks I haven't had a single blister in over 150 miles of running. 

A Sports Bra
You need to minimise bounce when you're running to avoid damaging your breasts, and to stop jokes about giving yourself two black eyes. I like Shock Absorber bras, they are brilliant for (my) large breasts. They have to be tight, but comfortable. I use also mine to store my inhaler, phone, a tissue and my door key. I'm sure they're not designed for all that,but it works for me.

Getting them on can be tricky sometimes. Here is a photograph of me with a fat lip. I was putting on a sports bra and managed to punch myself in the face. Oops.




NICE-TO-HAVES

Specialist Clothing
Yes, yes, I know clothes are a 'must-have'. No one wants to see a naked runner. You can start running in leggings or jogging bottoms and a t-shirt, but once you start sweating cotton is too heavy. This is the time to invest in some Lycra. Material that wicks the sweat from your body will keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter. I wear vests in the summer, with cropped tights, and long-sleeved tops in the winter, with full-length tights. Supermarkets all carry their own sports ranges. I like Karrimor from Sports Direct. Look out for their frequent 90% off sales.

Jackets
A light-weight jacket is a must for running in the rain. When it's cold you'll need an extra layer to start with, but make sure it'll be comfortable tied around your waist

Baseball Cap
I wear a baseball cap if there's any chance of rain, as it keeps my specs dry. It is also useful to keep the sun off your head, and it keeps my hair out of my face.

GPS Running Watch 
You will probably want to start recording your runs, to see how you're pacing yourself and to keep track of all those personal records. I have a Garmin Forerunner 10. It's the entry level Garmin and I bought it in an Amazon flash sale for £60. I'm very pleased with it. I love looking at my stats on my laptop when I get home from a run. You can see your pace go down as you go uphill and follow your route on the map.

Run Planner
If I'm planning a new route I like to know the distance I'll be running. I use the G-Map Pedomter. It's free and super simple to use. I used it to plan my first 10k.

Heart Rate Monitor
My husband uses his heart rate monitor all the time. For him it is the best indicator of his efforts. I used mine a few times, to make sure I wasn't killing myself. I wasn't. 

Water
Unless it's super hot, or you're running over 10k, you don't really need to carry water. There are plenty of lightweight running water bottles. I have a small one from High5 that is easy to carry.

Gym Membership
I joined a gym last December when the footpaths were too icy for safe running. The treadmill is great for pacing yourself, but I find it pretty boring. If I go to the gym I usually go on the treadmill, cross trainer, bike and rower, and use the weights. This way I am working other parts of my body. The gym was a life-saver when I had a painful knee and couldn't run for a couple of weeks. I was able to keep my fitness levels up. Choose a gym that is near to your home or work, otherwise you won't go. I'm lucky that my local leisure centre has a small cheap gym. It's five minutes from my house and rarely busy.

Arm band
I have an arm band that holds my iPhone.


Have I missed anything?



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