Fig leaf and cassis diffuser

Scented summer evenings

We’ve been enjoying the very last of the summer evenings here at English Towers, knowing that it’s the final summer we’ll spend in this house before moving on to our new house (which requires total refurbishment – eek!).  One of the things I’m really looking forward to in our new house, though, is using the lovely wood burner which is there.  I’m picturing a fireplace dotted with scented candles, filling the house with gorgeous scents.

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Squidgy chocolate brownie cake

A squishy chocolate brownie cake for exam success (mostly)

So it’s been a little frantic here at English Towers.  First we had A level results, and then within a week it was GCSE results. Honestly, I really should have planned my children a little better.

Still, it was all good.  I used the hashtag #noexamswerefailedonthisday on Instagram but in truth, one exam WAS failed.  But hey, it didn’t matter.  Sam got what he needed to head out into the big wide world of university, and Charlie’s off to sixth form.

If there’s one thing I always insist upon, it’s a celebration when someone’s done something brilliant.  As parents, we spend plenty of time enforcing rules, cajoling, counselling (okay, and occasionally moaning), so when something amazing happens,  I always think it redresses the balance a bit to celebrate.  Everyone loves a pat on the back when they do something great, don’t they?

So obviously all this exam success called just such a celebration, and what better celebration is there than a whopping great warm, chocolatey, squishy brownie cake smothered in lashings of chocolate ganache?  None, that’s what…

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Sharing platter in Prezzo

Prezzo’s new summer sharing specials

I’ve written before about how gorgeous our local Prezzo is.  The staff are lovely, the atmosphere in the place is amazing (helped by an open kitchen featuring a massive pizza oven) and the food is consistently good.  Last week we popped in to try the new summer sharing specials.

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Quantum of the Seas

The Royal Caribbean Quantum of the Seas – the world’s first ‘smartship’

So on Monday, Royal Caribbean hosted a live reveal of some of the pretty incredible technology you’re going to encounter if you’re lucky enough to sail on their newest Quantum Class vessels: Quantum of the Seas, rolling out first, and then Anthem of the Seas.

These days, everyone has a smartphone, so Royal Caribbean have ramped up their latest ships into, well, smartships. Here’s what to expect:

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Charlie in the Bahamas

5 reasons why you should take your teenagers on a Caribbean cruise

Every parent of teenagers knows that feeling when you start to wonder exactly how long your children will keep wanting to come on holiday with you.  As they grow up, they naturally develop their own tastes, likes and dislikes (and even more naturally, these will tend to be the exact opposite to yours), so agreeing on a holiday destination (and indeed, persuading them to dump their mates and come on holiday with you) is never easy.

Enter, the Caribbean cruise.  Here’s why:

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Hush autumn winter 2014

NEW autumn/winter 2014 from Hush Homewear

So this morning, I trudged around the field with the dog in the rain wearing a fleece, a waterproof jacket, and a hat.  What on earth happened to the summer?  Usually,  I resist even looking at anything remotely knitted or warm until at least September, but the emails are starting to arrive, and I have to say, I’m loving what I’m seeing.  The new autumn/winter preview from Hush Homewear definitely got my attention, with loads of gorgeous autumnal casual wear really catching my eye (I tend to live in jeans and jumpers):

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Penguin selfie!

Kidnapping Red Pandas. A day out with the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom

As a family, we’re pretty divided when it comes to phones.  Mr English is a sworn iPhone devotee.  The rest of us are mad on Samsung.  At the moment, Charlie and Sam both have a Galaxy S4, and I’ve got an S3 (I did have an S4 too, but then Sam dropped his in the sea on a Biology field trip and he was so gutted I gave him mine – motherly love eh?).

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Jam doughnut muffins

Sugar dusted jam doughnut muffins

You love doughnuts, right? Everyone loves doughnuts.  But wait, you love muffins don’t you?  Soft, fluffy and perfect breakfast fodder.  So why not put them together?  I’ve been fiddling about with this recipe for ages, and the boys are pretty sure that I’ve perfected the whole doughnut/muffin scenario, but the jammy bit had beaten me.

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The Honda Civic Tourer

On test: the Honda Civic Tourer 1.8i-VTEC SR

We’ve tested a few cars in the past, most notably the Honda CR-V that we drove around France, and really love doing it (basically, a lovely man appears on your doorstep with a brand new car and gives you the keys, leaving the car with you for a week – what’s not to love?).  This time, Honda asked if we’d like to try their new Civic Tourer 1.8 i-VTEC SR manual and, being a big car loving family, we jumped at the chance…

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Chilli chicken noodles

Chilli chicken noodle soup

Yesterday, we were wondering what to have for dinner – it never seems right to have a roast on a hot day – when Sam mentioned that we used to have chicken noodle soup all the time, but we hadn’t had it for ages.

Just so happens that I had a chilli, a lime, and some ginger (I keep the ginger in the freezer anyway) and half a pack of noodles, and it seemed the perfect, fresh alternative to full on Sunday dinner, so it was game on.

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Bicester Village

A splash of orange at Bicester Village

This week, Mr English and I decided to head to Bicester Village for a spot of shopping.  I like Bicester – we have a bit of lunch or a coffee in Pret or in the little Jamie Oliver place, then pootle around around looking for bargains.  There were still plenty of summer brights available in the sales and I discovered that I’m still totally in love with everything orange.

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Honey and almond flapjack

Honey and almond flapjacks

I’m always making flapjacks.  The boys are always trawling the kitchen for after-school snacks (and pre-school snacks, and ‘I’m a bit peckish’ snacks, and late-night snacks and every other kind of snacks) and I like to have a few home made treats around to stop them eating too much rubbish.

Over the years, I’ve tweaked the recipe, cutting down on the amount of butter and sugar, and substituting honey for golden syrup, until I feel it’s the healthiest it could be without ruining the recipe completely.  Here’s my latest version: Read more

Christmas lights

10 tips for sticking to a budget this Christmas

I know what you’re thinking: Christmas?  Really?  But now is the time of year where all the retailers are showcasing their Christmas stock to the trade (in fact, loads of retailers are already showing their Christmas ideas to the public too – have a look at the ‘New for Christmas 2014‘ range at John Lewis).

This year, I’m determined not to be panicking at the last minute.  I have a Christmas book (just a hard-backed notebook) and every year I make a few notes (and write down what people send to us so that I can write thank you notes) – it’s become a bit of a habit. This time I’ll be going more in depth. Here’s a few ideas I’ve got so far:

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Habitat 'Radius' oak bed and 'Mauzy' bedding

Champagne lifestyle, lemonade budget…

So with news that the House of Bodily Fluids could soon be ours (I guess we shouldn’t totally get our hopes up until we’ve actually exchanged contracts), we’ve started doing that nesting thing where you go out window shopping for things you’ll never really be able to afford but you’d buy if you had unlimited funds (known as ‘champagne lifestyle, lemonade budget’ in our house).

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Cruise Awards

The Cruise Awards 2014 – vote mum!

I’ve always written about travel.  But over the last few years I’ve been writing more and more about cruising.  I adore cruise holidays and have become almost evangelical in my attempt to get the word out to everyone just what a FABULOUS holiday you can have aboard a cruise ship. Last month, as part of my job as an ambassador for Royal Caribbean (follow us on Twitter and Instagram – our hashtag is #RoyalMums) we travelled to the Caribbean on the largest cruise ship in the world, the Allure of the Seas

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Wowcherching cashback – we’re missing out on free money!

I’ve recently bought a new laptop and before I did, I had a good look around online for voucher codes or discount codes, but one thing I hadn’t really considered was cashback. Too late, sadly, I received an email from Wowcher’s new cashback website, Wowcherching last week so thought I’d have a look to see exactly how it works and how much I could earn.  If you’re not familiar with how cashback works, you visit their site and search for the retailer you are about to buy from, click through to the retailer via the link and once you’ve made your purchase the retailer then pays a referral commission back to Wowcherching, that they give to you as cashback. Read more

Artist's impression of The Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort  (pic courtesy of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts)

The new Four Seasons Resort, Orlando

Regular readers will know that I adore a Walt Disney resort hotel (click here to see my top five) and there’s much excitement in Orlando at the moment as there’s a new hotel opening very shortly.  This one’s a bit different as although it’s placed within the boundaries of Walt Disney World, it’s actually a Four Seasons.  The Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort to give it its full title (bit of a mouthful, admittedly) is shaping up to be an absolute beauty.

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Percy's Vodka Iced Tea

July: what I’m loving now

Can you believe July has disappeared already?  I’d love to tell you of long, lazy, hazy summer days lolling in the garden sipping Prosecco, but I’ve been ridiculously busy, rushing to London for meetings, buying a house (hopefully!), travelling and writing to various deadlines.  Still, I’ve taken the time to jot down a couple of the things that have been useful/beautiful/handy/delicious.  And here’s to a slightly more chilled out August!   Here’s what I’m loving now:

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