I Love Your Blog: Runs for Cookies

One of my favourite things to do here on the blog is share some of my favourite bloggers with you.  The I Love Your Blog series gives me a chance to do this and to celebrate some of the people whose writing I go back to again and again.  There are so many wonderful writers and bloggers out there - I love being able to feature them here.

One such inspiration is the amazing Katie, of Runs for Cookies.  I happened across Katie's blog a fair few years ago after encountering her writing on Sparkpeople, a healthy living site.  She is a great writer and a true inspiration.  In August of 2009 she tipped the scales at 253 pounds and decided that she wanted to make some big lifestyle changes to have her happier and healthier.  Over the course of 16 months she managed to lose an incredible 125 pounds through diet and exercise.  Now her lovely blog is a record of her life, her workouts, her running, and her quest for yummy, healthy meals.  I'm such a fan and was delighted when Katie agreed to take part!

L-R: Cookie, Katie :)  (picture kindly supplied by Katie Foster)

How long have you been blogging?  

I started blogging in 2000, but it was on a small, private site. In 2011, I started Runs for Cookies on Blogger, and I had no idea how big the blogging world was until then!

What do you blog about?  Do you have a specific goal with your blog (i.e. reviewing products, promoting a business, transitioning into a writing / media / digital career), or is it more a record of your life?  

I blog about my day-to-day life. I've always enjoyed keeping a journal (or "diary" when I was a kid!) and it's fun to look back and see what my day was like several years ago. I don't really have a purpose in mind when I blog, other than to document my life as it happens. I never knew that bloggers could earn money, but that's a nice little bonus! 

Katie with friends she met through her fab blog (picture kindly supplied by Katie Foster)

What is your favourite thing about blogging?  

Meeting new people! I've met some amazing people because of my blog, and have become really great friends with them. I've even traveled to visit friends around the country, which is awesome. I've seen parts of the country I never would have seen otherwise. 

What is your least favourite thing about blogging?  

Dealing with negative comments. I try to keep my blog an honest place where I can just rehash my day, but some people just love to say mean things. I've learned that no matter what I write, there will be people who disagree--and that's okay. It's just hard to read the comments where people say mean things about me when they don't even really know me. I will never understand why they read my blog if they don't enjoy it! Haha. I'm a nice person--honest! ;)

Do you have any favourite posts on your blog – pieces you’re really proud of, which document something special, or which seemed to strike a chord with your readers?  

One of my most popular posts is The Difference Between Motivation and Determination. A lot of people want to know how to stay motivated when trying to lose weight. I wasn't always motivated either, but I was very determined--and there is a big difference. Determination is when your mind is already made up--there is no question about whether or not you will do it. Motivation is temporary, and it comes and goes.

Whose blogs do you love?  I’m always looking for recommendations.  

Honestly, I don't read many blogs at all these days. I used to read a ton of them, but ever since I started working on my own blog, I try to limit my time online. 

Katie at an event (picture kindly supplied by Katie Foster)

What has been the most surprising moment in your blogging career so far?  

Getting invited to travel to a blogging event, with expenses paid. That was SO surprising to me that I thought it was a scam. Why would someone pay for me to travel somewhere and write a post about it? I learned that bloggers are cheap advertisers ;) Companies could spend millions of dollars on advertising, or a few thousand by inviting bloggers on an event in the hopes that they enjoy it enough to write about it. It's very smart on their part! I've done several trips now, and I am still surprised and honored each time I am invited. 

I find your weight loss incredibly inspiring - what tips do you have for others seeking to make a lifestyle change in this way (apart from reading your hugely helpful blog, of course!)?  

My number one piece of advice is always this: Don't make any changes you're not willing to live with forever! When I first started losing weight, I decided that I was going to do things MY way--not following the rules of someone else's plan. I made changes that I could manage, and continue for the long haul. I didn't live off of salad and grilled fish, while working out six days a week, because that wasn't something I wanted to do forever. I basically lost the weight by following a maintenance plan. 

Katie before and after her amazing transformation (picture kindly supplied by Katie Foster)

Do you have any online resources you find especially helpful for living healthfully? 

I've been counting calories and using My Fitness Pal to keep a food log--it has been awesome! The food database is huge. I also use Garmin Connect to keep track of my running. I'm a numbers person, and I love to see all the data from my runs. SparkPeople has some really great success stories, and I loved to read those while I was losing weight. 

What tips do you have for bloggers growing and nurturing their blogs?  

My advice would be: don't write what you think people want to read; write what YOU enjoy writing about. When I first started Runs for Cookies, I had no idea that it would grow the way it did. It terrified me--I was used to having this tiny little corner of the web with about 10 readers, and seeing the numbers grow was actually scary. Some days, I really miss having that tiny, intimate blog, because the more my blog readership grows, the less I feel comfortable sharing (which is kind of a shame). There are always going to be people who agree with you and people who disagree with you, so just be yourself and don't let other people influence the way you write.  

Thank you so much for taking part, Katie, and thanks for your super blog too.  You are a gem!
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My first Zomato meet up: Gatti's at City Point

Like many here in London (and elsewhere), I am thoroughly enjoying using Zomato to review the food and drink I enjoy across the city.  I love to try new restaurants and bars and love the quick and easy way I can review on the hoof with the app.  From time to time I like to do a longer restaurant review here - today being a case in point - but I do love the ability the app gives me to review all the places I visit.  There are so many things you can do in addition to blogging on a primary blog now - guest posts, podcasts, social media, reviewing....

Last week the good folks of Zomato invited me along to my first #ZomatoMeetup - these events connect reviewers, brands and bloggers over the shared delight that is good food.  I headed along to Gatti's, in their new location in the City Point complex near Moorgate, for an Italian feast.  And a feast it certainly was - I think I'm still full!

When I arrived at the restaurant, I must confess to being a little confused.  When you enter you are greeted by a very smart bar space...but only a few tables.  As I stashed my coat in the cloakroom I was wondering...where's the rest of the restaurant?  Turns out I needn't have worried - there are some tables and a fab looking private room on the ground floor, but the restaurant proper is on the lower level, a big comfortable space of rich reds and golds, with banquettes around the perimeter and another bar.  Because of course.

On arrival we were greeted with chilled glasses of Veuve Clicquot and blinis topped with smoked salmon and mascarpone, or lobster and avocado.  After doing the helloes we all trooped downstairs to enjoy the meal proper.

To start we enjoyed a selection of bruschette - roasted cherry tomatoes, porcini mushrooms and parma ham and artichoke.  They are all tasty, but my top choice would be the porcini mushrooms, so garlicky and chewy.  They were so delightful we even managed to convince those on our table who don't eat mushrooms to have a try.

Following that we had a pasta course, which was one of the highlights of the meal for me.  The dish was rigatoni with an organic tomato sauce and fresh basil, and it hit every spot.  The pasta was perfectly al dente, the sauce sweet and rich, and the ingredients shone through beautifully.  I always think it's impressive when a kitchen can roll out a showstopping simple dish; with just a few ingredients you have nowhere to hide!

The next course was sea bass, which had been baked whole in a salt crust.  This was served with vegetables and a parsley sauce.  I found this dish quite enjoyable, but too salty for my palate after the baked in salt crust - I can think of several friends who would love it, but for me the saltiness was a little much (I'm not the biggest fan of salty flavours).  The others on my table really liked it and one of the delights of set menus is you get to sample dishes you might never give a second glance otherwise.

Believe or not, we were not done.

After a lovely dish of lemon-prosecco sorbet, it was time for the Costata di Manzo arrosto, roasted rib of beef with all the trimmings.  This was spectacular, cooked to that brilliant point where the meat is cooked through but still pink, and served with potatoes, seasonal vegetables, a delicious gracy and (to my delight) Yorkshire puddings!  I thoroughly enjoyed this whole course, and the Yorkshires are some of the best I've had in London - crisp and deep brown on the outside, fluffy and absorbent on the inside.

By this point I was so full (in a very, very pleasant way!) that the stairs back up to the exit were starting to feel like a potential challenge, as rolling home might be the only option left available to me!  With just one course left to go, I was almost beaten.  The puddings were brought out and looked delicious, and I managed a small bite of each...the cheesecake was good but the base was a little grainy for me, the tiramisu was creamy and light, the profiterole was lovely, but my favourite by a good way was the delightful panna cotta.  This is not usually a favourite of mine, but this was silky and satisfying, with winter berries adding a burst of sweetness to proceedings.

Throughout the meal we had sampled two lovely Italian wines, and to finish we concluded with a frosty glass of limoncello.  The service was charming and swift and the team clearly love the company and what it stands for - they are very proud of their brand.

I left full, happy, and probably several pounds heavier.  Such a delightful meal.

Gatti's City Point Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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My Christmas Playlists: Pop!

Here in the Roper household the Christmas preparations continue apace.  One of my favourite jobs to do in advance is to mix up a few playlists of favourite Christmas tracks for entertaining, present wrapping, baking and decorating.  In the olden days (so, the 1990s and the noughties) I'd make these into mixtapes or mix CDs.  In our modern, digital world that's a little old school so instead please enjoy a youtube mix:

Or click through to enjoy this mix over on spotify!  The spotify mix is missing one song due to it not being available.

Over the next few weeks I'll share my other mixes too - one for entertaining and one of scared/choral favourites.  Love a good Christmas mix.  While I've christened this 'pop', there's a bit of a mix.  And hey - my blog, my rules, right?

What's your favourite Christmas pop song?  

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My Christmas Gift Guide 2015, part 3

A last few gifts I couldn't resist sharing.  Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here.  Just a bit of fun - I hope it's useful. Hope you're enjoying your Christmas shopping!  No affiliate links have been used, nor is this post sponsored - these are just things I've seen and liked, and wanted to share.

Homemade gifts

I haven't specified a cost for these as this will depend on what you have at home, quantities you're making etc..  I love handmade gifts and have been lucky enough to be gifted a number of homemade treasures over the years.

Zandi at Radical Possibility's Anthro-style glasses are super cute.  You could pair these with a miniature of a favourite tipple for a sweet gift for as friend.

Martha's Bath Balls would be a lovely handmade gift - perhaps with a good book to enjoy in the bath?

Melissa at Polka Dot Chair has masterminded these amazing Elf Mason Jars - such a sweet gift for a friend or a neighbour.

Mamie Jane's DIY tablet holder would be great for the Pinterest obsessed cook on your Christmas list!

These hot chocolate snowmen (made using baby food jars) over on Empress of Dirt are so inventive.

How adorable are these 'Twenty Minute Totes' on Purl Soho?  If you are good with a sewing machine these would be such a great wee gift!

Under £5

For more great gifts in this price range I'd take a visit to great stores like Tiger & Poundland which do super stuff for less dough, but who don't advertise widely online.

These Star Wars chocs (£1, Asda and other stores) would make a great stocking filler.

I love stickers as part of a gift - these hedgehog ones (£1.50) from Paperchase are so cute!

A yummy selection box is always fun (£3, Asda and other shops) to enjoy in the Christmas to New Year run.

This cheery owl pen pot (£3.50, Paperchase) would be a great addition to any desk.

I love these cheery polka dot pens (£3.75, Paperchase), which I use for list making and notes.

The Day The Crayons Quit (£3.85, on amazon, also available at all good book stores!) is a fun picture book which was released last year.  An inventive and amusing book for kids.

John Lewis have a sweet 'Man on the Moon' mug (£5).  Perfect for a festive cuppa.

Dare you brave Sprout Roulette (£5, Lakeland)?

I love the creativity of The Book With No Pictures (£5, on amazon, also available at all good book stores!) - it's insanely good fun to read together with kids.

£5 - £10

I would love to find these Mean Girls pencils (£5.45, etsy, pink of course!) in my stocking.  So fetch.

These love letter earrings (£6, etsy) would be lovely for your favourite fan of snail mail.

Speaking of snail mail, The Jolly Postman (£7, on amazon, also available at all good book stores!) is a great gift for a child.  Love this book!

A cute keepsake keyring (£7, etsy) would be sure to make a proud new parent smile.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler (£7, on amazon, also available at all good book stores!) is one of the best books I've read in the last couple of years.  I've given it as a gift at least three times already...

I've already gifted these sweet animal print bodysuits(£7.50 for the pack, George at Asda) to at least one friend's child - they are super cute and wash brilliantly too!

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson, also known as The Bloggess (£8, on amazon, also available at all good book stores!) made me laugh (out loud, embarassingly, on the tube); cry (buckets, without tissues, also on the tube) and think.  She's such a great writer!  Her new book Furiously Happy (£7, on amazon, also available at all good book stores!) is firmly on my own wishlist.

These dinosaur crayons (£8, etsy) are perfect - I've already bought a set for a certain someone I know.

A mug gift set can be a great present for a friend or colleague - this magnolia one from Marks & Spencer (£8.50) is very pretty.

£10 - £20

This Doctor Who inspired mug (£10.23, etsy) would be a lovely gift for the Whovian in your life.

Dear Santa, I Can Explain....the perfect pyjamas (£12, George at Asda) for your resident troublemaker!

This cheeseboard (£14.95, etsy) would be a lovely addition to any kitchen.

A remote controlled Mini Cooper (£15, John Lewis) will be sure to create some Christmas Day hijinks.

This Woodland Friends sleepsuit (from £16, Monsoon) would be lovely and cosy.

£20 - £50

This smart battery operated corkscrew (£25, Debenhams) would provide even quicker access to wine for the enthusiastic wine drinker in your party.

I can think of plenty of kids (and big kids!) who would enjoy this remote controlled helicopter (£25, John Lewis).

I love the styling and colours of this wooden tea trolley (£25, George at Asda).  What a sweet gift for a small person.

This sleepsuit and toy gift set (£28, Boden) would be a beautiful gift for a new member of the family.

Light up shoes (£34.50, Clarks) are sure to entertain your little ones!

A wooden dolls house (£35, George at Asda) would be a toy to treasure for years to come.  So great for play!

Keeping cosy and warm is key at this time of year.  This poncho (£50, Monsoon) would be sure to help!

£50 or more 

These men's pyjamas from Boden (£60) look phenomenally comfortable.  A real winter treat!

Shiny, shiny shoes (£80, Monsoon) for a sparkling - and fashionable - party animal.

This beautiful watch (£125, Debenhams) would be a splendid gift for a boyfriend or partner.  I love the two metal shades together.

A great pair of leather knee high boots (£150, Clarks) are a winter staple.  I remember selling lots of this style in Clarks when I worked there as an undergrad!

A good leather handbag would be a showstopping gift.  This phenomenal Bailey and Quinn beauty (£155, Debenhams) would make such a wonderful present.

A question to finish - what's the best Christmas gift you've ever received?
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A jaunt to Newcastle with #Bloggerlodge

I have long adored the city of Newcastle.  While doing my teaching PGCE in Durham it was the nearest big city, and I spent many happy weekends in Newcastle, making the short hop across on the train to head out to the theatre, or the shops, or the clubs of Newcastle.  Fast forward a few years and I fell in love with a man from the north-east, and Newcastle was back in my life in a big way!  I visit several times a year and it's where Matthew's family are based, but it had been a good long while since I'd visited the city solo.

Until last week.

The lovely Chloe from Talented Talkers had dropped me an email last month, asking if I'd like to visit a city and have my hotel stay provided by Travelodge.  When I saw the list of cities (so many great options and I've read really fun write ups on Bournemouth, Birmingham, Liverpool....), for me it had to be Newcastle.  What a fun way to revisit a favourite city.

I do like a Travelodge, I must confess.  I also like an Aria suite, a Malmaison, a Premier Inn...don't you just love the luxury/budget/middle of the road mix?  I love the range of accommodation available and how different hotels are perfect for different breaks.  In this case the Newcastle Central Travelodge was perfect for my plans to catch up with friends and family, explore a little of the city, do a bit of Christmas shopping....and sleep an awful lot!

 Even though I travel a lot, sometimes I still find myself packing the morning of...

One of the great things about Newcastle is how easy it is to travel to by train - jump on at Kings Cross and in a few hours you are in the heart of Newcastle.  I had a very jolly journey reading my Kindle, watching downloaded shows, noting down a few post ideas and generally relaxing.

Once in Newcastle it was a fifteen minute bimble down to the Quayside to find the hotel.  It was a beautiful, crisp November day, so I took the chance to take in the lovely views and take a few snaps.  Here's the famous Tyne Bridge from a rather different angle!

Check in was swift and speedy and I was soon in my lovely big king size room.  It was the usual Travelodge arrangement - clean, roomy, neat and comfortable.  There's a lot to be said for knowing what to expect.  What was unexpected was being able to glimpse the famous bridge from my room - a lovely touch!

Once I was all unpacked, I headed around to the Bridge Tavern to meet my friend Jo for dinner. I'd heard good things about the pub and thought it was a nice spot to meet for a girly dinner and a good catch up.  Jo and I taught together for three years here in London before she relocated to the north-east.  Her husband Alan has opened a fabulous pub in Hexham, The Heart of Northumberland.  Whenever I'm in the Newcastle vicinity we try to get together.

I had the venison burger for dinner - SO good!  The chips were also splendid, as were the brownies we enjoyed for pudding.  Apologies for the slightly fuzzy image - low light made for a lovely cosy ambience but poorer pictures.

Such a lovely spot for a dinner together.  I loved getting to hear all Jo's news in person!

After bidding Jo farewell I went for a walk along the quayside.  At the weekends this part of town can get a little lively, but on a Monday evening it was calm and chilled.  It was quite moving to see the Millennium Bridge lit up in the tricolore to remember the victims of the Paris attacks a few days beforehand.

After my walk I went to the store for supplies and then curled up in bed with treats, magazines and the news.  The bed was really comfortable and I wound up sleeping for ten hours solid!  I rarely get the chance to do so at home, so this was one of the highlights of the trip.

A big day requires a big breakfast.  I love places like Travelodge where you can pick and choose your options.  On the Tuesday (pictured above) I was ravenous, whereas on the Wednesday I stuck to yogurt and toast.

Another lovely walk along the river, and the Sage looking lovely in the late autumn sunshine!

That street art walk really comes in handy - I can spot it everywhere and anywhere now!

I spent a great morning looking at some of the sights - I popped into Newcastle Castle, had a wee look in at the Life Centre, and then headed off to the Lit and Phil, which had to be one of the highlights of my trip.

The Literary and Philosophical Society is a true Newcastle gem.  A stone's throw from the train station is a building crammed with books, magazines and research materials.  I couldn't believe that despite visiting the city for over a dozen years I had never been!  I wanted to curl up here and write for hours.  I took lots of photos which will probably make a whole new post when I get them from my other camera.  If you are of a literary bent, you must visit!

After bidding farewell to the Lit and Phil, I headed into town to meet my sister-in-law, Elly, and our two niecelets.  I love being an auntie, so am always up for niece time!  We had a nice time doing a little shopping and then went to the Botanist for lunch.  I went for the 'double-starters-instead-of-a-main' option and enjoyed a lovely goats cheese tart and some fair calamari.

Late lunch done with we drove over to Elly & Nick's for some family time, and spent the rest of the day chatting, playing, and generally having a ball.  One of the great things about Newcastle is it's quick Metro system - once it was time for the niecelets to head to bed and me to head back in to town it was so simple to jump on the train and be back in the city centre in no time!

On Wednesday before I checked out I had one more job to do....a few of my friends had sent me this buzzfeed piece and had highlighted the Newcastle option for next time I visited.  Always one to oblige where possible when it comes to my gorgeous friends, I bimbled down to the Great British Cupcakery and enjoyed one for the team.  SO good, and so impossible to eat anything afterwards for ten hours!  The salted caramel delight above was £5, remarkably easy to deconstruct and enjoy, and so yummy.  Well worth a try, but I'm very glad it's several hundred miles away...or we'd have a problem.

Full, happy, and exquisitely well rested I headed back to say goodbye to the hotel and to get to the station.  I had a splendid time in Newcastle and found the Travelodge a good base for my northern adventures.  Thank you for having me!

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A Very London Christmas

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has meet me / read this blog / spotted me in the middle distance during the month of December to learn that I adore Christmas.  I always have (a running family joke has me as being part elf).  I've already written about my Christmas preparations here on the blog, shown off my card crafting attempts, and am running a giveaway of my favourite Christmas films.  And it's only November.

The Christmas spirit is strong in this one.  I really must remember to add a 'Christmas' category to the options above.

This year, for the sixth year running, Matthew and I will be Christmassing at home here in London.  The first year we did so we got snowed in by one of the worst winter snows the south of England had seen in decades.  Instead of flying up to Scotland to spend some time with my side of the family, instead we were faced with a last minute dash for provisions and then a cosy Christmas a deux.  The two years after that, work kept us down south; and now with the trio of trouble going away is not an option.  We do on occasion have guests for the season, but most of the time it's the two of us for the day itself.

One of the huge upsides to this is the fact that I get to have such fun in London at this special time of year, so today I wanted to share some of my favourite London things to do over the Christmas period.  Some of them I've already namechecked in my A Very British Christmas piece for FOCUS magazine, and others came up on the 'Wine With Friends' podcast I contributed to....others are gems I'm writing up now!  Do let me know if you wind up trying any of these, or if you have other suggestions for me to add to the list.

First up for me has to be a great panto.  There's something so quintessentially British about a panto mine (oh yes there is!).  I've already seen my first of the season (an am dram effort my friend was in), but am looking forward to my yearly trip to the Hackney Empire to see their show: it's always brilliant!  This year they are doing Jack and the Beanstalk and I'm sure it's going to be fab.

Speaking of fun, silly, very British traditions, the annual Christmas Pudding Race in Covent Garden has to be seen to be believed.

Ice skating is a highlight for many over the winter break.  I am an awful ice skater but very much enjoy sipping a hot chocolate on the side whilst others enjoy themselves!  There are super rinks at Somerset House, the Natural History Museum, Broadgate Circle in the City, and the Tower of London.

St Paul's is always a beautiful place to visit, but at Advent/Christmas time I always find it even more special.  There are events and services you can attend throughout the season.

Something I'm longing to try this year for the first time is the Ski Lodge at the Montague Hotel.  Snow, schnapps and hot chocolate, all in the centre of town!

I'm a huge fan of The Prince Charles Cinema and their Christmas showings are brilliant - so many favourites on the big screen!  From Elf to Home Alone to Die Hard, there's so much fun to enjoy.

A look at some of the Christmas lights in town is always a treat.  Bond Street, Regents Street and Oxford Street are all currently festooned with shining baubles and lights.  It's very Love Actually.  A great way to take in a lot of these lights is to hop on a 159 bus at Marble Arch - it'll take you all the way along Oxford Street to Oxford Circus, then down Regents Street too!  It's always worth heading over to Covent Garden too for some beautiful decorations and lights.

I've heard wonderful things about Christmas at Kew, a mile long trail of sparkling lights amongst the stunning botanical gardens.  It's a little far from us but I might see if we can trek over one evening.

A festive afternoon tea is a wonderful treat.  I'd love to go to the one at Claridge's, with their Christopher Bailey for Burberry designed Christmas tree and carols at the weekend, or to sip tea while listening to a children's choir at The Dorchester.

For a different thing to do over the festive season, I think Hidden City's Bright Lights Evening Trail would be a fun undertaking with a few friends. Sparkling lights, a few drinks, and a bit of competition?  How festive!

The Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park has recently opened and for many Londoners is a festive must-see.  The UK's largest ice rink, Christmas Markets, and fun galore.  I've still yet to go, which is remiss of me, given my Christmas mania...

For a little history, Christmas at the Dickens Museum has much to offer.  The man wrote A Christmas Carol, for heaven's sake.

A walk in one of London's many parks is a great idea on a chilly winter's day.  Hyde Park, Hampstead Heath, Richmond Park and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park are a few of my favourites at this time of year; we often go for a good leg-stretch on Christmas Day itself!

The choir of King's College Chapel Cambridge do some performances in the city during the festive season - on Wednesday 16th you can see them in concert at the Royal Albert Hall. What a lovely way to mark the season.  I'm also hoping to get across to enjoy Carols By Candlelight on Christmas Eve - what a splendid way to start the festivities!

The beautiful church of St Martin-in-the Fields, right on the edge of Trafalgar Square, runs a lovely selection of Christmas services and performances.  They also have lovely decorations and gifts available in their shop, and yummy offerings in their super cafe downstairs.

What a glorious city we have to enjoy!

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A Bookworm's Day Out with Bloggeration

I love books.

I really love books.  Ever since I picked up my first Ladybird book in a thrift shop as a toddler, I've been in a love affair with the written word.  I love to read all kinds of books, from non-fiction to chicklit, poetry to literary fiction, classics to YA to biographies.  I love doing reviews of what I'm reading here on the blog and sharing about the books that are making me laugh, cry, and think.  I love the world of words and stories, and am hoping to do more and more book blogging in the year to come.  It's something I really enjoy!

Imagine my delight when I was able to sign up for a blog event last week all about book blogging, book tubing, and all things literary.  The Bloggeration events are run by the lovely Sarah of The Prosecco Diaries and have focused on a range of topics, including lifestyle, health, and books.  The event last weekend was the last of the events for 2015 - I'll be looking out to see what delights 2016 may hold!

The event was held in the events space at the O Bag Factory in Crouch End, north London.  It's actually the first time I've ever been to that part of town!  After six and a half years in the city it's always fun to visit a part of the city that's new.  The space was perfect for our dozen, with a light, bright basement space with plenty of room for breakouts and a table for discussions.  Sarah had made the whole space look fresh and inviting, with a large vase of pretty flowers from Bloom and Wild setting off the decor beautifully.

We were kept fed and watered too, with lashings of Ringtons tea, hot & cheesey slices of Basilico pizza and pretty macarons from Anges de Sucre.  The other bloggers in attendance told me these sweet treats were yummy - I don't actually like macarons so didn't partake, ha!  I know, I know, a blogger who doesn't like macarons?  Madness...

After we'd all arrived and settled down with a cuppa and a squee over the supercute notebooks we had been gifted (you know me, I *love* stationery), we had a great roundtable about blogging, blog ambitions, and social media.

It was fun to be amongst peers and think out loud a little.  We were all at different stages and phases of blog life, so it was fun to bounce ideas around.  We then had a sort of mini book club where we suggested books for each other to try - I'm going to write up both my suggestions and those of others in the not too distant as I think there were some great books recommended!

After lunch (mmmmmm, pizza) we got ready for the next phase of proceedings.  Stephenie from Penguin Random House came in to chat with us - a golden opportunity for anyone who loves books and reading.  She was warm, knowledgeable and brilliant and it was wonderful being able to chat with her, hear her take on things, and explore how PRH and other publishers currently work with online writers and reviewers and how they hope to work with bloggers and vloggers in the future.  I throughly enjoyed the whole day but I think this was the highlight for me - to learn so much about the world of publishing was a real treat.

After a busy day full of inspiration, ideas and genuine book-geekery, it was time to head out into the November evening, laden down with two super gift bags!  The bag from Penguin contained half a dozen great books which I'm working on already; and the bloggeration one was full of treats, snacks, tea, and a superb 'Go Away I'm Blogging' mug.

Thank you so much to Sarah for a great event, and to her main sponsor Zazzle for making the whole event possible.  I left on a real high and will look forward to further Bloggeration events in the new year.  And to all the lovely bloggers I met - I'll hope to catch up with you again soon and I'm loving checking in on your blogs!
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My Christmas Gift Guide 2015, part 2

The second part of my little Christmas gift guide.  You can find the first part here.  Just a bit of fun - I hope it's useful.  No affiliate links have been used, nor is this post sponsored - these are just things I've seen and liked, and wanted to share.

Homemade gifts

I haven't specified a cost for these as this will depend on what you have at home, quantities you're making etc..  I love handmade gifts and have been lucky enough to be gifted a number of homemade treasures over the years.

Over on Craftaholics Anonymous they are making baby food jar snowglobes - so cute!

I think fudge is such a yummy edible gift to make.  Lisa at Wine & Glue has compiled a list of 25 fudge recipes - I'd love to recive some of these.

Maegan at Everyday with MK made these beautiful DIY platters.  I've used sharpies on ceramics before with great success for class gifts - I may make a few of these to take Christmas baked goods to friends.  What a nice surprise to keep once the goodies are long gone.

These DIY polaroid coasters from One Good Thing by Jillee are simply precious.  What a great way to showcase memories!

Lorrinteriors has a very cute set of 'sophisticated baby' bibs - a great wee gift for the stylish new addition.

I adore these stove top pot pourri ideas on Delia Creates.  What a delicious idea for a gift - I think I'll be putting some of these together to gift to our hostesses at various festive get-togethers.

Under £5

For more great gifts in this price range I'd take a visit to great stores like Tiger & Poundland which do super stuff for less outlay, but who don't advertise widely online.

I love getting my Chocolate Orange each year (£1, Asda and other supermarkets).

I'm a big fab of Paperchase's ballpoint pens - I find them very easy for writing, smooth and easy to grip.  This kitty heads one (£2.50) would make a sweet stocking filler.

Guess How Much I Love You? (£3, on amazon, also available at all good book stores!) is such a delightful book to share with a toddler.  I often gift this to friend's children as part of their Christmas gifts.

Fun highlighters (£3.50, Paperchase) are great as a stocking filler.

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? This Spongebob onesie (£4.50, George at Asda) is such fun!

I can think of several friends who would enjoy their very own tub of Haribo Starmix & Tangfastics! (£5, Asda)

This '#' cushion would be great for your resident instagram afficionado (£5, George at Asda).

A Nivea Mini Treats bauble would be a lovely wee gift (£5, various stores).

I love to give stationery as a gift - these metallic notepads (£5, Paperchase) have just the right amount of festive glitz.

£5 - £10

The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark (£5.24, on amazon, also available at all good book stores!) is a timeless tale for small folk.  I love the beautiful illustrations in this picture book version of the story.

For an East London dweller I think this Ladybird Book of the Hipster (£5.24, on amazon, also available at all good book stores!) would be a fun gift - we love 'em, but this is sure to raise a smile.

A pretty in-tray (£6, Paperchase), for the stationery maven in your life.

Just Kids by Patti Smith (£6.29, on amazon, also available at all good book stores!) is a great autobiography, full of verve and passion.  I devoured this book!

A gin and tonic lip balm (£6.50, etsy) would be a lovely stocking filler.  As would this little port set (£7.50, Debenhams).

Several of my blog buddies adore all things marble.  This mousemat (£7.95, etsy) might be just what their desk needs.

This space invaders poster (£8.86, etsy) would be a great addition to a bedroom, den, or games room.

I really enjoyed Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (£9.09, on amazon, also available at all good book stores!) and I think it would be a great gift for a friend.  Mindy Kaling is such a warm and witty writer, this is a great winter's read.

I really like Gemma Correll's illustrations, so this sweet cat calendar (£10, Paperchase) by herwas sure to make my gift guide.

What do you get the man who has everything.  Rocket shaped cufflinks (£10, etsy), perhaps?

£10 - £20

I love silly meme based gifts.  'The Snuggle Is Real' onesie (£10.74, etsy), anyone?

This 'Ask Me About My T-Rex' tee (£12.95, etsy) would be sure to raise a smile on Christmas day.

This candle set (£15, Marks and Spencer), comprised of several shimmering votives, would make a lovely addition to someone's home.

I think this blue glass and silver necklace (£15, etsy) would make such a pretty present.  I'm a sucker for my blues.

These glow in the dark teeshirts for children (£17, Boden) are such fun!

Korres products always smell amazing.  This men's kit (£19, Debenhams) would be a lovely gift for someone who travels and always needs little toiletries to take along.

30 Rock is one of my favourite TV shows of recent years, and definitely the one I quote the most.  Now you can get all seven seasons on DVD for £20 on amazon.  Definitely time for a bingewatch! 

If your little Peppa likes to jump in muddy puddles, she's sure to adore these pretty navy wellies (£20, Clarks), festooned with hearts!

This lovely hoodie with a hot air balloon and a menagerie of animals (from £20, Monsoon) would make a super gift for a little one.

£20 - £50

This walnut alarm clock (£28, John Lewis) is sleek and stylish and a great home-inspired gift.

A good hamper is lovely at this time of year - I think this cheese-inspired one (£35, Lakeland) looks lovely!

Kitchen gadgets can be great for those who love to cook.  How about something a little different like this spiralizer (£35, Lakeland) for new veg-ventures?

For the man who likes to smell great, this Molton Brown giftset (£45, John Lewis) would be a great gift.

A beautiful leather bag (£50, Clarks) would be sure to raise a smile.

£50 or more 

A gorgeous pair of shoes (such as these loafers from Boden, £70) can make a super gift.

This trainset and table (£75, George at Asda) would be a fantastic addition to a child's bedroom or playroom.  Think of the hours of fun!

This beautiful blanket coat (£80, Monsoon) would make a wonderful & warm gift.

Do you prefer homemade or bought gifts?
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My Top Ten Christmas Movies (and a Giveaway!)

I know it's still November, but for me this month is all about preparation and getting things in order - there's so much to enjoy at this time of year and so much fun to look forward to in the weeks ahead!  I'm continuing with my 8 week plan pretty faithfully and am making decent headway on all tasks.  Life takes me to Newcastle today but I'm making decent progress on gift-buying, get-together planning, food prep, crafting and general silliness.  Prepping this early isn't for everyone but I love it - it affords me so much time next month to relax and soak up the season.  And celebrate my birthday, too!

The other day I was talking to some friends about our favourite Christmas movies.  As an ex-film & English student (good times, my friends) and a music fiend I never need to convinced to compile a list of films, music or books I adore!  Rather like Barry in High Fidelity, I have opinions to spare when it comes to those cultural elements.

I enjoyed chatting about festive films so much that I decided to share my list here - some entries you may agree with, some you may think are fine but wouldn't make the cut for your collection, some may actively enrage you!  Bring it - I love a good (friendly) debate about pop culture.  I can certainly think of at least one movie (The Nightmare Before Christmas) which simply slipped off my radar when I was chatting about this list!

I've enjoyed this so much that I've decided to make it a giveaway - at the bottom of the post you can read how to win my top ten Christmas films on DVD, just in time for Christmas!

I present these as a top ten, with no other ranking - my top three within these always changes!

Die Hard

John McClane.  Hans Gruber (RICKMAN ALERT).  Yippe-kay-yay!  Such a fun action film, and as it's set at Christmas I decided it could definitely make the cut.

Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

I'm a child of the eighties....I think it was mandated I had to watch this every year while we were growing up.

It's A Wonderful Life

I love Capra's films anyway, but this is such a special, moving film.  For me it really sums up the season of goodwill.

The Holiday

Such a cheesey chickflick.  If you hate chickflicks it's not going to convert you, but if you like them?  Bring it on!  Feelgood, sweet, and Jack Black as a romantic lead - an unexpected treat.

Second time I've mentioned Jack Black in this post.  Unexpected.


Good, silly fun, and a sweet message too!  Make yourself a hot chocolate and curl up with this treat.

Love Actually

I love to watch this every year, and have done since its release in 2003.  I had no idea when I started that tradition that I'd eventually be celebrating London Christmasses of my own.

Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

A really beautiful movie, again with a heartwarming message.

Sleepless in Seattle

Perhaps not strictly a Christmas movie, but I watch it every year around this time.  There's something about Meg Ryan singing 'Horses, horses, horses, horses' while driving along that makes me feel Christmassy.

Home Alone

Such a sweet family film!  Lots of comedy but a great little story too.

The Muppet Christmas Carol

I think I could sing this film from memory.  A true classic.

This giveaway is live until midnight here in London on 30th November (so the wee small hours), and I'll announce on Wednesdsay 2nd December and mail it out as soon as I can to the winner after that!  I think it's a fun prize and hope you'll consider entering.  There are three ways to enter - leaving a comment, tweeting about the giveaway, or following me on twitter if you're yet to join the fun over there (so many gifs!).  As the DVDs are Region 2 (Europe, Japan, ME, SA and Egypt) you will need a DVD player or computer which plays those happily.

If you do leave a comment, I'd love to know - what's your favourite Christmas movie, and why?  I can think of at least two or three more that could easily make the cut!

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