Family Lifestyle: Mum & Dad’s Date night

Before we became parents, we always said we wanted to be the kind of parents who prioritised their marriage. I’m not sure where I come down on the ‘put your marriage before your children’ line, but what I do know is that I love my son and husband a huge amount. Tom and I have been together a long time and, despite this(!) I still love spending time with him and neither of us wanted to forget why were married and raising a child in the first place.

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I’m not going to lie, making an effort with my husband was way down on the priorities list for a long time – behind eating, washing my face and getting more sleep – but when the new year came round we decided together to make a resolution to have a date once a month and, so far, have stuck to it. Finding the time, and a babysitter, has been difficult, but we both feel very strongly about how important this is now. And, actually, it’s been wonderful and definitely worth it.

Perhaps you think I sound a little callous saying that I like spending time away from my baby. The fact of the matter is that before I became Freddie’s mum, I married Tom and made a commitment to him as his wife. It should go without saying that we make sure Freddie is with someone he knows and would rush home if he needed us, but as long as he’s doing alright, we will continue to make time for ourselves on a regular basis. I think it’s really important to get this into our routine now, before our baby becomes a child.

Growing up my parents didn’t have a very strong marriage and they divorced when I was a teenager. While they never wavered in showing me affection, looking back I find it sad that I don’t remember them going out much at all and certainly never cuddling on the sofa or holding hands. Clearly they married the wrong person, which is a whole other story, but I’ve always known that that’s not the kind of marriage I want and I don’t believe we can keep it strong without putting constant effort. We’ve also made a rule that we kiss each other hello and goodbye first, and Freddie second. It doesn’t always happen, but it does make me feel special when Tom comes home after a stressful day and although Freddie is reaching out for him, I get the first acknowledgement. (This was instigated after me telling a story about a family I used to see coming off the train from work: the dad brought the son to the station to meet mummy and she would instantly gather him up and smother him in kisses. It wasn’t until they were getting into their car that she would off-handedly ask her husband how his day had been. It was a bittersweet moment that I saw everyday.)

So far we’ve had a couple of meals out and a night at the cinema, but next on my list is a daytime date. Having a leisurely lunch without grabbing hands sounds like my idea of heaven right now, and with Freddie loving his time with grandparents and my sister and his cousin, it’s going to get booked in soon. We’ve also booked a night away for our anniversary in August, which feels like a huge step at the moment, but I know it’s the right thing to do.

As much as I cringe at the phrase ‘date night’, I’m a true convert now I’m a mum. I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree with my opinion on prioritising nights away from the kids. Could you do it? Or do you have any suggestions for keeping your marriage strong after you’ve had a baby?

Love, Esme.

Find Esme on her blog Esme Wins or @Real_Married

Girl about Town: Chocolate walking tour of London

Easter weekend is on the way. I am excited for three reasons:

1) Two free days off work! Oh how I need the sleep.

2) Family time! In my house, Easter is like Christmas we gather, we play games, we (even in adulthood) hunt out eggs and we dine en masse.

3) Gluttony! If you’ve been abstaining from treats and indulgences for Lent, Sunday is the day it all comes to an end (just to clarify, I have abstained from nothing this year, I’ve been a glutton throughout Lent. My bad).

In light of this list, Rebecca thought I should tell you about something that combined all three, in particular a chocolate walking tour of London, that I did with my family over a chilled weekend the end of last summer. I booked it through Great British Tours with a 50% voucher from one of those well known discount sites (either the pink or the green, I don’t recall) which made it very reasonable indeed. During the tour we visited some of my favourite chocolateries (where we had tastings and were entitled to a discount on most purchases), wandered through Soho at a leisurely pace soaking up the atmosphere and we found a couple of hidden gems that I’ll definitely be re-visiting.

The meeting point was the Algerian Coffee Store on Old Compton Street where our guide greeted us with a large cup of chocolate coated coffee beans and a gigantic grin – imagine if your job was to wander the streets of London eating free chocolate? I’d grin a lot too!

First stop was Hotel Chocolat where we bought chilli hot chocolate powder and tested out their new line of chocolate themed toiletries…

…then on to Paul A. Young where the team introduced us to unusual recipes such as limoncello and cucumber, pink guava and lychee, goats cheese, rosemary and lemon and Marmite truffles and where we also sampled their delicious Aztec hot chocolate…

… a quick pit stop at Freggo to refresh the palate with some Malbec and berries sorbet (new fave thing ever!)…

…a browse around the sweet counter (and a quick dash to the loo) at Fortnum and Mason…

… a brief history lesson about the birth of the truffle at Prestat and sampled some boozy treats…

…all ending up at Charbonnel et Walker where I stuffed my face with my favourite violet and rose crèmes (apparently also the Queen’s!).

All in all a fun filled day!

Great British Tours do some other interesting walking tours including a cupcake and macaroon tour which I have my eye on for my next free weekend…

Victoria x

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

Girl about Town… with a Boy

By now you all know Victoria and I don’t usually butt in on her posts but today I couldn’t help myself. I don’t know about a boy, but this might just be my most perfect day out ever. I am so going to be visiting these hotspots next time I’m in the big smoke. Thanks Victoria!

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m a bit of a girly girl. Which means that when I’m out and about attempting to be a Girl About Town my eye is drawn by the girliest of locations, my interest is piqued by the pretty, my attention is grabbed by the glitzy and my appetite is whetted by sugar and spice and all things nice.

Sometimes, though, I feel like I’m leaving the Mister out of all the fun so every now and again I look for things a bit less frou-frou and frilly and with a slightly more manly edge so he can come along. To that end, I’ve pulled some of my recent slightly-less-girly exploits together in to one man-friendly post that could form the basis of a whole day out or just a quick date or catch up with the man in your life, be he your husband, boyfriend, brother, father or even the next door neighbour who did some of your “Blue Jobs” and now you owe him a drink*.

Let’s start at the beginning (a very good place to start) with breakfast, or in fact…

Brunch at The Wolseley

It’s not just for boys, but I think the old-school opulence and masculine colours and décor makes for a great setting to get a special day out started. Eating breakfast in such grandeur feels rather Bruce Wayne/Sports Superstar/other male “icon”-cool.

Mr G is a bit of an eggs benedict aficionado and I’ve eaten my fair share of American-style pancakes (with berries, maple syrup and crispy bacon, of course) in my time, so we know our stuff and I think we both whole heartedly agreed that it was one of the best breakfasts we’d eaten in the UK. The service, quality and prices were everything you’d expect from such a well known restaurant, but equally it’s not as stuffy or expensive as you’d think. We went on a weekday and it had a bustly, buzzy atmosphere with suited-and-booted corporate meetings, obvious regulars looking dapper and reading the business pages at their usual tables and a few (slightly) famous faces having discreet catch ups. Be sure to book in advance for the weekend as they get very busy.

After Brunch, my second favourite meal of the day is Afternoon Tea (Dinner, Lunch, Midnight Feast and Breakfast being third, fourth, fifth and sixth respectively). Traditionally, or at least as far as I’ve experienced, afternoon tea is always a very feminine affair. Dinky sandwiches, light-as-air patisserie, miniature scones and tea and fizz scented with floral aromas served in girly surroundings on delicate china. Afternoon tea is not often top of Mr G’s list of things to do. Until now…

Burger afternoon tea at Soho

Milk and sugar with your tea madam? Not here – American style iced tea, thank you very much!

Cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off? Nope – a trio of sliders (lobster, chicken and beef) and a portion of fries, complimented by BBQ sauce, burger relish and mustard.

Scones with jam and cream? Nuh-uh – how about a bowl of creamy vanilla milkshake. Yum.

Your choice of cake from the sweet trolley? Save it for next time – I’d prefer a selection of mini desserts thank you very much. Specifically, a salted caramel “doughnut hole” (sorry – that should probably be “donut hole” in here), a brownie and a de-constructed raspberry cheesecake.

Glass of fizz to accompany your treats? Well… if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Yes please!

Situated in Soho, literally just off Oxford Street, I knew it’d be a super-cool venue as the name of the restaurant contained no vowels! We were a large group and I don’t queue so I booked a table in advance for a Sunday afternoon as they don’t take Saturday bookings. The style and decor is simple, modern and understated, but colour is injected here and there with kitsch cow heads mounted on the walls. These are designed by artists, designers, celebrities and creative individuals and auctioned for charity. Click here to check out the hall of fame, or to submit an idea for your own. We were seated in front of the open kitchen and bar so there was some added theatre to the dining experience. The service was brilliant, in fact almost up to US standards, and the afternoon tea price was, in my opinion, a complete bargain!

After taking your fill of brunch and burgers (with maybe a short break in between for some culture, walking, sightseeing or shhhh, shopping?) what about a trip to the cinema to see a boy-friendly film? But not just any cinema..

The Electric Cinema:

Situated on Portobello Road, maybe a five or ten minute walk from Notting Hill Gate tube, The Electric Cinema is definitely the coolest place I’ve ever been to watch a film. The foyer feels like a cross between a ticket tent for a circus and a Victorian grocery shop, with a small booth in the corner to collect your tickets, a wall lined with wooden drawers full of traditional penny sweets and a vintage till at the Electric Donuts stand.

After loading up on goodies it’s straight in to the auditorium, full of squidgy red leather armchairs, love seats at the back, and double beds in the front row. Each seat has its own little polished table (no arguing over the cup holders), a vintage-style lamp and a leather footstool (no putting your feet on the chair in front and being told off by an usher), which contained a cosy cashmere blanket for each person and has space to store your belongings. Not really something that the boys will care about, but this made me squeal with delight as I always take an over-sized scarf or pashmina to the cinema with me to snuggle under or hide behind during the scary/gross bits, and I refuse to put my handbag on the sticky, dirty floor, instead clutching it on my lap all through the film. How very civilised!

There is a bar at the back of the auditorium which serves alcoholic beverages and yummy snacks, so your boy can kick back with a movie, a beer and a hot dog like he’s in his own living room… the living room he’d have in his Bruce Wayne/Sports Superstar/other male “icon” mansion, of course.

There are minimal pre-film adverts, so be on time, with just one or two that fit the profile of the main showing and then in to the usual, but in fact, unusual, “housekeeping” about phones off, exits, drinks/snacks and where to find the rather pretty loos. Pay attention to this bit – there are some fun surprises!

It’s not cheap, but for the experience of watching a special film in style, it’s worth every penny. After the film, if brunch, afternoon tea and Electric Donuts haven’t filled you up, you can head next door to…

Electric Diner for a late dinner:

The menu is full of simple but tasty American diner-style treats and the short but sweet drinks list contains some powerful cocktail concoctions, alongside a variety of beers and wines. I chowed down on a super-tasty cheeseburger with a shared side of fries, broccoli and the tastiest, juiciest bacon I’ve eaten in a long time washed down with a Grey Goose le Fizz (Vodka, elderflower, lime and soda). I’d highly recommend the lot!

*Apologies for the slightly anti-feminist statement there, but you know what I mean, some things are just meant for boys to do and I’m always eternally grateful to the men in and around my life for stepping in when Mr G is unavailable. This mainly involves being rescued from arachnids or collected from train stations that are not my intended destination after (ahem) missing a stop here and there late at night.

Victoria x

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

Must-Do Monday: I Give it a Year

In a departure from the norm but in total synchrony with what this slot is all about, this is something I don’t want anybody reading to go without seeing. Pete and I love going to the flicks and this weekend when we were at a loose end and not really that keen on leaving the house at all, we decided to try the new Brit rom-com I Give it a Year.

If I were to say I haven’t laughed this hard at a film in my entire memory, I wouldn’t be exaggerating. Fortunately the cinema was pretty empty because Pete and I were actually rolling around in our seats, unable to catch our breath, with tears rolling down our cheeks. The humour ranges from cringe worthy (that Best Man’s speech) to inevitable but all-the-funnier-for-it. If you laughed at Bridesmaids then this is waaay funnier. It’s a great anti-valentine film if you don’t buy into all the hype, but also one your husband or boyfriend won’t demand favours as a reward for watching, (largely thanks to Stephen Merchant’s Gervais-esque turn.) Minnie Driver is priceless and Rose Byrne who I tend to find annoying pulls off a great comedic performance in one of the best scenes of the film.

Go see it, unless this type of film (Love Actually, Four Weddings,*) really isn’t your thing, you will love it. Do leave a comment if you have seen it already or if you do go, come back and let me know what you thought!


*There is actually a lot less ‘love’ and romance than in either of these – much more Four Weddings than Love Actually 🙂

#JanuaryJoy – Plan a Date

Christmas for me is just about the most romantic time of year. Pete and I got engaged in December and I love spending time preparing for Christmas together. When the 23rd of December rolled around it dawned on me that I wasn’t feeling the romance at all. One of Pete and my worst failings as a couple is not making time for our own relationship. Throughout December we had hardly spent any time together, partly due to no fault of our own (Pete had had 2 nasty viruses wiping out 2 whole weekends and I had had one,) and partly because, as is usual for the time of year, when we had spent time together it had been at parties and other social occasions as part of a group.

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Things were so bad that we didn’t get to go shopping together, or to even discuss what we had bought, resulting in us buying multiple presents for the same people on our Christmas lists.

It’s not the first time this has happened of course, everybody has busy times and when it happens to us I know what we need is some time together. I hope lots of you spent tons of time with the one you love over the festive period, but if it actually was a lot of time spent with family, friends and not much planning your hopes and dreams for 2013 with your loved one, now’s your time.

So with that in mind, today’s January Joy is to Plan a Date. Maybe like me your favourite kind of time spent together involves making time to talk. For me there’s nothing better than a relaxed meal to linger over, sharing our thoughts, dreams and worries, making plans together. At this time of year we often sit in bed at the weekend and make lists of holidays we want to take, things we want to do and ways to improve our life together. Maybe you want to shake things up a bit, try something different. Surprise dates are always fun – I once took Pete to a life drawing class as a surprise date – or maybe something ultra romantic. I’m going to plan something for next Tuesday – we both have a day off and I’m going to try and reclaim some of that pre-Christmas romance. I can’t tell you here in case he’s reading though!

As I’m guessing most of your other halves don’t read FF, share your ideas here (I may shamelessly steal some,) or if you’ve ever organised a really random date tell us all about it!


PS How much fun does it look to build a grown up wendy house for your date – complete with fairy lights?! More low cost/high reward dates

ABC of Dating: M

It’s a two post day folks!

This morning, Martha is back to update you on her ABC of Dating adventures which co-incides with today’s January Joy prompt of planning a date. Pop back later for more on that. For now though, I’d love to hear if any of you went to the flicks over the festive period like Martha and what you saw. We saw Pitch Perfect and then Jack Reacher. I’ll let you know what I thought in the comments box later. 😉

So this month’s update is going to be rather short and sweet I’m afraid! December was a pretty manic month with work parties galore and then travelling all over the country visiting family for a grand total of 3 fabulous (but exhausting!) Christmases. Needless to say, all this rather got in the way of our couple time, meaning we only managed to fit in one date…

M is for meal and movie.
I had all sorts of exciting plans for “M”; however, after a busy few weeks I decided to keep it simple with the ol’ meal and movie classic. We started off with a lovely easy dinner at one of our favourites, Jamie’s Italian and then we headed to The Hobbit – I even treated us to extra comfy VIP seats. With this date, even more than the others, it was so nice just to kick back and have some much needed “us” time.

And that’s it I’m afraid – not the most inspiring of dates but perfect for what the two of us needed! But don’t worry, we’ve already got some great dates planned for the coming weeks… 🙂

Martha xoxo

What to Wear: Modern Florals

I may or may not have gone a little bit mad in Zara recently. My excuse is that my wardrobe needed some new season life injecting into it… with a holiday, 2 afternoon teas, my birthday, a couple of big nights out and wedding all on the horizon, I’ve been all about finding the right outfit.

I wasn’t looking for this dress when I stumbled across it. I went into the changing rooms at Zara with about 4 times my allowance of clothes and this was one of the 4 items I left with.

Zara dress // French Connection Jacket // M&S Autograph Shoes (old) // Kate Moss for Topshop clutch (old)

I love floral prints, particularly the kaleidoscopic graphic take on them that we’re seeing this season, a completely bang up to date and grown up version. This dress is super flattering with the focus on the centre of the silhouette, which gives the illusion of narrowing your curves.

The other flattering part of it is the racer-esque cut-away neckline. Remember Kate Winslet wearing this Stella McCartney dress last year and the athletic and toned silhouette she cut on the red carpet? Aside from her mind-blowing curves it was down to the dress, so when I spotted this one, I thought it might be just as flattering.

Obviously, I wore mine with my go-to jacket of the moment from French Connection , and some really old heels that I have from Marks and Spencer Autograph of all places. With racy straps and a zip front in sexy snakeskin, they seemed an appropriate match, without too much of a pattern clash.

The dress is a bargain £49.99 and an a super comfy stretchy cotton, perfect when you’re heading out to stuff your face for dinner 😉

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