Monday, 23 December 2013

New York Bakery Company - Orange And Cranberry Bagels

Happy Christmas Eve Eve everyone - the hours and minutes are ticking away for all the last minute shoppers out there, but that doesn't mean you can't still snap up something nice if you're quick, or plan your next post Xmas shopping trip.

I thought now would be an ideal time to bring back 'Freelancers Snack Time', my feature where I review something yummy which may (or may not) be right at home on my home office desk. This time I was lucky enough to have the chance to review New York Bakery Company's Orange and Cranberry Bagels.

I am a fairly recently convert to bagels as the taste of a plain bagel doesn't really do it for me, I hate onions with a passion so an onion bagel was out, and to be honest I couldn't be bothered with any special fillings. But thanks to Mum I now have a thing for New York Bakery's Cinnamon and Raisin Bagels, and they are until now, the only brand/make I have eaten on a regular basis.

I was intrigued to taste the orange and cranberry bagels, wondering how much taste and flavour they would have, and if I'm honest I expected the orange to be quite over powering. First impressions were good, they didn't smell too strong, although I was a little disappointed to have a 4 pack, instead of the 5 I was used too. The four bagels didn't last long though!! In some ways eating them was a little like demolishing a hot cross bun, but without the spice. Both flavours were there in a homely kind of way, but not over powering, so if I had been in the mood I could still have spread jam over them and it not taste funny.

A moister treat than some bagels I've tasted, but well cooked and a good balance of flavour. Unlike a certain home brand supermarket make which was verging on burnt, with this festive bagel pack the New York Bakery Company have maintained their quality and consistency. I'm not normally a fan of the limited edition flavours that come out at Xmas, and find them a bit too predictable, but if you want an alternative to Christmas pudding and mince pies, or are fed up of toast for breakfast, then this is a good option.

4 bagels eaten in 4 days, but if you want to grab a pack you best be quick, Orange and Cranberry packs are limited edition. Search for them in your local supermarket or online shopping portal.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Quinessence Muscles And Joints Bath Soak

It's a week full of last minute shopping ideas for Christmas here on These City Days, but these products can be bought all year round, so here's an idea with that in mind. I was recently given the opportunity to pick a product from the Quinessence Aromatherapy range. I am a big fan or aromatherapy for relaxation, and have long had lavender products to use, but this time fancied something a bit different, so like a kid in a sweet shop I browsed and came across the Muscles and Joints Bath Soak.

The bath soak comes in a 200ml bottle and appealed to me because along with Cardamon, Majoram, Sea Lavendar, Irish Moss and Seaweed, it also contains Chamomile. I have never been able to stomach tea or coffee, so don't drink Chamomile tea, but have often read of it in association with relaxation and stress relief, so I figured, if I can't drink it, why not bathe in it.

The bottle arrived and I tested it out that same night, and for a few nights following. Although the branding on the bottle wouldn't stand out on a shop shelf among bath products, if I was browsing, I think the fact that it uses organic essential oils, and is SLS and parabens free would appeal.

The bath soak smells quite strong and herbal in the bottle, but once poured in the bath bubbles up nicely (love a proper bubble bath), and while the scent was wafting around the bathroom enough to make an impact, it wasn't quite as strong.

It's been tried and tested a number of times now and I can safely say These City Days gives it the thumbs up. Some products on the market claim to be relaxing but don't really make a difference, this one however genuinely did help relieve some of my pre-xmas stress, and although at 6.99 it does cost more than I expected, as a treat I would buy it for myself, and use it occasionally when I need to pamper myself. I don't normally spend much on bubble bath unless it's a gift set, but this has converted me to the Chamomile cause.

Quinessence sell their range of aromatherapy products online, and also have a showroom where they welcome business enquiries. Click the link to find out more.

What are your favourite pampering treats, have you had results with aromatherapy? leave a comment below and let us all know!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Nutra Nail Gel Perfect Review

Me and nail polish don't always have the best relationship. I am one of those who loses patience when waiting for the polish to dry, or thinks it's dry, then gets ready for a night out, or gets on with some work, and hey presto it isn't quite dry or it chips easily. But I do like adding some colour to my nails, which is why I accepted the Nutra Nail Gel Perfect challenge, when offered the chance to review the product.

Nutra Nail Gel Perfect offers a gel like manicure without the need of a UV lamp and curing process. I was sent a box containing Sugar Plum gel colour, an activator and brush cleaning solution (which I was to discover is very important). It all came in a neat little box, emblazoned with the words "sets rock solid in 5 minutes to a patent leather shine". All sounded good on first impressions, and purple is one of my favourite colours, so I was eager to see how tough the product really was.

For each nail you go through a quick process of applying layers of activator lotion and gel colour, sealing the tips of your nails as you go, which helps prevent chipping. You have to wipe clean the gel polish brush after each colour application, and dip it in the cleaner so you don't get a clumpy brush and lumpy nail polish. The instructions are quite easy to follow, but on my first go I did forget to wipe clean the brush, so you do have to concentrate to get it all done properly.


Just as with normal nail polish, I think there is an art to applying gel perfect as well. It's not just about remembering the stages, it's learning to properly seal the tips and trying to angle in the polish to the sides so its not raised which comes with practice. If, when all the layers are set, it's slightly raised, the polish can catch on something and chip.

So yes it did chip, and is not entirely chip proof, in fact I had my first chip after a few days, and a week or so later only had a few nails left in tact. Although considering in day to day life I am working, and coming into contact with any number of tasks that could chip my polish, this is still pretty good going, and partly down to not being used to gel polish, and how to apply it to get the best results.

I did love the colour and the shine on my nails when I'd finished, and it definitely feels different, and tougher than normal nail polish - I'd place it somewhere in between normal nail polish and false nails. All good from that point of view, although I don't rate the 'No Mess Express' remover pad I was also sent (sold separately) When my nails had chipped a little the polish came off cleanly, but I found it a lot more difficult cleaning my nails with this pad. It took ages, and did leave some residue. I think I'd stick to normal acetone polish remover, or picking it off myself - this is supposed to be the easy task!

Although it's tempting sometimes, I don't think you can sit on the fence when it comes to product reviews, so I don't think I'd buy this product if I saw it in the shop. The colour range is very tempting, and as it claims, the polish does set rock solid in 5 minutes, but to part with more money I would want to see more of a difference between this and a good quality nail polish, and I'm afraid I just didn't see enough of one in this trial.

Nutra Nail Gel Perfect Manicure sets have an RRP of £14.99 and are available from Boots online and in-store.

Have you tried a gel effect manicure? do you have nice shiny nails now? why not share your stories below. Meantime I am off to put my purple polish away (just for now) and exchange it for a festive red).

* this product was kindly sent free for review, but all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Pottery Painting At Make Do And Mend

My first ever attempt at pottery painting
I would apologise for the Christmas craft overload, but I am not sorry, because there are so many great ideas about, and crafting keeps me distracted from the stress of Christmas. The other week I went along to Make Do and Mend in Chelmsford, as they had a pottery painting session on, and having been twice before, I couldn't resist painting something else festive for the tree.
The sessions are run by ceramics teacher, and expert painter Mell from Potters Bar Paint Your Own Pottery, and she does a great job of teaching little techniques such as dotting, stars, and hearts, and letting everyone know what colours can be layered up together, and generally encouraging those who weren't sure what to do, and lacked the confidence to touch their chosen pottery pieces with some paint.

It's pretty addictive, and relaxing sitting there coming up with my ideas, and watching what everyone
This year's decoration
else is doing. Even better when you get to pick your painting up afterwards and see how the colours have transformed after firing and glazing. This year I picked out two cute snowmen decorations to paint, and set about giving them little gloves, hat, buttons, and a face. The decided to paint a little design in each corner. I had no idea how my little holly and robin would turn out as they were quite fiddly to do, but I'm pretty pleased with the results.

My only slight criticism was there needed to be some quality control on the holes in the decorations, one of mine didn't have a hole right the way through, and fixing it, meant a piece snapped off and had to be glued back together. Apart from that, there were a good selection of things to paint, and help there if I needed it.

It genuinely is something all the family, or any age can get involved in, and you don't need to be artistic to have a go, anyone can do it. Make Do and Mend often have drop in pottery painting
Another cute snowman at home on the tree

sessions, and a whole host of other workshops throughout the year, so if you feel like getting creative in 2014, why not have a look at their website.

In the meantime I'll leave you with a few pictures of my efforts. Happy Christmas crafting everybody.

If you've done something crafty for Christmas, why not connect and share below!

* I paid to take part in this workshop and all opinions are my own.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Kerfuffle Game Review

One of my favourite things is playing board games, right from when I was young and my parents introduced me to games such as Build A Ladybird, Snakes and Ladders, and Guess Who. Some of the family favourites me and my sister we even played some games when we were long past the age they were aimed at. With my sister having flown the next, and Mum and Dad spending nights in front of the television, none of them are quite as willing as me to play, especially when it involves anything that is too long or complicated. Luckily Paul Lamond Games is pretty good at satisfying the tolerance levels, which is why I was happy to get the chance to try out Kerfuffle, part of their family games range.

Kerfuffle is a dice based game suitable for 2-4 players. If you play with 2 players you use all the dice (half each), and with 3 or more players, you have one set of dice each. There's no set-up involved, you just take the game board out of the box, divide up the dice, and you are ready to go. There are two options available, either play just with the dice and the game rules, or you can add the cards into the game - picking one each turn and following the rules on each as you make your move. When Mum and Dad found out that some of these cards tell you to tap dance, or sing the ABC game, that option was swiftly discarded!!

You'll need a bit of patience when you play, as first time round we had to go through the dice placement rules several times, check our moves, and we did help each other out with this, as we got used to how to play. But I think once you get the hang of what makes a series of numbers and what makes a pair etc. it will become easier.

It took us 20 minutes to play our first game, and none of us lost interest, so all positive signs. It was a little like Scrabble in that you have to start on certain game squares, and think about what your placing where, but other than that it's quite different to play, and there's more to it than other dice based games, which to be honest I've got bored with fairly quickly.

Kerfuffle is aimed at ages 8+ and I think that sounds about right. I think you could introduce learning elements with younger children, and when you've all grasped the rules, a nice bit of family competition. We played as a three - I think the potential to play with a fourth person, and with the cards, will make the game longer and/or each move more difficult.

Different gaming options make Kerfuffle stand out in the market, and all the items that came in my box are durable and hard wearing, so I think we'll be enjoying this game for many years to come. I do have a couple of criticisms on the packaging and instructions. Although the box is sturdy and colourful, and would jump out of the shelves, it does have a die cut on the front, and all that lays between this and the game pieces etc. is a loose plastic frame. To me a sealed front would be a lot more practical. I'd also look at possible improvements in the instructions, as the example pictures could be clearer, and although it was pretty easy to play, relating each set of instructions to each other, well it was a bit of a mouthful for a newbie player. Apart from that it's a positive thumbs up to this game, and I look forward to trying out the other gaming options.

Kerfuffle has an RRP of £19.95 and is available from Amazon, and many independent and high street toy and gift retailers this Christmas and beyond.

Have you played the game before? tempted to give it a go? let me know below!

*This product was sent for review purposes but all opinions are my own.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Our Handmade Christmas

*written in association with Hobbycraft

I saw a call-out recently for writers to do a piece about making things handmade for Christmas, unfortunately I couldn't apply, as it had to be literally everything handmade, so I thought I'd share some thoughts on what my family and I do to put our own handmade stamp on the festive season.

Festive Baking

For as long as I can remember we've had the delicious smells of baking wafting through the kitchen. Mum makes her own mincemeat from a tried and tested recipe, and makes a few jars too - mince pies never last very long in our house. Mum also makes our Christmas Cake, though has never yet let me loose on the decoration, telling me off when I offer up too many ideas. This year I may get lucky, and already have some Doctor Oetker Gold Shimmer Spray and some marzipan stashed away.

I tend to stay out of the kitchen nearer the time, too many people and a bit too much stress. I stick to
the washing up, laying the table, helping with the cold buffet, or making things like place cards, and table presents. If I get a chance I like to try out a festive baking recipe though, and had a go at making Gingerbread Cupcakes from the Best Craft and Cookery Special. Actually made a nice change to be doing a recipe with a few more processes in it, and they looked yummy on the page.

The recipe was quite easy to follow, although I may have been guilty of over whisking, and the recipe really needed pre-melted butter and less liquid. So I'm not sure if I got the texture right, and the mix produced a few random shaped cake tops. They were fun to make though, and tasted yummy.

The recipe was taken from 'Cupcakes' a book by Peggy Porschen.

Festive Crafting

Xmas is my absolute favourite time to craft - there's just so much variety of activities and craft products about, it's hard to resist going shopping, or hunting through my treasure trove of festive stash. My favourites are winter scenes featuring animals, and I love to matt and layer with cute or shimmery papers. This year I have some gorgeous festive card inserts from Hunkydory ( my favourite craft brand) to make cards with, and I've also been lucky to secure some cute festive postcard size toppers from Katy Sue Designs.


Some of my festive makes
 
I've not done much with those yet, but I have been shopping and fed my addiction for decorating things. I'm not an expert on techniques, but I also get a bit bored if you just take something out the packet, put it on something else, and then its done. So decorating is ideal for me. I think decopatch is great for something different and unusual (who says everything has to be traditional!) and I've also had fun making something from fimo, for the first time in years for my Christmas tree. It's so relaxing to sit and experiment with craft stuff, and as far as xmas stuff goes anyway, no disasters!

How will you put your own stamp on xmas? have you made any gifts this year? any top tips or recipes we should look out for. The Christmas countdown has begun, so don't be shy, come and share!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Chelmsford Christmas Lights Switch On - 24th November 2013


Although I started my Christmas shopping a while ago, I just don't feel properly festive until the Christmas lights are switched on in my home city. It's an annual event I always look forward too, and I've been to many - seeing penguins, reindeer's, ice sculptures, and music acts such as Lee Mead, Olly Murs, Kym Marsh (as she was then) and Jo from S Club. The town is full of festive cheer, there's always a nice community spirit, and queues of people round the hot chocolate and mulled wine stalls.

This year I popped into town for the 2013 event and I was more than ready to relax and have some fun. There were lovely lights strung between the market and shops, which created quite a stunning effect, a mobile farm created a live nativity scene, and children were busy getting their faces painted, or taking part in craft activities.

I snapped a few festive photo's then made my way up the high street to the Heart FM music stage for the afternoons main entertainment. I arrived to the sounds of a female singer and her live percussionist blasting out some dance tracks, which made a refreshing change, as previous year's events have been overloaded on Christmas songs. Before you label me the Grinch, I like Christmas songs, just not acts going on one after the other, singing the same tunes.

Also performing were 3 large community choirs, all with energetic choir masters, leading each choir through a wide range of old and new pop hits. Between The Big Sing, Funky Voices, and Rock Choir there was Madonna, a Take That Medley, and some amusing air guitar to 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love'. I think with 3 choirs having decent length sets, there was a different atmosphere around the stage, and not so much of a buzz/build-up towards the lights switch-on and fireworks, but you could fault their energy or vocals - though maybe their dance routines need a little practice.

Chelmsford's more recognisable faces this year were local act 'Next Of Kin', currently touring the
Copyright - Lauren John
country after escaping the X Factor bubble, and performing two acoustic sets at our switch on event. It felt a bit like they had something to prove after being knocked out, but as far as vocal range and ability as musicians goes, they don't need to worry. I'm not a big fan of 'More Than Words' or 'Too Much Heaven', both a bit dated as songs whatever you do to them, but their version of 'Higher Love' is definitely one to listen out for, and after several listens 'Can't Find Me' is starting to grow on me as well. I'd like to see what they do with a full kit instrument wise, and maybe 2 acoustics instead of one on a track as well. If you've got it, why not flaunt it!!

That's just me being picky though, and apart from the over dose of choral energy, and being in the wrong place to get the full effect of the fireworks (again!) it was another fun event, just feeling a bit of a festive anti climax now, so I better get working on Mum and Dad to get the Christmas tree down from the loft.

Has anything special happened where you are for Christmas? who did you have turning on the lights, why not get festive and let us all know below. Until then 'Happy Christmas'.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Scottish Fine Soaps Christmas Collection

Some of the goodies I reviewed
I have a festive treat for you today blog readers, but first off, thank you all for coming along and reading/commenting on my blog since June, and for getting all festive along with me now. I've always been fascinated seeing old pictures of my town, and realising the how long some of the companies have been around. That's one thing that appealed to me with Scottish Fine Soaps, as they've been around since 1974 - imagine how many soaps they have made in that time. I'm also passionate about small business and independent retailers, so one of the things I wanted to do on the blog, was showcase that. So here I am, having just tried and tested the Scottish Fine Soaps Christmas collection. The attractively packaged gifts I had to test are-

Spiced Apple Soap In A Tin - £4.96

Spiced Apple Little Bear Soap - £4.75

Gingerbread Luxurious Essentials Drum - £9.95

The problem I have with xmas scented products is they are either way too over powering, or just seem a bit rubbery/synthetic. I was intrigued by this collection, partly because of the packaging, and partly because they offered something different to the highly spiced concoctions I normally see in the shops.

Before I even opened the spiced apple soap I was in love with the scent - it smells gorgeous and very well balanced for a festive soap. I have used the soap in a tin quite a few times since (the teddy bear looks too pretty to open), and it lathers up well, with the scent of spiced apple lingering for a while on my skin.

I'd definitely buy the spiced apple products again though I was a little disappointed with my gingerbread collection. I've tried out the soap, body butter, and hand and nail cream so far and at first had trouble detecting any scent of gingerbread at all. After a few uses I did pick up more of the gingerbread scent, but it is very subtle and I was expecting a bit more. I recently made some Christmas Gingerbread Cupcakes - with different spices, orange juice and other ingredients in, which made me think of the bath and body products I'd tried out. I think they need just a little something extra, but my skin has no complaints from using all the products so far. Just what I need now the weather has gone a bit pear-shaped!



Scottish Fine Soaps, didn't quite win on all counts, but they have converted me to the cause, and just in case any of my friends and family were hoping to get my spiced apple bear soap for Christmas - it's mine, all mine!

You can purchase the Scottish Fine Soaps Christmas Collection here, or keep updated on their products on Twitter.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Make Of The Month - Felt Christmas Stocking

Laurens Cards and Craft
I don't know about anyone else, but I am starting to feel the festive spirit now. Christmas shopping is well underway, and so is some crafting. Sorry I've not showcased any makes for a while, but I've not had time for much crafting. One thing I was determined to do though, was to make my little nephew (1 year old now!!) a little representation for the Christmas tree.

I decided pretty quickly to make him a little stocking, small enough to hang on the tree, but big enough that 'Santa' could fill with a few goodies on Christmas Eve. The challenge will probably be finding things to fill it, given my nephew is only one, but I had a lot of fun making it.

The design is a festive Spot the Dog. My sister still has a Spot which she was given as a baby, and as Joey also has a Spot soft toy and books, I thought this would be a fun image to put on the stocking.

Most of the stocking was done freehand. I drew freehand templates of the stocking shape, and the Santa hat. Then I found a Spot picture on the Internet which was the right size for the stocking, printed that out and used that as a template. For anyone who is not great at art, I'd say give something like this a go, the freehand bits were easy to do. I was a little worried about doing all the freehand details that made my yellow piece of felt 'become Spot', as it was important to me that it looked like what it was supposed to. In the end, having a picture printed out helped, and while some of the sewing detail was a bit fiddly, I'm very chuffed with the results.



All the elements of the stocking were hand sewn, so the next task was sewing spot on to the front of the stocking. The I prepared some strips of felt for the stocking tops, and as an impulse added zig zag detail with crystal metallic cross stitch thread, which I think adds a nice subtle effect. Once both sides of the stocking had their tops, all that was left was to sew the two parts together, add in a felt hook, and then photograph the end result to show all you lovely blog readers.

I always wanted to have a go at making a stocking, but wasn't keen on all the fiddly embroidery etc. that I've seen in various craft kits. Felt gave me the option to do something that is simple to put together, and I think will stand out nicely on the tree come Christmas. Now I've done one, I may just try and come up with some more felt designs ready for next Christmas.

Have any of you made Christmas stockings, or other festive makes. What do you like doing to add your stamp on Christmas. Let's compare notes and get into a crafty Christmas spirit.

Next Month - my experience making a fabric purse.

Monday, 11 November 2013

New Look Psychologies Magazine - Out Now!



When I launched my blog back in June, health and well-being was one of the subjects I aimed to include in my content hit list. I have skirted around the topic in various ways - such as talking about my Race For Life experience as I fundraised for Cancer Research - now I have been given the opportunity to delve headfirst into the topic once again - this time with a magazine review.

I have read Psychologies Magazine a few times in the past - so I am coming at this review with a little general knowledge, although I don't have too much to compare their new look magazine to. I remember a feature from a well known face on 'not being ashamed to be a pop fan' that I related to, and a general sense of inspiring content.

On the letters page the editor claims to be bringing readers  "new sections, new look, and new experts." This is where I was a bit disappointed, as I was expecting something obviously different, but the December 2013 issue still has the same glossy front cover etc, and for me anyway I don't think new experts really count towards a re-launch - perhaps that's my writers brain being used to magazines changing contributors regularly.

A slightly disappointing re-jig on first impressions, but I have noticed a shift towards more photo led features, which in terms of topics like travel and beauty is always a winner for me. What I enjoyed was the features I didn't expect - Julia Roberts for example clearly has a film to promote, but I wasn't expecting her to appear in Psychologies doing it, and I also enjoyed the history of glamour piece - something different from the normal look books or product suggestions. With a good number of activities enhancing well-being, I was happy to see baking recipes including (I want to make a cake now!) although the baking section did look a bit lonely on it's own, so I hope there are more activities mentioned in forth-coming issues.

I think my absolute favourite piece was the wintery travel suggestions. There's something very festive and revitalising in their ideas, all of which I've never thought of before. Other high points include the relevant advertising, an international flavour to the contributors, and the Cold Comforts feature on how to deal with pesky winter bugs. A good quiz is always a fun way to pass the time as well.

Bad points - If you can call them bad - I'd say some features were a little too short, like linking the make your own light feature to Diwali, and as a photography fan, I would have liked to see more photo competition entries on the letters page. I wouldn't buy a magazine like this for features on sexuality or casual sex either. They are not topics that interest me, and I think it's just a high end way of dealing with subjects common in lifestyle magazines.

So Psychologies has changed, in some ways for the better, in other ways perhaps not so much. The tone was a little over formal in places, and felt a bit too much like classroom psycho analysis. I think you can be intelligent and interesting but fun as well. I missed a little of the fun, but they have re-launched with relevance.

It will be interesting to see what they have planned for forthcoming editions. If you are curious about the December 2013 edition, or want to find out more about the magazine, check it out here.

*This magazine was sent for review purposes, but all opinions are my own.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Matt Cardle - Porcelain Album Review

Porcelain Album Signing - HMV Chelmsford Oct 2013
Christmas is coming, but the goose isn't quite fat. It is however time to sit and think about what you'd all like Santa to bring you for Christmas, and as in my house this normally means some kind of musical entertainment, I thought it would be a good opportunity to bring some music posts to These City Days.

Matt Cardle released his third studio album, titled Porcelain on October the 28th, and it has presented rather more of a review challenge than anticipated. Normally I find it quite easy to earmark what I believe to be potential singles, and what are 'album tracks', but just when I thought the lyrics were a little too 'bubblegum' on one track, or another took too long to get going, along comes an instrumental, a strong hook in a chorus, or smooth change of mood or tone to keep me interested. I am well used to delving into the different elements of the song for a review, but here I think it's about looking at the whole package - so while 'Hit My Heart' for example, may not have the same lyrical edge and originality as his Seven Summers tracks, the song as a whole is very infectious party tune.

There are hints of post X Factor preen and polish in the production of 'Porcelain', but that's no bad thing, I think the album needed that to show off the slick, soulful, rock grooves to good effect. The instrumentation is balanced and blends well throughout all the tracks, and I love the live feel to it. I can sit back, relax, and pick out a beautiful piano melody, or catchy bass line without it being distorted by effects.

So what will I remember from 'Porcelain' in the coming months? Zoe my Aussie pal and I both agree that 'When You Were My Girl' is an instant, stuck in your head, kind of hit. Matt looks very comfortable performing his socks off in the video, and the groove is insanely danceable. It sounds even better on CD than it did on Youtube. Definitely a track I hope to hear live one day.

Another highlight is 'This Trouble Is Ours', a combination of British folk and soaring pop ballad that belongs on a soundtrack to an animated film. The vocal tones are pitched just right, and almost bought a lump to my throat. I wasn't as keen on the slower numbers in Matt's previous albums, but he has won me over this time.

Listen out for an edgy R&B vibe on 'Mouth To Mouth', delicate sentiments on final track 'Porcelain', and a slight nod to Matt Cardle's early metal band days in 'In Chains'. This track is one of those that's took a while to get going, but illustrates how Matt has benefited from learning to use his voice in the right way. He is pushing his vocal limits, but he is comfortable doing it, which makes this album very easy to listen to.

There have been some beautiful songs on previous albums 'The Fire', and 'Letters', and I wouldn't take anything away from those, but what this album has is an anthemic quality which will give it staying power in the years to come. I think Matt Cardle was always heading in a soulful rock direction, and it's nice to see he has arrived.

'Porcelain' is on-sale now via HMV, I-Tunes, and Amazon. Visit www.mattcardlemusic.com for more information, and details of the 'Porcelain' 2014 tour. If the album will be making it's way under your Christmas tree, or you have any other music wish-lists do let me know.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Race For Life Twilight 5k - Mission Completed!

All In Pink - Waiting For The Race To Start
Well, we have survived the 'storms' in one piece, so I thought now was a good time to nail down a little blog post about my first Race For Life experience. Our Chelmsford 5K Twilight event happened on the 24th October, and luckily the weather held. I have to admit I was nervous about that right up until the day, but the weather gods shone kindly on Chelmsford.
I knew from seeing pictures of other Cancer Research and Breast Cancer Care events that pink was a common colour theme, and wearing pink is positively encouraged, but I wasn't sure how many would join in with this. I arrived at Central Park and was surrounded by a sea of pink. Some had tutu's and fairy lights, others had sweat bands, deely boppers and pink t-shirts or jumpers. To add to the effect the event organisers had several pink up lights around a group of trees, and fairy lights strung along one part of the course, plus the flashing finish start/finish line.

If you've seen my earlier post, you'll know that it was the first time I'd done a Race For Life event. I
Event T-Shirt With All Our Names On
knew I didn't want to run it, but set off from the start aiming to briskly walk, and jog at times, along the 2 laps of the course. All I can say is it was great fun. There's was plenty of encouragement from the stewards and sea cadets along the well marshalled course, music in places, and a good sense of community spirit. Some were taking part just to support the charity, others had been affected by cancer in some way. There was a sense of fun, and sense of purpose. I wasn't the only one taking part on my own, and didn't mind that at all. The event was really well organised so I felt safe, and invigorated.

Watching Others Cross The Finish Line
 
Although I did get lapped by the runners at one point, the fastest of which crossed the line in 25 minutes, I was pleased with my pace, and felt quite proud of myself when I crossed the line at the 50min 38 seconds mark. A bottle of water, and some sweets were my reward, then I was off home to show off my medal, and tell everyone my time.

It was a good way to spend an evening, and I would definitely do it again, so I hope Race For Life Twilight comes back again next year, although in the meantime I might do the route again whenever I need some invigorating exercise! More importantly I also raised funds for Cancer Research, a brilliant cause, and I hope that somehow the kind donations I received in sponsorship will go a little way to help beat cancer.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Christmas Tag Post

Source - Tweak Your Biz
Eagle eyes may have spotted me joining in with a fun Autumn Tag Post, thanks to my blogger friend Vicky, who posted before me. I had fun answering all the questions, so I thought I'd start of a Christmas one. Perhaps Vicky will be first, and lots of you will all join in as well - it is about time we got just a little bit festive after all!

1. Do you buy anything in the January sales for next Christmas?

Yes, I am normally down at the sales looking for a treat for myself, find nothing, wonder at the people with bags stuff full of stuff, and then go home with nothing but reduced cards or gift wrap!

2. Are you organised when it comes to Christmas?

I'm on a self employed income, which can go up and down like a rollercoaster, especially as most pay in 30 days. I normally start xmas shopping in October/November when the festive gifts are in the shops, and birthdays are out the way. I also have a rough budget for every person I buy for, and try and be organised about posting things off. I can't stand the thought of standing in long post office queues or dashing around the shops at the last minute. Mostly depends on ideas though, which can be lacking for hard to buy for people!

3. Where do you sit on the scale of liking/disliking Christmas?

Probably somewhere between the middle, and liking. I think Christmas is always going to extremes. I like the build-up when the Christmas lights get turned on in town, I like making my cards and tags, and choosing presents for everyone. Christmas itself can be a bit full on - getting urged out of bed, a lot of socialising at home, more than any other time of year. It's not bad - it's just sometimes you want a break, and other times you end up bored, when nothing much is going on.

4. What is your ideal way to get in the Christmas Spirit?

We have a little tradition in our house, my sister and I both decorate the tree together, which we still do, even though she has left home. The Christmas Lights Switch On always has a good festive spirit. In an ideal world though, they'd hold Winter Wonderland here, instead of Hyde Park - be nice to have something like that, instead of a one-off event.

5. Have you had a white Christmas where you are?

I'm sure we have, but I can't remember it, recently the weather has been pretty miserable over Xmas, so we've been stuck inside, and so has Wilson (my sister's dog). I think fresh air should be a pre-requirement at Christmas! Nearest we've had is snow in January for Dad's birthday. I love the snow though, and have built some snowmen - now I have a nephew I may have company doing that soon!!

6. What is a typical Christmas Day in your house?

I get hauled out of bed by the rest of the family who are eager to start opening presents (big kids!),
Santa Wilson!
we open gifts for a while, then lunch is cooked and eaten, chill out time over coffee, then more presents. So that lasts until 3-4pm. Then we'll have a snack, watch Eastenders (the only programme we seem to end up watching all the way through), and sometimes we'll end up playing games at random times  - Monopoly at 10pm Xmas Day wasn't such a good idea. Then bed, and a nice lie-in, before more food, TV, and games on Boxing Day. It's a bit different now, as my sister has a little (and very cute) son. So we will probably be spending more time keeping him and Wilson the dog entertained this year when they are over, and may be quieter the rest of the time.

7. What do you hope Santa will leave for you under the Christmas Tree this year?

Ooh I've not actually made much of a list yet, but I do keep looking at the new Nintendo 2DS console, so that may have to get a mention. I'd also love some Hunkydory craft kits, you can't get them in the shops around here, and the quality is amazing. I don't need smellies though, well body butter anyway, I have so much of that already!

8. How do you put your own stamp on Christmas?


Christmas Decorations I Made!
For quite a while now, my sister and I decorate the Christmas tree, and (as much as we are allowed), make the rest of the house look festive. I have a few bits for my room as well. Much to Mum's annoyance I am always butting in with ideas for decorating the Christmas Cake, and this year, I think that might be my job!!! Other than that, I make cards and gift tags for friends and family gifts and like to make little gifts if I get time.


So I think that's my Christmas Tag well and truly started. Hope you will all join in, and also leave all your favourite things about Christmas in the comments below. Lets get some Christmas Spirit on These City Days!



Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Comment - My Thoughts On Reading, Books, and Kindles



I recently read a lovely post on the To Become Mum blog about reading and books, which mentioned a study by Littlewoods on the subject. It caught my eye because of her passion for books, and her feelings mirror my own.

So I decided to write my own post, after finding the stats a hard read. 2000 parents were surveyed, with just 64 per cent of them read their children bedtime stories, and a quarter of a million under 7's don't earn a single book. The survey hints at parenting issues, stress, lack of time, and an apathy toward reading from children more interested in television and computer games.

Tastes change, and with so many distractions on the market as well, not everyone will grow up with a love of books, and keep on being a bookworm into adulthood. Although me and my sister both liked being read to when we were younger and read at an early age, I was always more into books than she was. These days my sister might read the odd magazine - or look at picture books with my nephew, but her interest in reading waned quite a while ago.

That's just something that happens in life I, but I will always be grateful to my parents for introducing me to books at a young age, and encouraging my reading as I grew older. I just think there is a joy in books, sharing other people's imagination, reading more about your interests, and although it may sound a bit boring, it did help a lot with school work as well.

I remember reading the Village With Three Corners books in infant school, progressing up the reading levels in junior school, then pretty much reading every Famous Five, Secret Seven, and Sweet Valley High book going.

Which makes me pretty much a traditionalist, as I think part of the joy in books is choosing them from a bookshelf or visiting a library. When it comes to books on animals, crafts, or one of my other hobbies, there's nothing quite like large glossy pictures as well. Which is why, although I appreciate the technology, I'm not a Kindle convert, and was a bit sad to see them advertised with children.

Although I own other gadgets I won't be buying a Kindle. I'd much rather pick up a book, and encourage children to leave their gadgets at home and visit a bookshop or library. Gadgets to me don't promote reading aloud or sharing books with your family either.

Reading is an essential skill, you don't have to list it as a favourite hobby, but there is a book out there for everyone, so why not search one out, turn the pages, and enjoy it. Whether it helps you with study, is a distraction as you sit on a sunbed on holiday, or helps you learn more about your favourite subject. Don't let the wonder of books be lost in favour of TOWIE or your Playstation.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Cocoa Brown Tough Stuff Review

One of the things I enjoy about blogging is the chance to try out products and brands that are entirely new to me. I never use tanning products so Marissa Carter's Cocoa Brown brand has been a mystery to me until now.

I was sent a sachet of 'Tough Stuff', an exfoliating scrub that claims it packs no punches, and sets to work on your rough areas, such as elbows, knees, and feet. I've seen a few blogs recently reporting on the scrubs use as a pre-tan, or tan stripping item as well, so it seems to be a product with two target markets.

First impressions were good, as I liked the 50ml size of the sachet, and the pink branding would definitely stand out on a shop shelf. I also noticed the handy addition of usage tips, and explaining about using the scrub on dry and/or wet skin, which was a nice touch.

The pink and girl theme continues inside with the product, so they have already achieved marks for consistency, but how does the product work? As I'm not a fan of fake tan, what drove me to accept this review was the promise that the scrub is tough, and I was also intrigued to see how far the product would go, after all, it was just one sachet so I was a bit sceptical at first. The scrub can be used 3 or 4 times a week, which I have been doing for a few weeks now.


Other exfoliating scrubs I've used have been balanced in favour of the gel, with a more gentle texture, but Tough Stuff is heavier on the scrub element, so it did take a bit of getting used to as I applied it. The texture is more grainy than I am used to, but it didn't really bother me, and there's no scent to like/dislike.

By week 2 I was starting to notice the difference on my elbows and knees which feel nice and smooth now, although I've not noticed the product having as much effect on my feet - I think here it would require longer use, and perhaps used in combination with other products, such as a Pedi Egg to get the tricky bits.

I can't complain other than that though, as I got 8 uses out of the sachet, and there is still some left. Originally the price put me off a bit, but the product is working, and if you just use it as directed for the rough areas, then you get a good number of uses for your money. A thumbs up from These City Days.

If you'd like to try Tough Stuff by Cocoa Brown for yourself, it is currently retailing for £4.50 (2 sachets) at Feel Unique . Have you tried the product, or are you a scrub fan in general, why not share your beauty thoughts below.

* I was sent this product for review, but all comments are honest and my own.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Autumn Tag

Anyone on Myspace remember when the latest craze was to answer surveys, which spread like wildfire round peoples profiles? It's a big like Deja Vu, as I've spotted a few questionnaires on Blogger, although they are now known as Tag posts. So I am tagging Vicky over at Pretty Witty Things who has joined in with an Autumn Tag Post, and decided I would do one as well.

For Autumn:



1. Favourite Thing About It?

I'd have to say 'nice' Autumn weather. I'm not a big fan of grey skies, and wet and windy misery, so when I wake up to surprising blue skies, and sunshine it really lifts my mood.The other day I was sitting outside a cafe by the river, having a drink with my parents in the sunshine, and it was lovely.

2. Favourite Drink

I've never been able to stomach tea or coffee, so my drink of choice would have to be hot lemon, or boiled water - which may seem a bit odd, but I find it refreshing. Occasionally if I need a boost then I may be naughty and reach for Mountain Dew or Lucozade.

3. Favourite Scent/Candle

Lavender probably wins hands down for this one because of its relaxing properties, although the Mango Yankee Candle that my sister bought me as a present leave a lovely scent in my room as well. I'm not a fan of anything too overpowering, but much to Dad's disgust I like the Ginger and Vanilla Air Freshener in the bathroom too.

4. Best Lipstick

I'm not sure I really have one to be honest, although No7 Lip Gloss Sets have been a cheeky treat in the January Sales, and I also have a Benefit Lipstick in a shade called Breathless that I love.

5. Go To Moisturiser

Hmm I better admit here that I am not always the best at keeping up a skincare routine, I also have a small haul of body butters etc. that I've been given as pressies so sometimes I just put one of those on. I also use Nelsons Pure and Clear range, or Nivea (thanks Dad for that one).

6. Go To Colour For Eyes

I'm a fan of glitter so I have a couple of pots of that which I like using when I go out, I am also getting good use out of a Front Cover set of gold shimmering tones which I reviewed a while back. Basically like anything that glitters or shimmers and isn't grey/black. I DO NOT get on with v.dark colours.

7. Favourite Music To Listen To

I have supported Take That since I was 13/14, apart from that my music tastes vary from 70's Disco, to 80's, classic soul, a bit of Hip Hop and Indie/Pop, soft rock, and Disney soundtrack songs. Current favourites are Matt Cardle, Lawson, and songs such as 'I Don't Trust Myself' - John Mayer, and 'Chasing Stars' - One Republic.

8. Favourite Outfit To Wear

Jeans, a nice pair of comfy flat boots, a top with a bit of bling, a comfy cardigan, and a stylish scarf. I have a bit of a scarf addiction - be it cosy or fabric.

9. Autumn Treat

At the moment I need to stop buying food when I am out and eat much nicer treats (i.e lunch) at home. So then I would have more pennies to buy an Autumn treat - which would probably be a lovely jumper or wintery leggings/dress.

10. Favourite Place To Be

On a nice day, in the park with my sisters gorgeous fluff ball Wilson, and my nephew Joey who is now old enough to go on the swings.

If anyone else fancies joining in this Autumn Tag and keeping the links and answers going, that would be great. Link back to me or maybe leave a few comments below.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Heat Holder Socks Giveaway

The sun is currently streaming through the window as I write this, and I am reluctant to let it go, but there will come a time, whether it's cold and miserable or bright and fresh, where my toes will be in need of some warmth and comfort. There's only one thing to do then, and that's to bring out the Heat Holders from hibernation.

For those of you who don't know, Heat Holders are thermal socks, with one of the highest tog (warmth ratings) in the business. This means your feet will be toasty warm, and because they are extra thick and cosy, you may find extra cushioning - perfect if you like to wear boots with thinner soles, or you're on your feet all day (which I sometimes am, when out doing reviews).

Heat Holders have products for men, women, and children, including the original Heat Holder Socks, long socks, wellington socks, ski socks, and even leggings, so you can feel the benefit of Heat Holders whatever you're wearing. There's a range of colours in the ladies ranges as well, so you can pick and choose to suit your mood or outfit.



You can view the full range here - but don't stray too long or you'll miss the chance to win a pair. I have two pairs of Original Ladies Heat Holder Socks to give away to two lucky winners, and entering is easy. Just fill in your details on the Rafflecopter form below, completing all the tasks to enter, and then keep your fingers crossed. The competition is set to run until the 10th October, then two winners will be picked at random to win the prizes. Good Luck everybody.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Energy Efficient Cooking Tips

 *sponsored post

Source - PR Web
Sometimes when I am searching out things online, I don't have to look too far to get results, especially when looking at something like energy bills, and energy saving tips and advice. Although the bills in our house are not under my name, as a family, we always look to save on energy where we can. Sometimes this might mean that it's not quite cold enough to heat the house while we're in and out - which equals cold typing fingers, but when it comes to cooking, energy efficiency makes our lives easier, and helps improve the bills.

Eagle eyes may have spotted some food/baking based posts appear since I launched 'These City Days', so I thought for something different I'd add in some energy efficient cooking tips as well. I like cooking, and 'can cook', but I'm no expert, so anything that can save me stress and energy is a winner.

* Use your microwave

Microwave Steamer
 Microwaves are the most energy efficient   cooking appliance in the home. It's a fact nobody can argue with, although I hadn't thought of unplugging it to save power before. Technology means you can cook quickly, but it also means you can cook a greater range of items than ever before. My personal favourite is a spotted dick pudding, which is really easy to do in the microwave, and our steamer gets a lot of use in there when I cook rice as well. With the Consumer Energy Centre saying the device uses 50-65 percent less energy than a normal oven, and rumours that they are set to become even more efficient, what's not to like?

* Electric Fan Ovens

Hands up who has an electric oven in their house, a fan one? even better. Ticks the boxes for quick preheating and cooking times, and even temperatures help save power too. There's some tips you can apply to cooking as well. Don't commit the deadly sins of opening the oven door too much during cooking and losing the heat, or turn it on for single, small items.

* Mines A Large

It might not be so easy in summer when you're feasting on fruit and salad, but cooking hot meals in bulk is something, that with a bit of planning can serve you well all year round. Casseroles and mince based dishes or curries are favourites in our house, whether they are cooked on the hob, or in our energy saving slow cooker - which I've now found out uses less energy than a light bulb. Will you cook and freeze, or make several days dinners in one go?

Electric Oven
* Steamer Pans

Bit of a theme developing here, and I feel a sense of deja vu every time I wash up our steamer pan, but it makes cooking some things a lot easier. One thing that always puts me off recipes, is the thought of juggling lots of different pans, with different cooking times, and basically getting in a right mess. Our steam pan has several layers, so Mum (or I) can steam vegetables, and cook potatoes, and it's all been pretty seamless, plus it uses one ring on the hob, so we're saving power as well.

These are just some of the key ways you can cook more energy efficiently in the home, and there are plenty of small things you can do as well. Think energy smart and you'll soon be pre-boiling potatoes, boiling water in the kettle instead of the hob, or maybe even investing in a halogen oven or induction hob. Have you got any tips to share? why not leave them, and your blog link below, and lets connect.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Why Art Envy Isn't All Bad



 * I sent this post in as part of a columnist application last year - as it's unpublished I thought I'd share it with you now*





Mum has often told me that she’s amazed I still make comments about my school days, which ended, well, a fairly long time ago. None of us can help the memories that stick in our minds though, and one of those I found hard to forget, was that I always wanted to be better at art.

My sister ended up with the artistic genes, while I was given the gift of the written word, which is great, but it’s something that has always frustrated me. My memories of my school art lessons include a photo frame I was very proud, of being wrecked in the kiln, and spending copious amounts of time drawing folded bits of paper and toilet rolls. Who knew there were so many ways to draw paper!

Perhaps that’s where my art envy started. I wanted to learn, but I wanted to draw something interesting, get the paints out, or spend another term in the pottery room, instead of progressing from paper to playing cards in drawing class. I had found the art mediums I enjoyed and I wanted more.

One Of My Christmas Card Designs
When I left school and university, and started going to our local street theatre event, and viewing local artists work on our art trail, the memories came back. The sheer imagination and randomness of St Theatre performers, the skill of the pavement artists whose work brightens up the national papers, even people that can draw their dog, or a flower in the garden, stuck in my mind. I wasn’t greedy, at the time I just wanted a little of what they had. Eventually though I had to accept that my drawing skills were, at best, basic. I can draw a good stick person though, oh and a passable Robin.

I don’t think art envy is all bad though, it got me thinking in a different way about creative hobbies. I wanted to be artistic, without having to draw or paint. I ended up getting hooked on card making. Craft is just as valid an art form as any other, and now I can play with sequins, pretty papers, and toppers to my heart’s content without having to worry if my pig looks more like a mouse, or my face shading on a portrait looks more like an overdone tanning session. I’m learning new techniques, I’ve had occasional comments and photos in craft magazines, and I’ve even found a craft/art form where I can get away with occasional stick people! 

My First Go At Stencilling
It’s natural in school to be burdened with frustration when you can’t do something, or do it well, but when you grow up you think differently. There’s no such word as can’t when it comes to art. It took me a long time to be a happy creative, but there’s one in all of us, it’s just a case of finding the right outlet. But if you do end up sticking to stick people, maybe your creations will go viral. There are 235 million Google search results on the topic after all!

Please share your artistic links, stories, failures, successes below, would love to see them.  


Thursday, 26 September 2013

Comment - The Mental Health Patient Costume

Hey everyone,

I woke today to find social media awash with comments on Asda, and the 'mental health patient' costume they had listed for sale, and then withdrew in embarassment after barrages of complaints. Normally I stick to less sensitive issues when I write a comment post on here, but felt compelled to write my thoughts on this.

Mental Health is a cause very close to me, I have written about it with my professional writer's hat on, and had experience with mental health problems. I would never under estimate the stigma that can be attached to these issues, or what people go through, whatever degree of mental health problem or illness they have. 

That said, I wasn't exactly stunned or shocked when a quick search online showed me the outfit in question which has generated so many heated tweets and media debate. The outfit itself is nothing new, people have been buying or creating blood stained clothes, and wearing wild masks for years, and many shops on the high street will be selling similar items in the run up to this year's scare fest. How many cheesy horror movies have we seen with these kinds of characters portrayed in them too? If we are blaming a costume label for making the stigma worse, are we then blaming other aspects of Halloween too - the media, the 'Hollywood' portrayal of horror, guys on a night out in town dressed as a character from Psycho? Is there any proof that controversial Halloween costumes make the stigma worse? These are all questions that have been rolling around in my head.

What we have here is a lesson learned as far as branding is concerned. Asda were absolutely right to withdraw it after the controversy it caused. It was silly and insensitive, and had I seen it on a shop shelf then I'd comment it was tactless. In hindsight could they have sourced a product with a different title, or hidden the existing mental health patient branding - absolutely - but did it surprise or effect me in any way? no, not really.

I walk out of here, into the sunshine, feeling no different than I did yesterday, and will no doubt feel tomorrow. Look at the context in which the product was released to market in - Halloween - full of stereotypes created by the aforementioned movies and myths - then consider all the people that could be walking down the street on Halloween night in similar costumes. Any one of them could have mental health problems/illness - would they say this a true sign of stigma - or pinning existing stigma on to something new?

I realise this stance may court some controversy, but given the reaction, I am taking the risk of airing my views. Retailers can and do make mistakes - but do the effects really run deep, or is it the people that judge mental health problems, rather than these products we should be concerned about?

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