Monday, 26 February 2018

A Visit to the Sky Garden

I'm the sort of mum who makes her children smuggle freezer bags of popcorn into the cinema. Pick 'n Mix is strictly limited to the lighter weight sweets in the selection and few family restaurant trips are taken without a wad of Clubcard vouchers in my back pocket. 

It's simply a fact of modern life that family days out and experiences can be absurdly expensive and even if we did have the funds to order large-size popcorn buckets all round, I simply couldn't do it. There are some things that I feel just don't justify the price tag.

That's not to say I'm a penny pincher and I'd like to think a generosity of spirit is one of my attributes - I love to give extravagant gifts and treat people to special experiences. But there are just some things I won't part with good cash for: a stay at Center Parcs (I can't think of anything worse, to be honest), cinema popcorn, expensively priced visits up big buildings...

So I was pretty pleased to find a free alternative to The Shard, a place my kids have been keen to visit for some time. Despite my fear of heights I'd quite like to go up The Shard too, but somehow, every time we've been to London, £60 for what amounts to taking in a view (amazing though that view might be) has always seemed one expense too far. As anyone with kids will tell you, day trips to the capital have an incredible propensity to see your finances spiral out of control. 

While there are lots of amazing free things to do - all those brilliant museums, for example - some of the big tourist attractions come with a pretty hefty entrance fee. While we had a great time at the Tower of London a few years back, I did feel a tad miffed that after queueing for some time to see the Crown Jewels the wow factor I'd been expecting was slightly dampened by the fact you're shown them via a travelator - a bit of a 'blink-and-you-miss-it' moment.

If you hear where I'm coming from, you really need to book a visit to the Sky Garden - a brilliant free experience in the heart of the city. Located at the top of 20 Fenchurch Street -  popularly known as the 'Walkie-Talkie' - this striking building offers amazing 360-degree views across London.

It's a good idea to arrive a bit sooner than your time slot as you may need to wait in line for a short while before entering the building to be transported to the top floor and deposited in a light-filled, glass dome with outstanding views both indoors and out to feast your eyes on.

Officially London's highest public garden, the stunning views are complemented with beautiful interior landscaping, using plants and flowers from the Mediterranean and South Africa. This verdant backdrop frames the glass observation decks, offering a really pleasing contrast with the steely urban architecture outside.

Step outside onto the terrace and you're greeted face-on by the glittering structure of the Shard. In another direction you can see Canary Wharf and even the familiar arcs of Wembley Arena in the distance. Helpful graphics show the landmarks to look out for, but it's just fun to take it all in and see what you can spot unaided. 

With two sons that are big on cities and buildings, it was great to see them drinking it all up and shouting to me in excitement when they'd located another familiar building.
There's a cafe and restaurant in the garden; I'd love to make a return visit later in the day as I can't imagine a better setting to watch the sun dip behind the skyline while sipping a cocktail. While it does say on the website that you're limited to an hour's visit, there didn't appear to be anyone checking this on our visit and different rules apply if you're eating at the restaurant.

With a location close to some of London's most interesting sights - Borough Market, Tate Modern and The Monument, for example - you can combine your visit with some other great wallet-friendly options. Lunch at Borough Market is a colourful experience while the Tate Modern is a crowd-pleaser for all ages, even if your kids don't appear to have much interest in modern art. The sheer space of the Turbine Hall will enchant them and there's usually some weird and wonderful installation on show to pique their interest. 

I'm sure that one day I'll feel a bit flush and we'll make that visit to The Shard. But as a free alternative, with a pretty much identical view (just from not quite the same height) Sky Garden gets my vote. 

For more information about Sky Garden, visit the website here.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Win a Radiance Mask with Wild Source Apothecary

This time of year is not kind to those of us not lucky enough to jet off somewhere warm or to sun-dappled ski slopes. Starved of Vitamin D and sunshine on the skin, it's the month I feel at my lowest ebb - fed up, lethargic and seriously craving blue skies. Radiant I most certainly am not. If, like me, you're feeling the pain too, let me introduce you to something that might just help to restore your winter-weary skin: Wild Source Apothecary Radiance Mask.

I've raved about this stuff before so I'm absolutely delighted to be teaming up with the lovely Kate from Wild Source Apothecary to offer you the chance to get your hands on a pot of this wonder stuff yourself.

I've been using the mask since the summer and I love it; in fact, I love everything in this locally-produced, small-batch collection - you can read my previous blog post about what makes Wild Source Apothecary really special here

I love to support independent, local businesses on my blog, so as well teaming up with Wild Source Apothecary for an Instagram giveaway (which you can enter here) I also chatted to the company's founder, Kate Roath, to find out a little bit more about what makes her brand special, the wonder ingredients in her products, her expert beauty recommendations and some more tips for combating winter skin problems...

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. How did you get into botanical, small-batch beauty?

I've always loved skincare and beauty products. But I struggled to find anything to put on my skin that didn't flare up my eczema or bring me out in rashes.  As I got older I started to spend a bit more money on skincare and try a much more natural route (which of course worked.) My mum says if you can't pronounce it and wouldn't eat it you probably shouldn't put it on your skin!

The main ingredient in my favourite facial oil was Rosehip which I googled and realised I could easily press myself. I used to pick them on my way to work and carry them around with me all day in a sandwich bag before taking them home and pressing them with avocado oil. I loved the whole process of blending oils and just wanted to learn more. 

I gave out a few little bottles for Christmas and birthday presents and my friends and family absolutely loved them. That's when I decided to do it for real. I went to school to study aromatherapy and the art of blending oils and shortly after that Wild Source was born.

What makes your products stand out from the crowd?

Our products stand out because they're consciously made but still feel really special. I take a lot of time and effort in making sure all our ingredients are the highest quality, consciously sourced and made with recycled packaging whilst still incorporating a real luxury element to our brand. 

"Rituals not routines" is our motto; we want our customers to feel like they're really indulging in a luxury skincare ritual whilst using an honest product from a brand that is passionate about doing its bit for the planet. 

What advice do you have for coping with dull winter skin?

My go-to is a mask once a week, double cleansing and drinking double the amount of water I usually would. Dehydrated, dull skin is a killer for winter. I use Radiance Mask once a week to help buff away any dead skin cells and renew my complexion. The mixture of clay and botanical extracts really gives your skin a brightness and glow that it was lacking before. 

I also swear by double cleansing, especially in winter. I use Hot Oil Cleanser first to get rid of my make-up and then a really gentle, milky facial wash or facial scrub (we'll be launching one of these in the Spring!)

Tell us a bit more about the special properties of key ingredients in your products

All our ingredients are included for their powerful therapeutic benefits. So I'd say they're all special! The ingredients we use are classed as 'active', resulting in highly concentrated and effective formulas without using any harsh chemicals or toxins on the skin. One of my favourite ingredients has to be Rosehip, though. 

Who do you admire in the natural beauty world and who inspired you to start your own business?

I really admire companies like Fig & Yarrow for being so stripped back and raw yet offering bespoke and beautiful skincare. Glossier are killing it at the moment - their marketing is just SO good; they're cruelty-free which is essential for me and I really like their make-up. I have a few of their products at home and I actually wouldn't be without them now (Cloud paint and Boy Brow, to name my faves.)  

If you were to give one piece of skincare advice that anyone, whatever their skin type, could benefit from, what would it be?

My one piece of advice would be to try a facial oil - oily, acne-prone skin and all. So many women I've spoken to won't touch oils because they're convinced it will enlarge their pores and make them break out in uncontrollable acne. Well, pore size can't be changed- this is genetic and all you can do is shrink the appearance of pores. And secondly oil dissolves oil. 

So no matter what your skin type the right facial oil will seriously elevate your skincare level like never before. The right oil should be light, silky to touch and melt into your skin leaving no greasy residue. Even if you just add a couple of drops to your evening moisturiser you will notice a difference. 

You live and work in Bristol - what do you love most about the city and what are your three top recommendations for things to see or do?

I love Bristol and I'm so proud to be a part of this city. We've been here over 8 years now and I don't think I could live anywhere else now. If you're going to do anything in Bristol eat at Pasta Loco, drink at Bar Buvette and go for a walk at Ashton Court. 

And to take part in the giveaway, here's what to do:

1. Visit my Instagram page at @luisa_m_sanders*
2. Like my competition post and follow both myself and Wild Source Apothecary (they are tagged in the post)
3. Tag a friend in the comments box too!
4. Competition closes at 7pm GMT on Sunday 18th February 2018

Winners will be announced in the comments box on the Instagram post. Good luck! 

*Please note this competition is not affiliated with Instagram. Terms & Conditions: One winner will be picked from all entrants who meet competition criteria; no cash equivalent; competition winners will be announced by Sunday 25th February 2018. Winners will be asked for their email address to arrange delivery of their mask. This competition is only open to UK residents. 

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Bargain Wardrobe Fixes With

The first quarter of the year - a period synonymous with boring but essential outgoings - tax returns, post-Christmas credit card bills, new school shoes (again). In short, it's the time when most of us feel our most miserable and most in need of a treat, yet the most lacking in funds to afford anything remotely treat-based.

Yes, there are always the sales (and they seem to run and run these days) but I find the experience of wading through racks of unwanted, sad-looking clothing seriously dispiriting. And I just don't have the time. Which is where comes in, an online retail site that I was asked to review a few weeks' back.

Selling seriously wallet-friendly clothing, BlackBetty offers a simple antidote to the new year blues - daily bargains on overstocked inventory from the UK and Europe. Or, in simple terms, 70-90% off normal shop prices. Sounds pretty enticing, no?

A bit like an online version of TK Maxx, the website sells the whole range of ladies clothing, accessories and shoes. It's very much a no-frills user experience but with prices coming in at under a tenner for a blazer and under £2 for a scarf, you're not going to get Net-a-Porter-style online merchandising. 

But for serious bargains, this site is well worth a look. Particularly strong on dresses and shoes, the website takes some digging around to reveal some real beauties; for example when I last browsed the site there were some amazing leather flats on sale for an incredible £9.95, instead of £39.99 - you don't find those kind of bargains even in Primark.

A good selection of work-friendly, classic knitwear is on offer with a gorgeous cable-knit jumper on sale for just £5.95. More fashion-forward pieces feature heavily - this is a retail site that pitches itself very much as a place for all age groups to shop at, so younger fashionistas with pocket money to spend will love some of the quirkier pieces on sale - if I was a few years younger I would be very tempted by this super-cute cat adorned jumper. 

One thing to bear in mind is that the turnover is fast on - these are blink-and-you-miss them deals that only run for a finite time. Likewise, popular sizes may sell out quickly. But with prices pitched so low, I guess you can afford to take a chance on sizing if you're not sure. On scanning the website with £20 at my disposal, I was amazed that most things come in at the £6 price point - the equivalent of an artisan sandwich!

So, what did I buy? I was seriously tempted by a super-cute sundress but decided that I really needed my feel-good fix now - waiting till the summer just wasn't going to cut it. First up, I do love a knit with a little touch of quirkiness - I think this grey jumper is just the right side of playful and I love it. It's quite thin material so I'm thinking it will make a great transitional item to pep up my Spring wardrobe.

To the right, a camo-style knit (there's a better picture below) which is just the sort of thing I love, perfect for making my standard uniform of jeans and trainers a little more exciting.

And finally, the item I was most excited about trying - a gorgeous leopard print dress that feels really luxurious and feels expensive - but came in at just £6.95...let me rephrase that: UNDER £7.

While you might have to wait a little while for your order, that's a small inconvenience when prices are this low. Ethically it feels like BlackBetty is doing a good thing in redistributing oversupply in this way rather than letting clothing going to waste. And it's certainly a nicer experience to shop from the comfort of your home rather than battling the crowds in Primark when you're in need of a cheap 'n' cheerful fashion fix.

I was gifted the above items by but all thoughts and views are my own and I did not receive payment for this post. 

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