Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Elemis Skincare Buys

My usual skincare routine generally consists mostly of fairly cheap, drugstore products, and to be honest, for every day, I’m pretty happy with what I use. But sometimes it’s nice to splash out a little bit and have some more expensive products that you can treat yourself to. A while back now, I went to Champneys Forest Mere (one of my favourite places for total relaxation!) for a day of rest, relaxation and indulgent spa treatments, with a good friend before her wedding. As well as enjoying the use of the pool, hot tub, relaxation rooms and a cheeky treatment or two, we were also able to take part in a session with an Elemis therapist. She was absolutely brilliant, and led us through a skincare routine using different Elemis products, so we could try them out for ourselves and see what we thought. She also offered plenty of advice on the types of products that would suit us individually and answered any questions we had on any other products that took our fancy.

I had never had much opportunity to try any Elemis products before, so I really enjoyed being taught how to use different items and experiencing how they felt on my skin. I loved trying them out so much that, at the end of the session, I decided I wanted to treat myself to a couple of things. Something that we had used in the demonstration that I particularly loved was the Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peel, which exfoliates and purifies tired, lacklustre skin. It is non-abrasive and leaves skin feeling soft, revitalised and radiant. Natural fruit enzymes of exfoliating Papaya and calming Pineapple smooth and clarify the complexion. The rinse-off cream also contains nourishing Milk Protein, anti-oxidant rich Vitamin E and Marine Algae to moisturise, repair and protect skin. 

This peel smells incredible and feels so smooth on your skin. It feels like a real treat when you use it – after applying to your face, you are meant to leave it for 10-15 minutes and then remove with lukewarm water, so you really feel like you’re giving your skin an indulgent spa treatment. I can often find that harsh exfoliators leave my skin feeling red and sensitive, but this peel felt gentle, leaving my skin glowing and radiant afterwards. 

The other product I wanted to buy was body oil. Originally, I really liked the idea of the Frangipani Monoi Body Oil because it smells incredible! But after talking to the Elemis therapist about the kinds of things I wanted to use it for, she suggested trying the Musclease Active Body Oil instead. It combines the richness of the sea with the power of aroma and with a powerful synergy of Maritime Pine, Sea Buckthorn, Sea Fennel extracts and Rosemary Essential Oil, it can be used to help ease muscle pain and stressed joints.

I must admit, it doesn’t smell the best (especially compared to the Frangipani!) but it really does seem to help with my aching muscles and joints. I get a lot of body pain from having Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and although it’s not going to get rid of that pain, I think the act of moisturising it into my back, legs and shoulders really helps ease some of the tension associated with chronic pain. Now all I need is for someone else to do the massaging for me!

At the time I bought these products, the Elemis section in the spa were running an offer whereby you would receive a bag full of goodies if you bought two Elemis products. Not one to pass up on some freebies, I, of course, jumped at the chance to receive my free gift. It came presented in a gorgeous silver make-up bag with turquoise edging, which I am more than happy to use for make-up and toiletries when I go away. 

Inside were four Elemis miniatures – Rehydrating Ginseng Toner, Skin Nourishing Shower Cream, Dynamic Resurfacing Serum and Dynamic Resurfacing Facial Wash. I’m a sucker for a miniature product and think it’s a nice way to try out products for a while before you decide if you’re going to buy a full-size one.

The toner feels light and cooling on your skin and doesn’t feel harsh like some toners can. I love how refreshed my skin feels after I’ve used this product and as someone who can get slightly dry skin in places, this really seems to help add hydration.

The shower cream definitely feels like an extravagant treat for me, as I’m so used to using a £1.99 bottle of shower gel from Superdrug or Boots! But this Elemis one feels luxurious and moisturising, with a gentle comforting scent that I think is perfect for an evening shower before bed. Looking at other reviews of this, it seems it is really good for those with dry skin conditions, so I might have to recommend it to my sister to try.

Moving on to the serum, I’ll start by saying that this is something that would ordinarily be way out of my price range (at £88 for a bottle), so it was nice to have the opportunity to just give it a try. The serum feels light and fresh and absorbs quickly into the skin. You don’t need much per application, as a little will go a long way, which I guess will help the product to last a bit longer and give you better value for money. From the small amount I’ve used so far, it does seem to improve to look of my skin and has helped it feel smoother and brighter. Unfortunately I just couldn’t stretch to rebuying this particular product to continue trying it though.

The last product in the bag was the facial wash, which is currently on offer on the Elemis website. It’s a nice gentle cleanser, which feels luxurious to use. And like with the other Elemis products, it definitely seems to make my skin feel nourished and bright without being too harsh or drying. Again, it’s probably more than I would usually spend on a cleanser, but as a treat now and again it’s definitely something I would go back to.

So that’s all of the products I bought from Elemis when I went to Champneys. If you ever get the chance to take part in some sort of master class or session with an Elemis therapist (even if it’s just on one of their counters) I would definitely recommend it because I learnt so much and found some great new products to try out on my skin. I’m really enjoying using all of the products I came away with and Elemis is certainly a brand I will go back to if I’m ever looking for a bit of a treat for myself.

Are you a fan of Elemis products? Which ones would you recommend trying?

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Gift Ideas - Pregnancy Survival Box

I’m one of those people that love coming up with cute, fun and different gift ideas. Whether it’s for a birthday, an anniversary, Christmas, Easter, a new baby or just because – you will often find me jotting down ideas I’ve come up with late at night and browsing through Pinterest for inspiration! So I thought it might be nice if I started sharing on here some of the gifts I put together, so that if you’re also looking for ideas, you might find some inspiration here.

In today’s post, as I’ve just become an auntie for the second time, I thought I would show you one of the Pregnancy Survival Boxes I have put together for someone. We did do one of these for both of my sister-in-laws with very similar products in them, but these pictures are actually from one I put together for a friend of mine. When someone is first pregnant, they may experience a whole range of feelings, emotions and symptoms, so I thought it might be nice to receive a box of goodies from a loved one to help them through the next nine months. People will often start buying things for the baby and conversation often centres on the baby, so it’s nice for the Mum to feel like she’s being taken care of too.

To start with, you will need to find a nice box to put everything in. This can either be done right at the beginning, or it might be better to wait until you’ve bought everything so you know roughly how big a box you need. If you know the gender of the baby, you could get something to tie in with that, but it’s just as nice to get something neutral, or something that you think the Mum will like. We found this particular box in Homesense, where they have a brilliant range of all sorts of different gift boxes, but any nice box will work fine. The Mum-to-be that I gave this to now uses it as a memory box for her little boy, so it’s nice to know it’s been put to good use. 

Now, moving on to what I decided to put in the Pregnancy Survival Box. I actually started by asking around a few friends who already had babies, about what types of things they really wanted while they were pregnant. Obviously everyone is different, but it gave me some good general ideas for what a mum-to-be might appreciate. The first thing I wanted to get was some sort of pregnancy journal, as a lot of Mums I spoke to said they liked being able to look back at what they’d written once their baby had arrived, or when they went on to have subsequent children. I chose this Bump to Birthday Pregnancy and First Year Journal, which is beautifully presented and has room for so much information. It’s nice because it has a lot of prompts throughout the book, allowing the parents to write about things they may not have thought about. For each week, there is also some information about how the baby is growing, as well as spaces for scan pictures. The great thing about this journal is that it goes right up until the baby turns one, so the Mum-to-be will have details about the pregnancy and her child’s first year all in one book.

As well as the pregnancy journal, I wanted to put some sort of book in the box for the Mum-to-be to read before the baby arrived. There are so many factual books available that try to prepare someone for pregnancy (and they’re great in their own right), but I wanted something a little more fun, that would make my friend laugh. I had heard great things about The Unmumsy Mum and about how real it is (it includes everything about motherhood from the mess to the hilarious moments and how it’s totally fine to not know what you’re doing!) so after lots of research I picked that book to include. Other good motherhood books that you could look at putting in include Why Mummy Drinks, Happy Mum Happy Baby and How to Grow a Baby and Push it Out.

Once I’d sorted out which book to include, I knew I also wanted to find a good DVD for my friend to watch when she just needed to put her feet up for a bit. I wanted to try and find something related to having a baby, and a friend of mine recommended ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’, so I thought that sounded pretty apt! I still haven’t had a chance to watch it, but have given it to a few people now and they’ve all told me how brilliantly funny it is, so I definitely made the right choice!

Something else that I thought a Mum-to-be might like was a pregnancy/baby magazine to flick through. Sometimes trying to read through a huge book on pregnancy/having a baby/childhood just isn’t possible, and it’s much easier to spend a few minutes, while you drink a cup of tea, flicking through the pages of a magazine. So I went to my local shop and picked up Gurgle and Mother and Baby magazines to add to my box. 

One thing that most pregnant ladies will have to deal with at some point is morning sickness. And when I was doing my research for what to put in the box, so many people said that they would always have been grateful for things to try and help the nausea. This is obviously quite a personal thing, as some women can’t stand the sight or smell of certain foods, whilst others will find they have cravings for things that help with the sickness. So if you know the Mum-to-be well, it can help to do a bit of digging to try and find out what foods they are going for and which foods they are trying to avoid. The friend I made this box for had a real craving for Hula Hoops, so I bought a big multipack bag to include in the box. She also found that sucking mints helped with the nausea, so again, I found some mints to put in too. 

Alongside some food items, I also thought it would be nice to add some teas that are known for helping with nausea and sickness. Again, this will depend on the person you are making the box for. One of my sister-in-laws couldn’t stand hot drinks when she was pregnant, so there was obviously no point in putting tea in for her. But for this friend, I included some peppermint tea to help with nausea, and some camomile and honey to help her relax.

I know from speaking to friends and family that, when you’re pregnant, it can sometimes be hard to feel nice about your body. Everything is changing, your clothes don’t fit any more and you might be feeling uncomfortable. So I thought it was also really important to include some self-care items to help the mum-to-be treat herself and feel a bit pampered. I started with some pregnancy specific products from Cussons. I’m not sure if the individual products I bought for this box are still available now, but you can get a Mum and Me Bump Gift Pack from Amazon that includes Body Lotion, Bath Soak, Shower Cream and Stretch Mark Cream, which would make a nice little gift for someone. We actually gave my sister-in-law one of these, and she commented how much she loved the Stretch Mark cream, so it’s a nice way for someone to try the products before they decide if they want to buy bigger ones themselves.

I also thought it would be nice to put a selection of face masks in, so the mum-to-be could perhaps enjoy relaxing with a cup of tea whilst pampering her skin. Places like Superdrug and Boots usually sell individual sachets of face masks for all different skin types and reasons, so I picked up a few different ones to give my friend a few to choose from. 

Next up, I thought I would include a can of Batiste Oriental Dry Shampoo, mainly for those days when they’re not feeling brilliant and don’t feel up to doing a full hair wash. Obviously you could go for whatever fragrance or brand you fancy – I just chose this one because it smelt nice! 

I also thought, as part of the pampering side of things, I should include a candle, as I know how relaxing it can be to light some candles of an evening. And, of course, as it was for a pregnancy survival box, I chose the Baby Powder Yankee Candle, which smells incredible whether you’re having a baby or not!

Finally, for the mum-to-be, I decided you can’t have a pamper without painting your nails. As we didn’t know the gender of her baby, I picked one pink nail varnish and one blue, just to have both eventualities covered! I also found a cute card to include in the box, which said ‘And so, the adventure begins…’ on the front. At the time, it was very difficult to find a card that said ‘Mum-to-be’ on it, but more recently I’ve seen more of them cropping up. However, as the card I chose shows, you don’t need to get a specific pregnancy card for it to fit with the theme, and it will be the words that are inside that matter most. 

Although I didn’t want to make this box particularly centred on the baby (it was more for the Mum after all!) I did decide to put a little hat and booties in it that I’d found in John Lewis, just because they were cute! 

And that was everything I put in the Pregnancy Survival Box for my friend. She seemed to really love it when I gave it to her, as did both my sister-in-laws, and I like to think it helped to make them feel a bit special at a time when everything was changing. I hope this has given you some ideas for making your own box for someone you know that may have just announced a pregnancy. I had so much fun putting it all together and it was nice to spoil my friend with a few treats.

Have you given anyone a box like this before, or have you received one yourself? If you’ve been pregnant, what would you need in your Pregnancy Survival Box?! 

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Tea Travels - Afternoon Tea at Oakley Hall Hotel

One of my favourite things to do, usually with my Mum, is to go for Afternoon Tea. I just love visiting numerous places and trying different versions of the traditional English pastime that is stuffing yourself with sandwiches, scones and miniature cakes! I mean, what’s not to like?! So, for my 30th Birthday back in October last year, my Mum and Dad gave me a voucher to enjoy afternoon tea somewhere I haven’t been yet – Oakley Hall Hotel in Basingstoke. We decided to wait until the weather was a bit nicer before we made our booking, and so, a few weeks ago, on a rather drizzly day (typical!) we headed over to Basingstoke to discover what treats Oakley Hall had in store!

Oakley Hall is an AA Four Silver Star Hotel and is ranked number one out of thirteen hotels in Basingstoke, so I was excited to see what it had on offer. The hotel sits in 315 acres of grounds and woodland – you literally feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere when you arrive – it is so peaceful and relaxing from the moment you turn up the winding drive. Although it feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere, the hotel is actually only six miles from Basingstoke train station and has easy access to the M3, making it easy to get to.

As we made our way up the impressive drive, the large country house came majestically into view. It was built in 1795 and was once owned by the Bramston family, who were friends of Jane Austen. But despite the 18th Century architecture, the inside boasts a beautifully modern and contemporary design, making you feel at home and relaxed as soon as you walk through the entrance. But before I take you inside, I just wanted to comment on the parking, which is always important, especially when you’re disabled. There is a complimentary onsite car park with easy access to the hotel. However, if you have a blue badge, like I do, you can actually drive right up to the house and park just outside the main entrance. This immediately made me feel at home, as we had no worries about how I was going to get into the hotel. 

We were greeted by the friendly reception team and directed through to the Glasshouse Restaurant, where our afternoon tea would be served. The first thing I noticed was how quiet the hotel and restaurant were – we visited on a Tuesday and were advised that weekends, understandably, tend to be a lot busier. One of the waiters showed us to our table by the window, overlooking the extensive grounds. The Glasshouse Restaurant takes its name from the original glasshouse designed in c.1850 by Edward Milner, a renowned landscape architect who also designed Oakley Hall’s gardens. It was built in 2014 and provides an elegant yet relaxed environment. I do find that some restaurants you go to can feel a bit pretentious and uncomfortable, but in the Glasshouse I felt immediately at ease and we were able to relax and enjoy our afternoon.

Our experience began with being shown the wide-ranging tea menu – it took us a few minutes to decide on which tea to try (although our waiter did say we could try a few teas throughout the afternoon, which definitely helped!) In the end, I opted for the Winchester Fruit Basket, as I’m a sucker for a fruity tea. We were each brought an individual teapot with our chosen tea in it, and waited a few minutes for them to brew before we sampled them. I was so pleased with my choice – the berry flavours were sweet but subtle and the tea had a beautiful red-pink hue. I’ve actually been searching for the tea since I came home because it was so delicious!

No sooner had we started drinking our tea, a huge cake stand arrived piled high with sweet and savoury treats. Our waiter introduced us to everything on the stand (although I did struggle to remember what all the different cakes were!) and then left us to tuck in! 

After taking a few pictures and admiring everything, we started on the sandwich course. First up was a filling I don’t think I’ve seen before on an afternoon tea menu – Chicken with Basil in a seeded roll. This was absolutely delicious – I originally thought this would be my least favourite, but it was full of flavour and just melted in your mouth. Then we moved on to a classic – Egg and Cress in a white seeded roll. Again, the filling was really tasty and the bread was so light and fluffy – not at all stodgy. 

We then progressed to sampling the two sandwiches – Ham and Mustard, followed by my absolute favourite afternoon tea sandwich – Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t have afternoon tea without it, so I was really glad to see it on the menu. And it didn’t disappoint – the salmon was tender and the cream cheese had a slightly lemony hint, which complimented the salmon perfectly.

As we were finishing our sandwiches, another waiter arrived at our table and told us he had heard we were there for someone’s birthday. He presented me with a piece of slate, decorated with ‘Happy Birthday,’ some strawberries and the most incredible white chocolate truffles. It was such a lovely touch and really made me smile.

I was impressed to see that we had two scones each – one plain and one fruit scone, which always makes me happy as this is definitely my favourite part of afternoon tea! We piled them high with jam and cream (which do you put on first? I always go jam first, and then a big dollop of cream!) and began devouring them. Both scones were light and fluffy, and the strawberry jam had a lovely fruity flavour. There was plenty of jam and cream to go around (I always worry about running out!) but I’m sure they would have brought more out if it were needed.

By this point, we were all feeling rather full, and we hadn’t even started on the cakes yet! We didn’t want to make ourselves feel ill, so decided to try a couple of the cakes there and then take the rest home to enjoy later. Thankfully the hotel staff were absolutely fine with this (I have been to places where they won’t let you take leftovers home with you!) and brought out some boxes to put our cakes in. There was such an amazing selection of cakes to try, and I really enjoyed tasting them all over the next day or so. The little coffee and walnut cupcakes were divine – so light and melt in the mouth, with just the right amount of icing. The profiteroles were also really interesting – I just assumed there would be cream inside them, but they actually had a sort of citrusy mousse instead, which went really well with the white chocolate.

The chocolate layer cake was incredibly rich and decadent, but perfect to share between the three of us. There were also two beautiful fruit tarts (I loved the pink pastry!) as well as a salted caramel and chocolate tart, which tasted very naughty! But I think my favourite sweet treat had to be the orange macaron – I like to think of myself as a bit of a macaron expert these days (OK, so I’ve eaten a lot of macarons from different places – that makes me an expert right?!) But this one definitely lived up to expectations, with a slightly crispy outer shell and a delicious cream in the middle.

I really didn’t want to leave the tranquillity of the hotel, and can imagine it must be a lovely place to relax and recuperate for a few days, away from all the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But it was soon time for us to leave, and after a little wander around the spectacular grounds; we were heaving our full tummies back into the car and heading back to reality!

Whilst it would have been nice to have a few more people and a bit more atmosphere in the restaurant, it definitely didn’t spoil our experience and the service was second-to-none. We all really enjoyed our afternoon tea at Oakley Hall Hotel, and for a very reasonable £28 per adult, I would definitely recommend checking it out if you live nearby. 

If you’d like to hear about some of the other Tea Travels I’ve been on, you can find my posts here:
·     Peggy Porschen
·     The Ritz

Are you a fan of afternoon tea? Where are your favourite places to go? Perhaps I can add them to my list!