Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Visiting Liverpool? Places to go, things to do, where to eat

Things to do in Liverpool

I love Liverpool.

It's my hometown and  it sometimes comes in for a fair bit of flak in the media, although I suspect the most vocal critics have never even visited the city, because if they had they'd know how fabulous it is.

Liverpool is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city, bursting with things to do and see. There's great architecture (including two contrasting cathedrals), fabulous restaurants, lively pubs and clubs; a plethora of theatres, museums and art galleries and of course plenty to keep the legions of Beatles' fans happy.

So apart from all of that (phew!) what else can you do in the city? Here's my pick of things to do in Liverpool this summer.

Visit the Walker Art Gallery for Rankin's photography exhibition Alive In The Face Of Death.

An inspirational, if somewhat emotional, series of photographs of people who have faced, or are facing, death. I loved it. To get to the exhibition you have to walk through the pre-Raphaelites room which is also well worth a visit.

There's also a Chagall exhibition at the Liverpool Tate on the Albert Dock, which I haven't been to yet but has been getting great reviews.

Take a ferry 'cross the Mersey.  Cliched, yes, but still a real treat. Get yourself down to the Pier Head, have an ice cream, listen to the seagulls and then get on the ferry. And you can even sing along to the Gerry and the Pacemakers song if it makes you feel better.

It's the best place to be when the weather's as hot as it has been this summer, and it's also the best way to see the famous (but ever changing) Liverpool waterfront and skyline. And when you disembark back at the Pier Head make a beeline for the new Museum of Liverpool (right next to the ferry terminal) which has some brilliant exhibitions about the history and culture of the city.

Crosby beach

Go to the beach - yes really! There are some fantastic beaches only a short drive from the city centre including my favourites in Formby and Crosby. Crosby beach  is also the home to the Anthony Gormley's haunting art installation, Another Place.

Join the party! The very first Liverpool International Music Festival will be taking place over the August bank holiday weekend, 22nd to 26th August. This used to be called the Matthew Street festival and it's always a massively popular event. Dozens of acts perform at different venues across the city and the whole place takes on a party atmosphere. I actually have some Australian relatives coming over to visit in August and they've timed their visit to coincide with this.

Sefton park band stand
Have a walk in the park - Sefton Park is one of several parks in Liverpool but happens to be my favourite. It's a 235 acre historic park just a short drive/bus ride from the city centre.

It's a beautiful place to walk, sit, picnic and just generally enjoy the outdoors. There's a boating lake, an aviary, children's play areas, a café and beautifully landscaped gardens as well as a bandstand rumoured to be the inspiration for the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper.

There's also plenty of free parking, and it's a short walk to the very popular Lark Lane area with plenty of bars and restaurants.

And no doubt you'll be wanting to eat while you're here? How about these for starters (pardon the pun...)

Delifonseca dockside

Delifonseca:  this multi-award winning deli and bistro is my top choice. I should mention straightaway that this is owned by one of my closest friends, so you might think I'm biased but considering it's won dozens of awards, including the recent Readers' choice in the Good Food Guide, I don't think I'm the only one. Both the central Stanley Street site and the larger Dockside sites are equally as good, although the latter would probably suit families better due to free parking outside, no steps and a bit more space inside.

I've eaten here many, many times and I've never had a bad meal or even a mediocre one for that matter. The menus offer a wide variety of dishes, including an ever-changing specials board, so I'd be hard pushed to choose a favourite....although the Po' Boy steak sandwich deserves an honourable mention. The service is excellent too.

Free State Kitchen Liverpool
Free State Kitchen

Situated in a quiet side street just off Hope Street (which is the street linking both cathedrals) I love this little place. It has a very welcoming atmosphere and friendly staff and serves what they call 'modern twists on American classics'.

The outside eating area is lovely, set in a large courtyard with some borders and plenty of seating. The portions are large but the prices aren't.

Here's my list of great places to eat:

The Italian Club - rustic Italian food and one of the Independent's Top 50 Best Cheap Eats. Expect a warm welcome, friendly servers and good food at great prices.
Salthouse Tapas - trendy modern tapas restaurant, set lunch menus, right in the city centre.
Lucha Libre - serving 'Mexican street food', highly recommended by a foodie friend, very family friendly.
The Sidedoor - a continental bistro feel to this place, great service, again on Hope Street,
Choaphraya - next to the Liverpool One shopping area, Thai food with an early-bird menu.
Lunya - award winning Catalonian deli and bistro, and another of the Independent's Top 50
Nolita Latina - another one on Bold Street, serving American style food and offering a lunchtime happy hour.

Philharmonic pub in LiverpoolTIP: There's so many to choose from! But if you're looking for somewhere to eat in Liverpool and haven't booked, you can't go wrong by visiting either the Hope Street or Bold Street areas, or anywhere around the city centre to be honest. Have a wander around and check out the different places and menus and take your pick.

There are also plenty of watering holes in those areas, including the famous Philharmonic pub on Hope Street

So, there you have it. There's plenty to do and see in Liverpool, but don't take my word for it - come and visit. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

You can get much more information about events and places to visit at the Visit Liverpool website.

Moving house? Things to consider when relocating {Featured post}

New home checklist
Image credit: Alan Cleaver
While now may not be the perfect time to move house and relocate, there will be a lot of first time buyers, families and existing home owners that will have to find a new place to live this summer.

We can’t always control factors that affect the most important parts of our lives and many people find themselves moving because of a new job, rising rental costs or for personal or family reasons.

Here we take a look at what financial considerations should be made when relocating.

Market Conditions

The most important consideration when thinking about moving to a new home is how the market will affect the transaction and whether it will work in your favour. Keeping an eye on the market should give you an idea as whether to hold off on selling and purchasing a new place or get everything finalised immediately.

Currently, the UK property market is very localised and divided. Buyers will find that prices and trends vary from area to area. This means a lot of research will be necessary if you’re to find the perfect home at a good price.

Deposit and Mortgage

If you’re buying a new home you’ll have to think about the financial responsibility of a mortgage. Mortgages are becoming much harder to get at the moment, with a deposit of around 10% of the value of the property required by most lenders. Consequently, it’s important to get your finances in place as soon as possible and work out exactly what you have in non-emergency savings to put towards the deposit.

Rent Or Buy?

If buying seems like too great a commitment at this stage or you can’t afford the mortgage costs, you may want to think about renting instead. More and more people are choosing to rent and a higher percentage are continuing to rent into older age. While this may not be a long-term solution, it does give you a much greater degree of flexibility.

Second Home

Finally, there will be a small minority of people out there looking to expand their assets by choosing to invest their income in second home buying. Money Vista provides excellent services and advice to those looking for this and has a great deal of expertise in such matters. While the property market isn’t as strong as it once was, a second home can still be considered a good investment.

This post is featured post by Money Vista. 

Monday, 29 July 2013

Interesting stuff on t'internet #8

21 photos that will restore your faith in human nature. Have a tissue handy.

19 signs that you are too old for all this crap. This basically just sums up my life.

Woman arrested with a loaded gun in her vagina and crystal meth in her bum. Hope she didn't cough.

Some of the world's most beautiful living spaces. Hmm...not sure about a couple of them, but check out the underwater bedroom!

This highlights the differences between cats and dogs. Dog's reaction when owner returns after 6 months away. Make sure you also watch the video below with the cat's reaction.

Russian phone thief messes with the wrong woman. Ha!

Review of the Huawei Ascend W1 windows smartphone

A few weeks ago we were asked if we'd like to review a new smartphone from a mobile phone company relatively new to the UK. It was all a bit secret squirrel and we were intrigued, and sure enough a few days later we received this mystery package containing a smartphone from Hauwei (pronounced wah-wey).

Huawei Ascend W1 windows smartphone

The Huawei Ascend W1 is aimed at teenagers and adults that are new to smartphones, so it suited us fine because we a non-iphone family and  more used to BlackBerrys. It is very competitively priced at £129.99 which for a smartphone is very impressive. It's quite lightweight and slim so easy to handle, and has a 4" screen with tough Gorilla glass. The camera is 5 megapixels with auto focus and flash.

The plan was that we'd take it in turns to use it starting with The Teenager. She was going to use it for a few days, then it'd be passed on to me and Tall Daughter in turn. Well, that was the plan but it hasn't quite turned out that way because we haven't been able to prise it out of her hands, she loves it so much.

Huawei Ascend W1 windows smartphone

So, here is The Teenager's review of it, in her own words.

What I liked: 

  • it looks good and is quite eye catching;
  • most of my friends have commented on it and have tried it out - and they like it too;
  • the windows display panel looks great and is very easy to use;
  • I like the way the photo tile is a slideshow of my photos;
  • the battery lasts a long time, I don't have to charge it as much as my old phone;
  • it's easy to type and text with it; [when I asked her to explain why, she said "It just is" Of course.]
  • I like the layout, which was easy to change around;
  • it's easy to navigate;
  • the camera is way better than the one on my old phone.
  • my mates are all amazed by the price and one of my friends has already bought one.

Huawei Ascend W1 windows smartphone

What I didn't like:
  • There isn't enough choice on the App store, and some of the apps I normally use aren't there (Snapchat, favourite games, etc);
  • my sister keeps trying to take it off me.

Huawei Ascend W1 windows smartphone

So there you have it - the Ascent W1 windows phone is Teenager approved! It's now her permanent phone since we moved her sim card over (the phone is exclusive to O2 at the moment, so this might not be an option for everyone). 

All in all, we think it's a great entry-level smartphone and is ideal for teenagers and young adults (although I quite fancy owning one myself!) 

Disclosure: as mentioned, we were sent this phone for review purposes although all words and opinions are our own.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

One word that describes me? Ooh, let's see...

I've been doing a fair old bit of navel gazing for the last week for various reasons. There's been a lot of...shall we say 'drama' around here lately, and it's led me to review quite a few areas of our lives. It's not been the easiest of times but to be honest, I'm feeling quite optimistic which is quite a change for me.

And then English Mum challenged me to choose one word to describe myself. Easy, right? Erm...no, it's been really difficult actually.

So I also had a conversation with my daughters and asked them the same question. The Teenager didn't hesitate and said "What's the opposite of confident? That's what you are, you're always doubting yourself." Ouch, but she might have a point there.

Tall Daughter laughed when I asked her and said "I don't want it to sound cheesy, don't make me sound cheesy". She couldn't think of a word either, but finally came up with "You always try your best for us." Ahh, bless. (She's due a pocket money review after that).

In a brave move, I decided to open it up to more people who actually know me - so I asked my friends on Facebook and waited.
Okay, I may regret doing this *glares at English Mum* but can you describe me in one word? Am tempted to ban some words, but will just bite my lip.
Now I have to admit that some of the words were, well, very nice and I'm far to modest to share them here and many of  them made me smile. There were also a few that I accepted more readily including 'loyal' - yes I like to think I am, and 'boozehound'. I'm saying nothing, but nodding furiously.

I also had quite an eye-opening conversation with an ex-boyfriend, who came up with some quite frankly hilarious words to describe me. He used the words 'sexy and confident' to describe me, yes he did. I'll just wait while you have a good laugh...

{pause for raucous laughter}

Ready now?

Okay, they're hilarious and don't fit me at all now, but I haven't seen him for over 20 years and that's his memory of me. Sexy and confident - wow! And a brief chat with a former colleague also elicited the words 'very confident' about me.

And you know what? Once upon a time I was pretty damned sexy and very confident but it's so far removed from the person I am now. In the years since I knew him there's been a  lot of water under the proverbial bridge (nay, a gushing torrent is a better description), and it's left me feeling a bit battered and bruised if I'm honest.

But what if I could try and get some of that confidence back? What would I have to do to be confident again? I'm going to work on that one.

Oh, and just in case you're wondering,  getting my sexy back is a non-starter. Nooooo, that ship has long since sailed...

So what word would I choose for myself? It's really difficult to choose one but my short list included

  • unsociable - I find small talk excruciatingly difficult;
  • independent - this is a strong contender, I've always been very independent;
  • resourceful - I can usually find a way to do something;
  • impatient - I can get very shouty if kept waiting for no reason;
  • protective - it's the mothering instinct innit;
  • laid-back - sometimes to the point of being horizontal;
  • contradictory - can I be laid-back and a worrier at the same time?
In the end the word I've chosen is...

...but come back next year and it might be 'confident'.

Which word would you choose to describe yourself?

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Silent Sunday ~ 28/7/13

Pots, plants and window shopping at Homebase

As a born-again gardener I spend a lot of time looking around garden centres looking for ideas and inspiration.

There are two places I go to most often: one is a small local plant nursery run by a lovely man with loads of gardening advice; and the other is Homebase, not only because there's one a very short drive my home (and slap bang next to a Starbucks) but also because they have a really good garden section with plenty of garden plants at very reasonable prices.

I do regular updates about my garden but because this house has never been a long-term option (it was bought with my brother as a 2-5 year investment) I don't want to spend all of my money on plants that can't come with me to the next place, wherever that is.

The answer, of course, is to have more pots. Lovely, portable garden pots and planters.  I already have a few but not enough so off I went for a little pootle around Homebase the other day (I don't need much of an excuse to be fair) and found some really lovely pots.

Dynasty pots from Homebase

I love these Dynasty pots, and they come in several striking jewel colours.

Juno pot from Homebase

I noticed some beautiful fig trees on sale while I was there and as they'd grow happily in a large enough pot what better to show it off than this gorgeous two-tone Juno pot?

In fact, how about two fig trees in pots - one either side of the patio doors? Ooh, I'm very tempted...

Cadiz arbour from Homebase

I'm also looking for something to go on the raised area of the garden, and I think some seating is what's needed.

I've looked at several benches and seats, but would prefer something that combines seating with a bit of shade and privacy and so I'm thinking along the lines of an arbour.


And to add colour and interest I'd trail and train either a clematis or a passionflower over it which would look stunning against the pale wood. Or maybe even both!

Right, that's enough talking about gardening - time to get outside and do a bit of work!

This post is sponsored by Homebase, but all words and opinions are my own.

Friday, 26 July 2013

One Room Paradise ~ small space living from Ikea

{Sponsored content}

We're going to Ikea later on today, and one of the things I can guarantee we'll do is to pretend we live in one of the living areas set up within the store. I bet it's not just us is it? Please say it isn't...

Ever since my girls were little they've loved to do that, and even now they're teenagers they use them to plan out how they'd decorate and furnish their first flat.

Whoever plans out those living areas is a genius, because I love the amount of space that's created by using either double function pieces of furniture and inspired storage items.

The new Ikea TV ad shows Mandy, a living doll, showing us around her 'One room paradise' with its ingenius layout and space-saving solutions.

The video is intended to be a spoof on reality shows such as Geordie Shore and if you can get past the slightly quirky concept of the living doll it does show off some of their small-space living solutions very nicely.

Anyway, have a look at the ad - it might not be for everyone but see what you think. And it's not just us who pretends to live in Ikea, is it?

Mandy is now on Twitter! You can find her here.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The garden in July ~ dahlia

Echinaea purpurea prairie splendour

It's been a funny old week in the garden. It's either been unbearably hot and humid or it's been pouring with rain, no half measures it seems.

It's also been a time for me to take a stroll down memory lane, because the flowers this week have huge sentimental significance for me. 

This border of Marguerite daisies have just flowered this week and will continue to for a few more weeks, and soon they'll be joined by the adjacent crocosmia which, with their vibrant orange, will look fantastic next to them. They're such happy little flowers, don't you think? Just poking their sunny little faces up to the sun and growing without making any demands at all. Just a bit of water and they're happy.

When I was very small, I remember going to the very end of our garden where there was a huge soot pile. It was there because although my dad worked at a pipe fitter during the day he had an extra weekend job as a chimney sweep. My brother and I used to go with him to the chimney sweep jobs and would stand outside on the pavement while Dad went inside to start sweeping. It was our job to watch for the brush to appear at the top of the chimney pot and then run inside and tell Dad. I used to love doing that.

When he'd finished we'd go home and Dad would put the soot onto the pile at the bottom of the garden. It seems crazy to me now - a huge pile of soot - but it was just always there, behind the shed.

But right next to the soot pile were the most beautiful flowers I'd ever seen, the Marguerite daisies. So simple and beautiful and growing in the most inauspicious of places. They still have a special place in my heart.

Dahlia 'Bluebell'

The humble dahlia is another plant that is loaded with memories for me.

My Dad was quite a keen gardener and he grew a lot of dahlias, mostly of the pom-pom variety which I'm not so keen on, but other types too.  So I thought I'd have a go at growing some this year and early in the spring I planted some tubers below the living room window. This bed gets lots of sun so I thought it'd be a good place to start.

After a slow start, and at one point thinking they'd been killed of by the late snow and frosts in February, they have earned their place in the sun. They are completely gorgeous and I honestly can't stop looking at their perfect symmetrical beauty.

Dahlia 'Bluebell'

I can see what Dad liked about them and they've become my newest garden favourite. I don't even mind the slightly old-fashioned image they have, in fact I think it adds to their charm.

There are two others in the border, and so far the semi-cactus 'Purple Gem' has just started to open but the other one is still in bud. They've grown so tall that we have to be careful not to chop their lovely heads off when we open and close the windows, but of course the best thing about dahlias is that the more you cut them the more they flower. What's not to love?

Dahlia 'Bluebell'

I'm joining in again with the How Does Your Garden Grow linky which this week is being hosted by the lovely  Helvetia Handmade while Mammasaurus is off on her hols.

Helvetia Handmade

Monday, 22 July 2013

Guest post from Schwartz: How to give your food a flavour boost

If you're looking for a way to add a bit of extra flavour to your dishes but are concerned about giving them too much heat, have you thought about using paprika? 

This spice is made by drying out sweet pepper and grinding them down into a powder. You'll find paprika in a wide variety of different cuisines, including Spanish, Indian, Hungarian and Moroccan. Its flavour does vary, depending on the type of pepper used, but it's never as spicy as chilli or cayenne. 

Paprika has many different uses because it can range from mild and sweet to much smokier and darker. In Eastern European, paprika is used to flavour stews and vegetable dishes whereas in Spain it's more likely to be found in chorizo. So, what sort of dishes might you expect to cook with paprika 


Turkey meatballs: if you're fed up of eating the same beef or pork meatballs, why not try this healthy twist on a classic? By using turkey rather than a red meat you'll keep the fat content to a minimum and by using thigh meat instead of the breast you'll keep them moist and tasty. 

Cooking with Schwartz Chicken kebabs: what better meal to have at the weekend than chicken, peppers, onions and mushrooms on a stick? Chicken kebabs are a big hit with the kids but if you want a bit more flavour why not marinade the chicken in a little paprika and olive oil first? 

Paella: this rice dish is most commonly associated with Spain but has a Moroccan twist to give it a slightly different flavour. You'll use paprika, as well as chilli, coriander, garlic, cumin and lemon to marinate the chicken or fish before cooking it all together. 

Vegetable soup: whether it's the middle of winter or the height of summer, a delicious vegetable soup makes a great lunchtime meal. Instead of just seasoning with salt and pepper, add a teaspoon of paprika to your soup to give it an extra boost. 

Devilled eggs: one of my favourite side or party dish is this smoky egg snack. Once you've hard-boiled the eggs, scoop out the yolks and mix with mayonnaise, mustard and a little seasoning. Put the back into the shelled out whites and top with paprika for extra flavour – yummy. 

Most people have got a jar of paprika lying somewhere at the back of their cupboard, so why not dig it out and try something different? It's also great for adding flavour to the kids' dinners as it's not as hot and spicy as chilli or other spices. 

This is a guest post from Schwartz

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Tips for watering the garden in this hot weather, especially for those of us with water meters

Watering the garden in hot weather tips

I've done very little in the garden this week due to the heat. I'm not very good at handling very hot weather, so for me this week has been about staying out of the sun and keeping cool. However, the garden doesn't get a choice and some of the plants are starting to wilt even though I'm trying to keep everything watered.

Rambling rose

So here's my tips for keeping on top of things during the heat, especially if (like me) you have a dreaded water meter.

Dahlia1. Water in the early morning and/or evening. If you water midday it won't harm the plants will you'll lose some of the water due to evaporation.

2. Use 'recycled water' if you can - bath water, water left in the sink after washing a couple of dishes, and especially paddling pool water that has been used by the kids but is now full of grass and insects.

3. Don't water the lawn. Just don't. It will recover when it eventually starts raining anyway, grass is fairly robust like that. As it turns out, my small lawn is currently dominated by a teenager-sized inflatable pool so that solves that problem!

4. Water hanging baskets and plants in pots first as they will struggle the most during hot spells. Move them into a shadier area to prevent them drying out too quickly.

5. Next, water any newly planted shrubs or flowers that need to establish their roots. I'm also keeping my dahlias watered because they've just started flowering and are stunning, as well as a newly planted echinacea and the rambling rose which is so beautiful but has been wilting a bit.

Sweet pepper plant6. If you're growing any summer vegetables in pots or raised beds these will also need some attention to prevent their fruits perishing.  Surface rooting plants such as tomatoes, lettuce and peppers will wilt very quickly if they're starved of water.

Deeper rooted vegetables such as carrots and potatoes will be more resilient, but put some mulch around them to keep any moisture in.

I've been watering my peppers, cucumbers and chillies twice a day to keep them from dying and I've moved them to a spot that has a little less of the midday sun.

And, thinking ahead:
  • install a water butt to capture rain water.  Even the smallest of gardens (like mine) can accommodate one of those tall narrow butts. I'm adding this to my to-do-list for the garden, although it's likely to be the kiss of death for any future hot summers!
  • get plenty of mulch down early on in the spring to keep the moisture locked into the soil.
And, don't forget to look after yourself too! Get plenty of water, wear a hat and sun-cream and take some breaks in the shade. 

Good luck, and don't worry it will rain again one day...

Easy summer eating with Asda

Summer foods from Asda

The nice people at Asda sent me a gift card recently to spend on some lovely goodies, so I thought I'd share a few of our favourite summer foods.

We like to eat outdoors as often as possible in the summer, and even though I don't own a barbecue (I'm possibly the only person in the UK who doesn't) there's something about eating outdoors that improves the enjoyment of any food, no matter how simple the meal.

We loved the very tasty, very juicy Big Eat Rump Steak burgers with a dollop of the tangy Asda Burger Relish on top. Eaten with my daughters' favourite homemade potato salad, they're bound to become a favourite.

I'm not sure what it is about the hotter weather that makes us all want to drink rosé wine, but my goodness this Blossom Hill White Zinfandel (currently reduced to £5) is gorgeous! 

We were spoilt for choice for pudding so went for a punnet of cherries (Tall Daughter's choice), Asda's own vanilla ice cream (The Teenager's) and my choice of Asda's milk chocolate Almond Moments which, in my opinion, are every bit as good as the more pricey Magnums. You heard it here first.

Summer foods from Asda

What are you eating this summer? Do you have a barbecue, and if so what time do you want us? 

Thanks for Asda for the gift card!

Thursday, 18 July 2013

A visit to Ness Botanic Gardens

Last weekend, on one of the hottest days of the year, I decided to visit Ness Gardens. I'd been there once before but hadn't visited for, ooohhhat least ten years, which is shocking considering it's only a 20 minute drive from home.

Surprisingly, The Teenager decided she wanted to come too (You know it's just a huge garden, yes? With loads of plants and trees? And no clothes shops?) Once we'd established that she was still happy to come, we packed a picnic and set off.

The terraced gardens were stunning with lots of interest, with plenty of places to sit and rest - or simply admire the view. 

The garden is a pleasing blend of manicured lawns, winding paths and colourful borders alongside more natural landscaping and views across the Welsh mountains.

Some of the planting schemes gave me plenty of ideas for my own garden, as well as some very striking colour combinations.

There was also a huge border of hostas with no noticeable signs of slug damage - something I can never manage.

I loved the kitchen garden, or Potager as it was called, with its flower and vegetable planting and a border of massive artichokes.  The Teenager was starting to lose interest at this point, so as I pootled around looking at vegetables she went to sunbathe on a nearby lawn.

One of the first things I noticed on our arrival at Ness was how far they'd upped their game. The previous time I'd visited the entrance seemed to be a haphazard system of ramshackle wooden buildings (or at least that's my memory of it). Nowadays you can expect an impressive entrance via the visitor centre which also houses a well stocked shop and café. There's also an outdoor plant sale area, although I thought the prices were a bit on the high side. 

Our visit made me realise that it's something I need to do more often and I'm already making plans to visit other gardens in the north-west. Although I might choose a day when it's not quite so hot.

Apologies for such a photo heavy post this week, but there were so many to choose from. I'm joining in with the linky over at Mammasaurus' blog again, where you can see how the other gardens are getting on.

Mammasaurus - How Does Your Garden Grow?