SEN Family on Holiday at Moonfleet Manor

When we decided to go back to Moonfleet Manor this September, I was not only really looking forward to it (we had such a great time when we went two years ago) but I was super interested to see how the hotel would cope with us as an SEN family. Could they accommodate the needs Oscar, as an autistic child has, and give us as parents (and adults) a decent break too?

Moonfleet Manor in Weymouth

Moonfleet Manor in Weymouth

Preparation

I started to get a feeling that they just might, even before we arrived. Weeks before our stay I phoned the hotel to book Oscar into the onsite creche, sessions of which are included in the room price. I spoke to the Ofsted registered creche manager and explained about Oscar’s Autism and asked whether they would be able to cope if he came to spend time with them. She couldn’t have been any clearer that he would be welcomed with open arms, and explained they regularly have guests with disabilities including those on the Spectrum. Without prompting she asked whether we would like them to assign a member of creche staff to be Oscar’s one to one during his sessions. I was blown away by this as it was exactly what he needed, but was something I’d never thought they’d be able to provide. They continued to outdo themselves when, several days later, they emailed me a picture of the staff member who would be his one to one, so I could prepare Oscar beforehand. Again, above and beyond and highly appreciated.

I tried to prepare Oscar as best I could for the upcoming holiday, by talking about the hotel, showing him videos from Moonfleet’s website and making him a visual board which we stuck to the lounge door for a week beforehand. He looked at it every time he went past and was soon telling me he needed to go swimming. By the time we left he was pretty excited I think.

Oscar's Moonfleet Manor Holiday visual board

Oscar’s Moonfleet Manor Holiday visual board

The journey to Weymouth, in Dorset was easy (and made all the easier by Thomas the Tank Engine films on the iPad!). We arrived too early to get access to our room, but the staff happily checked us in and gave us our room name so we could order lunch. Oscar had a little wander round the gorgeous hotel lounges, looking at the vintage pieces on the walls, before finding the garden. We thought he’d be drawn to the trampoline, having been sat in the car for two hours, and he might have been had he not seen the giant sandpit. He happily installed himself and his trains in the sand, leaving us to have a coffee and a biscuit, bought out to us in the garden. Aaaaaand relax. The fact that the sandpit was in a gated enclosure was a nice touch and the huge garden itself was fairly secure, although this did rely heavily on other guests closing the gate to the car park, which not all did.

boy in sandpit

Oscar adored the giant sand pit at Moonfleet Manor

The sandpit at Moonfleet Manor was in a gated enclosure, great for small children or those who need a little more secuirty

The sandpit at Moonfleet Manor was in a gated enclosure, great for small children or those who need a little more security. Plus, look at that view!

Coffee cup

When someone brings you coffee and a cookie almost as soon as you arrive, you know its going to be a good holiday!

Creche

At 3pm, we took him to his first creche session. We had booked him in for four sessions over the two days so were hopeful that would give us (and particularly me 😉 ) some time and space to be alone. We were introduced to his one to one, Tara, who we chatted to about Oscar’s likes and dislikes etc. She asked some really relevant questions that kind of took me aback a little, until she told me she was also the mother of a SEN child herself and spoke Makaton at home. As any SEN parent knows, our children take a special kind of patience and knowing Tara had real life experience of this gave me even more confidence in his time at the creche. As I expected he would, Oscar ran straight in, excited to play with all the new toys (including of course the trains and track) and we were free for two hours.

Room

We checked into our room without Oscar, which allowed us both to lay out his things ready for him (making the unfamiliar a bit more friendly) but also to look round our accommodation. I was thrilled with the room. We had a Deluxe Two Bed Family room and couldn’t get over the space this afforded the three of us. As well as our huge (ridiculously comfy) bed and the generously proportioned bathroom (with bath, shower and double sinks), the room also had two twin beds, which were cleverly separated from the main room, giving the feel of two rooms. And each room had its own window, meaning that although this was a large space it didn’t feel too dark. Plus, what a view!

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The lounge area of the room. Behind those doors was a real surprise!

Double sinks! As the room could sleep a family of up to five I'm sure this detail would be most appreciated.

Double sinks! As the room could sleep a family of up to five I’m sure this detail would be most appreciated.

Moonfleet Fleet

View from our room at Moonfleet Manor. Across the gardens and down to the Fleet.

This was a wonderful and unexpected touch as we were worried how Oscar would cope with sleeping in the same room as us. As it happened he had a generously proportioned ‘room’ all to himself, with twin beds, it’s own storage and own TV. This room could have slept up to three, with a camping style bed being included at the foot of the twin beds. This had been made up despite us not needing it, and blow me, if Oscar didn’t insist on sleeping in it (very well I might add!) both nights! Funny child 😉

beds

Oscar’s room was separated from us, which gave him his own space and a choice of beds!

When we bought Oscar up to the room after his creche session (and our relaxed Cream Tea in the lounge in our favourite chairs in the bay window!) he ran around giggling, jumping on the beds and then proceeded to get his trains out and play with them on the coffee table in the living room area. It was so nice to have that extra room and it gave him the space to regulate himself in peace after busy sessions in the creche/pool/garden etc.

We booked our cream tea before we arrived. Happiness in a scone. PS this jam cream combo is THE only way ;)

We booked our cream tea before we arrived. Happiness in a scone. PS this jam cream combo is THE only way 😉

Food

One of the things we loved about Moonfleet last time was their ability to feed all age ranges so thoughtfully. Despite Oscar being a rather anxious eater, we knew there would probably be a few things he would eat on the menu and we were right. However, we hadn’t considered how difficult the dining room might be for him. The first night he managed it, just about. Although he didn’t get upset, there was just waaaaay too much going on for him to concentrate on eating. Or sitting. Add to that a new(ish) food and it just all got a bit much and we left before things spiralled. The next night, after a busy day in the creche and the pool, we just figured he’d be more comfortable and eat more if we ordered room service. It couldn’t have been easier and they bought up his naan bread pizza and fries with the requested squash in minutes. It was a genius plan and I was just so grateful that it’s a service the hotel are happy to provide. It made such a difference and he ate the whole meal. It was also another time we were so grateful for the extra space the room provided.

He loved the naan bread pizza at Moonfleet Manor, but struggled with the dining room

He loved the naan bread pizza at Moonfleet Manor, but struggled with the dining room

Deciding to order him room service was an inspired plan. Oscar was thrilled it arrived with a 'hat'. I told him not to get used to it ;)

Deciding to order him room service was an inspired plan. Oscar was thrilled when it arrived with a ‘hat’. I told him not to get used to it 😉

He ate much more in our room and was much more comfortable.

He ate much more in our room and was much more comfortable.

Breakfast was equally good with a menu to chose from or a running buffet of cooked breakfast items, along with the usual cereals, pastries etc. Again Oscar struggled a little with the dining room, although being tempted with Nutella on toast and the pastry basket was enough to get him to eat something and give us time to do the same. However, not before he insisted 8am was time for the sand pit! And who were we to argue? It was after all his holiday too!

Prebreakfast sand pit action.

Prebreakfast sand pit action.

There were healthyier options thank pain au chocolat and chocolate muffins on offer for breakfast at Moonfleet Manor, but I wasnt going to argue. It was his holiday too after all!

There were healthier options than pain au chocolat and chocolate muffins on offer for breakfast at Moonfleet Manor, but I wasn’t going to argue. It was his holiday too after all!

Baby Listening

The excellent food continued into the evening and due Moonfleet Manor’s wonderful baby listening service, we were able to thoroughly enjoy it! Each night we kept Oscar’s bedtime routine the same as home, meaning when he got into this new bed he was ready for sleep. We called down to the reception to turn the baby listening service on and left him, with fingers crossed. And bless him if he wasn’t out like a light both nights! It was just so nice to have that time, sans child, to eat a delicious meal together, all the while knowing he was safe and monitored. We did see the receptionist come and find several families over the course of the two evenings. The majority of our fellow guests had young toddlers and babies, so that didn’t surprise me, but it did comfort me to know someone was actually listening!

Evenings

Our evenings, just the two of us, were wonderful. So relaxed and so much fun. It really did feel like ‘going out’ for dinner both nights. We dressed up, although you totally didn’t need to. We started the evening with drinks and nibbles in the lounge, where we were bought the menu to order from. We were then called to our table when our food was imminent. And the food itself was delicious. We played a game of who won each course both nights and disagreed over the outcome of most, as everything was so good. Plus Ben had goats cheese and who can ever win with goats cheese!

Wine and nibbles before dinner. I can highly recommend the the Preignes le Vieux Viognier

Wine and nibbles before dinner. I can highly recommend a bottle of the the Preignes le Vieux Viognier!

My winning dinner

My winning dinner

Although Ben was adamant his choice was the winner

Although Ben was adamant his choice was the winner. He was wrong though!

Spa

Our opportunity to relax while Oscar was looked after in the creche continued in the onsite spa. Both Ben and I booked treatments for our second day. I had a body wrap and a pedicure and Ben a facial and massage. The fact that the hotel has a fully functioning spa onsite, would be a draw for any stressed out parent. We made our appointments at opposite ends of the day so neither one of us would be left to look after the boy alone.

Heated bootees in the Moonfleet Manor Spa! Stylish!

Heated bootees in the Moonfleet Manor Spa! Stylish!

I love a good pedi!

I love a good pedi!

While Ben went to have his treatments in the afternoon I had a nap!

While Ben went to have his treatments in the afternoon I had a nap! A nap! Imagine that!

Pool

As it happened my nap was disturbed half way through as Oscar had managed to wet every pair of trousers I had taken down to the creche for him (toilet training is a new and ongoing process for us). I took some more down to him, however once he saw me it became apparent he didn’t want to stay. I didn’t mind and chose instead to take him to the pool next door.

Moonfleet Manor has a three small pools onsite, a baby pool, a small learning pool and a larger swimming pool. While it may not be as fancy looking as some other spa hotel pools I’ve seen, it certainly worked for us.

pool

I was unable to take my own photos in the pool and this is an old one taken before this year’s renovation. Those pillars are no longer there.

Having not been swimming for a long time I wasn’t sure how Oscar would react. I needn’t have worried. He was most interested in the swimming lessons taking place in the learning pool (all babies or young children) and happily snaffled a couple of pool noodles to play with from the teacher. I still don’t know where he found a pair of Peppa Pig armbands, but find them he did. Once he put them on there was literally no stopping him. We were in the pool for two hours and in the end I had to practically drag him out, he was having so much fun. So much in fact that we decided not to put him into the creche the morning of our departure and instead both took him to the pool. He just loved being in the water so much! I am definitely going to have to look into one to one swimming lessons for him.

As the pool wasn’t too large I could relax about him getting lost and it never got busy enough to be too much for him. The only thing that could have been better for me were the changing rooms. The facilities were unisex and yet there were very few cubicles. On days busy with guests or swimming students this would mean you could end up changing in front of the opposite sex. Not ideal to say the least. However, there were decent baby changing facilities, free lockers, towels and toilets within the changing rooms. I would recommend changing into your swimwear in your room, meaning you only have to use the facilities at one end of your swim. Unless, unlike me, you have no body image issues!

The Verandah

One of Moonfleet Manor’s other assets is it’s enormous, and I mean enormous, play barn The Verandah. As we were only there for two days, we barely had time to fit it in, but did pop in for a quick run around before departing the hotel. Anything to let him burn off a bit of energy before getting in the car! He LOVED it, just as much as last time, and we actually ended up having this giant space, filled with soft play, trampolines, climbing equipment, football pitch, piano, ride on toys and air hockey tables to ourselves!

The Verandah. More fun than you could shake a stick at in one enormous room. Perfect for wet days!

The Verandah. More fun than you could shake a stick at in one enormous room. Perfect for wet days! Includes giant clambering beanbag bunny!

Oscar and daddy having a go at the highrope

Oscar and daddy having a go at the slackline

The boy's first game of air hockey. He thought it was hilarious every time he let a goal in!

The boy’s first game of air hockey. He thought it was hilarious every time he let a goal in!

Again the room was fairly secure and was a great place for Oscar to get some vestibular and propreoceptive sensory feedback! It also had a nice array of comfy seats for the adults, not that we got to use them!

Impressions

Moonfleet Manor remains a beautiful place to go. The amount of facilities available to all ages are more than you’d find at most other holiday resorts let alone other hotels and I’m so glad we went. Oscar’s issues with the dining room did make me realise how differently we manage food and it’s consumption at home. I came away feeling like self catering would have been much easier. For him and for us in terms of his behaviour. However, he’s since started school and is slowly learning to eat in a room with lots of others, which makes me think actually this wouldn’t be an issue again. But if it is for you I would highly recommend the room service option!

The staff couldn’t have been more friendly or helpful. Not once were ever made to feel we were any different to any other family. When, during his first session in the creche, Oscar needed a change of clothes. The hotel manager came to find us and once we’d grabbed the clothes insisted he take them over himself so we could resume our sitting/schlomping in the chairs by the window! A gesture that was most appreciated. Those two hours sure do fly by!

All the facilities aside, my favourite thing about Moonfleet Manor is it’s location. The views from the hotel and gardens down to the Fleet and Chesil Beach were just what I needed after a very stressful summer. Peaceful and calming, they breathed new life into all of us as a family.

Evening explore

Evening explore

Boats on the Fleet

Boats on the Fleet

The field of horses next to the garden were a great hit with Oscar!

The field of horses next to the garden were a great hit with Oscar!

Just like when we visited with a toddler, we came to Moonfleet Manor with our autistic son, looking for a chance to rest. We did just that.

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A beautiful day begins at Moonfleet Manor.

 

 

 

We would like to thank Moonfleet Manor for supporting us on our visit to their hotel. We paid for our room and treatments ourselves, however were gifted a complimentary room upgrade for this review.

As always all opinions are honest and my own.

You can find out more about Moonfleet Manor and the Luxury Family Hotel chain on their websites.

 

 

 

Mrssavageangel Slimming World – Week 5

Well howdy and hello!

Another week down (yeees!!!) And what a week. It’s been such a mixed bag of the mundane all the way to the down right emotional. A roller-coaster, if you will.

The week started well, but on Friday I attended a course to learn about the Autism Spectrum Condition PDA (or Pathological Demand Avoidance). It was as draining as it sounds and extremely emotional for me. But then I find all the times I have Oscar’s Autism held up for me to examine face to face draining. More so than actually living with him! Anyway, the course was catered, which I knew, but I assumed as this was a local authority course it would be very healthy eating focussed (or at least have some god damn fruit!) Nope not a bit of it. Sandwiches thick with butter and packets of crisps and whole chocolate bars. It was my first unplanned challenge and considering my state of mind, I think I did pretty well to just have a few sandwiches and bag of crisps. On the way home I stopped off at M&S as I decided I needed chocolate. I took two tiny bites and then stopped myself. This wasn’t making the day any better or easier to deal with, so what the hell was I doing? And I didn’t eat any more! I know, I’m amazed too! And pretty freaking proud.

Because you see I could have ruined the whole week because of that one day. I could have, but I chose not too. It wasn’t easy believe me. There were days I just wanted to eat and eat and days when I seriously wanted chocolate (and crappy weather and period pains don’t help a mood like that). I tried to keep to ‘speed’ foods where I could and where I just couldn’t face them, ‘free’ foods. I know I had more syns every day than I have had in previous weeks and some days I couldn’t count them all (such as Friday). But I’m pretty sure (other than Friday) that I stayed under the 15. The worst day was probably Tuesday. I could have happily snaffled one or even two pancakes while I was at Dylan’s, but I’d made the decision not to bother with pancake day this year (with the support of the wonderful Mr S!). But I did have terrible lady pains and craaaaaaaved cake all day long. Then I went to my first ever Yoga class. And let me tell you, Yoga is nothing like Pilates. Oh my life, the sweat was literally running in my eyes! And I aaaaaccche like a… well a very achey thing today, but do you know, I came home from that class tired, a bit sore and barely hungry at all! It was extraordinary! And I slept like the dead!

So I wasn’t really sure how I’d fair this week and was pleasantly surprised with this:

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2lb off! Not too shabby at all. That takes me to 10.5lb lost in 5 weeks. Which is nice.

As last night was our group’s Free Food Feb taster session, and as several of you told me you’re enjoying the recipes, I thought I’d share the Crustless Quiche I made. It’s much easier than having to faff about with pastry and was really nice. The recipe is based on one I found on Slimming World’s Lifeline Online. It would be great for a party or a summery dinner with a jacket potato and salad! And no pastry means gluten free, although not sure I could get the boy to eat this just yet. But he did help make it and that’s a start 😉

Roasted Mediterranean Crustless Quiche

  • Low calorie cooking spray
  • 2 onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 large courgette, thinly sliced
  • 2 red peppers, de seeded and cut in half
  • A bunch (min 16) of fine asparagus
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree (Optional. I did add this to mine, but in hindsight I’m not sure it was needed)
  • 2 tsp dried mixed herbs
  • 80g reduced fat Cheddar cheese, grated
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4.
  2. Spray a large frying pan with FryLight and fry the onions over a medium-low heat for around 15 minutes until lightly browned. Transfer to a wide bowl to cool and set aside.
  3. Stirfry the courgette on medium heat for around 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from the heat and add to the onions.
  4. While the courgettes are cooking, spray the red pepper with FryLight and grill with the inside facing up until soft. Turn skin side up and grill until lightly charred. Chop into small chunks and set aside.
  5. Put the asparagus in a shallow dish with a few tbsp of water. Microwave on high for 3 minutes. Transfer them to the now empty frying pan on a high heat and lightly char on all sides. Set aside separately.
  6. Beat the eggs with the garlic, tomato puree (if using), dried herbs and three quarters of the cheese. Season well.
  7. Lightly spray a flan dish with FryLight.
  8. Put the onions, courgettes and red peppers in the prepared dish and pour over the egg mixture. Arrange the asparagus spears on the top of the egg and gently press down.
  9. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until almost set.
  10. Sprinkle over the remaining cheese and return to the oven for another 15 minutes or until lightly browned on top and just set.
  11. Remove from the oven and serve warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges.
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Roasted Mediterranean Crustless Quiche

Serves 8 at 2 syns per slice (unless you’re using the cheese as a HEA). This recipe is easily doubled (although you don’t need to increase the asparagus) to make a more substantial dish. Don’t forget to also double the syns if you double the recipe!

It went down a treat at the taster session (I assume. There was none left by the end which is always a good sign), but like I say I’m not sure it needed the tomato puree. Try it and see what you think!

This coming week is definitely going to be another one of those ‘challenge’ weeks (erm, Lisa, aren’t they all a challenge? Well yes, but shhhh, I’m talking). This Saturday I’m out for a Galentine’s Lunch with the lovely Bethany and then we’re having friends over for dinner. And of course Sunday is Valentine’s Day. I’ve got a very special dinner planned for me and the hubster, so look out for that next week! My plan is (as always, when there’s an event on the horizon) to up the speed and keep the syns down. But to be fair, I’d be amazed happy with a maintain.

Have a wonderful week and tell your loved ones they are loved!

love

 

Lisa

xx

 

Galentine’s Day

Are you a Leslie Knope fan? I am. Parks and Recreation is one of my favourite US comedy shows and Leslie Knope is a great character. Perky without being sickly, loyal, ridiculously hard working, good at whatever she wants to be, caring, kick ass and the inventor of Galentine’s Day. What’s not to love?

If you don’t know what Parks and Rec is, we probably can’t be friends. You should definitely look it up. If you’re not sure what Galentine’s Day is, it’s this

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Isn’t that just wonderful? I love a good Valentine’s Day as much as the next soppy old romantic. Cards, flowers, gestures of affection for the significant other in your life. But how often do you show the other people in your life, just how much they mean to you. The other mamas who keep you going when the chips are down, the lady with the bottle of bubbles who can insist you forget everything and calm the fuck down. The girls who know you from old, but still refuse to tell ? In my case I know it’s not enough.

We’re really bad in this country at expressing how much we love anyone outside our family or our partner. Why is that? Love can come in so many forms and be born out of so many things. Admiration, inspiration, respect. And yet, I can think of only a handful of people that I have told I love them in my entire life. It’s just not the ‘done’ thing in this country. I think we confuse love born out of respect with romantic love. They are very different, but maybe the cross over confuses us enough to not acknowledge it, either to each other or ourselves.

Which is why I think we really need something like Galentine’s Day in the UK. We need reminding to tell our gal pals that they are loved. I’m not suggesting we all run out and start a new industry in Galentines Day cards and such, but I think we can all use the reminder, in these busy lives we lead, to express to our bestest friends that we love them and what about them makes them so special to us. Or is that just me?

So on the 13th February reach out. Tell the amazing ladies in your life how you feel. I, for example, might be telling Helen, that I love how strong she is for her family, that she’s the most organised person I have ever met and has the most amazing blue eyes. Michelle, I might be mentioning has the most amazing capacity for love, a beautiful creative heart and almost Renaissance curls. Jane R, that she is so thoughtful and has such an awesome knowledge of local and national law (particularly planning ?) and one hell of a laugh! Laura, that she has the most wonderful hugs, amazing sense of direction and legs that just won’t quit! Nicola, that she can get anything done to the absolute best of her ability, has such a capacity for joy and a gorgeous smile. Rach, that she is always there with the wine when needed, can take any situation and turn it around to her advantage and has the best resting bitch face I have ever seen. And Emma F that she has the ability to make me belly laugh, cares so much about her family and has the best trout pout ever!

All of them are also amazing mothers, dealing with life in the best way they know how and they all inspire me every day. I love them.

You know, that kind of thing.

But one gal I haven’t seen for too long is my girl Bethany. Her full time work week and how precious her weekends have become, means I had to think of a really good reason to borrow her from her family for a few hours. So I’m taking her out for a special Galentine’s lunch to her favourite pub on Saturday. I can’t wait to catch up on allllllll the news about life up in that London, the exciting changes that have been going on and updating on how our children are doing. But most of all I can’t wait tell her how ridiculously amazing I think she is for doing all of it with such grace. And that I love her.

Happy Galentine’s ladies. Tell your tribe you love them.

 

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Mrssavageangel Slimming World – Week 4

That’s right! Week 4 already. I can’t believe I’ve been back at Slimming World for a proper month already. It’s gone so quickly and yet it feels like no time at all. I thought today, I’d look at the differences I’m seeing in a month of optimised eating, because as I’ve said before, it’s not all about the number on the scales.

1) I feel less ill.

I spent the last few months of 2015 in constant pain. I believe that was in part down to the huge amounts of stress I was accepting into my life (anxiety anyone?) but I know it was also probably down to the large amounts of fat in my diet. I was diagnosed with multiple gallstones about 18 months ago and there is nothing that will inflame them more than constantly eating high fat foods. I knew that then, I just didn’t care enough to stop it. But now I have, I can really feel the difference. The pains in my ribs have all but gone. And you don’t realise how much something was bothering you until it’s gone.

2) As alluded to above I am less stressed.

I made the decision to stop letting my anxiety about Oscar ‘s Autism and how this will affect our lives rule my days and started eating better. But the two really go hand in hand. The better I eat, the better I’m able to cope. The better I cope, the more I can focus on looking after myself and eating better. The ‘vicious circle’ works both ways! Who knew?

3) I’m trying new things.

Not just new foods, but new things for me, things I’ve wanted to do for ages. Next Tuesday I’m starting my first ever Yoga course. I’m super excited and can’t wait to get stretching and breathing. My hope is it will help my fitness, but also support my attempts to keep my stress levels down!

4) Clothes are starting to fit better.

Things aren’t mega tight like they were a month ago, which makes me more comfortable; both physically and emotionally. And this week I tried on my beloved biker jacket that I haven’t been able to wear for months. Four weeks ago I could barely get it on, let alone done up. Now look!

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5) I’m feeling proud of myself.

Because I know I’ve worked for this. And also not for looking back and comparing and whinging, but cracking on. This is a new journey and it’s led me here (so far)

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Yes, last night I lost another 2lb, which takes my total in four weeks to 8.5lb lost.

So there you go. Four small weigh ins and what a change. I’m slightly blown away by that actually. But I’m loving everything Slimming World is giving me right now. And I can’t wait to see what the next month brings.

Love

Lisa

Xxx

Ps As you can see I haven’t included any food or recipes here. I have some to share, but I’m not sure if people are enjoying them or not. I’m you’d like me to keep talking about the food, let me know in the comments! Thanks ?

My Wedding Story

Recently, my husband Ben and I celebrated being together as a couple for the grand total of sevenTEEN years. Yup 17! For a couple who are both only 36, that tells you just how much of our lives we’ve spent together. I’ve written about how we met before, here in fact. But I’ve never written about our wedding. And in recognition that we just celebrated our 7 year wedding anniversary and I thought it was about time I did.

Ben and I got engaged in 2007. There was no ring, there was no beautifully planned set up. There was no anticipation, there wasn’t even a man on a knee. There was Ben. And there was me. Both in our pyjamas, stood in the doorway of the lounge in our flat in Surbiton. And it couldn’t have felt more perfect.

We both knew we wanted to get married close to our families and back in our home county, but I’ll tell you now planning a wedding long distance isn’t easy. Thank god for email, but we still had to make several trips down to Devon from our home in London to visit suppliers and venues. We pretty much knew our priorities for the day were good food (mine) and a good bar (Ben’s) and the venue we chose ticked all our boxes and more.

The Great Barn, was the most stunning wedding venue I had ever seen (and to be fair, nothing’s ever topped it ?) We went to look at it with my sister and when the three of us walked up the steps and into the barn our jaw’s all dropped. WOW was the only word any of us could manage.

The Great Barn, Higher Ashton, Devon

The Great Barn, Higher Ashton, Devon

First view of the inside of the barn. Yup, I still think WOW every time I see it.

First view of the inside of the barn. Yup, I still think WOW every time I see it.

We hired our own outside caterers. We knew from the start we wanted an elegant but relaxed affair and so we were looking for someone to do us a tip top BBQ or similar. We went with The Dartmoor Kitchen, headed up by (the now nationally recognised) Tom of Toms Pies and his amazing team, when we realised they could do us a locally sourced hog roast with all the sides. And boy did they do us proud! And to fulfil Ben’s request we decided to budget for stocking the bar ourselves, meaning people could just relax and enjoy. We even found a local brewery to deliver and tap us a barrel of ale just for Ben (well not quite, but he was determined to have a crack at finishing it!)

Thats a whole pig, locally sourced and organic. Yes this was a happy pig. Oh and bloody gorgeous

Thats a whole pig, locally sourced and organic. Yes this was a happy pig. Oh and it was bloody gorgeous!

A whole barrel of local ale, just for Ben ?

A whole barrel of local ale, just for Ben ?

Add to this a dress I’m still in love with (look out for a post about this on www.todreamofdresses.com soon!), some handsome suits, a bridesmaid dress fiasco that turned out better than I ever imagined, flowers from the florist all my friends used, two pairs of wedding shoes, a dodgy DJ, God knows how many metres of greenyblue ribbon (don’t get Ben started on how many different shades of greenyblue he had to look at that year!), a mountain of cupcakes from Cakeadoodledo and a last minute 90 Swarovski Crystal handbag and we my friends had a wedding to be proud of.

We got married in June 2008. It’d been a pretty crappy summer so far and it rained heavily the day before. I was so convinced it would rain on the day that I even bought white golf umbrellas just in case. As the day dawned I woke in my bed at the cottage next to the barn, sat for a minute looking at my dress hanging on the wardrobe and steeled myself to look out the window. I opened the curtains to blinding sunshine. And bawled my eyes out. Wayne and Colleen Rooney got married the month before us, spending a reported 5 million but even they couldn’t buy the weather, getting married in torrential downpours in Italy. The one thing none of us could control, regardless of the budget or the planning or the spreadsheets and it went right for us. Ha! Take that Mr and Mrs R!

My view when I woke up on my wedding day. Swiftly followed by tears at the sunshine!

My view when I woke up on my wedding day. Swiftly followed by tears at the sunshine!

My bridesmaids, my sister Laura and Ben’s step sister Leanne, had stayed in the cottage with me the night before. We were up til the wee small hours making paper cones to hold the petal confetti as I recall! One of my favourite memories of my wedding morning was sitting with them, in the cottage garden, drinking champagne and eating croissant in the sun. We were so relaxed we suddenly realised how late it was getting and in good girly fashion screamed and ran in the house to get ready.

I wanted that morning to be as peaceful as possible. I didn’t want to see anyone which is why I asked no one other than the few people I needed come to the cottage. Thankfully most people respected this although one or two didn’t and rather than flying into a rage I remember sort of curling up in a chair and staring at the floor. I may or may not have started rocking. My sister came over and asked if I’d like her to ‘sort it out’ and thus started my sister’s day of being the most awesome head bridesmaid I could ever have asked for.

My hairdresser (also my sister in law Nicky) arrived with her colleague to do my hair and make up. Then my friend Helen arrived with her 8 month old daughter Chloe, who was to be my baby bridesmaid. I’d seen someone else have a baby as a bridesmaid earlier in the year and just loved the idea. Chloe wore a beautiful white cotton broderie anglaise dress from Gap with a ribbon sash (greenyblue of course 😉 ) Helen was the first to see me as as I came down the stairs in my dress. And then promptly asked an already emotional bride in full make up if she would be her daughter’s god mother! How I kept from blubbing I’ll never know, but I may have called her a cow for pushing me to the edge – yeah sorry about that Hels!

Once we were ready and the house started to quiet, we moved into the cottage garden for photos, all the time laughing like drains. I have so many pictures of me just roaring with laughter before the wedding. I think it was part nerves but I was never going to make the shy demure bride really was I? I love these pictures and made sure they were included in the album our amazing photographers, Andrew and Agnieszka Younger did for us.

A candid shot from the garden.

A candid shot from the garden.

When the time came, and after the photographer made sure the coast was clear, we giggled all the way over to the barn. The wind suddenly picked up and blew my full length veil and my bridesmaids hair about. We went to the side entrance of the barn, rather than the main door as this gave me a straight, long walk down the aisle. I had already decided my bridesmaids would walk out in front of me, US style and we stood behind a partition giggling and waiting. The music I chose was the instrumental Album version of True Love’s First Kiss by Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell. From the film Shrek. Yeah yeah laugh all you want but I found no other piece that had the drama the barn deserved. I loved this piece and had spent months listening to it while walking to get the feel of the music but more importantly to desensitise myself to it. When I first chose it I couldn’t hear it without crying and I didn’t want my make up to run!

The music started and I listened. I sent each bridesmaid out on the beat I had planned. This wasn’t a walk down the aisle, it was a choreographed masterpiece. As my sister’s turn came, as the last bridesmaid to go, she turned, kissed me and told me she loved me. It took me aback and I’ll never forget it. Then she was gone and I was alone. I waited. Listening for the music to change to a quieter, softer tone. And when it did, I emerged, alone, but not in the least bit scared. The lighting had been set up the previous day to hit me perfectly as I walked and the effect was dramatic and beautiful. I remember checking I was holding my bouquet nice and low, I remember smiling more than I ever have, I remember looking straight ahead and seeing nothing but Ben in the golden light. I remember thinking “I’m doing it, I’m doing it” then thinking how I was never going to get to do this again, so to slow down. And I did. I realised how fast I’d been walking and slowed right down. To savour this moment.1910442_17086676663_3660_n

And suddenly the months of planning melted away. Nothing mattered any more. Who the hell cared what colour the dresses were? Not me. All that mattered was here. And now. We started the ceremony with the poem “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” by W.B. Yates read by Ben’s maternal grandmother Betty. A beautiful, brief statement of intent, it speaks of a vulnerability and a love that would do anything. Well it does to me anyway.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

We wrote our own vows and spoke them to one another. Clearly and sincerely. Ben promised to always make me coffee on the weekends and I promised to make him sausage sandwiches when he was blue. But most of all we promised to love each other no matter what. We kissed to a round of applause ??

We finished the ceremony with our friend Dom reading a story. This one in fact

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We signed the register to The Ramones, “Baby I Love You”, completed the formalities and walked out to Jackie Wilson’s “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me (Higher and Higher)”. We walked to the back of the barn and were given champagne by the wonderful barn owner, John. And just stood there giggling. It was done. 18 months of planning and the most important thing was just being together.

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When the barn had emptied we walked back through the space and out of the large main doors, to be met with a shower of confetti. It was fabulous. My friend’s mum even tipped her cone down my cleavage and I didn’t mind. I just don’t ever remember feeling so at peace, so sure that nothing else in the world mattered, as I did in those few moments.

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Our wonderful confetti moment

Our reception was the elegant relaxed affair we hoped for. Every guest, at some point or another, has told us just how much they enjoyed the bubbles and nibbles in the garden, while we had our photos taken. The sun was out, the champagne was flowing and we made the most of the beautiful surroundings. Once we rejoined the party, we gathered everyone under the walnut tree, as we had decided to do the speeches before the meal and outside. We totally made the right choice. In line with tradition Ben and his best man made a speech and then so did I. There was no way I wasn’t speaking at my own wedding! I thanked people, we gave gifts and then I talked about Ben and made everyone cry. As a good wedding speech should 😉 !

A great orator!

A wonderful orator!

Then Ben gave me a gift. No one has ever seen anyone get as excited about a kitchen gadget before or probably since!

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But it was a Kitchen Aid people!!!!!

When the tears were dried and the speeches all spoken, we returned to the barn, transformed into an elegant dining room, with round tables, escort cards, tall sprigs of cherry blossom (artificial, but hey what do you expect, it was June not April) and tables named after CSI Characters (Grissom being reserved from the wedding party. Obviously). We ate hog roast (except my sister who had a chicken roasted just for her!), roasted potatoes, several different salads and a beautiful vegetable tart, all accompanied by my own chutney. I may have to do a post about, what we affectionately call in our house, “Brides Chutney”, but it was based on Nigella’s Spiced Apple Chutney from How to be a Domestic Goddess. And the drinking relaxing began in earnest.

Our beautiful table setting, biscuit favours by Ben's Mum and Grandma!

Our beautiful table setting, biscuit favours by Ben’s Mum and Grandma!

Sitting down to dinner

Sitting down to dinner

A tower of chocolate cupcakes? Yes please!

A tower of chocolate cupcakes? Yes please!

Taking to the dance floor for our first dance to the beautiful  "Come Away With Me" by Norah Jones

Taking to the dance floor for our first dance to the beautiful “Come Away With Me” by Norah Jones

Party Time

Party Time!

We waited such a long time to get married for several reasons. a) We felt we were too young to get married for the longest time, b) we didn’t really have a need to or c) if you believe my husbands speech he wasn’t sure he liked me! But really the reason was we didn’t want to compromise on the day. We knew the kind of wedding we wanted waaaay before we got engaged and knew we didn’t want anything else. We waited until we were in a position to give ourselves and our nearest and dearest the day we had in our heads. And by jingo we did. Would I do anything differently if we got married now. Absolutely. I’d run off to Vegas or something similar. I definitely wouldn’t spend 18 months stressing over every single tiny detail. Who has time for that? But then I’m not the girl I was in 2008. Would she do anything differently? Probably hire a different DJ and have her hair redone half way through the day. Because the stressing and planning and obsessing meant it was pretty damn perfect.

Thank you Ben for such a wonderful day. But mostly thank you for a wonderful life.

Mr & Mrs S 2008

Mr & Mrs S 2008

Mr & Mrs S 2015

Mr & Mrs S 2015

 

 

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