Little Loves: July 2023

July was busy.  There is no other word for it – it was simply full-on with work plus all of the end-of-term things happening at school (reward trips, prom, vaccinations, teacher strike days and more).  We did a lot of travelling around the UK this month too, with visits to Brighton, Southampton, Cornwall and London.  I love it when the calendar is full of plans (as long as everything actually goes to plan!) – having things to look forward to makes such a difference and it’s 100% worth the effort involved in making it all happen, knowing that memories are being made.

Here are all the little things I’ve been loving lately, throughout July…

Chasing the sunset in Cornwall… a memory-making moment for me


The Lost Storyteller:  by Amanda Block.  This book was a total impulse buy – the spine and the cover made me pick it up, the blurb lured me in, and it was on a buy-one-get-one-half-price offer so it would have been rude not to really.  I didn’t read anything at all for the first half of the month – I was so busy with our trips to Brighton and Southampton, plus working and keeping up with life admin in between, that I simply didn’t have time.  Plus I couldn’t decide what to read next – decision paralysis is a very real thing.

This book broke the reading slump.  I tried out the first few pages to see if I would be able to get into it and then found myself picking it up to read a couple more chapters at every opportunity.  It only took me a week to finish it, it was easy enough to get into for short sections or longer stretches of time, and the storyline kept me interested and wanting to find out what happened.  It’s about family relationships and searching for your roots in order to understand who you are, with a little bit of romance and mystery thrown in.

It Starts With Us:  by Colleen Hoover.  I loved the first book in the series – ‘It Ends With Us’ – which was actually the first Colleen Hoover book I ever read.  I’ve been waiting for this sequel to come out in paperback ever since (I much prefer to read fiction in paperback form so I can easily take it with me in my backpack wherever I go).  I took it to Cornwall with me – the weather forecast for the week was awful (pretty much constant rain) – so I figured I’d pack a smallish stack of books in the hope of working my way through at least a couple of them.

It turns out the weather wasn’t *quite* as bad as predicted and we did have some sunny spells in between the rain showers and torrential downpours, meaning that we got out and about more than I’d anticipated we would – definitely a good thing!  Even so, I chose to read instead of scrolling through my phone whenever we had any downtime at our accommodation, especially in the evenings whilst curled up on the sofa.  This was book #1 of the holiday and it was exactly what I wanted it to be.  I finished it in a day and a half and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Nine Perfect Strangers: by Liane Moriarty.  Book #2 of the holiday.  This is the same author who wrote ‘Big Little Lies’ (which I’ve not read yet, it’s on my pile!) – I loved the TV series so I figured the book must be even better (because the book is always, always better).  I’ve got three of her books on my ‘to read next’ pile and thought I’d try ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ first as I didn’t know the story at all.  Apparently, this book is also going to be made into a TV series and now that I’ve read it, I can see why.

It was brilliant and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It’s set in Australia rather than the USA, which both surprised and delighted me.  It was unputdownable – I finished it in two days.  Not having any wifi for part of our holiday may have had a little bit to do with it, but honestly, I just wanted to keep reading.  Each chapter is told from a different character’s viewpoint – some were long, some were only a couple of pages – and that kept it interesting and fresh.  It was easy to keep up with each person’s story as well as being easy to dip in and out of the book as a whole.  It definitely kept me guessing – I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next, or at the end of the book.  Mostly I enjoyed the character development.  I’m already looking forward to reading the other two books of her’s that I have.

Our Missing Hearts: by Celeste Ng.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading her two other books – ‘Everything I Never Told You’ and ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ (also a TV show, which was excellent) so I bought this one with high hopes.  Book #3 of the holiday and I’m about half way through so far.  It’s different from her other two novels – there are no speech marks so the conversations between characters are seamlessly interwoven into the narrative.  When I read ‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney a few years back, which is written in the same style, I really struggled with it, but for some reason this time I adjusted fairly easily until eventually I barely noticed it.  I like that she can change things up whilst keeping the essence of her writing – the descriptions and connections between people – unmistakably hers.

The Lost Storyteller, It Starts With Us, Nine Perfect Strangers and Our Missing Hearts – all excellent books for very different reasons



Van Gogh Alive:   The main reason for our visit to Brighton was to see the Van Gogh Alive exhibition.  It’s similar in nature to ‘Frameless’ in London, which I went to see with my Mum in November last year.  The difference is that where Frameless is a permanent installation, Van Gogh Alive isn’t – it’s travelling around the UK so that it can be seen in various different cities.

Despite seeing bits and pieces about the exhibit on social media, I wasn’t really sure what to expect and in retrospect I’m quite glad of that because it meant I went in open-minded.  It was an immersive experience – different, and slightly less all-encompassing than Frameless – but it worked brilliantly.  The images were around you rather than you being inside them, if that makes sense?  The evocative music; the moving images showcasing a vast array of his artwork; the quotes from his journal… they all worked together in harmony, telling the story of his life and his mind and his creativity and his work.  I wasn’t sure if the girls would enjoy it (sensory issues, boredom thresholds, general interest in art etc) but actually, they were mostly as captivated as I was.  Only Lola got a little restless partway through.  I found it absolutely fascinating and I learned so many things about Van Gogh that I hadn’t known before.  He really was quite an extraordinary man.

The audio-visual part of the exhibition lasted for about 45 minutes in total, plus there’s a bit of a display both before and after it, so I’d suggest allowing about an hour and a half (two hours max) for the whole experience.

Taking it all in at the Van Gogh Alive exhibition. It was wonderful – 10/10 recommend

Sophie’s graduation:  We took the girls out of school midweek and headed down to Southampton halfway through the month to watch Sophie’s university graduation ceremony.  We all went out to dinner the night before to celebrate (along with her boyfriend Jack and her best friend Sam) and then on the day of graduation itself everyone got dressed up and headed into the city centre.  Students are only allowed two tickets for guests to attend the actual ceremony in person, and naturally she wanted her Mum and Dad there.  So the girls and I, plus her stepdad, Jack and Sam all watched a livestream of the ceremony from a different building.  I thought it was all very well set up and everything worked perfectly.

I’ve known Sophie since she was two years old and have watched her grow up to become the strong woman she is today.  She has overcome many challenges in her life with grace and resilience and I love her enormously.  I felt so incredibly proud of her as I watched her walk across the stage in her cap and gown, shaking hands with the professor and collecting her actual degree certificate when her name was called.  It felt like a very pivotal moment.

We headed over to a nearby park afterwards to  take some photos to memorialise the occasion and then went out for a late lunch and drinks – it was a really special day for so many reasons.

Proud Dad 🙂

And proud sisters!

We couldn’t let her graduate without a traditional throwing-of-the-cap photo!

Barbie:  One of the days whilst we were in Bude was such a complete wash-out that we abandoned all hope of being outdoors and headed for the Rebel Cinema instead to watch ‘Barbie’.  Ella in particular really wanted to see it – she is very much into feminism.  I wasn’t sure what to expect – I’m not a fan of Barbie in general but I have to admit that the tagline (“If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you”) kind of pulled me in.

I tried to go in openminded.  It was quite…weird.  I thought that certain parts were excellent, other parts were unexpected, some parts I disagreed with entirely.  I didn’t think the swear word was necessary (even though it was bleeped out) and that kind of thing doesn’t normally bother me at all.  It was too old for a lot of the little kids that were there – they wouldn’t understand it at all and hopefully they just enjoyed the pink and singing/dancing sections.  Overall verdict:  I didn’t love it.  Ella, on the other hand, thought it was brilliant.



Seagulls and waves:  Our trips to Brighton and Bude have meant that we spent a fair bit of time by the sea this month, which has been wonderfully restorative.  Waking up to the sound of seagulls calling and hearing the waves crashing on the beach as I walk along the shoreline will forever be my happy place, come rain or shine, no matter where I happen to be in the world.

Brighton Beach

One of the many beaches that Bude has to offer



Trip to London: The very next day after getting back from Cornwall, right at the end of the month, I was off again – this time making a trip down to London on the train to spend the day with my mum.

We went to see the ‘Hold Still’ photography exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.  It was an exhibit of 100 photographs, all taken during the first UK lockdown of the pandemic in 2020, documenting how it felt to people.  It was a digital exhibition, which wasn’t quite what I’d been expecting, but it was really interesting to see the images and read the stories that went along with them.  There were definite themes that were present in the majority of the photographs – grandparents, keyworkers and homeschooling.  I found it to be surprisingly moving and really quite emotional.  The exhibition has finished now but I believe there is a book you can buy, the proceeds of which go to a mental health charity.

We got some lunch, then went back in to wander around part of the rest of the gallery as well – it’s huge!  An excellent way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.



Prom Dress:  Ella’s Year 11 Prom has been a big topic of conversation in our house since January.  It’s a whole new world to me – Prom wasn’t a thing when I was at high school.  She’s been looking forward to it for months and meticulously planned every detail of what she wanted to wear – from dress to jewellery to bag to shoes to hair, makeup and nails.  We bought the dress ages ago from a specialist shop a few towns away, and we had it altered so that it fit her perfectly.

When the big day arrived she was understandably equal parts nervous and excited.  She let me document her getting ready (photos which I will treasure forever) and Neil managed to arrange for a friend of a friend to drive her to the venue in his Porsche 911, which he made personalised number plates for, for her.  She was thrilled (as was I, because I got to squeeze in the backseat and experience the car too!).

She had a brilliant time, danced for three hours straight and made lots of memories.  My girl, all grown up.

Ella, all dressed up ready for her Year 11 prom. She got to arrive there in a Porsche 911 with a personalised number plate!



Brighton: As I mentioned, right at the beginning of July we took advantage of a well-timed inset day and escaped to Brighton for a long weekend.  We stayed in a very cute little AirBnB near the train station (where we parked our car), which was perfect for what we needed.  I did lots of research and we managed to squeeze in seeing quite a lot of things whilst we were there:  the Van Gogh Alive exhibition; the Upside-Down House; Brighton Marina; Brighton Pier; multiple ice creams; a walk to Hove; a ride on Volk’s Electric Railway; a paddle in the sea; exploring the labyrinth that is The Lanes; and we saw a vast amount of street art (including the famous Banksy!).

I also got to meet up with Laura Aziz, who, after talking with her for years on Instagram, turns out to be exactly as awesome in real life as she is online.  We laughed and talked and hugged and took selfies and watched a magic show and talked some more and I’m so glad she said yes to meeting me.

Brighton! Honestly one of the most colourful places I’ve ever visited

Family mirror selfie in the Sunflower Room at the Van Gogh Alive exhibition. And yes, I am now the shortest out of everyone!

Rachel:  When we went to Southampton for Sophie’s graduation, we stayed overnight with my best friend, who also lives there.  It’s only been a couple of months since I last saw her (when we went to Paris together) and she’s VERY pregnant now, only four weeks away from her due date.  It was really good to see her even though it was only a brief visit.  We managed to sneak in a long walk with the dog, and I went with her to take her girls to school in the morning as well.

Me and my best friend. We don’t get to see each other very often so we try and make the most of it when we do.

Nala:  Another friend of mine recently got a puppy and she invited me over to meet her.  Nala is a nine-week-old pedigree Golden Retriever disguised as a teddy bear and she is utterly adorable.  I took Lola with me and she fell in love with Nala instantaneously.  Her fur was so soft, and she was very calm and gentle whilst still being playful.  I’m going to take Mimi and Ella over to meet her as well in the coming weeks – Ella isn’t so keen on dogs but the other two are definitely hoping Nala will convince me to let them have a puppy too…

Beautiful little Nala

Bude:  We stayed in the UK for our summer holiday this year, heading back down to Bude in Cornwall again but staying in a different place to our usual accommodation.  We’ve stayed at The Old Bakery once before, just after the final lockdown lifted in 2021, and loved it there.  It has since been sold and the new owners (who are absolutely lovely) got in touch with me to invite us back to review the property now that they’ve made some changes to it (in exchange for a discount on our stay) – that post will be coming soon.

We didn’t have the best weather while we were there unfortunately.  It rained heavily every day except one.  There were pockets of sunshine in between the torrential downpours/soaking mizzle though so we got out and about when we could – we played cricket on the beach, swam in the sea pool and went for a couple of walks.  There was lots more that we wanted to do: the Monster Slip and Slide, and cycling the Camel Trail from Wadebridge to Padstow and back again for example.  Maybe next time.

It was good to have a slower paced trip though (perhaps that’s why I managed to read four books in the space of two weeks!) and we did our best to make the most of our time there.

The Old Bakery in Bude

The weather in Bude was very mixed. Torrential rain one day…

…then blue skies and sunshine the next day!

Chapter seven of 2023 is now closed – it was definitely the busiest of the year so far.  There is one more month of summer left for us to soak up and make memories with as best as we can in between the ever-present balancing act that is trying to work during the school holidays.  We have a couple of fun things mapped out (plus GCSE results day – eek!) and then everything changes in September with Ella off to college, Mimi moving into her GCSE exam year and Lola choosing her GCSE options.

I hope that you found plenty of little things to love throughout July and that you enjoy whatever the month of August brings.

With love,

Chloe x


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