Wednesday, 27 September 2023

Halloween themed felt garland bunting craft

For a little while now I've been brainstorming craft projects with the intention of working my way through my craft supplies stash. One thing that I have in abundance is felt, and so I decided that with Halloween coming up I'd work on a simple felt Halloween craft!

I still love the simple felt heart garland bunting which I made a little while ago, and it hangs from our mantelpiece almost year round. I thought I could come up with something similar using Halloween colours and simple shapes. And here it is, embellished with sequins, my very easy Halloween felt garland:

Halloween craft simple felt bunting garland

I began by sketching out a few simple designs. I discovered some pre-cut black felt circles in my stash which I thought would fit well in between the shapes. I didn't have quite enough so I cut some more circles from grey felt, and made enough to alternate with my other designs. I made simple pumpkins, ghosts and witch hats, taking some shape inspiration from this gorgeous bunting which I found online - Felt Halloween Garland.

I cut my shapes a little smaller (about 3-4cm across) and designed them to be little more rounded so that they could be sewn closer together. I used some lovely dark yellow cotton for the sewing.

Halloween felt shapes for simple garland craft
I used a sewing machine to make up the garland. It's a bit of a fiddly job to sew the shapes together as they are so small. I found that I had to sew across a shape and then lift the presser foot a little to pop the next one into place, with the edges nice and snug together. 

Sewing together felt scraps for garland

I was really pleased with how it looked, but I felt that it was missing something, especially on the ghosts. Wanting to continue crafting only with my stash I hunted out my big bag of sequins and sorted out some black circles for the eyes of the ghosts, gold squares for a buckle on the hats, and green circles to add a bit of colour to the pumpkins. They are glued in place, and I added sequins on both sides in case the shapes flip around while they are hanging. Subtle yet sparkly!

Easy Halloween felt garland craft using scraps

I have my bunting strung up across the fireplace, along with some fairy lights (don't worry, the fireplace underneath is disconnected so there is no fire risk, remember to be careful where you display bunting!)

Homemade Halloween felt garland on mantelpiece

While I was hanging it I thought something like this would also be great hung down in long strings across a doorway, maybe if you are hosting a Halloween party or greeting Trick or Treaters! 

Homemade Halloween felt garland close up

If you like this Halloween felt craft then you may also like my Homemade Halloween felt bunting, using scraps of felt along with ribbon, buttons and sequins.

Tuesday, 26 September 2023

Good habits to improve your wellbeing

This is a collaborative post

While we often hear all about bad habits that can have a negative impact on our health, there are also a wide range of good habits that we can get into that will help to improve our wellbeing.

Of course, when we lead busy lives, devoting all our free time to our careers and our families, then it can be hard to find time for self-care.

However, if we make a conscious effort to introduce these self-care acts into our schedule, then we can slowly improve our quality of life.

Are you looking to work on your wellbeing? Here are just four good self-care habits to include in your schedule.

Engage in Regular Exercise

Getting regular exercise is a great way to improve your physical health, however it can also have a positive impact on both your mental and emotional wellbeing.

Make it a habit of including exercise in your daily schedule, even if it’s just taking a walk every morning before you start work.

Of course, it can be hard to find the time to get the recommended 30 minutes of exercise, but, but platforms such as YouTube offer a huge selection of workout routines that you can complete without equipment and from the comfort of your own home.

Eat a Balanced Diet

Your diet can have a big impact on your wellbeing, and while cutting out your favourite treats altogether can be quite unappealing, it’s also important to prioritise moderation.

Consuming a balanced diet will ensure that you cover all of the right food groups that will lead to a healthy life.

If you’re not sure where to start, then meal subscription boxes, such as Gousto, are a great way to get the ingredients for balanced meals delivered right to your door.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Getting enough sleep is one of the most essential parts of cultivating a healthy wellbeing. However, getting a good night’s sleep isn’t always easy. From internal factors such as stress to external factors like your environment, there are a wide variety of reasons that sleep might be eluding you.

One common cause of poor sleep comes from an uncomfortable mattress. A mattress should be changed every 6-8 years, so if yours is getting old, then the time has probably come for you to invest in something new.

Finding the perfect mattress can be difficult, however with experts such as Archers Sleep Centre, you’ll be able to find the ideal make and model to suit your needs.

Bed with cushions and bedside lamp
Photo credit Greg Rivers via Unsplash

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the art of living in the moment; it involves learning to pay attention to your mind, body, and the world around you.

Start by carving out ten minutes each day to sit quietly and complete some deep breathing exercises.

Mindfulness will help you to gain new perspectives and develop ways to cope with the small everyday stresses that often impact our ability to feel happy and fulfilled. 

Have you found good habits to improve your wellbeing? Share your tips in the comments below!

Monday, 25 September 2023

Using ChatGPT as a blogger

I'm really interested in the development of AI and I've done lots of reading around the topic. I'm not really interested in how it works, I want to learn about the ethical considerations, and the ways that it might influence our lives both now and in the future.

I can see AI having a massive impact on the media landscape, especially when it comes to social media and online magazines and blogs. I was fascinated by a recent story about how fans of the computer game World of Warcraft laid a trap for an AI bot that was generating news stories based on their Reddit posts - Warcraft fans trick AI article bot with Glorbo hoax - and it did make me wonder how much online content has been created by Artificial Intelligence. It's going to have a huge impact on both online and print publishing. 

I think that we are entering a time when a huge amount of online content will be computer generated (if it's not already!), and because the software is then learning from that generated online content I do wonder about what that means for traditional writers, and for the people that are reading it. I just can't see it being the same in terms of quality and accuracy.

Using AI and ChatGPT as a blogger
Image generated by Stable Diffusion AI

However I must confess that I have been using ChatGPT when it comes to brainstorming and writing blog posts. I'll say first that I've never used ChatGPT to write an entire blog post and I don't intend to!

 But here are some of the ways that I've used it for blogging:

- Asking for a list of ideas for blog posts around a particular theme. Often none of the titles are exactly what I'm looking for, but they've sparked an idea for something else.

- Asking for blog post outlines around a particular subject. It's a good way of coming up with new ideas even if I don't want to follow the suggested format.

- I needed to write a sponsored post about the benefits of installing a GPS tracker in your car and I could only think of a couple! But ChatGPT provided me with several that I hadn't considered, and I was able to expand on those to fill the article. 

- I used a different AI tool to generate some potential blog post images. You can read about how I got on here - Using AI to generate images for blog posts. There's still lots of work to be done in this area, but I can see it being very useful if you are looking for a very specific image to illustrate something.

- Coming up with craft ideas. I asked it to give me some ideas for crafts involving particular materials for certain occasions. The results weren't ground breaking and I could have just used Google, but again it did help to give me some inspiration.

I've found that for the best results you need to be very specific when it comes to writing your prompt. You can go into a lot of detail and write a whole paragraph about what you are after, and then you can use further prompts or ask it to rewrite for you in a different way. ChatGPT also saves all your queries so you can go back to them and follow up. 

ChatGPT will even come up with text that you can use to share your posts on social media. I had a lot of fun with this, especially if you ask it to make them click bait! I would never use them! But here are some tweets that it suggested for promoting this blog post, complete with emojis and hashtags:


Please generate me some tweets for sharing my blog post titled "Using ChatGPT as a Blogger". Make them click bait!


"πŸš€ Unleash the POWER of ChatGPT! πŸ€– Learn how I skyrocketed my blog with AI wizardry! πŸ’₯ Read it now: [Blog Post Link] #BloggerMagic #AIWriting"

"πŸ’‘ Want to BOOST your blog game? Discover my SECRET weapon: ChatGPT! πŸ“šπŸš€ Dive into the future of blogging here: [Blog Post Link] #ChatGPT #BloggingTips"

"πŸ“ Bloggers, brace yourselves! ChatGPT is your new BEST friend! 😍 Unlock the potential of AI writing today: [Blog Post Link] #BloggersUnite #AIContent"

"πŸš€ REVOLUTIONIZE your blogging game with ChatGPT! πŸ’₯ Get the inside scoop on my blogging journey here: [Blog Post Link] #BloggerLife #AIWriting"

"🌟 BLOGGERS, this is a GAME-CHANGER! πŸ’‘ Explore how ChatGPT transformed my content creation! πŸ”₯ Dive in now: [Blog Post Link] #ContentCreation #ChatGPT"

Of course there are drawbacks to using ChatGPT to write content. The biggest one is that it does just make things up. I asked for reading material around a particular subject and was given a list of plausible titles and authors. Some of the authors had written books on similar subjects and the titles sounded good. But the actual books didn't exist!

I also asked for links to blog posts and articles on the subject I was researching and again it listed fake articles. There was a disclaimer saying that the titles had been automatically generated, but a website that is automatically copying and pasting information won't take any notice of that.

Finally, after asking ChatGPT to generate a few blog post articles it's easy to see the format that is being used, and it becomes very repetitive. The articles are nicely written with a beginning, middle and an end and the style is correct but somehow it just sounds a bit off and formulaic. Maybe a blog could get away with the occasional AI generated article but I think readers would soon get bored, especially if reading several articles at once.

I don't intend to ever use ChatGPT to write my blog, it's something that I love doing too much! But I'm definitely going to be more wary of the content that I read online going forwards, and I really hope that we aren't starting to see the end of human generated content.

Friday, 22 September 2023

Hama bead Autumn leaves - designs and patterns

This post contains Amazon affiliate links

I've been trying to come up with some good designs for Hama bead Autumn leaves for a while now, and I've always found it really difficult! After sorting out all my Hama beads recently I found that I had lots of Autumnal colours with lots of different shades of brown, orange and red, and so I decided that I would have another go and attempt to make some seasonal Hama bead Autumn leaves to decorate my home now that the weather is turning cooler!

Hama bead Autumn leaves

Here is the pattern for the four Autumn leaf designs that I came up with. 

Hama bead Autumn leaves design and pattern to print

I used a variety of different coloured beads for the leaves, based on what I had in my stash. I tried to think about using darker beads for the base of the leaf and moving to lighter ones as I worked my way up, but the arrangement of the beads was pretty random! It was a great way to use up some of colours where I only had a small amount left. 

I used a square Hama bead pegboard and didn't over iron the beads. If you are new to Hama beads or want some extra guidance you might find this post helpful - Ironing tips for Hama beads

I've not decided yet how to display them. I'm thinking about hanging them from some long string and attaching them to suction hooks on the window. I also thought about making a few more and attaching them together for form an Autumn wreath - something like this Hama bead flower wreath. You could also attach them to sticks as a plant pot decoration, string them together to make bunting, add a magnet or keyring...lots of possibilities!

If you are looking for some more Autumn inspired Hama bead crafts then do take a look at these:

Autumn leaf Hama bead coasters

Autumn Hama bead battery tea light holders

You can find all my Hama bead crafts here - Hama bead craft ideas and projects

Below are some products that you might find useful for this craft (affiliate links):

Wednesday, 20 September 2023

Journal prompts for bloggers

I love writing in my journal, and even though I don't write every day I find that it's a really good way of putting my thoughts in order. I like to write about what I've been doing, things that I've learned or researched, things that I want to do and just random thoughts about various aspects of my life.

I often find myself writing about things that have interested me or caught my attention that have later made it into a blog post. I thought I'd have a think about how keeping a journal has been helpful for me when it comes to writing my blog.

I've put together some journal prompts for bloggers, both for myself and to share. I think that they fall into two different categories - firstly journal prompts which are for your own private thoughts and secondly journal prompts that help you to explore ideas, spark creativity, and which may become useful when writing future posts.

Journal prompts for private reflection

Why did you start your blog? For me it was to share photographs and updates of the children with the wider family, but it quickly moved on from there.

Why did you continue blogging, what was your motivation? 

How has the look and feel of your blog changed over time?

What have you gained from blogging? Maybe online companionship or paid work.

What has blogging taught you? For example confidence in using social media, writing skills, how to edit HTML, photo taking and editing.

What challenges have you had while blogging?

What are your favourite topics to blog about and why do you enjoy writing about them?

What puts you into a blogging mood?

What gives you ideas for blog posts?

What are your blogging goals? Some ideas - to post more frequently, to update older posts, to improve photography, to improve sharing on social media.

Are you happy with your blog? What would you like to change?

Open notebook in front of a laptop
Photo credit Jodie Cook via Unsplash

Journal prompts to inspire blogging

What have been your favourite blog posts to write and why? Are there any that could be updated or rewritten with a new perspective?

What subjects do you most enjoy writing about?

What have you never written about? What would you like to write about?

If you've been blogging for a long time, how has your life changed since you started? What new direction could you take the blog in based on new interests, surroundings or family situation?

What advice do you have for someone that is thinking of starting a blog? What blogging tips and tricks would you share?

What would you like to change about your blog?

How would you love your blog to look? Think about posting frequency, structure, images, design, colour scheme and so on.

If you are looking for inspiration when it comes to writing blog posts then you may find this post useful - an entire year of blog post ideas and inspiration.

Tuesday, 19 September 2023

Back to School with Mansur Gavriel: Backpacks and Pencil Bags and Wallets, Oh My!

This is a collaborative post

The story behind Mansur Gavriel 

Floriana Gavriel and Rachel Mansur are the founders of the luxurious fashion brand we know of today as Mansur Gavriel. They first met in 2010 at a concert in Los Angeles, and instantly clicked due to their shared hobbies. Floriana graduated from the Rhode Island School Of Design, while Rachel got her degree in textiles from the University of Bremen in Germany.

The two effortlessly fashionable women realized that they had a lot in common. Their shared aesthetic and educational backgrounds also helped them identify the gaps in the market for affordable and quality handbags. 

They immediately decided to work on a project together after visiting each other in Germany and LA. Their shared vision for an affordable yet luxurious line led to the creation of the brand we know today.

Woman wearing leather tote back in the forest
Photo credit Corinne Kutz via Unsplash

Goals of the brand, and Bucket Bag catches widespread notoriety

The goal of the brand was to create a season less handbag that would last for years. To achieve this, they used high-quality leather from Italy. Their inspiration for the interior of the bags was derived from Rachel’s barn in Santa Monica, where they experimented with different colours.

The company’s founders experimented with a variety of techniques to create the perfect bond between the two layers of leather in the bags. After two years of working on the project, they produced their first samples in New York and LA. They then booked a booth at a New York trade show in February 2013, where they met a few local retailers.

The most significant moment for the brand came when Floriana met Steven Alan, a fashion designer based in New York. After seeing the line, he became one of its first customers.

The debut of the Mansur Gavriel line in June 2013 caught the attention of various industry influencers. The Bucket Bag was quickly becoming a crowd favourite, partially in thanks to Garance DorΓ©, a popular fashion blogger. In September that year, the bag became the "it bag" of New York Fashion Week. Due to the overwhelming demand for the limited-edition version, the company could not keep up with the demand.

The demand for the Bucket Bag continued to grow, and within the next couple of years, it became the most sought-after bag in the world, with each batch selling out consistently.

Due to the strong demand and the continuous positive feedback from customers, the company was able to secure an initial deposit from a number of retailers for their wholesale orders. This was an unprecedented opportunity for the brand, as it allowed them to directly benefit from the sales.

This approach can be risky due to the unpredictable nature of the fashion industry, as the next delivery window may coincide with the production of the previous one, which can result in significant capital expenditures. Moreover, there may be a period of time between when the order is placed and when the goods are finally delivered.

Even though the wholesaler has received the goods, they may refuse to pay or go out of business. By securing deposits upfront, Mansur Gavriel was able to pay for production in advance, allowing the company to invest in its brand and grow its sales.

In 2019, the company sold a majority stake to a private equity firm known as GF Capital Management. This investment could allow the company to expand its e-commerce business and establish more brick and mortar locations. Both Floriana and Rachel have remained shareholders and creative directors of the company. The fashion community is now waiting to see what will happen to the brand in the future.

What products can you find by Mansur Gavriel?

Since its inception in 2013, Mansur Gavriel's product line has grown significantly. The company's early silhouettes are characterized by various materials and sizes. Their signature bucket bag, on the other hand, has been updated with contemporary twists.

The company's accessory line has been expanded to include different types of products, such as designer bags, wallets, and crossbody purses. It also focuses on the luxury footwear industry, with some of our favourite ankle boots, flats, and heels featured in their collection.

The company's goal is to create a product that's both sustainable and affordable. It prioritizes ethical and high-quality manufacturing techniques and materials. Even though their products have been flying off the shelves due to the overwhelming demand, they were not willing to compromise in order to meet it.

The company's vision was to create a product line that's both functional and beautiful. Through their careful attention to detail, they were able to create a variety of unique and beautiful accessories. Their vision included a colour-blocking process that's only possible in a country with such a rich history of artisanal craftsmanship.

All of the materials and products made by Mansur Gavriel are sourced from Italy. While meeting their high standards for style and quality, they are also supporting local family-owned businesses.

The company is constantly looking for new and sustainable solutions. Its packaging is made from recyclable materials, and it only uses vegetable-based ink for its boxes. In addition, they're committed to reducing waste and maximizing the use of materials through various initiatives.

One of the company's most beautiful examples of this is their use of leather trimmings. Their products are both timelessly elegant and eco-friendly.

The company's bags are known for their attention to detail and are designed in New York. Their carefully crafted silhouettes are ideal for modern women, allowing them to carry their essential devices such as an iPhone or a laptop. While their designs are thought-provoking and forward-thinking, they are also made using high-quality materials and traditional techniques in Italy.

Woman holding leather tote bag in forest
Photo credit Corinne Kutz via Unsplash

Backpacks by Mansur Gavriel 

With the summer season coming to an end and fall soon approaching, the smell of school spirit is in the air. In need of a new backpack to carry everything this upcoming school year? Mansur Gavriel has a variety of high quality options for students of all ages.

Mansur Gavriel's luxury backpacks are made with supple Italian leather and a beautiful mix of colours. Their spacious interior and sleek design are just as stunning as their exterior.

These fashionable women's backpacks are ideal for everyday use. They feature a spacious interior and a variety of features, such as adjustable shoulder straps and a built-in zipper pocket. The design of these bags is timeless and will keep you organized and comfortable.

Mansur Gavriel backpack styles 

Soft Lady Bag 

The Lady Bag is a must-have for anyone's closet, no matter your preferred style. This timeless design of this bag is made from soft calfskin leather, along with interior pockets and a luxurious suede lining.

Champagne Bucket Bag

The Champagne Bucket bag is a bit more slim and functional than the original bucket bag by Mansur Gavriel. It features a sleek design and a convenient pull-out side zipper, with a rounded base and adjustable buckle strap that makes it easy to carry all of your items.

Large Tote Bag 

The Large version of the classic canvas tote by Mansur Gavriel features a spacious interior and a minimalist design. It can hold all the way up to a 16” laptop, and easy to fit lots of items right beside each other. Its detachable pouch also keeps you organized while you're on the go.

Mini Bucket Bag 

This smaller version of the classic Bucket Bag retains its classic look and feel in a more compact form, making it an ideal choice for people who don't carry many items. This bag is made from textured Italian leather and features a simple cinch closure and adjustable crossbody strap.

Classic Pencil Bag by Mansur Gavriel 

This pencil bag from Mansur Gavriel features a sleek design and a small size, which makes it ideal for carrying all of your light necessities such as your wallet. Its premium Italian construction will last you for many years.

When shopping for backpacks, pencil bags, and more by Mansur Gavriel, one of the best places you can shop to ensure the legitimacy of the products you purchase is through Mansur Gavriel’s main website. You can also check out other authorized retailers like Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale's, along with Shopbop, which has some of the best deals you can find on a variety of accomplished luxury brands. 

Woman sitting by canal wearing leather backpack
Photo credit Karsten Winegear via Unsplash

Monday, 18 September 2023

Visiting Anne Frank's House in Amsterdam

On our recent visit to Amsterdam we had a really interesting and informative visit to the Anne Frank House. You can find out more about Anne Frank here - Who was Anne Frank. A visit to the Anne Frank House gives you the opportunity to visit the actual rooms of the Secret Annex where Anne went into hiding with her family and others, as well as being the home of a large museum and other exhibitions. 

We visited the house probably around twenty years ago, and things have changed a lot during that time! So I thought I'd share some information in case you are planning a visit, something which I would absolutely recommend if you find yourself in Amsterdam.

The most important thing to know about a visit is that you must buy tickets in advance. I'm pretty sure that it would impossible to turn up on the day and be able to visit. Be very careful if you book a local tour that includes a visit to Anne Frank's House - you will almost certainly find that it doesn't include actual entry into the house. 

Tickets are currently released for sale six weeks beforehand on a Tuesday at 10am CEST. They are only available through the official website and must be purchased for a specific time slot. You can find all the information here - Anne Frank House. There are two types of ticket available - Museum Visit and a Museum Visit with a 30 minute introduction in English.

I was very keen to get tickets and knowing that we were visiting in the summer holidays on the same day as several cruise ships were in port I checked out the website for a few weeks before we actually needed to buy the tickets. 

I was interested in Museum Visit only tickets for a visit in the middle of August, and from discussion in our cruise group, tickets with the introduction sold out within minutes. By quarter past many time slots were full, but because each slot is only 15 minutes there were still plenty of tickets available for several hours after opening. By the end of the day most of the daytime slots for that week had gone, but a couple of days later there were still some evening and weekend slots available. 

I noticed that when the ticket slots opened up for the six week ahead mark there were also extra tickets released for dates which were previously fully booked. It's worth checking nearer the time if you miss out, and if you are visiting out of the main summer season and are flexible with your times you may be able to get away with booking a week or two in advance.

Anne Frank House steep staircase leading up

The entry time was very strict, and there was a queuing system outside while you waited for your slot to open. The ticket conditions make it very clear that there are no refunds and the purchaser must be with you at time of entry. You can't take bags but there is a free cloakroom, and the ticket price includes an excellent audio guide. The Secret Annex and the older part of the museum are unfortunately not accessible for wheelchairs, pushchairs or people with limited mobility as there are some incredibly steep staircases.

Your visit starts in the house next door, with an excellent introduction to the history of the building, the family and others who went into hiding, their helpers, and how the family managed to remain in hiding for so long. It also covers the fates of everyone involved once they were discovered. I found that it was pitched perfectly both to people who know Anne's story well and to those who are unfamiliar and want to learn more. The audio guide is really well paced and keeps people moving along. There are also lots of videos to watch which are on a loop so you can jump in at any point. 

Then you enter the Secret Annex itself, passing by the bookcase which concealed the entrance still in place. The rooms are unfurnished, but there are photographs in each room showing how they would have looked when occupied. There are also some family possessions on display. In Anne's room you can see the pictures which she glued onto the walls, and there are pencil markings which show Anne and her sister Margot's heights as they grew while in hiding. The rooms are small and would have been crowded when occupied, but at the same time it's astonishing just how much space there was hidden away. You can spend as long as you like looking around. 

Bookcase at entrance to the Secret Annex in Anne Frank's House

After visiting the Secret Annex there are more exhibitions to see. The main draw here is Anne Frank's original diary and some of her other notebooks. There is also a model of the Secret Annex - the photo below shows the bookcase entrance at the bottom and the steep steps leading upwards. This really helps to understand how all the rooms are arranged, as it can be a bit confusing when you are inside. 

Model of the Secret Annex at Anne Frank's house

I think that Anne Frank's house is one of the must-see attractions if you are visiting Amsterdam. I'd been wanting to share the experience with my children for a long time, and so I'm really glad that we had the opportunity to do so. I hope that this helps if you are planning a visit!
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