Monday, 18 October 2021

My latest obsession - charity shop book buying

I'm an avid reader, but for a long time I've been practising minimalism when it comes to my books. A few years ago I got rid of many of my physical books and started to buy books for my Kindle instead. When I did buy an actual book I would pass it on when I'd finished with it, and over the last year or two I've been a frequent visitor to the local library. 

But a few months ago something changed. Perhaps because during lockdown I got used to reading physical books from the library, and although most of them were enough to keep me entertained over one reading, some of them were ones that I knew I would want to read again. I've also been chatting to a friend who told me how much she enjoys roaming around the local charity shops and coming home with bags of books.

During the summer holiday I took Mia for a shopping trip to our nearest large village. Along with a quick stop in the café and a visit to the toy shop we discovered five charity shops. I was delighted to find a great selection of books to come home with - a few that I had already read and wanted to read again, some new to me but by a familiar author, and some that I had heard of and wanted to read.

From that moment on I was hooked. I've found that around here the going rate in a smaller charity shop is £1 for a paperback, rising to £1.99 in larger shops like Oxfam. I've found several areas nearby where I can visit five or six shops within a few minutes walk, and if I have a child with me I always come back with more because they help to persuade me that I really need a particular book.

Many of the books that I'm buying are ones that I've already read and enjoyed. I also have a wish list in my head - I couldn't write it out from memory but if I see a particular book on the shelf I will know that it's one I'm after. It's all going a long way to filling up my new bookcases!

A photo of the books on my fiction bookshelf

I'd love to hear about your charity shop book bargains and any tips that you might have for second hand book buying!

Thursday, 14 October 2021

The rise of the fidget toy in our house

Do you remember when your young children were toddlers, and you couldn't leave the house without a bag full of brightly coloured plastic teething toys to keep them entertained? Well I've recently discovered that even when they grow up and turn into tweens they still want to carry about a heap of plastic bendy and stretchy toys, even though these have now been rebranded under the more grown up term 'fidget toys'.

Pile of fidget toys for children

I first became aware of the fidget toy 'Popits' when I spotted references on social media and blogs back in the spring. I could see the appeal and I thought that my children would enjoy them, so we chose them each a small square Popit which they were delighted with. This was enough for the oldest, he enjoys to pop it from time to time and that's enough for him.

But for the ten year old? Well it marked the start of an obsession. She soon discovered that Popits were available in a range of different colours, sizes and shapes. Not only that, when searching for them on  Amazon it opened up a whole new world of different fidget toys - squishy ones, stretchy ones, wire ones, hard ones, soft ones...there is endless choice. She even plays a game on Roblox where she collects, swaps and pops virtual Popits with her friends.

As well as the multitude found online they can also be spotted for cheap on local market stalls and are readily available in all toy shops. I must confess that after seeing how satisfying it was to pop them I bought myself a small one to keep my hands busy while I'm thinking. We've given them to younger relatives that have loved them, and have been kept occupied with them for much longer than many other toys.

I'm a sucker for giving in to my children when it comes to keeping up with the latest crazes that hit the playground. At least these days they are able to spend some of their own money, and I like to think that it teaches them a little bit about budgeting and shopping around to get the best deals. Normally these crazes are short lived, but I can't see this latest obsession coming to an end any time soon!

Monday, 11 October 2021

Book review - The Sailing Days of Bianca Drake by Louise McGee

 I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review. Contains Amazon affiliate link.

We love cruising as a family, and as well as all the things to enjoy on board I also enjoy speculating about what life must be like for all the people that are busy working away in the background. So I loved the sound of this new book - The Sailing Days Of Bianca Drake (affiliate link) - a semi-autobiographical novel based on the real adventures of the author who spent six years at sea as a crew member on a luxury cruise ship. 

Here's the blurb:

Twenty-three year old Bianca Drake is about to embark on the biggest adventure of her young life, leaving home for the very first time and joining the crew of the 'Lady Anne' as she sets off for a six month cruise around the world. Bianca's whistle-stop tour of the seven seas does not go entirely smoothly as she tries to balance the unreasonable demands of her new boss Cynthia with a bit of adventure of her own.'

I really enjoyed this book. It was a light, fun read and a fascinating account of life behind the scenes on a cruise ship. The main character Bianca doesn't seem to have much idea of what working on a cruise ship will entail in terms of accommodation or life on board, but she copes admirably with everything that is thrown at her, even if it does take her a little while to find her feet.

I loved reading about all the places around the world that Bianca visits, although her experiences in port are a little different to those of a tourist like me! And it was really interesting to learn about the mistakes that crew members can make that can get them into a lot of trouble - they have to abide by some very strict rules and there are severe consequences if they make a mistake.

This book confirmed my suspicions that despite the long hours there is also a very enjoyable side to working on a cruise ship, and I'd recommend this book whether you are a cruiser or not. It's a light-hearted and funny read with a glimpse of into life that many people have wondered about. 

The Sailing Days of Bianca Drake book review

Friday, 17 September 2021

My new bookcases

For a very long time I've wanted bookshelves in our living room. The room has always been very minimalist, with bare painted walls, which I do like but I felt that it wasn't very cosy. Ram is very into his home cinema, and so the living room also has to work around his speaker set up. 

A few weeks ago he decided that his speakers needed an upgrade, and much research was conducted into buying a new system. I wanted some nice small speakers on the walls with as few wires as possible, but he talked me round and we ended up with new freestanding speakers that are rather larger than I really would have liked.

So as a compromise we agreed that we would install some bookshelves in the corner of the room and last week the Ikea delivery van brought us two new Billy bookcases!

Ikea Billy bookshelves in living room
Previously I had all my books on an ancient Billy bookcase in my study, as well as an overflow in one of our top rooms. I've always been quite good at passing on books when I've finished with them, so despite being a prolific reader I don't feel that I own that many books. But recently I've been on a few book buying sprees, and I'm enjoying having access to some of the books that I've read in the past and really enjoyed, so I want to make sure that I have room for expansion.

I had a lovely time setting up my new bookshelves, I have different areas for older books, fiction paperbacks (in alphabetical order of course), fiction hardback, non-fiction in different categories like organisation, wellbeing, language and linguistics and travel, as well as a section for the sheet music that was overflowing from the box next to the piano. The majority of my books are now stored here, I've just kept a rainbow shelf of Ladybird books and a few battered children's books in my study.

As you can see there is plenty of space to add new books, and with the freed up space on the old bookshelves in my study I'm hoping that I'm sorted for many years to come. I think that it makes the room look so much more homely and I love sitting on the sofa and admiring my book collection!

Ikea Billy bookshelves in oak

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Five party planning essentials

No matter what occasion, size, or scope you are planning your next party for, there are a few universal things that you will need to think about. There are some elements that every party will need, whether a birthday party, baby shower or christening, to name but a few, such as a theme, budget, and a guest list. Read on for a list of party planning essentials.


The first step to planning any party is doing some research and brainstorming. There are several elements that need to be nailed down before any more planning can be done. The theme affects almost every other aspect of the planning, which is why it needs to be decided on first.  The budget and venue choice will also inform how much you can do with your theme, so you should bear this in mind and come up with a few options before you decide which one is the most feasible. 

Guest List

After those initial details are out of the way, you can begin to think about the guest list. The size of the venue and the occasion behind the party will largely dictate how many people you can and should invite. When creating the guest list, consider whether or not all of the different groups of people invited will mesh well. For example, does everyone invited know at least one or two other people in attendance apart from the host? Once the guest list is sorted, it is time for the invites; they need to be sent with enough notice so that the guests can make sure that they are free. You may also want to consider using a service like Greenvelope, which you can use to send out email invites, and they have a number of other features, including RSVP tracking, messaging and survey questions.

Party cupcakes with roses
Photo credit The Digital Marketing Collaboration

Food & Drink

The food and drink offerings are incredibly important when planning a party. Ideally, you want to try and remain within the theme if you can. If you are planning on making the food yourself, then you ought to come up with some food items that you can make ahead of time to save you some time on the morning of the party. The next thing to consider is how the food is going to be served; most of the time, a buffet is the easiest and often the cheapest option too. However, if you go with a buffet, you’ll need to source some chafing dishes or otherwise work out what the food will be served on and what your guests are going to eat off of. Depending on the size of the party, you could use real dishware, or if the party is going to be a little bigger, then perhaps paper or plastic would be better as it requires less clean up and less effort to put out.

The Decorations

Once you have all the other factors in place, it is time to start thinking about how you are going to set the mood and decorate for your theme. Of course, the decorations will depend on your venue and your budget too. Things like banners or balloons can fit almost every occasion. You may also want to think about your playlist ahead of time to reduce the stress of changing the music while the party is in full swing. It is incredibly easy to create a playlist on something like Spotify or Apple music. Lighting is also important; if you are going for more of an intimate vibe, then maybe you want to go for softer lighting and candles, or if you are going for more of a party vibe, then disco lights could also be a good option. 

Party helium balloons
Photo credit Adi Goldstein


Entertainment can mean different things; for a child’s party, you may want to hire an entertainer. For a wedding reception, you may want a DJ, or for something like a baby shower, you might just want to put on a few games and activities. If you are going to book a professional, you should read the reviews first and make sure you have done the research to ensure that they are right for your party. You also need to keep in mind that professional entertainers are often booked up for months in advance. If you are putting on the entertainment yourself, then planning is essential to know what you need to buy for what activity. 

In Conclusion

Using this formula all but guarantees success for every party that you throw. Having a plan in place also ensures that you and your guests will have a good time at the party too. Finally, during your party, you may also want to make a few observations, such as if any of the food was leftover or if there were anything that your guests did not enjoy. This can then help you when you are planning your next party. 

This is a collaborative post.

Monday, 13 September 2021

The National Railway Museum, York

On our recent trip to York we spent a fantastic morning at the National Railway Museum.

The National Railway Museum, York - a family visit

The museum is free to visit, but tickets do need to be booked in advance on the website here - National Railway Museum. We had no problem booking tickets a week or so in advance, and I did notice that there were walk in tickets available when we arrived first thing.

We visited in late August 2021 when most covid restrictions had been lifted, although it was still requested to wear a facemask. Restrictions still in place did mean that it wasn't possible to go onboard and explore any of the trains that are on display, so if that's important to you then it's worth checking the current status before you visit. We visited with our two children aged 10 and 12 as well as some younger cousins. 

Your visit starts in the Station Hall and the main attraction here are the royal trains and carriages, it's fascinating to look through the windows and see how they were furnished for different royals. 

The National Rail Museum York, train travel posters

We treated the children to a ride on the miniature railway which cost £3 each for a short ride around the track. There are a limited number of tickets which need to be purchased once you arrive at the museum, so make sure you that buy these first if you want to ride! They enjoyed the trip, and there were lots of different things for them to spot along their journey.

York Railway Museum small train ride outside

One of the star attractions at the museum is Stephenson's original Rocket, not the first steam engine but one of the most significant and a huge part of railway history. Having read about it in many of his books, Harry was thrilled to see it in real life, and kept going back to have another look!

Stephenson's Rocket at the National Railway Museum, York

The largest area of the museum is the Great Hall where you can see many, many different trains displayed around an original turntable. There's a Eurostar train, a Japanese bullet train and lots more  remarkable and historical trains. There is plenty of information to tell you all about them, and you can climb up to see them from above. I'm also pretty sure that the collections change every now and then, so there is often something new to see if you are lucky enough to live nearby.

At the side of the Great Hall there's a small model railway which the little ones loved. At any one time there is at least one train running and you can also see into the control box with lots of interesting buttons. There's also the Ambulance Train, which is the one train that you are currently allowed to step inside, and a tunnel where you can walk under a train and see what goes on underneath.

National Railway Museum York turntable

Finally, probably my favourite area at the museum was the Collections Store in the North Shed. It's basically a huge storeroom filled with all sorts of railway history in the form of memorabilia, signs, models, train service tableware, various items of furniture, vending machines - all sorts of fascinating things to browse through! Apparently there's a Platform 9 3/4 sign from Harry Potter in there somewhere, although we didn't find it. We did find this sign though - it's always nice to see something from home when you are far away!

Local train signs at the National Railway Museum in York

We realised that we weren't going to be home in time for lunch so we had something to eat at the Station Hall Café. There was a good selection of food available, with sandwiches and wraps, as well as picnic boxes for the children, and a large table for us all to eat together. There's a second café in the Great Hall which also looked good (and the staff told us that they had the best cakes!)

We spent about three hours here, and some of us could easily have spent longer! Personally I could have spent ages browsing through the bits and pieces in the North Shed and Harry loved seeing all the different trains up close. If you are visiting York I'd definitely recommend a visit. 

You can find more information here - National Railway Museum

The National Railway Museum in York for families

Thursday, 9 September 2021

My in progress craft project - a cross stitch map of places that I've visited

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

I thought that I would share an update on my very long-term craft project - a cross stitch map showing all the places in the world that I've been lucky enough to travel to. I've had this kit for many years but it is still available to purchase, you can buy the one that I have here - Cross Stitch Map - and it is also available as a mini version.

It's basically just a piece of stiff cross stitch fabric with a wooden frame at the top and bottom and a hanging loop. The map is printed onto the fabric so it doesn't follow the squares exactly, so when it comes to stitching around the edges of countries you have to do a bit of fiddling with half and quarter stitches to make it look right. It comes with a very small amount of embroidery thread but nowhere near enough to stitch all the countries - I used up all the green thread just stitching Australia. Luckily I have a huge stash of thread to work through!

Suck UK cross stitch map in progress

I like to think that I'm fairly well travelled, but when I had stitched on all the countries that I've visited it still looked rather blank and boring, so I decided to fill in the background of the map with small images to represent different countries, along with different shades of blue for the sea.

This turned out to be a larger undertaking than I expected, hence why it has turned into a very long term craft project! I'm currently working on boxing in the outlines of the countries, like you can see here around the coast of America, and leaving gaps for different pictures that I've not designed yet.

Cross stitch personal travel map

I think I have a few years of work left on this project, but at least I can hang it up and enjoy it while I'm still working on it! I have a big long list of ideas for more mini images which I'm looking forward to working on once I have more of an idea of the spaces that I'll have left.

Stay tuned for further updates, and maybe one day I'll actually be able to share a photo of the completed project!

Cross stitch map personal travel in detail

I have made some of the designs on my cross stitch map available as free patterns - have a look at the links below!

Free Disney style castle cross stitch pattern

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