Friday 12 July 2024

Our hedgehogs are back!

A couple of years ago we bought a hedgehog house which we placed in our back garden. We were thrilled when the hedgehogs started visiting, and loved watching them on our cameras. But then they suddenly deserted us! We stopped putting out food, and forgot to keep the house clean over the winter.

We have some garden work planned in the next few weeks in the area of the house, and which will also remove one of the entrances to our back garden which we know that hedgehogs sometimes use. So I took the house and gave it a good clean out, filled it with clean straw, and we relocated it to our front garden, tucked away close to our large hedge.

We bought more hedgehog food, set it out along with some water, and to our delight that very same evening we had a hedgehog visitor! I think that they can access our front garden more easily, and it's a very quiet road with minimal traffic at night so they should be quite safe. 

Hedgehog house in the garden by the hedge

I learned early on that I needed to wait until it was dark before I put the food out. One evening around 7pm I put out some food, and the moment that I shut the door the seagull swooped down and gobbled the lot - it must have been watching me! Then every morning a hopeful magpie appears to eat up any food that has been left. I've been putting the food out about 9.30pm, and the hedgehog is currently arriving at almost exactly the same time each night - just before 10pm.

I'm not a hedgehog expert but it looks like the same hedgehog that is our most frequent visitor. It has stayed overnight in the house once, but usually it just wanders about, coming back to the food bowl multiple times until about 3am. One night we even had two hedgehogs which was exciting.

Two hedgehogs in the garden on camera

Most evenings I check in just before I go to bed and there is usually a hedgehog snuffling about that I can watch on the live camera view. We can't see them from the windows because it's so dark, so it's really nice to have the camera to know that they've been there. I'm so glad that we've enticed them back!

Finally I can't resist sharing this photo of the pot by our front door, I think it's lovely! It's just some bedding plants that I bought a few weeks ago, and they have come out in such lovely colours.

Flowers in a pot by the front door

Thursday 11 July 2024

The ultimate Nelson to Queenstown road trip to do before you die

If you ever visit the South Island of New Zealand, one road trip you simply MUST do is the drive between Nelson and Queenstown. Taking you from the very northern part of Te Waipounamu, along much of its spectacular west coast, you’ll eventually land at the island's star attraction, within the guts of its lower section. The drive covers over 800 km and will take you about 10.5 hours to complete nonstop. But there is no fun in that! Instead, we recommend taking your time and savouring the journey for at least six days. In fact, the more time you can spare, the better!

Car Hire

To make this trip, you’ll obviously need a car, and if you have travelled from overseas or the North Island without one, you will have to hire a vehicle. Luckily there are plenty of operators in Nelson (or Queenstown, if you want to do the journey backwards) that offer one way car hire New Zealand rentals.

It’s a good idea to hire a 4WD vehicle, especially if you are attempting a road trip. This will enable you to navigate roads that might be affected by snow more easily.

6-Day Itinerary

If you have six days to spare and want to drive from Nelson to Queenstown, here is a terrific itinerary.

Road towards Queenstown, New Zealand
Photo credit Patrick McGregor via Unsplash

Day 1 - Nelson to Marahau (59 km distance - 1 hour driving time)

Once you’ve got your car, you should leave Nelson and head to the lovely town of Marahau.

Meaning ‘windy garden’ in the Māori language, crops were believed to have been grown here well before the European settlers arrived.

Today, it is best known for its lovely beach and for being the gateway to the wonderful Abel Tasman National Park, where you should spend the rest of the day exploring.

When you get hungry, head on over to Mapua for a meal at The Boat Shed Café. You can enjoy delicious seafood while taking in superb views of the Waimea Estuary. 

Day 2 - From Marahau to Westport (240 km distance, 3.5 hours driving time)

You might want to spend a bit of time on the morning of day two hiking and kayaking through the national park or relaxing on one of its golden beaches.

However, when the mood takes you to move on, you should make your way down the scenic West Coast towards Westport.

If you have a penchant for thrill-seeking, stop off at the Buller Gorge Swingbridge to enjoy a goosebump-inducing jet boat ride along Buller Canyon. Additionally, you might also want to traverse the swing bridge over the Buller River, which just happens to be the longest in Aotearoa. 

Westport is the oldest European settlement on the West Coast and boasts a rich coal mining history, which you can discover more about at its Coaltown Museum.

Day 3 - Westport to Hokitika (139 km distance, 2 hours driving time)

On leaving Westport, your next overnight stop should be in Hokitika. However, before you get there, make sure you check out Punakaiki, where you can witness the iconic Pancake Rocks and the incredible blowholes.

A little further down the road, you might also want to see the fur seals at Cape Foulwind, which you can do by strolling along a scenic coastal pathway. Have your cameras at the ready!

Day 4 - Hokitika to Franz Josef (134 km distance, 1¾ hours driving time)

If you arrived too late to do so the previous day, you should visit the Hokitika Gorge. There, you will be able to walk through a bosky forest to a scenic viewing platform that showcases stunning views of the turquoise waters.

Having seen that, carry on south towards Lake Matheson, which is situated near the Franz Josef township.

If it's a calm day, you’ll be able to see the Southern Alps reflecting magnificently on the water, which creates a breath taking image that will bring a lump to your throat. 

Day 5 - Franz Josef to Wanaka (284 km distance, 4 hours driving time)

You should explore the magnificent Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers either via a scenic flight or by hiking your way through them. Try to start early to see them at first light.

As you continue along the West Coast, be sure to detour over Haast Pass. Here, you can enjoy the sight of the fabulous Blue Pools, known for their pristine landscape and translucent waters.

Finish your day by arriving in Wanaka in time for dinner at Big Fig, which offers a delectable menu of Middle-Eastern-inspired dishes. 

Queenstown, New Zealand
Photo credit Omer Faruk Bekdemir via Unsplash

Day 6 - Wanaka to Queenstown (68.5 km, 1¼ hours driving time)

It is worth waking up early in Wanaka to hike up Mount Iron, which will reward your efforts with superb views of the surrounding landscape.

If you don’t fancy doing that, you can always indulge in some water sports at Lake Wanaka.

When you are ready to leave, go over the Crown Range to historic Arrowtown, where you can try to uncover a nugget while gold panning.

Once you get to Queenstown, here are some of the main things to do there.

Wednesday 3 July 2024

The usual end of term anxiety

It's the last week of term, and I'm really looking forward to the summer holidays. But I always find the countdown stressful, even though now that the children are older there are fewer things to worry about (no more sports day! not quite so much new uniform to buy!) But the children are on edge, with worries about new classes for next year and keeping in touch with friends over the summer, and my husband is away for a little longer than usual this week which sometimes leaves me unsettled. I'm finding myself constantly repeating 'we just need to get these last few days over with'!

I'm clinging on to the last few days of my routine before everything changes for a couple of months. I always find it harder to get out for an early run when I'm not forced out of bed to get everyone ready for school. I know that the housework will fall by the wayside, and it will feel as though I'm spending most of my time preparing food and clearing up afterwards. I'm hoping to sneak out for a couple of hours every week to continue my volunteering work - I'm really enjoying being part of a team of local people that get out and about making the flowerbeds around the village look lovely. I'm learning a lot, and it's given me some confidence to make more of my own garden.

Communal flower bed planted by volunteers

I'm really hoping that the weather improves a little over the holidays. I've been working on making my secluded vegetable patch into a little sanctuary, and yesterday I installed one of our garden chairs so that I can sit and hide around the corner and listen to the bees buzzing. But it just hasn't been warm enough to sit outside!

Secluded vegetable patch with lavender bush

We don't have very much planned over the summer holidays but we always seem to keep busy. There are people to keep in touch with, and the children enjoy peaceful time at home to work on their own projects without the pressure of homework and early starts. I'm intending to have a clear out in the kids rooms - we have lots of books that have been outgrown and toys that are no longer played with. I love a break from the school run and the packed lunches, and the long evenings are perfect for a walk around the village or sitting out in the garden.

If you have little ones in school I hope that the countdown to the summer holidays goes well!

Tuesday 2 July 2024

Vintage San Francisco: Retro Shops and Experiences in the City

This is a collaborative post

As the saying goes, ‘Old is gold.’ If you are the type of person who loves vintage items, this collated list of retro shops and vintage experiences in San Francisco is a treat for you. This is one remarkable way of uncovering the city’s culture and hidden gems. If you are coming from San Francisco airport, take your rental car from SFO to some of these vintage spots and travel back in time. You can choose to visit some antique shops, vintage diners, historic theatres, or flea markets selling some of the most unique and classic items you’ll ever find on your trip. 

Decades of Fashion

This shop is located at 1653 Haight Street. The place is about 13-15 miles from San Francisco airport and it will take you at least 20-30 minutes to reach this vintage spot. From the name of the store itself, you would already have an idea that it is a vintage clothing store. Do you wish to experience some dress dating back to the Victorian era? If so, this is the right place to go. In addition, you can also find accessories to go along with the dress. Vintage aficionados would visit this shop to look for rare collectible items from the 1920s up to the 1980s. Stepping into this store is like travelling back in time.

Haight - Ashbury  

If you went to the Decades of Fashion store, you might as well take time to discover the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood. This is where you can find some historic lovers roaming around the area. There are plenty of bookstores, clothing and tattoo shops, eclectic bars, and restaurants around Upper Haight Street. There are also Victorian homes that were preserved over time around the neighbourhood bordering Golden Gate Park. History shows that this area is famous for revolutionary movements, especially during the 1960s. Haight-Ashbury made its name as the centre of the hippies movement back in the day. It’s a place of diverse culture, flamboyant vibe, and modern classics. 

The Alemany Flea Market

Take your Avis Car Rental and head to the Alemany Flea Market. This spot is a short drive from the airport. In less than 15 minutes, you’ll reach this place. If you are looking for some one-of-a-kind items to add to your home decorations, then this market should be on your checklist. This place is located around the Bernal Heights neighbourhood. There are plenty of items you can choose from such as vintage jewellery, home décor, or even furniture. There is a certain upbeat vibe in the place and it's great to spend a few hours visiting in between shops. 


This is another store you can check out for retro furniture, clothes, artwork, and home décor. It’s located at 1545 Pacific Avenue and about a 30 minute drive from the airport. Are you collecting vinyl records? Check out the collection of records they have at this shop. It supports 60+ shops so there’s always something to offer for everyone looking for unique things.

There are several other antique shops you can visit such as S16 Home and the Gaslight and Shadows Antique which is located at 2335 Clement Street, Past Perfect located at 6101Geary Boulevard. The Antique and Art Exchange is also a must-visit. It is located at 151 Vermont Street Suite 4. Some other shops are Golden Age Vintage, De Angelis, Grand Central Station Antiques, Brand X Antiques, Reperch, and No Shop. 

Vintage vinyl for sale
Photo credit Oleg Ivanov via Unsplash

Lori’s Diner  

Visiting these shops could be trying, and if you are looking for a restaurant with a quintessential vibe, make your way to Lori’s Diner. It will take you back to the 1950s and you can order their famous burgers and milkshakes. Enjoy the vintage vibe while you immerse yourself in unique memorabilia decorated around the diner. Lori’s Diner is just 20 minutes drive away from the airport. 

Red Java House 

This is another spot with a vintage vibe where you can eat. This place is located at Pier 30. It will take you about 10-15 minutes from San Francisco airport to get to this place. This is where you can also enjoy delicious burgers, hotdogs, and fries while looking at the view of the Bay Bridge. They have been serving their customers since the 1950s. 

Castro Theater

If you wish to visit historic theatres, the Castro Theater is a must. This place has been well-preserved since its creation in 1922. It has been the venue for many different events over time. Various film festivals and film screenings were held at this place. It’s 14 miles from the airport and would take you at least 20 minutes to reach the theatre. 

These are just a few of the places you can visit for a vintage experience in San Francisco city. It’s a truly unique trip worth sharing with your friends once you’re back home. This is your chance to travel back in time. 

Thursday 27 June 2024

My 'secret' vegetable patch

I've shared lots of photos of my vegetable patch over the years, but I'm not sure that I've every included a photo that gives a proper look at the space. Because I think it's a special space, and with planned building work in our garden this summer I'm working hard to make it a little sanctuary hidden away when I want to spend time in the garden without builders watching my every move!

Entrance to hidden vegetable patch

Our garden extends out from the back of the house like most gardens, but we also have a separate double garage next to the house. The vegetable patch is behind the garage, so it's joined to the garden but off to one side and it can't really be seen from the house. The previous owners put up the trellis sides. Originally there were some flimsy gates but they have broken so I've been training some ivy over the top to make an archway. It's quite low, but luckily I'm short so I can easily fit underneath!

To the left of the entrance you can find Beowulf. I found him hidden behind overgrown vegetation in the garden of our old house and I brought him along with us. I named him after the Old English poem that I studied at university and I call him the guardian of the garden that makes sure everything grows well. If I accidently cut some flowers, I'll leave them by his feet as an offering! 

Garden statue of a small soldier

Also around the entrance I have a couple of decorations that I've made using stones with holes in from the beach - they are really common on our local beaches. Some people call them hag stones and think that they have magical properties. The lovely birdhouse was made by my husband at a team building event, although we've not actually had any birds in it yet!

Hag stones hanging in the garden

My vegetable patch was a little delayed this year as we don't have a set start date for our building works. So last week I made a trip to the garden centre and picked up some bedding plants to put out into my planters - hopefully in a couple of weeks I'll have some more colour to enjoy.

Bedding plants and lavender bush in the garden

At the back of the vegetable patch I just have a few pots and some plants which are probably technically weeds but have some pretty orange flowers and nicely cover a bare patch of ground. This is where I'll be putting my chair when I want to hide away and enjoy my plants and listen to the bees buzzing around the lavender bush.

Corner of the vegetable patch

The rest of our garden is really boring and is in a bit of a state as the summer house is falling down and the old wooden swing set is looking a little dicey. We are hoping to be able to do some work in the garden next summer, until then this is definitely my favourite part of the garden!

Friday 21 June 2024

A book themed "this or that"

I found this list of "this or that" questions over at A Wandering Scribbler, and I love writing about books and reading so I thought that I'd share my answers! 

Paperback or Hardcover

I prefer a paperback because it's easier to carry around with me, but I'll buy a hardback if I think it's a book that I'll want to read over and over again. Sometimes when I buy a book second hand from Wob I'll receive a hardback when I wasn't expecting it and it's appreciated, although it makes it more difficult to shelve with paperback books from the same author!

Fiction or Non-fiction

The vast majority of my day to day reading is fiction but I do read some non-fiction, mainly from the 'wellbeing' genre. I prefer fiction because I can get lost in it, with non fiction I feel that I have to concentrate in order to understand what I'm reading and to benefit from it. 

Historical or Science Fiction

I've enjoyed some science fiction but it would definitely be historical fiction for me. There's a trend lately for historical fiction books which are written from two perspectives - one storyline follows a character during a historical period and one storyline is set in the present. I'm not a huge fan of these because the story is plotted with the lives of the characters mirroring each other, and I just want to read the historical story and find out what happened. I enjoy historical books because I like to imagine what it would be like to have lived during a different time period, even if it's not a historically significant one.

Recent release or classic

Probably a classic, mainly for economic reasons as I very rarely buy a newly released books although sometimes I find them in the library or borrow from friends. When it comes to classic books I love Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Thomas Hardy, Wilkie Collins, George Orwell...I've never got on with Charles Dickens! I also enjoy classic children's books - The Little House on the Prairie series, the What Katy Did series, the Little Women books, A Little Princess, the Anne of Green Gables series and so on.

Woman reading a blue hardcover book
Photo credit Benigno Hoyuela via Unsplash

Coffee or Tea

Tea, I don't like coffee at all. I only started drinking tea a few years ago and it's more of a social thing as I rarely drink tea when I'm by myself. I prefer a herbal or fruit tea, and I'm not a fan of adding milk which confuses people.

Dog ear or bookmark

I have bookmark stashes throughout the house so I can usually grab one when I need one. Most of my books are second hand so I'm not too bothered about scuffs and marks left by others, but I can't fold down corners myself!

Writing in the book or taking notes

The only time I've ever written in books is when they were set texts for an exam and I needed to annotate and highlight them. I don't write in books because many of my books are lent to other people or passed on when I've finished with them, and I don't want to spoil them for others. Occasionally I use a small post it note to mark something that I want to refer back to, and I have a notebook where I copy quotes that have stood out to me. 

Physical or digital books

If I had to choose it would be physical books for the tactile reading experience, but I definitely embrace digital books when it comes to travelling, so that I can take a huge selection of different books with me to suit my mood. I also like a digital book to read while I'm cooking or eating!

Audiobooks or print

Definitely print, I can't do audiobooks. The only time in my day that I would be able to listen to them is while I'm driving, and I just get too distracted. I listen to podcasts in the car and often realise that I've completely switched off and missed the last few minutes!

What is the most effective method for workplace drug testing? A comprehensive guide

This is a collaborative post

When it comes to ensuring a safe and productive workplace, drug testing is an important element. Workplace drug testing has increased significantly in recent years, and the most effective method for workplace drug testing varies depending on the specific needs and constraints of your organisation. Urine tests are often considered the gold standard for drug screening due to their high reliability and ease of collection and analysis. These tests can detect a wide range of substances and are generally straightforward to implement.

For those seeking less invasive options, saliva tests can be a practical choice. Saliva tests are quick, non-invasive, and suitable for on-site testing, making them ideal for random checks. Additionally, saliva tests can detect recent drug use, which is beneficial for identifying current impairment rather than past use.

An increasingly popular method is hair testing, which can detect drug use over a longer period, up to 90 days. This method is particularly useful for monitoring long-term drug use patterns. Regardless of the method chosen, it's important to utilise premium drug testing kits for accurate results to ensure the highest levels of reliability and legal compliance.

Drug testing vials
Photo credit via Unsplash

Workplace Drug Testing Essentials

Understanding the essentials of workplace drug testing involves knowing the legalities, ethics, and common substances screened.

Legality and Ethical Considerations

Implementing drug testing in a workplace requires knowledge of legal and ethical obligations. In the UK, it's important to have a clear and communicated drug testing policy. This policy should outline why testing is done, how it’s conducted, and what happens if a test is positive.

Employers must get informed written consent from employees before testing. Adherence to privacy and data protection laws is essential. Testing should be fair and non-discriminatory, ensuring reasonable adjustments where necessary. Always respect the confidentiality of test results to maintain trust and compliance with legal standards.

Common Drugs Tested for in the Workplace

Drug tests in the workplace often screen for substances that can impair performance and safety. Commonly tested drugs include cannabis, cocaine, opiates, and amphetamines. Different tests, like urine and saliva tests, can detect these substances. Urine tests are highly reliable and widely used.

Saliva tests are non-invasive and offer quick results. Hair tests can detect drug use over a more extended period, up to 90 days. Knowing your testing options and the substances they screen for can help maintain a safe and productive workplace. For relevant resources, you can explore options like FlowFlex Covid Self-Tests which we used when we were taking a cruise while Covid-19 restrictions were still in place.

Methods of Drug Testing

There are several drug testing methods used in workplaces, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Factors like detection windows, invasiveness, and accuracy can impact the choice of method.

Urine Drug Testing

Urine drug testing is one of the most common methods. It's widely used because it is affordable, reliable, and easy to administer. This test detects recent drug use, usually within the past few days.

Urine samples can be collected without professional medical personnel, making it a practical choice for many workplaces. The results are typically available quickly, which helps in making timely decisions. However, it's important to ensure the sample collection process maintains privacy and integrity to avoid tampering.

Blood Drug Testing

Blood drug testing is known for its accuracy and can detect recent drug use. This method is less commonly used in workplaces due to its invasive nature and higher cost.

Blood tests are highly reliable for detecting substances shortly after use. It requires trained medical professionals to draw the blood, which makes it less convenient than other methods. The time frame for detecting drugs in the bloodstream is shorter compared to urine tests, usually within hours to a couple of days.

Saliva Drug Testing

Saliva drug testing is non-invasive and easy to administer. It detects recent drug use, making it a popular choice for post-accident testing or reasonable suspicion testing.

Saliva tests typically detect drug use within the past 24 to 48 hours. The collection process involves taking a swab of saliva from the mouth, which can be done on-site. This method is less susceptible to tampering compared to urine tests. However, it may not be as effective for detecting long-term drug use.

Saliva swab testing
Photo credit Mufid Majnun via Unsplash

Hair Follicle Drug Testing

Hair follicle drug testing can detect drug use over a longer period, typically up to 90 days. This method is less common due to its higher cost and longer processing time.

A small sample of hair is collected, usually from the head, and sent to a lab for analysis. Hair tests are highly reliable and hard to cheat, as external contamination does not affect the results as easily as with other tests. This method provides a comprehensive history of drug use but is not effective for detecting very recent use.

Choosing the Right Method

Choosing the right drug testing method depends on the specific needs and circumstances of the workplace. Considerations include the detection window, the invasiveness of the test, the cost, and the specific substances that need to be detected.

Urine tests are cost-effective and reliable for recent drug use, while blood tests are accurate but more expensive and invasive. Saliva tests offer a non-invasive option for detecting recent use. Hair tests provide a longer detection window, making them suitable for identifying long-term drug use. By assessing these factors, you can choose the most appropriate method for your workplace needs.


Implementing an effective workplace drug testing programme requires clear policies and fair practices. Pre-employment testing ensures a drug-free start for new hires. Random testing keeps employees accountable but must be done transparently. Incident-driven testing is necessary after accidents to determine causes.

Open communication and good management enable a supportive workplace environment. Above all, combining drug testing with strong managerial practices improves safety, productivity, and staff reliability. This balanced approach leads to a healthier and more productive workforce.