Friday, 19 July 2019

Journalling and writing prompts for bloggers

Journalling and writing prompts for bloggers

Recently I treated myself to a new journal, and although I was full of ideas when I purchased it, as soon as I found time to sit down and write my mind went blank! So I thought I'd come up with a list of journalling and blogging prompts that I can use as a way to both open up my creativity when it comes to creating new and interesting content, and come up with ideas that I can develop into blog posts.

I hope that these ideas might be useful for other bloggers too!

* Create a visual mind map or spider diagram for your blog. With your blog name in the centre, create bubbles for the topics that you already blog about as well as new topics that you would enjoy writing about. Under these main areas create sub-categories and sub-themes. You will see if there are any gaps in your content, and be reminded of topics that you've already covered and can link back to in new blog posts.

* Find a list of seasonal events and awareness days. There are plenty out there, I particularly like this one as it's a UK list - A Time-Saving List of Awareness Days. Choose your favourites, maybe one or two for each month, and think about a related blog post that you could write. Maybe it's an issue that you've been touched by, or a related recipe or craft that you could share. You could create a page for each one and add in related thoughts and ideas as they come to you so that when the day comes around you have something ready to write up and publish.

* Start a list of social media status updates and prompts that you can post to Facebook or Twitter to inspire a conversation or spark engagement. If you have enough you could share them in a blog post, maybe themed by season or blog niche.

* Come up with a list of photo challenges or blog post challenges that you could set for fellow bloggers. For example you could come up with a list of themes for each day of the month and encourage others to join in by posting a daily photo to Instagram or Twitter.

* Explore what blogging means to you. For example:

- Why I'm glad that I started this blog
- What I enjoy most about writing my blog
- Why I write a blog
- What I've learned from blogging
- What I've gained from blogging
- Advice for new bloggers
- What I'd do differently when it comes to my blog
- Where I want to take my blog

These don't need to be written up into a blog post, but they are a way of helping to think positively about your blog and what you've achieved, especially if you are becoming disheartened or feeling that you can't compare to others.

* Keep a record of your statistics over time - the number of posts written, number of followers on different platforms and so on.

* Lay out and track your blogging goals. Either specific goals such as reaching a certain number of followers, or a more general aim like creating a viral meme or setting up a social media scheduler. Think about what needs to be done to meet each goal by writing out a specific list of actionable tasks that you can tick off when they are complete.

* Brainstorm potential blog post ideas, trying to be as specific when it comes to the title as possible. There is lots of inspiration for blog post ideas online, for example my entire year of blog post ideas and inspiration. From time to time I like to challenge myself to quickly come up with five or ten different ideas for blog posts, and then I immediately schedule them in my editorial calendar to encourage me to get them written up.

I hope that these ideas give you some inspiration the next time you're staring at a blank page in your journal!

Journal prompts for bloggers
Photo credit Kyle Glenn via Unsplash

Main image credit Ana Tavares via Unsplash.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Wightlink Ferries to the Isle of Wight review #ad

Ad - We received a complimentary return ferry crossing from Portsmouth to Fishbourne in exchange for this blog post.

We've just returned from a wonderful family holiday on the Isle of Wight. Although we live pretty close, and have often seen the island in the distance, it was our first visit, and we had such a lovely time that I'm certain we'll be back!

There are several different ways that you can reach the island. Our closest port is Portsmouth, and so we chose to travel with Wightlink which offers three different routes from the mainland. You can travel with your car from either Portsmouth Gunwharf to Fishbourne or Lymington to Yarmouth, or as a foot passenger you can travel by FastCat from Portsmouth Harbour to Ryde Pier. We were taking our car and so we used the Portsmouth Gunwharf to Fishbourne route. The route to the port in Portsmouth was very well signposted, and as we'd made sure to arrive at the earliest recommended time we ended up making an earlier ferry which was a big bonus! This crossing over the Solent takes just 45 minutes.

Car inside a car ferry

Loading the cars onto the ferry was simple and speedy in both directions. While you are waiting to board, both Portsmouth and Fishbourne have facilities for passengers, including toilets with baby change and hot drinks. You need to leave your car once it has been loaded on to the ferry and head to the passenger decks and lounges for the journey. The ferry leaves as soon as the last car is loaded, so if you are among the final passengers to board you'll be underway by the time you reach the deck!

Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth viewed from Wightlink ferry

Sailing from Portsmouth you have a beautiful view of the city, the skyline dominated by the Spinnaker Tower. We were lucky that the weather was lovely for both our crossings so we were able to enjoy the sunny decks, and there was barely any motion from the waves. If the weather is more inclement then there are plenty of places to relax inside the ferry, alongside toilets and cafe facilities.

View from the back of a car ferry across Portsmouth

On our ferry there was a small area inside set aside for children with large windows and padded seats, I think Harry could have stayed here all day! It's such a busy stretch of water that there is always something interesting out there to spot.

Child sitting at a window in a Wightlink ferry

Up on deck you can see land in both directions so it's easy to see how much of the crossing is remaining. I was really impressed by how smooth and enjoyable our ferry journey was. I'm sure we'll definitely be using Wightlink to make this crossing in the future!

Child on a Wightlink ferry from Portsmouth

I made a short video of our crossing which you can see below - enjoy!

Monday, 15 July 2019

Useful things that you can make using Hama beads

Useful projects created using Hama beads

I love that Hama beads are such a versatile crafting material. There are plenty of ways that you can craft with them rather than just creating different patterns and shapes. I'm all about creating things that have a purpose, and so here I've rounded up some ideas for Hama bead craft projects that can be used to make something useful. There are some great gift ideas too!

Related post - A year of Hama bead crafts

I really love my Hama bead jam jar storage. I took old jam jars and tins and made colourful wide strips of Hama beads to decorate them. When the Hama beads are still warm from the iron they are supple and can be formed into a curved shape that will hold once the beads have cooled. Then you can glue them to the outside of the jars or tins. It also makes the jars easy to pick up and carry!

Hama bead covered decorated jam jar craft

I love using Hama bead photo frames to display my favourite photos and postcards. I've made several different themed frames, and you can use colours and patterns that match both your decor and the theme of the pictures.

Hama bead photo frames

I use these Mini Hama bead decorative plant markers to brighten up my pot plants. They are so colourful, and the mini Hama beads can be used to create some lovely and intricate designs in the same range of bright colours as the larger beads.

Related post - A guide to using mini Hama beads

Mini Hama bead decorative plant markers

This Hama bead hair clip hanger is a great way to display a couple of Hama bead creations. Just fix a larger piece to one end of a long piece of ribbon and a smaller piece to the bottom. When hung on the wall it makes a great place to display and organise hair clips, and you could also use it for pin badges or buttons.

Hama bead hair clip hanger craft

Related post - Ironing tips for Hama beads

Hama bead keyrings make a really useful and practical gift. I made these Minecraft key rings as party bag gifts for a Minecraft themed party. We've also made key rings using the mini flower peg board. The children love them for decorating their school bags!

Hama bead Minecraft keyrings

Hama bead Emoji magnets are another useful gift. We've made them using the Minecraft templates that we used for the key rings above, and we also came up with our own Emoji based designs. They were a great hit with other children at the school summer fair!

Hama bead Emoji themed magnets craft

Finally you can never have enough coasters, and I've made Hama bead coasters in a variety of seasonal designs, including Diwali, Halloween, Autumn and Easter.

Hama bead Autumn themed coasters

I hope that my designs have inspired you to get crafty this summer, happy Hama bead crafting!

You can find many more Hama bead projects on my dedicated Hama beads page.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Why I want my children to travel the world

As a family we love to travel, and we have been lucky enough to enjoy some wonderful experiences. We are very varied in where we stay, from self-catering cottages to cruise ships to tents. We also travel all over the place, from the campsite up the road, to cities in our own continent, and to faraway countries on the other side of the world.

I know that my children are still young, and there are many things that they don't or won't remember.  But I will always have my own memories of sharing these experiences with them, and I hope that they will grow up remembering an interesting and exciting childhood.

We prioritise travel above many other things in our household budget - our house and clothes are definitely a little scruffy - but I'm so grateful for all the opportunities that we have had.

So I thought I'd write about some of the reasons that travel is brilliant for our family, and why I want my children to see the world.

* Travel helps to enhance their learning. We try our best to find attractions that relate to relevant school topics. So we have seen real Viking ships in Norway, a Roman villa reconstruction in Los Angeles, and numerous castles and forts.

Getty Roman villa in Los Angeles, United States

* We can expose them to different cultures. For example in Singapore you can visit temples belonging to many different religions, all located within walking distance of each other.

* They see different languages being spoken. As someone that has studied languages, I think that language learning is really important and I want them to understand that too.

* While we are away we become a single family unit, depending upon and helping one another. We work together to plan itineraries and solve problems.

* The children can be given some responsibility, even if that's just helping themselves to their own food from a buffet dinner, or a short walk back to the hotel room to fetch something.

* We learn to enjoy each other's company, to play games together, talk together, or just sit in companionable silence reading, without the distractions of home and work.

* Time spent travelling from one place to another means that children need to learn to entertain themselves and be happy in their own company. They know to pack books, puzzle books, and pens and paper alongside electronic devices, and they are very good at sitting still for long periods in the car or plane.

* The children are used to living and sleeping in different environments, with different food, routines, and away from the comforts of home.

* They are able to learn about the different ways that other countries deal with the same problems, and think about whether the solution is better or worse than where we live. For example social problems like homelessness, or practical problems like recycling and public transport. This is something that I really thought about when I spent a year living in Germany for my degree, and it always interests me to see how different countries and cultures are both similar and different.

Do you enjoy travel with your children when you can? What do you think they learn from it?

Family camping trip outside

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

How I organise my day

I like to think that I'm a very organised person. I love making plans and lists, I know where pretty much everything in my house is, I usually remember everything that needs to be taken up to school, and I don't very often lose things.

I work from home, both on this blog and for a home working company, and although it's not very reliable or demanding I can fit it around the children and their needs, as well as much of the school and household admin. But in order to do so I need to have a system, and I thought I'd share how I plan my day to keep myself organised.

As I've discussed here on the blog before, Trello is vital to me for organising my life. Trello is a free online organisational tool which uses cards, lists and boards to keep track of projects. I turn each item on my to do list into a colour coded card, which I store in lists. Each day has its own list, and when a one-off task is completed I delete the card. When a recurring card is complete I move it to the list for the next day or week. Every evening I make sure that the day's list is complete, reschedule incomplete tasks as necessary, and delete the list.

So every morning, I load up my To Do Trello board and sort through the tasks for the day. I'm a big believer in eating the frog, and so if there's a task that I really don't want to do (like making a phone call!) then I'll move it to the top of the list and get it out of the way first. Some tasks can't be done until the children get home from school or until the evening and so they get moved to the bottom. Some of my daily recurring tasks, like little bits of blog admin, only take a few minutes, and so I like to get them out of the way early on and drag them over to the next day.

I'm flexible with my time, and as I sometimes meet friends and make time for gym trips, every day is different. I try and plan my week in advance to a certain extent, adding more tasks for the days that I know I'll be at home, and getting things out the way beforehand if I have a busy day coming up.

I also know the times of day when I'm most productive, so I'll try and schedule accordingly. For example, I find it easy to get on without distraction in the morning, but it's difficult to regain my rhythm after lunch. So this is when I'll plan a gym trip, or to do some housework away from the computer.

Laptop at a desk ready for work
Photo credit Kari Shea via Unsplash

If I have an event coming up with lots of tasks, for example a holiday or a seasonal event like Christmas, I'll split the tasks up and spread them out so it's not too overwhelming and doesn't end up being left to the last minute. For an upcoming holiday I'll make a card to pack for each person, as well as cards for shopping that needs to be done or housework that I want to get done before I go away. It also means more things to tick off which is very satisfying!

I do however try not to get too hung up on my lists. Although the important things generally get done, it's very rare that I complete everything on my list for the day. I just slide it over to the next day or week and don't worry too much about it.

My system also works really well for things that pop into my mind through the day, like a birthday card to be bought or something I need to pick up from the shops. I'll just open up the Trello app on my phone and type in a quick card to remind me. I tell my family that if I add something to my to do list then it will get done, as I'm constantly going over it!

How do you keep organised and make sure that everything gets done? I'd love to hear your tips!

Monday, 8 July 2019

Rediscovering old books from my childhood

I wrote recently about how Harry is always reading the same books over and over again, and that I remember doing the same when I was little.

Recently I was thinking about some of the more obscure books that I used to keep re-reading, and I wondered if it would still be possible to buy copies. One book that I loved was Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer, a story about a girl at boarding school who falls asleep at night and wakes up forty years in the past during the First World War, while at the same time a counterpart from the past is living in her time. They alternate for a few weeks, then Charlotte ends up trapped in the past and has to find a way to return to where she belongs. I was pleased to find that this one is still in print and readily available, and enjoyed reading it again.

Then I got to thinking about another book that I enjoyed which was about a teenage girl that moved to Australia, New Patches for Old by Christobel Mattingly. I've always been fascinated by Australia, I've read many books set there, and this was probably the first. It's set a few decades ago, and I found it amazing to re-read it and see just how much of a change a move to Australia was back then - the family moved to the other side of the world expecting to never see their friends and family back home again, and international phone calls home were expensive and had to be booked in advance. It reminded me just how much smaller the world has become over the last few years.

This particular book has been out of print for a long time, but I was really pleased to find a copy from World of Books available on eBay for just a few pounds. I'm not sure why I'd not ordered from World of Books before, because they are based close to my home, and almost every time I go out I pass one of their vans! But I didn't really know what sort of books they sold, and I discovered that they sell some more obscure second hand books for a really reasonable price, along with free postage. I've been buying through them on eBay, but you can also buy direct from their website, and the books arrive within a few days. I'd definitely recommend giving them a look if you are after something that's out of print!

Buying old out of print books

Most recently I remembered another book that I enjoyed as a child, The Silver Crown by Robert O'Brien. Again, this one has been out of print for a while, but World of Books came through with a cheap secondhand copy. It's a story about a girl who wakes up one morning to find a silver crown on her pillow. She leaves the house to go for a walk, and returns to find her house burned down and her family gone, with mysterious characters chasing her as she goes on a journey to reach her Aunt's house. I was really surprised to find that the book is set in America, as I was sure that I remembered it being set in England. It just goes to show how unreliable your memory can be!

I've been enjoying re-reading some of those books that made a big impression on me when I was little. I'd love to know what books you would like to read again!

Reduce your utility bills and grow your savings

This is a collaborative post

Cutting down your utility bills is a great way to help increase your savings pot. Whether you’re saving for a new house, the holiday of a lifetime, or simply hoping to clear some debt that you have accrued, then focussing on your energy bills can be a big help.

The likelihood is that you aren’t quite as energy efficient or economically sound as you could be, so here we’ve collated some ideas which will enable you to contribute to your savings pot.

If it is debt that you are struggling with, then you can get free debt management advice by checking out this site – companies like Carrington Dean are able to help to relieve financial stress surrounding debt.

Start by finding out if you’re getting the best deal 

One of the quickest ways to start saving on your energy bills is to visit a price comparison site. Your energy supply is one place where you are unlikely to be rewarded for being a loyal customer, and the best rates are often reserved purely for new customers.

There are plenty of comparison sites out there nowadays which you can simply click onto, input your current energy consumption and be offered a wide range of tariffs from a whole host of providers (many you probably haven’t even heard of).

Not only can you compare prices, but often they will also deal with the switchover meaning that it is super easy to do.

Switch your lightbulbs for energy efficient ones 

If you’re still running your house on old bulbs, then you can often see reductions in your energy bills by switching to CFL or LED bulbs.

Whilst the initial outlay of replacing them all may seem counterproductive; over time you will make great savings on your electricity bills – especially if your house has lots of bulbs in each room. Even by switching out just a handful of your most used bulbs, you’ll see some good savings against your quarterly or annual bill.

Unplug anything you aren’t using 

Contrary to popular belief, things that are plugged in continue to use electricity, which over time will add a significant sum onto your energy usage.

Think about how many plugs remain switched on around your house, from TVs and computers to toasters and kettles, there are probably plenty of things in your house right now that are unnecessarily using electricity which you are going to be paying for!

Switch to a water meter 

Many of us are currently on standard water charges, meaning that we are charged an amount each year, based upon what the water company expects you to use based on your household size. Whether you use more or less than what is expected, the amount will remain the same.

What many do not know though, is that you are likely using a lot less than you are paying for. It is free to switch to a water meter and you have the flexibility to switch back within 12 months if you feel it isn’t working for you – you could easily see your bills cut in half just by doing this.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Books that remind me of a certain place and time

I've been a reader throughout my life, and while I've read many many books over the years there are some that will always remind me of where I was and what I was doing  at the time that I read them. 

The first books that I can really remember reading over and over were my Enid Blyton books. I have a very vivid memory of reading one just after I had been to the opticans and prescribed my first pair of glasses, around age 7. They had used the eye drops and the words on the page were all blurred and yellow. I was most upset after being diagnosed as short sighted because so many of Enid Blyton's adventurous characters were described as having sharp eyes, and it made me feel like I was faulty!

When we used to go on camping holidays my Mum would always collect together a box of books for us from the library books sale and charity shops. It's one of my favourite holiday memories! It was this box that introduced me to A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which I vividly remember reading in the tent. It was the first book that I was really emotionally drawn to, and I remember it making me cry.

As I got older I moved on to the adult books from the holiday box, and I remember reading A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle while we were staying in the area. I'm not sure why this one appealed to me so much as a child as it was hardly relevant to my own life, but I remember really enjoying it!

As a teenager I impressed my teacher by reading Wuthering Heights, and she gave me a photocopied family tree which I stuck inside. It reminds me of sitting at an uncomfortable desk at school, I think one of our English classes was devoted to individual reading which I loved.

Woman reading outside
Photo credit Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash

A later holiday introduced me to Bill Bryson and Notes from a Small Island. I always read through my own books too quickly and so started reading the ones that my parents had brought along, and in this instance it led to the discovery of one of my favourite authors!

I didn't read much for pleasure at university as I had so much study related reading to do, in particular lots of German books which took me ages to plough through. But in my final year I discovered the Harry Potter books. The first four had been published by that point, and I bought them all and read them one after the other in my freezing attic room. I can still remember seeing them piled up on my scruffy bedside table!

I moved down to Worthing after university, and that was when I started to go back to the library as it was a nice walk from our flat. I returned to reading some of my childhood favourites like the Little House on the Prairie series, and I also discovered a shelf of books on Egyptian conspiracy theories which fascinated me even though I couldn't bring myself to believe them!

After we were married we went on a round the world trip for our honeymoon. We were limited for suitcase space so I only took one book, and I chose Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy as it was a nice thick volume with small print. I have a vivid memory of reading it while spending the night in a shack in the rainforest with frogs chirping all around. I even managed to pace myself perfectly so that it lasted the whole trip!

Reading took a bit of a back seat once again when the babies arrived, and it became all about the books that I read to the children. The first book that I read with Harry was called Faces, a soft book with just a few pages featuring line drawings of faces and black and white patterns. From just a few weeks old he loved this book, he would gaze at the pictures for whole minutes at a time.

Mia never had the same interest in books as a baby, but I remember receiving a copy of Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson to review and making the mistake of not reading it first before reading it aloud.  It's such a beautiful book and still makes me want to cry when I read it to them. This is a book that will definitely always remind me of when my babies were little!

Which books will always transport you back to a particular time and place in your life?

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

The end of the school year

I can't quite believe that once again I'm counting down the last few days until the end of the school year. The summer term has been so short, and this term has really have flown by. I love looking back at what has changed since the start of the school year last September - they are looking so clean, neat and excited! Now they both wear glasses, and they are both definitely looking taller!

Children first day of school

The children keep me very busy every two weeks, helping with the creative homework that they need to produce for school. Among other things we have made two stop animation videos, built a Mayan temple from cardboard boxes, crafted both an Egyptian sarcophagus and interior tomb display from yet more boxes, and baked Indian sweets, Egyptian honey biscuits and Brazilian truffles.

Creative homework for school

In the Spring, Mia took part in the Worthing Arts Festival, performing both a poem and prose piece, and went on to achieve a Distinction in her Transition Grade Speech and Drama exam. Harry performed beautifully and confidently in his school production of Aladdin, playing a variety of different roles including a salesman and the magic carpet before going on to pass his Grade 3 piano exam with a Merit. They've also entertained us with several themed class assemblies, a carol service, sports day and a swimming gala each.

They've both done really well with swimming after we made the decision to stop the never ending weekly class lessons and instead focus on a (hopefully!) shorter period of joint private lessons. They can both swim really nicely now, and get much more enjoyment out of visiting places with water slides.

We've taken part in lots of school activities. They both sold some of their old bits and pieces at the school summer fair, including lots of Hama bead magnets that were a big hit!

Children helping at the summer fete

We also helped to plant a flower bed along the seafront as part of a Worthing town centre initiative - our bed is themed to celebrate the anniversary of the moon landings and features a white moon in the middle surrounded by a yellow sun and stars!

Worthing seafront flower bed

We are all really looking forward to the summer holidays, and grateful to have so many fun things to look back on. And I can't believe that when they return to school in September Harry will be in Year 6, among the oldest in the school, and his last year before going up to secondary school!

Monday, 1 July 2019

Why I need lots of hobbies

In our house there are always projects on the go. We have a massive Lego Taj Mahal being built on the dining room table, diamond painting set up in the kitchen, cross stitch spread out in the study, and crafts that I'm making for our upcoming Disney cruise all over the floor in the spare room.

There are also many projects yet to be started - I've shared before how I use Trello to keep myself organised, and I also use it to track craft projects that I'm currently working on, new crafts that I fancy having a go at, as well as books to read and recipes to try.

I love having a choice of different things to do when I have some spare time. I enjoy having different craft projects to fit different situations. I also like always having something to do to fill my time. Like many people nowadays I'm guilty of turning to a screen for entertainment, but I find myself much happier at the end of the day if I feel that I've spent my time productively.

I enjoy working on long term projects that will take me several years, like a large cross stitch sampler, but I need to mix that up a bit with some shorter projects that can be completed in one go, like a Hama bead make. I enjoy reading long books that I can really engross myself in, but I'll usually have a shorter novel on the go at the same time.

Knitting, magazine and a cup of tea
Photo credit Rebecca Grant via Unsplash

Although I do work part time, I also spend lots of time running around after the children and sorting out all their little problems. I need something to not only keep me busy, but also to plan and to look forward to. I always have lots of things going around in my head, and it's much better if these are fun things that I want to think about, rather than things that I'm worrying about.

I like giving myself a challenge, even if that's just working to complete a project to a certain timescale and I'm only accountable to myself. It makes me feel happy to watch my progress over time, for example with crochet, where I've made enormous progress since my first wobbly granny squares. Being surrounded by things that I've created reminds me of my accomplishments.

So I think I'll always be someone that needs lots of hobbies to keep me busy!

Friday, 28 June 2019

Tips for going on holiday with a fussy eater

We have been blessed with a child that is a fussy eater. At home he eats a reasonable amount across the food groups, so I'm happy with his diet in general, but the trouble is that not only will he not try new food when out and about, he also won't eat food which isn't exactly like the food he eats at home. So he'll quite happily eat a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast at home, but is suspicious of a different brand of bagel or spread if he sees it in a breakfast buffet.

Family tips for travelling with a fussy eater

This can be frustrating at times, because we travel and stay away from home a fair bit, and we definitely don't want to limit ourselves to self-catering holidays in this country every time.

To a certain extent we don't stress too much about it. I do feel that it's not the end of the world if he only eats bread, butter and ice cream for a week while we're away, as I know that I can feed him up again when we get home. But sometimes we go away for a bit longer and it can be annoying when we are out and about and can't find anything that he will eat, and of course it can feel like quite a waste of money when he returns from an extensive buffet with a few slices of cucumber and a bit of bread on his plate.

So here are a few tips that we've picked up over the years, to make things easier for all of us when travelling with a fussy eater:

When booking

Think about what you will eat while away. An accommodation option with a buffet is usually a good choice, or you may want to stick with self-catering and the option of eating out from time to time.

Some types of holiday, for example a cruise, will allow you to take food back to your room, so you can take extra from a buffet and always have a snack or drink in the room to rely on. Check if your room will have a fridge for storing a wider variety of food.

Suss out shopping and restaurant options near where you'll be staying to make sure that there is somewhere you can get something to eat when you need to. For example a cafe where you can pick up a simple breakfast that you know will be eaten, or a supermarket for buying snacks.

When packing

Take some favourite food with you from home. You'll need to check carefully the restrictions for countries that you are travelling to, but generally if food is factory sealed in its original packaging then it will be fine to take in your luggage. We often pack biscuits, plain fajita wraps, breakfast cereals, cereal bars, bread sticks and so on.

Pack sandwich bags, plastic snack boxes and a knife (in your checked luggage). This way you can buy food at the supermarket to make sandwiches for lunch, cut up fruit, and prepare other snacks that your child will eat. This also saves money on buying food that won't be eaten while you are out! Depending on your holiday arrangements you might even want to take more cutlery and plastic plates or bowls with you so that you can eat your own food comfortably in a hotel room.

If you are travelling by plane, prepare your own food and snacks for the journey, or eat at the airport before you leave. This goes for adults too - I'm less fussy than I used to be but I've quite often been served a meal on the plane that doesn't take my fancy at all and been grateful for the pizza that I ate before boarding.

While you are away

When you arrive, stock up on snacks that you can keep in the room or the fridge if you have one. Look for portable options that you can take around with you.

Always carry snacks and a drink in your day bag. That way if you are stopping for a meal and your child can't find anything that they like you'll be able to keep them going until you can find something.

If you will need to find somewhere to eat out, make a plan in advance and line up some suitable options. This might be the same chain restaurant that you eat at when you're at home - maybe not that exciting but worth it if it reduces the tension!

And finally don't get too stressed about it. We relax the rules a little bit and we aren't too strict about, for example, demanding that a meal is finished before dessert, as long as something filling has been eaten. We also heap on the praise for trying something new, even if they only have a tiny bit, and we reinforce how important it is to fill themselves up so that they'll be able to enjoy themselves. Then when we get home I'll cook favourite meals for a few days to fill them back up!

Child eating at open air terrace on holiday

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Our summer holiday task list 2019

Every year as the school summer holidays draw closer I like to come up with a list of things that I want to do with the children. We have eight weeks to fill, and although we will be spending a week in the Isle of Wight at the beginning of the holiday and a week in Lanzarote at the end, there is a lot of holiday in the middle to fill.

I'm not one for organising lots of exciting days out over the holidays. I don't like my husband to miss out, and we tend to save our money to put towards going away so I try not to spend too much on entertainment at other times. We'll do a few outings with friends I'm sure, but we'll also spend lots of time going out locally, to the beach, the playground and the library.

So I try to come up with long term projects that can be completed over time at home. My big task for the summer is a thorough sort out of the children's bedrooms. I want to empty them completely apart from the large pieces of furniture, then give them a good clean and really think about what goes back in. I'm sure there are lots of things lurking at the backs of cupboards that no longer have a place there. Mia is really excited to start, in fact she wants to start straight away, but I know that we need to have a couple of free days to devote to it!

They both receive lots of craft kits for birthdays and Christmas that I've put aside to work on. Mia has a lovely unicorn diamond painting kit that we've been working on together, and we've already bought a frame and chosen a place in her room to hang it. We are over halfway through, and I know that we can easily finish it.

Unicorn diamond painting kit in progress

Another project that is currently taking up far too much space on our dining room table is the Lego Taj Mahal. This amazing set was passed on to the children by a friend, and after a massive sort through and ordering of missing pieces they have begun to assemble it. As far as I know it's the second largest Lego set available with nearly 6000 pieces, so it's quite a task. People have been asking me where we will put it when it's finished and my answer is 'back in the box', which receives a wail of protest from the children, but we definitely won't have the space to keep it out on display!

Lego Taj Mahal in progress

As a part of this job we also need to sort out our Lego. I'm quite good about keeping the individual sets separated and stored neatly in boxes, but we have a massive box of mixed bricks in our living room that looks really untidy. I need to reorganise our storage a little bit so that it's still handy to play with (it's played with every day) but can be put away out of sight when not in use.

I'm going to build the children a proper reading den for the holiday. We have a cheap indoor wendy house that we bought a few years ago, and I'll help them set it up with cushions and what not inside so that it's nice and cosy for them to chill out in.

Harry is working on a large timeline poster and adding in all sorts of historical dates and facts. He's measured out his bedroom wall to work out where it will go, so I want to encourage him to get as much done as he can, then we'll hang it up so he can add to it as he discovers more dates that he wants to add.

Finally, maybe I'll have some time to myself as well while they are busy! I've been working on a Christmas ABC Sampler which I received for Christmas 2017, and am hoping to have framed and ready for display in Christmas 2019. I'm pleased to say that the main cross stitch part is coming along really well, and I'm currently about halfway through the final letter - A for Angel. I need to go back to each letter and add in some metallic thread parts (I was worried that I'd run out so I finished the main areas first) and then there are lots of beads to put in before I ask my Mum to help me frame it. It would be wonderful if I could get it finished and framed before they go back to school in September!

Christmas cross stitch sampler in progress

What are your plans for the school summer holidays?

Monday, 24 June 2019

Marie Kondo doesn't want you to get rid of all your books

I've written before about Marie Kondo and how much I enjoy her books. Although I've never felt cluttered enough to complete an entire Marie Kondo festival, I definitely use her techniques when it comes to arranging my home. In particular I follow the essence of her method, which is gathering and decluttering items by category rather than by room or storage area.

Related post - Working out my own interpretation of Marie Kondo's method

I've always loved reading, and I've always loved buying, collecting and displaying books. Fortunately I've always also been good about passing on books once I've finished with them. Even books that I've bought new, if when I've finished them I don't feel that I'll want to read them again I'll pass them on to either friends or family, or to the charity shop.

Earlier this year, after the Marie Kondo documentary was broadcast on Netflix, people got very cross at the suggestion that Marie Kondo advises that one should keep fewer than 30 books. I don't remember this quote featuring in the series (although I'm happy to be corrected if it was!) and I didn't remember it from the books either. All I remembered was her opinions about which books to keep, and how important it was to really think about the books that truly deserve a place in your life.

Marie Kondo book meme
I had a look through Kondo's first book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying, and found the section that this 'quote' comes from. Under the sub-heading 'Books to keep - Those that belong in the hall of fame' where Marie Kondo discusses books, she says "I now keep my collection to about 30 volumes at any one time, but in the past I found it very hard to discard books because I love them."

So she is most definitely talking only about herself, and saying is that 30 books is the right number for her, and she emphasises everyone is different when it comes to how many books you want to keep around the place. I definitely have more than 30 books, but every book there is one that really does spark joy to me, and when I look at my bookshelf it makes me feel happy, not overwhelmed by a mass of books that make me feel guilty because I've not read them.

Related post - My Marie Kondo approach and Sparking Joy

I also found another quote in that section which I really loved - "The moment you first encounter a particular book is the right time to read it. To avoid missing that moment, I recommend that you keep your collection small." It's so true - when I spot a book that I want to read I want to read it immediately, not put it at the bottom of a to be read pile and lose that enthusiasm.

So which books belong in my Hall of Fame? I actually shared a blog post about my fiction bookshelf a few years ago, and more recently I shared a list of the books that I can read over and over again. Some of them are rather battered and scruffy copies, but they have definitely earned a place on my bookshelf.

Rows of colourful books on a bookshelf
Photo credit Nick Fewings via Unsplash

So don't be put off the Marie Kondo method if you think that she wants you to get rid of all your books, her advice really is excellent and will help you to think carefully about the books that you do want to keep, however many that is, and your reasons for doing so!

Related post - The Life Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo

Friday, 21 June 2019

Hama bead Disney magnets - ideal Fish Extender gifts

Disney Cruise Fish Extender magnets idea

Later this year we will be setting off on our fourth Disney cruise and I can't wait! Each time we've cruised with Disney we have taken part in a little more of the magic on board, and now for the first time I've signed us up for a Fish Extender gift exchange as well as a couple of other exchanges. As part of a Fish Extender gift exchange you swap small gifts as part of an organised group. The gifts can be bought or homemade, Disney themed or not, and are a way of adding a little extra magic to your cruise.

Related post - Our Disney cruise - Adding some magical extras

I designed some Hama or Perler bead magnets to use as part of a cabin gift, or they could also be used for a dedicated magnet exchange. They are really easy to make! I made them with three different designs, two are my own photos from a previous cruise on this ship and the third is the Halloween on the High Seas logo, as we are cruising on a Halloween sailing.

If you want to take part in a similar exchange on your Disney cruise you can find the details on your dedicated cruise Facebook page - just search for your ship name and dates and ask to join. Read on to see how I made these simple Fish Extender magnets!

Related post - A Disney Cruise Fish Extender with a Moana theme

Disney Cruise Fish Extender magnet gift ideas

To make these Disney themed Hama bead magnets you need a circular Hama bead pegboard (either the small board or the large board will work) and a selection of Hama beads. My design uses 23 black beads, 17 red beads and 2 yellow beads. You also need a picture to use for the frame, printed on sturdy paper or card if possible, as well as some magnets for the back.

When placing the beads on the circular pegboard make sure to line the beads up correctly - you want to position the board so that the centre line of pegs is horizontal, and it's easiest to start by placing the black Hama beads along that line.

Here is the design that I used:

Hama bead Disney pattern

Iron the beads on both sides so that you have a nice solid frame. Of course you can adjust the size of the frame if you want to make them a little larger - these measure about 4.5 cm in total diameter and the inner circle has a diameter of about 2.5 cm. It might be nice to make one larger frame which the recipient could use to display their own photo.

Related post - Hama bead ironing tips

Hama Perler bead Disney designs

Cut out your printed inner design so that it is slightly larger than the hole in the middle of the frame.

Fish Extender Hama bead magnets

Then glue the picture to the back of the frame. It's worth having a quick look at each frame and deciding on the side that you want to face outwards, as sometimes the ironing process can distort the beads. Leave the magnets to dry fully.

Disney Cruise Hama bead magnet

Then you can apply a magnet to the back of each frame. I bought some strong small magnets (affiliate link) to glue to the back. These magnets are very strong, so you'll need to use a strong glue like super glue to stick them down. I learned that it was necessary to glue the magnets towards the top so that they are behind the part made from Hama beads, otherwise the paper might not be strong enough when you try to pull the magnet away from your magnetic surface! Also wait until the glue has dried completely before you test them. Try out a few different magnets, and if you do find that your magnets are too strong then you can use magnetic tape instead.

Hama bead magnets with a Disney theme

These magnets will form part of a cabin gift for each stateroom taking part in our Fish Extender exchange. Each cabin will receive one each of the three different designs, along with a Disney themed Christmas ornament.

Related post - Disney Cruise Ornament Exchange idea - Felt Christmas stockings

I really enjoyed making these magnets and I think they turned out well! It's making me even more excited for our cruise, even though we still have several months to go yet - it's definitely a way of making that Disney magic stretch a little bit further as the anticipation builds!

Related post - Disney Cruise craft ideas

I hope that the recipients like them!

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

My working from home essentials

I love being able to work from home. As well as my blogging and social media work I do some part time work for a home working company, and although I don't earn a fortune it's very nice to have the extra money for something that I can easily fit around looking after the children and the home, as well as having time to myself.

But it's not always easy working from home. There are plenty of distractions - washing to be put away, a dishwasher to be emptied or a drawer full of snacks. Here are my working from home essentials:

A reliable internet connection and the associated technology - It goes without saying really, but I need the internet for most of my work. I can make notes in a notebook, but I always find myself wanting to check facts or just have a quick browse for some inspiration. Luckily our set up is fairly reliable, but it's so complicated that when it goes wrong I have no idea how to fix it!

Peace and quiet - I work much more productively when I'm on my own in the house. Even when other family members are quietly occupied, I'm always on edge waiting for someone to come in and disturb me. Luckily I'm on my own most days at home!

A kettle, biscuits and snacks - I don't drink much tea or coffee but my morning is fuelled by a daily hot chocolate, and it's always nice if there's a biscuit or ten to accompany it.

Laptop open on a tidy desk with yellow chair
Photo credit Kari Shea via Unsplash

Temperature control - A nice hot radiator in the winter, and a window to open in the summer.

Desk and comfy chair - All my written work is done at my desktop PC. I have access to a laptop but I just can't get comfortable anywhere else, I need a proper clicky keyboard and a big screen with plenty of desk space.

A window with a reasonable view - The window in my study looks out over our front path and hedge. I can't see much, but it's nice to stare out sometimes when I'm stuck for inspiration. As long as the hedge doesn't need a trim, as then I'm just reminded that I need to get out and cut it!

Space to work on crafting projects - and space to lay things out without them being disturbed when I'm not working on them.

Some social interaction - I don't need much as I'm generally quite happy in my own company, but I do like to meet up with friends regularly for hot chocolate and cake (and quite often our chats provide me with blog post inspiration!)

Do you work from home? What do you need to help you through the day?

Monday, 17 June 2019

I want to live inside Unsplash

Sometimes when I'm writing a blog post I don't have a good photo of my own to illustrate it, and so I turn to Unsplash. Unsplash is a fantastic website filled with high resolution photos that you can download to use for your own projects, even commercial ones, for free, without asking for permission and without the need to credit (although I always do). I've found some beautiful photos there which fit my posts perfectly, especially when I'm writing about some of my favourite topics like organisation and minimalism, reading, travel or blogging.

Woman reading seen from above
Photo credit Thought Catalog via Unsplash

I've spent a fair bit of time browsing photos through these categories, sometimes because I'm trying to find the perfect picture, but other times because I just really enjoy scrolling through the pictures and imagining living the lifestyle that they depict.

The other day I was sitting on a comfortable seat in my tidy garden with a hot drink in my hand and a book on my knee, and it dawned on me that for just a few seconds I was experiencing what I decided to call my own 'Unsplash moment'.

Notebook by a pot plant
Photo credit Kyle Glenn via Unsplash

Because for me Unsplash has started to become the embodiment of a perfect life. In the world of Unsplash there are endless cups of tea, alongside notebooks laid open with a pen at the ready to fill them with ambitious plans and innermost thoughts. There are pretty things to look at while you are working, like beautiful views, well cared for houseplants, and posters with motivational quotes.

Blogging flatlay with laptop and accessories
Photo credit Chris Adamus via Unsplash

The surroundings are minimalist and tasteful, mixing old and new successfully, and everything fits together perfectly to create a calm and relaxing workspace.

Houseplants in stone planter
Photo credit Jessica Lewis via Unsplash

There is so much potential for creativity and relaxation, without the distractions of mess, clutter and general family life.

Pile of books with glasses on top
Photo credit Nicole Honeywill via Unsplash

Of course I know that the majority of photos on Unsplash are posed, and they don't represent anyone's actual real life. Maybe I'm cheating a little bit to use someone else's staged photos to portray a world that's different from my reality. Or maybe using the lovely pictures also acts as an escape from reality for the readers of my blog. I'm sure that no-one really wants to see my messy bookshelves and floors covered in Lego!

So if you see a photo on my blog that makes it look as though my life is perfect, there's a reasonably good chance that it's just a glimpse into a world that I sometimes wish I could inhabit!

Friday, 14 June 2019

Our Ooni Koda outdoor pizza oven

Today I'm sharing a short review of our recent fantastic purchase - a Ooni Koda Pizza Oven. If you follow me on Instagram you may have noticed me sharing a few delicious pizza photos, and we've enjoyed using our new outdoor pizza oven so much that I wanted to share it with any other pizza aficionados! I'll warn you that this isn't a particularly technical review, I'll be chatting about how we have been using it, sharing a few tips that we've picked up, and generally showing off our pizza making skills!

We eat a lot of pizza, and have been making our own pizzas at home for years. We started with pre-made bases, then began making our own dough using a mix before moving on to making the dough from scratch. It's been quite a journey, and over the last few years we've tried various different ways to create the perfect pizza. The most successful by far were cooking pizza on the barbecue using a pizza stone, and purchasing an indoor pizza oven which still receives regular use.

This summer we decided to take things even further, and we purchased a Ooni Koda Gas-Powered Outdoor Pizza Oven (affiliate link). Ooni make a variety of different pizza ovens, some are gas fired, some are wood fired, and some are a combination of the two. We chose the gas fired oven which was definitely the best choice for us as it's so easy and quick to get up and running. It's also very portable if you want to take it out and about with you, especially if you are visiting someone that has a gas cylinder.

Ooni Koda outdoor pizza oven review

We have been using our Ooni Koda on a wooden garden table and it's been absolutely fine as the temperature underneath the oven doesn't get that high. You definitely do need a raised surface for it to stand on. Because you need to constantly check and turn the pizza while it's in the oven it would be very awkward to have it placed at floor level. 

Ooni Koda outdoor pizza oven

Once you have turned the pizza oven on it takes about ten minutes to fully heat up. We bought an Infrared laser thermometer (affiliate link) which makes it really easy to check the temperature of the pizza stone inside the oven (and it's also quite fun to play with in general!). We've found that the Ooni takes longer to heat up if it's windy, and if the wind is very strong you need to keep an eye on it to make sure that the flame hasn't been blown out, so it's best to find a sheltered spot for the oven if you can.

When you have prepared your pizza and it's ready to cook, you just need to slide it into the pizza oven onto the hot stone inside, and the flames will cook the pizza from the back and the top. During cooking you need to turn the pizza to make sure that it is cooked evenly all the way around, and so for this you need a pizza peel. When we started using the oven we used the short wooden pizza peels that we use with our indoor pizza oven, but we quickly upgraded to a Ooni branded metal peel which is much easier to use. We still prepare the pizzas in advance on the wooden peels to put into the oven (we have four so we can make all the pizzas for our family together in advance) then turn them during cooking using the metal peel.

Putting pizza into the outdoor Ooni Koda pizza oven

We've found that a sprinkling of semolina flour on the peels underneath the pizza really helps with a smooth transfer to the pizza oven. Once the pizza is in the oven it will cook very quickly (it usually takes just over a minute to cook the pizza completely) so you need to be stood there keeping an eye on it and turning it every 15-20 seconds or so. Some heatproof gloves are really handy for moving the pizza around on the peel!

Cooking pizza in the Ooni Koda pizza oven

It takes a bit of practice to learn how quickly the pizza will cook. At the moment we are still using a timer while cooking, but it won't take long for us to get used to the oven and realise when the pizza needs to be rotated. 

Ooni Koda outdoor pizza oven

We have been so impressed by the quality of the pizzas produced by the Ooni Koda. It's definitely worth taking some time to research how to make a good quality dough - there are plenty of apps to help with recipes, and videos demonstrating how to roll and form the dough into bases. We've also invested in some good quality ingredients - we use Caputo flour and have recently started buying Fior Di Latte mozzarella. They need to be bought from Italian food stores or online, but they really do make such a difference to the taste of the pizza. 

We are so pleased with our purchase and now have our fingers crossed for a lovely, long and hot summer like last year, filled with plenty of delicious pizza!

Delicious pizza from the Ooni Koda pizza oven outdoors

If you want to see the Ooni Koda pizza oven in action I can thoroughly recommend this YouTube channel - Got2EatPizza - for plenty of Ooni pizza making demonstrations and recipes.

 Related post - The G3 Ferrari Delizia Pizza Oven review

Affiliate links - Here are some of the products that we have used with our Ooni Koda that I can personally recommend. It's definitely worth shopping around when it comes to buying the actual pizza oven as prices do vary by retailer and you may be able to find a special offer.

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