Monday 29 April 2019

Decluttering 100 things in a week

As the end of the Easter holidays approached, I began to think about getting the house back in order. We were at home a lot, so there were plenty of half-finished projects scattered about, and we also shopped for new items which needed homes.

It was the wrong time of the month to play the #minsgame, so I decided to set my own challenge, and remove 100 items from the house over the last week.

I'm the only one in our house that does any kind of decluttering, so normally when I do challenges like this I often count items that belong to other people are part of my total. But I decided to be a bit stricter with myself this time.

These things didn't count:

* Things belonging to other people, I could only count my own possessions or household items that are exclusively for my use and that no-one else knows exist. I still decluttered and tidied other things at the same time, I just didn't count them.

* Things that I'd be throwing away anyway, like junk mail.

* Consumables that were used up during the week, like toiletries or food.

I must admit that I found the challenge very difficult! I declutter regularly and am often sorting through my things so there weren't many obvious things to remove. But here's what went:

Study - 3 packs of glue, 1 pack pencils, 2 sets of sticky dots, broken magnetic notepad, blunt scissors,
book, old squishy, pen, 2 USB sticks, 5 Ikea pencils, Lego cards, silly putty, craft kit, old map, patterned paper, tissue paper, foam sheets (25)

Bedroom - 4 jumpers, 2 pairs pyjamas, 1 pair of jeans, 6 tops, 1 lonely sock, 1 bra, 3 bits of fabric, 2 expired cards, low factor sun cream, razor stand, sewing kit, ear plugs, 4 pairs headphones, 1 box (29)

Bathroom - 3 expired bottles of medicine, 2 medicine spoons, 2 inter dental brushes (7)

Living room - 2 Ikea catalogues (2)

Kitchen - 8 colouring/activity books, shoe polish, wristband, shopping bag, sponge, ice cube tray, 4 shoelaces, filled up notebook, tube of dried up paint, plastic trays, tea towel, 2 cleaning cloths, pencil pot, 9 pens, plastic mat, science kit leftovers, big pile of dried up felt pens, broken pencil sharpener (37)

= 100 items!

Lots of these things were small, so you'd think that it wouldn't have made much of a difference, but I can definitely tell that things are looking tidier. Especially in the drawers where I keep my clothes - I've made some space and rearranged things so that I can see them more easily.

Doing a challenge like this is definitely a good way for me to keep on top of the little extra things that end up in the house!

Simple cactus against a blue background
Photo credit - Khai Sze Ong via Unsplash

Friday 26 April 2019

Reasons that I've bought a book recently

Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore? - Henry Ward Beecher

 Here are some of the reasons that I've bought a book recently...

* It was very cheap. I can't resist books at school book sales, the sale shelf at the library, or any kind of multiple purchase deal even if I'm only after one book. I've also recently discovered Amazon Marketplace where you can buy books in really good condition, sometimes very cheaply.

* I was going on holiday and wanted something new to read. Although I always take my Kindle, sometimes there's no substitute for a physical book, especially if you are planning to read on the beach or by the pool and don't the Kindle to be stolen or damaged.

* It was for the children. I'm quite strict with the number of toys that they own, but I feel that they can't have too many books, and I'd rather buy them a book than a magazine if I'm dragging them around the shops. At the moment they are both fixated on particular authors (Rick Riordan for Harry and Jacqueline Wilson for Mia) and so it's tempting to try and collect all the books in a set.

* For nostalgic reasons. I suddenly remember a book that I remember loving as a child and it makes me want to re-read it or it share it with my children. This was the case for Goodnight Mr Tom that I found at the school book sale.

* I follow the author on Twitter or other social media and they seem nice. For example this influenced my purchase of Let me Lie by Claire Mackintosh.

* I've read reviews of the book from other bloggers or have heard it being talked about by others. Far too many to mention here, but often someone will say 'you must read this book, only 99p on Amazon' and I'll pop straight over. I don't always buy it of course but there have been many occasions when I have!

* I'm inspired by a Twitter thread like this one:
And by the way, if you can help Nickie out with the name of the book that she was originally talking about in the thread I'm sure she'd be delighted!

What are some of the reasons that you've bought a book recently?

Wednesday 24 April 2019

Going back to Coombe Abbey

Twelve years ago, Coombe Abbey in Warwickshire was a very important place to me. It's where we got married on the beautiful and sunny Saturday before Easter Sunday, and I have many happy memories of our drinks reception on the terrace and photos in the gardens.

Wedding photo at Coombe Abbey
Photo credit - Alan Starkey
So it's very surprising that despite regular visits to family that live nearby we haven't returned since that day. So on this past Easter weekend while staying in the area we decided to pay it a visit once again, this time with the children. The hotel is set in the grounds of Coombe Country Park, and remembering how busy it was on that weekend all those years ago we made sure to arrive early to secure a parking space.

We had a quick walk through the hotel, then went out through to the terrace at the back, pointing out the places where we had various photos taken to the children. Then we walked down through the gardens into the Country Park itself, stopping along the way to take a few photos. The gardens are still beautiful, although I think we were much luckier with the flowers on our wedding day!

Children outside Coombe Abbey

I love Harry's new hat which we bought the day before when we braved the world's biggest Primark in Birmingham - he chose it himself and I think he looks very grown up and far trendier than I usually do! In fact both children are a bit of an advert for Primark in these photos - when I was packing for our few days away I didn't believe the weather forecast and packed them trousers and jumpers, so they had to break out their newly purchased summer wardrobe.

Child in Coombe Abbey gardens

We also spent some time exploring the country park which is lovely and well worth the visit, I'm determined that it won't be so long before we visit again!

Monday 22 April 2019

How my reading habits have changed thanks to the internet

I have always been an avid reader, but the way that I choose and read books has changed a lot over the years. The other day I was thinking about how much my reading habits have changed since the internet because a regular part of my life.

One of the first book related websites that I discoveredwas Bookcrossing. You register books that you want to pass on, then you leave them out 'in the wild' for other people to find, hoping that they will enter the unique code into the website and you can see where they have ended up. I released lots of books, and although only a couple were ever registered I hope that whoever found them appreciated them! I also spent quite a bit of time reading the discussion forums and it introduced me to lots of new books that I had never heard of. The website doesn't seem to be as active as it used to be which is surprising as almost everyone has internet access these days and is less suspicious of entering their details into random websites. Perhaps everyone reads books digitally instead...

...Which brings me onto the next big change in my reading habits - my Kindle! I wasn't keen on having a Kindle at first but I do love it now. I like that all the classic books are available for free so there is always plenty to read without having to spend anything, and if you keep an eye out for the sales you can often purchase popular books very cheaply. There are also lots of free Kindle books from current authors, although you have to be careful as they are sometimes sample books or the first one in a series.

Pile of books and a cactus
Photo credit the Bialons via Unsplash
I still enjoy reading physical books, especially to take out and about with me or on holiday. Amazon is brilliant for buying books, and I've recently started buying second hand books that work out much cheaper. I also like to browse through and see the recommendations, find other books by the same author, or look through the best seller lists.

I still borrow books from the library too, and I love being able to use the app which lets me see which books are due back and allows me to renew online. I can also easily request books that I want to borrow.

Social media is a great way to find book recommendations. A few years ago I was taking part in the Day Zero Project, and one of my items was to read 20 books recommended by others. I received a long list of books recommended by friends, and lots of them are still memorable to me today. Recently I was about to take a long haul flight, and so I turned to Twitter for some book recommendations.

Also over on Twitter I follow lots of authors, and like to keep up to date with the books that people are chatting about. I've also enjoyed discussing my reading over on Instagram, and I love how my post about which book to read next got far more interaction than my pictures usually do!

It's also great to read book recommendations from other bloggers, and I've often chosen a book to read that I've seen being talked about on social media. Sarah  for example writes regularly about books that she's enjoyed and she enjoys similar books to ones that I do, so if she's written a glowing review I can be pretty sure that I'll enjoy it too. I've definitely picked up books in the library that I remember reading about in a blog.

I love how the internet and social media has widened my horizons and introduced me to lots of books that I never would have discovered just by browsing library and shop shelves!

Wednesday 17 April 2019

The benefits of having children that love to read

Great things about children that love to read

While Harry has been interested in books since he was just a few weeks old, it took Mia a lot longer to become interested in reading for pleasure. But over the last year or so I've been looking on proudly as she has blossomed into an avid reader, currently working her way through the Harry Potter books as well as picking up a few easier books on the side. I love watching my children read, and it's inspired me to make reading more of a habit for myself as well. So I thought I'd share some of the benefits I've found of having children that love to read, and I'm sure many other parents can relate to them!

* Having a child that enjoys reading makes waiting around for things much easier - the waiting room at the doctor or the dentist, hanging around while one child is doing an activity or while waiting at the station or airport.

* Books make easy gift ideas for birthday and Christmas, or just as a treat or a reward.

* Reading is a great way to calm down before bed, and I now leave my reading children to put themselves to sleep after I've said goodnight (with an eye on the time - they'd read all night if I let them!)

* I get more time to read myself as we can spend time reading together.

* Books inspire places to visit and means that they gain more from it - for example we had a brilliant visit to the Getty Villa in Los Angeles as there was a Percy Jackson themed audio tour - my son's current favourite series.

* Busy and potentially overwhelming situations, like large family gatherings, are much easier for a child to manage if they can disappear into a corner with a book.

* Books are a way for children to learn about the world, not just geography and history but also about relationships with others and how the adult world works.

* Reading is a great way to develop and improve vocabularly, and I love hearing children mispronounce a word and knowing that it's one they learned by reading.

* Sharing the excitement of a new book released by a favourite author.

* Seeing a child's creative writing style developing and seeing how it's influenced by what they've read whether that's the storyline or language used.

* Reading is a great way to learn more about subjects that a child is interested in.

* I love it when my child tells me a fact about something that I don't know which they've learned from a book.

* Reading opens the mind to different perspectives and different ways of seeing the world.

I love watching my children's faces when they are completely absorbed in a book, the giggles that escape when they read something funny and the concentration as they reach a tricky part. I'm so glad that they've both turned out to be total bookworms!

Child reading on the bed
Photo credit - Annie Spratt via Unsplash
Title image credit Ben White via Unsplash.

Monday 15 April 2019

Review - Games on the Go from Lonely Planet Kids

I received these cards in exchange for a review.

We travel a lot with our children and I'm always looking for things that we can take along to keep them occupied during the journey. With a long car journey coming up this Easter holiday I was delighted to receive Games on the Go from Lonely Planet to review - a set of wipe clean activity cards packed neatly into a sturdy box, complete with an erasable pen.

Games on the Go by Lonely Planet Kids

The pack contains 40 cards which cover a range of activities including wordsearches, bingo, drawing and doodle prompts and puzzles. Each card is the perfect size - large enough for a child to work on but small enough to pack away neatly. Some of the activities are ones that have right or wrong answers and others are more open ended.

There are a few games which two children can play together, for example the Road Trip Bingo game where you are provided with two cards or the wordsearches and quizzes. Others are better used as an individual activity, for example drawing the contents of a suitcase or sketching clouds.

Review - Games on the Go by Lonely Planet Kids

There is plenty of variety in the cards with something to appeal to every mood of every child, and because of the wipe clean design then can be reused over and over again. I'll definitely be keeping them in the glove box of the car to pull out at those moments when a distraction is needed!

Child with Games on the Go in the car

Friday 12 April 2019

How social media has changed holiday photos

I bet if you go through your family photo albums from when you were growing up you'll find lots of photos like this. A recognisable landmark in the background (this is Epcot in 1997) with everyone lined up grinning at the camera. There's probably only one photo at this location, and there will be someone not looking at the camera, pulling a grumpy face, or squinting into the sun.

Epcot Disney World in 1997

Recently we had a wonderful holiday in Dubai, surrounded by beautiful things to see, and as I looked at the people around us I noticed how much holiday photos have changed. We spent quite a bit of time in the aquarium that was a part of our hotel, and we loved standing in front of the tanks with the children watching the fish swim by. So I started to get really annoyed when people asked me to move the children out of the way so that they could take a better picture of themselves in front of the tank for an arty photo like this:

Lady posing at aquarium
Photo credit Silas Hao via Unsplash
But I did find it funny seeing people posing for photographs that were clearly only being taken for social media. I was swimming in the gorgeous hotel swimming pool and was very amused to watch one lady tip toeing through the water to the far side of the pool, staying as dry as she could, then hoisting herself up onto the side, posing to show off her low cut swimming costume and flipping her hair about so that her boyfriend cold take a series of photos with the hotel in the background, then gingerly making her way back through the water to rejoin him and look through the photos. She didn't show any enjoyment at all from actually being in the pool!

And it's funny watching people line up to take photos in the same picture perfect spot, or contorting themselves into different shapes to best show off their body and clothes, yet never looking directly at the camera.

Lady posing on hill top
Photo credit Jakob Owens via Unsplash
I found it so noticeable, that after seeing several people posing in front of this large screen depicting waves on a beach I made Harry recreate their poses, with his foot kicked back, arm out, and gazing off into the distance!

Child posing by beach on big screen

I love that now you can take a photo and see it instantly, so that you can retake a bad photo and choose your favourites. But I think it's a bit of a shame that sometimes taking the perfect picture can be more important than experiencing the moment, and I must admit that sometimes I'm guilty of this. I want to have real holiday memories, not fake ones that are set up only to show off to others.

It's a bit why I've gone off Instagram lately. I love taking photos when I visit somewhere, and I do try to think about the composition, the background, the lighting and so on. But I only want to spend a few seconds taking a snap, I don't want to waste my holiday spending hours on a photo just for the social media likes.

Have you noticed this when you've been visiting Instagrammable spots?

Wednesday 10 April 2019

#ad Sea glass and glass pebble coaster

This is a collaborative post in association with Bostik

This month I am using Bostik Power Repair Ultimate Strength glue in my crafting. This glue is an ultra strong clear glue which provides a long lasting bond for just about anything, including glass, wood, stone, metal, leather, rubber, plastics, ceramic and more.

I used it to make a sea themed coaster for my desk, using glass pebbles and some scraps of sea glass.

Pebble coaster tutorial

You need:

A blank coaster - this could be an old coaster that you want to upcycle or you can buy a plain coaster to decorate
Acrylic paint
Glass pebbles
Sea glass
Bostik Power Repair Multi-Purpose Ultimate Strength Glue

Making a glass pebble coaster with Bostik Power Repair glue


First prepare your coaster with a coat of paint. I upcycled an old coaster that I had already, so I first painted the coaster with some white paint to cover up the existing image, then finished with a layer of pale blue to add to the seaside theme of my coaster. If your coaster already has a darker image on it then you may need several coats to cover it evenly.

Glass pebble and sea glass coaster craft

When the glue has dried you can prepare your glass pebbles and sea glass. Try and choose pieces of sea glass that are the same height as the pebbles so that the coaster will have an even surface. If the sea glass pieces are flatter than the pebbles you may need to add some cardboard or similar to the bottom to bring them up to the same height. If you can't find sea glass you could also use flat stones or sea shells. I used a spare coaster to plan out my design so that I would be able to work quicker once the glue was applied.

Sea glass and glass pebbles glued to a coaster

The Bostik Power Repair Glue has two nozzles, one fine and one wide. For this project I used the wider nozzle which allows you to spread the glue over a larger area. I coated the painted surface of the coaster with a layer of glue, trying to keep the glue application smooth.

Using Bostik Power Repair glue for crafting

Then I pressed the sea glass and pebbles down into the glue. You are able to reposition the items for up to three minutes, and then the glue will be fully set within two hours, so this gives you time to arrange the pebbles and sea glass the way that you want them.

Sticking glass pebbles to a painted coaster

The glue will be fully dried after 24 hours, so it's best to wait until then before you use the coaster for the first time.

How to make a glass pebble coaster craft

You could also use this technique to decorate other items, for example a tin can to make a pencil holder, or a picture or mirror frame.

Pebble coaster with mug and Bostik power repair glue

Now I have a little piece of the seaside to keep me company while I enjoy a cuppa at my desk!

Bostik Power Repair glue for crafting

Monday 8 April 2019

Review - Map of the Universe jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

I was sent this jigsaw in exchange for a review.

When I was received the Ravensburger Map of the Universe (affiliate link) jigsaw puzzle to review I was a little daunted. It has 1500 pieces, which is the largest jigsaw I've ever attempted, and I could tell by looking at the picture that it was going to be a tricky one. There's lots of black and large areas of the jigsaw look very similar to each other. But I'm so glad that I gave it a go, and it wasn't nearly as difficult as I was expecting!

Ravensburger Map of the Universe jigsaw puzzle review

I approached the puzzle by sorting all the pieces into trays. Usually I begin a jigsaw by doing the edge, but because this puzzle was too large for my puzzle board I started with the circular centre section, which I calculated would just fit onto my jigsaw board. I made piles for edge pieces, the circular rings, the stars in the middle and the informative diagrams around the edges. Then I made a start on the centre. It was pretty easy to put together the coloured rings, and although the centre star map was challenging there was enough variety in the design that it wasn't boring. The picture on the box can't do the detailed image justice - there's much more to see on the actual jigsaw.

Map of the Universe jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger in progress

When the centre circular section was complete I transferred it (very carefully) to our dining table so that I could add in the outer sections. Some of the pieces were easy to place and others were more challenging, but by looking carefully at the image on the box and sorting the pieces by shape I was able to put the jigsaw together without too much trouble.

Map of the Universe jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger review

There was a definite sense of achievement when this puzzle was finished, and it looks most impressive! It's definitely a puzzle that you want to leave out for a few days once finished so that you can admire it and pick out all the details in the image.

Thursday 4 April 2019

An amazing few days in Rio de Janeiro

Last week my husband and I were lucky enough to spend a few days in Rio de Janeiro without the children. He won a prestigious award at work and this was his reward - luckily my parents were able to look after the children for us, as it was an opportunity that was far too good to miss! The organisers covered three full days of events and activities, and because of the way the flights worked we had a day before and a day after to ourselves. It was an amazing trip, and I'm so glad that I was able to go.

On our first day we booked a tour of one of the favelas, or slums, using this company - Favela Walking Tour. Ram was very keen to do this tour but I wasn't so sure, there are many warnings for tourists to stay out of the favela areas, and I didn't want to be gawping at the people that live there. But in the end the tour wasn't what I expected at all, and I'm really glad that we did it. Our guide for the tour was Carlos, who has featured in several documentaries, and is a resident of the Rocinha favela where the tour takes place. He very much wants people to see the other side of Rio de Janeiro, and it's a very immersive tour. We were taken in a bus to the top and then we walked down through the favela, stopping along the way for him to explain the history of the favela, how they run, and the politics behind them.

Rio de Janeiro favela walking tour

Walking through the favela felt completely safe, and very different to how it is described in the tourist literature. There are wide roads running through it with buses and taxis, and there are many businesses, both for residents and tourists. There are shops, banks and bars, everywhere seemed to have electricity, water and was fairly sanitary. We would definitely have felt safe there without the tour, although we wouldn't have strayed far from the main streets as it's very easy to get lost with all the narrow streets!

Rio de Janeiro favela walking tour

There was a great sense of community, and although you obviously do stand out as a tourist we were greeted by lots of people and we never felt unsafe.

The next day we went on a trip to the Christ the Redeemer statue which stands on the peak of the Corcovado mountain and overlooks the city. As you can see from the grey sky in the background it wasn't the best day to visit - seconds after this photo was taken the statue disappeared behind the clouds! So we weren't able to enjoy many views of the scenery as we were mainly looking down through the clouds, but it was still amazing to be so close to the statue which you can see from all around the city.

Christ the Redeemer statue, Rio de Janeiro

In the evening we went to an organised carnival party. This took place at Samba City, which is an area set aside for building and preparing floats for the Rio carnival. We had our faces painted with glitter, a buffet dinner, and then a full on carnival party with music and dancing - it was amazing!

Carnival party in Rio de Janeiro

The following day we took a cruise around Guanabara Bay before a ride on the cable cars up Sugarloaf Mountain. Fortunately the weather was much better and so we were able to enjoy the amazing views from the cable car and the top of the mountain.

Sugarloaf Mountain cable car

Finally, on our last day we booked our own jeep tour to the Tijuca Forest through our hotel. We chose a shorter driving tour, but you can also take a longer tour which includes more of a hike. The jeep picked us up from our hotel with a guide and drove us into the Tijuca Forest - a tropical rainforest right in the city. Our tour took us to the Chinese View, where you can see both the Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugarloaf Mountain at the same time, then we went deeper into the forest. After stopping at a waterfall we went for a short walk along a forest trail. We were lucky enough to see a little marmoset monkey and lots of coatis - little racoon like animals with a pointy nose and sharp teeth!

Tijuca Forest jeep tour

It was a really fantastic few days and I'd definitely recommend Rio de Janeiro as a place to visit either with or without children. In fact the whole time we were there we were thinking about how much the children would enjoy it, with a good mix of beach and pools as well as lots of interesting sights to see. It would be amazing to visit during the carnival as well!

Monday 1 April 2019

Crafts that I want to try but haven't

I love crafting, and although I always have plenty of projects on the go there's always something new that I want to try. Here are some of the crafts that I'd love to have a go at one day, but haven't managed to for various reasons!

Macramé - This was a big thing when I was younger, and it seems to have come back into fashion. Browsing on Pinterest and Instagram I've spotted lots of Macramé wall hangings which seem to be very popular at the moment. They do look rather complicated though and any mistakes would be easy to spot, so I'm not sure that I'm up to the job of creating a statement piece like this without a lot of practice!

Macrame wall hanging over dining table
Photo credit designecologist via Unsplash

Quilling - Quilling seems like a cheap craft that wouldn't take up very much space, and using bright coloured paper appeals to me. I'm just not sure what I'd do with any finished makes. I'm not really into making cards for people, and there's only so much of your own artwork that you can display around the house. I also wouldn't know where to start, so perhaps I need to look for a small kit that has everything I need.

Jewellery making - I did have a brief foray into jewellery making at a friend's house recently, although she did give me quite a bit of help with working out what I wanted to do and how to do it. I do like tiny little beads and at least the supplies don't take up too much space!

Homemade beaded bracelet and earrings

Mosaic making - Again this is a craft that I've tried before but only on a small scale using a kit. I want to come up with a larger scale project, maybe covering an outdoor table or something like that. What puts me off is having to buy so many materials that I probably wouldn't use up!

Pottery making - I remember having a go once on a potters wheel as a child and I loved it. I really fancy having a go at making my own bowls, but this isn't something that you can do at home as you need the wheel and the finished bowl would need to be fired properly. Perhaps I need to look for an evening class or something! I have a couple of bowls that came from my Grandma's house that I'm pretty sure she made, I'd love to make something similar myself.

Homemade pottery bowl

What crafts are on your wish list to try one day?