Friday, 17 September 2021

My new bookcases

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ikea Billy bookshelves in oak

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Five party planning essentials

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

Brainstorming

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

Guest List

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

Party cupcakes with roses
Photo credit The Digital Marketing Collaboration

Food & Drink

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

The Decorations

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

Party helium balloons
Photo credit Adi Goldstein

Entertainment

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

In Conclusion

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

This is a collaborative post.

Monday, 13 September 2021

The National Railway Museum, York

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

The National Railway Museum, York - a family visit

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

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

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

The National Rail Museum York, train travel posters

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

York Railway Museum small train ride outside

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

Stephenson's Rocket at the National Railway Museum, York

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

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

National Railway Museum York turntable

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

Local train signs at the National Railway Museum in York

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

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

You can find more information here - National Railway Museum

The National Railway Museum in York for families

Thursday, 9 September 2021

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

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

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

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

Suck UK cross stitch map in progress

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

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

Cross stitch personal travel map

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

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

Cross stitch map personal travel in detail

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

Free Disney style castle cross stitch pattern




Monday, 6 September 2021

Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire (an English Heritage site)

Bolsover Castle English Heritage review

With a view to making the most of our new English Heritage membership, on a recent trip to York we made a stop at Bolsover Castle located in the town of Bolsover, north east Derbyshire and just off the M1. Booking in advance wasn't required, but as it was the school holidays and we were taking a non-member with us we chose to book our tickets and purchase the extra one in advance. 

There is free parking in the town centre and English Heritage provides a handy map of parking spaces. However we arrived mid morning, and our first choice of parking in the main car park was full. We headed for the additional car parking and found a space, but when we returned to the car early afternoon the car park was crammed with thoughtlessly parked cars to the point where we nearly couldn't get our car out. So if you are visiting at a busy time I'd save yourself some stress and avoid the car park located to the side of the castle - head for a town centre one instead even if you have to walk for a few minutes!

Bolsover Castle Terrace Ruins

A visit to the castle is divided into three main areas. We started with the Terrace Range. This is a series of ruined stately rooms which once formed the entrance to the castle. Even though there is no roof you can still get a really good impression of what it would once have looked like.

The views from the huge old windows are just stunning! We found a bench just outside to sit and enjoy our packed lunch looking out across the surrounding countryside. 

Terrace Range Bolsover Castle view from window

Next we explored the Little Castle, which was not a permanent residence but rather created as an extravagant retreat for entertaining. We had a really interesting chat with one of the guides who told us all about the paintings in one of the entrance rooms and how they reflected the activities that were planned for visitors - lots of eating, drinking and entertainment like hunting and plays. 

Little Castle at Bolsover Castle

We spent a lot of time wandering around the beautifully decorated rooms upstairs and then exploring the kitchens and cellars below ground.

Inside the Little Castle at Bolsover Castle

Then we emerged into the Fountain Garden with a beautiful working fountain in the centre. The fountain extends below ground level and is filled with various statues and gargoyle type creatures that spout water up and around. The grassy area is another lovely spot to sit for a while, surrounded by the high wall studded with built-in niches. Then we climbed up to the newly restored circular Wall Walk along the top of the wall. You can enjoy wonderful views across the countryside and back towards the Little Castle and ruins.

Bolsover Castle Fountain Garden

We finished our visit at the playground. Ours are getting a little bit too old for a playground to be honest, but it was a good way to burn off some excess energy before heading back to the car to continue our drive!

We spent just over two hours at the castle and it was one of my favourite castle type attractions that we've visited. I really enjoyed the contrast between the derelict ruined areas and the beautifully preserved Little Castle, each with just the right amount of explanatory displays to keep us all interested. It is beautifully maintained and the views really are stunning. It felt like a very peaceful place to visit, and was a great place to break a long journey with some fresh air and pleasant picnic spots. 

A family ticket currently costs £32.80 which I think is quite reasonable, although like most English Heritage properties if you are visiting more than a couple of the large attractions over the year then it's often better value to purchase a year's membership. 

You can find out more information about the castle here - Bolsover Castle English Heritage.

Bolsover Castle English Heritage family review

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Goals update and goals for September

August felt like a funny old month. We hardly saw the sun and we all spent far too much time indoors. I did do reasonably well at my August goals though, especially with getting the garden sorted despite the fact that our garden waste collection seems to have ground to a halt. 

Another good effort made was working on my cross stitch map. Here's what it looks like now, and I'm really pleased with my progress on working around some of the fiddly country edges. 

Cross stitch travel map in progress

I always find that September is a good time for a fresh start, or more specifically the first week in September that the children are back at school. I find it even more motivating than the beginning of the New Year. 

So without further ado, here are my goals for September:

* Get my tummy muscles back. I had a fairly toned tummy back in the spring because I was doing abs exercises daily. I stopped, and now the muscles have gone. I do a leg workout most days already so I'm going to add in another short workout every day and make most of them abs workouts. Just quick ten minute ones but they make all the difference. This is one of my favourites:


* Get back to regular gym trips. We agonised over whether or not to renew our gym membership and in the end we made the decision that we would, but downgraded to a joint membership rather than a family one. I've been a few times already, but once the children are back at school I can get into more of a routine and I'll be aiming to get there at least twice a week, hopefully more often.

* Pick up regular blogging again. I do love blogging but it's been a bit hit and miss since covid started. I have lots of ideas, and at this time of year there are so many seasonal things to write about. I want to write about books and reading, crafting, homemaking, the children, days out and travel.

* Get the garden and garage winter ready. Do a last cut of the hedge and lawn, empty out the pots and the vegetable patch, tidy and sweep out the garage. And cross my fingers that next summer isn't as much of a washout as this one was!

* Sort out my clothes. I'm normally very good at keeping my clothes under control but I've gone for a bit of a change in my outfits recently since I lost some weight. I've ditched the unflattering jeans that I've worn for years and moved towards leggings and long tops or dresses which I'm finding really comfortable (and hopefully the look suits me!) I need to reorganise a bit and think about which clothes I genuinely enjoy wearing.

September for me is generally a month for getting everyone back into the routine that has been lost over the summer, bringing the house back into a clean and tidy state and enjoying plenty of time to myself to get on with my own work and hobbies. 

I'm off to a good start, so hopefully September will be a productive month!

Monday, 30 August 2021

Packing books to take on holiday

Recently I was doing some packing for a week away, and it occurred to me that amongst the chaos of packing, many people probably don't spend as long as I do thinking about which books to take. It certainly doesn't cross my husband's mind! But almost as soon as a holiday is booked I'm thinking about its potential for reading opportunities.

Different types of holiday have different requirements. In our mid-twenties we embarked on a fantastic around the world trip and were tight on packing space. Despite all the long haul flights I packed just one book which I managed to make last for the entire trip. Granted it was a thick one - Anna Karenina by Tolstoy - but even though the battered paperback is long gone whenever I see the book title it brings back great memories of our holiday.

A week away with the family usually offers much more time for reading so I always pack at least five or six books. When we went away just before Christmas last year I raided the seasonal shelf in the library for Christmas themed books full of cosy fireside romances, hot chocolate and gingerbread. For a long flight I'll bring something easy to read and gripping enough to keep me distracted, and for a beach or pool holiday I want a cheap paperback that I don't mind getting wet!

In addition, regardless of the physical books, these days I always have my Kindle along with me (oh how I would have loved a Kindle on my round the world trip!) I pop over to Amazon and download some books from the Prime Reading Library as well as looking through the free Kindle books to see if any catch my eye. Of course it's already stuffed full of both favourites and classic books that I want to read, so I'll never be short of reading material. 

When packing I'm also busy thinking about books for the children as well. One of my fondest childhood holiday memories is the book box that my Mum used to put together to bring along in the car with us. She would collect second hand books at the library book sale and charity shops which were only brought out when we had arrived. I still remember the excitement of all those new books! 

Books piled up on suitcase ready to take on holiday

Above are the books that I packed for our most recent trip. The current read (Atonement), a non-fiction book to dip in and out of (Quiet), a book I haven't read before (The Flight of the Falcon), a nice big book so that I don't run out of things to read (Gone With The Wind) and my Kindle on top!

Choosing which books to pack for a holiday certainly makes the chore of packing much more fun, and of course sitting down and getting on with all that reading is something to look forward to as well!

Friday, 27 August 2021

Adventures in Harry Potter baking

This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

My Mum knows that I like to keep busy with the children over the school holidays, as well as enjoying a challenge, and so this summer she treated us to a copy of The Official Harry Potter Baking Book. This book contains 40+ recipes inspired by the Harry Potter books and films, alongside lots of photos and trivia.

It's a lovely book to browse through, with plenty of pictures of the gorgeous (and slightly intimidating) bakes which are all beautifully styled. I sat the children down with a pack of post it notes so that they could pick out the ones that they wanted to try, then I went through afterwards and weeded out the ones that I thought we could manage to make a start with. Some of them are very complicated!

The Official Harry Potter Baking Book

I decided that we would start with the Wizard's Chess Squares, which are plain and chocolate flapjack squares arranged to look like a chessboard. I've made flapjacks lots of times before and already had most of the ingredients so I was feeling confident.

Harry Potter baking wizard chess flapjacks

We were very pleased with our finished display! I'd not made chocolate flapjacks before and this recipe was absolutely delicious. If you know your chess, you may notice that there should be an extra row to the chessboard. Unfortunately the finished bake went a bit crumbly so we didn't have quite enough squares to make a full board...it still tasted good when eaten with a spoon though!

Harry Potter baking wizard chess flapjacks

Next we tried another simple recipe - Wand Breadsticks. These were very easy to make and didn't need many ingredients. The children had fun making different shapes and styles, and they tasted good too.

Harry Potter wand breadsticks

Our most recent bake was these doughnuts. The Harry Potter connection? Imagine them piled up with sweets and chocolate frogs to produce a Honeydukes Haul Cake. I'd never made doughnuts before and I was very pleased with the result - they were delicious! And not nearly as difficult as I had imagined they would be. This is definitely a recipe that I'll be returning to!

Harry Potter doughnuts

We still have plenty of things left to keep us busy baking. I'm even wondering whether to change things up this Christmas and attempt a Hogwarts Gingerbread Castle using the templates provided in the book! 

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Some 5* books that I've enjoyed recently

 This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Over the last year the number of books that I've read has increased massively, and the main reason for this has been my local library. It's only small so I wasn't in the habit of visiting regularly, but since they introduced free reservations last spring I've been going there at least once a week to both pick up the books that I've reserved and to browse the shelves for more books. I will really miss those free reservations once they've come to an end!

So I thought I'd pass along just a few of the top books that I've enjoyed recently, in case anyone is looking for reading inspiration.

The Forgotten Life of Arthur Pettinger by Suzanne Fortin This was a very moving dual timeline book about an old man suffering from dementia, with only vague and fleeting memories of his life in the Second World War and the young woman that he fell in love with. I'm not always a fan of dual timeline historical fiction but this one worked really well and the details of the full story were revealed at a good pace. Perhaps not the most cheerful of topics but it was beautifully written. 

Mr Wilder and Me by Jonathan Coe Before reading this book I was only vaguely aware of the famous  Hollywood director Billy Wilder, having watched a couple of his films during my Media Studies A-Level many years ago. The story follows a young woman who also knows almost nothing about him but finds herself working on the set of his film Fedora. It's a coming of age story ,and although the story is fictional it's rooted in fact. It was a fascinating behind the scenes look at Hollywood in the seventies.

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery This was recommended by my sister and I enjoyed it very much. It's the story of Valancy Stirling, unmarried at the grand old age of 28 and living with her overbearing mother and aunt. She dreams about living in a Blue Castle where all her dreams of romance can come true. When she is diagnosed with a heart condition and given only a year to live she decides to rebel and finds herself living for real the life that she's always dreamed about. But what will happen when the year is up?

Should We Stay or Should We Go by Lionel Schriver This is a very cleverly written book. It's about a couple in their fifties that decide, rather than becoming a burden on their family and society as they age, they will commit suicide together at the age of 80. The book then takes a look at a variety of different scenarios that could play out - some realistic and some not so much! It was a funny read, and also leaves you thinking about the decisions that we make and how they affect our lives.

The Skylarks' War by Hilary McKay I picked this one up in the children's section when I was looking for books for Mia. It's a book about a group of children and how their lives are affected by the outbreak of the First World War. It reminded me of children's classic books like The Railway Children and Carrie's War, as well as the memoir Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. It was a beautiful read and left me in tears. It was one of those children's books that are wasted on children, it should definitely be marketed at adults as well!

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid This book tells the story of a young black woman, who at the start of the story is apprehended in a supermarket for 'kidnapping' the white child that she's babysitting. The book explores her story and that of her employer. It's a gripping read and a very relevant and timely tale about all sorts of issues, including but not limited to, racism and privilege. 

The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys This book follows several stories set during the Second World War - a man in a German prison camp, his young wife back at home and his sister. I loved the descriptions about the natural world and I was pleased to discover at the end that some elements of the story were based in truth. Despite the seriousness of the setting it was a really lovely read about enjoying the simple pleasures of the day.

I've also been on a bit of a book buying spree. I'm reluctant to buy new books as I read them so quickly that it seems like a waste of money. Instead I buy books that I've previously read and enjoyed. The Breaking Point by Daphne du Maurier is a collection of short stories from one of my favourite authors that I remember reading when I was younger (in a previous edition published as The Blue Lenses and Other Stories.) There are eight stories in the book and the one that had really stuck in my mind and that I wanted to reread is called The Pool. It's a story about a young girl on the brink of adulthood, and for some reason it really resonates with me. It had been years since I last read it and I finished the story in tears! I'm glad that I now have my own copy to read whenever I want.

If you've read any great books recently I'd love to hear about them, leave me a comment below!

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Five tips to choose the perfect greeting card

A greeting card can be a great way to let someone know you are thinking of them during a difficult time or during a time of celebration. But with so many designs to choose from, choosing the right one can sometimes feel like an impossible task. There are a number of key factors you must consider beforehand. Keep reading to find out how to choose the perfect greeting card for any occasion.

Consider the recipient

When it comes to choosing the perfect greeting card, you must first consider who you intend to send it to. This can determine which type of greeting card you are on the lookout for. For example, if you are shopping for a birthday card for your mum or sister, it may benefit you to browse greeting cards that include a personalised message or heartfelt sentiment. If you are looking to send a greeting card to an acquaintance or colleague on the other hand, you should play it safe and opt for a simple yet friendly design. You must also consider their age, gender, personality, and relationship to you. The Christmas card you send to a friend is unlikely to be the same Christmas card you send to your grandmother. By considering the recipient ahead of time, you can ensure you are purchasing a greeting card that is not only suitable but appropriate for the person it is addressed to.

Pile of Christmas holiday greeting cards
Photo credit Annie Spratt


Determine the occasion

Which greeting card you choose will differ depending on the occasion you are marking it with. For example, if you are celebrating your best friend’s birthday, you can lead with an earnest or comedic tone. If you are sending commiserations for the ill health of a loved one, on the other hand, you should browse the wide range of get well soon cards available both in-store and online. If you are struggling to find the perfect card for the occasion, it may benefit you to take a look at Greenvelope’s selection. You can also purchase a greeting card for more occasions than ever before including a baby shower, Halloween party, or simply to pass on words of encouragement for a friend going through a particularly rough patch in their life.

Decide on a type of greeting card

When it comes to choosing a greeting card, it can be difficult to settle on a particular type. Before you make a final decision, you must weigh up the pros and cons of each and consider whether or not the recipient is likely to appreciate the sentiment or find it distasteful. Electronic greeting cards are experiencing a rapid surge in popularity, but they lack the personal touch of a physical greeting card. They are, however, the number one choice for a growing number of consumers looking to send a message to a friend or family member overseas. They can also be personalised in more ways than a physical card and altered before sending as necessary. If you want to send someone something to remember, consider designing and sending a homemade greeting card. This can prove how much they mean to you and allow you to get creative.

Pile of greetings cards in envelopes
Photo credit Ranurte

Consider the recipient’s hobbies and interests

If you are sending a greeting card to a new friend or acquaintance, it can be impossible to know what they like and dislike. This can make the process of shopping for a greeting card particularly difficult. If you are in doubt, opt for a simple design with no added flair or personality. If you are sending a greeting card to a friend or loved one, however, it can be a great opportunity to prove how much they mean to you and that you are interested in what they have to say. Popular greeting card designs include flowers, animals, cars, movie characters, and music. If your brother is a car fanatic, consider a greeting card with his favourite model splashed across the front. If your friend loves puppies, there are plenty of canine-themed greeting cards available guaranteed to bring them joy.

Craft a well-worded message

As well as choosing the perfect design, you must also choose a greeting card with a great message. You must decide whether you wish to purchase a greeting card with a set message or with space to write your own. If you intend to send the greeting card to someone close to you, a few heartfelt sentences can be a great way to make it personal.

When it comes to choosing the perfect greeting card, it can become overwhelming. With so many factors to consider beforehand, you must plan ahead. This includes considering the recipient, determining the occasion, deciding on a type of greeting card, considering the recipient’s hobbies and interests, and crafting a well-worded message.

This is a collaborative post

Monday, 23 August 2021

I've been on a book buying spree

This summer I've been managing to fit in a reasonable amount of work. I do some at home work for a company which is basically all about teaching computers to be more like people, and although the work available can be sporadic I've been lucky enough to be involved with a few projects recently that I can work on around the children. 

So I was feeling a bit flush this month and decided to treat myself to some book purchases!

I started by buying a couple of brand new books. I love Gone With The Wind, but my old second hand copy literally fell apart, in fact I used some of the pages towards a craft using recycled book pages. I love my shiny new copy and I'm looking forward to re-reading it. 

I also treated myself to The Breaking Point by Daphne du Maurier. We had a copy when I was growing up (under the title The Blue Lenses and Other Stories) and there was one story in particular, The Pool, which I remembered well. I really enjoyed reading these familiar stories over again.

Gone With The Wind and The Breaking Point paperback books

I also bought two more nostalgic books. When I was growing up I loved the Blue Door Theatre books but we only had three from the series - The Swish of the Curtain, Golden Pavements and Blue Door Venture. These books made references to adventures that I knew were contained in the two books below, Maddy Alone and Maddy Again, but they were long out of print and I never managed to get hold of them. 

Well I picked up my copy of The Swish of the Curtain to read to Mia, the only one in the series that I still owned, and after a Google I discovered that they have been republished in gorgeous paperback editions! So I bought the two that I hadn't read and enjoyed them very much (and I suspect that I may end up buying the rest of the series as well so that I have a row of matching copies).

Maddy Again and Maddy Alone by Pamela Brown paperback books

Then I took Mia to the opticians for new glasses and we popped into The Works opposite. While she was eyeing up the fidget toys I spotted this little book called Quiet in the sale section for just £1. I'm a sucker for a self help book and I couldn't resist! It's actually pretty good, it's  all about how the world today is such a noisy place and some of the ways that we can carve out a little bit of piece and quiet for ourselves. 

Quiet book from The Works

Finally I took Mia out for an afternoon of shopping in our local village, which has five charity shops. I've not been in a charity shop for such a long time as we've barely been into the shops lately, and we had a wonderful time! Between all the shops I picked up five books for myself at a total cost of just £6 (along with three of Jacqueline Wilson's for Mia). I was particularly pleased with The Binding because I was looking out for it having borrowed it from the library last year. 

Five paperback books from the charity shop

I only tend to buy books that I've read and enjoyed, and know that I'll want to re-read. I get through books very quickly and I don't have the money to buy every book that I want to read. The only new book to me here is The Flight of the Falcon by Daphne du Maurier, but as I really like her books I'm hoping that it's a safe bet!

I'm saving A Christmas Carol for Christmas and I've just started Atonement, which is every bit as good as I remember. 

Luckily we recently decided that we can make the space for a new bookcase in the living room, so I'll have somewhere to put all these lovely new books!

Friday, 20 August 2021

A visit to Tintagel Castle, Cornwall (an English Heritage site)

Tintagel Castle family day out review

When we were planning our holiday to Westward Ho! in July this year we were keen to visit a few local attractions, and one of these was Tintagel Castle. Tintagel Castle is an English Heritage site and it's not cheap to visit - a family ticket costs over £40 - so we decided to pay a bit more for a full year of English Heritage family membership. Luckily we already have a few other places in mind to visit!

All visits to Tintagel Castle currently need to be booked in advance, even if you are already English Heritage members, and it's very popular. We booked a week or two in advance for our visit in early July outside of the main school holidays, and when we arrived the only walk in tickets left on the day were for very late in the afternoon. Looking at the website in August there were no tickets available for the next few days.

Tintagel Castle ruins from the cliff opposite

There is no dedicated parking at Tintagel Castle itself, instead you need to park in a car park in the town and walk in. There are plenty of large public car parks and we had no problem parking when we arrived first thing, although when we left early afternoon there didn't seem to be many spaces. I imagine that on a busy day it could be difficult to find parking close by, although I spotted emptier car parks further out. I think we paid about £3 to park for the day which seemed very reasonable. The English Heritage entrance appears to be located in the town but it's about 10-15 minutes walk to the castle entrance itself, down quite a steep slope. 

The Tintagel Castle ruins are accessed by a footbridge across to the island. The views from this bridge and the island itself are absolutely incredible. We were lucky to visit on a beautiful summer's day,  to enjoy the lovely clear blue sea and spectacular views along the coastline. You can look down from the bridge to the beach below.

Once inside the Tintagel Castle ruins site, due to covid regulations you are signposted around a circular self-guided route. There is lots of walking up and down narrow stony paths with exposed cliff edges - it's not at all suitable for wheelchairs or pushchairs and I'd be very nervous if visiting with young mobile children as I'd be hanging on to them constantly! 

Views from Tintagel Castle, Cornwall

When you have crossed the bridge you are among the ruins of the 13th-century castle. There are outdoor displays to guide you through the history of the castle and also information about the legends that have sprung up around the castle over time, for example the stories of King Arthur. There isn't a great deal remaining but it is interesting nonetheless.

Walking along the top of the cliffs around the edge of the island you come to remains of early medieval buildings. It must have been a very isolated and windswept spot to live. There's an impressive statue, the brooding figure of Gallos that is inspired by the King Arthur legends. There's also a tunnel to explore which the children loved.

Statue at Tintagel Castle, Cornwall, family day out

From the island you can look back in all directions to the cliffs on the other side to the beautiful scenery around the headland.

Family day out at Tintagel Castle, Cornwall

The tour then concludes with a steep climb down steps to the beach. It probably took us about an hour in total to tour the island part of the site.

Merlin's Cave is located on the beach along with another large cave that can be explored. If you are keen to visit the beach and caves then it's worth timing your visit around the tide times, as when the tide is in parts of the beach are inaccessible. The tide was coming in when we visited and we had to scramble across rocks to get to some places, you'd also need to be careful not to get cut off by the tide. 

From the bottom of the hill the public path to the beach is down more narrow stairs and across rocks and was very crowded when we visited as it was such a lovely day. It would be awkward if you had lots of beach equipment to carry. It's a public beach (see the bottom of this post for more details) but there is no lifeguard service. It's a really lovely beach, very shallow and calm for swimming.

Merlin's Cave is a large cave which is fun to climb around in. We could see light at the far end but couldn't get across as it was cut off by some deep water and we weren't dressed for the beach!

Inside Merlin's Cave, Tintagel Castle, Cornwall

It's worth noting that there are no facilities on the island itself, and the toilets are down by the entrance near the café and beach. Also it's a very open and exposed site, lovely on the day that we visited but perhaps not so pleasant if it's raining or windy.

Finally, something that we didn't realise before our visit, and which isn't obvious to tourists thanks to the English Heritage signed entrance and the staff located near to the town car parks, is that only the island itself is ticketed. 

The beach below, including Merlin's Cave and the other caves, is a free public beach, and there are some lovely cliff walks along public footpaths on the other side of the cliff. If you park in Tintagel town and walk over you can get some great free views of the castle ruins from the other side, as well as enjoying the beach below. I'm glad that we did the full visit to the ruins once, but it's definitely a tip worth knowing, especially if you are visiting at a busy time and you can't get tickets, or you baulk at the high cost.

Family review day out at Tintagel Castle

For more details about a visit to Tintagel Castle, along with the link to book tickets, visit the English Heritage Tintagel Castle website.

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Book review - How It All Works by Adam Dant and Brian Clegg

I received a copy of this book to review. Amazon links are affiliate. 

This week Harry and I have been reviewing a fascinating book by Adam Dant and Brian Clegg - How It All Works - All Scientific Laws and Phenomena Illustrated and Demonstrated.

This large hardback book shows us as readers how science in action affects our daily lives. The book reveals how the most interesting and complex scientific laws and phenomena crop up in everything that we see around us.

How It All Works book cover

Each chapter begins with an illustration, beginning in the kitchen before zooming out to twelve other locations. We start close by with the House and the Garden, then continue on to places found on the same street like the Hospital. We then travel much further afield, including among other places the Coastline, the Earth and the Solar System, before concluding with the Entire Universe. 

Adam Dent's large illustrations are incredibly detailed. Each location covered is one that you can relate to, and has many things to spark your interest. Hidden within each illustration are 46 different laws and phenomena, and when you spot an interesting detail you are eager to find out more.  

How It All Works book illustration inside

Turning the page you can find a selection of close ups taken from the original illustration accompanied by a description by science writer Brian Clegg of the law or phenomena which is being shown. The descriptions are simple and quite brief, but make a great jumping off point for further research on the topic. 

How It All Works book review with inside picture

As Brian Clegg says, "What these illustrations and their short descriptions will show is the way that in everything we do, in everything we experience, we are witnessing and taking part in scientific phenomena, guided and linked by scientific laws. Science is not just something we do at school or that professionals undertake in laboratories, it is at the heart of how everything works." 

Harry is 12 and is used to reading non-fiction books aimed at adults, and as I expected he loved this book. He enjoys books that he can browse through as and when, and this one fits the bill perfectly. You can either start at the beginning and work your way through it, or you can flick through until something catches your eye that you want to know more about. 

Although the principles covered are undoubtedly complicated, the descriptions are simple and easy to understand. If there's something that particularly catches your eye then you can easily do some further research to find out more about the topic.

I'd definitely recommend this book for adults and teenagers alike, and even younger children would enjoy looking through the illustrations and hunting for the details that are hidden in the larger picture.

How it All Works: All scientific laws and phenomena illustrated & demonstrated (Amazon affiliate link) will be published on 28th September 2021.

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Getting the summer back on track

I mentioned in my last post that I'd been letting the poor weather this summer get to me a bit. 

It all started off so well, and at the beginning of the year I was making great plans for the garden. I ordered my seeds and had them all planted out on the windowsill. But it took ages for the weather to warm up enough to plant them outside, and they went spindly trying to reach the sunshine through the window. Then the weekend that I did plant them out we had such awful cold winds that the poor surviving plants had most of their leaves blown off. 

Plants suffering in bad weather

We did of course have a lovely heatwave in July which coincided with our week away, and that was amazing. It really felt like a proper summer holiday and we were so lucky. But then I came back and found that most of my plants in the garden had died due to the lack of water.  

I found it all a bit depressing and so I've hardly been out in the garden this week. I ventured out today and it's such a mess. The grass and the front hedge desperately need a cut, but our garden waste collections have stopped due to a shortage of drivers, and I don't want to create piles of garden rubbish everywhere. 

I'm stuck in my head thinking that it just hasn't felt like a proper summer this year. We've hardly had any outdoor pizza or barbecues, we've barely used the firepit and we've not even been out in the hot tub because it always seems to be raining in the evening. Even when it's not raining it's just not pleasant sitting outside when the sky is grey. 

But I need to keep reminding myself that it's only just the beginning of August. There is plenty of summer left, over a month of school holiday to go, and there's every chance that we will have some warm and sunny weather over the next few weeks. I need to work on appreciating what we do have, instead of mourning what we don't!

I've made it one of my goals for this month to get out in the garden every day and try and bring things back under control. I was heartened to see my first sunflower in full bloom today, and I have a few others that have managed to survive and will be flowering soon. A couple of my tomato plants are thriving, and my sweet peas are looking lovely. 

So it's time to think positive. I'm making the most of exercising outdoors as it's the perfect temperature - not too hot and not too cold. Last week I went to the gym and swam in the outdoor pool, perhaps it wasn't that warm but it was really refreshing. We've been having fun doing indoor activities like baking and playing with the forgotten Nintendo Labo sets. It's also nice not to have to trek around watering all the plants every evening, I just wait for the daily rain shower. 

Fingers crossed for just a few more warm days to come before the schools go back!

Monday, 2 August 2021

Goals update and August goals

A new month is underway, and once again it's time to set myself some goals!

You can see the goals that I set myself for July here and I'm pleased to report that I did very well with them. I achieved some tasks that had been sitting around for far too long.

August is a different month to the rest of the year, because it's taken up entirely with the school summer holidays. So my goals need to be ones that work around the family, and also focus on spending time with the family and not having as much time to myself. 

So here's what I want to achieve this month:

* Spend time in the garden every day and get it sorted. The weather has been pretty rubbish this summer hasn't it? Apart from that lovely heatwave when we were away which killed most of the plants in my garden as I wasn't there to water it.

With that, along with the current disruptions to our green waste collection service, our garden is looking a bit of a mess. I want to get out in the garden every day this month (assuming of course that it's not torrential rain all day) and spend some time sorting and some time just sitting and enjoying it. There must be some good weather still to come this summer, surely?!

* Work on my cross stitch map. This is a very long term project, and I'm ready to make some really good progress with it. As you can see from the picture below I'm doing well at filling in the background but there's plenty still to work on. It's a lofty goal, but this month it would be fantastic if I could finish working around the edges of all the countries with the blue background, leaving neat square spaces for more of my pictures. At the very least I'll aim to finish the edges of North and South America (around the Philippines, Malaysia and so on it will get quite fiddly!) I'm blocking out areas with different shades of blue, then when that is all done I'll balance out the colours by adding detail using contrasting shades.

Cross stitch world map in progress

* Write more in my journal. I started writing in my journal in March and I've found it really helpful as a way to clear my head. But lately I've got out of the habit and I want to pick it up again. Perhaps not everyday, but certainly a few times a week. Perhaps I can do this while I'm sitting in the garden with a cup of tea!

* No phone at the dinner table. I'm embarrassed to write this down as it's a terrible habit and I know that. But I don't enjoy making dinner and it's often quite a rushed affair. By the time I've got everyone's dinner on the table I just want to sit down and zone out, as do my family members. But it's not good and it needs to stop and I need to set a good example.

* No phone after dinner either. After dinner and in the evenings I'll still use my phone, but only for messages and calls, or actual tasks like taking photos, banking, checking library books and so on. No mindless scrolling.

Finally I want to make sure that we all enjoy this summer. I've been letting the poor weather get to me a bit and I need to reset things. I've found it difficult because I've been trying to do a few hours work every day, but if I get myself organised and get up at a reasonable time then I can easily get my work and other tasks done by lunchtime, which leaves the afternoon free for family time. 

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Where I spent most of last week

We have just returned from an amazing week away at Westward Ho! in Devon. We returned to the same apartment that we stayed in this week last year as we loved it so much, and this time we couldn't believe how lucky we were with the weather. It was hot and sunny every single day, not a drop of rain and barely a cloud, and warm enough to walk around in shorts and T-shirts late into the evening. 

Even though it was a little busier than last year it still felt incredibly safe. It's a small town but there are plenty of takeaway venues so we were able to either collect food or have it delivered almost every evening and enjoy it sitting on the balcony in the early evening sunshine. When the tide is out there is masses of space for everyone on the beach.

And the balcony in the apartment was where I spent most of the week. 

The balcony looked out over a wide promenade with the rocks and sea beyond, and over to one side is the enormous beach that disappears almost completely at high tide. I spent hours at a time just sitting there watching the sea, the sky, and all the people walking past. I had my books with me but I couldn't concentrate on them, what was in front of me was far more interesting.

Westward Ho! beach from a balcony

We watched the sunset from the balcony every single evening and were lucky enough to be treated to clear skies each night. On our final night a few clouds just made the sunset even more spectacular. As the sky turned orange the rockpools reflected pink. 

Westward Ho! beach sunset

We've only been back a couple of days and I'm really missing my balcony! Please enjoy the timelapse video that I made one afternoon - here is two hours condensed into thirty seconds as the tide comes in on a sunny afternoon.

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