Friday 17 September 2021

My new bookcases

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ikea Billy bookshelves in oak

Thursday 16 September 2021

Five party planning essentials

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


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

Guest List

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

Party cupcakes with roses
Photo credit The Digital Marketing Collaboration

Food & Drink

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

The Decorations

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

Party helium balloons
Photo credit Adi Goldstein


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

In Conclusion

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

This is a collaborative post.

Monday 13 September 2021

The National Railway Museum, York

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

The National Railway Museum, York - a family visit

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

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

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

The National Rail Museum York, train travel posters

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

York Railway Museum small train ride outside

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

Stephenson's Rocket at the National Railway Museum, York

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

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

National Railway Museum York turntable

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

Local train signs at the National Railway Museum in York

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

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

You can find more information here - National Railway Museum

The National Railway Museum in York for families

Thursday 9 September 2021

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

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 (affiliate link) - 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. 

* 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!