Wednesday, 29 December 2021

My crafting goals for 2022

My crafting goals for 2022

When the New Year comes along I love to set myself goals. I have a few personal goals in mind which I won't be posting about yet, but here I'm going to share some of the crafting goals that I am thinking about for 2022 - long term craft projects that I will continue to work on, and new things that I want to have a go at. 

My long term projects

I'm currently working on two long term crafting projects. They are both cross stitch maps - one is a kit based on a vintage map design and the other is a cross stitch map that you stitch as you travel. Even with the best will in the world neither will be finished this year, but it would be good to make some decent progress on them. In particular my cross stitch travel map is now looking really good, it would be great if I could finish off some more of the blue areas and block out all the sections for new pictures.

Cross stitch travel map in progress

Festive crafting

I never seem to get as much crafting done over Christmas as I expect, with the result that I have a few Christmas themed crafting projects left to work on. I think that it's because I feel odd working on Christmas crafts until the time when I'm too busy to do them anyway. Last year I bought some Christmas fabric using a Hobbycraft voucher which I want to do something with, and I also have a few small cross stitch pieces to complete. 

New projects to begin

I have a big collection of mini Hama beads which I would like to get out again. I have a few ideas, maybe something like my tiled Russian doll picture with lots of colours. 

Mini Hama beads tiled Russian doll picture

I'd also like to get out my paints again. I enjoy painting because it's a really relaxing craft, and I especially like working with beach and sea related themes. I recently did a quick painting of the sea using acrylics. Maybe I could paint shells and practise painting a pebbly beach. If I got really ambitious I could even try some little canvases and maybe stick some actual shells or sand on to them, I've seen something similar at a friend's house!

Simple acrylic beach painting

Finally I definitely want to get my sewing machine out again. In particular I want to make some bunting, it's so quick and easy and I have some lovely fabric to use. I like decorating my garden vegetable patch with colourful bunting and I could make some for my study and bookshelves as well.

I think that I've got plenty to keep me busy over the year!

Main image credit Mel Poole via Unsplash

Monday, 27 December 2021

Ideas for a year long or long term craft project

Ideas for a year long craft project

As the end of the year approaches, like many people I start to think about the things that I want to accomplish over the following year, and my crafting plans form a big part of that. I love to do lists and I enjoy seeing how doing one simple thing daily can achieve great results in the long term.

I few years ago I completed my Sky Blanket. Every day I crocheted a simple row based on the colour of the sky that day. It was a very satisfying project and I remain very proud of the result. Although to be fair it is enormous and used a lot of yarn - next time I would scale the project down a bit and perhaps make a scarf!

Completed crochet Sky Blanket project

I got to thinking of different crafty projects that can be achieved with just a small amount of work each day. Not only that, they also serve as a reminder of the year, acting as a visual diary and reminding you all all the things that you've seen, done and experienced. 

So here is a big list of ideas for craft projects which will last a whole year and leave you with a satisfying result which will serve as the reminder of the year just gone. At the bottom of the post you can find a link to my Ideas for a year long craft project Pinterest board which is packed with inspiration, ideas and tips.

Visual diary blankets and scarves

* Sky blanket or scarf - Knit or crochet a row or square each day to represent the colour of the sky.

* Temperature blanket or scarf - Base your row or square on the temperature for the day.

* Weather blanket or scarf - Use the weather for that day to choose your row or square.

* Mood blanket or scarf - Track how you are feeling each day by choosing a colour to represent your emotion that day.

More random blankets and scarves

* Roll of the die blanket - roll a die each day to choose the colour of your row.

* Granny square blanket - make a different granny square each day and sew them together to make a blanket. You can find some fantastic inspiration in this 365 Days of Granny squares blog post.

* Activity themed blanket - choose something else to theme your blanket on each day, for example a colour that represents something that you've done, something that you've watched on television, a book that you've read and so on.

Photography and video


* Daily photograph - take a photo each day and at the end of the year you can turn them into a video or print them out as a collage or album. Many people share their daily photos on social media.

* A year in seconds video - I did this in 2017 and although it was a bit of a faff I was really pleased with the result. I put mine together in my video editing software, but now there are apps that make the whole process much easier.


Sewing and embroidery


* Daily stitch challenge - learn a new embroidery stitch everyday and display them in a sampler. 

* Embroidery hoop daily stitch challenge - each day add a small piece of embroidery to an embroidery hoop. You could sew small pictures to represent something that you've done that day, or add in buttons and sequins.

Other daily craft challenges

By spending a few minutes every day working on a craft or technique you can easily chart your improvement over time. Last year I completed the 100 Day Project where I drew or painted each day for 100 days. It wasn't always easy to fit it in but I managed it and I had a great time learning how to use watercolours and improving my skills. 

There are all sorts of craft challenges about if you have a search online, and plenty of supportive communities too which you can get involved with.

Finally a great crafty plan for the year is to list all your unfinished craft projects and aim to complete one each month (or each week if you are feeling keen!). I did this last year and you can read about all the things I was able to accomplish here - A year of completing my unfinished craft projects.


Friday, 24 December 2021

The things that make my Christmas

My Christmas is:

Family. Visiting our family when we can, and spending time together just the four of us when we are all at home without any commitments.

A Christmas tree and fairy lights. We seem to put our tree up earlier every year but I love having it there in the living room, along with festive garlands in the hallway. As soon as I've wrapped a present I place it underneath. 

Decorating a Christmas tree
Photo credit Element5 Digital via Unsplash

Advent calendars. I treated myself to a Lindt one this year!

A big box of chocolates (or two, or three...) We tend to go for the Cadbury Heroes or Celebrations. 

Gingerbread houses. I must confess that we haven't managed to make ours this year yet as we have been away, so this year I think it will be a post-Christmas gingerbread house!

Two gingerbread houses decorated by children

Christmas television. We don't watch much live television and Christmas is the only time of year that we buy a physical television guide to leaf through. I like watching the classics (The Snowman!) as well as any new adaptations, I'm planning on watching Around The World in 80 Days. Also lots of favourite Christmas films!

The Elf on the Shelf. Yes the Elf still visits us and is now an important part of our Christmas traditions.

Shopping. My family is very easy to buy for at Christmas as well all just share our Amazon wish lists. But there are lots of bargains to be hunted down from Black Friday onwards and of course the sales after Christmas to stock up on wrapping paper, cards, and any reduced chocolate treats.

Food. So much food that we never eat the rest of the year! I'm especially fond of mince pies and crackers with fancy cheese. 

Christmas music. Both traditional carols and Christmas party classics.

Decorated houses. We always try to pop out for a drive to see the houses with the best light displays!

Happy Christmas!

Five tips for choosing outdoor lighting that looks 'just right' for your garden

This is a collaborative post

With British weather what it is, we all want to make the most of our gardens whenever we can. Adding a range of lighting to your outdoor area increases its functionality and will keep the party going into the night. Follow these steps to guarantee your garden is shown in its best light, even once the sun goes down. 

Set your goals

Deciding what you want to achieve from your lighting will affect the design choices you make. While all types of outdoor lights will help illuminate your outdoor space, there are three basic tasks lighting can carry out in your garden: creating an ambience, performing a function (e.g. security) and acting as a design feature. Planning what you want your lights to do will inform your purchases and solidify your design ideas. Don’t worry about sticking to one function, you can freely incorporate all three without muddying your aesthetic if planned properly. 

Measure, measure, measure

Ensure you have the correct number of lights for your space by measuring your garden accurately. Don’t be tripped up by choosing a statement light piece that overwhelms your garden by being too large. Check wattage and follow the general guide of 1.5 watts per square foot of space. If your garden measures 200 feet square, go for 300 watts of light. This way you have a good rule of thumb as to the brightness and you’ll not end up accidentally floodlighting your space. 

Outdoor lights in the garden
Photo credit Philip Moore via Unsplash

Mix it up

Hang lights at a variety of heights to add depth and create interest in your garden. Use groups of pendant lighting if you have any overhead hanging space, put your proudest foliage features in the spotlight and go to ground by picking out pathways and seating areas. Combining a range of functional and flattering light fixtures will give your garden the sophisticated edge for Instagram-worthy evening entertainment. 

Consider the source

Consider what power sources you have available before purchasing your lights. Do you have electrical outlets that your lights will reach? Don’t let lack of plug sockets leave you in the dark. Pick solar lighting for summer entertaining or battery-operated lights if your garden is in a shadier spot. Remember that solar lighting won’t be as effective in the darker months so refer to your original design goals when deciding how to power your space if lighting in the winter months is key to your theme.  

Tie in to your home

Remember your garden is an extension of your home and not a separate entity in itself. Create flow as you move from indoors to outdoors with a nod to your home’s d├ęcor for a chic and cohesive design straight out of a magazine. Choose lighting that compliments your home’s outer aesthetic and consider using indoor/outdoor lighting that can feature wherever the party is taking place. 

When choosing lighting for your garden, it’s important to make choices that are informed by the space you have, the power sources available and your home’s overall design. Taking these factors into account will guarantee a garden that shines even on the darkest of nights. 

Thursday, 23 December 2021

Things to consider when renting a property abroad

This is a collaborative post

If you are moving abroad for work or pleasure, you may have already considered renting somewhere to live. This can be easier than buying a property when you first arrive in a country because it will give you time to check out the local area and make sure you like the country you have moved to before you put down roots. Although renting is a more transitional process, there are still some things to consider when renting a property abroad. Below we look at some of the most important points.

Speak to your employer

If the company that you work for are moving you overseas, speak to them about the relocation package they are offering you. Some companies will provide accommodations for you for the first few weeks or months, and this will give you time to settle into a new country before you have to start looking for a place of your own.

Make sure you are allowed to rent

Some locations may have restrictions about the rentals available if you are relocating for work. It may be that you are restricted to certain areas, or the length of your tenancy may be limited. Check these things before you agree to rent. Although many property owners might be happy to rent to you, make sure you don’t fall foul of the local authorities when you move in. 

Go through a reputable company

There are millions of rental companies all over the world and some are more reputable than others. Make sure the company you use has a fantastic reputation by asking other ex-pats or researching online. For example, if you are looking for a house for rent Sungai Petani then PropertyGuru has a great reputation in the South-East Asian region. They have the largest online property database in this part of the world and can put you in touch with some expert agents. 

Location

If you have some time to find your feet before renting a property, then spend it scouting for your perfect location. It might be that you want to live in the middle of the city or adjacent to your office block but if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle once you leave work then it might be worth looking further afield. 

Another consideration is what the neighbourhoods are like. It will take you a while to get to know areas by reputation, but you can usually see when you are walking and driving around if you are in a nice or a nasty neighbourhood.

Type of property

Consider the type of property you want to rent. You may be used to a lot of space at home, for example, but if you are going to your new location alone, then a smaller property or apartment might suit you better. If you are going to spend a lot of time in your neighbourhood, it might be worth considering what amenities you want to have nearby. You may need a gym and a pool in your apartment block, or you may be happy to find these facilities further afield. 

Small white house in a field
Photo credit Scott Webb via Unsplash

Alternatives

Don’t be afraid to shop around. If the first thing you see doesn’t suit you, then carry on looking. You may only be in the country for a short period of time, but you still have to be happy with the property you are living in. After all, you may decide to stay in the location for longer than you had originally planned, and you may not want the hassle of moving again.

Costs

Factor in all the costs associated with renting your new home and make sure you understand them. You may pay one price to rent a property, but does that include all the taxes and insurances you need to pay? Currency exchange rates can change frequently, and this means that the amount you will pay for your rental in US dollars will fluctuate. Don’t rent for the most money you can afford to pay. Factor in a margin and you will be more certain that you can afford your new home if the currency rates change suddenly.

Check the paperwork

Don’t sign on the dotted line until you are sure that you understand what is written on it. Hire a translator to go through the forms word by word to make sure that you are not signing any clauses you were unaware of. A translator will charge you a little to help you to complete your rental agreement, but this could save you a fortune in the long run if you inadvertently breach it and the property owners decide to sue.

Consider these factors when you are renting a property abroad to make sure that you have a happy and stress-free stay. 

Monday, 20 December 2021

Last minute Christmas crafts for children

Last minute Christmas crafts for children

It's not long now until the big day! But these last few days of Christmas school holiday before actual Christmas can be tricky to fill when you are trying to keep over excited young children happy as well as getting on with everything that needs to be done. So today I'm sharing some of my favourite last minute Christmas craft ideas

Most of them are simple enough for children to work on by themselves using bits and pieces from the craft box, and they will produce some gorgeous decorations that can be enjoyed for years to come.

Click on the links to find the full tutorial, and happy festive crafting!

Pipe cleaner snowflake ornaments


All you need are some pipe cleaners and beads, this one is great for fine motor skills with little ones, just make sure that they are fully supervised.

Simple pipe cleaner Christmas ornaments craft


Salt dough Christmas hanging decorations

Salt dough does admittedly require a little more effort, but the finished results are definitely worth it and salt dough ornaments will last for years.

Salt dough Christmas hanging ornaments


Glitter and button Christmas tree decorations

These simple Christmas tree ornaments made using glitter card are super simple to make and look very festive when lit up with sparkly fairy lights. You can also pop a battery powered tea light inside so that light shines out through holes punched in the card.

Glitter card and button Christmas tree decorations


Lollipop stick and button snowflakes

Another way to repurpose some of those old buttons in the button tin with a simple snowflake made from lollipop sticks.

Lollipop stick and button Christmas ornaments


Hama bead mini Christmas wreath ornaments

I couldn't put together a list of Christmas crafts without including Hama beads! These little Hama bead wreaths use the small circle pegboard and can be left empty or backed with a Christmas picture or a small picture of a child or pet. And if your children love crafting with Hama beads then take a look at some more of my Hama bead Christmas crafts for children.

Hama bead mini Christmas wreath ornaments

How To Declutter Your Life In The Digital Age

This is a collaborative post

We are now living in an age where technology is the most prevalent part of our lives. This isn’t bad, but it can make us feel overwhelmed at times. It seems that so much is being thrown our way at once and it can be hard to keep up. Everyday tasks are now taking place on new apps and platforms, and it is almost impossible to use these correctly on the first try.

There is no need to stress about it, though. A lot of people are finding themselves in the same boat as the digital age keeps expanding. So what can you do? The answer lies in decluttering your life and this article will reveal how you can do just that.

Regularly Clear Your Emails

There is nothing more daunting than receiving an email only to see that huge number looming next to the inbox tab. Having a long list of emails will make it hard to find the specific ones you need and even slow down your device.

Make sure that you check your emails regularly, and remove any emails that you no longer need. This approach will relieve any stress that you may have in the future. You don’t have to delete everything. Just sift through the spam and junk that you definitely have no use for. A clear email account can give you a clear head.

Check Your Subscriptions

A major cause of spam in this day and age is the result of company’s trying to reach you with new promotions. These can be selected at random, but it might be possible that the spam is coming from an old subscription you have long forgotten.

It is easy for these things to rack up. You go into a store and the cashier asks whether you want to receive offers by email. In a hurry, you say yes and then you are on their email list forever. Do this a few more times and that is a lot of people emailing you throughout the week. Let’s not mention the number of take away places that also have access to your email when you make an order.

All of these email lists will give you the option to opt out at any time. Try to find any longstanding subscriptions you have no use for and stop the email chain. This will significantly reduce the amount of spam that you receive, and can even stop the flow of leaflets coming through your door.

Clear Your Desktop

When you log on to your computer, it is wise to have shortcuts to all of the apps and folders you use regularly. These shortcuts will take the form of icons that take up space on the home screen. However, some functions will place themselves on this home screen at random or by human error.

Try to monitor what is actually on your desktop at all times and remove anything you won’t ever need a shortcut for. Doing so will reduce the time spent rifling through files and get you to where you need to be a lot quicker.

Clear desktop with laptop
Photo credit Domenico Loia via Unsplash

Stop Notifications

You are probably familiar with the notification sound that your phone makes. It will ping every time you receive a text message or an email. But do you find that it sounds too often? That incessant ping is enough to drive anybody mad.

The reason for this might be because you have the notifications turned on for every app on the device. You can choose which apps you receive notifications for in the settings menu. You should really only choose the apps that you actually need to respond to immediately, such as your emails.

Turn off the notifications for everything else and you will find your daily life is much more peaceful.

Choose The Right Phone

It seems as if smartphones are becoming more complicated as time goes on. However, this over complication isn’t to everyone’s taste. If you find yourself unable to cope with your smartphone, the problem isn’t with you. You probably just have the wrong device for your needs.

Some phone plans can be tailor made to suit the individual. Take, for example, the Lebara refer a friend scheme. This is a simple phone plan that actually rewards the user for referring customers to their network. This is a great way to subtly earn cash online, and learn more about the phone process. If your smartphone is getting on your nerves, perhaps you should choose this option to earn money from home. Lebara offers this, who can provide a small way to earn money just by referring a friend to sign up.

Of course, every phone plan is different. Do some research and make sure you know exactly what you want before you shop.

Check Your Cache Usage

Cache is the secret that only a few phone users are aware of. A phone's cache data contains any media you have on your phone and files, images, and scripts currently running in the background.

Once again, having too much cache on your phone will dramatically slow your device, and take up a lot of memory. Some of this cache is essential to the currently running apps; however, there is something called unnecessary cache. This represents all of the additional data that your phone is storing that it does not need. Almost every app will kick out some unnecessary cache at some point, and it is all stored in one place. 

To delete this unnecessary store of data, head to the setting menu, select storage and scroll until you see the page that details your cache information. You should find an option on this page that lets you delete your unnecessary cache. Perform this clear out regularly, and you will find that your smartphone works faster and lasts longer.

Summary

The new wave of technology is a bit relentless nowadays, but there is no reason to let this disturb your everyday life. Follow these tips and you will find that your life gets a lot less stressful in the long run. What’s more, you can use this advice to help those around you.

Saturday, 18 December 2021

Do you want to get financially prepared for your retirement? Here are 5 ways of maximising your pension funds.

This is a collaborative post

The exact amount of money people have in their retirement pots will differ, as will their aspirations and goals for their retirement. However, one thing you will share with most other people is the aspiration of having as much as possible in your pension fund. Getting professional and regulated financial advice will help you with planning for your retirement, check out Portafina.

How much is enough boils down to what you want to do when you retire. Your retirement age is another factor that will influence your pension pot.

Read on to discover five ways of maximising your pension fund. We’ve also included a few factors that will influence when you can retire.

Five ways of maximising your pension funds.

1. Start saving today. 

By starting to save for your retirement today, you will give your pension as much time as possible to grow. And the longer it has to grow, the more benefit you will receive from tax relief and compound interest.

2. Make regular top-up payments.

Even paying a little extra every month into your pension will make a significant difference over its lifetime. Again, every additional contribution you make benefits from tax relief and compound interest growth.

Savings jar with a plant in it
Photo credit Towfiqu Barbhuiya via Unsplash

3. Stick with your workplace pension.

Around 8% of the value of your salary gets invested in your pension. Your pension funds consist of contributions from not just yourself but your employer too. If you were to opt out of your workplace pension, you would not receive these employer contributions. Therefore, stick with your workplace pension. Otherwise, you are turning down free money.

4. Check that your pension remains suitable.

As your life changes, you will want to check that your pension remains suitable to the aspirations you have for your retirement. High charges and poor performance could be eroding your pension fund or preventing it from growing at its full potential. Regularly checking its performance will allow you to take any corrective action you need to keep it on track.

5. Keep your pension going for a bit longer.

Continuing to work a few years beyond your planned retirement age will allow you to continue contributing to your pension pot. Doing so can make a big difference to your retirement funds when you need them most. Also, during the extra years of work, your contributions will continue to qualify for tax relief and benefit from compound interest growth.

Other factors that will influence your time and date.

Extended working lives. 

In general, people are working longer than they used to. Today, the number of people aged between 60 and 64 who are still at work has risen considerably. Also, there are now almost twice as many women, and around 14% more men employed today compared to 1998. For those aged 65 to 69, approximately 15% more men are still employed compared to 10 years ago.

Rising State Pension age. 

The age at which people can draw their State Pension is rising. For the first time since its introduction, the age at which both men and women draw the pension is 65. Despite qualifying for the pension at this age, almost half of working women intend to remain employed until at least 67. 

The full State Pension is £179.60 per week. If you do not believe this will be sufficient to sustain your retirement lifestyle, you should consider putting other financial plans in place.

Pension flexibility.

New pension regulations introduced in 2015 mean you now have greater flexibility in how you access your pension funds. In many cases, you can access up to a quarter of your pension funds as a tax-free lump sum from the age of 55.

You can also access the remainder as taxable lump sums or leave them invested in your pension fund. Although this flexible access may appear appealing, taking too much cash could leave you short of income when you retire.

Therefore, before making any decisions regarding your pension, you should seek financial advice from an independent financial advisor.

Friday, 17 December 2021

My favourite things about long term craft projects

I love a long term craft project, and I've shared several completed ones here on the blog. Probably the craft project that I was working on for the longest was this one - Three Things sampler by Moira Blackburn - which took me about seven years on and off! Mainly because it was the craft project that I was working on while being busy having babies, and there were very long periods where I didn't get to work on it at all!

Three Things by Moira Blackburn sampler completed

I now have another large cross stitch project which I must admit I haven't picked up for a while (I'm intending to work hard on my cross stitch next year!) It's a large antique map, it's really lovely and one that I had my eye on for quite a time, but it's proving to be very complicated. There's a very fancy border with lots of similar colours, and I'm still getting my head around the best way to work on it. 

Olde World cross stitch map kit in progress

There are lots of reasons that I prefer to work on one or two long term craft projects at a time rather than lots of smaller ones, and here are some of them:

* I don't like having lots of stuff around the house. I like my craft projects to have a purpose or be decorative, but there is only so much cross stitch that you can have on display and only so many blankets that you can realistically use. 

* I enjoy working towards a goal. I like to break a larger project down into easily finished sections so that I can see my progress. 

* I like sharing my progress on a project, here on the blog and on social media.

* I appreciate having a project that is always there ready to be worked on, rather than having to gather supplies together for a new project when I'm in a crafty mood.

I'll soon be working out and sharing my crafting goals for 2022, I'm hoping that I will be able to get plenty of crafting done next year!

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

Some of my recent five star reads

This post contains Amazon affiliate links

Welcome to another blog post where I share some of the books that I've enjoyed recently. I hope that you find some reading inspiration!

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

Great Circle was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2021. I generally find that I get on well with Booker prize nominated books, and this one was no exception. It tells the story of Marian, born with the wish to fly and the drive to succeed. After flying during the war, in 1950 she sets off on a great circle flight circumnavigating the globe, an adventure from which she never returns. There is also a parallel story set in modern times following a young actress hit by scandal who is portraying her in a film. It seems like a straightforward story but there are lots of twists and turns as more information about Marian's life come to light, and it kept me gripped until the end. 

The Phone Box and the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina

This book is inspired by true events and by the windy hill in Japan where there is a disconnected phone box overlooking the sea. People travel there to pick up the receiver, release their words into the wind and pass on their messages to loved ones that are no longer with us. Set after the 2011 Japan tsunami, the book follows Yui who has lost her mother and daughter and Takeshi who has lost his wife. They meet at the phone box and slowly begin to build a life together. It's a really lovely story, sad and yet full of hope, and also written with a clever narrative structure with alternating chapters telling the story as well as filling in extra details. Hard to describe, but it works really well!

Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Reading Books by Cathy Rentzenbrink

This is mainly a personal story of growing up with books and the impact that they have had on the author, but it's also a treasure trove of book recommendations. In fact after reading I immediately ordered two books and reserved six more from the library!

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Another Booker prize shortlisted book, and this one is not an easy read because it deals with some very difficult topics, in particular childhood sexual abuse and self harm. But it is also very well written with some excellent characterisation and although it's long it kept me wanting to read more. Even though I'm fortunate not to be affected by any of the issues in the book I still found it a tough read, and I'd recommend having a quick look here before reading- A Little Life trigger warnings

Life After Life and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life was one of the books that I reserved from the library after reading Dear Reader above. I was pretty sure that I'd read it before and it was certainly very familiar, but I really enjoyed it! At the end of the book I discovered that there is a sequel, A God In Ruins, which I also enjoyed very much. Life After Life follows the story of Ursula, born in a snowstorm in 1910, growing up in turbulent times and finding that she is able to live her life over and over again with different consequences to her actions. A God In Ruins takes over the story of her younger brother Teddy and follows his story in the post-war years that he never expected to survive to see. Both books are beautifully written, very cleverly structured, and really bring to life the years in which they are set. 

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Finally, I've always loved Daphne du Maurier but only owned a few of her books and so have recently been building my collection. Jamaica Inn is one of her better known books and for good reason, it's an exciting and brilliantly written read with a gripping story. It follows Mary Yellan, who moves to Jamaica Inn on the Cornish moors after the death of her mother and discovers the terrifying goings on behind the front of the inn. 

Monday, 13 December 2021

Ways that my phone makes me anxious

I wouldn't like to say that I'm addicted to my phone exactly, but the truth is that I waste far more time on it than I would like. And recently I've noticed that when I pick up my phone I start to experience some feelings of anxiety, in particular my heart rate feels like it is increasing. This has become more of a recent problem and is a bit worrying, so I've decided to try and have a think about what is causing this, and how I can put a stop to it. 

Here are some of the ways that my phone makes me anxious:

I feel pressure to be constantly on call. The school needs to be able to contact me, and my husband use our phones to send messages to each other during the day. So I can't turn it off or even put it in another room in case I miss something.

My phone itself is a few years old now, but it would be expensive to replace. When I'm out and about I'm constantly checking my bag or pockets to make sure that I still have it.

I receive a lot of e-mails. True that most of them aren't important, but a lot of communication from the school for example is sent by e-mail and needs to be acted on. 

I work part-time for a company that sometimes sends out intermittent work at short notice. Often an e-mail will be sent advising that work is available that then runs out a few hours later. So if I miss an e-mail I miss the work, but if I check the e-mail and find work I feel the need to drop everything and get straight on with it. Both things that make me feel anxious!

There is always something new on my phone. A new status update on social media, a news headline, a reply to something that I've shared online. I worry about what I'm missing. 

Even seeing my phone out of the corner of my eye makes me feel anxious. I know that once I pick up my phone and start scrolling I'll find it hard to put it back down. I often get stuck in a cycle of checking the various news apps, my blog reader, social media sites, YouTube and so on, going round and round between them. 

Woman holding phone
Photo credit Daria Nepriakhina via Unsplash

I already do lots of things to try and break the habit. I don't have social media apps on my phone and nearly all my notifications are switched off. I have reduced who I follow on social media. I keep a book close by to turn to instead of my phone, and when everyone is at home I try to keep the phone in another room. 

I've had successful screen breaks in the past and felt much better for it. So I do know what to do about it, I just need to make more of an effort!

Friday, 10 December 2021

My favourite wellbeing books

This post contains Amazon affiliate links

I love a good wellbeing book, and there are so many of them out there to choose from. They are often bound in a uniform small hardback format, filled with thick pages, simple illustrations and the promise of a better life. But once a book becomes successful it is followed by many others in the same genre, and then it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. So I thought I would share five wellbeing books that I own, that I have enjoyed reading more than once, and that have genuinely added value to my life.

Best top wellbeing books


For me this is one of the most important books on my bookshelf and I've returned to it time and time again. I've written about it in full before, and you can read a longer review here - Review - How to Break Up With Your Phone

The book is divided into two parts. The first is called The Wake Up and it is designed to shock and scare you. It talks about all the ways in which our phones are designed to be addictive and all the negative impacts that they can have on our physical and mental health. The second section of the book is titled The Break Up and is a 30 day guided plan to help you develop a new relationship with your phone.  

Reading this book was a massive wake up call for me. I can't pretend that I don't still struggle with my phone usage, but if I feel myself start to slip a quick re-read works wonders for getting me back on track. I actually think that this book should be compulsory reading for anyone with a smartphone.

  

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

Hygge is based around the concept of finding comfort in simple soothing things. There is a plethora of books in the hygge genre but this one is a classic, and I always turn to it at this time of year as the cold, dark winter approaches. It's a sweet little book, packed with cosy pictures alongside tips and ideas to for introducing more hygge into your life. My favourite sections are about putting together an emergency hygge kit and ideas for how to hygge throughout the year - I keep a bookmark on these pages so I can flip to them for easy reference! There are also some lovely recipe and craft ideas, like making paper woven hearts for Christmas.

 

I received a copy of this book to review some years ago, and you can read what I wrote about it here - Review - Quiet by Susan Cain. If you consider yourself to be an introvert then I would absolutely recommend reading this book. It discusses how society favours extroverts, to the detriment of the introvert. A huge number of people are left unable to easily express their opinions and are thus not taken into account, particularly in the school and workplace.

I'm always drawn to the section on "restorative niches" which describes how introverts need to create space in their daily life to spend time alone. There are also excellent sections on dealing with extroverted partners and family members, and tips for dealing with introverted children. 

 


Subtitled "100 Daily Practices from a Japanese Zen Monk for a Lifetime of Calm and Joy", this book contains tips for simple things that you can change in your habits and perspectives to help you live more simply and mindfully. It's divided into sections, for example energising your present self, inspiring confidence and alleviating confusion and worry, and is interspersed with simple and calming illustrations. I keep it handy to flip through from time to time, and it always helps me to feel relaxed and peaceful. 


You can read my full review of this book here - Review - Niksen by Olga Mecking. Niksen is all about embracing the Dutch art of doing nothing and it's a simple concept that perhaps doesn't need quite as many words written about it as this book contains, but it's a relaxing read and it gives you a lot to think about as to how you can introduce some niksen into your own life. It definitely makes me feel better about my need to sit on the sofa and do nothing from time to time!

Six ways to take better care of yourself

This is a collaborative post

When we get busy, our self-care is often the first thing that gets pushed aside in favour of our other responsibilities. This is especially true once we have kids – raising them really is a full-time job!

However, looking after yourself should still be a priority. We know that life is hard, and it might have been a while since you indulged in some much needed ‘me time.’

Fear not, we have six self-care solutions to put the spring back in your step!

Get More Sleep

When we’re kids, there’s nothing worse than being told that it’s time for bed. But when we’re adults, the thought of finally getting some shut eye is a blissful fantasy.

Sleep should always be a priority, regardless of your age, and a healthy sleep schedule has been proven to boost your wellbeing – in fact, studies have shown that sleep deprivation can cause serious health problems

Getting enough sleep isn’t always easy, so try to avoid caffeine in the evenings!

Exercise 

A great way to stay healthy and reduce your stress is to introduce a low intensity, relaxed work out to your daily routine. We all know that exercise is good for your physical health, but it can also have a positive impact on your mental health too! 

Even walking counts! So, get out and about for a walk around you neighbourhood – you might discover great places you’ve never noticed before. 

Feet running up stairs
Photo credit Bruno Nascimento via Unsplash

Educate Yourself

Improving your education is an excellent way to work on your skillset and expand your knowledge, helping to make you a more fulfilled and well-rounded person.

Of course, returning to university doesn’t suit every lifestyle, especially once we have children. However, distance learning courses like those offered by Anglia Ruskin University, allow you to study on a schedule that suits your needs.  

Smile More

Smiling has incredible benefits, both for you and for those you encounter every day. As smiling is infectious, smiling at someone encourages them to return the gesture! 

Flashing those pearly-whites releases endorphins and can even reduce stress. And, if I don’t feel particularly smiley, you ask? Research indicates that even faking a smile generate the same effect. 

Eat Well

Eating healthy is one modern life’s biggest challenges. With so many takeaway services just a few taps of an app away, it’s just easier to order in. 

But to improve your health and wellbeing, you need a balanced and nutritious diet. 

If you usually make a meal out of meal planning, then try a service like Mindful Chef – that way you can fill your fridge with everything you need to see you through the week!

Healthy food on a plate
Photo credit Sara Dubler via Unsplash

Declutter Your Home

A cluttered home can leave you feeling out of sorts – research has indicated that a cluttered home can increase levels of stress and anxiety in individuals.

Carve out some time to properly declutter of your house and get rid of anything that you don’t use. 

A tidy home will lead to a happier you!

How do you practice self-care? Tell us about your techniques in the comments below!

Wednesday, 8 December 2021

Mini Hama bead Christmas pin badges

This post contains Amazon affiliate links

Mini Hama bead Christmas pin badges tutorial

I recently shared some free mini Christmas pixel art designs that I created, and I promised to share how I had used them for festive crafts. You can see the free patterns below, or you can download them here - mini Christmas pixel art designs to download. They are perfect for cross stitch, or any other pixel based craft like Hama beads. 

Free mini Christmas pixel art designs for cross stitch or Hama beads

I have already shared the mini Hama bead Christmas embellishments that I made using these designs, and I decided to use some of these embellishments to make some simple pin badges. Note that not all of these designs will work well as badges, you need to choose a design that has plenty of opportunity for several beads to stick together - the snowflake and star designs for example won't work for this craft.

Mini Hama bead Christmas designs

To make the pin badges first you need to create the design on the pegboard using mini Hama beads. If you haven't used mini Hama beads before then you might find this post useful - A full guide to working with mini Hama beads. The procedure is the same as for the larger beads but these beads are tiny and quite fiddly to work with. The best way to place them on the board is with tweezers. 

Mini Hama bead Christmas embellishments

When you are happy with your bead placement then it's time to iron them. If you don't have much experience with Hama beads then you might find this post useful - Ironing tips for Hama beads. In particular you need to take special care with the mini Hama beads as they don't require very much ironing at all. Make sure that the iron is on a medium or low setting and press lightly on the beads for no longer than a second at a time. I like to iron the beads on both sides to make sure that they are secure.

Mini Hama bead Christmas pin badges

Then all you need to do is to attach a clutch back and blank pin set, these are also known as butterfly pins. They are easily available to buy and are not too expensive for a big bag. I used superglue to stick the pin part to the back of the Hama bead design.

Mini Hama bead Christmas pin badges on Santa hat

Just note that these pin badges are not super sturdy, and they are best used in places where they won't encounter too much wear and tear. They are better used for display, or to embellish a Christmas decoration, like this Santa hat. 

I'm really pleased with my sweet little Hama bead pin badges!

Mini Hama bead pin badges close up

If you enjoy festive crafting with Hama beads then you might also like this post - Hama bead Christmas crafts

Below you can find Amazon affiliate links to some of the items that I used to make these pin badges.

Tuesday, 7 December 2021

The best winter destinations in Greece

This is a collaborative post

From the bars of Ioannina to the slopes of Parnassos and from the shores of Karpenisi to the cobbled streets of Pelion, mountainous Greece excites us, invites us to discover it again and again. Every season, we make plans and plan our winter getaways that will be etched in our memory forever. Let's discover some of the best winter destinations in enchanting Greece that you can discover:

Pelion

In the winter sunshine, stone squares of Pelion and tsipouro, routes in the plane trees overlooking the sea, kokoretsi at the Old Station in Milies, dishes with wild mushrooms in Tsagarada, and horse rides in Argalasti. Classic, favourite, well-travelled, Pelion is a mountain that can still surprise us. Each village has its own lifestyle. Makrinitsa and Portaria are the closest villages to Volos, in fact they are its balcony. Fixed value Milies and Vyzitsa - especially the latter is famous for their mansions that have been converted into hostels.

Tsagarada and Zagora highlight in the most representative way the profile of eastern Pelion with the wild vegetation and the view of the wonderful beaches of the Aegean. Finally, Argalasti and Lafkos are the sweetest and Mediterranean version of the mountain, with their endless olive groves, the "lake" view of the closed bay of the Pagasitikos and the calm rhythms. Of course, the villages are not exhausted in this first description. 

Have an appetite, and your car counter can write endless kilometres, as you will explore its dozens of settlements, from Chania ski resort to the "island" Trikeri at the tip of the peninsula. Of course, we suggest you have your own vehicle to discover the above magical locations. An ideal solution is to turn to one of the economical solutions for the company Enjoy Travel's rental cars at fantastic prices.

Karpenisi

Stunned by the turns of Timfristos, you can drink the first coffee in the central square of Karpenisi. The musical background, the wind between the dry leaves of the plane trees, the locals' conversations, and the growling of the cars that leave hurriedly for the valley of Karpenisiotis. This route of 33 km will impress you as many times as we cross it: river, forest, mountain, the ultimate triptych of the mountain landscape. Mikro and Megalo Chorio and Koryschades are the most beautiful villages on the route, and their well-kept hostels make us prefer them for accommodation in the valley.

Ioannina

Ioannina has an old town inside the castle and is one of the most beautiful in Greece, and has dozens of options for excursions outside of it. Weekend in Ioannina means, first of all, walking inside the castle, on the waterfront and on the island itself. These are the most picturesque parts of the city, while the most crucial part of the nightlife are the streets around the waterfront and those in the centre. But it is also worth exploring the rest of the city: to buy a bougatsa from the "cult" shops on Averof Street and to browse the famous Saturday street market where various grandmothers carry their fresh vegetables from the village for great prices. For boiled soup and panoramic view, finally, go up to the village of Ligiades for the best view of Pamvotida.

Mountains at dawn
Photo credit Markos Mant via Unsplash

Monday, 6 December 2021

Christmas themed cross stitch kits inspiration

This post contains Amazon affiliate links

I love having a large cross stitch project to work on. I usually spend several years working on a single kit at a time, picking it up when I'm in the mood. I always seem to increase my crafting productivity over Christmas and the winter, when it's so nice to sit and stitch curled up under a blanket with something festive on the television. I also like Christmas themed cross stitch, as it makes a lovely decoration that can be brought out year after year. Christmas cross stitch is also often embellished with metallic thread and beads for an extra bit of festive sparkle!

A couple of years ago I completed a Christmas cross stitch sampler which I am very proud of and which is on display in our hallway along with other Christmas decorations. 

Christmas ABC sampler completed

As always this year I have a longer non-festive cross stitch project on the go, but I also picked up these brilliant value mini Christmas cross stitch kits from Hobbycraft which are always temptingly displayed by the till, usually on a three for two offer. They make a great portable craft project for when we visit family over Christmas.

Mini cross stitch kits from Hobbycraft

Even though I'm pretty well sorted with enough cross stitch to keep me going for now I couldn't resist having a browse for another large Christmas themed cross stitch kit to start working on, and I thought that I'd share some of the gorgeous kits that I've found in case you are looking for some Christmas cross stitching inspiration! I've grouped them by theme so there is something to suit everyone from beginners to more advanced stitchers, and whether you are looking for a quick or long term project.

Finally I can't miss the chance to do a quick plug for my very own mini Christmas cross stitch designs which are perfect for an Advent project, Christmas cards or any other craft project which needs a tiny little stitched embellishment. 

Large Christmas themed sampler style kits

When it comes to choosing a cross stitch design I'm always drawn to samplers. I love having separate elements that can be worked on one at a time, and although they can be large they are generally fairly easy to complete without too much colour changing or confetti stitches. 


Large Christmas themed pictures

A large Christmas themed cross stitch picture can be complex but also very satisfying to look at. I'd love to complete something like this that can be displayed over Christmas with the other decorations.


Small Christmas cross stitch kits for card making

Smaller Christmas themed kits, like the Hobbycraft ones that I mentioned above, are great for making personal Christmas cards. I've been lucky enough to receive a couple of handmade cards over the years and I always keep them to bring out year after year! I'm collecting together a few smaller pictures that I've worked on over the years and at some point I'm intending to back them all with some Christmas fabric to create some kind of festive hanging cross stitch decoration.


Beginner Christmas cross stitch kits

Even the simplest cross stitch kits can make lovely decorations and gifts. Beginner kits often have the colours printed on the fabric so you don't need to worry about counting the stitches. This makes them a great project if you are new to cross stitch, or for children to work on.

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