Monday 31 January 2022

Writing a blog post every day in January

At the end of December, like most people, I made a list of a few habits that I wanted to work on for the New Year. You can read more about them in my book review of Atomic Habits. One of the things that I wanted to do in January was to write a blog post every day. Not to publish, just to write one and schedule it to publish at a later date.

I really did find it a challenge as some of my posts can take quite a bit of time to put together, but I managed it! And it was so successful that I'm planning on continuing for February. I love being able to plan my content properly rather than scrambling to post something, anything, at the last minute. It also gives me the flexibility to add in any collaborative or review posts when I have plenty of my own content ready to keep things balanced.

Hands typing on laptop keyboard
Photo credit Mel Poole

I did spend a bit of time in advance getting myself organised. Before Christmas I had already planned my editorial calendar for January, and although I hadn't yet written any posts I had a clear idea of what I wanted to write about. I went through my lists of blog post ideas and I was able to come up with a complete list of 31 posts to write. Then I planned roughly which ones I would be writing each week, sorting out which ones would be straightforward and which would need more work in terms of crafting and photographs. 

Because Christmas was still fresh in my mind I wrote a few Christmas themed posts which are now scheduled for this December. I also made a start on some Easter content and there are some general posts which aren't time specific. I now have a great deal of my February content written and some posts scheduled for March. 

Despite all the planning I kept it flexible, so I was able to move things around and add in any posts that I felt like writing on the day - for example writing about Mia's adopted gibbon and Harry's birthday. I also made a start on some longer posts in advance with photos, notes and any affiliate links ready in a draft post that just needed to be written up and checked over on the day. 

I'm really pleased with everything that I got done this month. I feel very organised and able to concentrate on some of my other projects, which in turn provides me with lots more things that I want to blog about!

Five best cities in Europe to live

This is a collaborative post

Are you planning to start a new life abroad? 

Perhaps you’re already fantasising about your dream location. Or maybe you’re ready to start a new life, and just waiting for the inspiration to tell you where to go.

Europe is full of some amazing cities to build a fabulous life, but with so many options to choose from you can find yourself spoilt for choice. Not sure where your next adventure will take you? Here are just five of Europe’s best cities. 


Edinburgh is a frequent entry in the indexes of the best cities to live. Scotland’s capital is steeped in history and packed full of stunning architecture. 

The country also enjoys some perks that the rest of the UK doesn’t, such as free prescriptions and university. You might be a little colder than you would south of the border, but if you don’t mind the frost, then a new life in Scotland should be a strong contender. 


If it’s a better quality of life you’re looking for, then consider moving to Copenhagen – in fact, this Danish city is widely regarded as one of the happiest places on earth… even happier than the Magic Kingdom! 

The city’s commitment to going green has also seen bikes outnumbering cars in their bid to reduce their carbon footprint. 

Copenhagen excels in a range of areas, including achieving the status as safest city in the world to live in.


Portugal was hit hard by the 2008 financial crash, but the capital of Lisbon has come back stronger than ever. This beautiful city is not only vibrant, but it’s affordable too.

If you want to move somewhere with warm weather and friendly locals, then this could be just the place for you. Moving abroad comes with a whole host of stresses, but the country’s Golden Visa programme welcomes investors into the country, and you’ll find your dream home with the likes of Property Lisbon, who have a wealth of information available on the process. 

As one of the most promising locations for international investors, Portugal also boasts a remarkable quality of life for its residents. 

Lisbon city with tram
Photo credit Aayush Gupta via Unsplash


Amsterdam has grown into a popular, modern city that has managed to retain the feeling of quaintness. How many other cities in the world can you live that feel more like a village? 

As with Copenhagen, bikes are prevalent, mirroring the green attitude of the Netherlands. And if you’re a little slow at learning languages, English is prevalent with more than 90% of the Dutch population able to speak conversational English – this means you’ll get around just fine while you’re picking up the language! 

Amsterdam canal and boats
Photo credit Adrien Olichon via Unsplash


If you’re after a better work/life balance, then Sweden’s capital should be high on your list.

So, the winter’s get pretty cold, but you do get least five weeks holiday a year! If you’re looking to move for work, start looking into openings in Sweden for your industry.

Are you thinking of adventuring abroad? Tell us about your plans in the comments below! 

Friday 28 January 2022

Mini Hama bead heart picture

I love crafting with mini Hama beads, they are a great grown up alternative to the larger Hama beads which are aimed at children. The beads are tiny and you can create some really intricate designs. I used some of the beads that I have left over from various mini Hama bead craft kits to create a simple, pop art style, colourful heart picture. 

Mini Hama bead pop art style heart picture

For my design I used a basic heart outline. I was originally going to make each heart in a single colour but in the end I decided to make an outline so that I could use a wider range of colours. When it came to the colours I first set out the heart outlines in dark red, medium red, pink and white, trying to spread them out evenly. Then I added in the other colours as I went along, using a mix of colours without any repeated hearts.

It's a great design to use up odds and ends of beads that you might have leftover from a kit, or if you have a bag of beads in mixed colours.

Here is the pattern that I used - I've left it blank as it's very much an individual design depending on what coloured beads you have! But if you do want to use my colours you should be able to see them well in the photographs above and below.

Mini Hama bead or cross stitch heart design pattern

Below are my beads laid out on the large square mini Hama bead pegboard. This is the back of the design. 

Working with mini Hama beads is quite different to working with larger beads as they are very tiny, just 2mm in diameter. They are impossible to place on the board with fingers, so you need to work with tweezers. You also need to be very careful, I know from experience that it's very easy to knock the board and mess up your design!

If you are new to working with mini Hama beads you might find my guide useful - Mini Hama bead guide.

Mini Hama bead hearts on pegboard

When you are happy with your bead placement then it's time to iron your design.

I've written some - Ironing tips for Hama beads.

I must admit that even though I've used mini Hama beads many times I managed to royally mess this one up when it came to ironing! Sometimes the beads can be slightly different heights, so it can look as though they have been ironed when in fact some of the smaller beads are not fused properly. Be very careful when you remove it from the board that all the beads are fused together!

I iron my designs on a cork mat, then I place a second cork mat over the top and flip it over to release the beads from the board. When the design is still warm I place it between the mats with a pile of books on top to make sure that it cools flat. 

I managed to salvage my design with a bit of patience! 

Mini Hama bead pop art style heart picture design

This design uses 1296 mini Hama beads in total. Each heart outline requires 16 beads, the inside of the heart uses 18 and the square around the heart needs 47 beads.

If you like this design you might also like my Mini Hama beads Russian doll tiled picture which also uses beads in a variety of colours. It's made up of four individual pieces which I backed with cardboard and display above my desk on a small wooden easel.

Mini Hama bead Russian Dolls picture

Another design which is great for using up leftover beads is this Hama bead quilt style picture which I made using the larger midi size Hama beads. I mounted it in a square frame for display.

Hama bead quilt style picture

Wednesday 26 January 2022

Book review - Atomic Habits by James Clear

This post contains Amazon affiliate links

Like many people, I approached the New Year with a plan for self-improvement and a few ideas in mind. I'd seen lots of habit trackers on social media, and thought this idea would be really helpful to me as I love making lists and setting myself targets and goals.

I identified four things that I wanted to work on. Eating my five fruit and veg in a day, exercise, playing the piano and meditating. Exercise is the only one that I didn't plan to do daily - I count exercise as a reasonable cardio workout for forty minutes or so and I just don't have the energy for that every day! Instead I just wanted to track how often I managed it.

In addition I decided to choose two habits just for January. These were writing a blog post every day (not publishing, just writing and scheduling) and not looking at any news websites and apps. I was particularly interested to try avoiding the news websites because I have been feeling recently that that constantly scrolling through news headlines and articles has a very bad effect on my mental health.

Habit tracker page in bullet journal
Photo credit Phrophsee Journals via Unsplash

While I was looking for ideas on habit trackers and how to make them work I couldn't avoid hearing about the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. It seemed to be the definitive work on the subject, and I read so many good reviews that I treated myself to a copy with some Christmas money. I'm really glad that I did, because I found this book so helpful and motivating.

The premise of the book is that by making tiny changes, atomic habits, in your daily routine you can see remarkable results. 

Atomic Habits book review by James Clear

I discovered that this book is packed with useful and interesting information. It's easy to read and understand, and all of the ideas make perfect sense. 

I found the concept of habit stacking particularly useful. I had noticed that I've been doing this already - I am lucky to have good teeth but last year, after a visit to the dentist and being kindly reminded of the fact that I'm not getting any younger, I decided to make more of an effort with daily flossing. I bought a new pack of dental floss and every evening after I brush my teeth I now floss. Because I'm already brushing my teeth every evening without fail, it was easy to add this extra step and I haven't missed a day since I started. 

So habit stacking is looking for something that you always do every day without even thinking, for example brushing teeth, eating lunch or doing the school run, and then adding a habit that you will always do at that time. Some examples from the book - "after I pour my cup of coffee each morning I will meditate for one minute" or "after I sit down to dinner I will say one thing I'm grateful for that happened today". 

You can then combine this with a second strategy called temptation bundling, which makes your habits become more attractive. So you do something unappealing, for instance for me that might be cleaning a bathroom, then you can do something that you enjoy afterwards, like sitting down with a book and a biscuit.

There are also some great tips for avoiding complacency. For example I want to practice the piano every day but I don't want to just sit down and play for ten minutes, I want to demonstrate improvement. So I am working on learning and memorising some pieces that I enjoy playing. The book has some really good tips on how to avoid getting stuck in a rut.

One thing that I really liked about this book was that I could identify with most of the situations described. Sometimes this type of book can be aimed at someone in a corporate environment, looking to improve their performance in the workplace. I can't relate to this at all. But I could relate to the habits that were being described in this book - simple every day things like exercise, eating more healthily, taking more time for yourself whether through meditation, reading or a digital detox. I also liked the focus on self-improvement and working towards goals and targets. 

So how am I getting on with my habits nearly three weeks in?

I'm pleased to say that I'm doing really well, although the one habit that hasn't stuck is filling in the daily habit tracker! After a few days I had the habits that I wanted to work on stuck in my head and I had worked out a routine for all of them. To my surprise I didn't feel the need to tick boxes.

Eating five fruit and veg - I started off with an app to track this but got fed up filling it in. I planned ahead, drinking orange juice for breakfast, making and eating two portion soup for lunch and aiming for two servings of veg with dinner. After dinner, if I've missed out I will have an apple or some dried fruit.

Exercise - I already had a good routine of exercising at least three times a week so I've been trying to fit in at least one extra trip to the pool.

Meditation - I've started doing meditation using an app straight after lunch and this fits in really well with my day. I just have to be careful not to fall asleep, this has happened several times! I feel like I'm definitely improving with keeping my focus.

Piano practice - During the the half an hour before school pick up works well for me. But if I miss it I have time after dinner to fit some in. I've completely memorised one piece and have another that I'm nearly there with.

Writing a blog post every day - This is going really well, and I'll be sharing my progress on this at the end of the month!

Avoiding the news websites and apps - Finally, this really has made a massive difference. I don't feel that I've missed out as my family keep me up to date and I've also watched the news on television a couple of times. The challenge isn't about avoiding the news entirely, it's just the mindless scrolling and anxious waiting for updates to stories.

If you are looking to make some simple changes to your life in order to see some great results then I would really recommend giving Atomic Habits a read. I found it very helpful and although some of the ideas were things that I was already intuitively doing, it helped and motivated me to see them written out and have the psychology behind them explained.

Monday 24 January 2022

Why running is the perfect exercise for me

I must admit that the main reason I exercise is to stay fit and healthy, not always because I particularly love it. But I do try to run outside often. At the moment I'm regularly managing three times a week, and this is one form of exercise that I can say that I enjoy, or at least I do enjoy the feeling I get when I've done it!

I'm not a competitive runner and I've only ever taken part in two organised charity runs. The furthest I've ever run in one go is just over 10 kilometres and my usual run is about half an hour or forty minutes which takes me about 5 kilometres. I probably could run a marathon if I put my mind to it and completed the training, but I just don't have the urge to push myself for it. I think that it would probably put me off running forever!

But out of all the different forms of exercise that I've tried over the years I keep coming back to running.

Some of the reasons that running works so well for me when it comes to exercise:

It's individual thing. I can go out when I feel like it and when I've got the time, I don't need to organise myself around others. I'm not competing with anyone else. 

I can set myself goals and come up with challenges. For example running a certain distance in one go or getting out a particular number of times.

I can track my progress in various apps if I want to stay motivated. It's fun to look back and see a map of where I went and how quickly I managed a favourite route! I'm also currently playing Pikmin Bloom and I like getting out to grow my seedlings and pick up virtual fruit.

Woman running on country road
Photo credit Emma Simpson via Unsplash

I can fit it into my routine. At the moment I like to run first thing in the morning after a small breakfast, and then I'm done for the day.

I like exploring my local area. There are lots of new build estates nearby to have a nose around, as well as rural paths and a golf course if it hasn't been raining. I can get down to the sea if I fancy a longer run, or I can stop on the way back from school drop off to run along the promenade. 

I don't need fancy equipment. I have some half decent trainers but the rest of my running kit comes from either the supermarkets, Decathlon or Amazon.

I feel really good afterwards and definitely like I've had a proper workout. I always head straight for a nice hot shower as soon as I get in, especially if it has been raining or cold!

Do you like to get out for a run?

Friday 21 January 2022

Celebrating a birthday with a Python coding theme

This week Harry turned 13 - we now have a teenager in the house! His current top interest at the moment is the programming language Python. Over the last few months he has taught it to himself, and he spends ages working away on his coding and writing programmes. So I decided that I would bring a Python theme to his birthday.

My first thought was the cake. The Python logo is pretty simple and could probably be recreated with fondant icing but my skills aren't that good so I cheated and bought a printed cake topper. There are lots of companies that do this, I used one that I found on Amazon and have used before. You upload your own picture and choose some text, then the printed cake topper arrives a few days later. It's slightly larger than the size of cake that I normally make but I was able to cut it to fit.

Python coding language birthday accessories

The trouble is that Harry doesn't actually like cake. He likes having the cake experience and blowing out the candles, which is why I made him one, but he won't eat it. So last year I made him a batch of biscuits to go with it, and I did the same this year with some Python cookies.

I was going to make a paper template and cut the biscuits by hand, but then I was really pleased to find a Python logo biscuit cutter on eBay. The company offers cookie cutters in a huge range of designs which are machine printed and I was very happy with it. It was a little fiddly to use admittedly, especially around the eyes, but it made some lovely shaped biscuits that were instantly recognisable (well, at least to those that know their programming languages!)

Python logo shaped cookies and biscuits

I piled everything up on a cake tray, along with some glittery candles and chocolate fingers which are one of the few biscuits that he likes. Then I decorated with yellow and blue balloons. I think he was pleased!

Python themed birthday cake and biscuits

Wednesday 19 January 2022

Adopting a primate from Monkey World

Mia has always loved monkeys and other primates and for a little while now she has been desperate to adopt her own monkey. We took her to Monkey World in Dorset for her birthday a few years ago and she fell in love with it, and even though it's quite a distance from our house it seemed like the first place to look when it came to primate adoption.

Mia's favourite monkeys are squirrel monkeys but at Monkey World they have so many smaller primates that squirrel monkeys are only available to adopt as a group rather than an individual. So Mia spent a lot of time working through the website to find the primate that she wanted. She quickly narrowed it down to a female golden-cheeked gibbon, but then it became more difficult! Eventually she chose Kim, a female golden-cheeked gibbon born at Monkey World on 31/3/08. Kim has been paired with a male golden-cheeked gibbon, Tien, and they are very close.

Adoption kit from Monkey World in Dorset

A year long child adoption costs £27 which includes annual entrance to the park, a photograph, a certificate and three copies of their magazine. But because if we were taking her to the park we would all have to go and pay for entry anyway we decided to let her chip in £27 towards a family adoption which costs £94 for two adults and two children. 

Hopefully we can manage a few trips over to the park, and Kim will be out and about for her to have a good look at! The magazine that you receive is really good with lots of information about all the different primates and will definitely make our visits there much more interesting. We've also been watching some episodes of the television show Monkey Life which is all about the centre. 

She's so thrilled to have her very own adopted monkey!

Monday 17 January 2022

A cold January morning run along the beach

When I find myself doing the school run in the morning I often like to combine it with stopping for a run on the way back. Here are some photos that I took on a very cold morning last Friday along Goring and Worthing seafront.

Goring beach seafront soon after sunrise in January

I started in the Goring area of Worthing and headed towards town. The sun had just risen and everything was bathed in a lovely golden light. Below is one of the fishing boats at Goring. There is a hut here where you can buy fresh fish, although I don't know how much of it is caught from this actual boat!

Fishing boat on beach in winter

I love the beach huts which are all the way along the seafront in Goring.

Goring beach huts in early morning sunshine

As you head towards town you pass the Waterwise Garden which demonstrates how gardeners can reduce water consumption with plants that don't need much water. It's been established for a few years now and it's a nice place to stop and look out to sea. 

Water saving garden sculpture on Worthing seafront

Finally on the outskirts of the town centre, here are the palm trees on the seafront, all wrapped up to keep them warm over the winter!

Wrapped up palm trees on Worthing beach in winter

It's so nice having such a lovely place nearby to go for a run!

Friday 14 January 2022

Winter snowflake lantern with mini Hama beads

A few days ago I shared how I made some mini Hama bead snowflake embellishments and today I'm going to show how I used them to make a simple lantern from an upcycled jam jar. 

Snowflake lantern from a jam jar using mini Hama beads

To make the snowflake embellishments you need some mini Hama beads and a mini Hama bead pegboard. You can find links to the materials that you will need at the bottom of this post. The mini Hama beads are very tiny and take some practice to work with - you can find all the instructions and the free snowflake pattern in my mini Hama bead snowflakes tutorial as well as some tips for working with the tiny mini Hama beads. 

How to make mini Hama bead snowflakes

I made six mini snowflakes to decorate my jar. You will see that because they are so delicate the snowflake pattern includes transparent beads which are hardly visible when the snowflakes are in position on the jar. 

Mini Hama bead snowflake embellishments

Then you just need to find an old jam jar which is a good shape for holding a candle. One with a wide neck is best so that you can easily light the candle. This lantern is suitable for both battery powered candles and real tealight candles.

To stick the mini snowflakes to the jam jar a glue dot works really well as it is transparent and will hold the embellishment firmly. You can also use glue, or for a temporary lantern a blob of Blu Tack also works really well, although it may show through from the other side of the jar.

It makes a great winter or festive decoration!

Jam jar winter lantern decorated with snowflakes

You can find my tutorial for the mini Hama bead snowflakes here. Below are the products that you need to make the snowflakes. I have made these snowflakes using mini Hama beads which are not the size which is commonly used. Make sure that you are buying the correct size board and beads. 

Thursday 13 January 2022

Five tips for selling crafts online

This is a collaborative post

If you’ve developed a flexible set of creative muscles, there’s no reason you can’t turn your pastime into a profit-making business.   

Whether you have a flourish for flower arranging, or are a nifty knitter, you could turn your humble hobby into a lucrative side business… and eventually a full-time profession. 

When you first dip your toe into the world of online business, you can feel a little out of your depth, especially with so many companies competing for consumers’ attention. If you’re ready to make money from your hobby, check out these five fantastic tips to help you out along the way!

Reproducible Items

Save yourself time, and keep yourself sane, by crafting reproducible items. 

Having to photograph and list every individual item can cut into your valuable creative time, so the fewer times you have to do this, the better.

Of course, limited edition items can be a hit with customers, but having a core range will also help to boost your brand recognition! 

Soaps handmade for sale
Photo credit Viktor Forgacs via Unsplash

Price for Profit

One of the biggest transitions you’ll need to navigate when turning your hobby into a business is learning how to price your produce, as many beginners make the mistake of drastically under-pricing themselves. 

Start with the mindset that you want to make a liveable wage from your craft, as eventually you might want to progress from being a side hustle. Remember that you should never just price to cover supplies, especially if you’re selling handmade products. If it takes you hours of your time to make, then the cost should reflect that.  

Professional Site

Having a professional-looking, fast-loading and easy-to-navigate site is essential for providing suburb user experience and minimising your bounce rate.

Use a service such as Shopify to set up a site that suits your needs. Shopify also supports blogging, a feature that will really help to drive traffic to your site and grow a loyal customer base.

Craft items for sale
Photo credit Raissa de Paula via Unsplash

Search Engine Optimisation 

Word of mouth might get you a few customers, but if you really want to expand your reach, then it’s important to implement SEO. 

Your blog and products should be optimised for keywords in order to boost your Google rankings. Getting to grips with SEO can be a little tricky, but luckily there are agencies out there such as Maratopia Digital Marketing who can help get you started! 

Experts in digital marketing can also help you perfect your website and advise you on pay per click advertising.

High Quality Images 

Internet users spend more time looking at images than they do any other part of a site. 

Having high quality images is particularly important when you’re selling goods. As an online business, you customers won’t have the opportunity to see the item in a physical shop, so your images must be detailed so your customers know what to expect.

Have you set up and online craft business? Share your tips in the comments below!

Wednesday 12 January 2022

Some of my recent top reads

Welcome back to another regular post where I share some of the books I've enjoyed recently and have rated five stars on Goodreads, which is where I track the books that I've read. I hope that it gives you some reading inspiration!

The Forgotten Life of Arthur Pettinger by Suzanne Fortin

I found this book on Amazon Prime library, a selection of books which Amazon Prime members can borrow for free. It's historical fiction - Arthur Pettinger is elderly and suffering from dementia. He can't remember details about his daily life but he does remember romance in occupied France during World War 2. Like a lot of historical fiction books it switches between the modern day and Arthur's story, and although I've read many similar books in this genre this one in particular really stood out to me.

Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier

I love Daphne du Maurier and having stocked up on many of her books to add to my bookshelf I've been working my way through them all! Frenchman's Creek is one of my favourites, set in 1668 it's the story of adventurous Dona, Lady St. Colomb, who has become stifled by her society life in London and escapes to the British countryside. Here she meets and falls in love with a French pirate and for a time is able to live her life far removed from what she has been used to. It's a beautifully written book with a fantastic story.

Don't Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier

This is a collection of five short stories. Don't Look Now is the most famous having been adapted for film, but the others are definitely well worth a read. Don't Look Now is about John and Laura who have come to Venice to try and help them cope with their daughter's death and they find themselves mixed up with two elderly women who claim to be psychic. It's a gripping story and left me with literal chills as I finished the final paragraph.

You Are Invited by Sarah A. Denzil

This was an Amazon First Reads book available to Amazon Prime members. It's a modern ghost story and the sort of book which I normally race through, enjoy and forget as soon as I finish, but this one was particularly good and stuck out to me. Cath is a writer who has been invited to The Event, a monetised retreat for social media influencers in an isolated Transylvanian monastery. Their daily lives will be constantly streamed to viewers, and things start to get spooky when followers notice a dark shape in the background of their videos. Perhaps I enjoyed it because I liked the influencer angle, but it is definitely one of my favourites in this genre.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

I came across this book while I was researching ideas for setting up a habit tracker for the New Year and it seemed to be the definitive work on the subject so I treated myself with some Christmas money. I found it an excellent read, perhaps some of the tips and tricks for developing habits are not new but it was all expressed in a way that made great sense to me and proved very motivating. For example ways to incorporate a new habit into your life and make sure that it sticks. I liked that it was aimed at helping to develop general everyday habits, not just ones intended to push you forward in the workplace, for example healthy eating or exercise.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Clune

I had seen this book recommended online so reserved it from the library. I must admit that it wasn't quite what I was expecting as I would say it's more of a young adult or older children book and I found that it had a bit of a Harry Potter or Good Omens vibe to it. But I really liked it! It's the story of Linus Baker who works for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth and is responsible for visiting orphanages and assessing whether the needs of the magical children that live there are being met. He is sent on placement to a remote orphanage where a very dangerous group of children are living, and he has to determine how much of a threat they could be. It's a story about diversity and acceptance and while it was a little bit soppy at times, it was still an enjoyable read.

Monday 10 January 2022

How to make it easy to workout at home

Tips for home workouts and exercising at home

I had never really been one for working out at home until the pandemic hit. I exercised regularly, but I went to the gym or for a run. When the gyms closed I started to look for alternative ways to exercise, and even though we are still members at the gym I've continued to workout at home as well. I like having that option, especially at this time of year when it's so dark and cold outside.

For exercising at home I still wear my exercise clothes, as I find that helps me to get into the right mindset. I don't buy expensive active wear though, I have several basic running tops from Decathlon that were less than £3 each, and I also buy bits from Amazon and the supermarkets. 

I do think that it's important to wear shoes when working out indoors, and some exercises like a plank are very difficult if you are just in socks. I keep a specific pair of trainers for indoor workouts so I don't need to worry about them bringing dirt inside. But they don't need to be fancy ones that you might wear for running outdoors, they just need to have a bit of support and a sole with some grip. 

I like to get my clothes ready the night before so I'm all ready to go. I also have in mind the exercise that I'm going to do the next day, whether that's a stint on the cross trainer or a selection of videos to work through.

Most of my indoor workouts are following a video on YouTube, and there are so many free ones to choose from. I'd recommend having a browse and trying out a few different styles to see what works best for you. I have a couple of playlists set up, for example shorter daily workouts and some longer cardio sessions.

A few of my favourite fitness video YouTube channels:

Rachel Gulotta Fitness - a great selection of cardio and strengthening workouts. The videos are very calming with gentle music and regular stretch breaks featuring beautiful nature scenes. You can get a great workout, especially from the longer HIIT and cardio ones. She also publishes regular daily and monthly workout schedules and challenges featuring different combinations of her videos so that you don't get stuck in a routine.

Joe Wicks - these are mainly HIIT workouts but there is plenty of choice with weights and targeting different parts of the body. Some of these are very tough so you need to take it easy at first!

Chloe Ting - another selection of very aesthetic videos, often targeting particular areas, for example the abs. A really good selection of videos with different lengths so you can make up your own workout.

For a time we also had a free trial of Apple Fitness+ which was also very good. I don't have an Apple watch myself, but my husband does, and I was still able to do the workouts. We enjoyed the trial but decided that we could find everything that we needed on YouTube, especially as we have a premium subscription so we are advert free.

Here are a couple of my favourite short workout videos:

Savage 10 Minute Leg Burner by Joe Wicks - it's only ten minutes long but the clue is in the title, it's not an easy one and will definitely leave you with wobbly legs!

10 Minute Lower Abs Workout by Rachel Gulotta - definitely an area of my body that I need to work on and this workout is brilliant. If you can manage the ten minutes every day then you can feel and see results within a couple of weeks.

I also have a few bits of exercise equipment. A yoga mat is probably the most important and they can be picked up for a few pounds from the supermarket. I also always have a small towel nearby. I recently purchased some resistance bands which I find really good for a different type of workout, and we have a few hand weights that we bought years ago. 

I like to keep my exercise equipment neatly stored but also easily accessible. At the moment I keep the rolled mat and resistance band on the bookshelf in my study. Having it in plain sight makes it a good visual reminder to pull it out! 

Exercise mat and resistance band on bookshelf

If you are serious about working out regularly at home then it might be tempting to invest in a larger piece of exercise equipment. Last year we bought a cross trainer which we are very pleased with and which is still in regular use. But we are lucky enough to have the space to use it comfortably and to store it out of the way.

It's important to think about the sort of exercise that you want to do and which can't be replicated elsewhere. For example I wouldn't buy a treadmill because I enjoy running outdoors for free. Think about how a larger piece of equipment would fit, both into the physical space that you have and into the time that you have available for exercise. 

Cross trainer in the home

I hope that these tips were helpful if you were thinking about upping your exercise this year!

Main image credit Elena Kloppenburg via Unsplash

Friday 7 January 2022

Mini Hama bead snowflake designs

I love crafting with mini Hama beads, you can make some really detailed and delicate pieces which are great for embellishing cards or adding to other decorations around the home. Today I'm sharing some designs that I've created for mini Hama bead snowflakes. The mini Hama beads are so tiny that each snowflake measures about 1.5cm - 2cm in diameter. 

Just a quick note to say that I know a snowflake should have six sides, but having spent ages with my graph paper trying to design a six sided snowflake upon such a small scale I sadly had to admit defeat!

I began with these simple snowflake designs. These snowflake patterns will also work beautifully for all pixel art crafts, for example cross stitch, diamond painting or digital artwork. 

Free mini pixel art cross stitch snowflake designs

However these snowflake patterns will not work for Hama beads unless you create a background using the beads as they are too fragile and the beads cannot fuse properly. If you want the snowflakes to be used with Hama beads but without a background then you need to add some transparent beads to the design. The finished snowflakes are still fragile, but have enough stability to keep them together. The light grey squares represent the transparent beads. 

Free snowflake pixel designs for mini Hama bead crafts

These designs will work for all Hama bead sizes, but I have chosen to make my snowflakes using mini Hama beads as they are so delicate and I think they make perfect snowflakes. The beads are very tiny, about the size of a single cross stitch. If you are new to crafting with the mini Hama beads then you might like to read my helpful post - A guide to mini Hama beads which has lots of tips for using these tiny beads.

The snowflake designs are created using the square pegboard. Make sure that you are using the correct size pegboard for your beads. The best way to work with the tiny Hama beads is to use tweezers to position them on the board. 

Mini Hama bead snowflakes on pegboard

When you are happy with the layout of your beads you can cover them with ironing paper and iron to fuse the beads together. You need to be very careful when ironing mini Hama beads. Make sure that the iron is on a low or medium setting and only press for a second or two. You can find more tips for ironing Hama beads here - Ironing tips for Hama beads. I like to iron my designs lightly on both sides to make sure that the beads are firmly melted together in place. 

Here are my finished mini Hama bead snowflakes! I do have a craft or two in mind for them which I will be sharing shortly here on the blog. 

Mini Hama bead snowflakes craft

Please note that this craft uses mini Hama beads which are not the standard size Hama beads. Make sure that the beads and pegboard you buy are both same size, as the beads and boards are available in three sizes - mini, midi and maxi. If you buy a bag of mini Hama beads in mixed colours then you should have enough white and clear beads to make some snowflakes (although you'll have to sort through to separate the colours!)

Wednesday 5 January 2022

A few favourite books about books and reading

This post contains Amazon affiliate links

Books about books and reading

I love reading, and I also love reading about reading! So today I thought I'd share a few of my favourite books which are about books and reading.

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

This is probably my favourite book about books and reading. It's a story about the author's relationship with books, her work involving books, and how books helped her through tragedy. It was interesting to read about her work in a bookshop and I was pleased to read about many books that I've also enjoyed. But for me the best part of the book was the themed sections of recommended reading. I went through the book with my local library app and the Amazon app next to me, busy reserving and adding to my wish list all the books that I wanted to read!

Bookworm by Lucy Mangan

This book is a similar style to Dear Reader, but with more of a focus on children's books and childhood reading. Being of the same generation of the author I found most of my own favourites covered, with only a few that were unfamiliar to me. It really made me think about how important books were to my childhood.

Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman

This book is a collection of essays about books and readings rather than being about specific books or recommendations. Among many things, the author discusses the difficulties of merging a library with a fellow book loving husband, the delight of reading a book in the place in which it was set, her family's obsession with proof reading and about collecting new and interesting words. It's a lovely little book which I often pick up and browse through.

Ex Libris by Michiko Kakutani

Same title as above, but a completely different book! This book is a collection of 100+ books to read and re-read. I consider myself to be quite well read, but I hadn't heard of many of these books. There is a lot of non-fiction and a definite bias towards books that cover topics of American history and politics that don't interest me a great deal, but the book does have beautiful illustrations which make it a gorgeous book to leaf through and feel inspired.

Word Perfect by Susie Dent

This one isn't so much about books but it would definitely appeal to a reader. It's a book filled with words, one for each day of the year. Most of the words are familiar but there are a few more obscure ones mixed in and as well as discussion about the word it's a fascinating look at how language develops and changes over time. 

Monday 3 January 2022

New Year catch up post

Happy New Year!

I hope that everyone had a lovely Christmas and New Year. We had a really nice family Christmas break, the children had three weeks off school and the end of term seems a long time ago now! Luckily it looks as though the children will be returning to school as normal, and as over half of Mia's school went down with covid before Christmas hopefully there won't be any more issues. 

We enjoyed our usual Christmas traditions. The Elf on the Shelf came back of course, the children might be getting older but the magic of Christmas is still alive and well!

Christmas tree with Elf on the Shelf and toilet paper

Our school breaks up a week earlier than most of the country so we returned to the fantastic apartment in Torquay where we spent the same week last year. It's an amazing place with its own pool, which we used several times a day. I treated the children to an enormous inflatable unicorn, we went for walks, visited to the harbour, and went to the cinema to watch the new Spiderman film.

Inflatable unicorn in swimming pool

We ordered so much food that we ended up eating a roast dinner for three days in a row! We did our Christmas food shop with Tesco online and we bought a massive box of prepared vegetables, a sweet potato and red cabbage Christmas log for the main course and a chocolate yule log for dessert. Along with all the other snacks and party food of course. 

This was my Christmas dinner, going heavy on the roast potatoes along with my token Brussels sprout!

Vegetarian Christmas roast dinner

We didn't get out too much over Christmas as we were trying to avoid the covid, but we did spend some time with both sides of the family. At home we enjoyed lots of family Christmas television. I had my annual sob over The Snowman on Christmas Eve and we also enjoyed the film Encanto with some great songs. We've made a start on Around the World in 80 Days which is shaping up well. Mia and I spent an afternoon watching the latest Little Women film which I love, although I think it's quite confusing if you don't know the books so I had to explain quite a lot to her. She's now made a start on the books herself which I'm pleased with. 

I also did lots of reading. I worked through some of the books that I had stored up on my Kindle from the Amazon First Reads and Prime Reading selections, there were some nice easy books that I didn't need to concentrate on too much. I also received some books for Christmas - I've enjoyed several books by Haruki Murakami and the first few pages of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle suggest that I'll enjoy this one too. The Swish of the Curtain is an upgrade to the old paperback copy I have which is missing an entire chapter! And The Almanac is something new that I spotted while browsing for books. It has a chapter for each month of the year with things to look out for in nature - the night sky, birds and so on - with a folktale theme this year. 

I was also lucky enough to get an Amazon voucher and I've already bought three books. I bought The Betrayals and Ten Thousand Doors of January, both of which I borrowed from the library last year and loved enough to want my own copy. Then I bought Atomic Habits which I'm hoping will help me to work on a few things that I want to achieve this year. 

The books that I got for Christmas

Now it's time to make sure that all the homework is completed, the books and bags are ready for school and the packed lunches are made. I'm looking forward to getting the house back in shape for the New Year, picking up on the neglected housework and hopefully having a bit of a sort out with everyone out of the way!