Monday, 28 March 2022

Hama bead and cross stitch Easter egg designs

This post contains Amazon affiliate links

Today I am sharing some Easter egg designs which are perfect to use with Hama beads, or else they would also work really well for any cross stitch or other pixel art crafts.

These designs can be made using a square Hama bead pegboard, which most Hama bead crafters will have in their collection as it is easily available and comes with many Hama bead sets. They are a good way to make Easter egg designs if you don't have the specially shaped Easter egg pegboard.

To make my designs I used beads from a pastel mix of beads. I have used a slightly darker shade for the pattern so that the colours will show up well when printed. You need beads in pastel pink, blue, green, yellow and purple. But of course you can always mix and match with whatever coloured beads you have available.

The designs would also look good made up with the tiny mini Hama beads. You can see some of my mini Hama bead Easter eggs here where I have used a darker colour palette and used them to decorate some Easter nest cakes.

Hama bead and cross stitch Easter egg designs and patterns

To make the designs you just need to lay the beads out on the pegboard before covering with ironing paper and ironing so that the beads fuse together. If you are new to Hama beads then you might find this post helpful - Ironing tips for Hama beads.

These Hama bead Easter eggs can be used for a range of crafts and I have a few ideas in mind which I will be sharing here shortly!

Hama bead Easter egg designs

If you have enjoyed this post then you might also like to see some other Easter crafts using Hama beads. Some of these Hama bead Easter crafts are made using the Easter egg shaped pegboard which I have linked below.

Here are some products that you need if you want to make these designs using Hama beads. A box of pastel beads should contain all the colours that you need.

Saturday, 26 March 2022

Warmth in the air

I have really enjoyed the warm weather over the last few days. I know it's not summer yet, and the forecast for the coming week is pretty bleak, but the warmth in the air is a good reminder that spring is on the way! I've spent some time this week just sitting in the back garden with a mug of hot chocolate and my thoughts, and my outdoor runs this week have been lovely, it's such a change from dragging myself out in the January frosts!

Daffodils at the base of a tree

The garden needs quite a bit of work to get it summer ready. We bought a jet washer to do all the paving slabs which very badly need cleaning, but I'm waiting until it warms up just a little bit more before I get started! The vegetable patch isn't looking too bad this year so there isn't too much weeding to do, but it all needs a good dig over.

Vegetable patch ready to tidy up for spring

Some of my strawberry plants didn't survive the winter but luckily plenty of them did. My lavender bush is also looking nice and healthy.

I'm never quite sure when to start planting out my vegetable seeds. Last year was a bit of a failure because the weather was so bad for months and they all either died or just went all stringy from being blown around. I'm hoping that we might see a bit more sunshine this summer and some warmer temperatures!

I do like this time of year, I'm definitely not a winter person!

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

Twenty questions bookish book tag

It's been ages since I took part in a blogging tag, but I spotted this one today over at Bubbablue and Me and I couldn't resist taking part! 

So here is a little bit about me and my reading habits:

1 - How many books is too many books in a series?

I'm not keen on a series as I don't like finishing a good book and then having to wait for the next one to be published (for example The Book of Dust Volume 3, where has it got to!) I've also been annoyed many times by picking up library books that looked like standalone reads but turned out to be part of a series full of references to previous books. Maybe three, but I'd rather wait for them all to be published and readily available before I read them!

2 - How do you feel about cliff-hangers?

I only like them if it's something open-ended that leaves you thinking.

3 - Hardcover or paperback?

Paperback for everyday reading as they are easier to hold and carry around. But if I really can't wait for the paperback to come out then I'll buy a hardback, and they do last longer so I have a few of my favourites in hardback.

4 - Favourite book?

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Very closely followed by The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

5 - Least favourite book?

I really didn't like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

6 - Love triangles, yes or no?

Only if a nice character isn't ditched unnecessarily.

7 - The most recent book you just couldn’t finish?

The Autumn of the Ace by Louis De Bernieres. I picked it up in the library and it was a reasonable book but I didn't realise until I had started that it was part of a series (see question one!) and although it was working as a standalone book I was fed up of the many references to previous events and characters.

8 - A book you’re currently reading?

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. I spotted this on the returns trolley at the library and grabbed it, I always seem to get on well with Booker prize winners. The writing is unusual and rather disjointed with no capital letters and not much punctuation, but once you get used to it the style does work well. The book follows the stories of twelve different black women grouped into four sets of three which I believe will all link together over the course of the book. I've only read the first set so far but I'm enjoying it.

9 - Last book you recommended to someone?

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. This book is a must read for both women and men, a detailed look at how our world has been designed for men in ways that we don't even notice, ranging from the size of our mobile phones to how bus routes are organised in a city.  

Stacks of old books
Photo credit Ed Robertson via Unsplash


10 - Oldest book you’ve read? (Publication date)

If we are talking about old texts then I read some pretty old ones during my degree, for example The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer and lots of medieval German literature. 

11 - Newest book you’ve read? (Publication date)

It's difficult to work this one out as I tend to read older books, I had to look through my Amazon order history! I think the most recently published book I've read was Stolen Focus by Johann Hari, an excellent book about how the modern world has affected our attention spans.

12 - Favorite author?

Daphne du Maurier, Bill Bryson, Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, Haruki Murakami.

13 - Buying books or borrowing books?

A mixture of both. Mainly I borrow books from the library or from Amazon Prime Reading and I purchase new releases, non-fiction or reference books, and second hand favourites. 

14 - A book you dislike that everyone else seems to love?

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. I assumed I would enjoy it because it sounded like my sort of book, but I didn't get on with it at all. 

15 - Bookmarks or dog-ears?

Bookmarks always.

16 - A book you can always re-read?

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I received a lovely hardback edition for Christmas and I often pull it out and read a random page or two.

17 - Can you read while hearing music?

Not unless it's a very simple book, I need to be able to concentrate. I can't read properly while the television is on either.

18 - One POV or multiple POVs?

I don't mind, but I'm not keen on being misdirected, I want to be clear about who I'm listening to. If it's historical fiction following multiple characters over different time periods I want to know dates and locations.

19 - Do you read a book in one sitting or over multiple days?

I tend to read longer books and unfortunately I don't have the uninterrupted time to read a book in one sitting! I can finish a gripping shorter book in one day if I don't have much else on, but more usually it's several days though.

20 - Who do you tag?

Anyone that fancies taking part!

Monday, 21 March 2022

Using my leftover diamond drills and dots for some Easter Egg crafts

I love diamond painting, it's a really relaxing and satisfying craft and I'm very proud of my completed projects. But once you have finished a piece you can end up with lots of leftover drills and dots, and after finishing a few kits the amount of tiny coloured pieces of plastic can be overwhelming! I hate the idea of just throwing them away, so for a little while now I've been trying to think of crafts that I can do using these leftover pieces. A little while ago the children and I made some simple pictures using leftover diamond painting drills, and with Easter approaching I decided to use a similar method to create some hanging Easter egg decorations.

Leftover diamond painting supplies drills craft

I was originally going to use the spare diamond drills to cover some simple wooden Easter shapes, but to keep in the spirit of working through my craft stash I cut out some Easter Egg templates from white poster board and gave them a quick coat of pale yellow acrylic paint, punching a hole in the top for hanging. I used a pencil to make some simple outlines to help guide the placement of the the drills.

Simple Easter craft shapes for decorating

To stick the drills to the egg shapes I covered them with a thick layer of white PVA glue. You can also use double sided tape. I found that a thick layer of glue was needed to make sure that the drills stuck firmly and it also helps if you need to reposition the drills as it will stay wet for longer.

Easter egg craft with leftover diamond painting drills

I chose diamond painting drills from my stash in pastel colours that went well together. The striped eggs are a great way to use up small quantities of dots, and for the background of the spotty eggs I mixed in the colours that I had in smaller amounts. Then I found some coloured twine to thread through the hole for hanging.

Hanging Easter egg ornaments with spare diamond painting drills

Here you can see them sparkling in the early spring sunshine! I'm planning to hang them on my homemade Easter tree for some fun seasonal decoration.

Crafts with leftover diamond painting drills and dots

If you are looking for some more ideas to use up leftover dots and drills then you might also like these pictures using leftover diamond painting pieces. They are very simple to make and are a great craft for young children. We used them as greeting cards for friends!

Diamond painting leftover pieces craft for children

Children’s craft activities that you can organise on a small budget

This is a collaborative post.

Finding entertainment for your children can be exhausting, especially if there is an age gap between siblings. A trip out would be nice, but the weather doesn’t always allow it. Also, you do have the purse strings to think about.

That is why a craft activity can provide the answer that you need. There is no age limit on some of these projects, and the creativity involved will give each child a unique experience. What’s more, it is fairly inexpensive to break out an artistic activity. So, let’s look at some of those cheap craft activities that you can plan on a budget.

Drawer Organisers

Finding entertainment for a child is difficult; however, it can be more challenging to get them to keep their rooms tidy. Why not combine both tasks into one by getting your kids to create their own drawer organisers.

All you need for this activity is an empty box, such as a cereal box, that is small enough to slide into a drawer. The goal is to cut it into the box to create different sections for your child’s things. A drawer organiser is great for children that are attending primary school, and it doesn’t cost you anything. All you need to buy is the regular craft supplies that you will need for many of the activities in this article. These include tissue paper, cardboard, string, sequins, glitter, etc.

Ball-In-A-Cup

Ball-in-a-cup is a game where a ball is attached to a cup by a long piece of string. The aim of the game is to flick the cup so that the ball lands inside. You can buy these already formed but it is a lot more fun to make them.

You can purchase plastic cups from your local supermarket, and it isn’t hard to find a cheap plastic ball from a nearby toy shop. Your job is to help them attach the string to both objects successfully. Your children will spend more time playing the game than doing the crafting part; however, it is a good way to keep them focused on something for an hour or more.

Rock Painting

It may not sound it at first, but there is plenty of fun to be had by painting rocks. All it requires is a healthy-sized rock from your garden or the local park and some paint. The fun of this activity isn’t the painting part, although it does keep the kids occupied for a while. You can ask them to paint a message or funny creature with the kid’s name attached and then place them somewhere around the local neighbourhood. 

People from school or your neighbours will come across these rocks and relay that information to your child. You can even make it a challenge to see whose rock gets discovered first. This isn’t a time-consuming activity, but you can involve other parents and their children to make it more exciting.

Painted rocks unicorn and colours

Lego Prints

Every household has a box of Legos stored somewhere. It is a toy that everyone knows how to use, and your box is going to be filled with all sorts of odds and ends that other parents most likely donated. Lego is a fun activity for younger children, but it also can provide you with a chance to try something more creative.

The unique shape of each Lego piece makes them perfect stamps. Try letting your kids dip the Lego in paint and see what bizarre images they can come up with. Lego prints are great because they let your children get messy in a controlled environment.

Photo Albums

If you are looking for an activity that the whole family can enjoy, then creating a family photo album is the perfect way to spend an evening. Kids love nothing more than a bit of added responsibility, which is why you can let them choose some of their favourite photos and send them off to photo printing specialists. It could be a fun task for you and your children to find these photos together for the album.

You will already have tons of photos stored on your phone or computer, and you can use photo album templates through Photobox together to get started and add finishing touches. What’s more, every album photo will bring back precious memories, something you can all look back on together in a few years’ time.

Cardboard Instruments

Real instruments are made up of abstract shapes that are difficult to comprehend. However, a child will break these down into something that their brain can understand. Plus, it can be fun watching and learning about how they interpret these objects. That is why you should always let them try junk modelling some instruments.

All you need is a box of recyclable junk, such as cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, newspapers sheets, and tubs. Your child will have fun trying to mimic the intricate structures of a real instrument, or they might try and create their own. Furthermore, you can add some string to their list of materials to see if they make something that actually works.

Dinosaur Feet

The most effective craft activities are the ones that keep your children’s imagination ticking long after they have completed their task. That is exactly what can happen when you try making dinosaur feet out of tissue boxes.

You can use any type of box for this activity; however, tissue boxes are more effective because of the hole at the top. As you can imagine, this hole is perfectly sized for little feet. These boxes can be designed to resemble dinosaurs’ feet or any other animal that they can conjure. Again, all you need is some paint, and other craft materials, and your kids can stomp around the house for hours on end.

Conclusion

These are just some activities that you can roll out next time your kids have a few hours to spare. They require minimal preparation and supervision, so let your kid’s imaginations run wild. However, you will find that most of the fun of these tasks comes from the interactions you have together, so make sure to try and get involved whenever the time allows.

Sunday, 20 March 2022

Recipe - Chocolate sponge with salted caramel sauce and popcorn

Today I have a delicious recipe to share for a chocolate sponge with salted caramel sauce and popcorn. This recipe was created by Chef Holly Taylor for Kindling Restaurant in Brighton. The dessert is dairy free, suitable for vegans and also has a gluten free option. It would make an amazing Mother's Day treat! 

This recipe was created by Chef Holly Taylor.

Recipe - Chocolate sponge with salted caramel sauce and popcorn
Photo credit Jo Hunt

To make the sponge cake:


Ingredients required

75g oil
35g good quality cocoa powder
220g dairy free yogurt e.g. soya yogurt
30g oat milk
2 tsp (10ml) distilled vinegar
150g soft dark brown sugar
140g self-raising flour (gluten-free self-raising flour will also work here)
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp table salt

Method

Line an 8-inch square cake tin with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 170C.

Place the oil and cocoa powder in a small pan and heat gently for a few minutes to help bring out the flavour of the chocolate, then set aside to cool.

Put the dairy free yogurt, oat milk, vinegar and sugar together in a mixing bowl or mixer and whisk until smooth. Then stir in the chocolate and oil mixture.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt together in a clean bowl. Fold into the wet ingredients, mixing well to avoid any lumps.

Pour into the lined cake tin and gently level using a spatula, being careful to avoid removing too much air from the cake.

Bake in the preheated oven at 170C for 20 - 25 mins, until risen and springy to the touch.

To make the salted caramel sauce:


Ingredients required

200g vegan butter alternative
250g soft dark brown sugar
125g golden syrup
Large pinch of Maldon sea salt

Method

Place all the ingredients in a medium sized pan and heat gently over a low heat, whisking until combined.

Whisk the sauce occasionally as it cools to ensure a silky texture.

To make the popcorn:


Ingredients required

A small handful of popping corn kernels
2 tbsp of oil
Fine salt for seasoning

Method

Heat the oil in a large saucepan on medium high heat. 

Put 3 or 4 piece of popping corn into the oil and cover the pan.

When the test kernels pop, add the rest of the popcorn kernels in an even layer. Cover, remove from heat and wait 30 seconds.

Return the pan to the heat and gently shake it as the popcorn starts to pop. 

Try to keep the lid slightly ajar or use a lid with a vent hole in it to help release some of the steam.

Once the popping slows, remove the pan from the heat, remove the lid, and put the popcorn immediately into a wide bowl. Sprinkle with salt and toss to ensure it is evenly seasoned.

To serve: 

Cut slices of the cake into long fingers. Drizzle with the caramel sauce and top with salted popcorn. Serve with chocolate sorbet or dairy free ice cream. 

Chocolate sponge with salted caramel sauce and popcorn recipe
Photo credit Jo Hunt

Saturday, 19 March 2022

When everything collides

With the pandemic disruption of the last two years I had forgotten just how hectic life can sometimes be. So many things were cancelled that it has taken me by surprise to suddenly be so busy, made worse by the fact that the children are now in different schools and there seem to be twice as many things to keep on top of. 

Over the last couple of weeks I've found myself getting a bit overwhelmed. I'm an organised person, and I don't tend to forget things, but I do have a bit of anxiety about being late for things which I can't seem to control. So I spend a lot of time fretting that I'm going to be late for something important, like a music exam or an optician appointment, and then turning up ridiculously early and berating myself for getting into such a flap over it.

We've also had lots of things that needed sorting out recently - we lost a roof tile in the storm, fencing came loose, guttering needed a repair and our car broke down again. I hate gearing myself up to making a phone call then having to leave a message and wait for someone to call me back at an unknown time! 

It all plays havoc with my mental health and stops me doing the things that help me to cope. It's far too easy to pull out my phone and scroll aimlessly through the news and social media as a way of distracting myself, even though it makes me feel worse.

I know all the things that distract me in a positive way - avoiding the news, playing the piano, reading a good book, splashing some paint around in my sketchbook or writing in my journal. It's just a case of actually doing them! I'm hoping that the next few weeks will be a little quieter and I can look forward to the Easter holidays!

Blue waves on yellow sand
Photo credit Masaaki Komori via Unsplash

Friday, 18 March 2022

My favourite places to buy second hand books

I thought I'd write today about some of the places that I go when I'm in the mood to buy books, and in an attempt to save money I'm looking to buy them second hand. When I talk about second hand books, in general I mean mass market paperbacks that I'm buying in order to save some money and support the circular economy. I'm not talking about rare books, first editions or older books, I'm sure there are completely different markets for those!

In person


Charity shops

My absolute favourite place to buy second hand books! I have a few roads near me where I can park up and spend an hour or two browsing in six or seven charity shops all close to each other. It would be a rare event if I didn't come home with at least three or four books that I wanted to add to my collection. In my area the going rate is about £1 - £1.50 for a paperback in a charity shop.

The library

All my local libraries have a trolley with books for sale, and if I keep my eyes open I sometimes stumble across a larger sale where you can fill a bag for 50p or £1. These books are sometimes a bit battered but are a good source for hardwearing hardback books, and also great for arts and crafts like altered books.

Car boot sale or garage sale

I don't go to car boot sales regularly but I do take part in our yearly village garage sale trail. I bought a couple of books last year for 50p each, and I was selling a few myself for 20p.

Online

My favourite source for second hand books online is Wob, formerly known as World of Books. I find their prices very reasonable, especially if you are looking for more obscure or out of print books. I've bought a few books that I remember reading as a child which aren't available in print anymore. 

I've also heard good things about AbeBooks although I've not yet used them myself.

I discovered Wob through Amazon which is another good place to look, just click on the Used tab underneath an item listing. It can be a bit misleading because the price on the main tab doesn't include postage so you do need to check that. Make sure to check the seller reviews too. I made a bit of money when I left university selling my old textbooks on Amazon, but these days it mainly seems to be businesses rather than individuals that are selling books and it's usually the same companies that pop up.

Finally I've never bought books on eBay but I watched a video a few months ago that made me very tempted! I'd love to try buying a big mystery box of paperbacks. It's the postage that usually puts my off, I think you probably need to keep an eye out for book bundles in the genre that you are after, and ideally find someone selling nearby so you can go and collect.


Do you like to buy second hand books? Where do you go for a bargain?

Lots of books on shelves
Photo credit Jessica Ruscello via Unsplash

What are the financial implications of becoming a parent?

This is a collaborative post

While becoming a parent might be one of your top life goals, you may also want to consider the costs associated with doing so. Although you might hope this won’t get in the way of achieving your dreams of becoming a Mum or Dad, it can be useful to see whether you are currently in a good position to be able to afford to raise a child. Looking at your finances now, and in the future, as well as the financial implications of parenthood, could allow you to see how feasible it might be.

With the growing costs associated with living a fulfilling life, you may wonder how your child will manage to achieve those same things in a couple of decades. You may want to think about the useful aspects of saving for your children, especially if the money is given a longer time to continue growing. In doing so, you might not be able to completely cover their financial needs, but you can give them a bit of a boost towards their own savings.

This money could make a big difference between your child being able to afford to purchase a house, as an example, and getting stuck in a rent trap for years. Even saving just a couple of pounds each week could help them to have a nice little pot available once they reach adulthood.

More people living in the house might also equate to higher energy bills. If you are only just able to make payments at the moment, you may really struggle when a child is brought into the mix. Currently, some families are already on, or below, the poverty line, meaning that the rise in costs is hitting these families quite hard. Therefore, you might want to create a forecast of what the bills might be should you have a child, and see how this fits into your existing budget. It may also be useful to try and find ways to reduce some of your outgoings, and increase your income, to compensate for this.

There may also be a number of costs that you need to account for within the first few months of your baby’s life. Items such as furniture, clothing, and nappies could set you back by quite a lot. You may want to make sure that you already have around £500, if not more, in savings to purchase these essentials in the months leading up to childbirth. This figure may rise depending on whether you have twins, as well as if you decide to buy more upmarket items. Purchasing second-hand furnishings, and even taking hand-me-downs from family, could be a good way of helping to circumvent some of these expenses.

Becoming a parent may be quite an expensive feat. However, by thinking about the financial implications before deciding to have a child, you may be able to put plans into place that allow you to manage these costs more effectively.

Wooden child toys in a row
Photo credit Baby Natur via Unsplash

Thursday, 17 March 2022

Review - More lovely crafting books from Pen and Sword books

I received copies of these books in exchange for a review.

A few weeks ago I shared with you some fantastic new craft books from Pen and Sword, and today I'm delighted to be able to share a further three books from the series. I've been looking at Craft Your Own Happy by Becci Mai Ford, Paint, Make Create by Becki Clark and Bookbinding by Aimee Spillman. Each book is beautifully present, full of wonderful colour illustrations, and packed with ideas for unique crafting projects that will relax you, challenge you and most importantly put a smile on your face.

Pen and Sword craft books review

Craft Your Own Happy by Becci Mai Ford

Craft Your Own Happy comes with a really big emphasis on how crafting can be used to improve wellbeing and mental health, which really resonates with me. The book is divided into chapters that help you focus on different ways that you can bring some calm and happiness to your life through crafts, for example helping to deal with anxiety, getting outside and self-care crafting.

Craft Your Own Happy book review

The book contains twenty-five beginner friendly projects along with full illustrated instructions, templates where needed and lists of the supplies required. Many of the projects can be started using bits and pieces from your craft stash, and any other things needed are easy to obtain. Some of the projects are shorter, for example painted gratitude stones and paper stars, which will give you an instant burst of happiness and satisfaction. There are also larger projects like a patchwork cushion cover or pom pom footstool which will take longer to complete and in the process will really absorb and quieten your mind. 

All of the projects can be customised to suit your own preferences and the craft supplies that you have available. I have lots of scraps of fabric lying around and so I've been inspired to have a go at some patchwork - I can see how the repetitive nature of the sewing can be a meditative process when I want something easy to pick up and calm my anxious mind.

Craft Your Own Happy book review inside

Paint, Make, Create by Becki Clark

I've been doing quite a bit of painting lately, I find it a really calming activity and I love mixing colours and experimenting with different techniques. But I'm often in the mood for painting and yet find myself stuck for ideas, so this book is perfect for some paint filled inspiration. It contains twenty different project, grouped by season, and using a variety of different paints and techniques including watercolour, acrylic, fabric paints and paint pens.

Paint, Make, Create book review

I am lucky enough to already have quite a stash of paints and brushes but if you don't then the book has a really good introductory chapter explaining how different paints can be used and which materials and brushes are good to start with. There are also some exercises to help you get to know the different paints and how they can be used as well as a great introduction to colour theory and creating your own palettes for different projects.

Each of the projects in the book is clearly illustrated with step-by-step photographs alongside hints and tips as well as ways to customise them to fit your own style. I loved the wide range of materials that can be improved with paint - for example a fabric shopping tote, terracotta plant pots or ceramic eggs. I also enjoyed seeing the projects grouped by season as my crafting mood definitely changes throughout the year.


Paint, Make, Create book review inside

Bookbinding by Aimee Spillman

I love books - reading them, writing in them and collecting them - and so venturing into the world of bookbinding is something that has always interested me. As well as teaching you the basics of bookbinding this guide to Bookbinding also teaches you some ways that you can upcycle and repair your existing books.

Bookbinding craft book review

I found the book extremely informative. It contains a great introduction to the history of books and how they have been made and used over the years, as well as a detailed etymology of book related words and a glossary of bookbinding terms. Then the book takes you through a variety of different bookbinding techniques, beginning with a simple pamphlet sewn book and moving on to some intermediate techniques which will teach you to make section sewn notebooks.

Making your own book is a long process but I can see how the repetitive nature would be very therapeutic and I love the idea of customising my own notebooks.

At the end of the book there are also a couple of quicker projects, for example sewing together a batch of greetings cards so that you have a lovely keepsake of an important event, or some tiny book Christmas ornaments which I really love. This book has definitely inspired me to have a go at making my own books!

Bookbinding book review inside

If you enjoy crafting and are looking for some new project inspiration I would absolutely recommend having a browse through one of these books, and they would make lovely gifts for the crafter in your life as well. You can find all the books in the range here - Pen and Sword craft books.

Wednesday, 16 March 2022

How to start a business as a parent

This is a collaborative post

Starting your own business is always a challenge, but it becomes even harder when you have a family to look after. Not having a fixed income can also cause a lot of stress when your kids are relying on you to provide for them. However, even though you have more responsibilities and stresses than someone who doesn’t have kids, this doesn’t mean that you can’t follow your dreams and turn your passion into a successful business. Here’s how you can juggle parenthood and being a business owner.

Use a VAT calculator

Parents are always short on time, so to make your life easier and reduce the time you spend on your business finances, you should use a UK VAT Calculator to calculate VAT for your invoices. All you need to do is click the ‘add VAT’ or ‘remove VAT’ tab, enter the number, and select the VAT rate (20% or 5%). This means you won’t have to do any calculations to work out VAT, saving you lots of time and effort.

Start an online business

If you’re worried about balancing your business and childcare responsibilities, then a great solution is to work from home by running an online business. This means that you can work from a home office and not spend time and money on commuting, allowing you to have greater flexibility. If you don’t have a spare room in your home for an office, you could always set up a desk in the corner of another room to create a mini office space.

Home office space
Photo credit Grovemade via Unsplash

Create a website

If you’re running an online business, you’ll need a simple and eye-catching website to be the face of your company. Using a website builder like Wix, you can create your website using helpful templates and customise the site with your own branding and logos. When creating a website, remember to include interesting images and not too much text to keep people engaged. You should also make sure your website is easy to navigate with menus and sidebars.

Set a schedule 

Setting up a business can be incredibly time-consuming, leading to you working long hours, but you don’t want to end up neglecting your kids or your own mental health. It’s so important for you to set a work schedule and stick to it - this means that you have to set aside family time and time for self-care and hobbies. It’s easy to fall into the trap of working all the time to try and make your business a success, but you’ll only end up feeling burnt out and missing precious time with your family and friends.

Ask for help

Finally, you shouldn’t feel ashamed if things get too much for you and you need some help. Both starting a business and starting a family requires a lot of time and effort, so doing both is going to be very difficult if you don’t get some help from family and friends. For example, you might need someone to babysit your kids if you’re extremely busy, or you may just need some advice and support.

Starting a business as a parent is challenging but entirely possible. Follow this helpful advice to figure out how you can turn your passion into a successful business while looking after your family.

Monday, 14 March 2022

Some of my recent five star reads

This post contains Amazon affiliate links

I've read some brilliant books lately! I've been very lucky with some of my second hand finds and library picks. So I thought I'd share a few of the books that I've really enjoyed recently and have rated as five stars on Goodreads, in case you are looking for some reading inspiration.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Set in Shaker Heights, a peaceful and orderly community, Elena Richardson's perfect family life is disrupted by the arrival of single mother Mia and her teenage daughter. The book is beautifully written and is a gripping read as more and more secrets are uncovered and disaster approaches. 

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

An incredibly beautiful story about two terminally ill women that meet in hospital. Lenni is 17 and Margot is 83, and they bond during an art therapy class. After realising that between them they have lived for one hundred years, they both complete a painting for each year of their lives representing the joys and tragedies that they have experienced. It's a beautiful story and left me in tears at the end. A wonderful book. 

Meet Me in Another Life by Catriona Silvey

This is a very clever book. Two characters experience different lives and relationships to each other in many different circumstances but with a twist at the end which helps the whole thing make sense. One of those books that you want to start reading again as soon as you finish it, because you want to see what you missed!

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

I was a bit late to the game with this one but I snapped it up when I spotted it in the library. In a peaceful retirement village a group of friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved killings, and then they find themselves in the middle of their own unsolved case. I don't usually read crime novels but this one wasn't about solving the crime, for me it was about the wonderful characters and the poignancy of growing old. In fact there was one paragraph in particular which just made me sob and sob. 

A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall

This is a book that I read several years ago and had been thinking about ever since, so I was delighted to find a lovely second hand hardback copy on Wob. It's a beautiful book set in Kew Gardens, following a group of characters that all have a connection to both the gardens and to each other. The writing is wonderful and the story unfolds at the perfect pace, one of those books that you don't want to end.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V E Schwab

About to be forced into an unwelcome marriage, hundreds of years ago Addie LaRue made a pact with the devil and traded her soul for immortality. But the price is that she is forgotten by everyone that she meets as soon as she is out of their sight, and everything that she owns becomes lost or broken. Then one day she meets someone who can remember her. It's a thought provoking story and one that stays with you long after you've finished.

The Lobotomist's Wife by Samantha Greene Woodruff

A historical novel based on real life events and following the wife of the doctor who introduced and popularised the lobotomy procedure in the United States. She slowly becomes uncomfortable with the side effects of the practice but her husband refuses to listen and continues his work despite her protestations. It's a fascinating story about this dark side of medical history.


If you've read something recently that you think I'd like, I'd love to hear some recommendations!

Woman reading a hardback book
Photo credit Benigno Hoyuela via Unsplash

UK travel in a motorhome: Five suggestions for a smooth trip

This is a collaborative post

If you plan to travel parts of the UK in a motorhome, you might be pleased to know that it is not dissimilar to owning a campervan. A motorhome is usually a little larger and slightly less manoeuvrable, but otherwise, it is a fairly comparable travel experience. However, a little preparation is called for to avoid unwanted surprises.  

Here are our five suggestions on how to have a smooth trip. 

Plan Your Itinerary

When you travel by car, arriving in a new city and then sorting out a hotel booking is usually quite a simple process. However, motorhome owners need to be better prepared than this. First of all, you will require more time to reach your destination. Tight roads and sharp turn-offs will be harder to manage if you’re a new motorhome driver. Because of this, it’s beneficial to check the route beforehand so you don’t get stuck. 

Stick to Tried and True Routes If You’re New to Motorhome Driving

If you are new to travelling with a motorhome, it’s a good idea to stick to tried and true places. These have been used by motorhome owners before. They will present fewer obstacles or at least they’ll be noted. Well-trodden routes might also include recommended campgrounds, eateries, and touristic places to visit locally. You can branch out with newfound confidence once you’re a week or more into your trip. Then you’ll feel encouraged to get off the beaten path (and you’ll be better prepared to do so). 

Motorhome driving along a scenic mountain road
Photo credit Alan Billyeald via Unsplash

Check All Systems Before You Leave

If your motorhome has been under a cover for a few months, don’t assume it’ll be all fine and dandy when you’re ready to leave. You’ll need to check the oil and run the engine to ensure it starts up. Also, you might want to verify that the starter battery is charged sufficiently, and if it isn’t, you can add a trickle charger overnight. Furthermore, if you have leisure domestic batteries inside to run any 12-volt appliances, check that these haven’t been depleted. If so, it could have damaged the battery cells. Lastly, check the tyre pressures, the heating, any fans, the generator, and the cooker. Once everything checks out, you’ll be all set. 

Use Campgrounds and Pub Overnighters

When you are travelling in a motorhome, you’ll want to make use of campgrounds that support larger vehicles. So, you want to make sure you can get in through the gate with enough clearance on either side and above. This is an often-overlooked aspect for access that’s you’re better off checking to avoid disappointment. 

Many campgrounds across the UK support motorhomes. They will have plenty of hardstanding pitches; some with electrical hook-ups and other facilities, others not. Many have playground areas for the kids to let off some steam and to give the parents a break. 

For travellers who plan to travel the UK for several weeks, campgrounds will also have dump stations to empty the waste tank as per regulations. Washroom facilities, a clubhouse or bar, and more are often provided. Many campgrounds are dog-friendly, whereas others might ask that you use a separate, fenced-off dog walking area.  

An alternative for self-sufficient travellers is to stop off at a pub car park. The car park is usually empty overnight, so these represent a nice additional revenue source for pubs. Don’t expect electrical hook-ups or other facilities typically found in a campground. Pubs may charge a nominal amount such as £5-20 per night to stay. Most will expect you to pop into the pub for a bite to eat or a pint when their prices are near the lower end. Some pubs now have official pub campgrounds providing more facilities that fit somewhere between a pub car park and an official campground. With self-contained living in a motorhome, these may allow you to extend your trip.   

Motorhomes in a caravan park at sunset
Photo credit Alan Billyeald via Unsplash

Avoid Wild Camping

Wild camping where the motorhome is parked overnight at a random spot is illegal in many parts of the UK. While some people still try to do it because it bypasses the cost of a campground or pub stopover, it risks falling foul of the law. A knock on the door at 3 AM isn’t fun for holidaymakers either. Manoeuvrability is always a bit tricky in a motorhome. The uneven or muddy ground at a park-up is not your friend and getting out of tight parking spots isn’t either. We’d recommend avoiding wild camping altogether.  

Get Affordable Motorhome Insurance

Getting the right type of cover with motorhome insurance is important. Otherwise, you may find that you’re less insured than believed. If you plan on taking turns to drive, don’t forget to include both of you on the policy. Also, be aware that with many motorhome insurance policies, contents insurance for valuables inside the motorhome isn’t included. Compare NI can source a reliable policy with this option included, so any damage or loss of valuables is covered too.

Planning ahead for a UK motorhome journey reduces the chances of unexpected problems arising. Then the holiday will be far more enjoyable.

Thursday, 10 March 2022

How to improve your life with Lent

This is a collaborative post

Have you found yourself swapping Lent ideas with your friends, only to realise you don’t have one in mind? There’s always that one in the group putting everyone to shame with a laundry list of resolutions they’re already working on when February finishes, while the rest of us are still working on our New Year’s resolutions. 

It’s not arrogance, it’s simply not knowing where to start. The point of Lent is to give up bad habits, in order to improve yourself. If you’re looking for ideas, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for ideas to improve your life and the lives of those around you with Lent.

Give up an idle mind

Sometimes you need something to shake up the everyday. If your job isn’t stimulating you or you’ve grown bored lately, you can always consider trying something new. 

If you’re looking for something to learn, there are lots of options. Sign up for a subscription class and learn a new language, a new craft, a new game, etc. Join a book club and use that analytical mind. Take a pottery class and have your own Ghost moment. Learn to use a sewing machine and wear your own clothes. It has the added bonus of being the sustainable option. 

There’s a wide world out there, full of things we were introduced to as kids then never looked at again. Now can be the time to look at it again.

Woman at a sewing machine
Photo credit MarĂ­lia Castelli via Unsplash

Give up the toxic people

This one will definitely be the trickiest one, but in order to keep good mental health, some people need to go. 

This can be a friend that you’ve noticed never shows up when you need them, a boss that’s making your job miserable, or even your own partner. 

There is so much to think about there. The small things your friend does won’t feel like enough to cut off ties, but like any other form of harassment, they build. It’s perfectly valid to cut ties if you feel you have to. 

The same goes for your partner. If the toxic behaviours are building, you can get out. No one is going to say it’s easy, but it’s doable. A support system is a great help here. If you’re worried about the effect it will have on the kids, take a look at this child support calculator from cordellcordell.co.uk and browse their family law services for more information. 

Give up the exercise trends

The problem here is you’ve tried a lot of the trendy exercises, and they either didn’t work, or the guy on the weights giving you free tickets to the fitness show intimidated you right out of the gym, or it’s boring.

Find something you love that makes you feel alive. It can be as simple as incorporating a walk into your daily commute or yoga into your work from home life. Try cold water swimming, rock climbing, tango dancing, boxing, etc.

Woman walking by the sea
Photo credit Paz Arando via Unsplash

Give up the carbon footprint

There are a lot of things you can do to lessen your carbon footprint. Browse around the vintage shops and enjoy a stylish alternative to fast fashion. Go round the charity shops for some vintage items to decorate your home. Switch out your car for public transport, or a walk, run, or cycle into work.

They say that veganism is good for the environment. That’s up to you to research and decide. But it might help your health to cut back on your red meat intake. We’ve grown accustomed to the idea that a meal needs meat to be complete when that isn’t true. Browse the vegan alternatives in the supermarket and you can still live by that philosophy while reducing your effect on the planet.

Look up ways you can reduce your energy usage while you’re at it. Not only will it lessen your effect on the planet, but your utility bills will go down too.

Wednesday, 9 March 2022

Review - The Gravity Mechanics Vertical Motor from Geomag

I was sent this product in exchange for a review.

The Geomag Mechanics line is a construction system that is based around gravity, using the weight of the Geomag spheres to kickstart the mechanisms and movements of the system without the need for electricity or batteries. I was sent the Mechanics Gravity Vertical Motor set to try, a set which is designed for older children aged 8+ and is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) toy that can stimulate scientific learning.

Geomag Mechanics vertical motor construction toy review

This set forms part of the Gravity Mechanics line, which currently contains four different sets. Each set is a complete kit and the kits can be combined to create larger designs or to try out your own constructions. The Gravity Elevator Vertical Motor set contains 183 pieces which are made from 90% recycled plastic.

Geomag Mechanics vertical motor construction toy review

There is a detailed instruction booklet to follow and the pieces fit together quite easily. Harry had no trouble with the assembly but when I had a go I did find it a little tricky, perhaps I don't think I have the right sort of mind for these construction sets! The pieces slot together firmly in place but can be easily dismantled or repositioned. 

There are quite a few pieces left over which are needed if you are connecting several sets together or can be used to build your own constructions.

Geomag Mechanics vertical motor construction toy review

When assembled, you load the spheres into the carrier and spin the rotating part at the top. The balls travel down the never ending spiral and onto a small track at the bottom where they are collected in a pen ready to reload at the top. 

Geomag gravity mechanics vertical motor set assembled

When you have finished playing the set is easy to take apart and store in the box. 

This is a fun set which will appeal to any child that enjoys construction sets and finding out how things work. 

Tuesday, 8 March 2022

Four reasons Singapore is a great place to live

This is a collaborative post

People worldwide are often searching for a great place to live. The unfortunate truth is that such areas are few and far between. 

Prepared to travel great distances to seek a more enriching and cost-effective lifestyle, such travellers will often find themselves in western countries. However, the east has plenty to offer, too, especially when it comes to territories like Singapore. 

Despite its smaller size, Singapore is a thriving epicentre of exciting lifestyle prospects and cross-cultural offerings. It’s not just about fun and games, either, as the infrastructure and property markets here are favourable too. Keep reading below to find four reasons that explain why Singapore is a great place to live. 

Promising Housing Arrangements

Securing a property can be difficult in many territories. Affordability is a point of great concern, with few opportunities to save money during the move. 

There are plenty of moments in Singapore where residents can save on mortgage deals. Refinancing options are widely available and accessible. Companies like PropertyGuru track their savings, browse the latest and best rates from all major Singapore banks, and provide users with non-biased advice that serves their best interests. The experts here provide an extra level of care in all that they do. 

Of course, property markets elsewhere can be filled with professionals who are largely self-serving. The opportunity to afford a home is often a pipedream for many, too. In Singapore, those hoping to get on the property ladder, and stay on it, are actively supported at every stage of their homeownership journey. Without such worries hanging over their head, their quality of life will surely experience a big boost. 

Singapore skyline
Photo credit David Kubovsky via Unsplash

Cultural Offerings

Many people prefer to live in stimulating areas. Singapore is one such place that perfectly fulfils those needs. 

Thanks to Singapore’s more compact size, there are many things to see and do as a resident. Moreover, the area is an amalgamation of various other contemporary cultures, boasting offerings from each. East meets west here in a perfect blend, allowing residents to enjoy the best of both worlds in a peace loving area that’s free of geopolitical tensions. 

The nightlife scene is as vibrant as any other in the world. Singapore’s myriad of hawker centres serves local cuisines and exquisite dishes from around the world as well. The National Gallery Singapore is also open to visitors as well as lush botanic gardens that are ripe for exploration. 

Consider how fortunate it is to have such an array of offerings close by. After all, many people often need to make key compromises for the sake of owning property or living in an area for a job. Some aspects of good living will nearly always be lacking. There is always a way to make the most of life in Singapore, irrespective of interests and personality types. 

Affordable Healthcare

Everyone has a different definition of what constitutes a ‘nice place’ to live. Some prospective homeowners may have more shallow aspirations, but countries that prioritize their citizens' health and well-being are always among the most wonderful places to dwell.  

Fortunately, Singapore’s healthcare system is among the best the world has to offer. Much of the basic treatment citizens receive is free, or the costs are at least heavily controlled for better affordability. Of course, this means that citizens have a better quality of life, worrying less about the wellbeing of themselves and their loved ones. 

Good healthcare is also a good indicator of an empathetic culture beating at the heart of the area. It shows that leaders invest money into the areas of society that matter most, led by stronger ethics and morals than elsewhere. Even if a person seldom uses the healthcare system, knowing it is there can be a comfort on its own. It is a measure of equality, which should count for a great deal among the masses. 

Education Opportunities 

Of course, an efficient healthcare system is not possible unless a talented workforce keeps things operational. Education in Singapore plays an enormous role in making that happen. 

Singapore’s Ministry of Education is committed to all things learning, and long has been. The students here constantly achieve incredible results, entering the world of work confident, skilled, and ambitious. Living in such an environment would undoubtedly be an inspiring thing and perhaps even motivate older generations to be more aspirational and revisit their education in later life. 

While one can enrich their own prospects with education at any stage in their life, the obvious appeal here is how people benefit should they decide to raise a family in Singapore. Knowing that their children’s future is in safe hands is a blessing, especially when they are guided on to such extraordinary levels of greatness. 

Ultimately, there are resources in Singapore to ensure that everyone realizes their full potential. The future here is more consistently bright than it is elsewhere, and there are plenty of reasons for residents to be endlessly optimistic, leading to more fulfilling lifestyle choices being made. 

Singapore Merlion and city
Photo credit Jisun Han via Unsplash
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