Wednesday 31 May 2023

Some Worthing street art and murals

I've been living in and close to Worthing for over twenty years now, and during that time it has definitely become a much cooler town. Lots of people have moved down from London over the years and it has also attracted a lot of people who can't afford to live in Brighton, meaning that it has become a bit more fashionable, more diverse, and just generally a more interesting and vibrant place to live.

I don't head into the town centre that often these days, but as the children's school is quite central I sometimes take myself for a walk after I've parked nearby and recently I've been noticed how much amazing street art there is on my route! I took the photos below on a short loop within half a mile or so of the school, and according to this article - Where to find the best Worthing street art - there is plenty more to find.

I've put this one first because it's the one that I see every day as I approach the road that I park in. It's a portrait of Simon Mayo and from the article above I can see that this and most of the street art that I've discovered are are by an artist called Horace, who can be found on Instagram @the.horace

Simon Mayo street art by Horace in Worthing

This is another that catches my eye, it's on the wall of a charity shop where I'm often dropping off donations and I love the sentiment 'Don't watch the news'!

Worthing Life is Beautiful mural by Horace

Next to it is this amazing cat mandala in gorgeous shades of blue.

Worthing cat mural mandala street art by Horace

I also love this portrait by the same artist on the wall of a pub.

Worthing mural face on building by Horace

Of course it wouldn't be Worthing without a seagull!

Worthing street art seagull on electrical box

Finally I think this this work on The Libertine Social is by a different artist, I love the bright cheerful flowers.

Street art flowers at The Libertine Social in Worthing

Reading the article above has inspired me to go hunting for more street art as it looks as though Worthing is quite a hotspot for it!

Cat mural mandala close up by Horace

Exploring Cairo: An unforgettable journey into Egypt's capital

This is a collaborative post


Cairo, the vibrant capital of Egypt, is a city steeped in history, culture, and intrigue. From the majestic pyramids of Giza to the bustling markets and stunning mosques, Cairo offers a captivating blend of ancient wonders and modern delights. If you're planning a trip to Cairo, this article will serve as your comprehensive guide, providing essential information, travel tips, and must-visit attractions to ensure a memorable and enriching experience.

Preparing for Your Trip

a) Valid Passport: Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your planned departure date. Check the entry requirements for your country of residence and ensure you have the necessary visa or entry permit, click here for travel visa requirements.

b) Climate and Clothing: Cairo experiences hot summers and mild winters. Dress modestly and comfortably, keeping in mind the cultural norms and respect for local traditions. Light, breathable clothing is recommended, along with sunscreen, a hat, and comfortable walking shoes.

c) Health and Safety: Consult your healthcare provider or a travel clinic to determine if any vaccinations or medications are recommended for your trip. Take necessary precautions against the sun, stay hydrated, and be cautious of your surroundings.

Important Tips

a) Check Visa Validity: Ensure that your visa is valid for the duration of your stay in Cairo. Overstaying your visa can result in fines or other complications when leaving the country. If you wish to extend your stay, contact the Egyptian immigration authorities well in advance to explore the possibility of obtaining a visa extension.

b) Travel Insurance: It is highly recommended to have travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and other unforeseen circumstances during your stay in Cairo.

c) Keep Copies: Make photocopies or digital scans of your passport, visa, and other important documents. Keep these copies separate from the originals and carry them with you. It will be helpful in case of loss or theft of your documents.

Getting to Cairo

a) Flight: Cairo is well-connected to major international airports worldwide. Book your flights in advance to secure the best deals and convenient travel times. Cairo International Airport is the primary gateway, located approximately 15 kilometres northeast of the city centre.

b) Transportation: From the airport, various transportation options are available, including taxis, ride-sharing services, and airport shuttles. Ensure you use licensed taxis and agree upon a fare before beginning your journey.

Exploring Cairo's Highlights

a) The Pyramids of Giza: A visit to Cairo is incomplete without witnessing the iconic Pyramids of Giza. Marvel at the Great Pyramid of Khufu, explore the ancient tombs, and take a moment to ponder the mysteries of these incredible structures.

Pyramids of Giza
Photo credit Spencer Davis via Unsplash

b) Egyptian Museum: Immerse yourself in Egypt's rich history at the Egyptian Museum, home to an extensive collection of artefacts, including the treasures of Tutankhamun. Admire the awe-inspiring exhibits and gain insights into the ancient civilization.

c) Islamic Cairo: Step into the heart of the city's historic district, where you'll find an array of architectural gems, such as the iconic mosques of Sultan Hassan and Al-Rifa'i, along with the bustling Khan El Khalili bazaar. Lose yourself in the maze of narrow streets, and indulge in the vibrant atmosphere and traditional handicrafts.

d) Coptic Cairo: Discover the Christian heritage of Egypt at Coptic Cairo, where you can visit the Hanging Church, the Coptic Museum, and the Ben Ezra Synagogue. Delve into the religious and cultural significance of this ancient community.

e) Nile River Cruise: Embark on a relaxing Nile River cruise, where you can enjoy breathtaking views of the city's skyline, savor delicious cuisine, and experience traditional Egyptian entertainment. Choose from various cruise options, ranging from a few hours to several days.

Essential Travel Tips

a) Cultural Sensitivity: Respect the local customs and traditions. Dress modestly when visiting religious sites, and be mindful of local norms and etiquette.

b) Language: Arabic is the official language, but English is widely spoken in tourist areas. Familiarize yourself with common Arabic phrases to enhance your interactions with locals.

c) Currency and Tipping: The official currency is the Egyptian Pound (EGP). It's advisable to carry some cash for small purchases and tipping. Tipping is customary in Egypt, particularly for service providers such as guides, drivers, and waitstaff.

d) Bargaining: Negotiating prices is common when shopping at local markets and bazaars in Cairo. Bargaining is a cultural practice, so don't be afraid to negotiate for a better price. Remember to maintain a friendly and respectful attitude while engaging in the process.

e) Local Transportation: Cairo has an extensive public transportation system, including the Cairo Metro, buses, and taxis. The metro is an efficient and affordable way to navigate the city. Taxis are also widely available, but make sure to use licensed taxis with functioning meters or agree on a fare before starting your journey.

f) Safety Precautions: While Cairo is generally safe for tourists, it's always important to remain vigilant. Take precautions such as keeping your valuables secure, avoiding isolated areas at night, and following any local safety advisories.

g) Local Cuisine: Indulge in the flavors of Egypt by trying traditional dishes such as koshari, falafel, and delicious street food. Be mindful of food hygiene practices and opt for bottled water to stay hydrated.

h) Time Management: Cairo is a bustling city with a rich array of attractions. Plan your itinerary wisely and allocate sufficient time for each site. Consider the potential crowds and allow for extra time in case of unexpected delays or closures.

Photo credit Omar Elsharawy via Unsplash


A journey to Cairo offers an extraordinary blend of ancient wonders, vibrant culture, and warm hospitality. By preparing adequately, respecting local customs, and exploring the city's iconic landmarks and hidden gems, you can embark on an unforgettable adventure. Immerse yourself in the rich history, savour the flavours of Egyptian cuisine, and create memories that will last a lifetime. Cairo awaits, ready to enchant and captivate you with its timeless allure.

Friday 26 May 2023

Some books that I've enjoyed recently

I read a lot, and every now and then I like to share some of the books that I have particularly enjoyed in case anyone is looking for reading inspiration!

Here are some books that I have loved over the past month or so:

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Having really enjoyed The Book of Form and Emptiness I was very keen to read more by Ruth Ozeki and I wasn't disappointed. This book is slightly biographical and tells the story of a Canadian author who finds a journal washed up on her local beach, written by teenage girl Nao who grew up in America but has reluctantly moved with her family to Japan. Ruth is pulled into Nao's story and tries to learn more about her and the story that she is telling, and the whole thing is beautifully written.. 

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

I've loved The Poisonwood Bible for years and have re-read it many times, so I can't believe it has taken me this long to read another book by Barbara Kingsolver! Set in southern Appalachia in a remote forested location, the book follows several different characters and appeals to many of my reading interests - an isolated cabin in the woods, peace and quiet, a love of reading, observing nature through the seasons and working towards a goal, as well as some romance. I loved the descriptive text and the way that the voices of the different characters shone through.

A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

Set in Cornwall just after WW2, we meet Marvellous Ways, a ninety year old woman who has lived a remote existence for most of her life. She's ready for one last adventure when she meets Freddy Drake, a young soldier returned from the war with a letter to deliver. As well as being beautifully written the book was also incredibly poignant and really brought home how the war traumatised a whole generation of people from all ages and backgrounds.

The Birdcage by Eve Chase

This was a gripping read, three adult half-sisters are brought together by their famous artist father to the windswept Cornish cliff house where they spent their summers as children before tragedy struck. There are lots of secrets to uncover and it kept me wanting to read more!

Mrs de Winter by Susan Hill

This one wasn't my favourite I must admit, but I love, love, love the book Rebecca and I was intrigued to read a 'sequel' so I thought I'd include it here. It was an enjoyable read but it lacked the writing style of Daphne du Maurier and so it couldn't compare in that respect. The thing I love most about Rebecca is the way that much of the action in the book doesn't happen, it's all in the narrator's imagination. This sequel didn't use that technique at all, although the narrator does admit that she doesn't live in her own thoughts much as she used to. It was also a little bit too convenient, with almost every character from Rebecca being brought back and their story updated. When I first finished it I felt a little sad that I had read it, but a few weeks on I can see that it wasn't that terrible and I did enjoy it.

Pile of books on the windowsill
Photo credit Florencia Viadana via Unsplash

Thursday 25 May 2023

How to make home office easier as a parent

This is a collaborative post

With remote work increasingly becoming a reality for many parents, the lines between work and family obligations often become blurred. Having the freedom and flexibility of a remote job undoubtedly promises many benefits, but as fulfilling as that may be, the challenges of simultaneously managing work and parenting can sometimes become overwhelming. Juggling work and child-rearing under one roof is a balancing act, requiring clear thinking and planning in order to maintain family harmony.

Simply put, with weekend remote jobs on Jooble, it has never been so easy to find the perfect job and work from home. Let’s dive in!

Woman carrying her baby while working on a laptop
Photo credit Anastasia Shuraeva via Pexels

Six Tips for Balancing a Work Office and Family Life

Here are some useful insights into making your work at home more organized and easier to manage as a parent:

1. Establish a routine

Start by creating a daily schedule that includes dedicated work time and breaks to coincide with your children's routines. Take your children's daily routines, including mealtimes, naps, and school activities, into consideration when creating your schedule.
A set routine will not only help you manage your time more efficiently but also lay down clear rules and expectations for both you and your children. 

2. Set boundaries

Clearly communicate your work hours and expectations to your children. One way to let them know you’re busy working and are not to be disturbed is by using a "do not disturb" sign or another signal that will indicate that you should not be interrupted. Explain to your children that these are your "office hours" when you need to concentrate solely on work.

3. Create a dedicated workspace

Setting aside a specific area in your home as your home office is essential. A designated space will provide a physical boundary that helps separate your professional and personal life. 
Choose a quiet spot in your home that is away from noise and distractions, such as a spare room, or a corner of a room. 

4. Communicate with your children

Explaining the importance of your work to your children and the need for uninterrupted time is crucial for minimizing distractions. Explain to them why your work is important. Help them understand that your work allows you to provide for the family. Emphasize that while you love spending time with them, your work is another important responsibility that requires your full attention.
Be patient and understanding with your children as they adjust to the new routine. It may take time for them to fully grasp the concept and respect your need for uninterrupted work time. 

5. Take advantage of nap time and bedtime

Planning your most important or focused work during your children's nap time or after they go to bed can be a game-changer in terms of productivity. A quiet house with minimal distractions is a golden opportunity to work with undivided concentration.

6. Make use of support

Sometimes, things can get a little hectic and overwhelming. These are the times when you need to call in the troops for support. Ask a member of your family or hire a caregiver to help out when you need to get your work done. 

Here are some of the ways you can get support when needed:

Partner involvement
If you have a partner, discuss ways to share parenting responsibilities. Coordinate your schedules to ensure that both of you have dedicated work time while taking turns caring for your children. 

Family members
Enlist the support of family members. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, or other relatives may be willing to help with childcare, especially during times when you have important deadlines or meetings. 

Consider hiring a caregiver. This could be a nanny, babysitter, or daycare service. 

Final thoughts

Balancing the demands of work and parenting when working from home can be a major adjustment for both you and your family. There will be moments of difficulty and frustration, but don't be too hard on yourself when things don't go as planned. Be comforted by the fact that it will get easier as time goes by and you and your family settle into a balanced routine that works for everyone.

Wednesday 24 May 2023

Health and wellbeing for children - How to prepare your kids for a future of health

This is a collaborative post

Being a parent has many responsibilities. Perhaps one of the difficulties is taking responsibility for your child’s health and for their health in the future. Their early years can have a huge impact on their health later in life, so it is vital that parents instil healthy habits in their children so they grow to become healthy adults.

Begin With Baby Steps

Even with young children, you can start helping them to understand why their health is important and why they need to exercise. The habits your children begin the early parts of their life with will last them a lifetime. Setting an example is a good start. Let them see you taking care of yourself and keeping your body healthy, and they will take an interest. With a small child like a toddler, everything is ‘monkey see, monkey do’. They will want to replicate your actions and show you they can do it too. 

Table filled with healthy fruit and vegetables
Photo credit Dan Gold via Unsplash

The same goes for healthy foods. Bright-coloured vegetables and fruits can be off-putting to fussy kids, but when they see you enjoying them, their tune will suddenly change. Get them getting their five-a-day as soon as you can, and it will become a dietary habit that lasts them their lifetime.

Planning For Their Future

Medicine is experiencing a revolution in technology and data analysis. New techniques and methods are being designed and implemented that will make preventative care and personalised treatment the norm. Many of the diseases and medical issues we will experience in our lifetimes can be identified with gene sequencing, which can show doctors the problems we could have in the future.

This technology can be used to address diseases before they present themselves, DNA sequencing and genomic research can help you prevent medical problems for your child before they happen. Source BioScience laboratories support hospitals and research centres across the country using their next gen sequencing technology. Using this new technique helps you and your doctor prevent diseases and medical problems in your child before they happen. You can make dietary changes that will help reduce the risks of genetic diseases in the future. 

Fitness As A Family

Setting a health and fitness example for children can equip them with the healthy habits they will need to live a long and healthy life. They need to see you taking steps to maintain your fitness or address any health problems like excess weight. This simple step can have a massive impact on their lifetime health. If you cannot do it for yourself, do it for them.

Make exercise a family activity, even if it is only for a walk in the park. This is a fun afternoon out for kids, and they will enjoy themselves on the slides and swings, but you can also underscore for them that activity is a crucial component of daily life for adults as well as kids. The better a child understands their health and fitness, the fitter and healthier they will be when they are an adult.

Following these healthy steps will help your child grow to become an adult who looks after their health and maintains their fitness. Instilling healthy habits and performing advanced medical checks in your child almost guarantees they have the tools and knowledge they need to thrive in adulthood.

Mother and small child walking on pavement
Photo credit Sue Zeng via Unsplash

Friday 19 May 2023

What I've planted for the summer

I was a bit late planting my seeds this year because we were away over Easter and then the weather was still so cold that I didn't fancy going out in the garden and digging out all the seed trays and pots! But now summer seems to have come overnight, and my sunny windowsill is full of seedlings that are nearly ready to be moved outside.

When I plant seeds I always end up planting too many in case some don't germinate, and then I can never bear to get rid of any of the seedlings! So I now have twelve broccoli plants on the go and I'm not sure where I'm going to put them. I've never grown broccoli before but we do eat a lot of it so I hope that it turns out well.

Broccoli seedlings in a pot

My two garden favourites are tomatoes and sunflowers, both of which are always successful. This year I bought a mixed pack of sunflowers which are coming on very nicely and I'll be planting outside this week, I have a couple of sunny spots in mind. The tomatoes have a way to go but they are doing well, again I planted a few different varieties and I have loads of seedlings. The plants are going to keep me very busy this summer!

Sunflower and tomato plant seedlings in pots

I'm also keeping a close eye on the gorgeous lavender bush in my vegetable patch. A few years ago my parents bought me a rosemary plant and a lavender plant, with the intention of putting the rosemary in the vegetable patch and the lavender in a separate planter. However they got them muddled up, so I now have a beautiful lavender plant in my vegetable patch! I prune it every year but it keeps getting bigger and bigger and is threatening to take the whole thing over! I really love it, it's beautiful when it's in full bloom and it attracts lots of bees to the garden. I save the lavender to make lavender bags.

Large lavender bush in a vegetable patch

The vegetable patch is now mostly weeded and ready for planting, I'm just waiting for the fallen blossom to disappear and then I'll be raking it over and planning where to put everything. I also have some flower seeds which I'm going to sprinkle here and there, I've not been very successful with flower seeds in the past so I'll have to see how they go. 

What are you growing this year?

Wednesday 17 May 2023

Having fun with some grown up sticker books

When we go on holiday to the US I always make sure that we have some time browse in the craft stores, and Mia is now my very willing retail buddy! Shopping in the US isn't as good as it used to be, the prices are higher and with online shopping it's easier to find a wide range here in the UK. But I always like to have a good look!

On our last visit I spotted some lovely sticker books and I was very tempted, but it was our last day and I already had a stack of things in the suitcase to bring home, so I couldn't really justify any more expensive purchases. I regretted it though, and so when we returned over Easter I was very keen to see if I could spot them again.

I remembered that I had seen them in Joann which is on the way to the airport, and once again it was the last day of our holiday. But I'd been a little more restrained on this trip, so I felt that there was some room in the holiday shopping budget. I couldn't find the books in the same place as last time so I'd given up until we discovered a whole range in the clearance section! Between us we treated ourselves to three books in the range, one each and one to share.

Sticker and Chill sticker books for adults

They are really lovely books, similar to the repositionable sticker books that I remember having when I was little with cartoon characters and so on. Each book has ten different scenes and a huge range of themed stickers. Because it's aimed at adults some of the stickers are very tiny and the scenes are really detailed. Mia and I have been having a lovely time making up our sticker scenes!

Sticker and Chill sticker books for adults

The brand name of these sticker books is Sticker and Chill. Unfortunately it doesn't look as though they are available in the UK, and as they were reduced to clear they may not be readily available for much longer. I've found a few similar sticker books on Amazon like this sweet Dolls House Sticker Book (affiliate link) although they are aimed more at children and the stickers aren't reusable. I've also seen a few Geometric Sticker Books (affiliate link) which look fun and quite satisfying to complete. I've added one to my wish list!

Sticker and Chill book completed scene

Monday 15 May 2023

Some of my favourite packing hacks and tips

We are lucky to travel regularly and I'm usually the one packing! I like to think I'm quite good at it, I rarely forget anything and I'm usually prepared for any situation. So I thought I'd share a few packing tips and hacks that I've learned over the years.

My main tip is to maintain an exhaustive master packing list. I have a long list stored digitally which covers all types of holiday from camping to all-inclusive. It covers two sides of A4, and when a holiday is approaching I print it out and cross out things that are irrelevant to that particular trip. I prefer to use pen and paper, but I'm sure there are apps that do the same thing.

I keep a separate toiletries bag packed and ready to go. I add a few things like my toothbrush at the last minute, but I keep it filled with travel sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash etc. I also have a small emergency medicine kit stocked with paracetamol, ibuprofen, plasters, spare hair ties, safety pins and so on. Anything that might leak is in a small sandwich bag.

If we are flying I have my transparent plastic bag for liquids ready packed with things like medication and hand sanitiser. This is in the front pocket of the hand luggage so it can be easily removed at security. I don't pack spare toiletries in hand luggage as they can be easily picked up at a destination.

At the top of each packed suitcase I place a laminated sheet of paper with our address and contact details. If the suitcase goes astray, it will be the first thing that someone sees when they open it. The suitcases also have an external luggage label and they are also locked, not just for security but to prevent them coming open if they are thrown about. I make sure that I keep suitcase keys in two places, easy available for when we arrive. 

If we will be separated from our suitcases, for example when flying, I always divide family clothing between suitcases. It can be awkward but it means that even if just one suitcase makes it we will each have clothing for a couple of days. We all pack a separate toiletries bag and I put one in each suitcase so that at least we would have a few bits that we could share until we can buy some more!

I also make everyone pack a spare outfit in hand luggage. Luckily I've only had a suitcase delayed once years ago and it was on the way home, but I'm always mindful that these things happen! Also in hand luggage go spare glasses, prescription sunglasses, any medication, valuables, sentimental items like teddies and all travel documents.

While we are away I pack for the way home as I go along. I'll set aside one suitcase at a time for dirty washing, books that have been read, souvenirs and so on.

AI generated image of a packed suitcase
Experimenting with an AI generated image - what do you think?!

Things that I always remember to pack:

Laundry bags for dirty washing - large plastic bags will do, or large fabric drawstring bags which can be washed.

Plastic bags - for wet things, dirty things, and things that I want to protect. I always end up using them all!

Photocopies of our passports and other important documents. We also have digital copies on our phones but I like a paper one in case a phone is stolen along with the passports!

Chargers - usually my husband sorts this out as we have so many devices that I can't keep track!

Books - I can never have too many books and I always make sure that the children have plenty too!

Friday 12 May 2023

How my routine changes when my husband is away

I enjoy a routine, and I like knowing what I'm doing when. But lately I've realised that my routine is very different depending on whether my husband is here or not. He works from home but regularly travels for work, and is usually away at least one night a week.

When my husband is working from home he generally does the school drop off in the morning, which is great because it's a bit of a drive through the traffic. I'll often go for a run first thing while he's out, but when I'm on drop off I'll stop at the gym on the way back for a swim or I'll take my run along the seafront.

I eat different food when he's away, firstly because I make myself quick and easy options and secondly because I eat things that he's not keen on. Lately I've been enjoying quesadillas which are just a large wrap filled with tinned taco beans and grated cheese, spinach if I have some, and heated. He's also not a fan of risotto so I've worked out the quantities that I need to make myself a single portion. And sometimes I'll treat myself to a Gü dessert or two!

It's much quieter when he's away, as when he's at home he spends a lot of time on the phone or on conference calls and I can hear every word even when he's in another room. I enjoy the peace and quiet but I find it also means I get sleepy, I find myself nodding off after lunch!

When he's here we'll often watch television together in the evenings, but when he's away I rarely turn it on. Mainly because our setup is so complicated that I need help from a child to use it! Instead I often get into bed myself once the kids are down, and I'll make myself a nest in bed with a hot water bottle and my book or journal. Sometimes I'll end up with a child joining me for a sleepover although that happens less often these days - luckily we have a big bed so there's plenty of space!

Woman reading in bed with blankets and tea
Photo credit Emily Rudolph via Unsplash

Weekends without him are rarer, but harder because it can be a long day to fill even now the children are older and can entertain themselves. I always feel that we should be doing something productive! A few times recently I've encouraged them to come and join me in what I call a 'creative hub' in the kitchen. We all sit round the table with a pack of biscuits and a hot chocolate while we work on our own projects. They do homework, Harry does coding and Mia draws or plays Roblox. I write in my journal or make notes for blog posts. I really enjoy it, being together but having our own space!

I do miss him when he's away, and some things are definitely more difficult. It can be hectic sometimes when things come up at school and they need picking up or collecting at different times, or there are things going on in the evenings. But I also like having a bit of variety, and a bit of space to myself!

Wednesday 10 May 2023

Using AI to generate images for blog posts

I've been doing a lot of reading around Artificial Intelligence recently, it's a subject which fascinates me. As well as the ethics of AI, as both an online content creator and consumer I'm concerned with how AI could be used to produce content which is indistinguishable from that produced by humans. I've played around with ChatGPT to both generate blog post titles and to see what posts it would write based on those titles, and I've been impressed and I must admit a little bit in awe.  

When I'm looking for an image to illustrate a blog post then I turn to Unsplash for good quality and copyright free photographs that work with my content. The other day I was struggling to find exactly what I wanted, and I remembered reading about the AI image generator Stable Diffusion. I gave it a go and was actually really impressed with the image of a packed suitcase that it generated (the post is to be published next week, the AI image will be clearly disclosed!) so I thought I'd have a go at generating some 'stock' photographs that I could use to illustrate the sorts of things that I often write about!

I started with some crafty requests - bullet journals, art journals and a crochet blanket - and I was pleasantly surprised with the results. The text in the journals is nonsense and the blanket is a little fuzzy, but as part of a quickly skimmed blog post I think that they could pass as real photographs.

AI generated images of craft projects

I soon discovered that anything involving text or body parts like faces or hands doesn't work well at all, and I ended up with some very creepy images. I was impressed that the tool managed the word 'blog' on the laptop, but all the hands have gone very wrong!

Bad AI generated images for a blog post

I found that the AI image generator coped much better with images that involved a landscape or food. The images are a little too perfect, very smooth and shiny, but I think that some of them could certainly pass as genuine photos when scrolling through a platform like Instagram!

AI generated photographs to illustrate a blog post

My favourite AI generated images were these two involving books. It took a few attempts because the tool can't manage text very well so I needed to try for images taken from a distance or a little out of focus. I think that either of these two images would make a great blog post photograph, as long as you don't look too closely!

AI generated images of books and bookshelves for a blog post on reading

Finally one of my favourite images was one that went completely wrong. I asked for a person sitting on a sun lounger at the beach reading a book and ended up with this disturbing image!

Bad AI picture of someone reading a book on the beach

Clearly the technology has a way to go, but I can see that it won't be long before it will be easy to generate the exact image that you are looking for to illustrate something online, especially if you are just looking for generic images. I'll be looking very carefully at photographs now, because I've started to identify the characteristics that you can look for to identify an AI image. For example differences in the textures, wobbly edges, wonky text, over saturated colours and sometimes a rather grainy feel.

I found it fascinating to play with this tool, and if you have a spare few minutes I'd recommend giving it a go, you might be surprised with how well it works! 

All these images were generated using Stable Diffusion which is currently free to use. All images created using Stable Diffusion Online are fully open source, explicitly falling under the CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Monday 8 May 2023

Watching the Coronation

There have been lots of Royal events over the last few years - weddings, jubilees and the funeral - and now that the children are older I'm able to indulge myself a bit more when it comes to watching them. I made it clear well in advance that on Saturday I would be spending the day in front of the television with my bunting up and a table of snacks!

I didn't fancy the idea of actually going up to London. I went up with my Mum a few days after the Queen died and I'm really glad that we did, it was lovely to be there with all the people and to see all the flowers. But it was so busy even when nothing was happening, and mobile phones weren't working, so it would be really difficult to actually see anything or even know what was going on, I'd rather watch it all on television and not miss a thing!

I loved seeing all the decorations that people had put outside their houses to celebrate in advance. Our village has a talented group of yarn bombers and they always go overboard with themed knitted and crocheted items for special occasions. As well as a post box topper there were crowns on bollards, coloured bunting, and large knitted figures in all the shop windows.

Coronation knitted post box topper in Angmering, West Sussex

Coronation yarn bombing, Angmering, West Sussex

On Saturday I settled myself down from about 8am with my printed timetable in front of me, a pot of tea, and a table of snacks. I watched all the coverage, and called in the family to see the important bits. It was such a spectacle, a historic occasion with all the splendour to match. I was fascinated, following along in the Order of Service to see what was going on, and I enjoyed every minute. 

Coronation on television with flags

On the Sunday we took a walk around a neighbouring village to see their street party on the village green, and then saw more people out in the roads on our way back. The local pubs were all busy and celebrating with live music, there was a really nice celebratory atmosphere all around!

Friday 5 May 2023

How I use my journal

Recently I wrote about how I was building up a collection of notebooks and pens, and one of these notebooks was my new journal. As a teenager I was an avid diary writer, but I fell out of the habit at university. I did keep travel journals as a young adult, but since then only my blog has filled the gap. 

I've always loved the idea of keeping a written journal. Maybe part of the appeal is having important things on my mind that need to be recorded for posterity, as well as a need to get back to something analogue in this digital world. I'd been spending time on Reddit reading about bullet journals when I stumbled across the subreddit r/journaling and that was what finally inspired me to start a 'journal' rather than just a diary. It was seeing pictures of pages that people shared, and realising that they were in fact often just as dull as what I would write!

My journal is an Amazon Basics black notebook, slightly narrower than A5 in size. I write in it with a Helix Oxford fountain pen, or a black rollerball pen when travelling. I chose blank pages because I wanted the option to add drawings or sketches. 

I write the journal like a diary, with the date at the beginning of the entry, and I often write about what I've done that day. But I don't write about the day in detail like I used to as a teenager. Instead I pick a few things from the day and write about what they meant to me. So I might write that I've been for a run, but only if I saw something particularly interesting on that run. I write throughout the day, not just in the evening.

I'll often write about the book that I'm reading, maybe copying a quote or something that has particularly stuck in my mind. Sometimes a book has inspired me to do a bit of research into a topic, like a haunting book I read about the ship the St. Louis, that was carrying Jewish refugees from Europe in 1939 and was turned away by Cuba, the US and Canada, eventually being forced to return to Europe. I read about what had happened to the passengers on board and made some notes.

I write what's on my mind, but I don't write anything too personal that I wouldn't want others to read. I don't write anything negative about others, and I always write with a future reader in mind (although I'm sure most people would find it very boring!) 

I stick things in too - tickets, pictures cut from leaflets, seed packets, other random bits of ephemera. I've not added as many of my own drawings as I'd like to, I'm still a bit shy although I'd love to create a full on art journal! But I have written in it in public lots of times, mostly on holiday when I wrote on the beach and on the cruise ship deck. 

Journaling for me is a peaceful way to spend some screen free time, and it often helps me to get my thoughts in order. I might find it interesting to look back on the journal one day although I hate to look back at my teenage diaries as they make me cringe! But I try to write a little bit about current events, for example I'll write about the coronation next week, as I imagine that reading about historical events might be something that I'd enjoy reading back about. 

Closed journal with fountain pen on top

Do you keep a journal? What kinds of things do you write about? I'd love to hear!

Wednesday 3 May 2023

Has Covid changed cruising?

After our cruise last year, when I and my husband both unfortunately caught Covid on board, I wrote a post about how Covid has changed cruising. At the time I would have said that Covid had definitely changed cruising. But having recently returned from two short cruises, one with Royal Caribbean and one with Disney, I thought I'd write an update post about how things area looking nearly a year on. Pre-Covid, cruise ships were already notorious for spreading illness quickly, and at the beginning of the pandemic there were many large Covid outbreaks on board cruise ships.

The biggest difference from our cruise last year is that you no longer need to provide any information about vaccination or produce any negative tests. You do always have to fill out a health questionnaire before cruising. In the past this was aimed at catching the norovirus type sickness bugs but now it asks for things like a temperature, cough, loss of taste or smell and so on. 

On our last cruise all the crew were wearing masks at all times but this was no longer the case. This time I spotted a single passenger wearing a mask on the first day, and after that none. 

We noticed that Royal Caribbean still had plenty of hand sanitiser stations dotted around the ship, in particular outside restaurants (along with full sink hand washing facilities), by the lifts and at the main entrances to the deck areas. On the Disney ship we didn't see a single extra hand sanitiser station, just the usual hand washing areas outside restaurants.

Royal Caribbean hand sanitiser station

On the Disney Wish, which is a newer ship that first launched after Covid, we did notice that some of the areas in the main buffet are behind screens and you ask for the food that you would like to be served to you. Also on both ships you can no longer help yourself to ice-cream. However on the Wish there are still many drinks stations and other food areas where you can help yourself so I'm not sure that the screens can really make much difference. 

There are many times on a cruise that you are in a tightly packed area - for example while dining, in lifts, in theatres, in queues to get on and off the ship or for excursions. It's impossible to social distance at these times and no-one seemed to be worried. 

In the two Facebook groups for the cruises I didn't see any anxiety about Covid before we sailed. And in only one of the groups did anyone admit to having come back with Covid. On the last cruise it felt as though most of the ship brought it home! So maybe with so many people either being vaccinated or already having been exposed to Covid it just isn't so much of a risk anymore, and you are no more likely to catch Covid on a cruise than anywhere else.

So I would have to say that no, a couple of years on, Covid hasn't changed cruising. When the cruises first started back up there many have been a few additional changes made, vaccination requirements, extra signage and so on, but they have now disappeared and only the usual pre-Covid health measures like encouraging frequent hand washing have remained.

Monday 1 May 2023

Things that kept me going over the cold winter

I don't know if this last winter has been unusually cold, or whether I have noticed it more because we haven't heated the house as much as we normally would. It certainly seems to have been a long winter - this weekend was the first time that I left the house without a winter coat, and the first time that I sat outside and genuinely felt warm. 

I've found that the evenings in particular are the hardest. I've sometimes felt so cold after I put the children to bed that all I've wanted to do is put on fluffy pyjamas and get into bed with a book and a hot water bottle. I do all the usual things - extra jumpers, warm socks, hot drinks and soup for lunch - but there have been a few items that we've bought this winter that really helped me get through!

The first was my Oodie (a blanket with sleeves), which was a birthday present back in October. I only have a basic grey one and it wasn't cheap, although you can buy similar items more cheaply. But I've purchased from the Oodie website twice now, the one for myself and again as a gift, and both times at the last stage of the checkout process I've been offered the chance to add a second at a greatly reduced price. There are also discount codes available and sales throughout the year (I'd imagine that Spring/Summer is probably a good time to shop!) 

Admittedly it's not that practical for day to day tasks like housework and cooking, but if you have the chance to snuggle for a while on the sofa with a book or in front of the television it's perfect!

Second was a simple hair wrap to put my hair in while wet. I honestly can't believe I've never had one of these before! I exercise regularly so I frequently wash my hair, usually first thing in the morning, and I don't like hairdryers both because of the electricity cost and worry about damaging my hair. Cold wet hair hanging round my face made me feel miserable, and I couldn't believe what a difference it made just to wrap it up for a couple of hours!

Finally towards the end of the winter we treated ourselves to a heated blanket. I thought it was a bit of an indulgence, but now I can't believe that we've not had one for years. I thought that heated blankets were more like a flat mat for heating the bed, I didn't realise that they are just as soft and flexible as a normal blanket but with the added bonus of being heated. We bought a large one which several of us can snuggle under on the sofa at a time, and I use it to warm the bed while I'm getting ready, only turning it off when I go to sleep! 

I appreciate that these all have an associated cost which may or my not have been cancelled out by the money that we have saved on heating the house, but they will last for years and they certainly made my winter a little more comfortable! Fingers crossed the warmth of the last few days will continue...

Woman holding a mug under a warm blanket
Photo credit Amin Hasani via Unsplash