Friday 29 September 2023

Getting the garden ready for winter

It's that time of year again when I try to get those last garden jobs done before the weather gets too cold.  Although this year it's often been too warm to want to be out working in the garden. I'm still hanging the washing out to dry which I'm sure I've never done this late in the year before - some years I barely hang it outside at all!

Last week I cleared out the vegetable patch, taking out the dead tomato plants and giving it a good weed. I also weeded all my large planters and moved the smaller ones into the garage so that they don't blow about the garden over the winter. Usually I cut back the trailing plants on the fence that we share with our neighbour, but this year I've only cleared them out of the guttering. I quite like how they look, and maybe they will help to hold the fence together if we have any windy weather!

Vegetable patch emptied and weeded for winter

Then this morning I was admiring my good work and spotted this little cluster of seedlings! I'm almost certain that they are tomato plants, and because they are close together it looks as though they've sprouted from a fallen tomato that I missed. I couldn't bear to pull them out as I'm so used to caring for tomato plants, but I know that they won't survive the winter!

Tiny tomato seedlings in a tomato shape

At the weekend we did the final cut of the grass. This will make the last job of the year much easier when it comes around - a week or so of collecting the leaves that drop from the huge tree at the bottom of our garden! It's not even our tree as it's on council land, but I do love the tree and enjoy it throughout the year so it seems only fair that I should do a bit of work for it.

We also packed away our hot tub after giving it a good clean. We've not used it enough this summer as it's been so hot, and it had gone a bit yucky as we hadn't been keeping up with the chlorine top ups. We'll get it out in the spring and intend to make more of an effort with it next year.

There are still a few jobs left, the beautiful lavender bush needs cutting back a bit more so that it doesn't take over next year and our apple tree needs a bit of a trim. I also need to do a final quick cut of our large front hedge, otherwise the few sticking up bits will annoy me all winter. My aim is to get everything done before the half term school holiday so I've got a few weeks yet!

Thursday 28 September 2023

Living the good life: The unexpected benefits of Invisalign

This is a collaborative post

Are you considering straightening your teeth but are hesitant to commit to traditional braces? Invisalign gives you the opportunity to improve your smile without sacrificing convenience or confidence. 

Not only do these virtually invisible aligners provide a hidden and comfortable option for straightening teeth – but they can also deliver unexpected benefits that contribute to a healthier and happier life. 

To assist you, we'll explore some of the unexpected benefits of Invisalign that will make you want to take the leap towards a better smile. So, continue reading to learn more about the good life with Invisalign.

Five Surprising Benefits of Invisalign

Like any orthodontic treatment, Invisalign helps to straighten your teeth and correct any misalignments – but it also offers some amazing advantages that you may not have considered.  

We've collaborated with Gorgeous Smiles to help uncover these unexpected benefits and show you why Invisalign is the perfect choice for your smile journey. Here are five surprising advantages of Invisalign:

1 - Virtually Invisible Appearance

Virtually invisible – that's the phrase you'll often hear when discussing Invisalign. These clear aligners are custom-made to suit your teeth perfectly, making them virtually undetectable. 

Unlike traditional braces, which can be particularly noticeable and sometimes uncomfortable, Invisalign allows you to straighten your teeth without the world knowing.

In addition, the aligners are removable, so you can take them out for special occasions or when taking photos. This way, you can show off your smile without any metal brackets or wires in sight.

2 - Comfort and Convenience

Another significant benefit of Invisalign is its comfort and convenience. These aligners are made from smooth plastic, making them gentle on your gums and cheeks. 

No need to worry about any cuts or scratches that can be caused by traditional braces. Moreover, the aligners are removable, allowing you to enjoy all your favourite foods without restrictions. 

You can also easily maintain your oral hygiene routine by simply removing the aligners to brush and floss your teeth. This makes Invisalign a much more comfortable and convenient option for straightening your teeth.

3 - Shorter Treatment Time

It's no secret that straightening teeth with traditional braces can take a long time. Treatment times can be drastically shortened using Invisalign, with some instances taking as little as six months to complete.

The aligners work by slowly shifting your teeth into their desired position, and due to advanced technology and custom-made trays, you'll see results sooner than expected.

Additionally, you can change it out every two weeks to guarantee that your teeth are moving as quickly and effectively as possible. So you may spend more time enjoying your beautiful smile and less time at the orthodontist.

4 - Boosted Self-Confidence

The increase in confidence and self-esteem that comes with using Invisalign is another unexpected perk. Your self-confidence can change significantly, both personally and professionally, if you have a nicer grin. 

This will let you observe the difference in your teeth from the first day, which can immediately boost your confidence.

You won't have to worry about awkward discussions or feeling self-conscious when interacting with others because the aligners are virtually invisible. You may then put all of your energy towards living your greatest life without any insecurities getting in the way.

5 - Improved Oral Health

Lastly, Invisalign can aid in improving your overall oral health. Plaque build up and probably tooth decay can result from improperly cleaned teeth that are crooked or misaligned.

You can more easily maintain a healthy mouth with this since it can straighten your teeth. You can avoid common dental problems like cavities and gum disease by brushing and flossing properly.

Not to add, having straight teeth will help your bite and reduce jaw pain brought on by misalignment.  This not only gives you a better smile but also contributes to better oral health.

Woman smiling in close up
Photo credit Lesly Juarez via Unsplash


Bringing it all together, one can clearly see that Invisalign is more than just a tool for straightening teeth. It's a gateway to a brighter, more confident you, with surprising benefits that affect multiple aspects of your life. 

From a virtually invisible appearance that keeps your treatment discreet to a dramatic boost in self-confidence, better oral health, and a user-friendly, comfortable design – it truly checks all the boxes for an orthodontic answer that fits seamlessly into your lifestyle. 

Decide whether Invisalign is the best option for you to live your best life with a better, healthier smile by taking into account the information above.  Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.  We can't wait to hear from you. Happy smiling! 

Wednesday 27 September 2023

Halloween themed felt garland bunting craft

For a little while now I've been brainstorming craft projects with the intention of working my way through my craft supplies stash. One thing that I have in abundance is felt, and so I decided that with Halloween coming up I'd work on a simple felt Halloween craft!

I still love the simple felt heart garland bunting which I made a little while ago, and it hangs from our mantelpiece almost year round. I thought I could come up with something similar using Halloween colours and simple shapes. And here it is, embellished with sequins, my very easy Halloween felt garland:

Halloween craft simple felt bunting garland

I began by sketching out a few simple designs. I discovered some pre-cut black felt circles in my stash which I thought would fit well in between the shapes. I didn't have quite enough so I cut some more circles from grey felt, and made enough to alternate with my other designs. I made simple pumpkins, ghosts and witch hats, taking some shape inspiration from this gorgeous bunting which I found online - Felt Halloween Garland.

I cut my shapes a little smaller (about 3-4cm across) and designed them to be little more rounded so that they could be sewn closer together. I used some lovely dark yellow cotton for the sewing.

Halloween felt shapes for simple garland craft
I used a sewing machine to make up the garland. It's a bit of a fiddly job to sew the shapes together as they are so small. I found that I had to sew across a shape and then lift the presser foot a little to pop the next one into place, with the edges nice and snug together. 

Sewing together felt scraps for garland

I was really pleased with how it looked, but I felt that it was missing something, especially on the ghosts. Wanting to continue crafting only with my stash I hunted out my big bag of sequins and sorted out some black circles for the eyes of the ghosts, gold squares for a buckle on the hats, and green circles to add a bit of colour to the pumpkins. They are glued in place, and I added sequins on both sides in case the shapes flip around while they are hanging. Subtle yet sparkly!

Easy Halloween felt garland craft using scraps

I have my bunting strung up across the fireplace, along with some fairy lights (don't worry, the fireplace underneath is disconnected so there is no fire risk, remember to be careful where you display bunting!)

Homemade Halloween felt garland on mantelpiece

While I was hanging it I thought something like this would also be great hung down in long strings across a doorway, maybe if you are hosting a Halloween party or greeting Trick or Treaters! 

Homemade Halloween felt garland close up

If you like this Halloween felt craft then you may also like my Homemade Halloween felt bunting, using scraps of felt along with ribbon, buttons and sequins.

Tuesday 26 September 2023

Good habits to improve your wellbeing

This is a collaborative post

While we often hear all about bad habits that can have a negative impact on our health, there are also a wide range of good habits that we can get into that will help to improve our wellbeing.

Of course, when we lead busy lives, devoting all our free time to our careers and our families, then it can be hard to find time for self-care.

However, if we make a conscious effort to introduce these self-care acts into our schedule, then we can slowly improve our quality of life.

Are you looking to work on your wellbeing? Here are just four good self-care habits to include in your schedule.

Engage in Regular Exercise

Getting regular exercise is a great way to improve your physical health, however it can also have a positive impact on both your mental and emotional wellbeing.

Make it a habit of including exercise in your daily schedule, even if it’s just taking a walk every morning before you start work.

Of course, it can be hard to find the time to get the recommended 30 minutes of exercise, but, but platforms such as YouTube offer a huge selection of workout routines that you can complete without equipment and from the comfort of your own home.

Eat a Balanced Diet

Your diet can have a big impact on your wellbeing, and while cutting out your favourite treats altogether can be quite unappealing, it’s also important to prioritise moderation.

Consuming a balanced diet will ensure that you cover all of the right food groups that will lead to a healthy life.

If you’re not sure where to start, then meal subscription boxes, such as Gousto, are a great way to get the ingredients for balanced meals delivered right to your door.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Getting enough sleep is one of the most essential parts of cultivating a healthy wellbeing. However, getting a good night’s sleep isn’t always easy. From internal factors such as stress to external factors like your environment, there are a wide variety of reasons that sleep might be eluding you.

One common cause of poor sleep comes from an uncomfortable mattress. A mattress should be changed every 6-8 years, so if yours is getting old, then the time has probably come for you to invest in something new.

Finding the perfect mattress can be difficult, however with experts such as Archers Sleep Centre, you’ll be able to find the ideal make and model to suit your needs.

Bed with cushions and bedside lamp
Photo credit Greg Rivers via Unsplash

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the art of living in the moment; it involves learning to pay attention to your mind, body, and the world around you.

Start by carving out ten minutes each day to sit quietly and complete some deep breathing exercises.

Mindfulness will help you to gain new perspectives and develop ways to cope with the small everyday stresses that often impact our ability to feel happy and fulfilled. 

Have you found good habits to improve your wellbeing? Share your tips in the comments below!

Monday 25 September 2023

Using ChatGPT as a blogger

I'm really interested in the development of AI and I've done lots of reading around the topic. I'm not really interested in how it works, I want to learn about the ethical considerations, and the ways that it might influence our lives both now and in the future.

I can see AI having a massive impact on the media landscape, especially when it comes to social media and online magazines and blogs. I was fascinated by a recent story about how fans of the computer game World of Warcraft laid a trap for an AI bot that was generating news stories based on their Reddit posts - Warcraft fans trick AI article bot with Glorbo hoax - and it did make me wonder how much online content has been created by Artificial Intelligence. It's going to have a huge impact on both online and print publishing. 

I think that we are entering a time when a huge amount of online content will be computer generated (if it's not already!), and because the software is then learning from that generated online content I do wonder about what that means for traditional writers, and for the people that are reading it. I just can't see it being the same in terms of quality and accuracy.

Using AI and ChatGPT as a blogger
Image generated by Stable Diffusion AI

However I must confess that I have been using ChatGPT when it comes to brainstorming and writing blog posts. I'll say first that I've never used ChatGPT to write an entire blog post and I don't intend to!

 But here are some of the ways that I've used it for blogging:

- Asking for a list of ideas for blog posts around a particular theme. Often none of the titles are exactly what I'm looking for, but they've sparked an idea for something else.

- Asking for blog post outlines around a particular subject. It's a good way of coming up with new ideas even if I don't want to follow the suggested format.

- I needed to write a sponsored post about the benefits of installing a GPS tracker in your car and I could only think of a couple! But ChatGPT provided me with several that I hadn't considered, and I was able to expand on those to fill the article. 

- I used a different AI tool to generate some potential blog post images. You can read about how I got on here - Using AI to generate images for blog posts. There's still lots of work to be done in this area, but I can see it being very useful if you are looking for a very specific image to illustrate something.

- Coming up with craft ideas. I asked it to give me some ideas for crafts involving particular materials for certain occasions. The results weren't ground breaking and I could have just used Google, but again it did help to give me some inspiration.

I've found that for the best results you need to be very specific when it comes to writing your prompt. You can go into a lot of detail and write a whole paragraph about what you are after, and then you can use further prompts or ask it to rewrite for you in a different way. ChatGPT also saves all your queries so you can go back to them and follow up. 

ChatGPT will even come up with text that you can use to share your posts on social media. I had a lot of fun with this, especially if you ask it to make them click bait! I would never use them! But here are some tweets that it suggested for promoting this blog post, complete with emojis and hashtags:


Please generate me some tweets for sharing my blog post titled "Using ChatGPT as a Blogger". Make them click bait!


"๐Ÿš€ Unleash the POWER of ChatGPT! ๐Ÿค– Learn how I skyrocketed my blog with AI wizardry! ๐Ÿ’ฅ Read it now: [Blog Post Link] #BloggerMagic #AIWriting"

"๐Ÿ’ก Want to BOOST your blog game? Discover my SECRET weapon: ChatGPT! ๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿš€ Dive into the future of blogging here: [Blog Post Link] #ChatGPT #BloggingTips"

"๐Ÿ“ Bloggers, brace yourselves! ChatGPT is your new BEST friend! ๐Ÿ˜ Unlock the potential of AI writing today: [Blog Post Link] #BloggersUnite #AIContent"

"๐Ÿš€ REVOLUTIONIZE your blogging game with ChatGPT! ๐Ÿ’ฅ Get the inside scoop on my blogging journey here: [Blog Post Link] #BloggerLife #AIWriting"

"๐ŸŒŸ BLOGGERS, this is a GAME-CHANGER! ๐Ÿ’ก Explore how ChatGPT transformed my content creation! ๐Ÿ”ฅ Dive in now: [Blog Post Link] #ContentCreation #ChatGPT"

Of course there are drawbacks to using ChatGPT to write content. The biggest one is that it does just make things up. I asked for reading material around a particular subject and was given a list of plausible titles and authors. Some of the authors had written books on similar subjects and the titles sounded good. But the actual books didn't exist!

I also asked for links to blog posts and articles on the subject I was researching and again it listed fake articles. There was a disclaimer saying that the titles had been automatically generated, but a website that is automatically copying and pasting information won't take any notice of that.

Finally, after asking ChatGPT to generate a few blog post articles it's easy to see the format that is being used, and it becomes very repetitive. The articles are nicely written with a beginning, middle and an end and the style is correct but somehow it just sounds a bit off and formulaic. Maybe a blog could get away with the occasional AI generated article but I think readers would soon get bored, especially if reading several articles at once.

I don't intend to ever use ChatGPT to write my blog, it's something that I love doing too much! But I'm definitely going to be more wary of the content that I read online going forwards, and I really hope that we aren't starting to see the end of human generated content.

Friday 22 September 2023

Hama bead Autumn leaves - designs and patterns

I've been trying to come up with some good designs for Hama bead Autumn leaves for a while now, and I've always found it really difficult! After sorting out all my Hama beads recently I found that I had lots of Autumnal colours with lots of different shades of brown, orange and red, and so I decided that I would have another go and attempt to make some seasonal Hama bead Autumn leaves to decorate my home now that the weather is turning cooler!

Hama bead Autumn leaves

Here is the pattern for the four Autumn leaf designs that I came up with. 

Hama bead Autumn leaves design and pattern to print

I used a variety of different coloured beads for the leaves, based on what I had in my stash. I tried to think about using darker beads for the base of the leaf and moving to lighter ones as I worked my way up, but the arrangement of the beads was pretty random! It was a great way to use up some of colours where I only had a small amount left. 

I used a square Hama bead pegboard and didn't over iron the beads. If you are new to Hama beads or want some extra guidance you might find this post helpful - Ironing tips for Hama beads

I've not decided yet how to display them. I'm thinking about hanging them from some long string and attaching them to suction hooks on the window. I also thought about making a few more and attaching them together for form an Autumn wreath - something like this Hama bead flower wreath. You could also attach them to sticks as a plant pot decoration, string them together to make bunting, add a magnet or keyring...lots of possibilities!

If you are looking for some more Autumn inspired Hama bead crafts then do take a look at these:

Autumn leaf Hama bead coasters

Autumn Hama bead battery tea light holders

You can find all my Hama bead crafts here - Hama bead craft ideas and projects

Wednesday 20 September 2023

Journal prompts for bloggers

I love writing in my journal, and even though I don't write every day I find that it's a really good way of putting my thoughts in order. I like to write about what I've been doing, things that I've learned or researched, things that I want to do and just random thoughts about various aspects of my life.

I often find myself writing about things that have interested me or caught my attention that have later made it into a blog post. I thought I'd have a think about how keeping a journal has been helpful for me when it comes to writing my blog.

I've put together some journal prompts for bloggers, both for myself and to share. I think that they fall into two different categories - firstly journal prompts which are for your own private thoughts and secondly journal prompts that help you to explore ideas, spark creativity, and which may become useful when writing future posts.

Journal prompts for private reflection

Why did you start your blog? For me it was to share photographs and updates of the children with the wider family, but it quickly moved on from there.

Why did you continue blogging, what was your motivation? 

How has the look and feel of your blog changed over time?

What have you gained from blogging? Maybe online companionship or paid work.

What has blogging taught you? For example confidence in using social media, writing skills, how to edit HTML, photo taking and editing.

What challenges have you had while blogging?

What are your favourite topics to blog about and why do you enjoy writing about them?

What puts you into a blogging mood?

What gives you ideas for blog posts?

What are your blogging goals? Some ideas - to post more frequently, to update older posts, to improve photography, to improve sharing on social media.

Are you happy with your blog? What would you like to change?

Open notebook in front of a laptop
Photo credit Jodie Cook via Unsplash

Journal prompts to inspire blogging

What have been your favourite blog posts to write and why? Are there any that could be updated or rewritten with a new perspective?

What subjects do you most enjoy writing about?

What have you never written about? What would you like to write about?

If you've been blogging for a long time, how has your life changed since you started? What new direction could you take the blog in based on new interests, surroundings or family situation?

What advice do you have for someone that is thinking of starting a blog? What blogging tips and tricks would you share?

What would you like to change about your blog?

How would you love your blog to look? Think about posting frequency, structure, images, design, colour scheme and so on.

If you are looking for inspiration when it comes to writing blog posts then you may find this post useful - an entire year of blog post ideas and inspiration.

Tuesday 19 September 2023

Back to School with Mansur Gavriel: Backpacks and Pencil Bags and Wallets, Oh My!

This is a collaborative post

The story behind Mansur Gavriel 

Floriana Gavriel and Rachel Mansur are the founders of the luxurious fashion brand we know of today as Mansur Gavriel. They first met in 2010 at a concert in Los Angeles, and instantly clicked due to their shared hobbies. Floriana graduated from the Rhode Island School Of Design, while Rachel got her degree in textiles from the University of Bremen in Germany.

The two effortlessly fashionable women realized that they had a lot in common. Their shared aesthetic and educational backgrounds also helped them identify the gaps in the market for affordable and quality handbags. 

They immediately decided to work on a project together after visiting each other in Germany and LA. Their shared vision for an affordable yet luxurious line led to the creation of the brand we know today.

Woman wearing leather tote back in the forest
Photo credit Corinne Kutz via Unsplash

Goals of the brand, and Bucket Bag catches widespread notoriety

The goal of the brand was to create a season less handbag that would last for years. To achieve this, they used high-quality leather from Italy. Their inspiration for the interior of the bags was derived from Rachel’s barn in Santa Monica, where they experimented with different colours.

The company’s founders experimented with a variety of techniques to create the perfect bond between the two layers of leather in the bags. After two years of working on the project, they produced their first samples in New York and LA. They then booked a booth at a New York trade show in February 2013, where they met a few local retailers.

The most significant moment for the brand came when Floriana met Steven Alan, a fashion designer based in New York. After seeing the line, he became one of its first customers.

The debut of the Mansur Gavriel line in June 2013 caught the attention of various industry influencers. The Bucket Bag was quickly becoming a crowd favourite, partially in thanks to Garance Dorรฉ, a popular fashion blogger. In September that year, the bag became the "it bag" of New York Fashion Week. Due to the overwhelming demand for the limited-edition version, the company could not keep up with the demand.

The demand for the Bucket Bag continued to grow, and within the next couple of years, it became the most sought-after bag in the world, with each batch selling out consistently.

Due to the strong demand and the continuous positive feedback from customers, the company was able to secure an initial deposit from a number of retailers for their wholesale orders. This was an unprecedented opportunity for the brand, as it allowed them to directly benefit from the sales.

This approach can be risky due to the unpredictable nature of the fashion industry, as the next delivery window may coincide with the production of the previous one, which can result in significant capital expenditures. Moreover, there may be a period of time between when the order is placed and when the goods are finally delivered.

Even though the wholesaler has received the goods, they may refuse to pay or go out of business. By securing deposits upfront, Mansur Gavriel was able to pay for production in advance, allowing the company to invest in its brand and grow its sales.

In 2019, the company sold a majority stake to a private equity firm known as GF Capital Management. This investment could allow the company to expand its e-commerce business and establish more brick and mortar locations. Both Floriana and Rachel have remained shareholders and creative directors of the company. The fashion community is now waiting to see what will happen to the brand in the future.

What products can you find by Mansur Gavriel?

Since its inception in 2013, Mansur Gavriel's product line has grown significantly. The company's early silhouettes are characterized by various materials and sizes. Their signature bucket bag, on the other hand, has been updated with contemporary twists.

The company's accessory line has been expanded to include different types of products, such as designer bags, wallets, and crossbody purses. It also focuses on the luxury footwear industry, with some of our favourite ankle boots, flats, and heels featured in their collection.

The company's goal is to create a product that's both sustainable and affordable. It prioritizes ethical and high-quality manufacturing techniques and materials. Even though their products have been flying off the shelves due to the overwhelming demand, they were not willing to compromise in order to meet it.

The company's vision was to create a product line that's both functional and beautiful. Through their careful attention to detail, they were able to create a variety of unique and beautiful accessories. Their vision included a colour-blocking process that's only possible in a country with such a rich history of artisanal craftsmanship.

All of the materials and products made by Mansur Gavriel are sourced from Italy. While meeting their high standards for style and quality, they are also supporting local family-owned businesses.

The company is constantly looking for new and sustainable solutions. Its packaging is made from recyclable materials, and it only uses vegetable-based ink for its boxes. In addition, they're committed to reducing waste and maximizing the use of materials through various initiatives.

One of the company's most beautiful examples of this is their use of leather trimmings. Their products are both timelessly elegant and eco-friendly.

The company's bags are known for their attention to detail and are designed in New York. Their carefully crafted silhouettes are ideal for modern women, allowing them to carry their essential devices such as an iPhone or a laptop. While their designs are thought-provoking and forward-thinking, they are also made using high-quality materials and traditional techniques in Italy.

Woman holding leather tote bag in forest
Photo credit Corinne Kutz via Unsplash

Backpacks by Mansur Gavriel 

With the summer season coming to an end and fall soon approaching, the smell of school spirit is in the air. In need of a new backpack to carry everything this upcoming school year? Mansur Gavriel has a variety of high quality options for students of all ages.

Mansur Gavriel's luxury backpacks are made with supple Italian leather and a beautiful mix of colours. Their spacious interior and sleek design are just as stunning as their exterior.

These fashionable women's backpacks are ideal for everyday use. They feature a spacious interior and a variety of features, such as adjustable shoulder straps and a built-in zipper pocket. The design of these bags is timeless and will keep you organized and comfortable.

Mansur Gavriel backpack styles 

Soft Lady Bag 

The Lady Bag is a must-have for anyone's closet, no matter your preferred style. This timeless design of this bag is made from soft calfskin leather, along with interior pockets and a luxurious suede lining.

Champagne Bucket Bag

The Champagne Bucket bag is a bit more slim and functional than the original bucket bag by Mansur Gavriel. It features a sleek design and a convenient pull-out side zipper, with a rounded base and adjustable buckle strap that makes it easy to carry all of your items.

Large Tote Bag 

The Large version of the classic canvas tote by Mansur Gavriel features a spacious interior and a minimalist design. It can hold all the way up to a 16” laptop, and easy to fit lots of items right beside each other. Its detachable pouch also keeps you organized while you're on the go.

Mini Bucket Bag 

This smaller version of the classic Bucket Bag retains its classic look and feel in a more compact form, making it an ideal choice for people who don't carry many items. This bag is made from textured Italian leather and features a simple cinch closure and adjustable crossbody strap.

Classic Pencil Bag by Mansur Gavriel 

This pencil bag from Mansur Gavriel features a sleek design and a small size, which makes it ideal for carrying all of your light necessities such as your wallet. Its premium Italian construction will last you for many years.

When shopping for backpacks, pencil bags, and more by Mansur Gavriel, one of the best places you can shop to ensure the legitimacy of the products you purchase is through Mansur Gavriel’s main website. You can also check out other authorized retailers like Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale's, along with Shopbop, which has some of the best deals you can find on a variety of accomplished luxury brands. 

Woman sitting by canal wearing leather backpack
Photo credit Karsten Winegear via Unsplash

Monday 18 September 2023

Visiting Anne Frank's House in Amsterdam

On our recent visit to Amsterdam we had a really interesting and informative visit to the Anne Frank House. You can find out more about Anne Frank here - Who was Anne Frank. A visit to the Anne Frank House gives you the opportunity to visit the actual rooms of the Secret Annex where Anne went into hiding with her family and others, as well as being the home of a large museum and other exhibitions. 

We visited the house probably around twenty years ago, and things have changed a lot during that time! So I thought I'd share some information in case you are planning a visit, something which I would absolutely recommend if you find yourself in Amsterdam.

The most important thing to know about a visit is that you must buy tickets in advance. I'm pretty sure that it would impossible to turn up on the day and be able to visit. Be very careful if you book a local tour that includes a visit to Anne Frank's House - you will almost certainly find that it doesn't include actual entry into the house. 

Tickets are currently released for sale six weeks beforehand on a Tuesday at 10am CEST. They are only available through the official website and must be purchased for a specific time slot. You can find all the information here - Anne Frank House. There are two types of ticket available - Museum Visit and a Museum Visit with a 30 minute introduction in English.

I was very keen to get tickets and knowing that we were visiting in the summer holidays on the same day as several cruise ships were in port I checked out the website for a few weeks before we actually needed to buy the tickets. 

I was interested in Museum Visit only tickets for a visit in the middle of August, and from discussion in our cruise group, tickets with the introduction sold out within minutes. By quarter past many time slots were full, but because each slot is only 15 minutes there were still plenty of tickets available for several hours after opening. By the end of the day most of the daytime slots for that week had gone, but a couple of days later there were still some evening and weekend slots available. 

I noticed that when the ticket slots opened up for the six week ahead mark there were also extra tickets released for dates which were previously fully booked. It's worth checking nearer the time if you miss out, and if you are visiting out of the main summer season and are flexible with your times you may be able to get away with booking a week or two in advance.

Anne Frank House steep staircase leading up

The entry time was very strict, and there was a queuing system outside while you waited for your slot to open. The ticket conditions make it very clear that there are no refunds and the purchaser must be with you at time of entry. You can't take bags but there is a free cloakroom, and the ticket price includes an excellent audio guide. The Secret Annex and the older part of the museum are unfortunately not accessible for wheelchairs, pushchairs or people with limited mobility as there are some incredibly steep staircases.

Your visit starts in the house next door, with an excellent introduction to the history of the building, the family and others who went into hiding, their helpers, and how the family managed to remain in hiding for so long. It also covers the fates of everyone involved once they were discovered. I found that it was pitched perfectly both to people who know Anne's story well and to those who are unfamiliar and want to learn more. The audio guide is really well paced and keeps people moving along. There are also lots of videos to watch which are on a loop so you can jump in at any point. 

Then you enter the Secret Annex itself, passing by the bookcase which concealed the entrance still in place. The rooms are unfurnished, but there are photographs in each room showing how they would have looked when occupied. There are also some family possessions on display. In Anne's room you can see the pictures which she glued onto the walls, and there are pencil markings which show Anne and her sister Margot's heights as they grew while in hiding. The rooms are small and would have been crowded when occupied, but at the same time it's astonishing just how much space there was hidden away. You can spend as long as you like looking around. 

Bookcase at entrance to the Secret Annex in Anne Frank's House

After visiting the Secret Annex there are more exhibitions to see. The main draw here is Anne Frank's original diary and some of her other notebooks. There is also a model of the Secret Annex - the photo below shows the bookcase entrance at the bottom and the steep steps leading upwards. This really helps to understand how all the rooms are arranged, as it can be a bit confusing when you are inside. 

Model of the Secret Annex at Anne Frank's house

I think that Anne Frank's house is one of the must-see attractions if you are visiting Amsterdam. I'd been wanting to share the experience with my children for a long time, and so I'm really glad that we had the opportunity to do so. I hope that this helps if you are planning a visit!

Sunday 17 September 2023

A Better View: How to Prioritise Your Family's Eye Health

This is a collaborative post

In the hustle and bustle of daily life, it's easy to overlook the importance of your family's eye health. With short-sightedness on the rise, however, parents must take proactive measures.

Neema Ghorbani-Mojarrad, a registered optometrist and lecturer at the University of Bradford, explains that lifestyle factors are more significant than genetics in developing myopia. This means that you can take simple yet crucial steps to ensure your loved ones' vision health. In this article, we'll explore five effective strategies for prioritising your family's eye health.

Annual eye tests

Let's begin with the cornerstone of eye health — regular eye tests. Scheduling yearly check-ups with an optometrist is crucial, especially for children whose eyes are still developing.

In the UK, reputable brands like Specsavers offer comprehensive eye examinations. I visited one of Specsavers' branches for a free eye test in 2019 and found that, besides needing a new prescription, I also needed to change my old frames into a design that keeps up with the times. Thankfully, these appointments are usually covered by the NHS for children under 16 and those under 19 in full-time education. This can help families save money on prescriptions, so there's no excuse to skip them! Besides, early detection can prevent bigger and more costly vision problems down the road.

Stylish glasses and updates

In my post on the eye test with Specsavers, the optician immediately commented on how outdated the frames were. Glasses fashion can change quite a bit over the years. This means that whether you or your family already wear glasses or are just looking for stylish eyewear, getting your hands on the perfect pair is essential.

But how do you make this a fun family event? Enter Glasses Direct's online service, which allows you to try on glasses at home. For parents, you can select up to four stylish frames among the site's over 300 options that suit your lifestyle and personal preferences. Plus, you can involve your kids in the process, turning it into a bonding experience. Encourage them to pick designs they love, as this can ensure that they're excited to wear their glasses regularly and thereby reduce eye strain.

Screen time management

In today's digital age, screens are integral to our lives. However, excessive screen time can affect eye health, leading to digital eye strain and other issues. One way to reduce screen time is to increase the duration of your child's play time outdoors. Doing so has been found to reduce the negative effects of screen time on communication and practical skills and children’s development by almost 20%.

Otherwise, make use of parental control apps to manage screen time for your kids' devices. Brands like Norton provide excellent tools for monitoring and limiting screen time, with their antivirus software allowing parents to set content filters and time limits for their children's devices.

Eat your way to healthy eyes

You've probably heard the saying, "You are what you eat," which also holds true for eye health. Incorporate foods rich in essential nutrients like vitamins A, C, and E, as well as zinc and omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients can help maintain good vision and prevent age-related eye conditions.

Otherwise, encourage your family to enjoy leafy greens, carrots, citrus fruits, nuts, and fish like salmon to support their eye health. Smoothies and salads are a delicious way to include these eye-friendly ingredients in your daily meals.

By incorporating these simple strategies into your routine, you can ensure your loved ones enjoy clear and healthy vision for years. So, start today, and here's to a brighter and clearer future for your family's eyes!

Child having an eye test at the opticians

Friday 15 September 2023

A quick visit back to Germany

I studied German at university, and as part of my degree I spent a year living as a student in Tรผbingen in southern Germany. I really enjoyed my year abroad, and although it was daunting at the time I am really grateful to have had the opportunity! I've been back to Germany a few times since, but not very recently, so I was really looking forward to a visit when our recent cruise stopped in Kiel on the north coast. 

Our plan for the day was a trip to nearby seaside town of Laboe to see the German U-995 submarine and memorial. The ship docked a little late that morning and we missed the ferry, so we decided to take a taxi to save some time. I let my husband deal with the taxi driver as I usually do, but when it became apparent that he couldn't speak English I stepped in with my long unused German, and to my surprise once the driver realised that I could speak German we managed to carry out quite a long conversation on the ride over! I was very impressed with how it all came back (and I think that the children were too!) We discussed big topics like immigration (he was Turkish) and racism, popular subjects like football and cycling, and he pointed out lots of the sights along the way. 

When we arrived at the submarine museum I spoke with the man in the ticket office about the ticket combinations available. Often in the past when I've spoken to someone in German they've answered me in English, but this man was very patient with me. Even though I am fairly confident that his English was far better than my German, he spoke with me in German and waited while I translated it all into English for the rest of the family!

German U-Boot submarine in Laboe near Kiel, Germany

The submarine was really interesting, and well worth a visit if you are in the area. We were the only visitors having got ahead of the crowds with the taxi - as we were leaving it was filling up with our fellow cruisers. I'm not sure if the lights had been accidentally turned off or if it's supposed to have a spooky atmosphere but in places it was pitch black and so we were grateful for the torches on our phones!

We took the ferry back to the town centre and had a wander around. Kiel isn't a regular on the cruise stop circuit and it's not really geared to the tourists. Most of the old city was destroyed in the war so it's not the prettiest, but there are a few historical buildings including the St Nikolai church and the lovely Hiroshima Park. It's a nice town though and there are lots of shops - we stopped at Primark for some Disney themed purchases and a supermarket for some German chocolate (Ritter Sport!) I also treated myself to a German magazine and was pleased to find that I can easily understand the articles. 

I was on the lookout for a magazine that I used to buy often when I lived there. It was called Mein Geheimnis (My Secret) and it was a women's romance story magazine written in really easy to understand language. The stories were very cliched and PG rated and I just loved it for its cheesiness. I couldn't find the exact title but I found just what I was after in a shop misleadingly called Woolworth - Meine Liebe Meine Berge (My Love, My Mountains). I spent ages choosing between doctor romance and mountain romance and in the end the mountains won. It's exactly what I was hoping for and I'm looking forward to immersing myself in some cheesy nature themed love stories!

German magazines

I loved having the opportunity to visit Germany again, even if just for the day, and I really impressed myself with how well the language came back to me. I'm planning to try and keep up with it a bit more (starting with some mountain romance) because learning a different language is definitely a really good way to keep the brain cells active!

Wednesday 13 September 2023

Some books I've enjoyed recently

Over the summer I didn't read as much as I usually do. I reached almost the bottom of my to be read pile which was great, but then left me feeling a bit unmotivated when it came to reading! I spent a while browsing the Amazon Prime Reading library and free Kindle books which filled up my Kindle, but most of the books that I read were a little bit uninspiring and repetitive, books read to pass the time rather than to make me think.

Luckily a friend has lent me some books and the ones that I've read so far have been brilliant! The first was The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan. It was described on the cover by India Knight as "A Handmaid's Tale for the 21st Century" which instantly appealed, as The Handmaid's Tale is one of my favourite books. I wasn't disappointed. It's a dystopian tale about women who have been deemed bad mothers and unable to care for their children properly. They are removed from their families and sent to a special institution to see whether they are able to learn the skills that they need to be good mothers and have their children returned to them. It's a gripping story, and one which stayed in my mind long after I'd finished it.

The second was Lullaby by Leila Slimani. Once I started reading I realised that I had read it before, but it was good enough that I wanted to re-read it! Another one about mothers, this is the story of a nanny to a wealthy Parisian family. You already know the outcome from the first few pages, and it's chilling how the story turns from perfection to horror. 

One of the free Kindle books that I did quite enjoy was Woke Up Like This by Amy Lea. It was one of this month's Amazon First Reads, so if you have an Amazon Prime account and a Kindle you can currently download it for free. It's about two 17 year old high school arch-enemies who wake up to find themselves flung into a future when they are 30 and about to get married. It's a very easy light-hearted read in the vein of the film 30 Going On 30, perhaps a little more Young Adult than the books I usually go for but it really entertained me for a little while!

Wooden hanging sign reading Books
Photo credit Cรฉsar Viteri via Unsplash

Finally I'm going to cheat a bit and add a book that I'm currently reading. Last night I started the new biography Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson. We recently bought a Tesla and we are interested in following the progress of SpaceX but I don't really know much about Elon Musk or his personal story, apart from all the Twitter controversies! I read an excerpt from the biography over the weekend and found it really interesting so I ordered the book, thinking that probably the rest of the family would enjoy reading it too. It's really good! I was reading it for almost three hours solid last night and it's very well written. I'm currently up to around 2007 and learning about the argumentative early days of Tesla and the first unsuccessful rocket launches and I've learned so much about Musk and his companies. I'm not normally a reader of biographies but I'd definitely recommend this one so far. 

What have you been reading lately? I'd love to hear some recommendations!

Monday 11 September 2023

Settling back to the school routine

A week into the school term, and despite the summer weather it feels as though the holidays never happened! The first week back is always a little unsettled - early starts and the school run along with new timetables, subjects and seating plans, there's always a bit of anxiety all round.

Then I find that I don't know what to do with myself when the children are out of the house! I don't see as much of them at home as I used to, but they are always there somewhere needing snacks and attention. When they first go back to school after a long break at home I find myself wandering aimlessly around the house until I remember all the things that I need to get on with now that they are out of the house!

Mia has started in Year 8, which comes with more homework and higher expectations. Harry is in Year 10 and so is making a start on his GCSE subjects. He's chosen a maths and science route, and I look at his timetable filled with double physics and double further maths and it fills me with horror! But he loves those subjects, and he's really looking forward to delving deeper into some of the more complicated aspects. 

Mia is taking part in the school musical production of Bugsy Malone this term. She doesn't have a major part but children keep dropping out so she has been gradually building up a number of smaller roles! There's a demanding after school rehearsal schedule so Harry works in the library and I can do the school pick up a little later - it makes my day seem so much longer! 

September always feels like a good time for a fresh start, and I have a few projects to work on this month. Getting back on track with the housework, sorting out the garden ready for winter, organising our holiday photos, going through my travel journals, sorting my craft supplies and having a bit of a declutter. All things which came to mind over the summer, and I now have the chance to get round to!

Back to School written on vintage chalkboard
Photo credit Deleece Cook via Unsplash

Friday 8 September 2023

Organising my Hama beads

I haven't posted any Hama bead crafts for a while have I? That's not because I haven't wanted to craft with my Hama beads, but because I was getting a bit overwhelmed. My love for Hama beads hasn't gone unnoticed among friends and family, and as their children outgrew the beads I became the happy recipient of many large boxes of unsorted beads! In addition to my own supplies, I found that I had a cupboard full, and I couldn't even think about where to start.

Over the summer my niece visited for the day and she enjoyed using some beads which I pulled out for her. So I decided to start by sorting out a box of basic colours for her along with some boards so that she could do some Hama bead crafting at home. I had five massive boxes of unsorted beads, and so this prompted me to finally get down to it and work on sorting out the beads into their individual colours. 

This was a huge job, and it took me several weeks. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of what I began with! I tipped out handfuls onto a large tray and patiently picked through the beads, sorting them out into a variety of plastic cups, beakers and empty food packaging. Anyone around at the time was encouraged to help me out!

Hama beads sorted by colour in storage containers

I didn't really find any easy way to sort the beads apart from trying to do it during daylight to more easily see subtle colour variations, and making sure I had enough containers for all the different colours. It was actually very relaxing!

I already had some of my Hama beads sorted into plastic storage boxes but the colour selections were haphazard and most sections were too small to fit all the beads I wanted. I also had way more colours than sections. So I emptied out the different boxes and also purchased a new box for the extras. It wasn't enough to hold all my beads but I didn't want to spend too much money so I used sturdy sandwich bags for the more popular colours and tiny plastic bags when I only had a few beads of a particular colour.

It's really satisfying now to see all my beads clearly laid out. I know what colours I have and how many of each colour, so I can plan my craft projects. In particular I have plenty of transparent beads, neon beads, skin tones and red and white beads, so expect to see those cropping up in future blog posts!

Having such a big sort out has really re-ignited by love for this craft, and I'm really looking forward to crafting with Hama beads again!

And if you want to see my Hama bead storage goals have a look at this - Ultimate Hama bead storage - I'd love to splash out on some of these tiny boxes for my Hama beads, I'd just need so many of them!

Tuesday 5 September 2023

Our summer holiday 2023

This is a collaborative post

And just like that, September has come around again and the children are back at school!

Weather wise it doesn't feel like September at all, in fact it feels more like the end of the summer term!  The weather this summer was a little disappointing wasn't it, just last week I was out in Brighton wearing a cardigan underneath my thick winter coat. I'm really glad that we are currently enjoying a few warmer days before winter kicks in!

We were lucky enough to get away this summer and enjoyed a fantastic Northern Europe cruise aboard the Disney Dream. The cruise started in Copenhagen and we spent a few days there before sailing back to Southampton via stops in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, The Netherlands and Belgium. We visited Copenhagen for the day on a cruise a few years ago and loved it, so we decided to spend a few (unfortunately rather wet!) days there before the cruise began. 

Copenhagen Nyhavn in the rain

It was a great itinerary with a really good mixture of smaller towns and larger cities, and we really enjoyed exploring places which were new to us and re-visiting places that we've not been to for years. The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam was a highlight, as was the evening spent sailing back through the North Sea Canal and waving at all the people who had come out to watch us go past. In Fredericia in Denmark we were greeted by the townspeople firing cannons, and several places put on a marching band as we departed. Stockholm in particular was a lovely city and definitely somewhere that I'd like to return for a little longer. And of course a Disney cruise was as magical as always!

Children looking through a porthole on a Disney cruise ship

At the beginning of the holidays I went to see Blur at Wembley and Pulp in Sheffield on two consecutive weekends which was amazing. They were my two favourite bands as a teenager and I never thought I'd see either one live again. Blur at Wembley was a huge concert, such a brilliant atmosphere. The Pulp venue was much smaller meaning that we had an excellent view of the stage which was great because the staging of the show was perfect, each song had different lighting and projections. I even rocked the vintage Blur and Pulp t-shirts that I still own!

Outside Blur concert at Wembley 2023

Apart from that the rest of the holidays were fairly quiet. I took Mia out shopping to Hobbycraft a few times, combined with a trip to the cafรฉ next door for hot chocolate and cake. We had a trip to Monkey World to visit our adopted Kim, and a few playdates. Harry spent a lot of time playing a new computer game that he is obsessed with, it's called Kerbal Space Progam and is the perfect fit for his maths/physics/rockets interests!

A summer highlight was Harry receiving his GCSE result - he achieved a fantastic grade 9 in Computer Science which he took two years early as he has a natural aptitude for and interest in programming. He was mainly self-taught, although he did have some extra help from his computing tutor. We are so proud, I can't believe he's already got a top grade GCSE under his belt at age 14!

Now we are slowly getting back into the school routine. At the time the holiday seemed long but looking back it flew by. It seems like a long slog ahead now until the Christmas break!