Wednesday 28 February 2024

Can you eat thirty different plants in a week?

It's actually not as difficult as it sounds!

Sometime before Christmas I read a nutrition article online that made an impression on me. I think it may have been this one - Forget five a day, 30 a week is the new rule you need to follow. It's behind a paywall, but if you don't have a Telegraph subscription you can find a similar article here with lots more advice - Why should you eat 30 plants a week?

The premise behind eating 30 different types of plant in a week is that it can boost the diversity and health of your gut biome, which is also really important for other aspects of your health. When I read the headline I thought that it sounds impossible, I find it difficult enough to fit in my five a day! But after I read more closely I realised that actually it's very achievable. 

Plants doesn't just include the usual fruit and vegetables, it also counts grains, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. Even chocolate counts if it's more than 70% cocoa, as does coffee and popcorn. The curry mix that I sometimes use in cooking contains coriander, cumin, turmeric, garlic, cardamom, chilli, star anise, bay leaf, cloves, mace - that's 11 plants in one go!

I've been making a big effort with my diet since the new year, trying to make healthier choices and increasing the range of foods that I eat. So I decided to quickly add up the number of different plants that I ate on a fairly typical day (that does admittedly tend towards the healthier end of the scale) and see how many I got to. I was really surprised!

Simple bean salad in a bowl

Breakfast - Muesli. I eat a small bowl of Sainsbury's Swiss Style Muesli which contains oat flakes, wheat flakes, sultanas, hazelnuts and almonds. Then I top it with a mixture of my own - raisins, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and some flaked almonds. Adds 9 plants.

Lunch - Bean salad, includes kidney beans, sweetcorn, onion, tomato, red pepper, olive oil. Followed by a handful of grapes. Adds 7 plants.

Snack - A couple each of Brazil nuts, cashew nuts and almonds. Adds 2 plants.

Dinner - Lentil Bolognese, includes red lentils, green lentils, potato, onion, carrot, tomato, olive oil, garlic, curry powder (coriander, cumin, turmeric, garlic, cardamom, chilli, star anise, bay leaf, cloves, mace), black pepper. Adds 15 plants.

Snack - Apple. Adds 1 plant. I also had some chocolate, but it was milk so doesn't count!

Even allowing for overcounting or miscalculation that makes an impressive 34 plants! The curry powder does feel like a bit of a cheat, especially because I don't use very much, so I think that I would need to add it more frequently to get the full benefits.

I could definitely do with some adding some more variety to my diet - I eat the same for breakfast every morning and I often repeat lunches - but I was pleasantly surprised to find that eating so many different plants wasn't as overwhelming as I had thought. I'm definitely in the right mindset at the moment to want to improve my diet, and I'm really enjoying researching the topic and finding some new recipes to try - and feeling better for it too.

Tuesday 27 February 2024

Four ways to improve lone worker safety

This is a collaborative post

All work can be risky given the right (or wrong) circumstances, but working alone comes with a unique risk profile simply because it involves working independently of others.

As the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reminds us: "Lone workers face the same hazards at work as anyone else, but there is a greater risk of these hazards causing harm as they may not have anyone to help or support them if things go wrong."

That being the case, health and safety managers must devise the policies and kit lone workers out with the right tech that gives them the best chance of staying safe.

Let’s take a look at four ways businesses can improve their lone worker safety.

Assess The Risks

Anyone from machine operators and engineers to teachers and social housing managers can be asked to work alone, meaning they face an elevated level of job-related risk.

How much risk and where the biggest risks lie should be determined by a company’s risk assessment or risk audit process. 

A risk assessment is key to identifying the safety issues that lone workers are likely to encounter and keeping on top of the changing risk profile of a workforce.

Electrician working alone
Photo credit Emmanuel Ikwuegbu via Unsplash

Train Staff

It’s all very well drawing up a set of safety protocols, but if workers aren’t familiar with them they are next to useless.

Therefore it is essential that a business shares its risk assessment findings with staff and familiarises them with the protocols it has established to mitigate lone worker risk.

At its most basic level, this might mean providing staff with a simple check-in/check-out system so that a boss can keep tabs on a worker’s whereabouts.

However, it’s also likely to involve a good deal of training in the right use of equipment, both the tools of the trade and the safety devices a company uses to keep lone workers safe.

Monitor

At the heart of any effective lone worker safety regime lies staff monitoring. Here, technology has an important role to play.

Perhaps the most effective way an employer can provide a lone worker with a vital lifeline in case of an accident or emergency is to fit a worker with a lone worker alarm.

Respond

The lone worker alarm comes into its own when the lone worker hits a snag or has an accident. 

At this point, an accessible SOS button provides the worker with a vital lifeline by allowing him to reach out to colleagues and the emergency services.

If the alarm is sounded the company must have the protocols in place to know how to respond to a lone worker’s mayday signal.

An extra layer of monitoring comes in the form of GPS-powered true man-down detection, a real-time system that allows colleagues and emergency services to pinpoint the exact location of an incapacitated worker.

Conclusion

There is believed to be somewhere between seven and nine million lone workers in the UK. The risks these lone workers face can appear formidable, but with the right protocols and technology in place, it’s always possible to mitigate risks and manage the biggest dangers they face as they go about their jobs.

Monday 26 February 2024

A review of the four new jigsaws that I received for Christmas

For Christmas I was lucky enough to receive some lovely jigsaw puzzles, and so I thought I'd do a quick review of them all in case you are looking for some puzzling inspiration! They are 1000 piece puzzles with bright, colourful designs and all of them were quite quick and easy to put together - a nice change after my larger 3000 piece puzzle!

Modern jigsaw puzzles review

Parkside View by Galison (1000 piece)

This is a colourful view of a city park with skyscrapers in the background. At first I thought it was going to be a very tricky puzzle with all the different colours and shades, but it wasn't as bad as I thought. The pieces only come in two shapes and so you can work out the orientation. Once you've put together the sky and the buildings, as long as you have space to lay out the majority of the pieces then you can work on a tree at a time, picking out the distinctive pieces that you need for that section. It was a bit difficult to take apart, each piece needed to be removed separately which took a little while. There was a separate poster with the image which I always appreciate, especially as the square box doesn't show the complete design. I loved the beautiful, vibrant colours.

Parkside View by Galison jigsaw puzzle review

Art Cats by Happily (1000 piece)

This was a very easy sort, as you can identify the parts for most of the cats from individual pieces. In fact after I'd sorted out the edge pieces and the text I didn't really bother sorting the rest, I just hunted through the box for the pieces I needed. I didn't want to finish it too quickly! Each cat is drawn in the style of a different artist, with an appropriate cat themed name underneath which makes for a really fun illustration. The pieces are solid and chunky, and it didn't take too long at all. 

Art Cats by Happily jigsaw puzzle review

Book Nerd by Workman Puzzle (1000 piece)

I didn't realise until I read the box that this puzzle is based on the book of the same name, which looks like a fun, illustrated read about the love of books. The first thing that I noticed about this puzzle was arrows on the back to indicate which way up the pieces go, which I've not seen before. I didn't need them though! The pieces of this puzzle are all really interesting different shapes which made the puzzle fun to put together. I started with the figures and the plants and then enjoyed piecing together the different sections of books. I loved the variety of books in the image, it's not just classic and well known books but modern books too. I enjoyed the style of the illustration and all the different objects that go on the shelves along with the books.

Book Nerd by Workman Puzzle jigsaw puzzle review

Classics by Happily (1000 piece)

This puzzle was another easy sort. Each book joins to the edge, so once that is in place you can work on a book at a time. This means it's a great puzzle to work on in small bursts, even if you only have a few minutes to put together one of the spines. Although the books include some of my favourite authors - Margaret Atwood, Daphne du Maurier - along with a good selection of adult and children's books, I did think there could have been a bit more variety in the titles! The 37 books include 7 by Jane Austen, including 'Love and Freindship' which apparently isn't a spelling mistake, Anne of Green Gables features twice and books by Arthur Conan Doyle three times. That aside, I enjoyed the contrasts in the colours and patterns of the book spines, and it was a pretty easy and fun jigsaw to put together over a few evenings.

Classics jigsaw puzzle by Happily review

I feel like I've been a very busy puzzler this year so far! Now I just have one borrowed puzzle to get on with and then I might take a bit of a break, or go back and do some of the old favourites in my collection!

Book Nerd jigsaw puzzle completed

Thursday 22 February 2024

Walking in the rain

I love going out for a walk, and as well as my regular runs I also venture out for plenty of walks around my local area. I don't go very far, just a short wander around the estate for half an hour or so, often after lunch. It's not always easiest at this time of year, especially when it's as cold and rainy as it has been lately. 

But I do enjoy taking my walk in the rain. One is that there are fewer people out - because I'm regularly out and about I bump into the same people over and over again and I always feel the need to notice them and smile a greeting! A lack of people also means that I can stop to take photographs of my lovely boots in a puddle without people wondering what I'm up to. 

Boots standing in a puddle

It's soothing to hear the sound of the raindrops falling around me, and as long as I'm well wrapped up I don't get too cold or wet. It's a great feeling to come back inside with a head full of fresh air and tired legs, put on some dry clothes and socks and make myself a hot drink to warm up.

When there has been lots of rain I like to visit the attenuation pond at the bottom of our estate. It's a fancy name for a sunken grassy area which is designed to collect excess rainwater so that it doesn't overwhelm the local drains. When we moved here about ten years ago I can't remember it ever being wet, but lately it seems to be flooded quite a lot of the time. 

Recently two new life rings appeared, one on each side. Not long ago, a couple of local ladies that enjoy sea swimming filmed themselves swimming in the new 'Lido', complete with their wild swimming floats, and I can't help thinking that this is what triggered their installation! Even at its very wettest the water doesn't get deeper than a foot or so, but I suppose better safe than sorry!

Life rings next to an attenuation pond

I prefer a warmer walk in the rain to an icy walk in the cold - although I'm very much looking forward to warmer walks to come as spring approaches!

Monday 19 February 2024

Waiting impatiently for Spring

At this time of year, every time the sun comes out I turn my face towards it and bask in the anticipation of warmer days ahead. Winter thankfully didn't feel too cold this year, but I'm starting to tire of wearing so many extra layers around the house and keeping myself warm with a constant supply of hot drinks.

I keep looking out into the garden and seeing all the jobs that need doing. There are dead leaves from the autumn that still need to be swept up, the gravel needs weeding, it's time to think about jet washing the patios and I want to plan my vegetable patch planting. But when it's cold outside I just can't face it!

This morning I went for my run wearing a thinner jumper for the first time this year and I really felt the cold before I had warmed up. I'm still putting a hat on when I go out for a walk and although we haven't had a frost for a few weeks now there has still been some freezing rain. 

I'm so looking forward to getting out the garden furniture and enjoying a cup of tea outside. I'm determined to spend as much time in the garden as I can this summer, I might even roll out the yoga mat for some exercise or borrow a laptop from another family member so that I can do some work.

I am eagerly watching out for each and any sign of spring - the first crocuses and daffodils have put in an appearance so I'm hoping that it won't be too much longer before the warmth that I'm longing for comes along!

Miniature daffodils in bloom
Photo credit Shishir Pandey via Unsplash

Friday 16 February 2024

Why I can't use TikTok

A few years ago when TikTok first started to become really popular I downloaded the app. As a blogger I felt that I needed to keep up with social media trends, and lots of other bloggers were starting to create content on TikTok. As a parent I was aware that there was some disquiet about young people using TikTok, and so I wanted to see what it was all about.

Within minutes of opening the app I was hooked. I just could not turn it off. I was scrolling through these short, addictive videos and I couldn't stop myself - it was scary! And with each video it felt as though I could feel my brain melting. 

I couldn't even imagine how I would go about creating content for TikTok. The popular videos are professionally filmed, with good lighting and photogenic narrators - I didn't know where to start. I also don't have the time or the inclination to research what's popular and to make videos that fit the trends. 

I don't want to judge people that enjoy scrolling TikTok - it's a really easy way to relax, it's entertaining and it's home to lots of interesting and informative content. But I found that I personally wasn't able to control my use, and so the easiest thing was to delete the app. I don't have this problem with other social media - I check Facebook once a day or so, and I can scroll through Twitter and Instagram for just a few minutes and put them down. There's just that something about TikTok that makes it impossible to turn away from.

On a cruise last year I was amused to notice that the large screen by the pool on a sea day was showing a compilation of short TikTok style videos, mainly cute animals doing funny things. It was clearly aimed at all the people who didn't have internet access on the cruise - it was something easy to watch and zone out to while relaxing by the pool without a smartphone. 

I definitely have concerns about TikTok and what it is doing to people's attention spans. There have been a few studies which seem to bear that out, and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence - I found an interesting article here - TikTok and the Death of the Attention Span. I think that my generation are probably less affected as our brains have developed without it, but it does worry me what it is doing to children's brains. I'm hoping to keep mine away from it as long as I can, and I don't intend to reinstall it myself!

TikTok logo on a smartphone screen
Photo credit Solen Favissa via Unsplash

I have a similar problem with YouTube shorts. I use YouTube daily because I have a selection of exercise videos that I follow. It's really difficult to avoid the temptation to click on a short or two, and I almost always get sucked in for a few minutes! I'd love to know if other people have the same problem or whether they just have better self control than I do!

Tuesday 13 February 2024

Happy Pancake Day!

I had to share, because I'm feeling very proud of myself today! I usually attempt pancakes for pancake day, but in the past I've always used a pre-made mix - usually a plastic bottle that you add water to and then shake. I always go for American style pancakes which are thicker, sweeter and easier to flip over.

But I'm trying to think a bit more about the food that I eat, and so this year instead of buying the readymade mix I decided that I would make them from scratch. I was pleasantly surprised to find out just how easy it is to make the batter, I had never even looked up a recipe before! I used this one from BBC Good Food - Easy Pancakes Recipe. I also read a tip online to make the batter about an hour before you need it and leave it to chill in the fridge.

Pancake frying in the pan

To my great surprise, not only did I actually manage to make several successful pancakes for our lunch, they turned out really well and they were delicious!

Pancake spread with toppings

We ate them with lots of far too sweet toppings (I'm only taking the healthy eating so far...) and I have been feeling very accomplished all day. No more pancake mix for me!

Rolled up pancake on Pancake Day

I hope that you have also enjoyed some pancakes today! I will leave you with the obligatory Pancake Day video. When I searched for this I was amused to find that one of the comments underneath was my own, left nine years ago!

Teaching Tails: The valuable life skills dogs instil in kids

This is a collaborative post

Child playing with a dog on the beach
Photo credit Fernanda Greppe via Unsplash

Have you ever contemplated the wonderful things that happen when a dog becomes a member of the family? The patter of little feet brings joy to the home, as does the soft, tender sound of our eager furry family member's steps.

This partnership between kids and their loyal canine friends transcends playful chases and joyful barks. It's a journey of growth, learning, and mutual love that imparts invaluable life lessons to the youngest members of our families. Right from the moment they meet, the connection between a child and their dog serves as a learning opportunity and shapes the future adults they'll become. 

The Joy of Companionship

Imagine the scene: a child and their dog, inseparable friends, embarking on endless adventures together. Dogs show children that friendship does not come with any requirements through their unconditional love and enthusiastic presence. They prove that true friends are there for you through good times and bad ones, ever ready with a cheering nuzzle or lively wagging tail. These experiences help children comprehend the idea of solid friendship, which they will apply in their future relationships.

Responsibility and Care

When a child take on the role of caring for their furry friend, they are signing up for one of life's most enriching courses: the skill of being responsible. Daily tasks like feeding, grooming, and ensuring that their pet is in good health become a part of their lives. This isn't just about keeping a bowl full or a coat shiny; it's about understanding the needs of another living being. 

Kids learn to plan their day with their dog's care in mind, recognizing the importance of reliability and dedication. This hands-on experience in nurturing teaches them that their actions directly impact the health and happiness of their devoted companion, laying the foundation for a lifetime of responsible behaviour.

Choosing the Right Dog

For those looking for a safe and good pup, the journey begins with choosing a dog that fits seamlessly into the family dynamic. This process teaches children the importance of thoughtful decision-making, emphasizing that the right choices lead to harmonious relationships. Through this, kids learn to approach decisions with care, understanding that their choices have long-term implications for themselves and their furry friends. 

Family dog breeds are easy to train and can be ideal candidates for households with children. This attribute ensures a smoother transition for everyone. 

Patience and Understanding

The path to a well-behaved dog is paved with patience and understanding—qualities that children learn as they train and interact with their pet. Each command taught and each trick learned is a lesson in persistence for both the child and the dog.

Mistakes are met with encouragement, not frustration, teaching kids the value of gentle guidance over harsh criticism. This journey fosters a sense of empathy in children, as they come to understand the world from their dog's perspective, recognizing the importance of patience in teaching and learning. 

Social Skills and Empathy

Dogs are not just pets; they're catalysts for developing critical social skills and deepening empathy in young hearts. Through their interactions with these compassionate creatures, children learn the language of non-verbal communication, discerning feelings and needs without words.

The intuitive understanding that children develop through their interactions with dogs improves their relationship with other people. This interaction helps them develop empathy as they learn to see the world through the eyes of another living being. It’s a skill that they will carry for the rest of their life.

Physical Activity and Health

In the era of digital devices and screen time, dogs become vital companions in ensuring kids engage in physical activity. Playing fetch in the backyard, walking in the park, or running along the beach allows the kids to put their gadgets down and become one with nature. They enjoy the freedom of movement, the excitement of exploring, and the soothing influence of nature during their outdoor playtime with their dog. They are learning the value of taking care of their health and improving their mental health.

Small children sitting on floor with dog
Photo credit Sabina Fratila via Unsplash

 Conclusion

The impact of dogs on children brings invaluable life lessons. These furry friends teach loyalty, responsibility, patience, empathy, and the importance of physical activity. The bond shared between a child and their dog is more than just companionship; it's a foundation that will shape their approach to life as an adult.

Monday 12 February 2024

Bringing back memories of my Maths GCSE

I did very well in my Maths GCSE back in the nineties if I say so myself - I got an A*, which was one of only a few in my year. Maths didn't come easily to me, but I'm good at memorising things so I was able to remember equations and processes without necessarily understanding exactly how the maths behind them was working. I definitely peaked at GCSE level, I couldn't have coped with taking it any further!

Harry has an instinctive understanding of maths, and he also loves reading around the subject. I've never had to give him any help with his maths homework, and when I caught a glimpse of it the other day I had no idea what it was about. Mia on the other hand is just like me. She is capable of doing the maths and she's in the top set, but it doesn't come naturally and she needs to put in the work.

Recently I was called upon to help her with her homework on quadratic sequences. Some elements were vaguely familiar but most of it was long lost to time. But the big difference between now and then is the fantastic access to resources that the online world has brought us. The homework is completed online, and there were links to videos explaining how to do each step of the process. A quick Google brought back loads more information, with different websites explaining the concept in different ways so that you could find the one that made the most sense to you.

Maths equations
Photo credit Antoine Dautry via Unsplash

I must admit that the last and most difficult questions did defeat us, so I'm hoping that her teacher can work on them with her. I find that my brain just doesn't seem to work the way that it used to, I'm so out of practice and I just can't muster up enough interest in it to make myself focus!

Thursday 8 February 2024

The launch of the Apple Vision Pro, and some of my thoughts

Earlier this month the Apple Vision Pro was launched in the US, priced at $3500. If you aren't sure what it is, here's a short introductory video:


The Vision Pro looks and behaves much like a VR headset but Apple are very keen to make sure you don't call it that. Instead they are referring to it as a 'spatial computer'. I'm not an expert on the technology, but in summary it has cameras on the outside so that you can still see what is going on around you, and eye tracking cameras on the inside. These inside cameras along with body movements allow you to navigate between several different virtual screens at once, which are projected around you. The cameras pointing at your face mean that other people can see an image of your eyes on the front of the headset, and you can turn a dial to adjust from an augmented reality style experience to full immersion. 

If you want to know more and see one in action there are numerous reviews and videos from technology experts and new users, or there is this longer promotional video from Apple:


I've been following the release with great interest, because I am fully expecting at least one of these devices to enter our home within the next few years. It's expensive of course, but not out of reach expensive, and I'm sure that the price will reduce over time to bring it within the price range of most people, just like smartphones. At the moment it's very bulky, and you need to wear a separate battery pack while using it, but technology moves so quickly that I'm sure it won't be long before it's much more streamlined.

It seems to be tailored perfectly for someone like my husband. He is always working on multiple things at once, and this device allows you to have so much going on at the same time within a large field of vision - you can be writing an e-mail, responding to messages, scrolling social media, all while watching a video. You can be literally living in your own little world, sitting on the sofa in your home but completely absorbed and oblivious to what is going on around you.

I must admit that I am very worried about what technology like this means for the future. I'm not sure that I personally could cope with lots of screens at the same time, and it will take any smartphone addiction and ramp it up to the max. I can see people becoming used to communicating with each other virtually rather than in person, and it would be so easy to never leave the house when life can be run from inside a headset.

Having said that, I would love to try one out, and I'm very interested to see where this technology leads over the next few years. At the moment I find them a bit overwhelming and can't see that one would benefit me, but if you'd shown me a smartphone when I was a teenager I probably would have thought the same, and maybe I'm just too old!

Are you interested in the Apple Vision Pro? I'd love to know what other people think about it!

Tuesday 6 February 2024

Some tips for completing a larger jigsaw puzzle

Recently I completed my first larger jigsaw puzzle - Garden of Sun Signs by Ravensburger. At only 3000 pieces I realise that I am barely scratching the surface when it comes to enormous jigsaw puzzles, but as I've only worked on smaller puzzles before I thought I would share a few tips that I picked up along the way for tackling a bigger puzzle.

Probably the most important thing to consider when you are looking at larger puzzles is whether you have enough space to lay it all out in one piece. You can make a start by working in sections, but eventually you are going to want to work on the puzzle as a whole. It doesn't necessarily need to be a permanent space like a table, you can use large foam board sheets or similar to build a base and use them to extend your table space or to work on the floor. 

If you have small children or pets, make sure that you can pack away the jigsaw when you aren't working on it, maybe by storing it high up, and putting away any sorting trays and boxes when not in use.

Tips for completing a larger jigsaw puzzle

Sort, sort, sort! I used to think that sorting the pieces got in the way of solving the puzzle until I began watching videos by puzzling YouTubers and realised that sorting the pieces is as important as placing the pieces. I find stackable puzzle sorting trays really useful, and I also use kitchen trays and the jigsaw box itself. 

Also, one good sort won't be nearly enough. You'll always miss some pieces, and once you've got a feel for the jigsaw it will be easier to go back through and sort again to find the pieces that you need. Try and keep all the sorted pieces the right way up so that you can easily spot one that you need.

Try not to worry too much about missing pieces as you go along, they almost always turn up and often look different to how you had imagined them while searching. 

Large sections of sorted pieces can be put away to one side while you work on other areas to make it feel less overwhelming.

Don't necessarily worry about completing the edge first if this is the way that you normally tackle a puzzle. Having a large empty area with just a flimsy border around it can make the puzzle more fragile and it's easy to knock pieces out of place. Also, sometimes it's easier to put the border together when you've made a good start on the puzzle, especially if you have large sections that are the same colour.

Take progress photos, even if you don't plan on sharing them with anyone. I love watching my jigsaw go from trays of sorted pieces to completion.

Search online for people that have completed the same puzzle - Reddit is a good place to look and also YouTube for progress videos. Just type Reddit into the search bar followed by the title and brand of your puzzle. I find it really interesting to see how different people tackle a puzzle, for example which areas they choose to start with. You might also pick up some tips specific to your puzzle. 

I'd love to work on a 5000 piece puzzle at some point but there are two barriers - the space it would take up and the cost! I could work on our dining room floor if I moved all the furniture out the way, but I don't think that would be very popular with the rest of the family!

Investing in your taxi business - Key considerations when looking for taxis for sale

This is a collaborative post

Embarking on the journey of taxi business ownership requires a strategic approach, particularly when it comes to the acquisition of your primary asset – the taxi itself. Selecting the right vehicle is not just a matter of preference but a pivotal business decision that impacts your service quality, operational costs, and, ultimately, your company's reputation.

Fuel efficiency and environmental considerations - Choosing eco-friendly taxis

With rising fuel costs and a growing emphasis on environmental responsibility, the fuel efficiency of your taxi fleet cannot be overlooked. Modern taxis offer a range of eco-friendly options, including hybrid and fully electric models, which reduce your carbon footprint and decrease your operating costs substantially in the long term.

Budgeting for your purchase - Balancing cost and quality

Investing in a taxi is a significant financial commitment, and the adage of ‘you get what you pay for’ holds particularly true in this industry. A careful balance must be struck between upfront costs and the expected longevity and reliability of the vehicle. Opting for the cheapest option may save you money initially but could lead to higher maintenance costs and downtime. Conversely, purchasing a high-end taxi may offer better quality and durability but at a steep price that may not align with your business model. A well-considered budget will account for these variables and include potential financing options that can spread the cost over time.

Vehicle specifications and features - What your taxi really needs

The specifications of your taxi are crucial. It must be comfortable for passengers, robust enough to handle high mileage, and equipped with the necessary features for a taxi service, such as a reliable metering system and payment facilities. Space for luggage, accessibility features for passengers with disabilities, and ease of maintenance are factors that can set your service apart in a crowded marketplace.

Brand and model comparison - Making an informed decision

When perusing taxis for sale, the brand and model of the vehicle are more than just a matter of personal taste. They can affect everything from customer perception to resale value. Some brands are renowned for their durability and low maintenance costs, factors that can contribute significantly to the long-term success of your business. You can use Cab Direct to research and compare different brands and models, considering factors such as the availability of spare parts and common issues reported by other taxi businesses.

Navigating licensing and regulations - Legal aspects of taxi ownership

Taxi ownership in the UK comes with its own set of legal requirements. Licensing can vary significantly depending on your location, so it's essential to familiarise yourself with the local regulations. Ensuring your taxi meets all area-specific requirements is a must to avoid any legal complications that could stall your business operations.

Technology integration - Modernising your taxi service

Finally, the integration of technology can vastly improve your service's efficiency and customer satisfaction. Modern taxis can be fitted with GPS navigation systems, digital fare meters, and even onboard Wi-Fi. Considering the technological enhancements that can give you a competitive edge is crucial in today’s market, where customer expectations are ever-evolving.

Whether you are browsing taxis for sale through a trusted dealer like Cab Direct or considering a private sale, these key considerations can guide you in making a wise investment into your taxi business. With the right approach, your new taxi can become the cornerstone of a profitable and sustainable enterprise.

London taxi on street
Photo credit Bruno Martins via Unsplash

Monday 5 February 2024

What I've been up to lately...

...or, what I've been doing instead of blogging!

Reading

I was side tracked over Christmas by a couple of trips to the library, meaning that the looming to be read pile by my bed had become neglected. So I've been making a concerted effort to read through it, including re-reads of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead which I borrowed from the library during lockdown, loved, and picked up my own copies from Wob.

I have also read Old Babes in the Wood by Margaret Atwood which was a birthday present and really enjoyed it although it's a poignant read, it's a collection of short stories which are amusing and also sad, dealing with love and loss.

I also bought a couple of non-fiction books with my Christmas money which have been giving me a lot to think about - Ultra-Processed People by Chris van Tulleken and I've just started Food for Life by Tim Spector. I've long been thinking that I need to make some changes to my diet and Ultra-Processed People has given me the push to do that over the last few weeks. I'd really recommend it, although it's a scary read at first!

Watching

As a family we enjoyed Percy Jackson and the Olympians on Disney+. Harry is obsessed with Percy Jackson and has read the books multiple times, so this series was very much eagerly awaited. I really enjoyed it, I've read the book since watching it and can see that there have been quite a few changes from the novel but I thought that it worked really well as a television series and was a really enjoyable family show to watch. I thought that the child actors were really good.

My husband and I have begun watching Masters of the Air on Apple TV which is shaping up to be another good series. I'm not very good with faces so I do struggle sometimes to keep the characters straight, especially when they are wearing masks while flying! I've read a little bit about the topic but more from the British point of view so it's interesting, and also terrifying.

Listening to

I spend a fair amount of time every day in the car on the school run, and I've been spending the last couple of weeks working through some podcasts. I've discovered the ZOE Science and Nutrition Podcast, in particular the shorter episodes. In January they did a week of short podcasts, each one talking about the pros and cons of different diets (mainly the cons to be honest) which was really informative. It's not all about diet, they also talk about exercise and keeping fit as you get older which I find useful.

Crafting

I'm not sure if it counts as crafting exactly, but I recently shared how I had completed my first 3000 piece jigsaw which was quite a challenge for me. 

Ravensburger Garden of Sun Signs jigsaw 3000 piece

In December and January I made a big effort with my cross stitch, The Christmas Nutcracker by Bothy Threads, challenging myself to do at least a few stitches every day. My dedication paid off and I'm getting on really well with it. It's completed in two parts, the basic cross stitch first and then additional decorative stitches on top. I'm about halfway through the first cross stitch layer. I have it set up nearby on a tray and I try to always keep the needle threaded and ready to go, so if I have a few minutes I can do a couple of stitches. I always seem to find myself doing more!

The Christmas Nutcracker by Bothy Threads in progress

Eating

The book Ultra-Processed People made quite an impression on me and I've really been thinking about how I can improve my diet. In particular I want to cut down on ultra processed foods which are problematic for a huge number of reasons. I'm trying not to get obsessive about it, but I've been gradually adding some healthier alternatives to our shop each week. I'm trying to spread the cost a bit, because at first it can be more expensive to stock up the cupboards. 

I've been eating more fruit and vegetables, extra beans and lentils, and adding some extras like healthy seeds and nuts. I've also not been drinking Diet Coke, or eating crisps and biscuits, just enjoying the occasional baked treat that I've made myself. I'm hoping that I can stick with it all as a lifestyle change rather than just seeing it as a new year diet, I wouldn't mind losing a few pounds but I'm approaching it as a marathon rather than a sprint.

Working on

I've been spending some time researching some different meal options, for both lunches and dinners. It's difficult at first because some meals need lots of things which I don't have so it's something that I need to approach gradually while I stock up on the different ingredients and learn how to use them. 

I'm also once again working on trying to keep away from the scrolling on my phone. I've had a few distractions over the last few weeks which have led me to comfort scroll, but I'm trying to replace that with some good books and also by watching videos on YouTube, especially recipe and healthy lifestyle videos which I've lined up to watch in advance rather than by scrolling through my feed. 

Looking forward to

I'm desperately looking forward to some more sunshine and warmth as spring approaches. I can't wait to get back out in the garden again, do some tidying up and get some seeds planted. I'm also looking forward to going out for my runs without having to battle freezing temperatures!

Wednesday 31 January 2024

How to achieve upcycled elegance with a bedroom furniture makeover?

This is a collaborative post

Transforming your bedroom doesn't have to mean spending a fortune on new furnishings. With upcycling, you can breathe new life into pieces you already own, creating a fresh look that's as environmentally friendly as stylish. With some creativity and DIY effort, you can turn your existing bedroom furniture into stunning, original pieces that reflect your personal taste and contribute to a sustainable lifestyle.

Upcycling your bedroom furniture can be a fulfilling project that benefits the planet by reducing waste and gives you a budget-friendly means to a bedroom makeover. Whether it's a vintage dresser with some love or a bedside table that's seen better days, your bedroom can become an oasis of repurposed elegance. By making over what you already have, you ensure your space is uniquely yours, filled with storied pieces that can't be found in any store.

Embarking on a DIY bedroom furniture upcycling project can initially seem daunting, but with the right methods and a touch of creativity, the process is manageable and rewarding. From selecting the right materials to applying the final touches, each step you take enhances your room's aesthetics and showcases your commitment to ecologically conscious living. You'll find that with some time and effort, you can achieve a high-end look without the high-end price tag, all while making an environmentally responsible choice.

Planning Your Upcycling Project

To add character and sophistication to your bedroom, an upcycling project can transform existing furniture into treasured pieces. It combines creativity and practicality, creating a personalized space tailored to your taste and needs.

Choosing the Right Furniture

Identify furniture that's a good candidate for upcycling; often, pieces sourced from a thrift store or those with a vintage flair hold great potential. For a significant impact, consider repurposing an old dresser or nightstand. If you're keen on revamping your sleeping space, look for comfortable king size beds that can serve as a central piece.

Design and Inspiration

Gather inspiration from home d├ęcor magazines, Pinterest, or upcycling blogs. Visualize the finished product in your room—whether it's a paint-refreshed bookshelf or a reupholstered chair. Incorporate wallpapers, patterns, or themes that align with a room's aesthetic that feels personal and inviting.

Materials and Tools

The right materials and tools are vital. Basic supplies include paint, brushes, sandpaper, and wallpaper if you add a patterned backdrop to shelves or drawers. Ensure you have a well-ventilated space and wear protective gear when handling paints and stains for your upcycling venture.

Executing the Makeover

Achieving upcycled elegance with your bedroom furniture makeover is about more than just slapping on a coat of paint—it’s a transformative process that requires meticulous preparation, specific painting techniques, and the addition of unique touches that reflect your personal style.

Preparation and Cleaning

Before you begin, ensure your furniture is clean and free of any dirt, grease or old finishes that can impede the adhesion of new paint. You can do this by wiping down the surfaces with a damp cloth and then with a mild cleaner. Remove all drawers and hardware if you're working on a dresser makeover. Sanding may be necessary for some surfaces to create a smooth canvas for painting.

Painting Techniques

The choice of paint can greatly affect the final outcome. For a furniture makeover, consider using chalk paint for a matte finish that requires minimal prep work. Start with a even base coat, working in the direction of the grain to avoid streaks. Multiple thin coats are better for cabinets or nightstands than one thick coat. After achieving the desired opaqueness, seal the paint with a clear wax or lacquer to protect your finish.

Adding Unique Touches

Now's your chance to inject some individuality into your DIY project. Replace old knobs with new hardware to modernize a piece instantly, or add distinctiveness to a nightstand with unique decorative elements. Consider new upholstery for padded items or applying a bold pattern with stencils. The before and after of your upcycled furniture ideas should showcase your creativity and attention to detail—transforming the mundane into something remarkable.

Upcycled bedroom furniture
Photo credit Kenny Eliason via Unsplash

Conclusion

Adopting upcycling in your bedroom furniture makeover can transform a space with minimal environmental impact. Your creativity breathes new life into old pieces, saving money and adding a touch of uniqueness. By repurposing items with history, you give your bedroom an elegant, personal, and eco-friendly flair. Embrace these sustainable practices for a stylish and responsible bedroom redesign.

Monday 29 January 2024

Garden of Sun Signs 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

Earlier in the year I wrote about the start that I had made on my first 3000 piece jigsaw. I chose Garden of Sun Signs from Ravensburger and you can read more about why I chose this puzzle here - A jigsaw challenge for the New Year. Here is the puzzle - it shows a garden filled with trees and plants along with representations of the twelve signs of the zodiac.

Garden of Sun Signs 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger

I began the puzzle with a long sort out of pieces. I received some simple stacking trays for Christmas which made the job much easier. I concentrated on sorting out the edge pieces, the parts that contained the pale blue border, the pink rocks, the brown sky, the blue clouds, and any interesting pieces. 

I began the puzzle by working on the areas of brown sky and the blue clouds, which then led to the tree in the top left corner. I then moved on to as many of the pink rock and flower areas as I could. It was fairly challenging, I had to do some shape sorting for the rocks as they were all very similar, and I had to do another two sorts to pick out enough tree pieces to be able to put together a decent section. The tree in the top right was tricky as it was incredibly difficult to work out what pieces belonged there, I left most of it until almost the end.

I completed as much of the jigsaw as I could on my portable jigsaw board, which is the size of a standard 1000 piece jigsaw with two removable inserts. It was a bit frustrating, but it did mean that I could carry the jigsaw around to work on it and didn't need to take up a whole table.

Garden of Sun Signs jigsaw puzzle in progress

The next major area that I worked on was the side panels. I had already sorted out the edges and it was quite easy to pick out the pieces that belong in this section as they are distinctive and clearly different to the other pieces. This part was really enjoyable to put together, not too difficult but challenging enough to be interesting.

Garden of Sun Signs jigsaw puzzle working in smaller parts

Finally I reached the point where I wasn't able to work efficiently on the jigsaw while it was in pieces, so I transferred it to our dining room table. The finished puzzle measures 121cm by 80cm which is only slightly smaller than our largest table. Luckily we don't use the dining table regularly for eating! It was really good to see everything in position and it helped me to decide what to work on next.

Ravensburger Garden of Sun Signs jigsaw in progress review

Once I had placed the completed sections in position I was able to put together the final edge pieces along the bottom. I was dismayed to discover that there was a piece missing from the bottom edge - and so relieved when it turned up in a small selection of pieces that I had already sorted through at least five times!

Progress began to speed up at this point. I started to focus more now on the different zodiac signs, hunting through the miscellaneous piece box again. I also sorted out all the green pieces separately to put to one side. I worked on the large tree trunk to the right and Leo and Taurus underneath. 

Then I began to get a bit stuck because there was still so much of the jigsaw left to complete, and I was starting to realise just how much of that was different greens. There were also lots of pieces that I felt should have turned up by now which always makes me feel a bit anxious as I worry that they are missing. I decided to do another sort and tackle the light brown/beige areas and I also worked on the river which helped to pull things together. After re-sorting I was able to pick out almost all of the zodiac sign pieces and get them complete.

Garden of Sun Signs from Ravensburger progress

At this point I was left mainly with the green and flowered areas. This is when I began to slow down a bit again as I wasn't sure where to head next. I tried to sort out the different types of plants and flowers and did some colour sorting.

jigsaw puzzle set up for 3000 pieces

It was a big moment when I was able to fit all the remaining pieces onto one large puzzle board that I could keep next to me while I worked. I concentrated less on the sorting at this point and instead just went through the remaining pieces and worked out where they should go. Because the remaining gaps were quite small it was pretty easy to connect obvious loose pieces to the parts I already had in place.

Garden of Sun Signs jigsaw puzzle from Ravensburger nearly complete

I only had one false fit in the puzzle and it confused me for a long time. I could tell that the piece I had fitted wasn't correct, as the image didn't line up properly. But it fitted so perfectly that I thought it might have been a printing error, even though I couldn't understand how it could have happened. 

It wasn't until I was nearly at the end that I found the piece that really belonged there, and I worked out where the original piece actually needed to go. I'm not an expert on how jigsaw puzzles are made but I wonder whether with a larger jigsaw the cut is repeated somehow. It's hard to tell as the puzzle is so large but it does look as though the two sides might be copied.

Ravensburger puzzle false fit example

The most difficult part of the puzzle was definitely the last 50-100 or so pieces - the opposite to what I usually find with a jigsaw puzzle! I had to resort to shape sorting the pieces right up until the last few, and even with just ten pieces left I was convinced that I had missing or extra pieces because I couldn't see how my remaining ones were going to fit. It was so satisfying to place the last piece and see it complete!

Ravensburger Garden of Sun signs puzzle complete detail

I really loved working on this puzzle. It was large, but it didn't feel too overwhelming at any point, and I progressed much faster once I was able to lay the whole thing out on the table. I did have anxiety about missing pieces throughout as I found that many pieces didn't look as I imagined them in my head. I was mentally rehearsing a future conversation with the Amazon chatbot, and deciding whether I would rather have a refund or replacement! But of course the puzzle was complete and I needn't have worried.

Garden of Sun Signs puzzle detail

I can't bear to take the puzzle apart just yet, it's such a gorgeous image that I want to keep looking at it. I'm not one to glue together or frame my photos but this one really would look gorgeous on display and the colours are much clearer and vibrant in reality than a photograph. I'll definitely be giving it another go at some point in the future.

Ravensburger Garden of Sun Signs jigsaw puzzle review

I started the puzzle a couple of days after Christmas and it took me about four weeks to complete. I worked on it most days, although sometimes I only placed a few pieces or did some sorting. 

Now I would love to try an even larger jigsaw puzzle, maybe a 5000 piece, but the main problem is finding somewhere large enough to lay it all out! There also aren't any designs I've seen that really appeal to me, and they are very pricy. In the meantime I received a nice stash of 1000 piece puzzles for Christmas so I'm going to be working on those next. I wonder if I'll find them super easy now!

Friday 26 January 2024

Our first family escape room

At the weekend we treated Harry to an escape room for his birthday treat. This was the first time that we had tried such a thing as a family, although my husband and I had both separately completed an escape room before. A few years ago my parents and I did Time Lock: Mission Berlin in Worthing. We were terrible at it! I don't know if the room was particularly difficult or if we just weren't very good, but we were constantly asking for help, and even then we only just made it out in time!

The escape room that we did at the weekend was another of the three in Worthing, which are all run by the same company. Smugglers Ruin is inspired by local history, as you attempt to retrieve a precious barrel of gin from the town hall. Once booked, all of these escape rooms are exclusive to your group, which was a big plus point for me.

I was a little apprehensive as to how we would get on. Harry can get overwhelmed quite quickly, especially when there is a time pressure, and Mia can get frustrated if she doesn't understand something. I was worried that I'd be spending the whole time trying to keep everyone happy, rather than actually solving puzzles! But in the end I needn't have worried, as we did brilliantly. We solved the room in just 43 minutes, and we didn't need a single hint!

Obviously no spoilers, but we were helped massively by the fact that Harry has a particular knack for a certain type of puzzle that I think would have taken the rest of us much longer to solve. We all worked really well as a team finding all the things that we needed for the puzzles, and we all chipped in with our own ideas which helped us to solve them together. We had an enormous amount of fun, and were talking about it for days afterwards. 

I would love to do a few more escape rooms but unfortunately it's not a cheap hobby. I can understand  why it's expensive - only a few people can take part at a time, it takes a long time to run the room and to set it up each time, and once someone has done a room they won't be coming back even with a different group of people. It was worth it but was definitely a treat rather than something that we'll be able to do regularly, even though we all loved it! There are plenty of others to try locally, so I'm hoping that we will be able to do another one together soon.

Smuggler's Ruin escape room Worthing

Have you ever tried an escape room?

Friday 19 January 2024

Cathy's Flower House miniature craft kit from Rolife review

A few months ago I wrote about the latest craft project that my husband and I had embarked on - Cathy's Flower House miniature kit from Rolife. We worked really hard on it, and completed it just before Christmas. I thought I'd write a little review of the kit, just in case you've seen them out and about and wondered what it was like to put one together!

We bought our kit on Amazon and it's worth keeping an eye on prices as they do go up and down. Expect to pay around £40 - £45. Our kit is called Cathy's Flower House (affiliate link) and there are plenty of other kits to choose from. If you want to see an assembled miniature house in person then it might be worth a trip to your local garden centre, ours is a Haskins and currently has several on display including this one.

Cathy's Flower House craft kit from Rolife in box

Everything inside the box is sorted into numbered bags, although there wasn't always much logic as to what went where. Our kit included glue and paint but not batteries, I think that the inclusion of batteries (and in some cases the glue and paint) depends on where you buy the kit from. The kit contents are a mixture of small coloured wooden pieces, sheets of paper and tissue paper with both pre-cut and printed parts, the electrical components for making the light and lots of tiny little bits and pieces that fit together in various ways.

Rolife Cathy's Flower House craft kit contents

There are some large paper templates which you can use to match up the pieces and make sure that you have the correct part for each section. We did have quite a few bits left over at the end which confused us a bit, but I think they were just spares! The instruction booklet is large and detailed with lots of pictures.

Rolife miniature house kit instruction manual and sheets

We started the kit by painting the large wooden pieces which form the sides and base of the flower house. Then we worked through the instruction book in order to build everything that goes inside. Some of the items were straightforward to put together and others were more fiddly and complicated. Luckily we found that the supplied glue was very good and dried quickly.

My favourite part of the whole kit is the blue drawer and cupboard piece. The gold coloured wire has to be bent into shape to form the handles. When complete it is filled with flowers and has plants trailing out of it. It's a shame that after all that effort it's tucked away in the back corner!

Some of the plants, like the ones in the photograph below, are made using printed leaves which pop out from a backing sheet and are glued into place on lengths of green wire. It's a bit fiddly, but they look really good when put together. You can see a pound coin in the photo which gives an idea of the scale.

Cathy's Flower House kit from Rolife review

We didn't realise when choosing the set that the plants would be so difficult to make, and this kit has a lot of plants! There are lots of tiny pieces of paper, little bits that need to be rolled up, glued and stuck together, and sometimes the instructions were a bit vague with a few translation errors. But on the whole the instructions were very good and it wasn't too difficult to work out what we needed to do.

Cathy's Flower House from Rolife kit instructions

Once all the plants and other accessories have been built then you can position them on the shelves and glue them down, and there are clear diagrams showing where each part goes. Then the shelves are glued to the base piece.

Rolife Greenhouse miniature craft kit review

This is the chance to have a good look at what you've built, because once it's inside the greenhouse part it isn't as easy to see! You need to make sure that everything is glued down firmly because once the roof is on you can't get back inside to make any adjustments.

Cathy's Flower House from Rolife kit during assembly

I love the way that the flowers and plants have turned out. Some of them are so simple, just some green fluff glued inside a large bead, but they look so effective and realistic.

Cathy's Flower House Greenhouse kit review from Rolife

Next it was time to build the plastic outer greenhouse part. This was quite easy to put together. The black frames are already in place, although you glue more black strips on at the end to hide the joins in the plastic and the wiring.

Cathy's Greenhouse section from Rolife kit

The most difficult part of the build was fitting these plastic walls onto the base. I suspect we may have made a mistake somewhere along the line, because our tabs didn't line up correctly with the slots in the base. We had to use a small saw to make the holes larger so that we could fit the top part on properly. It worked out in the end but it was a bit awkward at times.

And here's the finished flower house!

Completed Cathy's Flower House kit from Rolife review

We love it and we are so proud of it. It's so detailed and it looks really good from the outside.

Rolife miniature greenhouse kit review

The greenhouse is fitted with a small battery powered light which you need to wire up from scratch, although it's only a simple circuit. Wire cutters and strippers were really helpful here as the wire is very thin and fiddly to work with. You also need to use plastic tubes which are heat shrunk to the wires. This wasn't something that we had done before so we were a bit nervous, but we watched a few YouTube videos and managed to do it quite easily using a lighter. 

The light inside looks really good, I love how it shines out of the plastic panels. It certainly adds some interest to our bookshelves.

Battery powered miniature house kit from Rolife

Before starting the kit I read in an online review that it would take about twenty hours to put together. It's difficult to estimate how long we spent but I'm guessing that it took us at least that long - and that's with two of us working on it at the same time! But once you've got the hang of it I think that subsequent kits would be quicker, and all those plants did take a long time. 

We had a lot of fun putting this kit together, when we got started it could quite easily absorb us both for several hours, even my husband who has a very short attention span. It was lovely to have a project that we could work on together. We are already eyeing up the next one, they do a lovely Book Nook range which would look great on my bookcase!