Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Great Ideas for Father's Day Gifts

Father's Day is kind of bittersweet for me these days; it's lovely to celebrate with the kiddos, painting pictures and choosing little presents for their Dad... but I do miss doing that for mine. I still go through the motions; buying the card with the meaningful words, trying to find something that he might still recognise and even enjoy - Alzheimer's has robbed him of his memories and his enthusiasm for life, but he's still my Dad, and he still deserves his special day. Even if he does think I'm his sister half the time!

If you're struggling for ideas, I've joined up with the lovely folks at Homesense to put together a nifty little gift guide - so for anyone desperate to avoid the usual socks-chocolates-aftershave route, read on for a bit of inspiration!

For Garden-Loving Dads

  • DIY garden tool kit - collect together a trug, basic tools, watering can, string and so on, and package it all up together in a nice wooden crate or box. You could even personalise everything by using a stencil and spray paint to monogram his initials on it. Fancy!
  • A horticulture course - the RHS do a variety of morning and afternoon courses, covering everything from creating a cutting garden and pruning fruit to making willow wigwams and dry stone walling! There's loads of choice, and venues are all over the country.
  • A garden box subscription - subscription boxes are one of my favourite gift ideas, so they'll appear in this post quite a lot! A monthly seed box is a great idea, especially the ones from Plant-n-Grow; they're sent so you have plenty of time to sow them at the ideal time, and vary from edible flowers to stir-fry leaves and micro-greens.
5. Watering can  // 6. Twine and holder // 7. Garden bench, £69.99  // 10. Gardening set, £14.99

For Work-from-Home Dads 

  • A stationery subscription - there are gazillions of great stationary subscription boxes at the moment, but the one at Spotlight Stationery is beautifully contemporary and features products such as notebooks, pens, postcards and correspondence items. 
  • DIY office kit - if your Dad's home office is more bleak than bright, why not put together a package of goodies to help organise and brighten his space? A well-designed desk lamp, selection of plants and simple pen-pots can make a huge difference to the dullest of desks!
  • DIY noticeboard - help your Dad to get organised by making him a wire noticeboard, from the tutorial I did for Roost. It's really simple, but looks pretty impressive, and you could even fill it with a calendar, prints and family photos.
1. Table light, £29.99   // 2. Potted plant, £3.99   

For Food-and-Drink Loving Dads

  • A chef experience - keen foodies will all tell you that a professional cooking experience makes the BEST gift; has a huge range of cooking and eating adventures, from vineyard visits and chocolate making to afternoon tea and cookery lessons. Something for everyone!
  • DIY food or drink hamper - if your Dad enjoys a particular food or drink, why not make a DIY kit for him? If he's a coffee drinker, a new espresso maker, grinder, beans and cup would make a great treat, or a selection of cheeses, slate board and serving knives would be great for any savoury snackers!
  • Tea of coffee subscription - as a self-confessed tea-and-coffee addict, even I'd love this; a monthly subscription means that the recipient gets regular deliveries of new flavours to try, and never has to worry about running out completely. For coffee, try artisan roasters The Coffee Factory, who take ethics and sustainability VERY seriously, or for tea, gourmet tea company, Bruutea.
3. Espresso pot, £6.99 // 4. Copper mug, £4.99 // 8. Embossed glass pitcher, £7.99 // 9. Embossed glass tumbler, £1.99 // 

Many thanks to Homesense for collaborating on this post. 


Friday, 10 June 2016

Three things to look for when choosing a new rental

As you all know, we rent. As you also all know, we've been working on various (all!) rooms in our current house since we got here, four years ago. We've got to the point now where everything looks a whole lot better, but what I've started to realise is that when one part looks brilliant, it makes the rest of it look, well, shite. The kitchen, for example; we started off with the idea that we'd just swap the worktops and tiles over, and then we added on flooring. Worktops, tiles and flooring. Fine, manageable. Then we realised that the worktops and tiles looked so bright and shiny, that we should probably change the cupboard and drawer fronts to match. So, worktops, tiles, flooring, cupboards and drawer fronts. Right. Then we realised we'd forgotten the shelving. Worktops, tiles, flooring, cupboards, drawer fronts and shelves. And brackets. And plants. And the sealant round the window frames. *screams into a cushion* We've come to realise that if you let it, DIY can snowball - and funnily enough, it's the little things you end up noticing. So here are the three things that will be on my 'must check' list when we go to view places the next time we move.

1. Flooring
We changed the flooring in the two bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom, but the lounge and stairs was a project that we just decided was too big to take on. We have a mottled brown carpet, which just refuses to be ignored; it's coming away on the stairs, and is frayed around the edges and sometimes I sit and stare at it hatefully - obviously, in a dream world we'd have white Scandi style floorboards (these ones from Carpetright are amazing!), but to be honest, I'd be happy with a qood quality, light coloured carpet. Shoes off at the door, please.
My advice is to pay attention to the flooring when you go to see a place; is the carpet in good condition? Are there any stains? If there's laminate, is it ok, or has it seen better days? The floor is one of the biggest areas in a house, and there's only so much you can do with a rug....

2. Windows
Until we moved in here, I never really paid attention to windows. They were glass, in a white frame, and that was pretty much it. But actually, windows can make a hell of a lot of difference to a room; we're stuck with UPVC windows, which have rotten, mould stained seals and handles which don't match - they're basically like the bargain-bin of double glazing. If you're going to be living in a rental property for a while, it makes sense to pay attention to the windows; bad sealant means that you're more likely to get drafts and mould... and that's something you really don't want to be fighting with in winter. If we were going to buy somewhere, I'd invest in sash-style (the dream!) acoustic windows from a company like Newview Windows and Conservatories to block out the sounds of those late-night parties down the road and any traffic noise. For our next rental, though, I'd be happy just to have clean seals and matching handles!

3. Storage
This is a big one for us - we've got two children, and I've kept everything they've ever drawn, written and scribbled on, as well as a LOT of their baby clothes, toys and, err, hair from their first haircuts. We're lucky where we are in that we're allowed to use the loft (one of the only perks!), but a lot of places we saw had the loft locked shut - so it definitely pays to query this with the letting agent. Also, when you're looking around a kitchen, make sure you look inside the cupboards - ours are deceptively large, but actually have very little space inside due to the way they've been installed (i.e. badly), and some of them don't even have backs on them, so everything falls out. *Sighs* Storage is something you don't realise you value, until you don't have it.

This is a collaborative post.

Friday, 3 June 2016

the #ethicalfashioncollective: ethical summer accessories

Just a quick post today, as I spent all morning at soft play with the kiddos (usually a trauma, but I had a friend with me this time!) and I'm not feeling that well - but I couldn't let the first Friday of the month go past without joining in with the second #ethicalfashioncollective post. This time, I've collected together a few of my favourite planet-friendly accessories for summer; lots of metallics, pattern and lovely detail - the oversize clutch is from Zara, which is actually one of the best high-street stores when it comes to corporate and social responsibility. Which is handy, because it's one of my favourites!


Thursday, 2 June 2016

three ways with: copper spray paint

I've got a real thing for copper spray paint at the moment; I bought some for a craft project I did for Roost, and as soon as I used it, I was addicted. I love the copper homeware trend, because it looks SO good paired with wood and plants (which you all know I've got loads of!), so I decided to do a post on my three favourite DIY projects with this lovely stuff. (Quick note - I always use Plastikote spray paint as I've found it's by far the best - it goes on beautifully evenly and dries quickly too.)

DIY Copper Hanging Planter (top)
I've wanted a copper hanging planter for aaaaaaages, but they're more expensive than I can justify, so I decided to have a go at making my own - they're so quick and easy, and pretty addictive, and you could easily make them in loads of different sizes.

You will need:
Old tins - I used an old baby formula tin, but you could use those giant tins of tomatoes, or make miniature ones with baked bean or spaghetti cans.
Plastikote copper spray paint
Matte spray varnish
Black cord (mine was probably about 3mm thick, from Hobbycraft)
An electric drill
A file (you can get these in packs from Wilkinsons for a few quid)
Fine sandpaper

1. Clean the tin, and lightly sand the outside to give the paint something to grip to.
2. Measure the circumference of the tin, and make four evenly spaced marks where the holes for the cord will go.
3. Using the electric drill, make your holes. If you find you've got some sharp bits, sand them off using the files.
4. Set up an area for spray painting - I usually use a large foam board from Hobbycraft to protect the ground, and choose somewhere that is relatively protected from the breeze.
5. Place your tin on the ground and spray it using quick, short bursts. Don't get too close, or try to spray too thickly or you'll end up with drips, fingerprints and a whole world of mess. I usually do two or three thin coats - the beauty of Plastikote is that it dries so quickly, you can get the whole thing done in around an hour and a half.
6. Once the paint is thoroughly dry, add a layer of spray varnish - use the same technique as before; if you put too much on in one go, it tends to go patchy (even though it's clear....)
7. Once the varnish is dry, cut two identical lengths of cord and feed them through the holes. Knot the ends tightly, so they cant slip back through, then pop your plant inside and hang up.
8. Make tea, and admire.

DIY Fringed Wallhanging
I've wanted one of those woven wallhangings for absolutely ages, but can't afford a ready-made one (can you see a pattern emerging here?!), and I don't have the time or space for another hobby - so I decided to cheat a bit and cobble together my own version. Daisy likes to take this off the wall and wear it as a giant necklace, so I guess if you used a big enough embroidery hoop, you could really get your money's worth.

You will need:
The inner part of an embroidery hoop (whatever size you like)
Cotton yarn in your chosen colours (I use Rico Creative Cotton Aran for almost everything - it's budget friendly and really good quality)
Plastikote copper spray paint
Matte spray varnish
A rotary cutter and cutting board or thick card (rotary cutters are sooooo handy to have)
Something good to watch or listen to - this project can take a while if you've gone large on the hoop size

1. Lightly sand your embroidery hoop and spray with copper spray paint. Leave to dry, and then spray with matte varnish as in the tutorial above.
2. Decide how long you want your fringing to be, and then double that measurement. Cut several (read: fuckloads) of yarn in your chosen colours to this size.
3. To create one tassel, take three or four pieces of yarn and fold it in half to create a giant loop. Place the looped end over the hoop, then feed the end through it to secure it in place. Pull it tight, and then carry on until the end of time you've used it all up.
4. You're going to end up with loads of uneven ends; you can finish it by cutting straight across like I did, or on a curve or even into a point. The easiest way to do this is to lay the whole thing on a cutting mat or piece of thick card, and trim with a rotary cutter, either along a ruler or following the curve of a plate.
5. Hang up, admire your work, and hoover up all the stray yarn ends.

DIY Geometric Copper Coasters
I love a good stencil project - I always feel like it's a major achievement when you lift it up and there's been no leakage underneath!

You will need:
A geometric self-adhesive stencil (I used this one, but you can get loads of designs from most craft places)
Plastikote copper spray paint
Matte spray varnish
Tile samples
Cork backing

1. Place your stencil onto your tile sample, and press down along all edges - you want to avoid as much leakage as possible.
2. Using the method described in the first tutorial, spray over the stencil and onto your tile. Allow to dry thoroughly.
3. Once the paint is dry, remove the stencil gently, and cover with at least two coats of varnish. Leave to dry thoroughly for at least two days.
4. To protect your surfaces from the rough underside of the tile, cut cork squares slightly smaller than the tile and stick to the bottom. Leave to set.
5. Use them to jazz up your lounge, office or bedroom - although they're coasters, I'd advise being cautious when placing extremely hot cups on top of them for the first few weeks, as they tend to stick.*

*I accept no responsibility for tea spillages.

Pin it for later?
A nice Pinterest-friendly image for you to keep for later!

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Five easy ways to give yourself a break

Image credits: @siobhanwatts (left) and @fleaandbear (right) via Instagram

I mentioned in my last post that I had a bit of an off-week last week; I felt like I wasn't achieving as much as I thought I thought I should be, I'd lost my way a bit parenting-wise, the house was a mass of unfinished DIY projects and crochet deadlines - oh, and we were skint. I spent a good few days in a monstrous huff, but did stumble across a few things that helped me work my way out of it, so I thought I'd share them here.

1. Take care of your mind and body
I used to think that the only way to make myself feel better about things was to sit in my pyjamas and eat as much chocolate as I could get my hands on; people told me that I'd feel better if I ate and drank things that were nutritionally good for me, and maybe even thought about a bit of exercise, but I just scoffed and hollered, 'pass the biscuits!' Turns out though, they were actually right - I've recently cut down a LOT on sugar and caffeine, and have started eating way more fruit and vegetables, and drinking green tea.... and, well, it works. Aside from that, I've also started trying to go to bed earlier, rather than sitting at the laptop until gone 11pm, and have been finding time to declutter (six years worth of craft stuff gone in an afternoon!) and craft for joy rather than work. One of my favourite bloggers, Siobhan from Bless the Weather has started the #mymonthofselfcare hashtag on Instagram with Eve from House of Smilla, and it's a great place to see what others are doing, and to get inspiration.

2. Give up on perfection
Ever since I was young, my Mum has watched me drive myself to distraction over my quest for perfection; school work had to be perfect, my bedroom had to be perfectly tidy, my clothes had to be perfectly crease free.... now I'm grown up, I find myself telling my children that they can't always be the best at everything, and that what counts is doing your best - but I still berate myself a LOT when a craft project doesn't quite work out how I planned, or when I don't get a particular work commission. I think the thing I've found that helps the most is to recognise the fact that actually, perfection doesn't really exist and that my best IS good enough - I try to be happy with the fact that I've tried my hardest, and simply move on. (Which I have to admit, is a struggle - I find that steering clear of social media when I'm feeling not-quite-good-enough is an amazing help!)

3. Accept financial help
We don't have a lot of money; my income is pretty sporadic, as any freelancer will know, and Ali works in insurance which isn't massively well-paid. We manage, there just aren't really any holidays, meals out or takeaways, and most of the kids days out involve the beach, woods or park - and if there was ever an emergency, we're lucky in that Ali's parents would be in the position to help. A lot of people aren't in the same boat, though, so something like a car that suddenly refuses to start or a washing machine that floods the kitchen can be disastrous - luckily, in a sea of unscrupulous banks and pay-day lenders with sky-high fees, there's now another option. Peer-to-peer lending is basically banking without the banks - loans are provided by other human beings prepared to put up their own money, and there are no sneaky fees *blows raspberry at banks* Lending Works is one of the leading peer-to-peer lenders, and they're probably the most ethical money service I've come across; they only lend to creditworthy borrowers, there are no repayment penalties, and they provide insurance against borrower defaults, fraud and cybercrime. There's absolutely nothing wrong with having to seek out financial help; almost everyone does it at some point in their lives (and let's face it, what's a mortgage if not a whacking great loan?!) - just make sure you get it from the right people.

4. Realise that you can't do EVERYTHING
Aside from my quest for perfection, trying to do too much is one of my biggest flaws. Last spring I decided (despite having pretty limited gardening knowledge and even less money), that I was going to grow enough food and flowers in the garden to make a pretty big dent in our shopping bill. This was ridiculous for two reasons; firstly, our garden is little more 20sqft, with extremely bad soil and secondly, I had barely any spare time. Seeds went unsown, plants wilted in the greenhouse and as the summer went on I got more and more despondent - not realising that the reason for my green-fingered failure wasn't because I was a crap gardener, but because I was also trying to look after two children, organise school commitments, work full time, finish DIY projects, deal with my Dad's Alzheimers and Ben's autism and keep the house clean. Then I discovered the quote above (which is available as a brilliant desktop wallpaper from Mermag Blog) and decided to stop being so ridiculous - the key is to be realistic with your time, and realise that you're only one person. You can do anything you put your mind to - you just can't do it all at once.

5. Take the time to have digital breaks
This is a biggie for me; as a copywriter, blogger and magazine writer, I spend a LOT of time online and on social media, which can either be utterly brilliant and inspirational - or it can be mind-bogglingly soul-destroying. The shiny worlds of Pinterest and Instagram can be a tough place to be, especially if you're having a bad week and it seems like the rest of the universe is winning at life and absolutely killing it. I can't recommend time away from the world of the internet enough; my favourite thing to do when it gets really bad is to delete all social media apps from the phone and then get back to the real world, whether it's out with the kiddos, off to a local coffee shop or to hide on the sofa with a good book.

Many thanks to The Lending Works for collaborating with me on this post; a true dolphin in a sea of financial sharks!


Wednesday, 25 May 2016

worn: striped shirt and pre-loved bargains

Shirt: H&M // Coat: eBay // Jeans: Leigh at Topshop via eBay // 
Shoes: H&M (last year but similar here) // Bag: Monki (last year) // Sunglasses: Monki (similar here)

I haven't blogged in almost a week now; not because I haven't wanted to, but partly because I've not felt particularly bothered, and partly because I've been busy doing other bits and pieces. I had a couple of magazine features to finish, but it was more to do with the fact that I just wasn't feeling it; I felt like nothing I was doing was good enough, I wasn't pushing myself creatively and all my ideas were rubbish. I know from past experience that the only thing to do in this situation is to completely switch off of the internet, so I deleted my social media apps and went off for a private huff. It helped, and so I'm back today with an outfit post - I don't usually do many of these, because I feel awkward in front of the camera rather than behind it; I spend too long fretting about the size of my forehead (gargantuan, needs it's own postcode) or whether my photos are sharp enough (shaky-handed-husband) or whether my clothes are 'right'. But I've recently decided to try and push myself outside of my comfort zone a bit - so here I am, pushing.

I rarely buy things new these days; my first stop for anything is eBay, partly for cost effectiveness (i.e, I'm skint) and partly for environmental reasons - but I've fallen out of love with it a bit recently. Things have arrived and not fitted, or not looked quite how they did in the photo - I still love the coat in the pictures above, but that was a rare good moment in a sea of mistakes. I've been thinking about the phrase 'buy less, buy better', and I love the idea of buying one really beautiful, well made item instead of spending the same amount on ten cheap tops that will fall apart after a few months. I've also been reading loads of articles about capsule wardrobes, and I've sort of fallen in love with minimal style - the thought of being able to get up and have a wardrobe where everything goes with everything else is the ultimate dream!

I've had (another) good clear out, and have made a list of things I'd like in my wardrobe; it seems to be mostly simple things like a white shirt, loose black trousers, a longline blazer - easy, comfortable clothes. I'd also written down a stripe shirt, and then found this one in H&M - I'm not sure it falls into the 'longlasting' category, but it fits exactly how I wanted it to (slightly oversized) and could easily be tucked into high-waisted jeans or trousers.

We took these photos on one of my favourite streets in Southsea, where the houses are huge and beautiful, everything is crisp and white and there are loads of flowers and blossom. It doesn't hurt that it's not far from my favourite coffee shop, either!

PS: I've just spent almost a year growing my fringe out, and have just decided to get it cut back in. Ha!

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

trend: monochrome art prints

Nobody has been more surprised than me that I've swung over to the dark (and light, badoom tsss) side of monochrome and minimalism lately; a self-confessed former hoarder, pattern addict and colour lover, suddenly I'm craving everything plain and simple. 

I've been looking for prints for our bedroom, which happens to be full of plants - our bedding is white and grey (with the odd blush pillow case thrown in), and there's a lot of wooden accessories, copper and ceramic pots, so any prints need to be as plain as possible - the room is teeny tiny, and I want to avoid it looking overcrowded. After trawling the internet, I narrowed it down to the six prints in the collage above - they all look really expensive, but they're cheaper than you might think!

I love botanical prints, but didn't want anything coloured, and it was quite hard to find a good black and white one. This one is from Mink Interiors (which happens to sell homewares that make my heart beat a bit faster!), and I really like that although it's on the modern side, it still has the lettering underneath that vintage prints have. 

2. & 3. London Co-ordinates and Scandinavian Triangles, DreamPrintDesigns on Etsy, £4.25
I'm going to start by saying that DreamPrintDesigns is an absolute goldmine for Scandi-style art; they have everything from geometric shapes and quotes to city coordinates and maps - and the best thing is that you only pay for the file, so there's no expensive postage fee, or fretting about it getting damaged in the post. Your £4.25 buys you the instant download, and then you simply print it out yourself, or take it to a printing shop, depending on what size you want. So good!

While I do love simple graphic prints and geometric shapes, I do really like this - there's something gentle and peaceful about it, and the detail is beautiful.

Who doesn't love a simple city print? I can tick one of those off of the list, and the rest could act as an inspiration to motivate me to actually apply for a passport!

This is the second Etsy shop on the list, and another one that operates by sending you the files only. To be honest, I could quite happily have included half the shop on my list of favourites; they've got city coordinates, letterpress designs, typography, quotes.... I honestly think you'd struggle not to find something you love. 
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