Thursday, 30 June 2016

the botanical farmer

Yes, that is a gentleman with flowers in his beard at the top of the post. 

Not only does Sam Ellison have flowers in his beard, they're also in his blood; as the owner of a farm and three different floral-based companies, he basically spends his days growing and picking beautiful herbs and blooms, before turning them into breathtaking bouquets and the most a-ma-zing bath and body products.

The Botanical Farmer was born as a sister company to the award winning Traditional Flower Company, and is an absolutely ingenious way of avoiding wastage; once the stems have been used in floral arrangements, the rest of the plant and petals are then turned into bath products, room botanicals, essential oils, candles and even throwing confetti for weddings. You guys know I love a zero waste product almost as much as I do organic bath and body goodies - so when the kind folks at The Botanical Farmer offered me a jar of their bath tea, I couldn't reply quickly enough! 

Now, you all know that I'm a sucker for nice packaging; in the kitchen, in the bathroom, wherever - I've even been known to buy cereal because it looks good on the shelf. Ahem. I chose the Rose, Geranium and Lavender blend, which is number 8, and is designed to be calming (because we all know what a nervous nellie I am most of the time!) - and the packaging was a dream. It arrived in a beautiful miniature kilner-style jar, with a muslin bag folded carefully inside, and looked beautiful sat on my bathroom shelf (not that that's what matters the most, but, you know, it's up there ;-) ). As soon as I opened the lid, the smell filled the room; it wasn't like sniffing a tub of something in Boots - I honestly felt like I was standing in the middle of a flower field, that's how natural it was.

Bathing in it was heavenly - there's just no other words that work well enough. Not only does it have the rose petals, lavender grains and essential oils, it also contains a generous amount of Himalayan bath salts which act as a detoxifier and help to smooth your skin. Which can't be a bad thing! You don't need a lot to fill the little bag either, so the size of the jar is really generous - a beautiful, handmade, organic bath product which is kind to the skin, planet AND the wallet? Thumbs up from me!

I wasn't paid to write this review, however I was gifted the bath tea - all words and thoughts are my own, and really, I couldn't think of a single bad thing to say! Get involved!

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Life changes

I don't very often write about the kiddos on here; it's not that they're not utterly brilliant, but they're not mad keen on having their photos taken, which makes it a bit difficult really. That said, things are changing for them quite a lot this year, so I thought I'd do a little 'kiddo update' post. (Nod off if you're not interested in child-related stuff - normal service will be resumed tomorrow!)

Ben's Autism diagnosis
Those of you who have been reading for a while, or are Facebook friends with me, will know that over the last five years Ben has been under assessment for ASC (Autism Spectrum Condition, as they now call it). Our journey finally came to an end last week at the decision hearing, when they told us that he did indeed fit the criteria, and had been officially diagnosed as Autistic. By this point, I'd worked myself up into such a state that I was ill for the whole of last week (hence why no blog posts!), and so when they told us, I almost cried with relief.
Somebody asked me why I was so keen to have him 'labelled', and I explained that it's not about that; Ben's behaviour is dramatically different to his peers. He struggles to hold a two-way conversation, can't maintain eye contact and often makes sudden, shrill noises. He bites himself and chews inanimate objects, wanders around singing and often rolls on the floor. He has sensory issues, which means he often makes repetitive sounds, fidgets and refuses a large number of food groups (pink yogurt and banana will make him physically sick on sight). Having that official diagnosis means that there is a scientific and psychological reason for this behaviour - he'll be given access to help and support throughout his educational years, and hopefully in the workplace as an adult. It's been five years of appointments, tests, forms and medical examinations, and I couldn't be more happy that it's over.

Daisy starts Infant school
Oh my God, shit just got real. I could swear that I only had Daisy last year; I remember crocheting her baby blanket, feeling frustrated at being almost two weeks overdue and then finally coming here to announce her arrival. She was SUCH an enjoyable baby, and has grown into a bright, funny, clever and headstrong (interpret that as you will....) little girl, who spends too much time watching My Little Pony and colouring her nails and toenails in with pink pen. She has her first school visit next Wednesday, and at the moment, I'm still trying to put off buying her uniform - because that will make it just a little bit too real!

Both kiddos get car-seat upgrades
If you're a parent, you might already know about the changes to the car seat legislation; basically, from December, backless booster seats are no longer allowed to be used with children that are under 125cm tall or weigh less than 22kg. Tests have shown that not only do booster seats with backs on help to guide the seatbelt across the child's body in the correct way, they also protect and cushion more in a crash situation. In our car, Ben already has a booster with a back (and two cup holders, refreshment is vital, people), but he'll need a replacement for his Grandparents car, and Daisy has just grown out of her Group 1 seat, so she needs a new one as well. Online4Baby have a great selection, starting at just £30 for a Tomy model, which has six different height options and two removable cup holders (we do like a cup holder!), or you can go for one of the Transformer style versions by Concord which is adjustable and reclines as well - perfect for those car naps!

Ben starts Junior school
Nothing has me breathing into a paper bag like the thought of my little boy going to Junior school. He couldn't be less phased; they've had joint playtimes, and assemblies and so on already, they have a buddy system where the year 5 students 'pair up' with a year 3, the SEN aspect sounds fantastic.... but it's a leap into the unknown, and I'm pretty nervous for him. I'm also struggling with the fact that he's growing up so quickly; he's such a wonderfully kind, thoughtful, clever, friendly little boy, and I don't want that to ever change. I'm one of those parents who lives for the holidays, because they're home with me - even though I do spend most of the time tearing my hair out and screeching, 'stop fighting. STOP FIGHTING. No, don't keep SCREAMING. Stop trying to smother your brother with the cushion!'......

Many thanks to Online4Baby for collaborating on this post with me.

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.

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