I’ve got my head round the fact autumn’s here, and I’m embracing it. I think I actually get more of an urge to clear and organise in autumn than I do in spring, when it’s traditional to tackle the clutter. It’s probably those old ‘back to school’ habits, where the new school year promises a clean slate. Whatever it is, I’ve found myself sorting, rearranging, and tweaking things all around the house. Ben struggles to keep up – everytime he comes home from work something else has been moved or re-jigged. The kitchen hasn’t escaped my antics – it’s amazing how much clutter can build up on the worksurfaces, and how just simplifying a few elements here and there can make the world of difference to the space.
For example, I got rid of our bread bin month and months ago in a fit of pique, and since then, loaves of bread just get stacked up on a corner of the worktop. It just looks like a mess, and it’s one of those things that constantly niggles, but I never quite get round to addressing. Step up LSA and their as-close-to-perfect-as-it-gets-for-my-kitchen Utility bread bin in milk white (available from Amara). I’m basically in love with everything in the Utility range, because let’s be honest, what’s not to love? Unfussy design and materials – glass, enamelled steel, solid ash and leather? Tick. Smart contemporary styling with a vintage feel? Tick.
The kitchen looks so much better now that the bread is neatly stored away in a bread bin and I’m just left wondering why I didn’t sort it out sooner. And the solid ash lid doubles up as a beautiful chopping board – flat on one side, grooves on the other (handy for catching crumbs), and a smart leather handle.
That leather handle on the bread bin lid is a lovely feature of the Utility collection, and I think it’s a great decorative detail on the Utility glass cylindrical pot. I’ve use the pot as a vase for some dried blooms I picked up on a walk the other morning, but it’s shown filled with lemons on the LSA website, and I quite fancy seeing how it works as a pot for apples – we could do with some freeing up some space in our fruit bowl.
So the kitchen’s sorted, and I can turn my attention back to the rest of the house. It definitely feels like time to restyle the open shelves in our living space for the umpteenth time. And probably another game of musical chairs is called for – which room is it again that haven’t I tried the old church chair in? Anyone else get that fidgety feeling in autumn? It can’t just be me…
Disclosure: This post was written in collaboration with LSA and Amara, but all opinions and thoughts are my own.
Last time we cycled along the fantastically family-friendly Kennet & Avon canal cycle route, I was on my beautiful Raleigh Superbe bike. I’d picked it up on eBay and felt so smug as it was in near-perfect condition and was totally Instagram friendly (yay!). I put how hard I found cycling down to my poor fitness level, but as the twins’ confidence and cycling speed has rocketed, I’ve found myself lagging further and further behind. The crunch came on what should have been a really easy cycle as a family to our local park. The rest of my troupe raced on ahead, but had to keep stopping to wait for me to catch them up as I pedalled furiously, feeling like I was going to have a heart attack and, if I’m honest, crying a bit. I knew my bike was heavy and a little unwieldy, but when we got home I demanded that we weigh my bike and Ben’s to compare them. We were astounded. Ben’s bike weighs 12kg. Mine? A whopping 24kg. No wonder I was finding it so hard to make it move! I needed something infinitely more practical.
When it came down to it, I had to compromise. I loved how my old bike looked, but it just wasn’t up to the job from a performance point of view. My priority became weight and ease of riding rather than looks. I researched online, read countless reviews and discovered that a hybrid bike seemed like the best option for me – a road bike perfect for the school run that can also double up as a trail bike when we head out for family rides in our local forest at the weekend. After some good advice instore, I chose the Carrera Crossfire 2 Women’s Hybrid Bike 2015. Made from lightweight aluminium it ticks the all-important ‘not too heavy’ box, the suspension gives me a much smoother ride, and the 21 speed Shimano gears mean I can actually ride up hills. You see, it turns out it wasn’t my fitness levels holding me back, it was my bike.
My first outing on my new Crossfire was a total revelation. I felt superhuman! Once I’d got the hang of the gears (my old Raleigh had five gears, only three of which actually worked) I was off, and cycling immediately became so much more enjoyable. Plus, once I’d added my essential cycling accessory – a wicker bike basket – to the front, I didn’t even mind that it isn’t a vintage design. We now cycle to school most days (because I’m no longer looking for an excuse not to), and we often head out together at the weekend.
It felt great to be back by the Kennet & Avon canal. This is such a glorious cycle path – stunning scenery, lovely flat cycle ways, and a great tearoom halfway along our route (at Aldermaston Wharf). Last time we came here it was spring, and I loved seeing it in a different season. The sun had that end-of-summer-start-of-autumn warmth but there were plenty of signs that autumn is here. We’d come prepared with a box to collect blackberries so that we could bake up a blackberry and apple crumble when we got back home – the perfect way to finish a lovely day out and to celebrate autumn’s arrival.
Disclosure: My Carrera Crossfire 2 was bought with a discount from Halfords but all views are honest and my own
I don’t drink nearly enough water, do you? We’re generally advised to drink at least two litres of water everyday, but I know that I’m coming up short. At the beginning of the summer I made a real effort to get my water intake up, managing three litres some days and I felt SO much better. I had more energy, my skin looked better, my digestion improved, but I’ve let those good habits slip again. Some days I realise in the evening (usually as I’m pouring myself a G&T!) that I’ve probably had nothing else to drink but coffee all day.
I have a water bottle that holds 500ml of water, so I needed to find a way to remind myself to drink at least four of these a day. I’ve been wanting to get crafty with some FIMO for ages (haven’t used it since I was a child), so I decided to use some to make some quick and easy magnets that would help me keep track of how much water I’ve drunk that day. This fits really well into The Everyday Spruce project I started last year with Sarah-Lou, which is all about those little fixes that make the everyday just a little bit better and easier.
It’s pretty simple. Each magnet represents 500ml of water. At the start of the day, all the magnets are on the left, each time I finish a 500ml bottle of water I move a magnet to the right, under the ‘drunk’ header. This gives me an instant visual tally of how much water I’ve managed to consume.
Here’s what you’ll need to make your own:
One pack FIMO Soft in white
A rolling pin or similar (I used a thick marker pen)
Baking tray and baking parchment
Blue acrylic paint
Extra fine black Sharpie
Self-adhesive magnetic tape
These are super-easy to make. Here’s how…
Take a small chunk of FIMO and mould it into a ball about the size of a marble.
Roll the ball out until it’s around 2-4mm thick. Don’t worry if your circles aren’t perfect.
Pop the FIMO circles into the oven (I used FIMO Soft which goes in at 110 degrees for 30 minutes). When baked, leave to cool.
Make a very watery mix of blue acrylic paint and brush a dab onto each circle. Leave to dry.
Using a black fine point Sharpie, draw on a simple glass outline over the blue paint.
Stick a piece of magnetic tape to the back of each circle, and then pop them onto a magnetic surface such as a memo board or fridge door.
The Everyday Spruce
‘To spruce’ in its most basic definition means to make neat… by association, it can also be used to describe the acts of fixing up, organising and beautifying.
Through this collaborative project between Lapin Blu and I – The Everyday Spruce – we use the term to describe a more general idea of shaking things out and hitting refresh. We share easy and useful tips, projects and ideas that we hope will inspire and encourage you to revitalise things a little, both around your home and in your daily routines. This isn’t about making things perfect, but is about focusing on simple things that can help to make the everyday just a little bit easier, and, perhaps, more beautiful for you, too.
We’d love for you to join us and share your own everyday spruce ideas, tips or journeys by using the hashtag #theeverydayspruce.
My name is Heather and I have an addiction to plants. Although you guys probably knew that already, right? Now, those gorgeous folks Igor and Judith came up with the theme of ‘plant selfie’ for September’s Urban Jungle Bloggers, and although I’m no huge fan of posing for the camera I couldn’t help having a little fun at the weekend. I chose the newest member of my little plant family to join me for this post – this beautiful string of hearts usually sits on the shelves above my desk but apparently she’s also quite happy perched on my head, and I definitely don’t mind her upstaging me!
This month is a super-exciting one for the UJB duo because their brand new book, Urban Jungle – Living and Styling with Plants, has just launched. My copy arrived last week and it’s really fantastic (and I’m not just saying that because it features five photographs by yours truly, honest) – packed full of homes full of botanical inspiration, gorgeous styling ideas, plus handy plant care tips. I can’t wait to share my review here very soon so you can see what I’m raving about.
If you follow me on Snapchat or watch my Stories on Instagram (I’m one of those annoying people that jumped ship from Snapchat as soon as Stories launched), you might have seen that we’ve been working on a mega garden makeover behind the scenes. It’s taken us most of the summer because when you’re tackling a big project like this it tends to happen in fits and starts. We are so nearly finished, and I can’t wait to share it with you (even though I am absolutely dreading publishing the ‘before’ shots – start preparing yourself because it really, really, really isn’t pretty). Before we tick off the last few jobs next weekend here are a few sneak peeks to whet your appetite…
Ok, I’m going to hold my hands up right now, and admit that a lot less effort went into Fonz’s 7th pizza-themed birthday party, than into his sister’s unicorn party (sorry Fonz!). But in my defence, his only requirements were 1) pizza (which the kids made themselves with Little Reds and their amazing mobile woodfired pizza oven), 2) a pizza cake, and 3) a pizza piñata. Apart from that he really didn’t care as long as all his best mates were there. Because we held the twins’ birthday parties at the same time and in the same place – yes, we are mad – we had to divide and conquer and I was in charge of Ez and her friends with all their unicorn activities while Ben took charge of the boys. He kept them well occupied by building an obstacle course, which went down well, especially when they had to do it with water balloons balanced on wooden spoons!
So, onto the pizza party details…
This was super-easy to do (it was a piece of cake in fact… boom boom), and looked much more effective than I thought it was going to! It was a simple sponge cake with a circle of red fondant icing on top (a border of sponge is left bare to look like the pizza crust). I grated white chocolate on the top to look like cheese (one guest refused to eat the cake because he was convinced it actually was cheese). I found raspberry mushroom sweets in the supermarket, which I cut in half to be the sliced mushrooms, and cut some tops off the mushroom to look like ham The ‘black olives’ are actually fruit gums, and the ‘green peppers’ are fizzy apple laces.
This year we outsourced the party catering (or I might have lost my mind!). When Fonz requested a pizza party, he originally meant one in a popular chain of restaurants, but I’d heard about Little Reds and their mobile woodfired pizza oven. I thought it would be great to be able to hold the party outside, and having the mobile oven meant we could do that. Little Reds supply everything – tables, aprons, boards, ingredients and the kids can make their own pizzas from scratch and then watch them get cooked in minutes in the oven. The finished pizza is popped into a takeaway box so we didn’t even need to worry about plates. The kids ate on picnic blankets on the grass, and anything they didn’t eat they could take home with them in the box. It worked brilliantly, and the pizzas were absolutely delicious.
I intended to make my own pizza piñata following this great tutorial for a pizza slice piñata, but as the date of the party approached, I was seriously running out of time, so I decided to adapt a readymade sun piñata instead. I peeled off the sunglasses and smile and divided the circle into segments with a black sharpie to look like pizza slices. The red circles are supposed to be pepperoni, then I also added mushrooms and green peppers cut out of paper.
Another year, another birthday party, another time I’ve spent ages prepping for a party only to forget that in the hurricane that is 20 kids, there will be zero time to even take a breath, and all those good intentions of taking beautiful photographs of all the great makes and activities will get totally forgotten. Two years ago: circus theme party. Last year: camping theme party (this was the best party ever). But I have next to no pictures of either one. When you organise a kids’ birthday party yourself, and you’re being the ‘entertainer’, it’s full on. You have to throw yourself into the party completely, and that leaves absolutely no time to snap away with your camera. Every year I vow that I’ll take pictures of what I’ve made and prepared before the event, but then every year I’m still frantically making stuff an hour before the party’s due to start and taking photographs is frankly the last thing on my mind.
For the first time this year, the twins wanted different things for their birthday party. So we decided to book a hall for a couple of hours and throw two parties at the same time. I know. We’re completely bonkers. Why on earth we thought this would be a good plan I have no idea! We did, however, get a company with their mobile wood fired pizza oven (Little Reds for anyone in the Wokingham area) along so we didn’t have to worry about the food side of things. Fonz was so into this that he wanted his whole party to be pizza-themed (more on that tomorrow), and it did work brilliantly. The kids made their own pizzas, from rolling out the dough to watching it go into the woodfired oven. The pizzas cooked in minutes, and then got put into takeaway boxes – the kids all sat on picnic blankets on the grass to tuck in.
Ez has developed an obsession for all things unicorn – this is the first time she has ever been so fixated on one thing so it was pretty inevitable that she would be adamant a unicorn birthday party was the only option for her 7th birthday. She also loves to get involved in all the planning and prep, so a lot of these unicorn party ideas came from her (can’t think who she takes after..).
Unicorn party craft activity
Ez loves arts and crafts so a unicorn craft activity was top of her party wishlist. I cut out unicorn templates from card, and just put these out on the table with a selection of stickers, and adhesive gems. I used a hole-punch to punch a hole for the kids to thread yarn through to make the unicorn’s tale, and punched another hole so I could thread through a string to turn it into a necklace. There were also craft lollypop sticks out so they could make unicorn puppets if they wanted to.
Unicorn party games
Ez insisted on ‘Pin the Horn on the Unicorn’. I don’t have a photograph of this but there are much nicer examples than mine (drawing a unicorn is really hard!) on Pinterest anyway, so you can find something beautiful there instead. The kids thought it was absolutely hilarious – they were practially crying with laughter. Who knew this game was so funny?! Ez also dreamt up ‘Unicorn, Unicorn come alive’, which was her adaptation of the playground game ‘Dead Man, Dead Man, Come Alive’. Basically one child is ‘it’ and lies on the floor, while the others chant, “Unicorn, unicorn come alive. Come alive by the count of five. One, two, three, four, five”, and then ‘it’ has to jump up and catch somebody. I didn’t have to prepare anything for this, and it filled ten minutes or so. We also had a unicorn piñata – I saw this great tutorial to turn a donkey piñata into a unicorn, but ended up buying a readymade unicorn instead (I couldn’t quite bear the idea of making something which would then get smashed to pieces).
Type ‘unicorn cake’ into the search on Pinterest and you’ll see some absolutely stunning creations. I really fancied a more abstract, rainbow style cake, but Ez was quite clear that her cake needed to be a unicorn’s head. I used two simple 20cm Victoria sponges, which I cut and reassembled to form the head shape (using buttercream as my glue). Then I covered the whole head with pre-rolled white icing. I sprayed an ice cream cone with edible silver spray, and buttercream-glued it in place. The mane was made from rainbow laces, bought from my local supermarket. All it needed then was an eye and mouth piped on with black icing, and a little blush in its cheeks added using some diluted pink food colouring. Edible glitter finished it off.
As a treat for all the guests, I made each of them a unicorn headband to wear for the party and then take home with them. They look great, and weren’t that difficult to make (honest). I mainly followed this tutorial on Tikkido, but instead of flowers I used tulle to create a rainbow mane that I’d seen here. I also used some of my own powder blusher to add some colour to the inside of the unicorn ears.
I admit that I ended up getting pretty caught up in the unicorn theme, and I bought some fabric on eBay to make Ez a skirt to wear for her party (as a surprise). I am really lacking in the sewing skills department, but I followed this simple skirt tutorial on Made Everyday and had the skirt done in less than an hour. It was so straightforward, looks brilliant and Ez loves it – I will definitely be making more of these in the future.
Forgive me if I shake my fist at the sky a little. Because although I’m grateful for the amazing weather we’ve had over the last few weeks, I can’t help but feel a little bitter that this year’s Just So Festival was a rather wet and windy affair. Although the festival rocked (as always), it did make everything just that little bit more hard work, and the fact that the festival weekend was sandwiched between weeks of warm sun and blue skies is a bit like rubbing salt into the wound.
Now, I’m no expert when it comes to festivals. Despite spending a good portion of my teens at indie gigs all over London, I never made it to a festival. I love camping but the idea of foregoing a shower for a long weekend of mud and partying was always a step too far for me (and I really like my sleep). So Just So popped my festival cherry four years ago. I may not be a festival expert, but I’m fast becoming an expert in the magic of Just So. Just So is perfect for a festival novice – the site is compact enough to get around pretty easily, but large enough to feel like you’re exploring. There’s enough people to create a wonderful buzz, but you’re not swallowed up by huge crowds. The campsite is quiet at a reasonable hour so you can stock up on sleep for the next day, and the toilets and showers are cleaned regularly so visiting them isn’t the stuff of nightmares.
But the best thing by far is how it sweeps the whole family up into a world of imagination, spectacle and creativity, with so many feelgood vibes that your faces just ache from smiling. With three festivals already under their belts, the twins (now six) really threw themselves into it this year. They’ve got their favourite haunts, they know their way round the festival site, and they get that the pizza is worth the queue! They were also more caught up in the Tribal Tournament than they ever before. Just So has six tribes – owls, foxes, lions, stags, fish and frogs – and you can pick a tribe and try to help them win the Tribal cup. This year we joined the fish tribe for the first time, and Ez insisted on wearing her fish costume throughout the weekend. Earning golden pebbles to add to the fish tribe’s total was a major focus for both the kids.
In terms of the programme, there’s such a wide array of activities on offer, from theatre performances (we absolutely loved the physical theatre show Long, Broad & Sharpsight by Sharklegs – an awesome performance that had the kids totally entranced), to willow installations and bumping into a flock of sheep with a Cyclops in the Spellbound Forest, to the campfire stories and songs (always a favourite, especially when the weather is against you) to bands at the main Footlights stage. Fonz stood front row centre, completely rapt, for the whole of Thingumabob & the Thingumajigs’ set and hasn’t stopped raving about it since. Oh, and we couldn’t miss comedian James Campbell in the Woodland Theatre for the second year running (the twins have been telling one of his jokes from last year for the last 12 months). This year we vowed to spend more time in the evening at the retro disco in the Jitterbug tent, but once again the kids were too exhausted to manage it. Next time.
Another thing we missed out on was taking a rowing boat out on the lake. It was a first for Just So, and it was wonderful seeing people dressed up in their tribal costumes cruising about on the water. I really hope that this becomes an annual event, as it’s something I’d love to do on a future visit.
Just So always offers plenty of spectacle, and this year it was Les Enfants Terribles: The Fantastical Flying Exploratory Laboratory that delivered. With music, huge puppets and circus comedy, this was a show that the whole family could enjoy, with a host of belly-laughable moments.
What makes Just So extra special for me is that we get to share it with some of the same people year after year. We have friends we always meet up with, we make new friends each year, and we love spotting families we recognise from previous years around the site, too. There’s a real sense of community at the heart of the festival, and it’s the warm, welcoming feeling that you’re amongst good friends that keeps us coming back every year. The twins are already talking about Just So 2017, and you can be sure it’ll be one of the first things we add to our 2017 wall calendar. If you’re busy planning your summer plans for next year, why not include the Just So Festival in your itinerary, too?
Photo: TenEight Studios
Early bird tickets for Just So Festival 2017 (18 – 20 August, Rode Hall Estate, Cheshire) are on sale now at www.justsofestival.org.uk at special early bird prices of £120 (adults), £45 (child) for weekend camping, £70 (adult), £25 (child) for 2 day non-camping, £40 (adult), £15 (child) for day tickets. Under 3s free.
Disclosure: This post is written in collaboration with the Just So Festival, but all thoughts and opinions are very much my own.
Maybe it’s the need to be as close to the kettle as possible or just because it’s at the heart of our home, but even though I’ve got a dedicated home office that I love I can often be found working at the kitchen table instead. I guess that’s one of the best things about working from home – you’re not restricted to one workspace, you can pick your spot for the day, whether it’s at your desk, on the sofa, or even holed up in bed (this ranks pretty highly for me on cold, winter days or if I’m feeling under the weather).
Having said that, I’ve always had some rules about working from home that keep me sane. I like to have a shower and get dressed. Even if it’s just swapping my pjs for comfy tracky bottoms and an oversized sweatshirt, for me that flicks the switch in my head to say that my working day has begun. And although I might potter around with the radio on while I’m having breakfast and making coffee, I need it to be quiet when I settle down to work. That’s another thing I love about being in my own space – when I was based in an office I had to accept all the noise around me such as music, chit chat, phones ringing. I do sometimes miss the general hubbub, but when I really need to knuckle down and focus I relish the silence.
I know some freelancers need a buzz around them, so they prefer to pack up the essentials (such as a super-portable 13 inch laptop) and head out to a nearby café to take advantage of the free wifi. I’m often tempted to try this (even though I know I’d probably get little done because I’m so easily distracted), but I’ve yet to find the perfect local haunt. Plus I’m most relaxed at home. I’ve always wished I could be one of those people who are happy to have lunch out on their own, or go to the cinema solo, but I’m too self-conscious. I wonder if I should push myself more (a solo trip to the cinema has been on my ‘things to try’ list for years) but then I get stuck between thinking I should be braver, and accepting that that’s not who I am.
One option I’d love to have would be a shared workspace I could decamp to when I’m in the mood for like-minded company. I’m a sociable person, and I do miss office chat, especially when I’m in need of inspiration and encouragement. There’s nothing better than brainstorming and bouncing ideas off people who know where you’re coming from. I’d happily rent some desk space with fellow creatives if the chance ever came along.
How do you work best when you’re based at home? Do you have a set routine or do you like to mix it up? Any tips for the perfect home-working set up?
Disclosure: This post is written in collaboration with Dell, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Our family holiday this summer came close to being pretty much our best ever. It takes quite a lot to beat nearly five weeks touring around Europe, but our trip to the Dordogne in France this year ticked so many boxes that I had to share the details with you. We first heard about Huttopia when my sister-in-law went with her family last year, and we were instantly smitten – the campsites looked like our ideal size (not too big, pretty low-key) with plenty of space and an approach that keeps the impact on the environment to a minimum. After our wet and chilly camping holiday in the UK last summer, we were keen to hunt out some sunshine, and we were pretty confident we’d find it down in the Dordogne. On a mission to cheer ourselves up and fend off the winter blues, we booked our ferry crossing and a two-week stay in a Huttopia Trapper tent in the Lanmary Forest first thing on Boxing Day morning.
And so, just after the school holidays started at the end of July, we set off for Perigueux, breaking our journey with a stopover in a lovely French B&B on the way down. When we arrived we were not disappointed. Having spent our last three summers in our own tent, our Trappeur tent (basically canvas stretched across a wooden frame on a wooden platform), complete with proper beds, a fridge and small kitchen area plus a WC and compact shower felt like a stay in a luxury hotel. We could still enjoy all the things we love about camping – living outdoors, surrounded by nature, evenings sitting out under the stars – but those extra creature comforts meant more in the way of relaxation, without middle-of-the-nights stomps to the toilet block, or the seemingly constant trips to do the washing up.
The tent was beautifully designed – all neutral tones and rustic wood. Every detail had been carefully considered – the hooks on the door had an industrial edge, and instead of just sticking on a standard lock on the bathroom door, there was a pleasing lock constructed out of wood. We immediately relocated the dining table from inside the tent to the decked area outside – eating meals outdoors is one of my favourite things about camping. We were a really good distance from our neighbours, and all the tents were positioned looking a different way so you weren’t all lined up and in each other’s eye-line.
The campsite itself stretched across a large area, and had a central block with bar and restaurant that served wood fired pizzas and salads that you could eat out on an expanse of decking. For the twins, a swimming pool comes very high on their holiday wishlist, and we had two to choose from – one heated and one unheated (we preferred the unheated one because it was much emptier than the other one!). There was a free kids’ club for a couple of hours every morning, where the activities included things like building a bug hotel, or making dens in the woods. There was evening entertainment too (not every night), but it wasn’t the sort of cheesy stuff that would make me cringe – from a circus skills show (that has generated a complete obsession with Diablo for Fonz), to a jazz band, to a talk on prehistoric times where the kids got to try throwing a spear!
Perigueux is a great city to explore, plus the area has stacks of other things to offer if you want to get off the campsite. We balanced lazy days spent going no further than the pool and back, with trips out including visiting some of the incredible caves in the area, going canoeing on the River Dronne, finding swimming spots on various local rivers and a going further afield to take in the huge Saturday market at Sarlat.
This is absolutely not a sponsored post – we chose and booked this holiday entirely under our own steam, and we’re strongly considering booking again for next year. It really was the most relaxed that Ben and I have felt on holiday since having the twins, and we were sorely in need of a break and some rest as we lead such a busy and full life. My only complaint is that two weeks wasn’t enough!