Category Archives: Blogs

How we’re saving money with LED Lighting

When we bought our first house and we had a new kitchen installed, we had spotlights fitted. It was very much the fashion back in 1999, but they were so expensive to run. There were times when I’d cook by the light of a small table lamp fitted with an energy saving bulb, because it was far cheaper than having eight spotlights burning bright. These days we’re moving over to having LED lighting throughout our house. They’re just as bright, if not brighter, and much cheaper to run.

LED lighting uses much less electricity than both traditional incandescent light bulbs and halogen light bulbs. They even outlast energy efficient light bulbs and are cheaper to run too!

To start with, we started replacing bulbs in our kitchen with LED lights. The kitchen is naturally a really dark room and changing over to LED bulbs made an immediate difference. We bought our bulbs from LED lighting specialists, LED Hut in their summer sale, which really helped to cut the cost of the bulbs too.

We also got new LED strip bulbs under the kitchen cupboards which illuminated the worktops. This was a real game-changer for me as I was able to focus the light where I needed it most. Plus the under cupboard lights are better for creating a bit of mood lighting, should your kitchen ever need to change its mood.

How we're saving money with LED Lighting

The next room we tackled was the bathroom. The bathroom is a tricky room to light. You need it nice and bright for when your husband is having a shave, or if you’re doing something you really need to see; but when you’re having a soak in the bath you just want to dial down the lighting. We replaced the existing bulbs with bright LED bulbs and again went for the under-cabinet strip light. I chose a waterproof one just in case. It means when I’m having a restful soak I’m not being dazzled by a bright light overhead; but there’s still enough light to read a book in the tub.

We bought a box of regular LED bulbs too. As the old ones around the house blow, we replace them with these new brighter, more energy efficient bulbs. It helps that we’ve had a smart meter fitted and each time I look at the amount of electricity we use, I have a dicky-fit. The monthly amount we use and spend seems to be slowly dropping.

I have high hopes that as more bulbs get replaced throughout the house, the less electricity we will use. I just need to persuade my family that we’re not actually living in Manchester Airport and we don’t need every light on at all times. Wish me luck with that one!

This is a collaborative post.

Our engagement story – 21 years later!

This month is the 25th anniversary of when I first met my husband and it’s 23 years since our first date. We don’t celebrate it as such, but we always remember and laugh about the very olden days. I was 18 when we eventually got together, a few months later we went to university at opposite ends of the country. Long story short, he quit his uni course and moved in with me and now 23 years later we are married with a family and a whole life together.

We got engaged on my 21st birthday. We’d talked about it and he’d nervously asked my Dad for permission and all that stuff. We went to a local botanical gardens and he got down on one knee and popped the question. The answer was of course yes, but we didn’t start planning the wedding because we had uni courses to finish.

I remember going shopping with him, the done thing has always been spending a months salary on the engagement ring. But we were students with no savings and no thoughts of getting a loan for such things. We window shopped at jewellery shops and he knew the kind of style I wanted and he did well. For a little over £100 (in 1997) he got me a nice blue topaz ring with little diamond chips. It was simple and perfect.

Our engagement story - 21 years later!

Going shopping for engagement rings was so much fun; looking at all the beautiful rings our paltry student budgets couldn’t afford. I sometimes wonder what kind of engagement ring we would choose together now 21 years later. I suspect we’d probably still choose the same ring or something very similar.

Until I became a mum I wore my engagement ring every day, but it stopped being practical. We had it valued a few years ago and my fairly cheap ring wasn’t worth millions, but it was worth about double what he paid for it. To me my engagement ring was never about how much it cost, or how much it was worth; it’s what it means to me. A promise of a life, a promise to be loved forever; a commitment.

We got married three years after we got engaged. This year we celebrate 18 years of marriage and we crossed the threshold of knowing him longer than I’ve not known him a long time ago. 25 years as friends, partners and parents. That’s a milestone worth celebrating!

This is a collaborative post.

How to Create Memories That Last Forever

For all of us, memories are important. They are a great way to bring comfort, make you smile and motivate yourself. Good memories have the power to make you laugh, cry and feel every emotion in between. They are important, so, it is well worth taking the time to preserve them for the long-term. Here are a few ways you can do exactly that.

Decorate your walls with them

Specialist print firms like hello canvas make it extremely easy to take some of your treasured memories and have them turned into artwork to use in your home. All you need to do is to choose the photos you like best, work out what style of print or poster you want and upload the image to the printer´s website. When your print or poster arrives you just need to hang it up. If the hook is already there it will only take you a minute or two to do so.

dust and things keepsake memory box

Create little memory boxes

Sometimes memories are wrapped up in far more than just images. Of course, images do help you to remember special events in your life. But, they do not always tell the whole story. That is why it is always nice to preserve other items alongside the images.

You can do this by gathering certain items together in a little box. A skiing holiday memory box could include your piste map with all of the runs you skied marked on it. It might also contain the medal you won for your ski school slalom run, a cone you picked up when you stopped to take a photo in the forest and maybe a beer mat or napkin from the restaurant you had lunch in. These items do not sound like much, but when combined with photos and videos they really do bring back powerful memories.

If you are able to, include something scented in the box. For example, when you create a memory box for a person, try to include something they wore regularly, like a scarf, in their memory box.

It is surprising how quickly the memories flood back when you see that item and smell the scent that they always wore when you open their box. Stimulating your visual and olfactory senses at the same time has a very powerful effect on your memory. It enables you to recall things in a much clearer way.

Keep a diary or scrapbook

For more general memories, keeping a diary or creating a scrapbook is a great approach. It is surprising what you will remember when you sit down and read your diary. Add in visual clues like ticket stubs and you will have created a very powerful way to trigger happy memories.

If you find a scrapbook too messy or unwieldy get a shoe box and stow items in there instead. Using card it is easy to divide it up into sections to keep things tidy. This makes it far easier for you to be able to find specific items when you want to share a memory with a friend or family member. This short article explains how to create a memory box and keep it organized.

This is a contributed guest post.

Throwing a party? Try these food ideas

Got the venue sorted? The guest list? The decorations? What about the food? Anyone that’s thrown a party will know that the catering is a huge part of any get-together. But what if sausage rolls and curly sandwiches just won’t cut it? Here you’ll find a few food ideas that’ll make your party one to remember!

Hog roast

A hog roast. The amazing aroma, the incredible sight of your dinner being cooking before your eyes and the fact that it requires very little planning and tidying up, hog roasts are becoming more and more popular at all kinds of events including birthday parties and even weddings! Check out Hog Roast Manchester if you’re looking for a little inspiration.

Paella

Why not introduce a little Spanish cuisine into your party? The sight and smell of a huge pan of paella cooking away will drive your guests crazy! Watching the paella cook is almost a show in itself!

blueberry and buttermilk scones

Afternoon Tea

There’s something so classy and delicate about afternoon tea. It’s also surprisingly filling! Serving up a traditional afternoon tea is a sure-fire way to please your guests. From home-made scones to slices of indulgent chocolate cake, a selection of tasty sandwiches and little patisserie marvels, the choices and combinations are huge. Afternoon Tea is also quite cheap and works well with a vintage style theme! Delicate pieces of china and the pretty display of food will brighten every table and will give your get-together a real touch of elegance.

Pizza

Who doesn’t like pizza? Whether you’ve got veggie or vegan guests coming, or guests who even like pineapple, pizza is loved by everyone. You have a few options here, you could create a “build your own” station, where guests can put together a pizza or their own creation, or you could hire a mobile pizza company, who can cater your event by building your guests their pizzas and then baking them in their wood fired oven!

There’s nothing better or more authentic then watching your pizza dough being rolled from scratch, covered in your favourite toppings and then cooked to absolute perfection. It even adds a touch of entertainment to your event.

Or if you’re looking for something a little more low key and budget friendly – simply order in!

Dessert

We haven’t forgotten about the sweet stuff. Desserts and sweets are a huge part of any party!

Ice cream

It’s a staple of any party. An ice cream bar would go down a treat with guests of all ages or you could go down a more quirky and traditional route and hire an ice cream van for the day!

Recipe: Popcorn Cupcakes - perfect for movie night!

Cupcakes

It seems that cakes and confectionaries are getting bigger and more elaborate! So, why not have a cupcake stand at your party? With endless flavours and toppings to choose from, you could create a whole menu of cupcake flavours!

Sweetie bar

What could be better than a whole bar dedicated to sweets? Whether it’s chocolate or sweets from your childhood, a sweet station is a great way to bring your guests together!

This is a collaborative post.

How we keep on top of our laundry mountain

Doing laundry isn’t really anyone’s idea of a good time. I like to think that in our small household we don’t produce that much washing; but I’d be telling lies to myself. With a boy who has more outfit changes than Elton John, a husband who works with chemicals and runs twice a week and a dog who can’t resist a muddy puddle, we have a bulging laundry basket most days.

I’m always amazed when I’m sorting the clean washing how little of it is mine. Working from home I don’t tend to make much of a mess of myself, so a top will easily do two or three days before it gets washed.

Our laundry routine is tried and tested. My husband and I have been washing each other’s pants for over 20 years now. It’s not a task we enjoy, but it needs to be done.How we keep on top of our laundry basket mountain

We have a big laundry basket in a cupboard.. When the basket is full, he lugs it downstairs and puts a load on. Our laundry basket typically holds two loads. He’s usually out at work when the washing is done. When I’m in the kitchen making myself some lunch, I’ll empty and hang up the wet clothes and put load number two on. I’ll empty the washing machine again while I’m in the kitchen cooking tea.

In terms of washing powder, we tend to either use Fairy or Supermarket Sensitive powder. If something is badly stained we soak it in Napisan before and add a dash to the wash too. As for laundry baskets, I love a big laundry basket (like these lovely big ones from Lionshome), despite its size ours seems to fill up quite quickly.

The washing machine is on every other day usually. Except at weekends when it’s usually seeing some action on both days. Once the washing is dry, it makes its way upstairs to be added to the sorting pile. This is where our washing tends to get stuck for a few days until the pile is so big one of us snaps.

I don’t iron, I refuse to iron, so this is something my husband does. He irons most of his clothes and some of our son’s tops, he does this about once a week.

Every weekend we wash bedding and towels, along with any other loads which need washing. The winter months are hard because we can’t really hang clothes out on the washing line. I love warm summer days when a line of washing dries quickly. It’s those days I’m scrabbling around for things to wash just because I can and I know they will dry quickly. Cushion covers, curtains, duvets all get thrown in.

Time-Saving Laundry Tips for Busy Mums

During the long winter months our house looks like the back room of a dry cleaners. There are clothes hanging up everywhere and the radiators constantly covered in damp clothes. We have a couple of drying racks and airers, again Lionshome come up trumps with some good options to choose from.

It’s not a perfect routine, but it works for us. Right now I’m watching the snow silently falling and I’m wondering when I’ll be able to peg my first line of washing out on the line this year. There’s something really lovely about washing that’s been dried on the line. Roll on summer!

This is a sponsored post.

Treat car mad kids to a junior driving experience

When I was pregnant and on maternity leave I watched an awful lot of Top Gear. I blame my son’s obsession with cars on my postnatal obsession with Top Gear. He’s already told me he wants to be a racing driver when he grows up, and when we’re in the car he wants us to race the other cars on the road. We don’t, obviously, because it’s a road not a race track, but I can’t think of anything he’d enjoy more than being at an actual race track and taking part in a junior driving experience day.

Designed for children aged 11-17, there is a whole range of junior driving experience days to choose from. These experience days are available in five different locations across the UK. Depending on which experience you choose, it gives junior driving fanatics the chance to drive different cars; including supercars under the expert guidance of specially trained driving instructors. What a treat!

Imagine being able to drive a Ferrari, an Aston Martin, an Audi R8, a Lamborghini, a Nissan GTR or even a Porsche! Imagine what the other kids would say at school the next day! These junior experience days are such a good way to give kids who love cars the chance to be close to some of the best cars in the world; not to mention giving them the chance to drive them too!

I think experience days have come on quite a long way in recent years. I went through a phase of buying all kinds of things for my quite adventurous husband. Things like indoor skydiving and zorbing, but I know he would absolutely love a driving experience day. Maybe that’s something I could treat both of the boys to when the littlest one is a bit older and his feet can reach the pedals.

Have you ever been on an experience day? What’s the best thing you’ve done?

Treat car mad kids to a junior driving experience

This is a sponsored post.

Could you go on holiday for the cost of your commute?

Every January when the rail fares are increased commuters collectively wince and dig a little deeper to pay to get to work. These days I work from home, so my commute is non-existent, but I used to travel by train to work.

It wasn’t an epic journey, it was from my suburban home into Manchester and back again. The journey was quicker by train but quite a chunk more expensive and not as reliable as it should have been. It got me to work quickly and I usually managed to grab a seat, so I couldn’t complain too much.

Could you go on holiday for the cost of your commute?

I used to buy a weekly ticket for around £20. At the time I was working as a temp; it wasn’t worth buying anything longer term because my contract could have ended at any point. The £20 a week was a decent chunk of my disposable income at the time too, so like most other commuters I resented it.

My train was on the airport line. I used to wonder on rainy grey days what would happen if I stayed on the train and found myself at the airport. Turning up with my passport in hand and a weekend bag by my side. Where would I go? Where could I go?

Love Holidays have recently created an interactive tube map. The map highlights some of the holiday destinations that can be enjoyed in exchange for a week of rent and tube travel in the UK’s capital and most expensive city – London.

All you have to do is enter a daily commute on the holiday finder tube map and discover some of the destinations that can be reached, based on average weekly rent and tube fares in the UK’s capital.

So where could I go? It turns out based on my old commute length I could go to Turkey. Shall I start packing now?

Could you go on holiday for the cost of your commute?

Where could your commute take you?

This is a collaborative post with LoveHolidays.

Are we stuck in a rut with our Christmas Decorations?

I love decking the halls at Christmastime. One of my favourite things is spending the day unpacking boxes of Christmas decorations and with mulled wine warming and carols playing, decorating the house with my family.

We always get our tree from the local community farm. It’s always is slightly too big and sits in the corner of our living room. We decorate it with white lights, then it gets covered in red and gold baubles and other decorations. There’s no tinsel, but we use gold lametta to give the tree some extra twinkle and shine. We’ve got a wonky gold star which sits on the top of our tree. My son always gets lifted up to put the star, and the final flourish to our tree.

Christmas magic Christmas Decorations

There’s always a wreath on the door. Usually bought from the community farm, but failing that I’ve got a couple of spare wreaths I can use if I can’t find a good quality fresh one.

Although we don’t put the tree up until the weekend before Christmas, we do have some lovely lights which go up at the start of December. They’re very pretty coloured lights which hang in our window and we get lots of lovely comments on them every year.

We have a large kitchen diner which we don’t tend to decorate, other than with some lights. I’m very tempted to try to find a small thin tree to stand in the corner. It’s the room we spend most of Christmas Day in, so it would be nice it if was a bit more festive.

I feel like we’ve had this style of Christmas decorations for a long time. I wonder if this will be the year I finally decide that next year we do something different. Our style is very traditional, is it time to ring the changes?

I’ve no idea what kind of theme I might go for in the future. We’ve had 20 or more years of having a traditional Christmas style in our home. Whatever style we choose in the future would still need to feel warm and festive.

Are we stuck in a Christmas Decorations rut?

For all kinds of Christmas inspo, the Ultimate Christmas DIY Decorating Bible is a pretty good place to start. There are decorating tips as well as loads of brilliant Christmas craft ideas. Maybe a handmade Christmas is the way to go next year?

What’s your Christmas style? Is it time for me to make the change?

This is a collaborative post.

Creating a garden wildlife sanctuary project with the kids

We know that kids who are physically active have better physical and mental health, they are happier and lighter. Kids who spend more time outdoors in the garden have better vision, have reduced ADHD symptoms, are less stressed, develop better social skills and don’t have vitamin D deficiencies.

Outdoor activities and exposure to plants and animals is also an opportunity for our children to discover things they are passionate about and good at. You might be raising the next David Attenborough but if you don’t give your child the opportunity to see and interact with the natural world all that potential will be wasted.

Creating a garden wildlife sanctuary project with your kids

Some Alarming Stats;

  • British children are among the least active in the world, and fitness levels are plummeting.
  • ¾ of our children spend less time in the great outdoors than prisoners.
  • 70% of mothers recall spending time outdoors every day as children, while only 31% of their children do.

As parents we all know there are lots of good reasons why our kids should be outside but we can’t seem to find the time to make sure it happens. Part of the reason is our own hectic lifestyles which leave little time to go outside. It is much easier for us to plonk our kids in front of the TV or a tablet while we use our tablets to get the shopping done, book a holiday and finish that report. We are also terrified for our kids and most of us won’t consider letting them out of our sight in public which reduces their opportunity for outdoor play and prevents them becoming more independent.

Garden Wildlife Sanctuary Project

A great idea to encourage your kids to get outside is to have a family garden project. A vegetable garden is a wonderful idea but it does take a lot of know-how from the parents and a regular time commitment. For most of us this is too big of an ask. A much easier project is to establish a wild garden. The set-up is easy and low cost and very little regular maintenance is needed. If the project captures your families’ imagination you can develop it as much as you like by adding hedgehog homes, bird boxes & feeders, butterfly gardens and ponds.  All you really need to get started is a patch of garden, it only needs to be a few meters wide.

Start With Plants

The starting point for your wild garden project is to put in the right plants. If you are going to be encouraging local wildlife you need to make sure you plant species that are native to the UK and provide food in the form of seeds and nectar bearing flowers as well as thick plants for cover. Sound hard?  Not at all just buy a seed mix or two from a specialist supplier online! Look for ‘environmental seeds’ or ‘stewardship seed mixes’. You will also find ‘bee friendly’ mixes which are high in nectar producing flowers. ‘Bird mixes’ or ‘cover crop’ seeds are likely to provide taller and thicker plants to provide somewhere for birds to hide. You can start your kids off on the project by asking them to look online for suitable mixes.

It’s probably a good idea to buy a couple of different mixes for good variety. You can share the seeds between several families because one tin of 250g for £20 can cover as much as 50m of garden. When you plant depends on the seed mix so just read the instructions carefully before you buy. It’s no good buying a seed mix that has to be planted in the spring if you want to get your project started in the Autumn. All you need to do is dig the patch of soil, pull out the weeds and then sprinkle on your seeds. Make sure you water them every three days if there is a dry spell. A better idea is to give the job to the kids who can take it in turns to do the watering.

At the back of your wild patch put in 1 or 2 shrubs/trees. They provide shelter and nesting sites. Choose something that produces berries, they look great and provide Winter food for birds – Rowan, Elderberry, Holly and Crab Apple are all good choices.

Creating a garden wildlife sanctuary project with your kids

Other things to include

Litter – I don’t mean crisp packets – we are talking twigs and dead leaves. Decomposing vegetation is vital for lots of insects who provide food for larger animals like hedgehogs. Just collect up this garden rubbish from the rest of your plot and sprinkle it on your wild garden.  Don’t do this if you have just planted seeds as the litter will block the sunlight from reaching the seeds and they will not germinate.

Water – fresh clean water is important. You can simply sink a plant pot or plastic bottle (with the top cut off) into the ground. The kids can take it in turns to top up or replace the water.

Maintenance

Very little!  If your plants are a bit thin sprinkle some more seeds down in the spring or Autumn. Usually these wild mixes self-seed so you could find this is not necessary every year.  In early spring you might need to trim away the dead dry grass from the previous year to allow the sunlight to reach the soil.

Development

Once your seed mixes are working well you can think about adding a couple of specific plants. Snowdrops and daffodils don’t do much for wildlife but they are some of the first plants and flowers to appear in the Spring so they can be important for keeping the kids interest high. They also grow from bulbs which fascinate kids.

Sunflowers are fantastic for birds, butterflies and bees and you can have a who can grow the tallest competition. Pumpkins or other squash are also easy to grow and great fun.  For both sunflowers and squash start the seeds off indoors in a windowsill and then plant them out when they are a about 20 cm tall. You can label them so every family member knows who’s is who’s!

Once the plants are in place you can think about adding some specific homes for birds and animals. You can buy bird nesting boxes and feeders, homes for bees and hedgehogs online. If you are all loving your garden you can consider a bigger addition like a pond.

Education

The wild garden offers a fantastic opportunity for you to educate your kids about plants and animals. You can also give them some fun projects and treasure hunts which will keep them occupied while you do other things. There are loads of treasure hunt style lists online and wildlife spotter lists. These work well in your wild garden but you can also use them to make walks and day trips more interesting. The Woodland Trust has a nice set too.

Of course, you can just come up with a DIY activity for kids if you need to get them out from under your feet. Just ask them the following. They can take pictures of what they find on their phones and then use the computer to identify them.

  • How many plants can you identify
  • How many different yellow flowers are there
  • Find 5 different grass seeds
  • Look for 6 different sorts of insects
  • Find 10 different types of leaves
  • Identify 5 different birds

Creating a garden wildlife sanctuary project with your kids

This is a guest post.

What’s the best winter sun destination this year?

My central heating has just gone on which means two things. One, my next gas bill will make me cry and two, I want a holiday somewhere warm and sunny. Last winter we had our first foreign family holiday and my 6 year old has been virtually begging us to go away for some winter sun and it is oh so tempting.

Last year we went to Mallorca which was great for us. It was a fairly short flight and we were blessed with lots of winter sun to warm our bones. I think we’d all be happy to go back and that would be the easy option, but where could we go that was still a short-ish flight, still sunny and still within our budget?

Sol Katmandu Hotel, Majorca with Jet2Holidays

I’ve picked out some of my favourite winter sun destinations available on Holiday Gems this year…

Cyprus
We love Cyprus. We went several times before we had our son and they were some of the best holidays we’ve ever had. Lots of sunshine, some history, some culture, lots of great food and good wine. Pretty much perfect. We will definitely go back, but we might leave that until he’s a bit older.

Canaries 
The Canaries are real wish list stuff for me. I’ve wanted to go for years but we’ve never quite managed it. The islands are the perfect place for a family holiday, a couples break or just to grab some much needed winter sun.

Cape Verde
It’s a bit further than I’d normally choose to go, but these laid back islands are perfect for a beach break. With year round sunshine and decent temperatures even in the depths of winter, Cape Verde might be just the ticket to pull us out of the doldrums this winter.

Croatia
I’ve wanted to visit Croatia since my brother went and fell for its stunning good looks. With beautiful beaches, spectacular cultural landmarks and a fine selection of resorts Croatia is high on my list, especially as it’s pretty good value to holiday there too.

I’m not sure where we will choose, that will have to go to a family vote. But I can see the Canaries in our future, fingers crossed!

This is a collaborative post.