Saturday, 22 August 2015

Reasons to be cheerful in August

It's been a good month so far, even though the weather has been a bit rubbish for what is supposed to be the peak of summer.  There's still a few days left so I'm hoping August will pull a few sunny days out of the hat before we say hello to September, fingers crossed anyway.

Anyway, here are my 3 reasons to be cheerful this month.

1.  Bargains

Who doesn't love a bargain? A new 'second-hand and collectables' shop opened near us recently and I went to have a look around and nabbed these.

The Ladybird books were a fantastic find - I have a little collection already, and a couple of them are duplicates of books I already have, but some of them are worth £5+, some a little more, so for 50p each I couldn't leave them in the shop.

Vintage Ladybird books

The blue and white pottery is Staffordshire Chefware rather than Cornishware, but for £2 a piece they had to come home with me.  The tiny green jug is Sylvac, which I know very little about but again was too cute to leave behind.

2. Uni prep

The Teenager is off to uni next month, and between now and then we have a ton of things to organise and buy. There is already a To-Do List as long as your arm, and my bank account has taken a severe bashing this week as she just couldn't wait to go out and buy most of the items on her 'Things I need for Uni' list, including those student essentials, a pizza cutter and bottle opener.  

Essential items for uni

Unfortunately, The Teenager has champagne tastes on a lemonade budget so most of the shopping has involved her choosing an expensive version of each item, and me popping a equally suitable but much cheaper version in the trolley. 

Her: "The problem with you mum is that you have no taste."  

Me: "And the problem with you, dear daughter, is that you have no money."

We visited three shops - Ikea, Asda and Wilkos - and managed to find everything on the list apart from a hot water bottle (she's going to Sheffield, it's going to be cold!) and a large sieve (suitable for rice and pasta). Our quest continues. 

3.  Week off

I've taken next week off work, which is just as well as I have plenty of things to do, including a couple of blogging projects. 

The Teenager is off to visit her boyfriend in Leeds for a few days, so I want to try and spend a couple of days with Tall Daughter, just the two of us, including a day trip somewhere.  I'll let her decide where we go.

Also, a friend is coming to visit from America. She's on a business trip to the UK and is popping over to see us for a couple of days. The last time she visited her only request was to visit Crosby Beach to see the Anthony Gormley installation.  This time she has asked if we can just relax and maybe take Alice for a couple of long walks. Looking forward to it.

How has your August been? 

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

August review round-up - bizzybee, 7th Heaven and Hammamas

Bizzybee cleaning range
We were recently sent a bag of goodies from bizzybee who make a great range of cleaning materials, such as cloths, gloves and scourers.  I'll be honest and confess that it's a range I've been using for a while now, in particular their latex-free gloves which are great for people like me with allergies or sensitive skin.  Tall Daughter also has quite severe eczema and uses these gloves without a problem.

I try to use as few chemicals as possible at home, so their microfibre cloths are brilliant to have at hand. Not only are they kinder on the environment but you save tons of money on cleaning products and they work brilliantly. What's not to love about that?

The whole of the bizzybee range is colourful and cheerful and it really is top quality - I can vouch for that because their gloves last longer than any other brand I've used, and they are very reasonably priced.

I always like brands that go the extra mile, so even though I'm not a vegan I love that the gloves are vegan-friendly and the brand supports ethical events.  You can also learn more about the plight of the bumblebee (have you tried the sugar and water rescue trick yet?) and the work bizzybee do with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.

7th Heaven pamper kit

7th Heaven are passionate about cruelty-free products made with natural ingredients, and they sent us a lovely pamper kit of face, foot and hair masks recently.  I say lovely, but I didn't get much of a look in to be honest.  As soon as I unpacked the kit, the girls descended and laid claim to most of the contents. The Teenager took all of the face masks, and Tall Daughter nabbed nearly all of the foot and hair masks.  I managed to hold onto one: The Manuka Honey Rescue Hair Masque which left my hair beautifully smooth and smelling wonderful.  The girls have enjoyed trying out the various products but the full extent of their reviews runs to 'they're great, can we have get some more?'

I think these are something fun for teenage girls to do at a sleepover - just buy a selection and let them try them out on each other, which means they will have to put their phones and tablets down and talk to each other! Well, it's worth a try anyway.

Hammamas cotton towel

I might be the last person to have discovered Turkish cotton towels but I'm glad I finally did.  We were sent one of the 100% cotton towels from Hammamas to try out, and we are complete converts!

If like me you're late to the Hammamas party, they are more lightweight and compact than conventional terry towels which means they take up less space in your suitcase or gym bag. They're also super absorbent and quick drying, and because they look so stylish they can also double up as a beach sarong.  Hey, if it's good enough for the gorgeous Simon Baker...

At £25.00 they're certainly pricier than your average terry towel but I can see definite advantages to using them, particularly for holidays.  We tend to take UK cottage holidays and by the time we've packed enough towels for 4 people there's not much room left for anything else in the car boot, but by packing these cotton towels it will free up space for other holiday essentials. 

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Teenager's A Level results day, and a road trip to Sheffield

A Level results day came and went on Thursday last week, and after months of studying and revision, the Teenager finally got her results.  She did really well, but unfortunately missed out on her first choice of university.  She was pretty devastated to be honest, and it was hard to see her so upset.  All of her plans, her hopes and dreams, seemed to be shattered.  It was, in her words, the worst day ever.

But, after looking at her options and deciding to go through the clearing system (during which we were helped by tweets from unis with spaces on the subject she wanted to study, criminology) by the end of the day she had a choice of offers - and after much deliberation and discussion she finally chose Sheffield Hallam.  It's a good uni, and their criminology course has received an award for being one of the best in the country.  The only thing she wasn't sure about was the Sheffield, as she'd never been, so we decided to go to the uni's Open Day yesterday, and have a good look around the city while we were there.

We were really impressed with Sheffield. After spending the day there, we got the feel for a lively and safe city, not too big to be overwhelming, and small enough to be friendly and everyone we met said it was a great place to be a student.

So I was pretty chuffed when at the end of the day she said it probably suited her better than her first choice, Leeds, and she couldn't wait to get started.  After all of the disappointment and upset on results day, it was a massive relief to hear that. It's funny how these things often turn out to be for the best isn't it?

The Teenager is very excited, and says she's not nervous at all, but then she's always been a very confident girl and loves a challenge. I suppose going to uni is the biggest one yet for her, but I expect her to face it the way she faces every challenge - with guts and determination.

At the moment we're all swept up in a wave of planning, list-writing and thinking ahead. There's a lot to organise before she goes (bank account, meningitis jab, student finance, etc.) and tomorrow we're making a trip to Ikea for the Big Shop of essential items, so it's going to be pretty hectic for the next few weeks.  By the way, did you know a fancy dress outfit was an essential item for freshers' week? No, neither did I.

I'm not sure how I feel about it all to be honest.  My focus has been on her, and how she has been feeling about such a big life change, so I was a little taken by surprise when someone asked how I felt about her flying the nest and I tried to answer but the words got stuck in my throat and I felt tears pricking my eyes. Thankfully I held it together - The Teenager would not have been impressed ("Don't be cheesy Mum!"). Perish the thought.

And it will be okay, although it'll be really weird without her at home. For one thing, who's going to make all the noise, and need lifts here, there and everywhere, and leave bags and shoes all over the house, and ask 'What's for tea?' Oh, hang on, I have another teenager to take over that role, panic over.

Friday, 7 August 2015

The post-holiday blues


It's been a funny old week.

Since coming home from holiday last week I've had a very severe case of the post-holiday blues.

I felt like I'd fallen back to earth with a bump, a huge bump, which meant I soon started looking at property prices in Devon (expensive) and dreaming of moving there permanently.  I don't normally feel like that after a holiday, but I loved Devon so much and could really imagine myself living there.

I decided to talk to the girls about it, and see if I could talk them 'round to the idea.

The Teenager was enthusiastic, and as she is hoping (fingers crossed) to start uni in September said she doesn't mind where 'home' is. 'Do it', she said, 'do it before you're too old'. I think she was trying to be encouraging.

Tall Daughter didn't feel the same. I spent the next few days trying, fruitlessly, to convince her that we should move to Devon. but she's 15 and due to begin her GCSEs in September, plus she doesn't want to leave her friends or her paternal grandparents who live nearby.

All completely reasonable reasons for her wanting to stay put, and I really do understand that.....but, but, my yearning to move away from the north-west and find a better quality of life elsewhere is so strong and has been getting stronger ever since Dad passed away five years ago. I should have moved then, that was the right time to do it, but I hesitated and the moment passed, and now I feel a bit trapped.

My head tells me that now is not a good time to move, but my heart has been telling me for quite a while that we should move, somewhere near the coast maybe, somewhere more rural, or even just anywhere away from here.

I don't know what to do, and my head has been full of 'should we, shouldn't we' all week.

And then, amidst all my property searches on Rightmove and Googling 'the best place to live in Devon' and 'top colleges in Devon', an email arrived from an old friend, who I hadn't heard from in a couple of years. Turns out in that time he has met someone, fallen in love, married her and moved lock, stock and barrel to France. It was a curious feeling of jealousy and delight I felt for him, if I'm honest, but it was his insistence that I should follow my heart that confused me even more. "You know, sometimes, you've just got to go for it" was exactly what I did and didn't want to hear.

So now I'm even more conflicted than ever, which is helpful.

Since then, I've spoken to two other people who decided to uproot their families and move location: one family from London to the countryside, and the other family from Italy to - guess where? - Devon and I'm hoping to persuade them to share their stories on here.

Have you ever moved to a different part of the country, or even a different country? Are you glad you did it?

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Choosing a holiday for teenagers, and why I'm in love with Devon

Teignmouth beach

Last week we holidayed in beautiful Devon.  We stayed at the Finlake holiday park in Chudleigh near Newton Abbot, which lies between Dartmoor and the stunning coastline and is the ideal base for touring north Devon.

I chose Finlake primarily because I was taking three teenagers with me (my own two, and the Teenager's boyfriend) so it was vital there would be plenty of activities to keep them busy.  It had also been recommended to me by Kate who had stayed there previously and thought the facilities would be ideal for us.

As it turned out, it was a good choice and the teenagers took full advantage of the two pools - indoor and outdoor with a huge water slide - as well as archery, water-walking, and fencing lessons.  There were plenty of other things to keep them busy, such as a tennis court, outdoor table-tennis tables, golf, horse riding and numerous other activities.  There was a charge for most of them (although the pools, gym, and table tennis and quite a few others were free) but they all seemed good value for money and were all well organised and supervised by the very friendly staff.

Teenagers in Devon

There was also a health and beauty salon where Tall Daughter treated herself to a manicure, and I had a wonderful (and long overdue) back and shoulder massage. Bliss!

Our accommodation was one of their 'VIP' timber holiday homes, which is basically a static caravan clad in timber. If that sounds sniffy it's not meant to be because it was well designed and kitted out with everything you might need, plus I paid extra for an outdoor hot-tub which I think we got our money's worth out of..  The living space in particular was very comfortable although the bedrooms were a bit of a tight squeeze, especially with three teens sharing two rooms. One small quibble was that although towels were included in the price, when we arrived we found 4 bath towels and only two hand towels, which I thought was a bit of a stretch for four people, but a quick phone call to reception resulted in one of the housekeeping team bringing over extra hand towels pretty much straightaway.

Holiday in Devon

So, the teenagers thoroughly enjoyed their holiday, and so did I, but I wasn't expecting to fall completely and totally in love with Devon. Oh my goodness, what a beautiful part of the country - the views of the beautiful rugged coastline and rolling hills are truly breathtaking, and I loved the villages and market towns we visited and passed through.

During our week there we decided to visit a different place each day, and although we visited some pleasant beaches (Teignmouth, Preston Sands, Paignton) we didn't find one to equal our favourite Welsh beach, Porth Oer, but considering we only saw a small part of the county and there are dozens of beaches in Devon I'm sure there is one somewhere, we just didn't find it.

I'm embarrassed to admit that it was my first ever visit to the Devon (but not my last) which means I have a lot of catching up to do. We will definitely be returning, definitely, and in the meantime I'm dreaming of living there permanently. One day, perhaps.

Have you holidayed in Devon?  Do you have a favourite beach?

Friday, 17 July 2015

5 cleaning hacks that will change your life

I love learning new life hacks, those clever little tricks and tips that help us to get more done in less time. When it comes to cleaning I'm all for getting quick results with the minimum effort and the hacks in this guest post certainly fit into that category. By the way, my cleaning hack is to use bicarbonate of soda to get rid of smells - sprinkle liberally on to the smelly surface, leave for a couple of hours then wipe or hoover up.  Works every time.

There is definitely more to life than cleaning. But every now and again, nothing beats some serious scrubbing and dusting to clear the mind as well as the house. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it’s good for the soul. Here’s 5 cleaning hacks that will, in a small but significant way, change your life. 

Organise your cleaning cupboards 
If you’re like most of us, that cupboard under your sink where you keep all your cleaning products is likely to be a bit of a mess. Get organised by sticking an old curtain pole across the cupboard to hang all your cleaning sprays on, and two or three plastic baskets to keep everything else organised and tidy. Voila – a cupboard you will be excited to open! 

Give your dishwasher some TLC 
If your dishes aren't coming out sparkling, it's time to give the dishwasher a serious spring clean – all you need is some distilled white vinegar, baking soda, paper towels and an old toothbrush. First take out all the removable parts and wash them in vinegar and water, using a paste of baking soda and water on the really tough stains. Once done, pop a cycle on with some vinegar instead of washer tablets, and wipe dry with paper towels. For an ultra-clean, stop the cycle mid-way through to let the vinegar sink to the bottom. Don’t forget to wipe down the outside too, for a shimmering finish. If your dishwasher is truly on the fritz though, retailers like Tesco offer various dishwashers at reasonable prices. 

Get rid of nail polish stains 
Whether it’s a full-bottle or just a smudge, we have all had accidents with nail polish that appear to be irreparable. But never fear – where there’s a spill there’s a way! First, pour nail varnish remover liberally onto the stain and leave for a few minutes. Mop up with paper towels. Next scrub with a ‘magic eraser’ (available in good hardware stores). And if it is really stubborn, reach for the hairspray. A quick spray and wipe, and the stain will be no more! 

Vanish marks on TV screens 
You sit down after a hard day to watch a bit of telly... only to discover smears all across your lovely plasma screen TV. Not to worry – grab a can of WD4- and pop a couple of sprays onto a microfiber cloth. Gently wipe the offending area in small circles, trying not to apply too much pressure. This hack will also work on laptops. 

Dust off your lampshades 
Lampshades are one place that gets seriously dusty. The simplest way to remove dust from them is not to sit for hours with a feather duster, but instead use a lint clothes roller. A few rolls and you’re done (and they might just let the light through again, too).

Try one or two of these cheap and easy tips next time you feel the urge to reach for the rubber gloves. Chances are they will become habits for life. 

Images by go_greener_oz used under the Creative Commons license.  

Thursday, 16 July 2015

The July garden ~ vibrant

Pink is the dominant colour in the garden this month, with the rambling rose, the bright pink of the dahlia and a plummy pink of a rose in the front garden.

The rambling rose, which covers the fence, is the star of the garden this month. Last year I had pruned it back a bit too vigorously in the spring and didn't do very well in the summer; but this year it's so beautiful with dozens of clusters of bright pink flowers. It's look particularly stunning later in the day, in the soft evening light.

The July Garden - pink

The July Garden - pink

The July Garden - pink

The July Garden - pink

There's been a lot of tidying and planning going on in the garden this month. We have some plans to move things around, and extend the decking area, and my brother tackled one of the annual gardening chores by pressure washing the patio, which had become quite slippy due to moss and algae.  

The garden is very shady because of the tall trees in the park behind our house, and we also have a large tree in our garden, so moss is very quick to grow on any hard surfaces.  He spent over 3 hours blasting away all the moss and grime from the path and the patio, and he won't admit it but I think he found it very therapeutic. 

The July Garden - pink

The July Garden - pink

The July Garden - pink

The dahlia has survived the winter in the ground, which is quite unusual, but it looks as great as ever and it really is that pink - the photo hasn't been enhanced, that's it's true colour. I just love the vibrancy of the pink.

The July Garden - pink

I'm joining in with the How does your garden grow? linky again, please click on the badge below to see the other gardens linking up this week.