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.


Friday, 10 July 2015

The joy of a handwritten letter

Six years ago, I wrote about the slow death of handwriting, and asked if anyone still sends handwritten letters.

Ironically, and I'm embarrassed to admit it, since writing that post I still haven't sent a single handwritten letter. I've written letters, of course I have, but all neatly typed up and spell-checked and printed out onto smooth white paper. But apart from birthday and Christmas cards, and the occasional notecard, which I try to pretend counts as a letter (it doesn't) I haven't taken the time to write a proper letter in long hand, with decent writing paper and a smooth-writing pen (really important) in all that time.

A couple of weeks ago I received a package in the post, containing a book and a letter from an old friend, someone I'd been feeling guilty about as I'd lost touch with her over the past few years. It seemed she also felt the same, and was prompted to write the letter while reading the book during an off-grid holiday on a Greek island. The book reminded her of me, she said, "As I was reading it I kept thinking 'Jean would love this'."

Staying at a friend's house on the island, she had written the letter on pages torn from an exercise book or similar, and had used two pens; the first blue and scratchy which was soon abandoned for a black felt-tip, thicker than ideal for writing.  I imagined her sitting in the garden outside the small whitewashed house, at a table in the shade of an olive tree, writing it quickly while the words were still fresh in her head.

The letter was full of news, a mixture of good and not-so-good, all eagerly devoured, and made all the more special because it was in her distinctive American cursive handwriting.

I was really touched by the thought put into it, and the effort she'd made to get the letter and book to me so I decided to respond in kind. But why does letter writing seem like such an effort?

Setting aside the time, finding a decent pen that wouldn't run out of ink halfway through, and some writing paper (I found some long forgotten floral paper in the bottom of a drawer) took more time than was decent (two weeks in all...)  Actually sitting down and writing the letter took less than an hour and, do you know, I'd forgotten how enjoyable it was. No technology, just me and the pen and the paper, a cup of tea and my thoughts. The simple pleasures are the best, don't you think?

Letter writing does seem to be a dying art, but it's such a treat to receive one that I've promised myself I'll send more, which means a visit to a stationery shop is long overdue .

When was the last time you sent or received a handwritten letter?  And if you've read the book, what did you think of it?

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Over 50s' travel: seeing the world in style

Today's featured post is all about thinking slightly outside the box when it comes to travelling. I'd be more than happy to visit any of these fabulous locations, but I think the trip to the Caribbean has my name all over it...
Your days of hitchhiking, buying one-way tickets and roughing it in hostels may be over, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop exploring the world. One great way to rekindle your sense of adventure and wanderlust is to make the most of over 50s travel packages. Think companies like Saga Travel who offer some fabulous tours. There are a host of different itineraries to choose from, and while you're seeing new sights and enjoying different activities, you’ll get to meet plenty of like minded people. To give you inspiration for your next trip, here’s a selection of great holiday ideas.
Soak up some culture right here in the UK
Long-haul travel may be easier than ever, but some of the best experiences can still be found right here in the UK. For example, if you love classical music, why not book a trip in Britain to see a brace of top-class concerts? It’s possible to book packages in places like Bournemouth that include a number of performances, talks and music-related excursions. These trips don’t have to cost you much, and they offer the perfect opportunity to indulge in your hobby.
Explore ancient sights in Egypt
Saga holidays in Egypt
If you fancy something further afield and have a passion for history, perhaps a holiday to Egypt is the one for you. One of the best ways to see this country is by booking a cruise along the Nile. As this vast waterway winds its way through the North African nation, it will take you past an array of fascinating temples, pyramids and cities including many UNESCOWorld Heriatge Sites. You’ll get to see iconic attractions like the Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza. A popular route runs between Aswan and Luxor.
Relax in style in the Caribbean
For pure relaxation, it’s hard to beat the Caribbean. As well as great weather and beautiful beaches, these sun-soaked islands boast bags of character and charm. For example, in St Lucia you can tuck into creole cuisine in restaurants like Marjorie’s while enjoying the sounds of rhythmic local music, while in Antigua you can get a feel for the region’s history at the colonial fortifications of Shirley Heights.
Release your inner explorer in Borneo’s rain forests
Saga holidays
If you’re keen to release your inner explorer, a trip to the rain forests of Borneo could be perfect. This Southeast Asian island boasts spectacular scenery and intriguing wildlife. While there, you can take tours of the Mount Kinabalu foothills, enjoy river cruises and visit the orang-utans of Sepilok. Other attractions include the Labuk Bay Monkey Sanctuary, Sun Bear Conservation Centre, Gomantong Caves and Kinabalu National Park. The incredible diversity of the flora and fauna on show across this island gives it a truly unique look and feel.
Of course, these are just some of the over 50s holiday options now available. With a little research, you shouldn’t struggle to identify the perfect package for you. Whether you want a quick break in the UK or you’d like to expand your horizons with a trip overseas, there are countless itineraries to choose from. Pick something that captures your imagination!
Images from the Saga website. 

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Walled Garden at Norton Priory

Norton Priory Walled Garden is one of my favourite places to go when things are a bit hectic, and my head is full of busy thoughts that won't go away.

Entrance to the garden is through what used to be the head gardener's cottage, and immediately you have to choose your path: either a walk along the perennials borders bursting with colour towards a covered terrace, or along the path towards the wilder grassed orchard with the national collection of quince trees. Either way, all paths lead to the central Rose Walk, a long path cutting across the garden and filled with the most beautiful varieties of old roses.  June is the best month for their stunning display, although this year I probably missed their peak by about a week, but I still enjoyed their fading beauty and incredible fragrance.

It's the tranquillity of the Walled Garden that I love, along with the sensory satisfaction of gravel paths crunching underfoot, the fragrance of the roses, and the buzzing of bees, and there are plenty of quiet spaces to sit and think.  Turn a neatly hedged corner and you're likely to find one of the many pieces of sculpture that are dotted around the garden.

I never tire of visiting despite countless visits over the years. It's definitely my happy place.

It's been a long time, but I'm joining in with Annie's 'How does your garden grow?' linky this week, click on the badge below to go to there. If you haven't visited before, do take a look - there are more gorgeous gardens than you can shake a stick at.


Sunday, 7 June 2015

Reasons to be cheerful in June

It's a good exercise to reflect on the week's good points, which are usually the simplest of pleasures, and record them. So I thought it was about time I joined in with the Reasons to be Cheerful linky which I've seen on Becky's blog many times, although this is the first time I've joined in, but hopefully not the last.  

1. Peonies


Every year when the peonies bloom I'm always amazed by their beauty. The colour is a deep, deep red which doesn't seem to translate well in photos. They look more pinky red in this photo, but in reality they are much richer and darker.  The peony bush is behind a rather large euonymus plant, so I like to bring in a few blooms to enjoy in the house.

2. Nature reserve

I'd been looking for somewhere safe to do recall training with our new greyhound, Alice, when I bumped into two other greyhound owners who recommended a local nature reserve which has a dedicated dog field, completely fenced in, and so perfect for Alice to run off-lead and perfect for the training.

Moore nature reserve

It's only a ten minute drive from our house, but I had never heard of the nature reserve before, so it was like finding a hidden gem.   It has over 200 acres of woodland, lakes, nature walks and meadows and is absolutely beautiful. I can't believe I've only just discovered it, but I suppose better late than never, and I know we'll be regular visitors from now on.

3. Party

Last night I went to a party. That might not seem like much to many people, but for me it was a pretty big deal.  I don't really have a social life, and much of that is down to me, but recently I've been thinking about going out a bit more.  So last night was the first time in a long time that I didn't turn down an invitation. I actually enjoyed getting ready, putting a bit of make-up on, and choosing something to wear. (Note to self: you'll need to buy more 'going out clothes' if this is to continue).  I had a bit of a nervous wobble just before setting off, but I didn't do what I normally do and find an excuse not to go. I went to the party, I enjoyed it, and apart from a bit of a foggy head this morning, I survived in one piece. Go me.

What's made you happy this week?

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Film reviews: Danny Collins, Man Up and Rudderless

Danny Collins
Danny Collins (Al Pacino) is an ageing pop star, well past his sell-by-date but still milking the cash cow by singing his old songs to his similarly ageing fans.  When his manager finds a letter that was written to Danny in 1971 by John Lennon, but which he never received, it gives him cause to reflect on how his life may have turned out if he had received it and taken up Lennon’s offer of support, and decides to make some changes to his life. The drugs, the ‘half-his-age’ women and the party lifestyle all come to a halt and he moves into a hotel to write some new songs, and be near to his estranged son and daughter-in-law (Bobby Cannavale and Jennifer Garner) and make amends for his past misdemeanours. 

Very loosely based on a true story, this film has a lot of heart. Yes it’s a bit sentimental, but it’s not as predictable as you might expect. Halfway thought the film I thought I’d figured out the rest of the storyline in my head only to be wrong about almost everything, which is good.

There’s a lot to like about this film. The cast, for starters, is great.

For this film to work, Danny Collins –  ‘a ridiculous man’ - has to be likeable, and he is: Pacino  is very likeable in the role and I was rooting for him to do the right thing. He has some great dialogue with Annette Bening – the manager of the hotel  – who becomes a friend and potential love-interest, and it’s always good to see Captain von Trapp Christopher Plummer, who plays Danny’s loyal friend and manager.

The other main character in this film is John Lennon, who looms large throughout. His music carries the storyline along beautifully and still sounds as fresh as a daisy. My god, I'd forgotten how much great music he made! I was feeling a bit disappointed not to hear Instant Karma only to be rewarded with it during the credits. Such a great song and a lovely, heart-warming film. 

Man Up
Man up film poster
A single woman is mistaken for someone else's blind date but goes on the date anyway, in this comedy with Simon Pegg and Lake Bell. Pegg plays the same character he plays in every film, and Bell is American but has a perfect English accent.  Rory Kinnear also does a very funny turn as Bell's creepy ex-schoolfriend.

I liked it, didn't love it, but it did have some very funny moments. especially when Kinnear's character is on screen.

It's a 15 rating, but bear in mind that if you take your 15 year old to watch it (like I did) you'll have to sit through dozens of jokes about oral sex. Yep, awkward.

You can view the trailer here.

And finally, a word about a film we watched quite by chance. Rudderless, which is currently on Netflix, is the story of a grieving father who discovers his deceased son's songwriting book and demo tapes. At first he uses the music as a form of therapy but things get complicated when he starts to pass it off as his own work. A really interesting story with great music and an unexpected twist halfway through, we really enjoyed it and were still talking about it a couple of days later. Definitely worth a watch.