Thank you

At the beginning of the month, I wrote a blog post about the Boots Feel Good Forum for the Mumsnet Bloggers Network. Last week, I was lucky enough to receive a fabulous package in the post containing some beautiful Boots goodies. It was a stylish No.7 paper bag, full of creams, makeup, face wipes and other exciting things. 

I love Boots products and I’d really been looking forward to receiving it. A couple of weeks ago though, I heard that my local animal shelter were struggling to raise funds. One dog in particular was difficult to rehome because of behavioural issues and they were concerned that they were going to have to put her to sleep. She was really unhappy at the shelter and they couldn’t afford to spend any more on a behaviouralist for her. I couldn’t afford to donate very much money to them so I realised that the only thing I could do with my fabulous gift from Boots was to give it to the shelter. They are always looking for raffle prizes and something that’s as good quality as this will make a great prize. 

So I popped down to the shelter today to give them the bag of goodies and while I was there, I took Lewis for a walk. He is just one of the fabulous dogs that are currently looking for a home. They also re-home cats but they don’t have many in at the moment because the cat pen is undergoing maintenance. 
So to Boots and Mumsnet from Lewis and all the other animals at the shelter, thank you. 

Disclaimer- this post is not sponsored, it’s more of an electronic thank-you note. Isn’t Lewis beautiful? 


What are you getting for dad?

As one of 5 siblings, the phrase “what are you getting for dad” is one of the most overused sentences in our family. Christmas, birthdays and Father’s day, none of us can ever decide what to buy him. He doesn’t need anything and therefore he doesn’t want anything. He is also honest to a fault, so if we get something he doesn’t like, he will make it very clear what he thinks about us wasting our money on that.

So, I got to thinking. We can’t be the only ones with very little imagination and a dad who has everything. I’ve never done a linky on my blog before, but I thought that now might be a good time to start. I’ve got a list of 10 ideas for “dad gifts”. Not all of them are suitable for my dad, some of them we’ve already bought him. But with my 10 ideas, if just 9 other people link up, we’ve got a total of 100 ideas. Surely, from a list of 100 ideas, there’s something for even the most fussy of dads? If you’d like to join in, just write your 10 ideas into a blog post and add yourself to the linky below. So, I’ll start:  

  1. Personalised poster. This is a lovely idea because the words are your own. There are six lines available that you can personalise. If your dad is the sentimental type, he will absolutely love it. I’m particularly thinking of some fellow bloggers who write amazing poetry, what a lovely thing to give to your dad. 
  2. Games console controller. This is one for the modern dads who love to spend their evenings on their games consoles but struggle to find the perfect controller. 
  3. A DAB radio. I think this one might be heading my dad’s way this father’s day. A modern gadget that is simple enough for a very un-modern man like my dad to use. Fantastic. 
  4. Lunch at a luxury hotel. Some restaurants do a special father’s day lunch. I think this is a fabulous idea. It’s something I haven’t noticed before, many places do a mother’s day lunch but father’s day seems to be somewhat missed sometimes. Even my dad would enjoy a nice meal out with the family. 
  5. Picnic with all the family. If buying lunch for dad is a bit outside of your budget, how about something you can make yourself? Everyone enjoys a picnic and most dads would love a day out with the family with all their favourite things for lunch, lovingly prepared by their offspring.
  6. A personalised gift hamper. This is what we did for our dad for Christmas. Between the 5 of us, we managed to scrape together £100. We chose all of the things that we knew dad would love from his favourite shops. For our dad, it was all food and drink. It kept him going for ages and he loved the thought that had gone into it.
  7. A winery tour. These days there are many delicious wines produced in the UK. My dad is a bit of a traditionalist and he doesn’t seem convinced that we have the climate to make good wine. I’m thinking of arranging for him to go on a winery tour in the hope that the wine tasting at the end will convince him otherwise!
  8. A round of golf. This is what I got for dad last year. I was hoping he would be able to take my younger brother along, but the voucher I got him was for over 18’s only. So dad and his friend went for a day out and a round of golf. They both loved it.
  9. Family photo. A few years ago, we got a large canvas done of the whole family for my dad. He really appreciated it. A great gift for the man who has everything.
  10. College course. This is a slightly more unusual idea, but there are lots of great courses at local colleges. I know that my dad would love to do a course in violin making. 

I hope that one of these ideas might help you out, I’d love to see yours! 

Disclaimer- this is a sponsored blog post but the views, opinions, dad who has everything and inordinate number of siblings are all mine. 

Taking the next step

In October last year, I gave up a secure, full-time job to start up a business for a friend. The attraction of the new business was that I would be able to work from home so that I could look after my baby. I’d gone back to work when Libby was only just 3 months old and it tore me apart. When I was offered a job that would allow me to be with her, I couldn’t turn it down.

Our business is  It is a lowest unique bid auction website where people can bid to win a holiday home. The website is up and running and we have just run our first competition. This closed last night and we gave away a trip to Paris for two people. The winner is delighted and we will be putting their photograph on our website in a few days. Sadly though, the first competition didn’t make a profit. In fact, very few people entered, we had less than 100 bids in total.

We are changing the format for the next auction, everybody’s first entry will be free. The idea is that people pay £1 for every further bid they place. This would be how the business makes a profit. It is our intention to give 10% of our profits to a fabulous charity called Maternity Worldwide… that’s if we ever make any profit.

We have decided to give the website a further three months, after which we will decide whether it shows the potential to be a viable business. This is why I hope beyond hope that somebody might be able to help me with some marketing advice. I have a budget of around £1000 per month for marketing / advertising. I work full time on this and I am learning the ropes of social media day by day. I would love it if somebody could give me some advice on the best way to market our business to the right people.

I feel that we have issues around people trusting us and believing that it’s not a scam. I have had some great advice through my blog already, particularly from +Jake Dyson and I hope that someone might be able to point me in the right direction regarding submitting press releases. I have never done anything like this before and I think this might be the best way to go, alongside use of social media as Jake has recommended. My questions are:
  • ·    What sort of person would be likely to be interested in this sort of competition and what publications would they read? How can I find this out?
  • ·    How do I submit a press release and what information should it contain?
  • ·    Is this the best way to go or would adverts be more effective?
Thank you so much for reading and I would be so grateful for any comments. I would dearly love to make this business work both to repay the trust my friend has placed in me by employing me and to allow me to continue in this amazing job that allows me to spend time with my daughter. 

A free kick up the backside courtesy of Vistaprint

Where work is concerned, I am incredibly organised. I hate having to-do lists hanging over me, everything has to be done now. I often stay up until the early hours of the morning to make sure that any work that needs doing is done. Why is it then, that when it comes to my home life, my organisational skills escape through my ears and nothing ever gets done? 

So when Vistaprint asked me to review one of their photo books, I could think of just the right photographs to put in it… all the photographs I have taken for the last 18 months. This covers our honeymoon right through to Libby aged 10 months. I had absolutely no photos printed. I am so grateful to Vistaprint for giving me a well-needed shove to finally get around to doing it. 
Photo books are, in my opinion, the best thing to come out of digital photography. These days, nobody prints photos like they used to. We all look at photographs on mobile phones or computer screens, but there is nothing like a proper photo. Photo books can overcome all of this and they are so much more convenient and less fiddly than an old-fashioned album. 

Due to the sheer volume of photographs that I had stacked up, I went for Vistaprint’s extra large book. You can have this with a smart leather cover, but as a vegetarian I’m not a big fan of gratuitous leather. Regardless of that, I felt that a

better option was to have one of my own photographs as the book cover. I also went for the glossy paper. This really makes it look and feel like good old-fashioned photographs. And of course, I added extra pages. This is really straight forward and I was able to easily find space for all of my photos. 

I have made a few photo books in the past and, whilst I adore the finished product, I always dread making them. They take days and days. Strangely though, this one was different. I downloaded the Vistaprint photo editing software. This took only a few seconds to download and worked instantly. You also have the option of auto-fill and of doing it online, but with so many photos that I wanted to include, I enjoyed having the flexibility to change the layout, size and number of photos on each page. 

Despite choosing the more complicated option and agonising over each page, the book took me just a couple of hours to put together. I would even go as far as to say that I enjoyed it. This is a vast improvement on the last few books I have made, which have been about as pleasurable as pulling teeth. Not only was the experience of making this book painless, the result, as you can see, is absolutely beautiful even if I do say so myself. 

Disclaimer- I was given a free photo book for reviewing this product. I didn’t really get an actual kick up the backside. The views, opinions, photos, lack of organisation and shocked looking baby are all mine. 

Traditional… or contemporary?

I think this sunshine is starting to go to my head! We’re still dodging showers here at the moment, but when the sun puts in an appearance, it’s lovely and warm. This time last year I was heavily pregnant and we’d recently moved back into my house from my husband’s flat and were making the most of having a garden. This meant that we’d already had about 6 barbeques by the end of April. Sadly this year, it’s a different story.

Not only has the weather been somewhat lacklustre this year, my motivation for being out on the patio has massively dwindled. It’s a lovely sun-trap and it’s always great to be outside, but I’m just not feeling the love for the dated paving slabs surrounded by concrete. We’ve got a nice new patio table but that just isn’t enough to reignite my patio love. It’s time to bring out the big guns- we need some outdoor decking.
So, picture the scene. We live in a semi-rural area with our small patio backing straight onto an overgrown nature reserve. From the patio, we have a fabulous view of the hills. What sort of decking do I go for? Traditional?
Or contemporary?
I absolutely love the contemporary ones, but I think that the traditional would fit more nicely into our garden, particularly with the nature reserve at the back and the view of the hills. What do you think? I would be really grateful if you would just leave a quick comment below just saying traditional or contemporary. If we have an overwhelming majority in favour of one or the other, I think this might save any arguments in our house!
Disclaimer- this blog is sponsored but the indecision, clapped out patio, potential for household arguments over the decking and beautiful view of the hills are all mine.

Foraging for gin!

Oh how times have changed! 10 years ago, foraging for gin would have meant something completely different. It would have been about 4am and I’d have been staggering round a bar mine-sweeping drinks. 

Fast forward to 2013 and foraging for gin takes on a whole new meaning. Every year around the autumn, I try to do something a little bit creative. Don’t ask me why, maybe the autumnal colours bring out my artistic side. I have made a Christmas cake for the last few years and I usually manage to find time to make something else that uses up some of the wild and home grown fruit and vegetables that can be found in abundance at that time of year. I’ve made chutney a couple of times, usually containing mainly apples, green tomatoes and courgettes because it’s what we seem to end up overrun with. My personal favourite though is sloe gin.

Sloe gin is dead easy to make, it’s based on just buying a bulk load of cheap, supermarket’s own brand gin. The slightly more tricky part is picking the sloes. You have to wait until after the first frost so that the sloes are split. Alternatively, you can pierce them yourself after picking, or put them in your freezer overnight to cause them to split. I prefer the natural method, particularly as the first frost is a great alarm clock to awaken my inner gin monster and remind me to pick the sloes. 

This year though, I’m going to do things a little bit differently. Every Christmas, I catch up with some friends and we swap Christmas gifts. They often come along with fabulous offerings such as home-made biscuits or jams, and this year my friend gave me a bottle of sloe gin. I’m ashamed to admit that having recently started combining working with looking after Libby, by Christmas I hadn’t managed to find the time to make anything other than a rather late, sorrowful Christmas cake. This led to me turning up with a shop bought bottle of cider for each of my friends at our Christmas gathering. Oh the shame!

Well, it’s not happening again. This year, I’m starting early. I’m starting in May to be precise. You see it’s not just sloes that can be turned into great gin. I’ve discovered that most fruit can be combined with various cheap liquors to make home-made delicacies. I’m talking cherry brandy, strawberry vodka, blackberry gin… the list goes on. I’m going to start to keep an eye on what fruit is seasonal and where I can forage for it. Then I’m going to start making everything early and make as many bottles as I can. This year, I even have a secret weapon. Bottle labels! Beautiful though my friend’s bottle of sloe gin is, mine are going to really stand out this year with professionally printed labels and everything. Look out friends and family, Plutonium Sox home-made liquors are heading your way! 
Disclaimer- this is a sponsored post but views, suggestions, inner gin monsters and the mine-sweeping ghost of Christmas past are all mine. 

A business in the balance

Tomorrow is the last day of the Win My Holiday Home competition to win a trip to Paris. The competition is a lowest unique bid auction costing £1.00 per bid. At the moment, less than 100 people have bid on it. The winner of the auction is likely to end up paying a matter of a few pence for their holiday. So now a decision has to be made as to where we take the business from here. 

It’s very difficult to know at this point whether we will continue with the lowest unique bid auction model and, if so, how we will market it. Very few people currently know about us or our competition. This auction has been very experimental, we have only advertised in one online magazine, Female First, where we have run a free competition, also ending tomorrow. 
I like to think that we will try another auction with a bit more marketing behind it. I hope that people will trust us a bit more once we have a winner who is able to vouch for us that we are genuine and they had a great holiday. Our aim is to grow the business large enough to make a bit of a profit so that it’s worth our while and we can give some money to our fabulous partner charity, Maternity Worldwide. You can read all about them on our website

In the meantime, the odds of winning a trip to Paris are probably better than you’ll find them anywhere else. Even if we don’t end up pursuing the business, somebody is going to have a fabulous holiday that only costs them a few pence. I’ve been over to our apartment in Paris and it’s absolutely lovely. I’m so excited about finding out who the winner is tomorrow night and letting them know over the weekend!

Come on then summer, show us what you’re made of!

Everything has changed in our household over the past few days. Spring has finally sprung and, slightly earlier than anticipated, Libby appears to have sprung as well- sprung to her feet! With her new-found walking ability, she just wants to be outside ALL of the time. 

I have had it in the back of my mind all winter that I was neglecting my garden. Last year, I managed to grow some vegetables and we at least kept the lawn and borders in check. Sadly, over the winter I’ve totally let it go. The borders are a mess, the greenhouse is empty and the lawn is overgrown and not looked after. Libby’s sudden love of the great outdoors, grass in particular, has made me realise it’s time to sort it all out and child-proof the lawn. 

I’ve been doing a bit of research and have found some great tips and some products that should rescue my poor lawn! Not only have I found out what I need to do to sort my lawn out now, I’ve also learned some lessons on what I’ve done wrong in the past!

So it turns out I need to do a bit more with the lawn than just mow it. We’ve got bare patches on the lawn from dog urine (nice). It’s not enough just to fence it off to stop the dogs from going on there, I need to do a bit more to it to get it up to toddler standard.

I’m going to start by sharpening the lawnmower blades. Ok, I doubt I will actually do this myself. However, last time my dad tried helping me in the garden, he cut through the hedge trimmer cable. At least 4 times. And my husband? Sharpening a sharp thing? I don’t think so.  But anyway, the blades need to be really sharp or they’ll just rip the grass out at the roots, causing (even more) bare patches.

Whilst I’m messing with the mower, I’m going to have to make sure that it’s not set to mow too short. This causes the roots to be exposed and you end up with weeds coming through and a lawn lacking in moisture.

The final thing I’m going to do with my lawn is to use a couple of products. I’m going to go for some after cut to feed and condition the lawn and kill the weeds. I’m also going to get some patch-fix that contains grass seed to sort out our bare patches.

Come on then summer, bring it on, we’re ready for you… Ok, maybe I need to sort out the borders too before somebody does themselves some damage… 

Disclaimer- this is a sponsored post but views, opinions and male family members that can’t be trusted with sharp objects or electrical items are all mine. As is the dog caught in the above plant. Don’t worry I’ve let him out now, no animals were harmed in the making of this blog post. 

Pluto to the Palace

Last year during the pathetic washed out excuse for a British summer, some Japanese students came to stay with us. Keen to show them the best of the British countryside and culture, we headed for nearby Eastnor Castle.

It wasn’t until we arrived that we realised that Eastnor allowed dogs not only into their grounds, but also into the Castle itself. Since that day, I’ve started to look online at wherever we want to go out for the day to see if they allow dogs. I’ve been so surprised at the places that do! 

If you have a pet dog, I’m a firm believer that they are part of the family. Dogs become distressed if left alone for long periods of time so when going out for the day, I always think it’s sensible to take the dogs with you where possible. Of course they should never be left in the car though, especially in hot weather. More information about how to keep your dog happy and healthy can be found here

Over the past few years we’ve taken our dogs on all sorts of days out. Here are a few of my favourites:

  • Stately homes, palaces and castles. Locally to us, Eastnor Castle, Blenheim Palace and Croome Court all allow dogs to visit. The latter two both have some restrictions on where they can go within the grounds. The National Trust have quite a lot of places that welcome dogs, but don’t forget that other places often do too.
  • Farm Parks- Many farm parks will allow dogs to have a wander around with you. Our dogs aren’t wonderful with other dogs or cats, but they’re perfectly fine when face to face with a pig or a goat.
  • Zoos- My personal favourite day out with the dogs was to the Cotswold Wildlife Park. Pluto’s expression when face to face with a lion was only bettered by the shock Soxa displayed when she saw an armadillo.
  • Museums- a select few museums will welcome dogs. It’s always worth checking with them before you go.
  • Canoeing- pick up a canine life jacket and your dog can either go in the canoe with you (if it’s a Canadian type) or, if you really want to do it in style, your dog could be towed along behind you in their own boat, as demonstrated by Captain Soxa!

  • Canal Boat- Many hirers will allow you to take your dog along on a day out. We went even further and hired a boat for the week. The dogs loved their holiday!

Disclaimer- this post is sponsored, but views, recommendations, photographs, dogs, life jackets, boats and armadillos are all mine. (Ok, maybe not the armadillo!)