Blogconf




On Saturday, I did something I've always been completely terrified of doing. I spoke at a conference.

A couple of months back, I opened an email from Blogconf, inviting me to speak. My instinct was to politely decline, but I thought about it for a while, checked the date, and realised that Blogconf was happening exactly ten years to the day from the very first blog post I ever published. A decade of blogging, book-ended with a talk about how I made the transition from writing in the evenings to making it my career. The universe was trying to tell me something.

The talk I gave ended up as a double act with Lara Watson, editor of Mollie Makes. Together, we led a session for an hour, discussing how freelancers work with magazines, and setting a couple of tasks for the group. It was vastly less terrifying than I'd ever thought possible. I'd almost go so far as to say I enjoyed it.

Conferences are a brilliant way to network with fellow bloggers. It can be such a solitary pursuit making human contact and shared experiences very necessary. One way to get interaction with other creatives is through new networking site, Hiive. Designed specifically to bring together writers, photographers, designers, animators, and other creative professionals, Hiive bridges the gap for freelancers and offers support, collaboration, ideas and events. Go check it out.

Oh, and I also took my new Logitech keys-to-go portable keyboard for iPad as it's so light and easy to use. Definitely one to add to my office-in-a-bag.


Thanks to Blogconf for asking me to speak, Hiive for collaborating on this post, and Logitech for sending me the keyboard.

Hearts and crafts













On Saturday, the kids threw a Valentine's Day party for their friends. As you can see, they had a blast - making masks, sweet hearts on sticks, origami cards and heart-shaped deedie boppers, while munching on the most delicious doughnuts and far too many sweets, and leaping about trying to catch hold of the zillions of balloons that covered the ceiling.

To throw your own Valentine's Day party, you will need:

Food - go all out with this!

Heart-shaped jam sandwiches, fit for a Wonderland tea party
Beautiful, divine doughnuts - ours were vegan chocolate, lemon and glazed doughnuts from The Mighty Food Fight
All the heart-shaped sweets you can lay your hands on
Pink strawberry Pocky sticks
Pink milkshake or apple & raspberry juice
And Hula Hoops. No party is complete without Hula Hoops

Decorations

A red, white and black colour scheme can never go wrong (think White Stripes back in the day)
Red, pink and heart-shaped balloons, filled with helium for extra excitement - we used a party kit from Balloontime to inflate our helium balloons at home
White festoon lights - these always say party, don't they?
Window crayons to write a welcome note to guests
Sticker-bombed dinosaur (or valentinosaur) - optional

Activities

Number one tip: hire the wonderful folks at Let's Make Art to take care of everything for you. They brought everything needed to make the masks, hearts on sticks, origami, deedie boppers, as well as the giant heart photo booth, and sat with the kids to make their wares.
Otherwise, Pinterest is clearly the best source of brilliant ideas - have a look over here for printables, heart paper chain tutorials, crowns and more.


Did you celebrate Valentine's Day? What did you do?


Disclosure: 
I'm working with BritMums and Balloon Time as part of the Celebration Club, highlighting inventive and fun ways of using balloons. 
I was provided with a Balloon Time helium kit and have been compensated for my time. 
All editorial and opinions are my own. 
Visit www.balloontime.com for more information and party inspiration.

Thanks to Let's Make Art, The Mighty Food Fight, and UK Christmas World for their contributions.

Room with a view








I love blogger events. There are always so many pictures of people taking pictures to take. So many shoes to photograph. But mainly a lot of chat and a hella good time.

Last week, I was invited to an event by Rooms Made for You at the Shangri-La Hotel up on the 35th floor of the Shard. Well, there’s an offer. Hanging out drinking coffee with Katy, Lori, Heather and Fritha was a good way to start the day, before we all piled into the lift - it had two buttons: G or 35. Very Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. When the lift had made its speedy ascent, the doors glided apart and we were hit with a beautiful, breathtaking view across London.

Rooms Made for You is a range by British Gypsum. It’s a trio of products that are innovative ways to make your home more versatile, quieter and easier to decorate. First, there’s the Magnetic Plaster. Although I’ve never used it myself, I’ve heard that magnetic paint can be a bit useless. This stuff is different. Instead of a normal skim coat of plaster, use this version and the entire wall is magnetic. Think of the possibilities! I love the idea of doing the kids’ bedroom walls in this stuff as they’re forever hanging swimming certificates or ‘star of the week’ on the walls with tape.

Another product that would go down a storm with parents of exuberant kiddos (is there any other kind?) is Silent Floor - this insulates your ceilings from noise to prevent music, telly or any other blaring sounds from disturbing those upstairs. Could do with that in the kids’ bedrooms, too. Tick.

Finally, we learnt about the Lifestyle Wall - a new plasterboard that looks identical to bog standard plasterboard but is infinitely stronger. Hang 15kg objects using just one screw (which, incidentally, can be screwed into the wall using just a screwdriver - no drills or rawl plugs are necessary).

Such great products and such a fab event. We made our own magnets to take home, as well as trying to out-do each other by screwing as many screws into a piece of lifestyle wall as we could in one minute. I *may* have got a bit competitive at this point and drew a small amount of blood. That’s commitment for you.

I came away scheming and planning for our impending loft conversion… Rooms for my boys would be taken to the next level with these exciting products from Rooms Made for You.

My fellow bloggers were: Geraldine, Lucy, Tiffany, KatyFritha, Heather, Sarah-Louise, Lori, Chris and Kat.

Thanks to @Rooms Made for You for inviting me along.

Here are some beautiful, rather Pin-worthy pics of the products in action, styled by Becky Clarke.








Bristol 08 / Out of hibernation









You know those families who are always out and about, in the fresh air, whatever the weather? We are not one of those. You're much more likely to find us curled up on the sofa watching a film than waterproof-ed up and digging about in mud.

Sunday's beautiful sunshine tempted us out of hibernation, eyes blinking in the bright blue, and we made our way up to one of my very favourite places in Bristol - the Royal Fort Gardens. I have pictures of me playing here, probably younger than my children are now. I came and sat here when A was just a few days old, its proximity to the hospital in which he (and T, and I) came into the world making it the perfect spot for reflection.

It's also the perfect spot for reflection now, with an incredible mirrored piece of public art by Jeppe Hein mesmerising the boys the minute we arrived. We took bikes - T is on the verge of mastering bike-riding - and we also made our own fun. The Royal Fort Gardens is not a playground, nor a park in its true sense, but is full of trees to climb, hills to roll down, bushes to hide in, and plenty of flat grass for football and a game of 'What's the time, Mr Wolf?'.

I think Sunday may have persuaded us to become one of those outdoor families after all.

If you need more persuasion, have a look at the Sainsbury's Active Kids campaign, which aims to help inspire children to live healthier lives by supporting them to eat well, move well and live well.
Oyster & Pearl and Sainsbury's are giving away £200 of Sainsbury's vouchers plus signed merchandise to you, my lovely readers. Just follow the instructions below to enter:



a Rafflecopter giveaway

To increase your chances of winning, you can gain additional entries by:
Tweeting about the giveaway
Entering a Tweet or Facebook link showing a picture of your vouchers.

The giveaway will run until 12am on Saturday 11th April 2015.

Cadigans / 01



I've long wanted to write a regular post collecting my various whims and fancies of the day, week or month. Finally, here it is.

(Why cadigans? Well, I recently re-read my very first blog post - written on 21 February 2005 (I've been blogging for nearly ten years!) - where I talk about cadigans. They are placeholder words, those brilliantly esoteric, eccentric words such as knick-knack, whatjamacallit, thingumajig, doo-dah - words to describe things for which we have no words. It seemed appropriate.)

So, what's floating my boat right now?

The beautiful voice and lovely sounds of this woman.

The Folio Society - I wrote about them for The Simple Things. Watch their beautiful films and see how these beautiful books are crafted.

The photographs of Elliott Erwitt (pictured above) and this interview.

This incredible poetry:
“I want
To do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.”
♥ !

The rest of the world seems to have listened already, but this addictive podcast is powering my gym workouts.

And I made a batch of this today, filling the house with cinnamon, ginger and warmth. Try it.

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What's tickling your fancy at the moment?

Five reads for February





Women in Clothes: Why We Wear What We Wear

Miranda July (pictured) is one of more than six hundred women featured in Women in Clothes - a ‘brilliant and unique exploration of the questions we ask ourselves while getting dressed every day’. Super excited about going to see Miranda speak later this month. She is the bomb.


Bastard Out of Carolina

There is a song by Le Tigre called Hot Topic, in which the band shouts names of their heroes. Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina, is sung with extra oomph and it’s easy to see why. Described by The New York Times Book Review as ‘about as close to flawless as any reader could ask for’, I can't wait to read this modern classic.


This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart

Last year, I did an e-course by the rather brilliant Susannah Conway. You might’ve come across her blog at some point as she is rather prolific. But I hadn’t read her first book, until now. Part memoir, part self-help book, This I Know is painful and profound, but also beautiful and hopeful.


Mrs Dalloway

This month’s book group pick, I have done something with this book that I’ve never done before - downloaded the audio book. Last week, I listened to Clarissa’s story, Woolf’s beautiful words spoken by Juliet Stephenson, as I wandered the streets of London Town. A joy.


The Book of Life

Not actually a book but a website, The Book of Life is packed with intriguing chapters, constantly updated, about all aspects of modern living: captitalsm, work, relationships, self, future, curriculum. Written and published by my number one philosopher, Alain de Botton and his School of Life team, it’s really worth reading. Go follow A de B on Facebook and have a look at the School of Life on YouTube as well.


What are you reading at the mo?


Escape








There are places - wonderful places - that inspire the same descriptions over and over again. A hidden gem. A well-kept secret. A home away from home. And for good reason.

It's all true of At the Chapel. And, indeed, of the beautiful hotels and hip hideaways found on the books of i-escape. A few weeks back the two came together in the most delightful evening for bloggers. I was invited to the hotel in Bruton - one of my very favourites - to a drinks reception hosted by the travel company, who told us about their newly launched i-escape with kids section.

As jet-setting couples can sometimes feel hampered by the arrival of children, i-escape have carefully selected nearly 900 family destinations in 50 countries worldwide with the express purpose of making it easy to enjoy adventurous travel with little ones in tow. Enthusiastic travel experts showed us some of the properties on offer, while a speed-dating service made connections for us individually based on the adventures we'd blogged previously. Everything about the evening demonstrated an attention to detail and personalised approach that was impressive and reassuring, and everyone I met - i-escape staff, At the Chapel personnel, and fellow bloggers - was friendly, warm, and passionate.

After drinks and pizza in the downstairs club room, I headed up to my room for a deep bath and an even deeper sleep. In the morning, a bag of buttery but light croissants hung on my door handle for me to enjoy back in the enormous bed, a cafeteria of fresh coffee by my side.

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Thanks to i-escape for inviting me to the event, to At the Chapel for my stay, and to both for the images.
I review the hotel in the upcoming March issue of The Simple Things - look out for it on the newsstand at the end of February.

For more travel adventures, have a look here.


LEGO love



You don't need me to tell you how brilliant Lego is. There's a reason why it's repeatedly voted Best Toy Ever, both in the news and in this house.

My two love it. Lego is the only thing guaranteed to keep them entertained for any significant amount of time (and by significant, I mean enough time for me to actually get something done without being pestered for something or other). T is mesmerised by his Duplo Batman, Joker and Batmobile, while A's other main obsession in life is Minecraft, so the Minecraft Lego sets engender a reaction that is way beyond anything you'd reasonably expect from a box of coloured plastic.

George at Asda sent the kids a couple of boxes of Lego each, for which they cannot believe their luck and keep asking to play with it. Oh, go on then. Just a bit longer...

Thanks so much to George at Asda for gifting the boys these Lego sets. 
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