A trip to London for the HP Instant Ink Print Party

HP Instant Ink Print Party | Oyster and Pearl UK family/lifestyle blog
HP Instant Ink Print Party | Oyster and Pearl UK family/lifestyle blog
HP Instant Ink Print Party | Oyster and Pearl UK family/lifestyle blog
HP Instant Ink Print Party | Oyster and Pearl UK family/lifestyle blog
HP Instant Ink Print Party | Oyster and Pearl UK family/lifestyle blog
HP Instant Ink Print Party | Oyster and Pearl UK family/lifestyle blog
HP Instant Ink Print Party | Oyster and Pearl UK family/lifestyle blog

A few weeks back we were invited to head for the big smoke to a special bloggers' party hosted by HP (not the sauce, the printer peeps). The boys and I travelled up by train, noses pressed up to the window as the fields whooshed by, and sped across town in a black taxi cab. I think my kids would've been quite happy if that had been our London experience, but much more fun ensued.

We arrived at Maggie and Rose in Kensington, the most beautiful kid-friendly venue I've ever been to, for lunch and a bit of dressing up in the photo booth. T was dressed in his skeleton costume, which made him very easy to spot among the rest of the blog kiddos. Before long, the activities began. HP’s resident ink expert, Thom Brown, explained all about the amazing science behind original HP Ink, and the kids had fun looking through a lens at the tiny dots of ink that make up a printed photograph. Optical illusions, colour mixing, and drawing sessions kept little ones occupied all afternoon.

Back home, we took delivery of our HP ENVY printer, and begin putting our new-found knowledge into action. The first pic to be printed was one of a fruit bat - T's all-time favourite animal - and it came out perfectly. More and more photos were printed by my children, who found the printer's touchscreen interface a doddle to use. Have a look and see what made it to our fridge door.



Want to join in? Mobile phones are full of our latest, spontaneous pics of our kids but often that’s where they stay - stuck and imprisoned on our device. If you look around your kitchen, on the fridge or noticeboard, how up to date are the pictures you see? How many of us still have pics of our kids as babies or toddlers on our fridge, when our little ones are long past the baby stage? It’s time to Free Your Pics! Tweet a pic using the hashtag #HPFreeYourPics; together we can update the nation's fridges!

Disclosure: we were compensated for this post.

Five reads for April


I Used to Be in Pictures: An Untold Story of Hollywood

Born in Surrey, England in 1972, twins Austin and Howard Mutti-Mewse were raised in a household that enjoyed classic black-and-white Hollywood movies, and aged 12, the pair enthusiastically began writing to their on-screen legends. Many responded with heartfelt, handwritten notes and signed pictures, with Lillian Gish the first actor to reply. The so-called First Lady of American Cinema was entranced by the twins’ “Englishness” and was followed by Katharine Hepburn, Frank Sinatra and Shirley Temple. Letters soon turned into invites for tea, and the twins made their first visit to Hollywood in 1992, long after the demise of the much-loved studio system. Over a decade later, the twins—who continue to keep in contact with surviving stars—compiled their treasured findings in the book, I Used to be in Pictures. Heavens to Betsy, have you ever heard of a more amazing book?


The Paying Guests

Sarah Waters' latest novel has just been nominated for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. Our latest book group read, The Paying Guests is a tale of two women who fall in love in the twenties, one of my favourite eras. The description of the chemistry between the two lead characters and the way in which their relationship develops is particularly worth reading.


Yes Please

Amy Poehler, what a dude. Yes Please is a memoir but done Amy's way (which is, of course, the best way one could ever approach a 'celebrity' memoir) - with exceptional humour and aching honesty. If you don't know it already, Amy's Smart Girls site is also brilliant.


Man's Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust

Doesn't sound that promising, does it? Nothing could be further from the truth. Viktor Frankl, a Viennese psychiatrist before the war, used his time in the concentration camp to observe human behaviour under the most extreme circumstances. He used this to refine his theory of psychotherapy, known as logotherapy, which focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as on a person's search for such meaning, and the consequent purpose. Frankl says that 'the meaning of life always changes, but... it never ceases to be', and that we really find ourselves when we find it.


Lost My Name

The cutest pair of books arrived on our doorstep the other day. The Little Boy Who Lost His Name tells the story of a child who has lost his name, and bravely sets off to track down the missing letters. Along the way he meets lots of weird and wonderful characters, who each give the first letter of their name. My two were enchanted.


What are you reading?


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Wishlist: Outdoor living



It’s that time of year - the clocks going forward mean evenings are light and long, and I long for warmth and fresh air. It’s time to spruce up the garden and get things ready for outdoor living. I have my eye on a few accessories for picnicking and parties, as well as eating outside and just a bit of lazing around in the sun (in feline fashion).

So, I’m after some outdoor furniture - a table and chairs, a rug, a deckchair or two, plus lighting and pots and pots full of pretty sweet peas, geraniums, and lavender. Add a blanket and candles for when the sun goes down (sundowners are always a good idea), and I’ll be set for summer. Here’s what’s on my wishlist.

1. Tolix style dining chair, Lakeland Furniture
2. Alaska picnic blanket, Urbanara
3. Wooden deckchair, Tesco
4. Fiesta string lights, Cox and Cox
5. Vindalso trolley, IKEA
6. Fluted zinc planters, Cox and Cox
7. Folding bistro table, Tesco (as above)
8. Natural picnic basket, Habitat
9. Nipprig sofa, IKEA
10. Montana ceramic plant pot, Habitat
11. Sundero lounger, IKEA
12. Attica outdoor rug, Habitat

Head over to Pinterest for a glimpse of my dream garden in this Outdoor living board.

Follow Lottie | Oyster & Pearl's board Outdoor living on Pinterest.

This is the third in my trio of seasonal Easter posts. Read the first and second here.

Interiors: Decorating for Easter


Not long now until a weekend wall-to-wall with chocolate, bunnies and fun. As well as being utterly obsessed with bats and ‘scary things’, T has something of a thing for the Easter Bunny. He even has a horribly synthetic white and pink bunny costume; it was his very favourite Christmas present. Weird.

I love the idea of making a fuss at Easter. We are not religious, instead opting to focus on the pagan celebration of spring and its bounty. With this in mind, we’ll be decorating with blossom-heavy branches stuffed into giant vases, getting fresh air into our lungs with a romp in the countryside, and baking up a sweet-smelling fug in the kitchen with our annual hot cross bun bake off - here’s the recipe we use each year.

HomeSense has plenty of lovely bits and pieces to make your Easter table pretty as a picture. I’m particularly enamoured with their idea of using empty shells as little translucent tea light decorations (pictured above). Break the top off an egg, gently clean and place a tea light inside, then just balance on a small glass. I’ll be giving it a go with those charming blue-shelled eggs you get from the posh supermarkets.

And I can’t think of anything sweeter than these eggshells planted up with white muscari in bloom.



What about these polka dot eggs?



Decorate white eggs with a sharpie for monochrome chic.



Wooden eggs with paint and tape are an easy, modern make.



These bouffant lady eggs are faintly ridiculous (perhaps why I like them).



What are your Easter plans?

Head over to Pinterest for plenty of baking and decorating ideas on my Easter | Buns and Bunnies board.

Follow Lottie | Oyster & Pearl's board Easter | Buns & Bunnies on Pinterest.

This is the second of three Easter-themed posts. The first is here and the third is coming soon.

This post is in association with HomeSense.

Easter eggs and sweet treats


Chocoholics unite! It’s almost our weekend. There is nothing finer (in my humble opinion) than reaching into the fridge for a small snap of Easter egg chocolate, its thin shell just crisp and cold enough to satisfy my sweet tooth.

Here is my pick of the best eggs (and other seasonal treats) this year:

1. Milk Chocolate with Butterscotch Eco Egg, Abel & Cole
2. Milk chocolate Easter dolls, Maison Pierre Marcolini
3. Beatrix Potter Easter biscuits, The Biscuiteers icon
4. Mog egg cup, Donna Wilson
5. Scrumple nutty truffle Easter egg, Monty Bojangles
6. Rose and violet cream Easter egg, Charbonnel & Walker
7. Giant carrot, Lindt

This is the first of three seasonal posts this week. Stay tuned for Easter table decorating ideas and a outdoor living wishlist.

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Interiors: Flooring options





The house I live in now is the first I’ve had with carpet. Used to pine floorboards and rugs, these cosy carpeted bedrooms, landing and stairs are something of a revelation to me. So warm! It got me thinking about other types of flooring, and how a range of textures, colours and styles within one home can add interest.

As well as carpet and stripped floors, my home has quarry tiles in the kitchen and painted boards in the bathroom, but I’ve been looking at vinyl as well. Often dismissed as being a rather industrial option, not necessarily well suited to domestic interiors, vinyl has recently had a makeover. Softer shades and less commercial designs make it a real option for modern homes.

What do you think? Would you consider vinyl flooring?

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Inspired by... / o5 - Jan Pienkowski





Known best for his illustrations of Meg and Mog, Jan Pienkowski was a Polish artist who worked alongside many different authors to create visual representations of imaginary worlds.

His style varied from the bold but benign, black-outlined primary drawings of the aforementioned witch and her cat, to more ethereal, eerie illustrations of fairy tales and folklore.

My favourite works are the perfect marriage of words and pictures, and two of my most treasured childhood books - Joan Aiken’s A Necklace Of Raindropsand The Kingdom Under the Sea. Eastern European folk tales of a tiger that runs faster than the wind; a huge floating apple pie with a piece of sky in it; a baker’s cat who swells to the size of a whale when his mistress feeds him yeast; and a house that stands on one leg - as a child, I was enchanted.

Pienkowski’s eye translated this magical mythology into marbled backgrounds of jewel-like blues and greens or fiery orange and red, overlaid with intricate paper cut silhouettes. I have always had a thing for silhouettes, born of a fascination with a tiny, framed 18th century profile that hung on the walls of my childhood home, and tried my hand at paper cutting (or scherenschnitte) a few years back. It’s certainly an acquired skill and one that made my hand ache, paralysed into a scissor claw for quite some time afterwards.

The standout story is the one I think of often - A Necklace of Raindrops. The tale of a little girl whose father freed the North Wind after he had become trapped in a thorn bush when she was a baby. The North Wind became her godfather, giving her a magical necklace and returning each year on her birthday to give her a raindrop to hang on the chain. Each raindrop was charmed, allowing the little girl to perform ever wondrous weather-related enchantments. One day, the necklace is stolen and the girl travels the earth to find it. I shan’t spoil it - it’s one to read yourself. But I will just say that it’s a story that has stayed with my throughout my life, giving me a love of magical stories, Pienkowski’s paper cuts, and climatological peculiarities.

Cadigans / 02


Cadigans 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.

Here are the thingumajigs that are doing it for me right now:

Dancing jellies

How to make a couture dress in 200 hours. The workmanship!

This beautiful music (made by the man pictured above)

A very important piece

So tempted by this

This animated short

I have to visit this place

This AMAZING woman. I cried

And, with the most intriguing of names, this fragrance

............................

Do you have any minor obsessions at the moment?


Mother's Day gift ideas






Not interested in boxes of chocolates or scented candles? I'm a mother and I never feel drawn to those Mother's Day ranges displayed in the run up to the Sunday itself (a week today in the UK). Instead, I think it's worth thinking laterally, coming up with a few things I'd really love - beautiful, well-designed bits and bobs that will bring a smile every time they're used.

1. A new basket for my knitting paraphernalia - this one is made from recycled paper and woven palm. From £12, RE

2. Flowers are never a bad idea. These Mothers Day Flowers are from Debenhams - delivered, they cost £44.99.

3. Personalised gifts are lovely, and these double sided hanging picture frames from Decorator's Notebook make it easy to sandwich souvenirs and memories between glass. From £12.95.

4. No thanks to synthetic soaps. Try a traditional Provencal soap from Labour & Wait in lavender, verbena or sandalwood. £3.50.

5. I LOVE incense. Making my home smell delightful is one of life's simple pleasures. Head over to The Future Kept to read the description of this Ume Mogao incense. I can't imagine how glorious it smells! £11.00.

6. A thing of beauty is a joy forever, as a great philosopher (Mary Poppins) once said. Tactile kitchenware objects are a minor obsession of mine. This shallow dish is made from oak. £22.00 from John Lewis.

7. Finally, a pair of cashmere bedsocks are bound to please even the fussiest of mothers. £35.00 from The White Company.

I hope my mum isn't reading this... What are you planning to get for yours? And what would you like, mums?


Want 25% off a bouquet? Oyster & Pearl and Debenhams have got together to offer you a discount code for any Flower Delivery (excluding the Flowers By Post range). Just enter the code DFBLOG25.

Happy shopping!

Recipe: Welsh cakes | Raise some dough with Comic Relief


Welsh cakes are one of my very favourite teatime snacks. If I have to do a quick shop before the school run then I always pick up a packet to have once we we're back at the house, massive mug of tea to accompany the soft, curranty cakes; a moment of peace before the teatime/bathtime/bedtime madness.

Now, though, that I've made my own Welsh cakes at home, I've spoilt everything. I will never again be able to enjoy the shop-bought ones, knowing how incredibly different and vastly better the homemade ones taste. Plus, they are super easy. I mean, like, ten minutes from start to finish. I know!

There are traditional recipes all over the internet, and I see no reason to mess with this classic combination. You probably have everything you need in the house already.

Welsh cakes

225g plain flour
85g caster sugar
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp baking powder
100g butter, cut into small pieces (plus a bit for the pan)
50g currants
1 egg, beaten
A splash of milk

Method

1. Tip the flour, sugar, mixed spice, baking powder and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Then, with your fingers, rub in the butter until crumbly. OR - lazybones - bung everything into a food processor and press 'on'.
2. Mix in the currants. Work the egg into the mixture until you have soft dough, adding a splash of milk if it seems a little dry – it should be the same consistency as shortcrust pastry.
3. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface to the thickness of your little finger. Cut out rounds using a 6cm cutter, re-rolling any trimmings. If you don't have a cutter, use a glass like wot we did.
4. Grease a flat griddle pan or heavy frying pan with butter, and place over a medium heat. Cook the Welsh cakes in batches, for about 3 mins each side, until golden brown, crisp and cooked through.
5. Transfer the hot cakes to a dish of caster sugar and flip them over, doughnut style, until they have a layer of sugar coating them.

Cakes will stay fresh in a tin for one week.

Ha ha. There's a reason for that hot cakes expression.


If you think that's funny, you might also want to think about getting into the kitchen this week and baking to #raisesomedough for Comic Relief. As you can see, A pinched my new Comic Relief apron (the profits from each sale go to Comic Relief to help people living incredibly hard lives in Africa and the UK, making it a practical and charitable purchase). You can buy your apron here and #raisesomedough for Comic Relief, and when you've baked your masterpiece share it on social media using the hashtag. There will also be a twitter party between 1pm-2pm on Feb the 10th under the same hashtag if you fancy joining in the chat!
This post is in association with HomeSense.

Wishlist: Spring wardrobe




Hello spring! Looking out of my window while I write I can see blue skies and sunshine. And that means shedding layers of woollen knits in favour of lighter layers. This season I'll be going for classic styling with unexpected shots of bright colour.

Here's what I've got my eye on - clockwise from top left:

1. Classic Breton top, Muji, £29
2. Hexagonal necklace, Oliver Bonas, £25
3. Cream Merino wool lemon jumper, JW Anderson, £265
4. Navy midi skirt, Gap, £39.95
5. Soller tan sandals, Hudson, £80
6. Uashmama Alle Everyday Handbag, The Future Kept, £80


Which is your favourite from the wishlist? What does your spring wardrobe look like?

Oh, and if you're into the Breton thing, head over to my Contrast | Stripes & Spots Pinterest board for more monochrome.


Follow Lottie | Oyster & Pearl's board Contrast | Stripes & Spots on Pinterest.

Five reads for March



It's World Book Day, as those endless pictures of kids in amazing costumes on Facebook will attest. In honour of this auspicious occasion, I'm dedicating this month's Five reads to children's literature. But not just any kid fiction, I've gone all out with a top five of the bedtime stories guaranteed to bring a lump to the throat (if not the full-blown heaving sobs).


The Snail and the Whale

Julia Donaldson is a genius, no question. Every one a winner etc, but there's something about the meter of The Snail and the Whale that hits the spot like no other. The kindness of the whale, the way the snail saves the day, the happy ever after ending - if my kids ask me to read this when I'm feeling a bit precious then it's waterworks all the way.


Peepo!

The Ahlbergs have a special place in my heart and my love for their work knows no bounds. Each Peach Pear Plum is one I can recite with my eyes closed, and Burglar Bill and Funnybones are both favourites from my childhood. But Peepo! Oh, Peepo! It conjures up such a dreamy, nostalgic 1940s world. Only recently did I spot the soldier's uniform worn by the baby's father in one of the final pages, reflected in the mirror, a wistful look in both parents' eyes, as he prepared to go off to war. Sob.


Where The Wild Things Are

The bit where it says 'Max wanted to be where someone loved him best of all'. Don't we all?


Who Will Comfort Toffle?

A tale of Moomin Valley centred around shy little Toffle (pictured), who lives on the outskirts, unseen and unloved. Until he meets Miffle, a similarly timid character. It ends happily, but the journey is a heartbreaker.


Dogger

Classic Shirley Hughes, her illustrations are so evocative and bring a tear to the eye at the best of things. When I asked my friends for their contributions to this list, loads mentioned Dogger, specifically the bit where Dave's sister Bella 'did something very, very kind', and swapped her newly won teddy with the staring eyes for Dogger. Quietly moving.


What would you add to this list? Which bedtime stories make your voice wobble?


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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.

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