*We were kindly gifted some free rides, but we also paid for some ourselves*
Gosh, I feel so lucky that Carters Steam Fair comes to visit our little town every year - we went for the first time last year, you can read about that here, it was a lot sunnier last time which made for prettier pictures - but still, we only had a few light showers yesterday and the kids really enjoyed themselves.
The thing that I love about Carters is that it is vintage in all senses, the music, the rides, the stalls, it is like being transported to a bygone era. The fair opened at noon on Sunday and was soon bustling with people. You can buy tokens there or buy in advance online for better savings, the tokens work out at 50p each, with rides between 4-6 tokens per person.
Our 13 year old daughter, went up on Saturday evening with her friends and took some of her birthday money, she had great fun on the Lightning Skid - which looks like a waltzer but uses a foot peddle to control the motion of it and it doesn't have the bumps that a waltzer has. This ride is from the 1960s - they loved this one.
These rides and side stalls are like something out of the end scenes of Grease, and the music is spot on. This ride particularly reminds me of Grease, the Whirl-A-round Twist! It was built in the 1950s, a great ride, fast and fun.
The dodgems are always a favourite with my lot, the novelty of being able to drive makes them want multiple goes. This is another 1960s original. My son is a little too short to reach the peddle and not tall enough to ride alone (must be over 1.3m to ride alone) so he rode with Daddy and helped steer the car.
It is not a trip to the fair without a ride on The Gallopers! This absolute beaut was built in about 1895, it has been beautifully restored to its former glory. It is wonderful to watch the mechanisms working and see the musical pipes and the steam engine going. A real treat.
Last year the Steam Yachts weren't at the fair in Caterham, so my husband and daughter and her friend decided to have a go. I was slightly surprised that my 7 year old, non-daredevil son, followed them on, so I got on too. These aren't for the faint-hearted! These steam driven yachts are from the 1920s - think Mary Rose style galleon swing boat. These are deceptively high and you are not strapped in, being original rides, you have to lock your arms around the back of the seat which is a bench. I could see the regret in his eyes when the ride started, he was terrified, luckily the lovely man saw his pleas of anguish and stopped the ride so we could get him off. Lesson learnt there!
Fin went on the little train, much more his style. There are plenty of smaller rides for little children to enjoy. He also enjoyed winning a teddy on the hook-a-duck.
The girls went on the Ghost Train, I was told that they were sprayed with water in there and they both really enjoyed it, although I think Shannon had her eyes closed the entire time.
Another of Carters classic rides are the Chair O Planes, this is such a beautiful looking ride, with amazing signage. This ride also dates from the 1920s and is one of the best looking rides I think I have ever seen.
We didn't go on the Swingboats this time, these are beautiful wooden, painted boats and remind me of the seaside, there are smaller ones for the children too.
We ended off our afternoon with some candy floss, because you cannot go to a funfair and not have candy floss, right?!
To find out where Carters are headed next, see below. This enchanting, vintage funfair goes on tour around London and the South East of England throughout the year.
If you are anything like me, you may spend a massive part of your day using your mobile phone. Yes, I'll admit, some of my time is spent aimlessly scrolling Facebook, but as a virtual assistant and a blogger, having a good mobile network is extremely vital. I do a bit of social media managing also, so I spend a lot of time on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, helping to create content and promote posts.
With three of us in this house currently using phones, we need to make sure we are getting the best deal possible for our needs and with our middle daughter also starting high school in September - we are looking to get her a phone too, as she'll be walking home from school. I am sure she will also be using it for making TikTok videos and watching YouTube too.
The other fact is that we don't have a huge income so shopping around for a good price is imperative. It can all seem pretty overwhelming! Which is the best network to go for? A great website to learn more about mobile networks is Half Cooked, they provide detailed reviews and comparisons of all major UK networks to help you find the perfect network for your needs. I have had a good look through and there is a lot of detailed information on there which is so useful.
A friend of mine has just suggested GiffGaff saying she got a really great deal on a phone and contract for her daughter, I know it isn't a necessity for kids to have phones, and we all got by without mobile phones in our youth, but I will feel so much less anxious knowing that my daughter can call me if she needs to on the way home or if she's gone out with friends.
I have also found that Tesco Mobile are really good, I used a Pay as You Go SIM for years with Tesco. I wasn't using my mobile data though as that seemed to use credit fast, but for calls and texts it was great - plus there was always an added extra amount when I topped up. This is often a good option for a tween.
My family currently have a contract with Vodafone - over our three mobiles. We also have Vodafone broadband. So far, we have been pleased - although I must say that I find them quite expensive!
One to look at is Three. Apparently it has some of the fastest 4G speeds in the UK, perks such as rewards apps and all-inclusive streaming data as well as multiple international destinations where you won’t be paying any extra to use your phone abroad. The EE network seems to come in at a close second with the widest network coverage and the best speeds on the market. They also have free access to the BT Sport & Apple Music apps as well as unlimited streaming on Apple Music.
As you can see, there is a lot to think about. We all use our phones for different purposes. Some of us stream movies, some are old-fashioned and use it for texts and calls.
You may have already guessed, if you have been reading my blog for a while, that our family are great advocates for getting outdoors. Nothing makes me happier than when I get a message from somebody saying my photos have inspired them to go out exploring with their family.
Over the years we have been wild camping, den building, bushcrafting and foraging with the kids, who have now all built up a great knowledge of the natural world. And it is also proven that being outdoors does wonders for your mental health, I have seen this in myself, when I am out walking with our dog during the day, I instantly feel less anxious, being surrounded by trees and listening to the birds.
I've also noticed this when I am working the lunchtime shifts in school, we try to get all of the children outside rain or shine, but obviously on days of heavy rain, we stay indoors for playtime. Being stuck in for that hour makes such a difference to their behaviour that afternoon, if they haven't had the chance to go out and blow off some steam they start to bicker and become quite hyper.
More and more kids are spending less time outside these days, I'm not going to lie, now ours are getting that bit older, they love nothing more then curling up, watching YoutTube videos and playing computer games. It's not always easy to encourage them to leave the comfort of indoors and step outside.
This is why I think Outdoor Classroom Day is such a fabulous idea! My children are very lucky to have a school with a huge playing field surrounded by woodland. They have a poly-tunnel where they are growing vegetables and there is an eco club and, even better, they are just starting up a forest school. Teachers have found that when the children get to learn outdoors, their behaviour improves, their concentration is better and in general they are more creative and excited to learn.
On Thursday, May 23rd, 2019, thousands of schools around the world will be heading outdoors for the day of fun play and learning and it's not too late to sign your school up. So, that schools can participate on a day that fits with their term times, the UK and Ireland campaign has two dates each year. The next Outdoor Classroom Days are on Thursday 23 and May and Thursday 7 November 2019.
If you'd like some more information, both the Outdoor Classroom Day and Learning through Landscapes websites are full of resources for lesson ideas. So, if you are a parent or carer, maybe have a chat to your child's school and see if they are taking part this year.
In 2018 the scheme reached over 3.5 million children worldwide and over 550,000 in the UK and Republic of Ireland. It had coverage on BBC, ITV Cymru, TES, Daily Express, London Live, Evening Standard and Irish Times to name a few. It had government support, predominantly in Scotland where a motion was tabled on the importance of Outdoor Classroom Day and MSPs visited schools taking part. Also the Muddy Hands report was released, presenting the clear evidence for outdoor learning and play.
Here are a few ideas to get outdoors with your family:
Go on a foraging walk. In May you might be able to find some wild garlic, wood sorrel or even spot some fungi in the woods.
Do a minibeast hunt. See what creatures you can find lurking in the grass, look under stones or in the trees. See wish butterflies you can spot.
Try some outdoor crafts. You could do some leaf printing, or tree bark rubbing, or even make some mud monsters!
Make daisy chains. Search for wildflowers, blow some dandylion clocks.
Leaf identifying. Do you know your oak leaf from your sycamore? What colour are they? Maybe you could draw them.
Build a den. Gather some fallen branches and sticks and form a little den, it could be a great place for an adventure.
If you are interested in signing up you can do so via the website. Last year over 550,000 children in the UK and ROI took part in Outdoor Classroom Day, wouldn't it be great to top that this year?
Vegan? What does this word conjure up in your mind? A hippy who doesn't eat meat or use any products containing animals? Ha, I guessed so. More and more people are choosing to become vegan, I'm sorry to admit that I am neither vegan or vegetarian, but I do recycle and repurpose things, I try to buy ethically sourced things from small businesses where I can. I am tempted to try the vegan diet though, I may do a vegan week soon to see how we get on.
Well, vegans do not wear clothes, shoes or have furnishings made with the skins, hair or feathers of animals, so this includes fur, leather, wool, feathers, bone, horn, shells, cashmere, suede and silk. Fabrics that vegans can wear are cotton, linen or hemp, bamboo and cork, tencel and modal, and man-made fabrics like polyester, acrylic or nylon.
In general veganism is all about protecting animals and their welfare, but ditching all the above may sound tricky, after all most jumpers are made from sheep's wool and shoes are made from leather, aren't they?!
Some brands are beginning to use recycled materials too, such as making footwear from recycled rubber, bags from recycled plastic bottles. Some are even using tree bark and coconut fibre! Old vintage clothing is also being recycled and given a new lease of life.
What we need to be looking at then are natural materials such as cotton and hemp. Organic cotton is usually grown in sub-tropical countries like India, China and Turkey from plants that have not been genetically modified, without the use of any chemicals such as fertilisers or pesticides, this has a lower impact on the environment. This cotton is also usually softer and stronger and therefore lasts longer.
Hemp fabric is made using the strands of fibre that make up the stem of the plant. The long fibres are then spun together to make thread that is then woven in to a fabric. Grown and woven with every effort to protect the planet, hemp is a super-star fabric.
Cotton and hemp are two of the most eco-friendly fabrics you can choose for your clothes. Tencel, modal and bamboo all begin life as sustainably grown trees and plants. All three of these are made into beautifully soft fabrics. But do try and find out where your clothing has been produced. Often large companies will pay workers in countries such as Bangladesh and Ethiopia a very low wage to mass produce clothing.
Unsure what you're buying? Check the label, look at the lining, outer shell, and quilting. Also look at the trims, some denim jeans have leather trims, what are the buttons made of? Some old styles are made from shell, horn or bone. Does it have pompoms? Some times these are made from wool or even fur.
Online searching will help you discover brands, there are lists of places where you can buy vegan clothing on the PETA website. We all live on this planet together and all of us can help to make a huge difference, including me!
One of the most difficult things about the garden is getting going again after that long Winter break but there’s really only a few things that need doing so that your family can make the most of the garden when you get a nice run of warm(ish) weather. I hope this handy checklist help you too.
Mowing the lawn (if the lawn mower can take it)
Hands down one of the biggest problems is the near on foot long grass that needs a trim. If you’ve been following expert gardeners then you’ll probably of cut the grass in November the year before as one of the last things to prepare the garden for winter. The problem is my little lawn mower didn’t have enough grunt to get it done but that turns out to just be me not really thinking about the maintenance of my garden tools.
Sharpen your lawn mower blades
As it turned out my lawn mower was plenty powerful enough, the problem (as I now know) was the blades needed a good sharpen. I guess I must of hit the odd rock and when the grass is already in good order you don’t notice the lack of performance so much, just as well, I was ready to throw the towel in and buy a new lawn mower. A quick sharpen of the blades though and I totally avoided that unnecessary cost of a new mower.
If you think that a sharpening stone only set me back a few quid it literally saved me £140 on the model I had my eye on. All in all, a great saving so thanks to the husband in order here.
Clean up the barbecue (if you didn’t do it late last year).
One thing that always seems to get missed in our house is cleaning up the barbecue. In honesty, we have all normally had a good drink on a long summer evening in the garden and the last thing on your mind is scrubbing down the grille for the next one! Don’t fear though, there’s some super handy tricks I picked up from going round friends over the Summers.
Firstly if you have a charcoal barbecue then just pop yourself plenty of kindling wood on prior to the charcoal and get the flames going. This will turn all the nasty blackened bits into ash. If you have a gas barbecue just turn it full blast and close the lid. This will have the same effect and then the ash wipes down really easily with a wire brush. You can’t ask for more sterilised or clean ready for the next barbecue.
Give the garden a bit of a tidy up
Things always fall about in the wind, the odd wrapper finds its way into the garden, the kids bikes and toys are laying around; nothing has more impact, more quickly than a quick tidy up. Half an hour organising the kids toys makes a huge difference on the overall look of your garden. It’s also necessary for cutting the lawn anyway so you might just as well get stuck in. Even if the family doesn’t benefit from it you’ll feel so much better not staring at a huge mess whilst trying to enjoy the first warm weather of the Summer this year.
The internet, broadband, WiFi, 3G, 4G, soon coming 5G??? It all can be very bewildering, especially if you are trying to get the best for your money, which as you have seen on my blog, we are always trying to cut costs without impacting our daily lives.
We have gone through many ups and downs with our broadband providers, some have great speeds but cost a lot, others not so good on speed but can have saved us a bunch.
So where to begin?
Well, with a family of five, three of those being children, who all love their own thing from Youtube to streaming anime, Netflix and Prime, also myself who is constantly online for my blog and my virtual assistant work and a hubby who loves a movie and playing XBox, let's just say we need a good amount of speed otherwise there would be the howling moans that inevitably follow when something crashes, lags or doesn't work at all.
But our broadband needs will not reflect everyone's, so I advise everyone to look at how much they use and start from there.
If you stream a lot, have multiple people using your network, upload videos or even do online chatting to family or friends, I would advise to use a faster broadband service that suits your need and budget, but where do I look, I hear you ask?
We used to be with Virgin Media, and to be honest the speed was great but at a heavy financial cost, so we switched providers and halved our cost without having that much of an impact on our daily usage, but we are lucky as we have all the providers available in our area, if you live in an area or location that is rural or as my hubby say "in the sticks" then your choices may be limited.
To make things a little clearer on the "what speed do I need" question, that is quite difficult to answer without all the variables, but to help here's what you can take into consideration:
1. Standard broadband (uses the BT Telephone network to supply broadband) generally have speeds from 5 - 16Mbps (megabits per second) but the average 10-11Mbps. What does this mean? If you were to be downloading an album from your music provider, it will take around 23 minutes on the 5Mbps to download the full album where on 16Mbps it will take about 7 minutes for the same album.
2. Fibre Optic (special cable network specifically for the internet) have speeds from 38Mbps but if you are one of the lucky few (2%) who have the fibre optic straight to your house that could go up to 1Gbps (gigabit per second) but the average is between 63 - 67Mbps which means downloading that album can be as little as 1 minute (or much quicker if you are that 2% customer).
Lee (my husband) has an app so he can check the internet speed every now and then as sometimes during the peak periods our broadband speed can be a bit lacking but he finds that by just resetting the router this improves the speed dramatically, but the app also lets him see what our average speed is so he can check whether we are with the right provider and has evidence should the speed drop below our guaranteed amount.
We are all about cutting costs in this house, but decent broadband is a must. Which provider do you use?
We are no strangers to foraging and eating wild food, we have taken advantage of the ransoms (wild garlic) growing in the woods for many years now. Usually we just use them chopped up in pasta dishes or the kids quite like to just eat it raw in salads. April and May are the months when the wild garlic is in abundance, you'll smell it before you see it, it can be identified by its white star-shaped flowers. The flowers, leaves and shoots are all edible and have a strong, spring onion sort of taste.
We have also foraged for stinging nettles before, but have not yet used them in a dish. The humble stinging nettle is extremely good for you, they are a natural detoxifier, they have a very high vitamin C and iron content and they're also an anti-inflammatory. Good eh?!
Obviously nobody enjoys a nettle sting, although you can pick the nettles by just pulling your sleeves over your hands - you can actually eat them raw this way, if you roll the nettle leaves around whilst your sleeves are still covering your hands it removes the sting - but we would suggest wearing gardening gloves.
We decided that, with our foraged bounty, we were going to make a wild garlic and nettle pesto.
You will need:
A good bunch of nettles
A big bunch of wild garlic
Pine nuts (50 grams)
Hard cheese (Parmesan 50 grams)
Salt and pepper
Wash your wild garlic in the sink and remove the flower heads (you can still eat these in a salad).
Rinse off the nettles (wearing rubber gloves or use tongs) then crush the leaves in a bowl (we uses a rolling pin).
Toast half of the pine nuts in a frying pan, be careful not to burn them, I did a bit, but it all adds to the flavour, right?!
Grate the parmesan cheese, we used about 50 grams, but go by your taste.
We used a hand blitzer/blender, the type you use for soup, and blitzed the nettles with a glug of olive oil - the blending takes away the sting and releases the juices. Then the leaves of the wild garlic were added to the bowl and blitzed again to form a sort of paste like consistency.
Next add the toasted pine nuts and the cheese. and a little more oil. Have a little taste along the way and add what you feel is needed, we added a pinch of salt and black pepper. Lemon juice is also suggested but we didn't have any. Carry on blending all the ingredients together.
To finish you can add the rest of the untoasted pine nuts and give it a quick blitz, this just adds a bit of crunch.
The finished pesto has a lovely earthy sort of flavour. Transfer the pesto to a sterilised jar and pour some more olive oil over the top.
We are going to have it with some bread, along with our pasta and meatballs tonight.
[Ad - we were gifted the roller blind in exchange for an honest review]
We live in a modest 2-bedroom maisonette, within a block of flats, it is somewhere we have lived for 15 years now and over the years it has undergone a fair few transformations. We are all about DIY and upcycling and have often gone down the make do and mend route.
Our youngest two children share a bedroom, it has a wide, shallow window which we have struggled to buy blinds for in the past, hence the bodge job (see below) - pretty embarrassing, huh?!
The pull cord had broken, plus we were using a canvas and a parasol to try and block out the light in the corner!
We often went down the route of having 2 blinds next to each other, but over the years they had been broken. With the lighter evenings coming we really needed to get a new blackout roller blind - this time one that covers the whole window. In came Make My Blinds - who custom make your blinds for you, they have a gorgeous range of roller, Venetian and wooden blinds and they are all hand made to your specifications.
Honestly speaking I would have loved some of the wooden blinds with tapes down them, they look just like shutters - but, I need to be practical and a blackout blind is a must in a kids room.
First up I measured the window, it is 240cm in width and we needed a 120cm drop. We looked through the colours, there are an array of choices - literally so many colours, but I decided on the Amor Grey Mist, there are lots of shades of grey to choose from, I went for grey as it is neutral and pretty trendy at the moment. The fabric has a slight texture to the front, with a matt effect on the reverse and it is made of polyester. I was then asked if the blind would be going in the window recess or not, ours is hanging from a wooden baton, on the wall. We were also asked which side we wanted the pull cord on and we went for the right hand side.
Our blind arrived about a week later, it was delivered via courier. My husband installed it very easily, there is a tutorial on the website if you need some tips, but the two fittings were screwed into our wooden baton ( we still need to paint this) - then the blind slotted in very easily. Their blinds also come with a 4 year warranty.
It is a great fit for their window, and wonderful to have a working pull cord again! The blackout fabric works very well indeed, perfect for these lighter evenings and trying to get reluctant children to go to sleep.
Our next plan is to finish decorating! As you can tell my daughter loves to draw and stick her pictures up everywhere - the plan is for a feature wall with some nice wallpaper here eventually.
Overall, we are over the moon with the new blind and I would certainly think about some of the wooden ones for our living room, again the window is very wide, so the one we currently have is from IKEA and although we like the pattern it doesn't fully cover the width.
It was great to order from these guys, their customer service is excellent and it is wonderful to finally find something that fits.
The world of work is changing. Every year, more and more people in the UK choose freelancing and self-employment. Many out of choice, many out of necessity.
Of course, ‘self-employment’ and ‘buying property’ aren’t traditionally compatible goals. For many, the flexibility and independence of working for yourself are offset by the sheer difficulty of buying a home when lenders want you to show a ‘safe’, ‘predictable’ income.
It found that a huge number of entrepreneurs and ‘flexibly-employed’ people don’t even bother applying for financing. Never mind the fact that many of them could get a mortgage if they’d just do a few things differently.
Want to know what those things are? Keep reading.
Why's it more difficult to get a mortgage as a freelancer, anyway?
It mainly comes down to the natural risk-aversion of mortgage lenders.
Put simply, many lenders tend to see your ‘less-than-predictable’ income stream as a liability. Your earnings may fluctuate, you arguably have less in the way of job security and in the often-paranoid mind of the financial institution, your work could all dry up tomorrow, leaving them out of pocket.
We all know that this is usually not the case - but try telling that to an automated digital system that scores your application based on your credit score and a series of tick-box criteria.
But getting a mortgage might be easier than you think
That said, ‘difficult’ doesn’t mean ‘impossible’.
As we mentioned earlier, there are thousands of freelancers who will never get a mortgage because they simply won’t apply in the first place, or won’t take the necessary steps to tip the odds in their favour.
Don’t be one of those people. Here are 5 things that you can do to increase your chances...
What can you do to increase your odds of getting a mortgage?
1. Find a specialist lender
High-street lenders are certainly an option for many, but there’s also a huge world of lesser-known lenders who specialise in financing people with ‘unusual’ incomes.
You won’t find many of these lenders on the high-street, and you won’t even be able to access many of them without the help of a broker.
These are the kind of lenders who finance self-employed and freelance people all the time - they have a much better understanding of your business and a much more flexible approach to financing you.
2. Improve your credit
Along with your income and deposit, your credit history is one of the biggest factors to determine whether you get the offer or not. And, the higher your credit score, the better the rates that lenders will tend to offer.
Check your credit report to see if you have any obvious errors that could be corrected, or any past events that you can start to repair. The three main credit scoring services are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion - each of which allows you to check your credit history for free.
Remember: not all credit events are treated the same - a recent bankruptcy, for example, is more of a barrier than a missed payment from a few years ago. There are lots of proactive steps that you can take to improve your credit and increase your appeal to lenders over time.
3. Save up a larger deposit
The amount you borrow as a percentage of the total property value is known as a ‘loan to value’ (LTV). The lower your LTV, the happier your lender will be with your application.
You can often increase your odds of getting a yes, or improve the rate that the lender offers you by putting down a larger deposit. As such, a bigger deposit could seal the deal, or save you thousands in the long run.
4. Secure repeat business or long-term contracts
You can decrease the perceived uncertainty of your income by locking down an ‘anchor client’, a retainer, or another kind of repeat business. It’s even better if you have a written contract in place that shows just this, and that you can present to a prospective lender.
5. Reduce your personal expenses
A lesser-known fact about mortgage lenders is that they also assess your personal outgoings. And, believe us, they can be meticulous about it. This is called a ‘stress test’ - it’s designed to see if you could still make your monthly mortgage payments, if interest rates rise.
Got a gym membership you don’t really use? Expensive credit card debt you could pay down first? Frequent luxury holidays? If you can cut your monthly outgoings in the months leading up to your application, you’re more likely to sway the lender in your favour.
I have always been very aware of my surroundings, I notice every tiny detail. I probably come across as quite aloof sometimes - like a day-dreamer. Reading into things, I most certainly have an introvert brain. I like my own company, I am not comfortable in a group, I over-think everything and I have a constant internal monologue going on.
I have sat and watched entire films but I am often thinking about other things and could not tell you what has happened in that movie.
I think this is what makes me creative, I have a very creative mind that is always churning out new ideas. I guess this is why I am always taking pictures. Some might see a rotting window frame, I see beauty. I have stopped to take pictures of rust, oily puddles, old walls. I scout out areas and mentally note them, knowing that one day they would make a good backdrop for a photo.
I thought I'd share a few recent pictures here, just because.....
I have always loved taking photos, even as a child. I was one of those people who actually enjoyed looking through people's photo albums and often took my albums with me to show family. Although the above pictures are all taken on my phone I do have my DSLR which I love to use. I am gradually teaching myself more about the manual settings and hoping to one day get some lovely portraits of my family.