Today I have a guest post from Jon at The Money Shed. Jon’s written before for me on things like making money from home and matched betting – he’s all about getting stuff done and bringing in cash and is very knowledgeable. This post contains affiliate links.

When you decide to create a blog it can seem there is quite a high learning curve involved at times. What is WordPress? How do you install WordPress? What is self hosted? How will I link my domain name?

Maybe you just want a creative outlet for your writing, maybe you want to build a blog you can earn money from via paid sponsored posts or promoting affiliate links to your favourite online retailers.

Having your own self hosted blog comes with some HUGE advantages compared to going for one of the free options such as Blogger.

Advantages for going self hosted include :

  • Owning your own URL
  • Being able to receive better technical support
  • Having your data backed up
  • The ability to customise your blog more
  • You own ALL the content
  • The ability to monetise your blog
  • Being taken far more seriously by brands and their PRs.

Some people will have you believe that setting up a blog is quite a technically long winded process but actually it can be all done and dusted in 15 minutes. I’m going to break it down to just two simple steps and you’ll be up and running!

Now before we get going I am going to make the assumption that you already know the domain name you want for your blog. If you don’t then now is the time to give it some thought as you don’t want to fall into the same trap and everyone else when it comes to choosing your domain name. View Post

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A few months ago now, back in the dark and dreary depths of February, I was having a bit of a MEH day and decided to cheer it up with a homemade fish finger sandwich for lunch. I don’t mean ‘homemade fish finger sandwich’ as in a sandwich that I made at home that happened to have fish fingers in it, I mean ‘homemade fish finger sandwich’ in that I actually made the fish fingers myself, from scratch, like some kind of frickin’ culinary goddess.

(Which we know I am, because I made my own party rings and they were quite possibly better than the real thing.)

I posted this picture of it on Instagram at the time and honestly, barely a day goes by when I don’t think about that sandwich.

homemade fish finger sandwich

God it looks so good doesn’t it?

(‘Didn’t you already do a post about that sandwich?’ Belle asks, looking over my shoulder as I type. ‘I did,’ I say, ‘but just on Instagram.’ She nods. ‘People deserve to know how it’s made,’ she says, sagely.)

If you ask Belle about my cooking, she will tell you about the ONE TIME that I ALLEGEDLY served her up three solitary, burnt fish fingers for tea and on a fish finger scale, with those at one end, this sandwich is at the other. I cannot thing of anything that could beat it in terms of fish fingery deliciousness.

I thought I’d write a little post telling you how to make it, in the hope that this would then help me process it mentally, and I wouldn’t have to see it in my dreams every night. Fish finger sandwich closure if you will.

So, here’s how to make the ultimate homemade fish finger sandwich. View Post

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Collaboration with Just Landlords

Do you have Britain’s most beautiful garden? This post is my entry into the competition from Just Landlords to find the most beautiful garden in the Britain. The winner will receive a £250 Love2Shop voucher. Find out how to enter here.

We don’t live in a big house. It’s two rooms downstairs, one bathroom and two and a half bedrooms. It feels spacious because it has huge windows and I try not to fill it full of clutter, but it’s essentially NOT BIG.

There are only two of us of course, plus cats, so it’s not a massive deal, but sometimes, when Belle is into her fourth episode of *insert some random Netflix series here* in the living room, I want somewhere to BE that isn’t sat on my bed like a despondent teenager.

My garden is that place.

Luckily for me, Belle isn’t keen on ‘outside’ as a concept, and so the garden is the place that’s totally mine. Even in my bedroom I can’t be sure that she won’t be hiding under the bed to grab my ankles in some kind of hilarious (for her) prank, but the garden… I’m safe there. The garden is the place I can go to be by myself.

What’s extra special to me about my garden is that when I bought my house two years ago, it was essentially a gravelled prison yard. I mean literally nothing, just a square of fenced in misery, complete with spider nests, one random patio slab, and patches of pink where I had taken advantage of the space to spray paint my bed after a break up.

It was not a thing of beauty.

(The bed is though.)

garden makeover tips

It’s wasn’t exactly the kind of place you wanted to escape to. More escape from. Possibly by tunnelling, or bribing a guard for a length of rope.

One of the things I love most then about my garden, is the transformation. Transformation of any kind gives us hope doesn’t it? It’s why we love before and after pictures so much – we want to know that anything is possible, even if we never get round to it. The idea of it is comforting.

Once the basic landscaping had been done, the garden was a bit of a blank canvas. I wondered for a while how on earth I would make it look like an actual garden. How did you make things grow? I wasn’t sure.

garden makeover View Post

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Taunton (where I live) has a toad trail going on at the moment. It’s one of those things that’s meant to get kids excited about being outdoors and walking further than the toy shop to McDonald’s. There’s a trail map, an app and colourful painted toads dotted in and around Taunton.

(I just had a look at the website to find out exactly how many toads, and it says ‘over 22’, which seems weird to me. ‘Over 20’ maybe, but ‘over 22’? What does that mean? Are there 23?)

We lived in Bristol when the original Gromit trail took place and honestly, we got a bit obsessed with it. I say ‘we’, but I don’t remember Bee being exactly cock-a-hoop about it. Bee is adamant though that in a picture we have of her with a ball, not even two years old, (which I can’t find), she was thinking to herself ‘this is boring, I wonder when I’m allowed to stop?’ I told her she seemed to be enjoying it at the time but she says she was just pretending because that’s what she thought she was meant to like.

Belle got on board with the Gromits though, and we found all 80, although on reflection she may have been humouring me. She even let me have fridge magnets made of the photos.

Where am I going with this? Oh yes. At the time, wandering all over Bristol, following a map and looking for giant dog statues, I thought I was doing it for the kids. Ditto years of crazy golf, murder mystery trailers, organising stationery drawers, watching animated films at the cinema, that sort of thing. Oh the sacrifices I made! So selfless! Of course I’d have rather been at the opera or reading the news or whatever it is grown ups like to do.

Only it turns out it’s not true.

Turns out IT WAS ME ALL ALONG.

‘Do you want to see if we can find all the toads?’ I keep asking Belle. I want her to ask me how many there are so that I can say ‘over 22’ but she has yet to show that level of interest.

‘No,’ is always the disappointing answer, which makes me sad because IS a 41 year old woman allowed to look for giant painted toads on her own??

Taunton toad trail View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Love Fresh Cherries

Is there any nicer way to start the day than with pudding? No is the answer, especially on a Monday, as I proved to myself conclusively this Monday morning by making a cherry and dark chocolate clafoutis and eating it for breakfast.

I’ve never eaten a cherry clafoutis before, let alone cooked one, so I wasn’t sure what to expect – something cakey maybe? In pictures it looks a bit like a sponge? It wasn’t like that at all. It was much lighter and more delicious and gave me that happy face when something is so good that you scrunch up your shoulders a little bit, and your eyes, and do a contented sigh.

I’d say a cherry clafoutis is a bit more like a baked egg custard (which I love) but with a teeny bit more texture. Because Bee became severely gluten intolerant while she was pregnant, I always try to think about how I can make my recipes gluten free and with the cherry clafoutis it’s simple – just switch regular flour for ground almonds. Almonds and cherries always work brilliantly together, and to be honest even if you’re not particularly wanting to make a gluten free clafoutis, it’s worth making the switch anyway.

I love fresh British cherries at the best of times – so juicy and sweet and such a delicate flavour – but I can’t think that I’ve ever done anything with them other than scoff them straight from the box. (I stuck glace cherries on top of my piña colada cupcakes but that hardly counts).

Cooked cherries were a revelation – warm from the oven, plump and delicious and oozing with flavour, an absolute joy. British cherry season is currently in full swing, and cherries are full of good things like antioxidants and melatonin, which helps promote better sleep, so there’s very little reason not to make a cherry clafoutis really.

In fact, although the whole ‘pudding for breakfast’ thing might seem rather decadent, the cherries in one quarter of my cherry clafoutis count as one of your five a day and will give you 25% of your RDA of vitamin C. Then it’s basically eggs, milk, nuts – a kind of hearty pancake if you will.

cherry and dark chocolate clafoutis View Post

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In collaboration with PayPlan

Let’s think about the cost of single parenting shall we? There’s the relentless pressure of being solely responsible for bringing up children, self-neglect, money spent on treats to alleviate guilt over them not having two decent parents, helping them become independent, ultimate loss of sanity

I jest!

(Sort of.)

This post is actually more about the financial cost of being a single parent, inspired by research from PayPlan, a debt advice service, into the unfair costs of activities and days out for single parent families.

Generally you might think that being a single parent would be cheaper – there is only one of you after all – but the reality is that it’s anything but. For starters you still need pretty much the same sized house, and your bills are basically the same, save for the 25% discount on council tax. Your children need all the same stuff. The difference is though that you’re paying for it ALL BY YOURSELF.*

In my case I did save a fair bit of money after my last partner moved out, but that was more about his slapdash approach to his own (and therefore my) finances. He also wasn’t the father of either of my children (the scandal!) so probably not quite the same anyway.

In terms of days out specifically, it has definitely been my experience that you miss out on discounts as a single parent family, as ‘family tickets’ for things tend to be based on a family of two adults and multiple children. The research from Payplan, which is summarised in the infographic below, backs up my own experiences.

Now you might look at the results and think ‘Okay, fair enough though, if you’re going on ‘cost per adult’ then obviously it’s going to be more for single parents as you don’t have anyone to split it with’, but if you have a look further down in the infographic you’ll see that PayPlan has also worked it out on a cost per head basis. Under this way of working, single parents are STILL getting a raw deal – in every example the cost PER PERSON works out higher for single parents, because they don’t get to enjoy the discounts that result simply from being in a relationship.

It hardly seems fair does it? View Post

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This post is in collaboration with Poki – the ultimate playground for kids of all ages

As a mum, I’m often asked about the best way to entertain kids. (I’m an expert don’t you know.) Every child is, of course, different; your kids might thrill to a good movie or they might be bored stiff by Toy Story (honestly, it’s unlikely, but it does happen). How exactly you can keep your little ones entertained and enraptured through a wet and wild Sunday afternoon is the question asked by desperate parents everywhere.

If your kid is partial to the odd online game, then you might want to check out Poki. Poki.com is a gaming portal and website billing itself as an “online playground” for kids and adults alike. It’s designed to be inclusive, with something for everyone, whether you consider yourself a gamer or not. There is so much to choose from, you’re sure to find a game that your kids (or you) enjoy.

Bee and Belle are basically both grown ups now, but they both still enjoy playing games on their phones. They particularly love the games where you have to move people through a series of spa treatments or run a cafe, although I think Belle’s favourite aspect of this is getting me to have a go and then laughing when I burn all the burgers and all my customers walk out without paying.

To make playing online games a little easier, Poki have generously offered me a 32GB Fire HD 8 Tablet, worth £99, to giveaway. The Fire tablet is ideal for playing games – read on for more details of how to win!

Win a Fire tablet competition View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with hotukdeals

A few years ago now, back when I lived in Bristol, I had a boyfriend who was obsessed with hotukdeals.

I don’t just mean that he would check the site for offers before he bought something significant, I mean that he loved browsing, scrolling through the listings, just for fun. ‘Someone’s just found a half price patio set in an Asda in Doncaster!’ he would shout out, excitedly. It makes you wonder really how engaging I was as a girlfriend, but let’s brush over that.

He actually saved us a lot of money over the few years we lived together – or should I say hotukdeals did, because the beauty of the site is that you don’t actually do any of the research yourself, you just wait for other people to find the bargains, post about them, and then you swoop. Hotukdeals is a place for real consumers to share their stories, deals, vouchers. and tips. The purpose of the site is to encourage honest advice from genuine consumers, getting insight from other real people about hot deals and products.

There’s also an app, which is totally free and allows for on the go bargain hunting. You can also use the app to set keyword alerts, so if, for example, you’re after some LEGO for Christmas presents, you can get a notification as soon as a LEGO offer gets posted. I actually did a little project with them a couple of years ago, where I saved £527 on my Christmas shopping, so coupled with my obsessive boyfriend history I consider myself something of an expert.

When hotukdeals asked me then if I fancied using the site to discover some bargains for a garden makeover, I was PRIMED, ready to strike while the deal was hot. (Or, as it turned out in my case, while the half price barbecue was hot.) They’ve also given me two £50 vouchers to give away, so read on for more info on how to win those too.

My garden is one of my favourite bits of the house because it’s the area where I have made the most difference. The rest of the house was already redecorated and ready to go, but the garden was like a prison yard. I did a whole garden makeover post, complete with kitten in a wheelbarrow, if you want to check it out, and I’ve added a lot of plants along the way too. (It’s worth noting too that the plants from that second post are doing really well a year on – I’ve been really impressed with them.)

HotUKDeals garden offers

So I set about searching the garden section of hotukdeals for some garden bargains that would add to the tropical paradiseness of my garden.* View Post

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We were gifted spaces on this Boo Cottage Botanicals workshop for the purposes of this review

When I was little, I used to make my own perfume.

I say ‘make my own perfume’ – what I actually used to do was collect up scattered rose petals that had fallen off the flowers, (or pick them off if I thought no one was looking), and put them in an old jam jar of water. The petals smelt so beautiful, I was sure if I could just gather enough that I would be able to turn my jam jar water into rose scented perfume.

As anyone who has tried this, (and I’m imagining it’s a lot of you), will know, it doesn’t work. You just get rank old petals in a jar of water. Still, it’s fun to try when you’re eight years old or so.

It was with with kind of ‘anything is possible if you have enough rose petals’ attitude that we rocked up one Sunday morning a few weeks ago for a workshop with Boo Cottage Botanicals. We were doing the ‘natural skincare workshop: balms, bombs and body butters‘ and it promised that we would leave with a whole range of skincare products that we’d made ourselves from scratch.

I’d taken Belle along with me because she loves skincare and is always mashing avocados late at night to smear on her face. She told me she only does that out of poverty (not sure where she thinks the avocados come from) but regardless she DID enjoy it. She has a certain way of being when she gets really engrossed in an activity – a serious, efficient look on her face and a nice straight back – and she had this throughout the morning.

Make your own skincare workshops View Post

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This is a guest post from Bee, who was sent a gluten free apple cake from Sponge for the purposes of this review. 

Gluten free cake reviews

I need to talk to you all about the best (gluten free) cake on the whole of the internet. I say internet because my sort of sister-in-law made me a really nice gluten free birthday cake that was definitely as good as this one, so they have to take joint first place in the very important cake league table in my mind.

Anyway, when I was about six months pregnant I was becoming really ill after food and I soon worked out that wheat, and more specifically gluten, was the culprit. It took a couple of months of going cold turkey but it finally helped my skin breakouts, heartburn, digestive issues and a host of other crappy stuff I had been dealing with that I had just put down to pregnancy symptoms.

I optimistically thought that when I gave birth I would regain my tolerance to gluten but alas, it was not to be. I’m quite sad about it because even though I like feeling good in myself and not hideously ill, there are so many things I miss that contain wheat and other gluteny stuff. (Looking at you, Starbucks fruit toast.)

‘Free from’ alternatives have come a long way in recent years but gluten free stuff is still really hit and miss and with it often being so expensive I feel reluctant to try too many new things in case it’s a total waste of money. That’s why when Sponge offered me one of their gluten free cakes to try I jumped at the chance.

Gluten free apple cake View Post

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Gifted product

Is there anything better in the whole wide world than a good cup of tea?

Okay, so winning the lottery or marrying the love of your life or getting stranded on a desert island full of cats or something, but APART from those things… Is there anything better than a cup of tea?

Win tea competition

And before you say anything, yes, my milk jug is very cool, thank you. It’s part of my collection of ‘milk jugs in the shape of chickens where the milk comes out of their beaks’. It’s fun because it looks like the chicken is throwing up in your drink. It’s a fairly niche collection, but I like a challenge.

The tea that my chicken was ‘helping’ with today was a rather lovely earl grey from Blue Tea Box. I was excited to try them because their coffee – Blue Coffee Box – is my favourite coffee of all time, not even an exaggeration. The tea is a new strand to the business, offering rare and single-origin teas, ethically sourced from across the globe by specialist tea merchants.

Blue Tea Box works on a subscription model and you can choose either one large bag or three smaller bags delivered to your door every month, either for yourself or as a gift. Tell Blue Tea Box what kind of tea you normally like and your tea concierge selects your perfect teas. Fancy!

Your tea comes beautifully packaged in a letterbox friendly box and includes information abut the teas and tasting notes. View Post

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I’ve been wanting to make a ham and cucumber pizza for ages now.

Every time I make one of my postcard lists it gets transferred – ‘homemade ham and cucumber pizza’ tacked on the bottom of every scrape of paper on my desk. It’s been getting a bit annoying to be honest, and as pizza accounts for two of Belle’s favourite foods (delivered and non-delivered) and eating pizza while watching TV has been shown to be the secret of happiness, I thought it was about time I got on with it.

Ham and cucumber has always been one of my favourite food combinations. Legend has it that as a child it was all I would eat, and that small plates of ham and cucumber would be left strategically around the house for me to happen upon and nibble. Still now it’s probably my favourite ever sandwich – soft white bread, real butter, ham and cucumber. You can’t beat it.

In my teens I took it to the next level and discovered the joy that is the toasted ham and cucumber sandwich. You don’t toast it as in put it in a sandwich toaster – that would be rank – you just toast the bread and then make it like a regular sandwich, only with toast. This variant actually works very well without the ham – just butter and chunky slices of cucumber.

If you’re screwing up your face at this point then all I can say is don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. I remember making it once for this boyfriend,* when I was 21, and him looking at me very suspiciously. (He was the man who introduced me to exotic things like pesto and freshly ground black pepper remember.) He ate it though, and was impressed. I won him over with my toasted cucumber sandwich skills.

I’m also well known, amongst my own children at least, for one of my favourite parenting mantras – ‘have a bit of chopped up cucumber on the side’. Over the years, when I haven’t been able to get them to eat vegetables, I could always rely on them accepting a bit of chopped up cucumber on the side of whatever we happened to be eating.

For a long time then I’ve wondered why no one makes a ham and cucumber pizza. We have ham and pineapple, ham and sweetcorn – why not ham and cucumber? Like the toasted sandwich, I’m not suggesting you cook the cucumber, rather that it gets added before serving, like so many pizzas seem to do nowadays with rocket.

Chopped up on the side. Sort of.

ham and cucumber pizza

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