In association with Hoppy

There are quite a few areas of my life where I pride myself on managing to be Not Old. I know how to use social media, I don’t say THE YouTube and I even know who Logan Paul is. (Although I do not feel that my life is enriched by this.)

And then there are other things where I just feel CONFUSED, like I need a six-year-old to come round and explain it to me, like remote controls. Or politics. It’s a horrible feeling, because you know that deep down you are a smart and capable women, but your brain just won’t process whatever it is. You read about it, and the individual words make sense, but together it’s like a different language.

One of these areas of weakness for me is my broadband and TV subscription. We’ve been with Sky for about the last ten years, almost entirely because I am too scared to switch. It feels like so much has changed since I first had a TV. How would it even WORK if I didn’t have Sky anymore? Do you still use the dish? Do you have to have any kind of BOX? Do you need an aerial? If I switch broadband who do I have to tell and how long am I without the internet? Honestly, I’m completely hopeless. You should have seen me peering at the back of my television, looking baffled. It was pathetic.

My Sky contract expires at the beginning of December though, and I am determined to educate myself and stop paying more than I need. I just checked my bank and my last direct debit to Sky was £71 for TV, phone and broadband. HOW?? I don’t even have sports or films. It’s so embarrassing. I can’t even check the bill as I’ve forgotten my login details and am too scared to sort it out in case I accidentally sign up for box sets.

It was ideal timing then when I had an email from Hoppy, asking if I wanted to try out their services.

The main aim of Hoppy is to simplify your home management. In fact, Hoppy is the number one FREE home management site. Rather than having piles of paper everywhere and seemingly endless to do list – checking gas prices, getting the car booked for an MOT, finding someone to fix the leaky tap – Hoppy lets you store and manage all of your information and tasks in one place. It’s one site, where you can do everything from finding a reliable tradesperson to comparing mobile phone tariffs.

Hoppy home management

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In association with EDF Energy

Back in May, I tested out all kinds of cool gadgets as part of Smart Homes Week. One of my absolute favourites was the Philips Hue lighting system.

Ever since I was a teenager and was SUPER COOL, I’ve been a fan of coloured lightbulbs. Back then though, changing the colour in your bedroom meant a trip to B&Q to pick out a different coloured bulb, and then taking it home again to switch with your regular bulb. It wasn’t exactly a slick process. Then of course there was that incident in my early twenties, where I had someone knock on the door in the middle of the night thinking I was running a brothel, but we can skip over that.

Imagine if you could go back to the early 1990s and show teenage me the Philips Hue wireless lightbulbs. For a start I would have no idea how they could even work, because I wouldn’t know what the internet was, but if I could put that to one side and look at the colour changing bulbs in action, my mind would be BLOWN.

How is this possible? From a PHONE??

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In association with Gumtree

Today I want to set you a challenge.

I’m calling it the £147.06 Gumtree challenge, but you’re allowed to change the amount. (I’m nice like that.) My amount is £147.06 because that’s how much it is costing for me and Belle to fly from Bristol to Ireland to stay with my sister over Christmas. We’ve been every year since they moved there and although we have flight costs, petrol and car parking, I easily make it back, eating my way through the Bendicks Mints and assorted savoury nibbles.

Still, it’s a chunk of money, and it’s always nice NOT to have to spend chunks of money if you can help it, so when Gumtree asked if I was up for a money making challenge, it seemed like a good idea to set myself a goal. I love a good goal – the more specific the better, as you will know if you’ve read my new ‘50 things to do before you’re 50‘ list.

We apply the whole SMART goals thing to business a lot – specific, achievable targets with measurable time frames – but it makes a lot of sense in all areas of life really. Take these two examples:

‘Ergh, I could really do with a bit of extra cash, I should probably clear out the garage sometime.’

‘I want to sell enough of the unwanted stuff around my home to cover £147.06 of flight costs before Christmas’

I know which one makes ME want to sort through my garage more.

So where to start? The good news is that if you hoard an average amount of clutter, chances are you easily have £147.06 worth of unwanted stuff lying around the house, in your attic, or out in the garage. According to research carried out by Gumtree, households selling unwanted and unused items have made an average of £378 in the last year, and on average we’re potentially sitting on £881 per household – that’s not bad for a poke around the attic and an hour or so on Gumtree is it?

I was at a slight disadvantage starting the challenge as I’m one of those annoying people who says things like ‘Ooh, clearing out the wardrobe is just so relaxing!’ There is nothing more stressful for me than an untidy cupboard, so I’m already pretty streamlined. Still, in a way this proves the point even better – if I can find things to sell on Gumtree then anyone can.

I’ve actually used Gumtree quite a bit over the last few years. Scrolling back through my account I’ve sold all sorts – a fish tank, a pink ukulele, an air purifier, chests of drawers – I must have made over £400 altogether, which is a promising start to the £147.06 challenge. I’ve always found Gumtree very straightforward and quick to get things listed, especially because I’m of an age when online selling used to involve uploading photos, (slowly), to a PC, and going through a long and complicated listing process. Gumtree really isn’t like that.

Listing something to sell on Gumtree takes literally minutes and if you have a few things to sell then even better, as you can whizz through photos of everything all at once. I use the Gumtree app, which means you can take photos on your phone and add them directly to your product descriptions, write up a little blurb, and you’re good to go. When you take your photos, remember to take them in decent light and make them look as appealing as possible. This isn’t Tinder you know – we don’t need topless photos in dingy bathrooms.

The product description – a bit like a dating profile – is probably the bit that could benefit most from a little bit of thought. The temptation is to just list details about the product but, like any good salesperson, what you actually need to do is create an aspirational idea BEHIND the product, get people thinking about themselves using it. View Post

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In association with Coca-Cola Great Britain

Here’s a quick quiz for you – answer yes or no to the following questions and then check your score.

In the past month, have you:

  • Eaten a mince pie?
  • Had a glass of sherry?
  • Hummed a Christmas tune to yourself?
  • Pondered a Christmas wrapping scheme (everyone does this yes?)
  • Bought a Christmas-scented candle

If you answered YES to any of those questions then CONGRATULATIONS, you are ready to start the festive season! If you answered YES to all five then CONGRATULATIONS, you are me!

I absolutely love the run up to Christmas – the twinkly lights, shopping for presents, the smell of my winter-scented candles – I love it all. The trouble with Christmas though, and wanting to do all of the Christmas things, is that it can cost A LOT – both in financial terms and environmentally. The joy is sapped out of Christmas a little bit if afterwards all you have is a massive credit card bill and a mountain of plastic packaging.

As regular readers will know, I’ve been working with Coca-Cola GB over the last few months to help raise awareness of their sustainability initiatives. With Christmas fast approaching, they’ve challenged me to create a festive family-on-a-budget guide so that you can enjoy the Christmas season without it costing the earth. And, with Coca-Cola known for helping to bring the holidays to you, I’ve included a little suggestion from them at the end.

Visit a Christmas market

This is one of my favourite things to do to get myself feeling festive, and if you manage to resist the smell of mulling cider (good luck) then you don’t need to spend any money at all – just soak up the festive atmosphere. Town centre Christmas markets are normally outside, so you get to wrap up in hats and scarves and have a full-on winter experience, but if you’re less keen on the whole ‘cold cheeks for Christmas’ vibe then there are indoor options too.

You can find loads of round-ups of the best Christmas markets online to get you started – there are so many, you definitely won’t be short of options! Look out for local events in church or community halls, school Christmas fairs or events at things like National Trust properties and stately homes – there is so much going on, you’ll definitely find something nearby.

Bristol Christmas Market View Post

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If you’re anything like me then you’re salivating just reading that title. It’s the ultimate comfort combination surely? Roasted seasonal vegetables, a hot and creamy risotto and juicy lamb kebabs – that’s a winter feast right there. What’s even better is that it’s dead easy to make, as I will show you now.

First up though, in case you’re thinking ‘hmmm… lamb, not sure really, it’s a bit pricey isn’t it?’ then FEAR NOT. I was in exactly that boat before I made this recipe. I hardly ever bought lamb because I thought it was too expensive and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. As much as I love the flavour of lamb, (soooo good), I thought I needed super meat cooking skills (which I do not have) to cook lamb well.

Turns out I was wrong. Lamb koftas are super easy to make, and so versatile too as you can add lots of different seasonings, herbs and spices depending on what flavours you like. Fun fact for you: lamb is a lot more sustainable than most other animal agriculture farming. It’s also one of the healthiest meats you can eat – it’s rich in niacin and vitamin B12 and a great source of things like protein, zinc, potassium and phosphorus.

Lamb doesn’t have to be expensive either – the 500g of lean lamb mince that I used in this recipe was just four pounds, and that made enough lamb koftas for four people. One pound a head isn’t bad is it? Most of the rest of the ingredients are either things you have in your cupboards already, or fresh, seasonal vegetables that can be picked up cheaply from a local greengrocer – this feast for four people definitely comes in at under a tenner.

Basically you’ve got no excuse not to buy some lamb RIGHT NOW and whip up some lamb koftas for tea.

easy lamb kofta kebab recipe

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In association with Aqua Optima

Okay, I know, it’s not Wednesday. Well not when I’m writing this anyway. Maybe you’re reading it on a Wednesday though, that’s a possibility. In which case well done – great timing.

The alliteration isn’t key though, it’s just one way to remind yourself of the importance of HYDRATION. Now I don’t want to get all ‘lecturey parent’ on you, but come on, when was the last time you properly drank enough? I mean like not tea and coffee or fizzy drinks, just actual water, all through the day?

I see you there, looking sheepish.

I’m just as guilty. I do drink a lot, but I drink my fair share of caffeine filled tea and coffee too, and squashes, smoothies and fizzy drinks all full or sugar or artificial sweeteners. Now I’m not saying these things don’t contribute towards hydration, but it would be much better for me if at least some of the time I cut out all the additives and just drank water.

(Wine though! *sad face*)

how to drink more water

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

So. What to do about it?

Like most things it’s really just a matter of forming new habits. Once you do anything often enough it can become routine, it’s just finding the things that will help you to form the habits in the first place.

Here are some ideas: View Post

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It’s a bit of a standing joke in my family that I’ve only just realised that ‘beach holidays’ is a concept. I said to Bee once that I’d always liked the idea of just going somewhere hot, lying on a beach and not doing anything. “Umm yeah,” she said, “you mean a beach holiday?”

Oh yeah.

But even though beach holidays are pretty popular and I didn’t invent them apparently, they’re not for everyone. Not everyone likes just lounging about on the beach for hundreds of pounds – they’d rather do something a bit more exciting and stimulating. Bee herself doesn’t even LIKE holidays at all (bit weird) but even she might like one of these ideas if she had something to occupy herself with.

I’ve always fancied going on a holiday with more of an itinerary so I don’t have to plan everything and don’t have any of that holiday regret where you wish you’d packed a bit more in. Here are some of my favourite unusual holiday ideas that aren’t just lying around on the beach.

Feel Yoga in Portugal

Whether you’re a daily Yogi or you’ve never practised before, a yoga holiday can be the perfect retreat for self-reflection and self-improvement. Yoga can be a really relaxing exercise, so this can be a great way of using your holiday time to get fitter while clearing your mind and also learning a new skill to take home with you. Do all of this in a beautiful sunny location with Feel Yoga in Portugal. There’s also a spa so you can truly relax and unwind.

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In association with National Express

Picture the scene…

It’s November 1st, I’m wearing my Christmas pyjamas, and I’ve cracked open a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream. There might be a mince pie warming in the oven and it’s all I can do not to watch the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special. Even better, I don’t care a jot about all those people who are HUMBUGGING all over the place, telling me November is too early for Christmas.

IT’S NOT.

If it was, then how do you explain the fact that there are currently over 50 wood cabins in Bristol city centre selling Christmas gifts, mulled wine and oversized sausages?

(Seriously, what is it with the bratwurst? Why do they not design them to fit in the buns, or buy buns big enough to hold them?)

Bristol Christmas market

Bristol Christmas market even has CURLING, which feels pretty festive to me, and a Jäger Barn Bar, which feels slightly less so, but I guess it’s drinking, so that counts. Of course the downside to visiting a Christmas market is that often you’ve driven there, which means you can’t really do the mulled drinks offering justice. Ironically, the stress of finding somewhere to park, and then realising it is going to cost you £2 PER HOUR, means you really need a mulled wine more than ever.

Fortunately I have a solution: National Express.

Ta-dah! View Post

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Today was the day that I was expecting the proof copies of my novel – Playgroups and Prosecco – to arrive.

I waited in all day, but then the postman came just as I was dropping Belle back at college in the afternoon and when I got back my parcel was outside behind the bin. Not the most salubrious of starts to my novel writing career, but potentially quite fitting with the tone of the book, plus it makes a nice intro to this post.

Once I’d retrieved the parcel from behind the wheel bin, avoiding falling into the green box full of empty cat food tins, I took it inside, into the kitchen, and opened it.

Inside I found these:

Playgroups and prosecco

They look pretty nice don’t they? Thicker than I imagined, but then I did write 95,000 words, (can you believe!), so I suppose they do take up space. I looked at them stacked for a little while. I liked the neatness of them. I imagined them on one of those tables as you go into Waterstones. View Post

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In association with the Money Advice Service

Bringing up two children, mainly on my own, the first one in tow when I was just 17, hasn’t always been easy financially.

Over the years I’ve accumulated debts, worried about them, tried to ignore them, faced up to them, paid them off, eaten 9p noodles for dinner regularly and switched jobs so many times that I found myself with seven separate pension pots.

Let’s call it a journey. Things always sound sexier when you call them a journey don’t they?

My point is that over the years I’ve been poor and I’ve been less poor, but I’ve learnt lessons. Some of them big ones, some not so big. One of the most important financial lessons I’ve learnt is that the very worse thing you can do is to bury your head in the sand and pretend that you don’t need to think about finances.

Spoiler: YOU DO.

The good news though is that there is a lot of support and information out there, and once you start learning more about the financial matters that impact you and your family you can quickly feel much more in control – it can actually feel very empowering and is great for your mental health too.

This week – 12-18 November – is Talk Money Week, a new public awareness week from the Money Advice Service to help encourage people to have more open conversations about money. With this in mind, and to show you that money doesn’t need to be scary, I’ve put together a list of nine ideas for parents (and non-parents) that could save you money either right now this very second, or for years to come. All of these would make great starting points for discussions about money with family and friends.

Face up to your debt

If you’re struggling with debt at the moment chances are you’re doing your best to ignore the FACTS of the situation. When I was in debt in my mid-twenties, post single parent degree, it’s exactly what I did for a good couple of years and it is a guaranteed way to make yourself feel terrible. Not only that, it doesn’t do you any favours financially as interest just racks up and people get cross. It turns out that banks and credit card companies aren’t keen on being ignored.

If I could offer just one piece of advice it would be to take a deep breath, get all those letters out of the back of the drawer, and start making a plan for how you’re going to tackle it. You will find that if you are honest and communicative most lenders will want to help come to a manageable arrangement with you – far better for them to have you paying them back five pounds a month than nothing at all.

The Money Advice Service has loads of practical advice here on how to start tackling debt. I promise you won’t regret it. Do not just hold a book over your head and pretend the bills aren’t all falling down around you. (Definitely what this guy is doing.)

Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

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In association with Thomas Sabo

I have this thing with rings.

I’ve always liked them, generally, but the thing started about eight or nine years ago one day in Glastonbury. I’d gone over to meet a friend for breakfast and we were talking about something rather exciting for me that had happened the day before. I’ve always had a terrible memory, but I knew I wanted to remember this particular thing, so I decided to buy myself a piece of jewellery to mark the occasion.

I bought myself a rather lovely silver ring made with abalone shell, which I love. I bought it to fit the ring finger on my left hand, not especially out of any kind of marriage related principle, but just because it looked nice there and I’m a grown up person and can wear a ring on whatever finger I like, thank you very much society.

(Gosh, that came out a bit stronger than I thought it was going to – maybe it was principle.)

Ever since then, every time I have wanted to celebrate something good happening in my life – like the first time I had a feature published in a national newspaper – or just wanted to remind myself why I am super cool and generally awesome, I’ve bought myself a ring. I wouldn’t say I’m especially materialistic and I’m definitely not one of those people who spends loads of money on clothes and shoes and handbags, but just now and then it’s nice to treat yourself. In fact, it’s somehow more special when it only IS now and then. (Plus you can spend more and feel less guilty.)

Jewellery is a bit of a funny one, as it’s often something you feel you have to wait to be given, especially women’s jewellery, which is strange in a way as it’s so personal – who knows what you love better than yourself?

Which is why when Thomas Sabo got in touch to ask if I would like to take a look at their jewellery, just as I was sending off the final draft of my debut novel, I had a browse through the ladies rings and chose this crown ring from the Kingdom of Dreams collection:

Thomas Sabo ring View Post

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In association with AlchemLife

A very unusual thing happened to me recently.

It was a Wednesday during October, and we’d been up to Bristol to hang out with Bee for the afternoon. When we got home I started to feel IFFY. My sinuses were burning, my head hurt and my throat was scratchy.

‘Brilliant,’ I thought, ‘a cold.’ I looked in my diary to see what I had on for the next couple of weeks, knowing that whatever it was would have to be rescheduled when the inevitable hacking cough took root.

But here’s the unusual thing – it didn’t. No cough. My sinuses burnt for a good few days and I felt generally a bit rough, but still, no cough.

Anyone who knows me will know that this is a very strange occurrence indeed. For my whole life I’ve suffered with horrible coughs that last for weeks and push everyone around me to the point where they want to smother me with a pillow just to stop the coughing. Normally any kind of small cold will immediately burrow down into my chest, but not this time.

It might have something to do with the fact that the day after my sinus cold thing appeared, I had a parcel in the post from AlchemLife. Inside the parcel was a natural food supplement called PhytoRelief-CC.

how to prevent a cold PhytoRelief

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