Category Archives: Lifestyle

Christmas Wreath

Nothing to do with accounts!!

For 4 years now I have been making my own wreath for our front door.  Why? Because I couldn’t find one I really liked in the shops, the ‘non-real’ ones look, well… non real and the real ones are all so uniform and perfect that they don’t look real either plus some of them were £50 and I still didn’t like them.  So inspired by Kirsty Allsop off the telly, I decided to have a go at making my own and now its become a bit of a tradition in our house.

So if you want to have a go yourself it’s really quite easy, much cheaper and the results are great but be warned you will get very sticky, sappy hands, sore fingers, damaged nails, pricked several times by the holly and you will get the odd bug walking across your table!

Here’s what you’ll need:  A ring of some sort, you can get them from Hobbycraft or online, you can get wire ones, rattan, moss covered foam.  I think mine is made from grapevines and is still going strong after 4 years.  A pack of florist wires, again I re-use them year after year.  You will also need some way of attaching it to your door.  I use a big red ribbon which gets tied to the door knocker. A pair of garden clippers or good scissors and some newspaper to protect your table.


You can also get additional objects such as cinnamon sticks, dried orange slices, Christmas ornaments, monogram letters etc.

Next is the fun bit, you need to go out foraging in the woods, preferably on a crisp dry day. On the heath they cut down loads of trees every winter and leave them for you to take – free Christmas trees, there is loads right now but some are a bit scrawny.  Here’s what we collected on a half hour dog walk.

You need to try and find as many varieties of Pine and Fir trees as you can.  The one on the left is from our Christmas tree.  Try to find bits with the cones still attached as it makes life easier.  In my opinion, holly with berries on is a must but some years this has been hard to find but seems to be in abundance this year.

These are always just lying on the floor but give them a good shake to get any crawlies out.

You can also use cones and small sticks to add interest.

Now to assemble, take a few of your assorted bits and twist a florist wire around the stems about an inch from the bottom to make small bundles.  Once you’ve made a few bundles, start attaching them to the ring using the wire that you have attached to the bundles.  Start near the top of the ring and work down, overlapping each bundle to hide the stems and wires.  You don’t want to make the bundles too uniform but the ring does need to be reasonably symmetrical.  Do a few each side until they meet at the bottom.


Once you have initially covered the ring, hold it up against a door.  You will immediately see if there are any gaps and if any parts need more wires to secure them.  Lay the wreath back on the table and add more foliage and wires where necessary.  Its also at this point that you can add extra decoration with cinnamon sticks, drift wood, cones etc as the wire you use to secure them can also help secure the bundles at little better.

This is my finished wreath.

Happy Christmas

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Pictures: Diane Hudson

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Canford Heath

Want to see whats beyond the little path at the front of our place?

 

Canford Heath is an 850 acre heathland of special scientific interest.

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It’s very pretty in the evening sun

 

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Late summer is the prettiest time of year 

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There are nine cows – 2 big black Shetlands & 7 British Whites

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Full moon rising at the top of the path to Wallisdown

Clean up your Finances

Tips for sorting out your personal finances.

There is a philosophy that says you should ‘spend a third, save a third, invest a third’. For most people this is unattainable but it is something to aspire to!

The last thing I want to do is tell people how to spend their money but if you are interested in spending a bit less or saving a little bit more or paying off debts here are some tips. Mostly common sense things that we’ve all heard before but sometimes we can all do with a reminder to get a grip on the situation.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here goes:-

Change your attitude towards spending your hard earned cash. Aim to consume less and cut unnecessary expenses. Place less value on material things and more on experiences.

If you’ve ever done a car boot sale you’ll know what an awful experience it is, standing in a damp field at 5am on a Sunday morning with people refusing to pay 50p for something that cost you £20 only a few months ago. A good thing to come of this awful experience is that it makes you look at things differently. When you go to purchase something, think ‘will this go in the car boot pile in a year’s time?’ If the answer is yes then you really don’t need it. It’s usually impulse buy decorative ornamental nick nacky cheap plasticky kids gimmicky toy type things that fall into this category.

Set financial goals for motivation – what are your priorities and what dreams do you want to turn into reality? Create a plan and make it happen.

Try to save something each month then aim to increase the amount every so often.

Track your spending, including the little things like Costa’s and newspapers as they really add up. Create a budget, then stick to it.

Go through every item of your expenses and try to reduce them where/when possible. For example never just renew insurances, always shop around. Change your mobile phone contract as soon as you are able, I changed mine from £37 per month to £11 per month for better usage allowance with the same provider. Our AA contract had gone up year on year, when it got to £230 (including our ‘valued customer discount’) we looked online to see they were offering the same deal to new customers for just £99. When we queried this with them they told us you should phone and cancel every year and then renew online to get the best deal.

Again, look at the little things, Costa’s – buy a flask, newspapers – get the Sky or BBC News apps and read the important stuff for free, everything else is pure trash (although I also have the ‘OK’ app to keep up to date with the trash/gossip). I don’t think I’ve ever bought a newspaper. I could go on and on with things like this and it depends on how much disposable income you have or how much you want to save. If you are seriously strapped for cash you can save loads on the little things.

Move your credit card balances to get better deals.

If you have debt you need to decide whether you should still save or put more into paying off the debt. The general rule of thumb is to first save an emergency fund and keep it for real emergencies. Then start paying off debts with the highest interest rates. If you are left with debts with interest rates of less than 5% it may be better to invest rather than pay off. If you debthave several debts it can be motivating to pay off the smallest ones first. As each debt is paid off use the money you are saving each month against the next debt to create a snowball effect. The more you get paid off, the more you have available to pay off the next debt.

Cancel any payments you no longer need – subscriptions, extended warranties, unused gym memberships.

Don’t pay for things twice, e.g., when you bought your freezer did they sell you extra insurance to cover your freezer contents if it breaks down, this is usually covered on your home insurance.

Don’t be afraid to change your current account even if it’s with the same bank, it’s not as difficult to do as you may think. Try to get a better deal for your circumstances, e.g., I pay £2 per month for my account but I get back around £12 per month in cash back (partly because my mortgage is with the same bank and I get cash back on the mortgage payments). But beware if you regularly go overdrawn this type of account can be very expensive.   It has to suit your circumstances.interest-rate

Check your savings accounts interest rates, including ISAs. Banks are forever lowering the rates for existing accounts and then bringing out new accounts with higher rates. It’s usually really easy to stay with the same bank but just switch to their latest offering.

Just one final point, a friend of ours is a mortgage advisor and he is on a crusade against payday loans. We all know they cost a fortune if you don’t repay in time but what you may not know is that even if you repay every penny on time it will seriously dent your credit rating. If you try to apply for a mortgage after you have had one of these loans, most banks will not touch you with a barge pole because you are deemed to be not very good with your finances if you have had to resort to that type of loan. It is stereotyping people and unfair if you did repay on time but that is how it is.

 

For the Love of Lists

Lists – I love them, always have done. There’s something deeply satisfying about ticking off items on your lists. I guess that’s why I took to accountancy, it’s basically just lists of income & lists of expenses.

When you have lots to do or lots to remember and everything is whizzing around in your head itbigstock-The-word-Everything-on-a-To-Do-45656401-300x300 can seem like double the amount of tasks you actually have to accomplish and can seem quite overwhelming. By writing the tasks down in a list it helps to clarify, organise and prioritise the tasks and then when you can see exactly what’s to be done and you know you won’t forget anything, it suddenly all seems less overwhelming.

As humans, we tend to have a natural state of ‘slackness’, lists help to focus the mind. Shopping lists, reminders and ‘to do’ lists are all variations on productivity based lists that we use to help us stop procrastinating. The ‘to do’ list is the one we spend most time on. We don’t seem to struggle to write a shopping list and then buy everything on it but getting tasks on a ‘to do’ list done is a whole different matter.

Tips for your ‘To Do’ list

Don’t make tasks too large, break them down into smaller tasks, you’ll have more to tick off and will feel like you are achieving more.

Prioritise – put the list in order of urgency.

Be realistic with your planning. It will have a negative effect if you are unable to accomplish your tasks in the time you set yourself.

If you can’t get motivated try doing the simplest, quickest tasks on your list first. Ticking off some items will help you get going.

Find methods that work for you. You may need a list of long-term tasks and then make sub lists for smaller more immediate or daily tasks.

My Lists

In my personal life I have lists for everything, shopping (I have an app for that one), packing, camping, finances, birthdays, bucket lists etc, etc but we won’t go into those as some may think it’s a bit sad.

In work, although I have many lists to organise and keep track of things in my business, my ‘to do’ list is the most essential. (That and the list that shows who owes me money.)

I do a monthly to do list so on the first day of each month a new blank list complete with tick boxes is printed off. First I put on everything that was left to do from the last month. I draw a red line under these so I know they were from the previous month and that these items must be done by the end of the new month, that way I am never too far behind with anything. Then in a separate section I write in anything that I know has to be done in the month and the date it has to be done by, items such as PAYE submissions, Companies House annual returns, VAT returns etc. Again a line is drawn under these, then any new work that comes in during the month is listed underneath and whilst I try to get as much completed in the month, I know it’s ok if these have to be carried over to the following month.

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Some days when there seems to be a lot of little bits & pieces to do, I will write a sub list just for the day. You need to be flexible, I do not always do the items in order of the list, if you know you only have 20 mins to spare, just chose a quick task to tackle, it’s not always practical to start a task you won’t be able to finish.

Lists can help a lot but don’t be ruled by them, sometimes life just gets in the way of your goals.

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Reba – The Face Behind the Noise

A few of you have met her but a lot of you have just heard her. I’m talking about our big fluffy monster who barks like crazy every time you come to my front door. We are trying to stop this behaviour but she is just so protective of her space.

I usually try to shut her in the kitchen before I answer the door as once the door is open she changes from being protective to very excitable and I know being jumped at, licked and covered in fur isn’t to everybody’s liking.

Her name is Reba (named after a bicycle suspension fork).

She’s a proper Welsh Border Collie from a sheep farm in the Brecon Beacons, she’s now 10 years old and we’ve had her from a puppy.

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She loves to come with us for forest bike rides, she runs along beside us and gets impatient when we stop for a rest.

She also likes sticks

And her teddy’s

And we love her to bits

Bye

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Desks – Which One Is Yours

‘If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?’
Albert Einstein

In my last blog about Working from Home, I stated the importance of having a dedicated work space but whether it’s at home or not, what does this space say about you.

1. Messy as a Pigsty
If your desk is just pleasantly messy you are probably the creative type as it’s believed a messy environment encourages creativity. However, if it resembles a toxic waste zone you will just be hated by all who have to work near you.

2. Inspirational Message Overload
Personally I hate these things especially the team building ones you see in company offices, I’m far too cynical for these. People who need to be surrounded by these messages and quotes are thought to be slightly neurotic. ‘Inspirational statements are a psychological form of trying to keep people together emotionally and it calms anxiety.’

3. The Office Meeting Place
Is your desk the place everyone wants to be at? Maybe because you always have a bowl of sweets on your desk or have cool pictures or stationery that everyone wants to borrow. You are thought to be extrovert and you love the attention. You probably always had the best pencil case at school.

4. Clean on Monday, Messy by Tuesday
You try to start the week organised and promise to stay on top of things but then life takes over. You are a person who finds it hard to break habits but you get things done ….. eventually.

5. Always Neat & Tidy
Being perfectly organised is part of your daily routine. You are super organised, always on time and prompt to reply to emails. You wouldn’t dream of eating at your desk.

So, which one am I? I like to think I’m a 5 but sometimes (most times) I’m probably a 4.

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Photo Credit:  SplitShire

10 Tips for Working From Home

I’m often asked about how I like/deal with working from home.  A lot of people tell me they couldn’t do it stating that they wouldn’t be able to get motivated to work, or they would get distracted all the time or they would miss not going out to work and being with colleagues.

Well, I have to say i absolutely love it.  In my case there’s no daily commute, no boss to deal with, no being trapped inside when the weather is glorious, no having to book time off just to go to the dentist.  The flexibility is brilliant.

However, if you want to earn a proper living you do have to be sensible about it.  I’ve read so many tips for working from home but this is my take on it, the things that are important to me and make it work for me.

1.  Take your work seriously.

If you don’t, no one else will.  People often think if you work from home that it’s not a proper job.  Don’t say ‘I work at home’ instead say ‘I work from home’ or ‘I have a home office’.  Speak of and refer to it in business and professional terms.

2.  Keep social media for personal time.

I make a point of never using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc., on my office computer as hours just disappear.  I restrict use to my iPad and only go on these sites when I’m not in the office.  Usually it’s while I’m eating breakfast or lunch or watching TV in the evening.  TV is also something you should never switch on during your working day – there’s nothing good on daytime TV anyway.

3.  Routine

Some people need routine and I myself am a creature of habit but surely a major advantage of working from home is that you are not tied to routines such as the 9-5.  For instance I would much rather go to the supermarket on say a Tuesday morning when it’s really quiet than have to leave it till the weekend when its busy and takes twice as long.  I would also rather be in the garden on the rare occasions that the sun shines then work twice as hard when it’s raining.

4.  Dedicated workspace.

You need boundaries between work and life.  Having a dedicated office or at least a desk in the corner is a must.  Working on the kitchen table whilst the family are eating, talking, making coffee, dogs running around, papers getting moved etc just won’t work.

5.  Make your free time count.

You can’t stay focused for hours on end and if you work in a home office it’s easy to lose track of time.  You need to get out of your chair and take regular short breaks.  You can use these breaks to put the washing on, unload the dishwasher, walk the dog….

6.  Wake up and put your face on.

You can’t lay in bed every day, no problem if you have a family to get out the door each morning.  Many people say you should get dressed for work I don’t believe this should mean wearing a suit.  My take on this just means that you shouldn’t slob about in your PJs all day and anyone who knows me, knows that my work shoes are my fluffy slippers.

7.  Have a schedule but learn to be flexible.

I have always been big on writing lists, I find if I have things to do buzzing around my head I can feel overwhelmed as it seems like more than it actually is.  Writing these things down helps to clarify and organise.  You can plan your tasks for the day but then life can interrupt your progress, don’t beat yourself up over not ticking everything off your list just try to make progress at a different time.  If you can’t get motivated start by tackling the easiest jobs on your to do list.

8.  Get your telephone answering right during office hours.

Be professional and don’t let the kids answer the phone.  Have an answer phone for when you’re not around.

9.  Avoid Cabin Fever.

Having a dog and living next to a heath is a great help for me here as it makes you go out every day rain or shine.  Many home workers go out to coffee shops to work just to have some human contact, this is not something I have ever felt the need to do.

10.  Closing Time.

Try not to work too late in the evening especially if you have a family and make sure clients/customers respect your personal time.  An advantage of working from home is that you are more available to your clients/customers but phone calls while you are having your Sunday roast is never going to be acceptable.

With that said, it must be time to put the kettle on!

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Photo Credit:  Jeff Sheldon of ugmonk.com