Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Our Summer Adventures... ǀ Week Four


I have so little to update you on for the fourth week of our summer adventures.  For the first time ever the kids attended a summer camp which ran Monday-Thursday and lasted pretty much all day.  Meg attended a dance themed camp and Eli went to a football one (no gender stereotypes here...) and although they both loved it, I found it a lot harder than I thought I would.


It was held in this huge secondary school, just less than 20 miles from our home and parents said goodbye at the front door, leaving their children for the entire day.  I felt like this was such a big step; probably quite similar to school for the kids in that they had to self-manage their belongings and their lunch etc but a huge deal for me; entrusting the care of my children to people I didn't really know for a whole four days!!

After a little weep on the first morning, and after they came out that first day chattering away about how much fun they had both had, I gained a little bit more confidence.  But still, it was a pretty big thing for this mama.


However, what the week did give me was the chance to catch up with all the freelance work which I had been putting to one side, so although I didn't get to enjoy any adventures and I did miss the kids (shhh don't tell them!) I did manage to get a whole heap of work done which was a good feeling.  And it was quite nice to have the chance to recharge as well for the final one and a bit weeks before the kids go back to school.



Over the weekend we managed to tick some more things off our summer bucket list too (more on that in September) when my brother and sister in law came to visit and we spent the day at Southport Pier playing tourists.  We went to the arcade, had fish and chips at the seafront, walked along the pier eating doughnuts and generally just had a brilliant time.


Sunday we headed down to see my parents who live in the East Midlands, although it is just me and the kids as James had to head back to work after the bank holiday (boo) and he'll be coming back to collect us later this week.  We've had a lot of fun though and the sun has decided to show up for an almost last hurrah which is fab.

So a bit of a different week for us this week.  When we head back home it will be last minute rushing to buy school shoes, label new uniform and make sure that everyone is squeaky clean and ready for the start of the new school term.  But I know I am certainly not ready for the kids to go back yet!


Monday, 29 August 2016

5 Things We've Learned About Renting... ǀ Home & Interiors


This August we will have been living as tenants for almost 10 years; it's an unfortunate fact that we simply do not have the financial scope to be able to get a foot on the housing ladder at the moment (come on book deal...) and so since we got married and moved into student digs, we have been renting houses.

Over the years we have moved into six different properties, each time for various reasons and we have made mistakes (and learned from them) when it comes to dealing within the rental sector.  It's tricky because as I'm sure many landlords have also found when it comes to tenants, there are bad landlords and letting agencies and there are good ones and sometimes it is difficult to know in advance which one you are landing yourself with!

But regardless, when HomeLet (a provider of Landlords insurance) asked me to share some of the things I have learned about the rental sector, in connection with the release of their new #LandlordsAdvice ebook, I was only too happy to assist.

1. View the property more than once
It's pretty similar to buying a house; you really want to see it more than once as it is so easy to pass over things which may become a problem later down the line.  Initially when you go to see a new property it can be exciting, especially if you are upgrading to a bigger space.  So much so that it is easy to become carried away and not examine the finer details.  Anything which jumps out as a problem should be addressed with the landlord or letting agency prior to signing any tenancy agreements.  We have been lucky over the years to have pretty great landlords who have been quick to sort out problems but we've also had a few who have repeatedly promised to sort things out only to never come through.  


2. Read the fine print
Don't assume that all tenancy agreements are the same...they aren't!  It can vary so much from letting agency to letting agency.  For example, in our last house we had to pay £200 to have the carpets cleaned on exit as well as covering the cost of a cleaning company, something we've never had to do before.  Had we not known about this prior to leaving it would have been a pretty costly thing to discover!

3. Understand your rights
As a tenant renting in the private sector, you have certain rights and responsibilities and it is so worth taking the time to find out what these are.  These include things such as living in a house which is safe and secure and which is in a good state of repair.  There are numerous steps you can take if your landlord won't come and fix any issues you may have in a timely fashion too.  This is why it is so important to read the fine print too as you need to know what you are responsible for and what your landlord has agreed to be responsible for.


4. Own that inventory
Before you start planning out your rooms or moving your furniture into your shiny new home, make sure you go around it with a fine tooth comb and the inventory in hand.  A legit landlord will accept general wear and tear but the last thing you want is to be handed charges for things which were broken when you moved in.  Our last letting agency were absolute pains and we had frequent arguments discussions with them about things which had been marked or damaged when we moved in.  Sigh. 

Even better if you can take a camera round and capture evidence of anything which doesn't match the inventory.  It's the best way of ensuring that you get your deposit back when you move out.

5. You can make it your own
Plenty of people don't like the thought of renting because it's hard to make it feel 'yours' and whilst I would certainly agree that this is true to some extent, there are also things you can do to put your own temporary stamp on the place. If you are moving into a furnished property then soft furnishings and wall prints are going to be your best friend (can't put things on the walls?  Why not learn two or three against a wall instead as a statement?).  It's also always worth discussing with the landlord what they are happy for you to do.  In quite a few of the homes we have lived in the landlords have been happy for us to paint rooms and put up wall hangings as long as we returned the house to its original state at the end of our tenancy.  Sure, filling in holes with filler and painting over them at the end was a pain but having our own photos up was worth it.

So there you go, just a snapshot of some things we have learned about renting a property.


Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Keeping Your Home Safe When You're Away ǀ Travel

Summer is classically the time when many people choose to go away on holiday; that is certainly true for us and so it's also the time when (potentially) your home is at most risk.  We are lucky that we have never had anything untoward happen whilst we've been away...unless you count the time our garden table exploded glass everywhere but it still pays to be cautious.

Chill Insurance recently created an infographic which features some surprising statistics about home safety and they asked me to share with you my thoughts on how we keep our home safe when we go away.

1. Check home insurance
If it has been a while since you sorted your insurance, or since you went away then make sure you look over your policy and check that it remains valid whilst you are away.  Some insurance policies feature exclusions such as your home only being covered for a certain number of days when you are away so it is always worth re-reading the small print.  If you need to sort insurance then head online; companies like Chill are a good place to start for home insurance quotes.

2. Don't leave it looking unoccupied
My dad always used to tell me that nothing makes a house look more conspicuous than curtains drawn during the day and this is so true!  Although it is tempting to keep curtains drawn, there are other ways to deter potential burglars.  Invest in a timer switch to turn on lamps and lights when evening draws in, cancel any regular deliveries (such as milk/newspapers) which may obviously build up and mow your lawn just before you go to make it less obvious that no-one is home.

3. Tell a neighbour
We always ask a nearby neighbour to keep a lookout for our home whilst we are away, and we do the same for them.  We have exchanged numbers with our close neighbours and know that they would contact us if something were to happen to our property.  We also do small things such as parking on one another's driveways and taking the bins out too; all to make it look as though someone is home.

4. But don't tell everyone!
There's no need to advertise to everyone that you are going away, and there's also no need to leave things out on display whilst you aren't home either.  Put valuable somewhere secure and don't leave them out on display.  This is pretty good advice for any day of the week when you may not be home but is especially important when you go on holiday.

So there you go...just some quick tips on how to keep your home safe whilst you are away.


Have you got anything else you would add?

This is a collaborative post.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Our Summer Adventures... ǀ Week Three


I feel as though the summer holidays are shooting by so quickly and I have done a terrible job at keeping the blog updated.  I think in part the last week has something to do with it; we went from brutally awful weather to glorious sunshine and I wanted to get out of the house and really make the most of it.

Well, that's my excuse anyway.

I am still caught up in the balancing act between spending time with the kids and getting my freelance work done.  I managed to reduce the load right down but there are still times when I find myself at my desk, wishing I was in the garden watching Meg and Eli play.

They need me so much less now but I'd still love to make myself a part of their games if I could!



So following on from our (rather wet) adventures in Wales we took things at a slower pace for the first few days.  James was back at work and everyone else was a bit grumpy and tired so we tended to just mooch around the house and the garden.  


We did venture out to the beach on one of the days and despite the horrible weather with gale-force winds the kids did still venture out into the sea.  As Meg told me, 'it's what wellies are for Mum.'  Rightio.


Possibly the only highlight of getting blasted in the face by grains of sand and having my hair whipped into a salt-tainted frenzy was the fact that I got to see a red squirrel for the first time since we moved up north.  Hurray!


Then we had the stunning weather we had so hoped for and that saw plenty of water play in the garden.





We had a lovely day out exploring Tatton Park in Cheshire.



And the Martin Mere Wetland Centre.

The rain is back now of course, typically, so we've ended the week with a visit to another trampoline park.  This one was a little further away and bigger than the last one we went to but the kids still had a really good time and although it was busier than we had hoped, the hour seems to last for ages and they do really get worn out by it.


And what else is there to do when you've exhausted yourself on a trampoline and the rain is still hammering down on the window?  Movies and treats!


Thursday, 11 August 2016

A Week in North Wales...Part One ǀ Travel


This year saw us return to North Wales for another week of exploring.  We headed there for 5 days in June 2015 and fell in love with the rolling countryside, rushing rivers and picturesque scenery.


Unfortunately I think somewhere along the line we had also forgotten about the potential for bad weather!  The cottage we were staying in is located in Snowdonia National Park which is an absolutely stunning part of the country but this year we just didn't get the weather...it was overcast and rained almost every single day and whilst we are no strangers to getting out and about in bad weather (we do live in the UK after all!) it did somewhat change our overall plans for the week.  All the beach gear that we had packed was no longer needed but in some respects this was better; it meant we had to rethink how we wanted to spend our time and we visited some places which might otherwise have been passed over.



Our first day we decided to visit nearby Porthmadog.  Last year we had visited Black Rock Sands beach on a beautiful day but we hadn't actually explored the town itself so a cloudy day seemed like the ideal time.  There isn't much going on but we enjoyed looking at the boats and trying some fish and chips..and ice cream of course!


On our second day the forecast was quite a bit better so we took advantage and headed into Conwy to see the castle and the surrounding town.




Both Meg and Eli really enjoyed wandering around the castle and the little activity sheet they were given on entry kept their attention (although it was perhaps the promise of a badge at the end that did this!)


My favourite part was definitely climbing to the top of one of the towers.  Although I was pretty nervous about one of the kids falling the views were absolutely stunning and I did manage to swallow down my fear enough to capture a few pictures.


After that we had a brief explore of Conwy.  There isn't actually much to see aside from the castle although the town does have its own kind of sweet charm but we did come across the smallest house in Britain which was fairly interesting; and then we had to make a hasty exit back to the car when the heavens opened.


Then it was onto our first visit to the Coed y Brenin forest.  We came back to this forest later in the week to tackle a more mammoth walk but on this particular trip we kept it simple.  Well, sort of.

We had this idea to try out some orienteering but quickly discovered that we had absolutely no skill for it so after wandering aimlessly around with our map for about half an hour we went back and simply followed one of the easier marked out walks.


Is there anything better than coming across a deer when your latest love is Harry Potter?  Answer = there is not.


We also discovered that the cafe at Coed y Brenin made the most amazing wedges.  I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that we were soaked through and worn out.  It was enough to make us return for them on our second visit anyway!


If you are ever in the area then I would highly recommend the forest.  From the walks to the playgrounds, it was a pretty gorgeous place.  It was quite atmospheric on the day we visited as the clouds were sitting so low but I imagine it's also a fabulous place to be on nice days too.  There were three play areas which we could hardly drag the kids away from.  

There are a lot of mountain bike and running tracks too.  We will probably head back in 2017 when the kids are a bit more confident on their bikes and give one of the easier trails a go.

This took us to halfway through our week so keep your eyes peeled for Part Two which I will post next week.  But if you can't wait that long then I did also put together a little video of our time if you want to see that below.