9 Tips To Help You Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions Beyond January.

Isn’t it strange how we so often start the year full of good intentions of all the things we’re going to change about our lives, how we’re going to adopt good habits to increase our health, wealth and well-being, only for all these good intentions to fall by the wayside before January is over?  Last year I didn’t even bother to make any resolutions. I figured there wasn’t a lot of point.

Photographer: Natalie Rhea Rigg @Unsplash

So, does that mean I’ve crossed over to the side of the cynics who believe making a list of New Year’s resolutions is a waste of time? Well, actually no. I’ve decided they are a good idea and I plan to make New Year’s Resolutions this year. For me, they’re a way of taking stock of where I am, and where I’d like to be. I love the motivation of setting new goals and dreaming of the positive outcome.

If you’re with me and plan to set some New Year’s Resolutions of your own, here are some tips to help you stay on track.

Start thinking about your New Year’s resolutions well before New Year’s Eve – 9 Tips to help you keep your New Year's Resolutions Beyond January – victoriahoneywood.com Click To Tweet

1

Start thinking about your New Year’s resolutions well before New Year’s Eve. Give yourself time to prepare and psych yourself up for any planned lifestyle changes.

Photographer: Michael Longmire at Unsplash

2

Many people fail because their resolutions are either unrealistic or too vague. Make your resolutions specific. Instead of resolving to lose weight, resolve to lose a certain amount, say five pounds, by the end of February or resolve to give up fast food/sugar/alcohol for a month.

3

Don’t beat yourself up if you relapse. Just promise yourself you won’t give up but you’ll just get straight back on track.

4

If there’s something significant you’d like to achieve break it down into smaller chunks. Instead of having a goal to redecorate the house, set a goal to decorate one room every month or two.

5

Reward yourself for small achievements

Photographer – Carli Jeen at Unsplash

6

Some people find they stick to their goals better when they partner up with someone else with the same goal.

Photographer: Bruce Mars at Unsplash

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7

Write your New Year’s resolutions down and display them in a prominent place so you see them often.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

8

Don’t be afraid to review your goals during the year. They should be fluid and adaptable, not set in stone.

9

Make sure the resolution is something that’s right for you. Don’t pick a resolution because other people or outside influences are pushing you towards it.

And, last word, if you are putting a list of New Year’s Resolutions together, make sure at the very top of your list is “Be Kind To Yourself”.  

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13 She Sheds to Drool Over

Have you noticed that over the past few years the old garden shed has been getting a makeover? Gone are the cobwebs, piles of compost and broken flowerpots, replaced by carpet, wall art and furniture. The garden shed has become a room in its own right, and no longer the exclusive domain of the man in the house. Garden sheds are becoming distinctly girly.

But what can a She-shed be used for? Well, in our busy lives we could all use a quiet space. Somewhere we can go to escape life’s hurly-burly and reconnect with ourselves.

A She-shed can be used for art and craft projects, as a sewing room, a photography studio, a writing room, a reading room or even a place to just sit and enjoy your garden. And, if gardening is your thing, then you could create an amazing potting shed.

You could bring the outdoors inside with gorgeous pot plants and freshly- cut flowers, or even loop garlands of pretty paper flowers around the walls. There’s nothing stopping you from hanging artwork on the walls. Check out Etsy for cheap printable art you can download to your computer and print out straight away.

For decoration you could spruce up an old, but comfy, sofa with luxurious cushions and gorgeous soft throws. Think beautiful textures and rich, warm colours. Or you could make it an exotic Arabian nights-style interior with Moroccan hanging lanterns, rich deep colours and low cushions or bean bags. This could be your special place to unwind and practice some meditation or yoga.

Decorate the walls in soft pastel shades to invoke a feeling of peace and calm. Forage for old and pretty items in secondhand or bric-a-brac stores. The great thing about she-sheds is that they’re small so don’t need a lot to make them special. If you want to use your shed for storage then look for compact yet adjustable storage units such as shelves that will fit into a corner or can be mounted around the walls.

Some enterprising people have even transformed their old shed into business premises such as this tiny antique store.

The owners of this shed converted it into cosy guest accommodation.

Here are some more fab examples I found on Instagram and Pinterest to inspire you.

Halloween Traditions

Witch Alert! A Look At Halloween Traditions

Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble…

Look out it’s Halloween again! Time to stock up the cupboard with treats for little visitors or, if you live with small trick or treaters, get creative with costumes.

In honour of this popular celebration of all things spooky, I decided to look into the origins of some of our favourite Halloween customs.

Where does the word Halloween come from? It’s a reference to All Hallows Day, a Christian feast dedicated to remembering the dead. The word Halloween has been in use since the mid eighteenth century and is a contraction of Hallows Evening. Over the centuries a number of Halloween traditions have become popular but what were their origins?

Making Lanterns from Pumpkins

These are also known as Jack-O-Lanterns. A scary face would be carved into a hollowed out vegetable such as a turnip with a candle inside, and carried after dark to ward off evil spirits. The “Jack” possibly refers to the Irish legend of “Stingy Jack”. According to the legend, Stingy Jack made several bargains with Satan and ended up doomed to roam the world with just a light in a hollowed turnip to guide him.

Trick or Treating

There are many theories about the tradition of “trick or treating” but it’s thought to come from Britain and Ireland where it was common for people to dress up at Halloween and go from house to house singing songs or reciting poetry in exchange for food. Sometimes these performers didn’t receive a warm reception so they would issue the occupants of those houses with a warning that “misfortune” may befall them.

Halloween Decorations

People have probably always used decorations in their Halloween festivities, but during World War II, when there was sugar rationing, Halloween became a non-event. It was revived after the war becoming a more family-friendly event. People started decorating their homes and gardens and, over the years, the decorations have become more elaborate. Yet, they are still mainly based on the symbols from ancient folklore.

If you’re looking for some Halloween decorating inspiration then check out these images on Pinterest.

Apple Bobbing

Apple bobbing is a popular party game at Halloween. It involves filling a large tub of water and floating apples in the water. Then, using only their teeth, players have to try and bite into the apple. This game probably originated as a fortune telling game. The first one to bite into an apple would be the next person to marry.

“Hallowe’en Pleasures. Bobbing, bobbing everywhere. Apples in a Tub.”

Halloween Costumes

Scary and ghoulish costumes were originally worn in order to either frighten dead spirits so they wouldn’t do any harm or deceive the dead spirit into thinking the person was one of them and leave them alone.

Here are a few much cuter examples for inspiration. Isn’t that baby owl adorable?

A look at Halloween traditions and customs through the ages. #halloween #halloweentraditions #halloweencustoms
A look at Halloween customs and traditions throughout history. #halloween #halloweentraditions #halloweencustoms
A look at Halloween customs and traditions throughout history. #halloween #halloweentraditions #halloweencustoms

7 Uplifting Romcom movies to Warm the Heart

If you’re a romance junkie, you’ll know that there are a multitude of different romance genres out there to appeal to the most discerning of tastes. One of my particular favourites is the romcom genre. In fact, romcom movies, possibly more than books, have influenced the type of books I like to write. One of my favourite treats after a busy day is to curl up on the sofa with a glass of red wine and a good romcom movie.

But what exactly is a romcom? If you check online you’ll find several definitions, but for me a romcom is simply a humorous book or movie that focuses on a romance between two characters with a happy ending. I particularly love it if there’s some snappy dialogue between the two main characters.

Image created by naulicreative from Pngtree.com

So I thought I’d share some of my favourites. Although I could include many others, I’ve managed to whittle my list down to seven. Some of these movies are ancient now but still have the magic I look for in a romcom movie. These are ones I can watch over and over and they always warm my heart.

1. The Holiday

Released in 2006 starring Kate Winslett, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law & Jack Black.

The Holiday is one of my all-time favourite romcoms. Quite by coincidence I turned on the TV one night last week and it was on. It features two smart, successful women Iris and Amanda (Kate Winslett and Cameron Diaz) strangers living in different parts of the world.

As their current toxic relationships end they both decide they need a holiday… alone. They go on a house exchange website and end up staying in each other’s homes over the Christmas period. Iris lives in a quaint old cottage in the heart of the English countryside. Amanda lives in an ultra-modern home in Los Angeles, California. How they both cope in each other’s environment provides much of the comedy but there’s plenty of romance (two in fact!)

2. French Kiss

Released in 1995 starring Kevin Kline & Meg Ryan

I’m an unashamed Francophile so with its stunning French scenery I would have probably have enjoyed this movie even without its fun storyline and imperfect, yet endearing, characters. Kevin Kline plays a very convincing Frenchman and Meg Ryan, once the Queen of the Romcom, is at her sparkling best in this delightful film.

Despite her fear of flying, Kate jumps on a plane to cross the Atlantic after her fiancé, Charlie, in Paris for a convention, meets someone else and breaks off their engagement. She’s confident once he sees her he’ll realise his folly and change his mind. On the plane she sits next to a rather uncouth, chatty yet endearing, Frenchman called Luc. What Kate doesn’t realise is that Luc is a crook who smuggles a stolen necklace and a special grapevine into France by hiding them in her bag.

That is the start of a wonderful adventure following this mismatched pair on the trail of stolen bags and the missing fiancé from Paris down to the French Riviera. There’s some hilarious repartee between Kate and Luc culminating in a truly satisfying romantic ending. 

3. Paperback Hero

Released in 1999 starring Hugh Jackman & Claudia Carvan

If you love the best friends to lovers romance trope, then you’ll love this romcom. This is an Australian gem close to my heart.

A young and handsome Hugh Jackman plays Jack, a tough road train driver in the Australian outback. But Jack has a secret. He’s written a romance novel and stolen his best girl buddy’s name as his pen name. 

When a top publisher arrives in the town to sign “Ruby Vale” up for a publishing contract, Jack has to persuade tomboy Ruby to go along with his deception. She agrees but with conditions…

4. The Truth about Cats and Dogs

Released in 1996 starring Janeanne Garafolo, Uma Thurman & Ben Chaplin

Borrowing a theme from Cyrano de Bergerac, Abby, a veterinarian with a radio talk show, begins a voice-only flirtation with Brian, one of her call-in listeners. But when he tells her he’s coming into the studio to meet her face to face she panics. Convinced he’d never find her attractive, she gets her beautiful friend, Noelle, to pretend to be her.

5. One Fine Day

Released in 1996 starring George Clooney & Michelle Pfeiffer

This one has George Clooney as the hero, need I say more? But this one will strike a chord with all the working mothers out there.

Single mother, Melanie Parker is an architect with an important presentation scheduled that day. Her day turns into a major juggling act when her young son misses a school excursion due to another parent failing to pick him up as arranged. The other parent, single father Jack, a journalist, has urgent work issues of his own to attend to for a major story he’s working on. The two parents, despite not warming to one another, eventually agree to take care of each other’s children in shifts throughout the day so they can both make their meetings. But, as you can expect, their day is far from smooth sailing!

6. Tammy and the Bachelor

Released in 1957 starring Debbie Reynolds & Leslie Nielson.

This is a real oldie and some may consider it a little corny but I still love it! I recently found out that Debbie Reynolds was pregnant during the making of this movie. Check out Leslie Nielson (probably better known for his disaster spoof movies such as “Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun” series) he was quite the hunk in his youth!

Tammy is an unsophisticated young woman living with her Grandpa on a houseboat on the Mississippi. They rescue a young pilot from a crashed plane and nurse him back to health. When he’s well enough, the pilot, Peter, returns to his family and his fiancée. Later, when Tammy’s grandfather is arrested for making illegal liquor, she goes to Peter for help. He mistakenly believes her grandfather has died and insists she stay with his family. Peter’s family’s snobbish values are put to the test when they find out the truth.

7. Man Up

Released in 2015 starring Simon Pegg & Lake Bell

I only recently watched this movie having read many good reviews about it and I loved it! Simon Pegg isn’t your average romantic hero, but he’s very believable in this film. Kudos to Lake Bell’s very authentic British accent. I’m English by birth and honestly didn’t realise she was American until I started writing this post!

Life-weary Nancy just wants to be left alone during her train ride to London but she gets chatted to by an effervescently optimistic young woman who’s heading to London for a blind date. When Nancy isn’t very nice to her she leaves her a self-help book but Nancy isn’t into self help. So when the train pulls into the station in London Nancy chases after the woman to return the book. Instead she bumps into the woman’s blind date holding a copy of the same book. The man mistakes Nancy for his date. On a whim, Nancy decides to play along. I won’t spoil the story but suffice to say they end up having a very eventful evening in London!

To find out more about these movies, I recommend going to The Internet Movie Database. I’d also love to know what your favourite romcoms are. Drop me a note in the comments below. Maybe there’ll be a part 2 to this post one day!

5 Favourite Fictional Heroines

Who are your favourite fictional heroines? Are there any particular qualities you like to see in a fictional heroine? Personally, I like heroines who are far from perfect, in fact they’re often quite flawed. But they must be strong and independent. I hate wimpy characters! Choosing five favourites was difficult but here we go:

Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily want to be friends with Scarlett O’Hara, she’s a perfect example of the flawed heroine I like to see in a novel. When the book begins she comes across as selfish and vain, almost dislikeable. She ruthlessly casts aside anyone who gets in the way of her goals and yet, as the book progresses, her inner strength and courage in the face of extreme hardship and danger shine through. By the end of the book I was cheering for her.  

Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

 I loved Elizabeth’s independence and intelligence and yet she also has a stubborn streak which makes her seem more real, somehow. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Apart from her witty banter with Mr Darcy, I loved the way she stood up to the snooty Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Emma Woodhouse from Emma by Jane Austen.  

Another heroine I don’t think I’d want to be friends with. Emma has never had to struggle in life and is quite a stubborn and vain character. After a marriage takes place between her former governess and Mr Weston, Emma gets a taste for matchmaking but unfortunately her meddling in other people’s lives doesn’t always go the way she planned, mainly due to her lack of experience and her conviction she’s always right. However, by the end of the book she’s grown as a person and fallen in love, despite her earlier declaration that she’ll never marry.

Sophy Stanton Lacey from The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

I remember listening to, rather than reading, this book after I’d been forced to wear an eyepatch following a sporting incident which resulted in an injury to my eye. This was definitely a book to lift the spirits, I can remember laughing out loud during this book. I loved Sophy’s independence, wit, lively and somewhat quirky, personality which posed such a contrast to the rather depressed household where she’s currently staying.

Bridget Jones from Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding.

I love Bridget Jones! She’s a character I’d love to have as a friend. I can imagine many women would see parts of themselves in her character. She’s physically not perfect, is on a continual bumbling quest towards self-improvement while trying to find a boyfriend. She makes tons of mistakes along the way but she’s never afraid to give things a go whilst hanging on to her sense of humour. All in all a very endearing character.

Who are your favourite fictional heroines? Add a note in the comments section.

A Quick Tour of New Zealand in Pictures (and some words!)

New Zealand is one of the most stunningly beautiful countries I’ve visited with its craggy mountains and glaciers in the South Island and boiling geysers and rolling hills of the North Island.

Our trip to New Zealand, in early summer, was my first but Peter had been a couple of times before. We decided to see as much as possible by hiring a camper van for the duration of our trip, another first for me (see below for an image of me at the wheel). The camper van itself was a disappointment as it was a lot older and shabbier than we’d expected but even though it had its problems it didn’t break down on us and was a great way to see New Zealand.

We started our journey in Christchurch in the South Island meandering as far South as Te Anau before turning back north. Overall we spent two weeks in the South Island before catching the ferry through the stunning Queen Charlotte Sound from Picton to Christchurch. In the North Island we visited the Art Deco haven of Napier before heading up to Rotorua and finally ending our journey in Auckland.

The landscape was awash with wildflowers which made the stunning scenery even more breathtaking.

Part 1 – South Island

After picking up our camper van in Christchurch we headed south-east towards Akaroa and I was given a hint of the scenery that awaited us.

View heading towards Akaroa
View heading towards Akaroa
Boathouse at Akaroa
Akaroa

This tree, on Lake Wanaka, must be one of the most photographed trees in New Zealand. Google “Wanaka Tree” or #wanakatree on Instagram to see how many different images come up.

Wanaka Tree
The Wanaka Tree

Cadrona is a small hamlet in the valley between Queenstown and Wanaka and close to the Cadrona Alpine Resort, a popular winter sports region. The Cadrona Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in New Zealand and is a reminder of the area’s gold rush past.

Cadrona Hotel
Cadrona Hotel

Just past the hotel I noticed a fence covered with strips of fabric. On a closer look it turned out these were bras tied to the fence. There must have been about a thousand bras flapping in the breeze! Back at home (otherwise known as crappy van) I did some research and discovered this bizarre exhibit began back in the late 1990s.

Over the years there have been several unsuccessful attempts to have the bras permanently removed but at least now they’re doing some good. As well as providing a quirky tourist attraction, they’re helping raise money for breast cancer research. 

A great way to experience Milford Sound in the Fiordlands of the South Island is by boat. The tall dark cliffs, carved out by glaciers during the Ice Age, are awe-inspiring from the deck of a boat. I haven’t been to Norway but I imagine it would be a little like Milford Sound. To add to the excitement, the captain of our boat decided we weren’t close enough to the forbidding cliffs and nudged the bow into the spray of a cascading waterfall. “Legend dictates if you get wet under this waterfall you’ll never grow old,” he promised.

Into the waterfall at Milford Sound
Getting close to the waterfall in Milford Sound

Part 2 – North Island

We caught the ferry from the South Island to Wellington via the beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound. After we’d drawn breath, and changed our van (third and reverse gears had given up on us by this stage) we headed east to Napier. Devastated in 1931 by a major earthquake, the town was rapidly rebuilt and now has what’s arguably the world’s most complete collection of Art Deco architecture.

Art Deco Architecture in Napier
Art Deco Architecture in Napier

Heading north-west we skirted Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand towards Rotorua. You can tell you’re getting close to Rotorua by the clouds of steam billowing from the ground by the side of the road and the faint smell of sulphur that clings to the air. Peter had been raving about the Rotorua museum so it was disappointing to discover it was closed indefinitely having failed earthquake safety standard assessments. Instead, we visited the Te Puia Maori Village which provided a great insight into the Maori culture and brought us close up to the Pohutu geyser and boiling mud pools. Our Maori guide kept referring to us as “my family” highlighting the importance of the family in their culture.

Of course, as we were in the North Island we had to visit Hobbiton, close to Rotorua and see the little Hobbit houses. Located on staggeringly beautiful farmland, the set was dismantled when filming for the Lord of the Rings trilogy ended and had to be rebuilt for The Hobbit. The owner of the farmland agreed to the use of his land on condition that a permanent site be constructed. Now the owner runs Hobbiton in partnership with Peter Jackson who directed The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit.

Interesting facts about New Zealand

  • Evidence suggests that New Zealand was uninhabited until about 1250–1300.
  • Other than bats, New Zealand has no native mammals or snakes. As a result, some birds, including the Kiwi lost their ability to fly as they had no predators on the ground. Unfortunately, cats, dogs and other small animals introduced by settlers to New Zealand have caused the number of Kiwis to dwindle.
  • New Zealand has a few earthquakes every week but most are either deep inside the earth or of a low magnitude and don’t cause any damage. To find out the recent earthquake activity in New Zealand check this link
  • The Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa meaning land of the long white cloud
  • The beautiful lupins of New Zealand are not native to the country. They are Russell Lupins, a hybrid of Lupinus polyphyllus originally from North America, and introduced to New Zealand during the first half of the twentieth century. I read somewhere they were scattered by a farmer’s wife in the 1940s to “make the countryside prettier”. Whether that’s true or just a myth remains to be seen but now they’re considered an invasive weed.

To summarise:

Would I recommend travelling through New Zealand in a camper van? If the thought of driving on the left, steep climbs, hairpin bends and parking large vehicles doesn’t bother you then yes, I’d definitely recommend it. The roads are good and, other than in Auckland, we didn’t meet any heavy traffic. Acquaint yourself with the traffic rules before you set off. There are plenty of traffic police waiting to pull you over! We were stopped on our first day, by a very friendly policeman, for crossing the road’s centre line while going round a bend.

Here’s a picture of me at the wheel of the camper van beast and a photo of it parked by beautiful Lake Hawea.

If you’re not daunted by the driving then a camper van is a great way to see the country. We were lucky with the weather but if it’s not good you can just pull up in a stunning location, make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and relax with a book. Bliss! (Full disclosure: we weren’t travelling with children!)

New Zealand has plenty of excellent camping sites with powered spots and good facilities (bathrooms, kitchens, laundries etc). Many have playground areas for children. I’d recommend downloading the Wikicamps New Zealand app.

Auckland

By the time we left New Zealand we’d clocked up over two thousand kilometers, taken several thousand photos and gathered some amazing memories and yet there is still so much more to see.

I can’t wait to return.

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New Zealand - Lake and mountains with lupins in bloom

8 Simple, Yet Amazingly Practical Travel Tips

I love to travel but living here in Western Australia, which is quite an isolated place, means whenever I go away a long flight is involved. So, over the years, I’ve gathered a number of tips and tricks to make my trip as smooth and hassle-free as possible. After all, travelling is meant to be fun and enjoyable!

1. Pack a Powerboard.

For most of us, normal life involves multiple gadgets such as mobile phones, tablets, iPads, cameras etc. all of which need charging. The problem though, is that the average hotel room will probably have just one or two power sockets. So, to enable you to plug in multiple items at once, pack a power board. They’re reasonably lightweight and can easily be slipped down the side of your suitcase.

Remember that different countries have different voltages and use different plugs, so check that your appliances will work in the country you’re visiting and take an appropriate travel adaptor. A good reference source to find out what system is used at your destination is www.power-plugs-sockets.com

Make sure the powerboard you take has surge protection. The electrics at your destination may not be as good as back home so don’t risk frying your appliances. Also, don’t piggy back your powerboard with a secondary board or double adaptors. Many fires have been caused by overloading power points.

2. Pack a small (empty) water spray bottle

Invariably, when you unpack on arrival at your destination, some of your clothes will look crumpled, no matter how carefully you packed originally. Simply give them a good shake and hang them somewhere with plenty of air circulating around them. Don’t hang them in a tightly packed wardrobe – a shower rail is perfect. Then lightly spray them with a fine mist of water the aim is to dampen not saturate, and let them dry. The creases should disappear.

This tip is invaluable if you’re like me and don’t like ironing. However, a word of warning, only do this if you’re confident your clothes won’t get wrecked by water. Check the labels carefully.

You can also slip the water spray bottle into your bag for a refreshing blast of mist on your face while sightseeing in the heat.

3. Save on bottled water.

It’s important to keep yourself hydrated during air travel but buying bottled water at the airport can be expensive and you won’t always be allowed to carry it on the plane. However, you should be allowed to carry an empty bottle through security then when you’ve boarded you can ask a member of the cabin crew to fill it up for you. Alternatively, once you’ve gone through security you will probably find a water fountain where you can refill your bottle. But, a word of warning, don’t bank on always being allowed to carry it on the plane. Some airports have further security checks at the boarding gate with restrictions on carrying liquids.

Bonus tip: Another thing to avoid at the airport is their money exchange services! I’ve found the rates of exchange at the airport are usually pretty poor compared with elsewhere.

4. Organise your clothes in packing cells

Packing cells (lightweight mesh/nylon containers for putting clothes and other small items in) are invaluable for organising your clothes when packing. Everyone will have their own method for organising their clothes eg. underwear in one, t-shirts in another, but I like to put everything I’ll need for an overnight stay in one cell and make sure that’s at the top of my suitcase so if I arrive late at the hotel I don’t waste valuable snooze time rummaging around in my suitcase for my toothbrush!

5. Buy a Headphones Adaptor

I hate the headphones you get on the plane. Invariably they’re uncomfortable and don’t stay in position so I bought an adapter and now use my own comfy earbuds.

Headphones adaptors are available at a low cost from electronics stores or online.

6. Pack Earplugs and an Eyemask.


They’re great for helping you get some shut eye on a long plane journey. They’re also useful for noisy hotel rooms. I was recently in a hotel in Austria located on a very busy road. It was also unusually hot weather and the hotel didn’t have air-conditioning so we had to leave the window open overnight but thanks to earplugs I didn’t hear a thing!

I love Muffles earplugs available from Boots the Chemist. These are made from a wax substance that can be warmed in the hands then moulded to fit comfortably in the ear. Tip: they’re also great if you share your bed with a snorer! Unfortunately, there isn’t a Boots the Chemist here in Western Australia so whenever I’m in the UK or in Asia, I stock up.

7. Pack Bottles of Liquids and Lotions in Snap-Lock Bags

I transfer shampoos and other liquids into small travelling containers to save space and weight then I stash them in zip-lock bags to limit any damage caused by leaks. No matter how well I screw up the stoppers some of the contents always tends to escape.

8. Pack a Hair Drying Turban.

How many times have you stayed somewhere and either been provided with just one towel or maybe also given a second towel but the size of a handkerchief? Also, some hotels don’t allow you to use their towels to dry hair if you’ve got dyed hair. So avoid any hassles by packing one of these hair turbans for drying your hair.

Here in Australia we have Turbie Twist available from Big W (you can also get them online at Amazon) which is made of super-absorbent micro fibre. I love them because they’re light and easy to pack. I’ve tried other brands which aren’t so absorbent.


If you have any good travelling tips please share in the comments section below.

How to Write Book Reviews that ROCK!

You’ve just finished that amazing book you couldn’t put down. Your kids have finally been fed and life has resumed to normal but you’re feeling a little…hmm…flat? You miss those amazing fictional characters you’ve just spent many hours getting to know, the magical setting and the heart-pumping pace of the story. What’s the solution? Go for a nice bracing walk? Clean the house? Here’s an idea. Why not grab a pen and paper or a laptop/computer and write a book review? Let the world know what an amazing book it was!

But I wouldn’t know where to start! I hear you cry. Who would be interested in my opinion, anyway?  The answer is many people!

Book reviews are one of the leading methods readers use to find new books. They also help the author find out what works and what doesn’t work in their books.

So what exactly is a book review?

It’s a summary of what you, the reader, felt about the book. In the book review you outline what, in your opinion, were its strengths and weaknesses and whether you enjoyed reading it, or not. It’s a recommendation to other readers to read, or avoid, that particular book.  It’s also helpful to the author to find out what their readers liked or didn’t like about the book.

What isn’t a book review

It’s not a platform to write a scathing attack on the author, no matter how much you hated the book! In fact, a reviewer should try to keep their personal taste out of their review as much as possible. Don’t mention that you hated the hero’s name because you were bullied by a boy at school with the same name. But do mention if you got confused by the similarity of some of the characters’ names.

Who shouldn’t post a review?

This might sound obvious but if you haven’t read the book, then don’t post a review! Also, if you are a close friend or relative of the author, then don’t post a review. Amazon doesn’t allow book reviews posted in exchange for any monetary reward other than a free book given by the author. It should also be noted that Amazon don’t allow people to review books unless they have reached an annual minimum spend on their account (currently $50 at Amazon.com).

Where should you post your review?

The book review can be posted on Amazon, Kobo or wherever you usually buy your books, it can also go on Goodreads or one of the many Facebook reading groups. And if you read enough, you could even start a book blog or a dedicated page on your website, if you have one.

What is the format for a review?

There is no set format for a book review. If you look at book reviews on Amazon, you will see a wide range in the standard and length. Some are barely literate, some are an in-depth, intelligent analysis of the book. Some are a few lines, some are several thousand words long.  Amazon cap reviews at 5,000 words however a good length would be 500-750 words. It’s better to write a one or two liner than nothing at all, provided those lines are informative and specific. Eg don’t write “I hated it.” and leave it at that. Explain why you hated it! Better – “I hated it because the characters were totally unbelievable and the pacing was snail-like.”

So what should you include in your review?

First of all, as mentioned before (but it’s worth mentioning again) please be KIND and diplomatic in your book review. Try and offer constructive criticism. Remember you are writing this to help other readers. Be specific about something you liked or didn’t like.

This may sound like ridiculous advice, but make sure you’re posting a review for the book you read! You’d be surprised how many people post their reviews on the wrong book.

Many reviews start with a summary of the book, but, and this is very important,  don’t include any spoilers!  If you’re posting a review on Amazon you don’t need a summary as there will be one on the book page but it’s worth including a few details about the book to demonstrate that you’ve actually read it.

Mention the main character and the core plot of the book. It’s a good idea to end your review with a question either directly or by putting one in your reader’s mind. For example: A young boy discovers he has magical powers when he is taken to wizard school. He encounters the evil wizard who killed his parents and is out to kill him too (Harry Potter).

This example doesn’t end with a question but see how it raises a question? Will the evil wizard succeed in killing Harry?

You should also include how the book affected you, such as “I couldn’t put this down” or “I struggled through this book”. “I loved the humorous tone but figured out the ending halfway through.”

The bulk of your review should be a constructive analysis of the story. This could include any/all of the following

  • What did you think about the characters? Were they well-drawn out and believable? Did they invoke any emotions in you? Or did they seem more like cardboard cut-outs?
  • Was the dialogue appropriate for the character?
  • Was the setting vivid and appropriate for the book with sufficient details to help form a picture in your mind? Alternatively, did the author describe the setting in too much detail? This can make the book drag.
  • Were all the loose ends tied up at the end (remember don’t give any spoilers away!)
  • Pacing – did the storyline flow and were the fast-paced scenes well-balanced by slower more reflective passages?
  • Did you like the author’s voice – if you’re not sure what that is, it’s the unique style that characterises that author. Some write in a friendly, informal style, others write in a darker style. Some like to use a lot of profanity, some don’t.
  • On the subject of profanity, which can also be grouped with sex and violence, it’s fine to mention if you prefer books with less or more of the above, but remember this is YOUR PERSONAL PREFERENCE – it’s not a writing flaw! You may love or hate it but everyone views this differently.
  • Did the book have a theme? If you’re not sure what that is, the theme is the central idea of the story and a universal statement such as “The importance of family”, “Crime doesn’t pay”, “Love is blind”, “Money doesn’t bring happiness.”

Always keep in mind that your primary purpose in writing the review is to help other readers, so base your comments on how the book was written. Don’t comment on how you would have liked the book to be written. That’s not helpful to other readers.

Proofread your review and run it through a spell/grammar-checker, if necessary, before posting it.

And last, but by not least – HAVE FUN!!

Just finished a good book? Why not let the world know by writing a book review. Here are some simple steps to get you on your way. #bookreview #lovereading #writingreviews
Just finished a good book? Why not let the world know by writing a book review. Here are some simple steps to get you on your way. #bookreview #lovereading #writingreviews Background image by Kayla Marie of ivorymix.com
Just finished a good book? Why not let the world know by writing a book review. Here are some simple steps to get you on your way. #bookreview #lovereading #writingreviews Background Image by @thoughtcatalog unsplash.com

Feeling Crafty? Check Out These Fun Easter Craft Projects.

Feeling Crafty - Check out these Fun Easter Craft Projects.  Tulip image (c) Victor Hanacek of Pic Jumbo.

This Easter many of us will be confined to our homes so here are some awesome Easter crafts to work on. I particularly love the knitted daffodils! They will definitely cheer up the gloomiest day and that Easter bunny with his floppy ears is so adorable.

Confession time: I’ve never tried blowing eggs then decorating them, but I’m fired up to give it a go this year. I really love the idea of an Easter Tree with pretty hand-painted eggs hanging from the branches.

Below, I’ve gathered some gorgeous projects from around the web sourced from some beautiful websites, so if nothing else you may find some wonderful websites to bookmark.

Yarnspirations

This is a wool retailer’s website but has lots of free knitting patterns including these gorgeous baby bootees. Have you ever seen anything quite so cute?

Click here for the pattern

I also loved this gorgeous bunny scarf. You can get the instructions from Yarnspirations

Handy Little Me

Another gorgeous craft blog packed with beautiful images and inspiration for projects including this cute floppy-eared bunny.

You can get the pattern here.

Peanut Blossom

I found this tutorial on this beautiful lifestyle/family blog. Doesn’t this Easter Tree just look so cheerful? It’s also super easy to make. The kids will love getting involved with this one.

What I love about this project is that you could really let your creative juices flow and maybe incorporate some gorgeous Easter paper crafts, paper blossoms and ribbons.

Click here to go to the tutorial

Wallflower Kitchen

As the name of this website would suggest, this is a foodie website with lots of delicious recipes and some mouthwatering images.

But I also found this Easter Tree tutorial which I’d love to try. But I’m going to have to adapt it slightly as there are no cherry blossoms here, unfortunately, but I can’t wait to try and make some of the glue and cornflour Easter decorations. They look super simple to make and great fun to decorate. Get the instructions here

Laughing Hens

If you’re into knitting or crochet you’ll love this website full of beautiful yarns. And if you’re just learning check out their “How To” section for some helpful tutorials.

I love these knitted daffodils. I don’t think they should just be an Easter decoration. I’d have them on display all year round. You can download the pattern for free from Laughing Hen’s website HERE

Easy Peasy and Fun



Let the kids have fun with this cute paper project and make a cheeky rabbit bookmark.

Click here for the tutorial

One Little Project

This project is a lot easier than it looks. These colourful hyacinths would brighten up a room at any time of the year.

Get the tutorial HERE

Some other blog posts you may enjoy

image by Arno Smit - Unsplash

9 Super Helpful Tips To Lift Your Travel Photos From Umm to Awesome!

I was given my first camera when I was ten. My first shots were a little boring, acres of flat white sky and little else, but over the years I’ve improved and I’m still improving! Although I’ve never had any formal training, I read tons of information and follow great blogs. See below for my “go to” photography websites. 

I’m also fortunate enough to be able to travel quite regularly, so I usually return from my trips with more photos than I know what to do with…little extra tip, if you want to keep your family and friends, just select your best shots to show them. DON’T subject them to a three hour run-through of every photo you took on your trip!

But to ensure that you bring home some really memorable photos, here are my top tips.

1) If something captures your attention then take several shots.

This is a tip from one of my photography gurus, Scott Kelby. If something catches your interest enough for you to want to photograph it take lots of shots. Don’t just take one shot and move on. You can always delete the ones that didn’t work out but you may not get the opportunity to take the photo again.

We were touring New Zealand in a campervan a few years ago and stopped for the night at a campsite near a beautiful lake. While strolling near the lake at dusk, this rather dilapidated jetty caught my eye. Here are some of the photos I took that evening (trust me I have quite a few more!)

2) Tourists crowding your shot? Don’t worry, people can give a photo life and energy.

My partner, Peter, will wait for hours until everyone has moved out of his shot but I am not so patient. I make people part of the shot but don’t you think they give these images life and energy?

3) Use frames to help with your image composition

Frames are great devices to help with your composition. Look for natural frames like a doorway or the boughs of a tree. Another good trick is to buy or make a simple cardboard frame and hold it in front of you. Move it around until you find a view that you really love.

4) Pay attention to smaller details

Often when travelling, people are too keen to include as much as they can in their shot and often the small details, that really set the scene, get lost. So train yourself to be observant. Search out the small details and make them the feature of your shot.

5) Don’t put your camera away just because it’s raining.

Rainy day? Don’t panic you can get some gorgeous photos when it’s wet (but be careful not to let your camera get wet.)  Rain often softens the light especially if it’s a misty rain. Puddles cast interesting reflections and umbrellas can provide colour contrast to an otherwise gloomy shot.

The raincoats and umbrellas of these tourists in Paris provide a bright contrast to the otherwise gloomy day.

6) Chose a theme if you’re stuck for ideas.

Not sure what shots to take? Pick a theme. For example interesting doors, hanging signs, shop fronts (one of my favourites) or select a different colour theme for the day and make that colour the focus of your shot. When you get home you can combine them into a poster size print.

7) Invest in a digital single lens reflex camera.

Many people are happy with the photos they take with their mobile phones. I get amazing photos with mine and, best of all, I always have my phone with me. But, if you want to step your photography up a notch, you should consider getting a DSLR camera. There are many affordable “entry level” DSLRs cameras which have simple auto settings you can use until you’re comfortable enough to start experimenting. But a word of warning, take the time to read the manual and PRACTISE before your trip.

Once you’re comfortable with the camera try taking it off auto mode and experiment. I have pinned lots of useful cheat sheets and infographics in the “Learn Photography” section of my Photography board on Pinterest. (Click here to view.)

8) Shoot in RAW format.

If you have a digital SLR then consider shooting in RAW format but be warned, the file size will be huge so make sure you’ve got a large capacity storage card. I use a 32 gig card and I back up my images to my laptop and/or a portable hard drive every evening.

The reason why the RAW file is so much larger than a JPG file is because a RAW file is uncompressed. It contains all the information that reaches the camera’s sensor. This is an advantage because it gives you so much more creative flexibility, but the downside is that the image will probably look quite dull and flat when it comes out of the camera. You will need some post processing software such as Lightroom or Photoshop, to bring out the highlights, shadows, darks and lights.

You can see what I mean in the image below. The left hand side of the image is how it came out of the camera. It looks kind of dull and flat, rather blergh, doesn’t it? In the “after” section on the right I’ve brought out the shadows and the contrast in Lightroom and the image has come to life.

 

9) Last word, and most importantly…

This is an important tip and one that I have to remind myself of constantly. Don’t miss life because you’re always stuck behind a camera. You often see tourists in a beautiful spot but they have their back to the scene while they take a selfie. Once they have taken their photo they move onto the next place on their list and repeat. It makes me wonder how much they’re really seeing and experiencing. It’s important to spend some time just soaking up the atmosphere of wherever you are. So once in a while put the camera away or, better still, leave it behind and just enjoy the moment.

Some of my favourite photography websites

Here are links to my favourite photography websites packed with helpful advice to help you (and me) lift our photography skills.

Digital Photography School

Light Stalking

Scott Kelby – as previously mentioned he’s one of my top gurus when it comes to photography

Kelby One is another Scott Kelby website for online learning about photography. This site is mainly for paid up members but I can highly recommend his webcasts which are free to view (but you do have to set up an account first). It is well worth it, though, for the quality of the content he provides. I particularly like his blind photo critiques. You can learn a lot by some of the comments he makes about other people’s images.

Still with Scott Kelby, if you want some inspiration, check out his beautiful travel portfolio. The images are just stunning. Oh to be able to create something so amazing *sigh*.

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