Thursday 25 February 2016

Ethical Fashion Footwear from Po-Zu

It's important to me to know where my clothing comes from. I'm a big fan of vintage fashion, and what I can save on buying pre-loved means I can afford to buy good quality, ethical items for my wardrobe, without resorting to high-fashion, throw-away products produced with low quality fabrics in sweat-shops.

I was in the market for some new boots recently (ahem my calves seem to have grown somewhat post-Christmas and I can no longer get my favourite black boots over my jeans). Anyhow, I visited the amazing online store Po-zu and was spoilt for choice.

So many styles to choose from, but I plumped for a new pair of black boots, swayed by the fun addition of tweed (I'm a sucker for a British tweed).

Po-Zu Luna Black Boots

As soon as the postie delivered the box, my first thought was how incredibly light they felt.  This must be down to their innovative soles which are made from a layer of sustainable coconut husk, a by-product from the popularity of all things coconut right now.  Beneath this super-comfy 'foot mattress' is a layer of latex which means your feet are kept warm in the winter, but they're still breathable. And did I mention how comfortable they are?

As soon as I slipped them on, they felt like old favourites.  There was no breaking in to be done and the leather upper was soft and supple.  Even though they have adjustable straps, the cut-away detail on the back means they are plenty roomy enough to fit comfortably over my jeans.

Po-Zu Luna Black boots with Tweed detail

The pure wool tweed fabric makes a lovely contrast (even though it does seem to attract dog hair from my puppy who's constantly round my ankles at the moment!)

The inside of the boot has a delicious felt wool lining keeping me warm and snug on cold spring dog walks, and the heel height is just right for all day-wear without making me feel like I have completely flat shoes on.

I'm delighted with the look and feel of my new boots!

But more than that, I'm happy to know they've been designed, produced and shipped by an ethical firm. They are committed to using only the highest quality, sustainable and ethically sourced materials free of pesticides and toxic chemicals.  For those of you who are vegan, they have produced  a solvent-free micro-fibre which is totally animal-free.  All their footwear is produced in Portugal by a team of crafts-people who are paid a fair-wage and enjoy a healthy and safe working environment.

There are some exciting developments in the pipeline this year too.  Not content with using coconut fibres, they're always on the lookout for innovative new sustainable materials and will launching shoes made with Pinatex soon - a vegan-friendly leather alternative made from pineapple fibres.

Po-zu's new ballet pumps, the first on the market using pineapple vibes, coming soon!

I can't wait to see what else they have in their Spring/Summer collection.

Disclosure: I received a press discount on my boots but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Wednesday 24 February 2016

Helping your child build healthy friendships

At nearly 8, my daughter is getting to that age where friends and BFFs are becoming increasingly important, but also posing challenges.

I have no concerns academically about her at school, but the biggest issue at the moment seems to be around friendships and playground fall-outs.  I know it's fairly common, especially amongst girls of this age, but every day there are tales of arguments, people being excluded from groups and games, upset over fallings-out and sometimes tears.  It has kept her awake at night where she's battled internally about differences of opinion, and she's very sensitive to classmates who are not included in playground activities, or those who dominate the group.

We've spent quite a long time talking openly and honestly about these issues over half term, she's agreed on occasion she should have handled situations differently, and we have come up with some strategies.

She's offered to invite a new child round for tea as she's worried she doesn't have many friends having only just moved to the area.

She's going to make an effort to make sure this child is included in her group's games.

We've talked about how to handle a child who is very domineering in the group, always wanting her own way.

We've discussed how mean words can hurt and how they make people feel, and encouraged her to use empathy.

As she grows older, her friendships may change.  She may gain a whole new bunch of friends when she starts her next school.  Friendships will come under strain when she or they discover 'love' and she'll need to learn how to maintain healthy friendships even when she has other interests.

My good friend, blogger and psychotherapist Becky Goddard-Hill has just launched a great new tool together with Emotionally Healthy Kids, to help children understand how to develop healthy friendships.

The FINK conversation cards prompt discussions that encourage children to look at the friendships they currently have and how well they are working, how to make new friendships and how to solve problems within friendships.  The questions are designed to make them think deeply about the value of friendship.

A good network of friends is such an important thing at any age, and anything that can help that can only be good.  Whether these are used at home, in PSHE lessons at school, in youth groups and extra-curricular clubs or in therapy sessions, they can really make a difference to your child's wellbeing now, and for the future.

The Healthy Friendship cards can be purchased online and are currently priced at £13.50 which I think is a really worthwhile investment.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Top 10 Houseplants to clean the air in your home

Did you catch last night's Channel 4 Dispatches program on air pollution ahead of the Royal College of Physicians report due to be published today? It was quite an eye opener. And recent research shows that there's alarming levels of indoor pollution as well as outdoor pollution that we are exposed to.  In the experiment in the show, simply using the kitchen cooker resulted in more pollutant than you might expect to be exposed to on a busy main road.

Pollution and poor air quality has long been linked to asthma, but new research goes further and suggests that not only could it exacerbate it, but it may actually be the cause of it.  Breathing in poor quality air is also linked to higher risk of heart attacks and strokes, and in experiments carried out by Professor Sunya, air quality significantly impacts on children's concentration, memory and therefore their learning. 

Indoor pollutants have long been known about, especially in areas with high levels of electronic equipment - why do you think office complexes take out expensive contracts with horticultural companies to have houseplants installed?

But even in your home, TVs, furniture, soft furnishings, carpets, kitchen equipment, cleaning products, DIY materials and paint can all contribute to polluting your air.

Right now you are probably breathing in benzene, trichloroethylene, formaldehyde, xylene and ammonia.  These toxic chemicals are found in household items and have such side effects as headaches, nausea, heart palpitations, irritation to the nasal passages and eyes, drowsiness and dizziness as well as more serious long-term effects.

But fear not!  Some time ago NASA (that's right - NASA the space people!) carried out some scientific research to find the plants which were most effective at filtering out harmful toxins and provide us with cleaner air.  

If you have pets or are worried about children ingesting any part of the plants, then those considered to be non-toxic are the spider plant, the gerbera and the bamboo palm.

Here's the low-down on the top 10 commonly found houseplants and their air-purifying abilities:

1. Peace Lily

Latin name - spathiphyllum.  The ever-popular housewarming gift.  A great low-maintenance houseplant, thriving in shade and will only need watering about once a week.  Peace lilies are however poisonous to both humans and animals so do take special care if you have children or pets.  This is a big-hitter in air cleaning terms, filtering out formaldehyde, xylene, benzene, tricoloroethylene and ammonia.

2. Ivy

Latin name Hedera Helix. Commonly found in the UK, The English Ivy is a great trailing plant to have either as a hanging plant, or for displaying at height. The leaves are poisonous so be sure to keep it out of reach of pets and children.  A great air purifying plant, it is known to filter formaldehyde, xylene, benzene and tricoloroethylene as well as carbon monoxide.

3. Mother-In-Law's Tongue

Latin name - sansevieria trifasciata. Also known as snake plant.  The variegated leaves add interest, and the structural shape works well in modern interiors.  Another low-maintenance plant, it will only require watering every few months over winter. It's found to be good at filtering out formaldehyde, xylene, benzene and trichloroethylene.

4. Aloe Vera

Latin name - aloe barbadensis.  I can't walk past one of these without offering a hearty 'aloe Vera' greeting, but besides that this is a hugely beneficial plant in terms of it's medicinal benefits.  Great for soothing skin ailments and sun burn, the juice is also great for digestion and gastric complaints. Being a dessert plant it requires very little maintenance. It has great toxin filtering abilities too, tackling formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, xylene and ammonia.

5. Flamingo Lily

Latin name - anthurium andraeanum.  This bold tropical plant with it's striking scarlet waxy flowers is definitely a statement plant. Cleans toxins formaldehyde, ammonia and xylene from the air.

6. Gerbera

Latin name - gerbera jamesonii.  Great for adding a pop of colour in your home with it's bright and cheery flowers.  This daisy is popular as a cut flower, but far better to have it as a houseplant than in a bouquet as it will clean the air of formaldehyde, xylene and trichloroethylene.

7. Rubber plant

Latin name - ficus elastica.  The large, striking waxy leaves and upright growth make this a great statement houseplant. The rubber sap released when the plant is cut or bruiesed is poisonous to humans and animals.  It's useful for filtering carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene.

8. Spider Plant

Latin name - chlorophytum comosum. Every home in the seventies had one, this is such a giving plant, sprouting off free 'babies' from the ends of it's leaves. They are easy to propagate and you could keep all your friends in free plants too.  Spider plants are good at removing poisonous gases, so useful to keep near your boiler or any gas or real fires where carbon monoxide can be produced. Shown to filter xylene and formaldehyde. 

9. Weeping Fig

Latin name - Ficus Benjamina.  This structural plant is more of a tree than a simple pot plant, so it will provide a striking focal point in a room. The milky sap inside the leaves and stems is toxic. The Weeping Fig with it's glossy leaves is effective at filtering formaldehyde and xylene.

10. Bamboo Palm

Latin name - chamaedorea seifrizii. This is the perfect houseplant if you want an exotic, tropical look. Originating in South America, this plant became popular with the Victorian Brits.  It's useful for filtering xylene and formaldehyde. 

So, not only will having live plants in your house improve your mood and your decor, but they could have a positive effect on your health too.  Do you have any of these plants in your home?  Were you aware of these added benefits?

Monday 22 February 2016

A little bit of Wales in my home

If you've been following me on Instagram, you'll have seen that we've just had another idyllic week in Southern Snowdonia.  I think my heart truly belongs there.

As soon as we pass the sign to show we've crossed the border and the street signs become bi-lingual I feel my shoulders relax and my breath deepen. There's something so comforting about the imposing mountains - their permanence, their sheer magnitude - that just calms and comforts me.  We try to visit 3 or 4 times a year if we can, and I seem to need it to rebalance and reconnect.

Maybe it's because I live in one of the flattest counties in England, but I miss the mountains, the spectacular scenery, the stunning sunsets and the miles of rolling hills.

I don't go in for tacky souvenirs, but I do like to bring something home that will remind me daily of our trips and keep me going until the next one.

On a day trip to Llangollen I popped into a riverside shop selling local crafts.  These rugs caught my eye, and I became slightly obsessed with them, instantly regretting my decision not to buy one.  We made a detour on the way home just so I could get one!

To be honest, I wanted to buy them all with their different palettes of colours but the voice of doom reason said I couldn't, because where would I put them? Besides, I knew my puppy would have a field day scratting and digging at these and pulling them to pieces.  So I plumped for just one, for our bathroom which is a puppy-free zone.

The rugs are handmade with pure, local Welsh wool by Helen Jones who makes them on a peg loom using 40 strands at a time.  It's really weighty and feels luxurious underfoot so it's perfect for the bathroom.

The colours reminded me of the bright greens of the moss and lichen that abounds in the area.  There are miles and miles of stone walls covered inches thick in moss.  Something about this relationship pleases me - the million year old natural stone, manhandled and manipulated into purposeful boundaries and sheep pens, ultimately reclaimed.  No matter what, nature will always prevail.

The yellow strands interwoven are reminiscent of the daffodils, the Welsh emblem of course, and they were abundant during our February visit because of the mild weather.  The shades of grey remind me of the centuries old stone workers cottages, the flecks of blown hint at the rich coppery beech leaves besides the streams, and the darker hues of green, the evergreen pines that flourish in the Coed Y Brenin forest where we stay.

The jars in the picture are another souvenir from Wales.  These were liberated from an old mountainside cave we explored.  I can only assume that the couple of old stone cottages used to use this as a dumping ground as it's full of vintage bottles and glass jars.  Muddy and full of stale water, we took our treasure home and cleaned and scrubbed them up.  They are perfect for displaying springtime blooms.

I'm delighted with my new rug and against the slate tiles in the bathroom, will be a constant reminder of happy times in Wales.

Linking up with Happy and Home.

Thursday 18 February 2016

Win a copy of The Stick Man DVD with The Forestry Commission

Did you catch the brilliant Stick Man on TV at Christmas?  Well, the fabulous Julia Donaldson story is now available in animated DVD, with the voices of Huge Bonneville, Martin Freeman, Jennifer Saunders and Sally Hawkins.

Stick Man lives in the family tree with his Stick Lady Love and their stick children three." Join Stick Man on an incredible adventure across the seasons as he runs from a playful dog, gets thrown in a river, escapes from a swan’s nest and even ends up on top of a fire. Will he get back to his family in time for Christmas?

To celebrate the 24 Stick Man trails running at various locations across England with The Forestry Commission, I have a copy of the DVD to give away to one lucky reader here on my blog.

The self-led trails are free to complete, but it's well worth buying the pack for £3 which is available on site so you can complete bark rubbing activities and make your own Stick Man as you go around.  While following the trail route, children and families can take part in activities based on their favourite book character. The trails will lead children and families through the forests using activity points which allow them to live the epic adventures of Stick Man, whilst also learning about the importance of forests for people, wildlife and timber.  

The Forestry Commission are also encouraging visitors to make Super-Hero stick people and have free downloadable activity sheet and are running their own competition asking people to share pictures of their Super Sticks on their Facebook wall to win a Stick Man goody bag worth £50.

If you'd like the chance to win a copy of the DVD, simply visit The Forestry Commission site here: and leave a comment stating where your nearest trail is.  One winner will be picked at random to win the DVD.  Open to UK entrants only.  Closing date is midnight Sunday 28 February 2016.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: The prize will be fulfilled by The Forestry Commission, and I have a working relationship with them.  I received a copy of the DVD in exchange for this post.

Sunday 14 February 2016

The Sunday Papers

Today is Sunday, which naturally means a bit of a lie in.  But better than that, it's Valentine's Day which also means breakfast in bed.  And even better, it's half term which means the usual monotonous Sunday routines of washing school uniforms, packed lunchbox food shopping and getting ready for work don't apply.  The absolute icing on the cake is that we're also away in our favourite cottage in Wales, so really today couldn't get any more perfect.

I sent the man out to hunt and gather the newspaper, which given our secluded and isolated spot meant a 10 mile round-trip in the car, and for shame, he went in his onesie, spurred on by the thought of slipping back into bed to savour breakfast.  At least we're 300 miles from home and nobody knows him.

The Sunday Times is not my usual paper, but I was intrigued to see their newly re-launched magazine, so we delved in.  I'm slightly embarrassed to say that we are predictably stereotypical when it comes to our approach to the Sunday papers.  He'll automatically go for the sports section, followed by the business and then the news.  I'll always pounce on the glossy magazine first, and them move on to the homes supplement, and then travel.

I tried my best to keep the magazine to myself, but my daughter spotted her idol Taylor Swift on the front cover and desperately tried to spirit it away.

What I love best about a huge, meaty bundle of papers at the weekend is flicking through idly until something catches my eye.  I like to dip in and out all through the day - on a normal working week it might sometimes take me the full 7 days to get through the whole thing.

Since Sundays are about lazing and relaxing, I returned to the magazine over lunch.  Venturing outside even though it was cold, with my mittened hands I sipped spicy cumin and squash soup, followed by a very generous portion of homemade chocolate fudge cake.  This was when I read the fascinating article about the Douglas children and the scientific studies that have been carried out over decades which shape policy making in everything from education to health.

It was a brisk, bright day so we headed out for a walk to take in some of the stunning Welsh views.  The walk was rather longer than it should have been due to some inept map-reading, and we returned after trekking (mostly uphill it felt like) 12 km, with rosy cheeks and icy fingers.

While the Sunday roast was cooking, I grabbed half an hour to sit and read and found myself nodding with a wry smile to John Aldridge's tech column about 'techiquette', and as someone who's recently given up wheat, I drooled rather uncontrollably at the chestnut pancakes with bacon and syrup recipe - tomorrow morning's feast if I can figure out where on earth to buy chestnut flour from round here.

After dinner and once the small person was in bed, it was time to rest my weary legs on the sofa with a hefty G&T.  With the equally shattered puppy curled up at my feet it was back to the magazine again.  Since the fire was blazing and I was by now feeling toasty and snug, I was drawn to the fascinating photo essay on Canadian ice fishing huts.  My partner is a crazy cold-water swimmer so I'm used to being out near freezing water, but this is another level.  The hardy Canadians conduct their fishing through holes in the ice, but from the relative 'comfort' of their own individual and portable huts.  Much like us Brits might personalise a seaside beach hut with pastel stripes or hanging bunting, these ice huts are a thing of beauty with bespoke paint jobs and personal additions, and, I'm pleased to see, little woodburning chimneys protruding from each roof.

There's still so much more I want to read - articles about Ruby Wax, Dita Von Teese and India Knight, as well as some I'll happily remain in the dark about - Jeremy Clarkson and Nigel Farage.  Now you can't say it's not varied!

Disclosure: I was compensated for this article but all views and images are my own.

Monday 8 February 2016

How to make money from your house

Your home is your castle, but it's also likely to be your most expensive ever purchase.  With many of us feeling the pinch, here are some clever ways to make your house work harder for you and actually bring in some cash.

As with any form of additional income, you should seek professional tax advice about declaring this income to HMRC, and also investigate with your local council whether you need any specific planning or change of use permissions. You should also check with your mortgage company and home insurance provider if any special restrictions apply.

Welcome occasional guests with Air BnB

Since it was founded in 2008, Air Bnb's rise has been phenomenal.  Providing reasonably priced and interesting accommodation to travellers tired of the hotel experience, and allowing property owners the opportunity to earn some income from their otherwise empty spare room.

There are over 2million rentals listed on Air BnB now, with people sharing their whole house if they travel away a lot, a spare room, a camper van on their driveway, even their back garden as a tent pitch.

It can be a great way to meet people from other countries and cultures.  Most guests will expect some kind of local information, but you can simply put together a folder of tourist attractions, local restaurants, taxi firms and contact numbers.

The company offers a host guarantee of £600,000 so you're covered should anything go wrong.  Guests also have feedback ratings, so you can check them out first before letting them into your home.

Using Air BnB's calculations, my spare double ensuite room could be worth around £900 per month.

Long-term -rent your spare room

Under the government's Rent a Room Scheme, homeowners can earn up to £4,250 per year tax free.  Seen as a way to help the housing crisis, people are encouraged to open up their homes to lodgers, and can enjoy the money made without being liable to tax.  After this year, the threshold is expected to rise to £7,000 so there's even more potential to earn from your home.  Even if you're a tenant, you can still participate in this scheme with your landlord's permission.

One of my family members has successfully done this, renting out her spare room, en suite and access to the kitchen to work colleagues, to fund renovations for the rest of the house.

Rooms must be furnished under the scheme. It's advisable to draw up a tenancy agreement and secure references if you want to organise it yourself, otherwise use a company such as Spare Room to take care of the details for you.

Take in language students

If perhaps you don't like the idea of a long-term rental, them maybe language students are the answer. This is something my own parents did when I was younger, taking in students from the United Arab Emirates and Oman.  It was a great way to learn about different cultures and many of the students remained friends, sending gifts back, writing and visiting for years to come.

There are many language schools, colleges and universities around the UK looking to host students for anywhere between a week over the summer, to six months.  You may even find sports students looking for accommodation during exchanges and tournaments.

Typically you'll be expected to provide breakfast, and some arrangements require and evening meal too, so you will be welcoming this person into your family as well as your home.

Blogger Anya Harris from Older Single Mum is an old-hand at hosting language students and has this advice:

'I live in a town full of English Language schools. They pay for families to host some of the foreign students who attend for anything from one week to six months. They come from all over the world and the fee varies as much as they do - £70-£120 per week depending on which school you're registered with. The idea is to help them integrate into the English culture and they are supposed to spend time with the family. I provide breakfast and evening meals and although it's quite a commitment it's relatively easy income. They are always extra desperate for host families over the summer so it is a good way to boost your income even if only then. My kids practise their languages and play football or Uno with them. Once you all get to know each other and they realise how cross you get if they don't let you know when they're not coming home for dinner, you can all tick along nicely for quite a few quid!'

Contact your local language school and look out for adverts in the local papers looking for hosts.

Rent your home office space

Image credit: The Telegraph

If you don't fancy the idea of having to be sociable with strangers in your house at the weekends and evenings, then why not consider the growing trend of renting your home out as office space.  With more and more people 'working from home' and the ever increasing cost of office rental, an innovative way to work is at someone else's home.  As a work-from-home freelancer myself, I can see the attraction in this.  You're free from the distractions at home - how easy is it to think 'I'll just put a wash on...I'll just tidy the kitchen...' and all too easily hours have gone by when you should be working.  It's also good to get a distinction between home and work, and lots of people miss the idea of actually going out to work.  Some people prefer somewhere a bit smarter to meet their prospective clients or don't have room to host a meeting at home. Or maybe they'd simply like to mix with other home-workers and have more chance to network and communicate with people during work.

Companies Vrumi and Space Hop have sprung up to fit this gap and home-owners can rent their space out during office hours, when perhaps they're out themselves at work, and still have their homes to themselves in the evenings. Office space hoppers typically pay between £7.50- £15 each per day to rent.

Hire your house as a film set

How do you fancy seeing your living room on the big screen or on the latest BBC drama?  Companies such as Film Locations and Shoot Factory hook up home-owners and film production crews and photographers looking for shoot locations.

Generally, those the most in demand are within the M25 area.  You should also be able to offer plenty of parking for the film crew, and ideally have good natural light.  Expect the crew to completely take over your house while they are using it, they may remove furniture, move personal items, change the decor, but you should have a contract in place to state that everything will be left as it was found.

You don't necessarily need an uber-cool show home either, TV dramas and films need access to all kinds of properties, so you may be surprised.

Rent your loft

If you don't fancy house guests at all, you could rent out your attic, garage or shed for storage space.  With more and more apartment living, people doing loft conversations and turning their garages into living spaces, storage is becoming a premium for a lot of people.  They may have a treasured LP collection, baby gear they want to hang on til the next arrival, or files of important paperwork.  A traditional storage facility in a warehouse may be too large, too expensive or too inconvienient, so more and more people are renting space from nearby home-owners.  

Storemates matches home-owners with spare space with those looking to store items.  You can rent a few square feet in your box room, your entire attic, shed or other outbuildings.

Loft space in my local are is up for rent at around £18 per month, which if it's currently sitting empty, is a nice little earner. You could earn around £50 for your garage.

Store mates looks after advertising your space, contracts, insurance and even has downloadable storage labels for your 'tenant'.  They charge a 15% fee.

Rent your driveway

If you want to keep your front door firmly closed, another option is renting out your driveway or parking space.

If you live near a rail station, airport, sporting stadium or music venue, then your driveway could be a little gold mine.

Check out the cost of a weekly parking season ticket at your rail station, and undercut that you could be on to a winner.

Use a reputable company who will advertise your space free of charge, offer template contracts and help in any disputes.  You could try Just Park or Your Parking Space.  My own driveway which is a five minute walk from our train station, could be advertised for around £50 per month, per car. Considering the station car park charges £96, that's a good deal to the customer too, and their car is likely more secure with me!

Advertising on your house

Image Credit: Right Move

This final suggestion won't be for everyone.  You're likely to need a gable-end wall in a high traffic area, but if your location is suitable and you're happy to have an advertising hoarding erected on the side of your house, you could be quids in.  You'll also need to obtain planning consent which can sometimes be tricky, but you could earn yourself up to around £1,000 per annum.  Granted, it's doesn't make your home look beautiful, but once your inside, you can't see it!

If you think your house might be suitable, contact a reputable advertising agency who'll make a site visit before going about securing the correct permissions, and brand bookings.  Try Prime Site or Ad Site Management.

So what do you think?  Have you ever made money from your home?  Would you consider any of these options?