29 January 2016

Win £150 John Lewis Vouchers for De-Cluttering Top Tips with Everest.

So the word on the street this month has included a great deal about de-cluttering our homes, our lives, our friendships and, consequently our minds.

And there's no denying how much more space can be created in a relatively short space of time once we actually try it.

My top tips for de-clutterinng would be to:

1) Tackle things ten minutes at a time.  A drawer a day or washing down a wall can give you incredible impetus for tomorrow, or *gasp* even another ten minutes.

2)  Leave off the wine until afterwards.  It's amazing how 'tired' you can feel after a glass or two and how tempting it can be to leave even the ten minute tackling until tomorrow.

3)  Reward yourself.  Write a list of your achievements / dream de-cluttering jobs downsized into very small chunks and you'll be amazed how much you can achieve by the end of a day / week / week or two.

4)  Believe in a place for everything and everything in its place.  Friends who have actually visited my house may be surprised by my advising anything in this regard, seeing as it's not exactly the most organized-appearing place to be, however there is a lot to be said for organized chaos.  I can put my hands on almost anything I'm looking for because, even at worst, there's an area for everything and and everything in its area!  Work stuff on my desk, dastardly school paperwork on the kitchen side, non-work to-do on top of the microwave.

5)  Use files.  Years of office work means appreciating the simplicity of segragating and sorting. One file for Instructions, another for receipts and guarantees, another for finances, others for important documents, sentimental stuff and the like. Whatever works for you.

6)  Be ruthess. Get rid of the kids' broken and outgrown toys when they're not around. Don't even entertain the idea of getting them involved.  They'll suddenly want to play with everything they haven't touched in years.  You know best.

7)  Try to stay on top of things. It's very easy to let piles of this and that build up again once you've cleared away your *cough* areas, especially if it's an ongoing job and you're focused elsewhere, but it's best to be happy with one room than unhappy with them all, so set small targets and give yourself credit for each little achievement.

The great thing about Everest Home Improvements bi-fold doors is that the feeling of space you create - physcially first, followed inevitably by mentally - is that they allow you to go even further by enhancing the illusion of it in fine style.  Check these out.  What's not to like?!

Everest bi-fold doors giving the illusion of even more space than the lack of clutter does. 
And today, they're generously giving away £150 of John Lewis vouchers to a lucky winner of our Rafflecopter competition.

All we ask is that you leave your own top tip for de-cluttering in the comments via the Rafflecopter giveaway widget below and the winner will be chosen at random.  Additional entries are optional.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And the winner is Lisa Rowsell (@Lisa2062).  Many, many congratulations and thank you everyone for entering :)).

26 January 2016

Why Plastic's Not Fantastic and Three Little Things by Atlanta Cook.

You know when you meet someone and you only know them as a mum, but, gradually, over time, the pretty awesome person they are underneath gradually emerges?  Well, this has happened with a friend of mine called Atlanta Cook.  Following her Facebook posts has really opened my mind to the perils of plastic. 

There was one picture in particular, much like this one underneath, that really resonated with my soul.  She was way ahead of the pack when it came to carrier bags and continues to campaign to reduce the amount of plastic in our oceans and generally what has become our addiction to it.   

I implore you to watch the video she has shared below and to consider the three little things she suggests we can all do to reduce our consumption on a small, daily basis.  To be honest, they seem too small when you see the scale of things, how far reaching the problem is and what else could be done, but 
I've been so impressed with Atlanta's work, that I asked her to write something for us all and she has kindly done so:

atlanta cook, plastic's not fantastic,
Atlanta Cook, Marine Environment Consultant.
Did you know that buying natural products supports Nature herself?

Ergo, buying plastic products supports fossil fuel consumption = destruction of forests, mountains, water aquifers, streams, rivers, oceans, the Arctic! Hmmm, a bit heavy I know, but true none the less!  But don’t worry, because solutions to plastic pollution are both simple and available to all.

Almost 200 nations around the Earth recently signed a Climate Change treaty in Paris that puts fossil fuels where they belong, in history.  The people have spoken and they want cleaner renewable energy and carbon capture technologies that reduce the level of CO2 in our atmosphere.

The bigger picture: 

Industrial Age (extract & burn fossil fuels to power machines) 

Plastic Age (mass produce products from fossil fuel derivatives) 

Information Age (world wide web spreads plastic pollution observations, we wake up and realise we can't eat or drink fossil fuels and they are destroying our planet)

Sustainable Age (the people demand transition to renewable energy to replace fossil fuels)

Now we finally have a world agreement to work towards the reduction of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s time for us all to act.  Divesting from fossil fuel by products, aka plastics is a great place to start.  Switching your home energy supplier to Ecotricity or Good Energy is also a fantastic way to support renewable energy.

But it's the little things in life too.  Small things matter - and to anyone who says they don't, just remind them what it's like spending the night in a room with a mosquito!  

Even tiny changes add up.

We are mothers, we are teachers, we are beautiful, wonderful creatures - Keep Calm & Go Natural!

This beautiful short film tells just one story of the effects of our Plastic Addiction on Midway Island's bird population. 

We all play a part in this story of pollution and change. All our actions have an effect in the wider world and small changes that we make are like ripples in a pond created by a tiny pebble - they expand and grow, reaching to the furthest edges.  

There's no better place to Go Natural to Support Nature than in your home. The pulsing heart of your family, where you teach your children how things are, and how thing should be.

By making tiny changes in your shopping habits you can support Nature and teach the principles of sustainable living to your whole family.  These three little things require
 no great effort on anyone's behalf but the effects are great.

1) A bar of soap in a pretty dish

By swapping your plastic hand soap dispensers the environment reaps three rewards. Firstly, approx. 6 (1 every 2 months) plastic dispensers per year will not end up in landfill sites or incinerators, or 6 non-recyclable pump tops if you recycle the bottles. Secondly, the fossil fuel resources used to create these dispensers will not be needed, and lastly, the green-house gases, chemical & plastic pollution created during the extraction of the resources, the production process and disposal of those 6 plastic dispensers will not released in to the environment. Win win win :)

That's quite a lot of change and you're only doing what you did before plastic hand soap dispenser became the 'fashion' back in the mid 90s.  But what's really powerful is imagining what would happen if you did that for the whole of your adult life, 6 dispensers per year times 65 years! That's 390 dispensers you haven't bought and thrown away! Now imagine all your neighbours doing the same!  The scale of this change is pretty epic right? 

2) A wooden washing up brush 

Since 1995 I have been using wooden washing up brushes and have bought them as presents for many of my friends. Some of them come with 4 replaceableheads. I only disposed of my original 1995 handle on our camp fire last year! Through this tiny act I have stopped around 40 (2 per year) plastic washing up brushes going in to landfill or being incinerated between 1995-2015. I'm not sure how many of my friends continue to use the ones I bought them, but I've given at least 20 as presents over the years, so 20 times the 5 brush heads is another 100 plastic washing up brushes that have not needed to be created or destroyed. 

The wooden ones are made using sustainably sourced wood and cactus fibre bristles, and they end their life as fire wood or compost.  What's not to like?  

3) Cotton buds

Replacing your existing brand could have a huge benefit to Nature. What's different I hear you say? Not much, just a cardboard stick that doesn't end up as plastic pollution on our beaches! And no plastic box or tub that ends up in a landfill site or incinerator.  During one of the beach cleans I organised last summer I found 43 plastic cotton bud sticks just in the small area where I was standing handing out the equipment and looking after people's bags. I was shocked, as I realised that people are flushing them down their toilets! After each heavy rain storm they flood through the Combined Stormwater Overflows and end up on our beaches, yuk!

Dental floss handles are another menace that have started to appear on our beach cleans over the last 8 years or so!

According to Surfers Against Sewage's Marine Litter Report and the Marine Conservation Society's Beachwatch Survey, plastic pollution of the seas and beaches has increased by over 100% in the last 15 years - and most of it (over 40%) is dropped or flushed by us!

It doesn't have to be this way. We can change things for the better by buying natural products. Cotton buds with wooden or cardboard sticks are easily available. 
atlanta cook, plastic's not fantastic,
Found in a few minutes during one of Atlanta's organized beach cleans.
The main Three Little Things you can do, however, is to teach your family the 3 Rs: 

REDUCE the amount of plastic you buy.

RE-USE what you have already bought.

RECYCLE what you can't use again. 

In short, plastic's not fantastic!

For more information -

The Story of Stuff

21 January 2016

Boys Bedroom Ideas with Homify.

I mentioned the other day how things are a-changing round here.  The boys are growing up, their needs are altering and their tastes are bound to follow.

The eldest has so far refused to lose the Winnie the Pooh theme they have in their room though.  I first mooted the idea a few years ago, but he's steadfast, despite the fact he will be starting senior school in September!

Not for him the nice blue room with rockets that I've suggested, deliberately shying away from the Cars (yes, our conversations have been occurring that long!) and Minions and Star Wars stuff that will date, but I fear we may have missed our moment even with those now that they are approaching 11 and seven?

It's obvious what's going to happen however.  There will be a very sudden demand for it all to be done in an instant and I'm beginning to get nervous about it, so it seems sensible to start exploring boys bedroom ideas.

I'm not a creative sort.  Nor is it like me to be ahead of the game. Everything always comes as a surprise - when the children grow, for example, need new shoes, food in the fridge, get girlfriends, blah blah, but even I can anticipate the inevitable seismic shift in attitude that will come over the summer holidays at the very latest.

If the youngest had his way, Winnie the Pooh would have been replaced by now, but it's heartening that his brother is so sentimental.

We'll keep their beautiful pine bunk beds and chests of drawers, bought with the sale of  all my jewellery a few years ago and although, in an ideal world they wouldn't still be sharing the same bedroom, they seem to enjoy it and, for now, they do, so we need to find something that caters for both their tastes whilst keeping a keen eye on what their future ones might incorporate.

And in the meanwhile, my little plan to work extra hours and lose one of our students will free up another bedroom at some point and this will give us a completely clean slate to work with.  We might go all white with that one, although my son would probably prefer not!

Modern nursery/kids room by FingerHaus GmbH
My taste.
Modernes Hochbett mit Schreibtisch von dearkids : Modern nursery/kids room by MOBIMIO—Räume für Kinder
My son's preference!
Modern nursery/kids room by MadaM Architecture
Our possible happy compromise!
In the second scenario at home, the bed above a desk look will be a winner because they make the best use of space, plus the would be teenager will need a sanctuary for his homework.

And you're never too old for one of these, surely?  I've always fancied a Lego wall for them, but they'd probably have a lot of fun with a blackboard one!

Kinderzimmer : Modern nursery/kids room by SEHW Architektur
Are you ever too old for fun with this?

Whatever happens, Winnie the Pooh won't be on it!

Disclosure - this is a collaborative post with Homify, an online platform for home and living. They write about topics concerning design, living and home improvements and we've picked up some really useful tips and ideas. All words in this post are my own.  

19 January 2016

Time to Think.

Normal form.
It happened this Sunday morning.  A silence had descended at home  - and not one of those eerie ones where you wonder what is wrong.

Nothing was amiss.  Both my children were in sight, sat quietly reading.

It's only taken ten bleedin' years.

The six year old now loves Secret Seven books and no longer reads aloud, no longer needs me to read aloud to him, no longer wants me to.  *Sigh*

*Seizes a newspaper, puts feet up*


Goodness, it's been a long time coming - time such as this, to think.  

It's lovely when they're squishy little babies, all cuddly and gorgeous, but there's a lot of broken sleep - theirs and, consequently, yours - and just as you pass that stage another little one comes along and the whole process starts again.

A few years on and they're no longer babies but you can't take your eyes off them for a second.  You spend your time separating them, getting them out of the house and clearing up after them, as well as hopefully fitting in lots of actual playing with them and hitting the wine bottle before yet another whole process starts again.  So there still isn't really time to breathe, let alone think.  

And then, suddenly, out of the blue, even though you know it's coming because you've already reached this grieving point with your eldest and you know your youngest will get there quicker than he or she did because they have them to copy, the hurly burly of two small children turns into something else:  Quiet.  And you wonder what's wrong.

Your nerves are still too shattered to be at ease.  An inner alarm goes off needlessly.  It's habit.

Pray tell, what is this place called peace?

It's something a single parent seldom sees!

No-one move a muscle.


Anya XX

14 January 2016

Being Back at Work.

Enjoying getting a bit dressed up for work but bugger the high heels.
Photo by Christopher Pledger for The Telegraph.

A friend of mine recently described going back to work as exhilarating.

Wow, I thought.  What a good word.  It got me wondering how I feel about it.

Relief was the first thing that sprang to mind.  It has been really quite liberating to be able to nip to the loo without anyone breaking into a fight the other side of the door, or someone wanting my attention the moment I pick up the telephone.

I've loved it. 

No-one argues, switches radio stations or moans about what is for lunch and it's the first time I have had proper, adult company for some years - sustained conversations without interruptions and no requests to wipe a bottom.

People who speak English fluently is also a bonus after having tried too many a talk with our Foreign Language Students who go home as soon as they can understand the language enough to chat.  We keep having to start all over again and it's exhausting!

Nowadays I get to sit down for a solid 5-6 hours straight and use my brain. 

Not that it's not intellectually challenging being at home with two young children.  By far the most stretched I've ever been in my life is thinking of ways to get my two boys to want to do what I want them to do, in an effort to keep friction at a minimum.  

But it's been worth it.  Now they can get themselves ready, fetch their own food and drinks and are increasingly independent generally (*sob*), we're all in a position to move on.  It's time.

You might like to know that your NHS seems to be in safe hands.  My background is in finance, so it has made sense to return to it and that's where you'll find me now - in one of their departments.  I have found the people - so far - clever, kind and competent.  They care very much about how public money is spent and patients aren't just numbers.  Although I still don't see why the man who sits next to me insists on emailing me relatively unimportant info rather than just telling me it, but that's the younger generation for you. 

Frankly, I'm glad most of them are around my age and I have felt quite at home getting dressed up a bit and popping on more make up.  

Bugger the high heels though. Those days are gone.

How do you feel about going back to work?

12 January 2016

Our House Guest.

Buddy and the boys.
Every now and then we look after a beautiful dog called Buddy.  His lovely owner lives at Mum in the South and she lets him take us all out for a walk and come for a little holiday.

As much as the boys and I would all love one of our own, it would really prohibit the number of Foreign Language Students who'd still wish to come and stay and seeing as they're a decent source of income and part of our lives for now, it's something we have to accept.

In this particular instance, one of them had been stealing from me and was shortly to be leaving us, so I didn't give a stuff about whether or not he likes pets.  In fact, I really hoped he didn't, but this wasn't the point.

We love Buddy, Buddy loves us and we were all very excited he was coming for five nights.

Generally speaking he's a very well behaved dog, but he refuses to 'sit' for me.  He'll do it for my eldest, but then he's the one with the biscuits, whereas I'm the one with the poo bags.

It makes people stare disapprovingly in the street, while I bark instructions he completely ignores, but that's nothing new.  My kids do the same.

And at night, he can't decide which of us he wants to sleep with, so he likes to share himself around and drive me mad.  We're like a proper family.

The first time he ever stayed over, he was locked in the kitchen and made his upset known, so ended up with me after less than half an hour - which was fine until he started farting.  After that, I stuck him on the landing between us all, but he was a bit too big for his basket and after checking up on us countless times, he finally took himself down to the sofa, arguably the most comfortable spot in the house, but where he wouldn't normally be allowed.

On this occasion, I put a blanket on there for him.  He'd stay with the kids while they went to sleep, then come and keep me company downstairs, which was wonderful.  Although he didn't like it once when I closed my bedroom door to lessen doggy disturbance, so learned to plonk himself down on the floor in there before bedtime.  He knew I wouldn't have the heart to kick him out.

He had his very own Christmas dinner and helped himself to the turkey accidentally left on the side to cool, despite it being covered with heavy bowls.  This meant the ham that was supposed to join it in a pie was served with something else, but we didn't mind.  He lived like a lord.

What he gave us back was better.  If he hadn't taken us for a walk every day, for example, we might have missed some spectacular sights.

 We hope it's not too long before he comes for another little holiday!

4 January 2016

Welcoming 'Divorce Day' with Mortgages for Divorcees!

Who knew?!  

Such is the surge of separating spouses to solicitors offices on the first working Monday of the new year, it's now been nicknamed 'Divorce Day!'

And although it makes me laugh nowadays, the truth is that the Christmas holidays can be a painful time for many people.  Simmering tensions and enforced togetherness can bring things to a head that might have ticked along for years and, finally, one partner or another will decide to break free. 

The trouble is that, sometimes, this is only partly possible. 

I split from my ex-husband seven years ago now.  We'd been separated for some time before he joined my family for a few days one Christmas and it was so awful (for me) I was among many in the queue that first week of January to file for divorce.  That was that and I've never looked back in that particular regard. 

However, we've never been able to break free from each other financially, despite the fact he didn't support us at all for quite a long period.

Even though I invested quite a large sum into our house, it was purchased in joint names for the mortgage we needed - to cover the extra and, in time, to do the work required.  He has never contributed to it and never will, never pays for any repairs or insurances and won't be footing any of the bill for the balance when it matures.  He agrees that it's all down to me.

But if I die, he inherits everything.  All my hard work in the city, all my years of paying and doing everything to keep a roof over the childrens' and my head since he was asked to leave, the lot.  This worries me.  And it's wrong. 

I want to protect my childrens' interests and leave them (or my immediate family should anything happen to all three of us) their rightful legacy, but, until now, lenders have been loathe to consider divorcees to stand on their own as viable mortgagees.

I say 'until now,' because it seems the  Ipswich Building Society  have come through, in a new move to help us and although I find their term 'mortgage misfits' a little offensive, the idea behind it is so exciting that it was featured in the Telegraph on line last week-end and I was delighted to be a case study for them.

They are naturally focussing on the finances but the emotional ramifications are massive because they will be helping people finally sever connections that are no longer appropriate or they no longer desire. 

The main premise seems to be that they will now include maintenance payments as income - something more or less irrelevant in my case, but where larger amounts of money change hands monthly, this could have a positive impact for both sides. .  

Also, where they say they are using real people (rather than a computer) to take the decisions has definitely inspired me to apply on merit.    

I asked the Ipswich Building Society to explain:

Life after divorce: You and your mortgage.

With 42% of all marriages ending in divorce it would seem that the season of goodwill is not all it is cracked up to be for many. In fact, typically the first working Monday in January (this year January 4th) has been deemed ‘Divorce Day’, being the day when legal firms see a surge in divorce related enquiries.
During a divorce, untangling possessions and finances can be stressful, so when all is done it would be easy to presume things going forward will be plain sailing. However, this isn’t always the case. When it comes to a jointly owned home, there are implications regarding the mortgage for both parties both during and after a divorce, and it can often be difficult to get a new mortgage in the future. So, thinking about the practicalities, what does this mean when it comes to getting a mortgage after you and your spouse have separated?
Why might some divorcees find it hard to get a mortgage?
In 2014, the Mortgage Market Review shook up the way that we apply for mortgages, imposing stricter affordability criteria and meaning lenders calculate the incomes and outgoings of applicants and judge if they can afford mortgage repayments not just now, but also in the event of any future interest rate rises.
This means that in the last couple of years divorcees have found themselves in the ‘mortgage misfits’ category – a term used to describe those who have found it harder to obtain a mortgage after the regulation.
What does this mean for divorcees?
In many cases a divorce typically results in a reduced household income. Unsurprisingly, the impact of this is felt most in households where one parent takes on child care responsibilities after the divorce. With 2.8 million UK households consist of lone parents and 48% of divorcing couples had at least one child aged under 16 living with the family it really is startling then to learn that only a handful of mortgage lenders will accept child maintenance payments - a crucial source of income for many after a divorce - when making affordability calculations.
Luckily, we are one of the lenders who do include child maintenance in our affordability assessment for a mortgage and we are campaigning for ‘mortgage misfits’ to have fairer access to the mortgage market. As such, we accept 100% of child maintenance for mortgage applicants throughout England and Wales, where supported by a CSA or Court Order with 5 years left to run.
Another option is to try to find mortgage lenders which use real people to do their underwriting, as they consider applications based on merit rather than a computer based approach. Often these manual processes are used by smaller lenders, such as regional building societies and some specialist banks.
Three top tips if you’re divorcing and have a joint mortgage:
  1. Check your mortgage agreement, or speak to your lender if you are unsure of the conditions for both parties. A mortgage is a big commitment and has a continual obligation for all named holders, regardless of any relationship breakdown.
  2. A separation is a massive upheaval and you may face financial difficulties. Remember if you happen to miss a payment, or go into arrears even just for a short while it can affect your credit and your ability to get a mortgage in the future.
  3. Long term you need to consider the options. It may be that one party can take on the mortgage by themselves, and buy the other out of their share of the property. When going through the courts the priority will be to ensure any children have a secure home. Some typical orders the courts may make, include:
    1. transfer of ownership, with lesser share of possessions;
    2. retaining joint ownership but giving one party the right to stay;
    3. transferring the home to one party but with a charge secured on the property (ensuring the other party receives a set percentage when the home is sold), or
    4. selling the home and splitting the proceeds between both parties in whatever proportions are deemed fair.
Remember, many of these require a change in mortgage contract so make sure you speak with your mortgage lender as soon as possible. In addition, as every situation is different, it is best to seek legal advice and speak to a professional in the first instance about your options if you and your spouse decide to divorce.

This is a collaborative post that has made me jump up and down with joy!