My favourite life hacks

PicMonkey CollageI’m a big fan of anything that makes my life easier in a simple and cheap way, and I’ve been a bit of a fan of the Crazy Russian Hacker, whom I can waste some good time watching.

Some life hacks are so simple that you wish you’d have spotted them twenty years earlier, some are things that your Grandmother told you, like hanging creased clothes in the bathroom while you take a shower to iron out wrinkles.

Some, are new, for technology, so here are a few of my favourites:

  • Put your kindle in a zip lock bag so that you can read it in the bath.
  • Stack your t-shirts vertically so that you can easily pull out the one you want.
  • Use spice racks to organise your small bottles in the bathroom.
  • Also in the bathroom, use a cake stand to organise your make-up and brushes.
  • Use hooks on the inside of doors to hang your jewellery.
  • Make a scarf organiser that you can hang in the wardrobe with a coat hanger and some curtain or shower hoops.
  • Use beeswax to waterproof your canvas shoes.  Rub on, then blast with a hair dryer.  The wax will melt in and provide waterproofing.
  • Loosen some just-from-the-wash jeans by doing a few squats and lunges.
  • Set a bedtime alarm to make sure you get enough sleep and encourage your body to form a sleeping routine.
  • See if jeans fit you without having to try them on by placing the waistband around your neck.
  • Fold jeans by flattening them out, folding the bottom cuff to the top of the back pocket and then again up from the now bottom crease to the top of the back pocket.  You’ll stack more pairs up, more clearly and neatly.
  • Clean up your computer and upgrade your RAM.  You do not need a degree in computer science to do this, just five minutes and a screwdriver.  Crucial let me double my RAM so now I am flying on bootup.

Have you got any good life hacks? I did find some for folding fitted sheets and t-shirts swiftly and easily but I couldn’t quite seem to do it correctly.

The History of Chinese Emperors and Empresses

The emperors and empresses began their sovereign reign when the Qin Dynasty of China was founded. Since then, there have been more than 550 Chinese emperors and empresses if you included the rulers of the minor states, but there have only been a few official empresses. This is largely due in part to the fact that some emperors named themselves emperors as they were battling their rivals and women and empresses were still seen as “secondary monarchs.” However, these emperors and empresses changed history for better or for worse.

Lady of GuoLady of Guo State, image by Kevin Poh via Flickr

Famous Chinese Emperors and Empresses

According to history books, Chinese history dates back more than 5000 years. Qin Shi Huang was the very first Emperor of a united China, and he founded the Qin Dynasty. He started off as a king, taking the throne as a young teen. He dealt with many scandals but by the time he was 40 years old, he had unified all the warring Chinese states in 221 BC and became their leader. He is most well-known for creating the Great Wall of China to help Northern China, and as can be read at the http://www.thechinatravelcompany.com/, the creation of the Terra Cotta Warriors and their horses.

Emperor Wu was the seventh Emperor of the Han Dynasty and was most responsible for expanding that territory. He was also the first Emperor that brought China together in ideology by organizing a strong Confucian state. In 138 BC, Emperor Wu attempted to form an alliance with the Hun, an ancient tribe that was their greatest rival. Even though the actual alliance failed, he succeeded in opening the Silk Road in Central Asia, which is still used for trade.

teracotta warriorsTerracotta warriors, image by Glancs via Flickr

Empress Lu Zhi was the empress of Emperor Gaozu Liu Bang, who technically created the Han Dynasty. After he died, she became respected as the Empress Dowager and was the first woman to rule as the Empress of China. While she was respected, she was also thought of as a ruthless and cold empress, partly because one of the first acts she did was sentence Concubine Qi, one of her late husband’s consorts to death. She even had Concubine Qi’s son Liu Ruyi poisoned and killed as well. However, she did dominate the political scene for 15 years by governing her people by not really doing anything. She also believed in the importance of literature, and encouraged her people to read, collect, and restore books.

Empress Wu Zetian is the only empress in the Chinese history to actually ascend to the throne and rule China. Despite the fact that Confucian beliefs stated that women were not rulers, during the Tang Dynasty things changed and they did rule. By the time she was a teenager, she was working in the Emperor’s court. She later married his son, Kao Tsung and when he became crippled, she began doing the administrative duties of an emperor. After that, she led a campaign against the original Confucius belief, stating that women should rule the world the way they do their children. While she may seem ruthless, she changed so much about China, including truly developing Buddhism as the preferred religion and creating temples and asking scholars to speak at them. She recruited the best people possible to assist her in running a fair government and the Tang Dynasty prospered more.

If you are interested in the Chinese culture and its rulers, you may want to schedule a tour to see parts of China as you can tour some of the old temples, caves, and territories to learn more about them.

Am I really doing it all over again?

muddy footwearWhen I turned 40, I decided to start going for little jogs while the Cub was at nursery.  I was never going to race, only to make the dog walk a bit faster. At 41 I found myself completing my first half marathon.  There have been certain occurrences in my life when I have looked in the mirror afterwards and seen me, but a me that is slightly different to the me that was looking out at me the day before. The half marathon was one of them.

People expressed surprise that I wanted to carry on, after this massive achievement but to me it was a no-brainer.  I am far from being a natural athlete – whatever one of those actually looks like – and the effort that went into running 13.1 miles was massive.  I had gone from being someone who enjoyed running one mile but really struggled to run three, to someone who could easily run a ten k (but still really struggled to run half a marathon).  There was no way in the world that I was going to let that considerable effort go to waste.  Plus, I have become fond of my legs of steel.  I have learned that size, shape or age need be no barrier to athleticism.

I still look at my achievement in a kind of bemused fashion – did I really do that? Can I really do that again?  Who? Little old me with a big bum and small feet made for use in that order?  Do I really own two pairs of running trainers, designed for different surfaces, and look upon their muddy appearance with pride and not horror?  Do I really own proper runners gear and not feel self-concious plodding muddily along in leggings and a backpack?

In my post-race high I agreed to run the Paris Marathon but after a nightmarish virtual half in November (cold, wet, very slow, could not stop shivering for hours) I backed out of that, for the time being.  Trying to earn a small living to fit around school hours and marathon training are not mutually compatible activities until I can increase my speed quite a lot.

So, me and crazy running sis are doing it all again, this time on mother’s day, at Silverstone.  Whilst I thought I had planned a long slow gradual training schedule, this winter has brought so many germs into my body that I find myself rushing the training again.  I’d got up to my comfort zone of six and a half, and pushed it to eight yesterday.  I’ve got two weeks of training now to reach 11 (I wanted to reach 12), I have a raging sore throat and probably should not be running. I have read, today, that honey and turmeric might help to boost my immunity some more (thanks to Sanctuary Spa blog!), so I’ll add this to my night time casein shake and battle on*.

*NOTE ADDED: Do NOT try this at home folks.  Honey and turmeric are not a good mix in a vanilla drink.  Bad idea.  I’ve ordered turmeric capsules off ebay instead.

Running and being a single mum have taught me many things, one of which is that I can keep on keeping on even when I have reached the point of giving up.  It’s not easy, or pain free.  I often need a hug.  But I can do it.  And I will.

If you’d like to donate to the charity Sparks, the Cullen sister’s Just Giving page is here.  Here is a little bit of information about this amazing charity:

We fund life-saving medical research into conditions affecting babies, children and mums-to-be. We aim to improve the quality of life for children and families affected by serious illness or disability today, whilst seeking ways to better diagnose, treat and prevent these conditions in the future.

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Review: Army of No Country

Just when I thought that the t-shirt market could possibly bring forth anything that had not been done before, I stumbled across Army of No Country.

I don’t know if it was the name, that appealed to my view of humanity as no longer being defined by skin colour, religion or location – that we are all one big human family – or,  that the designs combined fierce warriors and scary-looking cartoon characters topped by the gentle crown of roses, but I felt a spiritual pull towards this company.

As luck would have it, they were also looking for blogger reviews, so I metaphorically waved, and the next thing I knew I had a beautifully packaged, postbox-sized cardboard parcel arrive on my doormat (complete with free sticker, I liked that touch).

army of no country CollageNot only will I now be wearing an original and innovative design this year, but it’s a really good long length, unlike many t-shirts that rise up a bit too far if you have breasts.  I am a size 12, and the medium is the perfect length and width – long without being too wide to compensate.

They have the full range of social media but what I would love to read is how they got their name and what inspires their designs.  Who are the people behind Army of No Country?  Or, maybe the mystery is part of the appeal?

Games Grown Up

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Games are the best education

When you really think about it, the games we play as children and teenagers can often act as a precursor to a grown-up or real life equivalent in later life. For example, when we play card games like ‘cheat’, we learn to spot a bluff, a skill that can be utilised in the more grown-up game of poker in later life. Then there’s Monopoly, where the wheeling and dealing involved has taught hundreds of thousands of youngsters some of the most cunning and potentially lucrative tricks of the free market capitalism trade. The almost unnervingly wholesome Game of Life meanwhile, teaches young players that the key to success lies in entering into a heterosexual marriage, having two kids and working hard until you meet your maker (time for a 21st Century re-boot?)

Games as lifelong companions

So games can help us grow up, and in many cases we seem to return the favour. For many people, the video game characters we grow up loving continue to be held dear to us – who amongst us can say they’ve never happened to think about an old favourite and indulged in a spot of YouTube-based nostalgia?

In many ways we carry the characters and brands we love as youngsters through with us into adult life. Having started life as a children’s comic character, Batman is now a Hollywood fixture with a massive inter-generational fanbase; characters like Mickey Mouse crop up from time to time in the retro outfits of the fashion blogosphere; while online slots games featured on sites like Mrsmithcasino.co.ukare peopled by imagery and characters from major teenage entertainment franchises like Spiderman and Lord of the Rings. There’s something particularly appealing about seeing your favourite teenhood characters applied to parts of your adult life – it’s like having Vimto with your vodka!

The importance of playing as a grown-up

Certain people reject the idea of playing games as a grown-up. We say this is plainly ridiculous. Playing games is a terrific means of stimulating different parts of your brain, ultimately increasing your mental performance. Certain games hone your reflexes, while others brush up your problem-solving or critical thinking skills, but most importantly playing games is fun. It’s incredibly important in this high-paced, high-stress society we’ve made for ourselves that we spare the time for some good old-fashioned play; it’s the only way you can be the most complete grown-up you can possibly be!

Competition: Four chances to win £50 to spend at Toxic Fox

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There are 4 chances to win one of £50 voucher to spend on toxicfox.co.uk’s Mother’s day collection – one per social network (Google+, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest) – how cool is that?

And because I am kind, I am helping them by telling you about it on my blog.  Here’s hoping that the kindness will turn into good Karma in the form of one of these prizes myself!

I had a peek at their collection for Mother’s day and compiled a five item list, that my five year old child can choose from (if he was a) able to read and b) had a debit card, OR, that I can choose from if I get lucky on the 2nd March.

  1. A selfie stick. My first thoughts about the selfie stick was that it was a completely narcissistic and frivolous purchase.  Since then, and having seen the fun results of other people’s selfie stick pics, I am wondering if I should/could get one.  For purely business purposes.  I am a pro blogger, after all.
  2. My more practical side – or should it be self-concious side – thinks poo pourri is a fantastic idea.  To cover one’s own poo smells would be so helpful, especially if I was out and about.  I’m considerate like that.
  3. I quite fancy having a go at hot rock therapy, and I’m sure I could persuade the Cub to pop a few of these on my back. Mind you pretty much anything on this page that I can pop in the bath and relax with would go down a storm.
  4. A personalised Claire-a-bella is always a cute thing to own.  It’d look stunning on me arm down Aldi.
  5. And more affordably, I’ve always fancied owning a head massager.

Happy Mother’s Day, and, good luck!

And to help here’s a sassy 10% voucher code to use on our Mother’s Day collection: TFMother

This can’t be used in conjunction with any other offer.  It’s valid until the 15th of March so there’s plenty of time to pick up that perfect mother’s day gift

To enter all you need to do is go to the http://www.toxicfox.co.uk/gifts-occasion/mothers-day-gifts-1 browse around our fabulous Mother’s Day Gifts and Ideas, pick your favourite present and share it on your social channel of choice. To ensure toxicfox.co.uk can see your entry please use the hashtag: #toxicfox

For full terms and conditions please visit http://www.toxicfox.co.uk/terms-and-conditions

Learn About Important Shipping Terms

shipIf you are using a courier firm for the first time, some of the jargon and terminologies that are used can be confusing if you are not used to it. As well as the specific terms that are used, there are also many acronyms that you may not be very familiar with and can be confusing. Below are listed a lot of the terms, as well as their meanings, in no particular order.

Bill of Lading – The Bill of Lading is the official document for the shipment that has all of the details of the shipment. These details include the intended recipient, and also details of the shipment. If you are sending a shipment internationally, without this document, the shipment will most likely be held in customs until the appropriate paperwork, as well as any duty owed, has been received.

Commercial Invoice – The commercial invoice is very similar to the bill of lading but includes the sender as well as the receiver, as well as a detailed itinerary of the goods being shipped and their value. The commercial invoice is presented to Customs, so it is used to determine what duty is owed.

FOB – This stands for Free On Board and means that the sender of the parcel is responsible for all charges, as well as liabilities for the shipment arriving on board the ship for transport. Also included are any charges at the port of loading.

POD – This acronym stands for Port of Discharge and refers to the port where the shipment is unloaded.

POL – Similar to POD, POL stands for Port of Loading and is also commonly referred to as Port of Origin.

Transit Time – The Transit Time refers to the amount of time that it takes from the port of loading to the port of discharge. People commonly confuse this and think that the transit time is from the shipment being sent to the time the recipient receives it, which is not the case.

DDP – DDP stands for Delivery Duty Paid and means that the sender of the shipment pays all charges and duties owed, so the receiver has nothing to pay.

DDU – DDU stands for Delivery Duty Unpaid, which is the opposite of DDP. Any charges levied against the shipment will be paid by the receiver of the shipment.

Consignee – The Consignee of a shipment is the person that accepts all financial responsibility for a shipment. The consignee is usually also the recipient, but this is not always the case, nor does it have to be.

Delivery Instructions – You find that many cheap parcel delivery services in UK, Europe, as well as the rest of the world, will all accept special delivery instructions. These special delivery instructions will have to be negotiated and agreed with the parcel company, before sending the shipment.

POD – Yes I know we have already mentioned this one, but the acronym also has another meaning that is Proof of Delivery. Courier companies can provide proof that the consignment was delivered and who signed for the shipment. The POD will usually include the time, date and name of the person that signed for and accepted the delivery.

Shipping Weight – The Shipping Weight refers to the weight of the shipment being sent in kilograms. This weight will include the total weight of the package and the contents and is usually rounded up to the closest half kilogram. So if a parcel were 2.79kg, the parcel company would round this up to 3kg.

I hope these terms will help next time you send a package.

Money Saving Ideas for Gifts for Children

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The other day, my little girl came to me with a wish. She wanted to have a Cinderella theme party on her birthday, which was just a week away. Theme parties always scare me because you have to arrange each and every thing for the party in according to the respective theme. Therefore, I was little much nervous initially as, I did not want to make my little prince’s wish to go in vein anyway. I threw all my hesitations, fear away, and braced myself to gift my girl a memorable birthday.

The theme was already decided so, I did not have to struggle in that area but I did not know that there were more shocks and surprises waiting for me. First, I made a list of all the necessary items by checking their prices online. In birthday theme parties, gifts and decoration materials eat most of your money. The Cinderella theme revolves around magic, fairies and stars; I planned my decorations keeping them all in mind. Blue and white was the dominating colours of the party and I bought a beautiful blue dress with tiara for my daughter, who is just ten years old. I wanted to have all the kids a magic wand in their hand when they would enter the party and decided to make them entirely myself. I cut thermocol in the shape of star, sprinkled silver sparkles and attached a stick with strong glue. It became an absolute hit among them. Food was another area, where I wanted to extend the theme. Like appetizers were of horse and stars shape, Birthday cake was a two tier cake and had all the characters of Cinderella, made of sugar and edible colours.

The next big thing on my list, which gave me real headache, was choosing attractive yet economic gifts for the friends of my daughter. The gifts had to go with the theme so, I was looking for original Disney Cinderella products. For boys I choose Disney characters and for girls it was Cinderella Bubble as return gift. You cannot buy original Disney merchandises without feeling the pinch in your wallet. In spite of that, I was not ready to let spending cross my budget and also did not want to compromise with the happiness of my little princes. Amidst this tug- of- war in my mind, I was getting restless. As the time was passing by fast, I decided to trim down my plans. Finally, one of my friends told me the secret behind her son’s last birthday party, which my daughter still talks about. She told me about http://www.voucherbin.co.uk/. It came as the saviour. I found exciting gift coupons of Disney Store. There were so many gift coupons such as free delivery, huge discounts on total purchase of select items etc. I simply shopped with my heart out and surprised my daughter with a birthday, which was even more exiting and beautiful than she had dreamt off. When party got over she kissed me and said ‘mum, you are my fairy mother’.

Valentine’s day

It’s nearly here, the day that symbolises love and romance and all things heart-shaped and red, pink, frilly, sweet-flavoured and expensive. Valentine’s day,or the Feast of St Valentine’s, is in honour or a Roman saint who apparently got put in jail for performing weddings that he shouldn’t have. How cute.

For the past few years, single but a Mum, I’ve downplayed the whole Valentine’s day thing, but this year I have decided to make the day a bit special, if only to teach my little boy how to be romantic, when his time comes. You can go out to the shops and spend oh so much money on products especially brought in for the occasion but I think true romance takes a bit of effort and thought.

If you’re especially gifted with crafts, baking or wool, there is loads of inspiration out there on the internet. Me, being a little challenged in the above areas, prefers some of these brilliant and no-sew ideas:

  • Find a little bottle and attach a note to the lid. The contents of the note are at your own discretion. (examples: “I love you”, “oi, tidy your room up”, “we are over”. Whatever you like!

  • Find a pack of cards, a hole puncher and some ribbon to thread through the holes and make it into a book of “52 things that I love about you”.

  • Danish heart baskets are really a Christmas idea but can be adapted for Valentines day. I just made one in less than ten minutes, and you can fill them with sweets or even small underwear.

  • A romantic touch would be to get an old glass jar and an old book, cut a heart shape out of a page and glue it around the jar (so the heart shape is missing). Tie a bit of string round the top for a rustic twist and plop a tea light inside. The light will cast heart shaped shadows, and candles are always warming and romantic.

  • Write a message on a strip of paper and pop it inside a balloon with some little confetti hearts (I got some for about a quid from Asda). Attach a little sign saying “pop me” and put it in a box (see first idea for message suggestions).

  • Bath bombs and scented candles can cost an arm and a leg, so why not have a go at making your own? They are relatively easy, and it’s very satisfying producing your own luxury smellies. You could even add some confetti hearts to the mix, so that they float around in the bathwater.

  • But what if you have just bought or made a lovely bracelet and have no wrapping paper? Help! Never mind, just recycle your old loo rolls into really cute DIY pillow boxes. Paint, tie with some string and bingo, problem solved.

  • Love a book? Create an origami book mark. This could be blu-tacked onto a card to make a duel-purpose card-gift.

There are so many lovely and cost-effective ideas out there I could write forever. Have you got any made-with-love ideas you could share?

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Valentine’s Dye with @Dylon_UK

Last year Dylon sent me some dyes to have some fun with.  What a summer of tie-dye fun it was.  First I posted this post, which became the foundation of my new-found love for tie-dying.

Then they were so pleased with my enthusiasm, that they sent me a whole NEW load of dyes to try out.  I forgot to blog about them in the end so here are the results:

last summerYup, if it’s white or pale and living under my roof, it’s DYED!!  I loves the splatter shorts the best (top right), and they held their colour the best too, with the phenomenally bright swirl and splatter t-shirts having faded to pastel after many washes.

My son loved having clothes that matched him Mum’s – you can but matching Mum and daughter clothes but not any matching Mum and son ones.  I made matching ones for a friend’s son’s birthday too, and they love theirs as much as we do.

Anyway, with Valentine’s day just around the corner, what better way to show your love and appreciation than some crafty creations or custom clothing?

I got sent another cute package of interesting dyes and some paints as well this time:dyesSo, off I hopped to eBay and H&M and shuffled through my Really Useful Stuff I’m Saving To Make Things Out Of, and came up with the following:

  • A picture, created on a canvas from Dunelm Mills (it cost me about one pound twenty five if I remember correctly) and some Dylon 3D glossy paint.
  • Some glove pegs/letter holders for the corridor, dip dyed in purple and pink.  The pegs cost about two quid, I used some glitter pink spray paint (one pound) for the long bit of wood (skip-dipped) and hung it on the wall with some ribbon that I had saved looped around some nails.
  • Some grippy gloves – the gloves were sixty-seven pence in a sale – and some Dylon Puff Paint.
  • A custom doll for a friend’s little girl, using both of the paints mentioned above.

craftyThen, on to the clothing.

  • I tie-dyed some long sleeved t-shirts and painted a “love” logo in the middle with Dylon fabric paint.  The process was much easier than I had expected and once again we have matching tops that we wore to a party last Sunday.  You can’t actually see the logo very well in the middle but it’ll become clearer as the colour on the heart shape fades a bit.
  • I bought a plain white maxi dress off eBay for the next project.  It wasn’t very flattering to be honest, but by tie-dying some pyramid shapes into it, it is transformed, much more slimming, and I can’t wait till the summer now.

 

heart teesAnd then, the piece de resistance, some pumps that I bagged for a fiver on eBay, dip dyed and embellished with my Sharpies and finished off with some rhinestones that I had lying about.  shoesThe Cub’s reaction to the shoes was “wow-kerpow!”.  This is an expression of extreme approval.

I’ve got one sachet left of powder pink, and plenty of puff and fabric paint left.  What shall I make next?