30 November 2015

How to do a Christmas book advent calendar

As a kid I used to love advent calendars. They were always the cheap, sickly sweet chocolate varieties, but oh boy, were they amazing. However amazing I remember them being, I wanted to have something a little different for my daughter. A Christmas book advent calendar. It is so simple - you get 24 books, wrap them, number them, mix them up, and there you go.

I am hoping that this will become a nice little tradition in our family. It seems like such a lovely way to gift books and grow the love of reading from a young age.

You might think that this is just a silly expense. Books can be quite pricey, especially when you want to get 24 of them! However, you only need to buy them once. Then you can use most of them again and again coming Christmases.

Also, it doesn't need to be a prohibitively expensive exercise. To make a Christmas book advent calendar on a budget I would recommend:

  • Ask Christmas books as Christmas gifts - you can always reuse them the following years. 
  • Check out charity shops, and discount stores. Some online stores I find have often good deals are The Works and Book People
  • Go to the library! Free and you can get a bunch of new ones next year, so there won't be too much repetition.
  • Choose festive and seasonal books - some books could be about winter, snow, gifts etc rather than just about Christmas. You will get longer use out of these books.  

Some of my favourites in our collection are:

Waterstones have also got a great list of some new festive books worth checking out.

Regarding the books you see in the above picture, I wasn't too strict about the books I chose. Some are Christmas related, some are sort of about winter and snow (like snow bears and penguins...) so will be appropriate even past December.  Additionally, if you are wondering why some of the books in the picture have strange titles, they are in Finnish.  We have books in both languages as we raise our daughter bilingually.

What are you doing for an advent calendar? Books, chocolates, toys, or traditional paper?

How to do a Christmas book advent calendar. Ideas for books to include in a Christmas calendar and how to save cost.

28 November 2015

How to fake good food photography in restaurants and at night-time

Sometimes when I am in a restaurant I would just love to take a gorgeous photographs to represent the beautiful craft that has been presented to me on to my plate. And of course to post it on my blog and Instagram and Facebook to tease anyone hungry over on the other side of the screen! 

Have you ever tried to take a picture in a restaurant though? It just never works. Never. The light is always too dark (damn those restaurateurs for thinking about the mood and not my photographic food porn art!) and the pictures always end up a bit yellow, a bit shaky, a bit, well, just crap. So, I thought it would be nice to share a few little tips and how to take good photographs in dark restaurants and at night-time. In case you are a lifestyle blogger or just one of those annoying people that posts their daily menu on Facebook every day, he he (no worries, I won't judge, either way!).

girl taking photographs of food

I recently popped by Nikon Photography School to meet up with Nikon experts and Currys at a #LightsCameraCurrys event where I was shown few top tips to help me perfect my future food photography. While I would like to think myself as fairly competent amateur, I did take away a very nifty little trick, which will help me to take better pictures in difficult light situations. So read on if you want a bit of help in this photography area.

food photography workshop lightscameracurrys

food photography in action

First things first - ISO and shutter speed
ISO means the light sensitivity of your camera. So the more sensitive (e.g. the higher the number) the more sensitive your camera is to the light. Crank it up to 800 minimum (and preferably maximum too if you can). Unfortunately more than that will make the image grainy, so don't go crazy and go into the thousands! 

With regards to shutter speed, you will need minimum 1/60 - otherwise photos will get shaky when you take them by hand (and I assume you won't want to bring your tripod, ha ha, now that would be a sight). Shutter speed means how long the image is exposed for.

Easy way to do this is select S-setting (a semi-automatic shutter speed setting) on your camera, change ISO into 800 (or more if you have to), and select a minimum of 1/60 speed setting. Go as high as you can!

Custom white balance
Now, this is the trick to correct for that mood lighting. The lighting in restaurants is often a bit yellow - and easy way to correct for that is to go to your custom white balance setting. You can find this in the menu, or under the menu options for light/colour/etc - depends a bit on your camera.  Auto white balance often unfortunately just won't work well in difficult light situations like restaurants and night time.

Select custom white balance, point your camera towards the light source, center it on the circle and take a picture of it, click OK. This sets your custom white balance to the light source, and you can then take pictures of your food.

Alternatively, if you can find something pure white, place that next to the food and use the above steps, taking a picture of the white piece (whether that be table cloth, a business card etc.) rather than the light. This is a slightly better way than the above (particularly if there are multiple light sources), but requires you to be a bit more organised! 

And after setting the ISO, shutter speed and the custom white balance you should have a decent enough picture, not too shaky and not too yellow.

And now, you only need to get over the fact that you are the silly bugger with a big camera in your hand, trying to take pretty pictures of food getting cold!

Hope that was helpful - do you ever take pictures of food in restaurants, or do you think it just looks silly?

26 November 2015

Toddler OOTD #34 - A proper girly girl

Ah, photographing toddlers... It is always a trouble. One moment they are cheerfully posing for you, the other moment they are frantically jumping up and down for no apparent reason than it is fun. And they pretend they are in a puddle. One moment they are happy and jovial, and the other moment they are screaming and crying because you dared to zip their jacket before going out... Ah, toddlers, they have their moments don't they!

This outfit was just quickly thrown together as my husband and daughter went out to the shops while I stayed behind. Some old, some new, and she insisted on bringing her little handbag (what a little lady!) as well as her doggy called Tinker. Bless. Girl's got her priorities straight!

It is funny isn't it that sometimes kids, no matter what you do, just fall in to the gender roles. My daughter loves bags and boots, and shoes. The best thing she knows when we are out in the town is to go to a shoe shop (she particularly loves Clarks). As soon as we walk in she shouts excitedly "Shooooes!" and runs in to try multiple pairs. We often have to drag her out kicking and screaming, as we just can't afford to buy every single glittery pink pair she lays her eyes on... And handbags - don't get me started on those! She loves them as well, and often walks around with her own little handbag. She loves trying my shoes and my handbags as well. And nail polish. Ah, she loves nail polish as well. 

 Boots: Clarks 
Jeans: BHS
Cable knit cardigan: John Rocha

She is a proper girly girl. We have never encouraged this, nor have we discouraged this. She has been allowed to be whatever she likes, play with whatever, dress in whatever she chooses if she expresses a preference. It is just that her preference often is, a dress (dancing dress in her words), pink shoes and a little handbag. 

Do you have girly girls, or boyish boys, or are their styles more mixed?

24 November 2015

Personalised gifts from I Just Love It: review and giveaway

In collaboration with I Just Love It

I Just Love It provide personalised gifts of all kinds - pretty much anything under the sun. I recently got a chance to review their selections and I spent ages looking through the wide and varied collection. There were so many cute things it was incredibly hard to choose! Eventually I decided on two key items. A personalised book for my daughter who loves reading, and a framed personalised map to commemorate our first house together. Alongside introducing the two gorgeous items I received, I will also tell you a few of my top picks from the site and there is even a giveaway of two personalised books at the end of the post.

i just love it personalised gifts framed house map

After spending many a moment on the site I can honestly say I am very familiar with what I Just Love It has to offer. There are gifts to men, women, kids, mums, dads, for all ages, and for all occasions. It was easy to find different categories as well, like interior items and engraved items. There is pretty much something for everyone. Some of my personal top picks of personalised gifts from I Just Love It are :

For kids I loved the personalised books - my favourites were On Halloween Night, Your Letter to Santa, The Princess and the Mysterious Noise, Is It My Birthday Yet?, Around the World and The Magical Bookcase. All these books had beautiful illustrations and tastefully done personalisation.

There were other gorgeous things too, such like a Personalised Wooden Letter Train, a Vintage Nursery Sign, and in the run up to Christmas, a letter from Santa addressed to your child. Ah, so much choice!

i just love it personalised gifts princess and the mysterious noise book

As for the items we received - I got a Framed House Map and The Princess and the Mysterious Noise personalised book. The sturdy wooden frame included an ordnance map of our address - a funny surprise was that we can also see our previous address on a map as we only moved a couple of miles. This little personalised wall art piece is great quality and looks beautiful up on a wall.

I was a bit worried about the personalised book, as sometimes they are done poorly and just slap the name in without thinking about the visual impact. However, I'm happy to say that the book we chose had gorgeous illustrations, and my daughter's name was weaved in the story as well as in the illustrations in a seamless manner. The graphics were well done and tasteful, and blended in the pictures well. It is such a beautiful book, and I am sure it will become a treasured possession for her.

i just love it personalised gifts princess and the mysterious noise book

i just love it personalised gifts princess and the mysterious noise book

I Just Love It also kindly provided two personalised soft-cover kids books for a giveaway for you all (UK and ROI residents only)! Click here for full T&C's. You can have a daily entry and a daily tweet too, if you are really keen on winning the prize :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What do you guys think of personalised gifts? Yay or nay?


Also listed on prizefinder.com and superlucky.me

13 November 2015

London with toddlers: ZSL London Zoo

The London Zoo has been one of the London attractions that I have wanted to visit for years. I just never found the time. Now however, with an animal loving daughter I decided it would finally be time to stump up for the tickets and go see it. I thought I'd share my experience of the London Zoo with you, with a few top tips on how to get the most out of it with toddlers and older kids. 

szl london zoo with toddlers map

szl london zoo pelicans

szl london zoo with toddlers tiger

I was quite excited about seeing the London Zoo, and my toddler seemed to share my enthusiasm. True toddler style though, she fell asleep almost as soon as we stepped inside the gates...

OK, before the land of nod called, we did manage to whizz through the aquarium, the gorilla enclosure, see penguins fed, and pink flamingos. Quick snack later she was out cold, loaded to a baby carrier and off I went exploring on my own, two stones strapped to my back. That was my exercise for the day!

I then huffed and puffed my way through a Rainforest talk, lemur enclosure, and the Africa area. Once we got to see the tigers my sleeping beauty rose up and sleepily called out 'Taigaa, rawr'. Bless.

szl london zoo with toddlers meeting penguins penguin beach

szl london zoo with toddlers meeting penguins penguin beach

szl london zoo with toddlers meeting penguins penguin beach

szl london zoo with toddlers meeting penguins penguin beach

We then quickly saw some camels, and walked through monkey enclosure and a butterfly tunnel, and left via the gift shop to meet a friend in town. Our favourite bits were the lemur enclosure, monkey enclosure, butterfly tunnel and the penguins, as you get to come so close to the animals it feels unreal. The great big butterflies, the scurrying little monkeys, and inquisitive penguins. Just incredible.  We have to go back next year, when my daughter will hopefully find it even more fun, and will hopefully not fall asleep midway through! 

szl london zoo with toddlers into africa signs

szl london zoo with toddlers giraffe feeding time

Top tips for visiting:
  • Under 3's go free!
  • Best weather to arrive - as long as it's not raining!  I had a chat with one of the zookeepers, and apparently the animals aren't too bothered whether it is hot or freezing cold, but when it is raining you'll be less likely to see them as they go indoors. 
  • If it is raining, don't despair. There are plenty of indoor areas, like bugs and an aquarium. 
  • Check out current events online - the Zoo does a lot of seasonal workshops and fun little things, like a Santa's Grotto. 
  • Camden Town is the closest station, but entrance over the weekend is a pain. You may have to walk down the winding stairs, so consider using another station. 

szl london zoo with toddlers camels

Top tips in the zoo:
  • You can hire a buggy. Get one for the little ones! You have to cover a fair bit of ground at the Zoo, likelihood is a toddler will get tired, and you will get tired of carrying them...
  • Plan your day - check out the map and the feeding times of different animals for a fun little experience and guaranteed animal viewing.
  • Be mindful of little wandering hands - in some of the enclosures like Lemur and monkey enclosures the animals can come very very close to you and are irresistibly fluffy for some toddler. 
  • Definitely visit the Lemur and monkey enclosures - it is quite incredible when they run above you on ropes and creep very very close to you. 
  • Visit the penguins outside the feeding time and get up close to the glass. Less people and you will usually get an inquisitive and fish-seeking penguin coming to check you out. 
  • Butterfly tunnel was amazing - you get to see great big butterflies everywhere. Quite magical. Your glasses and lenses will steam though so don't expect to take great pictures! 

szl london zoo with toddlers meeting monkeys clombing on a rope

Top tips for after the visit:
  • If you want to get something from the gift shop, and adopted animal is a great option. Helps London Zoo keep up its conservation work.
  • If you fancy a bit more sightseeing Regents Park is a lovely place to visit with kids, or walk alongside the Regents Canals. 

Have you been to the London Zoo? What would your top tips be?

7 November 2015

London with toddlers: Tower Bridge Exhibition

Tower Bridge Exhibition is a pretty cool addition to London attractions and viewpoints. You get to walk on a glass walkway up high on the bridge, and admire the pretty sights around Tower of London. Sounds pretty awesome doesn't it? I've wanted to visit it since the glass walkway opened in 2014 and tested it out with my daughter and a friend.

tower bridge walkway toddler

Turns out, it is a great London sight to take your kids to. The funky walkway is great for both adults and toddlers - we enjoyed walking on the glass and spotting cars, buses and boats whizzing down below. The views are gorgeous - you get to see Tower of London, the Shard and the City buildings, and over the other side the Canary Wharf. 

tower bridge exhibition glass walkway

tower bridge glass walkway shoes

tower bridge exhibition glass walkway people standing

My daughter was more interested in running up and down the corridors and peeking at cars through the glass, but she enjoyed the views as well. For budding photographers, there are a couple of open windows from which you can just about put a camera through so you get to take pictures without reflections. I managed to take some beautiful pictures of the pink sunset and the London city scraper skyline. I wouldn't mind going again some day during the daytime. 

tower bridge exhibition walkway

tower bridge exhibition walkway view

tower bridge exhibition walkway view London

After the walkway and the views, there is one more thing to see - the engine room. My daughter also loved the engine room -  it was fun seeing all the old machinery and see it move too! Fun fun fun!

As you can imagine, our visit was quite fast-paced (toddlers...). You could presumably learn a lot about the Bridge as well as the history of London if you had time to walk at a leisurely pace and read a bit, but alas, perhaps next time. 

tower bridge exhibition engine room

All in all, Tower Bridge exhibition was a great place to visit with kids. It was fully accessible, with lifts available so buggy access is there. Glass walkway is fun to peer through and as it isn't formal in the slightest, it doesn't matter if your kids go a bit nuts. And the views, ah, the views... 

5 November 2015

Halloween 2015 - Mini Luke Skywalker

If an outfit is amazing, can you use it the next Halloween? Well, that was the question I was thinking this year, as we hadn't had the time to plan anything special for Halloween. Luckily, one of the three outfits from last year was just so darn adorable I couldn't help but to resurrect it for this Halloween. Afterall, last Halloween we had three different choices, and ended up using just one. 

So this year we had....

Mini Luke Skywalker! Complete with her mini-size actual Luke Skywalker light saber replica, courtesy of her Star Wars geek enthusiast dad. 

I loved this outfit last year, and I loved it this year too, I thought it was darn cute and would be a shame not to have it. We shall see what the next year brings - I doubt the dress will fit anymore so we will have to come up with something new, ha ha. 

Here is the comparison between this year and last year - my has she grown!

How was your Halloween and what outfits did you choose?

4 November 2015

Introducing our fun and toddler-friendly baby bedroom

In collaboration with Wayfair

When we moved in our new home, one of the rooms I was so looking forward to decorating was the baby bedroom. Or rather, the toddler bedroom for our two year old daughter. 

fun and toddler-friendly baby bedroom

One of the key things I wanted to ensure was that her room would be fun and a safe place for her to play and explore her new skills. I recently heard about the Montessori principles when decorating a child's bedroom and they made a lot of sense to me. The guiding idea is that when children's play and life is facilitated and made easy, it will encourage their independence and also good behaviour. It is all about considering life from a pint-sized perspective, and how to make it more comfortable and natural for them.

I recently wrote my top tips for a toddler-friendly bedroom for Wayfair, with some detailed explanations of what to consider and why, and detailed pictures of the project.  

cheese mouse pendant kids lamp

Kidkraft child size table and chairs

lego bricks storage head

fun and toddler-friendly baby bedroom play mat

In brief, the easiest way to decorate a toddler-friendly bedroom is to get some child-sized furniture, make it easy for them to get to their toys, and place items in their reach and in their viewpoint. This fosters independence and teaches them how to do things for themselves (such as hopefully, putting their toys away!).

Some more specific ideas I used were: 
  • A toddler-sized chair and desk for comfortable drawing and crafting session;
  • Wall hooks at a toddler level to help her get used to putting clothes away and dressing herself;
  • A fun play mat for creative play;
  • Low-level storage to encourage her to choose her own toys independently (and fingers crossed, to encourage her to put them away too);
  • De-cluttering toys to keep the room as clear as possible - fear not though my dear daughter, the toys have been relegated to the loft, from where they will be periodically rotated from to keep things fresh;
  • Artwork on the walls at her level to make it easier for her to enjoy it - and in the future we will put some of her own artwork on the walls too to encourage her to create even more art;
  • Child-friendly bookcase where it is easy to choose the book (by the cover -pretty and functional!) and easy to grab it too with chubby fingers. I got the Tidy Books bookcase, which we all love. 

decorating fun and toddler-friendly baby bedroom

What do you think of the room? 

(And don't forget to check my detailed tips on decorating a toddler-friendly bedroom over at Wayfair! They've also got a swath of other lovely how-to posts there as well I have spent many a moment perusing through.)

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