10 Tips To Spring Clean Your Office

As spring turns to summer and the temperature starts to rise, it can be uncomfortable working indoors and, since many of us are now required to do exactly that, it is a great time to spring clean your office or workspace and get it prepared for the warmer weather. You really don’t want to be rooting through endless paperwork to find vital statistics when you’re close to a meltdown!

Workspace with desk and lamp

How to spring clean your office

Here are some simple steps you can take which will make you more organised and a little healthier too!

1.  Clear out old paperwork and shred confidential documents.

But don’t forget that some documents need to be kept for tax purposes.  HMRC says that records must be kept for at least 5 years after the 31 January submission deadline of the relevant tax year and they may also check your records to make sure you are paying the right amount of tax.  I like to keep a hard copy print out of my records to be on the safe side.

2. Invest in some new files.

Even though many documents can be stored on your Google drive or in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets on your desktop, you may still need to keep hard copy documentation of items such as invoices and statements (see 1. above!).

You may as well have pretty files that you enjoy using – or at least ones strong enough to withstand regular use.

3.  Improve the air quality

Believe it or not, there are actually house plants it is almost impossible to kill.  I have to confess my track record isn’t exactly impressive but you can improve your indoor air quality with them.

Plants absorb some of the particulates from the air at the same time that they take in carbon dioxide which is then turned into oxygen through photosynthesis.

You could try Spider Plants, Weeping Fig or Peace Lilies to name a few.

If your tastes are more esoteric, you could try a Himalayan Salt lamp which will also cleanse and deodorize the air.

And of course, a decent desk fan will work wonders in the heat.

4. Invest in some VELUX blinds to block out the sun

Not only will decent blinds help keep you cool, but removing the glare of sunlight from your workstation will stop you squinting at the screen and getting a headache.

Giving your windows a thorough clean both inside and out will help too.

In addition, you can get an anti-glare screen for your computer which will help make reading easier.

5. Keep hydrated

Make sure you have a good supply of fresh water to hand and if you are fuelled by coffee perhaps invest in a one cup coffee maker.  Try to incorporate water-rich foods into your snacks and lunches – salad, fruits and vegetables.

6.  Disinfect!

Thoroughly disinfect your keyboard and your phones which can harbour more germs and bacteria than the average toilet seat!

keyboard and glasses

7.  Use visual aids

If you are a visual person, why not include a noticeboard for planning or a whiteboard for scribbling down your flashes of inspiration.

Some like to have their vision board in front of them – a wishlist of their hopes, dreams, ambitions and goals. The theory is that by having these things in front of you, you are more likely to manifest them in real life.

8. Reduce, re-use, recycle

Make sure you have an adequate sized bin.  We have 2, the second being for recyclable material (all the Amazon packaging!) and don’t forget you can recycle the shredded paper from your shredder too (great as bedding for mice and hamsters!).

Gradually the aim should be to move to a completely paperless office but most of us aren’t quite there yet.

9.  Protect your health

You could also think about wrist and ankle supports if you are going to be spending a lot of time typing to avoid conditions such as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).

Most importantly, make sure you get regular screen breaks to rest your eyes and get up and walk about every 45 minutes or so.

My physio says he would not dream of sitting down for longer than this at a stretch if he could possibly help it.

Many doctors consider sitting to be the new smoking and recently leading doctor Sir Muir Gray caused controversy by claiming that Type 2 Diabetes is caused simply by lack of exercise.

10. Spring clean your work bag

It’s also worth carrying a mini-kit of essentials with you to help stay cool and fresh throughout the day.

Make sure your workspace meets your needs and is a pleasant place to work.  After all, you will be spending the bulk of your time there and, for most of us, far longer than we spend with our families unless you are lucky enough to work from home.

Some employers frown upon personal items such as family photos so you may have to restrict your self-expression to funky stationery and a cactus that reminds you of your boss!

*collaborative post with VELUX

Gift Different With TK Maxx This Christmas

What kind of Christmas shopper are you? Are you an avid Christmas planner who buys their gifts throughout the year? Or are you a last-minute mad dash kind of shopper? Whichever camp you fall into, at this most expensive time of year we all want the best value for money gifts we can find to keep the whole family happy.

Let’s be honest, buying the family gifts usually falls to us mums, doesn’t it? And we already have quite enough on our plates without spending hours online or trudging through the shopping malls looking for something different, extra special – and, dare I say it, even a little adventurous?

We were recently challenged to ‘gift different’ by TK Maxx to see what designer gifts we could find at prices that won’t blow the budget. They have an ever-changing range of wOoOah/big gifts at oOoOh/small prices!

After getting some great ideas online, I let the kids loose to choose some gifts for the family.  Here’s how they got on.

Gifts for him

You’ll find a great range of kids gifts and gifts for babies but when you have tweens, it’s always a little more difficult to find something to hold their interest in between bouts of gaming and texting.

Ieuan found a Retro Mini Arcade Machine including 240 games for £14.99 (RRP £24.99)

and a Radio Control Ferrari for £12.99 (RRP £19.99). Great gifts for dads and uncles too.

This Super Mario Question Block Mug for £3.99 (RRP 11.99) would suit any gamer and cheer up a dreary Monday morning.

And what about this collection of 100 brain-teasing puzzles for £12.99 (RRP £19.99)? Great for playing after Christmas dinner, assuming you haven’t succumbed to ‘resting your eyes’ as the husband refers to napping.

You don’t need to schlep around the shops in your quest for something unusual or quirky. TK Maxx sells a huge assortment of big names and designers, up-and-coming labels and one-off gems and always at up to 60% less than the recommended retail price (RRP).

And, you don’t have to wait for Black Friday or Cyber Monday because you’ll find low prices all year round!

Gifts For Her

Caitlin found some great gifts for her cousins and aunts – and me!

She found a lovely Black & White Panda Gift Set with an eye mask, socks and hot water bottle for £12.99 (RRP £22).

and a gorgeous boxed set of 3 eyeshadow palettes for £9.99 (RRP £24) which any girl would love.

Lastly, she found this gorgeous cross-body leopard print bag at £29.99 (RRP £69) which I have my eye on.

It’s not just clothes, bag and shoes, either.  If you love your skincare, you’ll know that TK Maxx is the destination for high-end skincare purchases at affordable prices and is adored by fans of skincare guru Caroline Hirons (including me!)  You’ll find plenty of homeware and gifts too and the kids usually vanish to check out the toys on offer when we visit our local store.

You’ll find the same range of bargains on TK Maxx’s website which is great for those of us who love to browse online but make our purchases in person.

A visit to TK Maxx is like a treasure hunt.  You don’t know what you’re going to find next – and, as stock is replenished several times a week and styles and items vary across the stores and on the website, there’s a surprise every time you visit.  (We are lucky enough to have two TK Maxx stores close by, in the centre of Cardiff and near Wenvoe).

Personally, I find it a fun way to shop and a great way to lose yourself for a little while and I know that I won’t have to worry about someone else giving the same gift as me  – as mine will always be unique.

Just remember though, grab those special gifts while you see them because when they’re gone, they’re gone!  Happy treasure hunting.

This post is a paid partnership with TK Maxx.

 

Free Fun Football For Kids 5-11 With McDonald’s

What better way to get your kids active and away from their screen than a fun football session? With a few bank holiday weekends coming up, the extra day for us can mean extra boredom for the kids.

For parents, it’s always a challenge to find purse-friendly activities to stop youngsters mooching around the house or vegetating on the sofa in front of a games console.

McDonald’s has supported grassroots football for 17 years in partnership with The Football Associations of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland and they have set themselves a pretty exciting challenge.

McDonald’s recently launched their Fun Football Centres, part of their Fun Football programme that aims to provide 5 million hours of fun football for children aged 5-11 across the UK by 2022.

This means that McDonald’s will give over 500,000 children the chance to try football for the first time through their ‘turn up and play’ coaching sessions.

This is a brilliant way to encourage an active lifestyle and, hopefully, a lifelong love of the nation’s favourite game.

Emulating their sporting heroes like Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey or Harry Kane is, to my mind, a better way of spending their time than learning to floss.

Ieuan and I recently attended one of McDonald’s fun football sessions at our local centre, Gol in Cardiff.  The sessions are, it goes without saying, open to girls and boys.

Ieuan plays for his local team the Penarth Town Under 11s so was keen to make the most of some extra coaching to take on his rivals with more aplomb and more goals! The sessions are designed for the kids playing to have fun, no matter their previous football experience. It’s a great way to introduce them to football for the first time as they go through a lot of basic skills and drills but even with Ieuan’s previous experience, he still loved it.

We simply visited mcdonalds.co.uk/funfootball, searched for our local centre and then contacted the provider direct to book our session.

There were plenty of venues close to us, but you do have to check which day of the week the sessions are held and which age range they are for.

It was quick and easy and, best of all, cheap (sessions are either free or a few pounds).

In fact, this spring there are more than 600 football sessions available, so you are guaranteed to find one near you to get your kids out from under your feet, and with football boots on theirs!

Gol is a well set out football centre with several separate enclosed pitches and plenty of facilities for football mums and dads in need of a caffeine fix and a quiet Kindle session now they have 5 minutes peace and quiet.

Mike, who coached Ieuan’s session, put the boys through their paces making sure they could kick straight and run quickly with the ball, as well as how to tackle.

Ieuan was a little shy before going in, but a fun football session is an excellent way for children from different communities to get to know one another and participate – an aspect of the McDonald’s programme that is particularly important.

After an hour kicking a football around, the boys were tired but happy and had spent an hour in the fresh air.

I would heartily recommend a fun football session for girls and boys so, as a reminder, here’s what to do to make sure you don’t miss out.

Visit mcdonalds.co.uk/funfootball to register online

Click on a country logo to be taken to the FAW website for your area.

Find your McDonald’s Fun Football session provider from the map displayed.

Choose your preferred centre and contact them directly to book your free session.

Turn up and enjoy!  Ieuan had a blast.

Who knows, you could have a top striker or goalie on your hands.

Epson Home Projector EH-TW650 – A Great Cinema Experience At Home

When I worked in marketing for the law firm many moons ago, one of the things I least liked was hiking across various cities encumbered with display equipment.

I can still hear the clack clack of my heels across pavements or through bleak and deserted shopping malls in the early morning, as I lugged trolleys stuffed with brochures or sweated buckets pulling along exhibition stands and, of course, laptops and projectors.

Epson Home Projector EH-TW650

Epson Home Projector EH-TW650

Glamorous it was not. And it was certainly stressful wondering if everything would connect, switch on and if Powerpoint would behave.

How different things would have been had I had this rather nifty and compact home projector from Epson.  It’s light, portable, easy to use, comes with a remote and is a breeze to set up.  And I speak as someone who is not tech-savvy in the slightest.

Epson Home Printer EH-TW650

In fact, the kids have given up asking me to switch on the Xbox or even Netflix because we seem to have 72 different passwords and everything is connected to everything else in a way that only my techie husband could configure.  (And yes, he has uttered the words “switch it off and switch it back on again).

The Epson EH-TW650 Home Projector

Epson sent us the the Epson TW-650 home cinema projector, the ideal projector for creating a cinema experience from the comfort of your own home.

We have previously reviewed the Epson ET-2500 Ecotank Printer so were expecting good things from the TW650 from both a design and a technological standpoint.

Given that it is rugby Six Nations time, the husband was only too happy to watch Wales v Italy last Saturday in glorious technicolour on our white lounge wall.

The husband uses the exact same model in his London office but whilst it’s great for presentations, it’s also great for supersizing your family’s TV and gaming if you have a plain wall to project on to or, of course a screen.

Instead of casting a dark shadow over your living room in the way that a giant plasma inevitably will, this projected display will disappear at the mere touch of a button, so you have more space and less clutter.

It has 3LCD technology that can create a 300-inch display, and a long lamp life providing up to 11 years’ worth of entertainment.

Epson Home Projector EH-TW650 features

Focusing the projector is simple and is done by a sliding mechanism on the front of the machine. You’ll also find an easy to navigate control panel in addition to the remote which is clearly marked.

Epson’s 3LCD technology delivers a clear image that doesn’t have the ‘rainbow effect’ you get with some 1-chip DLP projectors. It produces a high White and Colour Light Output of 3,100 lumens and the full HD 1080p projector delivers exceptionally bright yet colourful images with clear details even in bright rooms.

The sound quality from the projector’s own speakers is acceptable (it’s what you can hear on the video) but of course you can plug it in to your TV or other tech equipment to boost the sound for the full cinematic experience.

The projector also has built in Wi-Fi and features such as:-

  • AV mute slide
  • Automatic keystone correction
  • Built-in speaker
  • Horizontal and vertical keystone correction
  • MHL audio/video interface
  • Quick Corner, Split-Screen-Function

It also comes with a handy remote with the battery supplied.

The Epson Home Projector is a great buy for a home cinema experience

Rather than everyone hunched around the TV struggling to see, we were able to stretch out in comfort whilst the husband shouted “knock-on” and “numbers” and other rugby terminology I haven’t got to grips with.  (Apparently knock on is to illegally drive the ball with the hand or arm towards the opponents’ goal line).

Caitlin and Ieuan loved playing Minecraft on the ‘big screen’ – they play multi-player and sit side by side arguing. Sadly the Epson projector is unable to quell tween-ager bickering!

If, like us, you struggle to find babysitters, the TW-650 is a decent substitute for a date night and great for a family movie or gaming night. Since it costs us around £50 for a cinema trip with the kids you can see how the savings from a home cinema will add up!

You can also buy accessories such as a soft carry case and a ceiling mount on the Epson website.

The Epson Home Projector EH-TW650 retails at £599.99 inc. VAT and it’s compactness, ease of use and crisp projection make it a great addition to your home entertainment equipment.  To find your nearest dealer visit the Epson website.

If I find this projector easy to use, trust me, anyone else will!

 

*We were sent an Epson Home Projector for the purpose of this review.  

Our Oreo Cookie Quest At Dyffryn Gardens

There’s nothing like a family day out for making long-lasting memories and enjoying some special time together. These days, it’s often a challenge for busy working parents to find the time to dedicate to family fun and fresh air. Mat has been working abroad quite a bit since January, so extra time with dad is really important to Caitlin and Ieuan. This half term, we did something a little different and went on an Oreo Cookie Quest at one of our favourite places, Dyffryn Gardens.

Mat, Caitlin & Ieuan at National Trust Dyffryn Gardens on the Oreo Cookie Quest

The Great Oreo Cookie Quest!

Our adventure celebrated the launch of The Great Oreo Cookie Quest, an on-pack competition and interactive cookie quest activity with loads of wonder-filled prizes including a family trip to San Francisco.  The competition is now closed but you can still play along.

Oreo Cooke Quest - promotional packs

Glass of milk and 2 Oreo cookies - oreo cookie quest

So we challenged our readers…

Below you’ll find 10 photographs of our time at Dyffryn Gardens in which an Oreo has been hidden.  Not all of the pictures contain an Oreo treasure though, just to throw you off the scent!

All the photographs are numbered so to play along, you’ll need to make a note of the numbers of the photographs you found the Oreo in.  Remember, there should be 10 in all.

It’s time for your own Oreo Cookie Quest!

Dyffryn House

Photograph 1

At the heart of Dyffryn Gardens stands Dyffryn House. It was home to the Cory Family, industrialists who made their wealth through coal. The present house was built in 1892-3 and is an unusual mix of many different styles of decor.

Oreo Cooke Question: Dyffryn Gardens Welcome Board

Photograph 2

You’ll find a lovely little children’s play area outside the main entrance which is free to use. Entry to the House and Gardens is free for National Trust members, otherwise, there is an entrance fee in line with other National Trust properties.

Ieuan at the children's play area, Dyffryn Gardens

Photograph 3

It was quite a busy Friday but no matter when we go it is never too crowded.  There is plenty of space for everyone to explore. The gardens at Dyffryn cover more than 55 acres and you’ll find intimate garden rooms, formal lawns and an extensive arboretum. You could easily spend a day here.

The entrance walk into Dyffryn Gardens approaching Dyffryn House

Photograph 4

Tree at Dyffryn Gardens

Photograph 5

Caitlin at Dyffryn

Photograph 6

Caitlin and Ieuan have been coming to Dyffryn ever since they were little.  Ieuan was usually dressed as Spiderman though – a fact he hates to be reminded of these days!

Ieuan at Dyffyrn

Photograph 7

Because the day was so cold and grey, we found that most of our favourite statues had all be carefully covered with tarpaulins to protect them from frost damage.

Chinese Farmer statue at Dyffryn Gardens

Photograph 8

Caitlin & Ieuan resting on a plinth at Dyffryn Gardens

Photograph 9

There are so many interesting nooks and crannies to explore.  Dyffryn Gardens is a fabulous place for picnics and games of hide ‘n’ seek.

Pathway at Dyffryn Gardens

Photograph 10

Dyffryn Gardens Walled Garden

Photograph 11

Our explorations took us to the glasshouse where you’ll find tropical rain forest, dry desert and grape-filled vinery. There are lots of unusual and interesting species of cacti, orchid and vine, making it a real treasure trove for the garden enthusiast.

Cacti in Dyffryn Gardens Glasshouse

Photograph 12

Cacti at Dyffryn Gardens - Oreo Cookie Quest

Photograph 13

Fearsome dragon creature in the glasshouse at Dyffryn Gardens

Photograph 14

Leaving the warmth of the glasshouse behind we continued on to find the new wooded children’s playground.

Caitlin exploring the paths of Dyffryn

Photograph 15

Caitlin in a tree spotting a giant Oreo

Photograph 16

Mat in one of the walled gardens at Dyffryn Gardens

Photograph 17

Dyffryn is a really different experience in summer when the fruit trees are budding and the roses start to bloom.  But I like the grey bleakness which I find makes me very philosophical.

New wooded play area at Dyffryn Gardens - Caitlin & Ieuan in conversation during the Oreo Cookie Quest

Photograph 18

The new play area features logs and cute animals carved into the wood.  There are wooden picnic benches and an obstacle course of logs and wooden stepping stones for kids to play on.  The logs are quite high so this play area is suitable for older children.  Otherwise, full supervision is needed.  Fun though!

New wooded play area at Dyffryn Garden. Caitlin explores on her Oreo Cookie Quest

Photograph 19

As you can see, the logs are quite high.

Carved owl in the new play area at Dyffryn Gardens on our Oreo Cookie Quest

Photograph 20

The carvings are amazing.  A lot of time and care obviously went into the making of the wooden benches.

Carved frog discovered on our Oreo Cookie Quest

Photograph 21

As the sky became more overcast we decided to head from home but we did notice that the bluebells, snowdrops and some daffodils are out.  Spring is trying to make an appearance!

Bluebells at Dyffryn Gardens on our Oreo Cookie Quest

Photograph 22

Luckily we are a short 15 minute drive away in Dinas Powys.  This means we get full value from our National Trust membership without even to visit other properties, although we certainly take full advantage of the opportunity where we can. There are so many amazing places to explore in the UK.

There are regular events and activities hosted at Dyffryn Gardens from botanical art courses to snowdrop planting and medieval music concerts. Something for every age and interest.

We are looking forward to the return of the sun when the Gardens are open a little later in the evenings, perfect for lazy after-school picnics and watching the sun go down.

Still, at least we had plenty of Oreos to help us on our quest this time.

Carved toadstool in the wooded play area at Dyffryn Gardens on our Oreo Cookie Quest

Photograph 23

Linda, Caitlin & Ieuan Hobbis

Photograph 24

So, did you find the hidden Oreos?  Let me know in the comments below!  Dyffryn Gardens is a fabulous place for an Oreo Cookie Quest!

Time To Tackle The DIY Projects You Hate?

Even if you hate it with a passion, there comes a time when you really need to tackle the DIY projects you have been putting off for weeks, months, even years!

Go on, admit it – we’ve all got those jobs around the house that haunt our dreams and are always scheduled for the next bank holiday – and promptly forgotten about.

A room in need of renovation - DIY Projects

We have loads – a complete bathroom overhaul is on the cards, putting a hot water tap into the downstairs toilet, tidying up the garden and revamping Mat’s home office in the loft. I have started to share this work space but the lighting is incredibly poor.  It’s either too dark or else the sunlight dazzles the PC screen.  We planning some blinds from VELUX so that we can actually work without squinting.

I asked my fellow bloggers to ‘fess up’ about the DIY projects that just never seem to get done.

Tracey at Pack The PJs admits that revamping her kitchen is long overdue.

We know what we want to do, but it’s finding the time to get on with it that’s the problem. It’s all DIY-able we want to change the kitchen cupboard doors, add a new sink and tap – repaint in new colours with some furniture and lighting changes in the family room that the kitchen opens out into. It WILL get done this year!!”

For Emma Reed it’s the kitchen floor that is stuck on her to-do list.

Our kitchen floor is a cheap lino that was meant to be temporary… that was about 6 years ago! It now has holes but we can’t make a decision on what style to go for and thinking about moving everything out to do it makes me feel stressed so we just carry on ignoring the fact that it looks a state!

Alex at Better Together Home is avoiding tiling.

“Our bathroom and kitchen both need tiling but I’m terrified to try it myself and would resent paying someone to do it.  I wanted to get them done before the baby arrives in June but something tells me that won’t happen!”

Being pregnant is a perfectly good excuse in my book unless you’re gripped by the ‘nesting instinct’ which, 10 years on, I’m still waiting to turn up.

DIY projects - bathroom with stand alone bath

Bathrooms seem to be a particularly common place for DIY avoidance.

Becka at Mummy Est. 2014 needs to replace her bath panel and reattach the toilet to the wall after having work done on it but she says she doesn’t have the tools, know-how or confidence.

Bella at Documenting The Drews is in need of a new shower curtain pole thanks to her husband slipping in the shower and breaking the old one, whilst Debbie at My Chaotically Eclectic Life has put off redecorating her ensuite even though she’s had the paint and the towels for over a year.

Elsewhere in the house Laura at Dear Bear And Beany wants a gallery wall all the way up her staircase.  “It’s a big space and it would look amazing, but just the though of doing it brings me out in a cold sweat”, she says.

Meanwhile Pete at Household Money Saving. Com is avoiding putting up shelves in a downstairs cupboard because “the walls aren’t straight and it’s going to be an absolute pain”.

Laura at Waffle Mama is still tidying up after being conned by a cowboy builder.

“We have a huge list to do for our house. To make matters worse, we unfortunately got conned by a cowboy builder so after having new walls, decorating and carpet going down, we then had to have the whole lot ripped out back to brick and re done properly. Second time round and having a loan to sort it out completely kills your mojo! Hoping to finish our kitchen this spring at the very least.”

Outside, Christy at Welsh Mum is having problems with her garden shed.  She explains:

“My garden shed is falling apart and no longer watertight, but for a new one we’d need to lay a base of concrete and then erect it ourselves which terrifies me! It’s going to have to be done before the summer though as it really is a safety hazard.”

Terri at The Strawberry Fountain needs the guttering checked but isn’t entirely happy about asking the hubby to go on the roof because “the thought of him on our roof, well, it’s just an accident waiting to happen.”

Sara-Jayne at Keep Up With The Jones Family raises a very interesting point.  Her garden is on a huge slope and is a complete nightmare.  “Every year we say how we could fix it but we’re basically clueless. I wish we were more like my parents’ generation, more hands on without immediately calling for an expert!”.  

How many of us are still calling on our parents (now quite elderly in many cases) to help us out with DIY projects around the home?

But I’ll leave you with Nadia at Scandimummy’s dilemma – one which would send shudders of horror through quite a few people I know.

“We have a gap between our floorboards. My toddler has managed to drop an iPhone down there. Yes, an actual phone. For a while, you could hear it beep when new messages came in. We desperately need to get someone out to lift the floorboards and then seal them up afterwards.”

Sadly, Apple haven’t come up with an app for that.

What are the DIY projects you’ve been putting off?  Will you be off to the DIY superstore on the very next bank holiday?

Review: Will You Sleep Sounder With A SIMBA Hybrid Mattress?

Have you heard of the SIMBA Hybrid Mattress? Many years ago, mattresses weren’t very sophisticated.  In fact, the choice was basically soft, medium or hard depending on the needs of your back.

Lately, though, you may have noticed a shake-up in the number and types of mattress available – all of which claim that you will have the best night’s sleep ever.

As he’s getting quite tall, Ieuan’s bed frame was replaced a year or so ago. We choose a simple metal frame bed from John Lewis but let Ieuan choose his own mattress.

The staff waited patiently as Ieuan tested about 10 different mattresses several times.  I could have had a large coffee and a muffin plus a tour of the beauty department (never a chore) in the time it took him to settle (literally) on the one he wanted – a SIMBA mattress for his single bed.

SIMBA Mattress in its box

Would you believe there’s a double mattress in there?

We hadn’t heard of SIMBA before and assumed that it was a standard memory foam mattress.  We were intrigued when, on delivery, we found that the mattress appeared to be vacuum packed and watched it spring to life when it was cut out of its plastic.

We then had to leave it for 3-5 hours to ‘inflate’ before Ieuan could sleep on it. After we all tested it, we agreed that it was the most comfortable mattress in the house.

So, when I was recently offered the chance to review a SIMBA double mattress, it was a no-brainer and I couldn’t wait for it to arrive.

This time though, I wanted to learn a little more about what was about to turn up.

A SIMBA Hybrid Mattress is far from being just a block of memory foam. It has been specially designed to meet the needs of all body shapes and sizes. The company worked with The Sleep To Live Institute in its extensive and lengthy profiling of over 10 million people.

Although it is only 10 inches thick, the SIMBA Hybrid mattress has 5 unique layers which all have a role to play – the Simba 5Ss.

Simbatex Layer

First up is a soft comforting layer that provides support throughout the night. This layer has been developed by SIMBA and contains a synthetic latex layer that also gives a cool feel for the entire time that you lay on it.

Spring Powered Layer

Featuring 2,500 conical unique springs which adjust individually through your sleep and react to your movement, this layer ensures that you remain supported throughout the entire night.

The Shaped For You Layer

Constructed using high-quality Visco Memory Foam, this layer moulds to the shape of your body and reacts to changes in body temperature and weight so it can sense when you’re lying on it. It springs back into its original shape when you get up.

This memory foam layer also allows you to move naturally in your sleep whilst working to align your spine and promoting healthy posture to relieve tension and pressure.

Visco Memory Foam is hypoallergenic and anti-microbial so it scores well in the hygiene stakes. It is highly resistant to bacteria, mould, mildew, mites, and other odour causing germs, making it a great choice for those with sensitivities or allergies.

It is also effective at reducing motion transfer, which is invaluable for those who share a bed. If your partner is a restless sleeper, or if your partner gets in and out of bed and disturbs you during the night or in the morning, Visco Foam mattresses minimize this disturbance.

Visco Elastic Foam mattresses also tend to last longer and provide more pressure relief than the more traditional ‘sprung’ mattresses.

Seventh Heaven

This layer is a thick support base which is the foundation for the mattress and has 7 different load bearing zones to evenly distribute your weight across the mattress.

Sleep Surface

The entire mattress is encased in a breathable hypoallergenic cover, allowing for freshness to be retained and the temperature to be controlled to a consistent level for the whole of your sleep.

The SIMBA Hybrid Mattress can be used on any type of bed base – slatted platform, flat base, divan or adjustable base and comes with a 10-year guarantee.

SIMBA also offer a 100 day trial with a no questions asked pick-up and a refund.

You can order your SIMBA mattress directly from Simbasleep.com or from John Lewis, Bensons for Beds and Argos.

I was sent a SIMBA Hybrid Double Mattress and it arrived vacuum packed and sealed in a box which is much smaller than the mattress!  This means that you don’t have to wrestle with a mattress to get it upstairs – you simply carry the box.

The SIMBA Hybrid Mattress comes vacuum packed

The SIMBA Hybrid Mattress comes vacuum packed.

You then take it out of the box, free it from its plastic covering using the handy cutting tool that comes with it and then leave it for between 3-5 hours to expand into its original shape so that it is ready to use.

SIMBA mattress reinflating after removal from packaging

Your SIMBA needs 3-5 hours before you can sleep on it for the first time.

If you read the customer reviews, you will no doubt find mention of an initial smell but this is normal with memory foam products and it fades in a day or so.

The mattress comes with full instructions and a nice welcome pack in the box which includes the cutter mentioned above.

SIMBA Welcome Pack & Cutting Tool

The mattress comes with a welcome pack and a special cutting tool.

How Did I Sleep?

Readers know I have been having problems with my back for a while and am coping in the day with pilates and stretching so I had high hopes for my SIMBA.

If you are unused to sleeping on a memory foam mattress, you will find it a new experience. A perusal of the customer reviews on SIMBA’s website shows that whilst the majority took to it like a duck to water, some take just a little longer to get used to it – and I’d put myself in that category.

My previous mattress was a 1400 pocket spring mattress some 10 years old so well overdue for replacement. It had developed a couple of suspicious dips in places which we tried to get over by turning the mattress regularly.

Caitlin found the Simba Hybrid mattress really comfy

Initially, I found the SIMBA surprisingly firm but, comparing it with Ieuan’s which is now over a year old, it is easy to see that the mattress softens and moulds to the user over time – and so it is already with mine.

I find that I don’t tend to move about so much in my sleep and once of the surprising results of this was a reduction in nocturnal waking – and the resultant trips to the bathroom.

I also felt a little taller and straighter, although my lower back grumbled for a bit probably at being supported properly for the first time in years.

Now after 3 weeks I am already finding I am looking forward to being reunited with my SIMBA at the end of the day. The mattress is already a little softer and ‘fits’ me better.

I still have a moment of surprise when I sit on it and it doesn’t sink like my old one used to and more often than not these days I sleep through to at least 6 am – whereas I would regularly see 4 am and 5 am.

When you get into bed and lie down you can feel the mattress supporting your back and spine without sinking too far into it.

For us ladies of a certain age, heat regulation is also pretty important but I found that the SIMBA Hybrid Mattress’ thermoregulation technology works well and even with a duvet and a throw I don’t overheat and become uncomfortable.

Would I recommend one?  Yes, I would and, with SIMBA’s 100-day trial you have absolutely nothing to lose by giving one a try.

Putting Some Stretch Back In Your Day With HoMedics

So, after 4 weeks of testing the HoMedics STRETCH mat, how did I get on?  Will I continue to use the mat?  Has my experience taught me anything?

HoMedics Stretch Mat - woman lying on mat

If you have read my previous two posts, you’ll know that I have had problems with my back on and off for a few years, probably because I had my kids by caesarian just 18 months apart.  The fact that my lifestyle is way too sedentary is also a huge factor!

My physio gave me a program of simple, Pilates-based exercises to mobilise and strengthen my back.

He told me that back pain is actually helped by exercise.  Bed rest is not the answer unless you really can’t move at all and you should not spend longer than 45 minutes sitting down.  When you think of how long the average office worker remains seated, it’s really not surprising that so many of us have problems with back pain.

Apart from the school run (walk!), I do my weekly pilates class but the rest of the time I am sat in armchair blogging – and a rather broken-down old armchair at that.

Us 50 somethings are at that time in life when things start to twinge, ping and generally ache a bit and, to be frank, exercise is rapidly becoming a have to do for the comfort of our bodies, rather than something we know we ought to do.

You’ll recall a male friend of mine recently confessed to a secret yoga habit and I wonder how many of us are gradually finding our way towards gentler, yet undeniably effective forms of exercise.

HoMedics Stretch Mat

Over the last four weeks, I have found that the HoMedics STRETCH mat has really helped with this. It puts you through a selection of yoga stretches without you having do much other than lie there and relax.

The idea behind the STRETCH mat is to bring the benefits of yoga into your day, helping you to release tension and improve flexibility with immediate benefits for the shoulders, hips and back.

The mat mimics yoga-style stretches by inflating precision controlled air chambers in sequence to encourage your lumbar region to stretch, release and relax.

In fact, it’s so simple to use there really is very little effort involved in giving your back the gentle workout it needs to make your body feel more comfortable throughout the day.

Simple to set up, you unfold the mat, position the headrest and plug it in.  You then select the exercise program you want to use that day using the handheld control.

HoMedics Stretch Mat

Of the 4 pre-programmed sequences, I particularly enjoyed “Flow” – a progressive flow of stretches which gently mobilises the whole length of the spine, and “Stretch”, an all-round treatment to which is a great adjustment after being seated for a long period of time.

The sequences are of varying duration and you can pause, play and customise the intensity of each one to suit your flexibility.

When you’ve finished using the mat, simply fold it away again. It has a handle so you can carry it from home to the office.

The mat requires very little space – just access to an electrical socket – and you don’t need exercise gear or any other accessories.

Man on HoMedics Stretch Mat

I mentioned in my last post that we all need to incorporate more stretching into our daily routine and there are 3 key benefits.

  1. Prevention of more serious damage – for example, tears to ligaments
  2. Improvement of general mobility – helping to stave off age-related stiffness, aches and pains
  3. It feels good.

It’s just that finding the time can often be a bit of a struggle.  I found, though, that I was able to set up my STRETCH mat in minutes and hit the floor for a brief workout without much disruption to my working schedule.

That is one of the luxuries of working from home, but the STRETCH mat is portable and you could always use it at work if you have the facilities or a spare meeting room that nobody uses.

In fact, there are three keys times to use the mat – on rising, after long periods of sitting (for example at work) and to relax before you go to bed.

We all know how important sleep is to our mental and physical wellbeing – sleep hygiene is as much a key health trend as maintaining our core strength and stability.

A gentle stretching workout can really help you relax and you could even meditate or practise mindfulness while you use your mat.

After using my STRETCH mat I definitely notice a decrease in tension and improved flexibility in my shoulders, hips and back.  I feel ‘taller’ if that’s possible.

You can repeat the treatments as often as feels good for you, but as with anything new, always start gently and build up your regime as your body becomes accustomed.

Will I keep using my HoMedics STRETCH mat?  Yes, I will.  It’s such a simple way to incorporate some yoga moves into your day.  I think one of the key benefits is that it makes you aware of how you are holding yourself and when you start to feel the tension in your lower back.

I will, though, make sure I improve my health overall by reducing the amount of time I spend sitting and try to prioritise moving my body to avoid the ’50-something seize’.

The HoMedics STRETCH Mat is currently on offer for £199.99 (RRP £249.99) and is available to buy from HoMedics.co.uk, Argos and Amazon.

You can read my previous posts at:

HoMedics Stretch Mat – The Easy Way to Stretch Your Body & Relax Your Mind

Enjoy The Benefits of Stretching With The HoMedics STRETCH Mat

 

Enjoy The Benefits of Stretching With The HoMedics STRETCH Mat

You may recall from my previous post that I am currently testing the HoMedics STRETCH mat to help my rather temperamental back.  After two caesareans just 18 months apart and a rather too sedentary lifestyle, I find my back is prone to grumble and even goes into spasm if I lift too heavy a weight.

HoMedics STRETCH Mat - woman lying in the mat

 

I have to admit that this has limited the range of activity I do, despite the advice of my physio that I should be exercising MORE, not less.  Bed rest is not the answer.  Painkillers and movement such as back stretches are.

I am learning about the benefits of stretching my back in a gentle programme of pilates once a week and trying to limit the length of time I sit blogging in the broken down armchair which currently serves as my ‘office’.

In truth, we all need to incorporate more stretching into our daily routine and there are 3 key benefits.

  1. Prevention of more serious damage – for example, tears to ligaments
  2. Improvement of general mobility – helping to stave off age-related stiffness, aches and pains
  3. It feels good.

As we know, exercise is good for body and mind and studies show that it may even stave off dementia.

Stretching helps improve balance and coordination which can help if you tend to be slightly accident-prone.  The last time I put my back out I simply bent down to pick up a black bag full of rubbish.  That was it!

But we seem to be up against the clock these days and finding the time (and inclination) to exercise is difficult.

When I remember (!) I do a short series of stretching exercises such as a basic pilates roll down, hip twists and basic Yoga pose – Pose of A Child. Even though I do pilates weekly, I still struggle to remember all the moves.

HoMedics STRETCH Mat - Linda Hobbis demonstrating how to use the mat.

No such problem with the HoMedics STRETCH mat which puts you through a selection of yoga stretches without you having do much other than lie there and relax.

Yoga is proven to help you to release tension and improve flexibility with immediate benefits for the shoulders, hips and back.

HoMedics STRETCH Mat - Linda Hobbis using the mat

The STRETCH mat puts you through a gentle, but thorough workout by inflating precision controlled air chambers in sequence to encourage your lumbar region to stretch, release and relax.  And it’s so simple to set up – simply unfold, position the headrest and plug in.

Then choose from one of 4 pre-programmed sequences:-

  • Twist – A short session that focuses on relieving tension in shoulders and hips.
  • Flow – A progressive flow of stretches that gently mobilise the whole length of the spine, leaving you feeling refreshed and supple.
  • Energise – An uplifting program designed to help you refuel and boost your energy levels.
  • Stretch – An ‘all-round’ treatment to provide a refreshing antidote after staying seated for a long period of time.

The sequences are of varying duration and you can pause, play and customise the intensity of each one to suit your flexibility.

When you’re done, simply fold the mat away again. It has a handle so you can carry it from home to the office.

The HoMedics STRETCH mat is an ideal way to bring the benefits of yoga into your day – whether you are a yoga-phobe or a yoga-lover.

All you need to do is relax and let the mat do the work and treatments can be repeated as often as feels good for you, but as with anything new, always start gently and build up your regime as your body becomes accustomed.

The HoMedics STRETCH Mat is currently on offer for £199.99 (RRP £249.99) and is available to buy from HoMedics.co.uk, Argos and Amazon.

More on the HoMedics STRETCH Mat

HoMedics Stretch Mat – The Easy Way To Stretch Your Body & Relax Your Mind

Putting some stretch back in your day with HoMedics

 

HoMedics Stretch Mat – The Easy Way to Stretch Your Body & Relax Your Mind

I have had problems with my back on and off for a few years, not helped by the fact that I had my kids by caesarian just 18 months apart.  Eventually, after much grumbling – from me and my back, I was sent to a physio who gave me a program of exercises for my back and a stern talking to.

Not only was my physio (who I was lucky enough to see on the NHS) a firm advocate for the importance of stretching the back, he is also a football referee and a keen sportsman.

As well as giving me a set of exercises to do, many of which are based on Pilates, he told me two things which have stayed with me.

  1. Back pain is helped by exercise.  Bed rest is not the answer unless you really can’t move at all.
  2. You should not spend longer than 45 minutes sitting down.

I’ve read quite a lot in recent months about the fact that many health practitioners consider sitting to be the new smoking but many of us struggle with a sedentary lifestyle and its effects.

Even our kids do a daily mile walk in school because they are being taught how important exercise is for their health.  Not only that but their headmistress wisely says that whilst they’re walking they have a golden opportunity to sort out disputes and petty arguments and become friends again.

With shame I have to admit that my kids are far healthier than I am.  I walk the kids to school and back and do a weekly pilates class but that’s it.

The rest of the time I am sat in armchair blogging.

No, it’s not doing me any good and yes I really should do something about it but time just runs away with us, doesn’t it?

It’s quite interesting that, now many of my friends are over 50, as I am, how many of us are recognising we need to do more exercise just to get moving in the morning.

In fact, I was recently gobsmacked when a male friend of mine confessed his new passion was yoga and he did a basic sequence every morning to ease himself into the day! This is someone who spends the rest of his time biking around the UK in full leather regalia.

I was recently sent an innovative new product by HoMedics to try out – the HoMedics STRETCH mat which promises to put you through a selection of yoga stretches without you having do much other than lie there and relax – sounds ideal, right?

The idea behind the STRETCH mat is to bring the benefits of yoga into your day, helping you to release tension and improve flexibility with immediate benefits for the shoulders, hips and back.

It is not what I was expecting.  I envisaged lying on something extra padded whilst drifting off to the sound of Whalesong but actually the mat puts you through a work-out – albeit a gentle one.

The mat mimics yoga-style stretches by inflating precision controlled air chambers in sequence to encourage your lumbar region to stretch, release and relax.

The HoMedics STRETCH mat is easy to set up – simply unfold it, position the headrest and plug it in.

 

It is operated by a handheld control and there are 4 pre-programmed sequences to choose from.

    • Twist – A short session that focuses on relieving tension in shoulders and hips.
    • Flow – A progressive flow of stretches that gently mobilise the whole length of the spine, leaving you feeling refreshed and supple.
    • Energise – An uplifting program designed to help you refuel and boost your energy levels.
    • Stretch – An ‘all-round’ treatment to provide a refreshing antidote after staying seated for a long period of time.

The sequences are of varying duration and you can pause, play and customise the intensity of each one to suit your flexibility.

When you’ve finished using the mat, simply fold it away again. It has a handle so you can carry it from home to the office.

After using the mat for the first time you are advised not to use it again for 48 hours to give your muscles the chance to recover and I can certainly see why.

I tried the gentlest stretch programme and although it is relaxing I really felt it in my back afterwards.  I felt taller, which is good, but slightly achy as though I had had a good exercise session.

I will be testing the HoMedics Stretch Mat for the next 4 weeks to see what difference regular yoga stretches make to my daily routine and I can already see that it will be really easy just to lay the mat out and take advantage of 10 – 15 minutes or so of stretching to ensure that my back doesn’t seize up.

Take a look at the video below for a clearer idea of what the STRETCH mat can do.

The mat requires very little space – just access to an electrical socket – and you don’t need exercise gear or any other accessories.

The HoMedics STRETCH Mat is currently on offer for £199.99 (RRP £249.99) and is available to buy from HoMedics.co.uk, Argos and Amazon.

Look out for my next posts where I’ll be talking about the benefits of stretching in more detail and how I use the STRETCH mat during the day.

Bidvine Review: How To Find The Best Local Family Photographer

I was recently commissioned to give my views on Bidvine.  Here’s what I thought.

As a blogger I love photography but my own skills aren’t quite up to scratch (yet!) when it comes to taking memorable, well-composed family portraits.  For a start, I’m lucky if I actually get to be in the photo – that’s so true for us mums, isn’t it?

So I’ve been looking for a good family photographer who won’t charge an arm and a leg and, better still will come to me with some creative ideas, both for style and location.

Back when I was a marketer, every business had to be in the Yellow Pages.  It was probably the number one place we all turned to in order to find a tradesperson or a business service.

In fact, I spent many hours laboriously writing the Yellow Pages ads for our law firm!  Today, with everything online, you have a wealth of services to choose from – all at your fingertips.

But how do you pick the right one for you when there’s so much choice?

My Bidvine review

I recently discovered Bidvine which is a free to use website specially designed to help you hire local professionals in your area.

You simply select the type of service you are looking for and enter your postcode – for example, you could search for decorators, music teachers, children’s entertainers, photographers etc. My search was for Family Portrait Photography.

Then you are guided through a series of questions about your requirements.

I was then asked:

  • Where will the photos be taken?
  • What style of imagery I was looking for  – again with a drop-down box and a choice of Candid, Artistic, Traditional etc.
  • Whether I have a specific theme in mind?  (This is optional though)

  • What format I want the photos in – e.g. album, on a CD.
  • What is my budget (anywhere from £100 up to £1000)
  • Whether I want to travel to the photographer and the distance I am prepared to travel or whether I want the photographer to come to me (which in this instance I do)
  • My timescale – days/weeks etc – your request can be flagged as urgent.
  • Any other information I want to pass on to the photographer
  • How I’d like to receive quotes – email is the default setting but you can also opt to receive telephone or text quotes too.

Then you simply hit “Get Quotes” and wait for these to hit your inbox.  I made my request on a Sunday and was told to expect quotes by the Wednesday.

So how did I get on?

Bidvine says you will receive up to 5 requests per project which is a sensible amount because otherwise choosing becomes a little overwhelming.

But I actually created two requests (or projects as Bidvine calls them) as I only received one quote for Family Portrait Photography (my first request).

My second request was for the more general search term of Family Photography and I received three quotes for that.

The reasons for this, I suspect, are that I live just outside Cardiff and asked for the photographer to travel to me and I had been quite specific in my requests.

Nevertheless, making the request via Bidvine was incredibly simple and relatively quick.  You may just find that you need to be a little more flexible to find the service professional you need.

Once you have chosen your professional, your contract is with them and you pay them directly. Businesses who list on Bidvine have to buy Bidvine credits and then ‘pay’ to send quotes and personal messages by using these credits.  This is a good way of making sure that customers receive a considered, properly structured quote that addresses their requirements fully.

I received my quotes via email but you can also view them on Bidvine in the file that the system creates for each of your projects.  The main benefit of this is that you can read any customer reviews that have been published for your service professional.

The fees quoted ranged from £450 to £700, but the latter was higher due to travel expenses from the West of England.

I liked Bidvine and can see that it will further develop into a valuable resource for time-strapped parents. I would still suggest creating a checklist of your requirements beforehand so that you can assess each of your quotes on an equal basis, simply because there is quite a bit of variation in what you get for your money.

A quote is, of course, just a guide and by having your requirements to hand (perhaps in a written list) you can have an open and constructive conversation with the service professionals you choose to contact and make sure everything is covered – and that the final price is acceptable to you both.

10 Quick Tips For Saving Money On Your Energy Bills This Winter

After the mortgage, our utility bills are one of the biggest chunks of our monthly expenditure and we all want to save money on energy bills if we can.

Many of us, of course, know that we should be shopping around for a better deal but, if you’re anything like me, you suspect that any rises or falls in utility costs will eventually spread to all the other utility providers and even out over the long term and you find the thought of switching provider is just too much of a hassle.

But since Which suggest you could save up to £369 by switching your energy provider, it may be well worthwhile making the change.

In the meantime, there are lots of ways we can reduce our existing utility bills by making a few practical adjustments.

How to save money on energy bills

Here are some quick tips:-

  • Turn down your thermostat.  The Energy Saving Trust says you can save around £90 just by turning your thermostat down 1 degree.  Sweaters and hot water bottles can be your new best friends.
  • Try a smart thermostat.  That way you can control your heating via the internet and could switch it on in time for your return from work, rather than keeping it on all day.  Have a look at Nest or Hive.
  • Make sure the dishwasher is full before you switch it on or, if you hand-wash, use a bowl to wash up rather than a running tap and save £30 a year in energy bills.
  • Fill the kettle with the amount of water that you need and save around £7 a year.
  • Reduce your washing machine use by just load per week and save £5 a year on energy, and a further £8 a year on metered water bills.
  • Check your windows for draughts. You can buy draught-proofing strips to stick around the window frames which are cheap, and easy to install, although they may not be a long-term solution. You can get metal or plastic strips with brushes or wipers attached which are long-lasting but cost a little more. For windows that don’t open, use a silicone sealant.
  • You can also prevent heat loss by using thermal/black-out linings on your curtains (great at helping the kids to sleep too) or by fitting blinds from the company VELUX which have a special heat blocking aluminium coating on the back to retain heat in the room in winter and reflect solar heat in summer.
  • Similarly, check your doors for draughts too.  Keep doors closed to stop cold air from moving into the rest of the house and if there is a gap at the bottom of the door, use a draught excluder.  You can make your own with some spare material or even a stuffed pair of tights.
  • Draught-proof your front door by:-
    • getting a keyhole cover (a metal disc that drops over the keyhole)
    • fitting your letterbox with a flap or brush
    • blocking any gap at the bottom with a brush or hinged flap draught excluder
  • Don’t leave all your gadgets on standby.  Switch them off to save £££s.

For more great ideas on how to save money on energy bills, go to www.energysavingtrust.org.uk.