bless the weather

Print your photos - a botanical inspired calendar with Inkifi

photographySiobhan WattsComment
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This post was sponsored by Inkifi. All thoughts and opinions are my own, and as you know I only choose to work with companies and products that I personally use and buy from. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Bless the Weather. 

This year, I've been thinking hard about how I can give mindful gifts to my friends and family for Christmas. I want to give them something they will love and treasure for a long time, but that doesn't contribute to over-consumerism, create more waste, support giant corporations and ultimately end up in landfil. I want to teach my family that there is another way, that we can be more thoughtful about the gifts we give and what we ask to receive. That we can remove the pressure from having to empty our bank accounts on stuff we don't need, all in the name of a Merry Christmas. My chest tightens just thinking about how much waste we all create at this time of year, my family are far from perfect and have a long way to go but I want to do my best to make more mindful and informed choices. Not get caught up in the panic. I shared a recipe earlier this week for a handmade edible gift that you might like to try, if this is something that interests you too. 

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I've given photo gifts a few times this year (still haven't blogged the photo book I made for Gav for Father's Day) and even managed to print out some photos to frame for our home. I pour my heart and soul into all the images I take, and it makes me so happy to see them on our walls. I've actually ordered one of these wooden photo calendars for both mine and Gav's parents already, filled with photos of us and Rory. The photos correspond to the month on the calendar, so our parents can watch Rory slowly age from one to two. When the year is up, they can cut off the calendar part and keep the photos to frame or stash away. Next year we can update the photos so they can re-use the wooden part. 

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When Inkifi reached out about a collaboration, I knew I wanted to create another wooden photo calendar. Since I'd already created some with family photos, I decided to go with a botanical theme seeing as I take so many photos of plants throughout the seasons. I created a mood for each month by pairing the sunnier, summer photos with June, July and August. The frost covered plants and leaves were saved for November and December.

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I have to confess...this photo calendar is for myself. It just looked too nice on my desk to give away, and as my office is surrounded by plants it fits perfectly. A tip for you is to lighten your images before you print, especially if you prefer to shoot dark and moody like me. Typically I don't have to as most of my work ends up on a screen (or buried on a hard drive, isn't that sad?), but for print the results are definitely better if you increase the brightness a little.

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I love the quality of Inkifi prints. Their templates are clean, modern and easy to use, shipping is cheap and quick - unlike some similar US counterparts. December 14th is the last day to order one of these wooden photo calendars to arrive in time for Christmas, so you still have just under a week to get your order in. 

So, what will you create? A calendar full of family photos, memories from your travels or a theme like my botanical one? 

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*if you're looking for a photographer to capture some memories of you and your family that you can share as a gift, please do get in touch! I offer full sessions which are great for photo books an albums, or mini sessions that are perfect for holiday cards, photo calendars or a print for your wall. 

Handmade Christmas: Cocoa & Orange Bliss Balls

food & recipesSiobhan WattsComment
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This year, I've allowed myself to think about Christmas nice and early. I want to build up to it slowly, with decorations and twinkling lights creeping into my home. There will be no hauling a box out of my attic in a frantic afternoon a week before the 25th December, no panic buying and no feeling stressed about something I've forgotten to do. Instead, I've given myself the time to be mindful, to plan ahead and to fully enjoy everything this time of year has to offer. And why not? I'm sure most of our reluctance to embrace Christmas early is because we so hate all the over-consumerism and the feeling that it's being forced upon us as soon as the last trick-or-treater has gone home to bed. I know that's why I typically leave everything until the last minute anyway.

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Now that Rory is getting to an age where Christmas is something of importance to her (not quite yet, but soon) I think more and more about the memories I have of being a child. What stays with me is never about the things we were given, it's always about what we did. The experiences, the music, the lights, and of course...the food. Baking mince pies with my Mum, decorating the tree with my brother and watching the Snowman on telly on Christmas Eve. That's what I remember.

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Making as much as we can at Christmas time is so important to me, not just because we can make thoughtful gifts that avoid needless consumerism and waste, but because of the memories we can make while we are doing it. I'm a big fan of edible gifts, at any time of year. Make something delicious, with love, presented in a glass jar that can be re-used long after the treats have gone. No one gets given extra junk they don't need, but instead they get something that they can enjoy, hopefully in a moment of quiet with a cup of something hot and spicy. I think it's extra special, when you know someone values you enough to give you a little of their hard earned time.

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Cocoa & Orange Bliss Balls

100g (3.5oz) pitted dates
75g (2.75oz) almonds, skin on
75g (2.75oz) cashew nuts
2 tbsp chia seeds
1 tsp melted coconut oil
3 tsp cocoa powder, plus extra for rolling
2 tsp orange extract
 

1. Soak the dates in boiling water for ten minutes.
2. While the dates are soaking, blitz the nuts in a food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients, and the soaked dates when they are ready. Pulse the processor if the mix is a little sticky, the continue to blend everything making sure it's well mixed together.
3. Roll the mixture into twelve balls, using wet hands, and roll them in the extra cocoa to coat.
4. Chill in the fridge for eight hours, or freeze for one hour if you want to eat or gift them quickly. Best stored in the fridge too.

You can experiment with how large or small you want to make these, from tiny 'bliss bites' to larger balls depending on the kind of packaging you've got. Add a hand written label, and you've got a wonderful, delicious and healthy treat that both adults and children will love. 

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As the days grow cold

life & familySiobhan WattsComment
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I read the term "wintering through" somewhere recently, and it perfectly described for me that thing we all do as the days grow colder. We find our strategy for dealing with the dark and the wind and the rain, for the workloads and the germs, for the over-busy and the over-quiet. Heads down, we winter through. And if we adopt the right attitude, take care of ourselves and don't over load ourselves with work, nor fill ourselves with fear when things are still, we can find all the beauty in this season. There is much about it that must be endured, but so much more about it that can be enjoyed.

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I am a lover of Winter, when the dark bookends to our days are full of divine pleasures. I wake early, something I have no choice about since I got one of those toddler alarm clocks without a snooze function. I pull on my wool socks and my aran cardigan, go downstairs and make the coffee. Everything is dark and quiet. I light the candles, pour water and orange essential oil in the burner and sit down. Sometimes Rory occupies herself, leaving me to journal, go through my emails and write my to do list for the day. More frequently, she dances naked on the table, shouting "mama, knee!" or making up a song about toast. I relent, and do her bidding, continuing to work with her on my knee (an occupational hazard) or making the breakfast. 

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As the days grow cold, I see my home start to change. Out come the blankets, the sheepskins I rescued from a junk shop that I scrubbed and hair-dried for hours while heavily pregnant. Fairy lights creep in around the banisters and windows, I smell cinnamon and cloves and chocolate. There's shepherd's pie in the oven, leek and potato soup simmering in the pot, and the freezer is filling up with meals for when our small flat is overrun with family. Christmas is coming, but slowly. Just the way I like it.

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At this time of year, it almost always feels like an effort to go outside. Especially when the going outside is preceded by half an hour of chasing a mischievous toddler around while trying to put clothes on them. It should be an olympic sport, it requires such skill, strength and patience. We have a dog, and no garden, something I complain about daily, but strangely it ends up being the thing I am most grateful for, because it gets us out the door. Even when the sky is grey, the wind is cold and the ground is wet, we still have to go to the park. Sometimes we catch first light, or last light, or the raindrops lingering on the leaves, a rat running into the bushes or a squirrel burying something in the ground. Life happens all around us, and it always makes me glad we left the warmth of our kitchen. 

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As soon as Rory asks to go to the park, as she often does, I am quick to take her up on it. The outdoors is her playground, and who can blame her when there's so much to explore. She plays hide and seek between the leaves, chases squirrels and licks rain drops off anything she can. I hope she always wants to walk with me, to get bundled up in all her layers and go outside to look at the plants. I suppose if I still enjoy it at 33, she might like it for a little while longer yet. This blonde-haired, blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked kiddo of mine.

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So here's to the cold days, and to leaving the warmth of our homes to get out into them as much as we can. If only for the way it feels when we come back inside. Boots off, kettle on...

A Journey of Gratitude - a guest post for The Fresh Exchange

life & familySiobhan WattsComment
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Since I started working for myself, I've learnt to pay attention to the markers that sign post I'm on the right path. The things that tell me that despite the struggles, despite the difficulty in finding a balance between pushing myself and being kind to myself, that I can pat myself on the back and gently say "good job".

I've been a fan of The Fresh Exchange for a good few years, and just before Rory was born I connected on Instagram with Megan and we started to chat. We were pregnant at the same time, and experienced a lot of the same things while we were navigating our changing bodies, lives and freelance careers. I have a lot of respect for the depth of thought Megan gives to every aspect of her life. I'm very much a wing it and go with my instinct kind of person, and I envy the amount of research, preparation and reflection that goes into all that she does. I try to assimilate a little bit of it through her words, using her as my online teacher of a class in how not to be quite so impulsive. There's beauty in both our approaches, of course, but as my beloved once famously said to me "Siobhan, it doesn't hurt to do a little bit of research". 

When Megan reached out to me a few months ago about being a contributing writer, I felt very honoured. It's always wonderful when someone you admire lets you know they enjoy what you do, but when someone as conscious of quality as Megan asks you to be part of what she does, you know that she feels the time, the thought and the heart you put into what you do. 

It's a challenge for me, to write for someone else and for their audience. I am so comfortable here, with you. I write like me, and for people who know who I am and what I'm about. But writing like me for people who don't know what I'm about? That's hard. It took me hours or writing, and even more hours of editing. I dreamt about it, I agonised over it, I re-wrote it until I was satisfied. It was published a few weeks ago, and I'd love for you to read it. I hope you enjoy it, and that my words resonate with you and encourage to find your own way of incorporating the practice of gratitude into your daily life. It has magic powers, I swear it. 

Sunday mornings at the farm

explore & adventureSiobhan WattsComment
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A new Sunday ritual for us, after a relatively slow morning at home, is to head out in the car to Vauxhall City Farm. It's just a twenty minute drive, which makes it the perfect distance when you have a toddler who is at risk for falling asleep mid-car journey when you need them to nap at home. Rory's naps are the only way we get any rest from 6am to 7pm, and when she does a good two and half to three hours every afternoon we're reluctant to give that up. Anyway....we LOVE the farm! There are horses, donkeys, goats, alpacas, pigs, sheep, ducks, chickens, giant rabbits and a whole heap of other little furry things to keep you and your kiddos entertained for a few hours. They've recently added a cafe and a buggy park which makes it even better, and means you can stay a lot longer than before as the farm is quite small. My only complaint is that the cafe food is so disappointing. It's your basic English breakfast or variations of that, with the only vegan option being some rather bland sliced avocado or some tinned baked beans on a piece of brown toast. It's perfect for Rory as she loves that, but having eaten there once I don't think Gav and I will again. It's cheap though, which is great, but they do need to up the flavour and have at least one good veggie/vegan option. Come on guys! I recommend having a coffee/tea in the cafe (I can't get over the cuteness of a soy babycino), but heading to the nearby Bonnington Cafe for some great and affordable vegetarian/vegan food and cakes.

Being at the farm fills me with so much joy to see how confidant and happy Rory is around animals. I was such an animal lover as a child, and volunteered at a city farm in East London where I lived until I was almost seven. It's really important to me I can share my enthusiasm for nature with her, and I truly believe that at her age there is no better playground or learning space for her than the great outdoors. She loves to roll in the mud and leaves, pick up anything she finds on the ground and get as close to all the animals as she can. A little too close sometimes as she put her wormy little fingers into the chicken pen when I wasn't looking and one gave her a nasty peck on the finger! But this time a goat licked her which she found hilarious, so I think she's on board with the farm again. It's a great place to go and visit, with our without children, although I think most people that go do have kids. A little slice of the countrside in London is always worth seeking out, I think. 

A westcountry getaway: North Devon & West Cornwall

explore & adventureSiobhan WattsComment
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I'm not sure there are many things I enjoy more in life that an impromptu week away to the Westcountry. The place I grew up, the place that has my heart and is woven into my bones. The lush greens, the wild coastlines, the abundance of freshly grown produce, the garden birds, the walking and the climbing and the picking and the growing. But best of all, the kettle warming on the wood-burning stove. Gav and I had a week booked off starting September 3rd, thinking we might go to France or somewhere overseas to celebrate my birthday. Our summer was busy with putting our flat up for sale, and expensive with the building work and some legal stuff we had to get sorted before we had any viewings. The time got away from us, as it so often does, and we resigned ourself to a week at home in the city. No bad thing, because secretly we love those kinds of holidays too. 

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Out of nowhere, a few days before the start of our holiday, we decided to head West and spend the week in a cottage in Cornwall. We both needed some fresh air and sea views, and some time together away from the city. We planned to book-end the trip with a night at my parents either side so they could see Rory, and to cut our journey time down a little as their house is on the way.  A few years ago, I stayed in a cottage in Cornwall with some friends while I was pregnant with Rory. It was on the North West coast, just near Pendeen, a little futher West than St Ives. I knew that was the place I wanted to head back to, to show it to Gav and Rory and to explore a bit more than I'd had time to on the last trip. A quick search on Airbnb and we were all booked. I love spur of the moment trips, we don't do those enough.

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These photos are a mixture of our time in Cornwall and in North Devon with my parents. I hope you enjoy looking at them, even though they're all smushed together in one post! It was so wonderful to get away from London, as it always is, and spend some quality time with Gav and Rory. If you have small children yourself, you'll know that holidays with them in tow are frequently far from relaxing. You're always on the go, it's a struggle to keep them in any sort of routine and they often don't sleep so well at night in a strange bed. All of these things can mean you have a tired, hungry and cranky toddler (and mama) on your hands. Rory always sleeps so badly when we go away, and this time round she seemed particularly unsettled. It's not easy getting in and out of cars, going into shops, out for lunch or for any decent hikes when you have a toddler either. Sometimes they're a dream, and other times you have to abort mission and just find a place to let them chase the seagulls. 

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Despite the challenges, I always love travelling with Rory. The good memories you make and the fun times you have are always worth the trickier bits. It's important to me that Rory loves to explore and be outdoors, and that she's not phased by new places or people. She is so happy whenever we're outside, the wilder and windier the better! Oh, and any place they make a good veg pasty is alright with her. We had a lot of fun all being in the cottage together, making homemade pizzas, going out for walks, hunting for antiques in the local town and sitting together in front of the fire in the evenings with a glass of wine. We were exhausted all the time, for sure, but we got exactly what we came for - time together and time outdoors. We can relax in ten years or something, right?

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I planned to write a few more blog posts sharing all the places we visited, but as usual I set my expecations way too high for what I could acheive on no sleep while wrangling the Rornado. I didn't take any photos in St Ives or Penzance, and sadly we failed at visiting Barbara Hepworth's house and garden which I so badly wanted to see! Instead, here's a list of some places I reccommend, and a link to our cottage in case you fancy planning a trip of your own. 

Places to recommend in St Just, St Ives & Penzance:
Our Airbnb cottage // St Just (right in the centre of town, near shops & pubs etc)
My friend's Airbnb cottage // Pendeen (a drive to the town)
The Common Wanderer // St Ives (ethcial outdoor supplies)
Archie Browns // Penzance (healthfood shop & vegetarian cafe)

Cape Cornwall is a good place to walk, as is Lands End, and if you are into your walking you'll find no shortage of routes in this area. St Ives is full of great pasty shops (we tried a few) and make sure you pick up a few extra to take with you while you're walking by the coast. Penzance had some amazing antiquing opportunities, unfortunately none we could browse with an angry toddler. Next time! I'd certainly recomend a week in Cornwall as a great family holiday, and would love to go back again next year with a few friends so we could all share in the cooking and babysitting. If you have any recommendations for this area yourself, please do leave them in the comments as I'd love to read them and I'm sure others would too. I so wish we'd had more time to explore, there's so much to see and do. The Eden Project is a big one on our list for next time for sure! 

Gratitude Journalling, and ten prompts to help you

life & familySiobhan WattsComment
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I've spoken a little bit about Gratitute Journalling on Instagram recently, about how it has become a part of my daily self care practice and how it helps me stay calm and focused when life gets busy and overwhelming. I've done it on and off over the last ten years, but more consistently this past summer as I knew I was heading into a busy and stressful time whilst trying to sell our home. I was lucky enough to win this beautiful journal from The Gratitude Attitude on Instagram, timed perfectly with me starting up my practice again. It's full of beautiful quotes and artwork, with a nice heavy hard backed cover. Having such a lovely book really makes it feel like a treat when I give myself the time to sit down with a cup of coffee and write in it. 

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What is gratitude journalling, why should you do it and how can it help you?

Gratitude journalling is the practice of writing down a list of positive things that you are grateful for. Typically it's a daily practice, taking around fifteen minutes to think of at least three people, places, items, experiences, services, memories or feelings that make you feel grateful about yourself and your life. It has been proven to lower stress levels, make you feel calmer when you wake up and go to sleep (depending on the time of day you choose to journal) and overall give you a tool to overcome negative feelings, emotions and experiences. The simple art of writing down what you are grateful for can also have far reaching affects on your life beyond your wellbeing. It can bring you clarity, focus and perspective on what you truly want from your life and who you want in it. The things you do write are important, but the things you don't are also notable in their absence. 

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It can be hard to make time for journalling, I know. We're all busy, and certainly don't need another thing on our to do list. But, I have experienced myself that if you make it a priority to give yourself time in your day to slow down and mull over your day or week to pull out the positive experiences and lessons, it pays back to you far more than you've put in. 

Some tips for keeping up with your journal

1. Keep it next to your bed, or on your coffee table - somewhere you will see it first thing in the morning or last thing at night and are most likely to take your fifteen minutes to write. Have a pen handy too, so it feels like no effort.
2. Use a specific Gratitude Journal or a nice notebook, so it feels special when you use it. It also turns it into a keepsake once you've finished it, and something to look over when you have a tough day to remind yourself of all the good things in your life.
3. Experiment with journalling at different times of the day, and notice when you feel it benefits you the most. Perhaps first thing helps set your mood for the day, or last thing at night helps you feel calm before you go to sleep. 
4. Give yourself enough time to really think about what you are grateful for, don't just go through the motions and jot down the first things that come to mind. It doesn't need to take more than ten minutes, but allow yourself at least that.
5. Don't worry if you forget to write in it for a day or two, or if you don't want to journal sometimes. It's beneficial whenever you do it, and shouldn't become a chore or another thing on your to do list. I don't manage daily journalling, but I aim for at least three or four times a week.

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The magic of journalling, is that after the first few days of listing the obvious things in your life that you are grateful for: your partner, your children, your house, your dog etc it starts to get a little more difficult. You have to think harder and harder, and that's when you start to pick up on how much in your life you take for granted. You start to feel positive about things you overlook every day, and it begins to change your mindset even from the moment you wake up. I've come up with a few prompts that might help you if you feel a little stuck with what to write, these are all things I use myself when journalling. 

Ten prompts to help you with your gratitude journal

1. How are you fortunate in your life, in a way that others aren't in theirs (i.e access to food, water, heat, electricity)
2. Look around you, what can you see that brings you joy but that perhaps you overlook because it's always there?
3. What abilitites do you have that you are grateful for? It could be something as simple as 'being able to read' or a skill such as photography or playing an instrument.
4. What did you do today that you are grateful for, perhaps something that you do often that you don't think to be grateful for? A walk in the park, coffee with a friend, catching up on a favourite TV show.
5. What have you learnt from a recent experience that you are grateful for? It might be a good or a bad one, but something where you experienced growth.
6. Who in your life are you grateful for, and why?
7. Use your senses...what can you see, smell, hear, taste and touch that you are grateful for? The way the light comes in through your windows, the smell of the basil plant in your kitchen, the feel of your favourite jumper on your skin.
8. What do you use every day that you take for granted? It could be a material possession, a service, a consumable etc.
9. What opportunites do you have, or have you had in the past that you are grateful for?
10. What are you looking forward to? An event, a trip, a meal, a day off, an early night...it can be big or small, just something in your future you feel grateful to have. 

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Whether you feel like you want to keep a gratitude journal or not, simply the act of thinking about the things in your life you are grateful for changes your perspective from a negative one into a positive one. There are so many things we take for granted that we have, but because we are human we can so easily forget them and let our mind wander to a place of worry and sadness. We feel like we aren't grateful because we don't have the job we want, look the way we want or have the these we want. The reality is, that unless we shift our mindset, we can have all the things we desire and we'll still feel like we don't have enough. Be grateful for what you have, and then you will always have enough.

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So this is 33

life & familySiobhan WattsComment
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Last week, I turned 33. It seems like a big number, and surprises me every time I tell anyone my age. I've always looked younger than I am, and it used to frustrate me when I was in my twenties and would get asked for ID every time I went to a bar or bought alcohol in the supermarket. People older than me would assure me that once I was in my thirties I'd be grateful for looking young, and that I'd take being asked for ID as a compliment of my youthful looks. Well, I can tell you that at 33 I'm positively offended if I don't get asked for ID when I'm buying alcohol. Which is almost never these days, unless I want some white wine for a risotto. How different things are these days! I look shiftily at the cashier or bar tender until they ID me, and then I proudly waft my driver's licence showing me up to be a child of the '80s. "Oh but you look SO young" they always say, and secretly I love it.

I was on a train home to Devon once, sat next to a lady in her eighties who's husband had recently passed away. We chatted for a few hours, during which she told me that the ten years between 29 and 39 were the happiest of her life. It was the time of getting married and having babies and everyone being well and happy and moving forward in their lives. It hit me a bit like a gut punch, to realise that there will come a sad day where I will start to lose people in my life that I love. Children leave home, friends move away, people get divorced, family members get sick and parents shuffle off this mortal coil. It's the circle of life, but one that in your early thirties you mostly haven't even begun to complete. It's the upswing, for most of us, and certainly for me and for that I count my blessings daily. I hope this hasn't gone somewhere too morbid...my point is that life, to a certain points gets sweeter with age because your life is filled with more and more of what makes you happy. But at some point, holes start appearing that can't be filled, and that's just the moth eaten blanket of life that we all must wear. I know that youth is wasted on the young, but we must try to waste as little of it as we can. We must know when things are sweet, and squeeze out every second of sugar. 

The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes.
— Frank Lloyd Wright

Being in my thirties has been a wonderful thing. I have a deep happiness that I can't say I felt when I was 23. That awful insecurity that gnaws at you when you're really young, that scrambling to find your place in the world, of not really knowing who you are and what makes you happy. It slowly sheds off of you with each year that passes. Your life strips down to the essentials, you're OK with saying no to a lot of things and you worry so much less about what everyone thinks of you. You're free to focus on what matters to you, because you have left behind the expectations of others.

For me, at 33, life looks as good as it ever has. I am rich in love and kindness, friends and food, beauty, inspiration and creativity. I am on the cusp of starting a new chapter, of buying a new home and moving out of the city. Responsibilty bears down on my shoulders, however, and sometimes overwhelmingly so. I have traded the uncertainty of my youth for the security of a family, and while freedom often eludes me, I have joy in abundance. If the last ten years has taught me anything, it's that you can never have everything you desire all at once. The secret to life is to be very clear on the positive and negatives of each situation you find yourself in, and make the best of them before they change. Be grateful, on the daily, because if you are then your heart will always be happy.

So, here's to 33. Because if that lady on the train was correct, I've still got six more years of the best ones of my life. After that, it's anyone's guess.

 

The Wildness Tonic - August Favourites

explore & adventureSiobhan WattsComment
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If you follow me on Instagram, you might know that I started the hashtag #thewildnesstonic back in February this year while staying in Northumberland. Spending time in nature is always something that brings me calm, and cures any ailments I have from the routines of daily life, work and motherhood. The name 'The Wildness Tonic' comes from a favourite quote of mine by Henry David Thoreau, "we all need the tonic of wildness", and I thought it would be the perfect hashtag to encourage others to share images of their time spent outdoors. You can read more about it here. I often choose my favourites from the hashtag to share on Instagram Stories, but I've been meaning to take it a step further and share them on here too. I hope in the not too distant future to be collaborating with some artists, makers and brands that I love to bring you some prizes for the best image as well. So look out for that coming very soon! 

After scrolling through all of the beautiful images on the tag this month (and there were so many) I chose this tranquil, golden image from @hannahgabriellemore as my favourite. It so perfectly captured the mood of August, those late evening and late summer vibes wandering through the wheat fields. I especially loved the accompanying Oscar Wilde quote "with freedom, books, flowers and the moon, who could not be happy?" 

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And here are my nine favourites, taking each row from left to right: @helena.moore /  @oakandclaw / @helena.moore / @saraheallberrey / @_erudluin_ / @tatianaworek / @fieldandnest / @ellacbee / @harrietandthebees 

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It was so hard to choose just one winner and another nine favoruites, I started off with twice that! I tried not to overthink it, and just go with images that really caught my eye, from the composition to the tones and the use of light. I also particularly liked to read the captions, as I feel like the winning image should always give a sense of what the tag is about. That finding calm, restoration and peace from being one with the outdoors.

Do click through and have a look at all these beautiful accounts, there are some of my favourites in there and I'm sure you'll discover something to inspire you. Thank you all so much for sharing your images on #thewildnesstonic I find endless insipiration in them each day. Please do keep sharing and tagging, I so love to see them and I know so mnay others who do too.

Why I choose natural sun protection for my family - with Green People

life & familySiobhan WattsComment
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It's a truly wonderful thing that an increasing number of us are deciding to be more mindful about our choices for what we put in and on our bodies. Paying more attention to what we eat, where it comes from, the products that we buy and the companies that we support. There is so much information out there for us all to access, it's not hard to do our own research and look past the packaging and the advertising that is thrust upon us. It's more important than ever that we demand better for ourselves, our families and the environment from the things we consume every day. I truly believe that as much as we can, we should be a part of the solution and work towards lessening our burden on the planet and it's resources. We need to vote with our feet and our purses, consume less and make kinder choices about the things that we can't do without.

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Budget is of course a constraint for so many of us, and plays a huge part in steering the choices we make. Ethical living can feel expensive and unobtainable, but for me that's where the mindfulness of it all comes in. It's about understanding what we need and what we don't, not wasting money on fast food and fast fashion just because they are cheap. Thinking more about the future, understanding the true value of the things we buy and buying less of it all in general. Investing in quality, in products that don't exploit people or animals or the enviroment, and supporting companies who care about making the world a better place. If you're interested in pursuing a more ethical way of life but you're not sure where to start, there are some really helpful tips in my previous post that you might like. 

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Sun screen is one of those products that we can't do without, it's a staple of our summers and we should all be careful about protecting our skin from too much sun damage. Living in the UK, too much sunshine isn't something we have to worry about for many weeks of the year. However, rates of skin cancer are on the rise here, and some experts recommend using some form of sun protection on our skin throughout the year to protect ourselves from the sun's harmful rays. During Spring and Summer when most of us will experience prolonged exposure to the sun, it's essential that we take precautions against damage to our skin.  It goes without saying that covering up as much as possible, staying out of the midday sun and wearing a hat is important during the summer months, but I must admit to being a bit of a sun worshipper and not following much of that advice. When it comes to our children, trying to keep hats on their heads and clothes on their backs when they're diving in and out of the pool can be pretty hard to do, so applying sunscreen liberally and often is essential to protect their sensitive skin.

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Most of us are aware that many of the beauty products we buy are full of potentially harmful chemicals, and this includes our sunscreen. Although it protects us from UVA and UVB rays, it has the potential to do us damage in other ways. The ingredients are solely there to ward off sun damage, not to nourish our skin or our planet. Children are more susceptible to synthetic chemicals because their bodies are still developing, but as their skin has greater sensitivity to sunlight we lather them up in thick layers of the highest factor we can find. We think about the good we are doing in protecting them from the sun, but not so much about the harm we might be doing from the chemicals we use to protect them. 

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Green People are a company I've loved for a long time, with a 20 year track record of not using aggressive ingredients or synthetic chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), parabens, phthalates, petrochemicals, alcohol (ethanol) or synthetic fragrances or colourants in their products, and never testing on animals. I'm a huge fan of their sun lotions, especially their organic one that's designed for children. It's unscented so doesn't carry that awful smell that mainstream sun lotions do, and their adult lotions are gently scented with essential oils and smell great. 

Here are five reasons why I use natural sun protection for my family:

- It's free from potentially harmful chemicals. Green people's sunscreen contains Edelweiss to protect against UV rays, Green Tea extract to reduce premature ageing caused by the sun and avocado and rosemary to nourish and soothe the skin. 

- I suffer from eczema. Although I don't think we as a family have very sensitive skin, all of us are prone to occasional dry patches and I do get eczema quite badly on my hands and arms which gets worse during the summer. Traditional sun lotions make it a lot worse, and I find that when I use natural products my skin is so much happier.

- It doesn't damage the oceans. 25% of sun cream is washed off during a twenty minute dip in the paddling pool, swimming pool or in the sea. The chemicals left behind from mainstream sun lotions are getting ingested by other children, adults and marine life. In fact, the chemicals found in mainstream sun creams are causing severe problems to life in the ocean, with 10% of the world's coral reef's under threat from sunscreen induced coral bleaching. 

- It's kinder to our skin. Mainstream, waterproof sun lotions block pores and prevent your skin from breathing, which can trigger prickly heat. It's like wrapping your skin in clingfilm! instead of synthetic pore-clogging ingredients Green People use Beeswax and Berry Wax to naturally repel water without blocking sweat glands.

- because SPF30 is enough. Like most people, I assumed that SPF50 offers almost double the protection of SPF30, but in fact SPF50 only offers 98% protection compared with SPF30 offering 97% protection. The key with sunscreen is to reapply often to get the most protection from both UVB and UVA rays, and I feel a lot happier reapplying it so often when it's full of organic and natural ingredients rather than potentially harmful chemicals.

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This post is written in collaboration with Green People, who sent me some products to test out in exchange for a feature. All words and thoughts are my own, and I feel strongly about only promoting products and companies whose ethics align with my own. Thank you for supporting me and the collaborations I share with you. 

Ethical Family Living – ten tips for more ethically minded families with Mel Wiggins

life & familySiobhan WattsComment
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I am so thrilled to be able to share with you the first ever contributor post I have had here on Bless the Weather, in eight years of blogging. I really want to begin to use this space more to share a wide range of thoughts on subjects I care deeply about, to introduce you to people you may not have discovered yet who can share more about these topics with you, and also to give a spotlight to anything and anyone that I love that I think would be interesting to you. 

My first contributor is Mel Wiggins, one of my favourite people on the internet. I love her Instagram and blog, her monthly 'Understory' emails, her daughter Ada saying "morning" on Instagram Stories and the way she beautifully blends honesty, integrity, ethical style and activism with a side dose of down to earth humour. She feels like an old friend, even though we've not met before. I'm envious of those able to attend her seasonal Assembly Gatherings, which bring women together to share food, a workshop, wine and a warm fire. It's a privelege to be able to share her words with you, and also to tell you about her new e-course on eco-family living. More about it below, plus a discount just for Bless the Weather readers so look out for that at the end. Right, let's get to it...

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Thanks so much to Siobhan for having me on her blog today – it feels like popping into a neighbours online – we have loads in common and it’s a pleasure to get to share here. Let me tell you a little about myself…I’m Mel, married to Dave, mama to two rascally beautiful kiddos (Levi, 6 and Ada, 1) and together we live in Northern Ireland – a place equally complex as it is beautiful. I have a bit of an activist spirit, having spent more than a decade working on various development and human rights issues and currently managing a project preventing trafficking and exploitation. I also write on my blog, host gatherings for creative women and create online courses for thoughtful, down-to-earth people who want to do some good in the world.

Learning to live a more ethical, eco-friendly life should be easier now than ever. We have access to so much information and choice – but the problem is that we’re often too busy and overwhelmed to feel like we can make it happen. I wanted to share with you 10 simple things you can do right now to help your family connect to the world and do some good. 

1. Involve your kids!
It may sound like a no-brainer, but the more that you involve your kids in ethical/eco living the easier and more normal it will become for your family to live this way. If your kids grow up helping you look for fairtrade labels, watering the vegetables in the garden, helping you making your own laundry detergent – they will see this as the normal path for families. Kids LOVE to help, and research shows that exposing them to these important issues in small ways provides long-lasting learning that will help to shape their moral compass as they develop.

2. Be a conscious consumer
Have a think about who makes all the every day things that you use around the house? Ask your kids if they have ever thought about who made our vacuum cleaner or our shoes? It’s easy to forget the people and the processes that go into making our every day items but there are stories behind them all and ways for us as consumers to make sure that our purchases aren’t contributing to the exploitation of people or the planet. A little research, a few extra minutes googling the ethics of brands before buying that next pair of pajamas or that new kettle could make a big difference. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you can’t find the information you need – you are the consumer, you spend the money, you have the right to know.

3. Pair down
The more stuff we have, the more we have to take care of it. When it comes to kids stuff, there is a real temptation to buy ‘all of the things’ to entertain them or dress them nicely. The reality is that we soon become a slave to those things – constantly wasting time tidying up, keeping things clean and for so many kids, having too much stuff can over stimulate them and foster a sense of entitlement. We need so much less than we think we do, and donating stuff to charity that just doesn’t serve you is a great way to help children connect to life outside of their family bubble. Maybe ask them to pick 5 toys or books they don’t play with anymore to bring to the charity shop so they can help other people. 

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4. Reduce plastic
Single use plastic is killing our natural world. It never goes away – ever. If we want to reduce our footprint on the environment a good place to start is to try to buy your groceries in places where single use plastic isn’t necessary, like farmers markets or green grocers. You can even make or buy some reuseable drawstring bags to bring with you when you go to separate your items. What I have found is that for every instance where it is easy to buy plastic (e.g. party plates for a child birthday), it only takes a tiny bit more effort to find a better more earth-friendly alternative online (bamboo plates that decompose). 

5. Save water/heat
It takes loads of energy for our water and heating systems to work in the western world and the energy it takes create a lot of greenhouse gasses (5% of greenhouse gasses in the UK come from heating up water) and damage the atmosphere. When we use excess amounts of water we are also taking away from an already stretched resource (needed for agriculture, food production, reservoirs etc) even here in the UK. Why not set a timer on your phone for yourself and your kids to have quick 2 minute showers? Make it competitive! Who can shower fastest? Or how about reducing your flushing? (if it’s yellow, let it mellow and all that…) You can also decide to delay putting the heating on in the Autumn and encourage your family to wear an extra layer or to cuddle up with candles and blankets!

6. Ditch the car
If you’re a city dweller, this might not be relevant but for those of us in sprawling suburbia, there is a temptation to hop in the car for every small errand or meeting. Cycling or walking is not only much better for the environment and your wallet but for your mental health as well. Kids that walk to school are proven to be more alert and ready to learn. See if you can try and make some space for walking or cycling those shorter journeys or even try to car pool or do combination journeys with your kids where you drive half way to school and walk/cycle/scoot the rest.

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7. Grow your own
You don’t have to have an allotment or a massive garden to be able to introduce your kids to growing your own food. You can grow all kinds of salad ingredients in pots on a window sill, balcony or doorstep. Rocket, spring onions, radishes and herbs are all great for starters. So many children grow up never understanding the cycle of food production and it can be a real magical experience for them to get involved and get their hands dirty in the planting, watering, tending to and watching things grow. There’s something very satisfying in sitting down at the table together with a little bit of food that you’ve helped to grow yourself.

8. Eat seasonally
Using the seasons as a guide to our eating is a really healthy and eco-friendly way to up your green game. It is kinder on our bodies – eating food that is grown naturally in the appropriate seasons usually means less chemicals and preservatives used to keep it fresh and you can bet that when you eat food that is seasonal and local it will have stacks more flavour. When we eat seasonally and maybe more importantly locally, we not only supporting the local economy but are supporting the care of our environment.  It takes less energy to grow and move around the food we eat if we stick to eating food that is seasonal and local.

9. Find a cause
One of the greatest ways that we can connect our kids to life outside our family bubble is by helping them find a cause they feel passionately about. It might be endangered animals, it might be a charity that provides clean water, it might be looking at how children are treated fairly around the world or sponsoring a child. We can help our kids look at things differently, become aware of their privilege and realise their potential to make a difference and be a force for good. You may have to lead on this depending on the age of your child/ren, but it’s so worth exploring and feeding your child’s interest on a particular issue. Get them books from the library on the topic, let them watch appropriate movies or documentaries and help them find easy ways to do something about it. Developing this kind of global empathy in a child is nothing short of life changing.

10. Recycle, fix, borrow
Our throwaway culture has gotten out of control. If something is broken, we bin it and buy again creating so much landfill waste and unnecessary financial burdens - but it doesn’t have to be that way. The culture of borrowing and fixing our possessions has faded and needs resurgence. I love the idea of borrowing – the exchange, the dependency on one another that it creates. For some reason we have become afraid of asking, too worried about being seen to be needy or not self-sufficient. Generations before us were so much better about this and it greatly contributed to more close-knit communities and neighbourhoods. Next time you need something big, why not use the power of social media to see if you can borrow it or offer a skill swap to someone you know could help you.

These 10 things are great starting points for families who want to reduce their impact and be more conscious about how they do things in the midst of the chaos that a family life can bring.

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If this has resonated with you or made you think more about how to implement these things into your daily family rhythms then I’d love you to join my brand new ‘Eco Family Living’ online course running throughout September. It’s 30 days of content, tips, hacks, family challenges and video streams on how to do family life more connected to the world.  And you can join with other people doing the course in a closed facebook group to share and get support from me. It’s going to be pretty special.

Family life is busy. I know that. Trying to be more ethical feels overwhelming. I know that too.  That’s why I’ve condensed the information for you so you don’t have to search for it yourself! It’s all there – ready for you to work through at your own pace.  Normally the course is £25 (less than a pound a day!) but for two days only Bless the Weather readers can have it for £20. Just use the code ‘BLESSTHEWEATHER’ at the checkout and don’t wait around – places are going fast! Click here to book your place on the course.

A more connected, simplified family life is possible – let’s do this. 

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Blueberry and vanilla chia jam

food & recipesSiobhan WattsComment
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Chia jam is a recent discovery of mine, made when I borrowed the recipe book Eat Smart by Niomi Smart from my local library. It's a great cookbook filled with vegan recipes, and all of the sweet treats made without refined sugars. I've used chia seeds before in puddings and smoothies, they're a good vegan egg replacer because of their sticky-ness making a binding agent for cakes and brownies. I tried a few of the recipes in Niomi's book (I don't recommend the orange and apricot one!) and chia jam was an instant hit in our household. My daughter Rory is a blueberry monster, so I knew I had to make a blueberry version just for her. 

If you're unfamiliar with chia seeds, then let me get you acquainted. Chia seeds are a Central and South American superfood. They're rich in fibre, high in protein, contain Omega-3 (although in the plant form ALA, so the Omega-3 content is much lower than from animal sources), and are also rich in calcium, magnesium and trace elements such as manganese. The combination of fat, protein and fibre means the seeds are digested relatively slowly, providing a slow release of energy which keeps your blood-sugar levels stable.

This all means that not only is chia jam quick to make and extremely delicious, but it's also a healthy addition to your breakfast, snacks and puddings. Naturally vegan, gluten free and made without refined sugars, so it's suitable for children too. Rory has a spoonful in her porridge every morning, and loves it in yoghurt for a healthy dessert. I find it's great for keeping sweet cravings away, instead of reaching for sugary snacks just have a bowl of yoghurt topped with a spoonful of chia jam, chopped nuts and some ground flaxseed. 

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Blueberry & Vanilla Chia Seed Jam

Ingredients:
480g fresh blueberries
3 tablespoons agave syrup
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Method:
1. In a medium sized saucepan, gently bring the blueberries to a slow boil with the agave syrup. 
2. Add in the chia seeds, stir until combined and continue to cook the mixture on a low heat until it thickens. You'll notice that as the seeds start to take on liquid, the blueberry mixture starts to look a lot like jam. There's no exact science with this, just do it by eye and by feel. The jam will thicken up as it cools as well, and also overnight in the fridge. Stir the mixture frequently so it doesn't stick to the sides of the pan. Mash the blueberries down a little, keeping some whole for texture.
3. Remove from the heat when the jam has thickened, and add the vanilla extract. Stir, and add more agave syrup if you'd like it a little sweeter. Personally I love the sharpness of the fruit, a refreshing change from the overly sugary jams we're all so used to. 

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Chia jam is great served with so many things. Use it like a normal jam and spread it on toast, add it to porridge, yoghurt, pancakes, breakfast bowls, oat bars or anything else you like. It'll keep for at least a week in the fridge, but I find that mine keeps well for two. I make a few different kinds on a weekend so I have a ready made supply during the week. Use whatever fruits are in season, or you can use frozen ones if you have a stash of blackberries to keep you going throughout the winter. 

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I love recipes like this that are so easy to adapt to your favourite flavour combinations, and also to use up whatever fruit you have to hand. My current favourite fruit to use are strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberry. A touch of vanilla essence goes well with all of them. 

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Indoor Plant Care Q+A

at homeSiobhan WattsComment

Lately on Instagram I've been sharing more about my collection of indoor plants, my love for them and how the routine of caring for them grounds and calms me. As a result, you guys have been sending me all kinds of questions about indoor plant care. I know I have even been able to help one or two of you rescue a dying plant from the brink, grow your own avocado tree from a pit, and inspire you to make your own journey from serial plant murderer to a capable plant mama. It makes me so happy to be sent images of your plants growing, being tagged in your stories when you visit garden centres and start bringng home some new plants of your own. So thank you all!

I've held off a little on sharing any tips on plant care more publicly, because I'm not an expert. I just really love plants, I love growing my own collection and learning every day how to care for them better. I'm an enthusiast, and I didn't think that qualified me to share what I know. But sometimes, I think an enthusiast can do more for inspiring and informing others than an expert. It's less intimidating, and as long as you're not pretending to be an expert, then there is always a place for you to share your knowledge and experiences about anything. 

So, I put a call out on Instagram for you to send me all your questions about indoor plants. I had a lot of "help me, I'm a plant murderer" as well as some general plant care questions and some more specific questions related to a particular plant or plant type that you're struggling with. I've done my best to give helpful answers to your questions, so here goes!

1. How often should I water my indoor plants? (@fieldandnest)
There's not a catch all, easy answer for this question because all indoor plants have different needs. This is the most important thing to undertsand about caring for them. You can't water your plants on a schedule, because they need differing amounts depending on the kind of plant and the time of year. As a general rule of thumb, you should let the soil dry out completely before watering it again because you don't want your plants to get waterlogged roots. Most succulents like relatively little water (perhaps a few times per month or less) and most other plants are happy with once or twice a week. I like to check my plants on a schedule, usually a Sunday and a Wednesday where I make sure to give all my plants the once over, water the ones that need it and give them a little love and care. The exception to this is my avocado tree, because young trees don't take on much water. On hot summer days it needs a good soak every two days or it will die.

2. How do I not kill my indoor plants? (@birchandfern)
I get this question so much when ever I talk about plants! My best advice is to read my post "how I learnt not to kill my indoor plants", where I talk about my experience of going from a plant killer to a plant nurturer by beginning to really understand the specific needs of each plant. To buy plants that are suited to each different environment in my home - low light, direct light, humid, dry etc. Also to start with some plants that are relatively easy to take care of. I'll write a post about this soon, but for starters I'd recommend things like a Pothos, Monstera Deliciosa, Philodendron, Schefflera (or Umbrella plant) a Snake Plant (or Mother in Law's Tongue) and a Spider Plant. 

3. How often is it best to water Cacti and does it very according to the seasons? (@evekammonen)
I've mentioned before that I am not brilliant with Cacti, because I'm a nurturer and I like to interfere with my plants a little. I find it so baffling to have a plant that I mostly have to leave alone! That said, I do have a few that are doing pretty well under my care. They need watering when the top 1/2 inch of the soil is dry to touch. Give the soil a thorough soak, and let it drain while you're watering it.  You musn't leave the cacti sitting in a dish of water, as this encourages the roots to rot. Cacti go dormant in the Winter, and require very little water and no food. Let the soil completely dry out between waterings. Water Cacti perhaps once a week during the summer, and more like once a month during the winter. 

4. Any advice for the best indoor plants for low light situations? (@mymoonpie)
There are plenty of plants that thrive in lower-light situations, and these are some of my favourites...

Heart leaf Philodendron - such pretty plants, fast growing and so easy to care for. Just water when the soil is dry to touch.
Spider plant - Oh so '70s. I love these guys, and have a few in my home. The ones in the darker rooms do a lot better than the ones I try to force to thrive in sunnier spots. Water from the bottom, and mist the leaves in Winter.
Boston Fern - they much prefer a shady spot, and if they get too much sunshine will start to look quite unhealthy. Mist the leaves regulary, and preferably keep them somewhere humid. Perfect for a shady bathroom.
Prayer Plant -  these guys don't like direct sunlight, so they make the perfect plants for the darker areas of your home. Their leaves close up at night, which is how they get their name.

5. Any general tips for keeping indoor plants healthy? (@louise_thomason)
See question no.2 for some essential tips on not killing your plants! Learning how to water each plant properly is the most important thing to keep them healthy, and remembering to water them regularly. Some are more forgiving of neglect than others. A nutrient feed during the summer for some plants if necessary, and checking to see if your plants need re-potting with new soil, a larger pot or perhaps need a replacement of new topsoil.

6. Any recomendations for plants that don't need sunny spots? (@sheflourished_)
This one is similar to question 4, but I've separated them because there are plenty of plants that actually require 'indirect' light as opposed to the 'direct' light offered by the sunnier spots in your home. Here are a few of my favourites...

Monstera Deliciosa (Cheeseplant) - one of my favourite plants, really easy to look after and will do well in a spot that receives indirect light. They're picky about temperature though, and need 18 degrees and above to thrive. 
Mother in Law's Tongue / Snake Plant - mine survives and thrives no matter what I do to it. They need relatively little water, indirect sunlight and they're pretty much indestructible. I love them.
Peace Lily - they like a little shade, don't mind a little neglect and have really pretty white flowers.
Maidenhair Fern - They're so delicate and pretty, and specifically require indirect sunshine. I just picked one up a few days ago, and it's living amongst my other ferns in the downstairs bathroom. 
Calathea - one on my want list, these have the most beautiful leaves and do well in indirect sunlight.

7. I have a poorly Cheeseplant that's about to give up on me...I need help! (@small_acorns)
Cheeseplants, or Monstera Deliciosa, are relatively low maintenance plants to keep in your home. However, they do require the right conditions to survive and grow. They like indirect light, as direct sunlight will burn their leaves. If conditions are too dark, the leaves won't split and the plant will start to spread out and not look very healthy at all. Water regularly, but only when the soil has completely dried out. If your plant isn't growing any more, it could be down to the temperature...Monstera actively grow at temperatures of 18 degrees and upwards, and they like a little humidity. Another factor could be that it has become potbound, when the roots have grown too large for it's current container. You'll need to re-pot the plant in a slightly larger pot, with fresh compost.

8. What are some good structrual plants for dark bathrooms and gloomy-ish living rooms? (@simpleandseason)
The Yucca Cane is probably the best 'structural' plant I know of that will do OK in gloomy-ish situations, but it depends on what you define as structural. I have a relatively gloomy downstairs bathroom in our home, and I can get quite a few plants to survive in there, but they mostly just don't grow too fast or at all. Cast Iron and Corn plants will do well in dark-ish rooms, along with the Yucca. Mother-in-Law's Tongue are known to do well in dark rooms, but I've never tried it with mine. I actually keep mine in our very bright attic bathroom and it seems perfectly happy there too. 

9. Can I grow plants in a room without a window? (@pipunedited)
Erm, yes, but they'll have to be fake. Plants need at least a little sunlight to be able to grow and photosynthesise.

10. How do you look after a Rubber Plant? More specifically how do you keep the leaves clean? (@khylovegood)

The Rubber Plant, also known as a Ficus Elastica, is one of my favourite plants. Mine is called Justine. They're pretty easy to care for, good in indirect light and like to get comfy in one place. They don't like to be moved around a lot, have too much water or changeable conditions. Water when the soil has dried out completely. To clean the leaves, use a soft cloth and tepid water and wipe them gently, putting one hand under a leaf to support it as you do so. 

Well I hope that was helpful for you all, and that I've been able to encourage you too keep going with your indoor plants, or pick up some new ones if you've previously been a little afraid to. If you have any questions that you don't see here, just leave me a comment and I'll get back to you. I'd love to know what you thought of this post, and if you'd like to see some more posts on plants and plant care. It's been really fun to write about, and has inspired me to learn even more about each of my plants and how to care for them the best I can. I'm currently on a count of sixty, as I took some more cuttings and had another trip to the garden centre. It's starting to get jungle-y in here.

Nineteen months

life & familySiobhan WattsComment

When Rory was a baby, I remember reading this post on mothering a toddler that my friend Eva wrote about her daughter Smilla, who is about a year or so older than Rory. Her post fascinated me at the time, it was a window into my own future and although it was hard to ever imagine my little baby going through the same transition, of course I knew in not-too many months she would. Her words "one morning I woke up and my little girl was a toddler' stuck with me, and I wondered if my experience too would feel so sudden and so intense. Back then, Rory was still my sweet and smiley baby, not far past the six month mark when I last wrote like this about her. 

Almost as soon as Rory turned one, I started to see glimpses of the 'toddler' coming through. Little flashes of anger and frustration, the odd lashing out from tiredness or annoyance at not being able to have what she wanted. It was shocking at first, seeing my sweet baby showing this kind of behaviour, although I knew it was completely normal for her age. We read up on it, agreed on the right strategy to deal with it (tell her 'no', explain why and then distract her and move on) and so far I'm grateful that we've never had more than a few moments or perhaps a day where I wonder if my sweet child has been replaced by a monster. Of course, you hear of the terrible twos...we're not there yet, so I can't say what might be around the corner for us. But so far, there's been nothing too bad.

I have learnt, however, that if you make a point to raise a confidant, independent and free thinking human you can't be surprised when they turn out to have a strong mind and opinions of their own. Opinions which are likely to be in conflict with yours some of the time. It's part of the territory anyway, and more so if you are encouraging that kind of behaviour. As sweet and funny as nineteen month old Rory can be, she can be wild and wilful. We have days, sometimes weeks where we fight battle after battle over clothes and shoes and food and bibs, hand wiping and nappy changing become like wrestling matches and everything takes longer and feels more exhausting than usual. She's strong and stubborn, relentless with her enthusiasm for doing the opposite of everything you ask her to do. Those tiring toddler days. I do my best to give her choices, to listen to her and to let her make decisions for herself, but sometimes we're just playing the opposite game and there's nothing I can do about it but play along. 

Overwhelmingly, this stage of Rory's life is pure magic. Magic with a streak of mischief that runs deep. She's fun and playful and happy, emotionally connected to every animal she sees and lives for charming strangers. She's happiest outdoors, where she'll run and run and run and not look back. She loves the wind in her hair, the rain on her face and the ground under her feet. The dirtier she can get, the happier she'll be. Puddles are for sitting in, stomping in, and lying on the ground so she can put her face in and drink them. The world is her playground, her stage and her big adventure.

Every day there's a new word, a new task she wants to do for herself, a new leap in her understanding and her communication. She's fiercely independent, got personality by the bucket load and knows exactly how to use it to get what she wants. She's certainly not my baby any more, but has morphed into the most beautiful, funny and often totally bonkers companion. Her and the dog are my little crew, and I can't imagine going about my days without them by my side. My girl is a joy to be around, and she fills my heart and life with more love and laughter than I ever thought I could need. I live for her open mouthed kisses, the way she says 'mama' and runs into my outstrechted arms for a cuddle. 

More than any month of her life so far, I wish I could keep her this small and at an age where the delights outweigh the challenges. I wish I could keep her this full of nonsensical chatter, of laughter at the dog, of sleepy morning cuddles on my chest while she flicks at my eyelashes with her fingers. Full of running through the park shrieking with happiness, of picking up every rock she finds and insisting I put it in my pocket, of demanding I sit here or put this on or feed her this or dress her in that. Full of shouting "more" and "yeah" in answer to all my questions, of trying out her new words like "crocodile" and "broccoli" and "morning". My girl, my little whirlwind of fun and mischief and happiness and destruction. Rornado the Tornado. 

*Rory's romper is from Rylee and Cru, and was gifted to us by the beautiful concept store Smallable.

Made by hand: a simple macrame plant hanger

at homeSiobhan WattsComment

I have been meaning to give macrame a go for so long now, and I'm often admiring creations shared by the macrame makers of Instagram. Sara of Find Your Fiber is my current favourite, she's a mama too and recently quit her day job to pursue a her fiber dreams. I've been told by many people how easy it is to make your own Macrame hangers and wall art, but it's taken me until now to give it a go myself. Fiber arts are my favourite kind of crafts, I love knitting and making things out of yarn for our home. And anything that combines my love of yarn and plants, well it's got to be a winner.

Life is pretty full just now, as we're selling our flat and trying to find somewhere else to live that's better for us as a family. A bit more space, a garden, our own front door and ideally a shorter commute to work for Gav. It all has the potential to get a little stressful, so I'm keeping busy and distracting myself with as many things as possible. I'm determined to maintain an air of calm throughout the rest of the year, so as soon as I feel the tension rising I pull out a new book, get stuck into the kitchen or pull out a project I'm working on to keep my hands and mind occupied. And so, one evening last week when I could feel my mind start to whir, I finally opened up the macrame plant hanger kit I had bought a few months previous. It only took me a couple of evenings to make the hanger, and once I'd cut all the lengths of cord ready to start work, it didn't take me more than a few hours to complete it. The longest part of the process for me was prepping the cord and trying not to get it all tangled. Although macrame looks a little complicated, it's actually a pretty straightforward series of simple knots which make up all the intricate looking patterns and spirals. I found it so meditative and relaxing, and the finsihed plant hanger is one of my favourite things I've ever made. It's hung in my attic bathroom, and gives the room such a great boho Jungalow kinda vibe. I love it.  

I'm already working on my next one, but designing the pattern myself this time (it's so easy to do) and going for one a bit smaller so I can hang a String of Hearts plant in it. I'm eyeing up a few books so I can learn more knots and patterns, make more plant hangers, wall hangings and other things for our new home. I know this house buying process is going to be a slow one, so I'm staying positive and filling my world with yarn and plants to keep me right. And so far, it's working out great.  

If you're interested in making a Macrame plant hanger of your own, the kit I bought was this DIY Macrame Kit from Airedale Yarns on Etsy, and it came with everything I needed to make the plant hanger shown in these photos. It's really easy to do, the instructions are simple to follow and the end result is so delicious and chunky. You'll be hooked like me, I'm sure, and want to make a whole family of them for your home. 

How I learnt not to kill my houseplants

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I used to kill all my houseplants. No matter what kind, or how well I tried to look after them, they rather rapidly shuffled off into the next life. I always remember my Mum being good with plants, both indoors and out. She kept a thriving vegetable patch, a small orchard and a field full of beautiful trees and flowers. She grew tomatoes in our conservatory, herbs in giant pots at the front of our house, and plants all along the kitchen windowsills. We'd help her garden when we were kids, we loved our gardening gloves and secaturs, getting stuck in to do the weeding or turning over the soil. My brother and I even had our own little patches of green that we could grow lettuce and other quick growing vegetables on. She taught me how to gently clean the leaves on the cheese plant with a damp ball of cotton wool, sometimes dipped in milk to make the leaves shiny.

Once I left home, I tried to have the odd plant here and there, but I always killed it. It didn't matter what kind it was, I'd either water it too much or too little and it would meet the same sad ends as all the others. I thought that plant growing just wasn't for me, it was a talent I didn't posess and I was doomed to a plant-less life. Either that or wasting all my money on plants that would die within a few months. So I just stopped buying plants for most of my twenties. I moved around a lot too, and was always working or going out, so it wasn't very conducive to caring for my green friends.

Then, a few years ago all that changed. I decided one day to buy a plant from my local flower shop 'Pesh Flowers' in Camberwell.  I was having a bad day and wanted cheering up, and everything about my plant purchase turned my day around. The atmosphere of the flower shop, choosing my plant, asking the owner how to care for it, taking it home with me and finding the right spot for it in my flat. The whole experience brought me so much joy! I loved the slower, more thoughtful approach to owning a plant rather than my previous approach to 'buy a bunch from Ikea and hope for the best'. 

I began to read up a little on plant care. I learnt that each plant requires a different treatment, and I added one plant after another very slowly so that I could really understand each one. Some plants need more or less water than others, and this varies throughout the seasons, some need more or less light, and some will flourish in different places in your home. These are all the things I learnt to consider, instead of trying to treat all houseplants the same. 

Now, here's a confession. I'm still not that great with succulents, which is why you will see only a few amongst all my other plants. I cheat a little, and mostly fill my home with plants that are fairly easy to look after. I keep the tricky ones to a minimum until I have mastered them, and only then will I go out and get some more. I am still learning, and am not a plant expert by any means, but I have found that taking the time to learn about each plant, and choosing the plants that are right for each room in your home makes all the difference. Any time I try and force a plant to grow in an environment that it's not best suited too, it always struggles. It's not that I can't look after it, just that I'm not providing the optimum situation for that particular plant to flourish. There's a metaphor for life in there somewhere...

I find my plants, for the most part, at my local garden centre. I love a trendy plant shop, I really do, but I almost never buy anything in them because the prices are so high compared to my beloved Dulwich Pot and Plant Centre. The staff at the garden centre really know what they are talking about too, but I've always been disappointed in the trendy plant shops that the staff don't know much about the plants they sell. Gumtree often has some bargains, people moving and selling off plants in pots for super cheap. You do have to pick up yourself, but if you've got a car it's a great place to hunt for new plant friends.

As I said, I'm no expert, but I am learning all the time. My plants aren't just surviving under my care, but thriving and growing and looking healthy. I'm at the stage now where I am starting to be successful at growing things from scratch (did you see my post on growing your own avocado tree from a pit?), take cuttings of a few things (so far my Pothos and heart shaped Philodendron are doing really well) and trouble shoot if a plant looks a little peaky. I know the right areas of my home for each type of plant, I've been re-potting things that need it, adding a new layer of top soil and basically just upping my care game for each plant. I did a count just for this blog post, and I now have 45 plants of all different kinds. My favourites are my Pilea, my Monstera and my one year old avocado tree that I grew myself. I'd love to get to 200 or so! 

I'm planning an indoor plant care guide and Q+A for my next post on plants - so do send me any questions you have for that, either here or on Instagram. I'll try and get back to you right away, but will compile all your questions into a blog post too. Until then, happy plant parenting! 

My heart is in the countryside

explore & adventureSiobhan WattsComment

We all have a place that feels just like us. Sometimes it's where we're born, where we grew up or somwhere we experienced something formative during our early years. I don't know why or how, but some places seep deep into your bones. They weave their fibres into you, little magic strands that keep a hold of you so no matter where you roam you feel their gentle tug. These places feel just like you and one day, you say, one day I'll head home.

For me, Devon is this place. A place of goodness, of rolling hills and beaches and trees and so much green and friends I've known for so long they might as well be sisters. It's a place that gives me everything I want as I grow older, now I have so much less time and use for all the things the city has to offer. Every time I take Rory to the countryside, I quietly beg for it to be the place that grabs hold of her. The place she'll always want to come back to, and hopefully, the place that she will be raised. The city is no good for anyone. 

We visited my parents a few weeks ago, and the North Devon bungalow I grew up in. It took me a few days to switch off and quiet my mind, just as it always does. We took Rory to the beach, the first time since she's been able to walk. She ran full speed down to the sea and into the waves, because being barefoot and outdoors is what she lives for. We walked in the forest, went swimming in the river, spent time with our dearest friends and just filled all our little hearts right up to the brim. I need more, always more. It's great to watch my parents with her, to see her play with them, remember them, call for them and trust them. I didn't really have grandparents around when I was growing up, and not ones who played with me or looked after me in the way Rory will get to experience. It's important for her, and I'm so grateful that she has that.

Life in Devon is slow and kind, and it pours more into your heart than it takes away. Unlike the get up, keep up, hurry up, move on up of the city. Wild swimming, moor hiking, tea drinking...that's how I want to spend my days. That's how I did spend them, once, before I traded them for London. I'm grateful for that childhood, grateful that my parents chose that for us, and soon I know it will be time to pay it forward. To gift Rory a childhood of freedom and fresh air, and huge kitchen tables and chickens and innocence and oh...Devon. I'm coming for you soon. 

My heart, my bones, my lungs, it's all here in the countryside. And one day, I'll head home. 

A just-for-fun floral portrait session

photographySiobhan WattsComment

A big goal for me for the second half of this year is to up my portrait game. When I was putting together my photography website, I realised that as almost all of what I'd been shooting this year was family sessions I didn't have much of anything else to publish. I love family sessions, a lot, but I never set out to be just a family photographer. While I don't want to shoot everything and anything, I want to be a little more diverse and be able to flex my creative muscles in ways that fulfil me.

I learnt a few years ago that I don't really love shooting headshots. I do take on a few, but only the more creative ones, without strict rules and regulations (I don't do well with rules!) but what I really want to be doing more of is totally creative portrait sessions. Where not every image is a standard 'headshot' but more tells a story of a person, a place and a our time together. I believe 100% that you have to 'do the work you want to be hired for' and so I knew I had to start going out on my own and making the kind of portraits I wanted to see on my portfolio. I put a call out on Instagram a few months ago for anyone who was interested in collaborating on this kind of shoot with me. I put up some examples as inspiration, and got some great messages from people who were really keen to get behind my lens. I did pre-warn them I'd probably makes them head into the bushes! 

One of the women who contacted me was Nonki, and I'm so glad she did! I'm so humbled by the beautiful people that I've connected with on Instagram, who take a leap of faith and put themselves out there to meet and shoot with me. It makes my heart happy. Nonki and I met up last night and headed to Brockwell Park for 8pm to catch the Magic Hour - the summer is so great for post baby bedtime shoots, Amen! Nonki was so lovely, super cool, relaxed and really at ease in front of the camera. We had such a fun time, but sadly the sky was too cloudy to get any of that magic golden light that I love so much. It was really out of my comfort zone to shoot a portrait session like this, but I loved it a lot. I could definitely have woven some more story-telling elements in there, but I'm excited to improve on that with each shoot. 

These photos were taken in the walled garden in Brockwell Park, I really recommend a visit for a peaceful place to walk around or sit and read your book. I love the idea of using these shoots to document some of my favourite places in London, a little love letter to them and the city if you will. 

If you're London based and up for a magic hour shoot this summer (currently around 8-9pm) then please do get in touch here or on Instagram. I'd love to meet and collaborate with you! Check out Nonki's beautiful blog an Instagram too, her IG hashtag #gowildlyandslow is a favourite of mine.

Behind the lens - why I created a second Instagram account for my photography

Siobhan WattsComment

Behind the Lens is a new blog series where I'll be delving into different topics about my work as a freelance photographer. I've been getting a lot of questions via Instagram about the little details of my business, from how I market myself to dealing with clients and balancing being a full time parent and photographer, that I thought it might be interesting if I wrote a little more about it all. I'm hoping it's helpful to anyone wanting to pursue a creative career, balance parenting and work, go freelance or perhaps just start something on their own. If there's any specific topics you want me to cover, leave me a comment here or on Instagram!

If you follow me on Instagram, and more specifically if you watch my IG stories, you might have seen that I've created a new account (@siobhancalderphotography) just for my photography work. I haven't shouted about it too much yet as it's so new and I've only shared a few images. I actually feel a little nervous about it because it's a bit of a different voice to the one I've got so comfortable using. I'm just finding my feet with it, but it's really fun to have a new challenge while I'm figuring it all out. I've not even got 200 followers yet, but it's nice to see who has been coming over from my main account to learn more about my work. It's good to be chatting to some fellow photographers and enthusiasts too, it's really inspiring and I feel like I'm all of a sudden part of a whole different community.  Obviously, I'm hoping there's some potential clients out there too, because...a girl's gotta eat. 

Creating a new IG account just for my photography is something I've been toying with the idea of for a while, I've always felt that my professional work jars in my feed when I post something from a family or portrait session. There are so many images I don't share because they don't look right in my feed, and it always seems a little weird to have so many photos of me, Rory and my life and then suddenly jump to an image of a different person or family. Plus, those images never got much engagement either and I started to feel shy about posting them. I all but stopped marketing my business on Instagram, which was so counterproductive because currently that's where around 80% of my clients come from. I knew that sharing my work on Instagram was getting me clients, but I felt it conflicted with all the more personal and lifestyle stuff. I got to the point where I felt like it was holding me back from growing both sides of it, that I could have a great personal/lifestyle account or a great photography/work account but not both. It's hard to do, and I'm not sure I can think of anyone who 100% succesfully blends the two. I know people who do it well, but I think they would also admit to finding the mixture a little tricky.

I've spoken to a few other photographers about their feeds, why they do or don't have separate ones for work and personal stuff and how they feel Instagram fits into their business. And the answer is that it's different for everyone. Some people felt they couldn't manage two accounts, or they've tried it and it didn't work for them, some only want to be on IG for their photography work and some, like me, have a whole lifestyle side to their IG world that they want to hang on to.  To separate or not to separate...it's down to the individual. After thinking about it for a year or so, I finally made the switch a few weeks ago. I'm not really sure why, I just got an impulse and followed it. I like to think in moments like that I tap into my lizard brain, you know? I'm a fairly impulsive person, much to Gav's dismay, and I like to follow my gut on these things. When you know, you know.

I'm only a few weeks in to using my new account, but already I am enjoying it so much. I've noticed that photographers have started following me, I'm getting more traction on posts when I use hashtags for family photographers and companies who create beautiful photo albums have been reaching out. I think simply having an IG handle that contains 'photography' immediately attracts followers who are soley looking for professional photographers to connect with and inspire them. It's clear exactly what my account does, and for the purposes of my business I am already loving that. I also feel a lot of freedom to be able to share any images I want without being afraid of boring people or promoting myself too much. Because it's pretty obvious why that account is there, and anyone following me is there to see more of it. And I love that!

Why I decided to create a new Instagram account:
- to separate my lifestyle content and professional photography
- to build a following with a strong interest in my photography, either as a client, photographer or enthusiast
- to streamline who I follow, focusing on family and portrait photographers
- as a mini portfolio
- to inspire my creativity, participate in hashtag challenges and competitions
- to hopefully get features with photography IG accounts, in a way that I know I won't with my personal one.
- to raise my profile as a photographer, amongst other photographers, feature accounts, magazines, conferences etc.
- to inspire other photographers and enthusiasts, share photography tips and behind the scenes of my work
- to promote my work, photo walks, mentoring packages and workshops
- to free up my personal account to focus on lifestyle content

Sometimes I feel a little bit like the new kid in school with my photography account. The comments and likes are fairly quiet, I'm finding my voice and building up my new feed slowly. It's currently all family sessions, because that's mostly what I've been doing this year, but my goal for the next six months is to work on building a portfolio of creative portraits. Diversify a little. I'm really excited to share my work, be inspired to create more and hopefully in turn help and inspire you with your photography. 

I actually got a little feature on @dearphotographer the other day as one of their IG accounts to be inspired by. It's a little thing in the grand scheme of things, but to me it feels like a huge validation and tells me that I am doing the right thing. I am so excited to interact more with these accounts, and become a real part of this community of photographers.

Well, I hope this has been helpful for you if you have been thinking of starting a second account of your own. Perhaps it's for you, or perhaps it's not...but maybe my words have helped you decide. Don't forget to come and join me on my new account @siobhancalderphotography for more of my work, photography tips and behind the scenes. Leave me a comment here or on IG with any other questions for this series too!

52 Project - April & May 2017

life & familySiobhan WattsComment

14/52 - Few things make her happier than when Gav gets home early enough to bath her and put her to bed. She kicks those little legs and grins from the pit of her stomach. 

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15/52 - sharing blueberries with Lily. Me and her mama have been friends for twenty years, it's pretty cool to see our kids together.

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16/52 - starting to get the hang of feeding herself with a spoon, while managing to keep some of the food on the spoon before it reaches her mouth. 

17/52 - morning hangs in Dulwich Park with River, her Bestie. This pretty much sums them up, River looking adoringly at Rory while she does ridiculous things. These two are my favourite.

18/52 - Exploring the cow parsley at Morden Hall Park. Girl loves to be outside, preferably barefoot and running. Just like her mama.

19/52 - she's so proud of herself for eating off a spoon without any help. 

20/52 - She rarely ever sleeps in our bed these days or takes naps with us, even though we're often trying to encourage her. She loves her bed so much, she just likes to be left alone to sleep. This particular morning she woke at 4am, then passed out on my chest after some milk on the sofa at 8am. I carried her up to bed to put her beside a sleeping Gav.

21/52 - having the time of her life in the paddling pool in our local Park, watching her cousin splashing about. I felt like I was shooting this blind, the sun glaring off my screen, and magically it turned out like this.