Five on Friday

Now that I am a lady of leisure I find that the weeks are flying by and sometimes I wonder what I did with my time. So for the first time I thought I would join in with Five of Friday a way of capturing five things that have happened to me during the week.
Blog Logo Badge Design Fiverr
Blog Badge Design
Following on from my blog revamp last month, I have had a blog badge/logo created, which is already in use on my Facebook page. I am currently debating whether to replace the photo of me (on the right of your screen, just there do you see me) with this lovely logo. I will then move my photo onto the About Me page, which seems more appropriate.  I should say they I do not have the skill to create this little beauty myself, I used a website called Fiverr. Where you can commission work from creative people from all of the world, starting from £5, although mine cost me £25 from a lady in Canada. 

Narcissus Bulbs in bloom
Narcissus Bulbs
A good friend brought me a vase and pebble set complete with some Narcissus bulbs for a Christmas present. The bulbs were already sprouting green when I opened them. By Boxing Day they were in the vase with water, and few weeks later 2 of the bulbs put out roots but the other 2,  nothing. Six weeks since Christmas and one of the bulbs is exceptionally tall and in flower, with a delightful scent. The second bulb is exceptionally short and just starting to bud, quite bizarre but equally beautiful. 

Knitting work in progress
I am currently wrestling with my latest knitting project, a scarf, which is proving a little tricky. I am too embarrassed to include a photograph, as I had to unpick around two evenings worth of knitting. I think I had become distracted by the tv, and repeated a row twice. It has lots of taking the yarn forward and slipping stitches, so when unpicking the knitting  you soon lose where the yarn forwards are. The only solution was to strip it back and start again. Never mind, I can only improve my knitting from learning from my mistakes.

TV Fire
Some of you may already know that I am a conservation volunteer at the National Trust property 'Sunnycroft'. Today the Thursday volunteers went out for lunch to a local pub hotel. In the bar and restaurant area they had some lovely warming fires. Well that's what you first think, but once you approach them you soon realise they are television screens! But don't they look realistic, they even had the crackle sound a fire makes. Very convincing indeed.

Opera La Traviata
I'm typing this having returned home from watching my first ever opera. La Traviata performed live at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden but broadcast live to thousands of cinemas around the world. I thoroughly enjoyed it, the singing as you would expect was excellent and the costumes exquisite. Sang in Italian but with subtitles allowing viewers to truly understand the story. When the performance breaks for intervals, those of us watching at the cinema get to enjoy behind the scenes interviews, as well as a chance to get that all important ice cream. One of the huge draws to watching this at the cinema, it only took me 10 minutes to get home. My nearest main theatre is at Birmingham and it would of taken me that long just to make it out of the theatre.

You can find out more about Five on Friday by visiting Amy at Love Made My Home

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How to Run an Instagram Photo Challenge

Instagram has become my favourite Social Media site for sharing and engaging with people. Photographs are an instant method of communicating without the need of words. I love taking and sharing my photos, this inspired me to Run an Instagram Photo Challenge in December.

I learnt a lot from creating and running my own photo challenge, and Instagram users from all over the globe joined in. As a result I thought I would share my tips on how to create and run your own successful Instagram Photo Challenge. You will find me on Instagram as Garden Tea Cakes and Me.

1.  Consider the purpose of your photo challenge
Is there a specific theme e.g. Summer, or maybe a colour.  I chose to run my photo challenge in December capturing a Christmas/Winter/Holiday theme. Or maybe you want to run it for a specific interest group e.g. knitters, sports, beauty bloggers, gardeners.

2. Give your challenge a name and hashtag. 
This will allow everyone to easily find photos in the challenge. I called my photo challenge 25 Festive Days.  Search Instagram for your chosen hashtag to ensure it is not already in use, I used #25FestiveDays.

3. Decide how many days you want to run the Photo challenge
Two Weeks, 20 Days or a month.  I ran #25FestiveDays for 25 Days starting 1 Dec running up to Christmas Day.  You may find it easier to run a short challenge the first time.

4. Create a Photo Challenge photograph which lists each days theme. It should include:- Who you are, your Instagram name, when the photo challenge starts, name of the Photo Challenge and hashtag required to accompany each photo. List each days theme. Do not make this too fussy in needs to be easy to read. Those joining in with the photo challenge will have this photo saved on their phone so they can easily check on the theme for each day. I used Pic Monkey to create my #25FestiveDays photo challenge list.
Photo Challenge Daily Theme
5. Allow yourself time to engage with people joining in with the challenge. 
This should not be underestimated, people from all over the globe join in with #25FestiveDays. So whilst my Day 1 challenge in the UK started at midnight, I already had photographs posted in Australia, and as my day was ending I had photos being posted in the US. I made every effort to heart and comment on those on Instagram who had joined in.

6. Is your photo challenge fun, serious, social or business related. 
A serious Photo Challenge should encourage people to interpret the theme of each day as creative as possible. If you do not want people to use stock photographs within the challenge you should specify this. For a social or fun photo challenge try and encourage people to search and visit other users photos using your photo challenge hashtag. 

7. Spread the word. 
Share the launch of your Photo Challenge, firstly on your Instagram account, and other Social Media accounts.  Posting on your website or blog are great ways to share the news, including a link to your Instagram account. Here is a link to my photo challenge launch blog post.  Ask people to post your Photo Challenge photo listing the theme for each day on their Instagram feed, this will soon help spread the word.

8. Consider sharing hosting and co-ordinating the photo challenge with a friend. 
This will help to both spread the word of the Photo Challenge and also help with the engagement on photographs of those joining in.

9. Share your favourite photos of the challenge on your Instagram feed. 
This may be a favourite photo of the week, or the whole challenge. I created a blog post at the end of my #25FestiveDays photo challenge, capturing my favourite photos that used the hashtag.

10. Ensure accounts are set to Public.
If people have their Instagram accounts set to Private no one will see their photos, this sounds obvious but worth reminding people. You should also mention if you are going to share photos outside of Instagram, as I did on my blog roundup. 
Most of all enjoy creating and hosting your first Instagram Photo Challenge. I met so many creative and wonderful new people on Instagram by hosting my first Photo Challenge. If this sounds all too daunting, then keep it small scale and create one just for your friends or family or local group.

Joining in with a Instagram Photo Challenge. If you are looking to just join in with a photo challenge on Instagram and rather not run your own, try searching the following hashtags: #PhotoChallenge also add the month or year to the end e.g. #PhotoChallengeApril or try #PhotoADay

I would love to know if my tips have inspired you to create your own Instagram Photo Challenge, leave me a message below and I will help you spread the word. 

If you have a question that I have not covered above, leave me a comment below and I will do my best to help.
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Giveaway Win a Little Sins Cupcakery Cake Mix

Little Sins Cupcakery are offering one of my readers the chance to win a Carrot Cake Luxury Cake Mix, so it is time to dust off your pinny.  You can read my review on how I baked the Carrot Cakes using the Little Sins Cupcakery cake mix

Baking Carrot Cupcakes

How to enter

To be in with a chance of winning this lovely prize confirm your entry/entries using the Rafflecopter widget. 

Answer the following question: 

What is your favourite memory associated with cake? (leave your answer as a blog comment and confirm your entry using the rafflecopter widget below) You will need to leave a comment on this article to release the additional entry tasks. 

The winner will be emailed using the email address you used to activate the rafflecopter widget.

If you can not see the Rafflecopter widget below, you may need to refresh your page using F5. For more information on how to enter you can watch this Rafflecopter video or visit fellow blogger Super Lucky for a simple guide on using Rafflecopter. 

Little sins cupcakery carrot cakes

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Closes 29 February 2016. Winner must respond within ten days of being notified, after which time a new winner will be selectedUK entrants only. For Terms and Conditions click the link on the Rafflecopter widget.

Good luck!

Disclosure: Prize is supplied by Little Sins Cupcakery Ltd
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A stroll around the garden in January

Ah the sun, yes that wonderful golden orb up in the sky, it was even accompanied by a blue sky too. Sunday has brought parts of the UK a milder day of weather. Typical, for I had planned to spend the day sorting and reorganising my wardrobe. But I did step out briefly into the back garden to have a wonder around, to see how some of the plants are fairing. 

Join me on my quick tour...

A little colour is bursting through, it is so lovely to see the bright yellow of the Daffodils flowering, this one has just started to flower.

daffodils blooming early uk
Daffodils in bloom
Blackcurrant buds
Blackcurrant buds
New buds are forming on the Blackcurrant bush, had quite a good first harvest from them last year. 

There it is below...sunshine!

At the bottom of the garden there is a huge Copper Beech Tree, some of the plants nestled at the bottom of the tree are ferns and Hellebores. Not my best photo I'm afraid I struggled to get down low enough to do it justice. But looking up to photograph the tree was much easier, and it looks quite monstrous with all its bare branches. The rope by the way belongs the tree swing.

Copper Beech Tree
Look up! Copper Beech Tree

Alpine trough
Alpine trough
Now making my way back up the garden to the greenhouse, sitting safely outside are the Alpine troughs. These were replanted at the end of Autumn and are filling out nicely. Onto the inside of the greenhouse, which is wrapped up for the cold weather that has yet to arrive, this is where the more tender plants are kept over Winter.  The broad beans have grown well, although it looks like something has been nibbling them. With such mild weather the scented Pelargonium ontinue to flower adding much needed colour in the greenhouse. The Aeolium is looking fabulous, usually it loses quite a few of its petals, another benefit of the milder weather. There are also quite a few pots of succulents.

Over winter scented Pelargonium
Scented Pelargonium
Over wintering Aeolium
succulent over winter
I have just realised that I walked right past the cyclamens without taking a photograph of them, and they looked splendid too. 

Most satisfying of all I completed my wardrobe declutter, just in case you were wondering.
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Window Bird Feeder and time for the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

In the UK the national bird charity the RSPB encourage us once a year to sit for an hour to watch and and record the type of birds that visit our gardens. I have joined in for the last few years, with varying degrees of success depending on the British weather. It is here again for this weekend the 30 & 31 January is the Big Garden Birdwatch, if you want to join in visit the RSPB website for more information.

Window bird feeder perspex
Even the rain will not keep Blue Tits from the window bird feeder
This year I am expecting to see many variety of birds visit my garden, some up close as they now visit the perspex window bird feeder.  I had such a good response from you all when I first shared photographs of  the new window bird feeder.  At that time the Robins were the only bird to feed from it, but now Blue Tits and Coal Tits visit equally as much. It has never once fallen off the window, even with the endless rain we have experienced over the last few months. Although it does have to be removed briefly when the window cleaner calls.

I am hoping that Blue Tits will use the bird box this year which is located close to the window bird feeder, who knows I may need to get an additional feeder.

Window bird feeder perspex
The Robin was the first to visit the window bird feeder
Window bird feeder perspex
Keep topping up that bird feeder
Will you be joining in with the Big Garden Birdwatch? 

I have always wondered if other countries organise national bird counts, I am sure they must in order to monitor the bird populations. I will update this post with details on the results of my Big Garden Birdwatch.

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Giveaway Win Ahmad Fruit Tea Selection

Ahmad Teas are offering one of my blog readers the chance to win one  a box of Fruitytea. Now doesn't that sound ideal, perfect for you to enjoy and indulge in a little me time. Maybe you enjoy watching the birds in the garden, reading a magazine, listening to your favourite radio show or catching up on your tablet with your favourite blogs.

The Fruitytea box contains
  • Raspberry Indulgence: black tea with raspberry fruit pieces
  • Peach & Passion fruit: black tea with peach and passion fruit, fruit pieces
  • Blackcurrant: black tea with blackcurrant fruit pieces
  • Lemon & Lime Twist: black tea with lemon and lime fruit pieces
  • Strawberry & Kiwi green tea: green tea with strawberry & kiwi fruit pieces
  • Blueberry Brilliance: green tea with blueberry fruit pieces 
You can find out more about Ahmad Teas from my recent fruit tea review.

How to enter

To be in with a chance of winning this lovely prize confirm your entry/entries using the Rafflecopter widget. 

Answer the following question: 

What do you do to relax whilst enjoying a cup of tea? (leave your answer as a blog comment and confirm your entry using the rafflecopter widget below) You will need to leave a comment on this article to release the additional entry tasks. 

If you can not see the Rafflecopter widget below, you may need to refresh your page using F5. For more information on how to enter you can watch this Rafflecopter video or visit fellow blogger Super Lucky for a simple guide on using Rafflecopter. Winner will be selected at random.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Closes  23 February 2016. Winner must respond within ten days of being notified, after which time a new winner will be selectedUK entrants only. For Terms and Conditions click the link on the Rafflecopter widget.

Good luck!

Disclosure: Prize is supplied by Ahmad Tea UK.

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Little Sins Cupcakery Home Cake Mix Review

I have baked a lot of homemade cakes, I have also baked with a number of different packet mixes. I am a confident home baker, but I also appreciate that not everyone has the confidence to bake from scratch, no matter how simple a home baker makes it sound. This is why packet mixes are so successful. I have a cupboard full of ingredients, if you are an infrequent or novice baker you will not have all the necessary ingredients to hand. But it is easy to have a box with pre weighed ingredients for that time or occasion you are ready to bake all waiting for you in the cupboard. 
Carrot Cup Cakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
Carrot Cup Cakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
This is where packet cake mixes come into their own. So I was happy to put the Little Sins Cupcakery luxury cake mixes to the test.  I was sent four varieties:- 

  • Double Chocolate cupcakes
  • Red Velvet Cupcakes
  • Carrot Cakes
  • Vanilla Cakes

What's included in the Little Sins Cupcakery Cake Mixes
What's included in the Little Sins Cupcakery Cake Mixes

Little Sins Cupcakery Cake Mixes
Little Sins Cupcakery Cake Mixes
What's included?

Included in each box are all the dry ingredients required to bake your cakes, and 12 cake cases. For carrot cakes this includes the dehydrated carrot, and chocolate chunks for the chocolate cakes. 

You need to supply the eggs, oil and if required hot water. You will also need to make your own decorative topping.

The baking instructions were clear and easy to follow, printed in white text on a colour background they were also easy to read. Something many manufacturers do over look.  

I have baked both the Double Chocolate Cakes and the Carrot Cakes. I followed the instructions completely. You may think you have a lot of mixture, but when split evenly between the 12 cupcake cases and it was the perfect amount. The cakes baked evenly and were well risen. I was fascinated with the pack of dehydrated carrot, which transformed with hot water. The inclusion of real carrot in this mix really made all the difference.
Carrot Cakes ready for baking
Carrot Cakes made and ready for baking
When you bake cakes made with oil as opposed to butter your mixture will always be that little more liquid. So take a little care when filling you cases, so you do not dribble too much mixture.  I assisted my niece when making the chocolate cakes, we were both eager to get them into the cases and did get into a slight chocolate mess, as you do! Baking with oil make for a moist and flavoursome cake.
Carrot Cakes from Little Sins Cup Cakery
The Topping
I know some people will be surprised that the Little Sins Cupecakery mixes did not include a topping or frosting.  They do include a recipe leaflet with 3 different frosting recipes.  But I will be frank with you I was glad they did not. I have yet to like any pre made cake frosting. Yes even the well known brand of frosting is a guppy disgusting mess.  However, the only improvement I would like to see would be a sachet of icing sugar. If non bakers do not have flour and baking powder in the cupboard they are not going to have icing sugar. They can soon add either butter to create butter cream or water for a simple icing.

Carrot Cakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
I partly followed their recipe for the cream cheese frosting for the carrot cup cakes, then sprinkled with a little mixed spice. Even three days later the cakes were still moist and fresh tasting. My favourite has to be the Carrot Cakes, they had a very good consistency, were light and moist. There is no way anyone would have said they were a packet mix.   
Double Chocolate !
The Chocolate Cakes included huge chucks of chocolate you sprinkled on the top of each filled cake case before baking. I was expected the chunks to sink to the bottom, but no they stay on the top of the cake and looked great. They were particularly nice still warm, and had an almost chocolate pudding taste to them.

If you like the sound of these cupcakes you can buy each of the varieties of Little Sins Cake Mixes from Amazon UK, they currently retail for £5.99 a box. The attractive packaging makes them an ideal gift for a non baker, maybe include a cake tin to create an ideal new home present too.

Disclosure: I was sent Little Sins Cupcakery Cake Mixes for the purpose of review.

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Knitted Blue Owl Cover for Portable Hard Drive

I can honestly say I am so enjoying rediscovering knitting. I got a little adventurous for my second project and created this sweet little blue owl.  Inspired by a recent email from Hobbycraft which included a link to a number of knitting project, I was taken with the knitted owl phone cover.

knitted portable hard drive cover
Knitted Portable Hard Drive Cover

knitted phone cover
Cute Knitted Blue Owl
I have a portable hard drive which did not come with a protective cover, so thought I could knit a cover for my portable hard drive. I had to adjust the pattern slightly, as my portable hard drive differs in size to a mobile phone. Those adjustments did not quite go as planned, but on my second attempt I had it just right. I was intending my little blue knitted owl to be a little knitted Blue Tit, but I think I think it suits being a Blue Owl.

For those interest in knitting their own cover you can find the pattern here.

knitted portable hard drive cover pattern

New skills

Knitting this project I learnt how to add a different colour thread, which I actually do not think went that well. As you will see if you look closely.  I was amazed by the Mattress Stitch used to joining the knit together. I have never used this stitch before, you can not tell there is even a join it just looks like continuous knitting.

knitted phone cover pattern hobbycraft
Blanket stitch
The knitting continues, my current work in progress is a hat which is looking rather large!

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Fruit Teas - Finding the Right Balance of Fragrance and Flavour

It is easy to find yourself just putting the kettle on for yet another drink, whether that be for tea or coffee. I have no wish to stop drinking tea or coffee - I love them both equally. But now I am spending more time at home I am concern I will drink too much caffeine.  I am not a huge drinker of water, so need to find an additional drink to enjoy that will balance all my caffeine based drinks.

Love Tea Love Fruit Tea

My solution is to introduce some fruit and herbal teas. The only herbal tea I drink with any regularity, and particularly enjoy is Peppermint Tea. So I am looking for something to match my like for this. and I think I have found it.   

Winter Charm Fruit Tea from Ahmad Tea London
Winter Charm Fruit Tea from Ahmad Tea London 

So for the past few weeks I have been enjoying a selection of teas from Ahmad Tea London. The Winter Charm tea from Ahmad Teas,  which tastes particularly, refreshingly warming. It reminds me of warmed apple juice,  the positive differences being, it is not as sweet and has less calories. It is also so much easier to keep a box of Winter Charm tea bags in the cupboard than have fresh apple juice in the fridge. These tea bags are ideal to pack in your rucksack with a flask of hot water if you enjoy a jaunt in the countryside, the perfect comforting and warming drink.

I have also been making my way through a box of selected black Fruit Teas.  Lemon and Lime Twist, Strawberry Sensation, Peach and Passion Fruit and Apple Refresh. A good all round selection of fruits, my favourite being the Peach and Passion Fruit. I did find the Lemon and Lime a little too sour for my taste buds, possibly because I may have over brewed it, although I did still drink it all.

I am looking forward to trying the Lemon & Ginger, on those days when I have over indulged as it is a natural digestive.

Using Tea to detox less caffeine
Time for a detox?

One thing all the fruit teas I have been drinking have in common is the amazing fragrance they release when brewed, they really are a delight to the senses. I have often found with fruit teas that I am slightly disappointing that the taste does not pack the same punch as the fragrance. Although I now realise that is not true of every fruit tea, the Winter Charm and Peach and Passion Fruit most certainly delivered on both. As such they are top of my fruit tea chart. All the tea bags are individually wrapped, for convenient storage and use.

Give fruit teas a chance, if like me you want to reduce the amount of caffeine you intake during a day, or have decide to move over to the fruit side. Experiment with the time your brew your fruit tea, to find out how weak or strong a tea your taste buds prefer.

If you will excuse me I am off to enjoy my cup of Strawberry Sensation and a catch up with one of my favourite magazines.

 Fruit Teas Ahmad Tea
Ahmad Tea Strawberry Sensation

Do you have a favourite flavour of fruit tea? 

Disclaimer: I was sent packs of Ahmad Teas for the purposes of this review article.
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