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April 2015

Keeping in touch with family when living overseas

Nine years ago this spring I made a terrifying leap into the unknown and boarded a plane to fly 8000 miles to the Falkland Islands to work in a place where I knew no one.

It was made all the more daunting because I knew I wouldn’t be coming home for six months (unless I resigned!) and because communications in the South Atlantic were very restricted and very expensive. There was no mobile network, landline calls cost £1 a minute and the Internet (I deliberately don’t use the term “broadband”) was extremely slow. Of course my stumbling block became my stepping stone and if it hadn’t been for the prohibitive costs of phone calls, I may never have started blogging, but being confined to communicating via the written word wasn’t easy and it did make me homesick

Since then I have boarded a lot more planes to a lot more destinations with varying ease of communications to family back home. From Hannover to Inverness with Paphos in between.


Our first married posting took us to Alberta in Canada and another problem! The calls might have been slightly less expensive (and the broadband even though we were miles from anywhere was amazing!) but we were now 7 hours behind the UK. I remember all to well the frustration of coming home from work and desperately wanting to pick up the phone to someone in the UK to share a bit of news, but knowing they’d be asleep and I would have to wait till the following morning.

Now we are back in the UK you’d think all those problems would be behind us, but actually things haven’t changed all that much! Our extended family is still scattered around the globe. My sister-in-law lives in the Middle East and my father-in-law retired to Cyprus several years ago. We all like to keep in touch and although the internet goes a long way towards making it affordable and convenient, there is nothing like picking up an actual phone and sitting on the sofa having a good catch up!

So I was intrigued to hear about Lebara, a company aiming to keep migrants in touch with their families overseas. Lebara offer competitively priced international calls and texts and have established an online community where you can find answers to questions about living overseas. There’s also plans to launch an entertainment service to view content from home which I know is one of the things I missed most – In fact my parents used to send us weekly DVDs of TV programmes!

You can also pick up a Lebara SIM card if you have family from overseas visiting the UK on holiday (as my father-in-law often does) for £12 you get 30 days of unlimited texts, 2GB of data, 1000 minutes of calls within the UK and discounted calls back to their home country (calls to Cyprus are only 1p a minute, calls to the UAE are from 6p) Just remember to unsubscribe before they head home so you don’t pay for more than you need!

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 12.21.08

So if you are far from home, or if you have family coming to visit who want to stay connected, have a look at the services that Lebara can offer and you can also find out about the good work they do overseas through the Lebara foundation

This post is written in collaboration with Lebara, one of Europe’s fastest growing mobile companies with five million active customers, 1,000 employees worldwide and operations in eight countries.

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How to make personalised bunting

How to make personalised bunting

by Clare Mansell

Sewing tutorial : How to make personalised bunting

This week I’m stepping into new territory with a video tutorial. It’s not perfect, but it is something I have wanted to try for a while and if it helps one person make bunting it will have been worth it.

I actually filmed this tutorial twice, not a speedy process on either occasion! Once at the beginning of February and again this week. I think I over complicated it the first time and I chose to record it whilst I was making some very pale coloured bunting with quite pale coloured letters which didn’t translate well in the footage.

Video is a constant learning curve, but I enjoy the challenge and I love the fact that where once video was something I had to request the opportunity to work with in a professional environment, now it is something I can fiddle about with myself.


All of the templates together here
Bunting flag template which you can get here
Applique letters template (A to I) here
Applique letters template (J to R) here
Applique letters template (S to Z) here

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postbox on street of valetta

A creative holiday in Malta (part 1)

by Clare Mansell

So last week I returned from an amazing, busy, fun, stimulating 3 days and 4 nights in Malta. During my time on the island I was whisked round all the tourist spots, stuffed to the gills with fabulous food, taught how to paint, shown the photographic highlights of the capital by the Nikon ambassador to Malta, introduced to deep fried pastries, shown ancient ruins and driven to to film locations.

It’s therefore not entirely surprising that it has taken a few days (and perhaps more importantly a few nights sleep) for my brain to assemble everything it saw into some sort of order and to find a way to tell you about the whole experience. So here we go…

Malta press trip

I was flown to the island as a guest of Creative Holidays Malta and the Maltese Tourist board. The former is a small newly established travel company which specialising in painting and photographic holidays (heaven for us creative types!) and although my press trip combined both activities, normally the holidays focus on one craft or the other.

We arrived on Friday night having flown on a 3 hour flight from Gatwick to Valetta with Air Malta. Our accommodation for the trip was on the east of the island at the Hotel Corinthia in St George’s Bay. The hotel seems to have a couple of great swimming pools and a lovely terrace area, but to be entirely honest our itinerary was so packed that I only ever saw them from a distance! The room was good though as was the lovely little cocktail bar which we sampled one night.

Our Malta experience begun on the Friday night with the first of many awesome Maltese meals at the Commando restaurant in Mellieħa. The building is 300 years old and takes its name from the ties it developed with the Royal Marine Commandos in the 1930s. Whilst we were there I got to sample Imqaret a sweet pastry with a filling of dates. You often see them for sale on street corners, but I think I picked one of the best locations to try them as they were wonderfully (and surprisingly) delicate.

postbox on street of valettamalta_portrait2Valetta Harbour in Malta....malta_portrait1malta6malta_portrait4

On Saturday after breakfast we headed off for a full day of photographic lead activities with our guide Vince and photojournalist Rene Rossignaud who is quite a character! Valetta was quite different to what I had been expecting, more fortified, grander and densely populated, but it oozes character which makes it the perfect place to spend time wandering round looking for photo opportunities.

The streets of Valetta rise and fall like the roads of San Francisco and are dotted with colourful doorways and balconcies with religious iconography on every corner. Taking a traditional boat ride around the harbour you can look back at the imposing facades of the old houses juxtaposed with the modern spleandour of superyachts moored in the marina.


The sun was quite strong as we explored the city which wasn’t ideal for photography, but Rene was able to talk us through the how the light falls at different times of the day and the opportunities this creates for the camera. He knew the parts of buildings that are lit up by the warm evening sun and the places you can go to capture long-exposure shots at night. The courses themselves will seek to maximise these opportunities and provide not just expert knowledge but a local insight into where to find the best locations at the best times of day.


We stopped for lunch at Guze Bistro, a subterranean restautrant in a 16th century building which served up a platter of savoury delicacies including plump Maltese olives and delicious local cheeses. The mushroom tart I chose for the main cause was more of a hearty mushroom pie – Slowly I started to learn that the Maltese like their servings large, although honestly I have no idea where they put it all as I never saw an overweight person while I was there!

Finally we headed for Marsaxlokk Village in the south-eastern part of Malta where brightly coloured fishing boats bob around in the bay and you can drink Kinnie at a pavement cafe whilst watching local life pass you by.


It was a pretty busy first 36 hours and we were barely off the starting blocks! Still to come was a hillside painting workshop, a ferry ride to Gozo and visiting the place where Game Of Thrones was filmed. I’ll share all of those with you in a second installment next week…

Are you thinking of visiting Malta yourself? If you’ve got any questions I’ll try my best to answer them if you leave them in the comments…

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The one with the yellow field behind…

Since we moved back to Sussex two and a half years ago, one of the seasonal markers I look forward to every year is seeing the rapeseed in bloom. The farmers rotate the crops so you are never quite sure which field is going to burst into yellow flowers until it actually happens and then I try and dash out as soon as I can to take some photos. The first photos aren’t necessarily the best ones, but if you hesitate the weeks slip by and you miss the moment entirely.

Last year the rape was literally the other side of our garden fence, but this year it’s not quite so conveniently located. There is some a little way down the lane, but to access the field you need to go down a track with ominous signs telling you to keep out, so instead we headed north where the explosion of yellow borders the main road.

We turned my photographic expedition into the morning walk and took the dogs and Theo’s bike with us. Somewhere along the route Theo started complaining that his eye was hurting and of course the more he rubbed it the redder it got – not brilliant for the photos I was hoping to take, but we thought it probably wasn’t serious and we’d look at it when we got home.


I took a few pics of Theo and then recruited Jim for a rather important annual job – the updating of my social media picture! Two years ago on a weekend walk Jim took a photo of me standing in a rape field and I have used it as my online face ever since. It’s distinctive and rather memorable, but it has created a problem! At blogging conferences people don’t instantly remember my name or blog, but they do often remember me as “the woman with the yellow field behind her” – aaahhh! So now I feel trapped into only updating it when the rape is in bloom.

So the sky was grey, the harbour behind was devoid of water as it was low tide and Theo has one rather red and blotchy eye, but at least I got a current photo of me with-a-yellow-field-behind!

If the weather perks up and the flowers last and perhaps most importantly if I’m feeling brave enough to ask Jim to take a photo a second time, we might try another run at it, but for now I’ll have to settle with this…

rapefield15a_1600Oh and if you are wondering, we returned home and on a whim decided to try Theo on half an anti-histamine to see if it would help his irritated eye. It did, which yes probably means that he’s allergic to rape fields – Ooops!

Linking up with…

Living Arrowssnowingindoors Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall
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Big gardening project finally complete!

Last week we finally completed the work on a big makeover project in our garden that we started nearly two years ago.

When we bought our house a huge swathe of the garden was taken up by a large flowerbed. There was also an overgrown Christmas tree obscuring our view and a hedge which had been consumed by brambles. Beneath it all were paving slabs, bricks and tree trunks – it was a mess! From the moment I saw it I desperately wanted to turn it back to grass to give us more useable space, but we had to wait another 5 years before we were able to move into the house ourselves and even think about tackling it.

The first job was to get the hedge out. When we started I honestly thought we’d finish the whole thing by the end of that month and rather optimistically described it on this blog as “June’s big gardening project.” Once we started it became apparent it was a massive job that was going to require a digger, a rotovator, many hours and lots of money. I started taking photos from the same spot in the garden to chart the progress and you can see not only the garden changing, but in the second set of images, you’ll see the house radically alter in the background too!


And here’s what it looks like looking back towards the house. Last year we added a first floor to our bungalow and gave it an external makeover. You can read more about that here.


Jim did all the labour himself and spent many back-breaking hours of his weekends and leave working on it. I’m very proud of him and so impressed with how it’s turned out. Of course it’s going to take a little while for the grass to settle in, but it’s made a massive difference to the appearance of the garden already AND we had some incredible news last week which really has been the icing on the cake…

Do you remember this post I wrote at the beginning of the month with the accompanying video? Well we only WON the competition and we have had an amazing time selecting our £1500 of garden furniture from Debenhams. In fact we were so giddy with excitement that we actually splashed out on turf instead of sowing grass seed just so that we can get use out of the garden a little earlier! It just goes to show as I mentioned last month, it really is worth having a go with blogging competitions, because sometimes amazing things can happen…

Joining up with Mammasaurus…

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