Be blown away with paint!

The school holidays seem to be particularly dreary this year. The toddler seems to have fallen slightly out of love with painting so I decided to come up with a new method to renew her passion. 


This was a super-simple, fun and VERY messy project and one we both enjoyed. Seriously though, if you decide to try it, paint goes EVERYWHERE so make sure you put lots of paper down.


Those who know me, know I’m terrible at drawing (I once drew a stick an with three knees….) but luckily ‘Moon’ from the toddlers new favourite show (Sarah & Duck) is easy enough for even my cack-handedness to draw. I also did a few other simple outlines, including a tree, Spidergirl and a hedgehog.


Next, it was time to pour the paint. I bit of trial and error taught us that small drops, fairly close together worked better.


Then it was time to blow!


It was fun trying different lengths of straw and different ‘blowing’ techniques from short, sharp puffs, to longer blows while moving the straw around. They created surprisingly different results.


The tree is a little abstract.


Spider girl turned into a Deadpool/Venom hybrid. We used slightly too much paint on this one….


And here’s Moon, waving on his way to work.

Have you tried blow-painting? How did you get on? Let me know in the comments below! 

Make it Monday: Greetings! 

I love receiving cards, don’t you? But even more than receiving, I love MAKING cards! Here’s some of my recent makes. 

Shark week. Meeting the most vicious fish in the seas!

When hubby and I went on our little adventure, we never for one second thought we’d end up coming face-to-face with some of the most vicious creatures under the waves. We were blessed to dive in the Galapagos, Panama, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and many more places, seeing stunning underwater worlds and the incredible creatures that live there. Of course, not every sea creature wanted us there and more than once we had a face off with the most vicious fish under the sea. And here he is…..


We got a couple of pictures of clown fish (in this case a tomato anemone fish) getting grumpy with visitors and this one decided that we’d got a bit too close to his home so bit my husband!

And now, here’s a few pictures of sharks…..

Grey reef shark, Thailand


Black tip reef shark, Malaysia


Leopard shark, Thailand


Thresher shark, Philippines


White tip reef sharks, Thailand


Leopard shark, Thailand


Whale shark, Philippines


Galapagos shark, Galapagos Islands


Another shot of that beautiful leopard shark in Thailand

I’m The Big Interview: Lois Kay

It’s funny and ironic but some of the loveliest Brits I’ve met have been one my travels and this is true of Lois. We both worked in Spain and would celebrate the end of a working week each Thursday (Feliz Jueves!) as we worked our way along Calle Laurel, tasting pinchos and wine as we went. Happy days!

Lois recently undertook the ‘plastic challenge’ from the Marine Conservation Society where she gave up using single-use plastic for a month and spoke to me about how it went. Lots of hints and tips which I’ll be using for my Earth Day Pledges.

GCH: Can you briefly tell us about your no plastic challenge?

LK: Promoted by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) for the month of June 2017, I didn’t use any food, cosmetics, toiletries or cleaning products contained within single use* packaging http://www.mcsuk.org/plasticchallenge/

Together with the MCS I tried to raise awareness of the reality which is that many single use plastic items end up in our seas and on our beaches, where they persist and impact our marine life and that nearly of these items we really didn’t need in the first place.

*a single use plastic is anything which has a very short lifespan in terms of its usage. Think of a plastic bag containing rice which rarely would get re-used, pots of ready prepared sliced fruit with a plastic film over the top – not resuable at all.

GCH: What motivated you to take part in a ‘no plastic’ challenge?

LK: I wanted to see whether it was possible, to see what positive changes I might be able to bring about amongst friends and colleagues. I love snorkeling and swimming in the sea, and it makes me so sad to see such a beautiful natural environment often damaged by humans wastefulness.


GCH: Did you need to buy anything new to help you with your no plastic challenge?

LK: Yes a lot!

I generally cook with fresh ingredients so that was just making the change from convenience shopping where the fruit and veg is in packaged in punnets to buying loose and visiting local fruit&veg shops – which I really enjoyed, and wish I had done more of before.

But then I realised that food really wasn’t the main problem – my toiletries, cosmetics and cleaning products are all in plastic packaging. So…I made a lot of things from scratch, didn’t wear make-up for the month aside from my homemade mascara (burn almonds until charcoal, and mix with vaseline), and have now switched permanently to Lush shampoo and conditioner bars. I also invested in a metal safety razor to replace disposable plastic ones.

GCH: What’s been the most challenging aspect of the challenge so far?

LK: Snacks. Everything in the shop bar fruit is wrapped in plastic! There’s only so much fruit you can eat! Once I found cashews, pistachios and almonds loose in a local Asian shop together with dates it got a bit better, and I have made quite a few cakes, biscuits, and my mum did make a batch of homemade crisps for my birthday party!

I didn’t manage to find pasta or noodles not in plastic anywhere so went without one of my favourite meals – pad thai in June!

GCH: Do you think it will be easy to continue once the 30 days are over?

LK: A lot of things now seem so easy. The first few weeks giving up Singe Use Plastics were really hard trying to find alternatives to my normal shop but now I have figured out a lot of it, I am going to continue with switching away from plastics as far as possible.

GCH: Any hints or tips for people looking to do the same challenge, or to even simply reduce the amount of single-use plastic they use?

LK: The four big nasties ending up in the oceans are Plastic Bags, Plastic Bottles, Plastics Straws, and Plastic Coffee Cups. I ask everyone to really try and unless an emergency, find alternatives or just do-without.

  • Make it fun and not a chore, spend a Sunday exploring your local shops and see what plastic free products you can find. Find a how-to online and make your own soap or lipbalm.
  • Stock up on glass jars and containers for all your lovely homemade products.
  • Talk to people about what you’re doing, You will feel empowered, people can be inquisitive and perhaps defensive about their habits to begin with but once you sow the seed in their minds, you will get a lot of respect and more

GCH: What other things have you done/will you do to minimise your carbon footprint?

LK: Cycle as much as possible and not just for recreation. Since I bought a second hand bike with a pannier rack (I am a big fan of bungee cords now!) I can go on adventures around Greater Manchester and do my shopping. You can travel through parks and along canal towpaths – something which you definitely can’t do in a car.

GCH: You’ve travelled extensively. Has seeing how different countries approach recycling and refuse disposal influenced you?

LK: It was sad to see the state of some of the laybys and waterways in Cambodia and Phillipines filled with rubbish but they are some of the loveliest people I have ever met and also some of the poorest. If they had access to the same infrastructure and education we have here in the UK, they and their environment would benefit in so many ways.

In the flip side, I don’t know how England is so far behind some of our European neighbours who pay a deposit for plastic bottles and on their return, the bottles are re-used. Knowledge and awareness around packaging and recycling, and the benefits of the basics of reducing and reusing could be so much better here!

GCH: We’re constantly asked if we have a favourite country and it’s always so difficult to choose because everywhere we’ve visited has been special. Do you have a favourite country or place?

LK:
• Cambodia for beaches and rivers
• Barcelona for its architecture
• Bangkok for its amazing buzz
• Manchester – my home
• Greece – for the food and friendly people

GCH: You’ve lived abroad. Any hints for people planning to move to a foreign country? How do you integrate yourself with the locals?

LK:
• Speak the native language at every opportunity
• A smile will help overcome what may seem like many barriers in communication and will make you so many friends along the way
• Admit when you need help or even just a hug.

GCH: Where would you like to visit again?

LK: Budapest in summer! I visited in December, and the -8 temperature made sightseeing a little tricky. I’v also heard in summer they have amazing roof terrace bars. That said, one of my most memorable travel experiences was sitting in the dark in an outdoor 30 degree pool in Budapest whilst snow fell around me.

 

Have you done the plastic challenge? Let us know in the comments below.

The Big Interview: Kalkidan Legesse

One of the things I love about where we live is that there are so many independent shops selling a range of local, handmade and ethical products. One of my favourites is ‘Sancho’s Dress‘ which sells ethical and sustainable clothing. Co-owner, Kalkidan Legesse has a fantastic eye for fashion and all will fit you with the perfect outfit, either for a special occasion or day-to-day wear.

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I spoke to Kalkidan about her inspiration for Sancho’s Dress, how she selects pieces for the shop and what she has planned for the future.

GCH: Your inspiration for Sancho grew after your travels through Ethiopia. That’s an unusual destination for tourists, so what drew you to the region?

KL: Well the main reason is because I am Ethiopian. My family migrated to the UK when I was 5, and I grew up in Reading with a warm and family orientated Ethiopian community. We returned to Ethiopia for the first time when I was around 15 and then when I was 20 I returned again to work for the NGO World Vision Ethiopia for a 6 month period. As is the case for many first generation immigrants I sought to understand the country and culture that I was from to find some answers to the questions I held about myself. In Ethiopia I was first introduced to weaving, spinning, design and the textile markets of Africa’s largest outdoor market. I fell in love with the skill, the joy and the life of making and the independence and dignity of the makers themselves.

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GCH: Can you tell us a little about Sancho and its ethos?

KL: Sancho’s is a sustainable clothing company that helps people, mainly here in the UK, find clothing and gifts which have been made in a way that protects the environment and helps makers to thrive in their craft. We curate contemporary slow fashion pieces at affordable prices, striving to connect brands which are doing amazing work to you. We have jewellery made by communities who, before their current work, lived in the largest slums in the world. 90% of our cotton clothing is made from organic cotton, protecting land from deteriorating and farmers from cycles of life threatening debt. It all makes a positive impact in the world by fighting poverty and climate change.

GCH: Given the disposable, cheap fashion available in stores, how do you aim to change people’s perception of ethical, fair trade and quality clothes?

KL: I believe the most important thing is that we exist, we provide an example of an alternative, of clothing which is made to last and ethically made, clothing which of course is beautiful. Then people are put in the position where they need to make a decision, I think some people are more conscious of this than others, which is natural as with all social movements there are early actors and late actors and people who are never too keen.

I also think that we need to be working hard to provide options for people, we are working to carry larger ranges with more items in them..think swimwear.. so that people can choose.

Finally outreach is important, we use our instagram and facebook pages to talk about the ethos of our business and help people understand that organic clothing can be as significant as organic food and that fair trade is as powerful if not more so as aid in lifting people out of poverty.

Its all a work in progress but  I think we’ll get there.

GCH: How do you ensure your products are ethical, fair trade and organic?

KL: We have a sourcing criteria for the shop to make sure all the styles we carry are doing good in the world. The first is certification, there are some amazing audit bodies like GOTS, WFTO, BAFTS and the Fairtrade Foundation which set out a criteria for cotton farmers, and garment manufactures to follow in order to minimise their environmental impact and ensure poverty alleviation. These are often called the ‘10 Fair trade principles‘ and they protect the workers rights, ensure safe and fairly paid conditions and absence of forced work. We source 70% of our items from fully certified brands. The remaining 30% is sourced from designer-makers, usually made here in Devon. They are independent, and usually at least partially self employed, and their craft helps them to earn a portion of their living.

GCH: What makes you different from other stores on the high street?

KL: Profits are not the basis of our business, we are motivated by the belief that we can make a difference in the world by helping people to reduce their carbon footprint and to connect them with makers in the UK and in some of the most impoverished areas of the world.

We also spend a lot of time with our customers helping them to find items of clothing that suit them, make sense in their wardrobe, clothing which they can wear on a multitude of occasions and will last them at least more than 30 wears.

GCH: What’s your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur and working for yourself?

KL: I love that work is as serious or as playful as I need it to be, my partner and I can go from concentrating on strategic meetings to dancing to whatever is on BBC 6. There is a lot of joy in working with someone you love and trust, whose vision you share.

GCH: What would you say are the top three skills needed to be successful?

KL: I would say you have to be willing to learn, they are so many mistakes to make and you will probably make them all, and unless you can reflect on that and improve you’ll just go in circles. You have to be able to communicate your idea and the value of it, people are bombarded by different causes and worries in the world not to mention their own lives so unless you can speak to them you wont hold their attention. Finally, you have to enjoy your work, there is a LOT of hard and dull aspects of being an entrepreneur and unless you can find joy in them, or in between them you are not going to have much fun.

GCH: I love your Instagram account. How important is social media to your business?

KL: It is the primary way in which we communicate with our customers and friends so I would say it is of huge importance to our business. Social media is fantastic as it works to start leveling the playing field between huge companies and independents, it has allowed us to capture the attention of our customers in a way that other business on the high street, with less heart, can’t and something like a TV ad probably wouldn’t have.

GCH: What are your plans for Sancho in the future?

KL: So many plans, I want there to be a sustainable shop that everyone in the UK can access within the next 10 years. We’re currently laying down the groundwork for the next shop so we’ll see if we can make that dream a reality.

GCH: What’s your favourite or most meaningful piece you’ve sold in Sancho?

KL: What a lovely question, everything we sell is hand picked, tested and curated by me so I feel an attachment with all of it. The past few days, when I’ve been walking through town or by the river I’ve seen a few dozen people wearing items from Sancho’s, and each time my heart leaps. I never know if I should introduce myself or if that would be too weird, but yeah at the moment I don’t have a favourite item but I absolutely love seeing people wear our collections.

GCH: Who has been your greatest inspiration?

KL: Well I’m a fortified member of the Beehive and I am in awe of Beyonce’s bold and brazen power, creativity and femininity as the mug says ‘Beyonce has the same hours in a day as you’ so I try to remind myself. More deeply though I love and respect my parents and all that they sacrificed and invested in order to raise me and my sister in the UK. From my experience, migrating to another country is one of the hardest journeys to take so I see their strength and perseverance as a source of my own.

GCH: What drew you to Exeter?

KL: I came to Exeter university to study PPE and I stayed because of the amazing people, the liberal and inclusive community and the easy access to fish and chips by the sea!

GCH: It’s no secret that I love books and there are some special ones I always keep close by. Do you have a favourite book and why?

KL: I have to say I haven’t read a lot recently although I have 11 more books to read before the end of the year. Now that I’ve told you the context, I love the poetry of E.E Cummings, disjointed yet whole – it’s beautiful. I love Othello, the perception of black males in western society hasn’t moved too far forward and it is eternally relevant. I loved the vampire novels of Anne Rice I grew up with a crush on Lestat rather than Edward of Jacob. I’m reading a few management books at the moment haha, they are not so exciting. And if podcasts count, they count right? I’ve completely addicted to the Serial series right now.

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GCH: Your passion for your work is clear, but what do you do in your spare time? (if you have any!)

KL: In my spare time I like to run, to cycle, to see my friends to hang out with my boyfriend. We have this thing where we harmonise badly on acoustic songs which we enjoy a little too much. I’ve always loved writing poetry so I’m trying to do more of that. I love to travel, so I like to make plans in my mind and wish them into reality, I have 3 trips planned this summer so it’s kinda working.

GCH: Tell us a secret.

KL: Hmm, lets see… I a huge star trek fan and wish I got to speak about that more often. Does that count? If not DM me. (GCH. You all know we love our geek shows here! I’ll let you decide who the best ‘Enterprise’ Captain is, although I do love Picard personally)

If you’d like to know more about what Kalkidan is up to, check out her blog, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram

Make it Monday: Room On The Broom inspired Quiet Book


We’re HUGE fans of Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler’s books here at Beagle HQ. So much so that the toddler’s last birthday was themed around some of their more famous books, but that’s a post for another day.

A zipper for a mouth

What’s inside? Some other characters!


I wanted to make the toddler something a bit different, so I combined some of her favourite characters with different openers and fasteners to help her improve her dexterity and coordination. The product was ‘Evie’s Quiet Book’.

Bird’s wing has a magnetic which helps it move. There’s also plenty of ribbon to practice tying bows


Quiet books seem to be hugely popular and it’s easy to see why: soft to touch for little hands, they are only limited by your imagination and can keep little people occupied for ages. 

Help Dog count bones


I created a page for each of the main characters: Witch, Cat, Dog, Bird, Frog, Dragon plus all of them on the broom.

What’s in Cat’s cauldron?

All the ingredients fro a witches brew! Each item is sewn onto a popper so can be removed for an endless mix of spells


I tried to use a mix of fabrics and materials to make it interesting to touch as well as various colours. Some worked better than others, with some of the coarser fabric fraying, however I think this adds to the characters. 

The Dragon isn’t too gruff here – he has a squeaker for a voice


There are also different fasteners including zips, poppers, buttons and clips, all of which encourage to toddler to explore and learn how to use them. They’ve helped her improve her manual dexterity while also teaching her some key skills for getting dressed. 

Help the Witch button her cardigan and plait her hair, but be careful not to lose her ribbon!


I think the Witch is my favourite page. Her long ginger hair is a mix of different wools, from very soft, to slightly more coarse and even a few strands from my rag doll I had as a baby! Perfect for learning how to plait, and to tie a ribbon! Her cardigan also needs buttoning. This was the only page where I used my sewing machine (for the cardigan), all the rest was sewn by hand.

And out flew, a magnificent broom!


The last page is the broom with all the characters sat safely in their seats. I made the finger puppets as a fun accompaniment when reading the book, but they can be used for reenactment while out and about, or for creating new adventures!

Endless fun with the finger puppets


Have you made a quiet book? Do you like the characters from the Gruffalo and Room on the Broom? Let me know in the comments below. 

Writer Wednesday: The Battle In the Blue I Didn’t Win…..

I’ve been pouring over my assorted writings in an attempt to get organised and I came across this piece, written but never submitted for a competition/anthology (it was written a long time ago so I can’t remember which). For assorted reasons I never finished it and have never returned to it until now.

Sometimes a story comes to you and it’s easy, a joy, simplicity itself to write. The characters are chatting and responsive to your guidance, the landscapes pour onto the page and as always the villain gets their comeuppance after a suitably exciting battle. And then there are the stories which, frankly don’t work. There’s no one reason why: could be that the characters aren’t fully formed in your mind, or your plans just aren’t fusing. Could be that you’ve only seen one ‘scene’ and there’s not enough for a complete story.

And that’s the case with ‘The Battle of the Deep (or The Battle of Ineray)’. I remember the submission asking for a short story set under the sea. I immediately saw a battle brewing between different sea creatures, with two ambassadors trying to stop the battle. I think I was partially influenced by the Gungans undersea home from Star Wars: Episode One, the Phantom Menace (say what you like about the movie, some of the concept art for the sets was impressive) and ‘The Blue Planet’ BBC show, narrated by David Attenborough. The characters are fairly ‘flat’ by which I mean, I didn’t hear their individual voices, style of speaking but most importantly I didn’t hear what they wanted and needed to say to get the story moving. Whilst my ideas for the characters were only half-formed (I could visualise them and my description didn’t ‘fit’ or do them justice) I wanted a really bright, vibrant and critter-filled underwater world which again didn’t really work out. However, the main issue was that whilst my ideas were vivid, I had no realy story. All stories start with an event, then some action followed by a resolution and with many of my stories I may not have a full map but there’s more than a vague idea but here, nothing. And frankly, all these issues show. It was a struggle to write and while I have no plans to extend this piece at the moment, never say never! Perhaps a rewatch of ‘The Blue Planet’ will help.

The Battle of the Deep (The Battle of Ineray)

*Translated from ancient slan-garr

Viceroy Glimpt looked around him, taking in the encrusted walls, the high scalloped archways and the large open windows. By now he knew every crack, every piece of peeling paint like the back of his hand by heart. He cast a furtive look at the two guards at the end of the corridor and tried not to let his agitation show: his every movement would be reported back to those in charge and he could not afford to cause an incident. Looking at the guards they watched him impassively.

A slight noise to his left altered him to the arrival of the Clerk to the Council. The Viceroy forced his face into neutral.

‘They are ready for you, Viceroy,’ the clerks bulbous eyes stated calmly as he gestured with one of his many arms.

The Viceroy uncurled his long tail. He was long, even for a merman, and his chest was broad, his gills on his neck undulated, fins spreading out from under his arms, silver tail ending in a whip snap, covered in scales, ‘And in what mood is the Council today?’ asked the Viceroy, a snap of his tail bringing him alongside the Clerk.

‘Grey, sir,’ replied the clerk,

‘As bad as that? It does not bode well for our meeting.’ The clerk did not respond to the Viceroy as they reached the large doors which signified they had arrived at the Council Chamber.

The slan-garr were perched around a large table, shaped like a toadstool a single root going down into the ground with the domed top in shades of red. The slan-garr were similarly shaped, with a large dome shell of interlocking plates currently flaring different shades of grey.  Pin-like legs protruded from under the shell, continually moving and filtering tiny food particles from the water and easing them up and into their beaks.

‘The dragons are angered, Viceroy.’

‘What do the dragons care? They are creatures of neither sea nor land, but of the air.’

The king nodded his head solemnly, ‘Aye, but their spawning grounds cover both our lands. We have agreed to adhere to the old ways, honour agreements made by our forefathers. You cannot say the same.’

The Viceroy struggled to maintain his calm composure, but the knowledge that the dragons would fight on the side of the slan-garr turned his water cold.

He thought for a moment, then his predator grin slashed across his face.

***
If you’d like to read some of my completed work (with characters I really liked), why not check out my other works, including my novels ‘Akane: The Last of the Orions’, ‘Weird Wild‘ and my children’s book ‘Ghoulsome Graveyard’.