Sisterhood Camp 2016 • Lessons to learn & words to live by

I couldn’t think a more appropriate post to break my accidental blog holiday over this summer. In fact I’m not sure I’ve been quite the same since this weekend back in May. It opened my eyes in a way that no other conference or event has before. And it wasn’t because of the heavenly styling or that the “sister” guest list read like a who's who of the impossibly cool Instagram gang, with their ability to capture a muted moment and turn it into something magical on their phones, it was for no other reason that I remembered who I was and not a single one of them made me feel as though I had to be anyone else.

In the age of being a millennial mum, a Facebook friend and a text fiend, so much of what we do everyday is shared online. And in so many ways we all lived charmed lives. We share the pretty, the "oh I'm keeping it real - but life is still pretty cool", the holidays, Sunday lunches, new outfits, kids' sports days and everything in between. 

And when you get immersed in the blogging world where sharing your family life and work becomes second nature, if not your livelihood, it's really easy to think that the real life that is curated and published isn't that real at all. And it goes on, events seem too perfectly styled to have any sense of realness, but one does.

From the moment I booked my ticket to the Sisterhood Camp I knew it was going to be a special experience. Time with people I admire, respect, photo opportunities galore and in all honesty one the things I was most looking forward to, was proper time with one of my closest friends I've met online Lowri. We had been counting down the sleeps, planned our car snacks for the journey from her house in Cardiff and I knew I could cling to her if there was a moment my nerves got the better of me. And I felt the same about her husband as he bundled her wicker wine carrier and straw hat into my boot (I did lots of ooh that's lovely noises as we packed up) and I genuinely think if we lived down the road our families would be best friends. 

I had shared with her over late night messages that I had built up in my mind that this was going to be a weekend with the cool crowd. An elite group who would be overwhelming and unapproachable in the flesh. A room or rather camp fire full of people with more noughts after their social media handles than most of the UK High Street brands, illustrious Instagram suggested users and I would feel completely out of my depth and out of place in my bright yellow mac and red wellies.

Turns out I'd wasted hours of energy worrying about whether I'd fit in, there were at least 4 others in canary yellow, but more than that, this group was more intent about celebrating the differences between us than I could have imagined. 

Gentle is the way I would describe the weekend. There was an itinerary but no rushing. There was a pace, but we were ushered slowly. No one had to get up for anything, there were sleepy faces and blankets over shoulders. It was like stepping into a Pinterest cuddle. Inexplicably gorgeous little details, that showed that behind the now carefree smiles of our hosts, that there had been an immense amount of planning in the months beforehand. And a camp full of people who appreciated every single one. 

People mingled over breakfast, saying new hellos to those they missed at the dinner the night before. Picture the scene. Twinkling lights strung from the ceiling of an old barn, rows of wooden trestle tables and mis matched fold up chairs sandwiched between flickering candles and huge vintage enamel pots and bowls bursting with hearty, homemade food. There was too much for us all to finish and jugs of water and bottles of wine were passed around over a roar of laughter and excitement. That sort of giggly excitement that takes over a room and you find yourself leaning right over the table to hear what the person opposite is telling you because the place has filled with a cacophony of wonderful noise. I took two photos that night, because once you were sat down all you wanted to do was enjoy it.

We knew the next morning the weather wasn't going to be kind. But no one cared about wandering the hedgerows with raindrops dripping down their fringes, we pottered, vessels and scissors in arms collecting foliage for the floral demonstration with Erin later that morning. No one really batted an eyelid at the rain lashing down on the canvas roof as we were taught the art of making a small arrangement, all our petals getting battered and the less than seasonal chill in the air on the Saturday morning.

And that was the theme for me for the whole weekend. No one gave two hoots what you were wearing, whether you had a face full of make up and had blow dried your hair or whether you've never worn a scrap of make up in your whole life. No one gave a monkeys how many followers you have, nor could those with life changing numbers have spoken more humbly. Not a whiff of superiority. 

It was a revelation. And I wanted to slap myself for even letting myself think for a second that anyone would be anything other than welcoming. 

All of the women I had the pleasure of spending time with seemed content in their own skin. They had ambition, fears and questions like anyone else that were bandied around the campfire over glasses of Prosecco and enamel mugs of steaming tea, but they were honest, empathetic and real. No one has it all completely figured out, but it was a real relief to me that this group I had put on a pedestal were my kind of people.

A group of supportive women who want to put as much distance between them and the competitive world of blogging as possible. And not everyone was a blogger, I listened to several insanely talented photographers, crafters, writers, painters, stylists and met some wonderful women who had no interest in social media for anything more than a hobby really, they were there for the experience. 

Lunch was cooked on a campfire by one of my very favourite food bloggers Elinor from Beach Hut Cook. Elinor is someone I aspire to be like. She has two pretty much grown up boys and the way she talks about them and the barrage of text messages she received from them and her husband to find out how her workshop session had gone was heart warming. I hugged her tightly as she tapped on her phone, with tears of relief in her eyes. Elinor is a natural in front and behind the camera and we could see that this weekend gave her the boost of confidence to create videos and present to camera. Plus she makes ridiculously amazing cocktails, in pretty jars. I love her. 

Afternoon tea was another feast after a full schedule of workshops in the afternoon. People dipped in and out, some took an hour to compose some still life photographs, others made videos, some did every workshop available and I was happy joining in with Kate and the ceramics session and then sat chatting over tea. 

Everyone did their own thing but together. 

At one point it did feel a little dreamy, as silly as that might sound as I tap away on my keyboard, but there was this aura on the decking, which made you breathe a huge sigh of relief. 

I learnt more about being part of a community in one weekend and what I want to do with my space on the internet than I have in a long time. It's easy at conferences to hide your vulnerability in the haze of excitable hugs and big kisses,

I'd been desperate to wander to the beach and planned a little saunter after the tea break in the afternoon. Turned out everyone had thought the same and without any real rallying of troops we all just headed for the sea. I walked down the windy but wide path with Xanthe, watching the light bounce between the trees as she effortlessly wafted her camera from side to side, capturing the very real moments of the weekend in one of her impressive videos. There are people I don't see very often but who I trust and she is one of them. We debated the pros and cons of sponsored content, monetising your Instagram feed and as always, I found her advice invaluable. She is someone who teaches me to really think about the long term, the relationships you build rather than a quick pound. That authenticity always wins, even if it might take you a little longer to get there. 

Blogging feels incestuous. Mostly because it can be just that. There's sometimes school ground politics, infighting over opportunities, and unhelpful comments left in Facebook groups and on twitter. 99% of which I am sure are regretted the next morning. Having a considered opinion is a strength, harbouring resentment is a weight on your shoulders and it will grind you down. The best thing we can all be is ourselves and look for a new opportunity rather than going over the ones you miss out on. 

I laughed when I took this photo. Can you guess which stone was mine?! As we waited for lunch everyone passed round stones led by Emma and helped themselves to brushes and a makeshift palette. No one coordinated their brushes they just painted, and this tranquil theme of golds and blues transcended over the session. All pretty much except one. Mine. 

For me it totally summed up my experience. That you can still fit in being different. That you can have more in common than you can possibly realise. That when you find the right group of inclusive, open minded people you will feel more inspired than being in a room full of people you think are exactly like you. Getting out of my comfort zone is the only way I really challenge myself and create something more exciting to offer you. Not just to read or like but for the future. Something that grows with my family, an idea that I can develop with my sister Natalie and a way that I can better behind the camera and more confident in front of it (this was pretty much the only photo I took that I was in). In tiny amounts...!

Sisterhood is so much more than just pretty pictures and whimsical stories. There was not one ounce of pretence just a collection of creative, some exhausted (like me), determined, supportive individuals all with something to share. Lou's vision and Hannah's execution is a sight to behold. Make sure you get your ticket for the next one.

Me and Mine - A Family Portrait Project July

I know there are people who don't look forward to another birthday, being another year older, but I am not one of them. I love the balloons, the cake, the bunting and the bubbles. I like my brother in law finding a grey hair less so but I look around and think, do you know for almost 35 life is pretty good.

I actually had a few family photos to share this month, Ollie's party, our holiday to Greece but I couldn't do them justice this weekend. After thinking I'd hardly taken any photos on holiday, not really picking up my camera until day 4, there were a good few hundred to look through when we came home!

My sister has been here for 5 days for a mini break in the country! Firsts for Yazzy, raspberry picking, a trip to the library and homemade pizzas and a chance for the boys to have some proper time with Logan. They both love him so fiercely and want to constantly hold him that when we see each other for short bursts it feels like they've never had enough time to smother him in love!

My brother in law headed to us on a train from London after work on Friday and we've had a simple weekend celebrating my birthday a little early. A park trip, a coffee table picnic, games in the garden and my sister has whipped me into some sort of shape, sorting old magazines, reorganising the kitchen to free up some space for the lovely new presents they gave me (yes to a sister who understands an Anthropologie butter dish is a top gift) and a pamper evening with face packs, a make up tutorial and a cheesy film. 

So I know technically this isn't my family of four for my Me and Mine photo this month but I think the concept of this family portrait project is what is important. What it means to you.

It's not because I saw these extra two come into the world that I feel this overwhelming love for them, it's because I feel like they are mine. When we are all together my sister and I are interchangeable with the kids, Yazzy has a home from home here, staking a claim on the little bedroom as her own. I have all these ideas of making that room into a cousins' den, with built in bunk beds and embroidered hoops with their names on the wall, but right now it's all too much. The to do list of jobs to finish around the house is so overwhelming we've simply put it on hold. 

Instead this summer is about relishing all the things we are so lucky to have, the people we are lucky to share them with and everything else can wait. I feel like I need to make the most of the special people, all my favourites, our family and friends. We've squeezed in mid week sleepover dates, filled up the last free weekend until November because why not? Some of our best friends have had a really awful year and deserve to be spoilt, looked after and have something to look forward to. I'm just about keeping my head above water with work and tomorrow I'll be driving to my mum's to stay the night before the boys and I fly off to Spain on Tuesday morning. 

I'm taking them away for 2 weeks by myself and my mum is coming out to rescue/help me in the second week. When you both work from home the holidays become a logistical challenge and we've both had moments when you resent the boys being off school instead of enjoying their company. Because we can't just down tools for weeks on end and 3 weeks in to the long summer break, I've muttered under my breath a few times, "Urgh is it time to go back to school yet." 

And I feel ghastly. Because I remember my school summer holidays and have nothing but happy memories. Games of 40/40 with neighbours who had gates into our garden from theirs, holidays with my cousins down at our family home in Southbourne and going to bed with grass stained feet.

So on Tuesday it's the start of my first real adventure with them on my own. Time to bond with my boys, be present during the day and then work like mad in the evenings. And give Rich some time to really concentrate and focus on his work instead of constantly saying "Yes in a minute." 

Then we will all be together again in Southbourne when my me and mine brood will grow a little bigger and my brother, sister in law and baby niece Juliette come for her first holiday. All our babies have spent their first real holidays there just like we all did and then we can have that precious photo of all 5. Barefoot babes on the beach. 

Happy July everyone. Come and join in and share your family - in whatever size, shape or form that might be.

Pop over and see what Lucy, Fritha, Alex, Jenny and Katie have been up to this month. I feel there's going to be lots of sunshine in the photos! 

Free Floral Phone Wallpaper • British Flowers

Hellooooo! Happy summer everyone!

Ok so I am not really on the biggest go slow like this blog would have you believe. I am madly working behind the scenes, racing to meetings in Bristol with my development hat on and photoshoots with snow and baubles. But I miss the blog and am planning a major holiday love affair with blogging when I head to Spain for 2 weeks with my boys without Rich on the 1st August. Roll on evenings with a glass of sangria, aftersun smelling boys in a Queen size bed they will undoubtedly share with their soft touch mama, and a mammoth catch up on posts that have spent 6 months or more in draft.

I came home from a shoot today with handfuls of flowers from a charity roadside stall I spotted on the way back from Devon and felt inspired to give you something back. For still checking in.

So here is a brand new set of free floral phone backgrounds for you to download. From my neighbour's flower patch, from my country garden and from the roadside jam jars I stumbled across on my way back home today.

Download one or download them all. Have fun. Just click on the image to download it to your phone. 

Don't forget to check out my other free downloads if you are a floral fan

How is it nearly the end of July? I am not in any way ready to be 35 next month!!!!

Me and Mine - A Family Portrait Project June

I have never ever in 3 years been quite as dramatically late with my monthly Me and Mine post and it's a horrible feeling that has eaten away at me all week. The whole point of the Me and Mine posts is to nudge us all to capture a family moment and for us June has been full of them.  

This week we've given Ollie an early birthday to remember, a whole weekend with almost all the people he loves and time stopped for everything else. So I hope my co hosts, who I have spectacularly let down this month, will forgive me for being so dreadfully behind. 

It's like I have two worlds. One when I am in amongst the blogging community and then one I drive home from the station or from the motorway and weave my way down the country lanes and the world slows down. It's like having the best of everything, even if sometimes, like this month, blogging has meant more time with people than writing about people, if that makes any sense! I came home from a press day in London on Wednesday and felt giddy from seeing friendly faces, high from conversations that sparked a hundred ideas. 

I've had some incredible experiences in the last few months. A weekend at Sisterhood with the most inspiring group of women I have ever had the pleasure of sitting around a camp fire with, a day with one of my absolute favourites and her new tiny Lucy at Blogtacular and an evening celebrating the amazingly talented people who continue to make blogging a profession to be proud of and the most remarkable hobby which connects ordinary people together in an extraordinary way. I may not have come home with an award at the Brilliance in Blogging Awards but I wouldn't have missed hearing my name called out and cheering for every single one of the bloggers illuminated on the big screen.

Each of those times deserves to be written about so for my Me and Mine I wanted to share a special day from June, when our sleepy village became washed in red, white and blue.

There's a lot of love for the Royals in this village, especially for Her Majesty. We had commemorative mugs, bunting that's been stored in garages and lofts since the Royal wedding and the 80th Birthday celebrations. As you drove through you couldn't help but be washed in a wave of patriotism and absolute pride for the collective spirit of a community. Flowers grown in gardens for the small glass jars on the tables, china plates bursting with cup cakes and generous smears of clotted cream sandwiched between pastry and strawberries.

In cities, in schools, in churches, in sports centres and in streets there was this incredible sense of belonging and togetherness. The exact same feeling I have when I stand in a room of bloggers.

Here are mine. My two little kings who lap up everything life has to offer them. On Thursday they break up for the summer and as much as I imagined I would be dreading it, I actually can't wait for them to have a rest. Ollie is falling asleep in the car on the way home and although he's grown up so much since starting school, he's still so small when I look back at his nodding head and droopy mouth in the car seat, snoring away. I want them to have the carefree school holidays you read about in Enid Blyton books. To pack picnics, ride bikes, see friends, go to bed with grass stained feet. 

I feel like I don't see them. Everyday is a race against the clock, a battle to get dressed, frustrations over school socks that ruck up in their scuffed black shoes that are destined for the bin on Thursday evening! To give them later bedtimes, pj days and ice creams that melt down their wrists. Well, if we get any sun that is!

We have booked a special family holiday and leave on Saturday for a week in Rhodes with Mark Warner. We loved it so much last year, felt totally spoilt and honoured representing them as family ambassadors with a week in Kos at the Lakitira resort, that we booked to go this year in an unofficial capacity!

Time is the most precious thing we have. I listened to Lisa Congdon speak at Blogtacular and felt like she was talking just to me. She had this incredible way of resonating with the whole room and hearing how her success story had times of great stress on her relationships, her health made me realise that it's more important to keep in mind the reason we work and blog and take a moment to breathe when you need one. That you can get on and off this crazy ride, without a fear of slipping off a hamster wheel and not being able to get back on.

Take time to live well.

Happy July everyone, we are ready for the next adventure!

Share your Me and Mine with Lucy, Katie, Jenny, Alex, Fritha and me. Pop over and see what their broods have all been up to last month.

6 ways to makeover an unloved conservatory with Thomas Sanderson

I love our house. Love it love it, lemon love it. But, if I had a magic wand, I would wave it frantically over the conservatory at the back of the house. 

I have never ever been a fan of conservatories, too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter and I always find they are full of strange furniture you wouldn't see anywhere else but these indoor greenhouses. That we are pre conditioned to exclusively furnish them with uncomfortable rattan seats and look at the room through a closed door 99% of the year. 

But having finally lived with one, I can't believe I am going to say this, I'm not sure I could live without it and I find myself saving vintage wicker seats to my wish list Pinterest board. Imagine a blogger and photographers dream space for photos, what would it look like? A light filled room all year round with walls to prop tables against and beautiful even light at 6am in the morning through to dinner time in the summer. Our conservatory has been my life saviour over the last 18 months. A home studio to dress and rearrange for different mini shoots combined with an extra room for the boys to use as a playroom. The space is so flexible and has so much potential we just need a way to transform it into a dream room. 

I had the pleasure of meeting Thomas Sanderson at the Ideal Home Show a while ago and realised that there are so many ways I can bring ours back to life. 

I just wish we could paint it, re roof it, change the doors and the window handles... you name it - I'd like to change it. The mahogany stain is so out of character with the rest of the house, and I dream of the day far into the future when I take this exact photo but instead there's a beautiful orangery staring back at me.

Because it turns out, that I do in fact love the principle of a conservatory or garden room, I'm just not so in love with ours right now. And I am sure I am not the only one who wishes I had a fairy godmother who could cast some magic over this unloved shell.

So what can we do?!

I've found 6 ways to make the most of your conservatory, to give it a new lease of life and make it into a dream room. 

1. Instant update with New Blinds

I talk with friends who say the same. "It's a sauna in the summer and a freezer in the winter!" It's silly really because there are clever people out there who can help and ta day! An extra room in your house you can use 365 days of the year.

I had no idea about the range that is available now. Forget the old fashioned styles you'd have seen at your parent's houses in the early 90's there's a wealth of styles, finishes and colours for every taste.

These Duette® Energy Smart blinds put our old ones to shame. Not only do they help to relate and control the temperature but the clever double layered fabric design also absorbs noise. The honeycomb design has a special coating on the window side to help improve energy efficiency even further. Ours can feel like the sky is falling down during a heavy rain shower and I can't hear myself think let alone take a phone call - the impact of the raindrops on the ceiling feels like you are in a tropical thunderstorm, without the beach in the distance! 

2. Fill it with things you want to look at

It sounds like a obvious statement doesn't it? But so often I see conservatories that are the forgotten room, a little souless and almost like the after thought. Odd furniture, obligatory plant, rooms that don't scream come and sit in me! I feel so inspired when I am surrounded by the things I love. Artwork I've collected over the years, cushions that I've bought year after year that fill the sofas, but our conservatory is filled with random bits of furniture and hasn't had the same sort of TLC we are giving the rest of the house. 

I love how this room is decorated with precious possessions and this photo taken by Natalie Jeffcott makes me want to lean into the screen and thumb through all those book pages and peer at what is under those glass bell jars. 

If your space is full of you, your things, your most loved things I guarantee you will want to spend more time there. 

3. Embrace Shutters

I long for shutters, with the same longing I feel for an ice cold cocktail on a balmy summer's evening. I must have visited an old french house at some point in my life and had the image of these beautiful window finishes etched into my subconscious. Because every time I pass a house with shutters I have to stop and let out a gentle sigh. And try and sneak a cheeky photo.

Beautiful and practical - a winning combination! I can't imagine there is a window these shutters couldn't fit with a bespoke and ready made service to choose from. I felt the PVCu engineered samples and was so impressed with the finish, if we were keeping our conservatory indefinitely I would blanket every window with them.


4. Say Hello To New Flooring

We have a sorry looking carpet in our conservatory that dogs and boys have trampled all over, not wiping their feet or their paws and a wet start to this summer means it is almost crying out to be replaced. A new floor can instantly lift the whole feel of a room and I adore this bold use of patterned tiles in Ulises and Melissa's modern sun room

We went for something similar in a blue colour way for the downstairs cloakroom but I hadn't thought about covering a much larger space with such a statement print. It's a treat for your eyes and the light bouncing from the walls and ceilings makes it shine brightly. I love the subtle colours they chose letting the heavy terracotta pots and house plants bring a natural colour palette into the room.

We have chosen these Fired Earth tiles for our ensuite but how spectacular would they look in the conservatory?!

5. Paint the house walls

I had never really thought about the idea of making the wall of the house adjoining the conservatory into a feature. Now we are in a listed house so we might not get away with such a bold statement but I think the idea of choosing a colour and making a feature out of the brickwork or stone is a fabulous one!

This modern glass extension by Sigmar in London features a contrasting charcoal grey wall that compliments the dark radiator and window frames perfectly.

And it could work perfectly in any sized conservatory or sunroom, you could even repaint the wall as the seasons change.

I would kill for a white brick wall to shoot against! You can also easily add a false stud wall in front of the fabric of the building itself and paint that. 

Making a feature wall gives you so many decorating options. 

6. Give it a right good clean

I hold my hands up. I have no idea what our conservatory looks like when it's sparkling clean, because in 18 months we have never really touched it on the outside. What we need to do is book a conservatory valet and I bet it would be a revelation. To have the handles and hinges properly checked and repaired, to have the guttering professionally cleaned and the roof panels meticulously washed and scrubbed would absolutely make a difference to the whole look and feel of the space. 

So what would you do with your conservatory? Or are you thinking of adding one to your home? My ideal garden room would have a window seat around the base of the brickwork and an open plan space which lead onto the kitchen. Hues of calming green, stripped wood flooring and a day bed. Just pass me a cup of tea and a magazine now could you?! 

In collaboration with Thomas Sanderson