Category Archives: Life Issues/ Motivational Posts

The Cafe With Five Faces

Imagine a cafe with 5 different rooms, each room representing an iconic city and featuring food, chat and most notably coffee (some wine & mint tea too) …. that is the basis of a most excellent book by Chaelli Cattlin that I had the pleasure to review over the summer. Due to COVID-19 putting a dampener on my summer travels this year, having this book to read in my garden chair during lockdown was a real boost. Like always, I read the book and then got the urge to chat more with the author! But first, my review:

MY REVIEW
I used to work in a village cafe that used to be full of regulars and I often thought a book on overheard conversations would be very interesting reading.  The regulars in my cafe talked about similar issues, often with the same amount of intensity and repetition; that a newcomer would bring a breath of fresh air and a welcome change of topic.  So, The Cafe With Five Rooms, was the sort of book I was subconsciously searching for.  I absolutely adored the travel stories, the characters themselves were believable, loved the themed room idea, love the food and drink descriptions, love the details about coffee making – although I’m not a coffee drinker Chaelli so my drink of choice would be an Algerian mint tea! Or a glass or two of the Lebanese red wine 😊Maybe with a slice or two of Hungarian cake…..

LET’S MEET CHAELLI ….


Hello, I am Chaelli Cattlin, an author and a trainer working in the field of English language teaching, a job which has allowed me to travel all over the world for the past 25 years.

Your book, “The Cafe With Five Faces: What The Walls Heard 2018-2019   – is an engaging collection of short stories, presented as snippets within a fictional cafe with five rooms. Each room is themed and named after a location – Beirut, Budapest, Cape Town, Granada, Hebden Bridge. The stories feature everything including travel, gossip, politics, food , romance, and coffee. What made you decide to write a book of this nature?

While visiting Granada several years ago, I was sitting outside a cafe in the Albaicin district and surveying an empty property opposite, thinking what a nice cafe it would make. It had a few rooms / spaces and it occurred to me that it would save me from choosing between a Hungarian-style cake shop, a Spanish tapas bar, a Lebanese manouche shop and a CapeTown breakfast bar. So I decided to call my provisional cafe The Cafe with Four Faces. When I chose to make a book out of it, rather than a real cafe, I added my local village (Hebden Bridge) to the rooms as it fitted some of the characters I wanted to include. The five rooms of the book / cafe also allowed me to focus on different topics, each of which I wanted to discuss but wouldn’t necessarily fit comfortably in one setting.

I enjoyed reading the book  – I liked the mix of characters. I adored the travel anecdotes. My favourite characters were Zoe, Misha and “The Presence”. What character did you enjoy writing about the most?  Who was the hardest?

Misha was one of my favourites as he was so like me when I first moved to Poland 25 years ago and I quite enjoyed describing myself in self-deprecating but hopefully humorous terms. Mike rants in the way I like to rant myself, but rarely have the nerve to do so in real life, so he was a favourite too. And possibly Jimez, as I think he is such a lovable failure! The hardest ones were the minor characters who made infrequent appearances, like Anna and, I suppose, The Presence, because I would like to have made more of them, but seemed to let them down a bit.

The Five places featured as the rooms obviously hold a place in your heart – why did you pick Beirut, Budapest, Cape Town, Granada and Hebden Bridge?  Were there any other places you considered having as a “room”?

Beirut and Cape Town just picked themselves – they are unique cities and I just feel at home the second I arrive in them. Hebden Bridge was local – I could have chosen Haworth, but that is already very well-known for its Bronte connection. Budapest represents Eastern Europe (in its 1990s definition) – I could have chosen several others, principally Katowice, MInsk and Ljubljana, but I lived in Budapest for 7 years (just a little longer than in Katowice) and it has the old-style cafe society with its literary connections which I love so much. Granada represents the good life / place in the sun – it could have been anywhere in Andalucia, Sicily or Provence, all of which have very fond memories, but Granada is the city of most recent and lengthy acquaintance.


So, as we are talking travelling, where has been your favourite place you’ve visited or lived in so far?

In terms of full-time living, outside of the north of England (Lancashire and Yorkshire), I have lived in Opole and Katowice in Poland, and Budapest in Hungary. However, I have spent periods of 2-3 months in countless places and enjoyed so many of them for very different reasons, it’s rather hard to choose! As I mentioned above, Beirut and Cape Town are really special and I have lived in each for a total of around 3 years and 1 year respectively, and they really feel like home.

You are a coffee fanatic – that goes without saying – and I liked how you incorporated your coffee knowledge into your book.  What is it about coffee that really caught your attention?

This has been a slow burner for me, having grown up on Nescafe with milk and two sugars, and then Nescafe with milk without the sugar. I finally bought a percolator and started having one cup of ‘real’ coffee a day with fresh cream, Then I discovered speciality (third-wave) coffee shops and filter coffee where the addition of milk was frowned upon. It became a real interest to visit such cafes in every city I visited, and since 2016, there has been a dramatic growth in such establishments, which led to me wanting to own my own, In the meantime, I started buying a range of alternative brewing equipment for home use and then started taking training courses.


If we were in your cafe, about to indulge in a drink and nibbles – which room would you feel most comfortable in? What would you recommend we ordered?

Every room suits one of my moods. I am the political ranter (Cape Town), the failed musician (Budapest), the ardent traveller (Granada), the bohemian floor-sitter (Beirut) and the aging reminiscer (Hebden Bridge), so it depends how the mood takes me. In terms of order, however, it would have to be a Chemex and a slice of Eszterhazy (cake), Jen’s favourite in the Budapest room.

When it comes to your personal reading delights – what genre/authors do you read? Kindle or book?

My tastes are rather random. I have a real liking for the humour of PG Wodehouse, while loving the gritty Italian crime of Michele Giutarri. I have also whiled away hours in cafes reading the Brontes, Jane Austen and, particularly, Thomas Hardy. I also read the entire Harry Potter series more than once! Ironically, I prefer paper copies! 

Are there any other book ideas in the pipeline for 2020 and beyond?

Yes, but they’re still in formulation! 

Is “The Cafe With Five Faces” available to purchase worldwide?

Yes, through Amazon, Apple and Google Play, with Barnes & Noble and Kobo on the way.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I can hardly remember pre-lockdown! There were some comments in the book about Matthew (Granada room) and his love of Armani jeans, and I have 5 pairs, accumulated over many years, which I wear till they fall apart (and beyond) because they are so comfortable. I have a substantial collection of headgear, including a Colombian hat just like that of The Presence (picture attached) and a larger choice of bandanas than Jimmy. At the moment, T-shirts are it (with the names of assorted cafes if I can manage it), because I’m not working in public, and I have a range of shoes which would terrify many women by their quantity, my favourites being Doc Martens and trainers.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

Armani Jeans in Milan! For certain items of clothing, I like the street markets in Hanoi, while for shoes, I always check out the windows of Vagabond in Budapest and those of a shop in Palermo the name of which I simply can’t bring to mind. Otherwise, I only seem interested in cafes and online coffee retailers!

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

I daren’t buy any more shoes for a while as I bought some pre-lockdown I haven’t worn since I left the shop. I love the shirts on the Konrit website, but unfortunately don’t like buying clothes online – I prefer to try them on and see before buying, so it may well remain on my wishlist rather than become reality

Boots or Shoes?

Doc Martens are a nice blend! Otherwise, comfortable trainers; nothing which comes up too high as I find them really uncomfortable.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc.
https://thecafewith5faces.com/
https://www.facebook.com/thecafewith5faces/?modal=admin_todo_tour

@thecafewithfa1 (Twitter)

For Pinning Later

Fabulous to catch up with you “virtually” Chaelli and I really look forward to reading more adventures of the Cafe in the future. Thank you also to Ben Cameron for the copy of The Cafe With Five Faces to review. All photographs have been published with kind permission of Chaelli Cattlin.

Linda x

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FSO Safer – An Environmental Time Bomb

My heart goes out to the country of Yemen. Yemen has many challenges at the moment: civil war, starvation, disease, poverty, then the introduction of the coronavirus ….and now, it has an environmental time bomb in the shape of FSO Safer. FSO Safer is a floating oil storage and offloading vessel that is moored in the Red Sea, just north of the Yemeni city of Hodeidah. It is owned by the Yemen Oil and Gas Corporation ….and it is getting old and started to spring a leak. The author of my guest post this week, Carlos Luxul, can fill you in….

Bouncing Bomb, Dorset .. © Linda Hobden

An environmental time bomb is ticking away in the Red sea, where over a million barrels of crude oil may very soon leak into its waters, and the world is looking on, seemingly powerless. Perhaps powerless is not the right word. The world certainly possesses the power. What it lacks is the will.

The Ras Isa oil terminal sits forty miles north of Hodeidah, a city controlled by Houthi rebels in Yemen’s protracted civil war. Central to the terminal’s operations is the FSO Safer, a Floating Storage & Offloading vessel.  362 metres in length, it was originally built as a supertanker in 1976, before conversion to its present role in 1987.

Since 1988 it has been stationed in Yemen – that’s thirty three years of sitting in seawater with a particularly high salinity rating and, for the last five or six years, since the onset of the civil war, it has received little or no maintenance. Its physical condition is deteriorating rapidly and there have already been breaches to its engine compartment, though not yet to its tanks, which currently hold 1.148 million barrels of crude oil, or approximately 157,000 tonnes. For comparison, the Exxon Valdez was merely carrying around 35,000 tonnes when it met with disaster.

FSO Safer … © Maasmondmaritime Flickr


Years of neglect have taken their toll. There are no reliable estimates of the present thickness of the Safer’s hull, but it is not unreasonable to assume that it is down to its last few millimetres in certain places, masked by the presence of a generous coating of marine encrustation. And those who recognise black humour will not be shocked by the irony in its name. 

All interested parties, including Yemen’s warring factions and the proxy belligerents of Saudi Arabia and Iran, understand the imminent threat of a catastrophic oil spill, but years of UN dialogue and negotiation shows no sign of resolution. Iran, naturally, will not rein in its Houthi partners, but Iran is nothing if not pragmatic, so a deal must be doable. 

As ever, money is central to the impasse. 1.148 million barrels of oil are worth just shy of fifty million dollars at current market prices – a sizeable chunk of money the Houthis are laying sole claim to. And while they are receiving no financial guarantees, they are not permitting UN access to the vessel. They are also dropping strong hints that they have mined the waters around it and rigged it internally with IEDs. 

Red Sea © Veronica Reverse

Needless to say, the Red sea is an ecological wonderland containing one of the world’s largest and most important coral reefs. Its currents and winds alternate in summer and winter, switching between northbound and southbound. An oil spill will either spread north along the shores of the Red sea’s littoral countries, or south to the coastlines of Djibouti and Somalia, and then out into the wider Indian ocean, where prevailing currents may sweep it down the coast of east Africa. 

The world’s interests in the Safer are being led by the UN, which perversely presents it with an opportunity to demonstrate a purpose beyond being a mere talking-shop. We must not entirely blame the UN though, which is rendered toothless without the committed backing of its member nations, whose political classes use it as a convenient scapegoat for their own inaction and a buffer to hide behind.

The world possesses everything it needs to prevent an unmitigated disaster. It has the military power to secure the location and the technical expertise to secure the ship and its cargo.  

Red Sea Coastline © Fahd Ahmed via Unsplash


Now is surely the perfect opportunity for the world’s political leaders to show their mettle and the UN to demonstrate its raison d’être. Our rulers face a stark choice. Either they can choose to take action and firmly back the UN, or once again they can look away and wring their hands before tapping out the usual platitudes on twitter …

www.carlosluxul.com

The climactic disaster scenario of my novel, The Ocean Dove, is rooted in plausibility and could so easily happen, though I sincerely hope it doesn’t. Meanwhile, back in real life, the Safer disaster is just waiting to happen if the world fails to act.  

For pinning later. Original photo by Francesco Ungaro – Unsplash

Thank you Carlos for an interesting article and bringing the plight of FSO Safer to our attention. And readers, don’t forget to read Carlos Luxul’s book , Ocean Dove , and my interview with Carlos too:

An Interview With Author Carlos Luxul

Linda x

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An Interview With Janelle Soong

What do pharmacists really do? Some people view them as people who just dish out pills; but there is a lot more to the pharmacy world than that. Pharmacy graduate Janelle Soong has just written a book that explains what working in a pharmacy is really about as well as true anecdotes from pharmacy school. It really is a well written eye opener of a book and reading the book, I discovered the amount of work that the pharmacist does, their expertise is second to none, and I cringed at some of the stories too! I invited Janelle to join us on my blog to chat about her life as a pharmacy graduate, her likes & loves, and whether she has taken the title of author in her stride! Hi Janelle!

Hello readers, I’m Janelle and it’s such a pleasure to be featured on Linda’s blog. I’m a Pharmacy (MPharm) graduate from King’s College London and the author of “Let Sleeping Pharmacists Lie”. Frankly, I’m still trying to get over the bit where I get to call myself an author – I don’t think it’ll ever lose its novelty! “Let Sleeping Pharmacists Lie” is my first book and I am so excited to share it with you. The short author bio on the back cover of the paperback will tell youthat I am an aspiring puppy parent and cake fiend. Both of those things are absolutely true.

Who or what inspired you to write your collection of funny yet true anecdotes from your Pharmacy School and from working in the healthcare sector itself? 

Sometimes, pharmacy can be a field where public perceptions don’t always do the profession justice. This is something that became more and more apparent to me as I progressed through my degree and gained a better understanding of the industry. Personally, I think this is simply a case of misinformation and a lack of awareness that has festered over the years – both easily curable. This book is me doing my bit to help elevate the profile of pharmacists in the media. I believe the world needs to know what pharmacists are truly capable of before we can get anywhere near changing these misconceptions.

The World of Pharmacy has always had its misconceptions – unfortunately a lot of people do think pharmacists are just there to “count the pills”.  Your book highlighted the diversity of pharmacy as a career too, especially when you described your degree course programme.  I found the book interesting as well as entertaining.  Do you have a “favourite” misconception?

Oh, I have so many personal favourites – the chapter titled “How to Annoy Your Pharmacist” probably sums them all up in one little package. Generally speaking, I think there tends to be an opinion that pharmacists (and many other healthcare disciplines) take their instructions from doctors without offering any clinical input of their own. This could not be further from the truth in the context of modern healthcare. Doctors and pharmacists are trained very differently to one another, as I came to realise at university. Sure, there may have been some overlap when covering the fundamentals like basic physiology and chemistry – but otherwise, my course material was worlds apart from what the medics were studying. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this is something that is very much reflected in the nature of the jobs where different skillsets are paramount to performing them well. 

Were there any aspects of writing your book that surprised you, pleasantly or otherwise?  

Writing (and publishing) my first book opened a whole new world of learning to me, specifically around the process of self-publishing. This was all very new to me, as self-publication was not something I had explored on any level prior to this. If anything, it made me realise how much the publishing industry has progressed in barely any time at all. On the writing front, I discovered that I can be a bit neurotic when it comes to editing. Naturally, I owe this to my perfectionist nature, so this hardly came as a surprise. I’m sure you know the feeling well, being a blogger yourself – “Maybe I’ll just tweak it once more!” Of course, “once more” is never really once. Make it about three or five more times if I’m feeling extra paranoid that day.

I had also heard from the Twitter writing community that it is dangerously easy to become blind to your own material. Having spent so much time on it, creating and polishing it within an inch of its life, I definitely found my eyes glazing over when I went through it for what must have been the hundredth time. Putting it aside (and on a dusty shelf in the back of my mind)  for a week did me a world of good – coming back to it with fresh eyes helped me instantly spot errors that I had simply failed to see before. The Twitter folk were right on that one.

What did you enjoy most about Pharmacy School, your degree course and working a pharmacy dealing with customers? What were the downsides? 

I was always a bit of a chemistry nerd at school, so I loved that it was very much a core element of Pharmacy. We had modules around drug design, formulation and drug delivery – I fell in love with this unique blend of physics and chemistry that make all sorts of clinical breakthroughs possible. It was these pharmaceutical science modules that made me curious about the pharmaceutical industry, and more importantly, the way it influences clinical prescribing. I think that this is one of the highlights of being a pharmacist – having the expertise to understand the situation from both the patient and the drug development/supply angles, whether it’s a clinical problem or a manufacturing problem. I enjoyed my course very much indeed, and I would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the profession. I only wish there could have been more clinical placement opportunities for pharmacy students. In comparison to other healthcare degrees, these were far and few between but they were valuable learning opportunities – some of my favourite memories from my Pharmacy degree are from my time spent on clinical placements.

Have you always wanted to have a career in pharmacy or did you have other aspirations? 

Quite honestly, Pharmacy was something I fell into. I had aspirations to attend conservatoire and become a professional classical violinist, as I had grown up attending a music specialist school. The kind of school where no questions were asked if students had to skip academic lessons to attend music rehearsals, and the level of music training required made academics look like a very optional hobby. I had always had it in mind that I would go on to pursue a musical career full-time, but ultimately decided against it due to a combination of reasons.  I was a fairly academic student and I knew I enjoyed science, particularly chemistry. I was also curious about the applications of science in drug development, so pharmacy seemed like a very natural choice at the time. It’s funny how you wind up on certain paths in life that were never in the cards not too long ago.

Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book? 

Absolutely, though I am one of those people who partake in the whole “I wish I had more time to read!” I have always loved to read, but I have spent more time reading textbooks than any other kind of publication in the past few years – I guess I have university to thank for that. If I had to pick a genre, I’d say that non-fiction psychology fascinates me the most. I thoroughly enjoyed “Quiet” by Susan Cain, and recently read “The Cinderella Complex” by Colette Dowling, which I found extremely eye-opening. I enjoy a bit of humour from time to time too – I’m currently reading “This is Going to Hurt” by Adam Kay and I think he has a wonderful writing voice. I’d recommend it to anyone.

Is “Let Sleeping Pharmacists Lie” available to purchase worldwide?

Yup, it is available on Amazon marketplaces worldwide as a Kindle ebook or as a paperback – if you’re like me and prefer to curl up with a physical book whose pages I can fiddle with as I read.

You have a blog called TheNellyBean – what is the origins of the title? What do you enjoy most about blogging? 

My blog has turned into a bit of a hot mess – in the sense that I now write about anything that takes my fancy; I like to think of it as an online diary where I get to be unabashedly myself. I wanted the title to reflect this, so I brainstormed words that came to mind when I thought of the things I enjoy in life. I’m a big fan of sweets and desserts, so I decided to combine “jellybean” and “Nelly” (a mildly embarrassing childhood nickname). “Thenellybean” was born. Thankfully, the domain name was available. 

I love that blogging allows me to reach all sorts of people who find themselves able to relate to my content in one way or another. The community can be so kind and supportive too, so that’s a big plus in my eyes.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I’m a big fan of skinny jeans and ankle boots. I’ve found that as I prioritise comfort so much more now, so a good pair of trainers are always a winner in my books. On the other hand, I do enjoy a preppy look (blame the private school upbringing), so I’ll pair a floaty button down with my favourite tan leather loafers or some brogues from time to time.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I adore Primark. I love that it’s a one-stop shop for all my wardrobe needs and I’ve never had trouble with the quality or fit of their clothes. Though I think investing in some decent trainers is a must, as I run fairly regularly. Skechers have never failed me.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

I’m keeping an eye out for a nice pair of sleek black riding boots. I just think there’s something so elegant about them.

Boots or Shoes?

This is like asking me to choose between chocolate and fruit-based desserts. I’m indecisive and love my boots as well as shoes, so I’ll have to say both!

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

For Pinning Later

Blog: https://thenellybean.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/janelle_thenellybean/?hl=en

Twitter: https://twitter.com/thenellybean

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/j_thenellybean/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thenellybean/

Book link on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08BZQVF4C

Thanks for chatting with me today Janelle. Your “Boots Or Shoes?” answer was spot on. It is difficult to pick, and if the choice had been chocolate or fruit based dessert, then I would also have said , “ A bit of both, please”. Dare I say, what about cake??? ! Thank you also Janelle for the copy of your book. I enjoyed it immensely.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Janelle Soong.

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Spotlight On The Money Box Tree

You’ve most probably heard the saying, “Money doesn’t grow on trees” …. well, my guest this week is out to prove that money DOES grow on trees, especially when it involves the Money Box Tree. The Money Box Tree is a cleverly designed flat “savings” tree that hangs on the wall … savers can see their money “grow” when they add their pound coins or dollars or euros. The creator, Jackie Swainston, is my guest today …. Hi Jackie!

I’m Jackie Swainston, a fun-loving older mum of two young teenagers. I’m an artist and graphic designer by trade, but I’m also interested in being money mindful, reducing waste and being as eco-friendly as I can.

 What inspired you to create the MoneyBox Tree?

When I had my children, I became aware of the amount we as parents spend on unnecessary rubbish – far too many plastic toys and gadgets – and how we inadvertently pass those values to our kids. I wanted to teach mine that they didn’t have to buy into the ‘I want it now’ culture. I wanted them to learn the true value of money, not only the importance of saving and to try to waste less… but also that it can be a fun and enjoyable pursuit. 

I got so fed up with uttering the phrase “Money doesn’t grow on trees!” when my kids pestered me for stuff in shops, it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps I could make money grow for them. An idea started to formulate and before I knew it, I’d sketched out a design for a flat moneybox with a clear front, so that money was visible. I made it tree-shaped so that the coins could drop into the ‘trunk’ and grow right to the top where the leaves and branches are. I created several designs on the back, punctuated by different amounts of money so kids could see when they’d reached £20, £40 and £60 and so on, one coin at a time. It’s so simple but very effective. Children love to see their money literally grow. 

What designs/colour choices are currently most popular?

I put so much care and thought into each and every design as that is what sparks young imaginations. Making saving fun like never before is what we want to build into the brand.We research current trends and try to incorporate those values into all that we do.

 WACKY TREE our best seller!

The WACKY TREE Money Box Tree is designed to appeal to those who love crazy colours. It will help build confidence and understanding, whatever the pocket money saving goals. In addition to being educational, the WACKY TREE Money Box Tree features lovable characters hiding among the branches. Each cute character will help everyone climb the top to success. Bright, bold, weird and wonderful, don’t ask us what kind of creatures they are … it’s a mystery!
Busy Town – Visit the Busy Town community, it’s where we all help one another. Make your way up that winding road and amazing things will happen. Save your precious coins for a sunny day and get to the top of the hill, then look down on all the lovable characters you met along the way. Remember change is good!
Magic Unicorn  – Magic Unicorns and fairies are what little people dream about. With their help you will magically resist the temptation to waste your shiny pounds and stop them disappearing down a rabbit hole. These sweet faces will watch over you as you save and reach the rainbow at the top of the waterfall. Good luck on your magic mission. 
The Bank of Mum and Dad – Bank of Mum and Dad says it’s a big world out there, so be street-savvy and stash your dosh away for a rainy day. Ratty will guard your booty, but have you got what it takes to count up a cool 100 pound or euro coins?

How much coinage can each MoneyBox Tree hold? 

Each tree holds 100 pound or euro coins. As soon as you get to the top, you can visit your bank, deposit the money and start over again. You don’t have to smash it like you do some money boxes. It’s totally reusable. 

From what age do you recommend teaching children about saving money?

With credit cards, online and contactless payments, money has become a virtual concept. Kids can pay with plastic as young as six! Parents and professionals are concerned that this is building bad habits. Children can get the hang of money earlier than you think. From three or four years old, let them handle coins. They can stack them into piles for fun and see how high they can make them. Then have fun  knocking them down. Hide coins in a room and get them to find them. Play shops and introduce the idea of how much money things cost in a simplistic way. As they get older, they’ll quickly get the hang of saving for things they really want.

Any ideas to make saving money fun?

It’s always good to have a goal. Kids love to have a sense of achievement. Make chores and tasks a  game (who can make their bed the quickest?) and then reward them with a coin they can pop into a  moneybox or savings account. Make it as visible as possible, with a MoneyBox Tree or even a simple chart on the wall so they can see how much ‘treasure’ they’ve collected.

When thinking of the designs to add to your MoneyBox Tree collection, do you select by what  has proved popular in the past, current trends, customer requests, personal preferences or all of  those things?

I look at trends in fashion and design for inspiration. I’m guided a bit by what has been popular previously, but I like to innovate as well, so the company is always pushing forward with new ideas and is never boring.

Is your career background mainly design or financial field or neither?  

I come from a design background, drawing was and is my first love. But I wanted to have my own business from a young age and a sense of control over my own destiny. This was borne out of an insecurity of not doing well at school. I’m passionate about people building savings and creating a secure future for themselves. I feel strongly that money skills should be taught in schools and that we should all have a strong understanding interest rates, and how mortgages and credit cards work. I think there would be far less debt in society if everyone understood how to manage money properly.

Can you remember the first thing you saved up to buy?

Worthy as it sounds, I did save most of my money to get my first mortgage, even in my teens! However, I do love clothes and spent some of my hard-earned cash on a gorgeous suede jacket that I wore until it fell apart, and a few singles (remember those?) of the Vamps, Chrissie Hynde, the Sex Pistols and Nick Cave.

Looking towards the future – have you got other savings items or themes in the pipeline to add in addition to the MoneyBox Tree themes you already sell? 

I’m constantly innovating and yes there are new products in the pipeline, both digital and physical, but they’re top secret at the moment, all I can say is that it will be character based!  I’ll come back and share those with you when I can.

 As you are based in England, is the MoneyBox Tree available overseas? 

I am UK based, but I’ll ship to anywhere in the world, at the moment we produce only to fit one pound or euro coins … but can adapt to any market . 

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I’m a classics girl with simple tastes. I live in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, which is a rural spa town, so I wear clothes suitable for being in town and the countryside – usually boots and jeans with a silky shirts and chunky jumpers…. I do love a chunky jumper! I love unusual fabrics and gorgeous scarves though. When I can afford it I go to Stella McCartney, I tend to go for investment pieces that last forever, rather than fast fashion.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

If I could afford it I’d just shop all the time at Stella McCartney. I love her simple aesthetic. Even  though it goes against my ‘slow fashion’ ethic a bit, I also really love Mango and Zara. The clothes are stylish, fun and reasonably priced. It’s all about HOW you wear something… I like to think I look good for my age so can afford to go a bit edgy with my looks.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

I’d love an investment Stella Jacket!

Boots or Shoes?

Definitely boots. It’s mostly boot weather in Harrogate, you can wear a decent pair boots with anything,  even shorts. I have a spaniel, Jess who loves a muddy walk through the woods. Only boots will do really. You are always ready for anything if you are wearing your boots!

For Pinning Later


Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc so that readers can find out more about CoinIt-In and the MoneyBox Trees.

To find out more about the best gift you can give a child go to https://www.coinit-in.com/ 

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I think the Money Tree is a fab idea – thank you Jackie for showing us your trees and giving us ideas of how to save money as a family.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of CoinIt-In.Com

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An Interview With Poet Kamand Kojouri

Poetry this evening, my friends. I love poetry. I love reading poetry out loud – doesn’t matter if nobody else is around, poetry just needs to be read out loud. Poetry just sums up emotions and situations. My guest this week is the gorgeous Iranian poet Kamand Kojouri. Her poetry is a breath of fresh air. Her poems have been read on the radio, in sermons in churches and synagogues, used as lyrics for a rock song, and even her poem about Aleppo, “Heaven And Hell” was placed next to James P Graham’s stunning artwork at his Desacration exhibition at Biblioteca Vallicelliana in Rome. Praise indeed. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Kamand’s 2nd collection, “God, Does Humanity Exist?” Having devoured the book word for word, I had some questions for the poet herself …. so hi Kamand!

Hi! I’m Kamand, an Iranian poet and writer living in the UK. I’ve written two poetry books and I’m currently writing a historical novel for my creative writing PhD programme.

I write to raise awareness about the injustices in the world, to remind us that we are all responsible for one another, and to instil hope and love into our lives.

What inspired you to write poetry?

It’s quite simple, really: I fell in love…

My brothers, Hafez and Khayyam, are also named after the great Persian poets. When we were little, my brother,Khayyam, would receive at least one collection of Omar Khayyam’s poems as a birthday gift. My mother often recites lines from poems mid-conversation as well, so poetry had always been an intrinsic, albeit dormant, part of my life. Funnily enough, the literal translation of my name (Kamand) is a lasso. But Kamand is actually an ornamental word used in Persian poetry to describe long beautiful hair.

“God, Does Humanity Exist?” was published on 2 March 2020 — your 2nd collection of poems focusing on suffering, resistance, and hope. I personally enjoyed reading the poems out loud. Actually, I don’t know if I can read poetry any other way. I truly believe poetry is also better understood by reading out loud. Interesting title to your book though, Kamand. So, was it hard to think up a title for your poetry collection that seemed to encapsulate the verses contained within? Why did you pick the title?

My collection is divided into four sections: Cries of Common Pain, Call to Action, Songs of Hope, and Echoes of Hope. It includes urgent poems about the devastation of war, the refugee crisis, the dangers of silence, mass shootings, the atrocities being committed across the pond and even the ones on our doorstep… And although the poems are rooted in dark realities, ultimately the message is one of love and togetherness.

I remember brainstorming ideas for the title and discussing it with my twin sister and my father. I decided to go with God, Does Humanity Exist?  and my father said that it was very interesting but perhaps sounded a bit pessimistic, and that was far from my intention. In order to eliminate any ambiguities about the title, I added an author’s note at the beginning of the book that explained my reasoning. The idea is that for thousands of years people have been asking “Does God Exist?” I wanted to turn this age-old question on its head and ask God, whether humanity exists. Of course, I don’t doubt humanity’s existence, but I want us to think, speak, and act more humanely—with more compassion, empathy, and understanding. So the title is meant to make us think, and it’s also meant to make us act.

It was hard for me to pick a favourite poem from this collection — it was a tie between “We Don’t Find God” & “ Writers Aren’t Alchemists”. Do you have a particular favourite? 

My favourite poem is “We Are, Each of Us, Refugees”. Whenever I’m reading it out loud by the time I get to this last stanza I get quite emotional:  

When home turns into hell,

you, too, will run

with tears in your eyes screaming rescue me!

and then you’ll know for certain:

you’ve always been a refugee.

Have you always hoped for a career in poetry/ creative writing or did your career aspirations as a child lie elsewhere? 

I always wanted to become a doctor to help people. As I became older, I chose neurosurgery as a speciality. I studied sciences in my undergraduate years and volunteered at a big hospital in downtown Toronto. One day one of my patients asked me to read to her. From that day on, I started renting out books from the library to read during my lunch breaks, and that’s when I fell in love with reading. It was a bit daunting because I had envisioned my entire life as a neurosurgeon but then all of a sudden I had found this ardent passion for reading and writing. I remember trying to intellectualise my decision—making a list of pros and cons for each career. I showed my friends and family the list and discussed it with them. It was a big risk but I decided I could still help people with my writing and I thought that I’d be doing something that truly complemented my soul. The greatest thing about pursuing a career in writing is that you become a life-long philomath. You develop this hunger to learn, and the more you read and the more you write, you realise how very little it is you know.  

Born in Tehran, raised in Dubai & Toronto, currently residing in Wales; you have been to places that must have influenced your writing somewhere along the line. Hypothetically speaking, if you were able to visit any place in the world to get inspiration for a new collection of poems, where would you go and why?

That’s such an interesting question! My mother’s greatest passion is travelling. Every summer, she’d try to take my siblings and me to a new country. I have visited around forty countries and I think I don’t necessarily need to visit a place to get inspiration from there. For instance, the novel I’m currently writing takes place in three different cities that I have yet to visit.

I think it ultimately depends on what you have in your heart and your mind at the time of travelling. A few years ago, there was a revival of a very popular musical (based on Victor Hugo’s novel) in Paris called Notre-Dame de Paris. At the time I was doing my Master’s programme in London, so I hopped on the Eurostar to see it on opening night. I’d been to Paris a few times prior, so I planned to revisit my favourite places (the cathedral, Place du Tertre in Montmartre etc.) and a couple of new museums. I had taken a collection of Hafez’s poems with me and I remember being so inspired by the beauty (the music, architecture, paintings and sculptures) that I filled a small journal with Sufi poems. It’s uncanny to think that I wrote my most spiritual poems whilst on a trip to Paris to see a musical… Anywhere in the world that has beautiful artwork, a little bit of nature, a place of worship (like a temple or a church—perhaps it has something to do with the higher vibrational frequencies), inspires me. And if I go to a classical concert when I’m there, then I’m in heaven.

Are you a Bookworm?

I’m definitely a bookworm, but because of my OCD I’m quite a neurotic reader. That’s why I used to dislike reading as a child. What it means now is that I’m not a fast reader, because I like to highlight beautiful lines and often rewrite them into a journal. My favourite genre is poetry and I also love philosophical novels. I have too many favourite authors!My favourite poets include Nizar Qabbani, Rumi, Pablo Neruda, and E.E. Cummings. Favourite writers: Javier Marias, Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, Sarah Waters, and Anton Chekhov.

It’s funny because I bought my dad a Kindle (he reads many books concurrently like I do) but he regifted it back to me. I haven’t used it in years as I prefer actual books.

Is “God, Does Humanity Exist?” available to purchase worldwide?

Yes, it’s available on all the Amazon websites in paperback and eBook. It’s also available on Barnes & Noble and third-party booksellers online. For every copy sold, a tree is planted in Sub-Saharan Africa to help provide families with food, income, and a sustainable way of life. All of the royalties will also go to children’s charities in Iran.

Which other forms of writing, other than poetry, would you love to try your hand at? Songwriting, thriller, children’s books? 

I would love to write a children’s book one day! 

A brilliant American composer used my poem “War on Silence” to compose a piece for a choir recently, and a band used my poem “They Want Us to Be Afraid” as lyrics for one of their songs. Music is one of my greatest passions as well so I’d love to try my hand at songwriting—best of both worlds.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I’m always in business casual and a pair of black suede ankle boots, unless I’m going to a nice dinner or jazz night then I’m in stilettos.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I lived in Canada for about eight years so my favourite shop is Aritzia, a Canadian boutique.

 What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

I don’t have a wish list right now, but I’d be very happy to purchase a bright-coloured top in-store because that’d mean that the pandemic is over and we can celebrate summer.

Boots or Shoes?

Heeled ankle boots all the way! I’m average height but my twin sister is much taller than me and my brothers tower over me so I like the extra bit of heel.

For Pinning later

Links you would like to share e.g. website/Facebook etc

Instagram: www.instagram.com/KamandKojouri

Twitter: www.twitter.com/KamandKojouri

Facebook: www.facebook.com/KamandKojouri

Linked-In: www.linkedin.com/in/KamandKojouri

Website: www.KamandKojouri.com

Thank you very much Kamand for chatting to us today. Thanks also for the copy of your fabulous poetry book and thanks also to Ben Cameron. All photographs have been published with kind permission of Kamand Kojouri.

Linda x

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10 Essential Oils To Help You Sleep

Have you noticed that cats have the ability to sleep anywhere at any time? Sleep is critical to our physical health and the effective function of our immune system. COVID-19 has made a severe impact – a lot of people are finding it hard to sleep let alone getting the quality sleep that they need. According to a recent national sleep survey by The Sleep Council, 75% of people surveyed said that the current situation is affecting their sleep patterns; 77% said that the lack of sleep is interfering with their daytime functionality – they are experiencing daytime fatigue, poor concentration and low mood. The survey also found that women find it harder to fall asleep than men.

I must admit, I don’t have any trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep – even if I wake up in the night to use the toilet, I can fall back to sleep again relatively quickly. My husband is the complete opposite, though. So, what can you do to try and help get to sleep – a cool bedroom, a hot milky bedtime drink, reading a book, listening to an audiobook, listening to an app of calming sounds, listening to the radio, soft chilled music, darkened room, blackout curtains, hot bath before bed, sleeping tablets ….. there are various ideas you can try.

Essential oils, like any other medicine, can have a powerful effect and can chemically alter the body. There are many oils to help aid relaxation, help induce sleep naturally and safely without the side-effects of medication. Aromatherapy specialists, Base Formula, have compiled a list of their top 10 recommended essential oils that are known to help aid sleep and to ease stress:

  • VALERIAN ROOT ☑️ Top choice for a restful night’s sleep because it has calming, tranquilising properties. ✖️It has a distinct, pungent aroma which might put you off!
  • CLARY SAGE ☑️ Powerful relaxant. ☑️ Particularly good for stress related problems ✖️ Do not use if you have consumed alcohol ✖️ Do not use if you are pregnant.
Clary Sage & Lavender Essential Oil. © Studio Forty Seven
  • ROMAN CHAMOMILE. ☑️ Soothing and calming both physically and mentally. ☑️ Anti-depressant. ☑️ Particularly good if you are nervous or stressed.
  • SANDALWOOD ☑️ Meditative qualities that help to quieten and sedate the mind.
  • VETIVERT ☑️ Deeply relaxing. ☑️ Known as the oil of tranquility ☑️ Is an immuno-stimulant so it helps in combatting stress without becoming ill.
Lavender Lovelliness © Border In A Box. www.borderinabox.com
  • LAVENDER ☑️ Calming, anti- depressant – commonly used to aid sleep.
  • PATCHOULI ☑️ Soothing ☑️ Slightly hypnotic effect ☑️ Calms an over active mind.
  • FRANKINCENSE ☑️ Deeply calming & uplifting ☑️ Traditionally used as an incense
Gumleaf Essentials Frankincense Essential Oil © Buckley And Phillips
  • GERANIUM ☑️ Has anti-depressant, uplifting qualities ✖️Avoid use during pregnancy
  • YLANG YLANG ☑️ Soothing & uplifting ☑️ Particularly good for anger, shock, fear and anxiety. ☑️ Can help to slow over-rapid breathing and easing heart palpitations.

HOW TO USE THE ESSENTIAL OILS

  • In the bath
  • Massage
  • Aromatherapy Diffuser
  • Candles
  • Pillow spritz
  • Steam Inhalation
  • Cotton pad or tissue with a couple of drops of lavender & frankincense, placed inside your pillowcase.
For Pinning Later

FOR ESSENTIAL OILS & FURTHER INFORMATION

http://www.baseformula.com

http://www.buckleyandphillips.com

http://www.studiofortyseven.co.uk

Linda x

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AN Interview With Marlene Watson-Tara

Continuing on my healthy living theme this month, this week I’m chatting to Marlene Watson-Tara – author of “Go Vegan”, co-founder of the “Human Ecology Project”, Health councillor, teacher and expert in the field of plant-based nutrition. It was Marlene’s book “Go Vegan” that was the inspiration for my potato dish blogpost recently (view HERE). So, it is with great excitement that I welcome Marlene onto my blog….hi Marlene!

Hi! I’m Marlene, a long-time vegan, activist, lover of animals, nature and life and passionate about human ecology. As an eternal optimist, increasing the number of people worldwide to switch to a wholefood plant-based diet and vegan life is my mission. Together with my husband Bill Tara, we have created The Human Ecology Project. 

As a high profiled and dedicated health counsellor and teacher with over 40 years’ experience in the health industry, my dietary advice draws from the fields of Macrobiotic Nutrition, my studies in Traditional Chinese Medicine and my certification in Plant- Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.

My clients range from the movies and arts to members of royal families. In the last 10 years I have been teaching chefs the art and skill of wholefood plant-based cooking and nutrition. As a regular columnist for many health magazines and websites I share my knowledge on living healthily. My vast experience informs a body of knowledge that I eagerly share with the world.

As the international author of Macrobiotics for all Seasons and my latest book Go Vegan  I share information that is simple, direct and effective, along with delicious recipes and medicinal teas. I teach alongside my husband Bill Tara. We have graduates from our “Macrobiotic Vegan Health Coach Programme” in 27 countries. I’m a driving force for health and fitness to all who cross her path. Our “Ultimate Health Experience” workshops have been offered in Europe, America, and Australia

My favourite saying – “If you don’t look after your body, then where are you going to live?”

Being a long time vegan, what inspired you to embrace the vegan lifestyle?

On school holidays my family would go to the countryside and it always seemed such a sad time when all the lambs were taken from the fields and loaded onto trucks.  As I grew into my teens, I had health issues with skin, digestion and menstrual pain. As I wouldn’t eat meat, I ate mostly dairy.  When I changed my diet to completely plant-based all these health issues disappeared.  When you connect the dots with diet and the development of disease, there is no turning back. When you look behind the curtain to the scale of what happens globally to our animal kingdom you cannot pretend to not know what is there. 


As you are an author of “Macrobiotic For All Seasons” and “Go Vegan”, surely you must have a favourite tried and tested recipe?  Do you prefer cooking “main meals”, desserts or are you a baker?

I find it exciting to create new recipes and train chefs and home cooks utilizing my seasonal menus and cooking skills, using the five tastes. My favourite creations are soups, I live and love them daily. From my delicious creamy decadence soups to the bean comforting cozy stews, soup is a daily staple in our home.

Food historians tell us the history of soup is probably as old as the history of cooking. The act of combining various ingredients in a pot to create a nutritious, filling, simple to make meal was inevitable. Healthy and healing soups are part of the cooking traditions in every country.

I always try and prepare my soup from fresh, organic, in season, and ideally local ingredients. Whether your ingredients are coming freshly grown from your own garden or you’ve bought them directly from the farmers’ market, making the connection between the food you eat, and your local environment is important. The food we eat is part of our cultural identity. Eating local foods helps produce a more resilient and sustainable future, both for yourself and for future generations.

Recently in my local supermarket there has been a promotional “push” towards plant-based meals. As you are an expert in the field of plant-based nutrition, what do you feel are the main benefits to follow a vegan/plant-based diet?

Thankfully, the popularity of plant-based diets has grown, which makes this an easier era than ever to start. Can I Get Enough Nutrients on a Plant-Based Diet? This is always the number one question that I am asked. Yes, and it’s easier than you’d think to consume these essential nutrients. You just need to know where to get them. For example, Omega-3 fatty acids often come from animal-based sources like fish. However, you can also get an ample supply from hemp seeds, flax, chia, and walnuts. It’s merely about understanding the alternative ways to get the nutrition you need.

Plant-based/vegan diets have been linked to a number of health benefits, including reducing your risk of heart disease, certain cancers, obesity, diabetes and cognitive decline. Plus, transitioning to a more plant-based diet is an excellent choice for the planet and will end the death and suffering of our animal kingdom. Two billion animals are slaughtered daily for food. There is no need, we receive all the nutrients we require from plants. At the end of the day, the largest and strongest animals in the world are vegan, giraffes, elephants etc., they get their nutrients from the same source we as vegans do… from the plants.

Having received a copy of “Go Vegan”, I was impressed by the range of recipes – the ingredients were not too daunting or difficult to obtain; the cooking instructions were easy to follow; and the glossary was a godsend especially when I came across an ingredient I had never heard of. Was it difficult to put together suitable recipes that lived up to your ethos?  

Eating from my ethos is simple and doable for everyone. 95% of what constitutes my approach is obtainable from most supermarkets. Grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Foods like miso, tofu, and even some dried sea vegetables are now available in supermarkets. This makes my heart sing to see this growth year on year. One or two of the condiments I use are available from natural food stores or online. My teaching of plant-based/vegan nutrition is based on my teachings of Macrobiotics, a wonderful philosophy that teaches us that everything is connected, animal, plant, human, environment.  When I create and cook all of these considerations are always there. 


As you are currently based in the UK, is “Go Vegan” available to purchase worldwide? 

Yes, Go Vegan is available world-wide on amazon. U.K. and US 

You currently teach alongside your husband, Bill Tara, your MACROVegan Health Coach Programme.  Sounds intriguing. In a nutshell, what does that involve? 

We now have students who have travelled from 27 countries to study and graduate as a MACROVegan Health Coach. We see this as switching on lighthouses around the world. We now have students studying with us online which is fantastic. Our students leave as proficient and amazing cooks as well as wonderful health coaches. It makes our heart sing as more and more graduate and teach this work.

MACROVegan Health Coach Course

The dramatic rise in degenerative disease attributed to diet and lifestyle has created a demand for solutions to disease prevention and personal health maintenance. What is called for is a new generation of men and women who are capable of offering practical advice on how to live a healthy life in modern society. 

During the two weeks of study you will have the opportunity to learn the techniques of effective Health Coaching and experience the power of healthy living. You will leave prepared to be a more effective promoter of natural health care and set up practice as a Professional Macrobiotic Health Coach.    

The Macrobiotic Vegan Health Coach curriculum has been designed by Bill Tara, co-founder of the Kushi Institute, creator of the International Macrobiotic Institute (Kiental, Switzerland) curriculum and designer of the American and European Kushi Institute Teacher Certification Programmes along with his wife Marlene Watson-Tara who is certified in Plant Based Nutrition. 

This is a rare opportunity to study with teachers who are expert consultants and draw on decades of practical experience. Macrobiotic philosophy serves as the foundation of these studies and provides the link between the disciplines and life skills we will explore together.  This course also offers additional tools to enhance professional or Para-professional skills in both the orthodox or complimentary health and healing arts.

The Modules

Health, Healing and Human Ecology

Health and Emotion / East and West

Traditions of Nutrition

Wholefoods Plant Based Cooking & Home Remedies

Health Assessment

Principles and Practice of Health Coaching

When you are not working, what activities do you enjoy, to relax and unwind? 

I adore growing my own vegetables, and love being in nature. I am an avid and longtime yogi, (my daily practice keeps me in check) and miss teaching yoga, one day, I will have my own studio again. I adore cycling with Bill and of course, reading and writing, and I am currently working on my next book.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I live in yoga gear… always cycling, doing yoga, or working at my desk here so casual and comfort works for me. 

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?  

Yes, I love https://bambooclothing.co.uk

I always purchase clothing using cotton, hemp, linen, etc., More and more companies offer these wonderful alternatives for vegan and ethical clothing. I love Matt & Nat for more dress shoes and bags and Wills London for my backpack and casual shoes and have boots from both of them. 

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

A new Ciao Bella – I adore feminine frilly dresses on the search. My next pair of yoga toe sandals from Supplefeet are on the list. They are fantastic, I have worn them for years and they keep your fee in great shape. 

Boots or Shoes? 

I love my chunky rubber sole sneakers, they look great with jeans, yoga gear, shorts and casual dresses. They are my first choice daily for comfort.

My Chelsea boots are my second choice…they are so versatile and can be worn in all seasons.

For pinning later

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter/ instagram etc so that readers can find out more about you and Go Vegan.

Website, Instagram, facebook, you tube, linked In, twitter, 

www.macrovegan.org

https://www.instagram.com/macroveganinternational/

https://facebook.com/marlenewatsontaragovegan/

https://www.youtube.com/user/Molly19571/videos?view=0&sort=p&flow=grid&disable_polymer=true

https://www.linkedin.com/feed/

Thanks Marlene for an interesting chat and you have given me and my readers “food for thought”.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Marlene Watson-Tara

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An Interview With Dean Hodgkin

Keeping your body fit and healthy during lockdown … and for life beyond, is paramount. It’s difficult though and many of us need help to practice social distancing from the fridge, from the wine bottles and from the biscuit barrel. For tips and advice on keeping our bodies fit and healthy and to help us develop an understanding on how to maintain that fitness, I was lucky enough to chat to Dean Hodgkin – Head of Programming on TV Fit, fitness expert, karate champion, writer and speaker. Hi Dean!

Hi! I’m Dean Hodgkin, a veteran of the fitness industry with over 30 years on the clock and with varied experience that includes working in spas, premium health clubs, budget gyms, leisure centres and more recently boutique studios. I’ve co-authoured 2 fitness books written a large number of magazine and newspaper articles and I’ve also appeared in a number of broadcast formats as a health and fitness expert.

You’ve appeared at fitness events in 36 countries and collected the Best International Fitness Presenter at The One Body One World in New York, the ECA International Career Achievement Recognition Award, also in the US, in addition to the Lifetime Achievement award at Europe’s largest group fitness event, the International Fitness Showcase. On top of this you were also 3 times World and 2 times European karate champion so what triggered your love of sport and keeping fit? 

That’s a great question as I’m not sure I’ve ever really analysed my odyssey before! My Father was a semi-pro footballer so when I was very young I would spend every Saturday standing on the touchline, come rain or shine. My elder brother was also a particularly good player so naturally, I followed suit, becoming captain of my school team. There was a brief heartbreak when my Mother forced me to attend the best grammar school in our area – where they didn’t play soccer! However, I threw myself into rugby, again becoming team captain and realised the specific discipline was irrelevant…….I just loved participating in any sport. Like many kids in the 70s, when the Bruce Lee movies hit the cinemas, I was desperate to try martial arts. At first I was too young to join the local karate club so started my journey with judo but transferred as soon as I was allowed. I became absolutely immersed, training in every spare moment and perhaps as a result of such, I became quite proficient. When it became clear that I could actually achieve something through fighting, I began to get involved in fitness training, realising it would help me to perform better, although in those days it was simply running, basic calisthenics and stretching.


Have you always wanted a career in fitness or did your aspirations lie elsewhere?

When I graduated from university in the mid-80’s, the fitness industry in the UK was in a nascent state, concepts and experiences were only just drifting over from the US, so I didn’t view it as a career choice, particularly as fitness training was just something I did for fun. Additionally, having studied mathematics and management studies, my intention was to go into investment banking in the City of London. However, at the time I had already been selected for the British under-21 karate team but realised that to progress to senior level, I’d need to put in some serious graft so I negotiated a ‘gap year’ with my parents, allowing me to put finding a job on hold and instead to train full-time. This 1 year actually turned into 3, during which I spent so much of my time in sports centres and gyms that it occurred to me it would be great if I could combine my choice of vocation with my love of physical activity and so I enrolled on a fitness trainer course and progressed from there.



In your capacity as  Head of Programming on TV Fit ….What would you say are the most popular genre/programmes/classes?

This is a great question as the answer is actually 2 dimensional. In terms of the market, resistance training and high intensity interval training are leading the pack, hence our results-guaranteed STRONGER and LIMITLESS programmes an incredible numb of views. As an individual, however, the most popular workouts are the one’s you’ll actually do so pick what you enjoy, rather than those everyone else seems to be doing, as then you’re much more likely to adhere to it and see the results you desire. Working out shouldn’t feel like a chore, so try many different classes to find your flavour. Remember, exercise isn’t something you do TO your body – it’s something you do FOR your body, so enjoy it.

Which genre/programme/classes is your personal favourite?

Whilst, for obvious reasons, I love STRIKE, I honestly have no favourite so you’re just as likely to find me dancing or lifting weights as shadow-boxing or trying to fold myself into a downward dog. I truly love the freedom of movement exercise brings and enjoy exploring my body through the different physical challenges involved.

Must admit, when exercising, I hate doing “burpees” … even more than push ups!! Which exercise do you dislike the most?

I’m totally with you on that one – I’m pretty sure that a straw poll would result in near unanimous agreement!

Being in lockdown, keeping your body and mind fit and healthy is a must. Any top tips?

Due to the reduced amount of walking within our daily routines, the inability to play sport or go to the gym, the potential stress related to being cooped up with others or perhaps anxiety about future job prospects, I’d argue that exercise has never been more valuable. In addition to burning calories (helping to balance out the extra trips we might be making to the fridge!) the positive impact on mental health has been proven in an abundance of scientific research studies.What’s more, there are huge mood-uplifting benefits of exercising outdoors, something the Government recognised in the lockdown guidance by allowing us to venture outside once each day, so it’s vital to optimise this modicum of temporary freedom. If you’re a runner, fine but if you’re just beginning your fitness journey our SWEATCOIN WALK was created specifically for you, providing a personal trainer in your ear for motivation and visual tips to perfect your technique.Just in case you need further convincing, the father of medicine, Hippocrates, is quoted as declaring, ‘Walking is man’s best medicine’……..and he knew a thing or two about how to stay healthy in both mind and body!

What has been the most unusual Fitness class/ genre you’ve come across?

To be honest, there are way too many to mention! Dog Yoga and Naked Yoga have to be right up there and I still need to be convinced of the value of Napercise. Others include Voga (yep, that’s yoga with a few Madonna shapes thrown in) Kangoofit (bouncing around on boots with springs) Mermaid Fitness (wearing 1 huge flipper) Crowd Surf Ready (for lifters and liftees) High Intensity Interval Painting (sweat then paint then sweat then paint….) etc, etc, etc!


Being a world champion at karate, I can take it that that must be one of, if not your favourite sport. Are there any other sports you take part in or enjoy watching?

I’m a complete sportaholic and regularly achieve nothing of any significance at weekends due to camping out in front of the TV, so the lockdown live sport ban has left me totally disorientated on Saturdays and Sundays. Favourites are rugby, soccer, basketball, MMA, american football, tennis and athletics.

I love shows like Strictly Come Dancing – I especially love watching the Argentine Tango! Hypothetically speaking, if you were to take part, which dance style would you love to try?

I’m also a Strictly addict, primarily as I appreciate the amount of training they put in and the incredible improvement in their performance level through the course of the series. I also watch in wonder at the pros who are so athletic and appear to be excellent at every discipline. I’d love to learn the more technical dances but fear I’d only have a chance of mastering the jive due to it clearly being a fast and very physical challenge for which I hope my years of fitness training have prepared me.

Personal now, what outfits/footwear would you normally wear?

Over the years I have been very fortunate to have been, at different times, sponsored by Nike, Reebok and Puma but now I’m a total brand whore – I’ll purchase and wear whatever takes my fancy.

Boots Or Shoes?

For fitness – high tops for lifting and basketball, lows for dancing and HIIT, barefoot for combat and yoga. Out of the gym, boots in winter and flip-flops for as long as the weather allows.

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Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can learn more about you

www.deanhodgkin.com
https://www.facebook.com/dean.hodgkin.7
https://www.instagram.com/deanhodgkin/

Hmm.. Voga sounds fun but Naked Yoga sounds pretty embarrassing , unless you’re doing it on your own! Ha ha! Thanks for chatting with me Dean – I particularly liked your advice regarding picking a workout that you enjoy rather than one that is trendy and you are doing it “just because”.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Dean Hodgkin

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An Interview With Author Alexandra Franzen

My guest this week is Alexandra Franzen – author, entrepreneur and proud “checklist” freak. Yes, you read that right . Alexandra is a proud “checklist” freak . So much so that she has written a book about checklists and I’m pleased to be part of her latest book tour! So, armed with her latest book “The Checklist Book”, (thank you Alexandra for my copy), I set out to follow Alexandra’s advice ….

  • BOOK SUMMARY. ☑️

Simplicity at its best: The checklist is one of the world’s oldest―and most effective―productivity systems. If anything, author and entrepreneur Alexandra Franzen shares, it is just as valuable now as it was during the days of the Roman Empire. Writing out a simple checklist allows us to tangibly plan our day and set in stone what we want to accomplish.

Cut out unnecessary noise: There are countless apps and organizational systems out there to help us straighten out our lives, but often they only add to the madness. Trying to keep up leaves us feeling drained and overwhelmed. Learn how to choose your highest priorities, set realistic goals, celebrate tiny wins, and feel calmer every day with the magic of checklists.

Be realistic about the time in a day: By physically writing down our tasks on a single piece of paper, we force ourselves to limit how much we can do in a day. Too often, we cram our day with tasks and chores and leave almost no space for self-care or time with loved ones. We end up disappointed in our inability to complete our never-ending to-do list. Checklists help you plan your day in a more gentle, realistic way. You accomplish what needs to be done―and enjoy things you want to be doing, too.

In the life-changing Checklist Book, learn:

The history of the checklist and why it remains to be relevant and effective today

The science behind the success of checklists, such as the instant satisfaction we feel when we put a check next to a finished task

How to create a basic daily checklist―and checklists for specific situations, like moving to a new city or navigating a divorce

Print Length: 160 Pages

Genre: Self-Help

Publisher: Mango 

ASIN: B07V6GWGW5 

ISBN-10: 1642501182

ISBN-13: 978-1642501186

  • THE AUTHOR INTERVIEW ☑️

I was interested in finding out what it was about checklists that fascinated Alexandra …. Hi Alexandra!

Hi there! My name is Alexandra. I’m a writer, consultant, and entrepreneur based in Hawaii. I live in a small, sleepy coastal town on the eastern side of the Big Island. 

My sixth book is The Checklist Book: Set Realistic Goals, Celebrate Tiny Wins, Reduce Stress and Overwhelm, and Feel Calmer Every DayI’ve also written articles for Time, Forbes, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, and Lifehacker.

Hmm, what else? I have a dog named Zuki. I love coffee, maybe too much. I don’t have any social media accounts. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here doing this interview with you today. Thanks for having me!

Your book, “The Checklist Book” is truly eye opening  – I didn’t realize how much you can apply checklists to almost every situation of your life. So why did you decide to write this checklist guide?

I have a lifelong obsession with checklists! 

I love how the act of making a list immediately makes you feel calmer, more organized, and more capable. At least, that’s what happens for my brain. Once things are written down and organized in a list, I feel like, Okay. This is doable.

You write about a range of topics, and you are best known for your short essays. Being the founder of The Tiny Press, a publishing imprint specializing in short books that are around 100 pages long; what is the appeal for you towards short essays? 

Like most people, I lead a full—and sometimes, very busy—life. 

Between running my business, serving my clients, writing books, practicing yoga, treating my dog like the prince that he is, plus trying to be a loving sister, daughter, and friend to the people in my life…it’s a full load! 

That’s why I always appreciate quick, short bursts of inspiration. Like a short essay that sparks a new idea, or a short podcast that shifts my perspective. Big ideas in small packages.

I definitely love curling up with a big, long book as often as I can. I’ve been known to devour epic 900-page science fiction and fantasy novels, for sure! But there’s value in quick reads, too. Just because something is “brief” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s shallow or superficial. A very short phrase (like, “I love you”) can carry so much power in just three little words. And a short essay can change your day, or even your life.

Following instructions….using checklists Photo © Linda Hobden

I was intrigued to discover that you co host a pop culture and comedy podcast with your best friend called “So Obsessed”.  Who came up with the title? And what obsessions/topics have you discussed on your podcasts? Checklists? 

Haha, yes! My best friend is Melissa Cassera, and she’s a brilliant woman who does marketing and PR work, and she’s also a TV screenwriter based out in Los Angeles. 

We love getting together to drink coffee and discuss all of our latest obsessions. 

One day, we realized, “We should record these conversations and start a podcast, and we’ll call it…So Obsessed!” 

Our show is purely a passion project. We rarely talk about work-related matters. We don’t have any sponsors or advertisements on the show. We don’t really “promote” anything. The whole project is totally just for fun.

We’ve discussed so many obsessions on the show—our favorite movies, books, snacks, workouts, self-care ideas, and, oh my gosh, what else…pasta recipes, Jennifer Lopez music videos, and checklists, for sure! The list is endless. We also do games like “Who would you rather?” and hypothetical questions, and more.

Our world can feel so chaotic and stressful. We hope our podcast feels like a mini vacation from your troubles—a little bubble of silliness and friendship. Something to brighten your day, help you smile, and maybe help you remember some things you’re obsessed with, too.

Are you a bookworm yourself? If so, what genre of books do you enjoy reading? 

I’m pretty eclectic with my reading. 

Lately I’ve been loving the Wild Irish Heart: Mystic Cove series of novels by Tricia O’Malley. So much fun. 

I recently purchased Why Bother? by Jennifer Louden, which I’m excited to dive into soon. 

In terms of books about personal growth and transformation, one of my all-time favorites is Die Empty by Todd Henry. Definitely a book that made me see my life (and work) in a new light.

Is “The Checklist Book” available to purchase worldwide?

It sure is! It’s available on AmazonTargetBarnes & NobleIndieBound, and lots of other places, too. 

If your local public library or local bookstore doesn’t stock it, just request it, and they can probably order it for you.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Living in Hawaii, the climate is warm year-round…so I rarely wear pants! Honestly, you’ll usually find me in a swimsuit, tank top, yoga shorts, or cut-off jean shorts, pretty much every day of the week. 

I often work out (or walk the dog) first in the morning. And then sometimes, right after that, I get immersed in my work and…I kinda forget to shower until much later. So I’m often pretty sticky and salty all day long. As I type this, I’m realizing that maybe my routine needs to change. Haha! Maybe I should put “take a shower” up a little higher on my daily checklist. 🙂

For pinning later
  • THE LINKS ☑️

Website: http://alexandrafranzen.com/

Newsletter: http://www.alexandrafranzen.com/newsletter/

Books: http://www.alexandrafranzen.com/shop/

Free stuff, including downloadable worksheets and checklist templates: http://www.alexandrafranzen.com/free-stuff/

  • THE BOOK TOUR ☑️

ALL PHOTOS PUBLISHED WITH KIND PERMISSION OF ALEXANDRA FRANZEN (except where stated) ☑️
MY THANKS TO ALEXANDRA FRANZEN FOR THE REVIEW COPY OF “THE CHECKLIST BOOK” & FOR INVITING ME TO TAKE PART ON THIS BOOK TOUR ☑️

Linda x

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An Interview With Desert Bells

Dream weddings overseas have been popular over recent years with UK couples and the destination of Dubai is a particular favourite. Dubai offers perfect weather, numerous beach venues, plenty of catering options for all budgets, the chance to go OTT with the bling, good flight links – reasons are endless. Desert Bells are Dubai destination wedding planners founded by Emirati sisters Chandan and Dimple. Dimple is based in Dubai, whereas Chandan is based in London. I caught up with Chandan to find out more about the delights of Dubai … Hi, Chandan!

Hello, I’m Chandan, I’m an Indian Emirati who grew up in the beautiful city of Dubai, I’ve spent 30 years there and have been in Marketing and Events for over 11 years. I’ve planned and organised not only weddings but press days, fashion shows, corporate conferences and several themed parties. I’ve now moved to London and encourage newly engaged couples and their families to choose Dubai as a destination for their nuptials, moreover choose us to plan their special days for them 🙂

What triggered the eureka moment to begin your company, Desert Bells?

I did my own wedding independently. I did not have a planner, it was all done by both families and we did a great job which was appreciated by everyone who attended. Our wedding even graced 4 pages of a well known glossy in the UAE, that’s how much everyone loved and enjoyed it. So one day during a casual conversation, knowing my forte and experience, my father-in-law suggested that I do wedding planning as a business for UK based clients like themselves, interested in destination Dubai. It definitely sounded like a great idea and never left my mind, but at the time I had just moved to England and knew very little about the people, their preferences and the overall market. I then continued to do a job in London and pursued my forte i.e. marketing, PR & events. This helped me to understand my prospective audience a lot better, their mindsets, the budgets they allocate for weddings, their perception of destination weddings in general, their perception of Dubai and so on and that’s how Desert Bells Wedding Planners came into existence. 

Have you always wanted a career in weddings/event planning or did your aspirations lie elsewhere?

My ultimate dream is to be a celebrity – I’m still working on it..haha !


What would you say are the most popular reasons that Dubai (& UAE in general) is a favourite wedding destination?

Dubai is a small city that packs a lot of punch. It is the city’s versatility that makes it extremely popular. With 7-8 hours travel time from most parts of UK & Europe, several direct flights and guaranteed good weather are, what I believe, make UAE very attractive. Moreover what lures couples is that they can visualise their wedding dreams coming to life given the luxurious venues, beaches, F&B options and the overall charisma the city exudes. It places a great deal of confidence in parties that both them and their guests will have a much greater time than anticipated. 

Which venue is the most popular place to hold a wedding?  Which is your personal favourite?

This is a tough one! There are so many amazing options available even with non 5 star properties, the venues are endless and that is without compromising a great deal. With clients who allocate huge budgets and desire the quintessential Dubai luxury it would have to be – The Armani Hotel in the Burj Khalifa, The Mandarin Oriental, Four Seasons Hotel and of course the Burj Al Arab. Obviously not everyone wants to allocate budgets like these to their wedding. Also in the interest of dispelling some common myths, one can get huge value for their money (specially when converting from pounds, euros or dollars to AED) with other 5* properties: there are numerous gorgeous venues on Jumeirah Beach, The Palm Jumeirah and exquisite ballrooms and garden venues too. My personal favourite would be any Marriott property – their hospitality and efforts are truly A-grade and I have never been disappointed by any Marriott in the world. Having said that, “JW MARRIOTT MARQUIS in Dubai is pretty much my second home and my other favourite is Ritz Carlton JBR. I had my own wedding functions at both these venues too 🙂 

What legal requirements need to be fulfilled before a wedding can take place in Dubai?

These would usually be carried out by the planning company or, if you are organising it yourself, then the hotel would guide you through signing contracts and procuring certain permissions for entertainers, fireworks, etc. Some of these are chargeable, whereas others are just about applying for the permission. One needs to own an alcohol licence in UAE as well (this is charged) – again the planning company would organise this for you or the hotel would present you with the options available to them for you to take a call. 

What clothing guidelines do you recommend for the bridal party & guests? 

If you’re hosting your wedding in Dubai, I take it that you’ve come here to experience and show your guests the absolute luxe. Dubai is one destination where you can, without any fear, throw practical thoughts of out of the window and bring your Pinterest board to life. I’d say go with the theme, bring on the bling! Don’t wear dresses or footwear you think are comfortable to run around in, or worry about the weather. Your venue is not countryside and no, you don’t have to walk anywhere. Weather in Dubai is 99% guaranteed, it almost never rains and as most venues are within hotels you have the most convenient access to taxis, Ubers, the bridal suite, your rooms, butlers on service, tailoring teams at hotels and locker service too if you wish to put your expensive jewellery away safely before starting to dance all night long. It is really hassle free, so by all means go ahead and put on your sexiest heels and leave the pair of wedges in the hotel room for later. Do invest in a great pair of sunnies as you’d wear them most days. Anything you think is ‘EXTRA’ is perfectly acceptable in a city like this 🙂

Entertainment at a wedding is just as important as the ceremony itself. What activities are most popular?Most unusual or extravagant?

It varies quite a lot. DJ music is the most popular and a safe option guaranteeing everyone a good time; but things like Belly Dancing performances are very popular with the English, Europeans and Americans as it is a big part of the local culture which is entertaining and yet unusual for guests from abroad to experience. Other than that most Indian Weddings are very extravagant with singers, bands, performers – even Bollywood & Hollywood celebrities flown in for entertainment to wow the guests. 

Apart from Dubai, what other locations in the UAE do you think are worth considering as a wedding venue?

I’d say Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah. There are lots of beautiful hotels in Abu Dhabi, from Emirates Palace which is a gorgeous 5* property to beach properties like Waldorf Astoria in RAK is a destination that would give you the getaway vibes. Known for its stunning beach resorts, it is a getaway from the city with lots of fun.


If I was to visit Dubai, what are the top places/activities I should add to my itinerary?

  • Dubai Mall + Aquarium ( largest mall in the world with all the brands under one roof and plenty of food and drinks options too). It’s so huge it’s like a neighbourhood.
  • Go up the Burj Khalifa for that mandatory tick in the box.
  • Do a brunch – plenty of fun ones, some night brunches too with an after party but my fav and an absolute must go is the ZERO GRAVITY BRUNCH. It’s the best combination of unlimited food,drinks, pool access, beach access, people and music – you can experience that too for less than £100.
  • Dubai nightlife is very popular too and is very safe for women. Head to Club White for the ultimate fancy night out – very popular with fancy hen parties.
  • Some very popular restaurants to try are: Fish in Westin, Carnival by Tresind, Ramusake and plenty others you’d find on Time Out Dubai.
  • Go see the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi if time permits  – It’s truly a piece of art. 
  • Another must do is a Desert Safari if it is your first

Personal now, what outfits/footwear would you normally wear? 

You mean when in Dubai? I’ll be honest, I’m a summer girl. Before I moved to England, I did not own a single pair of denims, trainers or a coat #notjoking. My Dubai wardrobe is pretty summery, all dresses – I love maxi dresses, skirts, flattering jumpsuits, off shoulders outfits and LOTSSSS of Stilettoes !   

Boots Or Shoes?

Stilettoes 🙂  because they are the sexiest and can uplift any outfit and/or look. I miss not being able to wear enough of them in England 🙁 

For Pinning Later

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can learn more about Desert Bells.

www.instagram.com/desertbellsweddingplanners/
I’d also encourage readers to take a peak into my personality and check out my blog Fcube Dubai – www.instagram.com/fcube_dubai/

Thank you for chatting with me, Chandan … It was great to see the photographs and I love your enthusiasm for Dubai too. I hope that life soon recommences outside of lockdown and that travelling, socialising and dream weddings can once again take place. In the meantime, thank you for providing us with some glamorous escapism.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Chandan/DesertBells Wedding Planners

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