Friday, 16 November 2012

How to keep your child believing in Father Christmas: 10 tips


It’s a sad fact, but it does seem as though children are growing up far quicker than ever before. And a casualty of this is often that their belief in Santa disappears sooner than it did for you when you were a child. So I’m handing this blog over to a VIP guest who might be able to help a little….

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you: Santa Claus!:

Ho, ho, ho! Thank you for allowing me to write a little message on your blog. I won’t keep you long because I am rather busy. 

Right, so, it would seem that the subject of this message is: how to stay believing in me. Well, let me tell you something. There will come a time when your child does stop believing - it doesn't mean that I've gone away of course, it just means that they are growing up and looking at new things. One of the problems parents often ask me is: What happens when their friends stop believing, but my own child still does? I tell them that just because their friend no longer believes doesn't mean that they have to stop. All the while they believe, I will keep visiting. Every year, no matter what. And don’t worry about hurting my feelings if you don’t believe in me any more, I know its just a part of growing up. But it doesn't mean I don’t still expect you to be nice all year though - I don’t like naughty people, no matter what their age!

I often ask parents to help me keep the magic alive, and here are a few tips I like to share:
  • Rule 1 is obvious and I'm sure you do it already: Christmas Eve is the time when you must get everything ready for my arrival. Put out your stocking (or whatever it is you like to use) and always leave me a drink and snack. I am partial to mince pies, but anything you can spare is gratefully accepted. Leaving a carrot or two for the reindeer is always a nice touch too (although they are messy eaters, so expect chomped carrot ends to be scattered around!).
  • Rule 2 - everything I leave is always wrapped in different paper to the rest of your presents because I don’t buy wrapping paper from the shops that Mums & Dads go to. Mine comes from the North Pole and is very different.
  • Rule 3 - many children worry about how I enter their home if they don’t have a chimney. Please tell them that this is not a problem, I have adapted my entries and exits over the years to accommodate this problem as many newer houses don’t have chimneys. If necessary, I am able to use a special magical key to enter a door - or if push comes to shove, I can sprinkle magic dust over myself and simply sparkle my way in. Don’t worry, it doesn't hurt and I quite enjoy it! I can also enter through cat flaps, lofts, windows and even letter boxes. No present goes undelivered because I can’t gain access, I know every trick in the book!
  • Rule 4 - hiding presents before the big day is a very important task that parents must adhere to. Enough said.
  • Rule 5 - I can sometimes forget to wipe my feet when I enter a house, and it has been known for me (and the reindeer) to leave footprints. Not always, but sometimes. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to parents for this - and for anything that I may knock over, inadvertently move, dislodge, or crease.
  • Rule 6 - if you have been very good during the year (and I mean exceptional), I will write to you. My letters are very special, I only send 100 a year to the children who have shown the very best behaviour throughout the year. If you think that your child should be near the top of my Nice List, click here to let me know and I promise I’ll write to them (and send them some early presents too)!
  • Rule 7 - the Santa’s that you see in shops, etc (eg, in a ‘Grotto’) are not always me. There, I've said it. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't  If you are in the least bit doubtful as to whether it is the real Santa that you are meeting in a shop, then the chances are it’s one of my helpers. But don’t worry, they are all fully authorised and everything you say to them is relayed directly through to me. Sometimes I wire Grotto’s up with CCTV so that I can listen in and find out exactly what you are hoping for. So don’t worry, I never miss a thing!
  • Rule 8 - if you spot a helicopter or low flying plane in the sky between October and December, it is me. I’m just keeping tabs and updating my Naughty or Nice List.
  • Rule 9 - whilst most of the gifts that I leave on Christmas Eve are made by the Elves, sometimes I do have to add things that have come from normal shops. I only ever use suppliers that have passed rigorous tests and have full Santa Approval however.
  • Rule 10 - a wonderful way to experience my journey on Christmas Eve is by tracking me at http://www.noradsanta.org/. Norad is the North American Aerospace Defense Command. They are a proper military organisation, working to protect the air space over North America. Honestly, they’re real, check them out: http://www.norad.mil/Home.html. Every year they use their specialist equipment to track my movements as I travel around the world.

 There will eventually come a time when boys and girls reach an age where they question if I really exist. But even old, grown up people know that I do - but not always in the way that you think. The spirit of Santa changes as we get older - I can change from the lovely jolly man in my red suit into something that is even more magical: the spirit of Christmas. I may stop visiting after a while, but my spirit lives on. You know that magical feeling you have on Christmas morning that everyone feels no matter what their age? And that wonderful feeling when you give someone a gift? That’s the spirit of Christmas - and me!

Ho, ho, ho - Merry Christmas to you all!
Santa Claus

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Letters from Santa - 'the best by far'


You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm telling you why:

Santa Claus is coming to town!

- and he'll be writing to the very best behaved children again this year, so you better take a look at his fabulous personalised letters quick!

Once again this year, Father Christmas is going to be sending some truly magical letters to just a few lucky children - he only sends a limited number, so if you know a youngster who would love to receive one it's time to act! Head on over to PhotoFairytales and reserve one now - and for every one he writes, I will make a donation to a fabulous UK charity too!

As before, each letter is prepared individually and is packed with details that will help children to really understand the spirit of Christmas and the magic of Santa. He will sign each letter personally, and also sends a personalised quality card certificate awarded for excellent behaviour throughout 2012. Plus, he will be popping 4 fabulous little gifts in too which will keep little fingers busy during the exciting wait for Christmas Day. Everything is packaged up in a big jolly red envelope, and delivered to your little boy or girl during December.

If you would like Father Christmas to send letters to siblings each letter will be slightly different. And if he wrote to you last year don't worry - the letter this year will be different (Santa doesn't like to repeat himself!).

Every letter will raise money for Rainbow Trust - a UK charity providing emotional and practical support to families who have a child with life threatening or terminal illness. So when you reserve a letter I will make a 50p donation and you will be helping me to support a very worthwhile charity.

But hurry - as ever, there are only a limited number of letters available and every year they sell out. So don't be disappointed - click here now and reserve yours!

Praise for last years' letters:

My granddaughter, Lia, was very excited to receive not just a letter from Santa but a certificate and gifts too! Highly recommended and Lia's mum was even more delighted that Santa told Lia to go to bed early on Christmas Eve! ...you have made one little girl (and mum and granny) very happy!

Simply wonderful - the children adored them!

A HUGE thank you for Scarlett's letter from Santa! I have never seen her eyes so big and her smile so wide! She has told everyone about her certificate for being on the nice list!!!

I just wanted to thank you for my girls Letters from Santa - the look of awe on their faces was amazing, they couldn't believe that Santa actually knew what they wanted for Christmas and who their best friends were, they got to work instantly colouring in their cards and decorating the finger puppets and bookmarks - you definitely made their day...

Ho, ho, ho!
Sarah :)

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Smashing Pumpkins!

Halloween may well have finished at midnight last night, but rather than turning into a pumpkin I thought I'd share some truly amazing carved pumpkin images with you. Now our efforts at home weren't a patch on these, but I think next year I may be feeling a little more ambitious after seeing these...!

The first two images on the left come from the granddaddies of them all when it comes to pumpkin carving: Villafane Studios in the USA - their work is breathtaking. Yes, breathtaking pumpkins I tell you! (And when you check out the website - which you absolutely and completely have to - take a look at their amazing sand sculptures too...). I could fill this page with their images, but I've got a few others I want to show you too:

The first two images below (cat and mouth) are from another incredible pumpkin carving artist: Scott Cummins at Pumkingutter.com - he has been creating and designing pumpkins, many based on famous faces and characters, for years and you really must take a wander through his gallery of work, you won't be disappointed I promise.

Bottom left is an incredible carving made by the super talented manicapumpkincarvers.com. It's based on Vincent Van Gogh's 'Starry Night' and was gifted to the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2011. And finally, that lovely witch (bottom right) - this is almost one I can see myself attempting next year! I found this via artsmart4kids.com and I love the idea of turning the pumpkin on its side and using the stalk as part of the design don't you?


So, are you feeling fired up and inspired for next Halloween too?!

Sarah :)

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Quick and easy recipe: Tomato Soup

I've been making home made soup for many years now - they are (usually!) quick, easy and cheap. Plus my soups are often so hearty and filling that they can fill you up for a main course. I batch cook mine, making double quantities and freezing them - that way I've always got a standby dinner to hand that's almost instant after a quick defrost in the microwave!

This is one of my favourites which I make all the time and would love to share with you:




Easy Home Made Tomato Soup 

(for approximately 4-8 people, depending on the size of your bowls, the size of your people and the size of their appetite!)

Ingredients:
1kg tomatoes
1 or 2 Sweet Potatoes (normal white potatoes are fine too, although I think sweet potatoes add an extra sweetness and colour)
Vegetable Stock (I usually just use a stock cube, nothing fancy!)
Seasoning
Sugar
Approximately 50g butter

Peel and dice the potato, then melt the butter in a large saucepan. Throw the potatoes into the pan and stir about over a medium heat. Meanwhile, simply quarter the tomatoes (no need to peel or finely chop). Keep giving the potatoes a stir, then sling in the tomatoes. Give everything a stir and cover with vegetable stock - just enough to cover the vegetables, not too much. I like to add in a few grinds of pepper too. Bring everything to the simmer and let it bubble gently away for about 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are soft. You now need to process the soup - you can either use a food processor/blender, or a handheld blender. Give the soup a whizz until its is smooth, then pass it through a sieve to get rid of the tomato seeds. The soup will probably be quite thick so you'll need to smooth it through the sieve with a spoon - keep going until you've got about a desert-spoon of mulch left in the sieve. Warm the soup back up, and add 1 teaspoon of sugar. This sounds weird I know, but it takes away any bitterness and make the soup taste lovely and smooth. I don't usually add salt or anything else but you can if you like. If the soup is too thick add a little water until its the consistency you like.

You can fancy-schmancy the soup up with a few chopped herbs, or a swirl of cream would look pretty - but mostly we have ours simple and just served with some part-baked rolls from the oven. Yum!

What's your favourite soup recipe?

Sarah :)


Thursday, 18 October 2012

Halloween Freebie!

Free Printable Halloween Wine Labels
Boo! If you're planning a spooky party for Halloween this year, you might like a copy of my free printable wine labels! They look great, and help everyone keep track of their glass too - to download, just click here.

The labels are best printed onto heavy paper, such as 160gsm card or gloss photo paper.

Feel free to share this post on Facebook or Twitter, etc - just click the share buttons below!

Sarah x

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Things to love about Autumn...

There's no denying there's a nip in the air now and Autumn is well and truly here - yes, it is chilly but let's celebrate all the great stuff about this season:

1: Hot Chocolate - this is definitely the time of year when a mug of steaming hot chocolate comes into its own (with a choccy biscuit to dunk of course - or if you're feeling really decadent, a Cadbury's Flake!)

2: Halloween and Bonfire Night - two events that literally demand you stay up late and eat sweets and/or hot dogs!

3: Beautiful misty mornings - when you open the curtains and see the mist, or frosty white grass...

4: The Clothes - dressing for warmth and cosiness, and being able to hide under a coat when you need to nip out on the school run!

5: The Colours - spotting awesome autumnal trees with red and orange leaves.

What do you love about Autumn?

Sarah x

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Office inspiration...

PhotoFairytales HQ is not a grand affair - my office is, let's say, compact and bijou! However, amongst all the paperwork and general organised chaos (if you've seen my hole punch by the way, let me know) there is a little oasis - one that I often sit back and look at during the day. Sometimes I'm gazing at it in contemplation, often I'm not particularly focused on it, but it definitely has a calming affect!

The item my eyes travel towards is my Annora Spence picture - I've had it for years, can't remember where I bought it, don't even know it's title (probably something like "Man with Dog and Sewing Machine") - but it is without doubt one of my favourite things. The colours are stunning, the style is simple, the image is one of stillness. And I love it.

Annora Spence is without doubt one of my favourite artists - should I ever be in a position where I can afford one, I would love LOVE to own one of her works "properly". Annora studied printed textiles in Liverpool and Birmingham in the 80's, and since the early 90's she has worked successfully as an artist exhibiting in the UK and abroad. Her work uses various mediums, and the colours range from deep and warm tones, through to soft, pale shades as seen in her current gallery. I'd happily own any of them - please!

If you haven't discovered this wonderful artist, you can see more of her work by clicking here.

I know that whenever I hit an inspiration wall, sitting back and gazing at my beloved picture hanging above my computer will point me in the right direction. And along with the phrase "keep it simple, stupid", the other phrase I like to ask myself is: "what would Annora do?"...

What do you have that fires your creative juices? - leave a comment and let me know!

Sarah x

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Christmas: the Top 5 reasons why you need to change your habits this year!


Anyone who creates or designs their own work, and sells their work independently, is (it seems) automatically geared up for supporting other similar artisans. Since starting PhotoFairytales I’ve been lucky to make some wonderful contacts and friendships with other designer-makers. We all seem to recognise the spirit and passion we have for our work, and feel a desire to support one another.

Most designer-makers, crafters and handmade artists are already buying work from fellow sellers. Now, the question is, how do we get consumers at large to forego the high street and the major player websites this Christmas, and buy from the smaller independent sellers instead?

Getting people to go shopping is not a problem - OK, so sales in retail have been suffering of late thanks to the recession, but ultimately we are still buying gifts for loved ones, and the odd treat for ourselves and our home. Whilst people may find that they need to budget a little more carefully, one thing that they may not be aware of is that buying handmade is a fabulous way of making their spending work. I’m not suggesting that buying handmade is going to be cheaper than buying from the high street - in some cases it isn’t - but it’s often of a similar price, and hey, you’re discovering something amazing that has been made with love and passion (and not thrown together on an assembly line).

So here are my top 5 reasons why you need to change your shopping habits NOW:
  1. Stop lining the pockets of the big guys - When you make a purchase from a small, independent designer-maker you are supporting an individual. A real person, who has put their soul and passion into that item you’ve purchased. You’re not lining the pockets of a huge corporation, you’re making a real difference to the life of one, single person (or tiny team). You’re helping them to look after their family, and to keep their business alive. Your purchase makes a difference - a HUGE difference! And the best bit of all is that the person you’ve just bought from probably buys their supplies from another small independent business - so the money you spend keeps working and supporting these people.
  2. Help the UK economy - if you buy something from a UK designer-maker you are directly helping the UK economy. You aren’t a link in the chain unwillingly supporting those factories in China.
  3. It’s the thought that counts - it’s a cliché, but this is a phrase that comes into its own when you buy handmade. We’ve all done it: walking around the shops aimlessly trying to find “something” for “about £x” for someone. How many times have we picked something up in a shop and thought “that’ll do”? I’ve done it, and I bet you have too! But by changing your shopping habit and channelling your effort into finding something different you automatically unearth not just “something” but a little treasure that is totally unique (and often totally bespoke too - how posh is that?!).
  4. Stop searching for something “different” - if you often find yourself trying to buy something a little unusual, this is another reason why you need to buy handmade. Designers and creators are passionate about new design - they live and breathe what they do and are always striving to do something new. Handmade artists, crafts people and designers offer unique value: giving you that special feeling that only an item made with passion can create. If you want cutting edge design with soul, something more “next season” than last, you know what you need to do!
  5. Help the environment - if this is something you feel passionate about, then buying from a small, independent business is a great way of doing it. No huge lorries carrying massive bulk deliveries covered in acres of packaging. No factories. Often no commuting (given that many designer-makers work from their own home)! Buying vintage is also the ultimate way of recycling of course.

So, other than buying from PhotoFairytales (of course!), where else do you shop when you want to discover a gorgeous handmade, independently designed/created item? What great places (online or offline) have you found to unearth treasures? 

Do you make, create, or design gorgeousness that you think everyone should buy this Christmas? 

Will you pledge to change your habits this Christmas (in which case, why not tweet this post or give it a like on Facebook and tell everyone!)? 

Leave a comment or a link and let me know!

Sarah x

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Saving things for best... or having it all now


Award-winning screenwriter, Nora Ephron (“When Harry Met Sally”) died in June of this year. She once wrote: “There are dreams that are never quite going to come true, ambitions that will never quite be realised. There are, in short, regrets.” When writing about the death of a close friend she said, “it taught me to always use the good bath oil.”

So, should we save things ‘for best’ - or should we seize the moment? Right now? Should we deny ourselves that thing we really want - make ourselves wait? Eke things out? Is life too short to deny ourselves its little pleasures?

As a child I remember having a sheet of Womble stickers. I loved those stickers. I loved them so much I never used them - they spent their life intact, never decorating my pencil case or school book. Never stuck where they shouldn’t be (on my bedroom wall). I also had a favourite colouring-in book - packed with pictures so intricate and lovely I didn’t want to colour them in. I wanted to save them. (Oh dear, I sound like a very uptight child!) Of course, I have no idea where those Womble stickers or that colouring book are now. Somewhere in the great landfill in the sky I guess. I should have used them up, shouldn’t I?

So, am I cured? Have I learnt my lesson? Erm, no - as a mum I still have to stop myself keeping back that gorgeous dress of Amy’s “for best” because let’s face it, children have this habit of growing and so growing out of things. So yes Amy, you can wear your “posh” Hello Kitty ballerina shoes around Tesco because if you don’t they’ll sit in the wardrobe waiting for the charity bag and you’ll never get to relish that thrill of glancing down at your feet and thinking, “ooooh, lovely shoes!”.

Now I’m not suggesting we all run into the streets and start grabbing and demanding the things we want, or run up a huge credit card bill in order to buy something we can ill afford. But maybe saving something special for a day that might not come just means we lose out altogether? Maybe we should always use the “for best” glasses, even if we’re only drinking plonk - or squash even? Yes, they could get broken but at least you can say you truly appreciate the finer things in life, instead of letting them just gather dust at the back of a cupboard.

Assuming you, dear reader, are like me and not massively wealthy or super rich, wouldn’t it be so much better to wring every last penny’s worth out of that lovely something you buy? Why shouldn’t you wear the posh knickers on a Wednesday?!

Look, you’ve already bought it, right? You own it, the purchase has been made, the money spent. So using it doesn’t mean you’re not being thrifty - it means you’re getting your money’s worth and having a bit of fun too. Denying ourselves the good stuff now does sort of imply that we’re not worth it now, but we might be in the future. What on earth is that all about?! Today isn’t a rehearsal, today is as good a day as any to pull those posh biscuits from the back of the cupboard (before they go out of date) and just, well, eat them.

Next time you pop to the corner shop, wear that swanky sweater you keep for best (and those posh knickers) and live your best life now. What do you think?

Sarah x

Friday, 31 August 2012

Barking Mad Baby Names


When our lovely daughter Amy was still “the Bump” we became obsessed with names - right down to scouring the credits at the end of every programme and film (“Audrey Thexton - that’s a bit different, would that work? Maybe not…”). 

It was such a responsibility to plump for the right one: we couldn’t choose something too cutesy because she might became Prime Minister one day (Angel Thexton, Prime Minister). It couldn’t be anything that would date (think ‘Ethel’, or ‘Mavis’). We weren’t the kind of people to do a Beckham or a Bowie (ie, calling her something utterly mad like ‘Trixie-Biscuit’). It couldn’t start with a “th” or a “ph” because with a surname like Thexton that would make everyone sound like they had a lisp (try saying Thelma Thexton and you’ll see what I mean!).

And then there was the other problem, the one that nobody likes to mention… the really, really popular names. The ones that are so popular that if you shout them out loud in the park the chances are 5 toddlers, a cat and 4 dogs will all look up at you. You know the ones I mean I’m sure… So what if we got a bit ironic and went in the opposite direction, and called her “Scamp”? Or “Patch” (bit too eczema-y?) Or what about “Lassie”?? No, perhaps not.

The problem is, everyone is giving their pets human names - even we’ve named our dog Freddy. And there’s a cute Jack Russell dog right here in Belton called Alan. The other day we walking Freddy when we met Pete, the greyhound. A friend of mine once had a Labrador called Dave…

Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to Freddy we are all completely guilty of giving him human characteristics to match his human name. It isn’t just the Paris Hiltons of this world that are guilty of turning pets into baby substitutes (even when you actually do have a real, human baby!). I guess it’s just the inevitable side effect of the human need to nurture - especially anything that has big innocent eyes!

So how did we end up with the name “Amy”? A nice lady working in Boots struck up a conversation over my bump, and mentioned it was one of her favourites. Amy…. Amy Thexton…. I like it... I like it a lot…. middle name Rose…. and Amy means ‘beloved’ which is lovely… yes, perfect!

So how did you come up with a name for your child? Did you research the meaning of the name? Did you find it all as tricky as we did?! Leave a comment and let me know, I’d love to hear about your experience too!

Sarah x

Friday, 24 August 2012

Sleeeeeeeeeep.......(and why its over-rated)


Yaaaaaawn....
My husband is really good in bed… 
My husband is really good in bed... He is, honestly, you have to believe me - my husband is amazing in bed. Always has been, pretty much since we met 20 odd years ago. Oh, hang on, I think I might have given you the wrong impression here. I’m not talking about… you think I’m saying he’s “good in bed” don’t you? No, sorry, that wasn’t what I meant to be talking about at all!

No, what I mean is that he is very good at being in bed. He’s a master of the weekend lay-in, the “I can’t hear anything, I’m sleeping” position. Even on the hottest summer mornings, he can still cocoon himself like a caterpillar in the duvet with just his nose sticking out. Me? Well, I’m different. I lie there with an actual frown while I try to be asleep. I never used to be like that - not that many years ago (BC - before child and BP - before PhotoFairytales) I used to be able to lay about dozing in bed until lunchtime on a Sunday. I didn’t even have to be asleep, I could just loll about on a pure whim.

But I just can’t do it now… if I wake up, I have to get up. If I loll, I only end up laying there thinking “I could be answering emails/cleaning the oven/hoovering/getting a headstart on those orders instead of laying about here.” Relax. RELAX DAMN IT! No, it’s no good, got to get up. Then there’s the fact that we frankly need a new mattress - well a new bed really. I know if I lay there too long I’ll only end up with a stiff back or stiff neck or both.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ve actually changed as I’ve got older (just had a birthday by the way, so feeling a bit ageist!). Perhaps my body clock has turned me into an “early bird” rather than the “night owl” I used to think I was. Maybe 5.30am really is the “best part of the day”. Hhmmm. I just feel like a party pooper when I conk out after the EastEnders repeat every night!

No, I’m going to think positively - I can get up (even on weekends) before the rest of the world. I can spend that time catching up on things (even if I have to do it quietly). And I will try not to resent the fact that by the time my husband gets up on a Saturday I’ve been up so long I want my lunch.

It’s a new day, it’s a new dawn, and I’m feeling…. well, a bit tired if I’m honest!

Sarah x

Friday, 10 August 2012

House Porn...

Just browsing...
I think my obsession started at an early age. I’m pretty sure I was heavily influenced by my parents. And I’m not sure I’ll ever really be able to overcome it if I’m honest...

You see, my name is Sarah and I’m addicted to - houses. Or to be more accurate, houses for sale.

I remember family holidays would often include a lot of time with my Mum & Dad’s noses pressed against estate agents windows: “look what you could buy here for the same price at home!”. If you type the letter “r” into my browser window the first thing to pop up is Rightmove. I shouldn’t do it, I don’t have the time to sit there and find out how many bedrooms you can get for X amount, or what the cheapest/most expensive house for sale is within a 3 mile radius of Belton. Or how much houses are in, oh I don’t know, Dorset. Or Edinburgh. We’re not even looking to move! (That’s a lie obviously, all hous-oholics are always wanting to move.)

I remember sitting huddled over the computer at my friends house one afternoon not so long ago, both of us snapping at the children to go away and play, while we scrolled through all the (minimum) four bedroom houses (including those SSTC) in Belton (area only)… Neither of us were planning to move - we were just fantasising.

My current fantasy is another bathroom. And a nice big drive. And maybe a bigger garden. An extra room would be nice (bedroom or conservatory, either would do). Oooh, and maybe a utility room… phwoar, now we’re talking!

When out in the car I don’t rubber neck accidents, it’s For Sale signs that do it for me. I can give meerkats a run for their money when it comes to scanning the horizon for a sale board. There’s a house up the road from us right now that’s for sale. It’s lovely - its even got a veranda. I’ve always wanted a house with a veranda. It’s on for about £380k though. We can't afford it. Not even if we give up eating. So why did I feel a distinct twinge of sadness last month when the For Sale sign changed to “Sold”?

Oh, but wait - joy! - the sale has fallen through, it’s on the market again! It’s a bit like hearing that Johnny Depp is single again…

Sarah x

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Good Homes Magazine, crikey!!

Win your own personalised print in my competition!
It's rapidly turning into a very squealy week at PhotoFairytales Towers - not only is one of my Fantasy Portraits being featured on the new Keith Lemon series, but one of my prints is also appearing in the September issue of Good Homes Magazine (on sale now).

WIN YOUR OWN PRINT!!

My "Ministry of Silly" prints were inspired by an afternoon listening to the budget on the radio, and there is a choice of 3 fun designs to choose from.

Because I'm so excited I've decided to run a competition to win one of my prints - just click on the image to the left for further details. The competition closes on October 1st 2012.

Good luck!

Sarah x

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Keith Lemon: Knight in Shining Armour!

Look what Keith Lemon has in his hall: bang tidy!
The new Keith Lemon series is now on TV - 'Lemon La Vida Loca' hit the screens last week - and just see what he has hanging by his front door!

Yes, PhotoFairytales is now officially "as seen on TV"!!

I was asked to create a portrait as a prop especially for the series, and they requested a reproduction of my Knight in Shining Armour design. A very exciting, slightly nerve-racking commission, I can tell you!

The new series is a spoof fly on the wall style reality show, following Keith and his girlfriend Rosie as they move into their new home together for the first time. Cameras follow the couple as Keith films his new 'Celebrity Juice' series, and upcoming film 'Keith Lemon: The Film'.

So, if you want to get hold of your own Knight in Shining Armour now you can - just grab a picture of your man and I'll do the rest! You can order at either www.giftwrappedandgorgeous.com or direct through PhotoFairytales.

The next episode of 'Lemon La Vida Loca' can be seen on Thursday, 9th August at 10pm on ITV2. Proper bang tidy!

Sarah x

Friday, 6 July 2012

Great new personalised gift for kids!

If you haven't had a minute to visit PhotoFairytales recently, you should head over now - there are lots of brand new goodies I've just added that I think you'll like!

Amongst the new items are these "Happy Face" personalised prints - lovely pictures that feature your child's likeness, including hair and skin colour - even freckles!

The pictures include your chosen name and date of birth, along with your own personal message. The message can be anything you like - something personal, an inspirational quote, perhaps something about their characteristics or likes/dislikes?

Printed onto quality paper stock and presented with a mount and backing board, these pictures make a fabulous gift for a child's birthday. Contemporary and stylish, they'll look lovely in the bedroom and children will love seeing themselves as a cartoon!

For more details just click here...

Hope you like them!
Sarah x

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Unusual Gift Ideas for Teachers

Lovely personalised gift ideas to
say goodbye to your favourite teacher
School's (almost) out for Summer!!!!

Yes, it's that time of year again - when all children start counting the weeks, days, minutes until school breaks up. And when parents start doing the same, but probably for completely different reasons!

If you want to give "Sir" or "Miss" a really unusual and thoughtful gift this year to say thank you for the year, why not take a look at the brand new range of personalised Teacher Gifts at PhotoFairytales?

As always, there's free UK delivery on everything - just don't leave it too late though, because there's only 3.5 weeks/24 days/34,560 minutes until school breaks up!

Sarah x

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

10 Easy Tips for Photographing your Child

"Smile!!" (see Point 7 below...)
As a mum I know that photographing your child is always a bit of a challenge - you need to have a quick trigger finger so that you can seize that perfect candid shot, or be very, very, very, very patient! 

It is possible to tip the balance in your favour though, and with a little bit of forethought you can get beautiful photos. Plus, now that we've nearly all got digital cameras, you can just keep clicking as many times as you need to - it's OK to delete the ones you don't like (something I need to do more often!). 

So here's a few basic tips that might help:

  1. Candid Photos: Remember, it may not be completely necessary for your subject to look straight at the camera - a candid shot, caught when they were unaware of you can sometimes be much more effective. Rather than telling them to strike a certain pose, or smile, just sit back with your camera at the ready and let them do their thing - but keep your finger hovering on that shutter button! Do what they want to do - enter their world, encourage them to chatter.
  2. Check your background and foreground: Make sure there is nothing obscuring your subject, or that it's not too busy and therefore distracts from the subject. Sometimes all you'll need to do is shift your own position slightly to get a different perspective. Keep an eye on trees, plants, buildings, etc in the background to avoid that "bush for hair" or "speared by a lamp post" look!
  3. Indoor Lighting: If you use a flash then be aware that the closer the subject is to the background, the bigger the risk of shadows. If you're photographing babies or very young children, they can sometimes be startled or frightened by a flash too. Try placing your child near a natural light source such as a window to get softer, more natural lighting.
  4. Outdoor Lighting: If you're photographing outdoors, be aware of harsh light/dark shadows which can ruin an otherwise gorgeous photo. Take note of where the sun is and make sure it isn't causing the child to squint. Don't be afraid to use your flash outdoors too - it can add a little to the overall look of the image. If you're using a digital camera try taking a few shots with the flash and some without - you can always delete the ones you don't think will do.
  5. Try close-up's: Many digital cameras have the ability to take beautiful close shots without losing quality. Check if you camera has this close-up or "macro" function (usually the setting dial has a small flower symbol for close-up shots. I love taking close-up photos of my daughter Amy: her gorgeous skin, long eyelashes and pretty freckles!
  6. Pick your moment!: It sounds obvious, but don't try to photograph young children when they're tired, bored or not in the right mood - you'll both end up cross and with a photo that doesn't look right. Choose your moment - when they are relaxed and happy, and feeling responsive to you. Give yourself plenty of time too, don't make yourself feel pressured because you're trying to take a photo when you should be getting the dinner on!
  7. Say cheese..: It's tempting to tell your subject to smile and say cheese, but this can sometimes give a fake smile effect. Little ones can often be distracted however - try asking them an interesting question that makes them stop and think, ask them to imagine something lovely, pull a silly face or make a funny noise - and be ready with your shutter finger for that perfect reaction! If you find it easier to use a word like "cheese" try getting them to say something else - something a little bit rude can make for some great giggly shots ("pants" works well in my experience..!) And remember, it doesn't always have to be about smiles - thoughtful, quiet pictures when the child's face is relaxed can be poignant and beautiful.
  8. A little trick: A good trick to avoid that slightly glazed expression when you take someone's photo, is to ask them to look down for a count of three before raising their head and looking into the camera. It is just enough for them to alter their point of focus and avoid those staring eyes!
  9. Get down on their level: When photographing children try getting down to their level rather than photographing down onto them which tends to make heads look overly large and their legs too short! Kneel down, sit on the floor or a chair - try to keep the camera at their eye level. (This applies to photographing pets too!)
  10. Hold it steady!: Whilst problems such as 'red-eye' created by a camera flash can be corrected, blurry photos that are out of focus just can't be improved. Avoid smudgy photos by resting your camera on a solid object, or keeping your elbows tucked in. If you're sitting on the floor to take your photo, try sitting so that you can lean your elbows on your knees to stop the camera wobbling, or grab a chair or stool to lean on. Most digital cameras have a 'half-press shutter' which means you press the shutter button half way down, giving the camera time to adjust focus. When your camera has found its focus, click your button all the way.
Happy Snapping!
Sarah x


Thursday, 24 May 2012

If you like a lot of chocolate, read my blog!

Oooh, yeah baby...
Pin back your ears, lick your lips, I’m about to take you for a plunge into pure chocolate heaven….

“Never mind about 1066 William the Conqueror, 1087 William the Second. Such things are not going to affect one's life ... but 1932 the Mars Bar and 1936 Maltesers and 1937 the Kit Kat - these dates are milestones in history and should be seared into the memory of every child in the country.”

That’s what Roald Dahl reckoned, and you can’t deny the 30’s were a golden era. In fact, when you look into it, most of the chocolate we know and love today is getting on for 100 years old (and still hasn’t gone beyond the “best before” date!). In 1905 Cadburys launched the Dairy Milk bar, in 1908 came the Toblerone, Walnut Whips followed in 1910, then the Flake in 1920, in 1923 the Milky Way was born, Crunchie came about in 1929, 1930 saw the arrival of the Snickers (or if you’re a traditionalist, the Marathon!), Maltesers in 1936, and I was surprised to find out that Terry’s Chocolate Orange dates back to 1932…

And I suppose as the inventor of Mr Willy Wonka, it makes sense that Roald Dahl should know his stuff about chocolate. But I reckon we’re all Smartie-Pants (excuse the pun), when it comes to chocolate - I’d be amazed if you, dear reader, hadn’t sampled every single one of those chocolates I’ve mentioned and counted yourself a bit of a connoisseur. Ask anyone which they prefer: milk chocolate or plain, and they’ll have an answer for you before you can say “Twix”.

So, here’s the thing: over the last few years there’s been a bit of a chocolate “make over” - magazines tell us that we will be just as satisfied with a square or two of 90% cocoa solid organic chocolate as we would be with an entire Mars bar. That it’s better for us, and because it has more of a cocoa hit we won’t want as much. There’s even - pause for breath - chocolate with the sophistication of added chilli, or salt. Hmm. [presses lips together in slightly in-approving way…]

Well I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t hit the spot for me - on any level! If you’re the kind of person who likes the bitterest of bitter chocolate (not to be confused with plain chocolate, that’s lush) and looks down their nose at the sweet and sugary Cadburys type stuff - well I just don’t believe you. Sorry, no, don’t believe you. Pants definitely on fire. I reckon when you’re in a room, all on your own, you’d choose a bar of Dairy Milk! And anyway, you’re denying yourself two of the world’s greatest inventions: Munchies and Creme Eggs. Or if you still want to be sophisticated, help yourself to a Fry’s Peppermint Cream. We won’t think any less of you, promise.

Right, must dash, the sweet shop is calling my name… (but if you want to leave a comment and tell me what your favourite chocolate is, or indeed if you prefer milk or plain, go for it - we can wallow in chocolate together!)

Sarah x

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

I love these THIS much...!

Available in pink or blue!
     New on the website today: "I Love You This Much" personalised prints - perfect for Father's Day!
     These lovely prints are available in pink or blue, and can be personalised with both the recipient's name (eg, Daddy, Mummy, John, Jane, Granny, etc) and the sender's name. 
     Easily adapted for your occasion, they are particularly  great for:
Father's Day
Mother's Day
Valentine's Day
Anniversaries

     Just £14.50 including 1st class postage (within the UK). Dispatched within 5 working days. Check the website now for further details!


Sarah x

Freebie for Father's Day!

Psst...fancy a freebie?!

Then sign up to the PhotoFairytales mailing list now by clicking on this link.

Be quick, it's being sent soon!

Sarah x

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Sound of Silence...


Since being a child, I've always found it near impossible to work in silence - my homework was always done with the sound of Scooby Doo or Hong Kong Phooey in the background! And as an adult, I'm no different. Whenever I'm working I always have the radio on, usually tuned into Radio 4. Now, apparently, the average age of listeners to Radio 4 is 55 - and before you ask, no I'm not! Call me an old fogey, but I've actually been listening to it since I was in my twenties - and favourites include Woman's Hour, The Archers (of course), and the fantastic comedy (if you haven't discovered Milton Jones, The Unbelievable Truth, Just a Minute or the News Quiz - well, quite frankly, you're missing out!).

As well as those favourites, I do end up listening inadvertently to a large amount of news bulletins throughout the day. And on budget day this year I found myself putting orders to one side and seizing on a bit of inspiration that seemed to appear from nowhere. Although, with the budget and politicians whittering away in the background its' actually quite easy to work out where my idea for a series of three new print designs came from!

You can find all three designs in my Folksy Shop, or at wowthankyou.com

Now, Money Box Live has just started, wonder what that will inspire...!
Sarah x

Monday, 14 May 2012

Prices Up, Prices Down!

NEW: one of the brand new "Meaning of
Name" print designs introduced this month.
Was £17.50, now £14.50 including UK delivery.
     The introduction of higher prices by Royal Mail, coupled with concerns over their ability to deliver parcels in one piece to my customers, has given me - oh, let's call it an "opportunity" - to reconsider postage and pricing options. 
     I've recently found that many of my framed prints were being delivered damaged, despite being securely wrapped and labelled, and this was causing understandable irritation to my poor customers. To combat this, I would need to significantly increase the packaging which (coupled with the now very high postage rates, rising costs of materials, and to accommodate the loss of replacing damaged items) would mean that I'd have to increase the prices of all my framed prints significantly (taking a £17.50 print to well over £20). 
     Now, I don't know about you, but I just don't think that's right!


     So, I've been spending the last few weeks making steam come out of my calculator and ears, and the result is the following price/product changes:


Framed Prints: were £17.50, now £14.50
This affects the following prints - 
- Were £17.50, delivered 2nd class
- Now £13.95, presented unframed with a quality mount and backing board and presented in a sealed cellophane bag, delivered 1st class recorded delivery.


Family Tree Prints: were £22, now £16.95
- Were £22, delivered 2nd class
- Now £16.95, presented unframed with a quality mount and backing board and presented in a sealed cellophane bag, delivered 1st class recorded delivery.


Fantasy Portraits:
  • Artwork only
    - Was £10 for one person, £3.50 surcharge for each additional person

    - Now £15 for one person, £3.50 surcharge for each additional person
  • Artwork and Print
    - Was £15 (plus additional person surcharge where applicable), all additional prints £5 each, and delivered 2nd class

    - Now £20 for one person (plus additional person surcharge where applicable), additional prints reduced from £5 to £4.25 each, and delivered 1st class.
  • Artwork and Canvas Print- 10"x8" canvas and artwork was £29.99 (ie £19.99 canvas plus standard artwork for one person at £10). Now £33.50.- 16"x12" canvas and artwork was £37.99 (ie £27.99 canvas plus standard artwork for one person at £10). Now £42.50.
  • Artwork and Framed Print: no longer available

Blue Heritage Plaques
- Were £16, delivered 2nd class
- Now £16.95, delivered 1st class


Canvas Prints:
- 8"x8" was £15, now £15.95
- 10"x10" and 12"x24" designs remain unchanged


Letters from the Tooth Fairy:
- Were £5.95, now £6.50
(with Next Day delivery now £12.75, with Saturday Next Day Delivery now £16.95)


All other product prices remain unchanged.


     All frames (the light and dark wood frames) have now been discontinued and replaced with attractive quality mounts and backing boards instead. Prints will be presented sealed in a smart clear cellophane bag. The idea of sending prints in mounts, rather than in frames means that you will now have the opportunity to frame your print in a way that will match your décor and budget - and it is less likely to suffer damage whilst in the delivery system. The mounts will fit into any standard 10"x8" picture frame, or you can remove the mount completely and the print will then fit into any standard 8"x6" picture frame - giving you two size/budget options. (The personalised Ticket Prints are presented in an 8"x6" mount, and will fit in a standard 8"x6" picture frame.)
     Wherever possible, many items are now going to be sent by 1st class post, rather than 2nd class - and in some cases they will be sent by recorded delivery too.
     I hope those prices are clear, but if you have any questions at all please don't hesitate to contact me and I will be very happy to help.


Best wishes,
Sarah

Monday, 30 April 2012

Tired Mummy of Two takes over!

Hello there, I bet you didn't
expect to see me here did you?
I'm Laura from the Tired Mummy of Two blog, and I am on a bit of a mission to hijack blogs everywhere to get you all talking about my wonderful and exhausting prize draw. Some of you might recognise my name as I ran a hugely successful tombola just before Christmas where I put 196 presents under peoples trees. As this was so successful I started to think of other things that I can do.

In January my sister in law gave birth to my nephew, he was 10 weeks early and very small weighing 1lb 4oz. Obviously this meant he was kept in NICU and then the SCU. When visiting him I came across Bliss and all the lovely work they are doing in these units to support the parents of these gorgeous babies. From providing leaflets and information to training specialist nurses Bliss are there for them and for my sister in law.

I decided that I needed to do something for Bliss and bought some running shoes - I couldn’t even run after a bus when I started, but now on 20th May I will be running 10k! Obviously I am trying to get people to sponsor me to do this, but as a little thank you I have arranged a prize draw for everyone who sponsors me. At the moment I have more prizes than I do sponsors so it is looking very likely that people will be getting something nice through the post soon.

You are reading my message on this blog because PhotoFairytales is one of the many businesses who have donated a prize to me so if you are here because you love their products then you might be able to win one of them!

You can find a full list of the prizes here

To sponsor me you can Text “XOGY47 £1” to 70070 or click on my Just Giving page

To be entered into the prize draw you must validate your entry here this is to abide with competition and gambling laws.

Best wishes,
Laura Seaton

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Time to Spring Clean your Website!

As a busy mum juggling work and childcare, there never seems to be enough time to make sure everything about the business is continually up to date. I'm sure you can identify with that too!

Sometimes it can be a challenge just doing the basics, not to mention the added marketing you know you need to keep on top of. But I do try to keep on top of making sure my website is working at its best, and I'm always tweaking things on a weekly basis.

One thing to do is to make sure your website is optimised so that it ranks highly on search engines. Ranking in the organic results on search engines isn’t easy, however there are many things that you can do to help. Here are my tips...

1. Organise your Website - Making your site easy to navigate and well organised makes it easy for visitors - and search engines - to find relevant content.

  • Plan your site with a simple sitemap, and include the sitemap online so that every page is easy to fine.
  • Give each page a unique title that accurately defines what it's about, and a brief description that summarises the content - eg, an 'About Me' page will explain more about the business and the person behind it.
  • Use headings and subheadings to break content down into readable chunks. For example, a page headed 'Gifts' could include sub categories with sections on 'Gifts for Him', or 'Wedding Gift's, etc.
  • Make the page's URL easy to understand - for example, www.mysite.co.uk/babygifts is better than www.mysite.co.uk/page_234689. The title, description and URL tend to appear in search results, so the clearer they are the easier it is to see what your website has to offer.

2: Creating the best content - Creating useful (and preferable unique) content helps improve your website's SEO.

  • Think about the kinds of things your target customers are likely to search for, and develop content that will attract and satisfy those searchers.
  • Write focused text - ideally, each web page should deal with a single topic rather than mixing lots of ideas together.
  • Regularly update your website with fresh new content. Make sure the copy still reads well and isn't repetitive or artificially stuffed with keywords.

  • Writing a blog is a good way to include fresh content. This can be updated as often as you wish with relevant stories, offers and news.

3: Relevant Links

Try and acquire more high quality, relevant links to your website from other related sites. To find out how many external websites link to your website go to Bing search and then type link:www.mywebsite.co.uk - the results will show you the number of incoming links to your website. These are the links on other websites that point to your website.

4: Engage on social media sites

The more you engage on social media sites (like Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) and promote your website’s content, the more SEO value you potentially generate for your site.

5: Claim your business’ Google Places listing

If you rely on local custom, claim your business' Google Places listing as this helps you get more presence on Google’s search results. Google shows Places listings for search queries with local intent, so having a listing will ensure your business has a better chance of being visible to people near you.

6: Black Hat SEO

Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to use illicit ‘black-hat’ techniques to improve search engine rankings. These could include using hidden text on your website filled with keywords, or ‘link spam’ (posting irrelevant links to your website on forums and comments boards, to make it appear popular) or even paying for links. These techniques are frowned on by search engines and if your site is found to be doing this, you could be penalised and actively downgraded in the rankings. Also be careful when you link out to other websites – if you link to sites that use dubious SEO techniques, it could damage your websites reputation.

You can find further useful technical advice on improving your website, SEO or web design at www.marketing.yell.com

I hope you find these tips useful for your website too. Happy spring cleaning!

Sarah x


Wednesday, 21 March 2012

WOW Wednesday!

My latest new discovery this month is a fabulous site: wowthankyou.co.uk - a great place to find unique gifts for the family and home, the site represents around 750 independent UK makers and designers. I've just signed up too, and you can now buy many of my own creations on there - and some exclusive, not available anywhere else, lines too!

If you haven't seen wowthankyou yet, I thought I'd do a little round up of some of the great gift ideas you can find on there - and with today being such a lovely sunny day for us here in Norfolk, I thought I'd have a garden/outdoors theme. Here are some of my favourites:

1. Gothic Shed - what every discerning gardener will require for their patch this year!
From The Posh Shed Company

2. Handmade Gardeners Soap - a super scrubby soap, fragranced with rosemary, cypress and sweet orange essential oil.
From The Somerset Garden

3. Tree Design House Sign - custom made from powder coated steel and personalised with your house name and number.
From Iron Profiles

4. Union Jack Bunting - perfect for that garden party or street party to celebrate the Jubilee!
From Sew Recycled

5. Good Morning Campers Dog Collar - the ideal collar for holidaying pooches this summer!
From Woof and Meow

You can find the PhotoFairytales shop at Wow Thank You here - keep checking back as I'll be adding to it regularly.

Sarah x
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