Monday, 29 February 2016

Travel Scrapbooking: Maps, Globes and Paper Planes


This week at Shimelle.com, there are going to be lots of travel-themed projects to inspire!  I'm excited to be sharing a page I made using inspiration from maps and globes: these are a couple of sneak peaks, but to see the full project, plus another page from a guest designer, visit Shimelle.com.

I should probably also mention that CIA stands for County International Adviser (so it's not quite what you think) and means I look after the international side of things in the area where I volunteer with Girlguiding. Basically I help support leaders and girls who are planning or going on international projects.

Plus I also jump at every chance I get to run an international Guiding event!


I had huge amounts of fun making this page as it was my first chance to play with the new Starshine line from Shimelle.  And this line works absolutely perfectly for me: maps, globes, stars, blues, aquas, pinks, and every good thing.  I've got a great pile of travel photos ready to hop onto pages in my album, and I'm very much looking forward to complementing them with a little bit of Starshine!


Kisses xxx

P.S. Happy Leap Year everyone!

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Heading Through the Mysterious Door in a Wall


On Monday I am going to be excitedly running along to a preview of A Door In A Wall's latest interactive adventure.  What am I expecting? Basically, I have no idea.  

I've attended a couple of events run by the frighteningly inventive minds at A Door In A Wall and they have been amazing!  Last year, I went along to a mystery called The Life and Death of Paul Marrane.  With a trusty team in tow, geared up to dash about like loons, and smart phones fully charged, we embarked on an adventure that led us careering around East London.  We met scientists and property developers, unearthed clues and solved puzzles, and had screeching moments of epiphany while running pell mell around street corners, trying to avoid dastardly other teams.

Other teams are by their very nature dastardly, simply because they are the competition. So dastardly.


Every single event seems to be different and full of surprises.  It seems mean-spirited to explain exactly what the game involved, but it was an entire evening's entertainment starting in a pop-up bar (drinkies) and finishing in said bar about 3 hours later (frantic collation of evidence and clues collected into coherent mystery-explaining form. Sort of. And also drinkies.)

Tickets cost £30 per person which works out at pretty good value given the scope of the adventure, the number of characters you interact with and the fact that you get three or four hours solid entertainment.  Additionally, teams don't have to be a fixed size, and nor do tickets need to be booked all together, so you don't have to go to the hassle of organising the right number of people for a given time.


Throughout the evening, we intercepted secret, timed calls from phone boxes, hacked into conference calls only to be directed by shadowy, unseen figures who could nevertheless clearly see us, bartered with estate agents, and even did science.  Science!


We had a whale of a time doing a 'stock check' in a second hand shop, looking for key items (and then half-concealing them from other dastardly teams - so dastardly) and somehow got sucked into a basement cult.  Unusual.

So did we solve the mystery?  Well, sort of.  These games are well-oiled and slick like machines, and there's so much ground to cover, and so many lines of investigation to chase that it's impossible to tell if you've got everything.  And I wouldn't change that aspect at all as it drives the competition: a sense of completeness would almost feel disappointing, but there is real tension and excitement in piecing together a narrative from the fragments you've uncovered, and working against time to slot them all together.  As the clock ticked down on the evening, we were spurred on to run faster, cover more ground, explore more avenues and debate in ever louder shrieks where we should head next.

We did manage to put together the main ideas in the mystery's solution, but we were bested by the other teams, who were dastardly, and who clearly cheated by doing better than us and thinking through more details.  Not very sportsmanlike in my opinion.


Monday brings along a preview of the next adventure from A Door in a Wall, and this one seems to be something different again, although I won't know until I've been. I was lucky to lay my hands on advance tickets to this one-off trial run (they sold out pretty damn quickly) and a few texts to friends soon lined up an enthusiastic posse.  So I've got a crew, I've got my phone, I've got my ticket, and I'm so excited to dive into a new mystery!

Oh London: you are so fabulous to live in!

Kisses xxx

P.S. By the way, when I have been, I will not be sharing the secrets!

P.P.S. I've blogged about a previous adventure here: A Stab in the Dark. Again, no spoilers, but hopefully a little taster of funsies.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Not All Hearts Are Pink


Today I am sharing a love-themed page at Shimelle.com which is hugely exciting as it's my first design project as part of the new Contributing Design Team!  Shimelle and the team have been busy creating a wide variety of pages, projects and designs centred around a new theme each week, and this week, as Valentine's day approaches, it's all about love.

This is just a little sneak peak, and you might notice that this page isn't in traditional pink. While we all love a bit of pink, it's sometimes nice to go in another direction.  If you want to find out more, and see the full page, you can check out Shimelle.com where I've shared ideas for creating a layered design with lots of hearts, and absolutely no fucshia.


I loved delving into the little details as I made this project, so I really hope you enjoy reading about the process, and that you find some ideas that you can use!

Kisses xxx

P.S. Wishing you all a lovely Valentine's day.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Volunteering in Ecuador with Girlguiding


In the summer, I spent the most incredible 3 weeks in Ecuador with a team of 10 women, all volunteers with Girlguiding, all 100% fantastic! We had so many adventures, that I can't begin to describe them all in one post, but you can read about our trip preparations here, and our visit to the Equator here, but today, I want to share a few stories from the main reason for our project: our volunteering work in the mountain community of Las Tolas.

We spent two weeks in Las Tolas and in that time, I think we all took the village and its community to heart.  Las Tolas relies on farming and livestock to maintain its people, and they aim to do this in a way that supports the environment.  Around 15 years ago, locals decided that there was no future in continuing to clear land and trees, and that they would instead dedicate themselves to preserving the environment.  So they established a reforestation project: the villagers themselves are out every day and they regularly host volunteers such as ourselves to contribute time, and enthusiasm.

And my goodness, we had enthusiasm to spare!


We had a whole range of duties while we stayed at Las Tolas.  We spent several mornings working in the plant nursery, trimming the little seedlings, replanting them into bigger pots and rotating them into larger nurseries.  These little leaves will one day grow into saplings that can be planted to replenish the Cloud Forest.

And we did truly epic amounts of weeding.  Entire greenhouses, swamped with vines, coffee plantations, and yes, little saplings, are safe from weeds because of us!


As a group, we took part in day-to-day life which included milking the cows (hilariously squishy), more weeding, and one terrifying morning when Charlotte and I accidentally volunteered to run around a field trying to vaccinate a herd of bulls that did not want to be vaccinated.  And when I say field, I really mean the impossibly steep side of a mountain.  And when I say running around, I mean I would initially courageously run after the bull, up until the point when it turned round and moved towards me, at which point my courage would fail and I would run away. Imagine this going on for over 2 hours, and our two endlessly patient Ecuadorian hosts falling about laughing at our miserable efforts.

I can now say that it was the most exhilarating morning, and that I have developed a very healthy respect for bulls, after one of them got so cross it kicked apart its corral. And with any luck, I will never have to do it again,

We also spent time repairing forest paths and routes so that people can ramble around easily and enjoy the stunning natural beauty of the Cloud Forest.  It's an incredible place, and tourists bring in much needed cash to support the reforestation projects, and locals make and sell handicrafts to boost income.



The village itself was a wonderful place to stay: there were always people out and about, working and catching up and running between houses, and we were often hailed with "Hola, Chicas!" has we went on our merry way.  We stayed in pairs with local families and we all came back with different stories to tell from family life. Bethan and I stayed in a family with two small boys aged 3 and 7 who were a giggle-prone handful and wanted to play every night!  Bethan was a constant source of amazement to them as she produce games and activities and packs of cards endlessly from her backpack, and we all played round after round after round of snap.

The village was also home to lots of animals: alpaca, hens, little baby chicks, tiny cats and litter of adorable puppies roamed around just asking for cuddles.  We named them cheerfully, and the puppies in particular were popular and would fall asleep in our arms.

We also got to try so many different foods, from the mammoth cooking session where we learned to make empanadas, a morning churning milk and cinnamon into cheese and dolce de leche, and various untranslatable snacks we kept optimistically purchasing at the little shop. 



If a little free time presented itself, we would head out to explore and walk around the paths and tracks that wove in and out of the little village and among the mountains.  It's not called the cloud forest for nothing: during the early afternoon each day like clockwork, the clouds descended and we would be cocooned in our own little world of trees, mist and wildlife.


I don't think it's really necessary for spiders to have horns.


The cloud forest is a really magical place, and part of makes it so is the warmth and good-hearted welcome of the locals who know it as home.  I learned a lot living there, and life adopted a lovely rhythm of tiring physical work, wonderful new experiences and time spent with new friends.  We played football with the local children (and were properly trounced), ditto volleyball, and we were invited into homes to sample food, or sing along to  guitar, or visit a workshop.


Ecuador is a truly enchanting country: everywhere we went was different and we explored so many different environments.  But this one was special, and one day I want to return to the Cloud Forest.

Kisses xxx

P.S. I went on this adventure as part of a Girlguiding Project.  If you want to more or get involved, check out the website here!

Monday, 8 February 2016

Girlguiding: Our First County International Selection


In a month, the second International Weekend for the Guiding county of Middlesex East will take place. As the County International Adviser, it's my responsibility to organise and run this event along with a team of enthusiastic fellow leaders, and it's one of my favourite events of the year.  With planning well under way, I wanted to look back at the first time we ran this event last year...

The international opportunities that come with Girlguiding are vast, and in my opinion, that's one of the things that makes Girlguiding so exciting and inspiring, as we can genuinely offer girls and women the chance to have life-changing experiences around the world.  Each year, we can select and nominate a couple of girls within our area to represent us on projects across the globe. It's always difficult to choose who to send, as we work with so many fantastic young women, and that's why we've introduced the international weekend: to give anyone who wants to chance to find out more and get involved!

The weekend is for our older girls: those who are nearing the end of their time in Guides and those aged 14-18 in the Senior Section, and they can come along and learn about international guiding, how they can use their voices to make an impact in the world, and have a lot of fun doing it, I hope!  Last year found us sneaking around in the woods after dark, gathering around our little wood stove with cake at midnight, knocking up some internationally inspired food, and battling through some increasingly competitive team games! It was amazing to be able to discuss aspects of international guiding, and share with the girls how we in the UK fit in with a global organisation of 146 counties and 10 million women and girls: that's WAGGGS, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts.


And what happens afterwards?  Well, In the past, girls have taken on volunteer projects in Malawi, Uganda, Vietnam, Peru, India... the list is long, and filled with possibilities. And it's a big commitment: participants usually need to fundraise around £2500 each and plan to be immersed in a culture that's completely different from their own. Our county nominees typically spend two weeks volunteering, and then have a week to visit the wider country they visit. Volunteering has included building and working in community centres, running games and fun days for children in orphanages, taking part in conservation projects and volunteering with disabled children. When I speak to girls after their trips, they have always loved it, they have found their perspective on the world has altered hugely, they have found it tough, they have made life-long friends and they have been inspired to make a difference in the world. I heard a presentation last week from a participant who volunteered in Vietnam this year, and it was wonderful to hear her describe her project and the incredible experience she'd had.

Alongside this, I have also been planning our first ever county trip so that we could offer everyone who came on the weekend an international experience if they wanted it.  It's incredibly exciting, as in a couple of months we will be heading off together to Iceland!

Who knows what this year will bring?  But I do know I'm inspired by the enthusiasm of the Guides and Senior Section member, and exited by the possibilities that the future may bring!

Kisses xxx

P.S. If you're reading this and you're local to me, email international@ggme.co.uk for more details and to attend this year!