Featured post: Top magical creatures and their powers

A huge part of the appeal of Harry Potter is all the magical creatures that are brought to life on the big screen. While some are mischievous, others are helpful and the rest are just downright frightening – and you can learn about them all as you explore the creature effects at Warner Bros Studio Tours.

It would be impossible to name every magical creature in the non-Muggle world, but here are some of the best:

Buckbeak

The undisputed gentleman of the magical-creatures world, Buckbeak is a hippogriff, so he is half eagle and half horse. A stickler for manners, this potentially dangerous breed can be placated by a simple bow, returning the favour if your gesture of respect is believed and accepted. 

In terms of powers, Buckbeak can’t do any magic, as such, but he can fly, which comes in very handy, as both Harry Potter and Sirius Black can tell you.

Aragog

Scary to look at but one of Hagrid’s favourite animal friends, Aragog is an acromantula – or a blooming big spider, to you and me. He lives in the Forbidden Forest with his enormous family and lies in wait for potential food to walk into his lair, with humans being a particularly enjoyable snack.

Acromantula venom is exceptionally rare and dangerous, so those who can collect some could find themselves very rich if they sell it. Just ask Professor Slughorn.

Basilisk

The monster of Slytherin, the basilisk is a huge serpent with enormous venomous fangs, armour-like scales and a fierce loyalty to those who can speak Parseltongue. Basilisks are also as magical as they are terrifying, which is why they tend to get locked away in hidden places, such as the Chamber of Secrets.

Powers-wise, basilisks are able to deflect spells with their tough scales and can scare people to death, literally, with their stare. The only way to survive eye contact with a basilisk is to not make it directly.

Boggart

Boggarts might sound like fairly harmless magical creatures, what with them not having a form of their own, but they actually are one of the scariest. Nobody knows what they look like when they are alone, but when confronted by a person, they really show their true power.

A boggart’s power is that it can see into the mind of the person looking at it and transform into their greatest fear. Pretty horrifying stuff, but humiliating the boggart and laughing at it will make it retreat.

Centaur

A beautiful creature that should never be considered a half-breed, the centaur is an extra-special resident of the Forbidden Forest. Suspicious of humans and hesitant to get involved with them, these striking, intelligent creatures possess a number of powers.

Healing, divination and astronomy are particular strengths of centaurs, but you’ll be lucky to get them to help you.

Dragon

From the Common Welsh Green to Norwegian Ridgebacks, all dragons are magical in their own right and are particularly untamed. Large, scary to look at and easy to anger, these amazing creatures featured heavily in the Triwizard Tournament, much to Harry’s unhappiness.

Able to fly and breath fire, dragons are not to be meddled with. They can come to respect certain humans, such as Charlie Weasley, but humans generally don’t emerge from an encounter without a scar or two.

Unicorn

As beautiful as they are magical, unicorns live in the Forbidden Forest, away from human interference. It’s worth noting that they are relatively tame, for the right people, however, so if you’re pure of heart, they might be willing to trot over for a petting session. 

Unicorns are exceptional in that every part of them is magical. Their hair is used for wand cores, their horns are used in potions and their blood is said to give long-lasting life to anyone who drinks it. But beware! As soon as unicorn blood touches your lips, you will be cursed.

Thestral

Winged horses with skeletal bodies and faces, thestrals would probably scare people, if more could see them. Their power is very specific and tells of great sadness.

Sweet thestrals can remain invisible to everyone, bar those that have witnessed death first hand. They are very gentle and affectionate, enjoying the company of humans, but as few can actually see them, so they are regarded with a lot of suspicion and fear.

Of course, there are lots more magical creatures to know about and some of the most fun-sounding are those that Luna Lovegood and her father believe in but can’t prove the existence of. Just because you’ve never seen them, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist!

Featured post: Renovating or Updating a Room on a Budget

Most of us invest a fair amount of time and money into our homes. We decorate fairly regularly. But, in most homes, there is one room that is often neglected, the spare room. This is a big shame because there is a lot you can get out of putting that space to use. For example, you could rent it out; use it as an office, set up a snug, gym, game room or playroom in it.

If you fancy doing that, but are short on cash, read on. Below I explain how to get things looking good again without having to buy expensive decorating materials or calling in the professionals.

Sort out the floors

If your skirting boards are all dinged, there is no need to spend a day rubbing them down, filling and painting them. Just buy some new Torus skirting board. This style blends in almost regardless of your tastes in room decor. If you buy the pre-primed kind you will save yourself a lot of money. It does not take long to install and there is certainly no need to hire a carpenter.

If the floor covering needs replacing too, opt for laminate flooring or vinyl. Provided the room is not going to be heavily used you can get away with buying the cheaper kinds of laminate flooring.

Sprucing up the walls

There is no need to use wallpaper. Painted walls are a lot cheaper and easier to maintain. Plus, they are far easier to change up when you want to create a new look.

All you need to do is to put up some new photos, decals or wall hangings. Wall stickers are great too. They cost a bit, but they give the room a fresh, clean look and take about 40 minutes to put up. Just be sure to buy the type that can easily be peeled off and replaced when you want to change things again.

Sorting out the lighting

Provided you stick with the fixtures you already own, you do not have to spend a lot of time and money on lighting. Maybe, just put in a brighter bulb or one that can be dimmed. However, it is worth updating the shades and fixtures every now and again. It is surprising how dated old lighting fixtures make a room look.

Upgrade the storage

A tidy room looks better and you will get more use out of it. So, take the time to clean out the junk and upgrade the storage if you need to. Lidded plastic storage bins are a great way to make the best use of the entire cube of a cupboard. You will be surprised by how much extra stuff you can fit in when you use them.

Redress the windows

If you already have curtains consider making new tiebacks or edging each curtain with a strip of new material to bring them up to date. Potentially, the same can be done with blinds. Should you not be able to get away with this approach, consider making new curtains or blinds yourself. It is surprisingly easy to do. There are plenty of YouTube videos that show you, in detail, how to get the job done.

Featured Post: Some simple tips to help you tackle rising living costs

on the beach
A rare moment of summer sunshine

I don’t know about you, but in the past couple of years everything has started seeming more expensive. I’ve not been spending extravagantly or anything, just maintaining what we’ve been doing. However, I think the reason behind it is that everything really is more expensive! Last year our weekly shopping was somewhere in the region of £100, before you think that’s a lot, there are 5 of us in our household including three growing children. Nowadays the weekly shopping is usually around £200.

 

I know that we are not the only household in this situation, a straw poll at work tells me that nearly everyone is feeling the pinch and it’s difficult to know and to recognise when to put the brakes on your spending. It’s also quite hard to accept that you need to tackle the situation heads on, who wants to feel worse off!

Christmas is just three weeks away and if your household is anything like ours you’ll be entering the red very shortly. I think we spend at least another additional £500 this time of year which I never seem to manage to plan for.

In the spirit of this, and because quite frankly we need to reign our spending in a bit here, I’ve come up with a few practical tips to help you reduce your day to day costs. These are all things we’ve done here (with the exception of the final one) and they seem to be making a bit of a difference.

Shop around for Energy

Revisit your energy suppliers and use a price comparison site to check you’re still getting the best deal. If not, swop! One year we saved nearly £300 doing this.

Shop around for Insurance

Car insurance, buildings and contents for your house and life insurance all add up. Make sure you use a compassion site to get the best deal for this, also you’ll find that you can get some great deals by using the same company in combined policies, for example if you use the same insurance company for two cars you’ll save nearly a third.

Change supermarkets

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with regular trips to the same supermarket. However, I have found that if I shop around a little then I do tend to save money. I’ve noticed that some supermarkets are considerably  and consistently cheaper than others for a variety of things so stock up on pasta in one supermarket and crisps in another and you’ll soon find you make savings.

Use the Library!

One of the most easy and passive ways I’ve found to save money is to use the library digital magazine apps. With your library card you’ll find that you can access a range of free magazines online and they are delivered in exactly the same way as if you’d take out a subscription. No compromise here, just money saving!

Maximise the potential of your house

Some of my friends live close to  the train station and they don’t use their driveway so they rent it out. Others allow television companies to use their houses as location shoots. We’ve not managed to do this yet, but I think with a bit of effort it might be worth considering.

There are lots of other things you can do which can help you maximise your current income and generate some passive income which will all help. If you’d like some other ideas have a look at this website.

Featured Post: Kitting the Whole Family Out with Great Swimwear

Brilliant beach in West Wales ideal for swimming or coasteering

Swimming is a great way to past the time. It is fun, keeps you fit and is something you can potentially enjoy year round, as a family.

No point in the UK is more than 70 miles from the sea. So, most families can easily take a day trip to the seaside. During the winter months, you can simply switch to visiting your nearest swimming pool.

To start enjoying this pastime all you need to do is to kit everyone out with some swimwear. You can easily buy what you need from online retailers like Simply Be. Here are a few tips to help you to quickly find what you need.

Measure everyone

Before you do anything else, measure everyone you are planning to buy new swimwear for. This is the best way to get the sizing right.

Another way of doing it is to measure something that you already own. Provided it fits well, of course. It is easy to measure a pair of trunks or swimming shorts. If you want to measure a swimsuit or bikini that you already own, this guide will help you to do it properly.

Buy good quality swimwear

If you are planning to go swimming on a regular basis, it makes sense to buy good quality items. Remember that both salt and chlorinated water make swimwear wear out faster. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do about this fact. Rinsing everyone’s costumes out as soon as possible will help. However, if you buy cheap swimwear it will not last very long. The fibres will start to break down after just a few weeks of wear. When that happens the costume will start to sag and fade.

Buy the right cut

For both men and women, there are several styles of swimwear to choose between. You want everyone in the family to feel comfortable while wearing their swimming costumes. So, take the time to find out what each member of your family would like to wear and try to buy something in that style.

Of course, it needs to be modest. If the swimwear you are buying will be worn on holiday bear in mind the dress code of the place you are planning to visit. For example, in France, most swimming pools will not allow men or boys to wear swimming shorts. So, if you will be staying there you will need to kit the male members of your family out with trunks instead.

If you, or other family members, are planning to take part in water sports or beach games you will need to bear this in mind as well. Some styles of swimwear, for example, string bikinis are not suitable for most watersports.

Goggles and buoyancy aids

If your children are young or are not confident in the water you will want to buy them some sort of buoyancy aids. A few years ago I wrote a short guide about buying them and goggles. You can read it here.

Featured Post: Fun for kids: 5 Things Every Parent Should Do for a Road Trip With Kids

Any expert will tell you that it pays to be well prepared before attempting a road trip with kids. Having some fun things to keep the kids occupied, along with snacks, drinks and the expectation that you’ll need to stop often, a road trip can actually be an enjoyable way to travel for kids and parents. The following ideas are sure to make the miles speed by without taking the smiles off your faces.

Make a Map

Kids, especially younger ones, like to ask repeatedly whether you’re there yet. By making them a map, they can assess how much further you have to go. Make a child-friendly map that features photos or drawings of the landmarks you’ll encounter along the way. Your child can mark off the landmarks as you drive so they know when you’re getting closer.

Make Some Stops for Fun

If you plan for stops along the way, you’ll all have fun and you won’t have to stress so much about making good time. There are all sorts of great attractions all over Britain and making time to see some of them makes for great memories and keeps kids from getting bored and cranky in the car. Look for museums, roadside fruit stands, quirky truck stops and other stuff along the way. You won’t be sorry! If you think you would make a better trip with a bigger or better car, take the opportunity. IntelligentcarLeasing.com offers the best prices for car leasing and you can lease a vehicle ideal for your trip.

Bring a Portable DVD Player

Any parent who has taken their child on a road trip will tell you that a portable DVD player is the best investment you’ll ever make. You can hook the device up the car via the Bluetooth or cigarette lighter, allowing your child to watch his or her favourite movies along the way. This is a great way to keep things calm and quiet along the way and a movie can also help a child fall asleep if you’re traveling at night or during naptime.

Save the Electronics for a Last Resort

Kids love their tablets and handheld video games, but even those will get boring after playing for hours. Stash them until your child is on his or her last bit of patience with riding in the car or when you’re stuck in traffic. Just when things are reaching their breaking point, hand over the device and things will be immediately better.

Consider Elevation

If you plan to drive into the mountains or otherwise climb in elevation, pack some snacks your child can chew or suck on. This helps relieve the pain and pressure in your child’s ear and gives them a tasty treat to look forward to on the road. You might even want one for yourself if you’re uncomfortable with changes in elevation. No one turns down candy!

A road trip doesn’t have to be a miserable experience. By planning it well in advance, you’ll have plenty to keep the kids entertained and everyone will look back on the trip with fondness because your memories will be pleasurable rather than disastrous.