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: 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: Garden Lighting Projects that Will Transform Your Garden

The other day I was looking at garden lights from LED Hut and was surprised by how much choice there was. Garden lighting has come a long way. It really does not matter what type of ambience you want to achieve you can do it.

A sleek chic look

If your garden is all about clean lines then strip lighting could be the way to go. In the past few years, it has fallen drastically in price. This form of lighting is no longer the reserve of hotel pools and the owners of palatial homes.

You can simply use it to highlight any steps in your garden, or you can get a bit more creative. The lighting can potentially be installed on each fence post to create a row of beautiful upright strips that look like they are hovering above the ground. Or, you can run it around the edge of pots to highlight them and turn them and the plants they contain into stunning natural garden sculptures.

A soft oasis

For someone who likes everything to be a little warmer and softer, there are plenty of options. Installing deck lights is a great way to light up the communal floor spaces in your garden. If you buy the right kind, they can also be used to light up floors that are made of harder materials such as concrete. The light they give off is usually soft and very relaxing. Using spike lights you can create soft puddles of light that pick out some of your favourite trees or garden ornaments.

If you have a body of water in your garden, do not forget to light that up too. There is nothing more restful that listening to the sound of running water while you watch your fish swim serenely by in an otherwise dark space. The fact the body of water is the brightest element in the garden draws your eye to it and helps you to focus only on that. It really is a great way to lull yourself into a meditative state.

A place to play and entertain

Many people like to use their garden to entertain, for them, good quality lighting is essential. It allows them to continue to cook and serve their guests long after dark.

Again, there are many options. However, usually in that situation, you want your lights to be mounted quite high so that they create big puddles of light. Taking this approach means that you will need fewer fixtures to cast light across a big area. However, when installing this type of lighting, you need to think about your neighbours. Light pollution is increasingly becoming a problem in urban areas.

More ideas

If you would like more inspiration, just click the link. The article you will be taken too includes examples of 38 innovative garden lighting ideas. Most of them are for the type of luxury lighting you see used in high-end hotels and large properties. However, as you will see, the vast majority of them actually work really well for normal residential properties.

 

 

Featured Post: Choosing the perfect family pooch

So you have finally decided it is time for the family to grow and you are ready for the patter of tiny feet. Add to that a wet nose and a wagging tail and it can only mean one thing. Congratulations, you are going to share your life with your first family dog, and thing will never be quite the same again!

Deciding to get a dog is a big decision in itself, but it is only the beginning. The next question is what sort. Ask ten people and you will get ten answers, because each breed has its own foibles. One thing to remember, however, is that it can be a mistake to generalize. Suggesting that a spaniel will be hyperactive or a Rottweiler will be aggressive can be as inaccurate as making assumptions about a human on the basis of their race or nationality.

Remember, every dog has a unique character of its own, so see beyond the breed. In fact, some of the very best dogs are of no discernible breed at all, and there are no end of cross breed puppies for sale that will make wonderful pets and not cost you the earth.

So now that we have the question of breed disposed of, what else should you consider?

Family dynamics

Every family has its own dynamics, and these will affect your choice of dog. Young kids in the household? If you have under fives, you need to supervise closely for the safety of everyone, but it makes sense to get a puppy that will have a chance to grow up alongside the kids. Just remember, every dog has teeth and will use them, so what’s more important is to set ground rules for everyone – whether they are two or four-legged!

Temperament

As we mentioned earlier, every dog has its own character – but the breed will at least give you some clues as to what traits you might expect to see. Working dogs, such as border collies, need their own space, while breeds like Dalmatians thrive on attention and fun. Gun dogs tend to be sociable and obedient, while terriers can be more of a law unto themselves. But always remember, nurture plays a bigger role than nature, so do not get too caught up in the stereotypes!

Training

A key aspect of a dog’s temperament is how easy it is to train. Again, there are some clues in the breeds here, but when it comes down to it, any dog can be trained with determination and consistency. With that important caveat in mind, you will usually find that working dogs – Labradors, German Shepherds, Collies and the like – are keen to learn and eager to please. Huskies are notoriously difficult – not because they do not understand, but because they have an almost cat-like habit of deciding for themselves whether or not to obey.

Exercise

Every dog needs daily exercise and stimulation, and if they do not get it, they will become bored, stressed and often destructive – they are really not so unlike people. While working dogs need more exercise and longer walks than smaller breeds, even the tiniest terrier still needs to go out for a walk every day.