Sunday 25 May 2014


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We all have restless nights but sometimes we can find ourselves struggling to get to sleep over more prolonged period.  Even minimal sleep loss will take its toll on your mood, energy levels and your ability to handle stress.  The quality of your sleep directly affects the quality of your waking life.  It influences your mental sharpness, productivity, emotional balance, creativity, physical vitality and even your weight.

We all know it is important to get a good nights sleep, but sometimes we struggle to achieve this. However there are some steps that you can take to try and alleviate the factors that may be causing you to have a poor nights sleep.

1. Alter your wake up time

It is not the total length of time that we sleep that makes us groggy when we wake up in the morning.  We sleep in approximate 90 minute cycles so you may be waking up half way through your sleep cycle everyday.  

If you go to bed at 10 pm then try setting your alarm for 5:30 (a total of 7 ½ hours of sleep) instead of 6:00 or 6:30. You may feel more refreshed than with another 30 to 60 minutes of sleep because you’re getting up at the end of a sleep cycle when your body and brain are already close to wakefulness.

2. Keep the bedroom at a constant temperature

It is important to get the temperature of your bedroom correct.  Too warm and you will be sweating and shifting around, and sleeping on top of the duvet with all the windows open.  However, if the room is too cool then you will wake up shivering and it will take until you warm up to drift off again. 

The body naturally starts to cool as we drift off to sleep so a temperature of between 60-68F (16-18C) is ideal.  Perhaps more importantly is to keep the temperature constant and ensure that it does not fluctuate dramatically.

3. Turn off the light 

Your body responds at night to the loss of daylight by producing melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy. During the day sunlight triggers the brain to inhibit melatonin production so you feel awake and alert.

Darkness is a trigger within our brains for sleep, and so ensure you have a dark room in which to sleep in.  Buy the black out curtain linings and switch off the television and any bright lights.  If this is not possible then invest in a sleep mask that will do this job for you.

4. Get your cuddle blanky 

Small children will often have a favourite toy or blanky that they have to cuddle before they fall asleep.  As any parent will know lose that toy and all hell breaks lose.  Adults can adopt this trick too.  If you start to form a habit before you fall asleep you can help to associate that with deep sleep.  

It may be as simple as stroking your cheek before you fall asleep or inhaling lavender oil on your pillow.  Find a simple routine that can repeat easily over successive nights and you will start to associate it with successful sleeping.

5. Lower the noise

Loud bangs from the neighbours or street, claps of thunder or even the baby in the next room all register with us and can cause problems sleeping.  Try to keep the bedroom as quiet as possible, or perhaps select the quietest room in the house in which to sleep. It may be beneficial in some instances to block out the noise whilst you are trying to get to sleep with some earplugs, but remove them when you wake again from your first sleep cycle and do not become too reliant on them.  

6.  Change your diet 

Probably the biggest cause of a restless night is the intake of too much alcohol or eating too late in the evening before you sleep. Substances like alcohol, caffeine and nicotine can disrupt deep sleep so it is best to limit them before bed.  You may also want to avoid drinking for a few hours before bedtime if you are waking up in the night to visit the toilet.

7. Turn off your smart phone

My partner sleeps with his phone next to the bed and even though its on silent it drives me insane when it vibrates, waking me (not him) up. When he wakes in the night he will always reach over and check his phone for messages before he falls asleep again. 

More and more people are taking their smart phones into the bedroom, whether it is to charge the phone, use the alarm or for security reasons. However, because the phone is in the room in which you sleep you are not mentally switching off from it.  Don’t believe me?  Well try moving the phone for a week into another room that is not easily accessible, and do not check on the phone in the night.  I bet you will find that you sleep better then without the distraction of a phone nearby.

8. Breathe deeply and meditate 

Quiet meditation and breathing will help you to relax.  Breathe deeply through your nose and you can help to calm yourself back to sleep.  Lie on your left side, resting a finger on your right nostril to close it and take slow, deep breathes in the left nostril.

9. Try to stay awake 

Ever been lying in bed and thinking about all the thing you could be doing if you were up?  Try telling your brain you are going to get up and do these things, it may well just make you drowsy enough to fall asleep.  This double bluff is called the sleep paradox and can fool your brain into rebelling and falling asleep. Keep your eyes wide open and repeat to yourself ‘I will not sleep’.

10. Make a list 

Often your mind can be full of items to do; tasks at work, shopping to buy, kids to be collected.  When it all becomes too much start to visualise that you are filing these thoughts away in a filing cabinet to be accessed the next morning.  Alternatively you can keep a pen and paper next to the bed to jot down any worries or to do items until the next day.  

Friday 23 May 2014


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We all strive to find happiness and wish it on our friends and family. Happiness means very different things to all of us but there are some universal things that you can do to improve your happiness. The following 10 suggestions will help to alleviate stress and improve your mental well being. 

1. Exercise 

Regular exercise can have a wealth of benefits both physically and mentally.  Exercise of 30 minutes 3 to 5 times per week will have a significant impact on your mental well being and happiness.  Soothing brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are released in increased levels when you exercise on a treadmill or cross trainer for 30 minutes.
Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning. Even 10 minutes of activity changes your brain. Working out also alters blood flow to specific areas in the brain involved in triggering us to relive these stressful thoughts, and so increases happiness.

2. Have fun 

When was the last time you really had fun?  Often it can be an unexpected moment or an unplanned afternoon when we end up doing something unusual or different.  Breaking the routine and messing it up a bit can help us to be more spontaneous and open to new experiences.   Endorphins are released when  you smile, making you feel happier and reducing tension (even when you fake smile).

3. Stay positive 

Your thoughts are very powerful.  A positive mental attitude can get you through life successfully.  If your glass is half full rather than half empty then you will see opportunities where others see challenges.  Be aware of negative thoughts you may have but do not dwell on them.
Positive people attract other positive people, and surrounding yourself with upbeat friends will influence you greatly.  Conversely reduce the amount of negative people in your life and you will find that negative thoughts start to leave you.

4. Have confidence to be yourself 

You are responsible for your own happiness.  You are the steering force.  If you need to visit the gym for an hour each day, meditate or walk along the beach at lunchtime to stay happy then do it.  You deserve to be happy.  It is within your ability to make changes to your life that make you happier.  If something is making you unhappy then change it.  You deserve to be happy, you just need to believe it to make it true.

5. Get outside 

Research has shown that being outside make us happier.  Getting outside for part of the day can have huge benefits on our mood. Sun light stimulates brain chemicals that improve mood and increase motivation. Spending time outside gives a feeling of freedom, of connecting with the environment and not feeling so confined by schedules and tasks.  Taking just a few significant moments each day to appreciate the season, breathe fresh air and just feel connected with nature will have a huge influence on your happiness.

6. Get support 

Sometimes we need a bit of support from others around us.  Just talking over the day with a friend can help you feel better about issues and to shape your decisions.  Whilst many people strive for independence it often comes at a cost of closing yourself off from others. 
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or even just for a chat.  It is so much easier to resolve issues if we have the support in place to help us.  This may be in the form of a good night out with the girls, time with the kids or formal counselling. We all need a little assistance to get through life sometimes.  Everyone is in the same position as you.

7. Volunteer your time 

Giving something back to the community can be very rewarding.  The sense of satisfaction and achievement to work together for a common aim for a good cause is huge.  To cast off the shackles of monetary reward and to do something for others in your own time is liberating.

8. Join a club 
Belonging to an organisation or group helps to define us as a person and gives us a sense of purpose.  But perhaps more significantly it gives us a sense of belonging to a like minded community. It’s a place to meet up with friends and enjoy a shared interest.

9. Adapt to change 
Not many things are certain in life, but two things are: We all will die; and more importantly, things will change. Your job won’t last forever, your kids will grow up, your house will age, and your spouse will change. You have to adapt to survive, but this is happening to everyone else too. Welcome change as a bringer of new opportunities and to try new things.

10. Live in the present 

Dwelling on the past or constantly planning the next step stops us from enjoying life here and now.  You may choose to meditate to realign yourself with the present or choose to do some of your favourite activities.  To get in touch with your spiritual self and allow yourself some time to enjoy the now is the best reward you can give yourself.

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Sunday 18 May 2014


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I have always kept cacti ever since I was a little girl.  Now I have children of my own I love the fact that they are also fascinated with cacti.  I think perhaps it is the hardiness of the cacti; you can leave them on a sunny windowsill for a while and they will forgive you.  

They have a reputation for requiring little water, and this is true.  You are more likely to kill them form over watering.  How ever it is not the amount of water you should worry about, but the time of year you water.
Cacti are like hibernating animals, they have a dormant period, usually during the winter.  Start to cut down the watering in the autumn from a weekly occurrence to fortnightly watering, then to monthly and finally leave for three months over winter.  Start to gear them up again in the spring by returning to monthly, fortnightly and weekly watering.  

Most cacti grow and thrive in the spring and summer, so during these months remember to add a cacti feed to your water each week.  Do not use a traditional indoor plant food such as baby bio as this is too rich for the cacti. Notable exceptions to this rule include the Christmas cactus, which blooms during December.

I love planting up cacti gardens, especially as you can personalise them with gravel, stone and other ornaments to make them unique and individual.  Cacti like their roots constricted a little so select shallow pots, such as bulb pot or a bonsai pot.

The soil in which you plant your cacti is very important.  You need to ensure theta the spoil is free draining in order to prevent the cacti becoming water logged.  You can buy (expensive) cacti potting composts from the garden centre but if you are making many gardens or pot up lots of cacti then have a go a making your own. Mix equal parts of horticultural grit, sand and compost together to form a gritty, free draining soil that they will love.

You can get your hands covered in prickles when transplanting cacti into new pots so ensure you wear gloves or place a folded strip of newspaper around the cactus to hold it in position.  I use a spoon to help dig out existing plants and create planting holes.  Gently position your cacti into heir new pot to create a fantastic garden.

I always cover the surface with either sand of grit, and not only does this look fabulous but it helps to prevent unsightly water damage (those horrid brown scabs on the sites of the cacti).  Add cacti garden bling such as mini gnomes, ornaments, sparkly gravel, stones, beads or whatever you fancy.  No wonder I love them so.

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Thursday 15 May 2014


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I love to have herbs growing on the windowsill inside.  It provides me with extra herbs during the winter season, but more importantly I enjoy having a bit of green life on the windowsill.

Herbs fare well indoors, and will grow on the sunniest windowsill.  They can provide fresh and convenient herbs for use in your cooking. Herbs that grow well indoors include rosemary, dill, chervil, parsley and coriander.  

You can either sow seeds direct into the pot, bring plants in from the garden or propagate plants in the spring.  You can even dig up herbs from the garden in the autumn and transplant them into your indoor pots for the winter period.  Plant growth will slow during the winter but will pick up again in the spring. 

Select small to medium pots that will fit well on the windowsill, and ensure you place a drip tray under each pot in order to prevent escaping water.  Fill the pots up with potting compost, plant your herb or sow your seed and water gently. Do not over water your herbs, allow the soil to dry out between watering. 

Place your herbs on a sunny windowsill.  Start feeding your plants fortnightly during the growing season with a liquid fertiliser. Pinch out the stem tips to ensure that the plants continue to flourish. Most importantly, use the herbs regularly, and remember herbs taste better before they flower.  

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Sunday 11 May 2014


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Fungi are classified in the same way as plants.  Species of a similar structure are placed within the genera, the similar genera within families and similar families within orders listed below:

  • Chanterelles (Cantharellales)
  • True mushroom and toadstools (Agaricales)
  • Brown gilled mushrooms (Cortinariales)
  • Brittle gills and milk caps (Russulales)
  • Bolete and relatives (Boletales)
  • Club fungi and tooth fungi (Clavariales and Hericiales)
  • Bracket fungi (Poriales, Hymenochaetales, Stereales, and Thelephorales)
  • Puffballs, stinkhorns and relatives ( Gasteromycetes)
  • Jelly fungi (Heterobasidiomycetes)
  • Cup fungi and flask fungi (Ascomycetes)

Key to Orders

This simple key provides a guide to groups of species.  It is made as simple as possible so it does not necessarily take into account all the exceptions to the rules but is a useful first point of reference.

Read the description in the first numbered statement to see if it describes your fungus.  If it does not then read the second statement with the same number as this will include all the other fungi left at this stage and direct you to the next numbered statement in red.  Keep moving through the statements as directed until you reach your correct group.  

1. Fruitbody mushroom-like, mostly soft fleshy, with radiating gills on underside of the cap: 2
1. Fruitbody mostly lacking gills or, if present, they are slimy when squashed: 5

2. Gills either very reduced and interconnected or thick and fleshy with a blunt edge: Chanterelles 
2. Gills well developed, with an acute edge: 3

3. Fruitbody large, with thick yet brittle flesh, which readily crumbles; often with a brightly coloured cap or releasing a milky liquid when broken open: Brittle Gills and Milk Caps
3.  Fruitbody variable in size but with flesh that is fibrous rather than crumbly; no milk released: 4

4. Gills and spore deposits deep brown at maturity and usually covered by either a cobweb-like or membranous veil in the early stages; mostly growing on the ground in woodland: Brown gilled mushrooms.
4. Gills and spore deposits whitish, pink, yellowish brown, purplish brown or black; stem with or without a membranous ring; growing either in a woodland on trees or on the ground or outside woodland: True mushrooms and Toadstools.

5. Underside of cap bearing many narrow, vertical tubes, which open by pores, or remaining smooth to irregularly ridged: 6
5.  No tubes or pores on underside of cap: 7

6. Fruitbody soft and fleshy, borne on a central stem; usually growing on the ground: Boletes and relatives.
6. Fruitbody mostly tough and dry, only occasionally with a stem; growing on woody substrates: Bracket fungi

7. Fruitbody jelly-like, either brightly coloured or black; always growing on wood: Jelly fungi.
7. Fruitbody not jelly like but rather brittle, papery or tough: 8

8. Fruitbody either club shaped and brightly coloured (not black), coral shaped, or bearing vertical, pointed spines on the underside of the cap: Club fungi and Tooth fungi.
8. Spore producing area found either on the upper surface  of the fruitbody or internally: 9

9. Fruitbody either splitting open when ripe to release large numbers  of dusty spores, or expanding with a net like structure, or breaking open to expose an unpleasant  smelling stalk: Puff balls, stinkhorns and relatives.
9. Fruitbody either cup shaped, often brightly coloured and brittle, and producing spores on the upper surface of a cup, or with  a highly ridged cap, or club shaped and black, or producing spores internally and releasing them through minute  pores over the surface: Cup fungi and flask fungi.

Wednesday 7 May 2014


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I often see fungi growing in the wild, and I wonder if they are edible or not.  I never pick them though, which is probably due to having it drummed into me as a kid that some mushrooms are poisonous.  I think many people have the same approach to fungi as me.

Of course I am right to be cautious but if you are absolutely sure of the identity of a mushroom you can pick and eat them.  However, you should always stick to varieties regarded as edible, and never deviate from this.

There are many edible species of mushroom found in the wild.  The most common edible fungi are listed below.

Cultivated mushroom,  Agaricus bisporus
Caesars mushroom, Amanita procera
Penny Bun Boletus, Boletus edulis
Chanterelle, Cantharellus cibaris
St Georges mushroom, Calocybe gambosa
Saggy ink cap, Coprinus comatus
Blewits, Lepista
Parasol mushroom, Macrolepiota procera
Fairy ring Champignon, Marasmius oreades
Oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus

However there are also some poisonous fungi such as the Death cap, that even if ingested in tiny amounts can still be fatal.  Other fungi can cause stomach upsets and can have other unpleasant effects.  If you suspect poisoning you must seek medical help immediately.  You should advise on the variety eaten and how long ago it was ingested.  The following fungi are the most poisonous, so learn to recognise them in order to avoid them.

Fly agaric, Amanita muscaria
The panther, Amanita pantherina
Death cap, Amanita phallooides
Spring amanita, Amanita verna
Ivory Clitocybe, Clitocye dealbata
Many Cortinarius species including
Marginate pholiota, Galerina unicolour.
Turban fungus, Gyromitra esculenta
All Inocybe species especially I.patouillardii
The small Lepiota spp

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Friday 2 May 2014


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It is often difficult to tell the difference between a mushroom and a toadstool, and there are many field guide books available to help you identify between the two.  But is it really that easy to tell the two apart?

Fungi are classified separately from plants and form their own kingdom.  Mushrooms and toadstools, and belong to the same group as moulds. Fungi are composed entirely of minute underground threads called hyphae, and theses form a dense network called mycelium.  

A mushroom is the only reproductive part of the fungi and exists solely to produce and disperse its spores. They are in fact only the fruiting bodies of the fungi, the equivalent of a single flower from a plant.

The term mushroom can be used to referred to cultivated varieties we buy in shops or any fungus with a mushroom shaped fruiting body. Traditionally we refer to toadstools as anything that is poisonous, but as several species of mushroom are also poisonous the terms today have lost their original meanings.  

There is no description or rule to describe any particular difference between mushrooms and toadstools.  We often associate mushrooms as having gills and edible, and toadstools as being the non edible alternative.  

It takes experience and knowledge to distinguish between the two other in order to determine which are poisonous and which are edible.


A toadstool is the fruiting body of a fungus. There has never been a precise definition as to what makes a fruiting body a toadstool, and there is no clear distinction between toadstools and mushrooms.

The ‘classic’ image of a toadstool is that of a fruiting body with a stalk and a cap, although this term is also often applied to other types of fungal fruiting bodies such as brackets and puffballs. The term toadstool has often been applied to poisonous or inedible fruiting bodies, but this is not a universally-accepted definition. The size and colour of a toadstool will vary greatly according to the species of fungus producing the fruiting body.


The term mushroom is most often applied to those fungi that have a stem, a cap, and gills or pores on the underside of the cap. 

Mushroom describes a variety of gilled fungi, with or without stems, and the term is used even more generally to describe both the fleshy fruiting bodies of some Ascomycota and the fruiting bodies of some Basidiomycota.  The cultivated white button mushroom which we are most familiar is Agaricus bisporus. 

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