How to Decorate the Perfect Christmas Tree

The Christmas lights have been turned on in town for weeks, and now everyone is asking the same thing: “Do you have your tree up yet?” For some, decorating the Christmas tree is a highlight of the year; for others, it’s a bit of a faff. To make the process as enjoyable and simple as possible, we’ve put together the ultimate guide on how to decorate a Christmas tree!

Select Your Tree

First things first: what kind of tree do you want? Real or artificial? A fir or spruce? If you’re going with an artificial, do you want a traditional green, or something a little more daring, such as white or purple? Do some research: some real trees shed more and some artificial trees look more real than others.

Also, know your measurements! Bring a measuring tape with you when you go to buy your tree, and take note of your ceiling height beforehand to make sure the one you buy fits in the room!

Find the Right Spot 

So you’ve found your perfect tree. You’ve just about got it inside, and you find yourself scratching your head wondering where to put it. This is important. Do you want it where you can see it as soon as you walk into the house? Maybe in the room where you’ll be having Christmas dinner? Or perhaps even in your bedroom?

Whichever room you decide on, place it somewhere away from any vents, open flames or heat sources – to stop it drying out and shedding too many needles or catching on fire! Also make sure it’s not crammed into a space it doesn’t fit.

Once it’s positioned, spend some time opening out the branches. If you’ve opted for a real tree, it may take up to a day for the branches to fall properly. If you have an artificial tree, carefully spread out the branches and make sure there are no gaps. If there are, just twist the tree so the fullest side is facing the busiest part of the room. 

Create a Theme

This is where you can start getting creative. Whether you like sticking to tradition, or you’re a Merry Maverick, your Christmas tree should show off your personality.

Think about what colours would look good together, what kind of baubles you could use, what colour lights you like. Decorating your tree is no different to getting a new piece of furniture; it should suit the space. Reds and golds are a classic, whites/silvers and blues give a snowy, clean look, and black decorations with white lights can give a classy, elegant feel.

Start Decorating!

Lights first. Before you put them on the tree though, plug them in to make sure they work – there’s nothing worse than realising they’re broken only after the tree is decorated. Once you’re sure they work, start at the top of the tree and nestle the lights into the branches so as to hide the wires. If you’re unsure of how many lights to use, the general rule of thumb is ‘the more the merrier!’

Next come the decorations. Start with the centre column of the tree. Put plain, simple baubles nearest the trunk. This will set the colour theme and give the tree depth. Place any expensive or fragile decorations nearer the top. They will draw the eye to the top of the tree, and will protect them from any children or pets that may be tempted to play with them!

Lastly, a finishing touch: the topper. Traditionally, this would be a star, to represent the star that led the Wise Men to the stable, or an angel, to represent the Angel Gabriel. Crowns are also very popular. However, there are endless choices. If you’re looking for a less religious option, birds, such as owls or peacocks, add a beautiful flourish to any tree. 

Cover the Base

Complete the look by hiding the base with a wicker basket, handmade patchwork quilt, or a tree skirt. It will not only dress up the stand, but also catch any needles, saving you the pain of trying to get them out of the carpet in January. You could continue the decorating, and add a train set around the base of the tree, or maybe surround it with some wrapped presents. Place some cushions or a soft chair next to the tree to make the perfect reading nook on those cold winter evenings.

Get Everyone Involved 

If you have children or young family members, give them their own part of the tree to dress how they wish. Or, why not make a party of it and invite some friends over? Make some mulled wine or hot chocolate, play some music and games, and start the festive season as you mean to go on. Not only will it make the whole process more enjoyable, but as the saying goes, many hands make (Christmas-)light work. 

Keep It Safe

Decorating is fun but it’s important to be responsible, too. If you’re buying an artificial tree, make sure it’s fire resistant. Opt for LED lights as they don’t heat up as much as traditional lights, and they can save you some electricity bills.  If you’re using extension cords, avoid having more than three plugs in one unit at a time, as having too much power draining from one outlet can be very dangerous. Also keep all power sources up and away from the tree base to stop water coming into contact with the power source. Finally, do not leave small children or pets unattended with the tree!

Winter Wedding Ideas & Tips

Picture your dream wedding day, and it probably involves photographs by sunset, seasonal bouquets and an idyllic arch or gazebo set up on the beach. By the same token, the likelihood is that it doesn’t involve shivering guests, icy roads or the groom in a sou’wester and galoshes. 

Most people have their weddings in the summer, but winter weddings can be even more magical and romantic, despite the unpredictable weather. Getting married in the winter can be less expensive, allows for some enchanting photographs, and may give your friends and family another reason to travel home for Christmas. Chances are, if you’re reading this, then you feel the same.

So don’t get cold feet, now: it’s time for some winter wedding tips and practical ideas!

Room for Negotation 

The fact that winter is a less busy wedding season will work to your advantage when it comes to planning the most vital component of the day: the venue. True, the hospitality sector – hotels and restaurants – experiences a surge in business during the party season, but not for weddings or overnight stays, with most guests attending parties or other events there instead. This means that you’ll have more choice when it comes to choosing a venue, as hotels are more likely to negotiate on the price. Securing a favourable price and saving on your wedding venue will allow you to redistribute the cost towards something else, like winter-friendly accessories, food at the hotel or even the pièce de résistance: the grand honeymoon. 

Warming to the idea already, then? 

Weather or Not

The weather can be unpredictable at any time of year, but in the winter, it’s particularly important to plan ahead and minimise any potential disruption from cold or wet conditions. Aim for a venue that isn’t too far from the reception – maybe even at the same place, if possible – and organise transport for guests so that they can make the necessary journeys safely and swiftly. Think about which venues will suit the season, too: castles and marquees are lovely on a summer’s day, but on a winter’s evening, the setting may receive a cold reception!

Perhaps the best advice is to take out some wedding insurance. Wedding insurance ensures that you and your partner will be reimbursed if one of the pre-booked services you’ve arranged for your wedding (flowers, photography, music) needs to be cancelled due to the weather or something else.

Save that Date!

If you’re having your wedding around Christmas or New Year, you might be able to arrange it so that friends or family travelling home for Christmas will also be able to attend your wedding. But that season is also very busy so some guests may be already booked! It’s a good idea to send out your ‘Save the Date’ cards extra early for winter weddings, as it will give your guests plenty of time to make or extend their travel plans. People may also need to schedule time off work to attend your wedding – in what is a very hectic season for most sectors – so it’s polite, and mutually beneficial, to afford your guests a lot of notice. 

Start Early

A winter wedding is bound to be dark – that’s part of the charm – but it shouldn’t be grim! Since the days are shorter and the evenings are longer during the winter, it’s wise to set the time of your wedding a few hours earlier than is typical. This will ensure that you get the maximum amount of daylight for photos and greeting guests: you don’t want to be left out in the cold when it comes to capturing those precious memories. 

Dress for Success

With one eye on the weather forecast, and another eye on your phone or laptop, keep guests informed if the weather is shaping up to be predictably unpredictable. Kit out the wedding party with gloves, hats, or even warm boots, and a faux-fur cape for the bride, to keep everyone warm during any outside photographs. You can also circumvent most issues (and complaints) by organising a cart or basket of blankets outside the venue; meanwhile, a set of classy colour-coordinated umbrellas will protect your crew in the middle of a rogue shower. 

Food, Glorious Food

The food is possibly the most talked-about aspect of any wedding: if it’s sub-par, then you’re sure to hear about it! But the fact that you’re getting married in winter affords you certain seasonal options. Plump for warm, festive meals by serving rich meats and winter vegetables. Instead of a cold dessert, keep your guests feeling merry with some perennial holiday favourites, like mulled wine and Christmas pudding. 

Of course, if you really want the crème de la crème for your wedding, then a hot chocolate station or toasted marshmallow bar will give your guests ‘smore to love about your special day.

Outside In

The season can also help dictate your colour scheme. Take inspiration from traditional Christmas combinations, such as green and red or gold and silver, and use glitter or sequins to imitate the sheen of ice and snow. If you’re in love with the vistas at the venue you’ve chosen, you could even set up a clear tent or marquee, which would give you protected, unobstructed views of the scenery. Just remember to make sure the tent is properly heated! Ice sculptures or hanging snowflake ornaments will also mimic the feeling of being outside.

Some flowers will be out of season by the time winter comes, but that doesn’t mean you have to compromise: roses, tulips, hydrangeas, eucalyptus and waxflower can combine to make a stunning bridal bouquet. If you don’t have access to a fireplace, then candles and lanterns will lend the venue more character, style and warmth than normal electrical lighting.

Winter weddings are full of personality and romance, and we hope that, having read this article, you have no objections! A lot of preparation IS required, but that’s true of any wedding, no matter when it’s held. So, are you ready to start planning, or are you ready to set a date? Let us know your thoughts and plans in the comments below!

How to Make the Best Corporate Christmas Cards for Your Business

Although the amount of mail generated by the UK has slowed in recent years, sales of greeting cards, and specifically Christmas cards, show few signs of decline. The British public spent more than £1.7 billion on Christmas cards in 2017, according to the Greeting Card Association, and while ecards have become a popular way of spreading festive cheer, the long-standing tradition of the humble Christmas card has yet to wane. Indeed, it’s a custom that can be traced back to the nineteenth century, when civil servant Henry Cole printed the first batch of commercial Christmas cards in 1843. The idea of sending Christmas cards gained popularity throughout the Victorian era, eventually extending to companies and businesses, who sent Christmas cards to generate goodwill and promote their brand. 

Fast-forward to 2019, however, and while business Christmas cards are still sent, they are quite often discarded. How can you ensure that your own company’s cards will be remembered, and maybe even kept, just like Disney’s? If you’re responsible for the company Christmas cards this year, don’t be anxious: this is our festive guide to producing something truly special for the most important people in your company and industry. So fold that card, seal that envelope and lick that stamp: the best corporate cards will be yours this Christmas! 

‘Tis the Reason

Let’s face it: ecards are much more economical, but it’s hard to beat the tangible satisfaction of receiving hand-delivered, personalised cards. Overall, the benefits of sending them outweigh the costs and cons, as corporate cards can be a creative way of promoting your brand and boosting staff morale. But before you post a single card, you need to outline YOUR reasons for making business Christmas cards; what exactly are you trying to achieve? Establishing a goal will help to shape the design of your card and influence the direction your Christmas card campaign will take. 

The reasons for sending company Christmas cards are abundant, and your cards may satisfy more than one of the following goals. For example, corporate cards are not always recognised for what they are: a marketing endeavour which seeks to improve one’s perception of the brand or company. While it may come across as overly desperate or tacky to include a specific reference to your business’s success or a recent achievement, you can at least include your logo or colour scheme to remind the recipient of who’s responsible for the exquisite card! Holiday cards can also help to strengthen relationships between employers and employees, companies and clients: while a simple card might not work ‘magic’ per se, it’s an opportunity to thank some of your trusted partners and colleagues for their work and custom. 

At its most basic, a Christmas card is a time-honoured tradition, and many businesses make a point of sending them every year. If you do the same, it will help to mark your company as an established, reliable enterprise, with experience in the industry and respect for old customs.

Who Who Who!

Now that you’ve committed to sending corporate Christmas cards, it’s time to set yourself some parameters. While it’s tempting to order more cards than you need, it’s more effective to plan exactly who will be getting a card this year. Draw up a list of the most vital people in your contact list, beginning with your on-site employees and colleagues, and calculate how many cards you will require. Then consult any lists you have of your off-site associates, and make sure that their addresses are up to date. If you’re unsure, contact them and ask them to confirm their details; this might even allow you to signal, ahead of time, that you plan to send a card, allowing them to return the favour. This will open up a chain of communication that could have dwindled in the past but which may prove useful in the future, and to do so in a fun, informal way.

With this in mind, you may want to extend your contact list to all and sundry, in the hope that this will rekindle custom or ignite interest in your wares. However, it’ll probably come across as disingenuous to send cards to clients about whom you know little. Instead, send the cards to more viable prospects, and ideally, directly to the employee with whom you have had the most interaction. This will ensure that your card is handled with more respect and care – rather than sending it to the company director, who may hardly know you! Beware, too, of the cut-off point for Christmas post. Don’t procrastinate: leave enough time to design, write and proof the card, rather than having it come down to the wire. Some companies and offices might close early for Christmas, in fact, and it would be polite to allow them time to respond, should they wish to send you a card in return! 

Looks Like Christmas

Perhaps the most crucial aspect of the card is what it will actually look like: the presentation will attract the most attention and comments from your recipients. If you’d rather not labour too much over the design, you could commission a professional artist to create something for you. There are numerous designers on social media that you can enlist to create a corporate card for you, taking much of the pressure off you and your team. Another option, and a particularly fun one, could be to have a competition within your company to design the best card, or maybe even a calendar! Using their drawing, photography or Photoshop skills, you can assign your employees the task of trying to produce the best card; you could even split the staff into teams so that the task is more manageable and enjoyable. The prize could be something like a Christmas hamper, or an increased bonus: something that will help to rally the troops around one festive goal. 

Printing photos on your card is a particularly popular idea. Set one day aside for your employees to come in wearing costumes, or Christmas jumpers, and take a group photo of everyone in full regalia! One of the other things a photo Christmas card can do is to convey an impression of what it’s like to work at your company, and if the staff look like they’re having fun or the work environment looks pleasant, it may well help your brand. Think about the industry in which you work, too. If you’re a magazine, store or website, you’ll want something fun and uplifting; on the other hand, if you’re a law firm or medical organisation, you should opt for an understated and professional look. 

Festive Reading

The final component of the perfect company Christmas card is the message. Your greeting will emphasise the strong connections you have forged with your colleagues and clients throughout the year, and because of this, you should avoid printing a generic message on each card. The act of handwriting is, in our digital age, almost a lost art, which is why it will add a personal, old-school touch when you sign your own name or include a unique note. It needn’t be long – you’ll probably have hundreds of these to write – but even the shortest salutation will display warmth and attentiveness.

Of course, if you’re going to write individual messages, be sure there’s someone around to monitor them in some way! Be careful of using humour, for example, because something that’s funny to you might not be to others. A message that looks forward to the New Year, or which thanks the recipient for their time that year, is perfect: it’s positive and encouraging, while still making some allusion to your business connection. Obviously, check the spelling and grammar of your card to make sure that it sounds articulate and professional, and you’re almost done!

With these questions answered, you’re now prepared to print and produce your card. The most important thing is, once again, to start early: it’ll take time to design, print and write high-quality Christmas cards, aside from the time they’ll spend in transit. The process is time-consuming, but that’s exactly why it’s worthwhile: you’ll show your customers and staff that, even when it comes to the humble holiday card, your business goes the extra mile.

How to Decorate Your Student Room

Hordes of falling, multicoloured leaves; fresh, crisp mornings; the return of rush-hour bedlam. Uni is beckoning. 

Whether you’re a first-year newbie shaking with excitement and trepidation, or a postgraduate veteran delaying the impending reality of the working world, you’ll be spending loads of time in your student accommodation this coming year. 

Revamping your university room decor can be fun and undoubtedly rewarding but finding time between meeting up with friends, organising your study supplies, and acquainting yourself with your local pubs environs, can be difficult.

Having inserted the key and unlocked the door, explore this roomful of affordable yet stylish ideas – they’re sure to save you time revolutionising the interior design of your new residence.  

Home Is Where the Art Is

Although treating your university bedroom like a blank canvas may be a tad extreme, having an open mind is essential. Posters are a relatively inexpensive way of expressing your personality – some university campuses host poster sales regularly, while you can create your own online as well. Additionally, feel free to let your artistic inclinations roam free by mixing and matching your favourite prints or photos to transform a bare white area into a soothing, thought-provoking gallery wall. 

For those looking to infuse their room with travel vibes, maps can strike the perfect balance between being decoratively aesthetic and sating those wanderlust instincts. Vintage or modern, colourful or monochrome, your map can easily be incorporated into your design specifications, acting as the ultimate conversation starter with any guests.    

Remember, however, that you’re not only confined by your room’s four walls, but by the fine print on your lease agreement. Make a lasting impression on your landlord, and not their walls, by using command strips to hang up any posters and photos. These removable wall mounts are available in various sizes, so you can put up anything from an eye-catching tapestry to your dressing gown without leaving a trace behind on the wall when you leave.

Cushion the Blow

If you’re moving out for the first time, you’ll make several mind-blowing discoveries: for instance, your dinners never actually cooked themselves and your clothes never magically washed themselves either. However, while those tangible benefits will be missed, your immediate challenge will be to import some of that intangible cosiness and character into your student room decor. 

Throw blankets are a great starting point: what better way to conjure up a warm, snug atmosphere than introducing something that makes you warm and snug?! Combining functionality with an injection of colour and texture, throws can transform a boring desk chair or a non-descript bed into treasured, inviting spaces. Add further personality with a photo cushion or two, and suddenly, those empty voids which had you longing for home are filled by welcoming reminders of the way life used to be. 

For those with looser purse strings, consider adding a statement rug to provide comfort against those barefoot walks on a cold, hard floor. But take note: while it may seem contradictory, a bigger rug, one which partly runs underneath the bed, will draw the eye wider and make a small space seem larger – ideal for when your nocturnal cramming routine has you suffering from bleary-eyed claustrophobia.   

Let There Be Light

Even the best-designed dwellings can be subdued by poorly-lit spaces. Furthermore, lighting can also profoundly influence mood levels – too bright, and it can disrupt circadian clock rhythms that negatively impact upon sleep quality; too dim, and how are you expected to read those endless streams of revision notes? 

Consequently, your lighting choices should be able to cater to your uni room’s dual functions: sleep and study. You can rejuvenate your place’s character by mixing up an array of floor and table lamps to create different lighting levels, while lampshades are a great way to enliven bare bulbs or instil a little colour into a space. 

Introduce some glow to your living quarters by hanging up a set of fairy lights. Superbly versatile, they can be draped around a mirror or perched on a wall to illuminate your night-time sanctuary. What’s more, you can explore your creative side by pegging polaroid prints to your assortment of lights, and stringing them across your room for that classic dreamy feel. Once complete, be sure to showcase your innovation on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook… Whatever your preferred social media platform, your followers are sure to be impressed!

Become a Plant Parent

While those mammoth study sessions may prevent you from getting outdoors, bring some nature indoors by becoming a plant parent. Houseplants help to purify the air and regulate humidity, and the sight of greenery has been shown to make us feel happier. Even the act of regularly tending to plants is said to help relieve acute stress

In reality, it’s never been easier to develop your green fingers – low-maintenance, long-living varieties, such as snake plants and aloe vera, need only be watered occasionally without requiring massive amounts of sunlight. Furthermore, most herbs can be grown inside, and it can be quite rewarding to watch seedlings of basil, thyme, or parsley sprout up, engulfing your room in beautiful scents. Don’t forget the added bonus of some extra flavour to your meals as well! 

Room for Manoeuvre

Ultimately, the person who best knows how to decorate your student room is…well, you. So why not bring some of that individuality to your living space? Unleash your creative impulses by adorning the walls with a washi tape design, or by re-using those empty mason jars and glass bottles as vases or ornamental candle holders

However, if you’re the more organised type, dividers are a simple, inexpensive way to bring order to a socks and underwear drawer. And while some of these picture-perfect desk decor ideas are virtually impossible to achieve on a daily basis, developing a ‘keep, reuse, dispose’ decluttering policy can ensure that your creative ingenuity will not be overwhelmed by excessive hoarding.   

With exams complete and the Christmas festivities imminent, you’re standing on the threshold again, looking back at the place you’ve got to know so well. You see? There’s no reason why that warm, fuzzy feeling of homeliness can’t be fostered even within the constraints of a lease. So go for it, challenge yourself to break free, and add those personal touches to your university room decor. Because ultimately, a home isn’t where the deeds are; it’s where the heart is! 

4 Fun Ways to Get the Whole Office Buzzing for the Rugby World Cup

With the opening day of the tournament only a few days away, the buzz surrounding the Rugby World Cup is steadily increasing. That buzz will have reached a deafening din by the time the first ball is dropped and then swiftly booted aloft at Tokyo’s Metropolitan Stadium this Friday! 

If you’re a business owner or you’re in a managerial position, however, you might be more worried than excited right now. With all the matches scheduled to begin between 4.15 and 11.45 a.m. in this part of the world, the competition certainly has disruptive potential. On the other hand, if managed correctly, the buzz could boost office morale and have a positive long-term effect on overall productivity.

Our advice: Don’t fight it; embrace it. Hey, encourage it. If you nurture the excitement, allow it to grow and even spread, you’ll reap the rewards in the future.

Here are some fun Rugby World Cup ideas to get the whole office buzzing…

Host a Viewing Party

You could impose draconian measures in an attempt to stop people following the action, but it’s unlikely to yield positive results. The diehards will either call in sick, or do little to no work for 80 minutes as they try to inconspicuously stream the matches at their desks, and morale will dip.

Instead, you should embrace the tournament: set up a viewing station in one of the conference rooms, and employ flexi-time while the competition is in progress so that people can work around the fixtures they really want to see.

While these measures will keep the fanatics happy, you’ll also want to involve the casuals and the uninitiated. A good way of doing this is by hosting a viewing party for one of the more significant games. Provide some snacks, encourage people to wear their team’s colours, and allow the whole office to kick back for 80 minutes. Those who are not particularly interested can chat, mingle and enjoy the downtime; some will be won over by the action, but even those that aren’t will be buoyed by the atmosphere.

Office Sweepstake

What better way to stir up a little extra buzz than with the tried and trusted office sweepstake?

It doesn’t get any simpler: everyone contributes a fiver – a tenner if your office is made of money – and picks a team at random. While traditional sweepstakes only reward the person or persons who drew the victorious team, we recommend that you offer multiple prizes. By also offering something to those who drew the worst overall team and the team that suffered the most thorough trouncing of the tournament, you’ll make things more fun and ensure that nobody feels short-changed.

If you’d prefer not to involve cash in your sweepstake, that’s ok too: just make it free to enter and reward the winner/winners with an extra day of annual leave. That’s sure to generate plenty of buzz.

Try this Fun Rugby-inspired Team-building Activity

Don’t worry, we’re not recommending that you get poor Dave from Accounting involved in a ruck on the office floor, or that you hoist Margery from HR aloft to catch a line-out ball. We’re simply suggesting that you group together all the devoted rugby fans in the office and give them the task of preparing a fun but educational presentation about the game for the less knowledgeable folks. This presentation could be followed by a little table quiz with prizes on offer for the triumphant team.

When separating the experts from the newbies ahead of this task, you’ll have to trust the honour system. But if that big bloke with the cauliflower ears is on the winning team, you might have to conduct a review.

By educating those with little previous rugby knowledge, you’ll ensure that there’s greater interest and excitement surrounding your viewing party, your sweepstake, and the tournament itself.

Decorate For the Occasion

You don’t have to go all out and make your workspace look like a sports store window display or the lair of some rugby-crazed madman; just hang some flags or bunting and pin up a World Cup wall chart, which can then be filled in as the tournament progresses. You can also ask employees if they have any old rugby shirts or memorabilia they’d like to provide on loan to further spruce the place up. The vibrant colours and festive look will undoubtedly lift the spirits of everyone in the office throughout the duration of the tournament.

Finally, we recommend that you do your best to enjoy the tournament as well. Remember, even if there is a minor dip in productivity, the Rugby World Cup only lasts for three weeks; the goodwill that you will engender within your employees through these activities is likely to last a great deal longer.

Why You Should Play Board Games and Tabletop Games

Did you know that board games and tabletop games have their origins in ancient Egypt? Almost 3,000 years ago, in the Middle Kingdom and Early Dynastic periods of Egyptian history, people played board games like Mehen, which used lion and lioness-shaped counters and marbles. The most popular board game was Senet, a draughts-like game which involved moving pieces from one end of the board to the other. Meanwhile, dice games were played in ancient Greece and Rome, and our Western version of chess has its origins in the East, in games like xiangqi and shogi, which are still played today. From mahjong to Monopoly, board, card, and tabletop games have a long and storied history.

In the 21st century, gaming has become synonymous with computer and video games. But, as the above examples show, the best board games predate, quite significantly, online, PC and console gaming. For board games to have endured this long demonstrates their health and educational benefits, as well as the fun, convivial atmosphere associated with playing some of your favourite games. In the article below, we’re going to elaborate on some of the virtues of board games and explain why they’ve enjoyed a resurgence as of late. With autumn drawing in and the nights getting colder, it’s time to pick up 2 cards, collect £200 when you pass GO, and discover if it really was Colonel Mustard, in the library, with the candlestick…

They’re Good For You 

Every board, card, and tabletop game has a set of rules, directions and win conditions, yet these rules are not typically visible at all times throughout the game. Players are expected to absorb, memorise and manipulate these rules and victory conditions in order to participate and succeed at the game, and this requires critical thinking and good memory skills. Board games are particularly good for children’s cognitive development, as they help to foster motor, maths and communication skills. Drawing pictures, rolling dice, and building towers helps to refine kids’ hand-eye coordination, and calculating scores, penalties or Monopoly money helps them to practise some basic arithmetic.

Board games also reinforce more sophisticated skills. Your reasoning and problem-solving abilities are tested by games that ask you to deduce answers or eliminate possibilities with logic (as in Guess Who, or Cluedo). Most significantly, many tabletop games, like Dungeons & Dragons, inspire you to create your own narrative and are therefore a way of unlocking your creative and storytelling potential. In these long-form games, players must invent characters, choosing their weapons and abilities, and ultimately adopting the persona of that character in subsequent sessions of the game. In particular, the ‘Dungeon Master’, the organiser and narrator of the game, must design a scenario that the other players will enjoy, making it a social, imaginative experience. A smaller, more localised example is that of Rory’s Story Cubes, a game designed by Belfast-based Rory O’Connor. In this game, players must roll a set of dice with pictures on them – they could be animals, characters or activities – and then invent a story incorporating those elements. This is a fun way of relieving both boredom and writer’s block, and there’s even a Batman version!  

They’re an Alternative to Technology 

As we’ve said, many people associate gaming nowadays with video games and esports, and the popularity of these hobbies can’t be understated. However, if you’d like some respite from online gaming and 100-hour role-playing games, then it might be worth digging out a deck of cards or quiz questions for an old-school gaming experience. Video games CAN improve hand-eye coordination and reaction speed, like board games; but they’re also quite sedentary experiences and often require countless hours to complete. Playing a board game is a finite, contained act, with a definitive end in sight, and thus it’s easier to sneak in a full game when time is of the essence. 

Furthermore, with British adults spending, on average, 24 hours a week online, board games are a way of switching off, both figuratively and literally. Board games aren’t reliant on data, broadband speed, bandwidth, or an online subscription, meaning that a game can be played practically anywhere. Indeed, the tangible, tactile act of rolling dice or arranging counters seems rather unique in our digital age, where other forms of entertainment, like CDs and DVDs, are being replaced by their virtual equivalents. 

From a design perspective, it’s also easier to create your own board game, as they require less money and IT expertise to create! According to Quintin Smith, because prototypes are easy to make – you can create a mockup in your own kitchen – “when you buy a board game, what you take home and play is the original concept precisely as it was in the designer’s head.” Many board games have also received significant funding on Kickstarter, so the prospect of having people play your very own board game, someday, is not beyond the bounds of possibility. 

There’s Something For Everybody 

Games like Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, and Risk are still popular, but now, more than ever, card, board, and tabletop games are diverse, catering to multiple different tastes and audiences. Alongside the old favourites like Jenga and Yahtzee, some newer board games rival them in popularity. For example, Catan, a game in which you work to settle an island, is now so popular that it’s used in some US business meetings as an ice-breaking or team-building exercise. For those who like interactive, thrill-a-minute games, Hasbro continues to publish perennial Milton Bradley favourites like Buckaroo! and Mouse Trap, and the degree of luck involved in these older games only adds to the fun and spontaneity. 

Some of the biggest card games include Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Magic: The Gathering, each of which incorporates a collectible element. Players can trade cards with each other in order to expand their collection and create a personalised deck with which they can compete against other gamers. This makes the game an ongoing social experience, and people discuss tips and strategies even when not actively playing the game. There exist other card-related games that are more condensed and accessible, of course. In Boss Monster, players must build mazes and dungeons in order to trap and ensnare adventurers, and in Love Letter, players must compete to be the first to deliver a love letter to a princess. This latter game comes in multiple different variants, including a version based on The Hobbit

They’re a Social Experience 

Board games are, generally, a social experience. We tend to associate board games with childhood and with family; with a time when siblings, relatives and friends hadn’t moved away for work or uni. With Christmas coming up, it’s an ideal time to relive those days, and that post-dinner slump could be the perfect incentive to source your favourite games from childhood, whether it’s Operation, Pictionary or The Game of Life. Not only are they a relaxing way to spend your time – they’re not as stimulating as video games, so they’re quite therapeutic – but they require face-to-face communication. Players must work together, or against each other, and the competitive or collaborative experience can strengthen relationships, offering new insights into people’s personalities. 

In 2019, a growing number of people are embracing the nostalgia of the tabletop game. The UK now boasts a significant number of board game cafés, where, for a nominal fee, you have access to prodigious collections of obscure games – as well as food, drink and company. The upsurge in the amount of people rediscovering the joy of board games has meant that conventions are being held regularly, too: events devoted to board, card, and tabletop gaming are taking place all over the UK and Ireland. If you’re interested in learning more about the best board games, would like help tracking down a particular item, or even just want someone to play with, these gaming shows are a great place to start!

Well, it looks like the game is over, the results are in, and the winner is… board games! With the above benefits in mind, it’s your turn to continue this millennia-old tradition. Get some friends together, buy some drinks and snacks, and hunt down, once and for all, those missing Connect 4 counters. You’ve got nothing to lose!

Last Chance to Paint with John Dyer

Last week Zazzle artist John Dyer travelled all the way from Falmouth, Cornwall to the tribal village of Mutum, in the Acre region of the Amazon rainforest, Brazil. With him, he brought some high-tech satellite equipment and plenty of art supplies.

The expedition is the first chapter in an incredible new project called ‘Last Chance to Paint,’ which will see John paint endangered ecosystems and peoples around the world. On their travels, John and his team will connect with schools via technology to share their experiences and art, and to inspire children to create their own paintings of rapidly disappearing wildlife and cultures.

We caught up with John before he set off to find out more about this exciting and eye-opening project!

Tell us a bit more about Last Chance to Paint! When and why did you decide to launch the initiative?

Ever since I travelled to the Amazon rainforest in 1989 as a photographer for Thames TV, I have been exploring the world through my art. That adventure convinced me that painting was a more powerful medium to connect to the natural world, and I have painted ever since. Painting allows an artist to not only capture what they see but also what they feel, and that magical place where the two intersect is art.

Over the last 18 years, I have been honoured to be able to explore environmental subjects around the globe, and in the world’s largest captive rainforest, with the Eden Project as their artist in residence. My last big project was in 2015 when I met an Amazon Indian, Nixiwaka Yawanawá. I discovered his dream was to paint and we worked together on ‘Spirit of the Rainforest’, which inspired more than 1,000 children to celebrate tribal culture with their own artwork.

Last year, I was 50 years old and a new book was published about my life and work with a foreword by Alan Titchmarsh:  ‘John Dyer – Painting the Colours of the World’. The last chapter in this book was titled ‘Last Chance to Paint’, and literally maps out endangered environments around the world that I would love to paint: the places, people, animals and plants we might lose if we are not careful.

I decided that if we gained support and used the latest satellite and web technology, we could make this idea into a much bigger four-year arts and educational project. We wanted to enable schools to be in the moment, to ask questions and to ‘travel’ with me to connect them to the world. Last Chance to Paint then quickly became a reality as it resonated well with everyone I approached.

What are the first locations on your itinerary? How did you choose them, and what are you planning to paint there?

The first three chapters of the project are funded and planned. I wanted to connect back with Nixiwaka Yawanawá to paint with him again as the tribe invited me to do so. This became the obvious first chapter and is called ‘Spirit of the Rainforest 2’. I will be travelling with one of the world’s greatest explorers on the first two chapters, Robin Hanbury-Tenison, OBE. Our next chapter will be to visit the Penan tribe in Borneo, where more than 90% of the rainforest has now been felled. I will also be working with the Orangutan Foundation and painting and drawing orangutans. So Borneo is Chapter two of the project and is called ‘Person of the Forest’. The third chapter is named ‘Precious Africa’, and is literally a Last Chance to Paint the world’s last two Northern White Rhino before this species is lost from planet earth. It has to be one of the first chapters because when I started to plan the project there were three rhinos, but with the death of the last male Northern White Rhino, there are now only two and time is very short.  

Why do you think art is such an effective medium for engaging children with important issues like conservation and climate change? How can schools get involved in this project?

David Attenborough said recently: “No one will protect what they don’t care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced.” This is exactly what we hope to address as when a child takes time to make a piece of art they are pausing to think, to reflect, to look and will start to care for the subject. This reflective and creative space is really important and is something I believe can be harnessed in a powerful way.

Schools can take part in Last Chance to Paint from all over the world for free! All we ask is that they let us know by registering their interest on our website. Once they have done that, they should follow the Last Chance to Paint live blog and social media so that can ‘travel’ with us and send us their questions. They can have a Q&A with an Amazon Indian tribe, the Penan Tribe in Borneo and experts in Africa, as well as asking me and the team whatever they wish via this page. It will send the content of their message to us wherever we are in the world via satellite. Pretty cool!

We also have downloadable lesson plans, created by the Born Free Foundation, available for teachers to make delivering the project really easy. We also hope every child will be able to have their art uploaded to us so we can exhibit it on our online gallery, which we aim to be the best and largest art celebration of planet earth by children in the world.

Will your resulting artwork be available to buy on Zazzle?

Yes! We have a new Zazzle store dedicated to Last Chance to Paint that already has several of my paintings. As each chapter of the project is completed, new artworks will be added and we are using the profits raised from the sales to help us fund future chapters of Last Chance to Paint. I think it is really inspiring for children to see an artist at work, to be able to ask questions and then to see that artist’s work published and available for sale. It’s an amazing process and the Zazzle platform allows me to make a great variety of art available on a wide range of items that will hopefully inspire and connect those who purchase them. If anyone would like to donate directly, they can do so on our gofundme page.

We can’t wait to see the new paintings added to John Dyer’s store, and will be tuning in to follow his adventures live from the rainforest and beyond!

Featured Creator: The Arty Apples

Design duo, Michelle and Leanne, started their Zazzle store The Arty Apples after realising that life is too short to not follow your passions. They now work on the business full-time from their homes in the Cotswolds, and are even getting younger members of the family involved!

Where is your hometown?

We both still live in our hometown where we were born. It’s a small market town in the Cotswolds.

Tell us about the space where you do your work. Do you have an official studio, or have you carved out a nook in your home?

We both work from our homes. As all of our design work is done on laptops, we have the freedom to choose where to work. Some days we will work at our desks, sometimes in the garden, and other times lounging on the sofa!

What is your background in art/design? What got you started creating?

Michelle: After working for many years in retail, I had had enough of middle manager demands and staff issues. So I started to learn some new skills in digital design. I then made the decision that life is too short to not do something you love, so that was the turning point for me. We now work full time on the business, and I enjoy it every day.

Leanne: I always dreamed of being a graphic designer and I studied Art and Graphics for GCSE. However, the careers advisor steered me towards Maths-based subjects because I had a natural aptitude. So art was put on the back burner. After becoming a mum, I decided I had to go back to my passion and set up a creative company.

Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

Anywhere and everywhere. Once we get an idea for a product, we tend to research other examples to ensure our products would be different from what’s currently on offer. We draw inspirations from magazines, children’s books, illustrators and greetings cards.

When do you feel your most creative? Your least?

We both create our best work around the middle of the day. We’re certainly not early birds or night owls!

What are your favourite products to design on Zazzle?

Photo backdrops! They are a fairly new product and they complement the work we already have in our shop.

If you could wish for one new product on Zazzle, what would it be and why?

Zazzle has recently added some products we had been waiting for, such as photo backdrops! It would also be amazing to have letterpress because we know customers, particularly of wedding stationery, would love this option.

What was the very first Zazzle product that you sold?

Fall-themed address cards

Do you have any advice for new Zazzle Creators?

Don’t give up because it does take a while to get noticed and royalties can be slow to start. Just keep adding high-quality designs and the hard work will pay off!

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you?

We both love anything crafty, and we teach Leanne’s daughters, and Michelle’s granddaughters, in the hope that one day they will open their own Zazzle stores!

Business Card Ideas: Make Yours Stand Out From the Stack

Business cards are a tried and tested means of getting your information across and have had outstanding success for decades. While it’s easy to throw together a basic business card, you risk losing the uniqueness and quality that will actually grab your audience’s attention. So if you want to really wow your recipients the next time you whip out your details, follow our tips to make your very best business cards.

What to Put on Your Business Cards

As a general rule, less is more. This may sound counter-intuitive but hear me out: most people these days will ask if you’re active on social media and pages like Facebook and LinkedIn are fast becoming the first point of contact between business and client. Let’s face it, time marches on and it’s better to march with than against it. By leaving out your fax, landline number, address and homepage, you’ll free up space for the most important details. Include your work number and email address, and make your Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn icons clearly visible. For those operating within an artistic field, sites such as Pinterest may also be useful to add here. To get the full benefit, make sure you regularly update your social media pages with content to keep your audience interested.

Get Visual

If you work in a traditional field like finance or legal, it’s a safe bet to choose a simple but stylish template that exudes trust and professionalism. Whereas more creative industries may want to be more daring. Also keep in mind the psychological impact colours can have on a person. For example, blue, pink, green, grey and tan can be calming. Whereas bolder colours like red, black, orange and yellow can energise an audience. If you’re looking for on-trend templates, our creators have created business cards with popular patterns such as marble, floral, watercolour and more. Finally, don’t forget to include your company logo to help create a recognisable brand image.

Lights, Camera Call to Action!

To turn a curious recipient into a convinced customer, we recommend adding a call to action to your business card. This can be anything from a promotional code to simple phrases such as ‘Call now’, ‘Find out more’ or ‘Don’t miss out’. To make this interaction more swift and convenient, replace your website address with a unique QR code – then people can simply scan with their mobile device and be directed immediately to your page.

Shape & Size

Simply selecting a different size or shape template is an easy way to create unusual business cards. Our UK/Euro (8.5 cm x 5.5 cm) card sizes are perfect all-rounders that provide you with a classic scale and appearance ideal for solicitors, bankers, medical professionals or tradespeople. Looking to make a larger than life impression? Try our Mighty (8.9 cm x 6.4 cm) cards. These are great for fitting in those additional details without compromising the spatial integrity of your card. For those who prefer the compact look, our Mini (7.6 cm x 2.5 cm) cards will grab attention with their longer horizontal shape. While all of our sizes are winners, my personal favourite has to be the Square (6.4 cm x 6.4 cm). This unique size and shape will truly wow and is perfect for interior decorators, architects or those with a flair for design.

Don’t Cut the Corner

You can’t argue with the traditional square cut corners of an old-school business card. They let your card line up nicely with any other cards in a wallet or purse, and to stack after a big function or event. But adding round corners to your business cards will create a slightly unusual and softer appearance.

Pick Your Paper

Choosing a paper type requires some consideration. Our two base models, Standard Semi-Gloss and Standard Matte, offer a bright white, semi-gloss finish and a light, eggshell white, uncoated finish respectively. Premium Black paper comes with a dark, smooth finish, ideal for contrasting designs or minimalist works with light-on-dark visuals. Premium Thick offers a 32 pt. thickness (240 lb weight) and has an eggshell white finish and a soft cotton texture. Premium Pearl, which provides a soft, shimmer white, coated finish is ideal for wedding planners, event organisers or beauticians to name just a few.

Customise Your Cards

If you’ve found a design you love for your business card but want to make it that bit more special, then our easy-to-use customisation tool will see you right. Choose the font that best suits your style, upload images of your staff, premises or latest work and create amazing patterns.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to creating your original business cards, so don’t be afraid to try out different styles, paper types, colours, themes, patterns or sizes. Whatever way you decide to market yourself, we wish you the very best in all your future business endeavours!

Wedding Invitation Wording: Our Tips & Samples

He’s popped the question and you’ve gleefully accepted his proposal. Now it’s time to gather the guests! Once you have chosen your stationery, it’s time to put pen to paper or fingers to keys and find out what goes in your wedding invitations! Wedding invitation wording can leave many couples feeling a little frazzled, so we’ve put together a list of wedding invitation samples, essential details to include and some optional extras.

Let’s start with the introduction wording as this can often be the most challenging element. You may want to follow wedding invitation etiquette with regard to the hosts of the wedding.

If the Bride’s Parents are Hosting

Traditionally, the bride’s parents would pay for/ host the wedding. When this happens, etiquette suggests her parents extend the invitation to guests.

Mr & Mrs Mark White request the pleasure of your company at
the marriage of their daughter Ciara Leah Taylor to Edward Joseph Harris

If Both the Bride and Groom’s Parents are Hosting

When both sets of parents are hosting, or you’d like to mention the parents on both sides, it’s customary for the bride’s parents to be listed first on the wedding invitations. If you want to save space on the invite, or if both sets of parents and the couple are contributing, you can include all the names. This also works for blended families.

Together with their families Ciara Leah Taylor & Edward Joseph Harris
invite you to celebrate their marriage

If the Couple are Hosting

Should the bride and groom be hosting the wedding themselves, then the parents’ names do not need to be included. You might even decide to use less formal wording.

Ciara Leah Taylor & Edward Joseph Harris invite you to share
the joy of their marriage

If a Same-Sex Couple are Hosting

Wedding invitation wording etiquette is similar for same-sex couples; where there will be two brides or grooms, it’s really a matter of preference which name will go first. Placing the names in alphabetical order is a nice touch or, alternatively, do what feels right for you. If one set of parents is paying for the wedding, you could put those names first on the invitation.

Sara Harvey & Tracy Anne Hudson request the pleasure of your
company at their marriage

If a Deceased Parent is Being Honoured by Those Hosting

Honouring a deceased parent by including their name on your invite is a lovely way of keeping their memory alive.

Ciara Leah Taylor daughter of Mark Taylor and the late Jessica Taylor & Edward Joseph Harris son of Andrew and Audrey Harris request the honour of your presence at their marriage

If Step-Parents are Hosting

There are many wonderful combinations that make up a family. Including your step parents or parents’ partners to the hosting lines is a beautiful gesture. You may be wondering how you can make it work – it really doesn’t have to be complicated! In the case where both parents have remarried, you can use their married names.

Mr & Mrs Mark White together with Mr & Mrs Andrew Shaw
request the honour of your company at the marriage of their daughter

If a Second Marriage is Included in the Hosting

If this is a second marriage, you can use the same format and wording as a traditional invitation. However, if the bride still has her name from the previous marriage and the couple is hosting, you might want to add a Ms in
front of her name or omit titles altogether. 

Ciara Leah Taylor & Edward Joseph Harris request the pleasure of your presence at their marriage

If Divorced Parents are Hosting

Where parents are divorced, haven’t remarried and are hosting the wedding together, write their full names ensuring to change your mother’s if she has returned to her maiden name. In the case where one or both have remarried, write your parents’ full names noting your mother’s new surname.

Mr Mark White & Mrs Jessica Blake request the pleasure of {guest’s Name}
at the marriage of their daughter

Set the Tone

The tone of your invites should be taken into consideration; some couples might opt for more lighthearted language over formal, traditional wedding invitation wording. Remember, it’s your day and while it is nice to consider tradition and etiquette, you want to make sure that your identity as a couple shines through.

The All-Important Details

Once you have decided on the introduction from the hosts, there some essential details that you will need to include regardless of the tone of your invite.

  • Names of the Couple – This might seem like a given but make sure to include the names of the bride and groom if they weren’t included in the hosting line at the top of the invite.
  • Invitation – Ensure you include the request to attend the wedding. You can also add the names of who you are inviting if you wish, although the names on the envelope should suffice.
  • Requests – If it’s an adult’s only event, be sure to include this to avoid any awkwardness on your big day.
  • Location – Remember to include the whereabouts of the reception if it differs from the ceremony.
  • Specifics – Be sure to include whether the invitation is for the ceremony, reception, evening party or all of the above. If you are inviting some guests only to the reception, consider separate evening wedding invitations.
  • Date and Time – What could be worse than latecomers stealing your thunder as you walk down the aisle? Adding ‘sharp’ after the time will ensure guests are seated and settled for your grand entrance.
  • RSVP Details – Often included on the wedding invite itself. However, some people prefer to include the details on separate response cards.

Optional Additions

In addition to the essentials, there are some other particulars you may want your guests to take into account. Adding details unique to your day will add a personal touch to your invites.

  • Dress Code – Have a theme in mind? Whether it is a black-tie event, destination wedding or a particular colour scheme you have in mind for your guests, include a suggested dress code.
  • Dietary Requirements – It’s a good idea to give the guests the option to flag any dietary requirements ahead of time and let caterers know before the celebrations begin.
  • Gift Registry – It can be considered bad taste to include your gift registry on your invitations, but including an enclosure card in the envelope or on the website is a nice touch. If you would prefer no gifts, you can include something like ‘Your presence is present enough’ or ‘No gifts please, bring only your appetite and your dancing shoes’.
  • End Time – If your reception venue has a curfew or you want the evening to end at a certain time, simply add the line ‘Carriages at…’ and the time of your choice.
  • Accommodation – Adding accommodation suggestions is a nice touch, especially if you have family or friends travelling to your wedding or if you are getting married in another town, county or country.
  • Wedding Website – Especially practical if you have guests travelling from abroad, you have opted for a destination wedding or if your celebrations will take place over a whole weekend. Your wedding website will come in useful for adding travel details, accommodation options and your wedding itinerary.