Posted in cross stitch

Free Beyonce

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I used to sell this chart and a kit of the same which were both fairly popular, but as I am an international threat of the sort global megastars lose sleep over, Beyonce made me stop selling it. Someone at Beyonce Towers Rang The Alarm. It was probably really damaging her empire, to be fair, I can see why she was so peeved about it. You might say she was Crazy In… No, that’s not working.

Rather then Work It Out with me, she made it clear she was thinking only of Me, Myself and I and now thinks I am a Naughty Girl. I’m Sorry, Bey. XO.

Anyway, that means you can now have it for free. I know, much like Queen Bey, I, too, am a humanitarian. I’m also Flawless, a Survivor. And an Independent Woman (Part II).

Download your free Liberte Egalitie Beyonce Cross Stitch Chart here.

Posted in cross stitch

Punch Today Hard In The Face – Free Chart!

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I’ve been working on some more free cross stitch charts but ran out of one thread colour which has stopped me from finishing them off. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to get your hands on thread online during a global pandemic, but it’s proved more difficult than I expected.

Anyway, meantime, please have this Punch Today Cross Stitch Chart By Claire Brown XStitch free of charge until I get my shit together. You can download it for free right here.

Or if you prefer to sling a few pennies my way to support my work and keep me in thread, you can buy it with real money here.

And if you’re wondering how to get started stitching, download the Claire Brown XStitch Guide To Modern Cross Stitch.

Posted in Travel

How I Plan An Effective City Break Using Instagram & Google Maps

Amsterdam - January 2020
Amsterdam – January 2020

I know it’s ironic to be writing about travel tips during a global pandemic where we’re all locked down at home, but we have to hope and believe that it won’t always be like this. Onwards.

Anyone who knows me IRL knows that efficiency is practically my middle name. I hate having to do something twice or take the long way round and my husband frequently bellows “EFFICIENCY!!!” at me when I am being impatient because he’s hilarious like that (and it’s true).

Since I started to plan our trips with my patent pending Claire’s Universally Neat Travel method (need to work on that acronym), we both feel like we’ve really wrung so much more out of them – our last US road trip, for example, we fit SO much in without ever feeling rushed so it’s definitely been beneficial to take a more organised approach to planning.

Rijksmusem Amsterdam - January 2020
Rijksmusem Amsterdam – January 2020

With that in mind, I thought I would share my tried and tested method of planning an efficient city break – it really has changed my travel life and made sure I wring out every last ounce of opportunity of a break, mini or plus size.

  1. Make Instagram Work For You

    Instagram Is Your Friend!
    Instagram Is Your Friend!

Do you ever catch yourself stuck in a repetitive cycle of scrolling through images on instagram and wonder what on earth you’re doing whilst the world continues to revolve? Yeah, me too, especially at the moment. But here’s where the scrolling can come in useful!

A large part of my trip planning revolves around food because I’m a committed glutton and it’s important to me to eat well and often wherever we go. I never want to be in the position of having to eat a poor meal because we can’t find something we like (Paris 2005 trip, I’m looking at you, le bastarde) so here’s where Instagram comes in useful.

Committed Glutton, Instagramming His Lunch
Committed Glutton, Instagramming His Lunch

Committed gluttons like me exist all over the world and if there’s one thing we love doing more than eating, it’s taking photos of food and posting them on the internet.  Check out some relevant hashtags and get to scrolling – when planning our most recent San Francisco trip, I found some great tips by searching the #sfeats, #sfrestaurants, #eatersf and #brunchsf hash tags. It can be a bit of a rabbit hole – you’ll end up clicking through to one restaurant, seeing something interesting in the comments, clicking through that and before you know it, 4 hours have passed, it’s dark outside and your dog is starving.

Johnny Rockets Nostalgia Road Trip Lunch, Monterrey CA, May 2019
Johnny Rockets Nostalgia Road Trip Lunch, Monterrey CA, May 2019

I found a lot of great restaurants and bars through this method for places in San Francisco, Palm Springs, Las Vegas and for our most recent trip to Amsterdam but it’s worth pointing out that this is also a great method to find new places in  your own neighbourhood!

2. Make lists!

I fucking love lists
I fucking love lists

I mean, this is no hardship to someone like me who loves to write things down and tick them off (yep, even stuff I’ve already done. I can’t help it). I like to make a list of things under the following headings:

  • Things To Eat & Drink
  • Things To See
  • Things To Experience
  • Other (because there is always something that doesn’t fit in the first 3 categories).

These are intended to just be long, freeform lists – jot down places, addresses, instagram handles as you see them. This is intended to be the longlist – you’ll edit it down later – so just put EVERYTHING that sounds remotely interesting down. As an avid Food Network viewer, any time some loudmouth is eating a giant burger at somewhere interesting, I jot down the name of the restaurant so I can look it up on Instagram later.

3. Create Your Shortlist

Amateur Hour With The Bullet Journaling, Travel Edition
Amateur Hour With The Bullet Journaling, Travel Edition

So, you’ve taken note of about 47 different burger restaurants in Amsterdam now but you’re only there for 3 nights – something’s gotta give. This is the time to look them up and suss them out a bit. Again, I like to use Instagram for this – check out their account and see if they’re a one hit wonder or if there is more to hold your interest. If you’re into Trip Advisor, now’s your chance (remember only 1% of reviews on there are written by sane people like me).

Another good thing to do is check out the location tag for the restaurant or bar in question and see what real life other people are posting about it – they may have some good intel or feedback (or tell you that it’s not worth it!), too.

Don't forget to research coffee breaks too- Sightglass Coffee, San Francisco, May 2019
Don’t forget to research coffee breaks too- Sightglass Coffee, San Francisco, May 2019

I tend to whittle restaurants down to 2 or 3 options for each meal per day, so as to allow for it being too busy to get in, not open when you get there, etc.

Once you’ve gotten a more manageable list, you can start to plan out your itinerary in a bit more detail and allocate items from your list to specific days, depending on your travel plans. Voila – instantly you’ll feel a lot more organised!

I’m shit at bullet journaling but everyone can make a list, right? Also, don’t judge me, I much prefer pen and paper lists over digital ones. I’m old.

 

4. Make friends with Google Maps

Google Maps Is The Best
Google Maps Is The Best

I cannot stress enough how USEFUL a custom Google map can be. Ever since I made one for dog walking spots about 10 years ago for a friend who was moving to the area we lived in, I’ve been fairly hooked.

I am not going to reinvent the wheel and tell you how to do this – it’s fairly simply laid out by Google themselves.

Amsterdam Custom Google Map - January 2020
Amsterdam Custom Google Map – January 2020

The main thing is that you should absolutely do it and plot each of your shortlist items on the map. This means that when you’re out and about in your destination, you only need to have a quick peek at your map and see what’s in your location that you were interested in. They’re also shareable so you can make it a collaboration with your travel partner and even colour code the pins if you have a lot of time on your hands.

“But what about my data?!”, I hear you bleat. YOU CAN SAVE GOOGLE MAPS FOR USE OFFLINE. You’re welcome.

Look How Happy I Am Now I Know About Saving Google Maps For Offline Use!
Look How Happy I Am Now I Know About Saving Google Maps For Offline Use!

Seriously, finding this out about Google maps has been invaluable. We learned the very hard and very expensive way about 12 years ago just how expensive data roaming can be and although mobile providers have introduced caps so you can’t run up huge bills anymore, it’s still really ingenius to be able to use a saved map without worrying about using all your daily allowance to find out where that one good cafe is.

Cruising Kentucky's highways and byways - September 2016
Cruising Kentucky’s highways and byways with my free sat nav – September 2016

The other amazing thing about offline Google maps is that if you’re on a road trip, it will also act as a sat nav for you – just like if it was online (expect you won’t get traffic updates and all those extra features). I believe this is what millenials would call a “hack” – but it’s what I call some pretty useful intel indeed.

Saving Google maps for use offline has literally driven us across all of Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, California and Nevada (clearly not all in one go) and I cannot recommend it highly enough. DO NOT PAY a car hire company for sat nav if you have a smartphone and you’re going somewhere like the USA. It is simply not necessary. You’re welcome once more.

5. Enjoy!

The excited face of a man who thought he was going to work but ended up on a plane to NYC
The excited face of a man who thought he was going to work but ended up on a plane to NYC

My whole travel planning regime actually came about when I organised a surprise trip to New York for my husband Lee’s 40th birthday a few years ago but it’s really stuck with me.

Basically lists and spreadsheets are ace and Instagram and Google Maps are, too. So, if you’re anything like me and think half the fun in travelling is in the planning, hopefully these wee tips will help you wring just a little more out of your next trip, whenever that may be!

Looking for my next adventure on the horizon - Sutro Baths, San Francisco May 2019
Looking for my next adventure on the horizon – Sutro Baths, San Francisco May 2019

You can follow me on Instagram at @ tinyotterpaws for more travel/food/cross stitch/hilarious content.

Posted in Travel

Dinners Not Winners – 10 Things To Do In Vegas That Aren’t Gambling

If you find the idea of visiting Las Vegas a bit daunting, then you can be reassured there’s plenty to do without ever spending a cent at the poker tables. Sure, there are slot machines EVERYWHERE and it can feel a little overwhelming, but plan ahead and you can spend your time soaking up the culture and experiencing some taste sensations rather than losing your shirt on red.

Having been to Las Vegas a few times before, for our recent trip, we decided to make a list of the things we missed out on previously and try to see some of Old Vegas this time around. Our itinerary was based on being in town for three full days and with a trip to the Grand Canyon as the main anchor point, it was really easy to slot our excursions in around this.

We stayed at the Bellagio and scored an upgrade to a fountain view room on arrival, which was a great deal! I highly recommend researching your accommodation options thoroughly before booking. We used Agoda to book this as it was hands down the cheapest of all the comparison and booking sites we checked out, including going via the Bellagio direct. Plus they often have a book now, pay at hotel option for no extra cost which can be really useful if you’re planning your trip on a budget or quite far in advance.

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There are obviously pros and cons to staying right on the Strip – it can be more expensive, sure, but it’s also right where most of the action is. For first time visitors, I’d definitely recommend it so you’re in the thick of things, but if you’re a returning visitor, you might want to venture off to one of the more resorty places off-strip.

One thing I’d recommend if you’re road tripping is drop your car off when you arrive in Vegas! There is zero point in having a rental car unless you’re planning on driving to some out of town locations plus the parking charges are a killer. Vegas is, I reckon, very walkable plus there are buses, little monorails between some of the hotels and if you must, Uber – every major hotel has a designated and well signposted Uber pick up spot. You’re just gonna be wasting money having a hire car sitting in a parking garage, so save yourself the hassle and moolah by ditching the wheels!

Here’s my top 10 tips for a super fun, non-gambling time in Sin City (spoiler alert: a lot of them are food/based).

1. Eat at Dirt Dog

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I’m not sure where I first saw Dirt Dog, but as a dedicated foodie, it was probably on some sort of Food Network show. I really LOVE corn, and I had seen that they do an elote dog (Mexican street corn on a hot dog) and knew we had to try that golden goodness.

We went for the elote cup, filthy fries and flaming dog – all absolutely delicious and washed down with a Mexican Coke, natch. Seating is limited and it can get busy, but it’s really worth it!

It’s right outside Bally’s hotel in a little plaza area also beside the Paris hotel – hunt it down!

2. Fly To The Grand Canyon

Having missed out on going to the Grand Canyon on our previous trips, this time we were determined not to miss it again. But with limited time, we puzzled long and hard over the best way to see it. Many of the coach tours take all day – like 16 hours long – and who has time for that? I did not fancy the idea of being in a helicopter AT ALL but we found a great solution that meant we saw the majestic canyon without using up a whole day.

Scenic Airlines’ Highlights Air Tour takes less than 6 hours door-to-door, you’re collected from your hotel and dropped right back there, too. A friendly coach driver will take you to Boulder airport, about a 40 minute drive from the Strip, and there you board your little plane for a trip around the west rim of the Grand Canyon. Whilst you do not land on this tour, you will see some truly breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon – it was an almost spiritual experience to see this natural phenomenon in real life! Words cannot really do it justice – it has to be seen to be believed.

With prices starting around $130 per person, it’s not a budget trip but it is a quick and relatively affordable way to see a bit of the Grand Canyon without spending all your time and money on it. We had to get up at 3.30am to catch the early morning flight but it was so worth it and we were back in Vegas, breakfasted and in bed by 11am for a snooze.

3. Explore the hotel lobbies

Many of the major hotels on the strip will decorate in a theme at different times of the year, making for quite a spectacle as you’re passing through. If, like me, you have a creative mind, it’s fascinating to see not only the finished article but to get a sense of just HOW much work and planning and care goes into what is essentially a dead space in a hotel. What is just a giant corridor turns into a beautiful Japanese garden and is tended to by an army of housekeepers around the clock.

The best thing about this of course is that it’s free! You can wander in and experience the stunning tableaus in all the hotels without spending a dime – the later you go in the evening, the less busy it tends to be, if you’re looking for the perfect Instagram shot!

4. Play A Round Of KISS Mini Golf!

This is so much fun! Even if you’re not KISS’s number one fan, mini golf is always fun and doubly so when it’s in the dark and your path is lit by UV and neon lighting! I was given a gift voucher for this for my birthday and it truly was great fun! It’s based in the Rio hotel which is off-strip but easily accessible.

I didn’t win. Gutted.

There is also a sister course at Bally’s hotel which is The Twilight Zone themed – you KNOW we did that too. We got free vouchers to have a game there at the end of the KISS course, so you’re really getting two for the price of one – result!

Didn’t win that either. Huh.

5. See A Show!

This trip, we wanted to see a show without breaking the bank, so we waited until the day of and used one of the abundance of late tickets booths around the strip. It turned out about 15% cheaper than booking with the theatre directly, but it’s definitely worth shopping around.

We saw Penn & Teller at the Rio hotel (right after our mini golf experience!) and it was a super fun show. Plus we met them both in the lobby afterwards!

6. See The Wedding Chapels

Now, I’m not suggesting you elope or do a Britney, but I am definitely suggesting a walk north of the Strip to see the most kitsch collection of wedding chapels you’ll see anywhere.

My particular favourites were the Little White Chapel with its drive up window and Wee Kirk O The Heather wedding chapel – truly just like being at home. Ahem.

This area can be a little sketchy, so if you’re walking, go in daylight and take all the usual precautions. This is a handy little self-guided walking tour map.

7. Eat Evel Knievel Pizza

Have you always dreamt of visiting an Evel Knievel themed dive bar that serves hot and tasty pizza, too? Then dream no more! Evel Pie is the place you need.

It’s in the Fremont Street area and makes a great reward if you’ve walked all the way from the top of the Strip to take in those wedding chapels!

8. Get Fried At The Mob Museum

Also in the Fremont Street district is a really interesting museum all about the mob, its involvement in the foundation of Las Vegas and what became of all the major players and indeed playaaas.

With interactive displays, lots of eyewitness accounts and fascinating artifacts, this place is a gem that tells the story of the less glamorous side of Las Vegas. Plus you can pretend-electrocute your friends, so that’s always fun.

Oh and there’s a speakeasy in the basement that serves DELICIOUS cocktails hidden inside fake books – just don’t tell the Feds.

9. Visit The Neon Museum At Dusk

Of course, the best time to visit a museum full of neon signs is at dusk – it’s getting dark so you can see the signs in all their lit glory but it’s light enough that you can see the detail and workmanship that’s gone into them, too.

With new additions coming in regularly, I really loved this outdoor museum – it really gives a sense of old Las Vegas and the look and feel of that bygone age.

It’s a bit of a walk away from the Fremont Street area, but again, it’s easy to access by cab or Uber. They have a Tim Burton exhibit at the moment, too. Excellent gift shop.

10. Visit The Art-O-Mat

Tucked away inside the Cosmopolitan Hotel (which has some GREAT eating options – Lardo, I’m looking at your porchetta sandwich) is The Art-O-Mat, a repurposed cigarette vending machine which now dispenses art! This is SUCH A GREAT IDEA.

The contents are always changing, so swing by and check it out.

BONUS! 11. Make a withdrawal from the Cupcake ATM

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The Sprinkles Cupcake ATM is a fun way to get a delicious cupcake to tide you over as you hike around Vegas!

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Also, it’s right next to In N Out. You’re welcome.

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Are you planning a trip to Vegas soon? Go on, it’ll be fun.

Posted in cross stitch

Cincinnati Union Terminal

I finished this piece before Christmas and packed it in my bag to take to Cincinnati to photograph in situ. I failed to do that because I was too busy having a great time. SORREEEEEE.

I’m considering making this available as a cross stitch chart. When I say considering, I mean it’s been in my brain for months and I’ve done fuck all about it yet. Plus ca change.

Posted in Indie Business

Deal Of The Day

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Today, I’m offering Shawlands lovers a treat – this hand-stitched banner is down to just £5. There’s only one, so you can snap it up here.

Oh, yeah, one thing I am excited about currently is that I am going to be closing The Bellwether (lolz, again) for good this time at the end of the month. I am actually super happy about it – no agonising this time, it’s just going. I’m still ruminating about the future, but The Bellwether will be put so sleep in just a couple of weeks. YAY! It dead.

If you’re a newsletter subscriber, your details will be deleted after closure. The Facebook page will likely close at some point. Instagram and Twitter remain though, as they’ve always been more personal accounts, anyway. Etsy will continue to carry my instant download charts for the foreseeable future (though this is subject to change in future, of course). There may even be some new charts added (there may not be) as there are still folders full of them in my laptop that remain unpublished.

Send no flowers, toll no bells – this is happy news for me! Meantime, things will remain cheap as chips until it’s all gone. So please make it all gone by getting your shop on here.