A Year in Review 2013

Normally I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, so trying to remember everything we did in the previous year can be challenging.   Another reason that I love blogging as I can easily reflect on the previous year to remind myself of all the things we’ve done and how lucky we are.

I’m pleased to announce that this year we haven’t had any major deaths or dramas after the previous years.  It’s been uneventful in that way, which I’m thankful for, but still a rather jam packed year.

We started off last year on a positive with hubby getting a new job and his contract has just been renewed for another year.  I’m still struggling with us both working from home but grateful that he is around more and can help out with more of the child care.

Our daughter turned 6 this year, I can’t believe how quickly the time is going but she’s doing extremely well in school and growing into a delightfully inquisitive little soul with a great sense of humour.  I finally succumbed to having a birthday party this year.  We did something a bit different and had a sledging party and by all accounts it was a success.  We also surprised her by updating her bedroom to a big girl’s room.

As a mum it’s important to have a bit of ‘me time’.  This year I’ve been lucky to get away on a few occasions on my own.  I celebrated my birthday in Bucharest, Romania in October, learned how to Surf in Newquay in the spring and went quad biking in Iceland just before Christmas.

We’ve also had a few days and weekends away as a family this year.  A family ski lesson at the Snozone in Milton Keynes, Glamping at Cuckoo Down Farm with friends, driving through the animals at the Midland Safari Park, scrambled around Warwick Castle, climbed through the canopy at Go Ape, got soaked at Legoland and rather dizzy at Thorpe Park.

As always we made our yearly trek home to Canada to visit friends and family.  We had great weather, thoroughly enjoyed North Bariere Lake and another highlight was the Outdoor Caravan Farm Theatre in Armstrong.

We finished of the year with our first trip away for Christmas at Coombemill Farm in Cornwall.  It was absolutely perfect and will post about it soon.

We don’t have any major plans but we didn’t last year and it seemed to work out, looking forward to seeing what 2014 holds for us!

Wish you all the best in 2014


Slow Cooker Sunday: Special Edition – Food Styling with Ren Behan

I find it very difficult to make brown gloop look appetizing!  The lovely Ren Behan, a friend and local food blogger, kindly invited me around her house for a session on Food Styling.  I had no idea there was actually such a thing.  Apparently, there are people who do this for a living!  They travel around to different food shoots with a van full of props.  I’ve still got a long way to go but I learned a few things.

Tips for Food Bloggers

  1. Get a decent camera!  Everyone had digital SLRs and there was me with my iPhone.  I got a bit lost when they started talking decimal points and aperture.  However, after the session I came home and found a couple of apps that can help make your photos look like they were taken with an SLR camera.  The first which I’ve been using for awhile is Camera Plus and the new one I down loaded is called Afterfocus.  It allows you to choose the area you would like to focus on then blur the background also known as Bokeh.
  2. Natural light is a must.  This is difficult as we often eat late and it being winter in the UK there isn’t a lot of natural light.  The trick is to set aside a portion and take a photo in the morning.
  3. When presenting food, apparently, less is more.  I’ve had a bad habit of taking photos of it in the slow cooker, which didn’t result in appetizing photos.
  4. Props!  Don’t go out and buy 6 full dinner sets but buy the odd plate, bowls, and cutlery.  Charity shops and places like Matalan are brilliant for this.  Also, start collecting pieces of fabric that you can use to add interest/colour to your photos.
  5. Get a collection of wooden boards.  Look for offcuts at your local DIY store.
  6. When presenting food use odd numbers.  (E.g.  1, 3, 5, 7)

I’ve only been applying these tricks for a week but I’ve already seen a big improvement in the quality of my photos.

Thanks Ren

Now it’s your turn to share your Slow Cooker recipes using the Linky below.  We’re also on Pinterest if you want to see the recipes from past weeks.  The hashtag for Instagram and Twitter is #scsunday

Minority Influence

I don’t know what I found more distasteful last night the bare knuckle fighting on Big Fat Gypsy Wedding or the behaviour on Blogger.ed. They both left me with the same sick feeling.

I’m not going to into the finer details or discuss who was right or wrong or what was going on, as this is the side of blogging that I despise and really doesn’t deserve anymore attention. In the end, the rest of us were punished. It may be coincidental, but I have a sneaky suspicion that the forum was taken down in an effort to diffuse the situation and I fully understand why the administrators may have decided to do this.  However, it may have been the web monkey’s misbehaving again.

However, it reminded me of when we were teenagers. My mom received a rather large phone bill to a female sex chat line, one of those 0900 numbers. At the time there were three teens in the house; me, my sister and my step brother. It doesn’t take a genius to work out who it was. The one thing my mother always demanded was honesty. As long as you owned up to what you did and quickly, the consequences were a lot less and trust me you didn’t want to suffer the wrath of my mother.

So, she gave the culprit the opportunity to come forward. We were all grounded (couldn’t go out) until someone owned up to it, even though she knew damn well that my sister and I hadn’t done it. For a couple of teenage girls this was hell. If I remember correctly we ended up spending the whole weekend in and I don’t think he ever owned up to it.

So, I felt a bit narked tonight when I wanted to go onto Blogger.ed and it was down. I know the administrators abhor censoring content or banning people but in this case I think it may have been an idea to remove the threads and temporarily muzzle the perpetrators and let the rest of use get on with it. Nevertheless, I’m sure it will be up and running again soon.

10 Blogging Tips to Break the 30 Seconds Barrier

StopwatchI’ve asked the lovely Andrew of Design Credo, who I think looks like Sean Connery, to do a guest post for me.  Being fairly new to blogging I often find myself on his blog looking for hints and tips on the more technical stuff.  He’s not only knowledgeable but explains it clearly unlike many of the technical blogs that I come across. I hope you find this post as useful as I did.   Thanks Andrew

I don’t want to spoil your day but there’s a lot of evidence suggesting that people spend less than a minute on a web page, perhaps as little as 30 seconds. So you really are going to need to make things easy for people if you want them to read your blog posts.

Now, I have a bit of a guilty admission, I don’t read terribly well. I’m not stoopid or owt, but reading has never come overly naturally to me. Nowadays this isn’t helped by my already very long arms refusing to get any longer and, hard as I try, the printed page always seems a tad too close.

I know I am not alone with the oldies and I know too that there are many school children out there who have more difficult learning experiences than others because they don’t find reading easy: frequently young boys, often rubbing their teachers up the wrong way as they get more and more marginalised.

I’m off on one again aren’t I?

Anyway, it may seem a bit of a paradox that I am investing so much of my time writing at the moment, this writing being principally for blogs. I do write, I don’t think I’m an expert but do I know people are reading what I write and post. For the record I also ghost write for other peoples’ blogs. (sssh, you ain’t heard that). But, perhaps most importantly, given what I have just told you, I am aware of what makes reading less onerous.

So let’s look at ten tips that might help break the 33 second barrier.

1 Open With A Bang

A nice strong shocking declaration. A statistic, a side splittingly funny joke, the offer of a lifetime. OK well we are wise to the last one but you get the idea.

2 Be Human

Don’t be scared of being human, it’s what blogging is all about. Show your emotions and your passion.

3 Be Focussed

Do try to keep a focus. If you find you have ‘gone off one one’ cut the offending words and maybe save it as a new draft post to be expanded upon.

4 Titles

The post title needs to do two things,

  1. Attract the reader’s attention. Something that is clever, witty, inviting and descriptive
  2. Work for Google and search engines. This means that if you want your post to be picked up by Google your clever, witty, inviting and descriptive will need to be keyword rich too!

5 Headings

Break your post up with relevant subheadings. These aren’t so important for search engines but will make the page a lot easier to scan and navigate through.

6 Use Short Paragraphs

peoplewillnot readgreatblocksoftext thatcannotbeeasily scannedororganisedandfiltered peoplewillnotreadgreat blocksoftextthatcannot beeasilyscannedororganisedand filteredpeoplewillnotreadgreat blocksoftextthatcannotbeeasily scannedororganisedandfiltered peoplewillnotreadgreatblocksoftext thatcannotbeeasily scannedororganised andfiltered peoplewillnotread greatblocksoftext thatcannotbe easilyscannedororganisedandfiltered

When you write it may come out as a stream of consciousness but when it’s on screen you need to make your text easy to look at, to scan, to filter. This puts the reader back in control.

7 Lists

People love lists and they can be very useful tools to,

  • simplify
  • order
  • clarify

the information that’s on a page.

8 Use Bold and Italicize but don’t Underline!

Text styling can help you to communicate more effectively. You can format text easily by making it bold or italic, adding an implied strength or emphasis. At a push you can use capitals and exclamation marks but beware of SHOUTING AT YOUR READERS!!!!! It is my belief that the only places for underlining are in primary school exercise books and to indicate a link on a web page. Don’t do it, bad things will happen to you if you do.

9 Links

Don’t be afraid to use links it’s easy enough to add them in blogs but don’t overdo it. At best links can add depth and value to a post, at worst they can totally overpower the content.

10 Images

Images can really communicate a lot very effectively. Sadly, although Google is considering introducing face recognition technology, images aren’t as yet very searchable. So a good strong hero image probably won’t get people to your site but it may keep people’s interest up long enough for them to start reading.

The bottom line is that you are both helping and empowering your reader, if you put them back in control they will hopefully make the right choice and read your blog.

Andrew Butler



Top 10 WordPress Plugins for Parent Bloggers

I’ve been blogging for over a year now and have learned shed loads. I’m just above a beginner but not quite hit the novice stage yet. I thought I would jot down a few of the things that I’ve learned along the way and share them with you. Hopefully it’ll save you a bit of time and headache. Happy Blogging! Thanks to those of you who may have recommended these to me along the way.

Here are My Top 10 WordPress Plugins:

  1. Akismet: a must have spam filter, it catches the majority of those pesky spam comments.
  2. Google XML Sitemaps: I didn’t know that you had to submit site maps to Google, Bing, Ask, Yahoo etc. I found a much more convoluted way of doing it and then found this little plug in which automatically submits your site map for you. Genius!
  3. WordPress.com Stats: Obsessed with your stats? You need to have an API Key from a wordpress.com blog. However, once you’ve set it up you’ll have concise at a glance stats such as Daily Visits, Top Posts, Top Searches and Most Active Posts.
  4. Google Analyticator: is another must have plug in for the stats obsessed, which generates detailed statistics about your visitors.
  5. WP Database Backup: if you’re like me, I’m dreadful at backing up my blog. This little plugin does it for you in case the unimaginable happens. I’ve configured mine to email me a backup once a week.
  6. Fast Secure Contact Form: allows visitors to contact you without giving your personal details.
  7. Sexy Book Marks: A great way to get your readers to submit your articles to numerous social bookmarking sites (e.g Digg, Delicious, Stumble Upon)

8.  Link Within: highlights other posts on your blog with a thumbnail, encouraging your readers to stick around for a bit longer which is all good for your bounce rate.

9. Tweetmeme Retweet Button: Adds a button which easily lets you and your readers retweet your blog posts

10.  WP Social Blogroll – allows you to tart up your blog roll, including titles of most recent posts and when it was last updated.

Do you have any others you would recommend?  Please do pop them in the comments section.