Friday, 19 July 2019

Journalling and writing prompts for bloggers

Journalling and writing prompts for bloggers

Recently I treated myself to a new journal, and although I was full of ideas when I purchased it, as soon as I found time to sit down and write my mind went blank! So I thought I'd come up with a list of journalling and blogging prompts that I can use as a way to both open up my creativity when it comes to creating new and interesting content, and come up with ideas that I can develop into blog posts.

I hope that these ideas might be useful for other bloggers too!

* Create a visual mind map or spider diagram for your blog. With your blog name in the centre, create bubbles for the topics that you already blog about as well as new topics that you would enjoy writing about. Under these main areas create sub-categories and sub-themes. You will see if there are any gaps in your content, and be reminded of topics that you've already covered and can link back to in new blog posts.

* Find a list of seasonal events and awareness days. There are plenty out there, I particularly like this one as it's a UK list - A Time-Saving List of Awareness Days. Choose your favourites, maybe one or two for each month, and think about a related blog post that you could write. Maybe it's an issue that you've been touched by, or a related recipe or craft that you could share. You could create a page for each one and add in related thoughts and ideas as they come to you so that when the day comes around you have something ready to write up and publish.

* Start a list of social media status updates and prompts that you can post to Facebook or Twitter to inspire a conversation or spark engagement. If you have enough you could share them in a blog post, maybe themed by season or blog niche.

* Come up with a list of photo challenges or blog post challenges that you could set for fellow bloggers. For example you could come up with a list of themes for each day of the month and encourage others to join in by posting a daily photo to Instagram or Twitter.

* Explore what blogging means to you. For example:

- Why I'm glad that I started this blog
- What I enjoy most about writing my blog
- Why I write a blog
- What I've learned from blogging
- What I've gained from blogging
- Advice for new bloggers
- What I'd do differently when it comes to my blog
- Where I want to take my blog

These don't need to be written up into a blog post, but they are a way of helping to think positively about your blog and what you've achieved, especially if you are becoming disheartened or feeling that you can't compare to others.

* Keep a record of your statistics over time - the number of posts written, number of followers on different platforms and so on.

* Lay out and track your blogging goals. Either specific goals such as reaching a certain number of followers, or a more general aim like creating a viral meme or setting up a social media scheduler. Think about what needs to be done to meet each goal by writing out a specific list of actionable tasks that you can tick off when they are complete.

* Brainstorm potential blog post ideas, trying to be as specific when it comes to the title as possible. There is lots of inspiration for blog post ideas online, for example my entire year of blog post ideas and inspiration. From time to time I like to challenge myself to quickly come up with five or ten different ideas for blog posts, and then I immediately schedule them in my editorial calendar to encourage me to get them written up.

I hope that these ideas give you some inspiration the next time you're staring at a blank page in your journal!

Journal prompts for bloggers
Photo credit Kyle Glenn via Unsplash

Main image credit Ana Tavares via Unsplash.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Wightlink Ferries to the Isle of Wight review #ad

Ad - We received a complimentary return ferry crossing from Portsmouth to Fishbourne in exchange for this blog post.

We've just returned from a wonderful family holiday on the Isle of Wight. Although we live pretty close, and have often seen the island in the distance, it was our first visit, and we had such a lovely time that I'm certain we'll be back!

There are several different ways that you can reach the island. Our closest port is Portsmouth, and so we chose to travel with Wightlink which offers three different routes from the mainland. You can travel with your car from either Portsmouth Gunwharf to Fishbourne or Lymington to Yarmouth, or as a foot passenger you can travel by FastCat from Portsmouth Harbour to Ryde Pier. We were taking our car and so we used the Portsmouth Gunwharf to Fishbourne route. The route to the port in Portsmouth was very well signposted, and as we'd made sure to arrive at the earliest recommended time we ended up making an earlier ferry which was a big bonus! This crossing over the Solent takes just 45 minutes.

Car inside a car ferry

Loading the cars onto the ferry was simple and speedy in both directions. While you are waiting to board, both Portsmouth and Fishbourne have facilities for passengers, including toilets with baby change and hot drinks. You need to leave your car once it has been loaded on to the ferry and head to the passenger decks and lounges for the journey. The ferry leaves as soon as the last car is loaded, so if you are among the final passengers to board you'll be underway by the time you reach the deck!

Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth viewed from Wightlink ferry

Sailing from Portsmouth you have a beautiful view of the city, the skyline dominated by the Spinnaker Tower. We were lucky that the weather was lovely for both our crossings so we were able to enjoy the sunny decks, and there was barely any motion from the waves. If the weather is more inclement then there are plenty of places to relax inside the ferry, alongside toilets and cafe facilities.

View from the back of a car ferry across Portsmouth

On our ferry there was a small area inside set aside for children with large windows and padded seats, I think Harry could have stayed here all day! It's such a busy stretch of water that there is always something interesting out there to spot.

Child sitting at a window in a Wightlink ferry

Up on deck you can see land in both directions so it's easy to see how much of the crossing is remaining. I was really impressed by how smooth and enjoyable our ferry journey was. I'm sure we'll definitely be using Wightlink to make this crossing in the future!

Child on a Wightlink ferry from Portsmouth

I made a short video of our crossing which you can see below - enjoy!

Monday, 15 July 2019

Useful things that you can make using Hama beads

Useful projects created using Hama beads

I love that Hama beads are such a versatile crafting material. There are plenty of ways that you can craft with them rather than just creating different patterns and shapes. I'm all about creating things that have a purpose, and so here I've rounded up some ideas for Hama bead craft projects that can be used to make something useful. There are some great gift ideas too!

Related post - A year of Hama bead crafts

I really love my Hama bead jam jar storage. I took old jam jars and tins and made colourful wide strips of Hama beads to decorate them. When the Hama beads are still warm from the iron they are supple and can be formed into a curved shape that will hold once the beads have cooled. Then you can glue them to the outside of the jars or tins. It also makes the jars easy to pick up and carry!

Hama bead covered decorated jam jar craft

I love using Hama bead photo frames to display my favourite photos and postcards. I've made several different themed frames, and you can use colours and patterns that match both your decor and the theme of the pictures.

Hama bead photo frames

I use these Mini Hama bead decorative plant markers to brighten up my pot plants. They are so colourful, and the mini Hama beads can be used to create some lovely and intricate designs in the same range of bright colours as the larger beads.

Related post - A guide to using mini Hama beads

Mini Hama bead decorative plant markers

This Hama bead hair clip hanger is a great way to display a couple of Hama bead creations. Just fix a larger piece to one end of a long piece of ribbon and a smaller piece to the bottom. When hung on the wall it makes a great place to display and organise hair clips, and you could also use it for pin badges or buttons.

Hama bead hair clip hanger craft

Related post - Ironing tips for Hama beads

Hama bead keyrings make a really useful and practical gift. I made these Minecraft key rings as party bag gifts for a Minecraft themed party. We've also made key rings using the mini flower peg board. The children love them for decorating their school bags!

Hama bead Minecraft keyrings

Hama bead Emoji magnets are another useful gift. We've made them using the Minecraft templates that we used for the key rings above, and we also came up with our own Emoji based designs. They were a great hit with other children at the school summer fair!

Hama bead Emoji themed magnets craft

Finally you can never have enough coasters, and I've made Hama bead coasters in a variety of seasonal designs, including Diwali, Halloween, Autumn and Easter.

Hama bead Autumn themed coasters

I hope that my designs have inspired you to get crafty this summer, happy Hama bead crafting!

You can find many more Hama bead projects on my dedicated Hama beads page.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Why I want my children to travel the world

As a family we love to travel, and we have been lucky enough to enjoy some wonderful experiences. We are very varied in where we stay, from self-catering cottages to cruise ships to tents. We also travel all over the place, from the campsite up the road, to cities in our own continent, and to faraway countries on the other side of the world.

I know that my children are still young, and there are many things that they don't or won't remember.  But I will always have my own memories of sharing these experiences with them, and I hope that they will grow up remembering an interesting and exciting childhood.

We prioritise travel above many other things in our household budget - our house and clothes are definitely a little scruffy - but I'm so grateful for all the opportunities that we have had.

So I thought I'd write about some of the reasons that travel is brilliant for our family, and why I want my children to see the world.

* Travel helps to enhance their learning. We try our best to find attractions that relate to relevant school topics. So we have seen real Viking ships in Norway, a Roman villa reconstruction in Los Angeles, and numerous castles and forts.

Getty Roman villa in Los Angeles, United States

* We can expose them to different cultures. For example in Singapore you can visit temples belonging to many different religions, all located within walking distance of each other.

* They see different languages being spoken. As someone that has studied languages, I think that language learning is really important and I want them to understand that too.

* While we are away we become a single family unit, depending upon and helping one another. We work together to plan itineraries and solve problems.

* The children can be given some responsibility, even if that's just helping themselves to their own food from a buffet dinner, or a short walk back to the hotel room to fetch something.

* We learn to enjoy each other's company, to play games together, talk together, or just sit in companionable silence reading, without the distractions of home and work.

* Time spent travelling from one place to another means that children need to learn to entertain themselves and be happy in their own company. They know to pack books, puzzle books, and pens and paper alongside electronic devices, and they are very good at sitting still for long periods in the car or plane.

* The children are used to living and sleeping in different environments, with different food, routines, and away from the comforts of home.

* They are able to learn about the different ways that other countries deal with the same problems, and think about whether the solution is better or worse than where we live. For example social problems like homelessness, or practical problems like recycling and public transport. This is something that I really thought about when I spent a year living in Germany for my degree, and it always interests me to see how different countries and cultures are both similar and different.

Do you enjoy travel with your children when you can? What do you think they learn from it?

Family camping trip outside

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

How I organise my day

I like to think that I'm a very organised person. I love making plans and lists, I know where pretty much everything in my house is, I usually remember everything that needs to be taken up to school, and I don't very often lose things.

I work from home, both on this blog and for a home working company, and although it's not very reliable or demanding I can fit it around the children and their needs, as well as much of the school and household admin. But in order to do so I need to have a system, and I thought I'd share how I plan my day to keep myself organised.

As I've discussed here on the blog before, Trello is vital to me for organising my life. Trello is a free online organisational tool which uses cards, lists and boards to keep track of projects. I turn each item on my to do list into a colour coded card, which I store in lists. Each day has its own list, and when a one-off task is completed I delete the card. When a recurring card is complete I move it to the list for the next day or week. Every evening I make sure that the day's list is complete, reschedule incomplete tasks as necessary, and delete the list.

So every morning, I load up my To Do Trello board and sort through the tasks for the day. I'm a big believer in eating the frog, and so if there's a task that I really don't want to do (like making a phone call!) then I'll move it to the top of the list and get it out of the way first. Some tasks can't be done until the children get home from school or until the evening and so they get moved to the bottom. Some of my daily recurring tasks, like little bits of blog admin, only take a few minutes, and so I like to get them out of the way early on and drag them over to the next day.

I'm flexible with my time, and as I sometimes meet friends and make time for gym trips, every day is different. I try and plan my week in advance to a certain extent, adding more tasks for the days that I know I'll be at home, and getting things out the way beforehand if I have a busy day coming up.

I also know the times of day when I'm most productive, so I'll try and schedule accordingly. For example, I find it easy to get on without distraction in the morning, but it's difficult to regain my rhythm after lunch. So this is when I'll plan a gym trip, or to do some housework away from the computer.

Laptop at a desk ready for work
Photo credit Kari Shea via Unsplash

If I have an event coming up with lots of tasks, for example a holiday or a seasonal event like Christmas, I'll split the tasks up and spread them out so it's not too overwhelming and doesn't end up being left to the last minute. For an upcoming holiday I'll make a card to pack for each person, as well as cards for shopping that needs to be done or housework that I want to get done before I go away. It also means more things to tick off which is very satisfying!

I do however try not to get too hung up on my lists. Although the important things generally get done, it's very rare that I complete everything on my list for the day. I just slide it over to the next day or week and don't worry too much about it.

My system also works really well for things that pop into my mind through the day, like a birthday card to be bought or something I need to pick up from the shops. I'll just open up the Trello app on my phone and type in a quick card to remind me. I tell my family that if I add something to my to do list then it will get done, as I'm constantly going over it!

How do you keep organised and make sure that everything gets done? I'd love to hear your tips!

Monday, 8 July 2019

Rediscovering old books from my childhood

I wrote recently about how Harry is always reading the same books over and over again, and that I remember doing the same when I was little.

Recently I was thinking about some of the more obscure books that I used to keep re-reading, and I wondered if it would still be possible to buy copies. One book that I loved was Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer, a story about a girl at boarding school who falls asleep at night and wakes up forty years in the past during the First World War, while at the same time a counterpart from the past is living in her time. They alternate for a few weeks, then Charlotte ends up trapped in the past and has to find a way to return to where she belongs. I was pleased to find that this one is still in print and readily available, and enjoyed reading it again.

Then I got to thinking about another book that I enjoyed which was about a teenage girl that moved to Australia, New Patches for Old by Christobel Mattingly. I've always been fascinated by Australia, I've read many books set there, and this was probably the first. It's set a few decades ago, and I found it amazing to re-read it and see just how much of a change a move to Australia was back then - the family moved to the other side of the world expecting to never see their friends and family back home again, and international phone calls home were expensive and had to be booked in advance. It reminded me just how much smaller the world has become over the last few years.

This particular book has been out of print for a long time, but I was really pleased to find a copy from World of Books available on eBay for just a few pounds. I'm not sure why I'd not ordered from World of Books before, because they are based close to my home, and almost every time I go out I pass one of their vans! But I didn't really know what sort of books they sold, and I discovered that they sell some more obscure second hand books for a really reasonable price, along with free postage. I've been buying through them on eBay, but you can also buy direct from their website, and the books arrive within a few days. I'd definitely recommend giving them a look if you are after something that's out of print!

Buying old out of print books

Most recently I remembered another book that I enjoyed as a child, The Silver Crown by Robert O'Brien. Again, this one has been out of print for a while, but World of Books came through with a cheap secondhand copy. It's a story about a girl who wakes up one morning to find a silver crown on her pillow. She leaves the house to go for a walk, and returns to find her house burned down and her family gone, with mysterious characters chasing her as she goes on a journey to reach her Aunt's house. I was really surprised to find that the book is set in America, as I was sure that I remembered it being set in England. It just goes to show how unreliable your memory can be!

I've been enjoying re-reading some of those books that made a big impression on me when I was little. I'd love to know what books you would like to read again!

Reduce your utility bills and grow your savings

This is a collaborative post

Cutting down your utility bills is a great way to help increase your savings pot. Whether you’re saving for a new house, the holiday of a lifetime, or simply hoping to clear some debt that you have accrued, then focussing on your energy bills can be a big help.

The likelihood is that you aren’t quite as energy efficient or economically sound as you could be, so here we’ve collated some ideas which will enable you to contribute to your savings pot.

If it is debt that you are struggling with, then you can get free debt management advice by checking out this site – companies like Carrington Dean are able to help to relieve financial stress surrounding debt.

Start by finding out if you’re getting the best deal 

One of the quickest ways to start saving on your energy bills is to visit a price comparison site. Your energy supply is one place where you are unlikely to be rewarded for being a loyal customer, and the best rates are often reserved purely for new customers.

There are plenty of comparison sites out there nowadays which you can simply click onto, input your current energy consumption and be offered a wide range of tariffs from a whole host of providers (many you probably haven’t even heard of).

Not only can you compare prices, but often they will also deal with the switchover meaning that it is super easy to do.

Switch your lightbulbs for energy efficient ones 

If you’re still running your house on old bulbs, then you can often see reductions in your energy bills by switching to CFL or LED bulbs.

Whilst the initial outlay of replacing them all may seem counterproductive; over time you will make great savings on your electricity bills – especially if your house has lots of bulbs in each room. Even by switching out just a handful of your most used bulbs, you’ll see some good savings against your quarterly or annual bill.

Unplug anything you aren’t using 

Contrary to popular belief, things that are plugged in continue to use electricity, which over time will add a significant sum onto your energy usage.

Think about how many plugs remain switched on around your house, from TVs and computers to toasters and kettles, there are probably plenty of things in your house right now that are unnecessarily using electricity which you are going to be paying for!

Switch to a water meter 

Many of us are currently on standard water charges, meaning that we are charged an amount each year, based upon what the water company expects you to use based on your household size. Whether you use more or less than what is expected, the amount will remain the same.

What many do not know though, is that you are likely using a lot less than you are paying for. It is free to switch to a water meter and you have the flexibility to switch back within 12 months if you feel it isn’t working for you – you could easily see your bills cut in half just by doing this.
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