Monday 31 July 2023

Why I've mostly stopped using Instagram

I joined Instagram a long time ago, way back in 2012 and at that time it was very quiet. I followed other bloggers, they followed me back, and I posted pictures of things that reflected my blog. They weren't people that I knew personally so I didn't post many photographs of the family or identifiable locations, instead I shared craft projects, nice cakes, pretty views and so on. 

Now that more and more people have joined Instagram I have quite a few people that I know in real life following me, especially since it became more integrated with Facebook. This makes me feel a bit more self-conscious about what I'm posting, and although I follow back people that I know I don't actively seek them out. 

A few years ago I had a big cull and unfollowed a lot of accounts which worked really well and I had a beautifully curated feed. But lately I find the photographs less inspiring, it's more about the selfies and making life look perfect rather than the pretty little snippets of everyday life that I like to see. I also lament the loss of the original square photo format, and sometimes every other post seems to be an advert. 

Instagram app download on tablet
Photo credit Souvik Banerjee via Unsplash

When the reels came along that was the beginning of the end for me. 

I really hate reels, along with other short form video content like YouTube shorts and TikTok. I like to scroll in silence so sudden loud music alarms me, and they are also very addictive - once the algorithm has got your measure it doesn't let you go. It's not a posting format that comes naturally to me, and I just can't compete with the creativity on offer. I also discovered that mindlessly watching one video led to a whole feed of similar videos, in my case it was gender reveals which I just couldn't get rid of!

I still pop into Instagram from time to time but I'm not sure I'll ever be a regular user again, it has just changed too much from what I want it to be!

Friday 28 July 2023

Things that I have stuck into my journal

 Things that I have already glued in my journal:

Stickers, seaweed, photographs that I've printed of things that interest me, packaging from food and snacks, notes from the children, wristbands, printed quotes from books, washi tape, business cards, scraps of fabric, notes found in second hand books, printed information from things I've researched, photographs from leaflets, confetti, gift tags, sand, drink mats, teabag tags, seed packets, leaves, maps, wrappers from watercolour paint blocks, dried flowers, set lists from concerts...

Things to stick in a journal, ideas and tips

Things that I have yet to stick in my journal:

Postcards, wrapping paper, greetings cards, photographs, dried earth, seeds, stamps, tissue paper, patterned paper, ribbon, jokes from Christmas crackers, tickets, recipes, envelopes...

Tips for keeping a journal flat when it is filled with ephemera:

If you are planning to stick lots of things into a journal then you might want to consider a spiral bound sketchbook. The pages will be thicker so they can hold heavier items, and as well as giving you a bit more room because of the spiral binding it will also be easier to remove pages.

Removing pages will mean that the journal will lie flatter and be easier to write in as it fills up. You can also try to stick bulkier objects to different areas of the pages to spread them out at bit and use photographs or scans instead of originals.

Or you can just embrace the look of a splayed out journal, overflowing with all sorts of interesting things!

Ideas and tips for things to stick in a personal journal

Ways to attach items inside a journal:

PVA glue (be careful as this can make the page wrinkly and takes longer to dry), a glue stick (keeps the page flat, dries quickly, not so good for heavier objects like dried flowers or leaves), paperclips, staples, sellotape, washi tape (not as sticky as sellotape and can peel off easily), BluTack (will lose it's stickiness over time and is quite bulky), glue dots, double sided tape, sewing, storing items inside envelopes (good for more delicate items that you don't want to cover in glue).

Remember that many of these adhesive methods (and for that matter most of the things that you are sticking inside) are not archival and will not last forever. It all depends how long you want the journal to survive - just for your lifetime or for many generations to come! If you are very concerned about the longevity of your journal then it's worth doing some research on what supplies to use and ways to preserve it. There are some good tips here - Best supplies for archival journal making.

Personally I'm making my journals for myself so I'm not too worried, and as long as I can look back through them in a few years time then I'm happy!

If you want to read more about my journal then you might like this post - How starting an illustrated journal helped me to notice things

Wednesday 26 July 2023

A garden update for Summer 2023

After such a hot and dry June, July has been much cooler and more overcast. It's been much easier to keep up with the watering and the weeding!

My favourite area of the garden is this narrow flowerbed against a fence. I planted a row of sunflower plants and these have turned out to each have several flowerheads so I should have lovely sunflowers for a few more weeks yet. At the bottom I sprinkled some wildflower seeds and I'm really pleased with how well they have grown - I have a selection of gorgeous brightly coloured flowers. I'm not really a gardener, so I'm always pleased if something grows to fit my vision!

Flower bed with sunflowers and wild flowers

My vegetable patch is also coming on very well. At the last count I had twenty-two tomato plants, and they are all looking fit and healthy. Most of them have flowers now, and the first tomatoes are coming through. I keep up with them all by removing the side shoots and making sure that they are firmly staked but I don't do anything else, for some reason my tomatoes always seem to do well!

Tomato plants growing in vegetable patch

Finally, at the end of June I shared a garden update with a photograph of my beautiful lavender bush. It was gorgeous when it was in flower, and I started harvesting some of the lavender stalks while it was still in full bloom. For several weeks I had vases and cans filled with lavender, followed by a kitchen filled with bunches hung up to dry. Now I have plenty of dried lavender from those first bunches, ready to make into lavender bags. At the weekend I cut down the remaining lavender and it's now hanging up to dry in the garage. I'll have to give the bush a proper prune back at some point so that it doesn't completely take over the garden!

Dried lavender in a white bowl

Now I just need some warmer weather so that I can sit outside and enjoy it all!

Monday 24 July 2023

Felt anchor keyrings with an ocean theme

I've been a bit quiet with the crafty posts recently, but I've still been crafting away busily in the background! I am making a determined effort this year to work through some of my fabric and felt stash, and as we have a Disney cruise coming up I've been thinking of ways that I can use my stash to create some Disney cruise themed crafts

I decided to make a dent in my felt stash and make some simple anchor themed felt keyrings. I already had the keyring rings and some sea themed charms leftover from previous projects, and I picked up the gorgeous marine themed ribbon on my holiday craft shopping spree last year. It works perfectly for this project because the designs are vertical!

Felt keyring craft with anchor and ocean theme

The keyrings were very simple to make. I created an anchor paper pattern using Google image search for a simple anchor design and modifying it to fit what I wanted. I made sure that the top of the anchor was wide enough to fit the ribbon, then I cut out two anchor shapes for each keyring. I chose pastel shades because I have plenty in my stash and they co-ordinated well with the ribbon.

Felt anchor keyrings craft

I sewed the two halves together, adding stuffing into the bottom as I went along as it was quite fiddly to do it afterwards. The ribbon is sewed in firmly along the top, with the keyring and charm already in place. As a final touch I added a contrasting button to the front.

Marine themed felt keyrings in the shape of an anchor

I'm planning on using these along with some drawstring bags to present the gifts for my Fish Extender exchange.

Tuesday 18 July 2023

Healthy ageing: Seven ways to promote wellness in later years

This is a collaborative post

If you want to ensure a healthier and happier ageing process, it’s crucial to prioritise your wellbeing. Remember that healthy ageing isn’t just about not getting sick. It’s primarily about embracing a lifestyle that fosters physical, mental, and emotional wellness. This approach enables us to maintain our independence, participate in activities we enjoy, and enhance our quality of life. Today we’ll take a closer look at seven effective ways to promote wellness in our later years. Integrating these practices into your routine will help you embrace everything that the ageing process has to offer and enjoy this part of your life with vibrancy and vitality.

Maintain A Nutritious Diet

One of the key elements of healthy ageing is a well-balanced diet. As we grow older, our bodies require different nutrients to function optimally. This means that you will need to incorporate a wide range of fruits and vegetables, as well as lean protein into your diet to boost your overall health. Additionally, drinking plenty of water helps maintain hydration and supports many bodily functions. It can also be a good idea to consume more foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as oily fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds, which can contribute to heart and brain health.

Bowl of healthy food
Photo credit Anna Pelzer via Unsplash

Learn How To Manage Physical Changes

As we grow older, it’s natural to experience a number of physical changes, including weight fluctuations, wrinkles, or hair loss. While these changes can sometimes be challenging to accept, it's crucial to approach them with a positive and proactive mindset. For example, when it comes to hair loss, it’s important to look for the right treatment options. At Oxford Online Pharmacy, you can get treatment delivered directly to your door. You can find a variety of prescription and non-prescription hair loss treatments for both men and women. Oxford Online Pharmacy ensures expert medical service at the lowest price possible, so you will get the guidance and support you need when managing age-related changes.

In addition to regular physical activity, exploring innovative wellness solutions like IV therapy in Los Angeles can further enhance your health as you age. This modern approach, widely available in the wellness-focused atmosphere of Los Angeles, offers a tailored blend of vitamins and hydration, directly supporting your body's nutritional needs and promoting overall vitality

Keep Your Body Moving

Incorporating regular physical activity into your routine is one of the best things you can do for your health and wellbeing. Regular exercise, whether it's a quick walk in the park, a yoga class, or a swimming session, can help maintain mobility and physical strength, reducing the risk of falls and physical impairment. Moreover, physical activity is not solely about maintaining bodily function. It can also boost your mood, improve sleep quality, and reduce the risk of mental health conditions such as depression. Try to choose activities that you enjoy, as you're more likely to stick to them in the long term.

Embrace Life-Long Learning

Life-long learning is a fundamental part of healthy ageing. It helps keep the mind sharp and it can open you up to new experiences and ideas, contributing to your sense of purpose and self-esteem. Whether it's picking up a new hobby, learning a foreign language, or exploring a new technology, the possibilities are endless and there are many benefits to keeping your mind engaged as you age. Learning also provides opportunities to connect with others, contributing to your social well-being. Therefore, it’s essential to embrace a growth mindset, that will never stop you from learning something new.

Stay Socially Connected 

Staying socially active is a key aspect of emotional health and wellbeing that you shouldn’t overlook. Although staying socially connected as we age might be challenging, it’s important to make an effort to connect with others. For example, maintaining regular contact with friends and family, participating in community activities, or volunteering can provide a sense of belonging and purpose. Social connections also offer emotional support, helping us cope with life's ups and downs. Regular conversations and interactions require us to think, recall, and engage our cognitive faculties, which can promote our mental agility. 

Grandparents helping with gingerbread house
Photo credit Phillip Goldsberry via Unsplash

Develop A Positive Mindset

Healthy ageing is not just about maintaining your physical and mental wellbeing, but also about developing a positive and optimistic outlook on life. Cultivating positivity can be as simple as expressing gratitude, maintaining a sense of humour, and nurturing social connections. Activities like mindfulness or meditation can also foster a positive mindset, especially if you are going through tough times. Remember, it's okay to seek help if feelings of sadness, anxiety or loneliness persist. 

Balance Rest And Activity

Balancing rest and activity is a key component of maintaining energy levels and promoting overall wellbeing as we age. It's important to listen to your body and rest when needed so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. However, prolonged periods of inactivity can also lead to physical decline, which can impact your mood. This is why, creating a balanced routine is crucial. Make sure you incorporate regular physical activity, but also schedule downtime for relaxation and rejuvenation. Consider activities like reading, listening to music, meditating, or simply sitting in nature, as they can help you rest and recharge.

Thanks to these seven strategies, you will be able to navigate the ageing journey with grace, confidence, resilience, and vitality.

Wednesday 12 July 2023

Is learning a language still important?

When my son was choosing his GCSE options at the beginning of the year I was really surprised to find out that studying a language wasn't mandatory. He has chosen to study Spanish, which as a language graduate I'm pleased about, but it did make me think about the future importance of language learning.

I studied German at university and I've also learned some French and Dutch. I enjoyed learning about how languages have evolved over time, and although my almost fluent German is rusty I can still read it well. But although my languages have sometimes come in useful while travelling, I've never ended up needing them for a job. 

At one time I thought I might go into translation, but you need post-graduate qualifications and in the end my degree was enough to get me a decent job. However I'm quite glad that I didn't opt for a translation career path, because I think that these jobs will be swiftly taken over by technology, if they haven't already.

Last year we went to Athens and I was a little daunted because not only do I have no experience of Greek as a language it is uses a different alphabet. However this was not a problem in the slightest because we all downloaded Google Lens. All you need to do is point your phone camera at the text and it will translate it there for you, on your screen and in real time! It felt like witchcraft to me, although my son pointed out that it's quite simple technology really, just text recognition and Google translate which has been around for a long time. 

Page from a German dictionary
Photo credit Waldemar via Unsplash

I've noticed that the children use Google translate to help with their homework and it seems to work really well, it seems to be accurate and reasonably natural speech. It will read out the text, useful if you are talking with someone and you don't need to worry about pronunciation. I think that it definitely works well enough to do most types of translation, perhaps with a small amount of proof reading required from someone who doesn't even need to know the original language. Of course literary translation is a slightly different matter, and languages which use symbols can be more tricky when it comes to different meanings according to the context, but it seems as though the AI can handle it and if it can't yet it will soon.

I never would have thought I'd feel this way, but it does seem to me that as time goes on it makes more sense to teach children in schools how to use AI tools effectively rather than teaching them a language from scratch. Some people can pick up languages easily and enjoy the challenge of learning them, a bit like fitting together a puzzle. But many people just want to translate signs that they see in a different country or communicate the basics in a different language, and the technology can easily deal with that. 

I'd love to know what others think, should we encourage children to study a language even if they have no interest?

Friday 7 July 2023

Will AI mean the end of human created online content?

For a little while now I've been watching with interest as AI becomes more prominent in online life. For some time my Facebook newsfeed has been filled with adverts for companies that will write blog posts and create other online content using AI. I've often suspected that a sponsored post which I've been paid to publish has been heavily influenced by an AI blog post writing tool. 

Two years ago Harry wrote me a simple AI computer programme that would generate blog post titles based on my existing content - Using AI to generate blog post titles. Since then the technology has come on incredibly, especially with the release of ChatGPT meaning that anyone with internet access can easily access user friendly AI tools. I've used ChatGPT to play around with producing blog post ideas as well as writing blog posts, and have been really surprised by how good the results have been. I've not used AI to write a post yet, but I must admit that when I'm suffering from writer's block the thought is very tempting!

It's not just text that AI can produce. I wrote recently about how I'd been using using AI to generate images for blog posts, and although the technology in this area still has some way to go, I can see that it won't be long before AI generated pictures become much more common. They are quick to produce, copyright and royalty free, and you can easily create the exact illustration that you are looking for in an artistic style that suits your needs. 

Artificially generated blog post images
AI generated images

Last week we started watching the new Marvel series Secret Invasion, and the day before I was interested to read that the Secret Invasion opening titles were created using AI. I definitely wouldn't have realised it if I hadn't known - although the sequence is cartoonish and dreamlike it fitted in with similar opening titles that I've seen. 

Although AI video will probably take a little longer to become more common, I did some research and there is software available that will create AI generated people to read out your scripts, as well as giving you the ability to create videos using your own photographs and video clips. You can easily use AI to edit your clips, and to reduce a longer video to make a short form video which is more shareable for social media.

I think that because of the speed at which people consume online content it will become very difficult to spot artificially generated content. When you scroll quickly through a social media feed like TikTok or Instagram you often barely pause to notice what you have just seen. I think that any of the four images above would easily slot into my Instagram feed without me spotting anything unusual.

Unfortunately I think that AI generated content is going to become prolific and more difficult to spot, and this is a bit of a problem for someone like me that enjoys creating online content! 

Obviously a blog post written by AI lacks the personal touch, but if you are looking to create generic content, for example a travel guide to a city, lifestyle articles about a particular hobby, or tips and advice for different situations, I think that an AI can probably write an article equal to that of many bloggers or online journalists. 

This has all sorts of problems associated with it, not least the accuracy of the information but also the potential for bias and discrimination in the writing. When paired with the social media algorithms which prioritise different content for particular users, AI content can easily encourage people to think in particular ways and to influence their views. Not to mention the fact that it takes away the work from many human creative workers. 

I think we are a few years away yet, but the technology is developing so rapidly that I don't think it will be long before the majority of online content that is being consumed is no longer produced by humans.

What do you think? I'd love to hear other (maybe less pessimistic!) opinions!

Wednesday 5 July 2023

How I use my journal to spark my creativity (plus some creative journaling prompts)

I've written a lot about my journal recently, mainly because I'm really enjoying writing in it regularly. As well as helping me to get my thoughts in order, I've found that writing and drawing in the journal has really helped with my creativity. Sometimes I make collages using things that I've collected like tickets or pictures from leaflets, and I often do a quick illustration of something and splash some paint around.

Things that I've written about in my journal have sparked ideas for blog posts and craft projects that I want to work on. I've been enjoying looking around for simple things that I can draw to illustrate posts, and pleasantly surprised when an illustration has turned out how I want it to. I make lists of things that I want to try, I write about memories that have been sparked by things I've seen or heard and I write about things that I've seen in the news or social media and my reactions to them. I do use it as a diary as well but I don't record everything that has happened in the day, it's more open ended.

There are lots of guided journals that you can buy to help you with your creativity, but although I've had a look at some of them I don't think they are for me. Instead I've put together a list of journal prompts which I think would be really helpful if you are trying to use a journal to spark your creativity. Some of these I've tried, and the rest I am planning to try!

Journaling prompts to spark thoughts about creativity

What is the difference between a creative process and the end result?

Make a list of ways to get out of a creative block - like going for a walk, sitting outside, visiting a particular place, spending time with a particular person

Make a list of the craft supplies in your stash - what do you tend to collect and what could you do with it?

Plan for creative occasions that you like to craft for - Christmas, birthdays and so on.

Make a list of crafts or activities that you would like to try one day

What makes you feel inspired to create? What blocks you?

What creative projects are you most proud of?

Make a list of unfinished craft projects then use the list to make a decision about each one - whether to set a goal to complete it, pass it on to someone else to complete or to quietly dispose of it.

How has your creativity changed at different stages in your life - for example as a child or as a parent

Do you like to share your creative output with others or do you keep it to yourself? 

Does social media give us unrealistic expectations of creativity, or a fear of comparing ourselves to others?

For many more ideas see this brilliant list of 100 Journaling Questions to Spark Creativity

Illustrated journal page by Elena Mozhvilo
Photo credit Elena Mozhvilo via Unsplash

Monday 3 July 2023

Counting down until the end of term

I write this post every year, but I can't believe that it's only a few short days until the summer holiday! We are lucky because we break up a couple of weeks earlier than many schools, and usually we plan a holiday for this time. However this year I'm very excited to be seeing Pulp and Blur in early July on consecutive weekends - two of my very favourite bands - so we will have a couple of quiet weeks at home in between instead. 

The first term goes so slowly and it's a real slog until Christmas, then when they go back in January it's dark and cold and seems to go on forever. But the summer term always seems so short, flying past in the blink of an eye, and although they've been having assessments over the last few weeks they are definitely winding down now.

I love the summer holidays because we are at home a lot of the time, the weather is generally pleasant, and it's so much more relaxing. I love that feeling at the start when they seem to stretch on forever, and I really appreciate being free from the school run, making packed lunches and sorting out uniform.

Later in the summer we have a Disney cruise booked which we are very much looking forward to. It's a city cruise and we will be exploring some new places, re-visiting some old favourites, and enjoying all the Disney magic on board. Apart from that we don't have many plans, as I'm always reluctant to spend too much money on going out and about when we've spent towards the holiday. But we have exchanged some Tesco vouchers for trips to Chessington and Thorpe Park and we'll probably get to the cinema as well as meeting up with friends and family.

Field of sunflowers with green trees in the distance
Photo credit Phil Mono via Unsplash

Harry will enter Year 10 in September and make a proper start on his GCSEs (he took his Computer Science GCSE a couple of years early this summer so it doesn't feel such a shock for him to be starting the GCSE process as for us it has already begun!) Mia will be into Year 8 and no longer one of the tiny ones, things will be getting serious as they will be set academically in more subjects. She's involved with the school production of Bugsy Malone which will be performed at the beginning of December, so she's going to be busy with that for a few months.

But I'm not thinking about all that now!