Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Why we need to get our kids talking with the older generation

Do you know what sort of things your grandparents used to eat for breakfast?

I didn't. Not really. I assumed it would have been fairly similar to us: maybe toast. Or perhaps eggs and bacon.

It wasn't until last week, when 6 year old Beatrix had homework that involved asking what we used to eat, that I discovered that porridge was the order of the day for breakfast and that eggs and bacon were normally a lunchtime thing. Well, in my grandad's house at least.

Me and my Grandad at Christmas
It was only when we rang my 87 year old grandfather, Beatrix's Great Grandad Gordon, to ask him questions about what he ate as a child and whether his family grew their own food (they didn't because they didn't have a garden) and he started to talk about ration books and buying loose tea from a sack that I realised quite how much the world has changed.

Our grandparents - my children's great grandparents - are living history. A finite resource of knowledge and first-hand experiences that they are usually quite willing to share. You just have to ask.

Having lost three great grandparents in the last few years, it struck me that this wealth of information won't last forever.

The history books might tell us about air raid shelters and battles, but they don't always provide details about the details of every day life. And while museums can provide interesting examples of the toys our predecessors played with, it's not the same as someone telling us which was their favourite car and of the playground politics associated with a game of marbles.

All it took was one phone call. A simple conversation between a six year old child and her 87 year old great grandad. A connection that she might remember long after his lifetime.

So pick up the phone or take the kids to visit their elderly relatives and ask them to share stories of what life was like when they were young. And if you are not as fortunate as me and you no longer have any grandparents, volunteer to befriend someone at your local nursing or care home.

Chat about what life was like. Maybe ask for tips on how to make your food stretch further, how to grow your own veg or how to make-do-and-mend. Let's make the most of the precious time we have together.

Our living history won't be around forever.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway

They say life is like a rollercoaster (well, Ronan Keating sang a pretty good song about it - showing my age!). And at the moment life feels very much as though I'm on the slow uphill bit just before the speedy and exhilarating descent!

Earlier this week I finally decided to call it a day in my current part-time marketing consultant role and embrace freelance life again. It's a decision that has been weighing on my mind for several months and I'd previously been a bit nervous about making the jump, particularly when thinking about the potential financial implications. But as my 12-month contract comes to a close, it seemed the right time to bite the bullet and just get on with it.

So, as I celebrate a significant birthday next month, I'll also be starting life as a freelance copywriter, blogger and website editor.

After all, life is for living and if you can't take a risk on something, then you'll always think about the what ifs in life.

2016 was a tough year for me. I really struggled with sleep deprivation and it impacted on my mental health. But with the new year and, for me, a new decade approaching, I've decided to try and find my mojo again and that means living life to the full, grabbing opportunities and trying to make the most of them. It's not always going to be easy and I need to remember to pace myself, but at least as a freelance, there should be a bit more flexibility to allow myself to work hard, play hard and rest when I need to.

I've done the freelance thing before and I learnt quite a few lessons that should serve me well as I venture down the self-employed road again. Things like making sure I actually get paid and not relying too heavily one client (these were different clients, I hasten to add).

At the moment, I'm busy getting myself set up again: updating my business website and social media accounts; business planning; panicking a little bit about money etc.

It's scary and I've no doubt that the next few months are going to involve a lot of hard work drumming up new business and getting back out there again. But in my heart of hearts I know I've made the right decision.

If anything, my year spent back in employment has confirmed that it's definitely the freelance life for me.

I'll be posting more about my new freelance ventures, so stay tuned for more updates.

If you've taken the leap into self-employment, I'd love to hear your tips.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Why we need an a breastfeeding advert

Have you ever sat watching television when an advert promoting formula milk come on and thought to yourself, "wouldn't it be great if there could be an ad for breastfeeding"?

But where would you find a multi-million pound budget to fund an ad for a free, natural resource? Surely, it will never happen.

Well, it has! Thanks to the inspirational Claire Tchaikowski who had the same thought, but actually got up and did something about it.

The Breastfeeding Advert was launched today in Bristol and I am honoured and humbled to have been given the opportunity to be part of the campaign.

"Human Milk, Tailor-Made For Tiny Humans" advert from Tiny Humans Productions on Vimeo.

Why do we need a breastfeeding advert?

But why do we need a breastfeeding advert anyway and how can an advert pulled together thanks to the generosity of volunteers compete with huge corporations pushing formula sales with multi-million pound marketing budgets?

UK breastfeeding rates are abysmal. At the advert launch today, Dr Amy Brown, Associate Professor of Child Public Health at Swansea University and author of Breastfeeding Uncovered, explained that while 95% of UK women plan to breastfeed a lack of support and a culture in which breasts are sexualised and women are encouraged to get their bodies back means that breastfeeding rates plummet over the first six months and only one in 200 babies is still breastfed at 12 months.

So lots of women want to breastfeed but they don't always know how and they don't have a support network and they're given a lot of unhelpful advice. And this means that when breastfeeding is promoted they can feel very emotional if they didn't reach their personal breastfeeding goals and this guilt can often turn to anger about the breastfeeding mafia.

Trying to create an advert that promotes breastfeeding without alienating women who have been let down by a lack of support is a bit of a tough undertaking.

Separating fact from fiction...

However, when researching her idea for an advert, Claire set about learning as much as she could and enlisted the support of both Dr Amy Brown and Dr Natalie Shenker who has investigated the make up of breastmilk as part of her research into epigenetics and breast cancer. And it was learning about the ingredients of breastmilk that led her to focus on the science in the advert. "After all," Claire says, "If I didn't know any of this amazing stuff, who else doesn't know about this. We need to know."

I am a firm believer that women should be able to make a decision on how they feed their baby in a way that best suits their personal circumstances based on a thorough understanding of the options. At the moment, they are bombarded with conflicting information and anecdotes from well-meaning friends and family.

This campaign, based on the advert and the human milk website, seeks to simply explain what is in breastmilk and how it contributes to the health of baby and mother. It's a way of educating people about breastmilk without preaching about how "breast is best" (a phrase I personally detest). Actually, while breast is brilliant and is probably great for the majority - it isn't best for everyone.  Best can be interpreted as a bit of a judgemental term and who are we to judge the decisions other people make when we don't know the circumstances in which they reached that decision? (Rant over)

...but keeping the emotion

Anyway, the science of the ad is softened by the beautiful images of mothers breastfeeding their babies (I would say that, wouldn't I, because one of them is me feeding Ossie), and the gentle voice-over, which really helps to humanise the science.

Creating the advert has been a labour of love and has taken a long time. We actually filmed the footage back in October 2015!

Next steps

Launching the advert isn't the end of the story - it's just the beginning. The next step is a crowdfunding campaign to buy slots in the mainstream media. And there are a whole host of other plans to use the advert and the website to educate healthcare professionals, new mums and their families etc.

I'm so proud to be a part of this and I can't wait for the next phase of the campaign. I have met some truly inspirational women that are proof that we really can make stuff happen.

What do you think of this advert?

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Blogging goals 2017

Blogging is a hobby for me. It's something I've dabbled with when I've had time. But over the past year, I've read some really inspirational posts and met other bloggers who have really committed to their blogs and are able to turn their hobby into a job and a lifestyle.

Now, I realise that to turn a blog into a profession is going to involve a lot of hard work. And I've decided that 2017 is going to be the year that I roll my sleeves up and see if I've got what it takes to give it a go.

I've not started well. The better known bloggers posted their blogging goals last week at the beginning of the year. But I wanted to take the time to really analyse what I need to do and to set myself some challenging, but realistic goals to see if maybe, this time next year, I might be able to turn SeasideBelle into something that might give me an income.

Here's how I plan to do it.
  1. Post more consistently. This is going to require some forward planning. I'm going to need an editorial calendar and I'm going to need to plan posts in advance so I can upload posts on regular topics on regular days. I've seen a few linkies that might help with my planning and I've spent some time working out the subjects I'd like to focus on. I'll share my editorial planning process with you later in the month.
  2. Redesign the blog. At the moment, I'm not 100% happy with the way Seaside Belle looks. The branding is all over the place - especially with the graphics I use. So I'm going to take the time to write some brand guidelines so I have a consistent look and feel to the website. I'll update you with how I do that sometime in February.
  3. Grow my social media following. It's all very well posting more consistently and getting a better looking blog, but to make a real success, I'm going to have to extend this across my social media channels so I can extend my reach. At the moment I've got 667 followers on Twitter and by 31st December 2017 I'd love to get to 1000 followers. On Facebook I have 55 page likes. Facebook is more of a slow grower, so I'm going to be conservative in my goal and aim to get to 150 by the end of the year. On Instagram, I've managed to get 326 followers so I reckon 500 by the end of the year is a pretty realistic expectation. I also want to make more of Pinterest. At the moment I use my personal page for the blog and I'm going to investigate whether it would be worth setting up a separate SeasideBelle branded Pinterest before setting myself a goal for this. SeasideBelle is also on Bloglovin and has 44 followers. If I could get to 150 by the end of the year, I'd be very happy. I also list SeasideBelle on the Tots100 index where I am currently ranked 1648. With a bit of hard work, I reckon I could get into the top 1000 by 31st December. I'll keep you updated with my progress each month.
  4. Make an average of £200 per month from SeasideBelle by the end of the year. At the moment, I'm signed up to a couple of Affiliate networks where I get a small commission if someone clicks on an affiliate link in my post and buys something, but I've only written a couple of posts that include affiliate links and haven't really had any income from this yet. Over the next few months I'd like to exploit this potential income stream a bit more. However, I'll only ever post an affiliate link to a product I would probably buy myself and I'm keen to stay true to myself so I'll never be overly 'salesy' so you won't be bombarded with posts trying to sell you something, just so I can make money, I'd rather only use affiliate links as a value added extra to content I would write anyway. I also have a couple of ads on the site, but I haven't made anything from them yet either - I'd need a lot of traffic to make them worth while, but as my following grows they might provide a bit of pocket money. If I really want to turn blogging into my job I'm going to need to create a media pack so I can offer things like sponsored posts (don't worry, I'll always make it obvious that I'm being paid to write something) and social media shout outs. I will also have to look at diversifying my income stream and selling products, so I'd like to try my hand at writing an e-book this year - although this will probably be a project for the autumn.
  5. One thing I have learnt is that to succeed you need to invest in learning or CPD (continued professional development), so I'm planning to take part in more blogger events and meet-ups. Last year I went to BritMums Live, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I went to an Exeter Bloggers MeetUp, where I met a few more bloggers and we learnt about 'monetising your blog'. I've also met some local bloggers socially through the Devon Bloggers Facebook group and I think by meeting up with others, some of whom are already blogging professionally, will be really helpful in sharing best practice and keeping the faith that this is something I might actually be able to do!
  6. Take advantage of blogger networks to access paid opportunities. I'm a member of Tots100, Britmums and the MumsNet Professional Bloggers network, but I don't really tap into the opportunities available or take advantage of the wealth of knowledge available on their websites. This year I intend to access at least 3 paid opportunities through these networks and take part in 1 or 2 training sessions, webinars or events that they run.
So that's one very ambitious blogging goal for 2017 and six pretty measurable ways I can work towards achieving it.

I'll keep you posted about how I get on!

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Monday, 2 January 2017

Why you should keep your Christmas decorations up until 6th January

It's a brand new year. Time to start afresh. But does that really mean you should take your Christmas decorations down already?

I know that some people find it easier to put the tinsel away before the end of the holidays so the house is tidied up ready for the new year to begin in earnest. Maybe I'm a traditionalist at heart, but I'm a big believer in keeping my tree up for the full 12 days of Christmas. Here are five reasons why:

  1. The build up to Christmas is huge. As soon as Hallowe'en is over, the shops are full of cards and merchandise. The lights are often switched on in town centres from mid-November and advent starts 4 weeks before the big day - so why end the festivities prematurely? If you're going to celebrate in style, you may as well see it through until the end.
  2. And talking of endings, Christmas doesn't end until the Feast of the Epiphany, when the three kings arrived at the stable (it was a long journey and they were on camels). The tradition is that if you took your decorations down before then, the wise men would not be able to find their way as the Christmas lights represent the star of David.
  3. January is depressing enough - so I like to keep reminders of the festive joy up until the last moment. What better way to remind yourself of your loved ones than seeing all their cards still up around the house through the first week of January.
  4. Although the longest night was just before Christmas, January is still cold and dark. I love the way the Christmas lights and tinsel add a bit of sparkle and light to life.
  5. It's a way of delaying the New Year's resolutions. Most resolutions are broken in the first week of January. But by easing yourself into the new year and keeping Christmas going for its full duration, you have an excuse to start your resolutions again on 7th January, when Christmas is put away.

When do you take your Christmas decorations down?

Thursday, 1 December 2016

A rant about the 12 days of Christmas

It's the first day of December and marketers everywhere are ramping up their festive campaigns. One of the popular promotions at the start of Advent is to run a promotion based on the 12 days of Christmas. 

There's only one problem: the 12 days of Christmas actually marks the period between Christmas and the Epiphany and not the first 12 days of Advent.

I can understand that a 12 day promotion might be easier to manage than a 24 day event through December. I can see how it's a helpful follow-up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But is it really acceptable to hook a marketing campaign to a season that actually takes place several weeks later? I don't think so! To me, it's lazy marketing. It suggests that companies don't understand what exactly they are tying their marketing to. And, quite frankly, it shows a lack of respect.

While I appreciate that Christmas, for many, is merely a season where you get a couple of days off work and can exchange presents and goodwill, for others it is a deeply significant religious festival celebrating the birth of Christ. 

The 12 days of Christmas is a period of celebration and reflection on the birth of Christ, culminating in the visit of the Magi or three wise men and the baptism of the Lord. It most definitely isn't the first 12 days of Advent, when Christians prepare in earnest for welcoming the Light of the World with the birth of Jesus.

Perhaps it's the well-known song that has confused matters. But even popular carol has a deeper Christian meaning. Some suggest that the lyrics were a code used by Roman Catholics in England between 1558 and 1829 when they were not permitted to practise their faith openly with the 'true love' representing Jesus.

  1. Partridge in a Pear Tree = Jesus
  2. Turtle Doves = Old and New Testament
  3. French Hens = Faith, Hope and Love
  4. Four Calling Birds = Four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
  5. Gold Rings = Five books of the Old Testament
  6. Geese-a-laying = Six days of Creation (the 7th day was the day of rest)
  7. Swans-a-swimming = Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (Contribution, Exhortation, Leadership, Mercy, Prophecy, Serving and Teaching)
  8. Maid-a-milking = Eight Beatitudes
  9. Ladies Dancing = Nine gifts of the Holy Spirit (Charity, Chastity, Fidelity, Joy, Modesty, Peace, Patience, Goodness and Mildness)
  10. Lords-a-leaping = Ten Commandments
  11. Pipers Piping = Eleven faithful Apostles
  12. Drummers Drumming = Twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed
Credit for this information from: The Catholic News Agency - original source Father Calvin Goodwin, FSSP, Nebraska. 

I wonder how it would be received if marketers tried to attach a campaign to a festival related to another major religion?

For me, well I have an increasingly long list of companies that I will not be purchasing from this year. But, as it's the season of goodwill, perhaps it would be more Christian of me to forgive them their ignorance.

Monday, 21 November 2016

7 alcohol free drinks for the party season

This year will be one of the first Christmas periods is a long time where I'll be able to have a few drinks. But even though I'm entering the Christmas party season without being pregnant, life with four young children, two of which are still nursing, means that while I'm excited about being able to have a couple of glasses of the strong stuff, I'm still not keen on nursing a hangover.

Not drinking at Christmas parties doesn't have to be boring though. And, having spent several years struggling with sickly sweet kids drinks, I've discovered a few adult alternatives for anyone having a dry Christmas.

This post includes affiliate links.

Here are seven of my favourite non-alcoholic party drinks for grown-ups:

  1. Apple, elderflower and mint fizz: Combine half a glass of apple juice with a splash of elderflower cordial and top up with sparkling water for a refreshing non-alcoholic spritzer.
  2. If you're a fan of Rose wine but don't fancy the alcohol-free versions, why not try Fenitmans Rose Lemonade. It's made using pure rose oil and tastes divine. 
  3. Just because you're missing out on the sparkling wine or champagne doesn't mean you can't toast the season. Schloer do a range of sparkling grape-based drinks including this Sparkling Rose
  4. Mulled apple juice: Conjure up the smell of Christmas with an alternative to the seasonal mulled wine. Simply add cinnamon sticks, orange peel and cloves to a pan of apple juice and simmer. You'll be sober enough to really appreciate the smell of Christmas wafting through the house.
  5. Cranberries aren't just for turkeys. Mix cranberry juice with sparkling water and top with a twist of lime for a seasonal and refreshing simple mocktail.
  6. Ginger and honey iced tea: If you're feeling under the weather, a ginger and honey iced tea will look classy while also easing your sore throat and boosting your immune system. Brew a black tea and stir in some grated ginger and a spoonful of honey. Remove the tea bags after about five minutes and leave to cool before putting in the fridge. Add ice and mint leaves to serve.
  7. Grapefruit and Rosemary Mocktail: This takes a bit of preparation, but the result smells so good, it's well worth the time. First, you need to make a rosemary syrup by heating up a cup of water and a cup of granulated sugar on the hob. Be careful not to let the mixture boil or the sugar might crystallise. Once you have your syrup, add a couple of sprigs of rosemary and let it cool before putting it in the fridge. When your rosemary syrup is ready, add a glug to a glass of grapefruit juice and add ice and another sprig of rosemary.
What are your favourite alcohol-free party drinks?