How To Be A Blogger

Although I’ve been blogging for over a decade I would no way declare myself an expert: in my opinion there’s always more to learn and ways you can better yourself. But I have learnt a couple of things on my long journey that has taken me through the land of online diary writing.

I’ve been asked a few times for a bit of help when it comes to the practicalities of how to set up a blog, and as I’ve been an Online Consultant by trade for about five years now I thought it might be time to share, just don’t get better at it than me, OK? So this is for you, Mum, Emma and Amanda. I expect to be reading your blogs soon.

Think about your motivation behind blogging. I love to share my memories and experiences, not only creating a record of our lives but also helping people through the rough times (I wrote recently about why I like to blog). This is why I’m so frank about being pregnant and Elfie being poorly, and the times I receive emails from others in a similar position really make it all worthwhile. But I also genuinely love to write. First and foremost my enjoyment comes from putting fingers to keypad, adding photos and making something lovely, and I would still enjoy it if nobody even read. 

Set up your space. WordPress and Blogger are the two most popular blogging platforms and are both quick, easy and free ways to set up a blog. As far as I can tell, Blogger is the easier option but WordPress is prettier and has more customisable options. There’s an excellent article discussing the ins and outs of WordPress Vs Blogger here. Personally I’m a die-hard WordPress fan as I love the Dashboard interface and prefer to be able to customise to my heart’s desire. Because I like to have all the control over my blog I have my own webspace onto which I have installed WordPress (downloaded from here: wordpress.org): this is a little more technically challenging but gives you even further freedom. I’d recommend the blog novice go for the WordPress.com option, with which you are able to upgrade to your own .com/.co.uk domain for around $18.

Think about what you want to write about. At every blogging conference I’ve ever been to there’s always talk of ‘carving your niche’, as apparently this is how to make waves in the blogosphere. I’ve never really managed to do this and I dart from food to fashion to family to parenting to a little bit of beauty… maybe you could describe me as a ‘lifestyle’ blogger but I just think I’m too much of an oversharer! I rank my enjoyment of what I’m writing over the ‘carve your niche’ rule, though it’s a great idea to have an idea of the subject area you want to head towards.

Make your blog look pretty. Wordpress has a plethora of themes available to you: so much so that it’s easy to get bogged down in them all. I have spent hoooours looking for the perfect theme: it’s one of my favourite hobbies. Decide what’s important to you, whether you like the look of two or three columns and the colours you like, and go from there. These days most themes are quite advanced so you can choose the one you want and customise colours etc from there. Some of the more basic WordPress themes are great for beginners and allow you to add in your own headers without any technical knowledge.

Start writing. It takes a couple of months to find your groove and start gaining readers. Don’t feel disheartened that stacks of people aren’t reading straight away- it’ll happen. As long as you’re enjoying yourself and writing in an honest voice, you will find that people will come.

Join a network. There are so many networks out there depending on the subject matter of your blog. For parenting blogs there’s BritMums or the great Parent Bloggers Facebook group, for Fashion blogs there’s IFB. These places are brilliant when it comes to advice and information, and they’re worth reading even if they don’t fit your niche. For example, I find the advice on the Independent Fashion Blogger‘s network invaluable and interesting, and most of what they discuss can be applied to blogs on other subjects. In terms of blogs that give blogging advice I also enjoy Momcomm, Copyblogger and ProBlogger.

Get involved in Social Networking. There are fantastic supportive communities in each sector of blogging and I can truly say I’ve met some wonderful people through my blog (YO to Charlotte, Kaisa, Jenny and the Mother’s Meeting massive…). Twitter is a great way to connect with others, make friends and get your posts out there.  I also love Instagram but like I said, I’m a bit of an oversharer. I’ve just started getting into Pinterest (addictive) and I have a brand-spanking new Facebook page. Google+ is still a bit of an enigma but I plan on finding out how it ticks ASAP and will report back with details.

Find your heroes. There are some bloggers out there who I adore and read religiously. I don’t think it’s healthy to try and emulate other bloggers as it’s so important to be yourself, but these people keep me inspired. I love: A Cup Of Jo, Dooce, Nat The Fat RatYoung House Love and Little Green Notebook.

So that’s me: an introduction to blogging in 900 words or less. If you’re a blogger I’d love to hear your tips and tricks. Or if you have any questions, please ask away.

Getting Away For A Weekend

 

When we go away as a couple now – just the two of us – there’s a whole host of reasons to get excited. A car journey with conversation and music rather than whining, clothes that don’t have to provide easy boob access for feeding (Dresses!!), a lie in, bathtime without plastic cups, wine, prosecco and Pimms, lots of other grown ups… going away as a family is awesome too but there is something so very wonderful about remembering who you were before you had kids.

 

 

This weekend we travelled with my little brother and his fiancé Erin to a mutual friend’s wedding in Suffolk. I’d spent a long time preparing for the weekend, expressing what felt like a lifetime’s supply of breast milk for Hux and whispering to him how much we loved him, that we weren’t abandoning him and that we’d be back before he knew it. I was pretty heartbroken to leave him though I knew a night away would do us good and he’d be in very safe hands with his Grannie and Grandpa. I didn’t have the same worries for Elfie who had spent the previous two days saying “Gaga? Sleep? More?” every five minutes. I.e. Please can I go for my sleepover at my Grannie’s house now please?

 

 

It’s safe to say we had a blast. So much so that I chucked my DSLR in the boot of the car as soon as the wedding ceremony was over so we could get on with the serious business of enjoying ourselves.

The wedding was gorgeous, in the barn of an old Manor’s estate in deepest darkest Suffolk. The new Mr and Mrs were radiant, there was a fantastic BBQ and we were able to catch up with old friends.

 

 

I enjoyed myself so much that I got sick of the taste of prosecco, necked jaegerbombs like squash and wrote something potentially inappropriate in the guestbook about how I was sneaking off every couple of hours to express  my milk in the car. I still woke at 8am the next day, bright and early all ready for Mummy duty. Lie in, what lie in?! I had itchy feet to get back to my babies but as we were travelling as a foursome I tried to chill out, take a dip in the (claw-footed and free-standing) bath and relax a little.

 

 

I always forget the most wonderful thing about going away for the weekend, and that is getting home to my babies. It’s worth leaving them for a night to feel the absolute joy I get on being able to hug them again. It makes me appreciate them on a whole other level and then vow to never ever leave their sweet faces ever again,  a resolution which lasts until the next 5am wakeup call which is when I start dreaming of country house hotels once more.

 

They were total angels and seemed to have a blast. Elfie today: “Gaga? Papa? Sleep? More?”. Sign me up for another two days of jaegerbombs…

Musical Festivities

Buraka Som Sistema, Bestival 2009

In those old-time single gal days there was nothing better than a weekend at a music festival. As long as there was a hotel room or holiday cottage included, natch. In fact, the last time I camped at a festival was at Reading 2002… that’s 10 YEARS AGO. In fact, here’s a blurry photo as evidence: I think that’s a can of Strongbow I’m toting, thank goodness I moved on to Malbec and Malborough Sauvignon.

 

 

Will and I did lots of them as a couple (bar Glastonbury, which is planned with a Winnebago next year): Field Day, Wireless, Leeds, Sonar, Roskilde… Bestival was the last festival we went to pre-babies so it’ll always have a special place in my heart and I can’t wait to go back in a couple of years.

 

If you are luckier than me and are able to get away for some musical R+R on the Isle of Wight next weekend then read on. My friends at Arcadia are giving away a pair of tickets and it couldn’t be easier to enter: just head on over to their Facebook page.

And if you win, have a Strongbow for me.

 

On Breastfeeding.

In all honesty I didn’t think Hux and I would ever get this far and still be breastfeeding: 3 months and counting. I didn’t set myself any goals – I didn’t want the pressure – and I promised myself that if the pain of it outweighed the positive aspects that I wouldn’t feel guilty about switching to formula. Saying that, I am very proud of how far we’ve come. I’m a firm breastfeeding advocate but also a fan of doing what’s right for you; Elfie only breastfed for a couple of weeks and at the time that was what our situation required. There’s no point flogging a dead breastfeeding horse if it’s not right for you and your baby: happy mama, happy baby, right?

You read so many articles and receive a whole pile of information about breastfeeding when you first begin, NHS leaflets, blogs, baby websites,  books… but so much of it I found completely irrelevant, felt didn’t suit me, or was slightly different to my experience. It’s not a one-size-fits-all deal.

It’s natural to feel a bit intimidated about feeding in public – I was terrified I’d flash my nipples to someone who really didn’t want to see them (or worse, someone who did) – but I got over it sooo quickly. You might think you’ll stick out like a sore thumb but pretty much the only prrople who’ll notice what you’re doing are other breastfeeding mothers or former breastfeeders, i.e. my own mum who likes to stare wistfully and gooey eyed at a breastfeeding mother til I elbow her to stop. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself with one of those big breastfeeding coverup things so at the times I do feel conspicuous I use a scarf (I have a couple of lovely Alice Temperley ones – nothin’s too good for my boy) to cover up. But on the whole nobody will notice, or even care. And I find that I’m so defiantly into my breastfeeding now that I would floor anyone who dared question me (the 1973 Sexual Discrimination Act innit! It’s illegal to challenge a breastfeeding mother, regardless of the age of the baby being fed).

Nursing bras worked for me at first but I’m pretty over them now. They’re ugly and I cant operate the stupid clippy bits with one hand: you need two, and two hands you don’t have when winding a baby. So I’m back to softly cupped bras which are comfier on my medium sized boobs than the larger nursing bras, plus as soon as your done the cups pop back into place. So much easier. The best bras I’ve found were £7 from Sainsburys and bought out of necessity when my nursing bra got rained on, but I love it!

(NB. don’t attempt to do those clippy bits of nursing bras back up if you’ve just painted your nails. You WILL smudge them).

When expressing I have found that a simple hand-held pump works much better for me than a big old electric one. I only pump here and there so Will can get involve in feeding Hux (read: so I could go to the pub) and I’ve found that expressing from one side while Hux fed from the other works so much better than expressing before or after feeding. Pumping and feeding a baby at the same time is a bit of a logistical nightmare but my milk yield is literally twice as much, I think because the added benefit of the letdown is there.

Breastfeeding HURT for me at the start, like, reeeeeally hurt. But it soon stopped and the memory fades away, much like childbirth I guess. And once you’re done with your Lansinoh it’s great for other purposes: lip balm, cracked heels, your husband’s joggers nipple…  I will be eternally grateful to some wonderful Twitter friends, without whom I think I would’ve given up breastfeeding in those first tough weeks.

I see a lot of breastfeeding mothers sticking to a wardrobe of button-down shirts and I thought they would be the best thing to wear but I’ve found I prefer tshirts. Lifting the top up and maneuvering Hux’s head to my boob is a lot more discreet for me rather than labouriously undoing a shirt and I find it a lot easier to rearrange myself when he’s done. I don’t mind if anyone gets a glimpse of my mum tum but when I first started breastfeeding I wore a camisole that could be pulled down so my tummy was covered.

Finally, breastfeeding burns a load of calories (around 500 a day, according to most sources). It took me a year to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight after I’d had Elfie, and 4 weeks with Hux. This fact alone means I’ll be a breastfeeding fan for life.

 

MTT: A Really Easy BBQ

 

It’s somewhat of a tradition in our house that Friday is a bit of a fun day. Being a stay-and-work-at-home mum means the days can get rather repetitive and all blend into one if there is no weekend fun to look forward to (especially because my husband works lots of weekends) so it’s great to plan mini parties to get excited about. Everyone loves a party!

 

 

If I’m lucky on a Friday afternoon I get to drop Elfie with my lovely Mother-in-Law for a few hours and whilst they’re having fun at the library or PlayDoh-ing I take a bottle of wine round to Kaisa‘s shop for a gossip and a drink. Elfie usually comes home at about 6pm and my parents arrive shortly after (sometimes pit-stopping at the pub on the way home for a play on the big slide – Elfie, not my parents) and if Will isn’t working from home he gets back at 8. We order an Indian from our local, which is so great that Snoop Dogg once ordered from there, and drink one too many glasses of red wine. It’s an open invitation so we’re often joined by sister-in-laws or aunties and it’s always lots of fun.

 

 

A couple of weeks ago we’d had such delightful weather that I decided to throw the rule book out the window and have a BBQ instead of a takeaway. I know, I know… we’re wild, right? It was while I was putting together that particular BBQ that I realised how finely honed my menu is; we always cook exactly the same things, and they always taste brilliant (if I may say so myself). I have a pretty failsafe BBQ formula that never fails to satisfy.

 

 

It comprises of: 2 salads, corn on the cob, chicken and sausages or burgers. It’s enough for 4 or 5 and can be put together in under an hour (including a homemade marinade). It’s even more perfect for me because I prepare it during afternoon naptime and then hand the food over to Will to cook at dinner, as in our house the BBQ is strictly man territory only. I enjoy a sit down and a drink while the food cooks. Blissful!

 

 

Here’s how to throw a really really easy BBQ:

The basics:
Pack of sausages or burgers with bread rolls
Optional: one batch of caramelised onions for burgers/hotdogs
Pack of chicken thighs/drumsticks
Pack of 4 corn on the cobs
2 peppers
1 onion
Half a punnet of mushrooms
Kebab sticks, soaked in water

2 types of salad – I like to use one ready-bought bag as well as a beetroot and orange salad (see here for more salad ideas).

Pimms, Prosecco and/or wine (essential)

Marinade:
4 tbsp Olive Oil
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp ketchup
Salt and pepper
Any more of the above ingredients to suit your taste (it’s a bit of a slapdash recipe)
1. At least 2 hours before you want to eat, mix all ingredients of the marinade together well.
2. Put all the chicken in a tuppaware container and pour the marinade over, reserving a little bit to paint on the corn and veggies. Put the chicken in the fridge.
3. Chop the peppers, onion and mushrooms into large pieces and thread on the pre-soaked kebab sticks.
4. Make up the salads and caramelised onions.
5. Right before you are ready to eat pre-cook the chicken in the oven for 15-20 mins at about 180 degrees.
6. Bang everything on the pre-heated BBQ, painting marinade on the veggies before they go on. Cook until lovely and blackened.
7. Enjoy and marvel at the easiest BBQ ever.

Flying With Young Children

 

When we went to Madrid a couple of weeks ago the number one item on my list of things to worry about was flying with two young kids. I’m a nervous flyer at the best of times and I was convinced that Elfie would run riot through the aisles of the plane and Hux would scream his way through the flight.

I was completely wrong; it was actually a relaxing and enjoyable experience. This might have a little to do with my in-flight mini bottles of wine but the kids were as good as gold too. Here’s how I prepared to make it as pain-free as possible:

Talk about planes. For months we’ve been playing with toy planes with Elfie, pointing them out in the sky and watching the plane episode of Peppa Pig (Captain Emergency? Best pilot name EVER). By the time we got to Luton airport she was almost beside herself with excitement at seeing all the airplanes and so plane watching was how we spent that awkward bit of time between checking in and boarding. She loved looking out the window at takeoff and landing, doing up the seatbelt and reading the emergency card. As soon as we had landed in Madrid she said “more?”.

 

 

Pack new toys. We used to have a dog called Oscar and every time Will and I would pack for a weekend away he would sense something was going on, becoming clingy and anxious. Elfie’s just like Oscar in this respect so I wanted to make sure she was excited rather than nervous at what was happening. Due to her all-encompassing love for everything Peppa Pig I bought a Peppa backpack and filled it with new books and a couple of toys for the flight, including a small notebook, pens and stickers. We gave it to her a couple of hours before leaving and strutting around with her new bag helped her take her mind of anything else that was going on, and emptying the bag of toys on the plane generated lots of excitement. I’m a big fan of the £2 kid’s magazines you can buy for this purpose because they cover all bases: stickers, games and stories.

iPad. I have lost count of the amount of times my life has been saved by the iPad. Pre-flight I made sure it was loaded up with episodes of Peppa Pig along with Elfie’s favourite apps: the Talking Teddy Bear and Spot the dog Books. I pulled it out at the times she was a little bored of her stickers.

Food and Feeding. Neither Hux nor Elfie seemed to have trouble with their ears during takeoff and landing but I’d brought dummies with me just in case (for Elfie) and was prepared to feed Hux during this time to combat the funny ear feeling. We also bought a Pret picnic at the airport thinking that eating during the flight would kill another 20 minutes or so – it did.

 

 

Check with your airline. We flew with Easyjet and I researched their child policies before we left so I’d know exactly what we would or would not be entitled to; having had to shell out the cost of an adult seat for Elfie I wanted to make sure we got what we paid for! We were allowed one bag each along with two pieces of baby-related luggage per child should we need it, i.e. a pram or car seat. With Easyjet if you have a folding pram you are able to wheel it to the gate and then pick it up at the luggage carousel which is what we did – after considering purchasing an umbrella fold pram so I wouldn’t have to risk our expensive Bugaboo I decided to not to and took the pram we know both kids can sleep in. I removed the hood and packed it in the suitcase along with the pram’s accessories and it escaped completely unharmed.

Easyjet permit adults with kids to get on the plane after the speedy boarding customers so I made sure I went directly to the front of the queue, even though this went against every properly British part of me that loves queueing.

BabyBjorn. Another lifesaver! I carrried Hux in the BabyBjorn, leaving my hands free to manhandle Elfie into the pram and push her around when all she wanted to do was tear round the airport looking at the planes.

Stay calm. I think remaining relaxed with the kids went a long way to maintain their happy demeanours. We weren’t worried, frantic or scared so they weren’t either. And they didn’t know that my calm face was because of the wine.