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The Family Patch Meets Jaime at #cosmickidslive

Meeting Jaime at #cosmickidslive

A few weeks ago, I heard that Cosmic Kids Yoga were going to be holding a fan event called #cosmickidslive at the YouTube Space in London. I put mine and Little Man’s names forward, and was super excited to receive an email telling us we were invited to attend. I’m not sure who was more excited, me or Little Man!

If you’ve never heard of Cosmic Kids before, can I suggest that you go check them out over on YouTube? They create the most amazing yoga adventures, mindfulness videos, and disco beats that kids adore. We wrote a review about Cosmic Kids a year or so ago, and I have to say that as much as we loved them then, we love them even more now that Little Man is that bit older and more able to fully interact with what is going on.

So, as you can imagine, we were hugely excited as we headed on down to London yesterday. And as we were at YouTube, I found myself inspired to create a video about our adventure rather than simply writing about it. It’s not the most polished video ever, but I hope it gives you a good idea of just how amazing the event was (scroll down below video for further info).

Of course, we had so much more to share with you than I could edit into that video, so here are the extra photos I promised.

YouTube Space London #cosmickidslive
Arriving at the YouTube Space in London was super exciting – here we are, about to go in and meet Jaime!
Jaime at #cosmickidslive
Jaime welcomed every child individually and quickly got the party started!
High Fives at #cosmickidslive
All the kids wanted to speak to Jaime after the adventure – she was such a huge hit with them all!
Goody Bag from #cosmickidslive
All the kids got to bring home this amazing goody bag, filled with wonderful surprises.

As you can see, we had an amazing time at #cosmickidslive, and it was so wonderful to meet Jaime and Martin in person. Jaime is a real natural, full of energy and enthusiasm which the kids all love and respond to so well. We were already big Cosmic Kids fans, but after yesterday I am more excited than ever to see how they grow and develop new ways of inspiring kids all around the world!

I’ll be sharing more about our day yesterday both here on the blog and over at Spirit Kid Network over the coming days, so do keep checking back. In the meantime, let me know if you’re a Cosmic Kids fan too in the comments below, I’d love to hear which your favourite video is!

*Edited to add: I’ve now published our review of the book over on Spirit Kid Network – you can read it here.


I’m linking this post up with #sharethejoy, your weekly source of inspiration!

I Had to Miss #BML16 – My Greatest Motivation to Heal

Today hundreds of bloggers are meeting together in London for the annual conference run by BritMums, rebranded this year as #BML16 for their 5th year. I have been to BritMums Live (as it was previously named) every year since 2012 and, as always, I initially purchased my ticket as soon as they became available last year.

I had every intention of attending this year too, even writing a post about it for the BritMums blog, because the thought of not being there never even crossed my mind. Walking into The Brewery each year feels like returning home. Meeting up with old friends and making new ones is such a wonderful experience when you spend the vast majority of your time connecting online (if I ever doubted I was a people person then BritMums Live certainly confirmed it for me!) and I never, ever wanted to miss it.

But then I got sick. Or rather, the underlying illness and exhaustion I’ve been experiencing for years now took a massive turn for the worse, and despite ending 2015 with hopes that we were getting on track with my treatment, 2016 has brought more questions than ever. I’ve spent the vast majority of the year desperately hoping to feel better, but a couple of months ago I realised that I simply had to accept the fact I could not guarantee I’d be well enough to attend #BML16.

So I sold my ticket. And it turned out to be a really sound decision, as I have spent the past week pretty much confined to my bed with flu-like symptoms, yet again. Unlike the trip we have to London next week, which will be an easy day trip and possible to manage even if feeling under the weather, I knew that the full schedule of #BML16 would be impossible to manage if I weren’t 100%. Being so sick this week has reassured me that I made the right choice.

And yet, my heart is breaking. I’m seeing all these updates on Twitter and Instagram from people I know at an event that has been an integral part of my calendar for the past 4 years, and I’m not there. It is yet another blow to my already fragile heart, making it clear just how sick I am. And as much as I already know this, for some reason today it feels harder than ever.

I guess it’s because this is where my passion lies – blogging, networking, communicating, socialising, it’s what I do best. This past year has been a little bit crazy, with setting up a new blog and a new business (admittedly both of these have been very slow to grow because of my current health, but growing they are) and I actually took several months away from The Family Patch, my online home of more than 5 years.

But coming back to it has been an absolute delight, a homecoming of sorts, and quite a revelation as well that I have an awful lot of evergreen content on here that has kept my stats steady despite no updates or promotion for well over 3 months of the year! It’s another reminder that this is what I do, this is what I am good at, and this is what I love the most. So to miss out on #BML16 because of my health is like a punch in the gut.

I know that I can follow it all online, and I know that the conversation continues long after the event itself. I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s posts and sharing in their joy… but I wish I had been able to be there too. And that is where the greatest motivation lies for this healing journey I am on, to regain my health so that this time next year I’m right back there with everyone, enjoying every single moment.

That’s not to say that there aren’t other motivations to get well, because there truly are. I want to be well because, quite frankly, being this sick sucks. Big time. I don’t think I’ve ever been this ill in my entire life, and that’s saying something! I want to be well for myself, and for TJ and Little Man. I want to be well so that I can work without exhausting myself entirely. And I want to be well so that I can finally step onto this path of writing and networking that has always been my destiny but which I have shied away from making my career for such a long time.

Which is why being well enough to attend #BML17 is my greatest motivation yet – if I can find myself heading to London this time next year, with a smile on my face and the courage to say “this is who I am, this is what I want my life to be, and this is how I’m doing it”, then I shall know that I have made an incredible, life-affirming change in my life.

So thanks #BML16 for showing me all that I am missing this year – it’s the heartache of missing you that makes me so determined to change my life so I can see you again!

Let’s Build a Bridge, Not a Wall – (EU Referendum)

Today everybody in the UK woke to find that we had voted to leave the EU in the Referendum yesterday. Like many, I am shocked and quite frankly fearful of the ramifications of this result. Yet I know my parents feel the exact opposite and voted, just as I did, for what they felt was the best for our country, even though we both voted for opposite sides. So where does that leave us, as a family and as a nation?

For weeks the country has felt divided, with opinions and gut reactions leading many of the arguments rather than clear facts. It became almost impossible to find information backed by research from a variety of sources, and combined with the high emotions felt by a disillusioned electorate, it seems understandable that the nation would vote based on almost instinctive reactions.

I mean, let’s look at the polls leading up to the referendum. Most of them showed very distinct patterns with, for example, the younger generation generally voting in favour of remaining in the EU and the older generations voting to leave. Both sides believed they were making a sound decision. For instance, I spoke to someone at work who told me she was voting to leave because she felt it best for her grandchildren, yet I was voting to remain because I felt that was best for my child.

I know that this is how referendums and voting in general works, you always vote for what you think is best, but it seems to have been so polarized this time around. You just have to look at the end results to see that – the Leave campaign may have won with the “majority” of the votes, but that majority was 51.9% of those who voted… 48.1% voted for the exact opposite outcome and that’s a very small margin, just over 1 million votes in it. So clearly, the nation remains divided in its reaction to the referendum result – half are ecstatic and half are entirely disappointed.

It was pretty clear all along that this was going to be the case, as it’s been a closely run battle from the start. Whichever way it had swung, half the population were going to be disappointed. I’m not even going to try and pretend that if the Remain side had won there wouldn’t have been similar feelings this morning – the only real difference would have been that finding a new way to work together in harmony, bringing the two sides together once more, would have played out on a UK-only stage rather than the world-stage as it is currently doing. So again, I ask, where does this leave us?

Well, I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that amongst all the comments I’ve seen this morning across social media, the ones that stand out the most are the ones calling for unity. Those that are asking for us to come together, even in a time of division, because change is hard on anyone. And the next few years are going to be full of uncertainty and change, and we’re going to need to come together and find our common goals in order to make it through as best we can. And I do believe that we have common goals, that we all essentially want the same thing, don’t you?

Let’s build a bridge, not a wall

Deep inside the heart of me
there is a place of truth,
A place that wants the best for us
it’s what I’ll always choose.
But life is never black and white,
there is no right and wrong,
Let’s put aside our differences
together we stand strong.

I know I made my choice today
based on a heartfelt truth,
And you, I know, did just the same
your heart helped you to choose.
So many feelings, good and bad
were thrown into the fray,
Love and fear went head to head
and logic fell away.

So let us all remember now
that feelings hold the power,
We cannot let our fear win out
this is the crucial hour.
Let us instead choose love to win
and with it hope and peace,
And promise to our children now
that love will never cease.

For we have chosen what we thought
was best for them and us,
So let us all unite today
and make sure that it does.
Don’t let our actions at this time
go down in history,
Filled with anger and regret
and marked with misery.

So come together, side by side
let’s work together now,
There’s got to be a better way
and we’ll find it somehow.
For you and I, we’re just the same
we want the best for all,
So let us build a bridge between
our sides, and not a wall.


I’ve written another post over on Spirit Kid Network, inspired by Little Man’s beautiful words, “I love all the people” that he shared with me Friday night before bed. Let’s nurture that loving acceptance of all people!

She Believed She Could So She Did Notebook

Long Time No See!

Well, hello there! It seems like such a long time since we spoke, and I have missed you on so many occasions. How have you been?

I kind of disappeared all of a sudden, without very much warning, didn’t I? I hadn’t realised just quite how confusing that would be until several of you mentioned wondering where I had disappeared too. The truth is that I had an epiphany moment one day when I realised I needed to step away for the sake of my own well-being and I wasn’t even sure I’d come back.

Have you ever had a moment like that, when out of nowhere you just know you need to step away for a while in order to find your feet once more? Looking back I can see that I had known deep in my heart I needed to do it for such a long time but, as is so often the case, I resisted it for far too long. So when that moment of clarity arrived I acted upon it swiftly and surely and I didn’t look back.

Word of the Year 2016 Healing

I cannot tell you how good it has been for my soul to put that distance between myself and what I had been doing here at The Patch. The past 5 years have been such a massive challenge for my little family in so many ways and by blogging so openly and honestly about it I found that every time I came online I was reminded of each battle, each wound, each pain. I wasn’t able to give my heart, soul, mind, or body chance to heal and that was what I so desperately needed to do.

So you can imagine how amazing it felt to get away, put some distance between myself and the past, and allow myself the chance to begin finding out who I am now and what I want from life. It’s an ongoing process but I finally feel like I have reached a place where I am able to see the scars healing where there were only open wounds a few months ago. I think the best way to sum this up is in a thought that came to me just the other day…

If you want to add value to the lives of others, you have to first add value to your own

It’s akin to the old saying “Healer, Heal Thyself” really isn’t it? For too long now I have been trying to help inspire, encourage, and support others when I desperately needed to do that for myself first. Over the past few weeks I have started taking great strides in that direction and I have to say it is really making things flow in such a different way than they were before.

She Believed She Could So She Did Notebook

Words are suddenly pouring out of my heart and onto the page where once the fear within me kept them locked up. And opportunities to make life-long dreams come true are starting to appear, making me wonder how on earth I ever missed the connection that seems so obvious now (more on this later, it is a whole new direction for me which I’m currently working on behind the scenes).

She Who Knows Magazine Gift

Even more amazing, for me, is that now that I have started to value my own well-being enough to ask for help I am finding that support is coming from so many different directions I can hardly believe it . Just this past week an unexpected package arrived in the post which came at exactly the moment I was beginning to question things that only a gift like that could answer. And suddenly I find that I have the overwhelming urge to reopen The Family Patch and start reconnecting with you all with a lighter heart and a happier mind.

I’ve given it all a bit of a freshen up, to mark the occasion as I come back to blogging here, but don’t be surprised if it continues to change over the coming weeks. For the first time in far too long I actually feel like it doesn’t matter what I write or how I write it here at The Patch – this space is my own and it is a place for me to do what matters to me. That freedom is something that has been lacking for far too long here and I am so happy to change it.

So, all I have left to say is that I am so very glad to welcome you back here to my little online home. I do so love having you here and I cannot wait to catch up with you all.


I’m sharing this post with the #sharethejoy linky over at The Joy Chaser as being back here at The Family Patch really does bring me a lot of joy!

Healing Journey - Steps Into The Soul

Solstice Musings

Today marks The Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year and the point at which the light begins to return to the world once more. This time last year I wrote a post called Solstice Reflections and reading back over it I am reminded of both major similarities and differences between this time last year and where I am today (it’s like a spiral dance).

spiral stone

Like last year, I have been very sick lately, pushing myself further and further until breaking point at the beginning of December. What is it about me and refusing to stop until something (usually my body) forces me to? But unlike last year, I am in a much better place both mentally and spiritually, if not necessarily physically.

I remember writing about how 2014 had been a year so tough that I felt like my soul had shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. Whilst that sounds horrendous, and it was in many ways, it was also a total blessing in disguise. It led me to choosing “Surrender” as my word for 2015 and surrender I have.

These past 12 months I lost my job, moved home, watched a loved one suffer greatly, found two new jobs, supported my husband in a new job as well, helped Little Man adjust to a new home and nursery, and begun to really find my feet with blogging again (two major highlights of which were reading this poem as part of the BritMums Live Bloggers’ Keynote and my recent post on the BritMums Blog about Endometriosis).

I could never have coped with all of these changes without first surrendering to the natural flow of life, which has taught me that no matter how dark things may seem, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. For the first time in my life, I learnt to accept what is and go with the flow rather than fighting a losing battle. And it has been great.

Going with the flow - water

But I still have a long way to go – this journey is far from over! Whilst I have moved with the flow, this year has moved at such great speed (how can it be December already?!) that my heart, body and soul all need time to adjust. Physically I am beat, and despite my best efforts, pushing onwards regardless has left me very weak. Which leads me to only one conclusion – my focus for 2016 needs to be that of Healing.

If you follow me on instagram, you may have seen that recently I started reading a fascinating book called The Healing Power of The Sacred Woman by Christine Page. Within its pages I have discovered the need to really embrace that which fills me with joy, making time to express myself creatively rather than stifling that great spring of inspiration whilst putting everything and everyone else first. As the author states, it’s often those who are “too nice” who get ill… I feel very much like this is a message I needed to hear (from someone other than my mother – sorry, mum, I know you’ve been telling me this for a long time now!)

Whilst it feels totally against my nature to do so, I have decided it is crucial that I do it. Putting myself first doesn’t mean that I no longer care about others, but rather that I am beginning to understand that only through self nurture can I have the strength needed to truly nurture others (without burning myself out entirely).

So, how am I going to do that?

Do more of what makes you happy
The cover of the binder which currently holds my novel…

 

Well, my thinking is this – I need to take a serious amount of time “out” to focus on the healing power within me, which for me comes very much through the time and space to create and write. I am a writer, it’s what I do. My teachers knew it at school. My friends and family have known it for years. My blog readers have often commented on it, and so have colleagues from time to time. And when I think about it, I realise that I know it too and always have – writing brings me complete joy (regardless of the subject) and when I write I tap into a powerful force of nature, that flows through me, easing my soul.

Looking back over the year I can see that I have started to do this, sharing poems such as Yet Still We Stand and How Long Must We Wait this year, but would you believe there was a time, around 10 years ago, when I wrote something new almost every day? And that year I was happier and healthier than I think I have ever been!

So, for the next few months I want to focus specifically on this – finding time to write and be inspired by the world around me. There is a novel I wrote a first draft of in 2010 which I am longing to rework and expand, and there are opportunities to write stories and poems that reflect all that is happening in our lives. There is also Spirit Kid Network to begin building, a process which I hope to turn into a creative rather than business one. Already I know the way to release the blocks I created through trying to make it “fit” rather than allowing it to be what it is meant to be.

And in order to do this, I need to really make the time and space for it. In recent months I have chosen to sit in bed and read, rather than staying up late watching TV, but I still struggle for time. There are things I have to do – work, cook, clean, look after Little Man etc – but equally there are things I can cut back on. And social media is one of these things.

Finding the Gifts Within
Finding the Gifts Within

 

For years now I have been saying I need to step away, but it seems so much like “social suicide” to do so, especially as a blogger. But you know what, blogging began long before the likes of Facebook and Twitter, and I do think a break from those will do me good. I spend so much time scrolling through them, time which could be spent creating something or actually reading someone else’s blog posts and commenting on them! So that’s what I’m going to do – I’m going to focus on the reading and writing and less on the sharing and tweeting, at least for a while. I want to find the “gifts within”, rather than relying on the outside world to feed my soul!

I’ve decided I want to be as symbolic as possible with this – today is 21st December and the Winter Solstice, in 3 months’ time we’ll reach 21st March and the Spring Equinox, or first day of Spring. That feels like a beautiful metaphor for this journey I wish to take – a hibernation of sorts, through the dark winter months, turning inward to find the source of my spark ready to burst forth with life once the Spring appears.

Let the Healing begin 🙂

Healing Journey - Steps Into The Soul

Blog It Forward – How We’re Giving Back This Christmas

Earlier this week, the lovely Penny from Alexander Residence posted about a fantastic way to “give back” this Christmas. This time of year is, naturally, a time for giving and most of us want to spread a little holiday cheer. But it can get so complicated (and overwhelming) as we try and get the best presents for our loved ones, plan the perfect feast for our families, and still find time to enjoy the moment. Which is why I love the simplicity of Wayfair’s #BlogItForward challenge…

#blogitforward

 

The idea is so simple – find a way to spread a little kindness this Christmas and if you blog about it Wayfair will donate £50 to Habitat for Humanity. How awesome is that? By one small act of kindness you are helping not one person, but many – how’s that for the ripple effect?

And your act of kindness doesn’t have to be a big one or even cost you any money – say “hi” to that parent who always seems stressed on the school run, visit an elderly neighbour who may be very lonely, take outgrown clothes and toys to your nearest refuge, organise to go and sing carols at your local residential care home, the list is endless…

When I first heard about #BlogItForward, I wondered what I should do. My time and energy resources are very limited right now and whilst I am very often overly optimistic about what I can actually achieve, I knew I needed to keep it simple this year. So when Penny sent me this tweet, it got me thinking:

What things am I already doing that would count as “good deeds” this Christmas. What am I doing that I simply haven’t thought of mentioning but actually support others and spread a little love and support?

And here’s what I came up with:

1. Buying from small businesses

Whilst it would certainly be far quicker (and cheaper) to grab all my Christmas presents  from discount stores and large online retailers offering so many competitive deals, I made a conscious decision to buy as many presents from smaller businesses. I wanted to do this for two reasons – first, I am able to find perfect gifts for friends and family members that they will most likely have never seen before and second, I know that each sale makes a big difference to the person who made the item.

So far this year I have bought a handmade Star Wars pencil case for our niece, some cute Star Wars Bathroom Etiquette magnets for Little Man’s cousins (both from Folksy), and a hand knitted baby bear for a friend’s new baby (from a church Christmas Fair). I still have a few presents to buy and whilst I know I won’t manage to get all my gifts in this way, each one I do makes me feel happy knowing we are supporting a small business.

Handmade Gifts for Christmas

2. Donating to the Food Bank

This is something we do from time to time anyway, but it is becoming a Christmas tradition to add “buy food for the Food Bank” to Little Man’s Activity Advent Calendar. We know how lucky we are to have food on our table, especially as there have been times when without family buying us the odd weekly shop we would not have made ends meet. So whilst we have the opportunity to do so, we want to make sure we are giving back to those who need it.

It is also such a fantastic way for us to start a conversation with Little Man about how lucky we are to live in a warm and dry house, with food to eat, clean clothes to wear, and toys for him to play with. We’ll be talking to him about all the different ways, both big and small, we can make a difference in other people’s lives, and that is in itself another way we can give back as we’re passing on the gift of kindness to another generation.

Donate to Foodbank Adent Activity

3. Sending Christmas Cards

In the age of social media, it can be so easy to feel as if written Christmas cards no longer have as big a place in our lives. I mean, it is so very easy to just send an e card or stick up a status wishing everyone a Merry Christmas as it takes less time, costs nothing (I am the first to admit posting Christmas cards can be very pricey!), and avoids missing the last posting date. And there is nothing wrong with this at all – I’ll certainly be sending those kinds of messages nearer the big day.

But there is something very special and magical about receiving cards through the post, don’t you think? As a child it may be one of the few times you receive post, and as an adult it is most definitely a pleasant break from the usual bills! But more than that, I think Christmas cards bring great cheer in that they both brighten up your room when displayed and they show that the person who sent them felt it important enough to take time out of their busy schedule to write to you and stick it in the post.

This year I’m going to be writing to old friends whose families have had a tough year, to let them know we’re thinking of them especially at this time and hoping that 2016 will be a better year for them. And I’ll be posting cards to old friends who I simply haven’t had time to properly catch up with through the year, as busy as it has been for us. And I’ll also be sending cards to others just for the fun of it. I do hope that they will bring some festive cheer.

Sending Christmas Cards

So there you go, those are the three ways in which I am hoping to give back this year. And in order to take part in Blog It Forward I am sharing it with you here on the blog, and challenging some friends to take part too. So I’m tagging Katrina, Emma, Vicky and Aly. But anyone can join in – all you have to do is write about how you’re giving back this Christmas, paste one of the blog buttons (there are two to choose from) in your post and challenge two of your blogging friends to take part.

Go on, what are you waiting for?

Crochet Pumpkin for Autumn Equinox

New Beginnings at The Autumn Equinox

Today is Mabon, or the Autumn Equinox, a time in the year when the day and night are of equal length. The long summer days are behind us now and we’re heading into the dark of winter. It’s a time for celebrating your successes (it falls in the middle of the harvest) and bringing things to a close. If there’s one lesson that I think this day brings, it’s that all things must end, but life still brings beauty with it – after all, Autumn may mark the end of Summer but its rich colours are a new kind of beauty to enjoy!

Crochet Pumpkin for Autumn Equinox

It’s a slower time of year, a time when we begin to draw within ourselves a bit more and snuggle up close to the ones we love. But just because things slow down, it doesn’t mean that they stop altogether. For me, September has always been a time of new beginnings. I imagine this is partly because the new school year always starts this month. But it isn’t only that, I think Autumn brings a sense of inner reflection, a time for seeing where you have been, where you are now, and where you want to be and it is the perfect time to start laying down roots for the coming year.

Which is why it feels perfectly timed that this Autumn I am heading into a whole new project which has been gradually growing in my heart for many, many years and has finally reached the point of realisation. I am starting a new blog…

Now, before I go any further I want to say that this new blog is not a replacement for The Family Patch. I love this little space of mine and I will continue to use it for personal updates and sharing all my craft and home based posts. However there is an aspect of my life that has never really fitted well here, an area that is far too expansive to be just a part of this blog. And that’s what the new blog is for.

I don’t want to share too much with you right now, as I am still putting it all together. But today seems like the perfect time to share this new beginning with you. I’d also like to invite you to join me in this new venture, because this new blog is going to be different. It’s not going to be so personal, but rather a gathering of ideas and (I hope) a community of people interested in “raising spiritual kids in a modern world”. It is far bigger than anything I have done before, and I sometimes wonder whether I am getting in over my head, but I just know that I need to try this.

It all began when a name popped into my head during one of my morning Kundalini Yoga sessions. I don’t know where the name came from, but it just felt right. I’ve enjoyed letting the idea blossom and despite often questioning the name and how it will work, nothing else seems to fit. So, I’m trusting in it and going with it and will see where it leads.

It is an absolute joy to be working on and it fills me with so much excitement for the future. But I need your help. I’ve reached a point where no amount of self-reflection or research is going to complete the plans. This new blog is about community, and for that to work I need to know what others want and how they may like to be involved. So, if you have an interest in spirituality, particularly if you have children (of any age), and are happy to help me with this next stage of development please do fill in the form below so that I can get in touch with you.

 

5 Ways You Can Make a Difference Nothing Is Too Small Hyperemesis Gravidarum

Hyperemesis Gravidarum – 5 Ways You Can Make a Difference

This time last year, my life was overtaken by Hyperemesis – and I wasn’t even pregnant!

News of the Duchess of Cambridge’s second pregnancy meant that there was an increased interest in the condition, and I raced down to London at extremely short notice for an interview on Good Morning Britain. On top of that, our book was nearing its publication date, so we were full steam ahead on last minute prep. And all of this around my usual work for Pregnancy Sickness Support (PSS).

I began to feel swamped, big time, and it only got worse. It is very difficult to describe the effect it all had on me, because quite frankly last Autumn almost broke me and it’s something I would like to forget in many ways. But the reality is, I don’t think I’ll ever stop caring about the cause and that means finding new ways of doing this.

The past few months have given me some space and time to figure out where I fit in the HG Community, and the truth is I’m not quite sure I do any more. But that doesn’t mean that I cannot support the cause, simply that I am no longer an active part of it.

Hyperemesis Gravidarum – The Definitive Guide will continue to help current sufferers and survivors, because the hours of work put into it are now paying off. And the posts on my blog, written over the past 4 years, still continue to get hits from web searches regarding Hyperemesis. Even when I am not actively writing about it, I am still able to spread the word. And that has been the biggest lesson for me this year – you don’t have to be on the front line to make a difference.

I also know that there are so many people out there with a wealth of skills and experiences that can be put to good use in improving the care, support and treatment of women with Hyperemesis, if only they knew how. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d put together a list of 5 ways you can make a difference.

5 Ways You Can Make a Difference Nothing Is Too Small Hyperemesis Gravidarum

1. If you feel like you can offer one-to-one peer support to another woman suffering from Hyperemesis, do register as a volunteer with PSS. This isn’t for everybody, I know – sometimes the trauma from your own pregnancy is too great to support another, and sometimes you’re so busy balancing work and home life that being available to support is just too much pressure. However, for those who do feel able to give support via phone, text or email, it can be a thoroughly rewarding role.

2. Share your experience, to raise awareness. I know this isn’t always easy, and it can often lead to difficult responses from friends and strangers alike who just don’t get it, but the best way to create change is to first create awareness of the need for change. Write about it on your blog, or contact a blogger you know and ask if you can write a guest post for them. Share a video on youtube, or write to your local newspaper and radio station asking if they might interview you. If you’re happy to talk to the national press, join a group set up for that – just be sure that you trust the journalist and/or editor not to put an unpleasant “spin” on the piece.

3. If you don’t feel comfortable writing or sharing your own story, why not share those that others have written. It’s so easy with so many social media platforms available at your fingertips… simply search for specific terms such as ‘Hyperemesis’, ‘HG’ and even ‘Morning Sickness’ (yes, I know it isn’t morning sickness, but you’d be amazed at how many articles you will find about Hyperemesis that only come up when using that search term). Remember hashtags are used on many platforms and you can also sign up for Google Alerts to get articles straight to your inbox. Spreading the word about the reality of HG, the work that is being done to improve women’s experiences, and ways in which people can get involved is so important to creating and maintaining that change.

4. Donate some money or raise funds to help keep services running. You can do this via direct debit monthly payments, one-off fundraising events such as a coffee morning or a sports challenge, selling items on eBay and setting a percentage to go to charity, or even whilst doing your weekly shop by using one of the many fundraising apps such as Give As You Live. And don’t forget that if you are a UK tax payer, you can register for Gift Aid, meaning that the charity can claim a further 25% at no cost to you!

5. And finally, why not look at the skills you have and think about how they could be used to help the cause. I am a firm believer that everybody has something to give, you just have to figure out what that may be. Are you super-organised? Why not offer to help organise events! An experienced PA? What about offering to set up a group calendar that can be used to keep everybody up-to-date and plan ahead for social media campaigns around key events! Talking of social media, are you forever glued to your phone? Why not give a few hours a week to support specific campaigns! Accountants could help with book-keeping, and nurses could raise awareness with colleagues. Chefs could offer ideas of quick, easy, low odour meals and those in retail could offer advice on corporate sponsorship. The way your skills can be used are only limited by your own imagination – so how do you think you could help?

I’m sure there are so many more ways in which you can get involved and make a difference! But I hope that these five provide a place to begin. Whether you can offer 5 hours a week or 5 days a year, your help will make a difference – nothing is too small!

 

 

#savesyriaschildren It could have been me

How Long Must We Wait? (A poem inspired by the current Refugee Crisis) #savesyriaschildren

#savesyriaschildren It could have been me

Scroll down to the bottom to find out how you can make a difference, today!

*****

How long will it be?
How long must we wait?
Until we understand
this is not our fate?

There are things we can do,
there are things we can say;
we don’t have to stand by
and watch time slip away.

Injustice and cruelty,
pain, famine, and war;
when will we stand up
and shout out “NO MORE“?

When poverty hits us?
When death closes in?
When it happens to us?
When will we begin?

The world needs our voices,
our neighbours need love;
Wouldn’t we want the same
were it happening to us?

Don’t fall for the lies,
filled with anger and fear;
don’t blame the victims
or ban them from here.

Our fate is not sealed
and neither is theirs;
we can make a change,
as long as we care.

So let’s open our hearts,
and speak out with intent.
And make sure that our time
on the earth is well spent.

If we start today,
then tomorrow will change.
And together we’ll find
that love isn’t so strange.

How long will it be?
How long must we wait?
Not long at all,
if we let go of hate.

*****

Yesterday I wrote and posted this poem, as I felt I had to do something. Anything.

Today I am joining my fellow bloggers in campaigning together to enact change. We’re using the #SaveSyriasChildren hashtag along with Save The Children in order to raise vital funds and awareness.

TEXT 70008 and the word SYRIA to donate £5 (this goes direct to Save The Children’s emergency relief fund. You can find their terms and conditions here).

If you’d rather donate via the web, you can do so here.

If you want to get involved with spreading the word, you can post a black and white image of your child/ren holding a sign saying “it could have been me/us” along with the hashtag #SaveSyriasChildren like the one I’ve posted of Little Man at the top.

Please also post the following with your image, if shared on Facebook:

”There’s lots that you could do from the comfort of your own home.
Please don’t turn a blind eye.
Do Something to help.
Anything.
Whatever you decide, don’t choose apathy.
#SaveSyriasChildren To donate £5 please text SYRIA to 70008”

*****

If you want to do more, here are some ideas…

Petition to accept more asylum seekers (on the UK Government and Parliament website)

5 ways You Can Help (one of many articles of this kind – Google will provide far more!)

When will we stand up and shout out no more #savesyriaschildren

Activism: 10 ways to create political change today

Activism: 10 Ways You Can Create Change!

In light of the #budget2015, Amanda has asked me to write a blog post about getting involved in politics. We are doing a swap of skills… she’s my social media guru and I’m giving her a few politics lesson!

Activism: 10 ways to create political change today

How to get involved…

  1. Get involved with a political party. Decide which one best suits your personal beliefs and get involved. Not sure which best suits you? Try this quiz…

Have a look on their websites, explore their policies. You could go all the way and get involved as a candidate, like Susanna Rustin, who provides an excellent tongue in cheek review on becoming a politician.

Or you can become a member and help to fundraise and campaign for candidates. Members also help vote for the leadership of the party. Like the Labour Party but disliked Ed Miliband? Join the Labour Party and vote for the next leader and deputy leader.

  1. Write to your MP, MEP or counsellor. I have done work experience with MPs, they get very few letters. So when they get a few letters from constituents on an issue they get worried, if they get a lot of letters they get very concerned. After all, they know they need to get re-elected in a few months or years. Even better, get your friends and followers to also write letters. Think how worried they will be if they get a hundred letters the same.

Find your constituency: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/constituencies

  1. Interested in a particular policy area or issue? Then research, find and join a relevant society or charity that are actively campaigning about that issue.

For social justice, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation is a good one. 

Again, get involved. Charities in particular will be grateful for any help they can receive.

Most of us will never influence national policy directly but we can make a difference by volunteering for a charity. The big charities and societies are experienced lobbyist and often consulted on relevant legislation changes. By supporting a national charity you are helping to support a charity that has a stronger voice than yourself be heard.

Even donating your old clothes can be seen as a form of activism.

  1. Join a local campaign group, these can be political or single issue. If you have a local concern, it is likely others do too. Find them, join them. The best way to find information about these is to look at the noticeboards and piles of information sheets in your local library or independent café or shop. Otherwise, google them or look in the local newspapers.

    I’m actively involved with my local history society, as that is an issue I feel strongly about and it also which cuts across political parties.

A list of Lincolnshire charities (where we are based) can be found here. A quick search online should help you find a similar list for your own county.

  1. Join in a local or national march. These will be advertised in the local media. Your local trade union will promote the big national marches.
  1. Concerned about workers’ rights? Find the main union in your work place and join a trade union, become involved as an officer or steward.
  1. If you cannot find a group you like, form your own. Organise, advertise, campaign.
  1. Otherwise use your skills… many of you will be active bloggers or twitter users. Read and re-tweet and re-post reliable sources of information, such as the board-sheet newspapers, charities, societies, academics or expertise. Don’t just re-tweet attention grabbing posts that you cannot verify the source of information, this will weaken your reliability. Opinion posts are good but must be have reliable sources of information.
  1. Write a blog post, link to relevant parties, charities, societies. Start a debate, encourage others to get involve. Set up a group to promote information and ideas. Pitch ideas to your local magazine or newspaper to promote information – make it entertaining but informative.
  1. The government website has other suggestions which you can find here. The ones I like are getting involved with consultations or signing petitions.

I am a member of the Labour Party because I believe in the constitutional declaration that ‘together we can achieve more than we can alone’.

However, you can often achieve more by deciding what your area of expertise is and utilizing those skills.

The government gets away with blaming the poor, the ill and those receiving benefits by playing on people’s stigma. Helping to remove that stigma by promoting the facts and your own experiences in an accessible but informative way helps to remove the strengths of these stigmas and the strength of the government lies.

So I am a teacher, I am a member of local and national history societies, I am a member of a political party and charities. I have also started to write and blog about my experiences. These are all forms of activism.

I think the best form of activism I can achieve is by helping my students to understand how our political system works, to think for themselves, to question everything, to seek out reliable information, to be independent thinkers who make up their own minds and become active member of society.

(Sadly some have chosen to vote Conservative after my lessons but that is fine as they have reasoned for themselves.)

Find one (or more) method that suits you and get involved and have fun.

 

About Debbie

historytiglet

Debbie is a self-confessed History-Geek, who thoroughly enjoys spending her days passing on her passion and enthusiasm in a post-16 educational environment. She uses her own experiences of overcoming disabilities and difficulties (such as dyslexia and chronic health conditions) to help support and encourage others to reach their potential. Her new blog can be found at historytiglet and she is also on Twitter

(She also happens to be my sister!)

Winning Ideas for Pinterest Lessons from #britmumslive

Pinning Ideas – (Pinterest) Lessons from #britmumslive 2015

As a blogger, I am very aware of the importance that Pinterest can play in connecting people and driving traffic to your blog. I have seen the connections that other bloggers have made, and regularly use Pinterest for finding inspiration and ideas. More often than not, the links connected to the pins lead you straight to a blog rather than a website run by a large company. It’s easy to see how helpful that can be for a blogger, right?

But just because you can see the importance of using Pinterest, doesn’t mean you know how to use it effectively, does it? I use Pinterest almost daily, yet I rarely pin my own blog posts. And I rarely use the few collaborative boards I am actually a member of. So imagine my relief when I discovered BritMums Live had arranged a sesson with some of the UK’s top pinners from within the parent blogger niche.

Jen from Love Chic Living, Jennifer from Jennifer’s Little World, and Helen from Kiddy Charts all happily shared their thoughts and experiences with a room jam-packed with interested bloggers. The session was incredibly interactive, with lots of questions being fired out from the audience throughout, and so I hope I managed to capture all the key points in my notes.

Winning Ideas for Pinterest Lessons from #britmumslive

Pinterest basics

  • Pinterest now uses smart feed, which means that when you log in you’ll see pins of “related content” that are based on things you have previously pinned
  • Pins can either be pinned from their source or repinned from within Pinterest itself
  • It’s important to check the pin links directly to the post you want and not the homepage
  • Always check and edit the description so that it includes key words (e.g. ingredients used in a recipe)
  • Do not use hashtags – these are not used on Pinterest and are seen as spam

Making the most of your account

  • Set up a business account – this is important if you plan to make money via your blog. It also gives you access to analytics within Pinterest. It is easy to switch from a personal account to a business one (NB: I did it yesterday and it really was very simple!)
  • Once you’ve changed to a business account, you’ll be able to verify your account.
  • Apply for rich pins – these are pins which have a bold title and provide space for a lot more information than standard pins. Using these will give your pins more weight in searches and they also stand out more in a feed. Pinterest are also adding “call to action” buttons to rich pins.
  • When people first see your profile, they will only see the first 8 boards, so make these count. You can change the order regularly, so consider making these seasonal.
  • Remember that we are naturally drawn to the top left of the screen, so make your first board the one you want to be seen first. This is a good place to create a blog board to pin your own blog posts to.
  • You can pin to your blog board first, and then repin your own content within Pinterest to other more specific boards or collaborative boards. Just make sure that you don’t do this too much in quick succession, otherwise you will be seen as spamming.
  • Make use of secret boards for pinning ideas and projects you are planning for a future date. You can then publish them when you are ready to go live.
  • Use sensible keywords for board names and include them in your profile as well.
  • Make sure your boards are all in the right category, to make sure they are easy to search for.
  • Pin regularly, but keep it natural by making sure that the pins are relevant to you. Mix things up and pin other people’s content, this is how Pinterest works!

Understanding Pinterest and how it equates to blog traffic

  • Pinterest works like a search engine and discovery tool rather than a social media platform. You don’t need a lot of followers to be successful, and the number of followers does not always equate to traffic.
  • Pins are evergreen – don’t delete pins, they will continue to grow organically over time. Seasonal posts, in particular, will be more popular at certain times of year.
  • Talking of seasonal posts, remember to pin them in a timely manner. For instance, Christmas-themed posts will start to gain interest in October when peple start searching for inspiration. If you pin something in December, it may not gather much interest this year, but could be much more successful the following year.

What makes a good pin?

  • Always use portrait images with a ratio of 2:3, and never post a landscape image.
  • Make sure the image is engaging, beautiful, and high quality.
  • Give it a searchable title
  • Make sure that the description includes keywords, but that it is also written naturally. The longer the description, the better.
  • Add teaser text over the image if you think that it adds to it, but remember this won’t always work and some images will be better without it.

Collaborative Boards

  • Collaborative boards are good for extra exposure and offer more pinning opportunities
  • PinGroupie is a great way to find collaborative boards and get involved
  • Make sure you always follow the group rules

Jen’s collaborative board, Love Home Bloggers, is a great example of how these work. 

Pinterest Rules

  • Do not run “Pin It to Win It” competitions, Pinterest hate these.
  • You cannot be paid for pinning to one of your boards, but you can pin sponsored content.
  • You can, however, be paid for pinning to a collaborate board run by a brand.
  • You can run creative competitions (i.e. entrants have to create a board based on a theme) so long as the sponsor does not require entrants to pin content of their own products.
  • You can be paid for offering Pinterest consultancy.

Top Tips

  • Link to Pinterest in a blog post whenever you can and embed relevant boards.
  • Make pins searchable
  • Link to Pinterest boards from your other social media channels
  • Have a Pinterest board for your blog and remember to use categories

Resources

  • Stock photo sites, such as Pixabay and the Creative Commons area on Flickr can help you find relevant images for your pins. The image I used in this post came from Canva
  • If you use WordPress, there are various plugins you can use to make everything easier. Try SumoMe for starters.
  • There are many resources you can use to help organise your content and sharing. These include Buffer, Ahalogy, Curalate, Expion, Newscred, Percolate, Shoutlet, Spreadfast, Sprinklr and Tailwind. Some focus specifically on Pinterest, some are more general social media schedulers. Some are free, some charge a small fee. Find one which works for you.

I do hope that these notes are helpful – they have certainly given me a lot to think about and a long list of things that I need to change.

This post is part of a series entitled Lessons from #britmumslive 2015. You can find the other posts in this series below:

Turning Pitches into Profit
Social Media Optimisation
Breaking Boundaries with Insight and Passion

Breaking Boundaries with Insight and Passion Lessons from #britmumslive 2015

Breaking Boundaries with Insight and Passion – Lessons from #britmumslive 2015

As part of my BritMums Live journey this year, I have been writing up the notes that I took throughout the conference, a series I have called Lessons from #britmumslive. I feel like I took so much away from the various sessions I attended, that I wanted to share my notes with others so that they could benefit from them too. I spoke to several bloggers over the weekend about how there is sometimes a culture of “non-sharing” within blogging and social media circles, as if keeping our best tips to ourselves will somehow ensure we get “the edge” and remain one step ahead of the rest. But the whole beauty of events like BritMums Live is that we break down those barriers and share, share, share…

One of my favourite sessions throughout the entire weekend was the one held by Kate Hardcastle called Breaking Boundaries with Insight and Passion. Kate personifies the very nature of sharing success with others, as shown by just how much she gives back through her work. However she also doesn’t mince her words, and was more than happy to lay it on the line and make sure we knew exactly what it takes to make our dreams a reality.

Breaking Boundaries with Insight and Passion Lessons from #britmumslive 2015

 

Starting Out

  • Only get involved with something if you can make a difference
  • If you’re setting up a business, pitch it to the person most unlikely to accept your idea. If they show interest, then you know it has a chance. Don’t accept responses from friends and family, as they will always support your ideas.
  • Face your fear factor at the start, plan your journey and discover what you are most scared of. Don’t put it off, as this could become the mountain you cannot climb further down the line. Face it now, and you know you can face anything.
  • Know your destination – running a business may be like a journey, but you need to know the end result so that you know what you are aiming for (e.g. in 5 years time I’d like to be…)

Finding balance in business

  • Most businesses that are struggling are focusing too much on one area rather than having a balanced approach (e.g. too much focus on budget and not enough on consumer relations). Kate described this as being like one of those toy mazes you get in Christmas crackers, or on the top of bottles of bubbles, where you need to get the ball bearing into the centre. To do so, you need to hold the maze flat, otherwise you have no chance of getting it into the middle.
  • There is a target image on Insight with Passion which you may find useful when looking at finding balance in business

Key skills to help you succeed

  • Passion – you need this to make sure you keep going even through the hardest days
  • Persuasion – it isn’t about how good you are at promoting yourself, but rather how good you are at understanding what someone wants/needs and how you can provide this
  • Persistence – this will help you stick it out and have patience along the way
  • Politeness – the more your brand is out there, the more people will talk about you. The impression you give is really important, so always be polite.

Beyond the basics

  • Business can, and should, be attainable for everyone. However it is often clouded in language we are unfamiliar with.
  • Add the word “respect” to all your literature. It is key word that is universally understood and gives a great feeling of trust. Independent businesses are doing so well because of this.
  • Listening provides you with all the answersAs Kate mentions, you have two ears and only one mouth, so you should remember this and use them in that ratio.
  • If you don’t like the word “sell”, change the language. Selling yourself (or your product) simply means you are “serving” a solution to a problem.
  • Think outside in, not inside out. Do your research and know that business is selfish – you need to tell people about themselves and how you will serve them, not about who you are and what you have done.
  • Have heart – consumers want real people to deal with. This is especially crucial in today’s climate.

Know your limitations

  • You’ll always have to make sacrifices, so you need to know what is most important to you.
  • Say no when you need to, so that when you say yes you mean it (and it means something to you)
  • Be very honest with your friends and family – it is so easy to feel bound to them and guilty when you can’t meet up all the time. Make the time you can spend with them count.
  • Make sure that whatever you do, you are there 100% – this makes all the difference!
  • Accept help when you need it and know your own faults and limitations
  • Use technology to help you organise yourself.

There is always help available

  • Access for All is a free business helping hand provided by Insight with Passion. There is a waiting list for this, but it is worth trying if you have a burning business idea.
  • Customer at the Heart awards celebrate independent businesses throughout the UK who put their customers first. Often award nominations can be challenging as you have to write about yourself, but with these awards the customers can nominate you themselves.
  • Charity Dreamgirls support smaller, lesser known charities and help them spread their message further.

I’m sure there is plenty more help available, however these are the points that Kate brought up in her session. I do hope that these notes help, they sure have inspired me. I had a lovely chat with Kate following the session and she reminded me to be realistic, knowing when I can change something and when I can’t, and looking for new ways of working when necessary.

This post is part of my series Lessons from #britmumslive. You can find my other session notes below:

Turning Pitches into Profit
Social Media Optimisation
Pinning Ideas

Social Media Optimisation Tips for Bloggers from #britmumslive 2015

“Social Media Optimisation” – Lessons from #britmumslive 2015

As I mentioned in my first Lessons from #britmumslive post, I went to BritMums Live this year hoping to gain as much insight and inspiration for taking my blog to the next level as possible. This included learning how to use social media in a much more efficient way, and so I was very excited when the session “Social Media Optimisation – Doing It All, Yes You Must” appeared on the agenda.

Social Media Optimisation Tips for Bloggers from #britmumslive 2015

The session was led by the amazing Maggy Woodley from Red Ted Art and Ali Clifford from Kids Chaos. Both are seasoned bloggers, with huge followings across various social media platforms, and it was really interesting to hear about their favourite places, how this has changed throughout the years, and how it differed from other bloggers in the audience.

Here’s what they had to say…

Why do you need to do it all?

  • Social media is owned by third parties, who are always changing their algorithms. This can massively affect your traffic, so you cannot afford to rely on one platform alone.
  • If you want to work with brands, you need to be present on all the major platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, as these are the big traffic drivers
  • However, each brand will have individual platforms which they prefer, so it is important to be visible across them all otherwise you could easily miss out on opportunities that focus on one or the other.
  • It looks odd if you have a massive following on one platform and hardly any followers on another. It can make people wonder how authentic you are and whether you have “bought” all those likes.

What does social media “optimisation” mean?

  • Prioritising one or two accounts whilst still being visible across other platforms
  • Having a consistent name and profile across all platforms
  • Grabbing your name on all social media platforms (even if you do not intend to use some of them much, you can still passively grow an audience and it also stops people from using your name for their own accounts).
  • Connecting all of your accounts for easy posting, but be wary of simply posting everything across all platforms when it may not be relevant to your audience in some places.

Defining Your Social Media Style

  • Work our what your focus is and go with it – even if people don’t like it, remember that you need to be happy with it
  • Watermark your images if you can so that they are still recognisable as yours even if they are shared elsewhere
  • Act like a brand and try to have a consistent image across all platforms
  • However, remember that your style may vary slightly across the different platforms – for example you may prefer to use a profile photo on instagram and your logo on Facebook.

Understanding the different platforms

  • Join and use blogging groups to keep up with changes in social media
  • Pinterest is used more like a search engine than social media platform, with pinners saving links they will come back to at a later time. Be aware that things often get mis-pinned, so it is important to check details when you repin an item.
  • Twitter is all about chatting with others. Remember you will need to tweet links to your posts multiple times as they will get lost very quickly on Twitter. However it is important to change the wording rather than simply tweeting the same thing over and over.
  • Facebook is much slower, and so you will annoy people if you simply post the same thing multiple times. Try resharing updates from bloggers with a large following.
  • Instagram is about connecting with people on a more personal level, and may not lead to visits to your blog. Make sure you interact with people and have conversations on there, rather than simply posting images.

Points to Remember

  • People like it when you post other people’s content as well as your own.
  • Scheduling via Hootsuite, Buffer etc can help you keep on top of your social media streams, however it is important to check for interaction rather than simply scheduling posts.
  • Social Media can take up a lot of time – Maggy shared how she spends more time on social media than she does on her blog!!
  • It’s not the number of followers you have that brands look for, but rather the engagement you have with your readers.
  • Work out, in a table, which platforms you focus on, which you passively use, and which you simply need to park your name on, and then use this as a guide.

I hope that these notes do the session justice and help those of you who couldn’t make this session.

Remember, I am writing up all the notes I took at BritMums Live this year, and you can find them all below:

Turning Pitches into Profit
Breaking Boundaries with Insight and Passion
Pinning Ideas

Turning Pitches into Profit Tips for Bloggers from #britmumslive 2015

“Turning Pitches Into Profits” – Lessons from #britmumslive 2015

This year, I attended BritMums Live with the intention of learning as much as I could about taking the next step on my blogging journey. I have been blogging since 2006, but apart from a couple of years freelance writing, I have never really focused on using the skills I have gained professionally. All this changed following my redundancy at the beginning of this year, so I was excited to learn that one of my favourite bloggers – Emily Leary from A Mummy Too – was leading a session called Turning Pitches into Profit.

Turning Pitches into Profit Tips for Bloggers from #britmumslive 2015

Emily’s session was really insightful (as well as incredibly enjoyable, she really has a great presenting style!) and I thought it would be helpful to type up the notes I made for anyone who couldn’t make the session at BritMums Live last weekend.

As per Emily’s suggestion at the start of her session, try to keep in mind a brand that you’d like to work with whilst you read these notes. Consider whether they fit in with what you write about, and therefore what your audience will want to read!

The Basics of Pitching

  • Pitching is not blagging – it is about proposing a mutually beneficial working relationship.
  • A good pitch outline will include: who you are; your ideas; what you can bring to the brand; and your rates.
  • Who are you? – Your blog strapline (if you have one) may well give you an idea for this. Keep it simple, 1-2 sentences to describe your blog. Remember this may change depending on who you’re pitching to.
  • Who is it for? – Who is your imagined reader? PRs want to know about your demographics (use your stats, such as google analytics, for this). If there is a key statistic in there, use it, but don’t just rely on stats alone. You will stand out above others by knowing who your readers are. (At this point I was reminded of By Regina’s Ideal Reader Profile that I used when first developing a blog plan at the beginning of this year – you may find this useful too).
  • What type of content does best? – Look at your most popular posts – what kind of post are they and why do you think these are so popular? Brands and PRs will often split their target audience into several subgroups, e.g. those who love to read and those who love “how-to” posts, so knowing which kind of content does best on your blog may help you here.

At this point in the session, Emily suggested we choose three pieces of our content which shows our best work. I realised the posts I am most proud of are not necessarily ones which are most relevant to brands, so it certainly made me think about this in a whole new light!

Finding Your Best Content

  • You could start a Pinterest board that is dedicated to your blog and allows you to showcase what you can do. Alternatively you could create a simple list of links showing your best posts. This will then become something you can send to PRs and brands to show what you can do far more efficiently that sharing your entire blog (where you may have a lot of information that is irrelevant to that particular brand).
  • If you’re written something specific (in my case, this would be posts on Endometriosis and HG) they may no longer be relevant to you and what you’re writing about now. But they will always continue to be relevant to others who are facing those things in their lives right now, and so they can still be some of your best content.

Know Your “Hero Stats”

  • If you have received details from other brands, look at what language they use and what they are looking for. This can help you determine the best language and focus to use when pitching. You can also use social media and blogging groups to learn more about the brands you hope to pitch to.
  • What is your reach? – Don’t just include your blog stats, include your social media following, number of subscribers, and any other stat which might create the right impact.
  • Choose your “hero stats” and give the brands/PRs what they want to hear (think about how infographics and press releases only give you the key information you need to know).
  • Keep all your stats in a folder on your computer for easy access – this cuts down on time without having to go to each place every time you need them (and update this regularly).

Working Out Your Fees

  • There is no “magic number” of what to charge – someone with a smaller reach than you may still be worth more to a brand within their niche.
  • It can be helpful to talk to other bloggers now and again to find out what the “going rate” is. (Blogging groups can be good for this, and if anyone is mean to you, leave the group… there are lots of supportive groups out there, you don’t need to stay in one where people aren’t friendly!)
  • Fees will be determined by a number of factors, including: research and relevance; quality (this will vary); work involved (factor in travel, materials etc); and licensing (will it be used elsewhere).
  • Top Tier bloggers (i.e. those who are top of the various blogging charts) earn, on average, £250-£500 per piece of content, with £250 being a very simple piece and £500 for very specific work.
  • If you are relatively new to blogging, you may not get this kind of money, but remember that you are worth the time you put in and if you are working for less than the minimum wage, you need to question whether it is really worth it.

Know The Brand

  • Research the brand you want to pitch to thoroughly – use publications such as PR Week and Marketing Week and find out all about their latest work as well as previous campaigns. This will tell you why the brand has hired a PR company, what their advertising does, and what their key message is.
  • A brand’s advertising department will have their own targets that they have to meet, so you need to be aware of this. Make it easy for them to go to their bosses and explain why you would be a good choice!

Communication is Crucial

  • Cold pitching is like cold calling – get in touch with the brand and start a conversation. Explain why you want to work with them and this will hopefully lead to a “warm pitch”.
  • If you receive a press release, try pitching you idea in response (if it is relevant). For instance, you could explain that you don’t normally publish press releases, but at this time you have an idea and would like to work with the brand.
  • Remember that you won’t win every pitch, but take every opportunity. There aren’t many PRs who will be annoyed by a conversation, as it is their job to engage. Even if you don’t win this time, you could still have made a good impression meaning they may contact you next time an opportunity arises.  Slowly, but surely, the number of contacts you create will increase.

Be Professional

  • Figure out your Terms and Conditions and make them accessible (e.g. they could be on a blog page that isn’t easily searchable but you can still link to when needed).
  • Know the law and regulations
  • Always disclose any sponsored work and be clear about this

Final Thoughts

  • Remember that in all creative industries, some people will steal your ideas. It happens, unfortunately, so try to trust the brand before contacting them.
  • Be super positive when talking to PRs
  • Always be polite
  • And always be enthusiastic

I really hope that I have done Emily’s amazing session justice in these notes and that they make as much sense to everyone else as they do to me.

I’ve written my notes from other sessions on the blog as well, as part of a new series entitled “Lessons from #britmumslive”. You can find the other posts below:

Social Media Optimisation
Breaking Boundaries with Insight and Passion
Pinning Ideas

#britmumslive 2015 selfies

What I learned about myself at #britmumslive 2015

This year was my fourth time attending BritMums Live, and I did for a brief moment wonder whether there was anything else for me to learn or if I had already picked up most of the tips available in the previous years. But I shouldn’t have worried, because Jen and Susanna came up trumps (yet again) with an agenda jam-packed full of sessions I wanted to attend and I came away brimming with ideas and enthusiasm for taking my blog to the next level.

It only took until my fourth year at #britmumslive to meet the BritMums Founders Jen and Susanna!

Jen and Susanna did such a fab job, yet again, by organising the best ever #britmumslive!

I have made copious notes from each of the sessions I attended, which include Turning Pitches into ProfitSocial Media OptimisationYour Child’s Digital FootprintBreaking Boundaries with Insight and Passion, and Pinning Ideas. I had initially thought I could summarise all of these points into one blog post, but looking back over it all I am very aware that I cannot. So I am going to write a separate post for each and link to it here. I hope that by doing so, those of you who missed these sessions will also be able to benefit from the knowledge and experience of those who led them!

However, in the meantime, I thought I would focus on what I learned about myself during the weekend, and how that is changing the direction I am heading…

1. I’m a different person now, and that’s a good thing!

It’s a bit of an understatement to say that my life now is so very different to what it was a year ago. I wrote recently about all the changes in the past 6 months, but as one of my blogging friends Emma quite rightly mentioned, the past year has been crazy for me, not just the past 6 months.

A year ago, I was so busy with charity work and the forthcoming publication of the book that I don’t think I even knew who I was any more. The past 6 months has seen a change in this, as I have slowly begun to find who I am and who I want to be, and whilst I may not know exactly who I am, the journey of discovery and change itself is a beautiful thing.

2. I’m a real social butterfly

Last year I spent the vast majority of the conference with a small group of people. Whilst that was lovely, I came away feeling like I had missed something. During my first two BritMums Lives (can your pluralise the name like that?) I had met so many different people, that I had come to see the weekend as a chance to connect with as many bloggers as possible. So it felt strange not to do so last year.

This year I went all out. I don’t think I stopped meeting people, and whilst there is still a list of bloggers I wish I had bumped into or had longer to chat with, I feel like I didn’t miss a single opportunity to catch up or connect with someone new and that makes me happy. In fact poor Emma and Katrina must have wondered what was happening when, mid-sentence, I would suddenly shoot off to grab a hug (and a selfie) from someone I had spotted whizzing by. It’s a good job the three of us had dinner together Friday night, otherwise I don’t think we’d have had chance to catch up at all!

#britmumslive 2015 selfies

Just a few of the amazing bloggers I met up with this year – Emma from Adventures of Adam and Katrina from Mummy Whiskers (my hotel buddies this year), Steph from I’m Counting UFOs (go check out her book if you haven’t already), Tim from Slouching Towards Thatcham, Vicky from Single Mother Ahoy, MIchelle from Bod For Tea, and Caroline from My Family Ties.

What you have to understand about all this is that, up until my mid-twenties, I was terribly shy and in my teen years that shyness was cripplingly strong. I fought long and hard to overcome it and promised myself that I would never, ever allow fear to hold me back again. Last year shook me a fair bit, as I wondered if I had lost the enthusiasm for social events that I had once held. So I am overjoyed to have had such a wonderful (if exhausting) time this year and cannot wait for the next one.

3. I enjoy public speaking (yes, really I do!)

Leading on quite significantly from the last point, I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed being a part of the Bloggers’ Keynote. I knew, going in, what a huge honour it was and leading up to the event I had a fair few wobbles of “why on earth did I think this was a good idea?” But once I actually sat down at the table waiting to go up on stage, I began to simply feel excited to be a part of something so special.

Sitting next to Rachel from The Ordinary Lovely during the Bloggers' Keynote

I got to sit next to Rachel from The Ordinary Lovely during the Bloggers’ Keynote – what a weekend for Rachel, as she also won the Fresh Voice Category in The BiBs!

I got up on stage and, aside from feeling rather more emotional than I had expected to (that lump in my throat came out of nowhere, I swear!), I actually had a really good time. Looking out over the room full of bloggers was incredibly powerful, and made me realise just how privileged we are to belong to such an amazing community. I felt calmer than I’d ever imagined I would, and it has inspired me to take up opportunities of this kind whenever they present themselves. I’m a communicator, and an encourager, so this feels like the perfect way to combine two things I love which come pretty naturally to me.

4. My writing is my greatest creative skill

I love so many different creative mediums, but the truth is I am not a photographer, or an artist, I’m a writer. It can be so easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you have to do it all, that your blog needs to be visually stunning in order to make it in the world of blogging. But here’s the thing – my blog is not one of the “big” ones, I don’t attract thousands of hits per month, and I’ll never be in the big leagues in that respect. But my poem was still chosen to be part of the Bloggers’ Keynote, and that means something. It means that my writing strikes a chord with others, and that is the way I can connect best with the world.

I have come away from the conference more enthused than ever about my writing, something which was unfortunately quashed quite a bit by my work on the HG book (yes, I published a book, but as an incredibly specific factual piece of work it wasn’t really in my natural style!) I also felt very unsure of writing anything on my blog whilst the book was in the process of being written, as I didn’t want my writing here to be in conflict with the importance of the work I was doing for charity or the book itself. It feels incredibly freeing to realise that the blog is, once again, an entirely empty page on which I can write whatever feels right for me at any given moment.

5. It’s okay to let things go, in fact it can be the best thing you could ever do

This is, perhaps, the biggest thing I learned throughout the entire weekend. My whole BritMums Live journey has focused quite significantly on the writing of the HG book. My very first year I connected with other HG survivors as I shared my plans for the book. My second year I met with a literary agent to discuss publication prospects. Last year I went with a group of fellow HG survivors and my business cards even included information on the upcoming publication of the book. This year, things were different…

The book has been published and I am looking into letting it go completely. And I no longer work for the charity I put so much time and effort into. I won’t lie, I was nervous about meeting up with people I had worked so closely with for such a long time, people who knew me just through the HG world, especially as things hadn’t ended all that well. I wondered whether it would cloud over the weekend and cast a shadow over all the changes I had been making in my life.

But the truth was, I needed have worried. I’m Amanda, not “the HG lady”, and within blogging circles in particular I’m “the one from The Family Patch”. It doesn’t matter that I am no longer defined by my work, because I don’t need to be. It is actually incredibly powerful to realise this, and I am so glad I went so that I could discover this. I’m also very grateful for my chat with Kate Hardcastle at the end of her session, for helping me see through what had happened and acknowledging that letting go didn’t automatically equate to no longer caring.

 

So, needless to say, I came away from BritMums Live with so much insight into who I am now and where I am heading, both personally and via the blog. And that’s going to take quite some time to digest.

Tell me… what did you take from the weekend?

 

 

Why I'm to be part of a Blogging Community #britmumslive

Why I’m Proud to be Part of a Blogging Community (#britmumslive)

This past weekend, I trotted off down to London for the fourth year running, to attend the UK’s biggest social media and blogging conference. BritMums Live has become as much a part of my year as my birthday and Christmas, and is something I look forward to greatly. Stepping into The Brewery feels like coming home, and seeing old friends again is like having a family reunion… we are, as a community, one great big family that I am so proud and honoured to be a part of.

Why I'm to be part of a Blogging Community #britmumslive

But, as with all families, it isn’t always perfect. As Tim from Slouching Towards Thatcham so wisely wrote today, the men in our community are incredibly under-represented at these events. Dad bloggers may naturally be outnumbered by mum bloggers at the moment, but the disparity between mum and dad bloggers is even more pronounced when it comes to gatherings such as these. Are we doing enough to make dad bloggers feel as comfortable attending these events as the mums are?

And then, of course, we mustn’t forget that many bloggers are introverts, feeling much more comfortable expressing their hearts on the internet than they do in a room full of their peers. Let’s face it, hundreds of people meeting in one place can be pretty overwhelming for anyone, but especially so for those feeling unsure of themselves or star-struck by some of their favourite bloggers.

But here’s where we come to the thing I love most about this blogging community I’m so proud of – we are all working to make things better, for ourselves and for others. Over the years I have seen bloggers reach out to those they barely know to offer a hug and support when it all gets a bit too much. I’ve watched as those who have had a difficult time at the conference receive comment after comment from others saying “if only we had known…” and “next year, we’ll make it better”. And I’ve been stunned by the absolute generosity and grace of the biggest bloggers in our community, reaching out a hand of encouragement to others, sharing their own fears and concerns, and showing that they are just like the rest of us.

We all have our moments when we feel like small fish in a very large pond. It is so easy to see this year’s key bloggers, the ones who are up for awards or speaking at the conference, and convince ourselves that we will never be as good as they are. But you know what? Ours is a community of sharing, a family of support, and when you take that chance and step out there, you find that you do belong, you are worthy, and you’re just as important as anyone else. Your voice is valid, your voice is strong, your voice is heard.

A couple of years ago I came close to giving up blogging altogether. I couldn’t see where I fit in and I didn’t know what I was doing any more. And then I went to BritMums Live. I was surprised when somebody recognised me, told me how much they loved my writing, for I thought nobody was listening. And I was honoured when a blogger I admired so much asked me not to give up, because that meant she had read my post and cared enough to reach out and encourage me to continue. I left that year with a sense of belonging which I’d never felt before, and it is that feeling which now defines the reason behind my blog. I am part of a community, and what an amazing community it is too.

This year I stood on stage to read out a poem as part of the Bloggers’ Keynote, something I could never have imagined doing until very recently. This little fish in that very large pond finally found her voice. But as proud as I was of this opportunity, nothing could surpass how humbled I was by the entire thing. As I looked out upon the room full of bloggers, I knew each and every one had a story to tell that was just as important as mine, just as worthy of being on that stage. And I realised that, far from being little fish in a big pond, we are a formidable force when we all come together.

It is my greatest hope that every single person who attended BritMums Live this year, as well as all those who were unable to come, recognises just how strong and powerful the words and images they share are. The tagline on the back of my business cards this year was “together we can achieve great things” and this is exactly what I took away from the weekend. Every single time we post something to our blog or social media, we add to a growing collective of voices that are slowly changing the world, making it a better place for ourselves and our families. The post we write or the image we share is as equal and valid whether it touches 1 person or 10,000. We each touch the lives of others, and that is what makes this community so great.

So thank you, all of you, for everything you do. Never underestimate your worth, never forget your strength, and never feel like you don’t belong.

#britmumslive welcome

#BritMumsLive – My Top Tips for a Great Weekend

I can hardly believe that BritMums Live is just a few short days away. It feels like an absolute age since we last met at The Brewery, and I am so excited to get back there and meet up with friends old and new. This will be my fourth year and I know exactly what I want to get out of the weekend. However I remember the feeling of uncertainty in my first year, having no idea what to expect, and I have seen so many bloggers write of similar feelings in the #britmumslive meme lately. So I thought I would bring all my thoughts together and create a “Top Tips” style post to help ease those nerves and enjoy the best weekend you can.

My Top Tips for #britmumslive blogging conference

1. Set Some Goals

Whilst we’re all going to BritMums Live because we’re all bloggers, everyone is going to have a slightly different set of reasons for going. Some want to go to meet other bloggers, some to network with brands, and some will be going specifically for the sessions. In fact, I imagine most of us go for a combination of these reasons (and more). And with such a varied programme, it is easy to get whatever you want from the weekend. It’s also incredibly easy not to do so too, if you get swept away by the enormity of it all.

Last year I felt like I missed out on the opportunity to meet more people. I had a fantastic time with some amazing friends, but I just didn’t balance out the in-depth chats with the opportunity to network and meet as many people as possible. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy spending the weekend with a few good friends, because I really did, it’s just that I had met so many people in previous years that it felt a bit odd not swapping business cards with more people and finding more new blogs to read. So this year one of my goals is to get out there and just say “hi” to more people.

Your goals may be completely different to mine – you may want to spend your time with a few good friends, or network with as many brands as you can, or even attend very specific sessions because of where you feel your blog is heading. Whatever your goals are, just keep them in mind throughout the conference to try and keep yourself on track and ensure you make the most of a weekend that is packed full and passes far too quickly!

2. Make a “Must-Meet” List

Whether one of your goals is to meet certain bloggers (or brands) or not, I think we all have someone we desperately want to meet. However actually finding them amongst the crowds can be more challenging than you’d realise. It can be so easy to go through the weekend thinking you’ll bump into one of your favourite bloggers, only to come away having barely spotted a glimpse of them. I have done exactly this with a couple of bloggers, people I have failed to meet even after 3 years!

So, if there is someone you really want to meet, make a list and then make an effort to find them at some point during the conference. You may find twitter helpful for this – if you can’t find them, send out a tweet and tag them in it. Ask them where they are and what sessions they are planning to attend. Make sure you find them, otherwise you’ll come home kicking yourself, with another year to wait before your next chance to meet them.

3. Pack Wisely

Do not underestimate the sheer amount of free stuff you will amass throughout the weekend. If you visit any of the brands, you’ll likely come away with samples (and looking through the Sponsors list this year, it looks like this will include some books again too). Talking of books, you may find yourself buying some if your favourite author happens to be signing copies at the conference. And then, of course, there is the big bag of goodies you will be given as you leave The Brewery at the end of it all. I cannot stress enough how much space this will take up – last year I actually took an empty suitcase so that I wasn’t trying to juggle multiple bags on the train home.

Leaving plenty of space for all this free stuff also means you need to pack wisely for your journey down. You will not need half the things you think you will (like your laptop), and probably find you’ve forgotten something you wish you’d taken (like plasters). I wrote about my Essentials List last year, which is pretty much everything I plan on taking this year too.

4. Plan Ahead

Similar to my first two points, you’ll want to look at the Agenda and plan which sessions you really do not want to miss and which ones you’re happy to skip. I always find this part the hardest, as there is usually a clash between two or three sessions at least once during the two days. This is when planning ahead can really come in handy. Know what you want to get from the conference and use it to help you decide which sessions are an absolute must.

For me, this includes opting for sessions which will help me with work rather than sessions I would like to do just for fun. Whilst I would have enjoyed some of the sessions because of the speakers, I am opting for those which will help me build and develop key skills which will help me professionally over the next 12 months. I have not done this since my very first year at BritMums Live and it feels a bit odd, but I know that if I don’t do it I will come home feeling like I wasted a fantastic opportunity to learn as much as I could.

I’m also planning on skipping a session or two so that I can wander around The Hub and meet the brands or take part in activities that I usually miss because I am so busy attending every single session possible! I have been meaning to do this for at least the past 2 years, but I just never seem to do it. But that also means that I end up coming home and seeing photos of all the things other bloggers have done with the brands that I didn’t even know were there, and I want to try and change that this year. The Hub gets very busy during the breaks, so it is easy to miss things or have a very hasty chat with a brand, rather than a more meaningful one.

5. Be Flexible

This is a big one. All my other points focus on planning ahead and making sure you get everything you want out of the conference. But you can be too specific and miss out on some fantastic opportunities by simply going with the flow. If you’ve met someone new who is going to a session you hadn’t planned on attending but are happy to change your plans, then do it. If you planned on going back to your hotel room straight after the BiBs but are then invited out to dinner with a group of bloggers and don’t really need that early night, then go out and have fun (even if it means a hangover the next morning). Whatever happens, just go with it and enjoy yourself.

I do hope this helps some of you, and I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible at the weekend!

 

Never Lose Hope

Never Lose Hope

Never lose hope - reflections on how much life can change in just six months

Six months ago, life at The Patch was significantly different to what it is like now. Looking back, I can barely believe how far we have come in just six short months, and it feels important to mark the transition in some way. After all, six months ago I could see no answer, so it’s empowering to remember that no matter how bad things may seem to get there is always hope.

You see, six months ago I was signed off work for a month, close to a breakdown due to work related stress. I had known for some time that I was no longer right for the role, but I just couldn’t seem to break away – my passion for the cause was too great. Stress built up until it reached the point where I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I was consumed by it all. The day I sat trying to tell a doctor what was wrong through the floods of tears, only to hear “you’re not depressed, it’s your situation and you need to change that,” was the moment I began to accept this. It was, quite frankly, the first step in a huge transition that would shortly occur…

Five months ago, I returned to work and discovered I was facing redundancy. Had that happened prior to my talk with the doctor, I may well have fallen apart at this news. But instead, I had taken time out and found my peace. I had prayed for guidance, releasing the outcome to the Universe and had chosen the word “Surrender” as my focus for the year. I was ready to accept whatever came my way, rather than trying to “fix” things myself. I can’t actually explain to you how I did this, just that something had changed within my very being and for the first time I was ready to face the unknown with hope rather than fear.

Four months ago, I worked my last day in my old job and embraced the unknown fully. We had made many decisions during the previous month which we felt were leading us down a better path. We had found a house, closer to my parents, and I had decided to look for part-time work rather than chasing a full-time managerial role, so that I could provide better support for TJ and Little Man and pursue more freelance work using my writing and networking skills. And at first it all seemed to be falling into place. But then the landlord pulled the house off the market and I struggled to find a part-time admin role due to being “overqualified” and time continued to tick on with no work in sight…

Three months ago, I attended yet another interview, this time sleep-deprived and nauseous from a sickness bug that had hit me the night before. It was a job we really thought I had a chance at, but once again the response was “you’re more of a manager than an administrator”. I finally began to feel my resolve wane and took to my sick bed, searching and applying for jobs outside of my usual search. And it was in this moment that I ultimately secured my current role.

Two months ago, we relocated to my home town, safe in the knowledge that I now had a new job (and a few extra hours elsewhere which had resulted from a previously unsuccessful interview). It all seemed to be falling into place, finally. Until just 3 days before we moved when TJ had a major reaction to one of his new medications and it was terrifying! I cannot even put into words how truly awful that first night was, and how much fear we both carried around for several weeks afterwards. You don’t just experience something like that and move on, it stays with you a long time. For all the amazing changes about to happen in our life, it seemed we were to be reminded of just how fragile life can be…

One month ago I started my new job and I could not be happier. I am utterly exhausted thanks to relocating, working more hours than contracted, and working a second job, but it is all good. I go to work happy, I come home happy. I get to know that the work I am doing is, in some way, helping to fund vital research that helps save lives. And I get to meet customers, volunteers and people on work placements every day. Anyone who knows me well will know how much I enjoy meeting people! I get to be creative. I get to contact local companies about opportunities for the store. I am, quite simply, happy.

Alongside this, I have seen a massive increase in my stats for the blog. After almost 2 years of neglect, I am finally finding the chance to connect with the blogging community (both on their blogs and on social media) and the knock on effect is that my stats have increased significantly. I am no longer simply writing for myself. And that makes me happy, because blogging has always been about the community for me. Which is why I am so excited about going to BritMums Live this month and reading out this poem as part of the Bloggers’ Keynote.

But for all the changes that have happened in our lives, there have been two things that haven’t. The first is TJ’s health. We are still fighting for a better diagnosis and more support with treatment, this is an ongoing struggle and one we will continue to fight for as long as it takes. The second is TJ’s job. He has a further commute from our new home and that, along with other aspects, has taken its toll. I have often felt guilty about how much has changed for me professionally and how happy I am in my work, because it feels like I have left him behind in the trenches somehow.

So imagine our joy when yesterday he went for an interview, only to be offered the job there and then. No “we’ll be in touch”, no waiting for the phone to ring and hoping you did enough to secure the position. He went out there, showed what he can do, and secured a new job just like that. I couldn’t be any prouder than I am of him right now, and I hope that this is the boost his confidence needs to know how good he is at what he does.

Which brings me to today and the point of this post – six months ago I could never have imagined that we would be where we are today, both with new jobs, a new house, and a better life. We still have our battles, but we are stronger and happier than we have been in a very long time. We have found hope where we once only found despair. I wrote about this in February, when we were first starting to find our way out, and now we’re here I just want to rejoice.

Life is good… I want to remember this!

Blogging

When Blogging isn’t an Option…

I’ve got to be honest with you. A lot of things that happen in my life never make it onto the blog. I may be an “oversharer” in many ways, but there are just some things which are too personal to put out there. I remember sitting in a session at BritMums Live last year and hearing Her Melness Speaks, Rachael Lucas, and Cherry Menlove all agree that some things are just too sacred to share, despite being incredibly “blogworthy”, and I couldn’t agree more. My blog has always been a place where my heart is revealed over and over again, but sometimes the things in my heart never make it onto the screen.

When Blogging Isn't An Option

But sometimes, this holding back, makes blogging hard. I’ve written before about how, for me, blogging is all about community and I have made some incredible friends through my journey so far. Many of those friendships have been built through mutual experiences, times when it has been so amazing to hear someone else say “me too” when you feel utterly alone. And so when facing challenging times becomes something you simply cannot write about it can feel like you’ve lost one of your biggest sources of support, encouragement and inspiration. Times when people in your close circle of friends in real life simply won’t understand what you’re going through, but you know someone online will.

This year has been one of those times. I’ve been refinding my voice over the past few months and had a really wonderful moment last week when I realised how much my blog has grown in such a short period of time. And yet one of the biggest and scariest things I have ever had to face has been shut behind a closed door. I thought I was okay with that, I knew the reason (or reasons) for keeping it that way, but suddenly it just feels like too much. I feel like I’m losing the battle and the one place I usually come to seek refuge is not an option any more.

But it’s not my story to tell. I am a part of it, but that is a long way from it being my story. One day I might share it, one day when the storm has passed. But not now, not today. All I can say is that someone I love it hurting, terribly, and there’s nothing I can do about it. The depth of their pain, the all-encompassing nature of it, is more terrifying than anything I have ever faced before. And for the first time in my life I feel truly hopeless.

Blogging isn’t going to change that. The hopeless feeling will still be there. But still, right now I wish it could. I wish someone could say, “I’ve been there too” and share their story with me. I wish there was a guidebook for this, a message of hope that all will be well. Because right now, I feel lost, and alone, and that’s the last thing any of us needs!

I'm Going to BritMums Live 2015

I’m going to BritMums Live 2015

It’s that time of year again… June is almost upon us and I am beginning to get excited about travelling to London to meet with as many bloggers as is humanly possible in two days! No, seriously, BritMums Live is all about meeting up with old friends and new for me. So it’s about time I wrote my annual “I’m going to BritMums Live” post and started working my way through the linky and catching up with people on social media!

I'm Going to BritMums Live 2015

The I’m Going to BritMums Live 2015 Meme

Name – Amanda

Blog – The Family Patch (this one!)

Twitter ID@thefamilypatch

Height – 5’4″ (I think… I may be an inch or two off!)

Hair – brown (with a reddish tint if it has been sunny). It should be in a bob, but with the recent relocation and starting two new jobs I am overdue a trim.

Eyes – dark brown

Is this your first blogging conference? – no, this is my fourth time at BritMums Live. Rocking up to The Brewery feels like coming home these days. I’ve lost the nerves I had in my first couple of years and now sink down into the seats with a sigh of relief, knowing that the entire weekend is going to be filled with plenty of chatter, lots of useful information, and a huge amount of inspiration.

Are you attending both days? – you betcha! I was a little concerned when I was first made redundant that I would have to sell my ticket or attend on one day only to reduce costs, but thankfully it has all worked out okay. One of the first things I did when I started my new job was ensure that I had these two days off!

What are you most looking forward to at BritMums Live 2015? – I always hate this question – how do you choose just one thing you’re most looking forward to? As I’ve mentioned above, I love the opportunity to meet up with people, so that always comes high on my list. There are some old friends I am hoping to bump into, but also bloggers I have only started to interact with online during the past few months and I do hope to say “hi” to them this year.

Then, of course, there are the sessions. I really struggled last year to work out the best ones to attend. I was up to my neck in book edits and charity work and I just had no time for blogging. This year though I have a renewed passion for blogging, more so than I have since my first conference in 2012 in fact, so I’m super excited about the sessions this year.

And finally, I found out on Friday that one of my blog posts has been chosen for the Bloggers’ Keynote on the Saturday, so I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to that. The Bloggers’ Keynote is always such an emotional and inspiring moment in the weekend, when you are reminded just how special the blogging community is. I always leave on a high after listening to others read their posts, and so I feel incredibly honoured to be a part of it this year.

What are you wearing? – I have no idea. None. Last year I ended up wearing dresses, which was fun as it was a hot summery weekend. But the year before I wore jeans and a tee and that was really relaxed and comfortable. So I’m not sure which way I’ll go this year. Maybe another photo shoot is in order?

What do you hope to gain from BritMums Live 2015? – New friendships and connections. Last year I spent the vast majority of the weekend with a small group of friends, and it was really fun to share it all with them. But I found that when I came home I felt a sense of “loss” in some way at the fact I had not met with more people. In my first year I had gone with one friend and we only met up a few times throughout the weekend and the rest of the time was spent just meeting new people. Then in my second year I went completely on my own and, once my initial nerves were overcome, I made loads of new connections. I’m hoping that this year I can strike a balance between the two, making time for a good long catch up with old friends but still wandering off on my own at times so that I reach out and say “hi” to people I’ve not met before.

I’m also hoping to learn lots from the sessions. Since my redundancy I have been working on a new way of supporting my family and striking a better work/life balance. This means that I am hoping to be inspired by those who are embracing all that life has to offer, whilst also learning more about promoting myself and my work. I haven’t done any freelance work in years, so I’m hoping to find out how others are doing it.

Do you have any tips to pass on to others who may not have been before? – oh yes, lots…

  • remember we all get nervous, whether it’s our first time or our fourth, so don’t feel like you’re the only one!
  • if you’re nervous about meeting people, take a deep breath and just go for it – you’ll feel so proud of yourself for doing it and that’s a much better feeling than going home disappointed that you missed out
  • if you really don’t feel confident approaching people, visit the BritMums Butterflies. They are a lovely bunch of people who will give you a warm welcome and help you meet up with others
  • Twitter will be your best friend! Use the #britmumslive hashtag to find out where people are, join in opportunities with brands, and chat with others about the talks and sessions you have attended
  • have a vague plan for the sessions you want to attend, but be aware that this is likely to change throughout the weekend! Sometimes a session is busier than you expected it to be, or you find you’re having a great chat with a new friend who is planning to attend a different session which suddenly sounds much more interesting than your original plan. Just go with the flow – have your “must-do” list and then be flexible the rest of the time, it is much more fun that way
  • pack lightly – you will come home with a huge amount of goodies, so you don’t want to be weighed down from the start! If you’re not sure what to pack, check out my BritMums Live Essentials post from last year

I can’t wait to see you there!!

Are you going to BritMums Live this year? If so, have you joined in the linky? You can do so here…

International Hyperemesis Gravidarum Awareness Day 15th May

Together We Can Achieve Great Things (Thoughts on International Hyperemesis Awareness Day)

International Hyperemesis Gravidarum Awareness Day 15th May

Today is International Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) Awareness Day, an event which will always hold a very special place in my heart. I may not write much about Hyperemesis any more, but it is something I will never forget. Over the past 3 years I have seen awareness of the condition grow, leading to greater support and better care for families affected by it, in a way that I could never have imagined when suffering from Hyperemesis myself in 2011. And that’s all because individual voices have come together to enact greater change than any single voice could.

Now don’t get me wrong, individuals can make a huge amount of difference. I’ve seen it happen so many times within the HG world: the woman who dedicates vast amounts of time to supporting other women who are suffering through a hell that only she can understand; the doctor who goes above and beyond to ensure that a patient in their care receives the best possible treatment; the team of midwives who agree to meet and listen to a woman share what HG was like for her and how to best support other women like her; and the partners, family and friends of a sufferer who rally around her to make every day as easy as possible, and attend medical appointments to help advocate for her when she is unable to do so herself. These are all really important ways in which individuals make a massive difference to those around them. And we should never underestimate how much change one person can make! But it is through working together that lasting change on a large scale is achieved.

The changes I have seen over the past three years have come about because many, many individuals have come together for a common cause. Multiple charities have formed working relationships which enable them to achieve more together than they ever could alone. The international collaboration of the two big HG Charities, Pregnancy Sickness Support (PSS) here in the UK and The HER Foundation in the US, sparked the idea for an International Hyperemesis Gravidarum Awareness Day. And a recent collaboration between PSS and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) enabled the production of a report on the number of women feeling like they have no choice but to terminate a much wanted pregnancy due to Hyperemesis. This report led to further media coverage, including mentions on the front page of national newspapers and an interview on Women’s Hour, something which may not have happened without working together.

Even within the individual charities themselves, there are great developments occurring, and this is all because of the sheer number of people supporting them. Take PSS, for example: the active forum is only thriving because of the many members supporting each other through the opportunity offered to them on there; the Support Network only works because of the amount of dedicated volunteers who offer their time and support to those in need (it also relies on many others spreading the word about its existence, as well as funding for staff to coordinate it and further developments); and the research undertaken often relies on the various voices of those who have suffered coming forward and sharing their stories.

This time last year my life was pretty much overtaken by the cause – I was working vast amount of hours every week as the Volunteer Coordinator for PSS and also working on final edits of Hyperemesis Gravidarum: The Definitive Guide. I lived in a world that was full of equal amounts of desperation from those currently suffering and passion for change from those who had survived HG. And despite personally dedicating huge amounts of time and energy to the cause (too much, in retrospect, for a healthy work/life balance), I never once lost sight of the fact that it was the multitude of individual voices that were making the vast changes I was lucky enough to see happening right before my eyes.

My life is very different now to what it was this time last year. 12 months ago I was burning out, fast. Despite the fact that there were many, many people working together to enact change there just weren’t enough of us to make change on the scale that we wanted to. It is a battle that so many causes face, and it is one that is only won through people coming together so that their individual voices are amplified by those singing the same tune. The greatest lesson that I took from my time with PSS was this – one person can change the world, but only through working with others.

So today I am asking you to think about what is important to you. What do you feel passionate about and what do you wish you could change in the world? Please don’t ever think that you cannot make a difference, because you can. Don’t compare yourself to others and feel that you aren’t strong enough or wise enough or talented enough – everyone has something that they can give that is unique to them and will, when given the opportunity, make the world of difference. Whether you can give 10 hours a week or just the odd hour here or there, whether you have specific skills, knowledge and experience or are simply passionate about the cause, and whether you feel confident approaching others or terrified of making that first call, please do consider taking that leap and contacting a group or organisation who need your support and will welcome whatever you can give.

Together we can achieve great things… and it all begins with you!

Finding our Voices and Helping Each Other (General Election 2015)

Finding Our Voices and Helping Each Other (Reactions to the General Election 2015)

Like many others, I have spent a lot of time over the weekend reading commentaries and conversations about the General Election, the plans of our new government, and British politics in general.

My initial reaction to the results still stands – I am saddened that we are facing another 5 years of further cuts that will damage our NHS and make life immeasurably harder for those already struggling so much to simply make ends meet. However, as I have digested the words of others and seen conversations taking place on various social media platforms, my focus has changed somewhat.

I have been absolutely astounded by the attitude of some which suggests that because the Conservative Party received a majority of seats, those of us who didn’t vote for them should simply accept this and shut up. I’m not sure how to express my concern that there is this idea in our society that we all get a chance to vote once every five years and other than that we leave the politics to the politicians. It doesn’t end once the votes have been counted and the winners announced, in fact it’s only just beginning…

There has been a lot of outrage expressed about the fact that the Tories won a majority in this election, and it is all too easy for those who voted for this outcome to believe this is just a case of “sour grapes”. And, of course, there is a part of the response which is simply sheer disappointment that “the other party” won. But let’s not be under any pretences that this very same response would not have occurred had Labour won the majority.

However, the bigger issue that a lot of people are trying to speak out about is the fact that we no longer live in a society with two main Parties battling for their chance at leading the country. Our system of First Past The Post (FPTP) is seriously outdated and no longer representative of actual votes cast. The Conservatives may have won a small majority, but that same percentage of votes would have massively lost them the election in previous years. And this is because votes are being cast for smaller Parties, like the Green Party and UKIP, who under Proportional Representation would have gained far more seats than they did.

Don’t get me wrong, I am personally very glad that UKIP didn’t get more seats. But that doesn’t negate the fact that they should have done, that millions of votes have gone unheard under the current system. It’s no wonder people feel like there is no point in voting!

But instead of getting disheartened, instead of giving up, instead of doing what people expect us to do and simply accept our fate, we are starting to realise that we do have a voice, we just have to find it.

Finding our Voices and Helping Each Other (General Election 2015)

For me, as a writer, this means using my voice through the written word. I have never really blogged about politicial things before, but you can be sure that I’m going to from now on. And I shall be watching out for others who are using their voices online, and sharing their thoughts with you too. Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it, finding common ground and supporting each other so that we can achieve greater things than we ever could alone. If you don’t already follow me on Facebook or Twitter, please do considering joining me over there as I’ll be able to share things via social media much more frequently than I can here on the blog.

I’ll also be looking for ways of supporting those in my local community, building up connections so that we can enact change right here on our doorstep. This is the time when our communities (whether online or off) are of utmost importance, because with so many cuts in our future, so much uncertainty facing us, it will be the people around us who hold us up and remind us what “we’re all in this together” really means.

I’ve started a new page with links to articles, comments, and organisations which may interest you. This will be the easiest way to keep on top of anything I link to in any of my blog posts on this topic, and you can find it here.

#GE2015 Where do we go from here- The Family Patch

Thoughts on the Election: Fear for the Future and a Passion for Change

Along with so many others, I watched the election results this week in stunned disbelief. Never in my worst nightmare did I ever imagine the Conservatives would win a majority, which again seems to be a common reaction to the news. In the weeks leading up to the election, I had spoken to many people and heard just as many opposing views and, along with the debates, this had given me the strong impression that we were heading for another hung parliament. How did we go from that, to this?

#GE2015 Where do we go from here- The Family Patch

I know that many people feel that there is very little difference between the parties, and therefore there was no real choice in this election. It is the very reason many non-voters give for choosing not to cast a vote this time. A few days before the election, I posted a link to this article along with the words, “I strongly believe that casting your vote is a big part of how we engender change, working with politics and politicians to focus light on the issues that matter most. It isn’t going to change overnight, but not voting is like accepting it “as is” and allowing it to go on unchallenged.” And I still do believe this… but our system is so flawed with its First Past The Post (FPTP) that it feels incredibly disheartening to realise how very little our voices are heard.

Somehow, as a nation, we have ended up with a majority Tory government, with more votes than they had last time, despite all that we have been through in the past five years. I can’t, of course, blame that completely on the FPTP system – people have clearly (and rightfully) cast their vote for the Conservative Party. But in many ways that makes me lose faith in where we’re heading as a society – do we really value the lives of others so little that we’re happy to ignore the fact that under the previous Tory government the rich got richer and the poor got poorer? Austerity measures were the worst thing to happen to our economy, and yet so many people believe the Tory Party rhetoric that they need time to finish what they started! But when you begin to really look at what we’ve voted for, it makes for an extremely depressing read.

Let me tell you something – as a family we will be hit hardest by the Tory Party plans. We’ve already suffered under the previous Tory government, but it will be even worse this time around. In the past year alone we have seen: our tax credits cut so much that we could not afford the childcare we needed, leaving me in a very stressful and unpleasant situation in my previous place of employment; my inability to claim JSA despite being made redundant, due to having not paid enough NI Contributions during the two years I stayed home with Little Man and returned to work in a part-time capacity only; and an increasingly difficult battle to receive the medical care and support TJ needs for a debilitating condition due to lack of funds in the NHS.

As a family with a disabled father, a young child, and a mother who has chosen to put her career on hold (consciously choosing a lower level and therefore lower paid role) in order to meet the immediate needs of her family, we are going to be hit the hardest by the coming government’s plans. We will struggle to make ends meet, and fight an even harder battle to receive the care we need from an NHS that is crumbling into ruins, no matter what the Tories say. Far from the “benefits scroungers” that they would have you believe are the cause of the problems, we will battle on regardless with almost minimal support from the government.

TJ will continue to work as hard as he can, despite being so sick that he had to miss 40 days of work last year due to being unable to even get out of bed. The days he works are days filled with immense pain, clouded by a fog of mental confusion caused by his medications and side effects nobody would wish on their worst enemy. He will do so, because we cannot afford for him to even consider reducing his hours. And I will continue to work fewer hours so that I can balance childcare, caring for my husband, and providing for my family in a way that doesn’t kill me. But more than that, we will rely on family and friends more than ever before, and we will fight for change.

Because whilst we will be hit hard, we are still incredibly blessed. We have a roof over our head and food on our table – some people are not so lucky. How crazy is that? How can I even be sitting here, in one of the world’s wealthiest countries, mentioning food poverty and homelessness? It isn’t right!!

Thankfully I am far from alone in feeling this way. My absolute horror that, as a nation, we voted in a Tory government that cares so little about the most vulnerable in society, has been reduced significantly over the past 24 hours as I have read the reactions of others across the UK. Let’s start with the fact that, despite getting a majority vote, the Tories received a significantly smaller percentage of the votes than the losing party in previous elections! Again we come back to the flawed FPTP system, and the fact that:

“In real terms, this means that Cameron’s Tories won the support of only around 24 per cent of all those who could have voted. The ‘none of the above’ party of non-voters totalled 34 per cent, finishing a close second this time. Millions of those who did vote will feel no more represented than those who did not, notably the almost five million UKIP voters who ended up with one MP between them.” – Did the Tories really win? 

This gives me hope, more than anything else, that we are not alone in feeling so utterly disappointed in the result of this election. Our electoral system is far from representative and therefore millions of people throughout the country feel just as passionate about creating change. But how do we do this? How do we engender change when our voices are vastly unheard, at least when it comes to politics?

I think Russell Brand says it pretty well in his recent video calling for us to live with compassion.

“One thing I know for certain is there’s going to be no shortness of meanness… we’ve got to find new ways of being compassionate and new ways of making change.” – Russell Brand

Compassion is something we can all strive to live by. It comes in so many guises and every single act of compassion, no matter how small, can all add up to a far greater life for us all. It could be as simple as stopping for a few extra minutes to talk to an elderly neighbour who may cherish those few moments of friendship with you, or buying an extra bag of tea during your weekly food shop to donate to the food bank. Or it could be as dedicated as volunteering for a local cause or speaking out about injustice on a local, national or even global scale. Whatever form compassion takes for you, know that it will make a difference.

The last thing we want or need right now is for the news of the past few days to throw us all into a state of apathy or a belief in hopelessness and helplessness. We can create change, indeed we must create change, it’s just we have to find new ways of doing this.

And on that note, I wish to leave you with a song by one of my favourite artists, Damh The Bard, entitled “The Sons and Daughters of Robin Hood”. Damh wrote this following the 2010 election and shared it again in light of the results from the 2015 election. The chorus line has been running through my mind since last night and I invite you to join me in singing along and finding your own way to make that change.

“If you thought that we would do nothing, You’ve misunderstood! For we are the Sons and Daughters, of Robin Hood!”