Category Archives: Tips

google logo

The Number One Thing I learned At Britmums

Everything I learned at Britmums can be summarised into one sentence:  Ignore Google at your peril.  Ok, I may have learned about other things too but the ubiquity and importance of Google seemed to be the underlying theme of many discussions.

Why?

1.  Search Engine Prowess

Google is the number 1 search engine in the world.  YouTube (owned by Google) is the number 2 search engine.

google logo

I have never actually thought of YouTube as a search engine.  But, of course, it is.  If I need to find instructions on something, it’s my first stop.  I taught my daughter how to do a headstand for her gymnastics competition based on instructions from YouTube and figured out how to convert my son’s Optimus Prime transformer into a truck on YouTube as well.

I always think of YouTube as instructional but for many people it is also entertainment (including my children).  For example, my children are obsessed with the Dumb Ways To Die videos.  We have now made a car game of finding even dumber ways to die.

So how do you improve your YouTube skills?

  • Make sure your YouTube channel is linked to your website.  Having your website associated with your YouTube videos will let you create annotations on your video.  Annotations will let you add clickable links onto your video.  These links are clickable (on desktops and laptops only currently) to whatever hyperlink you want.  There are hints that these clickable hyperlinks will be available for mobile application soon.  For example, creating a hyperlink will let  you link onto a subscription page or feed your viewer straight into another video on your own channel.
  • Get a separate microphone for your iPhone so that you are ready to video anything.  The iPhone video is excellent but let down by the background noise.
  • Make sure you get the lighting right for your video.  The quality of the video you shoot is only going to get worse after you’re done tweaking it in post production.
  • Nigel Camp from The Video Effect gave a video presentation at BritMums but also tweeted lots of useful information.  He recommends the RotoLight for getting extra light and the Rode Smartlav microphone for getting the sound right.  His website has lots of information on shooting video with a smartphone.
  • He suggested that I use the iMovie app on the iPhone to start with post-processing as it’s the easiest. And, yes it is!! Here’s the video I did (not of Britmums) but a recent trip to Centre Parcs Elveden.

 

2. Google+

Google have been throwing a lot of money into Google+.  It’s hard to believe G+ has only been around since 2011 because it has experienced such exponential growth.  It is the second largest social networking site after Facebook.  Google thinks of G+ as more than social networking but as a “social layer” which is supposed to make using its other stuff easier.  Unlike Facebook, G+ is focused on business interaction which is fine with me.  I find that my Facebook feed is just confusing – interspersed in between personal posts, such as photos of my niece, are blog posts of people I follow.

google+

What can you do to enhance your G+ experience?  Some basic tips:

  • Get on it in the first place.  It’s not going away.
  • Maggie Woodley from Red Ted Art had the best advice for me at last year’s BritMums.  She asked me to do 5 minutes a day on G+ and that eventually it would make sense.  I did and it did.
  • Get Google Authorship so that you can get higher rankings in organic searches.
  • Use the circles to make your followers easier to, well, you know, follow.
  • Use ripples to find out who the influencers in your area is.  The Social Media Hat has a great post on how to use Google+ Ripples.

3. Google Analytics

Google Analytics is the industry standard for measuring success on the internet, such as for websites, blogs and advertising.  ‘Nuff said.

As you can tell, I have drunk the Kool Aide.  I am a Google believer.  Are you?

wire mood board

Learning to Create a Tactile Moodboard

At the Hive 2014 European Bloggers Conference in Copenhagen recently, I was really inspired by a talk given by Gudy Herder of Eclectic Trends on creating tactile mood boards.  I am used to creating digital mood boards such as those I created for the paint colours at our summer house or for the my perfect bathroom CP Hart challenge last year.

It has been a long time, however, since I created a tactile mood board.  Tactile mood boards can include string mood boards, clipboards, wooden panels and wired grid.

Here is Gudy’s advice on creating mood boards:

  1. Have a title that is precise.
  2. Use 3-5 keywords on the mood board such as nouns and adjectives, including emotions.
  3. Decide on what colours you will use.
  4. Use approximately 40% materials otherwise the mood board is lacking in texture.  You might as well have a digital mood board.
  5. Put your most important images in the middle.
  6. Stick everything in place at the end.

In addition, I always thought of mood boards as a way to convey an interior design.  I have never actually thought about mood boards in other contexts such as travel or holidays.  Gudy explained mood boards are not confined to design contexts.  For example, you can create a travel mood board for a particular destination or around a weekend away.

I chose to create a mood board about the Hive 2014 conference itself.  Here’s my effort:

Hive 14 moodboard

Hive 14 moodboard

Most of the items are probably self-explanatory – design elements, business cards of fellow attendees and workshop providers, silly pictures from the Photo Booth provided by Bugaboo and the announcement of next year’s Hive being in Berlin.  I taped some of the items with washi tape because bloggers seem to gravitate towards washi tape like a moth to a flame.   On the top right side, I love the creativity that is in this business card/origami ring by fellow blogger, Kris O Tin from A Ce Soir.

If I were to do a self-assessment of my mood board, onn the positive side, I did have a title that is precise.  Yay me!  I also did write 3 keywords.  My pattern and colours echo the graphic element of Scandinavian design.  After black and white, the colours I related to most often were red and orange.

I didn’t, however, put the most important images in the middle.  In my mind, the Photo Booth images are the most important because they convey the emotions of happiness and friendliness.  I just couldn’t figure out a way to keep that in the centre though without having it look boringly symmetrical.

How do you think I did?  I don’t mind if you give me an E for Effort 🙂

christmas wreath

Making Christmas Wreathes

This year when I saw that Heals Events and Wild About, the florist, were running a wreath-making course, I jumped at the opportunity to make my own wreath.  I’ve not been entirely happy with wreaths I’ve bought in the past — too big, too small, too much dried fruit, etc. etc.  I felt like Goldilocks because none of them were quite right.

The wreath-making workshop was held at Heal’s flagship store on Tottenham Court Road.  My first surprise was that we were going to make the wreaths from scratch — completely from scratch.  The materials were all laid out – metal base, moss, pine branches and decorations.

wreath parts

Almost as scary as assembling Ikea

I was expecting wreath-making to involve just the decorating bit.  After tucking into some wine and mince pies, I was feeling (unduly) confident nonetheless.   The first step, was to wire fat chunks of moss around the metal frame.  We used 22 gauge wire and just wrapped it around – not too tight to maintain a lush, fuller look.

moss on the wire

wiring moss onto the base

Then, you insert pine branches into the moss and bind again with wire.  The moss should be soaked regularly to keep the pine branches looking better for longer.  Wild About suggest 1x a day if the wreath is hanging over a fireplace and 1x a week if it is on your front door.

inserting branches

inserting branches

I thought possibly that I might have had a glass too many, when after inserting many a pine branch into the moss, I had barely gone a quarter way around the circle.  I was about to cry in frustration because I couldn’t sip from my glass and insert branches at the same time.  Then, Andy from Wild About suggested I use bigger branches to cover more space.  Eureka!  I was on a roll.  Yes, once again size matters.

wreath decor

After I was done with the base, it was time for the pretty bits.  We had a choice of 3 wreaths — one orange and gray Heals Christmas colours, another with traditional berries and the last which was purple and contemporary.  No prizes for guessing which one I was going to pick.

Making the bows are pretty tricky but Andy was a pro at explaining.  You should use wire ribbon for bows so they can be fluffed into shape.  After the bows are made, they get tied around the base.

Then, you lay out your decor on the greenery.  Make sure to cover the front and sides so that the wreath looks good from all angles.  Apparently, the hallmark of a cheap wreath is only having pretty bits and pieces on the front.  Once you are happy with the layout, then glue gun them into place.

glue gun

armed with a glue gun

Hurrah!  Here’s my wreath hanging outside my house.  It’s so pretty that I’m worried about it getting nicked.

christmas wreath

I’ve discovered that homemade wreaths are a nice touch and much cheaper than buying a ready-made one.  The cost of materials is about £15-20 and the decorations are as expensive as you want to add on. You can find all the materials from florists, a garden centre or even cut branches off your tree.  In addition, many of the pre-made ones have been made ahead of time in anticipation of the Christmas rush.  You won’t know how old your wreath is and it’s life span may not last as long.

ozeri in pocket

The Ozeri Pedometer Gonna Make You Walk

I’ve got a new toy as part of my fitness kick which I adore and Mr. N not-so-secretly covets. The Ozeri 4×3 digital motion pedometer has been accompanying me around the last week monitoring my walking.

ozeri in palm

I love that the Ozeri pedometer is super-small and lightweight.  I put the pedometer in my pocket and forgot about it for the rest of the day.  Easy to use once you set it up with your personal stride length, it seems accurate from my very informal test on a treadmill.  In addition, simply jiggling won’t activate the monitor.  You have to take 10+ steps before the pedometer decides you are actually walking.  No cheating by shaking it in your hand!!!

ozeri at pool

The LED backlight is very useful in dark conditions.  The monitor displays data such as steps, distance, average speed and calories burned.  The data is kept for 7 days so you can compare your fitness over a period of time.

ozeri in pocket

Overall, I found this pedometer really useful.  I had a couple of days where my son was home sick and I only walked about 5000 steps.  On busy days, however, I could hit my target of 10,000 steps with minimal effort.  I like the mental jog it gives me that I need to be more active, e.g, my dog gets a longer walk that day.

I could have used a quick-start guide instead of the lengthy instructions which came with it.  It would have been much easier to get up and running with the device with a quick-start guide and a FAQ if you run into problems.  I also found the strap a bit fiddly to put on.  The strap attaches to a lanyard so you can wear it around your neck.  I didn’t bother because I wanted it flat in my pocket.

The Ozeri 4×3 digital motion pedometer  is available through Amazon at £15.95 and comes in two colours, yellow and black.

Who knows?  Maybe if Mr. N has been good this year, Santa may leave an Ozeri 4×3 digital motion pedometer in his Christmas stocking.

I was provided an Ozeri 4.3 motion pedometer free of charge in exchange for my review but all words, photographs and opinions are my own.

sailboat

Taking Better Photos

Do you want to improve your photography skills?  I’ve always loved photography and have been more interested in improving my photos since I began this blog.

I signed up with Emily at The Start-Up Wife for her Photography for Bloggers one day course.  Emily has been taking photos since childhood and was a professional wedding photographer for 15 years.

Here are five general tips for photos from Emily that I’d like to share with you.

1.  All daylight is not created natural.

Who knew?!  I assumed any daylight would work.  Apparently, the best daylight is in the mornings and the evenings when it is softer.  Avoid harsh midday light in sunny countries.  Any light that is filtered through clouds is good (that would be English daylight right??).

bright sunlight

2.   Have everything ready BEFORE you take your children and pets’ photos.

Sounds simple, right?  So simple, I never thought of it.  Flaffing around fiddling with your camera while your children are ready just exhausts their 2 minutes of patience.  Also, you should take a photo of the scene without the children to make sure that it photographs as well as you think it will.  No point, once again, in exhausting your children’s goodwill immediately.

sailboat

In the above photo, I had my children wait until the sailboat was perfectly positioned in the middle of the frame.  Of course, they got bored and I completely missed the shot.

3. Use your camera phone.

Your phone is always with you but I always think the camera on it is second best.  OK, it may not be as good as your ‘real’ camera but camera phones have come so far, they actually are pretty good.  Also, your camera phone works really well with children because they are not aware of the photograph being taken.  You can take their picture without having that fake, forced smile (you know the one!).

dumb smile

4.  Be aware of the background of the photo.

Get rid of clutter, make sure nothing ugly is in the background etc.  If you can’t move it, you can always move either the subject or yourself to get a better position.

cambridge family shot

photo credit: Celebitchy

I don’t know if the above photo from one of my favourite blogs, Celebitchy, is fake or not but  the pooping dog behind the happy Cambridge family well illustrates my point.

5.  Take photos regularly.

Your photography improves with practice.  I, too, am guilty of bringing out my nice camera only on holiday.  I’m going to try and practice more each day so that I can improve slowly.  I can’t be bothered to drag around the big camera with me and so I shall use my camera phone instead.

Tuscany photo collage

If you are a blogger, I highly recommend Emily’s one day courses.  She’s very knowledgeable and inspirational.   I hadn’t actually thought about photo composition before this class.  You really do learn a lot through a mixture of discussion and practical photography.  Even after the course ends, she sets up a private Facebook page for attendees to share photos and critique.

You’ll be seeing more of my photos on Instagram as well. I’ve been inspired by Emily to take at least one photo a day.   I think that is an achievable goal and hopefully I can improve in small increments!

Are you guilty of any of the mistakes I mentioned above?  Come on ‘fess up.

A Taste of London in Regent’s Park

Taste of London is once again back at Regent’s Park for this weekend (June 20-23).  Mr. N and I have gone pretty much every year with our friends.  You can spend a nice evening having a pseudo-cocktail party in the park (unless its raining which it did last year).

IMG_4445

This year there is a special section devoted to celebrating food from Thailand, including restaurants, street food and cooking demonstration.  Check out the cool exotic fruit below:

Taste of London

Taste of London brings together 40 of London’s restaurants, including some highly regarded ones, such as Le Gavroche, Savoy Grill, The Cinnamon Club, and Asia de Cuba.  Each restaurant has a select menu of 4 appetiser-sized portions and you can mix and match between restaurants.  The variety and quality of food was tremendous.  As ever, vegetarian dishes were not as well represented as the fish and meat dishes.

So, what did I try?  In the spirit of research, I munched my way through quite a bit of food.  I opted for the exotic restaurants (because I’m high maintenance) but you did have a choice of simpler fare.

This dish from the Michelin-starred Tamarind of Mayfair is Kappa Meen which is a traditional fish curry  from Kerala made with Kingfish and spices and served with tapioca mash. Although quite spicy, the tapioca toned down some of the hotness, and it was simply delicious.  I can also vouch that the taste was authentic – it tasted just like my mother’s version and she is an amazing cook.

Keralan fish curry

My other love is Southern (American) food and so I just had to try the pulled pork shoulder with jalapeno corn bread and coleslaw.  This dish came from Barbecoa (one of Jamie Oliver’s restaurants) and it was excellent as well.  The barbecue sauce had the right amount of tang and the corn bread melted in your mouth.

IMG_4469

Onwards and upwards I thought!  I tried a vegetarian dish from Babbo, an Italian restaurant in Mayfair.  It was an acquerello risotto with 8 year-aged organic parmesan.  The risotto was creamy and the parmesan added a delicious crunch.  After the first two dishes, the risotto was very soothing to the palate.

risotto

To finish off, there were so many yummy desserts from which to choose.  In the end I went with one of my traditional favourites, a macaroon.  Bar Boulud, one of the restaurants at the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge, was serving macaron ice cream sandwiches with a strawberry-yogurt filling which tasted as good as it looked.

macaron ice cream sandwich

There were lots of other options, a few pictured below and more uploaded to my Facebook page.

The Taste of London showcases not only food but also wine tastings, a food market and cookery demonstrations.

champagne

I opted for the champagne and wine.  Lots of people, however, seemed to like the pina colada in a pineapple.

pineapple drink

If you are in London and a foodie, I would recommend going to Taste of London.  Let me know if you do and what you tried! I’ll make sure it’s on my radar for next year.

Take Your Best Shot!

At Cybher last weekend, among other fab people and discussions, there was a really great photography workshop given by Mario Cacciottolo.  I figured I’d share some of Mario’s photography tips because we are all snap-happy even if its just with our camera phones.

Mario is a professional photographer and his personal photo project an be seen on Someone Once Told Me.  He’s currently doing a world tour for his project which involves posting a daily photograph of a person holding a message with something someone once told them.  The website also goes into the story behind the quote.

photo:  someoneoncetoldme.com

photo: someoneoncetoldme.com

I love this photo of a child on a trampoline.  The child is obviously happy (and we know kids like jumping on trampolines) but the portrait doesn’t feel forced.  Some of Mario’s portrait tips at work here:  (i) take the person to a place where they feel comfortable and happy, (ii) give them something to do with their hands to lessen an awkward pose and (iii) put the person in the foreground.

Here is a photo which sums up 5 of the most common mistakes we all make with taking pictures of people:

photo tips

1.  Make sure the interesting parts of the photo are prominent.

There is way too much grass in this shot.  There is nothing exciting about grass so why have half the photo devoted to it?  You could tell she is standing on  a lush lawn with a lot less grass showing.

2.  Face the light.

The woman’s face is in the shadow and the rest of her is in the light.  Always have your subject’s face in the light.  Move your subject around or move the light around – it doesn’t matter, just make sure the face is in the light.

3.  Move your people into the foreground.

The woman is way too far away.  Have your subject in the foreground and the house in the background will still be visible

4. Watch the shadows.

The photographer’s shadow is in the photo!  The photographer can always move to be out of the frame.  Better yet, use a zoom so that you are not near enough to cast a shadow.

5. Watch out where your eye is being directed.

The shadow casts a straight line to the woman which is good as it draws your eye towards her.  Unfortunately, the line dissects her in half and her face is in the shadows!  Make sure any leading lines are heading towards something that is worth looking at.

I hope you find these tips as helpful as I did.  Got any more tips to share?  Please post in the comments below.

Summer hols are coming! Time to bring out those cameras and start snapping away….