27 February 2013

Tweet? Pin? Digg? (Social Media and Me)


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There are only so many hours in the day, right? Twenty Four Little Hours, as the song goes.
So much to do, so little time.
And if you read every article on Blogging and social media and tried to put into practise every bit of advice on how to grow your blog...? Well, you'd be chained to the computer night and day trying to keep up with all those social media platforms.
Tweeting and Facebooking, Flickring, Pinning, Digging and Stumbling Upon. You'd be Linked In and connected into BlogFrog communities, hashtagging on Instagram, not to mention trying to keep commenting on blogs, linking up with linkies, replying to comments and emails day in, day out.
There'd be no time left for actual real life (and you'd quickly run out of things to write about).

So what's a blogger to do?
How on earth do you keep up with all these social media thingammies?
Well, you don't.
You simply can't.
Or at least that's my experience.
It's not possible, unless you are basically blogging fulltime.

But if we want to put our blogs out there, if we want to connect with others and share what we have to say with as wide an audience as possible, social media is important. Or at least, USEFUL.
The thing is to put it all in perspective and figure out which platforms suit us best, and then focus our time and energy there. Then find ways to automate things so we can make use of other platforms, even if they're not really "us".


Social Media is a tool, not a taskmaster. We are in the driving seat, not the other way around.

I decided it might be helpful if I share my thought process with you, and what works for me. It might help clear away a few cobwebs for somebody.

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There are some Social Media platforms that I absolutely love. They are useful to me in my everyday life, they make my real life easier or more enjoyable.

Pinterest - now there's a platform I love.
I can create boards for each party I'm planning. I can pin all my own party stuff and tutorials there for other people to find too. I don't have to be on it every day. Or even every week. But sometimes I sit down for a giant pin-fest.
And Instagram. So pretty, so styley. Such a nice way to capture my own mini-stories and let friends know I came by, with two taps of the screen.



And let's not forget dear old Facebook, although this one I have mixed feelings about. Facebook is not what it once was. I have my personal (as-private-as-I-can get-it) profile, and a public page for my blog. All my blog posts get automagically posted to both my profile and my page, through the wonders of syndication (through Networked Blogs).

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I can hold conversations and chat in real time to my friends and blog pals. I can keep in touch with my friends relatives all round the world. So even though I am not best pleased with all the changes Facebook keeps making (and the fact that only 10% of those who have "liked" my page will get my posts in their feed, because Facebook changed the rules) I'll stick with FB... for now.

Those are the social media platforms I actually spend any time on.
But there are others which are really not my thing.


I've tried Twitter and I have to say, I just don't get it. It's not for me.
Maybe it's because I was slow to get a SmartPhone and kind of missed the point. Maybe it's because I'm a visual person and like pretty pictures. Or maybe I just use far too many words..? Whatever, I am not much of a Twitterer at all.


And don't get me started on Google+. I am still trying to figure out what Google's game is and what on earth the point is.
But just because I don't really get it, doesn't mean I'm going to avoid it altogether. Why?
Because even though it's not really "my thing" there are other people who are on Twitter all day long... and maybe there are even some people who actually hang out on Google+ too (though I'm yet to find them).

The others, like Linked In, I'm still figuring out. One of these days I might actually visit some Writers Groups and ask for some professional endorsements for me as a Writer, a Blogger, a Blog Designer (feel free to head over there and "endorse" away). It might come in handy one day. So I won't ignore it completely. I'll just put it on the back burner for a day when time is not so scarce.

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So just because my preference is for Pinterest and Instagram doesn't mean I completely ignore Twitter, Google+ and the rest.
What it means is that I will find a way to make sure people can find and follow me whatever their preferred platform. I can syndicate my posts to Twitter so die-hard Twits can see when something new pops up on my blog. I can click the "+1" button when I publish a new post, so those brave souls who are lurking around on the G+ frontier can see what's new around here too.

To sum up, here's my advice.
If you want to grow your blog and connect with an audience, don't ignore social media, but don't let it take over your life and keep you running in circles either.
Figure out which platforms suit you, then automate the other processes so you're accessible and findable... and then switch off the darn computer, make a cup of coffee and go put your feet up. Like I'm about to do right now...

Cool Tools:
  • Networked Blogs for syndicating your posts automatically to Facebook and Twitter
  • The button at the bottom of posts: click that little baby to up your ranking in Google searches, as well as share to Google+ . Downside: you need a Google+ account to use it. (Feel free to click that thing whenever you come by...!)
  • All the ways you can follow or contact me, however it suits you...

How about You? What's YOUR take on Social Media???
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[All images found on and embedded from Pinterest. Just one more reason I love it]
26 February 2013

What you Get when you Try


Triathlons are not something I'm overly experienced with, though my athletic Hubby has done a few. He's the one who loves to push himself physically; he's run the Rotorua Marathon, cycled round Lake Taupo, and is currently in training for the cycle Tour of Northland.
Our kids take after him.

So when a notice came home about entering a team for the Weetbix Kids Tryathlon last year, we thought we'd give it a Try.
They're sporty; they're energetic, they were keen.
Plus the school was offering to put through the paperwork and take early morning training sessions. Bonus.

We paid our $35 entry fees; signed up for swimming lessons, wrangled the kids out of bed early... and counted down the weeks til the Big Day.


I had no idea just HOW big it would be.
Like, huge.
3000 kids competing, plus all their hangers-on. Imagine the parking?!?!
I didn't realise. Maybe I would have thought twice?
You know what I'm like with Crowds. And Noise. (We don't Mix).



However, we made it there, found a carpark, checked our bikes into the transition area, located out school gazebo and sampled the free breakfast...

Words are not enough to describe the scene, so check out some pictures. Actually pictures don't really do it justice either. A heaving mass of humanity in colour coded swim caps...

[Dash's group lining up... but where is Dash? At this point I stopped taking photos and started panicking]

Somewhere in the mayhem I lost track of Dash. Hubby went off to find him.

When Dash's group were called down to the beach I started to get a little nervous.
Where was he? How would I find him in the crowd? Should I wait here at the tent for Mr G... or head to the beach and hope I spot him among the hundreds of Light Blue Boys.
I fatefully went with "head to the beach".



In the press of people I couldn't find my kid. Is he in the right place? What if he misses his race?
I could feel the anxious butterflies beginning to swirl in my chest. The pressure was building inside my head. Panic was trying to set in.
I knew I had to get out of there fast.
I grabbed Scrag by the hand and hoped Miss fab was following and headed back the way we'd come. Back to the safety of the tent. To regroup, calm down.

Oh no. The way is blocked. Metal fences now prevent me from returning to the oasis in the madding crowd. I can see it but I can't get to it.
I've got to get back there.... too late.

[The way across the road was OPEN before...]

By now I am sobbing, finding it hard to breathe, running along the fenceline looking for a way in.
Somewhere in the back on my brain the "normal" part of me was saying, "People will be thinking what the heck is wring with that lady?" but I couldn't do anything about it.
I was in the middle of a full-blown anxiety attack, possibly the worst one I've ever had.
Finally someone saw my plight and pulled open a gab in the fence; I raced to the tent and found hubby... calmly sipping coffee and reading the paper.

It took me the better part of ten minutes to get my breathing back, to stop the tears and the gasping.
Mr G said he's never seen me that bad before.
It. Was. Awful.
An so embarrassing.
To have a major panic in front of all those parents and teachers from school? Shame.




So, given all of that, would I do it again?
Strangely, YES.

I might have had a freak out, but my kids...? Well, they were legends.
I calmed myself in time to witness them at each stage of their Try.


Coming out of the water, running to the transition area. Biking, full tilt. Running with everything they had.
Finishing Try-umphant.
100metre swim. 5km bike. 1km run.

[The transition area - crazy]
[There goes Dash off on his bike leg...]
Brilliant times, both of them.
Dash: 10min29sec
Miss Fab: 11:02 - only 31 seconds behind her big brother.

[Miss Fab finishing her bike leg]


They crossed the finish to receive... a Medal.
Every kid gets one. Because they TRYed.

Some kids brought tears to my eyes. Like this guy...



Honestly, when he crossed the finish line in his wheelchair, not a dry eye to be seen. Goosebumps from head to toe.

[Miss Fab off on her run]
[Finish Line]


That's what it's all about.
Both this Event AND life in general.
Trying.
Trying is not about winning. It's about stepping up and giving stuff a go.
Sometimes when you Try, you have to fight through obstacles, pain barriers.
(Like when you go out into a crowd, when you sign up your kid for a major sporting event... things might get a bit hairy.)

But it's worth it. Worth the effort, worth the pain.
Worth it to hear them say:
"Mum I LOVED it!"
"Mum, I want to do another one!"
"Mum when's the next Tryathlon?"

Yep. They loved it. All those painful early morning training sessions, all the drama, all those expensive swimming lessons... it all paid off.

The kids completed what they started, they got a sense of pushing themselves and finding they could do it. And now they want to do it again.
Me? I had an awful experience, a bad moment, but I recovered. I survived. I stuck it out.
And in the end I got to share an amazing exhilarating experience with my children, which far outweighs the awful bit.

Triumph over difficulty.
That's what you get when you Try.

(We'll be doing other triathlons again I'm sure, but next time we might pick a slightly SMALLER event...?)

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23 February 2013

Family Movie Night: Gulliver's Travels


Every Saturday we share our ideas for family movie nights, with Movie reviews, fun theme night ideas and a month of FREE DVDs courtesy of our sponsor, Fatso (see below for details).

Our Super-Cool-Fab Review Team...



Our crack team of expert Movie Reviewers are this week reviewing Gulliver's Travels

Gullivers Travels is fun. It's silly. And it stars Jack Black. I haven't always been a Jack Black fan, I can tell you, but since starring in fun family movies like The Muppets, Jack has endeared himself to us.

We originally saw this film when it first came out, but the kids had picked it to go on our Fatso "Queue"; this week we sent back a bunch of movies, and Fatso sent us out some more, before I even had a chance to go and grab some using the Get Now. Very efficient of them.

Gulliver's Travels was the obvious choice for our Friday Night Family Movie Watch. Something we could all enjoy. Even Mr G enjoyed this movie (he's hard to please when it comes to flicks - it's a British thing. He's allergic to what he calls "American crap" - no offense to all my lovely American readers).

The story is very loosely based on the classic book by Jonathan Swift. Lemuel Gulliver works in the mailroom at a magazine. He has a crush on the travel editor, and in an attempt to get her attention he stumbles into a gig researching a story about the Bermuda Triangle. Out alone on a boat (okay it's a crazy, improbable story) he gets sucked into a vortex and finds himself washed up on a beach in a country called Lilliput, surrounded by tiny people who call him The Beast.



It's a pretty cool cast - Billy Connelly, Emily Blunt, Jason Segal and Catherine Tate among others - and the script is funny and quirky and ironic. We giggled all the way through, and not just at Jack Black's giant builder's crack.

This movie is rated (PG), and is probably best suited to school-age kids due to the abundance of silly toilet humour, but there's nothing in it that requires a ready finger on the *fast forward* button. A couple of atomic wedgies make their debut, along with a giant Jack Black saving the day by putting out a fire using, um, a different kind of hose. Nothing seen of course. Just implied. That was very scary for the Lilliputians, I can tellya.
We are kind of silly so we really enjoyed this movie. You might be classier than us, in which case you might find it a bit crass in parts. Don't say I didn't warn ya.




Here's what our experts have to say about Gulliver's Travels.


Dash. B. Cool: "It was good, funny, a good laff. The Titanic bit was the funniest part, where Jack Black pretended to everyone that was his life story."

Dash scores this movie's "coolness" as: 


Foxy Fab: "It's the best movie we've watched so far. I've only ever seen it at the movies. I like this movie because it's a very funny and romantic movie and it has action also. it has a little bit of everything I like in it. The main character is Jack Black and he's my favourite actor cos he is funny."

Foxy rates this movie's "fabness" as: 



Super Scrag: "I thought about it, it was kind of, um I didn't know there were Queens in it. And I want to have two hearts. It was a little bit funny but it also was annoying and I didn't like it that much. But I liked it when he was in the dolls house."

SuperScrag scores this movie's "super-ness" as: 


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(For more movie reviews and theme night ideas, click the TV)


What are your best Movie Night Ideas? Send me an email with your ideas (include a picture or link to a blog post if you can) so I can feature it here on Saturday Night at the Movies.


If you haven't tried Fatso Online DVD rental before, check out my post about why I love it. Then click the box above and use the magic code FAMILY45 to get a Month's Free Trial on the Super Plan (worth $28.99).


Have a great Saturday!
22 February 2013

Beautiful Things for Kids


I have a bad habit, a throwback to my childhood. I all too often choose cheapness over quality and end up having to replace the (broken, worn out, stinky) cheap item a few months down the track.
It's uneconomic. It makes no sense. It drives my dear hubby nuts.

One of the things I constantly find myself replacing is lunchboxes.
Last year I think I must have ended up replacing  lunchboxes two or three times during the year, after they repeatedly cracked, got stinky or mouldy. Ugh.

Schoolbags is another one. The $15 cheapies from the dollar store just don't hold up, long term.
One of these days I will figure out that if I spend more up-front to get quality, it will cost me less over time, because stuff will last longer.
Because quality inevitably costs more. But oh boy, good quality lasts so much better, doesn't it?


I recently had en email from a nice lady called Jenna, offering me the opportunity to try some products by Penny Scallan Design. Good Quality Kids gear. Lunchboxes. Backpacks. Gear Bags. Stationery. I could choose a bunch of stuff, they would send it to me, and share what I thought about it all with you.
Of course I jumped at the opportunity.




I headed over to the Penny Scallan website and starting scrolling through...
First on my shopping list was a school backpack for Scrag. He's starting school next term (gulp) and how awesome would it be if I got him one of these cool, sturdy cute-as schoolbags?


Cute, right?

Then I thought, heck the big kids will be so jealous if Scrag gets this and they get nothing, better find them something too.


I stumbled across the drawstring bags, and immediately thought of Sporty Dash. I've seen these bags around before and admired them, wondering where they came from. Now I know - Penny Scallan Design. I knew one of these would be perfect as a gear bag for swimming, soccer, triathlon training - you name it.

[don't be fooled by the scowl - that is Dash's "cool" face - he LOVES the bag]

Right, now for Miss Fab. Arty Miss Fab. Miss Fab who constantly writes notes and lists and stories. I headed to the stationery section and found...


...the cutest clipboards. These are so cute, perfect for the little "Teacher-in-training" that is my daughter.


These are perfect for car trips, practising your name and all sorts. I couldn't resist; I wanted all the kids to have one, so I picked the car design for Scrag, the Star design for Dash (to match his swim bag) and the chirpy birds for Miss Fab.



I also picked out a matching sketchbook for her (she loves to draw as well)...


I love the chirpy birds design, and the pricing makes these a great gift idea too - on par with Smiggle, but cuter.


As it turned out the backpacks were out of stock at the time, so Jenna picked out a lunchbox backpack for Scrag instead....


I've never seen anything quite like this product. It's a lunchbox, but a backpack too. It's perfect for kindy (it will fit spare clothes in as well as it's roomy).
Scrag is very taken with it and rushes to help make his own lunchbox every morning...


I don't usually like the soft padded lunchboxes as they tend to get smelly, but this one is very easy to clean and is like a "cooler bag", with silver foil inside.
Not only that but Scrag's kindy friends have all pronounced it "very cool". Bonus.

[Scrag modelling his new kindy lunchbox/backpack - love that pose!]

I am thinking perhaps Penny Scallan could be the answer to my cheapness vs. quality problem. The prices are reasonable, the designs are super-cute (the star pattern is even "cool" enough for a style-conscious pre-teen) and the quality is superb. My quality conscious hubby will be well satisfied.

Thank you Penny Scallan for the chance to test your products. I would spend my own money on this stuff. Love it.