Wednesday 30 January 2013

The Beesley Buzz - Finding support where you least expect it

I have a very new blogger posting here today, Rebecca has been part of our community for about 4 months now and gives us a very open and heartfelt account of why blogging has become really important to her. First a little about Rebecca and her family -

Rebecca blogs at The Beesley Buzz with husband Richard and her three children. The Beesley Buzz is very much a family effort and you’ll see all the family getting involved. J, her eldest, is great at maths, loves reading and is the worlds’ biggest Moshi Monsters fan; he also happens to be on the Autistic Spectrum. D, her younger son aged 6, is The Brilliant Chef  and loves to cook. Both boys are home schooled. Last but not least is T, 9 months old, who adores her two brothers.

In my excitement at recently discovering the wonderful concept that is ‘New Bloggers Fortnight’ (and wishing I had come across it before we started blogging), I enthusiastically agreed to write a post for this year’s New Bloggers Fortnight and then started reading through all those great posts from the previous years.
Then it dawned on me… what had I done?!? All these bloggers actually knew what they were talking about… and I really don’t. So I don’t promise any real wisdom but just our experiences of how blogging has opened up a world of support and understanding that is sadly lacking in other areas of life.
When we first started blogging 4 months ago, I hadn’t realised just how many other bloggers were out there who had experienced similar situations to us having a child on the Autistic spectrum. But the more I read, the more I came across situations that seemed to mirror experiences that we had – some of the difficulties our son experienced at school, the reactions of others when he has a meltdown in public, how siblings in the family are affected, some of the tensions in friendships and relationships when there is a lack of understanding about Autism.
So many times, I thought I could have been reading about my own life. How could these people so accurately understand what we’d been going through, the emotions we’d felt, the feelings and frustrations we had?
The sense of relief… So often when your child is different… when they don’t fit in at school, when they struggle with the little things that other kids just fly through, you are left wondering what is ‘normal’ for a child like mine.
Sometimes in real life, you are left feeling that your child is the only child who is capable of having a meltdown so huge that it seems that the whole world has stopped to stare and you just want the ground to open up and swallow you, just to stop yourself feeling so judged, so inadequate as a parent, so helpless.
And then I tuck the kids into bed, turn on the computer and I realise I am not alone. Sometimes I might blog about the bad days myself (although often I find I don’t because as therapeutic as I know it would be to get it out of my system on those days, I don’t have an ounce of emotional energy left to give any more output). More often I read. I see what everyone else’s day has been like and I feel comforted, I feel supported, I realise that I am not alone in feeling like this.
The times I have been able to type a few words whether in a blog post or on Facebook, I have been so encouraged by the words of kindness and understanding shown by other bloggers. Some understand because they are going through similar situations, others understand because they have a good awareness of the issues from the blogs that they read – but the important thing is they understand, they care, and they don’t judge me.
And I could go on. I could tell you about how impossible I find it to get to any support groups locally because those held during the day would mean I would have to drag along three children who really wouldn’t want to be there, and those held in the evening just feel impossible to get along to when to have spent the day just managing to get through to bedtime and the last thing you can face is getting yourself out the house at the end of a long day.
I could tell you about the ‘friends’ that suddenly disappeared pretty much as soon as my son received his diagnosis (we do also have some truly wonderful friends who we do stay in touch with and I am so grateful to them for loving and accepting J for who he is regardless of his ASD).
I could tell you about how those we should be able to trust the most in real life, those in responsible positions of authority in the education system, those we had initially assumed would be there to help our son fulfil his potential and not be limited by his condition, let him down so badly and didn’t seem to have any knowledge of how to effectively deal with children with ASD or special needs. And when we wanted to shout out from the rooftops about the positives, those little achievements (that are actually big achievements for J) – a calm day, being focused, coping with his school work – it just seems meaningless to those who don’t really understand.
Yet so many bloggers do ‘get it’. They understand. They celebrate the good days with us and stand alongside us on the not-so-good days.
The dictionary definition of a ‘Community’ is “a group or society helping each other” and our experience of the blogging community has been just that. And I want to thank the blogging community for the true sense of community I have found here – whether you realise it or not, so many of you have helped me at the times I have needed it most – thank you.

And thank you Rebecca, I expect every one of us reading this can relate to how much the community has helped us at one time or another. Great to have you posting here!

Tuesday 29 January 2013

Far From Home Mama - Real life goes on...

I am really pleased to have Rachel here today to kick off New Bloggers Forntight. She is someone whose blog I always find to be warm, friendly and authentic. I'll let her share a little about herself -

Lost in Switzerland, with a toddler and newborn in tow, Rachel spends her days trying not to eat chocolate and macaroons for every meal. She blogs at Three Years & Home, chronicling her family’s adventures and counting down the days until they return home to North Wales.

You can also find her on twitter as @farfromhomemama

I started blogging in January 2012, for two main reasons. One, because we live abroad and I wanted to chronicle some of the ups and downs of our expat life, and two, because we live abroad and I often get homesick and thought that writing might help me through it.

Initially, it felt like I was talking to myself but I found the exercise of putting my thoughts in to words hugely therapeutic. I joined twitter and found others in a similar situation or with similar interests and slowly but surely built up a readership for my blog. A handful of daily readers turned in to double and then treble figures and a few even started leaving comments for me. It felt great … even for someone like me who rarely craves attention, preferring to hide away behind the scenes.

With a husband who often works long hours and a son who can’t keep his eyes open beyond 7pm, it means that I spend a lot of evenings by myself with just a computer, television or book for company. My blog and the online community served to fill a somewhat lonely void and I felt like I always had friends to call on. A problem, a question, a thought … ask and countless people will answer you. Share a photograph or a pleasant memory and you’ll receive a lot of ‘awwwws’.

The instant feedback is wonderful but it has a strange way of drawing you in and becoming addictive. Writing two, three, four, or however many posts a week can quickly turn from an enjoyable hobby in to a feeling of ‘must’ or an obligation, wanting to keep your stats up and comments coming in. Half an hour on twitter once that kids are in bed can turn in to a whole evening passing before your eyes before you remember to look up from the computer and blink.

In my case, it got to the point that on the nights when my husband wasn’t working, I found myself continuing with my blogging/twitter routine when I should have been catching up with him instead. And when in the summer, I suffered from horrendous all-day morning sickness, it was my blog that I felt more worried about neglecting rather than my home. I think it was only because the sickness lasted for a couple of months and by that time I was exhausted with juggling home, work, a toddler and an expanding bump that it finally sunk in that something had to give … and no … that wasn’t my husband ;-)

In June and July, I wrote a total of just ten posts and rarely spent any time on twitter. I still continued to receive lovely supportive comments from my new online friends but being forced to take that break helped me to realise that real life goes on and it was my husband stepping in to keep everything going, nobody else.

We hear lots of talk about a work/life balance but I really believe a blog/life balance is essential too. Here are my top five tips:

1. Your blog/your rules. You’re under no obligation to post a certain amount of times per week so keep it fun and just post about something when you want to or have something to say.

2. Your audience has no set expectations. If people find something in common with you and enjoy what you write, they will come back to visit your blog whether you post every day or just once a week. Personally, it’s rare that I will subscribe to a blog where the author posts every day. As a reader, two to three times per week works best for me as there are quite a few blogs that I like to keep up to date with but don’t have the time to be continually reading.

3. Don’t let statistics rule you. Notice that your visitor count drops if you don’t post for a day or two? Don’t let this be the reason to post something new. Forced posts often take a lot longer to write and I think readers can tell if your heart isn’t in it.

4. You don’t have to be like anyone else. Some people have thousands of followers, post more than once a day, and are offered hugely exciting opportunities by brands courting them. While I sometimes think this sounds wonderful, my main thought is that this takes time … time to build up that kind of reputation … and time to maintain it. Think things through very carefully if you want to take this path. It will inevitably be at the expense of something else.

5. Virtual hugs are no substitute for real-life ones.

..... and how right she is. Now go on, go and hig the ones you love. The blog will still be here when you get back!

Tomorrow we have Rebecca from the Beesley Buzz blogging for New Bloggers Forntight, she'll reveal how she never imagined the support you could receive from the blogging community.

Monday 28 January 2013

Welcome to New Blogger Fortnight 2013

Hello, welcome and thanks for joining us. Over the next two weeks I'll have some great posts for you, all packed with real-life experience and advice from a group of new bloggers who have generously come forward to share their experiences with you in the hope that it will help you grow and enjoy your blogging journey.

NBF nearly did not happen this year, I have been experiencing a bit of blogging overload in recent months. With blogger journeys to Ethiopia in October and Belarus in December I felt I was heading for the scrapheap and then when I saw a whole new blog was being dedicated to posts for new bloggers I lost my mojo and thought why bother?

I had already engaged a couple of fairly new bloggers to write a post for me and I went back to them to break the news and both were sad that I might not host. One of them nearly had me in tears though, she talked about how last year she had been a brand new blogger and had been a part of NBF as a recipient and got so much out of it. She mentioned that I had started the chat about NBT in advance on the BritMums newbie forum and that she was still in contact now with those bloggers she started to chat to last January as part of NBT. She told me the warmth and personality of my blog was what made NBT fortnight and that a new blog would not have that same community.

Reading just the few lines she wrote made me know in an instant that this would go ahead.  Decision made - I'd take a break for January to recharge my batteries and then dive right back in and enjoy NBF 2013.  So here I am and I'l kick this two weeks off with a post from me -

I almost lost me.....

Blogging, in my experience is like white water rafting, like travelling alone down these scary rapids that are twisting and turning so fast that you have no idea what to do or how to steer. How do I make sure I stay on the right path and don't plunge over the waterfall into the abyss, never to be seen again?  Good question Mich.

I'm not the type to seek thrills - bungee jumping and such holds no appeal to me, I prefer the safer and more predictable things in life and I think if I had realised how turbulent and all-consuming blogging could be I might never have taken that plunge.

I've been writing my blog for about five years now and there are times when I love it and adore the community and others when I could just run for the hills and hide, never to write a post again. In January I have been enjoying some down time and not blogging much, I find I have to take some rest every few months for fear of burning out or losing my grasp on reality.

After near five years I have learnt who I am and how I want to come across on my blog. It is important for me to be authentic and to stay true to my Christian beliefs. Yes the worldly part of me escapes at times and wants to move up the blogging charts, win an award (or two) and go to the best events but then the grounded Mich kicks in and reminds me that really I don't actually want all the things that come associated with being a popular and well-ranked blogger and that the green-eyed monster is very ugly indeed.

I do realise that I have come very close to 'losing me' in my blogging journey, it is so easy to get caught up in things and to go with what feels like the flow for so many people. Some bloggers are more vocal and dynamic than others and you find a clan start to emulate them and to desire all the things they desire. Writing styles start to mesh into one, there seems to only be a few key blogging voices and everyone is tackling the same subjects or that is how it feels when you are in the middle of it. If you don't tweet ten times a day, do a Google + update and check in on 14 forums then you are failing as a blogger. What a crock!

Nowadays I feel like a bit of a Granny when I watch the newer bloggers arrive on the scene, they have their own great style and way of blogging and then they find the community and with that comes some great things - friendship, support and opportunities  Then also the not so great - as so many start to do what I did and question themselves and their blogs and their own uniqueness starts to fade. Time and time again I hear - I need to go self-hosted, I must get my own vanity URL, my blog needs a make-over, should I be on Pinterest and Google +, I need to start a linky? and on and on it goes.  I want to shout at them and tell them to stop and cherish who they are, if they are not careful they will lose their soul on this journey to be the most flashy and well-read blogger.  I am sure very few of us start out on our blogging journey to be stars of the parenting blogging world and really, why would we ever dream that is desirable?

Blog because it makes you happy, blog because you find support, blog as therapy and even blog to get reviews if that is what floats your boat but be honest with yourself and keep focused on why you started out because it is so easy to get lost.

Now you might want to get lost, I don't know.  You may find that it is beneficial for you, it certainly has been for me. For years the strapline on my blog has been 'Join me on my imperfect Christian journey' and that is exactly how I see this life, as a journey. This is where I am being moulded and learning to be the best person I can be. Blogging and even getting lost along the way has helped me with that, I see that now.

As long as you can keep perspective and balance, blogging can be the most rewarding of activities. You will learn who your real friends are and to not bother with the ones who sap your energy and make you feel sad.
If I was to give every new blogger one piece of advice it would be to stay true to you and what you want for your blog. Do not get swept along with the crowd, stand out! Question yourself each time you go to make a change - am I doing this for me? Does this make me happy? Is this detrimental to anyone else? Is this a balanced thing to be doing? You'll know the right answers, you just have to have the courage to be individual and to stick by what you think.

You'll be a much better blogger for it. Good luck, Mich x

Come back tomorrow for a great post from Rachel (also known as Far from home mama), who blogs at Three years and then home. She will be talking about keeping a good blog/ life balance - so important!

Thursday 24 January 2013

Musical Reasons to be Cheerful (Year 3, week 4)

I'm always trying to think of different ways how I might express my Reasons to be Cheerful and this week I realised I had never done a musical edition, so here it is.

I have to tell you from the start that my taste in music is not that brilliant.  I do not have a great breath or depth of knowledge when it comes to music and particularly anything that is popular right now.  I am totally out of the loop.  I listen to Christian worship music 99% of the time, not because I'm brain washed but because I do really love it. The clarity and passion in the voices, the acoustic guitars and those drums, oh yes they take me to another place.

Songs can easily transport me back to another time and place, so I'll share with you a few songs that take me to very happy places -

First up, a bit of Paul Young - I'm 21 and not been with dh long, we both work as Assistant Managers in the same hotel in Eastbourne and after a (very) long shift we would lie in bed and listen to an album called 60s Soul, 90s Soul.  This is one of the songs that stands out for me.  I just played this and asked dh if he recalls this song and he remembered the same time as me, ahh I feel all warm.

Eric Clapton next, I'm not a fan in general, but this was the first dance at our wedding and dh sang it to me and as he is not the romantic type, it meant a lot.

Next I'm in 2006 and this wonderful song has just launched, within a few days I am struck with Bells Palsy and half my face paralyses for a few weeks. In the 6 weeks that followed I did a lot of thinking, praying and laying around listening to this song. Not so much a happy time but a very formative one.


Last I'll leave you with one of my favourite Christian songs, the words in this get me very time. I've just had a very enjoyable hour listening and singing along....


And now it is your turn, what is making you cheerful and grateful this week?

Why don't you join up with Reasons to be Cheerful this week? It is such a fabulous opportunity to stop and reflect on your life and to see the good in it. Have a read about what I believe and why #R2BC started, it has literally changed my life to have this weekly focus on what is good (or God) in life.  How easy is it to allow things to become doom and gloom?

There are an amazing group of people who join in with this linky, I call them my Cheerful gang and I am so grateful for each and every one of them. Some of them have been here since the very first post back in January 2011 and others just linked up for the first time last week but they all mean the world to me.

So if you want to join in, go for it.  We are a no rules kind of linky - you link up what you fancy (well as long as it is not just a blatant advert), a recipe, the simple things in life, photos, a story - whatever! Add in the blog hop code so people can travel around and then visit others and share the comment love.  I'll come and visit everyone who comments here at the weekend and do my bit....

Have a great week, Mich x

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Bloggers - IF we make a noise then things change!

As a blogger time and time again I hear the same things -
IF charities provided me with better information and made the campaign engaging then I'd blog for them.

IF the PR representatives of charities were more engaged/ responsive then I'd write about their campaign.

IF charities did not waste the money they are given then I would give them a donation or blog for them.

You know what?  For me, these are not the IF's and THENs that I am interested in. Yes, things are not perfect and you might get fed up but this problem is far bigger than you or me and that is what we must stay focused on.

I have dealt with a load of contacts so far with regards to charities and NGO's and a few of them have not been great communicators, nor particularly organised nor have they even understood social media and what us bloggers do, but I don't care.  I'll keep on blogging and shouting out loud as I hate injustice. There is enough food in the world for everyone, but at the moment that food is not accessible to everyone. This CAN change. We have to help fight for that change. 

So a charity/ PR contact gets my name wrong and sends me boring bog-standard information - I'll live.  Aren't I lucky to be able to say that? Not everyone can - currently more than 2 million children die each year from chronic malnutrition.

Don't get depressed though, get mad and get your fingers typing on your keyboard and spread the word.

Today sees the launch of the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign. This is being launched nationally by a collective of about 100 charities and NGO's. All the big regulars that you might support are part of this - Unicef, Oxfam, Save the Children, ActionAid, Tearfund, ONE..... so please get involved.

This year the G8 in being held in the UK and that means that world leaders are interested in what is happening here and we have a special opportunity to push for change. There are 4 centrals IFs to this campaign, these are the ones I'm interested in -
  1. IF governments keep their promises on aid, and invest in small farmers, then the poorest people will not only have access to more food and better nutrition, but will lift themselves out of poverty too.
  2. IF we stop poor farmers being forced off their land then we can use their crops to feed people and not cars
  3. IF loopholes are closed to ensure companies pay the tax they owe in poor countries, then governments will be able to invest this money in their people’s livelihoods and futures.
  4. IF we insist governments and investors are honest and open about the deals they make, then people in the poorest countries can hold their governments to account over how they spend their money.
But ultimately it all comes down to IF we all work together as one, then world leaders will hear us and will have to act.

You be part of this and work as one, it is easy -
  1. Sign now to add your voice to pressure the govenment to listen and respond at the G8.
  2. Visit the Enough Food IF site and see what it is all about or check out Save the Children's digital bloggers kit and get tweeting (#IF), blogging, sharing, liking, pinning - whatever it is that you do to get people engaged and responding to this new campaign.
Remember this isn't about you or me, blogging for a specific charity or becoming a celebrity blogger, this is about our world and justice for all people. Let's be part of the generation who changed our world. I pray my children will see an end to hunger.

Thanks for reading, please do what you can to help. You never know the impact, even one tweet or RT makes a difference.  Mich x

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Views of Minsk (Belarus) through my iPhone

About seven weeks ago I was in Minsk, the capital Belarus with Operation Christmas Child. It was such an amazing journey and one that will impact me for life.  This afternoon I have just spent an enjoyable couple of hours reliving my journey through Minsk as I prepared to share my faith journey for Church and the practical shoebox distribution for my children's school assembly.

Arriving at the beginning of December the snow was only just starting to fall and we saw it fall and fall as the week progressed. Whilst I delighted in about 3 inches of snow and temperatures of down to -8 degrees. I believe there is now about 10 inches of snow and temperatures more like -18 degrees! ekk

There is no logic to these photos, they are just shots I took as we travelled around the Minsk region with my trust iPhone, they will give you an insight into how the country looks. From the grandeur of the city to the poverty of some of the villages.

These photos have not been manipulated, they are as they were when I took them....

It might look a bit bleak and cold but it was well worth a visit, a real education for me!

Saturday 19 January 2013

Snow Fun with Daddy

I was so pleased that Daddy was home today to do the sledge rides with the girls! I am not a fan of the snow but this really made the little ladies day!

Friday 18 January 2013

Confessions from a normal mummy blogger

Just after Christmas I read a blog post from Her Melness Speaks which she had published back in July 2012, it was a great post and one I know resonated with lots of bloggers. In that post Melinda expands on a  tweet she had sent, which read 'Your blog does not have to change the need only be relevant to your world'. This is so true, so many bloggers worry that they are falling short of the bar that they believe exists and some of the more unscrupulous bloggers would probably let them believe does.

We are all different and our motivations are unique and as such we need to stay in touch with ourselves and why we blog. It is all too easy to compare ourselves to others and I have fallen into this trap many times over the last four years. Why does X get more comments than me, why does Y get the better approaches from the PR's and why is Z everyone's favourite friend on twitter? It was probably only in 2012 that I really found my confidence and realised that I am me and I can only be me and that is just perfect.

Over the last year I have heard myself referred to 'blogging royalty' and as 'one of the big bloggers', which does make me smile, as at a size 22 that is probably pretty accurate. Apparently I'm inspirational and of course I have been on two amazing journeys abroad which came about due to my blog. So I do understand that newer bloggers will find the kind of opportunities that have been open to me awe-inspiring but I have to chuckle as of course I know me well enough to know who I really am and all the flaws that come with being Mich.

I thought it might be fun to take a closer look at myself and to fess up to some faux pas from this normal/ average/ ordinary mummy blogger. I hope that it will be reassuring to any blogger who is having the 'am I good enough?' wobble and remind them that they are just fine and to keep going as they are.

Right, confessions from Mich -
  • I have never shopped at Boden, the White Company or Zara (and chances are I never will).
  • When the Blogfest conference announced Caitlin Moran would be a keynote speaker, bloggers everywhere wet their pants with excitement, I pondered who on earth she was.
  • I have never read any of William Shakespeare's works, yes I know I should...
  • I honestly could not tell you the last time I read a newspaper and I don't think I have ever once read a broadsheet.
  • When it gets to election time I ask my husband who I should vote for.
  • I have no idea what big words mean, I have to look them up. I'm just not particularly smart at general education but I rock in many specialist areas such as HR, hospitality and sales.
  • I know the name Gaddafi but I'm a tad ashamed to tell you that I could not tell you one thing about who he was or what he did. 
  • I'm not sure I've ever been to an art gallery.
  • I've hardly travelled in the UK at all, I know where I like and that is where I have been. One day my horizons will broaden I'm sure.
I'm not particularly clever, nor well read, nor cultured, nor fashionable but I am me and I'm OK just the way I am.  Every one of us is different and that makes our little space on the internet interesting and irreplaceable.

There is room for us all.  Please be yourself, stand tall and be authentic.

From Monday 28th January I am hosting New Bloggers Fortnight. This is the third year in a row that I will give my blog over for two weeks to guest bloggers all with blogging advice for new bloggers by new bloggers themselves.

Check our the posts from NBT 2011 and NBT 2012 and come back next week to read posts about finding support in bloggging, engaging with the community, keeping real life at the forefront of your mind, using images in your blog posts, maintaining your integrity when you undertake sponsored content and loads more.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Reasons to be Cheerful, Year 3 - week 3

Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart
Happy Thursday everyone. I hope your week has been a blessed one and if not then I pray it improves and you are able to find the joy in whatever your situation is.  There are always glimpses of what will be, even in our darkest days.  I personally know that things I have thought will be a tragedy have been an opportunity for change and a time for me to grow.

All is well here at the moment, I had a lovely weekend away with my JJ and since Sunday 10.30am I have not been on this computer at all. I have had a week away from blogging completely to just think and be. I really need to get on with sorting my weight and allowing myself some time to be able to exercise and get early nights. So anything appearing on the blog this week has been scheduled and written prior to Sunday morning. There is nothing like being organised, lol!

This week I am grateful for my growth in relation to money. When I first met dh I believed all money was meant for instant gratification and it never ever occurred to me to save and to spread out my spending. I have changed a lot in 20 years and now I am pleased to have a good balance - I spend and treat myself sometimes and at others I save and enjoy a larger, more fulfilling purchase like a holiday with my family. January/ February are expensive months for us with various insurances needing paying and the balance on our Easter holiday and I feel so blessed that we are able to meet these payments.

I am also smiling a lot about my recent purchases with the Christmas money I received.  I do love a bargain, especially a shiny one -

And now it is your turn, what is making you cheerful and grateful this week?

Why don't you join up with Reasons to be Cheerful this week? It is such a fabulous opportunity to stop and reflect on your life and to see the good in it. Have a read about what I believe and why #R2BC started, it has literally changed my life to have this weekly focus on what is god in life.  How easy is it to allow things to become doom and gloom?

There are an amazing group of people who join in with this linky, I call them my Cheerful gang and I am so grateful for each and every one of them. Some of them have been here since the very first post back in January 2011 and others just linked up for the first time last week but they all mean the world to me.

So if you want to join in, go for it.  We are a no rules kind of linky - you link up what you fancy (well as long as it is not just a blatant advert), a recipe, the simple things in life, photos, a story - whatever! Add in the blog hop code so people can travel around and then visit others and share the comment love.  I'll come and visit everyone at the weekend and do my bit....

Have a great week, Mich x

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Operation Christmas Child: Insider shoebox tips

Christmas shoebox giftsI have made many Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes up over the years and always really enjoyed doing it.  Each year I try and make the boxes for less money but include better quality items.  It is quite a challenge but a fun one for someone like me who likes shopping and thrifty buying!

Having completed the full circle this year from buying the items and packing a box (or 6), to helping out in a warehouse to then travelling to Belarus and putting the shoeboxes in the hands of children - I have gained quite an insight and learnt so many new things, so I thought it was only right that I share.

Favourite items in the box

I have to be honest and say that not one child I came across got excited by the toiletry items. It might just be that in Belarus they do have this sort of thing available to them but basically, they all just looked past those as they saw them in the box.  That is unless they were particularly fun, the type of wash mitts that are characters was pretty popular.

By far the most popular things were as you would expect - the toy item.  They really seemed to love the traditional toys, the girls loved dolls and the boys liked cars, planes etc. It was an eye-opener to hear the kids ask me what some items were, I realised that when we make the boxes up we use our Western, affluent perspective and put in the things that might be popular with our kids, like the plastic 'silly bandz' bracelets - they had no idea what these were.

Also popular - hats, gloves and scarfs, colouring items, cuddly toys and jewellery.

Tips from the warehouse

I went and spent a few enjoyable hours at a local warehouse checking the boxes and this turned out to be really enlightening, I'll share with you the thrifty tips I learnt there -

1.  Include ribbon in girls boxes, they love to tie their hair up and make it look pretty.  This costs us just pennies and just because it is not fashionable here right now does not mean children in other countries would not like them. And actually, look my Miss E loves ribbons in her hair.

2.  You can make up your own craft pack to include with the box. Look at below - some Christmas card fronts, coloured paper, perhaps ribbons, stickers and sparkles and a small glue stick and there you go - an instant pack of joy for a child.  I bought a pack of 12 small glue sticks in Sainsbury's in the summer for under £1 - crafts packs really can just cost pennies if you collect items in the sales and such.

Craft pack for occ shoebox

3.  You can buy multi-packs of toothbrushes, soap etc and then just bag them up in a cheap sandwich bag or clingfilm.  I have always bought single packs as I thought they had to be wrapped, but now I know you can wrap them yourself and this will make things even better value. Make sure those soaps are wrapped so they don't stink the box out and of course no soaps which look like food, we do not want to be confusing the kids that have not seen anything like before!

4.  Can you knit?  Yes, then you are onto a winner. Any kind of knitted item seemed to go down well, you can't do stuffed toys because of the fire safety issues but hats, gloves, puppets and even small handbags go down a storm. Look at these super cute little bags made from a child's metal bangle and a knitted sack - simple and perfect.

Knitted purse for OCC showbox

5.  I have been chatting to a great lady, Tricia who helps out each year at the Wirral warehouse and asking her about her top tips.  She reminded me that the cheapest items are often left out and are so appreciated by the kids. So please do remember to include some paper (pad etc) and sweets in each box.

6. You can clean up and repurpose fashion dolls as the kids abroad love the traditional toys. A new hairstyle, a bit of make-up and some handmade clothes do the dolls up a treat and they are so appreciated. Or if you have the skills, you could sew a doll and her own blanket.

Hand sewn dolls

7. It was also pointed out to me that Chinese takeaway dishes (you know the plastic-type with a lid) can make great boxes for home-made puzzles, bracelet kits and board games made with bottle tops. There are some very clever and creative types out there. Check out the Wirral OCC community page on Facebook as well as the official OCC UK Facebook page for great ideas.

8. My biggest tip and the one I hear time and time again from everyone who is involved with making boxes is to plan and buy all year round. Not all items in £1 shops are badly made tat, if you regularly keep an eye you can buy great things and buying a little each month as the year goes by spreads the cost and makes it more affordable to make up a box or two.

Thank you to everyone involved in OCC, my increased involvement this year has been such a privilege. Just look at the picture below to know what a difference you make. 

Boy receiving shoebox gift in Belarus

Why not pin this post for later?

handmade dolls Occ pin

Saturday 12 January 2013

#SocialPix - Happiness is....

What more could a 9 year old boy want?

A few hours with a new like-minded friend, maths challenges to show off his skills, as many chocolate coins as he can eat, a goodie box from and a chance to win £1000.

Then a double bed to himself, his own box of chocolate he has won, minecraft on his iPad, a swim soon, time just with mum, dinner at the local pub restaurant and buffet breakfast in the morning - yes he is so in his element.....

Check out more images with Social Pix, just click on the badge.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Grateful for my JJ #R2BC (Week 2)

If I was going to write how I actually feel tonight I'd be saying I'm tired, worn down and feeling slightly anxious. There is no good reason for this, I think I'm just on the cusp of a cold and I need to sleep more.

But this is Reasons to be Cheerful and I do feel so grateful that I have to write this post tonight ready for publishing on Thursday morning as it is doing exactly what it is supposed to. Making me remember how blessed I am and forcing my focus onto the positives like the excitement of my girls who are starting Rainbows tomorrow night.

This is his preferred position, it made me chuckle earlier today when I realised he had put his
jester hat on his head to play minecraft!

This weeks post is about my boy though, I have a night away with him this weekend and we should have such fun together. A while back I entered a competition for by writing a post about how you encourage your children to save money and I was lucky enough to be picked as a finalist.

So early Saturday morning JJ and I are setting off on our own for the long journey to Chester. We are off to a De Vere Village Hotel for a full days fun activities for the kids where they will compete to win £1000! JJ is adamant he will win as he is very maths smart and savvy with his money but I have had to remind him that other finalists have far older children and thus we should just enjoy the fun of competing.

Not to mention that we will have laughs on the train just spending time together, swimming in the pool in the evening, enjoying a meal in the evening, some Saturday night TV and JJ is hopeful for a buffet breakfast.

24 hours in the company of this little joker is just what I need, I'm trying to ignore the 8 hours travel time and focus on the fact I can enjoy that time reading and listening to some podcasts.

New Year Day in London together

Do you fancy joining up this week?

Write a post about what is making you smile right now, grab the blog hop code and add it to your post, then link up here and go and visit people and share some comment love. Tweet with #R2BC if you fancy but really there are no rules here. Just do what feels right. Sadly I don't think I'll get to comment on everyones this weekend as I won't have wi-fi when I'm stuck on the train!

Wishing you a positive and peaceful week.  Mich x

Thursday 3 January 2013

Reasons to be Cheerful - first one of 2013

Happy New Year readers, how are you all?  Did you survive the chaos that is Christmas and the mania that are the school holidays?

I'm back at work today as you read this but I'm OK with that.  I need to get myself caught up and ready to plough into all the projects I have for the new year. Tomorrow we are going to my parents to stay and I love spending time with them.  I'm hoping we can go swimming, have a meal out, visit my Nan and enjoy some chilled time together.

This week I am grateful for blank canvases, that is what this new year feels like. I want to get my eating habits sorted out, get back to exercise and enjoy each day as it comes. Operation #ReallifeRocks is where it is at!

New Years Eve I stayed in a hotel with the kids whilst dh worked the evening and despite them driving me bonkers with their constant laughing, silliness and bickering we had fun but my favourite part of the evening was this -

Do you fancy joining up this week?

Write a post about what is making you smile right now, grab the blog hop code and add it to your post, then link up here and go and visit people and share some comment love. Tweet with #R2BC if you fancy but really there are no rues here. Just do what feels nice and pay it forward.

Have a great week, Mich x