Week 26 – Preparing for Birth Class

I love the pregnancy yoga classes LushTums run so when I found out that they had an afternoon class that was all about getting you prepared for birth class I jumped at the chance to attend.

As the course runs for only an afternoon it is only covering birth but as this is the part that was scaring me the most, I was happy to spend the money with an instructor that I trusted. I also was made aware that the preparing for birth class would help make partners aware of key positions or breathing exercises covered by the yoga classes regularly so BF would know what to suggest or help with on the big day.

Normally I go to the Hove lessons so I can leave 5 minutes before the class starts and still be on time. This course was held at Bird Studios behind the station so me and BF had to get up and get a bus across town. I was feeling so ill that BF kept asking “Are you sure you want to go – will you be well enough?” Nope I was going – not only had we already paid for the class, this was the last course that I could attend due to other arrangements before my due date so it was now or never. I wanted to go to this course that it didn’t matter – I was freaking out about labour so needed this.

On top of feeling really ill it turns out that there was a lot of extra traffic with some sort of parade or something so when we arrived we were 10 minutes late and couldn’t find out where to go. The lobby was full of ladies chatting away and no receptionist – we had no idea where we had to go. Luckily we went to go looking for someone to ask and I recognised my yoga instructor through the window. We were there and hadn’t missed anything as they had just done some basic introductions two minutes before hand as they waited to see if we arrived.

Just like the yoga lessons, there were mats set out on the floor with bolsters, blocks and blankets. Bags, shoes and coats were put in the corner on some chairs and we sat down on the floor. I was quick to straddle the bolster as I knew how comfortable it was for my back, hip and bump.

first kicks bump diaries pregnancy yoga week 16There were only three couples in total there – I was half expecting to have to face double that especially with how big, oversubscribed and overcrowded the Saturday yoga classes were. It was a great thing though – we could ask very specific questions and the session was tailored to what we needed or wanted. The first couple were having their second baby at home and were open to share about their very quick (4 hours!!!) and easy labour, while the second included a writer from “Call the midwife” also due with their first baby!

I have read a lot – I find knowledge is a great way of calming down so I love to absorb information so that I am not caught off guard. BF is the same – I really did choose the perfect man for me it seems. After hearing about how much went wrong when I was born for years, labour really scared me so I needed to find out as much as possible and how to stop being ripped to shreds like my mum.

With introductions done, Claire and the midwife running the session started with breaking down the information. It is clear that they have really planned out a great structure and course as they had a flip chart ready with detailed drawings in a set order. While was a key direction to when things were covered they were really flexible and would answer questions when they came up. With such a small class size, they were constantly asking for what we already knew or thought – it was a great approach as I learn so much better with this sort of discussion type learning than just having to listen (especially without the ability to write notes throughout).

Constantly through the session I was learning more and more but more importantly I was finding out the level of improvements and changes in recent years that will stop what happened to my mum happening to me. The writer from “call the midwife” while very knowledgeable on a lot of things was still constantly exclaiming how little she knew compared to the two instructors, especially when it came to modern technology or procedures.

I think one of my favourite things about it being run by Claire from Lushtums is that she knows how important it is to get pregnant ladies up and moving, or giving  them regular breaks. If I wasn’t struggling from so many food aversions I would have been able to happily eat an array of drinks and biscuits – they really do think about everything on this course.

As someone who thrives on knowledge that comes from a clear scientific proven basis, this course was fantastic. I had been worried that it may have been a bit too earth mother that it would put off BF yet it was the opposite. Everything discussed and talked about was routed in studies and research. It really helped BF see why the pregnancy yoga lessons that I had been going to were helping so much in the pregnancy and would help when it came to the birth. For me this was definitely one of the best things that came out so since he has encouraged me to continue practicing at home and even uses some of the massage techniques and positions to help me since. As the only one who was currently going to classes, Claire was really great at teaching the others key moves and techniques to everyone, while also offering new positions or techniques that I could do with BF or improve those I already knew.

The mix of knowledge and practical was perfect – I left feeling so much more prepared, supported and better yet no where near as nervous about labour. BF came away feeling really positive about the course – yes a lot of it he already knew because of researching so much but he had learnt things too, which is rare, particularly concerning practical help and support that he could give me. Now when I talked about doing a figure of 8 or the yoga breathing, he knew straight away what I was talking about; now when my hip or back hurts he puts his hand right where it will help thanks to the course. The fact that he complimented the course is huge – when it comes to feedback on things either he is vocal about how bad it is, or will say it is ok. He doesn’t compliment things often so I can only see that as an outstanding success that he found it helpful.

I would recommend this birth class for any pregnant couples – it really was amazing and my fear of labour has gone down so significantly, while I feel so very prepared for what expect before, during and after. If you are nervous about giving birth, this for me is a must – it covers everything you need to know, is tailored to you and your partner but will also be taught in such a clear, practical and useful manner. I would see if there is a course near you as Lushtums is expanding across the country.

Have you been to a birthing class? Did you find it helpful? I would love to hear about your experiences and stories so leave a comment below!

All of this is my own thoughts and opinions – Lushtums were only made aware that this review after the blog post was written.


The Bump Diaries Week 14: The Glow

The world now know our baby secret – well some of the world does any way. Even a week after sharing the news on Facebook it is surprising just how many people you meet and interact with that you might not have on Facebook or may not have seen the news.

After last week’s exciting news and message after message or comments from friends about the exciting news I have gotten better about being open about my bun in the oven. Most people just want to know how far a long are you in months not weeks (which is weird going back to), when your actual due date is and do you know if it’s a boy or a girl. The closer the friends ironically the more the questions that you get so once the closest and close friends know it is surprisingly easy to talk about it.

This week I did also find out one key fact – it is far easier to tell people in person that you are pregnant than online or over the phone. Here is the trick say “I’m…” and just do a bump shape and they’ll know and it will go straight to jumping up and down. If you don’t want the rest of the room to know it can be a bit harder but this week I found this trick was so effective and cut down on the uncomfortable way to bring it up. I even found once just grinning and motioning a bump shape worked. Seriously body language is way more effective sometimes than trying to use words.

Officially I am in my second trimester this week and things have changed. I was told that the morning sickness and food aversions would probably go around this point – if not I was going to be stuck with it probably for the rest of the pregnancy. Yes the morning sickness did go but the food aversions did not. Turns out I may be stuck with my inability to be in the same room as pizza, cheese, chocolate or ice cream most days but I no longer feel sick all the time. That being said both through hardly being able to eat anything and my stomach being squished more and more my food portions are now tiny.

nSpa mum to be creamAlong with food changes, my skin has changed too – after weeks of dealing with spots trying to reappear and nasty drying skin, I’ve been left spotless and back to having soft skin again. Others have noticed a change too – I have started getting the “You’re glowing comments!” with one friend mentioning how she wondered why my skin was so good before I told her about the bump and wondered if I had finally decided to start wearing foundation.

My stomach is also not just a tubby lard of fat any more – it has changed shape and no longer is squishy but solid. I officially have the start of a bump! I also now am beginning to work out where all the weight I have been slowly shredding the last few weeks has disappeared from – my stomach of all places.

The only down fall is feeling itchy – especially in the middle of the night. Along with bump stuff being great for helping skin stay stretchy and not lead to stretch marks (though I already have lots of them from being suddenly fat when I was a kid after a car accident), I have found that are also the best solution for anything itchy.

I tried to use other creams that I would normally use for my skin when dry but these now only make things worse or when I have checked I can’t use them while pregnant due to the essential oils in them. My normal go to cream is from Lush called Celebrate – I generally use it for massaging as I have found it far better than traditional oils or bars but it is not pregnancy safe so it is off the table for now. I tried Nivea but while pregnancy safe it just make me itch even more.

materelle cream - Week 14 - the glowThe best one I have found is Palmer’s Bump butter – both for bump and itches. It is rather solid but unlike a lot of others we have tried it is not so sticky and keeps in moisture far longer. When it comes to itchy spots anywhere I have found this is like an instant relief that also works for hours.

Having had stretch marks and scars I have fallen for Bio-oils marketing in the past but since my lovely OT friend has enlightened me to how there is no proof it helps I don’t deal with the slimy, greasy and mess making oil any more. I have tried other creams but I always return to the bump butter so far. I tried one I picked up from Waitrose – the smell was off-putting and I just felt sticky afterwards.

The biggest changes still remain food related though – I have had to try to work out how to eat little and often or I end up curled up in a ball of hunger or pain from over eating after eating a single bread roll. The start of the week I will admit was hard and I cried, a lot. By the end though I have found a few hacks that are really helping. I am still exhausted, I still don’t think that I am managed to get all the calories I need each day but at least I am achieving over 700-800 like I was at the start of the week. I have also stopped shaking, almost passing out and the crying has decreased by a lot.

My biggest find is an unusual one but if you are in a similar situation definitely worth checking out. I have started getting toddler sized portions. My biggest problem was finding the right portion sizes without going through a lot of discomfort (from both shaking, hunger and eating too much just from a handful of nuts). After finding “little dishes” in Waitrose, I thought I’d try it just to see if it would help. Holy smokes was this the best fricking idea ever!

It turns out that these little fresh microwave meals for little kids are the perfect size for my squished stomach and a they are so kid friendly in the taste and texture, they are also perfect for getting around my food aversions.

Now normally I would not rely on microwave meals but these little dishes are the perfect size and so easy when you need food quickly. With eating little and often comes the added issues in feeling exhausted before you eat – when you have to cook stuff before hand it is so hard to find something small enough that won’t fill you up that can give you a boost long enough to cook it yourself. Since finding these I have been able to find something that works to help me eat and not constantly feel painfully bloated. As a supertaster these are really easy on the palate, have nice soft consistent textures and still feel like a delicious meal.

Other things I have found similarly effective are the mini Chicago Pizzas – one of them is the perfect portion right now. They, just like Little Dishes, are really easy to manage with the ability to microwave or oven cook but even before I was pregnant I loved these more when microwaves unlike the rest of humanity.

I am definitely getting comments now about a “glow” though coming from people who know I’m pregnant I am not sure if I really do have it just yet or if it is just the polite thing people say. Either way I am finally finding my feet when it comes to the small little meals even if it is cheating for the moment. Hopefully I’ll slowly be able to find more healthy things to eat that I can make.

When did you get your glow? What is your favourite maternity cream? What is your favourite pregnancy food? What food tips do you have? I’d love to hear all your stories so leave a comment below!

This was written January 2016 and published April 2016. All the views are my own and have not been sponsored in anyway.

Linky

Made Brighton: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Review

As  trained designer, I have been to a lot of design shows in the past and even exhibited at some with my own design work.This evening I headed to the 10th Made Brighton show and it was the first time that I attended this event too.

Each year, before the event officially opens, there is a private viewing were you can get into the event early to get the best choice of things as well as enjoy a far less crowded event with the joys of free drinks. I still can’t believe it but the team behind Made Brighton gave me access to the Private Viewing event!

Beautiful silver necklace - check out my honest review of Brighton MadeI have been to Brighton Corn Exchange before yet when I arrived there is still the buzz of excitement as you walk into an incredible Indian themed building. As I arrived the doors started to open so I was lucky that while there was a queue it moved really quickly.

It is a shame though that the initial feeling of excitement and buzz was stopped with a rather silly queuing system once inside – you had to walk in and if you tried to walk into the venue or to get into the queue of people waiting for drinks you were just directed away to a hidden queue. This was a bit weird and just caused more confusion than anything and minutes later was ignored by everyone. I think there was just basically someone trying from the Brighton Dome team that seemed to be on a power trip of wanting to direct people for the sake of making himself feel better than keep order. This was though I will mention the only small thing that was bad about the whole experience so you can imagine how the rest of the show was if it was just a moment of confusion that is by far the worst thing!

Now I don’t drink at events so I normally have very little choice when it comes to drinks. Most of the time it will be a range of alcohol and orange yet when I requested something non-alcoholic I was offered 4 different options – a first for me at events like this. While the complimentary drinks won’t be about the rest of the event, it was so great that they had clearly thought about everyone going. I must say that the feeling of strolling around stalls with a beautiful glass of juice still made me feel so wonderful and corks were constantly popping around the venue the rest of the evening – one even hit my friend at one point!

While I have been to the Corn Exchange for fairs and events before, I barely recognised it! You walked past a curtain and if it wasn’t for the beautiful and unique mirrored windows above I wouldn’t have realised where I was if blind folded into the venue. The whole place was stuffed to the brim with stalls that many vendors had to share to fit them all in.

Beautiful chandelier - check out my honest review of Brighton MadeI will admit that some of the things were out of my price range – I don’t have £1,900 to spend on a chandelier nor £1,800 on a piece of glass artwork but there were so many things at different prices that there really is something for everyone and an incredible experience as I swept through so many stalls finding more and more things that I wanted.

One of the biggest things that shocked me was just how incredible everything was – I have been to design shows before and none have ever had as many things, even in shows 4, 5 and 6 times as big, as this show did. The creativity of the designs that you were surrounded by is amazing; it is an environment that many young designers struggle to find and yet here was the perfect place.

Made-Brighton-2015-event-lampshadeThis for me has definitely been the best fair that I have come across in Brighton in my 2 and a half years but is also high up on the design fairs that I have attended. I have been disappointed with other craft fairs in and around Brighton before – there were some good items but you’d have to search for them; at Made Brighton every stall was impressive and beautiful. Even after going around all the stalls twice, I struggled to find a stall that was rubbish, tacty or poorly designed; the team at Made Brighton have really been clever with their selection of exhibitors. It may have gone un-noticed to others but Made Brighton’s clever planning of which stalls went were meant that you never saw similar styles down the same aisle and this just added to the creativity that you felt as you walked through the venue. Even with lots of businesses there, you never felt like you saw something twice – every stall seemed to have its own take, style on even simple things like a scarfs played felt and looked drastically different from stall to stall. Based in the heart of Brighton for only the next three days, this is for me a must as you will find plenty of Christmas presents or inspiration.

All in all this was an incredible event and I really can’t wait until the next one now to see what incredible designers I will get to meet. This is not a craft fair – this is a design fair and so expect some of the best bespoke design work locally.

I loved this celebration of design and to be able to go on the Private Viewing event meant that it was just a limited number of people there. I was warned by many exhibitors there just how busy the weekend is so if you do plan to go, try to head there early or try to visit on Friday if you have the chance.

The Good: location, exhibitors, and layout
The Bad: queue system and possibly how crowded it might get
The Ugly: my bank balance…
Overall score: 5/5

Have you been to Made Brighton? Will you be going this weekend? What are you looking forward to see the most? What is your favourite design or craft fair?


Promo Republic Review: In-depth look at the features

Three months ago I was asked by Promo Republic to review their social media app based on my professional social media experience. I have already blogged about my overall experience, which you can find here but this blog is an in-depth look at the three key sections: the calendar, post ideas and statistics.

Calendar
Possibly my favourite feature as a social media expert – the calendar is amazing. It is clear and easy to see what is proposed, scheduled or posted with a colour scheme that works. If you include an image, an image will appear in the calendar making it easy to see.

Check out my honest review of Promore republic - a social media management tool for Facebook and Twitter. I talk about the Good the Bad and the Ugly aspects including their useful calendar tool

I love this as it makes it easy to see when your posts are going live as well as see big key events that could be used to a brands benefit. The best part is the intergreation between ideas and the calendar – if you click on one of the calendar events, you will get a pop up asking if you would like to post based on that idea. For big events, such as Guy Fawkes, when you get the pop up it will even give you an option to choose from their templates and ideas.

Check out my honest review of Promore republic - a social media management tool for Facebook and Twitter. I talk about the Good the Bad and the Ugly aspects including their useful calendar tool

This is a great part of this online tool – someone new to social media can start from the calendar and be guided through from start to finish a post that could get them engagement, website traffic and sales. At the moment most of the posts are optimised for Facebook but they are slowly making improvements so I am sure that optimsed posts for Twitter will slowly make their way into creation.

Once you have chosen and tailored the post with your branding, brand name or product, afterwards you can choose to view more ideas or go back to the calendar – this is great as it encourages project planning rather than constantly rushing for ideas.

Even I adore using the calendar – it is very easy to use and much better method of seeing the timings of posts than other existing tools that I have tried. It has everything that a beginner needs to start their journey in social media.

Ideas

Check out my honest review of Promore republic - a social media management tool for Facebook and Twitter. I talk about the Good the Bad and the Ugly aspects including their useful calendar toolAnother reason I like this social media tool is that it has a big list of ideas and inspiration to choose from that has images, posts and topics to choose from based off seasonal topics or campaigns. Again Promo Republic have carefully planned out where what calls to actions go where to make it easy to follow.

On the dashboard, ideas are broken down by campaigns for general posts that are useful for all businesses – this allows you to choose from ideas that are based on something you are are proactively trying to do. Basically if you know that your business is running a sale but need ideas of how to promote that, you will find this as soon as you open Promo Repubic.

Check out my honest review of Promore republic - a social media management tool for Facebook and Twitter. I talk about the Good the Bad and the Ugly aspects including their useful calendar toolIf you go into Post Ideas it is exactly that – looking for an idea of what you should post when you have no campaigns or news then you will find a great breakdown of ideas to use seasonal topics to types of engagement. It really is a clever system of giving you ideas based off what you need.

Having used this system for three months, it is great to see that the ideas are updated – they also tailor the ideas that you see based off what type of business you are listed as. If you are a bakery you will get different suggestions to help your business compared to a business that sells cars. My only issue here is that there are a lot of businesses that are still missing in their categories but they have grown since I originally set up the account – they are slowly adding more which is good. If you have a Guru account you see all the categories – this is great as you can see ideas that you feel would suit a client and due to how it is set up you can post while looking at any account. If you would like to find out more about the differences between the standard and guru accounts, check out the good the bad and the ugly review of the overall app.

Statistics
For me this has to be the worst section; I have hardly found any use for this section. In both the standard and the guru level accounts this section remains the same overly simple. These days the information that you can gain from Facebook and Twitter about your posts, audience and account is incredible. At the moment Promo republic only covers very basic information which might sound perfect for a beginner but actually provides no real insights that you won’t otherwise gain from scrolling through your feed.

Check out my honest review of Promore republic - a social media management tool for Facebook and Twitter. I talk about the Good the Bad and the Ugly aspects including their useful calendar toolAt the moment when you originally open this section for a Twitter account it will open to show you it listed by the most popular posts but this includes things that you have retweeted. If you retweet something highly popular it will screw your statistics and for many new to social media might get confused and only focus on retweeting items (which they can not do from within the app).

On opening the statistics page for my Twitter account it looks like I have had 1397 retweets on one tweet but this is not anything that I managed – that is the original authors success.

If you try to change the order you will only then get to choose between the newest or oldest posts with the timescale (which is generally set to a month). There is no overview, no reach or anything concerning mentions at all! In Facebook you at least have the option to choose by number of likes, comments, shares or date but this is still limited to page posts only.

The long list is well… long and hard to pull useful trends or information from. Using Promo Republic you can not see trends as it is just all the posts listed and with no option to export information you can’t even create these easily in excel either.

With the Guru accounts this is an even bigger issue – if you are managing an account you now have to use a different system completely to pull information. As a professional I have had to pull monthly figures, weekly figures, report on trends and highlight successful posts based on key goals – this statistics section doesn’t provide the ability to manage any of this.

This really is the weak spot of the whole app – it is a huge shame as I approach to the rest of the app to help walk through its users through posting to Facebook and Twitter

So those are the three main sections – want to know about Promo Republic make sure that you check out my The Good, The Bad and The Ugly review.

While I love the gap that this app fills – it is a good start but for a business to make the most of their social media they do need guidance and strategy from a specialist. As a social media marketer for 10 years for organisations big and small, I am a freelancer so that I can help businesses develop their brand and grow their business. If you want more information my services and how I can help your business, email me now on aspender@lillyringlet.com.

Disclaimer: To do this review I had a free 3 month subscription to their standard service and Guru to assess the service.


Check out my honest review of Promore Republic for their social media app for small businesses

Promo Republic Review: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Review

Social media is such a powerful marketing tool yet over 70% of small businesses struggle with it. Often I am looking through my clients’ competition an their social media is shocking – 70% of those that I look at are terrible.

For many small businesses hiring a professional social media specialist is beyond their budget or low on their agenda – this is often why they suffer. When I was approached by Promo Republic to review their service, aimed at helping small businesses, I jumped at the chance. For me, the majority of my work is writing strategies and consulting on how to optimise accounts for businesses so a service that I can refer my clients to that will help them would be perfect.

I have tried many services and I adore the vast diffferences so that you can find one right for you. At the moment though I have struggled to find out that is great for those new to social media with optimised posts, images and ideas – so far all of them have been too intimidating, complex or don’t offer easy ideas to implement. Promo Republic is trying to fill in that gap – it is an online tool for Twitter and Facebook that is aimed solely at small businesses.

Most brands that I come across that are failing to make the most of their social media often are because:

  • They are only posting sales driven posts (only 30% of posts should be – the other 70% should be brand awareness, knowledge share or community building)
  • Images are not optimised in terms of size and quality
  • Images are not used at all
  • Posting too much at once (known as bursts)
  • Not posting enough
  • Posts are not seasonally relevant or using news and events
  • They have automated  one of their channels to share content from another so copy is not optimsed
  • They don’t analyse statistics
  • Not responding to replies
  • Not monitoring the community, key hashtags or popular words

At first I will admit that I was skeptical of Promo Republic – I loved the concept they had three months ago when I started using it there were a few things that were a bit clunky. Now however they have a system that I really would recommend small businesses to try out as they have now fix most of them.

Basically it breaks down to three different sections: the calendar, post ideas and statistics. The first time that you open the website you will get sent to the dashboard – this is mainly made up of ideas but also has a couple of other features like a regularly updated tip, box to start posting immediately and button to go to the calendar.

The design of the website is very nice and clean but most importantly it is easy to navigate. Unless you are in image creation, there is a great menu on the side that shows where you are at all times. All of the wording or descriptions of things are straight forward making it a system even the most techno-phobic could navigate.

The whole direction of Promo Republic is about making managing social media easy for small businesses and it definitely manages that. Promo Republic’s integration between the ideas and calendar is by far the best aspect of the whole service as it gracefully walks users step by step through the process without being condescending or too confusing.

Check out my honest review of Promore republic - a social media management tool for Facebook and Twitter. I talk about the Good the Bad and the Ugly aspects including their useful calendar toolOne of the biggest mistakes for many is when people post – some post too many posts at once and this is known as bursting. Running a business can be hectic – I know too many accounts where people have not updated accounts for months or post a week’s worth of tweets in an hour. Spreading out posts can be hard but like many systems when you post you have the choice to post it straight away, schedule or add it to a queue to post it in the next available slot. I love the ability to add custom posting times too – if you know a key time to post then you can add it which is useful.

As well as choosing when the post will go out, you can also work out which platform you post it on – this includes being able to post on more than one at once. If you have a Facebook and Twitter account that you want to share content across both channels, it is a simple click of a button. As soon as you choose a Twitter account it bring up how many characters you have left and will stop you from being to post unless you are within the limit. Too many times have I seen businesses who have their Twitter accounts automatically posting every Facebook posts or vice versa – this is really off putting and looks extremely unprofessional to users. This will help stop that and help keep businesses write short and effective posts when trying to create a cross channel update.

Check out my honest review of Promore republic - a social media management tool for Facebook and Twitter. I talk about the Good the Bad and the Ugly aspects including their useful calendar tool

There are different variations of this system – a standard account and a Guru one. I started with a standard account before getting updated to the Guru one and there is not much of a difference to the majority of it. The only difference really is that as with a Guru account you can propose ideas to a standard account within the calendar. As someone who has managed accounts in-house, freelance and within an agency I was really interested in the Guru account – if I can tailor suggestions or have a system that my clients would be able to understand and use then it would help improve my ability to help businesses without mistakes occurring.

There are other systems that allow suggestions and drafts but I know from experience how often people just return back to using an excel spreadsheet or end up having to pay a lot of money for a decent system. At the moment the only ideas that a Guru account can suggest are those in the calendar. I hope that they update the Guru system so that you can add suggestions to the post idea section as for me this will make it perfect for me.

In both versions there are a few issues – the main one for me is the statistics page. It shows very basic statistics but doesn’t provide an overview of monthly reach, likes, comments, retweets, etc. As a first user it might be a bit confusing, especially as with the Twitter section it shows things you’ve retweeted within the results. If you retweet popular things it makes all the other posts look terrible and this engagement is not yours but the original authors.

Secondly there currently is no community management or response management – this means that if someone tweets or replies you have to use a completely different system. The same goes for monitoring key words, hashtags and trends – at the moment you would have to use a separate system. Community management is a big issue as response time is now listed at the top of pages – if you don’t respond or take along time to reply your potential fans/customers will now know. I would really love to see their approach to making this so simple and straight forward but it will also make such a big difference to helping businesses manage their social media.

Overall this is a great tool for those new social media in giving them ideas and inspiration but there is still some key aspects missing of that need adding. Every week they are making more and more changes (this week they added a Twitter size image option) so hopefully I will be able to see them improve and grow.

The Good: The seamless integration of the calendar and post ideas
The Bad: The statistics – no overview, ability to export and other issues that make it confusing
The Ugly: No community management or monitoring at all
Overall: Great service for those who are new to using social media for marketing
The Price: $30 (approximately £20) every month
Score: 4/5

While I love the gap that this app fills – it is a good start but for a business to make the most of their social media they do need guidance and strategy from a specialist. As a social media marketer for 10 years for organisations big and small, I am a freelancer so that I can help businesses develop their brand and grow their business. If you want more information my services and how I can help your business, email me now on aspender@lillyringlet.com.

Want to find out more – check out my detailed review of each section.

Disclaimer: To do this review I had a free 3 month subscription to their standard service and Guru to assess the service.

 


A month of learning BSL on blue background with hand gestures in the background

Day 20 – the importance of learning styles

I have not been using Flashsticks for 6 days now and it is hard.

I know that what I am doing is relearning signs now from 5 years ago but without the ability to get a video of the sign it is much harder. I also miss not having them around the house so I don’t have those nice little reminders throughout the day.
Learning a language is hard, especially on your own, so it is best to choose a style that suits you. I think this is why those signs that me and BF have to talk about I now always remember. Talking has always been such a great way to learn things – that is why classes were discussion was involved were my strongest subjects. I excelled at History for my GCSE’s because the teacher realised that we needed to be able to defend or “discuss” various points in an exam and doing that in a fun and open conversation was the best way to do this. The same was for Religious Education and despite having to learn a lot about two religions that were not my own (I did Islam and Judaism) I managed to get an A without any revision.
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5 years ago when I was learning sign language in Bournemouth, it was not an accredited course but a student who wanted to help increase those who knew the basics. The course was full of staff, like my self, and students who all wanted to learn it for varying reasons. For many it was to help them with their job – whether that was a current role to talk to students, or something that would help students in the care or tourist industry later on in life. Others were there due to an general interest in language, to talk to family members or in one case to be able to chat up a girl.

We had two students who had known sign language all their lives leading the classes; one had a father who was a translator and the other had a brother who was deaf. While they lead the classes with lots of talking and discussion, they were always very open with just how strict all of their classes had been – in sign language classes there is normally no talking what so ever. For me this would be terrible – I am best learning vocal words with the sign or paired with a funny story or way to remember various signs. I would love to go back to classes but I know that I would struggle in such a strict environment.

In the past I have tried to learn words to French, Italian and Spanish songs for my grade 6 and 7 singing exams. It was always so difficult and my singing teacher found it a struggle as I never had an issue at the technical songs that he would send my way. I have tried again with another teacher who tried a different approach – she would make funny jokes or stories to make these random sounds make sense. It took so much longer yet it did work – compared to before where it would take 6 months to learn a song in another language I was able to pick up one in less than a month! Learning style does really make a difference and this month covering two different styles has really highlighted this.

Tomorrow I will go back to using Flashsticks again – and I am not ashamed to say that I will not miss trying to learn it off the old vocabulary sheets (even though I have learnt them all before). I have lost a lot of the drive and guidance that I had using flash sticks. As I would pull off the word and stick it around the house as well as the handy list of the back that I had a clear indication of what I had covered. It was easier for BF to get involved and easier for him to test me on that days words and passed ones covered. Now he has to file through the flash sticks list and piles of paper – it is not as fun or easy so he is not as inspired to take part.

As I am now passed the halfway point and I only have 11 days left that remembering all of these words are buzzing around my head. There are many now ingrained but keeping all of them in seems to be difficult – I am not sure if this is because of the different learning style or the vast number of signs covering. I am actually tempted to feel like it is more about the learning style.

The last 6 days have been such a vivid reminder of how important it is to learn in a way that suits you best. Hopefully when I go back to flashsticks tomorrow that I will have the fun time at the start of this challenge with BF getting more involved in the challenge again.

Do you have a preferred learning style? Do you have a tip on learning signs or languages? Do you struggle with learning new languages – have you given up or have you found a trick that helps you? I would love to hear from you so leave a comment below.

Please note that I am not being paid by flash sticks and all of this is my own opinion. They have only provided me with a set of their beginners BSL flash sticks set after I approached them concerning this project with the plan to review them at the end of the month – this is what I plan to do at the end of the challenge.


a month of learning BSL green

Day 11 – It is starting to get hard

I am over the 10 day stage and tomorrow I’ll have over 50 signs to remember! Keeping all 47 current signs is starting to be challenging. Not only is the difficulty coming from the large number of signs in a short period but also in how the signs are becoming more and more difficult.

Compared to the first day with signs like eat and drink to today’s of funny and know are so much harder as they aren’t as obvious.  After three days of practicing them they seem to be so much easier to recall but the day after initially learning them is always so hard! Today I have had to remind myself what “better” was from yesterday – this seems to be happening more as the vast array or words I am trying to remember in a short time increases. I have after all managed to learn and remember 47 new words in BSL in only 11 days – this is not something that was possible in the past when I have tried to learn a language.

I think that I have managed this impressive feat due to a mix of how I have challenged myself to learn 4 each day, be tested by BF on all these words regularly and using flashsticks dotted around the flat to remind me every so often. It seems to be working, I have passed all of BF’s tests so far (other than occasional disagreements over the paper vs video version of the sign). My favourite sign has to be bread – those that know me will know just how much I love eating and making bread! Currently the bread post it sits on the food processor and makes me giggle whenever I go in the kitchen. I know BF’s is between “good” and “difficult” due to a joke we have running between the two of us.

I must say that despite having the difficulty increasing that this is still a thrilling challenge – each day has its own challenges of what the new words will be. Tomorrow I will have over 50 signs under my belt in 12 days. It is a fantastic feeling and it makes me feel so proud each time I pass BF’s tests.

Flashsticks have been so useful but there is a flaw in using the post it notes around the flat – me. I am never great at deciding where to put things and this goes with post its too. I still can’t decide where to put about 8 of my previously learned words so they are above the mirror in my office. It is things like “bad” and “0” – where would you put the word bad in a flat?  Most words have an obvious place but I still need to work out where these few oddities should live. I can’t wait until the app is updated – it will be interesting to see how different it is from the current one.

I can’t wait now until tomorrow and having 50 words under my belt! I can’t believe that this key milestone is coming around so quickly – I never thought that it would be this easy, fun and challenging all at once.

Have you got any tips for learning new signs? Or a new language? Have you used flashsticks before – what do you think of them? Where do you think I should put the “bad” post it note? Leave a comment below as I would love to hear from you!

A month of learning BSL on blue background with hand gestures

 


5 a day branding with courgette fries on a plate

Day 18 – Riverford Courgette fries

I am so proud of myself – today I made a recipe that Riverford kindly sent me and it came out so well that even BF liked it! With my new found love of courgettes I decided to try out their courgette fries and they came out incredibly well.

It is a simple recipe – it only has four ingredients; milk, flour, olive oil and a courgette.

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Last Christmas me and BF got a range of kitchen gear from his family after they heard about us cooking most of our food from scratch. We got things like a stripy apron, chopper thing (which I use for nut-roasts all the time), grater and more. Within the array of items we got a blade on a corkscrew – and it is awesome! It means that you can make spiral veg which is not only fun but very pretty. I have used it before; spiral carrots really impress people so I usually find an excuse to serve them up.

To use it you simply chop off the ends of your chosen veg and carefully screw in the corkscrew into the veg. It is then just a simple task of spinning the tool around and around (all while avoiding to cut your self on the blade cutting though your veg). You end up with pretty veg that is evenly cut all the way down and, if you are careful, all in one piece.

Now you can make these fries without this dangerous yet creative tool by slicing courgettes into thin strips – in fact this is what is written in the instructions from Riverford but I’ve never been great at following recipes to the letter in someway.

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Once you have your courgette cut you dip each one in milk, shake it off a little and then dip in flour until it is covered in a layer of flour. Now my hands got so messy with this task but it was so much fun and looked incredible. It was a blessing and a curse using lines of spiral veg; I only had to do it a few times I also had to make sure that I got the milk and flour evenly throughout the layers. I was so proud though as my lines of spiraled courgette laid on the side neatly covered in flour.

For years we have been told not to have deep fat fryers or deep fry food so it was scary for me to pour a thick layer of olive oil into a pan and heated up. I have seen the damage that pan fires can do after all the demonstrations I have seen from going to and working at university – the number of times pan fires and other dangerous kitchen practices have ruined shared kitchens makes them invest to try and stop it. The “water on a panfire” display is always flashing through my mind when dealing with oil in the kitchen with the terrifying 10ft flames forever ingrained in my head.

I felt so nervous putting in more than 1cm oil even in my tall edged little pan but thought I would get away with it – and I did! With the pan of oil nicely warm I carefully dipped in my first spiral of courgette to a fizzle of small bubbles trying to engulf it. As not all of the courgette was in the oil I had to keep turning and flipping it but sure enough after a minute of two I pulled out what looked very yummy. I slowly repeated this for the rest of my spirals and sure enough in under 10 minutes I had a plate of freshly made courgette chips.

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I wasn’t sure if this recipe would work but it really did! I have tried roasting courgettes in the oven and I had always failed – they never were crispy and just burnt and withered into nothingness. These courgettes however were simple, crispy and delicious.

I have never been a fan of potatoes – I only eat very crispy thin chips as this plant just tastes of dirt to me otherwise. Courgette crisped up so beautifully but also didn’t taste of dirt but an almost refreshing delicate taste and texture.

I adore this recipe – it was so simple and such an delicious alternative to potatoes. I would highly recommend you trying this recipe out – you might even find fussy kids loving this dish. Chips are often used as a tool to get kids interested in potatoes so why not try it with courgettes!

Riverford seem to have been able to create recipes that are yummy but also almost foolproof – I know now that I will have to try out some of their other recipes.

So today has been delicious and added yet another simple way to add veg to my daily life. I know many will shout out how bad frying things can be but I never really ever get anything else fried (as I said potatoes taste like dirt) so I’m not worried about the occasional treat.

 

Will you be trying out this recipe? Have you tried this before? Do you have a favourite veg (other than potatoes) that you like fried? What recipes would you suggest me trying? Do you find you prefer these chips to potato ones? I would love to hear from you so leave a comment below.

5 a day branding with courgette fries on a plate


Vegfest UK – Chocolate company reviews

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to go to Vegfest UK at the Brighton Centre – it was an incredible experience and you can read all about it here. There was so much to see and do at Vegfest that it wouldn’t fit in one blog post – there were so many different chocolate, food and home stands that there was enough to write a series on each aspect! In this vain I thought that I would highlight the best, the worst and the unique for each of these topics. As chocolate seemed to be everywhere at the festival (and it generally is a popular topic among veggies, vegans and carnivores) that this would be the best topic to start with.

Ironically as a supertaster I am not a fan of milk chocolate – that said I am good at tasting nasty under laying tastes or chemicals. For me it was going to interesting to see how they dealt with trying to recreate milk chocolate without the use of any dairy products. So here are the chocolate highlights (and low points) of my journey around the Vegfest UK in Brighton.

It was clear from the first few stalls the level of chocolate that would be present at this event – of the first three stalls two of them sold some chocolate food, while the third was a make-up stall with chocolate themed names for their colours!

Caravan vegfest uk

The first chocolate shop that I got to try was Caravan with its table covered in beautifully wrapped chocolate bars. As it was all about their fillings rather than flavoured chocolate, there was only two tasters on the table – their take on a vegan milk chocolate and a thick chocolate caramel filling.

As this was the first vegan chocolate that I tried, it was a little overwhelming. It was a rich full bodied chocolate but with a creamy sweet undertone that most vendors seemed to struggle to obtained. It was the caramel though that got my attention, it was one of the most beauitful caramels that I have tried for a while! Though I wasn’t a fan of the chocolate edge to it – it was thick, creamy, sweet and a complex enjoyable journey for the taste buds. I was gutted to hear that they didn’t sell it on its own (as most people would prefer it inside chocolate).

I wish that I hadn’t tried this first as I would have realised then just how exception company are compared to most in creating a vegan but yummy chocolate, which is also available with a yummy caramel fillings! Check out their website as they sell so many different variations – they might have something that will capture your imagination.

imageIronically one of the other chocolate companies that was actually enjoyable was the Raw Chocolate Company – their table was filled with jars upon jars of tasters so that you could try every flavour. I was clear approaching the table that this was already a popular company as I heard the excited shrieks of girls and chatting of excited as they saw a brand they adored. The table was flocked with people talking in excitement to the stall holders about new flavours, admiration of their products or stocking up on lots of their favourite chocolate taking advantage of a special offer for the show.

The wrappers may not look as elegant or fancy as others but the vibrate branding echos the experience of eating their product. Their focus is very much on the chocolate than any fillings or appearances. Their vanoffee chocolate – what they call their “white chocolate” is the best milk chocolate that you will find. It was creamy with toffee taste lightly coming through. This was the lightest milk vegan chocolate that I found all day and definitely tasted the best.

Again as this was one of the first chocolate stalls that I came across, I didn’t realise until later how good this really was. It turned out that the best chocolate companies were hidden in the side corridors or stuck in corners – the ones that I either found last or first because of this.

There wasn’t just chocolate but desserts, soaps, perfumes, milk and sauces that were chocolate themed. Chocolate was really everywhere with almost every other stall having at least one chocolate product. Having been to quite a few food festivals or fairs, chocolate is prominent but not to the extent it was at this Vegan Festival.

Clearly milk chocolate is a product that vegans miss and so these tables boasting something like the childhood treat or offering free chocolate tasters were flocked by excited vegans. While it might be listed as a vegan festival, the number of lactose intorlate people I found exploring their options in the world of food, especially chocolate, was incredible. I met a lady who was allergic to milk so using the Vegfest to find and test out milk free products – her main goal was to find a chocolate those as she missed eating milk chocolate.

Now in the food hall there were more chocolate companies but right until the last stall I was just let down again and again compared to the first few that I had had the opportunity to try out. Many tried to hide this through crafty methods such as having no tasters, or the gentleman I met at Plamil Foods.

Right in the middle of the main hall was Scoff – a stunning fudge company I would highly recommend. Her fudge was beautiful and even compared to non-vegan fudge it is definately worth checking out – she even sold chocolate and bailey’s flavoured fudge. It for me was a beautiful food high – I am not ashamed to admit that I am a sugar addict. While I was tasting some amazing fudge I heard a voice above the crowds and accompanying giggles and murmers of an audience forming. I joined in half way to listen and take in this man’s speech about the “whoas of all the other vegan chocolate companies” before he finally started to talk about his own chocolate. Here in front of crowds of people he spoke of the terrible junk that everyone else puts in their vegan chocolates, that not only are bad for you (none of which was true) but made their take on a vegan milk chocolate horrible. After the mildly enjoyable experience of the other vegan chocolates, I was interested to try this wonder chocolate. After having gone on for 5 minutes about the terrors of their competitors, he finally spent 2 minutes explaining how his was creamy and full of only naturally good ingredients.

plamil foods vegfest reviewNow this I had to try – here was an outright claim of the best chocolate I was going to try all day that resembled normal milk chocolate so I picked up a piece as he handed out samples to try. As I am a supertaster I tried to take the smallest piece but craftily this company was giving away big chunks which impressed everyone around me. Even that smaller piece was way too much as I nibbled a small corner expecting a silky and creamy taste as described to be hit like a tonne of bricks by an awefully bitter taste. It was so overwhelmingly bitter and rich that everyone thought I was choking on it! The sales man even came over saying “are you ok – I know it tastes so nice and creamy but don’t choke trying to gulf it down!”

Of course after regaining my composure I explained that the overly bitter taste had overwhelmed me only for him to walk up and tell me that I was tasting a creamy chocolate not a bitter one. That is correct – Plamil Foods sales guy stood there trying to tell me what my own taste buds were saying – here is a stupidly rich bitter chocolate that you can not eat any more of but still I was being told I was incorrect. I rebutted with how I was a supertaster and that this was the most bitter chocolate I had tried all day and could I have a bin to put the rest of this slightly nibbled chocolate and was ignored. I am not surprised – here his sales tact was working on large audience but some 5″2 girl was telling him this chocolate that he had worked for years on to get it to taste a little creamy only using natural vegan ingredients was heavily bitter…

It was though after all a clever sales tact – in a crowd everyone else agreed how creamy and silky it was but as they disappeared to other stalls you could hear the voices of those also underwhelmed by the claims. Crowds displays can be so effective as mob mentality kicks in – how often have you been swayed by stalls that put forward someone who captures a crowd to sell something you really would not have bought otherwise! For their “lots of this – none of that” range this was going to be an effective way to draw in customers to buy from them – even if it was for their more expensive ranges that also had tasters scatters on their large corner stall.

imageIt however in second place when it came to taste experiences at the Vegfest – number one position also went to another chocolate company called Cocoafeliz. Now by this point it was clear almost every single chocolate company had tasters – even Plamin foods with their take on milk chocolate had a extensive range of things that you could try. Near the edge of the main hall was this incredible looking stall of glass cabinets all filled with all sorts of chocolates within. Half of them were vegan milk, white and dark chocolates but in shapes of Doctor Who and star wars creatures and items but the rest were carefully laid out to give the impression that you get when going into a boutique chocolate store. Gold and red colours made the chocolates look stunning and worth the £1.50 per tiny chocolate.

For the first time in years from exploring boutique chocolate shops or food fairs I finally came across for me the hold grail of chocolates – caramel in white chocolate! As you can imagine I was overjoyed – here I was facing what clearly was one of the most elegant chocolate stalls at the whole of the show and they were selling a chocolate I only see once every 5 years.

Now at this point I was starting to run out of cash, and as it was £1.50 per chocolate I only decided to get one and then order more online – that was the plan until I bit into it and then threw up into my hand! That is right – I threw up because Cocoafeliz had created a chocolate that was so disgusting and then had the indignity to charge £1.50 for each vomit inducing chocolate. What’s worse is that as I had been so eager to try out this chocolate that I threw up in front of the stall that even when I asked to put the chocolate and other residue into a bin I could see was behind their stall I was ignored and sneered at. Yes I may have involuntarily scared away the 6 people looking at their chocolates but there I was standing with throw up in my hand in front of their stall.

imageLuckily I was rescued by the wonderful man at Soul Juices who let me use his bin but also gave me a napkin to clean it up. It turns out that he and a couple of other stalls I talked to after that point had fallen for the glitz of their stall and ordered a box which now resided in a bin uneaten. It was so off putting but I am glad that I did continue to try foods here and there as I found Mini Moos – the last stall I visited in the main hall as it was tucked away in a corner.

While I must admit that Caravan and Raw Chocolate Factory make good vegan ‘milk’ chocolate, I loved Mini Moo because they had a honeycombe covered chocolate that was creamy and sweet as honey. Trying out their chocolate it was clear to see that they were passionate about creating a chocolate experience that wasn’t about trying to recreate milk chocolate but something interesting and yummy. For someone like me it was a joy to try so much that I even purchased three of their mini bars!

If you love chocolate – whether or not you are vegan – I would suggest that you check out your local Vegfest as you might find something exciting and interesting to try. It is a fun and exciting experience full of passionate chocolate makers who are really interesting to talk to.

Do you have a favourite vegan chocolate? Did you to a local vegfest and find a great chocolate item? Are you thinking of going to a Vegfest now? Have you tried any of the companies I tried – and if so what do you think of them? I would love to hear about your experiences and opinions so leave a comment below!


Vegfest UK review 2015

Brighton Vegfest UK review

I will openly admit that I am neither vegan or vegetarian but I do date one – I have have seen the trouble the BF has to go through to find food he can eat with his allergy to meat! My journey with vegetarian food however started before we met – I have been a fan of using veggie sausages for the last 10 years.

When I was given the opportunity to attend Vegfest UK in Brighton I jumped at the chance! Here in one place was going to be some of the best veggie food companies showing (and selling) their wares.

Not only did I get ticket for VegFest in Brighton, but I got VIP tickets! I have never been a VIP, only an IP or someone who had helped organise the event. I got a pack two weeks before the event with loads of great information, £5 voucher for food, VIP ticket, schedule and information on where the VIP entrance was. It was so exciting going through the information and slowly I counted down the days to the exploration into the Veggie world.

imageAs I had a business meeting booked on Saturday, I could only go to the Sunday event so I made my way to the VIP entrance around the back of the Brighton Centre. It was scary walking through the door as I hasn’t sure if I got the right door but the wonderful staff inside were very supportive and helpful as I dug out my ticket, got my hand stamped and wondered up the stairs.

As I had taken the VIP entrance to get in I didn’t have to wait in the blustering wind in a queue and found myself upstairs. It wasn’t until later that I realised that I was on the upper level of the event as I just got lost in the stalls round me.

Cherry and Choc dessert at Vegfest UK Brighton

A corridor stretched out ahead of me with stalls down only one side and very few visitors – it wasn’t until later that I realised that as I had started upstairs, I was missing the heavy crowds amassing downstairs. As I had never gone to one of these events before, I was expecting a lot of food and was surprised at the array of different industries that lay in front of me – the first stall sold cruelty-free make-up followed by a table covered in the most colourful desserts I have ever seen!

It was clear that my impressions of what this event was going to be all about were shattered as I carefully studied a world free of fur, leather, meat or even animal testing. Chocolate seemed to be everywhere – from “BFG” dessert for £3.50 a slice to free tasters of chocolate sauce but testers of handwash, cheese and crackers were available just in the first few corridors I explored.

 

Finally I made my way through some double doors and there was what could only be described as a heaven for hungry veggies – all around was food and drink stalls with their cooking food filling the room with a mix of flavours so strong that you could practically taste from the air.

It was amazing the range of food available – from tiny delicate (yet expensive) finger food to amazing cider brandy (which I did have to buy!) As I managed to arrive in this food hall early on I was able to get see what every company had to offer – something that was not possible at all when I visited mid way through the day. The drinks available were just as colourful as the food, with a cute lemonade stall (powered by solar panels!) sat next to an impressive bar with an array of beers and ales available to try.

imageThe layout of the food hall lead directly into a massive hall – I am not ashamed to say that I was too lost in a veggie bites before I realised the enormous number of stalls that lay ahead but when it did I had to stop for a second. This was the moment I really understood the size of this event and why many people attend across two days.

When I first made my way into the main hall, it was quite and I could easily reach each stalls but as more people made their way upstairs it got busier and busier until it was hard to move in any direction.

imageIt was in this hall that the culture of vegan and veggies came through – there were so many non-food organisations selling magazines, faux-leather shoes, washing machine products, make-up, or raising awareness of a cause.

I got lost for hours tasting as much as possible and seeing what every stall had to offer but sometimes this was not possible – Ms Cupcake had sold out of everything by noon!

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After finally exploring all of the stalls upstairs I finally made my way down one of the many staircases to what I thought would only be yet more stalls but it was here that lots of rooms were set out for talks, displays, performances and even a cinema. Half of the stalls I had left to explore were also part of a sub-festival called Hempfest. It was here that people openly spoke about the benefits of using hemp for clothing, building resources and health reasons. The pillars were dressed with informative posters while a man spoke passionately about his opinion on the legalisation of hemp in all its forms across the UK to a crowd as I explored this mini festival.

The green and brown colours through finally gave way to the colourful stalls of the Vegfest again as I found my way to the cinema area. At first I was convinced that I would sit and watch one of the short films but then music to my left started to play. Two yoga gear clad individuals walked into a circle made from leaflets and started what I can only explain a mix of horizontal gymnastics and ballet. All attention was drawn to these talented individuals even as the performance came to an end after 4 minutes. This for me ended Vegfest on an extraordinary high – showing the array available at the Vegfest event. Luckily I managed to film most of it so you can watch this awesome display below!

So what did I learn from Vegfest UK? There is more to the veggie and vegan culture than just food, that there are loads of vegan chocolate companies and vegan pastries sell out really quickly! There is more than food at this event and I can’t wait to go again next year!

There was so much at the event that I have written individual posts about food, causes and home items. There were so many chocolate products and stalls that I have created a chocolate blog too! Check these out over the next week to find out what company makes the best veggie chocolate (and which one to avoid) as well as what is my new favourite olive oil and shampoo.

Have you ever been to a veggie festival? What is your favourite food festival or event?