Highly Recommended : November 2011

Welcome to my occasional series of recommendations.  Here are my star items for November 2011 from the gifts and samples I have been sent this month and some personal recommendations too.

What's in my handbag - Part 2

I am currently changing handbags.  Again!  Simply because when a Kate Benjamin handbag arrives from the 'vintage glamour' section of Accessories Direct, in it's own dust bag, wafting that gorgeous smell of leather around, you just have to indulge!  I have an unnecessary obsession with handbags and shoes, but at least they are always guaranteed to fit!

Competitions on blogs : should we charge to host them?

Since I renamed and relaunched this blog a couple of years ago, I have had some fantastic opportunities with plenty of learning curves along the way.  I believe that I am accountable for the content I hold on my blog space and that is an enormous responsibility.  Apart from the occasional featured post (clearly marked, paid-for content), everything on my blog is my own work, my own ideas, my own experiences.  That is what makes it individual.

If you are a regular reader you will know that I occasionally host a giveaway or a competition.  Some of my readers have been the recipients of great prizes.  I enjoy the interaction between brand representatives (a.k.a. PR's) and myself and I wholly believe that PR's contact me because I work hard at my blog and I reach a wide and diverse audience.  Social media networking plays a large part too.  I also know that they find me through the number of ‘charts’ that use rankings – namely the Tots100, Wikio and the original Britmums Klout list.  I receive an enormous amount of offers and press releases each week and choose to work with the brands that I feel fit in well with me, my family and the readers on my blog.  I spend time filtering through the offers and I reply to almost every email I receive (but not the press releases) even if it is to say something on the lines of “thanks but no thanks, however please keep me on your mailing list”.

What is becoming a popular pitch is ‘an amazing opportunity to run a competition’.  I always request the product to review or offer my media pack which details any charges for featured posts.  The return email from the PR is almost always that they have no budget to pay for featuring their content and they only have the prizes available for the competition but believe my blog would benefit from increased traffic.  

It may be worth remembering that the PR contacting me is being paid for their time already.  These PR's appear to value my status but not my time and effort. 

What you decide to publish on your blog is most definitely your decision and you may want a traffic boost.  Sure, some competition entrants may stick around and become engaged in my content but let's look at it another way.  For the grand sum of £0.00 the PR would like me to write a couple of hundred words (sometimes more), organise and moderate a competition over a period of time, fairly and legally pick a winner, notify the winner, handle sensitive data such as personal email addresses and delivery addresses and be the buffer between winner and PR if the prize doesn’t arrive when promised.  All for the privilege of increased traffic which, if the competition proves to be popular, could actually cause my blog to crash as there is a limit to the bandwidth provided.  It would then be up to me to pay my webhost more money for more bandwidth.  

PR’s that do catch my attention are those that think outside of the box a little bit.  Maybe set me a challenge or know that I have teenage children and grandchildren (and don’t even get me started on the ones that haven’t bothered to read my “About Me” page where it details that I live in the North West of England and I work full time – no, I can’t attend a 1.5 hour event in London in four days time!).  The PR's that respect the time and energy that goes into the commercial side of blogging are the ones that I don't mind going the extra mile for.  I might promote something on my Facebook page or Twitter account for them - these places are an extension of me and my blog, after all.

Making my blog slightly commercial was a difficult decision for me to make and I am always reassessing the way in which I present review posts or featured content including creating a disclosure policy that is fair to myself, the brands and my readers.  I want people to read my blog because I provide interesting content with the occasional perk of winning a prize or finding a new product that I recommend (or not - not all reviews are positive).  I want them to return because they like my ‘voice” and I want them to recommend it to their friends. 

Who is providing the guidelines for this very new way in content promotion?  Do the PR’s think that we, as a collective of bloggers, have a general set of guidelines already agreed?  Have we been given the full legal information about running competitions on our blog?  What about promotion on social media platforms?  

Who is there to manage any problems should it all go wrong?

The Perfect Christmas Stocking

Trying to find Christmas presents for teenagers that are both affordable and will be a big hit can prove to be difficult.  Idealo - the price comparison website - have conducted some research and found that the average amount that parents spend on each child at Christmas has risen by 63% from £75 in 1995 to £168 in 2010.

So, Idealo set me a challenge.  They provided me with a kitty of £75 and I had to attempt to put together the perfect Christmas stocking for one of my boys.  I had to find the items on the internet and (preferably) use their price comparison website to try and get the best deal.  Here is what I bought:

The Inbetweeners Movie

Fifa12 for the XBox 360

Remote Control Spinster

Drinking Glasses

Two tins of Celebrations
£4.50 each

TOTAL:  £73.68
NB: online prices may change

Now I think that's a Christmas stocking that will suit any teenage boy.  I'm lucky because my boys are old enough to understand how much the items on their wishlist cost.  They don't want little bits and pieces of games any more (but they still get the traditional stocking on the end of their bed - sweets, a comic/magazine, some Christmas tat, socks and underpants (it's a family tradition) and the obligatory satsuma) but it's still a sign of them getting older wyhen you see their Christmas present pile looking a lot smaller.

Using the price comparison website allowed me to find the best deals on the day that I was ordering.  Plus it was really easy to use - you just type your product into the search bar at the top of the website and a list drops in with prices displayed and direct links to the online shop.  You can see how I filtered "Fifa12 XBox 360" to just get the best prices and just searching in the XBox 360 category.  It's a great way to save money or to make your budget stretch that little bit further.

So, what would you buy if you had £75?  Would you spend it on a treat for yourself?  Would you get one main present for your nearest and dearest or a few smaller items?  What are you hoping is in your Christmas stocking this year?

Idealo contacted me and asked to me help them with this feature.
For more details about featured posts please see my disclosure policy.

A Bit Of A Do

When I featured the new #FaceOfRegis and their Rock, Lock and Load competition a couple of weeks ago (which doesn't close until 3rd January 2012) Regis Salons invited me to have a cut and colour by way of a "thank you".

My hair hasn't been its natural colour since I started going grey at the age of 21 and I've probably been every colour you can think off (apart from green).  I've had bleaching disasters (think along the lines of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland), had to go to work with a dye stain down the back of my neck after home colouring sloppiness and I've had every length of hair going from one extreme to the other when having it cut (from shoulder length hair to clippered at the back in one fell swoop).  I also don't mind experimenting with styles but it never looks the same after the day I step out of the salon.

Blognonymous : Love or Career - WWYD?

This post was submitted to me within the ethos of Blognonymous.  This contributor doesn't blog but heard about the Blognonymous team from a blogger in our community.  

This is an interesting quandary and one I'm sure you'll all have something to contribute; personal experience, friends who have been in a similar situation or even just your own opinion.

If you would like to offer any kind of support in the comments but prefer to remain anonymous yourself then there is a "guest comment" facility - sign out of Disqus (if you have used it before), write your comment, click "Post as..." and you will see "guest" appear as an option.

If you would like to contact the Blognonymous team please click on the image to the right for more details.

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Is it me or is it them?

Did I disappoint every one again?
You know when you feel you can't do right for doing wrong...
Is that why they have all but cut me out of their lives
Or do I have to try harder to make them

I have to question if they still love me or
If live just takes over, as I know it does.
Is it because the memory of the one person
That held us together is

I said the wrong thing and apologised
But it didn't mend the gap
Only made it wider.
When that happens, do you leap or do you

No-one to ask how I'm doing or
How I am coping with everything here.
Everyone expecting me to carry on being
The strong one.  Which, at the best of times is

Two people, ignoring me and still
Expecting me to make an effort.
Talking shouldn't be this hard and
I just want someone to tell me I'm doing


Children In Need 2011

This time last year I was telling you about my inclusion in an anthology of creative writing of which all profits were being donated to Children In Need.  You can still buy the book, you know - Tiny Acorns is HALF PRICE on the Dotterel Press website now (and postage is free).

So what is going on this year?

The Build-A-Bear Workshop have teamed up once more with Children in Need to create a very special Pudsey and his BFF, Blush.  Last year Build-A-Bear sold over 11,500 Pudsey and Blush bears with £5.00 from the sale of each going directly to the charity - the total donation was £135,000 and they hope to top that this year.  This year, Pudsey has brand new pajamas and slippers and Blush has a new pinafore.  £1.00 from the sale of the outfits is also donated to Children in Need.

Note: The Pudsey Bear retails at £15; Pudsey Bear t-shirt at £5; Pudsey Bear Pyjamas at £10 and the Pudsey Bear slippers at £3.50.  Blush Bear retails at £15; Blush Bear t-shirt at £5 and the Blush Bear dress at £10

Unfolding The Complexities Of #Meningitis

What do you think the main symptom of meningitis is?  The rash?
Have a look at this video then keep reading to see if you are right!


Movember and more...

If you've not already heard about Movember then where have you been hiding? Movember is a charity that raises the profile of prostate and other cancers that affect men.  They raise awareness by encouraging the testosterone enhanced among us to be sponsored to grow some face furniture during the month of November... Moustache + November = Movember.  Geddit?

So those of us aren't blessed with a furry top lip (f'nar), what can we do?  Stop bleaching, plucking or waxing for a month?  Oooohhh no... there's a much easier way to go and Mo'.  FACEBOOK!

Debate : Underage Video Gaming

The day Modern Warfare 3 was released there was a great online discussion sparked over on the Blogger.Ed forum regarding the reasons why games and films have classification, especially since the popularity of first-person shooting games grew.

The males in this family are all big gamers.  My husband has a PS3 and an Xbox 360 (both online) and the two boys have an Xbox 360 each (one online, one not).   My sons are 18 and 12 and have unlimited internet access on the computers in their bedrooms and I have always let them play on games that may be rated above their actual age.   

Ruth from Geekmummy has a husband who is also an enthusiastic gamer and they have two young children.  They have very clear views on what they will and will not allow their children to have access to when it comes to online content and it has sparked a very interesting debate.  

You can join the debate over at GEEKMUMMY today 
and we would be grateful for any comments, input and experiences.

To carry on with my point of view over here, if my children had been a similar age to Ruth's then I would (and I did) have a much more focused outlook on what my children would be able to access.  However, they have been part of the growth of the online gaming culture and, as you can see from my side of the debate, we have attempted to discuss various situations that could arise along with the fact that we believe we know our children best and we offer appropriate supervision.

What do you think?  Do you stick to legal classifications (even with films) or do you relax the rules because you know what your children are capable of handling and understanding?

What does "VEGETARIAN" mean to you?

If you ordered a "vegetarian platter" and a "meat platter" of sandwiches for a business lunch, would you expect prawn/salmon on the vegetarian one?

This was the question I put to my Facebook and Twitter possé the other day after an incident at a well-known supermarket.

X Factor - Week 5 - Live Blog

The Transatlantic Blonde asked me to live blog the X-Factor show this week whilst she's living it up in America.  Here's a snippet but click through to read the rest...
Kelly is back from her skive, Tulia is trying it on for the sympathy vote, Gary is moaning about what a tough job it’s turned out to be and Louis is playing the ‘bitch to the media’ card a couple of weeks early. It’s Club Classic Floor Fillers Dancefloor Classics week, people, and I’m all prepared for a little bit of chair dancing and a sing-a-long so let’s hope I’m not disappointed. PLUS it’s an X Factor DOUBLE ELIMINATION this week so everyone is at risk


Screw Fix?

I have become acquainted with people from all walks of life during my time online.  What I never expected was the revelation that one of those friends was the owner of a now-defunct online adult toy store.   He was clearing the attic out one day and discovered a couple of boxes of old stock.  I logged on to our mutual forum to find him offering free goodie boxes to his friends.  First come, first served.

Well, what's a girl to do?  Free is free, right?  And everything needs renewing from time to time, doesn't it?

So we conversed a little by email and he arranged to send the box by courier so that it would arrive, in plain packaging, on a Saturday.  The doorbell rang at about 2pm and I signed for the box.  It was heavy and I also noticed that it was sealed with 'Screwfix' branded tape.  "You sarcastic, sod, Andy!" I sniggered under my breath.  It was uncharacteristically quiet in our house so I prepared to peel off the tape and have a sneak preview.

I was greeted with a box full of nuts and bolts - varying shape and sizes. Cue: confused face

Five seconds later someone rattled the letterbox.  I went to answer the door and found a very flustered courier holding a slightly smaller box.  He explained that he had turned up at the next delivery address and noticed that he had mixed the packages up.  I quickly resealed the first box and made the swap, noting that my box hadn't been tampered with.  *Phew*

Can you imagine what the other person would have thought if they'd have been presented with a box full of appendages of varying colour, shape and size and an abundance of other kinky paraphernalia instead of their shiny silver bits and pieces?

Oh, and you know how Emily had problems finding a way to dispose of a vibrator?  We had the same dilemma with two full sized half-arm fists.  In their original packaging.  And, no, you can't list them on eBay, so I found out, but you can triple bag them and put them in the "non-recyclable" crusher at your local waste disposal centre.

Top Tip to make new boots last longer

I have a fantastic Top Tip straight from a cobbler that will make your boots last twice as long.

These boots were made for working...
I bought these boots from Tesco yesterday after searching high and low for a pair of flat heeled, black, knee-high boots that were actually in my price range (i.e. as cheap as cheap can be without actually being free), completely flat and truly knee-high.  I needed them for work.

Our local friendly cobbler told me that ALL new boots should be resoled and reheeled before wear as many boots and shoes are made with very thin soles which wear out quite easily.  There must be some truth in the theory because my last pair of boots lasted me four years after an initial resole.

Unless he's talking cobblers, of course, and I've just fallen for the oldest trick in the book: "How to make money out of gullible customers and keep a dying trade in business."

PS:  The boots are lovely; really comfortable and I'm probably going back to buy the same pair in brown when I have some spare cash.  Shame they're not leather.

Remembrance Day

Today I am guest posting over at Domestic Goddesque

In November of each year, all the local forces organisations, voluntary groups and beyond took part in the Remembrance Day parade.  My final parade as Lance Corporal in the Girls Venture Corps was to be marker in the squad and to lay the wreath on the Cenotaph.  The greatest honour ever, in my opinion.
To read my "Remembrance Day" memory in full 
head on over there.

There's also a photo of me in uniform for you to giggle at...


EXCLUSIVE: Who is the new Face of Regis?

Watch this exclusive video to find out who the new face of Regis Salons UK is and then keep reading for all the details of an amazing competition run by Regis Salons where you can win a year's worth of hair services and a Canon 550D digital camera.

Aaaahhhhh I have SERIOUS hair envy when it comes to Emma Willis.  She always looks gorgeous, doesn't she?  I am so excited to be working with Regis Salons over the next couple of months. I'm going to check out their Preston salon and I will also be having a delve into one of their Regis Designline gift baskets before Christmas so keep an eye out for those reviews.

Emma is also going to be writing a monthly update on the Regis blog.  Also on the blog, you can also find out how you can get £10 off your next visit to your local Regis salon.

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For more information please see my disclosure policy

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