Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Instagram Tips for Beginners.

I have found myself becoming more and more interested in my photography over the last few weeks. This has led to me seeing a surge of new followers on my Instagram account and, in turn, I have discovered a great number of talented photographers. My rediscovered love of photography coincides with my rediscovered love of gardening and walking. I have neglected to blog recently because I have been outside, enjoying looking after my allotment and walking through the countryside. Obviously I have been home at times too... I haven't been wandering like a nomad...

The thing I have realised about Instagram... durrrr.... after being on it for years... is that it is an interactive place. For a long time I sat waiting for people to come and find my photos and shower me with love and admiration. Yes... I know... sickening. And stupid. Because you have to show love to get love. This does not mean that you should follow everyone in sight, no matter what their photos are like. No. But you do need to find people whose photos you like and you need to tell them that you like them. And you need to follow them. Then, hopefully they will follow you back and you can appreciate each others photographical endeavours! (I'm not sure photographical is a real word, but I'm going to use it...)

A good way to find people and to enable them to find you, is to use hashtags. When you post your photo, add a little description and some hashtags. For example... for the photo above, my most liked photo, I put descriptive tags such as #daisy #macro #flower Then people interested in those things can search and will find your photos! Easy! And look at other people's hashtags too... If you like what's clustered there... use the tag for your work!! Its a simple way of finding like minded Instagrammers.

Some people recommend following as many Instagrammers as possible, randomly, but I think this is silly advice. To be following 2000 people when you have 100 followers smacks of desperation to me. The most important factor in all this is ... the photographs. Why be on Instagram if you don't love finding interesting things to photograph? And why follow people unless their photos fill you with joy? Equally I am unlikely to follow someone who has 10,000 followers, but is only following back 200...I'd rather find someone who has 50 followers, but takes great photos and will interact. I am a bit needy... I love it when people follow my Instagram account. I will look through their photos and follow them back if they are good.But if I look at their page and its full of selfies and cats... then I'm afraid I won't follow. Its all about individual taste.

What I would say is that if you click on lots of someone's photos and obviously like what they are doing... why not follow them? I have had people who like 20 of my pictures, but who don't follow, don't interact. It galls me!! I don't mind if you don't like my photos and don't want to follow me, or if you only like one or two, but to like loads and not give me the courtesy of a follow is just... well, I could say rude, but I will say "mildly irritating" instead. After all, this is not the UN here.

My husband doesn't "get" my obsession with Instagram. He thinks the whole "follower" thing is silly, but I don't!! I love scrolling through someone's photos clicking "like" and gasping at the beauty in that little square box.I love it when someone I admire follows me back. I love it when I find a new angle, a hidden gem, and know that it will make a good photo. I know that I am not in the league of professional photographers, but I am in the league of people who take pleasure in snapping away with their phone. That's part of the joy for me... that I only use my phone... no special lenses, rarely any filters.

So... what I am trying to say is that Instagram is a place of huge variety. From flowers to food, from selfies to seascapes. Whatever your photographic preference there will be something for you to enjoy, but to enjoy Instagram fully... interact!! Post your best photos, think about your composition, make sure they are in focus ( note to self: always wear your specs to check!!) and follow people whose work you like. If people comment on your photos... comment back, thank them. Its great when someone takes the time to say they like a photo you've posted, so give them back some love!! Another good idea is to check out the photos your followers like. Its a great way to find new Instagrammers and the chances are that if your followers like your stuff, you will like the other people they follow. Its also a great way to find inspiration and to learn new ideas.

Whether you have a few followers or lots, quality always wins over quantity. Maybe I'll see you over there!

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Check Out That View!!

This time last week I was well into my first day, studying Cognitive Hypnotherapy. The university where the course is based has beautiful grounds and gardens so I couldn't resist taking photos of the flower beds!! If you look at my Instagram account for the summer time I do tend to become a tad obsessed with flowers in all their glory and I think that perhaps that time is drawing near again.Anyway.... my choice for this week's Check Out That View, hosted by the lovely Emma is the photo below. As you can see it shows one of the university flower beds looking rather glorious. I hope you like it and if you do then maybe you can click on the button below and visit some other Check Out That View participants... or maybe take part yourself!!


Friday, 1 May 2015

Retraining to Become a Cognitive Hypnotherapist.

I have worked in my current job for over 11 years. I love working as a Teaching Assistant, but since I completed my Degree in 2013 I have had my eye out for my next step. I knew that it would present itself to me. I just had to be patient. I was looking for something that would stretch my mind, be rewarding and at the same time be about giving back, helping other people. I wanted to find something that would inspire me. The solution came, as these things tend to do, out of the blue. Cognitive Hypnotherapy is my future and it found me by taking away my fear.

I had been more and more fearful of a certain situation and had decided to visit a friend of mine who is in practice as a Hypnotherapist. In one session she changed my life, or at least she enabled me to change my life. My fear was gone, no longer debilitating and I felt inspired to study hypnotherapy myself. How wonderful, to be able to help people live life as they want to live it, without fear.

I started to research courses and discovered that in the UK there is no one governing body for hypnotherapists. It is still seen as outside of the mainstream. However, I was drawn again and again to one place - an institute that is proud of its cutting edge approach to Cognitive Hypnotherapy. When I have completed my course I will share with you more, but for now I am going to keep that titbit of information private! I hope you don't mind! It will give me a reason to write again about my course, because if it continues the way it has started I am going to be raving about it!

I had my first study weekend last week and I don't think I have ever felt so positive,so inspired or excited. The weekend was fantastic from start to finish - the organisation and communication, the support given by our trainers and assistants. I learnt so much in two days. By Saturday night my mind felt like it was about explode. But in a good way. If there is a good way for your head to explode!! I went home excited and full of enthusiasm. The second day was, if anything, even better, and this time my mind felt relaxed and open. We were taught theory and then two techniques which we practised. And I can tell you .... they work like magic. Magic!

So now I have to wait a month before our next study weekend. This month is going to be spent reading and practising the techniques I have learnt. My youngest son has so far avoided my attempts at relaxation therapy or anchoring, but my eldest son has proved a brilliant subject! I have started close to home, but am gradually branching out to friends and neighbours in the quest to hone my hypnotherapy skills!

It is a little bit like being a magician. To watch someone go from being awake, nervous and unsettled to being relaxed totally and then back out the other side, awake and alert yet refreshed and calm, is truly wonderful. I have so much to learn, but the learning is awe inspiring. To be able, at the age of 51, to retrain in something which I can continue for the rest of my life, is just brilliant.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Love to Eat... Hate to Cook!!

I love eating. The way to my heart ( other than, of course, diamonds) is through my stomach. I love going out to eat, whether it be at a restaurant or a friend's house. I love the whole ritual of choice and surprise, of unusual and new flavours, of conversation, candles and crystal, of friendship, cosiness and comfort. Sadly, however, this eating experience is not one I enjoy terribly often.

I hate cooking. Not to say that I am a bad cook. In fact I would go as far as to say that I'm a pretty good cook. I make everything from scratch, choosing good ingredients and varied recipes. As a young mother I did the whole thing of freezing trays of organic sweet potato and I regularly made my own bread.

But, if I am to be completely honest? Nowadays I loathe the whole business of cooking. I hate having to cook for my family when I don't want to eat. I hate planning something and then finding that nobody is interested in eating it. The question that burns into my brain and fries my soul is "What's for dinnnneeeeeerrrr?" What is for dinner? Well, obviously something that one of you will hate, if not both of you, my darling boys!

One of my boys likes fish, the other doesn't. One likes curries, the other doesn't. One likes bacon, ham and pork, the other doesn't. This narrows down the range of dishes that they both will eat and it bores me to tears.

I find a recipe that I think everyone will enjoy and they eat it with no word of thanks or enjoyment. After a while it grinds you down.

Both my boys can cook. They often make their own lunches at the weekend. My eldest came first in a school cooking competition, making his own chicken pie from scratch at the age of 12. On Mother's Day I came home to find that my 17 year old had made a Victoria sponge for me, making butter cream and cleaning the kitchen after himself. Brilliant!

I am grateful for when they cook and I am lucky to have a husband who cooks too. But it still doesn't change the fact that I do the majority of the cooking. At the moment I have roast chicken in the oven with home made roast potatoes, cauliflower in a creamy cheesy sauce, more veg peeled and ready to steam. I will make my own gravy from the chicken juices and red wine... but its just bloody dull.

Do I sound very petulant and spoilt? I probably do. But this is my blog and if I want to have a good old moan about something petty, then I will. I suppose I'm lucky that any of them cook at all, ever. I suppose I'm lucky that I can afford nice food, that my mum taught me to bake and make sauces and follow recipes. I'm lucky in all sorts of ways, but right now, if I won the lottery I would never cook again

Audley End House ... a wonderful day out!

When the boys were little we used to go on "Days Out" all the time, but as they have grown older, hairier and generally more hormonal those days have become few and far between. Our membership of English Heritage has been lying unused for the first few months of the year and we wanted to dust off our cards and get our money's worth. Perusing the Members' Manual we found Audley End House - a rather gorgeous looking house about an hour away from home. Our eldest son, 17, decided that he was unavailable for an outing ( quelle surprise!), but amazingly our youngest, 15, joined us as we set off in the car towards Saffron Walden.

The sat nav took us in a circuitous route through beautiful countryside, lush with daffodils and early crops of Oil Seed Rape until we arrived at the gates to Audley End House. The driveway led us to a car park overlooking a lake, complete with ducks and ducklings.

Audley End House.
Due to the fact that teenagers ( and it has to be said, lazy mothers) do not get out of bed before 10 am in the school holidays, we arrived just before lunchtime and felt that the only way to proceed was to go straight to the cafe for a bite to eat. I commented on the fact that it was a shame that the cafe was in such a dark room, only to be told by my husband that if I had bothered to walk a couple of yards further I would have found the main part of the cafe which overlooks the parkland surrounding the main house, with huge windows. I don't think I will get a job offer from MI6 any time soon if observation is an important factor for being a spy...

Still, the food was nice. I had a warm individual quiche with a rocket salad. My husband had a delicious looking vegetable and bean stew. Our son went for the healthy option of crisps and a chocolate brownie. As you do.

Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photographs in the house itself, but I can assure you it is a stunning place. Built originally on the foundations of a Benedictine monastery in the 12th century it has been well cared for over the ages. At one point it was one of the greatest houses of Jacobean England.

In the 1700's Capability Brown was commissioned to landscape the gardens and Robert Adam added fashionable reception rooms.

What I loved about the house was that it felt lived in. It is as if the family are away at their London home and could be back at any minute. The kitchens, laundry rooms and stables are all restored to the way they were in the 1800's, complete with copper pots, game larders and holograms of staff working away and talking you through their days.

A huge asset, of whom English Heritage should be very proud, is the staff who wait in each room to tell you about the house, its contents and its history. The English Heritage staff are so knowledgeable and enthusiastic. They are warm and welcoming and full of fascinating facts and titbits about their particular area.

Anyone who has been to my blog before will know about my love of vegetable gardening and much as I loved the house I couldn't wait to get to the walled vegetable garden. It was magnificent!! I definitely want to come back in the summer when everything is blooming.

The kitchen garden is vast, tended by a team of gardeners and bursting with manicured beds and the most gorgeous espaliers. 

The gardens used to provide food for the house and in the glass houses there were fruit trees, vines and exotics - beautiful.

From the garden we went to the stables where I was able to try sitting on a side saddle - something I've always fancied doing. Again there were holograms of staff, this time the coachman, going through what were his daily duties. There were real horses in the stables too.

Having sampled the delights of both house and grounds we decided to try the cafe again. This time we sat by the window overlooking the grounds and indulged ourselves with Victoria sponge, hot chocolate and tea. All very nice!

We didn't have time to visit the par terre garden, but we will go along next time. And there will definitely be a next time. Even our son enjoyed himself, much to his own surprise! I think younger children would like to too as there are interactive games to be played in the Nursery, as well as clothes to dress up in. I loved the kitchen gardens, but I also found the house fascinating, from the coal gallery on the second floor to the beautiful paintings and the laundry. I loved hearing about the history of the house and the people who had lived there - from Lord Audley to Elizabeth, Countess of Portsmouth and from the Braybrookes to the Polish Special Operations  Executive who trained there during the Second World War.

If you are in the area and have a chance to visit I would strongly recommend Audley End House and if its your cup of tea you should look into joining English Heritage, then your trip will be free! Whoopeee!!!

Oh and just in case you wondered... I wrote this review because I had a lovely day out. No bribes were offered or received!!

Check Out That View. Audley End House.

I am writing a post about our day out at Audley End House, but in the meantime I thought I would link up with Emma and her Sunday photo linky Check Out That View. If you fancy having a peek at some jolly nice photos then do have a click on the button below and maybe you could join in too!

For now here's my photo. I shall post my review of our day later on hopefully!

Audley End House, Essex.