Thursday, 11 January 2018

The Cotswold Blogger Awards...

Guess what? The short list for The Cotswold Blogger Awards is out and stephloveshoney has been nominated in all four categories! I am so chuffed to be nominated and if you enjoy the blog, I'd love it if you could vote via the link below. This is the link to the 'Feelgood' category, which I'd love to think that my blog fits into nicely! Thank you to everyone who nominated my blog, you are all stars!

Friday, 29 December 2017

Tell me why...

I’m often asked three things about blogging. Why do I blog? Do I make money from it? How do I fit it in?

Why did I start?

I set up my blog while I was pregnant with Honey. At that point, I’d never used Instagram so didn’t follow anyone else’s blog religiously but saw a few posts from big bloggers pop up on Facebook occasionally, so was well aware of the Mum blog concept.

When Honey was born, I used the blog as a way to share photos of the people Honey had met without totally boring all my Facebook friends and I began to write about all the fun activities we started joining in with. I envisaged my blog as a diary for Honey and I to look back on and to use as a stimulus for conversations about ‘when I was a baby’. I was also generously given a LOT of clothes for Honey while I was pregnant and I also bought a fair few, so I thought the blog would be a fun way to record the fun we had putting outfits together for her!

After a few posts, I began to get messages asking which changing bag or buggy I had chosen and wondering if I was pleased with my choice, so I created a new page called Mummy Likes... and wrote mini reviews of my favourite baby equipment. Similarly, when I featured past season clothing and referred to it as preloved or wrote about the second hand bargains we were loving, a few people messaged to ask where I’d got hold of the items so I added Honey shares... to the site.

Since then, I’ve written about lots of our adventures, from days out and holidays to courses and classes we have attended. I generally have a pretty positive outlook on life and strive to maintain that on my blog, there isn’t much I have to rant or moan about and the very few times we’ve had a bad day out or class experience, I’ve felt no motivation to write about it!

Motivation is crucial to me, I never want to feel like I have to blog. I’ve enjoyed the learning curve so far and still have A LOT to learn (I really need to master the mobile view of my blog as unless you click ‘desktop view’ it can get a bit jumbled on a mobile) but that’s part of the fun!

I’ve met some amazing people through blogging. In the early days, it was rare but wonderful to meet people who had read my blog and now thanks to Instagram, it’s not as rare, but still just as wonderful! I love it when people tell me they’ve tried a class or purchased something they’ve seen on my blog and also when people suggest new things for us to try!

Do I make money from it?

In terms of money, I have never been paid for a post but I have been lucky enough to receive some great products which I get to keep in exchange for an honest review. This first happened completely by accident, when a local Mum boss gifted me some of her amazing Nom Nom Kids reusable pouches as a thank you for showing support as she started her business. I’d bought some from a local stockist and had found them really useful so I mentioned them on Twitter (which was brand new to me back then, as i'd only really ever been on Facebook) and shared some of her Facebook posts, as well as purchasing more pouches for pregnant friends! 

Slowly but surely, I discovered more about how to promote my posts so that people (other than my poor family who I emailed all my early posts to) would see them and with that, came an offer to join a review panel. Once I’d completed my first review and had a positive response, I actively sought to join other panels and have had some super opportunities from them. Highlights include being gifted all the paint and equipment to redecorate our stairway, by Valspar, being treated to a take away from Deliveroo and most recently, having a complimentary salon experience at the very swanky Stuart Holmes Salon.

As well as writing for my own blog, over the last year or so, I have also been invited to write posts for other people like the Cotswold Baby and Toddler Show and Cheltenham Maman. This is always an honour and a responsibility as it means someone else rates my ‘voice’ enough to share on their social media channels! 

These days, my Instagram account is as important to me as my blog as it’s a great way to share posts and link up with the brands I review. It has also led us to become brand ambassadors for some wonderful companies, which often involves being gifted products or services in exchange for regular posts in support of the company. I am careful only to apply for ambassador opportunities where we have had positive experiences with the brand and where I can see how I can incorporate them into my blog and Instagram feed.

I was recently approached by an international company asking whether I’d like to collaborate with them on an Instagram post which felt amazing (after I’d worked out that it wasn’t a scam). Getting to choose a beautiful item of clothing for Ace, as a gift from them, was so exciting, but the pressure to get the photo they asked for right was real (hats off to all photographers, I think I’d definitely develop the stress gene if I had your job)!

So while I’m not counting the cash, I have been incredibly fortunate and have been able to try things and provide things for my family that we would not have had if it weren’t for my blog. Having said all that, you definitely can make money from blogging, but just like any other job, it's hard work! If you want to make blogging your job, make sure you're following Pink Pear Bear and Emma and 3, both of whom are super successful, local bloggers who share their advice and experiences regularly and willingly. Emma has even co-written a book called 'Blogging Your Way To Riches' which you should definitely get hold of if you want some tips!

How do I fit it in?

I fit blogging in around everything else. Unless I have a deadline, I rarely blog or use social media on my work days (unless it’s a scheduled post) but on other days, I blog, check out stats, use social media or cull photographs during nap time or after the kids are in bed. Ace is a much earlier riser than Honey so I often prepare posts on my phone while we wait for Honey to get up (CBeebies babysits, in fact right now, Ace is lying in bed next to me watching Bing as I type). 

Will I keep blogging as the children get older? I don’t know! I’ll blog for as long as I enjoy it and have somethings to say! Maybe one day, I’ll take the leap into getting paid but for now I’m having fun and learning lots and that’s all I wished for.

Honey and Mummy wear... Biker jackets by Primark (Mummy) and Zara (Honey)

Monday, 18 December 2017

I'm pretty sure I've finished Christmas shopping now. I have this evening earmarked to finish wrapping everything, apart from the kids presents as my husband and I always do that together on Christmas Eve. Having said that, I do need to check whether I've got enough stocking fillers to, well, fill the stockings! If you still have a few presents to buy, here are my top, last minute picks!

Last minute toy...

Last Christmas, the Fisher Price Beat Bo was a huge hit in this house! It appealed to me because at that point, Ace was crawling, cruising and pushing a walker along and I'd heard that the Beat Bo was great for encouraging independent standing and subsequently walking. Although it was on Ace's Christmas list, at first, it was Honey who loved it most. The brightly coloured robot has dozens of games, songs and tunes to sing and dance along to and you can even record your own song or message for Beat Bo to play back to you. If I'm ever asked to recommend a toy, I usually say this one as it appeals to a wide age range and is really good fun! As I write this, Smyths in Cheltenham have 5 left in stock!

Last minute stocking filler...

Children (and adults) of all ages will appreciate finding some Nom Nom Kids reusable pouches or snack bags in their stocking! Honey and Ace love having yoghurt, smoothies and porridge in their pouches, amongst other things and the possibilities for the snacks bags are endless too. As well as snacks, they're also great for storing leftovers and pre prepared garnishes. Tomorrow is the last day to order to make sure your items arrive before Christmas!

Last minute voucher...

Have you seen the gorgeous handprints gifted to us earlier this year by Babyprints Cheltenham? The print taking process is quick and non invasive for little ones, then the intricate work begins once your print is dry. Victoria turns your print into a work of art and frames it ready for you to collect. Drop Victoria an email or message her via social media and she can arrange a voucher for your loved one so they can pop along for the full Babyprints experience in the new year! It's too late to collect your voucher now, but what a fabulous IOU to be given!

The Camomile Rooms also offer gorgeous gift voucher bundles, we can highly recommend the Indian Head massage, full body massage and reflexology (we totally credit the latter for Ace's prompt arrival) so pop in and see them if you're in town!

Last minute cash in a card...

Why not suggest that your loved one treats themselves in 2018? If you're treating a grown up, we can highly recommend suggesting they spend it on a massage or facial at home with Tasha from The Hideout (read a review I wrote for The Cotswold Baby and Toddler Show earlier this year). If the money is for a little one, perhaps they might like to put it towards a term of their favourite class! We love Miniature Music (you'll be reading more about them on the blog next year) and Tatty Bumpkin (who have a swanky new premises). If you're gifting some money to a new or expectant Mum, send them over to Kito Baby and Vija Design UK so they can put it towards their favourite teething necklace or skin to skin top when these fabulous businesses reopen in the new year!

Good luck and happy shopping! We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and an incredibly Happy New Year!

Honey and Ace wear... Matching Christmas Jumpers by Florence and Fred @ Tesco

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

There's no place like Holmes...

As part of their Black Friday blogging week, I was invited to go along to Stuart Holmes Hair and Beauty Salon on Imperial Square in Cheltenham. I love having long hair and the times I have felt brave enough to have it chopped, I've instantly regretted it and missed it until it grew back! When I was given my appointment, I felt a mix of nervousness and excitement and immediately headed to the Stuart Holmes Pinterest page for inspiration. Initially, I felt like I should ask for a major restyle, then I thought about requesting a colour change but in the end I put the before and after photos and blog post to the back of my mind and realised that I'm pretty happy with my hair but wished it was in better condition and that it had more of a 'shape' to it.

Booking is simple, you can call or book online and you can even have a free, online consultation before you book! On entering the salon, you are greeted by a team of super friendly, helpful receptionists and once you've checked in with them, you are invited to relax in the lounge with a drink while you wait for your stylist. The decor is modern, stylish and has a luxurious feel to it, it's a truly relaxing place to flick through magazines, make use of the free wifi or munch on sweets from the giant fishbowl (well played, Team Holmes, well played)! 

So, let's talk about the location. Just two minutes walk from The Prom, the salon sits directly opposite Cheltenham Town Hall. As I sat down in the chair at eye level with the Town Hall balcony, I was struck by what an amazing view that was and it was all the prettier framed by the salon's festive decorations! The salon is so convenient if you're shopping or eating in town and there are plenty of car parks nearby if you're making a special trip. 

When I have my hair cut, I usually just ask for a trim and have dabbled with different types of fringe over the years. It's so important to me that a stylist sees my hair dry, my hair is naturally curly and I like to go along to a new stylist with it freshly washed and naturally dried so they can see how much 'ping' it has and cut accordingly. I was lucky enough to have been booked in with Rob, who spent loads of time chatting to me about my hair and asking me what I had in mind in terms of cut and finish, he was also great at helping me make my mind up about what would suit me, which I really appreciated. For some reason, he seemed to understand what I was saying as I babbled on about mermaid hair and he explained his vision for my hair in language I could get along with (we may have discussed electrocution and rainbows at this point...)

What can I say about the hair wash, a hair wash is hair wash isn't it? Well no! Given that i'd only washed my hair the day before, after just the shampoo, it felt cleaner and lighter and after the conditioning treatment I was ready to remortgage my house to fund the products if that's what it took! The products were Shu Uemera, which are developed in Japan and are only very lightly fragranced, so not overpowering at all. These are available to buy in the reception area, along with an array of other products to suit a range of hair types and budgets. I love a scalp massage but sometimes feel like it's a bit of an aside whereas today, it was very much part of the experience and I felt so relaxed, I was in danger of dropping off! Luckily for everyone, that didn't happen and I was delivered safely back to Rob so he could get started.

I often find the actual haircut a bit nerve wracking with a new stylist, I once abstained from having my hair cut for over a year because the stylist I loved and trusted left my chosen salon and I didn't know where she'd moved to! Things run through my head, what if they cut off more than we have agreed or what if I don't like the result but I can honestly say that I felt calm and relaxed and I really trusted Rob to get it right.  The atmosphere in the salon was busy but calm and Rob worked precisely and methodically on my hair, the time flew by.

The moment of truth, the blow dry... Again, it felt like this part was as important as the rest of the experience and Rob took time to talk through the different ways he could style my hair before taking plenty of time to style it to perfection! Once he was finished, he made the final cuts, spritzed my hair and had made my hair dreams come true! Better condition, check! Hair has a shape, check! Happy Steph, check!

Throughout the experience, I never felt rushed and felt that all the staff couldn't do enough for their customers. Everyone was offered drinks and these were regularly refreshed, there were magazines available in each room and on meeting some regular customers of the salon, I could tell that they all felt valued and were keen to book in future appointments before they left.

With a comprehensive website, an active Instagram account and Facebook page, a Pinterest page and a YouTube channel you can easily keep up to date with everything going on at Stuart Holmes and if you sign up to their newsletter, you can even bag yourself a £10 gift voucher! So next time you're in town, why not pop in and book a treat for yourself or buy some gift vouchers to give this Christmas? 

Monday, 6 November 2017

Box of delights...

I love a hamper. A selection of hand picked items, put together with a given occasion in mind. New baby? Hamper. Birthday? Hamper. Christmas? You get the idea! A hamper feels luxurious, it's ten gifts given as one and it's the excitement of wondering what else is inside.

We were sent the Fabulous Christmas hamper from the luxury range by Prestige Hampers and if you saw our Instagram story, you'll know that the levels of excitement on opening this were high! Honey and Ace absolutely loved delving into the basket, discovering what was inside and providing ideas with regards to who might enjoy the different items (wine = Mummy, yessss).

Obviously, the proof of the hamper is in the tasting. My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed the wine, I am super fussy when it comes to Rose and while a white zinfandel is my favourite, it has to have just the right level of sweetness, which I'm pleased to say 
this bottle did! Honey and Ace were more than happy to help me sample the jam and devoured it on toast while I thoroughly enjoyed the marmalade on mine. Honey is still at the age where she's happy to have a satsuma after tea, so she was over the moon when I brought out the box of chocolate thins to have as a shared pudding. We ate them all in double quick time and that's as good a review as you can get!

Browsing the Prestige website, you can buy hampers ranging from just £10 up to a super generous, entire Christmas in a hamper for £750! There are sweet hampers (I love sweets, just saying Santa), wine hampers, cheese hampers and even hampers for pets. Something for everyone, I'll think you agree!

It was lovely to have such delicious treats to share and to try things I may not ordinarily have purchased but one thing I wasn't willing to share was the chocolate. Belgian Fancy Truffles to be exact! Well, a Mum has to have something of her own sometimes, doesn't she!

*Although we were kindly sent a hamper to review, all thoughts and opinions in this blog are my own.

Honey wears... School uniform

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

May the forest be with you...

Our latest family day out was a trip to Worcester Woods Country Park to meet some friends who live nearby. I’d seen Instagram posts from people who’d been there and many of them cited it as one of their favourite outdoor days out, which is quite an accolade given where we live and how much beautiful scenery we are surrounded by!

As we pulled into the car park, I immediately began to see why. The car park is large and there is no charge for parking. The first thing you come to is a lovely, wooden playground with an enclosed area designed for smaller children and a more open space for bigger kids (or little ones with Danger for a middle name). Honey made friends with some bigger girls and had a great time chatting and playing with them, while Ace was happy being pushed in the swing then pottering off to explore.

After a turn on the play equipment, we headed into the woods for a stroll along the trails. Almost immediately, you feel like you’re in the middle of a faraway forest and the only thing that shakes that feeling is when the path takes you to the edge of the woodland and you suddenly see a housing estate or a hospital! It’s so peaceful in there and the Autumn colours are in full force so there are plenty of leaves to stomp through and sticks to collect!

Honey loved helping to build a ‘logpile house’ we found set back from the path, as well as showing off her new reading skills whenever we came to a sign. Ace had fun balancing on logs, paddling in the stream and collecting many, many, many, many sticks.

When little legs started to get tired, attention turned to what we were going to choose from the cafe. Honey had spotted the ice cream truck as soon as we arrived, so she was sorted and the rest of us opted for hot drinks and cake from the Orchard Cafe. All reviews were positive judging by the empty cups and crumb free plates! 

Sitting outside the cafe, a quick scan of the park revealed a series of bbq’s, a crazy golf compound, a small train ride and a huge field, perfect for picnics or football. You can also download a free activity pack which has a mixture of things you can do before, during or after your trip. So whether you're meeting friends, lunching with family or just heading out on your own adventure, Worcester Woods Country Park probably has something for you.

Honey wears... Batman sweatshirt by Daphne and Margot
Ace wears... Dinosaur hoody by Blade and Rose