Talk About Cheesecake

Musings, meanderings and meditation for my mind.


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Fear of the Internet

When Sackgirl started school I thought I would be an involved mum and try to be part of the school community! So I went along to a few PTFA meetings. In a dingy local pub one night I was introduced to five women, four of whom were parents at the school and one stern elderly lady who was head of the WI and clearly also ran the whole village.

These ladies were doing a great job of keeping the school full of events and cake stalls. But talk about a clique. This group had been together for a few years and they were not keen on new ideas!  They bemoaned the fact no other parents would help and then dismissed every suggestion I came up with. Especially when I mentioned that their communication was abysmal (tact was leaving the room by then, I was pretty frustrated) and suggested some sort of webpage or facebook group.

You would think I had walked into the local church, stood on the altar and announced we were going to be inviting in the devil. Shock, horror, distaste and a fair few sneers got thrown my way. ‘We don’t need that sort of thing,’ I was told. I gave up.

Roll on 3 years, those ladies all quit en mass for whatever reason and the PTFA was left empty, abandoned. The Christmas Fayre was in jeopardy. It was a crisis. And because I just cannot stop sticking my nose in where I really should back away quietly until I can flee round the nearest corner, because when I see a problem I want to fix it, because I really don’t have enough to do with a full time home working business and two kids – I volunteered.

Three of us did, in fact. You have to have three. A Chair, a Secretary and a Treasurer. I actually took on  Treasurer, because some small shred of sanity did kick in and say ‘You do not have time to be in school every week arranging cake sales and making pancakes with the kids.’

Unfortunately, it was only us three. Other parents, either used to not being wanted by the previous clique or because they just couldn’t be arsed, just didn’t seem interested. So this time I just went ahead without asking. I set up a Facebook group and page for our school PTFA. Then I went to see the Headmistress to explain to her why I thought it was a great idea for communication and to get the other parents involved.

I met more resistance. ‘The parents will slag off the school and complain about us.’ ‘It’s very open to abuse.’ ‘It’s not secure.’ ‘Facebook – I’m not sure.’

Fear!

Fear of the internet, because we all know that it can be used ‘the wrong way’. It’s true that there are some sick, perverted people out there who prey on our children using the internet.

It’s true there have been incidences where kids have bullied each other online, in some cases so extremely that children have ended up emotionally harmed or hurting themselves physically.

There have been incidences, locally, where parents have slated and bullied each other and teachers online, causing emotional harm and distress to other adults. Teachers have resigned, lost their jobs, lost their sense of worth and joy in a career that made them want to work with our children in the first place. That is beyond sad. I wonder sometimes how we humans became so hateful to each other that we want to destroy each others happiness.

All of these issues were cited by the Headmistress as reasons why we should not use the internet for communication. They can be valid points. But I think this is also fear talking. Not fully understanding the tool we are using and so not putting in the safety measures that keep us safe.

To me the internet is a tool. It can be used for great good as well. Charities and fundraisers have found they can spread the word of what they are doing much faster and to a wider audience through use of the internet. Communication is visual, a picture speaks a thousand words.

The internet can be used for education. It has enabled thousands of people who were housebound or friendless to find friends, to leave their homes and meet people, albeit virtually. The internet has changed our lives in so many ways, some bad, for sure. But there can be so many benefits from it as well, we just have to use it in the right way.

As it is, I explained the safety measures we would be using – a secure group, invite only, moderators, guidelines for use, no children – she settled down. The main point I made was that our parents could not be bothered to get involved and come along to meetings, but the majority of them do use Facebook. Putting our information on there delivers it directly to their eyeballs (provided we can get them to sign up) and maybe a few more will decided to offer up ideas and join in. Because frankly, if they didn’t, our PTFA was dead on the water.

Which means no more funds for the school.

Silly me – always mention the money first! After that, she caved much faster.

The fear of the internet remains though. I succumbed myself just recently, suddenly wondering whether it was safe to be putting pictures of my kids on my blog. It’s a sad thing that this wonderful tool can be used so badly some dregs of humanity that it makes us fear to use it at all.

But as it is here to stay, I think it is a vital part of everyone’s education now – how to use the internet safely should be a mandatory lesson in schools and one given to all parents. What do you think?


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Cheesecake sandwiches and zombies

Weekends can be pretty samey round here. Family life is not about partying every weekend, spontaneous weekend getaways and daredevil extreme sports.

Well – I am sure some people do sign up to that and manage to fit it in with picking dirty pants up off the floor and baking 24 cupcakes ready for the school fundraiser. But the majority of us mums just about cope with keeping the house ticking over and the kids growing.

However this weekend was one of new experiences for me, which I thought I would share.

My great mate B came to stay for the weekend. We went through school together from the age of 11, and there is not a lot that can bring two girls closer than enforced sisterhood in boarding school. We bond to survive!

This lady saw me through my first period, acne, blubbering over boys and dealing with the evil witch who was our ‘surrogate mother’ whilst holding us in her merciless care throughout our school years. No matter what, I know she has my back even now. If there was a body to bury, we would do it together. Probably whilst drunk.

So when we get together there is often a mutual sharing fest of wine, memories, laughs, even some sadness maybe.

This weekend B arrived with some chocolate wine. Not something I have tried before – a new experience. We had already arranged to try out an experiment we saw on that font of knowledge known as Facebook – skittle vodka. Basically this involves taking all the red skittles and leaving them to disintegrate in vodka, doing the same with the purple skittles, yellow skittles and so on.

Prepare the skittle vodka, leave for a few hours to dissolve. Drink.

Prepare the skittle vodka, leave for a few hours to dissolve. Drink.

Having prepared our experiment, purely in the name of research you understand, we went shopping for some more new experiences to try.

We found  . . .  chocolate Philadelphia, traditional Mead and mulled cider.

B introduced me to fresh baked bread dipped in melted  Camembert. I introduced her to Philadelphia and Lemon Cheese sandwiches (cheesecake in bread – mmmm).

If you are now sensing a theme for our weekend, it was not all about food and drink you know. Just wait for the ending!

Chocolate wine, traditional Mead, mulled cider and chocolate Philadelphia.

Chocolate wine, traditional Mead, mulled cider and chocolate Philadelphia.

I invented these when I was a child and have loved them ever since. Philadelphia and Lemon Cheese sandwiches. Yummy

I invented these when I was a child and have loved them ever since. Philadelphia and Lemon Cheese sandwiches. Yummy

The outcome – Skittle vodka with lemonade tastes just like, well, skittles. Marks out of 10 – 8. We concluded we need more skittles per inch of vodka. But worth trying again.

Chocolate wine. Conclusion – two items that should never be mixed. Marks out of 10 – 3. It’s drinkable, but if there is skittle vodka around I would choose that anytime.

Traditional Mead – wow. It’s like drinking pure honey. As in, it is so incredible sweet it could melt your teeth as you drank it. Marks out of 10 – 2. I am sure it is drinkable, but even my sweet tooth was wincing.

Unfortunately we did not get around to the mulled cider and we were undecided on the chocolate Philli. I know now that I do not like Camembert, however I have succeeded in converting another friend round to my cheesecake in a sandwich fetish.

I know what you are thinking. You are clearly now of the opinion that we are just about the most suave and sophisticated pair of young women you have ever heard of. Hey – don’t knock it!

So after our experimenting on a Saturday night, we then woke on Sunday bright and early for the next new experience.

We dressed in our best. As in – ripped jeans, dirty T-shirts, holey jumpers and grubby trainers.

And off we went to be zombies for the day.

Yep – on Sunday I tried out being an extra in a movie. Get me!

Well, in the internet trailer for the movie anyway. What a fabulous way to spend a Sunday, covered in blood and gore. Here is a quick picture preview – once the link is ready I will post it. Guess which one is me!

Zombie trailer coming soon. PIcture courtesy of Wasteland Feature Filmhttps://www.facebook.com/WastelandFeatureFilm?fref=ts

Zombie trailer coming soon. PIcture courtesy of Wasteland Feature Film
https://www.facebook.com/WastelandFeatureFilm?fref=ts

So I guess today is about trying out new experiences. There is so much out there to try. It doesn’t have to be huge, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Being an extra was unpaid, free fun. The only charge, a little time.

Tell me about a new experience you have had recently – share it, I might just want to try it too.

And if you do nothing else this week, try a cheesecake sandwich. Trust me, you will thank me for it.

This post was brought to you as part of Project Optimism. To find out more, click on that cute little elephant over there on the right or try out the post here 


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Lesson 3 – Top tips in self-promotion

Following on from my previous post on the subject of Learning to Blog, I decided to update my latest findings. I am looking into ways of driving more traffic to a blog.

To be clear, I have not yet found the answer. I am still wandering through a Google search to see what insight there is. A lot of the posts and websites dedicated to the subject use terminology I am not yet familiar with so I am learning by trial, error and a lot of playing about.

So far, a few simple things have worked for me.

1. Being freshly pressed. Frankly, I am not sure what it was about my post that stood out but thanks to the Freshly Pressed pickers I had over 900 visitors in 2 days. Before I feel too smug though, I admit that very few seemed to want to stick about to read more.

That’s fine. Lesson learnt that my writing may be cathartic for me, but maybe not so exciting for the reader. The main problem with this is that a visitor to a blog who doesn’t enjoy what they read rarely leaves a critical appraisal behind aimed at my personal development.

2. Browsing blogs and leaving comments. I like to read other blogs. I have browsed through a number of sites every day in the last few months. However I cannot agree with the concept that I should like and comment on posts even though I am not really interested in them, just to encourage the same reader to my own little corner. That seems rude.

I want people to comment on my posts because they are interested in something I wrote about, not just to grab my attention and drag it to their own page. So I will pay back the same courtesy. If I have liked or commented on your post, it is because it provoked a reaction. (If I haven’t, maybe I just didn’t find your blog yet. There are a lot for me to get through).

3. Replying to comments left on my posts. There seem to be 2 trains on thought on this. One is that I should reply to every comment left, to be polite and show my appreciation for a visitor taking the time to reply. Another is that replying to every comment is time consuming and becomes repetitive.

I suspect the latter is aimed at those people who receive hundreds of comments a day. Perhaps when I get to that point I too will run out of responses and time. For now, I really do enjoy every comment I receive and I do endeavour to respond to them all. It’s not just being polite, it’s because I am enjoying the interaction and the chance to meet new friends!

4. Using social media. Now this is the tricky one. So far I have created a Facebook page linked to this site. I believe I have had one visitor – a friend from the real world. I don’t think Facebook is the way to meet strangers online, personally I use it for friends and family.

I have also joined Mumsnet bloggers – it being suggested that as I write about family and my kids as often as anything else I should fit right in. I am not sure yet how much traffic that generates, but it has given a whole new arena of blogs to read. So much reading, so little time!

Twitter is of course the favourite. Every piece of advice mentions having a tweet – it’s a whole new verb in it’s own right. I have to say that I find it strange though. What should I post about on Twitter? Are you interested in what I had for dinner or should I stick to promoting the blog only? Or is that just boring?

So how much is too much?

I am currently setting up a blog for my brother to promote his business and photography. I linked it to his Twitter account, last updated 300 days ago. I suggested he should update it more often. He replied that he felt he should post less frequently but with ‘content rich’ posts, both on Twitter and the blog. Too much, he said, and no one would pay much attention.

I, on the other hand, have found most advice suggests to post more frequently to encourage interest. Only posting monthly would surely mean that followers lose patience in waiting for the next update. Neglect your readers and they will neglect you in return.

But who is right?

I expect the answer is somewhere in between. Post regularly, but make it relevant and readable, rather than random drivel. Of course, applying that to Twitter will require a different interpretation to applying it to a blog.

Now – back to my research to find out just what it is I am meant to tweet. Any suggestions?


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A word on virtual friendships.

This is a post I have been meaning to write for some time. This is a thought or two on friendships.

Virtual friendships.

When the internet first burst out of it’s box however long ago the idea that we could all chat with complete strangers was bizarre. Forming friendships with them was ridiculous. Certainly I never imagined that I would  spend more time chatting with virtual friends online than my real life companions.

But somehow that is what has happened.

Seven years ago I searched online for a forum about becoming a mother. Being pregnant was an entirely new experience, the things happening inside me were exciting and frightening, the future an unknown entity. As anyone who has been pregnant knows there are questions we want to ask. Not just the obvious medical ones – how is the baby growing, what is giving birth like? Little questions. Embarrassing questions about bodily functions for example.

I found a mums group where all of us nervous expectant mothers were due in the same month. Which was great as it meant we were going through the same changes at the same time. I joined in under a pseudonym and began my first forays in to chatting online.

To start with there were probably a hundred or more women on the forum. Some left, others joined. Over the nine months of pregnancy there were of course arguments and trolls. Even online personalities clash. But at the core of the group there were a number of continuous posters who became individuals in their own right. They stood out. I began to remember details about selected members and to have chats and laugh at jokes. Much like building a relationship in the real world we got to know each other by sharing experiences and parts of our own personal histories. Without ever actually knowing the basic information of the girls real names. After all, this was a public forum.

Our babies were born. We shared birth stories. Our babies began to grow and we told each other about their first teeth, their first taste of food. My forum friends and I discussed first birthdays and first steps.

And then along came Facebook and everything changed.

I cannot remember who first brought up the idea of having a private group on Facebook. At first it was a worrying idea, to join in with my given name and allow my virtual friends access to the real me. After all I may have been sharing intimate personal details with complete strangers online for about two years but they didn’t actually know who I was.

I umm’ed and ahh’ed but in the end the group was set up and I joined in. And there they were. The actual names and faces of about 25 of the loveliest women I have ever met. Or not met, as the case may be.

We have had a few more people leave us over time. But that’s ok. Having virtual friends means that dropping them if you want to is easy. No embarrassing encounters over shopping trolleys or awkward silences at the school gates.

What is left is a group of the most supportive women I have ever known. We don’t all agree on everything, of course. There are different viewpoints on politics, child rearing, breast feeding, education. We discuss all sorts of topics in our private group and it’s ok for us to disagree, to explore different ideas and have our own opinions.

One of our ladies lives abroad. The rest of us are spread out across the UK. Some of us have met now, physically. Some of us haven’t. It doesn’t matter. We come together in our virtual meeting place for a coffee and a chat. If one of my friends has a problem they can ‘talk’ it through online and the rest of us are supportive. If they want a rant, we can join in and rant with them. When they feel sad, we take time to cheer each other up. Between us we have a variety of work experience in different fields we can use to give each other advice. While we still talk about our children, we went far past that a long time ago.

What makes a friendship? If it’s spending time together, we do that. In fact we can chat every day, even if we just pop in for 5 minutes. Which is more time than I get to spend with my ‘real life’ friends. Shopping together – we do that too, online. Sharing worries and concerns, having a laugh, moaning about husbands, families, worrying about children. We do all that and we can share a virtual hug too.

Is this a way of life today – are online friendships becoming more common? Is it all we have time for now in our busy lives. I don’t know if our group is unusual in how close we became or if this is becoming ‘the norm’.

This is what I do know.

Seven years ago I met group of strangers online and now I am pleased to be able to call them my friends.