Tuesday, 24 March 2015

I have finally taken my own advice

You know that saying about the shoemaker's children going barefoot? My professional website had very small updates since it was set up in 2008. It finally has a new look but there's more to do. I was bursting to share it, finished or not!

The template has some sort of responsive design, so you see more of Cambridge's King's College if the panel is shrunk. I did it old school, coding and all (I mean altering the coding/design of an existing template). Deep down I am 'digital masochist', I use CMS at work.


www.simonecastello.co.uk

Monday, 23 March 2015

Blogging for fun, fundraising or profit



I gave this talk early this year and thought some of you would like to see the slides, especially since there is a link towards the end taking you to a free course on how to start a profitable blog. I blog for all these reasons.... I have six blogs to cater for all my interests. My fun blogs (this one, the home interest/DIY one, the crafting/recycling one and the pictorial one) don't make money but they generated paid opportunities in digital publications (such as family-friendly recipes for MadeforMums and product reviews). 

The only professional blog in my bunch is the SEO one, which generated some paid articles as guest blogger and still gives as I write SEO-friendly blogs for businesses. Then there's the non-profit one, which I update weekly for a community garden I have recently joined. The aims are to attract new volunteers and have a presence to fundraise more effectively.

The point of my talk was that you can blog for a variety of reasons (which could well be social and emotional ones) and still make some money indirectly and perhaps get a book deal or a new career out of your musings...

I hope you enjoy and it would be nice if you shared your own journey or offer any tips! Please leave a comment with your blog link. This blog reached over 4000 people last month, making it the more successful in terms of engagement of all my blogs.

If you can't be bothered with the presentation, here's the link to a free course from The Guardian on how to build a profitable blog.




Monday, 9 March 2015

Red Nose Day Story by Michela aged 7 3/4

The adventures of Snortel and Astrosnort: Astrosnort’s birthday party

By Michela, aged 7 3/4


Once upon a time, lived a world of red noses, but with only 9 noses. They were called Supernose, Nosebot, Stripey, Snotty Professor, Astrosnort, Snorbit, Snout Dracular, Snortel and Karate Konk!

When Astrosnort was on the moon, a day before  his birthday, the others on earth were planning a suprise birthday party. Snortel announced: “We shall decide what presents he will get!” Secretly that night, they made a moon cake, wrapped presents and decorated the house. It was very early so the noses made a yummy feast but Astrosnort was just stepping down the stairs! 

But it was super dark and the nose closest to the lights, Snortel, turned them on. Then 
everyone shouted, “Surprise!”

First Astrosnort opened his presents; he got a cape, an action figure, a robot, a spy notebook, an electric fan, a set of face fangs, a supecase and a ninja costume. Next they ate the feast and the moon cake! Lastly they had a disco and they had lots of fun!


THE END

Monday, 2 March 2015

A personalised gift for Mother's Day

Michela holding my personalised book
As soon as an occasion or celebration looms, I get emails from PRs asking me to review a variety of gift ideas. If I like what I read in the press release, I say yes. I don't get a fee for this, just the product, so I try to be as objective as possible. Truth is that I used to be a product reviewer for various publications and I kind of miss it.


This year, Mother's Day is on 15th March. As soon as Valentine's goods were taken off the shelves, shops have been promoting all sorts of 'motherly gifts'. I like the well-priced gift ideas from Aldi, which are perfect for children who are relying on their pocket money and are a bit classier than the plastic offerings from poundshops. I succumbed to the chocolate-covered cranberries, which I asked my partner to buy.

Introducing the Book of Everyone - Mum's version

http://thebookofeveryone.com/personalised-gifts/the-book-of-mum
But perhaps you want to give your Mum something a bit more personal and fun than a "I love you Mum" or "Best Mum" mug/oven glove/toiletry set, etc. Having tested a personalised book before - a Peppa Pig one when my daughter was younger - I decided to try out an adult version. 
You can create the book, save it and then purchase it later on. This is handy if you are short of time or want to consider the options carefully. It's a very simple process, some pages are editable, others are created according to your Mum's date of birth. There are interesting, weird and wonderful facts inside the book, from the bestselling record (vinyl, yes, I am that old) to discoveries and even Nobel Prizes. As I was born in 1966, I got some football glory as it was the only time England won the World Cup. I personalised the dedication page on behalf of my daughter and signed it with her first name and her current nickname, Penguina, no prizes for guessing she is collecting penguins at the moment.
I also chose to add a picture of us to a page, as you see in the photo above. Now for the feedback about the product. I would have liked to personalise it a bit more and perhaps add a few more photos. It would not be a huge change, maybe swap a page of facts for a page of photos? I can see a teenager might like to have different photos of their mum, maybe even sneak in a photo of her/his mum as a baby! Or perhaps you could have two price ranges, a higher one for those who want to do more personalisation.
The book looks trendy and arty. It is not twee and cutesy, which is not to my taste, it's more designer clever and witty. The photo I provided came up in really good resolution (don't go by the photo on this blog). Print and images in the book are very crisp.
You are probably wondering about prices now.... The digital version is £7.50, the softcover express is £19.50, hardcover is £29.50 and the deluxe edition is £49.50. Postal fees are included for mainland UK. There is also a giftwrapping service, which is optional. These are standard prices for quality personalised books. However the blog is something else... meet the pregnant dads here.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

A carnival of my blog posts and articles

If you are a reader of my blogs, you will find articles on all sort of topics: beauty and wellbeing, homeworking, nutrition, family health. I have decided to feature some of my articles from this blog and other sources so you can pick and choose what interests you most.


Winter wellness for the whole family

http://fromrattopositiveparent.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/winter-wellness-for-whole-family.html

Exclusive Q&A with Emma Ford

http://fromrattopositiveparent.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/exclusive-q-with-emma-forbes.html



How to make mint tea from fresh leaves





I have also written articles for websites, newsletters and other people's blogs. Here is a selection for you to enjoy:



Hope you enjoy them. Leave a comment if you have any questions...






Monday, 16 February 2015

Fail-proof pancake recipe using apples

Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday, pancake central to all those living in the UK. Here's a twist on the original recipe I developed a few years ago, so it's tried and tested!  It is a family-friendly recipe too, suitable for older babies and toddlers alongside grownups. 


Apple pancakes with toffee sauce


Ingredients: 90g medium oats; 120g flour; 1 teaspoon baking powder; ¼ teaspoon cinnamon; 2 large eggs; 1 tablespoon sunflower oil; 200ml milk; 4 teaspoons honey; 25g apple puree; 1 small apple, grated; oil to fry.

Method: Place all the dry ingredients into a bowl. Beat the eggs in another bowl with the milk, honey and oil. Gradually add the egg mixture into the other bowl stirring with a whisk to prevent lumps. Stir in the puree and add the grated apple. Fry pancakes in batches until golden on both sides. Serve them with maple/corn syrup, toffee sauce, a dollop of fromage frais or Greek yogurt. 


Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Happy New Year!


Here is a wall I made for Facebook with the highlights of our Xmas holidays. As you see we dressed up, I finally made a 'real' Pandan chiffon cake (using the extract I bought from a local Chinese shop instead of just vanilla and green dye) and we had sushi as a starter for our Xmas meal (followed by roast lamb and fruit cake).

We visited the in-laws up north for New Year's Eve and I ate too much so I put on weight but lost some already as we are back eating normal meals and I am sure that packing up decorations and hoovering the rooms properly (ie moving furniture rather than skirting) burned some calories too. My motivations to eat less are simple, my stomach has not been too happy and I need to get back into my work trousers!

We are also back on having family dinners at weekends as my daughter comes back from the after-school club famished and can't wait till my partner is back. I admit I don't cook stuff from fresh all the time for her, but I am quite discerning using frozen food, luckily they now sell good-quality fish fingers and chicken bits that have no additives and my daughter likes the baby veg mixtures. She also loves pasta and pesto and we always reserve a portion if a suitable meal is cooked for our dinner (barring a too spicy curry). Usually if she has a freshly cooked meal it is a milder curry or a Chinese-style stir-fry.

A few years back I used to write recipes for madeformums (and photograph results too) and I remember having to make homemade fish fingers. I also shared my own childhood recipes, like the Italian-style rice pudding I linked to. I grew up in Italy and my grandparents had a restaurant, which makes it difficult for me to eat at any Italian restaurant in this country as I start comparing or correcting the wrong spellings in the menu.

Aside the Pandan cake (click here for YouTube video recipe), I also made Paul Hollywood's Lardy Cake and this banana cake to use some overripe bananas, my first ever microwave pudding. I haven't done as much baking (and that includes the fruit cake too!) in months.





Thursday, 11 December 2014

Testing tech with 7-year-old daughter & fun pressies

It's getting close to Xmas and frustration starts to build up when you go down your list and there are people you don't know what to give. They have everything and you can't buy novelty socks, beers from around the world or toiletries again! So among the PR offerings, here are some items I have chosen, and two products my daughter Michela put to the test.


Michela is apptastic + no annoying game sounds for me!
Zip Earphones, £9.99 from The Hut
A festive selfie with the Xmas tree!
Click Stick, £19.99 from The Hut



More gift ideas...




I didn't test this novelty glass, but isn't it clever? Half A Pint, £10 from Topman.













Now, isn't this great for chilling out? The Hoodie Pillow, £25.95 from Genie Gadgets


Saturday, 29 November 2014

10 things only women hitting 40+ will understand


Bring back old tech!


1. You rejoice when a cartoon you grow up with is revamped, but then don’t like the new animations, the new storylines... So you get a video off Freecycle/dust off old tech to show your child your videos and those you find in the only charity shop that still sells them.


Ban those pants!


2. You were secretly looking forward to early menopause to get rid of the monthly curse but then read an article that frightens you. You also worry that because you didn’t do those pelvic exercises after the birth, at least not regularly, you will be soon swapping sanitary protection with incontinence pants.


Tiger, not cougar


3. You can’t just stomach any violence, real or imaginary (aka films, TV, video games), but you are ready to pounce like a bloodthirsty tiger if somebody tries to harm/hurt your child in any way.


Thake That are still cool


4. You tap your foot and shake your hair to the music in Starbucks and feel quite hip. Until you realise the song was a hit many moons ago. Never mind, Take That are cool again!


Dancing queen having day off!


5. You give a Paddington's stare to the hip girl/boy who doesn’t hand you a nightclub flyer. Your life is not over and you still like a boogie thank-you-very-much! You organised all the school's discos for crying out loud.

Anybody for a poker face?


6. You  always feared injections but are considering dermal implants. You can’t believe that’s your face staring at you. You try a different hairstyle and then book a full facial.


Chocolate is not the enemy


7. You choose a low-fat snack but then get ambushed by a chocolate bar twinkling at you at the counter. Life is too short to count calories, dammit!


It's only a bag!



8. You feel compelled to purchase an expensive designer handbag just because you couldn’t afford it when younger and then feel guilty/worried when you read your child’s letter to Santa.


Secret office fantasies


9. You fancy a younger colleague but you’d die of embarrassment if he’d ever found out. You are married/cohabiting/have kids. But nobody can stop you from imagining all sort of things happening in your working hours. And you can give him a hug and friendly kiss at the Xmas party without nobody suspecting anything. You could probably get away giving that bottom a squeeze but you don't want to risk a summon from HR.


Where are those tweezers?


10. You suddenly notice that those two witch's hair growing just under your chin are darker and glossier. And your eyebrows are unruly and that moustache is thicker... You are not as brave as Frida so buy professional-grade tweezing tools.


Pictures from CC search. Credits: Eva Rinaldi from Sydney Australia via Wikimedia Commons, jeff_golden, David Gandy for GQ Japan by Arnaldo Anaya-Lucca, Sérgio (Savaman) Savarese, Saed de los Santos, Andrew Hurley, Dan Vidal, Wikimedia and Wikipedia

Friday, 28 November 2014

Xmas has arrived in November

Early Xmas present from me. I am keen cyclist too
This year I was feeling more upbeat so I decided to treat my daughter to a festive build-up to Xmas. I got everything out of the garage in mid November and we did our trees, one for me and one for Michela.

We also went through toys and decorations and donated big bags of stuff to the charity shop. We needed to make space for the big Xmas tree! As a special treat, the advent Santa was filled with jellies and chocolates to be started mid month and to finish on 25 November. It will now restart from 1st December.

Then we went out for the Christmas Switch-On celebrations, which were in mid November here in Cambridge. So here are our decorations so far... we still have some tinsel decorations and the lights to hang, plus a wreath to make using our garden's greenery.


Mantelpiece - Christmas decorations



Detail of fireplace mantel decoration


My Christmas tree in the dining room

Advent calendar - refillable (sorry it's blurry)


Decorations above my old telly




Michela's room

Cute bear with Polly
 Pocket Xmas scene


Window sill Christmas decorations


Michela's tree