April 23, 2014

Dos & Don'ts for Pinterest newbies

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Most bloggers have Pinterest accounts, but even after ages of being on there, they don't see the kind of traffic they hear about from others. Then there are those who are on top of the game and know how to use Pinterest to gain readership and followers. I used to be in the first category, and hope to be in the second at some point!

For the longest time, I din't get Pinterest. Okay, so there is a lot of interesting stuff, but how does it help my blog? What should I do about my profile? These were the kind of questions that made me re-look at my Pinterest strategy. It's only in the the last month or two that I've started seeing a growth in followers and getting my links re-pinned, which translates into more blog traffic. So, in effect, I was a Pinterest 'newbie' for a long time because I wasn't using it to my advantage. If you feel that you are in the Pinterest newbie club, here are a few tips that can help you move ahead. 

Dos & Don'ts for Pinterest newbies

  • Do complete your profile. Use a good picture of yourself, and don't forget to link to your blog, and your Twitter and Facebook profiles. It's also a good idea to verify your account
  • Do use bright images. Don't be understated on Pinterest. This doesn't mean that all your pins have to be in red and yellow, but make sure your images stand out and speak for themselves. Use clear fonts and triple check for spelling and grammar.
  • Do check the pins that you share. Click on the image and check whether the link works, and whether the content really is what you expect it to be at first glance. Pin only good quality content.
  • Do pin original content. It's not good enough to re-pin. Whenever you find something interesting that you'd like to share, pin it forward. In my experience, original pins do much better than re-pinned ones. 
  • Do use the pin description properly. Apart from the image, the text below it matters a lot. Don't just put in a few words describing the image. Use complete sentences and describe exactly what your pin leads to - is it a tutorial, an interesting blog post, or useful links? 
  • Do describe your boards too. Don't leave that area blank. It may make a difference to whether someone follows you (or that board), and also helps you assess whether you should be creating that board in the first place. 
  • Do use secret boards. If you're collecting pins for a kitchen project or to help you with your writing, consider making it a secret board. The advantages of secret boards are many - you can pin as much as you like without clogging feeds of others with pictures after pictures of kitchen sinks! You can also use it as a sort of bookmarking tool for pins which you can't categorize, or which don't fit in your existing boards. You have the option of making these boards public if you think your followers will like them, but the action can't be undone.
  • Do join group boards. If you get an invite to join one that is in your niche, do it! Group boards are great for exposure. Just play fair and re-pin others' content too.
  • Do like and comment too. Apart from re-pinning, it's a good idea to reach out to others by liking or commenting on their pins. As with other social media channels, interacting with others is essential for making your mark on Pinterest.
  • Do use hashtags. It helps your content to be found. Place them in pin descriptions and make them as broad as possible (examples are #parenting and #bloggingtips).

  • Don't create vague boards. Think about whether your board makes sense to potential followers. Do they really want to see a board called 'For Me' or 'Red'? Try to create at least a wide category for each board. One can be about DIY and tutorials. Another can be about gardening and plants. Don't put too much in one board, or you're just going to appear haywire.
  • Don't create more boards than you can handle. Of course, you can create as many as you like - but only if you can handle them and find enough content to fill them up. As I mentioned above, check whether each board is worth creating in the first place.
  • Don't be inconsistent. This is for your own good. I see many bloggers who come and pin 20 times in a day and then disappear. It doesn't work this way. If you are serious about getting something out of Pinterest, play your part and be there frequently.
  • Don't follow or unfollow blindly. It's great to return the gesture when someone follows you. But sometimes, their pins may be far from what you are interested in. Instead of unfollowing them, just click on the board name and unfollow the board itself. This will help you declutter your feed. Don't follow someone just out of courtesy if nothing on their boards interests you. It's okay!
  • Don't go on a pinning frenzy. I think we've all experienced this. Suddenly, all you can see on your timeline are 50 types of hot dogs! If you're looking for a special hot dog recipe, please read my tip about secret boards above. Or simply, space out your pins, especially if they are too similar. You can also use scheduling tools like Viral Tag and Pinwoot.

This post has been linked to:

April 21, 2014

Busy Hands (5): Window Painting

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Busy Hands - Kids activities on Sand In My Toes
( I have created a new category called Busy Hands for all my activity posts, so that they are now separate from Toddler Tales, which is about the wisdom imparted to me by my toddler!)

We stay in an apartment with a large glass balcony so I thought of putting it to good use, given that we can still step out without being scorched by the unrelenting Dubai sun! I decided on window painting which I knew would be a hit with Little Dude, given his love for all things colourful and messy. Even though I have a set of unopened paints, I still prefer the home made variety because it feels more safe (in case he gets creative with it!). I found the right one on Irresistible Ideas and adapted it a little.

Here's what I used: 
- Baby shampoo (you can use dishwashing liquid, bubble bath, or even non-foaming hand wash)
- Cornstarch
- Food colouring
- Ice cube tray (to put the colours in, but you can use a palette)
- Brushes
- Foam shapes

It's very simple to make home made window paint - just put in about half a cup of the baby shampoo (it smells good too!), and mix in about 2-3 tablespoons of cornstarch. Do this gradually until you get the right consistency. Don't add any water. Put it into separate containers or an old ice cube tray and then mix in the food colouring. The results are beautiful!

Window painting with home made paint

Cleaning up window paint
Naturally, Little Dude was delighted at being given the opportunity to splash colours on the glass! I had taped a plastic sheet on the wall portion below the glass, but this paint did not drip. He used the brush, foam and finally his hands for painting, and loved it. I must admit I couldn't resist myself, and had a go with the brush too! Must be something to do with the fact that I never did messy play as a kid.

As always, the washing up was something he fully enjoyed too. I gave him a wet sponge and he liked seeing the suds form as he wiped the paint.

Cleaning up for me was relatively easy, but there were a lot of bubbles! I would recommend this activity on a glass door or some place where you can easily wash it off.

This would make a fun activity for most age groups and is so easy to set up.

(Busy Hands is a series about activities you can do with toddlers and young children).

This post has been linked to:

April 18, 2014

A Day Like Today: Closer to nature

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A Day Like Today - guest post series on Sand In My Toes
Today's guest post is by Richa of Clouds-Rain-And-Sunshine (read more about her below). Richa is mom to a two-year old son, who lives in Dubai. She has a talent for writing short stories, and cooking. In this post, she talks about a day in the park which turned out to be memorable for her.

The way some days start, you feel like it is going to be a really bad one! But then after that initial hitch, everything seems to work just fine. It is then that you feel amazed about how much better the day is turning out for you and how negatively you were about it!

Yesterday evening was one such day for me. As I put my son in his tricycle to leave for our evening trip to the park, he started crying for Doggo, his favourite stuffed toy. I tried to pacify him but he didn't listen. So I started scouting for his little Doggo and he stopped the crying only when I handed it to him. I took a deep breath and we left for the park. As soon as we got half way through, my sandals broke. Not wanting to return home to change my footwear I headed to the cobbler, waited there as it was being fixed while Little M tightly clutched onto his Doggo and looked on. We were just near the park when my sandals broke again! Fuming, I went back to the cobbler and told him to fix it again and do it well. By this time, Little M was running out of patience and started saying, ‘Mumma, let’s go to the park. Please. Please Mumma!’

Toddler on tricycle
I told him to sing a rhyme for his Doggo, quickly pushed the tricycle and we finally reached the park.
I took Little M to the toddler swing but he still wasn't ready to leave his Doggo back in the tricycle. I was amused to see this, as he has never shown so much attachment towards any of his toys. In fact, he hardly plays with stuffed toys and cars have always been his favourite.

Anyway, I let him sit in the swing with his Doggo and then he took him along on the slide as well. I was too tired to walk around the park so I decided to leave for home. Just as we were leaving, Little M saw many birds chirping about in the grass and wanted to get off of his tricycle. He loves chasing birds. As soon as we set foot on the grass, we spotted two hoopoes and Little M asked me their name. He started chasing after them and soon they flew away and disappeared. Then, a flock of sparrows caught his eye and he said, ‘See Mumma, pigeon!’ I corrected him, but he had already started running after them. When all the birds were gone he came back to me and said, ‘Mumma, I said wrong?  Hearing this, I smiled that he had actually heard me earlier.

Toddler on swing
He then pointed towards a tree to touch a few branches that hung really low. Seeing the bright green leaves he asked me what they were and I told him. He wanted to hold them, but I told him not to pluck them from the tree. So instead of pulling the branches down, he pulled himself up a little. I truly felt happy to see that he was being so sensitive towards plants. 

It was one magical day that I will remember for a long time. Little M got to meet so many birds and got a bit closer to the nature, while I learnt that I need to be positive instead of giving up or becoming negative because of a few problems. I was happy that we did make it to the park that day.

I was born and brought up in Delhi and moved with my husband to the UAE. When I was in high school, my first article was published in the supplement of an English daily. That was when I discovered that it is only through writing that I can keep my soul happy. I have done short stints as a correspondent and a content writer in the Indian media industry. Clouds-Rain-And-Sunshine is the space where I have been writing about my thoughts, views and things, people, and places that inspire me, my beautiful home, my adorable little baby, living as an expat in the UAE, and my life in general for the last five years.

(A Day Like Today is a guest post series about sharing memories of special times spent with kids. Here's how you can contribute to this series.)

April 16, 2014

Busy Hands (4): Cardboard Bus

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Busy Hands - Kids' activities
Lately, I find myself unable to throw anything away! I collect cardboard boxes, containers and bottle tops in the hope that we can use them to make something one day. The latest project we worked on is making a bus out of a small cardboard biscuit box. Little Dude has always been fond of cars, so I thought he would like one that we made ourselves.

This bus we made has been partly inspired by something I saw on Art Attack. I made a simpler version using what we had at hand, but you can see the original video here which requires much more material, time, and skills.

Here are the items I used:
- 1 cardboard box
- Coloured Paper
- Two straws
- Two bottle caps
- A piece of cardstock
- Duct tape, glue, cello tape

How to make a cardboard box bus
(See larger image)

These are the steps for making this bus, and in fact, you can make any vehicle you like!

1. Cut the box at the top-right, so you can fold over the flap.

2. Fold over the flap and stick it in place using cello tape.

Cutting the cardboard box

3. Cover the bus in coloured paper, or paint it. I used bits of paper because I had them in squares (and it's less messy!).

4. Take two straws for the wheels and cut them long enough so they stand out slightly when placed under the box.

5. Attach the bottle caps to the ends of the straws. I used duct tape, but the right thing to use would be modelling clay or a glue gun.

6. Cut out cardstock to fit under the box, and place the wheels where you want them. Stick the card leaving only enough room for the wheels to turn. You can use some tape later to secure it more.

Making the wheels

7. Add details such as headlights, windows, and a door using coloured paper or paint.

8. Voila! Your cardboard box bus is ready!

Cardboard box bus

What was Little Dude's reaction? Well, it's his favourite toy at the moment! This craft would also be great for older kids who can help more in the process of making it. In our case, I was doing all of the work, though he did help me glue the paper. There is definitely something special about a toy you made at home, and that you reused something too. There are also so many creative possibilities with the type of vehicle you make and the details you add.

(Busy Hands is a series about activities you can do with toddlers and young children).

This post has been linked to Let Kids Be Kids and Creative Challenge.

April 14, 2014

A visit to Dubai's valley of flowers

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Dubai Miracle Garden is just what it's name suggests - a paradise of flowers in the desert! We visited this place last year, but the allure of flowers as far as the eye can see, and new landscaping attractions is enough to make it worth visiting every year. Besides, I want to make the most of the good weather before the horrid summer is upon us! Running around is what Little Dude likes to do best, so we found ourselves at the Miracle Garden this weekend.

It's really not hard to believe that there are over 45 million flowers in this place! I mean, they are everywhere and landscaped in the most wondrous ways. They form houses, trees, landmarks, and peacocks. They carpet almost every inch of the garden, and they are also around the walls of the boundary. In short, this is floral heaven!

Dubai Miracle Garden landscapes

One of the main attractions this year is the floral house, which has also been entered in the Guinness Book of Records for the longest flower wall. It is a big house, and must have taken a lot of work to completely envelop it in flowers. There's also a peacock garden, complete with three floral peacocks and peacock thrones to sit on. The picture on the extreme right below shows lamps designed as flowers. They looked lovely when it got darker.

Dubai Miracle Garden house and peacock

Another of the more interesting displays is the car garden, which has to be seen to be believed. The fleet has grown much larger this year.

Dubai Miracle Garden cars

There's also a replica of the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world), which is lit up after dark. There are many pyramids, and also a display of farm animals which Little Dude loved!

Dubai Miracle Garden Burj Khalifa and pyramids

 There's so much to see, and they have even opened up Phase 2 of the Miracle Garden, which is just huge, and actually looks like a valley of flowers. It's too bad we got there after sunset so I don't have many good pictures to share.

Dubai Miracle Garden phase two

The Dubai Miracle Garden is only open for a few months a years, so is a must-visit if you are in Dubai during the winter and spring. It's a wonderful place for families to spend hours wandering amidst such natural beauty. It's one of those places which transport you to a different world altogether.

This post has been linked to Magic Moments, What's The Story? and Country Kids from Coombe Mill.