Nature : Sir Harold Hillier Gardens

Harold Hillier Centre
Harold Hillier Centre

Sir Harold Hillier Gardens are located in the beautiful Romsey countryside in Hampshire. Another gem right on our doorstep.

Harold Hillier Centre - Metal Work
Harold Hillier Centre – Metal Work

There is a garden centre and a sprawling country garden and woodland to walk around. With this still being close to Easter the boys had an Easter Egg trail to follow which they absolutely loved.

Main View from Entrance at Harold Hillier Gardens
Main View from Entrance at Harold Hillier Gardens

Full gallery on G+

Today’s camera – Ricoh GR (a superb camera for days like this – pocketable, DSLR sensor, quick to snap)

Here’s the critical parent details:

Location Romsey, Hampshire
Google Map Link https://goo.gl/maps/EHpcp
Directions http://www3.hants.gov.uk/hilliergardens/hillier-info/map-hilliers.htm
Website http://www3.hants.gov.uk/hilliergardens
Price for a family
£20 at the time of writing this post
Family pass is £50
(see blog post for more on this)
Pricing details here:
Gift Aid available Yes
Facilities
Cafe
Toilets (with baby changing) (and stools for the boy kids!)
Free Parking
Nearby pub and restaurant
Gift shop
Craft Centre
Garden Centre
Anything for the kids? Treasure Hunts
Play Area
Gift Shop

Harold Hillier Gardens are set in the picturesque and peaceful Romsey countryside, surrounded by rolling countryside and good quality country pubs.

Tree at Harold Hillier Gardens
Tree at Harold Hillier Gardens

The gardens were easy to find with good sign posts and the sat nav had no problems. Parking was spot on with plenty of overflow parking.

The garden centre itself looked good although we didn’t spend long in there.

The reception area of the gardens ticketing/cafe area was great and the staff were really friendly and welcoming.

We paid £20 for our ticket, plus £1 each for the boys Easter egg trail. It turns out that it’s £50 for an annual pass which includes 6 free guest visits also. (i.e. you can bring a single guest six times, or 6 guests at once, or anything in between). We’d not been before so didn’t want to commit to that but it turns out that if you want to join you can simply pay just the £30 difference (i.e they refund the days entry). This was great and we ended up joining at the end as it was brilliant.

The cafe was excellent with good food and a good range of local ice creams and cakes. Coffee was decent too and plenty of free water available.

The gift shop was ok although it did smell like someone had been smoking in there – not sure whether that was from someone hanging around near the door, or staff smoking out of the back. I was quick to notice that and overheard another couple also mention it. Put us off buying something to be honest.

The toilets were clean(ish) and there were plastic stools for the boys to use at the urinals – you won’t believe how impressed they were with this.

The gardens are sprawling and there is loads to do. Lots of really beautiful plants, trees and shrubs. There is an excellent tree house and slide which we all enjoyed and plenty of trails to follow. The Easter egg trail was great.

Harold Hillier Gardens
Harold Hillier Gardens
Harold Hillier Gardens
Harold Hillier Gardens
Harold Hillier Gardens
Harold Hillier Gardens

The old house, magnolia avenue and the Gurkha monument were the highlights for us, but really, if you appreciate nature then you’ll love this place. It really is peaceful and tranquil with loads of very beautiful nature around.

Duck Pond at Harold Hillier Gardens
Duck Pond at Harold Hillier Gardens
View from viewing station at Harold Hillier Gardens
View from viewing station at Harold Hillier Gardens
Gurkha Memorial at Harold Hillier Gardens
Gurkha Memorial at Harold Hillier Gardens
Gardens at Harold Hillier Gardens
Gardens at Harold Hillier Gardens
Magnolia Avenue at Harold Hillier Gardens
Magnolia Avenue at Harold Hillier Gardens
House at Harold Hillier Gardens
House at Harold Hillier Gardens

 

We were smitten, hence signing up for an annual pass. We’re going to really enjoy this place. The boys didn’t want to leave, but alas, food shopping awaited us.

Fabulous day out.

http://www3.hants.gov.uk/hilliergardens

Travel : Wraclow Poland

With my day job I get the opportunity to travel to our Polish office every couple of months or so. It’s great fun and one day I will be taking the boys with me.

Our office is located in a city called Wraclow, located in the West of Poland.

Wikipedia has a decent page about Wraclow.

I’ve not yet had the chance to take the kids but I reckon when they are a bit older they will certainly enjoy the sites and sounds.

I have a full gallery over on G+

– Camera Configuration – Panasonic Lumix LX5

Flights from the UK

I flew from London Stansted to Wraclow airport and it was a fairly standard Ryan air trip.

Nothing spectacularly bad happened but it wasn’t a great experience. I’ve become non-plussed about most airline travel which is a good thing because when I experience excellent travel it really does stand out.

The flight is about 1 hour 55 minutes and Wraclow is 1 hour ahead of the UK.

Accommodation

I stayed at the Monopol Hotel. It’s an old hotel but recently refurbished and was spectacular, but not without it’s flaws. The rooms were spectacular – all modern and large and full of high end fixtures and fittings. I had zero complaints about the room. The hotel bar on the roof was awesome and very affordable for drinks and food.

SkyTower View
SkyTower View

You also get a decent view of the Sky Tower (locally named The Boner – I’ll let you work that one out).

The service was a little slow and the staff didn’t give the impression that they actually wanted to be at work – but I didn’t spend too long at the hotel anyway.

Gnomes

Throughout the city are a series of Gnomes in various different poses. They make for an entertaining side activity. In fact you can even buy a map listing the location of every single one of them. They add a real quirk to the city but the locals tell me that they are springing up all over now and it’s lost a little of the charm in seeking them out.

Gnome
Gnome

Main Square

The main square is truly epic. It’s so beautiful and full of wonderful history. We don’t have many large squares here in the UK so I’m always amazed by them. They attract a wide spectrum of people and it’s not uncommon to see families out in the square until the late hours.

Wraclow Square Night
Wraclow square at night

 

Wraclow Boy Black And White
A hot summer day and water to cool down

 

Wraclow Square
Wraclow Square

 

Wraclow Square Building
Wraclow Square Building

 

The square is famous for it’s flower shops that are open all the way through the night.

24 Hour Flower Shops Wraclow
24 Hour Flower Shops Wraclow

Out And About

Graffiti is very common in Wraclow and apparently the city officials are starting to get on top of it – it is everywhere and like most graffiti; it divides opinion as to its beauty.

Street Tagging
Street Tagging

 

The city has both old and new living side by side.

Old Brewery Wraclow Poland
Old Brewery Wraclow Poland

 

Old Building Wraclow
Old Building Wraclow

 

Wraclow Subway
Wraclow Subway

 

If you get a chance then check out the amazing painting panoramic scene of the battle of Raclawise. It is EPIC.

Raclawise Picture 1
Raclawise Painting

 

Raclawise Picture 2
Raclawise Painting Battle Scene

 

And the fresh fruit and veg markets in the old town.

Fruit And Veg
Fruit And Veg

 

One of my main passions is in understanding the car culture of the places I visit and like most European cities Wraclow has a mix of mostly German cars. Lots of VWs and Audi and a large number of Fords. There are also lots of old cars, some in good condition, some not, traveling the streets of Wraclow.

Mercedes Benz Wraclow Poland
Mercedes Benz Wraclow Poland

 

The bridge of love is worth a visit. It’s near the Cathedral.

Bridge Of Love In Wraclow Poland
Bridge Of Love In Wraclow Poland

 

The weather was awesome in June but it did start to turn to storms on our last day.

People With Umbrellas
People With Umbrellas

 

The Cathedral is tranquil and peaceful. The streets around the Cathedral are beautiful.

Catherdral in Wraclow
Catherdral in Wraclow

It felt like a really safe place to take the kids. The shops were all geared to be child friendly with lots of play areas and lots of activities for kids to do. The flight is not too long also.

I wouldn’t stay in the Monopol with my kids – it’s just too minimalist and full of sharp corners. A weekend away with my wife though and I wouldn’t think twice about Wraclow and the Monopol…..although I might see who else flies there :)

Museum : The Museum Of Army Flying

We took a trip out towards Stockbridge this weekend to the Museum of Army Flying.

Hampshire has a strong military past and still houses a number of army training and residencies.

Sopwith

The Museum of Army Flying is focused on the flying machines used by the army. It’s not all flying machines but the focus is on the helicopters, planes and gliders used by the British army.

Here’s the critical parent details:

Location
Stockbridge, Hampshire
Google Map Link
Directions
Website
Price for a family
£32 at the time of writing this post
(This includes an annual pass)
Pricing details here:
Facilities
Cafe
Toilets (with baby changing)
Lift
Free Parking
Nearby petrol station
Gift shop
Anything for the kids?
Small play area, craft area, interactive games, “find the bears” hunt

It wasn’t hard to find the museum and the parking was good. When we got inside the team on reception were friendly and welcoming.

Sopwith Plane

This weekend was our second visit and they had a special Easter Weekend egg hunt on which the kids loved. They had to collect 6 eggs from around the museum by following the clues at each egg station.

The museum is really well laid out and there is pretty good access for buggies. You may have to head the long way around via the lift but you can still get to almost every part of the museum, the exception possibly being the old 1940’s house.

The topic of war is always a tough one to talk about with kids, especially when they hit that curious age and really start to make sense of the world around them.

The displays, although informational and suitable for adults, felt like they were pitched at kids also. With clear information, lots of images and nice displays and some interactive parts to it, it was clear from the kid’s reactions that they enjoyed learning more about the army and their flying machines.

The machines on display were impressive. They’ve got some awesome helicopters, tanks, weapons and trucks in the museum including an apache helicopter. The kids loved the gliders too and they especially enjoyed sitting in some of the helicopters, dressing up in army clothes and flying in the helicopter simulator/game.

We didn’t eat in the cafe but I did buy a couple of drinks. Reasonably priced for a museum and the menu looked pretty standard for a museum. During the summer apparently they have helicopters flying past the cafe.

The kids enjoyed the ball pit and the interactive mirrors/sounds machines. Sadly the craft area was closing for the day on our first visit, and then was closed all day on our second visit – but it did look good. Third time lucky maybe.

As mentioned in the detail box above the £32 that we paid gave us an annual pass. This is great as we’re not too far away from the museum meaning we can pop in at the weekend.

The surrounding area also has a few interesting things to do like a walk at Danebury iron age fort and the beautiful old town of Stockbridge.

All in all a good day out as a family and plenty to see at the Museum of Army Flying

I have more pictures in my Google+ gallery here.

Flying Machines

 

Old Notebook

 

Old Plane

 

1940 House

 

Crashed Glider

Helicopter

 

Nato Armoured Car

http://www.armyflying.com/

The Gallery > Green

This weeks gallery theme is Green.

The two photos I’ve chosen represent two fond memories of good quality family time – you know, the kind of time when you’ve managed to switch off from work and just enjoy the moment.

Dodge Charger

The above is a mint green Dodge Charger. I’ve always wanted a Dodge Charger – ever since I watched the film Vanishing Point. Great film. Epic looking car. The one above was at The Hotrod show at Beaulieu, New Forest on Father’s Day.

New Forest

The second photo was taken in the New Forest, Hampshire. We’d just had a really lovely weekend at Sandy Balls and stopped off here on the way back. Epic colour, wild ponies and a nice way to end a really great weekend with my family.

How to share family photos with Evernote and Pistachio

There are countless services out there that provide a safe(ish) place for you to share photos of your children and your life with family and friends. Facebook is a good example, so too is Google+ but most of my family aren’t on Facebook or Google+ so I’ve always ended up just sending them random photos via email.

Readers of this blog will soon realise that I’m also an Evernote fanboy. I like to store as much stuff as possible in Evernote.

I use Evernote as a family journal. This journal includes snaps of us out and about as well as private musings about life in general. I try to take a photo of the boys everyday so I can look back on how they’ve changed. I also snap their art work and learning – more on that in future posts.

Wouldn’t it be cool though to share just a few of these notes and images in a private place on the web with loved ones? Especially loved ones who aren’t using Evernote?

Well now that’s possible by using Evernote with Postachio. Postachio basically uses Evernote as a Content Management System. So you create the content in Evernote (or Dropbox) and you can then share this content via a Postachio site.

The great part about this is that you can choose which notebooks to share and it also only posts notes that are tagged in Evernote with “published”. This means I can share my family photos but not my private notes about life simply by adding / removing the “published” tag.

Postachio also allows you to make the blog private by using a password.

Here’s a short guide on how to get started.

How to share family photos with Evernote and Postachio

The first thing to do is to make sure you’ve got an Evernote and Postachio account.

Then head to the Postachio dashboard and create a site.

Create a new siteThen name the site. You can use custom domains also, so it’s great for blogs and websites.

Name the site

Now it’s time to connect Postachio and Evernote. Postachio will bring back a list of available notebooks from Evernote when you choose to connect (you will need to authenticate). Choose the notebook you want to sync.

Connect Evernote

Once you’ve connected you’ll get a confirmation message with details of the connected notebook.

success

You will then be asked to create a test note in Evernote and tag it published – and then to sync.

Evernote test post

You’ll then be able to view the new site you’ve created. The default theme is pretty decent and in the image below you can see the test post. Awesome – now Evernote and Postachio are working together nicely.

Synced post on website

Now it’s time to password protect the site otherwise anyone can get access. Head back to the Postachio dashboard and edit the site details. There is a section at the bottom for protecting the site. Check the box and then enter a password. This is the password you will need to provide to family and friends.

Password Protect Site

Now when you visit the site you’ll be prompted to enter a password. Enter the password and login. You can get your browser to remember the password is needed.

Site with Password

In this shot I also changed the default theme. The standard themes are pretty good.

New Design

You can now start adding content to Evernote. The following is an image I dragged in to Evernote but of course you could take photos with the Evernote app on your phone too. The note is in the correct notebook and is tagged “published” which means it should now show on the site.

New note in Evernote with picture

And yep – here is the same photo now on the site.

Site with photo

Here is the test post and the picture post side by side.

Test and Picture

And there it is. A private site on Postachio powered by Evernote. So you can keep the content in Evernote and simply by adding/removing the tag published and syncing Evernote you can add/remove content from the site. A great blogging platform but also a great way to share photos.

Rob..

How to self publish a book – a short guide for busy parents

Last week I published my first book on Amazon – Remaining Relevant and Employable – a book about progressing your career and landing a great job.

As a busy parent it’s tricky to find the time in your busy schedule to sit down and write a book. It’s very hard indeed.

In this post I’ll share with you some of the ways in which I was able to carve out time for my book and finally get it released on to Amazon.

How To Self Publish Image
How To Self Publish Image

The book took about 9 months to write and a further 3 months to edit and get ready for publication. It certainly wasn’t easy but now the book is done I feel I’ve achieved a milestone and completed a life goal.

Writing a book has always been a dream of mine and it was made even more special by the fact my boys were able to search on Amazon and see my author page. They found it funny that daddy was on Amazon. I was quietly proud.

The reason it took so long was because I couldn’t commit much time to it. Life is busy for many of us and that busyness can be amplified when you have kids.

So here are some ideas about how to self publish a book as a busy parent.

Flesh out your idea

The first step to making the book writing process smooth is to flesh out your idea. Use whatever tool or process suits you best.

My advice would be to give yourself an initial hour to sit down and brain dump ideas about your book. You’ve probably been storing ideas about the book for a while, so this may just be a case of bringing it all together. For others it may be the first time you see your rough content together.

The key point is to bring all of these ideas together in a single place. When you see them all together you’ll start to see how the book might evolve and how elements of the book will work (or not work) with each other. When I first did this I realised I had two books. I therefore took some content out of Remaining Relevant and stacked it ready for my next book.

Evernote is a pretty good tool for doing this activity as it allows for collecting of notes, snippets and resources in one place. I personally tend to start with mindmaps and use XMind for this.

I was thinking about my book Remaining Relevant and Employable for a few years before writing it so I collected a huge amount of ideas, research, quotes and references in a variety of tools. Probably way more than necessary.

Once I’d done my research and collected resources and ideas for the book I started to outline the chapters of the book. For this I used the wonderful tool Workflowy. It’s a fabulous tool for outlining pretty much anything. Getting the order of the book right will help you tell the story/message in a clear and fluid fashion. You probably won’t get the order right first time so don’t worry if it still doesn’t feel like it flows right – there’s plenty of time before publishing the book to rework the order. In fact my book was re-arranged many times before it finally became what it is today.

Write the book

Now the really hard work begins. It’s time to write the book.

Don’t be under any illusion about how much work is involved in writing a book. It’s truly hard work. Just trying to find time between dealing with your day job, spending quality time with the kids and carving out time to make your relationships work is tough.

It’s important to find the right amount of time to create. Creating something often requires an uninterupted block of time to get in to the flow. This is tough when you’ve got kids. Very tough.

There were times when I would wake at 5am to write only to find that one or all of the kids would also get up. Or I’d seek out some time in the evening but feel guilty for not helping my wife get the kids lunch boxes and school bags ready. It’s really hard to find a block of time.

I thankfully found a process that worked for me, but it took weeks of experimenting. The key thing is to not give up. Don’t stop trying to find time. You might find that you can write something meaningful in just a few minutes, you might find you need a whole day.

Experiment to find what works and discuss this with your family. Can they support you in this project? Can they help? Can they be more understanding? Can you take some time at the weekend?

Writing a book is a painful process and it’s not just painful for the writer.

It took me ages to get started when I first set out to write Remaining Relevant and Employable. I got distracted and couldn’t fight the resistance (brilliantly discussed in Steven Pressfield’s awesome book).

And then I found a process that worked for me. I discovered a quiet place at work that I could use during my lunch breaks. I found a suite of tools that suited my work. I found my space to write.

Every lunch time I would disappear to this secret place and write for an hour. Every single weekday for about 6 months. Every day I would complete a part of a chapter, sometimes a whole chapter if I was on form, sometimes just one or two lines.

The tools you use to write the book should be whatever works for you. Anything that works is good. There is no right or wrong tool or process. If it doesn’t work, try something different.

I like to write in simple text format so I created individual text files for each chapter. I stored these text files in a folder on Dropbox.

When I was ready to write I would close all other apps and select all of the text files and open them in a Mac tool called TextWrangler. This would open all of them up in one instance of TextWrangler. I could then choose the chapters (individual text files) in the file finder on the left hand side and have the text displayed over on the right.

I’m not a very linear kind of person (I tend to flit from idea to idea) so don’t worry if you don’t feel like starting at the beginning. To kick start the momentum I would often pick easy chapters, or add a few references here and there. I tended to write what I felt like writing and then leave the hard chapters to last. This meant I could almost see the finished book when I took on the really hard chapters. It made it easier. At no point did I not write something though during those lunch breaks.

I know of many people who just sit and blast out chapter after chapter in the order that the book flows. I’m not one of those people.

Find what works for you. It doesn’t really matter how you approach it as long as it works. The key point here is to just write. Write words. Every day.

Don’t edit when writing

I would suggest turning off all grammar and spell checking in the tool you are using (if you can). The mere presence of a red squiggly line is enough to stop my train of thought and make me return to correct the mistake. By using a simple notepad style writer I was able to blast out my thoughts and sentences without worrying about the correctness of them. Only after I had finished did I put them through Microsoft Word spell and grammar check.

Ensuring that I could open my laptop and just write was important. To avoid succumbing to the Internet and other distractions I would ensure all other apps were closed and all notifications turned off.

Editing and Proof Reading

After writing the book it’s important to read through it and proof it. I printed the book out and spent yet more lunch times editing it. My wife kindly reviewed my final draft before I got it ready for Amazon Kindle.

The book was also reviewed by a colleague.

The proof reading and editing process is very time consuming but a worthwhile step.

Getting the book ready for Amazon

To get the book ready for Amazon I needed to get the book in to a .doc format. I did this by simply copying and pasting the content from the text files in to Microsoft Word and then inserting any images. You could also use Google Docs or Pages or Open Office.

Once I had the book in the right format I needed to just make some final tweaks for the Kindle platform.

There are a couple of tweaks needed with the Table Of Content to ensure the book is ready for Kindle.

A dynamic table needs to be added. Simply follow this guide here. That same guide also provides details on how to add start and TOC bookmarks. This part of the process apparently needs to be done on a Windows version of Word.

Once I’d done the above tweaks I saved the file in HTML format (as per the above guide also) and zipped it.

Upload the book

Uploading the book is a doddle. Simply create your KDP account and follow the instructions for uploading. I used the ZIP format and everything uploaded fine first time. I did have some problems with my bookmarks not working when I tested using the emulators. This is quite common apparently but it did seem to work on most devices.

I needed a front cover so I used the amazing Canva service and created a simple front cover for the book.

When you create your account and upload your book you will have to fill in some tax details.

It sounds daunting but it was actually quite straight forward. You basically need to get an EIN code from the US Tax office. So I followed this wonderful guide and got my tax code. Without the EIN you’ll have some of your royalties withheld so best to get it sorted.

I used Skype to make the call to the US and it cost me £1.20. I called at 2pm and my call was answered very quickly indeed. Once I’d got my code I could complete the relevant form and start publishing my book.

Create your author page

Once you upload the book and make it public you’ll get an email from Amazon with some ideas on how to promote the book. One of the key things is to add an author page. I created my Amazon UK page but I’ve still yet to create my US and France pages – it’s on my backlog.

I also created a basic landing page for the book which I am redoing and including as part of my Parent Brain domain.

Tell the world

With that done it is now time to market the book. And that is a giant task in itself :)

I’ve recently finished reading Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick’s short, but excellent, book The Art of Social Media and there is a sample set of ideas on how to promote a book. I’m slowly working my way through them.

My final thoughts are that you should just write it. It’s an emotionally draining and rewarding process and once it’s published you can say to yourself “I’ve published a book”. This alone gave me peace as it’s been a lifelong goal of mine. It is hard work but if you want to publish your own book then there really is no time like the present.

Good luck with your book and please let me know how you get on.

If you’re interested in reading Remaining Relevant and Employable – a book about personal career development, finding good jobs, writing killer CVs and rocking an interview – then feel free to head over to Amazon.

Rob..

Surviving A Conference – Free Guide

I’ve been speaking at and attending conferences for a very long time now. At these conferences I always meet many new people who aren’t sure how to make the most of being at a conference.

Well that’s why I wrote The Blazingly Simple Guide To Surviving A Conference.

You can download the free eBook here, or click on the lovely image below. Enjoy.

THE BLAZINGLY SIMPLE GUIDE
THE BLAZINGLY SIMPLE GUIDE

 

If you liked this, why not check out my new book on finding jobs, creating a great CV and then rocking the interview? Remaining Relevant is available on Amazon right now.

Parent Car Scene – A community for parents

I’ve launched a new private Google+ community to gauge interest in running a family friendly motoring meet-up called Parent Car Scene.

Classic Mercedes at Goodwood Festival of Speed
Classic Mercedes at Goodwood Festival of Speed

If there is interest then I’d like to organise a meet-up and eventually have the community spreading more so it can become an online place for parents to talk about cars.

My goal for the community (both online and off) is to help nurture interest and affection for cars and motoring in our children. It’s not going to be about redlining or donuts. I’m hoping it will be a child friendly event with lots of interesting cars from modern sports cars to classics and a whole host in between.

The community is private right now but please head over and request to join and let’s see what interest there is for the event.

Here is the blurb from the community:

The Parent Car Scene is a community for parents to talk about cars and inspire their children to have an interest in motoring and motorsports. I’m hoping local in-person meet ups will also happen. I’m gauging interest in a local one in Winchester, Hampshire in 2015.

Parent Car Scene is going to be a family friendly environment. I’m hoping that the children at the event will also take photos and videos and we can mash that all together to share with the wider world.

Nothing like a car event from a child’s perspective.

—-

If you are interested then request to join : https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/101063417376750842275