Thursday, 25 August 2022

How to start pen palling

Following on from my last post I thought I'd do a post on how you can get started with pen palling if it is something you are interested in doing and I can guarantee that you will get much joy from it.

Firstly consider a few things:

  • Do you want to just start writing within your own country or are you happy to write internationally
  • How many pen pals do you fee you can realistically take on to start off with - as you find you enjoy pen palling you can always find new people to write to
  • Who do you want write to? - Age, gender, what the person's interest's are etc. It's important to have pen pals that you feel you have things in common with especially to start with I feel, but then I have a pen pal who isn't like me at all and we've been writing to each other for a long time now! 
  • How much to spend on writing supplies, to be honest you don't need that much and it's better to start with the basics which I'll list below and then as you find you get in pen palling you can grow and buy more bits and bobs.

Where to find pen pals?!

There are different ways and places that you can go to find pen pals. 

The first place is social media. I'm a user of Instagram and you can find people's pen pal/creative accounts like mine @naomi_creates__. You can search for hashtags like #PenPalsWanted and my advice is to check out people's accounts and their posts sharing photo's of their pen pal mail.

On Facebook there are pen pal groups you can join to find pen pals.

If you don't want to commit too much too soon and you have a chronic illness/disability you can join the Chronic Warrior Collective and register to join their monthly card swap and  when you join on your profile you can put that you're hoping to find pen pals through the monthly card swap. That's how I've found some of my pen pals.

Basic supplies to get started

➜ Writing sets which contain writing paper or note cards and then some envelopes alternatively you can buy writing paper and envelopes separately. I like the Paperchase spectroscope collection fore their postcards, writing paper and envelopes. Paperchase also do some nice writing sets and note card sets as well as postcards. On Amazon you can also find a range of writing and note card sets.

➜ Pens, I like to have a range of colours so gel pens work well and it can be fun to use glitter or scented pens. I really love Gelly Roll pens but I found these cheap fun pens to get you started here.

These are your main essentials as you can decorate a plain piece of writing paper with doodles using coloured pens as well as hand lettering. Writing sets come pre-designed. 

➜ You may also want to get a few sheets of stickers - Craft Planet do a great range of stickers. I find HobbyCraft good for washi tape as well as Etsy and Amazon. Though to be honest stickers and washi tape aren't core essentials.

Your main essentials is the enjoyment that you put into putting a letter together and the words you write. I get some mail from one pen pal and sometimes he writes on the most basic of supplies undecorated but it's what he writes to me that counts. Or I have another pen pal that writes to me and she just uses plain paper to write on but draws little basic doodles that she colours in. This just shows that all you need are some pens, paper and and envelope.

When you find a new pen pal decide who is going to write first. If you're writing first...

What to say in you first letter if you're writing first

Initially I like to say something like how exciting it is to have a new pen pal and how I look forward to getting to know them.

I then say my usual hello and how are you and I hope you are well.

In my first letter to a new pen pal I usually write just some things about myself (usually I've already said a little so my new pen pal can know me a little to decide if we feel a match to write to each other). But in my first letter I'll go into more detail about myself to introduce myself more fully to my pen pal. Somethings may include:

  • My age and which country I live in
  • My hobbies and interests
  • Fun facts about myself
  • Things I enjoy doing
  • My favourite things
  • What I do in my free time

Also I may add about what I've been up to recently and any upcoming plans and I'll ask my new pen pal things about them and how they are and what they've been up to and what plan they also have coming up.

Finally I'll add that I look forward to hearing from them and that I look forward to getting to know them and being their pen pal.


Here are some YouTube videos that may give you some inspiration:

Friday, 12 August 2022

Why letter writing is so important to me

Letter writing is a huge part of my life but it extends far beyond it just being a hobby. For me receiving a letter in the mail is my bit of connection to the outside world. I have severe M.E which means that I am housebound so I'm not able to go out and socialise like most people.

For me 'snail mail' is my socialising. I read about people's lives and hear what they've been up to they're likes and dislikes and everything in between and though my life isn't that exciting I get to share my life too. The audiobooks and podcasts I've been listening to, playlists of my favourite songs and lists of my favourite YouTubers and blogs, my current craft projects and other things I've been up to like doing my nails or blogging or doing something for my YouTube channel. Sometimes I do talk about my health but that's only one portion of me and I like to share all ten portions of me.

Sometimes I'll write a letter on letter writing paper; other times I'll write inside a handmade card other times I'll get creative especially when I've been inspired by a pen pal's mail or a YouTube video I've watched. I love making every letter/card I send out to my friends and pen pals utterly unique.

As well as writing to pen pals I like to write to friends, it's just nice and something different to a text or message on Instagram particularly when that friend is having a tough time or I just want to surprise them with some lovely mail especially if that friend has been really supportive.

Writing letters isn't easy for me with me M.E. I'm forever apologising for me delayed replies but thankfully everyone I write to is so understanding. It also takes me a while to complete replies and I have to write here and there when I'm able to so sometimes I end up rambling as I lose track of how much in total I've written!

Sometime when I'm not doing so well all I can manage are postcards or a single page reply but again everyone is lovely and understanding.

I have had pen pals in the past who haven't been understanding but I now have a lovely group of pen pals who I write to regularly or as often as we can and friends who we'll send mail to each other occasionally. Some of my pen pals and friends who I write to have chronic illnesses/disabilities too including M.E.

It's nice to have pen pals with M.E as the 'get it' in terms of understanding and living with the condition and how it may affect us and we can write about the highs and lows of living with M.E.

Though I'm not bed bound with my M.E I do spend the fast majority of my day on my bed as this is where I find I am most comfortable with my profiling bed and air flow mattress and I have an over bed table where I can put my laptop or colouring things or letter writing things.

Next to my bed I have a giant cork notice board - like the size you'd find in a class room! There I put up all my mail and other bits and bobs like bracelets I've kindly been given through people who've set up their own thing to make and send out bracelets to people dealing with chronic illness. I also have my knitted angels up there too from the Action for M.E's Christmas Angel's project.

Especially on my bad days I love looking up at my notice board; at all the novelty push pins I've collected and seeing all the mail up there reminds me that no matter how isolated and alone my M.E makes me feel that I am loved by so many people. I also feel a lot of gratitude for the time people have taken to write to me, or to make me that card or paint me that quote or to colour me that image and so on.

So as you can tell by now (hopefully) from this post that letter writing means a lot to mean and it's more than a fun crafty hobby. It's almost a social lifeline to the outside world and how I hear about the outside world too. It's a challenging hobby having the energy to reply to pen pals and make cards including birthday cards but it's worth it. It's also something that I can do in parts on days when I have the energy. Like today I finished writing in a card that I started writing in the other day so it's defiantly manageable and for me I have just enough pen pals that I can keep up with being able to write to and now I've been writing to them all for so long that I now consider them all to be friends as well as pen pals. But yes back when I began writing letters I didn't realise how important for my social wellbeing letter writing would become. 

A view point looking up at a large cork notice board with fairy lights bordering it on the notice board is a colourful collage of mail: cards, postcards and bits of paper with writing on covering the whole space of the notice board
The view from my bed looking up at my notice board

Saturday, 6 August 2022

A peek at some of my favourite phone apps

So first you can see that I really love my calendar and notes app..

I have all of my apps just on this on screen and then each apps is categorised into each folder - I just don't like having multiple screen of apps.

My Top 10 Apps

(In no particular order)

1. Lists

I would be totally lost without my calendar as in there I digitalised my daily plan which helps me manage my M.E. It also helps me to remember appointments and other things especially things that are out of routine.

2. Home Kit

I like my HomeKit where I can control the lighting in my room via my phone. For me this is more for accessibility as it's easier to tap some buttons or voice control to alter the lighting my room as opposed to getting out of bed which is not realistically an option for me to do. 

3. Expense

This is helps me with my incoming and outgoing expenses to help stay on track with my budgeting. I can create different 'accounts' so unlike on my bank where all my money is just one lump sum on Expense I have different accounts for different types of expenditures. Expense helps me stay on try of what I'm spending to help me try and save.

4. Dyson

This app means that I can control all the many differs feature of my my Dyson Hot+Cool™ fan on my phone as well create Siri short cut commands so for some things I can voice control certain features. 

5. Calendar

I would be totally lost without my calendar. Back when I was in Leeds in hospital and I was given my 'daily plan' (which I use to help manage my M.E) I digitalised this daily plan onto my calendar with alerts for every new event, plus my all time favourite thing... colour coding. What's more now with my life, my calendar and my daily plan is that it is easily adaptable. If I have an appointment I can move aspects of my daily plan around, especially activity and rest periods so that I'm still able to get enough mainly the latter in my day.

I'm a very visual person so I think that where my love of colour coding come in and being able to look at my calendar and see what is going on where and being able to visualise what is going on really helps me know what is going on especially if there is something going on in my week that isn't a typical occurrence.

6. 1SE - One Second Everyday

This is a one year long project.Each day I capture a one second video clip (sometimes a photo) and it collects together over the year to create a film of one second video clips giving a little glimpse into what was done that day. Like right now I am filming a time-lapse video of me typing blog post for today's video clip. Obviously I'm not perfect and I do forget and I do have to back track and fill in missing days. My life also isn't the most exciting one so I try come up with really creative videos.

7. Hip

This is a great app for keeping track of friends birthdays. I have it set to notify me 2 and 1 week before the birthday date to give me plenty of time to make and get a card posted. It also notifies me on the day so I can drop them a message.

8. iMovie

This is the app I use to make all of my video for my YouTube channel so definitely a favourite and essential app to have.

9. Good Reads

I really like the Good Reads app and being able to track the books I've read/listened to. I also have my yearly challenge where I set a target of getting through a set number of books in a year. I can also connect with friends and see what they've been reading and this gives me ideas for books I want to add to add to my 'Want to Read' shelf. When I've finished a book I can also leave a rating and also review. It's defiantly one of my favourite apps.

10. My Water

Monitoring my water intake is really important for my health so the My Water app makes it really easy to ensure that I'm staying nicely hydrated. You input what drink you've had say a 300ml cup of coffee and it will calculate the water balance of that drink which will go towards your daily target. So for me I aim to drink 2.5 litres a day so the My Water app helps me reach that target much more easily.

Saturday, 9 July 2022

Disability services I use and would recommend

Radar key

A key in a lock. The key has a blue easy to hold handle and a key ring attached.
Radar keys help you access disabled toilets and Changing Places that are fitted with a radar key lock. By having a radar key it helps you to access more of these facilities such as for me when I stop off at Peterborough Services my radar key enables me to access their Changing Places facility.

If you don't have a radar key you can get them from places like continence services, the blue badge company, aids and adaptations stores, Age UK, disability rights UK and other places.

Radar keys also come in different designs so the key I have has a large easy to grip key end making it easier for me to hold the key to unlock the door.

Sunflower Lanyard

A green lanyard with sunflowers on with a card attached that is green with sunflowers on and a white rounded corner with text reading hidden disabilities
The Sunflower Lanyard scheme is for people with invisible illnesses/hidden disabilities. Though when I leave the house I'm in my wheelchair I sill have hidden parts of my disabilities whether that be speech or cognitive difficulties, needing a carer with me or having hidden medical devices and other things. So because of this I wear a Sunflower Lanyard to identify to staff that I have hidden disabilities and this helps me with accessing the support I need. Such as one time I was able to bypass a queue into a store when explained that I was unable to queue aided by the highlight of the Sunflower Lanyard I was wearing. I do find that wearing my Sunflower Lanyard does help and staff are more receptive to offering more assistance or aiding my access when I do go out.

I just have a plain Sunflower Lanyard and card but you can get cards for your lanyard that specify different medical conditions or things like autism or that you a carer. You can now get personalised ID cards for your Sunflower Lanyard (which are sort-of similar to the Access cards but a little different).

You can get your Sunflower Lanyard and cards from the Hidden Disabilities website and then head to their shop through the menu.

Continence card

This is a little card that you can carry around with you to explain that you 'can't wait' and need quick access to a toilet. This could be if there is a queue for the toilet, explaining a need to use a disabled toilet (because not every disability is visible) or even in a shop or restaurant to hopefully use the staff toilet if there is no public toilet.

You can get these cards from the IBS Network and also The Bladder and Bowel Community. You can also get these cards for travelling having the same 'can't wait' information in other languages.

Access card

Access cards are a quick and easy way to communicate what your access needs are. On your card you will have different symbols which outline your access needs from having an assistance dog, being d/Deaf, needing essential carers with you or level access. For more information see their guidance on their different symbols.

When you apply for the card you have to explain why you need each access symbol. You will have to complete an application for a card and submit supporting evidence. The card costs £15 and is valid for 3 years.

To find out more check and to apply for an access card got to their website here.

CEA card

The CEA card allows you to go to the cinema and have someone get in for free with you. It is part of providing reasonable adjusts for disabled people meaning they can have someone enter the cinema with you. This means that this additional person is able to then provide if needed any support you may require.

There is a small cost for the card and it is valid for a year. You do have to provide evidence of disability to apply for a card.

To find out more check out the CEA card website here.

Audiobook services

I use several audiobook services, some of which you may be eligible for. 

The first is the RNIB Reading Library. I've been using this for many years way back when they used to send out to me books on a CD to listen to. Then they brought out a way to access their books through an app on your mobile phone instead - however you can still access what they have in their library in other formats.

The next two audiobook services accept a wider range of people to use their audiobook libraries - both are accessed through an app.

The second is Listening Books; like RNIB Listening Books is a charity that enables disabled people to access audiobooks. As well as books newspapers and magazines can also be accessed. 

Listening books does charge a small fee though this may be wavered based on your circumstances.

The last audiobook service I use is Calibre Audio. This is a free audiobook service and is very similar to the ones run by RNIB and Listening Books. Like the others I choose to listen through the app.

Sunday, 3 July 2022

Sometimes birthdays aren't a celebration

A plate with some rectangular slices of chocolate cake with decorations on top and some lit candles
A few weeks ago I had my 29th birthday but since becoming chronically ill in 2013 more and more as the years passed by I've found it harder to see my birthdays as something to celebrate.

This year was particularly hard as turning 29 I'm not where I planned to be as well as the thought that I'll be 30 next year! Back in 2012 and even before then I had my life (well my career as that was my sole focus in life) I'd planned that by the age I am now I'd be advancing in my career in mental health nursing with children and young people ready to start my psychotherapy training when I hit 30/my 30's.

Unfortunately that is not my life now and I know that I need to accept and work with my therapist on making a new plan for my life and to focus on the the present moment. I do practice gratitude and I do aim to celebrate the big and small achievements in my life. Simple things most people probably don't think twice about but for me they are truly are big things like recently managing to Shellac my nails when I haven't felt well enough to do so for a while bringing joy into my life as I love having my nails done.

So yes on my birthdays there are things in the past year that I have "celebrated" but I still find a birthdays a hard occasion to celebrate as I feel like my life is stuck. Most of my "celebrations" are over the small things (which are still important) but there are no big milestones moving my life forward in the way that that I'm wanting it to. Birthdays especially are a process of grieving as I see myself getting older and I wonder things like 'will I ever return to education?', 'will I even have gone on a holiday?', 'will I ever have my my own home?', 'will I even be able to work or volunteer?' and such things. Rather than happiness I often feel sadness on my birthday missing what I had planned for my life to be but struggling to plan a new alternative life for myself that's more accommodating for the challenges with my disabilities. I see my age increasing but I don't see my life going anywhere anytime soon and I feel so disheartened.

I do try to make my birthday a nice day. This year I kept to my usual schedule for the day that helps me manage my M.E and other illnesses. But I put on a facemask I'd been saving for a special occasion (so a birthday is a perfect reason to use it) and I put on some makeup (which always makes me feel brighter). For my afternoon activity I opened gifts from friends. For tea I asked if we could eat something I enjoyed so we had salad and fish finger wraps.

So it was a nice day and I did enjoy my birthday but there was a lot of thinking about 'here and now' and grief over the loss of the life I had planned out and I know now that I need to make a new plan both short and long term and I have started on that, it just takes some healing over the life I've lost.

I really hope that by next year I can truly celebrate my 30th birthday! - I've already asked if I could have some 3-0 balloons as a way to celebrate.

Monday, 6 June 2022

My body is a medical play thing - A poem by me

My body is a medical play thing
medical students and junior doctors surround me
eager to learn

Prodding, poking and flexing my body
trying out things they'd learnt in university
physical exams on an unusual body

Practicing taking a complex medical history
question after question
fascinated with the answers

They surround my bed
disturbing my quiet
when I'd rather be left to be ill alone

It makes me feel that to them
that they have forgotten that I am a person
but instead one of their cadavers 

I've never really given writing poetry a go. At school I hated poetry as my dyslexic brain could never get words to rhyme. However I've been reading a lot of Hannah Hodgson's work and from her YouTube channel she's gotten me interested in poetry. Hannah has made me realise that poetry is more than rhyming it's about expression of our thoughts, feeling and experiences. Hannah writes a lot about her experience of illness and this poem (well I hope it is) is an expression of how I feel from my own experiences.