LEGO, Productivity

LEGO Brick Bank: How To Cash In On Fun With A Sound Investment

Next up in my series of reviews for the LEGO Creator Expert range, I’m tackling the LEGO Brick Bank. I have previously reviewed Assembly Square and the Parisian Restaurant. As ever, this page contains affiliate links. Clicking these does not affect the price you pay, but I will earn a small fee if you do purchase something. Which is good, because collecting LEGO isn’t the cheapest hobby, however I have heard it can be a sound investment.

Now I couldn’t bear to part with these kits or to not even open the box in the first place, but those that have more self-restraint have earned a tidy profit. This is not a guaranteed money spinner, as with any type of antique collecting, but retired models in the LEGO Creator Expert range have sold for 2 or 3 times their original value. If a set is rare enough, I think you could recoup your spend even on a model that had been built. As we know, that isn’t my motivation for buying them, but I thought it worth mentioning, especially as today’s build has a financial theme.

Lego Brick Bank: How To Cash In On Fun With A Sound Investment

What I love about the LEGO modular builds are their intricate, technical builds, like the underside of the bank roof, and their humorous details, such as the frog below. I have no idea why there is a frog on the roof. I thought it might be a tribute to a designer’s favourite animal, but I can find no details on this. Either way, he livens up the winch, currently being used to help the launderette sign, but which also serves a more nefarious purpose.


LEGO kits are great for the imagination, but to help you along, Brick Bank has a secret storyline. The seemingly innocuous photographer is actually *gasp* a bank robber. Having hidden her disguise on the roof, she uses the winch from the rope to lower herself down into the bank vault via the chimney. In no small feat of engineering, it is actually possible to drop the figure down through the completed building, then remove the top floor to find her safely in the locked vault. You cannot imagine how much fun myself and my parents had ‘testing’ this feature.

Here is a shot of our robber doing a test run before the roof was put on. Despite the hot fire on the other side, she slipped down the chimney like a Father Christmas in training. The bank manager is totally oblivious, although I would be too if I had that grand red and gold stamper to play with. He also has a pet parrot, which I’ve managed to cut out of this photo, but provides a nice link to the florist in Assembly Square. In his drawer he has a love letter, perhaps it is from her?

Now you might be wondering why there is a launderette tucked into the back of this rather grand old brick bank. Well it’s not so all the LEGO people can wash their clothes. If you look carefully, you will see that the top right machine is out of order. It has a false back and if you post money through it (or diamonds, both of which are generously supplied) then it ends up in the safes in the vault. This is, of course, money laundering. Feel free to groan at the pun, but it’s a neat feature.

As the machine unit fits into the vault, on the back is a coin counting machine. Adorably, it actually does stack the shiny coins (and the spares that I couldn’t fit in went in Assembly Square’s fountain for luck). This is not a playset for fat fingers, the vault door is simple but very effective and there’s a lot crammed in a small space. There is also some beautiful architecture, rivalling the restaurant I think. The stained glass windows are a particular highlight, although as they are made by a billion stacks of 1 by 1 pieces, they are also a literal pain. I had to soak my fingers after assembling the panels! But the pain was worth it.

With the Brick Bank being a floor shorter than the others, you might think this was a smaller or less detailed build. But while it is shorter when the buildings are lined up, the footplate is packed with fancy tiling, window treatments, an insane skylight and a beautiful chandelier. There are plenty of story opportunities, even if you ignored the criminal activity. Best yet, for collectors at least, this is one of the corner buildings, so it finishes the end of the road nicely. Next time, I’ll be delving further into the criminal underworld of LEGO with the Detective’s Office.

Positivity, Productivity

Welcome to my office, are you excited to take a tour?
Welcome to my office, are you excited to take a tour?
Busy bees…
Welcome to my office, are your excited to take a tour?
Moominmamma helps out Moomintroll

I thought it would be nice to show you behind the scenes at Prior Portfolio HQ. So today we’re going to take a tour of some of my favourite bits of my office.

As I work from home, it’s really important to me that my office is a comfortable and comforting environment. I surround myself with inspiring objects and art to keep myself motivated. Sometimes these objects help me come up with ideas, and sometimes they just cheer me up if I’m having a tiring day. I thoroughly recommend, for example, that everyone gets novelty push pins for their notice board. My swarm of busy bees are always ready to work for their Queen!

The bee pins are a lovely bright yellow, and I’ve echoed this jollity in my armchair. All writers require a reading nook, so while my desk chair is a functional and utterly boring faux leather number, my comfy chair is a glorious squishy buttercup. If you squint it rather resembles a Minion, with its rounded edges and in-your-face all-yellow. The chair recently got treated to a cushion, not just so I can be extra snuggly, but also to add even more colour. I picked up this wonderful seaside fabric in Whitby, North Yorkshire, which is one of my favourite places on Earth. While the seafront at Whitby is very different to the charming scene depicted on the fabric, I love how busy my seaside cushion is. I imagine all the people going into the shops and cafes, larking about on the beach and relaxing in the huts. I’m sure I’ll get a few short stories out of this cushion.

Welcome to my office, are you excited to take a tour?
I do like to be beside the seaside…

The desk itself has been featured on Prior Portfolio before, in fact, my beloved Brenda (you have to know that me naming a desk is not weird, it’s absolutely standard Vicky Prior behaviour), is so important she is on the homepage. Brenda the Bureau was found in a shop in York, where I used to live and beautifully restored by my Dad. She is guarded by Buddy, a Gnome in shining armour, who got his name because he is rather Buddha-like. Buddy recently got himself a friend, in the form of Harold Best. Now you might wonder why I have a cardboard cutout of a random man from a National Railway Museum exhibition. The truth is, Harold Best is a character from the exhibition, but he was played by my lovely Dad. The chance to own a foot-high version of my father was too much to resist, and the museum kindly gave it to me when the exhibition ended. Dad watches me from his cardboard perch and makes sure I don’t procrastinate too much.

Welcome to my office, are you excited to take a tour?
Harold, looking very dapper and Buddy, on guard

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of my office and it has given you a glimpse into my working practice/my odd brain. If you’d like to make sure I get to spend more time with Brenda, Harold and Buddy, then you can email vicky@priorportfolio.co.uk to have a chat about hiring me.

Productivity

How to improve productivity by playing The Sims 4

I’m going to let you on a secret. Playing computer games can actually improve your productivity. Well-earned rest breaks are a key component of a healthy work-day, and by choosing downtime activities that enhance your work, your productivity will skyrocket. My top tip? Play The Sims 4.

How to improve productivity by playing The Sims 4 | Prior Porfolio | Vicky Prior - Freelance Writer
Minerva sits and reads a book, improving her focus

Ok, so I know games like The Sims 4 are notorious time-sucks but bear with me here. First up, and it’s an obvious one, time your playing. A good half-hour or an hour of gaming is a great way to rest, you aren’t spending longer than you would be watching an episode of your fave TV show, but you’ve immersed yourself in something that isn’t your work.

The Sims 4 is a life simulation game. You create a Sim, which could look just like you or be totally different. You then guide them through their life, buying and decorating houses, getting a job, making friends and getting married. New expansions mean your Sim can move to the City, vacation in the jungle, and fill their house with adorable pets. Your Sim could also turn into a vampire, have a skeleton servant and converse with the Grim Reaper, so it’s not all realistic, but then for some of us owning a beautiful 3 storey home with views overlooking the bay is a pipe dream, so what’s a little vampire sparring compared to that?

 

How to improve productivity by playing The Sims 4 | Prior Portfolio | Vicky Prior - Freelance Writer
The Sims go outside. Remember to do this too! Maybe not the vampire battle bit.

 

The point is that in order to succeed at The Sims, you have to plan. Time management is really important. Especially if you’ve achieved a big house, even going to the toilet can take an hour in the game (minutes tend to pass more like seconds, and there are ultra-speed modes). Your Sim will get hungry, lonely and bored. You have to fulfil all these needs in order to get good promotions, as well as completing job-specific tasks, like levelling up skills or making friends. This teaches you about work-life balance. If you can achieve a good balance for your Sim, there is no reason why you can’t do the same for your own life.

Before I start playing, I review where I got to with life goals, job promotions and relationships and plan what my Sim should focus on that day. I carefully allot time for socialising and learning skills, while sticking to the framework the game gives me for the Sim’s working hours and checking on the Sim’s hygiene and hunger levels. This is exactly the same as how I manage my own day. Have I left enough time for a nutritious lunch while still doing all my writing tasks? Can I go out today, or do I need to stay in and learn something new? Am I lonely, and need to be around people, or could I burrow down in the office and clear my to-do list?

 

How to improve productivity by playing The Sims 4 | Prior Portfolio | Vicky Prior - Freelance Writer
Work hard and you too could have a pub in your house…or at least a well-stocked bar

Humans don’t come with a handy green plumbob above their head, that goes red when something is wrong. I have to learn to listen to my own needs. But by paying attention to what my body needs and cross-referencing that with my work goals, both daily and lifetime, I can get things done. Many players of The Sims 4 have said how nice it is to feel in control of someone’s life, in a way they might not manage with their own. I took that further and decided to apply the structure of The Sims to my own life, in order to gain control. Just remember to set a timer before playing, The Sims 4 is very addictive once you start!

This post contains affiliate links, which mean that I could earn a small commission if you purchase something through them.

LEGO, Productivity

LEGO Parisian Restaurant: An intricate and entertaining build

As promised in my last LEGO review of Assembly Square, this month we continue my new-found addiction with a look at the sumptuous LEGO Parisian Restaurant.  Before we begin, please note that this review is peppered with affiliate links, which mean that if you click on them and then make a purchase I may earn a small fee. This does not affect the price you pay. Legalese out of the way, let’s get cooking…


LEGO Parisian Restaurant: An intricate and entertaining build

I already have a patisserie in Assembly Square, so popping a restaurant next door seemed like a good move. In my head, the chefs are brothers with a friendly rivalry. The restaurant chef is called Albert, I know this because LEGO kindly included a sign with the restaurant. I also have an enormous croissant, which is possibly my only complaint with this build, the food is a little out of proportion. See into the kitchen in the photo below, where that lovely turkey has been perfectly cooked, but not in that oven. Although I was delighted to see LEGO’s usual attention to detail as each drumstick pulls off. Note also the intricacy of the tiled floor, and the stack of dishes by the sink. It’s all these little details that make these builds a joy, and the LEGO Parisian Restaurant does not lack joy.

LEGO Parisian Restaurant: An intricate and entertaining build

So packed is it, in fact, that some of the details become obscured. Here is a shot of the outside seating area, with the word ‘CHEZ’ carefully picked out. Unfortunately, this then gets hidden under the seats and the table with the enormous croissant. I suppose some builders might enjoy having secret bits to themselves.

LEGO Parisian Restaurant: An intricate and entertaining build

There is a second seating area, up a staircase from the front that converts to a side patio, overlooked by a stunning chimney. The chimney is a slow build, one lot of bricks per page of the manual, but the finished effect is superb. It also matters not a jot to the overall playability or structure of the restaurant, which is what I love about LEGO, they pop in bits just because they can. This next photo also gives you an idea of the roof, which is a feat of engineering. I have no idea how they come up with these ways to fit lumps of plastic together. Not only does this roof curve, it also includes windows and *can be pulled down* to reveal an artist’s studio.

That all of this can be done without the LEGO feeling like it is going to snap or fall off is excellent. I sometimes think my LEGO buildings are sturdier than my actual house!
LEGO Parisian Restaurant: An intricate and entertaining buildLEGO Parisian Restaurant: An intricate and entertaining buildLEGO Parisian Restaurant: An intricate and entertaining build

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All that chimney is for a lovely kiln, despite our artist not being a potter. She is a dab hand at Piet Mondrian style paintings, a double bonus for me as alongside being a clear fit for LEGO’s style, he happens to be my favourite painter. With Paris being one of my favourite and most-visited places, and with me being a huge fan of dining out, it’s like this kit was invented just for me. In fact, the LEGO Parisian Restaurant was the first in the series that I saw, several years ago in an official LEGO shop. To have it sat on the table in front of me now is an odd sensation.

LEGO Parisian Restaurant: An intricate and entertaining build

The middle floor of this three-storey build is given over a studio flat. The poor chap that lives here doesn’t have a loo, so I suppose he’ll have to make friends with the single mum next door at Assembly Square and use hers. He does have a great pull-down bed though, architects would do well to take notes from LEGO in how to build space saving homes.

Not that building LEGO saves any space in my home, we’ve had to create a special surface for my new street. Next month, I’ll give you a tour of LEGO Creator Expert Brick Bank, but if you want sneak previews, be sure to check out Instagram where I showcase my builds.

LEGO, Productivity

How to build a LEGO obsession: Buy the brilliant Assembly Square

I had a basic LEGO set when I was little, but I never embraced it through to adulthood like many of my friends had done. That said, I did enjoy browsing the LEGO store and seeing the beautiful sculptures that people came up with. I’d keep an eye out for internet articles on new builds. And thus I was led to the LEGO Creator Expert series, a group of modular buildings that fit together to form a street. For the range’s 10 year anniversary, LEGO threw everything into building a town square that would incorporate elements from all the previous builds, include a whopping 7 shops and a flat, 8 highly prized minifigures (plus dog and baby) and a plethora of features to make this LEGO’s most detailed set of the series. I fell in love.

How to build an obsession: Buy LEGO Creator Expert Assembly Square | Prior Portfolio | Vicky Prior - Freelance Writer

Assembly Square is a magnificent piece of kit. It also retails for a fairly magnificent price, which given the fact the kit contains over 4000 individual pieces, is actually very reasonable. I had a small amount of savings left over from moving house with my parents, a particularly stressful and complex move. Didn’t I deserve a treat? No, they said, reasonably pointing out that I hadn’t established my writing business in Doncaster as yet, and so needed to keep hold of my savings.

Then came my 31st birthday, when it transpired that my mischievous parents had ordered LEGO Assembly Square the very next day after I’d shown it to them. Apparently, I did deserve a treat after all. This is where things went horribly wrong, if you’re my parent’s bank balance, and horribly right if you’re a LEGO seller. We all fell in love with Assembly Square. We couldn’t believe the detail. Building it satisfied my architectural fantasies and my love of dollhouses. The storytelling possibilities were endless. We had to have more.

 

How to build an obsession: Buy LEGO Creator Expert Assembly Square | Prior Portfolio | Vicky Prior - Freelance Writer
There is water in the toilet bowl!
How to build an obsession: Buy LEGO Creator Expert Assembly Square | Prior Portfolio | Vicky Prior - Freelance Writer
A chicken statue tops of one of the buildings

 

 

 

And so this is the first in a series of blogs about the LEGO Creator Expert range. I have all the ones currently available, bar the Diner because it’s just not quite right for me. I will be reviewing each build in turn and I regularly post pictures on my Instagram, where the response from fellow AFOLs (Adult Fans Of LEGO) has been delightful.

Now to the nitty-gritty: The ridiculously large box houses lots of bags of LEGO, numbered 1-6 for each stage of the build. You work from the floor up, with the groundwork including lots of detailed tiling, as well as paving and even street vents. Then you build each room up, filling it with baking equipment for the patisserie, flowers in the florist, a piano for the ballet teacher and a camera for the photographer. Best of all, the flat is occupied by an official AFOL, who has filled the room with her LEGO models. In a stroke of genius, these comprise miniature versions of famous LEGO sets, including the first three Creator Expert buildings. Here is a LEGO train set in miniature, with the Eiffel Tower in the background:

How to build an obsession: Buy LEGO Creator Expert Assembly Square | Prior Portfolio | Vicky Prior - Freelance Writer

The outside is magnificent and the inside a hoot, but even the back of these builds is a sight to behold. An alleyway between the coffee shop and the florist leads to back and side entrances, plus access to the dentist , photographer and flat via a gorgeous climbing staircase with balconies. The flat has an outdoor garden and grill area, hidden from front view by the elaborate roof, while the florist has a stained glass window section that can be removed for easier access while playing. The design is a nod to LEGO Creator Expert Brick Bank.

How to build an obsession: Buy LEGO Creator Expert Assembly Square | Prior Portfolio | Vicky Prior - Freelance Writer

The keener-eyed of my readers will notice a ladder to the left of the grill area. Rooftop access is very important to LEGO modular builds, and the roof of the blue building can also be accessed via staircase and trap door. Alongside offering surfaces for creating my own outdoor space (I’m thinking a romantic picnic area on top of the flat) it links in well with the rooftop escape needed in the LEGO Brick Bank storyline. But you’ll have to wait for my third review to find out about that…

It should be obvious that I thoroughly recommend buying LEGO Creator Expert Assembly Square 10255 Building Kit, although I accept no responsibility for any ensuing addiction. I do have to tell you that the links in this blog are affiliate links, which means if you click on them and purchase anything from the Amazon store, I will receive some commission. This does not alter the price you pay, though it will enhance my ability to buy more LEGO.

My next review will be LEGO Creator Expert Parisian Restaurant and should be published in March.

NaNaWriMo, Productivity

nano-results

As detailed here, I use National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it is better known, not to write a novel but to achieve other career goals. 2015 saw me upping my stamina in how many words I could write daily, with a pretty good level of success. 2016 was more of a mixed bag.

 

The challenge was to write 50 applications for writing jobs, to include one-off article pitches and applications to agencies, within the 30 days of November. I pretty much set myself up for failure on this one. I actually managed a grand total of….wait for it….9 applications.

 

On a surface level, I failed my NaNoWriMo in spectacular fashion. However, if I take into account why my total is so low and what I actually did do in November, a much brighter picture emerges.

 

First up, I wrote myself a proper writing CV. Technically it was a rewrite, but the first one was so rubbish I don’t think it counts. While this didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would, it was something I had been putting off. And this is where my big November success comes in, while new applications didn’t feature very well, old applications that had been gathering cyber dust really came into their own.

 

I applied to both CloudPeeps and nDash, both online agencies that work a bit like the dreaded Upwork, except the clients are better vetted and oh-my-word is the pay better. I now have to work on pitching the clients I can access through these platforms, but just filling in the applications was a huge step. I also finally applied for specialisation on Scripted, and managed to pitch a client on there. This girl is on fire!

 

The other important result from November was that I checked job boards and emails every single day. This led to the realisation that I can take the weekend off job searches, as it is rare for new opportunities to be posted. I also learned that while it might not always be suitable for me, there is a constant supply of freelance writing jobs. This is not a career path that shows any sign of slowing down, despite well-publicised financial problems in print media.

 

Although I compiled a list of places that wanted writers, but didn’t actually apply to them, I have ended up with a new list of places that regularly accept freelance work. It is best to apply to these magazine sites when they are actively seeking new writers, but they do not object to writers pitching them throughout the year. I know that a big block for me was coming up with ideas to pitch, so at least I have the relevant contact details on hand for when inspiration does strike.

 

Overall, I’m calling NaNoWriMo 2016 a win. I learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses and I did manage to clear a backlog. I also spent a lot of time working with new clients that accepted me just as November started, which took away a chunk of application time. I still need to balance applying for jobs with doing paid work, but I think a routine is slowly emerging.

 

As ever, if you would like to hire me and put a temporary stop to my application woes, drop me a line at vicky@priorportfolio.co.uk

 

 

NaNaWriMo, Productivity

NaNoWriMo logo

If you have considered writing, or you spend time on social media, then you are bound to have heard of NaNoWriMo. Every November is designated National Novel Writing Month for us wordsmiths, the aim being to crank out 50,000 words of a fiction novel in 30 days.

 

Over time, NaNoWriMo has evolved from developing a short novella in 30 days to having the first 50,000 words of a longer novel. Or of a non-fiction book. Or a collection of short stories. Poetry became so popular they have their own month (April). I haven’t ever properly participated in NaNo, but last year I chose to adapt it for my own purposes. A wonderful online community springs up every November, and a casual search of #NaNoWriMo on twitter brings up a virtual room filled with every agony, ecstasy and support for writers.

 

Last Autumn I was building up my work on content mill-style sites. Each day I would log in, search the available work, and shy away from anything that was too long, that I’d need to research, that wasn’t absolutely perfect. I was doing well, but there was so much more work on there I could be doing if only I stretched myself a little bit. So I printed off a blank calendar for November 2015 and sat down to think about comfortable word counts.

 

A good target should present a challenge but not be impossible. Setting yourself up to fail is a bit counterproductive. I decided that 50,000 words was far too much, especially as I was relying on other people to post work opportunities. I settled on 700 words a day, or 21,000 for the month. I ended November with a grand total of 19,647 words and a healthier bank balance.

 

This year, I’m building up my writing business (you can hire me, if you want). I need to apply for freelance gigs but I get nervy and fed-up. NaNo will provide the push I need. Although I’m once again relying on what other people post, I’ve decided to stick to the ’50 in 30′ concept and set a target of 50 applications. This can include applying to online marketplaces for future work, freelance gigs and the occasional non-paid writing opportunity, if I think it will enhance my portfolio.

 

So, I’ve got 50 jobs to apply for 30 days. How are you going to adapt NaNoWriMo to work for you?