Friday 15 January 2016

I think this might be goodbye

Gosh, how many times have I thought about writing this? Well here I am. Might as well just do it.

I suppose there might be some people out there waiting for an update and wondering where I've been and what I've been doing. Now you're going to find out. But it's a long post. Settle down. Get a cuppa.

To recap, we just about got by financially while I was a stay-at-home mum for seven years, but as you know last year various things started coming together and every month, no matter how much we slimmed down, the amount going out was a bit more than the amount going in. I was sewing curtains part-time, but that doesn't make much money. All the boys were finally in school. And the crunch hit: we'd hit the limit of our overdraft in mid December and all the sh*t would hit the fan.

I couldn't keep indulging my passion for sewing, writing and creating: I was the only one who could get us out of this mess. My husband's job is fairly static in level/pay for now - long story, and I'd have to tell you what his job is to explain, which he understandably doesn't want me to reveal.

Basically I had to get a job. I started by doing some admin/receptionist temping work in late November and through December while interviewing for jobs in the transport planning field that I had left seven years previously.

These are the assumptions I had when going into the process:

  • No one in my old industry would hire me. I had been seven years out of it and that would make my skills and knowledge redundant. I was unemployable.
  • On the extremely rare chance I could get a job, I would have to agree to work full-time and that would have a massive impact on the family, childcare, etc.
  • On the extremely rare chance I could get a job, it would take ages and a huge amount of leg-work to get it to happen. I would be working in admin for quite some time first.
  • When I left the transport planning industry, that I had fallen into in the first place, I was absolutely desperate to leave and start a new life being a stay-at-home mum and then finding my dream other job. I would hate to go back. It was not for me.
  • If I did go back, I would flounder for ages. I would feel out of my depth. I would take a long time to not only get back up to speed with industry knowledge, but also the basic skills of work like report writing, IT, etc, and feel like an imposter and make them wonder why they hired me.
  • I would hate the commute. I would hate the time away from the children. I would miss them dreadfully and feel guilty and constantly like I was missing out. I would be sacrificing my happiness because I had to go back for work for financial reasons. I would do it, but I would feel a huge loss in the process.
  • The children would hate it too. They wouldn't like breakfast or after-school club. They'd feel abandoned. They'd find it really strange adjusting to their dad often collecting them from school and doing the previously mummy things of making dinner, homework, etc.
  • I would feel bereft having to give up the sewing that was so close to my heart, and the business I'd been working to develop.
But it had to be done, so I speculatively sent out my CVs to consultancy companies, contacted a recruitment agent in the area, worked hard on my CV, discovered Linkedin, and all the other things when you're going hell for leather to find a job. This is what actually happened:
  • Two of the four companies invited me to interview. I could not believe it.
  • Within a fortnight, I had had both interviews.
  • They both offered me a job. They both offered me a job! At four days a week instead of five. perfect. With good pay. With a drop in seniority to where I had left off, but I expected and wanted that so I could have some time refreshing myself and learning the work again, without the pressures of managing staff and budgets.
  • In fact, far from feeling like I'd almost have to beg for a job, they both liked me so much that they were trying to sell themselves to me, knowing I had the other company interested too.
  • I accepted one of them. We had gone from a massive financial struggle and me feeling unemployable, to signing a contract of a great job with a great company, based really close to the station in a major city, and all in about three weeks. Rollercoaster doesn't even cover it.
Goodness, it took some adjustment. I spent several weeks afterwards feeling mostly stunned. I had to wrap up the sewing business, try (unsuccessfully) to get all my sewing work finished up, sort childcare out, buy work clothes (!), plan commuter routes, and all the other things you have to do when going from a stay-at-home to a working-mum. All in December with Christmas to organise at the same time. It was frantic, frenetic, hectic, overwhelming, and a whole lot of other words that all basically mean the same thing.

And while all the money worries, CV writing, job hunting, interview prepping, Christmassing, logistic-sorting and everything else was going on, I didn't have the time to write anything here.

I stared work on January 4th. I get most Friday's off as I work four days usually, and this is the end of my second week. It's possible that I'm in the honeymoon period, but having read back those assumptions I listed earlier, here's what's actually happening:
  • I thought I would take quite some time to get back up to speed, though I knew I am quick on the uptake and good at absorbing new information. But I felt fine very quickly. I read around the subject and google search things where I need to. The things I don't know are mostly to do with the transport infrastructure in the north versus the south, where I used to work, and that's not a lot different to if I'd never stopped working and just relocated.
  • I hit my stride pretty fast. I feel, in the best possible way, like I never left. There are loads of new things (telephone conferencing on Lync - blew my mind!) but I'm getting my head around them fine.
  • I feel like I'm good at this. I write reports and they get complimented. I've not written a report in seven years! But turns out, it's like riding a bike. And if you're engaged and interested, if you're good at report-writing generally, you can do it. My colleagues seem to trust me, as do my bosses. One of my bosses actually said, a few days in and after my first report was finished, something along the lines of: "You get a feeling for someone when you interview them, but you never fully know for sure, and I'm really pleased to see I was right about you." They're giving me work and responsibilities as a result that I don't think they realised they could do, at the start. I feel like I'm worth the money they're paying me.
  • I like the commute and the office work. I feel like my brain is lit up. I feel like I'm somebody, like I'm important and going somewhere again. I feel a bit ambitious. I like to be helpful and useful. And I know I'm a swot, but I love to be learning things again and using that academic brain that's been sat wrapped in bubble-wrap all these years.
  • I miss the children, but they're happy at their before/after school clubs, their dad's doing wonderfully (though it's hardcore for him working 7am-2.30pm then rushing to collect the kids three days a week, cooking dinner, etc). I feel appreciative of all our time together. I am sillier with them. I am not ground down. I am lit up.
  • Losing the money worries is huge. I feel a hundred times lighter. That weight had been on my shoulders and that worry had been grinding at me for a long, long time. We have new stresses now, mostly of the logistical kind, but they've not cumulated like the money stress had, and so we feel very blessed by comparison.
  • I actually feel more organised and on top of things, despite having less time at home. I feel like I'm becoming that old organised person that I once was, and couldn't understand why I couldn't be all these last few years. No idea why that's happened: because it had to? Because I have the commute to put down one role and take up another? Because things have to be more efficient and planned and so I'm being and doing both?
  • I like my job. I like being a working mum. I never, ever would have thought it, but I do. I like feeling like I'm doing well at things and being recognised for it. And the sewing? I don't miss it yet. And when I do, I'll be able to sew us a cushion on a whim or something, rather than feel that it's also a job and a deadline that makes me feel under pressure.
  • What was one of the worst and most worrying times of our life, could, it seemed, only be fixed by the loss of so much: mothering, sewing, my dreams, and everything in between. How could we have known how it would turn out? Overall, I'd say we've gained rather than lost. I had to fix our problem and I went out and did it, and the sacrifice became a blessing in disguise.
As for the blogging, where do I go from here? Well I'm saying goodbye. Not necessarily forever, so watch this space. But I don't feel the urge like I used to, because it was a way to connect with my creative self and the outside world while I lived a very insular life with my children in a little village. Now I'm out in the world with grown-ups every day, and I'm creating all sorts of things (though not arty or crafty ones any more), and so I don't need it. Will I want it? I don't know that either. For now, I want to be good at my job and make myself proud, and when I'm at home I want to be fully present in home and family life. I want to clean the house, go to the park with the kids, bake at the weekends, share a glass of wine and a chat with my husband, basically live my life rather than document it. I don't want to lose the time I have by sitting here tapping away in this space.

It all may change, but for now, a heartfelt and expansive thank you and goodbye to all my readers. You lifted me through all the darker moments of the last seven years, and you were lovely to me in all the lighter and good moments too. I'm still reading your blogs, if you have them, though I may not often have time to read every post or to comment on them like I used to. I think you and this world are fabulous. It's just that I've set off on another adventure for now. Be glad for me - I'm happy. Things are good. And I think they're going to get better.


Tuesday 24 November 2015

How to have a morning routine when you need your sleep

Let me tell you four things about myself:

  • I love to be organised. It benefits everything from my mental wellbeing to my friends getting their presents on time
  • I am not organised enough. By a long way. Many days I'm starting from two steps behind and those presents? Way overdue.
  • I am a morning person. When the evening hits, I've been so busy all day that my body winds down into hibernation. In the mornings, if I'm well rested, I get so much done and feel so good!
  • I am rarely well rested. I really need my sleep. Eight hours just about does it for me, but give me nine and I'm cheering. Most mornings I repeat the mantra "do not ask me to make a decision or form a coherent sentence until I've had my coffee."
Have you ever googled 'morning routines' or 'how to be more productive' or anything else in between? Chances are you've hit the 'wake up at 5am' tip. It's everywhere. Have you tried waking up at 5am? It's fine if you're a normal 6-7 hour sleep person. My husband wakes up at 5.15 every day. That's fine for him, because six hours is a good night's sleep in his world. Six hours is a killer for me. I just need my sleep. Give me eight. Gift me nine. Aahhh. And what if you've been awake in the night with a little one? Or what if you get woken up every morning at 5.30 by said small person and there's no chance of a restorative or productive hour to yourself?

Well, let me tell you something else about myself: I've googled 'morning routines' and 'how to be more productive' and everything in between. A lot. And I've come up with a few tried and tested morning routine tips that work for sleepy-heads like me and sleep-deprived people like many of my friends. They're often not the common tips you find when you first look online for a solution. Read on...
  1. Work out how much sleep you actually need. If it's a minimum of seven, ideally eight hours (like me), then a 5am start only works if you've gone to bed at 9pm. And if you've got children to get to bed, a floor-load of toys to tidy, and a partner to spend time with, 9pm is just too darn early. Be kind to yourself, consider all your needs, and go for a 6am start instead.
  2. Your morning routine starts the night before. That 6am alarm will be hellish if you stayed up watching box sets til nearly midnight. You may feel a little weird doing it, but set a 'go to bed' alarm on your phone every night and even if you don't immediately jump up and head upstairs, it reminds you to at least start turning off the telly.
  3. Kick start your morning jobs the night before as well. A quick tidy-up or cleared dish-rack in the evening means you start the new day without being two steps behind already. Pack the kids' school bags. Get everyone's clothes out. Even yours!
  4. In fact, if time is an issue, clear out as much of your morning 'me time' duties and do them the night before too. Have a nice warm bath in the evening to cut out your morning shower. Make the breakfasts (bar the milk) and leave them out ready and covered. Do what you can to get that extra bit of sleep before getting up, or that extra bit of 'me time' before waking the kids.
  5. Set two alarms for the morning. I have a 6am and 6.30 one. When the 6am alarm goes off, I'm hopefully ready to get up (hello tip 2). But often I just can't make myself get out of bed. So I accidentally-on-purpose doze off and when the 6.30 alarm goes off I'm still in enough of a light sleep to stir and I know it's now or never. I aim for 6am. But I'm kind to myself when it's 6.30. Starting my day on a downer about myself for 'oversleeping' spoils my whole morning mood.
  6. If your little ones are early or unpredictable risers, consider your morning priorities. Is it ten minutes of uninterrupted exercise? Then do that first, and consider everything you get done after that a bonus. Most importantly, choose productivity or serenity: don't try for both. My boys wake up at a more human hour now, but when they were younger (and often waking at 5.30am!) I needed some peace and 'me time' in the morning to fill me up ready for the onslaught. I focused on breakfast and a coffee alone with some blog reading. Then I was ready to give myself to them when they woke. And if they woke first? I gifted myself 20mins of them watching cbeebies so I could still get my fix.
  7. Another way to deal with early or unpredictable risers is to list the things you'd love to do before they wake, and categorise them into those you can still do when they're awake and those that need doing alone. If you can only shower when you don't have a baby to hold, do that first and give up on the breakfast alone idea for now (or whatever else is on your 'can do together' list).
  8. If you want a bit of further reading on morning routines, try Hal Elrod's pages (with a pinch of salt: he's very American), Ruth Soukup's tips, have a read of this (plus there's loads of links in it) or put on your headphones and listen to Pat Flynn (he's so cool).
  9. Coffee. Well, tea if you must, but coffee really is the answer to everything.
What tips do you have for starting your day off on a high?

The Twinkle Diaries

Thursday 19 November 2015

What I decided to do

Funny how the dawn and the dusk can look so similar. It's a bittersweet thing in life, the way the end of something and the start of something else are often the same moment in time. 

I wrote a few weeks ago about the big dilemma I was experiencing, in deciding 'what to do with the rest of my life' (it's hard so say that without melodrama). Should I carry on with the sewing business that would never earn us enough? Become a teacher that would take up all my time? Go for the Masters I couldn't afford? Return to the sustainable transport career I'd burnt the bridge on? Or get an undemanding admin job that would never fire me up?

I spent seventeen years of my life as a vegetarian. And I have to tell you, there's value in a limited set of choices. Going to a restaurant with any kind of dietary peculiarity cuts the menu down by a huge amount. And there are many times now, sat at the table and faced with columns of choice and struggling to be decisive, that I yearn for those days when choosing three courses was effortlessly simple.

After I wrote about the career limbo, my dilemma became vegetarian. By which I mean, the crunch time we always knew we were headed for (you try living on a single frozen public sector salary with three children, two cars and a nice house in a nice village) hit. It hit hard. Thank you to the government for reducing our tax credits by a couple of hundred a month, due to a pay rise of a couple of hundred a year. Thank you to the recession for freezing my husband's salary for years, for raising the price of food and fuel, and for cutting our profit on our London house sale by quite a chunk. Thank you to all sorts of other external influences that suddenly meant, this autumn, our slowly dwindling reserves had the plug pulled on them. We've been living very carefully, money-wise, for a few years now and there are no more cuts we can make (we are even, ironically, vegetarian again now on week nights).

And thus my dilemma went away. Before, the world of work had been open to me and I had the task of finding the 'one true vocation' that would fit me and my family. Now I just need a job. I need a job by the end of the year or all that stinky brown fecal matter hits the proverbial fan.

At first I felt liberated, weirdly. I couldn't be a teacher or do a masters, as both wouldn't start until autumn next year and I need to start now. Sewing curtains for people will never make enough to keep us. So it's back to the transport work, if anyone will ever have me after seven years away from it. Or it's into an admin job, if anyone will hire me when up against a huge wave of twenty-something job-seekers with no dependents and an unbroken employment history.

Having been completely, completely desperate to give up the transport planning world and never go back, oddly it now seemed quite appealing. Before, it had been the career I'd fallen into and left me unable to choose. Now I could choose it after all, and simply as a means to an end, and that was fine. And the admin work that I felt overqualified for now seemed nicely simple and a chance to interact with real adult human beings. The transport work pays better and uses my talents more. The admin work is more likely to be available part-time (full-time work will be such a shock to both the boys and me) and local.

But a job didn't fall into my lap that first week. I then spent a fortnight feeling - every single day - disappointed in life. A fortnight hibernating from the outside world. Wallowing in grief for the loss of the dream life we had up here. And then this last weekend I pulled myself out of it, and so here I am on the blog again, finally able to tell you all about it.

I don't know what will happen. I'm applying for everything that fits in with my family. Eventually, I'll have to apply for things that don't fit in too. I don't mind that, at the moment, the dream (which turned out to be returning to academia to hit the masters-phd-lecturer road) has gone. I just want to provide for my family. I want to stop the daily fear and worry that the money's run out. I want to enjoy Christmas. I want to see my glass as half full again.

I'll keep you updated. Cross your fingers for us. 

Tuesday 17 November 2015

after the storm: remembering

On Wednesday last week, it was Remembrance Day. I stopped work and walked down to the Cenotaph in the centre of our village, and watched all the children from our local primary school - including my youngest two - sing their songs, read their poems, and recite the names of every man in our village who lost his life in war. Men stood proudly in their well-maintained uniforms, medals shining, flags on heavy flagpoles held aloft. The oldest, a man whose face bore every one of his years, shook each time he had to hoist or lower that flag, or put it into the pouch that held its base at his waist, and yet you could see that every moment of discomfort or difficulty was an honour to him because he was still living, and he remembered those who had gone.

A boy in my son's school had, a year previously, visited the Tower of London's famous cascading poppy display and had been inspired to ask if we could do something similar at our school. All sorts of adults, from the local secondary school's Head of Art, through to our local British Legion representative, came together to breathe life into his dream. The children in the school made their own clay poppies, glazed them, fired them, and on Remembrance Day they became a field to the side of the walkway into school. I see them four times every day, in all weather, and they still stand proud a week later. They remind me to remember, and that is so good.

And then Paris happened. It happened on the same day we remember the birthday of my oldest friend's lost mother. And both those things together: the senselessness of loss, the cruelty of life, all the very best and very worst of humanity laying itself bare... it made me need to write here again. It made me need to say: I remember. I remember those soldiers from more than a century ago. I remember the innocents of Paris, of London, of New York and everywhere else touched by vicious violence. I remember the refugees from Syria, that boy on the beach, the faces of those mothers as they stepped onto Greek islands. I remember Jenny, my friend's mother, who was so, so alive and taken so fast and so unfairly. 

And I choose. I choose not to let all this bring me down: because everyone who died wanted to live, I know I must choose to live fully. To love my family and friends not just in my heart but in my actions. To grieve what's lost and then, on a new page, write a future. I choose to step forward into life with the steps they wished to take.

I know it's hard to feel like there's anything we can do to help after Paris. Those of us with neither the finances nor the power to help the victims or catch the perpetrators feel impotent. But let me tell you: we are not. We have seen the power of the internet to influence others in the name of hate and murder. But through the internet, we have the power to spread happiness, purpose and goodness too. And through life itself. If I raise my boys with love, with kindness and compassion, they can become three men who neither kill, maim or destroy. If I live my life as fully, richly and honourably as I can, I am one more person who hasn't been beaten or broken by the evil in the world. We need more children to grow into good people, and more people to live in the name of peace, kindness and happiness, and if we can do that, add all those people up and we make such a difference. 

This week I have a doll to sew. It may seem a frivolous thing to do in the light of what's happened. But it is my way of living the good in life, of living my values, of bringing happiness to others. My little niece may grow up to love it. It may brighten your day to see it here. And sewing it, for me, is an act of love for my family, and of filling my life and soul with everything that is the opposite of what those vicious men did in Paris. Making the world good starts with making our own lives good.
The Twinkle Diaries

Monday 26 October 2015

What a day. Indulge me while I give you nine things, from two perspectives...

The bad
  1. There were so many battles with those two boys. Silly fights over silly things. Winding each other up on purpose. I ended up doing some shouting. Mostly I held on to my patience but it was at the expense of my joy.
  2. I indulged in a cake. It was a huge lemon Viennese fancy. I discovered lemon should not be in a Viennese fancy. Bit of a waste of a cake treat.
  3. I also indulged in a pizza. Beyond the point of full. Possibly even beyond the point of stuffed. Because I plan to treat my body like a temple for the next month so perversely needed to eat rubbish today.
  4. I meant to finish working on my CVs. I got time for none of that.
  5. I meant to have a nice chat with my parents this morning. Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum ruined that. The current state of play is: mummy tells them what to do. They don't do it. I tell them again. Ditto. By time four or five I get really shirty and even then I am often ignored. What's the point of speaking at all?
  6. I meant to do some selfish sewing. No time for that either.
  7. I woke up at 5am for no apparent reason.
  8. I really do usually love spending time with the boys, and I have been so looking forward to half term. It's a bit of a shame when you build it up and then have a day that probably managed only about an hour total of relaxing, probably only an hour total of enjoying their company, and again an hour of lightness and happiness.
  9. It was my birthday today. Which is why all the above was... let's be diplomatic and say disappointing.

The good
  1. It was my birthday after all. And that's always nice to mark; nice to remember. Plus I'm a year younger than I thought I was going to be. It's the little things.
  2. I got Anna Jones' new book. My body really is going to be a temple. Her first book is one of my favourites. And I have about forty so that's saying something.
  3. Just look at that tree! It was a glorious autumn day. The light was amazing and the leaves around here are just every colour of autumnal loveliness right now.
  4. That tree was in a park, and while the playground was too busy, the crazy golf was open but almost empty and the boys spent a good half hour running around it sans golf equipment, pretending to be spies or Ninjagos, using up lots of their energy (at last), and I got that same half hour sat on a bench reading a couple of blogs on the phone, actually enjoying them, and relaxing.
  5. I had a bath. That can never be bad.
  6. The middle son, instigator of many of today's troubles, who is going through a stage of being a bit selfish, a bit whiney, a bit 'that's not fair' was actually really quite lovely for about half an hour this morning in bed snuggling with me.
  7. The lovely husband let me faff on the computer after the blow-out pizza dinner. He put the kids to bed by himself. He tidied the kitchen.
  8. ... And he's taking me down the road for a couple of drinks now, where there will hopefully be a nice fire or two, and some lovely conversation.
  9. And I wrote this. I vented and then I counted my blessings. I checked in on the blog. And tomorrow is, as someone rather glamourous once said, another day.

Monday 12 October 2015

I need your help...

Last week was kind of rubbish. I have been feeling so frozen. So stuck in the headlights of the future. I have so much that needs doing but nothing driving me forward because I don't know which way to go, and thus I'm stuck in procrastination and pottering and I hate it. So I just thought: I'll write it here. You readers tell me what to do. Please.

The dilemma is my career. Or the lack of it, and the need for it. I'm sorry but this may end up being a long post! Stay with me if you can. I'll try to be concise (says one of the least concise people ever) but I need to set the scene (bonus material: you're kind of going to get my adult life story)...

Seventeen years ago I had my first born. I sat my A-levels while half-way through being pregnant with him. I turned down my place at Cambridge and decided to focus on being the best mother I could be, despite being young and single. I spent two years just mothering him and they were two of the best years of my life. I found myself and who I wanted to be. And I really loved being a mum.

Then, belatedly, I went to university to do the Geography degree, two years later than planned. The eldest and I lived with my parents, he went to the nursery where my mum worked and I commuted into town and what was, luckily, one of the best universities in the country. I loved my degree. I have always loved learning (I'm a bit of a swot). I worked really hard and got a First.

I had planned to stay on and do a Masters then a PhD and finally become a lecture. But some work I did in my final year got me a job offer and, with a child to support and no means of getting our own home otherwise, I had to do the right thing and accept it. I figured the Masters bridge was burned.

I worked for five years in town, in a variety of transport/sustainability/streetscene type jobs. I was pretty good at it and I enjoyed it enough (though not all the time), but it was never what I really wanted to do with my life. During this time I met and married my husband, a northerner, and we realised we'd need to move north at some point to be nearer his mother. The move would mean we could just about get by on his public sector income while I looked after our future children.

That's what we did: seven years ago we moved to the Peaks, I gave up working, and we had our second and third child. Being a stay-at-home mum was a very conscious decision, something I did for them as well as me. I have loved it. But the youngest has just gone to school, our finances are pretty dire, and I have to go back to work. I want to work. But I want to still have as much time with the children as possible.

I have worked a bit in the meantime. In the early days up here I did some part-time admin work for a year or so. For about six months between the second and third boys I was a childminder - I love working with children, but being pregnant and looking after three under-two's was tough. And this last year I've sewn curtains, cushions and blinds half time. You know me: you know I love to sew (and discovered sewing before our last boy was born).

So here are my choices (in current order of preference). Or yours, since you're choosing for me...

1. Perhaps that Masters-PhD-lecturer career path wasn't burnt down all those years ago? I would really love to do this, but there are the finances to consider, I'd need to do some admin work (ideally at the university) part-time, and there would be an impact on the children as I'd need to commute into (probably) Manchester to do it. How would I pay for it? How would I earn at the same time? My husband is usually home from work by 4pm (he starts at 7am) so they wouldn't need too much childcare but I'd have essays and reading to do most evenings. But I think this option is what my heart, soul and brain most yearn for.

2. Teaching. This has always been my back-up option. I know I would love to teach and would be really good at it. But I also know it feels a little like settling. And, most importantly of all, it's a highly time-intensive and stressful career. I want time with my children but the typical teacher does a 70 hour week for the first few years. I would hardly see them. Teaching gives you the school holidays but day-to-day it really isn't a parenting-friendly career any more.

3. Stick with the sewing. This was certainly the plan a year ago. I love it. I could work from home and fit my hours in around the children, so it's certainly the best option for them time-wise. But it's never going to bring in much money, certainly not enough for the eldest starting university, the mortgage, blah blah. It's increasingly looking unviable for these reasons. And my academic brain is pretty dormant.

4. Just find a regular admin type job that fits in with school hours, brings in extra money, and maybe the boys have to do a few days in after-school clubs. The first 3 options involve bringing work home with me but this would not, and that's a benefit to them. But I really, really want to be able to do a job I love for once. And this really wouldn't be it.

5. Go back to the transport world. I'd earn much more than option 4, though I'd be working full time and that would impact on the children. I'm experienced though out-of-touch, so I'd probably have to start on a much lower level than when I left seven years ago. And when I left I was so relieved! I really never wanted to go back to it. But maybe needs must?

What do you think? When I say decide for me, obviously I won't just do what you say, but your opinions and votes will, I hope, help me decide. 

I am a planner, and this is the first time in my life that I can remember being so stuck on a major life decision. I always need to know where I am and where I'm going and I just don't know what to do here. What's best for everyone, not just now but five years down the line when the kids are all older. And while I thought I could do the groundwork on several options at once, running them concurrently for much of this year and then deciding, it turns out that the lack of a plan instills a horrid, self-defeating inertia in me. So I think I really need to decide on one, and maybe keep another one or two as back-up options. You should know, also, that the list in 'order of preference' is a new thing: a week ago, I wouldn't have been able to rank them at all I was so stuck.

PS Option 1 and 2, and maybe 5, could seriously impact on my time to blog and read blogs. Does that matter? I love to write and I love this online world that's just for me. But perhaps the writing element of those three career paths would satisfy my writing needs anyway?

Right. Go! Answers on a postcard (or, for convenience, below in the comments section please!)...

Wednesday 30 September 2015

6 tips for how to cope when your child starts school

This month, my eldest child started sixth form college and my youngest started primary school. And over my nearly seventeen years of motherhood I've learnt a few good tips on how to cope when a child starts school. What I've learnt has been especially useful for me now that my youngest is at school, since I'm now also dealing with empty nest syndrome. My baby's growing up! 

So, now you've got through the weirdness of the first day and you might still need a few tips to find your rhythm, I thought I'd give you some ideas on how to be a stay-at-home mum (whether you do it part-time or full-time) when your home is empty of children. Here are my six tried-and-tested tips...

1. Look forward to it!...
Okay, so you may love being a full-time mum (I certainly did) but that doesn't mean you can't also love the time when they're not with you. You need this time! There's a lot to be said for nurturing yourself, as well as that amazing sailing feeling you get from when you're on top of everything. Don't focus on the child you're missing. Focus on how good you can feel when they're at nursery, school or college, and how that will help you be a happier person and mother, as well as have more time for them when they're home.

coping when your child starts school: distract yourself
2. Distract yourself from the combination of mother's guilt, worry, and missing them...
So how do you stop focusing on the child your missing? Distract yourself. Fill your day up with plans. Get that calendar or notebook out, and fill each day with things that you couldn't do when they are around (hello art galleries!) and the things you never get round to (let that 'to-do' list regurgitate itself all over your day!) And remember that your child is mostly going to be having a great time and not thinking about you (sorry, but!)

3. Treat yourself...
Looking after your children all the time is hard work. Just think how many mothers say they go to work to get a break! You've earnt a treat. Whether it's a peaceful cuppa and cake in a cafe with a good book, a decent run with a friend, or a trip to that aforementioned art gallery - schedule it in, give yourself a little something just for you every day. It will give you something to look forward to and a way to nurture yourself. But you must do it without feeling guilty. Remember: if you're an empty vessel you won't be able to fully give what your children need when they're around. After that little break in a coffee shop you'll be a much happier, nicer, contended mum. It's a win-win.

get your to do list done when your child is at school
4. Do the things you never had time for when your children were at home...
This is where that to-do list comes in. Go room to room and write down everything that needs doing, from tiny jobs to big ones, and promise yourself to do something from that list every week (or even every day). Write a list of birthdays coming up in the next few months and get those gifts and cards blitzed early. Organise your finances. Organise your files. I do not think there's a mother out there who doesn't have a to-do list weighing her down, and this is your opportunity to lighten that load. You cannot underestimate the benefit to your mood, mental health and mothering from ticking those things off and feeling successful and competent again.

healthy, treaty lunch for one when you're a mum
5. Focus in on lunchtime...
Now this is a really practical one and it makes a lot of sense. You've probably had time on your own without the children before. Maybe they've done a little time at nursery already. Maybe they have headed out to play some sports with their dad for a couple of hours at the weekend. But you've probably not had lunch on your own, in your own house, since before they were born. I certainly hadn't! So this time could feel the strangest being alone. Make this meal a real highlight of your day! Sit down and take a break, whether you're sat at the table with the radio on or catching up on blogs or the news on your computer. Make yourself something that's both healthy and a treat, that your kids would never eat. Make lunch the highlight of your day on your own, not the loneliest time.

after school treats and snacks
6. Make their return home from school special...
This is a great one to rid yourself of mother's guilt for all those moments when you've nurtured yourself (you shouldn't feel guilty about it but, come on, we all do). Your children will come home a little hungry and cranky. They've not been with you all day. And, ta-da, here is the plate of flapjacks you've made to make them feel special when they're home! Trust me, a gift of a (not-too-unhealthy) cake goes a long way to make you feel like the 'besd mummy in the wurld' (yes I still have that note my Little One wrote me way back on Mother's Day!)

working mums' tips for coping when your child starts school
7. (I know, I said six tips, but here's a bonus one for mums who work)...
I know, you work full time and you feel this whole post has been for those stay-at-home mums you beat yourself up about. But I know both sides of this feeling, since I work from home. And I also have lots of friends struggling with the juggle of work and family life. My number one tip: cut yourself some slack. You're doing your best. Sometimes that's not good enough, sometimes it is. The same goes for every single mother the world over, whether she looks after her kids full time or works. The best thing is that if you didn't work now, your children wouldn't be at home anyway since they have to go to school, so you can wipe off a whole heap of guilt straight away. My second tip: get help. Share the jobs around the house. Get a cleaner if you can afford one. Give up on ironing. Delegate the homework to Dad or your grandparents. Whatever it is, don't try and do two full-time jobs at once. And don't do more than you need to. There are only so many hours in the day and having a nice time together with your kids for some of them will make all of you feel happier.

Good luck!


Tuesday 22 September 2015

Camping in St Davids, Pembrokeshire

I'm going to overwhelm you with beautiful photographs of our camping trip to St Davids in Pembrokeshire (SW Wales), while telling you the best and worst of our holiday. I hope you've got a cuppa handy and have given the kids a big box of Lego! Yes? Right, then let's get started...

Firstly, it goes without saying, it was just stunningly beautiful. Rugged yet not barren, imbued with all the jewel colours you could imagine. That sapphire sky! Those emerald cliffs! And the sea, oh the turquoise of the sea.

Pembrokeshire is also full of pretty, ice-cream coloured towns and villages. There are the tacky bits, but most of it is the sort of place that makes you wonder about moving there. Look, I even dressed nautically for the occasion (let's pretend it was happy happenstance instead of my usual embarrassing need to theme everything).

We had a beautiful day out in Tenby. The beach, well just look, are words needed? I highly recommend the little walk around the headland that the tourist office there suggests. You get to see the most amazing lifeboat you'll probably ever see.

It's got all the little nooks and crannies you'd hope for, whether those in the town or down on the seashore. I'm not sure how to say this without sounding like a snotty southerner, but Pembrokeshire will appeal to you if you like Cornwall!

Another highlight, during the second half of our week, was the most beautiful coastal walk along the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. It really was my most favourite part of the holiday. The Little One and I caught crickets, we all watched in awe as coasteering teenagers appeared through gaps in the cliffs, we ate ice creams at the beautiful harbour of Porth Clais, and marvelled at every new view as the path twisted and turned.

It was worth the holiday alone. And that's saying something, because on our second night at the campsite half the tents were irreparably damaged by a huge storm, and ours was broken too. We were lucky to find somewhere to fix our broken tent poles. Being huddled in a tent with screaming winds around you, frightened children clinging to you and your husband and mother outside wrestling guy ropes while being battered by the elements does not appear in the dictionary's definition of 'holiday'. When the second storm hit 48 hours later, we weren't going to take any chances so we packed up our entire tent and luggage, drove to the nearest Travelodge for the night, and then came back the next day to set everything back up again. This does not appear in the dictionary under 'relaxing' either.

But just look at those views! It was almost as though the coast was apologising to us. And, battered though we were, we crumbled under the pressure of such beauty and forgave it.

The second half of our holiday also included a trip to the surfer's Whitesands beach for paddling, wave jumping, sandcastle building, and, of course, wind breaking.

Some geometric castles were built! For this one my husband was the put-upon assistant. I helped with the square and circular variants but I think his was best (don't tell him I said that).

Some beaches were sat on and, dare I say it, slept on. Some fields were flown on by kites and chasing boys. The wind did have some uses after all. And the football! Oh a lot of that was played too. I'm sure our neighbours on the campsite remember the odd ball hitting their tents (why do boys always forget to keep it in the middle of the field!?)

Possibly the most beautiful yet missed part of our visit was St Davids Cathedral. We briefly saw it (just look at those cloisters!) when searching for somewhere to eat lunch between rain showers (it has an impressive refectory) but because the weather truncated our holiday sightseeing, we missed out on a proper visit. I'm sure this was fate's way of getting us to go back to St Davids again.

We stopped off, near the end, at Pembroke Castle which has to be one of the best I've ever visited (and I've visited a lot). It was stunning. Truly stunning. Even under grey skies and with the highest sections shut due to the wind speed. Our boys relished the chance to be knights and kept in character all the way around our exploration of battlements and rooms.

They even have a giant map of Wales and giant chess knights to play with! I don't know exactly what they were in those boys' eyes but they played very earnestly with them for a good twenty minutes!

Go. I suppose that's the two letter word that sums this all up. Just look at those skies below! Just look at the sun on the calm sea. Even with all the hell thrown at us in the first four days, we came home slightly in love with the place. Though if we book to go again (and we stayed at St Davids' Caerfai Farm campsite, which was organic and a little basic in places but just what we were looking for and exactly what we'd recommend) we'll change our minds at the last minute if storms are forecast. We're fair weather campers from now on!

The Twinkle Diaries

Wednesday 12 August 2015

If I could...

My lovely blogging friend Lizzie wrote a very interesting 'If I could...' and challenged me to do the same (thanks!). This daydreaming list project was initiated by Jocelyn at The Reading Residence I think. I've been quiet for the last fortnight (life!) and thought it'd be a nice way to reintroduce myself. So here goes...

If I could live anywhere...

I would be about an hour from my parents. I know I should probably pick a specific place but that's the answer my heart tells me. I used to live 5 minutes walk away. Too near. Now I live 4-5 hours drive away. Much, much too far. Other than that, my must-haves are to be in Britain, with woodland, hedgerow, rivers or streams, wildflowers, friendliness and a train to take me to the galleries and shops of a city.

If I could have any home...

It would have to be Georgian/Victorian, with sash windows, a big stained-glass window door, double-fronted (well, I may as well shoot for the moon), with working fireplaces, high ceilings, and full of light.

If I could have any garden...

It would have grass for the boys to play ball games, rambling beds of country-garden flowers, brick walls leading to other garden 'rooms', bird feeders, a courtyard area with cornflower-blue garden furniture and, if I'm being honest, no midges at all.

If I could be on holiday right now...

You're going to think I'm really strange but most of the time I just like being at home! If I were on holiday though, I'd pick the British seaside in the sun and warmth (if such a thing exists), Paris in springtime, or Tuscany in the autumn. My magic three holiday ingredients are culture, scenery and good food.

If I could have any job...

I'd be a writer. No hesitation. Sewing comes a close second, as does being a university lecturer (though I think that ship has passed!). If I am completely honest there are quite a lot of days where I'd like no job at all! For the past six years though, I've been a stay-at-home mother which was my ideal job while my boys were small. I've been very lucky.

If I could have any talent...

I'd have the talent of not procrastinating. Seriously. And if that can't be done, I used to be pretty good at drawing, and I'd be very glad to have that talent back.

If I could live any day again...

I'm not sure if I would. But my instincts are always to go back to a day when I've made terrible mistakes and fix them, rather than to go back and experience a day of great joy again. There was one day, aged fifteen or sixteen, when I couldn't handle my emotions and so was terribly unkind to someone who least deserved it. I'd probably go back and change that. I wasn't that great at adolescence!

If I could have any superpower...

Oooh! Let me think... There are definitely some days I'd like the power of reading minds! Is that too Machiavellian? And I'm not sure if it's a superpower, but I bet superheros need less sleep than me and can wake up at 6am wide awake and raring for action. That'd be very useful!

Thanks for the tag, Lizzie. Thought-provoking! I nominate ...

Rachel at The Ordinary Lovely and Lowri at Little Maldod: if you have the time and inclination to join in, please do!

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Weekly Baking: a summer berry tart with good intentions

I try to bake something every week. I don't always achieve it. There are after-school snacks to take care of, the occasional pudding, and those empty-tummy moments that seem to accompany my life working from home. I've been trying to bake more healthily, with Ella's book, the Hemsley sisters and Sarah's lovely book. Yes there have been the ubiquitous date balls, raw food brownies, and oat-banana cookies in my kitchen, just as you've seen all over the blogosphere. 

And then this last weekend, I just needed a good old-fashioned fat & sugar blow-out.

Nigella to the rescue!
Nigella Lawson's Easy Summer Berry Tart
This is Nigella's No Fuss Fruit Tart. Brownie point one (pardon the pun): it was so easy to make. Brownie point two: no unusual ingredients. Brownie point three: no oven involved. Brownie point four: it's absolutely delicious. And those berries: just look at those rich red to blue hues. You can't help but want slice after slice.
Nigella Lawson's Easy Summer Berry Tart
The down side is that I couldn't in good conscience give such a sugar/fat-fest to my young children twice a day. And my husband and eldest son are both on a pudding-free health kick (which means one slim slice only). And my very youngest Tiny One, who is the lone picky eater in a family of adventurous eaters (I can't even begin to tell you how draining it can be), didn't like it.

Conclusion: make it for a dinner party, or a big family gathering, or friends for a barbecue. It's so easy, everyone will have a slice, and pretty much everyone will love it. 

Don't make it like I did, just for your family who mostly won't eat it. Otherwise you might end up eating about three-quarters of it all to yourself a week before going on holiday when you're supposed to be being good (swimming costume shame, blah blah).

Consider my wrists slapped. I'm back to the raw health food. Once I've polished off the last slice that is.
The Twinkle Diaries