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What exactly am I doing here!!??

I’m sitting here on the first morning of a three-day writers’ retreat. And I have no idea what I’m going to write. In front of me is a huge sash window, beyond it fields, sheep and a lot of sky.  

Am I worried that I don’t know what I’m going to write? No, not really. For me, this weekend is about downloading some stuff just as much as pouring my creativity onto the page (I’m optimistically hoping it WILL make an appearance while I’m here). 

The last time I was here, in January, I was under pressure to crack out a 20,000 word eBook on Instagram, the final project for my MA in Online Journalism. Steam came off my fingertips (well, almost) as I bashed out the words, deleted them, reshaped them, threw in some new ones, reordered and polished them. In April, I submitted. In June I passed, with distinction. And in July I graduated. A huge part of my life for a couple of years completed. What now? 

First box sets, obviously. And lots of sitting on my arse on the sofa enjoying the feeling of not having to do anything. But I felt guilty, shouldn’t I be making more of my time? The MA gave me such satisfaction, such confidence, and I had hoped I’d use my ‘free’ time to crack on with my own personal projects, for pleasure. But I simply couldn’t be bothered. 

Other things have contributed to this, not just laziness. In April I went full-time and in a different role – the first time I’ve worked a 37 ish hour week since having my eldest, who is now approaching five. This change in hours coincided with the last few weeks of my MA and I can’t tell you what a head fuck that was. I had thoughts pouring out of my head at all hours, a billion questions I didn’t know the answers to and a ton of reading that went unread. I went to bed way too late during this time, and for the sake of my own mental health and the ever-growing bags appearing beneath my eyes, would prefer never to have to repeat that experience again. 

Back then, those full-time hours were compressed into 3.5 days with some ad hoc working from home, so I still had 1.5 days of the working week to tackle the other things life insists of you – washing, cleaning, general boring housey-type shit. But still, it needed to be done and got done. And quality time with the kids, of course. Parks, soft play centres, swimming, bikes rides etc. 

Last month I stretched those hours across five days of the working week. The last time I worked on a Monday was 2012! H started school and we’ve shuffled our hours to accommodate drop offs and pick ups, while my youngest attends nursery five days a week rather than two-and-a-half.  

It’s a big change for all of us:  

Big girl’s don’t cry (well, only when the lunch hall gets noisy)

H is now a fully qualified big girl, and learning all about books (but strangely thinks only men can be authors!!) and is making lots of new friends. This also means I have to give her breakfast every day, tea every day and spend lots of money on tights because she manages to ladder them EVERY day*. I’ve also discovered that ketchup and white T’shirts really don’t go and wearing the same shoes fives days a week makes her feet so stinky you could bottle the pong and use it to eradicate Donald Trump. She’s also asked me where babies come from what nits are. *scratches head* 

*Disclaimer: It’s that feeding my kids daily is unusual, bit I’m usused to nursery covering off two meals a day. Now I have to up my menu planning game.

Mind your winkle

A is now in nursery for the whole week, and without his big sister. With 11 months between them they generally do everything together. This new change has given him independence, he’s one of the older gang at pre-school and his close friendship with two boys there is blossoming. He’s becoming a man. Well, sort of. He burps a lot. Does that count? He’s also obsessed with the phrase ‘punch you in the winkle’ and for Christmas he wants a Batman sword, a Spiderman sword, a Hulk sword and a Captain America sword. Did all those super heroes even have a sword??!!! 

coloured pens

Everything strategic involves coloured pens, right?

Keeping our cool: fridge strategy

For me and Rich we’ve changed our hours, some longer days and shorter days for both of us. This means we have to remember who does what, including walking the dog, on each day of the week. A big chart  stuck to the fridge is my strategy for remembering all this stuff. And we’re both adjusting to working across five days of the week. Your body clock gets used to the pattern of your life and we’ve just upended ours. It will probably take some time to bed in. 

What I’ve realised about this new regime is that I don’t have it all planned out. That big chart on the fridge – my strategy – fails to include the washing. So at the end of week one I realised none of us had any clean clothes to wear. The house was a shit tip. And I had ‘to do’ lists for both work ad home that just weren’t getting done. That’s one of the reasons I’m here, actually, on this writing retreat. To reorder my thoughts. Rich thinks my constant need to write lists is my downfall, that I try and control too much and beat myself up when things don’t go to plan. On some level he’s right but I enjoy creative problem solving, I enjoy finding efficiencies that make life easier. And lists are a part of that. Reading Sarah Knight’s ‘How to Get Shit Done’ is also a big part, I’d recommend it to you all.  

I repeat, what am I doing here?

So why am I REALLY at this writing retreat? When I booked it in the summer my intention was to dust of my old novel, written around seven years ago, and actually do something with it. But I’m not putting myself under any pressure. This is about creating head space, finding creativity that’s not linked to an agenda, objective or deadline, and unwinding a little. Part of me thought I might use the time to catch up on work when a colleague told me that would be an utter waste of ‘me time’ and she was so right. 

Don’t cry over a forgotten bear. Or maybe do

We all need this sort of time, whatever our responsibilities. Time out. When I arrive here last night it hadn’t been a good day. I’d yelled at the kids while getting ready for school (not how I wanted to part ways when leaving them for the weekend); I forgot that H needed to take a special item (see images as proof of special-ness) into school and while I am not an overly emotional person I felt I’d let her down and cried when I got back to the car.

I was awkward, shy and self-conscious at school, in any new situation, and still am to some extent. Don’t get me wrong, in my comfort zone I’m the life and soul but outside of that the mouse in me squeaks to the surface. H is so like me and I don’t want to be the cause of any anxiety. I’m small chunking here – I just went home, retrieved Pooh Bear, wrote a little love heart post it note and dropped it back at school. All fine. No one emotionally damaged. Well, maybe me. I don’t forget things as a rule and this time I had. When I went to call Rich to fess up my parenting faux pas, I found I’d left my bag at home too. Another trip back to retrieve it. Grrr. And then I was late for work. FFS. 

So here I am, yesterday a good reminder that everyone needs to take time out every once in a while. That thoughts and tasks and responsibilities and wish lists all mount up and it’s either time out or implode. 

If you are still reading this btw, pat yourself on the back and go and grab a cuppa and a biscuit. There’s  still a bit more to come… 

So, enough of the whining, here are some positives… 

Play Doh roast dinner

Halle’s Play Doh version of a roast dinner. Thankfully we didn’t have to eat this one.

What’s your beef? 

Since our routine change, we’ve recognised how bad we are at eating together as a family and have introduced the tradition of Sunday roasts. Hardly groundbreaking, but hey, we all have to start somewhere. This is awesome on lots of levels: who doesn’t love roasties smothered in gravy? The kids really enjoy a) the food b) the chance to chat to both parents at the same time c) getting involved by clearing plates and choosing and dishing up dessert. They recognise it as a weekly tradition and look forward to it. Plus Ralphie gets leftovers so it’s win-win for all of us. So simple, so brilliant. 

#TeamAwesome 

While work is relentless, there’s never enough time and I often don’t feel like I’m achieving much on a day-to-day basis, there are some huge benefits. I have an awesome team who I genuinely enjoy working with: talented, funny, hard-working and on the same page as me. I’m lucky on this count, most defo. And we’ve just been nominated for two awards – some proper recognition of the awesome work we do. This feels good. 

lots of peopleForever friends 

I have an amazing set of friends. Like-minded, not perfect, spinning multiple plates. And, most importantly, not prolific Facebook status updaters. Second to that (just kidding) talking to them reminds me that I’m normal. We all feel like we fail a lot but we take comfort in each other’s situation and how much we do. That we live in a busy world and we’re in charge of how we manage that world. We share coping strategies! One of those pals is here on the writing retreat with me – she’s just scarpered upstairs with a bowl of snacks, and is both an inspiration and part of my support network. I also have lots of funny stories to sell the tabloids when she gets really famous. 

I’ve been styled by… 

This is worthy of a blog post all of it’s own. In short, there’s a lovely lady called Susie who dishes out the most wonderful style advice. She makes people feel good about themselves and her USP is that she is a regular, normal person. Someone we can identify with. She hasn’t turned me into a fashion icon (she can’t work miracles!), but she has reignited a passion for clothes (not good for ye olde bank balance, mind you) and made me feel more comfortable about my body shape. I’ve also just lost a stone in weight – you need to take action when your clothes are actively hurting you! I’ll write more Susie in another post, she deserves one. 

We have a cleaner!

Move along, nothing to see here.

And finally… the future 

I still think I want to be a journalism lecturer when I grow up. I’m in my late 30s so I hope this happens sooner rather than later; the growing up bit I mean. 

But before all that, I’m using this time at Stickwick Manor in Devon to rearrange my priorities. So come Monday, when I return to Milton Keynes, I’ll be a new woman. Or probably the same woman with a shiny new, and focussed ‘to do’ list. 

And it’s Christmas soon, right?

 

 

 

Surrounded by women bloggers: my day at Cybher!

I have never in my life been to a conference in which mothers breast feed babies while guest speakers talk, undeturbed, about their area of expertise. And that pretty much sums up the relaxed atmosphere at Cybher on Saturday – the UK’s only conference for female bloggers – in which 300 were in attendance.

Throw in free leather satchels, a constant supply of coffee and cookies, some talented and inspiring speakers and lots of happy, smiling faces, and you can’t go far wrong.

9am to 6pm is a long day at a conference for me and I’ve always had enough by 4pm – especially given my 6.30am alarm call to trog to London on the train with my sidekick for the day. But I was wide awake and 6pm and returned home to Milton Keynes feeling inspired.

 

Cookies and coffee and handbags Podcasting session with The High Tea Cast Caz Walton's Cybher badge

Caz and an AVG cupcake Taking notes at Cybher Cybher conference screen in the ballroom

 

I’ve never attended a conference where I’m not ‘working’ it – and Cybher was no different. My latest MA project on multimedia covers the conference, the stories behind some of the guest speakers and how blogs can change people’s lives.

So I had one eye on the conference and the other on my project but, to be honest, this assignment has been a lot of fun and one thing is clear – bloggers are talented, powerful and most of all, lovely. Not concerned about competing with each other, they’re all happy to share their experiences, their tricks of the trade and their expertise. Very refreshing!

So, enough from me, go check out ladieswotblog.co.uk for indepth interviews with some of the speakers as well as a round up of Cybher in pictures, text and audio.

Five for Friday: Why I'm peeing my pants in excitement for summer

Highclere Castle, Highclere, Hampshire

I wouldn’t usually wish huge chunks of the year away but I positively cannot wait until June. Here’s why…

1) Bye bye studies (temporarily), and hello life (temporarily)
Once my next assignment is submitted in early June I’ll be free of study for the whole summer, which means I get my evenings and weekends back and complete freedom to… DO WHATEVER I WANT! Whether it’s dinner and drinks with the girls, a day out with hubby or clearing out the garage (I’m itching to get in there and unleash my inner Monica) I can do it. Hoorah! I can even spend a whole weekend in my pyjamas watching back-to-back episodes of Murder She Wrote, eating nothing but biscuits and drinking tea from china cups if I want to. It’s not that I don’t love the MA, I do, but a break will be blissful and hopefully well earned.

2) Holiday!
Usually, as January 1st of each year rolls around me and hubby will be booking a holiday, putting a marker in the calendar to drag us through the bleak winter months when there’s nothing much to be cheery about. Christmas behind us, we always need a holiday to look forward to. We’ve planned nothing this year because we’ve been reluctant to spend any money (having a tight arse phase at the mo – and hubby nearly bankrupted us with his eggnog latte addiction) and free holidays don’t exist – or rather, they do, but are at my mum’s house in the Shire. And while we STILL haven’t booked anything, we WILL be taking at least a week off in June to revel in some Cornish sun, make ourselves sick on rum and raisin ice cream and cream teas, eat in seafood restaurants, explore parks and gardens and generally have a bloody marvelously British time.

3) Writing, writing, writing
It’s really not possible to work full time, do an MA part time and manage to eat, bathe and dress myself daily as well. Throw in time with the family, time to read, watch my fave TV programmes and wind down after a long day in front of a computer, play netball and volleyball and try and salvage some inkling of a social life, and my poor old writing tends to fall off the ‘really need to get on and do’ list. I’ve just managed to enter two competitions which, luckily, only require the first chapter or two of my novel (and I await with baited breath!) but it’ll be lush to get some proper time back to focus on writing projects, my blogging, my novel, some freelance work. Bring it on. I’m brimming with ideas and won’t be fulfilled until I’ve put this creativity into action.

4) Afternoon tea and a slice of heritage
To celebrate the handing in of my last assignment of the academic year hubby and I plan to while away a few hours at Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed. We’ll soak up the history, the grounds, the well thought out camera angles, and revel in a slice of British history and an era brought alive by a fictional place called Downton Abbey. And on the way home we’ll stop for afternoon tea a posh hotel in Marlow, using the voucher my delightful friend Bloater (she’s not fat, far from it, but has been known to eat a whole maltloaf in two bites) gave me for my birthday. A lush present and hubby and I will use it to pretend, just for a couple of hours, that we’re civilised.

5) Sporting highlights
June to September calendar highlights include: car shopping (hoping my current batmobile lasts that long); Buchy and Bruiser’s birthday bash (these are my husband and wife friends, not a comedy duo btw); the Big Doggie Do – the dog show in which Ralphie was crowned cutest puppy two years ago; Mandy’s wedding in July; Olympic volleyball in August (we have tickets!) and topped off nicely by a weekend oop norf and a trip to the York Festival of Writing (need to run that last one past hubby first).

 

Pictured above is Highclere Castle, Highclere, Hampshire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The joy of afternoon tea

You can’t beat afternoon tea with the girlies – especially when the cakes are home baked (not by me, I hasten to add) and decorated by hand as a collective effort.

 

Why I hate nightclubs…

Fame hen weekendI had loads of fun at my mate’s Fame-themed hen weekend (I have to say that, I was co-organiser, but it happens to be true) although it did serve to remind me why my clubbing days are well and truly over. I used to love a good night out but now the sofa beckons…

Here’s why…

1) You have to pay to get in. And if you don’t like it when you do get in, there’s no refund policy or try before you buy.

2) Even if someone is shouting directly into your earhole, you still can’t hear them.

3) Random men feel it’s appropriate to dribble over you, grab your buttocks and spoon you on the dancefloor. It isn’t.

4) You have to queue for a ridiculously long time to get a drink. In this day and age where you can get the latest James Paterson novel on your kindle in three minutes flat, slow bar staff and elbow-jostling queues just doesn’t do it for me.

5) Clubs smell of incredibly sweaty armpits. The toilets smell of wee, poo and incredibly sweaty armpits.
Going to the toilet involves dodging other women’s wee, grappling for tissues in the absence of loo roll and getting scowled at by other women as you top up your lip gloss in the mirror. At the weekend, two guys were so brazen they chose the ladies loos as a good place to (potentially) pull. Helllloooo! Seriously guys, you need to try harder.

6) Women in nightclubs don’t like other women. Every other female who isn’t your friend (and sometimes even your friends count) is judged as competition for single men or a threat to happy couples and nice looking women are generally disliked most. None of this bothers me in the slightest but as a semi sober person I noticed a lot of women scowling.

7) High heels and dance floors don’t go. My trainer-hungry feet were screaming at me in pointy high heels and forced me to lean against a wall and sway for the latter part of the evening as my shoes lay idle on the floor and my bare feet dodged the spilled beer and broken glass.

8) Night clubs don’t get busy until very late. We arrived at 11.15pm and it was practically empty. 11.15pm is pushing my bedtime as it is, it’s a struggle to stay up later just to catch the crowds.

9) Leaving nightclubs is the best bit, the chance to kick off the killer heels, head towards a warm and cosy bed and maybe scoff a dirty kebab on the way. But first you have to dodge touchy-feely men, drunken shouty women and sporadic piles of sick, just to get to the taxi.

10) The reason why I used to like clubbing? I was so blind drunk that I never noticed any of the above. Maturity and sensible drinking has a side effect – awareness.

No silly season here

Gah, it’s been manic. Here’s why:

1) Silly season becomes serious season

In the world of journalism and universities (my job kinda straddles both) August is supposed to be ‘silly season’, where nothing much happens and you can glide through the days, working on the stuff you haven’t had time for during the other 11 months of the year. Not so this year, in either respect. Work has been crazy busy with not a second to spare, lots of projects starting or finishing and lots of deadlines to be met. And LOTS of emails. I mean, who actually did any work before email was invented? We’ve also been hearing about the goings on in Libya, the endless ins and outs of the phone hacking scandal and about the riots in London, Birmingham and oop north (and in MK where watermelons were the weapon of choice – hardcore youths or what?) which turned silly season into a very serious season.

2) Mastering a Masters

I’m starting an MA in Online Journalism with Birmingham City University in September. This is the first mention of this on my blog but it won’t be the last and I’ve been planning an offshoot of Robyn’s Nest to pour my MA ramblings into. So keep an eye out for Journo Nest, coming soon. Why am I doing it? Because it’s time for the next challenge; I’ve realised journalism will always be my passion and I want to turn the online skills I’ve learned through trial and error into something more tangible and useful to my future career, whatever that may be. Plus there’s so much cool stuff happening out there in online journalism and I want to be part of it. Oh, and I don’t have a degree – which has never been a problem for me but warrants a whole separate blog post – and I’d quite like to boast some letters after my name, just for the craic. And so, registering, references, getting accepted – I have a scholarship! – and sorting my pre-course reading list, attempted timetable, doing plenty of online research and applying to blog elsewhere (as a project for my MA) has kept me pretty darn busy.

3) Hell yeah, I have a social life

My social life has been busy too. Given that the MA is likely to wipe away a lot of my social activity, I’m cramming it in now. So that’s meant trips to the shire to see friends and family and catch up with newly engaged friends; a trip to Liverpool to see my mate’s pregnancy bump for the first time; arranging another mate’s hen weekend which is approaching quicker than I dare to think about; hosting friends and their children (which serves as a reminder that I’m not quite ready to trade lie ins for screaming babies just yet); catching up with the in-laws at barbecues, dinners and tours of our new house; brunch with my Leicester buddies and their children who squeal every time Ralphie draws near and the puzzlement on his face because most people melt at the site of him; the last of the summer season of netball matches and the odd training session; dinner with the MK posse to celebrate some fabulous news, and a Mexican-themed Come Dine With Me, MK style, which takes place this weekend at Chez Robyn. Hmmm, not sure I have time to grow a curly moustache by then.

4)  Growing a plan

Me and hubbles wanted to set some milestones and try and suss out our five-year plan. So many of my friends have one of these (cripes, does that mean we’re all growing up? At last!) and we kinda felt left out. We actually have no idea what we want in the next five years (apart from being filthy rich and living in bliss in a spacious Manhattan apartment with huge roof garden for Ralphie) other than we’d like to re-turf the garden, grow vegetables, dig a nice border and fill it with shrubs. So, no idea what the future holds for us but if that doesn’t look rosy the garden certainly will do.

5)  Walkies!

I spend a lot of time with Ralphie. He gets a 6am walkies, I dash from work to do the lunch time shift and he gets one most evenings too. It’s not for my love of walking, it’s for love of Ralphie. I’d feel guilty if I didn’t walk him, one of the things he loves most. He gets ridiculously excited just if I go to the cupboard where his lead’s kept or if I slip my shoes on. He’s had a sore paw of late too and not been his usual perky, bouncy self. I can only describe it as a pink slug attached to the top of his paw which he’s obsessed with licking. Antibiotics have been prescribed but it’s reminded me and hubbles how protective we are of him and how we’d do anything to make him happy and comfortable. No wonder we’re not ready for kids – Ralphie has our full focus at the mo. I do love that little bow wow.

6) Stoopid chores

It seems to be the time of year when I need an eye test; car needs a service and MOT; savings accounts need setting up; the boiler needs checking; I need to restock my make-up bag, ongoing battle with scummy ex landlord involving lots of letter writing; and I could do with registering at the doctors sooner rather than later. And loads of other trivial stuff which mounts up and means free time is never all that free. Oh, and HSBC have gone and made it nigh on impossible to access my bank account online unless I want to carry a small calculator around with me. Grrr. I feel a strongly worded letter coming on.

So, apols for the lameness of this blog post; much more meaty stuff is to come, I promise.