Browsing Category

what I think

window view

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?

 

 

 

Back of a woman looking at the sea. Via Felipe Elioenay via Unsplash

Resolutions (sort of): Looking back, then looking forward

Yes, this IS what you’re thinking it is; an obligatory New Year post talking about resolutions and all that annual bollocks. Sorry about that. Sort of.

Now, Facebook will have us believe that 2016 has been a bad year because a lot of well-known and talented celebrities have died throughout the course of it. This doesn’t constitute a bad year in my books and, without being entirely unsympathetic, people die all the time, famous or not. Bad things have happened each year, we’re just more aware of them because of the 24/7 news and social media cycle we are immersed in. These things do not have the ability to ruin my whole year and undo the personal achievements I and others around me have made.

So, let’s have a quick look back at 2016 – highlights include hubby relaunching his business with vigour and watching him thrive, win awards, do interviews and generally be awesome. Even if that did involve me having to be at the other end of almost nightly conversations about Google search rankings *yawn*.

For me, I am about to run the last leg of my MA in Online Journalism, (which gets a name change in 2017) having restarted in January after a few years off to have the kids. And I’m thankful to my good friend Kate for pushing me back on that track, because I could quite easily have let it go. What the MA has and continues to teach me is that knowledge is power, feeding the mind feels great and working hard (and trust me, it IS hard) to achieve good marks is an unbelievable feeling. When some days I struggle to put contact lenses in, find matching socks and get the kids to nursery on time, knowing I’m working at postgraduate level is both shocking, monumental and addictive. The MA has also motivated me to re-examine my career aspirations and given me the confidence to follow those dreams… so let’s see if 2017 brings them to fruition.

And let’s not forget I have survived another year being mum to Irish twins. At the time of writing this I am the proud owner of TWO three-year-olds (born either end of the same year) and we have all survived the tantrums (theirs and mine), throwing stuff (them and me) and inability to put shoes on quickly (mostly them). They test me every day and make me laugh every day and they’re my proudest achievement to date.

So, looking ahead to 2017, here’s what I’ll be focusing on:

Giving less fucks

My resolution of 2016 was inspired by Sarah Knight’s awesome book which taught me not to give a fuck about everything. If you want the full lowdown, get the book, but in short, not feeling guilty about declining invites, saying no to things and ignoring stuff was truly liberating and freed up a lot of time to focus on the things I enjoy. My resolution also inspired other friends to take the same stance and when you’re a busy parent/employee/boss/wife/athlete/sister/dog walker/creative person it’s absolutely okay not to give a fuck about everything. Sarah Knight also has a new book out about how to get your shit together *adds to Amazon wishlist*

Limiting Facebook time

Did I hear a gasp then? Yes, that’s right… Facebook is great for keeping up with friends I don’t see very often or catching up on a bit of gossip. But it’s also filled with a lot of small-chunking shite. And I don’t have time for it. I should not be a slave to notifications. As thus, I may reduce my Facebook intake slightly and focus on other channels later in the year, like using Instagram to drive traffic to my blog (hmmm, will need to start writing more posts before tackling that one).

Meal planning hell

This is a family related one but I cannot get my head around meal planning and grocery shopping. I can easily implement efficient systems at work and home to get shit done, but the food shop/meal planner thing simply baffles me. Earlier this year I tried meal planning and just found it a huge headache and more expensive than dashing into Aldi and scraping a few things into the trolley. I also want to change up our grocery list a bit instead of getting the same old stuff. If you have any systems that work for you, I would love to hear them.

Graduation

The biggest one for me is to complete the MA. By the middle of May I’ll be all submitted (shit, that means I have A LOT of work to do), should have passed (I won’t hold my breath) a few weeks later and graduate few weeks after that. I literally cannot wait for this. The MA has taught me so much, not just about online journalism, but about me as a person, my capabilities and what I want in the future. I’m also excited because completing the MA will free up a ridiculous amount of time for me to focus on all of the above and new things to boot. This blog, for starters, will get a complete makeover and some regular posts. Bring it on!

Education

The MA is educating my mind, but my body and soul are lacking. The body bit is as simple as eating better, getting some exercise and getting enough sleep. And healthier food shops, better eating habits (which I’ve learned from doing the Clean 9 earlier this year) and going to bed earlier (possibly with some wind down time courtesy of the Headspace app) are all well within my control. I’m not yet sure how I will educate my soul and this will become a focus for me post-May when my MA is complete and I have time and mental capacity to focus on other things. Thoughts welcome – Volunteering? Writing? Mentoring? Watch this space.

Have you made any resolutions?

What are your achievements from 2016 and what are you hoping to achieve in 2017?

Why flexible working should be the norm

Man checking phone on the toilet. Image credit: Thinkstock

If you take away the suit and replace with jeans and a T shirt, this is totally my husband!

Way back when, when I was a cub reporter, it was the done thing to turn up to work before my editor arrived and leave just after they left (I say they, not because I had more than one editor at a time, but I have had both male and female editors and they covers both nicely). I digress… So, I’d rock up at 8.45am and head home around 5.15pm ish.

But times, they are a changing. I no longer subscribe to the set hours routine – not only because childcare arrangements mean it’s not possible, but also because it’s an outdated concept.

As a rule, those who are at their desks 9am to 5pm, five days a week, are no more productive than those who work flexible patterns, take time off when work is slow or work into the small hours when deadlines are looming. It just makes sense. Obviously, work rate varies according to each individual, their role, their ability and their ethics, but the pattern of working has moved on a lot from the traditional nine to fiver – to the benefit of us worker bees and the small businesses or larger organisations we work for.

Do you reply to work emails on the loo?

Today is Flexible Working Awareness Day, flagging up the pros of flexible working. Obviously. But the word flexible is also flexible in its meaning too – this can mean the hours and days we work, how we work – office, home, on the toilet even (my hubby replies to work emails on the loo frequently) – and how we float between work and home life at the touch of an app, scrolling our Facebook feed one minute and chatting with a colleague about deadlines via Messenger the next. And the image I’ve used below gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘flexible worker’ entirely. Ouch.

Research suggests nearly half the UK workforce, to the tune of 14 million people, want to work flexibly to fit around modern life. They key word is modern here, the way we work – made easier (to our benefit or detriment, you decide) by digital technologies.

Work-life boundary blur

The Digital Brain Switch project looks into these very things, the boundaries between work and home life, and how we juggle whose time we’re on. It’s difficult to know exactly how much work stuff I do at home and how much personal stuff I do at work (a phone call to sort a plumber for a leaky boiler, for example). For me, it’s a fair mix and I don’t sweat it it either way. I am, after all, the proud owner of good work ethics and get satisfaction from ‘good, big shit’ at work.

Young acrobatic businessman split while using laptop and phone. Image credit: Thinkstock

Ouch!

For me, being able to work a flexible pattern means I’m able to contribute more to my place of work – and get more enjoyment out of doing that while fitting that around childcare and other commitments. I work 31 hours per week, so not far off the full-time equivalent of 37.5 hours, but it’s spread over 3.5 days. That’s three days working 8am to 6pm and an 8am to 12pm shift on a Friday, leaving Mondays completely clear for children, washing and all the other things I don’t want to spend my evenings doing.

I’m lucky to be able to do this – in many organisations, such flexibility is still frowned upon, seen as messy, confusing to staff and unproductive.

Where I work, pretty much everyone is working some kind of flexible pattern, even the full-timers with long and short days, every other Monday off etc. It doesn’t confuse us (much) and we still get stuff – a lot of stuff, actually – done.

While there are specific organisations  aimed at recruiting parents (mostly mums) into part-time work, flexible or agile working is no longer for parents juggling childcare, it’s for anyone. For those who want to run a second business on the side like my friend Sarah who’s about to open up her own shop in Bridgnorth after upcycling furniture on her ‘agile Mondays’. Another friend uses a day a week for study. My husband, too, is a flexible worker – on a Friday, for example, his eight-hour working day begins when I arrive home at 12.15pm.

And it’s right for me, someone who wants to work full-time (or close to) but is restricted by family life and committed to wanting to be one of the two people largely responsible for raising my kids.

Are you a flexible worker or chained to the 9am to 5pm approach? What would work for you?

 

 

 

Bateman is back blogging in 2015. You heard it here first…

New Year’s Resolution number one: to blog more. Well, to actually blog at all. Given that much of my husband’s Christmas break was spent firefighting the billion hack attempts on this site, I owe it to him, at least, to put up some content.

I won’t blather on about why the last couple of years have been a bit thin on the blog side (two kids born in 2013!), I’ll just get on with it…

This is what I’m up to as we break into 2015… Continue Reading

Don't you just hate ignored blogs? Erm…

Cocker spaniel resting on a pregnancy bump

Don’t you just hate it when you pop over to a blog and find no one’s posted for an age? *looks at own blog and hangs head in shame*

I hate neglected blogs, especially when previous content has been good (making no assumptions about my own here, by the way), they make me feel sad and I wonder when the author will get back on track of if the blog’s been abandoned forever.

Well, this blog hasn’t been thrown into the online graveyard, it’s very much alive and I have every intention of boring entertaining you with my prose from here on in.

The thing is, I’ve been kinda busy. My blogging mojo well and truly disappeared when I got pregnant in May last year. I was as sick as a dog and looking at a laptop screen made it worse. In the second trimester, while I felt much better, time was consumed with a busy job and preparing for motherhood. It was kinda like growing a baby sucked out my creative energy and while I had plenty of ideas for posts, I just couldn’t commit them to type. And in the third trimester we decided to grow up and buy a house (great excuse not to move heavy boxes, not so great if your head tells you you can still climb ladders, paint walls and hang pictures etc, but your body’s telling you no fecking way) which was really rather close to Christmas. I then had to wrap up at work (the first time my work ‘to do’ list has ever gone down), sort out Christmas stuff (buying presents, decorating, making mince pies etc) and then spent a couple of weeks simply enjoying my maternity leave. This mostly means walking the dog and catching up with friends/nesting in the morning, and then watching TV and sleeping in the afternoon. Bliss!

And here we are, almost due to pop and no blog posts for an age. I have revamped the design of my website, you may have noticed, which is still work in progress and today I thought it about time I committed at least a few words to the blog to show some willing. And my intention to blog on from here on in.

So, what else can I tell you? I can say that my MA in Online Journalism at BCU (see projects tab above) has been put on hold for a year – wrapping up work, moving house AND completing a challenging MA asssignment just before Christmas proved a little too much to take on when heavily pregnant and I decided to delay. Semi gutted about it but it’s the right decision; if you’re going to do things, do them properly. And it’s hard to work late into the evening when you’re fat, sore and struggle to stake awake past 9pm.

I’m also, as referenced above, a home owner. Having been on the rental market (happily so) for a good five or so years, we decided to grow up and buy. This was triggered by a few things – the prospect of being parents made us want a bit more security and the ability to drill holes in walls without losing a deposit; we found a lovely Victorian terrace we actually wanted to own and put our stamp on; our rental was too big and I don’t want to spend my maternity leave cleaning; and the fact that our mortgage is actually a lot cheaper than our last rental. I love where we live and look forward to starting our family here.

So, what’s next? Well, tomorrow’s challenge will be trying to walk the dog in frost and snow while trying to stay upright. My bulging belly throws me off kilter and while hubby would prefer me to stay home, I have a clingy cocker spaniel (who uses my tummy as a cushion) to keep fit. After that, I plan to sneeze and pop out my first born who will sleep through the night, never cry and provide the family with hours of endless joy while I continue to hone my online skills and find time for coffee and cake with friends. I have plans to ensure the old grey matter stays in tact by learning some new online tricks, helping hubby with his web design business and blogging. Yes, I said blogging, so watch this space.

The bit about sneezing out a baby (I may well be in denial about pain/sleep deprivation and the practical elements of parenting) may be a tad unrealistic but I live in hope.

So, that’s it from me – for now.

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.