Category Archives: Thoughts

The school run: 5 things I love and 6 things I really don’t

School RunSix months of school, six months of the school run. It’s definitely a different beast to the nursery or preschool runs – they might have been initiations but I couldn’t say they fully prepared me for the real thing.

I drop Scrip off every day and pick her up three times a week, so I’m a pretty permanent fixture at the school gates. Here’s what I do and don’t like about 8.40am and 3.30pm, every week day:

I love:

  1. Her enthusiasm as we approach the school (I’m guessing it won’t always be like this)
  2. Seeing new friends I might not have seen for a while – it’s nice to have a quick chat and catch up
  3. Getting out in the fresh air. We walk it a few times a week and it’s lovely (if it’s dry)
  4. Spending some nice, quality time with her each morning
  5. Dropping off a happy girl and going on to do my own things – either work or a day with D

I don’t love:

  1. Not just pulling on the first thing I find in the morning. These are smart parents – I feel like I need to be too
  2. The crush – I always seem to find the busiest time possible, cue lots of bumping into people and dragging D out of the way if he’s with me
  3. The uncertain greetings – seeing those people you kind of know, kind of don’t
  4. Pulling Baby D out of Scrip’s classroom EVERY TIME he comes with me
  5. Passing the sporty parents and feeling distinctly unsporty
  6. The traffic! Arrive a few minutes after the gates have opened and it’s never-seen before chaos

I’m guessing I’ll have to get used to this. It’s going to be like this for the next decade at least 😉

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Ready for video? 11 tips for YouTube success

YouTube tipsI’ve been watching a lot more online video in the last few years (and not just Tractor Ted on repeat). I love a bit of YouTube for everything from DIY to baby weaning to the odd clothes haul. But I’m not sure I’m quite ready to take the plunge myself. Not just yet.

But my first #BristolBloggers event with the fab Emily from Mermaid Gossip gave me so much to think about – it was a really packed, practical session. Here are 11 of my take outs for aspiring YouTube sensations.

  1. Go for it – there’s no better time. Don’t wait for the perfect equipment, moment or even content. Start with your iPhone and a window and learn as you go along
  2. Be consistent with timing – once you build a base they will learn to expect videos on a certain time at a certain day (or a few days) during the week
  3. And on that, don’t expect an instant fan club. It will take time and effort – Emily has been doing it for almost three years
  4. Find good alternative search terms by typing your theme into YouTube and seeing what else comes up
  5. Use key words on your description but no more than 20 and make sure the 1st one you use is your channel’s name
  6. Wait until you have a really good base (say 100k views a month) before monetising – otherwise you risk putting people off with unskippable ads which are a turn off to a less loyal audience
  7. Verify your channel and you can choose your video thumbnail. Make the title punchy and easy to read and the picture bright and bold to capture attention across devices
  8. Use editing apps like iMovie, Pinnacle Studio and Final Cut Pro
  9. Don’t forget your prompt to ‘like my video’, ‘comment’ or ‘subscribe to my channel’ but try to use just one main prompt rather than all three and make sure you allow seven seconds for someone to take action before the video ends
  10. Make sure your YouTube video’s under five minutes long (your Instagram video can be one minute long)
  11. Know your worth! Use sites like Social Blue Book and Social Blade for rankings and suggested fees once you’ve built up your following

Good luck!

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Guest post: Are you driven by guilt or aspiration?

I know all too well how hard it is to strike “the balance” (I’m not sure I ever have done). My talented, driven, inspirational friend Lucy – who managed to create and launch her halterneck support product, Halto, with her sister whilst also being a working mum and singer – talks about her lightbulb moment.  Thank you Lucy 🙂

Lucy CoxHaving worked harder than average to get pregnant and then being blessed with a healthy baby girl, being a mum became both my conscious and unconscious priority in life from that moment on. The role to rule over every other role. But something surprising shifted in my mind-set last week, and I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner!

Just to scene set for a moment. Although we couldn’t really afford it, after having our daughter I took the full twelve months off work, and again with questionable affordability, decided to go back to work part-time. It felt right to build every detail of my life around my daughter. I had been waiting a long time for her, and this is what being a proud mum was all about, right? We needed to live, but my daughter needed me more than ‘stuff’, so that’s what she got. Me, as close as I could to 100% of the time. For five years.

Over this period I had also started a small business with my little sister, Halto, which we worked around the kids and other ‘stuff’. This was to be our ‘get out’ from the shackles of paid employment and enable us to spend more time being mums. The kids came everywhere with us, and anything we couldn’t do with the kids was banished to the twilight hours. It grew from a very small acorn, and soon gathered momentum.

I would tell people how lovely it was to work part-time, and how proud I was that I had built my life in this way, and I meant it. I focused solely on the positives of this situation, until I had a few health problems in 2015 that made me really question my lifestyle choices and I became far more aware of getting a better balance in life.

It took me far longer than it should have to understand that if you expect yourself up to be the perfect mother, wife, employee, friend, sister, daughter and business partner, you will fail. You will be enough to adequately label yourself as all those roles, but you won’t be 100% of what you aspire to be in any of them, and (from a bar set high in the first instance) that doesn’t feel good. It is so draining.

Fast forward to the present day, and during a business coaching session last week, I came to the crashing realisation that I had become driven more by guilt than aspiration. Satiating guilt was a much bigger priority than satisfying my own ambition. I keep my own business under the radar as much as possible, often being quite apologetic for it, and try to work when my family is either in bed or out so it doesn’t impact on them at all. And when it does, I feel guilty. I tie myself up in logistical knots making sure that I am there at the school drop-offs and pick-ups every day despite my ever-growing to do list, and I am so exhausted.

The coach at this session was discussing innovation, and what was stopping us achieving the goals we have for our businesses. Many talked of financial challenges, or finding the right staff. For some, it was how to access new countries or develop new products. Right at that moment it hit me so hard between the eyes. My attitude was the sole barrier to me and my business achieving. As long guilt was my main motivator, I would never be fully committed to growing the business to its full potential.

Another thing struck me at the same time. I had arrogantly always assumed that my family, friends and colleagues actually all wanted me 100% of the time! I had never asked them whether more was better? Perhaps less, but better quality would actually be preferable to all (including my sanity!).

The first thing I did was ask my family if they minded me condensing my employed hours into fewer days (meaning my daughter would need to go to after school club two days a week), and I would then take one whole day a week on my own business. To my delight (and frustration) they both said they were very happy with that. In fact, my daughter (who had been bugging me about going to after school club for months) actually sounded like she had just won the lottery!

So here we are, about to embark on a new chapter where I am no longer apologetic for being a working mum. I will never shed myself of mummy-guilt completely, because I am a great mum. But from now on I plan to be, at the very least, a realistic mum who can demonstrate a more balanced life.

And who knows, maybe my daughter will take over the family business one day!

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What children have taught me about work

children and workI compartmentalise my life – at least in my head. So hours are carved up into children at childcare/school, children with just me, children with both of us, children in bed and so on. It makes it easier to visualise chunks of time I have for work and for non-work (at least that’s the plan).

In reality, you can’t always focus your mind on just one thing or another; it’s called multi-tasking but often it’s multi-visualising because much of it is the thinking rather than the doing. Sometimes I long to concentrate on one task, be single-minded and do it really well.

But maybe the meeting of my two worlds isn’t always such a bad thing. I hope that my working has brought benefits to my children and I also think the reverse is true. Here’s what I think my children have taught me about work.

That persistence does pay off
I’m a persistent person – some may even say very determined (perhaps anyone who’s ever worked with me!) but sometimes it’s a challenge. It’s not always the easiest or most comfortable route. Right from the start of their lives children show us it’s about trying and trying until they master something. Just look at them learning to crawl, walk, use a knife and fork, talk. Without the challenge there’s no reward.

To embrace change
I can’t underestimate how much change they’ve had over the last 12 months. They’ve moved houses, counties, nurseries. They’ve had to make new friends, Scrip has started pre-school then school. Children are incredibly adaptable. In contrast, I could deal with change better.

To be brave
Neither are extroverts or are outgoing. They both need a lot of encouragement. But when I think about how brave they’ve been in their own little ways – Scrip with swimming, when she was terrified of going underwater at first – D with nursery which was totally new to him at 11 months – I’m so proud. I read a piece recently about getting used to feeling uncomfortable if you run your own business, and this is a similar thing.

To get along
OK, this doesn’t always happen, but I ask them to get along A LOT! And they generally respond (at least my four year old takes the lead in this). I can see it doesn’t always come naturally – it’s a learnt behaviour. Likewise, it sometimes goes against the grain for me. But they do it against their instinct and things get better.

The power of simplicity
Children see everyone as equal. They don’t notice colour, nationality, disability. And if they do question, they accept a simple response and carry on. I love that. There’s so much to be said for taking a simple outlook.

Shutting the door: a poem

Shutting the door

There’s a time
Around the age of four
When your child learns to shut her door
She looks shy when you hear her imaginary phone
And she asks to watch the DVD alone
She’s just as sweet, she’s just as caring
But some things become private, not for sharing

You remember fondly when there was never a game
Which didn’t prompt her to call your name
All those imaginary cups of tea
One plastic saucer for you and one for me
And when did her arms and chubby thighs
Double in length and halve in size?

When you cuddle her and shut out the cold
There’s just so much of her to hold
And when people ask her age you round it down
Which makes her cast a little frown

It’s so easy to forget or be carried away
By mundane living, the day-to-day
So I’ll try to remember when she next wants to play
To join her on the floor and put the washing away.

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Ten things to be grateful for after a difficult year

reasons to be gratefulI’m not alone in saying this year’s been a bit of a bummer (x 500). Aside from the UK and US making some of the worst decisions in both of their histories, we’ve had some pretty rough family times, house problems and work issues. So I’ll be toasting the new year more heartily than usual.

But before then there’s the small matter of a big family Christmas and we’re hosting for the first time (eight people and three bedrooms – I love a challenge!) so that’s something to look forward to. And in between the ripped wrapping paper and pine needles, I thought it was time to reflect on the brilliant things that have happened this year as well. There’s always something to be grateful for – here are my 10:

  1. Baby D is much less of a baby than he was 12 months ago (in fact, can I even call him a baby anymore *sob*?) 2016 was the year he turned one and started walking and talking – his favourite words being ‘mun’ (moon) and ‘trak-tor’ – and his personality started shining through.
  2. Scrip is now a fully fledged school girl. After my emotions before her first day she is loving it more than ever. Although the tiredness is another story…
  3. We had our first nativity. Almost a post in itself! And my mum could have written a Sunday Times critique on the performances – once a teacher…
  4. The house is starting to look a little bit more like my Pinterest boards (starting to). And I’m now a dab hand at DIY, spotting a pressure problem with a boiler at twenty paces and fixing the broken doorbell (again).
  5. The garden is also taking shape. Once an overgrown jungle with the odd dog poo delight it’s now family friendly and we’ve used it loads this year. We’ve also discovered the joy of firepits!
  6. I’ve started a business! Yes, really. I still can’t believe it but I’m really enjoying it. I’m here at Carnsight Communications if you want to see more.
  7. Scrip can now ride the beautiful bike her grandparents bought for her and really enjoys it.
  8. They’re both enjoying the water in their weekly swimming lessons.
  9. Almost a year after we bought the house and ten months after we moved in, we’re’re still enjoying our new area. We love going back to London but we’re also loving exploring here.
  10. And my husband and I have spent plenty of time together – adversity can bring you together, even if it is over a supermarket saag aloo rather than in a fancy London restaurant.

So I’m definitely making the most of my remaining 19 sleeps until we welcome in 2017.

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From city to country – nine months in

City to CountryA lot can happen in nine months, as I know well. And a lot has happened these past nine months. As well as our move to the country, I’ve started my business, my husband’s started a new job, Scrip’s started school, Baby D has started not one but two nurseries, we’ve made lots of house ‘discoveries’ (mostly costly ones), we’ve had some difficult family news, some positive family news and so on.

On balance, I love it here. I miss family and friends in London and beyond but I don’t regret the move. I love the green, the space and the fresh air. I’ve started to make some lovely friends and so have Scrip and Baby D. But every move comes with adjustments and here are 9 that I’ve had to make (and am still making).

  1. Winter = wellies. Not your flimsy, floral, occasional-snow-day-in-London novelty wellies. Here you need hardcore, thick wellies even if you’re just popping to the shops. It was wet and muddy when we moved here last February and it’s starting to be like that again now.
  2. Milkmen make sense here. The village shop is fantastic and well-stocked but doesn’t open until 9am. We’ve made a fair few early morning trips to the garage 15 minutes away to get milk for breakfast but now the milkman is our new best friend.
  3. Amazon is also your friend. We wanted to be close to Bath, which we are, but when it’s all about getting in your car and parking and traffic, it’s so much easier to order online. Plus, if you’re out, Amazon can leave it in a safe place without you worrying how safe that place actually is.
  4. Everyone says hello. I can understand why you don’t greet everyone you come across with a smile and a cheery ‘hi’ in London but I forgot that wasn’t the norm across the country.
  5. The sky is quiet. It’s like that time a few years ago when aeroplanes were grounded. We get the occasional flight from Bristol overhead or local small planes but there’s no constant hum (we did used to be in the Heathrow flight path). It’s still.
  6. The wildlife is lovely. I grew up with the great outdoors being a big part of my life and I’m hoping the children will, too. There are beautiful birds of prey all around, pheasants all over the fields, owls in the garden and we think we may have a resident hedgehog.
  7. Whereas Scrip was surrounded by tube trains and buses, one of Baby D’s first words was ‘tractor’ (and it’s still a firm favourite) as they regularly rumble along the road.
  8. We now have serious log burner envy. The smell of woodsmoke in the village in the evenings is incredible. A wood burning stove is on our wish list but is way below things like fixing our external leak, unfortunately, so we may have to wait a while.
  9. Village life is village life. Having both grown up in villages we were apprehensive about moving from a big city to a small village but we’ve been made to feel welcome here, and having children means there’s a lot to get involved with. It’s an adjustment, but one we were prepared for.

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Parents’ views wanted: homes and gardens

Blogging in a coffee shopThe furniture specialists at Rattan Direct are on the hunt for parents’ opinions. They’ve put together a 2 minute survey (I’ve just done it and it really does take 2 minutes) on how people are using their homes and gardens now and at Christmas time (yes, it’s less than two months away…)

There’s also a section on that source of many a family argument, Brexit, and how it might affect spending. It makes you think. We’ve just been given planning permission (hooray!) for a home office/family room and extension which we’ll hopefully do in phases. So we’ve been talking to local building firms recently.

In the short term builders seem busy and to have ample work on the go but in the longer term, who knows? There’s a lot of uncertainty around pretty much all future spending at the moment.

I’ll be looking out for the results soon. Here’s the Rattan Direct survey (no personal details required).

A collaborative post with Rattan Direct.

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So, are you missing London?

missing londonI still love going back to London. We all do. When people ask if we miss it it’s a difficult question to answer. I think my husband does more than me. I love being back there – the buzz, the scale, the opportunities – but I’m seeing it through different eyes now.

I don’t feel like it was the best place for us to continue our family life, and that was one of the most important reasons for moving. However, I didn’t fall out of love with it (when you’re tired of London etc.) and I’m glad it’s still only an hour and a half away. My sisters live there as do some really good friends and I do miss them.

I’m enjoying our life here and making friends at Scrip’s school, our local toddler group and in the village generally. I love the fresh air, big skies and space. I love the fact we can hear owls in the garden and see buzzards overhead. We can walk to school past fields and hills and head out to pick blackberries from our door.

So, I do wish I could bring some of my London life here – particularly my family – but I appreciate why we moved and everything we all have here.

Best of the West – five recommendations for under fives near Bath

five under fiveWhen you have children or start looking after them, you discover an area in a way you never did before. When you move house, you get to do it all over again. I’m really enjoying seeing what this area of the West Country has to offer families. Seven months in, here are some of my favourite day trips so far in the Bath area.

The classical one – The Roman Baths
This was a no brainer and it definitely doesn’t disappoint. I first went with my mum, a historian, when I was quite a bit younger and I still remember its amazing beauty and sense of place. Years later, I’m pleased to report that Scrip really enjoyed our visit. There were children’s activities to complete but what I found particularly good were the holograms of Roman people projected into some of the baths. It really brought everything to life. The Baths are very popular, so expect crowds.

The one for small children – Ugly Bugs
It’s cheap and cheerful and my two love it here. Plus there are fish and chips for lunch: what’s not to love? It’s not far from us in Warmley and, while it’s not plush, it’s clean and not too crowded as they stop entry when all the tables are taken. It’s also a manageable size so you can see the children at all times (unless they refuse to move from the ball pool, as Baby D sometimes does). It suits small children age five and under. Arrive early for half price entry.

The outdoors one – Westonbirt Arboretum
We came here for Autumn colour last weekend, but still found lots of green leaves after our Indian summer. It was still lovely. The treetop walkway was a highlight as was the den building area. With a newish walker on small legs we didn’t get very far in a few hours and we only scratched the surface. Dogs are only allowed in certain areas but we seemed to see quite a few of them along the way. Entry is quite pricey – as is the food – so it could be worth looking at a year’s pass.

The local one – Dyrham Park
My cousin – who grew up near Richmond Park – wasn’t particularly excited about seeing the deer here, for obvious reasons, but they’re still pretty exotic to me and you usually spot the fallow herd on a trip to Dyrham Park. It’s very close to our new house and it’s a lovely spot – a country house (currently being renovated) enclosed by swooping hills on the entrance and with more formal gardens behind. The play area has ride-on tractors (perfect for our resident farm vehicle spotter, Baby D) and there’s a nice cafe.

The Harry Potter one – Lacock Abbey
I’ve only seen one of the films (or half of one, I think) but some of Harry Potter was filmed at Lacock Abbey and you can see why they chose it. It’s a lovely, atmospheric building and it’s been a winner with Scrip on a few occasions. Downstairs is the 13th Century Abbey; upstairs is the Fox Talbot residence, which is interesting in itself but also because it was one of the birthplaces of modern photography. There are some good children’s activities, including a playground just outside, and lots for grown ups to see. Make sure you have a walk around the National Trust village, too.