No Going Back…(unless you have a Facebook account)

We made the move from the suburbs of Surrey, just a 20 minute train journey away from the wonderful (if slightly stinky) London to live amongst sheep, tractors, bunnies and birdsong in the middle of the country. We are now an hour and a half train journey away from London but a £100 return ticket instead of £16. I think I can safely say the honeymoon period is over. Not in a bad way but in a ‘we do actually really live here now and there’s no going back’ kinda way.

Initially it felt like we were on holiday; a converted barn, log fires, country walks, climbing peaks, bunnies in the garden, hares in the fields, owls twit terwoo-ing in the tree outside the house, country pubs and gin & tonics, friends visiting all the time. The visitors have certainly tailed off. That trip around the M25 and those M1 road works when you have a car full of children screaming/puking but you’re not even at Watford Gap can take the shine off things a little bit as the two-hour journey seeps into a four-hour road trip from hell.

The weather lulled me into a false sense of security last summer. This year, so far, I have worn short sleeves and sandals once. ONCE! That might not bother me so much if it wasn’t for the modern day net curtains that is Facebook. Oh, how I sometimes curse Facebook, and not just because of the constant barrage of lost dogs or animals without skin pictures. As much as it’s great seeing friends and family from far away, I feel I have become Hyacinth Bucket. Hiding behind the polyester nets that could do with a wash, twitching them, then saying to the husband, “Oh, such and such are in Hyde Park London having a picnic eating strawberry ice cream with sprinkles wearing (gasps) SHORTS! So and so are at The Shard taking photos of the BLUE sky drinking Champagne,  oh and you know blah de blah, well they’re …” Not that I’m trying to keep up with the Joneses. How can I when they are currently on vacation in Seattle? The lucky blighters.

Only for me it really isn’t about social climbing, like it was for Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet).  Honest. It’s just in ye olden days when you moved house, you moved to a new area and never looked back, unless you went for a return visit. You found out what people were up to via a yearly circular that came at Christmas. Now I can see my kids old school friends are at the circus, my friends are happily out eating curries without me 200 miles away (I mean, can you believe their life didn’t come to a complete standstill when I moved? Nah, me neither), and on a day when the River Thames is looking particularly spectacular with the sun going down on it and there are friends enjoying a Pimms outside a pub on the riverbank,  I’m sat shivering in front of my much adored log fire…that is starting to lose its appeal because we’re in JUNE!

When you’re trying to settle in a new place, Facebook flings pictures at you that could make even the hardiest person crumble. And they just keep coming like a carrot on a stick dangling menacingly with an eerie voice saying, ‘Ooh look what you could be doing, but instead you’re warming your back on that fire again aren’t you?’ Yes I am. It’s bloody cold. I know, I know, it’s all about looking forward and not back, and in the wise words of my fave little pocket rocket Dolly Parton, if you want the rainbow, you’ve gotta put up with the rain and we’re certainly not short of that up here…

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Facebook in the olden days

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That’s it. I resign….

So, it’s been a while.

Things are a changing once again. So, the blog post I did about me going out to get a new job – well, it didn’t quite go according to plan.

It turns out admin wasn’t for me after all. I managed a full three and a half weeks before writing my resignation letter. Embarrassed is the word I think sums it up nicely. A month previously I’d been telling them how much I wanted this job and then I was typing; I’m sorry, it’s not you, it’s me.

I was offered a job at my local school working as a Teaching Assistant, which is what I used to do a couple of days a week when down south, alongside interviewing Disney stars and Dappy (remember him?).

Turns out I missed working with little people. It was only when doing data entry and calendar keeping in a quiet office that I realised quite how much.

I’m also turning my hand to a bit of copywriting. Basically, I’m writing blog posts on anything from jewellers to property websites, to Indian restaurants to travel guides to Marrakech and a bit of interiors in between. It pays appallingly but the deadlines are tight and it’s great to just keep writing.

I’m clearly having some kind of mid life career crisis. Really, I was hoping taking an admin job would unleash my inner ‘9 to 5’ Dolly Parton. If only….

Me in the office before I resigned

Rustic scones with added floor crumbs. A perfect pin?

I happened upon a blog the other day, Manger, about a stunning lady with 7 kids and approximately 100 dogs who has moved to a large tumble down villa in the French countryside. On the blog are beautiful photos of their life and food, so pleasing to the eye that they’ve secured the blog writer a publishing deal in the form of her own cook book.

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The rather gorgeous Mimi in her enchanting home

Then I go on Pinterest and pin away at pictures of blissful off grey rooms, perfectly cooked roasted vegetables with quinoa and stylishly dressed women. I try, oh how I try to emulate this kind of lifestyle. I know I shouldn’t, I know it’s shallow but it’s all so dreamy.  Thou shalt not covet lives of successful bloggers and people with homes in interiors magazines.

On a whim last Saturday I tried my hand at making some Mary Berry scones. I mean, we live in the country now. I need to be able to at least make scones don’t I? Like Mimi, I thought I could share my culinary expertise. Of course, smallest child wanted to join in. Before she did she wiped crumbs off the bottom of her feet, then put her hands straight into the dough. That must have added a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’. When it came to cutting the scones out, after getting the mixture stuck to the rolling pin and peeling it off several times, scattering flour everywhere, smallest child had to use a Tesco value wine glass to cut them out as we didn’t have any scone cutters. Bet Mimi doesn’t have to resort to such measures.  Needless to say, I don’t think publishers will be calling any time soon with that cookbook offer. But if you want it, here is the scone recipe, feel free to Pin it 😉 . They are very easy to make and ready in 15 minutes. We ate ours fresh from the oven, the butter melted into them and then we smothered them with lashings of strawberry jam.

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Plain Scones

(I used half this mixture and made about 6, ate 3, froze 3 as they don’t keep. They can be cooked from frozen in the oven for ten minutes and are just as delicious)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7 (200C Fan).
  2. Put the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub it in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. (At this point, mine added a few crumbs of her own). Stir in the sugar. Beat the egg in a measuring jug. Make up to 100ml/3½fl oz with the milk, then set aside a tablespoon for glazing the scones later.
  3. Gradually add the egg and milk to the dry ingredients, stirring it in until you have a soft slightly sticky dough
  4. Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and pat and poke (if you are 8, with possible bogey fingers) until it is about 2cm/¾in thick. Use a 4cm/1½in fluted cutter to stamp out the scones (or a Tesco value wine glass for a more rustic look). Make sure you don’t twist the cutter or the scones will not rise evenly. (This was impossible step to achieve with an 8 year old, as you will see from the pictures).
  5. Gently gather the trimmings together and pat out again to cut more scones
  6. Arrange the scones on the greased baking trays and brush the tops with the remaining milk.
  7. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until well risen and golden-brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Ps. I am insanely jealous of Mimi, her child bearing abilities, her massive French house, her cooking and the fact she has 100* dogs.

(*this may not be an inaccurate number, I think it’s nearer 14).

Jobs and children. It’s a difficult combo…

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We’ve lived in Derbyshire for nearly a year now and I couldn’t put off getting a job any longer. I’ve tried hiding in the boiler room so the husband didn’t notice I was still at home, and making a packed lunch and disappearing for a few hours a day but he found me out eventually. (Oh and of course, I’d already tried the third baby suggestion but he was never going to fall for that…)

I applied for a couple of jobs and ended up with two interviews. I haven’t been interviewed since, I can’t remember, trying to get into University? That wasn’t very successful, I still cringe thinking of my interview at the University of Westminster. “What newspapers do you read?” “Erm, errrr, I read more! magazine and Elle, does that count?” Needless to say it didn’t and I didn’t get in.

From the first ever Saturday job at a hairdressers to working as a Gallery Assistant at art college, to my first job on a magazine, I’ve either popped in with a ‘don’t suppose you have a job going…’ and started a few days later or blagged work experience that’s led to work, or been put forward for a role by a lovely friend and then been asked to go in for a ‘chat’. Perhaps that’s how things happened in the 90s?

Not anymore. For a start living here I don’t casually bump into people who could possibly offer me a job. The only person I see every day is the postman, and although I’ve considered asking him for work, the early mornings put me off and I’m not sure the uniform would suit.  So I’ve found myself  filling in online applications. They’re a joy, let me tell you. All in a different formats and just when you think you’ve finished, you see your name is in the job position and your sexuality is in the aims and ambitions bit.

After struggling with those I managed to land two interviews. These are for part time admin roles, nothing too la-de-dah, but they did need a new outfit (“speculate to accumulate, darling”) as dog walking attire apparently isn’t the done thing in an office. The first one involved a 3 hour ‘carousel’ interview along with 5 other people. There are only so many times in three hours you can explain why you want the job and having to ‘role-play’ the phone message I’d leave if the school was closed due to snow nearly made me say a swear at the end. The words role-play should surely be left behind after GCSE drama?

Anyway, I didn’t take the 3 hour carousel interview job, I took another at a local secondary school but I’ve gone from being a full time mother, wife and dog walker to working 5 days a week in that job plus a Saturday morning teaching journalism at College. That’s not to say I am no longer a full time mother, wife and dog walker because now I do all these things as well, as I managed to get a job in school hours. Lucky old me still gets to do the swimming pick up, the ballet lesson run, the school drops, the dog walking, the supermarket trips etc, etc. You know what I’m talking about as so many of you already do it, only working full time hours.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time being at home and feel really really lucky that I’ve been able to do it. When I handed my notice in at my ‘proper job’ when my second child was just 10 months old, I always wondered if I’d regret it and there have been times I’ve felt a bit crap about giving up my career to bring up the children. Yes, I know it is a very important job bringing up children, yet society doesn’t make you feel like that. It’s more a, ‘what on earth do you do all day?’ look, if you say, “actually I’m on a career break to bring up the children”, especially once the children are both at school all day.  I have always struggled with whether  it’s setting a good example to my girls, putting my career on hold. What does it say to them? Yeah, go for it girls, be what you want to be, but once you have children it’s bloody hard to keep your career going unless you have flexible working hours and an understanding boss (“Erm, my little one is in an assembly at 9.30am playing the part of a donkey, do you mind if I’m a bit late in?”), you have grandparents nearby who will help out or you earn a massive salary that can afford you a nanny.

We came to the decision for me to give up the ‘proper job’ because the cost of two children in childcare almost made it impossible to work as there was no family nearby to rely on and what I earned + travel costs + cost of childcare for two = not much left. So for the past 8 years, we’ve muddled along and I’ve done a bit of freelance work (erratic and difficult to find), a bit of work at a local Estate Agent (locked someone out of their own home) and a bit of work as a Teaching Assistant (had a pee soaked sock flung at me), whilst obviously looking for the nirvana of a part time job that fits in with school hours, inset days and holidays that utilises my skills and pays well. If any of you find that job, I’ll fight you for it.

So we are where we are, I am very happy to announce I now have an admin job in a school. Does this mean I have to change my career on my passport? Can I no longer say I am a journalist?

The thought makes me weep a little….

5 Questions With….Ineko Home

Another Instagram favourite of mine is Ineko Home. I have to admit that this isn’t just any old business, oh no, this is the brain child of my gorgeous sister-in-law Debi and her business partner Ann. They have five children between them and work full time as childrenswear designers but somehow they have managed to launch stylish interiors website Ineko HomeDebi tells us how…
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Why did you start the business?  We desperately needed a new table and I suggested to my husband, Mark that we could make one. Before we knew it, we had bought the steel, found a welder to create the frame & my Dad gave us 3 planks of rough oak for my birthday. Somewhere during this process we costed it out in the hope of selling the tables. Making a prototype was not easy and took 6 months developing the plans & the costs  – this was very painful but while Mark was working on that side, I started developing a website. The table is the heart of Ineko Home and once this stage was sorted we moved onto finding a range of products to compliment the table, all restored, handmade or reused. We invited my business partner and best friend Ann to join us to strengthen our team.

What’s has been the biggest Challenge? We’ve had many mountains to climb. Making one table wasn’t easy but it was easier than making a production run. No company wants to make a small run of 10 pieces. Eventually we did find a company that believed in us and liked our style enough to work with us. Building a website has many challenges too, even with help from a great friend, but after many hours, I’ve finally mastered how to make it work for our needs. The other challenge is shouting from the rooftops and getting people to buy. I post new images everyday, asking people to share in the hope of widening the audience but this is slow. We’ve only been online since Nov 26th so I will keep going and try new ways to reach the masses.

Is it easy launching a business with children? I work full time as a Design Director of a company based in London, designing childrenswear. I still love doing what I do everyday and have always worked having 3 children.  I am used to juggling & never stopping still. I have to travel to the Far East & Dubai a few times a year too, which has never been easy with 3 children and with a new business now too it’s almost impossible. My children are getting older now, Harley-Jo is 18, Esme is 15 and my only boy, Cole is 13 years-old . A few years ago when the girls were in swimming clubs & training 4 days a week along with Cole’s weekend football I wouldn’t have even dreamt that I would have the time or energy to be doing this. They still have very busy lives, now it’s gymnastics, football & part-time jobs they need lifts to & from, but we seem to somehow juggle it around. One of our black & white statement prints in our range says

‘STOP WAITING FOR THINGS TO HAPPEN. GO OUT AND MAKE THEM HAPPEN ‘

We live by this ethos. Even if this doesn’t work out at least we’ve had a go at it. I want my children to have a go at things too.

Careers and children – what is the secret to your success? I have an exceptionally wonderful husband. I’m not being soppy but he is amazing in the kitchen. If it were left to me we wouldn’t eat and if we did it would be too late or burnt. The same with the mornings, they always had fresh chicken wraps for pack up and a lovely breakfast in their tummies. He owns the kitchen. He is in charge.  I don’t have a cleaner and I like a clean house so do all the tidying, washing & organising. If my house is not in order, then neither is my mind. Even now when we have boxes of stock, bubble wrap rolls and pieces of furniture for photographs they are tidy boxes!

Has this always been your dream? I’ve always loved great photography and  great interiors. I’ve always helped friends with ideas, storyboards & researching products but this doesn’t pay the heating bills. When the children were younger they were used to having my camera in their faces at every opportunity but when the teenage phase came my lens focused on either the back of their heads or the palm of their hands. So my subject matter changed with the times and my modest yet lovely period house became the subject. Was on-line retail always my dream ? Maybe not but I am enjoying this new dream and I look forward to seeing where it takes us.

My favourite Ineko Home products:

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They are a new business so need all the help they can get. If you like their stuff, then please feel free to spread the love ❤

Party Pooper

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I have been 40 now for, oooh, two months. I snuck into my forties without so much as a party popper or a hangover. I know the thing these days is to have a big do whatever the occasion. I’m leaving! Let’s have a party. I’m 30! Let’s have a party! I’m getting married! Let’s have a super expensive hen & stag do, an outrageously costly wedding and a great party! I’m 50! 60! 70! 75! 80! 90! 100! Leeeeetttt’s ppppaaaaarty!

I suppose I’m a little shy about these things. For my wedding I was all for going to Chelsea registry office, having confetti thrown over us on the big brown stone steps and going with few friends and family to a room in a pub afterwards to get hideously drunk, but my (now) husband wanted the big shebang.

A hundred guests and a country hotel later, I was absolutely wracked with nerves beforehand. The thought of waiting to go down the aisle and everyone turning to stare at me filled me with dread. I had anxious dreams where I decided to just wear a silk nightie with my hair up in a greasy pony tail as I thought it’d look fine, then realising that it absolutely wouldn’t look at all fine just as the music for ‘Here Comes the Bride’ started. Cue waking up in a cold sweat.

As it was, I absolutely loved my wedding day. Yes, my knees were knocking when I was waiting at the top of the aisle but luckily I was wearing a fancy wedding dress and had invested in a hair and make up lady so the greasy pony tail/nightie combo had been avoided. I adored having all my friends and family in one place celebrating our marriage and I still managed to get hideously drunk. I sobbed the day after my wedding. Not because I thought I’d made a terrible mistake, but because I didn’t want to throw up in a service station toilet on the way back down from Harrogate to London. Damn you alcohol.

However, I suppose I wasn’t sure being 40 was something I really wanted to celebrate. Not that I have a thing about age, because I couldn’t give two hoots that I’m 40. It’s that same old feeling creeping in again of everyone being somewhere just for you. Once you’ve lived in various places and you have a variety of extended families and age ranges, it becomes a bit of a logistical nightmare sorting out where people will stay if they come, asking them to spend money on hotels, then finding a venue, oh and the big ‘to buffet or not to buffet’, that is the question? Plus, it costs a bloody fortune. So in the end, I took the easy way out and did nothing. Bah humbug old me.

Instead I shall enjoy all my friends birthdays who turn 40 this year, will eat their buffets, gaze longingly at their photos from Paris, New York and Vegas because Facebook and Instagram allow that nose pressed against the window looking into someone else’s life feeling and I’ll sit with my squished nose and think to myself, I’ll do something really special one day. Maybe my 43rd? That number has a nice ring to it….

Can life be perfect?

The Dog & Hay Bale
The Dog & Hay Bale

An old friend who has been offline for a while, found me via Instagram, and saw my pictures. She typed, I’m loving your new life, is it as perfect as it looks? Pah! Can any life really be perfect?

This is just my social media edited life. I don’t show the pictures of the hot slimy dog turds I pick up through a thin black bag that sometimes breaks so I get dog poo under my finger nail, there are no photos of me screaming at my children because they still haven’t brushed their hair/teeth, got dressed/moved from the telly/made their bed despite me asking nicely 6 times, they actually only seem to raise their heads when my face is bright red, my voice hurts from screaming and steam is coming out of my ears like in a cartoon.

I don’t post the sulks after rowing with my husband, the unmade beds, the pile of dishes stacked by the sink, the mobility scooter parked outside the British Legion of my new town, the over drawn bank statements, the endless search for a job that fits in with the children’s school hours, or the sadness that is now always there in the background after the loss of someone. But I don’t post the reality. Neither does anyone else judging by the amount of set up half cut open figs on a wooden chopping board taken from above or the tulips with one petal fallen off artistically into a muffin tin. Who lives like that?

It’s true, I no longer spend hours on Rightmove searching for the perfect (see there’s that word again) property. It doesn’t exist by the way. We have been lucky that we’ve landed in a nice spot. We couldn’t have known before we moved in after just two viewings of 20 minutes what the local community would be like, how the kids would settle from a massive school to a tiny school, how it snows here, thick fat flakes when five miles down the road there is none because we seem to have a little climate of our own. We could never have known how much we’d like coming back from walking the dog down the road across wheat fields to the smell of burning wood as the log burner is lit.

It’s always a risk moving from a city to the middle of nowhere. And it certainly is far from everyone’s idea of perfect. My cousin who lives in London couldn’t think of anything worse. My ‘perfect’ is different to your ‘perfect’. Whatever that may be. Naked skydiving and living in a hut in the middle of Wales anyone?  Living on the top of a mountain in India? Or living down the road from mum and dad in a two bed semi, in a job you’ve had for years but that’s your happy? It might simply just be managing to get through another day. Everyone has a different completeness.

I’ve always had itchy feet, and boy, do those pictures of blue skies and endless white sandy beaches that the Australians are posting look tempting (perfect?), but right now, for us it’s as  good as possible with two kids, a stinky dog and a temperamental Man City supporting husband. But ask me again tomorrow, because life’s weird like that, it’s forever changing.

perfect
adjective
1. having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.
2. absolute; complete (used for emphasis).
verb
 1. make (something) completely free from faults or defects; make as good as possible.