How I left my job and changed career

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A year ago today, I resigned from my ten-year teaching career. I remember it well, mainly because it was the day of Trump’s inauguration and I’d had no sleep the night before. I’d been planning on resigning later in the term (Benn and I had talked about me resigning the year before and agreed that the best time would be when D started school- no more nursery fees), but for some reason I found myself pouring out my thoughts to my line manager, who was amazingly supportive. I wrote my letter there and then, although I decided I would stay til the end of the year: this would give me time to sort myself out, but also I wanted to see my students through the year.

I then began to plan. I saved as much money (read: not much) as I could every month and joined agencies specialising in helping parents find work (spoiler: they were crap.) I spoke to people who could help me- one friend gave me really good advice about CVs. I researched, planned and saved. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was pretty terrified- I was leaving a job I’d done since I was 23, with relatively good money for the days I was in work (but not those I was working outside of school hours) and school holidays guaranteed. I had never looked for a job as a parent. Hell, I hadn’t seriously looked for a new job in eight years.

The time went REALLY fast. I took the summer off and started looking for work the week after D started school. I wrote a skills-based CV, which showed what I could do (and is easier to adapt for the skills required by each job description.) I also narrowed down the sort of places I wanted to work- charities, public sector- and signed up for job alerts. I scoured job boards for the NHS, the council, universities and the civil service. I applied for three jobs and was offered interviews for them all (I accepted the second job and got excellent feedback from the first. I didn’t attend the third interview.) I bought a basic black dress in the summer sales, which I wore with a plain cardigan (I felt like a younger Miss Marple, tbh), but it looked smart and presentable.

I was lucky in that I got a temp job for a few weeks, which brought in a bit of money, but I budgeted HARD. I cut all non-essential costs and used the library. During times when I wasn’t working, I kept myself busy: looking after the sheep, learning French, going to a free weekly knitting group.

I started my job in the public sector in December and it’s very different. I’m also working five days a week until the end of next month, which has brought a temporary boost in money but headaches with childcare. I’ll be a lot less well-off once I go down to three days, but better in terms of health. I sleep better, I’m happier and Benn and D have noticed a huge difference.

I have had to deal with an odd side-effect though: losing a sense of identity that was tied up with my job. It’s liberating and less scary now, but it’s definitely taken a while.

For anyone looking to change lanes, I will tell you it’s potentially hard- I was lucky that Benn was happy to pick up the slack, even if it means a change in lifestyle for us for a while- but the rewards can be utterly worth it.

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Writers’ HQ: Seven Ideas In Seven Days

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Remember my novel? I was working on it loads last summer and then I did (most of) NaNoWriMo in November, before the world decided it really wanted to bring me down with its ridiculous ideas. I also got bogged down in family stuff, D’s operation, Christmas and then the hell that is working in a school when a new curriculum is trying to be introduced. I lost my way and I lost my mojo. My characters were still in my brain, my story was still asking to be written, but I just struggled to get it down or find time to write.

This is where Writers’ HQ comes in; its founders Sarah and Jo are time-poor, cash-poor, sliiiiightly sweary writers (both Sarah and Jo are novelists) who also happen to be mothers and needed a way to find time to do their work. They offer a range of ways for others to write too- monthly writers’ retreats in Brighton and Worthing, as well as online courses which are reasonably priced (there are also free exercises for a lot of the courses, if you want to check them out before committing to buy one) and take into account the pressures of daily life. Now, disclosure time: Jo is a friend of mine and has been trying to get me to go to the Brighton retreat for AGES, but I either never have money/time/anything to work on. Instead, she offered me the chance to have a go at February’s Seven Ideas In Seven Days course. I jumped on it.

Seven Ideas In Seven Days costs £20 and you are given a lesson everyday that takes around an hour to complete. I loved the variety of different tasks and the ideas I came up with were often completely new to me and very intriguing- I have at least three new ideas for different stories in completely new-to-my-writing genres (including one about the popularity of succulent plants being part  of an alien invasion plot, which I may just write for the LOLZ), as well as two new perspectives on the novels that have lived in  my brain for a long time.

I also liked the forum- although I’m not sure everyone signed up for this month’s course was using it. However, I found two supportive course members and Sarah who were all brilliant for bouncing ideas off, discussing what we’d written and where our work could go next. It felt less scary than a class and more like a friendly chat in a coffee shop (except that I was drinking tea. And in my own house. You understand the imagery though.)

Would I recommend the course? Yes. It was a lot of fun and I’d like to do another course if I get enough money together- there are all sorts of things on offer, from how to plot your novel right through to actually writing/editing the beast and eventually sending it off to a publisher. It was more personal than just using a book or an anonymous blogpost to write and I think the structure and the range of tasks meant that I sat down every night to work. It also made me realise that I CAN carve some time out of the day to write, even if it’s not much. It’s better to write a bit than not at all. I look forward to reacquainting myself with my characters. And the Mutant Succulents From Space With Mind Bending Powers Of Persuasion, obv.

 

Looking forward, looking back

20161230_150620 This year… well. It’s been a tricky one and, I’ll admit, that sometimes it’s been hard to rationalise what’s been happening in the world. It’s been a confusing, sad year and there have been times when it’s seemed scary and unknowable. I’m not sure if 2017 will be any better in that respect, but I have to believe that there will be hope. Otherwise, what’s the point?

From a personal perspective, 2016 was OK; I navigated the world the best I could. One of my highlights was talking to Lauren Laverne on her radio show about my experiences with postnatal depression. After that conversation, one of my friends opened up to me about her experiences. It felt good to help someone and for me to acknowledge what I’d gone through (which I hadn’t done hugely openly before) and to know that I was helping someone else. I want to keep having these conversations, to keep helping others where I can. Mental health issues will continue to be important and as anxiety about the world increases, we need to support each other as best we can. We need to help each other. I want to be kind in 2017; goodness knows, it feels like we’re going to need it. I also need to help D understand about kindness to others. It’s never too early!

2017 will also mean changes: D will start school in September (which I cannot quite believe), but this poses questions for me. I always knew I wasn’t going to have another child, so this period means that I can start to look at my career- I’ve been working three days a week for the last three years. Do I increase my hours? Stay the same, but pick up more freelance work? Study? I don’t know yet. It’s quite thrilling but also terrifying. I’ve never really been good with change; my life has been pretty risk-averse! But I want to start exploring avenues and options that I’ve never been confident enough to try. I want to embody the fearlessness of Carrie Fisher (whose novels I would like to read in 2017- as well as finally getting round to seeing Star Wars!)

stay-afraid-but-do-it-any-way-what-s-important-10041241My new years resolutions are simple: sort out my passport (it’s due to expire this year- and it’s still in my maiden name, despite the fact that I’ve been married for nearly six years!); bake something sweet and vegan so that my boss can eat some of the cake I take into work; write to three people I admire (after Victoria Wood died, I sorely regretted never having written to her. I might start with Alan Bennett. After all, it worked with Angela Lansbury!); and to grow red sweet peas, even though I’ve heard they don’t smell much. But it’d be wrong to not grow my favourite flower in my favourite colour, even if I only do it once.

Other than this, it’ll just be business as usual- trying to keep my anxiety about the world in check, being kind to others where I can and trying to sleep well (insomnia is an unwelcome friend at the moment.) I just want to try my best in 2017.

I wish you and yours a happy, peaceful 2017.

Resolutions for 2016

Good morning, Sunshine- welcome to 2016!

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I’ve been thinking about resolutions. They have to be a) quite easy and b) quite quick to achieve some kind of result because I am essentially lazy and have the willpower of a small child. Also, I don’t believe in detoxes and all that jazz (despite owning books with titles like ‘I Quit Sugar’! Which is hilarious, as it ain’t ever gonna happen.)

Anyway, so I was thinking about what I wanted to achieve in terms of small, manageable goals and this is what I came up with:

  1. Declutter the house. I’ve actually started this already, but it’s definitely an ongoing process, especially with a three year old. I’m going to try and be ruthless with books, clothes and other things- and I’ll be looking at D’s stuff to root anything out that he’s too big for. No doubt most of the stuff will go to charity shops, but as it is a rolling thing, I may do a few car boot sales and eBay auctions too.
  2. Go veggie for a month. I’ve been vegetarian, on and off, since my teens. The reason I want to do this now is not so much a ‘post-Christmas detox’, but more about making me (and my family) a bit more adventurous when it comes to cooking vegetables. Benn is not keen on joining me in this, as he’s training for a marathon and is a massive carnivore. I, on the other hand, don’t eat that much meat, but I’m not varied in the vegetables I eat. Plus, this will give me an idea for what I’d like to grow in the garden this year. I’m open to this becoming a more permanent thing, but think that a month is a manageable start.
  3. Buying bans. Ack, I hate this term, but I can’t think of another term. I’m going to stop buying books (which I’ve done before, with some success) and yarn. You can read about how I’m going to go about a book buying ban on my book blog, but in terms of my yarn buying ban, I have to use my stash as much as possible. I’ll talk about this in a future blogpost.

I think three resolutions is enough for now. I like to see the year as a work in progress and that resolutions are not set in stone. We’ll see how it goes.

What are your resolutions?

Finally- I’d like to wish you a happy, peaceful 2016.

 

Beating tiredness one step at a time

I’m tired.

Like, really tired. It’s always stressful at work at this time of year, but I’ve never had a toddler in tow. At the moment, I’m counting down the minutes til Easter break. And that when I’m going to make some lifestyle tweaks to try and increase my energy.

Food

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I’m using birthday money to buy a food processor (how exciting! How GLAMOROUS!) and I’ve been religiously reading cookbooks, looking for interesting and healthy recipes, with an aim of increasing my veggie intake- and boosting my energy levels.

I bought the Wahaca cookbook recently and I’m looking forward to trying to cook some spicy, summery Mexican food. I already I have my eye on healthy hot chocolate and breakfast smoothies.

I borrowed Jack Monroe’s new book on a whim from the library and I love it- her style isn’t pretentious, the ingredients are sensible and the instructions are straightforward. I already made the spring veg risotto and it went down brilliantly with D especially (Benn would have liked meat, but that can be added another time.)

My friend Jeni bought me the Deliciously Ella cookbook and now all I want is the food processor, a spiraliser and my courgette seeds to grow so I can make courgetti with pesto! It’s not normally the sort of cookbook I’d think I’d like, but there are some really good ideas in here.

Running

1607067_10152692223017267_7743578639046493132_nLook at my new running shoes! Aren’t they pretty? But also: STURDY. And you can see them from space, which is super important. I’ve been neglecting my running so I’m taking it pretty slowly at the moment, mainly because I can’t go much faster (despite the woman laughing and pointing at me yesterday. Which was classy of her.) However, physical activity is going to help me sleep better and, ergo, be less tired.

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In theory, anyway.

Oh, hai 2015

Do you have any rituals you do on New Year’s Day? I take down the tree, order some new seeds for the garden and have a good tidy up. It makes me feel like I’m ushering out the old year and letting the new one in with a cheery, productive welcome. This year, I’ll be pleased to bring a new year into the house.

Let’s face it, 2014 wasn’t a great year in general, was it?

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I mean, I started the year with such high hopes, only to have all of them dashed. So this new year, I’m keeping it simple. Rather than setting resolutions- which we all know I won’t bloody stick to anyway- I’m going to have a few ideas as to what I would like to achieve and then see whether they’re manageable or need adjusting.

Fitness

2014 was the year I started running. Although I’m not a running junkie like Benn (who does 5k in less than 17 minutes- huh), I do like being able to eat whatever I like- within reason- and not care about it. However, I DO NOT like running in the cold and dark. So I have a few tricks up my sleeve: a combination of dance, yoga and… Davina McCall. I’m going to alternate them with running so that I don’t get bored. It will be interesting to see how I manage by February… At the moment, I’m tempted by 30 Days of Yoga with Adrienne, but knowing me it’ll end up being Three and a Half Days of Yoga Over The Course of a Month. We’ll see.

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Crafting

I’d like to make more stuff this year- especially for me, as the bulk of the items I made in 2014 were gifts. I might even try my hands at something new. And I WILL get back on the sewing machine. Probably around the time of Sewing Bee being back on. Again.

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Money

I’d like to save some money this year; having the kitchen ceiling fall in the other day (really) made me realise I should really have some contingency money and also, if nothing else, I’d like to offset some of the cost of Christmas or save up for a holiday or something. Or maybe just a FitBit. Let’s not aim too high.

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Blogging and writing

I’ll keep going my own merry way with the blog, although I think I’ll include more experience posts as opposed to being just review post heavy. But again, we’ll see how it all evolves.

In the meantime, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

New garden, lots of plans!

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’m pretty preoccupied with the new house and, specifically, the garden. It’s HUGE and I have loads of ideas and plans for it. (I’m so serious, I bought Gardener’s World magazine.) I thought I’d give you a visual tour and let you know what I have in mind for each area…

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This is the view from the dining room back door. That wild lavender plant will be trimmed back this weekend and I was pleasantly surprised to find a healthy rosemary plant too. Every garden I’ve had while living in Brighton has had loads of rosemary and I’ve always thought I’d miss it if I didn’t have it. It’s one of my favourite garden smells, especially if it’s alongside lavender.

Next to the steps, just out of frame, is what used to be a rockery. It’s overgrown, but there are evergreens in there. This weekend, I’m hoping to clear it and assess what’s there. Then I’m hoping to stock it with heathers and unleash my inner Emily Bronte and capture the feel of the moors.

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This is the view at the top of the steps. You can see how far the garden goes back. The seller of the house left loads of mature plants and trees- there’s an apple tree, a holly bush and I think the tree in the big pot is possibly a cherry tree. There’s also what we think is a fig tree further down.

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This is the patio in more detail; we inherited the table and chairs with the house. You can see my tomato plants just to one side; I think they’re on their last legs! There’s a little trench behind where they are. I’m thinking I might ‘build’ a sort of screen with pea and bean plants and bamboo in the summer. The alternative is a bank of lavender. I haven’t decided yet. I’m also thinking that next summer there will be lots of pots here- it’s a definite sun trap and I think there will be tomatoes, courgettes and other vegetables.

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This is the grass bit that will probably mostly be given over to D. I don’t have massive plans for this; maybe a bit of TLC. I do want to tidy up the borders, as they’re clogged with ivy and weeds. I’ll probably use wildflower seeds along here. My parents bought me a little bug house and, as D seems to think he’s Mr bloody Bloom, I think he would enjoy having lots of creepy crawlies to look at!

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This area will just be tidied up a bit. You can see the ramshackle greenhouse in the background that has lots of tools inside. I’ll fill the pots with lovely things. I’m not sure what yet, so there’s some research to do.

The bit just past the greenhouse is the bit that I’m most excited about. There are GRAPES growing up there, overhanging from next door. I’m thinking that if they can grow there, then there’s potential for me to grow other things. So I’m planning on getting rid of the gravel in that part of the garden and planting some veggie beds. I have no idea what I will plant there, although I fancy onions, potatoes and garlic. If I get really cocky, I might even chuck a bit of rhubarb somewhere.

It’s VERY exciting.