Thursday, 30 December 2010

How to ensure a fresh start for the New Year

If you know me well then you will know that I do not put much store into goal setting as an annual activity at the end of the calendar year.  However I am very into rituals as part of life and was very taken with one idea which is to visualise what you would say to your closest friends if they were round for dinner on 31 December about your achievements and setbacks over the previous twelve months.  It is a great way to focus the mind.  Below is another exercise that have used myself and also shared with clients.  I invite you to consider it as preparation for the New Year which could be 1 January, or Chinese New Year or in line with the seasons so here in the UK the official start of Spring is 21 March.  Take whatever date works best for you.

The day before the new start perhaps tomorrow for some, set aside some time alone [alternatively perform the act with someone who you can share stuff with easily] and tune into what you want to see in the next year.  Follow these steps:

  1. Create a space for yourself.  The ritual element gives the act more meaning and energy.  So light that candle, say a prayer, take deep breaths, burn incense, add in some appropriate music [I can recommend anything by Deva Premal].
  2. Say goodbye to 2010 properly.  Take out a sheet of paper, and begin writing all that you are ready to let go of from the last 12 months and even prior to it, all of those things that you recognize have served their purpose and are no longer needed in your life.  By "properly", what I mean is that there is a way of letting go.  So, rather than saying "I'm so done with that" with an edge of regret or disdain, shift your energy to being grateful for the presence of this thing in your life, and the acceptance that it was there for a reason and there was a gift in it.  This can be harder than it seems but is so worth it if you can see what it has given you.
  3. Letting go.  In a safe way, burn the piece of paper, and as you do so give thanks to God, the Universe or whomever it is you appeal to with such things.
  4. Celebrate!  When you are finished, it is so important to celebrate.  Not only does it lock in the experience, but it is an acknowledgment of this loving, important thing you just did for yourself.  Celebrating can happen in many different ways: maybe pouring a glass of fizz; or eating some dark chocolate; perhaps taking a luxurious bubble bath; or eating a slap up meal with a loved one. 
  5. Invite in the new.  On the first day of your New Year, or as close to it as you can get, take some time to tune into and get clear on all that you would like to invite into your life for the next 12 months.  Again, create your space and take out a sheet of paper writing out your intentions: what you would like to see show up, both externally i.e material things and internally.  This can be done as a list, a letter to yourself, a drawing, whatever works for you.  When you are finished, seal it in an envelope and keep it somewhere safe that you woll remember to take out and read in 12 months (it helps to mark a reminder on your calendar).
  6. Act as if it has happened and walk your talk.  Don't simply sit back and wait for these things to show up.  In the days, weeks and months that follow, consciously choose to think, speak and act in accordance with the intentions you set.  Dare I say it, set some goals and milestones, hire a coach to inspire you and help keep you on track, enlist a good friend to help hold you accountable.  All of these things help sustain the energetic path you have created.
The photographer is Sarah Wynne and you can find her work here.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Post Christmas reflection

I love this photo of different coloured Christmas baubles because it sums up so much of what Christmas is about for me.  Lots of colour, bringing family and friends together, variety and fun.

This Christmas was different to others because my aunt died on Christmas eve.  It was not unexpected and yet the timing was awkward.  When my uncle phoned to tell us, my eldest was having a mini melt down because she and I had different views on what dress she was going to wear to the Crib service (she is 4 going on 14) and I was concerned that we were going to be late as it is the most popular service of the year and it was past the time we had agreed to leave.  My father had to go outside in the freezing cold so that he could hear his brother and conversed with him for a while.  Suddenly what time we got to the service seemed trivial.  A day later than usual the absent friends and family toast was more poignant than in previous years as we stopped to remember my aunt and think about those she had left behind.

For me Christmas is all about seeing family and friends to share food and drink and be together.  What I enjoyed about this holiday period was the time A and I spent thinking about what meals we were going to cook and what wines we would serve, including some rituals too.  This is how I show my love to those closest to me.  We baked a salmon for Christmas eve something that goes back to my childhood.  My Grandmother's birthday was 23 December so we always had salmon on Christmas eve when we got together because it was her favourite food.  Other highlights this year included a game terrine which we had on boxing day evening with a barley and pomegranate salad and crostini of roasted peppers and melted garlic goats cheese.  For the major gathering of the clans, I made and served a venison and cranberry casserole followed by trifle or pears in red wine (courtesy of my Mum) and Christmas cake.  What was special about the preparation of that meal was that my Mum and I prepared vegetables for the casserole together and it enabled us to bond through sharing a task.

We had the most fun on boxing day morning when we all went out to a field to go sledging. Old and young alike took turns on the sledges, often in mixed pairs.  A and I both ended up falling off more than once - and I found myself in front of the sledge at one point! The grannies won the prize for going the furthest on one of the sledges. It was fantastic because everyone let go of their inhibitions, relaxed and had good, clean fun. 

Note to self next year I am going to make sure we do something equally silly and relaxing a day earlier. Summing up ours is quite a traditional Christmas, it works and will not change much from year to year.  In fact the few Christmases in my life that I have been apart from those closest to me or abroad have felt very strange. 

Reflecting on Christmas, how traditional was yours?  What went well, what could have gone better?  What will you do differently next year?  How much did you really enjoy it? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Details of the photographer for the photo can be found here.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

'Tis the season to be jolly

Just had to post this because it is very clever and gave me a good laugh. Quite a tonic after the day we have had.....
Enjoy. If that's not enough, do take a look at the following picture of our Christmas tree, drunk on water. A national lampoon moment if ever there was one!

Monday, 6 December 2010

How to enjoy the magic of Christmas

So I am conscious that many of my readers are parents as well as professionals which means as well as having a family you are either juggling the demands of others or your own business. So when the festive season comes along, frankly it can all seem to much. As an example, at the beginning of last week I remember reading someone's facebook status which said that they had bought all their Christmas presents and written all their Christmas cards. My thought at the time was and it's not even December yet! This was followed by a cold sweat and my gremlins took over for a moment and started saying I was so far behind I would never catch up...(you can imagine the rest). Why I am sharing all this with you is because after that something amazing happened which helps to explain the power of conscious embodiment. I took a breath and relaxed!

It was a bit more than that! I centred myself and from that space of calm, I was able to say that although I did not know how I was going to get everything done, I trusted myself enough to know that it would get done. It was amazing how much I did get done in one day - Saturday, a day when my OH was off "playing soldiers" and so I was a single parent. The girls and I spent a lovely part of the morning at the Melting Pot in Hitchin because my friend Dawn who runs it, had an open day. They were happy playing with a train set whilst I caught up with a number of people and bought 4 main presents and a couple of little ones. We then went on to the Town Hall where there was a Christmas Bazaar taking place,organised by White Rose Management. My intention was to go and support Sarah and I ended up buying another two presents, some delicious and highly original cupcakes for the home team and placing an order for cardigans for the girls.

What was lovely was how easy it all was. I now have my two international parcels made up to send out tomorrow. The Christmas letter is also written and I am a step closer to finalising another present. Suddenly it all seems much more manageable and I have actually started to enjoy the run up to Christmas - this week both girls have their nativity plays and I can't wait. One of the bonuses of having small children is that their infection is contagious. We have written letters to Father Christmas and they love opening their advent calendars each day and asking how many days it is until Christmas.

In short if you found yourself nodding with the sentiments expressed at the beginning of this post then here's something you can try:

1. Find a space where you can be quiet.
2. Stand with your weight evenly balanced between the front and back of your feet.
3. Take a breath in and then a much longer exhale out that you imagine spiralling into the floor.
4. Check that your shoulders and jaw are relaxed and you have dropped into your gut.
5. Visualise the space that you inhabit beyond your body is evenly distributed front and back; left and right; and above and below.

Now you are centred and from this space say to yourself I don't know how I am going to get everything ready for Christmas (or put in something else that is causing you a certain level of anxiety) but I believe that I can do it. Stay in that space for as long as you can - 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 2 minutes, 5 minutes. Then as the days unfold from that point on, watch what happens. It can be truly magically.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

What is the relationship between mentoring and authenticity?

One of the things about mentoring is that you get back as much if not more than you put in. I have been mentoring an amazing woman who also has a passion for diversity. Earlier in the year, when we were both doing some training for the NBP, we got talking and that is how it all began. As it happens she is also a coach and an experienced one at that, which means that because we both take an informal approach to our sessions, I generally receive a free coaching session too. A wonderful extra I never expected when we entered the process, nor is it part of the official process.
The irony is that my mentee is mid-way through the recruitment process for an organisation that I have known for over half my working life. We had a session by phone today which had the primary purpose of preparing her for her interview next week. That was accomplished and so much more was as well.
It all started with an innocuous question about how I was. I started to relate something that I have been processing for a while that has been very painful. Before I knew it I was being coached. It was fascinating because through the conversation I was able to meet one of my saboteurs or as Wendy Palmer refers to them "grinches" (a much more colourful description). Rebel girl is someone I know well who wants to protect and will come out all guns blazing with the attitude of I don't give a f**k whenever she feels I have been attacked. Today I realised that to move on I need to be able to acknowledge her and the part she plays for me. I tend to wrestle with her or repress her which means that she pins me down by stealth - an amusing sight for those on the outside which can be mortifying for me.
What I was able to do by having the coaching conversation was first to get a longer term perspective on the matter; second to dialogue with myself and in so doing be more of my whole self and refind my centre. If you are into conscious embodiment, you will recognise the next phrase which is what I came up with: I am committed to the process, I don't know what the outcome will be but I trust whatever it is. Holding the space of unknowing rather than trying to control it, seek external approval or back a way due to a lack of safety is something I am really starting to get.
The beauty of experiencing such moments of wholeness is that I can share them with my clients and thereby give them practical tools to get more out of their lives as well as enable my own authentic self to grow. It's a great win-win. It is also a good example of what can be gained in a mentoring relationship.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Empire State of Mind

Last week was mad as I crammed in a full week of work in 67% of the normal time allocated so I could take off for almost a week to go celebrate a special event in my brother's life. It was definitely worth it despite coming back to another hectic week of deadlines. We were all in New York for my brother's wedding and it got me thinking and what follows was the result.

Rituals are a key part of this life whether we are religious or not. This is in part because rituals have symbolic value. In the case of a wedding it is a public declaration to friends and family about a major decision on how we intend to live our lives. What made this wedding particularly special was not so much the family tie but other thoughtful elements. Let me a share a couple with you to give you a flavour of what I mean.

In the States, it is possible for the marriage ceremony to be taken by a friend who has secured a special license that enables them to be the celebrant for the day. In the case of my brother and his wife, they chose someone who had lived with them for a few months and so was able to witness their relationship in close proximity. The words she shared with us resonated because they described the couple that we knew and loved. More than that she had the ability to make the ceremony meaningful for all those of us who were married and in a way gave us the space to reflect on our own relationships and to renew our vows silently if we so chose. It was very well done.

One of the other highlights for me was the cookie bake, the morning before the wedding. Mainly women from both families gathered together for the activity. Beforehand I had assumed that one of the main reasons was to provide my two small children, both girls, with something to do. In fact it enabled me to have a real conversation with the bride to be as well as get to know some members of her family. At the end of the session, those who took part in the baking and decorating had made the favours for the wedding and my two girls got to ice and try a cookie each, which was just as well as despite prompting us to take one with us as we left on Saturday evening, we still forgot!

Although Empire State of Mind was not their first dance, it was the first song they played after the marriage ceremony and a remixed version came later. I love that song and the sentiment within it certainly rings true for me and my brother. He because he met his wife there and has experienced the can do culture in the work place. For me because it has been an important city for me over the last ten years for a number of reasons.

There are many other little details I could mention but I think you get the idea and as I hinted there is a bigger picture here too. We need rituals as a way to celebrate key moments in our lives so that they stand out from the routine of daily living. It gives us the opportunity to glimpse the universal truth that we are all connected to something bigger than ourselves. Rituals are also the only effective way to break bad habits. So what rituals have you created or been part of that have enriched or even changed your life in some way?
Photo was supplied by jsbanks42.

Friday, 12 November 2010

What do continuous learning and success have in common?

At the moment I am really enjoying Rob Yeung's book The Extra One Per Cent. It explores through research and other techniques what those who are really successful have that others do not have and is very insightful as well as surprising in some cases.

As you may know, one of the key projects I am currently involved in is looking at how to develop an intense learning environment in a corporate environment where the emphasis is on performance with behaviour a secondary consideration for the most part. Challenging that's for sure.

It was with great excitement therefore that I read about Richard Boyatzis' work, a professor in the United States, who has examined the behaviours linked to attainment for over a decade. He spent two years working with outstanding partners from a very large Professional Services firm to assess their behaviours and subsequent performance. The interesting part was the findings from the monitoring of the partners over seven successive quarters to find out not only how much money they bought into the business but also the profitability of their work. He looked at a range of over 20 skills and the only two that were linked to both revenue generation and profitability were what he termed "values learning" and "facilitates learning."

This is amazing because what it is saying is that contrary to popular belief, it is not only coaches that need to continue their development and learning through adulthood, in fact we all do. Yeung goes on to explain about the T shaped mind being the vehicle for doing that. In other words individuals need to increase the depth of their knowledge in their specialist area whilst maintaining a broad interest in a wide range of topics.

You may say that none of this is rocket science but let me ask you a question. How much time do you put aside each week to keep yourself informed of developments in your field and beyond? Put it another way what do you do to address this need of continuous learning? How do you get a stretch that takes you into your learning zone?

Friday, 5 November 2010

Giving and receiving using the body

I want to share something with you this week that is emerging out of a conversation that I had recently. First because it may help you to recognise a similar aha moment in a conversation and lead to you making the connections that you need to make more quickly. Second because I do believe that what we say and how we act is reflected back by the Universe for lots of reasons, one of the main ones being that we are made of energy.

Quite often those of us who are stay at home parents or part-time workers find ourselves drawn into non-paying activities that hold true to our values. For me this year it has been joining the Offley School Association (OSA) as my daughter started at the school. I think it is also dependent on what type of person we are. I cannot count the number of conversations I have been party to where people wonder why so few volunteer to ensure that charitable organisations can run effectively. That is a whole other topic but getting back to this one. If you are the type of person who is good at organising stuff or believes it is important to help create community then you can find yourself over committing yourself.

Context given how does that relate to the conversation I was having with a couple of men who are parents but whose kids have since flown the nest. We were talking about themes around spirituality and business the focus of our current book and issue that often crops up amongst those with a spiritual bent in life. They often keep on giving and are less able to receive what they need. Does this sound familiar? It all came together for me earlier today when I was chatting with a Mum and friend who is also a PTA member but not at Offley. Everything came to a head for her this week. She felt overwhelmed by events because her pattern is to give generously to others of her self until her energy is depleted.

So what is the answer? I don't believe it is about stopping to give tempting though that is at times. The answer for me lies in Conscious Embodiment. In other words seeing our bodies as a vessel through which the Universe's boundless energy of giving can flow. That may sound a bit odd to you which is why it is great to experience it through undertaking Conscious Embodiment - doing physical exercises which demonstrate this principle in action. It is incredibly powerful and more than that it is a way of protecting ourselves in a positive way.

The second part of the answer is allowing ourselves to be open to receive. Easy you say. It certainly has not been for me. I find it incredibly difficult to ask others for help when I need it. Perhaps you are the same holding a belief that it is important to be strong and to hide your vulnerabilities. Quite a few of these realisations came to me as a result of having a conversation about receiving and this is also how the Universe works. It brings things into your conscious thoughts if you start to think and talk about them.

If you would find it helpful to explore Conscious Embodiment further then there is an opportunity coming up in January to find wholeness through connecting the mind and the body here.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Where do you draw the line when it comes to another's happiness?

So here's my dilemma. The OH has been offered a job which he really wants to do. Normally I am all for him being happy in what he does especially at work which occupies five out of seven days most weeks! Who wouldn't be?

My first feeling of unease came about when I discovered that because of the nature of the

Photo is by Henning

job, he will have to be office based. Ever since we had the children over four years ago, he has been a home worker which has been a marvellous sense of support. Although moving to an open-plan style barn did mean it had its challenging moments from time to time as he could not just shut the door to stop interruptions from the girls!

Yes it will be different but in many ways I can live with that because I believe he will be happier. So what am I wrestling with you might well ask? The role happens to be top secret which means he has to be security vetted. This means he has to fill in pages of information not just about himself but about me, our siblings and our parents. One question which particularly got to me was the one in which we had to declare whether or not we had loaned a thousand pounds or more to anyone in the last five years. The level of detailed information that they require about our financial affairs is incredible and I want to be able to say that's enough already. Instead I am being the dutiful wife and digging up the information he requires to get clearance. All I can say is I hope it is worth it!

So that brings me to this week's question for you: when do you say enough is enough especially when your actions could impact on the happiness of another? Put it another way what compromises do you make to ensure harmony in key relationships such as a marriage/ long term partnership?

Friday, 22 October 2010

The beauty of doing nothing

Probably because I am on my first girly weekend since I do not know when, I feel inspired to write this post and to keep it short as the whole aim of this weekend is to chill, have fun and eat too much!

So when did you last take some time out for yourself? How often do you find yourself stressing about work, spending whatever free time you have with your children or your partner? If you are anything like me you also play an active role in your community because that is important to you too. It can mean that most of your week day evenings are taken up in some form or other and if you are lucky you have time for your partner on a Friday or Saturday night. That is if you are not out there socialising with friends or doing some other hobby at the weekend or just spending quality time with the family.

When this happens it can feel that our time is accounted for between the role of partner, friend, mother, work colleague. If we do not actively build in time for ourselves or as the Italians say perfect the art of doing nothing "bel far niente" then we can find ourselves running on empty. Or what's even worse feeling guilty when we do have some time to ourselves or overcome with exhaustion when we finally stop! I know I have been there.

If you live in an Anglo-Saxon culture then it is quite likely that you have been bitten by the work ethic and feel the need to keep busy. If this is your mantra then the beauty of doing nothing will probably seem alien and the ability to seek pleasure virtually impossible.

So if you recognise this in yourself and it is not giving you what you want, make the decision to change something. I can recommend going to Paris with a couple of good friends for the weekend, chilling out and eating gorgeous food. It's great for the soul and you know what I bet you will come back invigorated and with a new lease of life! And you don't have to go to that extreme, you could start by taking a glass of your favourite tipple, pouring a hot bath full of gorgeous bubble and a good book and lose yourself for an hour. Do let me know how you get on...

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Dirty Sexy Money

There are those in life that measure success in terms of their material wealth and others for whom this is less of a factor. So what you may say? This post has come about because money seems to be featuring a great deal in many of my transactions at present. This phase started two or three weeks ago when Steve who's co-writing a book with me, asked the other member of our triumvirate how much he would have to be paid to sleep with a stranger a la Indecent Proposal who in turn asked me. In both cases, we initially tried to dodge the question then claimed the moral high ground or created our own rules around it but the bottom line is we all have a price. Try the exercise on good friends of yours and see what happens - one thing I promise is that it will be illuminating.

More recently, money was at the root of a rift between me and another. Naively I had assumed that as both of us would claim to be spiritual beings, we would see situations the same way. If you are a Mum you will understand how flawed that perspective is. Just because two people are Mums does not mean they will get on or have the same parenting style. Likewise in my scenario, I realised it was important to recognise that we are both individuals with our own truth and different values. It was a hard one to learn.

Another issue that came up was around insurance and what adequate cover looks like. We all need some policies in place whether we work for ourselves or are employed. Critical illness insurance is very much a choice and many people decide not to have it believing either that they will never need it and or that it is too costly to justify. There are situations however when having or not having it will determine whether costs such as the mortgage can be paid. My OH and I reviewed our finances recently in particular what arrangements we had in place for getting the mortgage paid if one of us died and decided my cover was inadequate so now we are looking into term life insurance.

Another good friend of mine is in the process of being made redundant and she is seriously considering whether England is the best place for her and her family. Her view is that University tuition fees in the UK will rival those in the States in 15 years time only parents will not have the savings in place to help their children through in most cases. She also recognises how tough this country is to live in from the perspective of quality of life due to the long hours work culture inherent in many well paid jobs. As a result she is seriously considering emigrating to her husband's country as she believes that they will all be better off on a number of levels. On a personal note I will miss her but I can see that it may well be the best decision for her and her family.

This weekend, I spent a day visiting a friend in the rehabilitation hospital in Leamington Spa. She has just had a stroke and also has a pre-teen to care for made more complex by the fact that she is a single parent with no extended family at all. As you may know rehabilitation from a stroke can take months. Said friend is self-employed and due to the cost of critical illness insurance, has no cover. The irony is that she is supposed to be resting and relaxing to ensure a speedy recovery and yet she has some major issues to resolve including the care of her child whilst she is in hospital, which could be several months yet.

What does all this have to do with you is a question you might be asking yourselves. What's the big picture? It is not just that we all have a different take on our financial commitments and responsibility....It's bigger than that. It is to say that no matter how much certainty we have in our lives, insecurity is just round the corner. In fact the only constant theme in life is that change is a given. All we can do is decide how we respond to that. Do we embrace it believing that whatever is happening is happening for a reason which will reveal itself in due course or do we fight it every step of the way in a mistaken attempt to maintain control whatever the cost? Reflecting on it all it makes me realise that Jessica's view that we do not encourage our clients to give up that day job without thinking through how else to deal with dissatisfaction on the one hand and the implications of such a decision on the other.

So here are some questions for you to mull over: What's your relationship with money? Do you know how much you have at any given point? To what extent have you ensured that you have provided for those you have responsibility for?

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Dealing with the unexpected

One of my beliefs is that we are in this world to learn some lessons. Sometimes we get something first time and other stuff can be much harder, take much longer and trip us up many times before we get it. I would love to say that this post is going to share tips on how to achieve this but I would be wrong; it is an open exploration of where I am and will leave you with a question or two to consider.

What I am dealing with at the moment is anger. I remember when I was much younger the fragments of a conversation with my father, someone whom I consider to be very wise. In it he suggested that I carried a lot of anger. At the time I dismissed that view probably thinking something like what does he know. Of late I have come to realise that he may have been onto something.

Link that to a recent insight I have had about the relationship between letting go, compassion and forgiveness and it feels as if I am drawing together a picture. Let me elaborate. Think about a situation where someone has behaved in a way that does not fit with your values. The example that comes to mind for me is the response I got from an individual when I asked them to contribute towards the cost of the drinks at dinner. They felt it was unreasonable because they had drunk less than some others and the waiters had been over zealous with our last round of drinks and cleared them away whilst we were dancing and before they were finished. They expressed this in quite forthright terms. On reflection, I think their response upset me for two reasons: firstly it was not a reaction I had expected; and secondly it felt as if they were being tight.

For me writing this post is a way of letting go of the negative energy that is tied up in that transaction because it does not serve me or the relationship that I have with said individual. I am not yet able to feel compassion for them but that is probably because I find it very difficult to see the situation from their perspective. I do need to find a way to put myself into their shoes and so forgive and move on because they play quite a large role in my life at the moment and I do not think the time for us to step out of each other's lives has come yet. What is an easier step for me is to feel gratitude towards them for giving me this opportunity to put this way of living into practice and for giving me a topic for my blog.

So what do you do when someone who matters to you does something that goes against your values? How do you react? Do you talk it through with them, do you talk to others? What do you do with the negative emotions it raises? Do you just let it simmer away until there is an eruption? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, 24 September 2010

A day in the life of....

Love it when things come together. What I mean by that may not be what you are thinking. I was having a conversation yesterday with the lovely Kate Beddow in which she reminded me about some of the key lessons in life in particular enjoying one's kids when they are young as they do not stay that way for long. Kate is someone who has really blossomed through running her own business. She is happy to build it slowly at the moment to allow her to be with her children and really reveals in being able to choose her hours to suit her.

We embrace this notion of quality time together. Thursday has now become our go slow day. I have a whole morning with my toddler in which we do very little except to be with each other. That said we did have a lovely time last Thursday doing yoga poses from the fab Pretzels collection which are specifically designed for children. I have no car in the morning so am fixed to the house and surrounding village. After lunch the 3 y/o goes for a sleep and my eldest returns from school - she does a half day until December. We then get an hour or so to spend together which includes me watching her do her piano lesson.

Yesterday was slightly different in part because the youngest had picked up a tummy bug and spent much of the day projectile vomiting! Also I had promised to produce something for the World's Biggest Coffee Morning - a charity event to raise money for Macmillan - this morning. Thanks to Mum's the Boss I made their very easy and absolutely scrumptious lemon drizzle cake.

There is always the sense of feeling good when you do something for a cause that is bigger than yourself and your world so that helps to explain some of my sense of well being. Yet it was not so much that as the fact that I found a way of using up a jar of lemon curd that had been sitting in the fridge for a while and a small pack of icing sugar that had been bought with some cake mixture and not used. I love the neatness of the all, it appeals to one of my core values, thrift and not wasting any food wherever possible.

Love to hear from you and whether you got involved in a Macmillan Coffee morning and how that was for you. Also interested in hearing about how you ensure quality time with your kids when you are working

Monday, 20 September 2010

One solution to spiralling childcare costs for the working parent

So it is two weeks since L arrived and she has revolutionised our lives. I was always a fan of having an au pair but it took a bit of convincing of the OH that it was what we needed. It is definitely the answer for those Mums out there who want more intellectual stimulation but for whom the cost of nursery makes work in any meaningful way seem impossible. This tends to be compounded for those with two or more kids. I thought I would share with you how to make having an au pair work as well as some of the funny things that have happened along the way.

One of the major bonuses of having an au pair is that it costs far less than the other options - we pay under £300 a month. It does mean that you need to be clear about the hours that they do - 25 hours is the norm but I do know of Mums that expect their au pairs to do more. A live in au pair comes into its own once the children are in some form of education. My eldest has just started school and my youngest does 5, 3 hour, sessions at nursery over 3 days so that the au pair does not have sole responsibility for the girls on any day. I think the trick to success is having an au pair that is slightly older and therefore more able to take a more considered view of her situation - mine is 27. Also because she is older, and fortunately for us has a degree in childcare studies, I don't feel as guilty leaving her in charge of the girls. All this of course is based on the assumption that you have a spare room for her to sleep in.

When I was considering the option of getting an au pair, the best advice I received was to be very clear about what I expected her to do and not to treat her like a servant. This was excellent because it made me write out a timetable for the week in excel of what I expected her to do. That was painful as it is not my way of working but at least it laid out the week clearly! The danger is that you think it is all over with at that point but I do need to keep a handle on it each week i.e for show and tell. This morning she did forget the 4 y/o's school bag which means she has not got her next jolly phonics letter/ sound.

Thinking about how to integrate au pairs, our view has been to include her as part of the family especially at weekends when she is not working but has yet to develop a social life. It does mean she has seen the other side of family life in that she is getting to know all the grandparents. I always make sure she does stuff she wants too. This Saturday I drove her to Stevenage so that she could check out Primark, a favourite destination of au pairs because it is cheap!

Talking of cars, the funniest experience to date happened on the first weekend L was here. We live in the country and so she has to drive to get the girls to ballet and get to her English classes at college as the bus service is too infrequent to rely on. I knew she was nervous about driving on the left hand side of the road but thought there is nothing to it, after all I manage driving on the right when on the continent. Well I lost count of the number of times we nearly hit a car on the passenger side because she found judging the distance very difficult!! It did not help that she was used to driving a 17 year old car so revved the accelerator rather than lifting the clutch up more. When we stalled we stayed that way for a while. A couple of left hand turns later saw us ending up on the wrong side of the road; fortunately we were not driving into oncoming traffic, one of the joys of country living. After two experiences like that I made the OH go out with her before it got dark and would you believe, he said she was a very good driver that's probably because my two previous attempts had ironed out the kinks. I still can't believe that I did not go grey from the experience.

It is a small price to pay for peace of mind. I do not have to run out the office on the dot of five pm. There are lots of other benefits too. For the first time in absolutely ages, both the OH and I managed to go out for a drink independently with our own friends. I am now planning trips to the cinema and so look forward to watching films when others do rather than months or years later! It brings so much freedom and at such a small price. The best gift she brings is her calmness and unflappable nature in the face of difficult behaviour from the kids who are finding the transition to the new way difficult.

There are so many other bonuses too. She is Spanish, my choice as I speak Spanish. I am so enjoying the opportunity to speak Spanish daily and am discovering new words and rediscovering what has lain dormant for many years. The girls are picking up some words and hopefully with time some phrases too. My hope for them is that they become bilingual, a real gift in a country like ours which has such a poor record when it comes to teaching foreign languages.

Any niggles you ask. No major ones. She does not enjoy cooking but as we love it that is no great hardship. Our response is to make sure we overcook so that there is plenty for the days we are not around. What it does mean is that she is quite prepared to wash up, a task I loathe so it seems a fair division of labour. In addition, she irons which is fab as I am hopeless at that and would rather buy a dry clean item then have to iron! She tends to spend the evenings in her bedroom out of choice unless we invite her downstairs and we have provided her with a flat screen tv and dvd player. Yes it costs more in terms of what we spend on food per week but it all still adds up to far less than other childcare options with many more benefits.

In short providing you can make time to help them settle in and make their down time fun. I am nadly introducing her to other au pairs and nannies in the village as a way of building her social life. We encourage her to get know people at college and have helped her plan a long weekend in London with friends. In two weeks she will receive a free weekend in Bath, the home of my parents, which is a great city for tourists and shopping. So if you are wondering how to make working and having a family go together, do consider an au pair. My only word of advice is that it is best to wait until your children are out of nappies because most au pairs do not have a child care qualification.

Friday, 10 September 2010

How can you juggle work in the City, a family and a life?

Although it is Friday and fewer people read blogs at the end of the week, I am conscious that I have yet to submit a post this week. One of the things that I like to do is reach the goals I set myself and currently I have said I will submit at least one blog post a week quite a challenge with a three day week in the City, as well as pursuing other business interests and spending quality time with the girls on the four days I am not working.

What is the secret to juggling so many balls all at once? Here are my tips on how to do it often learnt through making lots of mistakes:
1. Be very clear about your values and how to make them come alive.
Now I have kids they are my top priority because I know I will never get this time back. It means that I make sure I leave London in time to see them before they go to bed and I am always rewarded with shouts of glee and cuddles which definitely makes it worth while.
2. Have clear boundaries between work, social and family time
I don't like spending my evenings on the laptop so I make sure all big things are completed before I go home so that I can really focus on my other roles as a mum, wife and friend. It is a challenge to get the balance right.
This week my eldest started school and as I started my new role in the last two weeks of August, we could not have a last minute holiday to mark the end of the era or anything like that. However we did have a very special day in which we went to Gulliver's Land just me and the girls. The sun was shining, we had a great picnic and some spoily treats like chips with our sarnies and later an ice cream. Everyone got to go on their favourite rides except for the Python: the youngest was too short for that. It was a great day and a fab way to mark the end of pre-school and the start of a new stage - I highly recommend it.
3. Communicate clearly what you need and want from others
Easy to say and hard to do. With my husband I have realised that I have to spell things out in black and white. A recent example was saying I need thirty minutes to think and write otherwise I get constant interruptions or there is an expectation that I will drop everything to help him with something.
4. Being grateful for what we have
We have our very first au-pair which is exciting and demanding all at the same time. Fortunately we are very lucky to have some with an even temperament who is very obliging but there are things that do not get done. She does not enjoy cooking and I asked her to do sausages, beans and potatoes for the girls. At 6pm nothing had happened because she was playing with the girls and lost track of the time, so my OH who was at home, got up and cooked the dinner. Again tonight she asked to help and I got her to do the cheese sauce, the cheat's way as perfected by Delia - bung the flour, milk and butter in a pan together and stir rapidly. She left it for a while and so we ended up with loads of lumps and much swearing under the breath from me as I tried to fix it.
The way forward: I need to remind myself of how much help she is giving and how many great qualities she has; and my plan is to write a plan of what I expect her to do this w/e along with a meal planner. In fact we are delliberately cooking more than we need so she does not have to do too much cooking on her own. Watch this space.
I hope this post is helpful and would love to hear what it has sparked off in you. I leave you with this thought that taking the time to invest in someone at the beginning and give them support will lead to them being fully effective and happy in their role much more quickly. This is true whether it's an au pair or a colleague at work.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Under pressure

Sometimes there are not enough hours in the day. Do you ever have one of those days when you feel there are loads of things that you need to get done and you don't know how you are going to get them done? If this sounds familiar then you will know what space I am in at the moment. It was in fact always one of my concerns about working in London three days a week. So what I am talking about? Here is my list:

Next week my eldest starts school, I have yet to buy her a pair of school shoes. An event I am not relishing because she is not a fan of black. That will happen later today.

The au pair arrives on Tuesday and we still need to make some changes to her room, most importantly we need to purchase a duvet as up until recently we only had bedding for double beds.

Ebay items that we sold at the weekend have to be packaged up, labelled and sold so that purchasers get them in a reasonable time frame.

In addition I have two pieces of work that I need to complete before Monday and tonight it is not possible because I hosting my book group. Something I engineered so that I could attend as I have missed the last few. Let's not get started on the state of the house which will need to be tidied up before they arrive at 8pm.

In addition I have until tomorrow to write an article for a magazine that I write for monthly.

To say that life feels a bit squeezed is an understatement. Why I am writing this blog with all of that to face you might ask. The main reason is that I thought this would be cathartic but in the process, my eldest who no longer sleeps has been unable to play on her own and my youngest, who is aware that the eldest is up, wants to get up and forego her nap. The second is a sense of duty. I want to keep posting something at least once a week so that there is new material for my readers.

Ah well onwards and upwards, I probably just have time to find the ralph lauren skirt I sold at the weekend and package it up to post it when we go out.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

How to make the shift from being at home to corporate life as smoothly as possible

I am sitting down to write this blog after an hour of peace and quiet. It has been a difficult day with the girls. In their own way they are feeling the transition from Mummy being a work from home Mum to a corporate Mum just as much as I am. The difference is that they are not yet as able to articulate their feelings as coherently as I can.

How has it been I hear you asking? What changes has it brought? Let's start with the good stuff. I love knowing what I am going to do in broad terms three days a week and being able to rely on regular money coming in. I enjoy being in London and having a 20-30 minute walk each way twice a day. Yesterday was a good example of the freedom I now enjoy which was the chance to meet up with a friend, who is back from Hong Kong, for a coffee at short notice without the girls. It is also lovely to be part of a team that is responsible for large scale change and it is very exciting especially as I believe in what I am doing. The bonus has been receiving compliments about my creativity and my ability to add value from the start.

So what am I less sure about? I do not enjoy the fact that 9 out of 10 women wear black or grey suits in the City, occasionally they add white and beige to the mix! In an act of rebellion perhaps, or just to ensure that I never lose sight of who I am, I have been wearing a lot of orange and coral these first couple of weeks. My girls have had to do two to three days a week at nursery and often 10 hours. Thankfully because of support from my Mum, this has happened less frequently then it may have done. I miss my girls and they miss me and the only good thing is that they greet me with peals of delight every evening when I walk in and both want to be picked up and hugged at the same time.

The least likeable aspects are the politics which are rife in most corporates, I just find the whole thing pointless and energy zapping. Even more concerning is the extent to which fear drives employees and how they behave. People have already talked about being "judged" if the project does not deliver. This is unhealthy on so many levels.

My tips to any other parent in this place is:

  1. Be very clear about why you are doing this.
  2. Ensure that the time that you do spend with your children is quality time wherever possible. It assuages the guilt.
  3. Recognise what you are gaining from being in the workplace - for me I am regaining some of my identity which got rather buried over the last three years!
  4. Talk through how you are going to make it work with your partner if you both commute and if they are visual, have a week or month's view that shows who will do the pick ups and drop offs; the dinner etc.
  5. Monitor how the new set up is working. If it really does not work for any of you then change it. If it is tough but works then be grateful for what it gives you and your family

Love to hear your thoughts on this below.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Three very different examples of business success

The longer that I am in business for myself, the more I realise that many people are searching desperately for the tips to running a successful business. In some cases they will pay lots of money if they think that it will give them the answer they think they crave.

Yet the secret to success is not so difficult to obtain. I want to tell you about three women who I think have got it and how they show it in their own unique way. They have two things in common they are all Mums and they have been brought together by the fabulous pair that run Mums the Boss.

The first got involved in Netmums when it was starting out back in 2001. For a small sum of money, she designed one of their sites and got paid £500 for doing so by Tescos. From what I understand, much of it was about putting together a set of templates and yet what the experience did was to sew a seed. Almost nine years later, this woman launched her own website design business with a little support from a skilled coach and her first commission from Mums the Boss. Today her business is going from strength to strength. She is an illustration of what can be achieved when we believe we can do it.

Another who impressed me is the person behind the business blogging carnivals. Like me there is only a gap of about 14 months between her two children and her youngest is just one. Despite all this, and it is a huge obstacle - the first year with two children I was in a fug most of the time - she has created an amazing website. She is brimming with ideas about how to develop her business and takes the attitude that it is all about exploring and experimenting to find out what works. In the midst of all this she is in the process of writing a book with that other well known mumpreneur, Antonia Chitty, about all the different kinds of businesses that you can run around raising a family. What a great idea! So what makes her successful. A dogged but quiet determination to keep on putting stuff out there based on a strong belief that there must be a better way to do business as a Mum than what has been suggested so far.

The final person in this trio also happens to be a self-effacing person. Yet as I talked to her, it was clear that she had a plan about how to make running her own business work for her. First she has a clearly defined niche, essential in a saturated market, and she has realised another secret to success and that is collaboration. She has a network of about six like-minded professionals who all work in the same industry so on the days that she gets stuck for ideas on a pitch, she has someone who can look at it all with fresh eyes and give a new perspective. They also pass on work to each other when they have too much or if it is more suited to another's specific area of expertise.

In essence succeeding in business takes guts, determination and perseverance. As one of the examples shows it often helps to have the support of a good coach so remember I am here if you need dedicated, focused support.

I hope these illustrations give you food for thought and remember we always profile one member a month on Minerva's Mind who has an interesting story to tell. This is in part about enabling people within the community to get to know each other and also about sharing stories that inspire. Please do get in touch, join or leave a comment below.

#Blogadesh - what's all the fuss about?

If you are anything like me and on twitter and/ or facebook then you cannot have failed to see the references to #blogadesh. It has been a mad, crazy time in our house of late so even though I noticed them I did not explore any further until today. I was so impressed with what I read that I felt I had to do something.

Three of the top mummy bloggers in the UK, Josie, Mummytips and Nixdminx have been approached by the Save the Children to be the faces a viral multimedia marketing campaign to raise awareness about their work in Bangladesh. What is amazing is the speed with which this has spread through the blogging community and beyond.

What we can all do is add our thumbprint to SCF's petition so that they get 100,000 signatures before Nick Clegg attends the UN Summit in New York in September. I have just done it and it takes no more than a minute to complete so click When you have done that, do share the details with all your facebook friends and twitter buddies. Also you can add the badge that I have placed over on the right on your blog or your website. The badge can be found here.

The irony of all this is not lost on me for two reasons. Firstly only last night I was saying to the OH that I wanted to do more worthwhile things with my life and we were talking about Greg Mortenson's fantastic work in Pakistan that's been documented in Three cups of tea. Separately last week, I was part of a conversation in which there was a view that many of the mummy blogs that existed dealt with topics that were of interest mainly to the nearest and dearest of the writer. This campaign goes to show the power of social networking and the benefits it can bring in terms of bringing much needed change to the world. And I am glad to be part of it all in a small way and will be following the updates from our three mummy bloggers avidly. How about you?

Thursday, 12 August 2010

E's special day in pictures

It is almost 22.00 on my youngest' third birthday. It has been a full on day. It started at 7.30am when she woke up to Bob the Builder balloons in her bedroom which was a big thrill so much so she had to wake her older sister to share the moment with her. I had to work in London so only had an hour with her at the beginning of the day and two hours at the end BUT it was a special day. She could not believe it when she came downstairs and saw the trampoline in the garden. Below is the beginning of her day in pictures which says it all much more eloquently than I can.
I am 3 today!!

A Bob the Builder balloon and Pingu on my dress!

Birthdays are just great - 1,2,3 let's jump for joy.
It was a low key day - lunch out with her grandparents and Mummy's homemade Bob the Builder caker after a dinner of 'babs but she loved every minute of it. I will savour every moment of it in the years to come. It was such a clear manifestation of joy like the moment when I came home and she had to take me upstairs to show me her new Bob the Builder pyjamas which she then wanted to put on straight away. Or when I rang at 17.00 to find out how her day had been and she told me all about her playmobil tractor which now had wheels and a man in it. Oh how lovely it is to see life through the eyes of a child :-)

Monday, 9 August 2010

What's love got to do with it?

Those that know me well, know that I am passionate about recycling and was into it years before it became de rigeur. I even convinced the OH that it had to be done which is no mean feat when dealing with a Taurean whose known for his stubborness. We can often be seen locking horns!

This is not a piece about my relationship with my OH, it is about something that I have been mulling around in my head for a while. It started off after a conversation with a wise bear I know called Michael who was acting as my mentor at the time. His view was that I needed to think about my value and focus more on what I could contribute by setting up a social enterprise say rather than looking at status and celebrity. At the time the whole idea seemed extremely alien to me. Why would I want to spend my time searching out funding which if I was successful in securing it, I would then give it to one or more worthy causes. It seemed like anathema to me when I first heard the words.

Today I found myself in the company of a delightful woman, Sally M, who has moved to Hitchin in the last year and is getting immersed in a number of local projects where she can make a difference. She is doing it quietly with minimum fuss and is definitely adding value. The reason we came together was because I had volunteered in a rash moment back in January to get involved in producing a directory of local produce. Everything went quiet for at least six months and now we have deadline of October! In an hour we came up with a next step plan, a draft questionnaire and a list of over 20 local business with locally sourced produce.

It is very exciting for a number of reasons. First I have always been an advocate of locally sourced produce, it fits with my views on recycling and reusing stuff. OH and I love great food and so anything that will help promote local food businesses is a win. If, as is hoped, the directory helps to make the Hitchin Transition Town Initiative more real then that has to be a good thing because we need to really think about how we use scarce resources like oil and start living in a more sustainable way. The great news is that since I raised it on facebook I have had a number of fab women come forward and offer their local knowledge which is fantastic. All in all it is a win-win and it makes me realise how true the view that it is the level of contribution we make to the world around us which really counts and also that if we are doing what we love that it all comes together almost effortlessly.

Interested in hearing your thoughts on this and also any ideas of businesses that deal in locally sourced food in a 20 mile radius of Hitchin.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Tips on how to recycle and make money

In two weeks time, I will be rejoining the corporate world after a three year break. This has happened because a number of forces came together. Ironically if you had told me that running a conference for co-active coaches in May 2010 would have led to a three day week contract with PwC from August 2010, I would not have believed you. It has given me the focus I need however to sort the house out before I start because I know it will never happen after I go back. I am on a high because I have managed to shift quite a lot of my baby stuff - and about time too you might add if you know me well because the youngest is almost three - and made around £600! It has inspired me to write these tips because up until now I kept putting it off for one reason or another. So here's my top ten tips on how to do it:

1. Have a deadline in mind: for me it is knowing that I start on 16 August and I want all this sorted by then.

2. If you have one get your partner on board because then you can split tasks and be much more effective and efficient.

3. Be very clear about what price you want for stuff. If you are not sure of the going rate in the used market then check out ebay, there is bound to be a few of the items you are selling for sale. If you are taking it seriously place a watch on a few items because then you can go back afterwards and look at the bid history. This is key because not only do you need to know the end price you want but also the start price needs to be low enough to entice people in to bid so that they keep bidding because they really want the item.

4. Pricing strategy on ebay: start low. We had two items on at the price we wanted and so buyers did not see them as a bargain. This meant we got loads of watchers and in one case no bids.

5. Don't be discouraged. We made a private sale on one item because the buyer saw it and missed the auction. The agreed price was still twice what others were getting for similar items but less than our asking price so it was another win-win.

6. Don't rely on one platform to sell your goods especially ebay. Tell everyone you know what you are doing and you will be surprised who buys stuff. Some relative of our cleaner's has bought the cot bed and we got more than the going rate on ebay for it. Another channel has been facebook. We have also used the local village shop as a place to advertise and online with the local newspaper which means people come and pick up thus saving the faff of posting it.

7. If using ebay then spend a bit more and put on extra photos of big ticket items and use the photo package that allows potential buyers to zoom in and enlarge at will.

8. Give stuff away too. We gave away brand new baby towels and unused sheets and blankets with the cot bed. I am sending an extra toy in a pack of stuff for a friend. It makes everyone feel good. I have also picked out some beautiful clothes for a friend's baby and sent them in two garden waste sacks!

9. Be ruthless about what will sell. There is a bin liner and a huge Next sale bag of stuff including a hardly worn suit of the OH's going to charity because that makes more sense then trying to flog it.

10. Trust the stuff is going to sell and it will but perhaps not the way you intended. It feels great because items that have hardly been used are going to a new home and we are recouping some of the cost back. It's a win all round ;-)

I hope you enjoyed this post and I would love to hear your stories of making money through recycling used items below.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A definition of true friendship

Recently I wrote a wonderful piece by EnglishMum recently and felt inspired to respond with a post of my own and today I was reading the workshop prompts as set by Josie and she referenced the same post so I thought to myself that this was a sign so here's my take on sisterhood.

I have been blessed this week because someone whom I met when I was going through a very difficult time in my life, has come to stay for a couple of days. I had had prior notice that she might be coming but it was not until I received her text yesterday evening that it became real.

The funny thing was that she arrived to a house in chaos. We had recently received the girls' new bunk beds in the post and my OH had promised to assemble them last night. This was no easy task, it took four hours and A arrived in the middle of it. The mattresses were still in the guest bedroom, there was packaging all over the place and her first words were you should have told me it was inconvenient to which my response was no don't be daft, it will be fine and besides I really wanted to catch up with you. We have not seen each other for 10 months and could easily be that long before we see each other again. She concurred with me by saying that that was exactly what she wanted as well. In the end the girls were up until about 10pm which is an incredibly late night for them. They had a second dinner with us and we all had a Chinese take away because it was just easier.

I was all set to change our plans today because I was keen to spend time with her but she insisted that we kept the girls' original playdate with friends at the splashpark and tagged along. I offered her the opportunity of going shopping but she was keen to spend time with us all and it was lovely. In fact I was so grateful to have her in the car because I was able to leave her watching over my eldest who was fast asleep whilst I nipped into Sainsburys for her school uniform and some sandwiches - there was not enough time to get a picnic together before we left.

I am conscious that as I write this, I am not really defining what sisterhood means to me. It is the ability to reconnect instantaneously with someone without conscious effort. It is picking up the threads of conversations, thoughts and ideas where one left off months or years earlier. It is appreciating everything that the other person is. When I look at my friend, she emanates calm and that may be because she is a highly spiritual person, it may just be her nature. She also has an incredible capacity to give. She realised today that even though the girls were exhausted for different reasons they were going to struggle to sleep so she went upstairs and sat first on the youngest's bed and then on the eldest's bed and patted them to sleep. They loved this unexpected treat and it was so thoughtful because they did need the rest. Other things I value about her is her creative thinking powers, our conversations are always rich and often take unusual twists. I feel that I always have so much to learn from her in terms of her insights into situations.

In short I am grateful that I have her in my life. Such friendships in my experience are rare and I prize them highly. I have not named her because she is a very private person and I respect her wishes to remain anonymous. So what does sisterhood mean to you, what are your experiences of it?

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

All change

This photo is about the only one of the holiday which has me in it too. The interesting hair style was thanks to my eldest who insisted on doing my hair before we left the tent! The photo was taken on a fabulous day in Le Jura. We managed to do something that OH and I used to love doing before having kids which was walking in mountains. The girls did really well considering it was quite steep; they only had crocs on; and the youngest is still only two!
As a Mum I have found that enjoying motherhood has come more easily for me as the girls have left babyhood, gained increasing independence and have been able to converse with me. Yes there is the cute factor when they are babies but having mine as close as I did (15 months apart), much of the first two years passed in a fog of exhaustion.
Why all this reminiscing because everything is about to change. I found out today that I will be starting a contract with a large blue chip company in the middle of August which will mean three days a week in London. What does this mean? The good news is that I will know my monthly income and have access to regular adult conversation. However the cost will be less time to do fun things with my gorgeous girls. It was today whilst we were at an Under the Sea potluck lunch with the eldest's postnatal group that I got confirmation of my start date.
I say all this and yet I do believe that if we suck the marrow out of life, there will still be plenty of opportunities to have fun. Being in London so regularly will also give me an opportunity to catch up with some wonderful people that I have not been able to see whilst based in Hertfordshire like Callie. So you could say plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose. However you look at it, it is exciting and I am really looking forward to this new phase whilst making the most of the time I will have with my girls until then.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

How to get the most out of the summer holidays

As the end of term nears, it's tomorrow for us, I am conscious that there is a long period of unstructured time coming up and I have a business to run! At times that seems rather daunting and I was rather taken with the superb idea given on this blog of writing a weekly planner so that the kids can see what we are doing. It will certainly help with my eldest's rather constant refrain of what are we doing today/ tomorrow or who are we seeing Mama? I have now been tagged by Sam Pearce over at Mum's the Boss to come up with my own holiday manifesto which gives me free rein to put my thoughts down on paper so to speak and make them real - thank you Sam. There may well be some reference to the fab top tips provided by Louisa on her blog which is a must read if you find yourself in the same predicament as us.

1. See this time as an opportunity
I am conscious that this holiday represents a turning point for our family. Come September my eldest will be in school which means no more holidays at off peak times. No seriously it has much larger ramifications. The friends that she has known since she was born live 30 minutes away so will not be going to the same school. Many of their Mums have or are in the process of going back to full-time work so holidays and weekends are going to be the only time we get to meet up. Our postnatal group is meeting next Tuesday for the first time since the rash of birthdays in April. Karie, a professional photographer, has come up with an under the sea theme and we have all responded in terms of what food we are bringing etc. It will be a blast. I have already sent out feelers to some of the others to make sure we have dates in the diary.

2. Catching up with people further afield
I have a university friend who has two girls just a little older than my two but the same 15 month gap who I only see in the summer so that makes this time special. We have agreed the week we will meet but not the date so must get on with that. We also have plans to catch up with my cousin who has two kids and a pool in her house and the bonus is that her Mum who lives in Oz will also be over. That is great because it is a mini break for me and the girls aa my cousin is definitely "the hostess with the mostest" and provides fab food and refuses any major help. A very close friend is also coming over from Zurich for a month and we hope to have at least a day with her and her family which will be brilliant as we only just saw them when we were over there on hols and our two eldest kids played really well together.

3. Mixing business and family life
We have a date to get together with a fellow coach and her son over the break and I am hoping that there will be one or more opportunities like that with people who I respect hugely on a work front and could enjoy hanging out with thus giving our relationship a new dimension. If you feel you fit into that category and I have not been in touch do drop me a line.

4. Enjoying the time we have together
I am very conscious of the need to enjoy this time and that to actualise this thought, my mantra needs to be just that. I don't think that is going to be difficult though because I am aware that we are coming to the end of a phase. Come September it is likely that I will have a contract which will mean I will be working three days a week for a long time. This means I am already feeling that every moment we have together is precious because there is less likely to be free time going forward and so I am less concerned about organising playdates as I want to hold onto this time.

5. Decluttering
We still have clothes that no longer fit either of the girls and I am sure there are loads of toys they have grown out of. I am definitely going to take some of the toys to flog it! at MAMA on Friday mornings as it will help clear the space. I am considering finding a professional ebay seller to sell some of the other stuff because I can never find the will to do it and whatever money I make, I know I will just be grateful for the space.

6. Days out
Having special treats is a key part of the summer holidays. We plan to spend a few days in North Norfolk and get in some beach action. We are lucky because it is my youngest's birthday in August so that will provide another focal point in the holiday period.

7. Having quiet time
Ensuring there are non-manic days or at least slots in the day so that I can talk to the eldest about school; practise her fine motor skill; and prepare them both for life with an au pair. Now that they are older it is easier to get out of the default mode that we must keep busy to save my sanity and their sanity.

8. Maintaining nap time
My 4 y/o still has a sleep most day as does my 2 y/o. This gives me and them time to regroup before we start again in the afternoon. It is vital to the smooth running of the day. I try to ensure that I either get my feet up with a book or still my mind so I can cope with the onslaught when it all starts again.

So I hope you have enjoyed this post and that it has inspired you to approach the holidays with a spring in your step ;-) It has certainly help me gain clarity on how I am gearing up for the forthcoming holidays. Do share your thoughts in a comment below so I know who has popped by.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Yo I'll tell you what I want what I really really want

I had great fun today sharing some of my thoughts on the secrets to success in business with a group of really inspiring Mums who are managing to have their cake and eat it (literally and metaphorically). Seriously I mean create some of their identity through doing something they love and spend time with their children. We also enjoyed the most fabulous looking and scrumptious tasting cupcakes made by Louisa so any MTBHerts event is worth attending for the cakes alone.

What people thought the session was going to cover and what it actually covered were two quite different things. Some wanted practical advice on how to niche though in some cases they really had done it already and interestingly others thought it might cover that sticky one for Mums and that is how you create work life balance (WLB). It covered neither of those in part because WLB is such a personal thing in terms of what it means to each of us; and I have a belief that marketing/ nicheing and other such "how to" topics come after a much more fundamental thing and that is understanding what you really want.

As one participant explained, she has no problem with working in her own time to 1.30am if necessary or at weekends because she is passionate about what she does. In fact there were many there who felt that way about their work but there were many like the Spice Girls who still had no clue as the song says So tell me what you want what you really really want...I wanna I wanna I wanna I really really really wanna zigazig ha. And despite seeming clueless about the direction of travel, the Spice Girls made their fortune.

Anyway that gives you a taster of our session for which I was grateful to receive some really fab feedback from participants which always gives me a glow (a bit like the ready brek advert). If that was not enough I was able to take some of the scrummy cupcakes home for my tribe which made the whole day even more worthwhile. I leave you with some of the evidence ;-)

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The value of being present

How often have you felt that time is moving slowly? An image that comes to mind is a blistering hot day when it feels as if the tarmac is going to melt rather akin to some Dali painting. As the heat beats down, time seems to almost stop.
Alternatively when you have two children under two it can feel as if one is stuck in groundhog day as one day rolls into another. The repetition can be mindnumbing and the isolation intense.
At other moments, it is as if time speeds up. Before you know it the eldest is improving their fine motor skills, the youngest is chomping at the bit at the thought of going to pre-school and having a scene on the days she is unable to go. This week's favourite game in our house is "packed lunch". The newly acquired lunch box and water bottle feature big time. The former is filled with all kinds of pretend food, toy plates and cutlery from the girls' kitchen and the garden becomes the picnic site.
As I contemplate these changes, I am aware that I used to yearn for the time when nappies would be a thing of the past. Last Wednesday night another milestone was reached when the 2 3/4 year old had her cot transformed into a bed. Sunday night she went through the night without a nappy for the first time and was dry so that was yet another change. How different it has been from the experience with the first child. It was exciting when the elder reached each of these milestones and I could not wait for her to do it. Second time round the growing up of the younger has been tinged with sadness. There are no more babies in the house nor will there be more going forward. So as the youngest leaves one stage behind there is a sense of finality, of a door closing.
Reflecting on this helps me to realise why it is so important to enjoy each phase of one's children's lives because they move on so quickly. What I am holding onto from this week was the joy that the youngest felt from owning a lunchbox which had Thomas, Pingu, Fireman Sam and Bob the Builder on it. It is lovely to witness such joy at so small a thing. Oh to be able to hold onto that sense of innocence or recreate it as an adult. Helping clients to understand the importance of being present and rekindle that sense of delight and playfulness is part of what I do.
This post has been written for Josie's Writing Workshop and the prompt I chose was time.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The green shoots of change

Lately I have been writing fewer posts on the blog and there are many reasons for that, one of which is that I have not felt the urge to write. Tonight despite the lateness of the hour, I feel as if I am walking on air; it is as if I am seeing green shoots appearing in a landscape that felt rather barren up until now.
I am wrestling with what could be a huge change in my life and at the moment I am not ready to share the details with you. Suffice to say that it made loads of sense when my good friend Michael, who is into all things astrological said that we are in the midst of huge transition. What I have read it to mean is that we are moving from a time which has been characterised by lack of structure and subtlety to the point of frustration, to a time of action. Bring it on is what I say.
It is not a seamless transition, there is often a whole load of flotsam that comes with it. I have certainly had my share in the last 24 hours which has included finding an infestation of carpet beetle in the house to putting unleaded petrol into a car that takes diesel! There is more I could mention but that's in the past and I want to focus elsewhere.
Two great things have come to pass today. I found out that I have been selected to coach a senior person from a professional services background which is wonderful because the client could have chosen others! The second was stumbling across a group of fantastic, resourceful women. I attended something as a piece of research for an idea that I have and came away with so much useful stuff that I did not expect which was very uplifting.
I am sharing all this with you because it is often when we are at our lowest ebb, when we think that we can take no more that something shifts and new opportunities appear. If this resonates with you, then reflect on the message of Coelho's The Alchemist. We tend to face our biggest challenges as we near our goal. Don't give up, keep believing.
This photo is brought to you courtesy of JBPhotographer

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Coincidence or serendipity?

This is the first time this week that I have actually felt like blogging and that is because I have something to share. I am just back from a few days in Bath where I visited my Mum with the girls. We all had so much fun and I thought that as part of the half-term break that it would be good to keep my time on the laptop to a minimum so that I could really focus on the girls.

It is funny how the Universe works. I was reading through the invitations I had received to connect on Linkedin and noted one from Kath Roberts. The first thing that drew my attention was her request to connect - she had taken the time to give some reasons. I then went over to check out her profile and discovered that her business was called Alchemy4thesoul. It really resonated with me and I am indebted to her because her business summary provided the encouragement that I needed to update mine so that it reflected my primary focus at the moment. I was about to sign off when I noticed that her location was Bath which is exactly where I was.

Intuitively I knew that we should meet and that is exactly what we did this morning for just over an hour in Bath where we had a coffee. What struck me about Kath was her naturalness. There was no posturing and yet it was clear that she was steeped in spirituality, if that's possible.

We shared our stories and all too soon it was time to get back to the girls. It felt too soon as there were so many other questions I wanted to ask her. Then I realised that it was just the start of our connection and that will be more and so I relaxed. Her parting gift was to mention two books that it would be worth reading and the funny thing is that I was only just thinking that I wanted to read more spirituality books.

I am so glad to have met Kath and for our paths to be connected even if it is only for a short part of our journeys through life. I have shared this with you because the more we open up to our whole selves, the more opportunities and enriching experiences come our way.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Today's lost children

We all remember Peter Pan, don't we? For me it was a magical book when I was a child as I always liked the idea of a land far away in which children lived who could fly. In fact my copy of Peter Pan has my name written over it many times over as I was keen to claim ownership. Shame I did not know at the time that it was a family heirloom full of pictures by a famous illustrator, ahh well!!

I digress. The point is that the story of the lost boys came to me in bed this morning as I was pondering on how to respond to Josie's challenge. Underneath the outward layer of fun and games, there is a deeper underbelly or shadow side. I contend that to some extent the land of never never was where people went who refused to grow up and take on reality. They wanted to live in a world of fantasy whatever the cost and the cost was huge. The inability to give and receive love.

Does this appear at all familiar to you dear reader? How many people actually take responsibility for their lives and no matter what happens, are willing to say I am at choice here in how I respond. I can blame someone else or something else for what has happened or I can look for the opportunity that the situation presents and from that point start to grow. How many people do you know who actually embrace change? Why are so many people averse to change? Change hurts but as the alchemists discovered it is impossible to make gold without purifying metals and subjecting them to the fire.

Just so we are clear taking responsibility does not mean by default becoming a house owner or a parent. It does not mean the end of play or fantasy. Life can still be an adventure. One of the things that I am passionate about is enabling people to be leaders in their lives and thereby live an enriched life full of possibilities rather than one dogged by fear, uncertainty and feeling lost. Think what life would be like if everyone felt that their life had meaning and purpose.
I always like a challenge and Josie's prompts this week over at Sleep is for the weak provided that for me and I am very grateful for that. This post is a response to the request to take the word lost and be creative with it.