Life Lately | July - August 2019

Sunday 18 August 2019

I’m definitely repeating myself here, as I seem to say it every single time I pen one of these life updates, but time really has been spinning away on fast forward.

Already this rather patchy and disappointing summer seems to be mellowing into the slide to autumn (I had to put a cardigan on in the house last night. And so it begins…). There have been some big shifts going on in the background since my last update, and some of it already feels quite far away.

But we still have our family holiday coming up in a couple of weeks to look forward to, so the summer isn’t quite over yet.

Returning To Work

books and calendar on white table

I’ve been back at work a couple of months now, even though it seems a lot longer in some ways, and the journey hasn’t been all plain sailing.

Although I went in there with a good attitude, excited to be thinking about something other than nappies and weaning, and with a plan to boss my return to work, it's been a little tougher than I anticipated.

When I returned to work after Theo, I was launched straight into crisis mode - there was a restructure on which I hadn’t been told about, I had to interview the first week I was back, and all the posts at my level had been deleted. I immediately started job hunting, and the experience of leaving my baby for the first time and having to be out there hustling for a new job was undeniably tough, but I was in fight-or-flight, so I didn’t process the impact of it for quite a while.

So although returning to work after maternity leave this time has been nowhere near as dramatic, thank goodness, it does mean that the usual challenges are actually still new to me. I’ve been struggling a bit with feeling a little low in confidence, especially as I manage a team of six individuals who are all extremely competent and specialist at their jobs - sometimes it's left me wondering what value I can really add.

As I moved job roles within the same time a month before I left, this job would have been new to me anyway - add to that a year’s absence and it's made me feel quite out of my depth at points.

The person who covered my role while I was away is still in the team, and although that means I’ve had the luxury of quite a slow, easy handover, it has also left me feeling a little out of it as things are still directed to her a lot of the time.

No one talks about how hard it can be to find your feet and your confidence again when returning to work -  you can’t just pick up right where you left off. Your world has changed, and you’ve changed, and it's a process which takes some time. I don’t think there is enough support in the workplace for returning mothers. If someone had been off for a year for other reasons, like ill-health, there would be a whole re-induction process.

The ways of working in my workplace have also dramatically shifted - it's now all pretzel meetings, scrums and agile working. That’s exciting to me, but it's also a challenge and a very different environment to come back into. I spent a couple of weeks feeling slowly more disconnected, but I finally feel like I’m beginning to turn it around - I just need a few wins that can help me to feel like I’m contributing properly.

My friends have been instrumental in this - both my mama friends who have shared their own worries and made me feel less alone, and a friend at work who very kindly noticed I was struggling and took the time to offer support.

So if you’re a working mama out there who’s in stormy waters when it comes to settling back into your job - you aren’t alone. Your brain hasn’t fallen down a black hole. You got this! It just takes a little time and understanding.

One thing that has really helped me is to take my goals from work, and my personal ones, and draft out a little roadmap for the next six months, showing what steps I can take to get to where I’d like to be. Having a plan always helps things to seem a lot more positive.

Romilly Turns One

I cannot believe that my baby has just turned one! She’s rocketed through her milestones, and is rapidly blossoming into a little girl who I can already tell is going to keep us on our toes.

She’s changing every day - from physical things like lots of new teeth and her hair finally starting to grow - to testing out a solo step or two and coming out with lots of words to try and join in the family chat! I’m so proud of her development so far and how she has changed the family dynamic - it feels like we’re a proper gang now.

We had a big celebration for her christening back in June - friends and family came from all over the country, and her godfather flew in all the way from the Philippines to be there -  so I didn’t plan a huge party for her birthday. We kept it low key with cake and presents at home with family. We had planned to take her and Theo for a day out at a farm park, but the torrential rain put paid to that, so we did soft play instead, but I feel like we owe her an outing!

I made a tiered birthday cake for her which she really enjoyed munching with her brother, and we just got her a few little gifts, like a wooden tea service, an illustrator collector’s edition of Alice In Wonderland and some stacking animal toys.

I also had the very talented PhotographyByGem come round to do a cake smash photoshoot on the day. She doesn’t normally work with kids, but she was amazing with them both and even had Theo acting as her assistant. She captured some beautiful images that I was so happy with and we had such a fun shoot.

Life Is About Eating

cooked food beside two clear drinking glasses

Eating is always high on my list of favourite activities, so it definitely deserves a mention here. In the midst of all my return to work woes, I went for a tapas-and-putting-the-world-to-rights-over-wine session at Escabeche, a beautiful Iberican restaurant that is perfect for groups of friends or a date night.

The sun was streaming in through the pergolas, and it actually felt as if we could be in sunny Spain for the evening. We enjoyed treats -  their moroccan style lamb empanadillas, tempura swordfish and Catalan flatbreads are particular stand-out dishes, along with the huge olives marinated in orange juice, garlic and rosemary, which are hideously addictive. The company and the food were both spectacular and very good for the soul.

Sebastian, the kids and I also visited revamped Unicorn’s Head in Langar for the mother of all Sunday lunches. Just a stroll from Langar Hall, this fantastic little country pub has a great menu, pretty surroundings and were really great with the kids. Definitely one we’ll be returning to….

48 Hours In Belfast

One of the nicer things about my job is that it occasionally involves some travel. And although perhaps it wasn’t quite as exciting as my trip to China, I did hop over to Belfast for work purposes recently.

It was my first time in Northern Ireland and I was pleasantly surprised at what a modern,bold place it is - having grown up with an impression of it formed almost entirely by grim news coverage of The Troubles and marching season. I did see a little of that side of it as my very friendly taxi driver from the airport gave me an impromptu tour of Belfast on the way to the accommodation.

I was only there for a couple of days so I didn’t get to explore as much as I might have liked - especially thanks to the fact that Flybe cancelled my flight out and I had to reroute to an airport two hours away to catch another - but I would definitely go back.

We did have a gala dinner at the Titanic museum though, which was a special experience. It's a stunning modern building, build in a shadow image of the size and scale of the real Titanic, at the dock where that fateful ship once floated.

The top floor offers fantastic views out over the city, so sipping champagne while gazing at the darkening skies was a very cool experience, and my inner 00s teen loved the replica interior staircase in the banqueting hall - I may have gone up and down a couple of times pretending that Jack was waiting for me!

Turning 34

Periodically, I do a birthday post, just to mark the passing of another year, but this year it didn’t feel right. You’d think I’d be resigned to my fate by now, but I never seem to get over the fact I just don’t like birthdays!

I did have a nice day in the end though - Mr A-F and I went out for a very long overdue date night. We haven’t been out together since well before Romilly was born so it was a rare treat. We went to the wonderfully-named Sexy Mamma Love Spaghetti, a small contemporary Italian small plate restaurant.

There were some beautiful dishes, the highlight for me being the honey and ricotta tortellini and a wonderful beef ragu. I did blog about my casual date night outfit, which I loved wearing.We had a great evening and the best part was we hardly mentioned the kids once! It was nice to feel like ourselves rather than just parents for a few hours.

Getting older doesn’t seem much fun to me, but when I look at my life and my family, I’m pretty satisfied with where I am - onwards and upwards and onto the next challenge!

The Big Build Begins

brown pencil on white printing paper

The last time I updated, we were in a world of uncertainty about the building work we’ve been wanting to do on the house. We’d been through the mill trying to get planning permission, which got rejected a couple of times as it's a complicated site with a lot of technical factors to overcome.

I’m hugely pleased to say that we finally got our build passed on the third attempt, and work is scheduled to start in a couple of weeks. It doesn’t quite feel real after the journey we’ve had to get here, and of course we still have all the noise, chaos, dust and disruption to get though, but it will be hugely exciting to see our original vision for the house start to materialise.

When we bought this place, almost five years ago now, we knew it needed a lot of love. It was a beautiful shell, an Edwardian home stood on a long plot of garden in a great neighbourhood. But the house had previously been converted into three bedsit flats, and it was pretty dingy and unloved inside. We could immediately see what the house could become, with some work.

Although we’ve made a lot of progress - somewhat slowed down by having two babies since we moved in - it had come grinding to a halt. So far, we’ve most done the costly, very unglamourous but necessary stuff - having all the external plumbing pipework criss-crossing the house buried into the walls and replastering, replacing the radiators, light switches and sockets, stripping out three floors of woodchip wallpaper, adding an enclosed front porch, re-doing the family bathroom and replacing the roof.

Now it's finally time for the more visible changes.

We’re adding a downstairs extension with a glass apex wall which will turn the current kitchen into an open plan kitchen/family room, with a downstairs toilet and a utility room tucked off to the side. It will also give us access to a large cellar under the house, whose entry is blocked by the current downstairs loo, which will be removed - so that’s a whole other floor to go at!

At the same time, we are having a dormer window with a juliette balcony added to the rear of the third floor and internal works to change it from two bedrooms currently used as a dumping ground  into a master suite, with a bedroom, bathroom and two dressing rooms. So the house will look pretty different, and function even more differently.

Then the only things left to do on the current list will be replacing the flooring throughout, changing the internal front door and replastering/redecorating Theo’s room. Seeing out vision for this home come to life is huge for us and very exciting.

My sister-in-law and her husband have also just completed works to turn their 70s home into a modern house with a huge entrance atrium and seeing that has really inspired us again, just when we’d been ground down a little by all the setbacks.

Hopefully everything will be worth it and we’ll get the house just how we want it, finally - although knowing us as soon as it's perfect, we’ll be wanting to sell it and take on a new project!

I’m Watching….

Image result for stranger things 3

I feel like I’ve raced through a whole raft of great shows lately. There’s been Stranger Things 3, which was set in the year I was born and made me feel weirdly nostalgic for a decade I didn’t really experience (or only as a baby, anyway).

There’s been the second series of Big Little Lies, which I didn’t enjoy as much as the first, but which still made me long for an ocean-front mansion in Monterrey almost violently, and Return To The Chateau, which produced the same effect, only about a French castle instead!

Now we’re onto Mayans MC - which is a companion series to Sons of Anarchy - and the final series of Orange Is The New Black. Plus, Bake Off time will soon be upon us...

I’m Reading…

Image result for the plantagenets dan jones

Very pleased to say I’ve been keeping up with my resolution to read more quite well, and I’m averaging a couple of books a month, so there’s lots to update on.

First, I got to grips with The Plantagenets: The Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones My reading tastes run to history and biographies as well as thriller novels and I like to occasionally read something which feels like it's challenging my brain - but only if it's written in a certain way.

Dan Jones hits the nail on the head here with his well paced, very entertaining study of the Plantagenet dynasty - stretching from Norman times to the Tudors. It's not a period of history i knew terribly well, so I found this dive into a time when Britain and large parts of modern-day France were one kingdom and kings went on crusade in Jerusalem absolutely fascinating.

Spanning Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard The Lionheart, the creation of the Magna Carta which marked the start of political rule as we know it, the Black Death and the Hundred Years War, this was more twisty than any Game of Thrones plot line - and all completely true! There’s nothing so strange as history after all…

I Found You by [Jewell, Lisa]

Then, I dove into I Found You by Lisa Jewell. I always find Jewell’s novels highly readable - I first became a fan of her light hearted earlier books, as she has a knack for creating characters I like and feel like I know. She’s more recently transplanted this skill into the world of the darker thriller - with great success.

This one is about Alice Lake, a harried single mother who runs into a man sitting on the beach with no memory of who he is and how he got there. What unravels is a dark story of teenage stalking, obsession and murderous intent. Another perfectly pitched novel from an author whose name could sell me anything!

Those People: From the bestselling author of OUR HOUSE by [Candlish, Louise]

Staying within that genre, then I read Those People by Louise Candlish. A twisty domestic noir asking what happens when neighbour disputes go too far. When a disruprive new couple move into the firmly middle-class Lowland Way, their neighbours quickly take a dislike to them -but is it enough to cause a murder?

Family Trust: A sparkling satire about a rich family who nearly lost everything by [Wang, Kathy]

Something a little more lighthearted after that - I got very into Family Trust by Kathy Wang, a novel about a family of second-generation immigrant Taiwanese in Silicon Valley and their complications in the face of a nebulous inheritance from their dying father. If you saw and enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians, it feels similar to that, and I dashed through it enjoyably in about a week.

Rosewater: Book 1 of the Wormwood Trilogy, Winner of the Nommo Award for Best Novel by [Thompson, Tade]

And now I’m onto Rosewater by Tade Thompson- the first of a pacy, sci-fi trilogy of thrillers set in Nigeria. A government agent with a criminal past starts investigating some mysterious deaths in a community formed around a mysterious extraterrestrial biodome. It’s extremely well written and I already know I’m going to read the others in the trilogy.

I’m Listening…

Image result for lamb fear of letting go

I am in love with the long-awaited new single from Tool, ‘Fear Inoculum’ - it's classic Tool at their best. I was a huge fan of the band as a teenager, and it's always so rewarding  when an old favourite returns and sounds just as rich and marvellous as ever.

I’ve also really been enjoying Lamb and their electronica album ‘The Fear Of Letting Go’, which sounds new and exciting in all the ways that I like.

And the new stuff DeathByRomy is releasing also sounds good - the track ‘High’ is crazy good. I’ve also gotten into the band Broods recently, a softer more dreamy type of electronica.

And that’s my corner of the world at the moment. What’s been going on with you lately?

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