The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

Crunchy leaves on the ground and the central heating on first thing in the morning, it’s safe to say that autumn is well underway.

Social media is awash with proclamations of love for the season and I honestly can’t get enough. Almost every outfit post is a woolly jumper, and the air is spiced with the scent of pumpkin lattes.

This season has blown out the sticky cobwebs of summer, and I couldn’t be more ready.

Making use of my garden was nice, but trying to wear work clothes or amuse a toddler in 28 degree heat is so not my bag. For me, the best thing about summer is the first dusky sunset. The first time you need to put a light on in the evening, or the first time you need to take a jacket. There’s something about that freshness in the air, that lets you know autumn’s on its way.

Usually the season also carries a jingle of anticipation for the festive period but that’s not got quite the same appeal this year. After a summer of health and work setbacks, the real blow was dealt in June when my nan passed away. Her house has been the centre of our family my whole life. I haven’t even begun to process the idea of Christmas with an empty space at the table.

HOWEVER. The point of this post isn’t to dwell on the rough hand the last few months have dealt. Quite the opposite.

Autumn might forecast long nights and frost tinted chill, but it’s also a final flurry of activity before the world around us sheds its natural colour. There’s so much to see and do, and reasons to be grateful. So, as if a blog post about autumn wasn’t Basic BloggerTM enough, here are some of mine.

Winds of Change

This summer felt like it didn’t have an ounce of breath to spare. The heat bore down heavily, and I was relieved when the first breeze floated through the air. The cooler temperatures have always heralded big change for me: moving out for the first time, starting uni, new jobs, relationship milestones.

They’ve happened at other times of year as well, but there was something really special about moving into our old flat in autumn. The first walk I went by myself, around the park and unknown lanes of the south side, couldn’t have painted a more welcoming picture. I don’t know that this year will hold the same promise; but I like to think that, if it’s not the start of change, it’s making way for more to blow in.

Colour, Colour Everywhere

Autumn is the only time of year I really do clothes shopping. My whole wardrobe is mustard, burgundy, black, brown and goth shades of all your summer favourites. Tartan and leopard print and stripes and big, chunky cardigans reign supreme. It’s the time of year to let your inner grunge kid run riot: think messy (windswept) hair and eyes smeared in orange, red and brown (like this I Heart Revolution Chocolate Orange palette, my current obsession).

Maybe it’s another part of change, putting the ‘summer wardrobe’ (lol) away and embracing long sleeves and scarves again. Plus, being a bi-annual-at-most shopper means I never really feel guilty for spending money in one go. It’s to do me the rest of the year, after all.

We Are (All) The Weirdos

Ever since I was wee, I’ve loved everything about Hallowe’en. I was well into my teens before I stopped going guising (it helped that there were kids in our street whose parents would rather palm them off to us, while we were only too happy to take a cut of the sugar haul).

I haven’t been out-out for Hallowe’en in years but we’ve always found something to do. Dressing up is positively encouraged and it’s all more than just a little bit gothic.

Not only that, but homeware is also embracing its dark side. Everywhere from specialist shops to high street chains to supermarkets are selling decorations and accessories. Safe to say I’m loving it. So far we’ve only got autumn leaf bunting, jack o’ lantern lights and a pumpkin spiced candle, but the season is still young!

Cooking Up A Storm

In summer I never know what to feed myself- certainly not when we’ve had a melter like this year. Barbecue is pretty much lost on me. Other than ice cream and cereal my diet was mostly the same pasta I make any other time of the year but put in the fridge first. Autumn, though? Now yer cookin’ wi gas. Give me aaaall the root vegetables. It’s soup season.

Seriously, I probably make (and eat) enough soup in autumn/winter to make up my total veg count for the year. Working long hours means I’m guilty of either having nothing or making something easy (i.e. whatever I can defrost in twenty minutes). I’m almost looking forward to making an effort this year; especially getting more into vegan cookery.

The Great Outdoors

I’m probably romanticising how many sunny, dry autumn days we actually get in Scotland. The reality is probably more wet ‘n windswept. On those rare days, that perfect balance of bright and chill, I love nothing more than being outdoors with my family. We have a few things to look forward to this year- and who knows, we might even get pumpkin picking- but sometimes the unplanned days are the best.

Lucas loves running about without us chasing him (too closely), and I love his ruddy-cheeked excitement at picking up leaves and playing with mud. And also because it means he tires himself out in time for a nap, amiright parents.

Coorying In

Denmark have their hygge and the Swedish live lagom, but when the nichts are dreich, we Scots love a coorie in. Never let it be said that dark, northern countries don’t know how to do ‘cosy’ well. There’s a lot to be said for lighting some of your fancy autumn candles, bundling up on the blankets and ticking things off your reading or viewing lists.

Handily Ally’s compiled a ’31 days of horror’ list for the month- with two films a day, for good measure- so we’re not short on ideas. We’ve also been getting crafty, baking gingerbread and giving the house a right good scour.

I could go on but as you can see, I’ve kinda got a lot to be getting on with. I always love reading about other people’s autumn plans, so I’m sure I’ll have more to add, too. Stay spooky, folks.

 

Third Quarter Review

It’s been six months since I last posted anything on here. Half a year. I wouldn’t have believed it myself, had I not realised the date.

That’s not to say that it’s been lying dormant. I’ve written three-ish posts in that time. I just haven’t actually posted any of them. Last time I blogged, I wrote about how I’d been feeling uninspired and needed to give myself a creative shake. In that time I’ve done precisely nothing to improve on that and I don’t even know why.

The bones of this post have been around for a while. It started off as a mid-year review, to see how far I’d come since the new calendar. Around that time I was preparing for my mid-year review in work. I thought it’d be fun to do the same IRL.

Turns out it wasn’t as fun as I hoped. I compiled a list of promises and goals I’d made at new year, and how I’d either achieved them or not. It worked, in a sense that I got a full post out of it. It just felt… bleh. Like eating Weetabix with the dregs of a carton of milk. Not enough to scrap it completely but not enough for it to be truly great. So I clicked ‘save draft’ and that was that.

The longer this went on, the more I felt embarrassed about not posting anything. I still used blogger hashtags on Instagram, sure. But it felt hollow. I couldn’t talk about blogging stuff because I wasn’t blogging. The more I left it, the harder it got to sit and write. Repeat ad nauseam.

I was mostly embarrassed because my last post had ended on such a determined note. I wanted to steal my time back from self-doubt, to stop comparing myself to others and look for my own positives. Honestly, I had great intentions, I really did.

Great intentions can’t quite prepare you for curveballs though.

This year, this last six months especially, has thrown them in abundance.

I don’t know that I’m ready for discussing the throes of my personal life on the internet (I know that’s basically the purpose of a blog, but I don’t know that I’ve dealt with it all myself, so ssshh). It’s been a difficult few months and at this point in time, there’s not a great deal of change of the horizon. So I put things off and blamed them on other circumstances.

It was this post from the amazing Sian that got me thinking. It’s a lot more succinct and beautifully put than I could hope, so you should probably read that if you’re still combing for the point in this post. I guess I was overthinking a lack of direction on my blog to distract me from a lack of direction elsewhere.

Maybe I was blogging or applying for jobs or planning new hobbies with the wrong intentions, regardless of whether they were good.

Maybe I was holding myself back because I didn’t want to admit that I’m no further forward than I was last time you heard from me.

Maybe I didn’t need to have all the answers or know where things where going.

Maybe all I needed was to deflect the curveballs and toss one of my own.

To get started, I just had to write something down.

So here it is.

The Thief Of Joy

Yeah, before you go on, it’s yet another addition to the canon of “questioning my worth as a blogger” posts. Other people have lamented this point and put it better or more succinctly than I could. It’s a post I sometimes think about writing, then worry about being self-pitying or indulgent. Since returning to work, though, blogging has become my biggest shortcoming. The longer I don’t do it, the easier it becomes to ignore. So why now, then?

Well, I guess, when there’s a red alert for weather and the rest of your family are taking a nap, what else can you do?

I’m loathe to use the term ‘blogging community’ because it’s not really, is it? It’s so disparate, dependent on niche, location, regularity, any number of other factors. Still, in some factions, there’s very much a supportive community vibe and in it, I feel like a fraud. I like and comment on posts, agonise over the right amount of exposure and contrast on Instagram updates and proudly boast that my blog is self-hosted in job interviews. I do all of this without actually publishing anything on the regular. I’m not sure how active you have to be, but if there’s a percentage I’m coming up on a deficit.

It’s easy to find reasons and excuses not to blog and subsequently feel down about it. “I don’t have time” is a popular one, followed by “I’m not really saying anything new, so what’s the point?” and “who’s really going to read it?”. I have these at hand so that when I do feel the guilt creeping in, I can shrug it off. Who am I even making excuses to, though? 90% of the time, it’s usually to myself.

The real problem is that I’m stuck in a rut, and I’m not doing enough to dig myself out. Begrudgingly I’ve ended up back at work full time, Sunday ’til Thursday. Two days a week I don’t get home ’til 9pm, by which point I’m clocking in at about 15 hours of waking time. On the days I have off, I have baby stuff to do, family to visit, friends to catch up with and an never ending rotation of housework. Blogging feels like a frivolity. No one is going to go without if I don’t and there’s always something else to be done. At the moment, most of my online time is spent job hunting and half-filling application forms until my eyes get tired.

Sitting at a computer all day seems to have sapped any creative energy and means it’s the last thing I want to do at home. If I do have an hour to spare I go to the gym, because I’m sedentary for the majority of my day. That’s my banner excuse but the truth is, it’s a problem that pre-existed long before my return to employment. I have a phone full of photos I’d planned to use, half-written list posts gathering dust in my draft folder and an ever growing sense of apathy about the whole thing.

There are so many creators just now, whom I love, that are killing it with their content and output. Not just in blogging- in vlogging, film making, arts, crafts, running their own side hustles, everything. Many of them have kids, or work full time, or are always on the go. Everyone’s time is precious, we are all time-poor. Despite this, they’re putting in the work and I’m backing further into my corner.

I need to give myself a shake.

Sometimes I can feel myself brimming with so many creative ideas that I can feel my brain vibrate. Rather than do anything I just sit, waiting to begin, and never really doing so. I used to love drawing and lettering to soothe away a day, and now I have a brand new pack of sketching pens unopened and gathering dust.

I spend so much time trawling the internet, scrolling Instagram, avoiding blogger chats and watching other people get on with things. All the while I wonder what my place in it could be, or why it isn’t.

I’ve thought about changing up my content- it’s not hard to see what types of posts are popular, what people are engaging with. But then, it wouldn’t feel authentic. In some cases I wouldn’t know where to begin. I don’t feel like I do enough to review anything. Much of my working week is spent in boring ‘business casual’ dress and, out of that, I’m not much of a shopper. There are a multitude of beauty bloggers embracing cruelty free brands and foodies tapping into vegan culture- the very USP upon which this blog was founded, before being abandoned until pregnancy awoke a need to document things.

Nowadays, I’m more likely to find myself reading posts and thinking about how I wish I’d thought of it, or even kept a note of ideas when they come to me. Let’s be honest, how often have you read a post that’s not particularly well done and thought “I could’ve done this better myself?”.

So then, why don’t I? After a couple of job knock-backs in a row, and a stressful week in work, it all sort of overcame me one night driving home. Not quite a full on ugly cry, but a general feeling of tiredness. Tiredness at my work situation, tiredness of the same routine, tiredness at never allowing my half-formed ideas to come to fruition. The first thing Ally commented when I got home was that I ‘looked sad’. I realised then that, more than anything, I was tired of this being my default mood.

Writing, drawing, planning family days out, taking photos, reading books and going to the cinema make me happy. It might read like the first time CV of a school leaver who still includes ‘hobbies and interests’, but it’s true. Comparing myself to others isn’t working. It’s not inspiring me, it’s not spurring me on to do better. It’s a common problem though- not just with me, but the many bloggers and professionals who write about the dreaded ‘impostor sydrome’. All it does is knock our confidence. What we need to do is remember what we love and to make the damn time to do it. I need to stop making excuses and hold myself accountable for what I do (or more likely, don’t) do.

It’s now March. We’re careering towards the first quarter of the year and thus far it’s passed me by. In January I made goals for the year with an unbridled sense of optimism. They centred around self care- not the bubble baths and candles type (not throwing shade at it, I just don’t have a bath). For me, that meant writing, creating, pouring my efforts into things that made me happy. So far, I haven’t done much of that, so maybe it’s time to start again. New month, new season on the horizon and all that.

So, will I suddenly start blogging to a routine, dropping new posts on the regular with an as yet untapped assuredness? Probably not. To be honest I’m not entirely sure what the point in this incoherent ramble has been. A promise to myself, I suppose, to take time out to indulge what I need to do. To remind myself that, while comparison does nothing for happiness, the real thief of joy is a lack of action. It’s time to steal that time back.

In With The New

How long after the 1st of January do you keep saying ‘happy new year’?

I always thought you said it to anyone whom you were meeting for the first time since the bells. That was fine when I was younger and more sociable but let’s face it- these days, between working full time and having an increasingly mobile toddler means I’m more or less a social hermit. There are people, despite my best intentions, that I probably won’t see until the first tulips make their tentative appearance.

So, if I do somehow wish you a happy new year in March, it’s because I don’t really do very much.

When I do it usually involves damage control. He’s at THAT age.

Whether your plans involved being asleep before midnight or you saw twelve noon the following day, I hope it was what you wanted to get out of it. The year started off on a sour note for me as, two days beforehand, I found out I was due back at work a week earlier than I thought. My initial annual leave of three weeks got extended until new year and I could’ve sworn I applied for the first week off.

Nope. On the 2nd of January I was right back in the habit. The only upside was that despite a 9am start, I took my car to no interruption. The trains didn’t start early enough, I couldn’t fathom the bus timetable but the normally nose to tail roads were empty. Thanks, everyone, for staying at home with your families, friends and loved ones, and keeping the first commute of the year relatively stress free.

So, not quite the ownership I’d hoped to grab in 2018. I knew that after six weeks off it was going to be hard. I almost found it harder than returning after maternity leave. During my annual leave my son turned one and suddenly started to come on in leaps and bounds. It was a lot more work than the first time off with him, but I felt like we both got so much more out of it.

In the space of three weeks, we had four Christmas parties. We visited museums and soft plays and libraries, sat in cafes and parks, saw lights being switched on, went for long walks with no other aim than being outside. We wandered until we got lost and had to find our way back.

The Hidden Lane, Finnieston.

We celebrated my first birthday as a mum, Lucas’s first birthday earthside, the first Christmas where he was really aware of what was happening. He had his first Christmas dinner and met Santa for the first time. It felt like every day he was learning or doing something new.

I felt like I knew more this time, and was able to plan our time better. Sure, it was tough. He’s not so keen on getting changed or taking medicine or being stopped from jamming his chubby little fingers under the door. There were days where it rained so hard we didn’t leave the house, and the two of us grew bored and cranky. At first it seemed like a vast expanse of days stretching endlessly before us.

Then Christmas came, and it felt like I was being hurtled back to the real world.

The return to work loomed over the last of my leave, casting a cloud through which it was impossible to see there and then. I felt so anxious the night before, and the whole drive in. It was busy, it was stressful and… then it was done.

Ashton Lane Christmas switch-on

The next week came and went similarly. I got into a rhythm again. It wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t the end of the world. It still felt like I was wishing my days away. Somewhere along the way, though, I just… forgot to be so bothered by it.

I guess I was just ready to face the new year head on for a change. When I think back to a ‘successful’ year, it’s easy to focus on what happened, instead of how. We look back on good times, yearn for them and gloss over the stress and work and deadlines and dead space that surrounded them. Sometimes luck and opportunity can land at our feet but it’s rare. Not only that but it’s rarely a sweeter success than that which we’ve earned. Or so I’ve found, anyway.

On that note, I started making some changes. I put the work woe aside and celebrated the bells with my family. I started getting my head down and on with things at work. I signed up for an evening course in web design and web authoring. I’ve put away £3 for every coffee I haven’t bought and read double my book readin’ target for the month. I signed up to Veganuary and I’ve been cooking more, eating more and eating better.

Obviously this was before jumping on the vegan wagon.

I’ve written a list of goals (not resolutions) for the year to finally vent my creative frustration. I have a beautiful new diary and Ally bought me a calendar- an actual, honest to god one which goes on the wall. Usually I’d fill them with the plans I wanted to make, but I’m prioritising the ones I need to make by writing them nicely.

I’m not saying that Doing Things and Making Changes are a one stop solution for all of our woes. I’m not exactly grabbing life by the balls, currently sitting alone under a blanket on a Friday night, blogging and catching up on Mad Men (I’m on the second episode).

That’s cool, though. It’s not about razing your life to the ground and building a flat pack new build from its ashes (do that if you want, but it’s not my point). Do what you have to in order to forge your own path.

Stirling Arcade before the Christmas lights switch on.

At the same time, don’t forget touchstones or little things that make you happy. I’m a big fan of the idea of change but sometimes the execution can get swamped by self doubt, second guessing and just plain daily life. Plans and goals are exciting, but sometimes being blown off course is where the real experiences are. Fill your reserves to dip back into when external pressures become overwhelming. Things can wait.

That was quite the ramble, wasn’t it? I’m not even sure what direction that was trying to take but here we are. We’re almost a month down in this brave new world of 2018. It’s a curious mix of excitement for the year ahead and enjoyment of the space we’re inhabiting right now.

Do what you will with it, as I will, do what you love and don’t be a dick.

Happy new year.

Part Time Mum

Shuffling towards the edge of the platform, artificially awake thanks to trite alarms and instant coffee, I estimated that I had roughly ten hours before I’d be getting off at the other side. Until then I’d paid £7 for the privilege of being squashed into standing in an aisle, far closer to any stranger as I like to get. I rooted in my bag to make sure I had my awful, unflattering ID pass and readied myself for the day ahead.

Yup, as of September our little bubble of maternity leave burst and I had to go back to work. In our flat I could walk into town and back, avoiding the cattle trains and turnstiles. Towards the end of my pregnancy I took the train and hated it. I travelled six minutes into town and back, for two weeks, and that was enough for me. Now I’m a fully fledged commuter… and it sucks. No one looks especially happy to be there. People shove and huff and we all get off at the other end, trudging towards our daily destiny.

There’s no sugar coating it. Going back to work after maternity leave is hard. You spend your first few weeks of parenthood in a daze, forge a new normal for yourselves around every new milestone and wrap your days around making a world for a whole new person. Just when you think you’re getting the hang of the parenting thing, the real world comes calling. Before you know it you’re duty bound by alarms, bills and childcare- if you’re fortunate enough to have it.

I don’t doubt it’d be hard even if I loved my job. Of course it is- and I certainly don’t. Before I finished work I always had the finishing line in sight, I had something to look forward to even on the hardest days. Now it’s like… this is it. There’s no end goal. It’s just day in, day out. For me, though, it’s got to be done. My job search has stalled as I get used to the new daily routine. I spend all day at work, commute home, spend some time with my son and maybe have time for dinner. Even blogging has fallen by the wayside. Going back part time isn’t an option that I can afford. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I’ve ended up going back full time. So what does that make me as a mum?

It’s hard when you’re reluctant about going back. What makes it worse are the sly comments about how you can’t really have it all, the exhalation of SAHM’hood as being a woman’s highest calling, the swathes of Facebook friends with ‘full time mum’ as their occupation. I’m not saying that being a stay at home mum is easy, or even always a choice. Childcare costs can often mean that it’s simply not financially viable to work. When your life revolves around rearing a family it’s hard to ever be yourself. Even in my nine months of it, it was bloody difficult, often stressful and sometimes completely overwhelming. Still, though. The particular choice of ‘title’ can hurt. What, then, does that make me? If I work full time, and say at home mums are ‘full time mums’… am I, then, a part time mum?

The guilt is real when I think about how much I’m missing. The things I didn’t do on maternity leave. The WhatsApp group of mum friends that I don’t have. My son is ten months old, hurtling towards a year, getting more vocal and mobile every day. I know there will be milestones that I’ll miss, and it kills me. But it’s what I have to do for now.

It doesn’t make it any easier when my social media feeds are clogged up with colourful, playful, seemingly non-threatening infographics. You know the type. The ones that play on your guilt, that you could be doing more for your family selling shit from home.

Looking for people to join me on my journey!!!”

Are you a working mum wanting more time at home???!!”

Don’t let other people raise your children for you!!!!111!!111″

Of course when you’re hustling for a place on a crowded platform, anything else seems like a better option. When you have to drop a poorly baby off so you can go to work, the gnawing self-reproach at having to do so can swallow your focus. Going back to work is hard enough. Plying working mums with images of the life they’re not leading- while playing on feelings of maternal inadequacy- isn’t fair.

The truth is, no one has it really sussed. Not that I can see anyway. There are pros and cons of being a working mum and stay at home mum. I long for the endless stretch of days just me and my son, finding fun new things for us to do or having lazy days when it was raining. But I missed adult conversation, having some sort of purpose outside the home and having my own money.

Practically, it’d be selfish of me to stay off work. Ally earns decent money but it’s not enough to support three people. It’s not fair- for us- to let all the finances fall on one person. On a selfish level, I like being able to pick up stuff without worrying too much. I’ve always had my own money. I’d like to keep it that way. Lucas is growing at such a rate of noughts that he needs new clothes all the time. And I can get ’em. Cool.

Some parents are limited in their working choices because they also have to fit in studying around a family.

Some parents just can’t wait to go back to work.

Does that mean they love their children any less? Does it hell.

Just because your child spends more time with someone else doesn’t make you less of a mum. If I leave my son with his grandparents for nine hours a day I’m still his mummy. I’m the one who gets him up in the morning, puts him to bed, takes him to all his appointments. It’s me who takes the hit of his teething grumbles, or drives him to the hospital when he’s got a virus. It’s me that he shouts on and flashes a huge, toothy grin at when I eventually trudge home.

There’s no perfect way of parenting. We’re all just doing the best that we can, with the knowledge and resources that we have. Just like everything fuckin’ else in life, whatever path you’re forging is yours, your family’s, whatever. It doesn’t have to work for other people, if it works for you.