Monday, 19 November 2012

Taking a break

The next few weeks are all about taking stock of what doesn't need to be done.  Work schedule is overloaded, Christmas is coming, and I'm trying to get Organised.

I will be back in the new year, but need to take a break from blogging now.  Sometimes something has to give!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Sometimes the pendulum swings overwhelmingly away from work and towards home.  A visit to family followed by a laundry mountain; a boy who shocks his parents with a sudden developmental stage needing all of both parents' best parenting efforts; a half-finished garden revamp stalled by days of heavy rain.  All of these, plus the onset of the dark days and long nights, conspire to make the work a mere distraction (and blogging an impossible non-essential which seems too much like work).

Oh, the work is still there.  The work is still (mostly) done, but where is the engagement with it, the mental stimulation, the enjoyment?  Overtaken by nagging low-level worry and More Important Matters.  (And often, by less important matters which refuse to be ignored.)

How to restore the balance?  Well, sometimes the balance simply needs to tip towards home for a while.  There is no 'restoring the balance' because that is the only way we can be.  But when we are ready to burrow into the mountain of Things to Do and truly engage with the work, there is only one way: focus on one thing at a time.

I know, it's been said before.  Many times.  But still we (or at least I) need reminding.  Today is a Client A day, and I will do Client A's work until it is done.  Tomorrow Client B's work will be waiting.  A conscious decision to finish what needs to be done in the hours available results in great things.  (And guilt-free time off afterwards!)

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Sooner than you think

It comes sooner than you think.

Aged only just seven, his mornings are taken up with learning spellings and arguing about teeth cleaning, and before you know it he's disappeared through the school gates without looking back. 

On the way home from school he's miles ahead, racing his friends on their scooters.  At the doorstep he doesn't even stop for a snack before saying, "Can I call for so-and-so?" and dashing to knock on a friend's door a couple of houses away.

Reluctantly he comes home to be fed, then plays a while before bed.

Is it any wonder I cherish bedtime, with its ritual story reading and snuggling?  Long may it last.

Monday, 8 October 2012


What do shawls make you think of?  Victorian ladies?  Grannies?  Little House on the Prairie?

Um.  I like shawls.  (In fact, I like the Victorians, grannies and Little House on the Prairie too.  I wonder what that says about me?)

I like knitting shawls.  They can be as complicated or as simple as you like.  You can knit them in any thickness of yarn.  And most important of all, they can't come out the wrong size!  Too big, and they can become a blanket or throw.  Too small, and you have a teeny scarf.  (Or you just keep knitting until it gets bigger.)

I like wearing shawls.  I realise this may be controversial if you aren't a knitter.  (And I am sure the husband has strong opinions on my wearing shawls, but he wisely keeps these to himself, for which I am grateful.)  Sitting at my desk during the day, I get colder and colder.  A shawl (or two or three) over my shoulders makes all the difference and doesn't add the bulk of several woolly jumpers.  Under a coat, a scarf annoys me.  It dangles too far down and gets caught in things.  A shawl does the same job, and can be wrapped around your neck just as easily, but doesn't do irritating things.  Plus it's more interesting than a scarf.

I like draping shawls.  I'm pretty sure the husband has opinions on this one too.  They hang beautifully on the back of a chair, adding a bit of handmade loveliness to a room and, as a bonus, are easy to grab when I inevitably get chilly.

I also like fondling shawls I have made, lovingly, congratulating myself on how skillfully I have made such a wonderful thing.  But don't tell anyone.  That may make me sound weird.

Friday, 5 October 2012

To Do lists

I just spent a few minutes listing all the things I need to do next week, and all the things I want to do, and those happy few which fall into both categories.

Now I'm tired just thinking about it.

And having written that list I still haven't started on any of the things which need to be done today.

Because my mind is already in next week.  (Apart from the large portion of it which is already in the weekend.)

Mostly I want to play today, and not write meaningful prose.  But that's what I am being paid to do today, so I'd better get on with it.

I like ticking things off a To Do list, but sometimes making a long one backfires slightly.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Highways and Byways

How far does 'home' extend?  As far as the front door? The garden gate?  Further than that, I think.

We've lived in this village for nearly six years and I thought I knew it well.  After all, it's not very big.  I walk the main street twice a day to take the boy to school and back, I drive the other large-ish road regularly on my way to the nearest town, and I know most of the side streets.  This week, however, I've spent an hour or so each morning walking paths and minor roads that aren't on my usual routes.  I did have a cursory look at a map on Monday, but mostly I've just been following my nose.

Being slightly geographically challenged, I've thoroughly enjoyed the several 'aha' moments as I've emerged from a new-to-me footpath onto a familiar street, or spotted another footpath I didn't know existed, or realised that if I walk down here I'll end up there.  I swear there's an audible click as the jigsaw pieces fall into place in my head and my mental picture of my home surroundings becomes clearer and more solid.

I've heard birds singing, smelled pine trees and soil, seen fantastic views over rolling fields (and I thought Suffolk was flat!) and encountered squirrels, pheasants and friendly dog-walkers.  I've been stung by nettles and slipped in the mud and altogether properly experienced this place we live in.

These excursions have prompted me to ponder lots of questions: did all of these little patches of orchard once join up, and if so how big was the whole orchard once?  Is there a map I can find to tell me?  What's a haulage lorry from Scunthorpe doing in the back end of nowhere in Suffolk?  Why is there an elderly man sitting out of sight behind the village hall in an equally elderly Jaguar with the engine running and the window open, smoking a pipe?  Is he perhaps the lift home for the man with the incredibly bushy moustache and the battered tennis racket who is whacking balls around the playing field for his two collies to chase?  And most of all, why have I not done this before now?

A tree's roots extend far beyond its trunk.  A person's roots need to extend beyond the front door.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Things I never thought I'd miss

Things I never thought I'd miss (but sometimes secretly do) about working outside the home for someone else:

Working in a team. That sense of shared purpose and 'all being in it together'.  The feeling that other people know what it is you're doing and why.  People who understand the same jargon and share at least some of your frustrations with the job. People who are, quite simply, there during your day and sometimes give you an opportunity to laugh and put things into perspective. (Which is a little difficult in a room on your own.)

Gossip and other people's problems. It may have been irritating at the time but it was a window onto another life and a way of bonding with another person.  (Even if the bonding you were doing was with the person across the room who sympathised with you for being cornered, rather than with the gossiper.) It's easy to get 'stuck' in your own life if you don't get to see into other people's.

Meetings. An excuse to drink tea, eat biscuits and call it work. And still be paid!

Someone to blame.  If a day is too busy, boring, stressful or just plain rubbish then it's the fault of the company, the workmates, the workload someone gave you... Never your own fault, surely.

The boss. Passing the buck. ("I'm sorry, I would have loved to help but that decision was out of my hands. Blame the boss.") But, more positively, being able to talk through a thorny problem or a difficult decision or a question you don't know the answer to with someone who, in theory, knows more than you and, in practice, can actually tell you what to do and make the burden of responsibility a little lighter.

Going home. The change of scene and pace; the feeling of escape and relaxation. How can you capture that feeling of going home when you're already there?

Monday, 17 September 2012

As you mean to go on

"Start as you mean to go on."

I ran at last week like a bull at a gate.  Charged through it all at lightning speed, constantly aware of all my responsibilities and everything that needed to be done.  And the week got more and more frenetic and less and less enjoyable.  (As, no doubt, did I!)

Since beginning this work at home life I've definitely noticed that as the day begins, so it generally ends.  So if I dash out of the door in the morning, swearing and falling over things, you can bet your life that I'll re-enter the door a few hours later in the same manner, not to mention falling into bed in a similar fashion at the very end of the day.

If I sit down and focus on work the very second I return home after dropping the boy at school, I'll still be there, hunched and focused, until the very second it's time to do the dash to school in reverse and bring him home again.

And then there are the slow days.

This morning began at warp speed as I wheeled the wheelbarrow as fast as I could to the allotment on the way to school, so that I could return there on my way home to dig the last few potatoes in preparation for finally relinquishing 'ownership' of the allotment.  Speed was necessary as the detour to the allotment meant we were in serious danger of being late for school.  (The wheelbarrow, by the way, contained one digging fork, various school bags and a small boy.  It was quicker and more fun - for one of us at least - than expecting him to walk at warp speed.)  I passed a friend on the way in to school as she was leaving the premises having already deposited her children, and then proceeded to walk so fast having deposited mine that I caught her up before she was a couple of hundred yards down the road.  I was already in speed-demon mode.

But then I dug potatoes.  Not something you can hurry, especially when the ground is as hard as it is now.  I picked beans and investigated the contents of the compost heap that has not been turned for about 2 years.  (Lovely, useable compost, just right to enrich the soil in the garden when I've barrowed it all home.)  I brought the small, pitiful, slug-eaten and slightly embarrassing harvest home.  And by then, I'd slowed down.

A cup of tea at my desk and some filing, tidying, list-making came next.  Nothing too urgent or taxing (ah, tax...accounts...numbers...things which I need to work on soon - but not today!) but all things which needed to be done.  Today had become a slow day and somehow after the pace of last week I knew I was not up to more in-depth work.  Another day, I will be raring to go.  Today is not that day.

Today is slow and gentle.  But things will still get done.  Probably better than they would if I ran at them.  The whole day's work has become slow because I began work slowly.  No, I did not begin the whole day slowly.  My mistake.  Having my hands in the soil soon corrected it.

The challenge now is to see if I can end the day slowly, despite an evening meeting with a potential client an hour and a quarter's drive away from home.  On second thoughts, make that an hour and a half's drive.  I'll drive slowly.

PS. We have a date for the garden transformation!  It's not until early November but we're definitely moving towards bringing the veg growing home.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Getting back into it

The season is turning; there's a definite autumn feel in the air now.  Summer is over (it must be, the Husband announced it as we sat in the garden on Sunday evening) and it's time to get back to the balancing act that is real life.

And back to blogging, which is not real life but a sort of sideways look at it.  It's taken me a while as I didn't know where to start - so in the end I'm just starting, to see where I end up.

For the last 3 weeks in August I was pretty much Mum, without the work.  It was lovely, but by the end it was also a huge challenge and both the boy and I were ready for something different.  The first week in September saw me completely reversing that situation with 3 days at the opposite end of the country, just working - no Mum duties.  The change was nice (and probably just what the whole family needed) but I felt a bit like a pendulum, swinging from one extreme to the other.

This week I'm finding my way forward again, focusing on the work during the school day and trying to leave it behind afterwards as I wear the Mum hat.  After so long away, work is, well, hard work.  I'd forgotten how much time it takes to find and cultivate new clients, and what a challenge it is to do that while still focusing on the actual paid work that needs to be done.  Very similar to the balancing of paid work against unpaid family and home tasks.

Things are busy at the moment with new clients, new work, not to mention the boy's rapidly-approaching seventh birthday (seven? How did that happen?) and a new school year.  We seem to have crashed into September, feet stomping and arms waving, but I'm hoping that we will wobble back into equilibrium soon with regular work days, regular blog posts and a bit of time to breathe.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Random things

I've written a lot about working at home recently, and rather less about the living at home part.  I blame computers.  In fact, I blame computers for a lot of things, but in this instance I blame them because when I'm sitting in front of one, I am generally working and so that's where my thoughts naturally rest.

So, on the living front...

A 'new' garden with lovely raised veg beds and a shady patio is definitely on the horizon.  (This means I am being very lazy about all the jobs that need doing both in garden and allotment; soon the allotment will no longer be mine and soon the garden will be dug up and remade.  An excellent excuse for laziness - if I didn't manage to find 1001 other things that need doing in the house instead.)

I have, however, dug most of the potatoes and harvested rather too many French and runner beans.  Thank goodness for a freezer.

Tomatoes, beetroot, sweetcorn and celeriac appear to be a washout this year.  Also courgettes and pumpkins (the plants simply haven't grown - they look like bonsai squash plants).  How is it possible to not have a courgette mountain in the summer?  I've harvested exactly two finger-sized ones and there are no more that I can see.  There will be a few carrots, and the peas were great while they lasted, despite the best (or worst) efforts of the birds.

Looking after a friend's two daughters meant that yesterday I had three times as many children as I am used to.  I was on my knees with exhaustion by the end of the day.  Was it the noise levels, the stress of being in charge of someone else's offspring, or the constant arbitration of disputes that was so draining?  (Mind, the hours previously spent digging potatoes can't have helped either.)

I took my knitting to the pub last night (a large shawl/blanket which I seem to have been knitting for approximately 79 years) and didn't knit a single stitch because I'd run out of wool and hadn't taken a new ball.

Sewing, knitting, spinning, writing - I am achieving none of these.  There has been some sitting in the (old) garden drinking wine and daydreaming, so the time hasn't been altogether wasted.

I'm taking a complete work and computer break for a couple of weeks - back in September, hopefully with lots of enthusiasm for all these creative things left undone in the tangle of summer, especially since I still don't know what the autumn will bring work-wise.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Sitting at desk does not equal work

Once again in the British media there's been discussion of home working and how it involves pyjamas and daytime TV.  I read about it here and have no intention of seeking out the original articles because they'll only annoy me.  But it made me think about productivity.

When I was an employee working outside the home, I travelled for 1.25 hours each day just to get to the office and back.  I spent at least a couple of hours every day in meetings, and sometimes I spent all day in meetings.  Now I've 'won back' all that time.  Some of it gets used for work, some for family.  And I know that the hours I spend working each day are much more productive now, because I can focus completely on the task at hand.

Some of that time I've won back, however, is in danger of being used staring blankly at a screen because 'I have to use this time to work'.  But if inspiration isn't striking and you're getting frustrated, it's ok to walk away.  Especially if I'm writing or editing my writing, as I have been the last few days, I find that there comes a point where what I'm writing stops making sense to me.  That's the point where going to do something else is actually the most productive thing you can do.  I get up, make tea, pack a bag (off to pick up the boy from his holiday at Grandma's this afternoon), and the brain whirrs away in the background without me being aware of it.  On the way up the stairs several sentences come to me spontaneously, I work out how to restructure this thing, and how to begin that thing, and the 'real' writing begins again.

Now, what I want to know is whether I can legitimately bill for the time spent making tea, packing a bag and walking around the house?

Then I remember how much time 'out' at work is spent in meetings, making tea for the entire office and gossiping on the stairs...

Tuesday, 7 August 2012


A friend of mine remarked recently that she wanted to be 'that mum who, when the child says "can we do painting", answers, "well, I was going to clean the house, but yes, we can do painting!"'  The boy, who was playing nearby, seemingly oblivious but actually with ears on stalks as always, remarked, 'my mum's already like that.'

It made my day.  As a home business owner, there's no boss to give you a pat on the back for a good piece of work or for landing an exciting contract.  And as a parent, you don't ever hear your child say, "Mum, you're a great mum and I know you always do your best for me, so thanks.  I'm going to grow up to be a creative and well-rounded individual."  (And wouldn't you think it was a bit odd if you did?!)  But the boy came pretty close that day, validating so many of my choices:

  • Making the school drop-off and pick-up a non-negotiable part of my day.
  • Working much less in the school holidays and spending hours wrestling and playing scrabble instead of sitting in front of the computer.
  • Dropping everything when he says 'read me a story'.
  • Deciding to work from home in the first place, in order to put life first and work second - even though that work is fun and an important part of my life.
  • Using the recent gift of some free time for family time, rest and pondering (yes, that's what I decided to do, although some exciting work opportunities are on the horizon for September/October.  Another post on this question of time and how to use it coming up soon!)
The thing is, though, there was never a long term plan; it has always been a case of doing what worked best for us at the time.  When the boy was little, I used to say that I would one day write a childcare book entitled "If it works, do it." (In other words, don't listen to other people, the millions of experts or their books, just do what helps your family survive the day.  Assuming it's not illegal or immoral!)  Maybe it shouldn't be a childcare book at all, but a kind of life/work manual.  What works changes from day to day and from year to year, but for now, this rhythm seems to work for us.

PS. The blog has a new home to live and work in!

Please come and join me at

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Bringing it home

Doing less and playing in the paddling pool (and getting dirt under my fingernails in the garden) are definitely good for the brain.  It has time to breathe, and come up with good ideas, and even admit shocking truths to itself...

I have had an allotment here in the village for 4 or 5 years, and had another near our old house for 5 or 6 years before that.  It was never the most beautiful or well-tended, but it was productive and I enjoyed being there.  But, between a home-based business and a busy boy to look after, the village allotment has been getting more and more on top of me, and 3 months of solid rain have not been kind either!  Frankly, it's a mess, and every time I've been there recently it has just made me sad, not to mention disheartened by all the work there is to be done.

I realise what I  am about to say may not be shocking to anyone except me, but it's taken me at least 2 years to admit this: a whole allotment 10 minutes' walk away from home is too much for me at this point in life.  I wouldn't admit it before because I thought that would mean giving up growing things, and I wasn't prepared to do that; it's a thing I need to do.

But then I sat in my garden at home one evening, alone, as the sun went down.  And the garden told me that it had room for a few vegetable beds, and I didn't need to give up my dream; I could bring it home.

So plans are afoot for some radical changes in our little garden over the next couple of months.  I will take and post pictures - something I'm very bad at doing - because I want to document this change which took so much time and mental wrangling to come into being.

I wonder how many other dreams could be realised if we're gentle to them and consider how we can 'bring them home' to make them manageable and achieveable?  Maybe taking time to allow the brain to work is the first step.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The horns of a dilemma

There I was, in my last post, musing about the possibilities of doing less... and I think the universe may have been listening and having a little chuckle to itself.  For now I find myself on the horns of a 'doing less dilemma'.

Regular work I had been relying on for some time has suddenly come to an end, potentially giving me two free days a week.  I'd been feeling for some time that the so-called work/life balance was tipping a little too far in the direction of work, but without wishing to look a gift horse in the mouth, this feels slightly like a tip too far in the other direction.

Or is it?

If I rush around now and shuffle other work around, go out looking for more, and generally fill that free time immediately, I could probably engineer it so that there is once again no space in my work calendar.  Excellent.

But wait.  It's the school summer holidays.  I've already arranged things so that I get plenty of Mummy time - but if I hold off the frantic shuffling and scrambling, I could have more Mummy time, and possibly, if I'm careful, even some actual free time to myself.  Time to think about how I might want to alter my work pattern (or not), time to think about what direction I might like that work to take (assuming the work is there to be found), time to plan and ponder and to do nothing but sit in the sun.  Or rather, in the shade.  Sitting in the sun makes me wilt.

Suddenly the extra time I wanted is here, and it's actually a little overwhelming.  Maybe it really is time to do nothing and let the answers come to me while I play in the paddling pool.

PS. The blog has a new home to live and work in!

Please come and join me at

Monday, 16 July 2012

Do less

Illness at the weekend and enforced rest led to a lightning bolt of inspiration which said,

"Do less."

Hardly rocket science, is it?  But it seems radical to me as I have always felt a compulsion to be doing something, constantly.  Even my relaxation time involves doingactivity: knitting, sewing, gardening - and does reading count as doing something?

"Not doing" is a bit of a radical step for me.  Bear with me as I explore the difference between doing less and doing nothing, and whether doing nothing actually matters.  I foresee a bit of soul-searching about what counts as wasting time, and whether wasting time is the big sin I always thought it was...

But not today.  Even soul searching is too much like 'doing' today.

Monday, 9 July 2012

When home is not inspiring

Am I alone in fantasising about having a whole day to myself?  A whole day to do what I like!

But then it finally comes and there's a bit of work that needs doing first thing (because of technical problems last week), and then there's the unpaid voluntary work that you never have time for so another hour goes on catching up with that... Then there are a couple of cups of tea to be made and drunk, bins to be emptied, emails to answer and blogs to read, and suddenly it's lunchtime and I still haven't figured out what exactly it is that I want to do...

Because being at home seems to mean doing the things we always do at home.  Maybe what's really needed is to get out in the world and just be somewhere different.  At least in a different place there's less risk of the 'same stuff, different day' syndrome.

So, with apologies to the makers of the BBC show "Why don't You..." (oh dear, dating myself horribly now - please tell me someone else remembers it too?), I shall "go out and do something less boring instead."  If I can decide what it is.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

I didn't notice the sun today

I didn't notice the sun today.

I saw my desk and its glowing screen.  I saw my words and figures as they travelled across the screen.  I saw emails bringing in more tasks to complete.  I saw a bowl of soup spinning in the microwave for a three-minute lunch.  I saw the pot of stew I cooked at 8am because it was the only time I had to make tonight's dinner.

But I didn't see the sun that shone all day, or notice it shining until I lifted my head and it was time to rush to school, and the optician, and the library, and back to reheat and eat the stew.

Today I have to look hard to find the small pieces of enjoyment, but they are there:

  • Finding a few pods of fresh peas in the garden for dinner - the boy's favourite.
  • A long hug from the husband when he came home.
  • Sitting with the boy watching a very rare after-dinner DVD. 
  • Choosing said DVD with him at the library after watching him devour an ice cream in the sun.
  • The minutes of reflection while writing this post.

And two major pieces of work finished - a very satisfying achievement.

Tomorrow I will look for the sun, and truly enjoy the small pieces.  And if it rains - as well it might - I'll notice and enjoy that too!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Know your limits

A good manager knows the strengths and weaknesses of her staff.

For those of us who work for ourselves, that means knowing our own strengths and weaknesses.

I am not good at late nights.  I'm happy to work in the evenings when I need to, but I know I can't do anything too complex or anything which involves detailed work.  I can write, do admin, think general thoughts, but don't ask me to do even the simplest of sums or write a cogent argument for anything.

That can wait for the morning, when the brain kicks in again.  So tonight, I push aside the 'thinking work', do the 'donkey work' and plan to leave off before 8:30pm.  Yet I'm sure there are a lot of other home workers out there who will only just be getting going at that hour.

Home working allows for diversity and personal quirks - another point in its favour!

My second interview at Work from Home Wisdom is up today - please take a look and let me know what you think.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Not working, not at home

Sometimes working at home is about not working, and not being at home either.

Today was sports day at the boy's school.  Sports day takes precedence over deadlines, enormous workload and - oops - a miscalculation about how many working days there happen to be in this week.  (Same as other weeks.  You'd think I'd know by now...)

So it was an afternoon of not working and standing on a hot and sunny field watching organised chaos unfold as 120 children milled about, shouted, occasionally ran a race, and waited for the ice pops that were their reward at the end of it all.  It was an afternoon of ignoring all the things I should have been working on.  But it was also an afternoon of choosing to be there for the boy, cheer him on and enjoy the sunshine.  Despite the sunburn (mine, not his - another oops) I feel very lucky to have the choice.

I'm reminded of a quote I came across recently, attributed to Patricia Clafford:

The work will wait while you show the child the rainbow, but the rainbow won't wait while you do the work.

Sports day may not have the beauty of a rainbow, but being there for the boy was priceless.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

It all adds up

I posted a while ago about how using the tiny pockets of time that otherwise fall through the cracks of life can help us get things done, but today I've realised how much those tiny pockets can add up.
When some of the weeds growing on my allotment were nearly as tall as me (no exaggeration - I didn't know grass could grow seed heads four feet tall) I decided to go down there as many mornings as possible on the way back from dropping the boy at school.

Now, I can't spend all day there unfortunately - I have a business to run and a household to manage - but when I looked up after my stolen ten minutes today I realised I was winning!  All of the remaining weeds (and yes, there are plenty) are small and should be easy enough to keep on top of IF I keep taking those few minutes each day to keep them under control.

Now, I'm off to apply the same strategy to a very big piece of work which is nearly as daunting as the enormous weeds.  One step at a time...

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Just do it

I really wish a certain well-known company hadn't appropriated that phrase; it's a good one to live by.

"It's a lovely day.  I could go for a bike ride at lunchtime."  Just do it.  "But I don't have time/What if I get a puncture/I should do x instead/what should I wear..."

Just do it.

I did, just now.  Did I go far? No, but far enough.  Would I have won a race?  Definitely not.  How about an award for technique? Nope.  But do I feel better for it?  Oh, yes.  And virtuous too!

Trying to decide where to start on the mountain of work today? Just do it.  (Just one thing.  Write one sentence, open one document. The rest will follow.)

"I want to write."  So write - just do it.

I am - on this blog.  I jumped in, just did it, and, like a duck paddling, am keeping afloat.

"I want to start a business."  Just do it.  OK, this one takes a bit more thought and preparation!  But even with as big a step as this one there is always one thing, one small step, that we can "just do."  And just doing that one thing makes it easier to keep on going, and eventually taking the plunge to "just do" the really big thing, after doing the lots of little things first, often isn't so much of a huge jump after all.

If we let the un-named company keep their slogan, there are other ways to say this: stop prevaricating; stop procrastinating; stop second-guessing everything.  Or, in the immortal words of my family, "Stop poncing about and get on with it!"

Monday, 25 June 2012

How it all started

Well, as promised, here are the highlights (and some lowlights) of my journey towards living and working from home as a charity fundraising consultant...

I worked for five or  six years for a charity close to my heart, and learnt my fundraising skills there, working my way up the ranks and trying my hand at most areas of fundraising.  I think one of the most important things about that job was that from the beginning I worked part time.  In fact I haven't had a full time job as such since March 2000.  This was invaluable later on for two reasons: I had time to dabble in self-employment without risk, and I was not locked into the 8-hours-a-day-five-days-a-week mentality.

When the boy was born, I took a year's maternity leave with the intention of going back part time, but in the meantime found a similar job much closer to home.  It was full time but I negotiated it down to part time.  (Well, as all part time workers know, most of us do a full time job in part time hours anyway!)  It was hard and the boy was not happy at nursery.  After a year, I broke down in tears on the husband one lunchtime, and he said the immortal words, "go back in, and quit."  He wasn't giving me permission or an order - it was up to me, after all - but his words allowed me to give myself permission to leave, with no job to go to.

I didn't quit that afternoon - it seemed too over-emotional - but I did do it the next day.  And I did what in retrospect was a very clever thing.  You see, in the course of that monumental conversation, the husband had also asked me what I would like to do in an ideal world.  My reply: "One day a week working on [a particular area of fundraising] from home."  So when I handed in my notice, I offered to continue in that particular area for a day a week.  My boss, of course was politely non-committal - but when my successor announced that she only wanted to work 4 days a week, he picked up the phone to me."

In the meantime I'd been speaking to former colleagues at my original charity, asking if there were any part time or short term opportunities.  No word of a lie, the week after I handed in my notice, two of those former colleagues rang me independently, offering me part time, short term contracts.

Within a very short space of time, all due to telling others that I was available, I had a client base.  Small, admittedly, but a start.  I continued working for one charity for a year, and another for most of three years.  Slowly, over those three years, I branched out to new charities and now, after about 5 years, I feel I've found my niche, all thanks to good relationships with former colleagues and (accidentally) articulating to myself what work I wanted to be doing.  And jumping in with both feet.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Step back and wait

Breakfast by the open back door as the sun streams in.  The boy is drawn outside and begins to collect rose petals to make perfume for Mum.  Later, I watch as he stands close to the young apple tree for minutes at a time, watching the ants as they make their busy way up and down the trunk.  He finds where the aphids are hiding and inspects them too.  I stand back and watch the magic unfold.

I've tried to create the opportunities for outdoor play and learning, on so many days and in so many days.  Sometimes the lure of indoor toys and screens is too strong, but sometimes a small thing means that outdoors is fascinating again.  This time, it was my remark that I'd chosen a particular rose bush because it smells the same as the one in my childhood garden, whose petals I used to make 'perfume'.  He dashed outside to do the same, and I stood out of the way.

So many times, at home and work, all we need to do is create the right environment, then step back and wait.  Mix the ingredients, heat the oven, and the cake will bake itself.  You can't make the carrots grow, but you can sow the seeds, water them, weed, and wait.  Make the calls, and eventually someone will hire you.  Do great work, and the recommendations will follow.  Believe in yourself, and someone else will too.

PS. I was delighted to be asked by Judy Heminsley to be interviewed on her blog, Work from home wisdom.  The first part of the interview is up today so please do go over and take a look.  As I said to Judy, her book was my emotional crutch and practical support when I finally took the plunge and went 'properly' out on my own, having played at it for a few years.  I'll tell that story in my next post.

If you're visiting from Judy's blog, welcome, and do stop and say hello!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Being a good boss

It was only a headache.  Tiredness and a headache sound like they should rank alongside 'the dog ate my homework' in the definitive list of poor excuses.  But it was a clanging, excruciating headache and eventually I gave in and went to bed.

I used to have a manager who made a point of asking (and actually caring - or at least appearing to) how we all were.  If we were obviously ill, or had a family emergency, he'd send us home with instructions not to come back until we were better.  He did this with a lovely mix of care for our wellbeing and more mercenary explanations along the lines of 'if you stay here you'll infect everyone else' and 'I want you fit and well so your work doesn't suffer'. 

I always tried to follow his lead with my own team, but what happens when your team becomes one person - you - and your office is in your home?  There's a real temptation to turn into the boss from hell and stand over yourself cracking a metaphorical whip, when all you want to do (and all your body needs to do) is crawl into bed and recover.

Fourteen hours of sleep later, the mental fog is receding.  If I'd tried to work through yesterday I doubt I would have achieved anything more useful that I did by sleeping, however much the boss threatened me, and today would probably have been a washout too.

Being a good boss sometimes means being kind to yourself.

Sometimes - like today - it means making sure that you don't get too used to the kindness and return to productivity!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

On finishing

Some time ago I almost left self-employment and home working and returned to being employed outside the home.  As soon as I'd agreed to do it I knew I'd made a mistake.  That's a story for another post, but today's post is about finishing things.

One of the many reasons I realised that employment away from home was not for me at that time was that the position concerned was a management one and involved very little opportunity for finishing things.  I would have spent most of my days in meetings, staff supervision and budget reviews, and very little time on writing, research and practical work.

It matters to me, at the end of a day, a week or a month, to be able to stop, reflect and say, "I did this."  I wrote this, I baked this, I made this.  For me (though probably not for everyone), being able to say, "I talked about this" does not bring with it the same sense of achievement.

Today, I finished a piece of work which has occupied my time, on and off, for a couple of months.  It may not be perfect - nobody's perfect - but it's finished.  I planned it, thought long and hard about it, and wrote it in the very best way I could.  What a sense of achievement.

Running my own business means everything falls to me - but it gives an awful lot of opportunities to say, "I finished!  I created this."

Saturday, 16 June 2012

In praise of the Post-it

I have tried, believe me I've tried.  Electronic diaries/calendars; notes on my Iphone; 'proper' To Do lists with timings and all that. I even have, as I referred to recently, a shelf full of half-filled notebooks, most of which contain some form of to do list.

But every time I try to introduce a new, improved system of notes and organisation, I invariably default to the one thing which always, always works for me: post-it notes.  At present the collection of green stickies on my desk includes the following cryptic reminders:

  • Cross-reference both plans
  • Order wetsuit
  • Too ambitious for one person?
  • Eulogy to the post-it
  • Definition of eulogy [guess who wasn't sure she was using the right word? Turns out a eulogy is usually for a dead person, and my post-its definitely have a life of their own, so that title for this post was abandoned]
  • G. Off. in later stages?
  • Validation
  • Book Mad Science

Some of these are work-related and some not. (I'll leave you to guess why I might need a wetsuit for my job as charity consultant!)  Several are already completed and about to be binned; some will make it into the electronic reminder system and others will float about on the desk until they irritate me so much I either do them or bin them anyway.  But the system works!

It works because:
  • I'm not surgically attached from my phone and don't look at it for days on end, so it's not a useful tool to me.  Plus it takes too long to make a note with just a thumb.
  • Much of my life takes place away from the computer.  (This is the same reason I still have a paper diary, although I am under strict orders to use my online calendar too so as to preserve marital communication and harmony.)
  • I'm never far from a post-it (yes, I have a pad of them in the bedroom).
  • I also have an army of pens occupying my house, handbag and car.
  • They are just the right size for random jottings which may or may not make sense in a week's time.
  • I can stick them into the relevant notebook when I need to.
  • I just like paper and pen better!
Post-its?  Love them, can't live without them.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Lavender's blue...

Lavender's blue, dilly dilly, lavender's green,
When I am king, dilly dilly, you shall be queen.

Did you know that the English name for the herb dill comes from the Anglo-Saxon verb dillen, meaning 'to lull'?  I learnt that this morning from Jenny Uglow's book, A Little History of British Gardening.    And because the mind is a wonderful thing, mine immediately leaped to the rhyme above, and I realised for the first time every that "dilly dilly" wasn't just put in there as a nonsense filler, but because the song is a lullaby.

This little fact pleased me enormously, because I love words.  I also love the way that all facets of home life are woven together through time, and particularly way back in time.  How to explain what I mean?

Without words we couldn't communicate with our families.  A simple Anglo-Saxon word brings together a lullaby for babies, a herb with soothing qualities, the garden in which that herb grows and the baby plays, and the book which I read for relaxation in that same garden.  Not to mention the whole history of the cultivation of that herb and all its uses.  Threads running through the home also spread out into the surrounding world - home is the foundation of that world.

Who told you so, dilly dilly, who told you so?
'Twas mine own heart, dilly dilly, that told me so.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Tiny pockets

Tiny pockets of time.  How often do we waste them?  So many people have written about how you only need five minutes to (fill in the blank: meditate; exercise; declutter; tidy up; knit a row on a sock; change the world...)

I'm not good at sitting still - just ask my family - and so whenever I get five 'spare' minutes I usually manage to fill them.  Sometimes it's in a useful way, and sometimes not.  But I'm trying to make good use of them now and actually think about what those tiny pockets can help me achieve.  I find it difficult to do 'real' work - writing, in-depth thinking and planning - in a very short space of time, but I can jot down an idea for a blog post, empty the dishwasher, phone the garage or tidy out one clothes drawer.  (All of these are things I've done this morning in what would otherwise have been empty time - for example the five unexpected minutes I had because we were actually ready for school early for once.)

It's a way to silence the voice in my head that lists, over and over, all of the things I haven't done yet:  "Finish this, clean that, write this, do that, make this decision..."  That voice isn't helpful at all but taking a moment to actively decide what to do with this tiny pocket of time - that's useful and it gets things done, even if the thing that gets done is a conscious few minutes of nothing!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Half-filled notebooks

Does anyone else have a shelf/drawer/cupboard full of half-filled notebooks?

I have a selection of notebooks in all shapes, sizes, colours and bindings.  Some I've had for years; one I bought last week. (It has drawings of vegetables on the cover.  I like growing vegetables and it makes me smile.  But I didn't need it.)  Some are works of art - their contents are not - and some are just school-style exercise books.  I've been doing a book-binding class so some are handmade by me while others are mass-produced and spiral-bound. 

I can never resist adding to the collection.  This may be why, with a few exceptions, not one of these books is actually full.  I use them to write lists, diaries and random thoughts, but my thoughts would probably be a lot more coherent (and it would be easier to go back and find particular notes) if I managed to keep them all in one book at any one time.  But sometimes a notebook is too big to fit in my bag so I need to use a smaller one.  Sometimes I don't feel like writing on lined paper.  Sometimes a spiral binding annoys me.  Sometimes I fancy a big page so my ideas don't get squashed.  Sometimes I just want to use a pretty book - or want to use a plain one so I don't get intimidated by the blank pages.

Is it just me?  Do you have a collection of half-filled notebooks too?

PS.  Come to think of it, I have a lot of pens too.  Pens are important.  They must write smoothly and easily and make a nice fine - but not too fine - line.  There must be a selection of colours even though nine times out of ten I will choose the black one.  Maybe that's a post for another day!

Friday, 8 June 2012

Could home be somewhere else?

Sitting in a tiny continental airport with a view of the sunny mountains I was about to leave, I wondered - as everyone has at least once - whether I could live there.  But it wasn't the living part (the markets, the food, the wine, where would I buy my clothes?) that I was thinking about; it was the working.  I tried to imagine myself doing the work I do now in that beautiful part of the world.

The only tools I need are a computer with internet access, a phone and, occasionally, a printer.  I'm sure all those could be had, although I'm not sure how reliable the broadband connection would be.  I don't live near most of my clients now, so probably wouldn't have to travel any more often than I already do - although the journeys to Hampshire or Wales or elsewhere in Britain would be rather longer and more expensive.  The view and the climate would be very much improved in comparison with today's rooftops in the rain.  And of course I'd drag the family along so that side of life would carry on as normal.

But there would be very little local demand for my services, I imagine.  (If there are more than a handful of charities in the local area I'd be surprised.)  And of course I'm missing a lot of local knowledge about grants availability, charitable giving habits, and how to use the language to do more than order a coffee.  But those things could be learnt.  It's more than that; it's a feeling of belonging.  (However much I try to rationalise things, I find that more and more I rely on feelings and gut instinct to show me the way.)

No, I don't think my life would translate into an overseas one.  Even the rain is part of home.  Just as I know that working from home is for me at this point in my life, I know that home is here.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Holiday unplugged

I've been reading a lot recently of people 'unplugging' - no email, no iPhone, no Facebook, Twitter etc - for a weekend, a week or longer.  Mostly, it seems, they've been doing it in order to reconnect with real life (and, I suspect, to see if they could cope). 

I love being unplugged.  I've never joined Facebook, Twitter or done anything which could be called social networking.  On occasion I've been asked why, and never really come up with a satisfactory answer. 

"The thought gives me the willies,"

or "I like to talk to real people in real life"

aren't really very helpful responses, and "I spend enough time at the computer for work - why would I want to spend my time off there too," while it is completely true and comes close, doesn't quite cover it either.

 I want to live my life, not read about other people's; connect with people I care about face to face; be outside; make things; dawdle about feeding the ducks; write when inspiration strikes...

And that's what I'll be doing next week on holiday.  No blogging either, then - that would be cheating.  I'll be back in a week or two.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

A child's perspective

We have electric radiators in our house.  They have vents in the top where the warm air comes through.  This morning, when I suddenly wondered where the boy was (that ominous quiet was deafening), I peeped into the spare room/office, only to find him with the digital camera*, taking photos of the view down the vents into the inside.

A couple of minutes later, I peeped in again and he was photographing the pages of a book which was lying on the bed.  Then he was inspecting my spinning wheel. 

He was quietly exploring his own world in his own way, totally absorbed in what he was doing.  And it was all about the process: he then came to take a film of me putting on my makeup, not because he wanted a film of me but because he wanted to see how long a film the camera would let him take.  (For the record, one minute.)

He wasn't thinking about what he had to do next (go to school, as it happens) or what he'd just been doing, or how he had to get the photo just right.  He was just doing it, because he felt like it and wanted to see what happened if he did.

What would happen if I lived a whole day like that?

*It's his camera.  We gave him an old one with a slight mark on the lens which we notice but he doesn't.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

It's only stressful if you can't do anything about it

I had several sleepless nights last week.  Proper sleepless nights, where worry takes over your mind; every time you close your eyes the same scenarios play out in your head and you get up and do something else because it’s too painful not to.  Then you eventually fall asleep for a couple of hours only to dream the same scenarios until the boy comes in for an early morning cuddle and you don't know whether to be relieved that the night's over or miserable because you feel so tired.

It was work stress.  I’d taken on too much and a deadline was looming.  It was an externally imposed one with no room for negotiation.  But I’m used to deadlines.  I work with them all the time.  They focus the mind.  (And unlike Terry Pratchett, I’m not used to the sound they make as the go whooshing past.  I meet deadlines.  Always.)

The problem was that I couldn’t actually do the work yet as I was waiting for information and input from others.  All I could do was think about it, wonder if I could have organised the whole thing better, wonder if I’d bitten off more than I could chew, worry that I was giving a bad impression…   

When the day came that I could actually start the work, I snapped out of it.  I worked hard, I put in extra hours, I was busier than ever - but the stress went away.  I knew I could do it; I wasn't stuck helplessly unable to do anything.  I wonder if this is the same for everyone.  I am a do-er, and when I say I'll do something I know I will finish it.  Doing is much more comforting than thinking about doing, or worrying about not doing.

Monday, 14 May 2012

A day that flowed perfectly

Now, I could have done without the 5:30am start, but when a six-year-old is awake, he's awake.  And the sun was shining and I had work to do, so up I got.

From then on, there was a kind of rhythm to the day which I couldn't have planned but which perfectly encapsulated my vision of life revolving around home, with work and family all intermingled in a positive way.

Granted, it was Sunday and in the normal way of things I would not have been working on a Sunday at all - I try to be strict about days off - but deadlines loomed and it had to be done.  Anyway, the story:

I worked for 2.5 hours in the early morning, completely focused and achieving a lot.  Then I cooked pancakes for the boy, faffed in the garden with him, did the supermarket run and on a whim bought food for a barbecue lunch.  (It was the weekend and it wasn't raining - had to be done.)  So we cooked and ate outside for the first time this year.

I would like to wax lyrical about this relaxing family occasion, how we lingered over a delicious meal in the sunshine... but the boy was tired and grumpy, not hungry, didn't like the potatoes...  Still, we were outside, all together and the sun was shining.  And I liked the potatoes!  The chicken was pretty good too.

Over lunch we planned an outing to a nearby park, but after we'd cleared up, the tired and grumpy boy came over to me for a cuddle.  I sat down with him on my lap, he snuggled in and went to sleep.  5:30 starts obviously don't agree with him any more either!  He slept for a couple of hours while I cuddled him, dozed a bit myself and enjoyed sitting in a quiet house on a sunny day being forced to do absolutely nothing.

He took a while to come to after waking up, then didn't want to do anything.  Everything I suggested was rejected, including a walk to the village playground.  After a bit of soul-searching I'm afraid I resorted to bribery and asked if he'd like to walk to the village shop to look at the comics.  Instant approval.  So we meandered down to the shop, talking about the ducks, the ants, Ben 10 (a little too much Ben 10 for my liking...) and a dozen other things.  At the shop, after a comic had been chosen, I casually suggested we went to the playground.  This had suddenly changed from a stupid idea into an excellent one, and off we ran.

After the park it was home to Daddy and tea, followed by much laughter as they played together in the living room and I weeded the garden.  The boy joined me outside, feeding piles of weeds to the rabbit and then plotting to dig a tunnel to his friend's house two doors down.  The beginnings of the hole is still there now.

It was quiet, nothing spectacular happened, and I had to work on a Sunday.  But I wouldn't change any of it.  It was a perfect day.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

A Room of One's Own

(With apologies to Virginia Woolf for pinching her title.  I've recently started reading that book actually, but stalled as it needs concentration which I don't have much of at the end of the day.)

After 4 years of working from home I finally acquired a room of my own earlier this year.  It still has to function as a spare bedroom for guests but thanks to a friend's suggestions (her spatial awareness and interior design sense are much better than mine!) we have also found room - just - for a good-sized desk and a shelving unit which not only houses all my work files but my fabric stash, knitting yarn stash and some of my book collection.  The monitor is wall-mounted on an adjustable arm so I can push it back when I'm not using it, and the keyboard is wireless, all of which means it's really easy to swap computer for sewing machine or other playthings.

I could work anywhere.  I've been known to bring the laptop down to the settee when a poorly boy is home from school, or to the kitchen table, and I used to do all my sewing at the kitchen table too, but I'd much rather be in my 'nest' upstairs, surrounded by all my things.  It's a work room but it's also a play room and it's all mine.  Somehow it makes it easier to think, and to create.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Reasons NOT to work at home

I'm inclined to paint a very rosy picture of working from home.  There are a lot of positives.  This morning, I have encountered one or two of the negatives.  Here they are:

1. Computer problems are your problems, not someone else's.  (Actually I am very fortunate to have a resident IT Man - my husband - but he is inconveniently absent during the day.)

2. You end up working extra hours when you were hoping to have a quiet morning packing and preparing for a work trip this afternoon.

3. There is nobody to delegate said extra work to.

4. There is nobody to complain about any of the above to.

5. There is nobody to blame for agreeing to do the extra work except yourself.

6. You feel guilty for walking around the mess that is begging to be tidied off the living room floor.

7. You end up having egg and chips for lunch to comfort yourself in the midst of this extra stress, and then feel guilty about that too.

But I'd still choose it over going out to work for someone else every day!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Small pieces

One of the many things I love about working at home is that small pieces of things I enjoy can find their way into my day.

Yesterday I spent a good few hours working hard on writing a funding application for a client and was satisfied when I finished it.  I read a few pages of a book while eating my lunch.  I walked up to school with my husband to pick up our son.  (Side note: in the sunshine!  No rain yesterday, although normal service has now been resumed.)  I spent half an hour weeding the allotment and enjoying the sunshine.  I cooked a lovely salmon curry (and it only took half an hour) for dinner while 'the boys' played lego, and in the evening I knitted a few more rows on a shawl/blanket I seem to have been knitting for a very long time.

I've probably painted a rather too idyllic picture of my life here.  Insert laundry sorting, dishwashing, bed-making, tax-form-filling and other less lovely items into that picture in about the same measures as the other stuff.  But even they are part of the patchwork of quarter-hours which make up a day in and around the home.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Tomato recipes

I know.  It seems an odd time of year to be posting tomato recipes.  But I promised recipes in my last post, and I'm still mourning my lost tomato plants, and it's still raining, so tomato recipes it is, in the hope of injecting a bit of sunshine.

Tomato and chilli jam
I think I cut this out of a Country Living magazine (the UK one) originally.  Make it exactly how you would make any normal jam.  It's lovely with cheese or sausages.

1.2kg ripe tomatoes
Juice of 5 lemons
1tsp crushed, dried chillies (I have tried it with fresh, which makes it difficult to predict the heat, and with chilli powder, in which case you need a bit less)
650g sugar

Roast tomatoes for freezing, with many uses

I make this up every time I do it.  (I think I started with this version of oven dried tomatoes but got lazy about chopping and measuring, so my version is really roasted tomatoes/sauce - they are not dried at all.)  I put it in pots in the freezer and use it whenever a recipe calls for tinned tomatoes (or even fresh ones sometimes), as pasta sauce and as a pizza topping.  Since it's made up I can't give quantities (follow the link above if you want a proper recipe!) but here's a rough idea of the process:

Put lots and lots of tomatoes in a baking tray, or several trays.  If they are big, chop into halves or quarters before putting them in the tray.  Mostly I don't bother.  I don't worry about removing seeds or skins; life's too short.  Anyone who doesn't like the skins is welcome to pick them out.

Dribble over several tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.  Add salt and some fresh or dried herbs - I normally use marjoram or oregano, sometimes a bit of thyme too.

Also add garlic.  If you feel like it, peel and chop (or use a garlic press) around half a dozen cloves per tray.  Confession: by the end of last summer I had got so lazy that I didn't even peel or chop, just threw them straight in there in their skins and when they'd softened (during or after the cooking process) squeezed them out, squashed them and mixed them in. I may have missed one or two...

Put they trays in the oven at around 150 degrees C and leave them until they look ready, stirring every now and again . They look ready when they've burst their skins (you can help them along a bit once they've softened), cooked down to a pulp, and thickened up (ie a lot of the juice has evaporated).

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Tomato mistakes

I like growing tomatoes.  I love the smell, the fact that one tiny seed can make so many fruits, and I love harvesting them, preserving them, then sitting back and basking in the "look what I did" feeling.

Last year I was convinced none of my green fruits was ever going to ripen (possibly due to the fact that my so-called staking had completely failed to do the job and the plants mainly grew horizontally, and over one another so that the toms were mainly hidden amongst the leaves in slug heaven) but in the end, thanks to the East Anglian sunshine, I didn't end up with a single green one at the end of the season.  And so we had pots and pots of tomato and chilli jam along with lots of frozen roasted tomatoes for sauces, pizza toppings and so on.  (I'll post both recipes soon.)

Hmm, did I mention East Anglian sunshine?  Not so far this year.  No, in the last fortnight we have had rain, wind, hail, wind, rain, hail... Granted, there have been some amazingly sunny half-hours in between, but only to lull us into a false sense of security.  Oh, and it's cold.

Unfortunately this - er - challenging weather began just when I was forced to put my windowsill-grown tomatoes outside (protected with fleece and plastic it's true, but still outside) as they were completely blocking the kitchen window and bursting out of their pots.  Now when I see the sorry state they are in (it hailed for the first time about an hour after I cruelly ejected them), my heart sinks.

Still, onwards and upwards.  Today I sowed a few more seeds in pots on the same windowsill in the hope that by the time the plants are big enough to need to move on, the weather may be kinder, and warm enough to make up for their late start.  If not, I'm sure the local garden centre will welcome my custom.  There's always a Plan B.  Or C.  Either way, there must be tomatoes.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Bunking off is hard to do

It feels slightly wrong that my second post in exploring living and working at home should be about 'bunking off' and leaving both home and office, but actually it's very relevant to the living part.  And, now I think about it, to the working part too.

People often say to me, "Oh, I would never have the motivation to work at home," thereby implying that they would spend the day in bed, watching TV, eating ice cream - anything but working.  I'm not the first to point out that the opposite is true.  Working is not a problem.  Stopping work is a challenge.  And the thing is that even when you do take time 'off work', not only does it mean that what you didn't do this afternoon will be waiting for you this evening instead, but it also means that the ironing mountain begins to glare at you from the corner of the room, you realise there is no food in the house and you actually begin to see the scattered toys you've been carefully stepping around for days.

So, having been re-reading 'The Artist's Way', I decided to take myself off yesterday afternoon to a new(ish) yarn shop not far from home for an 'artist date' - basically a bit of re-inspiration time.  Not that I'm a knitting designer, textile artist or anything like that; writing is my thing, but knitting keeps me sane and switches off my brain.  And I like soft, pretty wool.

Yet all morning I found excuse after excuse not to go.  I made a mental list as long as my arm of other enjoyable things I could be doing with my afternoon, but these were actually all "shoulds" in disguise: go to the allotment (because I should be weeding); carry on working (because I should get ahead with this job and because I should be here in case anyone calls); go for a walk (because I should get more exercise)...  And there is nothing wrong with any of these things.  I enjoy them all and will do them all.  But really I wanted to go and play in a yarn shop.

So what did I do?  I tossed a coin.  Fortunately the universe was smiling on me because the yarn shop won.  But I swear if the coin had come down on the other side I would have stayed at home.

On the drive there I had two separate ideas for short stories and had to pull over to write them down.  I enjoyed the spring sunshine (in between the April showers downpours).  I sang along loudly to cheesy folk music.  When I got there I found lots of squishy yarn to play with (er...and to buy), and had a lovely chat with the shop owner, as well as a good cup of tea.  And that evening I worked happily for hours on both paid and unpaid work, full of energy I really don't think I would have had if I'd kept plugging away all afternoon.  I got as much done as if I had worked all afternoon, probably a lot more because I wouldn't have had those ideas.

So why, oh why, is it so hard to let myself take a couple of hours off every now and again?  Taking time for living is not only fun, but makes the working more productive and fun afterwards.  Oh, and another thing.  That couple of hours away from home (where I spend most of my time, remember) made me really appreciate home when I returned to it.  Yet another cliche that turns out to be true.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Simple, not profound

I have been trying to make this first post profound and meaningful.  I have been trying to explain my reasons for beginning and the themes I hope to explore.  But in the end, as always, simple is best.

I live in my home (well, obviously...).  I also work at home, which means I spend most of my time in and around these four walls.  So home matters simply because it's the place I'm in most.  But I've also realised that nearly all of the things that matter to me either begin, end, or are completely enmeshed in, the notion of home.  And that the more time I spend working at home, the less I seem to separate my home self from my work self.

I don't mean that I can't switch off from work at the end of the day (although it happens) or that I occasionally find myself doing laundry or baking bread in between phone calls to clients (although I do).  Rather, I feel that laundry, computer work, gardening, making dinner, meeting clients and the million other things I do or aspire to do in a day are, in the end, part of my life and deserve equal attention and equal status.

This blog is about bringing together my favourite things, my principles and passions, hopes and aspirations, to weave them together into one unique life.  Whether work or home related, they will all be things which matter to me.