How I took the stress out of Christmas

I have always loved Christmas, but in recent years it’s started to stress me out a lot.

The main reason for the stress is Christmas presents. I put huge amounts of pressure and expectation on myself to buy wonderful thoughtful presents, not buy vouchers or, worse, just give money. This makes the lead up an absolute nightmare as I start to get annoyed and then panic.

The truth is these days we live in a “now” society, and many people are fortunate enough to be able to buy themselves things as they want them throughout the year, rather than waiting for Santa to come. So then you’re either buying people something they already have, or something they don’t really need or want, just to say you’ve bought a present. Lifestyles have changed too. No-one buys DVDs or CDs as gifts now we’ve all got Netflix and Spotify. Everything is expensive. My brother only wears branded expensive clothes. My Mom says she’ll be happy “with anything”. And my mother-in-law is 81; what can you buy an 81 year old?!

It sounds cheesy to say, but when I think of Christmas, I don’t get a warm feeling from receiving gifts. I love putting up decorations and watching Christmas films. When I think back to Christmas Days gone past I couldn’t tell you what gifts I received, but I could tell you how I love cooking roast turkey and all the trimmings, how I keep my mother in law topped up with whiskey, how we settle down to watch a film in the afternoon and I invariably fall asleep. Those are the things that make Christmas for me.

So, last year, we made a decision not to buy presents for adults in the family. And it made life so much easier. It may sound Scrooge-esque, but the lead up to the big day was so much nicer without endlessly trawling websites looking for gift inspiration, and keeping all receipts safe and sound in case you need to return something in January <<shudder>>

Of course, having a 1 year old nephew makes Christmas different these days, and all the more exciting. And yes he will be spoilt. There is absolutely no stress in buying presents for children – the only problem is when to stop!

I know the world is pretty weird right now, and for many people Christmas may be the one thing to look forward to, but if you struggle with gift buying – either from an ideas point of view, or because it’s just so damn expensive – then I really recommend having a chat with your family and suggesting getting back to the real spirit of Christmas. You may find they’ve already been thinking the same thing but didn’t know how to approach the subject.

But if you are buying gifts, try to support businesses who have struggled this year due to the weird world we find ourselves in. Independents will value your custom so much more than big corporates. Something handmade or a voucher for a local restaurant might just help to keep a small trader in business into 2021.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

Who votes against free school meals for children living in poverty?

The Tory party, that’s who.

The news today that, in a House of Commons vote, there was an overwhelming majority AGAINST providing free school meals for children who need them over the upcoming school holidays is absolutely abhorrent.

The irony of awarding footballer Marcus Rashford an MBE for his services to supporting the food needs of school children living in poverty, only to then refuse his call to extend provisions is hypocrisy at its finest.

The sheer audacity of MPs who are supposed to have the best interests of school children at heart voting no, including:

  • Minister for School Standard Nick Gibb
  • Children’s Minister Vicky Ford
  • Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock

Then again, when the leader of our country himself, that self serving out of touch prat Boris Johnson, votes against looking after youngsters who will be going hungry through no fault of their own, what can you expect?

Far from this descending into name calling, insulting and absolute incredulity at the unfeeling, uncaring and downright hateful government, I’m going to make this into something more positive. I’m going to suggest ways that you and I can help.

Donate to Fare Share

FareShare is a charity dedicated not only to helping those in need access food, they’re also working to reduce food waste. Double whammy of goodness. They take surplus food from across the industry and distribute it to food charities, breakfast clubs, homeless shelters and more. This isn’t about giving out the scraps that are left at the end of the day, but identifying good quality items which still have plenty of value in terms of nutrition but which retail stores can’t or won’t sell.

You can find out more about FareShare here.

If you’d like to support FareShare and the work they do, you can make a one off financial donation, or set up a monthly direct debit. I’ve set up a £10 per month donation this morning which was quick and easy, and will provide 40 meals to people who need them.

Trussell Trust

The Trussell Trust have a countrywide network of food banks supplying food parcels to those in need. They accept both financial and food donations. To donate food, find your local branch and check their opening hours online. They also have collection points in some local supermarkets.

Write to your local MP

Yes it may seem old fashioned, and yes it may seem futile, but there is still strength in letting your local MP know how you feel. They are supposed to represent their constituents, so they need feedback from those constituents to let them know they’re performing very badly. It may not make a difference, but I guarantee you’ll feel better for saying something.

Educate your peers around the issue

I’ve seen too many comments blaming parents who live on benefits, parents who can’t be bothered to get a job, parents who have kids they can’t afford, and parents who spend their money on cigarettes and big TVs instead of prioritising their children’s appetites. Of course there will always be people who abuse the system and don’t put the needs of their children first. But don’t tarnish everyone with the same brush. There are parents who work damn hard in poorly paid jobs and can’t make ends meet because the cost of living is too high in comparison to the minimum wage. There are parents who may have lost their jobs – with those numbers due to increase with the way the government is poorly handling the Covid pandemic. There are families in which one parent may have died, or left the household.

It doesn’t matter what the reason is – the end result is hungry children who don’t have the personal power or wherewithal to conjure up food for their empty tummies. None of it is the fault of children.

Remember also, as I posted about 2 years ago, that charities exist because of a government failure or unwillingness to provide financial support. You can try and place lame wherever you like, but ultimately a government has a responsibility to look after its citizens.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

What HAVEN’T you done during Covid-19?

Remember at the beginning of lockdown, when everyone apart from key workers (or heroes as we should call them) was either working from home or furloughed and considering how they would be spending all their extra time? Bold claims such as learning a new language, decorating their home, and getting in shape flooded my Twitter timeline – either from individuals full of naive enthusiasm, or experts suggesting ways to cope.

Fast forward a few weeks, and it’s quite clear that this is a really strange period, that isn’t the ‘paid holiday’ that many people thought it might be. Advice about how to improve your life has been taken over by advice on how to ‘just’ survive. Getting through, coming out of the other side, protecting and preserving mental health however we can has become way more important.

Some people have thrived, some have struggled, and there are sad stories in the press about some people not making it. Those who have taken their own life because they couldn’t handle the pressure, the loneliness and the not knowing.

So, in this post, I’m laying it bare about the things I haven’t done whilst I’ve been working from home. Admittedly, by not being furloughed, I haven’t had heaps more time in my life, but working from home means I have ditched the commute, late afternoon meetings and doing anything at weekends, so there has been extra time knocking about!

Sorting out the utility room

Its been almost 2.5 years since our house renovations were complete, leaving us a utility room upstairs for our washer, dryer and storage. The furthest I ever got was putting up two big shoe racks. Our laundry basket is too small; the decorating is a mix of missing, raw plaster and 90s wallpaper and it’s just a disaster zone! About 6 weeks ago I bought a clothes rail for hanging drying clothes. It’s still in the packaging. It has, however, moved from the downstairs hall to upstairs, so yay for small victories.

Sorting out my spice cupboard

This sounds kind of middle class (which I definitely am not) until I break it down to laziness. I have no idea what jars of dried spices and herbs lurk in the overflowing narrow cupboard in the kitchen. Opening it is a sport in itself; who knows what will hit you or the floor once you unleash the protective door barrier. Heaven forbid I actually look in there to find something if I’m trying a new recipe. Why would I? I’ll just buy another glass jar, shove everything else back, and precariously position the new neighbour in a too small space hanging over the edge.

I did start the job a couple of weeks back when I was looking for some parsley. It quickly became a chore so I decanted a couple of half empty jars into one, then put it all back. One for a rainy day, maybe!


The rate at which I post (sporadically at best) says everything there is to say on this point I think!


I’m not an exercise person; it’s fair to say I’m very sedentary (not proud of it, but I’m nothing if not honest). I’ve seen lots of pics of people going on long country walks on routes they never knew existed near to their home. Now that restrictions have been lifted people are heading further afield to hills, woods and coastlines (I disagree with this somewhat, but that’s another story). I never even took advantage of the government approved one hour outside the house! I blame this on having a garden and therefore freely accessing fresh air. It’s not to do with being lazy. At all.


“I’ll use this extra time to read more” I told myself. I’ve actually only read 6 books (that isn’t a lot for someone who reads as quickly as I do). Some days I just can’t get into a book. Some days I’ve tried to read and my mind wanders. Some days I’ve just wasted days playing crappy games on my phone and then feeling annoyed with myself afterwards! But reading should always be loved and not forced, so if I’m not feeling I’m not going to push myself to.

Sorting out my pension

I have a few different pension pots sitting around, which I keep meaning to combine into one. It’s annoying that every time you change job you get another one set up – it would be so much better if you just had one for life that followed you around to your different employers. Everyone knows that sorting these things generally takes lots of phonecalls, being placed on hold, and time that you just don’t have in a busy office. I really should use a quiet home to multi-task whilst also cracking on with my day job.

It looks like I’ll be working from home for the foreseeable future, so all that could change (it won’t). I may come out the other side feeling productive and accomplished (I won’t). But in these strange times just getting through it is enough.

What haven’t you done since the world changed in March? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

Does your employer really care about you?

It’s not enough these days for employers to pay their staff for a job well done. As employees we want more. We want to feel part of something bigger. We want to feel like our employers care.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that! While money is most people’s prime motivator for going to work (because, obvs) we also benefit from relationships with colleagues and a feeling of achievement.

It’s fairly common these days, certainly in my job searches, for ‘good working culture’ to be mentioned in the job advert. Employers may class themselves as ‘great to work for’ or having a ‘family feel’. But how much of that is all talk?

Only a mercenary (or stupid) employer would tell their staff that they’re just a number, contributing to the bottom line, but there are nice words and then there are the associated actions.

Is your employer all they seem to be? Here are some signs that may suggest they’re not!

Terms and conditions of employment

So you know what your salary will be, and how many days annual leave you’ll get. Great! But don’t forget to read the small print.

  • Does the company have compulsory shutdown over Christmas? They may require you to use some of your annual leave to cover those days.
  • Are you entitled to any sick pay? If not, that’s pretty shitty, don’t you think? How can an employer really care about you if they don’t pay you for genuine illness, be that physical or mental? Many employers will put a cap on the number of acceptable sick days in a year, but not allowing any at all really sucks.
  • What’s your notice period? If things don’t work out on either side, are the terms equal? Do you have to give them more notice than they give you?
  • What are your entitlements in case of grievance during the first 2 years? Employment law only kicks in when you’ve been an employee for 2 years. Prior to that there is a recommended procedure for grievances and disciplinaries, but this can be over ruled by whatever is stated in your contract or handbook.

False and broken promises

If you were promised a salary review or promotion that never seems to happen, that could be a sign that your employer doesn’t really care about you. Introducing additional levels of management into the hierarchy so you end up further down the food chain could be another.

Treatment of other staff, and obvious favouritism

  • Favouritism exists in most workplaces in the same way as teachers pets’ exist in schools – it happens. But ask yourself is the favouritism justified? Also, is there fickle favouritism? If the flavour of the month changes when new staff join the business, perhaps the organisation, or certain people within it, are not as caring as they make out.
  • Is there a high turnover of staff? In some sectors and jobs – like telesales organisations – this is quite normal. In others it may be cause for alarm. If people disappear without being allowed to work their notice, or even say goodbye, perhaps the employer isn’t as nice as they pretend to be?
  • What’s the general feel amongst other staff? Are their grumbles on the grapevine? Dig a little deeper under the shiny facade and you may find that others have experienced issues you may be concerned about, like lack of pay review.

Flaunting their success without rewarding staff

In my first ever job my manager refused to have a brand new car because he said it portrayed the wrong image to customers; that the company was making too much money at their expense. Replace the word customers with the word employees, and the same can apply. Business owners and senior managers are obviously entitled to reap the rewards of their work and their positions of authority, but when the staff are working hard and their salaries aren’t being reviewed while the people at the top are clearly having a financial whale of a time, it can leave a sour taste.

What to do if this applies to you?

If you feel that your employer doesn’t care about you, you have 2 choices:

  • Suck it up and deal with it
  • Look for another job

It’s that simple! Sometimes we can forgive the actions of our employers because we’re happy with other aspects of our job; like our colleagues or the easy commute. But if you’re finding the same issues arising over and over, or that you’re becoming increasingly unhappy both in and outside of work, maybe it’s time to start looking around.

What are your thoughts on caring employers? Have you got any good (or bad) stories? Let me know!

Thanks, as always, for reading!

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Let's talk about death - close up of typewriter with word death typed on white paper

Let’s talk about death

Death. It’s not a topic most of us enjoy thinking about, let alone talking about. But talk about it we should. It is, after all, an inevitability for all of us. (Unless anyone reading this has discovered the secret of immortality and is keeping it to themselves?)

My first memorable experience of death was when my Great Nan on my Mom’s side died when I was 7. My Dad’s Dad died when I was 8. My Mom’s Mom when I was 13 and my Mom’s Dad when I was 18. Each of these experiences affected me, all in different ways and with different depths of emotions due to my age and understanding. I cried and I wished they could come back and I grieved and there was a difference in my life afterwards. But ultimately I guess my life pretty much went back to normal.

The ongoing impact

It wasn’t until my Dad died 3 years ago that I really understood the ongoing impact of death. The combination of experiencing loss for the first time as a proper adult, and also losing a parent made me truly look at my own mortality. My Dad’s death also taught me a lot about the way I think, feel and approach the subject; especially because he wasn’t an old man (he was only 59).

I’ve developed a real dislike of the softly softly language used around it. I’ve posted before about really disliking the term “lost the battle” when it relates to cancer or other illnesses. “Gone to a better place” grinds my gears, because there’s no better place than being alive and with your family.

I recently read an article, inspired by a Twitter post, which looked at other people’s thoughts, and that in turn partially inspired this blog post.

Have a read: Whatever you do, don’t say ‘dead’

Why do many people struggle to say the word dead? Why do we try to dress it up into something else? The end result is still the same. The person is gone. How you refer to it isn’t going to make any difference.

My Dad is dead

Personally, for me, I sometimes say “my Dad id dead” for the shock value…as much to shock myself as anyone else. I need that reality behind the situation. I can’t dress it up into something less harsh. He died. He’s dead. He didn’t “pass away” (there was nothing gentle about his final day), he isn’t “with the angels” (we’re not religious, and neither was he).

None of this makes it any easier to deal with, of course. There’s a hole that will never be filled. But using different terminology doesn’t change the situation.

I think the article makes a very valid point that language is subjective, and what works for one person wouldn’t work for another. Some people need to soften the blow, especially where children are concerned. There have been times when I’ve said “my Dad is dead” and my Mom has said “oh don’t say it like that.” What works for one person doesn’t work for another. But not talking about death isn’t good for us either.

A Natural Undertaking

A while ago I came across a funeral company local to me called A Natural Undertaking. I’ve been following them on Facebook for a while now, which probably sounds quite morbid, but their approach to, and way of talking about, funerals is very refreshing. For a start, their strapline is “funerals celebrating life.” Run by two women who want individuals and families to be aware of the different options around funerals, they offer anything from traditional through to unique ceremonies. They also encourage people to speak more openly about death, to help remove the stigma and also ensure that people who are dying have the kind of send off they want.

They even have an all electric hearse, for those who are thinking about the environment even when they’re not part of it anymore, or a VW Campervan for those making the journey to the great campsite in the sky (how’s that for not referring to death by it’s actual term?)

Let's Talk about Death - white electric hearse at a Natural Undertaking
Let's Talk about Death - silver VW hearse at a Natural Undertaking

They also promote and participate in Death Cafes. They sound horribly morbid, but are actually just a place for people to come together, drink tea, eat cake and talk about death.

Afraid of death

You might think from all this straight talk that I’m not afraid of death. You’d be wrong. I’m petrified of it. Mainly from a missing out point of view, because there is so much in life to be lived and loved. So much to experience, places to see, cuddles to be had, laughs, finding out whether Brexit will ever actually happen! The process of dying scares me; the idea of suffering, of being in pain, of people I care about seeing me deteriorate. But talking about it in hushed tones or euphemisms doesn’t change the inevitability of it.

I’ve seen death. I saw my Dad in his coffin the day before his funeral. For some people this would be troubling, but for me it helped my grieving process. My Dad was most definitely not alive anymore! That sounds obvious (and very reassuring, bearing in mind he was to be cremated the following day) but what I mean was, I saw first hand that a body is just a vessel. Without a smile, a frown, a hand gesture, warmth, a body is just a body.

I talk about death quite a lot. Not seriously. Mainly with a dark sense of humour. I talk about who we’ll leave our house to when we die, and what I would do if the husband died before me. It’s all fairly light hearted. I think, for me, it’s because my life has been irrevocably changed by the death of my Dad, so death is a very real concept to me. It makes me want to do more, see more and experience more, because life is finite, whether we talk about it or not.

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

Pointing finger - does your MP work for you?

Does your MP represent your views?

Politics. You can’t escape it right now. Whichever side of the Brexit fence you sit, I think it’s fair to say we’re in a hell of a mess which shows no signs of abating. Boris appears to be going bonkers and heading towards dictator/despot status, Rees-Mogg can’t even sit upright, and the government has no majority.


Like (I think) many people, my interest in politics has developed in the lead up to the Brexit referendum and in the time that has passed since. Prior to that I felt (rightly or wrongly) largely unaffected by the political landscape. I held loose views on the political parties but didn’t feel that what was going on in Westminster really made a difference to my life.

So what changed?

As well as the vote on whether to leave or stay in the EU, which began to shape my views and pique my interest, I have become a more avid and staunch supporter of Dignity in Dying and the rights they campaign for. Following an inoperable prostate cancer diagnosis, my Dad started looking into assisted dying as an insurance policy to avoid what he feared may be a horrible death. Due to the UK law this would have meant travelling to Dignitas in Switzerland, where assisted dying is legal. Dad wasn’t able to progress with his plan due to his doctor denying him access to the necessary medical records, but his wife has since shared their experience with Dignity in Dying, and I was invited to Parliament to a debate in January 2018.

The last assisted dying bill was voted on in 2015, and MPs voted 330 to 118 against a change in the law to allow terminally ill people to end their own lives with medical help. I started to wonder how my own MP, Labour’s Roger Godsiff, had voted.

That’s when I found website They Work For You. Here you can find a history of how your MP has voted on matters that are important you.

I was delighted to find that Mr Godsiff had voted in favour of a change to the law, allowing assisted dying, in both the 2015, and the preceding 1997 vote.

More recently…

You may have seen news coverage earlier this year about protests outside primary schools regarding LGBT teachings. Despite the messages being around acceptance of differences than hardcore gay sex (as you might imagine from the uproar), parents and none parents alike were causing disturbances outside the school in the Birmingham suburbs and withdrawing their children from lessons. While at first covered only locally, in time this reached the national news.

Roger Godsiff was, at first, conspicuous in his silence. Then, even worse, he publicly declared that the protestors were correct to be against the teachings and that they had just cause to be unhappy (despite, it later emerged, having not even read the books that were at the centre of the controversy). Once again I turned to They Work For You, to find out how our Roger had voted on LGBT issues.

Turns out that, up until July this year, Rog couldn’t be bothered to turn up to 4 votes regarding allowing same sex marriage, and voted once against it, in 2013. Funnily enough, in July this year, he voted in favour of allowing same sex marriage in Northern Ireland (where it’s currently still illegal). Now, either he’s had a dramatic change of heart (doubtful) or, as the cynic in me believes, is trying to get back in the good books after his misplaced and archaic comments around LGBT teaching in school (for which he was publicly denounced by fellow Labour members, and reported to the Chief Whip).

Back to Brexit

To give Godsiff his due, he has voted against leaving the EU with no deal. But he did vote in favour of a referendum around EU membership in both 2011 and 2013 – which is what caused this mess in the first place!

Just down the road…

In a neighbouring constituency, Labour MP Jess Phillips is a breath of fresh air. She represents Yardley constituency – with a mix of ethnicity, wealth and education. As recently as yesterday she made headlines in her out and out vocal disdain and distrust of Boris Johnson as the current Prime Minister. She’s straight talking, passionate, and in politics for the people rather than the status. She spoke out against the LGBT protests even though they weren’t happening in her jurisdiction. She has been an active part of protests around cutting funding for schools, so that some can only afford to open 4 or 4.5 days per week (her son is one of thousands of pupils affected).

British politics need more people like Jess Phillips. In touch with the people, wanting the best for the country (rather than self promotion and vanity titles), dare I say young? Not that all older politicians are out of touch, but many of them are.

Find out more about your MP

If you get 5 minutes, have a look at the They Work For You website and get an overview of your local MP. Of course you won’t agree with them on everything. But it’s an interesting read nonetheless. It could well be helpful to you if a General Election happens sooner rather than later!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

Blogging and me – which one has changed?

My most recent blog post was about my trip to Santorini, which happened 11 months ago. I still haven’t finished writing about Dubrovnik, which was 13 months ago. My weekend in Lincoln earlier this year, and my trip to Norway for my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday haven’t seen the light of day.

There was a time when I’d have been chomping at the bit to get these trips written up. When I’d have been vocal about the current political situation, or sharing my latest book purchases.

These days I hardly ever blog. And it got me wondering why?

My job is definitely part of it – I look after the social media accounts and some content creation at the company I work for, and in truth it can zap my creativity! I don’t really feel like getting my laptop out after work, or even at weekends. I used to do much of my blogging during my lunch hour in my previous job, whereas in this job there is a much more social aspect to lunches (and somewhere to actually sit away from our desks!) so I tend to spend my lunchtimes with colleagues rather than writing blog posts. I keep telling myself that I’ll spend maybe one lunchtime a week at my desk doing “life-admin” and catching up on blogging, but it hasn’t happened so far.

I don’t read other blogs as much these days either, and I don’t know why. Are people less prolific in promoting their blog posts on Twitter these days? I don’t seem to see blogging mentioned nearly as much, and I guess I’ve just gotten out of the habit of checking in on my favourite sites (other people seem to be posting less too!)

To conclude…I think both blogging and me have changed. Not necessarily for the worst, but certainly not for the better. My blog was never about views or followers, so that isn’t what’s stopping me from posting. I guess, like many people, I just need to get my mojo back!

Watch this space…!

Is anyone else feeling this way? Is blogging dead? I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x

Getting older - field of flowers with mountain background

How I’m dealing with getting older

Getting older. It’s a privilege not afforded to everyone so I try really hard not to be ungrateful about it. The alternative is an early death which, unsurprisingly, I’m even less keen on. So getting older it is.

I don’t have a problem with the getting older per se. I don’t miss going out clubbing, or wearing teeny tiny clothes, or functioning on 3 hours sleep. I’m happy pottering at home in my garden and that’s fab. Going to bed after 11 is a late night. I wear comfy cotton pants instead of undercarriage flossing thongs. With age has come a calmness and happiness I didn’t have in my 20s. Passing years have enabled me to do so many things that only come with time and experience, including travelling to many different countries and cities across the world. My earnings cover the lifestyle I have and want. I have a long and happy marriage under my belt and a strong and fun relationship. I’m very content with where I am in that respect.

So what’s the problem?

Truth be told (cringing a little bit at this) part of my problem with getting older is that I’m now surrounded by younger people at work who don’t tell me I don’t look/act my age. Ha, there, I’ve said it! Up until my most recent job I’ve worked mainly with people who are a similar age or older. In my current role there are a lot of people who are younger than me, including my manager, and it seems to have had this weird effect on me where I constantly point out my age / call myself old / talk about when I was younger…AND NO-ONE TAKES THE BAIT!! What they’re supposed to say is “you don’t look any older than us” or “I can’t believe you’re 41”. Stupid work colleagues.


Coupled with that, vanity cards on the table, another problem is how I look. I don’t think I look that different, but if no one is picking up on my (not so subtle) hints, then I must do. I’ve started becoming very aware of wrinkles, wanting botox and/or considering a fringe. I’ve even started using face cream more regularly! I’m heavier than I’d like to be which is could be because I enjoy a life of eating and drinking, but could also be down to getting older and a slower metabolism (I’ll keep telling myself that).

Writing it all down sounds, quite frankly, ridiculous, and I’m almost tempted to delete this post and never publish it but I think it’s important to be honest here on this blog, and maybe other women my age will read it and not feel such a loser if they have similar thoughts.

I wouldn’t go back to being in my 20s for anything (not that it’s a possibility anyway), so I need to just get a grip and embrace “the gift of life” (ha ha, I can’t pull that hippy BS off!) Failing that, does anyone know a good botox practitioner?!

Thanks, as always, for reading. x