Mediabird is flying!

Chat.Create.Communicate
Chat.Create.Communicate

I have spent the day with a lovely bunch of people who are all about to start new businesses in the complementary health practitioner sector. I delivered a workshop this afternoon that will, hopefully, help them to figure out how to promote their new businesses using some simple PR tools and tricks. This is just one of the many things that Mediabird offers to start ups, small businesses, not for profits, the public sector and community groups, and as the headline says-we really are flying!

If you would like to find out more about how we can help your organisation, email us at. info@mediabird.co.uk and tell us your story and we will send you some lovely free  PR advice to get things rolling.

We love a business or an organisation with a great story to tell, so tell us yours and we will come up with some great ideas to help you promote what you do and let other people share your story. Who knows what might happen next?

“Life is what happens when you are making other plans”

Life is what happens when you are making other plans…

I love this quote and it is so true, especially when it comes to dating and relationships. When I married my first husband I was young, in love (or so I thought) and ready to spend the rest of my life with him and live happily ever after. Of course, life has a nasty habit of biting you on the arse just when you think things are going OK, and he had an affair and left me shortly after I had our second baby.

This was not my life plan, and divorce followed along with many, many years of being a single parent. It was tough, emotionally and financially, and at one point I was just a few weeks away from facing bankruptcy and losing our home. There were many times when I felt like either running away, closing the door and ignoring everyone or just standing on a hill and screaming how unfair it all bloody well was!
But, like every other single parent in the world, I had to just get on with it. I changed my life plan and had no option but to embrace what had been thrown at me and make the best of it all. Convinced I would never meet anyone ever again, let alone get married, I just worked hard, looked after my children and spent time with my lovely friends and my family who all looked after me and made sure I didn’t collapse in a heap.
Of course life just happens and once I stopped stressing about the unfairness of everything and realised that no amount of anger was going to change anything, things started to get better. I started to like myself a lot better (always tricky when the man you thought was the love of your life has said you are fat, ugly and not at all sexy!) and decided to let things just unfold.
As you all know, I am NOW married to the actual love of my life and life has never been better. However, he was not the man I thought I would end up spending the rest of my life with, and I could never have planned for the way the things have finally turned out. At the time I was distracted by a man who I genuinely thought I could convince to fall in love with me-it was NEVER going to happen and once I accepted that I could see clearly that I had genuinely lovely, kind and caring people in my life-one of whom just happened to be my husband!
My message to all my single friends is simple. Do not write the script for your next relationship. Just go with the flow and see what happens, because life will chuck good things and bad things at us and we need to embrace this and be relaxed about it because you just never know how life is going to turn out, and if we spend too much time worrying, analysing and stressing we might miss the good bits!

My amazing friend Jane

Garden by Jane Yates.  www.janeyates.co.uk
Garden by Jane Yates.
http://www.janeyates.co.uk

Last night I had the huge pleasure of being a guest at a very special event in Oxford. It was the official launch of Garden, a brilliant book that has been written by my good friend and fellow writer Jane Yates. You can find out all about Jane by following her on Twitter @JYParadoxchild or by visiting her website www.janeyates.co.uk

I met Jane a few years ago when she came to volunteer with us at the Community Media Group. I was hoping that she would be able to write some stories and features for us, but at the time she told me, in no uncertain terms, that she definitely could NOT write. Lots and lots of our volunteers have said this to us over the years, and in most cases I know that actually people CAN write, they just need to be given the confidence to do it, and have some self-belief!

However, Jane is an accomplished artist and crafts person (among many other things) and so she offered to create a regular cartoon strip for us. This was based on her rather plump spaniel Mandy and my equally plump labrador Jack. The cartoon was a massive hit with all of us at the office, as well as our readers and it wasn’t very long before Jane started coming up with other ideas-but this time she WAS going to write as well. Since those early days we have published a whole range of work from Jane including a monthly diary about her plans to start running, features about things she wanted to achieve before hitting 50, craft projects and short stories. Most recently she has been reviewing books for us to support fellow authors in their endeavours.

Jane has always been very open about the fact she has the challenge of dyslexia, and until recently a lower than average reading age, for her actual age but neither of these have stopped her publishing a trilogy of books and launching her latest novel Garden at a very special event last night at the Pitt Rivers Museum.

The evening was a unique and special celebration, not only of an exceptionally good read, but of the fact that Jane has overcome some serious challenges in her life to fulfil her ambition to be a writer. I urge you to read all of her books and when she is winning prizes remember-you heard it here first!

My work from home week

THIS week has been pretty amazing…and a bit stressful in equal measure! Being self employed does have some massive advantages and means that my week is often very varied and hectic. This last week has been really interesting so I wanted to give you a flavour of what working from home is really like-perhaps it will inspire you to try and ditch the 9-5!

One of my newest contracts is with a global organisation and I am producing a series of training videos for them. This involves a whole new load of learning and getting to grips with new tech-so it has been really enjoyable as I have the good fortune to be working with a really good friend of mine-but it is also a huge learning curve (vertical if I am brutally honest!)

Other jobs this week have included writing the weekly blog for www.honestlydating.com a brilliant online dating company who I have worked with since their launch last year. I usually draw on my own previously disastrous dating experiences to provide the content, and you can read all about this on the dating and cautionary tales page of this blog!

This week has also been production week for one of the community newspapers I manage. Leys News is one of 12 community or hyperlocal papers that are in the Community Media Group. We work with communities across Oxford and Reading and recruit volunteers to our free journalism training programme, and then my two colleagues and I help them to produce their newspapers. You can follow us on Twitter @leysnewseditor or @OxcommunityM to find out more about what we do.

When I am not busy working in the media I work as a community tutor for Oxford Brookes University, and this means I get to work with some vulnerable but amazing and inspiring people. At the moment I am teaching Personal Development Planning for the probation service and trying to give people the tools they need to start rebuilding their lives. It is hugely rewarding and really interesting and I am encouraging them to write their own blogs too.

The point I am trying to make is that if you really take a good look at the skills you already have you will be amazed at how you can make them work for you in a different way. This could be the first step you take towards working for yourself.

The art of being a step mother (originally published in Red magazine -May 2015)

image

Stepmothers

This was commissioned by RED magazine and appeared in the May 2015 issue.

As my new boyfriend Colin ambled towards the corner shop, I wound down the car window and called after him, ‘Don’t forget the milk, babe.’ He turned back with a warm smile, acknowledging my request. Sitting back contentedly, my thoughts drifted to our romantic supper for two – yet they were quickly interrupted, when a tiny, but perfectly articulate, voice rising up from the back of the car.
‘He is not your babe, he is my daddy!’
I turned to look at the angelic three year-old – Colin’s daughter, Charlotte – her little face screwed into a scowl and I’m ashamed to say, not for the first time, the anger rose inside me. I found myself glaring down at this small being, who was staking her emotional claim over my partner with such force. She glared back at me, completely holding her own. She was just a toddler and I knew, as the adult, I should let it slide, as I usually did, but on this occasion my anger at her was palpable.
When Colin returned with the groceries, and I told him what had happened, he thought it was hilarious. But I found the whole situation intimidating, infuriating and frankly upsetting. What was I supposed to do with that comment? How could nine words emitted from the mouth of such a small human being carry such weight? And why couldn’t I count on the support of my boyfriend in dealing with his angry little girl. She’d pelted me with an emotional curve ball – but it was just one of many that I endured when I first became a step-parent.
I’m happy to say that now, Colin (who has since become my husband) and I have a lot better relationship with each other’s children – we have six of them between us, including Charlotte. We’re more tolerant and hopefully more understanding. Yes there are still incidents aplenty, but they are quickly resolved and carry less emotional weight. Nevertheless, I still regard these early days as a baptism by fire. Step-parenting is a hard-to-navigate role, and with over half a million step-families in the UK, and a divorce rate at 42 per cent (and counting), it’s a position that many of us find ourselves in. Becoming part of someone else’s ‘unit’ requires an often lengthy period of adjustment – for everyone. And while it took a few years for Charlotte and I to truly find a balance that worked, for many step-parents a feeling of equilibrium and happiness never happens.
I think a lot of it comes from guilt. It’s an emotion that most mothers seem to battle with anyway, but it only intensifies during a break up. When I broke up with my sons’ father, after 13 years together,(he had an affair) I was painfully aware that I was also destroying the secure environment they had come to rely on. Making them feel loved and safe was a priority for me, and we quickly fell into a routine that suited all of us. The boys, who were four months and three years at the time, still lived with me in our family home, and saw their dad at weekends.
Things remained like this for seven years, until I met Colin, who had also separated from his partner. He’d been invited by a mutual friend to join us for supper and I instantly fell for his sense of humour and his kind, gentle nature. Yet I knew creating a home for my boys and his four children would nevertheless prove a challenge.
I was 38 when we met, and Colin’s older kids from his first marriage were already 18, 20 and 21. He had separated from three year-old Charlotte’s mother, before she was born. At first I assumed our relationship would start with lots of indulgent dinners and lazy mornings in bed – particularly when my boys, who still lived with me, were with their dad. I felt like we’d both already done our fair share of baby duty in our lives, so we didn’t need to worry about that anymore, but of course, we were propelled back there every time Charlotte came to visit.
She instantly took priority over the other kids because she simply needed more attention than they did. This may have been easier to swallow if Colin and I at least had similar parenting styles. But Charlotte’s mother had instigated a strict routine – one that she shared with me via a long list of ‘dos and don’ts’ and that my husband was fearful of deviating from – so the weekends we cared for her, everyone had to adhere to a toddler’s timetable. I also found myself tied to another woman’s parenting style – which was completely at odds with my own, far more relaxed, approach. And I realised I was expected to cut short everyone else’s fun to maintain Charlotte’s schedule too.
I remember one occasion when, on a joint family outing, my youngest son became upset because he had been promised a trip to a museum but we had run out of time. Colin’s constant clock watching had already driven me to distraction, but now I had to disregard my own child’s feelings for the sake of Colin’s offspring. It was too hard to ignore my son’s tears, too upsetting that Colin seemed immune to them and too frustrating that yet another ‘happy’ family trip had descended into an argument.
When I’d been a single mother, I’d always assumed embarking on a relationship with a man who had no children would be catastrophic, as how could he ever understand what it was like. Instead, I’d found a partner with kids, and constantly felt undermined and unable to vocalise what I really thought for fear of causing a row.
My relationship with Colin’s three older kids was equally as challenging. At times it felt like we were developing great friendships, but then something would happen and we’d be back to square one again.
Weeks after the museum incident, Colin’s eldest son spotted a bottle of champagne in our fridge and reported this back to his mother. As she and Colin were in the throes of financial negotiations, this information became ammunition. Times were hard for all of us back then and the champagne was a rare treat – purchased by me – but of course, his son didn’t realise this and viewed it as misplaced priorities. I could understand his loyalty to his mum, but I was devastated too. I’d recently helped him to raise a deposit for his first home, and acted as guarantor, but at the first opportunity to unfoot me, he did. In retrospect I realise he was dealing with his emotions by lashing out. I was just the easiest target.
Poor Colin spent a lot of time trying to keep everyone happy, but for me, the fact that he didn’t instantly spring to my defence was yet more evidence that the lines were drawn. It was very much him and his children, and me and mine. Blending had failed. We were not ready to be step parents – being parents was hard enough.
So we went our separate ways, for three years. We remained friends during this time and out of the blue, met for a coffee in 2011. We both had dates lined up for that evening, but decided to ditch them and go out for supper instead. Guess what? We’ve never looked back.
A few weeks later we broke the news of our reconciliation to our children and they were all delighted. It seemed that time not only helped us to heal, but gave us a shared history, something to help the kids feel unified. The first time Charlotte, then six, came back to visit us, she cried because she was worried she would never see us all again. It made me realise that despite what had happened before, my children and I were important to her.
Almost a decade on, I’m able to say that I now love being a stepmother to Colin’s four amazing children. Each one of them has brought a positive, new dimension to my life, and luckily, their mums have both helped to make the situation more harmonious. Their acceptance – and support – of our relationship means that they feel like allies. And actually, they always have done. Even when things were tough for Colin and I, his ex partners never weighed in and made things worse. They were sensitive to the fact that we might need time alone without the kids and they also seemed confident about leaving their children in my care, which made me feel accepted by them too. they seemed just as happy as the kids about our reconciliation.
So how did we do things differently second time around? By being more supportive to one another as a couple and clearer about the roles we’d take on with each other’s children.
In 2013 we got married and our children were ushers, flower girls and bridesmaids. As I stood back and looked at our big, crazy family, I was proud of what we’d become. Now we are more honest, settled and confident. Am I still sometimes seen as the wicked step mother? You would have to ask the kids (I’m still working on being slightly less opinionated!), but so far this fairy tale has a happy ending.

Change

Justice for Nico

Do I look different?

I ought to look different but perhaps I just want to look different because I feel different.

Last week I took part in “Making Families Count”, the brainchild of Jan Sunman of OXFSN and Julie Kerry of NHS England, together with the filmmaker Julian Hendy of the “Hundred Families” charity. They want to develop training for everyone working in NHS Trusts and train staff to treat people who lose relatives in their care, better and with greater sensitivity.

I was incredibly nervous about going. I have never been to anything like this before and I felt completely and totally out of my depth. My two main fears was that I might cry in front of a room full of strangers and my other fear was that I would be the silly little woman that no-one knew. That I would stand out, be dressed wrong, wrong kind…

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Poor you

Unless you have been here it is hard to understand, but this is frighteningly true and really worth a read.

mouseinstilettos

If you want to wish anything on an enemy, don’t waste time on illness. One day that suffering will stop. Instead wish upon them poverty- it’s a feeling that crushes you from the inside out, shames you in an empty room and makes you acutely aware how being, being something or being somewhere is more than you can afford. You can’t afford to stay at home because it costs to heat or light, even trips to the toilet and the necessary hand soap and loo toll incur a cost.
You can’t afford to socialise- a friend coming over is a pair of eyes to view your state of living and another mouth to feed, you can’t afford to visit because you might have had to sacrifice wash powder for food, travel expense is out of the question and better yet, poverty takes your connection with other people away. No longer…

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Three choices

mouseinstilettos

Right now I am on the brink of a good, old fashioned, no holds barred, ‘it’s not fair’ sobbing cry.
Yesterday I didn’t have time to write a blog because of a 180 mile motorway trip to pick up a car which is still not mended followed by a family outing to the dentists all before the nightly dinner/reading book/bathtime/story time challenge commenced. The day prior to that was split into two halves- the first spent muttering and finger thumping the iPad while I scrawled discernable-only-to-me thoughts on a sheet of scrap paper and nursing hives while I prepared for a second interview. The second half picking myself apart, my mind whirring with thoughts of ‘give it up, you’re a single mum, be realistic. You need a job not a career’. Sounds like a bunch of defeatist excuses doesn’t it? Far be it from me to pitch up to the…

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