A small change can make a big difference

It’s best to get one thing straight first – even though I’m a techie and we have a fair few gadgets at home we are far from being a high tech household (one look at my partner’s antiquated laptop will confirm this). At the same time we’re not exactly in 3rd world country terrain either. I never really liked the idea of having TVs in kids bedrooms and we’ve naturally fallen into a rhythm where they don’t have laptops or iPads in there either. At the same time and for some unfathomable reason or another, we’ve ended up with spare TVs. Not wanting a TV in my bedroom, I shoved one in each of the kids’ bedrooms but never connected them to anything so they were just bulky ornaments.

Last week in the Black Friday sale I ordered an Amazon Fire Stick for the TVs upstairs. Having the boys for a rare weekend at home, the timing couldn’t have been better. Even better than that, my 9 year old set both the TVs and Fire Sticks up, taking ages so peace and quiet for the adults, except when they wanted the Netflix password.

They don’t spend all day in their rooms on the TVs but it feels as though it’s made a difference to the whole household. No more bored, ratty children. The camaraderie between the boys is awesome as they run up and down the landing to see what level of a game the other one is on and best of all, I can threaten to unplug them to make the boys behave. What’s not to like? I can’t wait for my step-daughter to see the set up when she gets here this weekend.

Always check somewhere is open before driving there in rush hour traffic

I’m still shuddering at the memory of this one. You know how I’m always saying that blended family life is tricky with a lot of dynamics at play? These dynamics particularly come into play around birthdays/Christmas/special occasions. My step-daughter’s birthday was no different. My partner came up with a plan so she could spend her birthday with all her family which meant we picked her and the boys up from school and were going to go to a local waffle house for ice-cream and celebrations then drop her back to her Mum for a family party. So far, so good.

The first sign that things weren’t going to plan was getting in the car to drive to school and seeing that the traffic was horrendous. I mean standstill, roadworks everywhere and lashing rain slowing everything down. After nearly an hour in the car, we completed the 30 minute journey to her school only 10 minutes late and headed off to the waffle house 15 minutes away. But you know, traffic. 40 minutes later and on the 2nd crawl of the High Street we realised that the place, which I’d checked up on a couple of months ago, had shut down. Brilliant. We drove to the nearest town centre with 3 disgruntled children and my frustrated partner all asking ‘are we there yet?’ erm…. no… traffic and roadworks meant another half an hour in the car.

Eventually we hit Creams, ordered waffles bigger than my youngest son’s head and peace was restored. Everyone (eventually) had a good time and I’ve definitely learned next year to check the venue is still trading and open before heading over or possibly to each arrange birthday celebrations for our own children. My boys are used to my scattered approach to things but I think it was a bit of a shock for my step-daughter.

Things don’t have to be perfect to be appreciated

One of the problems of living in a Pinterest world is that it makes me feel inadequate very quickly. I look at the perfect photos and videos on there and even though I know I can’t create the same cake/paint job/hairstyle, I still aspire to it. I know some people are lucky and just get the hang of things without any formal training but let me assure you I am not one of those people. Every now and then I feel the need to torture myself by thinking I can create something even close to it.

This week’s project was a cake. It was my lovely friend and techie extraordinaire, Stu’s birthday and after he’d colluded with my partner, it was decided that the evening would have a Star Wars theme. As I was tasked with doing the cake I had a quick look on Instagram and settled on a Chewbacca one as all it seemed to need was a bit of piping.

I have a nasty habit of leaving cakes to the last minute and this one was no different. On Saturday afternoon, 2 hours before the guest of honour was about to arrive, with limited space in the kitchen and friends having popped over for a cup of tea, I had an audience while I decorated. I did my distracted best and something with possibly resembling Chewbacca emerged. My boys were the first to point out that it didn’t even bear a passing resemblance to the cakes on the Instagram feed I was looking at but it tasted good and I even thought ‘what the hell’ and posted it on Social Media.

I was surprised by the response; people left really lovely comments and no-one laughed (to my face anyway) about it. It made me realise that things don’t have to be perfect*, I just have to do my best and it’s enough.

*Except websites. My websites have to be perfect and I make no apology for that.

I’m really good at keeping in touch with people

Most of us are so bad at saying good things about ourselves. I’m trying to be better at focusing on what I’m good at and letting go those mistakes (such as checking places are open before rocking up to them) that we can’t change. Looking back over the last 7 days, as well as being flat out launching a new website, ferrying the kids around, separating the cat and the dog and celebrating my step-daughter’s birthday, I have been in touch with local friends, colleagues, people from church, C, who I run Contact Centre with and friends in America, Spain, Holland, Australia and New Zealand.

This list kinda surprises me as I remember signing up to a penpal scheme aged 11 thinking it would be great fun (remember there was no internet in those days) and I loved writing so surely it was the perfect combination. I added my name to the list and then didn’t do much else. After a while a letter arrived in the post from some boy in Italy. It was nicely written, with a passport photo attached, and I knew I should have replied but I just couldn’t be bothered. Sometimes I wonder whether he ended up with a better penpal than me, he seemed to have all the right ingredients to be a great communicator.

These days I’m a little more mature, only keep in touch with actual, live friends whom I’ve met in person and do so via WhatsApp voicenotes. Without them, many of my friendships would wither and die. Most of my friends were resistant to them at first but I persevered and eventually they all came round to it realising the only way to make me stop warbling at them and sending threatening texts saying ‘I know you’ve listened to my voicenote, the microphone on WhatsApp has turned blue’ was by replying themselves. Usually they would send a text reply until I hit the right note of saying something so annoying that they had to berate me in person. Now we’re regular catcher-uppers via voice texts and it makes us all so much more connected and up to date with each others’ lives.

Missing a deadline won’t kill you

Deadlines don’t tend to bother me in the same way they do other people. I always think of myself as a ‘type A’ admin person who is organised (when it comes to work, with life I’m just winging it all the time’ and it doesn’t matter how close the deadline is, I hit it. When deadlines become out of my control things feel a little stickier. This week I had a deadline to publish a website, get it live and debugged before Monday morning. No problem, I was ready and prepared, the only problem was I hadn’t been sent all of the content for the site. Somewhere along the line the planets aligned, the universe listened and the deadline got moved by a couple of days. The content was sent through and we had enough to go live with and could debug later on. I tried not to stress about it. After all, I’d done all that I needed to do but it bugged me that we hadn’t managed to hit the original deadline.

I usually publish my Five Things list by midnight on Thursday – at the latest. It’s currently 1:05am on Friday, I’m still writing this list, it hasn’t been uploaded to my site and ok my skin is crawling but I also recognise that I need to sleep, no-one tends to be on my website at 1am and I’m sure no-one will be knocking down my door in the morning wondering where this week’s blog post is.

I’m lucky to work in an industry where missing the odd deadline isn’t a deal breaker in the same way a courier has to get a vital organ to hospital ready for transplant does. I’ve been using this analogy all week and the fact that the original meeting that the website had to be ready for, was cancelled to show me that every now and then complications come up, things are out of my control and not stressing about them is the way forward. I must remember to refer back to this the next time I’m stressing about a deadline.