Friday, 30 November 2018

Life Lately | Back in the Workplace

(not my office...but let's pretend)
My poor neglected blog - I have missed it so much! I've had a head full of content and no time to write so I'm hoping that a quieter couple of days this weekend will allow me to catch up a little bit. 
But I thought I should share a life lately post as it's been so long since I blogged. How is is December tomorrow? 

November ended up being a month where I prioritised a return to the workplace. I was offered a temporary contract until the end of the month to deliver an event for a local company. It meant that the couple of weeks leading up to the event last week were beyond hectic but it was also a couple of the most empowering weeks I've had in a long time. 

I've talked about returning to the workplace in previous blog posts. Thanks to blogging, I've written content and worked with brands throughout the past 8 years, so in theory I've been 'employed', keeping my social media and content skills fairly current. However, I always wanted to return to doing the kind of work I did before I became a full time mum (internal communications / employee engagement) but every time a role came up and I enquired, I was told my experience in that field wasn't current enough.

So it's fair to say that the company I've been working with took a leap of faith in one way by bringing me in to deliver this internal comms project but isn't it the reality with most jobs that it's all about people skills - more than technical skills. It was as if I'd never had that break - I was back into the groove within a few days. Because if you had the skills in the first place, it doesn't matter that you took 9 years out to have your kids. 

In a labour market that frequently struggles to get quality candidates for roles, why is this not appreciated? Why do the essential criteria in so many cases demand 'recent' experience or qualifications, sometimes in courses that weren't even invented 5 or 6 years ago. 
It instantly excludes men and women who take time out to be the main caregivers at home. Yet, we make pretty amazing employees - highly engaged, masses of life experience and resilience (we've had years of functioning on little or no sleep) and Olympic level multi-tasking skills. We have the very real fear of expensive teenagers and college fees and we're not ever (EVER!) going to take maternity leave again. In fact, work is where we want to be - to escape the hormones and endless food requirements of our children.

In a criteria driven recruitment space, attitude, ability, life skills and personality are pretty much disregarded. It's all in an effort to standardise the application process and ensure fairness but I think it does the opposite. You end up interviewing a ton of people with lots of the same easy to measure criteria and it's all about who answers the same set of questions using the words you are looking to hear as an interviewer. A skill in itself but not necessarily an indication of whether you'll be any good in the job.

I think it's why smaller companies and start ups are so agile and forward thinking - they're willing to look outside set criteria and tend to recruit for attitude, train for skill.

All told, I'm endlessly grateful that this local company took a punt on me and they must think I'm ok because they're keeping me on for another chunk of work. The feedback was really positive from the event I delivered and the associated work I've been doing on their strategy. I realised I have this - I CAN do this. I never couldn't - I was just fortunate enough to be able to take a childcare break.

And that's where I am in my Life Lately. I've (for the short term but hopefully for longer) achieved what I set out to do in my Blog Detox process - created a decent income outside of the blog space. An income I can feel proud of earning because it's not based entirely around encouraging consumerism and meeting brand guidelines in a brief. 

Will I keep on blogging? Yes - definitely.  My blog is like a child to me and I'm so proud of it. I love that it's a mix of my own content and brands that I love to work with - who don't force me to write what they want, who can't always pay me but that's ok because they're local or just amazing brands that I love. The important bit is that it's content that I want to write, written when I am able to write it and without prior approval from anyone! 

This has become a longer post than I intended...there's been more going on with me lately apart from work and more to come in the next few weeks but I'll be here all night if I keep typing. As always, I'm over on Instagram most days - watch out for a wee Christmas shopping day in Bangor on Monday with my blog husband Jeff from Belfast Times.

For now, I'll sign off and get back to my other posts I've got on the to do list. I've a couple of beauty posts and one about blogging FAQ's. I've also a M&S post in the pipeline and another non fashion one that many of you will relate too. I'll be back very soon...

Ax
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Monday, 5 November 2018

Must Have Essentials for AW18 - Coats

I'm writing this with trepidation as I have a weakness for coats but it's my most requested 'must have' post and I knew I'd enjoy compiling it so let's go. It helps that I got an email this morning telling me there's up to £50 off Coats and Boots at Hobbs - 2 of my favourite coats are from here and they're most definitely investment items so every bit of discount counts. But I've mixed them in with a whole range of price points over the 5 main coat types. If you're a coat addict like me, you'll have one from each category. Don't judge. Starting with a classic wool mix crombie style coat:

1. Crombie Style Wool
An absolute classic that I think is best bought in Black or Camel. Some people like navy as a basic but I find I don't wear my navy one anywhere near as often as my black or camel.
Starting with the best I've seen out there at this price point. It's a great colour too, especially if your'e not too keen on the super warm caramel tones that some camel coats come in:
Investment time and I have the Hobbs Tilda coat in black and it's just amazing. I'll have it for life. It comes in forest green, camel and red too. £50 off for a limited time.
Mango is a great source for coats and they feature lots here. This wool mix coat is a lovely classic cut with some nice detail including a button detail on the rear vent.

2. Mac/Trench Style
I've said before on here that I have a Karen Millen trench coat I bought about 12 years ago and I wear it every year. It just never goes out of fashion. I've a few different price points here starting with this beauty from Oasis:
Back to Mango for a shorter style:
And a curveball one from Hobbs - I tried this on recently and it's surprisingly neutral. A little more grey-toned in real life. Stunning fit and a lifetime kind of coat. It's part of the £50 offer too at the moment:

3. Parka
Next up, a parka and my faithful Warehouse one comes out year after year. It makes me want to invest in this Hush one - looks so great...
This next next one is Oasis and I'm liking the grey colour and grey faux fur:
Finishing with a more traditional cut and colour from Wallis:

4. Puffa Coat
The essential sports supporting mum coat - my puffa is never off my back once the hockey training returns in September each year. Nothing keeps me warm like it does. This Warehouse one is a little longer in length and just a bit more on-trend I think:
Mango have a great range too - this shorter black one has a lovely shape to it with its nipped in waist:
And a not black one from Oasis - can't beat a bit of grey!

5. Statement Coat
And finishing with the Statement Coat - the one you throw on when your outfit is a bit safe and you want your coat to do the talking. This M&S one has to be top of the list - I have it in the purple but look at this yellow colour...(and that skirt)
No coat addict's wardrobe would be complete without a leopard print coat. Mine's from Topshop (via eBay) but this Oasis one is a great example and is reduced at the moment too:
And a faux fur or teddy coat is the other great statement coat of the season. I'm not a massive fan I have to say - I've never found one that works on me but I love them on other people...always so huggable!

I have to finish by saying that coats are one of the best things to source in Charity shops and on eBay. About a third of my coats are preloved - so do keep an eye out for a bargain via those channels. Search for brands like Hobbs, LK Bennet, Boden and Jaeger for the best of the preloved coats.

Wish I had an outfit to finish on but I wore gym gear all day today...the glamour! Back soon with a make up post - the search for the perfect foundation...
Ax
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Saturday, 3 November 2018

Blog Detox Update | Lifestyle

I thought it was about time I did a post about what's been happening behind the scenes. I feel like I've been firing lots of content up here over the past couple of months but not saying much about real life or updating you on the blog detox series of posts I did. They were never meant to be posted and forgotten about. I made commitments on them and I want to stay accountable to them.

The biggest change has been the work life one - probably why I've been quieter with personal updates - life is busier than usual.

As well as the usual freelance work and blog stuff, I'm working on an internal communications project for a local company in a proper office - such an adjustment but a great one too. The little things you forget about working in an office - the chats, the camaraderie (the pie eating challenges!), and the most exciting one, the CHRISTMAS PARTY! Lots of blog fodder wth that last one. 14th December.....stand by.

The role is challenging with a fair amount of responsibility but it's just what I needed and the best bit is that it's part time and temporary. I'm glad of the opportunity to see how I get on at this level of accountability, without the pressure of it being long term.

The route to the workplace has been interesting to say the least. I had no success via recruitment agencies or job applications with many surprising comments from agencies, in particular about the amount of time I've been out of the workplace (10 years). There's no way around it, it's a blocker to getting back to work, especially when you're talking to 25 year old recruitment consultants.

I applied for a couple of jobs through the formal application process with little success. One of them was a junior role but in a place I would really like to work and because it wasn't filled the first time I applied (I didn't get shortlisted for interview), it was re-advertised. I applied again with an even better application....and didn't get an interview again! Some organisations simply have really stringent rules around criteria and don't take any time to consider that the person could still be a good fit if they don't meet every single one of the 19 criteria to the extent that is required. I could have done the job with my eyes closed. But that didn't matter. It's seen as a fair way to recruit but it's inherently impersonal and all a bit 'computer says no'.

The job I've ended up in actually came about because of a couple of contacts who heard I was looking for work. One is a blogger contact and the other is a person I'd worked with in the Bank way back. The important thing here is that I shouted out that I was looking - the contact only happened when I took that brave step. It's not easy saying 'giz a job' but in fact it's the only way for people to know. I guess I appear quite busy on here and with the freelance gigs etc. People assumed I was happy as. Lesson learned there - call it out on social if you're looking. You never know who's reading.

I'm working 2-3 full days a week on this project until early December, fitting blog and family around it and so far so good. The housework has suffered, there are a few dodgy dinners on the busy days but it's money in the bank and Christmas is coming.

Outside of work, it's been interesting because since I published my detox posts, the blog has never been busier. It's been a lovely mix of relevant brands and interesting projects that I'm hoping are being well balanced on here with non sponsored stuff (though I know you'll tell me if not!). The nature of blogging is that you get waves of work so it can feel a bit brand heavy at times. But it does all hopefully balance out with more organic content. I should say that I've turned down lots of opportunities too. Either things that weren't a good fit or things I hadn't room for because of other commitments.

The one post I wanted to touch on again is the phone detox one because I've sadly not stuck to it. Although I've reduced my following on social and deleted my Twitter, so I'm definitely scrolling less, I'm finding myself bringing my phone upstairs again at night. This is my declaration to stop that again from tomorrow. It's impacting how late I go to bed and that's having a knock on elsewhere. I don't cope well with lack of sleep!

The sleep thing is important because another positive change I've made recently has been a return to the gym and more regular exercise after a summer of sporadic activity. I've a formal frock occasion with the choir in December and trying on dresses for it reminded me how much muscle tone I've lost around my arms/shoulders. I did a great return to the gym session with a friend this week and have been back twice since as well as park running again. It's that balance of strength and running that keeps back pain at bay, keeps a bit of muscle tone going and helps with my melty head.

And I finish on the melty head because it's ever present. I think most women are guilty of over thinking, doubting, lacking in self confidence and feeling the dreaded imposter syndrome. Being on social media magnifies a lot of this. I've had many moments over recent weeks wondering why I'm still doing this. It's required me to dig deep - to remind myself that I love this blog and I'm so proud of the 8 years of hard work that's gone into it. That there are many many more positive encouraging people out there than anonymous ones who want to get a dig in. Many more who are inspired than are begrudging. Thousands more.

It reminds me to be more thran. Thran is my favourite Northern Ireland word. It's a combination of stubbornness and awkwardness. As women we all need to BE MORE THRAN - unapologetically YOU.

The wisest women I follow on Instagram is Anna Mathur and one of her recent posts fits well here I think:
'I love the person I've become because I've fought to become her'
'One of the most exhausting but worthy fights I've fought and continue to fight. Fights against inner voices and echoes of words said by others. Fights against labels and assumptions. Fights against desires to run and hide in the comfort of solitude. Fights in spite of scars and 'you can't'. Fights against the immense discomfort of vulnerability. Fights against an ingrained desire to please others and fear rejection. 
Keep picking up the sword my friend. Exhausting as it my feel sometimes, one thing it will never be in the end, is fruitless' 

Ax
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Thursday, 1 November 2018

#FridayRetailTherapy | Søstrene Grene

A departure from fashion this week because I paid my first visit to Søstrene Grene a few weeks back and have been meaning to share it with you since. I don't know why I've never been in it before - it's been open on Anne Street for a few years now but I can tell you that I've been in it 3 times since! It's a real treasure trove of unusual quirky items and the minimalistic shop fittings and signage make it feel much more like an independent store than a global retailer. Quite industrial but homely too. Hard to describe it in a few words....it's definitely got elements of Ikea (the good ones) and Tiger and it's filled with art supplies, wool, canvases, paints, vases, prints, frames, kitchen utensils, bathroom accessories, small pieces of furniture, sweeties and tea...to name just a some of what you'll find there.

There's no online shopping option so there are no links on this post - I'm just going to fire up a ton of photos of what caught my eye and urge you to check it out if you have one close by. The good news for local readers is that they're opening their third NI store this month in Bangor!

Hope you enjoy and I should say, these photos are from a few weeks ago so by now it's full of all things festive...which reminds me, I really should pay it another visit.


















Ax
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Workwear Capsule from M&S | Style

It's another M&S post - sometimes brand opportunities are like the buses. My Holly Willoughby posts come via the manager in my closest store and these regular collaboration posts come via a third party who work closely with the brand so now and again the dates end up being quite close together. It's a good fit though - both for readers and for me...it's the shop that gets the majority of my business over the course of a year outside of the blog.

So the challenge I was set for this project was to create a capsule workwear wardrobe for £250. Perfect timing as I'm working in a more formal office environment 2-3 days a week now and I have had to up my game in the workwear stakes. I decided to start with a jacket I spotted on an M&S post a couple of months ago and loved. It's got a matching skirt and I knew it would work well as a base for the capsule.
This jacket is a winner - it can be worn dressed up or down (I wore it with jeans last week) and I like how it's work appropriate but not a boring suit jacket style. It's a little bit edgier with the zip closure and black trim.
The skirt is short so make sure to wear it with 60D opaques. These ones are from M&S too - a staple in my wardrobe. I buy a couple of pairs every winter. And I've matched the suit with one of the M&S roll neck knits - brilliant for offices where you might be freezing one moment and warm the next. They're just the right weight.
Add a coat...my colour pop for this workwear capsule is purple and here is a purple coat you CAN actually buy online now....and I'd argue that it's more wearable than the lilac one that everyone is standing by to pounce on when it goes live on the 13th November. This one is such a great fit, a much more wearable shade of purple and it's just £59. Like most M&S coats - I sized down to an 8.
Then swap out the grey knit for a white shirt on cooler days or if you want to look just a bit more formal. These white shirts are £25 and are my 2018 white shirt pick. Gorgeous fabric, a proper bright white and with non-gaping button closure. All the ticks for £25.
And without the coat...
I always like to know the back story to blogger photos...these ones were taken while a tree surgeon company were working on my neighbours fallen tree. They took great interest in my running in and out of the street for different outfit shots. I was MORTO. So much so, I forgot to take a close up of the shoes. They are workwear heroes.

Literally everyone who has asked me about workwear since I started back in a 'proper' job, have lamented footwear. It seems to be the hardest thing to get right because no one wants to be tottering around in heels...we're all too busy for that shizz. I have always been what I'd describe as a 'stomper'. I don't walk nicely like women should...I stomp. Very fast. I simply can't do any kind of stiletto heel but I don't have long legs. So a flat shoe, while it works with trousers (see below), doesn't work with a skirt for me. 
And then I found these ones...while trying on every black shoe in M&S. They look like nothing off your foot. I'd say they're borderline nana shoes (see more below) and I would never wear them outside of a work scenario but do you know what? They are flipping amazing. Because they're suede, they blend perfectly to the leg giving you inches more length. Don't be put off by the look of them. Try them on and see you legs get longer...feel the joy of a bit of height and then see how well you can stomp in those block heels. I think they are the holy grail of work shoes. 

And now to show you how to shake this capsule up - with some black trousers. Here's where I fell foul. I simply couldn't find any black ones that worked for me. I'm a funny shape when it comes to trousers anyway and most high street brands just don't work for me. So I'm making the assumption that you have a pair of black trousers already (and if you don't, these are from French Connection)

The point is, you give the capsule a whole new look with the addition of a black trouser and some flat shoes...more nana shoes here but here I go raving about shoes again - they're absolutely amazing. They're not right for wearing with short skirts like the one above but they're perfect with trousers, culottes or midi/maxi skirts
add the checked jacket in again..
and/or the purple coat ...
or replace the white shirt with the grey roll-neck for a more business casual look:
And this last outfit is exactly what I wore to work today. I can walk to the office in about 20 minutes and these shoes are like walking on air. I'd add a pop sock for cooler days though today was 5 degrees and I still went bare ankled. It's not for everyone - I don't seem to feel the cold on my ankles like some people do.
Here's a close up of the shoes - I'm wearing my usual M&S 5.5/39
And there you go - total cost (excluding the black trousers) is £242.50 and actually, I ordered it all during the 20% off Sparks event which allowed me to add in some black trousers and stay within the budget (they had to be returned however and I bought another white shirt instead) 

This capsule has been a lifesaver for me for work over the past week or so. I have mixed and matched it since it arrived and it's made my mornings so much easier. 
You can add in items you already have like a black crew neck or a cream blouse but as it is, it creates 4 or 5 different looks for each week. What's not to love about something that gives you a bit more headspace of a busy morning.

Thanks to M&S for the opportunity to work on this post. It is part of my regular collaboration with the brand. I chose all of the items myself and the words are all my own. My links are affiliate links so that M&S can track any sales back to this website and they will pay me a tiny commission if you buy and keep an item. This doesn't change the price of any item for you and the modest income I make from these links help to cover the running costs of this blog.

Ax
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