19 places to visit before you die

This week I signed up to Stumble Upon. I suspect I may be about 17 years behind people on this one, but to be honest my life is so full already of useless information that I’ve resisted adding to it. Other bloggers keep telling me how useful it is as a way to get new readers though, so I thought I should give it a bash.

I picked ‘travel’ as one of the categories I was interested in and was immediately bombarded with beautiful posts with titles like ’47 places so stunning you won’t believe they are this planet’ and ‘The 26 most colourful deserts in the world’. I don’t know what it is about posts like this, but they make me feel slightly inadequate. In my mind the titles translate into ’47 places you’d have visited by now if you were cool enough, loser’ and ‘The 26 most colourful deserts visited by all those people in the world who are braver and more interesting than you.’

I think this could be my problem.

*glosses quickly over self-esteem issues*

With some spaces still up for grabs though on my 40 things before 40 list, I have been inspired to think about unusual places I’d like to visit. They don’t have to be on the other side of the world, although I do fancy a road trip across America, but they do need to be a little bit unusual – I don’t like travelling only to feel like I could be in the middle of the UK. I love the idea of somewhere like Iceland, where the scenery is dramatically different from the Somerset countryside.

I turned to Twitter for ideas, as I do for most things in life, and here’s what my online chums suggested… Read more

COMPETITION: Win beautiful nursery wall art from Witty Doodle

When I was pregnant with Bee, aged 16, I didn’t have a lot of spare cash for decorating the nursery. In fact I didn’t have a nursery, just a corner of my bedroom with a cot in that I’d bought at a car boot sale. Still, I wanted to make it a pretty corner, so while my tummy grew I made my very own nursery wall art.

I was a little lacking in the paint department, but managed to mix up a good palette with a few basic colours. I took about five sheets of plain A4 paper, cut them into thirds lengthways and joined them together to make a long strip. Then I drew every single one of the Mr Men by hand and painted them.

It was a triumph.

I wish I had it to show you. For years afterwards I kept it, rolled up and tied with a piece of leather that I was wearing round my neck when Bee was born, (because I was super cool and into grunge), but somewhere along the way it has been lost. I’m not a sentimental person, but it’s one of the only things I wish I still had. Read more

Quiz: Do you have adult ADHD?

I’ve been really struggling with my focus over the last few weeks and am slightly concerned that I may have some sort of adult ADHD. Normally I’m pretty flighty, but today has been ridiculous. Work has gone something like this:

10am: Open Twitter. Worry that I’m not interesting enough, tweet a bit of random nonsense.

10.02am: Open blog analytics to see how much traffic comes from Twitter. Worry that my traffic sources aren’t diverse enough.

10.04am: Ask friends how to increase traffic. Set up Stumble Upon account. Start to read article about making the best use of Stumble Upon but decide I don’t have time. Check emails. Open another tab but immediately forget why.

10.13am: Start reading article about link building. Check all external blog links. Decide to launch link building campaign but then change mind.

10.17am: Worry that blog will never be awesome. Check ebay for nearby ottomans.

10.20am: Check emails and worry about lack of link building campaign. Wonder if I should make a living instead by writing other people’s dating profiles. Browse available URLs for new business. Get as far as checkout and abandon purchase.

You see what I mean? It’s not a style of work conducive to productivity.

After several hours of this I’m feeling exhausted and have only done about half an hour of paid work. My head hurts from the heady mix of adrenalin and constant frowning and all I want to do is lie face down in some grass. I decide to do a test to see if I have adult ADHD. A quick Google of symptoms suggests things like forgetfulness, mood swings, repeatedly starting but not finishing tasks, risky behaviour and lack of motivation.

You can do the test here, if you dare.

My results are in…

Adult ADHD quiz

OK, that doesn’t look so bad. It’s probably out of 100 right?

Oh, apparently not. Read more

Some reflections on five years of blogging

I was doing a bit of work on my blog this morning and found myself reading back through my first couple of months of posts – December 2009 and January 2010. I was all ready to cringe with embarrassment, but actually they weren’t bad.

What was clear straight away was just how personal they felt; too personal if anything. The posts were short, (like this one), but they were like little glimpses into my mind; reading them I felt almost like an intruder, stealing a peak into my family life. They felt a little bit sad, and although funny in places, they lacked the tongue-in-cheek style humour that has developed over the years. There was a sense of loneliness, particularly during the first month, of having been on my own as a parent, emotionally if not physically, for a long time.

What I also noticed was how quickly I seemed to get into my stride. Even over those first few months I could sense myself growing in confidence, moving from stories of Christmases alone with my children and stolen moments of quiet in the early mornings to complaining about the children’s disgust at being asked to wear coats in January.  Read more

Thoughts from a first time festival goer

Today I have another guest post from my boyfriend. My sister and I decided we should from now on refer to him as Rupert. He is not called Rupert. If you like the cut of his jib you can follow his ramblings on Twitter.

Standon Calling festival camping

“Have you ever been to a music festival?” Jo asks.

“Of course!” I scoff.

A few seconds later, I look up to see if Jo is observing me for signs of a caveat to my reply.[I was.]

“Really?”

“I’ve been to the Proms”. I add. “And the Three Choirs Festival. They’re both music festivals”.

I’ll say it for you. What a dick. [A little harsh.] Read more

6 spring fashion trends for children at Melijoe.com

I was sat working this morning with the kitchen window open. I could hear children outside playing the street and it gave me a real feeling of spring. Then some small boys started kicking a football repeatedly against my wall and the images of daffodils and gambolling lambs where replaced with an urge to throw a bucket of cold water out of the window at the offending footballers.

Still, for a minute there I was very nearly full of the joys of spring and was beginning to imagine the spring time adventures Belle and I might have, skipping hand in hand through a flower filled meadow, pretty summer dresses flapping around our knees, the air thick with the sound of her laughter.*

A mummy can dream can’t she?

To continue the fantasy, I spent a happy hour browsing Melijoe.com (whilst Belle played on her laptop upstairs), dressing up my springtime family in the latest spring trends for children. And yes, before you say anything, I do know what the spring trends are.**

Spring fashion trends for kids at Melijoe.com Read more

Things to do in Glastonbury – a day out in pictures

After revelations last week that Bee has been to Wookey Hole, I thought she might also be interested to know, (although I think she does already), that her first proper outing, aged about a week old, was to Glastonbury.

I’ve always liked Glastonbury and although I wouldn’t consider myself a particularly spiritual person there is something about it that draws me in when I’m feeling a little restless or like I need to recharge or refocus. It has a soothing effect on me, calming me and making me feeling more positive about things.

Like with all places you’ve been visiting since a child, certain rituals and routines become established, and a visit to Glastonbury for us always means lunch at the Blue Note Cafe. I’m pretty sure it’s not the best cafe in Glastonbury, but it’s just where we have always gone. As a child, I particularly enjoyed asking for the code for the toilets and going out to the courtyard, around the corner past the dragon holding a ball, and feeling like a spy, inputting the numbers on the metal panel.

Things to do in Glastonbury Read more

The one where I join the gym and discover how unhealthy I am

I have joined the gym.

It would be safe to say that I didn’t get on terribly well with my experimental running, so I wondered if classes might be a better option for me. I did quite a lot of yoga and pilates when I was off on maternity leave (about 27 years ago) and got on well with the class format. I struggle normally with self-directed exercise – after 10 minutes or so I think ‘f**k it’ and go and buy an ice cream instead. Once you’re in a class though you’re stuck there, you can’t leave half way through – ‘Sorry, it’s not that I’m not enjoying it, I’m just popping out for a Magnum.’

So, I joined the Nuffield Health gym, just around the corner from me. I like that it’s within walking distance – I’ve never quite seen the logic in driving somewhere to use a treadmill.

Because the gym is linked to Nuffield Health, there is a strong health element to it so you aren’t just shown around a pongy gym by a stocky man in tight shorts and then left to get on with it, you’re given a proper assessment of where you are healthwise before you even get into the gym. This is good because not only does is give you a bit of extra incentive, but it also gives you a different way to measure your progress; not everyone joins a gym because they want to lose weight, so being able to see if things like your cholesterol and blood pressure have improved too is really useful.

So, the dreaded day arrived. I have managed to convince myself over recent years that I am one of those slightly chubby yet relatively healthy people – sure, my BMI may not be 20, but I eat plenty of nuts and seeds dammit, and I don’t drink much alcohol, or smoke. I drink plenty of water and nibble on the odd oily fish. I wasn’t too worried.

I was in for a bit of a shock. I think the only indicator I actually did well on was my waist to hip ratio and that’s really only because of my massive bottom rather than because I have a dainty waist. In all other areas, there was definitely room for improvement.

Let’s check out the results shall we? Read more

41 things you wish you’d known when you were 18

Ah, those heady days, responsible for no one but yourself, spending your mornings lying in bed until Supermarket Sweep was on and then rolling into the uni bar early evening for some much earned rest and relaxation. Oh to be 18 again!

Regular readers may be looking suspicious at this point.

“Hang on a minute,” I hear you muttering, cogs turning, “didn’t you have a baby when you were 17?”

Yes, I did. My 18 year old self did still watched Supermarket Sweep, but in the company of a small yet perfectly formed toddler. At 18 I would have been finishing off my A-levels and looking forward to a year off before university, during which time I would hang out with Bee, (the aforementioned toddler), work part-time looking after the two small, hyperactive children who lived in a pub down the road from me, and take GCSE drama, just for the giggles.

One of the things I would say to myself at 18 would be ‘what the hell do you think you’re doing going swimming on your own with a baby, a three year old and a seven year old with ADHD when you CAN’T EVEN SWIM? Are you mad?!?’ It’s sheer chance that no one drowned, but a good example I think of how at 18 we feel indestructible.

To me at 18 though it was simple, I had all of these children to look after and I didn’t want to spend all day hanging out in a flat above a pub – it never occurred to me not to take them all for a day out on my own to Wookey Hole caves. (Yes, the smallest two were terrified and I did have to carry them both.) Read more

Becoming the marmite of the online dating world – how being unattractive can get you more messages

Two events have occurred in the last week that have made me wonder about a sideline business writing people’s online dating profiles for them. I’m sure there would be a market for it – no one I know (apart from me!) has enjoyed writing a dating profile for themselves.

Firstly, I had lunch with a woman I met recently at a networking event. She showed me her current profile and I offered some tips. Essentially I told her, (hopefully in a nice way), that her profile was a bit dull and basically said the same as everyone else’s.

Let’s get real here, who doesn’t like socialising with friends, Sunday lunch in a nice pub and curling up on the sofa with a film and a bottle of red wine? If you’ve ever spent any time on online dating sites you’ll know that about 97% of people say these exact same things. I suggested instead that she try to think a little deeper and be a bit more specific – what books had she read and why did she enjoy them? What music is she listening to and how does it make her feel? Essentially you have to tell people what makes you tick as these are the details that people connect with. Yes, you risk putting some people off, but by keeping in generic you miss the chance to really appeal to anybody.

Later in the evening I had a message from her:

“Jo Middleton you are a genius. I have rewritten my profile and just uploaded it. Three new messages have come in in five minutes. I am laughing out loud. You are a star.”

Obviously that’s going on my testimonials page when I get the new business website set up. Read more