Brain Dump

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

It’s been a long time since I last wrote on the blog. It’s not for lack of time, or even for lack of wanting, at least theoretically, but when it comes down to it, my heart just hasn’t been in it. I haven’t really been able to explain why until recently, when I had a bit of a lightbulb moment during one of my ‘processing stuff at people and do-interrupt-me-with-insight-if-you-get-some’ monologues over lunch with a friend.

I used to love blogging. It was fun and challenging and it was mine. At the heart of it was this life I had carved for myself in the UK and through blogging I expressed my love for it. I shared things that caught my attention and journaled my attempts at navigating the quirks of cultural differences whilst retaining my French identity through, well, food mostly.

Then the Very Terrible 2016TM happened and frankly, I haven’t recovered. One of the most striking outcomes was that for the first time in my life I had issues with my mental health that I couldn’t directly blame on my childhood, I mean, what the hell is that about? At first, when things started going wrong and I lost the momentum to write, I was just too busy living the things. Then when the dust settled, I had a diagnosed phobia and mild anxiety, I was depressed and my brain was a fog – and it’s now been going on for years. In the overwhelm, I’ve tried to find ways to cope and that’s led to lots of reading and watching TV, which worked very well as a numbing protection from the outside world but adversely for the same reason is now a real challenge to come out from.

So my life’s both fine and a complete mess. On the surface, I just go about things in a normal way, the day-to-day with the kids and work are usually good (the ‘shouty dash out the door in the morning, can’t find clean socks, need dressing-up outfit NOW’ good normal). Physically, I have occasional spikes of anxiety because of the phobia that mess up my digestive system for days and disrupt my sleep patterns. I feel slightly nauseous a lot of the time, but at least the stress-induced rash on my legs I had the whole of Spring and Summer 2017 has gone. Small victories!

I turned 40 last month. I am totally fine with that and I suspect I am going to enjoy this decade (from a ‘me’ point of view, the world might still yet descend into absolute chaos). This said, for a while now I have been pondering the fact that I still don’t really know what I’m about as a person. In particular I wish that I had a ‘thing’ that I was passionate about and could see myself running with in the long term that’s not anything to do with my children.

It’s that old chestnut of searching for meaning I guess. I have friends who have found their niche or a new career they love in their 30s and 40s, and I am increasingly aware that I don’t have much to show for myself. I’ve never been ambitious or driven and there hasn’t been anything that has motivated me enough to be proactive about it (apart from leaving church but that’s one rabbit hole I won’t go down here, it’s too way off topic for this blog). I feel like I could enjoy something to do with social justice but only if I could work on it online and not require lots of face-to-face with people because hello introvert people-are-the-worst-but-I-also-want-to-help here.

But back to my blogging hiatus. The thing with the blog is that Brexit has tainted all the things that it was about. It has thrown my identity and my sense of belonging into disarray and in this new precarity, incessant media negativity and endless political limbo, I can’t write breezily about the differences between the two cultures I straddle anymore, it’s too painful and I feel all this loss and nothing is as it was. Much like the author of this Routed article and Riley in the Pixar movie ‘Inside Out’, there is a before and after and my daily experience is all mixed up now with a heavy dose of sadness and loss. My thoughts about England have a weight to them they didn’t have before, and I know that I can’t write as I once did. At least not now. 

So this is where I am: I want to reclaim this space I used to love but it is tangled up in my battered identity and I don’t know how to write in a way that is honest but doesn’t hurt my brain. I’m not entirely convinced that turning it into a dumping ground for processing this new reality makes for compelling reading material – unless you’re really into doom and gloom and in which case relax and enjoy – but I am willing to try.


My 2016 Blogging Resolutions

2016 Blogging Resolutions 020116 blog header

I don’t do New Year resolutions because they are usually make-believe aspirations to be someone other than myself, especially when it comes to ‘be healthier’. Stepping into the new year doesn’t magically grant new fully formed habits, or I should be the fittest woman in the whole of England! Ah well. At least, that’s how it is for me.

So this is less a list of New Year resolutions and more a contemplation of the things I hope to achieve this year but can’t quite bind or guilt myself into doing at all cost as they will be subject to last-minute changes should Real Life events demand it – namely because my priority right now is to find a new job, restart my business studies, continue to research setting up my own business and all the other life things I do (did I tell you I directed a choir over Christmas? It was a hit, so I might be doing more of the same in 2016). Yeah, all these things. I know many people who are seemingly able to juggle a million things and still maintain their stability of mind; I’m not one of them. Yet, one has to make plans, and here’s my attempt:

  • Actually plan my blog posts and improve the regularity of my posting schedule: Posting schedule, ha! In four years of blogging, I am still an impulsive writer who, like yesterday when I was penning this, just wakes up and decides to write something off the cuff without any prior planning. It’s awful. It’s not sustainable and is a rookie mistake, nay, a blogging crime I need to remedy as soon as possible. This is especially true in light of the success I had in October when I joined the Write 31 Days challenge and planned and delivered 31 consecutive posts. It brought my entire life to a stand-still and I am definitely not planning to do it again in 2016 but it was a good exercise. With life as it is currently, I have no hope of posting anything unless I sit down and plan ahead. So there, this year I want to plan ahead at least a little.
  • Move the blog from to a self-hosted platform: I am determined to do it this year. I have done my research and I feel I have a decent idea of what’s involved. I’ve already decided on my hosting provider and I just need to press the ‘buy’ button. It’s not expensive and I have enough technical know-how to do it myself; in fact, it is something I need and want to do to consolidate my CV. Website support and social media are two areas that I really want to grow in for my long-term plans of becoming a virtual assistant, and this blogging malarkey, whilst very much a hobby, is also a great way to test things out without the risk of messing about someone else’s work. I don’t know when it will be ready to launch but surely some time this year.
  • Branding: moving to self-hosted blogging, I will have more flexibility with regards to the look of the blog. But I’m stuck, and I need to spend some time thinking about what I want, especially the logo and colour scheme. I know that the navy blue/white/red combo makes sense in light of the French theme of the blog, but it’s so boring! Seriously, I want some teal and aqua and purple and silver and raspberry red, but that makes no sense whatsoever so yeah, I need help. And a logo that doesn’t look like it’s been drawn by a 3-year-old, maybe with a frog in it. I don’t know! I usually can tell what works and what doesn’t when I see other people’s websites but I have no such objective distance with my own and I am not an ‘ideas’ person. I may need some help…

And that’s it! I’m really motivated about learning more about the technical aspects of blogging, and once I’ve actually planned something, maybe the quality of what you read will be less ‘I put this together last night after 2 glasses of wine’ and more ‘depth! Fascination! Shock and awe!’. Or not.

One for the geeks: New Blog Design

new blog design 170914

I know, I know, I should be de-cluttering my coat closet instead of tinkering with my perfectly satisfying blog design. What can I say, I’m the ultimate procrastinator.

In my defense, as flimsy an excuse as it is, I discovered a plethora of exciting websites and got distracted from the important stuff of organising my life.

I’ll tell you all about these below but first, a confession. I lied in the first sentence of this post. The old design was not, in fact, perfectly satisfying at all. It was quite clunky and limited and a little bit old-fashioned, and I had been fancying a change for quite some time. I just couldn’t be bothered and couldn’t figure out what I wanted.

But then, as I was saying above, today I discovered a couple of exciting new design websites and couldn’t resist their appeal:

  • Stacey Corrin is the one that sent me down this rabbit hole in one moment of impulse and I’ve already forgotten how I got onto her website, despite that it was like, 5 minutes ago. She has a tutorial for making a blog media kit and I was like ‘who needs a media kit and what is it?’ and then boom, I get introduced to Canva, and I was drooling and thinking ‘I must find a way to use this thing right now even if I must make something up from scratch to do so!’ – and I still fail the geek quizzes, believe it or not.
  • Canva is a fabulous design website; you can use it to create banners for your various social media platforms, posters, invitations and lots more, using your own designs or one of the many options available on the site, including a very generous catalogue of free stuff. The tutorials are fun and interactive, and there is a lot to love there. I usually use PicMonkey for my photo designs but I will definitely incorporate the two from now on.

design virgin example (2)

  • In another article, Stacey was talking about colour coordination and had some gorgeous swatches (especially on her Pinterest boards). So again, <drooling>, but then it occurred to me that it’s all very well to admire the colour palettes that have been gathered together but how do you know colour names to reproduce on your own designs? A quick search took me to a page full of the HTML colour codes (gorgeous!) so I can adjust the tone more specifically than the point, click and hope for the best method.

Case in point: you can see on my new design that when you hover on the navigation, the buttons turn green. I was able to incorporate the green into the header and pretend that it was planned that way from the start, which make the whole thing a little bit more appealing, don’t you think? Web designers around the world are probably shaking their head muttering ‘amateur’ to themselves, and yes, I’m a real beginner at this but I still love it.

Another deciding factor for the change was the fact that in recent times I’ve tried to improve the look of the posts by systematically including a photo header with a fancy post title. I know I’m not a photographer, but it’s a challenge to myself to make more of an effort, if not with a photo then still with a design element that makes the post stand out more. The new design requires me to do so if I want to keep things pretty.

As to the actual redesign, I know it’s quite a drastic change and I hope you’re not all thrown off by it. For those that care and don’t know where to find the information, I settled on WordPress’ own Twenty Fourteen magazine-style design. It’s a free theme and I’m not spending any extra money on anything so there are some limits to what I can play with, especially with the colour scheme but I personally think that in terms of readability and funkyness, it wins over the old Fadtastic I was using before.

As this is a free blog on, all design changes are completely down to me, from the header with the name of the blog to the order of the widgets, so please bear with me as I spend the next few days testing things out. I would really be grateful for your feedback either in the comments or by email, especially if there is something that you think has either vastly improved or just doesn’t work at all.

My Writing Process Blog Tour

my writing process - by Alejandro Escamilla

Picture by Alejandro Escamilla

I was rather astounded the other day when Muriel, who blogs at French Yummy Mummy, invited me to participate in the #mywritingprocess blog tour. She writes humorous yet insightful stories about the hazards of being a French woman in London and even had an article in The Times, so you know, between her and the other illustrious writers who take part in the blog tour, I’m not intimidated at all!

I say astounded because despite the fact that I’ve written over a hundred posts on this blog, I don’t really think of myself as A Writer. I’ve never published anything and aside from the occasional paid translation work, the closest I’ve got to writing a proper story was a romance when I was fifteen; embarrassing doesn’t begin to describe that piece of trash literature… I’ve never really thought about writing processes and whether or not I have one so it’s been fun thinking about the four questions I had to answer as part of the blog tour. I found the introspection informative and I hope you will too!

1. What am I working on?

Right now, I can honestly say I am not doing very well on the writing front. Recently, my time has been spent party-planning, holding clingy babies and toddlers and thinking wistfully about our August holiday to France, the first time we are going away in two years!

I am spending more time thinking about writing than I am taking pen to paper. This said, my brain is buzzing with threads of posts and I am trying to be more disciplined in writing them down for future reference.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write about anything and everything if it strikes me as interesting, which is to say that I can’t focus on anything in particular, so the blog has quite an eclectic feel with an emphasis on the differences between the French and the English way of life. Over the last four years, it has evolved to encompass reflections on parenting, book reviews, and more personal stories, opinions and insights (as well as completely fluffy subjects like TV shows). I also share recipes and make brave yet doomed attempts at taking pictures to go with the posts.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Blogging is very much a hobby to stop my life from revolving entirely around the kids. I love them very much, but I need other things to think about and the blog has been wonderful in providing this. So I guess I write for me and it has been a great outlet for processing my life. I have had a lot of fun with some of the posts whilst others have been more challenging, personal and even cathartic. What it hasn’t been is boring.

I do wish I was more organised and more prolific, as well as maybe a tad more daring, but if I’m honest I often feel a bit out of my depth. I know there’s a lot more I could be doing and would do with the blog if I had the guts, time and head space to do justice to the subjects I am interested in (such as mental health and religion to name but two). But I’m one of those people who knows a little about a lot of things and who is an expert at nothing. So I can share opinions and anecdotes from my experience but I am not able to do the amount of research to accompany the pieces that would convince me I’m not just talking rubbish.

4. How does my writing process work?

So I don’t really have a set process but there seems to be method to the madness.

  • Some posts I just sit down and write in one go, whereas others get rewritten over a number of days.
  • I keep a notebook of ideas and save drafts in WordPress that I revisit every so often. Sometimes, I will just jot down a title or a sentence to use later.
  • I read a LOT of other blogs that cover a wide variety of subjects, including some written by people I completely disagree with on most things! It’s often very challenging but also illuminating and definitely inspires my thinking and my writing, both in style and content.
  • I must confess that I have occasionally sat down with a pen and paper and written the old-fashioned way. It seems to help me think better. It’s probably for the same reason that, as much as I love my Kindle, it hasn’t replaced the simple pleasure of opening a physical book.
  • Other than that, I tend to think about things and write in my head during my morning shower but my writing time is in the evening once the kids are in bed. So I often forget what I was thinking about in between, which is not super helpful. I take ages to write a post, I always rewrite a hundred times, and basically press ‘publish’ because I run out of ideas to improve the post, rather than because I am 100 % happy with it.

Continuing the blog tour next week, I am delighted to introduce you to:

  • Sophie, who lives in London after spending 12 years on the French Riviera. She is married to a Frenchman (who is a mean cook) and blogs at Franglaise Mummy. One of the best things about her posts is that every time I visit I want to leave a comment, they really are that interesting. If there ever was a sign of a healthy blog, this is it!
  • Sarah at St Bloggie de Riviere, who makes me feel quite homesick at times with her stories about daily life in France. Her recent posts about her kids’ school experience is bringing back all sorts of (mixed) memories.
  • Deb writes at Sixtine et Victoire. Not only is she a very talented photographer, but she’s really hands-on with her kids in a practical and non-threatening way and shares particularly nice recipes that kids can make themselves.  Her Montessori-inspired toddler activities are also wonderful but a bit more awe-inspiring for me so I only admire them from afar most of the time…

Naptime Filler

I like to write.  I find it to be a soothing outlet for the many thoughts that twirl around inside my brain but recently I feel like I’ve been drowning with ‘other stuff’ so that when the day is done, the last thing I want to do is think about anything. There is some guilt attached to my inability to find enough motivation to write.

I don’t like feeling that I am neglecting my blog, which is this little corner of franglified fun that I’m really fond of. Yet I still struggle to sit down and write, because it takes me So Much Time to put my thoughts in order. I have come to the conclusion that I don’t love writing. I like it alright but I certainly don’t love it as much as the thousands of bloggers online who are able to produce one post a day. Sure I have at least one thought a day but is it worth writing about, and do I have enough content for an entire blog post? Mostly I don’t, unless I was going to rename my blog ‘Thought of the Day’ and, you know, post that one important thought I had in between the nappy changing, bathroom cleaning and the staring into space I seem to do so much of. Even a post every other day is too much for my poor brain and in the last couple of months, my aim to write one post a week has gone right out the window.

It’s not that I have no time either. Despite the fact that apparently if you have a child, ‘your time is no longer your own‘ and you ‘no longer have time to put make-up on‘, in my case, once I had recovered from the initial shock – and it did take me about three months before I was able to leave my bed before 10 am at the earliest – I actually do have more ‘me-time’ than when I was in the workplace full-time. Not hours and hours (I do DO stuff) but more than the legal work break time. Or maybe it’s the fact that I can take my breaks in block, in the wonderful daily fixture called Nap Time. It can happen at any time in the day and it lasts between 30 minutes and 2 hours depending on… Well, I haven’t quite put the finger on the variables in Little Girl’s case, she sure likes to keep the mystery alive! Nap time doesn’t always happen either, but at the very least there are numerous times in the day when Little Girl happily plays on her own and I can sit down with a cup of tea and last night’s Great British Bake-Off (no more! what shall I do now?). I am a bit mystified by the mums who have just the one child and have no time to do anything at all for themselves but it may well be that I have an unusually easy child. I will internally raise my eyebrows and leave them the benefit of the doubt.

Sleeping child
It’s the most wonderful time of the daaaaaayyyyy!

There are only four things that I absolutely need to do every day, aside from the volunteering I do with my church’s toddler groups (mostly setting up, registration, playing with Little Girl and chatting to other mums with a bit of admin thrown in). I do all of the following things with Little Girl awake:

– Whatever bit of house cleaning I have for the day (I keep it to the minimum and reckon that unless you have a palace, it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes a day over the week)

– Washing up and laundry – my goodness does it never end? but again, this does NOT take hours.

– Making dinner

– Playing with Little Girl – it happens throughout the day but I do try to have as much unstructured / on her own play time, because I refuse to become a one-person entertainment machine.

During the magical Nap Time, what then do I do? OK so sometimes there MAY be a bit of washing up, simply because I couldn’t be bothered earlier. By and large, I get on average a good hour of me time, and what do I do with it? I rarely write, that’s for sure. My brain simply refuses to engage that deeply. So instead I :

– Go on Facebook

– Play games online. I am one of those annoying people who send you requests for SimCity Phlegm or whatever.

– Check my emails.

– Read blogs I subscribe to – they are legion!

– Play the piano / sing. This is part practice, part fun. It is my main hobby/source of enjoyment so I do try to spend some time doing something musically related.

– Watch some telly I’ve recorded from the previous night.

I am now going to post this and remember something extremely important I do, which would make me look like less of a lazy arse if only I’d not forgotten it. I’d also like to know what other people manage to fit into their ‘me-time’. Go on, make me feel lazy.