Things that I’ve learned during my 8 years of working from home full time

Many people are finding themselves working from home at the moment. As a result, my feed is full of tips about how to work from home. The only problem is that some of them have clearly been written by someone who has never worked a day from home in their life, and others seem a bit generic – like a cut and paste job of random tips from the internet. So because of this, I wasn’t going to write anything on the subject – but then I thought “no! You’ve been working from home for eight years now! Maybe some of the things that you’ve learned will help others too!”

My business has always been an online business, so I chose to work at home. When I was still working in my Communications Manager role, I was occasionally able to get agreement for some time at home. I didn’t like the 3 hour commute. I didn’t like our big open-plan office with 100 people in each room. I was already convinced of the benefits. Still, I know this was a choice, whereas for many people who are now working from home as a response to current events, it is not their choice at all and some parts of the job may be a lot harder. Still, maybe some of these tips will help you.

I’ve intentionally made it about what I do, not because I think I have all the answers, but I can only tell you what works for me. You may hate some of these ideas and that’s ok. Sharing my experiences felt better than me writing one of those “10 things that you must do” posts – because I value our differences too much for that.

1. I have a set place to work

I know this will be harder for some people. I’ve worked from a desk crammed in the corner of my bedroom before and it really wasn’t great to be working and sleeping in the same place.It’s nice to have that physical separation between where you work and where you relax.

If I get an idea at the weekend, I might still curl up to write a blog on the sofa or do a bit of website maintenance, but most of the time, work goes on at my desk. Everything I need is there. The room where I work is mostly used as my office.

Apart from having better posture when I’m sitting at my desk properly, it helps me to get into the right mindset for work.

This might not be so easy if there’s a bunch of people in your home trying to work, study, or children who want somewhere to play – but it will be easier for you if you can find a dedicated place to work, rather than having stuff strewn all over the house. It may also be a way to limit distractions.

2. I look the same as I would if I were going to the office

I’ve seen all kinds of things this week about what people are planning to wear (or hnot wear) now that they are working from home. Of course it depends on what you do and how much customer contact you have, but I try to look pretty much the same as I would if I were going into the office, especially on days when I’ll be on video.

I don’t wear a formal suit or anything like that. If you have a very early meeting with me, you probably won’t see a full face of make-up either. But neither do I wear my gym clothes or slob around in my pyjamas when I’m meeting with customers.

It’s for two reasons really – impressions count, and if customers don’t think you can be bothered to make an effort to look your best for them, they may not see you as very professional. Secondly, it makes me feel good to have a shower, put on fresh clothes, spray some perfume, put on my make-up, and face the day feeling clean and fresh.

Everyone has their own personal style and that’s one of the good things about working from home – you can choose what to wear.I just get a bit concerned about the way some people see working from home as just dossing around. If you start to let self-care and personal hygiene go, it can be a slippery slope in other areas too.

3. I manage expectations

This covers all kinds of things.

Firstly, other people’s expectations. Being at home is not the same as being available all the time. I might schedule in an extended lunch with my mum or a shopping trip on a Tuesday in december to finish off my Christmas shopping because I know it’ll be better than trying to do the same thing on a Saturday. But I’m not available for people to pop in when they feel like it – I hate that anyway – or drop everything to have a chat. I have a schedule, and it has meetings in it, as well as other things that need to get done. I just happen to be doing these things from my own home rather than an office.

It means managing customer expectations too. If I see an email out of hours, I may answer it – but there isn’t the expectation that I will because people know I work Monday to Friday from around 9 till 6 – unless something has been booked in an out-of-hours slot. I don’t put up with people getting stroppy with me because I didn’t answer their email on a Sunday morning, even though they followed it up with a tweet and a Skype message. It’s not how I work!

It also means manageing my own expectations of myself and what I can realistically achieve. I’m a bit better at this now that I have a partner. When I lived on my own, I could often be found at my laptop way into the small hours. In some ways that was ok, because this is when I get a lot of my best creative work done, but everything does need to have a balance and tomorrow is always another day.

If you don’t usually work from home or you find yourself with additional caring responsibilities, part of the managing expectations aspect might just be looking at what you can realistically do right now and being honest with yourself and others so that you or they don’t expect too much.

4. I don’t work in bed

I think I did once – to cancel all my appointments because I had food poisoning. I do all kinds of other things in bed – reading, watching videos, shopping, researching – but apart from the problem of the overheating laptop, I feel it’s not good for me to have work follow me into the one place where I should feel rested and get away from all of life’s questions and problems.

5. I don’t reduce my prices because my services are online

I’ve seen this in a few of the education groups. I know it’s hard for some people who are now in the process of transforming all of their offerings into online offerings. Some things are substancially different, and if you’re not offering access to materials or a venue with definit benefits of being there, I can understand that the pricing structure is different. If you add in travel time, this obviously will reduce the price slightly. But if you’re offering the same teaching, with the same materials, and the same level of expertise from you, there’s no reason why it should be cheaper just because the training happens to be online. You’re doing the customer a favour by saving them travel time, travel expenses, parking fees, and letting them participate from wherever they happen to be. You’re still adding the same value, so there’s no need to apply a hefty online discount. It undervalues what you offer, and annoys people who were already working in the online space!

6. I schedule fitness time into my diary

This is harder, particularly if you’re doing the kind of self-isolation where you don’t leave the house at all, but it’s really important to get up, walk around, and if you can, get some kind of physical exercise during the day.
I started doing it because I no longer needed to do a 45 minute walk each way – home to the train station, then train station to the office, and then the whole thing in reverse. I knew I’d been getting unintentional exercise from this and I’d have to replace it with something.

I have some fitness equipment at home – a crosstrainer and a bike, but it could be anything. There are loads of YouTube videos out there with workouts that don’t need you to have any equipment.

7. I don’t allow myself to become isolated

This was the mistake I made when I first set up my business. I took the dog out every day, but I realised I hadn’t seen any of my friends in about three months because I’d been so busy working all the time. I realised it was neither sustainable nor healthy.

We have so many ways to keep in touch with others online – whether it’s other people doing the same kind of thing as you, other people in your team at work, or other people running small businesses.

Even if we can’t go out to meet friends and relatives right now, we have Skype, Facetime, Whatsapp, Facebook or whatever you want to use. Staying at home is important right now, but it doesn’t mean you have to cut yourself off from others who will listen, make you smile, or just give you a different perspective! It’s also a chance to check in with people who might be on their own.

8. I have figured out the best environment for me to get work done

For me it’s somewhere quiet – very quiet – as in not with music playing! Some people work absolutely fine like that. My fiancé is one of them. I am not!

It’s somewhere with access to plenty of coffee.

It’s somewhere with fresh air to clean my head, but it’s not too cold, like some of the places I’ve worked in.

It’s somewhere I won’t be distracted.

9. I look after my basic needs

This means not working through lunch. I don’t take a long lunch break unless I have something specific to do, but I do go and sit somewhere else
for a bit and I don’t eat at my desk. If my fiancé’s working from home, we try to have lunch together. If not, I listen to a podcast or something.

I try to drink enough water. I find putting a big glass of water on my desk helps. If it’s there, I’ll probably drink it. If it isn’t, I’ll probably forget and just make more coffee.

I put a bowl of fruit on the table near my desk, so I have easy access to healthy snacks.

10. I have a comfortable chair

I wrote about chairs in more detail in my is your chair right for you? post, but if you’re going to spend a large part of the day sitting on it, try to find a chair where you will be comfortable. I know if you don’t know how long you’ll be working from home, it might not be top of your list of new investments, but at least consider your options and try to pick the most comfortable one.

11. I make a point of shutting off before bedtime

There’s nothing worse than seeing an email that makes you reeeeeally angry or stressed out just before you’re going to try to get to sleep!

I don’t always manage this. I sometimes check my emails in bed or when I’m winding down for the day. But I do try not to think about work for the last couple of hours in the day. Work life balance can be harder if you have a work email address that you also use for other things, work contacts on your social media account, or easy access to emails on your phone. But sometimes your brain just needs a break so you can have time to unwind.

12. If I really don’t feel well, I stop working!

I’m possibly a hypocrite with this one, but I do try. I have pushed through when, if I’d had to drag myself into the office, I would have decided against it. I’ve gone to meetings when I could barely keep my head up, because after all, I couldn’t infect anyone on a video call. But we don’t do our best work when we’re ill, and it can take twice as long to recover if we push ourselves too hard. I’m guilty of this too, but this year I’ve been trying to do a lot better because I realised last year that if something happens to your health, everything else has to take a back seat for a while.

So, especially in the time of coronavirus, please be kind to yourselves, and don’t push yourself too hard if you really don’t feel up to it.

What other tips would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments!

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Coronavirus – deciding what to believe, and some basic tips for reducing the risks

It seems all of my students wanted to talk about it this week, and everyone has something to tell. I learned about the bulletins you can get from the government in Singapore, border crossings being closed to stop it spreading, a possible case of a customer’s colleague contracting it and further colleagues having to stay at home.

Opinions are divided – some think that social media is the root of all evil and it’s all a big panic over nothing. Evidence doesn’t bear that out though. Sure, I’ve heard of people doing some social media stunts in very bad taste, just to get some likes and shares on the back of trending coronavirus hashtags. Not cool. There have been fake news videos and no doubt some people getting hysterical. But the fact is that the virus is spreading, and I don’t think that on the whole we’re particularly well-prepared for it.

Fake news is a thing, and everyone has a responsibility to check their sources for accuracy before they believe or share things further, but burying your head in the sand and hoping it will all go away doesn’t seem like a particularly smart strategy either.

There have been discussions about the number of deaths from the flu and from the coronavirus, but numbers can be misleading. The number of people who actually died is less relevant than the number of those who died as a percentage of those who caught the disease. I’ve seen different figures, but there seems to be consensus that the death rate from coronavirus, although low, is still higher than from the flu.

We don’t have a lot of data apart from what’s been gathered in the last months, but based on the evidence we already have, some groups are more at risk than others. So my point is that we’re not all the same. One person’s extra precautions or ultra-cautiousness might not be so extreme when you stop to see it from a different point of view. Perhaps that person is in a more high-risk group. Perhaps their immune system is already struggling for another reason. Perhaps they are caring for or living with someone who is likely to be hit harder if they caught the virus. I’d like to see a bit more kindness and a bit less judgement when it comes to what other people are doing and what they consider to be reasonable precautions. Unless of course someone is clearly doing something that puts other people in danger – like trying to refuse quarantine if it’s been confirmed that you have the virus. Then it’s ok to judge!

I guess I am a bit of a newshound. I like to know what’s going on. Somehow knowledge is power – it makes me feel safer if I have the facts, even if I don’t like them. You can’t make informed decisions on what’s right for you if you have nothing to base them on.

The last time I was in hospital, I received really good treatment. But it’s no secret that the NHS is already overstretched.

Of course you could say that if the virus is going to spread, there’s not a lot that individuals can do anyway. But I think there are things we can all do to minimise the risks such as

  • Knowing what’s going on and keeping up-to-date with any advice for your area;
  • Washing your hands regularly, especially when touching things in public places, and if that’s not possible, carrying and using a hand sanitiser;
  • Avoiding people who are obviously ill when possible, and if you get ill, whether it’s just the flu or something more serious, not giving it to everyone you know. There’s nothing wrong with spending some time at home to recover and most colleagues will thank you for it;
  • Getting a bit of extra food in – not panic buying, but just having enough in case you get ill and don’t fancy a trip to the shop, or worst case scenario, your area is quarantined;
  • Knowing what the symptoms are and what to do if you come across someone who may have the virus (getting an public transport to A&E isn’t the right answer);
  • If you need regular medication, does your local chemist deliver if you’re unable to get there easily? I only discovered recently that some do;
  • Do you want to keep all of your plans? I’m not saying everyone should shut themselves away, but I don’t think I’d fancy any really big gatherings at the moment. To be honest, I never do, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing that some big events are being cancelled, especially international ones;
  • If you run a business, what impact might there be and what could you do about it.

I tend to plan for the worst and hope for the best, which I think just makes me a realist.

But this isn’t supposed to be an advice post. I wanted to know how people are feeling generally. Are you worried? Tired of hearing about it? Not concerned?

I guess we all need to try and keep things in perspective – too much information or thinking about it might just make us anxious and we can never completely illiminate the risk. I guess it’s a question of balance.

How about you? How do you feel when you see information about the virus? Are you doing anything different at the moment? Do you think social media is a force for good or misinformation? Let me know in the comments.

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Lego is for adults too!

We use Lego for all sorts of things in our house.

When we needed to renovate the garden and change it from the overgrown danger zone of weeds and rubble to something that we could actually use, we built a Lego model to show how we wanted the end result to look. Sketching it out would not be useful to me, but if I could feel where things were going to go, I could have meaningful input.

When I was struggling with picture descriptions of technical diagrams on my course, we recreated them using Lego bricks. Descriptions are good enough most of the time, but sometimes you need a physical representation in front of you to get across a concept.

As a child, I created all kinds of things with Lego – not so much following how things should be built because I couldn’t see the diagrams, but creating my own. It’s a versatile, tactile toy – and there were horses too!

Now, as an adult, building Lego is also a fun activity for S and I to do together. You need good teamwork skills, especially when one person can’t see what you’re trying to build, or the steps that you need in order to get there.

You see it as an activity in team-building workshops, or even language learning classes, where one person gets to see the instruction pictures and the other has to build something based on the instructions from their partner.

That’s real life for us and it can be fun creating something together.

So that’s what we did on Christmas Day! We built the great hall from Harry Potter, and Hagrid’s hut, and a thestral-drawn carriage! (I had told S that I wanted to arrive at the wedding in a carriage drawn by fathiers, the mythical creatures from The Last Jedi. No chance of that seeing as fathiers don’t exist, but I have a thestral now!) And of course Buckbeak is adorable! But where was Fang?!

We laughed, we got frustrated when we thought one of the over 1000 tiny pieces was missing (it wasn’t!), we built something together, and we really had to think about how we communicated ideas – always a good skill to have. It was funny too that we both had the idea of buying Lego, among other things, for each other!

I’ve been to the great hall at Harry Potter world – you can read about it here. It was a lot of fun, but I think the best way to really understand how something like a building looks is to touch a shrunk-down 3d model of it. I don’t like touching random architecture in the real world – it’s often dirty, and in any event it doesn’t give you the whole picture – just lots of tiny, often insignificant random parts.

We created a slightly terrifying bendy snake, the great hall with all its tables and elaborate windows, impressive doors and arches, the tower with multiple levels, the phoenix, the huge roof beams, and all the little embellishments. Then there was Hagrid’s hut, with the pumpkin patch, the horrid executioner and poor Buckbeak, who was chained up.

Back of Harry Potter Great Hall and Hagrid's House Lego sets showing inside of buildings

I have read about some online text-based instructions for Lego. I think this is a really cool idea, but as we didn’t use them, I can’t review them here. I’ll certainly come back to it though if I get any sets and download the instructions so that I can try to do it myself. I wouldn’t get the colours right though unless maybe the colour sensor on my Seeing AI app could help me distinguish them.

I think the role of Lego in my life has changed now as an adult. I’m too old for the creative play that a child enjoys, but it definitely comes in handy for practical things, and I like the way that it can give a 3d representation of things from films that have previously only been described to me, or places that I’ve been loads of times, but still have no 3d image in my mind of how they look. Now we’ve built it, I plan to leave it up. Some people have pictures on the wall – so do I as it happens because my horses are a statement about what I like – but 3d scenes are also a lot of fun and a cool tactile addition to a room!

Thank you Lego, and thank you S!

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Donkeys, days out, and drafting Christmas content – good things in November

Well, another month is nearly over, so here are some November highlights!

1. Festive content plans

I’m not doing Blogmas this year, but I do have some festive article planned, and while I did enjoy doing Blogmas the last two years, I think I might even enjoy it more this year because I can really focus on the articles without feeling a pressure to write every day. The first article is already up – 15 things you can do to have a Christmas that is better for the planet.

2. Feeding the swans and ducks

At the beginning of the month, we had to go in the general direction of Windsor, so we decided to stop off and have lunch there. This turned into a chocolate-buying trip because the restaurant wasn’t open, and after going to get change for the parking machine, S came back with some bags of duck food. I think it’s a great idea – provide food for people to buy rather than people giving the ducks random things that are bad for them. They were so noisy – it was fun to hear them squawking as soon as I threw food out.

I tried to spread the food out so that the ones at the back got a chance, and got way closer than I planned to a pigeon who was chancing his luck. They have no shame. I wasn’t trying to feed him, but he had obviously learned that tourists are a good source of food!

Kirsty feeding the swans

3. Food discovery – chocolate orange croissants

Who knew that these were a thing? I didn’t, but picked some up when browsing the bakery isle on the Ocado app. That’s one of the things I like about this kind of shopping – as a blind person, if I went to a shop, I’d have to know what I was looking for and ask people to find it. Browsing isn’t easy if you can’t see what’s there, and it’s not fair to ask someone to list every single thing that they can see. Who even has time for that?

Shopping online gives me the chance to discover new things on my own, in an accessible way, and in my own time!

4. Skincare discovery

I’ve always avoided face oils. I don’t think the first ones I tried were the best, but I’ve really started getting into them, especially as the weather has got colder. I got two in my Lovelula boxes and then noticed a couple on Latest in Beauty too. Obviously some are better than others – the Balmonds one that I mentioned in my October review is still my favourite, but I have tried a couple of others and have really noticed a positive difference in how my skin is looking and feeling.

I like the ones with pipettes best because they are less messy. I think that’s what put me off originally – the thought that they are a real faff, but I was pleased to see that most come in this type of packaging now.

5. Subscription boxes

My favourite subscription this month was the Pip box – I used all five of the items this month. Of the three boxes that I got from them as a birthday present from my mum, I think I’ve seen about one product before, and that was Dr Botanicals, so I didn’t mind. Otherwise they are really good at finding new products or those from new companies, in a way that some of the other boxes don’t manage. This is a really nice box, especially if you are looking for natural, cruelty-free skincare.

6. More donkey encounters

There was another adult only open day at Miller’s Ark, so we went back with some friends to see our farmyard friends. I met Antoinette the donkey for the first time and spent a lot of time talking to her and grooming her. Donkeys have a calmness and patience that could teach us humans a lot!

There were also some cheeky, greedy goats, playful pigs, hungry sheep (who kept being pushed out by the goats), and of course the gorgeous golden retriever!

7. Groupon

I’ve known about Groupon for ages now, but it was only when I found out that the alpaca encounters were on there, that I thought it could be a good way for me to find other things for us to do. I don’t see most forms of advertising that people use, so anything I can get by way of email alerts about events or activities gives me more options. I’ve booked four things for us to do so far in December and January, – both experiences and things to learn – and I’ll report back soon. But as well as the discounts, which is one of the main reasons why people use Groupon, it’s a good way to find out what’s on your doorstep – especially if you enjoy staycations as much as we do.

8. Making an advent calendar

I’m not going to report on advent calendar contents as I did last year, but I am doing something different this year. I looked at a lot of the beauty advent calendars and was a bit unimpressed – there were a lot of the same products cropping up, and most of them had about 25% of products that I wouldn’t use. Ok, I could put them in a giveaway, but then I could just buy products for a giveaway if that’s what I was going to do, and some of the most expensive products were the ones that I wouldn’t use.

S suggested – I think he was joking – but anyway he asked why I didn’t just build one myself to make sure that it contained things that I liked. Of course I took the idea literally and did just that! You can spend as much or as little as you want. I got my contents on Feelunique, and got between 50 and 70% off most of it – even before the Black Friday sales. There are always special offers there. Now I’m looking forward to treats that I will enjoy, with no palettes, tanners, eyeliners or dry shampoo in sight!

9. Spinner rings

This is something I found through another blog. It was a recommendation for the Stimtastic shop, where you can buy stim toys for anyone with sensory-seeking needs. I was tempted by the weighted lap bunny, but the shipping from the US would have been horrendous. Still, you’ll probably be hit with shipping charges anyway, so it’s better to do a bigger order rather than several smaller ones. I got several spinner rings – my favourite is a bird in flight, which is in different positions as the ring goes round. I also have a spinnersaurus, a dinosaur one, and one with planets. The rings are well made with interesting designs.

10. The cheese advent calendar is back!

The first shop had sold out, but S kept looking till he got me one! Chocolate is great, but I now have a small packet of cheese goodness for every day in December! Did anyone else get one, or something savoury, rather than a traditional chocolate calendar? Let me know in the comments!

Have a wonderful December!

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Good things in October – book club, breadmaking, and fluffy blankets!

It’s the last day of October and time to think about what happened during the last month. These posts used to be about new products I’d tried, but I wanted the month review to be more inclusive than that – a real snapshot of what was good about the last 30 or so days. And also I think this gives a more rounded view of the person behind the blog!

My post yesterday about being blind and unable to drive got a lot of comments on social media – my disability posts often do – but that’s not all of who I am! I’m just an average woman in her 30s who gets excited about autumn, organising her wedding, finding orange twirls, reading a good book, and planning her next trip to the spa or to see miniature donkeys! I’m happy to share my thoughts on the disability topics, and I think they’re important, but there’s much more to me than that!

Flu jab

Ok, not usually something to get excited about, but that’s what my first weekend in October was all about! I qualify for a free one now because of my health issues in August, but even if you don’t, they’re only around £15. Some of my friends have been really ill with the flu already this winter, and if I can do something to avoid that I will. Partly because being self-employed = no sickness pay, but also some people haven’t been right for two or three weeks. So I’m glad I could get mine!

Anyway it was an excuse to snuggle on the sofa and get the fluffy blankets out. Did I mention I love autumn? Walking through the woods, feeling the fresh autumn breeze, then snuggling up with a hot drink in the warm.

Making bread

I dusted off my old school recipe folder and we made tarragon bread! I don’t often make my own bread, but it always tastes better fresh, and I like the way that the tarragon gives it a different flavour. I’ve lost touch with the friend who gave me the recipe in year 11 at school, but she was good to me at a time when things were really tough, and chomping into it reminds me you never know who you’ll meet, or that help can come from unexpected places!

Apart from that, there’s something really satisfying about kneading dough!

Books

In my usual all or nothing fashion, I’ve been reading a lot recently. I finished all three of the Millennium series (The girl with the dragon tattoo). I’ve seen the film for the first one and decided to read the books. Described as Swedish crime novels – which would usually put me off because after working in the justice system, it frustrates me how people get it so wrong. But I’d seen the film and knew it wasn’t just another unrealistic detective drama.

I read the first book in English, but there was something about the writing style that didn’t flow as well for me. I imagine this doesn’t happen with the original, but I can’t read Swedish! So I read books two and three in German and enjoyed the writing more.

The books deal with some unpleasant and difficult topics, so anyone about to read them should be aware of that. I won’t put any spoilers here, but I found myself wanting the best for Lisbeth Salander, and the series raises some important questions about violence against women, and the people that the system fails.

Book club

On a lighter note, I joined in with the online book club for the second time this year. Each month we get a different book to read and then there is a discussion in the Facebook group at the end of the month. The books are varied – last month’s was an animal story that was autobiographical in nature. This month was young adult fantasy.

I like the book club for a number of reasons. It introduces you to new books that you otherwise might not have read. It’s accessible because you can take part from the comfort of your own sofa. You don’t stand out for being the only one without a glass of wine. You can explore ideas with other people who’ve read the book too.

Module results

I got a distinction in TM112, the Open University module that I finished in September. I plan to write a post about it for my mature students’ series, but I actually enjoyed this one more than the first, mainly because it was more about using an accessible programming language and less dragging stuff about with a mouse! Anyway I enjoyed the module and was happy with the result.

2 new modules started

This academic year is different because I’m doing two modules at the same time. I’m still part-time – I wouldn’t want to do full-time job and full-time university – but they don’t run one after the other as they did last year. This means I’ll have a longer break in the summer.

I’m doing another IT module – we’re writing programmes for robots at the moment, and the other one is about language and culture. I chose the second one because I couldn’t bring myself to do a whole module of maths.

Present that keeps giving

It’s the second time that I’ve had a subscription as a gift. The first time was when S bought me an Audible subscription. My Mum got me a Pip Box subscription for my birthday. You can read about the September box here and I may do one about October too. It’s not one of the subscription boxes that you hear so much about, but some of the others have got really samey of late, and I also wanted to try some more natural, cruelty-free skincare products. It’s also nice when you keep getting birthday presents long after your birthday lol!

Orange twirls

Yay we finally found them! S had been out hunting for them a few weeks ago when I read about them online, but he didn’t find any. By chance he saw some last weekend! If you like orange chocolate and you like twirls, snap them up! They’re a special edition, so I’m not sure how long they’ll be around for!

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Alpaca encounter- meet Humphrey the alpaca

It was my birthday towards the end of September. We had the day off. And it was raining. Not just a gentle drizzle, but the kind of rain that has you soaked to the skin in minutes!

This was not good news, because we’d planned to do an outdoor activity. It was one of the things on my list! I keep a list of things to do that I think we’d both enjoy. I hunt them out online and S is in charge of navigation! It works well!

I’d heard several friends talking about lama treks and alpaca walking, and I thought it would be a great way to meet some animals, go for a walk, and learn something new.
As a child – well ok as an adult too – I enjoyed visiting farms to meet animals and find out what they look like. For those that a young blind child can’t go up and pat, like the lions and tigers at the zoo, there was always plastic animals. But I’d never felt a real or a plastic alpaca, so I didn’t really know what they looked like. Ok, there are descriptions on the internet, but the problem is that they often compare the alpacas to other animals that I have never seen, so that’s not massively helpful.

Pennybridge Alpacas

I started looking around for alpaca or lama walks nearby. I found Pennybridge alpacas in Hampshire via their own website, although they regularly do deals on Groupon, and when we booked, the Groupon price was also honoured for us.

I called to enquire about availability and was told that the alpaca encounter takes around 2 hours. I booked us in for the afternoon of my birthday and paid by Paypal, although it’s also possible to pay in cash on the day.

I mentioned my visual impairment, but it wasn’t a big deal. You get one alpaca between two people, so I knew that S would be able to help me with directions and I would lead the alpaca because it was one of my birthday activities!

On the day

When we arrived, it was raining heavily. We were offered hot drinks, so I stood there with a mug of coffee in one hand and an umbrella in the other! I didn’t borrow any wellies, but I was glad of the plastic waterproof cape that I borrowed and kept on for the rest of the visit.

We could already see and hear the alpaca in the barn. I liked the fact that the first part of the visit was a talk so we could learn more about them –including what it’s like living on an alpaca farm, how they behave, what they eat, how they are shorn, and the process for making things with the alpaca wool.

We didn’t hear a lot of noise from them, but a couple of the females decided to spit at one another over food! They all seemed to get on well together, but there were definitely a couple who were in charge!

We then went on a walk around the grounds to see some more alpaca, offer up some hay, and meet some of the other animals. We encountered the cockerel several times – he wasn’t scared of the people at all!

I found that if I held the hay out slightly over the fence on my side, the alpaca would stretch their necks over to get it and allow me to stroke them. Some were a bit less inquisitive and less sure of us, so I just gave them the hay and they moved back a bit to eat it.

As well as the alpaca who were happy to munch on our hay, there were also some friendly goats. One of the babies came out and I held her in my arms for a while. She seemed a bit unsure as she was passed from person to person – but once she could feel your arms around her, I think she would have happily gone to sleep. A very chilled out little goat!

Our walk with Humphrey

The last part of the visit was our walk with an alpaca. The alpaca were ready with halters, and they were distributed one animal to every two people. We then lined up with our new alpaca friends and went round the grounds in a procession. Some liked to be in the lead – others were happy at the back. Humphrey, who came round with us, was a laid back kind of guy and he was ok in the middle, or I think he would have been happy wherever he was in the line. He didn’t want to be left behind, but he seemed in no hurry to charge ahead either!

We were advised to have one person on each side of the alpaca, but in terms of me knowing where I was going and turning the corners, it worked out better to have S guiding me and me leading Humphrey, so that’s what we did on the second lap. He didn’t try to get his head down or charge anyone else out of the way. Neither did he randomly stop to look around!

Having alpaca who are willing to be led is good for alpaca experiences, but it also has other advantages. Animals that are used to being handled are more accepting of the times when they need to be handled, such as vet procedures, sheering (which is done once a year), or having toe nails cut.

The young alpaca are introduced to people from an early age and they seemed happy to be around us. After doing two circuits of the grounds, we had photo opportunities, then took Humphrey’s head collar off and let him go free to wander again!

If you want a memory of your day in addition to the photos, you can get a range of gifts from the shop. Some of them have pictures of the alpaca from the farm on them – we found a Humphrey mug – and there are also gifts made of alpaca wool. I picked up a warm winter hat, and I couldn’t resist a cuddly alpaca too because I wanted something in the shape of one. As we drove away, the heavens opened again!

I was really glad that we went. I love animals and enjoy meeting and learning about them. The alpaca encounter was something different because it was interactive and educational. Have you ever done anything like this? If so, let me know in the comments.
Also, if you like animal posts, check out our encounters with wolves, owls, donkeys, and birds of prey.

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Note: this is not a sponsored post. S paid for the alpaca encounter as part of my birthday present.

Blind bride-to-be series – wedding fairs

To be honest, I didn’t really know that wedding fairs were a thing. But I liked the sound of them – lots of people in one place who can help you put your big day together – and there’s cake! What’s not to like! Well, maybe the crowds are something not to like – I’ve done big exhibitions before – but I thought we could start small.
I discovered that really there are two types of wedding fairs – the venue-specific ones, and the larger geographical ones. The smaller, venue-specific ones are more intimate. They’re good if you want to know more about that particular venue, they’re usually either free or fairly cheap to get in, and it’s easier to get an overview of who’s there and what they’re offering. The bigger ones tend to be more busy, but you do get a better choice of venue. We picked up information about places we hadn’t even heard of before, and two of them ended up in our shortlist of places to book an appointment and talk with the wedding planner. So overall, I was glad that we did both types of event. We may well do more before the wedding, but we’ve done all that we’re going to for this season.
Any bride to be can write a post about wedding fairs, but I wanted to focus on the particular aspects of organising a wedding as a blind bride – because that’s what this series is all about. I want to share tips about things that worked – or didn’t work – for us, so that they might be useful for others.

1. Planning before you go

Whether you go to the wedding fair with your partner, as I did, or with a friend/relative, it’s good to have a think about what kind of exhibitors you want to visit. It’s possible you don’t know what you’re looking for in some cases and the inspiration comes when you get there, but if you can discount some things that aren’t relevant – children’s entertainment isn’t relevant for us – it’s easier to plan your way round the event. You don’t have to visit every stand and you get to spend more time talking to the people who are offering what you’re looking for.
I suppose some people might want to, but as someone who’s blind, attending this kind of event with no sighted assistance is not my idea of a fun day out! There are lots of people milling around and apart from the fact that it’s easier when someone else is in charge of navigation, it’s a nice activity to do with someone else.

2. Be prepared for lots of paper information

Poor trees! The wedding industry is a visual beast and it relies a lot on glossy brochures, leaflets, and magazines. You may well get a goody bag – I enjoyed the chocolate and the hair mask that I found in ours, but the main point is to give you further information about the exhibitors, and it will probably be a business card, a magazine, or a glossy leaflet.
At other (non-wedding) exhibitions, there’s been a web page with links to all the exhibitors’ websites, and I found it really helpful, but none of the wedding shows I went to had anything like this.
I can’t read printed materials. If you’re in the same position, you either need a way of taking down contact details, to ask the vendors to email you, or to have a helpful fiancé who agrees to type up the contact details later!
We put all of the relevant contact details on our wedding planning spreadsheet that we can both access. This gave me the chance to check out some of the websites for myself, but the whole exercise created a lot of paper for the recycling!

3. Talk to people

The person with you can describe the displays, but I found one of the best ways to find out more was to talk to people directly. There were a couple of people who seemed to be repeating the exact same speech to anyone who came by, but most, especially the smaller businesses, were interested in getting into a conversation, finding out what you’re looking for, and telling you about what they have to offer. Then you can begin to suss out if there is a connection there, and if you want the person or business to be part of your big day!
Especially when people are creating things themselves, they have a closer connection to the end result than something that’s mass-produced. I want to support local businesses anyway, but I find they are also more open to describe their products and customise them to make them a bit more unique, special, or tactile.
Having said that, if there are a number of people selling similar things, it’s also good to have a trusted opinion about which products look nicest/more professional as it’s natural for people to put their own products in the best possible light.

4. It doesn’t all have to be decided straight away

It might be that you want to attend a couple of fairs or talk to a number of florists, cake designers, or make-up artists. For me, these events are just about making connections. I find exhibitions too noisy and too full-on to have proper conversations anyway, but once you’ve got someone’s contact details, you can find a convenient time for you both to chat, or you can visit them, or carry on the conversation in some other way. The fair is just the beginning of the conversation!

5. Customer service counts!

Most of the people whom I work with every day have never encountered a blind person before, and to me that’s normal. I don’t expect people to know what’s helpful or what I need, but I do expect basic courtesy. If someone doesn’t like eye contact, that’s fine – I can’t do it either. But if I am asking the questions and they spend the whole time only looking at my partner while they answer them, that’s not cool and they probably won’t get our business!

6. Smaller events tend to be quieter

Big events are good, especially if you haven’t decided on your venue yet. The single-venue events don’t tend to advertise their competitors.
I have other sensory issues anyway, but if you’re going to an event as someone who is blind, talking to the vendors and your companion is going to be important. The smaller events did have music as well, but it wasn’t as loud, which made talking easier for us. Overall, I preferred the smaller ones, but there’s a place for the larger ones too as they definitely helped us with our choice of venue.

7. Hands-on experience

I wouldn’t ask to touch anything that other people were going to eat, but when it comes to rings, dresses, flowers etc, most people are happy for you to handle them carefully.
One of the biggest problems I’ve found as a blind bride-to-be is that I just don’t know what’s out there. Most other brides head straight to Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration –but I can’t – because they’re such visual sites. There are blind people on Instagram, but I lasted about 2 days because it was really all about the images.
Going to the wedding fairs was good for me because it gave me the chance to touch some of the products and decide what things I liked, what I thought would fit with our theme, and which materials I wanted. Having real objects in front of you makes this much easier.

Coming soon

I hope some of these tips were helpful – either to other blind brides-to-be or to anyone exhibiting at wedding fairs.
The next article in this series is about choosing your wedding venue, so let me know in the comments if you have any questions that you’d like me to answer.

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Braile signs can be useful – but it’s still possible to get it wrong!

I don’t usually cross post from my other blogs, but I know some of my readers here are interested in accessibility too.

A recent visit to a hotel got me thinking about Braille signs, and how they don’t always make their point. This is especially true when they’re so high up on the wall that you have no chance of reaching them!

When we started looking around, we noticed a few other problems.

Here’s my post why these Braille signs didn’t help me find my way around”.

Something adorable, somewhere new, something funny – good things in September

Another month is over – almost – and it’s time to think about the good things in September!

Something I haven’t done before

Wedding fairs! I didn’t even know that they were a thing, but they are a good way to find suppliers, check out venues, and get inspiration for the big day. I want to do a specific post about wedding fairs, but I went to three in September and had a good time chatting to local businesses, collecting information for my wedding planning spreadsheet, and eating yummy cake!

Something that made me smile

Have you ever heard of a fridgezoo? I hadn’t until I encountered one at a friend’s house! They live in the fridge and react to the light when the door is opened. Ours is a walrus, and he talks to you in Japanese any time the fridge door is open! He makes me smile and you can find him here! I think the idea is that they warn you if small children open the fridge door, but they can be fun for adults as well!

Something unexpected

It’s always nice to win something! I am part of Heidi’s Body Shop at Home group on Facebook and she did a prize draw for a lovely set of shower gels. I was very happy to hear that I won the draw! If you want to check out Heidi’s group, you can find it here.

Something to do with nature

Autumn is here! It’s my favourite season because I’m not really a fan of the hot weather. I like the way that autumn feels like new beginnings – probably because that’s how it always used to be with the thought of going back to school. I like the cooler temperatures, and the way you can feel nature preparing for the winter. I like walking through the woods and feeling all the crunchy leaves. I like making pumpkin soup and getting out the cosy fleeces and woollies for snuggly evenings on the sofa with a good book and a big mug of hot chocolate!

Something adorable

There were two contenders for this, but we’ll go with the first one – all the animals that I met at the Miller’s Ark open day! You can read about our visit here, and you can see me with baby Lavender the donkey on this post! I need more donkeys in my life!

Somewhere new

I haven’t got round to writing up this post yet as we only did it at the end of last week, but we booked an alpaca walking experience for my birthday. I’d never come up close to an alpaca before and didn’t really know what they look like, so I was happy to find somewhere where you can go and meet them, feed them, and take them for a walk! You’ll be able to find out more about Humphrey the alpaca in one of my October posts.

Something to celebrate

September is my birthday month, so I took the whole week off at the end of September to celebrate it! I joked with my mum about getting old – because I’m in my late 30s – but really, getting old is a privilege. Not everyone is able to. So I never see it as a depressing thing – rather a chance to spend time with people I care about, share some cake (this year it was Harry Potter), and make good memories.

Something new to try

One of my birthday presents was this hair treatment from Kiehls. I might not have picked it up because it says for chemically processed hair or excessive heat styling – neither of which apply to me – but if you have long hair and want to give the ends some love, this is a good thing to try. I often use hair masks and rinse-out treatments, but this is one that you just comb through and leave in. It’s not cheap, but you don’t need much, and it doesn’t leave your hair feeling greasy.

Something delicious

On my birthday S and I went to a new Lebanese restaurant and found it was a really good choice. I can highly recommend the Lebanese House in Newbury. You can order main dishes, but we chose a selection of smaller dishes to share. I found plenty that I could have despite my allergy, and the mocktails were very good too!

Something I’m grateful for

Feeling better! I’m definitely grateful for that! I will be having treatment and tests for a while yet, but my medication was changed last week and I feel so much better for it. I don’t feel tired all the time or that I just want to curl up and tell everyone to $*%!. I still need to be checked to make sure it’s ok for me to stay on the medication longer-term, but I feel much better than I have been, and I’ve got some of my energy and motivation back – which makes me happy!
So, what have you been enjoying this month? Let me know in the comments!

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Getting close to the animals – open day at Miller’s Ark

It was the second day of our holiday and I had been planning this particular adventure for the last couple of weeks. One of our friends mentioned that there is a local farm that does adult-only open days. It does ones for the whole family too, but every 4 to 6 weeks there’s one just for the adults, which appealed to me because then you don’t have to negotiate herds of small squealing people if you want to see the animals! So into the diary it went!

I checked out the Miller’s Ark Facebook page and was excited to read that they had a donkey foal who was just over a week old. I wasn’t sure we’d be able to get close to her, but as it happened we could go in with her and her mum and stroke her soft woolly coat!

The weather wasn’t great, but most of the pens were indoors anyway. The donkeys weren’t fond of the rain though, so some of them huddled inside.

Lunch

We arrived around lunchtime, so went to get a snack first. There is a café on site with a range of burgers, hot food and drinks. You can bring your own lunch and eat it in the picnic area, or you can buy food and eat it in the tea room, where you can also read about the farm’s history.

The food was fine – the only problem for me was the very friendly cat, whom we had to send away a couple of times because I have a cat allergy! I’m so glad it doesn’t include all the other animals – it’s just cats!

Goats and sheep

The first animals we met were some goats and sheep that were in the same pen. We had picked up some food when we paid our entrance fees, and the goats in particular were very happy about this. They came right up to the fence, balancing on their back legs with their front legs on the bars so that they could see over and get closer to the food.

I put some food on my hand and held it out to them. A couple of times I had two little goat faces feeding from the same hand, as if they were kissing. So much goat cuteness!

There was a little one who kept getting pushed out of the way, but S distracted the bigger goats with some food, while I held some more down for the little one. He hadn’t learned to gobble the food down yet, and was much more sedate about taking it gently and chewing slowly till it was all gone.

All around the farm there were volunteers with the animals who told you more about them and answered your questions. There was another pen with goats that you could go in, so I met a few more close up, including Jeanie, the frisky goat who escaped out of the pen and had to be brought back. I had to hide my hair under my coat because some of the goats thought it was food. No, my hair is not hay!

Two of the smaller goats were lying side by side on a children’s slide – so cute!

When we were talking to the donkeys, there was a weird sound. It was a bit like a dog growling, but I didn’t think it was a dog. S went to check it out and found that it was a sheep, but I’ve never heard a sheep bleat like that before. He sounded a bit annoyed, but I think that was just his normal voice. Maybe he had been bleating at the visitors all morning and made himself a bit hoarse!

Donkeys

I think my absolute favourite of all the animals had to be the donkeys! We visited 3 enclosures and spent the most time in one with mums and foals. It was so relaxing just hanging out with them, grooming them, stroking them, and learning about their stories, likes, quirks, and donkey life in general.

Spice was making her way through a hay bale and she was really chilled out – so I spent a lot of time talking to her and grooming her. There were various brushes around in the enclosure and the donkeys were happy to let you groom them.

The two younger lads were up for mischief, trying to get each other to play and having to be told to calm down!

The donkeys were different sizes, but they were all miniature donkeys. They were friendly and inquisitive, and seemed perfectly happy to have visitors in their enclosure, although due to the fact that the little ones were there, there could only be a certain number of people in at a time. While we were waiting, I reached over and some of the donkeys came for pats.

I’d already read about Lavender, the foal who was just over a week old. I thought we would maybe get to see her from afar, but we were actually able to go in with her and her mum. She still had that woolly foal fur, and after a meeting with a 3-day-old horse many years ago, I was surprised how steady she was on her little legs. Her mum showed no signs of worry that we were in there. In fact her biggest concern seemed to be that she was missing out on the fuss herself!

Pigs

It said on the website that some of the pigs like their tummies being tickled, but the one I found was more interested in snuffling around all over the floor of his enclosure and munching. Still, he was happy to be stroked and I felt his little piggy ears! They had wiry coats, a bit like a terrier, and I hadn’t realised just how sociable they can be.

The volunteer who was in with the pigs was talking about her own pigs and how they like company. They come to sit with her when she drinks her coffee outside and liked to know what was going on!

Golden retriever

When S spotted the golden retriever, he knew stroking him would make my day! This is my favourite breed of dog, and Dudley was more than happy to get some fuss. He started by sitting there having his ears rubbed, then rolled over for tummy tickles! Goldies are the best!

Birds and small animals

I didn’t hold any of the birds or guinea pigs, but you could visit them as well. There were also chickens and ducks wandering around. It went from drizzling to raining quite heavily throughout the day, and the ducks definitely weren’t a fan of the umbrella going up!

Overall impressions and future events

I really enjoyed our visit to the farm and will be sure to go again.

The animals were well cared for. The volunteers and staff clearly cared about them and were able to answer questions about the individual animals, their life on the farm, their behaviour, what they ate, and to tell stories of their antics.

I liked the idea of an adult only open day because it was so chilled out in a way that it never is if there are lots of children around and I generally try to avoid really noisy events. If you have children though, there are open days that everyone can join in and learn about the animals. Under 2s go free.

There are also some special events coming up during the Christmas period such as carrols in the barn and living nativities. You can also book children’s parties at the venue, or the animals can travel to events such as fairs, schools, or private functions. I got the impression that this was to help educate people about the animals and give them the chance to meet them. I never got the impression that they were being used as an attraction, so anyone who is thinking about booking an event should do so for the love of animals and the relationships we can have with them – not just as a way to entertain the little ones.

I did suggest that our honeymoon suite could have a massive garden area outside for donkeys, but if we did that on our big day, the guests might not see that much of me, so S said it wasn’t one of my better ideas!

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