It was the week before Christmas

It was the week before Christmas, and all was quiet in the office, apart from Jess who was frantically typing away to get work finished before the Christmas holidays began!

Getting into the spirit of thing! Excuse the poor quality photo.

I love Christmas, spending time with my loved ones, buying and wrapping gifts, baking delicious treats with mum (mmm mince pies) and of course putting the decorations up! It’s my first Christmas in my new home, so I had to buy Christmas decorations. Well, when I say buy, most of it was given to me as cast-offs from other people, not that I’m complaining though! What with moving out of my family home and doing up my house, paying bills, buying food to keep myself alive (why is food so expensive!) and buying Christmas gifts, my purse strings were tight with only a small budget for Christmas trimmings.

Me and Pip next to my Christmas tree. Again excuse the low quality image!

Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier each year. Gone are the days where you’d put the tree up on Christmas Eve (my grandparents used to do this when my mother was a child) and instead they’re up at the beginning of December, and I know of some who put them up in November! But at work, I start prepping for Christmas in September. As I work in marketing, you need to think ahead of time, poor preparation and all that, and as I’m the only person who does the marketing for the programme that I work for, well you could say I’m stretched come the festive period.

The week before Christmas is always a bit crazy at work, where my colleagues are starting to wind down, I’m working at top speed to get things finished; I had two newsletters to write and send out (every marketer knows the pain in the backside this can be!). I had my January social media posts to schedule (120 of them to be precise). I had a meeting to arrange (where attendees don’t respond to you, which is even more than frustrating!). Cover photos to design, blog posts to promote, reports to write, statistics to compile, and this is on top of interacting with our customers to be sure they’re happy. Oh, and did I mention all written work that gets sent out to the public needs to be written bilingually in both English and Welsh (which is a challenge in itself).

As you can imagine, I had sleepless nights of worrying if I’d get everything done in time and woke up countless times at crazy o’clock to write another task on my list of things to do before the Christmas break. You could say it’s my fault; I could have worked Monday (23rd of December) and between Christmas and New Year, putting less stress on myself to get four weeks of work pushed into 2. But, I love this time of year, and I’m a sucker for using the least amount of Annual Leave to get the most time off. Aka Christmas eve is a privileged day for us, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day are bank holidays, which means I get two weeks off and only use seven days of my annual leave, or should I say six days as I work flexi-time and have more than enough hours to use up (#winning!).

Thankfully Friday the 20th of December is here! My work is complete, and the most satisfying thing of all, I’ve set my work emails automatic replies to:

Diolch am eich neges, rwyf allan o’r swyddfa tan 06/01/2020. Byddaf yn ateb negeseuon cyn gynted a phosib.

Thank you for your message. I’m away from the office until 06/01/2020 and will respond as soon as possible.

Cofion gorau / Best wishes,

You might think from what I’ve written above that I don’t like my job, but the opposite couldn’t be truer. Sure it can be stressful, but when you get feedback from your customers saying that they enjoy using our website and appreciate the work that we do, then it makes it all worth while. I also really enjoy communicating and even chatting with our customers. I’m very much a ‘Think Customer’ and ‘Customer First’ kind of marketer. I also quite like the stress of a looming deadline, call me a deadline junky!

So now that my stress is behind me, I’m no longer the tired and irritable Jess but the happy elf spreading the Christmas joy, even in the gym!

Merry Christmas my lovely followers, I hope you have a nice break and of course, don’t get too merry this mad Friday!
Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

Quirky Christmas Traditions

Don’t we all have those quirky family traditions that we do at Christmas that you don’t think is odd until you start talking about it with someone else? I know my family does, from Christmas Dinners to Christmas Morning silly string fights; you’ll be hearing all about them in this post.

A Turkey Dinner? I think not!

Enjoying our steak and chips on Christmas day!

Ah Christmas, a time for eating delicious treats of mince pies, chocolate and turkey dinners. When I say delicious, I’m only referring to the mince pies and chocolate; I frankly don’t enjoy turkey dinners or Christmas dinner (as some call it), I much prefer chicken and think turkey is way overrated (yes, I went there!). I also don’t like sprouts, parsnips, cauliflower (because why?!), cranberry sauce or bread sauce (I prefer my food to know who they are, you’re either bread or a sauce, that’s why I like oranges). The only food I’d be happy to eat off a Christmas dinner plat is… pigs in blankets, carrots, roast potatoes with a bit of gravy on top. So given that none of my family and I are keen on turkey dinners we’ve broken with tradition, and have instead, not a turkey, not a chicken, but steak and chips for Christmas dinner!

Who can be bothered to slave over a hot stove for hours on end only for half the stuff not to be eaten? Therefore my grandad made the executive decision of announcing that turkey dinner was off the menu until further notice replaced by steak, chips, fried onions, peas and dipped bread, which is a lot easier and a meal that everyone enjoyed (win-win for us!). So when anyone asked if I’d like to join them for a Christmas meal, aka as a social occasion (an introvert’s nightmare), I can legitimately say “no thank you, I don’t like Christmas dinner” (my introvert self can rejoice!). We’ve had steak and chips for Christmas dinner for years, I can’t remember once having turkey dinner at Christmas, so the tradition dates back a least 20 years and will be carried on for years to come, no doubt.

Don the bin bag, a battle is to be won!

Whenever I think of Christmas, I can’t help but think of when I, my brother and my aunty would have fights. “Fighting on Christmas?” I hear you say, but it’s nothing sinister, we weren’t boxing it out to win an imaginary belt and spend the rest of the day with a black eye. Instead, we used silly string. For those who don’t know what silly string is (or should I say was, I’m not sure if it’s still around), it’s like a liquid plastic that comes in an aerosol and looks like string (hence the name). I can always remember the smell of it, and it’s wet texture even to this day, and we haven’t played the game in over 15 years I’d say!

Every Christmas morning, my aunt and I would team up and “fight” against my brother, using only the silly string as a weapon. We had to create with our own armour, and the person (or team) with the least amount of silly string on them at the end of the fight would win. My parents and grandparents would be the judges, and the fight would take place in the living room, at around 10 am.

My borhter, my aunt and I after the silly string fight

As you can probably tell from the photo, my brother would always put time and effort into making his armour, often made out of boxes and decorated with a name like this one “The Terminator T-1000”. Us girls, however, made less of an effort, I remember one year we just wore black bin liners and this particular year we just wrapped ourselves in cling film which we could hardly move in (very useful armour right!)

As you can probably tell, we lost this particular year, and most years if I remember correctly!

Ah, the good old days of the 1990s (or was it the 2000s?)!

The skinny tree

The skinny tree in 2017

Our family has this one tress, an artificial tree which looks like it’s been dragged through a hedge backwards, it struggles to stand on its own without having the added support of a bit of string tethered to a curtain pole to keep it upright. It’s bare, so bare that you’re tempted to cover it in decorations but daren’t for fear of it toppling over.

The tree is my grandparents and is probably older than me, but it always gets put on display at Christmas time. It was once the main tree in the lounge of my grandparent’s place, where we still spend Christmas day. But as time went on the tree gradually looked worse for wear and has now been replaced by a nice white fluorescent one (ohhh snazzy!). But the skinny tree has not been forgotten and now takes centre stage in the hall, where there is an adequate curtain pole for tethering the tree. It’s nice to reminisce, but it’s a pain decorating the darn thing!

Baking with the Big Orange Bowl

It wouldn’t be Christmas without Christmas cakes. I again, cannot stand Christmas cakes (so much dried fruit!), but I love baking them, not particularly the process of making them, but spending time with my mum and my gran.

We’d always bake the cakes in October, and I had the task of mixing the first part of the batter, the sugar and the butter before either my mum or my gran took over for the heavier ingredients. I’d then help add the ingredients to the mix or weighing out more ingredients. We always used grans recipe and her big old orange plastic bowl, which we still use to this day (sorry I didn’t include a photo of it!). The best part, of course, was licking the bowl!

I remember wrapping the outside of the tins in parchment paper (to stop the cake from burning) and mum always trapping my finger in the string when tying the knot to secure the paper in place. The smell of Christmas always filled the room when the cakes had finished baking. Mum and gran would them wrap them in parchment paper and keep them in a safe place for them to mature in time for December.

Mum, being the baker that she is, would decorate the cakes with piped and rolled icing, creating beautiful artworks which I always thought was a shame to cut into during the festive season. Our team of three has been a team of two for quite a few years, but one day maybe I can carry on this tradition with a mini Jess by my side, eager to learn (and lick the bowl) as I was growing up!



Yet another social occasion

And I’m home! (I know what poor blogging of me to use ‘And’ at the beginning of a sentence: I live to be rebellious!) But home from where I hear you say? From a staff development event which didn’t just last one day but two! Two days of introvert horror of socialising with the other 400 odd employees at the event.

The fear stated the night, if not the week before, the gut reaching feeling of being a lost soul, witnessing everyone mingling while you’re there on the sidelines trying your damnedest to fit in but failing miserably. The sinking feeling of knowing that you’ll have to have copious (you have no idea how many times I tried spelling this word before getting it right!) amounts of small talk. Wondering if the conversations would fall flat on their face once you’ve reeled off your backlog of “general questions to ask strangers” which of course includes the weather!

I think, however, the worst thing that happens to me in conferences is what I call social deafness where you’re in a crowded room, everyone is chatting away, the room is full of noise, so much so that you switch off, like a computer that’s just had a power surge. The person next to you might be talking to you, but it doesn’t matter how loudly they speak, I still won’t be able to hear them. I usually go on autopilot, hoping I’m nodding and smiling in the right places while trying my hardest to read their lips. I’m not deaf; I can hear perfectly fine when I’m not in this setting, that’s why I think it’s linked to my introversion, overstimulation sending my brain into meltdown. I guess the easiest way to describe it is as a fuzzy TV, plenty of noise but nothing of significance coming through.

Day 1: What have I said yes to?

The event kicked off at noon on Monday, the location? Cardiff (why is it never in North Wales?) So naturally I had to travel down from North Wales to South Wales on Monday morning. I can’t complain though, because luckily for my manager and me we had a meeting to attend to before the event started (I’ve never been so grateful to have a meeting before in my life), therefore had to catch the flight from Anglesey to Cardiff. My poor colleagues had to wake up before the crack of dawn to hop on a coach for a 6-hour journey along the A470 (possibly the least loved road in Wales!) to get to the Capital of Wales. While my flight only lasted 50 minutes – with complimentary drinks and snacks on the plane too (now I’m just bragging).

The event started with lunch of sandwiches and cake (because all events should kick off with food is you ask me!) with a chance to network with other people. Of course, what happened is that everyone huddled together, in their usual groups, without much interest in mixing with the other 400 odd people at the event (much to my relief). One of my Instagram followers, however, which I had no idea worked in the same organisation as me (he works in South Wales, I work in North Wales), came over to say hey, which brightened my day!

Then the speakers came on; it was all fun and games until the fourth speaker came on. We had a quiz (I don’t think I’ll go on The Chase anytime soon!), we blew up balloons (okay I didn’t, I’m allergic to latex – the balloons were latex in case you’re wondering what kind of event this was).

But then this woman came on. I think the best way to describe this person is a hyperactive extrovert that patronises anyone who wasn’t as social or as loud for that matter, as she was. Don’t get me wrong, I love extroverts, and I don’t think anyone is 100% introvert or extrovert, its fluid. But the way she was shaming people and her passive-aggressive approach of “I’m not going to tell you what to do, it’s up to you if you want to be miserable and not join in.” Now you might think she has a point, but wait till you hear what we had to do (remember this was a works event, not a child’s birthday party). She told us to all stand up, wave our hands in the air, and then run on the spot. Some people didn’t join in the first round, so she shamed them and made us do it all again. I was pretty annoyed with the whole fiasco, and this was meant to gear you up for the rest of the event, I frankly wanted to disappear under the table.

The next 10-15 minutes consisted of finding two interesting facts about a person three tables down, Irish dancing, and standing on stage for no particular reason, basically an introverts version of hell.

Thankfully my manager and I had to leave early because of another meeting; I think I would have gone into an introverts coma if I stayed until 5:30!

There was, of course, an evening event. Still, following the horrors of the afternoon antics, I gave it a pass and delved into my work instead (I didn’t feel guilty about it either, which I usually do). 

Day 2: Can I go home yet?

The second day started at an earlier time of 9:15; we again had some speakers on to welcome us. This time we had a man talking about how he made it through life, using other people’s negativity to drive him forward. If I’m honest, it was inspiring to hear him speak, and he added a touch a humour which everyone appreciated — a completely different tone to the previous day. 

My tiny wreath and wonky pot

We then went and did some craft workshops (we had a choice of either, crafts, walking tour, yoga or mindfulness so of course, I chose crafts), I threw a pot and made a wreath – my wreath is tiny, and my pot had a hole at the bottom thanks to me being too eagre, but hey imperfection is a beauty! My only concern was transporting these back home on the plane. Luckily I had room to stuff my wreath in my hold luggage (thank goodness!) and carried my wee fragile, still wet pot through security and on to the plane. 

The sessions lasted 2 hours, and if I’m honest did drag a bit by the end (there’s only so many branches and berries you can wrap around some willow twigs), we were all starving by the time the 12:30 closing speech came and we all quickly rushed to get some grub before we passed out. The taxi man was probably oblivious to how excited I was to see him pull up to take us back to the airport at 1pm, signalling the end of the event (and a massive sigh of relief escaped my lips).

There’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed.

After all that you could say I was glad to get home and sleep in my own bed. I think the second day was a lot more enjoyable than the first, the woman shouting and belittling us – I think her voice will stay with me forever (don’t you wish you could delete some memories like a picture from a camera). The event itself wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be (it usually isn’t). Although I would have preferred to be doing work in my office, at least my name got ticked off to say I wasn’t a party pooper (like usual) and attended, albeit not all of the event.

And my social deafness? It wasn’t too bad; I only had it at one point when I was eating lunch on the second day. A kind fellow next to me was trying to talk to me, but half the time I couldn’t hear what he was saying. Maybe I need to invest in some noise-reducing earplugs that festival-goers wear (now that’s an idea!)



A fresh beginning

Yesterday when I was recovering from my introvert hangover (more on that later), I decided to have a look at my blog; Oh my goodness, what a mess it was! I’m surprised I still had followers (thank you all who have stuck around). The thing is I thought I’d cheat and use IFTTT to automatically post my Instagram posts here. I know how lazy of me, feel free to give me a slap on the wrist (in your mind that is!). I realised that if people wanted to look at my photographs, they would check out my Instagram (hint hint) and so I’m reverting my website to being an actual blog about me and my life.

An Introvert at a Conference

It’s November (I love pointing out the obvious), it’s cold, wet, windy and dark in the mornings and even darker in the evening. Nothing fills me with more dread than leaving the comfort of my cosy and warm bed than going to a conference which is 3 hours away, but this was the case. I, like most introverts, hate conferences, just the word ‘networking’ has me rushing to the nearest exit. The small talk, oh the small talk, it grinds on me like nails on a chalkboard, trying to talk to me about mundane stuff like the weather or the journey is like pulling teeth “Yes it’s cold Debora, the journey was fine, thanks.” An in-depth conversation about marketing strategies and tactics and social media algorithms, on the other hand, will light me up like a Christmas tree.

At the conference I was asked to speak in front of everyone, thankfully there were only about 30 odd people there, and my presentation was short. Still, it was my first time presenting to an audience I had never met before, and as an introvert, it was painful. When my spot came, I was like a train, my short presentation was even more concise, my voice was as shaky as blancmange (yes I had to Google how to spell that), and I think the audience was stunned, like what just happened?! But at least I remembered to say everything I wanted, even if it was on fast forward (every cloud and all that).

My manager assured me that my presentation went okay, but I still didn’t feel good enough. The rest of the day passed in a blur, and my introversion (is that even a word?!) consumed me. My head was pounding, and my desire to communicate with anyone had hit sub-zero. I was experiencing the introvert hangover (check out this article to learn more about it). I went home, jumped into the shower and permitted myself to disconnect with the world. So much so that when I went to make my evening meal, I turned the oven on (as you do) and half an hour later, thinking food would be ready, went back to the oven only to discover I hadn’t put my food in the oven to cook in the first place!

A binge-watch of Season 3 of The Crown and early night left me waking up the next morning all refreshed, introvert hangover gone! I had a new perspective, so what if it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, I doubt anyone from the conference will remember my presentation come tomorrow. I’ll learn from the experience, do better next time because I’ll be damned if this little hiccup in the grand scheme of things makes me doubt my skills as a marketer.

So fellow introverts, remember to give yourself some alone time to recover from social occasions. Say no to evening events and breakfast meetings if it’s not mandatory because having that alone time to recharge is far more important (something I’m learning to do). Don’t dwell if things don’t go as well as you’d hoped and don’t be afraid of going out of your comfort zone, because my goodness, presenting is well out of my comfort zone, but would I do it again? I would because, as grandad once said, “If at first, you don’t succeed, try and try again”.