The Top 5 Christmas Books You Have to Read With Your Kids

Caught My Eye

I love Christmas and one of my favourite ways of getting into it is by reading my kids Christmas stories and hyping them up just before bedtime. My 5 year old likes three stories a night (as do I, since they make handy bargaining tool when it comes to getting him ready for bed). Here is my pick of the best Christmas stories for kids. I have linked them all to Amazon for ease but these are all widely available.

  1. The Dinosaur who Pooped Christmas – Tom Fletcher & Dougie Poynter.

If the authors sound familiar to you it’s because they’re from once teen-sensation, now all grown up boy band, McFly. This book was only published last month and I knew as soon as I saw it that it had a place on our bookshelf. Dinosaurs, poo and Christmas – what more could a 5 year old boy want from…

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Is this Your Year for a New Career?

In the final of our series with people who have successfully changed careers we hear from Bill, an artisan baker who is passionate about making great bread!

Baker Bill Colour Pop

1. Tell us a bit about yourself
I am an artisan baker using only Flour, Salt, Yeast and Water the only additives I use are Time and Love. I also champion local foods and blog about them at Local and Great.

2. What made you decide to become a baker – what were you doing before? Was it an epiphany or were you actively looking for a career change?
I worked in Local Government for 35 years and also had a very senior Trade Union role in UNISON. Seconded to a major Equal Pay project for 10 years I was not up to date in my normal role (Personnel Officer) and took advantage of the conclusion of the Equal Pay Agreement to re-evaluate my future

3. What process did you go through re: courses, work experience, business advice, etc
As Equal Pay reached the stage where it would go to ballot I took several months leave to train at Ballymaloe Cookery School with Darina and Rachel Allen. I had always cooked and saw a future in food, at Ballymaloe we baked every day and I reignited my love affair with bread. Business was a part of that course so I had both practical and theoretical knowledge to use in a future career.

4. How long did the process take from inspiration to calling yourself a professional?
I tried selling breads from a shared stall at a local market ( with all the right certification) and when it sold and people were keen on it I set up in my own right so about 6 months or so from inspiration to completion.

Students

5. What does a typical day involve for you?
Baking! Sometimes for the Market, sometimes for private clients, and sometimes just to experiment with neww breads. I also regularly teach lessons at home and have worked with groups from Communities First teaching them the delights of dough.

6. What are the best bits about your job?
Seeing people come back regularly for my breads and being told my Soda Bread is the best this side of Rosslare. I also love former students telling me how they now bake daily and thattheir families love their breads. Talking about bread at Food Festivals and other functions has to be a great day as well.

Olive and Wholemeal

7. And the worst bits?
Overnight bakes to deliver fresh for the Market – I am an early night person, and standing in the cold/raain at outdoor markets.

8. Has the change been a good one for you?
Amazing change, literally life changing. I am producing a good product and have control of my life! I also get to meet some brilliant people.

To make an enquiry about Bill’s courses email courses@billkingartisanbaker.co.uk. You’ll find him at Llanyrafon Manor Market in Cwmbran on the last Sunday in the month. I caught his Real Rant at the 2013 Abergavenny Food Festival and you can see just how keen he is about great local producers.

 

Bill has been working even harder since this interview was originally published in Feb 2014. He’s moved to larger premises, gained new stockists, and has been accepted as a Producer Member of the Guild of Fine Food.

Thank you to everyone who took part in this series of interviews. You can read the rest of them here.  If you felt stuck in a job that’s not fulfilling you, I sincerely hope that you can see it’s possible for you to make a career change and enjoy what you do.

Is this Your Year for a New Career?

I have absolutely loved doing this series of interviews with people who have changed their career. It’s been interesting for me and hopefully inspiring for you. Today it’s Leonie’s turn. Prepare to be impressed!

1. Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Leoni Jena, I am 41 years old and mother of 4 gorgeous girls. Between looking after my family and house I run my own cake business called Just call me Martha.

2. What made you decide to become a cake decorator – what were you doing before? Was it an epiphany or were you actively looking for a career change?
I’ve always worked in the creative field after my first child was born in 2000 (painting sewing etc), it kept me busy and my mind active while providing a creative outlet. I didn’t really seek out to become a cake decorator as career it was more like cake decorating found me by accident back in 2009. I was looking for some farm animal figurines for my youngest daughter’s 1st birthday cake, found they were too expensive so tried to make them myself using fondant. To my utter surprise and amazement (and everyone else’s!) I found I was quite good at it.

Pics copyright of Just Call Me Martha

3. What process did you go through re: courses, work experience, business advice, etc
I never trained to be a cake decorator, most things I’ve learned is through practice and trial and error. I started receiving cake orders via friends which rapidly multiplied into other orders via friends of friends. I briefly attended cake classes once a week for 12 months to learn how to make sugar flowers and have also recently done a few 2 day cake courses to sharpen skills I felt are weak. In the cake industry you never stop learning as each order is always unique asking for skills you may never have used before.

4. How long did the process take from inspiration to calling yourself a professional?
I’ve only been in the business for a total of 5 years, so not a lot of experience to call myself a professional. About 3 years ago I realised with the amount of orders I was receiving I better start registering my kitchen and also completed a Health, food and safety certificate. I also registered my business name and linked it to my ABN number for tax purposes. (Leoni is in Melbourne, Australia).

5. What does a typical day involve for you?

Typically I drop the girls at school and read my emails each morning answering queries and doing quotes. If I have an order or two due that week I create a work order sheet, and proceed to make and create all the sugar work such as flowers, figurines etc on Mondays and Tuesdays between 9am – 3pm, Wednesday evening is my baking days for cakes, Thursday cutting, filling and ganaching cakes and Fridays I cover in fondant and finish my orders ready for delivery or pickups. I never work beyond 3pm as my children come home from school and then it’s time to help with homework, start cooking and clean the house.

Copyright Just Call Me Martha

6. What are the best bits about your job?
I love the flexibility my work gives me, I get to pick and choose when I work (I don’t work school holidays and weekends are generally only for delivery or pickups) and how much work I take on. Since I only work from 9am-3pm each day I try not to do more than 2-3 orders a week (this usually entails a cake, matching cupcakes, cookies and pops). If any of my girls are sick I can drop what I am doing to pick them up from school and take them home. I never need to ask for parental sick leave and I never need permission for holiday leave. I love the creativity and challenge of my work and all my work is for happy occasions and make people smile.

Copyright of Just Call Me Martha

7. And the worst bits?
You can never accurately estimate your projected income for the year, this does not worry me since we don’t rely on my work to pay the bills, but if you were the primary bread earner this could be stressful. I also don’t like the invoicing and bookwork involved at the end of tax year, boring! I also dislike the delivery of cakes, I always worry something might happen en-route, especially large wedding cakes.

8. Has the change been a good one for you?
I would say yes, I get to do something I love and create people’s ideas in cake form while being paid for it.

Copyright Just Call Me Martha

9. What advice would you give to anyone considering something similar?
Be patient! Start slowly and experiment on your friends and family first. You’ll be surprised how quickly your business and client base will grow. These days most of my customers are repeat clients and you start to form a friendship and bond with your clients. If you know someone already in the business see if you can buddy up with them and learn from them. In this is industry practise makes perfect. Also use the social media like Facebook as much as you can, you’ll be surprised how much work can come via this form.

You can reach Leoni via the Just Call Me Martha Facebook Page or via emailing sajena@iprimus.com.au.

Is this Your Year for a New Career?

Another Monday and another inspiring story of someone who has changed their life by changing career. This week we’re hearing from Laura.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m Laura, a 40 something, self-employed childminder, mother of two, runner and virgin e-reader!

2. What made you decide to become a childminder – what were you doing before? Was it an epiphany or were you actively looking for a career change?
When we moved house about 6 years ago I had just had my second daughter and needed to re think my career. I had previously been in the media team within O2 and knew I didn’t want to go back to an office job. I wanted to work for myself but with the age old problem of how to manage childcare. I spoke with a friend who was already childminding and she explained the pros of how to run your own business, choose your hours and still be able to collect your children from school etc. So I became a childminder!

3. What process did you go through re: courses, work experience, business advice, etc
I had to complete compulsory courses; introduction to becoming a childminder with basic business info and more importantly Ofsted requirements. First aid was essential and food hygiene. Also a police check for myself and my husband. Ofsted came to view my house and inspect me which was rather daunting to say the least!

4. How long did the process take from inspiration to calling yourself a professional?
I would say about 6 months. It takes a while for the police check process and you cannot operate until Ofsted have had their initial assessment.

5. What does a typical day involve for you?
I am ready by 7.30am in time for the 4 children I look after to arrive. We then take one of the children plus my own 2 daughters to school. I return home with 3 children for play time and snacks before attending a local toddler group, where the children interact with others and join in with arts and crafts. Back home for lunch and then a couple of hours for the sleep routines. Waking up in time for a quick snack and back to the school for pick up. After school entails snack time immediately! Then craft time or reading before the start of the children being collected with the last one leaving at 5.45pm. Then I usually go out for a run then fall asleep!

6. What are the best bits about your job?
Flexibility definitely, it allows me to see my children every day. I also love being able to make my own hours, salary and rules. I love being outside and setting up my own day based around the children in my care. It feels like a great achievement to me.

7. And the worst bits?
Conversely, although I do get to see my children I do feel that they have to share me with others and that sometimes makes me feel a bit sad and I have to reassess why I am doing the job. It also means that apart from seeing other adults at groups etc I don’t get to engage my brain as much as I used to with anything other than ‘child talk’! Also the paperwork is immense! Ofsted expect me to operate in the same way as a pre-school or nursery and this is hard with limited resources and of course only being one member of staff.

8. Has the change been a good one for you?
I would say yes, although as described above there are some cons, I think working for yourself far out ways these and I could not imagine myself stuck in an office environment answering to a manager and having to clock in and clock out each day.

9. What advice would you give to anyone considering something similar?
Make sure it is right for your family life; would your children like to share you? Would your partner like to share you? Can you really look after more children (that’s quite a hard thing initially!) Would you be happy to have the responsibility of looking at their development within their specific age range and detailing this for each parent? Childminding is a big responsibility; you are ultimately looking after someone’s most precious thing!

If you’re interested in finding out more about becoming a childminder contact the family services department of your local council to find out about the process in your area. The Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY http://www.pacey.org.uk) is also very helpful.

 

Is this Your Year for a New Career?

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Are you still asking if it’s possible for you to change careers? Maybe a fourth instalment will help you decide. This week I’ve been speaking with Helen.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m Helen Whittaker, just turned 38 and I am a life coach and running leader.
2. What made you decide to become a coach? What were you doing before? Was it an epiphany or were you actively looking for a career change?
I used to work in telecoms sales which I’d sort of fallen in to. I started in the customer service department in my early twenties and moved around the company for 7 years until I was made redundant while on maternity leave in 2006. A chance gift of a book written by a life coach really struck a chord with me and made me see the world differently. I realised that I was responsible for the way I felt and could steer the direction of my life rather than just be a passenger. I was looking for a change of direction career wise and after having my second child in late 2007.
3. What process did you go through re: courses, work experience, business advice, etc.

I decided to undertake a distance learning life coaching course which I could fit around the children. I qualified in 2009 and started to build up my practice around their naps and preschool to begin with, slowly having more time to dedicate to the business.The running groups came later when I moved to a rural area and my oldest started primary school. I got involved in organising the village’s first annual 10k in May 2011 and noticed a huge increase in running around the village. Lots of people were keen to start running but didn’t know where or how to start. I did a qualification through one of the school mums, who had a training company, to get me started and have since done a Run England, Leadership in Running Fitness course. I started my first beginners running course in June 2011 and now offer beginner courses in various local locations.
I spent 2012 developing Change Your Mind – a 6 week email based course looking at emotional eating. I had spent most of my teenage years and early twenties miserably dieting and re-gaining weight a million times over and could never seem to keep it off. I had finally learned though, through studying to be a life coach, how to change the way I thought and felt about food. I knew from my life coaching experience so far what an endemic problem it was and I was so amazed and grateful to finally be free of my own eating demons that I wanted to help others achieve the same.
4. How long did the process take from inspiration to calling yourself a professional?
Inspiration struck in late 2006/early 2007 although it was a while before I did anything about it as I had 2 children under 2 years old from Oct 2007. By the time I came up for air and could think about what I wanted to do it was probably late 2008 and I’d say a year after that I was able to dedicate enough time to it for me to think of it as a career.
5. What does a typical day involve for you?
There is no typical day – that’s what I love! I have beginner running courses or one to one runners 4 out of 7 days so I’m out running whatever the weather. Monday is a busy email day with responding to my Change Your Mind course participants and I also volunteer in my kids’ school doing a Running and Fitness club on a Friday afternoon. The rest of the week is flexible and I split my time between Pilates, my own running training and developing the business further (marketing, networking, making new contacts and links with local businesses).
6. What are the best bits about your job?
Complete flexibility. If I want to be at my kids’ school play or sports day or assembly,  I can be.
7. And the worst bits?
Not having anyone to bounce ideas off. I sometimes wish I had a partner I could brainstorm with
8. Has the change been a good one for you?
The change has been amazing for us all. I am involved in the local school and community in a way that would be impossible if I were still working 2 hours away. And I am doing something that I love. Supporting positive change in people is my passion and so it doesn’t feel like a ‘job’ at all.
9. What advice would you give to anyone considering something similar?
Go for it. Life is too short to be unhappy.

Helen’s business is Turn That Leaf. You can find out more about her life coaching and running at http://www.turnthatleaf.com or by calling her on 07899814013.
Helen Whittaker of Turn That Leaf

Please like and share this article if you have found it interesting or inspiring.

Is this Your Year for a New Career?

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Here we are in week 3 of our series of interviews with people who have successfully changed their career. I hope you’re feeling inspired! This week I have been talking to Jude, who is a freelance photographer and co-owner of EFC Photography.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Jude Middleton, freelance photographer specialising in weddings, mid forties, married with several children, not all mine.

2. What made you decide to become a wedding photographer – what were you doing before? Was it an epiphany or were you actively looking for a career change?
I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar… no that was somebody else. I was working in sales as I had done for years for no other reason than it paid the bills. I did not love my work by any stretch. I was also struggling with working full time and looking after my young son who seemed to spend more time in daycare than anywhere else, the bills for which were crippling. I was then struck down with a terrible episode of chronic fatigue syndrome and I knew something had to give. I thought that I might start getting my affairs in order so I could move back to Australia. I always liked the idea of being a shutterbug so I decided to get a qualification so I could work part time in Australia and not be so cold and tired all the time.

I completed a year of my qualification part time in the evenings and then I really turned my life upside down when I met a man, fell in love and got married all in the space of 4 months. I didn’t complete the second year straight away as my mind was filled with my new family life. We had a baby and I was made redundant when I was pregnant, so by the time she was born, I was itching to get out of the house, so I decided to go back and finish my qualification, which I did with baby in tow. I liked spending time with my kids so wasn’t keen on going back to work full-time and found the idea of freelancing as a photographer very appealing. I could run my business from home and go out to shoots on weekends when other family members could babysit. Purely through osmosis gravitated towards weddings as it is the biggest and most accessible freelance market and here I am today.
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3. What process did you go through re: courses, work experience, business advice, etc.
I studied an HNC in Photography through Thames Valley University, then just got out there and started taking pictures of anyone I could. I asked friends to dress in wedding gear and stood them in front of a church to start my portfolio.

4. How long did the process take from inspiration to calling yourself a professional?
About 2 1/2 years, but I did have a baby in that time as well.

5. What does a typical day involve for you?
All weekdays start with the school run, but after that it could be anything. Once or twice a week I will meet up with my business partner to do admin, other days I will take my laptop up to my bed and edit image after image for hours. During quiet periods, I just fold washing and do grocery shopping. On a wedding day, it’s 8-10 hours of walking around with two cameras and a multitude of lenses. I usually need a good lie in after that.
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6. What are the best bits about your job?
The weddings themselves are such joyous occasions – I love being a part of them. The thank you notes are always very satisfying. But the main thing is the flexibility it gives me to manage my family life and my energy reserves as chronic fatigue will always be a big part of my life.
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7. And the worst bits?
Worrying about whether the couple will like their pictures.

8. Has the change been a good one for you?
Absolutely. I love being a professional artist and having creativity as such a big part of my life. That is more amazing than anything. I also am no ‘stay-at-home’ mum, but my condition means I cannot commit to many regular jobs. Working my own hours is perfect for me.

9. What advice would you give to anyone considering something similar?
Do it! But write a business plan first. Things really got going for me once I figured out what it was I actually wanted.

EFC Photography is Jude Middleton and Bea Piekarska. To book them, or for further information, call 07946 425013, or 07969 845213. http://www.efcphotography.co.uk

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I hope you’re enjoying reading about people who have taken the steps to make their Mondays enjoyable! Please pass this article on if you know people would find it useful.

Next week it’s someone who know all about turning over a new leaf.

Is this Your Year for a New Career?

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In part two of our series of interviews with people who have changed careers we talk to Sarita.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself
Sarita Ainsworth, I’m 21 with 18 years’ experience, NVQ assessor/trainer A1 with CTLLS.
2. What made you decide to become an NVQ Assessor? What were you doing before? Was it an epiphany or were you actively looking for a career change?
I was the manager of an Optician’s, pretty much worked in optics since leaving school, My boss came to see me in the October and told me the lease was up on the shop in the January and they would not be renewing it, and therefore I would be made redundant. I slapped my CV on every jobsite going and a training company rang and asked if part of my role was training people (it was) and would I consider re-training  as an NVQ assessor, I went for an interview and was offered the job of trainee optical retail assessor.
3. What process did you go through re: courses, work experience, business advice, etc.
 I had to gain my A1 (assessors award) within 12 months of starting the job, I was supposed to be shadowing a qualified assessor for one month, but my Dad died 4 days after starting the job,  the assessor did some training with another lady that started in the same role on the same day, so she ended up teaching me what she knew from the 2 weeks I wasn’t working, so with the help of internal verifiers we taught ourselves how to assess (this is not best practice) The first 4 days of the job was a crash course on the theory of assessing and how to complete the paperwork.
4. How long did the process take from inspiration to calling yourself a professional?
Hahaha I didn’t feel professional until I moved companies, so that was 2 years
5. What does a typical day involve for you?
I usually see 3 learners per day, travelling to each person’s workplace and delivering NVQs, functional skills in Maths English and ICT and providing support for any BTec tests they need to take. No two days are the same and every learner is different and needs different levels of support. I am qualified to assess: Management, Team Leading, Business Administration, Customer Service, Sales, Retail (and optical retail even though the company I work for now doesn’t offer it)
6. What are the best bits about your job?
The variety in my workday, and the satisfaction when someone has completed their qualification that they may go on to bigger and better things, for example I had a 45 year old male learner working in a bingo hall, he wanted to work for an airline (in any capacity) but couldn’t unless he had at least a Level 2 in customer service. He completed levels 2 and 3 with me and is now cabin crew with Jet2 airways
7. And the worst bits?
Ofsted inspections, paperwork and lone working
8. Has the change been a good one for you?
Yes, I am challenged every day, and I am also completing teaching qualifications whilst I am assessing.
9. What advice would you give to anyone considering something similar?
You need to watch out for trainee assessing positions, you can’t assess without the qualification, and you can’t get the qualification without assessing, be confident in your own skills and experience.
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Keep your eyes open for the next installment of this series next week, and please share if you found it interesting or inspiring