Christmas: A time for giving

Give and take, actually. Christmas is full of unspoken family rules about present buying. Who are your staple recipients, who gets a higher budget, what can you actually afford. Even what does that person deserve.

Last year I posted about a family member who crosses me off their ‘shopping list’ because they had heard I wasn’t buying presents. I did end up buying everyone a small gift each as I felt I wanted to acknowledge them all! There was a little confusion and this one family member was embarrassed that I hadn’t let them know and that they hadn’t bought me anything. This is fine because I do not buy to get a present back. Just a thank you is a nice acknowledgement.

Anyway, this year the same family member made a comment (almost a complaint) that they felt obliged to buy a gift in return for receiving one. This exaplains the year before, however I felt I needed to share that although I am always thankful for receiving and I never expect it, I didn’t feel a pressing need to go and buy a present in return.

I explained how money, time and size of family can play a part in my thinking and my value of Christmas present buying itself.  I like to give thought to gifts and spend time with people rather than buy some rubbish they dont actually want or need! The family members reply was that I could go to Poundland and buy anything, just something, in return. The point was evidently missed. I choose not always return with a gift!

The people who I buy for are the people who I feel are a part of my everyday world. I give to them because they are kind people who deserve a little treat! I sometimes give a small chocolate or I offer to babysit, or even just give a framed photo of me and them. But I do not give because I know someone is getting me something or they have got something. If I didn’t think of you before, there would be a reason. Harsh but true!

Martin Lewis from Money Saving Expert says:

“Perhaps the real gift is to release someone from the obligation of buying you a present.”

I could not agree more. Do not buy gifts just to receive them and do not go overboard so that the recipient feels a need to return a gift as a way of saying thank you. You make the choice and the recipient should not pay to receive. It’s like getting a card in the post but having to pay for the stamp!

– Lauren


Testament of Youth

I have never read the book but I have just watched the BBC’s film adaptation and I can really see why the novel was named as the Voice of Generation.

It’s such a powerful war memoir and a gentle reminder of how this country came to be and it still is so relevant to the happenings around the world today.

Remembering those who risk their lives daily in battle anywhere in this world is so important to do on a daily basis, not just on Remembarance Sunday. It is equally important to not let the sorrow stop you from living but to embrace life because you are fortunate to still have yours.

– Lauren

I’m a QUITTER and that’s okay.

In June 2011 I sat my last A Level exam. As soon as it finished I rushed out to catch the Loop Bus to the other side of town, where I would be having my first ever full time job interview. I was one who left college and avoided university, partly because I couldn’t settle on where I wanted to move to and I didn’t feel like I had enough time to prepare financially.  My boyfriend and I had been together for two years already and he had a last minute change to his future plans which looking back now, clearly impacted mine. I’m glad they did.

I always knew I wanted to work in a school and with other people telling me I was good with children and teaching would be a good career for me to get into I didn’t think twice about it. All of a sudden it was what I felt passionate about and really could see myself doing.  So I went to this job interview for the role as a Teaching Assistant. The interview went extremely well, I had no fears of what would happen in the Headteacher’s room, I just went with the flow and spoke with passion and honesty. I think I giggled after every answer I gave too, and I had that dry mouth syndrome you get when you talk to much and are nervous to say the right things.

Later that evening I got the dreaded phone call and it came with the best news ever. I still remember the conversation and the shakes of excitement and how the adrenaline just rushed through my heart.  They said they were really impressed by my application and interview and wanted me to become a part of their school. Result! I was over the moon and couldn’t wait to let everyone know. My first interview for a full time job and I got it!

So over the year I worked in the Early Years Foundation Stage classrooms (Reception) and familiarised myself with a wonderful team of staff and 60 sweet little children. I loved everyday of it and there was never a morning I woke up and dreaded work. I felt so pleased and grateful to be so young and have a job I loved when some of my friends were struggling with what to do post-college.  I also had a lot more money in my bank account. I usually did since I worked quite a lot since the summer I left school, but this was a big chunk of money and a consistent amount so I splashed out on a new (secondhand) car as you do, along with clothes and lots of takeaways.

It was around four months into my time at the school that I realised I had settled in very quickly and was receiving positive feedback about my performance. I had a few added responsibilities which I embraced and I felt like I had been at the school forever. I think it helped that I was working in the first form classrooms so I was growing into the school with the children. This all made me consider training to become a teacher. The teachers I worked with were talented and it showed that they loved their jobs and were making such a positive difference to the children in the classrooms – and obviously the staff around them too! So the hunt for university courses began. I spoke to friends, family and colleagues and my boyfriend trying to find advice on what to do and where to go.  In the end I quit my ideal job and settled to move away to Oxford Brookes University.

I loved living away from home and met lots of lovely people. I loved being independent and Oxford is such a beautiful city in which I felt really at home. My campus was up a hill not too far away from the city center, but it felt like I lived in the middle of the countryside. My halls were brand new and en-suite so I had no trouble settling in and making myself a new temporary home. I enjoyed the modules I was studying and put a lot of effort into my work – I even became a group rep. Then my first placement arrived in a school about half an hours drive away. I had the responsibility of driving a partner too, and I didn’t know the roads at all. My first motorway drive was when I moved up to Oxford and I done it alone, before that I had just pottered around my home town in my little Ford KA (my bubble). So before I had even arrived at school I felt a bit of pressure. I loved being in the classroom (Year 2) and it was something new for me as my experience had always been in the Early Years. I taught a phonics lesson with my partner and was observed with OFSTED which was scary but manageable.  My placement was just one day a week for five weeks, and I struggled to motivate myself to get up and go in for something I felt wasn’t really exciting me enough. I started suffering from headaches and just generally feeling run down and after a long wait at the doctors I was told  I was fine and homesick. He did not care to even check my temperature! SO I started to feel a bit unsupported, alone and misunderstood.

Christmas holidays soon came and I was glad to be packing up to come home. Although I didn’t really want to move back into my tiny boxroom, even if it was temporarily for 4 weeks. I cleaned my room and packed as much as I could fit into my little car, I said goodbye to my friends one by one as they each set off home for the holidays.  When I got home I had an assignment to do for English – my favourite subject and it was on Phonics which I feel I know quite well.  I sat down and wrote the title out about ten times on my paper, each time screwing it up and rewriting it. I couldn’t concentrate and felt like I had no intention of doing any work.

This is because deep down I knew I did not want to return to university. So without too much conversation with anyone else I quickly emailed my tutor and course leader saying I wanted to quit. Little did I know how my decision would impact my relationships with those around me who had been quiet supportive in my decision to move away.  My boyfriend didn’t understand why I was quitting. I let my parents know I wouldn’t be going back, except to pick up the bits I had left behind and I was faced with clear disappointment and a lack of understanding. I had no money to go back to university, I had to borrow petrol money off my boyfriend and I knew that it was the right decision for me.  Oxford was an expensive place and the pressure of funding my course and living out of home was costly. Especially when I wanted to fit in and appear to be sociable and up for having a good time with my flatmates and friends. I had got a job as a tutor before I even moved to Oxford because I knew I would need to work to get the extra money but I had to quit after a couple of shifts because I couldn’t commit to the timetables because of the unpredictable university timetables! So even my preparation didn’t help me to continue on my course. All these small factors contributed to my decision to leave.

So I didn’t work for a couple of months at all, I had a bit of student loan money left over which helped me get by with the direct debits and allowed me to still socialise a little bit. Then I got a big unexpected bill that I was told I wouldn’t be faced with for the accommodation costs at Oxford for the remainder of the term. I wasn’t even in the room and I had to pay. The problem was, because I had withdrawn from my course Student Finance had been notified and had asked me for a proportion of my overpaid loan back. I immediately paid this back as I knew I wasn’t entiteld to it and I didn’t fancy having a massive loans company chasing after me! So this letter from Oxford Brookes came at a bad time where I had no money. It was about £852 I owed.

I knew I needed to find my feet again and return to work, so I looked about for my ideal job again. Within a six month period I found myself dipping in and out of jobs:

I waitress-ed in the evenings at a local holiday caravan park – I quit because I didn’t enjoy the working environment.
I worked two temporary weeks at Easter as a play leader and Early Years Manager in Croydon.
I did some behind bar work on a casual basis – I quit because of the late nights and early starts at another job.
I worked as midday Supervisory assistant at an infant school which I enjoyed a lot. So I made an application to restart university at Brighton and continue my progression towards my dream career of teaching. I quit my job at the school and I worked the summer as a play worker and in October I enrolled as a full time student again studying Primary Education (3-7 years).

Again I loved my university course and made a group of friends who I traveled with on the train. I felt confident and sure of my future. Living at home helped with the financial worries, despite the ghastly train prices (thank you Southern Railway!). I got a job for Christmas at Monsoon and after two weekends I quit because I felt like it wasn’t fueling me enough. I couldn’t return to the world of retail after I had worked my idea job as a Teaching Assistant since leaving school. I felt like I was going backwards! I continued submitting my assignments and received really good feedback on them, again giving me confidence I was on the right track. Then placement arrived and it was a 40 minute drive away. I struggled to fund the journey and money worries returned. I tried to be savvy with my pennies, and made packed lunches and thought ahead of what I would need. I emailed my support tutor for guidance and didn’t receive a reply and then another email was sent and I was told it was normal to worry. I felt like my concerns weren’t being addressed and I was being labelled as a worried student teacher because of what the role demanded. This was far from the truth, the role has never really been a shock to me. Having family and friends as teachers and other educational professionals I have not been a stranger to the hard work involved. I was receiving excellent feedback from my observations and really got a buzz from the placement.

Then all of a sudden I felt tired all of the time, fed up with living at home, seeing my old peers graduating and moving onto their second year at university. I felt like everyone else was really happy and I was struggling to enjoy anything because of money worries. I got a throat infection and migraines and in the end was signed off by my doctor – he said it was to help me succeed in my placement. I agreed. Thinking that this would be okay with school and the university but I was wrong.  The school were fine with it, they wished me well and hoped that I would be back soon. The university are very strict and it’s black and white on attendance. Five days off and you FAIL.  I couldn’t help being ill, I had done everything to prepare myself and it was unfortunate that I got so run down. So I was told not to return to the school – by the University. The school didn’t really understand and I don’t think my partner completely understood either. It was a shock to everyone!

So I appealed and was granted mitigating circumstances, I am set to redo my placement in April and can’t progress into my second year until September 2015. Since then, I have been job hunting, scraping by for money, struggling with my label as a failure and the comments and questions from others. ‘why did you quit again?’ ‘you need to do what you want to do’ ‘do what makes you happy’. Well teaching did make me happy and it wasn’t my fault I was ILL. I actually don’t stand up for myself enough, I let them think what they want and I nod and listen to what they have to say. I know it is me who knows my life the best and I have my boyfriend who I think knows me second best!

In need for money I started working as a Gymnastics Assistant Coach which was great, the hours were perfect for me and working with children kept me engaged in that teaching mentality. I also got a job as a midday supervisory assistant again in a Special Needs School, which I loved. But I quit shortly after starting due to being signed off again for two weeks.

I search for jobs on a daily basis, probably an hourly habit now. I always look for a Teaching Assistant post. I find the ones I like the look of and I have let so many slip because I don’t want to have to quit again due to placement and returning to university. I don’t want to work a part time job and spend the rest of my time wondering what I should do with my life. I need to feel settled and stable, something which for since 2011 I haven’t had or experienced.  When things haven’t worked out I have always planned my life around returning to university and to persevere the dream of teaching.

I have been a hypocrite to myself and haven’t been listening to what I knew and felt all along. I miss my first job. I miss supporting a teacher and loving my role. Whenever I am at university I miss school, whenever I am on placement I am unhappy because I enjoy it so much I know it won’t last. I miss earning some money and being able to do the things I would like to do without feeling guilt or worry, simple things like purchasing a double cheeseburger on a Sunday or a new pair of shoes because that makes me feel happy inside.

I’ve made the decision to quit trying to fit the mold and do what others expected me to do. People grow and change, I am not immune to this. The teaching profession changes and this impacts the decisions made.  This week I decided to quit returning to full time university to return to the world of work and enjoy my early 20’s while I can. I have never been in a rush to qualify I am not a career driven person. My actions have suggested I am and I want to change that! My future dream is to enjoy my job, move out, have a family and just invest time in the people and things I love.

I am Lauren and I don’t want to be a teacher at the moment, I want to be a Teaching Assistant and study towards a degree part time – purely because I love studying. One day in the future I might opt into a post graduate course in teaching or I might follow a different career path. I will grow into whoever and whatever I am supposed to be and there will be no pressure on myself to ‘succeed’. A job title shouldn’t define my success!

If you are still reading this, I am extremely impressed and thankful that you’ve taken the time to read about this chapter of my life!  It’s emotional and hard to accept change and to explain or justify this to people. Hopefully by sharing this I can show that quitting is okay and it can help you get to where you need to be. Now to find that job of mine!

We exist without photos!

This weekend a few people I know saw Passenger at Brighton and my social media feeds were full of blurry pictures and awkward sounding videos of the gig.

This annoys me so much as you pay to go and enjoy the music but actually you stand there with your arms dead still trying to capture the moment.

And in these pictures and videos you see a whole room of little white square screens all focusing on the stage and not moving to enjoy the music.

When it comes to music I think phones should be banned – just like the theatre and cinemas although I know this would be ridiculously hard to follow through what with most venues being huge!

We do not need to tag a status or write a post with a picture to prove that we went or to show others we had a good time. What I like about bloggers is they still find words to explain and tell stories about their lives.

Are we going to face a speechless generation in the near future??

Hibernating Clothes

I own a fair amount of clothes but before I caught on to the selling frenzy on Facebook and eBay I had a lot more! Despite this, I still can never really love my wardrobe and think ‘yes I have a dress perfect for that occassion’ or ‘my shoes will really compliment my dress’. This could be because I am one of those people who finds something that fits and flatters and buys it in different colours. So if I take away all of the doubles in my clothes, I actually haven’t got much at all!

I’m always buying clothes for the future too. Nice sparkly skirts and dresses that will do for one day but not today. So I have a box full of hibernating clothes. For the remainder for this year I’m challenging myself to not purchase another dress for Christmas or New Years but to use the ones in my wardrobe.

And then of course, I think about those who aren’t fortunate enough to have clothes at this cold time of year all over the world and throw all of the new clothes in a big charity bag just in time for shoppers at Christmas, because the charity needs my unused clothes more than I ever will.

You’re Bigger than the Big Blue

“You’re bigger than the big blue”

This can be interpreted in so many ways but for me it really relates to my struggles with depression and anxiety. The ‘big blue’ being these mental health problems which affect me on a daily basis. I also see the big blue like an ocean of obstacles in the form worries, fears, people. Not all of these things stick around, some might longer longer than others. But I’ve noticed that they come and go like waves, some knock me down and some push me up to a high. Although there might be a risk, they never completely drown me – because I have decided I am BIGGER!


I’ve learnt this year that change doesn’t just happen without you actively making an effort. For me I have had to chase other people up by making phone calls, sending letters and emails in order to secure my future plans. When you do finally get some answers (because you will), it’s a relief and there is a great sense of satisfaction knowing you’ve been productive. I feel more able to achieve and that I am regaining control of my life and the decisions I need to make.

At this time of year where everyone around you seems to be positive, excited and happy, even when you catch yourself having some fun, it can be so difficult to get the support you are actually in need of. Please talk to people and look after yourself. x