Well, it’s been a strange year. The first half of the year was taken up with selling our old house, buying a new one and moving, and all the stress that entails. The second half of the year was taken up with a new baby, and in the middle of the year I was just hot. Very hot and very fat and very uncomfortable. We didn’t manage much outdoor time at all and in fact, until I wrote this post I couldn’t really think of anything that we’d done. Having said that, on a personal level I have achieved a lot and I’ll go into a bit of detail of what I’ve been up to while on maternity leave as it may help others in a similar position.

I always love seeing my #topnine instagram posts. it’s a great way to reflect on the past year.

January

2018 started with me joining a campaign with one of my favourite outdoor brands. #Berghausfirstfoot  encouraged everyone to start the new year off on the right foot, and head out for a walk with family and friends to see the new year in. At the start of the month we also put an offer in on a house and so began the tortuous process of moving. I think I spent more time with our mortgage advisor and estate agents then I did outside!

Our new year’s walk, luckily I was snug and warm in my new Bergahus down jacket (I’ve only wanted one like forever!)

February

February was a time for family, and we had an amazing night at Tom Kerridge’s Hand and Flowers for my Dad’s 60th birthday, enjoying a fantastic meal and then staying the night. I didn’t blog about it, nor even really mention it, as I took a conscious decision to not blog about every aspect of my life. It’s all too easy to blur the boundaries and I’ve noticed that sometimes I’m not really enjoying the moment as I’m worried about taking photos or posting on social media. Needless to say, it was an epic experience, and one I’ll remember for a long time. 2018 saw me become a lot more confident in my blogging abilities and proud of the skills that I’ve learnt. I wrote a post for new bloggers to share some of the tips I’ve picked up over the last few years, and I hope it helps someone out.

March

Having said that I’m more confident in my blogging skills, I’m still terribly British and awkward about approaching brands and asking to collaborate. Although I’m proud of what I can offer, I’m always worried that I’ll be seen as a scrounger after a freebie. I did manage to overcome my shyness and approached Sam from Mother and Nature to see if she was open to working together. This was partly due to necessity, as I found myself very short of clothes early on in my pregnancy, so I was looking for options. I got to try out a maternity coat, fleece and trousers so I could at least dress the part when I managed to get outdoors. It was also great working with a truly innovative British brand. One of the things I love about blogging is that I’ve met some really inspiring people, and Sam definitely falls into that category.

Rocking my Mother & Nature coat while alpaca trekking

March also saw a significant local event. I made a conscious effort to attend more events last year and be more present in the blogging community, so was delighted to attend the opening of Delapre Abbey along with other Northants Bloggers. Delapre is one of our favourite places, so it’s great to see so much time and money being invested in restoring and preserving this piece of history.

April

April was a rollercoaster month. We went from thinking that our house move was off, after the chain came perilously close to breaking, to exchanging in a matter of days after a divine intervention from a property developer further up the chain who bought our house to get things moving. We moved in on 28th April and so far we love our new home. We have so much more space, plus a lovely garden and a converted cellar to use as a home office. I had been offered my first ever short break as a blogger, and as excited as I was, the trip fell on the weekend that we moved. Not ideal, but we still went ahead and enjoyed a lovely couple of nights in The Malverns. I would love to go back when we can properly enjoy it, as our accommodation was superb, but the background anxiety from the move never quite disappeared! We also got a chance to try alpaca trekking, which was so much fun and a great way to spend time together outdoors as a family. I was pleased to see two alpacas in my #topnine!

Me with Arnie, Finn and Teddy and Luke and Chas.

May

May saw our one and only camping trip of the year. A disappointing number for us, but at least it was a good one! We ventured down to the New Forest for a couple of nights and managed to have a great time. We also got to try out some great kit this month, including the impressive OUTXE powerbank, which is one of our highlights and definitively the most impressive powerbank we’ve ever used. We also got to try out a new tent, the Vango Helix 300 is a tad smaller than we’re used to, but a great little tent and gives us some interesting options for future, wilder camping trips.

Our campsite in the New Forest

June

June is the month of the Wildlife Trusts 30 Days Wild. I was getting rather big by this point, plus still battling to get things sorted after the move, however me and Finn tried to get involved. It was a real novelty for us to have a decent sized garden, and one that was full of birds! We made feeders, planted wild flowers and put up an insect hotel. I know I say it every year, but hopefully in 2019 we’ll take part properly and do something everyday.

July

I might have only been a few weeks away from popping, but maternity leave meant that we managed a few outings in July. We were super excited to be invited to spend the weekend at the inaugural Timber Festival.  The summer heatwave was upon us, and I was struggling. I knew that the whole weekend was going to be too much, so we just went along for a day and I’m so glad we did. Hopefully this year we can spend longer there, as it was a brilliant event.

‘Museum of the Moon’ was a highlight of Timber festival

One of Finn’s favourite books is The Highway Rat, so I was keen to take him to a local trail, especially as time was running out for him to enjoy our undivided attention. On another hot day (was there any other kind this summer?) we headed to Fineshade Wood to hunt down the naughty rat. It was a great way to encourage Finn to walk a bit further than he might normally, and it really brought the book to life. I also got to try more outdoor kit, this month the Travall guard came under scrutiny and proved to be a great bit of kit.

August

As the countdown commenced to baby no. 2 joining us, I battled to clear my desk. I just about managed to finish this camping tips post, but I had other work to do. As I alluded to in my intro, there have been a few changes around here on a professional level. I decided before going on maternity leave that I am going to go back part time. Working long hours with one child was bad enough, I knew that it was going to be impossible with two. Plus, I was fed up of missing out on things and it wasn’t fair leaving Luke to pick up the slack all the time. I wanted to be able to enjoy a better work life balance, attend more events etc with my blog that I often have to turn down, and of course spend more time with my family. But, we had just moved into a bigger house, and paying the higher bills on 1.5 salaries wasn’t going to work. I needed a plan to make money. I’ve always known that my blog will never pay me a full time wage, and I wouldn’t want it to. I do it because I enjoy it and I don’t want it to become a chore. Having said that, I have stepped up my monetisation game. There are more adverts, some affiliate advertising and a few sponsored posts. I don’t feel bad about it, the reality is I have to pay for hosting, the software I use and subscriptions etc, so my blog has to pay. It won’t ever be the bulk of my income though, for that I needed another plan. So as I began maternity leave I also started advertising my services on People Per Hour. Using the skills I’ve accumulated through blogging (social media, WordPress and writing) I’ve managed to win several jobs, a few of which have gone on to be long term arrangements. It’s gone better than I ever thought, but it has been tough. Although I stopped taking on more work immediately prior to the baby Ollie’s birth, I still had existing clients so didn’t really have a proper break. Working with a newborn is challenging! My biggest hurdle to overcome next year is to work on my organisation so that I can be more productive.

Working with a newborn is no walk in the park. Next year I definitely need to work on my productivity! Having said that, I’m super proud of what I’ve achieved this year

September

Luckily for us, Ollie is super chilled so life as a family of four started relatively calmly. We enjoyed our first proper day out this month with a visit to Paradise Wildlife Park. I applied for some press tickets, mainly as a treat for Finn. The glorious long, hot summer should have been one of the highlights of his short life, instead he spent far too much time indoors with a very hot and grumpy mum (I cannot stress how uncomfortable I was!).

We had a great day out at paradise Wildlife Park, the dinosaur park was a real highlight, and went some way to easing my guilt.

November

I do realise that I’ve missed out October, but nothing notable happened that month! November started with fireworks and ended on a warm note too!

Here’s me and Ollie enjoying Fireworks night this year

I also helped Weird Fish celebrate their 25th anniversary and discovered one of my favourite new bits of kit, when I was lucky enough to try out a Boba hoodie (seriously, if you babywear, you need one!) I ended the month with something a little different. In a first for this blog, I tried out and reviewed a heated jacket. I was skeptical, but it is actually a brilliant thing, and has got me wishing for bad weather just so I can be all smug and warm in my Flexwarm jacket.

My favourite new jacket, warm and stylish

December

This month has been all about Christmas! I have worked in retail since 2006 so December is usually consists of 6 day weeks and 12 hour days (and that’s providing everything goes to plan!) This year I was determined to make the most of not working so threw myself into Christmas activities with gusto. So far we’ve been to the panto, tried ice skating, been on a santa train and visited Father Christmas at a local softplay centre. I’ve bought and wrapped all my presents, the food is arriving tomorrow and I’ve got the wine. I’ve never been so organised!

Here’s wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

I hope you enjoyed my review, and please leave me a comment and let me know about your own highlights from the past 12 months.

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