Oxford Bookshop Book Haul

Mini Monday Movies

Despite the convenience and accessibility of the video camera that I carry around in my pocket, I’ve never been that good at taking many videos. And while still images are great, videos add that extra dimension to the memories they capture. The sound of someone’s voice, the curious way they walk, the sound of laughter. But videos have always fallen into the too hard pile. Easy to shoot, but a pain to edit and do anything with. So they sit collecting dust on my hard drive, defeating the whole purpose.

But years from now, I want to look back with nostalgia at a collection of home movies. And with the help of Xanthe Berkeley and her Make Films course, I feel like I may have finally cracked the code.

15 Seconds.

That’s the code.

Short, 15 second mini movies. Why 15 seconds? Because that’s the maximum length you can upload to Instagram, simple as that. And once I let go of the idea that the videos I made needed to be full-length feature films, it was like a weight had been lifted and was free to go forth and create. And so I have, sharing a mini movie every Monday.

Fifteen seconds doesn’t seem like a long time, but you can actually tell a lot of story in 15 seconds and you can capture a lot of lovely memories. All without spending hours in iMovie. Fifteen seconds is doable.

Memories of a day out in Oxford.

Memories of a birthday party spent learning about reptiles.

Memories of what it’s like to commute into London.

Memories of rainy days spent building Lego.

Memories of doing our math homework.

All in just 15 seconds.



Good Reads
Good Reads

A Few Good Reads

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

If I found out the Night Circus was in town, I’d be one of the first in line. The mysteries of the magical black and white world that Morgenstern creates are spell-binding.

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.”

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

Honestly, read this book, it is so amazingly good, no wonder it’s been on so many recommended reading lists and won the Pulitzer. And, funnily, on the same day I finished reading it on my Kindle I discovered the paperback copy I’d bought months ago sitting on a shelf, forgotten. The book was so good I bought it twice! (Note to local friends – one copy up for grabs!). Set in World War II, it’s a beautiful work of historical fiction with delicious writing and characters to whom you don’t want to say goodbye.

“To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air.”

Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

Ebola, Zika, these are real viruses infecting our planet and finding their way into the headlines. So, is the fundamental premise of Station Eleven, that humans are annihilated by a fast spreading airborne virus, really that far-fetched? I think not. Mandel weaves an intricate tale of survival and hope where multiple threads and stories become one. And while set in a post-apocalyptic world, it’s full of beauty.

“The beauty of this world where almost everyone was gone. If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it?”

Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Under-rated Organ – Giulia Enders

As someone who suffers from Crohn’s Disease, a disease of the gut, I found this book really interesting. Enders tries to make the science accessible, but it’s still pretty heavy on the science, so I wouldn’t suggest this for a lazy read on the beach. And, it certainly has the most informative and frank discussion about poop that I’ve ever read. But this is a great book if you’re interested in how the working of gut affects our entire well-being.

“We humans have known since time immemorial something that science is only now discovering: our gut feeling is responsible in no small measure for how we feel. We are ‘scared shitless’ or we can be ‘pooing our pants’ with fear. We can’t get our ‘arse into gear’ if we don’t manage to complete a job. We ‘swallow’ our disappointment and need time to ‘digest’ a defeat. A nasty comment leaves a ‘bad taste in the mouth’. When we fall in love, we get ‘butterflies in our stomach’. Our ‘self’ is created in our head and our gut — no longer just in language, but increasingly also in the lab.”

Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl

A classic and one of the most influential books of all time. If you’re ever feeling sorry for yourself and that life is hopeless, give this a read. Frankl spent years in Nazi concentration camps, lost his family, and yet still found hope and meaning in life.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

I Know How She Does It – Laura Vanderkam

Reading articles and books on productivity is one of my things, doesn’t make me any more productive, but I find the study of productivity interesting. I learned about this book through a podcast I follow, The Broad Experience, and an episode that resonated deeply with me, How to Make the Most of Your Time. Vanderkam studied time logs from thousands of high-achieving women and lays bare the truth behind business and the myths about what we can and can’t fit into our 168 hours.

“When you face a choice of whether to strategize about your career, do deep work, mentor a colleague, or even enjoy some slack in your schedule, or whether to spend an hour cleaning out your inbox, just remember that your inbox will fill up again, but you’ll never get that hour back.”


If you’re looking for even more Good Reads, follow the excellent Modern Mrs. Darcy on her blog and podcast, What Should I Read Next. I’m getting tons of great new reading suggestions from her podcast, I can’t read fast enough!


Open Plan Productivity
Soul Searching

The Introvert’s Nightmare – Open Plan

In my first job out of college, as an intern, I had an office with four walls and a door. Lowest person on the totem pole, yet I still had a door I could close. I went to the office every day to do my work, because that’s where work happened. There was no laptop to take home, no email to catch up on in the evening, no access to everything from anywhere on a computer that fits in my pocket. Work, not just meetings, but productive, deep thinking work, got done at work. This was my experience for most of my early career.

And then I had a cubicle.

My early experiences with cubicles weren’t bad. I had an assigned cube with my name plate on the side and full height partitions on which I could pin mementos. While not an office, it was a space I could call my own with a modicum of privacy. I now had laptops and Blackberries that made me accessible and on-call, but work still got done at work.

And then I had a hot desk in an open plan office.

Open plan offices are exactly what they sound like. They are big open spaces full of long tables with phones, power, and network jacks and few, if any, offices. It’s like turning up at a dinner party with fifty or so of your closest friends, taking any open seat at the table, and then trying to enjoy a nice quiet meal while the group seated next to you has a loud and heated debate over the plausibility of lightsabers. Open plan is great for impromptu meetings and networking with colleagues. But today, if I have deep thinking work to do, projects or plans that need my attention and focus, the office is one of the last places I’d want to go. For introverts like myself, these environments, which cater to extroverts, are a special kind of hell. I’m not alone in thinking that open plan has destroyed the workplace. All of the sudden, work doesn’t get done at work anymore.

Why Work Doesn’t Get Done At Work.

Thankfully, over my 20-year career, I’ve also witnessed a revolution in the way people work. The ubiquity of the Internet and mobile access to everything from everywhere means that I know almost no one who works every day, 9-5, in an office anymore. Working from home, working on the train, working from Starbucks, these are the norm. And, especially as a working parent, I value the flexibility this new way of working provides. In isolation, the shift toward open plan is a death sentence to workplace productivity and a license to get the biggest noise cancelling headphones one can afford. It’s only when employers embrace the mobile, flexible working revolution in parallel (as has been my experience) that the system makes sense. I leverage the open plan office for its strengths, meetings and networking. Uninterrupted time working on projects happens elsewhere.

So despite all its flaws, would I trade my open plan office and flexible working for an office with a door and the expectation I’m behind it every day? Nope.

I’ll stick with open plan and a flexible schedule that allows me to make sure all the puzzle pieces of my life fit together. I’ll gladly keep turning up at the dinner table and join in the conversation, offering my own opinions about the existence of lightsabers.


Swan Lake
iPhoneography, Polaroid

Go Analog: Convert Your iPhone Photos Into Film

For all my love of everything digital, there are still some things in which I’m still squarely in camp analog. Yes, there are any number of apps on which to take notes or organize to do lists, but nothing has ever worked as well for me as old-fashioned paper and pen. Research even suggests that writing notes the analog way improves learning and comprehension. My stacks of Moleskine journals and collections of colored pens serve as testaments to my continued love of longhand writing.

I’ve also been unwilling to let go of film as a medium for photography. Instant film, in particular, with its dreamy qualities and keepsakes that fit nicely in my aforementioned Moleskine, is my favorite. But my Polaroid SX-70 was broken most of last year (now fixed!) so instead, I decided to experiment with the Impossible Instant Lab. The Instant Lab is a great little invention that lets you make original instant film images from photos off your iPhone. And I love it. I can take any image from the camera I have with me the most (iPhone) and convert it to film, creating images that are the same but also completely different.

Indeed, film is not dead.

Impossible Instant LabReflections of the ThamesImpossible Instant LabImpossible Instant LabImpossible Instant Lab

31 Days of Drawing

My 31 Days of Drawing

Sometimes we have drawing contests at home. One of us picks the subject and then we each take turns drawing our interpretation of it, hiding our creations until finished. Then we reveal them and vote on the winner. Well, I lose most of the time. Setting aside that the little man usually wins (obviously), I’m also competing against someone who should be making a living as an illustrator, architect, animator, or basically any other career in which artistic talent is key. It’s the pity vote on which I usually rely. “Mummy never wins so I voted for her.”

So, I decided that I didn’t want to be the only one in the house who didn’t know how to draw. I’ve never taken any art classes outside of photography, so step one was to find a teacher. And luckily, I stumbled across Lisa Congdon‘s 31 Day Drawing Challenge for the month of January, guided practice drawing a different object every day for a month. I’ve long been a fan of Lisa’s illustrations and drawings and this was perfect for me. Lisa’s style, in particular, is very stylized, embracing the quirkiness of geometric lines and shapes, helping me understand that sketches never need to look exactly like what you’re trying to draw. “It’s the imperfections that make your work more interesting,” she says. Read her doodling manifesto.

And in just 31 days, I’ve seen my drawing improve as I’m learning how to put lines and shapes together. Maybe one day I’ll even go back and revisit the shockingly bad chairs that I drew on January 3rd. While it’s likely that I’ll still never win any of our drawing contests, at least it won’t be for lack of trying.