Saturday 19 September 2015
Last Sunday I spent all day making a dress for Cherry. I haven't sewn in years, other than a Christmas stocking three years ago the last thing I made was probably an outfit for the Best Dressed Doll category at the local village flower show.
(My mother and I decided to enter the category after seeing a cute pattern for a floral pinafore and we sewed the whole thing ourselves. I was involved in the entire process including using my mother's old Singer sewing machine, so it was very amateurish, and we still remember to this day the judges' comments were 'A little girl's dream - but very badly sewn.')
After I bought Violet her birthday dress from Wild Things Dresses I totally fell in love with Kirsty's style and when I saw she had a book out I bought it on impulse. Then I started looking for fabrics online and before I knew it I had two metres of stunning apple-print fabric, a metre of yellow cotton poplin and some contrasting blue thread sat at home next to my mother's sewing machine.
They sat for a fair few weeks, staring at me and I started to think 'I'm never going to make that dress'. I am full of great ideas that never materialise, plans and projects that never come to fruition, blogposts that never get written. It bothers me massively and I wanted to do something to prove to myself that I could see something through.
So out came the sewing machine, which I had forgotten entirely how to even thread, and I found a manual online, threaded the machine and made the dress in a day.
I loved every second of it. It was absorbing in a way that is hard to come by in a modern age of constant switching - from screen to laptop to phone to Kindle - and in an era of motherhood that is utterly defined by being constantly, endlessly interrupted, usually to wipe up a sticky substance of some kind. It was also tiring and once I was finished I felt slightly like I didn't know what to do with myself. It's been a very, very long time since I was able to get so involved and wrapped up in a project.
Cherry has barely taken it off since I presented it to her. As soon as she saw it her face lit up and she asked to wear it immediately and put apples in the pocket. She tells everybody who admires the dress that I made it for her. It's just adorable and I feel really glad that I have this time, this age when she is so grateful for my efforts. I'm fairly certain by the time she's in her teens should I dare present her with a (admittedly fairly badly) home-made effort she will be outraged.
But for now - she is thrilled. She doesn't care a jot that the stitching could be a bit (much) better and the hem isn't even and the straps don't quite match and the billion and one other things that are far, far from perfect. She just loves her apple dress that her Mummy made for her, with the caveat of course, 'and one for Violet?'
Tuesday 8 September 2015
I am in love with the word 'whole' at the moment, particularly as a prefix. Having read a lot of Brene Brown recently I'm all over the word 'wholehearted' and the general concept of wholeheartedness.
I'm also big on wholesomeness. I thought today, watching Cherry and Violet stare transfixed at an old-fashioned petrol lawn mower (the kind that you have to start by yanking repeatedly at a long cord. I don't even know what the word for that is. I probably used to. I reckon I've started a fair share of mowers that way) that if I were to sum up the childhood I want to give them in one word, it would be 'wholesome'.
It being September my thoughts are getting pretty wholesome anyway, full of lovely things like knitwear and apples and crackly leaves and morning frosts and rosy cheeks and bonfires and toffee apples and hearty stews and apple crumbles. Autumn lends itself so beautifully to wholesome but I like to apply wholesome year-round, as much and as often as possible.
I'm outdoorsy, enthusiastic, physically expressive, excitable. I'm really, really uncool.
This is how I want to be, and this is I suppose how I want my daughters to be too, although I have to caveat that with the disclaimer that I want my daughters to be whoever they are going to be. Somewhere within Cherry or Violet may lurk the angular limbs, nonchalance and aesthetic mastery of a hipster but you know what? I doubt it. With Noel and I as parents their chances of inheriting any street cred are less than zero.
I suppose it could be learned. If it bothered them that much.
I hope it doesn't. I love being uncool. I haven't always loved it (you'll notice I cannot deny that I have always been uncool). Not being a cool kid at school is pretty tough sometimes, even if you are very wholesome. But at 34 I love having the freedom and confidence to embrace my wholesomeness wholeheartedly, to practice cartwheels and handstands at the playground with Cherry and Violet despite the sniggering teenagers, to still derive such deep joy from being ruddy-cheeked and breathless in the chilly air then coming in and getting into a hot bath.
Today I saw an article about a spoof Instagram account poking fun at the kind of wholesome, authentic, wholehearted Instagram feeds that seem so very divisive. Some of us, and I fully include myself in this category, absolutely love the arty shots, styling, whimsical captions, liberal use of inspirational quotes (yep I'm a sucker for them) and hefty dose of positive thinking. I don't just love it, I aspire to it. I want MY IG feed to be all wholesome and pretty and apple-cheeked and authentic and heartfelt and genuine. I find it a really, really lovely way to live.
It's not that I want to stick my head in the sand and ignore THE WORLD or pretend that my life and everything in it is perfect, it's more that I have no interest in cynicism and criticism for criticism's sake. The sarcastic ranty blogposts, the hilariously knowing opinion columns, the look-how-hard-I'm-not-trying-to-try-too-hard spoofs and swipes. Having had my time of finding all of the above really 'me', I know for a fact the only reason I was drawn to any of it was to cover and conceal my own vulnerabilities. It's cool not to care - not to care so much that you write great big long rants about how much YOU DON'T CARE.
I care and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I care about being a kind person, about thinking positively, about choosing my language carefully because I really feel that language plays such a huge part of how we think and feel, and often we don't even realise it. I care about the kind of world I am borrowing from my children and grandchildren. I care about my own boundaries, and the impact I make and the effect I have on the people around me.
I care about having the strength to be vulnerable, enthusiastic, and very uncool. I care about the kind of role model I am for my daughters but most of all, I care about how I feel about the life I live, right now. Having tried the odd other model on for size and always found it ill-fitting, constricting, scratchy or just downright wrong, I can wholeheartedly say that I can think of no better life to live than a wholesome one.
Monday 7 September 2015
Anybody who knows me or follows me on Instagram on Twitter will know I'm a real nature girl. I love being outdoors and so do Cherry and Violet, and we all spend a great proportion of our time together outside.
Last week my lovely friend Lucy published her new book 30 Days of Rewilding, a really beautiful and inspiring guide to helping families reconnect with nature. Please do go and buy it, I promise you will not regret it!
It makes my heart glow now when I see Cherry and Violet in nature, playing little games and doing the sort of things I used to do and I think everybody who spent time outdoors used to do - making potions and perfumes and soups and salads, climbing trees, hiding in bushes or dens, paddling in streams, looking for bugs and insects, brandishing sticks, collecting stones and eating blackberries and wild plums and cherries and the occasional oh god I don't quite know what that was!
When I look at this list I want to laugh and cry at the same time, because even though these memories only date back 25-30 years it already feels like a simpler, more innocent time. I just wish I had photos but of course, this all happened way before the days of mobile phones, camera phones, and even digital cameras. Wow. That's made me feel old!
When I was young I read somewhere that if you walked around barefoot enough the skin on your feet would harden and you'd be able to walk over any surface without shoes. I loved this idea and spent ages walking around barefoot in the hope of developing those hardened soles. Even now I like to be barefoot and my feet are certainly pretty rough and calloused. My feet wouldn't pass any beauty tests, but I like to think they are happy.
That's the thing about being outdoors. It just makes you happy. Here's my best memories of my life as a wild child.
1. Collecting all the snails I could find in my garden before going to school and arranging them in a line at the top of our patio, then checking at the end of the day to see which one had got the furthest.
2. Losing a boot in an enormous boggy churn of mud while out on a long walk with my best friend. In solidarity, she took one of her boots off too and the pair of us walked the miles and miles home half barefoot.
3. Watching a herd of two-year-old colts charging up and down the length of a fence, eventually gathering enough momentum to smash straight through a metal gate. This was incredible to witness as a reminder of the raw power of the usually placid, domesticated horse.
4. Taking pears from an orchard over a three or four-week period with my best friend while we were riding at a nearby farm. We scrumped the full orchard. To this day I have never tasted pears anything like as good.
5. Arriving for Girl Guides bareback and hatless on an elderly chestnut pony, along with my best friend. I don't think I've heard the words 'health and safety' used so often in such as short period of time.
6. Not strictly an outdoor memory but when I was young we used to go Eurocamping for family holidays, usually to the South of France and always somewhere with a beach. One year my parents found my brother and I a little guide called How To Be Safe At The Shore, I think by Dr Seuss, using bonkers cartoons of bears to depict worst-case scenarios. It was just the funniest thing I had ever seen or read in my life. I cried actual tears of laughter. I was reminded of it recently and Googled it but found no trace, so it seems it's one of those things that is lost forever. Except in my memory.
7. Related to the above yarn, one year we Eurocamped in Spain and our campsite had a swimming pool in the shape of a dolphin and it was the best thing in the whole world. I lived in that pool for the entire two weeks and taught myself to back-flip into the water. I plunged in so often I gave myself an ear infection.
8. Stargazing with my mother one cold November night. We wrapped up warm, set up the sun loungers and got into sleeping bags, I leaned back on my lounger and flipped it straight over and hit the floor with the lounger on top of me.
9. Camping in the garden with friends in my parents' really old brown sleeping bags with orange liners and with heaps of blankets. I eventually did have a proper sleeping bag that was super-warm, whizzy, high-tech, waterproof and all sorts, but I will always have a soft spot for those old brown things.
10. Riding a pony through bluebell and wild-garlic laden woods in the springtime, through a little path that led down to a ditch. I cantered endlessly up and down that path, popping over the ditch, mainly riding one-handed and pretending in my head I was the beautiful and courageous heroine of all manner of fairy-tale scenarios.
I have hundreds more, but I have to stop somewhere or this post will be endless. I'd love to hear your favourite outdoor memories too.
Sunday 30 August 2015
Noel and I absolutely love throwing birthday parties for Cherry and Violet. Helping create a magical day for them is one of the nicest things about having children and we're both big believers in making it all about the experience rather than presents.
At this age they are both still really happy with homemade parties, and have yet to start demanding Frozen parties or soft-play parties or similar. I'm sure as they get older the challenge will be making these themed events charming, but for now as long as there's balloons, cake, family and friends everybody is happy.
After a bit of thought Noel came up with the idea of holding Violet's party in the little wooded glade opposite our house. It's already a beautiful space but with a bit of bunting, some balloons and a tiny bouncy castle it became really enchanting.
(The only thing I find about hosting birthday parties is I am always so busy tearing around I have no time to take photos during the event itself, so most of these pictures are 'before' or 'after' shots)
We like to involve Cherry and Violet as much as possible in making decisions about the party, what food they would like, what kind of cake and so on. Violet chose an angel cake from my Annie Bell cake book to decorate with Smarties, sweeties and sprinkles.
The decoration of the cake has become a tradition for birthday parties and Cherry and Violet really, really believe that more is more.
We kept the food quite simple, cheese and cucumber sandwiches, jam sandwiches, fruit salad, breadsticks and hummus, party rings (Cherry's suggestion), juice and, as requested by Violet, sweeties. We put out grown-up sandwiches, a few drinks and nibbles for the adults.
Violet chose the pink tablecloth, party plates, cups and cutlery, napkins, some blue paper party bags and a few little fun fillers all from good old Asda. I chose her dress as she absolutely loves kites. It's from Wild Things Dresses and I love it SO much I could cry. She was so excited she ran around yelling 'my kite dress! my kite dress!' once she had put it on. I just wish I had a better photo of Violet in it but it was all snatched, rushed shots on the iPhone yesterday.
Then all we needed was good friends and family. And a giant balloon in the shape of a number two.
I love everything about birthday parties. The excitement and the buildup, the frenzied fun, the glow afterwards. I love having Cherry and Violet involved in everything, and there was something deeply touching about their wild excitement on Friday when it was clear Violet was excited because Cherry was excited, and she knew she was having a 'birthday party' but she wasn't quite sure what a birthday party was.
Cherry was a solicitous older sister, accosting guests and demanding 'Have you brought a present for Violet?!' I am not sure how selfless her motivation was, truth be told. But she understood that it was Violet's party and Violet's day and that the presents and cards were for Violet, not for her. Although obviously she got to play with everything so she did pretty well out of her sister's second birthday.
After the party was officially 'over' (although several guests stayed for most of the afternoon) Violet finally got a ride on a home-made go-kart that's been left in the playground over the road for most of the summer.
What little girl could ask for more?
I hope they remember these parties, the fun and the adventure. As I put a very tired Cherry to bed she said to me 'I miss the party.'
I remember exactly how that felt as a child. The excitement and anticipation of an event that's over and gone in a flash. Everything seems to happen on fast-foward. Like your younger child, your 'baby', turning two.
It goes in the blink of an eye.
Thursday 27 August 2015
1. There's an entire forest just an hour's drive away from my front door and
2. THERE'S A GRUFFALO IN IT!
When I saw a picture of he of the terrible teeth and terrible claws on IG posted by lovely Katie I thought, we are SO GOING THERE.
Unfortunately the day we chose to visit it rained. All. Day. Absolutely poured. Proper wet rain, relentless rain, the kind of rain that could totally ruin a lovely day out with friends.
Only it didn't, because GRUFFALO!
Alice Holt is stunning. It took my breath away, and the enormous, ancient firs kept the rain at bay too. I couldn't stop thinking how lovely it would be to come back one non-soggy day and just spend the whole day exploring.
As it was, we spent a good few hours with our intrepid, drenched-to-the-bone-but-couldn't-care-less children, soaking (literally) up the beauty and the adventure of the place. Despite Cherry's face in some of these pictures (that girl KILLS me) all the children adored it.
The light was magical and everything looked so green - the joy of summer rain. In fact it was so magical Cherry was a little put out that the Gruffalo himself wasn't a real Gruffalo.
Silly old Cherry. Doesn't she know?
Friday 21 August 2015
I'm on something of a roll with the topic, and very concept, of creativity at the moment.
I've made peace with the odd bout of children's TV (definitely a post for another time) and found some burgeoning confidence thanks to a great deal of personal growth, self-discovery and a fairly major breakthrough (yep, another one for another time).
I have committed to practicing creativity inside and outside of my scope as a mother. I'm here, I'm ready to go.
So today after lunch Cherry and Violet took some down-time with the Octonauts and I came into my study and turned on my computer, checked a few social feeds, responded to some blog comments and…
What now? I've given myself full permission to create. I have a billion and one things on my list including, but not limited to: a new book pitch; redesigning my blog; sewing new dresses for Cherry and Violet; creating a mood board for my study; reading the range of books and magazines I have lined up for a quiet moment; a feature for the Telegraph; a travelling notebook to read and contribute towards; and a daily journalling practice.
All systems go!
All systems stop. Enter procrastination.
A pointless loop of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, Twitter again, oh look what's this link abou- NO STOP. Just STOP.
I took myself downstairs and opened my journal. Ignoring the wreckage of my kitchen post-lunch I wrote down every single thought that was in my head. It was very illuminating. Here's some of what I was wrestling with.
I can't think of a blogpost idea!
I haven't heard back from my editor at the Telegraph regarding my latest pitch.
My book idea feels too big to even attempt to start.
I haven't got much time! I need to use it productively!
The house is a tip.
There are actual flies buzzing around the kitchen.
The garden needs watering. The trough needs replanting.
If that fabric had arrived I could start sewing. But it hasn't. Even though I have plenty of fabric to practice with and am very rusty with the machine, I'm still holding off for that new fabric.
There's so much laundry that needs doing.
The kitchen needs tidying.
The toys need sorting out completely.
I can't connect the printer to the computer because I don't have an ink cartridge. We probably shouldn't buy anything unnecessary until after Noel has been paid.
I don't want to waste my time reading books and magazines! I can do that later.
I don't want to waste time creating a mood or inspiration board! I can do that later.
I don't have time to 'get into' Pinterest.
I don't have time to redesign my blog.
Should I be paying the children attention instead of letting them watch TV?
Octonauts is nearly over, I need to get back to it!
What am I going to make for tea?
Why don't I meal plan?!
Do I need two notebooks - one for journalling and one for creative brainstorming and ideas?
Don't forget the travelling notebook! And don't do that thing you always do and leave it until the last minute because you're looking forward to it and want to give it special time and attention that never materialises so you end up rushing and doing a really half-assed job!
I looked at what I had written and thought, no wonder I can't get going with all that swirling around up there. Especially as I am clearly creeping into frustration and beating myself up, which never leads anywhere good. I'm totally over making myself feel bad to make myself 'better'.
Since I learned to observe and detach a little from my thoughts, rather than blindly accepting them as whole truths and following them to the letter, I have begun to really appreciate how flawed and often jumbled my thought processes are. What does come through very strongly though is a complete fixation on productivity and outcome.
My main fears around creativity and general time spent outside of mothering involve 'wasting' time. I feel like I need a result, an outcome, some proof for every hour - every minute - spent not meeting the needs and demands of my children.
It's quite understandable, because having such short snatched pockets of time in which to do so many things does create pressure. Although truthfully I think I have always thought this way, been overly preoccupied with outcomes. Our social and education system is pretty outcome-obsessed.
Processes rarely get a look in, both inside my head and outside in the wider world. Which is such a shame because 95% of the joy in any project, and in fact life in general, is in my humble opinion in the process, the journey.
But that's not to say that everything in my head was nonsense. It certainly was an epic attack of procrastination but some of it was still relevant. Despite the popular rhetoric that 'the housework can wait' I find that often, actually, it can't. Not just because of the flies in the kitchen (I feel compelled to point out that everybody on our street gets invaded by flies in the summer, it's not just me!) but also because if my house is covered in crap and all the dishes are dirty and we have no clean clothes, I can't really mother to the best of my ability.
I'm too busy falling over Lego and boxes full of bags full of boxes whilst looking for a cup for one thirsty child and a pair of shorts for the other or more likely the same child who has tipped previously-proffered cup of water all over herself mentioning no names here Violet.
I'm no neat freak but I do find the more cluttered my house, the more cluttered my mind, so I try and stay on top of the day-to-day carnage.
Once I'd finished writing I thought, what needs to be done here?
I got up, lit some citronella and washed up. As I did so, I watched my thoughts drift past, like the bastard flies still determinedly buzzing around the remains of our lunches.
One or two seemed worth noting so I jotted them down in my notebook before carrying on.
By the time I'd finished, I had a clean kitchen and three blogposts already written in my head, all ready and waiting for me after I'd spent the rest of the afternoon with Cherry and Violet and put them to bed.
And you're reading one of them right now.
Wednesday 19 August 2015
I haven't camped in years - just one short holiday under canvas in Devon since my days of Girl Guide camps and family Eurocamping in the south of France.
But I really loved the idea of rediscovering camping myself and introducing Cherry and Violet to the concept. They were super-excited when I put up our new tent a few days before to test it out (and check I actually remembered how to put a tent up!)
I did remember, thankfully. Not that it's rocket science really but still. As a very right-brained type who struggles to assemble the cardboard boxes you buy at post offices, I count it as an achievement.
We headed off to Salisbury at around 10am giving our two overexcited monkeys, one of whom had been awake since 4am in anticipation, plenty of time to nap and recharge their batteries on the journey.
Some of our friends had brought their daughter's dressing-up box, and Cherry and Violet instantly swooped in on some of the outfits. Cherry in particular really embraced the concept of 'layering'. For the rest of the trip we had Nurse Fairy Princess Butterfly here….
As afternoon turned into evening a campfire was lit and layers were added on top of fancy-dress layers. Cherry basically ate nothing but cake for tea and Violet attempted a picnic only to discard it in favour of being dragged about on a 'beep-beep-beep'.
Knowing they would be wide awake with the dawn, Noel and I followed shortly after. Sure enough Cherry and Violet were awake and raring to go at 5.20am so we reeled out the big guns - Peppa Pig on the tablet - to buy ourselves an hour's snooze.
We had fried egg and sausage sandwiches for breakfast and another good play before packing up and heading off.
We all loved everything about camping. Noel's probably the least keen of all of us, but he loved the atmosphere, the children running wild and free, the campfire and the camaraderie.
I have to say though this was more glamping than camping as we had access to a static unit with a fitted kitchen and toilet, running water, a fridge and freezer - pretty much all mod cons.
We massively overpacked and somehow I am still wading through laundry five days later. All learnings for the future.
I am still glowing from it though. That irresistible sense of connection as a family is really heightened by shared adventures, and whether you're just about to turn two or in your mid-30's, camping is always an adventure.