Sunday, 29 March 2015

Easter list

(I'm going to try not to be deterred by the fact that as I write this, rain is hammering steadfastly on the window)

Holidays can actually be quite lonely with very young children. We have only lived in this area since 2013, and making friends in the hectic first year of life with a young toddler and a baby isn't particularly easy.

But I had family around the corner so as long as they were around we had company. Then, as readers of my blog will know, my family moved to Singapore last November. This Easter my parents are out there visiting, which means we will not be able to go to Granny's during the holidays, another failsafe.

I have worked hard since my family left at building new friendships and Cherry going to pre-school has helped enormously. We are booked up for several days with friends, we have neighbours we can call in on or meet at the playground out the front, and we're spending the Easter weekend itself with Noel's family.

And Cherry is truly blossoming as a social being, delighting in the company of her friends (in particular one little boy who, to my joy, seems as inherently silly in his nature as she).

But a part of me does still feel anxious that I will feel lonely over Easter. Holidays are a time for family as much as friends and I feel the absence of my sister-in-law, who was for years my dearest and closest friend, and my niece and nephew as well as of course my brother.

I think the isolation of early motherhood - as I experienced it anyway - is hard to just leave behind especially when some of the few people who were there during the very early years now live on the other side of the world.

The more I talk to mothers I get to know mainly through Cherry's pre-school the more common I find this sense of isolation to be. Lots of us seem to feel we are the only ones who get lonely, imagining our fellow stay-at-home mums to have circles of friends and coffee-dates galore.

In fact all the above thinking relates to a really good idea I had recently about which I will talk more soon, but this is intended to be a post about our plans for Easter!

So far our Easter list includes:

Making gingerbread eggs to decorate an Easter 'tree' - Easter trees seem to be a thing and our local garden centre is full of gorgeous pastel delights. I love this post from one of my absolute favourite blogs Seeds and Stitches and since my children are obsessed with collecting sticks and twigs I thought we could do something similar. I do think however were I to offer up a non-edible dough to make the decorations my children would probably pack their bags and leave, so instead of salt dough we'll use a gingerbread recipe (probably this one replacing the sugar and golden syrup with honey, maple syrup or agave so I can fatuously pretend it's sugar-free).

Making Easter eggs for Noel's family - we will melt down ordinary milk chocolate and use egg moulds to make our own mini eggs and some raw chocolate eggs for me so I don't miss out!

Making Easter bonnets - a classic! Noel stocked up with everything we need from Hobbycraft.

Some fun science experiments - since I discovered Science Sparks I have been dying to attempt some simple experiments with the girls. I love how everything can be done with ordinary store cupboard ingredients, although I am going to need to stock up on bicarbonate of soda and food colouring as Cherry also wants to….

Dye eggs - I can't really see the point of this but I concede it's very pretty and decorative. Cherry is really excited about what she calls 'eggs and colours' which is basically dyeing eggs with food colouring. We've tried it a couple of times but the effect on ordinary brown hen's eggs is pretty poor. Our local greengrocer has started selling lovely big white duck eggs so I think we will invest in a few of them and make Cherry's dreams come true.

Visit our nearest museum, the Honeywood which is running an exhibition of local artists, and the Horniman which we have been to several times and absolutely LOVE, mainly for the gardens I confess and the aquarium if only because Violet calls fish 'ish' and it's super cute.

Our last visit to the Horniman, when Violet was still in my tummy. Look at that little girl!

Make a paper boat mobile. An idea I have seen on several sites, most recently on one of my favourite blogs The Ordinary Lovely. I think paper cranes are probably outside my origami ability at the moment so we'll probably stick to boats. Yet another use for those infernal sticks.

Visit nearby National Trust sites and properties Box Hill, Morden Hall Park and Polesden Lacey. Earlier this year I took the girls to Box Hill for a breakfast picnic (basically granola on the side of the hill) and we all loved it, so given that they are up and about by 6am at the latest I think we'll repeat that little exercise again.

Go back to our community allotments. One of the nicest things we did last summer was start going to drop-in sessions at the community allotments every week. We met some nice friends and the group is very generous so we always left loaded down with gorgeous fruit and veg the girls (well, Cherry) had helped to pick.

And my personal Easter list includes:

Spend some time with Noel! As we're spending Easter weekend with his family I think we will be taking advantage of the in-laws for a few hours and going off for a much-needed lunch and bit of time just the two of us.

Not stress about bedtimes and general routines. Normally I like the girls in bed super-early (as they get up super-early and YES WE HAVE TRIED letting them stay up later and guess what? THEY STILL GET UP SUPER-EARLY) but over the holidays I don't really want to feel we 'should' be home by a certain time. They can catch up the sleep elsewhere. Cherry will occasionally throw in a nap if she needs it, or they can have an earlier night the next night. I'm not above putting my kids to bed at 5.30pm.

I loved this quote from Adrienne Rich, which I discovered via Lucy's always-brilliant blog, and it has helped me really change the way I look at routines.

Sadly I, like Adrienne herself, am not quite brave enough to embrace such a radical attitude in our everyday life outside of the holidays. I feel I need some predictability and if I'm honest, some time out from my children! I could quite easily find myself parenting from 5.30am when my children get up to gone 9pm were I to throw all routine out of the window, with the children catnapping on the go or separately, allowing me absolutely zero time 'off duty'.

As they are getting older and less bedtime-resistant I hope that we can move towards an equilibrium where the children are attuned to their own body clocks - but the upshot isn't me being hotly in demand for 14 hours a day and completely exhausted as a result!

And finally to catch up on some favourite blogs old and new. My current favourite new discoveries are Revolution from Home and Hands-Free Mama, and you can read about my more established favourites here should you so desire.

Happy Easter! Here's hoping the rain stops. And for no reason here's a picture of Cherry circa 20 months old, because it occurred to me today that Violet's coming up to the age Cherry was when she became a big sister and I got a bit soppy about it all and wondered when this little baby suddenly became such a grown-up girl.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

What am I other than a mum?

I thought about my Instagram feed this morning (I mean who doesn't? I'm cathybussey1 if you want to come over and say hi) and about the pictures I post. Mainly of the children, some shots of flowers, nature. More of the children. Quite a few pictures of my feet. The odd selfie, but mainly if I'm in the picture it's with one of the girls.

I really hate all the fuss about selfies. Why shouldn't we take pictures of ourselves? Why shouldn't I take pictures of myself?

All I can see in my IG feed is a mother. Somebody who expresses herself through her children.

It's still self-expression of course because I share pictures of my children to say something about myself. You're still saying something about yourself with what you curate and choose to share.

I feel like being more honest about this. I want to share pictures of myself because ultimately my photos are saying something about me. So why don't I just come out from the shadows and say whatever it is I want to say myself?

At the moment as it happens I don't have a lot to say that doesn't involve my children. Which is I suppose something to say in itself.

I don't really know who I am other than a mother at the moment. I feel a bit at a crossroads. Violet won't start preschool until September 2016 when Cherry starts school, so I have another 18 months at home with one or both children full-time ahead. This feels like a long time, but the last 18 months have passed in the blink of an eye.

I am not entirely sure what I will do once I stop working at the end of April. I haven't not worked since I was 13 and the thought of not having an income or gainful employment or an identity outside the home is quite scary. Even the minimal amount of work I've done since Violet has added up to some form of identity. There have still been moments of excitement when emails about interesting jobs and commissions pop into my inbox. Confidence boosts at a good job done well, and a bit to talk about other than the children.

I will still write for the Telegraph and blog for Velo Vixen, a lovely women's cycling clothing website (please do go and check them out!) but other than that, everything is pretty open. And writing for newspapers and websites again relies on having something to talk about, although clearly there is plenty to say around having children.

If I'm honest I don't even know where this blog is going. I haven't really given it extensive thought. It's hard to give anything extensive thought these days, my children occupy most of the mental space I have available as much as the physical.

If I was reading this pre-children I'd think, how sad. Turning into 'just a mum' was something I dreaded and swore would never happen. Even after I had Cherry and knew I would never return to full-time work, not working was never an option. Even while pregnant with Violet and in the early days of her life, it never occurred to me that I wouldn't get 'back to normal' as quickly as I felt I did after Cherry.

I always thought I'd retain my own identity and having children wouldn't change me. That's flawed in many ways, but humans do resist change. I most certainly have changed, but in moving away from a previous identity I am still unsure as to my new one.

Most of the time being 'just a mum' is enormously fulfilling. I have chosen this and I have no regrets. But every now and again I will get a morning to myself (such as now, when I'm in bed with a cold while Noel takes the children to the park because apparently when they have colds they are BURSTING WITH ENERGY as opposed to when they don't have colds and are BURSTING WITH ENERGY) and the list of things I want to do is as long as my arm, but also quite short.

There's loads I want to do - start a book, a blogpost, a project - but when am I going to get time to finish it? If I'm going to do something for myself I want it to be meaningful and enriching, but what can I do that's meaningful and enriching in a few hours and before you know it, the children are home, climbing up onto my bed, bursting with energy, demanding kisses and cuddles and wanting to tell me all about their adventures, and I of course want to listen, because I am 99.9% just a mum and 99.9% happy with it.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Breastfeeding at 19 months

This was supposed to be an update on breastfeeding an 18-month-old but I am so late with it it's turned into breastfeeding a 19-month-old!

When I had Violet I had no real timescale in my head for how long I would breastfeed. I weaned Cherry at nine months to kick-start my cycle again so I could have Violet, but knowing she was to be our last child there wasn't the same pressure.

And so I find myself breastfeeding a nearly 19-month-old with no surprise. There has never been any real reason why I would wean Violet, and so I haven't.

Well actually that's not true. There's one very big reason why I might consider weaning and that's that Violet wakes frequently to feed at night. Still! So from time to time the subject of night weaning has been broached. Once or twice I've tried settling her without feeding, and sometimes this works for the first, second and even third wake ups. But eventually there will come a point where Violet will make it abundantly clear she's not settling without feeding, and I will of course feed her.

I know night weaning has worked for many a knackered breastfeeding parent, but it doesn't seem likely it would work for us. In all honesty I think I would just spend hours comforting a crying confused toddler. I fancy that at 11pm, midnight, 1am, 2am, 3am, 4am and 5am like a hole in the head.

Plus I can't shake the feeling that she will get there when she's ready. Of course I'm tired and so is Noel but we get on with it, we don't moan and complain (well, not much) and it doesn't have a dramatic impact on our quality of life. We remind ourselves and each other constantly that it will end, it won't be forever, this will pass. Perhaps we're just used to it. I have faith in Violet and faith in my instincts.

Breastfeeding her at 19 months is never dull. She calls it 'EAT!' and she's quite insistent when she wants to feed. She will march her little self over to the nearest chair or bench or sofa, clamber up, announce 'At-dee' (her word for 'up' or 'getting up', I think she's trying to say 'upski!' which I often say when I pick her up) and demand 'Eat.' If no 'eat' is forthcoming she will absolutely insist. Violet is fierce, I rarely argue with her.

She's entertained by the way I spray during a milk letdown. I am fascinated that I still do this after 19 months, and can only assume I have gold-top fuelled torpedoes for breasts. I can also safely assume that, given that she feeds hourly at night (more eat! MORE EAT!) which is when milk production is governed, I have the supply of a dairy cow. Certainly Violet is bursting with health and vitality.

She's quite physical and feeding, especially at bedtime, can often involve a good deal of wriggling and hands flailing around and even a bit of pinching, which I don't like and tell her so. I also don't like it when she pulls madly at my clothes, but other than this I do very little in the way of 'discipline' around breastfeeding. She asks, I provide.

I have never left Violet at night (I've only left Cherry twice at night and once was to have Violet!) so I have no insight to offer on how she would cope away from me for a night. I have spent the odd full day away from her and she's been absolutely fine. She does want to feed when I get back, and I am always so bursting that I would keep trying even if she didn't want to!

I think the difference between breastfeeding Cherry and breastfeeding Violet is how I feel about it. As much as I loved breastfeeding Cherry I thought of it as simply being about food, a way of dispensing nutrition. With Violet I view it as a relationship, even a mothering 'technique' if you want to call it that.

In a way it's a metaphor for the difference between the way I have approached the early days with both of them. With Cherry I was far too anxious to trust my own instincts and to trust her, and so I complicated matters with routines and methods and techniques and not 'letting her get into bad habits!'. With Violet I listened only to her and myself everything has just flowed beautifully. It's been a far easier, more natural and more rewarding way of parenting. Although I concede I've had far, far less sleep.

And it means that (hopefully) I don't have ahead of me the difficult second year I had with Cherry, in which I realised things had to change but had no real blueprint for what attachment parenting a toddler would look like, so we had to kind of feel our way and make yet more mistakes on top of mistakes until we found a balance that suits all four of us.

Today I sat watching Cherry and Violet while I ate breakfast. Violet was pottering about in her new Thomas the Tank Engine pyjamas in a particular shade of blue that suits her so beautifully. I caught her eye and we just had a little moment in time, the two of us together.  She stopped her pottering, came over to me, held out her arms and said 'cuddle Mummy!' I picked her up and she cuddled into my lap, put her little arms around me, and leaned against me.

It felt like a real concrete example of the connection between mother and child that breastfeeding is so helpful in building. I'm not for a minute suggesting you can't build that connection formula-feeding, before anybody jumps to that conclusion. It's a connection I have built with my older child only after weaning! But this is a post about breastfeeding and those are my honest feelings on that moment. Breastfeeding Violet is one of many very easy ways in which we maintain that connection. It requires no thought whatsoever, it's completely instinctive for both of us and for that reason I can't see either of us wanting to stop any time soon. (Although because I have been asked this more than once, no I don't imagine I'll still be breastfeeding her when she's 21, much as I don't imagine I'll still be changing her nappies, reading her stories and helping her wash her face, brush her teeth and get dressed when she's 21 either)

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

RideLondon 100 training

This weekend was the second meet up of the Revolution Cycling coaching programme for 100-mile sportives. I got to know Kerry Bircher at Revolution through my lovely friend Adele and Kerry was kind enough to ride with me last year when I was experiencing some really big issues around fear on my bike.

I've mentioned before that since having Violet my balance is all off, and I have also found myself just more fearful in general, on my bike and in everyday life. In fact last week I had a very nasty near-miss with an ambulance (while driving my car, not on my bike) and it was so terrifying I came over all lightheaded and panicky on the motorway! Luckily my dad was with me so he drove for a while until I felt calm enough to take the wheel again.

I think it's just a biological reaction to being responsible for two very young vulnerable lives. I can see logically that the world hasn't become a scarier place, I take the same risk going down a hill fast on a bike or driving a car as I did before. But I think something is going on on a more subconscious or possibly a hormonal level. I have a lot more to lose these days. I have to be more careful with myself.

The thing I loved about riding with Kerry last year was that she was completely understanding but also very encouraging. She's a mum herself so she gets how I feel, but she also seems to know exactly how much pushing I need. Since I started this training programme I have felt so much more confident on the bike and I have been motivated to really make time to train. I can't realistically get out on the bike daily, much as I'd like to, but I can get up early and run, or do some yoga, and most weeks I'm managing three rides a week.

Trainers ℅ adidas 

Having somebody like Kerry and her lovely colleague Holly on hand to motivate and push (gently) as well as support and encourage me has been a really major factor in me taking the whole endeavour of RideLondon 100 a lot more seriously.

On Saturday we went on our first group ride, a 30-miler around some of the RideLondon 100 route and nearby roads. It was a great way to practice group riding, something I haven't done much of, on actual roads after an introduction at the Hillingdon circuit last month.

The ride itself was a combination of riding as a close-knit group, and going at our own pace up and down some decent climbs out in the Surrey Hills. I find group riding takes a lot of concentration. There seems a lot to think about, staying on the wheel of the rider in front, road hazards, cars, pace, brakes, gears, signals and communication. It's very absorbing and the miles seem to just whizz past.

Once out into the countryside I turned into an excited child and while some of the riders took hills at a more sedate pace I tore up and down them like a dog chasing a tennis ball. Holly commented that I was obviously feeling strong - I'll say. I don't know if it's the training, the fact that I've cut added sugar out of my diet, or just the fact that I had a morning to myself on my bike in the company of some awesome women, but I was definitely on my game.

This week I was interviewed by a big health and fitness magazine for a feature on getting more women on bikes. The journalist asked me what the best advice I'd ever been given around building confidence was and I found this a hard question to answer. There is no one thing a person can say or advise to build confidence on the bike. The way to build confidence on a bike, is to get on a bike.

My confidence was low last year and I didn't have enough time to dedicate to riding to really improve it. This year I am more committed and I can feel myself getting more and more confident every time I ride. The group rides and meet ups are pushing me along in leaps and bounds. I'm more committed to my fitness off the bike too, and last weekend I ran seven miles without even realising it.

Maybe it's just the promise of spring and warmer weather, but I'm definitely finding more energy and motivation and the more I train the more I want to train. It's a very happy circle. I'm looking forward to next month's ride already!

Noel and I are both riding RideLondon 100 for Tommy's, if you would be so kind as to sponsor us to raise money for this amazing charity please do so here.

Jersey ℅ adidas 

Monday, 23 March 2015

Living Arrows 12/52

Look at me being all on time with Living Arrows!

I took so many photos of my daughters this week - making up for the lack of choice last week. They're both so very beautiful to me, in their very different ways.

These photos of Cherry are up there with the best photos I've ever taken. They really sum her up, her innocence and radiance, her sense of wonder, and her flamboyant nature.

And these shots of Violet just make me melt. She had a whole 'chat' on the phone to Granny while I was taking them. I don't know many people who could wear a pair of Thomas the Tank Engine PJ's like Violet.

Living Arrows

Sunday, 22 March 2015

A week off the white stuff

When I wrote this post I was feeling very unhappy about my body, both my physical size and the way I felt inside. I felt bloated and uncomfortable a lot of the time, and I was aware the way I was eating wasn't doing me any good.

Tired from constant wake ups with Violet and the general demands of two small children, I was reaching into the cupboard for a sweet treat without really thinking. We live near a gorgeous bakery and stopped by most days. It was when I noticed I was buying two or three different cakes just for me, eating them and still wanting more, that I realised my sweet tooth had got completely out of control.

Then I read this post by Keri-Anne whose gorgeous blog Gingerlillytea I absolutely LOVE and when she mentioned only having eaten sweets or chocolates twice since Christmas something clicked inside my head.

I suddenly realised I needed to stop eating sugar.

I have a massive sweet tooth and absolutely LOVE chocolates, cakes, biscuits, baked goods, doughnuts, flapjacks, puddings, ice cream, you name it. I'm not ashamed to admit I'm a bit of an emotional eater as well. If I feel sad, grumpy, tired, miserable or even just a bit bored and restless my hand reaches for a biscuit practically automatically. And then another. And another. Once I start I find it hard to stop, I can easily demolish half a packet of biscuits or an entire family-sized chocolate bar in one sitting, and still want more.

I can't remember the last time I went more than a day, two at a push, without eating some form of sweet treat. Once or twice I have decided I'm not going to eat so many, will manage a day or two, then I'll reach a point where hunger, deprivation and general cravings collide and snap, and demolish anything sweet I can get my hands on. Then I'll feel crap and beat myself up for not being able to stick to my resolve and seeing as I've started that packet of biscuits I might as well finish them now….

It's not really had a huge impact on my weight as I have always been so active, but in a way this means I have given myself permission to eat even more biscuits and chocolates 'because I work out'. But it was starting to have a massive impact on the way I felt about myself, and so the sugar had to go.

To be clear I'm not talking about cutting out all forms of sugar. I know some are fanatical about going sugar-free and cut out fruit, dairy (which contains lactose) and refuse to entertain sugar substitutes like honey, maple syrup or agave nectar. I don't suffer from any intolerances or medical conditions and for a healthy person like me, I felt to cut out all forms of sugar completely would be unnecessary.

That said, I felt it was important I went a bit cold turkey to begin with to really break the sugar habit. I didn't want to replace eating three cakes from the bakery with demolishing three muffins sweetened with honey or maple syrup instead, so I have spent the last week avoiding any sugar substitutes at all. I have eaten fruit, and bread which contains some sugar. But I have avoided any foods, sauces, cereals and the like that list sugar in the ingredients (I thought I would be safe with a bowl of good old Corn Flakes, until I read the label. Once you start looking there's sugar EVERYWHERE!)

It hasn't been easy. I have felt quite limited in what I can eat and despite being aware I was eating and relying on sugar far too much it has surprised me how often I've wanted something sweet. After every meal my mind instantly wanders to a pudding. I want sweet snacks during the day, and at breakfast I've been pretty much limited to toast and eggs or nut butter (I'm not a fan of porridge). Any time I get a bit restless I've started thinking about how much I want something sweet to eat.

On Tuesday night I actually made a batch of raw chocolate peanut butter cups, which are free from refined sugar but do have maple syrup in them. I thought, at least if I have these on standby if the cravings do get too much I can have one instead of thinking 'oh sod it' and buying and eating half a bakery. Having the reassurance of a standby seems to have worked well, as I haven't touched them yet.

I have tried to avoid thinking too much about sugar but haven't forced my mind away if it has popped into my head that I'd like something sweet. I've definitely eaten more fruit than I usually do, and a bit more cheese too. What's been surprising is the realisation that basically everything I have been snacking on contains sugar. I haven't snacked on fruit or cheese in years. I've just been defaulting to something sweet. It's quite eye-opening.

A week in and I feel amazing. I have noticed a huge difference, with absolutely no bloating or cramping and a massive reduction in general gassiness. As a result I feel far less lardy, even though I have no idea if I've lost any weight or not. I feel much more comfortable in my clothes, my waistbands feel looser, and I just generally feel happier. And my skin looks great, although it's been pretty good since I got into the green smoothie habit.

I don't feel particularly deprived and my mood has been quite stable and upbeat, which is a pleasant surprise. I definitely felt a bit grumpy the first day or two and had a bit less patience with Cherry but after the third sugar-free day it was business as usual. I feel like I've had much more energy, we've had a busy week and I've run or cycled or done yoga every day, but I'm not feeling particularly worn out from it.

Today I have made a batch of sweet potato brownies as I do want to have something to nibble on and I seem to be turning to toast and peanut butter a bit more than I would like. I am a bit concerned this will open the floodgates and I will be piling down mountains of muffins within days. If this happens I'll have to go back to no substitutes. But I'm hopeful I can introduce a couple of alternatives and keep them as genuine treats, not everyday treats.

I'm very much taking an experimental, take it one day at a a time approach which feels less pressured. I can't see me never eating sugar again and I have in mind that a chocolate egg at Easter would be a nice stepping-stone to give me something to look forward to. But the main thing is I know I can go a whole week without eating any sugary snacks, and that feels like a bit of an achievement if I'm honest.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Living Arrows 11/52

When I looked at my phone this week I was really disappointed I didn't have more photos to choose from! I've been really focusing on photography recently and trying to take more, and better, pictures. So it was a little bit of a shame that the pictures I eventually chose for this week have both been on my Instagram feed (I'm cathybussey1 if you want to come say hi) and I didn't have a big pool of shots like I normally do.

We've all been very busy lately. Noel is frantic at work tying up lots of loose ends before he starts his new job and I've been flat out with various errands and general life admin, applying for passports for me and Violet, finally getting around to registering us with new doctors (we moved in November! NOVEMBER!) and various other bits of paper-based faff. I'm also working on a project until the end of April that's taking up all of the time I have available to work (and more besides). It should be my last project though, after this I have no more client work and I am not looking for more.

So life feels a bit like we are hurtling towards the end of some kind of era. It'll be the end of Noel working only four days a week, from May he will be back full-time and he will lose those Fridays with the children that he and they (and I) have so enjoyed. It will be the absolute end of me working as a freelance copywriter for the foreseeable future, and it all ends/begins with a trip to Singapore at the end of April! Exciting times, busy times, slightly scary times if I'm honest.

This week Cherry had two playdates with six different children. I have mentioned before we live in my brother's house (he and his family now live in Singapore hence our planned trip!) and I am beyond grateful for the space. It's a lovely house, with plenty of room for us to host and entertain, and I feel like I want to extend the generosity my brother has shown us to all of our friends and family. I want my house full of friends and family and the children's friends all the time! We live in an expensive part of the country and space is at a premium, thanks to my brother we are lucky enough to have a fantastic garden plus a wonderful and safe space at the front which includes a playground. I feel I want to share it with as many people as I can, so they can benefit from the simple gift of space and time outdoors with their children.

In that spirit we invited Cherry's current favourite little friend (and, I think, crush!) Harry L and his little sister to play, then a day later we had a playdate with some of her friends from pre-school and their younger siblings. It's been quite tiring I have to say, but amazing fun. I love watching Cherry with her friends and seeing her become a social being. She's very interesting, I think she is quite introverted (as in fact I suspect am I). She can perform and entertain beautifully and quite flamboyantly when she wants to but I think she draws her real essence and energy from time alone or time in smaller groups.

I am really fascinated as these sides of her self and her personality begin to emerge. I can't deny I do worry about Cherry, she's a very sensitive soul and socially she is probably behind many children her age, but I think this worry is normal. Certainly every parent I've spoken to this week worries about their child or one of their children in one way or another - for being not social enough, for being too sociable, children can't win really!

Violet, bless her, gets sort of stuck with the younger siblings of Cherry's friends at the moment! But her big love is Cherry anyway so wherever Cherry is, V wants to be. I am looking forward to watching her blossom as a social being too, I find her much more resilient and confident than her big sister, less passionate and vulnerable. They are such amazing girls, I am so glad to have them.

Here you are rocking your new t-shirt from Little Bird by Jools, which I absolutely LOVE. In fact I love this whole outfit and wish I could wear it too. I chose this picture of you because you look super-cool, just chilling out on your chicken. You are such a picture, miss Cherry, such a person.

And you, my little flower. Ah V. Aren't you just a little joy. I love your little curls in this picture, your hair is so amazing to me. When you were born you had loads of black hair, just like Cherry. But unlike Cherry, you then didn't grow any hair for nearly a year. You were pretty bald, bless you. Then all of a sudden you were a little blonde curly-locks! What a sight for sore eyes you are. 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Siblings March

A little gang of two, they play together for hours. Often harmoniously, sometimes not! Usually Cherry dictates the play and Violet follows. At the moment there's a lot of pretend picnics and show-and-tell sessions that Violet sits obligingly through making all the right noises.

Cherry also projects imaginatively onto Violet which I find really charming. We have a little playhouse in the garden and for some reason Cherry has decided when Violet is in this house she's 'the policeman'.

They get giggly and excited together and charge about chasing one another, bouncing around and generally being boisterous. Most of the time this happens at bedtime! They also love charging about naked after bath time and have made up loads of games, most of which involve chasing and being chased.

They're both really high-energy girls and need lots of time and space outdoors or they will really get on top of each other and the snatching and screeching will start up.

I find as long as they have enough opportunities for space, they coexist harmoniously much of the time.   Sometimes I feel they desperately need some space and will herd them outdoors whatever the weather but chances are however fractious things have got they will be running around after each other giggling and playing their own games within just a few minutes.

I love how they are so different but have so many similarities. They couldn't look less alike, and their personalities are absolute chalk and cheese, Cherry so passionate and volatile and sensitive, Violet so easygoing and resilient and cheerful, such a ray of sunshine to her sister's stormy sky.

But they have so much in common. Some of this is learned, but there are other parts of them that are like history repeating itself - like Violet's sudden and vociferous enthusiasm for helicopters which has come at almost exactly the same age that Cherry's now-forgotten helicopter fad kicked in.

My beautiful girls. I am so grateful to be their mother.

dear beautiful

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Morning pages

If I were to do everything I wanted to do in the mornings, I would have to get up at about 2am. In an ideal world I'd get up, meditate, write morning pages, work out, do yoga, make a smoothie and sit down to breakfast with the children.

I'm sure it could all be achieved if I didn't spend 4-5.30am breastfeeding Violet who intermittently bellows MORE EAT! should I attempt to disengage her. She's a wakeful little thing in the early hours, so without me in bed, there would be no V in bed.

Then at about 5.30am Cherry comes and gets into bed with us all. Once in a blue moon she will fall asleep next to me, usually if Violet is already asleep and I can turn over and cuddle Cherry. But most of the time she wriggles about for a bit, whispers a few things then looms over Violet giggling, Violet's eyes ping open, and that's that.

We're morning people, people.

With two girls up and about from 5.30-6am Noel and I have plenty of time in the mornings before he leaves for work and I can usually fit in a workout and morning pages. I find these two the most important of the long list.

Meditation will have to wait, I can become an accomplished yogi another time, and I manage smoothies about four times a week.

Morning pages are the most powerful of all the morning tools in my humble opinion. I came across the concept reading The Artist's Way. The idea is simple. First thing in the morning, you sit down and you write three pages of longhand.

And then you go about your day.

You can write, literally, anything. Even if all you can think is 'I can't think of anything to write. What should I be writing? Am I doing this right?' You just write that, and keep writing. Even if you have three pages in which you have simply repeated 'I can't think of anything to write,' then you have done it 'right'.

Only you're highly unlikely to have three pages of 'I can't think of anything to write' as it turns out once you disengage your sceptical brain and simply spill the contents of your head onto a page, you have plenty to say for yourself.

All those worries, niggles, thoughts, arbitrary things that pop into your head. Down they go, onto the page.

It's really freeing to just sit and write in this way. I'm a writer by profession and that means initially I had to work hard not to over-write, just to convey thought from brain to page.

I find all sorts of things become clear through the morning pages. On a very practical level they are great for problem-solving. It's basically impossible to continue to complain about the same thing over and over again without identifying some form of solution, or at least acceptance. I also find them very powerful creatively. All kinds of ideas and plans come through the pen onto the page.

Taking the time to write three pages feels like something I can do to help take care of myself. I have been thinking more and more about the concept of self-care recently, as in what does self-care look like on a practical level? Unloading my mind in the morning definitely falls into the category of a very practical way looking after myself.

One of the most overwhelming aspects of having two very young children is the lack of freedom of thought. I have to work hard to stay in the present moment with my girls, as much as I love them, because I have always been very much a dreamer. Feet on the ground, head in the clouds, always.

Children can sense when you aren't present and they don't like it - well, mine don't. The demands of being a mother have stretched into the very roots of me. Thoughts cluster up and become crowded, knocking against each other like one of those awful corporate toys to be found on the desk of a high-flying business executive.

Spilling it all out on to a page, however jumbled the end result, creates space for my children. I feel safe, knowing that I haven't lost anything if I let go, that whatever it is that seemed so important is written down, waiting for my attention another time.

Funny, I've been a writer my whole life but am only just starting to discover the true power of the written word.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Living Arrows 10/52

So I missed a few weeks of Living Arrows. Guilty look. I don't know where time goes.

I'm so easily discouraged with photography. I've wanted to be able to take decent photos my whole life really, just ask my poor mother who has bought me many a camera only for me to not use it. Thing is I was (and still am) very bad at drawing and that made me think I wasn't 'arty' or couldn't create any visual art whatsoever.

Photography seems to advance so fast too, any time I feel like I'm getting close to taking decent pictures I look at my Instagram feed and realise how far I have to go! But I am working at it. Although none of the photos I have chosen for Living Arrows are posed, I have started asking Cherry and Violet to stand here, look at Mummy etc sometimes when I'm taking photographs. They're both pretty obliging at the moment but I'm sure the novelty will wear off! I am also starting to think they need new clothes - I have a LOT of photos of Violet in the orange jacket she's wearing in this week's pic.

This week we went to the RHS gardens at Wisley to see the butterflies in the glasshouse. I imagined I'd end up choosing a photo of you with a butterfly - which I do have - but it was this one that really stood out when I looked back through my shots. Look at your little blonde curl! We found a mature camellia and underneath it was a bed of blossom. It was absolutely gorgeous and I could have taken photos of it all day. You found this pine cone in amongst the flowers. I am starting to suspect you and your sister are part hedgehog, as I find pine cones all around the house, in pockets, and rolling around in the car. I have also decided that when I am much older and we have settled in a 'forever house' I want a big camellia in the garden and a carpet of blossom every March.

Crazy girl! So full of fun and energy and mischief. It's rare we can get you into trousers these days, you've been choosing your clothes since before you turned two and I have a whole bunch of barely worn clothes I sincerely hope Violet wants to wear, as they are very lovely but you will not wear them! You always want to wear skirts and dresses at the moment. You made an exception for these velvet trousers, a hand-me-down from your older cousin that look absolutely fantastic on you. But we could only persuade you into trousers by explaining that we would be gardening all day and getting very mucky and messy. Not that that stops us if you are in a skirt. I've washed enough mud off your clothes this winter! Every now and again I see blogs flying around about how mums of boys need to brace themselves for loads of dirty laundry from the inevitable rolling around in mud, and I think once again what a load of complete crap people talk about children and gender. You and your sister are as happy to get muddy as any boy I know - and much more so than many I know!  Living Arrows