Sunday, 30 August 2015

A birthday party

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

Soggy Gruffalo hunting at Alice Holt Forest

Two things I did not know until I became a mad Instagram convert (I'm cathybussey1 by the way, come say hi!)

1. There's an entire forest just an hour's drive away from my front door and

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.

I don't know if it was the magic of the forest, strength in numbers or just their wonderful little spirits, but there was not a complaint, whinge or moan out of any of them. They were energised and invigorated by the forest and us mamas were too.

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?

Running in Lavender

Friday, 21 August 2015

When procrastination strikes….

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

A little camping trip

This weekend we headed to Salisbury for a night of camping with a group of friends and their children.

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….

….and Little Miss Madam I'm A Fairy Princess Too!

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'.

Our tent is on the small side and barely accommodated the double and single inflatable air beds pushed together that formed our shared sleeping quarters. We didn't get the children down to sleep until gone 10pm.

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.

Running in Lavender

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Creativity and motherhood

Since having children I can honestly say I have never felt more creative, and more frustrated.

I found the process of pregnancy and birth stirred up my desire to write fiction in particular, but also my general interest in making, doing and creating.

Creativity as I experience it, as a process of flow from mind to hands to page, is a deeply alone experience. I shut out the entire world and that includes voices. I can get so absorbed in what I am doing that I don't even hear my own husband (or boss, as it used to be, or teacher, before that) calling for my attention.

And of course now I am a mother, I am never alone. I don't just mean physically, although yes I do spend large portions of the day (and night!) with a child on or about my person. I mean emotionally and mentally. The best analogy I ever read on this subject was that leaving your child physically 'isn't like parking a car'. Even when I'm not with them, they're always on my mind.

I think there's a deep biological fear around stepping back into that creative space, whereby my mind is fully focused on something outside of and unrelated to my children. Evolutionarily speaking mothers needed to have their children first and foremost in their minds and hearts, all the time - the survival of the species depended upon it.

But even more than that, it's the everyday reality of life with children that is often the most frustrating of all.

I have so many ideas - SO MANY - and like the fluffy airborne seed heads of dandelions or the witches on broomsticks about whom I read to my children, they float tantalisingly past me. I make a mental note to myself that is almost immediately forgotten in the everyday demands of life with young children. Somebody's bum always needs wiping or hands washing or stomach filling or shoes taking off or other urgent, pressing task.

By the time the need has been fulfilled, it's too late. The witch taps the broomstick and whoosh! They are gone.

I do find the frustration is eased by creating with my children, and our life together involves a great deal of time in nature, making, doing, planting, growing, painting, drawing, sticking, stirring and general making of enormous messes. Both Cherry and Violet love to create - I think all children do. They certainly love to make a mess too and I have always been happy to let them, even if as a result my home does terrify the more houseproud out there.

Of course all of these activities also stimulate the creative flow. I have noticed some really pleasing side-effects of life as a stay-at-home mother that I wouldn't have anticipated. My photography has improved no end, while I'm still very much point-and-shoot I can see a massive difference in composition and use of light and colour (although not in the photos of my children making a mess!). My home has the odd (very odd) little creative touch here and there, as does the garden. I can turn literally any combination of vegetables into a soup - that my children will eat.

And the biggest evolution of all is I no longer view creativity as self-indulgent, unnecessary, a waste of time or pointless. I can see that the process is valuable in itself, the outcome is not so relevant, and that doing what you love does lay the foundations for more and more of the same.

Motherhood has taught me the vital importance of remaining true to myself and what I love to do. It has showed me that I cannot enmesh my identity with that of my children and live vicariously through them, stand at the sidelines and coach, criticise and push. I cannot put the burden of my own frustrated creativity on them. I can't allow them to live my dreams for me. That responsibility is mine alone.

I can see ahead to a time when I have the self-belief to finish a novel and present it to my agent. I can see, no doubt many years down the line, a garden shed turned into a writing studio. But I don't just see my creativity limited to writing. All these things I make and do with the children - or just for myself - count. It's all creating. It's all connected.

It is frustrating still, on a daily basis. I have been reading The Rainbow Way by Lucy Pearce, a truly epic book on this very subject, and it has come as some kind of epiphany to realise that the way I feel about creating and motherhood is entirely normal.

There is ambivalence there. I have chosen motherhood first and foremost, decided that 'serious' creativity and career can wait - I do not regret that choice and I wouldn't change it. (I have considered childcare and at times attempted small amounts with Cherry that were successful to a degree, but by and large it's not for me or us as a family and that is a choice I am happy with).

But I think I can feel a little softer now on the sides of me that are frustrated, champing at the bit, counting down the months and weeks and days until Cherry starts school, Violet starts pre-school and I can take a huge, deep breath and be alone. I can see that this doesn't make me a bad mother. It just makes me human.

I can also see that if I adjust my expectations and perceptions of what I 'need' in order to create, and instead just look at what very small pockets of time are still available to me, I don't have to hang up my creative boots completely. I can still do. Just smaller things, smaller amounts, and expect it to take a lot longer. I can see that it's important I carve out some space at weekends, even just an hour or two, for that complete aloneness I crave.

And in the mean time, we continue to co-create. Because our house just isn't messy enough already.