Saturday, 19 September 2015

A homemade dress

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

Being authentically wholesome and very uncool

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

Wild child: My best outdoor memories

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!

I wanted to honour Lucy and her fantastic book by sharing my own best memories of a childhood spent outdoors. At the risk of sounding like a middle-class cliche (which at the end of the day is what I am!) I was always outside as a kid and I really think nature played a huge part in the way I was raised. My brother and I always had lots of freedom to roam and explore and as a pony-mad kid the thought of a day - god, even an HOUR - inside when I could be out running wild and free was just unthinkable.

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.