December: Joy and Peace.

Things are still plodding along slowly in the post-flood recovery. Mostly, we are in a normal routine again, albeit in a different house, with less stuff. Sometimes, I miss the stuff, other times, I plan a huge declutter upon our return. I feel an unease, that I suppose comes along with times of uncertainty (we still don’t really know how long it will be until we return), and there are occasional pangs of impatience. I just want to be back in our home.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some pictures of December, because it was a really lovely Christmas this year. I felt like I really got ahead of the game with planning, which left us a lot more time to spend in December, just immersing ourselves in the festive fun. It was the first Christmas in our newly decorated living room, and I wanted to go all out with the cosy, natural vibe this year.

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Joy and peace were not only the typical words of the season, but really how I felt, having so much time to make and do. The girl child is at a fun stage where she really loves it when I start pulling down all the crafty stuff and covering the kitchen table in glitter, and glue and twigs, paper, cards, string. She’s pretty messy, but so am I. The glitter got everywhere, but I didn’t care a jot. For the first time, I didn’t get hung up on making things perfect either. I just got on with it. Even the ‘Peace’ banner – I ended up cutting it out freehand after realising the printer was out of ink. I like it better than a perfect font would have turned out.

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I really loved how the spinning jennies turned out, dipped in glitter. I sprinkled them on the Christmas table, instead of plastic confetti. The 3D glitter bells (there’s a theme here…..) were great fun to do – we all had a go. I always think bells have gone a bit out of fashion in recent years, but as a child they were really popular, especially for crafts involving…. glitter!

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I couldn’t quite capture all of the candles we had going on. I went for tapers this year, but struggled to find a nice holder for them so ended up shoving them into these preserving bottles I hadn’t gotten around to using in the summer. Result! Especially when I further tarted them up with sprigs of conifer and glitter encrusted acorns. Obvs.

This is sheer vanity and pride. I was SO chuffed to find this gorgeous dress in Dog and Bone vintage shop in York. It was the perfect fit and I LOVE it. Especially with my new metallic, bargain brogues from Clarkes. I felt like a folk dancer from space and let me tell you, it was a fiiiiine feeling *clicks heels*.
  

December was unseasonably wet, but mild. When the rain did abate, we managed some outdoor time. Including the first solo, self-directed and successful tree climbing event in the back garden. She rocks my world.

So, I hope you didn’t mind me rewinding a little and indulging in a little love for the month that was December.

 

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Coming clean.

I read a post this morning which inspired me to write this. Beth’s honest post on why it’s okay if you don’t enjoy every minute of being a parent mainly focuses on the newborn phase, but I think it’s still relevant in this toddler phase. Every stage of being a parent has it’s challenges, at that moment that I opened the link, it just made me feel like I was not alone.

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Mostly on this blog, I write about, and photograph the snippets of life that bring me joy. I sometimes write about parenthood and occasionally about Mum. Lately I’ve mainly being writing up my Happy Things lists and my instagram account reflects the same ethos. Why? Partially because we no longer have nap times and I’m too knackered in the evening to even think about anything else. But also, because I have to. I need to remind myself of those things because right now, I’m depressed. There. I said it*

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Looking back on that first year of motherhood I can’t help experience a pang of regret. About all the ways I believe I failed my daughter, all the things I did wrong, the expectations I’d set for myself that were not achieved, the tears, the endless days at home alone, depressed, but unable to put it into words. I feel guilty about not enjoying it more (you *should* enjoy it, right?) I feel guilty about not being able to see the positives so clearly, because when I scan the photo library for evidence, there were some really fun times (albeit with unkempt hair and unwashed clothes). I began writing this blog (and simultaneously wearing red lipstick) as a catharsis, as a way to motivate myself to have things to write about (i.e. get out of the house), and as a way to have something positive to look back on. I wish I had started it much sooner, because, those early posts offer me some concrete evidence that it wasn’t all bad. Indeed, things got much better.

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When I’m feeling low, I find it extremely difficult to write about anything apart from how rubbish I feel. So I blanket censor all of that stuff, because I worry about how family or friends might feel. I worry about the girl-child reading it one day and feeling upset or to blame. Frequently (daily), I wonder who my own mother really was – did she have these experiences? Is that why I get like this? Am I going to pass this on to my daughter? When I was about 8 years old, I saw my Mum through a crack in a door, crying. My Grandma was sat beside her, comforting her. I’d never seen my Mum cry before. To my knowledge she was the life and soul of the party, always encouraging me to get involved and make the most of life. As an adult, I miss her in every possible way. I miss her stories and I crave to know more about her. One of the reasons I began to write was to cope with losing my Mum in those early months. One of the reasons I kept writing was in case I died young and left any future children clueless as to what their mother thought, felt and experienced in life. So, I am going to try harder to write more honestly. I think it’s important for myself, my daughter, and for any struggling parent who (like I once did) stumbles across a blog post looking for some hope, some solidarity.

We are not alone.

*It’s like Voldemort. He whose name shall not be mentioned. Only the more I say it, the better I feel. Duh. Obvs, innit.

A visit to Yorkshire Lavender.

In a sleepless haze of nap-less desperation I bundled the girl-child into the car in the hope she would fall asleep. I wound through lanes and villages around York for half an hour before she finally closed her eyes. Being lost* I carried on driving looking for somewhere to pull in and close my own eyes for half an hour. We happened upon Yorkshire Lavender in Terrington near York, and it was the perfect spot for a bit of aimless wandering once she awoke.

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Obviously we bypassed the natural splendours and headed straight for the tea room, which serves an assortment of savoury and sweet foods. Not all the sweet treats are laced with lavender, but we chose the lavender and raspberry Bakewell tart, and a lavender and blueberry muffin for the girl-child.

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The lavenders are looking lush with new growth at this time of year, but no flower spikes yet. Still, there are enough spring flowers to make the gardens worthwhile if you love flowers. And taking picture of flowers… Ahem.

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Coming as I do, from a hilly Pennine village, I find a proper hilltop hard to come by in these parts *sobs*. Terrington sits atop the Howardian Hills and the views from Terrington Bank back towards York are stunning, especially on a day like this one. The gardens are well maintained and landscaped in a way that I think makes them really toddler friendly, but without losing any adult appeal. We had enormous fun running up and down the “wobbly wobbly path” and when I stopped to take pictures, I knew that the girl-child couldn’t really roam too far out of my sight.

The staff were really friendly and happy to indulge the girl-child in a bit of “helping” with the weeding. Visitors are actively encouraged to touch the plants, and girl-child really enjoyed being able to wander among the lavenders and the gravel paths that wind through the herbaceous borders. At the bottom of the hill is a small paddock with a herd of deer, and along with the sculptures, giant gates and pergolas, it’s a really fun, sensory way to spend an hour or two with an active toddler. As well as the tea rooms there are a gift shop and a modest plant nursery, but entry to the gardens is free.

*I’m never lost. I’m just enjoying being on an unfamiliar road.

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Stripping, snapping and surviving todderhood.

This has been a tough fortnight. For the first week, we decided on decorating our living room, which meant 8 days of us shift-swapping childcare / DIY during the daytime, and working together until 11pm every night. This is what stripping painted wallpaper off ancient plaster walls and not being able to find a plasterer in Easter week will drive you to. Hashtag Polyfilla. Amen to Grandad who stepped in with additional childcare over a few days too. Although they were long, hard days, I kind of enjoyed the task we were both working towards and the shared sense of achievement as we cracked open a beer at the end of the day.

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Queen of all she survey’s

This amazing girl child of ours is fully immersed in the emotional rollercoaster of toddlerhood. Strong impulses, desires and really big feelings she doesn’t yet understand. It hasn’t been easy for her to have her main play area totally out of bounds. One day, as we headed back from the park, she began to cry uncontrollably. When I stopped and kneeled beside her to ask her what the matter was, she gasped between sobs that she didn’t want to go home because “the room is all messy and I want my toys back!” I felt awful. We always assumed she loved being outdoors above all, but it really brought home how much she valued our home as a safe place to play. It seems so obvious now I am writing it out.

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Pretty scraps of vintage wallpaper – like buried treasure.

As well as the full on week of DIY-hell, the Easter holidays bring a relaxation of the usual daily rhythms. Having afforded myself additional chill-out tokens after the redecorating, I have not prioritised things like running, meditation, time outdoors or writing. While it’s nice at first to just go with the flow and chill out (especially after the week of DIY mayhem – did I mention it?) I know that without these activities my stress levels have gradually crept up to the point where I no longer have room for my own big feelings, nevermind my daughter’s. In the last week I’ve cried several times, shouted and snapped at my family, and had to retreat to my room twice. I feel like I am failing her when she needs me most.

And so begins the negative self-talk. The pessimistic chatterbox sitting on my shoulder commenting on all my failings, reinforcing all my insecurities and undermining any attempts to turn the day around or look on the bright side of life. If I’ve learned anything this last two years, it’s how to recognise that little blighter sooner rather than later. And that sleep is King. On Saturday, Mister took the reins and I retreated to my room. I bathed and then I slept. Then I went to bed early and slept some more. I awoke feeling stronger again. More able to brush that little demon off my shoulder. Not perfect, but trying to be more compassionate to myself and to others. And accepting that whatever I’m doing, I’m doing my best, in this moment. And on the way to making our home nice, we might get our hands dirty and drop a few other balls along the way.

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Juicy blossoms .

So we begin the week with a new resolve to nurture ourselves (it isn’t just me feeling the pressure, obvs), with our weekly groups to look forward to, and maybe a wee camping trip next weekend. Onwards and ever upwards.

How do you find holidays affect your family’s mojo? Which ways have you found to cope with your child’s toddlerhood? Are you looking forward to next weekend already?! Please leave a comment below – I’d love to hear from you!

Restoring the balance.

I call them ‘Reset Days’. You know the ones? Days following on from holidays or illness or just crazy times. Days where you just need to clear the diary and stay at home. Clear the back log of washing, tidy away the little piles of junk. Rid yourselves of the clutter around the place. Open the windows, book the window cleaner and let in some light. Create space to breathe.  Days where you reconfigure your brain, your lists. Days where you plan to eat clean, you get out the yoga mat and stretch again, feel yourself being alive in the simplest way. Drink hot tea in the garden. Days when you don’t make plans or maybe you do, but you break them with utter confidence that it was the perfect thing to do. And you feel no guilt. Day’s when you resolve to just be. DSC04773 Do you have a way of resetting your mojo after a spell of illness or such? Leave comments below, I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Rose Sunday!

(For tomorrow, of course… Don’t anybody say I’m not ahead of the game, oh no!)

For years I bucked against Mothers Day (and Father’s Day and Valentines Day et al) on the grounds that it was just an over-comercialised money making opportunity for fat cats. Then I became a mother, and now I get it. What it really means. (Also, how bad was that of me to not get it before. Sorry Mum and Dad.) I don’t mean I get how lovely it is to get cards and flowers and stuff, or that I wasn’t grateful before. But now I really get how important it is to feel that all the dirty mothering you do, the daily grind, all that being a mother involves – literally, the blood sweat and tears, is recognised.

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In the spirit of self-love I want to celebrate this part of myself which although I found incredibly difficult to settle into. I want to celebrate the fact that, yes, I am doing a pretty good job. It’s no underestimation to say, I think it’s been the making of me (who’d have though it?)

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Mothering Sunday is traditionally a Christian celebration which began around the 17th Century. It was the second Sunday in Lent and it was an opportunity to celebrate the “mother church” and for families to come together to be with their families. It had also been known as Simnel Sunday or Refreshment Sunday in recognition of the traditional Easter cake which may have been baked, and a lessening of lenten austerity in celebration of fellowship and family. My favourite alternative name though, is Rose Sunday, for the posies of wild flowers that would have been collected by people as they travelled home and then presented to all women in the church congregation. I can just imagine the churches festooned with beautiful spring flowers. I love that the flowers would have been given to all the women in the congregation too. You don’t need to have birthed a baby to be able to Mother somebody. Sisters, aunties, friends and neighbours all contribute to childcare in communities here and around the world. And what adult woman has not cried upon the shoulder of a friend when their own mother was far away or no longer with them?

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Finally, I’ve been feeling recently, that all the residual teenage cynicism has left me feeling a bit bereft of celebrations in life and I intend to change that! So, any festival that is essentially based on family, cakes and flowers has got to have a big thumbs up from now on!

Thank you to all the Mums who have mothered me. You know who you are, you beautiful bosomed creatures! X

I’d love to know if you celebrate Mother’s Day, and if so, how will you express your thanks this weekend? Do you celebrate your just own mother or “other mothers” who have been a big part of your life? Leave comments below!

Mindfulness and Me.

I’ve mentioned recently that I’ve been undertaking an 8 week mindfulness meditation course. It seems to be making a real difference and I will confess that I am feeling a bit evangelical about it at this point (almost 6 weeks in), so I wanted to share my experiences.

Life, eh? It gets crazy sometimes. Even when the outside stuff of the world isn’t too bad, the mind can be like a chaotic and colourful circus that can fool you and draw you into it’s high drama’s and bitter tragedies. In a nutshell, I was getting fed up of feeling bad-tempered and impatient and was caught in a trap of beating myself up about it. Though the Chicken was sleeping a lot better during the night, when she did wake I was really struggling to deal with it compassionately. Don’t even mention naps. I felt like she was doing it all on purpose. Which is clearly not the case, so I needed a dose of perspective, and something practical that was going to help me deal with the reds when they arrived. I needed to reclaim my role as ringmaster in the circus of my mind… or something. I was already doing an online CBT course which was helping me to understand how I arrived at that point – you know the one – where your inner teenager rears her tempestuous head and you just want to storm off and slam doors and you don’t even know where it all began? So anyway, mindfulness.

What the funk is it all about, y’all? The 8 week course involves daily meditations (6 days out of seven is recommended), a weekly ‘habit releaser’ as well as some additional mindfulness tasks, such as performing a everyday activity mindfully. The meditations progress gently each week building upon the skills you have acquired the previous week. Some meditations are carried over several weeks, so you get the opportunity to develop.

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Shall I just have a nap instead? The meditations are about being aware so on the whole you are instructed to sit unsupported. I tried lying down one day and just fell asleep, which was nice, but not a habit I wanted to fall into if I was to make the most of the practice.

Gimme some space, man. The 3 minute breathing space is introduced fairly early, and this has been the most useful strategy. It can be shorter or longer, but it’s there as a tool to pull out of your hat anytime of day or night when you just feel you need that dose of perspective. I have used this countless times. Usually in the middle of the night when the Chicken is struggling to settle and she won’t let me leave the room! I’ve also done it at random times during the day and I find that helps me to connect with whatever I doing, rather than operating on autopilot.

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This ain’t no floaty breeze in the park. Some days it’s been hard to fulfil the commitment especially as the mediations have become longer. My mind wanders a lot. Some days it can make the duration of the meditation seem really irritating and I just can’t get into the ‘swing of it’. I fidget with my position and those pesky thoughts just keep coming, and I just keep following them and before I know it the time is up. Other times, I am just genuinely tired, so it’s hard to focus. I found it useful to jot a few notes down at the end of the meditation, if I could recall where my mind had wandered off to. Supposedly these experiences are useful too, and while I can’t say I consciously understand that yet, I have felt so much better that I just believe that they are and go with it!

Love yourself. There is a strong element of kindness, compassion and non-judgement. Yes your mind will wander. It’s okay. That’s what minds do. The practice is about just that – practice. Training your awareness to notice where your mind wanders off to and gently bring it back to the focus of the mediation (often the breath, but not always.) I read somewhere that those who are ‘successful’ meditators are not expert in emptying the mind, but of starting again. Over and over.

It’s not about tuning out. If escapism is what you’re after, pop yourself off to the cinema or pick up a good book. This is about turning towards yourself. Negative emotions can be pesky and I believe modern media leads us to think that those feelings are not allowed. Other self-help strategies can sometimes promise that you can rid yourself of those emotions – the subtext if you don’t manage that? You’ve failed. You will never be ‘normal’. Mindfulness meditation encourages you to turn towards your feelings and treat them with compassion and acceptance. This part of the practice has been challenging – I guess because it’s the default to turn away from those experiences and be all British about things.

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Be Here Now. The flip side of that is that you are encouraged then to experience the present moment. Life is a series of moments and if you can turn towards the beauty of what you are experiencing in this moment, rather than get caught up in what happened earlier, or worries about what may not even come to pass, then you can experience more moments of contentment. “True contentment comes not when the world is quiet and the mind is still, but when we simply accept that this is how things are now” or something.

New habits die hard… I hope. I have done meditation before, but another reason I like this course, is that it requires daily commitment for two months. I hope it is setting a new habit, rather than just being a passing phase. I hope that these 8 weeks are just the beginning. I’m educating myself about how my brain works on my thoughts and emotions. It doesn’t promise that in 8 weeks you’ll be all set. But after only three weeks I had already witnessed enough change to be on board with it. Easy to say now, I know, but I find this approach so empowering because it’s a positive action that I can choose to take.

So those are my experiences so far. I’m definitely feeling more positive, more insightful, less anxious, more patient, more motivated and I seem to have more time and energy. And it doesn’t feel like a conscious effort, it seems to be just there. When I do have ‘negative’ experiences I feel more able to accept them and move on, rather than ruminating and becoming dragged down by them.

Have you undertaken a course of mindfulness meditation practice? If you have done the same course as me – which parts have you found most challenging? Maybe you know of another resource to help get people started? Do you practice any other type of mindfulness or meditation? As usual, I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comment box below.

Where to start with mindfulness.

Mindfulness hit the news recently, weirdly just a couple of days after I decided to start doing guided meditations again. I’ve used these meditations since I discovered them a few years ago and was having some stress and panic attacks at work. They really helped at the time, and even though I’ve not always had time to keep them up since having the Chicken, the technique of noticing the breath is something I’ve found myself doing whenever I need a little calm (Ha! frequently!) I’m yet to learn more about it, but I thought I’d share the things that I’ve found easiest to incorporate into daily life with a baby / toddler (I think she has a foot in both camps at the moment)!

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1. Watching my daughter. Not interfering or directing. Just watching her going about her active business, singing as she goes and contemplating, as I do, how much joy she oozes without even trying. I think babies are mindful by nature – they focus intently on their own present moment and have not yet learned to manage their emotions, which they express freely and passionately.

2. Learning from my daughter to stop and notice things. We stop and stroke some leaves and talk about how they feel, what colour they are, if they smell, what do they feel like on our fingers or tongues, how does the light fall on them. Intensely focussed on the minutae of everyday life. It’s really calming.

3. Breathing. Noticing my breath whenever I get a moment to. The rhythm, the sound, the temperature, the sensation in my nostrils, the associated movements of my belly. The effortlessness of it. Just all the details.

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Essentially it’s about being in the present – not ruminating on the past and not creating narratives about the future which can lead you to stress about things that might not even happen. I’m very prone to that way of thinking.

Last night I went to my first Yin Yoga class. We held sustained postures while focussing on the breath, which is harder than you think! I can immediately see the value of this when standing rocking a baby/toddler back to sleep at 3am, or when I feel the heat of frustration rising in my chest. I find it really hard to focus on my breath and stay centred and not lose it when every fibre of my body and mind just wants to crawl back into bed! Patience is not one of my finer qualities!

I’m not saying I’ve cracked it, and I definitely do not float about in zen like state of wonder at the universe. Far from it – I’m impatient, I get angry, I’m stroppy and I let all these things get me down sometimes. But I’m practising different ways of dealing with those feelings because I want to relate better with those I love, and I want to “be the change”.

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via Pinterest

 

Do you have anymore tips? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

 

Living Arrows 17/52

After the stress-fest of last weekend, we stayed home this weekend, taking a mooch through town and letting Little One lead us around.

Bit of decluttering, catching up on sleep (me), movies (him), stirring up some comfort food, sweet treats…. You know the vibe? Easy.

 

Exploring

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You are a natural explorer, leading your Daddy up and down theses steps among the uncurling ferns and spring flowers. And yet you seem to know you limits sometimes, stopping to reach behind for our hands to hold. This was later in the afternoon and you were already tired from not having napped earlier in the day. But on you went – up, down, up, down. You won’t be satisfied until you can come down those steps by yourself. And you look totally brilliant in your Wellies.

Photo taken on iPhone and edited in Picmonkey.

The one where we take a toddler camping…

Camping eh? Immersing yourself in the middle of forests, mountains and Lakes. Idlely swigging on a local ale by the campfire as you strum a guitar. Perhaps a spot of leisurely gourmet camp food preparation to while away those splendid al fresco hours of relaxation?

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Uh-uh. Not anymore! Welcome to camping with a toddler! Last year we had several successful camping trips with the Chicken. After all, she was not yet mobile. This time, however, it was like being at home, in the garden (y’know, with wormy soil to eat and stagnant rainwater to drink direct from puddles like a puppy)? Only without fences. And with actual dog food, and dogs. And fires. And brambles and nettles. And cars. And sub zero night time temperatures and light, noisy evenings.  So. I will now share with you, what I have learned. You’re welcome.

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1. Layers. If it’s freezing at night, you will need to dress your child in a bodysuit, two babygro’s, a snow suit and a sleeping bag. She may overheat and die. Or so you will think as you peel back the layers and wake your child from her slumber because she is now too cold. If your child sleeps face down, turn the hood of their snowsuit inside out, or else it will act as a carbon dioxide rebreathe tent for your sleeping child’s head. And they may die. Or so you will think. Best not to chance it I say…

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2. Manage expectations. You are going for the experience. Not for all the relaxing properties listed at the top of the post. (Get over it. You have a child now.) We took turns following the wee’n around the site, while the other one prepared the food / tidied the tent / tried to eat (see points 3 & 5). A conversation was had about how to stop her from roaming about the campsite so that we could have a bit of a sit down. The obvious answer being – we can’t. Coupled with the excitement and the late nights, she was totally wired and we were totally exhausted. The culmination on day two was me folding my arms across my chest and proclaiming “Thats it. I’m not doing it again.” And then driving an hour and a half to Dad’s where a bed and a chance of rest awaited me. In terms of hardcore outdoorsiness and eco credentials, it was a fail. In terms of sanity, it was a big thumbs up.

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3. Leave your inner gourmand at home. Crack open the baked beans and revel in crisps. You must not at any cost, forget the alcohol. You need it. You deserve it. You are a camping parent now.

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4. Safety in numbers. Consider camping with a group of other families. We had a mixed group including another young family, but the briefest spells where the kids played nicely together close to the tent was brilliant. But never assume somebody else is watching your child unless you have asked them first. They aren’t. You need to ask. We are not good at this yet. Also with other families you can probably share out the meal preparation and therefore the hassle. (Read: pour all the tins of beans into one pan to save washing up.)

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5. Plan. But be flexible. We have SO MUCH STUFF. From 8am to 8 pm on Good Friday, we packed, sat in a car, then unpacked. We only drove from Yorkshire to The Lakes. Next time, we will try to plan out the things we really need to take & try to buy food ahead of time. We also failed to check the roads, so a 2 hour journey took us 5 hours instead. With only crisps and rice cakes for the Chicken to eat. She was not impressed. Once you have the travel, food and equipment essentials covered, feel free to mount the crazy horse of spontaneity and see where that mad old mare takes you.

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Camping is in itself a lot like childbirth. You get all excited about it and plan a whole “back to nature” experience. Then when it happens you are so traumatised you say “once is enough”. Then the good bits start to happen. Watching her little eyes widen at the trees all around her, and the birdsong and the ducks and sheep and rivers and flowers. And her look of disbelief when she realised that she could wander about in it all and poke stuff. Well. She loved it. Thats the new normal isn’t it? They are happy so you have to work out a way to keep that stuff happening. We are not defeated yet!

This last picture is my Living Arrows 16/52. Taken using Sony A300 DSLR. COmpletely untampered with.