Word of the Week: Knots

Saturday, 25 July 2015

As a woman with naturally unruly hair, I am often in the pursuit of a good messy bun.

When I say unruly, I mean enormous-scary-hair unruly. The other day I was moaning about it and Chris said 'No, it's nice! You look a bit like that girl from Brave.'

Which is actually a nice compliment because frankly, if I had to be a Disney princess, Merida would be the one. I love her hair, too. That and the girl from Eight Simple Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter. Remember her?

And early-days Hayley from One Tree Hill, on whom I have a long-term girl crush.

These are my hair goals:


This is my actual hair:


(Actual photograph unavailable. Here is a super-realistic artists' interpretation.)

Anyway!

I get frustrated doing my hair, because I'm not very good at it, and even a messy bun (which sounds by its title pretty straightforward) really isn't, because there's a kind of delicate art to it. When I put my hair in a bun, it is a game of chance. One time out of ten, I will manage to sweep my hair up into a nice kind of shape without having weird lumpy bits or half of my hair escaping. Or sometimes, I think I've got it, and then I let go of the bun and it kind of flops down a bit and I realise that I haven't done it right and the weight of my bun combined with gravity is going to make my hair slowly and agonisingly rip out of my scalp.

Usually I give up and shove it all up in a giant hair clip which makes me feel a bit like a secretary when combined with my glasses and a buttoned cardigan, but its so much easier.

So when I do get a messy bun that works, I'm happy. REALLY happy. Yesterday, I got one. It looked somewhat good. I had achieved that 'hey, I'm far too arty and alternative to care about trifling things such as hair, so I just shoved it up in a hairband, I can't help it if it looks beautiful!' look. And it didn't give me the slow-agonising-hair-ripping-from-scalp feeling. So it stayed in all day.

When I went to bed that night, I forgot to take it out and fell asleep with it still up. And this morning, I looked in the mirror, and lo and behold, it still looked good. In fact, it looked even better than the day before.

I had a choice here.

Did I a) not be gross, find the six different hairbands layered up somewhere on my head and remove them, brush the horrible knots out and start again, or did I b) brush my fringe and call it a day?

I think we all know what I did. A good messy bun two days in a row with NO EFFORT on the first day? That is the kind of luck a woman with a small toddler and no skills or patience for hair care just cannot pass up.

So this evening, I had to wash it, and then came the agony of having to brush those knots out, and oh my gosh, did those knots hurt. I lathered on loads of conditioner to try and pre-empt it but it did nothing.

The knots were way worse because I'd left them to get even more tangled. Those knots went deep.

That is the way I am with other things in life, too.

When I first became a Christian I was a hot mess. (I mean this. I really was. I look back and wonder how on earth Chris put up with me). There were many issues that needed dealing with. Some of the healing I received was instant; other things took a long time, a tangled chain slowly coming undone.

It turns out, there are still things I carry around with me from my teenage years that need untangling.

I was walking today with my daughter in the buggy and as I walked, I realised I held an attitude deep inside my heart, to do with the way I see myself in relation to other people. I won't go into details, but it was a deep, internal belief about myself that simply isn't true - and yet I walk in that belief every day. I see myself as a person that I am not.

How do you deal with that kind of thing?

It's weird that I never noticed it before. It was actually a conversation with someone else that triggered it. That person explained to me how they felt, and I kind of thought 'well that's a silly way to feel!' and then suddenly realised that I feel the same way about myself.

So, I prayed over it. I did what I keep doing at the moment, pulling dark messy things into the light so I can see them for what they really are, so that I can see the true scale of the problem instead of something exaggerated by shadows. I was shocked and kind of appalled to realise I'd been carrying the weight of this false impression of myself around for all this time. I allowed those sneaky thoughts room to grow. I allowed those knots to grow tighter and deeper inside.

The thing is, it's not an easy issue, the issue of self-image, of understanding who we really are, of stepping out of the comparison game and stepping into self-confidence. It feels like a lot of hard work is ahead of me. But as I walked home and prayed, I felt a little weight lift. Just a little.

I know that it's not gone. But I feel like a de-tangling process has begun.

I love that. I am happy to present all my messy, matted, tangled knots to God, knowing that He sees it all anyway, and allow Him to work in me to sort it out.


(Pictured: a not-very-good two-day bun about to be attacked with conditioner and a comb).

It's nice to be reminded that I'm a work in progress, and that I always will be, and that my confidence doesn't come from myself: it comes from Him.


The Reading Residence

Kids book review! Pip and Posy, Bing, and the complex emotional issues facing toddlers today

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Two book reviews for the price of one today (the price being free).

Being a toddler is actually really hard work emotionally. Or at least, it seems that way. My daughter seems to feel more emotions in a minute than I do all day. And she feels them in the most intense way possible. Can't reach something? Utter rage. Being told no to having the TV on? Devastation. When something upsets her, she will drop to the floor and cry as if her world has ended.

I understand that this only gets more intense as they get older, which is, you know, fun. It is a parents' job to basically teach your child to react to life's events without throwing an absolute wobbler.

There are lots of different parenting styles you can adopt to deal with this, ranging on a kind of sliding scale of strictness:

'Oh, don't cry, precious darling! Have whatever you like! You're too special to feel sadness'

or

'You can't have THAT, no, but you can have a biscuit. PLEASE have a biscuit instead of a tantrum or I'm going to cry myself'

or

'Supernanny ain't got nothing on me, kid. You can pack your bags and move into the naughty step for all I care. YOUR TEARS WON'T WORK ON ME!'

Apparently the best thing to do is stay calm and discuss things with a child, although, as any nursery worker will tell you, trying to reason with a raging toddler is a bit like trying to reason with a rampaging gorilla, but hey ho.

Children need to learn to understand the emotions that they feel and how to express them appropriately. Enter:


Pip and Posy are a series of books created by Axel 'I-created-the-Gruffalo' Scheffler. Each book deals with an issue a toddler might face and how the situation resolves itself. These are very toddler-friendly problems (for example, what happens if a friend wants to share your scooter?) and they are really sweet and gentle.

In The Big Balloon, things start off happily enough:


But they quickly go pear-shaped ...



(Axel Scheffler's illustrations are quirky and gorgeous as usual)

I won't go into what happens next, but, well, this picture speaks for itself:


But fear not! Friends are there to cheer us up and to start new games:


They all lived happily ever after. And so on.

Anyway, I love the Pip and Posy books and when we had this one from the library my daughter requested it again (and again, and again). They are just the right length for young toddlers (Jellybean is not quite two) and I can see that they would be a good conversation starter for older children about emotions and how to deal with them.

So that's book one! Pip and Posy are published by Nosy Crow. The website has lots of free things to do, so go and check that out.

Moving onto book two:


If you have a CBeebies fan in your house you may have already come across Bing. Bing is the creation of Ted Dewan, and the original books look a bit different to the one that we have:


Bing was created to tell stories about the ups and downs of toddler life from the perspective of Bing Bunny and his carer, Flop. They have since been turned into a TV show and lots of merchandise (I have my eye on a talking Bing for Jellybean's Christmas present). If you go on the Bing website, they explain really nicely the concept behind Bing, but it is basically this: the show and books aim to use the power of story to explore strategies for toddlers (and their accompanying adults!) to deal with emotional situations in everyday life.

The TV show is lovely. It is gentle, non-judgmental, and sweet. I watch Flop, Bing's carer, closely for strategies on how to deal with my own emotional child, because he is so calm and peaceful about everything. (In fact, there have been a few times now when my daughter has cried over sharing a toy or something and I've found myself thinking 'Okay Megan: keep calm. What would Flop do?'. Is that a good thing?!)

Seriously though. Flop is like the ultimate guru of toddler management.


Look at him. He's so Zen!



Be warned: a side effect of watching this programme is that you find yourself adding the phrase 'It's a Bing Thing!' to EVERYTHING whether it is appropriate or not ('Drinking Pimms. It's a Bing Thing!')

Bing is really lovely and I recommend it if you're looking for something new for your child to become mildly obsessed with (step aside, Peppa Pig). The book I have is based on an episode of the TV show and it is Jellybean's most-requested bedtime book. Sometimes in the day she starts looking for it too ('Mim book, Mama?')

It also comes with stickers. It's like they know toddlers or something.

You can buy Bing books from all good bookshops, but I'm going to link you to their website for more info.

There we have it! Two little tools to add to your parenting-a-toddler-kit (you know, to go alongside the 'distract with snacks' strategy).

Do you know of any other books that deal with the many feelings of toddlers? Let me know! :)

Creativity part two: balancing life, art, and motherhood

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

So following on from my last post on this subject, I am pleased to say that recently I have been going out of my way to cultivate creative expression in my life, which sounds a bit vague and slightly pretentious. To combat this, I've made a list of practical ways to balance creativity and 'real life' - especially if you're in charge of a small, loud, inquisitive little person, like I am.

So here goes:

Be flexible

Obviously this will mean something different if your hobby is, say, sculpture as opposed to drawing or something, but as much as you can, be flexible, physically and mentally. If you think you can only be creative if you're in an abandoned field surrounded by wildflowers with a breathtaking view around you at all times, then you may run into a problem, because when you have a kid, opportunities like that just don't come around that often.

So learn to work-as-you-go. For me this means leaving notebooks and paper on every surface in my house and writing down thoughts as they come to me. This means learning to recite a blog post into my phone whilst doing the washing up as my toddler dances around my feet. Sometimes life is chaotic and if you want to be more creative, you have to just learn to roll with it.

Take some 'real life' short cuts when you need to

Basically: learn some easy meals that take ten minutes to cook so that you don't have to feel bad about shoving fish fingers and chips in the oven, or learn to feel okay with occasionally shoving fish fingers and chips in the oven. And let go of having a perfect house. If you're trying to have a job and a hobby AND you have a kid, you can't expect everything else to be perfect. Pick the things you want to focus on (your child and partner should probably make it onto that list) and focus on those. Everything else is secondary.

Also, make sure the balance is right in your house: sometimes I feel that, as a stay-at-home Mum, all the housework and cooking falls to me, but that's not true, and Chris has never once said or asserted that. I take the responsibility for more of it, because I'm home more to do it, but that doesn't mean it all falls to me. *slaps wrist*

Feed your creativity

For me, this is easy in a way, because I have reading. If you want to write, you have to read. Reading is like sitting in a lecture being led by someone whose work you really admire, only it's free. You're learning and being inspired as you go.

So I read. A lot. And I make no excuses for it. Learn from people who do what you want to do.

Also I try to find creative inspiration in other places: I listen to a lot of music, and I have recently gotten into collecting inspiring quotes on Pinterest (which, er, I may have mentioned previously). I have printed a few of these out and stuck them where I can easily read them.

For blogging, I find that reading other blogs helps me to feel inspired, as does reading articles, specifically Christian or parenting-based ones. I also make sure to read articles and stay up to date with causes that I feel passionate about.

Learn what makes your heart race and sets your mind on fire and seek it out.

Take time out

I hear this advice a lot, but it bears thinking about, despite what I wrote earlier about learning to be creative in chaos: sometimes, you just need some time out. Figure out a way of arranging this. Sometimes, for me, it's enough to just retreat to bed in the evenings with the laptop. But sometimes its easier just to get out of the house.

If you, like me, can't afford to just pop off to Costa and have drinks and nibbles to keep your brain working, then go to the library. Or go to a park and take a sandwich with you. I find writing in public really scary, for some reason, like I'm making a declaration: I'm Being Creative! But actually, people are usually so engrossed in their own lives that they won't notice you anyway. And if they do, at least there's a conversation starter ready made for you.

Which leads me onto my next point:

Be bold

Chris recently told a friend that I'm writing a book. Which I am, kind of, sort of. It's a slow process and not something I'm sure I will a) finish or b) show anyone. I'm not really ready to talk about what it is exactly (read: I don't know what it's about yet) but, yes, I am writing something.

For some reason I was annoyed with him for putting me in a flustered stumbling-over-my-words situation: It's nothing, it's not really a book, I don't know, not really. Hey! Self! Stop that. I'm afraid sometimes of genuinely trying hard to do something. But I'm fed up of pretending to be nonchalant: I like writing and I am a bit socially awkward. That's fine.

There's no reason to pretend you're not trying when you are. It's far better to earnestly try and then fail at something than to never even bother trying, right?

Also, don't be afraid of fancy notebooks. Chris bought me this for mothers' day:


It's amazing. It smells amazing. The paper is really thick. The romantic tortured artist in me swoons when I look at it.

I felt too scared to write in it. Because marks on paper stay forever (unless I write in pencil. Actually I don't know why this didn't occur to me before). It felt like the kind of book that would only accept profound and deep thoughts or beautiful poetic prose. Like it might spit out words it didn't approve of.

And then I thought: this is ridiculous! I'm not going to be bossed around by a notebook. So I'm writing in it. With slightly nicer handwriting than my normal writing, but still, it's a start.

Learn to share stuff when you're ready

This is scary. I remember the first blog post I ever shared on Facebook: I'd been writing my blog for months before I felt able to do that. My heart literally pounded as I clicked 'share', because being creative is a bit like laying your heart on a table where people might hurt or criticise it.

But the comments I had were amazing and encouraging and constructive and it made me feel braver.

So do it! Show people what you're up to - people you trust. It'll be worth it.

Take time to learn the technicals

As I mentioned before, with writing, this is fairly easy because you can just read and learn as you go. But it's worth looking into the technical bits of your craft. There are rules to writing. Rules that can be broken, but can be broken more effectively if you understand why they are there in the first place.

I've started studying a book about grammar and sentence structure. It's interesting in a kind of back-to-school sort of way. I'm not leaping for joy at the prospect of reading it, but already it's making a difference.

Also if you can go to an event related to your craft - a fair or a workshop or a conference - try to. I'd really, really love to go to a bloggers' conference and am determined to make it happen at some point (oh to have money) because I hear they're great for getting inspired.

Make time for exercise

This sucks, but I find it to be true. I find it easier to think and be creative if I've been out that day or done some form of exercise. It's like it drives out all my excess energy and leaves me ready to go.

Or something. I dunno, this might not be the case for you, but it seems to work that way for me. Sadly

Utilize technology

I use Evernote, which allows me to make notes and then share them between devices. It's handy to write something on my laptop and then later be able to access it on my phone or Kindle.

However, too much technology is probably a bad thing. Having the TV on in the background is never helpful. (so why do I still do it?!)

Own your time

Sometimes I don't feel like being creative and that's fine (see the last point of this post!) but sometimes I know I need to just push through and get on with it, as writing is more constructive than just sitting on the sofa staring open-mouthed at my phone. Sometimes you just have to own your time and use it wisely.

Let your kids see you being creative

You can't just drop everything and expect the world to revolve around you because you are Artistic. Most days, the demands of a toddler leave me little room for anything other than, well, her. At the same time, I think it's good for children to see their parents being creative and freely expressing themselves, whether that be painting or home decorating or cooking or whatever.

I don't want my kid to think that she has to bottle up the way she feels or that she can't be herself, that she has to stick firmly to what society believes she should be, that she's not allowed to think or feel anything outside the norm, and creative expression allows room for this. Plus, creativity is a great way to encourage decision making and independence.

Sometimes I write while Jellybean draws (provided she's strapped in her highchair, in case I get carried away and don't notice her drawing on the walls). This is actually a really nice way to spend time with her.

Maybe I'll write more about this another time, but here is the last point of this ridiculously long post:

Don't take yourself too seriously!

With the subheading: go easy on yourself. If you can't be creative right now, if you don't feel up to it, if you just want to veg out in front of the TV tonight for once, if you can't get motivated: it's fine. If you are really doing what you love doing, you will eventually need to sit down and do it at some point because you will miss it. Does that make sense?

Also, have a sense of humour. Sometimes craft projects go horrifically wrong or you read something that you wrote a few months ago and have the dawning realisation that you sound like an idiot. It's fine. Learn to laugh at yourself. Otherwise you'll go crazy.

What do you think, arty parents? Have I missed anything? Comments are welcome as always!

Sketchbooks, paint and toddlers

Saturday, 11 July 2015

I'm always on the look out for things that Jellybean and I can do together that don't involve me putting high-pitched voices on for her dollies or reading the same book for the twentieth time in a row. (Not that I don't love doing those things ...!) and I like the idea of allowing children to use the same things that adults would, giving them real tools and things to play with.

Enter the sketchbooks. And the paintbrushes. And the paints ...



I started off just giving her normal poster paints splodged on an old container lid, and we shared a pack of paintbrushes (all different sizes) that we bought from The Works for a few quid. However, pretty quickly, she caught on that I was using something she wasn't and suddenly the poster paints weren't very interesting ...




So I let her have the watercolours and she practised dipping her paintbrushes in water, then mixing it all up and smearing the results all over the paper (and my art supplies, and her face).

But you know, that's what sinks and baths are for, right?


But she really enjoyed it. I think she felt that she was grown-up for doing the same thing as Mummy. While I played around with the new paintbrushes, she got to do the same.



I think I actually prefer her sketchbook to mine ...

The bonus is, now whenever we do painting or drawing we do it in the sketchbook which means I don't end up having to either store a million bits of paper or having the horrible guilt of putting bundles of paintings into the recycling. Yay!

We've used these sketchbooks a few times now. She is quite content, in the midst of a mad day of running around constantly and trying to climb on the furniture, to sit down and do something as long as I will do it with her, so this is quite a nice, calm thing for us to enjoy. I think I might try to get hold of some different paint soon to try and mix it up a bit.

But there we go. Toddler + cheap sketchbook + cheap paints and brushes = happiness :)

The Children's Society, Camp Nanowrimo, and an ode to tacky kids' magazines

Monday, 6 July 2015

Hello there! Thought I'd waffle a bit today.

I'm participating in Camp Nanowrimo this month (quick explanation: Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it is an organization that encourages people to write a first draft of a novel in November. Camp Nanowrimo happens in the summer, and you have 30 days to reach your word count goal. You get put into camps and joined up with other people to discuss your progress, too. It is geekily awesome). My word count is 30,000, which means I need to be averaging 1,000 words a day.

1,000 words a day is not too bad. Some days I only write a few hundred, other days I can fit in 2,000. So far, I am at 8,000-and-something, so I have a bit of wriggle room for a non-writing day here and there.

It is weird.

Because the idea of a first draft is not to have a complete bit of work: it is literally about getting words to paper (or screen, rather). Later on, you can go through and be vicious, hacking away at your awful sentences and terrible ideas, until you are just left with the good stuff, the little nuggets of good writing amongst the rubbish.

I look forward to that bit. As it turns out, writing is really hard. Like, writing lots of words. On the same subject. Especially when its a subject you have chosen. It feels daunting when you sit down to an empty screen and the cursor just blinks patiently at you. I think, I'm supposed to fill this space with words? That I pluck out of my brain? 

It turns out writing little and often is good, because it makes quite a big goal for me a bit more achievable. I feel quite excited to update my word count every day.

I find it hard turning off my inner editor though. I allow her to have a quick look over it for spelling mistakes, but that's about it. Sometimes, I write a sentence and think 'I know I'm going to delete that later, but there's an idea in there that might work if I can phrase it a bit differently.' But to just close down the document afterwards and not indulge the urge to mess around with it is kind of hard.

So there we go! I have a few blog posts pre-written so hopefully I won't leave too huge a gap between posts for the rest of the month, but a lot of my mental energy is going to Camp. I'll let you know how it goes!

***

So, I'm going to be doing a bit of blogging about The Children's Society's Seriously Awkward campaign. I'm excited to be a part of this. The campaign is all about vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds in the UK - they do not have the same protection by law as younger people, and are at high risk of sexual exploitation and domestic violence.

If you know me well IRL, you'll know that this is a subject pretty close to my heart. I am hoping to take part in some events and to blog a lot more about their work - and perhaps be brave enough to blog about subjects that I haven't properly written about before.

In the meantime, if you like, you can sign their petition to change the law, so that 16 and 17 year olds are protected from neglect and abuse - click here to do so!



***

I'd like to take a moment, too, to praise rubbishy childrens' magazines with the little plastic toys stuck on the front. Like Peppa Pig magazine. So here it is: I LOVE YOU PEPPA PIG MAGAZINE. Also CBeebies magazine and the vaguely titled Friends magazine (not to do with the sitcom).

They are overpriced and their toys are naff but oh boy, what a delight they are to my toddler. I don't tend to buy her toys or books in between special occasions because she gets enough from her grandparents but occasionally I will buy her one of these and we get so much use out of them.

Need to unpack the shopping? Give her the little toys attached to the front.

Need to read your emails? Give her some crayons and the colouring pages.

Wanting a quiet moment where your child isn't running around? Read her the stories inside.

We don't throw them away when we're done, either, because sometimes Jellybean likes to take them to bed to read the stories (by that I mean we read them to her, not that she is a child genius). Also I plan to cut out all the pictures when we're finished so she can have another quiet ten minutes gluing them on a bit of paper (and onto the table).

Those little toys, though. They are great! Yes they look like they might snap if you even look at them for a bit too long and they are usually a bit wonky and odd, but still! They are small enough to take out and about, but not so precious that anyone would be devastated if they got lost. They can withstand being taken in the bath with her. And she loves them, sadly even more than the beautiful wooden toys that she already has. Today she spent ten minutes (that is an AGE in nearly-two-year-old time) pushing around little rubbish plastic cars and saying 'vroooom, vroooooom.'

So. Want a happy child? Buy them one of these overpriced magazines. Maybe not every month, but still. They are an invaluable tool for a parent who wants five minutes to themselves without plonking them in front of the television.


Check that out: a pile of beautiful, crappy plastic.

Just be prepared to find little stickers on the bottom of your socks (and sometimes on the walls).

June Round Up! Getting older and not wiser

Thursday, 2 July 2015

I cannot believe it is July already! So, the latter part of last month has been almost entirely swallowed up by job hunting and I've had no time or energy left to write (or think, really). But here are some highlights from June:

Devon

So, at the beginning of this month, we loaded up the car with things and headed off to Devon, which was brilliant. It was weird - and lovely - to have a holiday with Jellybean that was very similar to the kind of holidays that I had as a kid. So many memories came back to me - the smell of a hot caravan at the end of a long day, achy feet after walking constantly, bundles of leaflets for local attractions - which was lovely. It was also weird, because we were doing things for Jellybean that our parents did for us (making picnics, carrying her out of the car after she fell asleep on the way back to the caravan). It opened up a nice, but difficult to place, emotion in me. Something like joy and longing and being overwhelmed by time passing all at once.

It was also way harder to say goodbye to this holiday than saying goodbye to Lanzarote for some reason.

It was just ... so nice. The wildlife and dinosaur park (that Chris and I visited on our honeymoon, which again, triggered lots of nice memories), the bizarre mish-mash of things that was Watermouth Castle, the lovely little seaside shops and the rocky beach of Ilfracombe ... I feel like I have memories now implanted firmly in my brain forever from our four night stay there. Even our first morning, when it poured with rain and there was nothing to do but watch Milkshake and play with blocks and stare longingly out of the caravan windows was kind of fun.


Plus we had the extra joy of turning up to our budget-level chalet to find that our fridge was broken and we had to be moved to the only remaining place, which was a posher, nicer caravan. Which is the kind of thing that I always want to happen to me, but never does. Yay!

BABIES!

No I'm not making a pregnancy announcement! Our amazing friends Sarah and Andy celebrated the arrival of their beautiful baby boy this month ... so congratulations my lovelies, he is awesome, you have a beautiful family :)

Getting older

I am 27 now! We worked out that this is the tenth time Chris has celebrated my birthday with me (because that's how long we've been together, not because he picks and chooses when to celebrate my birthdays, that would be weird) which makes me feel MEGA OLD.

Actually, I quite like getting older. At the moment. Check back in a few years to see if I still feel the same way.

Getting stronger

I've started exercising and it's pretty sporadic, but I've noticed something. I can actually do squats now. Like, more than three of them. Without feeling like my thighs might burst into flame. Or wanting to swear at the lovely person on Youtube instructing me.

Jellybean loves my at-home workouts. While I squat (and try not to scream with pain) she shouts 'UP DOWN! UP DOWN!' and stomps around with me. Sometimes she approaches me with my trainers in her hand and says 'Dance, Mama?' and I make up an excuse for not doing it

I am determined to do more though. One day, I will be fit and strong. I've got quite a lot of birthday chocolate to eat, though, and obviously that takes priority.

Anyway, here's some photos from this month (lots of them, because holiday!)


It's been a good one! Thanks for reading :)
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