September Round-Up

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Bad blogger

I've been a very inconsistent blogger this month. Partly due to disorganisation, and partly due to FLIPPING illnesses. Again. And again. It seems that once one of us has gotten over it, the other one goes down with it. As we speak, I am sitting here in my PJ's at half past two in the afternoon with my hair scraped back into a Mum bun while Jellybean lounges on the sofa next to me with a temperature. Autumn illnesses have arrived and pummelled us all. I have been making smoothies with lots of healthy things in and taking vitamins and where has that gotten me? Nowhere.

But I am hoping we will have brilliant reinforced immune systems for the rest of the winter. *Crosses fingers* *sneezes*

It's also been a really fun month with birthdays and board games and a food festival and lots of lovely walks in the cooler weather. But I haven't saved up much to write about because, you know, ill. For the last couple of weeks. Almost constantly.

Got some fun posts coming up though so I hope you can forgive me :)

Mental health things

I had a some really lovely, thoughtful, and honest responses to my post about depression, which made me feel good about posting it. I wrote it a few weeks before and dithered about it for a long time. The thing about depression is that it kind of makes you want to curl up in a shadowy corner and be ignored by everybody. I've found that misery doesn't actually like company very much at all. But, I like company, and I like that people felt brave enough to tell me that they are suffering from mental health issues, or that their loved ones suffer from it, and it made me realise even more that these kind of things need to be talked about.

So thank you for that. For reading it and for messaging me/commenting on it. I really appreciate it. The more I talk about it, process it, and learn about it, the more I realise that anxiety is not actually part of me, it is just something that is happening to me, and holding onto that distinction is really important.

Birthdays

Jellybean turned two this month, which was right at the start of the month, and she loved every single second of being the birthday girl. We loved every single second of being parents-to-the-birthday-girl. There's something so magical and innocent about special occasions when you have a kid.

I was much more organised this year, and therefore a lot more chilled out on the day itself. It was so lovely to see her excitement on the morning of her birthday. 'Gonna be cake ... candles ... dancin'... balloooooons ...'

It was a day of pure happiness. And you could not find me, after she had fallen asleep on our bed in a state of total exhaustion that night, having a sniff of her hair and a little cry. No, you could not.

I did make a good cake this time:


May not look amazing but tasted pretty good ...

Here's my photo round up of the month:


Look out for October. Got lots of cool posts planned!

Everyday grace

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Grace.

It's Jellybean's middle name. Technically, it means this:

1. Smoothness and elegance of movement: she moved through the water with effortless grace.

2. Courteous good will: he had the good grace to apologize to her afterwards.

2a. (Graces) An attractively polite manner of behaving: she has all the social graces

3. (In Christian belief) the free and unmerited favour of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.

I mean all of those are good things, but it was the latter I thought of when we decided on her name, stroking my swollen belly and marvelling at the miraculousness of it all. I mean, when I look back on the direction my life COULD have taken, to find myself sitting here with a beautiful daughter and a wonderful husband is astounding.

Sometimes, I have to go back and just reflect on it a bit. On what I have been given. I have to kind of re-astound.

'Blessed' is a bit of a dodgy word at the moment. I've read a lot of blog posts about it, and I have been pondering what it means myself. I mean, when we say 'God has blessed me with a new car', what does that say to the many people who might be desperately praying for transport but are unable to afford it or obtain it? That God loves us more and them less? When we say we are 'blessed' by good health, what does that say to people who are suffering with sickness, with disease? That they aren't as favoured by God?

But then who am I to decide how God blesses people and in what way?

It's a tricky word. But I'm not talking about it today. I'm talking about 'grace' which is a HUGE word in terms of theological importance but is different than 'blessing' or 'blessed'. Grace, to me, speaks of love in its purest form. Love itself: not just the outward expressions of that love, but the love that is at the root of those things.

Grace speaks of love that knows no bounds, love that is unending. Sacrificial, burning love.




Grace also speaks, to me, of forgiveness.

When we ask people for grace, it is kind of like asking them for understanding, patience, mercy. It's saying 'I need you to be forgiving of me here. I need you to understand that I might do things wrong, but still to be patient with me.'

That is what I ask of my daughter, and that she asks of me. Not that we ever say it: it just is.

The thing is, Jellybean and I are close. We are very close. Two years of almost uninterrupted time together will do that. She is just as close to her Dad, but still, she spends the most time with me, and therefore we get to see each other at our best and at our worst.

At her worst? Jellybean is temperamental and rude and stubborn.

At her best? Jellybean is THE best. She is funny, sweet, kind, polite, and loving, OH so loving. It pours out of her like she can't contain it.

At my worst?

I am judgemental. I am cowardly. I am absent-minded. I am uncaring. I am cynical. I am frustrated. I am angry. I am bitter. I am afraid.

At my best?

That's the trick question, see, because I don't SEE my best in myself very much. My brain focuses in on all the mistakes I make and there are many of them.

We spend so much time together, Jellybean and I. We have a zillion joyful moments in the bank, memories stashed away like Inside Out. I think some of her 'core memories' are moments she has spent with me.

But sometimes, I am not a very good mother.

Take today, for instance. The pain from my trigeminal neuralgia was singing its steady hum, the backdrop to every movement I made, every thought I had. Occasionally, something - eating, speaking, even just breathing - made its song swell into a scream and I wanted to scream, but couldn't. The pain makes everything around me seem so loud and overwhelming and close. And so I'm standing in the kitchen and I'm desperate for a break from, you know, being awake, and Jellybean is tired and angry from being tired and I'm angry with her for not napping and therefore making my day more difficult and I am snapping at her because of it.

I hate that.

It's not her fault, it's mine, obviously. I suppose I can pin some of the blame on my stupid damaged trigeminal nerve, but I can't blame that for everything, as much as I want to.

Little moments like this need grace.

I need her to give me grace. Grace allows a bit of wriggle room for mistake making. It kind of encompasses forgiveness too, the grace I am thinking of. It is a person deciding 'Okay, you are annoying me right now but I am forgiving you in advance. I allow you the space to be a bit of an idiot because I love you.'



She does, too. She gives me grace in her own way, and I give it to her.

I need to give myself some of that space to be unperfect. To make mistakes.

I need to accept that I will make mistakes and not hate myself for it.

And I need to make more room for God's grace.

I really need His grace to, you know, fill in the cracks left by my own attempts at being everything to my daughter. I need His grace to see me through each day. Recently, I've been desperate for practical advice when I read Christian stuff. I don't just want to pray: I want to take ACTION. I don't want peaceful thoughts, I want to actively make peace, somehow. I want information on how to do that. I want steps to take, something tangible.

This is normal I think, in having faith. Sometimes you want to reduce it down to something bite-sized that you can hold in your hands. The concept of God's grace, though, is huge and kind of fluid. It slips through your fingers. It seeps into your life. Into yourself. It is free, undeserved, and utterly mysterious.

But I do acknowledge its existence. The grace of God. I pray for it often, especially recently. I have taken to short prayers, while the kettle boils, while I chop up more cucumber sticks for Jellybean (that girl is going to turn into a cucumber at the rate she eats it. I, on the other hand, am going to turn into coffee). 'I need your grace here, Lord. Give me grace so I can extend it to my daughter. Or even myself.'
.
This act of pausing and praying, of asking, is a tiny relief in what can sometimes be a tsunami of a stressful day. It is a way for me to acknowledge God's reign over my life. Over myself. And it reminds me, briefly, to let go. To hold on less tightly to the idea of being everything, to everyone, at all times, at all costs. That I can lean on God and trust Him to take care of me.

Tiny moments of the day. They last a few seconds. I am more keenly aware of my need for grace and forgiveness when I am unable to give it myself.

At my best?

I guess, at my best, I am loving, and I do my best.

I trust God to help me with the rest.

***

Grace also speaks to me of thankfulness. We say grace at each mealtime, a short prayer of thanks for our food. It becomes a bit robotic at times. It is supposed to be a reminder of how lucky ('blessed?') we are to have food. Healthy nutritious food whenever we want it. Water on tap. Time to spend together. These are basic things that I take for granted but I want to show thanks for them.

Sometimes, though, we just parrot it, and Chris and I take a peek at Jellybean, who is squeezing her eyes shut with all her might and clasping her little hands together. It is adorable.

I want to take the principle of that part of grace - thankfulness - and weave it into our days. I think I do this as best I can. I like the idea of mindfulness - of being fully present and aware of every situation you find yourself in, so as best to appreciate it - but frankly my mind sometimes is like a pinball, racing around and bashing into obstacles and lighting up new thoughts. I can't really force it to settle fully onto, I don't know, sitting down with Jellybean to play with her new farm animals. But that's okay. Things like mindfulness and mental health exercises are only good if you don't let it become another stick to beat yourself with. I try to be mindful, when I can. This is good enough.

That is giving myself grace, see?

***

I guess I will never understand how blessings, forgiveness, and grace work. Until I see God in person and ask Him. I get the feeling, though, that when that moment happens, a lot of things will not have to be said out loud.

I rely on it, though. Like a lifeline. And I try to give it to others in my human way.

It is a beautiful word.

And a beautiful middle name, for a beautiful, and graceful daughter.

***



Started a new study last week and it is speaking into all the vulnerable ouchy places in my (doubt-filled, cynical) heart. It doesn't really have anything to do with this post, I just wanted to mention it and use it as an excuse for my lack of blogging. Wow, wow, and thrice wow. 

And I'll see you soon. :)

Kids Activity: Story Stones

Sunday, 13 September 2015


I've been wanting to make these for aaaaaaaaages. I think I pinned them when Jellybean was about six months old! The basic idea of story stones is that they help with children's language development and communication. Essentially: they are stones with things painted on them.

I guess you could use other things for this kind of activity. Squares of card with pictures printed on would probably be easier. But there's something so nice about the stones, maybe because they're more permanent - less likely to get broken/bent/chewed/drawn on.

Anyway, the idea behind these is to help children to tell stories - a really basic foundation, learning that stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Through these stories, you can talk about all sorts of things: moral issues, problem solving, how to complete basic day-to-day activities.

I see these as a parent-led thing. I like to sit down with Jellybean and introduce them as a quiet activity for the two of us. Usually I let her play with them afterwards on her own and it's cute to watch her repeating the stories I just made up for her.

I put them in a little box too. There's something about boxes and bags that toddlers really like (okay. Not just toddlers). I think it's the element of mystery ;)


Sometimes we pull out the stones one at a time, sometimes we dump them all out onto the floor and look at them all at once.


Even just from a viewpoint of practising words, it is good. Jellybean knows lots of words but sometimes only Chris and I can understand her. So I can get her to practice them!


It turns out I am rubbish at making up stories on the spot so my stories have mostly been about various animals getting on and off the bus, or getting stuck up a tree and having to rescue each other. Jellybean got them straight away though. It was quite cute watching her mimic the stories afterwards. 'Tank oo, dog, helping me stuck up a tree!' 'You're welcome!' (and then apparently they have to kiss. She added that bit herself. Unsure as to whether or not that is a good sign).


I am one of these people that are vaguely creative/crafty but a bit rubbish at drawing/painting. There are a few stones that I've had to paint over and start again (you should have seen my attempt at an egg. I think Chris actually laughed at it. To be fair it was ridiculous). I used acrylic paints, which I got from Amazon, similar to these ones. I will probably use these for crafty things in the future so I felt it was justified ;)


I painted a few of these whilst watching telly one evening and then the rest I painted with Chris and Ellie on a rainy day. I gave her a few stones to paint on (using her own very washable paint, obvs. I ruined a jumper in the making of these stones because I dipped my sleeve in acrylics. Turns out, it doesn't come out. EVER.) and then I got on with painting them. Chris ended up joining in and he is annoyingly good at painting. We did some vehicles, insects, a dog and a cat, and some everyday objects, as well as some concepts, like night time and rainy. Chris painted some faces to represent different emotions and I did some autumn ones (pumpkin, hedgehog, squirrel, pinecone that looked like something from a horror film and got chucked in the bin) The problem is when you start, you think of more and more things to paint. 

I find it very relaxing. Like grown-up colouring books but a bit weirder. ;)

I've seen other ways of making these stones: using pictures cut out of magazines, stuck on and then covered in PVA glue (does anyone else hear Neil Buchanan's voice when they read the words 'PVA glue'?!) which is probably an easier way to do it.

I've also seen them used for other things: letters to spell out words, numbers, making funny faces. I've even seen a Nativity story set (WHICH I AM SO GOING TO DO. Only I might use the picture/glue combo for that. If I can't competently paint an egg I might have problems painting a wise man).


Story Stones. FTW.

Anyway. Gotta go and paint more of them ;)

***

Here are a few links to give you more ideas:

Paint on the Ceiling has some lovely painted ones.

Happy Hooligans makes them with cut out pictures and glue.

These are cute: Gruffalo and The Very Hungry Caterpillar story stones


You can also buy them on Etsy if you have money but no time or painting skills. Camping themed set/story stone starter set/outer space set

I think they would make a cute Christmas present for a little one. Bought or home made!

Do you like the idea of these? Have you made/used them before? Comments appreciated as always :)

The Bad Days

Thursday, 10 September 2015


I wrote a while back about this subject, and while part of me doesn't really want to think about it any more than I have to, part of me knows I need to.

I want to talk a little about depression and anxiety. I know this feels like a worrying thing to talk about publicly, but that pushes me on to talk about it even more: there shouldn't be a stigma about it, not really. There are people I admire who have struggled with, say, postnatal depression, and have declared it for what it is and have refused to pretend it doesn't exist.

I think that's really brave.

So here is where I am:

I mostly feel fine. Better than I was a few months ago. And then, suddenly, out of the blue, it hits me. I realise I am treading on the waters of anxiety, of panic, of a total lack of hope, and it feels unfathomably deep.

It wants to paralyse me; to climb from my chest up into my throat and stop me, mid-moment, mid-life. My instinct is to curl up in a ball until it goes away.

I don't, obviously. I can't. When I feel like I really can't face getting on with it, I think of the people around me (more than I realised) who suffer from depression or anxiety or panic attacks, and how they face up to their fears and grit their teeth and plow through it. So I do it too. I am thankful again for being home with Jellybean, even though that comes with its own challenges. Obviously I don't want her to be affected by how I feel. I plaster on a smile and pick myself up and we carry on.

I keep carrying on, usually, until Jellybean goes to bed and the sun is setting and I realise I've been paddling so hard all day that I haven't got any energy left. I am utterly spent. It feels like a choice, on days like that. Who will get the tired, lifeless me? My husband or my daughter? Usually it's my husband and he is always okay with that, because he understands. But I don't like having to make that choice.

I'm afraid of this new stage to come, this unknown we are going into, that circumstances have forced us into. I want to be the kind of mama that leaps into a new start with a smile, but I'm not that, at least not now. I am the kind of mama that crawls towards the next stage, stopping for breaks, sighing heavily, and longing for the place I came from.

So, I'm trying to call this for what it is. Shining a light on this strange new thing, inspecting it. Analysing it. Sometimes, when I'm far away from it, I come to the conclusion that it's just a stage, that it is a thing that is happening to me, but it doesn't define me. It doesn't mean everything. But when I feel at my lowest, it feels like everything. I lose my perception of how things are because I am in the midst of it and it feels huge, an unbeatable monster rising against a tiny wisp of a girl.

I don't blame you right now if you're wanting to say 'Listen, some people have real problems.' I do understand that. In fact, I dwell on that a lot (especially recently). But I think life is difficult for everyone in different ways. I don't, and haven't ever, believed that as a Christian I am exempt from that, that believing in God means walking around in a blessed, comfortable bubble. For whatever reason, this is what I'm walking through right now, and, of course, it's not what I asked for. I think this is not what I imagined I'd be dealing with. This is not the way things were supposed to go. 

Which I guess, is how everyone thinks when things take a turn for the unexpected. I never thought I'd be dealing with depression - it is unlike me. I always find a way to pick myself up and get over it. I feel immensely frustrated with myself that I can't do that, that I find myself physically and mentally blocked at every turn.

And then I think, there is so much suffering in the world, even just amongst the people I know and love, and my heart feels heavy with the weight of it.

Tonight, I sat down for the first time in a while on my own, lit some candles, and read this.

'The Lord upholds all those who fall
and lifts up all who are bowed down.' - Psalm 145:14

I trust that. I am bowed down. My picking up might not come immediately, but it will.

All I can do is shine a light on the darkness. Call it for what it is. Trust that God is bigger than it, than me, than everything I know. And while I wait for the storm to pass, I photograph and write about beautiful moments, and I gather them close to myself, like treasure. I catalogue things to thank God for. I read in my Jonah study book, 'it's all about posture'. I don't understand how I feel, but I can maintain a posture of thankfulness. Even when it's hard.

Life is beautiful and there are small things that help me stay afloat.





There are things like an unexpected cuddle from your toddler, and her curly frizzy bed hair. A squeeze of the hand that you really need, but didn't have to ask for. A sentence that you read that makes something deep in your heart click, a mutual understanding between writer and reader, falling into place.



A flicker of candlelight and the crinkle of a thin page.

They are things that I hold close, like talismans against the darkness, and I join the ranks of people around me that I love and respect that have felt the same way, and I keep pushing on.

Book review: Hippy Dinners by Abbie Ross

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

I did it: I found the perfect summer read. (Actually, I didn't do it, I got a free copy through Penguin via Britmums' Summer Book Club, but still).

It is Hippy Dinners by Abbie Ross.


Ross takes us through her childhood, starting with her parents' move from London to Wales. This is not just a move for the sake of it: it is a deliberate move on the part of her parents, a chance to embrace a new way of being, an opportunity for a slower pace of life. The book chronicles the interesting people that they shared their lives with, and the beautiful place in which they lived.

This book had such a delicious, warm feeling about it. She captures the beauty of her home town and paints her childhood adventures so vividly: from exploring the land around their home to, er, interesting games of doctors and nurses with her little sister. Some moments had me laughing out loud: others had me curling up and revisiting my old golden childhood adventures, her adventures triggering my own memories.

Throughout the book, she deals with what it feels like to be a child: the hierarchy of the playground and how you find your place, the need for normality and stability, and the feeling of helplessness in the face of your parents decisions. I identified powerfully with that, particularly the ending (which obviously I won't spoil for you), which had me in tears remembering a very similar moment in my own life.

It took me back: right back, to when things were more innocent, and yet a lot more confusing. She captures that so well, the age between being blissfully ignorant to the adult world, and being grown-up enough to fully understand what is going on. At that age, sometimes the actions of grown-ups can be confusing and hard to read, and your mind sometimes makes things up to fill the gaps. Ross's story of her parents and their new friends explores that: those in-between places you find yourself in, whether in age or place.

In short: if you want a good, warm, funny, poignant read: this is the one for you. You can buy it here. I'll also link Ross's Twitter account here (I have sent her a few gushing tweets and she has been lovely about it...!)

Thank you Britmums for the lovely #summerbookclub read!

August Round Up! End of summer woes and Banksy fever

Friday, 4 September 2015

Bit late this month, sorry. I usually like to publish these on the last day of the month. But life happened and now I've had to sit here looking through photos and wondering what I actually did this month. Here we are anyway - enjoy some delicious waffle!

Sunshine

I have a toddler that loves the outdoors.

I actually think she would live outside if she could. Only coming indoors to occasionally watch a bit of Bing before popping back out again for dinner. So we have really, really enjoyed our garden this summer.


Pictured: NOT my garden

The other day I just lay there for a moment on the grass, watching my daughter taste all the herbs in the garden (all of them are 'yucky' apparently) and listening to people in their gardens enjoying the sunshine and I thought: ahhhhhh. I love the summer.

I really loved this season ... and I'm so not looking forward to the arrival of the spiders. *shudder*

Books and a shameful television addiction

I've been reading some really nice stuff this summer. Including Hippy Dinners by Abbie Ross which was so warm and lovely and funny and I am going to put a review up soon. Soon!

We also re-started our Netflix account and, pathetically, I am into Pretty Little Liars. Like properly into it. It is my new One Tree Hill. I mean - it's for teenagers, and the storyline is totally ridiculous, but I just love it, even if it is just to stare at their immaculate hair.

You know when you watch a film and a character gets woken up and they happen to look like they've just stepped out of a salon? That is what this TV show is like. Only all the time. I don't understand how these teenagers have time to look so perfect to go to school. When do they sleep? I think I pretty much slept through my entire teenage years. And when I went to school I just about had time to straighten my fringe and slap an epic amount bit of eyeliner on.

I was about as uncool as you could get at school though, so maybe that was where I went wrong. My lack of commitment to hair bounciness.

It's nice to have a bit of escapism though. Plus it's got just enough casual murder/blackmail in it to balance out the teenage drama.


'Okay, Mom, now I've spent fifteen hours getting ready I'm off to school!'

Dismaland



I TOTALLY CAUGHT DISMALAND FEVER.

(Oh gosh, I've been watching too much PLL. 'Totally!' I hate myself.)

We went into town on the locals' only day thinking we might fancy popping along, and we saw the size of the queue and thought 'there's no way we're going to get tickets'. Unfortunately, I was seized with the sudden feeling that I had to get into Dismaland otherwise the world was going to end so we queued, probably for just over an hour, but we got in.

My goodness, I love it. It's just so good. So many brilliant artists and in such a perfect setting. Plus we went to see DJ Yoda there, which was all kinds of awesome (if you are friends with me on Facebook you will know this because I didn't shut up about it).


(This is the required level of miserable for a photograph opportunity at Dismaland. ALL of the rest of the time I was wandering around grinning and saying 'this is sooooo cool.')



So good though. If you're nearby and you fancy a visit, you should! It's worth dealing with the ridiculous website and being frisked by grumpy staff members on your way in. ;)


So, goodbye summer. It's been a good one. Hello autumn, I guess ...

Love to you all!

Two

Wednesday, 2 September 2015


Being a modern parent, I have come across the idea that you need to make sure that having a baby doesn't change you.

'Don't let them stop you from doing what you want to do.' 'Make sure you make them fit into your routine, not the other way around.'

'Don't let having a child change who you are.'

I'm sorry, but the notion that having a child shouldn't change who you are as a person is bullpoop. I don't care if you're a 'Hey, I just popped out a baby an hour ago, but of course I'll meet you for lunch and look pretty good whilst doing it!' sort of person or a 'Oh good Lord what's happened to me I feel like I'm dying and my insides are going to drop out while I walk and I can't remember my own last name or how to brush my hair' type of person: having a child changes you. Fact.

It's not to do with how organised you are, or how quickly your body heals after childbirth, or how socially active you are. It's about having a new loved one in your life. Isn't that one of the main points of life? To meet people, have an influence on them, and in return, allow them to influence and shape you? I don't buy into the idea that we are a certain way and that is how we are forever. I think our personalities are a little more flexible. We change all the time.

I mean, I think my husband would be pretty insulted if I said 'Yeah, Chris is a great guy, but he hasn't really had any impact on how I am as a person.' So why are we not allowed to admit that having a child has changed who we are?

Anyway. This little girl turned two today:


Jumping level = expert

Motherhood has had a huge impact on me. The last two years have been topsy-turvy: our circumstances have changed quite a bit and I've gone from working full time to being a stay at home mother. I've lost my direction and my focus, and I've found it again. I've hit the bottom in terms of having absolutely no confidence in myself, fearing even to leave the house in case anyone saw that I was struggling, and I've reached unprecedented highs, too.

I've pushed myself more than I would have done before to reach my goals. I've found a new sense of determination, to see a job through to the finish. I've found strength that I didn't know I had and felt love I never knew existed. I see people differently. I see the world differently.

I mean, things aren't perfect. I have stretch marks and scars on the outside, and, well, on the inside, things could be better.

But oh, my girl.



You've changed me.

I am so thankful to be able to share these precious days with you. And I'm so excited to see the world through your eyes.

Tonight I'm raising a glass to the miracle that is seeing a child blossom before your eyes.

And for the people in our lives that shape us.

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