The Birds

I’m not usually one for making a fuss at Easter. The holiday usually passes me by. I’m grateful for the 2 days off, and for the chocolate eggs which I tend to buy cheaply after Easter when the supermarkets just want rid of them.

But having kids tends to make you see things in a new light, and Betty has cottoned onto all the supermarket crap and has embraced Easter as a holiday to be celebrated.

I must admit Easter brings a plethora of crafting opportunities, which this year I have actually taken advantage of. About time really, given this started out as a craft blog!

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First up is this Easter chick, scratching about on my bird table. I had visions of making these in all kinds of pretty pastel colours, but, well, it didn’t happen. This one’s pretty cute anyway, and if you want to make one the pattern is a simple free one from Lion Brand

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Next up are these chicken bean bags which I saw on Red Ted Art . They are so quick and easy to make, even by hand. One is destined for my mother in law (random, I know, but DH insisted she’d like one) and the other two are Easter gifts for Betty and Iris. Given that Iris is in a delightful throwing stage, hopefully this will be a pain free alternative to a plastic cup or the iPad.

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If you want more grown up craft, this lovely wreath was made for a pound by Mum of All Trades!

Happy Easter everyone!

The contrariness of motherhood

On the nights when I put Iris to bed, which is most nights, as she prefers me and Betty prefers DH, after finishing her bottle of milk she turns to me and says “Can I have a cuddle?”. Pinned securely into a sleeping bag (a necessity as she is both a stripper and a climber) she turns to face me. Sometimes she doesn’t want to go to sleep or really have a cuddle, she just wants a chat, about the things we have done, the things we are going to do and the important things in her life, like Betty, Grandma and doggies. On the nights like tonight, when she is exhausted, she curls up on my lap, her head on my upper arm, knees tucked into her chest, and her tiny arms wrapped around my waist. These nights actually bode the worst, as infant logic dictates that the more tired they are the more unsettled their sleep will be.

Sometimes this tableau occurs at 7pm, sometimes 8, sometimes 3am. Even at 3am, tired, and anxious about getting up for work soon, I soon succumb to the star nightlight speckled darkness, and bury my face into the nape of her neck. I inhale the smell of sweat and jam sandwiches. I relish the weight of the heavy head in my arms. I feel the rise and fall of the little chest filling with air, and exhaling with faint snores. When I am feeling frustrated at this being our third visit of the night, or desperate to go downstairs and have some grown up time, I tell myself it won’t be long before she no longer wants cuddles, or is too big to curl up on my lap.

As I nuzzle the warm body on my lap I think about its future. I wonder what sort of woman she will become, I worry I am not doing a good enough job for her to reach her potential, I worry about the dangers of the world, and pray she will outlive me in it. I want to cry a little for the future me, who has no 2 year old to snuggle, and for the future Iris, and the time when a mother’s cuddle is no longer enough to make her feel secure.

Eventually, the draw of freedom and personal space force me to relinquish my charge and put her in her cot. Tonight she was out like the proverbial light, but most nights she drowsily clutches Luke, her bear, and turns over with a sleepy “Night night mummy”.

No longer weighed down with a warm infant, I step lightly out of the room and head downstairs where long-awaited freedom awaits. Earlier today, frustrated and exhausted, I wanted my house free of my children, or wished for them to be old enough to be more self-sufficient. Each night I sink on to the sofa with relief that I have survived another day. But for the few minutes after I have released the sleeping toddler from my arms I feel bereft.

Foam party

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I won’t lay claim to this genius idea; that credit goes to Something With The Kid. But this is definitely one worth stealing. Using shapes cut out from craft foam and a pot of water and a paint brush kids can make pictures on patio doors, or even bathroom tiles. Give the older ones some scissors and the foam and they can cut their own shapes out which extends the life of this activity.  The foam sticks to the wet glass, and makes surprisingly little mess, assuming your patio doors are usually as smeared as mine anyway. This is a great rainy day activity and the shapes can be used over and over again.

Yes, those are my little darlings in the picture, and yes one of them is wearing pajamas, and the other a baggy bottomed leotard with a yellow cap. We’re a classy household.

Catholic women speak out and say “Not in my name”

So, Cardinal O’Brien has admitted that his behaviour over the years has “fallen beneath the standards expected of me”. It is unclear what this euphemism really means, as Catholic views on sexual standards don’t seem allied with those of the mainstream i.e. sex is not ok if you are not married, gay, or a member of the clergy. Suffice to say it is not clear that O’Brien has broken any laws, just some stupid internal rules, so I won’t dwell on the nature of the offences.

This blog post is not simply the rantings of a disinterested atheist. I have my own beef with the Catholic Church. Those who know me might be surprised to know I am actually a Catholic, at least I think I am, I’m a bit hazy on the rules. My parents are lapsed Catholics and both sets of grandparents were fervent Catholics. I was baptised in the Catholic Church. Apparently despite being an atheist now the event of my baptism makes me a Catholic for life, and beyond presumably. Like I said I’m not clear on the rules of membership, so I am happy to be corrected, but it seems to me that being a Catholic is a bit like being signed into to a spam newsletter, you don’t remember signing up, and despite looking around the website you can’t find the instructions for how to leave. They make it deliberately difficult, requiring a written request to take you off their mailing list, which quite frankly you are never going to get around to. You can put them in your spam folder but somehow they keep getting through the filter.

I said my grandparents were Catholics, so you can imagine how it went down when my 19 year old unwed parents announced my impending arrival. My paternal grandparents refused to acknowledge my existence until I was about 10 or 11. That is not the only negative impact the church has had on my life and that of my family. The Catholic Church and its hypocritical dogmatics have wronged my family in other devastating ways, so my disenchantment goes beyond my feminist and moral principles.

But I can’t really claim to be an insider in the Church. When insiders start to question the value and morals of their own long supported organisation it is a sign that institution is really in danger. Joanna Moorhead is a journalist and long time member of the Catholic Church, about as much an insider as a woman can get in the Church. She has written and edited religious publications, and today she has publicly professed her dissatisfaction with the leaders of her faith. You can read the full article here but I wanted to pick out some of what I think are the most important points:

…our church has come to be seen entirely in terms of the men who run it. That, of course, is understandable: not only do they hold resolutely on to the reins of power, but they are also the ones who have perpetrated the crimes. One of the more unsettling moments of the pope’s UK visit in 2010, for me, was when he called on “the whole church” to atone for its crimes. But those were not my crimes, Pope Benedict: I am not one of the ordained men who has abused children or helped cover up their abhorrent behaviour, and I resent being treated as one.

In fact, all around me I increasingly hear these words from my fellow Catholics: not in my name. These crimes that have been committed, this power that has been abused, this trust that has been betrayed: not in our name, Your Holiness, has it happened. Guilt has dogged my church through the centuries, and it’s a guilt that has often been planted most deeply among the lay people: every week at mass for many years I have heard the priest in the pulpit reminding and cajoling and persuading us to go to confession, to repent, to bathe in our guilt and be freed from it. Well, not this time: this guilt is not mine; this is the guilt of the hierarchy, the guilt of the priests, the guilt of the ordained men who run my church and who have been determined for centuries that they would not share the running of the church with anyone who was not one of them.

Lay women, the biggest group within the church, are the most silent of all silent majorities…They are also, I believe, its wisdom, its common sense and its conscience. If the Catholic church had done as most institutions have done over the last 30 or so years, and invited women to become its leaders alongside men, it would have discovered – as institution after institution has discovered, the world over – that it could not run itself properly without them.

There is not much left for me to say, Joanna has made her eloquent plea to the Church. I don’t expect them to listen to me but I can only hope they start listening to their members and make radical changes than mean that people’s lives are no longer devastated by the acts of men who abuse the power they hold.

Enough is enough

When I was 18 I worked for a well known holiday camp. I was working 70 odd hours a week in 3 different departments to save for university. On Saturdays I worked in the sales department an my boss was a man who was at least 40, good looking in an oily sort of way. Fairly soon after I started work for him he nicknamed me Busty Bertha, Bertha for short, which he would use liberally including in front of colleagues and customers. When I would go into his office he would sit with his leg splayed and indicate using unsubtle gestures that I should sit in the vicinity of his crotch. There were verbal exchanges too. I tried to hold my own, giving a good game as I thought I should, when in reality I was a sexually naive teenager.

In the midst of trying to hold my own I took the decision to mention the behaviour to another manager. I was clear that I wasn’t making a complaint. In reality I didn’t have the language to articulate what the problem was, I wasn’t even sure there was a problem, beyond my feeling uncomfortable. This was a holiday park, sexual hotbeds full of people temporally living in close quarters, in a holiday atmosphere. This is how it was. I tried to hold my own in order to make people like me. The comments I made to my other manager were self preservation. I actually said to him that I wanted to mention the behaviour, in case anything untoward should happen; that if I made a complaint it wasn’t out of the blue.

I mention this because this morning I was listening to politicians on the Radio 4 Today Show, Gisela Stuart, Labour MP, Sheila Gunn, former press secretary to John Major, Jo Phillips, former press secretary for Paddy Ashdown. The discussion was in response to the allegations made about Lord Rennard, the former Liberal Democrat Chief Executive, or inappropriate behaviour towards at least 10 women. The extent of the argument went as follows: politics is a tough business, you know what it is like when you get into it and women need to toughen up. One of these women discussed tactics she used to get away from a particularly frisky colleague who was trying to get her to go to his room at a party conference. Another useful tactic is to just pretend to cry about a previous boyfriend, that soon puts a damper on proceedings. Apparently it is our sisterly duty to share these escape tactics with our colleagues.

If only at 18 some girlfriend had sat me down and shared some tips with me things would have been much better… No, no, NO. What my 18 year old self needed was for someone to sit me down and tell me that I did not have to put up with that sort of behaviour, and that they would support me in making a complaint.

It’s bad enough that women are still having to work in these environments, but what makes it even worse is that STILL we are being to to put up and shut up about it. Men in positions of authority and power are being allowed to treat women as sexual objects, and according to Sheila Gunn we should just consider them as “naughty boys”. This is belittling both to the female victims (or male victims as in the allegations against Cardinal O’Brien, leader of the Scottish Roman Catholic Church) and men, the ones who don’t perpetrate these actions. Men are not young children without control over their desires and actions. They are conscious actors who make choices, some men make good choices and some men make bad ones. Let’s not let the ones who make bad ones ruin it for the good ones.

And let’s get away from this resignation over the situation. Women need to know that they do not have to put up with this behaviour, there is no environment is which it is appropriate, no age or position that excuses men treating women as objects for their taking. We will stand next to these women in solidarity and say “enough is enough”.

Yarn bombs in the wild!

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I was very excited to have privilege of being taken to the Commissary on a nearby US manned RAF base. I say nearby, it was a 3 hour round trip (child free, thankfully) with my good friend and yarn bombing comrade Georgia. But it was worth it to stock up on all kinds of American snacks, mostly filled with high fructose corn syrup. I bought such delicacies as Cheetos, mac’n’cheese in a box, and Graham Crackers.

Anyhoo, the point of this post wasn’t to warn you of my impending massive weight gain as a result of eating to many Hershey’s Cookies’n’Cream eggs (the chocolate equivalent of crack by the way!). I wanted to share with you some yarn bombing that we spotted on our travels.

Chipping Norton is an Oxfordshire town better known for its association with David Cameron and Rebekah Brooks. I would like to see it more meritoriously reknowned for its yarn graffiti. Check out these lovely Valentine themed creations:

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This is the first time we’ve seen yarn bombs that aren’t our own in the wild. Very exciting! And if these Chipping Norton yarn bombers want to join forces with our Gloucestershire crew any time we’d love to cook something up!

Don’t say it with a card, say it with a magazine!

God, I love magazines. I know I shouldn’t but I really do. Even in the knowledge that most of them are simply vehicles for adverts, many with recycled content, I love them. I love the little nuggets of information, the aspirational photos, the smooth and shiny pages. I’ve loved them for as long as I remember, starting with my cousin’s Beano magazine, continuing with Quiz Kids and Fast Forward sent to me by my grandmother. If there is one thing better than a magazine, it’s a magazine that comes through the post.

My periodical love was nurtured by a two year stint in a newsagents, where not only could I read all the magazines for free, I got to keep all the free gifts off the unsold magazines before they were returned to the supplier. My choice then was Just Seventeen, Mizz, Smash Hits, oh and a dalliance with Chelsea Magazine, but that was really just to impress a boy.

I don’t really buy magazines any more, at least not in the volumes that I used to. I don’t go in for the glossy so called ‘women’s magazines’ that suckered me in during my teenage years and early twenties, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, nor the celebrity rags, Grazia, OK etc. The former prey on women’s insecurities to sell overpriced cosmetics, and the latter merely prey on vaguely famous people and their need for validation. And I have never gone in for the real magazines touting stories of rape, incest and murder, where voyeuristic vultures pick over the remnants of people’s shattered lives.

My bent nowadays tends more towards craft magazines, dream homes and design, and self improvement. The only magazine I now regularly buy, when I can justify it, is Psychologies Magazine. It’s full of pop psychology, and self improvement articles articles that just about hit that self development spot. Marginally more academic is Psychology Today, though it is American and therefore harder to get hold of. I have recently subscribed to Simply Crochet Magazine which I infinitely prefer to its sister magazine Mollie Makes, but I only for 3 issues on a 3 for £5 introductory offer. I just can’t justify £5 a go for a single magazine, especially when for a little more I could get a full on book.

However, since we are speaking about money for magazines, I thought I would mention a interesting blog article I saw on Twitter from News Stand. They note that it is hard to find a decent card for under £2.99 when it is someone’s birthday, or anniversary or <fill in your card industry invented occasion here>. With magazines costing only a little more than that why not try giving one instead of a card and give a couple of hours’ entertainment instead of a fleeting moment of pleasure. Sure, News Stand, an online magazine retailer, has a vested interest in presenting this view. But they have a point. I am fairly ambivalent about cards myself. I don’t send Christmas cards, and equally don’t get upset if people don’t send me one. DH and I don’t exchange Valentine’s or anniversary cards; it just seems quite a waste of money that could be better spent on chocolate. Or magazines. Cards get read once or twice, displayed for a few days, cluttering up the place. The odd really beautiful one might get a permanent position on a shelf or in a frame. A few with very special messages might get put away to be read again once or twice before getting lost in a move, but most have a fairly perfunctory message. In fact most of my in laws can barely spare more than a ‘To’ and a ‘From’ in their cards.

Wouldn’t a far more pleasurable and longer lasting product of the same money be a magazine? It doesn’t have to be offensive, anti-feminist, clap trap like Glamour or Company. What about The Week, for the busy person to keep up with current affairs? Or the Writers’ Forum for the wordsmith in your life? Always full of excellent recipes Good Food Magazine might be the perfect card substitute for the resident cook. And eclectic lifestyle magazine Oh Comely will inspires those with curious dispositions.

So next time you are in a paper shop looking for a last minute birthday cards, give the faux arty shots and lame jokes a miss and check out the news stand instead. You never know what you might find to delight that special friend or family member…

Modern Asphalt magazine
Happy birthday bro’
Sheep mag
More interesting than card with a sheep on it
Juggle Magazine
Even something for my hard to buy for dad

And it’s my birthday coming up soon, just sayin’…

The Simple Things Magazine
I’m a woman of simple tastes

 

 

My Cool Shed

My cool shed by Jane Field-LewisYesterday I spent the day at home studying for my Master’s degree while kids went off to the child minder.

It was glorious, the sun was shining, and I was motivated to work. I spent the day analysing my husband’s response to my job analysis and writing it up.

It was absolutely silent, and I wasn’t even tempted to put the radio on as I usually would. There were no kids shrieking “I want the yellow bowl”, no colleagues discussing their weight loss, no phones ringing and people shouting down them. It was lovely.

I made myself a sandwich that hadn’t been sat around all morning, and for my afternoon break I made a cup of tea, wrapped myself in a blanket and sat on the garden swing in the sun. I could get used this. I always assumed I’d be really bad at home working, but a combination of factors motivated me yesterday, not least the fact that it didn’t feel like work. I always wondered what that felt like in a job, and this is it.

There are, however, a number of dependencies which made yesterday a success. One: the house was tidy. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to relax. Two: I was enjoying what I was doing. I’m not sure it would have felt so lovely were I wrestling with Excel spreadsheets. Three: there was no one else around. For some people, freelancing or working from home means fitting it around looking after children. I’ve also tried to study while they are around and I am nowhere near as productive.

My cool shed

My experience made me think of a book I bought DH for Christmas, My Cool Shed. Within are pictures of various sheds, hideaways and bolt holes where people work, play or just get away from it all. Admittedly some of these ‘sheds’ are bigger and more luxurious than my house, but DH and I fostering a dream where we could each have our own little place to go, somewhere you can put something down and know it will be in exactly that same place again, somewhere where your books and papers remain felt tip free. We both crave our own space, and at the moment we have to find it retiring to our tiny bedroom, using ear phones to block out the sounds of the children wrestling with each other. The beauty of the shed is that it needn’t be too expensive, nothing like to cost of a real extension. That said, even a shed is out of our price range at the moment, and living in a rental property I wouldn’t want to invest in anything that couldn’t be moved.

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So I will continue to dream about my little white washed shed, with large windows, and crochet blankets aplenty. And maybe by the time I can afford it I will also have a home working job I can do it it.

The Hungry Caterpillar

A friend of mine was having a minor maternal crisis known to many of us: creating a costume for a fancy dress party. This party, for a one year old first child (oh the naiveity of the new parent) was themed The Hungry Caterpillar, and quite strictly enforced. Apparently supermarket sourced fairy or pirate wasn’t going to cut the mustard.

My friend turned to me for help and requested a hungry caterpillar style hat for her 2 year old son, with the intention of dressing him in green. She sent me a couple of pictures for inspiration and I duly obliged.

I had some chunky red yarn that meant I could whip up a beanie style hat pretty quickly. At the last minute I added ear flaps and some tassels but you can’t see them very well in this picture. Still, this is one cute looking caterpillar.

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Coulda woulda shoulda

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It occurred to me the other day that I spend a lot of my life ‘shoulding’ myself. There are all manner of things I think I should do or should be, area in which I am not living up to expectations (mine? Who knows.) The following list is not even nearly exhaustive. I should:

be thinner

ride my bike, especially with the kids on the back

have my own crochet business

be a better read feminist

in fact be better read altogether (the list of books I should read would merit a blog post of its own)

run 10k

only feed my family home baked bread

have a tidier/cleaner house

be a better parent

be greener

eat pulses

be more well groomed

have better hair

know more history

be more frugal

write beautiful hand lettering or just have better handwriting

be able to touch type

remember everyone’s birthdays and send them all cards

make presents for people

write real letters to my friends

blog more often

have cooler fashion sense

understand politics

grow my own veg

speak another language properly

stop buying things at the supermarket and Amazon and buy local instead

be better at my sewing machine

write a book, have already written one preferably

be funnier

take my kids on nature walks

have a finance spreadsheet and keep to it

be cool enough to carry off a wink

customise my clothes

The list goes on…There are a whole heap of things that I feel like I should be doing. The ‘shoulds’ come from a few sources, the main one being me and my perfectionist, aspiring personality. Combine that with a distinct lack of completer-finisher in me, and well, you have a recipe for disaster, guilt, and of course dilettantism. The second source of shoulds come from the mass media. I very rarely by glossy magazines any more, but do indulge in a spot of Psychologies, and craft magazines. Even they, rather more benignly contribute to the idea of doing more, being more and having more. Whether that is £145 face serum (thanks for the recommendation Psychologies) or my own off beat craft business (Mollie Makes). Having children is no longer an excuse not to be successful either, thanks to the rise of kitchen table businesses, where mothers of young children create business from nothing, selling too-cute-for-words accessories or cupcakes with a nattily dressed baby on their hips. Do you detect a little envy in this post? Damn right you do! I’m unashamedly envious of these people, and attribute my lack of similar success to just not trying hard enough.

The third source of my attack of the shoulds is social media. Social media I love you, but you show me glimpses of worlds I can only dream of. By nature social media is very self selecting. I follow people, through blogs or twitter etc., who do stuff I am interested in. And I order for me to follow them and be interested they probably do it quite well. Hence with my varied interests I am following writers, journalists, psychologists, crafters and artists, and wondering why I am not as successful as all these people. Social media is also rather deceptive. It gives the illusion of reality, following people’s real lives, seeing their homes, their studios and their work. However it is barely more real life than a magazine spread. Of course people are selective about what they post. They leave out the bad bits, and we never see homes with laundry spilling out of the basket or kitchen tables still covered in this morning’s breakfast paraphernalia. Despite my awareness of this, my illogical brain just notes how much better everyone else is than me.

I also need to remind myself of the financial and time constraints of my life. If you devote yourself to a single cause or career you are going to be better at it. My problem is I want to devote myself to lots of causes, careers an activities.

In concerning myself with all the things I’m not or that I don’t do I forget all the things I am or that I actually do. So I am going to list them, to prove to myself and to everyone else that my life is actually full of value, even if that value is not equal to everyone else’s.

So these are the things I do and can do:

Raise 2 young children, who are polite and sociable (to other people anyway!)

Speak passable French and Spanish

Create home cooked meals for my children, they even eat some of them

Bake nice cakes for my family and colleagues

Run 2-3 miles about twice a week

Study for a part time Masters Degree in Occupational Psychology

Work 4 days a week

Have 2 degrees in psychology with the highest grade in each

Crochet

Take Betty swimming every Saturday morning

Run a crochet class

Bake bread occasionally, by hand

Write a blog

Yarn bomb

Know all the names of the New Testament books (I learned them at Brownies)

Make cakes for the school fetes

Sit down an eat dinner with my kids everyday, and ask them how their days were

Find the end of the sellotape without fail, within seconds

Ran a yarn bombing workshop

Make my own granola (sometimes)

And do you know what, even if this list was half or as third as long it should still be enough. I work enough so that we can afford to live (just about!) and raise 2 kids, who are only semi feral and are usually fed and dressed (even if fed does mean Coco Pops for breakfast, and if dressed means wearing Buzz Lightyear and pirate outfits).

I am slowly coming around to the realisation that I can’t do everything, and should stop comparing myself to others. I’m not quite there yet, but this post a step forwards.

Do you have a list of shoulds and how do you get past them?