Saturday 19 November 2016

Home Ed update

Since September we have been officially (unofficially) home educating out eldest son. Officially because he would have started school in September had that been our choice, unofficially because technically he doesn't have to start school until the term following his 5th birthday.

All my friends and family have been incredibly supportive of our choice to home educate (thank you all of you), most people say that they think it's great but not something they themselves could take on.  I think I have explained to most of my friends and family who are interested how home education works but when I meet new people and they find out that we are home educating they naturally ask questions, and in so doing reveal the many myths that surround home ed, which I duly demolish.
Here is a rundown of the top myths/questions and comments I hear and my response:

So you are getting visits from the local authority?
No, actually there is no legal obligation for home educators to receive visits from the local authority.  Some people find it helpful but it's not a requirement. Often the local authority want to visit to check that you are providing an education suitable to your children's age, ability and aptitude, but in my opinion I don't need to be checked on this by the Local Authority any more than I need the police to come round to check that I am not committing a crime. If you decide to have visits from the Local Authority (LA) then it's useful to remember you don't have to meet in your home, you could meet in a library for example. If the LA ask to visit us by letter I will respond to them (by letter) by outlining some of our home ed intentions and decline the offer of a visit. I recently read a really great home ed philosophy written by Ross Mountney in her book "A Funny Kind of Education":

"We plan for the education to be centered around their needs, for the most part autonomous, deriving from their own interests and daily pursuits, at times democratic, where their learning is shared, helped, broadened and encouraged by our parental input.  Our aim is for happy, self motivated  children who take pleasure in learning.  We hope to provide a stimulating environment in which they may do this, both in the home with materials, books, television, computers and in the community and further afield with trips to libraries, visits to places of interest, field trips and activities which encourage interest and curiosity about their daily lives and environment, all of which are sources of learning and educational opportunity.
We see learning as an integral part of our children's daily lives and not separate from it or segregated into subjects.  Therefore it is not timetabled or structured; this would be unnecessarily inhibiting.  It may take place from the minute their wake up to the  minute they sleep, over meal times, social times, unusual times, any time, by discussions and questioning, conversations, investigations and research, not necessarily normal in procedure.  We see it therefore as mostly spontaneous and unplanned.  Thus we can take advantage of the purest receptive moments when learning potential is at its peak.
We are quite confident that contact with family, friends, social event, clubs and activities of this nature provide our children with plenty of social interaction."

I would probably use a statement similar to this to describe our home ed intentions.

But you have to tell them you're home educating don't you?
Actually no.  So long as I am fulfilling my responsibilities to provide an education suitable to their age, ability and aptitude I need do nothing more.  As above, the Local Authority would like to have a list of all the children being home educated because they have concerns that any children not in state or private education are being hidden away for some nasty reason.  Again, as above I don't need the LA checking up on me any more than I need the police checking up on me (I can't see the population as a whole agreeing to be checked on by the police to make sure they aren't committing a crime can you?)  We aren't hiding away or doing anything nasty, so unless the LA has reason to believe we are doing something amiss they have no reason to put us on a list or pay us a visit.  The onus is on them to prove we AREN'T providing an education, not on us that we are. Therefore they have to have a good reason to believe we aren't providing an education in order to make a visit to check that we are.

Oh but you used to be a teacher so that's ok, I wouldn't know enough to teach my children.
Well yes this is true, but to be honest being a Secondary School Art and Design teacher doesn't help me all that much in teaching literacy and numeracy.  Also lets not forget that the teachers in school learnt what they needed to teach the children, so we too as parents are quite capable to learning what the children need to learn, In fact learning alongside my children has been really exciting.  And here's another thing, we all managed just fine to teach our children everything they needed to know before they reached school age so I see no reason to believe we can't teach them the school stuff too.  Teachers aren't taught all about Anne Frank or Florence Nightingale or how volcanoes work or metamorphosis, they learn it as they have to teach it. As home educators we are facilitators of learning not jugs of knowledge than need to be decanted in to the little brains of our children. We help them to learn by providing the resources, environment, information etc that they need.
I also want to mention at this point that I know not everyone wants to home educated their children.  Just because I am doesn't mean I think you should.  I am not anti school, I think there is most definitely a place for it in our society, it's just not a good fit for our family at the moment.

Do you have to follow a curriculum?
No you don't.  You don't have to follow any curriculum or you can follow one if you want to, the National Curriculum or any of the other free curriculum online, or the many you can pay for.  We are choosing to loosely follow the National Curriculum because, if for any reason we feel it would be right for our family for any of our children to go into school I would like them to have equivalent understanding to the other children in their year group.

But don't the Local Authority send you the Curriculum and everything you need to teach at home?
No they don't.  As far as I know they don't send you anything (possibly a link to the National Curriculum online at the most)  Which is another reason why I feel no need to have the Local Authority involvement in our Home Education.  It should be a two way relationship and as far as I can see it is more about proving to the LA that we are doing enough than them providing support and help.  I don't need their assessment, as it is of no value to me and my children.

But what about socialisation?
This is the question I am asked most often.  We socialise nearly everyday (probably a bit too much actually) We go to groups, meet with friends at their houses and have them at ours, we see our families and we socialise with members of the public at playgrounds, shops, church, National Trust Houses etc etc etc.
The funny thing about this question is that, as a pupil I was always led to believe that at school I was "here to learn not socialise".  Ironic really.

So you've had to sign a register then?
As above, no there is no requirement to be on a register.  If your child has already been in school and is then withdrawn then they will be known to the Local Authority, if they have never been in school or Preschool then they won't be known to the local authority and won't be on a register.  A register of home educated children in the thin en of the wedge in my opinion.  You start with a register, then they insist on visits, then there are boxes which need to be ticked and with boxes come requirements, and there begins a process of enforced curriculums, visits, examinations etc etc.  No no we don't have to sign a register and I would not be in support of any kind of Home Education register.  I am aware that people feel that there should be one for child protection issues and I would like to remind those people that all the children who have been involved in high profile child protection issues in the media were already known to the local authority. We are no more a threat to children by home educating them than anyone else in school.  I also resent the implication that by choosing to home educate we must be doing something nasty that our children need protection from.  I heard on the radio the other day that the equivalent of one girl PER DAY is raped IN SCHOOL!!  So please, spare me the child protection concerns and concentrate on those children who are being abused on a daily basis actually in school!

What will you do when they have to take exams?
Well we don't HAVE to take exams.  There are many careers which do not require exams for you to be successful in them.

But what if they want to go to University?
Not all Universities require you to have previous qualifications particularly if you go to University after the age of 25.  However we are still able to take exams as and when we choose (i.e. we could do two or three GCSEs a year for 4 years rather than 10 in one year as in school)  we just need to find a Centre which will take us on as an external candidate (which I am led to believe is not difficult)  The only downside is that we would have to pay for the exams, although some Local Authorities will help Home Educators with these fees.

I don't know how you get your children to listen to you, they only listen to their teacher and wouldn't sit still for me.
My children don't know any different than me being their facilitator of their learning.  They don't see it as a teacher being someone who teaches them stuff and I am this other person that gives them food and takes them places.  Some children who have previously been in school can find it difficult to adjust to the change in relationship with their parents, there is a different dynamic between them, but it is my view that this can easily be altered by a period of de-schooling and with the provision of lots of interesting learning opportunities.

Aren't you worried they'll turn our weird?
No I am not.  My hope is that they will turn out with their love of learning in tact (children are wired to learn from birth), celebrating their individuality not hiding it, (Boris loves pink, My Little Pony and doesn't see any difference between boys and girls, I wonder how long that would last in school?), their energy and enthusiasm enhanced, a good ability to socialise with people of all ages, an understanding that creativity is more important than knowledge.  I hope that my children will question and challenge the status quo, stand out, not blend in, know that they can make a difference in the world, have the potential to lead the revolution, and above all know that experiencing and showing love and kindness are the most important lessons we can learn in life.

(A painting I did recently for a friend)

Sunday 18 September 2016

Revelations en France

Yesterday I returned from a week’s holiday in France with my husband and our boys.  There are many things that are really great about going on holiday, here are a few:

Having my husband to help me.  My poor hubby works in London so has a long commute to work and back every day, I am thankful that he is around in the evenings and at weekends and am well aware that many mothers don’t even have this, but to have him there 24/7 to help is really great.  (I also quite like him, you know, so it's nice having him around!)

Having only a few possessions with us.  I love this part of being on holiday, it always reminds me of how little I need to get by, be happy, have a good time.  I took a few luxuries with me like my Kindle for reading, my laptop so I could catch up on some writing, my journal, a hair dryer, that sort of thing, but not having to look around my house thinking about everything that needs doing, and not having so much stuff to tidy away daily provides such a break and a rest.

A change of scenery.  Being in a different place is great because you get to see different sights every day, being at home, although we get out and about a lot, it is often to the same places week in and week out, and seeing different types of buildings and streets, flora and fauna is really exciting.

Being more relaxed about what we eat.  We usually eat pretty healthily and I make about 80% of our meals from scratch but on holiday I excuse myself from this (although I like to eat healthy food, I do not particularly enjoy cooking it) and use frozen and easy to cook food when we are on holiday.

Sitting in the car.  As sad as It sounds this is probably one of my favourite things about being on holiday, we travel by car to visit different places, usually by the scenic route to enjoy the views and I get to read my book, the babies sleep and I can enjoy looking out of the window at the different sights, I find this most relaxing.

Enjoying my children more.  Although I am with them all week, they are often off playing in playgrounds, playing with friends in their bedrooms or taking part in activities, but on holiday there is a much more intensive closeness because we are doing things for them and with them.  So for example walking round a museum requires much more of our attention in stopping them running off/climbing on the exhibits/getting they to focus on something and we therefore get to experience them more.  I realise I am not selling this so far, it is hard work, but the things they come out with that I might otherwise miss, or might not be said are brilliant, (Biscuit said one evening “When I am older I am going to get a motorbike, then I will be the best man in the world, like Jesus!”) seeing them achieve new things (Boris went down the water slide in the swimming pool for the first time, he was really brave, he was scared, I could see by his face, but he did it anyway and I felt so proud) and watching them play together is priceless.  We also didn’t have TV or internet connection so were far less distracted than we would be normally.


I am sooo glad to be home.  Begin away makes you realise the things you miss doesn’t it, and it’s make me immensely thankful for some things that I haven’t really considered before. Here are some things I am newly thankful for:

Speaking English as a first language.  How lucky am I that I speak English??  It’s spoken in so many places around the world, and although I do make attempts to speak the language of the countries I am lucky enough to visit, I am not great at it and we can often ask “parlez vous Anglais?” and continue an otherwise disjointed and confused conversation in my native tongue.

Being born in the UK.  I am so thankful for being born in the UK, it has given me so many opportunities that people from other countries might not have had, we are so lucky to live in the UK with so much freedom and relative safety.  Also being able to speak the language of the people who are native to the country is so wonderful and I have renewed sympathy for people who have moved here and are not yet able to speak the language.

Access to lots of delicious vegan food. The French are great at food, but they aren’t great at vegan food!! And by vegan food I am talking about processed food because the fruits vegetables here are really great, fresh, tasty, huge variety, seasonal and without all the packaging you are encumbered with in the UK.  However if you are after a Linda McCartney sausage, and tin of baked beans, a carton of oat milk or some dairy free cheese you will be out of luck.   There is a growing variety of convenient vegan food in the UK which is so liberating and exciting.

Having a sofa to sit on.  We have spent this week in a static caravan and there is no sofa, just a bench round a table with a soft-ish pad of it.  I miss my sofa, it’s big and squashy and soft and fluffy and I love it and I am so happy to be back snuggled up on it with a big cup of tea (only small cups here, sad times). I realise that being able to afford a holiday at all is the height of luxury relatively speaking so I am well aware how ungrateful it sounds to be complaining about a lack of sofa, but you know #firstworldproblems.

So yeah, we had a great time, but I really am glad to be home. Now where’s my cup of tea?

We got caught in a downpour one day, Boris gave me two giant leaves to cover myself and Nut!

Sunday 4 September 2016

My not-so-secret obsession

Ok, it has to be done, if you know me, you'll know, if you don't know me, you are about to find out.

I have a confession to make, I have a little obsession.  It all started on a breastfeeding facebook page, someone mentioned a fictional TV series which shows a woman hand expressing, I though "normalising breastfeeding! This I have got to see", and this is where my obsession began.  I watched the first two series of Outlander on Amazon Prime and I was totally hooked.

Let me give you a little background information.  The series is based on the books by Diana Gabaldon.  They center around the main character Claire who goes back in time (stay with me) from the 1940's to the 1700's in the Highlands of Scotland. Like any good story she falls in love and the series revolves around their relationship and their adventures through time, facing life and death situations.  It's romantic, thrilling, erotic, exciting, I haven't been able to put the books down for the past three months.

So why am I telling you about this? Well apart from the fact that I want every friend of mine to join me in my obsession so I have people to geek out with over it, it has actually changed my life.  I know that sounds dramatic, and probably makes me sound like a massive loser, but it's true.  Let me tell you how.

The relationship in the book between Claire and her Highland husband Jamie is perfection.  It is every woman's fantasy of a perfect relationship, and I suppose that's the point of fiction isn't it, to give us a fantastical alternate reality.  At first it bothered me, I started asking myself "well why isn't my relationship like this? How come my husband doesn't say all these terribly romantic things to me?", and then it struck me, these characters are constantly facing life or death situations which we rarely come across in our everyday lives (thank goodness) and thus they are given many opportunities where professing their undying love for each other is pertinent. And on reflection if I had to choose between a life filled with loving sentiments, yet being constantly in fear of losing your significant other, or a a life with professions of love written in a yearly valentines card, yet secure in the knowledge that the loss of ones husband to execution, murder, or falling down a cliff, I would rather take the latter.

I reflected on this and realised that, in fact, if my husband and I were constantly living in fear for our lives, he more than likely would profess his love for me more often and without inhibition in the most spectacularly romantic ways possible.  This led me to appreciate my husband more, because I know he loves me and has strong feelings, but that he just doesn't profess them that often.  I also remind myself that the book is written by a woman; for women, so she is writing what we want to hear, not what men actually say.

Reading the books has definitely sparked fresh joy in my relationship with my husband, new appreciation of everything he does for me and our family, I am trying to love him more and better and it's made me feel amazing about our relationship.  It's definitely inspired me in the bedroom too if you know what I mean.

Another way this series has changed my life is through a shift in my feelings about my children, in relation to my husband.  In those days children were seen as far less significant than these days, children were quite often seen as a bit of a nuisance, and in the story our couple are separated from their  offspring.  This made me realise that, as much as I love my children, one day they are going to leave home and it will just be me and my husband again, and with that in mind, the need and importance of nurturing the relationship with my husband, because that's the relationship I chose.  We chose to have children, but we didn't chose the people they are.  I sometimes see parents treating their children like little gods that must be appeased (not any of my friends by-the-way) and they quite simply aren't, they are little people who are going to go their own way one day and all we can do is prepare them for that and hope for the best, our relationships with our partners are the enduring ones and in some ways are more important than the relationship we have with our children.

Next reading the books has really helped to scratch a little selfsufficiency/prepper/survivalist itch that I haven't scratched for a long time.   I made some rosehip cordial yesterday!!
It's also motivating me to lose the baby weight; I am buying myself little Outlander related treats when I reach every weight loss target (Today I am buying myself a Sassenach car decal.  Read the books if you want to know what I am on about here.  Seriously read the books.)

Finally this series of books and the TV show have been an absolutely fantastic escape.  Not that I have a life that I need to escape from but during the end of my pregnancy and the first weeks with a new baby having a place I can retreat to away from the craziness was and is so incredibly valuable.  I am a strong believer in mum's (and anyone actually)  having some sort of diversion from every day life be that painting, sewing, cars, football, whatever it's an important part of what makes us human and just generally makes people more interesting I think.

So the other day my mum said to me "I think your becoming obsessed with Outlander" and I was like "And that's a problem because...?"  Because I literally cannot think of a single reason why being obsessed would be a bad thing, it's changed my life for the better, made me a happier person and improved my love life.  Who could possibly complain? So now I am on a mission to get all my friends obsessed so I have other people to geek out with over this amazing series, if you have Amazon Prime you can watch it there or on Sky Starz, but even better are the books by Diana Gabaldon.  Get on board friends!  Get on Board.

And as for me, well I am waiting on series 3 which will be out next spring and continuing to devour the books, I am currently on book 4 (there are 8) and Gabaldon is writing number 9 as we speak so I have plenty to keep me going.

Now I am just going to leave you with this:

Saturday 16 July 2016

Not pregnant, woo hoo!!

Hi lovelies.

So I haven't written for a while, and more importantly I haven't written my birth story down, not here, not on paper, not anywhere.  I am not even sure why I haven't, maybe it doesn't feel so mind blowing as my other two births, maybe I just haven't been able to find the time, or maybe I am just two damn tired!  I am not sure which it is, but I am starting to feel that the story needs telling, I am already forgetting the details, I am not sure I can even recall the pain any more (and there was a lot of that let me tell you).  So here goes.

The day he was born was a Thursday, the day after his due date, and I was feeling very very grumpy indeed.  Both my other babies had come before their due date and I had been ready since about 36 weeks.  Hospital bad packed, affirmations stuck up on the wall, absorbent pads at the ready.  So yes, I was a grumpy mama.  I waddled up to toddler group on the morning he was born.  Everyone was surprised to see me and I got the full range of the usual questions and comments, "not here yet then" ("no he's not humph"), "when are you due" ("yesterday, humph"), "any day now then" ("here's hoping, humph"), "Any sign he might be coming?", ("no nothing, humph").  Little did I know that just a few hours later I would be in the hospital pushing him out!  When we got home from toddler group I took this photo of the beautiful roses growing outside my house and shared it on facebook, it seems so strange that just 6 hours later I was holding a new baby in my arms:

I can't say for sure what made me think I was in labour.  I was getting some stomach ache, went to the toilet a few times, felt very restless.  I did lunch for the boys and at about 1.00 I mentioned to my husband I thought I might be in labour (he had been working from home for the past 2 weeks in the expectation that the baby would arrive early). I decided to have some lunch myself though I didn't really feel like it, but thought I might need the energy later.

I rang the hospital.  We were booked in for a home birth so informed them of this and waited for them to get back to me.  A few moments later I had the call to let me know that there were no home birth midwives available and that I would have to go into hospital. So this was pretty much my worst case scenario (save giving birth on the way).  I got off the phone and thought for a moment about crying.  Then I decided "Fuck it" and got to work.  I got on the phone to one of my friends from a group who had agreed to be on call for me when the time came (aka, my dream team) and I rang my mum to tell her what was happening and for her to get over here ASAP ("yes mum, please leave now, no mum I don't think you will have time for your chiropodist appointment").  I finalised the packing of my hospital bad,  and packed bags for the boys. My friend arrived sometime before 5 and she took the boys to her house and we set off for the hospital.  My husband driving like the clappers with plenty of horn honking and getting angry at other drivers! We arrived at the hospital at 5 and went straight up to the midwife led unit. 

We hung around waiting for a midwife.  They wanted me to go into an assessment room but I said I was declining an internal examination and I just couldn't bring myself to go into the examination room which had no windows and one of those horrid hospital beds so I walked around the entrance trying to find a comfortable position when I was having contractions.  Eventually the midwife realised we had been booked in for a home birth and took us straight through.  And then more waiting for someone to come and assess me and book me in.  The midwife led unit at the Royal Berks is really lovely. The rooms are much more like a home from home and not like hospital rooms at all, all the medical equipment is shut away behind white cupboards, there was a big bath in the room and a sort of big bed which was made of a big foam block with a bean bad and pillows, more like a treatment room at a spa than a hospital room.  

I wandered around the room trying to find a comfy way to be, I laid out my birth affirmations that my friends wrote for me at my mother blessing and read through them trying to focus on my visualisation (the waves of the sea going in and out).   I was feeling the contractions very strongly now and felt like I was beginning to transition.  The midwife said that they would monitor me every 4 hours, then every half an hour and then every 15 minutes etc.  I laughed to myself thinking "no bloody way am I going to be in labour for another 4 hours!" She palpated my belly and asked if I was feeling a lot of pressure in my back, (this led me later to wonder if the baby was back to back.)  My husband was rubbing my back during contractions and I settled on the floor by the bed on soft mats.  The midwife had filled the big bath (I thought why not make full use of the facilities, even though I knew I wanted to give birth on dry ground)  So I got in, it was lovely and did help with the pain, and the contractions were painful this time.  I felt my body starting to push and my waters went with a pop and a gush.  The midwife advised that as I didn't want to birth in the water I should get out now as the baby was probably on it's way, so I did.  I settled back on the floor but struggled to bring my visualisations to the front of my mind.  It was bright daylight and although there were blinds at the windows a gentle breeze blew them releasing flashes of sun into the room, distracting me from the image I was trying to focus on.  The pains were strong, and got stronger as the baby moved down.  I could feel his head coming very very slowly with each contraction, but he felt very far back and the pushing was hard work.  I was screaming now with he contractions and the pushing, I couldn't help it, it hurt! 

The midwife kept telling me to "breathe, breathe" and I was but I needed to scream too, that head! It finally came out, eventually followed by the body which flopped onto the floor and I breathed, really breathed, a huge sigh of relief. "Thank God that's over" was my first thought and I had to be reminded to pick up my baby (as specified in my birth plan) out of the pool off poo he immediately created!.  He was kind of blue and needed a bit of encouragement from a good rubbing down with a hospital grade towel to get him breathing, but there he was.  All 8lbs 15oz of him, phew!  

Was it more painful because he was back to back and had to turn at the last minute?  Or was it the flashing sun distracting me from my visualisation?  Maybe the fact he was my biggest baby? Or could it have been the mere fact of being in hospital rather than at home as I had wanted?  I guess I will never really know.  But what I can tell you in all honestly, 5 weeks on, I feel like none of that even matters.  I have had the most wonderful time riding the waves of post natal hormones, fully tripping out on Oxytocin and loving big time on my baby.  (Having a newborn baby is the most wonderful thing, did anyone tell you?).  I didn't get that feeling of elation when he was born as I did with Biscuit but the joy that has been bursting from my heart ever since fully makes up for it. 

He is more than likely my last baby (never say never) so I am trying to fully soak up every moment, fully savor his smell, the feel of his rose petal skin, the little tufts of hair on his ears, the way he does the most incredible beautiful heartbreaking smiles in his sleep, the snuffly noise me makes when he feeds and enjoying every moment with him.  I feel very blessed to have another healthy baby, and have learnt a lot through this delivery. Namely that every birth is different, and every mother experiences childbirth differently. Experiencing a painful birth doesn't mean you are less in tune with your body, or that you aren't as much of an earth mother as the next lady, maybe it just means your baby was big, or he was back to back or he came before he was ready or any number of other reasons.  Every birth is different and every mother and baby symbiosis is different, maybe you had an orgasmic birth, good for you, maybe you needed an epidural to get through the pain, I hear you, each journey is unique, each story our own, there is no one on earth who can fully know or understand your experience. It is totally unique to you. I have also learnt that how you feel after giving birth is also unique.  After I had Boris, I didn't feel right, I couldn't understand how my friends who had had really traumatic births felt normal and I was feeling totally messed up.  It wasn't till I had the healing experience of my home birth that I realised how the way I felt the first time really wasn't right.  This time, in spite of not getting all my wishes for the birth I feel amazing.  No rhyme or reason to it at all!  
I recently had an imagined conversation with God about it, it went something like this:

Me: "Hey God, I prayed for a midwife for a home birth and you didn't give me one, what's up with that?"

God: "Yeah, sorry about that, here, have some Oxycontin to make up for it."

I am told God gives us what we need not what we want.  I am not sure why God decided I needed a painful hospital birth this time, but I am bloody grateful for the wonderful gift of a joyful heart, He has given me since.  I really hope it lasts a long long time because it is becoming clear that life with three children under the age of five is going to be interesting to say the least!

I love how the post card in the back ground says "We can do it"

Friday 3 June 2016

Still Pregnant

So I am currently waking up every morning, looking down at my bulging belly and feeling like it's groundhog day! How can I still be pregnant?!  In fairness, I am not yet 40 weeks, but Biscuit was born two weeks before his due date so I was fully expecting this little one to be here by now.
I am feeling pretty fed up, I am uncomfortable, have a lot of pain in my hips and lower abdomen and have awful indigestion!  Everything is a massive amount of effort from picking up a sock from the floor to getting the children in and out of the car and I am TIRED!!  My patience is wearing very thin and my feet have swelled up and look like giant marshmallows! Parenting two under 5's whilst 39 weeks pregnant is bloody hard work. Oh and it was my birthday on Tuesday and it was rubbish! I thought I would be cradling a new born baby in my arms, watching box sets, instead, I was parenting two pre-schoolers with cabin fever on the wettest day in weeks with a  trapped nerve in my hip. There were tears, mostly mine.

But I am not supposed to moan and complain am I?!  I am not supposed to say how fucking hard it is, because I brought it on myself.  I wanted a baby therefore I have to put up with the consequences.  Also I am a full-time-mother so should be over the moon about not having to go to work.  Oh and choosing to home educate...another "rod for my back".

So my own choices have made my life harder.  This is true, but does that mean I shouldn't get to moan about it from time to time?  No one would think badly of someone moaning about their PAID job, even though they chose that, so why do I feel I have to put up and shut up? And why is it so damn hard to ask for help?  It's my choice, why should I expect help?

I don't have an answer.

So that's the bad news,

but here is the wonderful news.  I have the most amazing friends.
They know who they are and I couldn't be more grateful for them.  They are the best listeners, they don't mind hearing me complain about how hard it all is, they don't jump in to say "well you should have done such-and-such" and "here is the obvious but totally impractical/unachievable/impossible solution to your problem", they don't ignore me altogether because I bring them down, or because my problems are too big for them, or because they think I don't deserve help, or because they are too busy, they are just there, present in my misery, holding my hand.

And do you know what else?  They OFFER help!  They don't wait for me to ask (hard), they go ahead and offer.  I don't always take it because that's hard too, especially when I know that they have their own children to look after, their own pregnancies, jobs, sick parents, etc etc, but the fact that they offer to help, and mean it, means the absolute world to me, it makes me feel so loved and cared for and seen.

Just today for example a pregnant friend (just a few weeks behind me) is looking after my two boys so I can have a rest.  A couple of weeks ago another friend paid for me to have an hour of reflexology, while she looked after my boys so I could relax and have some time to myself, another friend had us over for the morning so I could just sit whilst the children were being amused, another friend offered to baby sit for an evening, text messages to let me know I am being though of,  yet another friend text me today just to see how I am doing.  I could go on, telling you about the small and big acts of kindness I have received from my friends, it is so incredibly heart warming and I am so thankful, so incredibly grateful. It's something I will treasure forever.

So friends, thank you for your kindness, not given through some sense of obligation, or because you owe it to me or because you feel guilty, but because you are kind, wonderful people who see need and want to help. How amazing is that?

I hope you know how much I appreciate you all and how loved you have made me feel.

And one other thing whilst we are on the thank you's.  I am incredibly thankful that all the pain and discomfort I am experiencing will disappear almost the moment this baby is born, I will have my body back.  My heart goes out to those who through no fault of their own experience chronic pain, are morbidly obese or are suffering in any way with out an end in sight.

Saturday 14 May 2016

My Mother Blessing

Hello my lovelies, sorry I haven't blogged for a while, my brain is fried by this pregnancy and my two little ones, it hasn't been for a lack of trying to write, but the words just haven't flowed.  Lots has been happening and I will try and update on it all soon, I am feeling very inspired and creative at the moment, (which is deeply ironic considering the lack of time available to pursue my ideas), but I will share them with you soon.

My partially painted belly cast.

In the mean time, isn't this time of year wonderful?  Everything is just bursting into life, it really is a wonderful time of year to be pregnant and about to give birth.

I have about 3 weeks left of this pregnancy and trying to savor every moment.  It's easy to wish the time away, I am uncomfortable, sore, tired and I can't sneeze without peeing myself a bit!  But as I approach the end I am trying to record everything with as much joy as possible.  There is much to complain about but I don't want to look back and regret not making those memories.

Today I had the most wonderful mother blessing, organised by my lovely friend Vicki (visit her at her blog here) It was such a wonderful way to honor my pregnancy and I felt so special and loved.

We wrote down our fears about motherhood, I wrote my fears about childbirth and we went outside and burned them, my friends wrote beautiful birth affirmations for me and left messages for me to open after the baby is born. I was anointed with scented oil and Vicki read a beautiful poem, I had a beautiful henna mandala painted onto my tummy, and we enjoyed a delicious lunch together, it was a really special afternoon which I will treasure forever.

I was slightly skeptical about having a Mother Blessing before.  I had had a baby shower for my first pregnancy and didn't feel like I should be making a big deal about my third pregnancy, but I am so so glad I did, because pregnancy and childbirth is a sacred time that should be treasured, and I felt so supported by the wonderful women who came, all also full time mothers like me, and women I will be able to call upon if I need help during labor.  
So if you are pregnant and wondering if this is the sort of thing you would like to do, then I would say to go for it.  In fact do everything you can think of to treasure the memories of carrying life inside you, it's so precious and important. 

Tuesday 19 April 2016

Men do it better

Not often you would hear me say that a man could do something better than a woman, I don't mean this is any competitive sense, there are plenty of things that my husband is better at than me - changing the car engine oil, map reading, anything related to numbers,  but we all know that women generally can do all these things as well as men.  But there is this one thing that I think men trump us women on.  I am not exactly sure what it is called, maybe it's self-care, or getting me-time, or time for themselves.  Whatever you want to call it, men seem to be able to get it, and get it without feeling guilty about it.

Let me give you some examples.
My husband recently bought himself a new exhaust for his car.  (This in itself is an example of him not feeling bad about putting his interests as a priority.  His car is his hobby and he was happy to  spend a not insignificant amount of money on it.  I on the other hand have not felt able to spend an equal amount of money on the Leonie Dawson Academy that I have been thinking about joining for months because it feels self-indulgent, not a priority, even though it could potentially benefit the whole family.) When the exhaust arrived he decided he would spend a Saturday morning fitting it.  He didn't ask me if that was ok, if I minded looking after the boys while he did it (I didn't mind) He just did it.  It was something he wanted to do, something he enjoyed doing so he just did it.  I never for a second thought he was being selfish or self-indulgent in doing this.

Me on the other hand, when I wanted to spend a couple of hours making some art (for my business) I felt like I had to gravel and grovel with my begging bowl to him to ask for a couple of hours to myself, feeling immensely guilty for even asking.  Not because he would have had any objection but because of my own personal feelings on it. Why?

Here is another example a friend of mine's husband loves mountain biking, he regularly goes to mountain biking events and even takes days of annual leave from work to go and do his hobby.  Does he feel guilty about it?  Does he feel like he is being self indulgent?  I doubt it, because he knows that taking time for himself and his interests is important.
Why don't I feel like this when needing a few hours to myself, when he had no qualms what so ever?

A final third example, we were going on a walk round a lake near us recently and got chatting to a man who was stood with his friend who had stayed over night at the lake in a tent to do his hobby - fishing. We were asking his friend questions about the competitions his friend takes part in and what he was hoping to catch that day.  The man amused us for a while, answering our questions but then confessed that the real reason his friend was camping over and spending the day fishing was to get away from it all and have some time to himself.  I couldn't help thinking that this man had the right idea. But still for me to do something like; going away for a night by myself to do something I enjoy that would not only take a great amount of courage and decisiveness, but also a shed load of guilt. WHY??

I have really been puzzling over the answer to this, I am not sure I am there yet, maybe it's because historically us women have traditionally been the ones to look after the house and children whilst the men go to work and didn't take part much in the child rearing and house keeping and this feeling of responsibility has been hard to shake over the years.  Like some sort of ancient garment we insist on carrying around on our shoulders, or perhaps that society still places on our shoulders; we just haven't been able to shed this relic.

Maybe men are just better at fulfilling those needs than we are.  Maybe through some sort of masochism we insist on pushing and pushing ourselves without taking a break or a rest to prove something to ourselves, our partners, society?  We CAN do it all we insist, and we can do it without a break.  Whereas men don't feel the need to prove themselves in this way because they already receive the recognition through their paid employment.  (Which leads me to wonder if women who are in paid employment as opposed to unpaid (as in the full-time-mother- role) also feel guilty when taking time to themselves or if they are able to acknowledge it as a necessity not a luxury?)  I am thinking out loud now, and possibly rambling a bit.

I am sure there is plenty of studies out there which have asked these same questions, all that I can say with absolute certainty is that we NEED to take time to ourselves, it's absolutely essential, parenting is highly intense work.  And just to clarify I don't think it is the fault of men that we sometimes feel guilty in taking time to ourselves, I think it is something we ourselves need to take responsibility for.  I still haven't worked out how to do this without the guilt, so it anyone has the answer I would welcome it with open arms.  It's something I need to make more of a priority in the coming weeks with the impending birth of our third child, but I am sure some of you will agree with me that's it's really hard to do.

I do have planned another Gentle Parenting Retreat on 22nd of May for this exact reason, so please get in touch if you are interested.

Sunday 10 April 2016

Finding my Tribe

Being a mama has the potential of being a lonely road.  I can't think of many other occupations in which building a tribe of other women around you is so essential.  I mean I literally can't live without my tribe.  They build me up, they are there when I am feeling rubbish, they support me, they help me, they wipe away my tears, they laugh with me at the things that go wrong, they celebrate my successes...I could go on and on.

But finding this tribe has taken time and there were times where I thought I had got it all wrong.  My worst mistake was not following my intuition, my gut feeling.  I was having a particularly hard time when Boris was about 12 weeks old, I had found a trusted group of friends in my NCT group, but was being encouraged by my Health Visitor to branch out more and make as many connections as possible.  I had met another group of women through my post natal classes but never felt I really clicked with any of them, but I persevered with them at the suggestion of the Health Visitor thinking she probably knew best even though my gut was telling me these weren't my people.  My instinct was proven right when I was rejected from the group after revealing some personal information about my parenting choices.  I was really upset for quite a long time, but I learnt some important lessons through the experience:
1. If something isn't working then stop being like the fly that continues to bang against the window trying to get out of the house thinking the harder you try the more chance there is of getting through, and try a different direction - like through the door. I shouldn't have carried on trying to make connections with the group of ante-natal women, I should simply have moved in a different direction and found a different tribe.

2. It is important that your tribe are like minded and that you have things in common. I have stayed good friends with some of my NCT group over the past 4 years not necessarily because we share the same parenting philosophies or life goals but because we shared a close personal experience.  They understood what it was like to have a first child and all the drama, trauma, tears, joy etc that come with it.

3.    If something doesn't feel right then move on.  You know in your gut if you are with a person who is on your wave length or not, you know if you are clicking or not. Listen to what your heart is telling you about the people/person you are with, I don't mean to be unkind but there is no point in pursuing friendships with people who aren't helping you on your journey and who can make a positive impact on your life.

As the time passed my tribe grew, or rather it branched out I suppose, I am still reliant on my NCT friends but have also made strong connections with some other women whom I have met predominantly through Facebook. ( Actually don't know how people ever met like minded folk before the invention of Facebook!)

I realised that I had taken quite a different approach to parenting (with attachment and gentle parenting) to most people and was feeling a bit alone at times.  I could have cried when I had my first encounter with another attachment parent, I remember it so well.  I took myself off to a sling library because someone had recommended it for some reason (can't remember what now or who they were but *thankyou!*)  and I met some women there who were talking about attachment parenting.  I could hardly believe my ears, other real life attachment parenting mothers!  I was over the moon!  I never really forged strong connections with those particular women as they lived a bit far away but it was the start of a journey to finding more women who took on the same parenting philosophy that I did,  I knew they existed now, I wasn't alone!

Through attending other sling libraries, breastfeeding meets and gentle parenting groups I met more and more like minded mothers, such a thrill!  And I now feel I have a fairly strong network of women around me whom I can turn to for help and support when I need it, and for whom I can be there to support them (so important, a friend in need is a friend indeed).

When I ran the first Gentle Parenting Retreat it was incredibly exciting to bring together so many women locally who were not only open to the creative life but also followed the same parenting philosophy that I did, and it is both exciting and touching to see some of these women continuing their creativity at home. It is so heart warming to be with women who you have strong heart connections to, and I am still learning to trust these friendships.  It has been such a long time since I have had a group of strong women friends (maybe even since high school) that it's highlighting my own weaknesses, such as my struggle with asking for help, and the dreaded FOMO (fear-of-missing-out) monster, but I think I am getting there.

Because I am a sort of person with a bit of a split personality I am chronically torn between wanting to be involved in everything and feeling hurt and rejected if I am not invited to things whilst simultaneously wanting to be alone and away from people.

I would encourage all women to get out there and search for your tribe if you haven't found one already.  I promise you there are like minded women out there who are kind hearted and want to be friends with you too, if you just put yourself out there and look for them.  Some won't feel right, but others absolutely will, keep searching until you find them because they are essential for us mamas, especially those, like me who live far away from their families or are the only ones in their families with young children.

As I approach the birth of my third child, and with no family near by to offer short notice support I am relying on this network of strong women to support me on this most important day.  I am so thankful to have found such a supportive, generous and kind group of women.  We need women like this in our lives to build us up and help make us strong, confident in our choices and to help guide us on our journeys.  I am still looking to grow my tribe, particularly to add some more creative mamas to my life who empathize with the struggle of cultivating creativity in the midst of motherhood, I am getting there, we are getting there and we are doing it together.

Wednesday 30 March 2016

Why and How we decided against Pre-School

About a week ago the final day passed where I could have booked Boris into a place in a pre-school.  It would only have been for one term, but it was our last chance.

We have ummd and ahhhd about it for over a year and really in the end it wasn't so much making a decision that got us to where we are now, but lack of being able to make a decision. However, on reflection I know that deep down I knew what I really wanted to do, but was afraid and lacked validation.  It's really hard to make a decision which is the opposite of almost everyone you know, especially when they are singing the praises of the choice they made.  This is bound to happen because obviously people want to feel good about their choices, but it makes it hard to get a balanced view in order to make an informed decision.

So I have decided to sum up my feelings about the decision not to send him in a little  actually-quite-long post that might help others decide but mainly just helps me to confirm my thoughts about it and to clarify the reasons in my own mind.

1. Being a parent is hard, I often complain tell people how hard I am finding things, that's healthy right?  Often people's response has been to put Boris into pre-school, they see I am struggling and they think that's the perfect answer, the load would be lightened, I would get a bit more time to myself (sort of although still looking after Biscuit), it would make things easier when the new baby arrives, but I realised that I don't need Boris to be away from me for 15 hours a week, or even 5 hours a week, I just need an hour or so here and there and actually I need an hour or so here and there away from both of them, not just Boris, time to myself, time of peace and quiet, time to sort the house and time to attend to my creativity.  Time away from just one of them doesn't help me all that much because I still have to look after the other and in many ways they are easier together because they have company and someone to play with.

2. There isn't anything a pre-school can offer Boris that I can't offer him myself at home and through the home ed groups we already attend. In terms of education we look at numbers and letters, I am familiar with what's included in the Foundation Stage Profile and Boris and I are talking ALL THE TIME, he asks a ton of questions and I answer them, or we look up the answer.  We socialise with other children and adults of all different ages.  We could socialise every day if we wanted to, but usually its three or four times a week, sometimes in groups, sometimes with individuals.

3. Part of the role of pre-school is to prepare children for school.  We don't need to prepare him for school because we are planning on home educating, so there is no need for him to be ready to do many of the things that school education requires such as some aspects of self care, conflict resolution, being able to sit still for long periods of time, being able to function well in large groups of children of the same age, that sort of thing.  Not that these things are bad, but they are just not things he needs to be able to do right now and they are things I believe he will be able to do given time and space in the future.

4. I wasn't able to find a pre school with a place available that didn't use rewards and punishments to manipulate behavior and what I mean by this is, all but one of the pre-schools I looked at use "time outs" (naughty chair) or a version there of as punishment for undesirable behavior.  This is totally against our parenting philosophy so I see no reason to introduce it in a pre-school setting.  It is the way most schools operate so it makes sense for children who will be attending school to be able to function well within a system that works like this, but seeing as Boris won't be attending school, there is no need.

5. I worry about Boris feeling under pressure to fulfill the Foundation Stage Profile markers.  They are mainly about school readiness,  and I would be so sad for him to be switched off to reading, writing or maths in later life because he felt under any pressure to perform at it at age 4 because of the pressure that childcare providers are under for the children who attend their centers to fulfill the criteria.

6.  I realised that it was what I wanted subconsciously.  Whenever I looked at posts on Facebook about pre-school, I realised I was scanning through the responses looking for people who had not sent their child to pre-school or had taken them out.  I wanted to validate my choice by hearing other parent's stories.  I desperately wanted to hear about other people making the same choice that I wanted to make.  You may wonder why I felt I needed validation from others on such a decision when I find it so easy to go against the norm in so many other areas of my life, but I think it's because this is the one thing (not just pre-school but home-ed generally) which will really make us different as a family.  Most of the choices we have made so far have been health related, either physical health or mental health, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby wearing, gentle parenting etc, but home educating will really make our lifestyles different to other people's.  It's much easier to get validation on home education but less so on pre-school because a surprisingly large amount of people who home educate do send their children to pre-school.

7. We asked Boris what he wanted.  Now this was a tricky one because the poor boy didn't know what on earth we were talking about.  As far as he knew pre-school was a playground (we often walk past pre-schools on our way to places so he sees the outside play area),  which he naturally thought was great. But we talked to him about how he would be away from mummy and Biscuit and that he would have to go there on the set days and all the other things about pre-school which don't involve him getting to play outside in the playground and he decided that he would rather stay with mummy. It's a really difficult thing to do, talking about the negative side of child care, most parents are telling their children how great it will be and how much they will love it, and I was doing the total opposite.

In coming to this decision it has really helped me to talk to people who have taken their children out of childcare settings and understanding the reasons why.  I think a lot of people find it difficult to talk about because they don't want to cause offence to other parents who still send their children to pre-school who might feel like they are being criticized for their choice. It is, of course no criticism of their choice.  Every family is different and has to do what is right for them. But it can be very difficult to know what is right for your family when there is so much pressure from others to make one particular choice.  Family, who are influenced by the media and government pressure for mothers to go back to work and the benefits of pre-school, think they are being helpful in suggesting pre-school as it would give you a break and help your child to "socialise" or whatever. Friends who send their child to pre-school will naturally want to validate their choice by telling you how great it is, and if they have any mixed feelings about their choice it will make them feel better about it if you do the same; and the Government are putting huge pressure on families to send their children to pre-school so that parents can get back into work (and give them more of their hard earned wages through taxes).  So to find people who are making the same choice you think you want to can be extremely helpful in giving you a balanced view in order to make an informed choice.

So there we have it, no pressure to get up in the morning to get Boris to pre-school on time, no "settling in time", no wondering if Boris' needs are being met or if he has been left on the naughty spot.  We are going to be together as a family, starting as we mean to go on.

Monday 21 March 2016

Top 10 Breastfeeding Myths

Poor old Jamie Oliver, he really has got it in the neck this last week.  He has been called all sorts of names simply for saying that breastfeeding is good and that mums need more support in doing it.

It sometimes seems like you can't say something positive about breastfeeding without being accused of being judgmental, putting pressure on women, or even being likened to a Nazi regime.

But we really have got to keep saying good things about breastfeeding, and we really have got to keep fighting for better support because the formula companies have millions of pounds to spend telling people that their product is really good and helping mums get to it and making sure they know about it. Funding for breastfeeding support is woefully poor, so if we don't use our voices to get the message across, what hope have we got against multi national, billion dollar companies? And the mad thing is that people supporting breastfeeding don't even do it for any financial gain!  We are doing it simply because we know how good it can be, how good it can be for mums and how good it can be for babies .  And on a personal level, I did it because I saw the the emotional pain women went through when they weren't able to achieve their breastfeeding goals and I wanted to help take that pain away. (I can assure you that the formula companies are not considering your emotional well being when they promote their product, despite how much they might like to appear like your best friend.)

It has really made me sad seeing the negativity surrounding breastfeeding that has been flying around social media this past week.  Many many women have been let down by the system and they are quite rightly burned.  But my concern is that with such a small voice in support of breastfeeding we risk putting generations of women off breastfeeding altogether.  When women are unsupported with their breastfeeding and things go wrong, they are often left to draw their own conclusions for why things didn't work out or are told false truths by family members and medical professionals alike which can derail their journeys.

So I wanted to take an opportunity to dispel a few of the myths surrounding breastfeeding that I have spotted over the past few days in the hope that it will fill women who are yet to embark on a breastfeeding journey with hope that breastfeeding is indeed good, and that the breastfeeding community is full of love and encouragement for other mums and mums to be.

1. Breastfeeding hurts:

Ok so, yes, sometimes breastfeeding hurts, BUT, and here is the big but, it doesn't have to hurt.  It shouldn't hurt.  If it hurts then that's a sign that something ain't quite right.  
There are a few possible causes to pain when breastfeeding. Sometimes it is quite simply that you have never had a baby suck on your nipple before and so it takes your body a little getting used to.  If pain persists though or there is cracking or bleeding, then it's important to get help.  Often a simple tweak to the position and attachment of the baby can solve feeding pain.  Sometimes it takes a little more investigation.  In rare cases a tongue tie might be to explain (a tongue tie means that baby is not able to draw the nipple to the back of the mouth, so it instead hits the hard pallet at the front of it's mouth, which can cause pain, but can be rectified fairly simply with a small surgical procedure) or a possible infection such as thrush (easily treatable when diagnosed).
The main thing to remember is that pain when breastfeeding is not inevitable, it's is not something to be expected and it is not something which should be tolerated.

2. Dad's find it harder to bond with their babies when mum's breastfeed:

There are many ways for dads to bond with their babies that don't include feeding.  Bathing, baby wearing, co-sleeping, cuddling, massage, playing together etc etc.  If dads weren't able to properly bond with their babies except through feeding then mother nature would have given men lactating breasts too.

3. Breastfeeding makes your boobs saggy:

There are three things that cause breasts to sag.  One is pregnancy.  Even if you decided not to breastfeed your body still grows breast tissue and prepares the body for breastfeeding.  Often this means your breasts grow bigger, causing them to stretch, but sometimes not, which is where I come onto the next reason for breasts sagging - genetics.  Some women will have boobs that sag, others won't, it's down to your genes.  And finally, aging.  You can't argue that gravity plays it's part in the downward direction of our breasts and over time (aging) gravity can take it's toll, unless you are one of the lucky ones (genetics).  Breastfeeding does not cause breasts to sag.

4. Breastfed babies wake more at night:

A recent study by Swansea University showed that all babies wake in the night and that what sort of milk a baby was fed did not affect the number of times they woke.

5. Breastfeeding takes longer:

Different mother and baby combinations make for different feeding times.  Some babies take a long time to feed, others take less time, they are all different. Sometimes babies will suck the breast for comfort which may have led to the myth that breastfeeding takes longer.

6. You have to eat a really healthy diet so your baby gets healthy milk:

Studies show that even mothers who would be considered moderately malnourished produce breast milk that is equal in quality to that of a well nourished mother.  It doesn't matter what you eat, your body makes excellent milk.

7. You can't drink (or eat curry, drink orange juice, etc) if you breastfeed:

It is perfectly safe to consume an alcoholic drink whilst breastfeeding.  The body is an excellent filter.  There are actually no food or drink restrictions with regard to breastfeeding.  Some mums find that different foods they eat affect their baby in different ways, but there are no hard and fast rules, it's all trial and error. But there is certainly no reason not to eat curry or cauliflower or grapes unless you discover any undesirable side effects in your baby. Here is some more information on alcohol and breastfeeding:

8. My boobs/nipples are too small/ too big to breastfeed:

Nipples and boobs come in all shapes and sizes and are not a reflection on the mother's ability to produce milk or feed her baby.  It is the amount of breast fat that usually affects the size of the breasts most significantly, but also the number of ducts can vary from woman to woman from between 4 and 9 per breast. However they work on a supply and demand basis so even if you have four there is no reason why our breasts would produce less milk. Nipples also come in different sizes and do not reflect an ability or not to breastfeed.   If mums experience difficulty getting their baby to latch and find that the size of their nipple is the reason, there is almost always a way to adjust the positioning so that the baby can latch effectively, a visit to a breastfeeding supporter can help find a comfortable position.

9. You can't breastfeed twins:

Women's bodies are designed to be able to sustain multiple births. Two babies, two boobs! Don't believe me, just ask on any good breastfeeding group. Unfortunately many mothers have been led to believe it is simply not possible.  I am here to say, with the right information and support, it is.


If you have had breast surgery you can't breastfeed:

It is very likely that after a breast reduction, or breast implants that you would still be able to breastfeed.  Check with your doctor before assuming you won't be able to breastfeed after having breast surgery. I have seen many women with both implants and reductions successfully breastfeed their babies.

Hopefully that has dispelled a few myths and maybe given some women confidence in their bodies ability to nourish their babies.

Thursday 17 March 2016

Butterflies, babies and breast cancer

One of the great things about Facebook is that you are able to keep in touch with people who, in real life you might have lost touch with altogether.  Perhaps because you didn't know them that well to begin with, or you didn't have that much in common, you didn't live near each other etc.  Even though you probably wouldn't see them again in real life it's wonderful to be able to see their life journeys unfold with all the highs and lows that we all experience.

I have recently been particularly thankful for Facebook because it meant that I have been able to follow the story of Heidi Loughlin.

Heidi is a lady that I met a year or so ago at a church toddler group with her two young boys.  We chatted maybe a handful of times, she was witty, intelligent and we had things in common so we because friends on Facebook, as you do.  Not long after we met she moved away, so in any other circumstances we would have lost touch as we hadn't really known each other well enough to built a friendship.  But thanks so the virtual world we were able to stay in touch.

I would see the odd post that she put up now and again, pictures of her children, that sort of thing. Then things changed.

She shared possibly the worst news you could read about a friend, acquaintance, anyone.  She had cancer.

Heidi has an unusual and aggressive form of breast cancer called inflammatory breast cancer, but what has made her story even more moving is that shortly before being diagnosed with cancer, she discovered she was pregnant.

To help keep her family and friends up to date with what was going on, Heidi started a blog.  But because Heidi has an absolutely wicked sense of humor, her blog became something bigger than she initially thought it would be.  She has been on her local radio station, in the newspaper and on TV, and is practically a local celebrity. She is doing much to raise awareness of inflammatory breast cancer as well as helping to raise money for several charities.

Her story resonates with me particularly at this moment in time because I am currently entering my 28th week of pregnancy. The same number of weeks gestation that Heidi's baby, Ally was when she was delivered by C section into this world so that Heidi could continue with her cancer treatment.

Devastatingly Ally moved onto the next place sooner than anyone could have imagined.  I just cannot perceive the pain and heartache that Heidi and her family have been through and are still going through now.

It is because of this that I have felt compelled to help raise money for one of Heidi's chosen charities, and for Heidi to help her to achieve her "bucket and spade" list.

I have been inspired to paint a butterfly for Ally and Heidi because in the midst of her despair this amazingly strong woman found comfort in the image of a butterfly. She shared this quote on her blog:

"A butterfly lights beside us, like a sunbeam....and for a brief moment it's glory and beauty belong to our world....but then it flies on again, and although we wish it could have stayed, we are so thankful to have seen it at all." Author unknown. 

Of course money doesn't take away pain, or cancer, but it can at least make life easier, and hopefully a little lighter and more joyful.

So it is for this reason that I am selling a limited number of prints of this butterfly painting, and will be giving 100% of profits to Heidi and her chosen charity Mummy's Star.

I will also be auctioning the original painting.

Not only has Heidi's story moved me emotionally, it has also moved me to examine my breasts more closely.  And I would like to take this opportunity to call out particularly to any pregnant or breastfeeding mamas out there who might have some unexplained changed to their breasts, to get your breasts checked out and not to leave without an acceptable answer. Our breasts go through many changes during pregnancy and breastfeeding but it's really important to know what is normal and what isn't. Inflammatory breast cancer quite often does not appear as a lump, but a spreading redness and cellulite type appearance. It could be mistaken for mastitis in a breastfeeding mother so it's even more important to be mindful of the symptoms. 

If you would like to purchase one of these prints please visit either my Etsy shop or my Facebook page.  I am selling them for £18.00 per print plus p and p.

The print is approximately 5 inches high and 7 inches wide.  It is professionally printed onto heavy weight paper using archival inks. Each print is numbered and signed.

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Learning and Listening

I have been learning loads and feeling very creative these last few weeks.  I am feeling like I am much more able to focus on my goals and what I want to achieve.  It feels good.

I have read and watched a few inspiring books and videos recently that have really helped.  Especially with my focus. Just little things from each of them pop into my head every now and again and remind me where my focus needs to be. For example I used to get this feeling whenever I saw some crafty item or arty thing where I would think "ooh I could make that, that would be a real money spinner" and I would start to think about making that thing myself and selling it in my Etsy shop.  Sometimes I would get as far as buying materials and making one of them.  Then my motivation and energy for the idea would fizzle out and I would lose interest and move onto the next money making idea. This would happen again and again, and I would even get jealous of other people succeeding at projects that I "could" do, but wasn't.  I would end up feeling fed up and just do nothing.

Through reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert I realised that I need to focus on doing the thing I really love rather than trying to do things that will make money. Because, firstly, those things probably wouldn't ever make me money any way because my heart wouldn't really be in them (and people would see that) and secondly because although I might not ever make money doing what I love, at least I can die a happy woman knowing I squeezed every drop of my passion from me into something I love.  So whenever I get that silly feeling like "Oh I could make tea cup candles or doily lamp shades or scrabble tile art,"  I stop and think to myself  "Helen, let someone else do those, you can't do everything.  You love painting, that's what your heart is calling you to do.  Do that"  And I feel much better.

Holy Humming Bird

I recently watched a TED Talk video on You Tube about how you attract buyers, not by WHAT you sell but by WHY you are selling it. I found it really helpful and inspiring, a strong reminder that people aren't just interested in my art, but they are interested in me and what motivates me, what inspires me, what calls to my soul.

I am currently taking the Kelly Rae Roberts Flying Lessons Ecourse which reinforces this message.  I have been following Artist Kelly Rae Roberts for years (since 2009 in fact) and have really enjoyed watching her journey unfold.  She produced this ecourse back in 2012 I think so I have known about it for a while, but it wasn't until recently that I was ready to invest in myself and take the course.  (Leonie Dawson says you get $10 back for every dollar you invest in yourself)   It's really exciting and has helped me massively with my focus and how to run a creative business. She talks a lot about being yourself and letting people see the real YOU.  So I am working on this and making it more of a focus for my blog.

As for my art, well I can't get enough time for it!! I just want to do it all the time now and am really enjoying working in water colour, which isn't a medium I used that much in the past. It's a wonderful feeling to finally be developing my own ideas in a natural, organic way.

Of course I am faced with the daily challenge of balancing parenting my two gorgeous boys with this strong desire to create, I desperately want to me the "perfect" parent and do everything right, but I am learning to let go a little, to realise that I can't ever be (no one is) perfect, but managing the guilt is hard, always feeling like I fall short is hard.  But I know I can't ignore the whispers of my heart to create these paintings or else a part of me dies, and a half dead mother is no good to anyone.

I don't know where all this is going to take me, all this muddling through parenting and snatching minutes here and there to paint, I am hoping eventually I will be able to sell something! (Maybe one day I can even bring in an income through it.  Shhhh don't say that too loud, I don't want to scare the idea off)  But at the moment it's bringing me joy, and for now that's enough.