Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Burglar

Distracted for a moment, my back turned, he seizes his opportunity.
Light fingered, quietly, eagerly, searching.
Rifling, magpie-like, looking for that exquisite piece
To treasure and hoard, clasped tightly in his grubby hands,
Safe, hidden from my view until

Re-entering the fray, mind poised, I spot him.
Panic wells up, vomit-like. Those are my things....
The innards of my bag laid bare, pulled roughly,
Maltreated and carelessly strewn, for all to see.
How did he find this? Where did that come from?
I want to push it all back, to hide
Those things which shouldn't be seen
And to restore some dignity to the disordered,
Smooth over it, pretend all is calm.

But he has taken something. I see it now 
And rage explodes, shattering through the disarray.
Give me back what is mine! Now!
The scream surprises him. A flicker of doubt crosses his face
And then he smiles. "No!," he taunts.
He thinks I'm playing. My heart fails: this is no game.
Gulping down pride, I change tact. Please?
"NO!" he shouts. I have riled him now.

Disheartened, upset, weakly, I walk away
To breathe. Slowly, deliberately,
I tidy and re-pack my possessions, 
Sighing over each as if they too had shattered.
I feel him watching, waiting.
And then suddenly, a small hand touches mine.

He gazes up at me, eyes wide and pure,
And offers up the borrowed object.
Relief and regret at once quench the fire within
And I hug him: Thank you darling
And off he goes, my heart, my creation, my exposé,
Back to his innocence and his fearless investigations,
Leaving me to ponder my world,
My inner sanctity.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Living Life Your Way Interview

I am dead chuffed to be part of Pixie Mama's inspiring Living Life Your Way series: go read my interview over there today and find out a bit more about me :)

How to be a Super Woman: Meet Motherfunker!

1. Hi! Tell us a bit about yourself
I'm a home-educating mama to four boys, aged 2, 5, 8, and 9 and my real name is Paula Cleary. A few years ago I started ranting on home ed forums and people just really took to it, saying they loved how I expressed myself and to keep ranting! Some folks asked to use my musings on their websites and so I progressed to writing articles, some of which have featured in EOS magazine, amongst other places. I do love a good rant, so have now taken up blogging, after thinking I wouldn't be techie enough to do it for several years. Now I realise how easy it is, I wish I'd started sooner! 

Education Outside School Magazine
Just recently I started Doula training, since I obsessively read earthy birthy books and get a kick out of the whole trip of bringing life into the world. I have loved all my births and pregnancies and supported friends through theirs, so this feels like a great thing to do! I live in Cambridgeshire with my husband Pete, our kids, and our crazy, fluffy, bearded collie called Martha. I'm very outnumbered being the only human female in the house, so I borrow my friend's daughters as often as posssible to balance things out and keep me sane!

2. Do you have a 'grand plan'? Do you think this has changed at all over the years?
The plan has always been to wait till the kids have their wits about them enough to go travelling. I don't fancy having a two year old stropping their way round the world with us, and running off all the time etc etc! So when it is a sane and safe enough time to go, we'll up and see the world a bit with them. There are so many places to see... Poland where my mum's family are from, all of Europe, and particularly Italy and Greece (we are crazy for greek legends in this household), Egypt, Morocco where we have some lovely family posse, Kenya to visit the family of a little boy we sponsor through PLAN, the States where we have a bunch of family dotted around... so many places! We will probably have to do it on a shoestring so that will be a challenge!  On a personal level I would be very keen to visit a variety of birth centres around the world including a centre in Bali I would love to go and volunteer at. I figure that if I can learn from beyond the little world of my own experiences and those within this culture, I will be a really kick-ass Doula in my 40's and thereafter! 

But plans can change, and the kids/we may need something different then. We shall see as things unfold who needs to be where, and at what time...

3. What gets you up in the morning?
Being jumped on by our 2 year old. Then Pete usually gets up first (I am a bit of a dragon if I get up first) and makes coffee. Until that point I am a little grumbly and S-L-L-O-O-W. I'm not a jump outta bed kinda gal. I need to be poked and prodded and jumped on and dragged!

4. Run us through a typical kind of day
Get jumped on. Hear an audiobook being played very loudly in our oldest boys' room - usually the voice of Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter (for the millionth time). Fumble and fudge for clothes, breakfast stuff etc... Come to after about 1/2 hour of being awake!!! We might have a plan for the day or not. If we are going out for the day somewhere, full-scale pandemonium ensues - searching for shoes, beakers, nappies, socks that match, socks that don't have holes in, clothes that don't look or smell feral (boys are stinky little beggars!) - a whole bunch of going out for the day stuff. Usually by this point I need a stiff drink and a lie down. How you schooling mamas do it every day I have no idea! Hats off to you. The kids then sit in the car for about 20 minutes while I look for everything else I forgot to pack. 

Home-edding: What do they do all day?
Basically I am pretty scatty and disorganised but hey, could you think straight with four crazy kiddos firing questions at you left right and centre when you're trying to get out the house? We might meet up with friends at a park, or forest, museum, sports centre or at their house. It might be just our family and one other, it might be a smallish gathering, it might be a full-blown home ed convention! It might be something ad-hoc or organised weeks in advance. The most families we will meet up with at any one time during the week is usually about 15 or so, except for the odd really big event. Otherwise we do stuff at home - cook, garden, play games, read books, listen to audio, dance, do crafts, make things, do workbooks, watch some educational programmes/play pc games, all sorts. Or it may be a boring day with loads of errands to do.

5. When you experience a setback how do you pick yourself back up again?
I reflect. Maybe sulk a little. I ask for help or different perspectives, and talking it out helps. And when I'm 'over it' I just try to learn from my mistake or try to be more patient or whatever is going to be required to push on past that hurdle and move onwards and upwards. Sometimes doing nothing and letting things play themselves out is all I can do.

6. Who or what inspires you the most?
Homeschooling-ideas.comStrong characters inspire me. Folks who break the mold and do things their way. Different people inspire me at different times. It is sometimes those very close to me, or others in my life who are overcoming difficulties, or it may be more well known people, certain authors or musicians or thinkers. TV celebrity culture doesn't really inspire me. I think everyone has the potential to be inspiring. I actually wrote an article on about inspiring people, you can read it here.

7. We all have bad days when we doubt our abilities and ourselves. How do you get through yours?
I stew. I feel the full force of it. I doubt myself, and this starts to snowball - the doubt mentally projects and creeps into my thinking on all sorts of things, situations, etc. I start to feel despair and it becomes a wider and wider issue, until I have reached the point of lamenting for all of humanity! You know, the whole "Oh the human race is so stupid, we'll screw it up and and ruin the planet and everthing will be bleak and horrible" line of thinking where everything seems doomed and pointless. My fears spiral and grow to bursting point. And my husband is the one who brings me back, who talks me down from that place. I spew out all my frustrations and fears and doubts and he questions me on each point in isolation.  I feel better breaking it all down, and by talking we disentangle that big ball of worry. I realise that I am only responsible for some of the things I have been worrying about. That some things are easier to fix than I had thought. That some things are beyond my control, so I need to let them go. That I am not crazy, just trying too hard to do too many things at once. Or spreading my energy too thinly. And after a good cry and lots of hugging, I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders and I can move forward again, a little freer and lighter than before!

8. What do you feel are your greatest achievements and why?
I'm really proud of my relationship with my husband. We brought it back from the edge, and have something really beautiful because of that. We have four lovely children that we feel very close to. They drive us nuts but we love 'em like crazy. We work hard to create a happy home, a welcoming home with an ethos of love, of caring for others, and learning and living in freedom. It's not easy and some days are very hard, but I am super proud of what we are doing, living out our dreams, and giving others a helping hand wherever we can.

9. Tell us what you think constitutes a "Super Woman" and list 3 key ingredients for success.
I think a "Super Woman" is one who can rise above the selfish and destructive actions of others and forgive her own too. A Super Woman gets out of her own way, gets over her baggage and leaves it behind to be who she would like to be, to be who she dares to be. She challenges herself and takes responsibility for her own self-worth. I think a superwoman is someone who tries to bring others closer to their dreams and seeks to help them move beyond the painful things that hold them back or keep them 'enslaved'.

10. Final words of wisdom?
Get over youself. Forgive everyone. Love yourself. Love everyone. Follow your dreams and passions. Visualise yourself succeeding. Proceed towards your goals. Accept there will be some set-backs. Get over them. Make things happen, don't wait for things to fall in your lap. Hold onto those you treasure with both hands and handle them with great care and love. Accept that you can't be good at everything simultaneously, that you can't please everyone in your life simultaneously, that you have a finite amount of energy. Rotate your care and attention a little rather than spreading yourself too thinly - you will simply burn out in the process otherwise. Keep a smile on your face, your feet on the ground, your head in the clouds, and help your fellow woman and man be the best they can be.... helping each other to be happy is what being  'super' is really about, don't ya reckon?

Where you came from or where you are now really needn't hold you back from achieving your goals. Don't let yourself be defined by your grief or sorrows, by the negative, by the unjust or misfortunate things that have happened in your life. Doing so, is in a way, a bigger tragedy than whatever misfortune struck you in the first place - to STAY stuck, to waste your life on hate, sadness and self-pity. I say these things because I have trodden that path, and really did waste a lot of time being defined by my own tragedy and personal grief. Transform your hurts into positives, turn hatred into helpfulness and love, and live your life to the full!!!

You can find Motherfunker over on her blog, Feet on the Ground and Head in the Clouds.

Do you know someone who fits the bill of Super Woman? Even yourself - don't be shy! If you would like to take part or recommend a friend, please send a message with the details to me at giveanearthly at gmail dot com.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

How to be a Super Woman: Meet MJ from Wander Wonder Discover...

1. Tell us about yourself
Hello!! I'm MJ :). I'm a momma, a wife, an introvert with a love for learning. I'm a wanna be writer working hard to find some sensibility in the variability that life throws our way. I stay home and unschool my 2 dark-haired, dark-eyed sun babies (8 and 6), who are the greatest teachers that I have ever known. The man I married I've known since I was 16. I knew then there was something very special about him. Yet, I never predicted we would be here, 24 years later, happy and turning grey together. I am the luckiest woman I know. 

We live an active, unschooled life in central Florida with our 2 rats Remy and Spud. None of us started out as unschoolers, and that is a large part of our life unfolding and unfurling. The floodgates opened as we turned our backs on traditional and mainstream thinking. Everything changed, how we parented, how we perceived our children, how we perceived ourselves, our reconciliation and understanding of how we were raised, and our understanding of learning and how our children learned. I cannot even begin to tell you how profoundly our lives have changed for the better. Profoundly. We have only just begun to reap the benefits of the life we have decided to lead and that is what I love to share on my blog. So with peaceful parenting in one pocket, and unschooling or life learning in the other, we have set out to give our children a life filled with unlimited opportunity.  

2. Do you have a grand plan?
Grand plans have changed many times over the years. But our current plan is to sell our house and move out of Florida. We seek a place that feeds us spiritually as well as fills our need for diversity and cultural richness. We love the green, the trees, the forests, the mountains, but as unschoolers we know we want to be able to feed our minds as well as our souls. As far as personal growth plans, I just want to keep creating, keep writing, and keep doing the things that keep my passion fires alive.  

3. What gets you up in the morning?
I have a wonderful life to wake up to. I have everything I need and all that I could have ever wanted, so waking up is joy every morning. I am not blinded to how my life could have been, and I have not forgotten where I have been. The terrible storms I have traversed in my life were hell, and I don't ever want to visit that place of despair again.  Self hatred, shame, anger, depression, addiction, I have reconciled all those things with hours of self- healing, on my own and with help. For anyone ever having to deal with any of these things, either individually or all at once, there is light on the other side. And it's true what they say, "what doesn't kill you will make you stronger." Much stronger. But the journey never ends with the conquering of one personal demon. Where there is one, there are more to follow. This is when purpose through people, passion, and creativity come in to play. By filling my life with these things, there is little room for despair. 

4. What does a typical day look like?
Soy latte first, always, then blogging and writing, which I love. After that, my children and I plan our day. I make suggestions, and we talk about ideas. They tell me what it is they would like to do and then we do our best to compromise and make things happen. I strive to find the interesting and joyful things that we can learn from. Many days we are out of the home all day, other days we never leave home. 

When we are home, we are reading or listening to books, trying a new game, playing with puzzles, practicing multiplication, writing in journals, practicing our letters, practicing our reading, cooking, doodling with pens, playing computer games, exploring through a microscope, aiming at an archery target, learning about animals, swimming in the pool, trying to catch bugs, hunting for fossils, looking up history facts, watching Mythbusters, Dirty Jobs, How It's Made or Brain Pop.  When we go out, we are visiting a factory, farm or nature reserve, going to the beach, going to summer camp, going to co-ops, going to plays or performances, going on a road trip, going to museums, visiting friends, going to the library or bookstore, going to the science centre or herpatarium. My own needs are important in our days as well. I make time to create whether it's to knit, sew, crochet, draw/doodle, art journal, and I read.  To ignore my own needs would be a big mistake and a poor representation to my children on importance of fulfilling our passions. So everyday is about making it work for all of us. We each give a little, we each take a little. The point is we all are getting something, and we all are helping each other get that something. We are a team.

5. When you experience a setback how do you pick yourself back up again?
The biggest setbacks I experience are usually emotional. Either I didn't get enough sleep, or didn't eat well, or my hormones are loopy.  On these days I have a shorter fuse and know I have to be gentler with myself and my kids. I make sure not to plan too much on those days and let the kids know that I am feeling "off". I might stay away from the computer too, as too much screen time tends to make me feel worse than better. Then I try to focus on my kids. No matter how bad of a day I am having, my children usually can help me snap out of it. When I look at life through their eyes, everything is much simpler. I am guilty of overanalysing, and over inflating issues. The kids bring me back down to earth and remind me that by staying in the present moment, things are never as heavy as they seem.  

6.  Who or what inspires you the most?
My children inspire me and my husband inspires me, of course. But I think the greatest source of inspiration I receive lately are moms. Mothers of all ages, stages and places.  Every mother I know works hard everyday at giving their family the best that they can give.  

I am so grateful to all the women who have committed to sharing something that they have learned on their journey in parent and person hood. Without their experiences most of us would be pretty lonely out here.

7. We all have bad days when we doubt ourselves and our abilities. How do you get through yours?
I have learned a lot about ego in the past several years. Ego is that voice inside that tells me that I have to do and be more, that I have to receive attention or be recognised, or that I have to be perfect. Ego, many times is that voice of doubt and fear that says "What are you doing?? You can't do that, you don't know what you are doing!" Sure I have doubts about what I put out there. These are the thoughts that push me in a corner and make me feel small. Yet I have learned that I have a choice in whether I listen to these thoughts or not. There has to come a point when I ask myself when I will be enough. I can decide today that I am exactly how I was meant to be, imperfect perfect in every form.  Or I can succumb to the self defeating thoughts leading to a self-fulfilling prophesy. There is so much freedom in accepting who we are now, exactly as we are, and loving every inch of ourselves inside and out. Once I accepted this about myself, I have no desire to be anyone else but me, and only do the best that I can do. Ambition takes on new meaning when this happens. It no longer means having to be better or achieve more than anyone else, it just means doing better for myself and for sheer passion and joy of it.

8.What do you feel are your greatest achievements and why?
My greatest achievements are overcoming the demons I mentioned earlier which included an eating disorder and exercise addiction. Everyday I thank the universe for my life and for the gifts that my struggles have given me. I have not looked back and I regret nothing. My marriage is my second greatest achievement. My husband is my rock and my best friend. There is no other person out there that gets me like he gets me. He will own my heart forever. Third, my relationship with my children. This was a hard fought battle that involved looking at my own ingrained beliefs that I had developed from my own childhood. Our children are mirrors that reflect our own imbedded hurts from our past. I never imagined my life with children to be like it is now. They are my best friends, my inspiration, my joy. They have taught me how to be a better mom and a better person. They, too, will own my heart forever. 

9. Tell us what you think constitutes a "Super Woman" and list 3 key ingredients for success.
A Super Woman is I think, quite opposite from that woman flying in a cape. There is no bravado, no cheering crowd, no recognition or key to the city. Super women are the grunts in the trenches doing what needs to be done to keep things going. Most super women I know are moms working hard everyday to be better for their children and their families. They are modest yet strong, humble yet unyielding, knowing what's exactly right for their own family. Super women aren't afraid to make mistakes. They ask for help, knowing that most successful people always had help. Super woman accept the bad with the good, knowing everything has it's own time. Super women never lose sight of that little girl inside, remembering that she has needs too. Super woman are ever changing and ever evolving, knowing that stagnation is not an option. They walk a delicate line between seeking joy for themselves and everyone they love, yet still remembering to savour the precious minutes that go by.

If I had to pick ingredients to super woman success, they would be these:

  • Humility 
  • Kindness/Compassion
  • Authenticity
  • Strength of character/Integrity

One last thought...

In a world that is constantly trying to separate each of us from the other, either by the way we look, by what we have or don’t have, by what we can or can’t do, I say look for the things that make us more alike. We all want the same things, we all need the same things - love, compassion, kindness, and connection.  

Thanks so much Zoe!!!

Thank you MJ! You can find MJ over on her blog, Wander Wonder Discover.

Do you know someone who fits the bill of Super Woman? Even yourself - don't be shy! If you would like to take part or recommend a friend, please send a message with the details to me at giveanearthly at gmail dot com.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Crying Game

Cry Babies

I have written here many times before about my bond to "attached" parenting, and it's true - every fibre of my being strives towards it. And as part of that philosophy I absolutely cannot allow my babies to "cry it out". But, I confess, I am only human, and my human mama body will only cope with so much. This is the confession of an "attached" mama who does not always stand by her principles as firmly as she wishes or as much as she evangelises.

We learned with our first, boy Earthly, that we just had to let him cry sometimes. Because he cried ALL the time - that's just who he was. And as much as we would try and comfort him and rock him, sing to him, stick him on the boob endlessly, oh and all the other little tricks that you pick up rapidly as new parents - he often still just needed to cry himself to sleep. We used to worry that he was in terrible pain (and indeed blamed the first three months to colic, and thereafter teething), but soon realised that it was just his way. Just as he would never fall asleep on his back - if he wasn't asleep before going in his hammock we had to put him down on the bed on his front, and stroke his back until he settled. And yes, we felt like terrible parents, because we are told as a society that tummy sleeping is wrong and your baby will die. What they don't tell you is that some babies much prefer to sleep on their tummies - like some adults - and it's also a relief for colic.

With girl Earthly, I am reliving the pain of having to let her cry sometimes. It's not a decision I have made, and it's certainly not something I feel at all wonderful about. Ordinarily I wake up the second baby starts to whimper, sometimes even just before. But I confess that there have been occasions where I have been so exhausted that my senses have not roused until mid-wail, and by the time I've dragged my weary parts together enough to pick baby up, she has been screaming her lungs out for some few minutes. At other times I've actually fallen asleep while she continued to cry, my arm encircling her in a pathetically feeble attempt at comfort.

My mum said to me whilst on holiday that "you don't need to run to them the moment they start to cry", and whilst I disagree with her fundamental meaning, in other ways she's right. We've learned that our babies will often cry a little - sometimes even copiously - when self-settling. In fact they can sound horrendously upset for 2 whole minutes before completely zonking out. It's heart-renching and emotionally and physically exhausting, but necessary. If we interrupt and attempt to soothe, the wails become hysterical and we simply prolong the agony for all of us. Equally, when one starts to wake and whimper, I will listen intently for a few moments to determine whether I am actually needed. Tensed, senses sharpened, I await the change in tone from slightly disgruntled/discomfited to the beginnings of distress. At that point I sigh, my shoulders droop, and I stir my limbs from the warm bed for the nth time that night.

I read a wonderful blog post a little while ago, by Alternative Mama, entitled "Crying it Out vs Allowing Crying - A Big Difference". I urge you all to head over there and read it NOW (and browse her vast archives of other mother-worldly experience and take on natural parenting). She explains much more eloquently than I can right now, just what I struggled with:
"I always felt like, as an attached parent, I had to ignore my own needs. I was trying to pull patience and energy out of the bag when I had none to give, and therefore was feeling like an utter failure as a mother. I felt like I was missing something that the other gentle mothers had all discovered. However, there is no way to summon energy when you have none. You simply cannot give when there is nothing left. Despite what many online parenting communities would have me believe, I am not a bad mother for needing to get some god-damned sleep."
On reading this, all the guilt and feelings of failure I felt at allowing my babies to cry at times, melted away. And she reiterated what we had already discovered about recognising different types of cry, and determining what those different cries required from us. Often it was some kind of comfort, or a mixture of comfort and food/change/burping etc. But sometimes, we knew that we just had to leave baby alone to cry for a short period. After months and months of agonising and hair tearing and floods of tears, the relief just washed over us.

Help break the great taboos of parenting: join in and share this post and those below as part of Lucy's Blogging Carnival of Emotions:

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Thursday, 16 June 2011

10-5-1: Looking Back to Look Forward

I got to thinking the other night about how far I've come in the last decade, in so many ways. Sometimes it's easy to feel stuck in a rut and as if our life is going nowhere. But taking an objective look back (with the help of my email account!) really made me think, and start to appreciate what I've achieved and how much has changed.

I'd like to invite you all to join me, in a bit of a blog carnival, and share your posts with me about what you were doing 10, 5 and 1 years ago. What have you achieved, what's changed? Have you made steps towards your dreams, or have your dreams shifted? Do you feel as if you know better now where you're going next?

I can't wait to read your posts! Please come back and
share your link below so we can all join in :)

Ten years ago this month I was graduating from an MA in Linguistics and wondering where I'd go next. I desperately wanted to go to art college but with no funding available for such a thing, and with not enough pennies to fund it myself, I went for the next best option, which was an MSc in Cognitive Science. It wasn't exactly what I wanted to do but I knew that it would be a good springboard for me to do my own research in the psychology of art. I spent all Summer working as a research assistant within the department, analysing hand-drawn sketches done by participants in a graphical communication task. Not quite as glamorous as it sounds (I spent hours debating what things were and whether they could be categorised as duplicates of similar tokens or were in fact new tokens), it did however pay my course fees and give me a small stipend to live off. At the time I thought I might stay in academia and do a PhD or move into the world of publishing, but really I had no idea!

In terms of family, I dreamed of finding my equal in a partner - and one who could handle me! I had no ambitions for kids at all!

In June 2006, I had just left a career in publishing, after becoming disillusioned with the industry - I had hoped it would be more hands-on than it ended up being and I wasn't prepared to move to London in the hope of finding a more creative position. So I put the works in motion to make my erstwhile hobby (making copper jewellery and hand-felted accessories) a more profitable business, and thus was born Earthly Treasures. 

I didn't know where it might take me at that point but I felt so thrilled to be self-employed and doing my own thing, with my own talents, and without someone to tell me what I could and couldn't do/explore/work on.

Having got together with Father Earthly in 2004, we were now planning our wedding for the following year, and harboured dreams of some day building ourselves a little straw bale house in the woods ;)

June 2010 saw me 4 months pregnant, with a 10-month old to look after, and living on our newly-delivered canal boat which was nought but a steel shell sprayed with foam insulation on the inside.

I'd stopped making and selling my crafts during my first pregnancy as I didn't want to be breathing in the dust and fumes that my work required, so we were now concentrating on the Fairtrade side of things. We'd not long since taken on premises for the business and I was working there during the week whilst starting to plan my maternity leave cover. At the weekends we were either working in the shop or trying to sort out our lives on the boat

At the time I was really chuffed to have our own shop, and a place for me to start making things again when I got the chance, though the issue of travelling down from our boat was already rearing its head. And with another baby brewing I was beginning to realise that I might not have much time to further the business much for a while. But, as ever, I was willing to see where things took me :)

Your turn! How much has your life (and your dreams) changed???

Monday, 13 June 2011

Buried in Books Monday: Vintage Crochet

I haven't done one of these in a while as, quite frankly, I've not pulled anything much more exciting of the shelf recently than The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a selection of Thomas books or the odd dip into some reference book to check something.

However Father Earthly discovered these whilst clearing out our storage unit in Northumberland and once I'd had a quick browse to re-familiarise myself with them, I just knew these were for sharing! Inherited from my mum, they are all late 1970s publications so as you can imagine, the fashion is really rather special.

James Walters was obviously something of a fashionista in the 70s, particularly in the crochet stakes. His book Crochet Patterns, also introducing patterns by Sylvia Cosh, contains some rather stupendous designs along with a vast wealth of crochet knowledge and techniques - the likes of which are just not found in modern crochet books. And while many (ok, perhaps all) of the designs may only be worn today by Xenophilius Lovegood, they are nevertheless very adaptable, and a wonderful source of inspiration. Absolutely the best bit about this book though (other than the beautiful, beautiful pictures) is the designers' use of so many crochet techniques now forgotten - like cables. Yes, crochet cables! And not just one type but many. Other techniques include freeform crochet, diagonal rows, spikes, loops, and all manner of ways to make up garments.

As an additional bonus, he includes some just wonderful stitch patterns (below). Now a rarity in crochet books, I love stitch patterns because they are both a visual aid and a geometric artform all of their own.

His other book pictured above, Crochet Workshop, not only sports a quite spiffing image of the artist himself on the front cover, but is a veritable goldmine of absolutely everything crochet, from basic stitches and making the fabric, shaping and troubleshooting to how to sketch stitch patterns, stitch proportions, freeworking and finger crochet, incorporating darts, holes and three dimensional shaping, adding edgings, belts and buttonholes, and even further to woven, tunisian and hairpin crochet, hand-spinning and dyeing, making up, finishing and after care of garments. In fact, I think you'd be hard pressed to find a more comprehensive crochet manual! As is obviously his style, he has also included diagrams and instructions for things I doubt anybody would actually need or want, but that all adds to the charm.

The last book above, by Pam Dawson, is very much more on the conservative and traditional side of crochet! A basic technique and starter book with a lovely vintage feel, including lots of pictures of fine crochet lace. My favourite bit in the whole book however, is the illustration of two ends of yarn being spliced together with the associated paragraph: "Where a new ball is required in the middle of the fabric... the end of the old and new balls should be spliced together." Blimey! Well aren't I just a slacker! I can't even begin to imagine how I'd find the patience to splice a bit of standard DK yarn, can you?

Friday, 10 June 2011

A Mother's Love

A quick look on Amazon brings up all kinds of titles for my perusal, if I should wish, on the topic I'm about to embark upon: How to Manage Your Mother, When You and your Mother Can't be Friends, Children of the Self-Absorbed, Adult Children: the Secrets of Dysfunctional Families... and many more like it.

But none of these really really do it for me somehow. I'm not looking for a self-help manual that focusses on the negative in an attempt to find the positive. I'd prefer something more wholesome, holistic, absorbing and engaging. But then that is my bent; it is not my mother's.

Mothers and daughters. Is it a truism that they cannot get along? Is it just a matter of which shade of grey you fall into along the length of the card of mother-daughter relationship failure? Does Attachment Parenting make for better bonds in later life? This is my hope; my main reason behind my instinctive need to use AP with my own children is to ensure a life-long lasting bond, and one which will stand true even in the face of fundamental differences.

And yet, and yet... I also feel it shouldn't really matter the parenting style as long as you can communicate. That's the real key. I talk to my mother and my mother talks to (often at) me; we don't communicate. I've tried over the last decade to create some kind of bond between us but our relationship has declined steadily. I've tried to ignore it, to accept it, to gloss over it, but with children of my own now the issue has become the elephant in the room. Strange, how on becoming a mother we often feel more vulnerable and more in need of mothering ourselves... I feel the absence like a phantom limb; she is there and yet not there.

There is no support, no love like a mother's. When it is present we are encircled in a safe zone, a return to the womb. When it is absent we feel cold, alone, vulnerable. We seek shelter elsewhere, but it's not quite the same; there is a rent in the fabric that no patching will cover.

I send my love and support to all you wonderful attached mammas out there. You are doing a superb job and you should rightly feel very proud.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Smellyhippy: Yon Veggie Tart O' Flett

Just had to share this... it's like a Tirolean masterpiece, and conjures visions of Alps and snow and a warm fireside, with a Whisky in your hand to recall the Scottish side. A real cockle-warming meal for the great British Summer :)

Smellyhippy: Yon Veggie Tart O' Flett: "There wis a veggie tart o' flett Whaes appetite wis hard tae whet. Nae meat would pass her lips e'en wi a poke o' chips for her morals are i..."

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Labyrinth

I've been wanting to walk a labyrinth for a while; I've started to feel a little lost these last few months with so many changes happening in my life, and I felt I needed to focus on my next move. My everyday life is so chokka that I don't have the space to think clearly, other than "What needs done next?"

The irony was, I wasn't sure when I'd find the time, where I'd do it, how I'd do it… but of course, all the time I was silently asking these questions, life was providing, and today my labyrinth materialised.

The beauty of it was, I didn't even know about it until we were upon it so I had no time to prepare, to overthink. I simply entered it, laughing, with the simplest of questions in my head: "What should I do next?"

Father Earthly and baby no. 2 went left, and I went right with baby no. 1. Almost immediately we came to a dead end. Great start! I learnt later on that this path in fact does come out near the centre and was obviously designed as a quick exit (it was fenced off rather than hedged) when needed. That's so typical of my style - when I start something I jump straight in and go for the quickest, easiest route, only to find I must go back, take my time, start again and do things properly.

As I wound my way round with baby no. 1, I could hear Father Earthly calling out on his progress, chattering to the 6 1/2 month old in the sling that "they were winning". At first I felt light-hearted, jovial. This was fun. But baby no. 1 was getting upset. "Daddy!" he kept calling, a note of panic in his voice. He couldn't understand where Daddy had gone. As I kept taking wrong turns and seemed to be getting no nearer the centre I felt myself starting to panic too. My question changed to "Which way next?" and I started to feel the hedges closing in on me. Baby no. 1 was becoming quite upset. And then I found myself back at the beginning again

Downhearted, annoyed, I felt a failure. I so very nearly gave up, but instead turned round and re-entered, determined to win this time. Which way next? Father Earthly was now on his way out after gleefully gaining the centre. He told baby no. 2 they were going to help mummy now. Relief flooded me as we met on a corner and he led us on - I wanted to do this on my own but obviously that was not what this labyrinth was all about. I needed his help; We all went together.

He told me along the way that the trick with many of these mazes was not to take the most obvious path. So if you see a path that runs alongside the centre, that's probably the wrong one - take the outer path instead, that goes the opposite way. Ahh, I thought, that again is so like me. Yes, I follow my heart, but I also try and invoke reason. And reason very rarely has the right answer.

We entered the centre together, as a family, and my question reformed itself again to "Who do I want to be next?"

And with that I was happy. So often in life we are simply not asking the right questions. Through walking the labyrinth today I learned that I need to change my focus, lift my eyes above the horizon and view the greater picture. Who should I be next? I think I already know ;-)

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

How to be a Super Woman: Meet Gilly Woo!

1. Hi! Tell us a bit about yourself
Hello everyone. My name is Gill Cockwell but I’m also known as Gilly Woo. I'm a designer, dressmaker, stylist, columnist, (and occasional TV presenter), based in Bristol in the UK.

I have been sewing since I was six years old.

I design and make bespoke finery: bridal gowns, occasion wear and corsets, I style photo shoots, fashion shows, performers and individuals and I party pretty hard too.

I’m 31, I'm single and I live with a gay man, a papier-mâché flamingo and a lot of hats in a little flat in Cotham. 

Blue Evening Gown, Bespoke Collection
2. Do you have a 'grand plan'? Do you think this has changed at all over the years?
When I was 6 I wanted to be am ambulance driver, by the time I was 10 I was convinced that Fashion Editor was the career for me, when I was 19 I lost all my confidence and gave up for a while. When I was 28 I wanted to be a mother and now…I just want to be happy. Right now I’m happy, if that changes, my plan will change too. But yes, I do have a plan of sorts. I’d like to continue the bespoke side of my business, launch a ready to wear range, and write a book in the next few years. I am continually working towards all of these goals but I have no idea if or when I will achieve them. It’s all about the journey right?

3. What gets you up in the morning?
Tuesdays and Fridays it’s my personal trainer ringing my doorbell at 6.30am the rest of the time its mostly guilt, nervous energy or impossible deadlines.

4. Run us through a typical kind of day
I try and do some exercise in the morning before breakfast, I run in the park or workout with my personal trainer, I find it clears my mind and makes me feel ready for the day ahead, I ALWAYS eat breakfast, at the moment I love porridge with blueberries and banana and fresh black coffee. I get into the workshop about 8.30 and check the schedule for the day ahead. I usually spend the first half of the day making to do lists for the week and cutting patterns. Between 9 and 10am my staff come in and start sewing the pieces I have cut that morning.
Woohoo Vintage in Shepton Mallet, as featured in The High Street
There is no typical day at Woo HQ really. Sometimes I have fittings or design consultations with clients, or meetings with colleagues sometimes I can spend a whole day sourcing components and ordering fabrics and findings, I occasionally write pieces for magazines, (style tips etc) and I write a blog too.

The one thing that is typical is long hours! I am often in the workshop till midnight during bridal season or when I am organising a fashion show or making a new collection.

It’s hard work but it’s great fun too. It’s true what they say; find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

Gill muses about life and the fashion world over on her blog
5. When you experience a setback how do you pick yourself back up again?
Setbacks are inevitable. Rest, (if possible), Re evaluate, and carry on. Sometimes it helps to talk it through. I do A LOT of talking!
6. Who or what inspires you the most?
My Dad is one of the least judgemental people you could ever meet. He always takes people at face value and is the type of person that would be as comfortable being himself at a kings banquet as he would sharing a bag of chips with a homeless person on a park bench. He is absolutely genuine.

My sister is beautiful and caring and wise beyond her years. She is one of the few people I have met who makes absolute sense to me even though we are very different people.

Christian Dior, his sense of proportion was perfect. Everything he designed was beautifully proportioned. He was nothing less than a genius and I aspire to him daily.

My mother: A true grafter, brought up SIX children and remained glamorous throughout.

It's always good to keep things in perspective!
7. We all have bad days when we doubt our abilities and ourselves. How do you get through yours?
Firstly by trying to accept the fact that I am only human and being realistic about what is actually possible, secondly by trying to lift the limitations I impose on myself with a positive mental attitude. Thirdly by resolving to do the very best I can and to be satisfied with that effort no matter what the outcome.

8. What do you feel are your greatest achievements and why?
There have been occasions when I have made women feel good about them selves and improved their self-esteem. These occasions are my greatest achievements. This is because I know how important and how fragile self-esteem can be and how much finding it can enhance your life. I like the thought that I have enhanced women’s lives :-)

9. Tell us what you think constitutes a "Super Woman" and list 3 key ingredients for success.
A Super Woman for me is someone independent, self sufficient and positive. Someone who takes responsibility for her own choices for her own wellbeing and who always treats others the way she would like to be treated.
Peacock Dress, Bespoke Collection

A super woman is exceptional because she achieves things that many would dismiss as impossible through sheer hard work and determination.
  • Be realistic but not pessimistic.
  • Always do your best.
  • Be good to yourself, look after yourself, respect yourself and believe in yourself.
  • Can I add a 4th? Don’t let your back ground or where you’ve come from hold you back. The greatest achievers in the world are only people.

10. Final words of wisdom?
Don’t compare your self to other people too much. We are all very different. We have different backgrounds, different strengths, and different weaknesses.

All you need to be is the very best version of your self that you can be, in your own image.

Inner peace, contentment and true happiness are much cleverer aspirations than mansions and sports cars or perfect breasts and Louboutins.

You can find Gill over on her website, blog, Twitter and Facebook.

Do you know someone who fits the bill of Super Woman? Even yourself - don't be shy! If you would like to take part or recommend a friend, please send a message with the details to me at giveanearthly at gmail dot com.

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