Wednesday, 31 December 2014

sharing my four most popular posts of 2014

Did you catch these posts the first time around? These were my four most popular posts of 2014.

Who we are

Finding the prophet's grave: a walk around Largs

Coping with pain

Sick of the Scottish independence referendum debate.

Hope you're having a smashing new year. All the best for 2015 when it comes.

Monday, 29 December 2014

making resolutions: sleep

It makes sense to follow up my last post, reviewing 2014, with a post talking about resolutions for 2015, and here it is.

I'm working on me in 2015, getting healthier and hopefully happier, and there are various things I'm planning on to do that.

Today I saw a link to this article by Dr Samantha Rodman on good resolutions to make: 10 New Year's Resolutions That Could Actually Change Your Life I have mixed feelings about Dr Rodman. She calls herself a 'blogapist', and says things about her expertise, A LOT. It comes across as trumpet blowing, although, perhaps that's because I'm British and she's American. She also seems rather flippant, but that could be lighthearted. That said, she is spookily insightful in lots of ways, and her blog is worth checking out (here).

If you have a look at Rodman's Resolutions they are all things which look pretty achievable, but actually, you need a bit of a shove for.

So I thought I'd take (some of) them one at a time, do them for 30 days, and see if they make a difference, and also, if they do, if they might become habits.

I'm starting off with number 1 (this quote is taken from the Huffington Post Article):
My cat rocks at sleeping.
1. Get enough sleep.Yes, I am all for quality time with your spouse or kids, but let's be honest, that's not why you're up until midnight (and then up again at 6 a.m.).  It's usually one of the following: messing around on the Internet, watching TV, or housework. I don't think any of these things are worth missing sleep for (and I will elaborate on each of these below as well), since sleep is so important for health, mood, weight management, psychological health, and more. When you don't sleep, you're irritable, you can't accomplish much, you snack on crappy food, and depression and anxiety can get worse. You owe it to yourself to go upstairs by 10 or 10:30, and then no electronic devices in bed, because they can mess up your sleep too.
She's right. I am staying up until midnight most nights, and faffing around. I am messing around on the Internet (hello), or folding laundry, etc, and I am overtired - faffy, grumpy, snacking on rubbish, and depressed. And my skin is rubbish too. I do get woken up in the night most nights, and I get woken in the morning around 6.30am most days. I can't stay up until midnight. 

I remember reading an interview with Liv Tyler saying she went to bed at 9pm when she needed to be beautiful for something to avoid eating and drinking rubbish. Sounds like a plan.

So I'm setting an alarm on my ever-present 'phone for 10pm to tell me to go to bed.

I know she says you shouldn't have electronic devices in bed, but I'm going to anyway. I might need it! But I shall try very hard not to faff on t'internet, and I shall keep track of my progress.

I'm starting tonight (because why put it off), for 30 nights (to 28 Jan), and I better get on with it because it's nearly 10pm. 

Do you get enough sleep?

Sunday, 28 December 2014

reviewing 2014

My aspiration for this year was to get published.

Have I achieved this? Well, yes, but not in the way I had planned. Still, a win is a win.

I've self published blog posts and a poem (and joined Hello Poetry - here), and I've also become a columnist for my local paper (sadly they don't put my column online). Hello Largs and Millport

I've had a piece published in the Guardian, and got paid for it! It was only very small, but it was there. So that's me published. Mission accomplished.

Talking of broadsheets, I was also in the Telegraph in 2014 in a piece by Alice Vincent about 'achingly cool' Mums on Instagram. Lol. It's the first time I've been a cool kid. There are links to my Instagram account on the right if you're on a computer, but you'll also find me here.

I must admit that I'm dissapointed I've not had any of my fiction published yet, and I'm frustrated with progress on the book. However, life happens, and my kids won't be this age again. There is still time enough.

I've loved taking lots of photos in 2014, and intend
to keep it up in 2015. Will you be joining me with
  Fat Mum Slim's Photo A Day? Or Snap Happy BritMums?
What I have done on the writing front (apart from blogging) is finish the first draft of my book, had my first batch of short story refusals, attempted, and ditched a memoir (which I'm thinking of starting again), won a competition with a blog post, and got energised about poetry.

I don't feel like I'm good enough, but that's OK, doing it anyway is the way forward. That and reading everything.

2014 has also seen our family making more friends and getting more settled in Largs, which is great, and I have joined a choir and loved singing again (more on the choir soon). We also had a wee disaster at the end of the summer holidays when the little girl drastically broke her arm, but it's healed well, and is getting straighter by the day.

In 2015 I'm focusing on some personal goals, but I'll still keep trying to get a story published. And I'll work on more for The Guardian too. What about you? What were your highlights of 2014, and what's planned for 2015?

Watch this space.

Monday, 22 December 2014

shopping at Yours: My new favourite clothes shop.

I've not been feeling happy about shopping lately. Trudging around shops like M&Co to see lots of blue, pink and purple things, mainly made out of polyester. They might fit me, but I wouldn't want anyone to see me wearing them.

The alternative is online shopping, which is always risky. Women's clothes sizes are notoriously vague, and change from shop to shop, and indeed from item to item. I find I send back most of the things I order from Evans or Simply Be, and that is so dispiriting.

I was near ready to give up, but then Tess Holliday - an American model whose attitude I love, modelled some stuff from Yours, and was over in the UK for the occasion. I found out more - did I have a chance of meeting Tess while she was over here?

No. She's gone home already, to hang out with her new husband, but I did get drawn in to having a look at the clothes she's been talking about at Yours.

It's not the first time I'd considered Yours. Nancy Whittington had recommended one of their jackets for me for Autumn. I bought it and it was perfect, but I thought that that might be a one off.

It wasn't. I got some bits from Yours with some Christmas money, expecting to send half of it back. It is almost all perfect. Well made, with quality fabric, and true to size. The only thing that isn't perfect is still great, and they're not getting it back. Yours is my new go-to shop. So I thought I'd share some things I bought, and some of their other gems so you can see for yourself.

I got this gorgeous butterfly print dres/top/tunic thing. You'll find it here, currently in the sale at £16.
I got this top, which the picture doesn't do justice. It fits beautifully, and is so flattering, with a lovely flower print, and a keyhole detail (which doesn't show your bra) at the back. Currently only £12 here
This top/dress/tunic isn't in yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing it on a model (or I could model it if you send me a review garment Yours!), because it looks sassy but flattering at the same time. It's going to be £30, and you'll find it here.
I saw this playsuit here, and thought it would be perfect for my gorgeous little sister, who has just unveiled a new tattoo on her thigh (I'd share a pic, but it's her thigh). It's currently £12 but sadly is only available down to a size 16. You can get things at Yours from size 14 to size 36.
I also thought I'd share this jumper, because it's fab. It's currently £14 and you'll find it here.
If you're like my Mother in Law, and you like all that purple stuff, then here's a nice blouse for £23, it comes in various different prints. I like the polka dot black and white one.
And these shorts would suit my Mum for a Tenerife holiday, and they're only £7 at the moment!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Anxious: Genes and the nature nurture debate

We all feel anxious from time to time, and that is healthy, but for some people anxiety can dominate their lives, giving them panic attacks, various physical health problems, and altering their use of space. Anxiety is the key component when someone becomes afraid to leave the house, or travel on public transport. For some people it can be very limiting.

Social scientists have long argued over how much aspects of people's personalities are in our nature, as opposed to being nurtured through our socialisation (which means the way we're taught to fit in in our society).

Since the discovery of the genome, the media seems keen to pin our personality traits on our genes. This is problematic, because it's overly simplistic. We are not binary sims, with traits on or off. In reality, it is likely that our lifestyle can alter our genes, and that genes which might make us susceptible to something, are not actually causal.

In 2001 there was news that anxiety might be linked to a gene. More research was required to find out how that worked, but it's useful information to have, both because it legitimises anxiety as a condition , for those that had previously suggested people might pull themselves together. Also, this information helps us work out how anxiety works, and so tackle this debilitating condition more effectively.

There are two further research avenues to be explored here:
  1. We need more information about the specific genetic mutation/s involved. And how they're involved.
  2. We need to look at the people who have the genetic mutation but don't have anxiety to work out how they've avoided it.
On the second point, the clinical psychologist, Prof Roger Baker said in 2001 that people might start suffering from anxiety not just because they were more susceptible, but also because they had been through some stressful event. He also noted, from his own research, that people who suffered from anxiety also tended to be people who suppressed their emotions (presumably they were all British then).

On the first point, the researchers continued to look into the genes involved, and in 2013 results came out about one gene (more info here): NTRK3, being a factor in panic disorder - a condition wherein the person may feel generally anxious, but also suffers from panic attacks, and worries about having panic attacks. Now, I'm guessing they used this condition because it is a fairly concrete one, so could provide good data, because it is worth noting that general anxiety, even if it limits people's behaviour, is not generally taken seriously at the moment.

In studying NTRK3, the researchers learned that if it's not working properly then there are problems in the fear related memory system. Fearful aspects are over-exaggerated, so the person overestimates the risk in a situation, and also compounds this by backing this up in a lasting memory. They have been testing drugs to deal with this, but, I would stress, that this is in people with panic disorder, who may be atypical of anxious people.

Research is ongoing into lots of different types of anxiety disorder, and the genes that might be involved. However, it's important to note that 20% of those with the genetic mutation in the 2001 study did not have any anxiety problems.  In fact, if genes are involved it would seem that they simply make it more likely that someone might have anxiety problems. It is not a done deal. Even if you are suffering from problems with anxiety, there are things that you can do about it. There is a great source of information on it here. You can also go to your doctor for help.

You may be genetically predisposed to anxiety, but there are ways to avoid it, and to deal with it - all of which is easier if you're not having a stressful time. Just as being tall makes you predisposed to hitting your head on a lintel, but you can usually duck.

Friday, 19 December 2014

discovering Iain Crichton Smith

I think I don't like poetry. In fact I'm pretty sure. What I like is a brick of a book with well rounded characters, who can take me on a journey with them. I find that for me poetry can be navel gazing, twee nonsense, so caught up in its clever cleverness that it drives me to distraction.

But then again, I like lots of songs for their lyrics, and sometimes, just sometimes, I come across some poetry which just blows me away.

I came across Iain Crichton Smith recently at my writing group. I live in Scotland, and the other members of the group were all saying that Smith is so much covered in Scottish English (and Gaelic) classes that people don't tend to notice the beauty of his poetry.

I didn't go to school in Scotland. The poets I studied at school were people like Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Shelley. I don't recall ever coming across anything like this. That said, I'm not sure that as a teenager I would have noticed it. Perhaps you have to have some inkling of the subject matter to get it. Perhaps. 

We have homework set about two poems, and I have to leave the group early to pick my daughter up from nursery, so I hadn't managed to get the two poems. The next time I went I asked someone with an overflowing folder if he had a copy I could photograph. He had a spare copy and gave it to me instead. Which was great, because I've been writing all over it. Well, over this one anyway. There is another one. That one annoys me.

Anyway, I took the spare copy, and while we were on a break, I took the chance to read through it. I couldn't just read it though, there is so much beauty in this poem, and so much texture to the words that it cries out to be spoken. So I spoke it. And I cried.

I adore this poem, and I feel cheated that I didn't know about Iain Crichton Smith before. Here is the poem, first... then there will be some information about Mr Crichton Smith.


Without my knowing it you are at the bottom of my mind
like a visitor to the bottom of the sea
with his helmet and his two large eyes
and I do not rightly know your appearance or your manner
after five years of showers*
of time pouring between me and you: 
nameless mountains of water pouring
between me hauling you on board
and your appearance and your manner in my weak hands.
You went astray
among the mysterious plants of the sea-bed
in the green half-light without love, 
and you will never rise to the surfacethough my hands are hauling ceaselesslyand I do not know your way at all,you in the half-light of your sleephaunting the bed of the sea without ceasing
and I hauling and hauling on the surface.
                                                                                 Iain Crichton Smith

Iain Crichton Smith was a Scottish 'man of letters' - he wrote fiction as well as poems, and wrote beautifully in both English and Gaelic. He was born in 1928 in Glasgow, but moved to the Isle of Lewis as an infant, with his mother and brothers, after his father died. His mother brought them up on a widow's pension, and with strict Presbyterian beliefs. Iain did well at school, and as an adult became a teacher. He continued living with his mother until her death in 1969. He married in 1977, and also retired from teaching. He was a prolific writer, recognised with an OBE and three honorary doctorates. Gaelic was his first language, and when writing in Gaelic he used the Gaelic name Iain Mac a'Ghobhainn.

As I said, he writes beautifully in Gaelic as well. Here's 'the Bottom of my Mind' in Gaelic. I'm afraid I've only found the first verse, and that here:

“Gun fhios dhomh tha thu air m’aigeann m’inntinnMar fhear-tadhail grunnd na maraLe chlogaid ‘s a dhà shùil mhòir‘s chan aithne dhomh ceart t’fhiamh na do dhòighAn dèidh coig bliadhna shiantanTime dòrtadh eadar mise ‘s tu.”
There is a marvellous review of a new collection of Iain Crichton Smith's poems in the Guardian, here. And you can also find out more from the Scottish Poetry Library, and the BBC

Thursday, 18 December 2014

considering the true meaning of Christmas

Around this time of year you hear occasional mutterings that children 'these days' are greedy, prioritising consumerism over the 'true meaning of Christmas'.

It is certainly the case that there is a lot of stuff my daughters would like for Christmas (my son, not so much, he wouldn't mind cash though), but they are also constantly bombarded with adverts for stuff (most of which they note looks rubbish), and people often ask them what they want. It's hardly their fault they're thinking about it. As I say, my girls have long lists going to Santa. They know they won't get everything on the lists, and that's OK, because Santa has to get presents for everyone in the world.

I love this time of year, but for we non-Christian types, the real meaning of Christmas is not about baby Jesus. That doesn't mean it isn't special, or that we need to stop calling it Christmas. After all, we still call mince pies mince pies, when their isn't any minced meat in them any more. We could call it Yule, or Winter Festival, but Christmas is fine.
Cheeky bauble on the town tree :-)

Whatever you choose to call it, this special time of year is about coming together in our darkest days to support each other, celebrate love and caring, and think about other people. People in Scotland have been doing that since before Christianity, and will continue after. It's just what we need at this time of year when we've survived the misery of November, it's really dark and we've got more cold and rain, snow and storms to look forward to.

Some of the really special things we have done around Christmas this year include my son's class (led by the marvellous Ms Hughes) collecting chocolate advent calendars for the food bank. They got 127, and hopefully this has helped lots of families. There is a lot of discussion on Largs People about donating to food banks, and I'm really glad that people help out those worse off than ourselves. Hopefully after next year's political changes, we can see an end to the need for food banks. We decided to give money to charity instead of sending Christmas cards this year, and my son was keen that we support Orchid, a charity fighting male cancer, which has become dear to us since my brother has survived cancer twice in recent years. We have also got crafty this year, making our own crocheted Christmas wreaths (instructions available on the blog at, as well as lots of decorations. We also put some decorations on the tree in town, which earned us some funny looks, but was joyous nonetheless. But most importantly, we've been spending lots of time with friends and family. We're thinking of those far away, and checking in with those nearby to make sure everything's OK. 

We are not stressing about meals, or getting everything perfect. One year we failed to defrost the turkey and ended up having fish fingers for Christmas dinner. It didn't matter a bit. What mattered was spending time with the people who matter to us (and also the ones that drive us a bit crazy). Let's bring on more of that.

Monday, 15 December 2014

making a crocheted Christmas wreath

I'm sorry, I don't think you're going to have enough time to make this before Christmas, but, you can make it in time for next Christmas, and if you really must have one this year, you can do the sneaky cheat which I've outlined at the bottom. Result!

I must start off by saying that this wreath was not my idea. I got inspired after seeing the glorious Autumn wreath created by Hannah Brewer of Muddling Along Mummy, which she shared on her Instagram feed, because folks, wreaths don't just have to be for Christmas.

Hannah was in turn inspired by Lucy, of Attic 24, whose blog post on her Christmas wreath is AMAZING (I would so highly recommend Lucy's blog if you're at all crafty), and it was her instructions to make it that I used as my starting point.

So here's how to make your own Christmas wreath:

First of all you need a wreath form, you can get those cheaply from craft shops. Then you need a few different colours of yarn. I used double knit acrylic in silver, white, lime green, forest green, and red. You'll also need a medium sized crochet hook.

You need to crochet basically a scarf type shape, with different width bands of colour for interest. This is going to wrap around the wreath core, so needs to be long enough to go all the way around it. Bear in mind that you'll need to stretch it a bit to get it to fit right, and you'll avoid it rucking up like mine has.

Here's my wreath form, with the start of my crocheting. If you don't like crocheting, you can knit, or even weave. The only important thing is avoiding showing the wreath form beneath.

I left long threads to sew up the back at the end, but there is no need to do this.

Basically, you crochet away until your work is big enough to go around the wreath form, and then you sew it together at the back to keep it on, thusly:

Then you have a rather pleasant looking colourful circle, ready to put a hanging device on the back (a keyring ring is ideal), and sew stuff on the front.

Now Lucy of Attic 24 made some fabulous things to put on to her wreath. Sadly, I do not have her skill or her patience, so I decided to put less things on, I also found a great little tutorial on YouTube for making easy flowers... one which I have sadly lost, so I'm very sorry whoever you were. But this is how you do it:

Chain 6, slipstitch to form a circle, chain 3, treble crochet to centre, chain 3, slipstitch to centre, repeat four times (giving five petals), then tie off. Easy.

My apologies if that was gobbledegook, but it is all easily done. Just ask someone in the know or check out a YouTube video.

I wasn't intending on having so many flowers. I fancied some holly, and luckily Lucy at Attic 24 had a tutorial (here), however, I found it rock hard to make the holly leaves, so decided to stick with the flowers, and provided some textural interest with the plastic poinsetta (from a wreath I got a few years ago), some of my daughter's beads, and a sparkly foam sticker. The holly is on there, but it may be hidden by the poinsetta.

I'm pretty pleased with it. But, when the girls told me they wanted one for their bedroom door, I was not pleased enough to make another one from scratch. Instead I cheated!  Here's how.

First I took another wreath form (well, I couldn't have bought just one, eh?), and a scarf that my Mum had knitted for one of the girls. The scarf is lovely, but the girls don't wear it a) because they hardly ever wear scarves, and b) because one of the colours is a bit itchy, but they do like the colours, so this way it's a win all 'round.

I used the middle bit of the scarf, and had to hem it at both ends, to avoid unravelling. Although it was too wide, I simply overlapped it to avoid having to hem the sides too. Unfortunately, I cut it slightly too short (stupidity can't be ruled out), but managed to hide the join using one of the scarf offcuts. This would be perfect for one of those Christmassy scarves which doesn't go with anything.

You'd think I'd done it on purpose! The girls didn't want anything else on it, so this is what their wreath looks like, although you could go mad sticking stuff to it if you fancied.

Before I go, if you like wreaths, and the idea of repurposing stuff, there is a gloriously fabulous wreath over on the Canadian blog, Northstory. It's made by Alex out of old embroidery hoops and socks. Check it out here.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

learning about iambic pentameter with Shakespeare's Sonnet 116.

I go to a writing group, which I love to do, because it pushes me out of my comfort zone.

My comfort zone is a messy place, so it's best to get pushed out from time to time.

I am definitely not comfortable just now.

At our most recent writing group we had a great workshop on writing poems. 

I was really into writing poems as a child, and especially as a teenager, but I don't do it now. Although I am pretty pleased with my poem on Google+ which I did for the writing group last year. It's not that I don't like poetry, I just have so much other stuff that I want to read, and write, more.

However, we have been set a competition, and I think it's good for me to attempt to do it, so I've been looking at the poems we were given to provide inspiration, and I've chosen Shakespeare's Sonnet 116.

It's not that I like it. I have heard it too many times, recited unloved, thrown into the pot of a wedding, maybe even our wedding. I don't remember. When I saw that this was one of the inspirations on offer, I groaned, but...

I'm taken by the edge of doom, and a vision of Kit Harington. It feels like a story, a great big, epic quest of a story, but I'm trying to fit it into 30 lines of poetry. Or maybe 14.

Because following an interesting discussion about maths and poetry, I am taken with the concept of fitting my poem into iambic pentameter.

For those of you, like me, who know that iambic pentameter is a thing, but have no idea what kind of thing it might be (other than something to do with Shakespeare), I have looked it up (mainly here), so you don't have to.

Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter. This means that every line has five two-syllable feet (think of them as da-dums), giving a total of 10 syllables.

It might surprise you to learn that Sonnet 116 is a sonnet, which is an Italian form of poem, 14 lines long. Shakespeare didn't follow the Italian rhyming scheme though, instead creating the English or Shakespearean sonnet, which follows the rhyme pattern ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG.

So far so do-able (ish), but then there is the 'volta' or turn, a great bit BUT which arrives between lines 8 and 9. Well, I like big BUTS and I cannot lie, so I reckon it could be fun to attempt to write a sonnet for Kit at the edge of doom.

It will probably suck though.

UPDATE: I have 14 lines of ten syllables. I fear I am a million miles from the rhyming schema!

celebrating achievement

Let us pause in life's concerns and count all our achievements. 

I'm not about to do a review of the year (yet), don't worry, but this is a great time of year to celebrate what we've done. 

At the kids' school, they have a weekly assembly, during which children are singled out from each class to celebrate their achievements that week. It could be that they've aced a spelling test, it could just be that they haven't lost any golden time that week. Also those that have achieved outside of school are also noted, and then the whole school sing everyone a song to congratulate them:
Well done, you did your best, Well done, we're so impressed, Well done, congratulations, You deserve the praises... 
It's not the greatest song, but it does teach the children that trying hard is worth the effort, and it also fosters a positive ethos. I'm a fan.

Practicing Christmas songs. It's the joy on their little
faces... lol
Talking of effort, my daughter's class are running a Christmas market this year, selling crafts they've been making, to raise money for the schools. They are all so proud of the work they've done, not just making stuff, but planning and marketing as well, and I am looking forward to seeing it. 

Kids in all the schools are putting lots of effort into their various Christmas shows and services at this time of year, and I promise I will cry at all of them. I cried at a school nativity already this week, and my children weren't even in it. I'm going to be a snivelling mess at the one they are in!

What am I crying for? The kids work so hard to get all this stuff to work, every single show is the result of hours of work from families, from teachers, and from the kids themselves. They're nervous to be standing up there, but they help each other out and they do it, and it's funny, and lovely, and wonderful. Each stage is full of potential and hope, and celebrating what they've achieved so far is the best way to encourage those little lights to shine.

Monday, 1 December 2014

mean about kids

It seems that it is OK to say mean things about kids. What is that about?

This post is inspired by a friend who has been complaining about children on Facebook. He doesn't have any, but doesn't like them getting in his way when he's shopping.

I'm not going to get into what he said, although it was nasty, because what he said is just the straw that has broken my camel's back on this topic.

I have seen so many jokey grumpy comments about children and teenagers. People grumbling about babies crying, about children getting in their way, and about teenagers going into shops in herds at lunchtime (no doubt they'd rather they skipped school).

All of this stuff neglects the fact that children are people, and that this kind of divisiveness fosters hate, and kills understanding.

Children are people. They might act in ways that are annoying sometimes, they might get in the way sometimes, and they might need more help in life than you do, but it is not just children who fall into those categories.

What if people said this kind of thing about the elderly, or about disabled people?

But this view of children seems to be popular at the moment. My own MP (Katy Clark) is associated with the constant pushing of more and more 'childcare' in this pic from Red Labour on Facebook. All the parties seem to be pushing for more professional childcare, and none seem to be recognising the incredibly important fact that children do best when they're looked after by people who love them, all that providing more external childcare benefits is business, and even that is short sighted, because of the problems stored up for future generations if children are farmed out from the beginning. Children seem to be viewed as a burden, not as the valuable people they are.

You can't expect children to grow into loving, caring, adults, wishing to contribute to their community if you don't show them loving care.

And you can't expect children to have respect for others if they are shown none.

People who say they don't like 'children' (and let's ignore that this is as offensive a statement as saying you don't like gay people), don't have to have them, but might want to consider that it is the people who are children now who will be working to pay for their pension. People complain that they pay taxes which are spent on schools which their families aren't using, and I assume that they don't intend to benefit from the children's education when they're older and those children are providing their medical care.

We need to move away from this cultural acceptance of nasty ageism, and appreciate the humanity of all the members of our society.

excited about Christmas

A single, child-free friend of mine was observing moaning the other day that Christmas is all over the shops the TV, everywhere. He said it's just a money pit with rubbish TV, rubbish weather, and nothing to do, especially for the likes of him.

Now I want you to picture the video for Shakespeare's Sister's Stay (it's here, if you're too young to know what I'm talking about), with my friend playing the whiney Marcella Detroit, begging people to step away from the tinsel, while I, grinning like a loon, come down the stairs behind in a glittery catsuit (that may be taking it too far), crowned in tinsel and singing Jingle Bells.

Maybe it's because I've got children, but I LOVE Christmas. It's a totally magical time of year. I love the singing, the food, the gift giving, the tree, I love making stuff, the colour scheme, the uncomfortable pews, and all the shows and parties. It is just plain awesome.

I'm incredibly proud of how neatly I'm managing
to do this crocheting for the Christmas wreath,
inspired by the insanely good one from Attic 24.
You'll find that here
I do try to hold off until December though.

It's been hard this year. We've had to do some Christmas crafts early for the school, I'm already making a new Christmas wreath, and we've all been practicing songs for various things. But we have kept the house pretty tinsel free so far.

That all changes on 1st December with advent calendars and SPARKLE DAY at the school. The girls will be wearing sparkly frocks, and the boy has agreed on a Christmas jumper (he doesn't do sparkles, he's 9). I will be wearing my Christmas jumper too, and it's just as hideous as I remember it being.

After that we have a raft of events, including Kelburn Primary's Nativity play (they get that in early), Brisbane's nativity play (my daughter is a villager - so excited), Christmas lights, markets, carol concerts and craft fairs (I'm really looking forward to the one at Kelburn), a trip to the pantomime, and of course, shopping and wrapping, and donating to those people whom Santa might not get to this year. 

Christmas jumpers - Yay!
I've got family coming to visit between Christmas and New Year, and I can't wait to see them, to enjoy all the fun family films, board games, and jigsaw puzzles, and spending time together.

A wee sprinkling of snow would be much appreciated. Just enough to sledge on, for two days when nobody has to go anywhere. My thanks, weather gods.

As for my miserable friend, I do feel for him, re-watching family films at Christmas is no fun without others, especially the joy of introducing them to people you love. I would invite him to ours, but I suspect he'd rather have a long lie, some good vodka, and a good tall pew to hold onto at the midnight service.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

seeking quality over quantity

At the start of the month I thought that the way out of the worries I had about the blog was quantity. The more I wrote, I thought, the more useful stuff I'd have.

Done is better than good, I thought.

There's truth in that. Nobody writes good work all the time, and everything has potential, but producing lots of fluff is, I've concluded, not what I want to be doing (not on purpose anyway), so having had a little mental health break just now, I've decided that taking this forward I'm going to be blogging less and focusing on the other important things in my life. 

When I do blog it will hopefully be more useful one way or another.

When I don't, I'll have more time for making stuff, for exercise, and having fun with my kids. I'll also have more time for other writing, which immediately makes me think I should be doing more on the book, but that will come.

A friend once noted, while I was worrying that my housework wasn't up to snuff, that I was unlikely to say on my death bed that I'd not done enough housework. She was right. I also cannot imagine saying that I wish I'd blogged more. So, I'm focusing on the important things, to try to ensure I get to that death bed later, with few regrets.

This is the last day of November, and the last No[edit]vember post. But there will be more posts. Just you wait and see.

Friday, 21 November 2014

going down: stepping back a bit for mental health

Hi all

So, I'm doing pretty well because I have hardly taken to my bed at all. I am horrible to live with, and my head is not a great place to be, but I do know that I'm going to come out from under this dark cloud, and the way that I'm going to do this is:

1. Step back from social media (sorry folks, but no more daily posts), I need more space for my head, I can't filter the noise any more.

2. Go outside. I will, honest. I promise. I know I'll feel better for it. But by heck it's cold and I'm really feeling the cold at the moment.

3. Talk to people. Like with my voice. To their faces. I'm not going to talk about how I'm feeling, because a lot of it is paranoid nonsense and I don't want to give it the nutrition to be honest. Instead, I want to have conversations about lots of other things. I'm not feeling like I'm doing very well at those conversations, because of all the stuff that's going on in my head at the same time. But I'm hoping that folks will forgive me (or maybe not even notice).

4. Stop this now. If I keep writing I'll get upset. So I won't. I don't want to give it the oxygen.

In an effort to be helpful, if you sometimes feel like this, then this video by the World Health Organisation helped me.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

working for free

We decided long ago in 2006 that we were going to shake up the way our family worked. My husband, Kenny, would go for a job with a bigger salary, with the flexibility which has to go with that, and we would move our family as required. I would look after our children, and make sure that things at home worked, even as Kenny needed to work away for his job.

It's worked out well for us. Kenny's doing well in his career, and our children are happy and secure, despite having moved a few times, but nothing is all good.

Everyone has something they don't like about their work, and being a full time Mum, while being very rewarding, and completely worthwhile, can also be dull, repetitive, and frustrating. For me, I need to have another focus as well.

When we first moved for Kenny's work my other focus was on the charitable organisation I was running (in Suffolk). b.a.b.i.e.s (Babies and Birthing in East Suffolk) was fun and so very useful, and gave me plenty of adult focused things to do while I was with my children.

When we moved back to Scotland I was considering running something similar, but found there wasn't the appetite for it, so, after a brief period of obsessively playing The Sims (I still love the Sims, and am hoping for Sims 4 for Christmas), I started to write.

I have always written. I won some writing competitions as a kid, but then focused more on Sociology. While I was a social researcher though, I enjoyed writing accessible reports on research findings, and prided myself on being able to translate complicated papers for normal people to be able to understand. I loved being able to make good research more useful through writing.

When I decided to write as the 'thing I do' though, I figured I'd need a lot of practice before my work was good enough to sell. So I started practicing. I followed Neil Gaiman's advice:
"This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it's done. It's that easy, and that hard."
I joined a writing group, and wrote what I was told to. I pushed myself, I tried things.

I started blogging, and kept it up because it was good practice.

I entered competitions. I've not won one yet (not one based on skill anyway), but I've been placed, and I'm getting better. I feel like I've been serving an apprenticeship, which is coming to an end.

How do I know it's coming to an end? Because it's time I got paid. I've got lots of work to do on the book, that will come in time, but I'm submitting short stories and articles to magazines, and to bigger competitions. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

I'm also now being approached to write things for people. The proper term for this is 'being commissioned', but you'll note that I'm not using that term. Why? Because the people who are approaching me aren't offering to pay me! Just this morning, I've had two people ask me to do work for them for free. One of them I don't mind. I have set a precedent there by doing work for free for them before, and while I have the time I will do it, because it's a good way to be involved in my community.

The other one was wanting me to write a blog post, promoting their company, but wanted me to do lots of research about related things too. I have no experience of their company, (and by the way, I will only promote brands I have experience of on the blog, like Hotel Chocolat or Getting Personal), and wouldn't have been averse to getting some experience, except they were not planning on paying me!

Would you place an ad in the local paper and not plan to pay them? Would you have one of those odd-job people tidy out your gutters and not pay them? It's rude, basically. I might choose to work for my family for free (and even for my mates), but if you want me to do a job for you, you're going to need to pay - it might not be in money, but you shouldn't expect me to give of my time, away from my family, without some recompense.

And breathe.

Do people expect you to work for free?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

drowning in cushions

I was intrigued when my friend Susan posted a link on Pinterest to Tico and Tina's post on easy decluttering: 20+ things you can get rid of without even noticing.

I thought I'd give it a try, so started with point one: CUSHIONS.

Tico and Tina call them pillows, and lump them in with pillows (is that an American thing?), but I'm sure they're talking about cushions and pillows, because I've never heard of a decorative pillow. Here's what they say: 
Pillows – Do you have decorative pillows that just get in the way? Maybe you have old pillows stashed in a closet somewhere that you never bothered to get rid of. We had a few randoms floating around our house that didn’t really get used at all.
Well, since you're asking... you may recall I recently did up the boy's room, and made his bed into a proper day bed while I was at it. This is the theory of what it looks like:

 And this is the reality:

See that big pile at the foot of the bed? That's all those cushions! That's where they live now.

I was tempted to move them back to the living room, where they came from originally, but, to be honest, they haven't been missed, and the boy has over-ruled me, so they're (mostly) still there.

A bit of a fail then.

However, having admitted that we have enough in the living room, I have taken cushions off my shopping list. Which is a shame, because I had some beauties on there. Here are the fab cushions I had my heart set on. All from IKEA. You can find loads of IKEA cushions here.
Vinter 2014 cushion cover £4

Knappsav cushion £3.50
Snabbvinge cushion cover £4
Skavgras cushion £3.50

Not buying new cushions is pretty much the same as decluttering, right? Right?

How are your decluttering skills? They've got to be better than mine.

Monday, 17 November 2014

dogs with flapping tongues

Tongue flappingly good (this photo' was not taken
when I wrote this post)
You know that image of the dog leaning out of the car window with its tongue flapping in the breeze? That looks like it's a lot of fun.

Just now I was a passenger in a car with bright sunlight (in Scotland, in November) shining into my eyes, so I took advantage of my passenger status and closed them, enjoying the psychedelic light show on the inside of my eyelids.

My husband wondered why I was grinning like a loon.

The sunlight has dashed for cover now, but I'm still feeling good.

Have you had any tongue flapping moments lately?

PS. Just as I finished this and we got through Glasgow heading to Edinburgh on the motorway the chemical brothers came on. Cue a family tongue flapping moment.