Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Art of Slow Living

I don't mean the movement about slow living, taking time to be in-the-moment or to linger - which I think is admirable. Sadly I mean living too slowly.

I'm writing to confess something. I used to do lots of stuff. I always had projects on the go, and people often mentioned they were amazed how I got it all done. By projects I mean - learn to crochet, making toys, teach myself woodwork, decorate a house, set up a blog, renovate some furniture, keep a creative journal, make a rug. I looked at Pinterest for ideas and then went off and did stuff. I was one of those people who achieved. I don't really manage to do this anymore.

Back to the Art of Slow Living, in my case; I mean the way time slows down and life becomes slow. I am on maternity leave, It is great but there are some bits that are quite difficult. I don't have to do anything usually, but my days are so full. I don't seem to have any time to do anything. That is what I mean about slowing down. I do less, yet seem to have so much less time. Now I'm not surprised, I've had a baby before and I know how demanding they are and I know this time doesn't last forever but the intensity of the first year has shocked me.

Saying I don't have time to do anything is not really true, I could make time to do some things but I seem to find very few minutes to get anything done. I'm tired, so tired, and that means I do still try to sleep when my baby sleeps. I usually manage one nap a day. This is traditionally the time when all those other mothers rush around, doing things like showering, putting on make up, cleaning skirting boards and all that kind of stuff.

I don't do any of those things. Which makes me feel a bit inadequate.

I have a bath and stay clean, I usually have a bath with my baby though. I manage to eat, not as well as I should as I'm still living off things I can eat straight from the fridge. I have a cleaner thank god, so the house isn't a total write off but it's not tidy and I am a bit of a hurricane who blows through and often creates more mess. I've put on make up maybe three times in the last six weeks (Christmas, New Year and one party).

So what do I do?Aside from not much,  I've been trying to achieve one thing everyday. Something that ideally relates to either making me very happy or my woodworking hobby.

Sometimes it is as simple as that. 

Sometimes I do manage to do something productive; I make something in my scrapbook, I do a necessary or useful job (organise a boiler service, tidy a cupboard, put a picture up), but the thing is, is that I'm frustrated with myself. I want to do so much more. I could write a to do list which lasted many, many pages. But I know there is no point as I'll then feel overwhelmed and overfaced and do none of it. So instead I write two or three things and if I finish them, I delete them and write a couple more. 

I want to blog more - so doing this is a good start, I want to set up an Etsy shop to start selling my handmade shelving. I've signed up to Etsy Resolution, a free online course to guide you through setting up a shop as I don't seem to be getting very far on my own.  

I often set time-based deadlines on myself. I think I need to stop doing this. 

Gosh - could I be any further away from the principals of slow living?  

Occasionally I have good days. Above was the view of my kitchen at 9.46am. Below it's 10.06am. 

That is the one really good side of the time slowing down. I feel like I don't have any but when I'm motivated I can get so much done in twenty minutes. There are days where I look around and wonder at how I've tidied up, put two loads of washing on, done the dishwasher, got dressed, made breakfast and it's only 9am. (If you are reading this and think, well I do that every day, well done you. You are nothing like me. If you are reading this and think, yep - lucky to have had a coffee even by 9am if I'm not at work. Then I feel ya. If you are reading this and think 9am, when not at work, I've never seen such a thing - you are very very lucky.) 

When I manage a productive morning I feel better about myself. I give myself a hard time on the days I don't though. Thinking I am the only one who doesn't manage this kind of productivity every day. I'll be honest - I'm lucky if it's once or twice a week. 

I used to feel like I could achieve anything. I miss that. Now I often feel like I am the only mother not doing it all. 

Luckily I have a great supportive local Mama Tribe. It really does take a village, not to raise the child, but to keep the Mama on an even keel so she can raise the child. It helps to talk to others in the same-ish place, even if they do all iron their sheets and cook lovely meals for their families rather than embrace the ready meal. I see them regularly and it keeps me going. I always feel happier when I have left the house and been somewhere. I go to a lot of playgroups and baby classes and do walk as much as I can. That's my new years resolution to 'walk more'. It's always easier to add something in than to remove it. 

I wanted to write about this as I think it's the side of motherhood that not everyone admits to. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels like this. I should be grateful for my lovely happy baby, and pleased that I get to spend all day with him, which I am. But I'm allowed to miss alone time and to pine for more time for me and my hobbies. 

I'm trying to be kind to myself. It's my own deadlines that are bothering me, no one else is putting any pressure on me. I keep trying to say it's ok if it takes three months not one week but I'm not that good at it yet. 

I'll keep trying. 

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

32,000 stitches

Crochet saved me.

This is how I managed to survive a pregnancy where I was really sick and nauseous for almost all of it and more difficult, had antenatal depression. Do you know, I don't want to always talk about this but it has been such a big deal over the last year and a bit. At first, it was all encompassing and even now as I feel better there is a lot of fear still there. I think talking about (well writing about) is one of the strongest ways to help so here we are. 

Time passing was the hardest. I used to wake up and think, oh no, another day to endure. Endure by the way is the right word, survive hints at something more than the shell I became. 

I'm feeling an awful lot better now, but I need to acknowledge what I've been through and how hard it was. It's almost like feeling traumatised - but I know that's too strong a word. Raw I think it better. It's like a scar that is still not healed. I read the term 'depression hangover' somewhere and that sums it up. I'm fragile, all too aware of what I have been through and every time I have a bad day I start to panic that the depression is coming back. I don't think it is. I just wish that this could be solved with a bacon buttie! 

Back to the 32,000 stitches. I crocheted my way through pregnancy. I counted stitches rather than be in my own head and I made things. It was a healthy way to deal with it and it helped me to cope. It didn't really make me feel better but it did pass the time. 

One of my projects (there were a lot) was a blanket for a king size bed. It had 32,000 stitches in it. 

It's a king sized bed size, corner to corner (often called c2c) crochet pattern which I learned from a Youtube tutorial by Bella Coco. Link here.

Strangely, I think I sound like Bella. Anyway, the pattern was very easy once I had the hang of it. What was difficult was choosing colours. Depression robbed me of my decision making skills and it seemed to take longer to decide what the next row colour should be than to crochet it. 

I made the blanket in four identical quarters, and then sewed them together. 

I used mostly Aldi wool for this project, as I was saving every penny for maternity leave. I'm really glad I did as now I'm about to go into my last three months of time off, and had I not saved, I would be going back to work now. And, I'm not ready yet. 

I'm sat on this blanket right now, to write this. It was originally intended for my bedroom and the colours match that room. However, my baby often naps in the front room and I try and catch up on sleep by snuggling under this on the sofa. I try for a Nasa nap (26 minutes, supposed to restore mental function. Not sure it's working fully, but at least I can concentrate a little!). 

I actually like it, it's a memento of a difficult time, but looking at it makes me feel stronger. I got through it. I didn't fold. Thank goodness. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Coping with antenatal depression

I've been meaning to write this post for a long time, but haven't felt able. Partly because I'm not over this yet, partly because I'm still struggling with every day life and haven't got the headspace to talk about this and partly because I don't have any good advice.

I don't like to be negative, so I'll try not to be, but I saw this on facebook today and I thought - it's time...

I usually say I had antenatal depression - as I'm British (probably need to start saying English soon - Brexit !) but however you refer to this, it's a real thing. It affects many many people and nobody is talking about it.

I wrote a blog post on here about a year ago - sharing when I was in the throes of it all and then pretty much went silent. I wasn't just silent on here, I was silent in real life. I lost the ability to enjoy the days, to speak to people, even to read books or think properly about what might help me.

I was tired, so tired, not physically tired (as I am now, with a non-sleeping newborn) but tired of existing. Tired of trying to get through the day and tired of just enduring the sickness of pregnancy and feeling hopeless.

My concentration span deserted me. I'm someone who generally gets things done, I usually have a million things on the go at once, and am always looking for what's next. I lost all this and ended up wasting hours on my phone to distract me - looking at pinterest, playing jigsaws - anything which helped pass the time.

There were two things that helped; my crochet (I'll be sharing more about this soon) and gratitude. I saw a counsellor and this was the plan we came up with. Everyday I wrote in my diary three good things that had happened, and what that meant about me as a person.

For example - the sun was shining - which meant I could appreciate nature, my husband made tea and I ate some - which means I was looking after my health and my baby, and I met up with a friend for coffee - which means I must be a nice person to have such lovely friends. They really were such small things but writing it every day helped a lot. There were days when I could only manage to think of one thing but thankfully they were rare.

It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do - endure such a miserable pregnancy and just hope (when hope was rather elusive) that this would pass and would not turn into postnatal depression. I was one of the lucky ones and it hasn't - I think the statistics are something very scary like 70% of those with antenatal or perinatal depression carry on to develop postnatal depression. I was in the good 30% who escaped that fate. I know I'm not depressed anymore but dealing with everything I went through, the fear of it returning on top of the enormous demands of a baby with the way it changes all the other relationships in your life is hard. I don't think I have it worse than others, in fact I feel like I have a lot of positives in my life.

Remember I said I wrote a blog post on here. Well that is the reason I'm writing this today. I shared the scary news of antenatal or perinatal depression and people reached out to me. It was amazing. People who I knew via social media but rarely saw in life, people who were family, friends - all came forward and said, I know what you're going through, I understand, I've experienced similar and while I spoke to those people and read those messages, I felt good. It was wonderful.

I hope someone reading this feels that same glimmer of 'Ok, I can do this too'. You can and you will. Just keep going, try my mantra which I repeated endlessly 'this too shall pass'.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

He's here

My baby. And he is  just perfect.

Hello World indeed.

I'm coming back. Slowly. I lost a year, But I'll get there. 

Thanks for bearing with me.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Feeling a bit blue

I've been quiet. You could say silent. Why?

Well the honest answer is I've been feeling blue, or more honestly pretty down in the dumps. Yet oddly this is due to something wonderful. I'm a weird one.

I'm pregnant. I have wanted a baby with my husband for a long time and couldn't be more pleased to be having a baby. The baby bit anyway. The having bit, the pregnancy, I hate it. Isn't that an awful thing to say. It's a time when you are supposed to glow and relax and wonder at the marvel of new life. For lots of people this is true, but for me (and 10% of all pregnant ladies out there) it's simply not true. There is no reason for it in my case, but I fit most of the symptoms of antenatal (or prenatal or pregnant) depression.

It has taken some time to realise this. I'm writing this at 16 weeks pregnant. At first I felt shocked and then excited. Then the nausea kicked in and the tiredness and I spent most of my time either at work or laid in bed. I stepped out of family life almost entirely and cancelled most of my social life. I kept thinking it was just the nausea that was holding me back but then I started to feel like I was loosing control of who I am.

Time slowed down. I started crying a lot, and when people asked me why, I told the truth saying I don't know why. I started laying in bed awake at night and feeling even more exhausted in the day. I was sleeping all day and all night at weekends. I would get angry and not be able to calm down. I smashed a plate in the kitchen one night in frustration at what was happening to me. I couldn't concentrate on books, or reading for more than 20 minutes at a time and reading a book (for hours) has always been my escape.

I started waking up feeling horrified that there was another day to get through. I stopped smiling, although I'm not sure at which point.

I felt ill.

If someone had offered me the chance to be put to sleep and wake up when the baby was born I would have jumped at it. I didn't want the next 6 or 7 months of daily life.

I just wasn't myself. I don't know if feeling blue is the right way to describe it, but it sounds right to me.

Everyone has good days and bad. I know this and I have my own set of coping strategies for when I feel bad. Messing around in my journal, writing a gratitide list, ticking off a diy project, making something from scratch or best of all a few glasses of wine with good friends. Sadly the last one is on hold for quite a while and a cup of herbal tea with friends isn't the same. But I lost even the smallest amount of motivation to do any of the other things. I don't know why but I just felt too tired, too lacklustre, too apathetic.

I don't think I hit rock bottom but I realised I couldn't fix this on my own. So I asked for help. And got it. Almost three weeks ago I started taking anti- depressants. They have worked wonderfully.

I still wish I was smilling more but I'm on the right track. I feel like bit by bit I am regaining myself. It's not easy as there is little to grab hold of. This isn't a tangible thing.

I'm scared that these feelings will remain for the whole 24 weeks of pregnancy I have left. It's hard to think about feeling like this for a few more days let alone months. But, I realise I am lucky. I am feeling ill for a lovely reason and I know there is an end in sight. Many don't have even those small comforts. I try and focus on things like this, but honestly, they don't make me feel any better at all.

My recent experience has shocked me. I've always been happy to describe myself as a control freak, and then I lost control of who I am, my own thoughts were beyond my reach. It was frightening and confusing.

I've heard people talk about depression before and thought I had some idea of what they meant but I was wrong. I'd been thinking about feeling down and it's very different. I can understand why it seems to be a brain issue or chemistry as it is not related to your own thinking or what is happening in your life. I'm not sure I am explaining this properly but it's really tough to put into words.

I found reading about other people who felt the same helped me a lot. That's why I decided to write this post. Partly as I thought it might be cathartic to me, and partly because it might comfort someone.

One of my favourite quotes is from Alan Bennett in The History Boys:

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”

So if you are struggling with anything I have mentioned here for whatever reason: Imagine this is my way of holding your hand. Which also means you are holding mine.

None of us have to do this alone anymore. That's the wonder of the internet.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The saga of learning to make dovetail joints

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

Once upon a time, there was a woman who woodworked. She made some prototype shelves and wanted them to be better.

She spent a lot of time researching woodworking techniques and decided that dovetail joints were the way forward.

She watched some tutorials on Youtube, all by men who were experienced woodworkers. They made it look very easy to do and the finish was beautiful and just what she wanted for her handmade shelving.

The woman who woodworked bought some secondhand and new tools and put some of her school maths into action to work out the angles needed.

Then she began to practice. She soon realised that it was quite hard to do, nowhere near as easy as it looked on the tutorials.
She soon realised that she was NOT a natural when it came to being able to saw. In fact, it took her forever and she was very bad at it.
She perservered, as she wasn't a quitter.

After many, many, many failed attempts (left hand side of above photo) she finally ended up with one dovetail joint which didn't fall apart in her hands.
She was so pleased with herself she had a drink of wine to celebrate.

Then she looked closer at the joint and thought about how long it had taken, how many were needed for each shelf and at the actual size of the gaps.
She researched some more and then bought a dovetail jig and router, which do the job perfectly for her.
The end.
And, the moral of the story is, know when you are beaten and as this is destabled, when to stop flogging a dead horse.
Although that saying is actually very mean!

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

72 hours in Marrakech, Morocco, and 14 tips to get the most out of a short break there

Marrakech gets under your skin. There is a reason people rave about it. It's hot and dusty and busy and more-than-anywhere-else-I've-ever-been exhilarating!

Let's start with colour. Blue, actually.

This colour, this blue, got into my mind and wouldn't leave. It's not a colour we see much of in Northern England and that's possibly because it really comes to life in such bright sunlight. But, it's a happy colour, a hot colour, an exciting colour to me. This colour blue has me in a obsessive-grip. This trip to Marrakech has a lot to answer for too. In-a-good-way. This trip, 1 year ago today is what started me off on this journey to making handmade shelving.
This post isn't all about colours. I'd like to share some memories of my Marrakech trip, to inspire you to go or go-back or simply to day-dream or reminisce.

Marrakech was a place like no other I have visited. There was an energy there I had never experienced. It was enthralling, busy,hot, but not peaceful.
There were no cars in the centre, so people walked, rode scooters, pushed wheelbarrows or used Donkeys. It was like stepping back in time a bit.

Around every corner or through every doorway was something fantastic to see. No space was wasted.

The streets were narrow and often not very tall. I made my husband pose as a frame of reference. He had to duck many times.

Often coming out of streets you would walk into the unexpected, like a cart full of chickens.

Everything was seemingly done by hand. This guy was more than happy for me to take a picture as he carefully made these patterns by hand.
Very few machines were evident.

Those inspirational colours and patterns were everywhere. This is called 'zellige'.

The markets spilled out onto the streets in every direction. Plus some of the displays were amazing.

There was the occasional posh respite area. Here I am having a break in one with extremely comfy cushions, great views and a breeze, as most of the bars were on the roof.

The city is dominated by the Koutoubia mosque. It sounds the call to prayer over the whole city and is much taller than anything else.

Do you recognise this turquoise? It's very similar to my handmade shelving range of colours.

Oh that blue again. I love it!

One of the best bits was meeting all the master craftsman. This chap made these huge padlocks with, by the looks of it, just a metal file in a tiny shop.

This guy carved wood on the street with a few chisels and this fancy woodturning device he operated with his feet.
All the craftsmen were so happy to show you how they made things and to chat. It was an enjoyable shopping trip. And, it really worked on me, as I bought a lock from the smiley man above and a set of hand turned cedar kebab holders from the chap in the red trousers.

This was the site of one of the oldest universities in the world, the Medina Ben Youssef. The colours and zelige were amazing, and at last there was a peaceful place.
I didn't miss the lack of peace though. Living somewhere quite quiet and remote like I do, it was wonderful to get a sense of energy.

I bought some of that blue in pigment form. If only I really knew what to do with it!

More tradesmen, this one was very upset with me as I bought freshly squeezed orange juice from another stall, but he still wanted me to take his picture.

People just lived outside, they talked to their friends, they ate, they worked. That's the thing I dislike most about living in a cold place.
We don't have a proper street life.

And then I held a desert lizard. I'm sure it's not very kind, but I'm a bit of a wuss with creatures so I wanted to add this picture as it is me being brave.
Looking back I can see how I was inspired by colour and craftsmen and energy to do something different with my spare time. I also started to take myself out of my comfort zone and push myself to do new things and take the road less travelled. I realised I'd been coasting along on an easy life for too long.
If you are planning a trip to Marrakech here are my top tips to get the most out of your time there. We were only there 72 hours and yet I felt like we made the most of almost all of them.
1. Take a Tour
Book a private guide if you can afford it, we had Khalid Amor (you can read a great review about him here ) and spent our very first day with him. This was a great plan as it enabled us to ease into the hustle and bustle without getting lost and the street traders did not hassle us much as we were with a guide. He also gave us some useful advice about where to eat and not, and where to get money changed and all those useful bits you need at the beginning of a short break.
2. Have a Spa
Go for a hammam, this is a traditional Moroccan activity where you spend time in a steam room, have mud masks, and then are scrubbed with a mitt until it's almost painful - but afterwards your skin feels amazing and the whole experience is very relaxing. I went to this one, The Heritage Spa, as it was one of the few spa's offering male and female packages. It wasn't cheap but was worth every penny.
3. Pictures
Take lots of photographs, everywhere looks incredible and don't forget to peer around corners. Keep your camera out and not in a bag as lot's of weird and wonderful things will occur.
4. Weather
Maybe go at a slightly cooler time than early September as it was 40 degrees plus every day. I like the heat, and particularly like to have lots of stops for cold drinks, but if you just want to keep on the move, a slightly cooler time may suit you better.
5. Shopping
Look around the souks a lot before you buy anything as it will help you to get an idea of how much choice there is. Many stalls sell blankets, or carpets, or bags but actually there is a lot of difference, not all sell the exact same things.
6. Bartering/ Haggling
Haggle hard and I mean really hard. Start at a minimum of a quarter what they say ( or a tenth if you are braver than me) and pull wincing faces a lot. Be prepared to walk away. One blanket seller chased me for 100 metres to say I could have the last deal I offered. I did feel like I had probably been ripped off a little, even so, but then thought about how much I would have to spend to buy an imported item and got over that feeling.
7. Drinking
Go to lots of rooftop bars - the views are great and it's a respite from the busyness of the streets. Plus they tend to be breezier and more likely to sell alcohol too.
8. Small Coins
Save your little coins for beggars, it's heartbreaking to see them and you know there is no welfare state as such. Although the country is Muslim and one of the key points of Islam is around giving to charity so maybe it's not as bad as I think. Anyhow giving them little bits of money made me feel better.
Don't just read trip advisor on the restuarants - trust your gut feelings. We found some wonderful gems just by going and trying small items and then ordering more if we liked what we were given. We did try a few Trip Advisor recommended places and to me they were a little pretentious, so I preferred to judge by looking.
10. Directions
As even the main streets in the city are around 6 feet wide and the side streets even smaller with tunnels and 90 degree turns as normal, you have to expect to get lost. My ingenious system was to take pictures of the way home so we could navigate back to our place of residence. We stayed a a lovely, affordable and central Dar (Pamella) and the location was so perfect. During the day we could pop back to drop shopping off as it was so close to everywhere.
11. Be wary
Don't let male guides show you the way anywhere - they want paying and won't easily take no for an answer or often don't like how much you want to pay them which can be stressful. Most of the time we just kept going until we saw something, but the one time we got really lost, we asked women for help in the end.
12. What to wear
I was concerned about what to wear in the heat as I didn't want to offend. Most tips suggested long sleeve shirts and light weight trousers (which is the kind of clothes I wear in Winter!) but it turned out that I didn't need to worry about dressing modestly - hot pants and crop tops are inappropriate but vests and shorts below the knee were absoloutely fine.  
13. Souvenirs
Don't feel a cliché for buying Morroccan lanterns or carpets or anything. I bought both because I loved them and after living with them in my house for almost a year I still love them more than ever. If anything I want to go back and buy more.
14. Be streetwise
Don't walk in the middle of the street - I nearly got hit in the head by a guy on a scoter with 5 mattresses stacked diagonally behind him. It was quite funny how much traffic there was and how you had to be so careful. For this reason I would not recommend taking small children or any aged children who aren't great at spatial awareness.
Oh writing this makes me want to be going back tomorrow! I loved Marrakech.