The cult of busyness and giving stuff up

So many of us have become addicted to being busy. It’s like a competition and I absolutely include myself in this.  It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while and Radio 4 recently had a series of programmes from Oliver Burkeman (a favourite writer of mine) about just this topic. I would urge you to have a listen. 

You know how it is. You see a friend and they ask how you are. How many of us answer something like “Oh, yes good, thanks. Well, busy, you know how it is?” And they nod knowingly and regale you with just how busy they are. Have you noticed that no matter how busy you might be, there is always someone who is busier than you and wants to tell you about it. It’s as if our busyness has become a badge of honour. The busier we are, the more value our lives have.  Interestingly, studies quoted in the Oliver Burkeman programme have concluded that people who feel that they are busier than everyone else, are in fact, not. 

Of course, I’m not denying that most of us are busy, juggling home, work and family and many of the things we do, we have to do. We have to eat and live in something better than filth. We have to work and care for our families, but we seem to have become martyrs to our own lives and choices. Like little worker bees scurrying around and not often know why or if it’s what we really want to do. 

If I look at my own life, as I have over the last few months, there are things that we don’t have to do. There are things that we can cut out of our lives that will make us less busy and I am convinced that this is the case for many others too. However, this isn’t blog post preaching to you that you are doing too much and why can’t you just give something up. You probably are and you probably should give something up, but I know it isn’t as easy as that. The things we do in our lives, we choose to do for many different reasons. It may be necessecity or because we want to provide something special for our kids. It could be obligation or sometimes just something we want to do. Just giving these things up isn’t always simple, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider it. 

I recently decided to give up a committee role I had held at school for the past year. It seemed an easy decision to make and in some ways it was. I knew, immediately that it was the right thing for me and that at this time of my life I couldn’t continue this commitment. No, actually, not couldn’t, but didn’t want to and this is where these decisions become difficult. I felt I had to justify myself, to others, but mainly to myself.

 “Oh, I can’t do it, while I still have a toddler at home full time. I can’t do it with the boys moving into Year 1 and Year 3, there’s so much change for them. Oh, I can’t do it with Mckdad’s job taking up so much time……blah blah blah!”

All of these reasons were valid and genuine, but if I had really wanted to carry on, I could’ve. The truth was that I wanted to be less busy. I wanted to be able to use my babysitting favours for doing things in the house, or even more secretly for myself. Even now, I’ve stepped down and someone fantastic has taken over I feel a mix of emotions. I know that making my life less frantic was the right thing to do and the relief at taking a leap and saying no to something feels liberating. However, I still feel guilty, I still feel the fear of missing out (that’s the control freak in me) and I still feel that I am justifying the decision to myself. 

As I write this I have an unexpected toddler free day and because it was unexpected, I had no plans. I can’t remember the last time that happened and straight away I felt that I should feel guilty for that. I thought of the rest of the world beavering away being busy, as I went for a rare and wonderful daytime run. This feels like a huge luxury in this busy world. So much so, that I very nearly combined it with going to check and open my Dad’s post, because multi-tasking makes us all feel more busy, right?  (By the way the radio documentary I mentioned argues that multi-tasking is of no use to us)

I stopped myself though. I ran along the river path instead, for no other reason than it is the route I love.  I am slowly trying to learn that there are no gold medals for busyness and that sometimes we owe it to ourselves to slow everything down. So others may well be busier than me, in fact they probably are, but that’s OK. I am OK with that, or at least I will be one day.  

Blame the Parents……unless there’s research.

It’s not often that Moira Stewart makes me shout at the radio. I mean, come on, it’s Moira Stewart, coolest newsreader ever and verging on National Treasure. However, on Friday morning I was raging just by her reading out her headline and talking back to the radio by the time the full story was reported.

“Picky Eaters may not be the parents fault!”

“Scientists have found that picky eaters may be more due to genetics than bad parenting” 

So, thank you very much scientists and Moira for letting us dreadful parents know that we are not perhaps as ‘bad’ and at fault as we may have thought. For the rest of the day I was brooding over once again over the fact that we need scientists to assuage some of the parent bashing that we seem to have to face every day in the media, in the local cafe, on the bus or even in our own homes.

I shall leave to one side how unhelpful I think the term ‘picky eater’ is anyway and focus on the actual issue. I never imagined for one moment that toddlers who are unadventurous in their eating habits were so because their parents were bad and I’m shocked that anyone else does either. Nobody looks at their nearly six month old baby and thinks “I’m just going to feed them brown food and possibly only 1 or 2 different meals.” We all start with the best intentions. Giving our children the experience of different tastes, whether they are puréed or given as finger food, but something we all learn very quickly, is that you cannot force a person to eat and nor should we, however young we are.

I have experienced many different levels of enthusiasm for food from all my children at various times of their lives. I’ve never described them as picky eaters, but I’ve spent many years trying to make sure they get a healthy and balance diet and it has been a battle with them being 7, 5 and 2, one I am still fighting.

Mini Mck started as what the experts would probably define as a ‘picky eater’. We did everything ‘right’. We ate together, we offered a range of foods for him to try, we persevered if he didn’t like them straight away, but for quite some time his diet consisted mostly of pasta, cheese omelette and bananas. Now he eats a reasonable range of food, but it’s still hit or miss whether he will decide he doesn’t like something he liked last week.

Nano was completely different. Suddenly I saw how easy weaning could be. He ate everything we offered and for the first couple of years he was the most adventurous eater. I was one of those annoying Mums who would post pictures of him tucking into olives, flatbreads and hummus. Slowly though, he also became more cautious and is now similar to his brother. He eats a pretty good and varied diet, but getting a vegetable in him is a struggle and of course, the things that he loves are opposite to his brother and the things he hates, his brother loves.

Lady Mck is fairly non-commital all about food. It doesn’t particularly interest her. If you asked me to name her favourite meal I would struggle to think of anything she loves, every time we serve it.

And so it is in most households, I would imagine. We eat together. We model good habits around food. I make most of our meals and snacks from scratch. We don’t do any of this because we feel that if we didn’t we would be bad parents. We do it because we love food. We love cooking it, sharing it with loved ones and eating something delicious. None of that has made feeding our children any less of a battle.
Our western society has made parenting an industry, something that we need to ‘work’ at and ‘solve’. Something that requires us to read the latest research or the latest parenting book. We now subscribe to parenting styles, rather than simply raising and enjoying our family life and this seems to bring with it heaps and heaps of judgement. If our children don’t eat well, it has been believed to be our fault and we need some research to put things straight. If our children don’t sleep, we have made a rod for our own back, somewhere along the line. If our children are ‘clingy’ (another word I hate by the way) we have coddled them too much and given into their requests for hugs.

We roll our eyes and describe ourselves as bad parents or lazy parents if we give them sweets or let them have too much screen time or feed them out of the freezer and we need to stop doing that. We have Moira and the rest of the world to do that for us, so how about we give ourselves and each other a break, huh?

Moving on….and why it’s OK to do so. 

This week is baby loss awareness week. My timeline becomes filled with posts and statuses sharing experiences, that so many have gone through and in many cases, are still going through. Personally, I find it increasingly difficult to speak about this subject. This year seems harder than ever and I’ve been thinking about why.

Partly, I think it’s because I actually feel incredibly lucky. Not just because I have three healthy children, but even looking back on the time that we were trying to become and grow our family, I can see that the issues we faced were nothing incomparison to the pain and heartbreak that others face. I think being part of the blogging world has allowed me to read and follow other people’s stories and whilst people say that levels of grief shouldn’t be compared and we all have our own experiences, I can’t help but look at others and feel, I was so lucky. I have never had to come home from hospital with no baby, I have never held my child in my arms while they slip away.

I lost hopes and plans and thoughts, but I don’t think I ever really thought of my lost pregnancies as lost babies. I don’t know their due dates, I don’t mark their birthdays. I would need a calendar now to be able to work out their ages and what they might be doing. All of that doesn’t mean I wasn’t hugely affected at the time and that it didn’t massively inform my experience of pregnancy from then on. That was perhaps the most lasting effect of my miscarriages.

My story has given me the opportunity to work with and champion Tommy’s and learn more about the far reaching work they do in this area. It has bought me into contact with some amazing people, such as Leigh from Headspace Perspective, the winner of the Mum’s Voice Award earlier this year. The strength and resilience that she and her husband have shown, is really something to behold. She has written for Tommy’s this week for Baby Loss Awareness Week. As has Dr Alex Heazell. Clinical Director of the Tommy’s Stillbirth Research Centre. His post was really interesting and inspiring and really highlights how Tommy’s covers not only support, but also medical care and research

Last week, Tommy’s happened to share the video I shot with them on their Facebook page. I didn’t notice it myself, but someone on Instagram recognised me and mentioned it, so I had a look and by the time I did, there were comments on the post. They were all lovely comments thanking me for sharing, but one has stuck with me ever since. Someone who was 31 weeks pregnant following recurrent miscarriages said how she felt exactly the way I had described, but had been unable to put it into words and by sharing my story I had helped her find those words.

It reminded me that, even though my story is over and had a happy ending, there are many others who are still at the beginning, middle or end of theirs. They are still right in the thick of it. Still gripped by disappointment, fear and anxiety, as I was. When I think of that time, I simply breath a sigh of relief that it is all over. I may feel a little wistful that my experience robbed me of some of the joy and excitement many others feels when they are expecting, but mostly I feel that it is finished and I am glad.

Talking and sharing my story, mostly with you lovely blog readers, helped me heal so much. My only responsilbility now is to keep sharing and finding words for those who are still so far into it that they cannot find the words for themselves or to perhaps give some insight for their loved ones, who don’t understand or don’t know what to say.

So, I couldn’t let this week pass without some words to mark it. For me, the pain is no longer raw and visceral, but you know, that’s ok. It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. For others, it still is and that’s ok too. We should get to feel what we feel, for as long as we feel it. We are all different. How we process is different. None of our feelings are any less valid because of when they come, or how strong they are or even if they fade. It’s ok if they fade, it doesn’t make our experience or our past any less important. It may just be past.

If you are still in the thick of it or even if you find this week takes you back to your own experiences, I would urge you to explore the Tommy’s website, where I guarantee you will find something which resonates. You can find all my own posts on miscarriage here

Off the hook: Twist It Cardigan

I love how the making of a thing is a journey. Of course, it’s relaxing and comforting, but it can also challenge your brain, make you think more in depth about the process and push your skills further. I love how the mistakes can be used to improve your craft and bring you confidence. I love the slow nature of the work and the resilience. If you buy a garment that doesn’t work for you, the chances are you will put it in a charity bag and chalk it up to a bad choice. If you make something and discover it’s not quite right, the chances are you will work out why, unravel it and start again, or a least I do. 

And so it was with the Twist It Cardigan, designed by Kat Goldin and featured in one of my most used and dog-eared copies of Simply Crochet. I had taken the measurement for sizing from the bust, even though the design isn’t fitted there. I didn’t take account of the fact that I am not broad in the shoulder and am short. Subsequently the finished article was way too big across the shoulders and way way too long. 

It sat in a heap, taunting me. My first garment for myself and I knew I’d made mistakes. I kept picking up the pattern and looking at it and slowly I began to think that maybe I could adapt it. Maybe I could make something that was absolutely ‘made to measure’. I decided to leave a pattern repeat out of the body and make the raglan top smaller, knowing that I all way had my friend and crochet guru Kat, on hand if I really got stuck. 

Amazingly the process of re-making wasn’t a chore. I felt a buzz knowing that I was putting something right, doing it properly and I enjoyed the ‘work’ just as much the second time around. This was helped by the cables. I love knitting or crocheting cables, I never seem to be able to get away from the feeling that they appear like a little piece of yarny magic. 

I love the finished piece. It’s exactly what I’d been trying to buy for months, a comfy, warm cardigan, that can go over the top of a lighter one. I can use it almost as a jacket in the spring and autumn and am hoping that it stops me putting the heating on in the winter. It’s one of those, curl up with a book and a cup of tea pieces of knitwear and I am so pleased that I unraveled and started again. 

Unfortunately, it’s not the done thing to have a big badge that says “DO YOU LIKE WHAT I AM WEARING? BECAUSE I MADE IT!” Although, I think it should be. Thankfully, I have a blog, where I can basically do the same thing, from the comfort of a keyboard. 

Incidentally Kat has a new book out as part of The Crochet Project called Raw. I’ve already seen my next make in there.  

How to do a DIY kid’s party, without losing your mind

We do our own kid’s parties, mostly because I can’t bear the thought of paying out hundreds of pounds to a soft play venue, which is my personal idea of hell. However, kids love soft play and if this is what you do by choice then go for it. No judgement here, I promise, but if you like the idea of a DIY kids party, but have always been put off by the idea that it’s too much work, then I have a few tips for you. 

Firstly, a word about ‘Pinterest Parties’ because I will definitely be referring back to that. These are the perfectly styled in every detail parties that we all look longingly at on Pinterest and wonder how we can ever match up. That’s not really the type of party we do. I love a theme and I love Pinterest and I’ll go on to talk about why, but I can’t live up to the standard I see on some blog posts. Hats off to those who can, but don’t be put of doing your own party, simply because you don’t think it’s going to look good on the Internet! 

Hire a space

Whilst I’m all for doing a party myself, I don’t want it going on in my house! A small space is fine, preferably with a kitchen and if it has outdoor space or a playground near by that’s even better. I’m thinking community centres, village or church halls. They are often relatively cheap to rent for a few hours, ours costs £30 for the time we need it and that’s a price I’m willing to pay to be able to have my home stay party free. 

Have a theme
Children love a theme for their party, something they can really grasp hold of. Don’t be put off by a theme, it can really help you. It takes a lot of decisions away. If you know you’re doing a Pirate Party, then you can very quickly and easily stock up on pirate plates, cups, invitations and party bags. However, you don’t have to let your theme rule you. We always have pass the parcel and musical statues and they are basically the same whatever your theme might be. No child will turn their nose up at your party just because you haven’t themed every aspect. 

Start with a craft or sit down activity

Crafts are an absolutely brilliant way to start a party. They give the children something to do while everyone is trickling in. Your birthday boy/girl can greet their guests as the others get on with their craft. It’s also excellent for giving the shy children a chance to get used to their surroundings and they can be with their friends without having to interact straight away. This is the best reason to do it. Don’t worry about the complexity of the task. It could be something as simple as decorating their own party bag or a cut out hat that you’ve got ready beforehand. Avoid paint and glitter, for obvious reasons, but glue sticks, stickers and feathers are a perfect non-messy alternative. 

Pinterest is your friend – no really!

So, remember what I said about not having to keep up to the standard of a ‘Pinterest Party’? Well, that’s important to bear in mind, because, if used the right way Pinterest can really help you. It is absolutely jam-packed with ideas for games, cakes, decorations and themes. Take the bits you want, leave the bits you don’t. We have got so many ideas from Pinterest, that we have then adapted or simplified based on what we actually feel we have time to create.

Plan early

This one is really key, as it will totally take the stress out of the whole process for you. Plan what you want to do and then make a big shopping list of all the things you need. Then, settle down with snacks, a cuppa and a computer open on eBay and order everything. You don’t even have to leave your house to prepare for a DIY party. eBay is brilliant for craft supplies, themed stickers, party bags. I get a big box out and throw everything in it, as it arrives.

Remember who the party is for

Whilst Pinterest and many fantastic blog posts can be an excellent resource when planning your party, they can also make you feel like one huge fat fail. This is where I like to remind myself who the party is for. The guests are going to be somewhere between 4 and maybe 8. They are not going to notice every little detail. An area I like to keep this in mind is food. I don’t make food fit with the theme of the party, with beautifully caligraphied labels, when on many occasions the guests can’t even read. I always make a cake, because that’s me, that’s what I do and always have, but the rest of the food is a few sandwiches, party rings (because what is a party without party rings) some crisps. Oh, and number biscuits. If you follow my Instagram, you will know that everyone gets number biscuits on their birthday, even those with very big numbers.  

Kids are kids

We always have a few basic, traditional party games up our sleeves to fill time if we need and ever since Mini Mck was five, I’ve wondered if kids still like pass the parcel, musical statues and the like.  I can assure you, they really really do. Despite the huge range of entertainment that kids have at there fingertips in today’s world, they are really not so very different from us when we were their age. They still love a really simple party game, the noisier, the better. 

So, these are a few of my tried and tested party planning tips. I urge you to give it a go. The buzz that my kids get from having a birthday celebration that’s unique to them really is worth the work. If you already do your own DIY parties for your kids, do you have any tips to add in the comments? I’d love you to teach me something new that I should be doing? 

Bye Bye Baby

Everyone seems to have differing views as to when a baby becomes a toddler. Some seem to class their baby days as being over as soon as that first year is done, others when a child actually starts toddling or perhaps when they turn two. For me, it’s the absence of certain things. At two, Lady Mck was still feeding and in nappies and in a cot. I still kept the pushchair in the boot. In my mind I still thought of her as the baby.


Six months later it has become clear to me that we are no longer a household with a baby. She stopped feeding three months ago and a month later was out of nappies. I found an old bib in a bag the other day and went to put it in the wash and it suddenly occurred to me that she hasn’t worn a bib for months and so I binned it, with a whimsical sigh.

I felt the lasts from the moment she was born. I can remember, as my uterus painfully shrunk back to it’s ‘no baby’ size that I would never experience childbirth again, that I would never have that feeling of a person moving inside of me. An odd and unusual feeling and something that is hard to remember after the fact.

It’s a little bittersweet, but mostly I find the prospect of no more babies is something I feel fine about. As I edited thousands of old photos a few weeks ago, I found myself wondering where the time has gone and yearning to hold them all as tiny babies, once more. I find it so hard to hold on to this stuff in my memory. I guess that early time goes so fast, because we are gripped in a rollercoaster of love and transition, hormones and tiredness. It takes on a dreamlike state as I look back. I have become that woman who overly coos at random newborns and their parents and I really must get a a grip on that.


However, mostly, I find that I am loving this new stage of our family. By the time the boys were the age that Lady Mck is now, they had a younger sibling, or one was imminent. I have never had an older toddler at home by themselves and it is a real treat. We no longer have to think about pushchairs and changing facilities and the lack of the buggy in my car means we can actually fit the shopping in now! Lady Mck is able to play and learn and she is soaking up life. During school hours I don’t feel I am corralling a herd of children, it’s just she and I. When we wait for Nano to finish his drama class, she will happily do a sticker book, or play with a quiet, small toy. Stacking, threading, sorting, drawing and sticking can all amuse her for longer now. I am just holding out for the colouring stage and hoping she gets the bug, like her eldest brother did.

Despite, the odd yearning for a tiny new life, I know in my head and in my heart that we are done. Three is enough. In fact, I’ll be honest and say that three is hard, much harder than I imagined, but it is the right number for us. A few weeks ago, Nano was asking for more babies and Mckdad cruelly played along. My reaction to the idea of a fourth was telling and enfatic. It was a big NO from me.

And so, when those yearning come, I know that they are really just yearnings for time to slow down a bit, they are not real. What is happening now is what is real.

What I did this summer…..

Hello friends! Long time, no speak. How are you all? How was your summer? My blog break went on a little longer than I intended, mainly because I had lots of good intentions to write and finish off posts ready for publishing in September and do you know what I did instead? NOTHING! Not a word escaped my keyboard or pen and I switched off completely. It was a nice break, but the thing I missed the most was the connections. I miss my ‘people’. I found that by switching off my blog brain, it also switched off my social media brain and in the whole of August I posted only nine pictures to Instagram. I missed hearing about your lives and reading your blogs and I missed sharing the details of mine. It began to feel I would never want to write in this space again, but then, just as quickly as I needed a break, I suddenly felt ideas seeping into my brain and quickly wrote them down and then it just seemed easy to sit in front of the screen again. 

So, if I wasn’t noodling my time away on-line, what did I do this summer? And, as I’ve missed you all so much, what did you do? 

This summer I camped……

We kept our holiday low key this year. We’d really like to get a trailer for our camping stuff in time for next summer and take the plunge with a nice, long European trip, so this year we wanted to keep costs low and we couldn’t all fit in one car anyway. So, we took ourselves off to our favourite campsite, which is only 45 minutes away. We are so lucky to live where we do. As you will probably guess from my Instagram, I love living in Norwich, but we are so fortunate to be so close to the beautiful North Norfolk coast as well. We went twice for five days at a time. The first time with some lovely friends from school. A gaggle of crazy boys and our girl, who adored them all and we had a fabulous time. Then, we returned for some time with just the five of us. We were treated to the most glorious weather and truly felt there had been no need for us to venture further a field. 

This summer I watched a lot of Gilmore Girls…….and I mean a lot….

I had never watched a whole episode of Gilmore Girls until this summer. I had seen the odd bit on E4 over the years and had always found it deeply irritating. The quirky, fast, wise cracking way of talking seemed so contrived and I just never got it. However, so many people who I love, love it. People who definitely share my taste in TV and I just kept thinking that if they love it, surely I should. So, much like some unwelcome homework project, I decided I needed to give it a proper chance and watch some, from the beginning on Netflix. I am now totally hooked and was so after the first few episodes. I am no embarking on the last series. Yes, that’s right, I have watched six series of twenty two episodes! See, I told you, I watched a lot of Gilmore Girls.

This summer I crossed things of our big list…..

Last summer was the summer of painting after our loft conversions. What felt like acres of bare plastered wall that needed to be covered. This summer, we didn’t have a huge project. I’m not sure quite how I feel about that. There’s still so much we need to do in our house. I would love to wave a magic wand and have it all done, but sadly that’s not going to happen. However, this summer, we didn’t feel up for a big decorating project and so we made a effort to do some finishing off. We put things on the wall, we put up bookshelves, Mckdad made some more progress on his office, with shelves and lighting to make it a workable space. We tidied our shed…..a huge job and tidied the toy cupboard again. As a result of all this I bought lots of house plants. In fact, buying house plants should almost have a section to itself! 

This summer I pootled and pottered….

Six lovely weeks of mostly dry, sunny weather and very little in the way of plans was just what we all needed to recharge ourselves. We spent lots of those days pooling around at home, with some members of the family (Nano) deciding on these days that wearing clothes is so last year. We planned small, close to home activities. Mornings in the park, bike rides into the city, chips from the market, a morning at the allotment. We reminded ourselves that our children don’t need and we don’t want, great, expensive excursions and to be entertained every day they are not at school. We put the TV away and the lack of temptation meant that they all found other things to fill their time. We arranged for grandparents to have one or two of them and these changes in our family dynamic for a few hours were like a breath of fresh air. 

When I look back at our summer break, it’s hard to put my finger on what we really did do. In fact, it makes me a little sad that I didn’t take more photos. I know it was a good one, but in years to come, it’ll be the photos that remind me of why. You see, regardless of it’s bad reputation, social media has it’s place, at least it does for me and I imagine for you too?