I’ve made no secret of the fact that one of the sessions that I truly madly deeply adored at Blogtacular was Xanthe’s photo walk.  I take a gazillion pictures of my children and I love doing it; capturing their funny expressions, their joy at being in the moment, or those sometimes rather fleeting moments of sweetness between the two of them.  But I think in focussing on the children I sometimes forget to look up at the rest of the world with camera in hand.

I love the pictures that I took of people on our photo walk but I had just as much fun finding unusual angles on sculptures; looking up and out from behind the camera to look for the sights that you don’t let in when you’re plodding along in the every day, and it made me want to stretch myself a little, to find a way to make those photos more a part of my everyday.

I also realised how much more comfortable I am with my big camera than with my iPhone.  Practice and familiarity and a lot more practice means that I can pretty much set it up to take the shot I want, and if I don’t get it quite right I know how to tweak it in Lightroom, or I’m getting the confidence to let it go as a shot that just didn’t work out.  But phone photos I’m less confident about.  I see some of the stunning shots that people put up on Twitter and Instagram and wonder whether there’s some secret that I’m missing out on, or whether the camera on the newer phones is really so much better (I know, a bad workman blames her phone), but although I’m sure the iPhone 5 camera is truly a thing of wonder, I don’t think it’s the difference between mediocre pictures and those ones that take your breath away.

That, as with all these things, is a matter of practice.  And probably a little bit of genius, but we’ll go for practice as being the key before we all end up feeling terribly inadequate.

And so I set myself a little challenge.  Almost every day that I work, I drop the girls at their nursery, park the car on the road next door (hurrah for all day free parking) and walk down the hill to the station, catch the train to Birmingham and walk across town to my office.  And so I decided to take at least one picture for every walk to work.

They were all going to be iPhone photos, all of things that I see almost everyday, but seen with fresh eyes, not the jaded and slightly tired perspective of someone who would really rather be heading home for a nap.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

And the more I looked, the more I saw; the scraggy purple aubretia spilling out of a flower-pot and down a flight of steps; a number 20 hung all crooked that always made me smile; the black and white checkerboard steps and mint green door of the house on the corner; the enticing river walk under enormous shady trees; and the pure perfect green of the bowling club’s lawns.

When I first started I wondered whether I’d find enough of a subject matter, but it soon became habit, and then a welcome dash of creativity in the day.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

And I think my photography improved with it.  For all the pictures that made it onto Instagram there are many many more that didn’t; either because I never got time on the train or during the day to do the cropping and uploading, or because the photo just didn’t work out how I wanted it to (although if you’re interested in a fair few pictures of where a squirrel used to be, I’m more than happy to oblige!).

And then into my world walked not one but two Instagram colour challenges; #colourcolourlovers and #capturingcolour.  There are some amazingly stunning pictures in the streams for both hashtags, and it’s been so much fun forcing myself to think in terms of a particular colour as well as just spotting the beauty in the ordinary and everyday.  They’re both still running over the summer, and I’m not stepping back by any stretch of the imagination, but as I’ve done my last walk to work for a little while now, I wanted to have a little look back at the results of trying to stretch outside of my comfort zone.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

This was always a personal sort of a challenge; I started not knowing quite what I’d get out of it, whether I could keep it going, or what the results would be, and found it to be everything I wanted and more.

If you’re at all tempted to try something similar, firstly, you should definitely go for it, and secondly, I have a few top tips.

1. Clean the lens. It makes a difference.  The lens on the back of my camera is quite well protected by the case so it isn’t too bad but the one on the front is inexplicably covered in tiny toddler fingerprints and a few Mummy sized ones as well.  One baby wipe and a little polish with a stray muslin made a noticeable difference.

2. Lighting is everything.  I’m so used to being able to adjust the ISO on my big camera to get crisp shots in low light, or ameliorate overly bright sunshine, but you can’t do that with a phone.  Well not my phone anyway.  If you’re taking a picture in bright sunlight you need to have everything that you want in the light or you will get harsh shadows.  Better still, shoot in the shade, or in softer morning or evening light, or the shot your eye saw as utterly gorgeous turns out to be mostly black shade!

3.  The more you wander down the road with your iPhone in your hand taking random photos the less self-conscious you get about it.  It took me a couple of weeks to be brave enough to start taking pictures that included people’s window boxes or front doors, but after a while I realised no one cared what I was doing, or even really noticed.

4. Of all of my apps for processing, my favourite turned out to be PicTapGo.  I love that it saves your previous filter combinations so that you can easily repeat the same processing on a similar photo and that you can upload rectangular photos to the very square Instagram.

5. If a picture doesn’t work, don’t worry, just learn from it and move on, this is supposed to be fun.  I need to read this one myself I suspect; I never did get the picture of the thistle that I wanted and it took me at least a week to realise that it was because the light at 8am just wasn’t coming from the right angle to give me the kind of backlit halo I wanted, and I wasn’t prepared to be up at 6am just for a photo of a thistle.

5A. Don’t miss your train.  For starters, the next train doesn’t have free WIFI. For the record, I never did, or at least never just because I’d been taking photos, but there were a few scrambles along the platform!

And if you do decide to try something similar, let me know; I’d love to follow along.

 

I adored the library when I was a child; I have so many memories of borrowing huge piles from the school library for the summer, and then still going to Dartmouth or Kingsbridge Library every time Mum went to do some shopping to top up our book supply; and usually finishing at least one before we got home again, and I can only hope that my girls have half the affection for it that I did.

Every time we head to the Library Kitty, Elma and I have a little routine.  Kitty gets to press the buttons to return our books, then I get a quick squint at the cookbooks to scoop up anything new or exciting and then we all head down to the children’s library, Kitty racing ahead and Elma toddling as fast as she can in her wake.  The children’s library is blessed with a couple of wonderful big comfy sofas so I plonk myself down there with the cookbooks, Elma tries to decide whether she wants to sit on the froggy chair or the blue mouse, and then unpacks an enormous pile of baby books from the box onto the table and sits there flipping through them, while Kitty runs up and down pulling out anything that she thinks looks exciting and bringing it over for me to read.  And once I’ve decided whether I fancy borrowing any of the cookbooks there’s a little shelf next to the sofa that gets my attention.

New books.  Added to the library within the last month, usually published within the last six or so months and still with that gorgeous new book smell and new book feel before hundreds of tiny readers make them well loved and a  little worn.  There are plenty of books that I pass over, but if I spot something I think the girls would like it gets added to the pile, along with whatever board book Miss Elma seems keenest on, and a few of Kitty’s seemingly random, but utterly beloved choices.

And with our trip to London, and the girls’ trip to London Zoo with H, still very fresh in all of our minds and in Kitty’s daily storytelling, it seemed like The Queen’s Hat was just waiting for us.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

It’s one of many books published in the last year with a bit of a royal baby theme, but this one’s subtle about it, and so wonderfully whimsical and beautifully illustrated that we couldn’t but enjoy it.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

The Queen is on her way to visit someone very special, when her very favourite hat suddenly takes off,

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

and as that will never do, she sets off in quick pursuit, accompanied by increasing numbers of  the Foot Guards as they chase the hat all over London,

 

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

 

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

 

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

including through the Zoo!

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

It’s the sheer numbers of soldiers that keep turning up that make me giggle; there are just more and more and more of them, until at last the hat touches down, and the Queen makes it to Kensington Palace to take her someone very special for a nice calm walk!

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Space for the Butterflies: What We're Reading

 

And if you have a favourite, or just something fun your little ones have enjoyed reading lately please do join us. The linky is always open for the whole week so there’s plenty of time. And so, without further ado, it’s over to you to tell me what we should be reading!



It must be summer.

After all that can only be the reason why my Living Arrows posts have had somewhat of a theme recently. Because it’s been getting just a bit watery around here. I mean if it’s not moments in the splash pad, or baths in the garden, or sploshing at the beach it’s got to be playing at the play park in the rain.

Well to complete the set what more could you want but Grandma and Grandad’s paddling pool and the chance to play at being Elsa walking up the mountain in Frozen (just for a change!) doing giant enormous splashy kicks, sending showers of spray all over the lawn, and all over Mummy.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

 

 

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

She’s concentrating furiously in most of these pictures which always makes me smile, and on a hot hot hot sunny afternoon it was the perfect way to stay cool!

living arrows

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

It may be only just the number starting with a 7 in the morning, but when it’s summer, and it’s light, what more are two tiny and very awake little girls to do but head downstairs to see what adventures might await.  And well, it’s amazing what you can find in Grandma’s garage!

Once upon a time this little pram was Kitty’s sole domain; Elma couldn’t reach anywhere near it, and wasn’t walking, and Kitty herself could only just about manage to see over the top of the hood. But I think Elma has claimed possession, or at least has a most determined grasp on the handlebar, and it’s Kitty passing on the parenting skills, making sure Baby (all of Grandma’s dollies are called Baby) is nice and comfy and well tucked in.

20140719-202554-73554337.jpg

And then of course you need to make sure the hood is set exactly so, just in case the sun gets in Baby’s eyes;

20140719-202554-73554881.jpg

Or stopping to pat Baby’s head; I’m going to hope in a gesture of affection and comfort, more than ‘please just go to sleep now’!

20140719-202555-73555234.jpg

 

Kitty herself isn’t quite making the grand gesture of sisterly sacrifice that releasing the little pram to Elma might suggest; given that Grandma’s garage also revealed a rather gorgeous contraption.

Pram just doesn’t do it justice; this is a baby carriage of old school proportions brought down to miniature, and Kitty loves it.  She’d happily spend a morning pushing the hood up and down; tucking another Baby in and out of various covers, and she’s even reportedly been spotted pushing her sister around in it for a bit – and with more than enough space to do so!

But what the girls like best is to set off for a little walk together around Grandma and Grandad’s front drive, pushing their babies and chattering away.  Shades of an NCT group outing almost four years ago perhaps!

20140719-202556-73556513.jpg

If this were the only availble evidence, then I’d have to conclude that my little girls look set to be the most mini-mummy, caring, affectionate and baby-centric big sisters that a newborn could ever wish for; and see visions of them fighting to push the pram, stroke his or her head, and generally keep my mothering up to scratch.  And to a degree it might be true – at least in that I know the girls will adore Little Bump, want to give him or her kisses, and then get a bit frustrated when he or she can’t play with them yet, which I think is the definition of a pretty perfect 3 and 1 year old big sister; but I don’t think I’m going to be handing over full parenting responsibilities just yet.  You see after a nice gentle baby walk it seems that we move on to…

Buggy racing;

20140719-202556-73556152.jpg

And chasing;

20140719-202557-73557049.jpg

And pushing down the slope while shouting “Wheeeee!”

20140719-202557-73557599.jpg

I think we might just save all of this excellent exercise for when it’s Baby in the pram, although it has got me wondering whether I should sign the girls up for a Mums and Prams class along with me to get us all out in the fresh air in the autumn!

 

theordinarymomentsbadge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Joining in with {this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savour and remember.

To see more, check out the comments to Soulemama

Tagged with:
 

 

On Monday afternoon I took down my calendar, my photos of the girls, the card my senior partner sent me last autumn to mark, well let’s just call it a really long time with the firm, unearthed a Christmas card from underneath my telephone and packed them all in my bags along with my work shoes, the random detritus of working life that accumulate in the back of a desk drawer, and a few of my textbooks that linger on my shelves as a bastion against progress.  My work paperwork, the big sturdy holepunch that has a big CARIE sticker on it, and the stapler that says CATH all went in a document box to spend the next year gathering dust on the top of one of our bookcases, and my files were handed over to colleagues who received them with increasing looks of woe and panic.

And then I left to catch my train home.

And that was it.  Well sort of.  I kind of have a Blackberry that picks up work emails and I did give it a glance on Tuesday just to check that there wasn’t anything important and forward a couple of things on to the right people.

But technically I’ve finished work for a year, give or take a few months, and even in reality I know I’ll stop checking email and the Blackberry will be allowed to run out of battery and tucked away with its charger until next year.

And it feels really strange.

I don’t know why it should; I have done this twice before; two lots of handover notes, two lots of deciding who is best placed to run my files; two lots of emptying my desk and walking away; and yet I just can’t quite get my head around the idea that I’m not just taking a week’s annual leave for a well deserved rest, and I’ll be back before I know it.

Well the latter at least is probably true.

I’ve always tried to live by the concept that my profession is what I do, it is not what I am, but while I think that is an important distinction to hold on to, in that I am not, nor have I ever been, just my job (I’m a wife, a mother, a writer, a photographer, a creator, a woman of faith, a lover of cake, a recent convert to the merits of the German football team, and so many other things as well), I think it is disingenious to pretend that it is not a part of what makes me me.

And perhaps it is that, combined with the sudden stop, that can make it all feel so strange.  I’m lucky enough to have a job that for the most part I enjoy and that I’m good at.  And it takes up three days and a whole heap of other odd minutes, snatches of dreams and random moments of clarity over the washing up every week.  I knit a lot less than that and if I suddenly stopped knitting for a year I think that would seem more than bizarre, although for the record, I like knitting more, even in this crazy sauna heat!

There’s a concept in the world of Unschooling (which fascinates me even though I’m not sure I’d ever choose it for the girls) which says that when your children have been at school, and you decide to take them out of school and use Unschooling for their learning, you first have to do Deschooling; you have to get the schoolishness out of their system, trusting that the good bits of formalised schooling will stay there, and letting the child find their interests, find their drive and passion for learning again.

I think that might be what’s needed for the start of any maternity leave, particularly for anyone coming out of a high pressure or high profile job; a period of De-working.  So that’s what I’m going to try to do this week; de-work.

If it largely looks like taking it easy, doing a lot of sitting and knitting and thinking, well that’s probably what I need; a little time to think about the big things and the little things; to consciously let go of my caseload, to find the rhythm of days at home and to start to think and plan properly for this baby’s arrival, and then next week I can do all the crazy nesting things like cleaning out the car, and spending an entire day with H trying to make our studio useable, and having my sister come and visit and sort baby clothes.

Next week.  Just please baby, mind and stay put until then OK?

H and I are big fans of the theory that a little age-appropriate exposure to beautiful things is never going to be a bad idea. And so we take the girls to see lovely buildings (“is it Cinderella’s castle Mummy?”), and big wide open spaces with gorgeous views, and as we like to visit art exhibitions and drink in some of the amazing works of art that creativity, inspiration and a lot of paint can produce, we take the girls too.

I’m the first to admit that it doesn’t always work out, and sometimes we have to cut visits short or reroute to the nearest cake shop to recharge the batteries, but I think it’s important that Kitty and Elma know that such things exist, and that they are important to H and to me; that we have interests and hobbies that go beyond the daily grind, and in a way that we’re more than just parents, even if it will be years before they could actually articulate that as a thought.

And so when we went to London for our birthday weekend we went to see the Making Colour special exhibition at the National. Elma may have slept through a good chunk of it, and then been slightly startled given that she fell asleep in a taxi and woke up in a room full of purple paintings and pigment samples, but Kitty was intrigued.

We got her her own audio guide and she watched all the videos of pigments being made, and a whole basement flat filled with copper sulphate (think deep blue crystals covering every surface if you’ve forgotten your GCSE chemistry), but what she really seemed to enjoy in her children’s workbook was the I Spy section; looking for purple flowers, or a set of gold keys, or a painting of snow.  I had so much fun watching her enjoy herself around some of the paintings that I really love.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

And so when we saw the Art Treasure Hunt in the shop I knew it needed to come home with us as a little extra souvenir.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

It’s a book full of gorgeous art from all sorts of periods and styles and each one has a little list of things to spot and find in the bigger picture.  Some of them are easier than others; both girls are pretty good at finding the monkeys, the lions and the man playing a flute in the jungle picture,

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

but when you get to anything a bit more abstract, or a bit more detailed, it can take a while to spot one of the little squares.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

 

There are more than a few pictures that I find a real challenge to find all the details and I’m trying to be really good and just leave it for another day and not try to point it out to Kitty if she can’t find it; she’s got such a visual memory that if she’s seen it or been shown it once she’ll find it again by geography as much as by actually looking to match the pattern.  And so there are pages and clues that are just a bit beyond her at the moment, and we move on, or at least back to the jungle page!  I love that it means it’s a book that’s going to last; we’ll still be searching for clues for a good while to come!

Space for the Butterflies: What We're Reading

 

And if you have a favourite, or just something fun your little ones have enjoyed reading lately please do join us. The linky is always open for the whole week so there’s plenty of time. And so, without further ado, it’s over to you to tell me what we should be reading!



Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

There are days in this summer of ours that are frankly just a bit too hot for comfort.  I’d bottle them up to let out for a brief glorious wallow in sticky heat in the middle of winter if I could, but on a thundery Saturday when running around the grass by the side of the cricket pitch feels like wrestling treacle and all you really want to do is demolish a string of giant ice lollies until you stop wondering whether you accidentally wandered into a volcano, it’s definitely time to retreat to the pavilion, and the shade, and the benches.

And the fence.

You can peek through it, you can think about squeezing under it, you can climb up on it, you can try all sorts of gymnastics,

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

and it’s the perfect place for sharing sisterly confidences.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

But best of all, it’s the perfect vantage point for making yourself as tall as you possibly can, and gathering your biggest biggest voice, shouting a wonderful “Come on [Daddy's team]” in the direction of the batsmen.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Because I’m sorry to say I rather think they needed it!

living arrows

 

 

Tagged with:
 

Back when we first found out that we were expecting the Little Bump we told the girls that the baby would be here at the end of the summer, and as it was at that precise moment almost certainly pelting it down with rain and horribly chilly to boot they seemed happy enough to get their heads around the idea that this baby was a long term project and not something that was going to be happening in the next few days or weeks.

But now that it is summer, in all of its sunshine, and sticky humidity and glorious long light evenings, the possibility of an imminent arrival appears to have occurred to Kitty again.

“Mummy? Is it summer yet?”

“Yes, love.”

“Is Baby Pinky coming today?”

“No love, not today.”

“What about tomorrow?”

“Well tomorrow our friends are coming for a BBQ, so no, not tomorrow.”

“And the day after that?”

“Well that’s the day you go to nursery, and then the days after that we’ll see Gran and Grandad so probably not then either.”

“Oh”

“You know it might be a few more weeks before the baby arrives don’t you?”

“But what about tomorrow?”

I think she might just be a little bit keen to meet this new brother or sister; she’s still adamant that it’s a sister, and going to be called Pinky, and it’s rubbing off on Elma – if you ask Little Miss E who’s in Mummy’s tummy she’ll either say “Baybee; bay bee seesta!” or “Minnie Mou!!!”

But the moments I love and treasure are the spontaneous ones; the time when Kitty insisted that H buy five animal masks in the London Zoo shop because we’d need one for Baby Pinky as well as Mummy, Daddy, Kitty and Elma;

when she tells me off for buying things in fours; when she told me that because I’d had an ice lolly after lunch, the baby had had just a little lick of it, and “she thinks it’s yummy!”;

when she ran into Elma’s room one morning, said hello to her sister and then grabbed my bump with both hands and bellowed, “Good Morning Baby Pinky” at my belly button;

or the time that she ran into a bump update photoshoot, just because she wanted to give the baby a kiss.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

No baby is ever going to be so adored by his or her big sister!

theordinarymomentsbadge

PS – I take my bump photos with a remote trigger on a timer; I’d fired the trigger and it was counting down when Kitty came barrelling in – hence the fact that I’m holding her wrists; I’m trying to stop her hitting the bump full tilt, because that hurst when it’s Elma, let alone Kitty!