Having a vocation

old typewriter

I recently read this post by Sara over at Mum turned Mom. She discusses her difficulties with pronouncing to the world that she is a ‘writer’. I understand. I haven’t thought much about how I label myself in recent years, preferring to just live out each day and fulfil each role necessary (you know the score: care-giver, cook, cleaner, employee, nurse, driver, decision maker, party planner, and on, and on…) but nowadays I manage to squeeze in ‘blogger’ and ‘reader’ and ‘commentator’ too.

The problem Sara has is that she loves to write, she lives to write, but she isn’t a paid and published author. I’m the same and it got me thinking about vocation. I believe this word, this concept, has been commandeered by the careers police – those who would seek to define each person by what they do to earn their money.

I knew from an early age that I was in love with words, reading voraciously and writing for pleasure. I was steered through otherwise murky career waters by my Mum who could see what I had in me, even while I was floundering and being seduced by the idea of a Media Studies degree (pah ha ha!). I studied journalism ‘vocationally’ (at HND level) and then, disillusioned with mass market periodicals, I turned back to education and stuck my head firmly back into a *lot* more books in the shape of a four year literature degree which I loved and which I will never regret despite it doing absolutely sod all to show me which way to face as the subject of career choice once again loomed large. For me, delving into literature was like lifting a dark curtain on the rich cultural fabric of life.

At this point, I’ll throw my hands up and admit it – I’ve been a bit lazy OK? I could have done more with my life career-wise. I happen to believe that I’m as good a writer as plenty of people out there who get paid handsomely for the privilege of wearing ‘writer’ as their no.1 hat. The difference is in the drive but I still see ‘writer’ as my true vocation in life as defined in the dictionary thusly:
“an occupation to which a person is specially drawn or for which he or she is suited, trained, or qualified”. If you want (or are able or inclined) to earn money from this occupation then great, but if you don’t, why should that make it any less a part of who you are and for that matter, who you claim to be?

Because I was timid, crippled by self-doubt and woefully lacking in useful contacts as a very young woman, then lost in the detritus of everyday life, I never thought too long and hard about ‘making it happen’. Since that time I have been overtaken by munchkins intent on gathering up my rolling marbles, lost through a combination of childbirth and enforced custody in the padded cells of soft play, and they’ve been demanding a ransom of Peppa Pig ice lollies and Actimels in order to return them.

But finally some kind of fog is clearing. Reading and engaging with others who are pushing themselves forwards into a brave new world in which they embody their true vocation – well its opening my eyes to the possibilities.

And despite everything I have said about being a bit lazy and lacking a bit of drive, I know I can achieve great things – after all I completed a 20,000 word post-graduate dissertation on the subject of Information Overload (!) so just imagine what I could do with a subject I was truly engaged in…

 

Mama and Mored

The big fifth pirate party!

Pirate party spread

So it’s finally happened  – the event that I dreamt up and began planning months ago is over – and my little boy is suddenly a big five-year-old schoolboy!

This is the fourth party I’ve thrown since having children (JJ had a second birthday party and EJ has had a 1st and a second) and with each experience I am learning how to be better and make it more impressive and at the same time stress-free. I spoke about the idea of a ‘kids party life hack‘ when I was preparing for EJ’s big circus party back in July, but even then I hadn’t got it quite right, giving myself the most massive headache of preparing 23 clown cake pops (and me, a complete cake pop virgin!). This time round I opted for marshmallow pops – just as impressive to look at but soooo much easier to make (assuming you have the right tools for the job)! Here’s a shot of my little army:

Pirate pops

I also bought a fair bit of party ware and the Pirate theme is awesome because there are so many different places that carry pirate party wares and you can shop around. I got some of mine from the online party site Party Pieces, some more cheaply from Amazon and even some from the 99p shop!

The one thing JJ had specified as a non-negotiable was a bouncy castle with a slide. I managed to source one with a pirate theme!

I also chose to bake a cake from scratch this time round and found an easy chocolate cake recipe (it really is very easy – I’ve made three of them!) but opted for some ready made chocolate fudge icing to cut down on the faff of one more little job. I really dislike fondant icing; although it looks absolutely amazing when people sculpt and design it into amazing pieces of artwork, I’m all about the fact that it’s a cake for goodness sake and should look and taste like a yummy cake in my opinion! I decorated it by creating a homemade pirate bunting topper (the skull and crossbones got a bit washed out by the glue unfortunately) an X marks the spot in Smarties and a pack of five pirate themed candles which was perfect as it was his fifth birthday! It had been my intention to buy a cake stand of some sort but in the end I covered a small tin in red paper and created some more pirate bunting to go round it, then sat the cake on top. It would have been nicer if the platter it sat on hadn’t just been the plastic tupperware lid of the cake box but that’s where my imagination ran out I’m afraid!

I had felt that things had fallen a little flat at EJ’s party to begin with because of the fact that I hadn’t really planned any organised games, so this time I chose to package up a pass the parcel. I had planned for there being up to 22 children involved, all needing at least one turn at the ripping (and subsequent Haribo mini prize). In the event there were probably about 16, what with the toddler drop outs and a few no-shows and I’d also completely forgotten to bring any music so attempted to run the game using music on my iPhone (not nearly as loud as I’d hoped!!). It all got a bit tedious as I’d suspected it might, and I was constantly distracted by this and that no one could say that it was the most organised game ever invented! Still, at least now I know for future reference that it’s not worth the bother when there’s that many children!

Other than that and an attempt to get some parachute games going, I basically left them to it. When there’s a massive bouncy castle outside a big hall, balloons bouncing around and a constant flow of tea coming out to all the mums and dads, you don’t really need structure – everyone seemed to be having a lovely time!

After the faff at EJ’s party with the food I opted for simple individual lunch boxes for the party tea this time, filling each one with either a ham or cheese sandwich, a bag of grapes, a bag with a few cocktail sausages, a packet of Hula Hoops and an individual jelly pot. Then they were offered a very lovely looking cupcake thanks to Mr Sainsbury (which I’d jazzed up with some pirate flags!).

The lovely thing about this party was that so many of JJ’s friends could make it and even his cousins travelled up from 60 miles away to join in and this was the first time that they’d all been together for a party so we made the most of the opportunity for a little portrait opp!

Pirate party cousins portrait

Another slight fiasco of the ‘herding cats’ variety (two two-year-olds – what can I say?!) but at least we got them all together if not smiling and facing the camera!

Despite my mum advising me not to give myself a headache with too much planning and prep and asked whether everyone goes to this much trouble, I actually enjoyed putting it all together and enjoyed the experience of throwing this amazing party for my little boy. I hope it will be a lasting memory for him.

By strange coincidence one of JJ’s friends (who’s just a couple of days older than him) was having his own party the day after this and not only that but another pirate party! It was an eye-opening experience to see how my friend interpreted essentially the same brief. She is super creative and she’d built a massive pirate ship out of cardboard:

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I was suitably gob- smacked! The party was the anti-thesis of mine – run like clockwork, like a military operation with games from musical squares (which was really good fun for the kids!) to the ubiquitous pass the parcel (with real music!) and a big ‘dig for pirate treasure’ in the sandpit.

Lovely ideas but I felt it wasn’t my style to be so structured and that’s not just an excuse, I really think that the structure and organisation side of it would be the biggest headache for me and I just wanted to make sure that our guests were fed and watered and given the tools to entertain themselves essentially!

I think if I were to throw another children’s party in the future I would consider hiring an entertainer (although this is an expensive option) as the children do enjoy the games but at the same time it frees you up to socialise with the parents and relax a bit. Having said that maybe future parties will be ones where the parents don’t hang around!! :-/ now there’s a scary thought!!

When all is said and done, this is what makes it all worthwhile:

Pirate party birthday boy

One happy little Birthday Boy!

 

Word of the week: Arrrrrgghhhh!

(Said in a Pirate stylee!). Or the word of the week could equally be ‘big’ or ‘school’ or transition as Wednesday was JJ’s first day of Reception class at his new infant school and he loved it!

First day at school!

This has also been a week of ramped up preparations for his *fifth birthday* party which is all happening tomorrow! He asked for a pirate party but his strongest and most insistent desire was that there be a bouncy castle with a slide! I’ve managed to source one with a pirate theme so that should make one little ‘big’ boy very happy!

In the meantime I have:

  • Baked a test chocolate cake (I’m not a very seasoned baker so I wanted to give it a go and it turned out to be the first cake I haven’t incinerated from the bottom third down!). It was then devoured by my work colleagues…Test cake
  • Here’s the topper I made for it:

Pirate cake bunting

 

  • And I tried my hand at some Pirate marshmallow pops (soooooooo much easier than cake pops!!) (but still not easy to do perfectly!)

Pirate marshmallow pops

I have also created a few jazzed up decorative touches to some other bits and bobs – there will be pirate gold, eye patches and ‘pirate punch’ for all!

I’ve put a lot of effort in but I appreciate that it all looks a bit home-made! Oh well, as long as my little boy enjoys himself that’s all that matters.

What word best sums up your week?

 

The Reading Residence

Creativity in the garden

Lion ball toss

This week I wanted to design and craft a game for EJ’s upcoming circus-themed birthday party. As I’ve mentioned before I had already ruled out pass the parcel as an option – a lot of faff for about 15 minutes of paper shredding as far as I can see! I looked around for some other options to keep the kids busy and I wondered about some sort of ‘beanbag toss’ game. I noted that we had an old discarded cardboard box just about the right size and quickly decided that an open-mouthed lion would be perfect.

Unfortunately I ran out of time on my day off and was unable to get started on this whilst the children were both out, but I hate to leave anything undone on my to do list so I thought I’d just throw caution to the wind and crack on with it in their presence.

At first they weren’t really bothered (when I was cutting out paper and gluing it to the box and then pencilling in the design) but as soon as I got out the paints and brushes JJ was there, wanting to get involved.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love that he wanted to help, but there was no way I was going to let him mess up my hard work (this kind of thing is retailing for about £18 on eBay – albeit it more professional looking and made of wood!). So I did the next best thing and squeezed out four different coloured paints, some paper, and took them all outside into the garden (thank goodness for summer!).

Of course EJ then immediately wanted to join in and, as he was already stripped down to just his disposable nappy, how could I refuse?

What happened next is probably just about standard for a four year old and one year old. They created masterpieces! And then they created havock by painting themselves from head to foot, painting the garden table and having to be grappled into the bath.

JJ masterpiece

EJ masterpiece

EJ painted

Later on, once all that remained was a slightly jaundiced pair of munchkins and EJ was tucked up in bed, JJ came down for his milk and snack and I called him back out into the garden to try out the newly completed game. I quickly realised that beanbags would not be required as the old ball pit balls we had in the shed make acceptable missiles! To be honest I wasn’t expecting the game to be massively enthralling, but how wrong was I?! JJ absolutely loved it and spent about an hour just practicing his shot! (I think he is secretly gearing up for an ‘unexpected’ win at the party!).

JJ ball toss 2

This little bit of creativity, both for them and for me, has been a long time coming but I’m so glad that I finally made the effort. Hopefully we will be able to do a bit more of this messy stuff before the summer is out!

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Love the Little Things Week 10

READ

I wish I could say that I’d had my head buried in a good book this week but unfortunately that is not the case. However I have had something lovely to read in the shape of JJ’s pre-school ‘transition to school’ report. According to this he is very sociable, not afraid to approach either other children or adults and initiate a conversation, and his favourite imaginative game (unbeknownst to me) is ‘Travel Agents’! I already know that he is capable of getting dressed and undressed unaided, going to the loo, etc. Essentially he is totally ready for the transition to school (we’re lucky because he turns 5 in September). Momentous events!

WATCHED

utopia

I was excited to discover that a second series of the cult classic ‘Utopia’ is being aired on Channel 4 (I’m already a week behind!). Finally, something on telly which credits it’s viewers with a brain whilst at the same time entertaining and shocking in equal measure. For the uninitiated (you need to watch the first series on catch up) it is essentially a conspiracy thriller which kicks in in Series 1 with three young people coming together through their love of cult comics and finding themselves suddenly unplugged from their day to day lives and on the run from a shadowy organisation known as ‘The Network’. To say any more would be a spoiler but it’s fabulously written and directed – think Tarantino – and I love the fact that the writer has, in the first episode of Series 2, tied in real life events from the 70s and even fictionalised a real event – to me, that’s clever and engaging writing. I warn you though, if you love rabbits and are easily upset, this may not be for you! 😉 Apparently this has been picked up by the Americans and is going to be re-made for the US by David Fincher (director of S7even and Fight Club) and written by Gone Girl writer Gillian Flynn – that shows just how good it is!

WORE

I’ve been on the lookout for a ‘statement’ necklace for a while having been suitably impressed by several Little Loves posts. Up to now I’ve mostly stuck to classic dainty silver chains with pretty, but unassuming charms and gemstones. But I like the big difference a statement piece can make to a simple outfit and I think it’s worth spending a bit of money on some nice ones and saving money on clothes by sticking to plain tees and tops.

new necklace

When I saw this one (M&S!) I was intrigued. I’m normally drawn to circles for some reason, and not straight lines, so I had to force myself to pick this up initially (I liked it for being so colourful). As soon as I held it up to myself I knew it was ‘the one’. It has an Aztec-y feel to it and I love the way the gold pieces at the bottom of each strand flash when they catch the light.

HEARD

I’ve had this song ‘Changes’ stuck in my head ever since hearing it during the World Cup – never heard of Faul or WAD AD or Pnau before but it’s such a catchy tune and it’s a great one to have as background music – which I guess is why it was chosen as the official song of the FIFA World Cup…

MADE

I didn’t have much free time for cooking this week but the circus party prep has been rolling on and I was very pleased with myself for designing and creating this little beauty from scratch:

Lion ball toss 2

It’s a Lion ball toss game – essentially you just have to see how many plastic balls (the ball pit variety) you can chuck in! I was going to put together a pass the parcel but seriously? What is that all about other than sucking up time and energy with endless shopping for the right prize, all the little token prizes in each layer and then wrapping the equivalent of about 15 presents?? Why do people do this??! Instead I have this lion game, I’ve shamelessly bought a parachute for some more fun activities, EJ has a circus big top tent as a pressie which will be taken along and I’ve got a ‘pin the nose on the clown’ too. Other than that they will have to entertain themselves and make do with party bag goodies!

I also knocked up a few of these:

moustached!

They are probably going to be absolutely destroyed by pre-schoolers in a matter of seconds but I’ve had fun making them and hopefully we might be able to catch a cheeky fun picture or two!

AND LASTLY…

I finally got the chance to visit my lovely cousin and her 6 week old baby this week! I have to admit, despite having two of my own, I’m not really a ‘little baby’ person – they tend to smell the fear on me and scream the second I come near them… On this occasion it was different – I don’t know if I’m more of an old hand having two, or if I just felt more comfortable as he is a member of my family but I loved having a cuddle with him and he even fell asleep on me (! Unheard of – even my own children never did that 🙂 ).

mother and child

Happy Friday Little Loves!

 

butwhymummywhy

The B&W Photography Project: Boy on a scooter

Scooter fun

When I heard about the Black and White Photography Project over at Podcast Dove it prompted me to figure out how to set my camera to take black and white photographs. I was over at my parents’ with the boys and it was a very bright sunny day. The boys have both been given a scooter each for their upcoming birthdays and decided to give them a bit of a whirl in the courtyard garden. I have to admit I got completely carried away with experimentation – before I started outside I had taken about half a dozen ‘studies’ of little aspects of my parents’ home and then, once the boys got going, I followed them around, made it into a game and snapped away as they whizzed about, attempting not to become a victim of a hit and run!

This was one of the favourites I took in black and white because there are some strong dark and light elements here and I love the vivid shadow and the black lines of the paving slabs. There is a sense of motion and fun here. I know it’s completely amateur but I hope it shows some potential!

I is for…invitation #alphabetphoto

invitation (circus)

Or ‘invitation in the making’! After I decided to go with a circus themed party for EJ’s second birthday celebrations I thought I’d try my hand at a home-made card. Unfortunately we don’t have a printer which makes life a bit trickier sometimes – I can’t just print off the fonts I would like, etc. but I had fun drawing the design anyway! I think if anything I will use this design for the thank-yous as I’ve already created a Facebook Event (unfortunately not everyone is on Facebook!).

(Please excuse the hastily edited details section – who knew there were so many shades of white and grey in a photo of white paper!).

Joining up with the Alphabet Photography Project over on Podcast The Doves

Kids Party ‘Life Hack’

Birthday Cake mummy!

Does anyone else look at some of the stuff on Pinterest and feel a) stunned that other people have the time, skill and creativity to create childrens’ rooms that look like they were designed and commissioned for a Terence Conran photo shoot, or handmade toys, clothes and artefacts straight out of a glossy magazine, b) just a wee bit inadequate?

I’ll admit it, in my ideal world I would not be so rich that I could pay for a professional to do this for me, I would do it myself – brilliantly! But unfortunately I’m a bit lazy and I don’t have much free time.

I know people make their own party decorations and gifts to save money, be thrifty and frugal, but I think they primarily do it because they like to feel like Supermum for a day, show off their hidden talents and prove to the world that they are the loving, crafty, best mums in the world.

But I say screw that – if you’re a bad mum like me, get a life hack. I have to admit I only recently became aware of the life hack phenomenon – but the concept has always existed and it’s great if you don’t mind a bit of cheating and lying! Essentially it is shop bought, jazzed up to look like homemade. Or, if you want to be a bit kinder to yourself, it is ‘customisation’.

So EJ turns two at the end of July and I’ve given myself a mere three weeks to plan and organise his party (other than booking the hall and inviting a few friends – go me!). Over the weekend I began pondering on a theme (gotta love a theme!). I didn’t want a generic Disney or Cbeebies party – maybe in the past that was OK (JJ had Disney Cars for his 2nd Birthday) but since I started blogging (and signed up to Pinterest) my horizons have expanded a little and I have developed some quite specific tastes. Anything vintage to do with childhood works for me, but I also love bright, multi-colours.

I figure that with my last child at age 2 this is probably my final chance to make all the decisions – from here on I’ll have to grudgingly accept the fact that my children are developing their own tastes. I guess you can choose their room theme when they’re young and naiive adaptable, proudly plaster it all over t’internet, but how often do you see parent bloggers showcasing their teens’ murky dens? I don’t know, maybe they do but somehow I can’t see anyone being too quick to share images of dirty pants hung over the end of beds, old applecores flung carelessly on the floor and piles of unfinished homework lying forlorn on desks strewn with hair product and glitter nail polish, while black walls advertise obscure bands?  (I’m guessing).

But I digress.

My first thought on party theme was cowboys/Wild West – a theme that can be adapted and vintaged up to your heart’s content. But it is a bit samey – cowboys, horses…I suppose I could have hired one of those mechanical bucking broncos you see on hen nights as a refreshing change from a bouncy castle… What was that? Did someone mention the word ‘law-suit’? Yes, you’re probably right.

Then I hit on a stroke of pure genius – ‘A Day at the Circus’ – I love it! It’s child friendly, it’s vintage, it’s multi-coloured, it involves lions and fire-eaters (law-suit again? Oh right – better scratch that off the to-do list) and best of all, it’s hackable! OK I admit, one thing it’s not is original (just go to Pinterest and type in ‘circus party’ – this is where I’ve been all weekend).

So far I’ve bought the basics – themed cups, plates, table cloth, some red & yellow balloons, party blowers, 10 metres of bunting, a miniature big top tent (quickly checks bank balance). I’ve even got my Ringmaster’s outfit sorted – that is the kind of sh*t mum I am – got my priorities all wrong (it’s not ‘sexy ringmistress’ though, that really would be beyond the pale, even for me!).

So where’s the ‘hack’ you may ask. Well, it’s the cake that bothers me. I’ve seen some works of true genius during my little online odyssy, let me tell you. But it occurred to me that they aren’t really cakes at all. They are works of art – it would be a bloody travesty to sink a knife into one of those creations. Besides which I am not talented enough and I would end up with something that looked like it was thrown together by a small child.

circus cake - professional

I toyed with the idea of attempting one of those in yer face 6 or 7 layer rainbow sponges…

rainbow cake

and then I got real. I don’t have the time, equipment or food colourings for that. My oven can only cook a sponge through by charcoaling the bottom third, and I’m not sure that rainbow with additional black stripes would impress anyone… Keep it simple – that’s where I’m at right now. I’ll concentrate on one lovely chocolate sponge – chop the bottom third off and then plaster it in whippy white frosting. The decoration will be colourful and there will be a home-made bunting cake topper!

This is what it might look like in my imagination:

'easy' circus cake

As a little additional extra I’m also going to make my own strong man moustaches on sticks for a bit of photo-booth action! (And thereby save myself about £5).

moustache on stick

I was thinking home-made cupcakes, cupcake toppers and a ‘feed the lion’ beanbag toss but come on now, let’s not let this hacking nonsense get totally out of hand!

 

badmumsclub

We’re not in Kansas anymore! Or, “the one where I got my blog re-designed”…

Well you might have noticed that things have changed a bit around here! That’s because the blog’s had a bit of a face-lift by the wonderfully talented Helen at Ellie Illustrates. I had been noticing Helen’s unique talents popping up all over the blogosphere and I had a little theme in mind that I wanted to work into my blog but I have zero artistic talent myself (and little idea of how to migrate a self-drawn picture onto a blog either!) so I thought I’d go professional!

As I think I might have mentioned before I love my Dorothy shoes:

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And as it happens, I also love The Wizard of Oz. The story is such a lovely allegory with such vivid characters and memorable themes. It really speaks of those angst filled teenage years when we don’t really know where we’re going, who we’re going to be or how we’re going to get there.

Here is my initial sketch which I sent Helen:

075

For the purposes of this blog, I’ve adapted the theme – essentially I’m a mummy who found parenthood a bit of a shock to the senses, I was whisked into a whirlwind of breastfeeding, dummies, bibs and bouncers and its only my trusty Costa lattes that have seen me safely through the baby years!

I love the bold, unmistakably Ozian (?) colour palate – YELLOW brick road, RUBY slippers and EMERALD city. I will no longer be referring to my children as monkeys but munchkins henceforth.

I feel like I’ve finally found my online identity!

 

Creative Challenge