Category: Uncategorized

New Year.

So New Year brings all kinds of feelings to the surface for lots of people. Fo rme, it makes me want to create. I want to get out in the garden and clear the ground for the spring. I want to walk next to frosty banks of ferns and watch brown water roll over rocks and silver stones. I want to catch my breath from the cold fresh air.

So I’m going to update my blog and update my practice, as an artist and creative person. I’m a mother and an Aspie and a carer and a gardener and all of those things at once. As soon as I can work out where all my posts actually *are* on the site, I’ll back them up and try to find a nice new theme that will reflect my word for 2016: Grow.

The Nutcracker; or, How to do Theatre with non-NT family.

When I was 6, I had already been attending ballet classes for three years. I don’t think I saw a ‘real’ live ballet for several years but a small troupe from Scottish Ballet did visit our local community centre & I was thrilled. Their power and grace had me hooked and I studied seriously until I was about 12 and suddenly too tall and self-conscious to even think of going on stage. Given the hours of practice and four classes every Saturday – in addition to weekly sessions – you can imagine that it was rather a wrench.

Wee Bear also enjoys ballet but thankfully shows no signs of my obsessional, over serious personality. Her non-NT (neuro typical) attitude saves her from many pitfalls and this is one. However, it means she can’t really manage normal theatre performances – well, I can’t with her. The talking, questions, constant need for motion, etc make it very hard for me to relax & let’s face it, other people don’t pay to have a curly haired child bobbing up & down in front of them for two hours.


The Festival Theatre here in Edinburgh don’t do autism friendly performances of this show but they super kindly offered to put us in one of their boxes, so nobody would be disturbed by our antics.

We started our outing with eggs benedict for daddy & chips for Wee Bear & I. I hadn’t been to the City Cafe for years & they were very friendly and relaxed, plus they have a splendid view from the first floor down the Bridges to Register House.


Of course, eating is one of our current challenges but chips are fairly safe.


Waiting to get to our box was a bit challenging but I could see her relax once we were safe inside. No pictures of the performance obviously although there are pictures on the Scottish Ballet website . At two hours long I would say it’s maybe 30 minutes more than we cope with and the performance does end with an actual bang, which I wish we had known about, although she coped very well (and was already sitting on my knee).


Nothing was too scary and the staff were very kind and caring when booking. I’d certainly go again and it’s definitely worth asking about if your child has challenges. I also found it overwhelming to be honest, when leaving: we haven’t dealt with such big crowds for a long time and it’s not entirely positive but her evaluation of the day was “brilliant”, which is all that counts.

An Open Letter to Sainsburys

I don’t go in for these sort of ‘open letter’ posts but I’m hoping I’m not the only parent who feels the same.


Dear Tu clothing at Sainsburys

I wonder if you could do me a huge favour. Please extend the range of your ‘toddlers/little girls’ clothing up to and including an 8. At least. I am asking because my daughter wears size 7 clothes and I’m not yet ready to see her turn into a 1D t-shirt wearing, hot-panted, monochrome wearing pre-teen.

I realise that your market research may tell you something different. I realise that there are lots  of young girls who watch Strictly and X-Factor and other shows where there are fashionably dressed women and they want to look like them and their teenage siblings or friends. I realise that there are plenty of parents who are happy to have their children wearing the baggy harem pants and sleeveless tops and bling-ed up belts and more mature looking clothes. That’s all fantastic, it’s their choice. But I’m asking for a choice.

You haven’t, as far as I know, ever given us the horrors of slogan T’s that demand girls are kissed or only interested in boys. Thankfully, it’s puppies and bears and the odd pop group or cartoon. No, you’ve not crossed that line.

What I’m begging for is the chance to keep my little girl looking her age for a bit longer. Or at least let me pretend that very soon I won’t have to face the horrors of Monster High type pouting and swaggering and posing and everything that goes with being a pre-teen because you know what, they don’t really exist if we don’t buy into that. And I won’t be buying into that. Not ever.

The reason I’m asking you is because your little girl clothes are truly gorgeous – the colours are perfect – bright but not gaudy, flattering to tiny faces but not too insipid. The styles are appropriate – no ‘bra type’ tops, all just right for the age, comfortable dresses, leggings, matching sets. This week I particularly fell in love with a soft jersey hoodie that was lined with fleece, trimmed with fur and had an adorable girl applique on the front. The biggest size was age 4-5 and yet there’s no reason a 8 year old girl wouldn’t wear that. Along with it was a range of co-ordinated printed cotton tops and leggings, which my LO lives in full-time when not at school. We bought the burgundy/black versions but you know what, it looks weird. She’s 6, not 16. Not even 11.

Please: you do the little one’s clothes SO DAMN WELL – won’t you consider extending the age range, to allow our girls to be girls, not “pre-teens” or “little women” for as long as they need to be?

Thank you.

p.s. Not all women are shaped like eggs on legs or want to wear dresses that show off their knees. Just so you know.


Edinburgh Festival: learning & fun outdoors – Day 4

One of the great – and I do mean great – things about living in Edinburgh is the annual August Festival. I love it. We don’t go to grown up shows any more but we do three or four children’s shows and I’m going to say without hesitation they are far better than any grown up performances I’ve seen in the past. Ever.  Wee Bear has been going to shows for about three years now and loves theatre and performance.

As a last ‘hoorah’ to our official homeschooling experience (for now), I’ve decided that I’ll use the festival as a learning time. We missed Friday (kick off) but on Day 2, she went to the Pleasance courtyard and spent a few hours colouring badges, making a t-shirt and handpuppet and befriending a five year old. Most – if not all – of the learning is about making friends and dealing with kids who are hopped up on being out with grown ups and sugar. She usually copes well, although today (Day 4) was hit and miss… we dealt with a girl who really *didn’t* want her to join in the gang but with admirable perseverance, she wouldn’t give in, even when she had to take a break for a minute or two… in the end though, with no ‘new friends’ in sight, we headed round the corner from the BBC Potterrow area to discover two fantastic free acts.

The first were two performers from New Zealand, the Hoop Hooligans – in spite of a modern architectural gale blowing that meant we had to put our jackets on, we really enjoyed these guys. Thank you for making her smile!

Second – and only a few yards away – was a short excerpt from Brush (reviewed here) a Korean show involving a lot of paint, some very amusing clowning performances and a lovely looking piece of art. Wee Bear insists that we go tomorrow, so Fringe performers, take note: do a freebie show outside, you will definitely get more sales (if you are any good, and of course children’s shows are fantastic). If you’d like to buy tickets for Brush, always use the official Fringe website & have fun!20140804-191938-69578784.jpg

Movie-Inspired dress(es)

So this house, like many others, is fond of a film about two sisters, two boys and a snowman… Yes, Frozen has taken up home here too. I’d not say she was obsessed but we do know all the words to “Let it go”…

Finding costumes that fit and are play friendly is impossible, so I decided to make them!

20140605-093005.jpg the new embroidery machine means that it’s possible to recreate bodice and skirt designs that really look good (instead of faffing about with paint and stencils) and can cope with playtime!

20140605-093144.jpg I added an extra underskirt layer, complete with ruffled net, for extra foof, but if she was a real climber I might leave this off – it looks good without it too.

20140605-093321.jpg it comes with a peasant style, pull on cotton top, although I’m planning a stretchy jersey version too that looks a bit more like the film – anything for a bit of variety!

20140605-093514.jpg and in the back I put a serious zip! I know Velcro is easier for the little ones but isn’t it frustrating when it gets covered in fluff and won’t come off or fasten properly? Although yes, Velcro would be easier…

20140605-093711.jpg yes, one very happy little girl, no feeling guilty about buying something from a sweat shop in the Far East, something that fits.. I think it’s a win! Now to persuade her to let me take it to the Mayfield Salisbury Playgroup summer fair this weekend… And make a mannequin for it.. And and and. Can I have an extra day please?

Happy Mothers Day

I’m up too late again: it’s not quite midnight but will be by the time this is posted, thanks to the heinous installation of British “Summer” Time. The coinciding of both our annual celebration of motherhood and the moving of ‘time’ so that children under the age of 12 will be simultaneously exhausted and up earlier (5.45 am anyone?) is in poor taste.  I’m grateful that for us at least, there will be no mad dash to get to school for 8am, as neither Wee Bear or I are larks.

retro mum

Since my mini-me won’t be here, my Mother’s Day present this year is a chance to attend Matins and the full Liturgy in our local Church. I will wake up, say my prayers, walk briskly the two miles through a beautiful part of our city and (I hope) get there in time to enjoy the hymns for St John of the Ladder, as it’s now the fourth Sunday in Lent.

sewing machine

I did fail, however, to post my own dear mum’s card in time and have failed to be inspired (or have time) to make her something to hand over. I know she says she doesn’t mind and that she knows how much I appreciate her, but I’m not sure it’s possible for such a modest, unassuming person to realise just how much she means to me and of course Daddy Bear and Wee Bear.  I looked in vain for a poem or verse that would be able to express what I feel and none can.daffodils

Here are a collection of my precious memories of her, shared with you (mostly for her) and given as a gift for those whose mothers are gone in body, because we know they never leave our hearts.

  1. Mum sitting on a bench, knitting a mohair cardigan on a very windy daffodil covered hillside as Dad flew a radio-controlled plane. Boiled eggs may have been involved as snacks, much to my disgust.
  2. Mum and I taking a rare chance to make pretend cakes from sand and leaves by a river – I think we had visited a shop or something far away, it was somewhere with a sort of glade nearby.
  3. The tireless hours she spent lighting fires, cleaning ice from inside the windows, running baths in front of paraffin heaters, cooking endless meals, providing blankets for tents in our garden without sighs or complaints (that I can remember).
  4. Holding me while I cried my heart out, having realised that death was inevitable and one day, one terrible day, I would lose her and the rest of my family.
  5. Birthday parties where she spent a whole day baking astonishing cakes and treats for me and my friends to enjoy: so much more special than hiring a trampoline centre *cough*
  6. Using the treadle sewing machine (which I wish I’d saved somehow) to sew both a bridesmaids dress AND my favourite skirt of all time: pink floral cotton dirndl, that I wore out one summer. It felt so old fashioned, feminine and pretty. I could tell that it was difficult to make but I realised that we could MAKE CLOTHES…
  7. teaching me to knit, almost by osmosis. Lending me needles, wool, patience, teaching me the peace that comes with paying attention to a pattern. And, of course, the jumpers that held me as warm as her hugs: I’m thinking particularly of the icelandic wool one, made in natural tones of wool and as thick as a yak hair blanket. We wore them to see the Edinburgh Tattoo one year, and didn’t feel the freezing wind after the sun went down.
  8. Always having to wait for chips on our “Around Scotland Tour” in a minivan one year: chips formed a staple of our evening meals and whenever mum went in, they had just put on a new batch. This meant that they were fresh and piping hot. I now realise it also provided her with ten minutes out of earshot every day, not to be a dismissed lightly either.
  9. Listening to my endless tortured ramblings about weight, food and boys for at least ten years. Or more. Never complaining or advising, just listening, sometimes trying to guide but never laying down the law. Or not that I can remember…
  10. Being with me almost every day after Wee Bear was born. She made me endless tea, scrambled eggs, brought me cushions, held me gently when I was too sore to hug anyone because of the feeding hell that was a baby with undiagnosed tongue tie and poor supply, brought me food and sympathy for the week we were in hospital with a staph infection of Wee Bear’s belly button, even when she was utterly exhausted and worn out.  When my PND was crippling and I couldn’t be on my own with a 4 month old baby, she and my dad took me in. They looked on as I struggled back through the black swamp, gave me space for my head to recover, didn’t comment on my spiralling upward weight (the outward sign I’m not really coping btw), bathed the baby, changed her, took me out for walks… It goes on, to this day (thanks for doing that mountain of ironing my dear, you know how much I hate it).

icelandic knittingWhat I’ve come to realise, having been so fortunate to have a mother who is still only in her early (muffled digits), is that she’s a remarkable person in her own right and I’ve got time to get to know her as an adult. I have all these memories of her but so do others. She’s a stalwart friend, sister, wife, aunt, daughter; she taught me the power of gentleness and love, the strength of gritting your teeth and going on, with a smile and a hug, the dignity of bearing ill-health without complaining or asking “why me”, the compassion of coping with the depression of others without shaming or despairing.. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her despondent in my life, even if, on rare occasions, I’m allowed to see her feeling vulnerable. She doesn’t have a glittering career, a huge social circle, her own business or whatever you’d think of as worldly ‘fulfilment’ or success… what she does is so much deeper and more significant.

She’s a mother.

mum nightmare

Time to get creatively organised: how do you manage?


It’s no secret that I am a woman who takes on too much. Repeatedly. Never finishes anything. Has fabulous flashes of inspiration but then… blah. Meh. (your choice of fa*l word). How else to describe someone who paints, sews, gardens, grows, teaches, cleans, cooks, just barely manages to keep all the plates spinning but then can’t fit in time for the stuff to keep me able to do the above (yoga, walking, reading, drinking coffee with friends, daydreaming up some inspiration).

This year not only will I discover the meaning of life (geek joke klaxon) as I attain my forty second birthday, but I will complete my butterfly like rebirth somewhere I can be messy, creative, discover my superpowers and creative kryptonite AND get myself organised to within an inch of my previously chaotic life: the Life is Messy Bootcamp.

What is the Bootcamp? Do you have to get sweaty? (Let me whisper something to you: I don’t DO that kind of thing). No. You can sit in your PJs, your smoking jacket, your fluffy maribou negligee, drink coffee/tea/martini and get yourself sorted. LOTS of inspiring video lessons, guides, quizzes, by the adorable Mayi, our Cap’n Cupcake, and an astonishingly supportive private FB group, who will give you honest feedback, support and cheerleading/commiseration as required. Did I mention the tons of printables to make your life more organised?

My favourites: Daily, weekly and monthly schedules; This is a list (I LOVE LISTS); Idea incubator; Super Power Finder; One Page Project Planner… it’s a long list. What is best? You print it out, scribble, draw on it, then you can print it again and again and again.


Don’t take my word for it though. Hop on over to Life is Messy and never feel embarassed about your creatively messy inspired need to daydream and think big and rediscover who you are EVER AGAIN. Now go get comfy and enjoy x

Candy Castle Peppermint Swirl: a dress to twirl in!

I have realised that sewing, much like exercise, is best done while our enthusiasm is high. When Wee Bear and I spotted a photo of the Peppermint Swirl Dress by candy Castle Patterns, we were definitely both feeling enthusiastic! It’s visually stunning and looked like it could cope with the required amount of twirling at our Sunday Club Christmas party.

20140102-114712.jpg (image from Candy Castle Patterns)

We only had a couple of days until the party, so I set off to our local department store on the 27th of December, not realising that all the fabric would be half price. I think I spent just as much as I would have but ended up with more fabric for summer dresses! It felt like the rest of Edinburgh was there too but I kept my head during a proper anxiety attack – nothing was going to stop me – and came home with 3 metres each of a red and green cotton print from the Rowan “Love & Joy” range. The fabric allowances are generous but I have about 75cm of each left, plus a ton of scraps big enough to make yo-yo flowers etc. Guess what I’m going to make tonight?


I’m hoping it isn’t so screamingly Christmas it can’t be worn again, but she insisted on that combination. I’ve seen lots of other examples and it looks just as pretty in more subtle combinations where the tonal values are matched but the colours are different (think pale aqua and coral!). I used the Friday evening to fit and then rapidly alter a muslin bodice. The pattern instructions are very good: if sewing for a boutique or child you can’t measure, use a regular fit but if you’ve the kid at hand, slim fit is more suitable. As it was, I had splendid help by email & Facebook chat from Rebecca, the talented designer. Together we worked out where I had gone wrong and I used my trusty Swedish Tracing Paper to make a rather stiff toile to try the next morning.

Saturday was spent taping & tracing the pattern, again onto my tracing fabric, then cutting out. I managed to cut down this time immensely by stacking up squares of fabric the right size for the upper & lower panels, then pinning carefully and cutting five at a time. There are fourteen panels made up of two pieces, minimum, in each dress so you can see why this is important! If you buy this pattern (& why wouldn’t you!) please pay close attention to the cutting instructions and lay your pieces the right way up!

After checking the bodice fit was good, I took the rest of the afternoon & evening – with tea breaks of course – to sew it up. It goes together really nicely, no nasty surprises and I liked the single fold bias hem technique, as it holds the skirt out a little without the need for a petticoat – win. I took a little longer finishing off the lining, as I chose to enclose the arm & waist seams to avoid setting off her SPD issues. It’s a matter of following the neckline instructions but just turning in the seam allowance and slip stitching it in place with the seam edges inside. The bodice and sleeves were sewn by regular machine (my trusty Janome 6500) but the skirt panels and seams were all overlocked. When joining the upper and lower panels, I simply chained all fourteen seams, carried it to the ironing board, snipped them apart and pressed in one go.

Because I was sewing so fast, I didn’t take any pictures! However, it was worth it to see her face when she woke on Sunday to see her new dress hanging on her little door handle. Since I’ve promised myself that I will be asleep by 11 for the rest of this year, I’m not sure I will do that again but I know how fast & easy it goes together, so can’t wait to make another.

Back view

Father Raphael handing out their Christmas gifts, chosen by lovely friends.

Side view, showing the sleeves from the Princess Dress pattern – which is next on our list!

Full twirl action shot!

Best of all, it’s comfy to sit and draw in.

Next: working out how to get really good photos of both her and my clothes!

5 things you never forget about newborns

I was just thinking ‘hey I need to post something but I’m too zonked to write’ when I snort-laughed my way through this description of life with a baby (plus two) by Guru Louise – I laughed. Then I sighed.

I have one darling daughter and for many reasons (our age & the shocking PPD that stole nearly two years of my life mostly) I suspect she will remain alone. I’ll be honest, it breaks my heart a bit. For all that I know she is happy with our undivided attention, I can also see a future where no one else remembers her childhood, how we chased her about, marvelled at the view from our garden, had our own words for things… And it makes me ugly-cry. So, in a zen-like rebalancing of the universe, here are five things you never, ever forget about your newborn. Ever.

1. That smell. The top of their fuzzy heads is the hormonal equivalent of crack. I swear I spent the first few months with my schnoz permanently hovering about her head. It’s like warmth, sunshine, fuzzies, butterflies, candy & love in olfactory form. It’s starting to wear off her a little, now she’s five.

2. The first time they are awake in the middle of the night and suddenly your eyes meet. You and me against the world kid. What an adventure we will have.

3. How tiny and soft their feet are. There’s something mind-blowing about tiny, unused feet. It’s not just the softness of their skin, the transparency of the toenails… It’s the fact these are brand new feet. They’ve never touched the earth, felt grass, been washed in the sea. Since newborn tummies are the size of a cherry-stone, you can spend a lot of time massaging those tiny feet while nursing.

4. Their gaze: sure to begin with it’s similar to a drunk man staring unfocused towards a bar that seems a mile away but it’s direct and honest. As grown ups we rarely take time to hold someone’s gaze (even our partners), so being stared at can feel odd. Look back though. You can sink into that bond, created by your child, who will love you unconditionally and will not comment on spots, unwashed hair, clothes covered in spilt tea or spit-up milk, but just see YOU. They are really remarkable little beings, if we can give them the chance to connect with us.

5. The smile. I know that lots of people think it’s gas or a tic or reflex but pretty quickly your baby will smile at you, I defy anyone – even me, in the spiral down to that awful place – not to respond. It’s usually added on to the gaze, so you have a double whammy of bonding. I think babies smile much earlier than we give them credit for and it’s usually because they have seen you – that’s unforgettable.