Why “The Shadow Gallery”?

VweareinshadowI’ve been asked recently why I call my home ‘The Shadow Gallery’. First off, I like to read graphic novels, and I am a big Alan Moore fan. V for Vendetta is a hugely important book to me. It was the first ‘serious’ graphic novel I read, and was lent to 16 year old me by a very dear (and long, long, lost) friend. I put off reading it for a long time, and then hungrily consumed the whole tome in two days.  There is a lot to fall in love with. Let’s take all the political overtones out (tricky, I know) and focus on V and Evey.

They both grow so much in the time that they’re together, and find themselves capable of things that they couldn’t conceive of being able to do. V is always careful to present as an idea behind the mask, and never as a person. That always hit me incredibly hard – that our bodies are just the conduit for our will, and our identities exist to some extent for the benefit of others. V’s existentialism aside, the story largely takes place in The Shadow Gallery – a labyrinthine underground compound at least partially constructed in Victoria Underground Station after it had been abandoned. The Gallery was built by V and contains censored art, music and film. There are flowers and beauty and it’s a safe place for V both psychologically and physically. It is V’s home. V takes Evey in to this fantastic space unapologetically.

My home is my safe place. It is calm, it is ordered, it has everything I need. If the world is burning, it’s where I want to be. Like V, my home is a glimpse into my psyche, and I make no apologies. My home is there to please me and my family, and fit our exact needs. It doesn’t exist to please anyone else. It is not censored. It is The Shadow Gallery. It is my home. Do you like it? I built it myself you know.

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The Sunday Soothe

“A Sunday well spent brings a week of content”.

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How true this is. As Christmas fast approaches, I find myself deep in the throes of purging. All the accumulated paperwork, Kinder Egg toys, Birthday cards for three and long expired vouchers. It’s the time just before Christmas, when you put all the presents on top of/at the back of the wardrobe and you suddenly have the revelation that you’re going to have to find a proper home for all of this on Dec 26 leads me into a slight panic. This has driven a bit of a tidy and a huge amount of reflection on my part.

I was talking to a friend this week about New Years’ Resolutions and whether we’d made any progress towards them. I think this year has been a bit of a shit-show all round really, so perhaps I should be kinder to myself and focus on what I have achieved, rather than the shortfall. My word for next year (this year if you follow the Pagan wheel…) is “Curate”. Curated possessions, curated friends, curated social media, curated clients, curated emotions. The Internet in general and Instagram in particular have a lot to answer for in showing how neat life can be. I’m a very neat monster. I like things to be tidy and ordered, and a visit recently to the Present&Correct shop in Islington really cemented how much I am soothed by order. I mean, my mental state should probably be the subject of another post, but in a nutshell, order=good, chaos=bad.

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Good life advice: Buy clothes that fit.

The struggle, as the kids say, is real. Two years ago now, I KonMari’d my flat. Clothes, sentiment, practical stuff, the kitchen – the works. Two years later and we’re still in pretty good shape. My flat is reasonably neat pretty much all of the time, and I have no worries about having to tidy up before my cleaner arrives. The only area I’ve had any trouble with is my clothes. I have a wardrobe full of basic tees and sweaters and I don’t/won’t/can’t wear them (this is today’s discard pile). Why…?

I’m between 5’7″ and 5’8″ depending on the time of day, but I am NOT evenly proportioned. I have regular – even slightly short – legs, and then this ridiculous torso. I’ve literally only just come to terms with this. I’ve spent the last 20 years buying tops that don’t fit. The shoulders are never right. The sleeves are NEVER long enough. They’re basically crop tops. This is not a good look for me. A couple of months ago I finally had this epiphany and bought a bunch of tops from UK tall person shop, Long Tall Sally. MIND BLOWN. Since that fairly basic revelation I’ve scoped out Next tall, ASOS tall and some other ranges, and it’s made a massive difference. Not only do my clothes actually cover my body, but I’ve had the psychological boost of not having to buy clothes 3 sizes too big (bonus). The elbows are in the right places, the head holes are the right proportions. The waists are in the right place.

So. Whatever your body – buy clothes that were made for it. If you’re petite, search out clothes designed with your frame in mind. If you’re larger, find designers that understand your challenges. If you’re top heavy, there are stores that cater for your struggles. Whatever body you have, be kind to it, and treat it to clothes that were made for it. Your body and your confidence will thank you.

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On Gender, and the massive problem of ticking boxes.

pronounsPart of my life involves being an accidental LGBT activist. I’m Bisexual (hi!) and I’m female. My sex is female, my gender is pretty much female. I’m comfortable with that. I’m a bit of a tomboy and I get stressed out by chivalry and the societal concept of gendered behaviour. I have a beautiful, long-haired boy and he wears jeans, corduroy trousers, bright chunky jumpers, and stripes, and every day someone mis-genders him. This isn’t a problem for me, I just quietly return the conversation to the correct* pronouns, and that usually does the trick. Occasionally people apologise, and that makes me chuckle because what the person is apologising for is calling my son a girl. They’re not generally apologising for making a gender assumption. Sometimes I can use it as an education and remind people that it’s easy to make assumptions, and a great was to find out what pronouns to use is to ask something like ‘how old is your little one’? Generally a parent will give a clue there, either in the name or by giving a straight up gender. Easy.

This week I’ve been running some awareness comms at work – where I chair our LGBT network – around gender identity. I’ve been highlighting the difference between sex (body bits) and gender (what your head tells you) and how to show respect to everybody. I’m designing and introducing pronoun badges that people can wear on their lanyards with space to write in their choice – be it he/him, they/them, she/her or whatever else. Personally, I’m about 99% she/her. That’s not quite the whole story though, as I choose a gender neutral name, I use the Mx title wherever possible, and I’ve been known to tick the ‘other’ box for the gender question. I’m not genderqueer or gender fluid, but I have the strong belief the gender is irrelevant. So, where does this leave me as a parent? I would never put my son in a dress or stop him from playing with diggers. I would never force him into a pirate costume for a princess and pirate party if he wanted to wear a tutu. I won’t cut his hair until he asks me to.

Finally, we’ve been trying to choose a school this past month. (Already. I know.) One of the questions I’ve asked at each school has been around the uniform policy and how strictly gendered it is. Partly I want to know that Lo will be OK to have long hair and to wear a cardigan rather than a sweater, but mostly I want to see how the schools handle that question. On our first choice school visit, I was able to ask the head teacher, and her response was amazing. She smiled and told me that the uniform was exactly that – a UNIform. For everyone. As long as the children were in uniform and long hair was tied back, she was happy. Girls in shorts. Boys in cardigans.  The fact that she didn’t baulk at the question was exactly the response we need to see. Love your children. Let them express themselves, see what they can do with no imposed limits.


*Correct pronouns: I may seem flippant here, but Milo is a boy. He is a he and will be unless he tells me otherwise. I think children (not toddlers or preschoolers, older children) are awfully astute and know themselves better than we give them credit for. However – I categorically disagree with the assertion that you can ‘give’ children gender dysphoria by encouraging free choice.

On what I do for a living and how I got there. (Subtitle: Do what you want).

So, this has been asked recently a few times, and I’m sure you can get a vague idea of my professional like from my Insta account…(recently changed from Mrs Elliott to Mx Elliott – more on that soon!!). I am…. I….. Well. I work in a small design studio. I would describe myself as a graphic designer but that’s not quite the whole story. Shall we start at the middle?

After doing a criminology degree and then working as an analyst for 6 years, I had a kid and took the plunge. I decided to do what made me happy. SHOCK! Despite my very analytical and ‘boring’ choices, I’ve always dabbled with art, illustration and design. While living with the Mista’s parents to save for a house, I decided to study study study, and put myself out there as a freelancer to gain a bit of experience and exposure. Yes, the industry has a ‘breaking-in’ problem, and working for exposure (as in, not cash) is not a good way to make a living, but as we were rent/mortgage/obligation free for a year, and I was still working full time as an analyst, I had literally nothing to lose.

So I did. I picked up a few gigs, illustrated for a magazine and some national campaigns, and even got a few award nominations under my belt. Working hard, and more importantly, working A LOT, opened the doors that I needed. Sleep is overrated, anyway.

Fast forward a couple of years and after returning to my analyst role post baby, I realised that all the ingredients were wrong. I found myself in the part-time mum boat of literally (and I mean literally) spending ALL my wages on childcare. I was going to work, so that I could afford to go to work. My role wasn’t making my happy, it was inflexible, I felt at odds with the management and I couldn’t see a future. When I went to work, I checked my crazy at the door. Age 28 and I was starting to turn into a bland, faceless corporate drone. The only thing that kept me sane (professionally) was that I had the opportunity to create and design data dashboarding, and was doing a bit of a job shadow with our internal communications team.

After a month back from Maternity leave, a part time role came up in said Internal Communications team. I applied and nailed it. The role still wasn’t the creative dream come true, but it was much closer to where I wanted to be. I was looking after business accounts and writing and editing copy, but there was an element of design to everything I did. Eventually, the other designer in the team left, and I had the chance to come in full time. I established a whole bunch of processes, and soon, the studio was formally created.

As I said, it’s a small studio, so there are lots of elements to what I do. In the last week I’ve created large format banners, digital assets, a new identifier (logo), an animation (kinetic typography – fun!), as well as headshots and videography. One day I’ll move into a creative director role, and for now, the skills I’m picking up in project and stakeholder management are definitely helping to build towards that. My advice to any aspiring creative is to do work – lots of it – anywhere you can. Whether that’s freelance (for fair pay – and I mean fair based on your skill and experience. Don’t work for free), or just starting to apply a design eye to whatever the hell is paying your mortgage right now – start. And don’t stop ’till you get enough.

House Tour Part III: The Rest!

And finally, time to move on to the other rooms that make up my little corner of the world – the bathroom and the hallway, and a bonus floorpan. The layout of the flat is fairly straightforward, with all the rooms coming off the hallway, as well as the front door in and the cupboard, which we affectionately call ‘the cupboard under the stairs’.

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The bathroom

The bathroom was the first room we tackled, and I’m so glad we did. Shortly after moving into the flat I got knocked up and had one hell of a rough pregnancy. When I wasn’t in hospital, I was in the bathroom, so at least it was nice.  When we moved in the bath panel and the windowsill were made from dark stained ply, so the bathroom was a bit of a light suck. We had to replace the floor after the subfloor collapsed due to a leak, and went with a nice warm cork. After replacing the floor we built a new bath panel that followed the shape of the bath, and tiled it to match the wall. I totally love the utilitarian look of that. It reminds me of the original bathrooms in Barbican flats. 

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The sink originally had a full pedestal and a mess of pipes behind it, so we bought a new sink and half pedestal from eBay. The sink arrived smashed to buggery but the pedestal was intact. You win some, you lose some. The epic bathroom cabinet is an Ikea Godmorgen. It holds A LOT.

The Hallway

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I took a real risk in painting the hallway black. It’s dark out there so the choice was either to paint it super bright, or keep it dark and cosy. The wall unit is an Ikea Besta wrapped in worktop offcuts, and makes a great perch for the Ferm Living bowl for keys, the human skull (probably just don’t ask) and the moulding of my teeth. Again, probably don’t ask. The black is Valspar Downing Street.

There’s also the matter of Milo’s swing. The precise reason I love the swing is because it’s ridiculous and there’s not quite enough space and I think that’s brilliant.

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House Tour Part II: Bedrooms

Picking up where we left of with the living room and kitchen, let’s move to the bedrooms. I’ve posted about Milo’s room before, but ai think that now he’s in a single bed, there won’t be much more change here, until a. we move out, or b. he moves out. One or the other. Our bedroom is also fairly static now, which is nice. When we moved in, the big bedroom was being used as the kids’ room, and it was SO BLUE.

Master Bedroom

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There’s not a lot of storage space in the flat, so we have to sneak it in wherever we can. That’s a Mandal bed from Ikea, sadly discontinued. I love it because the drawers are massive. The four drawers literally span the whole of the bed base. There’s A LOT in there. All the Christmas decorations, all my fabric and craft supplies, and one drawer is dedicated entirely to our shoes. Rock and Roll.

The blanket. OH THE BLANKET. I’ve wanted a Pia Wallet Cross blanket for FOREVER and I’m so happy I took the plunge. If you’re on the fence about getting one, just suck it up and order. You can eat beans on toast for a few weeks- no one will mind.

George Nelson saucer lamp was from eBay and it’s got a couple of holes and was in pretty poor condition. We cleaned it up with caustic soap and it’s been great. I’m itching to do something else though…I’m just not sure what. The print at the end of the bed (yes it’s a print – it’s gloss black on matte black, and with good reason) is from GFDA. <-Possibly NSFW! The vintage Anglepoise model 90s were liberated from a skip years ago, and the bedside tables are coffee tables from Marks and Spencer, a long time back. I’m trying to find some new ones though, I think bedside tables should have drawers.

Paint, as the living room and Milo’s room, is B&Q Colours premium matte in Victorian Lace.

Milo’s Room

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So, Milo’s room is pretty much all vintage or bespoke. It’s a super small space so we had to get creative. The room is EXACTLY wide enough for a mattress. In practice, this means that a bed doesn’t actually fit, because of the skirting board (or ‘trim’ for our American friends). So, we had to find a single bed that had inset legs, and preferably, storage. We found this bed in a second hand shop by accident. I’ve got birch ply all ripped and ready to clad the frame and drawer fronts, but the bed fits, and that’s the main thing. The cute ice cream strip blanket is from Atlantic Blankets on Not on The High Street.

The desk and shelves are Elfa track and bracket with birch ply, and it’s the same system we used in the living room. The idea here is that as Milo get’s bigger the desk can just move up with him.

I love the lights above Milo’s bed. It’s just an EKBY shelf bracket and string lights from Ikea. It has such a lovely warm glow. Speaking of warm, you may have noticed that there are no radiators or other visible forms of heating ANYWHERE. One of my non-negotiables in the flat was underfloor heating. For some reason, these flats don’t have a gas supply (the house literally next door does, so it’s not a pipe issue, IDK??), meaning that EVERYTHING is electric. That’s fine, but electric heating options are somewhat limited. Originally the flat had old concrete night storage heaters. Inefficient and ugly. The electric underfloor heating is cheaper to run, nicer to look at and well, it’s just nice.

House Tour Part I: Kitchen and Living Room

Whelp. I’ve promised this for months (years). Today I finally got my act together and set up the wide lens and the tripod and got some shots of the flat. My flat is super tiny (48sqm), but I think we manage to pull off family life here pretty well. Without further ado, on with the show (LINKS AHEAD!!)

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So. A breakdown on the finished article. The bare brick wall was created with Keswick Blend Brickslips. It was reasonably expensive, but not *much* more than a fancy wallpaper feature wall. My dear, long suffering husband stripped the original wallpaper (seen here), then laid the slips much like tiles, and then pointed the fresh brickwork with actual mortar.

The wall colour is actually super cheap B&Q Colours Premium matte in ‘Victorian Lace’. We have the same colour in both bedrooms and the living room, and it’s a lovely soft white, with just a hint of blue-grey. The flooring is from IKEA, they don’t do flooring any more, which is probably for the best, as it’s not really holding up super well. I’ve had to cut waaay back on the steam mopping. Boo.

The sofa is an Ikea Soderhamn, and it’s only a few months old but it’s holding up pretty well so far. The main draw for us is the washable covers – we’ve yet to try it, but I’m sure everything will turn out fine… Other things of note are the Hell Yeah print from Sir Face graphics, and the plant, which is a Sansevieria trifasciata (Mother-in-law’s tongue) and I’ve yet to kill it, so that’s a plus.

The Kitchen

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Ikea Kitchen! There’s already been a total kitchen saga, dealing with the decision to wait until I was heavily pregnant to buy said kitchen, ripping the old kitchen out on boxing day, drawing all over the walls, following Ikea instructions, plastering, tiling on my due date, and getting sooooo close to finishing before Milo arrived.

There’s still a bit of old tumble dryer hose connecting the extractor hood to the wall, so answers on a postcard for solutions to that one, please…

We’ll catch up with the bedrooms next!

The Friday Reset

Where does your week start? Some folks say the week starts on a Monday, others a Sunday. For me, the week has a natural start on a Saturday. Unconventional, yes, but it works for us.

Monday is the start of the working week, the tightly reigned in mornings, and getting out of the house. On time. In the right clothes. And so it goes on throughout the rest of the week. Come the weekend I want to spend relaxed time with my family without pressure, or deadlines, or chores. Saturday and Sunday is where (when?) we can let our hair down (jk no-one has hair here) and relax, but that takes some prep.

Enter the Friday Reset.

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I love the Friday Reset. It’s my way of putting the working week away and prepping the house and my mind for a bit of downtime. It also means I get to put a bit of thought into relaxation, which is sheer indulgence for me. On a Friday there are jobs that get done. I meal plan, and sometimes even meal prep. There’s fresh bed linen all round, and freshly laundered towels. Clean fridge, grocery shopping and fresh flowers. Often I make pancake batter and lay the table before I go to bed. All things that mean we wake up on Saturday with a clean home full of delicious (and indulgent) food. I leave the studio to collect Milo on Fridays and have a playdate with one of our mama buddies, which is a great transition for tuning into Milo and reconnecting, and really sets the tone for the weekend.

where does your week start? Do you have a natural flow?

 

On Swimming and ‘seeing it through’

When you have children, it’s pretty much expected that you will attend some form of ‘baby group’ or another. You name it – there’s a baby version of it. I’ve done yoga, music, dancing, gymnastics…and swimming. Swimming’s totally tops, best of the bunch. So much so that I’ve been doing it for nearly two and a half years. I swim with a local company called Turtle Tots and today I’m guest blogging on my experience, and why anti-social little me has stuck with the group so long. Enjoy!

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Guilt revisited. One month on.

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 19.58.15So…I recently spoke about guilt and I think I’ve figured it out. Where all that guilt is coming from. As humans we still very much live in survival mode. Sure we have nice houses and cars and pets and radiators and jam, but at our very heart we’re still pack runners. We find it hard to throw things away in case we ever need them, we get sleepy after we eat and we have a strong driving force to protect our young.

This generally means we do whatever we need to do for them, without too much regard for ourselves. We’ll catch a spider that’s scaring him even though we’re terrified. We’ll run into traffic to save her without a second thought. We’ll work a crappy job day in, day out, to put food on the table. It’s hard wired. I’ve spent the last two years in hardcore mama bear mode, and the truth is, there was no financial drive for me to return to work full time. We were comfortable with mt part time wage, so the decision was purely selfish. That’s right – this mama did something selfish.

Herein lies the problem. The majority of parents find it difficult to BE selfish. We’ve forgotten how to do it. Now I have a name for my guilt, though. I feel guilty for being selfish, which seems a little ironic, as selfishness is usually devoid of guilt. But, Milo has settled nicely into his new routine and is used to the way his weeks work now. Meanwhile, our weekends have got a whole load better as we really make the most of the family time we have.  I’m super organised with chores, laundry and batch cooking – but that’s another post for another day, and for now, everything’s working. It’s hard to believe that next year we’ll be applying for school places and then everything changes again. That’s life though, trying to put order in the chaos, and occasionally succeeding.

Guilt.

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Our little guy turned two recently and it was a hoot and a half. I still can’t quite get my head around how quickly he seems to be growing, but every day is awesome. Two years ago I was on Maternity Leave, which for those in the UK who qualify (read: have been working with a company with a maternity policy long enough), means you get a bit of time at almost your full wages, and then a bit of time on Statutory Maternity Pay, which is a bit crap. After about six months, you get nothing. I know that there are some countries (WTF America?!) that don’t have any form of Maternity pay and that must suck. For some women, staying home and spending time with this littles just isn’t an option, but for me, it was. I was lucky enough to stay home with my guy for seven months, and even Daddy got a month at home with us. 

After that I decided to go back to work. I realised I wasn’t happy in my pre-Mama role, so I got a job that I loved, and worked three days a week. The decision was partially financial, and partially driven by the fact that I didn’t want to lose my sense of self. I felt that it was important for Milo to socialise and spend time with other kiddos, and almost two years in, and he’s doing just great. I came to a bit of a crossroads recently, and had a lot of options available; one of which was to return to work full time, and in pretty much my dream job. It all sounds great. Milo could spend another day at nursery, which he loves, and another day with his Grandfolk, who love him. Perfect. 

BOOM. GUILT.

All the guilt. It’s the prize that comes with having a tiny human. Parent guilt is quite unlike anything I’ve experienced before, and when it comes to guilt, I know my onions. If he goes to nursery, he won’t be spending enough time with me and won’t be a happy, attached child. If he stays at home, he won’t learn to get on with other children. If I work, I’m selfishly neglecting my kid. If I don’t work, I’m not contributing to the family and my skills are stagnating. Every decision seems wrong sometimes. To try and fix my dilemma I looked to Sweden. According to A LOT of sources, including Unicef, Swedish kids are the happiest in the world. It’s super common for Swedish parents to both work full time, and childcare is regulated and subsidised by the government. Swedish families do more in the time that they spend together, screen time is limited, they eat together. These are all things that we do with Milo. He has high quality childcare provision and we make to the most of the time that we spend together.

There’s still guilt, and I think that will be there, nagging away for a while yet. But tomorrow I will take Milo to his morning swimming lesson, dry my hair, take him to Nursery and then zoom off for my day of filming and editing. After my day is done, I’ll collect Milo, meet Daddy as he walks from the station, and we’ll have a meal that I’ve already cooked, and we’ll talk about our days. And at the weekend? The sky’s the limit.

Thirty

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Yep. I just turned thirty, and it’s the strangest thing. Thirty doesn’t feel like that much of a big deal to me. It’s been a good few years, and I really feel like I’ve grown into myself, into this part of my life. I’m happy with my body, my family’s ace, and I like where I live. I’m doing a job I actually love, and things are pretty swell. I want to talk a bit about my life and face and body at thirty, and who knows? Maybe It’ll be fun to look back on when I’m forty and dealing with a pre-teen? Yeah, totally fun.

FACE

I get told that my skin’s pretty good and for that I’m grateful. A few years ago I stopped fighting my skin and came to terms with its awkwardness. I have super sensitive ‘normal plus’ skin – by which I mean super dry on the cheeks, super oily on the T. I’ve found a mixture of manual exfoliation, super gentle cleansers and and a light but quenching moisturiser is working wonders. I use a Clarisonic Mia once a day with a bit of Liz Earle Cleanse and Polish, followed by Indeed labs moisturiser. In the evenings I use straight up Cleanse and Polish (with the muslin cloth), which pulls off any make-up I happen to be wearing. I sometimes wear mascara and eyebrow pencil, and very occasionally I wear Benefit Hello Flawless foundation, and maybe a cat-eye flick of eyeliner.
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BODY

So…the body thing. I’ve always had a variety of body issues-both far too big and far too small. I’ve always had trouble matching the inside to the outside. Whilst I was pregnant I lost a fairly significant amount of weight – so I was lucky that I was carrying excess baggage or I would have been very ill indeed. So. I’m smaller now than I have been for a while and I’m trying to keep on top of that. I’ve recently completed Gillian Michael’s Thirty Day Shred and I’m about to hit it again. It was awesome and hard and yes. It kicked my ass. I’ve got stretchmarks and scars and all sorts of other stories on my body, and I’m cool with that. My thirtieth birthday present was to spend 5 hours in my favorite tattoo shop getting some flowers that will never wilt.

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CLOTHES

As we’ve recently discussed, I’ve embraced the whole capsule wardrobe thing and that’s working out pretty well for me. I’ve been sticking to dark neutrals, and I’ve finally found a pair of jeans that fit. I have a little waist, but a big butt and thighs, so finding jeans that aren’t gapey around the middle is kind of a big deal. I nearly always wear jeans and converse, a vest and some kind of baggy knit jumper on top. Although I’m less wobbly than I used to be, there’s still a fun amount of jiggle going on there. My corporate environment is fairly relaxed, and in the last week I’ve worn a black shift dress, and a shirt with a tie. I’m currently engaged in the search for the perfect relaxed fit tees, but that could take the rest of my days, so I need to relax and let that one happen. My main fashion goal this year is to wear jean shorts and not look ridiculous.

GREY HAIR DON’T CARE

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The amount of grey hair I ALL OF A SUDDENLY have is mental. Since having Milo, my hair has just got progressively more grey and you know what? I’m cool with that. I have no plans to dye or otherwise alter it. I think I can rock the salt ‘n’ pepper look.

THIS FAM THAT I HAVE

And of course, my favorite thing about being thirty is this crazy kid that was a baby and then almost a toddler and is now growing into my buddy. He’s starting to use sentences and make up games and it’s amazing. A couple of weeks ago he ran into the kitchen, thrust out his hand and asked ‘ticket please!’. I have NO idea where that came from but he’s still doing it, so we just roll with it.

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Vive la fam. Vive la thirties.

 

The times, they are a changin’

Change. It’s such a funny thing. It seems to come around when you least expect it, when you’re least prepared, and sometimes, it comes without notice. It’s not until you look back on the way things used to be that you realise things are different now. That’s my favorite kind of change – the natural, organic, flowing change. Change when everyone’s ready and no one notices. We’ve had a few changes in Milo’s bedroom, which I shared last month, and there are still a few more to come.

Lo’s just entered the ‘climbing’ phase of toddlerhood. I love that he’s so strong and confident, but I hate finding him half way up the towel heater in the bathroom. He needs space to explore, space to jump, space to climb. Alas, as we live in a flat with no garden of our own, we must resort to indoor fun. All it takes is a little imagination.

And a swing.

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Both via A Handmade Charlotte

We’ve decided that for Milo’s second birthday (which will be here before we know it, after the magic and noise of Christmas is gone), we’re going to make some changes to his room. We’ll be adding a bouldering wall so that he can climb safely, and close to the ground. Even though we’re in a flat, we’ll still be adding a swing, and we’ll be using a suspension bar between some joists. There will still be plenty of colour and homemade touches, but we need a place for rough and tumble.

Milo's LBB room

  1. DIY Letter bunting, Not on the High Street
  2. Child friendly climbing holds, Amazon
  3. Wooden trapeze swing, Amazon
  4. Moon landscape print, Ruby Rose
  5. Felt ball bunting, Not on the High Street
  6. Swiss cross pillow, Mama made using fabric from Etsy
  7. Mama in Law made crochet blanket

How I Montessori (and why)

We’ve been enjoying some really fun activities over the last few weeks with the little man. We follow a very loose Montessori philosophy, as we feel that this suits our little man’s temperament and our parenting style. The principles that we follow are:

  • Milo has free choice of activities
  • Everything is neatly ordered and accessible by Milo
  • Give direction and show the way, but never ‘do it for him’.

Milo doesn’t have open shelves at the moment, but he does have some open storage in the living room. This is where we keep his building blocks and his musical instruments, although they’re long overdue for rotation now. He has an Ikea Besta unit in his bedroom, where all of his toys and activities live. He’s perfectly able to open the doors, take out what he wants, and even (GASP!) put it away again, sometimes. In Montessori fashion, we encourage his independence, and try to give him the space to work on whatever’s taking his interest at any given moment. He has a low table and a toddler chair in the living room, and he takes his trays there when he really wants to focus. Sometimes I’ll lay out and invitation to play there for him, but usually the table is empty and ready for him to choose.

He eats at the main table with us and always has. He has used a Tripp Trapp high chair from birth, first with the newborn seat and then the baby set. He now has the chair totally open, and has been able to climb up and down since around 14 months. He helps to set the table by bringing in cutlery and sauces, and tried really hard to wipe the table down after meals. He doesn’t do a great job, but he knows what to do and he just needs to practice. We always eat together, and try to include him in our conversation.

In terms of activities, I wanted to share with you some of our recent trays and toys that have really held Milo’s attention lately.

Sorting Tin and Shape BlocksThis is a little muffin tin from a children’s baking set, and three pairs of blocks from Milo’s block box. He can test his fine motor skills by transferring the blocks from the bowl to the tin, and start to match up the shapes and colours of the blocks.

Gruffalo and HairbrushAs we don’t have a pet, we’re introducing the concept of ‘care for others’ using soft toys. Milo can brush and stroke the Gruffalo, and quite often then moves onto me or Daddy E.

First Words flashcardsMilo’s language skills are really coming along at the moment, and we’re trying to encourage better pronunciation so that others can understand him. We’re lucky that he uses signs so confidently, but not everyone understands these. I’ve added some wooden play fruit so that he can match the fruit to the flashcard too, if he chooses.

Chalkboard and ChalkWho doesn’t love a good scribble? The bonus of chalk is that it’s fairly harmless. The pens and paint are kept out of reach, but I’m happy for Milo to self-direct with chalk. I’ll let you know if anything disastrous happens…

BRIO Track and TrainsI’ve noticed more and more lately that Milo is more interested in putting the track together than running trains along it, so I’ve put together a focus tray based on that. He likes the puzzle element of putting the pieces together, and the satisfaction of being able to play with it afterwards!

And of course, there are a few toys that he’s really into at the moment…

Hape Shapes and Sizes puzzle
Milo likes stacking the shapes up and then putting them all back in. He hasn’t quite got the hang of the fact that the sizes are different, but he’s starting to tell us about the shape and the colour of each piece (Angle! Booo! (Triangle, Blue)) so it’s a start.

Galt pop up guysThis week Milo’s learned how to fire the guys out of their holes properly, so now it’s a real struggle to stop them from rolling under the sofa…

Melissa and Doug Cog Caterpillar (the ‘Cog-a-pillar’)

Great for fine motor as well as logic, Milo’s starting to understand how this one works, and to match the colour of the cog to the colour of the pin. All the cogs are the same size and shape, so it’s not self correcting, but he’s getting better.

I’ve got some new art supplies and a box of threading beads stashed in the cupboard for the next rotation, so we’ll see how we go with those, but for now the main thing for me to do is tune into his interests and make sure I keep things as orderly as I can so he always knows where to find things!

Winter Capsule 2015

Following a couple of additions and changes, my capsule wardrobe for this season is in pretty good shape. It’s looking to get pretty cold this year, but plenty of layers and thermal tights will keep me toasty.

WINTER CAPSULE

Six weeks later…

So, it’s been a wild ride. We did our KonMari over six weeks ago and, you guys, it’s turned out just great. Things haven’t really shifted much from where we put them, so they were pretty close to being in the right place from the offing. THere are a couple of areas that perhaps need a bit of attention – getting into the habit of getting rid of paperwork is still hard going. It’s all in the right place, but there’s still too much. On the whole, the house is as neat and tidy as the day we finished the job. Not bad, considering I’m a hider.

The biggest wins for me on a day-to-day level have been my clothes and Milo’s toys. My wardrobe is still immaculate. Yes, there’s a bulk box of nappies and a bulk box of wipes in there, but my clothes are neat, uncrowded and exciting. By which I mean I like them all. It’s significantly easier to get dressed. Having lost a few lbs, I needed to replace some key elements in the capsule, and add some for the winter season. Knowing EXACTLY what I had and where the gaps were this was actually enjoyable. With Milo’s toys, they’re all organised in sets where he can reach them to get them out, and more importantly…PUT THEM AWAY. Which he does about half of the time. It’s not a rule, it’s not a chore, he just notices that he’s run out of space and starts to put things away. It’s freaking awesome.

To this end, the ‘having more space to play’ end, I moved his room around.I didn’t mention it, but a couple of months ago we got the little man a toddler bed. We had been searching for this elusive ‘perfect bed’ for months, and weren’t sure that he was 100% ready, but when a nice enough bed came up with a brand new mattress for £15? Yep. So, he hasn’t fallen out, he can get in and out by himself without any problems. As he hasn’t had crib bars since he was 11 months, the ‘freedom’ thing wasn’t an issue either. He just stays in bed.

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MUCH better. The rug is still strategically placed. When he pulls toys out of the cupboard…they hit the rug and not the floor. Inside the cupboard looks like this, 99% of the time.

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Because he knows where everything is, he just helps himself. Things are static, they don’t really move around. If he’s focussing on a particular schema, we’ll tend to have those toys in the living room on his table to work on, but it all comes back here eventually. I also made a new duvet cover. I love Swiss crosses SO MUCH.

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Oh room, we’ve come a long way. I hope I can keep the evolution going and always meet the little one’s needs.

KonMari and Me-how did it go?

Five days of KonMari. It’s been pretty intense. Marie Kondo suggests that the Tidying should be done ‘quickly’, which in her world means around six months. I can’t see how that would have worked for us, as I think we just would have been tidying round in circles. That being said, we still need to do the powertools/DIY supplies, and it’ll take a little bit longer to learn where everything wants to live, but taking a week off work and doing a thorough, intense Tidy was definitely a smart move for me.

What have I learned about the process? There have been some things that have surprised me along the way:

It took much longer than I expected
The things that took the time weren’t what I expected
I actually had less stuff than I thought

On my mental to-do list, I thought I would get through the categories much quicker than I did – It took nearly a whole day to do my clothes, and another day to deal with arts and crafts. The traditionally difficult category of ‘sentiment’ took me an hour and a half. I guess everyone’s different, and I personally found the logical categories harder than the sentimental categories. Does this spark joy? No. It’s a cable. I guess my beloved iThings spark joy of a sort, and without their cables they’re useless, so there’s joy in the equation somewhere.

I didn’t take a whole bunch of before and after photos, but I did manage to snap some categories as I went.
Clothes:
Clothes KonMari
Paperwork:
Paperwork KonMariArt and craft:
Arts and Crafts KonMariSeasonal Decorations:
Seasonal Decs KonMari
Books:
Books KonMari

The flat feels different. It’s not just that it’s tidy-really tidy-but there’s something else. It seems like there’s balance. There’s a practicality to it – I know where things are, and it’s not a fight to find the things I need when I need them. I know that cupboards and drawers aren’t stuffed to bursting, and I know that there’s nothing I don’t need or love. How could that fail to bring happiness into a home?

I’ve bought two things this weekend, and they both filled a need and were well considered. Firstly, I found that we only had one Mario Kart Wiimote wheel, so one of us always has to awkwardly hold the controller. I like Mario Kart, even if it does make me a bit sweary, so having two wheels makes sense. Secondly, I bought a new pair of grey jeans. In my wardrobe purge I felt almost total joy through my grey (maternity) jeans. If only they were non-maternity! Oh wait…they TOTALLY make grey jeans for people that aren’t pregnant. Simple.

We’ll see what happens in the next few weeks, but for now all is well. There’s absolute joy in the flat right now, and hopefully I’ll develop mindfulness when shopping, too. Verdict on KonMari? Yes. It works for me.

KonMari Day 4…ish. Sentimental keepsakes

Day four of the KonMari has been something of a rest day for us. Mr E’s been tied up in the bathroom plumbing and building a new bath surround, and I’ve been able to spend the day with the little man. While he was napping, though, I managed to sneak in a category out of order. Photographs and sentiment are usually left until last, but as I had some time, and I can’t do the final two categories (electronics and powertools) until tomorrow, I thought ‘why not’?!

I’m pretty good with this kind of thing, so there wasn’t a great deal to go through – although I haven’t even contemplated my digital photos…-but there was still some pretty potent stuff in there, and it was nice to just keep the joyful memories.

The sentiment boxes before:
sentiment before
And after: Some of it got rehomed, but most of it got thanked for the lessons it had taught me, and moved on.
sentiment after

Tomorrow there’s just two categories remaining, and they’re logical rather than emotional – electronics and powertools. We also need to do more tip runs, charity shop runs and dropping some things back to their rightful homes. Once that’s all done and the house can breathe, it’ll be time to put everything away. At this point, it looks like there’s more than enough room for everything to have a home, which is something that I honestly didn’t think would be an option. I’ll do a big clean tomorrow and let the fresh air blast through, and wake up on Saturday feeling fresh and clear. Stay tuned for the mop up and final thoughts!