Self Care (Advent) Calendar

self care calendar Huh? What?! Self care in the busiest month of the year? Are you mad?

Yes, actually. On both counts.

I was comparing notes with a friend on advent calendar ideas for our respective 4 year olds. Something more interesting than a daily window of chocolate – though what could possibly be more exciting in the beady eyes of a child?

Then it dawned on me that while I was busy making my child’s advent season special, I might as well do the same for myself.

Learning to identify and articulate my own needs has been a big part of my personal journey this year. Sure, I am quick to book an adventure or say yes to a getaway but what I am talking about here is making space for self care on a daily basis.

I may be in the brat race rather than the rat race but whatever race you’re in (preferably none at all!) you’re gonna be a better sport if you show up on a full tank.

The creative process was as simple as spending £15 on materials, and investing about an hour of my time. I fancied feathery fairy lights for sparkle and fluff so I ordered those alongside small organza bags and self-adhesive felt numbers. But it’s not about what the thing looks like as much as the intent behind it. You could get the same effect from sticking 24 strips of paper into a bag and pulling one out at random every day.

calendar materials 24 little bags of bliss 24 self care rituals

I got small person involved in sticking numbers on bags and hanging fairy lights. I then sat quietly one evening and wrote out 24 self care practices. I already had a list of things that fill me up posted on my refrigerator so I referred to that for inspiration. I chose things I can easily do for myself that require neither (or very little) cost nor child-care. After all, it’s less about the doing than it is about consciously claiming a small amount of daily time – with purpose but without too much agenda.

I’m not prone to going Christmas-crazy or feeling a lot of pressure during the holidays. Our celebrations are understated affairs in food and presents. But I am not sitting around twiddling my thumbs either. Festive obligations crop up no matter how nonchalant you are about that babe in the manger. Then there’s closing a business and running a charity initiative. In any case, self-care should be a must no matter your life circumstances.

Even the simple fact that I now have an accidental crescent moon shape on my bedroom wall that I can light up as I read in bed each night makes me happy.


So today being December 1, I opened my first bag! The missive was to take a long nature walk.

Cannon Hill Common Treered leafJust to prove that this self care business doesn’t have to be something else that takes up time, I decided to combine my long nature walk with the dog walk I do already.

I simply chose to be more conscious of the experience.

Walk more deliberately. Notice the spongy grass and the squishy mud beneath my feet. Take in the colours and scents of the woods. Indulge in the extra stop by the duck pond to watch for that heron.

And you know what? Despite the more considered pace, my walk didn’t take any longer than usual but I felt twice as refreshed. I’ll take that.



And Lilly? She got a lovingly handmade replica of a doppeldecker bus with 23 little windows and one door. Filled with a daily selection of puzzle pieces resulting in a completed picture by Christmas.


The girls in the Hargreaves house are happy. And what could be better than that?

(Chocolate! Says Lilly.)


Images: author's own

On the Straight and Narrow: Where the Creative Mind is Not

1409156187-this-one-word-will-always-stifle-creativityEarly morning meditation and sage clearing (minor smoke detector incident).

Healthy breakfast, preceded by cleansing shower, followed by fresh sheets miraculously appearing on bed while mountains of clean clothes move into drawers, neatly folded.

My mind, though in creative overdrive, even succumbs to an afternoon nap.

A coffee shop outing, family dinner, the husband volunteers to put the small person to bed.


Blissed out, I sit down to face my nemesis – the sewing machine I’d bought two days earlier, tired of trekking to the dry cleaners with every small mending (or creative!) project. Like stitching velcro pads on to a doubled up, thick blackout blind – your typical beginner’s job, no doubt.

The first pad goes on easily, and I feel victorious. The second, however, isn’t quite so accommodating. I’m pretty sure my needle hits the hot glue border that is holding the layers together. Soon after that, the bottom thread stops catching.

Not that that stops me from proceeding. Hey, wasn’t that needle kind of in the centre of the presser foot before? Do I even know what I am talking about with 34 different parts listed in the manual? What’s the wording I need to Google this shit? This project should be halfway finished by now. I’m sure if I just adjust this dial… (up, down – who knows?). Hey, has this needle shifted even more? I’m sure it’s not supposed to be that far left. Maybe I should just sleep on this. I just want this sodding project finished, damnit. Oh, now the needle’s bent – like I didn’t see this coming. Time to ditch the doomed project.



Maybe I’ll just go to bed.

Except as the light goes off, they all come crashing down on me: my long line of unfinished projects queueing up to stare me in the face with unbridled accusation. The painted trays waiting to be waxed. The almost finished wristwarmer. The in-progress-but-really-collecting-dust-for-weeks butterfly collage. Not to be outdone by the messy kitchen that didn’t seem so messy given the thrill of a virgin endeavour. The unwritten articles, the looming press releases.


One bent sewing machine part (let’s hope it’s only one!) is enough for my day to turn from “relaxed-yet-accomplished” to “naggingly dissatisfied”.


The beauty of the creative cycle:

When you’re up, you’re up. When you’re down, you’re down.

And boy, does down feel heavy in the darkness, Positively sleep-repelling, DEET against peaceful oblivion.


Worst of all, amongst the bent needle and the bruised ego, the fly-on-the-wall writer perches poised with pen and pad:

Move over sleep. There’s a blog post waiting to be written.

Welcome to my world. Tomorrow morning’s gonna come way too early…





gratitudeI am finally inching my way out of my lovely post-holiday season bubble and into fully owning this exciting new year, a process which includes exiting out of my self-imposed blogging hiatus.

So, other than having finally finished my Art History degree, what is rocking my world these days?

Well, lots of things… and gratitude in particular.

Why? Because as part of a long overdue shift from academic to creative writing, I have discovered a new take on gratitude journaling.

I know, I know… you are so over being told how fantastic a daily gratitude practice is. Quite frankly, so was I… that is, until I discovered a novel approach.

Forget about rattling off a list of things you are grateful for in your head, whilst the bulk of your brain cells are occupied browsing your smartphone or pondering your epic to-do list. Scrap jotting down the same things day after day as if on auto-pilot. Instead,

Pick 1 specific thing, person or event that you are grateful for and then write 5 specific reasons why.

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 21.35.26

Simples really – like your “5 a day” on the fruit & veg front.


The benefits?

Well, as Marie Forleo explains in her slightly corny (and seasonally out of date) video,

 If you want the most ROI for your gratitude practice, the dividends are in the details.

Not only is this way of gratitude journaling backed by actual research, it is the very antidote to “laundry-list” gratitude, at least in my (admittedly limited to-date) experience. It plays to my need for variety to think about a new thing to be grateful for every day, and my inner writer is thrilled to supply the required specificity. It makes me more aware of what was extra special THAT day, alongside the people and things I am already grateful on a daily basis.


20150112_210557 (1)Although I have been following this practice only a few weeks, I have yet to hit gratitude fatigue, even if the process is helped by the fact that I simply adore my tools of the trade – a shiny new journal and a magnificent fountain pen gifted to me by my beloved.


And just to keep the motivation going, I might just post a few random daily gratitude extracts here in the coming weeks.

The coming weeks of THIS HERE NEW YEAR, that is…




Images:,, author’s own






Media-Induced Brain Frazzle


Me and technology are about to have a fall out – again.


I do, of course, realize that I live in a time where technology and its attendant trappings are inevitable. Like just about everyone I know, I have a laptop and smartphone, plus a tablet for good measure. One must be seamlessly mobile, or so advertising and popular culture would lead us to believe.

Don’t get me wrong, I love all the gadgets. They pretty much do everything from phone calls to email to social media, from weather forecasts to word processing, from supplying all your casual photo and video needs, only just stopping short of putting your kids to bed and cleaning your flat – although I’m sure there are apps for that.

Thanks to Wifi and 3G, I should be reachable during any and all waking hours, or so the theory.

So really, the stuff is not only inevitable but omnipresent. It does everything you do and don’t need, and that’s precisely where my problem with it all lies.


I go through phases where it just gets just too frikkin’ much!!!


Because in addition to being permanently connected, I am inundated with endless ‘interesting’ links, snippets and clips, and permanently find myself with at least 20 open tabs of stuff that would be valuable to read or watch… some other time.

Problem is, this other time never comes, but the sight of 20 open tabs saps my energy just thinking about it. And from experience, there’s no sense of satisfaction or accomplishment from spending an hour or two reading all this ‘interesting’ stuff because my brain simply fogs up and forgets about it all as soon as I close each browser window.


On top of all that overwhelm (which is overwhelming IN ADDITION to whatever overwhelm the rest of your life holds), my brain and eyes get really bogged down looking at backlit screens at the end of a long day.


So despite all its undeniable benefits, me and technology need to have a little time out. Not a full on separation heading for divorce. Just a little break. Time to breathe.

I thought about limiting my daily laptop usage to an hour in the evening for a while. Sounds good in theory, but if you want to get anything done (like putting up a blog post!), an hour just doesn’t quite cut the mustard.


So rather than setting tons of rules I am bound to break before I’ve even committed, I decided to go for exposure to technology in short bursts rather than full on immersion. Conscious usage versus default setting.

I’m already notoriously slow at answering emails and getting back to people (largely because I feel bombarded by too much stuff), so I don’t think anyone should notice the difference.


technology overload


But of course the question I will be pondering is this:

If not constant technology, then what?

And I would love to know how other people feel – does it just all get too much at times, and if so, what do you do about it?


More on my findings in future posts!





Barefoot And Pregnant?

barefoot-and-pregantI recently built a play kitchen for my daughter’s second birthday.

I fell in love with a picture on Pinterest and decided that no other kitchen would do, despite the fact that for the same amount of money (and less time), I could have ordered one off Amazon. I’m kinda stubborn that way.


The kitchen I picked was classed as an ‘IKEA hack’ – which basically means using parts and components from the blue and yellow flatpack giant for something other than their intended purpose (such as the base of this kitchen being a simple pine bedside table).


As I excitedly shared the progress of my building project, I encountered a fair share of gendered remarks about my daughter getting a kitchen, as though exposure to a simple toy was going to teach her to expect, and accept, a life of domestic servitude.

Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely appreciate these types of comments (well, maybe not initially) because they prompt me to think and explore how I feel about something.


So my first question is:

What makes a kitchen so gendered anyway?


I mean, there are plenty of male celebrity chefs and cooking show hosts – they must have gotten started somewhere! Many of my mummy friends have husbands who cook (I should be so lucky!).      In a lot of households, the kitchen is where families spend a considerable amount of time. It certainly seems to be the most popular room for representatives of both genders to hang out at parties.

Equally, my mummy tribe confirmed that play kitchens are the most popular toy at playdates for kids of any gender. Part of the reason I became interested in a kitchen for Lilly was observing her playing with the one belonging to one of her playmates. HE, in fact, has two kitchens, and I don’t think anyone is making an issue out of that.

motley collection of IKEA parts
Motley collection of IKEA parts

I will also point out that Lilly had great fun helping me hammer and screw her kitchen together. I know it was meant to be a birthday surprise but hey, it’s kinda hard to hide DIY projects in a small apartment. I am sure at some point (space permitting), she will also be in possession of a workbench, although I might defer to the shop-bought version on that one. Equally, she quite happily plays with Duplo blocks – in gender-neutral colours – and anything and everything that has wheels.

Overall, I tend to be on the ‘both/and’ vs. the ‘either/or’ side of the argument.

Besides, I don’t need to ‘teach’ Lilly anything. She doesn’t even know these dreadful gender stereotypes exist yet… and long may that last!

All I need to do is provide her with an environment where she can play and explore and decide what she likes best for herself in that moment. Ok, and shield her from really OTT gendered toys like Barbies, pink Lego and macho action figures for as long as possible.


work in progress
Work in progress

As for me, I don’t think I ever had a play kitchen when I was little, and I still learned to love to cook and have a life. Mind you, from a scarily young age, basically tall enough to reach the cooker on a stool, I was allowed to do real things on a real stove. Simple things, like scrambled and fried eggs, under strict supervision, of course. Guess that was a different era!


Anyway, kitchen or not, I actually want my daughter to honour her girlyness, in whatever shape it comes. After all, she isn’t a boy, and trying to make her one by exposing her to certain toys while denying others would only serve to reinforce the notion that she isn’t already enough exactly as she is.

For a long time, I actually completely disowned the sensitive, playful, feminine part of me in order to be successful in a  ‘man’s’ (corporate) world, and in hindsight, the act of pretending was a lot more work that the jobs ever were. But that’s a different story.

The finished product!
The finished product!

Personally, I feel that every time we continue to make an issue out of this gender stuff, we simply reinforce it. We neither live in a Victorian age nor in the 60s, so let’s drop it.


On that note, I’d better be taking  my own advice.

Swiftly signing off…

Images:, author's own

Soul Journey

IMG_3870I’m back from Hawai’i in body, but my soul is still lingering on the beach, soaking up the sun.


When my friend announced she was getting married on a far-flung Pacific island, I simply knew I. HAD. TO. GO.

Despite spousal objections, it never mattered that I was dragging my nearly 2 year old on a 19 hour flight across ten time zones.

It was a trip I needed to make to connect with great friends and, most importantly, to re-connect with my own self.


As I’m de-stuffing my life, I am becoming increasingly aware that what drives me are connection and experiences rather than things.

On this journey in particular, I was fascinated to experience just how closely the mundane and the divine can coexist, if allowed.


At my friends’ wedding, I read from a book about Hawaiian shamanism. I casually prefaced this by saying that I was into woowoo stuff.

I guess woowoo is an unbecoming yet widely accepted term covering things that seem beyond the realm of our everyday experience.

I used to believe that my everyday and my, for lack of a less clichéd expression, enlightened experiences were just about lightyears apart. I was either doing the dishes or metaphorically meditating on a mountain with a banana up my bum. Realistically, of course, I was mostly doing the dishes, with a very occasional glimpse of the divine once I let the soap bubbles subside.

In hindsight, I believe this very division made it really difficult for me to gracefully transition into motherhood.

Somewhere along the line, I felt as though my life had become so much about the mundane and the routine that my soul-self was slowly being smothered and starved.


In once again pursuing my passion for travel, I have found the time and the space to allow the everyday and the soul-nurturing to co-exist.


A pre-dawn full moon walk followed by tucking into a hearty American breakfast of crispy bacon, scrambled eggs and pancakes (a ‘Full English’ has never tickled my taste buds in the same way).


Leaving the tourist commercialism of Waikiki to embark on a cleansing rainforest hike, only to come back to the question of ‘What’s for lunch?’ and needing to change a manky nappy.

IMG_3808 IMG_3830 IMG_3845 IMG_3815


Being magically guided to a traditional Hawaiian lomi lomi massage. I still don’t understand exactly what this is but it’s divine. The healer explained that this style of massage is working on a deeper level than simply manipulating muscles. She described it as

massaging your bones, which equals massaging your soul

In nearly the same breath, she also stated that all men are dumb, with the unsaid implication that this applied specifically to the ones we’re married to.


Swimming with giant sea turtles and feeling their ancient wisdom. It didn’t matter that there were dozens of other snorkelers splashing in the water. I simply loved being immersed in the experience as much as I loved sitting back on the catamaran with my feet hanging over the netting sailing the waves, glimpsing dolphins and flying fish, getting soaked and feeling the thrill and freedom of the ocean. With a boom box blaring in the background.

IMG_1496 turtle

Of course for this experience, I am forever indebted to the newlywed Mrs Mannion watching my daughter so ‘mummy’ could just be Nette for a few hours.


In many ways, my entire journey was witness to this interplay and interchange between the mundane and the divine, the ordinary and extraordinary dimensions of life.


So maybe what really is woowoo is the importance we accord to the everyday-ness of our lives. The stress over projects and deadlines, the time wasted worrying and people-pleasing.

I say this even as I am observing myself getting obsessed with eradicating every single caked on, soaked in, glued-to-the-fibre stain from our combined holiday laundry. Including those that were probably there long before we set off.


So really, what do I know?

Maybe it’s just the jet lag talking…


Hawaii lantern festival

        author's own

Banana Who? Banana Spew!

imageI often wondered about parents in airport loos.

You know, those frantically rubbing small people clothes under hand dryers whilst panicking about loosing their wandering brood and missing their boarding call.

You see, Lilly never throws up. Ever.


Day of departure. Mummy’s idea of breakfast: 1 banana, with back up porridge after check in.

Lilly’s idea of breakfast: 2 bananas. After all, no banana in eyesight must remain uneaten, or ‘saved’ for later. What a silly idea.

‘She’s got a funny cough’, I remarked to Rob halfway to the airport, before casually turning to the back seat. Just in time to see Lilly throw up. Twice. Once for each banana.

Needless to say, I found myself stripping my child in the departures hall and joining the queue to wash and dry a vest and a pair of dungarees.

Shame I couldn’t drag my car seat in for the same treatment under the super duper turbo charged hand dryer. Instead, it remains safely guarded in valet parking, left to slowly smoulder.

I wonder just how scary banana spew will look (not to mention smell) when we touch back down in 9 days’ time?


Knock knock. Guess the joke’s on me.

Smugness never pays.  Ever.


The Cup Is Full

full_glassI was recently short-listed for a short story competition.

Actually, it was even better than that – it was a short story slam, the slam bit meaning it involved getting on stage and reading your work as part of the final selection process.


It’s a raw thing, reading your work.


I got some practice when my writing group hosted a performance workshop. I went along curious as ever, albeit a teeny tiny bit cocky. After all, I’m an NLP trainer with loads of sessions under my belt, plus a heapload of corporate presentations. I should have this sussed, right?

WRONG, of course. As I quickly discovered, reading your own work makes you vulnerable in a way presenting training material and company philosophy doesn’t. It’s not you hiding behind someone or something, like a phobia cure or the rollout of a new pricing strategy.

It’s just you, up there, out there. Publicly reading what you have penned in the anonymity and comfort of your own home. It was an interesting experience to be on stage and for it to feel all new again, to watch myself hitting the same old rookie snafus.


One of the not-so-short stories I’d been running in my head at the end of last year was that I didn’t have any support, at home and at large. I was feeling lonely, unhappily buying into the ‘I have to do it all alone’ mantra.

In response, my cheerful mentor continuously suggested that instead I tell myself to

‘Let it be easy’ and ‘Let yourself be supported’

She has patiently repeated this so many times I am frankly surprised she hasn’t offered to personally etch it onto the back of my hand.


So I rocked up at this short story slam last Friday. I got on stage and I did my thing.

I didn’t win but it was an awesome evening nonetheless. Rob was there to film the event and friends came to support me. I had so many people excited that I get nominated, and rooting for me even though they couldn’t be there on the night.

I felt totally and utterly supported, and I loved loved loved every minute of preparing and getting up on that stage. My favourite moment was Rob pointing out that for probably the first time ever, he got to watch me do my thing while I got to watch him do his thing.

To my own surprise, the winning didn’t even matter. I just wholeheartedly loved the experience. As I pondered on it the next day, it occurred to me that at the moment, my cup is actually full.

I’ve been spending time with great friends, making new friends, doing what I love. I have the bestest daughter and the bestest dog. I am about to go on a beach holiday to spend quality time with my family and friends.

If all that night was for is to make me realize that I am indeed not alone and having to do it all, it’s been more than worth it.

Even better, the silver-haired writer who won traveled all the way up from Dorset with her husband supporting her. Just goes to show that even at 73, it’s never too late to get on that stage!


Click below if you wanna watch my 200 word take on the theme of discovery:

Chalk The Sun Short Story Slam




Breathing Space

Days 60 (ish)
Items 288

I’m roughly 30 days over the self-imposed deadline of decluttering 150 items by April 15th.

The good news is by that date, I had actually shifted 154 things. The other good news is that since then, I have kept going.

I may have become a bit addicted to the project. In some instances, it’s entirely possible I’ve been taking things just a tad too far:

Lilly rightfully resisted being cleared out along with the rest of my closet. No chucking the baby out with the bathwater!
Lilly rightfully resisted being cleared out along with the rest of my closet. No chucking the baby out with the bathwater!
I probably should have left some food in the fridge, too
I probably should have left some food in the fridge, too. Condiments alone don’t make a very satisfying meal…

Although the whole thing has gotten bigger than I originally intended, I have at times gotten frustrated with the amount of time invested in the project. Despite good intentions and motivating self-talk, clearing clutter is a whole load of hard work and no amount of doing the funky chicken is gonna change that.

BUT, as ever, the payoff is totally worth it! I actually feel there’s breathing space in my flat that hasn’t been there for years, and that’s despite the fact that there are nearly 100 more things to be axed.


As you will have noticed, I have meticulously (not to say, obsessively) kept track of everything. Yes, that’s partly OTT, but it has proven to be incredibly powerful in realising just how much stuff we acquire as if on auto-pilot.

To be fair, I am clearing out the clutter of YEARS but even so, it’s rather disconcerting to see how many nearly new things I possess where usage bears no justifiable relation to cost of acquisition. I trust going through the process of listing everything rather than simply stuffing it into bin bags will make me much more conscientious about the value I intend to get from future purchases.



Speaking of value, I confess the other thing I have been getting slightly obsessive about is converting my clutter into cash. Sure, about 2/3 went to the charity shop, but the rest has slowly but surely found its way onto eBay and, as of last night, raised enough funds to cover the flights for an upcoming family trip to attend a wedding in <thundering drumrolls>… HAWAII!!!

In this instance, my terrier tenacity (move over, Jack!) has paid off for an experience I am sure to remember for much longer than the thrill of a new handbag.


Ironically though, despite my self-proclaimed progress, a friend recently entered my living and, upon seeing piles of toys on the floor, exclaimed

Oh, so you’re not done yet!?

Well, no. I did, after all, decide to keep the child.

Images:, author's own




Silence Is Golden

silence-is-goldenOr is it?

When I embarked on a six month sabbatical some years ago, I emailed my private address book with a reminder to use my personal rather than corporate details as a primary means of contact.

A ‘friend’ long out of touch promptly replied, inviting himself to my French home, and even suggesting what time worked best around his other commitments. I was dumbfounded as to how to respond. This was someone whom I’d quite frankly forgotten was still part of my contact database, but saying so outright seemed rather harsh, though honest.

A close friend consulted for advice offered a simple

Just don’t reply.

I hadn’t occurred to me that not answering was a viable option. I wanted to neither accept the self-issued invitation, nor renege with some half-hearted excuse. So following my friend’s suggestion, I did nothing.

I suppose this method of non-communication works in the same way that not making a decision is de facto making a decision to remain with the status quo. Admittedly, it felt odd not to react, but it produced the desired result.

What got me thinking is that recently, this route of no reply seems to be an increasingly popular option, and I am not quite sure what to make of it. Email invitations remain unanswered, lingering in people’s inboxes unresolved or worse, deleted without remorse. Text messages are ignored in a similar fashion.

Not that I am the innocent party in all this. My reply time is notoriously bad, and calls quite often go to voicemail because answering whilst juggling girl, dog and dinner doesn’t add much to the conversation.

But in a world of never-ending distraction and stimulation, are we becoming blasé towards a meaningful personal exchange? Dominated by social media, have we become more informed about where near strangers are holidaying, or what they’re having for dinner, than we are about what’s happening with our closest friends?

Rather like the saying that speech is silver but silence is golden, is speech becoming tarnished in favour of ominous anonymity?

Personally, I’m sitting on the fence on this whole thing. I mean, would I rather be served a lukewarm excuse for not participating in something I am organising, or take the radio silence for a polite no?

I guess I myself have gotten a lot more selective as to what goes in my social calendar. In my ‘working’ days I basically said yes almost by default, unless a previous commitment prevented it. These days I am prone to question whether what I want to do is worth the effort of organizing the internal or external childcare required. I ask myself whether it’s an activity I would truly enjoy rather than my RSVP being prompted by a vacancy in the diary.

As a general rule, evening activities are easier as long as Rob is at home for bedtime. This doesn’t rule out a girly afternoon tea or the like, but when it comes to daytime engagements, or those that require a start earlier than 7pm, I will strongly favour attending my writing group over say a matinee movie.

Anyway, I think a lot of times, we simply don’t answer invitations to events we have no intention of attending because there’s just so much information bombarding us electronically that things simply get filtered out without any bad intentions. Even so, I’m rather perturbed by the trend, even as I perpetuate it.

So is silence really golden?

I can at least vouch that in toddler terms, unless they’re sound asleep, it is anything but.

silence toddler postcard