12 Picture Books For The 12 Days Of Christmas

It’s no secret that the only reason I take Lilly to the library is to have an excuse to riffle through the picture book section – AGAIN!

I can’t seem to leave the bloody place without checking out at least a dozen new books.

I just love them and it never ceases to amaze me how much you can say when the right words are skillfully matched with the right illustrations.

My list of favourites contains anthropomorphic books for two reasons:

a) Despite the opposition to these types of books from certain educational philosophies (i.e. Steiner/Waldorf), I find them very cute and enjoyable.

b) They make up a large proportion of what is published. Embodying animals with human characteristics and emotions minimizes racial and gender stereotyping, and thus (at least in theory) gives these books a broader appeal. But mostly, I just find them cute and enjoyable.

So after nearly a year of ‘research’, here are my Top 12 for 2012 – just in time for the holidays if you are still stuck for gift ideas, or just plain last minute, like me. (These are my favourites from the vast selection of books I encountered this year rather than books that were new on the market in 2012)


Louisa Yates, Red Fox Publishing

I recently came across this budding series and I am in luuurrrvvv with Dog!!!

These beautiful books have absolutely charming illustrations, and the little white dog is quite possibly the most adorable thing ever. He might (!) even top Jack on the cuteness scale…

Dog Loves Books is about Dog opening a bookshop and getting lost in the magic of stories.

In Dog Loves Drawing, Dog receives a blank sketchbook that he escapes into with an adventurous posse of friends that he draws along the way.

TOP DOG – love them both!


Where The Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak, The Bodley Head Children’s Books (Random House)

This 1963 book is a children’s classic with amazingly detailed illustrations. Max causes mayhem in his wolf costume and is sent to his room without supper. From there, he escapes to an imaginary place where he becomes king of all wild things. Brilliant use of very few words to say a lot! This story also has a lovely ending with Max deciding to come home to find his supper waiting in his room… still hot.


The Three Billy Goats Fluff, Rachael Mortimer, Hodder Children’s Books

This is a brilliant take on the fairy tale The Three Billy Goats Gruff. In this version, Mother Goat knits booties for her billy goats so they don’t make any noise trip-trapping over the bridge and waking the grumpy troll living underneath. The story is written in prose with the troll speaking in verse as he threatens to make meals out of the goats if they continue to wake him… that is, until he is presented with handknitted earmuffs, of course.


The Very Small, Joyce Dunbar, Random House Children’s Books

This is a seriously cute story about a Marsipulami-like creature lost in the woods, and found by Giant Baby Bear. The Very Small wants his own mummy, daddy and home, and baby bear shares everything with him… until they fall asleep and The Very Small is catapulted back into the woods by baby bear’s sleepy sneeze. The illustrations, as with any good picture book, are just darling, and I got so drawn into the story that I did feel rather sorry for baby bear eventually having to wake up to find his new-found friend missing (the book mercifully skips this part, and ends with The Very Small being reunited with his own parents).


Love Is A Handful of Honey, Giles Andreae, Orchard Books

This is a heart-warming take on everything that defines ‘love’ in the day of a little bear spent with his friends and family.

It’s an early Giles Andreae publication, and in my mind far tops his more famous books like Rumble in the Jungle and Giraffes Can’t Dance.



I Love You, Blue Kangaroo, Emma Chichester Clark, HarperCollins Children’s Books

A touching story about a little girl’s favourite stuffed animal. Lily loves blue kangaroo, but he soon has to share her affection with all the other toys gifted to her. Feeling lonely and rejected, blue kangaroo snuggles up to Lily’s baby brother instead… but once she notices him missing, she quickly bequeaths her whole menagerie to her little brother in order to get blue kangaroo back.

There are eight further titles in this series to date.


My Big Brother, Boris, Liz Pichon, Scholastic Children’s Books

This book has more text and is aimed at a slightly older age group. It deals with the struggles of daily family life, and the conflict between different aged siblings, the oldest one being a grumpy teenager in this case.

A further title in this series is My Little Sister, Doris (which I have yet to read).



The Heart and the Bottle, Oliver Jeffers, HarperCollins Children’s Books

This is a very touching book about a girl who looses her father, and decides to protect herself from hurt and sadness by cutting off her emotions. I love the simple yet effective language, although I am not sure how a young child would react to this story? I guess mostly it would be a story, rather than the deeply meaningful metaphor I read as an adult.



Giddy Goat, Jamie Rix, Orchard Books

Absolutely LOVE this one!

It is a great story about overcoming your fears and finding friendship, told through the eyes of a mountain goat that inconveniently is afraid of heights.

The sequel is Giddy the Great.


My Many Coloured Days, Dr Seuss, Red Fox Publishing

Possibly the least well-known of the Dr Seuss oeuvre, this book was written in 1973, and posthumously illustrated and published.

Different feelings are described as related to colours, thereby playfully introducing a variety of emotions.

‘Maybe on some days you feel sort of brown, like a bear; you feel slow and low, low down. But then comes a yellow day and wheeeeeeeee! you feel like a busy, buzzy bee.

What I love most about this book is the way it highlights the changing nature of everyday feelings, and most importantly, that your feelings are not who you are.


Who Loves Baby?, Julia Hubery, Piccadilly Press Ltd

This is a new release, and one of my latest finds, addressing the feelings of a toddler in the presence of a ‘new’ baby.

A meerkat pup’s new sibling is swooned over by the ‘Gooey Gang’ – a group of females coming around to coo over baby. ‘Don’t they know Baby is icky and sicky and pongy and pooey?’ he wonders. In the end, his teddy helps him discover that maybe Baby does have its good sides after all.

I also love this book for the introduction of words that require referencing from the Urban Dictionary, like ‘pongy’ (smelly) and ‘whuffle’ (in this context a snuffling noise).


There are other books I liked, such as Simon Puttock’s Big Bad Wolf is Good, although on reflection I would not read it to Lilly as it introduces labels such as good and bad. And then of course there are books that bear no further introduction, such as The Gruffalo, Green Eggs and Ham, or anything by Quentin Blake.


Happy Christmas reading everyone, and I look forward to more quality library time with Lilly in 2013!








Looking For A Tribe

I am not writing this sitting on my pity pot. I am actually writing this feeling quite good, if not a little brain-fogged.

Brain fog is pretty much where I’ve been lost for the last few weeks. As stated before, I was really really looking forward to a break, and when that didn’t materialize, things got a bit ugly. I was hanging in there knowing there would be light at the end of the tunnel, and promptly crashed when that light went out.

Now, the problem is, even I don’t quite get what is going on here. Why on Earth does my brain feel so full at the end of the day, even though the day quite possibly wasn’t particularly strenuous? Why is it that of late, I can’t I seem to be thinking coherent thoughts for longer than five minutes after 8pm?

I’ve been pondering this for a while, and I have been pondering it some more ever since my friend posed this question on my Facebook page:

So what to make of all those mothers who on top of this (childcare, housework, etc) have breadwinning jobs, taking them outside the home 30-50 hours a week? I never stop marvelling how few of them suffer from burnout.


Admittedly, my gut reaction was something cynical along the lines of

‘Yeah, that’s because they pay other people to do the job that’s so damn exhausting!’


But seriously, why burnout now rather than, say, at the height of my corporate career? Why indeed, when I seemingly cruised through working 14-hour days, weekends and traveling across Europe twice a week?

What exactly IS it that makes life with a small child so freakin’ exhausting?

I know for sure that it’s not capability, or stamina, that are at stake here. I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am capable. Heck, I’ve spent most of my life being capable and working hard. I have presented, strategized, budgeted, coached, hired, fired, innovated, business-planned. I am so used to being freakin’ capable that finding myself not-quite-so-capable is a fairly novel (and baffling) experience.


So after quite a bit of soul searching, I’ve narrowed the exhausting experience of life with a toddler down to three things:



Life with a small child is incredibly repetitive. It actually seems to have gotten more repetitive since we’ve crossed the threshold into toddlerhood. You pretty much take living in a time warp for granted with a newborn – endless feedings, sleepless nights, that sort of thing. You might find a ‘routine’ (whether that’s parent or child-led), but still, you can skip meals, and naps happen as and when tucked up in a buggy, which made our week-long NY holiday absolutely blissful.

Once you introduce regular meals, all that changes. Breakfast is no longer a matter of sleepily whipping out a boob. It is actually a matter of getting out of bed and producing a bowl of porridge. Naps no longer happen anytime, anywhere; at least not for more than twenty minutes. Therefore meeting friends is no longer as easy as plunking baby down into the pram and making a run for it. Things take a bit more planning, and many things – like meals, naps, going to the park, bedtime – are the same day after day.

I am the stellar opposite of a routine person. I love variety and spontaneity. So I guess it should come as no surprise that I feel like I am living Groundhog Day.  And I think even Bill Murray was pretty fed up at the end.



I know that from the outside looking in, it may not look like I’m ‘doing’ a whole heck of a lot on a daily basis. And I’d be lying if I didn’t have ‘spare’ time because, after all, Lilly does sleep, and sleeps rather well, so it’s not like I’m on duty 24/7.

But when Lilly is awake, then no matter what I’m doing, I always have her on my radar, aware of where she is and what she’s up to. Ok, I may miss a few tricks of what she’s up to, and catching her with her face covered in concealer, but at least I knew for sure that she was hanging out in the bathroom!

I went to a play café for two hours the other day, happily chatting to another mum. When I left, I was completely knackered, because in addition to (hopefully) making coherent conversation, I spent the entire time peering over my shoulder, checking on the girl and mitigating the occasional toy dispute. Even at home, my Lilly radar is always on. Doesn’t sound like much, I know… but sitting on the sofa having a cup of tea, ready to spring to action to divert, comfort or rescue isn’t the same as well, just sitting on the sofa having a cup of tea.



When Lilly first arrived, I took it for granted that life as I’d known it would come to a halt for a while, so I was pretty chilled. Yes, there was frustration around being tired and the endless ‘who-does-what’ conversations, but really I don’t recall hitting rock bottom until about June or so.

But I bounced back with gusto, and things merrily went on. That’s what I do – I bounce back easily after a short recharge, like getting away to write for a few hours. What I have noticed though is that over time, every time I’m getting that recharge, I start from a lower base. Maybe the last recharge didn’t quite top me up enough, maybe my battery was actually a few bars lower than I realized or maybe the chance to have a break just doesn’t come around often enough.

What I am learning is this: Without adequate time to regularly recharge my own batteries, I find that I am running down quicker than a year ago when I was still ‘fresh out of the box’.


All that kinda seems to make sense to me. But even so, part of me thinks I should continue coping and functioning just fine. On some level, I buy into this idea so much that even when I talk to friends (most of them without kids), more often than not I feel like I am sitting next to myself – an out of body experience of sorts – listening to myself talk and noticing just how freakin’ insane I sound. I buy into the notion that looking after a toddler should be ‘easy’ just as much as the next person, despite the fact that I now have first hand experience of the opposite. Where does all that come from?

Lastly, this whole ‘being capable’ thing is a lovely double-edged sword. I have always been crap at asking for help, and because I always manage to sort things out, help is rarely offered. Capable people don’t need help. I have therefore found it really hard to communicate that I am wearing a little thin, and I have found it really hard to get heard. After all, how tired can you be exactly, when everything happily ticks over as before?


I recently read a short story written in 1926 about a mother who goes on a family holiday with her husband and three young children (Holiday Group by E M Delafield). It talks about how tired she is at the end of every day, and her husband’s disappointment at her not wanting to stay up all night to make stimulating conversation, or go for long evening walks. That was 1926, and that was with domestic help. So surely what I am experiencing is not so novel after all?


Anyway, I have decided that this whole parenting thing is not designed to be a one (or two) person job. You know, like that good old proverb that says you need a village to raise a child.

Well, I need that village.

I have a tribe but my beloved tribe is spread far and wide. I need a local tribe. So does Lilly.

So… elders, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters – all welcome! We do come with a lovable, if slightly unsociable husband.


Image: http://geeyourebrave.blogspot.co.uk

(Two Day) Ticket To Paradise

Ok, I’m gonna keep this short – in a girl sort of way.

The guy sort of way would look like this:

“I got a ticket. Wanna go?”

This girl’s version is more like this:

In October, I was buzzing with optimism and creative energy, and I excitedly booked myself in for the annual IGNITE! Conference, run by my gorgeous friend Lucie Bradbury. A weekend connecting with inspirational women seemed the perfect ‘first weekend away’ since Lilly’s arrival. Sure, Rob had to work one of the days but finding someone to look after the little munchkin was going to fall into place easily and effortlessly. Or so I thought.

By the end of October, I had arranged a ticket, a hotel and the train ride from London. Then funky November came along, and no babysitter of any kind seemed willing to materialize. Neither Lilly’s preferred (and only!) sitter, nor godparents or close friends were available, but I clung to my usual stubbornness of making things happen in spite of petty obstacles and spousal objections. Then Rob got another job offer that involved the second conference day, and things started looking pretty grim. Getting Lilly looked after for a day was one thing, but upping the game to two days plus an overnight stay wasn’t really going to be in the cards.

So I moped, and went into a general funk. Whenever there’s lots of silence on this blog (and it isn’t being revamped!), then I’m generally hanging out in low places. Funks are no good for your creativity, and in any case, who needs the whining? So I silently licked my wounds, and felt like a prize muppet for not having anyone to look after my 16 month old for one, let alone two days.


But hiding in funky silence isn’t helping anyone, so I decided me not being able to go must mean two things:

1.)         Something bigger and even more appropriate is coming my way. (It could, and most likely does, also mean I am crap at manifesting what I really want, but that’s hardly an empowering belief to hold on to – I’ve already tried. Holding on to disempowering beliefs inevitably leads to FUNK, as seen above)

2.)       Someone else needs to go more than me.


I figured if I can’t make it, the second best option would be to give my ticket away so I at least get to enjoy the conference vicariously.

SO… if  you, or someone you know, would like to enjoy a fabulous weekend with amazing speakers, lots of fun, networking, general good cheer and dreaming BIG, then get in touch! The dates are THIS weekend (Nov 24-25) in Birmingham.  Maybe you’re someone who wanted to go, and couldn’t afford to. Maybe you’ve never even heard of IGNITE!, but could really use some special time away, just for you.

I don’t really care why you want to go, as long as you can make the commitment to show up. And no, I’m not going to ask you to do anything in return, like ‘liking’ my page, or subscribing to my blog, or telling me your life story (although you can if you want to!). Just get in touch either in the comments section, or by emailing me NOW at nette@nettehargreaves.com. And if you go, please please please, just have a blast – I know I would have!


PS: Just in case you’re wondering, I did heavily consider taking the short one with me, but that would require tons of extra logistics (such as a hire car and an onsite sitter) and frankly, I was looking forward to enjoying some much needed ‘me’ time and connecting with people without a baby monitor strapped to my side – just this once.

PPS: If being in a funk leads to not feeling creative (as it inevitably does), then DON’T fill your time reading anything from your pile of parenting books, such as the utterly brilliant Robin Grille’s Parenting for a Peaceful World (book review to to follow). His very detailed assessment of critical childhood developmental stages will tell you exactly where your parents irreversibly f***ed you up, which takes you straight down to FUNK CENTRAL. Don’t do it – wait until you’re happy and cheerful again. I should have knitted instead.


Image: lenonhonor.com

GUEST POST: Geheime Farblust? 50 Shades Of… Orange?

It’s European Multilingual Blogging Day!!! Today is all about giving bloggers an excuse to write in a different language.

Now I could have slaved for weeks over a post in my mother tongue but why make life difficult for my anglicized brain when a perfectly qualified linguist is close at hand in my circle of talented friends?

So here you have it:


Geheime Farblust, or 50 Shades Of Orange

(do scroll down for English translation!)


Im öffentlichem Nahverkehr, in Cafés und Parks scheint es nur noch ein Thema zu geben: „50 Shades Of Grey“, zu Deutsch „Geheimes Verlangen“.

So trüb der Titel klingt, so banal scheint auch der Inhalt des Buches, wie mir Leserinnen versicherten: Eine Frau zieht es in den Bann eines Mannes, der ihr die Sorte Sexualität näher bringt, für die ein Schrank voll Requisiten und Terminologie aus dem Wien Sigmund Freuds unerlässlich sind. Drei ziegelsteindicke Bände von mittelprächtiger literarischer Qualität, in allen Variationen. Ein Massenphänomen, bis zur Erschöpfung kommentiert von Journalisten, Feministinnen und Facebook-Mitgliedern.


Ich halte jedoch schon beim Titel inne: GRAU? Und das in fünfzig Schattierungen?

Wie viele meiner Generation verbrachte ich meine Studien- und frühen Berufsjahre schwarzgewandet: Rebellisch, sexy,  figurfreundlich und passend für alle Gelegenheiten – so sahen wir diese Nicht-Farbe und verweigerten sowohl das brave Dunkelblau unserer Großmütter als auch die schludrige Buntheit unserer Hippie-Eltern. Wird schwarze Kleidung gewaschen, entstehen Grauschattierungen – eine trüber und jämmerlicher als die andere, und im Gegensatz zu unserem Irrglauben keineswegs zusammenpassend. Schwärme von Nebelkrähen bevölkern die Büros unserer Städte. Viele von ihnen tragen nun dieses Buch in ihrer Handtasche herum, um sich nach Feierabend  zu entspannen – mit schlecht geschriebener und altmodischer Pornografie, bei der ebenfalls schwarze Utensilien zum Einsatz kommen. Muss das sein?

Meine Befreiung vom schwarz-grauen Einerlei begann mit einer „Farbberatung“, die mir liebe Freunde schenkten, um mich nach einem Schicksalsschlag aufzumuntern. Bei einer Farbberatung wird festgestellt, welche Farben und Kombinationen am besten zu einer Persönlichkeit passen. Vorurteile und Stereotype werden in Frage gestellt, ein individueller Farbpass weist den Weg in eine neue, bunte Welt. Ich entdeckte eine neue Liebe: Orange! Hielt ich es bis dato als unmöglich für Blondinen, rückt es in Wahrheit nicht nur meine grünen Augen ins rechte Licht, sondern ist mit seiner fröhlichen Aufdringlichkeit auch ein Ausdruck dafür, dass die Jahre des Versteckens in der Masse vorbei sind. Nie wieder „dafür bist du zu dick“, nie wieder „auf dem Kongress tragen alle dunkle Anzüge“, nie wieder „du musst auf die Sonnenbank/du musst dir die Haare bleichen“!

Das Erstaunlichste: Meine neuen Kleider in Orange (und anderen fröhlichen Farben aus meinem Farbpass) wirken sich nicht einmal nachteilig auf meine Karriere aus, im Gegenteil: Kollegen und Vorgesetzte freuen sich über frohe Farben mehr als über den verzweifelten Versuch anderer, ihre antrazithfarbene Misere durch Dekolletées, Stilettos und Peroxid aufzupeppen. Angela Merkels beeindruckende Sammlung bunter Blazer ist kein Zufall: Ob man ihre Politik mag oder nicht – sie geht in der dunklen Männerwelt nicht unter.

Inzwischen habe ich berufsbegleitend selbst eine Ausbildung zur Farbberaterin abgeschlossen und anderen zu einem neuen Blick auf sich selbst und die Welt verholfen. Wie das von mir „Graubuch“ genannte Werk arbeite auch ich dabei mit küchenpsychologischen Termini – doch nicht mit denjenigen der dunklen Seite unserer Seele, sondern mit allem, was Licht und Freude ins Leben bringt.

Sollte ich also jemals bei den falschen Leuten hohe Schulden machen und deshalb in Rekordzeit einen Softporno für Frauen schreiben müssen, so würde er heißen: „50 Shades Of Orange “.


In addition to colour-consulting, the colourwitch (colourwitch@skynet.be) works happily as a translator for an international organisation. She is connected to Nette not only through friendship, but through the love of wool and needles, which give her more opportunity to play with colours. Her other hobbies – or obsessions – don’t need props to be sourced in shady parts of town, but require only sheet music, other singers or Star Wars books. Well, grand opera houses and theatres are less modest places, but everybody needs a little glamour, don’t you think?


50 Shades Of Orange


These days there seems to be only one subject on the tube, in the office and in cafés: „50 Shades Of Grey“.

Well, the title sounds depressing and, as the people who read the book claim, so are the contents: A woman falls for a man who introduces her to the kind of sexuality that requires a closetful of sinister props and terminology from the era of Sigmund Freud’s Vienna. Enough to fill three bricks with mediocre writing and inspire countless journalists, feminists and Facebook-bloggers.

I for my part skip reading the doorstoppers and stay with the title: GREY? In 50 shades?

Like many of my generation I spent my university and early breadwinning years predominantly clothed in black: Black is rebellious, sexy, kind to the imperfections of the female body and appropriate for every occasion. So we thought, shunning the boring navy of our grandmothers and the motley of our hippie-mothers. Repeatedly washing black items nevertheless renders them grey, and combining different shades of black and grey does not – contrary to common belief – lead to a sophisticated outfit. Even today flocks of charcoal coloured crows populate the offices of European towns, as if emulating the mangy pigeons outside. Many of these ladies read the „Grey“-book on the bus back home – to relax with unnecessary detailed, old-fashioned pornography involving black utensils and a guy called… Grey? Really?

My own liberation from the black and grey drudgery begann with a „colour consultation“ lovely friends gave me to cheer me up after a hard time. Colour consulting analyses which colours and combinations best suit a given person. This process challenges prejucices and stereotypes, and the personal colour passport guides the way into a brighter world. I discovered a new favourite: Orange! I always thought it was a “no no” for blondes, but not only does the green of my eyes really sparkle when I wear orange, but the colour itself signalizes without a shadow (ha!) of doubt that there will be no more hiding myself in future. Never again „you are too short/chubby for that“, never again „everyone at the congress wears charcoal suits”, never again “you should get a fake tan/bleach your hair”!

And most astonishing: Though I am neither working as a yoga teacher nor as a cheerleader for the Dutch football team, my new quirk did not ruin my career. On the contrary – colleagues and bosses love a little unusual colour around them, when otherwise the dresscode is respected. Dolling up drab garb with hooker-heels, plunging necklines or an overdose of peroxide might please some Mr. Grey but long working days are more pleasant in a group whose members feel good about themselves in their own, cheerful colours.

In the meantime I myself have qualified as a  „colour- and style-consultant” in order to spread the cheer. Just like in the „Greybook“ there is some psychology involved – but not from the dark side. My field is the light – the unlimited, joyful variety of colours and personalities.

So if ever bad luck strikes and I have to borrow money from „men in black“, acquire cash in record time and see myself forced to sell my soul writing pornography, the title of my book would be: “50 Shades Of Orange”.

Images: wired.com, styleathome.com

Some Like It Hot

I hate lukewarm coffee. If beverages are meant to be hot, I like them searing hot. I love that comforting first sip of a properly heated drink, one that I can put down and return to savour at still acceptable temperatures as I work.

Coffee shops are my satellite office, the places I turn to for productive daytime writing. Home can be too distracting, with undone chores accusingly staring me in the face. The library sounds ideal but the seating sucks, and the senior citizen computer classes aren’t exactly conducted with the hushed silence I expect of such a bookish place. So coffee shops it is. I’ve spent too many years in open plan offices to be bothered by the noise, it’s easily tuned out.

What is less easily forgiven is a shoddy atmosphere, and worse, aforementioned lukewarm drinks. I don’t even indulge in the dark stuff very often, but I adore the fresh strong smell of good coffee. And when I do succumb to the occasional caffeine treat, it has to be worth it.

So what makes a good coffee? I think my coffee-loving writer friend describes it best in her recollection of the delights of a Tuscan café:

‘It [the cappucchino] was perfection, one which is yet to be surpassed.  Hot but drinkable, two thirds milk to one third foam and a great taste, not too sweet and not too bitter’


And never mind the much-mourned demise of the local coffee shop, for which apparently even caffeine-craving yummy mummies with buggies the size of compact cars can now be blamed. Fuggedaboutit, even the chain stores are on their way down, although whether they ever were ‘up’ can surely be debated.

My much-loved local S, tried and tested with many a corporate memo, university essay or blog post, recently declined on two counts: the removal of most of the comfy seats, and the utter unreliability of internet access. So much for ‘home away from home’. I was forgiving of such shortcomings, until one day a gang of local teenagers swarmed the place and, consuming their takeaways, made it smell like the fried chicken shack next door. Now I may have been guilty of clandestinely eating the occasional panini from the Italian deli inside these sacred halls, so my inane sense of fairness kept me from complaining. Begrudgingly, I defected to the newly opened C, switching from Chai Tea Latte to Hot Chocolate, and trying to make friends with the surly Eastern European mafia staff. But hot drinks aren’t part of their corporate credo either, as evidenced by the lukewarm, insipidly sweet ‘extra hot’ hot chocolate I found myself gagging on recently.


So what would my ideal writer’s café look like?

Small and intimate. Not like an episode of Friends, but personable. Plush carpet and comfy armchairs, the kind that you can lose yourself in. Clever but unobtrusive spaces for that little bit of privacy. Soft soothing background music. A good choice of coffees, expertly made. A small selection of fresh organic cakes, cupcakes and sandwiches. A bit of eye-candy, such as a handsome waiter to take my order. Internet access and wall sockets. Best of all, NO SCHOOLKIDS and NO YUMMY MUMMIES. As luck would have it, there’s a vacant retail space on the High Street just waiting to be turned into my personal writer’s haven. Investors, anyone?


In the absence of all that, I think Virginia Woolf just about had it right about a room of one’s own. And a thousand a year, plus inflation of course.


Image: ifood.tv, virtualtourist.com

Addicted to Love

I’m not a newsgirl. But something on the radio today caught my attention during my drive home from a weekend adventure with the girl:


I once saw the backside of Lance Armstrong during the 2003 Paris time trials. Of course the riders whizzed by so fast that I really caught nothing more than a flash of yellow in amongst the red, white and blue of his team but still.

I’m not even particularly interested in sports, or public figures. What interests me is what drives people, their ‘human’ rather than their celebrity side.

I read a condemning blog post about Whitney Houston’s death, and the scathing tone touched me enough to comment that maybe addiction isn’t as logical and manageable as we want to think it is. That’s why it’s called addiction in the first place, and apparently being a celebrity does not make you rise above that. So just like Whitney was clearly addicted to substances, I am wondering whether Armstrong became addicted to the success he created.

Can you be so addicted to success that you would do anything to attain, and maintain, it? Including taking performance-enhancing drugs? Including pressuring your teammates to do the same by threatening their careers?

Can you get addicted to success in the same way that you can become addicted to alcohol, gambling and drugs? Is winning the next race, getting that next medal the same as craving that next fix, wanting to turn the roulette wheel just one more time?

How do you rationalize and reconcile this with being publicly celebrated for what no cyclist before had achieved? How do you live with that amount of deception? And why?

I believe underneath it all what every addict wants is a feeling of feeling good. Not so different from the rest of us, except for an addict, that feeling of feeling good is to be attained at all cost, no matter the consequences.

And maybe in Armstrong’s case, that feeling of feeling good came from winning. Not only the races, but the admiration of millions. To be admired and respected is just another way of feeling loved, and who doesn’t want that? Everyone, of course, except thankfully not everyone resorts to large-scale lying and cheating in order to get it.

Part of me is saddened that such a sporting legend has been stripped of his achievements. That’s not to say I condone the alleged doping. That’s not even to say that those achievements were real. But my heart goes out to the pain Armstrong must feel at having lost his iconic status, at having been deprived of his ‘fix’, at being stripped naked in front of his adoring fans.

I can’t begin to conceive how you reconcile yourself with all that. How do you deal with watching the world that you have so carefully constructed crumble in front of you, to lose the identity that you have created?

I am sure over the coming days and weeks there’ll be many more condemning news reports and commentaries. But my take on it is this: have a little compassion. Don’t condone the actions, but see the person underneath. The hurt, the addiction. Today’s news must be like going cold turkey on steroids.

Who knows whether he’ll continue to deny what seems overwhelming evidence, or whether he’ll decide to come forward with a ‘confession’.

All I know is this: Addiction isn’t logical, it’s emotional. If indeed there is such a thing as being addicted to love, then it’s just that – addictive.

And we might as well face it: Judgement never heals. Not us, not the individual we are judging.

Love heals, but loving an addict is hard.

I know. I’ve spent a lot of time judging.


Image: healthland.time.com

Jumping Jack Flash








Well, not exactly… since he was a rescue dog, we have no idea when he was born, so we celebrate his arrival in our family instead. And it was really yesterday, but laptop time was limited and I didn’t get this post up in time. So for the few minutes it will take to read this, let’s just all pretend it’s still October 15, okay?

Last year for Jack’s first ‘birthday’, I bought him a rawhide bone and a rubber chicken. The bone was swiftly dragged behind the bed… where it remains untouched to this day. The chicken provided entertainment for about 15 minutes, which was about three minutes longer than it took me to clean the rubber chicken pieces off the living room floor.

This year, he got a bonus walk with lots of ball throwing, and a can of (wet) dog food. Canned food may not sound special but it went down well. Literally. The whole thing was gone in two minutes flat. It must have seemed like a feast to a dog living on dry kibbles day in, day out.


It’s actually quite curious that I should have a dog. Because for the longest, I was quite afraid of them. Big dogs, mostly. I think my paternal Gran’s mean king poodle snapped at me a few too many times as a young child. This mild dog phobia was swiftly cured during my NLP Practitioner Training. We did an exercise where we imagined the ‘movie’ that runs inside our head when we think of something we are afraid of, and then change it. So my visual of a hugely terrifying bulldog bounding towards me in the park lost its grip when I imagined him baring his teeth to reveal a diamante-studded smile. BLING! Big dogs were never the same after that.

When I broke it to Rob that I wanted a dog, he pulled out all the usual arguments: ‘What will we do when we go away?’ ‘We don’t need a dog in a one bedroom flat.’ ‘Who’s gonna walk him every day?’

But I’m not one for letting a few valid notions get in the way of my desires.

He then tried the ‘next year’ strategy. As in ‘Honey, you can have a dog next year.’ That one worked until Jan 1 of next year, but not a day longer. 2010 was the year I wanted that dog.

Some ten months later, Jack entered our lives. We were trying for a baby at the time and I finally announced to Rob that this dog would have to appear soon as I figured me falling pregnant would add new fuel to his ‘We don’t need a dog’ case. (As it later turned out, I was already pregnant by the time we brought our four-legged family addition home.)

I love that dog.

I love being out in the park and seeing him bound towards me at full speed. I love seeing him chase a ball, especially at the beach where he fearlessly careens into the surf in hot pursuit of his little treasure. I love him curled up in his basket with his nose tucked under his tail, watching him twitch and whinge in his sleep. I love dressing him up for special occasions.







You can see more of my favourite Jack moments here and here.


I also love watching Lilly and Jack interact. The other day, I caught her picking up his dry food and hand feeding him his entire dinner. When he protested at being chained to the playground fence, she kept walking out of the gate to check on him. They’re like little pals following each other around.







So when Rob suggested that celebratory bonus walk, I was torn between taking Jack to the park and skiving off to the café to write.

But in the end, who can resist those puppy dog eyes?

Sunday Morning Ramble

Quite uncharacteristically, the girl, the dog and I were on our way to the park by 9am this morning.

There’s an undeniable sense of accomplishment that accompanies breaking away from your daily routine and getting out early. Sundays are especially good for morning walks as our usual afternoons in the park are unfailingly problematic for the canine. Too many teams practising ball sports, too many fathers doing the same with their children. All lovely, for sure, but not when your four-legged ball-obsession needs to be contained on a lead for the certainty that he will otherwise barge in head first to join (and take over!), not always to the delight of parents or offspring.

But on a Sunday morning, the park is empty save for a handful of fellow dog walkers and a team of eager tennis players on the courts. There’s a sense of serenity as you push your buggy along quiet paths and marvel at the sunshine breaking through drying leaves, hitting the fresh, unbroken dew spread over the grass. I love the unhurriedness of this time when the whole day is still freshly unfolding before you.

There is without doubt beauty in every season. The first signs of spring, when everything teems with new energy, unfailingly seduce me. I love the feeling of shedding dreary winter layers and letting bare limbs soak up the warmth. I love the lazy energy of hot summer days and the cosiness of long winter nights.

But there’s something special about autumn (or fall, if you live in the US). It’s my favourite season.

There’s the much-romanticised melancholy of fog and falling leaves, the irresistible comfort of lighting candles and ending your day snuggled under your favourite blankets. But what I love most is that transition from summer to autumn. The first crispness in the morning air, the gradual adding of layers happily discarded months earlier. Pulling on your favourite chunky knits, grabbing a scarf as you head out the door, dusting off your cashmeres and, most importantly, your collection of boots. As a lover of clothes and accessories, I always celebrate the feeling of having a ‘new’ wardrobe as the seasons change and old favourites make their reappearance.

This year especially, autumn is bringing a new surge of energy for me, a sense of new beginnings. I’ve been feeling it for weeks now. The freshness in the air seems to be bringing a breath of fresh air to creative projects that have been lingering all summer. I feel new excitement, and new ideas are popping up all over my brain like those dewdrops on the grass. I am actually finding this a great time to refocus in ways that are often lost to me as talk of goals and New Year’s resolution fills the air at the beginning of the year when I mostly feel a grey limbo (often mirrored outside) after the hype of the holidays.

But the chilly brightness of autumn sunshine is just the thing to get me going, both physically and creatively, and I am relishing a much-needed fresh start.

By the time we leave the park, the cricketers are just warming up and the previously dormant posh neighbourhoods (on the other side of the tracks!) are beginning to show signs of awakening. I feel accomplished and ready to write. Conveniently enough Lilly feels tired and ready to nap. Jack contentedly curls up having had his daily dose of exercise.

Win-win for everyone.

Image: blog.mikeriversdale.co.nz

Sibling Rivalry

I’ve been coming across a lot of articles lately talking about how writing is like raising children.

You know, you ‘birth’ your work, you shape and nurture it, you apply some heavy-handed discipline when the characters fall out of line. Sometimes you reign in your storyline, while at others you allow it to take on a life of its own.


All true. Yet somehow, this whole child metaphor doesn’t really stack up for me.


Least of all the notion that in writing, you have to murder your babies.

Makes me cringe, that one – for obvious reasons. Once you become a parent, anything even vaguely implying harm to your child will make your throat constrict and your stomach knot. Yes, I know there are times for ruthlessly culling your work. Times to let go of what no longer serves your story. But infanticide? A plausible metaphor, perhaps. A reality of population control in ancient Rome, yes. But don’t talk to me about smothering children when my own is sleeping peacefully in the next room.

< I say this fully aware that my poetic firstborn is currently undergoing serious mutilation… purely on paper. >


Then there’s the philosophy that your ideas are your children.

I can buy that… to a point. After all, if you don’t care enough about your ideas to pour your heart and soul into them, they remain nothing more than a figment of your imagination, a mere twinkle in your eye. But unlike children, you can have as many ideas as you like, no contraception required.


I am guessing that all these child connections are made by well-meaning writers who currently don’t have small children in their lives.

But who is talking about what happens when your real-life, in-your-face-now child competes for attention with your authored offspring?

I can only speak for myself here but the real-life, in-your-face-now child wins just about every time.


I may wake up at 3am with a burning idea about a new piece, or a key turn of phrase that will make a current one stronger. I will do my very best to blaze that thought into my brain in the hope that its ashes still smoulder there come morning. But I tend to stay snuggled under the duvet. Sleeping with a husband and a toddler isn’t conducive to nocturnal writing spells. When the babe on the other hand rises in the small hours, there’s no hiding under the covers. She can be just as persistent as that red-hot thought, but with much greater volume.

Then there’s that sacred time dedicated to daily writing. It doesn’t always retain its consecrated status whereas daily childcare is a given. I can take a day off writing but honestly, I can’t yet recall 24 hours when I haven’t spent time with Lilly.


So when it comes to sibling rivalry, I can almost guarantee that the immediate needs of the real-life, in-your-face-now child are going to trump over those literary ones. After all, whoever shouts loudest usually gets the attention. Lilly’s got a pretty strong set of lungs.


But I believe my writing is finding its voice. And at least in writing, unlike parenting, you always have the option of starting over with a blank page…

…without resorting to overly dramatic gestures.

Image: parentdish.co.uk