The Bee’s Knees

I mean I can actually see the bee’s knees!

Wait….do bees even have knees? Where’s an Entomologist when you need one?

Anyway, this week my daughter and I have been on ‘Bee Watch’. Now our garden is in full bloom we luckily have lots of regular bee visitors, especially to the lavender. So Daisy and I spent a lovely sunny Sunday in the garden and every time she spotted a bee, she shouted to me (you know, the deafening cry of a 5-year-old, the one the rest of the street can hear) and I grabbed my camera.

For the child that cannot see her shoes when I have placed them neatly in front of her, this was a surprisingly successful strategy. Here’s what we captured:

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I honestly can’t believe these two shots (above and below). I love them; the clarity, the detail and against the beautiful purple of the lavender. I was chuffed with these, to say the least. The level of detail I’m able to capture now, on my new camera is incredible. These two shots were taken with a standard 50mm lens!

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We had a different bee friend on our Sweet Peas, the fuchsia pink serves as a wonderful background for this little bee going about its pollination work.

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Bee on sweet pea

I wanted to include a shot that wasn’t a close-up. I love the lines and shapes created by the lavender stems on the right-hand side of this one.

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On this last one, I changed the angle of the image when cropping it, creating an arch effect. I think this can work really well when you have a single subject with little else in the background. It draws your eye across the picture and just makes it a little bit more interesting.

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I haven’t done much ‘small’ nature photography before, it was quite exciting and very challenging, trying to capture tiny constantly moving targets. I also really enjoyed the post production work because shooting insects on a 50mm lens means you can’t actually see how good the shot is until you zoom in quite drastically. Many of the images, as I expected were quite blurry but there were enough good ones to make it worthwhile.

We will be hunting for more small things in the garden this weekend too. Who knows what we might find!

Until next time.

M

[Cannon 700D with standard 50mm lens. Some shots were taken using the Macro setting and the rest were taken using the Aperture Priority (AV) mode]

 

The Work-Life Balancing Act – How To Keep Your Head Above Water

Gone are the days of families supported by one salary. The cost of living means this is not a feasible option for most.

Plus, the primary caregivers (women mostly) in many cases, want to work, in some capacity, as I do. We want to contribute financially, learn, develop and achieve in our own right.

My husband works full time and myself 4 days a week. Many of you will know from experience, getting to the end of each week equates to the same level of organisation necessary for a basic military operation. Our week requires getting four different people to four different places, on time, five days a week, each accompanied by a bag of appropriate accessories. Missing a drop-off window will have a knock-on effect on all the subsequent and any mixing up of accessories could lead to significant upset or embarrassment for any party. The stakes are high….

Whatever your week looks like, it’s a tough gig but it’s not impossible to succeed (99% of the time anyway) without going insane. Here are a few things I’ve figured out over the last few years:

Be organised. Obvious, but this is a daily struggle for me!

  • Get bags, shoes, coats, and lunches ready the night before.
  • Know what your morning implementation plan is, who’s doing what?
  • Food plan and shop online. I can’t stress enough what a difference this makes.
  • If you can afford it, get a cleaner. I can’t afford it yet but when I can, I will. It’s one of my biggest weekly stresses.
  • Don’t do everything yourself – if you have people to help then use them; a partner, parents, in-laws. Be specific on when and how they can help.
  • Don’t take on too many extra things – It will only add to the strain of your busy week. I have been guilty of this. You don’t need it.

Take that ‘me time’ at work. Make sure you take a lunch break; read a book, get some fresh air or talk to your friends. Be an expert in something else for a bit, be ‘you you’ for a while, rather than ‘parent you’.

My Family

But then leave it behind; ensure there is clear separation between work and family time, this is difficult with today’s technology, but don’t miss one of those lovely ordinary moments because you were checking your email.

Have a couple of things for yourself – It’s OK you know. Make one of them exercise, it will boost your energy levels and relieve stress, don’t underestimate its value. This year I am also learning some Spanish (via the duolingo app). It just takes 20 minutes here and there and I love it.

If you have a partner on this journey, then be kind to each other; whenever it’s possible my husband and I have a weekend lay in, him on a Saturday and myself on a Sunday. It’s a life-saver some weeks.

This is a tough juggling act for sure and if you do feel under constant strain then it’s probably time to tweak something. Otherwise, you’ll have the odd week when you feel like you haven’t done anything well, but don’t give yourself too much of a hard time, you’re probably doing a much better job than you imagine.

 

Published in association with Raring2Go Worthing

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We Have Been Your Equal…

There’s a lot to be said on Sexual Equality, a subject I am no expert in but as International Women’s Day (8th March) came and went I was drawn to thinking about this and what the future might hold.

By 4-years-old our children have decided that there are colours, clothes and jobs for girls and different colours, clothes and jobs for boys. I have tried to explain to my daughter that this is not the case and there are just colours, clothes and jobs and she and her friends can wear and do whatever they want to when they grow up.

Gender stereotyping can be a battle; one I feel I have already lost. But does my daughter’s love for Disney Princesses mean that she is not going to want to, or be able to do a job in science, technology or engineering when she’s older? I’m not sure it does.

But I do worry about her future because gender stereotyping has had/is having serious consequences. I don’t want her to grow up thinking there are certain options that are not relevant to her just because she’s a girl?

If we want to see change, want to make a difference, the most significant thing we can do right now is talk openly to our children (yes our boys as well as our girls), anyone believing that sexual equality is a female only challenge, is demonstrating the problem right there. Shifting a long-held perception on any subject takes time and this change will not be brought to the fore by us but by our children. And like any other revolution, it must start somewhere. It must start with us, now.

There is a way to go, battles still to fight. Young women are still being sexualised, objectified and ridiculed for not looking a certain way. At the same time, older women are criticised for growing old ‘ungracefully’ There’s the pay gap, lack of flexible working, gender parity in business, domestic violence and sexual violence. Things that all need to be addressed in all walks of society, by the media, and by our governments.

And whilst it’s easy to feel disheartened I want to for this moment, focus on what we have, instead of what we don’t have and what we have achieved, instead of what we still have left to do. The disrespectful noises coming from the USA to me are like a rallying cry, I can hear drums in the distance; The girls are coming

Superhero

But I am no man-hater, far from it. I feel lucky to have been surrounded by wonderful men all my life, men who have offered love, respect, and support. Something I know not every woman can say. These men; our fathers, partners, brothers, friends, and sons, have made a difference though and will continue to do so. Because they all represent a small piece of the puzzle of equality, it’s a big puzzle, it’s going to take a lot of perseverance to finish, and at this point, there are some pieces missing (we should probably look under the sofa). But it’s starting to take shape, it’s starting to vaguely resemble the picture on the box.

Because from my corner of the world, I tell you, I have seen great things from Womankind, as have the men that have stood next to us, as our allies, they bear witness, they have seen that:

We have been strong.
We have been fearless.
And we have been brave.

We have fallen like them.
We have been in pain like them.
And we have cried like them.

Yet we are not equal?

Our bodies and minds have been broken by carrying and bringing children into the world.
But we have survived.

We have picked them up when they’ve been down.
We have cradled them.
And we have told them that everything will be ok.

We have paid our way.
We have voted and marched.
And we have had a voice.

Yet we are not equal?

We have felt undervalued.
We have felt unappreciated.
But we have carried on.

We have made sacrifices.
We have put our careers on hold and taken jobs we are over qualified for.
And we have stayed in unfulfilling roles because it’s the right thing to do for our families.

Yes, we have needed their help and yes we have needed their strength.
But they have also needed ours.

No, we have not been perfect and we don’t deserve anything we haven’t worked for.
But we do deserve the chance and the opportunity to show we can.
Because our rights are not a competition.

To Mankind; We are different to you in many ways but it doesn’t make us unequal.

We may not have half the top jobs, yet, and we may not earn half the big money but we have in so many other ways been your equal. We should not be judged on job titles, money, status and physical strength alone. These are not the only things that define us and should not be a basis on which to conclude that women are somehow inferior to men.

Because, let’s not forget that men and women will stand here together, side by side, until the end of time. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. We all have our own personal contribution to make.

With this I am hopeful that as our empowered and educated children go out into the world, the future they create will be one where they can feel confident in their ability to do any role and where people are defined by their skills and not their gender. Where women are paid equally and recognised for their contribution, as 50% of the world’s population quite rightly should be.
  
   

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NEWSFLASH: Modern Family Life Is Hard Work!

The need for a good work-life balance is a shared struggle for so many of us.

Annoying inside-my-head smug voice:
Wait, you signed up for this right?
Me: Well yes…
Nobody forced you to have two children, did they?
Me: Well no…
You knew you’d have to go back to work right?
Me: Yes…
Well quit your moaning then Doll Face
(Yes my annoying inside-my-head smug voice calls me Doll Face, so it’s not all bad).

“Parenting (like Ronseal) – does what it says on the tin”.

OK, OK, I’m not really allowed to moan but can I just for a bit, a teeny tiny bit, please?

Since September this year we have been adjusting to a new routine with one child now at school and one at nursery.  This is nothing short of a massive pain in the ar*e. Kindly allowing me the opportunity of arriving late at not one but two separate locations in the morning *sigh*.  A standard week is like a full-on military operation. Involving meal planning, online shopping, bag packing, shooshing, rushing, sighing and swearing (under my breath). And transportation by various combinations of car, train, pushchair and foot. Mixed with some pulling, pushing and on occasion, dragging.

By the time I get to work I’m completely exhausted, from just existing.

In all seriousness though, the biggest stress, I find, in the life of two working parents, is spreading yourselves so thinly. The feeling that in doing so much & performing so many different roles, you end up not doing any of them very well. The feelings of frustration and guilt (more guilt, just what we need) are there daily. Sometimes you want to ask (politely) if you can get off, to just catch your breath for a bit.

Yes, I want the bloody moon on a stick, who doesn’t?

I want to feel like a better parent. I want to be able to carefully answer all my daughter’s questions each morning without rushing her or stopping her half way through by shoving a toothbrush in her face.

I want to have more energy for her reading and writing.

I want to let my son play for longer in the morning. So happy with his trains before I engulf him in shoes, hats & coats and plonk him in a car seat.

I want to give more to my job. I take pride in my work, I’m not a person that can just clock in and clock out (thanks, Mum & Dad for making me annoyingly conscientious). I care and I want to be the one to make good suggestions, come up new ideas but some days I’m so drained I can just about remember my system password.

I want to do more on my blog. Much more. I want to write more, promote more, interact more, take all the opportunities that it might bring but there is just no time.

I want a clean & tidy house. It’s filthy, honestly, I cringe at the thought of this. I can just about manage a little tidy each day but cleaning is a nightmare.  No, I can’t afford a cleaner and I just, you know, don’t like the idea of it….

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes you get to win, God I love those weeks, feeling like Super Women. I arrive on time, I forget nothing, I eat healthily, I answer questions, I write (I still don’t clean, but hey ho…). And there are very limited amounts of rushing, sighing, swearing and dragging. And for us, the weekends bring welcome down time. But in amongst the sometimes overwhelming stress of what it takes to ‘exist’ as part of a working family of four, I find there are all these moments, where you feel like you’re actually doing a good job. Happy, sad, challenging, all different kinds of moments, where in your head (or maybe out loud?) you give yourself a little high five, a tiny fist pump or do a little jig, whatever works for you.

Some moments are big and some are very small…

Recently my son had a nose bleed in the middle of the night. After cleaning everything up, despite being a major Daddy’s boy he wanted me and only me.

So I cradled my son in my arms, heavy now at 18 months. We rocked back and forth in the subtle orange glow of the night-light in his bedroom, a room that I know so well now. I’m pretty sure I could rebuild it with alarming accuracy anywhere. We listened to the soft lullaby of Ewen The Sheep, the only other sound was the padding of my bare feet on the carpet.

He was very unsettled, I kissed him on the head and stared at his half illuminated face. My arms hurt and I felt brain dead until suddenly I realised that this was one of those moments and I smiled to myself, a smile just for me.

Because as I rocked this small boy that couldn’t sleep, in that moment, right there, I was doing a good job.

I was everything I needed to be.

And it felt good.

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Roses In The Summer Rain

For my Mum’s 70th birthday, my Dad bought her 70 red roses, in 2 batches of 35. I know, what a lovely gesture. The second of the 35 arrived on the day of her party, in the midst of a short summer rain shower. This meant they had that wonderful glistening look and were covered in shiny water droplets. So whilst my sister hunted for another vase, I grabbed my camera and took a few shots to capture this unexpected opportunity that my Dad and nature had just presented me with!

The first two images are in the natural ‘rose’ red where you can see the real detail of the water droplets and the layers of the rose petals.

Red Rose Close Up

Red Roses

The next two images, I have added a Photoshop Autumn Filter, which I personally love. The darkening of the outer edges gives real focus to the brighter centre part of the image. Your attention is naturally guided to where I would like you to focus and enjoy the detail!

Red Rose with Autumn Filter

Red Roses with Autumn Filter

With this last image, I have taken the colour away with a black & white filter and made the contrast quite high. I love doing this, where I can because it makes the image look quite raw and adds so much texture. You really notice the layers of the petals and the difference between the light and dark areas of the image.

Red Roses in Black & White

Until next time….

M

[Cannon 700D with standard 50mm lens. ISO-100, f/5].

Babe, The Sheep-Pig

“Are we really going to see a show about a pig that wants to be a sheepdog?” My 4-year-old asks me. Followed by “What does a sheepdog do Mummy?”

Well, if she doesn’t know that then I guess describing a pig trying to herd sheep may not actually sound that strange!

I am, however, at 37, knowledgeable in the role of a sheepdog and a big fan of the original 1995, Dick King-Smith film, Babe. Therefore, I had quite high expectations of this stage adaptation by David Wood.

As we walk into the theatre we are greeted by 4 sheep on stage, (people in fluffy costumes). And they are just, ‘being sheep’, bleating, chewing & interacting. This is such a lovely touch, my daughter thought it was really funny. Great start!

We begin at the sheepdog trials and then swiftly into a flashback on how we arrived there. Which I’m not sure was necessary, it’s a concept that just wouldn’t be understood by young children and the audience was young, mostly under 10.

So, we meet Farmer Hogget who wins a piglet in a ‘guess the weight’ competition at the local fair. Here enters the star of our show, Babe. Played as a puppet, where at first, I wasn’t sure if the puppeteer would be a little distracting but actually, he was quite brilliant, watching the little pig’s head and eyes continually moving and responding to its surroundings meant you never took your eyes off the little fella.

Babe The Sheep Pig

Babe is taken under the wing of the farmer’s loyal sheepdog Fly and once her pups have gone (a heartfelt moment in the show) Babe asks if she can teach him how to be a ‘Sheep-Pig’. Babe settles on the farm befriending all manner of creatures with his polite & friendly approach. And after a heroic effort to stop ‘Sheep Rustlers,’ he saves himself from the Christmas dinner table by proving his usefulness.

The music is a folk-infused, toe-tapping delight, with some instruments played live by this multi-talented cast. Also dramatic in parts, to add atmosphere and weight to certain darker elements of the story.

We found ourselves easily picking up this little gem and singing along:

“Here’s our Babe, let his heart never fail. He’s a clever lad this pig, with a curly kind of tail”.

An extraordinary adventure continues to unfold for our little pink hero as he finds his much less aggressive approach to sheep herding very successful. But how would he fair at the big show that Farmer Hogget is planning to enter him into, against other sheepdogs and sheep he doesn’t know? Fly, as any protective parent might, ensures he has an edge, in the form of a ‘sheep password’.

The set and staging are very clever, transitioning niftily between the scenes, the costumes wonderful (the brief appearance of a wolf is spectacular) and the mixture of dressed-up people and beautiful puppets for the differing roles works really well.

Babe The Sheep Pig

The story is aimed at young children and the message (there’s always a message), addresses prejudice and rudeness, whilst looking to reinforce self-belief and the importance of kindness.

“This will leave your heart warmed and your soul firmly uplifted for the rest of the day. As this little pig beats all the odds to come out on top”.

Find more family shows from Worthing Theatres here >

Believe

Find a challenge that makes you smile. What have you got to lose? What might you gain?

On the 26th February 2017, I ran the Brighton Half Marathon. Non-runners, exercise haters stay with me, this is not actually about running, I’m just using it to demonstrate a point. I won’t be posting any pictures of me in tight fitting fluorescent clothing, don’t panic.

I started running again after my son was born in May 2015. I needed something for myself, some ‘me time’ and I wanted my body back, for good this time. I never managed it in the three years between pregnancies. It was sort of like my body said, “Well you’re going to grow another human inside you again, you might as well not bother”.

Hmm fair enough.

So I started running and my husband (aka Marathon Man) really encouraged me, making time for me to go, where there was none. So I went.

The next year and a half went something like this:

Him: You should run a half marathon to give you something to focus on with your running.
Me: Ok yeah why not? (13 miles seemed a long long way back then but I was feeling good).
Him: You should train to run it in under 2 hours.
Me: Hmm that sounds alright. I don’t just want to run it; I want to run it well. So sub 2 hours feels like a decent time and just about achievable.

So I went for it, I signed up for the Run Reigate Half Marathon.

I trained, I ran and I did it in 1hr:56m:16s. I was elated. I punched the air as I ran over the finish line (thank God that wasn’t caught on camera). My very next thought, after, ‘I need a drink’, was, ‘I can definitely do that faster’. Why? Why, why, why would I say that?

Half Marathon Medal

One month later I signed up for the Brighton Half Marathon.

Him: You need to aim to do this one in less than 1 hour 50 minutes 
Me: Meh…
Him: I’ll run it with you, pace you round?
Me: Hmm well, we don’t really get to spend much time together just the two of us anymore, so running along Brighton seafront together sounds nice, let’s do it.

I trained, I ran (with Marathon Man) and we did it in 1hr:49m:52s. (Yes, just 8 seconds to spare!) It nearly killed me, I cried a little bit as we went over the finish line. I was ecstatic!

Half Marathon Medal

I have condensed the story so not to bore you but in doing so I’ve made it sound really easy, which it was not.

I am not a born runner, know that.

These little legs were not made to run fast! In order to get into a position to achieve my goal, I had to work really hard. And with any challenge like this, it takes a lot of dedication and willpower. You need to do your training no matter what. You go in the rain, you go in the wind, you go in the cold (for one of my long runs it was -4oC). You go when you really don’t want to, you just suck it up and you go.

Then on the day, you focus and you get your head straight, ready for the physical and mental battle to the line. And most of all, no matter how you have felt prior to that moment, you believe the hell out of yourself. Believe, believe, believe you can do and you will.

This is just a half marathon (13.1 miles), it’s not a big deal, most people could walk it in 3hrs. But it made me feel:
A huge sense of achievement
Happy
Proud of myself
Knackered (good knackered)
Like I’d set a good example for my kids
Relieved (in a good way)
Not to mention the ongoing health and general wellbeing benefits

“And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to feel like that every now and then?”

You know when you’re having a bad day and you might say, “Gosh I wouldn’t wish this on anyone”, well this is the opposite of that. “I wish this on everyone”.

So, find your thing, your goal, your reason and go for it.

It could be anything, not just a physical challenge.

What do you like to do? Do you have a hobby? Do you paint or sew or play an instrument? What do you want to change about your life? Do you want to learn a new skill? Find something just for you and then define a goal, some kind of target to aim for, one you can quantify in some way.

Yes, I know time is our ever-dwelling nemesis, especially if you have children. So can you enlist someone to help you, so you have time to practice? A parent, a sibling or a friend? Can you do it in a lunch break at work? If you truly want to do it, you’ll find a slot somewhere.

And this isn’t a Hollywood movie, if things aren’t going great, adjust your targets and then slowly work back up to the ultimate goal.

What have you got to lose? What might you gain? The positive impact on your physical and mental wellbeing after achieving your goal, I would imagine in most cases, will be well worth any perceived risk.

So find something that makes you smile, go and do it and believe in yourself.
 
 

 
 

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Apologies, Aspirations, And the Small Matter of Making the World a Better Place…

I’m late. I’m always late.

The 2017 goal setting party started bloody ages ago and I’m just rocking up now. Looking dishevelled, with no gift and no real excuse.

Whereas everyone else arrived on time (or early), wearing a well thought out outfit, furnishing this new year with a lovely bunch of flowers and a slightly smug look on their face. Dammit!!

I’ve never been into goal setting, not as a proper exercise anyway. But this year I wanted to put a bit more thought into it. And here’s why:

Last time out, I wrote this…

Oi 2017 – Our Children Are Watching. And No, It’s Not OK. I was and still am, upset & disillusioned by the current state of things in the world. A world my children will stride out into with less & less of my protection as each year passes.

I can’t change the world on my own but I can have an impact on my own little corner of it. So that’s where I’m going to start. I want to feel like I’m doing some worthwhile things that will benefit others, not just me or my immediate family. I want to lead by example, I want to try and spread some positively. Which for me can be difficult. I’m such a ‘glass half empty person’, sometimes, so this is taking me right out of comfort zone.

I’ve put some goals together for 2017.

Some personal ones and some family ones but then also a few focusing on other things that I can do myself (with little resource or spare time) as part of my one-woman mission to make the world a better place. Because you can’t moan about something if you’re not prepared to take any action to change the situation.

Being out of my comfort zone is exactly what I need right now, so here goes.

Here’s a snapshot of what I hope to achieve:

2017 GoalsNone of these are revolutionary, I know that. For some of them, the only real challenge will be finding the time.

Personal Goals
Reading & going to a gig – I know, big deal, right? But the sad fact is I haven’t properly read a whole book or seen any live music since my daughter was born almost 5 years ago. These are two things I love and that I need to make time for.

Family Goals
I’m excited about these. My daughter can’t get her head around going to another country, so if we make it to France for a camping trip this summer then that will be a great experience for her. And growing some veggies in the garden is such a fun thing to do with kids, plus we are determined this time after last year’s failure!

Other Goals
Many of you will have done some of these, or perhaps do them regularly? Like giving blood for example. I can’t fathom why I haven’t done that before?

I love running, it’s my thing, so I’m going to do one of my events for a charity this year. And my daughter is keen to clean up the old toys and give them away. Two easy no-brainer ideas right there.

These are small things.

I know that, but just imagine if every adult in the UK (or even half that) picked a couple of things to do this year that benefited others? What a huge difference that could make, don’t you think?

“I’m hoping I can inspire a few people, then perhaps they could inspire a friend, who inspires a friend, then hey presto! We’ve started a revolution……”

Kindness Cost You Nothing. So give it away frivolously...

What is everyone else doing this year?

I’d love to hear about other things you’re doing with your families or an interesting personal challenge. And especially ideas for helping others. Please leave me a comment.

I’ve written these down and shared them simply because I want to be held accountable. I want to be able to look back at this year and say ‘yeah I did those things’, I tried to make a difference. I tried to teach my kids some worthwhile values.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not perfect.

And I don’t believe that thinking this way makes me better than you but what it does make me is human. I think we should all take a little time to think about what that means these days. The person standing next to you in the street, that you don’t know, is similar to you in almost every way. And all the small nuances that make them different are all the bits that make them interesting, that help them to tell their own story. You will most likely have much more in common with them than you imagine. So let’s be kind to each other.

Before you go, please take a moment to watch this, it’s quite brilliant. It’s a TV commercial but the sentiment regarding humanity is so relevant right now.

TV 2 | All That We Share
TV 2 | All That We Share

Right, I’m off, need to get busy if I’m going to get all of this done! First stop is a goal just for me – Brighton Half Marathon, Sunday 26th Feb.

RUN MUMMY RUN….

 

  
  

 
 

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