Moved Blogs!

It’s hard for me to believe but I have been blogging now for about 10 years.  Blogspot, tumblr, wordpress and now finally, self-hosted!  You can now view my new blog home over at www.melwiggins.com!

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From living in London at Uni, getting married, moving back to London, having Levi and now owning our own home back where it all began in Northern Ireland, it’s so lovely to look back at what feels to me like a journal of where life has taken me and now, us.

It’s been a long time coming to give the look of where I do my writing a bit of a spruce up.  I enlisted the help of some wonderful designers and friends to take things up a notch and do the fancy stuff that I am too impatient to learn to do myself.  The wonderful Ben from Angel & Anchor designed the graphics for me and Ally of Supersimbo made it all come alive on screen in the back end of site design.  I’m so grateful to these guys and would urge you to check out their other work.

Going self-hosted now means that I can do much more  – it feels like a fresh start and a good opportunity to hone in on the particular things that I have found myself writing more and more about as I’ve grown.  The majority of my posts will fall into one of the four categories you see at the top of the new site – I feel like these four things really sum up the stuff that drives me forward as a person.  To see what I’ve written before on these themes, just click in to go through the archives.  As you can see there’s also other social media links on the right and a little section about me you can click into as well.

What do you think of the new look?  I’d love to hear – but don’t forget to comment on the new site – not here!

If you follow along on bloglovin, make sure to update that too! Follow my blog with Bloglovin

I really appreciate all of you who take time to read what I put out there.  It’s a funny old world, this blogging stuff.  Some might call it narcissistic but for me it’s been therapy; a way to hammer out on the computer the things I can’t always express, or to start a dialogue with people I wouldn’t have a chance to sit down and have a coffee with.  I’m also always up for collaborating and joining in with the other wonderful bloggers I’ve gotten to know online – don’t be shy – get in touch!  Blogging has given me a voice, new friends and an outlet for creativity.  I hope you continue to read and engage.

Big love,

Mel x

Christmas Wrap With Kids

I don’t know about you but I’m generally a bit of a scrooge when it comes to elaborate gift wrapping.  Hours spent on decorations and bunting and garlands and spray painting pine cones that will be used every year – YES.  Hours spent on wrapping a present that will end up being ripped apart and demolished – DEFINITELY NO.

Yet I am DRAWN to these beautifully wrapped gifts.  I pin them, I covet them because of the detail, the colours, the imagination.  Still I just can’t get my head around the temporariness of it all.

I’m a ‘brown paper packages tied up with strings’ kinda gal – brown paper is my go to for just about every gift, so I decided to throw tradition to the wind and have a go at something else – with a little help from Levi.  Kids love to help, don’t they?  They love to ‘help’ even when helping means about 45 mins extra work for the parent because of said helping.  Ah parenthood.

DSC_2222Lynne from the delightful online stationary store Papermash sent me some gorgeous little bits to inspire me.  Lynne is from NI, but living in London and we finally got to meet this summer after a few years of being online buddies.  If you have a party, a present to buy or make – Papermash is your spot.  I treat myself to something from it once in a while (HELLO RIFLE PAPER COMPANY!) and am always scouring it for fun and unusual party supplies.  Lynne also does a beautiful blog of different creative ideas using supplies from her shop.  It’s fun and you should definitely check it out.

If you’re looking for a little something you can involve your kids in when it comes to wrapping gifts for Christmas, this is the one.  It’s simple, sweet, fun for the kids and really low maintenance:

One thing I always look out for at charity shops is rolls of wall paper, especially wallpaper liner.  I tend to have a few rolls of that up in the craft room for Levi to go nuts on with paint/crayons/glitter/glue/buttons while I work on something else.  It’s good and thick as well, and makes for really good wrapping paper!

I rolled the liner out on the floor (with a plastic tablecloth underneath) and set out a little pot of metallic gold paint with a few lollipop sticks/wooden spoons and together Levi & I had goes flicking the paint all over the paper.  I didn’t manage to get any pictures of that part of the process because, like all good mums, I was micro-managing the special craft time.  “NOT ON THE WALLS!”

We splatted the paint all over a big long sheet and left it to dry overnight.  Best to do a lot at once so you have plenty to use for different sized gifts.

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DSC_2206Then we got to wrapping.  I love how subtly the gold shimmers when it dries.  It’s all a bit abstract.  You could obviously do whatever colours you have – red & green for more traditionally festive wrap!  Heck, you could even splatter paint onto good old brown paper, or even textured wallpaper – endless options.

Add some hot pink washi tape to the back to secure for an extra bit of jazz.  How boring was the world of present wrapping and crafting before washi tape?  All of us just settling for clear or brown tape forever. Terrible.

DSC_2208 DSC_2213 DSC_2217Then for my favourite bit!  Who needs regular old jute string when you can have HOT PINK JUTE STRING!

DSC_2218This string is new to Papermash and is already proving really popular.

DSC_2225 DSC_2219Tie in a little kraft gift tag when you’re doing your bow and you’re done!  Levi was well proud of his making – AND it’s so easily (and cheaply) done that I don’t mind if people rip it apart to open!

 

 

A Present Christmas

We’re home from our annual framily Christmas weekend away.  Every year for the past couple of years we have taken a couple of days to head away somewhere with our pals and their kiddos.  Nowhere fancy, nowhere far – just a few days to switch off and be together.  Each year we grow in number, adding squidgy new babies to the chaos.  It is beautiful chaos.

This year on the eve of our annual getaway, Levi was up all night with an ear infection – in our bed crying, refusing medicine (never been much of a calpol hound).  Us, shining torches in his ear, worried, tired, calling the on-call doctor for advice.

We kept him off nursery and got him to the docs on Friday morning.  The moment we went into the doctors surgery he perked up.  Sick?  Me?  Nah.  Regardless, she had a look and sure enough – ear infection.  Antibiotics for the ear (snuck into his juice 3x daily) and an inhaler for his persistent wheezy cough.

We took the risk and decided that he was in good enough form to plough on and go away anyway.  He was excited about hanging out with his pals and so were we.  We needed it.

We clubbed in to rent a big house on the outskirts of Enniskillen.  A big house with an outdoor 8-person hot tub.

Most of the day we stayed in sweats/jammies, coffee on tap. We all brought soups and stews and baked goods to munch on. The kids played, didn’t share well, kissed and made up, watched DVD’s, chased each other and the adults floated in and out of duty looking after, feeding, refereeing.  Each time we do it we think to ourselves, it’s not going to be as easy next year…more babies, more chaos, but to our surprise and shame it has always been great.

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When we finally got all 6 children off to bed, we snuck out for a late night dip in the hot tub.  We lined the baby monitors up like soldiers on guard and kept an eye on the lights (we actually forgot ours, but hey-ho).  We talked, we laughed, we drank wine and cherry brandy and craft beer.  We wearily dragged our damp, dehydrated bodies to bed at respectable hours – happy, full and satisfied.

There is something lovely about waking up and having different company.  Slow moving mornings, kids entertaining each other, toys scattered, rejected toast on the floor, us playing pass the baby and taking turns making hot drinks and food.  It felt like the perfect kind of simple and exactly how it should be.

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I stole a few moments to continue reading through ‘Bread & Wine’ (as I mentioned in my last post) and there was a chapter all about the significance of being present over perfection that has really stuck with me over the last couple of days.  It’s in me as a person to want to make things happen (my top strengthsfinder characteristic is that of an ‘Activator’, after all) so it is easy and normal for me to run myself ragged trying to make things fancy and well organised and candle-lit and impossibly homemade – especially so around Christmas.  But what I’m learning is that sometimes, choosing simplicity and allowing yourself space to rest and be present is pretty freeing and a gift in itself.  It’s freeing for ourselves, but I think it’s also freeing for others who probably find the expectations of this season just as frantic and impossible too.

Shauna put’s it best when she writes: “But this season I’m not trying for perfect.  I’m just trying to show up, every time, with honesty and attentiveness.  Let’s be courageous in these days.  Let’s chose love and rest and grace.  Let’s use our minutes and hours to create memories with the people we love instead of dragging them on one more errand or shushing them while we accomplish one more seemingly necessary thing.  Let’s honour the story – the silent night, the angels, the miracle child, the simple birth, with each choice that we make”.

Don’t you just love that? Maybe you’ll commit to that this Christmas as well? There’s still time.

 

Thanksgiving 2014

So Canadian Thanksgiving has come and gone…but it’s American Thanksgiving today so I thought I would retreat back and share some snaps from our Canadian Thanksgiving celebration!

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I reckon having people over for dinner is one of my most favourite things to do.  The preparation, pouring over recipe books & food blogs, buying in food, setting the table, the smells, the steamy kitchen, welcoming guests, the buzz, the quiet during the eating, the satisfaction, food-tiredness at the end.  It’s a little slice of heaven.  In fact, I’m reading a beautiful book at the minute called Bread & Wine:  A Love Letter to Life Around the Table by Shauna Niequist, that my friend Nina let me borrow and it is perfection.  Stories, recipes, the sacredness of eating and friendship and family.  There is such significance in the sharing of food with people.  It’s where the magic happens.

As tradition, we celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving every year here at our house.  It helps me feel connected to the culture and rhythm that was such a big part of my growing up in Canada.  We invite our friends round, we divide out recipes to make and bring, we eat til we’re full (and then some more) and then we kick back by the fire.

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Butter is butter, right?  WRONG.  Abernethy butter is THE butter.

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It was the perfect excuse to bust out the Oh Joy homeware – those plates!

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I took the easy route and ordered a turkey crown (stuffed & rolled) to make things a bit less hectic – it was from local butchers The Meat Cleaver and was incredibly tasty.

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The food is always the star of the show at Thanksgiving – we switched the sides up a bit this year – here’s what we scoffed (WARNING – excess usage of butter is normal & necessary):

Starter:

–  CHEESEBALL!  It’s become a real theme that a cheeseball of some variety shows up at most of our dinner parties with friends.  It’s easy, DELICIOUS and always a huge hit. Serve with different crackers and try not to lick the plate clean.  Here’s a good recipe.  

Mains:

–  Turkey.  Obvs.

Sides:

–  Creamed Baked Mashed Potatoes

–  Pioneer Woman Crash Hot Potatoes

–  Cauliflower Au Gratin

–  Bacon Glazed Carrots

–  Shredded Brussels w/ Chorizo & Paprika

–  Sweet Potato Casserole

Dessert:

–  AMAZING Maple Pecan Baked Cheesecake 

–  Homemade maple ice cream

ANNNND collapse.

I hope you have unlimited amounts of things to be thankful for today.

Meet the Maker: Angel & Anchor

Let me introduce you to my pal, Ben.  Ben is the brawn and the brains behind Angel & Anchor, a design company based here in Northern Ireland.

If I had a pound for every mega-talented friend that I had, I would be able to afford to install one of those laundry shoots in my house that goes straight from my bedroom to my laundry room, so I want to showcase some of that brilliance here.

I got to know Ben and his gorgeous wife, Nicole doing various activism volunteering with No More Traffik/Stop the Traffik and it’s been really great watching his company start and develop.  It’s definitely true that if you work hard, and are nice to people that good things will happen – I believe this is what’s happening for Ben with Angel & Anchor.  It’s also been great to work with Ben on a couple of different projects for work – he’s reliable, and his eye for clean, attractive design is spot on.

Ben took some time to answer some of my nosey questions about Angel & Anchor – I love finding out a bit more about creative people, how they work and what inspires them so I thought I’d share Ben’s insight with you:

1 // Angel & Anchor – Is there a story behind the name?

Nope. Although I wish there was! I loved the idea of having an ampersand in my logo so I began putting random words together with my friends to see what we came up with (dangerous). In the end Angel & Anchor was the winner! The ironic thing about it all was that I didn’t even use the ampersand in my logo in the end.

2 // How did you get into design? Where did you learn what you know now?

I have always been creative from a very young age. A lot of my primary school books were full of colourful drawings, and in secondary school I studied art at GCSE and A-Level. I suppose it feels like I’ve always painted or sketched. It was when I was 14, however where I can remember first getting into design. I got a free copy of Paint Shop Pro 7 with a pack of blank CD’s, and ever since then I self-taught myself everything I know to date. If I wanted to do something in my work but didn’t know how, I would search for the solution and pick things up that way.  I’m excited to learn more and see what my work will look like in the next ten years!

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3 // You dabble in many forms of creative design (show off!), what aspect makes you ‘tick’ the most? What kind of work makes you excited about your job?

I love that I’ve had the opportunity to be work with clients on different projects with really different needs. One day I could be making some pretty wedding stationery and the next I am drawing a badass skull for a band in Belfast.

As a lover of music, I really enjoy doing gig posters, EP/Album covers and other promo for musicians. There is a lot of freedom to be creative and use many different creative methods – painting, photography, illustration, digital art. It’s even better when you get a band or musicians who fully ‘gets it’ when it comes to their visuals and trust you to represent them. I’ve got a great relationship with The Emerald Armada boys, and I always get excited about working with them.

I also love the classic branding and identity work. I tend to build a really good relationship with the client over this stuff as we work together on the challenge of developing a visual representation of that thing they do.

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4 // Where do you get inspiration for design from? How do you keep motivated to be continually creative?

It can be hard! Sometimes I find myself compulsively watching US Office so I don’t have to face the project that I have no ideas for! Other times I’m inspired by other creatives. There’s a great community of designers and letterers on Instagram (I’d like to say I am part of that!), and other renown designers who I follow regularly (Jessica Hische & Jon Contino).

A lot of the time I’ll get inspired by really random things from my day-to-day. It might be a conversation with my wife and friends, or letting my mind wander when I’m driving or going to sleep (not at the same time), or noticing cool packaging during our ‘Friday big shop’. I guess I take in a lot of visual noise, and my mind organises that into an actual idea at some point.

I try to stay connected to some incredible local creatives. I love that for how divided Northern Ireland can be, it can also be really easy to connect with people. These could be photographers, writers, dreamers, designers, activists and makers – these guys inspire me.

5 // What would be your dream design job? What’s the big picture for Angel & Anchor?

A dream job would be doing limited edition screen printed posters for someone like James Vincent McMorrow, Haim or another well-known artist (Bey, give me a call). Another might be designing for an independent magazine, or clothing company.

The big picture for Angel & Anchor is to continue saying yes to projects, weird and wonderful, and see where it takes me. I would love for Angel & Anchor to be known for producing quality work, and maybe more so for music and branding.

Conor Scott Blog-6 CS EP Mock-Up

( ^^ Remember Connor Scott from The Voice?! ^^ )

6 // What are your biggest design pet-peeves?

Where do I start?! Unrealistic expectations of how much it costs to hire a designer, overuse of Bebas Neue, hipster ‘X’ logos, when my teacher wife used Comic Sans for her class, generic stock photos and website landing pages. I think my biggest pet-peeve of working as a creative is a micro-managing client. I think projects work best when the designer and client have a good relationship and work together to find the perfect visual solution. To my despair, a lot of clients expect you to simply replicate other’s work or want to tell you how to do your job.

When I go to my favourite restaurant and ask for the special I don’t go into the kitchen and tell the chef how to cook it. I trust he knows better than I would because of his experience. I find design isn’t treated the same way, and it should be… rant over.

7 // What advice would you give other design/creative start-ups?

Be strategic about what work you do and the clients you work with… don’t just chase jobs because of money, but also because of what it will do for your development and your reputation. And if you do need to do those crappy flyer jobs (like we all do sometimes), don’t tell or show anyone!

Even if you don’t have work on, keep delivering good quality content online. Remind people you exist!

Lastly, don’t pretend to be something you are not. It frustrates me the amount of creative start-ups that say ‘we’ in their online content, when it’s obviously just one person, exaggerating the size of the operation. If it’s just you working from a laptop at Starbucks that’s great (and this was once me)! Be personal and allow people in on the journey you are embarking on. We all start somewhere.

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I’m excited about the future of Angel & Anchor because Ben is the real deal.

You can keep up with the beautiful work that A&A does by checking out the A&A blog, facebook & twitter.

DIY GIFT: Urban Survival Kit!

Well hello there beautiful people!

I had the afternoon to myself on Saturday and made the ginormous mistake of going to the shopping centre to pick something up.  HUGE MISTAKE.  It was like all of the people of Co. Armagh were sent a text to say Christmas had been bumped up a few weeks and the shops were running out of all the things.  I got what I needed and was in and out in half-an-agonising-hour.

I have become less and less of a shopping centre shopper these years (much to my mother’s dismay).  I find it all a bit claustrophobic and mind-numbing.  Give me a charity shop or a high street full of little one-offs any day.

I guess that Christmas build up is inevitable though, eh?  John Lewis have given us their loved up penguins, Santa is drinking Coca-cola and we are counting down the days until we head to Canada to spend the holidays with my whole family.

Last year, Dave decided to try his hand at a little DIY gifting and came up with the genius idea to create little Urban Survival Kits for his mates.  He was pretty full on about it – writing lists, buying bits and bobs off eBay, giving it a LOT of thought.  He gave it SO much thought that he didn’t actually get them ready in time to give them to anyone for Christmas.  So thorough, my Dave.

He has, instead, been giving them to people throughout the year for birthdays, as thank-you gifts etc.  It’s really fun, doesn’t cost the earth and is just that little bit more thoughtful so I thought I’d get in there nice and early in case you wanted to create your own!

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Nice, right?

He ordered a bunch of old tobacco tins off eBay and stocked them with a bunch of stuff he thought his guy friends would appreciate.  Stuff that would come in handy if kept in the glove box of your car, that kind of idea – not if you were lost in the woods for 5 days.  This tin would be useless to you if that happened.

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This is a sample of contents that fit well in such a small tin, but OBVIOUSLY feel free to go wild with your own ideas!

*  Teabag – because is there anything worse than running out of teabags for a brew?

*  Multi-tool – apparently this thing is capable of doing just about anything – it’s a saw, a bottle opener, a knife, a screwdriver, a spanner, a ruler and it can also pick dirty washing off the floor and put it in the washing basket! (…wait…)

*  Matches

*  Pencil (thanks IKEA!)

*  Chewing gum – for after that sneaky packet of cheese and onion crisps.

*  Chocolate coins (R.I.P. Cadbury’s Chocolate Coins…what a huge Christmas disappointment) – these are in there for blood sugar reasons.

*  Elastic band – just cause.

*  Paperclip

*  Plaster – never too old to tend to a paper cut.

Other options/ideas: 

*  Sachet of Ketchup or HP – MUST BE Heinz or Original HP.  Don’t even think of giving anyone any of that ‘Daddies’ or own-brand crap.  That’s not friendship.

*  One of those coins that fits in shopping trolly locks or even a pound coin.  THOSE are handy.

*  Earplugs (?!)

*  Tea-light – for the romantics amongst us.

The world is your tobacco tin, folks!

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What do you think?  Kind of fun, right?!  What else could you put in that would be helpful?  Maybe a slightly more feminine version for the lay-days?  Would love to hear your ideas!

Parenting: On Saying ‘No’

The other day at breakfast Levi asked me for a straw.

“Sure – here’s a straw.”

“I WANT TWO STRAWS, MUMMY!” He exclaimed.

“No, Levi.”

Just like that.  No.  Conversation shut down.

Then the proverbial s&*^t hit the fan.  He really got himself in a state.  “I DO WANT TWO STRAWS.  MUMMY, I DO. I DO!”

Typing it out doesn’t do justice to the uproar my “no” caused.

As I stood at the sink washing the crusty weetabix off his plastic bowl, trying to remain calm amidst his grabbing my legs and red-faced rage, I took a millisecond to ask myself ‘why did I actually say no?’.  Was it because it felt like he was taking the mick to ask for ANOTHER straw?  Was it because two straws usually equal a spilled pool of sticky juice on the table that I will have to clean up?  Was it because I HAD DECIDED he didn’t need another straw?  Was it because I just wanted to sit down and drink my coffee without having to microwave it warm again?  Probably.  Probably a combo of all of these things.

We do this a lot, you see.   Sometimes that “no” can easily become our default answer, without really considering the alternatives.  It’s more convenient and we can.  We are the parents.  If we are truthful, isn’t that sometimes as far as our reasoning goes?

I got down on my knees and held his angry little frame in my arms, looked him in the eye and asked – “Why do you want two straws, Levi? Try and use your words to tell mummy…”

“Because you gave me a red straw and I wanted a yellow one too because my favourite colours are red AND yellow”.

“Well, OK then.”

He got his red & yellow straws, slurped up his apple juice and skipped off to school as happy as Larry.

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I got to thinking about that interaction and the various different views we might have of it:

On one hand, it looks like I gave in.  Permissive parent, letting him be the boss and dictate the day.  If you said no, you need to stick to your guns and make sure he knows you are the boss; in control.  No means no.  It’s important they understand no.  This is definitely a culture of parenting mindset that I see around me and have found myself dabbling in at times.

On the other hand, I just heard him out and changed my mind.  This is important, and I believe it’s as important for the parent as it is for the child.  We want to model flexibility, listening and reason in our little family.  We want Levi to know that he is heard.  We want him to see that it’s ok to change your mind if it makes sense to.  Changing your mind doesn’t mean you are weak.  We want him to know that we are not trying to control him but propel him.  We want him to understand that mummies and daddies can learn from kids when they listen to them.  We want him to feel that his feelings are valid, even in seemingly silly situations like choosing coloured straws (SEND PATIENCE, PLEASE!).

You see, I don’t consider myself permissive.  In fact, I think it’s unhelpful to use that term.  Our children have so little control in their lives as it is (sure, some healthy boundaries – like leading them to rest when we know they are tired, eat when we know they are hungry etc are necessary when they are small) – but when we consider how much of their days are often planned out for them, it’s not surprising that they want to exercise some aspect of control over their lives at times.  It looks like tantrums, but it’s often an urge to have a say, to be independent and do their own thing for a while.  Controlled children like to control.  It makes sense.  I get that.

It’s been on my mind to share my thoughts about this for a while now, and as if reading my mind, my friend Lucy wrote a great post about the same thing just last week.  She says: Urges look like disrespect sometimes – but allowing the fulfillment of an urge nurtures respect.  If we respect their drive and their desires now, if we protect their right to access what they hope for, they will grow up to respect others and to defend the rights of others.

I tend to totally agree.  We want that for Levi.  Sure, there are instances where we have to say no, redirect, distract and avoid, but we are learning that what looks like ‘giving in’ doesn’t result in manipulative children, ready to exploit your goodness at every turn – what a crazy way to view our precious, explorative children.

It could actually model for them respect and grace, and what parent doesn’t want their kids to absorb those traits deep down in their knower?  If we create space for them, allow them to feel things and have their say, I feel confident that that’s the kind of people they will become.

So, here’s to resetting the default answers.  Here’s to listening more.  Here’s to ignoring the power-play culture-trap of parenting.  Here’s to practicing dropping the parent-pride & raising well respected kiddos.  You in?

Flow Magazine

When we headed away for our anniversary we stopped in a little Irish village for lunch and popped into a book shop.

My reading life has gone completely down the priority list since having a child.  I just can’t get my act together.  I don’t know what it is.  Maybe it’s because my job is pretty heavy duty in terms of reading policy and heavy documents, or maybe it’s because I’m tired (aren’t we all?), or maybe it’s because I am easily distracted and end up finding about a million other ‘easy’ things to read and try to convince myself that they count – like blogs and, er… the captions under pinterest (only joking).

I do miss it though.  I was always such a book worm through school – never the stuff I should have been reading, but I loved books.  I nailed every single babysitters club book in about 6 months back when I was 9.  That’s a lot of pre-teen drama.  Sadly, I think I’ve managed to only complete all of 5 books since Levi has been born.  Bits and bobs of others, but fully – probably just 5.  Shameful.

Anyway, I rifled through the bookshop that day, knowing that I would have 24 hours of solitude and time to read uninterrupted so I started searching for Caitlin Moran’s latest book (she seems to be just the right balance for me in my tired haze of just-enough-thought-provoking and just-enough-entertaining).  They didn’t have it, so I browsed the magazine racks and sitting on the middle shelf, tucked behind some home-and-living-garden type mag was Flow.  In all it’s glory, Flow.

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I picked it up purely because it had a pretty cover (there’s a saying about that) and had a flick through.  At first glance, and by having a quick nosy at the table of contents, it looked wonderful!  When I say it’s a magazine, it’s pretty much a book.  And I’m not just saying that to make myself feel better.  It is.  It’s a bookzine.  A Magabook.  It also cost £9.99, which is more than I would usually spend on a mag, but I had a feeling it would be worth it.

And it was.  Flow describes itself as ‘a magazine for paper lovers’.  THAT I am.  I have spent the last 3 weeks pouring over this magazine.  I have been going extra slow (even for me) because I wanted to savour each bit and not have it end.  From the thoughtful, unpretentious pieces, to the illustration, design, imaging, paper quality, EVERYTHING.  It’s my new obsession.

Have a look at what I mean…:

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Flow is a Dutch-born magazine that is now branching out more Internationally.  It really is the antithesis of lots of other magazines that claim to be lifestyle mags but really promote a jealousy -inducing, highly unattainable lifestyle.  Flow also has very little advertising or shopping pages, which makes my heart sing.  Each edition (4 times a year) also has a really special paper gift with it.  This edition was full of lots of little paper gift tags and perforated illustration pull-outs.  Such prettiness.

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I particularly loved the articles about little free libraries (we would LOVE to do this at our house), on the beauty and power of cooking from scratch, and the feature on Ingrid Bergman.   Such variety of topics and high quality writing.  If you’re not already convinced, I would strongly urge you to have a look in your nearest book shop for Flow and carve out an evening (or 3) to take in this gorgeous mag and see for yourself!

Anti-Slavery Day – Remembering Radu.

It’s easy to detach ourselves from reality when it comes to big global issues – AIDS, poverty, human trafficking.  Statistics, even stories can blur into the ether of our moral conscience; shocking us, moving us, but often only for a moment.  The moment lasts until the next wave of numbers, information hits our brain.  We know it’s real, but it’s out there.  Somewhere.

The moments when the statistics become reality though – flesh and bones, in our company, face to face – that’s when detachment isn’t an option.  Detachment is replaced with a shared humanity and responsibility.

Today on EU Anti-Trafficking Day/Anti-Slavery Day, it seems fitting and important to share with you the day that detachment became reality for me.

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He came into our office timidly,  a little disheveled and tired looking.  He shook my hand and waited politely to be welcomed to sit down.  We chatted in broken English and he told us his story.

Radu was in his later years of life, not far off normal retirement age.  He had been given our information by a support agency that helps people who have been trafficked, having recently exited their programme.  We were there to offer a little help, a familiar face, a trusted ally.  He was new to the area and had been set up with a new job working in a factory.  It was finally a promising time for him, and he expressed gratitude in the fact that he was going to start his new job in the morning.  “I still have energy to work”, he said.

Radu had been trafficked.  He had spent months under the control of a gang that took away his identity, forced him to work and stripped him of his basic human rights and needs.  He had been lured to a job in Ireland and not long after arriving had been sold for a few hundred pounds to a trafficking gang.  They moved him (& others), controlled them, and profited from their long hard work in agriculture.

We spent most of that day together, in and out, getting to know each other, hearing a tiny bit about his experience and trying to help him navigate his new community:

This is a map to the doctor’s office.  We’ll fill in the forms together.

These are some groceries for this week and some food bank vouchers to keep you going until your first pay check comes in.

Here is a map to the food bank and the opening hours.

This is your mobile phone number; this is mine if you need anything.

We will try and get you some more clothes for work and some shoes that will last.

I’ll call with you tomorrow and drop off some more things.

He was incessantly thankful.  Embarrassingly grateful.  What a lovely gent.

See you tomorrow, have a great first day at work.

But tomorrow was another tragic story.

On his first day of legitimate, dignified work, Radu collapsed on the factory floor and passed away.

We got the call not long after it happened.

Shock.

Grief.  

Tragedy.

How could it be that after only a few short hours, you could feel so much about a persons death?

It stung us all.  Each person that had supported Radu since his recovery were shell-shocked by his passing.  It wasn’t fair, it was tragic.

The very same day of his passing, it was announced that 20 victims of trafficking had been recovered in our town.  He would never know the significance of that.

We spent the next few days communicating with the Police, the factory, the accommodation he was staying in to help in whatever way we could.

A couple of weeks after his death a handful of us – all virtually strangers to Radu – gathered at his graveside.  It was one of the most sobering days we will ever recall.  The 23rd Psalm was read in his native language, we placed roses on his coffin, we prayed and a stony silence held in the atmosphere.

We received a copy of his CV previous to the short ceremony and could see that until he had arrived in Ireland, he had worked consistently in the same industry for almost 30 years of his life.

And then, trafficked.

Radu died alone in a far away country, buried in a Council grave with no one that really knew his story to speak fondly of him.  He was only beginning to realise dignity in life here in Northern Ireland, and he deserved dignity in death.

I already know that his life will be remembered as significant.  It will be remembered by our team – our little team and our amazing supportive colleagues – as a marker to represent the countless unknown victims that are hidden and exploited.  His story gives us a strengthened desire to see that no person has the same end to their life as Radu.  No person should die alone, having been exploited in a country they thought would bring them new hope.  No one.

Today is EU Anti-Trafficking Day; today we will remember Radu.

Exhaustion & Gratitude

I haven’t had much motivation for blogging recently.  I’m really tired.

It’s like that round here – priorities are well…being prioritised.  For now it’s work and family.  Sometimes those two are balanced badly, but I’m getting there.  Aren’t we all.  I figured it wouldn’t hurt to jot down some reflections over this busy time to keep perspective on all I have to be thankful for.

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October is a little bit of a blur already – I am fighting a cold and a hacking cough, working on a huge project for work that is kind of all-consuming and in the midst of that we bought our house, Levi started school, I had a birthday and we celebrated 7 years of marriage.  To mark all of those amazing things and have a little escape, Dave booked the two of us into our favourite getaway spot, The Farnham Estate in Cavan.  It couldn’t have come at a better time and I am already thinking about what kind of special occasion I can crowbar another visit into (Halloween? Hanukah?).

Every little thing in those 24 blissful hours was, from beginning to end, perfection.  Our beautiful room (with anniversary & birthday cards from the hotel on our bed when we arrived!), the spa, the indoor/outdoor pool, the food, the complimentary champers and choccies.  So great.

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I picked up Flow Magazine in Monaghan on our drive down to Farnham and it is just the most beautiful, meaningful magazine.  I intend on doing a full blog post on it when I’ve finished devouring it.

When we got back from our night away, I received a package from my best friend in Canada.  It was a duo of mixed CD’s and it is probably the best present I’ve gotten in a long long time.  I popped it into the CD player in the car when I was bringing Levi to school and was literally laughing at one song and crying at the next.  Music is so crazy powerful, huh?  The memories attached to the daftest songs, the transportation to times and places – such a magical thing.

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One of the things I am really grateful for over the last month or so is the opportunity to meet, in the flesh, a whole bunch of girls that I have been connecting with online for years.  I got to hang out with the beautiful Becca from Hugo & Ru (& her lovely husband Matt), amazingly bumped into Lynne from Papermash at Country Comes to Town when she was over visiting her mum, spend a good half hour gabbing about Gentle Parenting to the beautiful Diane and finally got to meet Sharon of Wee Frizz whose blog has long been a soul-filling favourite of mine.  I mean, the internet is amazing, right?

We also spent an awesome afternoon with Hollie, Jamie and Mila when they were over from Glasgow, talking about Scottish revolutions, music, parenting, ambition and dreams (check out their amazing new creative wellness venture Manaseven – so exciting!).  

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Then last week I got to spend the guts of a day with the lovely Jenny and Jesse!  Jenny and I know each other through our blogs and some mutual friends and it felt so natural and easy to hang out, glug coffee and share our hearts.  If you want to be inspired by a family trying to intentionally build community in inner-city London, give Jenny’s blog a big old read.

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To be honest, it’s been an emotionally exhausting couple of months round here – but I have everything to be thankful for.  Tomorrow we are having our annual (Canadian) Thanksgiving dinner with our closest friends.  We will light candles, eat turkey, mix the sweet and the savoury like only North Americans can do and be grateful together.  Bring it on.

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