Rediscovering intuition, wildness and sisterhood

I’ve experienced culture shock twice. The first time I was nineteen. I’d just moved to Brighton from Trinidad to study English Lit at university. There wasn’t a language barrier (much – there still managed to be a lot I didn’t understand or couldn’t make understood easily) but just about everything else was unfamiliar, from the sense of humour to the cultural markers to the public transport. But I was fortunate to fall into a lot of fast friendships that sustained me through those years and many of those people remain close friends today.

In a way, the second culture shock was harder to get past. It put more cracks in my confidence. My imagination struggled to be regained. Becoming a mother seems to shake a lot of us.

This time I didn’t have the safety net of university around me. I wasn’t in a place where everyone was young and away from home for the first time, eager to make new friends and start the new chapter of their lives together. Having moved to Bristol a sneeze before falling pregnant with my first baby, I lacked pre-existing friendships and the energy to initiate new ones in a new city. I struggled to breastfeed, Talitha did not sleep and I didn’t drive or know the area we lived in particularly well. I found new motherhood baffling and depressing, more so because I was so isolated.

Eventually, friendship did happen. That’s kind of the way it had always been for me up until that point with others mostly initiating and friendship mostly happening to me. I’m grateful for the people I met in those six years in Bristol, for the hopefully lifelong connections we made.

Yet I always struggled to go deeper a lot of the time. I held a part of myself back for safety, fearing judgement and feeling worse for motherhood opening up deep pre-existing wounds while waking up an awareness in me that this could all be different.

Without realising it, I was longing for the place Lucy Aitkenread describes in her new book Moon Circle: rediscover intuition, wildness and sisterhood where I could know and be known, to belong and to heal. Lucy’s book was released the week that a friend here in Cornwall was gathering a few women together to form our own circle. Reading it in the light of stepping out into this new, potentially revelatory thing was powerful.

In the video below, I’ve talked about where I think moon circles fit resetting our life intentions over the lunar new year.

It’s been year and a day since we moved from Bristol to Cornwall, which was another destabilising experience. I felt so responsible for the happiness of everyone in the family. We were starting life all over again, this time with three children and I was ill-prepared for the onslaught of grief which came with leaving a place where we’d built a life together.

But there was excitement too. Here was this opportunity to launch into new things. I googled red tents because I knew by then that I needed to connect with women on a much deeper level to navigate this next chapter but I didn’t get any further than that. In the meantime, I just got a lot more proactive about meeting people and building those friendships I knew we all needed. Then my friend asked late last year if I’d be interested in joining something she was starting and the timing of meeting in the new year just felt meant to be. Reading Moon Circle sparked excitement about all that gathering like this could be.

The book takes us through how a moon circle functions as a non-hierarchical gathering where women can deeply listen and deeply speak. The idea of ritual safekeeping runs strong as a theme throughout with practical suggestions for how we might create a space where vulnerability becomes possible, where we talk without fear of judgement or unsolicited advice and empathically listen without engaging our analytical brain. Lucy writes: “the net of women sitting together is a refusal to believe the myths we are told about how women relate to each other.” When I think about how fear of others discovering the worst parts of me kept me back from really sharing with anyone, I realise I’d bought into those myths.

There is something innately spiritual about meeting with others this way and indeed the book talks a lot about creating our own rituals to mark the circle as separate from the everyday but Lucy notes “these Circles are strong enough to hold the beliefs of all the women present – they are so encompassing and so expansive that a Circle can bind us all in healing.”

Some of the activities suggested include connecting through silence, singing for wellbeing, hand massage and creating small ceremonies that help us transition into new stages of our lives, whether that’s moving into cronehood or retroactively honouring our menarche. There’s an emphasis on finding what works for your specific circle, being mindful that some activities will be uncomfortable or unsuitable for some circles.

Moon Circle, naturally, encourages creating rituals around cycles, both of the moon and its phases and of how the menstrual cycle can mirror this movement. For instance, Lucy suggests that meeting on the New Moon might help us to share our “dark side” or that women might order themselves in the circle according to where they are in their menstrual cycle, while recognising that not all women menstruate.

She also discusses how hosts might act as “guardians of the circle”, from practical ideas like lighting a fire or introducing a talking piece to guiding principles like reminding the group to avoid chatter and advice.

All in all, I think it’s a read that would do a lot of us a lot of good. It’s pretty short and you might just find it transformative. Better yet, read it with a friend and start a circle together.

You can get all the info to buy Moon Circle here.


Choosing the best floor for your family

This post is brought to you by Luxury Flooring

Delilah is now seventeen months and I’m open to the possibility that she could be pottying soon. Nappy changes are becoming gymnastic feats and she is so communicative about everything. When I mentioned it to Laurence tonight, we got on to the topic of what flooring works best for family life. After all, a big part of the reason I never managed to stick it out with elimination communication was that I psychologically couldn’t cope with the mess.

Our last house was mostly carpeted, a constant frustration to me. That carpet held on to every spill and every accident. Short of getting a steam cleaner in, there was no real way of getting it fully clean. I’d look at it, imagining how dirty it must actually be. It made potty training an extremely stressful experience and I couldn’t fully relax when the kids were eating in the living room.

Aesthetically, I’m really not keen on carpet anywhere but the bedrooms and there, only for the purpose of providing warmth underfoot. In fact, we hadn’t appreciated how much heat our carpets had offered until we moved into the period cottage we now live in. We finally got the stone and hard wood floors that we’d dreamed of. They’re easier to clean and really make the rooms they complete. I couldn’t imagine going back to carpet if given the option.

However, we’ve found we’ve had to learn how to live on them in winter without freezing. I suppose in a money-is-no-object daydream we might install underfloor heating. In reality, we’ll stick to rugs in the living room and playroom and living in slippers. Mind you, the children run about in not so much as socks and are not bothered in the least.

We wouldn’t consider it in this house but I imagine in a more modern property we would look at putting in laminate flooring. It’s easy to clean with a mop, with no annoying gaps between. It offers a sleek, smooth finish and can look convincingly like hardwood so you’re not sacrificing aesthetics. Laminate can also be a warmer option which is something to think about if you have babies crawling on the floor.

There are ways to make any floor work for the stage of life your family is in, whether that’s babies learning to use the potty or teenagers eating on the sofa while watching television. You just need to consider where your budget, your lifestyle and your style meet.

Image credit: Photo by Oana Hodirnau on Unsplash


Ten tips to keep your home safer this winter

This post is brought to you by Newview.

You never think your house is going to get broken into until it happens. Both Laurence and I know too many people amongst our families and friends who’ve been burgled to be cavalier and yet we could certainly do with giving it more thought. I’ve thrown together a few ideas here, which may be especially useful for those going away over Christmas and New Year’s.

Leave a light on
When away for a weekend or longer, leaving a light on can be a simple deterrent to potential burglars. If someone is taking care of the house, ask them to change which light is left on so that someone watching the house will be put off.

Make use of technology
If you have the money to invest, make use of technology that will turn different lights on intermittently so it appears that people are in the house. Sounds pretty Home Alone, no?

Get a hardcore door
Is your door really as secure as it could be? Solidor makes thicker doors which offer both the most efficient locking system and largest dead bolt available while also improving your home’s insulation.

Let your neighbours know when you’re going to be away
Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest. Let a neighbour know when you’re going to be away and ask them to keep an eye out. Of course, this only works if you trust your neighbours. My feeling is that people are generally willing to look out for each other but sometimes need the green light to do so. This is one of many great reasons to get to know your neighbours, something we’re working at.

Get a house sitter
Could you do a house swap or offer someone a stay in your house while away? A friend mentioned that when she used to be away a lot, she got a lodger so the house wouldn’t be unoccupied. Even having someone stop in once or twice a day to feed your pets (if you have them) could be helpful to deter preying eyes.

Don’t shout it from the mountain tops
I always go back and forth on this but perhaps don’t make it too obvious on social media when you’re away and for how long.

Be careful with Strava
Related to this, if you’re a runner or cyclist, it’s worth not turning on Strava until you’re well away from your house and making sure to turn it off before you get back. You may be telling people where you live and could potentially alert predators to when you’re not at home if you go out regularly.

Lock your back gate
This seems obvious but soooo many of us don’t do it, leaving our homes pretty vulnerable. You could go one step further here and add a motion sensor light to spook anyone who’s decided to try to climb over the back gate.

Make sure people can’t climb your fences
Equally, consider carefully how high your fences are and repair as necessary. A weak and wobbly fence could be a easy way in to your garden and back door.

Don’t leave keys under a flowerpot
It’s easy to think if you live somewhere idyllic that you can relax about things like this but leaving keys with a trusted neighbour could be the safer thing to do.


Seven ways to guard your sleep

I’m keenly aware as we enter the season of colds (I’m in recovery from a fresh hit at the moment!) and British winter guarantees us many overcast or rainy days, that it’s really important to do whatever I can to stabilise my mood and sustain good mental wellbeing. That means it’s hugely important that I guard my sleep.

I am so good at making excuses for not getting enough sleep. It’s too tempting to stay up late when it’s the only child-free time I have. I also have a fifteen-month-old who is cutting lots of teeth and looks like she’s gearing up to walk soon. So, as you can imagine, that’s affecting her, and therefore my, sleep.

But by now I know that being overtired affects my ability to remain rational, calm or creative, and leaves me ill-equipped to be with my family (or anybody) as I want to be.

Recently, I’ve been working a lot harder at guarding my sleep and it stuns me just how much happier and more capable I am after a reasonable amount of the stuff. Here are a few things I’ve discovered which may be obvious to some but might just serve as a handy reminder for others.

Limit caffeine intake
I’m probably en route to cutting out caffeine altogether but I’ve had times when I’ve been a total junkie with many cups of tea and coffee a day. Over the past few months I’ve cut down to just one cup of coffee in the morning and I’ve been amazed at how much less anxious I have felt as well as physically happier to fall asleep come bedtime.

Remove sources of light
Most of my life I’ve had some sort of light source when sleeping. Even now, I tend to have a pink night light on (I can’t sleep with blue light at all) if we are staying somewhere where it’s pitch black as it really bothers me not being able to see the baby. But generally, I’ve come to realise that I really do sleep better if it’s as dark as possible. I’m currently being kept awake by moonlight and waking with first dawn (admittedly less of a problem at this time of year). I may have to dig out an eye mask and have a look at blinds on the VELUX website as a more long term solution.

Floss
This is going to seem such an odd tip to some but I’ve found that making sure I floss before bed really improves my quality of sleep. I find it hard not be distracted by physical discomfort at the best of times and if my mouth doesn’t feel absolutely clean, I’m prone to tossing and turning. Weird but I’m going to put it out there, hoping that I’m not the only one!

Get the temperature right

I’m prone to going hot and cold at night. After a lot of experimenting, I’ve realised I need to dress lightly, use a lightweight duvet and wear socks because my feet get cold while the rest of me tends to overheat. Laurence and I actually have separate duvets now because of this. He’s generally freezing while I’m plugging a fan in!

Unplug
It’s so tempting to go to bed with a phone, especially when you know you’ll be up for night feeds but I inevitably regret it whenever I do. I try to leave my phone downstairs when I go to bed and usually find I fall asleep a lot quicker when I’ve had to wake up in the night. Even if I really can’t sleep, reading a book with a lamp is generally more soporific than scrolling through Facebook on my phone.

Develop a bedtime routine
It’s easy to think bedtime routines are the domain of children but a lot of us adults would do well to establish healthy bedtime routines for ourselves. For me, this means planning to go to bed earlier and starting the routine well before I want to be asleep. Herbal tea, a simple yoga pose, some time praying – and a good floss – and away I go.

Nurture the space
After years of saying that I was just messy and couldn’t do anything about it, I have recognised that clutter is detrimental to my mental wellbeing and I’ve been working hard at changing my ways. The bedroom is a bit of a sacred space in this regard. I really feel it if I lie down in a messy room now so I prioritise putting things away, keeping it aired and cleaning any dust. It’s made a huge difference.

What do you reckon? Is there more I could consider? Dare I ask how your sleep has been lately?

This post was brought to you by VELUX


Ten things to consider when camping with younger children

We finally managed our first camping trip as a family of five. We were meant to go to a festival when Delilah was six weeks old but Laurence got ill and that just proved one obstacle too many. Then our first trip this year got turned into a picnic since the forecast for the rest of the weekend was dire. So the older girls were desperate for a night under canvas. A couple of weeks ago, we made it to Bude. I’d booked a cute little eco campsite and we were keen to try out a different part of Cornwall.

Talitha was almost three when we first took her camping. It’s since become a mainstay of our family spring, summer and even autumn now. We’ve gone camping with a younger baby as well as while I was pregnant. Our kids are now 6 years old, 3 years old and 11 months old and having done a recent camp, I’ve collated a few things to consider when camping with younger children, should you decide to go for it this year.

A change is as good as a rest
Let’s face it, there are a lot of things about family camping that are not restful. I don’t know whether we’ll ever reach a point where getting ready to go for a weekend doesn’t feel like a total mission.

I also find sleeping with a baby in a tent a bit of a tricky one because I tend to get stuck in one position then need to shift her to the other side of me so I can get into another one. The logistics are trickier dealing with layers and sleeping bags. It’s totally doable but it probably explains the massive bags under my eyes in the YouTube video at the end of this post.

Still, we find as the kids get older that the change of place and pace offers us adults some decent chill time. Even their just running around the field on this last trip, darting in and out of the tent and pretending the sleeping bags were the ocean allowed us time to sit, chat and even read. Better yet if you get to sit somewhere with a view. And there are so many little things that are suddenly less work more play when camping like cooking over a fire or the kids washing the dishes in a tub on the ground.

So while we may not have come home having had a lot of sleep, and we may well have brought more work home in the form of laundry and unpacking, we were refreshed in other ways. I can only see this becoming more fun as we go along, especially as the kids become more and more free range.

Get and stay prepared

Make the idea of going less daunting by working with a camping list and keeping some of the stuff in a ready-to-grab box if you can.

The right kit can make all the difference
Just as there’s no such thing as bad weather only improper clothing, the kit makes a serious difference when camping too. It was a real game changer buying a tent that we could reasonably stand up in and compartmentalise our stuff around.

More recently, Millets sent us four sleeping bags, an overdue upgrade. The girls are lounging about in a couple of them in the photos above. We went for two VANGO Harmony single sleeping bags thinking that they would be spacious enough for Delilah to cosleep with me, which they just about are. We also asked for two VANGO Nitestar 250 sleeping bags because they’re more performance bags which we thought would grow with the girls as they take on their own outdoor pursuits in the future. Both bags are soft, breathable and a great temperature for spring and summer camping, certainly. The harmony feels a bit luxurious even. We’re looking forward to taking them on the boat for our first overnight stay this weekend.

Millets also sent us a fun camping care package as part of their #homefromhome campaign with everything from mobile phone charger to lantern to waterproofing spray to tent repair kit to cup holder. Some things we either hadn’t known they carried or hadn’t known were a thing! They may not have all been bare bones essentials but a few extras can take little stresses you weren’t aware were there out of the picture. It gave a glimpse of the broad scope of their camping range.

Throw out the routine
Every time we go camping we get into a debate about whether we should be encouraging bedtime or let the kids take the lead. Laurence is always for the latter and always proven right about it too. With the excitement, noise and light, the kids are never ready to go to bed at the normal time, however worried I might be about how tired they’ll be the next day, as they don’t lie in either.

And yes, they’re more tired, but it all tends to work itself out in the end, either by them taking themselves off to bed a little earlier the following night, opting for an afternoon nap or, hey, just being a bit tired, which isn’t the end of the world after all. I reckon late nights and all sharing the sleep space are key parts of the memories we’re making.

Let camping be the main event
I made a bit of a mistake with this latest trip by choosing to camp in Bude, an hour and a half away from where we live near Falmouth. It meant that I felt like I had to justify the journey by planning to see things. As it turned out, we would have all preferred to have just hung out around the campground, maybe venturing out on just one day, rather than both. As usual, slow and simple makes for a happier time with younger kids.

Take a few activities
In times past, we’ve just brought a few books and bubbles and called that that but a year on, I think we need to add to a few things to the list. Certainly if we were going any longer we might bring sketchbooks and pencils, a card game, a chapter book for Talitha, water pistols and maybe something active like a bat and ball.

Choose the right spot
OK so maybe Bude was a bit further than we needed to go, since we live in Cornwall and are surrounding by great outdoor spaces but I couldn’t recommend Cerenety eco campsite enough. The facilities were perfectly comfortable. The compost loos were extremely well kept, there were hot solar showers and we were encouraged to build fires.

They run a quirky caravan cafe, offering coffee and crepes for breakfast and take children around to see and feed their rescue animals mid-morning. The alpacas left a lasting impression on Talitha and Ophelia. There’s even a pond and a permaculture forest garden. The site is conveniently located for Bude but far enough away to feel a bit wild.

A big highlight was going over to Crackington Haven, pictured below. It is such a lovely little beach, perfect for chilling on while the kids play, build and paddle and there was an amazing surfer making good use of the waves too.

Less might well be more
I used to want to pack our entire house, feeling that the kids needed so many clothes, especially jumpers but they run wild, don’t care about the wet or cold and won’t let me dress them. Even when I pack what I think is too little, we never use it all!

Let your children rewild you
Camping used to reside firmly in the category of things I did for Laurence or the kids. I’ve often forced myself to be more outdoorsy or adventurous than I’d be inclined to be on my own.

Bit by bit, I feel things changing inside me. I get braver, more willing to try things, to trust myself, to stop worrying, to let go, to have fun.

I probably still wouldn’t go camping if it weren’t for my children but every time we go, I find I’m doing it a little more for me too. This time, I felt I could have stayed days beyond a weekend, even with the rain.

Capture the moment
There’s a fine line between missing the moment and gently documenting our experiences. I don’t always get it right. I try to take a few snaps and clips on my phone unobtrusively and hope I’m not distracting anyone, including myself. In future, it would be great to add sketching or even flower pressing to the mix. I’d love for the girls to look back and smile at the memories. They loved this video we made of our first camping trip with three children. Do take a look.



Thanks to Millets for the sleeping bags and camping care package


Win a family ticket to Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom live on stage

With all the craziness of moving from Bristol to Cornwall earlier this year, I told the girls that we’d do birthday parties next year. We had grandparents come over for Ophelia’s and they’ll come again for Talitha’s but that’s about the height of excitement and organisation I was and am up to.

But with little Delilah’s first birthday looming in just two months, I still wanted to plan something special. Of course, she’s not going to know what’s going on but first birthdays are fun landmarks for the rest of the family so I thought that making it a treat for the older two as much as for her could be the way to go.

After all, they’re excited about every little thing she does, whether it’s learning to turn very slightly as she begins to bum shuffle or making a new sound. They’ll definitely make a fuss over her turning one. Isn’t that a brilliant thing about subsequent babies? This time around you have at least one person who’s as excited or more about every little detail as you are!

As it turns out, it’ll be baby’s first theatre show, a trip to the Hall for Cornwall in Truro to see Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom live on stage.

The older two were ecstatic when I shared the news, planning already how it was going to go and insisting, of course, that we watch a few episodes in preparation. They love Ben & Holly, love the theatre and love birthdays so it has the makings of the best family outing in their view. We took Talitha to her first play when she was a tiny toddler and Ophelia has been going to the theatre since she was a babe in arms.

We’ve never been to see a cartoon favourite taken to the stage, though, so this will be a fun first. With masks and music, the show promises to offer a gentle, colourful and interactive theatre experience, perfect for young fans of the BAFTA-winning show, especially those in need of a theatre introduction. Take a look at the trailer…

It’s currently on tour visiting theatres throughout the UK and Ireland, and probably near you, should your kids love the little fairy and elf too. You can check out dates and more information on the show over on the Ben and Holly live show website.

The show is offering readers of Beautiful Tribe the chance to win a family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) for any show on the tour. To enter to win, leave a comment on this post answering the question the following question:

Q. What is the name of the ladybird in Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom?
George, Gary or Gaston?

Good luck!

The prize will be fulfilled by Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom live on stage. Entries close on June 6th at 10pm. Winner will be chosen at random by number generator.

We have been given tickets to the show in exchange for hosting this giveaway.

THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED


Baby X and other fiction must-reads: review and giveaway

I get a little worried when people ask me to review books here. What if I don’t like them? What if I never get to them because I take an extremely long time over the simplest tasks nowadays? Yet here I am, with a review and giveaway of fiction you really shouldn’t miss.

The former hasn’t been a concern when offered books by independent publisher, Mother’s Milk Books. I’ve been repeatedly stunned by the quality of the work emerging from such a small operation, running out of founder Dr Teika Bellamy’s home. Unfortunately, I have taken a long time over this review.

The reading actually mostly came quickly. I consumed Rebecca Ann Smith’s Baby X in one go, breathlessly reading it over the course of a week, starting the day after Delilah was born (would you believe?!). It was a welcome companion as I bedded in with my newborn. Thriller meets medical ethics wouldn’t have struck me as an apt choice for exhausted postpartum reading but the driving force alive in this book wouldn’t let me let go.

The story takes us through the conception, gestation, birth and kidnap of the first baby grown in an artificial womb. Chapters flit between the perspectives of three women: Alex Mansfield – the genius doctor overlooking this landmark medical feat, her research assistant Dolly and Baby X’s expectant mother, Karen.

So much energy, heart and research has gone into this book. The science underpinning it appears thorough and the story raises genuine ethical questions about egg donation and about the future of reproductive medicine. Karen’s losses and struggles to conceive are utterly agonising and the bond she forms with Baby X does not feel at all contrived. Smith has here written pain and love in terms we can all access.

Alex’s story of bonding with this baby with she has artificially grown is surprisingly touching and relatable. She finds herself emotionally invested in the project, psychologically and even physically connecting with this history-making baby. As I read him, book in one hand, Baby X felt as real as the newborn I was nursing and cuddling to sleep.

I can scarcely believe this is Smith’s debut novel, it’s that accomplished. I’m looking forward to her next work and, also, someone needs to bring Baby X to the big screen, OK?

I took a bit longer over the second in the series of The Fantastical and the Forgotten, edited by Teika Bellamy, but only because I prefer to digest short stories like these an evening at a time, preferably with a bath or as a last thought before bed (a grown up’s bedtime story, if you will). However, I felt it made for such compelling reading that I actually gave my copy to a writer friend of mine and bought myself another copy. I’ll soon be buying the third instalment too.

The collection consists of eclectic rewrites of fairytales and mythology for adult readers, bestowing new meanings on familiar tales or introducing haunting new stories. They ask searing questions about where we come from, how we love and who we are. Themes of motherhood and femininity are recurrent but neither have to be your experience for these stories to inhabit your imagination or feed your mind.

Finally, I’ve recently enjoyed Alison Lock’s debut fantasy novel Maysun and the Wingfish. Towards the end, I wondered what it might be like to read it aloud to my eldest daughter (though it may be a little too exciting for her just yet), both because it’s really aimed at a younger audience and because the text carries the sense of an oral tradition, in keeping with the tribal world it depicts.

This is an ecological fairytale about people living at odds with and desperately seeking to survive in an environment that has grown increasingly menacing toward them. A young girl, Maysun, has been chosen to lead the way to restoration but her path is littered with danger.

The foundations of this world are convincingly laid. Animals come alive with character and the images throughout are remarkably alluring. The novel carries an almost poetic quality that makes it enjoyable reading for anyone.

Mother’s Milk Books is offering Beautiful Tribe readers a chance to win a copy of Baby X and The Fantastical and the Forgotten.

To be in with a chance to win, comment on this post, telling me how you make time to read, whether it’s a few hurriedly snatched minutes or a decadent session of hours, and enter the Rafflecopter widget below.

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