Saturday 30 January 2016

12 years, 1 month and 5 days

I am recovering from my daughter's 12th birthday Pamper Party last night. I gave 6 facials, 6 mini pedis/manis, 6 shoulder/head massages.  They devoured 7 pizzas, countless fruit kebabs & fresh juice mocktails. They ate all the banana & maple syrup cupcakes (more about those later).

Every single one of those girls said please and thank you. They were helpful and gracious. They showered her with the most thoughtful gifts including a home made friendship token booklet which included "coupons" to redeem for "hugs" and "a shoulder to cry on". I honestly could not have been more touched by the incredible friendship these girls showed to my daughter.
It has always been difficult for my daughter at her birthday.  First off, her birthday is Christmas Eve.  No one wants to come to a birthday party on Christmas Eve.  I have tried.  Then her brother became a chorister and even her family party had to be squeezed in between his singing responsibilities.  We tried to fit her party in between everything else that was going on but we were never that successful.  She hasn't really complained about it all that much.

We don't have much money.  If I could find 2 pennies to rub together, I'd be rich.  So the prospect of trying to fund a birthday party seemed just out of our reach.  But one morning at about 3 am (because that's when I get my best ideas) I had a brainwave to throw a small pamper party at our home with a few of Abigail's friends.  After all, I'm a Neal's Yard Remedies consultant.  I've got all the gear.  I've been trained on how to give a wonderfully effective facial.  I know how to paint nails.  I've got one of those Indian head massage thingymajigs.  I've even got one of those spa foot baths that takes up space in the spare bedroom. And I've got buckets and buckets of wonderfully natural and organic Neal's Yard Remedies products to use.  I could even possibly, maybe teach the girls a few tidbits about how important what we put in and on our bodies is.

Initially, I limited it to four girls.  Then it became 5.  A few days before the party it became 6, 7 if you include Abigail.  I had enlisted the help of a couple older girls we know who had volunteered to help.  I could do this.

That was a big commitment from me.  Struggling with my depression and anxiety there are few times when I feel strong enough to take a stand and say I can do something, especially something as big as a birthday party, which requires meticulous planning, a task I used to be able to do in spades but these days find all a bit overwhelming.  I made a list.  Then I made another list.  I tried to combine the lists.  I wrote up a carefully crafted time line of what I would need to do when.  I made more lists.

Still I experienced some hiccups along the way.  The girls who were going to help couldn't in the end.  They had some school commitments.  OK, no big deal.  I adjusted the plan.  I would just have to work more quickly and do things at the same time and maybe not do everything I had hoped.
I made the banana and maple syrup muffins and realised when I took them out of the oven that I used plain flour rather than self raising flour.  Oops.  Not a lot I could do about it so I just went with it.  Then I cooked the second batch a bit too long.  Like 10 minutes too long.  I made extra frosting and topped up their flatness and covered up their darkness with tons of icing sugar and butter and hoped the awesome flavour would compensate for their density and hardness.  

I got all the beauty equipment laid out in the lounge with stations for each treatment.  That's when I realised there wasn't adequate seating for 7 girls.  There was for 5, 6 at a push, but not for 7.  OK, well, they were going to have to figure that out.
Then my grocery delivery was late.  Not really late but just enough to cause me about 15 minutes of accelerated heart rate, shallow breathing, and curling up in a small ball.    

One of the girls came home with Abigail directly after school.  Thank goodness.  I put the girls to work on cutting up the fruit and putting it on to skewers for the fruits kebabs. 

Before I knew it, everyone was arriving.  Parties are fun.  First it was all quiet.  Next thing I knew I had 7 12 year old girls giggling away in the next room.  

They got their juice and kebabs.  One by one they got their facials, massages, manis, and pedis.  I don't think I got everyone's nails painted.  A couple of the massages were very short.  Everyone got an exquisite facial though.  One girl displayed an incredible talent for doing everyone's hair in a complex style.  We had fishtail plaits, we had inside out plaits, we had around the head and down the side plaits.  We had countless photos of the girls with cucumber slices on their eyes and they relaxed with their face masks on.  We had meditative music.  We had an exhaustive debate on the merits of music by Justin Beiber.  We sang with Taylor Swift at the top of our lungs.  I had a shockingly well informed discussion with one of the girls telling me all about why palm oil is so bad.  Inside I was rejoicing.
But I was running out of time.  In a state of panic, I had requisitioned the help of my husband to do some nail painting.  The girl looked horrified but Abigail assured her that her father was in fact must better at painting nails than her mother.  This is a true statement.  
The end came all too quickly.  I don't think I've ever said that about a child's birthday party before.  One girl wrapped her arms around my waist and gave me a proper hug when it was her turn to leave.  I almost burst into tears.

Abigail told me as we were tidying up that it was the best party ever.  Not just the best birthday party or her best party, but the best party she had ever seen in her life.  She went through all of the gifts she was given and marvelled at how thoughtful and how much effort must have went into the carefully chosen "just for Abigail" gifts were.  She told me she was very lucky to have these girls as her friends.  She told me how lucky she was to have me as her mum.  She put herself to bed and it wasn't even 8 pm.  She was exhausted.

I collapsed on the sofa with a glass of cider in hand.  I was exhausted.  It was worth every single moment.

Thursday 28 January 2016

Parents and Pyjamas

A headmistress at a school in the UK sent home a letter to parents telling them to stop wearing their pyjamas to school.  If you are in the UK, I am sure you have heard all about this.  If you are not, you can read a bit about it here.

I am outraged at the suggestion that the reason any school results are sagging is due to the fact that the parents are wearing pyjamas.  In fact, the mere suggestion that this is to blame for the schools failure points out to me that the true failure quite probably sits more with the headmistress.

How dare she judge those parents.  She doesn't know them.  She doesn't know the battles they may be waging every day.  Maybe they are struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other number of of mental illnesses.  Maybe they are suffering from the side effects of chemo therapy or MS or god knows what other physical illness.  Maybe they are struggling to make ends meet and working 2 or 3 or more jobs and only had a couple hours sleep.  Or maybe they are so worried about their ageing parents they didn't sleep a wink last night.  Or maybe they are fighting debilitating addictions and are doing the very best they can.

How dare that holier than thou woman who is supposed to be a role model for all the children in her charge stand up and rain down her judgement.

I have struggled with depression.  Still do.  I struggle with anxiety every single moment of my waking life.  I don't sleep well.  I am a big fan of slippers and pyjamas.  There are many mornings where I forget to put on shoes when I leave the house.  Or decide it doesn't really matter what shoes I wear.  There are many a morning where I wear my pyjamas on the school run.  Go on judge me, if you want.

But let me tell you this:  I live for my children.  I would die for them.  One of the reasons I am in the state that I am is that I refused to give up fighting to give them the life I always dreamt of giving them until it almost killed me.  Literally.

In my pyjamas and my slippers I am doing a whole hell of a lot better teaching my children than this headmistress is at teaching her children.  What am I teaching them? 

I am teaching them that it doesn't matter what a person wears or looks like.  You don't judge a book by their cover.  It is what is inside their heart and their head that matters. 

I am teaching them that you don't judge at all.  Ever.  You have no right to judge anyone.  Ever.

Work hard.  Learn lots.  Be grateful.  Be kind.  Be honest.

What should this headmistress be teaching?

Reading.  Writing.  Arithmetic.  History.  Science.  Geography.

Instead she is blaming the parents for not getting dressed to her satisfaction.  She is teaching them that there is always someone's shortcoming to blame for your failures.

I think this headmistress needs to learn a few lessons herself.  In the meantime I may never get dressed again.

Tuesday 26 January 2016

What Am I Doing?

I don't mean this question to be existential although I could write a whole different post on that topic.  The answer to this question is in response to several the question I get asked all the time by friends, acquaintances, job applications, and online forms.  I don't fit neatly into a box.  For years I did and it drove me crazy.  Literally.

And the answer is complicated.  So let me clear it up.

Before I begin, I must add a disclaimer.  All of this is subject to change.  At any moment.  That's the other thing I learned when I was more crazy than I am now.  Nothing is permanent.  If something isn't working for me, I have the power to change it.  I can quit doing something I'm currently doing without the fear of being judged or not living up to someone's expectations, mostly my own.  I am the only judge of how my life is working and the choices I am making.  

Life Modelling 

Yep, still doing that.  Yep, still loving it.  This year my career as a life model ramped up a notch when I contacted local independent and state schools in the area around me with Sixth Formers.  For non-UK readers, that's people who are getting ready to leave mandated schooling at age 18ish.  The art schools had changed their portfolio requirements for applicants and included life drawing as a required element.  Before now, most schools had avoided having life drawing in the school because of the, well, "naked person in school" thing.  I know some parents (although I must confess it is not many) who are horrified at the thought of their precious young girl (and yes, it is only the parents of girls) seeing a naked person.  Seriously.  

Thankfully, most of the schools I contacted recognised that it was time to make a change and I have been working with more than 10 schools since September.  It is a very rewarding experience.  Some of the schools are single gender and some are mixed gender.  I tend to model fortnightly (every two weeks) for a couple hours after school.  The students tend to be very nervous the first time but I do my very best to assure them they shouldn't be nervous.  They aren't the ones having to stand naked in front of anyone.  This makes them laugh.  Within a nanosecond of me dropping my dressing gown, they come to the same realisation that all individuals who have done life drawing do and that is that a life model is merely a bowl of fruit.  A most beautiful bowl of fruit but a bowl of fruit nonetheless.  The human body is made up of lines and shapes and forms and curves (in my case, lots of curves).

The most rewarding part of my job is witnessing artists emerge from the quivering fear of these students.  They experiment with colour and line and tone.  They take risks with paint and pastels and pen.  They stop being so critical of and precious with their work.  They grow in confidence.  It is truly a magical experience.

Many of them have applied to art schools around the UK.  I am in countless portfolios and there is a part of me wondering if the people who review these portfolios have noticed that my form appears in so many of them.  I do after all have a very distinct figure.  I've had people in art classes tell me they've seen a painting of me at a gallery or a show despite the fact that my name is rarely mentioned.

I am hopeful that my encounter with these individuals does a little bit in helping them get into and be succesful at art school.  That's their dream and it makes me so happy that I'm doing a tiny bit to help that dream come true.

To see some of the work that has been done of me check out my artistic services Facebook page, Larger Than Life Modelling .  If you'd like to book me, you can contact me through that page.

Art Break
In January I started up my very own life drawing class.  I was involved in a life drawing class held in Sunninghill for a bit and I model occassional for a class at The Firestation Arts Centre in Windsor.  But the Sunninghill class folded after the tutor could no longer continue and the class in Windsor is held at the very awkward time of Sunday evenings 5:30-7:30.  Not many people want to venture out on a Sunday at tea time so class attendance tends to be low.

I have read numerous articles about how life drawing has been shown to be uber effective at combating the effects of dementia, as well as a very useful tool for combating stress, depression, anxiety and encouraging mindfulness.  So I wanted the class to be as accessbile as possible to as many people as possible, regardless of age or ability.

Sure enough, the people coming to the class go up to age 80+.  They've told me they have the best night's sleep after doing life drawing for just 2 hours.  Some of them have never drawn before.  Others drew when they were young but life got in the way.

It is currently held at various venues around Old Windsor, where I live.  Each week I have a different art tutor drawn from my experiences as a life model.  Some weeks are untutored.  Each week  also has a different model, male, female, young, old, big, small, every colour of the rainbow.  Occassionally, I even model.  The classes are held most Wednesday evenings, 7:30-9:30 pm.  You can get more information about who the tutor and/or model is, as well as location details on the Facebook page Art Break.  If you'd like to tutor, model, and/or attend, please get in contact via the Facebook page.  There's no need to book.  Just come along and enjoy the great soundtrack!

In May I plan on holding a life modelling class for individuals who would like to become a life model or existing life models who would like to enhance their current skills. 

In June I hope to host a half day workshop for a large number of artists to have access to a large number of models all at once.

Stay tuned to the Facebook page for all the details.

Neal's Yard Remedies Consultant

In July I became an independent seller of Neal's Yard Remedies products.  Initially I did this because I am wholly committed to doing my bit to do no more harm to the planet and make responsible choices about what I put in and on my body and the bodies of my family.  

My children have hit puberty and with that has come the acne.  I didn't want to be handing them skincare products full of microbeads and toxic chemicals.  I started educating myself about the effects my shampoo and conditioner was having on the water supply.  I learned about the dangers associated with cooking with certain oils.  I became obssessed with the destruction of the nutrients in our soil and ultimately in our food through the destruction of our ecosystems through the use of pesticides and insecticides.  My heart is breaking over the plight of the bees.  I have gained an intense appreciation in the value of using natural and organic plant based products to provide a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle for my family and my world.

Then I decided to tell everyone I knew about it.  Relentlessly.  I hope those of you who have bought the Neal's Yard Rememdies products from me have realised the benefits.  Once you try our products you never leave.  You can currently get 20% off all natural health remedies.  Visit my website to purchase.

If you haven't yet had a chance to talk to me about what you can do to make your lifestyle healthier, more sustainable and natural, please do get in touch by leaving a comment here or sending me a message on Facebook.  I would be honoured to host a Wellness Seminar for you and any number of your friends.  There is absolutely no pressure to buy.  I am merely there to inform.  And there are exclusive free gifts available if you do host a seminar.

If you think you might be interested in joining my little revolution, there is currently an amazing deal on becoming a consultant.  There is no pressure to sell.  At all.  Ever.  There is lots of motivation to spread the word about how what we eat, drink, and put on our face/bodies and the planet can change to encourage health and wellbeing.  Get in touch with me here or my Facebook page.

Wild Side Social Media
And I have the little sideline (ahem) of running a small social media consulting company.  The company helps small businesses harness the power of social media to grow their business.  If you are the owner of a small business and find the world of websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, et al baffling, do get in touch.  I can make it easy.  Well, easier.

So tell me, should I be checking the full time, part time, or unemployed box?

Monday 4 May 2015

Unexpected Outpouring of Generosity for Nepal

It all started with a simple idea.  Instead of a whole bunch of people driving to Aldershot, I would combine efforts and collect a few things from local people who had things to donate and drive it all to the Army base for Ghurkas.  It would save time and petrol.  And it meant I could finally do a little something for the people of Nepal who had lost everything in the horrible earthquake that hit last week.  It was only a small gesture.

After arranging to use our local village hall in Old Windsor as a drop off point and enlisting the help of a fellow resident, we discovered that the containers going to Nepal from Aldershot were already full.  I had committed to people that their donations would go to Nepal so I needed to make sure that happened.  But how?

In a Twitter storm, I initially received a vague commitment from the British Red Cross that they would take our donations.  It later transpired that what they meant was they would take our donations and sell them in their shops for cash.  I was unhappy with that arrangement as many of our items would be unsuitable for resale in the UK as they had been specifically chosen with the survivors of the disaster in mind. 

Having filled my car with the donations from that day and due to demand, we secured the hall for a further drop off slot for the following evening. I spent the night looking for an organisation that would sort and ship the goods for us.  Purely by chance, Twitter came to my rescue.

I spotted a tweet by the Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, Councillor Denis Hyland, 
@CllrDHyland.  The tweet was a photograph of a flyer attached to a lamp post indicating that goods donations being taken at Eltham Leisure Centre and Woolwich Town Hall would be shipped to Nepal supporting the local Nepalese community.  Greenwich apparently has the largest Nepalese community in Great Britain.  The next morning I set off to Eltham.

The Leisure Centre was shocked by the quantity of goods we donated.  I indicated that I would be returning the next day with the same again.  I returned to Old Windsor just in time to open the doors of our village hall for the next donations.

What happened next was beyond my wildest dreams.  The room started to fill up.  Within the first 15 minutes, we had surpassed the volume of goods donated the day before.  The parking lot was full.  People were arriving with cars filled with bags.  People brought tents.  We received over 15 tents.  We received sleeping bags, some used, some brand new with the tags still on them.  We received baby nappies and food and wipes and clothes.  We received shoes and boots and slippers.  We received blankets, probably 100s of blankets.  We received coats, hats, scarves, gloves, mittens.

As we neared the end of the three hour collection window, it became abundantly clear that I wouldn't fit it all in my car since it was already full.  We had run out of room in the hall.  We had filled my car and people were leaving bags just outside the door.

Once again the power of social media swung into action.  With more than a little from from my friends, we secured a small truck courtesy of Frontline Logistics, to meet me and a few others at the hall at 8 am on Friday morning.  We loaded the truck FULL and headed off towards Eltham.

Mid journey I received a tweet from a member of the Nepalese community asking if we would deliver to Woolwich Town Hall as the sorting and packing centre was located there.  We modified our destination and continued round the M25.  

Arriving at just after 10 am, we were greeted at the door by a member of the borough.  With the help of the countless volunteers, we set to unloading the truck.  I was shown to the sorting room where a large number of Ghurka widows were sorting items and boxing it up.  It was an incredible operation.  Every box had to be labelled with contents itemised and weighed.  The room was full of goods and volunteers.  What initially looked like chaos was, upon careful inspection, a fine oiled machine.

I hand delivered a bag of baby shoes that one woman had handed to me saying that they were her children's baby shoes and had been kept carefully preserved in her loft all these years.  She was donating them because the children of Nepal needed those shoes more than she needed those memories.

I also hand delivered a lovely 100% wool blanket that must have cost a fortune.  It was given to me by a woman who told me it was her mother's who had passed away.  She could still smell the scent of her mother on the blanket.  Again, she felt the people of Nepal needed that blanket more than she did.

I wept at every story.  

I was introduced to the leaders of the Nepal community and they were touched by these stories. They were overcome with gratitude at the volume of goods we had come so far to deliver.

I was lucky to meet these leaders.  Notably, I met Sonia and Fatta Thappa, who run Skills and Care, a dynamic, community-led, Nepalese social enterprise organisation.  Fatta was the individual I was exchanging tweets with.  I also met Sushila Karki of Nepalese Nurses, who have already sent doctors, nurses, and goods to Nepal and were planning to send more over the next few days.

I was satisfied that our community's donations would make it to the survivors of the earthquake.  On Saturday, 2 May, 500 kg was shipped and 1600 kg will be shipped tomorrow, 5 May.  

Our job is not done.  Due to our overwhelming response, funds are needed to pay the cargo.  You can help our goods get to Nepal by donating HERE.

I would like to personally thank Sarah Wants who helped me collect goods at the hall both days, even on the day of her son's 6th birthday and helped load the truck.  Also, a big thanks to Chris at Frontline Logistics who donated the use of his truck and Fiaz who did the driving and loading/unloading at both ends.  Also, thank you to the Old Windsor Memorial Hall who donated the use of the village hall and committee room on both days.

And lastly a big thank you to all of you who responded by opening your hearts and giving.

Thursday 30 April 2015

Disgusted with Charity

The earthquake in Nepal has hit me hard.  I can't watch the television or read the newspapers without ending up in floods of tears.  I feel so utterly helpless.

These people have so little and we have so much and then the earth literally moves under their feet and what little they have is taken away from them.  They have lost their friends, families, homes, jobs, everything in just a few minutes.  They are sleeping in the open.  They are living in constant fear and they are grieving.

Charities race into action.  My television, my email, my phone is flooded for requests for donations.  They all want money.  Money. Money. Money.  I get told that it is easier and cheaper to source goods locally than to transport second hand goods.  I get told they don't have warehouses and sorting centres.  I get told it's too hard for them to take goods to disaster zones.  I'm told to donate the goods to the local charity shop who will sell them for MONEY.  I'm told that transportation costs are too high (and yet flights are still arriving in Nepal).

I find this disgusting for so many reasons.

  1. Not everyone has money to give but everyone has the capacity to give something.
  2. A charity which aims to help people in need are unwilling to tackle the difficulties involved.
  3. When offered donated goods, charities turn their noses up.
Yesterday I collected bag after bag of badly needed supplies to help the people in Nepal in just a few hours.  People like me who didn't have money to give, or maybe had already given money as well, took it upon themselves to give their belongings.  We received things badly needed in Nepal like sleeping bags, tents, blankets, coats, shoes, hats, scarves, children's clothing, kitchen utensils, dry food.  I was so touched by people's generosity that I found myself on the verge of tears all day.

We have another collection scheduled for today.  But now I'm not sure what I am going to do with the goods.

Originally, these goods were destined for a British Army collection in Aldershot but the outpouring of generosity meant that these containers filled up very quickly and by mid morning they were full.

My car is full of these goods because as of this morning I have no where to take them.  The British Red Cross initially agreed to the transportation and distribution of the goods.  What they were really agreeing to was for me to drop these things off at one of their shops so they could resell it. 

I've spoken to DEC only to find that all they want is MONEY.

Global Hands can't help me because I'm not an official organisation.

Age UK, Oxfam, British Red Cross, and the lot only want my goods for resale in their charity shops.

I am trying to contact the Ghurka division of the British Army to see if they are interested.

NEWS BULLETIN:  No one in the UK needs a second hand wooden spoon.  Thousands in Nepal need wooden spoons to stir their meagre rice being cooked over an open flame in the outdoor in a crowded tent camp.

I have been in contact with the Nepal Youth Foundation who help thousands of children in Nepal.  They are desperate for our goods.

I was warned this might be difficult.  When we first communicated our desire to collect goods, there were a couple people who warned us not to do it.  We dismissed those naysayers because it was the right thing to do.  I still think what we are doing is the right thing to do.

But I need your help.  If anyone out there knows how we can get these items to Nepal, please contact me urgently.