Reasons to be grateful: My heroically stubborn cat is teaching my son to be gentle

We have two black cats in the Magpie ‘s Nest that we adopted several years ago. They were already middle age by the time we adopted them, understandably nervous, and had fully embraced some eccentric habits. When we first bought them home to our flat we did not expect to be soon bringing a baby home as well, and thought that they may have a long time to get used to us in relative peace.

However, fate had other plans, and in that year the cats moved home three times. Once from their original home into a cat refuge, then to our flat in Central London, and then finally out of central London with us as we moved further afield to be able to afford a house. Not long after that final move we bought home a baby, and they have learned to live alongside him as he has grown into busy toddler.

Recently my son has developed a deep and enthusiastic love for our cats, which unfortunately is not returned in kind. As he has become more and more mobile, one of my cats, who was the more anxious of the two, has decided that his best strategy is to remove himself from the situation, and to hide if he feels necessary. This was the kind of reaction I expected.

Our other cat, however, has decided on a different approach. Over the last year as he has got used to us he has decided that he really liked to hang out with us, and will endure quite a lot of unwanted heavy handed patting from my son if it means a good chin scratch a few moments later. One of his favourite things is to lie on the window sill and watch people or birds through the window. My son takes advantage of these moments to practice stroking him, but excitement will soon over take him and there are more than few occasions on which a tail has been firmly grasped. My beautiful stubborn cat clings to his spot on the window anyway, refusing to be moved on, never batting him away and waiting for a parental intervention. In do so he allows myself and Mr Magpie to try to teach my son about what it means to be ‘gentle’.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. If you want to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

My toddler is a scientist: experimentation and the creative process.

A few weeks ago my son learned to walk. Like every other skill he has picked up, the process involved a lot of trail, and a lot of error. There were plenty of missteps and a few little falls here and there, but it didn’t take him long to get the hang of it. Now he likes to spend his days charging around, while we spend our trying to keep up with him.

Over the last year it has been his gift to us to hang out with him while he learns to do new things. I am sure all parents think their children are clever, and I am no exception to this rule, but it has been one of the most delightful surprises of parenthood to be able to see this unfold. He is the epitome of a little scientist. Touching. Tasting. Moving things about. Trying one thing, seeing it fail, trying it again with adaptations, before moving on to the next option.

The other morning we were eating breakfast together and it occurred to me that this process is also the process that underpins good art. Trying one thing, adapting it, trying the next. I am one of those odd people who trained in the sciences, but is drawn instinctively to the arts. In my mind there has never been a huge distance between the core process involved in doing science, and the one that underpins the making of art. Watching my child develop has reinforced this for me in the most profound way.

Now he has walking mostly under control, we’ve moved on to putting blocks together in new and interesting patterns. For him, inspiration appears everywhere. We aren’t quite up to building yet, but that too will happen in time. I can’t wait to see what he will experiment with next.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. If you want to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Parenting and productivity: what have I learned?

When my son was born last year a few weeks before we went into a national lockdown I thought that there would be time to do things. Long time readers of this blog will know that I have a habit of working on multiple projects at a time. We also bought a house that needs lots of work doing to it that we planned to do ourselves. I naively thought that I would be able to continue with this multiple project approach, but it turns out that I was very optimistic.

In the first 6 months, when my son couldn’t move very far, it was actually possible to do lots of things, but as I was recovering from a C section there was a limit on what I could do, so I mostly stuck to writing. Once he got the hang of moving about however, things really changed and I found I was able to do less and less. in particular I found he got really interested in my computer, which meant that my previous approach of writing when he was around became unviable, or I would soon have a broken computer.

There have been a few black days where I was feeling very frustrated and stuck, with the house needing lots of work and my projects sitting untouched on my computer. At the same time I have found that just spending time with him, watching him learn and grow has been a really mind expanding experience. Everyday he encounters something new for the first time. I didn’t want those moment with hime to be lost in my need to do other things and so I started thinking about getting more organised. My partner bought me a copy of Getting things Done by David Allen (affiliate link), which was helpful to some extent. I also read a copy of From Chaos to Creativity by Jessie Kwak, (affiliate link) which was really helpful and a much easier book to navigate when you don’t have much time.

He’s now toddling, and into absolutely everything making and while you would think things would be even more difficult, actually I feel a lot more on top of things now. Here is what I have learned:

  1. It helps to have a system – Both of the books I suggest above recommend developing a system to mange all of the things you have to do. I’m still working on mine but have found Trello and a series of physical white boards helpful in organising my time.
  2. Get used to making the most of small, unpredictable pockets of time – I find that I frequently find I have small pockets of time in which I can do something that come at odd moments in the day. In order to make the most of this it really helps to work out ahead of time what little jobs or tasks I can do in ten minutes or half an hour and keep a list of these. For example I have managed to do quite a lot on our garden this year in thirty minute slots here and there. I have also made some good headway on the second draft of my novel in twenty minute chunks of time.
  3. Switch devices – my son is obsessed with my laptop computer and I can’t really use it around him as he just grabs it off my lap the whole time. But I have found I can write a lot of bits and pieces on my phone and then tidy them up on the computer later when he is napping.
  4. Switch media – I’ve recently signed up for an audible account (affiliate link) have found this really helps me – I can’t read and look after my son, but I can listen to an audio book while I’m cooking or something like that. This has been transformative for me.
  5. One thing at a time – I have had to put some things on hold, like pretty much all of my film making and art work so I can concentrate on one bit of one creative project – the first book of the Feeding Jasmine Valentine Project because that’s all I can do.

Thank you for reading. I also make art and films. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Reasons to be Grateful: People are nice to my son

I’m sorry to have been quiet for that last couple of months, I have started back at work and am experiencing the lockdown child care crunch that will be familiar to many parents.

This won’t be a long post, but I wanted to share this picture of my son. He likes to stand in on the window sill in our front room and bang on the window as people pass by. Obviously he is still too little to stand up there on his own so I am often sitting there with him, just behind the curtain. I don’t think passers by can see me, but they do see him and they frequently wave. This makes him very happy, and he bangs on the window a bit more and shouts.

Parenting a young child during lockdown hasn’t been easy. There aren’t many places I can take him at the moment and he seldom sees anyone other than me and my partner. Hopefully all this will change soon, and he can get on with making friends and meeting people outside. In the mean time I am really grateful to the people who wave at him. It makes his morning or his afternoon to get a wave.

Thank you for reading. I also make art and films. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Reasons to be grateful: 2020 wrap up

I’m already a couple of days late with this post but I figure given the year we’ve just had, that’s ok.

It’s been a strange old year and I know many people are glad to see the back of it. Given how tough it has been on many of us it would be insulting to start getting preachy about how everyone should be taking stock of their reasons to be grateful, but I do find it helpful to take stock of mine.

Here in the Magpie nest we have been some of the lucky ones. After a couple of years of fertility treatment, early this year our son came into the world. While we didn’t have the best time in the hospital, we all made it home unscathed and he continues to grow, and astonish, and amuse us every day.

We had been home with him for just a few weeks when the world went into lock down and all of the mum and baby groups that normally populate the lives of new mums shut down. While this sounds like we may have missed out, we are lucky enough to have a garden, and so we spent much of those early days with our new baby in the garden, quietly getting to know each other. I feel like this time, where it was just the three of us, was a bit of a gift now I am looking back on is from a cold December. We were able to get to know each other a bit before the outside world was able to intrude. In those heady, sleep deprived days it was possible for most of the lock down to drift past us, and it is only now that we are beginning to miss the bright lights of Central London.

On the creative side, while we may have missed out on many of the groups and visitors that are a normal feature in the life of a new born, I did have more time on my hands and was able to finish a draft of my novel, Feeding Jasmine Valentine. Since then I have been able to ask some friends to read it and get some feedback. In 2021 I will be working through it, my main aim for the year being to develop a draft that is good enough to send to agents.

While I do feel we have been very lucky this year, and have slipped through it mostly unscathed, I am very aware that there are many people who have not been as fortunate. I hope that 2021 is an all together kinder year to everyone, and wish everyone reading this good wishes for the year ahead.

Thank you for reading. I also make art and films. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Finding (or not finding) my flow: art in the time of parenting

Hello Magpies!

I am sorry that I missed last week’s post. My brain feels like a sack of porridge at the moment.

I have been thinking a bit about creativity and the stop start nature of artistic work when you are also a parent of a young child. While it took me a while to adjust to having a young son, I feel as though I have got to a place where I am fitting in art, writing or film making every day at the moment. Baby Magpie’s naps have got slightly more predictable, and I’ve also found some time some evenings to do stuff.

So the logistics are beginning to work themselves out, and I am pleased with myself for that. But for me there is a second element to creative work that is really important, and that I’m having a bit less success with. I can have a plan, and follow the plan. I can do 200 words a day for example, but are they good words?

I struggle to find my flow when I am squeezing in work into twenty minute chunks here and there. Flow is a psychological concept, described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, that describes that really enjoyable mental state where everything is working together, your focus is aligned with what you are doing, and time passes by unmarked. If you are interested in reading more, I think this book is good.

I find that it is in this state that my best ideas for my art come to me, and I find it hard to completely enter that state when I also have one eye, or one ear on the baby. Has anyone else experienced this? if you have, and have tips on how to manage this pleased let me know in the comments below.

Thank you for reading. I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Thought custard

It’s been an interesting week here at the Magpie nest. Baby Magpie has slept through the night several nights in a row. Like most new parents we were waiting for this moment with great anticipation, believing that it would usher in a return to a blessed state of getting several hours of unbroken sleep.

That’s not actually what happened. Instead, Baby Magpie has slept soundly, and I have woken at the times of the night when he normally wakes, and then spent several minutes gently prodding him to make sure that he was still alive. I’m definitely doing better for sleep now, but it’s still pretty broken, and not the step change in my mental resources that I was hoping for.

I was trying to think of something more intellectual for this weeks blog, but I find instead that I have thought custard. My ideas just aren’t running as smoothly as I would like them to. I have found it easier to work on artistic bits and bobs. The paper cut above is the first bit of animation work I have done since Baby Magpie was born, so I am pleased to have managed to get back to that. It’s a little bit of progress, but it will do me for now.

Thank you for reading. I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Scraping together time for art.

It’s been a busy few weeks here in the Magpie Nest. I was finally able to take Baby Magpie home to spend some time with his grandparents, which was great but exhausting. We also have quite a lot of jobs that need doing on the house, and the day to day jobs involved in looking after a small person.

With all of this going on I have been finding it hard to fit in time for creative things at the moment, as Baby Magpie is reaching an age where he is interested in everything, and beginning to be able to move himself about the place just a little, but not quite enough to satisfy his curiosity. It is difficult to find the kind of quiet alone time that you some times need just to think a bit of creative work through.

One of the little projects I had in mind was a card for Mr Magpie, as it was his birthday recently. I have given him hand made cards for his birthday every year since we’ve been together and it’s one of the little rituals of our relationship that I don’t want to let slide. I had a design in mind but found it difficult to just sneak away and put my design onto paper, which began to make me very anxious.

In the end I was able to manage it by pretending I had another piece of work I wanted to do and getting Mr Magpie to sit with him for a while for a while. It wasn’t the best solution, it would be better if I could find ways of managing my time better, but it worked as a fix at the time.

Baby Magpie is just beginning to take regular naps reliably, so I am hoping to be able to concentrate more on my projects during that time. Thus far I’ve not demonstrated a particularly strong ability to put boundaries around my time, or be disciplined at the opportunity arises, but this is something I plan to work on. I will let you know how it goes.

Thank you for reading. I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Stop looking at your phone Mama Magpie

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I have been at my parents house in the countryside this week with Baby Magpie. He is getting to spend some much deserved quality time with his grandparents, and we have left Mr Magpie back in London to do a few of the many little jobs needed in our eccentric house.

In the day Baby Magpie plays with his grandparents and I try to film little bits of him sitting on the swing and that kind of thing on my phone to send back to his dad so he doesn’t completely miss out. In the last few days I have noticed that Baby Magpie will stop smiling or laughing when I get the phone put to film him, and instead looks at me with a serious expression as if to say ‘mummy you are not paying attention’.

A while ago I blogged about being present as a parent, but from the perspective of how it might affect my mental health. I spend most of my time with him at the moment, but the quality of that time is very different depending on whether I’m trying to do something else at the same time or am just able to concentrate on being with him. Often there are things that just need to be done, but I also find myself picking up my phone or computer when I don’t really need to, because it’s become a reflex in modern life to do that. Babies are very clever. He can tell if I am present in the moment with him.

Recently Baby Magpie has been reminding me that putting a phone, even for goodish reasons, into the middle of my relationship with him tells him something about what is important. It’s when I put the phone down and concentrate just on him that he begins laughing and smiling again. 

Thank you for reading. I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.