Reasons to be Grateful: Allowing myself some grace when I’m not at my best

The best laid plans…

About six weeks ago I had decided to try to be more consistent with writing posts about gratitude. I think they are helpful to me to write them, and they are helpful to some of the people that read them too. Within a week or two of making that decision, I tested positive for Covid, and then was quite poorly for about two weeks.

During that time my little cat, who I had a close bond with, became very poorly. We had been trying lots of things to treat him for a bowel condition, but it turned out that wasn’t what he had. Instead he had an aggressive cancer which just gobbled him up, which was increadibly difficult to watch. I took him to the vet to be put to sleep before I had really been able to recover from Covid, and have suffered a very sticky form of grief for him ever since.

On top of this I still have a busy toddler to look after, who is just going though a ‘boundary testing phase’, and managing this is exhausting. As I write this it’s been at least three weeks since I cleared Covid, and yet I still do not feel like I have recovered from either thing.

Frankly I haven’t been feeling at my best, and times like these can have unexpected results.

Just not finding my muse

I have found myself suffering an odd form of writers block, in which I have the initial ideas for little blog posts, stories, or even longer essays, but as I sit to write them I find it impossible to think through how to elaborate on that initial idea to create something readable.

For about a week or so I put pressure on myself to get back to the swing things and feel ok, and then I realised that I didn’t have it in me for that.

Those who have read bits and pieces of my work before may know I have struggled with anxiety and depression in the past, and those experiences have taught me that it’s not always sensible to struggle on. This time, instead of trying to push myself to write, I decided to take a bit of a break, and have written just a few little bits and pieces in that last month.

A few moments of grace

In the few scraps of time I have to myself in the day I’ve been doing other things instead, taking the time to sleep, to read the fascinating Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake (this is an affiliate link – if you buy this book using this link I’ll be sent a few pence as a referral fee), and to cuddle my surviving cat.

As I begin to feel like writing again, I feel grateful that I was able to give myself a little moment of grace to not do things, and to take a little time to rest.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. You can read my short fantasy stories here on Simily. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and 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.

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Reasons to be grateful: A young boy and an old train set

A few weekends ago I took my son on the train to visit my parents in the UK country side. During our time there we had an uncharacteristically hot day. We all have pale skin and are prone to burning, and on top of that I tend to get quite light headed when it’s too hot so I’m not a huge fan of the hot weather.

My parents have a nice garden that features a couple of terraced patios, and the highest one is sheltered by the shade of a graceful old apple tree. We decided not to go anywhere in the heat but instead potter around at home. My son is still a toddler and doesn’t need elaborate entertainment any way, he can spend twenty minutes examining a CD (my parents still have a lot of those).

After my son took his afternoon nap he was pottering about in the garden when my dad emerged from their cellar holding a mysterious plastic box. He put it on the table under the apple tree and invited my son to sit at the table with him. Once my son was settled in his chair my dad began pulling out pieces of track and old electric locomotive trains for my son to look at and hold.

My son really loves trains, and has a wooden train set at home that slots together like a jigsaw made by BRIO (this is one of the sets he has, they are compatible with other more elaborate sets, affilliate link so if you chose to buy this set using this link I would get a small commission), but the set my dad showed him was more elaborate, delicate and involved an electric track. It also had a number of detailed steam trains, which my son loved zooming up and down the table on a piece of track my dad put together for him.

It’s a very old train set, part of it belongs to a set that my father’s father gave him when he was a child, and part of it my dad bought for a set at some time or other (he used to be a set designer for TV programmes), so we didn’t think it would actually work. However, after a little detective work and some DW-40, my dad persuaded one of the units to race around the track. It was quite an exciting moment.

Generally I would have thought my son a little too excitable to play with something with such a delicate set up, but he controlled himself very well if it meant spending the afternoon playing with grampy’s train set in the shade. At times he sat and chatted with my mum about all the trains and what they were, even though he doesn’t really understand that much, which was enchanting to watch.

As I’ve said else where, we needed fertility treatment to have our son, and frankly there were times when I didn’t think we would get moments like these. I feel intensely lucky to have spent that warm afternoon in the garden watching my son play with his grandparents and an old train set under the apple tree.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. You can read my short fantasy stories here on Simily. If you are interested in the process of creativity and want to get a copy of my free short book of creative prompts, and 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.

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Reasons to be grateful: A sense of peace watching the bees

Like a lot of people I’ve been alarmed by the reports of the steep decline in biodiversity. When we moved into our current house there were some roses in pots, and a few wild flowers in the garden, but the majority of the space was taken up with lawn, and even the grass all looked like it was all the same variety. While we couldn’t fix the global biodiversity crisis, we could try to help in our little corner of London.

Over the last couple of years my partner and I have put quite a lot of work into increasing the diversity of plant and animal life in the garden, by planting new flowering plants, growing fruit and vegetables, and letting those wild flowers that were there before roam a little more freely.

We’ve managed to establish a couple of sage plants which put on an explosive display of purple flowers in late spring, and we also now have some chunky clusters of chives, that produce clumps of violet pompoms. Both of these plants are really attractive to the bees. Now we can sit and watch the local honey bees roam across these flowers collecting nectar, their little legs heavy with pollen.

As I write this we’ve had a stressful couple of weeks, with both my son and my lovely little cat being poorly, along with the day to day stresses that come with work and the rising cost of living. I’ve struggled with anxiety in the past, and it is these times where it is more important to do little things for our mental health. Most days I find a moment to go out into the garden to watch the busy activity of the bees. These are moments that I can really sink into and feel a little contentment in the present.

The flowers on both plants are dying back now, but there are others just geering up to take their place. My son loves to go outside and look for the ants and the ‘bumble bees’ too. It makes me grateful that we put the effort into trying to turn some patches of a tired looking lawn into an attractive place for the local insects.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. You can read my short fantasy stories here on Simily. If you are interested in the process of creativity and want to get a copy of my free short book of creative prompts, and 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.

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Reasons to be grateful: Cold mornings and sunrise over South London

Before I had my son I think it would be fair to say that I was not a morning person in any sense of the word. In fact I would like nothing better, after initially getting up at around nine, than to retreat back into bed with a pot of coffee and an armful of books or the newspaper. I can year the faint laughter of anyone who has ever looked after a small child as I type this. Those days are long gone.

My son is an early riser, which means that by default I have become one too. This is a struggle, and I do not think my physiology has caught up. Over the last few months, as the mornings have grown darker and winter has fully established herself, I have found a consolation. In some of our recent crisp cold winter mornings I have been treated to some wonderful sunrises. If I had not been forced up early to take my son to nursery, I would have missed out on seeing the sky turn golden over South London. For these mornings, I am grateful.

The image of a sunrise has been used in many cultures and across the ages to invoke ideas of new beginnings and fresh starts. On this Bank Holiday Monday, I hope that this new year will give you many reasons to be grateful, too.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. If you are interested in the process of creativity and want to get a copy of my free short book of creative prompts, and 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.

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Reasons to be grateful: our neighbour’s friendly relationship with my son

When we moved into our house a few years ago we didn’t really know the area very well at all. We had all sorts of plans to get out and get to know the place, and meet some new people. But nothing ever turns out quite as planned, does it?

We weren’t here that long before I gave birth to our son, and not long after that a series of national and international lock downs began. As a consequence, for quite some time our explorations were limited to our back garden, and the only new people we met were our immediate neighbours.

They are an elderly couple who have lived on our the road for a long time and they have taken great delight in building a relationship with our son. The husband in particular looks out for my toddler most days, and makes a point of smiling, waving, and saying a loud hello to him in an excited tone of voice.

When this began in the spring this year, I am not sure if Baby Magpie knew what to do with this kind of attention, but now it has become one of the highlights of his day. He will often look out of the window for our neighbour, and give a little wave to the space where he expects to see him, irrespective of whether he is there or not. When they are ‘talking’ face to face over the garden fence, Baby Magpie is a little more shy, but our neighbour stands and waits patiently for my son to give his little wave back.

I think as the last couple of years have been difficult because of the pandemic, and I feel grateful for simple moments of connection like these, that have become particularly precious.

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.

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.

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.

Reasons to be grateful: surprise flowers in in garden

wp-15947408780321689890225541638854.jpg When we moved to our new house in December the garden was in hibernation mode and the most we could see was a series of twigs and branches in various parts of the garden, some of which we were not even sure were alive. Then spring arrived and the garden began to bloom. Given we have been living these last few months through a lock down, I have been especially grateful for these surprises. wp-15947501648844284013960930436245.jpg For example we have found that the previous occupants of the house have left all sorts of wonderful surprises, like this rose in a pot. wp-15947410109828874198310336218721.jpg And these Forget Me Nots, which feel a bit symbolic as they are the flower that the design for my engagement ring is based on. wp-15947500376754887138710586271147.jpg Perhaps the surprise I have enjoyed the most has been the discovery of the hibiscus bushes that line our fence. When we first moved in they looked to me as if they were a bunch of dead samplings that would need to be removed. But we didn’t get round to it. Now, well into this British summer, they have rewarded out inactivity by beginning to bloom. wp-15947408993682642372022060491397.jpg  

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.

Mother’s Day and difficult times

As I write the I’m sitting in bed with the baby asleep on my chest and I’m managing to sip luke warm tea without dripping it on his little white best. I’m not sure what parental skill level that is but I am grateful for being able to do it at all. Yesterday was my first ever Mother’s Day. It feels a bit strange to me, like I can’t quite own that title yet. I’m not sure if that relates to having an IVF pregnancy, or if it’s because the world feels a bit upside down at the moment.

I have been writing a novel over the last year in which one of the main characters goes through a psychological/ physical change which involves becoming more aware of their physical body. When I became pregnant it didn’t occur to me that this experience would help me get under the skin of that character, but having a baby has turned out to be a profoundly physical, almost animal experience.

I was always a bit suspicious of the pastel coloured, sugary depiction of mother hood that seems to predominate in our culture. So far motherhood for me has not been particularly picturesque. I’ve been strongly reminded that however much I may like to live in my head, I’m very much a biological being. I had a cesarian section and have been limited in what I can do as I recover. I’m only just able to lift things again, and still get very tired when I walk for more than half an hour. My body automatically produces milk to sustain my baby, who decides when he wants to feed whether it is convenient or not.

It’s also been a bit difficult to get ‘back to normal’. We have been hibernating as a little family for almost 3 weeks as the coronovius upends normal life outside. We are just getting to the point where we are ready for little trips out if the house, but everything has closed and all of the little social groups and things like that for new parents are on hold. My body begins to look like it did before I was pregnant, but I can’t swim because the pool is closed, or walk far because we are social distancing. It will probably never quite be the same again.

Even against that background I think we are very lucky. We delivered the baby and came home before the hospital was full of people with the virus. Inside my partner makes me tea and does the washing while I cuddle the baby. We are happy and warm together, and have enough food for a few weeks. I have much to be greatful for.

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.