Monday 28 December 2009

Yellow and Grey Colour Challenge

Yellow and grey are not colours you would normally put together, especially in cards, but I was inspired by some sets that hijabi fashionista Ange, from Hegab Rehab, put together (here, here and here) and a challenge set on the Moxie Fab World crafts blog (here and here).

Saturday 26 December 2009

Baby Boy Boom

Wonderful news from two quarters these past few days mash’Allah. My bestest has had a baby boy, much-wanted, much-waited for and certainly much-prayed for. It’s amazing, she is going through so many of exactly the same experiences and feelings I went through and we have so much to share right now. Her little one, Yahya, is jaundiced right now and she is super-exhausted, so please make dua for them both.

In Pakistan, my sister-in-law has also just had a son (I am convinced babies come in batches of boys or girls at a time). She has been telling us she has a week to go for the last two months, so boy were we relieved when the baby finally turned up. He has an older brother called Talhah, so everyone is keen on the name Zubair for the little one. Talhah, who is four, is gunning for Abu Bakr.

Between them, they have made me very broody which isn’t very sensible considering my recent childcare woes, so I am making do with slobbering and squeezing Gorgeous till he screams.

"Me Time" Things To Do

I am enjoying spending time with the kids during the Christmas break, but as the hubby is away for the weekend (and taken the brother-in-law with him), I am also enjoying some unadulterated me time once the kids are in bed (although I do miss him of course).

I checked out some books from the library. The librarian asked if they were for the whole family, I said no, they were all mine and he peered up from his computer at me:
"You read a very wide range of books". We got gassing about sci-fi and John Wyndham much to the consternation of the queue foming behind me. These and the offerings of Kooky LIttle Sister are certainly stealing my sleep.

I also ordered some beads from Etsy to add to my stash as every time I think up project I seem to have not quite enough beads to complete it. Of course, half the fun is getting the beads, then taking the hanks apart and playing with them for inspiration.

I also haven't touched my card-making stuff much in a while and fancy stocking up on my cards as I have used up most of them.

Kids Come First Insh'Allah

Have had a good few days after a rather nightmarish week. Weather and horrendous traffic have meant that I have been getting home from work two, three sometime four hours later than I usually do, meaning I am tired, we eat and everyone goes to bed. Because the kids have been on holidays, we have used up most of the good will we have earned over the years with family helping out with childcare. The long hours have just compounded matters. I was speaking with a colleague at work in the same position and we agreed that you get to a point that you have no dignity and self-respect left, you are at everyone’s whim and subject to their moods and at the same time you feel like a failure of a mother.

Things came to a head when we left the kids with the (live-in) brother-in-law for the day and came home to find them watching cartoons on the computer. Not a big deal in itself, but when I questioned them more closely, I found they had eaten nothing but biscuits and yoghurt during the day and had been sitting there watching cartoons since that morning. The place where the computer is, if you sit there too long, you get real cold and I could see little lady shaking. I made her get into my bed while I made them dinner and although she fell asleep, she still managed to catch a nasty cold.

I could not believe it!!! Brother-in-law was out of the house as soon as I came in. I held my tongue, same as I always do to keep the peace, although I cried to my husband. Fashionista insists I should have beaten him black and blue and then thrown him out on his backside. Maybe she is right. But every time I get angry at something like this, I expect the person to turn round and say, well they are your kids, why aren’t YOU minding them. I said this to her, but she still insisted I should have battered them.

So I have been counting down the seconds to the Christmas break from work. I have ELEVEN whole, blessed, beloved, days off from work to spend with my children. I took them to the library, we rode on the bus, we bought books from WH Smiths together, we shared warm donuts, they got to sit on the ride they have in malls to rip parents off.

When I go back I want to talk to my manager about the possibilities of working less hours or working some days from home, I have no idea what the response will be, but worth a try. I really despaired the day I came home and found my kids hungry and cold, I was at my wits end, feeling as if I had nowhere to turn and no options left. I know though, that there is always a way. There is always a different way of doing things and a solution somewhere if you think and pray enough. Our set-up has been far from conventional until now anyway and has invited both criticism and admiration from others, but it has worked for us. We just need to work together again to find a way that our kids can be safe, cared for and get enough of their mum and dad insh’Allah.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Book Review: Juliet Marillier – The Heir to Sevenwaters

I read (and reviewed) the three books in the Sevenwaters trilogy some time ago with varying degrees of enjoyment, but still enough to read this fourth instalment when Kooky Little Sister happened upon it.

Each of the novels picks up the story of one of the women in a successive generation. The setting is ancient Ireland, a place of druids, lords and ladies, swamps, forests, gypsies and magic.

The Heir to Sevenwaters is the tale of Clodagh, one of six sisters and great-granddaughter of the original heroine. A practical, sensible and in her view boring, young women, whose time is taken up in the care of her wider family and home. During preparations for her twin sisters marriage, extended family descend including her cousin’s guard Adrian who she is taken by and his friend Cathal, a brooding and rude stranger who she is uncomfortable around and who appears to take a dislike to her.

Within days of the marriage a brother is born to Clodagh, the much loved and wanted heir to Sevenwaters. Left in her charge, the baby disappears one night with a bundle of sticks and leaves in the shape of a baby left in his place. Cathal disappears the same night raising suspicion and anger is directed at Clodagh for being careless and for her insistence that the bundle of sticks is a live baby. But why is she the only one who can see that the child is alive and how can she get her real brother back?

As with the other novels in this series, there is a great challenge for the heroine to overcome with almost insurmountable odds despite her seeming ordinariness. Of course there is a love story (you know the power of love always conquers all don’t you?) and as with the other three books the path of true love does not run smooth with the hero having to be won over.

In the other novels the “fair folk” are alluded to, their stories recounted and their existence believed to protect the people of Sevenwaters (the forest kingdom where the story is set) but their ways are rarely made explicit. Perhaps this was a failing in this novel, because you lose much of the mystery surrounding the fair folk, perhaps not, because I like to get to the root of things. This novel certainly made me wonder if mysterious is better or knowing, or whether knowing everything can be a bit of an anti-climax.

Overall, this is an easily-read, un-taxing, engaging read, more enjoyable if you have read the previous books, but nothing to write home about, the first in the series “Daughter of the Forest” is still by far the best.

Book Review: Alison Croggon – The Gift

I had this book in my reading pile although I cannot recall at all where it came from. It’s usually when I have nothing super-exciting on my bedside table to read that I dip into this pile, so after having ignored it for a long time, I decide to give it a go.

The book is about Maerad, an orphaned slave girl living in a brutal and wild settlement. Rumours about her “witchiness” have meant she is spared the rape and abuse endured by many of the other slaves, although not the life of hard labour. She dreams of life outside of her settlement as a free woman without ever really believing it is for her until she comes across a stranger hiding in the settlement who recognises that she may have great powers and offers to help her escape. This is the beginning of a dangerous and arduous journey towards finding her true identity and the origins of her powers. At the same time there are evil happenings in the world of Edil-Amarandh indicating that a much greater evil is threatening to

This book is very much in the style of Garth Nix’s Sabriel, with its female protagonist unaware of her own strength and its young target audience. It even has traces of Lord of The Rings with the journey theme and even a great vanquished evil, threatening to rise again.

The world of Edil-Amarandh is drawn effectively with its different people and cities, and you have every sympathy for the heroine, rooting for her throughout the book. I also liked the fact that the author touches on the racism and misogyny some of the characters have to deal with (including travelling people for instance). At the same time it feels predictable and there are few surprises considering that this is a fantasy novel and the author has free reign.

I enjoyed the book and was a bit irritated when the story stopped short at the end, the novel is the first in a quartet and doesn’t really stand alone, hence Kooky being harassed to find me a copy of the other three books (she is covering Council staff in the library). At the same time, having read Sabriel and LOTR’s, there was nothing much new here.

Book Review: Garth Nix - Sabriel

Sunday 20 December 2009

Night Drive Around London

London is a completely different place at night: spooky, sparkly, exciting and romantic by turn.

Apologies for the bad pictures, this is the best I could do with my camera-phone from a moving car. We decided to take the kids to the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. We finally got there and managed to find parking only to find that the kids had all conked out. Hubby decided it was too cold to wake them and get them out of the warm car as it was asking for a cold, so we decided to drive back home.

Saturday 19 December 2009

Brown Bling

I had these chunky faceted brown beads for a little while and liked the way the different shdes of brown worked together.

I mixed them with glass beads in different shapes, a few metal beads and some stone chips and tried to connect the strands together. It looked okay lying flat, but when I tried to put the bracelet together, it went lumpy and looked a bit of a mess.

I'm debating now if I should keep the bracelet or take it apart and try again as I really like the beads. What do you think?

The Great Escape

I usually find myself having to wheedle my way out of Christmas parties at work with whatever excuse I can think of. This week I had been covering a colleague who usually takes minutes at management meetings and at the end of the meeting found myself listening to a conversation about the Christmas do. Everyone agreed to put £10 towards the booze, someone mentioned that this wasn’t a Christmas party, it was a “team get-together” so everyone was expected to be there. I’m surprised no-one heard me groan. Another manager then mentioned food much to everyone’s amusement, “food? Who eats at these things, we’ll have peanuts or something.” I just stared at my paper-pad and inwardly seethed.

So on the day of the party, after feeling a bit down for two days, I felt quite upbeat, so turned up in my black and red (sequinned scarf, fave art deco brooch from Kooky Little Sister, Swarovski bracelet from Long Suffering Sister, long necklace of jet beads fro market for £2).

Everyone kept asking me if I was dolled up for the party. I must have had the same conversation four or five times:
Colleague: You like nice, coming to the party later?
Me: Nope!
Colleague: Why?
Me: Don’t celebrate Christmas
Colleague: Well nor do we, it’s a team ….”thing”
Me: I don’t drink
Colleague: Well nor do we, there should be food.
Me: Yeah I’m going to stay late to eat peanuts!
Colleague: You should come…
Me: (Piece de resistance) Have no childcare arrangements.
Colleague: Oh…

I enjoyed strolling out at 4pm while everyone else was being rounded up for the party and herded into the canteen.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Spacing Out and Mental RAM

You know that moment, when you feel you are at a loose end? There is a pile of work in front of you and a long to-do list, there are various people demanding your attention and a long day of work ahead and yet you just are not inclined to do anything anytime soon except sit and stare into space (or maybe your computer screen so you don’t get in trouble for skiving). Funnily enough, at the same time my brain is bubbling up with ideas, reminders and thoughts, all jostling with day-dreams for mental space.

A good thing to do at a time like this is what David Allen calls a mental “RAM Dump” in his book “Getting Things Done”. He describes the way we often have so much going on in our head: the pressure of things we need to get done, our projects, work, appointment’s our anxieties. Our brain does not differentiate between what is urgent or what can be put off and so everything feels urgent. This build-up of data and tasks to do means that not only are we distracted, but feel often on the verge of mental overload. Allen suggests taking pen and paper and writing down everything that is in your head, once it is on paper you can prioritise and take steps to deal with what is important.

I usually do this using two or three blank pieces of paper, split under the headings of:
- to do today
- to do this week
- to do anytime
- ideas and thoughts

I then write down every single thing that I can think of. Between them these list allows me to empty my mind and clear my head. This exercise helps give me clear direction on what I should do next and therefore motivates me.

I will have a go at this in a little bit before I waste the whole day in a fluster, but I think I might sit here and enjoy staring into space a bit for the moment.

image source

Sunday 13 December 2009

A Spring Necklace for Little Lady

Little Lady saw this oyster-shell pendant in my bead box and asked if I could make her something with it.

I used the colours in the pendant to pick out my beads.

Of course, she had to wear it straight away. Her request came at a good time, I have had my beads out without any ideas of where to start. Sometime you have to start with just anything to just get started:

"We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action." ~Frank Tibolt

Thursday 10 December 2009

Book Review: Stan Nicholas – Orcs

Orc's is a fantasy novel set in the fictional world of Maras Dantia. When you think of Orcs, it's very possible that you think of Tolkien's The Lord of The Ring and this is exactly what this book is not similar to. The book is actually a trilogy, with all three novels in the series (‘Bodyguard of Lightning’, ‘Legion of Thunder’ and ‘Warriors of the Tempest’) in one book without any attempts to make them flow more smoothly (there are lengthy recaps in the beginning of books two and three).

The book seeks to challenge the conventional conception of Orcs as the bad guys and humans as the good guys on a mission to save the world. In Orc's we follow a warband of orcs led by Captain Stryke, a brave and seasoned fighter sent on a mission to attack a human settlement and bring back a mysterious object, or "instrumentality" for the evil Queen Jennesta who is part human and part nyadd (water nymph ). On finding themselves successful in their mission and also having acquired a bag of the much-valued hallucinogenic drug, pellucid, from the raid, the warband decide to rest and try out the drug. This leads to them being attacked by Kobolds, another of the races that inhabit Maras Dantia and divested of the instrumentality, leaving them unable to go back for fear of Jennesta's murderous wrath.

The Orcs track the Kobolds, at the same time knowing that there is no going back and wondering what they can do to save themselves. They recall that they were once free before their race was sold into bondage to serve as formidable fighters. At the same time they have to deal with "Uni's", humans who have crossed a vast desert to reach Maras Dantia and are viewed as fanatical because of their insistent belief in one God in contrast to the belief of the elder races in a trinity or quartet of Gods (Uni's versus Mani's). The humans are pillaging the resources of Maras Dantia and hold the elder races in contempt as heathens who need to be "enlightened".

The book is fast-paced, leaping from battles (though nothing like the scale of LOTR) to mad chases to random carnage to the next battle or punch-up. The tone too is different from the usual fantasy novel, irreverent and laddish almost, with the Orc band often rowdy and belligerent, including the one female member Coilla who is as skilled a fighter as the rest.

I really enjoyed the sense of humour of this book - the way it pokes fun at elves, imps, brownies, centaurs, satyrs, nyadds, mermaids, sirens, trolls, fairies, goblins and just about EVERY other creature you can think of from a fairy story

I also loved the exchanges between two of the characters in the warband: Haskeer, a brave, belligerent but not very bright Orc and the dwarf Jup, the only non-Orc in the band, that run through all three installments of Orcs and are probably the highlight of the book.

At the same time, it is predictable. The villainess, Jennesta, is slightly ridiculous with her exaggeratedly evil, one-dimensional characterisation and the quest formula has bee done so many times before in the fantasy genre, although the Orc perspective was a change. The ending is also rather odd and sits slightly uncomfortably with the rest of the book.

In all this is a good read if you have the stomach or patience for a rowdy, "boy's-style" adventure, perhaps not to everyone's taste, but made more readable by its great sense of humour

Wednesday 9 December 2009

A Lesson in Listening

I came across this article today about the work of the humanist psychologist Carl Rogers and this quote resonated deeply:

“I have found it of enormous value when I can permit myself to understand another person.

Our first reaction to most of the statements which we hear from other people is an immediate evaluation, or judgment, rather than an understanding of it. … Very rarely do we permit ourselves to understand precisely what the meaning of the statement is to him. I believe this is because understanding is risky.

If I let myself really understand another person, I might be changed by that understanding. And we all fear change. So as I say, it is not an easy thing to permit oneself to understand an individual, to enter thoroughly and completely and empathically into his frame of reference. It is also a rare thing.”

It made me think about how when we profess to be listening to someone, we are really just waiting for them to stop talking so that we can respond straight away. The more fast-paced our lives become, the more we behave this way, especially as we value more and more those who can speak quickly and respond quickly, regardless of the depth and sense of what they are saying.

It made me think about how carefully I listen to my children and how well I pick up on what they are really trying to say. It takes some time for children to become articulate enough to say exactly what is bothering them or what they want. Most of us never learn to say what it is we need – how many sisters can recall ever saying to someone: “I just need to be held for a while” or “I just need some reassurance right now”? I think probably many of us at many times, but when do we have the words to say it and how often do we feel like someone is listening carefully enough to pick up on what we need? Turning this on its head how carefully are we listening to what our parents, spouses and children say, our friends and sisters, and how well are we gauging what lies behind those words and what they really need from us. I know I have been guilty of saying to my children: “not now, I’m busy” or “not listening, you should have been in bed an hour ago!”

Insh’Allah, I will promise myself to listen more carefully to what my family, friends and colleagues say. This doesn’t come naturally to me and it is not like me to be patient, but I do think if I even try to listen more carefully to what people say, it will benefit me more than anyone else.

Rasulullah (SAW) always gave a person he spoke with full attention. So if someone addressed him he wouldn't talk to them over his shoulder or be distracted with something else. He would turn his entire body to face them and listen and speak (Shamaail Tirmizi Pg.22/23).

Sunday 6 December 2009