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Alexander Residence: 01/01/11 - 01/02/11

Monday, 31 January 2011

Goodbye Mum

Banksy - Always Hope

After I posted that my mum was going into a hospice I recieved so many words of support, here and in my offline life, all of them perfect in their own way, despite people's pleas that they didn't know what to say. Thank you.

My amazing mum died in the hospice on Thursday 27th January 2011.  She was peaceful and we were with her.  The hospice was amazing, mum's care was fantastic, but they also care for relatives too.  It doesn't make it less sad, but it makes it calmer.

I could write a million blog posts on the experiences of the last few weeks, one will never do it justice.

My mum was amazing and inspirational. She was so thoughtful, so interested in everyone she met. She was so positive despite cancer. She taught me a million and one things which I've been scribbling down furiously.

My friend sent me this Banksy as a card, its the image my parents also sent me for my birthday card last year (cool parents huh?)  It reminded me my mum used to read to me from a book about a French boy with a magic red ballon. It's a book based on a film from her child hood.  I read it to her last week.  At the end the little boy floats off in a bunch of ballons.

I wish I could give the four year old this image of Gran drifting away in a bunch of ballons, but I read up and everything points to honesty.  We read Goodbye Mousie and Always and Forever.  Miss L is stunning us all with her understanding and sensitivity.  I'm not sure about taking her to the funeral (a humanist ceremony) but I know she needs something.  I would love to hear about any experiences with this age group.

One of the things my mum taught me was the importance of rites of passage, that I could create my own ceremonies and rituals if I wanted.  I didn't want to go to my PGCE degree ceremony after feeling like part of a herd of cattle at my first degree ceremony.  Instead we walked on Devil's Dyke and she made me a daisy chain headdress and told me how proud she was.  Little things like that keep popping into my head, reminding me what an absolutely amazing woman she was.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart,
and you shall see that in truth you are weeping
for that which has been your delight.

Kahil Gibran

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Sunday, 23 January 2011

Music I want my children to listen to

Hurrah, it seems I am not going to languish in my musically deprived rut forever, Music I Want My Children to Listen To is becoming a regular feature. And I have evidence that it works!

Emergency on Planet Alexander

This week I intend to try out some Jamiroquai on them.  There's a lot going on in our house at the moment, and there have been lots of fraught moments.  I reckon a bit of Jamiroquai will mellow us out.  I was obsessed with Jay Kay as a teenager.  My mum asked for Jamiroquai CDS when I left for Uni to remember me by.  I just need to hear the opening bars of Space Cowboy or Emergency on Planet Earth and I my mood is transformed and transfixed.  "Everything is good" (well actually it's really not, but it can be for 4.01mins).

Also Jamiroquai links on nicely from one of my choices last week, the father of Acid Jazz, Gil Scott Heron who was a real hit with my two last week. I thought a follow up of them in action was in order. So here is the mini Gil Scott Heron fan club doing their interpretative dance version of Hello Sunday, Hello Road.

Apologies for the sudden end. You have to quit while you are ahead with this age group sometimes.

What you waiting for, get singing and dancing and blog about it!  Lovely Becky at Hazel and Blue is hosting it this week, so go on over and link up your fab ideas for music to inspire children.

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Silent Sunday

Pssssst...for more Silent Sunday inspiration visit the lovely Mocha Beanie Mummy, please take her a get well lemsip.


Saturday, 22 January 2011

Strictly Kids Dancing

After posting about The Music I want my Children to Listen To I thought a follow up of them in action was in order. So here is the mini Gil Scott Heron fan club doing their interpretative dance version of Hello Sunday, Hello Road.

Apologies for the sudden end. You have to quit while you are ahead with this age group sometimes.

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Thursday, 20 January 2011

Have you forgotten how to play?

Sometimes it's not easy to remember how to play is it? I often find myself in a rut, dragging out the same old toys and expecting my kids to get on with it, generally when I'm stressed.  Eventually something really captures my imagination or inspires me.  This week it's the IKEA Play Report.  I 'liked' the Play Report facebook page and have received some clever tips and insights into the magical world of play.

Ikea's Play Report is the largest ever global report into child development and play.  The report found 45% of parents feel they have no time to play with their children and that 26 % feel too stressed to play. And the bit that staggered me, 50% believe play must be "educational".  Of course all the children surveyed felt that play should be play and 73% would rather play with their parents than watch TV.

My mum was a play therapist and spent years teaching parents how to play with their children. I watched her in action, both professionally and with my children.  It was an education.  We all have times when it's hard to remember how to play.  We all need gentle reminders and most importantly inspiration.

IKEA sent me some toys and their impact on both parents and children has been fascinating. A good friend popped by and met and fell in love with this bunch:

Croc's rucksack immediately captured her imagination.  Over a cup of tea she came up with loads of play scenarios which she was itching to get home and try with her children.

Miss L loved the Play Report Toy Stories facebook app that allows you to tell your own stories with these characters.  We made up a story where 'Barnacle' the crocodile has a birthday party.  You can even share or print the book at the end.   The results were inventive too, Miss L decided to make Barnacle eat the calendar because he was so sad it wasn't his birthday.

Mr G and Miss L have fallen head over heels in love with the IKEA dalmation puppy. We made 'Snuffles' a bed out of a box, because to play, as the Play Report emphasises, you don't need much.  Snuffles now goes everywhere. He has a lead, a bowl, snacks and his proud co-owners are constantly sneaking him off each other.  I think we may be heading to IKEA so they can have one each.

He's mine sista!

Puppy love
Do you ever get in a play rut?  What gets you out? 

Let's make the world play more!   
Get some tips, like the IKEA Play Report

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Listography - celebs I would like to punch

The Listography theme this week is 'celebs I would like to punch'.  While Kate Takes 5,  (do you see what I did there?)  it is being hosted by Metal Mummy who may well have something to do with this theme.  But do not fear, I can vouch for the fact she is a really fab blogger to befriend and her site just had a gorgeous makeover and she'e even got a cuppa waiting for you, so go visit.

This theme is tricky for me.  Firstly because I have always been rubbish at remembering who's who. Teaching Film Studies was a nightmare for me.  I was great at teaching the theory but when my students asked me to name a film star I would freeze like a rabbit in the headlights.  I could remember the names of the 500 or so kids I taught each year, but never the names famous people 

(Notable exception - Me, Mr A and my little bro, we have our own little Matt Damon fan club which involves watching the Bourne trilogy and saying Maaaatt Daaaamon in an American accent a lot.  But don't ask me what other films he was in.)

I also refuse to buy gossip mags, because I think even celebs deserve privacy. Yeah I know, boring, but I do break that rule for special occasions like 'being in labour' or 'severe tonsillitis'.

So I offer you instead five 'types' of celeb I would like to punch:

1 - Celebrity waifs - I'm not sure my punch is well directed here, because I think the machine is to blame more than the celebs.  But we need more realistic representations of women on the catwalk.

2 - Celebrity chefs who snigger at vegetarianism or present the idea that a pasta dish is a viable veggie option.  Stop fearing the unknown.

3 - Celebs who wear fur, or meat dresses.

4 - Celeb mothers who look like they never gave birth six weeks, or less, later.

5 - Celebs who are famous for being loaded, or for Daddy being loaded.

Look forward to learning some names this week!

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Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The Gallery - Mother Nature

The theme at the brilliant Sticky Finger's The Gallery this week is Mother Nature.  I had to look it up, just to be sure my interpretation was right..

Mother Nature (sometimes known as Mother Earth) is a common personification of nature that focuses on the life-giving and nurturing aspects of nature by embodying it in the form of the mother.

Okay so slightly literal but this is a 'personification' of nature in the form of the mother:

Baby Shower guests
Taken by my friend at her baby shower. She was the only one who was actually pregnant. The rest of us had balloons up our jumpers (haha, fooled you! I doubt it...) That's me in the middle coveting the kind of neat bump mother nature never bestowed on me.  It was a huge relief to take the balloons out, they stretch your jumper something rotten.

My friend sent me this to cheer me up when she heard about my mum, little did she know it would solve my The Gallery too. 
Why not check out some more of the entries in the brilliant, brilliant The Gallery (link above).

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Sunday, 16 January 2011

Music I want my children to love - Urban Storytellers

I have been sharing musical tastes with Susanne at Ghost Writer Mummy and Becky at Hazel and Blue.  It started when I tweeted I was going through my old record collection at my parent's house: Dinosaur Junior, Ned's, Carter USM, CUD, Violent Femmes, Pixies, Blur.  Susanne challenged us to blog about the Music I want my children to listen to based on a post she did about Ben Folds -  I challenge any parent not to get misty eyed listening to Gracie.

I would like both my children to appreciate both these artists, but you may be able to guess why I have dedicated one to each child.  The two choices also have something in common.  I would describe them both as poets, as urban storytellers, as well as musicians.

Mr G, meet Gil Scott Heron.   Normally I have relied on friends, my little brother or boyfriends to supply me with New Musical Ideas.  Gil is an exception. I discovered him, all by myself, via an Acid Jazz compilation and I have always felt he was 'my' musical discovery. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is the classic many people have heard of.  I was lucky enough to see him play in Brighton.  He did not disappoint.

I am no music journo so in the words of people who are, he is  "the godfather of rap" and "the black Bob Dylan".  I'm not a big fan of rap or Dylan,  I like Gil because he led to Acid Jazz, but mainly because he gets across some seriously important messages.  His song Message to the Messengers encouraged a new generation of rappers to speak for change, to raise political consciousness.

Gil Scott Heron
Miss L meet Lily Allen.  She reminds me of sitting by the fan, in our old flat, seven months pregnant with you, in the hottest summer I have ever experienced.  Her track LDN reminds me of the city we left behind shortly before you were born. Part cynical, part celebration, LDN reminds me of my dilemmas with leaving London.

Most importantly Ms Allen represents some of my hopes for you to be a creative, feisty and imaginative young lady with her own take on the world.

Anyway kids, this will have to wait a bit because these two come with parental advisory.  But one day, I hope you'll enjoy them.

I also discovered my mum's i pod yesterday.  I am looking forward to a good listen and to adding some of her faves to my New Musical Revolution.  She likes a lot of folk, which maybe explains my love for storytellers.

Any recommendations gratefully received.

Have you got tunes you want to share?  Check out Susanne's blog to link up. 

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Silent Sunday

It's just not Sunday without Silent Sunday. 
Pop over to the brilliant Mocha Beanie Mummy for more Silent Sundays.
Click the badge:

Silent Sunday


Saturday, 15 January 2011

Building a Tinkerbell House

Mr A bought Tinkerbell on DVD for Miss L. I expected to be disappointed by girly fairyness but actually Tink turns out to be adventurous, cheeky and fascinated by mechanics. And I had underestimated how much I would be drawn in by the fairy world. I have always loved minature worlds. That's why I love doll's houses, The Borrowers, reading books and writing fiction.

In the film the human girl makes a fairy house which Tinkerbell gets trapped in. Our DVD came with a free mini model of this which we dutifully made. Unfortunately the door was too small for the mini Tink
to fit though, 4yo Miss L was distraught. Instead we got a box and built this:

So far Tink has an egg box bed, a felt duvet, a table, a plate of snacks, toys, pictures of cars and buses (I think because of the scene where Tink gets fascinated about car mechanics) and a rather huge Ikea nightlight. This alone took Miss L a good hour, but I am sure an older child would take the decor and furniture making even further. 

Once when I had lost a tooth and was expecting a tooth fairy visit my mum made a fairy playground out of the objects on my desk.  She also left me a copy of Beatrix Potter's The Fairy Caravan.  It was the closest thing to magic I have ever come across.  I really believed in fairies.

Miss L keeps complaining Tink hasn't been. I am not sure whether to creep in and start creating the magic or whether at 4 she is too young to cope with the disappointment of never actually seeing Tink. I suspect she wants the reality to mirror the film.  A real live fairy. 

Truth, faith or pixie dust?

There are lots more lovely ideas for things to do with children over the weekend over at Thinly Spread, why not have a look. 

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On Brilliance and Bravery


Not quite sure what  to do with this week.  'A sad happy day in the Alexander Residence' I think I tweeted.  Here is the only way I have found to explain it, a bleat from behind the tweet...

I want to say a huge thanks for the votes and the award.   I couldn't believe I was nominated, never mind winning the Fresh Voice category.  I am surrounded by brilliance at every turn, constantly in awe of amazing blogs.

The award was a lovely shiny beacon of happiness in a week which has been one of the worst in my life.  My mum has brain cancer.  I haven't blogged about this, because the blog is one of my coping mechanisms.  Last week she was admitted to hospital, became very sleepy and today, for the first time, the word hospice was spoken.  She has put up an amazing fight against a very aggressive form of cancer.  I have had a lot longer to come to terms with this than I thought I would, two and a half years.

I haven't been blogging very long, but I feel hugely supported by this community.  I am surrounded by so much brilliance.   Blogging and tweeting help to keep me going, the jokes, the banter.  Which is why I have been avoiding talking about cancer here, I don't want to alter things.   But then it became like a huge bubble of subtext which was ready to burst.  Sad news is weird, people stop talking to you.  I feel like I am taking a gamble here....Please please keep talking to me.  I have stumbled on new blogs before when people have been going through bad times and not been sure if it was invading.  You're not. 

I may be a bit raw, all over the place but I intend to blog through this.   Probably more about the normal stuff than the bad stuff, because that's how I deal with it.  My good friend whose sister lived through cancer told me cancer needs a box, you can take it out of the box, explore it, think about it, cry about it, but then it has to go back in the box. 

Dedicating the award to My Mum x

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Thursday, 13 January 2011

Listography - Top 5 places

Kate Takes 5 has a fab linky called Listography. The theme this week is top five places. I'm going to struggle here as I haven't travelled anywhere near as much as I would like. So there may be a few cheats.

1. Our Caravan.
(I'm a caravanner and proud - Top Gear get lost, ironically Mr A is watching an episode where they ridicule caravans as I type).  It's taken us to so many places, most of them very local. But give me waterproofs, wellies, countryside, my family followed by snuggling up in the caravan, the whistling kettle, hot chocolate, my tartan rug, a film, popcorn and anywhere could be my top place.
Our caravan antics, just like this
2. Brighton.
I lived here for a summer as a student working as a chambermaid at The Grand Hotel, and again for 2 years with Mr A before we had kids. It's leftie, seedy, bohemian, cultured, veggie friendly, green and by the sea. Everything my current suburban locale isn't.  Grrrrr!

Saltdean beach, down the road from Brighton
3. New Brunswick Canada
We went their on honeymoon to discover Mr A's birthplace. Kayaking around loads of tiny islands amongst seals was my favourite bit. Quebec and Montreal rocked too, Canada is just a very cool place.

4. Bewilderwood is my top family place to visit
It's a theme park in Norfolk without the tack, the only one that as an adult has made me feel the magic behind the theme.  The only one where the whole family can do everything together (even the nearly 2 yo took part and I saw lots of grandparents).

5.  Bed
Tops them all as a place to visit. And it's the one room in our house where (in my opinion) our complete lack of interior decorating nous failed.

Butterfly themed bedroom
Go and check out the other lists, I'm looking forward to adding some more places to my list. Click the picture below to visit Kate's top blog (ooops that's 6 top places to visit sorry).


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Monday, 10 January 2011

The Gallery - body parts

The slightly contraversial theme at Sticky Finger's The Gallery this week is body parts.  I have a feeling it will be an emotional rollercoaster this week...

There is something about seeing these hands I find so moving. So wise, they touched so much, held so much, helped so much, soothed so much.  Made so many flowers grow, baked so many cakes, prepared so many miners' dinners as manager of the colliery canteen.

They are my grandmother's hands.   She lived long enough to meet my first child and that was a gift. For me this picture has always symbolised that gift.

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When did the yummy mummy army take over children's books?

Shirley Hughes
One of my parenting new year resolutions was to read more books to my children. In the library this week I was struck by the extent to which the yummy mummy army has crept into children's literature.  My 4yo kept bringing me books full of glamorous foxy mums in floaty skirts, heels and flicked out glossy manes. No she hadn't picked up a copy of Vogue by mistake (Maybe though, she is trying to tell me something?  I reckon I scrub up ok when I need to, but I am far from being impeccably groomed in my day to day role of mum)

I looked at the books, looked round the library and laughed, no mum wears that kind of gear in the company of small children.  Unless it's a wedding, when you spend the whole day hissing 'don't you dare touch me with those sticky fingers'. Or you're a celebrity with a nanny and stylist in tow.

Anyway it made me all nostalgic for the mums of my late 70s/early 80s upbringing.  My own mum.  The mums of Shirley Hughes. The jeans and jumpers and let's go and get mucky in the garden and make crap cupcakes brigade. Rather than the let's go to the cafe and wear a pink dress, while I sip a cappuchino and nibble at an artisan cupcake brigade.  There are enough pressures to be a yummy mummy in the media, keep this out of children's books please.

On the flip side, my son loves Judith Kerr's The Tiger that Came to Tea which is a time honoured classic, but not a wonderful representation of the liberated woman. Sophie's mum defers all decisions to Sophie's Dad after she lets a tiger into the family home, panics she has nothing for Dad's tea and even lets Dad drink all the beer.  But I don't think lounging on a chaise lounge in a pink dress and reading interior decorating magazines (seriously this is what one mum was doing in a book we read) is any more aspirational either (although maybe a nice way to spend 10 mins if you can organise it).

Representations make a huge difference to groups in society. So I am recommending a book with a powerful Mum role model:

My Mum by Anthony Browne.  His My Dad is good too.

Any other recommendations?

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Thursday, 6 January 2011

Some lovely bloggers and tweeters

I am continually taken aback by how much blogging and tweeting has changed my perspective. It's lovely to feel part of a community.  This week I have been bowled over by the encouragement of other bloggers.

I posted about my struggles with my ghost story for Open University Creative Writing Diploma assignment. I had to adapt my short story into a stage or radio play or film and I had this ghost that just would not work however I tried.  Loads of lovely bloggers gave me suggestions (and a whole pile of ghost books, films and tv shows to distract myself with). Headhuntress, Mummysquared, @jencull (jen), This Mid 30s Life, Mañana Mama, Imperfect Pages.  Suddenly it felt like I had a team of 'ghostwriters'.  (Sorry  - couldn't resist).

This week I tweeted that I was just printing out my radio play to read out to myself and Him up North, from the Blog Up North, asked what I was writing and offered to read it.  And do you know what, he actually did, and sent me some fab words of encouragement.  I told him he should get into writing beyond the blog, his blog is always a good read, witty, original and well written.

Next Kirsty at Imperfect Pages suggested I record it. Brilliant idea. She's clever you know, a Philisopher, and always full of brilliant, imaginative solutions on twitter.  And her blog is a lovely, intelligent, interesting place to visit.

Unfortunately I haven't got the energy to master podcasting tonight, in order to share the dodgy recording I made with you (any advice there gratefully recieved!).  But there I was making the sound effects, wind, creaky doors, footsteps.  I was having great fun, until I woke the 4yo with my over zealous footsteps. Then Mr A came home and caught me at it, very embarrassing. And then I listened to it back, and imperfect pages was right, recording yourself does make you sound like your posh friends from school. (I wonder what happens to posh people? Do they sound like the Queen?)

Embarrassments aside, being a 'one woman radio play' really helped me be objective about it and I'm quite proud of the end result.  And I've just sent it to my tutor hurrah!

Thanks you lovely people, for all the encouragement.

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Monday, 3 January 2011

Reinventing the Fairy Story

Once upon a Christmas, a Queen bought Mixed Up Fairy Stories for 4yo Princess L:

Make your own fairy story
It's turned out to be brilliant on so many levels. It is really firing her imagination and encouraging her to invent her own stories.  I love it because I struggle with fairy stories that lack girl power.  I'm with Fiona in Shrek 4 who said life isn't a fairytale and that she rescued herself from the tower.   Miss L did get a Rapunzel doll for Christmas, but I don't want her to think life is about sitting in towers waiting for a prince to come and rescue you.  Fairy stories need reinventing.

Best of all it seems to be right on her humour wavelength, I have never seen her laugh so much at the silly scenarios she has created.  However, this was the scenario that made me and Mr A laugh:

Blimey Cinders!

Mixed Up Fairy Stories by Hilary Robinson.  Illustrated by Nick Sharratt.

Anyway is it just me who thinks some fairy stories need mixing up? 

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Sunday, 2 January 2011

First footing, an extreme sport

Yesterday I learnt the lengths people will go to bring in the New Year. I was quite happy with a glass or two of champers, some family bickering over board games and lots of hugging at midnight. Then a mysterious man knocked on my door on New Year's Day, asking for a cup of salt.

He said he was staying with my neighbours. I dutifully poured some salt into his cup but as he left the surrealness of the situation hit me. So I texted my neighbour to ask if it was a New Year's ritual. Also if so, wasn't he supposed to bring salt not take it?

Meanwhile we began to debate the tradition and etiquette of 'first footing'. My Mother in law remembered her husband bringing in the New Year in this Scottish tradition. How had the Alexander clan (we're not very Scottish really) allowed this tradition to lapse? Mr A was dutifully shoved out the back door with a sausage in one hand (he'd been making sausages butties for all 14 of us bless him) and a lump of coal in the other, to symbolise food and warmth. He was instructed to take the old year out the back door and bring the new one in the front door.

Mr A reappeared a minute later, through the back door, to much scorn and disgust.  He needed the key for the camper van which was blocking his exit down the side of the house. Undeterred by this obstacle he
climbed through the camper van boot and out the passenger door. He eventually rang the doorbell and we welcomed him in.

Mr G was very excited by the whole ritual and gave Mr A a huge hug. Lots of innuendos too, about letting my husband and his sausage in the front door.

After all that palaver my neighbour texted to say yes her guest was Scottish and had wanted the salt to first foot her house. So after much hungover bickering about what first footing consisted of, the mystery was solved. Why he didn't just tell me that's what the salt was for I don't know.

We're semi detached with our neighbours so I'm hoping this building is going to be a very lucky place to be this year.

Happy New Year! Hope it was a good one. Do you have any New Year rituals?

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Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday

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