DIY | Autumn Craft Jars

Happy October, everyone!

Christmas is traditionally the time of year when we go all out with decorations- lights, tinsel, maybe even an ironic stocking- but with a new season sweeping in, I love decorating for autumn, too. I’m not just talking about hanging up some skeletons for Hallowe’en. This season offers us such a beautiful palette that it’d be remiss to not use it as an opportunity for some home décor.

Most of my Instagram feed have already plundered TK Maxx for their wares (myself included). If you’re on a limited budget (also myself included, my TK Maxx haul was a candle and bunting) you can still add a little festive spice- pumpkin, if you wish- with some super easy autumn crafts.

A quick descend into a Pinterest abyss can offer a wealth of crafty ideas but if your resources are limited, I’ve got you covered. Decorated jars are easy to make, hella resourceful and budget friendly. They look pretty, and if you reuse old jars, I dunno, does that count as recycling? Or upcycling? I like to think so. Here’s my five step guide to making an autumn jar…

Firstly, you’ll need..

  • Some jars (coffee jars, candle jars, mason jars, the choice is yours)
  • Leaves (duh)
  • Mod Podge or PVA Glue mixed with a li’l water (the Mod Podge also acts as a sealant as well but glue does the job if you don’t have any handy)
  • A paint brush

Forage

This is arguably the most fun part. This is the perfect time of year to gather leaves, they’re not too crunchy (and therefore won’t stick) and we’ve not been so ravaged by rainstorms that they’re basically mush.

The colours of fallen leaves this time of year are perfect too: it’s the most vibrant palette of deep reds and golden yellows, and even the odd green straggler.

Go a long walk on a dry day and pick as wide a variety as you can. Plus it’s nice being outside when you’re doing something you actually want to do, right?

I also found it helpful to press ’em before sticking them on, just to make sure they’re nice and flat. It makes it easier for sticking on to the jar, as you don’t have any wee end bits sticking up. Kids’ hardback books are especially good. If there’s any moisture on the leaves, line the pages with kitchen roll to get out the last of it.

Gather Your Tools

Y’know when you go through jars of coffee, decide you’re going through too many and switch to the refills, and find yourself with a box full of empty jars you dunno what to do with?

If, like me, that’s a resounding yes I’ve got good news- it’s time to harvest.

If not, you can reuse a candle jar, or buy one. Whatever works, as long as it’s big enough to stick some leaves on.

We got Mod Podge in Hobbycraft, purely because we were in the shop, the packaging is retro A.F. and I figured if I had the means to make crafts I might actually do it. It’s not as cheap as regulation PVA glue, and not as widely available. If you like, you can mix some PVA glue with water and it’s basically the same thing.

Your paintbrush doesn’t matter, although a smaller one might be good to work quickly with the glue. I had a load of bog standard ones I got from The Works, and some kiddy friendly ones from Tesco- basically anything that you’re not gonna be precious with.

Glue the First

Using your brush, apply a thin layer of Mod Podge to the area you want to stick your leaves on. Apply the first leaf, making sure it’s all nice and smooth. Hold it on for a few seconds to make sure it doesn’t peel off, or until the Mod Podge goes slightly tacky. If you need to, you can apply some more glue around the edges to make sure it sticks. Continue with your other leaves until you’ve applied as many as you like.

Glue the Second

Once you’ve stuck your leaves on and it’s dried off a little, paint another thin layer of Mod Podge to seal the deal. The regular stuff has a matte finish, but there’s also a gloss version if you want a bit of shine.

Ta-Da!

Once the glue’s dried you can do whatever you want with it: we tied some twine into a bow around the neck of the glass, and you can fill it with candles or fairy lights if you’re feeling extra. See? Told you it was easy.

Third Quarter Review

It’s been six months since I last posted anything on here. Half a year. I wouldn’t have believed it myself, had I not realised the date.

That’s not to say that it’s been lying dormant. I’ve written three-ish posts in that time. I just haven’t actually posted any of them. Last time I blogged, I wrote about how I’d been feeling uninspired and needed to give myself a creative shake. In that time I’ve done precisely nothing to improve on that and I don’t even know why.

The bones of this post have been around for a while. It started off as a mid-year review, to see how far I’d come since the new calendar. Around that time I was preparing for my mid-year review in work. I thought it’d be fun to do the same IRL.

Turns out it wasn’t as fun as I hoped. I compiled a list of promises and goals I’d made at new year, and how I’d either achieved them or not. It worked, in a sense that I got a full post out of it. It just felt… bleh. Like eating Weetabix with the dregs of a carton of milk. Not enough to scrap it completely but not enough for it to be truly great. So I clicked ‘save draft’ and that was that.

The longer this went on, the more I felt embarrassed about not posting anything. I still used blogger hashtags on Instagram, sure. But it felt hollow. I couldn’t talk about blogging stuff because I wasn’t blogging. The more I left it, the harder it got to sit and write. Repeat ad nauseam.

I was mostly embarrassed because my last post had ended on such a determined note. I wanted to steal my time back from self-doubt, to stop comparing myself to others and look for my own positives. Honestly, I had great intentions, I really did.

Great intentions can’t quite prepare you for curveballs though.

This year, this last six months especially, has thrown them in abundance.

I don’t know that I’m ready for discussing the throes of my personal life on the internet (I know that’s basically the purpose of a blog, but I don’t know that I’ve dealt with it all myself, so ssshh). It’s been a difficult few months and at this point in time, there’s not a great deal of change of the horizon. So I put things off and blamed them on other circumstances.

It was this post from the amazing Sian that got me thinking. It’s a lot more succinct and beautifully put than I could hope, so you should probably read that if you’re still combing for the point in this post. I guess I was overthinking a lack of direction on my blog to distract me from a lack of direction elsewhere.

Maybe I was blogging or applying for jobs or planning new hobbies with the wrong intentions, regardless of whether they were good.

Maybe I was holding myself back because I didn’t want to admit that I’m no further forward than I was last time you heard from me.

Maybe I didn’t need to have all the answers or know where things where going.

Maybe all I needed was to deflect the curveballs and toss one of my own.

To get started, I just had to write something down.

So here it is.

The Thief Of Joy

Yeah, before you go on, it’s yet another addition to the canon of “questioning my worth as a blogger” posts. Other people have lamented this point and put it better or more succinctly than I could. It’s a post I sometimes think about writing, then worry about being self-pitying or indulgent. Since returning to work, though, blogging has become my biggest shortcoming. The longer I don’t do it, the easier it becomes to ignore. So why now, then?

Well, I guess, when there’s a red alert for weather and the rest of your family are taking a nap, what else can you do?

I’m loathe to use the term ‘blogging community’ because it’s not really, is it? It’s so disparate, dependent on niche, location, regularity, any number of other factors. Still, in some factions, there’s very much a supportive community vibe and in it, I feel like a fraud. I like and comment on posts, agonise over the right amount of exposure and contrast on Instagram updates and proudly boast that my blog is self-hosted in job interviews. I do all of this without actually publishing anything on the regular. I’m not sure how active you have to be, but if there’s a percentage I’m coming up on a deficit.

It’s easy to find reasons and excuses not to blog and subsequently feel down about it. “I don’t have time” is a popular one, followed by “I’m not really saying anything new, so what’s the point?” and “who’s really going to read it?”. I have these at hand so that when I do feel the guilt creeping in, I can shrug it off. Who am I even making excuses to, though? 90% of the time, it’s usually to myself.

The real problem is that I’m stuck in a rut, and I’m not doing enough to dig myself out. Begrudgingly I’ve ended up back at work full time, Sunday ’til Thursday. Two days a week I don’t get home ’til 9pm, by which point I’m clocking in at about 15 hours of waking time. On the days I have off, I have baby stuff to do, family to visit, friends to catch up with and an never ending rotation of housework. Blogging feels like a frivolity. No one is going to go without if I don’t and there’s always something else to be done. At the moment, most of my online time is spent job hunting and half-filling application forms until my eyes get tired.

Sitting at a computer all day seems to have sapped any creative energy and means it’s the last thing I want to do at home. If I do have an hour to spare I go to the gym, because I’m sedentary for the majority of my day. That’s my banner excuse but the truth is, it’s a problem that pre-existed long before my return to employment. I have a phone full of photos I’d planned to use, half-written list posts gathering dust in my draft folder and an ever growing sense of apathy about the whole thing.

There are so many creators just now, whom I love, that are killing it with their content and output. Not just in blogging- in vlogging, film making, arts, crafts, running their own side hustles, everything. Many of them have kids, or work full time, or are always on the go. Everyone’s time is precious, we are all time-poor. Despite this, they’re putting in the work and I’m backing further into my corner.

I need to give myself a shake.

Sometimes I can feel myself brimming with so many creative ideas that I can feel my brain vibrate. Rather than do anything I just sit, waiting to begin, and never really doing so. I used to love drawing and lettering to soothe away a day, and now I have a brand new pack of sketching pens unopened and gathering dust.

I spend so much time trawling the internet, scrolling Instagram, avoiding blogger chats and watching other people get on with things. All the while I wonder what my place in it could be, or why it isn’t.

I’ve thought about changing up my content- it’s not hard to see what types of posts are popular, what people are engaging with. But then, it wouldn’t feel authentic. In some cases I wouldn’t know where to begin. I don’t feel like I do enough to review anything. Much of my working week is spent in boring ‘business casual’ dress and, out of that, I’m not much of a shopper. There are a multitude of beauty bloggers embracing cruelty free brands and foodies tapping into vegan culture- the very USP upon which this blog was founded, before being abandoned until pregnancy awoke a need to document things.

Nowadays, I’m more likely to find myself reading posts and thinking about how I wish I’d thought of it, or even kept a note of ideas when they come to me. Let’s be honest, how often have you read a post that’s not particularly well done and thought “I could’ve done this better myself?”.

So then, why don’t I? After a couple of job knock-backs in a row, and a stressful week in work, it all sort of overcame me one night driving home. Not quite a full on ugly cry, but a general feeling of tiredness. Tiredness at my work situation, tiredness of the same routine, tiredness at never allowing my half-formed ideas to come to fruition. The first thing Ally commented when I got home was that I ‘looked sad’. I realised then that, more than anything, I was tired of this being my default mood.

Writing, drawing, planning family days out, taking photos, reading books and going to the cinema make me happy. It might read like the first time CV of a school leaver who still includes ‘hobbies and interests’, but it’s true. Comparing myself to others isn’t working. It’s not inspiring me, it’s not spurring me on to do better. It’s a common problem though- not just with me, but the many bloggers and professionals who write about the dreaded ‘impostor sydrome’. All it does is knock our confidence. What we need to do is remember what we love and to make the damn time to do it. I need to stop making excuses and hold myself accountable for what I do (or more likely, don’t) do.

It’s now March. We’re careering towards the first quarter of the year and thus far it’s passed me by. In January I made goals for the year with an unbridled sense of optimism. They centred around self care- not the bubble baths and candles type (not throwing shade at it, I just don’t have a bath). For me, that meant writing, creating, pouring my efforts into things that made me happy. So far, I haven’t done much of that, so maybe it’s time to start again. New month, new season on the horizon and all that.

So, will I suddenly start blogging to a routine, dropping new posts on the regular with an as yet untapped assuredness? Probably not. To be honest I’m not entirely sure what the point in this incoherent ramble has been. A promise to myself, I suppose, to take time out to indulge what I need to do. To remind myself that, while comparison does nothing for happiness, the real thief of joy is a lack of action. It’s time to steal that time back.

In With The New

How long after the 1st of January do you keep saying ‘happy new year’?

I always thought you said it to anyone whom you were meeting for the first time since the bells. That was fine when I was younger and more sociable but let’s face it- these days, between working full time and having an increasingly mobile toddler means I’m more or less a social hermit. There are people, despite my best intentions, that I probably won’t see until the first tulips make their tentative appearance.

So, if I do somehow wish you a happy new year in March, it’s because I don’t really do very much.

When I do it usually involves damage control. He’s at THAT age.

Whether your plans involved being asleep before midnight or you saw twelve noon the following day, I hope it was what you wanted to get out of it. The year started off on a sour note for me as, two days beforehand, I found out I was due back at work a week earlier than I thought. My initial annual leave of three weeks got extended until new year and I could’ve sworn I applied for the first week off.

Nope. On the 2nd of January I was right back in the habit. The only upside was that despite a 9am start, I took my car to no interruption. The trains didn’t start early enough, I couldn’t fathom the bus timetable but the normally nose to tail roads were empty. Thanks, everyone, for staying at home with your families, friends and loved ones, and keeping the first commute of the year relatively stress free.

So, not quite the ownership I’d hoped to grab in 2018. I knew that after six weeks off it was going to be hard. I almost found it harder than returning after maternity leave. During my annual leave my son turned one and suddenly started to come on in leaps and bounds. It was a lot more work than the first time off with him, but I felt like we both got so much more out of it.

In the space of three weeks, we had four Christmas parties. We visited museums and soft plays and libraries, sat in cafes and parks, saw lights being switched on, went for long walks with no other aim than being outside. We wandered until we got lost and had to find our way back.

The Hidden Lane, Finnieston.

We celebrated my first birthday as a mum, Lucas’s first birthday earthside, the first Christmas where he was really aware of what was happening. He had his first Christmas dinner and met Santa for the first time. It felt like every day he was learning or doing something new.

I felt like I knew more this time, and was able to plan our time better. Sure, it was tough. He’s not so keen on getting changed or taking medicine or being stopped from jamming his chubby little fingers under the door. There were days where it rained so hard we didn’t leave the house, and the two of us grew bored and cranky. At first it seemed like a vast expanse of days stretching endlessly before us.

Then Christmas came, and it felt like I was being hurtled back to the real world.

The return to work loomed over the last of my leave, casting a cloud through which it was impossible to see there and then. I felt so anxious the night before, and the whole drive in. It was busy, it was stressful and… then it was done.

Ashton Lane Christmas switch-on

The next week came and went similarly. I got into a rhythm again. It wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t the end of the world. It still felt like I was wishing my days away. Somewhere along the way, though, I just… forgot to be so bothered by it.

I guess I was just ready to face the new year head on for a change. When I think back to a ‘successful’ year, it’s easy to focus on what happened, instead of how. We look back on good times, yearn for them and gloss over the stress and work and deadlines and dead space that surrounded them. Sometimes luck and opportunity can land at our feet but it’s rare. Not only that but it’s rarely a sweeter success than that which we’ve earned. Or so I’ve found, anyway.

On that note, I started making some changes. I put the work woe aside and celebrated the bells with my family. I started getting my head down and on with things at work. I signed up for an evening course in web design and web authoring. I’ve put away £3 for every coffee I haven’t bought and read double my book readin’ target for the month. I signed up to Veganuary and I’ve been cooking more, eating more and eating better.

Obviously this was before jumping on the vegan wagon.

I’ve written a list of goals (not resolutions) for the year to finally vent my creative frustration. I have a beautiful new diary and Ally bought me a calendar- an actual, honest to god one which goes on the wall. Usually I’d fill them with the plans I wanted to make, but I’m prioritising the ones I need to make by writing them nicely.

I’m not saying that Doing Things and Making Changes are a one stop solution for all of our woes. I’m not exactly grabbing life by the balls, currently sitting alone under a blanket on a Friday night, blogging and catching up on Mad Men (I’m on the second episode).

That’s cool, though. It’s not about razing your life to the ground and building a flat pack new build from its ashes (do that if you want, but it’s not my point). Do what you have to in order to forge your own path.

Stirling Arcade before the Christmas lights switch on.

At the same time, don’t forget touchstones or little things that make you happy. I’m a big fan of the idea of change but sometimes the execution can get swamped by self doubt, second guessing and just plain daily life. Plans and goals are exciting, but sometimes being blown off course is where the real experiences are. Fill your reserves to dip back into when external pressures become overwhelming. Things can wait.

That was quite the ramble, wasn’t it? I’m not even sure what direction that was trying to take but here we are. We’re almost a month down in this brave new world of 2018. It’s a curious mix of excitement for the year ahead and enjoyment of the space we’re inhabiting right now.

Do what you will with it, as I will, do what you love and don’t be a dick.

Happy new year.

A Word Of Advice

This time last year, I was slap bang in the middle of my second trimester. We’d settled into the idea of being parents and life revolved around scans, midwife appointments and shopping for prams. It doesn’t feel like a year, but here we are with an eight month old (I kind of dropped the ball on monthly updates on the blog, huh?). As much fun as it is, I do find myself looking back fondly on the experience of being first-time expectant parents.

Love- or at the very least, lust- is in the air around these parts. It feels like every week brings another pregnancy announcement (seriously people, how much are you having at it?). Every time I see one I get a wee buzz of excitement, even if I don’t know the person. First time parents have so much to look forward to, they don’t even know. Obviously having a baby isn’t the be all and end all. It’s not always immediate cause for celebration. It’s hard bloody work.

If you do choose to have a baby though, for all the hard parts, it’s pretty great. The worst part though? All of the unsolicited advice and intrusive questions. Shortly before my due date, I compiled a list of the most common things I’d been asked during pregnancy. In hindsight, with eight months’ parenting experience under my belt, I’ve put together  a compilation of advice: take it from someone who’s still muddling through, learning on the job. You’re going to be fine.

No one cares about your birth

I mean this in the nicest possible way. If you’ve attended antenatal classes, or discussed a birth plan, you’re probably aware of different birthing options. Whether it’s in a bath, drug-free, hypnobirth, epidural, via caesaerean or getting the ol’ plunger up in there, one thing is the same: whatever gets your baby out safely is what’s natural and normal for you. For me it just feels like another way of heaping pressure on expectant parents. People shoo away the notion of pain relief because they “want to experience as much as possible”. Personally, I opted for diamorphine and had a pretty thorough experience without feeling like I was being punched in the vagina from the inside. If you’re opting for pain relief it’s not wussing out. Giving birth without pain relief doesn’t make you a better parent (although hats off if you did). Giving birth via C-section is still giving birth. Your birth is personal to you, and if people want to judge by their own standards it doesn’t lessen your experience or make theirs any more valid. In the grand scheme of things, as long as parent(s) and baby are happy, no one cares.

Fed is best

Breastfeeding is hard. It takes practise. Considering the UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, there’s clearly not enough support out there. If you can make it work, and stick with it, that’s awesome. However if, like me, breastfeeding isn’t an option- or hey, if you just choose not to- that’s cool too. Championing one way of feeding at the derision of another isn’t cool. You don’t know someone’s story or circumstance. As long as your baby is happy, healthy and gaining weight, go with what works for you.

Just say no

This is the one piece of advice that I wish I’d take under advisement when Lucas was born. When we came home from hospital, all I wanted was a nice quiet day or so to adjust to our new life as three. This didn’t happen. For the next few weeks, into Christmas and new year, it felt like a constant procession. We never had time alone just to be ourselves. People mean well but, with the onset of baby blues, it can be a bit overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to say no if you’re not up to visits right away. Take your time, enjoy the first few days at home with your baby. Family and friends will still be there when you’re ready.

Take your time

One of the weirdest realisations about having a baby is that life goes on. I remember standing looking out of the window of the maternity ward, looking at the buses and cars going up and down the motorway, going to and from work as if nothing had changed. For us, our whole world had changed, but the world kept turnin’. Coming home felt like our little bubble had burst.

Since then we’ve bought a house, moved twice, I’m doing a phased return to work and looking at nurseries for the little man. I don’t know that the enormity of this year of change quite hit me until recently, until it hit me all at once. Change can be hard to process, and having a baby changes everything. Your lifestyle, relationship, body- everything. If you need some time to adjust, fine. You’re allowed to feel like change is hard to keep up with. Be kind to yourself- you’re doing the best you can.

Comparison is the thief of joy

Once your baby’s born you’re thrust into a myriad of milestones. First time smiling, laughing, rolling over, sleeping through the night, eating solids, cutting a tooth. Some babies roll over within a matter of months. Lucas was about six months before he nailed the ol’ back to front roll. Was I worried? No. It meant I could pop through to the next room without worrying. He still doesn’t have a tooth, but nothing I do is going to make that happen faster. Babies do everything in their own time. Looking at what other babies do- or don’t do- can send you spiralling into a tailspin of parental guilt (if you’re anything like me). Likewise, if another mum snapped back to pre-pregnancy weight, or if their baby latched on to the boob while you had to opt for the bottle. Ask yourself “does this in any way impact me or my child?”. If the answer is no, let it go. Parenting is a minefield of worry and the hardest thing to do is learn to pick your battles.

Enjoy the little things

It’s an old adage but it’s true. Babies are only babies for a short while. Before you know it, they’re actual real, independent, little people. I was guilty of getting caught up in thinking of the next Big Thing and trying to do as much as possible. As soon as I went back to work for a KIT day, it felt as though the last eight months hadn’t happened. Trying to overreach was just stressful. While I still like finding new things to do, it makes me appreciate chilled days more. I went along to a CBT course run by the NHS wellbeing services, which helped massively. If you don’t have the time or inclination to sign up, there are plenty of resources out there. Spending the afternoon in a library, getting some fresh air, not getting dressed til 11am, , writing down one thing I’m grateful for every day, even- gasp- putting my phone down helped massively. As did putting Lucas down for a nap, patching the cleaning and actually having a hot cup of coffee.

Take it in your stride

Like I said, people are only too happy to throw advice at you. Some of it’s helpful and well meaning, some of it isn’t. Most of it will be unsolicited. When it comes to parenting, everyone has an opinion, but only you know what’s best for you. Smile and nod. Very few of us know what we’re doing, but we crack on. You got this.