A just-for-fun floral portrait session

A big goal for me for the second half of this year is to up my portrait game. When I was putting together my photography website, I realised that as almost all of what I'd been shooting this year was family sessions I didn't have much of anything else to publish. I love family sessions, a lot, but I never set out to be just a family photographer. While I don't want to shoot everything and anything, I want to be a little more diverse and be able to flex my creative muscles in ways that fulfil me.

I learnt a few years ago that I don't really love shooting headshots. I do take on a few, but only the more creative ones, without strict rules and regulations (I don't do well with rules!) but what I really want to be doing more of is totally creative portrait sessions. Where not every image is a standard 'headshot' but more tells a story of a person, a place and a our time together. I believe 100% that you have to 'do the work you want to be hired for' and so I knew I had to start going out on my own and making the kind of portraits I wanted to see on my portfolio. I put a call out on Instagram a few months ago for anyone who was interested in collaborating on this kind of shoot with me. I put up some examples as inspiration, and got some great messages from people who were really keen to get behind my lens. I did pre-warn them I'd probably makes them head into the bushes! 

One of the women who contacted me was Nonki, and I'm so glad she did! I'm so humbled by the beautiful people that I've connected with on Instagram, who take a leap of faith and put themselves out there to meet and shoot with me. It makes my heart happy. Nonki and I met up last night and headed to Brockwell Park for 8pm to catch the Magic Hour - the summer is so great for post baby bedtime shoots, Amen! Nonki was so lovely, super cool, relaxed and really at ease in front of the camera. We had such a fun time, but sadly the sky was too cloudy to get any of that magic golden light that I love so much. It was really out of my comfort zone to shoot a portrait session like this, but I loved it a lot. I could definitely have woven some more story-telling elements in there, but I'm excited to improve on that with each shoot. 

These photos were taken in the walled garden in Brockwell Park, I really recommend a visit for a peaceful place to walk around or sit and read your book. I love the idea of using these shoots to document some of my favourite places in London, a little love letter to them and the city if you will. 

If you're London based and up for a magic hour shoot this summer (currently around 8-9pm) then please do get in touch here or on Instagram. I'd love to meet and collaborate with you! Check out Nonki's beautiful blog an Instagram too, her IG hashtag #gowildlyandslow is a favourite of mine.

Behind the lens - why I created a second Instagram account for my photography

Behind the Lens is a new blog series where I'll be delving into different topics about my work as a freelance photographer. I've been getting a lot of questions via Instagram about the little details of my business, from how I market myself to dealing with clients and balancing being a full time parent and photographer, that I thought it might be interesting if I wrote a little more about it all. I'm hoping it's helpful to anyone wanting to pursue a creative career, balance parenting and work, go freelance or perhaps just start something on their own. If there's any specific topics you want me to cover, leave me a comment here or on Instagram!

If you follow me on Instagram, and more specifically if you watch my IG stories, you might have seen that I've created a new account (@siobhancalderphotography) just for my photography work. I haven't shouted about it too much yet as it's so new and I've only shared a few images. I actually feel a little nervous about it because it's a bit of a different voice to the one I've got so comfortable using. I'm just finding my feet with it, but it's really fun to have a new challenge while I'm figuring it all out. I've not even got 200 followers yet, but it's nice to see who has been coming over from my main account to learn more about my work. It's good to be chatting to some fellow photographers and enthusiasts too, it's really inspiring and I feel like I'm all of a sudden part of a whole different community.  Obviously, I'm hoping there's some potential clients out there too, because...a girl's gotta eat. 

Creating a new IG account just for my photography is something I've been toying with the idea of for a while, I've always felt that my professional work jars in my feed when I post something from a family or portrait session. There are so many images I don't share because they don't look right in my feed, and it always seems a little weird to have so many photos of me, Rory and my life and then suddenly jump to an image of a different person or family. Plus, those images never got much engagement either and I started to feel shy about posting them. I all but stopped marketing my business on Instagram, which was so counterproductive because currently that's where around 80% of my clients come from. I knew that sharing my work on Instagram was getting me clients, but I felt it conflicted with all the more personal and lifestyle stuff. I got to the point where I felt like it was holding me back from growing both sides of it, that I could have a great personal/lifestyle account or a great photography/work account but not both. It's hard to do, and I'm not sure I can think of anyone who 100% succesfully blends the two. I know people who do it well, but I think they would also admit to finding the mixture a little tricky.

I've spoken to a few other photographers about their feeds, why they do or don't have separate ones for work and personal stuff and how they feel Instagram fits into their business. And the answer is that it's different for everyone. Some people felt they couldn't manage two accounts, or they've tried it and it didn't work for them, some only want to be on IG for their photography work and some, like me, have a whole lifestyle side to their IG world that they want to hang on to.  To separate or not to separate...it's down to the individual. After thinking about it for a year or so, I finally made the switch a few weeks ago. I'm not really sure why, I just got an impulse and followed it. I like to think in moments like that I tap into my lizard brain, you know? I'm a fairly impulsive person, much to Gav's dismay, and I like to follow my gut on these things. When you know, you know.

I'm only a few weeks in to using my new account, but already I am enjoying it so much. I've noticed that photographers have started following me, I'm getting more traction on posts when I use hashtags for family photographers and companies who create beautiful photo albums have been reaching out. I think simply having an IG handle that contains 'photography' immediately attracts followers who are soley looking for professional photographers to connect with and inspire them. It's clear exactly what my account does, and for the purposes of my business I am already loving that. I also feel a lot of freedom to be able to share any images I want without being afraid of boring people or promoting myself too much. Because it's pretty obvious why that account is there, and anyone following me is there to see more of it. And I love that!

Why I decided to create a new Instagram account:
- to separate my lifestyle content and professional photography
- to build a following with a strong interest in my photography, either as a client, photographer or enthusiast
- to streamline who I follow, focusing on family and portrait photographers
- as a mini portfolio
- to inspire my creativity, participate in hashtag challenges and competitions
- to hopefully get features with photography IG accounts, in a way that I know I won't with my personal one.
- to raise my profile as a photographer, amongst other photographers, feature accounts, magazines, conferences etc.
- to inspire other photographers and enthusiasts, share photography tips and behind the scenes of my work
- to promote my work, photo walks, mentoring packages and workshops
- to free up my personal account to focus on lifestyle content

Sometimes I feel a little bit like the new kid in school with my photography account. The comments and likes are fairly quiet, I'm finding my voice and building up my new feed slowly. It's currently all family sessions, because that's mostly what I've been doing this year, but my goal for the next six months is to work on building a portfolio of creative portraits. Diversify a little. I'm really excited to share my work, be inspired to create more and hopefully in turn help and inspire you with your photography. 

I actually got a little feature on @dearphotographer the other day as one of their IG accounts to be inspired by. It's a little thing in the grand scheme of things, but to me it feels like a huge validation and tells me that I am doing the right thing. I am so excited to interact more with these accounts, and become a real part of this community of photographers.

Well, I hope this has been helpful for you if you have been thinking of starting a second account of your own. Perhaps it's for you, or perhaps it's not...but maybe my words have helped you decide. Don't forget to come and join me on my new account @siobhancalderphotography for more of my work, photography tips and behind the scenes. Leave me a comment here or on IG with any other questions for this series too!

52 Project - April & May 2017

14/52 - Few things make her happier than when Gav gets home early enough to bath her and put her to bed. She kicks those little legs and grins from the pit of her stomach. 

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15/52 - sharing blueberries with Lily. Me and her mama have been friends for twenty years, it's pretty cool to see our kids together.

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16/52 - starting to get the hang of feeding herself with a spoon, while managing to keep some of the food on the spoon before it reaches her mouth. 

17/52 - morning hangs in Dulwich Park with River, her Bestie. This pretty much sums them up, River looking adoringly at Rory while she does ridiculous things. These two are my favourite.

18/52 - Exploring the cow parsley at Morden Hall Park. Girl loves to be outside, preferably barefoot and running. Just like her mama.

19/52 - she's so proud of herself for eating off a spoon without any help. 

20/52 - She rarely ever sleeps in our bed these days or takes naps with us, even though we're often trying to encourage her. She loves her bed so much, she just likes to be left alone to sleep. This particular morning she woke at 4am, then passed out on my chest after some milk on the sofa at 8am. I carried her up to bed to put her beside a sleeping Gav.

21/52 - having the time of her life in the paddling pool in our local Park, watching her cousin splashing about. I felt like I was shooting this blind, the sun glaring off my screen, and magically it turned out like this. 

Motherhood - tiring toddler days

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Raising a kiddo is a lot of things, a lot of mostly really good things, but one thing that's guaranteed is how tiring it is to care for your tiny human being. They need so much from you, even on a good day, that sometimes finding the energy to do all the things you have to and want to do can be hard. I feel like I manage it pretty well on the whole, juggling being a full time parent and my work as a photographer. It's not always easy, but we've found systems and strategies that work for us. She's always been in a good routine nap-wise, plays happily by herself a lot and enables me to feel like most days there is enough time for her, enough time to work and enough time to simply enjoy being with each other. 

Of course, it doesn't always work that way. Some days and weeks are really hard, and you feel like you can't do anything right. You're behind on work, washing, cooking, cleaning and everything feels overwhelming and like you can't cope. We've been in a really tiring phase lately, which thankfully as I write this we have now moved past. That's the thing with kiddos, and everyone says it. 'It's just a phase". You know that nothing is permanent, not the good stuff or the bad. It's all fleeting, but each phase can feel so intense that even though you know it won't last you can't quite see your way out of it. Until one day, things suddenly feel easy again. 

Rory used to sleep twelve hours a night a wake around 6.30am, but in the last few months she's been waking earlier at around 5.30am. Sometimes 4.30-5am, and not going back to sleep until her morning nap around 9am. I can't complain...she's been sleeping through the night since she was ten months old (give or take a few bouts of teething or a cold that makes her more wakeful) so I know how lucky we are to be getting at least between 6-8 hours of sleep a night. I've experienced the extreme sleep deprivation that comes with having a newborn, as Rory woke almost every two hours through the night until she was around eight months old. That was hard. At least back then she was fairly inactive during the day, so even if I'd had a rough night it was fairly easy to keep up with her until nap time or bedtime. Toddler tiredness is a different kind of tiredness to having a baby and getting broken sleep during the night. It's the compound effect of the early starts, the donkey-work of heavy lifting them and their stuff, but also the mood swings and the demands they make on your attention in a different way to when they are a baby. The whining, the yelling, the frustrations of a having so many feelings that they're not sure what to do with.

On top of the early starts, she's been teething quite badly. Especially in the last few weeks. Four molars all coming through at the same time, poor thing. Typically when she's got teeth coming through she gets a little snotty and can't breathe too well, she doesn't want to eat a lot because of the pain and she doesn't nap or sleep as well at night for the same reason. So what you have on your hands is a tired, hungry, snotty and grumpy kiddo. Because they're grumpy and in pain, you get the brunt of their bad mood. Rory barely wants to be put down when she's teething, often cries all day or yells at me in frustration. It's like nothing makes her happy, and teething remedies only last so long. And when she doesn't sleep or nap too well, there goes my time for work and rest. It's a hard cycle for all of us, and it feels never ending! 

Honestly, these are the days and weeks when I really struggle with the tiredness. I stop taking care of myself, I feel down a lot and my work and relationships suffer. I'm running on minimal energy and enthusiasm, and parenting just feels like too much. Gav works a lot, sometimes six days a week and we don't have any family nearby or other childcare to give us a break. So when times get tough, there's nothing to do but keep on going as best we can until the teething or sickness or whatever passes this time around. I know we're lucky because for us we have it pretty easy with Rory most of the time, and I can't imagine how hard it must be to take care of a toddler who is sick a lot or perhaps dealing with some long-term illness or disabilty. The toll that must take on the parents will be huge, and if any of them are reading this they probably think I have zero to complain about, And they'd be right! 

But of course, that's not to say it's not still valid to feel like some days are hard. Because they are. As much as you love your kid, and as amazing company as your kid can be, sometimes their demands on you are just too much. When they're not happy, but you're still having to cook for them, clean them, dress them and tidy up after them...well, parenting is a thankless job in those times. You realise how much the smiles and cuddles and silly things they do make up for all the hard bits of parenting, and overwhelmingly so. I'm so glad we're through these last few weeks of teething troubles. We've had some of the best days yet together, me and my Rory, full of laughter and cuddles and enjoying each other's company. I miss her when she's gone to bed, and I want to go downstairs and climb into her cot and snuggle my face up against hers so I can hear her breathe. I want to bottle this cute and funny and kind and energetic little human and keep her this way forever. 

There's always tough times with your kiddo, but one thing you can guarantee is that no phase lasts too long. You gotta roll with the punches somewhat, and try not to forget for too long to be grateful for all that you have. Get outdoors, be chill about naps, don't worry too much about your emails and just hug it all out until your days seem easier again. It's hard, but man oh man they are so dang cute.

Escaping the city at Morden Hall Park

I've lived in London for over ten years, and I'd never even heard of Morden Hall Park before seeing it on a few people's Instagram feeds a couple of weeks ago. This city is so full of hidden spaces, you can live here for years and still find things that are completely new to you. if you've not heard of it before, Morden Hall Park is a huge and beautiful park owned and maintained by the National Trust. The nearest station is Morden in South West London, which is not somewhere you'd typically think of as blessed with wild green spaces. I used to actually take my driving lessons around that area, it brings back bad memories. I still haven't passed my test...

I badgered Gav into taking us in the car last Wednesday on his day off. He works in retail so he gets a mid-week day off as well as a Sunday. Its hard sometimes that we don't get whole weekends together, but it's great when we benefit from having fun days out when it's a lot quieter. We didn't have much of a plan for our first visit as we didn't really know what to expect, so we let Rory nap at home and then slowly got ourselves together to head out late-morning. We arrived at about 12.30pm, and went straight to the cafe for some lunch. They have two cafe's at the park, one which has a more extensive food menu (although still not a huge selection and not great for veggies) and another cafe that was more for coffees, cakes and ice cream. They had a good kid's menu, although we are in the habit of taking food with us for Rory because so much gets chucked on the floor it pains me to spend a fiver on something for her that is going to get wasted. We let her eat bits of whatever we have, and bring loads of different things for her like pasta, fruit and other healthy snacks.

After lunch we set off to explore the park, letting our little wild adventurer run free to chase the ducks and wave at absolutely everyone we saw. I don't think I've ever seen her so happy. I was so surprised by how large and varied the park was. Some parts of it are more manicured, with rose gardens, smooth paths and picnic benches. Other parts are much more overgrown, and feel more like fields with huge trees, nettles, cow parsley and long grass. It's such a wonderfully peaceful place, it almost felt like we were in the countryside in some parts. As well as the park, they're are plenty of other things to see and do. There's a second hand bookshop, a garden centre (mostly outdoor plants) an adventure playground, activities for the kids and lots of wildlife. It's about a half a mile walk to a local city farm too, but we didn't have enough time to check it out on this visit because we left a little late in the day and we were keen to head home before rush hour. As if traffic in London isn't bad enough! 

Morden Hall Park is one of the most beautiful places I've been in London, and one of my favourite days out in the the city. I only wish we had planned it a little more, left earlier and taken a picnic with us. We didn't cover much of the park at all, and I'd love to have had a whole day to explore. We're already planning a trip back with some friends, and I can't wait. I'm so pleased with how our photos turned out from the day as well, I'm so grateful for capturing memories like these and also for Gav being so encouraging with us taking time to get some photos of all of us. I know it's not a process he particularly enjoys, but I see that since we've had Rory he really appreciates having these moments preserved. I always make sure I send the edits to his phone so he can look at them through the day when he's working, because he misses out on her so much. My pictures of the two of them together are something I treasure a lot. More days out like this please, they are so special. 

I'm actually hosting my beginner's photography workshop and a Wildness Tonic photo walk at Morden Hall Park this Summer, so if you fancy a trip and want to improve your photography at the same time then come along to one or both of them! You can find all the details for the beginner's photography workshop on Sunday 2nd July here and the photo walk on Sunday 25th June here. I'm really excited to share my knowledge and love of photography with you, and to do it at one of my new favourite place in the city!

Eight years

I have this memory of Gav when we were just starting to get to know each other at the beginning of 2009. He came round to my flat one day when he had a day off from work, and I remember him sitting on the edge of my bed while we chatted. He was wearing white converse trainers and jeans, and I thought he was just the loveliest thing I had ever seen. Something about the way he sat, what he wore and his whole aura. We were just friends then, and it would be another few months before we got together. I liked him so much, but I was so nervous to ruin this connection we had that was so innocent. Just two people who so badly wanted to be in each other's company, without any agenda. 

I was looking at these photos that Rebecca took of us back in November last year, thinking how happy we look, how happy we are, but also how easy it is for other people to see a picture of a happy couple and assume that's all they ever are. That it's easy for them to be that way. That's not at all what I see when I look at these photos. I see eight years of ups and downs, of all the things that we've been through both separately and together. I see the tough times, the disagreements, the moments we almost decided to give up. Moments that every other couple has, and we're certainly no different. But I also see two people who so badly wanted to be together eight years ago, and who still love each other's company just as much as we did back then. Two people who work so hard to better for each other, to work through the times we struggle to get along and most of all to provide a space for our daughter that is more filled with love, laughter and happiness than she could ever want. 

Finding someone to love is the easy bit, compared with the effort you have to put in to keep loving each other year after year. The times you have to admit your faults, give a little more, take a little less and learn what things to let go of and what things to fight your corner on. Loyalty, honesty, humility, empathy...all things that really don't come easy some times. But you have to dig deep, you have to find them and you have to have the faith that you are better together. We know we're better when we work as a team, that we make our best decisions when we meet each other half way, that our polar opposites can be our greatest strength. Occasionally we forget all that, and we struggle for a while until we find our way back. But we always do, and that's what matters. Finding our way back.

 Eight years with this guy, who knows my soul is not the same as his. The guy who knows I need to feel free in order to feel safe. The anchor to my little sail boat. 

Here's the one I wrote last year. Beautiful photographs by the mega babe that is Rebecca Caridad

How to grow an avocado tree from a seed

I posted a picture of my home-grown avocado tree on Instagram the other day, and had such a huge response from you all asking for some tips on how to do it yourself. So, here they are! Growing your own avocado tree is such a satisfying thing to do, and something I'm so glad I learnt how to do properly last year. I only have one plant left now as I gave all of the others away to friends, but I've just started a new avocado farm in my kitchen so I can have a few more around the house. We're planning on moving this year because we want a proper house with a garden, and as we'll have a lot more space so I figure I need to get a head start on growing plants to fill it. Priorties. The one avocado tree I do have is getting so tall and leafy, I feel really proud that I grew it from a pit all by myself. It's almost the same age as my daughter, which makes it even more special. Growing your own avocado tree is really simple to do, you need hardly anything to get started and you get to eat a bunch avocados in the process. What's not to love? The tough bit is having the patience to wait for signs of growth, because sometimes it can take a while! That's usually where most people stumble, because they wait a few weeks and if they don't see anything they just throw it all away. Patience, grasshopper!

You will need:
- an avocado
- a see through glass jar (I use old jam jars or mason jars)
- three toothpicks

Step 1: Cut your avocado in half and carefully remove the pit. Wash off any remaining avocado flesh (you can scrub gently with a sponge but be careful not to damage the pit) under running water. Dry the pit, then carefully remove the outer layer of brown skin surrounding the seed. I find it easiest to start at the base and use my nail to scrape it away. usually the rest peels off fairly easily. 

Step 2: Place three toothpicks into the avocado pit, evenly spaced around it but avoiding the crack that runs around it (see the photograph below). This is where it will eventually split open, so you don't want to stick any toothpicks into that. Put your toothpicks in at an angle, because it helps suspend the pit in the jar of water. The top of your pit is the pointy end, the fatter more rounded bit is the bottom. 

Step 3: Put your avocado pit into your jar and fill with water until the pit is half covered. It should sit suspended on the top by the toothpicks, but at an angle so the base is sunk into the water (see photograph below).

Step 4: Place the jar in a sunny spot, but avoiding anywhere in direct or harsh sunlight. Top up the jar with water as needed, and replace with fresh water if it starts to discolour. Now wait for some growth! You'll start to see the pit split in two and a little root emerge at the bottom. It could take anywhere between a few weeks and a few months before you start to see a root appear. Your best bet is to plant a few as they'll all grow at different rates. I have five on the go just now, and two have split after a couple of weeks and the others aren't showing any signs yet.

Growing tips:
- if you're like me and you like to check your baby avo daily and waft it proudly in front of all your visitors, just be careful you don't damage any of the roots. Especially the first bit that comes out.
- once your roots have grown a fair bit, you'll start to see a shoot peek out from the top of the pit. An exciting day! 
- when your plant has grown a few pairs of leaves, start to pinch out the tops of any additional leaves that sprout above them to encourage side growth and a fuller plant. Otherwise you'll end up with a tall stem with only a few leaves at the top.
- when the roots of your avocado tree are filling the glass jar and you have a decent sized shoot, you can transplant it into a pot with some soil. Leave the top part of the pit exposed in the pot, and give it a good watering.
- keep your plant somewhere with plenty of sunlight, the pit can also rot if it's kept somewhere that isn't light enough.
- baby avocado trees especially aren't very good at taking up water, so you do need to remember to water them regularly. Try 2-3 times a week, but give it a good soak each time. Let the soil dry out before you water it again, but don't keep it dry for too long otherwise the leaves will start to die and fall off. 

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I am a little bit addicted to growing avocado trees at the moment. I keep a pot of toothpicks in my cutlery drawer, and always have an clean, empty jam jar on hand so that alost everytime I eat an avocado I can put the pit in some water. It feels like such a shame to throw the pit away when I know what a beautiful tree it could have become. I'm a little emotionally attached to them, I think! They make great gifts once you put them in pots, and they look so cool growing in jars around your house too, especially if they're all in various stages of growth. 

Good luck growing your own avocado tree, I hope you find all these tips helpful and have success at rearing a plant of your own! 

Photoshoot - Mollie, Simon, Iona and Amber

One of the things I love the most about shooting family sessions is how different they all are. You can have a plan, an idea of where, when and how you're going to shoot, but then you rock up and there's a kiddo and baby who just aren't that keen on working to anyone else's schedule. You have to be willing to go with it, to muck in and wipe noses, hold babies, charm toddlers and do whatever you can to get some shots. Sometimes you think you're going in to capture a family at play, at what you end up with is getting more honesty, emotions and tenderness than you expected. And that's a good thing in my book.

A few years ago, photographing a family while one of their children wasn't at all up for it would have made me so nervous. I would have waited for smiles, or perhaps called the whole thing off and come back another day when things were calmer. But I've learnt now, that it's these moments that make for the honest images that I crave to make. Because motherhood, children and family life is not always one thing or another. It's a big messy mix of feelings and actions. There's smiles and laughter and joy, sure, but there's also tantrums and tiredness and frustration from everyone involved. Sometimes you experience all those emotions in just a few hours. Experience has taught me when to pick up my camera, when to hang back, when to direct and when to be silent and capture what I see. 

In these images I see the strength of a mother. The calm and the patience, the smiles and cuddles and understanding you need to help your children navigate moments when their feelings or tiredness overwhelm them. There's so much beauty for me in these imperfect moments, and it's such a wonderful thing to work with families who appreciate those moments as much as I do. 

If you'd like a family session of your own, I'm taking bookings for June onwards. I only shoot once a week at the moment, so I can get booked up quite fast. Shoot me an email: hello@siobhancalder.com and we'll set something up!

52 Project - March 2017

9/52 - If you saw this on Instagram, you'll know I put raisins on the windowsill to get this shot. 

10/52 - I call these two the twins, they look so similar. A rare moment of Rory sitting still, but I don't think it lasted long.

11/52 - Caught mid-emotional swing between crazy happy and getting stroppy because I wouldn't let her eat stones. Toddler struggles are real.

12/52 - It's hard to get anywhere very fast, when you have to pick up every stone and give it to your mama. 

13/52 - She and her Grandad really bonded while we were in France, and it was lovely to see my parents getting so much enjoyment and laughter out of being with her.

See my January and February entries from the 52 Project, and you can find the whole series here.

A Spring hike in Nebias, and my adventure boots

One of the things I was most looking forward to doing in the South of France was hiking. You can't possibly stay in the mountains and not go for a hike, can you? We found out from some locals that there were a few good hiking trails a short drive from our base in Puivert, in the small village of Nebias. There are two main trails, 'le sentier nature' and 'le labyrinth vert', both under 10km and taking two and a half hours and an hour and a half respectively. We hiked both of them on two separate afternoons, grabbing the chance to get out in between rainy spells and toddler naps. Le Sentier Nature takes you through the forest, and is an easy hike on your feet. Just a few tricky bits to navigate, but easily done with a toddler strapped to your front or back. We stopped a few times on flat ground to let Rory explore, and gave her bits of moss, lichen and other plants to touch. Le Labyrinth Vert was a trickier trail as it takes you through a huge maze of rocks. It's easy to trip up, and even easier to get lost. You have to pay really careful attention to the trail signs which aren't always that easy to see. That hike is almost all under the cover of the tree canopy, so although it's a wonderfully peaceful walk you don't get much in the way of views. But it's a really unique trail, and well worth the risk of getting lost! Perhaps just don't walk it too close to sundown...

Both these trails were perfect for a slow morning or afternoon hike. All you need is a bottle of water, some trailmix and you're good to go. They're easy to fit in between mealtimes and naps, which is always at the forefront of your mind if you have small children to consider. It wasn't quite picnic weather when we went, but there's a good spot at the start or end of each trail by an old ruined windmill to have lunch with some great views of the mountains. There aren't really any great picnic spots in the middle of each trail. The best thing to do, in my opinion, is hike up there in the early afternoon and then treat yourself to a cold beer from Brasserie Du Quercorb on the drive to Puivert. They brew all their own beer in house using Pyreneen water, and the view of the mountains you get while drinking it doesn't hurt the taste one bit.

Before I left for France, I searched everywhere for a new pair of boots to take with me. Most of my old pairs of shoes have worn out, and as I'm trying to reduce the amount of things I own I wanted to make a purchase that I could wear in a few different situations. I wanted some adventure boots, for both city and countryside wanderings, something sturdy and comfortable but stylish and low key enough to wear with jeans around the city. They also had to be vegan, ethical and preferably British made. Not the easiest of criteria! After many weeks of research, I discovered Will's Vegan Shoes and knew I had found what I was looking for. I settled on a pair of Women's Work Boots* in Chestnut to be my new adventure boots.

So far, I've worn them on a long day walking around Hampstead Heath carrying Rory on my front and a backpack with camera gear and snacks on my back. I've worn them on these two mountain hikes, plus general everyday wear, and most of it while carrying a heavy load. The only part of my body that hasn't suffered as a result of all the weight I've carried has been my feet! They're the most comfortable, stylish and versatile shoes I've ever owned and I can't say enough good things about them or Will's. It's so fantastic to find a small company making ethical, affordable and stylish footwear.

GIVEAWAY! (starts Thursday 30th March)

I'm collaborating with Will's Vegan Shoes over on Instagram for the chance to win a £100 voucher to spend on a pair of shoes. Do hop on over to my Instagram to find out how to enter! It's a fun one using my hashtag #thewildnesstonic too. Competition ends on Thursday 6th April and is open to those living in the UK only. 

*Will's gifted me a pair of boots in exchange for a review, but all views are very much my own. I have a strict policy of owning promoting items that I would buy myself, from companies who's values align with my own.

Outfit details - Hat: H&M / Cashmere Scarf: Nihao Planet / Dungarees: Boden / Boots: Will's Vegan Shoes / Backpack: Fjalraven

Lessons from the mountains

I'm writing this on my last night in Puivert, sat at a table in the craft brewery a short walk from my parents' house. It's 7.30pm, the sun is just setting over the mountains and I've a cold beer in my hand and a heart that's ready to be heading home. This time tomorrow, I'll be in England and almost there. Home to my guy, to my dog and to my bed. Home. The nicest word there is.

Sometimes I think that a trip is more than just the time that you're away. It's a punctuation mark that you don't necessarily intend to make. But maybe when you're away you look at what happened before you left, ruminate on what will happen when you get back and realise that your trip is exactly that. A punctation mark, a break, a pause, a moment to breathe. And it doesn't matter what happens on your trip, because it's the going away that's all you need.  It's okay if it's not as full of laughter and relaxation as you'd hoped. It's okay if you miss home and wonder if you should have gone away at all. Because that pause, that time, is renewing and energising you even if it doesn't feel that way at the time.

My parents bought their house in Puivert about eighteen months ago, and have only been over a few times since then. Mostly to do basic decorating work, organise building repairs and get the gite that's attached to the house ready for renting out. It means that although the house is lovely, spacious and with great bones, it's not as homely as it will be when they've spent more time there over the coming years. Visiting off season means it can be cold and wet, and this time it has rained for eight out of the ten days I've been here. I think all these things combined left me feeling a little down at times, especially with the added tiredness of a toddler who decided to wake around 5am every day and often refuse to nap for very long. When it's raining, there's no wifi and you're very tired, the lack of time to yourself or to rest feels a little testing and you can yearn for your home. 

And I don't at all mean to sound ungrateful. Ten days in the mountains with my family is something of a luxury that I'm very priveleged to have, both of time and of people. But going away with a toddler, without your partner, and navigating the complexities of living with your parents again as an adult comes with challenges. Even for just ten days. At times I've felt a little sad and isolated, with all I left behind feeling very far away. My relationship with my parents is complicated (like everyone's?) and sometimes we struggle to connect. It can go unnoticed when other family members or friends are present, but when it's just us, it's very apparent. It brings up old memories and feelings I thought I had either forgotten or dealt with, and a sadness just washes over me thats hard to pull myself out of. And then there's the guilt that comes with those feelings, the fighting through them to see the positive, the knowledge that if you don't you'll regret it and waste this precious time that is melting relentlessly away.

I guess I'm writing this because I always try to give an honest view of everything I do. And that it's okay to post pictures of my trip to a beautiful and magical place, but say that this time around it didn't always feel so magical. It felt like a reality check, a window into what it's really like to live in the mountains in a poor region of Southern France and not just see it through a tourist gaze. That it can be cold, unfriendly, painfully quiet and isolating just as much as it can be beautiful, peaceful, relaxing and uplifting. It's easy to share a beautiful picture on instagram, prompting so many comments from your followers who are jealous of the wonderful time you're having even if you didn't say anything like that at all. When you can't adequately explain in a caption all that your holiday is making you feel, without sounding ungrateful or sad, but you so desperately want to give a truer account of your experience than one sun-filled photograph can do on its own. 

But, with all that said, I loved being in the mountains. It's just that there's two sides to the story of this trip. 

Despite the rain, we were able to get out and do something every day when the weather was clear. Often just for the morning or the afternoon. We went hiking, there are easy trails nearby at Nebias which are under 10km each and totally doable to hike with a toddler. I've got some photos to share in another post tomorrow. We visited the local market towns of Mirepoix, Quillan and Esperaza and had plenty of relaxing walks around the village of Puivert down to the lake and out to the airfield. The space, stillness and lack of a to-do list was at times completely heavenly. Especially in the sunshine. 

I've learnt some lessons from the mountains this week:

- there's two sides to having a wifi signal: the constant addiction to notifications, likes and comments (the side we all need a break from) and the very real connections and community we build and rely on daily for friendships, support and work. 
- no matter how magical the place you go on your summer holidays is, there's a darker side to it for sure.
- that pretty pictures will never tell the whole story, unless the person behind them is brave enough to share it with you
- time with my daughter is the most precious thing I will ever have
- no matter what you think about your relationship with your parents, it's important to let them carve out their own much improved relationship with your children. 
- having a partner who lets you be who you need to be, with complete freedom and love and trust is gold. If you have it, you are blessed.
- having a baby changes your relationship with your parents. You're still their child, but you're an adult with a child of your own. It's a new dynamic that takes time to navigate, and I haven't managed it yet. 

It's funny, I think, when you have a wandering spirit. No matter how much you love your home, your routine and your comfort, you're a person of two halves. Predictability makes you restless and too much safety makes you feel afraid. Afraid of boredom, of stagnating, of missing out on all the other lives you might have lived if you hadn't chosen this one. You crave a window into them, and because imagining them isn't enough you have to go and see for yourself. Be someone else, just for a few days, if only to remind you how much you love being you. That however far you travel to find yourself, you'll always be right back where you started. But when adventure calls, you just have to go.

To my french mountain home, à bientôt. 

Our guest room - rent it on Airbnb!

It always amazes me how long it takes to do pretty much any task that I set myself. Do you do that too? Assume that something is going to take a quarter of the time that it really will, write a huge to do list and then feel a little deflated that you've only acheived a few things. Getting our guest room ready has definitely been one of those tasks, a real labour of love. But I'm so pleased that it's finally ready to share it with you here! It has taken a lot of scrubbing, painting, clearing junk, sourcing furniture and adding little touches here and there that I think guests will like. And actually since I took these photos we've since added two stools either side of the bed that we found in Crystal Palace antiques market to serve as bedside tables. 

Anyway, I do hope you enjoy this little tour of our guest room. We've just started renting it out on Airbnb too, so if you're planning a trip to London here's the link if you'd like to stay with us. We'd love to have you. Obviously we're kid friendly!

The instruments are Gav's, isn't that double bass beautiful? I love the way they look in the room, and Rory loves to sneak in and twang the strings or pat the guitar. I've been slowly adding plants over the last few months as well, because that's my favourite way to decorate. I plan to add some more hanging baskets at some point too, and maybe a really large cheeseplant or fiddle leaf. The bedspread is Indian, but from my favourite local shop Circus, in Brixton Village. 

The fibre art wall hanging above the bed is my favourite thing about the room. I made it using a tutorial from A Beautiful Mess, and it requires absolutely no skill whatsoever. Just a whole lot of time and yarn! I started making it when Rory was really little, and have so many memories of using her nap times to make fringes or thread yarn through a latch hook mat. The tutorial is here if you want to make one for yourself. It's still not quite finished actually, I need to order another skein to finish the last row of fringes.

The desk is from an antique shop in Brixton Village, they sell mostly midcentury modern stuff and it's fairly reasonably priced. A lot of the furniture in our flat is from this store, they deliver to your home if you're local which makes it really easy. I love this room so much now, I regularly joke to Gav that I'm going to move in and have a room all to myself. I've neglected our own bedroom upstairs while I've been styling this one, so it's a lot more homely. 

Well, I hope you enjoyed having a tour of my guest room. Do check out the Airbnb listing, I would so love to have some readers and online pals come and stay with us. I do hope you will!

52 Project / February 2017

5/52 - Having a ball on the swings in the playpark at Spittal Beach, just outside Gav's parents' guest house. I can't believe how much bigger she'll be next time we come here, running around all by herself. 

6/52 - I was running away from the waves, shrieking and pretending my feet were getting wet. Rory thought it was hilarious. The things you do to make your kid laugh, because it's all you want to hear. Over and over again.

7/52 - Shredded wheat and raisins, an early morning favourite. She's my daily breakfast companion. allbeit a noisy, demanding and messy one. I do treasure these times, just Rory and I, doing our thing.

8/52 - We bought Rory her first shoes this week, and took her to the Horniman Museum to walk around the gardens and the aquarium. It was so much fun for all of us, and walking hand in hand with my girl...well, I can't think of anything I'd rather do.

See all the previous posts in my 52 Project here.

Photoshoot: Megan, Jason and Poppy

I've heard other photographers say this before, but it's really something special when someone hires you because they love your work and have decided that you are the photographer for them. They trust you, they want your style, your eye and your heart. Perhaps they've followed you for a while on social media, so they know a little about you and they feel an affinity with you and the way you think. They aren't just looking for someone to take their picture. They didn't get a recommendation, and quite possibly they wouldn't ever have hired a photographer if they hadn't seen your work. It's really the best, because you feel trusted. There's no disconnect between what you, the photographer, wants to shoot and what they, the client, wants to see. I know I'm not alone in struggling with that as a photographer, because on one hand you have to keep your clients happy whilst also having the freedom yourself to be creative and do what you do best. It's something I work on every day, trying to do the work I feel called to do but that also attracts clients to me who just get it. They want me to tag along, to be immersed in their morning or their day out and capture what I see, rather than forcing a series of poses that for me doesn't go anywhere near preserving the essence of a family or each person within it. As a mother, I know how quickly each stage of childhood is passing and how different each of those stages look. It's not just about the size or appearance of your children, it's about their expressions, their funny little ways, their opinions, their emotions...even the kind of snacks you have to carry. It all changes. 

On Sunday morning in January, I took a train to the Surrey countryside to meet Megan and her family at their home. I've admired Megan's work for a while, after seeing it on Instagram and the brush lettering classes she taught at West Elm and Quill London. It's always so exciting to get an email about a photoshoot from another creative person who's work I love. We shot indoors for a little while, playing games and reading books, before heading out in the car to a local spot for a walk. They're my favourite kind of shoots, where I get to tag along with a family and capture them going about their day. And if we get to go outdoors, that's even better. We were lucky to miss out on the rain during our walk, but as it had rained the night before we got plenty of puddles and muddy boots and those wonderful overcast skies that make the light so damn good. 

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I have so many more photos from this session I could have shared with you, it was so hard to choose my favourites of this wonderful family. Their little girl, Poppy, totally stole my heart and reminded me a lot of my Rory. She was so sweet, funny and friendly. Shoots and clients like this remind me why I do what I do, and why I love my job so much. 

If you'd like to book family session of your own, I'd love to hear from you. It really is as easy as just letting me come hang out with you during a slow morning at home, on a walk in the park or on a trip to your favourite place. Send me an email: siobhan.e.watts@gmail.com and let's chat some more.

Northumberland Part 2: Spittal Beach

Returning to the same places year after year has the effect of making us watch those ghosts of our old selves as they walk around. They look different, they feel different, but they're part of us.  

As I mentioned in my previous post, I've been visiting the Northumberland coast at least once a year for a long while. The last time Gav and I went for a walk on Spittal Beach to take photos, I was almost sixteen weeks pregnant with Rory. Its funny thinking back to those kinds of memories, and even weirder looking back at the pictures. Me without Rory. I can't imagine anything without her now, and not just daily life, but who I am to my core. My Rory, this little red headed pixie of happiness who I have a borderline addiction to. Her smell, her laugh, all of her funny little ways. And her kisses, oh her kisses. This beach holds so many echoes of our past selves; from the first time we visited as a couple almost eight years ago, through the cold January two years ago a few weeks before I miscarried my first pregnancy, and to this year when we brought 13 month old Rory to show her the waves.

It's crazy how the years pass, you think in some way you know what they hold for you and even that you have some sort of control over how they pan out. And perhaps with the little things you do, but the big things? It all could have been so different. There was almost no Rory. There was almost a some-body else. It's strange to feel grateful for things that were so hard and painful, things that you think you've processed every aspect of and then you sit down to write a blog post about a beach and all this stuff comes out. I think it's just the hugeness of that thought, that there was so nearly no Rory, that gets me as I'm writing this. 

Well, the first part of this post went somewhere unexpected...! Sometimes you force the words when you write, and other times things just spill out of you from deep recesses of your mind. It's weird in there, huh?

Taking Rory to see the beach, the sea and the waves was special. We did bring her here when she was about three months old, but it's so different when they are that little. I don't think I came out on the beach either, the weather was pretty bad and I was in the throes of terrible nights with a tiny baby. I remember struggling to even open my eyes in the morning I was so tired. This time felt like the first time. I could point things out to her, and make her laugh by pretending the waves were going to get us, screaming as I ran away from them. She loved pointing at Elkie and trying to say dog, her cheeks rosy from the North Sea wind. That girl.

These pictures are a mixture of two dusky evenings on the beach. One where I went by myself, to try to get a photo of the waves crashing agains the rocks at the far end that appear when the tide is out. I didn't manage to get the picture I wanted, but I spent a very magical and eerie hour dodging the waves, trying to go further out into the sea as the tide was going away from me. Because the sun doesn't set over this beach, but opposite it, you get the weirdest blue hue in the sky in the evenings. It felt like I was on another planet, there wasn't a soul around by the time I was ready to head back in and the sun had gone way down behind the houses. I got caught out by a big wave at one point and had to leap onto the rocks for safety, trapped there for a few minutes until the water level subsided. 

The other pictures, with Rory in them, were taken on our last evening in Berwick. I realised I hadn't shot any photos of her with my DSLR the whole time, and I wanted to capture us showing her the sea for the first time. I teach Gav to shoot like I do, and set the camera up for him so he can get us while we're moving around. It's always the real smiles I'm after, they're hard to get when you're standing still. He is getting so good, don't you think? We put her on the swings in the playpark by the beach, she loved them so much. In the Summer the park and beach are full, the kiosk is open and there's a water park with a huge slide and jets of water everywhere for the kids to run through. I can't wait to see the fun she is going to have next year. 

That photo of Rory on the swing is so blurry, but I don't care because I love it. She's so happy, and that's her. 

Northumberland Part 1: The Holy Island of Lindisfarne

I've been visitng Northumberland at least once a year for the last eight years, because Gav's family own a guesthouse on Spittal Beach in Berwick-Upon-Tweed. Before I met Gav, I'd not explored this part of the country as an adult or visited any of the historic sites around the area. Of which there are so many, possibly more than in any other part of the country. There are so many castles, beaches, landmarks and protected sites for wildlife -  it's impossible to visit all of them in just one week, especially while still getting in some rest time as well. Each year we go, we return to a few of the places that we love, trying to mix it up each year so that we never leave it too long to return somewhere.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is one of the most unique places I've visited, and one of my favourites in this part of the country. It's a tidal island, which means that access is via a paved causeway that is completely covered by the North Sea twice in every two hour period. There can be a fairly long time between tides going in and out, so you have to be careful to consult the tide tables to avoid getting stuck on the island. Or worse, in the middle of the causeway. Apparently one car a month has to be rescued by local services! When you approach the causeway, the landscape begins to resemble something more like Iceland than England. You drive across the mud flats, and it's grey and black and brown and so very flat. At low tide you can walk across the sands following an ancient route known as Pilgrim's Way. The route is marked by posts, but because it takes so much longer to walk across than drive you must be even more cautious of the tide times. I haven't walked this route yet, but I imagine it feels quite spiritual to walk the same route as an 8th Century Pilgrim. 

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On this particular visit, the tides were coming in at midday and not going out again until 5pm. We arrived a little later than planned, and ended up with only 45 minutes on the island before we had to leave. I would have been quite content to hole up in one of the cosy pubs for the afternoon and play cards, but Gav was not convinced. So while he went to keep warm in a cafe, I ventured out in the snow and freezing rain to take some photos of the harbour. If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen my stories while I was on the island. 

There is a fair bit to see on the island, you could easily spend a day there if the weather was good. Although the village is small, it has a few shops, cafes and pubs. There's also museum next to the priory, the priory itself, the harbour, the castle and another beach. It's a wonderful place to walk around, so much history that it feels almost eerie to take steps over land where so much has happened but so little of it has changed over time. Looking across the harbour, you can see Bamburgh Castle and Bamburgh Beach, and if you follow the coast around a little further you get to Seahouses where you take the Billy Shiel's boat trips out to the Farne Islands. 

Lindisfarne Castle was built in 1550, but the island has a recorded history from the 6th Century. Viking invasions, Norman conquests, Christian evangelists, Irish monks...if a place could talk. Walking around the ruined priory is a serene experience, trying to imagine what life must have been like for the monks who lived there all those centuries ago. I only know little snippets about the island's history, but next time I go I must visit the museum and learn more. I've not been up to the castle either, it's often closed when we go off season as most things around there shut between November and March.

Holy Island is probably at the top of my list of 'things to do in Northumberland'. It's such a special place. One day I'd like to walk the famous St Cuthbert's Way and end up crossing over to the island along Pilgrim's Path. With a beer and a veggie haggis at the Lindisfarne Inn to greet me when I'm done. I really do love this part of the country a lot, and feel very lucky that I visit so often. It's a real privelege to get to return to the same place every year over almost a decade and get to know it better each time. 

There are still so many places left to explore...

The Wildness Tonic

We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

There are two places in the UK that I visit the most, because mine and Gav's families live there; North Devon and Berwick-Upon-Tweed. Both places have a wildness about them, especially when you travel as we do and go during the Winter months when everything is quiet and cold. In Devon, it's the moors that are wild. Vast, bleak places, and always with unpredictable changes in the weather. In Berwick, it's the Northumberland coast line. Wild waves, a razor sharp wind from the sea, hail, snow and freezing rain. You admire the beauty of nature in each, but you are all too aware of its power. It takes you back to what is primal, and makes your thoughts feel small.

When the city gets too much, we head to the moors or to the sea. I've never yet found any ailment of my soul that nature can't cure. The wilder the weather, the stronger the tonic. It's no coincidence that an escape to the outdoors comes hand in hand with a burst of inspiration and creativity.  Just as my feet and lungs run free, so does my mind. 

Looking out to the North Sea on Cocklawburn beach, there's nothing but water between me and Denmark. And boy, does it feel like it. The sand is covered in pieces of human-sized driftwood, and I know if those waves got me that I wouldn't stand a chance. I can't do much but marvel at it, and breathe with the ebb and flow. I am at peace, when the sea is wild.

The cold and the wind and the creeping tide all command me to stay present. Grounded to the rocks and the wet sand, I feel connected to the earth in a way that calms me more than anything else. I'm standing on the edge of the earth, my tiredness and worries start to fall away from me.

Since having Rory, it's been hard to shake this persistant tiredness. Sleepness nights, demanding days and little respite from either of those things keeps me at a base level of exhaustion. Sometimes when we go away, and it's cold and our baby isn't sleeping, it's so tempting to stay inside. Spend a week on the sofa with hot tea and a book, and give in to the urge to nap everytime your in-laws want to babysit. But I make myself go outside, even when I don't really want to. Because I know half an hour in the wind and the rain makes me feel more well rested than a day spent on the sofa. It's an energising sort of rest, because the weather just gets in between your bones and clears out all the dust. 

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I take only a small suitcase of my things with me for a week away; a pair of trousers, a few t-shirts, a jumper, a jacket, a favourite hat and some underwear. Because I know now, at this phase in my life, that it's less of things and not more that I need. It's space that I yearn for, in everything from my environment to my luggage, because it's in those spaces that restoration dwells.

It used to be that I'd take everything I could with me; books, knitting, yoga mat, clothes for all weather conditions. I'd wonder why the inspiration and the rest didn't come. But I've learnt that when you travel, you have to go with nothing and create space for your thoughts. Not take a bag of tricks should you find yourself with nothing to do, because having nothing to do is exactly what you're aiming for. 

If you follow me on instagram, you might have seen that I created a new hashtag #thewildnesstonic for sharing images of finding energy and inspiration in nature. I'd love for you to join me in sharing yours too. Browsing the tag has become a tonic of its own, and I have already discovered some beautiful new accounts and made notes of new places to visit. 

I've had a few comments on instagram about my hat, it's the Place Knit Beanie from Weekday but this colour has since sold out in the sale. They're a new-to-me brand I found while researching ethical clothing companies, Scandinavian inspired and well worth checking out. 

52 Project / January 2017

1/52 - that post nap face and messy hair, I love it. She's often standing up when I go into get her, looking more like a little girl and less like a little baby.

2/52 - At Kew Gardens with my family, a get together for Rory's first birthday. Her and my Dad have a sweet little bond, I love seeing them together. 

3/52 - the day after her one-year round of vaccines. A little bit sore and groggy, all she wanted to do was cuddle. I came downstairs at one point and found her and Gav on the sofa like this, the sweetest moment I've ever seen.

4/52 - took her first steps this week, on Saturday 28th. She's been on the edge of walking for a while, but just needed a little more confidance. Suddenly she's walking all on her own, between our hands and the furniture. Houston, I think we have a toddler.

That Midwinter Lull

Few things make me happier or feel more satisfied than going out exploring and filling up a memory card with the things I see. Photos are my souvenirs, from a morning walk, a day trip or an overseas adventure. I love that feeling of heading outdoors by myself, and it's something I make a point of doing as much as I can. A walk in the fresh air is a cure for a lot of things, but for me it's a medicine that is most effective when taken with a camera in my hand.

I don't know what it is about this time of year that makes me feel so restless. I'm both impatient for the year to really get going and a little anxious about time pushing on because I'd really like to go back to the very start of the month and have some more chocolate cake. There are a lot of things that feel very unknown at the moment, and although it's exciting, sometimes it feels like too much to bear. I think I'm quite an impatient person, often eager for the next thing and not very good at grounding myself in the here and now. Having faith that everything will be alright. 

I'm having a bit of a midwinter lull in energy at the moment, and I'm wondering if you feel like that a bit too? You know those times when you seem to be spending a lot of your resources to not get very far? Well, I do feel a bit like that. Everything in our flat seems to be breaking, we have yet another mouse (just one?!) that has invaded our kitchen and quite a bit of my freelance work is getting postponed due to clients getting ill or not having the money. Because, well...January. It's all a bit stop, start, stop, start which I think is what's leading to this unsettled feeling. I've been so focused on scheduling my diary and planning ahead, that I forgot to account for the unexpected. And there's been a lot of that! 

And then there's my bank account. It's been a long time since I started the year without a full time pay check, and although I earned a modest salary from my last job I got used to being able to save well and still have a chunk left over for myself. Starting out as a freelancer means a whole lot of uncertainty when it comes to earnings, and at the moment everything that comes into my account is a buffer to get me safely through another month without any work. Thankfully, that hasn't happened yet, but I am mindful of squirelling away my earnings for rainy days. Really, I know that not even a day job is certain. There's always financial up and downs whatever you do for a living, much of it out of your control. It's just now that the responsibility rests firmly on my head to put myself out there and get work, to constantly up-skill myself and to keep moving forward. 

Responsibility is something that can energise me, and fill my heart with so much joy. My daughter, my partner, my home, my dog, my career...so many blessings. But it's also a responsibility that can rest a little weary on my head. With so much energy given out to everyone else, I can feel a little spent. It's not burn out, I've learnt my lesson too many times for that. I do think that however careful I am about slowing down and taking time to rest, I still have a battery that ebbs and flows just like everyone else. I can't run at full power all of the time, and that's OK. 

I'm grateful for the lessons I've learnt over the years in how to recharge my batteries. In the importance of sleep, days off and prioritising my wellbeing over my work - something I'm focusing on especially this year. I think the trick is to make peace with the ebbs and flows in my energy, inspiration, creativity, clients and finances. Just like the seasons, we have some of abundance and some of scarecity. Winter, and perhaps especially January is usually a time where supplies in all those things run a little low. We need turn instead to the things this season offers us in abundance, and that magical morning light after a heavy frost is one of those things. It switches your perspective, to see the beauty that the cold night and slow rising sun has made. It makes me yearn less for Spring, because there's something brewing in these quiet days. We just don't yet know what that is.

Motherhood - our weaning journey

Now that Rory has just turned a year old, she's eating three meals a day alongside breastfeeding three to four times a day. I've been lucky with her, because she loves her food and eats anything I put in front of her. So much so, that I've felt she can take or leave breastfeeding and I have worried whether or not she is getting enough milk to provide her with the nutrition she needs. I plan to continue breastfeeding for now, but much less than we were doing a few months ago. She's rarely interested in breastfeeding during the day unless it's in a dark room before a nap, and I'm relieved to be giving up that battle entirely. I don't feel ready to wean her off breast milk completely, and as current guidelines say there are health benefits to babies to continue until they are two, I plan to keep going throughout this year as long as we both want to.

I wanted to write a bit about our weaning journey so far, because it's something that I've had some ups and downs with over the last six months as we've gone through each stage. I've found books on weaning to be a helpful source of information, but on the flip-side they can also be a source of anxiety and pressure to conform to a set of guidelines rather than providing support. All babies are different and all families are different, and it's easy to forget that we are all just winging it and doing our best as we go along. We need the confidence to use trial and error and a whole heap of trusting ourselves and our instincts to take on each challenge of early parenthood without feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. 

Our weaning journey so far...

When Rory was about four and a half months old, she developed an overnight interest in what I was eating and drinking. She started grabbing food from my plate, diving at my water bottle and trying to take anything and everything out of my hands. I hadn't thought much at all at that stage about starting the weaning process, because I had been planning to wait until she was six months old - when it's recommend to begin. I'd been to a free weaning workshop a few months earlier, so I knew the basics of starting to introduce food to your child and how to read the signs of when they are ready. Sitting up straight, being able to grab things and put them to their mouths and showing an interest in food are all good indications. She was clearly showing all of them, and much earlier than I had assumed she would. I felt a little overwhelmed to be honest, when she developed such a sudden interest in food. It was exciting, sure, but it was also another thing to think about on top of all the other needs she already had. I started to give her small pieces of baby-safe foods when she showed an interest - mostly banana and avocado - so that she could try things. At this point, she was still pushing her tongue out a lot and not able to really eat anything, but she seemed happy to be trying new tastes and textures. We carried on in this way for about another month, until Rory was five and a half months old and we felt she was ready to start the weaning process properly.

At first, determined to go with a 'baby-led' approach to food, I gave her finger food like avocado, banana, sweet potato and some steamed veg to try. She was keen, but would play with it more than actually eat it. I got frustrated with the mess, the food waste and how slow the process seemed to be. It was disheartening to spend time preparing food that ended up on the floor, or cleaned up by the dog. She started losing interest in breastfeeding during the day, and it was a a battle to get her to focus and drink enough milk to keep her full. She'd get hungry more regularly, and she wasn't eating enough solid food to counteract the reduction in breastmilk. Combine that with a big development phase, a sleep regression, teething and a cold and we had a pretty challenging few months. At first, I felt stressed about it. I had been so in love with the idea of letting her explore food on her own terms and in her own time, that I had put pressure on myself to stick to this approach instead of spoon feeding her purees. I naively assumed she would gradually increase her food intake while decreasing her milk intake at the same rate, but in reality the switch was pretty sudden for her for a while. I decided to start trying her on some pureed and mashed food that I would feed to her with a spoon. It made me feel like my efforts weren't going to waste, and neither was as much of the food. Things got a lot better. She ate more, stayed fuller for longer and it finally felt like we were getting somewhere. I had a good system of making a range of purees in batches and freezing them, so I always had food for each meal and to take out with us if we weren't going to be home for a mealtime. 

Between six and nine months, I gradually started introducing more finger food and trying to cook meals that were suitable for her to eat. She got more interested in feeding herself, so I cut down on the purees until she started refusing them altogether at about nine months. It took me a while to get into the swing of things, finding the recipes she liked and getting into the habit of batch cooking things like lentil dhal, butternut squash curry, black bean chilli and ratatouille to freeze so there was always food for her. Some days I felt like her personal chef and it was exhausting! After about a month we got into a groove, and since then, she's been eating three proper meals a day which on the whole she feeds to herself. Sometimes she demands to be spoon fed like she's a little baby again, so I oblige until inevitably she changes her mind by the next mealtime. 

Some tips if you're starting on your own weaning journey...

What are good foods to feed them?

In theory, anything you can make soft to eat is good for babies to try. Neutral tastes like avocado are a good start, then porridge, banana, steamed potatoes and vegetables all go down pretty well. Steer clear of anything that can cause allergies initially (eggs, dairy, nuts for starters), and begin with single foods so you can easily identify anything that may have upset them. Gradually combine different tastes and textures, add spices and make food a little more interesting as their appetite grows. Avoid sugar and salt. Weaning books are very helpful with suggested schedules for introducing new tastes and textures, some even have checklists and stickers so you can work your way through all the foods. Prepare yourself for some pretty drastic changes in nappy contents, and their digestive systems in general. I found books like 'Ella's Kitchen, the Purple Book' so helpful for slowly building up the complexity of what I was feeding Rory, and for recipe ideas too.

 

What about nutrition?

After six months, a baby's iron stores can begin to deplete a little. Breast milk is low in iron, so it is important to keep in mind that they need solid food to provide it. Calcium is also something they start to need at this age as well. That said, babies all develop at different rates so if your baby is just not interested in food at this point it's not something to stress about. Just talk to your health visitor or doctor and they can reassure you about the nutritional needs of your baby.

As I'm raising Rory vegan, for the moment anyway (I'll write more about this at another time) I am concerned about her nutrition so it's something that is high on my agenda. I wanted to be as informed as possible about the right foods to give her, and introduce them early so by the time she really needed the nutrients those foods were already a part of her diet. Lentils, beans, oats, spinach, broccoli and tofu are all nutritious foods that Rory is used to eating, and I try to add new things all the time so she is getting a variety of vitamins and minerals. That said,  I've no doubt that the fussy toddler stage is just around the corner!

 

Useful feeding tools:

- a bowl and spoon. I like the Bambu feeding bowl and spoon set.

- a sippy cup, one that is suitable for 4+ months

- ice cube trays to freeze puree, and freezer bags to store frozen puree

- a hand blender, to make purees 

- a steamer (totally not necessary, but I found it so useful for making purees and soft food)

- reusable pots to store food in the fridge and to take out and about with you. I just discovered these reusable pouches which look great, although I haven't tried them myself.

- a bib. Hippychick are the best ones I've found. They're good quality, clean easily and do up well around the wrists and neck to protect baby's clothes. I don't like the towelling ones at all, and the cheap ones from Ikea aren't great either.

 

Some books I recommend:

Ella's Kitchen, The First Foods Book

- Baby-led Weaning, by Gill Rapley & Tracey Murkett

- The Baby-led weaning cookbook (fun story, Rory was actually part of the photoshoot for the next book!)

- River cottage Baby & Toddler Cookbook (more recipes for older children, but I like their approach to wholefoods)

 

Starting your baby on solid foods can be frustrating, especially if you go the baby-led route. It's slow, requires a lot of patience, there's plenty of mess and wasted food. My two cents is to read up about the different schools of thought behind weaning, but ultimately take your cues from your baby and what they enjoy. Do what works for you and your family, and trust that over time you will all settle into the habit of taking mealtimes together. Stay relaxed, don't put too much pressure on yourself or your baby and try and enjoy the process. Oh, and buy some stain remover. Happy weaning!