Category Archives: Bloggy Stuff

Planning

I feel like I’m letting my life slip through my fingers. Years of not knowing why I couldn’t cope with what seemed like simple things; years of on/off depression and constant anxiety; years of feeling like my life has no point whatsoever. And yet still battling on, because I feel I ought to. Then wondering why nothing changes.

Getting an autism diagnosis was an answer, but also it’s just a first step. I am still me with all my anxieties and foibles, but I feel like I’m only the rubbish parts of me most of the time.

I’ve been looking at planners for several months, considering several pre-made styles or printouts and contemplating designing my own and getting it printed on demand. I’d seen the concept of a bullet journal, but watching the intro video didn’t inspire me and I’d written it off. But then I found the #bulletjournal tag on Instagram and saw how other people were using the method to fit them, and I spent hours wasting time on Instagram and YouTube was inspired.

The person whose beautiful bullet journal really made me want to start is Boho Berry. I have a tendency to jump too far into new things and go a little overboard with collecting stuff rather than doing stuff, and New Year’s intentions always fall apart for me so I started reticulating splines (or something) and bought a Leuchtturm1917 squared journal. It didn’t have to be that brand, but that’s the one that seemed to suit what I was looking for best. It is very beautiful.

I have no patience, and I don’t believe that starting something at New Year is necessary the best, so I started for December. I’ve not got into the habit of using it every day, but I have found writing short to-do lists each day are more likely to get done and I was a little more organised for the first few days of new thing excitement!

I’ve thought about my goals for 2016, to become a better me (not a different person; me with all my faults and meltdowns but also with more structure and less procrastination) and my three main areas of focus are house, health, and blog. I’ve not included parenting because that is in every part of me, and included in specific house and health goals.

I think these are my 2016 goals. Planning and forming good habits are the basis of everything really.

A photo posted by Anne-Marie (@chaoscastleuk) on

So that’s my plan. Work on creating routines and habits that work for the family; work on creating a living space that reduces stress; work on living together as a family with all our foibles and traits; work on physical fitness alongside mental health. Keep reviewing. Keep accountable. Keep authentic.

Here’s to 2016.

Insert Catchy Blog Title Here

Doodle #2 🙂

A photo posted by Anne-Marie (@chaoscastleuk) on

I had some lovely comments after my last post, which I really should have replied to (sorry, I really do appreciate them all), and it made me think. Comments along the lines of “sorry you feel like this at the moment” – but I think my moment has been the last ten years. That’s quite a long moment to have.

Okay, so I can’t help being ill, and I can’t change the years of being undiagnosed autistic spectrum, but the whole of my thirties have mostly been a write off – and that includes getting married and having two children, which are supposed to be some of the happiest days of my life.

Not that I’ve spent a decade being miserable all the time, but often fogged over and fracturing. And I’ve been thinking about the blog posts I write in my head every day, and how it might help me if I get them onto (virtual) paper.

So my plan is to commit to one Chaos Castle and one Child-Led Chaos post every week. I could write on here most days, even though I love writing about books it takes longer so one a week to start with until I get into practise.

Feel free to nudge me if I don’t get anything up. I could write about that doodle at the top for a start…

 

Sneak Peek at New Book Blog

It’s World Book Day (UK)! I love WBD, especially the £1 books. As a parent, WBD dressing up can be a stress, but so far I’ve not been asked for any exotic outfits. This morning my daughters have gone in as Ottoline (home clothes, odd shoes) and Cinderella’s fairy godmother (fairy dress over home clothes)!

As it is world book day, and I’m bursting to share this anyhow, I thought I’d give you a geeky sneaky peeky at Chaos Castle…

ChaosCastle

Chaos Castle is home to lots of lovely books, predominately illustrated books (but I’ll stretch that definition to ‘just’ an illustrated cover if I feel like it!) It will only showcase our favourite books (that still means a lot of books!) and aims to cover all age ranges.

I’m starting from scratch, so all reviews will be new, so it won’t be huge at first but I’m planning to add our old favourites alongside new ones. The reason I’m not ready to launch is because there is virtually no content up yet, and I haven’t given myself a deadline…

This is a geeky sneaky peeky because I want to talk about what I’ve been doing behind the scenes. Firstly, there is my amazing illustrator, Wellington Drawe (Duncan Wilson), who is creating a world for me to populate. Without him, Chaos Castle would not exist.

Secondly, there are my theme alterations. I’m on WordPress, and I chose the Mantra free theme because it gave me the look I wanted plus is so easy to customise without going anywhere near the code.

There are a few customisations that weren’t offered in the (extensive) options so I created a child theme to play with the CSS and PHP. I know very little about CSS and PHP. PHP has been the easiest part for me to alter, because there are plenty of online references and I come from a programming background. CSS has been a nightmare, and I still haven’t managed to get it to do what I want yet!

Some of the customisations I’ve added are:

  • Different headings for category archives, depending on parent category. e.g. if the parent category is ‘ages’, the header will be “Books suitable for AgeRange”
  • Different headings for tag archives, depending on tag slug. e.g. if a tag is defined as a publisher (which I set in the tag slug), the header will be “Books Published by PublisherName”
  • Added curved boxes for tags, with different colours depending on tag type (e.g. Publisher, Creator, Theme)
  • Format of review page (which I’m currently tearing my hair out over getting the CSS to do what I want!)

SneakPeek

The image above is a sneak-peek of how part of the front page and archive pages might look. Chaos Castle is home to various book-loving characters 🙂

Technically Chaos Castle is live, but I’m making constant changes and using temporary images in many places so I’m not linking to it yet. I’m very excited about my project, and I hope you will enjoy it too. It is a vanity project I guess, but also a thank-you to the wonderful people who create the books we enjoy.

Thank-you for letting me gush, and Happy World Book Day (UK)! 🙂

2014 in First Lines

Again inspired by Annabel’s House of Books, a retrospective of the year’s blogging. Not that you can see last year’s any more because it’s set to private. As are 245 posts of the probably-twice-as-many that I removed in February when I had a bit of a crash. So some of these first lines are from the still-published posts, rather than the actual first posts…

January: Another year, a new set of stats! (Our Week in Books #1)

February: Oops, we seem to have acquired a lot of new books this week! (Our Week in Books #5)

March: It’s March. (Our Week in Books #9)

April: The plan today was to add books to Goodreads that aren’t there so I can update my picture books read list properly, take a photo of the books I’m going to giveaway for #300PBs and update Monday’s post at last, and write an update here of all the decluttering and tidying I’ve done in the last two weeks, with pictures. (Our Week in Books #14)

May: It’s almost like the Hoo’s Kids Book Fest programme has been made for the Chaos household. (Who’s At Hoo’s?)

June: This is a wonderful idea from Borough Press, an imprint of HarperCollins. (#BookADayUK Favourite Book from Childhood)

July: I haven’t blogged much for a long while it feels, and I’m still working out whether I’m going to return to diary blog or just write about books all the time, but writing is therapy so please indulge my rambles. (July Update)

August: It’s August already, and I haven’t finished June’s #bookadayuk. (Our Week in Books #31)

September: Another week, another set of excuses why I’ve not done much blogging again. (Our Week in Books #36)

October: A modern re-imagining of the traditional rhyme This is the House that Jack Built, with a boy playing building blocks in a farm setting. (The House That Zac Built by Alison Murray)

November: This November I am going to attempt to blog every day. (November)

December: It’s the first day of December. (Advent 2014)

Yup. I think that pretty much sums up 2014. Sigh.

Seven Reasons Why I’ll Never Be A Number One Blogger

With both my children in full time schooling, I really need to think about getting more paid work. I’m happy with my two hours at school, but extra income would come in very handy. The thought of returning to work terrifies me, and I’m not sure that I’m well enough to cope with working in an office at the moment.

Like many other bloggers, I’d like to make some income from blogging so I went to the money making sessions at Blogfest 2014. Putting aside that I don’t put enough time into this blog, don’t spend enough time commenting, don’t join in linkies, don’t push myself on social media, don’t reply to PR requests that don’t interest me, and have periods of intense anxiety where I set most of my posts to private…

Ignoring all that, here’s why I’ll never be a number one blogger:

1. I don’t want to use titles like “You’ll never guess what my daughter thought of this product!” or “Four hundred and eighty one ways to decorate your pets for Christmas!” so obviously my viewing stats will never grow.

2. I’m rubbish at adding pictures to posts, and even when I do my own photos are rubbish so obviously my viewing stats will never grow.

3. I can’t make my brain think like other people think so obviously… Okay I’ll stop now.

4. I don’t want to write content to suit other people. At Blogfest it was mentioned several times that fashion and beauty have huge followings. But if everyone writes about fashion and beauty, where are the blogs for the rest of us who have no interest in fashion or beauty?

5. And on that note, gift lists for people-who-have-nothing-in-common-with-each-other-except-age-or-gender really annoy me. I’ve been seeing “gift lists for mums” and nothing on there suits me, or my mum. Your perfume, jewellery, and cook books are not of interest to my 73 year old mother whose favourite hobby is reading Regency romances or serial killer thrillers.

6. Someone could really tap into an undiscovered market if they wrote about a sympathetic serial killer set in Regency England with a side order of romance. Just saying.

7. Getting side-tracked. Keeping a single post on one topic is so hard when your brain goes in so many directions at once, let alone having a niche for an entire blog. The only way I’d be a number one blogger is if I made a blog so niche that I was the only person in the category (“…and the prize for blogs called Child-Led Chaos is…”)

8. My titles don’t always describe the post content in a sensible way.

So I’m never going to be number one. I guess I need to find a job then. Any ideas?

I was inspired to reframe this post as a numbered list after reading Tales from the Motherland’s 9 Reasons Numbered Lists Bug the Sh!t Out of Me.

Blogfest 2014 Thoughts

I’ve written the me-centric feelings of going to Blogfest, so this post if going to focus on what the day was like (in my opinion!)

Going last minute meant that the structure of the programme was essential for me and I did base my day around going to each session / option on offer. As someone who finds social events a struggle, the low-key guidance was enough. Although either I didn’t hear or there wasn’t announcements for all session starts, which I would have found helpful.

The first session was a keynote panel titled Always On: How does technology shape the way we think? I don’t really take a lot of notice of titles, as panels and discussions often meander. I found the people in the panel interesting and amusing, even if they didn’t really have a clue about the subject. They made some good points, especially that our children do not have a “before internet” experience. I recommend reading Jax’s review of the panel at Making It Up including her excellent tweet notes.

The second session was a choice between How to find your funny, Google masterclass, and money making masterclass. I chose How to make Money, but I was also tempted with the Google one, which I might have got more out of. I now know how to monetise my blog if I’m the number one blogger, or a company in the US. That’s not an entirely fair representation, but the most useful part of the session was Tara Cain’s advice on how to build an audience and what to charge. Everything from that part of the session is in her post, which I think is an essential read if blogging is a serious part of your life – even if you’re not interested in sponsorship or brands.

Following the second session were Think Bombs – three five minute chunks of inspiration. Luckily they are available to watch on YouTube, although sadly Francesca Martinez is cut short. My favourite quote from Francesca was “Accepting yourself is an act of civil disobedience“.

A ninety minute lunch break gave plenty of opportunity for milling around the brand stalls if you wanted, or to chat. The time flew past and I’m not sure who I spoke to where or when to be honest. Having this time without sessions was lovely, but some quiet areas would have been much appreciated.

The third session was a choice between beauty, campaigning or advanced social media. I chose advanced social media because I don’t see myself as a campaigner (and have no interest in beauty) but perhaps I should have learnt more about how to change the world online. The social media session started late due to traffic and Paul Armstrong speeded his way through the presentation, referring to “as I said last year” a lot. He’s obviously on the forefront of technology but I think I needed “a few years ago” lessons rather than what may or may not be happening in the future. It was interesting though, and the slides are online.

The final choice session of the day was between between food blogging, youtube or round table discussions. Several of the round tables appealed, but as I hadn’t signed up to anything in advance I waited for spaces and chose the techie panel as I might be able to input as well as learn. Sadly having five tables in one room, packed with people talking and laughing, was absolutely no good for my hearing and I missed almost everything in the session due to background noise. Rachel, Jax, Alice and Sue were great with dispensing useful advice (from the bits I did hear!) and well worth following.

After another well needed break, it was time for the final panel of the day The Power of Writing. Perhaps I was too worn out at this stage or perhaps I’m just not a writer, but I wasn’t as inspired by this as most seemed to be. It was interesting (again) and I’m glad I was there but to be honest I can’t remember much of what was actually said!

The closing Keynote was hilarious, the drinks afterwards too noisy (but once I found my geeky corner, it improved immensely and I almost missed my train from staying too long…) and having now had gin for the first time, I think I quite like it.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. I want to go again now, and get more out of it now I know what to expect (but I got a lot out of it anyway, and I met friends I’d not met before, which was priceless.)

Was it worth £95? I do think you get more than your money’s worth just in terms of food, drink, entertainment and the goody bag. However, as someone not particularly interested in fashion, beauty, or cooking, the goody bag was mainly irrelevant to me. Personally I couldn’t justify the cost, so I hope there is an early bird discount for next year as I really do want to go back!

On Being At Blogfest

I’m still processing Saturday, and it’s going to take a few days to write anything coherent about the day but instead of cluttering up a retrospective of the day with my mess of a head, this is the me-me-me focused post of how I felt.

I have wanted to go to a blog conference for years, and I am so grateful to Jax for giving me the ticket she won, and to my family and friends for jumping in with last minute childcare so I could swan off to London for the day.

I was a mix of excited and terrified at the prospect. After accepting the ticket on Wednesday evening, I had a stress meltdown on Thursday morning which wasn’t very pretty. This was mainly because I was stressed about something on Thursday anyhow, but the added thought of a highly social day probably didn’t help.

On Friday night I only woke up once during the night, which is about normal for me, and my alarm did wake me at 6am on Saturday. Getting ready I was full of butterflies, but I’d sorted out what I needed the day before so I hoped I was ready and left to catch the train.

I can't believe I'm actually going to #Blogfest

My phone is a bit rubbish so I only vaguely tweeted on the way, wondering how many people were on the same train. But I didn’t see any at Paddington when I got there, and I had to buy my train ticket there so anyone else probably went on.

I’d looked at Google Street View the night before and memorised what the route to the venue would look like, and thought it was a long walk but actually it wasn’t far from King’s Cross and there was a queue of people so it was easy to find.

I stood in the queue feeling anxious about not knowing anyone or where to go, but I was guided to the down escalator. My stomach was completely churning as I went down and saw all the people milling and chatting. But I also saw the sign for toilets so immediately aimed for there to breathe slowly and calm myself.

Busy #Blogfest yesterday

After creeping out I realised there was a cloakroom so managed another social milestone by checking in my duffel coat. So I’d arrived, got my name badge, found the right place, knew where to get a drink and the toilet, and checked in my coat. Honestly, these are huge steps, so that really helped my confidence.

I was scanning the room to see if I could see anyone I recognised (or anywhere I could hide) and I spotted Jax. So I ignored all the butterflies, and hovered nearby until I managed to show my name badge and say hi. I then basically followed her around like a shadow for the rest of the day.

Okay, not quite. I tried hard not to, because I do have a habit of sticking with someone I know and I know I can be annoying because of that so I compensate. Maybe I overcompensate. Every time I spoke to someone I probably looked like I wasn’t interested or I wanted to escape and I’m really sorry if I did because I didn’t but I have no self esteem at all so I didn’t think anyone actually wanted to speak to me and was waiting for them to make their excuses and move on.

So I tried not to follow Jax around for the entire day like a weird stalker, but probably did. Lovely Monika took me under her wing for a while (thank-you, Monika, you are too kind as ever), and I also tried not to stalk Rachel who is awesomely interesting to talk with.

That’s my self esteem issues coming to the fore again. I can’t just talk to people I enjoy talking to without thinking that I’m actually annoying them and I should just leave. Except, I think it was okay. I think. And at the end of the day I somehow managed to end up in a group selfie with a bunch of people I admire hugely. That’s just mindboggling.

I probably should have put the t-shirt on.

I did have anxiety butterflies several times throughout the day. I almost cried just the once (not bad). I thought everyone hated me several times (not good). I hid in the toilet once or twice too to get some quiet. And I did sleep all day Sunday to recover (thank-you, husband).

I definitely want to do it again now I know what to expect.

Blogfest

I’m going to Blogfest tomorrow.

I’m actually going to my first blogging conference. I’ve bought tickets for two before (BritMums 2013 & 2014) but then sold them on because I couldn’t afford the accommodation, plus I put myself off the idea before I’d even got there.

But then fabulous, wonderful, all-round awesome Jax (Making It Up, @liveotherwise) gave me a ticket she won. Wow!

Having only known I was going since Wednesday night – which involved hurried babysitting arrangements; MG and DG will be passed between three people tomorrow (four if you count Mr Chaos!) – I haven’t had time to change my mind.

Well, not to change my mind more than a few million times. And minor hyperventilation. Panic panic PANIC!!

I don’t really know what to expect. I didn’t even realise lunch was included. And there’s a goody bag. And wow, I’m going to meet Jax. And Beth. And Rachael. And Jax! (I’m quite terrified excited about this) And… too many lovely lovely people.

I’ve printed my ticket. Sorted out the children for tomorrow (Mr Chaos is still in stressed-director mode). Sorted myself out for tomorrow (I hope.) Found out train times. Need to write them down. And print out a map for the venue. My technology isn’t reliable enough, so I need hard copies of everything annoyingly.

So… I’m going to a blogging conference.

Tomorrow.

Say hi if you see me. I’m short, round, probably dressed in black, and have a bright red Oliver and the Seawigs canvas bag. I’m also very introverted, completely anxious, slightly deaf, and don’t do eye contact very well…

Panic.

🙂

November

This November I am going to attempt to blog every day.

Technically I’ve already failed because I’m writing this on the 4th of the month, but I’m still going to attempt it nonetheless.

I’m not going to follow anyone else’s ideas for what to blog, I have too many things I never write about as it is.

The plan is to write a lot of book reviews, but also to let myself ramble, explore, and discover where I want blogging to go for me.

I’ve mooched through education blogging, kids activity blogging, parenting blogging, and book blogging, with a sideline of mental health blogging, but I’m not sure where my voice is going with Child-Led Chaos.

Still chaotic I expect.

I’m not going to turn into one of those blogs with one sentence paragraphs (actually I find them very hard to read although they work well for some people) but for this post the layout suits…

Open Letter of Rejection

girlboy

Dear PR,

Thank-you for your e-mail and the kind offer of review items.

From looking at the website and video, [Brand] appears to sum up every part of gender stereotyping in products aimed at girls that I support campaigns such as Pink Stinks, The Brave Girls Alliance and Let Toys be Toys to eradicate so although I could review them it’s unlikely that my review will be positive and therefore I will decline the offer.

[Brand] is aimed at young girls aged 4+. The marketing copy clearly states “[Brand] is every little girl’s dream!” No. It isn’t. Every little girl is a unique and fascinating individual with a complex mix of interests and emotions. Every little girl is not a gender stereotype.

I haven’t seen any of your actual products, but let’s look at your marketing video. [Brand character] states that she loves pink and lists the things she likes. This list consists of shoes, dresses, and hair. All these items relate to how girls look.

She introduces her best friend, who loves purple. Yet again girls have been limited to a palette of pink and purple ignoring the rich variety of colours that are actually available in the world.

The video continues, introducing [Brand character]’s little brothers. Two little boys who are playing in mud. [Brand character] says: Urgh, look at all that mess and dirt. Boys are trouble.

The message in this video is very clear. Girls should only be concerned with how they look, with being pretty, and remaining clean and tidy. No messy muddy games for our girls, oh no! Boys on the other hand, are disgusting creatures. What sort of message is this to be sending to young susceptible minds? It’s doing our girls and our boys a huge disservice.

The video ends with a list of activities that the girls like to do: singing and dancing; drawing; playing dress-up; fashion shows; pretend play.

My daughters do like crafts, and dressing up, and imaginative play. They also like climbing trees, digging the garden and playing with mud, construction toys, finding out how things work, combining different games together to create new ones, making a mess, and running around like they’re on fire. They like pink and purple. They also like red, and green, and blue, and yellow, and black, and every other colour in the rainbow or otherwise.

You may think that [Brand] is harmless fun for girls who are attracted to pink, dressing up, animals and crafts in the first place. However, it is impossible to raise a child in a vacuum and our children are being exposed to a media diet of gender stereotyping, which does nothing but harm. Focusing on girls’ looks and promoting boys as trouble does nothing but harm.

If you prime children or adults with messages about gender then gender differences become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine, the author describes experiments where participants are primed with information either saying that a particular gender is better at a task, or that there is no gender difference, before taking certain tests; the mere mention of a gender difference affects performance in the tests. Children brought up to see girls portrayed one way and boys portrayed another will grow up with differences. Not because of innate difference, but because of the power of influence.

Part of my job as a parent is to nurture my children and help them grow to be whatever they want to be. In order to choose whatever they want to be, they need to see girls and women (and boys and men) in every type of role possible so that they do not take in the underlying message that girls are only fit for certain careers and interests, and boys for others.

My daughters, or any child, should not be made to feel that girls should only care about their looks, that mess is ‘ugh’ and only for boys. Boys should not be made to feel that they are ‘disgusting’, ‘horrid’, ‘trouble’ and the other characteristics that are piled on them.

Toys and books aimed at children should reflect all genders doing all interests and should be only segregated by interests. You like arts or dressing up or pretend play? Excellent. But that doesn’t make you a girl, or mean that you only get to use pink products.

Perhaps you see my blog logo containing pink as an endorsement that pink is for girls. I don’t. After all, pink is just a colour. The pink and orange pencils portray aspects of my daughters. They are vibrant, bright, creative, imaginative, and messy. They are unique and different; just like every other child.

I cannot endorse or condone a product which promotes such gender stereotyping, and I recommend that you look at the websites of Let Toys be Toys , The Brave Girls Alliance, Pink Stinks, and many others to see the messages from thousands of parents and educators, and most importantly children, who just want to have the option to be themselves, whatever gender they happen to be.

Many thanks again,

Anne-Marie
childledchaos.me.uk
@childledchaos

I didn’t actually send the bit not in pink; it’s not the PR’s fault that they were given this brand to promote…