Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Mumtopia Supports Women in Business #1: Calicocow

Welcome to the first in a series celebrating women who run their own businesses. In this series, Mumtopia is pleased to encourage you to Sock It To The Man by supporting small businesses, not large corporations, and buying locally rather than from multinationals. 

CalicoCow is one such business, creating quirky textile canvasses hand-made by Jane, of A.Jay P.Designs, that can be customised and personalised to match the occasion - whether it be a new arrival, an anniversary or a wedding  (or simply the decor). Visiting Jane's website is like browsing through a textile gallery, with the added bonus of being able to buy from your armchair. Just when you think you've made up your mind to go for the Farm Felt Hangings, you spot a Patchwork Zoo Set - and the whole decision-making process starts again.

What struck me when I first encountered CalicoCow was the wide range of designs that Jane has created. Far beyond the more traditional cross-stitch sampler-style, these are pieces that are at-home with modern decor, yet have a certain welcome familiarity and nostalgia. I'm particularly thinking of the BEEP BEEP range, which started because of Jane's love of old cars. "It's in the blood thanks to my Dad and brother, who have both owned pre-1965 MGs", she says. "I've gone really retro with my car designs using a mixture of felt, paint and stitching. I love the distinctive look, and they're great for personalising with a number plate." The boy in your life is sure to love the E-type jags, the Beetles, and - for the hippy at heart - the cool camper vans.

Most of Jane's canvasses can be personalised with names, dates, or - for the numerologists amongst us - special numbers. Her best-sellers are her name canvasses which can be personalised with a choice of four icons: boat, butterfly, car, or flower. Textile art has of course been around for centuries - we all know of the Bayeux Tapestry - but CalicoCow designs take this ancient craft and add a modern twist. A case in point is the new version of bunting that Jane's working on: monkey chains. Jane can do these in most colours and they come in packs of five for around £20; they'll be on sale in the next fortnight. "As you can see," she grins, "they get the cat's seal of approval!"

Whilst there's plenty for kids in the YOUNG ONES section, for those of us who prefer not to act our shoe size, the ALL GROWN UP range is full of  designs created using natural fabrics, hand-made felt, and lots of hand stitching, such as the popular Denim Teal canvas which has bleached denim flowers stitched onto to a background, and then individually-created felt flowers stitched onto them. Depending on the colours Jane wants, she uses wool felt or makes her own. Building up the colour matches and layers, combining hand- and machine-stitching is a labour of love, but it seems that Jane just has to create: "Most of my ideas are whirling around my head and I just have to try and get them out." As well as the delicate nature-inspired wall panels in this range, my particular favourites are the corset wall canvasses. The tiny stitching, attention to detail, beautiful colour and fabric combinations, and bead embellishments which make up these unashamedly feminine creations make them a perfect addition to any boudoir. They deserve pride of place in your bedroom and are sure to help unleash your inner Aphrodite.

Check out CalicoCow here, and - if you can't quite find what you're looking for - contact Jane and she'll happily see what she can do. Individually commissioned art from £15 - £100: that's CalicoCow.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Ticking the Soul Box

There are a lot of boxes to tick, as a mother, aren't there? Apart from long-term goals for women held by society, such as Return to Pre-pregnancy Figure and Have Glorious High-flying Career, I wonder what your To Do List looks like, if you have time to actually write it down?

This is my current To Do List
  • Put lots more stuff on Ebay
  • Put washing away
  • Do recycling
  • Change M's sheets
  • Put the bins out
  • Vacuum everywhere
  • Mop bathroom floor
  • Clean kitchen floor
  • Clean mirrors and doors
  • Dust
  • Sort out car insurance
  • Clean bathroom
  • Sort out switching gas and electric
  • Sort out switching phone and broadband
  • Write card for Prima's School Buddy
As you can see, I really should be doing housework while DH and the kids are at the open air screening of How to Tame Your Dragon, but no, I am Working. Really.

Anyway, note, on the above To Do list, that none of the activities listed are exactly what you'd call Fun. Or Pampering.  Re-shape eyebrows is not listed. Neither is Do Nails. And certainly, if easy little things like that don't get a look-in during my day, then what about more challenging or uplifting tasks, like self-development and spirituality? When do I take time for my soul?

I can see the attraction of leaving it all til Sunday and going to church to fulfill your spiritual quota, and, if that meets your needs, that's fine. But I want my spiritual life and my normal, everyday peeling-potatoes life to combine, not be separate. From an emotional point of view, I attend a counselling session once a week, which goes a long to helping me heal and become more self-aware, and I've always got a self-help book on the go, but finding time for deeper thought and practice has been difficult.

What I've decided is that I need to be able to meditate wherever I am, not wait for the perfect moment of stillness in my (non-existent) shrine. I am beginning this at home, as that's where I spend a lot of time. Today I played a mid-morning meditation track from Guided Meditations Gold, while washing up, followed by one to increase motivation and inspiration from the same CD. It worked well, and was worth doing.

I have often tried to do Zen Housework as I call it, when you try to be in the moment and mindful during mundane tasks, but emptying my mind sufficiently is challenging. Guided meditations give you something to focus on so you don't start mentally recalling what you need to buy at Sainsburys half-way through, and this double album has tracks to play at different times of the day, as well as for specific sitatuations, like preparing for a job interview or healing a migraine.

Thrive @ Home Link-UpIt's crucial for me to begin incorporating different approaches to spiritual work into my daily life, as I'm such an All or Nothing person that if I don't settle for a compromise to my Zen Master attitude to meditation, I'll never do any at all. I just need to remind myself that with mindfulness, like so many things, only practice makes perfect. It's also worth noting that music can help me reduce my stress levels so it's a good idea to play relaxing pieces at potentially tempestuous times, and to use music to create the kind of ambiance you want in your home. Recently I've been playing the ethereal Natural Woman and the stress-busting Music for Beauty to try and calm myself and the household down. Music makes sorting out washing, making beds, etc, a whole lot more pleasant, too.

I expect I'm not alone in putting my own needs last on the To Do List, but I have really noticed that if I'm happy, the kids are usually pretty happy too. So I'm going to take more time for my soul.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Top ten websites recommended by my kids

  1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/games/atoz/m#/lb/misc/mysecretgarden to design your own garden and watch it grow as Spring changes to Summer.
  2. http://www.miffy.com/ for Miffy games, colouring sheets, music and screensavers.
  3. http://www.charlieandlola.com/website.asp for games, ecards, clips and wallpapers.
  4. http://www.maisyfunclub.com/maisyframe.asp?section=eddie&page=eddie_home.asp to read Maisie stories.
  5. http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/games/shows/mnopq#/lb/poetrypie/poetrypiegames for a game in which  you can make a cow sound like a flushing toilet.
  6. http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/grownups/images/waybuloo/grownups_waybuloo_yogofactsheet.gif for the yoga poses found in Waybuloo.
  7. http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/#/lb/mistermaker/mistermakermagicpaintbox to play Mister Maker art and craft games.
  8. http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/inthenightgarden/games/#/lb/inthenightgarden/explore for a guided tour of the Night Garden featuring yourself on webcam.
  9. http://pixiehollow.go.com/ to create your own Disney fairy and play in Pixie Hollow.
  10. http://www.flowerfairies.com/home.html to meet the flower fairies, plan a party and do activities.

Monday, 5 July 2010

What's growing in YOUR fridge?

Confession: I once left a Brussels sprout in the salad drawer of the fridge, just to see what it'd do. Sometime between Christmas and Easter, it became unrecognisable, so I don't actually know whether it's been thrown away or not.

Fear not, this isn't going to be some kind of "How Clean Is Your House?" investigation (and that's probably a good thing, because our fridge is so tall, I can't even SEE what's on the top shelf at the back, let alone MONITOR it). I'm not going to discuss how to make more yoghurt from old yoghurt or what happens to wafer thin ham after a month.

But, I'll admit, there is something growing in our fridge. A tree. This may sound like neglect of domestic duties gone mad - I mean, mould is one thing, but a TREE?

Yes, a tree. In a bid to offset the carbon footprint of my Internet addiction, I acquired a simple but green solution: a  Silver Birch in a bag, from Holistic World. This compact pack, which is less than a foot square, has 100% compostable packaging and contains everything you need to start a silver birch tree off on your windowsill within the bag, including comprehensive instructions and Soil Association Certified ‘Peat Free’ compost.

Following the instructions (for once), we have already soaked the seeds overnight and they are now enjoying a month's refrigerated residence mixed with compost and covered with clingfilm. The next step will be to return the seed mixture to the bag and wait for a sapling to appear. I'll keep you posted! 

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