Fire!

I have loved camp fires for as long as I can remember. I love the challenge of laying a superb fire, of finding just the right wood to make it perfect, of making it symmetrical, of deciding whether to go for a square or a pyramid. Then there’s the challenge of getting it to light with as few matches as possible. And yes I have done one with no ‘artificial kindling’ just dried grass which was lit with only one match! I love the tending of the fire, adding just the right amount of wood to make the fire as hot as is needed, the raking it out to form embers. And then there’s cooking on the fire. I am proud to say that I have, on many occasions, cooked an entire meal on fire. Not just the obvious things like marshmallows but camp pizzas, jacket potatoes, chips, eggy bread, chocolate cake, stuffed bananas, sausages, bacon, full English, stews, soups and dampers(which are delicious eaten with jam!)

But nothing beats a toasted marshmallow. I like them once they have ignited and sizzled for a bit so the outside is crunchy and the inside is oozy and sticky and coats your entire face and fingers! I love that I have introduced literally hundreds of children to this delight (often sandwiched between two chocolate digestives for them) However, I am ashamed to admit that my own niece does not like marshmallows! Hey ho, all the more for Auntie Karen – and Ruby is a champion toaster now as although she does not eat them she always takes her turn toasting one for me!

Then comes the camp fire songs. They come in phases just like any craze but many a child I have babysat for has been regaled with my full repertoire. The words are never written down, just passed on as children learn them. Old favourites such as ‘camp fire’s burning’ never go out of fashion. And then there are regional variations! My guiding family come from all parts of the country, it has been known that there are four versions of the same song all being sung at the same time around the fire. Each one of us sticking to the words we’ve grown up with, all blending together. The great thing about camp fire singing is that is does not matter if you cannot hold a tune (just as well in my case!) enthusiasm and volume are all that are required!

And then after the songs have been sung and the marshmallows toasted you can sit around the embers watching the sun go down from underneath your blanket and just chat and laugh. Before you know it, it’s too dark to see and you’re wishing that you’d brought a torch with you ( thank goodness for smart phones!).

And the camp fire doesn’t just last that night, that beautiful woodsmoke smell lingers, sometimes for days. Personally I do not mind that at all!

Ive lost count of the number of camp fires I’ve done. There’ve been daytime ones, nighttime ones, evening ones, ones that started out as a barbecue but then we decided wood cooks better ones I could go on. But some stick out in my memory more than others.

There was the one at guide camp where we ended up cooking frozen chips over a very dodgy fire in the rain! The one where it was so hot the marshmallows melted in the car before we even got to the fire. Several where brownies, and leaders have made their promise to me and many more where they’ve said goodbye. But the one that stands out for me is my last night at guides. I was fifteen, I had been presented, along with three of my best friends, with my Baden-Powell award. And, as was my unit’s tradition, we left the fire while the others sang. The song ‘Go well and safely’. It still brings a lump to my throat now.

Camp fires are definitely one of life’s happy little moments – thnaks to everyone who has shared them with me.

A happy goodbye?

img_0858

On Wednesday we said our final goodbyes to Granny. Not very happy I can hear you saying but surprisingly there was happiness to be found, even at such an occasion. In the car on the way to the crematorium we sat and chatted about our memories of Granny. My cousin and I remembered ‘pink rabbit’ which was our favourite, and always requested, pudding. It’s  actually pink blancmange done in Granny’s infamous rabbit mould. We loved it! We talked about baking with Granny, standing precariously on a stool by the work top wearing and oversize apron. She taught me how to make pastry for micne pies and jam tarts and I still use her recipe. I remember lying on the rug in front of the fire doing jigsaws. And all the clothes she used to knit for my dolls. We talked about her garden and how she loved it. And then, just as we turned into the crematorium we were silenced. Not in grief as you might imagine but by the beauty. The driveway is surrounded by woodland and graves and the whole place was like a carpet of snowdrops and early crocuses. Granny would have loved it. She loved all plant she but especially spring flowers.

During the service of course there were tears, but there was laughter too. We laughed as Gareth talked about Granny going for a walk with Joshua (her great grandson) on Boxing Day to ‘test their new wheels’. He on his new scooter, she with her first walking frame – aged 99 and three quarters.

We returned to her care home to toast her wonderful life. All 100 years and 10 days of it. And right at the end, one of her carers was looking through the family photos with us and said she had something to show us. She produced a short video clip taken only a few short weeks ago on one of the home’s regular outings. Granny was at the garden centre and there she was bright as a button, walking stick in hand, dancing along and laughing out loud to a giant musical, swaying Christmas tree! Not bad for almost a hundred!

And so, despite the occasion, we left with smiles on our faces.

Happy Hump Day Hugs

IMG_0797.GIF

Hugs are fab. I love hugs! I love the spontaneity of someone rushing up and throwing their arms around you. Or the ones you ask for. And the ones where someone just scoops up your sadness and turns it into laughter. Hugs are warm, comforting, familiar, and safe. I’m lucky, I work with children and get dozens of hugs a day. What the children don’t realise is that when they come and ask for a hug and I give one, they are also doing me a favour too! However, I’m also lucky enough to work with colleagues who understand my hugging needs! And this morning I was greeted with many Happy Hump Day Hugs. So here I am passing them on. If you are in need of a hug, here is one for you … catch!

My Best Friend

img_0811

My best friend is amazing. She is one of the few people in the world who truly “gets” me. And she always seems to know exactly what to say. We laugh, at the stupidest things – and go on laughing way after it’s funny. We go on road trips and sing, badly and loudly, to the cheesiest music. We gossip over pizza. We cuddle up under a blanket and watch property shows – planning our houses for when we have money… We shop and spend more money than we have. But it’s more than that. Without my best friend I probably wouldn’t be here today. She is my absolute rock. She has seen me at my lowest of low points and still stayed by my side. She has held my hand and let me cry and patiently reassured me when my anxious paranoia kicks in. She has firmly told me that “giving up is not an option”. And I listen to her when I can’t listen to myself. She always seems to know the right words to say, when to be serious and when to have a joke. She hugs me and reassures me and loves me unconditionally. And I can never fully put into words how much she means to me. Happiness comes from spending time with people who truly love you for who you are – just like she does for me.

The kindness of children

Children can be so honestly kind in a way that I think adults struggle with because to us it all seems a bit over the top – we’ve learnt to tone it down and not show too much emotion (something I have not learnt to do very well yet!). As a teacher I have moments every day where a child says or does something with such open honesty that it knocks you back for a second while you realise that they’re not being sarcastic or manipulative or cheeky, they’re just telling you how it is from the kindness of their hearts. Examples include:

“You know how when you love someone a lot you try to show them how much you love them by making them things or writing them a card, but it’s never enough to show them just how much you love them? Well that’s how I feel about you.”

“I wish we had school at the weekends so that I could see you every day.”

“You’re like a rare, bright star – you shine brighter than the others.”

“It doesn’t matter where you are, I still love you.”

These children have so much love and kindness inside that they just want to let it out – they’re not bound by social conventions and the British stiff upper lip, they just want to tell the people that are important to them how much they love them. It makes me so happy that children are free to do that – and to hear them speaking to each other with such kindness is heart warming. I often see posts on Facebook from taken aback parents whose children have written them a kind message, done something kind or said something kind and it’s just lovely to see that it happens everywhere! There really is nothing like the kindness of a child to make you stop for a second and feel warmed by their love and compassion. I’ll leave you with one more example that put a huge smile on my face (after I had stopped crying!)

bracelet

I wore this as my ‘something blue’ for my wedding!

Zumba – Let it move you!

zumba-meme

Happiness landmarks are those turning points in your life where something happens that gives you a long lasting boost of happiness. A bit like drinking a double espresso, or downing a shot of Berocca, or driving in to a turbo boost on Super Mario Kart….anyway, finding Zumba has definitely been a happiness landmark for me. I can’t even remember how I first heard about Zumba, but my friend and I decided to go along to a class one evening and we instantly loved it – the music was full of energy and while the moves definitely gave us a work out, we really enjoyed dancing along to the music and had a great time together. From that first class we ended up visiting more classes with different instructors and as time went on, we came up with our own ideals for a perfect Zumba class. I couldn’t believe it when my friend then decided to turn our ideas in to a reality and trained to be an instructor herself! I loved her classes so much – the music was perfect, the moves were perfect and we built up our own Zumba family of members. Then last year another crazy thing happened…my friend had to close the class temporarily while she was on maternity leave and in a moment of madness I decided to train as an instructor myself so that I could cover for her! I had no idea then that it would snowball the way that it has – I absolutely love being an instructor, I now have my own Zumba Kids Jr. class and I’m adding a Zumba Toning class to my timetable after my training in February. Zumba makes me feel so happy, the music, the moves and the people that I get to see every week really give me a boost and put a big smile on my face. I look forward to every class and I have so much fun every time – seeing other people enjoying the class too certainly gives me an extra boost of happiness and confidence, knowing that they have chosen to come back each week is definitely a compliment! I can’t wait for my friend to come back and teach her class because we have so much fun together, but I am also grateful for the opportunity to experience the other side of Zumba because it’s opened up a huge source of happiness that will last a long time!

zumba-kids-training

My Zumba Kids + Kids Jr. training was one of the best days ever – this photo definitely shows how fun it was!

first-zumba-class

This was taken after my first class as an instructor – that’s happiness and relief on my face right there!

zumba-t-shirt

I’m a bit addicted to Zumba clothes….

Feeling proud

Feeling proud is such a funny emotion – whilst you feel an overwhelming happiness for someone, it’s almost as if internally you feel happy for yourself too, as if you are taking credit for someone’s achievements just by being associated with them, sharing their success. My friend Rosie is an INCREDIBLE artist and I am so proud of her I could just burst – I tell everyone that my friend is an artist and I’ve been to her exhibitions and one of them was in London don’t you know…. yet I am not remotely artistic and her talent has absolutely nothing to do with me. Seeing her artwork brings a smile to my face, usually because her humble nature makes her sheepishly slide her sketchbook towards me, and when my jaw drops in amazement she chuckles and looks at her lap. That’s talent right there – artwork that speaks for itself without any need for inflation from the artist. I, however, am not like that at all so I’ve included a few pieces of her work below for you to enjoy and I’ll shout from the rooftops about how good it is. She’s also been chosen as the artist of the month by Outside In – pop over and read her interview!

dopamine

Dopamine by Rosie Stevens via Outside In

lets-move-on

Let’s Move On by Rosie Stevens via Outside In

sketches

Sketches by Rosie Stevens via Outside In

neptune

Neptune by Rosie Stevens via Outside In

wonky-sunset

Wonky Sunset by Rosie Stevens via Outside In

detail-1

Detail 1 by Rosie Stevens via Outside In

My greatest honour

One of my greatest honours is being given the title Auntie Karen to this gorgeous one. I’m an only child so I was never going to be an Auntie by rights. I can’t remember exactly when Ruby’s mum asked me but I know I welled up when I accepted the title. I can still remember the first time Ruby actually called me Auntie herself. It was in August 2012 when she would have been three and three quarters. Ruby and her mum had come to visit the Brownies on our annual pack holiday, we’d been out for the day and we were all just having a rest before dinner. Ruby was toddling around the house still full of energy and loving spending time with the ‘big girls’. There was the usual hubbub of noise in the house – inevitable with 20 odd children there! Then, across all the noise came another voice “Auntie Taren” (the ‘K’ sound came later!). Yes I admit I welled up (again).

Nothing makes me a prouder Auntie than having Ruby at Rainbows and now Brownies with me. And I still get a lump in my throat when those words come above the rest “Auntie Karen”. Ruby is eight now and is definitely growing up fast – she is beautiful, affectionate, clever and also determined, stubborn and certainly has a mind of her own! She drives me mad at times! But I love her immeasurably and she is a source of many many happy memories.

 

A candle in the darkness

burning-candle

Image source

I’m not going to lie – these last couple of weeks have been TOUGH for so many reasons. The kind of tough where you can feel yourself starting to wallow in self pity because nothing is going right and everything feels like a constant uphill struggle (if you ask my mum I’m a bit of a pro at wallowing in self pity so read in to that what you will!). The last couple of weeks have had me concentrating on just putting one foot in front of the other, getting through the next hour, next part of the day, next part of the week. Sometimes that’s what’s needed and if that’s what gets you through the hard times then so be it. Unfortunately, while I was busy doing that I wasn’t finding the time or the inclination to write blog posts. I wasn’t noticing the happiness around me because frankly nothing felt particularly happy, I could taint anything good with a burst of negativity and that was that. But now that I am feeling more on an even keel I can definitely say that I have noticed sparks of light around me over the last couple of weeks. At work we pride ourselves on being a family and that has never stood out more to me than it has this last week or so. I’ve had so many colleagues asking how I am, listening to my worries, texting me to see if I’m ok, offering kind words of encouragement, hugs, cups of tea, tissues, and giving up their time to cover my work for a bit. Now that I look back on it, it is honestly overwhelming how wonderful they all are. When I think about them it brings a smile to my face and I hope they realise how much they have made the last couple of weeks bearable. Although I can’t say it was a happy little moment at the time, now I certainly feel a little flicker of happiness in my tummy to know that people care about me enough to offer me a candle in the darkness.

Gentle Giants

dsc01455

This is one of my favourite photographs from a fabulous day spent at Whipsnade Zoo last summer. Giraffes are one of my favourite animals too. There is so much about them that makes me smile. The grace as they move slowly but deliberately around, contrasting with the power and speed that they have when they need it. I have been lucky enough to hand feed a giraffe and they truly are gentle giants. It’s hard not to be in awe of something whose head completely fills your car window and whose tongue is as long as your forearm, yet whose touch is so gentle and delicate. I love everything about them: from their slightly awkward angular head, to their unique coat patterns and the fuzzy little bristly mane. They have a certain humour about them too – as if whoever created them was having a joke that day. Why else would they have a coat pattern that looks as if they are wearing knee-length socks or a funny little not quite tail with a hairy bit on the end! If you didn’t have a sense of humour, why would you create an animal that can’t reach the ground without standing like this…!

dsc01458