In Search of Happiness

An old school friend, Kerensa undertook the ‘100 Days of Happiness Challenge’ back in  2014. To say she was in a challenging period is an understatement – her husband had sadly passed away, leaving her with a baby. She had to move her life back to the UK from the US, with all the assorted stress a house move takes, with the added challenge of shipping across continents then reestablishing her life in a new town. As she says herself, Kerensa was running on pure adrenaline and once that was gone, reality began to set in. In order to alleviate the mental fugue she undertook the challenge to take a photo every day of something which had made her happy, no matter how fleeting, and share it. It proved an inspiration for many of us to see her photos and hear how she was getting on.

Three years later, Kerensa has remarried and has a baby daughter. In honour of her first husband’s memory, she has decided to undertake the ‘100 Days Challenge’ again and I’ve decide to join her! Like so many, we’ve been facing our challenges here at Casa CH and I realised that even the ‘fun’ things are now starting to feel like an obligation. We’re also entering some of my favourite times of year – Halloween and Christmas but I know once the fairy lights come down, the melancholy sets in so it will be good for me to keep finding a little brightness in the winter.

Follow me on @bluebeaglebaby and check back here to see what has cheered me up during the day and let me know if you’re taking part too – I’d love to see your photos! 

The North Wind

The North Wind

The northward shift of the wind
Picked at the evening still
She sat on her porch and looked
Out over the trees and hills
That had caged her body
From youth to old age
Held prisoner in this place
Her life had moved along
She a mere voyeur

As her family grew strong
They escaped this valley
And never saw her again

The northward wind called to her

Her gaze fixing on the clouds
It’s intention was clear
It didn’t need to ask so loud
It wanted her attention
More demanding than a child

The time had come to join the wind
Which roared with the voices
Of ancestors long passed
They called to her to join their dance
As they passed her by

She knew she had to join them
And say to the valley goodbye

Make It Monday: Moth Repellant Pendants

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We seem to be in the midst of the most quiet invasion ever at the moment, namely moths! They appear randomly all over the place and I’m determined they don’t eat any of our woollens so am fighting back!

Normally I buy the chemical ‘patches’ or insecticide soaked paper, but I can be very forgetful at removing them once they are no longer active and am more than a little paranoid that the Lamb or Pup will find them and decide they’re the latest chew-toy so, inspired by this post from Garden Therapy I decided to make some ceramic ‘pendants’ for our wardrobes which I soaked in cedar oil (I made these one weekend when I had a horrendous cold so kept adding more and more oil until hubby intervened as apparently the house stunk).

Cedarwood oil is derived from the cedar tree and can be bought in blocks, oil or resin. It is a natural moth repellent, with the added bonus that it’s non-toxic to dogs (obviously check with your vets if you have any doubts. There’s a plethora of products with cedar oil in aimed at removing fleas and ticks from dogs, with the added benefit that your furry best friend smells a little fresher too!), a major concern here at Beagle HQ.

The pendents were super simple to make and I think look adorable. I bought some air-drying clay which I rolled out, then using assorted cookie and play-doh cutters, I cut different shapes, using a straw to punch a hole for the string and of course I had to add a little dog paw for decoration. I left them to dry overnight, then started adding the oil, allowing it to sink in fully before adding more. As I said, I may have used a *little* too much. Once they were fully dried I tight some string around them, and then popped them between clothes, in cupboards and generally around the house. We’re now moth-free AND the house smells fantastic!

IMG_0613.JPGHave you made any natural moth repellents? What did you use? Let me know in the comments below.

Movie Review: Ink (2009)


Synopsis: As we sleep the Storyteller and Incubi battle for our dreams, and in the case of little Emma, for her very soul. Her father, John must journey to save her. Will he be able to save her from the strange creature ‘Ink’?

Director: Jamie Winans

Starring: Christopher Soren Kelly, Quinn Hunchar and Jessica Duffy

Review: I watch a LOT of movies and have had a run of very bad films (check out my Reviews) so it was such a joy to discover ‘Ink’ (and the other film by Wimins, ‘Frame’ but more on that next week). I really, REALLY enjoyed it so prepare for gushing.

Where to start? The soundtrack, cinematography, originality of story and (the majority of the) acting is sublime.

The story: father John (Kelly) worksto hard and doesn’t spend them with his daughter Emma (Hunchar). During a battle with the ‘Storytellers’ and the ‘Incubi’ Emma’s soul is stolen by ‘Ink’ who’s determined to use it to pay his way into the Incubi. Cue Storyteller Liev (Duffy) who vows to protect her while other Storytellers battle to safe them. Ok, so it doesn’t sound that original But Winans visual and style raise this above the usual fair. The opening battle between the Storytellers. And Incubi may not have the slick punches of a Hollywood blockbuster but it’s well choreographed and makes good use of the space. My favourite character is the blind man but Duffy emits an inner grace I can only aspire to.

The difference in colours between the real world, land of dreams and world of nightmares was a treat and I didn’t feel the changes pulled you out of the story. There’s also an interesting use of lighting, especially in the world of nightmares which I won’t spoil for you but which were very clever.

The sets and costumes were mixed, but didn’t suggest a lack of design or care in their creation. Again, this isn’t a big-budget film but I was extremely impressed with what was created using their budget. This is helped by the directors use of different colour filters for each ‘land’.

The soundtrack is beautiful, a mix of haunting piano and some other arrangements. It fits perfectly with the directors visuals and is my new favourite writing music.

But there have to be some negatives. A few of the actors give uneven performances, including Kelly which does make the movie feel disjointed. Other reviewers have complained about the visuals which they found jarring or too unusual to accept, or the lack of classification for this film – is it fantasy? A horror? Sci fi? But for me, it didn’t need classification, it was a beautiful movie which defied classification and was the stronger for it because it emcompassed so much.

So, there are a huge number of independent film makers out there, many of whom are doing (in my opinion!) amazing work and need our support. Winans visuals may not appeal to all but his beautiful storytelling and the haunting music means you’ll be thinking of ‘Ink’ long after the credits have finished.

The Big Interview: Louise George

I met Louise during my first ever ‘real’ job and we’ve stayed in contact ever since,first via email then Facebook and I was overjoyed when she announced her pregnancy in 2011. Her daughter, Jessica, was diagnosed with a Congenital Heart Defect during their 20-week scan leaving Louise and her husband, Michael, facing the difficult decision about her care, with medical advice suggesting that Jessica would not survive birth. Battling the odds, Louise and Jessica underwent in-vitro surgery which enabled Jessica to be born, then Jessica has had numerous surgeries since, with more planned for the near-future. I catch up with warrior Jessica and her true Wonder Woman mum, Louise.

GCH: Motherhood has given me a wealth of embarrassing moments (frankly, to add to an already impressive collection!). Can you tell us one of your embarrassing motherhood mishaps?

LG: Tiredness makes us do daft things as mums. I recently found myself tipping the contents of a potty into the kitchen bin instead of down the loo.

GCH: What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

LG: I sometimes shut myself in the kitchen and eat chocolate. I usually have some squirreled away somewhere!

GCH: I frequently joke about needing a LOT of tea to get me through some days with a cheeky toddler and crazy pup (or is that crazy toddler and cheeky pup?). So what’s your drink of choice – tea, coffee, wine, beer or something else?

LG: I tend to be a coffee drinker. That first cup in the morning is blissful. It’s amazing how it can transform me from a harpy to a human being. The transformation has not gone unnoticed by my girls though. Jessica will often ask me “Do you need coffee Mummy?” if I am a bit grumpy in the mornings!

GCH: You’re a trained midwife. What would you tell any expectant mum is a must have in her maternity bag (mine is face spritz, if nothing else it gave hubby something to do!).

LG: Face spritz was amazing! It was one of my must-haves both times.

My midwifery days are quite some way behind me now. But other than the usual essentials, I would say cereal bars and Lucozade were another must-have. They were great for giving me energy during labour and keeping hubby going too. Keeping birth partners fed is also important. Hubby almost passed out during my labour with Jessica and we realised that he hadn’t eaten anything for hours at that point. He felt much better when he was given some toast and jam!

GCH: Also, what was one of the best aspects to your job as a midwife? And one of the worst?

LG: That first cry of a new baby and the pure joy on new parents’ faces was the most magical thing. No matter how many times I saw it, it never lost any of that magic. I felt like I got to see a little miracle happen on a regular basis.

The worst is when a baby dies. It is the most heartbreaking thing. I have never forgotten that awful feeling of discovering that a baby had died in the womb and I still remember every single family I looked after whose baby was born sleeping.

GCH: Do you think you’ll return to midwifery?

LG: I don’t know at the moment. My registration lapsed a few years ago and I would need to retrain if I was to return. I have no plans to return in the foreseeable future. Hubby works in the events industry which has very irregular hours. If I went back to shift patterns or being on-call 24-7 as I was as an independent midwife, it would make childcare difficult to arrange. I now work part-time and mostly from home as an HR Manager which fits well with family life and means I can be there for the children when they need me. Any plans to go back to midwifery would be unlikely to happen before the children are old enough to be able to look after themselves.

GCH: Jessica was diagnosed with CHD at 20 weeks. Can you briefly explain what CHD is and what treatment she had? 

LG: CHD stands for congenital heart defect (or congenital heart disease which I think is a less accurate term). There are lots of different types of CHD – most people have heard of babies being born with “a hole in the heart” which covers some CHDs. Jessica has quite a complex CHD – she has hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) and a couple of other abnormalities. In children with HLHS, the left side of the heart is very underdeveloped. Basically this means she only has half a working heart.

With Jessica, there was also an added complication which limited the blood flow into the left side of her heart even further. This meant that her prognosis was particularly poor and we were told at 22 weeks’ pregnant that she wouldn’t be suitable for post-birth surgery. Thankfully the doctor also briefly mentioned an in-utero procedure which was being performed in Boston, USA. We considered going to the USA but were very lucky to be offered the procedure in the UK. This was carried out when I was 28 weeks’ pregnant.

Jessica had her first open-heart surgery when she was eight hours old. She had a second procedure a week later. Since then she has had two further open-heart surgeries (at 3 months and 7 months old) and several cardiac catheter procedures. She is due to have her last planned heart surgery in the next month or so.

This post explains a little more about the surgeries and how Jessica’s heart works compared to a normal heart: https://littleheartsbiglove.co.uk/jessicas-handmade-heart/

GCH: You’re a prolific writer and you’ve enjoyed musical theatre. How has being creative helped you cope with Jessica’s diagnosis?

LG: Writing has always been my way of processing my thoughts, especially if I find it difficult to talk about them. I find writing incredibly cathartic. I also enjoy drawing which is another way of processing my thoughts and I sing regularly too. Singing is something that makes me feel happy so is good for relieving stress.

GCH: Many people have described you as a Super Mummy, a title you politely declined in this blog post. However, you’ve coped with Jessica’s diagnosis with extreme grace and positivity. How do you manage to do that?
LG: My faith has helped hugely with this. My belief that God is walking this journey with us and helping carry us along the way when needed has helped give me the strength I need to get through each day and try to focus on the positives. We’ve also had so much support, love and prayers from friends and family which I am very thankful for. Knowing that we are held in so much love helps to keep me going.

I’m not always positive though! There are many times when I shut myself away and fall apart. I think it’s important too to feel able to let it all out every now and then. I don’t think I could focus on the positives if I didn’t give myself space to let go of some of the fear and worry too.

GCH: You set up your blog Little Hearts Big Love to document Jessica’s condition. Has it helped you connect with other ‘heart parents’?

LG: I’ve connected with a few heart parents through my personal blog and Jessica’s blog. Knowing that we are not alone on this journey makes a big difference. I am in contact with other parents who are further on in this journey who help to give me hope for the future. In the same way, our story helps to give hope to those who are setting out on their heart family journey.

GCH: Jessica was the first baby to undergo in utero surgery in the UK. Since Jessica was born, have you seen an improvement in the care, diagnosis and treatment of other babies with similar conditions?

LG: There are quite a lot of different in utero procedures for various conditions, some of which have been around for some time. Jessica had a procedure to open up a hole between the top two chambers of her heart which was done by inserting a balloon on a wire into her heart and inflating it. As far as we know she was the first (and possibly still the only) baby to have this done in the UK. I’ve only ever met one other heart mum online whose child has had a similar in-utero procedure and she lives in Australia.

With regards to improvements, I’ve been involved with raising awareness the heart charity Tiny Tickers for a couple of years. They do a lot of work to improve the early detection of heart conditions to help improve outcomes for heart babies. I am sure that surgical techniques also continue to improve.

As for Jessica’s in-utero surgery, I think it was very much a case of being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. I am not sure that if I was pregnant with her today that we would have had this option without having to travel abroad. Our consultants back then had previously been involved in in-utero procedures (although not the one Jessica had). Their colleague, Dr Wilson, who performed the procedure, was on sabbatical in the States when I was pregnant. He happened to be back in Oxford the weekend after I first asked our consultants about the possibility of travelling to Boston for in-utero surgery and then was back again when I was 28 weeks’ pregnant – which is the ideal time for this surgery to take place. He’s now permanently based in the US.

Our main consultant retired a couple of years ago and the other one we saw regularly focuses on fetal cardiology so is no longer involved in our care. Since our main consultant retired, our care in Oxford has felt more disjointed. Our experiences with Southampton have always been very positive though and we are able to phone the ward there if we have any concerns about her health heart-wise. Our local hospital has also been very good and we have open-access to the children’s ward so can take Jessica straight there if she needs urgent medical attention.

GCH: You’ve written about your husband Michael and his journey dealing with Jessica’s condition. How have you supported him through it all?

LG: We very much support each other through this journey. The most important thing for us is making sure that we talk about our worries and concerns rather than bottling them up. Michael is better at taking in the information at appointments than I am – I am much more emotional in my initial responses whereas he tends to process it more rationally and then gets emotional later on. We balance each other out very well in this respect.

For me, being able to work from home and be flexible has helped. Michael works in the event industry which can be unpredictable and often means long hours when working on an event. He tries to be at as many appointments as he can, but I can work around hospital stays and appointments much more easily.

GCH: You’re thinking of turning Little Hearts Big Love into a book. Can you tell us more about this project?

LG: I’ve written a draft of our journey so far but I’ve not done any more with it at present! That particular project is on hold at least until after Jessica’s next operation.

I have written and illustrated a book for Jessica to help prepare her for having heart surgery. I’m looking into perhaps making this more widely available to help other heart families.

GCH: What are your hopes for your girls?

LG: To grow into young women who are loving, kind and unafraid to follow their dreams. I hope that they will grow up knowing that they are unique and wonderful just as they are; that a little love and kindness goes a long way and to see obstacles on their way as challenges to be met. I hope that they will learn that there is beauty in the journey, even when it means taking a different path to the one that you had hoped for.

GCH: Tell us a secret.

LG: I had an imaginary friend as a teenager. I still had occasional chats with him up until my early twenties. 

Many thanks to Louise for thanking the time to chat and I’m sure we’re all sending positive vibes to little Jessica as she moves towards her next surgery. I’ll keep you all updated as to how this loving, inspirational family gets on. 

Make it Monday: Birthday Shenanigans ‘Lord of the Rings’

I remember birthdays as a child, mostly the cake (the infamous ‘Rabbit Castle’ will go down in family history but that’s a story for another day) but parties and fun. Since having the Lamb we’ve tried to put extra special effort into celebrating birthdays, decorating the house and of course, baking a special cake. This year hubby celebrated a special birthday so the Lamb and I made and decorated the house, as well as baking an extra-special birthday. Can you guess the theme? IMG_2844.JPG

The assorted books by JRR Tolkien have long been hubby’s favourite so we created Middle Earth here in Devon!

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Our porch door became a Hobbit hole
It was a lot of fun creating the decorations and we used different craft skills.

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Shelob was a black pom pom.
It took quite a while to do all the lettering but luckily I found some sites on Pinterest to help. Of course, we needed a ‘Happy Birthday’ banner.

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And I also made a number of small banners, based on the different characters……

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Eeeeep! The white hand of the Urak Hai!

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My House of Rohan design. Getting the right shape of the horses head was a bit tricky but I’m happy with the result

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Gandalf’s symbol
Of course, we needed Sauron’s Eye to watch our celebrations….

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And I tested hubby on his Elvish…..

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Can you guess what this says? Not a traditional Elvish quote from the books, but thought it apt for hubby
Our hallway. Down the banister I knitted brown ‘branches’ with the leaves of Lothlorian while there were streamers and balloons from the ceiling as more branches and leaves.

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I needle-felted Gandalf (if you’d like one made to order, comment below or email bluebeaglebaby(at)gmail.com) which was fun and I look forward to making more. Perhaps I’ll eventually felt the other characters.

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And created these luggage/gift tags

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And finally the cake. And in-keeping with the books, we celebrated in Hobbiton!

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A very happy birthday to hubby!

What did you think of our Middle Earth birthday? Have you had a themed party? Let me know in the comments below!

Movie Review: Bad Kids Go to Hell (2012)

Bad Kids Go To Hell 2012

Synopsis: The Breakfast Club meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacare

Director: Matthew Spradlin

Starring: Judd Nelson, Ben Browder, Amanda Alch, Augie Duke & Cameron Deane Stewart

Review: I didn’t have high hopes for this movie, based on an indie comic book, but I was quickly drawn in. There’s the stereotypical teens, from the jock, the oversexed ‘bad girl’, preppy virgin, misunderstood new boy who’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time and more.

If you’ve seen The Breakfast Club you’ll be familiar with the premise of students from different social groups being forced to spend time together in detention on Saturday morning but there’s a twist.

The acting is solid and while none of the characters are particularly likeable or sympathetic, you do find yourself cheering for them and I found them surprising me as their characters developed. There’s no one stand out performance but Jeffrey Schmidt as the doctor has some cracking lines.

There’s flashbacks to how to characters interacted and got detention but they don’t slow the story down at all and there’s a number of laughs to break the tension (the scene in the cafeteria is rather amusing). The plot is well-paced and you’ll keep guessing until the very end if it’s all the supernatural or one particularly evil student who’s killing everybody off. I strongly recommend you see this shamefully underrated movie.

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