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Image of multiple crocheted washcloths and reusable face pads in a basket.

Crochet Washcloths & Handmade Soaps | AD

[Ad/Gifted – The yarn used in this post was provided by Love Crafts. All thoughts are my own.]

It’s no secret that I love a good homemade gift, both as the recipient and the giver of such gifts. But one thing I haven’t spoken about as much is how important it is to me that gifts are as sustainable as possible. Which is why when I was thinking about gifts for Christmas this year, I immediately thought of crochet washcloths and handmade soap.

The simplicity and versatility of crochet washcloths

Crochet washcloths are the perfect item to work on for pretty much any crafter. They are a quick make for a seasoned crocheter whilst also being easy enough for those learning to crochet. In fact they are ideal for practising different stitches before trying more complex patterns where getting the tension right is important. And the great thing is, there are so many patterns available online, that you’ll never be short of inspiration.

I decided to make a range of different washcloths and face pads, using simple patterns and playing with the colour combinations. The same pattern can look completely different just by mixing up the colours a bit. I’ve done that with two of the washcloths I’m going to share today, which you will see later in this post. But first I want to tell you about the yarn that I chose, and what I thought about it.

Paintbox Cotton DK Yarn

A few years ago I wrote about how much I love working with cotton yarn, sharing what I thought to the different brands I had tried. So when I decided to use cotton yarn for this project, I jumped at the chance to try a brand I’d never used before. I’d heard Paintbox mentioned by various crocheters recently, and when talking to Sarah from Love Crafts about my ideas this was the option she recommended I try too. (Side Note, if you’re not sure which yarn to choose for a project, the team at Love Crafts will be more than happy to advise you).

Cotton yarn is ideal for washcloths, as it is soft but also robust enough to cope with lots of getting wet, washing, and drying. It’s also a natural fibre, so is great for those of us trying to avoid using too many man-made products. I appreciate that there is an environmental cost in the production of cotton, but I still feel it’s a more sustainable option than something like acrylic yarn.

Anyway, one of the great things about Paintbox Yarns is the variety of colours available. Cotton yarns can sometimes lack the range of colours offered in other fibres, so I always do a little happy dance when I find a brand with a nice selection. I chose some pastels, some bold colours, and two shades of grey, to give me a lovely palette to work with.

I’ve listed the colours I chose below, and want to draw attention to the fact that I took the photo above after making 3 washcloths, 10 face pads, and a basket. A little bit of this yarn goes a very long way! It’s also a really soft yarn, doesn’t split at all while working with it, and creates a very flexible end result. I used the Cotton DK range, but if you wanted to create slightly sturdier items you could also opt for the aran weight yarn in the same range.

Top Row: Spearmint Green (430); Lipstick Pink (452); Slate Grey (406); and Ballet Pink (453)

Bottom Row: Granite Grey (407); Buttercup Yellow (423); Peach Orange (455); Blush Pink (454); Daffodil Yellow (422); and Washed Teal (433)

Adding Handmade Soap to make the Perfect Eco-Friendly Gift

As I thought about making washcloths as an eco-friendly gift option for friends and family, I realised that adding handmade soap to them would make them into a little gift set. There are so many handmade soaps available on places like Etsy, and I have no doubt that everyone would be able to find their perfect match on there.

I, personally, was looking for soaps that were as natural as possible and avoided things like palm oil (even sustainable palm oil), and that were ideally something that those of us on a limited budget could still afford. So when I found that The Soap Tree Yorkshire sold soap ends and oddments at a reduced price and to reduce waste I couldn’t believe my luck.

Here is an option to buy soap ends that would otherwise simply be thrown away for not being the right size or shape for sale, and in various quantities to meet your needs. The pack I purchased was 200g and included 4 different soap ends, all for £9.50. They smell absolutely divine, and I know we’ll be buying more for ourselves before long.

I’ve paired up the soaps with the washcloths, as you’ll see below, and cannot wait to give them out at Christmas (but I’m not saying to whom each set is going, because family and friends read my blog and I don’t want to spoil the surprise!)

Bold and Bright Washcloth with Activated Charcoal, Tea Tree, and Rosemary Soap

Image of a yellow, pink, and green crochet washcloth with yarn beside it and a black bar of soap

This washcloth was made by following the Linen Stitch pattern by Look At What I Made and changing the colour every 4 rows, using Buttercup Yellow, Lipstick Pink, and Spearmint Green. The pattern is so versatile in its simplicity that you could create any number of washcloths that all looked completely different whilst using the same pattern. I wanted to mix it up a bit and make my washcloth as bright as possible, so chose to use 3 of the bolder colours I had.

I’m so pleased with the end result, and it feels like something that would brighten any morning. So I’ve paired it with the activated charcoal soap infused with tea tree and rosemary, as those are two refreshing scents that would kick start your day. Plus I think the darkness of the soap complements the brightness of the washcloth beautifully.

Modern Grey and Yellow Washcloth with Peppermint Soap

Image of a grey and yellow crochet washcloth, with yarn beside it and a bar of blue handmade soap

This washcloth uses a colour combination that I have seen so many times over recent years and which I always love – grey and yellow. It was created using the Ribbed Cloth pattern by Feather and Thread, splitting the pattern into thirds and changing the colour to create bold blocks, using Granite Grey and Buttercup Yellow. Just like with the Linen Stitch pattern, the versatility of this simple pattern gives you limitless options to play with when it comes to colour.

I paired it up with the peppermint soap, because I felt like bold and fresh scent of peppermint goes well with the bold blocks of colour in the washcloth.

Face Pads in a Basket with Pure and Simple Soap

Image of a crochet basket and bar of handmade soap, surrounded by 10 crochet reusable face pads and 5 skeins of yarn in pastel colours

I think this is my favourite combination out of all the items I made. The pads were so quick and easy to make. They fit in the basket adorably. And I just love the combination of pastel colours with the paler grey. For this I used Ballet Pink, Peach Orange, Daffodil Yellow, Blush Pink, Washed Teal, and Slate Grey.

The patterns I used for this were Little Facial Cloths and Hemp Basket both by Créations Chaan. The basket is a little bit flimsy when made with DK cotton yarn, and would probably be better made in aran weight or by using two strands of yarn together. But it still stands up quite nicely, as you can see below, and 10 little pads fit in perfectly.

Image of grey crochet basket filled with crochet face pads

I initially considered combining this with a handmade face scrub, but when I saw the Pure and Simple soap included in our pack I realised that it would go just as nicely with this little set. There are no harsh ingredients in this soap, so it should be fine for use on delicate skin such as the face.

Playful Pastels Washcloth with Bergamot and Geranium Soap

Image of crochet washcloth with 4 pastel colours in yellow, peach, pink, and blue, and the balls of yarn in those colours

As I said before, I adore the combination of the pastels in the Painbox Yarns Cotton DK range, so when I found a pattern using Daffodil Yellow, Peach Orange, Blush Pink, and Washed Teal to create a beautiful washcloth inspired by a sunset I couldn’t wait to try it out.

The Sunsets and Washcloths pattern by Divine Debris is actually simpler than it perhaps looks at first glance, and despite being larger than the other washcloths I made was still pretty quick to make. It’s not as square as I would have liked, even after blocking, but that could just be an issue with my tension, and it is still very pretty and completely useable.

I’ve paired it up with the Bergamot and Geranium soap, as the pale purple colour of the soap seemed like a perfect companion to the pale hues of the yarn.

The Possibilities Are Endless

As I said earlier on, I still have a lot of yarn left, meaning that I can make many more washcloths and face pads before I run out. The 9 colours I chose (plus a 10th skein, as I ordered 2 lots of the Ballet Pink) came in at under £20, making Paintbox Yarns an ideal option for creating gifts on a budget too. However there are lots of great options for all budgets and tastes at Love Crafts, as well as patterns and accessories, so do head on over and check them out next time you want to add to your stash. And don’t forget that Ravelry is the ultimate place to go for knitters and crocheters in need of a little inspiration!

Celebrating Strong Female Characters

Friday 8th March is International Women’s Day, which is both an annual celebration of women’s achievements and a call for greater gender equality. As the mother of a son, I am very aware of the fact that he is growing up in a world which still treats men and women differently, and that his voice is crucial in helping to change that. Feminism isn’t just for women, and I am determined to help him understand that we all have a part to play in creating a better world. One way I can do this is by sharing books with him which have strong female characters, and I’d love to share some of these with you today.

Girl sitting on the floor reading a book

why strong female characters?

I’ve always been an avid reader, and during my teen years I could be found with my nose in a book most days. I’d read whilst having breakfast, during the lunch break at school, and in the evenings too. I loved immersing myself in other worlds, and literature was one of my strongest skills at school. There is just something magical about reading a book in which the characters become real, and in which you feel like you are right there with them. But even more exciting is when you find a character with whom you can relate, or who inspires you in some way.

When I was around the age of maybe 14 or 15, I randomly picked up a book from my sister’s bookcase called “Wild Magic“. The title really caught my attention, and I was hooked from the very first page. The protagonist, a teenage girl called Daine, was such a fascinating character to me. She had survived the loss of her family, gone through a time when it felt like she had lost her entire identity, and then through sheer stubbornness and willpower she found a new home.

The book was the first in a quartet (The Immortals series), and throughout the series Daine finds herself in the company of so many other strong female characters. There’s Onua, the Horse Mistress, who first gives her work. And there’s Alanna, the first female knight for centuries, who became the King’s Champion. And there’s the Queen herself, who set up The Queen’s Riders, who defend the land and go into battle just as frequently as the King’s Own guard. As an incredibly timid teenage girl, these characters were fascinating to me, and I longed to have their courage and strength, as well as their humour.

introducing tamora pierce, my favourite author

The Immortals series was my first discovery of Tamora Pierce‘s work, but I have since read several other works by her, all of which have strong female characters (and almost always as the main protagonist). Her first series, The Song of the Lionness, follows Alanna as she swaps places with her twin brother and pretends to be Alan, in order to complete knight training.

One of the most intriguing parts of this series, for me, was how many male characters supported her, once they found out the truth. First there was Corum, her manservant, who was in on it from the start. Then there was George, the King of the Thieves. And finally there were Prince Jonathan and his cousin Gary. Whilst Alanna was more the capable of completing the knight training (even though physically it was harder for her in many ways), the support of others made a massive difference. There’s even a brilliant scene in which she has her first period and panics as she has no idea what is going on. She sneaks into the city to ask George’s mother what she should do, and it’s really sweet to see her find a maternal ally in such a male-oriented world.

strong female characters in a man’s world

Alanna and Daine are not the only strong female characters Tamora Pierce has written, either. There’s Beka Cooper, an ancestor of George, who joins The Provost’s Guard in order to uphold the law. The work is dangerous, but the combination of her tenacity and intelligence help her to crack the toughest cases. And in Trickster’s Choice (and Trickster’s Queen) there’s Aly Cooper, daughter of Alanna and George, desperate to prove herself a capable spy. She ends up being abducted and sold into slavery, and yet still manages to earn trust, create a spy pack of her own, and uncover a threat.

But the one I found most intriguing was Kel, who in The Protector of The Small, becomes the first female to enter knight training since Alanna’s gender became known. In many ways she finds it harder than Alanna did, because knowing she is a girl from the start means that people are just waiting for her to fail. Alanna isn’t allowed to support her, in case people think Kel only succeeds because of additional support. And some of Kel’s teachers consistently choose not to see how talented she really is. She has some supporters along the way, but it isn’t until she is left in charge of what is thought of as a “safe space” away from the fighting, that people truly accept her importance. Because when that “safe space” becomes a key target, Kel keeps everyone safe.

What I love most about Tamora Pierce’s female characters is that they are all living in what it very much a “man’s world”. Over time they begin to change perceptions, but there is always resistance from some people, and even when the law is changed to create more equality (e.g. in allowing girls to train as knights), equality is still a long way off. This is true in our world today, but exploring it through a different lens somehow makes it seem clearer in many ways. It’s so easy to become accustomed to “the way things are” in our everyday lives, so seeing these themes in fiction always reminds me to look again.

the importance of strong female characters in children’s and young adult literature

As I mentioned before, I first came across the idea of strong female characters as a teenager. My childhood reading had consisted mostly of Enid Blyton books, and as lovely as they are they don’t have the most modern concept of what it means to be a woman, do they? So it really helped me to find these amazing characters during my teen years, when I was first discovering who I was as a girl, and who I wanted to be as a woman.

But as important as it is for girls to have these strong female characters they can relate to in the books they read, it is just as important for boys to see them too. As I mentioned at the start of this post, feminism isn’t just for women, it’s for men as well. We all have a part to play in creating a better world, in which men and women are equally valued. In fact, this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Balance for Better, focusing on this very idea that we all need to work together on this.

Which is why I love the fact that there are some brilliantly written female characters in a wide range of books these days. I asked some friends and family if they could share with me their favourite female characters, and here’s who they came up with.

Hermione Granger (from Harry Potter by JK Rowling)

I’m pretty sure that most people know who Hermione Granger is, thanks to the popularity of both the Harry Potter books and the movie adaptions. She is a beautifully written female character. My friend Jen says, “Hermione Granger reminds me of Jane [Eyre]. Intelligent – almost to a fault, because books have become her comfort. You can always depend on books! A big heart she tries to pretend she doesn’t have because the structure of logic is ‘safe’. The courage to stand up for and fight for what she believes in.”

The thing I am always struck by when thinking about Hermione is that, whilst she is a supporting character rather than the main protagonist, she is as crucial to the success of defeating Voldemort as Harry himself. If it weren’t for Hermione’s intelligence and ability to stay calm in a crisis, Harry and Ron would probably have been killed long before the series ended, possibly many times over! It’s no wonder she has become a feminist literary icon over the past couple of decades.

Tiffany Aching (from Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett)

I asked my husband, Tim, if he could share any strong female characters he’s come across, and this was the first one that came to mind. Tiffany Aching is a young witch, who is befriended by the Nac Mac Feegle, who are a right rowdy bunch of tiny, blue men, who help her to go into Fairyland to save her little brother. She fights off the Queen of the Elves with a frying pan, of all things, and gains the approval of Granny Weatherwax, which is quite the accomplishment!

It’s interesting that the Tiffany Aching books were also the ones he recommended I read when first exploring Terry Pratchett’s Discworld – he obviously knows how much I love a good female character.

Princess/Doctor Pearl (from Zog by Julia Donaldson)

When I asked in a blogging group for recommendations of strong female characters, Jules from Pondering Parenthood reminded me of how much I love Princess Pearl from the Zog books. Here is a feisty female, who refuses to accept her role as a princess, and instead befriends a dragon and chooses to be a doctor instead.

“Don’t rescue me. I won’t go back to being a princess and prancing around the palace in a silly, frilly dress. I want to be a doctor and travel here and there, listening to people’s chests and giving them my care”. – Princess Pearl

I was delighted to discover the sequel, “Zog and the Flying Doctors,” and how even when forced back into her role as a princess, she still refuses to submit to what others think she should do. What a fantastic role model to find in a book aimed at the youngest of children. It’s never too young to start showing children that they don’t have to conform to outdated gender roles.

Jane Eyre (by CHarlotee Brontë)

My friend Amanda told me that her favourite female character is Jane Eyre. I have to admit that I’ve never read this book, because I tend not to enjoy more classical literature. So I looked it up on Goodreads, and discovered that Jane is a character who has an indomitable spirit, in a time when women were generally expected to simply accept their role in life.

Amanda says that Jane is her favourite character because, “she’s forgiving, and kind hearted but strong enough that she doesn’t give up on her beliefs or morals for a man, even the one she loves.” Now if that isn’t a role model for what it means to be a strong woman, then I don’t know what is!

jo march (from Little Women by Louisa M Alcott)

My sister-in-law, Amy, shared that her favourite female character is Jo from Little Women. This is another one of those books I’ve never read (see, I’m getting as much value from researching this blog post as anyone). But at least I know a little bit about Jo, because she’s one of those characters that people seem to really remember from their childhood!

Amy tells me that Jo is, “defiant and bold. She challenged expectations and was fiercely loyal.” These are all traits which inspire us to be uniquely ourselves, especially in a world which often demands that we stay within pre-defined expectations. And they also remind us that it is more than possible to be fierce and bold, without losing our love, compassion, and loyalty to others.

katniss Everdeen (from the hunger games by suzanne collins)

Another one from my friend Jen, who describes Katniss as, “similar to Jo March – fiercely loyal to her family, willing to do the things she is afraid of doing to protect them, and clever enough to take on any challenge.” I’ve got to admit, I haven’t read the Hunger Games either (I know, I have a lot of reading to catch up on, hey?) But having read the synopsis, I can see why she is considered a strong female character.

She volunteers to replace her sister in a televised fight to the death, only to then team up with another contender to defy attempts to make them kill each other. Who doesn’t love a character who finds a way to turn a potential enemy into an ally, and in doing so takes on the establishment which is the real enemy?

what about female characters who stick with us, even if not necessarily “strong”?

One of the more interesting conversations that came out of my request for favourite female characters, was that our favourite characters might not always appear to be “strong” in the conventional sense of the word. And yet, there is something about them which sticks with us. My friend Cheryl reminded me of this, when she chose Fuschia Groan from The Gormenghast Trilogy as her favourite female character.

I’ve not read the books (or see the TV adaption), so had no idea about the character, or her background. I did a little research, and it sounds as if she was terribly neglected as a child and, as a result, struggled with the relationships in her life. In many ways, this makes her more compelling, because often fictional characters overcome odds which many of us would struggle to deal with. Perhaps characters like Fuschia Groan remind us to question what “strength” looks like, to see it even within those who may appear at first glance to be quite weak?

As Cheryl writes, “I’m not really sure whether I’d describe her as strong or not, it’s just not the first thing that comes to mind when I think about her. Peake describes her as strong in a physical sense several times, but I think emotionally she’s quite vulnerable. She’s a very lonely person with depressive tendencies, who has been chronically neglected. I like that she doesn’t really fit in to any conventional female archetype. She’s very eccentric, passionate, loving, sometimes bratty though she grows up quite a bit. She lives in her own head a lot of the time. She’s not smart, but has more common sense and emotional intuition than the damn TV show gave her credit for.”

creating my own strong female character(s)

All of this has me thinking about how the characters I have loved have inspired the characters that I create myself. When I first started writing The Brethren (way back in 2010, before pregnancy and then the early years of parenting put it all on hold), I knew that I wanted to create a story with a strong female character as the protagonist. I particularly wanted it to be a strong teenage character, because that was what I found most influential in my own teen years.

When I read through that first draft, I can see that I had begun to develop a good lead character, but she still needed some work. She was a little too patient and, whilst she had moments of annoyance, she was far too forgiving of those around her. She was a bit of a pushover, to be honest. So as I work through each chapter, making edits, I am rewriting her with a bit more strength of character. And in some ways I think this reflects how I have personally grown over the past few years.

Back in 2010, I was still living a reasonably privileged life. I hadn’t experienced the financial insecurity and poverty that austerity would throw upon us. I hadn’t known what it was like to become so debilitated by health issues that I had to learn to find strength in my weakness. And I hadn’t experienced what it was like to lose friends over standing up for a cause that many would like to ignore. I was at best naive and at worst ignorant of the challenges faced by many in society, and seeing some of these first hand has made me all the more determined to explore them in real depth.

the importance of strong supporting characters

Which also means that some of the supporting characters in my novel are getting rewrites too. The female friend who has health issues, is being rewritten to show strength in weakness. The male friend who refuses to follow in his family’s military footsteps is getting a more fully-formed backstory. The military friend is becoming an unexpected ally. And the bad guy is being rewritten into the story in a charming and unexpected way. Because, at the end of the day, life is made up of so many different interesting characters, and nobody is simply a supporting character without a distinct story of their own.

I’m reminded of the supporting characters in the stories I love so much, and how it is they who help the strong female characters to grow into who they are meant to be. Often it is the friendships formed between characters which are the most compelling parts of the story. Just as it is the support that we give each other in life, which makes the world a better and more balanced place to live.

crossed legs on the floor, wearing red sneakers, with an open book on top

How Do You Know Your Worth?

How Do You Know Your Worth?

How do you know your worth? What is it, about yourself, that you feel makes you worthy? Is it the things you say or do? Maybe it’s your achievements and successes? What about your career? Or your relationships to others? What do you hold on to tightly, whenever you feel doubt begin to creep in?

For me, it is my goals and achievements. It is the things that I have done which I feel give me worth. Which is a problem for me right now, because at the moment I am too sick to do anything. I am barely getting by with the day-to-day tasks, doing the odd bit of work here and there and just about surviving, but certainly not achieving any real goals. And that is terrifying, because without those who am I?

a change in perception

You may remember that I shared 18 things I wanted to achieve this year recently. When I shared them with a close friend, I was reminded that these are ambitious goals for someone much healthier than I am right now. And it made me realise that I am struggling so hard with redefining my worth now that I am so sick…

And it’s not just the achievements that bother me, it’s the interactions with others and my perceived role in relationships that bothers me too. How can I be a good mother, daughter, sister, and friend if I’m too sick to do anything beyond the odd message here and there and a call out for help when I need it. What am I bringing to those relationships right now? Where is my worth?

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever felt completely worthless, like you simply cannot do or be enough, just as you are? Have you ever carried feelings of guilt and fear over where you are and who you are becoming? Do you recognise what I’m trying to say?

If so, I hope that you’ll find the video below helpful. It is a poem I wrote on one of my darkest days recently, which also turned out to be one of the biggest turning points of my life so far. It starts with a feeling of helplessness, and ends with a message of love, which is exactly the journey I went on whilst writing it.

Image Credits: Matthew Henry, Louis Blythe, Alex Boyd, Kaylah Otto, Mitchell Hollander, John Silliman, Greg Rakozy, Lee Scott, Sasha Freemind, Julia Caesar, Leon Biss.

Music Credit: Grass by Silent Partner

How did the poem make you feel? Can you relate to it? Did your mind fight the message at the end, not wanting you to believe how worthy you truly are just as you are? I’ve certainly been there and experienced that, which is why I love the powerful healing that I experience when I create something like this.

the healing power of creativity

For me, letting the creative juices flow enables me to get out of my own head and let the wisdom of the Universe speak through me. It inspires me, gives me hope, and reminds me that there is so much worth in the most simple of actions. By taking a moment to be quiet, allowing myself to be inspired, and then letting the poem work its way out into the world, I facilitated a shift in my whole perception.

Of course, as soon as I had done it I began to doubt myself again. I worried that the poem would make no sense to anyone else. Not that it would matter that much if it only made sense to me… except my experience whilst writing has always been that this is where my true worth lies, this is what I can bring to the world. So I wanted it to mean something to others.

So I swallowed my fears and shared it with a few close friends. And the response was more than I could ever have hoped for. Seeing others respond to my words not only increased my confidence in my writing, but also reminded me that we all hold these fears within us. I’m not alone in feeling this way, and so sharing my heart with you all is just as valuable as anything else.

I wanted to share it with you straight away, of course. But life had different plans, and I’ve been too sick to do it until now. But that’s okay because I’m learning patience as well as everything else. My worth is not in producing content constantly, rather it is in allowing an idea to flow and grow until it is ready to be shared, no matter how long that takes. There truly is worth in every step… even when that step might be resting in bed!

There's Worth in Every Step

 

Create – My Word of The Year for 2018

Every year, around this time, I think about what I want to focus on over the next 12 months and choose a “Word of The Year” that encompasses what it is I am hoping for. This practise has served me so well over the past few years: in 2015 my word was “Surrender”, which came in handy when I lost my job and relocated; in 2016 it was “Healing”, which was hard to remember when I spent most the year battling with increasing health issues – but it was still an important reminder than even the smallest step can have a healing effect; and in 2017 my word was “Courage“.

Word of the year 2017 – how did I do?

Well, first it’s important to explain how these past 12 months have been some of the hardest, most challenging, and often soul destroying ones I have ever faced. I couldn’t have picked a better word of the year, as courage was something I needed in absolute abundance. And, do you know what? I found it, I truly did.

Despite an awful year, which saw both myself and my husband unable to continue in regular employment (due to health issues), and in which my Nan died, my Grandma ended up in ICU, and 4 other members of my extended family were diagnosed with cancer, we’ve somehow survived. The stress for us in our own personal circumstances (health and financial insecurity) has been met with anxiety and concern for those around us who have been fighting their own unimaginable battles. I feel like the most highly strung person ever right now.

And yet, despite all of this, I’ve managed to go completely freelance (and work with 6 different clients this year), which I could never have imagined this time last year. So successful has this been, I have decided to focus on bringing that same entrepreneurial spirit to my blog by setting specific goals for the coming year (more on this later).

I also stepped out of my comfort zone and created a whole video series for Advent, which was incredibly daunting for someone with as little money and energy as I have. But more than anything, I feel like I have finally found the courage to be myself, to share my work with the world, and to know my worth. I’m choosing things which set my heart alight with passion, rather than trying to “fit in” with what I think the world expects of me. And in doing so, I have rediscovered the power of creating for the sheer joy of it.

Which leads me beautifully to my chosen word of the year for 2018 – Create!

Create – my word of the year for 2018 – what does that mean?

When I first chose this word for 2018, I initially thought it would simply relate to my writing. Back in October, when I first decided to close down Spirit Kid Network (another courageous decision!) and bring everything here to The Family Patch, I wasn’t quite sure how to package everything under one roof (so to speak). It wasn’t until Tim suggested the tagline, “Feeding the Creative Spirit” that it truly clicked for me. That’s what I am – I am a creator.

I use the word creator (as opposed to creative) for a specific reason. When I think of a creative, it brings to my mind writers, artists, crafters, people who create works of art in their own field. And that is something I do – I can create whole worlds with my words, and I love it. But I also create a world around me by the choices I make and the things that I do – in essence, I create the life that I live and experience. We all do.

This year has taught me that more than anything else – when we’re hit with challenges in life, we all experience them in different ways based on who we are and what we do in response to such challenges. We even create different experiences for ourselves based on the unique circumstances we face – for instance, my health is really poor right now because I can’t do the things that I used to do to protect myself from burn out (e.g. getting plenty of sleep, taking time off at the weekends etc). Those simply aren’t options for me at the moment, and until I learn to create new ways of protecting my health, it will suffer. But I have hope that by creating new experiences, I can begin to heal. I’ll never be “cured” of my health issues, but I know I can live well with them, because I’ve done it before. And that’s why I want to focus on creating this year.

18 Ways to CREATE more Health, Happiness, and Better Income in 2018

18 ways i want to create a new experience for myself in 2018

Because it can be very easy to fall into the trap of keeping things very vague with a word of the year, I decided to write out a list of 18 ways I can create a new experience for myself in 2018. I’ve split them into 2 categories – blog/business (work) and lifestyle (home), because we all need a bit of work/life balance!

blog/business

1. Write 50 Blog Posts

I know that this sounds like a lot – but actually it’s just short of one post per week, which is nothing compared to what many bloggers create. I know I can do this, as The Family Patch is will have been going for 8 years in April and I’ve got 369 posts on here (that’s an average of just over 46 posts per year). So why set it as a goal, then? Well, in the past year 26 of the 45 posts published were added as part of my Advent series – so that means I wrote fewer than 20 posts during the first 11 months of the year! So regular content is a big goal for me this year!

2. Focus on Seasonal Content

Not only do I want to write more posts, I want to make sure that they are more seasonally appropriate. I have loved creating an Advent series, and I want to make sure that throughout 2018 I look ahead to holidays and awareness days and take part in them by both creating my own content and helping to share the content of others.

3. Produce 12 Videos for YouTube

Again, I loved creating videos for my Advent series (as exhausting as it was to do a series of 26 videos!) and so I would love to create some more video content through the year. 12 videos works out as one per month, and will work beautifully with my desire to create more seasonal content.

4. Publish 10 Chapters for The Brethren

I already have original drafts of more than 10 chapters of my Young Adult novel, but to be honest they all need a lot of reworking. I really want to make some headway with this during 2018 and would love to write far more than 10 chapters. But I’m also very aware that goals need to be both specific and achievable, and 10 chapters feels like it is both of those things.

5. Launch 1 Saleable Item

As my hope for this year is to begin turning my blog into a business, I need to start thinking of how I can make that work. One way would be producing an eBook that I could sell via the blog. At present I have a couple of ideas, and shall explore both of them over the coming weeks to work out which is more achievable, and will work on that. Not only will I be creating content with this goal, I’ll also be starting to create more income. So this is a 2-for-1 type goal!

6. Work with 5 Brands

So this is the big one for me – I would love to be able to create some income by working with brands here at The Family Patch. I’ve done the odd review in return for products in the past, but have never made any money through my blog itself (that has always been achieved via freelance copywriting or VA work elsewhere). The idea has always terrified me somewhat, but having worked with clients this past year I suddenly realised I was underselling myself and what I can offer here at The Family Patch too. So I’m going to try and build up working relationships with PRs and Brands this year, in the hope of working on 5 campaigns through the year.

7. Improve My SEO

I am aware that the best way to increase my chances of working with PRs and Brands is to have a decent sized, well-engaged audience. I have the engaged part pretty well sorted out – my audience may be small, but it is a wonderful one. However it is very small compared to a lot of other bloggers, and some of that could be rectified by sorting out the SEO on my site, to help others who are interested in what I share here at The Family Patch find us via search engines.

The Family Patch has been going since 2010 – that’s a lot of posts with very little SEO (which I knew nothing about until recent years). Even my latest posts need a bit of a tune up. So that is a big goal for me this year.

8. Develop a Pinterest Strategy

Another way to increase interested traffic is to use Pinterest, which works like a search engine. I have known this for many years, and yet my Pinterest account still looks like a personal pin board. So another very practical aim for this year is to create and implement a proper strategy for Pinterest.

9. Leave More Blog Comments

Finally, as I am wanting to get back to the heart of blogging by producing more content, I want to make sure I am reading lots of content too. I have found that in recent years I have lost so much time to social media and, in turn, missed out on some amazing posts by some brilliant bloggers. One of the things I want to focus on this year is the blog content, rather than the social media updates. So I shall be adding lots of blogs to my Feedly and reading and commenting on as many posts as I can throughout the year.

Lifestyle

10. Read 10 Books

There are some people who do an amazing 52 Books in a Year Challenge, which I am in awe of. Honestly, even at the height of my reading days (when I was a teenager) I don’t think I read quite that many books in a year! But just because I can’t read 52 books, doesn’t mean I don’t want to challenge myself to read more than I have this year… and this year has been shocking! So I’ve set myself the goal of reading at least 10 books this year. I received almost that many from my parents for Christmas, so I have a good stash to work through….

11. Work Through The New Testament Together

Another thing I want to make time for, is reading the Bible regularly. I go through phases of reading some each day followed by phases of not reading it at all. I have a Daily Bible* which I tried to use to get through the Old Testament this year, but honestly I got lost in the middle of it and kinda gave up! This year, Tim and I would really like to work our way through the New Testament together, not just so that we can finally read the bits we’ve always seemed to skip over, but also so that we can discuss how we feel about it and how it relates to our lives now in a way that makes faith feel more a part of our everyday lives again.

12. Practise Yoga 3 Times Per Week

Both Tim and I would love to be more active, but our health makes things so difficult at times. However doing some yoga 3 times per week feels manageable. There are some amazing yoga videos on YouTube, some aimed specifically at people like ourselves with limited energy and flexibility. So we’re going to work through some gentle, regular practise in the hope that it really begins to make a difference.

13. Make Time For The Cosmic Kids Yoga Course

Following on nicely from this is the Cosmic Kids Yoga course I signed up for earlier this year. I am so excited about this, as Little Man loves the Cosmic Kids adventures and I want to be able to understand more about why they work and how I can integrate that into our yoga practice at home. Little Man often asks if he can join in with my yoga practice, but he finds the videos I watch too boring. I, on the other hand, find the Cosmic Kids ones too energetic to join in with some days. So I’m hoping to learn enough to merge the two together somehow, so Little Man can join in our weekly practice too.

14. Go Swimming Once Per Month

Swimming is another activity that Tim and I both know would be good for us. And yet, we haven’t managed to make it swimming yet, despite saying we’d do so for at least 3 months now! So starting in January we want to make sure we go at least once per month.

15. Use Duolingo Daily

Over the past few weeks I have really fallen in love with the DuoLingo app for language practise. I am a linguist at heart (my degree is in German and Russian) and I am amazed at just how many amazing apps there are these days to help you learn and master languages in a far more immersive way than flashcards and grammar books! Already I feel my confident growing and I feel like daily practise throughout 2018 will help me explore worlds I have long forgotten, worlds which inspire and encourage me. Words are my friends, remember, so languages are as much a part of my creative spirit as anything else!

16. Spend More Time With Family and Friends

This is something we have really struggled with over the past year or so, as health issues have taken a real toll. I cannot count the number of times we have had to cancel plans (or even avoid making them in the first place) due to being too poorly to do things. This year I want to try and change that, by inviting family round for dinner, visiting friends who we don’t get to see on a regular basis, or even simply writing to or calling those we cannot see in person.

17. Have a Major Declutter

This one is all about creating space and order within our home. I am so fed up of clutter that I simply don’t know what to do with. A dear friend recently helped me sort out my kitchen cupboards, and it was so cathartic. I also spent a few days before Christmas tidying our bedrooms, and it made me realise that the only way to truly create space and order in our lives is to have a major declutter. I am reminded of how my Lent practise of giving away an item of clothing each day helped to really focus my mind on what I actually needed and what was surplus to my needs. As challenging as it was to give away 40 items of clothing (which made up almost half my wardrobe) it was actually truly uplifting to simplify my wardrobe. So I want to do the same thing throughout our house.

We’re actually hoping to move into a smaller place this year as well, so this has a very practical goal too – we cannot possibly take all of the clutter we have with us to another home. So instead of rushing to have a clear out when we move, I want to slowly do it over a few weeks or months.

18. Attend Young Spirits

My friend set up this wonderful pre-church group, which allows children and those new to the faith to explore that week’s readings in a fun and informative way before the service begins. We have yet to make a single session, as health issues have kept us at home, but I really want to try and make it to some of the sessions during 2018. It will be a wonderful way of exploring our faith from a slightly different perspective, creating new experiences for us to share together.

Phew – that’s quite a list, isn’t it? And yet, I feel like it is all perfect for me as I head into 2018. you may have read through that list and wonder how it all relates to my word of the year… but every single one of them is helping me to create a better life for myself. Some, like those in the blog/business section are more self-explanatory than others. But even swimming and yoga help me to create better health, and spending time with family and friends helps me to create more community and happiness. After several years of feeling like my life was spiralling out of control, I am so excited to have so many ways in which I can create little bits of change that will hopefully have a big impact on my life.

I’d love to know whether you choose a word for the year or set goals for yourself. If you do, please feel free to share them in the comments 🙂


*Please Note: the link to the NRSV Daily Bible is an affiliate link. If you use that link and then purchase an item from Amazon, I will receive a small referral fee. This helps me to keep running The Family Patch. For more information on how I use affiliate links, please read my disclosure policy.


I have joined in with both the #ShareYourYear and My Blogging Goals linkies with this post, to find out how other bloggers are reflecting on 2017 and preparing for 2018. Do go and check them out if you’re looking for a bit of inspiration!

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