Thinking of You and the Art of Communication

Were you forced, as a child, to write thank you letters to relatives? Did you have to tell them which book you had bought with the National Book Token they had kindly sent you for Christmas? Yes? It sucked right? Don’t get me wrong, I loved my book tokens, I’d buy my brother’s from him because he hated reading and I loved the luxury of owning a book rather than borrowing it from the library.

But I hated writing those letters, they felt arbitrary and, weirdly impersonal. I guess it’s because we were forced to spend an evening writing two lines with great care to Aunt Flo lying about the book you had bought (had in fact not got around to buying) to somehow reassure her that she hadn’t spent her money on a voucher for an ungrateful little shit.

Let us skip forward a couple of decades and my own children are grandchildren, children of family friends, nieces and nephews and they’re receiving thoughtful gifts and the standard (and often preferred) Amazon or I-Tunes vouchers. And for a few years, I sat them down and sternly instructed them on how to write a thank you letter. And as a Godparent, aunt and family friend, I would receive thank you letters from various children whose parents had done exactly the same. And then when my children finally rebelled and I fully remembered the irritation of that time set aside to write thank yous, I stopped my maternal demands under the parenting rule #2, subsection #6 which states: Pick your fights.

…. and yet…. I have just spent months designing and producing a truly lovely pack imaginatively entitled ‘How to Write a Letter’.  It doesn’t, for a second, advocate the duty eschewing of “thank you letter” writing. But I ain’t no hypocrite – it doesn’t promote it either. What it does do, however, is encourage the great, time honoured tradition of actually putting pen to paper, how to layout a letter like a pro and includes suggestions of what letters can be written.

As with everything I write for 2littleboys, I keep the tone of writing to…. well…. this. I refuse to talk down to children. If you can imagine a middle-aged woman doing a silly face and basically saying stuff to give the impression that she’s the idiot in the conversation, then you get the general idea. Children tend to like that.

Letter writing is a dying art form and I really think we’re going to regret letting it go. That email you received from your tech savvy gran just aint gonna cut it when they’re gone. Those pen-pals we used to have when we were younger? Get your kids to take that up. Have them write to someone experiencing a different culture, a different climate, different circumstances and get a rapport going and then wait for their responses to come with weird stamps on the envelope.  It’s a joy. What’s the hurry? They don’t need to email each other because they’re getting a flavour of each other’s lives, not a blow by blow account that needs immediate response.

My father used to write (well, type, because the dude had the writing of a GP without actually being a GP) to my children when they were very young – it was utter nonsense, utter nonsense! But it had his voice (loud) and his sense of humour (bizarre) indelibly printed into every word. And that’s the point – indelible. We all look back at those letters every now and again and my children howl with laughter and I am grateful that they’re old enough to be holding those letters in their hands because I don’t want to ruin the pages with my tears.

I have letters from my great aunt – pedestrian stuff that she wrote from her homeland of Wales. But I’d wait and wait for the sample of her handwriting on an envelope to come through that letterbox with news of my beloved great uncle and various other family members that she liked to gossip about.

And then there’s my husband. We met at 15 (everyone say ahhhh!) and we wrote to each other twice a week until we were old enough to financially and legally move in together. And then the letters and the replies went into the same box. That’ll be an embarrassing couple of hours for our children when they come to clear out the loft.

And I still have a letter written to me 22 years when I was going through a really tough time. My friend wrote to me telling me that I’d get through it, that I was young and indestructible, that I was admired and loved and that she’d treat me to a cup of tea and a biscuit whenever I was ready. And I see that letter in my mind’s eye and I’m still glad that she took the time to write. Texts and emails and comments on Facebook all gratefully received, but ultimately erasable.

In fact, now I’m thinking about it, why on Earth did I not write a letter-writing pack for grown-ups?

Next week, it’s “Thinking of You” week. So think of someone you want to reach out to and write them a letter. In fact, buy the ‘write a letter’ pack from here and beg your child for a piece of the cute letterhead.

If your child is one of those ‘go away, get your own’ variety, then may I suggest you pop over to Julie Bell  – she produces the most stunning correspondence cards and letterheads. Then invest in an ink pen from Plooms and you’ll be good to go.

It’s at this point, I need to acknowledge that my niece, at the age of 21 and her parents continue to write thank you notes. And long may they continue with their missives that are just the right side of grateful, witty, personal and informative.

Now grab your child and spend 20 precious, quiet and companionable minutes writing a letter to someone.

Do it.

Seriously.

Just do it.

P.S. A mate of mine is spending a year reaching out with cards through the mail and I’ve been lucky enough to receive a card from him this year. Do check out his vlog about it all.

 

 

 

 

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Free Ticket Giveaway!

We’re going to be busy again this November. Making hay whilst the sun shines and all that.

Although, thinking about it, it’s going to be November so the sun aint gonna be shining.  So maybe a better saying would be: “let’s spend a load of money and book up those Christmas show stands because everyone’s looking for Christmas gifts and we sell excellent Christmas gifts so we need to put our gifts in front of those people so that they spend their hard earned money on the fruits of our hard earned year round labours.”

But that isn’t quite as snappy.  So we’ve booked up our November to ‘make hay whilst the sun shines’ and hopefully make enough money to keep producing the gifts that we’re proud to create.

It really is that simple.

Now, because we spend so much money on these stands, the organisers give us some complimentary tickets and we would like to offer them to you!  We’re not going to run a competition because we find that it ends up on some ‘money saving’ site that has a url to directly click through and even an answer that you may need; and then we have 1000s of requests from professional competition enterers. (One time, a bright spark had put the wrong answer up so we had to discount around 90% of the entrants).  It’s not that we’re judging competition enterers (see what I did there).  I can remember buying “Take a Break” in the late 1980’s and armed with just a few postcards and a book of stamps, I would very happily use my free stuff – particular favourites included the sun-cream and the bright blue mesh shower pouf to exfoliate my legs in the shower (do you remember those? awful things).  It’s just that we’re not Ambre Solaire and we don’t need tens of thousands of email addresses for people who simply aren’t going to see us on a supermarket shelf.

So, please only respond to us if you genuinely want a pair of tickets to one of the shows.  You are under no obligation to buy anything, to visit our stand or even to like us or follow us on our feeds (although that would be very nice).  We would just like to know that we’ll be sending out codes to claim tickets to people who will make use of them.

So, if you’d like the chance to win a set of 2 tickets to either the Spirit of Christmas at Olympia or to Country Living Christmas in Islington, then please EMAIL ME and tell me which show you would like to attend.  That’s it.  I won’t save your email address or bother you or do anything.

I’ll simply pick 15 people at random on September 30, which should give you lots of time to plan your trip.

We also have ONE precious set of tickets to the Wealden Midwinter Fair to give away so if you’d prefer to not come into London, do put Wealden as your preferred choice.

That’s all.

Further show information can be found by clicking on the images below:

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1 Set of 2 Tickets up for Grabs!

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10 Sets of 2 Tickets up for Grabs!

 

London MPU

5 Sets of 2 Tickets up for Grabs (Saturday not included)

 

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Skiing and the first set of IOU Vouchers for Very Lovely Children

Off we were skiing for Christmas.  Ok, off we were to the French Alps because I had promised myself that I would have a snowball fight with my children on Christmas day at least once in my life.  The skiing part was a ruse to convince my husband it was an excellent idea.

It was my first time.  I thought I’d give it a try.  I gave it a try.  I didn’t like it.  I don’t see the point in putting slippery things on your feet, only to stand on a slippery surface.  Don’t want to sound all sensible and boring, but seriously? Give me a couple of tennis rackets to strap to my boots.  Talking of boots, what sadist came up with modern day ski-boots, or as I affectionately called them, the painful coffins of claustrophobic hell attached to my feet.  No no no and a thousand times no.

Being new to the whole going to somewhere colder than here was a brave new world and I couldn’t believe how much stuff was required for a standard family of 5.  Ski jackets alone seemed to take up an entire bag.  Being the utter psychotic control freak that I fondly refer to myself as, I was preparing the packing in November (and I mean more firework night than dark at 3pm November).

The bedroom floor started to resemble an exclusive jumble sale run by a woman with OCD and being someone who is pretty damned good at spacial judgement, I looked at the suitcases and I looked at the bedroom floor and I realised that we could have a problem.

Much pondering and possibly some sucking in of breath in an ‘it’ll cost ya’ kinda way ensued.  The actual clothes were put away first.  I had been told by the seasoned ski season friends that the beauty of chalet living was to dispense with normal clothes and to lounge in thermals.  I, naturally, matched my pale grey thermals with my oversized pair of cream cashmere cable knit socks.  You know, so I looked all hygge.  But this was in 2007.  Suck it guys.  I’ve always been way ahead of my time ;).

Next to go were the imaginary gifts I had planned on buying for the children. Father Christmas might be able to pop over to fill some stockings, but he aint gonna be dropping off anything that mum is going to seriously consider leaving behind because she’s tired and can’t be arsed to try and fit it back in to a bag that is now full of smelly thermals. No way.

And so, as is my way. I came up with something that took me bloody ages to work out, sort, create and then execute.  I created a pack of  ‘IOU Vouchers for my Very Lovely Children’.  I pulled a favour from my lovely printer and had him print up three copies. And I packed them.  All together, they took up less room than my cashmere cable knit socks (man, I miss those socks – moths).

My vouchers for my children

So a pack of cards, each one promising a treat.  If memory serves, it was just over one treat a month and they included: a midnight feast; an ice cream after school; a packet of crisps (don’t judge me…); a trip to a photo booth; a trip to the craft store where they could go nuts and buy stuff (veto on glitter).  And yeah, I was stupid to date them.  I mean, really stupid.

I remember the tour of London on top of a bus had to be cancelled because one of them had thrown up the night before.  I remember it rained on the ice-cream after school day (like 7 and 8 year old kids give a shit what the weather is like – it’s ice-cream!) and the day of dressing up really smart so we can go to the local posh restaurant was a really bad hair day for me – still it ended up being a lovely evening.  As for the price of the theatre tickets… Seriously.  I could have bought a second hand car for the price of 5 tickets to The Lion King that I bought 6 months in advance and weren’t ‘best’ seats.  Ten years on and I’m still incredulous.  Just thinking about how many notebooks I have to sell to get close to buying a single ticket is eye watering….

And so the idea for the IOUs – Versatile Vouchers for Very Lovely Children was born and I was sensible enough to brief an up and coming graphic designer called Ian to do his magic on the design and, they have, I am told, done an excellent job as reward cards over the years.  Whichever way you choose to use them, they were, as is usual with the stuff at 2littleboys, created as a result of needing them for myself… not that I’m selfish or anything.

I SO won the snowball fight on Christmas Day 2007.

Do pop over to the MotherShip site if you’d like to buy a set of your very own IOU Vouchers.

Reward cards for Children

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Capturing the randomness of a child’s mind

I like to think that my thought processes can be pretty random.  I remember very clearly at the age of 13 my english teacher asking the class to write a ‘stream of consciousness’ right there and then. I can only assume that we were studying Catcher in the Rye at the time.  That particular english teacher was one of those 1980’s cool teachers who wore dangly earrings, had mad mad mad almost mad hatter hair that she was constantly trying to control with her whole hand and a weird, contortion of long leg folding to sit on top of the desk rather than a chair.  You see, streams of consciousness; I like the randomness of them and if you’ve read this or any other paragraph of my writing, you can see I’ve run with it…

But however random I get, it is nothing to the near lunacy of little ones. The nano-second it can take them from ‘I want  a balloon’ to ‘ooh, that’s a corner of a table I’m not actually thinking about whilst searching for a twinkly thing I saw 2 seconds ago, but why does that woman have a… no she’s gone’.  You get what I mean.  And during these weird 10 second trains of thought, we, as parents can only look at them as their faces change; from excited, scared, perplexed and then through all of the expressions possible that will usually lead to a gormless stillness that will leave you, as the parent, wondering if they’ll ever be able to read, or write, or even remember their own name.

Creating the ‘This is my…’ range of books was really an answer to my need to capture that randomness.  To keep hold of memories that come directly from them, those gormless, chubby faces with personalities forming and vehement opinions that can change and be just as forcefully argued in the opposite only minutes later.

And so the “This is my” books were created. Originally accompanied by a 35mm camera, the resultant photos were priceless.  They were simple cameras, a little square window for a child to look through and a button to press to take the photo, followed by a pass to mum to wind on.  My children would often not bother with the looking into the little square and the resultant images were perfect.  A photo of his twin brother’s cheek and a bit of an eye; an image of a foot in a padder, now long gone; an unidentifiable mass of matter on a plastic plate.  And that doesn’t even touch on the number of photos of my bum – what an eye opener that was! (I mean, because that’s all they got to see most of the day!).

The book would guide them through which photos to take – and would have questions for them to answer.  And this is where the randomness would come to the fore.  In their first books, I would have to do the writing, so I would ask them the questions.  And they would answer with that honesty, integrity, seriousness and thoughtfulness that only a three year old can muster when asked ‘what did you like the most about your bed on holiday’.

And there I would sit, keeping a straight face to match theirs as they answered questions in their books.  “What did you like about the bed” – answers would include “It was colourful” (and the photograph to accompany that answer shows the most migraine inducing swirl of psychedelia that I’m surprised I didn’t remember it). The proximity of the bed to a television would also be another excellent reason.

Their ‘favourite bit about the journey’ were invariably the ‘snack’ and the photograph of something that they really “like to eat on holiday” was often the breakfast pastry.  And I love that.

Other questions in other books would induce brutally honest answers – no sensibilities when it came to naming favourite gifts at Christmas or on their birthdays.  It was often the piece of plastic tat bought for them by a childless friend (the piece of plastic tat that I had already earmarked to be sent to the charity shop as soon as their backs were turned).

I love every photo and every answer and I have them all because I got to record it all in the books that I had created for just that purpose.  Their photos were brilliant, their answers completely and utterly random and slightly insane, their funny spelling of words and their awkward less than perfect handwriting when they took over the filling out for themselves.  Because keeping childhood memories alive and doing so effortlessly and with laughter is what they always meant to be.  And I’m rather proud of how well they worked out.

I still look back on them, and those books are here with me, just waiting to be handed around on wedding days….

which will teach them for not consistently name checking my gift as their favourite each year.

 

All of the ‘This is my….’ memory books (including Day as a Bridesmaid, Day as Pageboy and other wedding titles as well as ‘This is my Baby Brother and This is my Baby Sister’ versions for siblings) will soon be available here on memorybooks.co.uk, but until then, they are readily available on our MotherShip site: 2littleboys.co.uk.

This is my Holiday Memory Book for kids

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Children, Patterns and Looking Up

My first ever ‘proper’ camera was for my 18th birthday.  (At this point, I can hear my teenage offspring pipe in with ‘they had CAMERAS when you were 18.’  Still…. moving swiftly on). My 18th birthday present was an SLR camera, it was black, it was heavy and I thought it was an utterly pointless 18th birthday present.

Yes, I have been and still can be an ungrateful bitch.

So on my 18th birthday, I snapped away until the button could no longer be pressed and took the film to Underwoods the Chemist in Victoria. Using a bewitching form of alchemy, they turned the metal canister of film into actual photographs that they then presented to me in a green and yellow envelope, in the process, they charged an exorbitant amount of money (photographs/process… see what I did there?… no… ok).  And so, from henceforth, the camera came out only on special occasions and gathered dust for the rest of the year.

Snap forward, if you will, a few years and I started to go on holidays.  I took photographs of hills, mountains, the sea, rivers, friends and the odd flower or two.  Oh, and my boyfriend; the ubiquitous selfie with camera balancing precariously on a rock, a table stacked with books, magazines, glasses cases to get to the right height or the car roof with a judicious use of the timer.

I’d then have Boots process the film (Underwoods closed down; I just wanted to show off my age and memory for triviality here) and on visits back to my parents’, I’d show them the holiday snaps and my father would flick through very very quickly and declare that there were not nearly enough photos of people.  “Why do I want to see pictures of mountains and lakes, it looks like every other mountain and lake. Take pictures of people”.  He sort of, kind of, had a point.  But still, I stopped showing him the holiday snaps.

And then I had children. And I took photo after photo after photo.  They were the most photogenic babies you’ve ever seen.  Actually, if I’m honest, my newborn daughter had an interesting look going on first thing.  After an extraordinarily difficult labour, I thought she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.  Then when the photos came back, I realised that, my God she’d looked Fugly).  Still… her head popped back into ummm, a head shape and she, quite simply, gets more beautiful every day, every week, every month… you get the point.

And I’m managing, once again, to get away from my point.

So, the kids grew older, they stopped spending their days in a thankfully vain attempt to damage themselves beyond repair and they eventually worked out that mum was constantly taking photos of them and that they weren’t too sure that they liked it that much.  But the bug had bitten me. I loved taking photos. Husband bought me a better camera and a zoom lens and I was off.

I took photographs of doorknobs, I took photographs of patterns made by mesh, by doors, by window frames, buildings, paving stones, mosaics, pillars, columns, clouds, flowers.  When you’ve got three kids to keep entertained, it’s important to find order in chaos and I suspect that this was what I was doing.  And I think I was doing it pretty damned well.

And then we found little cameras for the children and we would go on ‘mummy adventures’, grabbing a cab into London and becoming tourists and they would snap away. Because you can never see all of London and you can never capture it all on camera. Columbia Market, Borough Market, Houses of Parliament, Smithfields, SouthBank, Soho, Covent Garden, St Catherine’s Dock, Seven Dials, Hyde Park, Regents Park, St James’ Park, Green Park, Barbican, Tower Bridge, Hungerford Bridge and all between.  I’d tire us all out and there wouldn’t be moment of complaint of sore feet and we’d stop for a frozen yoghurt or a hot chocolate (seasonal choices, but way more random than that if I’m honest).  A Pizza Express pizza, or for a special treat, some dim sum in Soho where you can eat the fluffiest cloud bun ever (also known as a char sui bu).  And after lunch we’d keep going.

I taught them to look for beauty in buildings, and patterns in the everyday.  I told them to look above the gaudy shop fronts, to see their London through the ages – the old shop signs left long after the shop had left the building. The intricate details of stone-carving. Warehouse buildings now cafes and boutique shops.  And how moving your own body to different angles, you can get to see things from different angles that then, in turn photograph interesting angles. And they listened and they would stop in a street and look around and take a photo of something that you hadn’t noticed before and suddenly you’ll see an intricate chimney pot, or a detail on a window sill that could only have been created by a highly skilled craftsman many many years ago.

memories of looking up

These 9 images in a box are just some of the many photographs we took on our adventure days into town.  (Although I think top right is from our weekend away to Manchester). And I know that at least 7 of them were taken by my children when they were about this age….

2littleboystaking photographs

So, if you’re looking for a day out, just grab any old cameras or phones, take the kids and get them to look up…. just so long as they’re not standing in the middle of a road. Because then we’re back to that whole “attempting to damage themselves beyond repair.” and you should be past that stage by the time they’re into this sort of thing.

Or, you can always leave them at home, and take a wander around your home town and get to know it just a little bit better.  You’ll be surprised at what you’ve missed.

 

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The Stationery Show and the C Word

I was reminded over the last couple of days that at least one person had read the blog I had written about embarrassing things I had done at the Stationery Show TWO years ago. (Thanks Simon).

I thought I’d follow up this year with another round up as I’d like to think two days at a stand in Islington is an excellent barometer of where the industry/world is right now.  In reality, I accept that it is actually a mediocre barometer of my mental state.  You tell me.

Firstly, I should like to address the C word head on.  It is a word that I have been known to judiciously use, sometimes converting it to an adverb (i.e. this is so C…… ingly shit).  Yes, I do think it works.  So it was, during conversations with various visitors over the two days, the C word and its veracity and position within our collective lexicons was discussed.  It seems that there is a seismic shift in opinion.  Not one person actually said the word, but most agreed that it does, indeed, play an important role in expressing extreme views/emotions/general feelings toward certain people in our lives/friends’ lives and life in general.  One of my particularly clever customers gave me his view on the entire issue which went something like this:

The C Word is to the F word what the F word was to the word Bloody a couple of decades ago.  Read it again, I think it makes sense.

I don’t think I’ll be putting the C word on any products in the coming decade or so, but never say never.  And I think the shift in the general feeling toward the four letters in a very particular order is interesting.

So what else happened at the Stationery Show this year?  It was busy.  The same people who always walk on by our stand did exactly just that.  I was rude to approximately the same percentage of potential customers as I usually am.  There were, this year, however,  a disproportionate number of people taking photographs without asking, some in such an obvious clandestine manner that I’m relieved that they spend their time taking undercover photos of notebooks as opposed to actually having to take actual clandestine photos. Please just ask to take a photo – I accept times are changing and the ‘no photography’ rules are a thing of the past.

There were some lovely bloggers.  In particular, three woman who were very complimentary and made me glow with pride and then they confused me with acronyms   of social media stuff.  I await enlightenment; a lightbulb moment of clarity that I’m hoping will make it all seem worthwhile.

Two very young ladies popped by and spent ages going through everything and taking photographs (without asking), loudly proclaiming their opinions on each title to each other (and although most of their views were favourable, they did offer up their considered and experienced opinions that some were simply shite).  So, having already ascertained that I must be deaf, being only a metre away, they scowled at me as I took a single step toward them, rictus smile on my face.  “What is it you do?” I ask and they tell me the name of the retail chain in which they work, or maybe their mums worked there, I don’t know.  I had obviously heard of the chain, but I genuinely didn’t know what they did.  So I asked and I can’t tell you what they said, because they looked down and mumbled.  Sam told me once they were out of earshot (you know, more than a metre away).  They weren’t the power tool manufacturers that I had always assumed, but they were just as unlikely to buy my stuff as a power tool manufacturer and I’m not entirely sure what they were doing at the STATIONERY show.  Still, they were good for a bit of righteous indignation.

Ummm, what else; one of my lovely customers brought me cake on my birthday and a thing of beauty that slice of strawberry sponge it was. I offered some up to my next door neighbour.  She promptly declined and then proceeded to extol the virtues of its aesthetics, taking photographs whilst breathing rapturous promises to herself to paint its delicately coloured layers.  All of which, and I’m only guessing here, is what makes her a great artist who deserved the TWO awards she had received the night before.

I, as someone who is currently overweight bemoaned the cake’s calorific content, saw no future potential for the beauty of said cake slice and ate it.  Which probably goes a little way to explaining why I didn’t win an award the night before.

I had a few wobbly moments when I hated everyone (is it just me? Please tell me it isn’t just me).  So a few extended breaks were taken.  I outraged Sam by taking my M&S salads upstairs, borrowing a plate, knife and fork from the cafe, decanted and ate like a civilised human being.  It was brazen and I don’t know their rules, but I revel in that whole middle-aged ‘what are they actually going to do about it’ state of mind.  I even sent Sam proof just to get that whole ‘I can’t believe you did that’ response from him – you know, from the man who’s survived proper muggings without a whiff of PTSD.

food

I had a lovely time talking to fellow exhibitors, some extremely experienced, others not so much, but all of us aware of the rule of mid-sentence stop and slight nod of head to denote potential new customer crossing the invisible line onto the stand.  I laughed a lot during catch-up-on-life sessions with old friends and I didn’t cry.  Not once.

So all in all, I’d say it was a successful and exhausting two days. Will I return next year?  You’re C….tingly right I will.

 

 

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Being Ahead of our Time!

I’m just going through some of our product images and found this one – I wrote the copy, the lovely Lenalisa designed it and it was published in 2006.  2006! 

For those who would like a gorgeous notebook/sketchbook to capture their moments, just click on the image to be taken to the MotherShip site.  I still use mine and I do love looking back.  Here’s what it says on the back of the book:

“Moments, we all have them.  The first time you hear “I love you”, your baby’s first steps, an amazing gig, a profound comment, a silly joke that made your stomach hurt, a truly awesome view.

Write them here, keep them for inspiration, for fun, for life.”

Actually, I think that’s rather nice.  #keepingmemories

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