Monday, 31 December 2018

My 2018 :)

Haha, so I didn't end up writing so much this year, despite promising to in the only other piece I posted this year. It's been quite mad, and if I'm being honest, it hasn't really been the best. When I wrote last year that it had been a rough year, I hadn't really thought on ahead to what 2018 might bring. There have been joyous moments this year that have made me feel like I'm flying: giddy-giggling like a toddler on a sugar-high... the family trip to Portugal, when Mr EP met the family, the Mancheste Bees.... But there have been moments too where I just wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there forever.

I am determined however that this isn't the type of blog that dwells on sadnesses. This is a blog filled with hope, and determination, and possibility. Yes, the year felt unfairly hard, but I am at the end of it and I have survived! I have learned things and I have grown - hopefully - into a stronger, better version of myself.

And maybe 2019 will be a much better year. Or maybe it won't. But the lesson here is that I will make it through the year and everything will be okay. I can do it.

So while I usually write a nice summary of my year which includes mentions from all the lovely people who feature in my life - my family, Mr EP, my friends - this year I'm just going to leave this short note here, accompanied with what I think is possibly one of the best photos of the year. I think this image represents me somehow - please enjoy it while I wander off and happily do very little for the rest of 2018. See you in the New Year! :)

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Hello 2018 :)

I am working hard on being balanced. There's a lot to be doing and not really much time: a lot of tension and an already heavy heart.

So I have started something new! For the last 7 days in an interesting new rhythm has developed. I work for a couple of hours, then walk for an hour, before going back to work. That one hour's walk - come rain some shine - has been a blessing. It was hard on New Year's Day (both cold AND side-ways rain) but I think I have it all worked out now. I have some brand new wellies and I am ready to walk. Here are some photos of some of my lovely walk moments:

When the light, a building and a frozen lake lines up for a shot.

I loved the frozen lines on this fallen tree trunk.

It has been so cold recently that all the puddles were frozen.

I met this lovely dude. He came to say hello while munching away.

I met this little guy too. I might have to go back and give him an apple.

Walks like these give me time to breathe. Even if the driving rain and wind throw my sideways, I know that they can be overcome. Or at least, there is an end to it, and somewhere safe and warm to return to. I like the forward motion: the constant onwardness of walking. It gives my mind peace and a bit of space to think clearly.

There will be many more walks in my future, a moment of glorious play to right my work hours. It's not a resolution - I know that this can not be an every day thing so I don't want to be sad when I skip a day, but it is going to be something I'm determined to preserve whenever I can. This is my play this year - hope you will find a way to play too.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

My 2017:)

It's been a tough year, I'm not going to lie. There have been moments that have tested me to my absolute limit in the last 12 months and have made me want to crawl under the table and sleep for an eternity.


I am determined to see the good in everything that I experience and do. Whatever this year has thrown at me, and however bad it has been, there has also been the polar opposite - awesomeness. There has been fun, and celebration, and moments of pure awesome, and in keeping with the upbeat nature of my little ol' blog, I am going to write about the positive moments of 2017, accompanied by the best of my photos. Ready? Here we go!

Here I am with my family. It goes without saying this year that they are the most amazing folk ever. We have a lot to be thankful for this year, but mostly that we are all together and we are as happy and healthy as we can be. This photo was us on Christmas day having explored a number of different poses. It turns out we all know how to pull this particular face.

This photo represents Mr E.P. I've been able to spend a lot of time with this favourite person of mine this year and it was lovely. He helps me feel like everything's going to be okay, and that's been so very important this year. This is the pumpkin he carved while we were in the US together. Isn't it cute?

This is the lovely Morgan. Without her this year, I wouldn't have been able to do half the things I have done. She is not only my work wife and friend, she is my right-hand woman and a literary genius. Here she is in Canada in one of 2 of the best photos I have taken of her. I have given her exclusive rights to the other one so you'll have to see it for yourself here.

This is Andy, and I think this is one of the most wonderful photos I took of him this year, making friends with a butterfly in Toronto. He and I have been through a lot this year, including a day trip to Belgium, and an epic trip to Canada. 

This is Hannah and Nina. They have been a source of peace for me this year, and have drawn me back into play several times when I have over-worked myself. This includes the shortest ever Christmas party that I had a couple of weeks ago, and also includes this fabulous puddle jumping moment, one of the best pics I have taken this year.

Here is the best snow dinosaur I have made so far, done with the help of Mr E.P in the US. This made me really really happy. 

This photo represents the Playwork Campference, and is probably the best photo I was able to take all year. I spent 6 months of my life organising 4 days of amazing play days for 90 people in California. I had realised that might be one of the biggest achievements of my entire life even before the apocalyptic rainstorm. I can't quite believe that we were able to pull this off, and that we are in the process or organising the next. I love this photo - the movement of that smoke and the captivated expression on this young lady's face reminds me of why I do what I do.

This photo is the most beautiful one I took while in Canada. This represents that moment when I thought my heart would explode: when my cup was at its fullest after being completely emptied. I had an amazing time during my 2 month trip there, and met some amazing people. 

This photo sums up an amazing year with my lovely PMs, specifically Lee, Shazia, Ric and Dave. Thank you for sticking with me this year and physically helping me through some rough patches. And many congratulations again to Shazia on her marriage - thank you for letting me be part of it! :) This trophy needs blogging about another day, but yes it is a pile a golden animals on a plinth. And yes, Shazia won. :)

My lovely nephew gets his own mention in this blog. He is awesome, shows me how to slow down and be still every time I see him, and reminds me of what it means to adore and love the folks around me.

And here is my amazing niece. She teaches me that there's newness in every day to be amazed at and to be inspired by. She asks the most questiony questions I have ever heard, and tells the best crazy stories.

My 2017 has been mad, but thanks to the above people (plus many other amazing un-photographed folks) and a few heart warming moments, my year had enough balance. I wish that there could be less sadness and more joy, but I thank God nonetheless that I was able to survive and I am grateful for every uplifting moment I was able to part of, to see me through.

See you later, 2017. Let's see what 2018 has to bring.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Nibling Stories


You saw that your cousin was upset. He was sad and all the big people were either trying to find out what was upsetting him, or where pretending that nothing was happening. You were playing quietly in the other room, and suddenly you realised that someone was opening a pomelo. This is a fruit that you love and makes you very happy, so you wander over and grab a piece. You decided that you weren't going to eat this first piece, instead, you silently stepped around the dining table and quietly deposited it into your crying cousin's hands, with the words "It's okay". This is as much comfort as a 2.5 year old can offer, and your Auntie Zan was very proud of you right there in the moment, and glad that you didn't throw your comfort at him like you did last time.


You were given a paper plane and it was exquisite. Pointy in all the right places, with wings! Your cousin had one too and she was doing something complicated with her fingers and throwing it. That seemed all too much for this simple object. All you wanted to do was make it fly, so you did! You raced around the room with the paper plane in your hand, making all the right noises and pointing your whole self into the shape of an aeroplane, zooming along and having a great time. Who cares if the plane was sometimes facing the wrong way, or if it didn't fly independently. As far as you were concerned, you were gifted with a plane and now you were the plane whooshing back and forth across the house. Look at you go!


I managed to slip into the room as you closed the door. In the dark, 4 little feet stomped on the floor, laughing hysterically: you were having the best time. One idea followed another as the play evolved, from stomping with the lights off to stomping with the lights on, to jumping, to sliding, to laying and then you both pretended to sleep. And then one of you found an imaginary spider and then one of the daddies came in and a new play frame was created. Both little people would cuddle me at the top of the stairs while we summoned Daddy Spider. We would wait until the moment he rounded the corner and lurched up the stairs. Instantly everyone would scream - a sound that was a mixture of excited fear and joyous alarm - and then run into the room and shut the door. This lasted a good half an hour and Daddy Spider dutifully lurched up the stairs every time the tiny little voices asked for him. I was so pleased that Daddy Spider played along for so very long and was genuinely impressed at how long these two little people sustained this play frame. Everything stopped quite suddenly when one little person became overwhelmed with emotions, but both niblings talked about Daddy Spider for a while after they had parted company. No, they probably weren't going to remember Daddy Spider when they were bigger, but yes, this was a big thing for them right there in that moment. I'm so glad that we were part of it.


Friday, 20 October 2017

Zan On Tour 2017: Canada

It has been a month since I left Canada and I am only just about grasping the magnitude of the adventure I've just had. I don't think I really explained what I was doing out there - the last time I blogged I was still putting the whole journey together. 

So let me explain: my Pop-Up Adventure Play colleagues Morgan, Andy and I together drove across Canada in a tiny yellow car (see photo below) to meet 18 different hosts across the country. At each of these stops, on an official capacity, we led a workshop and/or pop-up adventure playgrounds which brought together long-term play advocates and those who were new to play.

On another more unofficial capacity, we met with play advocates to learn about their communities, about people's views on play, and to listen to genuine folks talk about their own work. It was big. Before I left home, my heart wasn't nearly as prepared to give as much as it did, but when I look back now, it was totally worth it. Maybe that's why I feel so tired at the moment.

It's all good though - I am back now with a regular routine and space for my own thoughts. I ran the numbers too - we drove over 10,000km (about 6000miles), which feels like madness when my longest British commute is 200 miles to London. Crazy.

Learning from the 2014 USA tour, I made sure we had time to rest. We all have to play in order that we can be the best version of ourselves, especially when we are on tour. Almost every day, we sleep in a different bed, and meet different people, and drive, drive, drive. It gets both monotonous and disorientating at the same time so whenever we can, we try and fit some fun. It wasn't much, but a day here and there made a difference. Kept us balanced. Solidified our friendships.

So for this blogpost I thought that I might show you photos from our trip, especially the ones which were taken when we were off duty. Here we go:

Just a road side stop in New Brunswick somewhere. So understated, so beautiful.

This is the World's Largest Axe. Andy and Morgan and there to help with the scale.

This is Toronto's CN tower after Andy and I went up for a short visit. Beautiful day!

One of the amazing moments on the tour - when Andy made friends with a butterfly!

Beautiful lake just... by the road in Ontario.

Love this photo and it's seussical quality.

Here's Morgan, hanging out in the prairies.

This is me with an Indian head. In Indian Head, SK.

The Rocky Mountains as seen from the Overlander Mountain Lodge. Beautiful.

This is the glorious moment when we saw our first moose, and we finally understood that moose were not creatures of myth. Jasper National Park.

The moment when we arrived at the West Coast of Canada. Oh my, what a journey.

This is one of the most beautiful images I have ever taken, and where my heart was at it's fullest. So much joy in Porteau Cove, BC.

Here's the last photo for now - me, Morgan and Andy. I love these peeps so much - they're not just my colleagues, they're my family.

I have really been quite taken by Canada. It offered beautiful and changing landscape and a feeling of possibility. I'd really love to go back and visit one day, just for me - my own play time! I can also feel a change in the air for play in this lovely country. People really get it, and are passionate to make a difference. Being physically able to travel the width of Canada really highlighted that. I feel incredibly blessed to have had this opportunity.

Thank you, Canada. My heart is full again, thanks to you. I will see you again soon.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Chuffed: My Next Big Adventure

I have spent the last few months in a frenzied state of organising.

As you all know, I work with Pop-Up Adventure Play, a small UK-based charity that works worldwide to promote the child's right to play. We do this by visiting communities and talking to folks about the benefits of play, giving hints and tips on how to improve sites for play and encouraging the use of the playwork approach when working with children. We also run public play events with recycled materials called loose parts and provide children with time, space and permission to direct their own play within that setting - an ideal platform for play conversation. In essence, we speak about playwork theory and then model the practice in person to folks wherever we go.

The next big adventure is big. I think that I must say this every time I go on a massive trip with Pop-Up. Let me look.... this was the blog about the World Tour, and this was the post reflecting on the USA tour. Okay, maybe I didn't say those exact words, but they were big adventures. Each of these trips took two months to complete and over 4 month to organise. The USA trip took us on a 11,000 mile round road trip of the country, and the world trip saw us clock 37,000 miles literally around the planet. I'm thinking back and realising how ridiculous these plans really are... and I still can't believe that I was part of it!

I'm going to add another crazy adventure to our list: Canada! 

Ladies and gentlemen, Team Pop-Up Adventure Play - which now includes Andy as well as Morgan - will be touring Canada as part of Pop-Ups Tour 2017! Hoorah! It will be a glorious 2-month journey where we will travel from East to West in the little yellow car delivering workshops and play events as we go! Yes - it's awesome, yes - it's mad, and yes - I know how far that drive is. But it's going to be great! 

As it always is with these things, we want to reach the folks in the world which are hard to reach, either literally or financially, or both. If you have followed my adventures enough, you'll know that they are meaningful as well as fun, otherwise we just wouldn't do it. It's hard work driving endless hours every day for days on end just to reach someone's town for a few hours, but if it means that the message of child-led play can get to those folks, then so be it. To ensure that we are able to hang out with all folks, regardless of financial background or location, we are doing some fundraising! 

If you are willing and able, please donate to our Chuffed campaign here and support our work. If you can't donate, please share my link and my story with everyone everywhere! I will be so very very chuffed if you are able to support us in any way you can!

We're not doing this to make money and we are not in it for the glory. Ladies and gentlemen, we are doing this for children and their play - please help us help children across Canada to have more play opportunities.

More details about the adventure soon! :) Please enjoy this photo that I took at the Campference while I do carry on doing more crazy organising in preparation for the tour.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

"This was a journey of puddles - a Puddle Journey!" - Reflections from a day with Hannah and Nina

My little friends Hannah and Nina came round today to have a play. It was raining hard when they got here so they had brought a board game with them along with their wet weather gear.

     "Do you really want to play monopoly, or would you like me to get some stuff out for you to do whatever you want with?"

So for the bulk of the morning, Nina and Hannah were occupied with their own projects, consumed with their own intrinsic desire to create, design or investigate. My mum was quite amused by my laid back approach to this child care (by mid morning I'd managed to do most of my emailing without them noticing) but she could see that they were absolutely fine by themselves.

For lunch, I went with pancakes, thinking that food with interactivity always goes down a storm. I wasn't to know that they'd never made pancakes at home before so this was a real treat! After building their confidence with the stove and frying pan, both girls tried out the making of the pancakes and - to Nina's pure delight - mastered the art of flipping pancakes too. By the time lunch was over, she was way better than me!

When lunch was done and after some thoughtful discussion mainly due to the looming black clouds in the sky, we decided to go for a walk by the river. We all agreed we'd put on waterproofs and wellies just in case the sky did suddenly pour so we kitted up and headed out. The weather held and the sun actually made an appearance as we investigated the swollen river. Going into the river wasn't an option today, so the girls spent some time throwing rocks into the water instead. That was the case until they discovered some excellent puddles and realised they were puddle-ready! And thus began the puddling! Here's a snap I took on my phone:

I kinda love this photo - there is such movement and joy!

They loved the puddling. They beamed during every splash. They needed to step into every puddle and kick the water, and let's face it, who wouldn't. It was a great day for it!

There may have been quick trip to the polling station after this (the conversation from last visit was very helpful) and as we walked, the girls marveled at the puddles we had just splashed in.

     "This was a journey of puddles - a Puddle Journey!" said Nina
     "Let's do it again on the way back. Please can we do it again on the way back?" asked Hannah, with big eyes.

We splished and splashed our way back to my house, and covered a genuinely massive range of topical conversations (from "Why do people take drugs?" to "What do you think your mum will vote?" and also "Where's your favourite puddle?") while jumping into these little pools of slightly buddy water. As fat droplets fell from the sky, we got back home and continued playing with all the loose parts I had at home.

Other joyful things happened after too, which I can't completely recall, and soon after the girls completed their marvelous creations, they went home. These two girls bring a lot of light into my world and spending a day with them is always enlightening. They are chatty and spirited and always full of enthusiasm. They remind me of why my job as a playworker is important, and why I love play so much. 

They are full of surprises too, and even if they think that the moments they create are mundane, I think they are truly wonderful. Like when Hannah picked some flowers for my mum and then asked me for something to put them in - I asked her if a glass tumbler was okay and she said yes, stuffed it in and disappeared. The moment was just hilarious to me and made me smile, and for some reason, this glass of flowers is so very beautiful to me. It's like no matter how orderly you want your life, sometimes a bit of chaos in a glass is perfect. It reminds me that no matter how organised you are, sometimes a little play is needed to make things just a little bit better.

Thanks for coming round, Hannah and Nina. It was a really lovely day - thank you for making and flipping pancakes with me, and jumping in puddles with me. I had loads of fun. See you very soon! :)